The trendy orange penguin: The Penguin Group collection

The Penguin collectionThere is hardly anything more iconic in the book industry than the book product line put out by Penguin Group with its patented black and white penguin encapsulated by a bright orange border. Almost everywhere, you can see people drinking, toting, or writing in some Penguin branded item. Penguin certainly knows how to appeal to the collectors’ impulse to match everything.

lost girl penguin passport case

However, their products are also a great way to advertise your love for a certain title or your love for Penguin books in general! The books are also chosen thematically with titles such as On The Road and The Lost Girl used on passport cases and luggage tags. Highly appropriate, don’t you think?

great gatsby bagA favourite title of mine is The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald, a classic book that saw a new growth in popularity with last year’s release of Baz Luhrmann’s film The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire (side note: I loved Leo as Gatsby, but I wasn’t sold on the “modern” music used to redefine the Jazz Age). Joining the revitalized frenzy, I purchased my first Penguin product separate from my usual book purchases: a Great Gatsby tote bag with the signature Penguin cover. It has since been my go-to bag for lugging my lunches and notepads to and from internships.

Although the bag is now showing the wear and tear of its use, I still receive many compliments and questions of where I purchased it, whether I’m getting off a train or walking down the street. One woman literally stopped her bike to tell me about how her husband bought her The Lost Girl Penguin luggage tags as a gift, and how she has loved them to pieces ever since.

I love how books and a well-known brand can bring people, even strangers, together even if only for a moment. While my tote bag remains solo to this day, I definitely have aspirations to decorate my travelling items with Penguin accessories in the future and literally show the world, I’m a proud book lover.

If you’re interested in joining the hundreds of Penguin followers and show your Penguin love, you can purchase anything from The Penguin Collection on the Penguin US website, and various items from the collection are often available at your local and university bookstores and any Indigo locations.




Reading kills: A review of The Accident by Chris Pavone

book cover for The Accident by Chris Pavone

“He runs his finger down the page, and he finds it, there on page 136, just as his mind’s eye pictured it, in his sleep in the middle of the night. One word. One letter. I. He thought he’d caught every one.”

The Accident by Chris Pavone

Isabel Reed, a 40-something literary agent, receives an anonymous and mysterious manuscript, which is the unofficial biography of media mogul Charlie Wolfe and has the potential to collapse his Wolfe Media empire. The consequences of publishing the manuscript are numerous, but the benefits are too tempting to pass up in an industry that is struggling to make ends meet with editors and agents desperately seeking their next big break. However, there are people who have been anticipating this manuscript’s arrival on the publishing scene long before the manuscript is couriered to Isabel’s door, and they will do whatever it takes to make sure The Accident doesn’t see the printing press.

I don’t usually read books from the thriller or mystery genre, but when I won The Accident by Chris Pavone in a RHC Goodreads giveaway, I had to give it a try, and I am certainly glad that I did. Not only is The Accident about the publishing industry, a topic I am obviously partial to, but it is exciting! The book covers just 24 hours and it is chock full of adrenaline pumping action.

The main character is Isabel Reed, a well-recognized literary agent who, at the moment, hasn’t been performing at her best. Life hasn’t turned out as she had expected it to, divorced and living alone, and she is constantly haunted by the unfair loss of her child (the “how” isn’t introduced until much later in the book). It is the arrival of the anonymous manuscript that begins Isabel’s rude awakening from her monotonous lifestyle as new secrets are revealed, including one that has been long buried involving a drunken car ride and a missing girl.

Over the course of one very long day, the manuscript gets its fair share of traffic, but the people who pursue it for their own ends have a lot more to fear than just a paper cut: Isabel’s eager assistant, Alexis, sees The Accident as her big break; Jeff, an old friend and veteran editor sees it as his chance to redeem his career before it landslides; Camilla, an ambitious rights director, wants to leave behind books for movies and sees The Accident as her one-way ticket to fame and fortune; Brad, the publisher, thinks The Accident may save his business; and, the most sinister of all, Hayden, a wily CIA operative with damaging connections to Wolfe, is determined to eliminate the manuscript at all costs—and that includes anyone who gets in the way. All the while, the author observes from afar, remaining hidden in an expensively obtained expat life in Zurich, wrestling with the truths and lies that define him and the story he is trying to tell.

The writing of The Accident is designed for the fast-paced thriller that this book is meant to be. There is no break to the action after Isabel finishes reading the anonymous manuscript that is sent to her door. The content is dangerous and no one is safe after reading it. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time while reading, desperate to know if Isabel would be able to keep one step ahead of Hayden and his goons.

While the book was gripping in every way possible, I did find the result of its suspense unsatisfying. Almost every chapter, nearing its end, led up to a culminating moment, a question of life or death, which is suppose to be thrilling, no? Unfortunately, Pavone sells out at the end of some of his chapters,and it is as if he got fed up with the action leading up to this final point and decided to simply drop the bombshell on his readers: and then this happened. End of story. I found my anticipation climbing to an apex, only to have it suddenly deflated. I would have liked to have a seen a smoother transition to the end result, one that still had impact, but wasn’t a disappoint after all that careful preparation for it.

Aside from this one setback, Pavone does an amazing job in setting the scene. As a past editor himself, he demonstrates his knowledge of the publishing industry, going to great lengths to describe the dog-eat-dog world of agents and editors looking for the next bestseller and the apparently dismal state of the industry itself. While I found his view of publishing a little disheartening (I don’t think it is as hard done by as Pavone lets on), he is for the most part true to life, depicting the long hours, struggling with the reality of a career with not so great pay, and dealing with difficult authors. However, I don’t think a manuscript this threatening has ever come onto the real publishing scene, thank goodness. I for one don’t want to fear for my life when I edit a manuscript, as exciting as the idea may be to read about.

I will admit that Pavone had me duped until near the very end of The Accident. I had tried to guess and perhaps, to the more experienced thriller/mystery reader, I missed some of the more obvious clues, hinting at who the author really was and his connection to the other characters in the book, aside from Charlie. But I am also glad that I didn’t uncover the truth. As a result, the “ah ha” moment was far more enjoyable, and I greedily went over the earlier details given in the book. I was then able to smile appreciatively at Pavone’s vague statements that betray just an inkling of the truth, which is not quite enough to ruin his grand unveiling later on.

A well-crafted mystery and a thrilling read, The Accident will grip you and leave you wondering, “who really won?”

3 out of 5 book thumbs up

Image of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs up

First Reads copy via Goodreads provided to me by Random House of Canada.

The Accident by Chris Pavone, published by Crown, © 2014

Available at Random House of Canada, Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere March 11, 2014.






Books on shirts. Shirts on a mission: Out of Print Clothing

20140413_204437Out of Print Clothing is a stock favourite for my one-stop shop needs when it comes to book themed items. While I’ve only bought one shirt from them so far, I have no doubt my collection will continue to grow.

Out of Print’s products specialize in the literary classics, with the additional book that just has a great cover and is awesome in general, if not considered among the canons. But if it is a canon of literature, Out of Print probably sells it in a variety of fun forms: t-shirts, long sleeves, jewellery, pouches, tote bags, coasters, and even phone cases. It is book nerd/English major heaven.

Dana Francoeur in a Jane Eyre t-shirt from Out of Print ClothingAs you can see, I purchased the Jane Eyre t-shirt. Asking me to choose a favourite book is nearly impossible, but Jane Eyre is definitely up there. What also won me over to the shirt was the whimsical illustration. Not only do we have Jane’s wind-blown figure, but we have Mr. Rochester riding his magnificent steed in the background, foreshadowing their inevitable first meeting near the beginning of the book (see images above for a better view). An absolutely stunning display anyone would be proud to clothe themselves in, especially me.

On top of having an amazing line of clothing to choose from, for men, women, and kids alike, Out of Print also has a great mission behind its love of wearing book covers. Acknowledging the fact that not everyone has access to all the great book we so easily take for granted, Out of Print works alongside Books for Africa to make a difference and literally spread the word! For each product sold, Out of Print donates one book to a community in need. Therefore, not only is Out of Print assisting all of us in our book obsession, but we are also providing funding for a good cause in the process. Money well spent, I say! It especially works well as a go-to gift idea for that book maniac in your life, whether it’s a sibling or a significant other.

So if you’re a fan of Jane Austen, Scott Fitzgerald, or Charles Dickens then check out Out of Print’s website and see what other authors’ books they have made wearable. It is worth the look and worth the purchase if you love books and love doing some good at the same time.

After all, isn’t it a “feel good” spoil yourself at the same time kind of day?


These are the two goodies I have my eye on now. Aren’t they just splendid!? The one to the left is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (there is also a t-shirt version of this in two different colours) and the one to the right is Little Woman by Louisa Marie Alcott (I just adore how she is made up of smaller women in the print!).

Out of Print clothing


Being Complicit with Adam Sol: M&S launch of the poetry collection Complicity

Book launch flyer for Complicity by Adam SolBecause I was previously a McClelland & Stewart editorial intern, I was more than happy to have the opportunity to celebrate one of their most recent books, which also happens to be a very engaging collection of poetry. Complicity is, and M&S describes this perfectly, “intimate and lyrical, experimental and outlandish.”

Initially, I was afraid I was going to be late. The event was being held all the way up on Danforth in a little hole-in-the-wall Irish pub called The Dora Keogh Pub. I couldn’t think of a better location though; it was had a down-to-earth vibe and was quaint to behold. I immediately found Ellen Seligman (she is definitely not hard to miss in a crowd—her sheer magnificence as a major leader in Canadian publishing literally radiates around her like a halo). I also saw some other M&S and Random House friends from my brief interlude into the awe-inspiring conglomerate that is Penguin Random House. I caught up with Val Capuani, RHC’s dedicated production coordinator, who is great to work with, especially at volunteer events. She definitely brings the fun. However, I was most grateful to see Anita Chong, who has been a positive influence in my life since my publishing career in the big, bad city took off. Her passion for everything she does and for all the authors she works with is inspirational and without knowing it, she became my coach and mentor throughout my internship and even after the fact. I would not be where I am today without her enduring encouragement and thoughtful advice.

Complicity by Adam Sol book launchI also became acquainted with some great new faces with amazing lives and careers, however, I’m terrible at names, and I therefore wouldn’t be able to tell you who they were. I can tell you that I did hear about a great event called Pongapalooza held at SPiN in support of First Book Canada where thirty-two ping pong teams will battle it out for the 2014 Scotiabank  Pongapalooza Cup. To find out about the event and the cause you can click here, and the event also has its own twitter page @Pongapalooza. I for one am hoping to check it out as it sounds like a great time for players and spectators alike, and it is kind of a publishing industry fiesta of sorts, which makes it even better (publishing people know how to party, if you don’t know that already).

Anyways, back to my main purpose for this post. After a fair bit of time to socialize, the introductions began. Ellen Seligman took the stage first, introducing M&S, its poetry program, and the star of the evening, Adam Sol. With already three other published poetry collections under his belt and a Trillium Book Award, he was a natural in front of an audience. He smiled,cracked a few jokes, and was an all around genuine people person.

the poet Adam Sol reading from his new collection ComplicityAdam read two of his poems from Complicity, and I loved the reactions that reverberated around the room from chuckles of amusement to murmurs of thoughtful agreement. It is amazing what poetry can accomplish in a lot less words than fiction or non-fiction. Adam’s new collection really challenges our perceptions of ourselves and our society and how we interact with it. There are so many hidden messages in each line, in each stanza, that I suggest you read his poems carefully and slowly or you might miss out on some of his ingenious comments that strike both a political and emotional chord.

I think Adam’s choice of poems for the evening were expertly chosen to represent Complicity, especially the poem “Engagement,” which is an incisive look at war and violence and how we are all complicit, those who take part and those who simply observe, and we are also sorely misguided by our assumptions. I can still hear Adam’s expressive tone as he read aloud, “It’s wrong . . . it will be wrong.” There is nothing like hearing the words the way the author wishes them to be heard. This is why book launches are so unique. By attending, you witness the purity of the written word spoken aloud the way the person who wrote it intended.

Mingling and socializing continued after the all too brief reading, although I was told that this is the “new kind of book launch,” as it leaves you wanting more. I have to agree, as I definitely want to delve further into this collection after only getting a taste with those two poems.

I was able to get my personal copy of Complicity signed by Adam later that evening. Anita introduced me to him as M&S’ previous editorial intern. I also told him that I had had the opportunity to see Complicity still in the editorial and typesetting stage, and that I loved how it had all come together so nicely.

In addition to providing me with his signature, Adam also left me a gratifying message: “For Dana — keep up the good work…” For someone where it is a constant struggle to make my mark in the competitive world of publishing (not so different form the life of an author, really), Adam’s words warmed my heart. Once a poet, always a poet (even his autograph says something deep).

signed copy of Complicity by Adam Sol

Even if you didn’t attend the book launch or didn’t know about it, you should definitely get to know Adam at least through his poetry. It will enrich your life and challenge your mind.

You can purchase a copy at McClelland & Stewart, Indigo, Amazon, or any independent bookstore.


A disappointing transition from page to screen: A review of The Book Thief movie

The Book Thief, the movie, image of Liesel holding a book

Starring Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, and Nico Liersch.

After being blown away by the book-to-screen accuracy accomplished so far by the Hunger Games series, I probably went into watching The Book Thief with too high of expectations. Where as The Hunger Games and Catching Fire only cut out what was acceptable, barely altering the storyline, The Book Thief took some unforgivable liberties in my opinion.

Frankly, the movie and I didn’t get off on the right foot from the beginning when they made Liesel the older sibling. After that, I began to expect the worst. And I wasn’t let down, my list of disappointments grew as the movie progressed. A big problem with The Book Thief is it took out a lot of the back story. This would  be a very long post if I were to go through all that was left out, but let me just focus on two very prevalent points that I take issue with. First, Max, the Jew in Liesel’s basement that she befriends, is reduced to a secondary character. He is barely touched upon. There is no mention of his previous life before going into hiding, and interactions with him are limited to only when Liesel comes down to visit. We are never given that telling scene where Max figuratively boxes with the Fuhr, and even worse, the premise behind why Max paints over the pages of Mein Kampf is changed entirely. The movie shows Max painting over the pages with the expectation that Liesel will write her story on its pages, however, in the book this is actually where Max tells Liesel his own story, and it is how she begins to realize exactly what Hitler, his use of words, and this war means. All of this is lost with this seemingly minor change, but it is anything but minor when you get down to it.

Liesel reading to Max in the basement

The second point I have a problem with, which happens to be a particular scene, is how Liesel ends up stealing books from the mayor’s library. The movie, much like it does with Max, completely does away with this back story. If one hasn’t read the book, there is only the faint allusion to the mayor’s wife having lost a son, but it is basically left at that. The struggle with loss that brings the mayor’s wife and Liesel together is never brought up. And instead of getting angry at the mayor’s wife for firing her Mama and being stuck in her grief for years, Liesel is unceremoniously kicked out by the mayor when she is discovered reading in the library. This was just all completely wrong and that relationship that develops after the misunderstanding between Liesel and the mayor’s wife is empty of all it contained so that what transpires at the end of the film has less impact.

But I don’t want to just rant about how this movie failed. Aside from its horrible choice of exclusions, they did an amazing job in casting the main characters. Liesel was exactly as I had imagined her. Rudy was also cast to perfection from his lemon locks to his lovable personality. Unfortunately, Hollywood went a little too far with Liesel and Rudy’s relationship. One: they sped it up, making their developed affection for each other unbelievable (the movie barely aged the two children, which didn’t help), and two: they gave Rudy his last words, “I lov—.” NO, NO, NO! Unacceptable, Hollywood. You ruined the most tear-jerking part in the book by making it a silly “Romeo and Juliet” moment.


I will give the movie credit for one thing. They cast Hans beautifully. Who knew that the infamous Captain Barbossa was the perfect person to play the loving, accordion-playing foster father of The Book Thief. Geoffrey Rush made the role his own, bringing Hans and all his familiar traits to life, from the teasing husband to the caring man who gave a lot to others and took very little for himself, and who had convictions he would not sacrifice, not even for the Fuhrer. It was during the interactions of between Hans and Rosa, Liesel and Hans, or Liesel and Rosa that I felt I had a purpose in watching the rest of The Book Thief movie. Once again, I felt the laughter, the love, and the heartbreak as I had while reading the book. Finally, the movie had done something right.

Liesel and Hans hugging

I also wish Death had narrated as much as he had in the book. His view and the things he talks about aside from Liesel’s story are fascinating aspects in the book I would have liked to have seen transferred to the screen. He sees what Liesel cannot and really gives the reader a sense of time and place of just what is going on in Germany and across Europe. He is the perceptive and all seeing, who is both repulsed and fascinated by the human race. As a result, Death gives us a curious lens to look through and the movie missed that very important concept in their  only too brief inclusions of Death’s narration. Perhaps this type of narration is difficult to fully develop on screen, but I would have liked to have seen more of an effort.tumblr_mvjs0ohocc1s7fkwpo1_500

I’m not saying the movie is all that bad. Having recently read the book, I am prone to be a bit more judgmental than someone who hasn’t read it in awhile or who hasn’t read it at all. All I’m saying is to be prepared for a lot of change…for better or for worse, you can decide for yourselves, but I am leaning toward the latter.


Feeling history: Motherlode book launch

Image of the cover for the book Motherlode

While I have yet to read Motherlode: A Mosaic of Dutch Wartime Experience by Carolyne Van Der Meer, I attended the second launch for her book in Toronto this past Friday, April 4, 2014; the first book launch was held in Montreal.

Motherlode book launch flyerI had a couple of reasons for attending. The first was that this book occupies a central position for me, uniting two main passions of mine: literature and history. Motherlode is an elegant blend of short stories, poems, and essays, and it is a creative reinterpretation of the experiences of her mother and other Dutch immigrants who spent their childhood in Nazi-occupied Holland. These individuals grew up deeply affected by war, and the complex emotions it inspired even in the innocent minds of children is brought to light, expressed in the most emotive manner. My second reason for attending was my past affiliation with the publisher of the book, Wilfrid Laurier University Press. This inspiring group of people that help make books like Motherlode happen also helped cement my decision to make my career in publishing. For two summers, I was WLUP’s co-op student/publishing assistant and that immersion into the world of scholarly publishing left me forever changed, dedicated to the written word. Therefore, I was also hoping that at least a few of my old co-workers would be in attendance (I wasn’t disappointed–Lisa Quinn, the acquisitions editor of Motherlode, and Clare Hitchens, the publicist, were both in the audience that evening).

Upon arriving, I rode up in the elevator with two older ladies. I soon came to the conclusion that they were also heading to the book launch, and what was also interesting was that they were speaking in Dutch to each other, in fact, almost everyone in the lecture room I entered was speaking Dutch. It turns out, the event was being hosted by CAANS, the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Netherlandic Studies. Most of those in attendance were therefore Dutch and regulars, and as a result they knew each other fairly well. I was the odd twenty-something in the room with no word of Dutch and, at least until Clare and Lisa arrived, knew no one there.

I decided to sit next to an elderly lady who was already sitting by herself, and it was one of the best decisions I made that night. A delightfully charming woman, she immediately warmed to me. Her name was Grace, and she had immigrated to Canada in the 1950s after having lived through the Nazi occupation as a child. I was humbled to be sitting next to someone who could so closely relate to the book about to be launched. When I asked her about the experience of living through it, her response was, “It was no fun at all.”

Aside from this somber moment, the rest of the time we waited we had a light and often amusing conversation. Before knowing her past, I had asked her if she could speak Dutch and she had said of course, but that she could also speak a few words of English (obviously, we had been speaking English this entire time—I was pleasantly surprised by such cheeky humour). At one point, I was asked by Marianne Verheyen, the host and Toronto CAANS president, if I was Grace’s granddaughter. We chuckled at the mistake and I said no, I was actually a stranger until just recently. I suppose my blonde hair could make me appear “Dutch-like” in appearance, if one didn’t know better, and being chummy with Grace would appear grand-daughterly to most. I certainly didn’t mind the error. It was nice to feel that I could blend in despite not being Dutch…or in my eighties for that matter.

Carolyne Van Der Meer, author of MotherlodeThe event started about ten minutes after eight (earlier, Grace had amusingly said that their meetings were always at least ten minutes behind schedule). My friend and past mentor, Lisa Quinn, introduced the book and the author, painting a lovely picture of love, loss, and memory. Then Carolyne took the stage. Although she was soft spoken (some in the elderly audience were unable to catch everything), I found her tone to be highly appropriate for the content she was discussing. It reminded me of my grandfather’s own manner of speaking that would often surround me like a comfy blanket by the fireplace, listening to his stories of the “good old days.”

Carolyne first talked about how the concept for Motherlode developed, and it essentially began with her son. He began to ask questions about his family ancestry that Carolyne herself had never thought to ask before. Thus, in an effort to answer those questions not only for her son but also for herself, she sought out these untold stories. A phrase Carolyne used that I found truly encapsulated the meaning of family history is that it is a past that is full of both “intense pleasure and intense pain.” I think this is also why we find memoirs so fascinating, because the stories they tell are riddled with an array of emotions that truly consume readers because, to put it frankly, it’s all true.

As it turned out, Carolyne’s mother’s childhood was not enough to fill an entire book. Aside from it being difficult in general to talk about her wartime experience, it was also difficult to remember every single detail having been so young at the time. So Carolyne started to look elsewhere and what she found was both touching and surprising. Expecting reluctance, those who allowed themselves to be interviewed willingly opened up to her in ways they had never done so before with their own family members. As Carolyne also mused during her talk, perhaps it is easier to confide in a stranger rather than sharing such intimate and painful details with the one’s we love. Looking around, I saw many heads nodding in agreement. However, she did mention that those interviewed often shared her tape recordings with their families after the fact. I was deeply moved by the fact, as I’m sure Carolyne was, that she was able to inspire that kind of confidence in these people that they were suddenly able to speak on topics they had been silent on for so long.

Carolyne also read excerpts from Motherlode, choosing various poems and one short story to read aloud to us. I particular loved the short story she read, “Marijke’s Song.” A true story, it was absolutely touching and painfully real. Marijke’s simplistic joy, knowing her father was home, and her pure innocence in regards to the secrecy necessary during times of war. I don’t wish to ruin any portion of the story for those who haven’t read the book, and you most certainly should (it is on my upcoming reading list), but I found that I was able to relate and understand Marijke in many ways. I became immersed in this memory, which was rendered so honestly that I don’t doubt Carolyne’s mother felt herself transported back to her Papa’s shop with the distinct smell of leather tickling her nostrils.

Afterward, the audience members had a lot to say with many stories of their own to add. One memory an older gentleman recalled particularly comes to mind. He mentioned the scarcity of food and how one of their alternatives was eating tulip bulbs. As he pointed out, these tulip bulbs were not the most savoury food item to digest. He also added that during the annual children’s tulip planting in Toronto’s Amsterdam Square in memory of the Holocaust, he told this small fact of life that happened during Nazi occupation and a little boy proceeded to take home with him three tulip bulbs to try for himself. He came back the next year and told the older man, “You’re right. Those tulip bulbs are gross!” Once again, the matter-of-fact nature of children is a phenomenal thing.

After a number of such stories, some sad, some funny, the book launch’s reception took place with red and white wine and an assortment of crackers and Dutch cheese. It was a delicious way to end an evening of reminiscing, delving into the smaller, more intimate pockets of history that were close to home for many in the audience that night.

IMG_20140407_211710Finally, I want to thank Carolyne for signing my book. I cannot wait to read more of Motherlode after the sneak peek I was given this past Friday.

If you’re interested in purchasing Carolyne’s beautiful book, you can buy a copy from Wilfrid Laurier University Press, one of the most dedicated publishers out there, or from Chapters or Amazon.

You can also find the author, Carolyne Van Der Meer on her Facebook page.

To leave you with a final thought, I thought I’d end by sharing this video posted on Youtube of Carolyne reading from Motherlode during the Montreal launch. Enjoy!

Shaped with love: Book sculpture and art by BookBW

BookBW I have always loved the unique you-can-find-no-where-else products on Etsy, and one day when I was browsing through the different shops, trying out different searches, I came across the Etsy shop of Benjamin Wieler, a local Toronto artist who works with vintage books to produce works of art from origami shapes made from a book’s pages to framed pages that have been manipulated into beautiful conversation pieces to hang on the wall.

Last summer, I fell so in love with his creativity that I couldn’t help myself—I had to make an order. I ended up purchasing a combination of two things featuring my favourite book War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.


bookbw art featuring a page from War and Peace with a heart surrounding the word loveThe first piece of art is an original paper collage using recycled paper from a vintage book, which in this case is from War and Peace. It is a black and white drawing of a heart that deliberately surrounds the word “love,” which is pulled from a major scene in the book. This one happens to be when Nikolai is musing on his love for Sonya after a confrontation with his mother, who wishes him to transfer his emotions elsewhere for the sake of a more profitable match (how dreadfully selfish of her, am I right?!). Frankly, I love Nikolai and Sonya, and despite knowing they don’t end up together, I still root for them. On that train of thought, Benjamin is very considerate of what scene you want for your piece of art. If, like me, you choose to have a custom made piece then he involves you in deciding what scene you would prefer to have permanently encapsulated in your frame. I absolutely love how it turned out, perfectly tailored to me and my book lover needs!

Image of books on a shelfThe other piece I purchased was not only for interest’s sake, but it was also a great way to make sure War and Peace wasn’t just thrown away with one page missing. Instead, I was able to use the book to its utmost potential and create a beautiful set of book art to display in my apartment. This beautiful addition was a book safe—and let me tell you, it is a lot nicer than those cheap fake plastic “book safes” you can purchase at Michaels or the Dollar
image of a book safe hiding a chocolate barStore. Benjamin literally and painstakingly cuts the pages out of the book to create a lovely little hiding place for whatever your heart desires! For me that would be the chocolate bar I want to keep hidden from my ravenous boyfriend when he comes to visit! Shh.

IMG_20140402_214638Now these were the only two literary-inspired pieces I bought, however, I was delighted to find a surprise waiting for me when my package was delivered. Delicately wrapped, I found a beautiful hanging ornament made by intricately folding book pages. Can you just imagine having a dozen of these beauties and decorating an entire Christmas tree with them or hanging them in your window?

If you find these works of art as beautiful as I do then you should check out Benjamin Wieler’s Etsy shop, featuring many great book art and sculpture pieces you can purchase, or feel free to contact him personally like I did and get something designed with just you in mind. He also has a Facebook page and a blog.



A mingling of minds: Innovating for the Global South book launch


Image of book launch for Innovating for the Global South featuring the three editors

It has been about a week since I started my contract position as the Heritage Book Coordinator at the University of Toronto Press, and I have already attended my first UTP book launch. The book, Innovating for the Global South, is part of the Munk Series on Global Affairs, and is edited by Dilip Soman, Joseph Wong, and Janice Gross Stein, all of whom teach at the University of Toronto. It was therefore quite fitting for the launch to be held on campus and at the Munk School.

Poverty, despite the vast amount of wealth in the world today, has not lessened and millions of people still live on a lot less than what is actually required for an average person to live a healthy and viable life. This book tackles this increasingly chronic problem, offering fresh and, obviously, innovative solutions for reducing poverty in the developing world. Now, this book is not another title about going to the developing world with our hip technology with the sole intention of improving the lives of people living there. What this book focuses on that other titles have failed to in the past is the end user and making sure that innovation is not just beneficial but inclusive. The purpose of the book is to highlight the need to truly hear the voices of those actually living in the slums, to know not just what they need but how they will in the end use that which is provided.

Another interesting facet to this book is the broad range of specialists. Contributors to the book come from three different subject areas that rarely, if ever, work together. These are political science, engineering, and medicine. The ingeniousness behind this choice is that with the collaboration of all of these people from different fields, you are given a whole new spectrum when looking at a certain problem in the developing world. Joseph Wong brought this up during the panel discussion when he said how while in the field in India everyone in his group, from the engineer to the medical practitioner, saw something different even when looking at the same thing. The engineer was looking at the technology and mathematical combinations, the medical practitioner was looking at the health effects, and the political scientist (i.e. Joseph Wong) was looking at the governing body and policy making. And it is this whole idea of bringing different considerations into the mix of innovation that is the premise behind this book.

While the topic isn’t my area of expertise, the panel of the book’s editors certainly knew what they were talking about, and they provided riveting discussion on what to expect from the book. They also weren’t just spouting theories for the fun of it. The references they made and the examples they gave were all from real life experiences during trips they had made to the global south. One particular example I found interesting was on the Indian housewife and the cook stove and the introduction of a cleaner model. This new cook stove, however, did not catch on because these women did not see it as part of doing their job. In their opinion, if there health was not at risk, if their walls and lungs were not lined with black soot then they weren’t doing their sacrificial part so their husbands and children could come home and eat a full meal. Now, in Canada we may think this rationalization is ludicrous, but this example raises a great point that the book Innovating for the Global South is trying to make: in order for innovation to work and have a positive impact on these people’s lives then they have to be a part of the process.

It is all about “innovating scaleable solution…not about inventing some new gizmo,” says Dilip Soman and Joseph Wong. I think they are on to something. Read the book and see what you think!

To conclude, my first UTP book launch was a great success, and I was happy to see such an engaged crowd with great questions that generated even further discussion. Also, the free food and wine wasn’t a bad way to end the evening’s panel talk either!

Book cover for Innovating for the Global SoIf you’re a manager, practitioner, or a student/scholar of development, business, and policy, you will definitely want to check this book out. Others simply interested in the state of the global south and what is being done may also find this book of interest.

You can purchase a copy at the press’ website here, Chapters, or Amazon.