Saturday, February 26, 2011

Can We Rrreduce, Rrreuse And Rrrecycle While Rrrolling Up The Rim?

I've long been a fan of Tim Hortons as well as their Rrroll Up The Rim To Win contest, which allows a coffee purchase to be turned into a chance to win some fun prizes.

But, as pointed out interestingly in a blog post I found from 2007 called Rrrollup the Rim - Making Litterers Out of Losers? is that simply adding to litter?  There was also an interesting article on Sympatico's website this morning by Daniela Syrovy and Greg Bolton that caught my eye that talks about the litter cups. As evidenced in the picture accompanying the article (of a cup with the winning piece torn out from it left abandoned in a snow covered street) it's the winners as much as the losers who are littering.

I don't think we should be blaming Tim Hortons for littering. People, as they are often not want to do, need to take responsibility for their own behaviour. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of the complete lack of respect, of the complete lack of responsibility the average person takes for their own behaviour. It's always People need to stop just throwing their crap everywhere and expecting someone else to pick it up, or someone else to take responsibility for it.

However, that being said, given how greedy and selfish our society has become, Tim Hortons could appeal to this narcissistic nature of people rather than try to appeal to whatever it is that causes the folks who do not litter to do the right thing.

Last year on this blog, I suggested a manner by which Tim Hortons could possibly work with someone on developing an app for smart phones that would allow people to use their reusable coffee container and not only get a discount on their coffee, but allow them to play the exciting contest.

Remember that right now, if you take your travel mug to Tim Hortons and order a coffee, you get the discount on your purchase, but then they also give you an empty cup so you don't miss your chance to win. Nice "customer benefit" gesture for Tim Hortons. But not so nice for the extra trash created, which undoes the "good" of the person bringing a reusable cup in the first place.

My suggestion was called Roll Up On Your RIM To Win and I still think it's possible, either for a company like RIM or someone else. (Ideally, the tie-in between the makers of Blackberry and Tim Hortons could be pretty huge -- even if Research in Motion were to create an app for iPhones and Adroids, the "name" of the app/promotion could still be Roll Up on Your RIM, giving Blackberry and other RIM offerings more least the way I look at it. I challenge you to try to find a Canadian out there who is NOT familiar with "RRROLL UP THE RIM."  Talk about a broad marketing campaign that is as Canadian as "apple pie" is American.

The basic premise is, Tim Hortons continues with their cups, but adds in a manner by which a person with a smartphone app and a reusable cup gets TWO entries into the contest instead of one, simply by opting for the "greener" non-litter choice.

I still think it's a good idea, and am hoping that someone who is a lot smarter than me takes the idea and makes it happen.  Seriously, go ahead, please just steal the idea, I'm never going to be able to do anything with it. Just make something like this happen. Please. I won├Ęt come after you claiming it was my idea in the first place (although attribution is always the right thing to do) -- I might, however, ask you to at least buy me a double-double at Timmies.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

HNT - The Garden of Memories Continue To Grow

Just a quick HNT this week. I've recently posted about the passing of my Baba who was very much like a mother to me. And last week's HNT post also featured her. Of course, I've been looking at a lot of pictures recently and reflecting back on many good times, so you'll never guess who's included in this week's HNT post too . . .

Here is a shot my Dad took of Mom, Baba, Francine and I in the yard of my parent's home in Levack.

Dad and Baba are gone now, as is the garden we were standing in front of. But the memories still continue to provide sustenance for the heart, perhaps as a virtual garden of memories.

Okay, now that I've said something in an attempt to be warm and touching I can get back to the really important thing, which is to tell you to STOP LAUGHING AT MY MULLET!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Canada Reads, Baby!

Canada Reads Top 40 titles - All great choices
I was delighted to hear of the Canada Reads effect in a recent short article in the National Post.

According to the article by Mark Medley, sales of the winning title this year (as reported by BookNet Canada), The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis, jumped by 695%.

But that's not all, because according to the article, sales of the other 4 short-listed titles in this year's contest: The Birth House, The Bone Cage, Essex County and Unless rose an average of 170%.

Evidence, I suppose, that Canada does read. I'm wondering if this year's more open format (ie, soliciting open entries to arrive at the top 100, then top 40 and top 10 short-lists from average Canadians rather than a "closed-door" selection process) had something to do with that? Was it a good idea for CBC to allow the average person to feel more a part of it? Je pense que oui.

My friend Steph posted a very thoughtful and detailed commentary on this year's proceedings on her Bellas Bookshelves Blog called This Is Not About Canada Reads, and she raises some fantastic and insightful reasons why this year's format, being more open to the masses, was disappointing to her. I see exactly where Steph is coming from and her concerns with the program and proceedings being "dumbed down" for the masses.

I suppose I understand that the moment you take intricate and detailed discussion away from a group of close-knit experts who are happy to dive into the details of a novel, and out into the general public, particularly in a mass media format, you almost always have to "dumb it down" in order to appeal to a broader audience -- and by "dumbing it down" I don't mean to be insulting, but I've been in and quoted in the media (Radio, TV and newspaper) enough in the past half dozen years to know that every story being told through mass media is truncated and abbreviated in order to be digested. Sometimes that truncation removes the context, sometimes it makes what you said look idiotic. But that's just one side-effect of our "fast food" society's impatience with detail and desire to skip through to read just the headlines.

For my own book-nerdish tendencies, there are many podcasts I can listen to that delve deeper into the thoughtful and introspective discussions about writing and about books. And I'm delighted to have them. But I'm also glad there are places in the larger media that still discuss books and authors. So I understand that the grander, larger audience inspiring Canada Reads has no choice but to paint with much broader strokes.

I'm also delighted that people had the opportunity to tune into Canada Reads debates on their radios, online and via television, offering them much higher brow options than watching some yahoo get their fifteen minutes of fame via another spin-off reality television program.

And again, I'm happy to see more average Canadians, folks who normally wouldn't even have known about the short-listed titles or authors, venturing into bookstores and libraries to look for the titles (or, of course, finding them online - it's just hard to witness the "finding it online" thing) simply because they've heard so much media coverage and discussion about them.

It warms my heart to see people pick up a new author they might never have heard of rather than another novel by Dan Brown. (Again, not trying to be a snob, because I still love the fact that authors like Dan Brown get people reading in incredible masses, and in my opinion, folks reading books, any books, is a good thing)

There is, admittedly, a huge part of me that is absolutely delighted to see MORE people talking about books by Canadian authors, and to see more sales of the top 5 listed titles. (Globe and Mail's recent "Canadian Bestsellers" lists show both The Best Laid Plans (Terry Fallis) and The Birth House (Ami McKay) as being in the top 10)

I love to see people reading, love to hear people talking about books. Perhaps it's because I perhaps don't have much to offer in the realm of speaking about or properly critiquing books (I just like to enjoy them and talk about them and share my enthusiasm for them) -- yes, I have a major in English Language and Literature, but I always felt like the dumb one in my university classes, that I wasn't able to appreciate or understand the novels the way the rest of my classmates were. To that end, I'm always pleased when discussions can be more inclusive, more open.

Speaking of open and inclusive, I was pleased to see a graphic novel make the short-list this year. Although, that being said, I think that there's much more openness that can and should be explored. Sure, William Gibson's science fiction novel Pattern Recognition made the Top 10 list, but so many other great speculative works by Canadian authors were simply overlooked.

I'm a firm believer that Canada Reads should continue to be open to embracing new and more open forms of literature. I love the fact that Essex County was debated far and wide by people who loved and hated things about it, or hated the fact it was eliminated first. At the end of the day, they were talking about a graphic novel, something I've never seen happen in discussions associated with literature (at least outside my regular circle of friends, who read graphic novels and speculative fiction, two of the "ghettos" of the literary landscape)

So, at the end of the day, I'm pleased with this year's CBC Canada Reads events and the sideline discussions in bookstores, in newspapers, on blogs and twitter, but mostly because I'm pretty delighted to see Canada reading.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Damn You, Andrew Pyper! (A Review)

I've got less than 30 pages left to read in Andrew Pyper's new novel The Guardians, and all I can keep muttering under my breath is:  "Damn you, Andrew Pyper!"

I've had to fight to put the novel down because I want to savour this burning feeling to drop everything else and just finish the novel.

I've been a fan of Pyper's writing since I picked up his first novel, Lost Girls, and have been impressed with each book even more since then. I wasn't sure he could pull off a more suspenseful thriller with as much depth as The Killing Circle, but it looks like he has. Like the storyline in one of his novels, he pulls the unexpected out of his hat in such a satisfying way.

So, why, then, am I muttering curses at the man?

Perhaps because The Guardians is a novel I'm enjoying on so many levels.

First, the novel is set in small-town Ontario, and is about three forty-something men, all ex-players of the hometown hockey team "The Guardians" who come together after the death of a dear friend they haven't seen in years. Having grown up in a small town in Northern Ontario (and one in which hockey was central - three NHL players were born out of Levack, Ontario when I was growing up, one of whom I played alongside in my youth) I recognize how perfectly Pyper has nailed this element of the novel. The town itself is like a character I can quickly and easily relate to.

Of course, the fact that I started reading it last week when I was back in my home town for a funeral brought the setting of the novel home that much better for me. Pyper describes characters, settings and situations in a small town so perfectly that I, had I not actually been back in my small home town, his novel would have propelled me there.

He also beautifully nails the relationship between men, the unspoken thoughts, the carefully script of "maleness" that dominates and ties the four friends together through a critically important secret all four of them have sworn themselves to which involves the Thurman house, an old, abandoned house that stands across from the bedroom of Ben, one of the friends.  Of course, the secret is what brings the three surviving friends together when Ben, the one who stayed behind, to continue to watch the house, to be the remaining guardian of its evil secrets, takes his own life.

The Guardians wonderfully parallels Stephen King's It in this manner of a single friend staying behind to keep an eye on the evil that dwells in their small home town. And like the King novel, which is one of my favourites, Pyper's novel jumps back and forth between the present, where the friends come together on their old stomping grounds, and the past, where the secrets the four friends have all kept are slowly unravelled and revealed to the reader.

The main character and narrator, Trevor, who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease is perhaps the walking, living and breathing parallel to The Thurman House, the creepy "haunted house" that is central to the story's plots and secrets. Choosing a life of shallow rewards and relationships, he is ultimately alone and soliatary, just like the house that has stood abandoned and neglected for so many years. Trevor also represents much of the speculation many people have of moments lost, decisions made in haste and wondering what "might have been" had he done things just a little differently.

Pyper unravels the tale with a masterful tightening of tension, one in which the shadows begin to creep, ever so slowly across the ground, making you do a double take to wonder if what you just thought you saw was really there. He also addresses the "don't go into that haunted house" element wonderfully so that each time the boys and men enter the house, you partially wonder why they would do so, but can empathize with what draws them forward.

Of course, the main reason I'm cursing Pyper isn't because of his ingenius storytelling skills, his Norman Rockwell-like capturing of small-town Ontario, nor his masterful tightening of suspense. But because this past long weekend I had been hoping to spend a bit of time working on a couple of my own writing projects. But thinking about Pyper's novel and the unresolved bits that were begging me to return to the novel every time I put it down, the way the Thurman house kept drawing the four friends back to it, messed up those plans of getting my own writing done.

So to sum this review up, I say:  "Damn you, Andrew Pyper! You've done it again! Nice job!"

Thursday, February 17, 2011

HNT - More Baba's Boys Pictures

Last year I posted some pictures of my Baba with her three grandkids. Her boys: Me, Rodney and Kevin.

Yesterday, I was going through some pictures of Baba and pulled a few more out that I thought were neat.

The first one was taken in my bedroom. I must have been either in Grade 7 or Grade 8 at the time. Rodney, Kevin and I were playing on my Intellivision game system.  You can see an Underwood typewriter on the desk beside me. I'm pretty sure that was when I was working on one of my first novels -- a "Dungeons & Dragons" inspired story of a wandering barbarian and one of those early written pieces that will NEVER leave the trunk. I'm pretty sure that the book on the TV tray was one of my D&D manuals that I was using as a piece of reference material for some of the monsters attacking my characters.

The next shot is one that was taken many years later and in the kitchen we spent so much time in with Baba.  She paused long enough from going back and forth from the fridge to get us more food and drinks to pose with us for a picture. I love the way that Baba and Kevin's hands are clasped together in this shot.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Baba

Baba & Alexander (One of my favourite pictures of the two of them)
My Baba died this week. She was 90 years old.

For those who aren't familiar with the term, Baba is a Polish term for Grandmother. (Well, technically, I believe it's supposed to be "Babcia" or "Babka" -- but hey, every family has their own unique slant on how they use terms, don't they?)

Baba wasn't just a Grandmother to me. She was like a second Mom. But not just a second Mom, because of the special relationship Grandparents always have.

Baba and Deedoo (I'm spelling it phonetically, because that's how we pronounced it), lived across the street from us when I was a baby and toddler. Among my earliest memories are me standing on the sidewalk and calling in a loud voice: "Baba! Baba! Come and get me!" Because I knew I wasn't allowed to cross the street on my own, I needed an adult to walk across with me. And Baba would always answer my call. Not just when I was that really young child, but throughout my life. All I had to do was call out, and Baba was there.

Deedoo died when I was two years old, and shortly after, my Mom, Dad and I moved across the street to live with her. We lived on the main floor and Baba moved into the basement, which was fashioned with a washroom, bedroom, living room and kitchen area -- what we called and continue to call "Baba's Apartment."  The apartment was merely an extension off the main living area and didn't really have it's own entrance or separate living arrangement.

Most people have memories of how glorious it was when visiting with their Grandparents. Grandparents typically spoil the kids and treat them like gold.

Baba and Alexander
Living with Baba, I was fortunate to receive that kind of treatment on a daily basis. And she truly did treat me like gold every single day. Baba had a way of making me feel important, making me feel special, and making me feel loved. She had a way of making so many people feel that way.

She was a woman who loved the simpler things in life. She loved having family around her, loved having people over and entertaining, and particularly loved feeding people. Baba didn't judge people, except perhaps by how they ate. If you liked to eat, Baba had a particularly strong affection for you, because nothing seemed to give her greater joy than continually shoving food in front of people. As I got older, of course, she was also shoving bottles of beer in front of me or repeatedly asking if I would like a shot of rye.

Baba and I at Christmas dinner

So memories of Baba often involve food and drink and how much she loved to feed people -- and that was her greatest joy. Except, perhaps, for the joy she got from her Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren. My cousins Rodney and Kevin and I grew up within the matriarchal umbrella of Baba's family. We were raised, in many ways, more like brothers than cousins, with Baba at the heart of most family activities. Her focus, for the longest time, was wanting to see her Grandchildren grow up -- and at every pivotal moment in our lives she was there, beaming with pride.

She had the pleasure of watching all three of her grandchildren grow up and start their own families, and then watching her great-grandchildren start to grow up. Fortunately for Baba, her recent/short-term memory and mind weren't "with it" enough to be aware that her oldest grandson, Kevin, died last year. We felt it was better that way because it would have devastated her.

We have many fond memories of Baba - most of them take place in the kitchen I'm sitting in right now while I type this up. This house is filled with decades of memories of Baba, with the love that she shared, with all the funny things she did or said, and that we still joke about.

To most of my friends, Baba wasn't "Mrs. Dusick" or "Annie" but rather "Baba" -- she was simply "Baba" to so many people. I, of course, have the distinct honour of being able to say she was "My Baba." I never once lost sight of how incredibly lucky I was to hold that priviledge.

Baba might have died, but her memory lives strong in all those who loved her and whom she loved. Losing her was very much like losing my mother, and I've been slowly preparing for this ever since she got really ill more than a year and a half ago. It feels like the mourning of her loss started way back then and that now the mourning is becoming three dimensional and real.

Yes, many tears have been shed. But there have been many more fond memories, many more special moments, and many more cherished thoughts of a dear woman who was a central part of my life for over 40 years.

When I look at the photo I took of Baba and Alexander a few years ago and the simple unabashed joy in their smiles, I remember the very special woman my Baba was.

And I smile, thankful for Baba.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Enthusiasticast

I was recently a guest on a weekly book loving podcast that exists "at the intersection of fandom, criticism and cultural gluttony" according to Mark and Jon, the show's hosts.

The Enthusiasticast is almost 50 episodes mature now and I've been listening to it for a while, continually entertained, informed, and, well, made enthusiastic about a good number of books.

Yes, Mark & Jon are just two more guys to blame for that "to read" pile which is "too high." But what can you do? Their passion for sharing great books is contagious.

Thus, I was quite delighted to be asked to be a guest on this week's episode.

Episode 47 features a discussion about podcast fiction (in which we talk about Terry Fallis, the recent Canada Reads winner for his novel The Best Laid Plans, which began life as a podcast) We also talk about several other great authors whose work we discovered through podcast fiction, such as Mathew Wayne Selznick, Scott Sigler, Seth Harwood and Mur Lafferty.

But the main reason I was there was to pump a novel and an author whose work is still mostly undiscovered (at least, outside of the Sudbury region) and, in my mind, deserves a lot more attention.

Canadian author Sean Costello is one of the most talented thriller writers I have ever read, and his most recent novel, HERE AFTER, is among the top 10 books I've read in the past decade. 

Take a look at an article I wrote for The Mark News at the beginning of 2010 and you'll see that both Terry Fallis's The Best Laid Plans and Sean Costello's Here After made the list of my top 10 titles worth reading from the first decade of this century.

Here After is, simply, the tale of a quest for a missing child, embarked upon by a grief stricken man who recently lost his own ten year old son. It's a non-stop roller coaster ride of grief, suspense and gripping action which plays beautifully upon the most common of a parent's worst fears.  But you can also listen to me rave about it in audio form. Maybe it'll convince YOU to check the novel out.

Check out The Enthsiasticast podcast (you can also download episodes via iTunes), but don't say I didn't warn you about how addictive Mark & Jon's enthusiasm for books can be . . .

Thursday, February 10, 2011

HNT - It's Snow Fun When You Do It Right

Ever since Halloween was over, Alexander has been itching to have a nice big fun snow tunnel/snow fort to play in. Given that we didn't get any real deposits of snow until just this month, he has been very patient.

But he demonstrated even greater patience when I kept telling him to wait while I slowly built up a nice pile of snow in our back yard.

It wasn't easy, and it took quite a while.

What I did was not only move all the snow off of our back deck, but also from more than half of the backyard and kept piling it up in a single gigantic pile between the deck and his play structure. No matter how large the pile got, I wanted to keep piling it higher, and keep waiting while the snow packed down.

But finally, this past weekend, it was ready.

I wanted not only to build a fun snow cabin/tunnel for him, but this time, make it so that he could slide down from his play structure and right into a tunnel.  After the snow itself was ready (ie packed high enough and of the proper consistency for digging tunnels through it) the task was complete, and we had a blast with it. 

Of course, Alexander insisted that we make a "bunny door" just big enough for Earl the rabbit to get through, and we've since also dug another secret entrance to the backyard snow structure that allows you to get into it from a passage under the climbing wall and the slide.  Earl got into the fun the other day and had a blast running in and out through the three different entrances he could fit through (unlike Alexander and I, Earl wasn't able to make it up the slide) -- he and Alexander played a game of "bunny follow the leader."

Of course, Alexander kept getting thwarted by the fact that he couldn't fit through the bunny tunnel.

Of course, we've begun packing the snow up high off to the East Wing of the structure so we can make a small room there. Maybe we'll put in a few bookshelves and a sunlight so we can sit in there and read.

We have big plans for enjoying winter while it's here.

Thus, this week's HNT picture is a shot I took of Alexander and I having fun playing in the snow in the back yard.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Little Things

Yesterday in the mail I received a contributor's copy of Issue #13 of Necrotic Tissue.

I knew it wasn't too far from arriving because on Saturday I received payment for the story via PayPal.

Necrotic Tissue #13 - Art by Nick Rose
Necrotic Tissue #13 includes my short story "Little Things." The magazine (and this one is a bonus-sized issue, "anthology sized" one might say, at 65,000 words), retails for $6.95 US. 

That's much cheaper than the price of a mass market paperback, and includes a mixture of fiction (24 stories and 8 "100 Word Bites" which are micro fiction pieces) and 6 non-fiction articles, mostly geared towards the horror writer.

Necrotic Tissue is "The Horror Writer's Magazine" and I've been reading it since it first debuted as an e-magazine.  They didn't start releasing print issues until Issue #7 (July 2009), which included my story story "Less of a Man."

My story "Little Things" is the story of a man, Daniel Jackson, who begins to see little men, miniature gnome-like creatures in the middle of the night begin to launch a full-scale mining attack on his wife's body.

It's a fun creepy little tale and one I've long been proud of. I'm delighted to see it find a home in Necrotic Tissue.

Here's an excerpt of the story (you know, just to offer a little teaser)

     Daniel smiled as he looked down at the man. It was as ifhe were gazing at a small kitten instead of an impossibly shrunken little naked man who had fallen through the ceiling in the middle of the night.
     The little man smiled back, his eyes shiny little pin points of light set in his face.
     Joy rolled over.
     "Honey, you okay," she asked sleepily.
     "Uh, yes dear." Still stunned, he didn't know what to say to her. Would she be unable to perceive the little man, just like she'd been unable to hear the tapping? "I just went to the bathroom."
     "Mmm. G'night." She rolled back over.
      Daniel started down at the little man who had started when he heard Joy's voice. Now he held the tiny axe high and jumped off Daniel's thigh onto the bed.
     The little figure stumbled over the rippled sheets, made his way over to Joy and swung the tiny pick axe into the flesh at the back of her neck.
     Joy didn't react to the blow even though it made a small pin prick in her skin. The little man pulled the axe out and a tiny bead of blood appeared. The tiny man looked back over his should at Daniel and smiled. Then he leaned forward and put his face up close to the bead of blood. After a moment, he turned back around, his teeth offering a white contrast as he grinned a broad, blood-caked smile.

Hopefully you enjoy that teaser enough to want to read the rest of the story and check out Necrotic Tissue #13.

There, my self-promotional work here is done.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Super Bowl For Non-Sports Fans

About the only time I'm into sports is towards the tail end of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But I admire the hype and build-up to things like the Super Bowl. The event goes far beyond the actual sport, and to the extreme of hoopla to such an extend that even non-sports fans like myself can enjoy and appreciate the excitement around it all.

I'm a BuzzAgent -- BuzzAgent is a word of mouth marketing network that allows me to sign up for campaigns for products and services that I might be interested in, with a chance to get samples for free and earn points towards other products.

I was recently given a chance to share some videos for Chevy Super Bowl commercials -- while most of them are fun and interesting (and man, but do I ever love Tim Allen's voice for commercials -- he does these as well as a radio series for Michegan outdoors, and has a fantastic narrator voice) I've got a few favourites from the batch that I'd like to share here.

This particular commercial, which refers to an upcoming Transformers movie, is a fun one . . . interesting to see it's an ad not just for Chevy, but also for an upcoming film.

However, I was most impressed with some of the social networking features being included in some of the new Chevrolet models. Very interesting to see.

Check out the Chevy App . . . ultimate in remote control . . .

And, of course, there's the ability to use OnStar to check your Facebook news feed . . .

See, there's something in Super Bowl for non-sports fans, too.

BzzAgent Badge

Friday, February 04, 2011

Blizzards 'N Beer

The other day, which brought strong winds and 28 cm of snow (which was a let-down, because the forecast called for upwards of 40 cm), was a snow day. Francine's workplace and my workplace were closed, as was our son's school.

I hung out with my neighbour, as we often do during the winter months, at the end of a snow shoveling session, leaning on a shovel and chatting while our kids played in the newly grown snowbanks in our front yards.

When shoveling in the morning, it was too early to break out the beer, but for our post-lunch return to shoveling, Chad brought out a couple of cans of MGD that cooled beautifully in the snowbank while we worked. Finishing, we moved to the back deck (the normal place we share beers, but usually in the hot summer months) while the kids played in the back yard.

Then I went in to get some Moosehead, which we thrust into the snowbanks to keep properly chilled.

Of course, unlike the summer months, the longer our beers sat around outside, the colder they got.

Not that they sat around for long once the shoveling was actually finished.

Because as the kids continued to play, then pop inside for some hot chocolate and snacks, we continued to make a dent in the case of Moosehead.

Gotta love ad hoc winter-time back yard gatherings.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

HNT - The Hole In The Wall

At work, we have a location known as "The Hole in the Wall" -- it's a small room (what likely used to be a small closet perhaps) off of the main bookstore that has two counters facing out in the hallway.

We use The Hole in the Wall for textbook buyback as well as for refunds during the "Rush" period.

During this past January Rush, I covered off several breaks and lunches for the lady who was overseeing the authorization of returns and had the pleasure of getting to know Rose Bivens, a person we'd brought in for that short period to run the cash register. What I didn't know is that Rose is an artist - a talented artist.

At the end of the Rush period, the staff who worked at The Hole in the Wall were surprised with a beautiful hand-crafted card drawn by Rose featuring caricatures of all of us. I thought it was absolutely brilliant and really well done -- she wonderfully captured the entire "cast" of characters and delighted us all.

(The reason I'm holding a Lemonade sign in the picture is because during one of the coldest days of January, whenever it got slow and there were no customers in line for returns, I'd call out "Lemonade! Five cents!" as students walked past the hall, perhaps wondering what the booth in the hallway was for)

Interestingly enough, if there actually were 8 of us standing inside The Hole in the Wall all at the same time, we'd be pretty crowded and standing on each others toes.  As it was, squeezing more than 5 people inside at the same time was a bit of a challenge, but certainly fun.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

It's Snow Fun

I'm continually bemused at the way bookstores have been using social media to comment on local/recent events and just have fun, providing marketing value for the store, yet amusing, entertaining and interacting with customers on a whole new level.

Remember, there's an intrinsic joy in the book nerd's heart upon walking into a bookstore, upon browsing the displays and shelves of books -- it's all about the serendipity of discovering something you weren't planning on, about the great conversation with a bookseller or another customer that enlightens you or simply brightens your day.

Photo of Shakespeare & Company from Bookshelf Porn

Really great social media presence from a bookstore offers those same things but in a digital sense.

We're lucky at Titles Bookstore McMaster University to have a creative, playful and energetic person behind our own Twitter/Facebook and other social media offerings. She's right into it, constantly interacting, answering questions and offering all kinds of hints, tips, advice, fun pictures, updates and links of interest to the greater McMaster community.

Yesterday, with the impending snowstorm threatening to criple the region, The BookShelf (Guelph's Bookstore/Cinema/Resto-Bar) sent out the following message to it's Facebook fans.  "Tomorrow customers will receive 20% off all Canadian Fiction and Non-fiction if they ski, skate, bike, snow shoe, walk... and mention this message."  I love the way it turns a "snowpocalypse" situation into something fun -- a fun challenge for customers.

Chat Noir Books also regularly puts out fun and playful Facebook & Twitter updates, as does Pages on Kensington, Words Worth Books and Blue Heron Books.  Oh, who am I kidding, that's just the beginning of the incredible digital presences of great bookstores. I could keep listing them all day.

So even on a day when a person is snowed in, you can still enjoy the fun book-nerdish joy of your favourite local (or not so local - because several of these places are far from my neighbourhood) bookstore when they're kicking around within the social media circles.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Of Mice And Bunnies

Each year, I try to go back and read a classic novel that I've missed.

Given that there are thousands of classics I haven't yet read, and each year I perhaps read no more than a couple of them, there's no shortage of great books to choose from.

Just recently, I read John Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men

The only other Steinbeck novel I'd read was The Grapes of Wrath which I read back in first year university and absolutely loved. So I was eager (yes, I know, it was after more than 20 years - but I occasionally display a bit of patience) to pick up another Steinbeck novel.

Set in the same Great Depression era as The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men tells the story of two migrant workers named George Milton and Lenny Small.  George is a smart and cynical man with a "plan" for the two of them.  His companion, Lennie, is a large, hulking and incredibly strong man with a mental disability. The two travel together to work on various ranches all the while dreaming of owning their own place. Though he seems to be cynical and scheming in his ways, George looks out for and cares Lennie as if he were a younger brother.

Regularly, throughout the novel, Lennie asks George to again, tell him like it will be one day. As George decribes the dream of their ownership of land, Lennie always fixates on the bunnies, on feeding them and caring for them and petting them and says things like: "Tell me again about the rabbits, George."

I was just near the beginning of the novel when I began to realize the old Bugs Bunny cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck encountering an abominable snowman was making a reference to this novel. The creature, who picks up both Bugs and Daffy at different times says things like:  "Just what I always wanted. A bunny rabbit of my very own. I will love him, and pet him and hug him and squeeze him and call him George."

As soon as I thought about the snowman's fixation on calling the rabbit George, I figured it must be a reference to Of Mice and Men.

I should have known. Looney Tunes cartoons were continually referencing popular cultural, historical and  literary references. Writer Tedd Pierce and director Chuck Jones were obviously having some fun with the Steinbeck allusion.

Of course, I say obvious now, because for decades I thought the Abominable Snowman scene was hilarious, how the giant lovable monster practically crushed Bugs and Daffy to death out of an over-eager love to cuddle with them. But it wasn't until I read Steinbeck's novel that I realized and could fully appreciate the allusion that was being made in the cartoon.  And reminded myself how these classic cartoons could be enjoyed on so many different levels.

I find it interesting to reaffirm how reading a classic helps you re-appreciate other works that made subtle or not-so-subtle references to them.