Canada Reads 2010 – Join the debate at The Bookstore!

CBC Radio is once again hosting Canada’s favourite literary debate, Canada Reads. For three months, five fiction titles will be the subjects of online, public, and on-air events, leading up to a week of shows hosted by Jian Ghomeshi and featuring five celebrity panelists who will each make their case as to why their book should be the one that all of Canada should read.  The books, along with their defenders:

The Jade Peony, by Wayson Choy (Douglas & McIntyre, defended by Samantha Nutt)

Generation X, by Douglas Coupland (St. Martin’s Press, defended by Cadence Weapon)

Nikolski, by Nicolas Dickner (Vintage, defended by Michel Vezina)

Good to a Fault, by Marina Endicott (Freehand Books, defended by Simi Sara)

Fall on Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald (Vintage, defended by Perdita Felicien)

You can join the debate at Toronto Reads by participating in our poll, or at the U of T Bookstore, where all five of the books are available.

Wondering Where the Dodo Went?

Even in a large bookstore with tens of thousands of titles in stock, we as booksellers have to make some tough choices: there is simply not enough room to carry every book.  We have to decide which books are important, which ones might be popular, and throw in some titles (our personal favourites) that we figure no one can do without.  It’s a balancing act, and we hope you like what we’ve selected.  We like to see ourselves as tastemakers or guides, and so when we have the opportunity to introduce our customers to a brand new author, it’s especially gratifying.

I recently had the chance to add one such “discovery” to our selection, a young author named Elijah Teitelbaum whose bio gives a hint of the sensibilities of his work.  “He is often described as ‘weird (but in a good way)’, ‘tall-ish’, and ‘rather smart’.”  I hope that many more people will come to enjoy his work, available as Where the Dodo Went: A Collection of Short Stories and Poems.

A few words come to mind when reading Where the Dodo Went: surreal, whimsical, menacing, Brautigan.  Like Brautigan, Teitelbaum creates engaging, fantasy-tinged stories with touches of humour, but is often deadly-serious: important things are being addressed.  Archetypes are a recurring theme, as the stories include characters identified as “The Man”, “The Woman”, or “Lust”, “Greed”, and “Anger”. Subjects are as varied as an existential showdown with a new toaster, the struggle to accept reality, and an attempt to use terror to cover up a past wrong.  As the back cover puts it: “Within these pages the unreal intrudes upon the real and the ordinary is displayed in the shadow of the unbelievable.”

Where the Dodo Went introduces a fresh voice in Canadian fiction, one that I hope will receive the attention that he deserves, if only so that, years from now, I can proudly say “I knew him when…”

Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays

Every year around this time we’re inundated with stories about conspicuous consumption, waste, and how Western society has forgotten the True Meaning of Christmas™.  In the United States “Black Friday”, the day after Thanksgiving and the biggest shopping day of the year, is too often accompanied by stories of fights breaking out over Tickle Me Elmo dolls or stampedes at department stores resulting in loss of life.

In Scroogenomics, Joel Waldfogel, an economist and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, addresses these issues, but his arguments centre around the wastefulness of Christmas gift-giving from a purely economic point of view.  In his opinion, there’s nothing inherently wrong with spending billions every year on gifts, as long as we’re getting full value for our gift-giving.

Waldfogel’s argument centres around the economic notion of “value destruction”.  In the case of Santa Claus, Waldfogel argues that “his tornado of giving does a perennially poor job of matching stuff with people.”  When we make our own decisions about purchases, we do a pretty good job of matching value to our needs and desires, while “the process at Christmas… has givers shooting in the dark about what you like”.  This is the reason we regularly receive gifts that we would never purchase ourselves.  But someone paid $50 for a sweater that I’ll never wear, which decreases its actual value to near $0.  That, the author argues, is the true waste at Christmas-time.

It turns out that the United States is not even the worst offender when it comes to Christmas excess–it actually falls in the middle when adjusted for the percentage of income spent on holiday gifts.  Some of those Europeans who like to deride the U.S. for its excess are even worse!

It turns out–not that surprisingly–that grandma is worse than just about everyone at finding a gift that you’ll appreciate to the full value of its cost.  But it’s not her fault–she rarely sees you, doesn’t know you that well, and when she gives you a horrible gift, you lie and tell her you love it.  She doesn’t learn to be a better gift-giver because you allow her to believe she’s done a good job.  But she probably hasn’t: value destroyed.

Waldfogel advocates a couple of solutions since it’s socially painful to let grandma know that her gift was a waste of money: 1) encourage the use of gift cards, which allows  recipients to make their own decisions and maximize the value of the gift, and 2) expand the use of charity gift cards, which enable the recipient to donate the amount you’ve given to them to the charity of their choice, since studies show that we “would like to give more to charity, if only we had the money.”