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This is a harsh January in Montreal. The weather here is actually colder than in Edmonton, where Monika and I spent the Christmas break. One day is plus 2 and raining, the next day is minus 15 and even colder with the windchill. It’s jarring… Whine, whine!

What’s helping ease the pain of mid-winter is… books. Holy crap, have I been exposed to some great books lately, and that is to a large extent thanks to Argo Books, an independent bookstore located on Ste. Catherine, not far from where I work.

NorthEastNorth East, Wendy McGrath
This novel from NeWest Press (hey, that’s my publisher!) is set in Edmonton as well as a rural prairie farm, and is big on mood and the feelings of the young protagonist, a girl who is likely going to grow up fast, given the family dysfunction and scarcity she is exposed to. It’s very strong for psychological insights and there is a rhythmic, repetitive quality to the prose that is sometimes reminiscent of Thomas Bernhard.

The Freedom in American Songs, Kathleen Winter
Oh boy, I haven’t devoured right through to the marrow of short stories in this way since discovering Mavis Gallant’s Home Truths. “You Seem a Little Bit Sad” is a stand-out hit (for me) in a collection that is witty, true, poignant and beautiful.

My Struggle, Books 1 and 2, Karl Ove Knausgaard
This series of six books, totalling over 3,000 pages, has been a massive success. Reportedly about one in five inhabitants of Knausgaard’s native country of Norway has read it. Zadie Smith compared it to crack, and I agree. It’s got a super-addictive quality and is unflinchingly candid. I’ll be trying to say something more intelligent about this series on my blog soon.

On Beauty, Zadie Smith
This is the only book on the list that disappointed me. I enjoyed Smith’s debut, White Teeth, so I was surprised to be so let down this time around. For a campus satire, it lacked… well, teeth. Smith was too kind to all of her characters, and ended up seemingly on the fence about everything.

Island of the Doomed, Stig Dagerman
It astounds me that Dagerman wrote this when he was only 23. I’m about halfway through and already my mind is being a little bit blown. Seven survivors of a shipwreck are trapped on an island with blind seagulls and a whole lot of iguanas. The “memory-dreams” of each survivor are in many case even more bizarre than his or her shipwrecked present.

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I started out 2015 by finishing the second draft of a novel that is tentatively called Northern Lies. I’ve been toiling away on this since summer of 2013, and honestly, I have no idea whether it’s publishable. If it is, there’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s set in Montreal, Mont Sainte-Anne, and the Eastern Townships.

In more unequivocally positive news, I had a story of mine, “The City of Magnitogorsk” published by Cosmonauts Avenue, an online magazine based here in Montreal that I am just a little bit in love with.

Happy 2015!

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Blind Spot cover

Click to enlarge

This has been a particularly exciting week in the life of my novel, Blind Spot. The super-talented Michel Vrana, who also created covers for Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues and for Jian Ghomeshi’s 1982, has produced what is in my opinion a fabulous design.

I’d always felt that the cover should depict a car crash, and furthermore, that it should be pretty clear that the crash was the result of a collision with a train. So I hope I’m not being hyperbolic when I say it was a stroke of genius for Vrana to take the railway crossing sign and blow it up like a giant X — symbolic of a warning, an error, or even an overturned cross.

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For obvious reasons (!) I’ve been thinking a lot about covers lately… My personal favourite book cover of all time is the one for The Great Gatsby. I can’t  think of any cover quite like  it, having the power to live on in a reader’s memory forever. Those eyes and lips, seemingly floating in an early night-time sky, are forever entwined in my mind with the novel itself. This Atlantic article makes it pretty clear that F. Scott Fitzgerald himself felt similarly. “For Christ’s sake don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me,” Fitzgerald wrote to his publisher. “I’ve written it into the book.”

It’s perhaps fitting that Gatsby’s cover remains the most iconic, born as it was when mass marketing was hitting its stride. Many other famous books, Lolita, for example, have been approached in numerous different ways by designers with very different sensibilities. This is probably more the norm for the book world. A story is as open to as many different visual “identities” as there are people reading it. Here are a few modern takes on Nabokov’s controversial classic. I like the way the designers feel in no way encumbered by the story’s most obvious thematic.

Besides Gatsby, the other covers that are most memorable to me are the ones for J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles, and Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.

Blind Spot is out September 2014  from NeWest Press. It’s already available for pre-order at evil Amazon.

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