Bookbinding 101

I made a thing. It’s not a perfect thing, but damnit I’m proud of it. And given the circumstances, I’m pretty sure it’s the best damn thing I could have possibly made.

I made a book.

I didn’t write the book, but I did format it. I drew all the illustrations. I sewed it. I glued it. I made the physical book itself. It sapped what sanity I had left in me at the end of semester and it took two nights of staying up until three in the morning, but I made it.


I made it as the final project for my publishing design technologies class. I had issues with that class from the beginning. Not with the class itself, exactly, but with the lab. There seemed to be no preplanned structure to the way our labs were run. Instruction was minimal at best and at worst it was confused and flat out wrong. The professor and the TA didn’t seem to have discussed how the labs were to be taught, because the TA often seemed at a loss to explain to us how to do the lab assignments the prof gave us. Considering that we were a class of students who mostly had no idea how to work InDesign, it was frustrating to say the least when the prof gave us a lab sheet that says, “do this thing” and when we ask how to do the thing, the TA says, “Don’t worry about that thing” and then, naturally, we got points taken off. After a month of that I figured that Google was probably going to be the best instructor I could get to pass that class, and I stopped asking the TA to do the thing she was getting paid to do.

This final project was no different. We received minimal guidance on how to get the book printed and were instructed to watch Sea Lemon videos to learn how to put the book together. In fact, the only part of this that I was decently confident about was the formatting part. I’m by no means an expert on InDesign now, but I feel confident in my ability to format raw text at least from this class. Illustrator and Photo Shop remain beyond my skill level. None of that would have been that big of a deal except, like I said, this was my final project. It came at the end of semester when I also had two essays and two final exams to complete/study for. And the final project was worth 22% of my grade. So I was in full on panic-stress mode for two weeks racing my deadlines while my professors and TAs were on the sidelines telling me to calm down and not freak out. Which is a bit like being on the bomb squad trying to dismantle a nuke on a sixty second timer with the whole city standing around telling you that it’d be okay if you took a coffee break. Or at least that’s how it felt at the time. And since the TA had already made me nervous about asking for any kind of help due to her insufficient knowledge, I felt completely on my own in this.

But this post is about the book, not the class, so I’m going to walk you through the step-by-step process as best I can. To be honest though, I think I’ve locked up some of these memories for my own mental health, so there may be some gaps.

We were given a raw text file for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, but it had terrible line breaks throughout the whole thing that I didn’t have time to go in and fix by myself, so I grabbed the text off the internet instead. Formatting in InDesign is an incredibly laborious process. It’s not at all like Word, so don’t complain about what your formatter charges you. It’s a pain in the ass that involves making different character styles, paragraph styles, and master pages for each different formatting element in the document. Alice is only twelve chapters long, but it took me four days just to format the raw text. Including putting in the images, doing the line edits, correcting for widows and orphans and the final proof read, I read that damn book, cover to cover, six times. That was before any printing at all had been done. (To extrapolate, the idea that ebooks require no extra work than physical books and therefore shouldn’t cost so much is wrong. It’s so wrong. Stop disseminating this idea.)

The formatting, as I said, was the easy part. After I had it formatted, I had to figure out how to print it. I ran into some problems here. The first problem was that I wanted it printed on high quality, textured cream paper. It’s just a style choice for me. I don’t like white paper because the ink contrast is too high and it hurts my eyes. I also think that it looks cheap and unprofessional, but again, that’s just me. The problem was, if I wanted that kind of paper I’d have to buy it and print it myself, because ordinary print shops don’t carry high quality textured cream paper, and they don’t let you bring in your pwn paper either. But this presented its own problem because, as I discovered the night before my very last lab in which to work on this project, my printer doesn’t print double sided. So I had to scrap that idea.

The second printing problem that I had was signatures. Signatures are packets of four to five sheets of paper representing sixteen to twenty pages when folded in half. In traditional bookbinding (ie the kind of book binding you’re probably most familiar with) signatures are sewn together to create a uniform shape for all the pages in the book. But it involves a complicated formatting arrangement of the pages that we were assured by prof and TA both that the printers would understand how to do. I was assured by prof and TA both when I asked multiple times that if I went to the printer with my regularly formatted PDF file and said, “I want this printed in signatures of five sheets each” the printer would understand and would be able to print it how I wanted it.

This was not the case. The first printer I went to had no idea what I wanted. He didn’t know what a signature was, and when I explained to him what it was, he printed the whole document in one giant signature. Imagine taking thirty-five sheets of paper and folding them all in half. It doesn’t make a nice, uniform edge, does it? Not only that, but the sheets didn’t print in the correct order, so it was a complete waste of time, and it put me in a full on freak-out, because I had to go to work that afternoon and if I couldn’t get my signatures printed that morning I wasn’t going to have time to print them ever. The TA’s advice was to print a sample sheet myself, but I didn’t know how to do that at all, and she wasn’t much help explaining it to me, so I contacted every printer within walking distance to get a price and a time quote on this project. Thankfully, DigiTech Printing, less than five minutes from my school, figured they could get it done before noon. So I hauled ass over there with my files and, I have to say, they were the nicest, most accommodating people I worked with through this whole ordeal. Their professionalism, knowledge, and willingness to work on a deadline brought me down from apoplectic panic to mild worry. They assured me that everything I wanted (aside from the high quality, textured cream paper) could be done, but there was only one, small problem: price.

Wearily I asked them how much. They said $80. I said done. They reasserted that it would cost me $80. I said I didn’t care how much it cost as long as I didn’t have to be the one to deal with it anymore. I’m not ashamed to say that I literally threw money at the problem until it went away. The important thing was that I had my signatures printed, folded and trimmed, and all I had to do now was bind the book, which I didn’t need my prof or my TA for, since I would be learning that part via YouTube videos. (Why did I spend $1000 to learn publishing design from Google and YouTube?!)


Of course I needed the materials for bookbinding. Those I had to buy from Opus, Dessew, and Michael’s which are thankfully just down the street from my school. They were unfortunately far less knowledgeable, professional and agreeable than DigiTech. Dessew seemed to be staffed by grannies who are altogether tired of your shit. With the exception of the one lady who helped me find the black canvas for my cover, everyone else I dealt with in that store treated me like a junkie asking to use the bathroom. (Though to be fair I’m pretty sure all the shopkeeps on East Hastings have to deal with more than their fair share of junkies on a regular basis.) Opus on the other hand seemed to be staffed entirely by stoners who thought it would be great to operate an art supply store until the high wore off and they realized they had no fucking idea what they were doing there. No one seemed to know where anything was in the store. I was passed off to four different employees who kept scattering like scared rats at the sight of a customer. My efforts to explain what I was looking for turned up the most useless products for my project (giant sheets of paper that no one would cut, when I only needed a couple 8″x11″s) and endless chatter about anything but the products I was looking for. My last stop was Michael’s which looked like the Grinch had ransacked it. He took the cloth-binders, paper-punchers, and ink-dabbers. He took the wax thread, the gold letters, the red ribbons. What bits of glitter he left behind in that store were barely enough for a mouse and no more. Lesson learned: don’t go to Michael’s before Christmas.


So there I had all my supplies. All I had to do was: sew the signatures, glue the signatures, trim the pages, cut the cover boards, measure the cloth cover, make the headband, position the lettering, make a text block, glue the headband to the text block, glue the text block to the end sheets, glue the end sheets to the cover and FINISHED!

Easier said than done. The sewing of the signatures actually turned out to be fairly easy, despite me doing it completely wrong the first time and having to cut and unthread the whole thing and start from the beginning. I was actually quite pleased with how the corrected version turned out.


I applied two coats of bookbinding glue to the sewn spine and let it dry overnight while I worked on the cover. The cover was trickier. As with every step of this damn project, there was a problem. In this case, I ran out of time to make a dust jacket, in part because I was busy completing other assignments, and in part because the printing of the signatures took way, way more time than I anticipated it would for reasons outlined above. So I had to put the title directly on the cloth itself, and the only way I could think to do that in a professional looking way was with iron-on letters. These came in large sheets from which each individual letter had to be cut in squares. The squares then had to be placed down on the cloth and ironed on both sides, which meant that I couldn’t glue the cover boards to the cloth until after I had ironed on the letters. This posed the challenge of how to position the letters so that they would appear evenly on the final cover. I solved this in the messiest way possible: I outlined in chalk. In hindsight this was probably not the best idea. Honestly, a piece of yarn rolled in flour probably would have been neater, but I was fueled entirely by coffee and cortisol as I was working on this portion, so I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly. I sketched out the position of the book boards, and where I wanted the letters to be which left only one complication: how to line up the individual squares of letters so that they would look neat and not move under the iron? My solution: make a type block out of scotch tape. I positioned each letter upside down and backwards as neatly as I could muster on a strip of tape and then taped the sucker down on the chalk line I drew for it. I could then iron the letters, front and back without worrying about them shifting out of place as I did so. The result was less than perfect, but better than expected.


It took a course paint brush to scrub away most of the chalk lines. I wasn’t exactly happy with the lines that remained, but definitely too exhausted to care overly much about it. Gluing everything together also turned out to be relatively easy, starting with the text block which took a couple of extra sheets to make it cohesive, and then the end sheets, which would attach it to the finished cover. For whatever reason the edges of the pages ended up slightly uneven at this stage, so I had to cut them with a craft knife. Despite my best efforts, however, the knife kept slipping and I was left with an uneven cut. Sea Lemon recommended taking a file to the uneven edges to make them smooth which yielded… mixed results which I won’t picture here.


The final complication ended up being a few pieces of information that, if left missing, would result in at least a letter grade deduction. These were, ISBN, publisher information, and the back blurb. As already mentioned, I didn’t have time to do a dusk jacket, so I was going to print an obi (book belt) to fit around the back cover instead, except my easily confused printer couldn’t figure out what size paper I wanted, so I had to go with something much smaller and much more slapped together. In the end, the final product looked like this:

I don’t know what I got on the project. I won’t know until I get it back in January. If my final grade is anything to go by I got less than an A on it, which I’m extremely disappointed by given the amount of effort I put into this compared to the amount and quality of instruction. I ended up finishing the course with an A- however, so I don’t have much footing on which to complain. If there are any constructive criticisms on the project when I get it back, I’ll edit them in here. What I do have are the memories, and the first hand knowledge of what an all nighter looks like. For the record, it looks like this:



Y is for…

Y is for yes please! Y

Yolen, Jane



I remember the first time I picked up a book by Jane Yolen. It was at that moment that I stopped going outside for recess and lunch. For the rest of the year. I’d had a pretty big love affair with books before I first read Dragon’s Blood, but when I found it in my school library and discovered there were books there that were not related to researching the life of a dead artist (non-fiction took a lot longer to grow on me), any moment not spent in class, I was wedged between shelves of books reading. Jane Yolen’s Pit Dragon Chronicles absolutely put me there. I only read the first three–that’s all my school had, but Alex has read up to four. We want to complete our collection, but we’re both unhappy with the new cover design, and if possible, we want to get them with the original covers. There’s something about the cartoonish covers that doesn’t mesh right with the theme of the books.

Anyway, The Pit Dragon Chronicles isn’t the only thing I’ve read by Yolen, nor the only books I plan to read by her. I’ve had her book Encounter on my wishlist for ages, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the series of books, How Do Dinosaurs… which we bought for our more Jurassically minded students was also co-written by her. She is a fantastically imaginative writer, capable of pulling a reader deep into her words. She is one of the first writers to really solidify a love of reading in me and I’m very grateful.



Yes, that’s a Frida Kahlo finger puppet. I ran out of dragons, and they’re both awesome ladies so it works.

W is for…

WW is for wonderful, witty, and whimsical:

Walls, Jeanette
Watson, SJ
Watt-Evans, Lawrence
Weeks, Brent
Wilde, Oscar
Wilson, Catherine M.
Williams, Tad
Wolfe, Gene
Wrede, Patricia C.

Finally some more books to talk about! That last post was so embarrassing.

To start with, I don’t know much about Jeanette Walls or her book The Glass Castle. This book is Alex’s, and I suppose she had her own reasons for buying it. It’s on my 2014 reading list, but until I get down that far, you’ll have to wait for my synopsis and review.

We were given Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson by a coworker who gave us a detailed summary of it. If memory serves, it’s like the movie Memento, only with less violence and a female protagonist. Interesting. I’ll have to give it a read.

I love Lawrence Watt-Evens‘s writing. The first book I read of his was Dragon Weather, which I picked up because I had my own definition as to what dragon weather was, and I was interested in what a published author’s vision was compared to mine. (Note, my 15 year old self decided that dragon weather was when the clouds in the sky all looked like dragons. Many a summer afternoon was spent on the trampoline sketching. Good times.) In any case, I read Dragon Weather and Dragon Venom but haven’t gotten to Dragon Society yet. I have read The Misenchanted Sword though, which I highly enjoyed.

I went back home to Canada last Christmas and came back with over a dozen new books. Brent Weeks‘s The Way of Shadows was one of them. It’s so new it doesn’t even have any dust on its cover yet, so it goes without saying that I haven’t read it. The bookstore check out lady told me that I’d enjoy it, and should buy the whole series. I almost told her about my experience with Magic’s Pawn, but thought the better of it. My brother was impatient to leave anyway.

I had friends in high school who crushed on Oscar Wilde, but after admitting my secret attraction to John Keats, who am I to judge? I started reading The Picture of Dorian Gray in 8th grade, but never finished it. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the book, but like so many other classics that I started and abandoned at that time, I just wasn’t ready to enjoy it as fully as I can now. I’ll absolutely be returning to this book, I just have to figure out when.

Like The Glass Castle, Catherine M. Wilson‘s When Women Were Warriors is Alex’s book. I’m under the impression that she bought it for research purposes, but other than that, I can’t tell you much else about it. Sorry.

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams is one of the books that pops up on my Goodreads recommendations page all the time. When I finally reached it on my wishlist, I was quite pleased to finally have a copy of it. First of all, I was surprised by how big it is. That book towers over most of the rest in my collection. Also, it has an index of all the names in the book, which I really, really appreciate, because my goldfish memory makes it very hard for me to keep track of people in places for the first third of a book–before I’ve had a chance to attach myself to any character or plot arc enough to really care about it. I’m looking forward to reading this one, though sadly, I bought it late in 2013, so it missed my reading list for this year.

I bought The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe on a recommendation. Haven’t read it. Plan to read it. You know the drill by now.

Finally, Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing With Dragons and the three books that come after it captured my heart as a child and I’ve never been able to let them go. I read them first as borrowed library books and when I entered adulthood with my pockets overflowing with money (ha!) I still remembered them and bought my own copies. Wrede has written in this series an amazing female protagonist. She’s Munsch’s Paper Bag Princess for MG audiences. The fairy tale / magic world is adorable, tangible, flipped and ridiculous. Shrek before the was Shrek. The dragons are intelligent, emotional and have their own society, laws, and history. I’ll always love this series; it will forever bring me back to my childhood.


I’m bursting with Ws today! Have any more for me? I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the above authors or their books too!

R is for…

RR is for retelling, roaming, and rebellion:

Radford, Irene
Renault, Mary
Rohan, Koda
Ross, Catrien
Roth, Veronica
Rowling, J. K

Got some popular names in this letter, and a bunch more authors I haven’t read.

Like Irene Radford‘s The Glass Dragon. This is apparently The Glass Dragon Alex was talking about when she recommended it to me. I still haven’t read either, but then again, I just brought this to Japan with me from where it was sitting in storage back home, so maybe it’ll be read soon.

I started reading The King Must Die by Mary Renault years ago. I’m not sure what possessed me to buy it when I did–not that it’s a bad book, it’s just not the sort of thing I would have normally been interested in at the time. Maybe that accounts for why it remains unfinished to this day. I’ll have to pick it back up again though, since I’ve heard good things about it.

Koda Rohan was the pen name of Kōda Shigeyuki, a Japanese author who wrote in the early twentieth century. His grandfather was among the last of the samurai still serving the shogun before the class was officially outlawed in the Meiji era. The book Pagoda, Skull & Samurai is a collection of three of Rohan’s short stories, The Five-Storied Pagoda, Encounter With a Skull, and The Bearded Samurai. If you like stories with a touch of the strange, a touch of the historical or a touch of the cultural, Pagoda, Skull & Samurai, or really any of Koda Rohan’s stories are a good fit for you.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that we have a lot of Japanese literature in our house. Alex majored in it, and I’ve had my own interests in Japanese stories for a long time. Japanese Ghost Stories, compiled by Catrien Ross was a book I bought for Alex a while ago from one of the Japanese book stores that unfortunately went out of business. I haven’t read it yet, but it looks good.

I bought Veronica Roth‘s Divergent last year without really knowing what it was about, or really, even what genre it was. I didn’t even have any idea as to how popular it was at the time, or that there was a movie being made. I’m in a bit of a bubble over here in Japan, is what I’m saying. Anyway, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but my friends tell me it’s good, so I suppose that’s something.

I have, however read most of J. K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter series after much nagging by friends in high school. I didn’t get through the whole series. My interest died around the fifth or sixth book, I’m not sure which, but there wasn’t anything within it that made me dislike it. I won’t sing its praises, but I won’t part with it bitterly either.



I’m starting to pick up more authors again. Got any others I can add here? Do you find yourself amazed or disappointed by the popular books of the times? Let me know in the comments.

N is for…

NN is for not well read:

Newman, Kim
Nielsen, Jennifer A.
Novik, Naomi


I mean, compared to how well read I want to be. It seems that more often than not in this challenge I’ve been talking about the books I haven’t read. When faced with the reality that no one will ever be able to read all the books in the world, it’s a wonder that anyone can ever call themselves ‘well read’. In any case, here are two more authors I haven’t read, and one more that I have.

Anno Dracula by Kim Newman has only been on my TBR list for a very short time. I bought it when I went home last year. It was a wonder I could find it at all, the state of the horror section at my local book store was a terrible mess. It almost made me want to fix it myself, but the store was too crowded with holiday shoppers and I would have looked like a crazy lady. Or else I would have had people mistake me for an actual employee.

I gave Jennifer A. Nielsen‘s The False Prince to Alex for Christmas last year. Apparently she read it while I was away and really enjoyed it, so I’ll have to read it too. I mean, I’ll have to read it by virtue of it sitting there on my book shelf, but getting an endorsement from Alex is sure to bump a book pretty high on the list.

Naomi Novik I have read, many years ago. The first book in the series, His Majesty’s Dragon was a great read, even though it went places I really hadn’t expected. It was in the second and third books that I started to lose interest. The series takes place during the Napoleonic wars and asks the question on every historian’s mind of any era: how could history be improved with dragons?




I’m kind of on a roller coaster of fat and skimpy letters here. Do you know any other great N authors? Read any of these books and are burning to tell me about them? Let me know in the comments!

G is for…

GG is for Graceless, geisha, and gargantuan novels:

Gaiman, Neil
George, Jean Craighead
Gibbons, Stella
Gilbert, Henry
Golden, Arthur
Goldman, William
Goodkind, Terry
Green, John

OK, we’ve had one too many light posts in a row, so G is going to bring our word count back up. Brace yourselves, here it comes.

What can I say about Neil Gaiman that the world doesn’t already know? The man is a fantastic author who can weave a fantasy world which can suck the reader in and keep a piece of them there forever. Do I have personal favorites? Of course. Anansi Boys is in my top five favorite books, kept there perhaps in part by my love of spiders, but also just because the story itself is so captivating, the myth and magic so realistic, and the humor so silly at times that I can’t help but fall in love again every time I read it. Neverwhere, of course is another favorite of mine, one which I find myself continuously inspired by. Likewise, Good Omens, written with Terry Pratchett also impressed me with its wicked humor and devilishly good story telling. But I don’t need to spend many words convincing you that Gaiman is worth a read. The only question that needs answering is which book next?

Jean Craighead George wrote what is probably my favorite book from my childhood, My Side of the Mountain, about a young boy named Sam who runs away from his cramped city apartment to cut himself out a life in the forest. The story spoke to the inner wild child in me at a time when I cherished my yearly summer escapes on my own to my uncle and aunt’s rustic cabin in the country. Pictured is George’s other famous work, Julie of the Wolves, which I haven’t read but if it is as good as My Side of the Mountain I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons is the kind of book which requires a lot of prior reading to fully understand all the nuances and allusions. Written as a parody of the popular genres of the time, Cold Comfort Farm pokes fun at tropes with a post modern character who breezes into the plot and undermines them all. Like many authors who become famous for one work at the expense of all their others, Gibbons resented how Cold Comfort Farm earned her the reputation of a one work novelist, despite having published twenty-two other books.

This recounting of the tale of Robin Hood by Henry Gilbert obviously isn’t the first. Stories of the famous moralistic bandit date back to the 13th century and have of course been embellished. Robin Hood started out as a commoner, for example, and over time has been elevated to the position of disposed nobleman fighting against an unjust usurper king.

I haven’t read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden yet, though I want to. Golden has had an enviable scholarly career with an M.A. in both Japanese history and English. Subsequent to the publication of Memoirs of a Geisha, Golden was sued by Mineko Iwasaki–one of the geisha interviewed for the book–for failing to protect her identity. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

I haven’t read William Goldman‘s The Princess Bride yet, though I only just got it for my birthday last year. Like Burgess, Goldman also wrote a novel in three weeks: The Temple of Gold. I just might have to check that one out too.

I started reading Terry Goodkind‘s Sword of Truth series in high school and read it pretty faithfully through until Chainfire. At that point, I felt so bad for the main character that I couldn’t read any further. I have to wonder what Richard did to Goodkind to receive such constant, terrible abuse.

I haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars (pictured) or any of John Green‘s other books yet, but I do follow many of his YouTube channels, and greatly appreciate the Crash Course program he and his brother host. Without a doubt Green has a passion for words and learning, which makes him all right in my books.


You made it through to the end, now it’s recommendation time. Are there any books by the above authors I absolutely must read? Did I miss any fantastic ‘G’ authors? Let me know in the comments.

B is for…

BB is for yellow bricks, lost boys, and a bolshy B biblio:

Ball, David
Barrie, J. M.
Baum, L. Frank
Beagle, Peter
Bear, Elizabeth
Bierce, Ambrose
Blake, Margaret Rose
Booth, Michael
Bradbury, Ray
Brett, Peter V
, Poppy Z.
Brooks, Terry
Brust, Steven
Bunch, Chris
Burgess, Anthony
Burnett, Frances Hodgson
Butcher, Jim

Wow, I have a lot of B authors! I’ll try for quick commentary to keep this under 500 1000 words:

David Ball‘s Empires of Sand is an 800 page historical novel. I’m 100 pages in and it’s enjoyable so far, if a bit confusing. It jumps like a nervous frog through perspective and setting with little warning, so it can be hard to keep track of whose head you’re in as you read. It is also the second book on my 2014 reading list.

I have not yet read Peter Pan, or any other of J. M. Barries works, but fun fact, he was only about five feet tall, and once asked Arthur Conan Doyle to help him finish and revise an opera he was working on.

When I read The Wizard of Oz for the first time I was struck by how perfectly childish the writing was. I appreciate it when authors can tell their stories truly from the perspective of their characters, as L. Frank Baum does in The Wizard of Oz.

Not pictured but read is Peter Beagle‘s The Unicorn Sonata which I quite enjoyed, but wished had a more solid ending. I haven’t read The Last Unicorn, but I have seen the animated version, which doesn’t count at all.

Alex and I both bought Elizabeth Bear‘s Range of Ghosts at the same time and for the same purpose: to see how other writers are adapting culture into fantasy. We still have an extra copy floating around the house, fate undecided.

I loved The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. If you like satirical humor, you just might like it too.

Alex won The Ring of Curses by Margaret Rose Blake at a novel launch party, and I have to admit, this YA looks pretty good. The series title is Merlin’s School for Ordinary Children, which is a nice take on the magical school theme in YA. I look forward to reading it.

Just as Well I’m Leaving is a biography and travelogue by Michael Booth about Hans Christian Andersen, which makes me wonder why it’s not higher on my reading list than it is.

Ray Bradbury wrote many books over multiple genres and is considered a writing legend for his contribution to American literature. Sadly, he passed away in 2012, but not before leaving us with works such as The Halloween Tree and Something Wicked This Way Comes (pictured) among many, many others.

Peter V. Brett is a new addition to my book shelf. Recommendations spurred me to buy The Warded Man which I haven’t had a chance to sample yet.

Poppy Z. Brite has been one of my favorite authors since high school and probably always will be. Lost Souls remains my favorite book, and has held that position for over a decade, despite some pretty heavy competition. Writing in the horror genre, Brite combines skin crawling imagery with deep human emotions to create stories that have given me nightmares more than once.

I read the first five books of Terry Brooks‘s Magic Kingdom of Landover series in a week and was disappointed there weren’t any more. Then I discovered that there are! I’m looking forward to finishing this series, and starting Shannara which has always been absent from my reading lists.

It’s nice when one’s favorite authors are prolific. Whenever I want a smart story told by a snarky protagonist in a fun, tangible world, I reach for one of Steven Brust‘s many books. Hawk, the latest addition to his Dragaera series is set to come out this autumn, and I’m so filled with excitement I can hardly contain it.

I’ve had Chris Bunch‘s Storm of Wings on my shelf for years, and haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. I’ll need to fix that soon, I think.

A Clockwork Orange is easily one of my favorite books. That Anthony Burgess wrote it in only three weeks, and still managed to pack it so full of hidden allusions and meaning still boggles my mind.

I have not read any of Frances Hodgson Burnett‘s writing yet, but I loved the film adaptation of A Little Princess.

Jim Butcher‘s Storm Front: Soon… soon.

Which of these books have you read? Do you have any favorites by the authors mentioned above? Let me know in the comments.




2013: Some Bookish Stats

Everyone likes a good look back at the previous twelve months at year’s end. No? Only me? Well, since it’s Christmas time, and I assume that no one is actually paying attention to the last few blog posts of the year, I’ll slip this one in right now. You’re more than free to click away if you’ve got something better to do. Probably more turkey eating or wine drinking. If, however, you’re trying to escape relatives for a few precious moments under the guise of ‘very important emails from the office to tend to’, please enjoy the visual summary below of my 2013 reading list:

thanks but this isn't for us tMoFSF sep-oct the elements of style the halloween tree civilization and its discontents scaramouche the incrementalists shadowdance The unicorn sonata leviathan yurei attack yokai attack sandman-the dream hunters Hawkwoods voyage tMoFSF july-aug The woman in white landmarks of scientific socialism- anti-duehring lord of light TMoFSF may-june Dr. Jeckel & Mr. Hyde The gift of the magi The devil's dictionary 50 great american short stories One flew over the cuckoos nest plot & structure expletive deleted A book of five rings the scarlet pimpernel mythical creatures bible characters viewpoint & emotion womansword Description & setting Masks Book_SunMoonStars

books 2013 piebook format 2013

Ooo, colorful graphs and all.

My goal was to read fifty books this year. Turns out that was just a little bit ambitious. I got through thirty-four in the end, which isn’t all that bad, I think. I’ll try to set a more realistic goal for the new year. I read much more non-fiction than I figured I would, and read a disturbingly small amount of fantasy. This needs to be corrected in the new year. I had a lot of fun reviewing [the fiction books] once I realized that I could do that–give my opinions of written works. In a public place. Where people will read them. GAH!

Mostly, I just enjoyed reading again. As I mentioned in a previous post, in the last five years, I really haven’t had a chance to read much at all. Moving out of my parent’s house, starting university and moving to the other side of the world were just a few of the hectic life changes that have kept me from the sort of leisure time that I would spend with a good book in the past. Unfortunately this means that my reading library ended after high school, while my tastes have matured along with me. I’ve missed out on a lot of good books, new and old. Now, fortunately–and with the help of many likewise bookishly minded friends– I’m discovering some of those great reads for the first time.

So, for all you book lovers out there desperate for a few more minutes of alone time before braving the family holiday drama once again, what were your favorite books of 2013 and which books (preferably fantasy or science fiction) do you consider must reads?

The Halloween Tree: Afterthoughts

Before I get into this I want to clarify that I might be the teeniest bit biased in how much I loved this book. To start with, Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year, hands down, but more than that, The Halloween Tree was my favorite holiday special as a child. It aired in 1993, but as far as I can remember, it only played one year in Canada. My mom recorded it because that’s what 90’s moms with VCRs did with holiday specials back before the fancy torrents of nowadays—but the recording got mangled and the movie wouldn’t play properly and all I had left were memories of it. Ray Bradbury himself wrote the screenplay for the movie and voiced the narrator, bringing to life the excitement and wonder of childhood adventure that is electric in the book.

The halloween tree bookThe Halloween Tree movie

I hope I don’t have to point out which one is the book and which one is the movie.

It goes without saying then, that I really enjoyed the book. Like, really enjoyed it. It’s a short read; a matter of hours for an average adult and likely under an hour for a fast reader. The speed of the story is all but tangible in the language, and the great, descriptive metaphors almost create in the words on the page their own character. This paragraph, for example, really stuck with me:


They yelled with delight. They shrieked with ingasped, outgasped terror. They rode across the moon in an exclamation point. They soared over the hills and meadows and farms. They saw themselves reflected in dusky moon-bright streams, creeks, rivers. They brushed down over ancient trees. The wind stirred by their passing shook down whole government mints of coins, leaves, brought showering to the black-grassed earth…


So much of the book, told from the point of view of eight boys trick-or-treating on Halloween night, is expressed in these breathless flashes of description and metaphor, capturing the height of childhood restless energy. This is one of those rare books where the language used is intrinsic to the story.

These eight boys, dressed head to toe unrecognizably in their Halloween finest, chomp at the bit to get started on their once a year festival of costumes and candy. But where is Pipkin? The smartest, fastest, most agreeable of all of them? The one who loves Halloween the most? They couldn’t start without him! As one (the boys are almost a collective character through most of the book) they go to the house of their dear friend to call him out to join them, but tonight Pip is pale. He is slow. His voice is weak! Is Pipkin sick?!

Pip begs his friends to go ahead of him, to start the adventure on their own at the house by the ravine, insisting that he will catch up. Reluctantly, at first, the boys take his reassurances, and whooping, chase themselves all the way to the appointed meeting spot. Once there–sight of sights–they find an incredible, towering tree, where hanging from every branch is a new, freshly carved face of a jack-o-lanturn. Collecting themselves, the group moves to the porch, where they knock on the old knocker and are met by a thin man in black, who promises them no treats, only tricks. He introduces himself as Mr. Moundshroud and offers to take the boys on an adventure to learn the past and secrets of Halloween, the realities beyond the candy, and which are only hinted at in the costumes.

The boys hesitate, but when Pipkin arrives, slow and pale and weak still, and is suddenly whisked away to the Undiscovered Country, the boys at once set themselves to the task of finding and rescuing their missing friend.

The Halloween Tree scoops up the reader along with the eight young adventurers and spirits them away through the ages to explore all the cultural influences of Halloween. Yes, it is a ‘protagonist discovers the true meaning of the season’ story, but with all the different celebrations of All Hallow’s Eve to be found through out the world and history, the ebb and flow of night and day, winter and summer, of druids, and which hunts, mummies, monsters and colorful parades one can almost forget that such an exciting story is also educational.

It’s the raw, rushed ending of the book that gets me the most, however. After having traveled through thousands of years of festivals of the dead, seeing the origins of the costumes, of the candy and of the fear of death that prevails through the ages, the boys are only able to save the life of their friend by giving up a year off of their own lives to Death. As a child, this unexpected, dire twist at the end struck me hard and has had a lasting influence in the themes of my own writing.

This is an amazing book, which I recommend wholeheartedly to anyone who loves Halloween and brilliant writing. Reading it now for the first time I was transported back to the days of my childhood, not only by the memories of a cherished story from my past, but by the free, wild imagination of youth that Bradbury writes into every sentence of The Halloween Tree.

Bonus video

The next book on my reading list is The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Sept/Oct 2013

The Unicorn Sonata: Afterthoughts

I probably shouldn’t be writing this review at midnight when I have to be up for work at seven in the morning, on yet another seven day work week and with a mysterious cold/flu miasma drifting through the house, but what the hell, YOLO, amirite?

Peter Beagle’s The Unicorn Sonata was a light, quick read – much appreciated after pounding through Leviathan last week. It’s a charming story, thought provoking and with a great deal of imagination and lasting imagery – it’s just out of my age range, sadly. However, despite being fifteen years too old for this book, I still found it enjoyable and I can’t help but feeling that’s part of its message. In any case, it made me think some things and feel some feels, which is what hooks me to a book in the end.

the unicorn sonataI’m much too old to like this book… but I do anyway.

…also, spoilers.

The book tells the story of Joey (Josephine) a typical young teen, with all the feelings of displacement and dissatisfaction that come with being her age. She has an affinity for music, and spends her free time in the music shop of a Greek man by the name of John Papas. On one such day, a strange boy enters the store and offers to sell John Papas a horn that plays the most beautiful, mysterious music – for all the gold Papas can give him.

In the end, the boy refuses the deal and disappears again. Joey, however, is haunted by the music, and one night it leads her from her bed, down into the street and straight into a magical ‘other world’ called Shei’rah. There she meets and befriends all manner of magical creatures including mermaids, satyrs and unicorns – the latter of which have become mysteriously blind. To unravel the mystery, Joey must come to understand the meaning of home and family and sacrifice.

If the book has one failing, it’s the ending. The blindness of the unicorns is treated as if from an outside agent, seperate from the realm and scope of the unicorns themselves. As a result, the sudden afterthought in the last chapter of ‘the unicorns went blind because one unicorn really didn’t want to be a unicorn, but couldn’t physically sell his horn for selfish reasons, so the universe created a very, very specific reason for him to need a lot of gold to cure them’ made me do a mental double take. I wish the book had gone into more detail about the affliction, or about the powers of the unicorns, because other than the ending that my suspension of disbelief couldn’t surmount, I really did enjoy the story.

It’s the kind of book I would have loved in my middle school years. That got me to thinking though: how many of the books I read and enjoyed in my youth would not hold up now? If I read them again, would I be able to conjure the same feelings of warmth, imagination and excitement that I did then? Do the books that I do reread and still love continue to evoke that affection from memory alone? There are a handful of books for me that can be read and read and read some more and never seem to lose that glow. There are books that I read in my youth that I know for certain I enjoyed only because they resonated with events in my life at the time. If I were to read them again now, a changed person dealing with new struggles, discoveries and advances, would I find them as captivating as I once did?

To branch from that thought, there was one passage in the book that spoke to me especially. When Joey is learning to write the music of Shei’rah and feels she is getting the hang of it, she says as much to John Papas and he has this to say in reply:

“Nah, it’s never right Josephine Angelina Rivera. This world, that world, doesn’t matter. You never make people to see what you see, hear, feel what you feel. Notes don’t do it, words don’t do it, paints, bronze, marble, nothing. All you can do, you maybe get it a little close, a little closer. But right, like you’re talking? No. No.”

It gets to the heart of something I’ve been thinking about for a little while now. As an artist – any kind of artist – there’s a world in your head and heart which maybe you can see clearly and maybe you can’t, but it’s there, and the hardest part about having it there and wanting to share it -especially in the beginning- is getting it out with the same clarity, the same rightness with which you see it in your mind.

And sometimes there are holes in the completeness of the world, and your brain can skip over them easily enough in private, but when you want someone else to see what you see, they don’t understand the holes and it’s frustrating. It’s the most frustrating thing about trying to produce art, in my opinion. The hours spent writing and rewriting, drawing and erasing, painting and restarting never produce the result that feels right. The only comfort is that with every attempt, it gets a little bit closer to right.

And those are my final thoughts on The Unicorn Sonata. It’s a pleasant, fanciful read, with a little something for children and adults both.

The next book on my reading list is Shadowdance by Robin Wayne Bailey.