Every book lover has a literary locale that particularly inspires and delights. It’s a happy place, one where it is possible to breathe in the smells of ink and paper and feel galvanized to write, to study, or just to read. Walking in, one experiences a frisson of excitement, a thrill of being in a place that speaks to the deepest roots of one’s love of the written word. For me, that place is (so far!) the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.
The library houses the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Toronto. From the outside, I’ll admit, it’s not much to look at. A Brutalist protuberance from the Robarts Library, it is essentially a concrete bunker meant to protect the valuable books therein. But inside! Not only is it visually stunning, it also houses a number of books that would impress many an avid reader. The collection includes Shakespeare’s First Folio, annotated proof sheets of some of Charles Darwin’s works, a rather good Lewis Carroll collection, as well as archival papers from Canadian literary luminaries like Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen. I find it particularly of interest that they hold an extensive collection of Canadian small and fine press materials. Basically, for a porcupette who basically lives for all things books, it’s an environment designed to set my book loving heart a-racing.
Is it any wonder that one of my favourite events is the Fisher Small and Fine Press Fair? Held biennially, it usually occurs the first Saturday after Labour Day, and it hosts a variety of printmakers, small presses and book artists in the reading room of the library. The pandemic kept us away for longer than any of us would have liked, but I’m pleased to say that we were able to attend this favourite event this past weekend.
We did some brisk business, and were especially pleased to offer audiences hot-off-the-press copies of Wesley W. Bates’s Out of the Dark, as well as other new releases such as C. I. Matthews’s Took You So Long. But most of all, it was a joy to meet with the like-minded vendors, to visit with friends new and old and to meet with all the wonderful Toronto-based authors, readers, and followers of social media accounts!
Many thanks to all who took the time to stop by, say hello, and add a book or two to their own private collections.
What’s happening this month?
First copies of Out of the Dark are available to purchase, but we’re still working on binding and trimming the rest of the print run. Once that task is complete, we’ll be looking to work on production of the first of the Fall 2022 titles, not to mention getting the upcoming issue of the Devil’s Artisan ready to go. No rest for the weary!
C. I. Matthews will be reading from her debut collection, Took You So Long, as part of the Victoria Jubilee Hall’s 125th anniversary celebration. Her reading will take place from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 17th.
Karl Jirgens will be taking part in an event at Biblioasis Bookstore in Windsor on September 28. He’ll be reading from his book of short stories The Razor’s Edge. Also reading will be G.A. Grisenthwaite, from his book Home Waltz. There will be refreshments and a signing, so mark your calendars!
The stupendous Howard Iron Works Printing Museum (another place to bask in printing-related inspiration) will be holding a print expo and fair on October 1. We’ll be there with a selection of PQL books, and if that’s not enough to convince you, the expo will also feature workshops, demos, tours and hands-on printing experiences.
From the porcupette’s corner.
After all these years, you’d think I’d have the hang of this tipsheet thing, right?
For some reason, this season’s product descriptions have been a bit trickier than usual. I’m usually pretty proud of my efforts at distilling each book into a few pithy paragraphs designed to intrigue and entice, but this time around I struggled to meet the usual PQL standards. Luckily, the authors had my back and were able to provide some suggestions, and our fearless leader, Tim, definitely put in the time to help polish those descriptions to a brighter shine. Here’s hoping the struggle was a fluke and that the next round is less stressful!
Up next, I’ll be tackling some new editing projects. I’m particularly looking forward to diving into a new satirical novel, but I’m also happy add a bit of commentary to some short story collections coming down the pipe. Wish me luck!
Thanks for stopping by our humble blog to see what is new with us here at the Porcupine’s Quill. We hope you’re able to come out to one of our many upcoming events!
That’s it for this week’s literary link roundup. If you find yourself in the GTA this weekend and are looking for some good bookish fun, stop by the Fisher Small & Fine Press Fair on Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. We will be there with new PQL releases for you to add to your collection!
And finally, here’s a great event to look forward to next week: the Fisher Small and Fine Press Fair. It’s seriously one of my favourites, and it takes place in the most beautiful reading room. If you live in the GTA, don’t miss this one. We hope to see you there!
Thanks for checking out this week’s best bookish links. We hope you enjoy your long weekend with good friends, great food, or even a nice new book!
Reader, you know me. After several years and many, many blog posts, you are well aware that yours truly, your friendly neighbourhood porcupette, is an opinionated gal. And if there’s one topic sure to get the debate going every year around this time, it’s the topic of book covers.
The thing about book covers is that everybody has ideas about them. Most people wouldn’t advise a brain surgeon on his or her job, but almost everyone’s eager to give their amateur opinion on a book cover. I’ve fallen into the trap myself, repeatedly and without shame. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no designer, but that hasn’t stopped me from putting my two cents in when it comes time to find some fitting cover art. Of course, I don’t always (or even usually) win—and for good reason, too. Sometimes I’ll fall in love with an image that doesn’t fit the necessary dimensions of resolutions needed for a PQL book. And I have been known, from time to time, to have a “brilliant” idea that goes against all tenets of good graphic design. I know my limitations, is what I’m saying. But I do still have a few Serious Opinions on what a good book cover should—and should not do.
For me, a good book cover should have, at bare minimum, legible text. I have nothing against decorative fonts per se, but I find that I prefer a classic, readable font that doesn’t make me have to do mental gymnastics to decipher the title. Plus, size matters, too. The text needn’t be visible from across a crowded room, but it should be big enough for people browsing online shopping sites on their phones to be able to at least decipher the title. A particular favourite of mine, for example, is the cover for Barbara Sibbald’s The Museum of Possibilities—the text is large enough to get the point across and elegant enough to stand the test of time without looking tacky.
I also think the most effective and evocative covers eschew the low-hanging fruit of on-the-nose imagery for something a little more creative. For example, may I direct your attention to Jason Guriel’s The Pigheaded Soul? I have to admit, to my everlasting shame, that early in my employment at PQL, I once proposed to Tim that he design a cover for the book that depicted a blisteringly pink cartoon pig head. This was obviously utter nonsense, and the cover that Tim designed—a much more elegant affair that made use of the texture of pig iron as a backdrop—actually suited a collection of essays, and it did a fantastic job of proving that a less obvious image often results in a much better book cover. (It remains one of my favourite PQL covers to this day and does double duty as a reminder of my own limitations.)
I also appreciate an attempt at fitting a book cover image to the setting of the book. Making sure the cover doesn’t feel anachronistic to the content is, I believe, worth the effort, and the reason for this is simple—you don’t want to mislead your potential reader. For example, when coming up with ideas for the cover of Anne Baldo’s upcoming short story collection Morse Code for Romantics, one image we thought of was of Signal Hill, a radio tower in Newfoundland famous in the history of wireless communications. The image was attractive and had enough sky to accommodate title and author text, but it was sepia in tone and it featured a rather antique looking car parked in the foreground. It looked like a book of historical fiction. After many, many attempts at finding the right image, we eventually settled on overhead lines in a Southern Ontario field. The image looked more modern, fit the setting of the stories, and also hinted at the book’s important themes of pattern, connection and communication. (And the little bits of Morse code hidden in the title was a particularly inspired yet subtle touch.)
These are just a few of the myriad considerations that I find pertinent to an enjoyable book cover, but there are certainly many more I haven’t had space to include—and likely many more after that I’ve never even thought of. Suffice it to say that it’s a good thing skilled designers are out there dressing books in covers that are clever, original, beautiful and legible, all for our viewing pleasure.
What are your opinions on what makes a good book cover? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section—don’t be shy!
The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.