Quality Over Quantity and Other News for February at PQL

As you can probably guess, I’ve been holed up like the rest of the province of Ontario, in lockdown, avoiding the cold weather. What’s a porcupette to do but buy books to keep her company?

But I’ve noticed something a bit troubling with my recent book purchases…. I won’t name any names or publishers, to protect the innocent, but I have discovered that not one, not two, but three recently purchased books have arrived, shall we say, somewhat lacking in the production department.

Costly books.
If all my books arrived looking like this, I’d be a happy camper, indeed. But alas, my pocketbook leans more toward the trade paperback than the ancient edition.

The first book was maybe understandable. The mass market paperback, costing only pocket change, arrived with oddly washed-out text. Worse, a few areas that appeared to be Frankenstein-ed in with a different typeface. The book was probably long out of print, so I assumed I received a somewhat shabby print-on-demand copy. Considering the age of the book and the price I paid, I accepted the production for what it was and enjoyed revisiting the old book regardless.

The next book was more recent, so I expected a bit more out of it. Alas, I was disappointed. The text in this case was not as vibrant as I might like, and my poor myopic eyes struggled to read the words without pushing the book up to my nose. Part of this was undoubtedly the choice of type, but close inspection allowed me to see the little dots of ink that made up each letter. A digital press must have printed the page, to not-so-fantastic effect. The cover, too, was not immune—again those telltale dots of ink, and it looked slightly out of focus, the barest amount of blur adding an unwonted softness to the whole affair. For a newer trade paperback, I expected better.

Then came another disappointing book. This time, the paperback book in question belongs to a series, of which I own another volume. The comparison between the one I already had and the new one was a bit eyebrow raising. From the first volume to the second, the paper quality had been somewhat reduced to thinner, more see-through stock. The cover finishing was also disappointing—a rougher, less durable texture that I know will crack and flake with little effort. I will have to treat the volume carefully so that it doesn’t look out of place next to the rest of the series.

Now I won’t hesitate to tell you there have been a few books whose production values were perfectly acceptable. They might not have resulted in ooohs and ahhhs or appreciation, but they didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the book. But three books in a short span of time that did cause a bit of readerly disruption? It seemed remarkable to me.

Perhaps in this time of Covid, supply chains have been disrupted, resulting in somewhat less-than-stellar books. Perhaps the desire to keep prices competitive is driving down the quality of production. Perhaps new, less precise technologies are supplanting old ones.

Or maybe I’ve been spoiled by the sharp, clear printing, the durable bindings and the luxurious paper for PQL titles, like the newly in print Metamorphosis or the upcoming Urban Disturbances

Yeah, could be that.

If you’ve noticed a similar drop in book quality of late, share your experience (kindly!) in the comments below.

What’s happening this month…


Urban Disturbances

This month the shop will be busy finishing up the recently published Metamorphosis, a selection of P. K. Page’s children’s literature. We’ll also be turning our attention to Bruce McDougall’s latest story collection, Urban Disturbances. This book is an excellent warts and all look at what it means to be human. The characters within are all seemingly ordinary on the surface, but digging deeper into each story opens up much more nuanced and sometimes disturbing facets of them—and, I would say, of humanity as a whole. Some of the characters are pitiable, some are deplorable, some are relatable and others downright hilarious. McDougall has a gift for evoking strong emotion through his characters, and for exploring the wide spectrum of human emotions and motivations. If you want a book that can masterfully evoke feelings of triumph, despair and even discomfort, you’ll want to pick up a copy of Urban Disturbances.

On the Internet.

Seeking Shade

Frances Boyle is launching her short story collection, Seeking Shade, on Zoom on Thursday, February 11 at 7:30 ET. The launch will be hosted by Rhonda Douglas, and will feature guest author D.A. Lockhart, author of the upcoming Breaking Right. The event is free and open to all, but registration is required. Click here to register! Looking forward to seeing you there.

On the Airwaves.

Ed Seaward’s Fair will be featured on The Idea Shop segment of Sauga 960 AM’s Raw with Mike Richards. Tune in to hear a great discussion of this poetic debut novel.

In the world.

February 3rd is World Read Aloud Day! I happen to this reading aloud is great fun, and sometimes it even enhances your enjoyment of a particular work. For example, I particularly love a good poem read aloud—like these poems read by Derk Wynand.

February 14th is, of course … Library Lovers’ Day. What? What did you think I was going to say?

February 27th is No Brainer Day. Considering we’re all probably feeling quite stressed and cooped up around now, a whole day filled with no brainers sounds like a delightful reprieve.

From the porcupette’s corner.

two men fencing, with pen versus sword
Sparring with the old to-do list is mighty good exercise, if you ask me.

For one whole, glorious week, this porcupette felt like, actually, all the deadlines floating around seemed kind of doable. A week of feeling on top of things. A week of feeling accomplished.

Then February 1st hit and it all went out the window! Suddenly those distant deadlines felt rather immediate and all at once. Suddenly the careful prioritization and planning seemed almost for naught. Somehow, surprise tasks caused reorganization and, yes, a bit of stress.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

But I shall remember that glorious week fondly.


Thank you very much, as always, for your continued interest in what we are working on here at the Porcupine’s Quill. We hope to have provided a little information—and amusement!



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5 Responses to Quality Over Quantity and Other News for February at PQL

  1. Carol Newall says:

    Hi Steph–Yes, I too have had similar experiences with shoddy books. I like to go to a bookstore and hold the books that interest me, so shopping at Indigo online does result in some surprises. One book I ordered, expecting a trade paperback, was actually a very thick pocketbook with tiny print. I tried to read it, but it was so uncomfortable that I gave up. I joined the Alcuin Society some time ago, hoping to learn more about quality books since a book isn’t only about words, it should be an experience. Even my twelve year old, book snob grandson knows this. I sent him a book recently, and when I asked how he liked it, he said that it felt good. I was pleased with my purchase of Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger because it has a such a softly textured cover and interior paper. It was a joy to read. Thanks for listening.

    • Steph says:

      Thank you very much for your comment, Carol. I agree that shopping online does result in some surprises, even when you’re careful. It lacks the serendipity of exploring a good bookshop and finding a treasure or two.

      I know some readers prioritize price over format, but personally, I’m with you on not enjoying the experience of reading tiny mass market paperbacks. Something as simple as having no place to put ones thumbs sure does affect the reading experience, doesn’t it?

      I’m pleased that you, and your grandson, especially, appreciate the feel of a good book in hand. It’s because of people like you that we still do what we do!

  2. Enjoyed your post about book quality or the lack thereof, as a fellow bibliophile and author. Having studied publication design in college and published my own limited editions for 30 years, I have a strong aesthetic sense for book production. I still produce chapbooks, if you can imagine a more anachronistic practice in this digital age! You might enjoy seeing my latest, Dead Crow & the Spirit Engine, as an example of close attention to design aesthetics and production.

    • Steph says:

      I’m glad to hear I’m not alone in this, though I realize I might have sounded quite curmudgeonly. Attention to detail and appreciation of the form is, I think, crucial in producing a book–or chapbook–that is not just a book object, but book art.

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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.