Category Archives: Books & Reviews

Photographer’s Guide to Saskatchewan

Photographer’s Guide to Saskatchewan

I needed this book for work which is convenient because we sell it at work.  I could have just borrowed it and gotten the information that I needed from it but that doesn’t see any money go to the authors.  I guess I could have written it off but I wanted to bring the book home and use it here.  So I did what I needed to do.  I bought it over the holidays and I am really happy I did.

After reading it, I have really enjoyed it.  It is only 208 pages long and has about 200 photos in it.  It gives one some great ideas on where to travel to and where to photograph Saskatchewan and have it looking it’s best.  It also helped me figure some things out about some trips next summer.  I want to visit Grasslands National Park but I had no idea what I want to see is not in the part of the park where I would have visited (sorry Val Marie, I’ll visit another time).

The book does talk about photography but it’s title could very well have been “Where to Find Everything Cool Looking in Saskatchewan”.  As a photographer in Saskatchewan, you need this but if you just like to travel and see our great province, you will want it as well.

You can get the book at Indigo/Chapters, McNally Robinson and as I mentioned, Don’s Photo.  I can’t recommend it enough.

It takes $3 and 5 minutes to become a best selling author

Here is how to become a best selling author on, the world’s largest book retailer.

Because of the high bar, the term “bestselling author” was a term with some meaning. It was seen as something that was earned through a lot of hard work. But today, that designation has changed—for the worse. It’s like when you see a food described as “natural.” The FDA doesn’t actually regulate that term, so it’s basically meaningless.

It’s about time that readers—and the media, which breathlessly repeats the best-selling claims of these authors—wised up. So let me show you exactly how I became a became a #1 Amazon bestseller for $2 and a photo of my foot in less than five minutes (with screenshots and proof). Hopefully, as my partner Ryan has put it, once you understand how the sausage is made, you won’t want to eat it any more.

Westgate Books

I’ve been having some fun at Westgate Books lately.  A couple of weeks ago I wandered into the store looking for Saskatoon: A History in Photographs by Jeff O’Brien, Ruth Miller and William P. Delainey.

They didn’t have it but the staff that was helping me went to look in the warehouse.  Instead of the book I was looking for, he came up with two books, Saskatoon, the First Half Century by Don Kerr and Saskatoon, Hub City of the West: an Illustrated History by Gail McConnell.

I looked at them and took them both.  I also put my name down on a list if Saskatoon: A History in Photographs came in.  A couple of days later I got a phone call that told me that my book was in and come to pick it up.  Last Friday I went back to get it and it was the wrong book.  It was Saskatoon: A Century in Pictures by William Duerkop, John Sarjeant and William Delainey.  In hindsight I kind of wondered if there was a bit of miscommunication when I ordered Saskatoon: A Century in Pictures but I looked at this book and I realized I wanted to read it as well.  I had a blast all week looking at it.  So has Mark.

Since I am talking about books, it looks like Gail McConnell was doing Kickstarter long before Kickstarter was a thing.  The last 20 or so pages of her book is dedicated to patrons who helped pay to publish her book.  Local Saskatoon businesses sponsored the project and she does a one page profile on each company.  Who knew a history book could be so cutting edge.

While I was getting that book, another staff at Westgate Books went looking for the book in case they missed it and found me another book on the history of electric transit in Saskatoon.  I didn’t have the money on me to get it so they put that away for me.  I’ll wander by this week and get it.  Now I am curious as to what other books I will find in my brief stop at the store.

I know being in the used book business is a hard business to be in but I haven’t had as much fun shopping as I have had in Westgate Books in a very long time.  I hope that still counts for something.

Look what is in your library book

In Antwerp, they found herpes and cocaine

Jessica Roy writes for Time that the professors—experts in toxicology and bacteriology—found the ten most popular books at the Antwerp library and screened them for germs and other substances. All ten of the titles ended up testing positive for traces of cocaine, which suggests that Belgian library patrons are having just the BEST time when they borrow, say, Wuthering Heights or the latest offering from Sue Grafton. In all seriousness, Roy reports that the drug wasn’t present in large enough quantities for unsuspecting patrons to feel any effects, but they could end up testing positive for cocaine.

The copies of 50 Shades of Grey, meanwhile, produced even cringe-inducing results, in the form of the herpes virus. E.L. James’s wildly popular erotic novel apparently tested positive for traces of the virus, albeit in minimal enough quantities that the professors assure that there’s no public health risk and no possibility of contracting the STD from contact with the book.

How to publish your own book


How to publish a book

In 2011 the publisher of Guy Kawasaki’s New York Times bestseller, Enchantment, could not fill an order for 500 ebook copies of the book. Because of this experience, Guy self-published his next book, What the Plus! and learned first-hand that self-publishing is a complex, confusing, and idiosyncratic process. As Steve Jobs said, “There must be a better way.”

With Shawn Welch, a tech wizard, Guy wrote APE to help people take control of their writing careers by publishing their books. The thesis of APE is simple but powerful: When a self-publisher successfully fills three roles—author, publisher and entrepreneur—the potential benefits are greater than with traditional publishing.

Guy and Shawn call this “artisanal publishing.”

Artisanal publishing features writers who love their craft, and who control every aspect of the process from beginning to end. In this new approach, writers are no longer at the mercy of large, traditional publishers, and readers will have more books to read.

APE is 300 pages of tactical and practical inspiration. People who want a hype-filled, get-rich-quick book should look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you want a comprehensive and realistic guide to self-publishing, APE is for you.

December 1941 by Craig Shirley

December 19411

While on the way to the cabin on Friday, I stopped by Indigo Books and picked up December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World by Craig Shirley.  The book attempts to look at each day of December 1941 in the lead up and aftermath of the attack of Pearl Harbour though a variety of lens to give the month and attack some context.  He examines historical records, news paper accounts and even pop culture as part of this effort to explain the almost instantaneous change in American culture and life because of it’s entry into Word War II.


It’s an entertaining read.  I wandered through the almost 600 pages in two days.  I leaned a lot, especially about the difference in American and British views of how to communicate the war (Churchill laid it all out while FDR chose to reveal as little as possible) but in the end it was a very unsatisfying read.  The editing was awful.  The book got countless historical facts wrong (like the tonnage of the Price of Wales or the suggestion that England had 500,000 pilots trained).  The there are sentences like, “It was raking in millions each week, mostly for the top four studios: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros.”  The fourth studio was…  Also Pittsburgh was misspelled.  Things like that drove me crazy.


What was interesting to learn was the totalitarian powers that Congress almost immediately gave FDR to win the war.  What was even more interesting is when you realize that once war was won, those powers were taken away from the President.  It speaks to the ability the United States has to make and remake itself as the context determines it.  It will be interesting to see if the U.S. ever returns to a pre-9/11 mindset.

Rita Hayworth

I think the other thing the book did well was explain the events leading up to Pearl Harbour from Japan’s perspective.  While in no ways does it justify the attack, it does explain a little of what the Japanese were thinking through their militaristic cabinet.  I am not sure that I would recommend the book, there are just simply too many mistakes in it but it wasn’t a bad way to spend the weekend.

Award winner coming through…

It not me but F.S. Michaels, author of the book Monoculture which I have mentioned around here before.  Here are the details.

NCTE George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language

Canadian author F.S. Michaels has won America’s prestigious 2011 George Orwell Award for the non-fiction debut MONOCULTURE: HOW ONE STORY IS CHANGING EVERYTHING (Red Clover Press, May 2011). Published by Red Clover, a new Canadian independent press, MONOCULTURE has been described as “a provocative investigation of the dominant story of our time.”

The annual George Orwell Award, established in 1975 and given by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), recognizes authors who have made an outstanding contribution to the critical analysis of public discourse. Past recipients include author Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food), Amy Goodman (co-founder, executive producer, and host of the award-winning national daily news program Democracy Now!), Pulitzer Prize-winner Charlie Savage, television host Jon Stewart and the “Daily Show” cast, economist Juliet B. Schor, linguist Noam Chomsky, and cultural critic Neil Postman.

Congratulations!  It is on my soon to be published list of my best reads of 2011.  If you haven’t read it yet, you really need to.  The book changed how I look at much of the world around me.

A DIY Book Journal

Last year it took Mark forever to get started on his written assignments.  He would just freeze and get all stressed and I would have to calm him down and get him focused on what to do.  I thought we had made some progress but he wanted a book the other day and tried to access his line of credit at the Bank of Dad.  I agreed but made him promise to write me a book report on what he learned.  After a couple of days of Mark stressing all out about it, I wrote out a quick outline and things went much smoother and he gave me a pretty good book report without the stress and suffering that often comes with it.  I typed up what I had put together, added a bit of formatting, stole some ideas from some other book journals and printed out 50 copies for him to keep in a binder.  I also saved it to a PDF and uploaded it here in case any of you want to see what I did or make your own book journal for your kids.  I think I am going to put together a weekend trip journal and a Adventure Around Town Journal as well.

30 of the harshest things one author has said to another

Of course the harshest remarks are probably left anonymously on

Ernest Hemingway on William Faulkner: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

Mark Twain on Jane Austen: “I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”


I am not sure where I first started following Kester Brewin’s writings.  Probably I found some of his stuff on Vaux’s old site and I assume that I heard of his book from either Jonny Baker or Steve Collins’ blog but I ordered The Complex Christ when it came out in England, paid a fortune to have it shipped across the pond and then paid of 18% of Canada’s national debt in import fees.  To this day, it is the most expensive book that I have ever purchased.  It was worth every cent and I paid for it and lead to a fundamental rethinking of my theology and my understanding of the urban context (it was about that time that several of you started to hate what I posted here).

Others for the Kindle by Kester BrewinThe other day on Twitter I was waiting for my Kindle to finally arrive when I asked what book I should order.  Kester came up with and instead of ordering it, I went online to see if Other was available in Canada yet.  It isn’t here in paper form yet but it is available on Kindle and it quickly earned the honour of being the first book I ordered for my Kindle (and hooray, no import fees).

The book hit home for me this week as the debate exploded over political rhetoric in the United States after the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside of a Safeway.  Whether or not you agree that themes of violence in political rhetoric contributed to the murders or not, I think all of us agree there is something wrong with how we see people we don’t agree with in this world.  Whether that divide is Christian-atheist, moderate-fundamentalist, liberal-conservative, Israeli-Palestinian, black-white, or whether or not we like Kenny G, we tend to dismiss and deride the opinions of those who we disagree with.  I don’t know if has gotten worse but I suspect it has.  Years ago I used to be a regular viewer of Capital Gang which had the Democrats and Republicans around a table disagreeing.  Not only was the dialogue cordial but they actually seemed to enjoy being around each other.  Now the Republicans are at Fox News and the Democrats are on MSNBC.  Not only are they no longer sitting around the table but they are at competing networks.  There isn’t even an attempt to engage or dialog with each other.

For a wide variety of reasons this has changed how we see and interact with each other and Other tries to address that by looking at the Great Commandment, to love the other.  While that seems obvious, Brewin addresses the situations where Christianity and the church have largely failed to see God’s creation in other people.  As he puts it, what kind of selves do we need to be in order to live in harmony with others?

For me, it’s the biggest question that I wrestle with every day at work and the hardest discussion that we have with staff.  In a context of violence, drugs, and anger, how we deal with the other is a definition of how we see them but also ourselves.  Once the U.S./Canadian edition hits the shelves, I plan to purchase a bunch for our staff because it’s something that we all need to wrestle with everyday… or at least it’s something that I need to do to remind myself to reset myself and look for God in other people every day.

In a time in my life when I am working hard at getting rid of over 1000 books from my library, I am glad I added this one to my Kindle and look forward to always having a paper version on my shelf.

The "Homicide Lexicon" and its rules

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David SimonI am reading Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon and really enjoying it.  Throughout the book, Simon frequently refers to a set of 10 informal rules that apply in the majority of homicide cases, as detectives soon learn. They are as follows:

  1. Everyone lies. Murderers lie because they have to; witnesses and other participants lie because they think they have to; everyone else lies for the sheer joy of it, and to uphold a general principle that under no circumstances do you provide accurate information to a cop.

  2. The victim is killed once, but a crime scene can be murdered a thousand times.

  3. The initial 10 or 12 hours after a murder are the most critical to the success of an investigation.

  4. An innocent man left alone in an interrogation room will remain fully awake, rubbing his eyes, staring at the cubicle walls and scratching himself in the dark, forbidden places. A guilty man left alone in an interrogation room goes to sleep.

  5. It’s good to be good; it’s better to be lucky.

  6. When a suspect is immediately identified in an assault case, the victim is sure to live. When no suspect has been identified, the victim will surely die.

  7. First, they’re red. Then they’re green. Then they’re black. (Referring to the money that must be spent to investigate a case, and the colors in which open and solved murders are listed on the board)

  8. In any case where there is no apparent suspect, the crime lab will produce no valuable evidence. In those cases where a suspect has already confessed and been identified by at least two eyewitnesses, the lab will give you print hits, fiber evidence, blood typings and a ballistic match.

  9. To a jury, any doubt is reasonable; the better the case, the worse the jury; a good man is hard to find, but 12 of them, gathered together in one place, is a miracle. (Referring to jury trials)

  10. There is no such a thing as a perfect murder.

  11. The Tipping Point?

    Seth Godin is done with publishing.

    Traditional book publishers use techniques perfected a hundred years ago to help authors reach unknown readers, using a stable technology (books) and an antique and expensive distribution system.

    The thing is–now I know who my readers are. Adding layers or faux scarcity doesn’t help me or you. As the medium changes, publishers are on the defensive…. I honestly can’t think of a single traditional book publisher who has led the development of a successful marketplace/marketing innovation in the last decade. The question asked by the corporate suits always seems to be, "how is this change in the marketplace going to hurt our core business?" To be succinct: I’m not sure that I serve my audience (you) by worrying about how a new approach is going to help or hurt Barnes & Noble.

    You had me at Wifi

    Kindle with books - graphite

    This looks like the Kindle that will finally make me purchase a e-book reader.

    There are a few new features as well, the most important of which is a new WebKit-based browser. WebKit is the open-source base for all of our favorite mobile web browsers, including those used by the iPhone, iPad, Palm Pre, and various Android devices. The Kindle’s web browser is, due to hardware limitations, not going to be replacing your iPad for web browsing anytime soon, but I was pretty surprised at how usable it is. For any kind of reading (news, blogs, comedy, Wikipedia, that kind of thing), it’s really not bad.

    For me, the most impressive new feature is the screen. Amazon’s previous e-ink screen was fine, but some other readers (like Sony’s Pocket Reader and, arguably, Barnes & Noble’s Nook) packed clearer, sharper screens. Well, not anymore, because the new Kindle’s screen is, bar none, the best e-ink screen I’ve ever seen. It’s fantastically sharp, with excellent contrast (Amazon claims 50% better contrast than any other e-ink display on the market), and it refreshes noticeably faster (Amazon says 20% faster) than the previous generation, which was already pretty quick for e-ink. Amazon has also taken the time to work on the fonts, offering new, more precise font sizes as well as custom-made, very pretty fonts.

    Amazon has also doubled the storage of the new Kindle, so it can store up to about 3,500 books, and has, more impressively, doubled the battery life. With wireless turned off, Amazon rates the Kindle’s battery life as up to one month (and a comparatively pitiful 10 days with it on). A month of battery life! That might get glossed over, but it’s insane that an electronic device (with a 6-inch screen, no less) could last for an entire month on a single charge.