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Some good advice on handling books on the Biblio blog today… click here to read it!

29 April 2014

How Dogs Love Us – Gregory Berns

2 April 2014

I have always loved dogs. Since I turned five, there has been a dog in my home. My relationship with each one has been different, though, and it wasn’t until my dad died in 2005 that I realised just how deeply I could bond with a dog. Cocoa, our Chesapeake Bay Retriever, was my dad’s favourite of all our family dogs. I sensed that she felt his loss, and I felt a sympathy develop between us as we shared our grief and grew out of it.

Then we lost Cocoa in the fall of 2009. I was heartbroken. It was the kind of hole that I could only fill with love for and from another dog. Enter Stella the Great Newfenees and Bookshop Dog.

Those of you who follow her blog will know that Stella and I also share a deep bond. Because of what I learned in those four years with Cocoa after Dad died, and because of the many serious health issues that have arisen with Stella, I’ve spent more time with her than any dog I’ve known. As a result, I’ve become very interested in the human-dog relationship. I know there is a lot more to it than many believe. And I am certain that there is much more that we could learn and share with our dogs, and vice versa, if only we could figure out how.

How DogsWhen I heard about How Dogs Love Us, I had to read it. In it, Berns explains the development of an experiment to determine first whether a functional MRI (fMRI) could be taken to map the responses of an awake dog’s brain to various stimulae and, if successful, what those scans might reveal about the thought processes of dogs and how they correspond to what we know of human responses as revealed by fMRIs of their brains.

The book follows the experiment from its inception, through the many challenges of finding an MRI lab willing to allow dogs to be scanned, training and recruiting of dogs – family pets, designing of tests that would yield visible results, the challenge of scanning non-human subjects using equipment designed for use on humans, and the effects of the project on the people, the dogs and their relationships as preparations proceeded and the results began to accumulate.

Impatient as I was to read about what, exactly, the tests proved or what conclusions the scientists arrived at, the journey Berns takes through the process is also very intriguing. His story illustrates the knowledge gained in going through the process is just as, if not more important than the end result, and he illustrates this with humour and sensitivity.

The results of the fMRIs are very exciting, too. While he is careful to point out that and explain why they cannot be used as absolute proof of how a dog thinks relative to humans, they do expand our understanding of how the dog’s mind works. The fMRIs provide some very interesting and potentially ground-shaking scientific indications which may startle even some dog owners. They could very likely lead to some interesting developments in law surrounding animal rights.

Bottom line: I’m on the right track with Stella and in my conviction that deeper, more mutually rewarding relationships are possible with our dogs. Berns’ research offers compelling indications that this is so. If you love your dog, you will undoubtedly find How Dogs Love Us is an entertaining and satisfying read.

Bantock Ex. 3

1 April 2014

Supplies needed: glue stick and postage stamps. I’ve often thought of doing a collage with old postage stamps, so I had saved a box full for the purpose. Wasn’t that a bit of providence?

Bantock 3 postal collage

Bantock Ex. 2

27 March 2014

I had to improvise on this one – but that’s what creativity is all about, isn’t it?

I had no newsprint, so I cut up some brown paper I found in the recycling bin. And I didn’t have a big fat 3B pencil… just a skinny one. I thought about using a jiffy marker, but I like the feel of a pencil better, so went skinny. :o) I took two minutes for each piece.

First, geometry with my left hand (I'm right handed).

First, geometry with my left hand (I’m right handed).

Then right-handed scribbles!

Then right-handed scribbles!

Bantock Ex. 1

26 March 2014

LOL. Five minutes goes by awfully fast, and I’m not much at ‘quick studies’…

And here’s the second five-minute session. Poor things can’t get away from my pencil fast enough!

Trickster’s Hat – Nick Bantock

26 March 2014

This is going to be a series of posts and pure fun.

Back in the day when I first opened my book shop and was selling only new books, Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine books were all the rage. Many of you will remember them – lush with Old World colour, postcards from exotic locals plastered with fascinating postage stamps, and a love story that was both mysterious and tragic and beautiful. They were books like no others; picture books for adults in which the images were all.

Then Nick Bantock disappeared from my radar.

Trickster's Hat miniThe other day I was looking for a book for a customer when I came across a curious cover scan. The subtitle also jumped out at me. As some of you know, I’m busily restructuring my life, trying to give my creative side more license. More than that, if I’m honest. I’ve been smothering my creative side for years as I’ve struggled to keep my business a thriving concern. Work first, then play. And lately, I’ve been thinking I’ve got that all wrong. I should be playing to make a living. Work should be fun. I want to make a living and enjoy doing so. This means I need to give more rein to my creative side.

Problem is, since I’ve been suppressing that creativity for so long, well, it just isn’t flowing for me.

So, when I saw Nick Bantock had written a book about apprenticing in creativity….

The book arrived this week, and I have decided, having taken a brief look at it, that maybe it would be more fun if I shared my journey with you folks. Bantock has given his readers 48 ‘exercises’ to indulge in, each a tactile experience in collage – not necessarily the cut and paste type but rather a collage of what’s in the mind – using tools and media most of us will have at hand. The object is not to be or become a great talent at drawing or any other art form, but rather to learn how to draw on the creative aspects of our thinking and perception. I think.

You will need to get a copy of the book to find out what the exercises are and what they are meant to do for you. Sorry, but Mr. Bantock went to a lot of work for this book, and I’m not going to do anything to infringe on his copyright! I’m just going to post a picture here each time I finish an exercise. The exercises are timed, so get the book, set up first in a distraction-free nook and join me, if you will!

And a wee P.S. … This book is more than just exercises to help stimulate your creative processes. It’s full colour, and full of bits and pieces of that famous Bantock imagery. I’m anticipating that this will be as much fun as it looks!

Romance sale mini

3 February 2014

Five Hundred Years of Book Design – Alan Bartram

31 January 2014

0300090587 BRAnother book I’ve had on my shelves for a few years and resolved to read in 2014!

Although I have no training as a graphic designer, I have always enjoyed designing my own ads, newsletters, posters and brochures. I see it as an art form with practical applications, and that appeals to the Scot in me, I guess. The obverse of that coin is that I also have an appreciation for other designers’ work, so I enjoy poring over books like this one. I’m one of the few readers, according to Alan Bartram, who actually does pay attention to the title page of books and the way pages look. Amateur that I am, I know what I like. But I don’t always know why I like it, or, more importantly perhaps, why I don’t like a page.

Reading a book like Five Hundred Years of Book Design doesn’t necessarily teach me the answers to those questions, but it certainly helps me to look at the pages Bartram presents – and pages I read in the future – with new eyes. As a result, I have come through the experience of this book a wiser and more alert amateur designer, and a more knowledgeable bookwoman, too. This is largely due to the great layout of this volume. Each two-page spread features either two pages from books that illustrate a point the author is making, or an often reduced (as in smaller, to scale copy) two-page spread of a particular book Bartram wants readers to examine. At the top of each page is his brief commentary.

My eye almost always went directly to the pages being considered. I found myself looking more and more critically at them. Did I like the spread? What didn’t I like about it? What did I find really appealing? Then I would read Bartram’s blurb. As he made a point, my eyes would drift down again to consider the example on the sample pages. I could see exactly what he meant by his criticism, and picked up on the effect it was having on my eye. So, that’s what was bugging me!

As I progressed through the book, my eye became better at finding what the author was not going to like. Sometimes I found myself disagreeing with him. Usually, I felt that the issue between Bartram and I was that he was judging the books with a modern eye. “I was always taught,” Bartram writes while considering the title page of a book published in 1818, “that the use of lines of italic caps was bad practice, yet Bodoni frequently gets away with it  – and with distinction.” I’m not sure whether that’s a criticism of the practice, or whether it’s a moment of revelation for Bartram, but I suspect it is polite criticism, perhaps with acknowledgement that thinking has changed over time added in (or perhaps he’s just saying that if you know what you are doing, you can break the rules and get away with it).

0300090587 picture BRRules of grammar and usage change over time. I recognise that, so what Bartram dubs, “superfluous punctuation” in titles, etc., doesn’t offend me. Of course I would not punctuate that way if I was making the same statement now – I probably wouldn’t even use the same words or phrasing, either. But a designer of that time would need to find ways to accommodate the rules of the day. It may look a bit awkward from a modern standpoint, but is it fair to criticise a 16th-Century designer for not meeting 21st-Century design criteria? We live in a different world!

On the other hand, Bartram is trying to provide examples that illustrate to and educate eyes like mine. His aim is to continue to improve book design in a way that makes the printed volume both beautiful (pleasing to the eye) and functional (easily read by the eye). I know he has given me a lot to consider in that vein, with the added bonus of adding to my knowledge of book publishing history, something very valuable in my line of business!

Templar’s Acre – Michael Jecks

24 January 2014

TemplarsI haven’t read a Michael Jecks mystery for a long time. They’re okay as historical mysteries go – diverting and light. I never keep them, though, as much as the genre is one of my favourites. Somehow, Jecks always falls a bit short of the mark for me. His stories are okay although I usually have figured out who committed the dastardly deed well before the end (that isn’t the only reason I read, though, so isn’t in itself a major flaw). There’s plenty of action for those who love a page-turner. But the characters… Well, just having finished one, I’ve been fighting while writing this to remember the main character’s name! Basil? No! Baldwin. And that’s the problem for me, I think. I just can’t get connected with the characters. I’m sorry, Mr. Jecks, because I know you put a tremendous amount of work into your books. If it’s any consolation, I feel the same about Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, and he’s doing very well without me, thank you!

This novel, however it suffers from the same complaint regarding character development, is a departure from the mysteries. It goes back to the beginning of Baldwin de Furnshill’s story (nearly): his voyage to, arrival at and fighting career in the Crusaders’ last stand at Acre in 1291. As such, it fills in background to his mystery series which takes up from the dissolution of the Templar order and brings a depleted Baldwin back to his native England.

One thing Jecks does do well is supply readers with a tremendous amount of historical detail without being the least bit tedious about it. His battle scenes are frenzied and bring a sense of immediate horror at the carnage. His descriptions of place bring a sense of claustrophobia to readers travelling the maze of Acre’s streets with fleeing/carousing/searching characters. Unlike Dan Brown, Michael Jecks is believable.

I keep reading Baldwin’s adventures, always with the hope that Jecks will cross the threshold to absolutely fabulous reading. The potential is there. He’s only just missing the emotional engagement that makes a good story a great novel.


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