New York Times Best Seller List

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Why keep up with the New York Times Bestseller List?

There’s pros and cons, of course. The best thing about the list is that it sums up what’s important and current with the American people today. This week, you’ll find Barack Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope” which describes his vision of America as a contender for President. You’ll also find the story of one girl marred by the effects of her polygamous marriage in the infamous raid of the Texas FLDS sect. Hot names like Stephenie Meyer, Laura Bush, and Jeff Foxworthy can be found on the list.

The bad thing is, what sells isn’t necessarily good writing. That’s what the books ratings are for: to sum up in a few words what makes this book worthwhile and . . . not so worthwhile. The good news? Most authors don’t make it on the list without having a good reason. Read the reviews and check out author interviews to learn more!’s Random Thought of the Day 9/30

When did the word “password” become a permanent part of our everyday lives? Did you ever stop to think that it’s like we’re living in a Grimm fairy tale, or at least as extras in a spy movie? We’re asked our passwords by our email accounts, work logins, bank accounts, and newsletter signups. If we don’t know our password, never had a password, or forgot the password, there are special programs that access them for us and let us know what they are in secret. Do you wanna know my password? Sorry. That’s classified information. But don’t worry, I’m sure you have one too. Passwords. Gotta love them.’s Random Thought of the Day 10/2

I’ll start off this post by saying that I am technically politically neutral. I still don’t know who I’m voting for next month. There are things I disagree with about both of the candidates.

But I do like Sarah Palin. It bugs me that the media is having a field day with her. Just because she’s not used to the politics of avoiding giving straight answers, she is constantly bashed by a left-leaning media. For a governor who has enjoyed a 90 percent approval rate in her state, the highest in the nation, I have to believe that there are others out there who, like me, see Palin as an excellent role model for women.

I think she takes an unequivocal look at moral issues. And she does so with a charm and alertness and an intelligence that shows me she can learn quickly what she needs to know, were she to become vice president. So she doesn’t talk like Washington thinks she should. I’ll be more worried if and when she does.

January 5 2008

2008: Books
Looking back at the year in publishing

By Lee Ferguson, CBC News
Indian author Aravind Adiga, whose book The White Tiger won the 2008 Booker Prize. Indian author Aravind Adiga, whose book The White Tiger won the 2008 Booker Prize. (Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images) 2008 Year in Review

Spies! Lawsuits! Layoffs! Scandal! Bloodletting! Feuds! While this might read like the plot outline for the latest John Grisham page-turner, it’s actually a recap of some of the shenanigans and stranger-than-fiction events that rocked the publishing industry in 2008.

This year was rockier than most for literature. With two nail-biting elections and an economic downturn setting the tone, the year in books was characterized by a mood of uncertainty – about sales, the definition of a short story, support for Canadian arts and culture, the fate of the publishing industry and exactly how book jurors go about selecting a prizewinner.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this sturm und drang, authors found time to take home some awards and craft some pretty staggering sentences.

Things started out on an upbeat (or perhaps, chest-thumping) note, with Carl Wilson’s in-depth examination of all things Celine Dion, Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, garnering great reviews. Then, Paul Quarrington’s affectionate look at an aging hockey legend, the previously out-of-print King Leary, got a second lease on life when it was named winner of Canada Reads 2008.

There was more rejoicing in the spring, when playwright Claudia Dey published Stunt, a striking, surreal debut novel that signalled her arrival as a major new voice in CanLit. But no one’s words carried more weight in early ’08 than Lawrence Hill’s. Riding a wave of momentum and critical acclaim that began in 2007, his gripping historical slave narrative The Book of Negroes netted several prizes, including a Writers Trust Award for fiction and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best book. The author’s triumphs continued when he was invited to meet one ardent fan of his work, the Queen.

Hill wasn’t the only novelist to take home trophies. Mumbai author Aravind Adiga won the coveted Man Booker Prize for his debut The White Tiger, while Nino Ricci’s evolutionary novel The Origin of Species was awarded the Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction. But it was Joseph Boyden who had the most to crow about, when his novel Through Black Spruce scooped up the Scotiabank Giller Prize, beating out the critical darling favoured to win, Rawi Hage’s masterly, anguished Cockroach.

The existential tone of Hage’s book felt appropriate in a year punctuated by some tragic losses in the book world. Alain Robbe-Grillet, an avant-garde French novelist and scriptwriter, died on Feb. 18. The science fiction world mourned the March 19 passing of Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the prolific, visionary author best known for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Michael Crichton, another writer with a knack for parlaying scientific innovations into great fiction, succumbed to cancer on Nov. 4, while Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Terkel, the oral historian who devoted himself to chronicling the lives of ordinary Americans, passed away on Oct. 31. Yet the greatest outpouring of grief was reserved for the brilliant David Foster Wallace. On Sept. 12, news of his suicide began to spread across Facebook pages and, before long, writers who’d been inspired by Foster Wallace’s bold, post-post-modern works, were holding vigils in his name.

This year, the normally staid Canadian literary community turned downright snarky. Jacob Sheier, the Toronto poet who received a Governor General’s Literary Award for his debut book of poetry, More to Keep Us Warm, barely had time to bask in the GG afterglow before finding himself in the midst of a genuine literary scandal. When word got out that Scheier had ties to two of the three jurors who voted for his work, the ensuing hue and cry prompted a call for more transparency in the jury process for Canadian literary prizes.

Perhaps Scheier should commiserate with Jane Urquhart, who must still be stinging from the cranky reception she received as editor of The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories. Teaming up for two special editions jointly titled the Salon des Refuses, the editors at Canadian Notes and Queries and The New Quarterly published the 20 short stories they considered glaring omissions from Urquhart’s collection, and derided the novelist’s decision to “open up” the definition of a short story by including excerpts from memoirs in her Penguin anthology. The feud did have one upside, in that it inspired some Canadians to start treating the short story genre with the respect it has always deserved.
(Crown Publishing Group)(Crown Publishing Group)

There were still some people in 2008 that chose to make love, not war. Toronto’s Russell Smith reissued his erotic novel Diana: A Diary in the Second Person, while south of the border, John Updike received a lifetime achievement award for the numerous bad sex scenes he has conceived over the years. The admission by Barbara Walters that she once had an affair with a married man helped her memoir, Audition, become an instant bestseller. Meanwhile, Lolita, a book that still inspires fire in the loins of many a reader, turned 50.

As voters wondered if an Alaskan vice-presidential candidate who was rumoured to be in favour of banning books could really make it to the White House, presidential hopeful Barack Obama found time during his campaign to publish two memoirs that are still riding high on the New York Times list as of this writing. The tension over who would become president mounted, and David Sedaris, who had a sensational year with his latest, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, took time out from book tours to weigh in with a New Yorker piece that promptly went viral.

Meanwhile, a controversial election issue was brewing much closer to home. After already making drastic cuts to arts and culture funding, Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed a major gaffe on the election campaign trail when he publicly declared that “ordinary people” don’t care much about the arts. The comment drew the ire of no less than the grande dame of CanLit, Margaret Atwood, who delivered a beautifully argued smackdown to Harper in her Globe and Mail article To be creative is, in fact, Canadian.

She was just getting warmed up. As Americans were riding a wave of “Yes, We Can!” sentiment leading up to Obama’s presidential win, the U.S. economy was in free fall. It was Atwood who had the first word again, in her uncannily timed non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. Assembled in book form, her prescient Massey Lectures offered a lively, intellectual study of debt as a construct and examined our culture of overspending.

By December, the economic downturn showed little sign of improving, and major U.S. publishing houses were among those who paid the steepest price. That left anxious fiction lovers up in Canada to ponder a year that held more questions than answers: Was the future of books in self-publishing? Or online? Did e-readers from Kindle and Sony really live up to the hype? And with diminished book sections in newspapers across the country, who would review the 2009 crop of CanLit?

The future, as yet, is unwritten, but before we start sounding any death knells for fiction, it’s worth noting that 2008 ended with good news. Canadian book sales have actually increased since this time last year. Cash cow J.K. Rowling is back with a vengeance. And if the literary spats of the past year are any indication, there are still plenty of people out there who believe good books are worth fighting for.

Lee Ferguson writes about the arts for

Random Thought of the Day 1/12/2009

Gosh, I hate smoking. It has to be the worst habit ever invented. It doesn’t have just one vice; it has them all. I’m living in a smoker friendly country right now. That means it’s acceptable to light up while serving customers, at any place in a restaurant, or in a stranger’s living room.

Reasons for the Love of God to Quit:

1. You stink. When you smoke, it gets in your hair, your clothes, and your stuff and you don’t even notice. Then when you smoke in my presence, it gets in my grill as well.

2. You’re killing yourself. You know that already, but to view a list of other lovely side effects, such as erectile dysfunction, see the article below.

3. You’re destroying the environment. Not only are carginogens being blasted into the atmosphere every time you light up, but cigarette butts are the number one kind of litter.

4. You’re blowing smoke in my face and it makes me cough. Secondhand smoke is destructive to the health of those around you.

5. Smoking is SO no longer cool. The message that the media used to portray smoking as in is now out.

6. To feed your addiction you must empty your wallet. It’s costly.

Quitting is hard but worth it. See the best ways to do it in the article below:

Smoking Cessation: Four Ways to Quit

From Harvard Health Publications

By now, even the tobacco companies agree: smoking is bad for your health—very bad, in fact. Cigarettes are the most hazardous, but cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco also contribute to tobacco’s terrible toll. And secondhand smoke is an important cause of death and disability in people who never light up.

We’re making progress. Over 45 million Americans have quit, and many communities prohibit smoking in public places. But more than 20 percent of adults still smoke, and the habit remains more prevalent in men than women. Tragically, thousands of teenagers take up smoking every day.

We can do better. Fortunately, there are more ways to kick the habit than ever before.

The hazards of smoking

Tobacco is responsible for one of every five deaths in the U. S. That adds up to over 435,000 lives lost each year, and over 8.5 million Americans suffer from chronic illnesses caused by smoking. All in all, the average nonsmoker lives about 14 years longer than the average smoker. And the worldwide burden is truly staggering. According to the American Cancer Society, smoking will kill about 650 million of the world’s 1.3 billion smokers alive today.

Smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral artery disease. About 20 percent of all cardiac deaths are caused by smoking.

Between 80 percent and 90 percent of all patients with emphysema owe their lung disease to smoking. Chronic bronchitis and pneumonia are among the other lung diseases that are increased in smokers.

And there’s more. Smoking contributes to many other health problems, ranging from cataracts, sinusitis, and dental disorders to aging skin, heartburn, diabetes, osteoporosis, and two issues of special concern to men, bladder cancer and erectile dysfunction.

The more you smoke, the higher your risks—but even a few cigarettes a day will harm your health. “Light” and “low-tar” cigarettes are no safer than high-test brands. The only truly safe dose of tobacco is zero.

Smoking and sexuality

Classic movies may make smoking look sexy, but men who smoke are likely to experience exactly the opposite effect. Because smoking damages blood vessels, it’s a major cause of erectile dysfunction. According to a 2005 study of 2,115 men in Minnesota, men who smoke at some time in their lives are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than men who never smoke. And current smokers are even worse off than former smokers; even in their 40s, current smokers are 2.7 times more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than former smokers and nonsmokers. It’s a worldwide problem; in fact, a 2007 study blames smoking for nearly a quarter of the cases of ED in China.

As with other smoking-related maladies, erectile dysfunction is most common in heavy smokers. And as with other smoking woes, quitting helps. In a 2007 study of 20 smokers, penile blood flow began to improve within 24 to 36 hours of the last cigarette.

The benefits of quitting

Quitting helps, even if you’ve smoked for years. Within days, your blood vessels will regain much of the normal function that is damaged by smoking. Within weeks, you’ll be able to taste food better, and your sense of smell will recover from tobacco’s assault. Within months, symptoms of chronic bronchitis ease up, and lung function improves within a year. Quitting reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke within two to five years. And the risk of lung cancer begins to drop substantially within five to nine years of quitting.

People who kick the habit, regardless of age, live longer than those who continue to smoke. And since each pack of cigarettes costs our society $7.18, quitting will help America’s budget as well as yours.

How to quit

Nicotine is addictive, and quitting is hard work. There is no way to succeed without really trying. But if you set your mind to it, you can quit.

There are four basic strategies for quitting. Look them over and decide which is best for you. Most smokers start by trying to quit on their own, but many end up needing several methods and several attempts before they kick the habit. And even after you quit, it’s important to keep your guard up. Just as an alcoholic can fall off the wagon after a single drink, just one cigarette can fire up your nicotine craving even after years of abstinence.

Kicking the habit: Do it yourself

Don’t kid yourself by trying to cut down; nearly everyone who tries slides back up to their usual dose of nicotine. Cold turkey is the way to go, but it takes preparation. And even without professional help, cooperation from family and friends can be important. Here are some tips:

  • Make a list of reasons to quit and another list of people who have kicked the habit. The first list will remind you why quitting is important, and the second will show you that folks who are no stronger or smarter than you have succeeded. Keep your lists handy and refer to them whenever you begin to waver.
  • Pick a quitting date and stick to it. Plan to quit on a special day, such as a birthday or the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout event on the third Thursday of each November. Steer clear of stressful periods, and avoid holidays if you are likely to be invited to smoke-filled parties.
  • Try to get other smokers in your household or circle of friends to join you in quitting. A 2008 study found that smoking behavior spreads through both close and distant social ties; your resolve and success can help your friends and, ultimately, your community.
  • As your quit date approaches, throw out your ashtrays, clean your house, car, and clothes, and clean your teeth. Once you’re away from it, you’ll realize how much smoking stinks.
  • Anticipate withdrawal symptoms such as grumpiness, restlessness, irritability, hunger, headache, anxiety, and drowsiness or insomnia. The discomfort usually peaks one to three weeks after you quit, and then it gradually diminishes. To get through the rough patches, stock up on low-calorie snacks and sugarless gum or candy to keep your mouth busy. Plan enjoyable diversions to keep your mind busy. Think of ways to keep your hands busy.
  • If you feel tense, try meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.
  • Begin an exercise program. It will relieve tension, promote good sleep, and help control weight gain. Walking for 30 minutes a day can really help.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Stay away from secondhand smoke. Don’t even think about smoking “just one”—even a single puff will set you back.
  • Reward yourself. Put your tobacco money aside in a kitty, and then spend it on a special treat.
  • Think positively—you can quit. Take it one day at a time. And if you slip, try, try again—either on your own or with one or more of the other strategies for quitting.

Kicking the habit: Behavioral support

Quitting is your responsibility; it may be hard, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. Many employers, health plans, and hospitals offer individual or group counseling. Your doctor or your local chapter of the American Lung Association or American Cancer Society can refer you to a program in your area. Telephone support can also help; you can try it for yourself by calling the National Smoking Cessation Hotline at 800-QUIT-NOW. Hypnosis is another alternative that has helped some smokers break free.

Kicking the habit: Nicotine-replacement therapy

Cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals. Many are harmful, but nicotine is the most addicting. Like other addicting substances, it acts on receptors in the brain’s “reward center,” creating a sensation of pleasure and a craving for more nicotine. The craving has made billions of dollars for Big Tobacco, but it has cost the public much more, in health and money. Nicotine-replacement therapy can short-circuit the craving without introducing the other disease-producing chemicals.

Nicotine replacement is safe. You’ll get less nicotine than from cigarettes, and you won’t get any of the tar, carbon monoxide, and other damaging substances in tobacco. Plan to start nicotine-replacement therapy on the day you quit smoking. If you are a heavy smoker, you’ll need higher doses. Estimate how much nicotine you need based on an average of 1 to 2 milligrams (mg) of nicotine per cigarette. Start with the full dose, then gradually taper down over several months. Under-dosing is more common than overdosing, but you should not smoke while using nicotine-replacement therapy.

Five types of nicotine replacement are available in the United  States. Nicotine patches deliver a steady dose of nicotine throughout the day, providing round-the-clock protection from craving. The other products deliver a higher dose of nicotine faster, but protection also declines faster. The short-acting products can be used on demand to counter a sudden nicotine craving. If you wear a patch, you can also use short-acting nicotine products to suppress breakthrough craving.

Here is a quick review of the options for nicotine-replacement therapy:

  • Nicotine patches are available over the counter. One popular 24-hour patch (NicoDerm CQ) comes in three strengths: 21 mg, 14 mg, and 7 mg. Place a new patch on clean, unbroken, hairless skin each day; you can leave it in place all day. Most smokers should start with the 21-mg dose, but if you weigh less than 100 pounds or smoke fewer than 10 cigarettes a day, you should start with the 14-mg strength. You can reduce the dose every one to two months as your nicotine addiction resolves. If you have bad dreams while wearing a patch at night, you can use a 16-hour patch that you remove at bedtime. Mild skin irritation is the most common side effect. Store and discard your patches with care to keep them way from young children.
  • Nicotine gum (Nicorette) is available over the counter. If you smoke more than 25 cigarettes a day, you should use gum that provides 4 mg of nicotine per piece; if you smoke less, use the 2-mg dose. Chew a piece of the gum whenever the smoking urge surges, up to 30 pieces a day. Aim to wean off the gum in about three months if possible. Chewing replaces the oral stimulation of smoking, which can be an advantage, but some people find the taste unpleasant, and some develop hiccups or indigestion. Coffee, tea, beer, and soft drinks may interfere with nicotine absorption.
  • Nicotine lozenges (Commit)are available without prescription. If you usually light up within 30 minutes of waking, you should use the 4-mg strength, while others can use the 2-mg lozenges. A typical schedule calls for one lozenge every one to two hours for six weeks, then every two to four hours for two weeks, and then every four to eight hours for the final two weeks. Don’t eat or drink while using a lozenge, and as with nicotine gum, you should avoid acidic beverages for at least 15 minutes before use. Nicotine lozenges are safe for use with dentures. Side effects may include an unpleasant taste, nausea, indigestion, or mouth tingling.
  • Nicotine inhalers (Nicotrol inhaler) are available by prescription. Each cartridge delivers a “puff” of vapor containing 4 mg of nicotine. The cartridge is placed in a device that resembles a plastic cigarette holder, which may help satisfy a smoker’s oral urge. The average dose is six to 16 cartridges a day for up to 12 weeks, followed by a gradual reduction in dose over the next 12 weeks. Most of the nicotine is absorbed from the mouth, not the lungs. Side effects may include mouth or throat irritation and cough.
  • Nicotine nasal sprays (Nicotrol NS) are available by prescription. Each spray delivers 0.5 mg of nicotine. Use one spray in each nostril whenever you feel the urge to smoke, up to a maximum of 10 sprays an hour or 80 a day for three months. Side effects may include nasal irritation, sneezing, tearing, and cough.

Individual smokers may prefer one form of nicotine replacement over the others. Experiment with various types and talk to your doctor about the prescription forms. Remember, too, that nicotine replacement works best when combined with behavioral support, prescription drugs, or both. And smoking cessation always requires a good dose of willpower.

icking the habit: Prescription drugs

  • Bupropion (Wellbutrin, Zyban) was initially approved to treat depression and was then approved for smoking cessation. It does not contain nicotine and can be used in combination with nicotine-replacement therapy. Start taking bupropion one to two weeks before your quit date. The usual dose is 150 mg once a day for the first three days, then 150 mg twice a day for eight to 12 weeks, or longer if needed. Bupropion can reduce weight gain after quitting. Possible side effects may include dry mouth and insomnia; seizures are very rare.
  • Varenicline (Chantix) is the newest drug approved for smoking cessation; although experience is still limited, it also promises to be the most effective. It blocks nicotine receptors in the brain while also partially stimulating these receptors to reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms. The usual dose is 0.5 mg once a day for the first three days, then 0.5 mg twice a day for four days, followed by the full dose of 1 mg twice a day for 12 weeks or longer. The dose should be lowered in patients with severe kidney disease. Nausea is common, and bad dreams may occur. Mood disturbances and behavioral problems have developed, particularly in smokers with psychiatric problems, but it’s not clear that these are caused by the medication. Reports of accidents and visual abnormalities are also being investigated by the FDA. More research is needed.

Top priority

Smoking is Public Health Enemy Number One—so if you smoke, quitting should be your top priority. It will take willpower and hard work, but lots of help is available. You may gain a few pounds, you may go through a rough spell as your body adjusts to life without tobacco, and you may have to try several times before you finally kick the habit. Don’t be discouraged. Over 45 million Americans have quit smoking, and you can, too.

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