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Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory for Book Nerds

On Saturday, me and Count Chocula (my sugar-loving graphic designer boyfriend) headed to the Alcuin Wayzgoose print fair. In case you think I’ve started drinking in the mornings (as the only explanation for going to an event with goose in the title that didn’t involve barbeque sauce), allow me to clarify. For a number of reasons, this event was a must-see for this starry eyed publishing newbie:

  • I am a book nerd: the smell of linen paper and hot type is akin to crack. It’s what sends shivers up my neck to my librarian’s bob.
  • Hello? FREE.
  • What the hell is a Wayzgoose? This mystery just could not be left alone.

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eBooks-My Very Own Consumer Research Panel (Mom)

I’ve been tardy with you my dear blogosphere. The last month and a half ushered in my first foray back to school in a few years for a Master’s in Publishing degree. The past month has been something of a work-your-butt-off-cry-home-to-your-mama fest, also precipitating my induction to modern technology with my new best bud Koby the Kobo e-Reader. It interests me to see what my target reader demographic will make of an eBook, and what I can do to make that process a little more painless.

Now I’m the kind of gal who carries around my twenty-pound Dell laptop and forgoes the impending hernia. The type of straight-outta-the-90s child who misses palm pilots and scrawls notes on stickies and whiteboards around my room as if they were prehistoric cave walls. Representing the Troglodyte faction with pride.

Imagine then my shock to discover that I am unknowingly functioning as my mother’s model for technological innovation. I routinely receive calls from her on the rotary phone opining that she can’t figure out the “damn iButtons on the damn iPhone,” (so adorable). This has been amplified as of late by my acquisition of a Kobo.

For a long time, my mother refused to be swayed by that snake oil salesman by the name of “technology.” Every time I go to visit her though, I put out the eReader and walk her through how it works. She slowly moves from cautious observer of technology to active participant after three such tutorials. Not to suggest that she is by any means a whiz at the eReader now. The last email I received from her sent chills down my spine: “BOUGHT AN EREADER [yes it was in all-caps] NOW YOU CAN SHOW ME HOW TO USE IT HAHA. BUT SERIOUSLY, WILL NEED HELP.”

With the push my program to learn about emerging forms of book technology, I wonder lately what the digital divide between people my mother’s age, and so-called “digital natives” will mean for marketing emergent forms of technology. If my mother and her flash mob of late adopters is any indication, approaches to selling new forms of technology will have to be gentle in delivery and coaxing—the equivalent of a big virtual hug that won’t yell at you or freeze you out. I’m interested (and fearful) to see how this experiment turns out.

Marketing Lessons from my mother’s eBook adoption:

1). The differences between PDF and ePub files are not exactly crystal clear to this demographic. Going on long explanatory passages isn’t helpful if what you’re even talking about isn’t clear. Plus, it breeds anger when the purchaser finds herself with a format she does not understand and finds difficult to use and read.

2). Visuals go a LONG way towards understanding. Step by step instructional videos and instructions utilizing images and BIG arrows are hella helpful.

3). When this person is confused and can’t talk to someone to walk through the problem, the device migrates to the back of a drawer and collects some excellent dust bunnies.

4). Accessorize: this goes a long way and is an easy thing to get excited about. Rhinestones, colour changes—any variety of crazy accessories creates continued excitement.

 

Source photo via Constance Wiebrands

Bookstore Etiquette: 5 simple steps to avoid looking like an ass among the stacks

I’m a geek, alright? One of those lisping, former braces-wearing, snorts when laughing, loves dried prunes kind of nerdly behemoths—if it was socially acceptable I’m sure my pants would be well above my belly button. We’re talking Urkel style: he is my messiah. I visit the library on average about three times per week, and love strolling to the local bookstore on my lunch breaks. Lately, I’ve been highly motivated to sell my books back on consignment to the aforementioned bookstore, before my collection of books falls on top of me and pins me to the ground, where I will remain buried until an archaeologist brushes the dust from my retainer in 200 years.

Why do you care to know any of this? Often we of the nerdly legions are thought to be beyond embarrassment. How the heck can you further embarrass someone whose retainer is caught in their eyeglass cord?

I’ll tell you.

I took a bag of books to sell back, like any other time I have done the exact same thing. I left the shop with an emptier bag and some sweet store credit burning a hole in my pocket. Only, this time the store people looked at me a little funny as I walked out. I noticed that one young guy, who I had chatted with on occasion, seemed to sidestep me with great gumption by veering around a tippy stack of cookbooks. Only when I arrived home did I find the reason for the strangeness, and promptly enrolled myself in the witness protection program. What follows is a cautionary tale for fellow word nerds.

At 17, after high school graduation, I went on one of the Mexico trips high school graduations are famous for. I enjoyed freaking my mum out with amped up pre-trip stories of all the debauchery I would participate in, and continued the tradition in Mexico by buying her a postcard (check it out below). When I got home, the postcard was reborn as my bookmark after my mum’s reproachful hysterics, and like many bookmarks in my possession (I have a real gift for losing them) soon vanished. The bookmark was lodged in a book I endeavoured to sell on consignment, which the store owners promptly found. When I opened my bag at home, there they were staring back at me from the place of prominence in the lining, a row of white bent bums on the beach. I went eighteen shades of red and blacked out for awhile in a sort of “eff my life” coma before rising again like Scarlett O’Hara and proclaiming to my cat that “With God as my witness, I will never give bum pictures to the bookstore again!”

As part of my posterior prevention quest, here are a couple of tips to help you avoid going to the bookstore or library with your fanny out on display. If I successfully master them, perhaps one day I will be let out of the nerdly witness protection program:

1)    Shake your library books and books for sale before parting with them. When I think of all the items I’ve used for bookmarks—love notes, shopping lists, receipts—I shudder.

2)    Check for inscriptions. A book to “my honey bunny” might be a book which, on second glance, you are not quite so willing to part with.

3)    Don’t swear at the self-checkout machines at the library. They probably meant you no harm, though I can’t be sure.

4)    Buy a book. Seriously—do it. From a small bookstore. I dare you. These stores are in trouble, so open the purse strings and spend your daily latte money on something good that won’t give you heartburn.

5)    Don’t argue with the librarian over the 30 cent late fee on your account. Pay the damn fee and be grateful the library/bookstore still exists and hasn’t been bought out by Amazon.

 

Floating

The moment expectation slams into reality knocks us off our feet. We spin and drift for hours on the tears that rip a body apart from within. We know that he is gone, but it doesn’t seem real when you can’t know where. Confusion. We drift like leaves. Bed, floor, chair, bed, kitchen.

The swirling sensation of low blood sugar is mimicked by a new sad-mad-dizzy cocktail until the two are indistinguishable. I can’t tell the difference between low blood sugar, and this sad feeling that is always around. The world has a fuzz to it like the layer left on your teeth after eating an underripe banana or piece of old cheese.

Something feels weird. The numbness, that dull slow spread, creeps into my mind until I feel like I am looking through a cloud or a frosted window. Then I realize what I’ve done—the metabolic tomfoolery I’ve beckoned in. Make a monumental deposit in the swear jar.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Oh holy fuck.

Instead of five units of insulin for a gentle correction of my high blood sugar, I’ve just given myself twenty-five units. This is more than I would take for a dinner buffet or a bender at the sundae bar. Basically, I have a small window of time to shovel as much sugary junk into my mouth as possible before I become the incumbent mayor of Seizuretown.

Fuck. Fuck. Good golly miss Molly holy fuck. Fuck.

Blood sugar drops fast. 22. 18. 14. 8. 5 . . . I rifle through the cupboards in search of Mum’s secret chocolate stash she doesn’t think I know about. Fix a massive bowl of ice cream and chocolate syrup, scrunch my face at the brainfreeze which sweeps through my head in gale-force. This should be a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory style orgy of sugar, but I try to be quiet so Mum and Jaret won’t be worried. I want a refund on my golden ticket.

“What the hell are you doing?” says Mum.

Jaret staggers sleepily up the stairs behind her, running a hand through his lop-sided curls. “Sounds like rats scurrying around up here.” He examines my chocolate-covered face. Never one to miss an opportunity to eat, he swiftly fixes himself a gigantic bowl of ice cream. No matter how much he eats, his praying-mantis physique never changes.

Mum raises an eyebrow and parts her lips to lecture. “Megan got to,” he whines.

I tell Mum what I’ve done. “Oh you great twit,” she says, examining my twitching chocolate-covered limbs.

She grabs a dish rag and rubs my face raw until the sticky sugar is gone. She makes me some toast with peanut butter and pours a glass of orange juice. I dry-heave—an ER nurse once gave me a glass of orange juice mixed with milk, her “secret formula” for rebalancing electrolytes. It barely passed my lips before it became a not-so-secret mess on the floor. Mum sees me heave and passes the juice to Jaret, who will give it a good home.

“Where’s your gel?” asks Mum. “Just in case.”

“In my kit.”

“Nice to have handy. Just in case.” When she is worried, Mum repeats things without noticing.

Jaret mashes his ice cream into a semi-liquid paste. We sit in silence, crunching and slurping and watching the numerals on my glucometer count down as we try to boost my blood sugar.

“Your dad—” begins Mum, weaving a story to distract from the emergency at hand. I love the stories that start like this. “He was smart. He was the first student in the history of his university to get 100% on his organic chemistry final exam. People holding out for a bell curve were quite miffed. Such a nerd—I never could wrestle away that pocket protector.” She curses as my glucometer beeps at us. Error: insufficient blood.

“Bor-ing,” says Jaret. A trail of ice cream winds down his chin and spots the tablecloth.

“Jaret William!” Mum is torn between reprimanding for the rudeness or the flagrant disregard for the tablecloth. She rubs at his mucky face with the dishrag, moves to the table and swiftly removes the tablecloth before continuing the story.

“He was always fishing. They were out in Active Pass one day where they usually fished.” Active Pass is a narrow channel between Gulf Islands traversed by whales, fishing boats, pleasure boats and ferries my dad would fish all summer day. “Your dad was fishing in the pass and he had a salmon on the line. The ferry gave a number of blasts on its horn and most of the boats scattered to the fringe to give right-of-way to the bigger boat. Not your dad. He had a fish. The deckhands on the main cardeck blasted their firehoses on the boat and soaked him but your dad, when he had an idea in his head . . . He had a fish on the line after all.”

Mum pauses for dramatic effect. She licks the tip of her finger and picks up crumbs that I’ve scattered in my haste to stoke my cells.

“The captain must have radioed harbour patrol because the two boats were at a standstill and within ten minutes the police were there. I remember the officer tossed me the boat keys and said, ‘You drive this thing home. He’s going to be awhile,’ and they took him off in their boat. God, your dad could be a jackass.” She shakes her head and grins. “What’s your reading?”

I prick my finger again with the lancette, and the glucometer winds out a reading. “9.8.”

“Can I have another bowl of ice cream?” says Jaret.

“Time to stop, then,” Mum says. “Your blood sugar’s okay now, stable and hasn’t changed for some time.”

“Hello?! Can I have some more ice cream?” says Jaret.

“Make sure you take some juiceboxes and put them beside your bed,” says Mum.

My eye looks back at me from the bead of insulin perched on the hollow tube of the needle shaft. Like staring into the barrel of a gun. There’s a rampant narcissism of the sick. A necessary convergence of modern medical science, technology, attention and care. Mum and Jaret, the doctors and nurses and lab technicians, they are all here to keep me alive. Their job is my survival, whether as a protagonist or an antagonist is secondary. That is how we function; that is how we get through.

Mum watches me walk off to bed. She will wake every two hours to test my blood, stand an extra minute in the doorway and watch me sleep.

“So was that a no for more ice cream?” whines Jaret as the room empties. He drinks down the tepid glass of orange juice, letting the cat lick the ice cream residue from between his fingers.

They Might Get Stuck

Dad sits in his chair, lips now a permanent tinge of blue, eyes a permanent cast of yellow. Different colours bud from skin, beneath fingernails, in the spots around his ears and eyes like a field taken over by strange blooming wildflowers. His glossy black curls are gone.

I lie at his feet on the carpet and try to follow his eyes to look at what he’s looking at. I still don’t believe that he’s sick. The Hulk was green and he could rip apart a Buick with his bare hands. Maybe Dad’s yellow eyes will shoot lasers or x-ray beams so we can see through the walls of our weird neighbour’s house; the one who takes the dog doo from her mutt and tosses it onto the road so everyone rolls over it with car tires.

I figure anyone who is really sick would appreciate it if their children were well-behaved and the epitome of cherubic geniality. I wouldn’t want the day he got better to be the same day I broke the window with my soccer ball and told Jaret to bite me.

I will be really well-behaved and perfect. Starting now. I sit erect on the floor with neck and back perfectly straight, legs crossed. I enunciate my words and address him as “Father.” I get him a glass of water when he needs it, a blanket, his neck warmer, some more fuzzy socks, his pills.

I give my injections with perfect form, except before dinner when I hit a muscle with the syringe and it aches. I pinch my lips together and grimace.

“Hit a bad spot?” Dad asks.

“Yes,” I say.

“The word you want is dammit. Just don’t say it in front of your Mum.” He chuckles, then is serious. “You know I’m joking, right? Don’t say bad words like that.”

“Thank you, Father.”

“Why are you talking like that?” he says.

“I always speak like this.”

“Cut it out, it’s weird.” He pushes his foot against my perfectly postured chest, the bones sticking out beneath three layers of woollen socks on his feet. He gently shoves me backwards out of my perfect posture to the carpet where I flop on the rug giggling and tell him not to fry me with his laser beam eyes while he pokes me with his foot. Then I stop abruptly.

Being really sick is not the time for giggles. When he gets better I will giggle. Laser beams, yellow eyes—these things shouldn’t be funny.

“You’re allowed to laugh, you know,” he says. “Don’t bottle them up or they might get stuck.”