National Poetry Month – Steve McCaffery

April 2, 2014 by Darren

The Dangers of Poetry

(for Italo Calvino)

Maybe you don’t like this poem or perhaps you don’t want to read it perhaps you should do something else like wash last night’s dishes or watch TV if I were you I’d try reading a good book or even start to write one but perhaps you haven’t stopped reading this poem just yet while you’re wondering what else you could read or perhaps your interest in this poem has miraculously changed maybe you’re enjoying it or finding it a challenge or perhaps you’re simply thinking it would be a waste of precious time having read it so far to not read it to the end or perhaps there’s nothing you can do because perhaps this is a class that you can’t get out of or the start of a conference you’v paid a lot of money to attend or perhaps it’s a punishment prescribed in a minimum security prison you’re now in for five or even ten years or perhaps reading this poem has induced paralysis and you can’t move not even to blink your eyes or perhaps you believe it can’t get worse but it does get worse and you think all these thoughts again and then compare this poem to the start of Italo Calvino’s novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller and that the two might be related perhaps you think that this poem was actually written by Calvino under the pseudonym of Steve McCaffery and then you think that this might be the poem Calvino didn’t write but wished he had and by this time an entire week has passed and you’re still at you desk at the office because you never went home and perhaps you couldn’t have anyway because a friend called to tell you that your house burned down and all your pets and family burned to death because you were still reading this poem.

—From Verse and Worse: Selected and New Poems of Steve McCaffery 1989-2009

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The Cultural Myth of Hockey in Canada

February 27, 2014 by Darren

Here’s a quick recap of how I spent last weekend: Friday afternoon we all went to Moose Winooski’s in Kitchener to watch the Canada/U.S.A. Olympic hockey game, after the victory I drove down to St. Catharines to play in a Friday night pickup hockey league, on Saturday we were back in Kitchener for a round of outdoor hockey (after scouring the city’s rinks for suitable ice), then on Sunday we were up at 6am for the glorious gold medal Canada/Sweden hockey game, which we watched from the same comfortably crowded Moose Winooski’s we were in on Friday (by 6:30am, every seat in the house was taken); wearing our Team Canada jerseys we set out to celebrate the win with even more outdoor hockey (that’s called shinny, by the way) until we were all so wiped we had to call it quits, so I went home and took a mid-afternoon snooze, because I had to get my energy back up for the Sunday night hockey league I play in.

The word “hockey” makes seven appearances in that opening paragraph.

I had a hockey weekend.

nicks_sloniowski“If hockey is just a game in Canada, then the Rockies are just hills in the prairies,” writes Neil Earle in “Hockey as Canadian Popular Culture: Team Canada 1972, Television and the Canadian Identity” from Slippery Pastimes: Reading the Popular in Canadian Culture, Joan Nicks and Jeannette Sloniowski, editors.

Slippery Pastimes takes a look at popular culture in Canada that’s vital to the body politic, and to “what it means” to be Canadian as interpreted by the culture we collectively consume. Sixteen essays tackle everything from rock and roll, advertising, tourism, and, of course, sport. The essays come from all sorts of perspectives—and I recommend picking this book up and checking them all out if you’re at all interested in Canadian culture—but it’s Earle that presents the timeliest case study, that of the 1972 Canada-Soviet Series.

Earle argues that mass communication (as was sufficiently developed by 1972) was able to transform the sport into a “form of collective drama,” claiming that the medium of television, with its peculiar abilities, cemented hockey as cultural identity firmly in the Canadian psyche. See, hockey is particularly well-suited for television, with its quick action, swift line changes, and the proximity of its fans, who line up against the very boards players careen each other into. Cameras and microphones pick all this up, transmitting it into the homes where the families who have gathered to watch are essentially transported right there onto the ice, sharing the reactions of those fans cheering behind their favourite players.

Earle likens hockey to the Greek and Shakespearean drama:

“As noted, the audience is very much involved. Add to this the distinctive pacing and ‘rhythm’ of a hockey game, the changing mood and psychological tempo created by the switches in focus from the team to the individual player and back again. This makes for a superb aesthetic spectacle.”

That still doesn’t quite explain the almost-juvenile enthusiasm everyone packed into that Moose Winooski’s was buzzing with on Sunday, though. Hockey, asserts Earle, evokes the “paradisiacal myth of the boy inside the man,” with its powerful “imaginative hold” over Canadian males. The hold itself is fortified by the medium that carried it into Canadian homes. “The alchemy of electronic technology thus made possible in televised hockey a synchronization of the mythopoeic and the mechanical. A flooded driveway became a locus of myth.”

Broadcasting hockey gave us all that little voice that pops into our heads whenever we take up a stick and play the game. Whether you hear Don Cherry, Joe Bowen, or Foster Hewitt is irrelevant. Thanks to mass communication, when you break out, split the D and wind up on a shot, you can hear the play-by-play, the audience roaring, and the excitement exploding in your ears.

That’s hockey as cultural myth, working its mystic magic on your imagination:

“This is the romance of hockey: play as idyll. The mysterious bonding of millions of Canadian males to ‘the game’ traces back to the pond, the slough, the indoor rink, to the iced driveway, to the time when they, in their youthful fantasies, were Gordie Howe or Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky. Here is hockey’s spiritual core, the central explanation for its mystical attraction for prime ministers and pipefitters, for Nobel prize winners and new immigrants.”

Just like our 1972 counterparts, last Sunday Canadians across the country were watching a broadcast from distant Russia, involved in “something deeper than sport.” We cheered together and we held our breath together, connected by nothing save that we were all Canadians watching Canadians play a game we had long ago managed to stake our claim on. To be in that Moose Winooski’s was to take part in the cultural myth of our national pastime. And just like in 1972:

“…Canadians heard that voice say they were the best in the world at the game of hockey. It was a unique Canadian epiphany. A Soviet coach commented years later: ‘We do not have the spirit to draw on that these Canadians do.’ To him, the Canadian players had ‘a light that cannot be put out…you defeat them sometimes, but you discourage them never’ (Beardsley 36). What was the source of that light? Was it money and commercialism? Was it male physicality and exclusiveness? It was something much deeper. It was being caught up in the rapture of a collective myth as enhanced by electronic technology.”

Earle’s essay is one of many in this book that examine Canadian identity as presented in our popular culture, and Slippery Pastimes is the next from-the-archive book on my reading list. If you’ve ever wondered why hockey has the hold it does on so many of us, or why Stompin’ Tom Collins was such a big deal, this book is for you.

Good job boys:

And let’s not forget this beautiful winning goal from our women’s team, who celebrated their fourth straight Olympic gold medal last Thursday. Hockey isn’t all about the guys these days, but that’s a story for another blog post:

New from Jeannette Sloniowski:


Detecting Canada

Writers of Canadian crime fiction have learned to gird our loins when we are asked a question that is as irritating as it is inevitable: When are you going to write a real novel? By offering not simply an overview of the history of crime fiction in Canada but thoughtful essays on the themes Canadian crime writers explore and on the roles played by landscape, gender, class, race, and community in our works, Detecting Canada answers that question decisively. Canadian crime writers are writing real novels, and Detecting Canada offers solid evidence to prove the point.”

— Gail Bowen, author of The Gifted, the latest in the Joanne Kilbourn mystery series


Also from Joan Nicks:

nicks-grantCovering Niagara

Covering Niagara will finally bust loose a secret that’s been all too well concealed from all too many people: because of its unique geographical position, as a kind of radar dish picking up influences from all compass points, both sides of the border and the myriad backgrounds of the millions who have settled there, it’s a pop cultural torrent.”

— Geoff Pevere, broadcaster, author, and critic

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One Big Blog Post

January 31, 2014 by Darren

On January 14th, I invited you to share a journey with me; an adventure deep into the heart of metadata. I told you a bit about the history of metadata and how it’s used for books, that time the printing press changed everything and, after that, when the internet changed everything again. And then I made a promise that the following week I’d be back to share more metadata history with you. I broke that promise.

I gave you up, I let you down, I ran around and deserted you.

To make up for it, I’m going to share (almost) everything I’ve learned about metadata over the past two weeks.

Metadata: the data we use to describe other data, like books, films, photographs, and websites 

A Recap:

Metadata has been around ever since we started collecting large volumes of books in one place, beginning with the Library of Alexandria in the 3rd Century BCE. Librarians used the Pinakes system to keep track of things like the author’s name, his educational background, where he was from, the title of the work, what it was about, etc. Whether all you’ve got is a list of titles on your bookshelf or a comprehensive catalogue covering everything from the writer’s birthplace to the number of words in the manuscript, you’ve got metadata.

The Elements of Metadata (Most Commonly) in Use Today:

In the tradition of the librarians of Alexandria, we still collect data like title and contributor, and we sort our titles according to subject (usually). But since so many books are now published each year, we’ve created industry standards that help keep everyone involved—publishers, vendors, retailers, libraries, etc.—on the same page. The most integral element of modern metadata is the ISBN—the International Standard Book Number. See, books are products like any other object manufactured and sold, and they require an ISBN to be identified among the multitudes of other products that make up the book marketplace. ISBN is assigned by a regulatory agency, and allows publishers and retailers to monitor inventory and efficiently identify specific products during business transactions. A similar and less known standard is the ISTC—the International Standard Text Code. The ISTC identifies the work of a book. For example, take a look at one of our backlist titles, Onward to the Olympics. The work of the book, being the manuscript itself and its actual contents, would have one ISTC, while each edition of the book (hardcover and paper) has its own ISBN—because each edition is a separate product.

(An aside on ISBN:

This 13-digit code need not frustrate or intimidate you. There’s actually a method to this madness, you just need to get to know it a little better. The 13-digit ISBN is made up of five separate elements:

  1. Prefix Element: The first three numbers of the ISBN insert the code into the global product ID system. Right now there are two prefixes available, 978 and 979.
  2. Registration Group Element: This number refers to the country, geographical, or language area of the publisher.
  3. Registrant Element: These five numbers identify a particular publisher or imprint. Some publishers may have more than one registration element.
  4. Publication Element: This element refers to a specific title.
  5. Check Digit: The check digit completes the ISBN, serving as a secondary error check for systems using ISBN and is automatically calculated by the preceding digits of the ISBN.

[Worth noting: ISBN in Canada is assigned by the Standards Council of Canada, in the US by the American National Standards Institute and in the British Commonwealth by the British Standard Institute.])

Still with me?

Other metadata points typical on our books’ pages include:

  • Title
  • Subtitle
  • Contributors
  • Contributors’ roles
  • Price
  • Format
  • Edition
  • Page length
  • Description
  • Contributors’ biographies
  • Review
  • Cover art

…You get the idea.

Electronic communication in the book business necessitated not only a need for rich metadata for books, including the abovementioned ISBN, but it also created a need for a standard way of communicating metadata from the publisher all the way to the end user (you, you amazing book reader).

Say hello to ONIX.

ONIX is not a Pokémon. What it is, is an XML-based international standard for representing and communicating book metadata electronically, usually using FTP (file transfer protocol). ONIX allows for global communication across languages and boarders of book product info, using ISBN as a match point for reference. It enables various systems to interact and engage with each other, using a shared language with common grammar, definitions and structure.

ONIX is a product of EDitEUR, an international organization started in 1991 to coordinate the development of infrastructure standards for selling books, serials and e-books online. Thanks to ONIX, manual file processing is reduced, accuracy of data transmission and interpretation is improved, and processing speed quickens. We could go pretty deep down the ONIX rabbit hole, but we won’t. Let’s just say that thanks to ONIX, a huge amount of metadata pertaining to thousands of books finds its way to the screens of many a consumer.

Wait, screens?

The driving force behind the creation of all these standards and practices was the rise of internet bookselling. Before Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, or Apple, book data transmitted electronically was mostly used for business transactions, inventory management, etc. The really meaty data, which you find on our book’s pages here on our website, was still largely being communicated by print.

When retailers started selling books online, they needed rich metadata from publishers in order to create their “digital shelves.” And to stay competitive in a disruptive market, retailers began displaying metadata directly to consumers. For the first time, metadata was a direct component of the consumption process, essentially becoming the browsing and discovery experience for anyone who shops online, and changing the way publishers had to craft their metadata.

Today, when you find a book online it’s because of the metadata. Retailers like Amazon use sophisticated algorithms that rely on metadata to decide which books to show to who, so publishers have to be more conscious of how they construct it than ever before. It has to have the right keywords, it has to appeal to a consumer, it has to have the correct structure for that particular retailer, and it has to be accurate.

So that’s where we’re at with metadata right now. It really is every publisher’s favourite thing to love hating, but without it you’d never find our awesome books.

What will metadata look like in the future? It’s tough to say—the thing is you never know what you need until you need it, so the rule of thumb is to collect as much as possible. That being said, it isn’t inconceivable to imagine a future where entire works are mined for data, including elements like style, voice, tone, keyword density, etc. And it isn’t that hard to imagine an evolved metadata environment, taking the “upstream/downstream” model (metadata predominantly flows from the publisher, “upstream” to the consumer, “downstream”) and turning it on its head, allowing publishers to use retail/vendor metadata to inform future business decisions. We might even get real-time metadata analysis, with publishers split-testing different elements to see what works best online.

But that’s just speculation, and this has been a very long blog post about metadata.

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The Evolving Elements and Uses of Metadata

January 14, 2014 by Darren

So it’s been quite a while since our last blog post. When we wrapped up #NaBloPoMo, we took a (well-deserved!) break. Then we were shut down for a little while over the holidays. But now we’re back with our first post of 2014, and it’s all about…

metadata bookMetadata!

Metadata has been used to organize and describe ideas as early as the 3rd Century BC, when the Pinakes system was used in the Library of Alexandria to keep track of roughly 500,000 manuscripts. At the time, metadata collected included the book’s title, the author’s name, his father’s name, his birthplace, his educational background, any teachers he studied under, and lastly, a brief biography. Sometimes they also recorded the first line of the work, a summary of its contents, and information about its origin. The manuscripts were then stored in separate rooms according to subject.

The librarians of Alexandria must’ve been onto something, because elements of the Pinakes system are still in use today, and were the norm for centuries.

Until the printing press.

Prior to the printing press, books were kept in libraries and monasteries and were more or less exclusive to the wealthy elite. But when the press created a boom of book production, and the number of books printed per year exploded, things started to change.

As books became more accessible, private presses flourished and demand grew. Printed catalogues were the most effective tool publishers had to get word out about their new and forthcoming titles. Libraries found themselves housing more books than ever before, and they came to rely on the likes of the Dewey Decimal System, subject headings, and specific rules for entering bibliographic data in order to organize their shelves. Information about publishers themselves came to be included in a book’s metadata as well.

In the 1970s—a newly computerized world—electronic record keeping and electronic transfer of bibliographic data influenced publishers and libraries. Libraries developed Online Public Access Systems for consumers, and publishers started using the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) to manage bibliographic data as well as their inventories for libraries and retailers. The data publishers stored electronically was relatively brief, since printed catalogues were still the primary vehicle to disseminate rich information about titles.

Then the internet showed up.

Websites like Amazon began their ascension, and for the first time consumers were interacting directly with publisher metadata. Thanks to new technologies like ONIX, which allowed for a streamlined standard for communication of data from publishers to distributors, metadata now includes rich descriptions of text crafted to speak directly to consumers. And as sites like Amazon and Google continue to craft more intelligent algorithms, metadata is being designed with discoverability and search engines in mind, to help titles stand out against the millions of other books published every year.

The elements and uses of metadata are still evolving for both libraries and publishers. But this short history solidifies efficient metadata, like title, author, subject and summary as being the most useful way to store and organize the ever-growing volume of published books in the world.

Come back next week to learn how the move from in-store to online bookselling has been further changing metadata post-1995.

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#NaBloPoMo Highlights

November 30, 2013 by Darren

#NaBloPoMo has been pretty wild. This month we’ve blogged about the Kitchener-Waterloo area, our latest books, staff members here at WLU Press, the future of the scholarly book and our interdisciplinary Environmental Humanities series (to name a few!).

For the big finish today (and we’re all so sad to say goodbye) I dug through our archives to select some of my personal favourites. Here are the very best blog posts from #NaBloPoMo at WLU Press:

Blaire wrote this ode to the KW area. I’m pretty new around here myself so I got a kick out of this one.

Philip McTaggart, our Financial Administrator, reflects on spending a year in the life of academic publishing.

I wrote a profile on Lisa Quinn, our acquisitions editor.

Clare made this big connection between Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and one of our books.

She also wrote about Israel Unger’s celebration at the Senate earlier this month.

Jasmine Derr asked, “Does format mater?”

Dr. Cheryl Lousley contributed a spotlight on our Environmental Humanities series during University Press Week.

And lastly, for the aspiring novelists out there, I found three books of ours that can help you write your next (or your first) masterpiece.

We’re not going to stop blogging, but we will be toning the frequency down a bit. Thanks for following along, everyone!

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