Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ikonica: A Field Guide to Canada's Brandscape by Jeannette Hanna & Alan Middleton

For this book, my readers are getting three reviews: mine (an American's view), my husband's and a knowledgeable and wise friend's (both Canadian)--not necessarily in that order.
Knowledgeable & Wise Friend:
The companies profiled are well known to Canadian consumers. Products, logos and signature lines, etched in our everyday lives. But this book adds little to our knowledge and understanding of the dramatic creation and development of these enterprises or the backgrounds of the risk-takers, visionaries and adventurers who dreamed the impossible dream in a country not known for taking chances. Instead we get button-down profiles right out of the annual reports and faint images and pale ghosts of the greatness of capitalism and free enterprise.
No energy, no excitement and few insights to celebrate these iconic companies - ironic.

I wanted to read Ikonica because it looked fun and educational for this American living in Canada. Part coffee table book, part Canadian marketing overview, Ikonica was not as fun as I thought it would be. I learned some stuff--there are a few brands/companies I didn't know were Canadian (like Umbra, the company that designed the liquid soap dispenser I bought in NYC). Mostly, though, Ikonica is a book that boils down to a pat-yourselves-on-the-back book for Canadian companies (which seems to have been the purpose of Hanna and Middleton). Readers, whether they are Canadian or not, will quickly tire of of "Canadians are so great" statements that appear at least three times a page.

I also disliked the comparisons between American marketing and Canadian marketing (though I don't know if it's avoidable); I detected definite anti-American sentiments from some of the contributers, and even when they weren't referring to the myopia of American consumers, the CEOs and presidents and VP's and founders all made a point of discussing how "modest" Canadians are.

Overall, the book lacked substance. No one discussed anything that had ever been done wrong or badly in their companies, with the exception of the marketing VP for Cirque du Soleil mentioning that they tanked in Niagara Falls because of ill planned marketing and branding.

Ikonica reaches the height of boring readers by the halfway point (sooner for the less tolerant) if you read it straight through, after which readers will have a hard time focusing and may just flip through the pages to look at the pictures.

Muse's beloved husband:
Ikonica goes to great lengths to re-broadcast the corporate "message" as written by those pretending to be the messenger, the CEO's and Chairmen/women of the boards.

To read this book and believe the words contained, I would come away thinking that if it weren't for George Stroumboulopoulos, I would have no cultural bellwether with which to guide myself.[Insert finger in mouth here to imitate gag] If it were not for Roots, my understanding of the beaver would be lost forever. [Puff out cheeks here to imitate mouth filling from reflux and gag reaction] I do not watch The Hour, by choice. I have never worn Roots clothing, by choice.

Where is mention of Take Thirty and the ground breaking work of Moses Znaimer? Where is the nod to the many industrial innovations of Canada? Jeepers and golly gee there hasn't been a true-sounding Canadian tone since the death of Peter Gzowski. (At least he admitted to being a bit of a fraud with his "creation" of the award-winning front cover of the burning tree burning the forest fire sign.)

Little is said in Ikonica about the failures, and the struggle... the ashes and anvil where success is forged. Ikonica comes in at last place in selections of books I would choose to offer as representative of Canadian anything. Ikonica reminds me of early family portraits, stood for at the dawn of photography; Mother and Father, straight-faced and turned out in clothes more suited to a funeral parlour; children looking equally dour, standing poised and upright. It becomes known later that each person had a stiff set of metal fingers gripping them by the neck to ensure steady pose and lack of movement. That is Ikonica.

High quality production in print and photography amount to little more than an advertisement from the writers of this book that they will produce for your company, a very slick press release, which you can write yourself.

I will stick to Why I Hate Canadians by Will Ferguson as a gift to the interested.

Thanks to Mini Book Expo: Business Edition & Douglas & McIntyre for sending this book.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Click by Bill Tancer

This is another guest post by my beloved husband. I will probably be reviewing it myself sometime in the near future.
--<>-- will take you to a website showing a video of Bill Tancer talking to the Google demagogues about his new book Click. will take you to a website with a publisher's synopsis/review of Bill Tancer’s new book Click.

Of course, clicking on the book cover or title will allow you to order your own tactile experience of Click through Powell's Books.

“The medium is the message" (Marshall McLuhan) best describes the impressive multi-media experience and concepts outlined by Tancer in Click. The author does not give the nod to McLuhan. Tancer's demonstration of data is his implied agreement with the ideas of a media-driven society, obsessed by its own desire to know which way it will turn next. One begins to understand, as they read, the mouse and keyboard must not be far away.

Bill Tancer is honest and straightforward as he parleys his understanding of his place in this world. He relates his mission is not one he picked up while seeking an easy major/minor combination at the state university. Indeed, he has come into his calling after a lifetime of watching his own fascination with data and how numbers and people relate in the real world. Click is a 212 page business card for Bill Tancer and Hitwise, the data, information company he is a part of. 212 pages of stories mixed with information and frontline insights that will excite prescient readers into understanding something about themselves and how they relate to their own public or market segment.

A book written as if it were spoken, cleanly without the uhhh and ummm and pause while words are sought for. After reading Click I went online to investigate what sort of press Hyperion is. They have a wide range of titles and include contemporary authors I have read, like Mitch Albom. I watched the video of Tancer’s lecture at Google and was impressed to see the same “aw shucks” sort of guy I meet in Click. Tancer is a plain language speaker, who does not shirk from hard questions or difficult problems. I would imagine if I wanted to know what the next thing was going to be, based on internet use, I would turn to Bill Tancer and Hitwise to see if he could illuminate further in the same way Click did.

I am wondering if the apple would bob so close to the surface if it knew it were next.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris

The day I requested Acedia & Me, I was really in the mood for a good memoir. This is another one I didn't finish.

Acedia and Me is part memoir, part expository/exploratory essay. The memoir bits were fine, but in the first 100 pages, there was too much that was essay debating what acedia actually is (based on etymology, religions' definitions, etc.). I didn't care that much about the background of it. A chapter in the beginning, fine. Four chapters of it in the beginning was over the top. By the end of 100 pages, I cared even less about whether it was the same thing as clinical depression (she wants to argue it's not), and I certainly didn't want to read any more about it. I would've read the rest, if Norris had stayed in memoir mode.

I don't want to discourage anyone else from reading this, but this is meant for a more academic audience than I'm willing to be right now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Broad Street by Christine Weiser

I couldn't get into Broad Street and gave up by page 50. Here's why:
  1. I can't relate to the character or her motives for starting a band, and she deals (or, rather, doesn't deal) with her ex in a decisively passive-aggressive way that bugs the heck out of me.
  2. I generally don't care about bands, punk or otherwise. This one does nothing to make me interested.
  3. Weiser's writing style could use some polishing. She relies on dialogue to move her plot her descriptive skills are lacking--she tells instead of shows.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

I was going to read The Wordy Shipmates and have a review all set to go by its release date (October).

Clearly, that didn't happen. I stopped about halfway through and determined to finish it when I was feeling more like I could give it a fairer reading.

I was originally very excited about this book. I'm fascinated and confused by Puritan theology. But it seems I was also traumatized by my junior year English teacher's presentation of the 1600's and Puritan persecution, because I kept having flashbacks of the class while I was reading this. (Very unsettling.)

This is my first experience with Sarah Vowell's work, and I am disappointed. First, the lack of chapters made the book seem unpolished and disorganized. Having no chapters also made the book seem to drag on because there weren't great, obvious stopping points.

Second, I kept getting people confused--which means I should've been keeping notes; I didn't because I thought that the people would be more definitive in my mind, but every time I came across Williams or Winthrop or Vane, I had to stop to remember which one he was. (And the two W names show up a lot.)

Last, Vowell's bitter political comments (example: "It's why in U.S. presidential elections the American people will elect a wisecracking good ol' boy who's fun in a malt shop instead of a serious thinker who actually knows some of the pompous, brainy stuff that might actually get fewer people killed.") seemed like cheap, strictly media-fed opinions. I'm not a huge fan of these particular politics, either, but I thought the snarky anti-Bush remarks cheapened her obviously hard work.

The things I liked: I laughed a lot and aside from the modern political stuff, I enjoyed her wit. I learned quite a bit. I enjoyed the last half of the book more than the first.

I'd be willing to read more of her books, but I'd be very careful about picking which one next. (Likely, I'd have to read a chapter or two before deciding.)

I'm willing to believe Vowell is a very funny, worthy writer to read more of--but I wouldn't recommend most newcomers to Vowell's work begin with The Wordy Shipmates.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Yellowknife by Steve Zipp

Stumble into Canada’s Northwest Territories with one of the many characters readers will get acquainted with in this strange tale. Meet a handful of biologists who are being chased out of their government offices and their jobs, a mosquito fanatic, three generations of First Nations (in the States, we'd call them Native Americans or Indians), a bureaucrat, a fisherwoman, a couple of con men and a dog of indeterminate age and genesis. Too long a list to name each one by name (or profession), readers may need a program to tell the players apart as Steve Zip unwinds his postmodern tale. Robert Service it ain’t, but the Northwest Territories is not the Yukon and Zip who still calls Yellowknife home, reminds us several times that the two are not synonymous.

Another reviewer, at Geranium Cat's Bookshelf, says in a lovely, succinct way, "This is not so much a book to read as to inhabit. You take up residence with a motley crew of characters and watch as their lives happen around you." She's right. I wouldn't recommend trying to read this book in short spurts--I kept getting distracted and it took me three times as long to finish it as it probably would have if I'd settled in for a few long afternoons of reading.

Part of this may be due to its postmodernity. I'm not a fan of postmodern books, but this wasn't as confusing as some I've read. A parody of stereotypes (or maybe a parody of real people Zipp knows) parades through the stories that amalgamate to form the book, reappearing where you least expect them and creating a distinctly surreal series of experiences--especially when the animals start talking.

Yellowknife is not an unpleasant read, but I think it helped to have my husband nearby when I wanted to ask questions like how cold it gets there or what it's like to drive on an ice road. He's also the one who pointed out the parody aspect of the book; I had been taking it way too literally and having an exasperating time with it until that point.

Many thanks to Steve Zipp for sending me a copy of his book, even though I don't participate in challenges (even the Canadian Reading challenge).

Monday, December 01, 2008

anyone need a weird white elephant/dirty santa gift?

I came across this book a few days ago somewhere, and then again today in one of Joy the Baker's tweets, and I just had to post about it.

It's a cookbook about a secret ingredient.

The secret ingredient?


Natural Harvest