April 25, 2015
We’ve just spent two weeks in England, mostly eating cake and touring indie bookshops, with more than a few of our stops inspired by Jen Campbell’s The Bookshop Book. Our trip was splendid and a brilliant demonstration that great bookshops are remarkable destinations, magical spaces, possibly the spirit of any place. One of my favourite moments was when I was standing outside The Book Barge clutching an armful of books (because I like to hold them—a bag may be handy, but it’s just not the same) and a woman came up to me. “Sorry to be cheeky,” she said, “but is there a place to buy books around here?” I did my best to gesture, even with my burden. “Only an entire boat,” I said, and then she skipped away to her husband with glee—she’d found her destination and she hadn’t even been looking for it. It’s the very best kind of encounter. Independent bookshops are the rooms that make the world worth living in. They also have the best selection, shelves better curated than any chain bookshop, hands down.
And I am happy that even though we’re home again, I can continue to fly the indie bookshop banner with Authors for Indies Day on May 2. It’s a day I was always going to be a part of—do I ever need an excuse to visit a bookshop? But I am thrilled and honoured that Book City on the Danforth has asked me to be one of their visiting authors. I will be there from 2-4 ready to convince patrons to buy some of my favourite, can’t miss books—I’ve selected Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Ellen in Pieces, On Immunity, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and My Real Children. Perhaps I could even sell you a copy of The Bookshop Book?
Other authors at Book City Danforth for Authors of Indies include Guy Gavriel Kay, Jessica Westhead, Elyse Friedman, Sarah Sheard, Tanis Rideout, Kate Hilton, Lilly Barnes, Ronna Bloom, Gail Benick, Alissa York, Michael Januska, Dave Bidini, Jill Jorgenson, and Evan Munday. And if the time and place don’t work for you, do check out the huge list of other stores (and authors!) participating across the country. There is sure to be something in your neighbourhood!
But I do hope to see you at Book City on the Danforth. Authors for Indies Day will be a great opportunity to celebrate your neighbourhood indie bookstore, to possibly rediscover what makes these spaces so special, to let your child (if you have one) wander around delighting in bookish wonders, and to do some delighting yourself. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
*A previous version of this post noted two weeks until Authors for Indies Day. This is because it was written by a blogger with jet lag. May 2 is, in fact, coming up quick!
April 25, 2015
April 23, 2015
A quick post on my phone before we depart tomorrow. We’ve had an excellent last few days with lots of sunshine and fun. Our trip to London included The London Review Bookshop and their cake shop, and I finally found Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey, plus gorgeous picture books. We visited the British Museum with my friend Rebecca, and played in Coram’s Field. Iris napped in the carrier as we went to the Persephone Bookshop, and I got the Dorothy Whipple novel I’d chosen because she’s a Lancashire author… not realizing that all her books were doorstoppers. It was a very good day and the children were heroic. We took things easier today with a day in Windsor that was made brilliant with a visit with Sarah from Edge of Evening. I am so fond of and inspired by her blog, and it was a pleasure to meet her in person. We had a terrific lunch at a pub called Bel and the Dragon where the table top was a chalkboard, and watched the guards march at Windsor Castle. Her son was adorable and we had a wonderful time, and if that wasn’t enough–she gave us books! Tiny editions of a Katie Morag and Owl and the Pussycat for Harriet and Iris, plus a London book, and the Elena Ferrante for me. Remarkable because I’ve nearly bought this book so many times, and now it’s mine, and I’m about to read it now. It was meant to be. And if I get a chapter read on the flight tomorrow, we will consider the journey a success.
April 20, 2015
I’ve not actually started reading Outline, but hope to do so tonight once I’ve finished up with How to Be Both. I spent Iris’s nap time today lying on the grass in the garden while the blue sky shone high above, and the reading was splendid. Afterwards, we went to the beach one last time and had ice cream while it was actually sunny, which was kind of novel. I walked on the beach in bare feet, and Harriet wore wellies with a skirt and looked like Katie-Morag. This morning, we went to Lytham-St. Anne’s, where I’d never been before, and I loved the shops, the trees, wide sidewalks and greengrocers with gorgeous displays of fruit and flowers. And they have a bookshop! We were pleased to visit Plackitt and Booth, whose branching out into toy sales has not compromised their book selection at all. So many Canadian authors, and a nice mix of hardback and paperback, new and old—just the selection I’ve come to expect of indie bookshops. I had an excellent bookish conversation with the woman at the till, pausing in between while customers came in to collect their special orders. And Harriet and Iris played in the back of the shop, finally choosing tiny girl pirate figurines for purchase (and we had fun taking photographs of these on the beach later).
I bought Nina Stibbe’s Man at the Helm for my sister-in-law’s birthday (which was actually in February, and I’d bought it for her previously from a non-Amazonian UK online retailer, but it was mistakenly shipped to our house instead of her house, and then we forgot to bring it with us—the copy at home will be a gift easily re-gifted, fortunately, as it’s such a funny novel) and two more Katie Morag books because we’re obsessed, and I was so excited to get a “Books Are My Bag” bag because I’ve been following them online (and The Bookshop Book was the official book of their campaign!). I will cherish it as much as one can do with a plastic bag. Perhaps it can take the place of my purse—I can be like that woman in Carol Shields’ Unless—Gwen, I think—who carries a plastic bag instead of a purse and then ends up pinching Norah’s scarf.
Tomorrow we leave our family, and head back down south, which means we’ll lose our Wifi and also the relatives to entertain the children while I recap our days with blog posts and laze around reading. So I may be heading out of touch. We have a day of travel, a day in London, and one more in Windsor before we head home on Friday. It has been a truly lovely vacation. I feel like we’ve been away forever, and I’m not quite finished with it yet.
April 18, 2015
Today was absolutely a magical day. I’ve been hoping to visit The Book Barge ever since I read Sarah Henshaw’s memoir, The Bookshop That Floated Away, in December. For the time being, she’s currently moored at the marina in the village of Barton Under Needwood in Staffordshire, open Saturdays from 10-4, and so we left early this morning with our hopes as high and bright as the sun was. We arrived to find the marina bustling and beautiful, the canal boats gorgeous to behold and putting me in mind of what they said in the Wind in the Willows about messing about in boats.
The Book Barge was wonderful. Can I convey that? That a single thing really could be worth a trip halfway around the world and down the motorway. The boat was crowded, and there is nothing quite so fine to my mind as a crowded bookshop. Cheap books were for sale in cabinets on the roof, enticing customers, and then we climbed down below where Sarah had tea and cake (Victoria sponge!) ready for us, china cups on hooks on the wall. She was lovely, and it was a pleasure to meet her, as well as her partner, Stu, whom I knew as a character in her book, which was doubly exciting. Harriet and Iris played with old typewriters and petted the shop bunny, who was driven underneath the sofa to escape baby paws. The feeling of the boat moving on the water was magical, and walking about on solid ground was a little boring after that.
And the books! It was an exquisitely curated bookshop, a pleasure to browse. (I will have better pictures once I get them off my camera—these are just the ones I took on my phone.) I picked up The Language of Flowers simply because it was beautiful, and opened to the section on the Anenome, which features the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Come Harriet! Sweet is the Hour,” and then I knew I had to by it, because it would features irises after all, and rare is the flower book that features both my daughters. I also picked up Simple Pleasures: Little Things that Make Life Worth Living, because I appreciate such things. And Pies: Recipes, History and Snippets, because who has been eating all the pies this week? We have. A copy of Sarah’s book for my mom, who is going on her own canal boat adventure later this year. Magpie Treasure by Kate Slater, a gorgeous picture book we all like very much. And I got Look at Me by Jennifer Egan, because I fancied it.
And good news! A copy of my own book, The M Word, is now for sale in a certain English bookshop.
And then we went to a nearby cafe, and partook in a bargeman’s lunch.
And if all that was not enough, our adventures were only just beginning. (Happily, Stuart’s intrepid sister, Jenny, was along for the journey.) When we left Barton Marina, we drove northeast into the Peak District, through the breathtaking A6 road in Derbyshire to Chatsworth House, which is a place that’s dear to me. I visited in 2003 at the height of my Mitford mania whilst suffering from a throat infection and was so sick I ended up lying in the grass among the sheep poo, and this didn’t dint my appreciation of the place one bit. I tried to go back again before we moved away from England, but the busses were on strike, and so it’s been 12 years since my last visit and I’ve been longing for it, though it was a bit sad since Debo has died, but alas, she led a good life, and we shelled out a small fortune for the privilege of exploring her gardens for a while and it was worth every penny. Plus there were small carts selling tea and ice cream. At one point, we turned a corner and Iris looked up and said a new word, which was “Beauty.” It was the most stunning landscape, and the children were tired and whiny, but that’s required when your parents have forced you to visit a stately home. They did have fun running around on the green green grass though, and I felt the sun on my face for the first time in months and it was glorious.
We drove home through the Peaks, which was terrifying and incredible, and I am well versed enough in English driving now that a windy cliff’s edge at 50 mph doesn’t faze me. The world was green and huge, and each turn brought a visit more stunning than the next, and we ate scones from the Chatsworth Farm Shop for dinner, which were delicious. The sun sunk lower and lower, a bright glowing ball, and didn’t quite disappear over the edge of the horizon until we were nearly home again, swoony and tired with feet still unsteady, a bit drunk on a wonderful, unforgettable day.
April 17, 2015
There were weird weird connections between Susan Hill’s I’m the King of the Castle and Barbara Comyns’ The Vet’s Daughter—they were different in tone and time period, but both had a gothic sensibility, animal imagery, featured powerless women and had similar, devastating deaths at the end. Comyns was funnier though. Still, it’s always so odd how certain books to one another, uncovering layers of meaning that would not have otherwise been deciphered. And now my next book is Ali Smith’s How to Be Both, which I’m just about to start. It’s on the Baileys Prize shortlist, and I’ve heard so much about it. Though I won’t have much time to read tomorrow—we’re driving to the Midlands to visit the Book Barge, and then from there to Chatsworth House, and home via the Peak District (with a Bakewell Tart en-route, I hope). Which promises to be an epic day, and I am very excited.
Today we stayed closer to home, with a trip to the Dewlay Cheese Shop, where we got some famous Garstang Blue and other deliciousness. We visited a nearby farm soon after so the children could see sheep not just through a car window, and they had a tea shop, of course, so scones and jam were had, and that was excellent. After Iris’s nap, we took advantage of having the sea at the end of our road, and went to the beach, building sandcastles, digging holes, collecting shells and stones and washing them off in the tide pools. The sky is enormous here, horizons stretching forever. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
And what have the children been reading, you might wonder? We got It’s a New Royal Baby, The Big Katie Morag Story Book, Alfie’s Shop, and Hairy McLary, Shoo. Harriet and Iris have also enjoyed watching the Katie Morag TV series on the BBC, which is wonderful and the most remarkable adaptation of the storybook illustrations. Plus their Nana bought them the Paddington movie on DVD, so there has been plenty of entertainment all around.
April 16, 2015
Today was glorious! We left the children behind and took a trip to Yorkshire, to the wonderful town of Ilkley, which we visited when we were here four years ago. The appeal then was that I was reading Burley Cross Postbox Theft and Ilkley was fairly close to the fictional Burley Cross, plus I’d been reading about Betty’s Tea Rooms in Started Early Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson, and I wanted to visit one. Today we wanted to do it all again, and also pay a visit to the excellent Grove Bookshop, and what a joy to finally visit an independent bookshop. The Waterstones in Lancaster is beautiful, but they’ve failed to have the books I’m looking for in stock. (This tweet should also set you as to what’s wrong with Waterstones, and why you should support your local independent bookstore ALWAYS**). The Grove Bookshop, on the other hand, had everything I wanted in stock, and more—a lovely display for the Baileys Shortlisted books. I got Outline by Rachel Cusk, How to Be Both by Ali Smith, and The Secret Library by Haruki Murakami because the design was amazing—it has an actual library pocket on the cover!
We spent lots of time browsing at the bookshop, appreciating their excellent displays, fantastic selection, chatting with the staff, and admiring the bunting in the window. We were also delightfully full after afternoon tea at Betty’s, which was a terrific treat. I am definitely enjoying combining my scone and book-buying experience on this trip. And then we walked around Ilkley, which was so green and gorgeous, cherry blossoms in bloom. We bought a pheasant pasty from Britain’s Best Butcher, and had another cup of tea at The Toast House across the street, which I loved because they had a copy of one of the most delightful Canadian picture books ever in their kids’ reading nook, and also because they used bundt pans as decoration. We decided that next time we come, we’re definitely going to go up on Ilkley Moor, and if the children don’t whine (much), we’ll reward them with afternoon tea for afters.
The last time we drove to Ilkley, the car in front of us exploded on the motorway off-ramp, but nothing so eventful happened this time. We drove home down winding roads, and were so pleased to come home to happy daughters and a not entirely exhausted Nana who was triumphant in having put Iris down for her nap (all of whom were made all the more happy by the fact that we bought treats back from Betty’s). And now I am going to have a bath in the most luxurious tub in the Northwest and read some Barbara Comyns whose Our Spoons Came From Woolworths I loved so very much.
Tomorrow we have no plans to visit a bookshop, but we are going to a cheese shop, which should be just as good.
**Speaking of Independent Bookshops, I’m happy to be taking part in Authors for Indies Day on May 2 at Book City on the Danforth. Between 2-4, I’ll be guest bookselling, talking up my favourite titles. I hope you will come and visit! And if it sounds good but not local, I am sure you can find a similar event going on in your neighbourhood. It’s going to be great.
April 15, 2015
I love the cover to Susan Hill’s I’m the King of the Castle, designed by Zandra Rhodes as part of Penguin’s Decades series. I’m halfway through it now, although my book a day record is about to be stymied by us actually doing things other than spending the afternoons reading. (I know!!!) Today we went to Lancaster where my sister-in-law lives in an adorable terrace with a park across the street. “This house only has two rooms,” Harriet whispered when we went inside, and then Iris literally somersaulted down the steep staircase and now half her head is purple. It was terrifying for everybody involved. Lancaster is wonderful because they have an amazing Waterstones, an Oxfam bookshop, a castle, and a market with stalls and stalls of meat pies on sale. Unfortunately, all the books on my list don’t seem to be in stock anywhere—”They’ll be out in paperback in September,” I keep being told, which isn’t very helpful. I want Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey and Rachel Cusk’s new novel Outlines, or anything from the Bailey’s Prize shortlist except the novel from the perspective of a bee. But I did get The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns (who wrote Our Spoons Came from Woolworths) and I have high hopes for stock at The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley tomorrow and the London Review Bookshop next week. I shall not go bookless, rest assured.
April 14, 2015
This morning we went to Kirkham, which is about 30 mins from here, to Silverdell Books, which is more than just a bookshop—it’s an ice cream parlour too! With teas and cakes, and even chocolate. Perhaps Florence Green in Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel should have pursued the confectionery end of things and she might have been more successful. I learned about Silverdell Books from The Bookshop Book, and we were pleased that it lived up to our expectations. I got a copy of Susan Hill’s novel I’m the King of the Castle, as well as a book for Harriet. Kirkham was a pretty town and the sun even came out for a little while. Yesterday we ate ice cream on the beach whilst shivering in the sea air, and made a trip to the local library for books for Harriet and Iris to read while we’re here, and they had some good ones, plus the bookshelves were a train, so that was super exciting. And now Iris is having her nap, so I’m going to seize the chance and go away to read…
April 13, 2015
Airport book buying was a little bit disappointing—anything that looked compelling, I’d already read. Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore was a contender but I was concerned it wouldn’t hold up to my expectations. I’d already read Gone Girl and Gillian Flynn’s first book, and The Girl on the the Train, so I was pretty much out of luck. But luckily, there was Alice. Whom I really haven’t read an awful lot of, so it was Dear Life. A bit of an anti-climax. I’d been picturing something more culturally appropriate for the UK, but alas. I read half of the first story on our very uneventful and pleasant flight. On Saturday morning, we arrived on our friend’s doorstep at 8am and then the children and we spent the whole day awake after a sleepless night (though Iris slept in the stroller while we were on a walk through town). The weather was sunny and beautiful, and it kept us alive as the day went on—another set of houseguests from California arrived at our friend’s that afternoon, and Harriet and Iris had an ecstatic day of play with other kids. I couldn’t have read a word because when I sat down my eyes closed. At 7:35, we all fell asleep on the second page of This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall, and then mostly slept all night, the best night’s sleep I’ve had in 2 years. Yesterday, we went to visit Stuart’s friend who lives in the middle of the Oxfordshire countryside and had a splendid time at their house before driving up north. We arrived here at 7:30 last night, the children enthusiastically received by grandparents, and now my reading vacation truly begins. I love Dear Life, which is more interesting and less samey than Munro’s fiction is often accused of being. I have hopes of reading all morning while the children are taken to the beach, and then I’m going to move on to Book 2, which I bought at Waterstones in Windsor on Saturday morning—The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald. The first Penelope Fitzgerald book I ever read, and I look forward to revisiting it now that I’m more familiar with her. England is lovely, sunny and beautiful, and all the daffodils are in full bloom.