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Pickle Me This

November 29, 2018

Gifts

There comes a point when one’s books enthusiasm reaches a certain height at which people just stop giving you books altogether. Because you’ve probably read it already, or if you haven’t, there’s a good reason why not, and either way, you’re probably so overwhelmed with books already that you’re hardly in need of another. And I lament this, the loss of books wrapped up with a bow, because books have always been my favourite gifts to receive. But at the same time, yes, I probably have already read it, or there’s a good reason why I never did. Because part of being a books enthusiast is possessing a very defined sense of what you don’t like too, for better or for worse. 

So I relish those rare occasions where it all works out like serendipity, like the time my friend Jennie gave me Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost after I had my first baby. It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received, an acknowledgement of my identity as a person who was not only a mother, who still deserved something for herself, and could retain an element of who she was before the baby came. Also, because when somebody gives you a book, they give you a world. 

 At Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge, they’ve had mystery books wrapped in brown paper so that the costumer doesn’t’ know what they’ve got until they’ve bought it. Risky indeed—but then that was how I ended up with Herman Koch’s The Dinner a few years ago, a book I would never have bought on my own terms, but ended up really appreciating. 

It was such a good experience that not long ago when I ended up in another bookstore (that shall remain unnamed) I was eager to lay down some cash for another mystery book. And once I bought the book, I was reluctant to even open it, for the mystery to be solved, for the anticipation was actually the best part: what was I going to get? What unknown world was I about to discover? And so imagine my disappointment then when I finally unwrapped my package and the book turns out to be The Fucking Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve, an Oprah’s book club pick from 1998, and I think I even read it then, but have no memory of it. A book that every single second-hand bookstore on the planet has at least twenty copies of, willingly or otherwise, and the only way to get anybody to buy them is to wrap them in brown paper. They saw me coming from miles away… 

My faith in bookseller picks was restored a couple of weeks ago, however, when I picked up Let Me Be Like Water, by S.K. Perry, purchased in the summer when we visited the wonderful A Novel Spot Books in Etobicoke. It wasn’t wrapped in brown paper, but it might as well have been, because I knew nothing about it, but it was one of their picks of the year and I mostly bought it because they are very good at selling books there—they made it hard to say no. And then a few weeks ago after a reading rut, I finally picked it up, and I loved it. I was reading it on the Saturday morning and for some reason my paper hadn’t been delivered, and I didn’t care, because it meant I could read the novel all morning while I drank my tea and the sun poured into my kitchen. A book it took an expert reader—a bookseller—to connect me with. A kind of magic indeed. 

November 6, 2018

The Future of Books is Female

In this moment when so much seems dark, the light tends to shine even brighter, or maybe it’s just that I’m looking for it, but does the distinction even matter? It all began with a tweet thread, I think, when the editor of The Paris Review joined the parade of men who’ve lately been called out for sexual misconduct and when the editorial history of the magazine was being chronicled, one vital detail had gone amiss. “I’m going to show you how a woman is erased from her job,” the writer A.N. Devers tweeted, and proceeded to tell the story of Brigid Hughes, who’d succeeded George Plimpton at The Paris Review after Plimpton’s death, after working at the magazine for her entire career. But out of respect for Plimpton, Hughes was billed as “executive editor,” Plimpton remaining on the masthead. And then a year later Hughes was fired, and thereafter The Paris Review’s second editor and first female editor was written out of its history. Devers would eventually write this story into an essay published at Longreads.

Plans for Devers’ Second Shelf Books venture had been in the works for a few years, apparently (and is just one of the many fascinating things that she’s been up to), but for me the link seemed quite direct to me from her work on re-establishing Hughes’ professional record to starting a business that champions under-appreciated books by women authors (“rare books, modern first editions, and rediscovered works…”), and I was so galvanized by her work on the former that I jumped on board to support the latter. I signed up for the Second Shelf Books kickstarter to support the project and receive a copy of their Quarterly, a gorgeously produced magazine that is a literary catalogue and a celebration of women’s writing at once—and then before time ran out upgraded my support so I would receive a surprise first edition from Second Shelf. And it has been a pleasure to watch from across the ocean as Devers’ vision has become reality, the funding drive a success, a profile in Vanity Fair among other coverage, and the online store expanding to be actual bricks and mortar.

My copy of the Quarterly arrived a month ago, and I’ve deeply appreciated its aesthetic (marbled papers!), what it’s taught me about book collecting, and the writers I’ve been able to discover—for example, the first Black woman in South Africa to publish a novel was Miriam Tlali in 1975, with Muriel at Metropolitan. It has awakened my interest in book collecting for sure, and I’ve been pleased to discover I’ve already got a few first editions by women writers on my shelf, and now I’m on the look out for more—I found Carol Shields’ The Republic of Love at a used bookshop this weekend. It’s an opportunity, as Devers has explained, because books by women have historically been undervalued by book collectors (who’ve tended to be men), and therefore the investment is lower, but as more people begin to take notice, values will begin to rise. Or so it’s hoped, but regardless, I was overjoyed to receive my surprise first edition yesterday, carefully chosen after I’d completed a short survey online of my favourite authors. Wrapped in unicorn paper AND bubble wrap, so my children were squealing, and I got in on it too when I realized which book I had gotten. The hardcover Barbara Pym Civil to Strangers, a collection of stories and fragments published after her death. Could it be more perfect? And who knew there was a whole other reason to buy books that I hadn’t even considered? But I’m hooked now, and excited for the future of Second Shelf Books.

May 8, 2018

#FOLD2018

The first Festival of Literary Diversity in 2016 was the most interesting, inspiring and potentially transformative literary event I have ever attended—and I would have been back last year but I was out of town. So this year I did not miss a beat purchasing a pass for the Saturday events (and let me tell you, making the choice between Saturday and Sunday was really difficult—there were excellent things going on all weekend long). And once again, it was the very best day. I got the bus at 8:50 and was dropped off in front of Brampton City Hall just forty minutes later. There was even tea and scones for sale, so I was all set for the first event, which was writer Kai Cheng Thom discussing the important of setting with SK Ali (Saints and Misfits which I loved), Catherine Hernandez (Scarborough), Fartumo Kuso (Tale of a Boon’s Wife), and Joshua Whitehead (Johnny Appleseed)Whitehead talked about how huge The Break was in inspiring him how Winnipeg could be used as a setting in his novel, and how he wanted to use his setting as a “place of refuge” for queer Indigenous youth. Ali spoke about writing in the shadows of dominant narratives about Muslims and how she wasn’t trying to subvert that, exactly, because it would simply be falling into the same agenda. Instead, “I was just trying to write the Muslims I didn’t see in books.” She also spoke about how she had to get lessons from fantasy writers on world-building because there were elements of her story that would seem foreign to some readers, although these elements are parts of our communities. Hernandez talked about writing Scarborough, and “wanting to imagine beautiful possibilities for these places.” Kusow spoke of the balance between resisting mainstream images of Africa (Somalia) in her novel, but also she wanted to be honest. (PS I remember the panel in 2016 at which Kusow asked a question about how she, as a Muslim-Canadian immigrant, could find a place for herself in Canadian literature. Which made it particularly exciting to ask her to sign her novel for me this year…)

Next up was The Edge of Suspense, with Amber Dawn (Sodom Road Exit), David A. Robertson (Strangers), Michelle Wan (Death in Dordogne Mystery Series), moderated by the incredible Cherie Dimaline. They all talked about where their stories came from—Dawn sets her story in her hometown of Crystal Beach, ON, the year after the town’s iconic amusement park shuts down. She spoke about coming into her own as a writer as the Pickton trial was going on, and all the questions it evoked, which she uses her work to try to answer, this time in a novel. “I love for my art to have a house,” she said, discussing the novel as a container for the ghost story. Robertson’s YA novel was born of his interest in writing an origin story for a superhero, but he also wanted to have a dialogue in his work about mental health. He also wanted to give Indigenous youth a character in which they could see themselves reflected. And Michelle Wan told us about her own experience that had inspired her botanical mystery series, piecing a story together via flowers and their habitats. She talked about the constraints of literary narratives, and how these really can be artful, but also about her experience writing literary fiction, and how freeing it felt to “step off the path.” And then all three authors had a fantastic conversation about genre, and writers being bold in the forms of literature they’re choosing to tackle. But Dawn notes that Creative Writing Programs still have far to travel in encouraging this boldness in their students.

And then I had a long lunch, plenty of good conversations, met amazing literary people IN REAL LIFE, and tried and failed to exercise restraint while perusing the book sale table (“Don’t you already have books at home?” Anjula from Another Story Books asked me, but I pretended I hadn’t heard a thing). We also got ice cream. And then I took my seat for the Extraordinary Voices panel with Carrianne Leung moderating a discussion with Kim Thuy (Vi), Lee Maracle (My Conversations With Canadians), and Rabindranath Maharaj (Adjacentland). Leung began with a statement Cherie Dimaline made at The FOLD in 2016 about how story is magic. (And I remember this quote! I wrote the whole thing down: “Writing,” says Dimaline, “is the last true magic. Imagine being able to create something out of nothing, and that something is what literature is. It takes faith to create it, and also to receive it.”) Although Maracle suggested the inverse of Dimaline’s point, that story goes around looking for the writers. Maharaj talked about growing up in an oral culture, how everything was exaggerated, and storytelling becomes second-nature. Thuy mentioned that novel has been declared dead over and over ahead, but yet stories (and novels!) persist. Maracle talked about the importance of loving characters in order for the them to become multi-dimensional. And about writing for an audience: “But the initial story is coming to you—Own it.” Thuy talked about how different the discussions about her books are the various countries in which they’re published, which shifts the idea of writing for an audience—because how can you ever know? Maracle shared advice for young writers: “So dance and fall into your own story and don’t climb out until the door closes on you.” Maharaj explains that being a writer is having a particular way of looking at the world, of paying attention and noticing things. And finally Thuy on not fighting a story, on moving with it instead of against it: “And I just say YES.”

January 5, 2018

Measuring Life in Chesterfields

Can you measure a life in chesterfields? Or in couches, of sofas, or even settees? I’m beginning to think so. In university, my roommates and I had a set compiled of half a rumpled 1970s’ sectional reupholstered with a pineapple print salvaged from my parents’ basement and a red Ikea specimen that was literally made of styrofoam, and I don’t know where either of these eventually disappeared to—presumably the landfill. When Stuart and I moved to Canada in 2005, we were living on very little money, so couldn’t afford a couch, and purchased a futon instead, which seemed positively luxurious compared to sitting on the floor. It was also the first piece of furniture we ever bought, which seemed terribly sentimental (and it would stay with our family for years and years, eventually becoming our first child’s first proper bed, never mind that there was nothing proper about it…)

By 2007 we had arrived though, and we bought a proper couch from the Brick out on the Danforth. Yesterday we had a conversation about why we’d bought that couch exactly. “Because it’s really ugly,” we said. “It’s always been ugly.” Which is true. “It must have been cheap though.” “And probably we sat on it in the showroom.” Which would have clinched it, because it’s the most comfortable hideous couch in the world. Ask anyone who’s ever slept on it—and that’s a lot of you—and they’ll tell you the same. It is a giant stuffed toy of a couch, good for bouncing, and sliding, and also for naps. We were so incredibly proud of it, because it was even more grown up than a futon. And for the last decade that couch has been the centre of a lot of action, taking so much abuse from our two children who christened it in every way imaginable. So much so that the hideous couch has become even uglier, rumpled and sagging. Still loveable, still so comfortable. But we really felt it was time we got ourselves a couch that nobody in the history of the world has ever peed on.

It arrived this morning from Article, the Ceni Pyrite Gray Sofa, which has its own hashtag—our brown couch from the Brick certainly didn’t. And I’m absolutely delighted with it, its stylishness and comfort, that it wouldn’t look out of place in Don Draper’s office (but don’t worry—he hasn’t peed on it either). To complement it, we also bought a new coffee table, which has the incredible distinction of being the first coffee table we’ve ever owned that we didn’t take out of somebody’s garbage. Plus, the coffee table comes with book storage, and you know what that means—we have to buy more books. And we’re just very very happy here in this new era we’ve arrived in, of toilet trained children who don’t think that cushions are necessarily trampolines, being lucky enough to be able to afford a new sofa (which is as central to home as the kitchen table is), to live in the home we do in a place we love.

All of it is such a very very good life—and we look forward to barrelling through the next ten years on a couch as splendid as this one.

May 29, 2016

Alone in Montreal

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I’m not alone very often, and when I am, I am never lost or aimless. I say this not smugly, but as a mild lamentation. I don’t know that I’d like being alone, lost and aimless to be a pastime, but sometimes such things can lead a person places. This is what I teach in my blogging course, that a blogger needs space to roam, room to wander. And on Friday, I had some of that for myself, as I flew to Montreal to talk about blogging with the Association of English Language Publishers of Quebec. If you know me, you know I rarely leave my couch, so this was a pretty novel opportunity. I flew out from the Island Airport on Friday morning, the whole experience infused with goodness from the get-go—tea, ample leg-room and a good book. A whole hour and a bit in which to read.

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I had a few hours to kill before my event, so I made a plan to explore the Mile End neighbourhood and then make my way through the city to Westmount, where the AELAQ event was being held. My taxi from the airport dropped me off at Librairie Drawn and Quarterly, which immediately landed a space on my Best Bookshops I Have Ever Been To list. A world-famous publisher of amazing graphic novels and comics, they sell their own books, as well as other such books from other publishers, and then kids books, poetry, fiction, cookbooks etc etc making them a perfect general-interest/speciality hybrid. I walked in there and contemplated never leaving.

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I ended up choosing Rivka Galchen’s Little Labors, which is SO GOOD and I read yesterday. I thought maybe I was through with moms making sense of the new baby books, but no. Looking forward to writing about this one more this week. I also got Photobooth: A Biography, by Meags Fitzgerald, and it’s brilliant. The rest of the books were for my family, and I think I chose very well.

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So of course this meant I had a pile of books now to add to all the stuff I had to carry, and although I have never, ever complained about carrying books (the most pleasurable burden I’ve ever had the privilege to experience), my load in general was kind of heavy. It was also 38 degrees outside (no lie: factoring humidity), but no matter, I was on my way. I felt more like Mary Tyler Moore than I usually feel ever, if she’d been making it after all in French Canada whilst carrying a stack of books. I hit up a boulangerie, and got a croissant, and then followed it up with an ice cream cone at Kem CoBa, double scoop because you only live once. And it was so hot that my ice cream was melting faster than I could eat it, and I do appreciate that Montreal was so kind to me in spite of the melted diary stains all over my bag. After that, I added a dozen bagels from Fairmount Bagel to my load, and then set off down Rue Saint-Urban toward my final destination.

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It seemed ridiculously hot, though I think the heat (and the books. and the bagels) were the problem, plus I had to wear a giant shirt because I continue to be allergic to the SUN. I walked through Jewish neighbourhoods, a Portuguese neighbourhood, skirted the park and the mountain, and then arrived downtown where I turned and walked along Rue Sherbrooke, though the McGill Campus and past museums and galleries and there was so much to see..and I was so very hot and did not seem to be arriving at my hotel ever. So I had to stop and steal wi-fi from the Ritz Carlton (whose signal is very strong, stretches all the way across the street) to figure out where I was going. Luckily the right way. I got there eventually, to my hotel with enough time to cool down and change my clothes and iron my dress and be ready for my presentation, which was not far away at the Atwater Library.

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As would be apt for a presentation about how blogging in 2016 is small and focussed, the group that arrived for my presentation was much the same—and they were WONDERFUL. I had such a wonderful time giving my talk, and the group was so receptive, and I was pleased to meet some people again, meet others for the first time, and in particular people whom I’d grown to like already in engaging with them online. It was a terrific experience, and such a privilege to be there. And I was so appreciative to everybody for making me feel so welcome. (And for coming, even though it was by then the middle of a rainstorm and thunder was rumbling outside).

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Afterwards, a few of us piled into a taxi and headed back up to Drawn and Quarterly for the Biblioasis launch of books by Alice Petersen and Catherine Laroux. It was a pleasure to be back there and also to have it all set up for an event, and to meet other local writers and readers and get a feel for the Montreal English literary scene. I was so happy to hang out with Saleema Nawaz, who contributed to The M Word and who i’ve long admired, but had really only met fleetingly, and also Elise Moser (who has a new nonfiction children’s title coming out in the fall about “the pioneer of plastics recycling”) and Alice Zorn (whose latest novel, Five Roses, I am so excited to have ahead of me). The readings were great, and then afterwards, we went out for dinner and drank bourbon lemonade and ate fried chicken and nothing annoying or not wonderful had happened to me all day (nearly collapsing from heat stroke notwithstanding). It was nice to be alone in Montreal, particularly in those moments when I actually wasn’t.

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Spending the night in a hotel room BY MYSELF (without even sand in the bed. I like holidays, but the bane of my existence is sand in the bed, but there were none in this one) was a ridiculous indulgence, so surrounded was I by good pillows, clean sheets, a comfortable mattress, and many many books. Once I stopped reading I slept soundly, and then spent the morning enjoying a few good hours of quiet and aloneness before it was time to fly back home again.

February 8, 2016

The Disappearing Woman Writer

IMG_20160206_152259I’ve never read anything by Constance Beresford-Howe. Why not? Because her books were old, their covers not very enticing. That her focus was on older women also would not have meant anything to me for a very long time, would have been a drawback, actually (I’d had been through enough with The Stone Angel; I still don’t really love that book) though I recall that my mom had a copy of The Book of Eve. I never read her because her books were never assigned to me for a class, which the reason that I read many things. I suspect I didn’t read her books for the same reason that women proclaimed our universe “post-feminist” in the late 1990s. But her name was familiar when I encountered it in The Globe obits a couple of weeks ago. (You see, I am now at the point in my life at which older women have become interesting; I pore over the death notices every Saturday.) A name with which I am that familiar should perhaps have the death of its bearer meet with more press than just an obit: “Educator, Author, Lover of Literature.” The Globe’s Marsha Lederman had tweeted about her death, as well as had a few others who’d had her as a teacher at Ryerson. And I was glad when I learned that a longer obituary for Beresford-Howe was in the works. Because, see, I’d recently read the essay, “The Amazing Disappearing Women Writer”, and realized that lack of attention to Constance Beresford-Howe, in later life and in death, was not a literary anomaly.

In her essay, Jeannine Hall Gailey asks the question: “So, how can the mid-life woman writer attempt not to disappear right before the eyes of prominent male writers, king-makers, editors, judges and juries of prizes and grants? How do we stay seen and heard when perhaps our youthful charms may be diminishing but our art may be improving?”

It was a question I came at as a reader, though I am a writer too with greying hair and a body that is slowly turning into a splendid pudding. But it was as a reader I considered it, how much we are missing. And it affirmed why I do what I do here and elsewhere, championing books from the platform I’ve made, making noise and shouting my darnedest to ensure that women writers don’t just disappear. And that I have to backtrack too, take note of all those books and readers who weren’t bright and shiny enough when I first encountered them, give them another chance.

I was so happy to read Judy Stoffman’s profile of Constance Beresford-Howe in the Globe this weekend, and to have it affirmed that she’s probably a writer I will deeply appreciate, with Barbara Pym comparisons as the cherry on the sundae. I went out on Saturday afternoon and picked up a second-hand copy of The Book of Eve, and look forward to tracking down her other books in time, and to doing a lot of shouting about them.

April 23, 2015

Vacation Book Seven: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

ALayout 1 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 18, 2015

Book Interlude: A Visit to The Book Barge

bookToday 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.

shopThe 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.

stackAnd 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.

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And then we went to a nearby cafe, and partook in a bargeman’s lunch.

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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 14, 2015

Vacation Book Two: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

thebookshopThis 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…

November 16, 2014

Inspire

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I didn’t know I needed a book fair. Truthfully, my taste for book events are limited because books are my whole life already, and when I go out, it only means less time to read them, and then yesterday I took the escalator up arriving at the Toronto International Book Fair, and I was instantly converted.

It was wonderful.

IMG_20141115_101748It was like 49th Shelf, but in real life. Our site, with it’s nearly 80,000 title listings, as I explained to passers-by today as they visited the 49th Shelf booth. These Canadian titles with their beautiful covers, and it’s my job to select which ones to feature on our main page every week, which to include on our lists. So many books, and I know the people who make them, publishers across the country whose good work makes my work so much easier and such a pleasure.

And all of a sudden, here the books were, with covers I know so well, but have never touched. My favourite parts of the fair included the Discovery Pavilion, with Ontario Presses like Biblioasis, Coach House, Mansfield Press, Second Story…so many more. Nearby was Breakwater Books, all the way from Newfoundland. And also the booth for All Lit Up, featuring books by independent Canadian publishers. Books by First Nations authors, a display of art by Canadian illustrators, and then I turn a corner and there’s Gordon Korman. Random House and Simon and Schuster had great booths too, and it was so much fun. So many books. I was in book heaven.

photo 1I had the most wonderful time yesterday, and left disbelieving that I’d really get to do it all again tomorrow. The fair was oh so good that I brought my kids and family this morning, quite sure that they’d enjoy the kids’ programming in store, and they did, as you can see in this photo of Iris helping out Debbie Ridpath Ohi with her presentation. The fair was well attended but not hugely so, this being the first year, which meant that we could browse without being crowded, and there was room enough for everyone, and room enough even for children to run amuck. It was an excellent atmosphere, and hugely cool presentations—we caught part of Jon Klassen today. I had the pleasure of introducing Catherine Gildiner yesterday, and there were also appearances by Anne Rice and Margaret Atwood, and so so many others. Truly something for everyone.

IMG_20141116_120348And then there were the books I bought. I couldn’t quit. Believe it or not, I’d intended to buy nothing. Because do I need books? I do not. But then I was there, and it was so good, and such a joy to see so many wonderful publishers being celebrated, to celebrate them myself. By buying their books, of course. The books I know from 49th Shelf, some of which are a little bit mythical, but there they were, and I had to have them. I bought Hot Wet and Shaking: How I Learned to Talk About Sex by Kaleigh Trace, because Harriet picked out the cover (and I have heard many good things about this book). Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome by Megan Gail Coles, because I’d featured it on our main page last week and everybody I saw today was walking around with a copy. Diane Schoemperlen‘s because it was reviewed in the newspaper yesterday. Catherine Gildiner’s Coming Ashore, because her presentation was oh so funny. And others still, just because because because. I had to leave finally because my book bag was stuffed and it was getting ridiculous.

(“You know, you don’t have to single-handed keep Canadian publishing afloat,” said my husband. Yes, but…)

IMG_20141116_111804So what fun, revelling in bookish things, meeting and re-meeting book people—my people. How rare in this day and age to have an event in the publishing industry so big and forward-looking and optimistic. A party instead of a funeral. The world as a bookstore. It was refreshing and so much fun to be celebrating reading, and readers, and writers and books (and booksellers too!). There was nothing tired about it, and being there was such a pleasure.

I’m a bit sorry that we can’t do it all again tomorrow again, but I’m excited to do it again next year.

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