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Pickle Me This

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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October 6, 2014

Bunk Beds

IMG_20141006_133857“Do you remember,” I asked Stuart on Saturday, as we were assembling the bunk beds, the whole room in disarray around us, our baby climbing in and out of the half-built bed frame, placing her life in peril as usual, Harriet making up dance moves in the doorway, “Do you remember when we painted this room?”

When we moved in, this second bedroom had been blue with brown trim, ugly industrial shelving along one wall painted grey. It was terrible, but I had a soft spot for this room, which was the computer room, and where our books would live. I really had a soft spot for this room because it was going to be our baby’s room, although the baby was still 100% hypothetical. We spoke about the baby to nobody when we painted that room later that summer, but we were thinking about her. The couple in my mind who painted that room were ridiculously, impossibly young.

Although when the baby was born, she didn’t move into her room for almost a year—it was easier to have her upstairs sleeping with us. And then once she started sleeping, we moved her down, moved the books and computer out. We put up colourful curtains and a bright carpet, and those ugly shelves—now white and less ugly—were packed with books and toys. About a year later, we put away the crib and our futon became Harriet’s bed—our futon, which was the first piece of furniture we’re ever bought, just after we got married in 2005 when we were so poor, and it was the cheapest in the store and it would become our living room couch. And it’s been her bed ever since, the perfect size bed for the whole family to assemble on at story time, and it’s been a stage for her theatrical and dance performances, as well as the one piece of furniture that Harriet is permitted to jump on when friends come over (and why is it that any time a friend comes over, they all start jumping on beds?).

We love our apartment. We made the investment of a custom-built kitchen table last winter in order to make our kitchen a more liveable space for us, a space we can use in the long-term. And the next project would be the bunk beds, because we were determined to make it work in this place as a family of four, and it’s not impossible that Iris may one day not be sleeping in a crib at the end of my bed. (In the past week, Iris has slept all night twice. So there is a modicum of hope.) We finally bought the bunk beds last weekend on our way home from an apple orchard, from a somewhat dodgy showroom that was actually a garage on a dingy post-industrial stretch of Finch Avenue. But they had low-priced bunk beds with stairs, which were the bunk beds I wanted. Because one who climbs stairs to her bed is afforded a bit more dignity that she who must make do with a ladder. And it turned out to be legit, because the bunk beds were actually delivered, except that then we had to build them ourselves, which was the entire story of Saturday.

This is one of those “we bought bunk beds to create space” stories that turns into the bunk beds taking up the entire room. Yes, I intended there to be more space between the bunk bed and the window than there actually is, but then it could have been worse—for a few minutes, we were terrified that the drawers inside the staircase would not even have room to open. I guess this is why some people measure their rooms before they buy really large pieces of furniture, but we don’t like to worry about details in our family. The bunk beds have cleared up space on the floor, however, and the drawers in the staircase have enabled us to get rid of the Ikea dresser we built really really badly before we decided not to buy things from Ikea anymore. (Preferring dodgy garage showrooms, obviously.)

Harriet loves her new bed, which she refers to as “my cozy den”. She’ll move to the top bunk when Iris moves in, but for now the entire bed is her ship, and she is the captain, and the stairs are blocked off so Iris can’t climb them, even though the first step is too high for Iris to mount anyway, but if we leave her alone for a minute, she’ll sprout an inch and/or construct a step-stool out of her First 100 Words book. In even better news, Stuart and my marriage seems not only to have survived an entire day spent constructing bunk beds, to have grown stronger from the experience. We only said “fuck” a couple of times, and even had fun. We’ve gotten over our shock at having inadvertently bought the largest piece of furniture on the planet, and we’re pretty happy with it. We look forward to the day when the bunk beds actually do sleep the two children they’re intended for and our bedroom is our own again, though that’s looking a long way into the future, and let’s just take each day as it comes.

Mostly though, I’m just amazed, at how the years pass, and the memories accumulate, and the children grow, and how this house contains so many our stories, like layer upon layer of invisible paper on the walls, and there’s some crazy archeology at work here, scraping the surface to rediscover our ancient civilizations, right down there at the the bottom of it all that stupid happy couple with their yellow walls, and absolutely no idea of what the years would have in store.

September 15, 2014

The Busy Bookshop

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This morning, Iris had a doctor’s appointment with a specialist at St. Michael’s Hospital (which is notable for being the birthplace of Harriet) in order for us to confirm that she does not in fact have an allergy to parmesan cheese, and the best part of our appointment (apart from her diagnosis) was that we got to stop in at the wonderful Ben McNally Books beforehand. Where I found this treasure, The Busy Bookshop by Marion Billet, part of a series of board books, but clearly this is the best one. It is a bookshop! With bunting! And if you can’t take your toddler to a bookshop every day, you can read this book on the days in between because it’s important to indoctrinate early. The book is utterly charming, delightfully bookish, and robust; unlike others that we like to call “rip the flap books”, this one comes with slidey pieces whose destruction would have to be really hard won. And with the slidey bits, books and their contents pop off the page (times two), making for a most engaging read. I love this one. Add it to the list for all your favourite book-loving babies.

August 20, 2014

The Pyrex is Multiplying

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The bowls on the right were given to me by Amy Lavender Harris, who awakened me to the wonders of Pyrex. And then I found the dish on the left on the street last week, the bowl in the middle today at Value Village, and I do fear that this might be becoming a habit… I’ve got a ways to go though.

June 15, 2014

Bookish Sunday in the Sun

IMG_20140615_133155For Father’s Day, we gave Stuart posh coffee, Jo Walton’s Small Change series (which is probably a gift for both of us), and Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay (because of this recommendation in 49th Shelf’s Shelf Talkers series). Iris has become a full-fledged biped, and it’s no coincidence that her sleep habits have also become transformed in the past week. She has finally started napping in her crib, taking her naps later, and staying asleep for a couple of hours. Her nighttime sleep has also improved, which meant that we’re feeling a little less tired than usual this weekend. It also means that Iris has become a lot less portable, and we’re not going to sacrifice her proper nap for anything. So we went out for a Father’s Day brunch this morning, and then came home so Iris could sleep while Harriet watched innumerable episodes of The Riders of Berk. I drank tea and read my book, and it was bliss.

IMG_20140615_145658It meant, however, that it was nearly 2pm by the time we departed for Trinity Bellwoods Park and the Luminato Literary Picnic. We had a splendid walk there, Harriet scootering, walking or being piggy-backed, while Iris was chauffeured in the stroller. We ate gourmet popsicles, and then Harriet went to play in the playground, while Iris and I checked out literary fare. I heard a few writers here and there, but the only writer whose whole presentation I caught was KD Miller’s. She was fantastic, and no surprise–her book got a rave review in Macleans this week, and Vicki Ziegler had been sharing Angie Abdou’s great review in Quill & Quire.

IMG_20140615_153736So I was pleased to hear her read, and then to have her arrive at the sale table just as I was about to buy her book, so she could sign it for me. Reviewers have stressed that indeed, a writer can situate interesting stories within the walls of an Anglican Church (the book’s title, All Saints, refers to said church), but seeing as I am a card-carrying member of the Barbara Pym Society, they’d be preaching to the (church) choir.

IMG_20140615_153212After that, we hit the bookmobile, which is always an amazing adventure: a bus full of books! A library on wheels! The bookmobile will never cease to be remarkable. We got a book for Iris and Harriet each, and then Harriet wanted to get a comic too. She sorted through the stacks and selected The Wonderful World of Lisa Simpson #1. I think she picked it because Lisa is riding a pink unicorn on the cover, because Harriet has never heard of the Simpsons. But that was the point of the cover I think, and now Harriet has heard of the Simpsons and we had a good time reading the comic together. (It was strange having to introduce someone to Bart Simpson. I also like that it’s a cool comic geared to young girls, whose writers and artists are women.) The best: in the final story, Lisa opens her own Little Free Library to disastrous results. A comic about a lending library? It was dying and going to book nerd heaven.

IMG_20140615_161950After that, I went across the street to visit Type Books and pick up some of the books on my list. I got The Vacationers by Emma Straub, which had been included in Chatelaine’s Summer Reading Guide. And I got Based on a True Story by Elizabeth Renzetti, which had an amazing review in The Globe yesterday. And then we walked home along Queen Street and up Bathurst, stopping en-route at Yogurtys because we really hadn’t had enough dessert. Plus, they were giving away free fro-yo for dads, so that was spectacular all around.

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