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Pickle Me This

November 16, 2014



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.


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


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


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.

June 10, 2014

In which we encounter The Book Bike


The neatest thing I’ve come across lately is the Meatlocker Editions Book Bike, which was at the Bloor Street Festival on Sunday. It’s true that if you put up a red sign that says “Books”, I will be on of the many curious people who come flocking, and my curiosity was more than satiated by what I found. The Book Bike is a community library on wheels, a very mobile way celebrate books and reading. The Book Bike turns up at community events and flocking readers are invited to take a book or leave one (and they are interested in larger book donations too–just drop them a line).


In addition to pedalling books around the city, Meatlocker Editions are also in the business of inspiring readers and writers through various projects, including workshops and publications. Their focus is supporting young women writers, a most inspiring response to the under-represenation of women’s voices in literary spheres.


There were some very cool small press gems on display on the Book Bike. I was quite thrilled to get a copy of Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule, which Karen Hofmann recently included on her “Barefoot Girls and Wild Women” list.

All in all, a most spectacular encounter. Go MLE!

January 29, 2014

Big Picture Press: Mamoko and Maps

mamoko“Big Picture Press books are objects to be pored over and then returned to, again and again… created by and made for the incurably curious.”

Harriet is (sort of) beginning to learn how to read, and as Harriet balks at any activity that is remotely challenging or involves learning by rote, I have to tread very carefully in my exuberance for her acquiring literacy. A book like Mamoko, by Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński, which I brought home from the library the other week, is a perfect reminder for both of us that books can be wonderful fun.

Think of Mamoko like Where’s Waldo, but for people who love stories. The book’s inside cover introduces us to a range of characters whose stories we will follow throughout the rest of the book in dynamic, busy, detailed, wordless illustrations. There are dramas experienced, mysteries to be solved, jokes shared, and something new discovered every time. You can pick a new character and “read” a new book in Mamoko over and over again, or else just pick peruse the illustrations for general entertainment. The stories in this book aren’t straightforward either, and we went back and forth a lot to try to understand what we missed, to figure out exactly what was going on. It was utterly engaging, the illustrations smart enough to make this very satisfying, and while we had lots of fun with this book together, it’s also nice to have a book that Harriet can “read” all by herself.


mapsAnother book by the same press and same authors is Maps, which was one of (too) many books I’ve picked up at Book City lately (sob). I’ve got such a thing for maps and atlases (my prized one is Atlas of Remote Islands, and I so want to get my hands on Infinite City by Rebecca Solnit), so I was excited to get a kids’ atlas. There is a world map, and about 50 others of individual countries. And as with Mamoko, the creators of this book know that story is what compels someone to open a book over and over again. And so each country’s map includes an image of a little boy and girl who might live there, and we learn their names, which is how these countries become more than just a shape on a page for young readers. And then we learn about that country’s wildlife, famous exports, cultural figures (fictional and otherwise), different cultures, national food and drink, industry and agriculture, all though adorable cartoon illustrations.

Pick a page, any page, and Maps will take you on a journey.



January 20, 2014

Consolations & Translations

for-surePeople have been so kind in response to my sadness over the closing of my beloved local bookstore. Anyone who thought I was being melodramatic and ridiculous has kept that information to himself. This is a loss that has been experienced by many avid readers in the last few years, and I really appreciated their sympathy and understanding. I am operating with an optimistic spirit, that Bloor Street won’t be bookshop-less for long. And in the meantime, venturing further afield for my book-buying pleasures will a) possibly save me thousands of dollars and b) allow me to not take for granted such things. I am hoping that good things are ahead also for the Book City employees too, and that each will find a place where his/her skills and expertise are valued.

And in the meantime, I went shopping. In a few weeks, the shelves will be bare and all will be depressing, but there is still plenty to choose from so I allowed myself a rare pleasure for a bookish sort like me who always knows exactly what she’s looking for. Last week, I bought the new Jane Gardam novel, The Ice Cream Store by Dennis Lee, and this wonderful book of maps for kids. Buying discounted books at the going-out-of-business store made me feel like a vulture, but I was assured that I’d earned the right to do so without compunction by having tried my darndest to spend as much money there as possible this past while. So I went back today and got Pitch Black by Renata Adler (because they didn’t have Speedboat, and I am intrigued by Renata Adler), and Molly Ringwald’s book because Molly Ringwald wrote a book and it’s even meant to be good, and 30% off is a good excuse to find out if that’s true. Then two more books by Rebecca Solnit, because I want to read everything she ever wrote.

And finally, because reading books in translation was my New Year’s reading resolution, I bought two books to get me started: For Sure by France Daigle (French-Canadian) and Swimming to Elba by Silvia Avallone (Italy). I’ve been inspired to do so after reading the Penelope Fitzgerald bio and realizing how limited is my perspective on the novel with such a focus on Englishness. It’s like only ever looking at a shape from just one side. So I am going to challenge myself and my sensibilities, first as a reader, but also as a writer. I’ve made a renewed commitment to writing fiction this past while (which has led to an acceptance letter the other week! Hooray. I’ll have a story forthcoming in The New Quarterly this spring or summer), and I want to write stories that seek to do things that are new. I think translations will show me what other possibilities there are.

And I am particularly excited about another book in translation, Sanaaq by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk, which was stupendously reviewed by Keavy Martin in the Globe and Mail this weekend. It was such an inspiring, incisive piece which dares to challenge readers: “Yet rather than attempting to draw large (and largely inaccurate) conclusions about Inuit culture, southern readers might instead try to enjoy this humbling state of non-understanding.” I am willing to take her up on this, and I’m looking forward to it.

January 6, 2014

Book Haul/Book Stamp

bookhaulWe really did have the nicest December, mostly because the weather was always terrible we just kept cancelling our plans and staying home. We visited the art gallery on Christmas Eve, which might have to become a tradition because the place was empty and we had an excellent time. We also pulled off a string of going out for lunch three days in a row, which is how we roll and how we love it. In terms of book haul, we received some wonderful children’s books for Christmas that I expect to be writing about here in the weeks ahead. And my own book stack was pretty impressive, as the photo makes clear (and check out my new Cath Kidston mug. Guaranteed to make winter days brighter). The Genesis book is from the photography exhibit that we loved and went to see over and over. So nice to have a bit of it to live with us forever. And two Rebecca Solnits–I just finished reading Wanderlust yesterday. She is so so wonderful.

And speaking of wonderful, my husband made a dream come true this Christmas by giving me my very own book stamp: “From the Library of Kerry Clare”. It’s a beautiful stamp, and the ink goes on so smoothly that the stamp looks like it’s printed. It has been suggested to me that because I have a book stamp now that maybe I might start lending out my books, but no, of course not. Let’s not be totally ridiculous.


(What bookish gifts did you receive this year?)


October 22, 2013

Gift from the Sky

DonnaIMG_20131022_134836 Tartt’s new novel The Goldfinch came out today, and I’ve been looking forward to it. I remember when The Little Friend came out in 2002 and it was such an event. I was very broke, living on cans of tuna and long-life milk, sleeping on the bottom bunk of a bed in backpackers’s hostel in the Midlands. It seems momentous to be buying her new book all these years later, to measure out my own life by Donna Tartt releases: I own a couch now. The intervening decade has been good. So I trekked to the bookstore just now to pick it up, and also to get Kelli Deeth’s new collection The Other Side of Youth. (Read Deeth’s wonderful piece from yesterday about her devotion to the short story form).

So there I was at Book City, and in a hurry too because I had sweet potatoes in the oven, and what do I discover: Margaret Drabble has a new novel!! The Pure Gold Baby, just out at the beginning of this month. I had no idea! Can you believe it? The universe offering up one of my chiefest delights (to be reading a Margaret Drabble for the very first time) like it was nothing. And it’s even meant to be good, this book, and Meg Wolitzer says so. I am so excited. As if yesterday’s bookish gifts weren’t enough…

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