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April 20, 2015

Vacation Book Six: Outline by Rachel Cusk

outlineI’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).

booksaremybagI 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 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…

April 6, 2015

Departures and Arrivals

IMG_20150405_072206We leave for our trip this week, and I keep waiting for that lull between our departure and the time in which nobody in our family is sick, but the window for such a thing is disappearing, and I am so very tired. And sick, again. There was about five minutes on Friday when I wasn’t, and then cold symptoms returned on Saturday morning shortly after my child threw up in a shoe store, which was a brand new milestone for all of us. But nevertheless, Easter was had, a holiday we celebrate for its pagan roots and not the Jesus bits. We’re all about the eggs, and the new life that comes with spring—I met a baby today who turns two weeks old tomorrow, and she was a miracle unfolding. We had a lovely visit with my parents, and saw friends on other days, and Harriet and Iris got the new Annie movie on DVD, and Harriet has watched it five times already. There are crocuses across the street. We are assembling our playlist, a CD of driving tunes for the journey from Berkshire to Lancashire (which I’m the smallest bit nervous about, Iris having just now decided that she hates cars. “Car, no. Car, no.”)

mad-men-best-of-everythingTonight we’re watching the new Mad Men, which premiered last night, but we watch it on download from iTunes so are behind the people who watch it on TV. I don’t know what I’m going to do in a world without Mad Men, a show that has been such a huge part of my life for years now and which has seriously informed my reading life too. It’s a good time to re-share The Canadian Mad Men Reading List, which I made last year, and am seriously proud of. Oh, Stacey MacAindra. Maybe I’ll finally get around to finishing The Collected Stories of John Cheever. I still haven’t read “The Swimmer.” I’ve been saving it, I think, of the post-Mad Men world. In which I am probably going to go right back to Season One.

Today I found a poem about motherhood, bpNichol Lane, Coach House Books and Huron Playschool, written by Chantel Lavoie for the Brick Books Celebrating Canadian Poetry Project. I find myself struck by the poem and the various ways it connects with my life, and how literature and motherhood and the fabric of the city are all so enmeshed. Particularly in this neighbourhood.

And finally, I am in a peculiar situation book-wise. I don’t know what books to take with me on vacation. Now, on a certain level, bringing any books on vacation is simply stupid because all I ever do when we go to England is buy books. And when I look at my to-be-read shelf now, no contenders jump out on me—nothing good for an airplane, nothing I am truly destined to love, no book with which I’d be thrilled to be holed up with in an airport terminal. You can’t take chances in a situation like this! So I have decided…to bring no books with me. This is truly the wildest and craziest thing I’ve ever done. This year, at least… To pick up a book at the airport, and trust I’ll find the right one there, and then live book to book. No safety net. This is terrifying. And yet potentially exhilarating, rich with adventure. The book nerd’s equivalent of jumping out of the sky.

March 29, 2015

Preparations for Travel

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The first step in getting ready for our trip to the UK next month is revisiting these bookish volumes which will no doubt inform many of our adventures!

March 23, 2015

Where I Find the Time to Read

reading2I read a lot. I read for a living, and I read to save my life, and, “Where do you find the time to read?” is a question that continues to baffle me. It’s like being asked where I find the air to breathe. The time, like the air, is out there in abundance, and having children hasn’t changed that. It just means I have to be creative in finding a way to make that time my own.

The following is a list of ordinary occurrences disguising excellent opportunities to steal a moment with a book.

  • Extended Breastfeeding: Of the many benefits of breastfeeding, the time to read in is paramount. Once you’ve mastered holding a book open with one hand, it’s effortless, and oh so efficient—nourish a baby and your mind in a single shot. When my first daughter finally weaned at age 2 ½, I so mourned the loss of reading time that I had to have another baby.
  • IMG_20130606_151120Before Bed: Every night, there is a window of sometimes up to ten minutes between the moment my head hits the pillow and when the baby awakes, and so I read then. And when the baby does awake, I breastfeed her. (See previous point.)
  • Weekend lie-ins: Obviously, I don’t get out of bed in the mornings. Would you? On Saturday and Sunday mornings, there is always time to get a chapter in before I return to the vertical life, and if I stay in bed long enough, somebody probably will bring me a cup of tea. And then I don’t have to get up until I’ve drunk it.
  • reading4Walking: Walking while reading is walking the one risky behaviour I indulge in on a regular basis. Doing it while pushing a stroller is even more reckless, I realize, but sometimes one has to live on the edge. Also, I could make it to kindergarten and back with my eyes shut, so there’s no harm in doing with text in front of my face.
  • At the playground: I will argue that reading at the playground is not entirely the opposite of being present for my children, mostly because there are only so many mud-pies I can pretend to gleefully devour. Also, every time they look up at the bench and see me reading there, I’m increasing their own chances of being readers by setting a good example. Everybody wins.
  • reading6During interruptions: Basically, I find the time to read by always having a book in my bag. Sometimes two. And this means that when my husband takes the kids to the bathroom after a restaurant meal, I can finish a chapter along with the dregs of my tea.
  • Sitting alone in restaurants by myself: And other times, I forfeit the husband and kids altogether, and take myself out for a chai latte and oversized cookie, or even an entire lunch, and read the entire time. Cultivate your own company, is what I mean, and you will get so much reading done.
  • In waiting rooms: As a parent with a book in her bag, there is nothing more luxurious than having to wait for appointments while the children are asleep in their strollers or in the care of somebody else. I’ve spent some of the best afternoons of my life in recent years reading for solid blocks of time at the passport office, my doctor’s, or the dentist.
  • While flossing: Regarding the dentist, I have never before been so attentive to dental hygiene. I’ve become a vigilant flosser since I learned to floss and read, which is a skill involving holding open a book with my feet. I do this daily. For ten to twenty minutes at a time.
  • In the bathroom: Also, for ten to twenty minutes at a time. My digestive system is getting a bad reputation. But there is a door that locks and a stack of books nearby—why would I ever leave?
  • reading1Pancakes: I don’t spend all my time avoiding my family, however. Every Sunday, I make whole-wheat banana pancakes from scratch, which sounds selfless and well-meaning until I explain that once the batter is mixed, I pull out what’s left of the Saturday paper, flipping the pancakes between articles. (“Go away. Mommy is cooking.”)
  • But not at the table. Unless it’s breakfast or lunch…We don’t permit reading at the table at our house, because meals are a time for togetherness. We bend the rules for breakfast and lunch though, because bendy rules are useful for teaching flexibility. And because tables are so useful for having the Saturday paper spread across.

March 5, 2015

Perhaps the alphabetizing is a diversion

IMG_20150305_132621There is something. I am not sure what it is. Perhaps we’re that much closer to the sun and the days are longer, though winter is still very present, and maybe it’s that I’m keeping my head down and just trying to make it to the finish line. With March Break on the horizon (and we’re having a Dreaming of Summer party, inviting friends over so their moms can drink sangria in the morning with me), plus we’re spending much of April in England, which I’m so excited about. Before we leave, I am quite adamant that I shall finish the second draft of my novel, so that’s a preoccupation of late. I’ve been reading so many exceptional books (Eula Biss’ On Immunity at the moment), and reading fewer think-pieces. The other day, I culled my to-be-read shelf and got rid all the books I kind of always knew I was never going to read, and all the books that I was intending to read because I thought I should (and while I’ve meant to stop acquiring such books, I sometimes even fool myself). And then I alphabetized the books that were left, whereas before they’d been a series of teetering stacks. And it feels good, tidy, exciting. Though perhaps the alphabetizing is just a diversion. Is it possible that alphabetizing is always a diversion? I don’t think so though. It’s an order to chaos, something that makes sense. Regardless, it does feel like I’m walking along on the edge of something.

IMG_20150210_083952What else? Heidi Reimer’s winning essay about female friendship has been published in Chatelaine. I interviewed Marilyn Churley about reuniting with her son and her fight to reform adoption disclosure in Ontario. My profile of Julie Morstad is now online at Quill and Quire. A few weeks back at 49thShelf.com, we did a virtual round-table on The State of the Canadian Short Story that was amazing. And finally, here is a photograph of my children, because I know there are a more than a few readers who visit this site for only that.

March 2, 2015

Great Books Take Non-Fiction Prizes

one-hour-in-paristhey-left-us-everything‘But it is obvious that the values of women differ very often from the values which have been made by the other sex; naturally this is so. Yet is it the masculine values that prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sport are “important”; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes “trivial.” And these values are inevitably transferred from life to fiction. This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room.’ –Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Non-fiction by women gets the short shrift, even though women are often writing stories that nobody has ever told before, while, does anybody really need about book on WW1? So I am especially happy at the awarding of two recent fiction prizes to excellent books which were among my favourite books of 2014.

Karyn L. Freedman’s One Hour in Paris: A True Story of Rape and Recovery has won the BC National Award for Canadian Non-fiction, and Plum Johnson’s They Left Us Everything today became the first book by a woman to win the Charles Taylor Prize for Non-Fiction since Isabel Huggan won it in 2004. Both these books prove that personal memoirs can indeed have far-reaching global and historical implications, and demonstrate remarkable research, story-telling and insight. They’re exquisite books, and I’m so glad that even more readers are now going to discover this for themselves.

January 23, 2015

On rereading Ellen in Pieces, and other things

ellen-in-piecesMy book club met last night to discuss Ellen in Pieces, which I’d been looking forward to because I’ve got feelings about this book. I reread it last weekend, and was delighted to find I enjoyed it just as much and came away with a deeper appreciation of the novel’s structure. It’s a novel that’s slightly disorienting to encounter the first time, but to read it again, you get to look around a bit more. It was fascinating to see signs of Ellen’s eventual fate embedded in the text from the very beginning. I read the chapters from other characters’ perspectives differently too—the first time, I’d been consumed by trying to figure out how these other stories related to Ellen’s, whereas this time, the connections seemed stronger and more straightforward. The most devastating moment in the whole book continues to be the ending to “Ellen-Celine, Celine-Ellen”, which I’ve read for the third time now and the effect hasn’t lessened at all. Anyway, this time the novel seemed a bit easier to get lost inside and wander around a bit it. It is definitely the kind of book that is made for rereading.

Plus, the book club liked it too, and it made for interesting discussion. And we got to eat blintzes, which I made because they’re in the book, even though I didn’t know what they were. It turned out they were delicious. Good to know.

what-are-you-likeWhat else have I been reading lately? I read Anne Enright’s 2000 novel What Are You Like?, which had been sitting on my shelf for awhile. I started off in love with the stunning sentences, and then grew frustrated with the novel’s fragmentation (and I think I get bored with most novels at the point at while the mentally ill protagonist starts carving symbols into her legs). But then it unfolded in the most marvellous conclusion, and I saw that I should have had faith in Enright all along. The story of one woman’s unravelling via her pregnancy reminded me of Emily Perkins’ A Novel About My Life, which I feel as though I need to read again.

people-youd-trust-your-life-toSpeaking of reading again, I pulled Bronwen Wallace’s People You’d Trust Your Life To off the shelf, which is a book that everyone should return to again and again. I’d read part of it while I was waiting for Iris to be born, so now the book is all tied up in that kind of nostalgia. I think that the book was a strong relationship to Adderson’s Ellen in terms of its masterful depiction of actual life (which happens to belong to a woman) and flawed, larger-than-life characters. But it also occurred to me how somebody ought to write an essay on Bronwen Wallace and Grace Paley as literary companions. Their works speak to each other, and are also unflinching in their politics. Good at titles too—I think that Wallace’s title sounds like a Paley one. And that Faith Darwin would have had a lot to talk about had she encountered any of Bronwen Wallace’s characters in the playground.

What else? I am knitting balaclavas for my children, and enjoying knitting and purling so very much. We are watching season 2 of Broadchurch. I loved Andrew Pyper’s new novel, The Damned, coming next month. And I’m now reading Thomas King’s A Short History of Indians, and finding it curious, fascinating and horrifying. It’s a really peculiar book. So glad to be reading it finally.

December 31, 2014

A Happy New Year

IMG_20141221_140754It was the year in which planes started disappearing from the skies. A bad year, on a global scale, and while a good year in many ways on the homefront, it’s been an exhausting autumn and I have found the wider world to be distressing and depressing. There were some days when I couldn’t bear to look out the window, let alone at newspaper headlines. And so the holiday was so very welcome when it finally arrived last week—Stuart has had two weeks off work, and we turned off our internet for the first one. I didn’t go online for a week and it was amazing. We had a very nice Christmas, and things have been very social and chocolate-covered ever since. I’ve read so many books, and they’ve all been amazing. And my online habits have still not recovered from the break so I’ve had more time to read than ever—I’d like that to continue. I like the extra time that arrives when the internet’s off.

2014 was also the year in which I stopped keeping track of how many books I’ve read. I mean, I keep a qualitative count here, which seems good enough to me. Which is to say that I don’t know how many books I read this year, but oh well. I’ve also learned (from the last few weeks in particular) that I am really better off reading closer to home, following my fancies and pursuing my own curious avenues. I’m almost tempted to do a reading project like Susan Hill’s Howard’s End is On the Landing, in which she spent a year reading books from her own shelves—except that it turns out that there are many 2015 books I really am looking forward to. I just have to remember that new books are not the whole story. That perhaps it’s smart to wait on the hype. That rereading is one of the great pleasures of the reading live. That as readers, we can plot our own bookish paths. There is liberation in that. And I do have this feeling that the wayward journeys make for better blogging anyway.

As a writer, 2014 was a year of much work and good fortune—a book in the world. I faced it down 365 days ago with a great dear of terror, just as I’d eyed the year before in which we were expecting a new baby. Both baby and book turned out  pretty well. This year I’m not expecting anything at all, but that’s kind of a relief. I’ve always found that those years deliver the best things anyway, and I’m intrigued by the prospect of pursuing curious avenues in my writing life as well. I have a few projects in the works—no idea if they’ll ever grow into something solid. I’m pretty convinced of the importance of fallow periods—this might be the one. And I’m excited to find out what seeds will be sown.

Stay tuned for a post about the great books I’ve read over the holidays—my final read of 2014 will be the wonderful A Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe, which is so much fun. Up next—my first book of 2015— will be a book I bought at Book City the other day that I’d never heard of, that I plucked off the shelf because I liked the cover (and these kind of reading experiences—with room for serendipity—are what I’ve been craving). It’s a translation. Because my reading resolution for 2015 will be same as for 2014—to read more widely (which might sound incongruous with reading close to home, but it actually isn’t).

I have found these last few weeks so restful, fun and restorative—as a reader and as a human. I hope to carry that same spirit with me into the new year, and I’ll be so pleased and grateful if you come along as well. Many thanks for your friendship, support and bookish love over the past year. Wishing you all the happiest of new ones.

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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