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March 28, 2012

Julie Wilson and Seen Reading: The Book

Five years ago, I linked to a new books site called Seen Reading whose premise was entrancing, and the site was the way I first heard of Julie Wilson, the way that so many of us did. Connecting the wondrous delights of reading and public transit, Julie was peering between your covers on the subway, and then imagining what you’d next get up to. The blog was fascinating, to have it affirmed that the book was indeed much alive, and also so celebrated, and, yes, of course, to find out what everybody was reading. And I kept hoping that one day Julie Wilson would see me.

When she did, however, it was not on the subway, but at The Scream in High Park in 2008, and I offered her an avocado scone from my picnic basket. I liked her immediately. And naturally, because she’s Julie Wilson, what she’d been talking about that night was new projects she was up to, and not long after that, I emailed her to see if I could be a part of it.

Here is the most important thing about Julie Wilson: she said YES! What Julie does better than anybody else is give you this sense that there’s something going on, and that you want to join in. And that she wants you to join in too, even if you’re a curious little person with a rash on her neck whose email began, “Hey, remember me? I gave you a scone once?” (Note: the rash cleared up not long after.)

At the time, she was beginning to record readers reading for her Seen Reading site, and we met one afternoon at the Toronto Reference Library, its fountains splashing in the background as I read a passage from Carol Shields’ Unless. I encountered her next at the launch for Rebecca Rosenblum’s short story collection Once, and she recorded me reading a passage from that book in an echoey bathroom, both us perched on the edge of a tub. She had to show me how to say “ennui”.

And I tell you all this not necessarily to name-drop and emphasize my closeness with Julie (because if I was going to do that, I’d probably tell you that in the years since, Julie has eaten bacon in my kitchen, had my daughter fall in love with her, that we’re in the same Book Club, and that we’re partners in crime at 49thShelf. We’ve come a long, long way since my rash cleared up), but rather to make that point that so many of us have had our Julie Wilson moments. She fosters connection, her enthuasiasm is contagious, she wants you to be part of whatever game she’s playing, and she (and her projects) have sold so many books. It is a privilege to know her.

And now this Madam of all things bookish online has a book of her own, and it’s gorgeous. Imagine the force of Julie Wilson meets KissCut Design and Freehand Books indeed, and in fact you don’t even have to imagine: this is a book you can hold in your hand. Julie has gone back to her roots to translate the original Seen Reading into print, bookish transit sightings coupled with her microfictional riffs. And because this is Julie, she couldn’t leave it at that. Her revamped website includes links to a reading guide, events, an online community of literary voyeurs, and more.

“This space will change often because Julie can’t make up her minds” is a line from her site, and thank goodness. The literary world is richer for it.

September 13, 2011

Books in Motion #9

The book is not dead, altered Ikea Billy bookcases notwithstanding. (Seriously! Seriously!) I know this because during these last few days, I’ve been riding subways like a person with places to go, and people to see. And what I’ve seen en-route are people reading– people riding science fiction, the Bible, Stig Larssen, Penelope Lively, The Sound and the Fury, Maeve Binchy, and some unidentifiable hardcover in the hands of a man who was also carrying a suitbag that was labelled “Ronald McDonald”. I’ve seen so many others too, but couldn’t be bothered to take note of all the titles, but the point is that the book still owns public transit, or at least during the hours I travel, which are hardly peak, but still.

Tonight on the ride home from Robert J. Wiersema’s event promoting his new book Walk Like a Man, I sat down beside a woman who was readingĀ  Dave Eggers’ What is the What? Another passenger approached her, wanting to know more about the book. “I’ve just started it,” she said. “It seems good though–” Which seemed like the perfect moment for me to add a bit of my own praise. “I loved it,” I said, and then explained that Eggers had written a fictionalized autobiography, which was a lot to explain actually as I was getting off at the next stop. But I was happy to share my opinions, being a a fairly broadly-read individual who thinks a lot about books. I assured the woman reading it that she’d enjoy it, and let them both know that the novel was well acclaimed.

And then I got off the subway and realized that neither of them knew that I was a fairly broadly-read individual who thinks a lot about books, the person accustomed to answering the bookish questions posed in my presence. To them I was just the crazy lady two seats over with an unkempt ponytail and too many shopping bags, and now I’m feeling a little embarrassed.

February 6, 2011

Books in Motion #8

I usually watch readers on the subway from afar, taking note of appearances, accessories. I didn’t get a chance this time, because she was sitting right beside me on the Danforth Line and the first thing I noticed was that she was reading The Lacuna (by Barbara Kingsolver, who should have been on the cover of Time last year, remember? My best book of 2010?). Without even thinking, I said to her, “I love that book.” “I know,” she said, “isn’t it wonderful?” and I could hardly start staring then, taking notes on the cut of her trousers. She was reading it for her book club. I found the first 150 pages hard-going, I told her, but she said she was experiencing no such thing. I had to get off at the next stop, and by then we were friends, and wished her the best for the rest of her reading.

September 8, 2010

Books in Motion #7

I refuse to be lugubrious about reading’s great decline, mostly because I ride public transport with riders who live to refute such an assessment of the state of literary things. And now I doubly refuse to be lugubrious about reading’s great decline, because riders are reading poetry, even. So nothing is so bad. Said rider was a strange-faced, gorgeous woman of about twenty three, whose fashion savvy stirred my envy. That high waisted, ruffly look whose origins I’ve never been able to trace– people just woke up one morning and started dressing like that, but how did they know?? High heels with short shorts, if you know what I mean. Her hair gathered messily into into the kind of scarf I would have once thought hideous, but now sort of love. She was travelling east on the Bloor-Danforth line, and reading Mockingbird Wish Me Luck by Charles Bukowski, and maybe the whole thing was a set-up. Desperate to impress, she wanted everyone to think that she was awesome, but whether or not her intentions were pure, she had certainly succeeded.

July 29, 2010

Books in Motion #6

Everybody was reading novels at around 5:00, as our subway train sped westbound on the Bloor-Danforth Line. I spotted a man reading Oryx and Crake, one reading something by Patrick O’ Brien, and another with his face buried in After Dark by Haruki Murakami (from the Toronto Public Library). Plenty of others reading books I couldn’t see the covers of, and then the woman reading a gorgeous vintage copy of The End of the Affair. (The edition pictured here is not the same, but it’s the closest in hue that I could locate). She looked about forty, perfectly pretty in an ordinary sense, wearing glasses, and shoulder-length curly hair. She was traveling with a man beside her who was stuck in a book too, but I couldn’t see the front of his. Neither was talking to the other. They were laden with two enormous suitcases, and a few other bags. I speculated that perhaps they were en-route to the airport? A trip-out, I assumed, because their luggage had no YYZ tags, but the woman was about two thirds into her novel. And how curious, I thought, to take a half-finished book on holiday with you. I would never, ever do such a thing. Most of it already used up then, and she’ll just have to cart it with her for the rest of her journey…

May 12, 2010

Books in Motion #5

Spotted westbound on the Bloor-Danforth line (as I was on my way to the first meeting of my brand new book club, The Vicious Circle [which is setting up to be the best book club ever]), a white male approximately forty years old. Hairline slightly receding, drinking a can of Pepsi, wearing a thick gold wedding band. His handsome-enough appearance juxtaposed with flood pants, black socks, bad running shoes and a windbreaker. He was reading Shakespeare’s The Tempest, on-loan from the Toronto Public Library.

March 31, 2010

Books in Motion #4

A book in motion for every leg of last night’s journey to the meeting at Literature for Life. The almost-not-awkward, soon-to-be-handsome young man riding east on the Bloor-Danforth line. He’s reading David Adams Richards’ Mercy Among the Children. The young woman in fabulous boots getting off the southbound train at Yonge Station carrying The Bell Jar. And then the man beside me reading The New Yorker eastbound on the Dundas streetcar. Which isn’t a book in motion, I realize, but the streetcar was crowded and everyone was being terribly private about whatever novels they were reading.

March 1, 2010

Books in Motion #3

Today was a small girl wearing rainboots and riding a scooter that zipped past me on the sidewalk, a hardcover tucked in her brightly coloured basket. I caught up with her at the corner and inquired about the book she was transporting. And it turned out that this was not just any little girl, but a kind of strange one who is irresistible to adults but probably has trouble making friends her own age, and for four blocks she talked to me about the Lemony Snickett series, and how there are thirteen of them, and if I haven’t read them yet, I should. They’re about children whose parents die, and they have a guardian who only wants them for their fortune (and she pronounced “tune” in “fortune” like a song, and she kept saying it over and over.) Though I promised to read them, I probably won’t, but all the same, the little girl was the most delightful person I have encountered ever, like a character out of a book herself.

January 20, 2010

Books in Motion #2

Today was a girl in her twenties, carrying a shoulder bag with a picture of a golden retriever puppy on it, racing across Bloor Street on foot and then heading south on Robert Street. Didn’t even stop to talk, and all the while she had her nose stuck in a copy of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne as if her life depended on it, and maybe it did.

December 18, 2009

Books in Motion #1

I’ve long maintained that contrary to all signs of doom, people are reading all the time and everywhere. And now, in the tradition of the late, great Seen Reading, I want to drive that point home with a record of good books I see being read out and about. These are signs of hope, you see, these books in use. And today was the middle aged woman in the subway, white with brown hair, wearing a bulky winter coat (and weren’t we all?) reading a battered copy of Who Do You Think You Are? So there. Now doesn’t that make you feel better?

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