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Pickle Me This

March 13, 2018

More Fun at English Bookshops

That we only visited three bookshops seems a bit paltry, although a little less so when you consider we were only in England for six days. My only regret is that this time we didn’t get to visit a bookshop on a boat where we were fed Victoria Sponge Cake, but perhaps that can only happen so often in a lifetime. Our trip to England was a little more local this time, focussed on Lancaster where we’d rented a house for a week. A house that came with a wall full of books, which seemed like a good omen—”But don’t let this make you think we don’t have to go to all the bookshops,” I reminded everybody.

We’d actually visited our first bookshop before we even got to England, because I like the idea of travelling to England with no books, instead picking them up on my travels. Which is pretty risky, actually, considering the decimation of book selection at the Pearson International Airport where there are no longer actual bookshops, and instead a small display of books on display alongside bottles of Tylenol and electrical volt adapters. But I found a couple of titles that interested me, ultimately deciding on Anatomy of a Scandal, by Sarah Vaughan, the story of a political wife whose life comes apart when her husband is accused of rape. A timely book, and it was interesting, but spoiled for me by a “twist” that made this very fathomable story a little bit less so. Which meant that I was all too ready to buy another book at our first English bookshop, Waterstones in Lancaster.

I love the Waterstones in Lancaster. My heart belongs to indie bookshops, but Waterstones is better than your average bookshop chain, and the Lancaster Waterstones in particular, which its gorgeous storefront that stretches along a city block. With big windows, great displays, little nooks and crannies and staircases leading to more places to explore. It’s a gorgeous store, with great kids’ displays too, and my children were immediately occupied by reading and also by a variety of small plush octopuses. I ended up getting Susan Hill’s Jacob’s Room is Full of Books, a follow-up to Howards End is on the Landing, which I bought when we were in England in 2009 and Harriet was a baby and I spent our week there reading it while she napped on my chest. Jacob’s Room… would turn out not to be as good as Howards End…, which broadened my literary world so much (and introduced me to Barbara Pym!). The new bookwas kind of rambling and disconnected and not enough about books, but was so inherently English that I was happy with it.

On the Wednesday we drove across the Pennines to Ilkley to visit The Grove Bookshop, which is one of my favourite bookshops ever. It’s located up the street from Betty’s Tea Room, which makes for one of the best neighbourhoods I’ve ever hung out in. After afternoon tea, where the children behaved impeccably, we took them to a toyshop for a small present as reward, which was good incentive for their behaviour in The Grove Bookshop too, where I was able to browse for as long as I liked. I love it there, the perfect bookshops and well worth a trip halfway across the world. I had been in the mood for a Muriel Spark novel since reading this wonderful article, and The Grove Bookshop delivered with The Ballad of Peckham Rye, a new edition in honour of Spark’s centenaryI was also very happy to find a rare copy of Adrian Mole: The Collected Poems, as Mole’s work has had a huge impact in my own development as an author and intellectual.

I really loved The Ballad of Peckham Rye, so weird and contemporary in its tone, strange and meta, the way all Spark’s work is. When we’re on vacation, I don’t like getting out of bed, lingering instead with a cup of tea and toast crumbs, and Peckham Rye was perfect for that,

On Friday we went to Storytellers Inc, located in Lytham-St. Anne’s, just south of Blackpool. Originally a children’s bookshop, they’ve branched out to books for readers of all ages, although the children’s focus remains—they have a huge selection of kids’ books and a special kids-only reading room with a tiny door and kid-sized furniture. (Sadly, we’d not brought our kids along with us that afternoon and it would have been weird to go in there without them.) In addition to the kids’ books, they had lots of Canadian fiction, and poetry. We ended up buying Welcome to Lagos, by Chibundu Onuzo, just because we liked the cover. And also Motherhood, by Helen Simpson, because I’d seen it on the shop Instagram page, and then I saw that Emily was reading it.

I don’t think I’ve ever read Simpson before, but this is a mini-collection of her stories from a few different books over the decades—and I loved it. Plus there was a boob on the cover. I finished reading it on the plane journey home, and then started Welcome to Lagos, which was really great. It’s Onuzo’s second novel, after the award-winning The Spider King’s Daughter. The latest is about a ragtag crew who arrives in Lagos and attempts to make a life there, in spite of the odds. They end up running in with a corrupt former Minister of Education with a suitcase full of money, and what they choose to do with this fate will make or break their destinies. In this case, choosing to buy a book for it’s cover was a very good decision.

December 18, 2017

Best Bookshops of 2017

There are ups and downs to the book publishing experience, but one definitively excellent thing about putting a book in the world is that it becomes your business to hang out in bookshops all the time. So that even though I hang out in bookshops all the time anyway, I got to do it even more often this year, and to visit legendary bookshops further afield. It was such a delight to visit the following bookshops this year on my travels, but before I get to my list I want to send a shout-out to Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge ON, which is one of my favourite bookstores ever, and to Words Worth Books in Waterloo ON, both of which had me for events this spring but not in-store, which means I didn’t get to go shopping. Which also means I’m probably due for a trip now. I’m also grateful to staff at Bay Bloor Indigo in Toronto and Chapters in Peterborough ON, who were really supportive of my book.

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Audreys Books, Edmonton AB

I had the best time in Edmonton in September, but a chance to visit Audreys was definitely a highlight. And not just because Mitzi Bytes was a staff pick and had been a bestseller there in May–but it certainly warmed my heart to the place! The story was huge with an amazing selection, and I particularly loved perusing the local authors section—I ended up choosing books by Claire Kelly and Jen Powley. I also bought books for my children and my husband back home, and each of the books was so well-received that it was almost a little bit magic. I could have browsed those shelves for hours…

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Beggars Banquet Books, Gananoque ON

It rained the whole weekend I was in Gananoque, but during a brief lull in the downpour, I hurried up the road to Beggars Banquet, which I already had an affinity for having become quite fond of owners Alison and Tom, who were charged with bookselling during the 1000 Island Writers Festival. Sometimes a second-hand bookshop [although Beggars Banquet sells books new and used!] smells of dust and must (and I mean that in the best way), but this one smelled of sawdust, brand new bookshelves, whose contents I explored for ages. I ended up getting Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty, which I LOVED.

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Ben McNally Books, Toronto ON

We launched Mitzi Bytes at Ben McNally Books in March, which was absolutely terrific. And then I got to return a week or so later for my friend Rebecca’s launch for So Much Love. Our most recent visit to this hallowed space was at the beginning of the month after going to see the Christmas windows at The Bay—I did some Christmas shopping, and also picked up My Life With Bob, by Pamela Paul, which I’d had my eye on for ages.

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Curiosity House Books, Creemore ON

I got to go to Creemore three times this year! Once on the most hilarious road trip with Karma Brown, Jennifer Robson, and Kate Hilton for Authors for Indies, when we ate gummy bears and I laughed until I cried at the idea that Drew Berrymore had been previously been married to Red Green, among much other absurdity. I was so absolutely in love with Curiosity House Books that I knew we had to return there with my family in tow, which is what we did for my birthday in June, and we really did have the most perfect day. And then in September we were back again for the nearby Dunedin Literary Festival. And now I really want to check out their new sister store in Collingwood!

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Happenstance Books and Yarns, Lakefield ON

How had I never been so Happenstance? Not a huge store, but so well stocked, plus they sell knitting supplies too, and there is a candy store adjacent, which pleased my children exponentially. The first time I was there this summer (for the Lakefield Literary Festival) I picked up Laura Lippman’s Wilde Lake, which I adored, and then I returned later in August and got The Misfortune of Marion Palm, by Emily Culliton. They have a great selection, their titles for children in particular.

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Hunter Street Books, Peterborough ON

Remember when I got into a car accident on the way to Hunter Street Books and ended up owing a mechanic $800, and in the end considered it money well spent because the bookstore didn’t disappoint in the slightest? The store continues to be excellent. We launched Mitzi Bytes there in March and sold all the books, thanks to my parents’ spectacular networking skills, mostly, but still, it was a triumph. When we were back in town in August I ended up buying another stack—I have a problem with self control with their incredible selection of books, and can never buy just one.

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Lexicon Books, Lunenburg NS

Has a bookshop ever lived up to one’s expectations like Lexicon Books in Lunenburg, NS, though? Originally I was just excited to be visiting, and then they invited me to read alongside Johanna Skibsrud and Rebecca Silver Slayter. I was so excited to meet co-owner Alice, and when I walked into the store, co-owner Jo was sitting at the counter reading my book!! The store was so cozy and charming, and my family (who have seen a bookshop or two) declared their kids’ section the best ever. I ended up buying Alice’s staff pick, 300 Arguments, by Sarah Manguso, and took her comment card too by accident, and now it lives on my bedside table, the best souvenir ever.

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Lighthouse Books, Brighton ON

This was our second trip to Lighthouse Books, corresponding with our annual camping weekend, and we were so excited to see Mitzi Bytes on the Canadian authors shelf, along with so many other great picks. I ended up buying A History of Wolves, by Emily Fredlund, and my children got a stuffed hedgehog and a teddy bear, we found out their all-time bestselling book was Where Is the Green Sheep, by Mem Fox (a classic!) and then we met a falconer. We can’t wait to be back next year!

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Mabel’s Fables, Toronto ON

One day last summer, I took my children across town on a road trip to Mabel’s Fable’s and it was the grandest adventure—we explored cool 1960s’ public art along Davisville Avenue, played in the Sharon Lois and Bram Playground, ate super fancy French cakes in a bakery full of weird rich people who were obsessed with dogs, and then we hit up Mabel’s Fables, and had the very best time. I ended up buying Scarborough, by Catherine Hernandez, from their adult selection. And yes, there was a cat called Mabel, the store’s namesake. It was totally worth the trip, and then some.

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Mabel Murple’s. River John NS

Oh my gosh, and speaking of being worth the trip! The opening of Sheree Fitch’s bookstore (in her barn at the end of an old dirt road) was the reason we went to Nova Scotia in the first place. We showed up the Monday after Canada Day for the store’s opening, along with hundreds of other Fitch fanatics—and we even made the local paper! It was everything—brimful of literary goodness, good people, music, sunshine, and magic. Plus a donkey, and a horse, and a sheep. We had the very best time—and then afterwards we drove up the road and got to play in the ocean.

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Queen Books, Toronto ON

We had nothing to do on Good Friday, and then I discovered that Toronto’s newest bookshop was open that day. And so we jumped on the streetcar and across town we went, and it was really so delightful, with golden ceilings, amazing wallpaper, so much space and light, and really great books. Something I particularly appreciated was that they managed to have that boutique exclusive feel in terms of inventory and atmosphere, but also coupled this with friendly customer service—which is rare. My one complaint was that my book wasn’t on their shelf, but I didn’t even actually complain, because everything else about the store was wonderful. And then when I returned in October for Jessica Westhead’s book launch for And Also Sharks, having made peace with the fact that they were too cool to stock my book and even forgiven them for it—my book was there! It was there. I could have my bookshop cake and eat it too; really, I could scarcely believe it. (PS On my first visit I got Eileen, by Ottessa Mosfegh, which seems seasonally appropriate, albeit not in an especially festive sense, but I am excited to begin reading it tonight!)

October 2, 2017

Pickle Me This goes to Edmonton

I lost my umbrella when I was in Edmonton, possibly in a bookshop, or somewhere en-route to the Hotel MacDonald, where I got to have fancy drinks with writer and blogger extraordinaire Shawna Lemay. So does that make it a literary lost umbrella, I wonder, even if it didn’t happen in fiction? Although I include the umbrella Virginia Woolf lost on a bus, and that wasn’t fiction either. Does it still count as a literary lost umbrella if it’s pocket-sized? Pocket-sized umbrellas just don’t seem all that literary. But they are particularly easy to lose.

Umbrella losses aside, however, as well as a minor mishap where I drank too much tea and managed to poison myself and spent an afternoon in bed in my hotel room, I had a wonderful time in Edmonton. (This was about two weeks ago. I’m a bit behind, blog-wise, and working hard on catching up.) I was invited for the Book Publishers Association of Alberta’s Annual Conference to give a presentation about why book blogs matter, and arrived in Edmonton on Thursday afternoon on a plane packed with women who were heading to some weird multi-level marketing conference for beauty products and obviously tried to convert me into their cult. (“Are you looking for your Plan B?” the woman sitting next to me on the plane was asking, and I’d never before considered how awful it would be to be trapped on a plane with people who were trying to convert you into their cult. I am still disappointed that I never thought to answer, “Are you peddling beauty products, sister? Cuz I don’t need no beauty products.”)

I had half a day to spend in a city I didn’t know yet, which is the most incredible kind of luxury, I think, in terms of time and opportunity. After finding my novel for sale in the airport bookshop (where the booksellers had even heard of it, or at least were very convincing in pretending they had…) a taxi delivered me to Whyte Avenue where I poked in shops and hung out in a Second Cup to charge my phone, and then I started walking, taking in the golden light in this place where Autumn comes earlier than it does where I live. Edmonton is beautiful, and it was a gorgeous, crisp fall day, and I had a very good time exploring on my own, making lines on a map that was new to me. When I reached the edge of the river valley, I was able to take in a great deal of the city at once, and it was gorgeous. I stopped at the High Level Diner for dinner, and it just happened to be Ukrainian night, so I got to have pirogies and borscht. And then I began my long long walk across the High Level Bridge with great dramatic clouds rolling in (see my first photo, above) and at this point I was pleased that I still had an umbrella.

As visiting bookstores is basically the reason I go anywhere, a trip to Audreys was the thing I most wanted to do in Edmonton, and it lived up to my amazing expectations. Although I must admit I’m partial to Audreys after my book was an Edmonton bestseller in April, and it was also pretty splendid to see it on the Staff Picks shelf. But even without these glorious details, I would have been happy to spend time browsing in Audreys, where I managed to find perfect gifts for each member of my family, and I bought Jen Powley’s memoir Just Jen and Claire Kelly’s debut poetry collection, Maunder, both of which would turn out to be very good choices.

Shawna met me at the bookstore, and then we went out for drinks, and had a delightful time. We’d met briefly at Shawna’s book launch in Toronto awhile back, but not exactly properly. However she is one of those bloggers that gives you the impression—with her candour, generosity, eloquence, thoughtfulness—that you know her. And I think I really did, because we had a terrific time together, never running out of things to talk about, and I could have talked forever, except that it was getting late and I was operating after a day of travel (planes and walking) and a two hour time difference. Luckily we got to keep on talking as Shawna kindly drove me to my hotel.

I saw the sun come up the next morning—I woke up at six so I could call my children before they headed off to school. There is nothing in the world quite like a prairie sky. And then I ordered room service and read books, and prepared for my presentation later that morning, which went very well, and it was so terrific to meet people in the Canadian book world with whom I communicate often and/or have been familiar with for years. I take for granted sometimes Canada’s hugeness, and that there are also these people I’ll never have the chance to meet face-to-face and then I do meet them and realize how powerful it is to bring people together and how much our culture benefits from these true connections being made. I loved Saskatchewan poet Brenda Schmidt‘s presentation about how social media has become her workbook—I identified so completely. And it was especially nice to be there to celebrate Alberta Books when I’ve been especially fond of them lately—Annie Muktuk and Other Stories and What Is Going to Happen Next  are two stand-outs. It was a privilege to be part of it all, and hanging out in Edmonton. 

April 26, 2017

Authors for Indies!

Saturday is the third annual Authors of Indies Day, and I’m doing something a little bit different this year, namely hitting the road for a little bookshop discovery. Alongside bookish dynamos Kate Hilton, Karma Brown and Jennifer Robson, we’ll be driving out of town and landing as follows:

Hope to see you there. And if you won’t be there, check out the other Authors for Indies events going on in your neighbourhood.

January 4, 2017

Three Cool Things

1. I was on CBC Ontario Morning today talking about books you really should get around to reading—and what a pleasure was that! You can listen again here at 45 minutes (although I regret we ran out of time before I was able to mention Marnie Woodrow’s Heyday, but you should definitely pick up that one too). Anyway, this was fun. What a privilege to go on the radio and get to talk about some of your favourite things.

2. I got to curate a shelf at Hunter Street Books in Peterborough, and I selected a theme of “Strong, Powerful (and funny!) Women’s Voices”. My picks are The Mothers, by Brit Bennett, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple, and Rose’s Run, by Dawn Dumont. If you’re near Peterborough, head to the shop and pick one of my recommendations up. And if you’re not local, go somewhere else to get them.

3. And finally, Quill & Quire’s Spring Preview is now on newsstands, and I’m thrilled to see Mitzi Bytes in the mix. It’s a very nice thing to imagine that you might not be the only one waiting for your new book to come into the world. Also pleased to see the book in such good company with so many other titles forthcoming in the first half of this year.

August 31, 2016

Extraordinary Day

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My favourite thing about being a parent is the way you get the make the world magic. The way you can wave an imaginary wand an transform an ordinary day into a extraordinary one. The way that my children had no idea what was up when we told them to get their shoes on at 8:30 this morning, and when they kept asking where we were going, we said they’d find out when they got there. They’d been expecting their daddy to leave for work as usual, but there we all were marching to the subway, south to Union. And then a walk along Front Street, and over the train tracks to the aquarium, because Harriet’s loves the aquarium, and had expressed a wish to go there again. There you go Harriet: wish granted. Amazing.

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We had a terrific time at the aquarium, and the best part was when we ran into my best friend Jennie. After a few hours we were done though, and the place was completely bonkers, and so we left and meandered north to the place that had perhaps inspired this whole aquarium plan—the close-in-proximity, brand new Penguin Bookshop.

A bookstore that fits in your pocket, it is, or your closet, at least. Formerly a shoe repair kiosk. It features a lively selection of Penguin-branded goods and books they publish, Canadian and classic. I got the new Dave Eggers novel and The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter, and we bought a copy of Ooko because we’d had it from the library and loved it. It was very nice to finally stop by.

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We had lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory, which was completely fun, and totally not horrible or boring. And there was so much bread. The bad thing about being snobs who live downtown is that we don’t get free bread with our meals very often, and certainly not for lunch (and if we do, it’s spelt bread and nobody wants to eat it). The children thought the place was great and we thought it was surprisingly good, the perfect place to stop on this day of being tourists in our own city for a while.

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“And what are you doing with the rest of your day?” our waiter asked us as we paid our bill. “We’re going to visit Toronto’s First Post Office,” I told him. I told him, “You’ve probably been there a hundred times, right?” He gave me a look. When he finally bid us adieu, he said, “Have fun at the…post office.”

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But not just any post office! It’s an actual working post office (and woo hoo! Canada Post and its employees have finally come to an agreement so we’re not going to be having a postal strike) AND a museum. From the restaurant, we walked through the beautiful St. Lawrence neighbourhood to get there, and finally arrived. Full disclosure, the children were being to lose their shit by this point.

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At Toronto’s First Post office you get to try writing with quills, and can also purchase stationary to write letters in their reading room. The place was marvellously busy, with tourists and also people coming in on ordinary errands. After finding out that writing with quills was really hard, Harriet and Iris sat down to write with ordinary pens, and they both ended up crying because a) over the summer Harriet had lost any writing skills she’d ever possessed and b) Iris had never possessed any anyway. And all I wanted to was write a letter to my friend, but the children were bananas and also doing dangerous deeds with ink, which ended up smeared all over Iris’s body, and then she blotted it with the sand provided for such things, and it all had gone a little bit awry. We pulled it together though, got letters written and even posted. And then it was time to admit that the day was coming to an end, so we headed for the subway, and nobody cried again, I think, so it all was a success.

August 2, 2016

Destination Bookshop: Lighthouse Books in Brighton, Ontario

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Yesterday we rolled out of Presqu’ile Provincial Park after three feral days in wilderness, dirt-laden, mosquito-bitten, sick of marshmallows and stinking of outhouse. We decided to stop in the nearby town of Brighton, Ontario, for some ice cream and a sweet hit of air-conditioning, and I promise you that what I absolutely was not expecting as we walked along the main street was to find a bookshop. Nobody believed me when I told them that either, but I swear it’s true. And the bookshop was just closing, the owner flipping around the sign when she saw us walking by—it was a Holiday Monday and they’d stayed open from 10-2. And then they proceeded to stay open just a little while longer while Stuart picked up the new Harry Potter and while he was paying for it, the children discovered tiny hedgehog stuffed toys and as Harriet is a hedgehog maniac, we had to have one, and while all that was transpiring, it was dawning on me that this was a truly exceptional bookstore—incredible selection, a wonderful spotlight on Canadian titles, lovely displays, and a friendly, knowledgeable owner—so it was clear that I would have to get a book as well.

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I mean, check out these books—so so good. And then Harriet told the owner how she’s been obsessed with hedgehogs ever since Anakana Schofield came to visit and brought her a toy one, and the owner said, “Well, at least she didn’t bring you Martin John,” and we got to talking about how great that book is and also about how one has to be careful who one recommends it to. And then she told us how much she liked Neil Gaiman’s The View From the Cheap Seats, and now I’m sort of sorry I didn’t buy that book, but I’m not sorry that the one I did get was Carol Shields’ Startle and Illuminate.

Lighthouse Books is totally worth the drive to Brighton, which is a pretty little town just two hours east of Toronto (and worth stopping in at on the way to Prince Edward County too). Presqu’ile is minutes away with its gorgeous beaches and hiking trails, and downtown Brighton features great stops for tea and coffee, lunches and ice cream. Both times we’ve been, we’ve had ice cream at Mrs. B’s Country Candy, where they make their own gelato.

The bookstore, which is owned by Kathryn and Dan Corbett, is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 930-530. You can find out more about them on their Facebook page.

June 28, 2016

Book Publishing: The Long View

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Yesterday I responded to a tweet by Joni Murphy (remember Joni Murphy? She wrote the wonderful novel Double Teenage that I devoured last month) about the ridiculously small window of books coverage in the mainstream media. She’s absolutely right—once the “new release” glow fades, so does a lot of interest…but I suggested that this doesn’t matter. I mean, yes, it would be altogether excellent to find oneself on a  bestseller list the week one’s book was published, and for the momentum to be undeniable and inexhaustible, and to have your book be everywhere. Yes, authors do need to work and hustle to get the word out for sure. But here it is: you can only do the best that you can do. And even that is not really guaranteed to get results. And so what an author really needs to do is be satisfied with immediate coverage, but also keep the long view, and have faith in the book and its readers.

For sure, this kind of faith is not the stuff of bestsellerdom, but ultimately it is what really matters. It’s the difference between your book living on someone’s bookshelf for years and years, and being put out on the curb. It means your book not being available en-masse at secondhand bookstores six weeks after the pub date (and hello copies of The Nest and The Girl on the Train. I see you!) It means real people connecting with your work rather than just hearing about it, knowing the cover. The thing about books, good books, see, is that they have long lives, even if it’s hard to measure just how. Although the most excellent thing about the internet is that we do have some kind of a record now, a way of registering reader responses long past the on-sale date. (“The standards we raise and the judgements we pass steal into the air and become part of the atmosphere which writers breathe as they work,” writes Virginia Woolf in her 1925 essay “How Should One Read a Book,” anticipating the literary blogosphere[s]). It would be really wonderful to write a book that set the world on fire, but it’s just as stunning for me as a writer to discover, say, that my book is still being picked up and appreciated over two years after it first was published.

the-m-wordMy point proven by two things that happened after my exchange with Murphy: last night I discovered a blog post from last month by the fantastic Red Tent Sisters (who I met when they were at our book launch way back when…) called “Why Is Mothering so Difficult?” It’s a terrific post, but I was even more thrilled by their suggestion that reading a book like The M Word might make mothering a little bit less difficult. They’ve also included The M Word on their Top Fifty Beautiful Books for Soul Sisters, which you  can receive if you sign up for their newsletter (and here’s a tip—if you put somebody’s book on a list they receive if they sign up for your newsletter, that somebody will ALWAYS sign up for your newsletter). So I was feeling pretty good about that, and then this morning I was tagged on Instagram by a woman called Leah Noble with a gorgeous photo of The M Word alongside a just-as-delicious-seeming breakfast. Two signs from the universe that the book goes on, after a while of radio silence. Yes, both readers are connected with writers in the book, so I’m not suggesting that the whole thing is made from fairy dust, but there is an element of serendipity about it. You really do have to trust that the book will find its way—and the good books really will. Even if sometimes the ways are small and quiet.

And here’s another thing that I discovered last night, the other side of the publishing coin, eight months before the release date. My novel Mitzi Bytes is now available for pre-order, and unless I have a rabid superfan I am unaware of, my sister purchased the very first copy last night. But this doesn’t mean that it’s too late for you: you can pre-order the book at Chapters Indigo, or from Amazon, or head over to your local proper bookshop to do so.

(But my point is that even if you don’t, it doesn’t fundamentally matter. Life is long and good books are even longer.)

June 26, 2016

Happy Days

Friday was also my 37th birthday, which kicked off with a visit to the bank. Okay, that’s not completely true—I woke up and as per family tradition, people and presents were piled on my bed and I got to open the latter, which included bath things, a new robe, a beautiful shirt, and the book Mad Men Carousel, which means I now get to read my favourite television show over and over again instead of only just watching it. It all was wonderful, but then we had to get going, get the kids to school, and there was that meeting at the bank which was just a quick one because I had some papers to sign. My favourite thing about my bank is free WiFi and so as I sat there in the nondescript office and waited for pages to print and details to be sorted, my phone kept buzzing, email, Twitter and Instagram, so many excellent people sending me wishes. My best friends, old friends, online friends, and more friends—it was overwhelming. I am so incredibly grateful for the people who make my world. One in particular…

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Which would be the one who orchestrated the post-bank events. He was working from home so was there to answer the knock on our door just past 10am, when a taxi arrived delivering scones and jam from Baker and Scone, the scones still warm from the oven. Lavender scones, no less. And then another knock at the door, more friends, and there was champagne and orange juice, and a fruit tart, and so much goodness. It was amazing. What a way to spend a Friday morning—and then after I went to fetch Iris at noon, I spent the afternoon reading in my hammock. (It is also nice to be out and about with Iris, who insists on telling everybody that it’s my birthday, so that I get to be celebrated and still look cool.)

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That night we went to Chadwicks for dinner, and had a delightful time on the patio. Reminiscing about all the good times we’ve had there over the years—like the night that Iris discovered she had feet. And then coming home to ice cream cake, my favourite (and even better: there’s still some in the freezer right now).

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We spent Saturday morning in High Park with friends for a spectacularly catered sixth birthday party, and then drove out of the city after lunch for the final lag of my birthday celebrations. Driving to Uxbridge, ON to visit Blue Heron Books—remember my first visit there two years ago? Although we stropped for gelato first and then made our way to Blue Heron, which now has an adjoining teashop, which is only good news.

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The door was open and the shop was beautiful. I loved their displays, personal recommendations, the chairs, and selection. I browsed and explored, picking up titles that caught my eye. I managed not to buy every single one, although I got a few of them. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. I only returned to the cash one more time after my initial purchases. And then we made our way to the park and hung out in the shade on the grass, before heading to Urban Pantry for a ridiculously delicious dinner (with cake pops, no less). The ride back home was peaceful and nobody cried, and there is this one spot on Bloomington Road where we could see the city, small but entire, faraway over the green fields, and all of us gasped in awe.

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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.

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Mitzi Bytes

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