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Pickle Me This

August 12, 2020

I Went to a Bookstore!

I like how no mask could hide how happy I am in this photo.

My last bookshop visit was March 8, a stop in at The Nautical Mind, the marine-themed bookshop on Toronto’s Harbourfront. Not that this experience was the end of me buying books, of course. By the end of that week, I’d already placed my first online order with a local bookshop to have a couple of books delivered to my door, and this would continue throughout the spring—I got books from Ben McNally, Book City, Queen Books, Ella Minnow Books, Flying Books, and probably others. One great thing about having absolutely nothing else to spend money on through April and May was that I could fulfill all my book-buying dreams and then some, which really did raise my spirits and help tide me over while the libraries were closed.

Most of the shops doing curbside pick-ups were just a little bit too far out of my way for me to take advantage of this, but I did finally get to partake in July when I ordered a stack from Little Island Comics. A recent development in my life is that I now have a bike, with a basket, and riding home with that basket full of books was exhilarating.

But not quite as exhilarating as my annual trip to Lighthouse Books a few weeks later, a pilgrimage we making on our camping trip to Presqu’ile Provincial Park and one I never take for granted even during the best of times. It wasn’t so long ago that we weren’t even sure Ontario campgrounds were going to open this year, so everything that weekend seemed especially precious. Lighthouse Books had only opened up for customers a week before, and so the timing was great.

While many of the Covid measures in place right now put a damper on fun, one I don’t hate entirely is the rule that whatever you touch in a bookstore, you must necessarily buy. Okay, then! Lighthouse Books had the most appealing table set up by the door, and in no time I had my mitts on an Attica Locke book I’d been meaning to read for years. By this point, shop owner Kathryn had already greeted me by name, which is remarkable when you consider that my face was covered in a mask AND I only visit once a year, but this is part of the reason that Kathryn is so good at owning a bookstore. The other part of the reason is the marvellous curation of her shelves—doesn’t the photo above make your heart swoon?

I ended up getting that copy of Hamnet and Judith, by Maggie O’Farrell you can see on the right-hand side of the middle shelf—and oh, it blew my mind, that book, plus books for my kids to read. One of my greatest parenting accomplishments is that I’ve somehow convinced my children that sitting around with a book is integral to the camping experience, mostly likely because it really is. And then I got sign a copy of Mitzi Bytes (and no, I don’t love this bookstore just because they always have a copy of my novel in stock, but it helps), and talk to Kathryn for a few minutes…before it was time to go, because my family was waiting for me outside, and also because there were other book buyers who were lined up at the door.

PS I love that a bookshop visit has never not been remarkable.

PPS Thanks to DoveGreyReader whose bookshop post (her first since buying the new Hilary Mantel in March) inspired my own.

May 28, 2019

New York is Magic

I’m having trouble finding my feet again after a weekend away where everything was extreme: hot, amazing, delicious, fun, expensive, tall, far, sunny, crowded, and wonderful. A record of our adventures can be had over at Instagram, where I will continue to post New York photos into the weekend because it was summer and beautiful there, and here it’s just cold and raining (again). I didn’t spend the entire weekend on bookish pilgrimages, because I want my family to continue to want to go on vacations with me in the future, but I did spend the whole weekend reading Madeleine L’Engle’s now-obscure 1982 novel for adults The Severed Wasp (blurbed by Norman Lear, no less!) which underlined my New York experience in terrific ways, even if the novel was like a soap opera set in a church community (and how come, between L’Engle and Barbara Pym, soap operas set in church communities are my favourite kind of book?). The book was why I wanted to see The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which was not far from where we were staying, so we went there on Friday evening. Saturday we spent walking through Chelsea, just close enough to Greenwich Village that I was channelling my two patron saints, Grace Paley and Jane Jacobs—and while I wanted to go find Faith Darwin in a tree in Washington Square, we went to Union Square instead because it was closer to The Strand Bookstore, and I can’t expect my children to traipse across the entirety of New York City on my bookish whims, because New York is very big and also then my children would hate me.

Sunday’s allusions were more musical, as I went to Strawberry Fields in Central Park, a memorial to John Lennon, which was kind of the worst kind of circus, but I suppose that was the case with everything with the Beatles in the end. I was also excited to see The Dakota, not for John Lennon because I don’t like to be morbid, BUT because it was home two to amazing literary characters, Rosemary Woodhouse in Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (well, the film version, at least) and also Laine Cummings, Stacey McGill’s best friend in The Babysitters Club, which was how I learned about many places in New York in the first place. (I wonder if they ever met in the elevator?)

On Monday, we went to Brooklyn, because I wanted to visit Books Are Magic, which everybody in our family really liked for its great aesthetics, chilled out vibe, and good books selection, plus Stuart and Iris got to read stories and lie in the floor, which is always nice at the end of a busy four days of touristing. Which was still not enough to even get a proper sense of the city and all it holds, but it was a very good start, and now we all want to go back again.

April 9, 2019

Canadian Independent Bookstore Day: A Modest Proposal

Independent Bookstore Day is an American celebration that takes place on the last Saturday in April, and in 2015 Canadian novelist Janie Chang brought the concept north of the 49th parallel with Authors for Indies Day, which brought authors into bookstores (and there was often cake) to hand-sell their bookish favourites. I took part at a local bookstore the first two years, and then in 2017 I jumped into a van and took off on a bookish road trip, which was epic fun. And in 2018, the project was taken over by the Retail Council of Canada, rebranded as Canadian Independent Bookstore Day. Gone was the author focus, partly because some authors didn’t comprehend the point of being in the bookstore wasn’t necessarily to sell their own books but instead to be fostering book culture (and buying) in general. Partly also (and you should probably sit down, this is going to hurt): the average Canadian author live-in-person doesn’t necessarily turn out a crowd. If you are the exception to this rule, I urge you to get yourself to a bookstore on the last Saturday. Bookstores need crowds. Out the door, popular people. DO IT.

But if you are more like the rest of us, with a respectable career but not (YET) with a cult following, then I’ve got a modest proposal for you. I’m not sure what’s going on with Canadian Independent Bookstore Day this year—the website seems to be down and I’m not even sure what the name is (Independent Bookseller Day in some circles?) let alone the hashtag. But I’ve already been hearing some buzz and in the spirit of projects that rely on community spirit, little work and no overhead (SO my jam), please hear me out.

If you are a Canadian author, and/or anyone who appreciates a vibrant literary culture (who doesn’t?), then head out to an independent bookstore on Saturday April 27 and spend some of your hard-earned cash.

If you have children in your life, bring them too and let them pick out a book or two. If you have people in your life celebrating birthdays in coming months, do your shopping then. If you’re thinking of end-of-year teacher gifts, pick up some gift cards. If you’re being urged toward-self-care from all quarters, buy a big stack of novels you’re dying to read and consider the job done. If you can’t think of what you’d like to read, ask the bookseller for a recommendation (or take my quiz to find your perfect literary match!). If you don’t have much money to spare, buy a paperback kids book for under a tenner. If you don’t have cash to spare at all, you can write your bookseller a thank-you note letting them know you appreciate their place in your community, and go in to drop it off. There might even be cake?

The sole advantage to not having your own local independent bookstore is an excuse for a road trip. Here are some bookshops I’ve come to love on my travels. In a recent Twitter thread, Monique Gray Smith was also sharing some of her favourites. I have found in my experiences that bookstores can often be found in proximity to great places to have lunch…

Writing books or working in publishing is one of the least lucrative jobs a person could spend her life trying to succeed at, but I still think that buying (full priced) books (from businesses that contribute to a healthy literary eco-system) is part of the job description, when you are able. You might be a writer, but you were probably a reader first, and if we aren’t buying books, well, who else is going to? This goes for book bloggers, who may become so inundated with review copies that it’s hard to seek out book purchases. But still, the most surefire way I know to get people buying books is to…go by books myself. (Done and done.) Let’s see how much of an influencer you really are. (Finger crossed: SO MUCH).

Let’s all be the bookshop customers we wish to see in the world! See you on April 27.

“Buy hardback fiction and poetry. Request hardback fiction and poetry as gifts from everyone you know. Give hardback fiction and poetry as gifts to everyone. No shirt or sweater ever changed a life. Never complain about publishing if you don’t buy hardcover fiction and poetry regularly.”– Annie Dillard, “Notes for Young Writers”

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.


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…


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


“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.”


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.


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


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.


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.

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