November 19, 2014
We’re getting toward the end of my blogging course, which has been the most wonderful, inspiring experience. I have enjoyed it so much, and look forward to following my students’ blogs as they grow. Though next week is the lesson I know the least about—the business of blogging. Even though my blog is ideal for an affiliation with an online bookseller, but I’ve never done this because I don’t like the predatory practices of the big online booksellers, and don’t want to profit off their gains (which tend to come at a loss for literary culture on the whole).
But it recently occurred to me that there was another option. Indeed, Canada’s largest online bookstore, McNally Robinson, does online orders and has an affiliates program, and I’m pleased to announce that Pickle Me This is now a part of it. When you purchase a book by McNally Robinson via a link from Pickle Me This, I will receive a cut of the profits. You can learn more about McNally Robinson’s Affiliate Program here. I will be adding links to my archived book reviews, and links will appear on all posts in the future.
I am pleased to be affiliated with McNally Robinson because I recently used their online ordering system to send a gift to a friend in Vancouver, and was really impressed with their customer service. (The book was not in stock, an actual person emailed to tell me so, and to give me the option of cancelling my order; when the book came in stock a few days later, the person emailed me to let me know.) I will be sending Christmas gifts to my sister’s family in Alberta via McNally Robinson this year for sure now, a nice alternative to Amazon. They don’t have the same discounts, but I’d gladly pay a higher price for the Amazon behemoth not to devour the entire literary world.
And books cost money because books have value anyway.
I am also pleased to be affiliated with McNally Robinson because we had such a good time there last spring when they hosted The M Word. The Winnipeg location is an incredible bookstore, a magical space, and we need more spaces like it in the world. So I’m happy to be directing some business their way, and also pleased to be leveraging this blog as a channel to my becoming a billionaire. When I make my first fortune, I promise to buy you a cup of tea.
Thank you for supporting independent bookstores, and book bloggers too.
June 19, 2014
Update: So pleased that Nathalie Foy took excellent notes and recapped last night’s conversation about mothers in children’s books. You can read all about it here.
One last event for The M Word to cap off a wonderful spring of excellent indie book shops. Oh, it’s been fun, a whirlwind. And this was the perfect way to finish, an intimate gathering at the bookshop just around the corner from my house. The sun poured in the windows as evening rolled in, and we had a really good time talking moms in children’s books–dead moms, overbearing moms, harassed moms, and moms with lives of their own. Reading books, talking books, and buying books. Terrific fun. Thanks to Parent Books for hosting such a fun event, and to the excellent women of The M Word for turning out and being fabulous. It has been such a pleasure to work with all of you.
May 10, 2014
Destination Bookshop is part travel-guide, and part bookshop discovery. Having recently lost my local bookshop, Destination Bookshops now seem more important than ever, first because I have to buy my books somewhere, and second to support great shops in order to ensure that we’ve always got somewhere to go.
I’ve been hearing buzz about Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge (about 1 hour from Toronto) for years, but it was the lovely Matilda Magtree who really got me interested in the shop, particularly when she explained that it was her local indie, even though she had to drive for 45 minutes to get there. And so this year I asked that my Mother’s Day gift be a family road trip to Uxbridge so that I could see Blue Heron for myself, and it was just a coincidence that Uxbridge is halfway between my mom’s house and mine so that she could meet us there too and Mother’s Day could be observed in proper fashion.
We arrived to find that we’d come on the right day because Steve Burrows was there launching his birding detective book, A Siege of Bitterns, and they even had a cake! The cake was good, and I’ve been wanting to check out A Siege of Bitterns ever since I put Burrows’ Inspector Dominic Jejeune on my Canadian Sleuth list in December. So I was pleased to get a signed copy and enjoy my slice of cake while my children wreaked havoc in the store’s huge gallery/meeting space in the back.
My mom’s Mother’s Day gift to me was reading to Harriet from DC Comics Superhero I Can Read Books so that I could spend ages wondering around and perusing Blue Heron’s shelves. Their children’s book selection was huge, and I ended up buying The Goldilocks Variations by Allan Ahlberg and his daughter Jessica Ahlberg, which I’ve never heard of, but which we read tonight and had the grown-ups among us in hysterics.
Books. Books. Books! This was a monumental trip for our family as we haven’t visited a bookshop since, well, Tuesday, and there was the shop I visited alone on Wednesday, but. Moving on. The staff at Blue Heron Books knew we were coming (because of Twitter, of course) and they’d put out The M Word in anticipation, and were kind enough to have me sign some copies. We were immediately taken in by the friendliness of the shop staff, and it was clear that Blue Heron is the Uxbridge town centre, as people for stopping in to visit the whole time we were there, and also to pick up Nora Roberts novels as presents to wrap up for tomorrow. Plus, Blue Heron runs all kinds of events, as demonstrated by Steve Burrows in the house. Clearly there had been something to all the buzzing.
Though the shop itself was buzzing today for a very special reason. I already knew that so much of what Blue Heron was getting so right was thanks to genius of its owner, Shelley Macbeth (who won the 2012 CBA Libris Award for Bookseller of the Year). Shelley was badly injured in a car accident a few months back, and after months of hospitalization has returned home and made huge strides on the long and difficult road to recovery. Today she came into the store to meet us after a long time away, and it was an honour to meet such an esteemed book selling hero, but also she was lovely, and we bonded over a mutual love of Margaret Drabble. And I was only one of many many people happy to see Shelley back behind the counter at Blue Heron Books today.
I picked up a copy of Boy Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, which I’ve been looking forward to reading for a while now. And then both Stuart and I became entranced by Blue Heron’s “Blind Date” bookshelf. It is an ingenious concept, not just because of the aesthetics of brown paper (but really, that’s a huge part of the appeal). These anonymous book packages are marked by a description of their contents, and I was intrigued by the sound of, “A European Gone Girl…” I can’t think of any other case in which I’d buy a book I’d never heard of, or at least I was hoping I’d never heard of it (and I know a lot about books. There aren’t so many that I’d never heard of). This was perhaps our most exciting purchase of the day.
Finally it was time to go, and we went around the corner for dinner at Urban Pantry, as recommended by Ms. Magtree. The food was delicious, and I got to have first fiddleheads of the season! We were all entranced by the cake pops, which were new to us as we don’t spend so much time on Pinterest. The children were only moderately bonkers, and a good time was had by all.
So that is how it all stacked up, another marvellous installation of Destination Bookshop. Our Blind Date book turned out to be The Dinner by Herman Koch, which indeed I’ve never heard of and cannot wait to read. It seems that Blue Heron Books never disappoints, so everyone wasn’t wrong when they told me that.
I suspect we’ll be back again.
April 21, 2014
It was during the summer of 2001 that I started flexing the muscles that would soon come to constitute the foundation of my self, by which I mean that I started book buying in earnest, books that weren’t secondhand paperbacks on my course lists. It was a pretty fantastic time to be buying books. I wasn’t worldly enough to be aware of Toronto’s independent bookshop scene, but I lived at Bay and Charles and was pretty thrilled by this huge and marvellous Indigo shop that had opened up around the corner, and around the corner from there was Chapters, another mega-bookshop, and this was back when mega-bookshops actually sold books. You know, I have nostalgia for those days, when I thought Chapters and Indigo were wonderlands. Like the World’s Biggest Bookstore, but with comfy chairs, and no dingy lighting. Plus, that summer I was working on King Street East, and at lunch time, we’d stop in at Nicholas Hoare and Little York Books, and suddenly my paycheques weren’t going so far, but there I was with The Portable Dorothy Parker and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, and I was this close to being a grown-up person who could buy books whenever she damn well wanted to. It was delicious.
Though I think I got it on sale, Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats. A hardcover on the remainder shelf, and I bought it at the Bloor Street Chapters. (I loved that store. I still resent the clothing store that later took over the space.) It may well have been the first hardcover I’d ever bought in my life, remaindered or otherwise. It was a monumental acquisition, fun, smart and quirky. As with White Teeth, it brought me an awareness that literature was being written right now, which had never occurred to me as I was plugging away at my English BA. That there was literature beyond my course lists, Joseph Conrad, orange paperbacks, and the New Canadian Library. Ruth Ozeki was a revelation.
And so I’ve been happy to be revelling in her wonderful new novel, A Tale for the Time Being. Everybody on earth already read this book last year and it was listed for all kinds of awards, but I only just got to it now, and it’s so wonderful. So full of everything, and there was the part that reminded me of Back to the Future, and the other that reminded me of A Swiftly Tilting Planet. It was heartbreaking, strange and really beautiful. Definitely worthy of all the acclaim.
This week, I also read Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson, who I’d never read before, and that was great too. I was inspired to finally pick it up by Theresa Kishkan’s blog post, and it was partly so great to read because I was reading the Persephone edition.
March 28, 2014
This weekend is, apparently, Annex Book City’s last. I’ve not been in for awhile because it’s just not been the same, but will pop in for a last goodbye. I continue to be heartbroken, but one stumbles on. Still very much hoping for a new bookshop landing in the neighbourhood, and in the meantime, will support our other locals–Parent Books (in their new location), Little Island Comics, and Bakka Phoenix, all close by. But yes, it’s terrible. And isn’t it funny how fast one becomes accustomed to “terrible,” which is a point Jane Jacobs makes in Dark Age Ahead, which I read last week. and which, apparently, Book City did the launch for, as it was her local bookstore too, so there you go. So I am by no means living in a bookstore desert, but I have such sympathy for those people who are, though I fear that already so many have forgotten what they’re missing.
Last weekend, I was interviewed for this article by Andrea Gordon on how Book City is one of three bookstores closing in Toronto this month, along with The World’s Biggest Bookstore (which held me so in thrall as a child that I did a school project on it in grade 5. It was the most magical place I’d ever been), and The Cookbook Store, which was another favourite destination more recently, right across the road from the Toronto Reference Library. The piece is a nice look at these places which make our city special, places that are getting lost thanks to rising rents and pressure from Amazon’s discounts, not to mention longterm effects of Chapters Indigo’s predatory practices, back when they could afford such things (which has, of course, rendered Bloor West Village a bookstore desert, among many other examples).
I am too much of an optimist to wholly give over to the dark age ahead though. Something good will come of all of this, and in the meantime, I am pleased that my thoughts on loving and losing Book City are going to be included in The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell, which will be out in the UK in October. About the book: “From the oldest bookshop in the world, to the smallest you could imagine, The Bookshop Book examines the history of books, talks to authors about their favourite places, and looks at over two hundred weirdly wonderful bookshops across six continents (sadly, we’ve yet to build a bookshop down in the South Pole). The Bookshop Book is a love letter to bookshops all around the world.” I’m very excited to be a part of it.
And for more signs of life in the indie bookshop game? Oh, do check out the blog of Parnassus Books in Nashville, which is co-owned by the remarkable Ann Patchett. So so filled with bookish goodness.
January 17, 2014
I don’t want to go to Book City since the news. I feel like if I stay home, I can pretend that none of this is happening, but of course it makes no difference and my heart is broken. (And in a way this loss has been drawn out–I’ve been missing Book City’s second floor for years. Who ever would have imagined that the early to mid ’10s of our century would prove a golden age? It was full of war and dreadfulness. Would have been shocked to think we’d look back at all fondly.) Anyway, I am not doing a great job of moving on here, which is the point of this post, but let us do so.
Here is what I am going to do. I will suck it up and shop at Book City for as long as I have the privilege to do so. (I have a yearning for Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop now. Wonder if they have it in stock? I wonder if they can still order books that aren’t in stock. Hmmm.) And I am going to frequent the other great bookshops in our area–Little Island Comics has great kids books, and Parentbooks is actually moving a few blocks closer to our house, and they have a nice selection of children’s books too. Expanding my radius a bit, great books are on sale at the Bob Miller Book Room, the UofT Bookstore, and Good Egg in Kensington Market. (More about our local bookshops here.)
I am going to champion my favourite books and authors by following Carrie Snyder’s advice for how to support good books and good book culture.
I am going to start asking myself more often, “What would Jane Jacobs do?” (This was Jane Jacobs’ local bookshop as well, so the question is more relevant than it might immediately appear.)
And I am going to continue to appeal to someone—someone brave, creative, smart and with some funds—to please fill the gap which will be left by Book City’s closure. The problem I think is that anyone lately with the chutzpah to so such a thing sometimes lacks the savvy and business acumen to pull the whole thing off. There could be a connection i.e. anyone who’d open up a bookshop these days must lack necessary smarts to run a business, but this isn’t always the case. I think that book selling is a bit of an art, and not everyone can do it. You have to have experience and expertise to do it right. I think about a local indie bookshop that shut recently, and how their stock was terrible–never once did they have the books I wanted on their shelves, and when I ordered books, they messed the orders up. How they were lacking the casual friendliness and focus on customer service that Book City has taught me to take for granted.
No more. But yes, there is a hole here. So the last thing I am going to do here is have faith that something excellent is going to come along and fill it.
January 16, 2014
A few years ago, I misread a headline that Book City in Bloor West Village was closing as my local Book City closing (Bloor Street in the Annex), and was devastated for a moment. The relief I felt upon realizing my mistake was absolutely epic, but I always suspected that the moment was a glimpse of things to come. I’ve been lucky to this long stay immune to the indie bookshop closure plague, but it seems that my luck is finally up with the announcement today that Book City’s flagship location would indeed be closing, and I cried and cried and cried.
Of course, one could say, the loss of a store is not a real thing. But then it is a real thing, which is the whole point of a proper bookshop. Real things are people, like Jen who phoned me yesterday afternoon to confirm my order for the collected letters of Penelope Fitzgerald. Like John, who has worked there since 1976, and everybody else who takes my special orders, rings through my giant stacks of books, rings through my customer discount without even seeing my card because they know my name. My husband went into Book City shortly after Iris’s birth, and came home with a present from Rachel. I have tweeted that I’m coming in for a particular book, and they’ll have it behind the counter for me by the time I’m at the shop. Such excellent, knowledgable, expert customer service, and all these people are going to be out of a job. I am so sad for each and every one of them.
We used to live in Little Italy, and it wasn’t until we moved nearly six years ago that I realized what I’d been missing all my life: a bookshop just around the corner. It is the ultimate destination. I do all my Christmas shopping there, and if I’ve ever given you a book for any other occasion, that’s where it’s come from. Any time Stuart and I go out on a date, we make a late-night stop in. We took Harriet trick-or-treating there on Halloween. After Harriet was born, it was the first place I ever ventured. During Harriet’s first year when I was bored and alone, I became a regular. The shop staff (Hi, Suzanne!) were some of the brightest spots in my life. Harriet wanders around the shop like she owns it, and I feel like she has grown up there. It makes me so sad that Iris won’t have that experience. I have bought so many books because someone has been smart enough to display it at the counter knowing it was precisely what I wanted/needed. So many bookish discussions at the counter. Running into bookish friends in their natural habitats. On lazy Saturdays when we have to go somewhere, it is generally where we go. I look around my library and see that most of my books have come from there. Memorable visits, like the day Harriet bought Wonder Woman. Pre-ordering Donna Tartt and Zadie Smith, and getting my mitts on those books the day they come out. When we were on austerity measures after Stuart lost his job 3 years ago, and for Mother’s Day my gift was to buy some books and it was such a pleasure. I love that whenever I’ve wanted a poetry book from a small press, I could be reasonably assured of seeing it on the shelf. I was so looking forward to The M Word being on sale there.
It has been an honour to pay full(ish–I had my customer discount after all) price for books in exchange for having an excellent independent book shop in my neighbourhood. I wish that more people could see how much we gain for such a transaction. Books cost money because they are items of value, and I think that in our society’s hunger for deals and discounts, in that we have made everything about dollar signs, we have forgotten what value is. Anyone who has let Chapters/Indigo drive out their local indies will soon be sorry when that whole enterprise shuts down and they’re left with no place to buy books at all. And then there is Amazon, who has seen fit to forfeit profit in order to ruin everybody else, but I promise you that their prices will no longer be so reasonable once they’ve finally achieved their grand monopoly. And how about conditions in their warehouses? Also, real things: Amazon does not qualify.
And I know I have been spoiled, to take for granted that I could walk around the corner and to pick up nearly any book I desired. There are those who will say I need to get with the times, who find my elitism repugnant, who find that Costco serves their book buying needs just fine, thank you very much. But those people must not know that they’re missing. These are not the people I want designing our society. People who have never known how a bookshop really can be the heart of a neighbourhood, and what a hole is left when one disappears. All this is partly sentimental, which I think is what they call it when I despair about the loss of things that make me happy, but it is also practical–where will I buy my books now? I am fortunate to have some excellent specialty bookshops in my neighbourhood still, but no place for new adult books unless I go out of my way. And I guess what I’ve always liked about my life and where we live is that I’ve never had to go out of my way to buy a book. Book-buying has always been right there on the main thoroughfare, along with Sweet Fantasies Ice Cream. In short, life has been complete. I have been so lucky. I am not sure this is a bad thing and think it should be wider-spread, not rare. Can you imagine how much better and smarter the world could be if everybody had such a place around the corner to go?
It is shameful that the Annex will no longer contain a proper bookstore–how far this storied neighbourhood has fallen. And I implore some brave soul with capital to make a new venture, please. I promise to come and spend lots of money.
See also: Jon Paul Fiorentino on the need for fixed book pricing in Canada: “FBP may seem, to some, to be counter intuitive to the free market sensibilities we have in North America, but consider this: The book marketplace is one of the only marketplaces where vendors can return merchandise to their suppliers for a full refund whenever they want. Books are clearly not typical merchandise. They are as much cultural artifacts as they are goods for sale. In fact, books represent the source of our cultural and intellectual reality. So why should they be treated with the same notion of disposability as jeans or candy bars? FBP is good for bookstores because it levels the playing field and eliminates undercutting. It’s good for independent publishers because it allows them to control their print runs, stay in competition with larger houses, and take risks on less popular but innovative and vital authors. It’s good for authors because it secures a level of remuneration with regard to the fixed net price their royalties will be paid out at, and it’s good for consumers because it diversifies the marketplace and gives them more options.”
August 29, 2013
Destination Bookshop is a new feature here at Pickle Me This! Part book-shopping-spree, part city travel guide, we want to inspire you to visit vibrant neighbourhoods all over Toronto with excellent bookshops as a chief attraction.
This time we bring you a neighbourhood we know very well, because it’s where we live. And part of the reason we love where we live is because the bookshops are aplenty. Keep an eye out for writers too, because quite a few of them make their homes somewhere just off Bloor Street. One of them is poet Desi DiNardo who honours the neighbourhood and its literary legacy in her poem Rainbird in the Annex.
The Shops: Begin at Annex Book City (501 Bloor Street West), which is my favourite bookshop in the world. They have a great mix of new releases, backlists, a beautiful kids’ section, bargain books, lots of poetry, and a great focus on CanLit. Their staff are great, and knowledgeable, and the store is really organized. Next, move along to BMV Books (471 Bloor Street West) which sells discounted and second-hand books on three enormous floors. Go south at Spadina until you get to Ten Editions (698 Spadina Avenue at Sussex), a used-book store where you get to climb up a ladder to bookseek in a most romantic fashion. The store is a warren, sometimes frustratingly, but there is a great Can-Lit section in the back. Turn right at Harbord Street, where you will find a whole host of bookshops. Bakka Phoenix specializes in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and is located at 84 Harbord. Wonderworks is across the street at 79 Harbord and is a new-age bookshop. Caversham Booksellers is at 98 Harbord, and bills itself as “North America’s largest mental health bookstore.” And then Parentbooks is located just before Bathurst Street in a cute little worker’s cottage at 201 Harbord. They have a fantastic kids’ book section, as well as books about pregnancy, parenting, and kids with special needs. Go north on Harbord to Little Island Comics (742 Bathurst), a wonderful children’s bookstore featuring comics, graphic novels, and remarkably-illustrated picture books. (Their parent-shop The Beguiling is located around the corner, just west at 601 Markham Street.) A few doors up is A Different Booklist (746 Bathurst), “opening the door to gems of the Canadian cultural mosaic.” And then hit Seekers Books back up at 509 Bloor Street, featuring more second-hand fare and lots of great kids’ book in the big room at the back.
Where to Play: We recommend the recently refurbished Margaret Fairley Playground on Brunswick Avenue, south of Harbord at Ulster Street. Even if you haven’t kids in tow, the new park features huge armchairs carved from tree trunks that would be perfect to curl up and read in. We do not guarantee you won’t get splinters, however… There are also picnic tables if you bring a lunch (see below). Sally Bird Park on Brunswick north of Harbord is a tiny little park featuring play equipment for grown-ups. There is lots of space to roam and explore on the University Campus, just east of the neighbourhood. If it is raining, go hang out at the Spadina Road Library just north of Bloor Street at 10 Spadina Road. And do check out Gwendolyn MacEwen Park on Walmer Road just north of Bloor, which features lots of pigeons and a bust of the famous Canadian poet
Where to Eat: We are partial to picking up a picnic lunch at Harbord Bakery (115 Harbord Street) and taking it to eat at Margaret Fairley Park. Or you can have lunch at By the Way Cafe (400 Bloor Street West), which has a lovely patio from where you can watch the world go by. Great ice cream too across Brunswick at Sweet Fantasies (398 Bloor Street, open only in the summer). Pick up a coffee and a snack at Red Fish Blue Fish Creative Cafe (73 Harbord Street). And if you’re craving something sweet, have a fancy tart from Dessert Trends Bistro (154 Harbord).
How to Get There: By transit, at Bathurst or Spadina stations. If you are driving, there is a Green P parking lot south of Bloor Street at Lippincott.
August 14, 2013
Destination Bookshop is a new feature here at Pickle Me This! Part book-shopping-spree, part city travel guide, we want to inspire you to visit vibrant neighbourhoods all over the Toronto with excellent bookshops as a chief attraction.
Ella Minnow Children’s Bookstore brought us to the Beaches one day in late July. Located on Queen Street East just east of Woodbine, the shop was definitely worth the journey and situated in a neighbourhood with so many excellent things to do.
The Shop: We were warmly greeted upon entering Ella Minnow, and informed that as this was our first visit, we should probably start at the back of the shop and work forward. This was especially exciting because it was in the back that we met the resident rabbit, a white bunny called Marshmallow.
The shop is well-organized, with books for older readers at the back and picture books and those for younger readers at the front. The feel is definitively maximalist, charmingly cluttered even. I love the worn wooden floor. Books are everywhere, displayed facing out and also by spine like a library. Stock is carefully curated for quality, and not a Disney princess in sight. Bewarned that the shop does sell toys, but they’re pretty good ones, and many are bookish tie-ins. I’m always up for a bit of Mo Willems plush.
They’ve got new releases, lovely hardbacks, vintage paperbacks (a wide range of Virginia Lee Burton, I notice approvingly) and a good selection of Canadian authors/illustrators and small presses. After some debate, we settle on Read Me a Story, Stella, the new book by Marie-Louise Gay.
Ella Minnow was a pleasure to explore, and we could have played all afternoon, but there was more to do…
Where to Play: Kew Gardens is a fantastic park just east on Queen Street. The park features an excellent playground with a fun climbing structure, beautiful shady trees, lots of room to rove and explore and so much going on–it’s quite the community hub. We made our way through the park down to the beach on the shore of Lake Ontario, and bumped along the boardwalk. On good days, the beach is great for swimming, though it was more of skipping stones day when we were there.
When you get back to Queen Street, make a wee stop at the Beaches Library, a beautiful building and one of the city’s historic Carnegie Branches.
And of course, there are plenty of fun and interesting shops along Queen Street.
Where to Eat: Attracted by a sign promising free ice cream with lunch sets, we had lunch at Thai House Cuisine (2213 Queen Street East), and it was delicious. Snack-wise, Ella Minnow is well-situated with a Dufflet Cafe next door and even a door between them–great for a cake and a coffee or tea. And don’t miss milk and cookies at Moo Milk Bar.
How to Get There: You can get to The Beaches by transit, on the Queen Streetcar (a [slow] adventure in itself) or by taking a bus south from eastern stations on the Danforth line. We elected to drive, however, as these days we travel with a baby and a ton of stuff. The trick of driving, however, is parking, which is hard to come by in the ‘hood, and also that the narrow, congested streets are busy and traffic is slow. This is one of those rare “it’s the destination, not the journey…” situations.
So what else are we missing? What other great things lie within the vicinity of Ella Minnow? Let us know in the comments in order to make Destination Bookshop all the more comprehensive.
August 13, 2013
During the last weeks of my pregnancy and in the six weeks after Iris’s birth, I wasn’t able to pick up Harriet, and when I was finally permitted to pluck her up again, there was no plucking about it–she’d become enormous. Part of this is actually true–I think a growth spurt took place somewhere around her fourth birthday. And the rest of it is that I spend my time carrying about someone who weighs just ten lbs, and so Harriet at four times the size really is quite large. Once in a while I become struck by her massive nostrils and monstrous thighs, a logical consequence of spending much of my time staring at parts that are baby-sized.
We have been lucky this summer that we’ve had as many parents as kids around all day so that Harriet has not had to suffer too much of a dearth of attention. Though her need for attention has certainly ramped up since her sister arrived, but I am getting the sense that things are settling down and in a few weeks, our whole lives are going to be constructed around Harriet’s school day as much as the presence Iris anyway.
But I have missed Harriet. This I wasn’t conscious of until our week at the cottage when Harriet was often at loose ends, and we ended up spending more time together than we had since the baby came. “Oh, this!” I thought as we worked on her sticker book, when we played “Motor Boat” in the water, had a rainy day picnic on our cottage floor. While I would never say that Harriet and I have a special bond that does not include her father, it is true that we spent most of her entire life together from 9-5, Monday to Friday. And it was very nice to spend that time together again. Nice for her, sure, but nice for me too. It had been awhile.
Yesterday, Iris was asleep in Stuart’s arms and I was suddenly compelled to visit the bookstore. “Come with me!” I asked, and she agreed once I’d promised to buy her a book to make the journey worthwhile. And so off we went, her hand in mine (which remains the greatest privilege of my life), her new purple boots on. We tramped up Brunswick to Bloor, and along the street to Book City, whose staff are some of the loveliest people around. Harriet walks around the store as if she owns it, marching right up to the carousel of paperback books she continually lusts after. The carousel of paperback books I usually never buy, because they’re not real books, I tell her. Not like the picture books proper on the shelf. Commercial tie-ins, I tell her. These books are only toys.
But while Harriet appreciates a good hardback as much as anybody, she is just as devoted to toys, so this argument doesn’t sway her. We buy books from the carousel from time to time, rooting past the Doras (which, thankfully, Harriet has never shown any interest in) and Thomas’s in search of something really good. But this time her attention was caught by a Superman I Can Read book–she is currently very much into Superheros, thanks to The Incredibles and her Daddy’s collection of Spiderman t-shirts. We looked through the Superhero books and I was ecstatic to find Wonder Woman. Harriet leafed through the book and was excited to see an illustration of her carrying a shield. “A shield!” she said. “They have those in How to Train Your Dragon.” There was even a dragon in it, plus the book was $5.
Wonder Woman is iconic in a way that Dora the Explorer will never quite manage to be, plus hers is the ultimate princess story: a princess who didn’t want to be a princess but chose to fight for justice instead. My distaste for commercial tie-ins is fickle. I was happy to buy Harriet that book, and picked up the book I had arrived for: How to Get Along with Women by Elisabeth De Mariaffi. I am also happy because Harriet is now obsessed with Wonder Woman–at 2:30am, Stuart went downstairs to her room and had to ask her to stop “reading” her new books, and go to sleep, please– which means that this morning’s outing will be to our local comic book store in search of a Wonder Woman comic. Two bookstore visits in two days! Harriet has also asked if she could please be Wonder Woman for Halloween, which is the best thing ever. And even better: Harriet asking if might it be more convenient if Wonder Woman fought the forces of evil whilst wearing pants. “Why does she have to wear her underwear?” she wonders, which is a very good question.
But the point of all this is not even books or bookstores, or Wonder Woman. It’s about the joy of walking down the street with my big girl, just the two of us. With all the changes in our lives, what stays constant is that she is excellent company.