April 12, 2016
I still remember what it felt like to take for granted the bookstore that was located within a five minute walk from my house. To have it suddenly occur to me mid-morning that I was yearning for a copy of, say, The Mystery of the Shopping Cart, by Anita Lahey, and then to just venture out and get it. To ask the clerk at the counter if they had a copy—because it’s a collection of essays, poetry, and criticism, and I couldn’t imagine where such a book could be found in the shop, and because it’s a small press title, the slim kind that can get lost easily amongst bigger books—to be told that they had two. And then there it was: the book I wanted in my hands. Could there be a more efficient system?
I was spoiled. I was. Because even now, two years after Book City closed their Annex location and left Bloor Street bookless, I am feeling the loss, even with the excellent bookstores still in our midst: I frequent Bakka Phoenix Books and Parentbooks on Harbord Street, and Little Island Comics on Bathurst is a kidlit oasis, and while I am so glad that these speciality stores have found their niche and continue to survive, I miss the generalness of Book City.
I miss a bookstore that specialized in everything: new releases, award-winners, mid-list titles, thrillers, memoirs, CanLit, non-fiction, and small press gems. I miss the discovering of walking around Book City’s shelves and tables: I still remember the excitement of discovering a new Margaret Drabble release I hadn’t heard of; and I remember going in to pick up Zadie Smith’s NW on its release date in 2012; or the day I bought The Goldfinch. I remember years ago when I didn’t have money to buy books as prolifically as I now do, and what it meant to hold these books, to want them and wait for them. I remember when my husband was unemployed and I didn’t buy new books for ages, and then he got a new job, and Book City purchases were the first ones I made and it felt so good—so you see, I wasn’t always taking it for granted. I always knew how lucky I was. Maybe what I mean by taking it for granted instead is that it was just so imaginable that it could possibly end.
If there is a bright side to the closure of my local, however, it’s that it’s inspired me to take up Bookshops as destination travel. With a store like Book City no longer at arm’s reach, it’s up to me to seek them out, and so we do: a trip to the East or West end now inevitably brings a stop at the Book City locations in those areas; we make day trips to places like Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge (which was definitely worth the journey, and we’re going to do it again this summer); and a year ago we spent two weeks in England visiting one amazing bookshop after another. Because there is no better way to travel.
And now I’m exciting to be making another bookshop my destination, although I’m not the only one. On April 30, I’ll be taking part in the second annual Authors for Indies Day and pushing titles at Book City on the Danforth (348 Danforth Avenue) between 4 and 5pm. I did this last year and it was ridiculous fun, to meet other readers and connect them with books they’re totally going to love, and just to be in a bookshop (which really is my natural environment). So I hope you’ll come and browse with me, and we can talk books, and love books, and buy them too, supporting these shops that mean so much to our communities and without whom our streetscapes would be so much bleaker.
See you there?
May 3, 2015
Was Authors for Indies Day just an elaborate ruse to make all my dreams come true? Because if it was, it worked. After a very fun morning of Jane’s Walking through our neighbourhood, I took to the subway over the East Side to Book City on the Danforth. I met up with friendly authors including Alissa York and Jessica Westhead, and we took to selling books. My best pitch was for Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, which I’d read gleefully, staying up all night the night after Iris was born. I’d read it again recently, I’d assured customers, and still loved it just as much, so it wasn’t simply the effect of drugs. It turns out I have a talent for enthusing about books in public though—I sold copies of Ellen in Pieces, On Immunity and The Bookshop Book (though all I had to do was show them the pictures…). And I also sold Jessica Westhead’s And Also Sharks, Arguments With the Lake by Tanis Rideout, Mating for Life by Marisa Stapley, and Fauna by Alissa York. Plus, Everywhere Babies and Swimming. Swimming, for the picture book crowd. It was ridiculously fun and there was baked goods.
And then my family arrived, and my shift was up. And naturally I had to buy books of my own, and then we went out for Greek Food, and then gelato, and I really don’t know how you can’t say that Authors for Indies wasn’t the success to end all successes.
So many thanks to everyone who came and went shopping!
May 1, 2015
See you tomorrow at Book City on the Danforth between 2-4. I will be pushing these fine books, which will make many readers very happy.
April 28, 2015
And so, with The Bookshop Book in hand, I set out to plan our trip to England. Inspired partly by specific bookshops mentioned in the book, but more so by the notion of an indie bookshop pilgrimage. Not everywhere we went was included in The Bookshop Book, because, while you might hear otherwise, there are still, mercifully, far too many excellent bookshops in England—in the world, even—to all be included in one single book, and we surely missed many a key bookshop in our journey because, believe it or not, we had not arrived in England for just the purpose of visiting bookshops. Oh, no! Because we were there to eat cake too, and merry were the days in which we could combine these occupations.
Silverdell Books in Kirkham, Lancs: We discovered this shop from its mention in The Bookshop Book, and it was just a few miles away from where our family lives. Most remarkable of all: it’s a bookshop/ice cream parlour, featuring award-winning homemade ice cream they make it the back (and you can watch through the viewing window). They also serve tea and cakes, and so I partook in a cream tea in a bookshop the day we visited, and all my dreams came true. The ice cream was delicious, and the children were most enthusiastic about this stop-off. There wasn’t a huge selection of books, actually—ice cream is more the draw, I think. But they had a respectable stock of second-hand copies, some new ones, and many of these signed from their regular author events. The kids book section was also excellent, I picked up The Jolly Rogers and the Ghostly Galleon for Harriet, which we read in a day. A good selection of local interest books too. I love that Kirkham has a literary hub. And the scones were perfectly delicious.
The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley, Yorkshire: This was my second visit to The Grove Bookshop, which I’d like to declare The Most Perfect Bookshop in all of England. After a few days of chain bookstores’ disappointing stock, it was a pleasure to walk into a shop that had all the best books. Plus there was bunting in the window, and the shop is just so beautiful with dark wood and careful lighting. I was able to get a couple of books from the Bailey’s Prize shortlist (prominently displayed), plus some picture books for our children, who we’d left with their grandparents for the day. Browsing, our stack just kept getting higher, and then the pleasure of chatting with staff at the till when it came time to pay for it. Keep in mind that we’d just come from afternoon tea at Betty’s, just down the street, so all in all, the day we went to Ilkley was pretty much perfect.
The Book Barge, Barton Under Needwood, Staffordshire: Finally visiting The Book Barge (which I’d learned about from The Bookshop Book) was surreal in the absolute wonderfulness of the experience—when can a single thing ever be so good? I know I wrote about it already, but I’m going to do it again. It was a brilliant, sunny day at Barton Marina, and the sun shone through the Book Barge windows, illuminating the beautiful space, the gorgeous books, and my children chased the resident rabbit (but of course!) under the sofa while I browsed, and we had tea. The cups were hanging on hooks in a row.
The books were lovingly and carefully curated, collection in odd ways that made perfect sense. Lots of titles were on sale for a pound (and some of these were really good), and the more coveted titles lined the barge’s shelves. It was a pleasure to meet proprietor Sarah Henshaw, who now lives on the barge (which is open Saturdays from 10-4) and who is author of a splendid memoir about book barging—The Bookshop that Floated Away. And having read the book, actually being there was like a story come to life, and so delightful. I bought a huge stack of books, which I enjoyed rifling through as we had lunch at the The Apple Tree Cafe beside where the barge was moored, and the bargeman’s lunch was enormous, weird, and perfectly delicious.
Plackitt and Booth Booksellers, Lytham St-Anne’s, Lancs: I can tell I’m in a really good bookshop by the calibre of conversation I get at the till, and Plackitt and Booth in Lytham St-Anne’s did not disappoint. It was not her shop, the woman working there told me, but she loved it, and she might have been wary when they’d decided to start selling toys as well as books, she’s so happy with how the whole thing worked out. The toys (a wonderfully curated selection) bring people into the shop, she told me, and these same people usually come out buying books. And then we started talking about books, and The Bookshop Book, and she recommended other shops I ought to try on my next trip, and we delightedness in bookishness in general. Certainly, I had found my people.
And my children were just as happy as she was about how the whole half bookshop/half toyshop scheme had turned out. The best bookshop since the ice cream one, they reported, as they played with the toys in the back of the shop (and came out with two girl pirate figurines to their credit). And while they played, I browsed, so impressed by the selection, and pleased to see so many Canadian authors on the shelf. The store was bustling too, which is such a nice thing. I really loved it.
We followed our visit with lunch at The Lytham Kitchen down the street, which was so good. I also heard reports of nearby Storytellers, Inc., which specializes in books for children. We will definitely check it out on our next visit!
The London Review Bookshop, London: I love the LRB Shop! After a week of looking for Samantha Harvey’s Dear Thief all over England, I finally found a copy here. And so many other wonderful books to choose from. Lots of important nonfiction, and books in translation, and best of all? My husband and children were in the adjoining cake shop enjoying themselves while I browsed. Has anything ever been more perfect?
Downstairs, the shelves stretched high, and Harriet and Iris sought out the books that were just for them (which were placed amongst the books for grown-up readers in a way that accorded the children great dignity, I thought). We weren’t actually planning to buy the children books, but we never are, and then we couldn’t help ourselves. Harriet got the fabulous and fun book/game, What’s Inside?, and we also got My Pet Book by Bob Staake, who illustrated Cars Galore, a book we all love. The London Review Bookshop was the perfect way to start our bookish London Day, and I didn’t mind having to to cart around my new LRB book bag (heavy already) for its entirety.
And then finally, Persephone Books, London: Everyone who knows Persephone Books responded to our plans with visit there with a gasp and a frisson of excitement. Persephone is a press with a shop devoted to selling their own books, gorgeous reissues of 20th century books by women (and not just women anymore). All the books are uniform blue, distinguished inside by stunning endpapers whose prints are specially selected (and which also appear of a variety of textiles for same throughout the store—and what I wouldn’t do for a Persephone throw cushion, but alas).
I visited the shop with Iris asleep in her carrier, and didn’t have so long to browse (and browsing is tricky anyway—the book all look the same) so I’d already decided I was going to buy a book by Dorothy Whipple, whose appeal was her Lancashire roots and Harriet Evans’ preface to Because of the Lockwoods: “the case does need to be made for Dorothy Whipple’s entry into the pantheon of great British novelists of the twentieth century. Not just because she can so deftly spin a cocoon of a story around you, swiftly rendering you transfixed (the art of which is severely, crucially underestimated by reviewers and readers alike) but because she wrote books quite unlike any others, for all their seeming “ordinariness”. One might say the time is long overdue for a Barbara Pym type rehabilitation. I am as ambitious [for this to happen] to Dorothy Whipple. Her scope is larger, her own ambition grander, the results hugely satisfying, often thrilling.”
I can’t wait.
April 25, 2015
We’ve just spent two weeks in England, mostly eating cake and touring indie bookshops, with more than a few of our stops inspired by Jen Campbell’s The Bookshop Book. Our trip was splendid and a brilliant demonstration that great bookshops are remarkable destinations, magical spaces, possibly the spirit of any place. One of my favourite moments was when I was standing outside The Book Barge clutching an armful of books (because I like to hold them—a bag may be handy, but it’s just not the same) and a woman came up to me. “Sorry to be cheeky,” she said, “but is there a place to buy books around here?” I did my best to gesture, even with my burden. “Only an entire boat,” I said, and then she skipped away to her husband with glee—she’d found her destination and she hadn’t even been looking for it. It’s the very best kind of encounter. Independent bookshops are the rooms that make the world worth living in. They also have the best selection, shelves better curated than any chain bookshop, hands down.
And I am happy that even though we’re home again, I can continue to fly the indie bookshop banner with Authors for Indies Day on May 2. It’s a day I was always going to be a part of—do I ever need an excuse to visit a bookshop? But I am thrilled and honoured that Book City on the Danforth has asked me to be one of their visiting authors. I will be there from 2-4 ready to convince patrons to buy some of my favourite, can’t miss books—I’ve selected Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Ellen in Pieces, On Immunity, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and My Real Children. Perhaps I could even sell you a copy of The Bookshop Book?
Other authors at Book City Danforth for Authors of Indies include Guy Gavriel Kay, Jessica Westhead, Elyse Friedman, Sarah Sheard, Tanis Rideout, Kate Hilton, Lilly Barnes, Ronna Bloom, Gail Benick, Alissa York, Michael Januska, Dave Bidini, Jill Jorgenson, and Evan Munday. And if the time and place don’t work for you, do check out the huge list of other stores (and authors!) participating across the country. There is sure to be something in your neighbourhood!
But I do hope to see you at Book City on the Danforth. Authors for Indies Day will be a great opportunity to celebrate your neighbourhood indie bookstore, to possibly rediscover what makes these spaces so special, to let your child (if you have one) wander around delighting in bookish wonders, and to do some delighting yourself. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
*A previous version of this post noted two weeks until Authors for Indies Day. This is because it was written by a blogger with jet lag. May 2 is, in fact, coming up quick!
April 23, 2015
A quick post on my phone before we depart tomorrow. We’ve had an excellent last few days with lots of sunshine and fun. Our trip to London included The London Review Bookshop and their cake shop, and I finally found Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey, plus gorgeous picture books. We visited the British Museum with my friend Rebecca, and played in Coram’s Field. Iris napped in the carrier as we went to the Persephone Bookshop, and I got the Dorothy Whipple novel I’d chosen because she’s a Lancashire author… not realizing that all her books were doorstoppers. It was a very good day and the children were heroic. We took things easier today with a day in Windsor that was made brilliant with a visit with Sarah from Edge of Evening. I am so fond of and inspired by her blog, and it was a pleasure to meet her in person. We had a terrific lunch at a pub called Bel and the Dragon where the table top was a chalkboard, and watched the guards march at Windsor Castle. Her son was adorable and we had a wonderful time, and if that wasn’t enough–she gave us books! Tiny editions of a Katie Morag and Owl and the Pussycat for Harriet and Iris, plus a London book, and the Elena Ferrante for me. Remarkable because I’ve nearly bought this book so many times, and now it’s mine, and I’m about to read it now. It was meant to be. And if I get a chapter read on the flight tomorrow, we will consider the journey a success.
April 18, 2015
Today was absolutely a magical day. I’ve been hoping to visit The Book Barge ever since I read Sarah Henshaw’s memoir, The Bookshop That Floated Away, in December. For the time being, she’s currently moored at the marina in the village of Barton Under Needwood in Staffordshire, open Saturdays from 10-4, and so we left early this morning with our hopes as high and bright as the sun was. We arrived to find the marina bustling and beautiful, the canal boats gorgeous to behold and putting me in mind of what they said in the Wind in the Willows about messing about in boats.
The Book Barge was wonderful. Can I convey that? That a single thing really could be worth a trip halfway around the world and down the motorway. The boat was crowded, and there is nothing quite so fine to my mind as a crowded bookshop. Cheap books were for sale in cabinets on the roof, enticing customers, and then we climbed down below where Sarah had tea and cake (Victoria sponge!) ready for us, china cups on hooks on the wall. She was lovely, and it was a pleasure to meet her, as well as her partner, Stu, whom I knew as a character in her book, which was doubly exciting. Harriet and Iris played with old typewriters and petted the shop bunny, who was driven underneath the sofa to escape baby paws. The feeling of the boat moving on the water was magical, and walking about on solid ground was a little boring after that.
And the books! It was an exquisitely curated bookshop, a pleasure to browse. (I will have better pictures once I get them off my camera—these are just the ones I took on my phone.) I picked up The Language of Flowers simply because it was beautiful, and opened to the section on the Anenome, which features the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Come Harriet! Sweet is the Hour,” and then I knew I had to by it, because it would features irises after all, and rare is the flower book that features both my daughters. I also picked up Simple Pleasures: Little Things that Make Life Worth Living, because I appreciate such things. And Pies: Recipes, History and Snippets, because who has been eating all the pies this week? We have. A copy of Sarah’s book for my mom, who is going on her own canal boat adventure later this year. Magpie Treasure by Kate Slater, a gorgeous picture book we all like very much. And I got Look at Me by Jennifer Egan, because I fancied it.
And good news! A copy of my own book, The M Word, is now for sale in a certain English bookshop.
And then we went to a nearby cafe, and partook in a bargeman’s lunch.
And if all that was not enough, our adventures were only just beginning. (Happily, Stuart’s intrepid sister, Jenny, was along for the journey.) When we left Barton Marina, we drove northeast into the Peak District, through the breathtaking A6 road in Derbyshire to Chatsworth House, which is a place that’s dear to me. I visited in 2003 at the height of my Mitford mania whilst suffering from a throat infection and was so sick I ended up lying in the grass among the sheep poo, and this didn’t dint my appreciation of the place one bit. I tried to go back again before we moved away from England, but the busses were on strike, and so it’s been 12 years since my last visit and I’ve been longing for it, though it was a bit sad since Debo has died, but alas, she led a good life, and we shelled out a small fortune for the privilege of exploring her gardens for a while and it was worth every penny. Plus there were small carts selling tea and ice cream. At one point, we turned a corner and Iris looked up and said a new word, which was “Beauty.” It was the most stunning landscape, and the children were tired and whiny, but that’s required when your parents have forced you to visit a stately home. They did have fun running around on the green green grass though, and I felt the sun on my face for the first time in months and it was glorious.
We drove home through the Peaks, which was terrifying and incredible, and I am well versed enough in English driving now that a windy cliff’s edge at 50 mph doesn’t faze me. The world was green and huge, and each turn brought a visit more stunning than the next, and we ate scones from the Chatsworth Farm Shop for dinner, which were delicious. The sun sunk lower and lower, a bright glowing ball, and didn’t quite disappear over the edge of the horizon until we were nearly home again, swoony and tired with feet still unsteady, a bit drunk on a wonderful, unforgettable day.
April 16, 2015
Today was glorious! We left the children behind and took a trip to Yorkshire, to the wonderful town of Ilkley, which we visited when we were here four years ago. The appeal then was that I was reading Burley Cross Postbox Theft and Ilkley was fairly close to the fictional Burley Cross, plus I’d been reading about Betty’s Tea Rooms in Started Early Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson, and I wanted to visit one. Today we wanted to do it all again, and also pay a visit to the excellent Grove Bookshop, and what a joy to finally visit an independent bookshop. The Waterstones in Lancaster is beautiful, but they’ve failed to have the books I’m looking for in stock. (This tweet should also set you as to what’s wrong with Waterstones, and why you should support your local independent bookstore ALWAYS**). The Grove Bookshop, on the other hand, had everything I wanted in stock, and more—a lovely display for the Baileys Shortlisted books. I got Outline by Rachel Cusk, How to Be Both by Ali Smith, and The Secret Library by Haruki Murakami because the design was amazing—it has an actual library pocket on the cover!
We spent lots of time browsing at the bookshop, appreciating their excellent displays, fantastic selection, chatting with the staff, and admiring the bunting in the window. We were also delightfully full after afternoon tea at Betty’s, which was a terrific treat. I am definitely enjoying combining my scone and book-buying experience on this trip. And then we walked around Ilkley, which was so green and gorgeous, cherry blossoms in bloom. We bought a pheasant pasty from Britain’s Best Butcher, and had another cup of tea at The Toast House across the street, which I loved because they had a copy of one of the most delightful Canadian picture books ever in their kids’ reading nook, and also because they used bundt pans as decoration. We decided that next time we come, we’re definitely going to go up on Ilkley Moor, and if the children don’t whine (much), we’ll reward them with afternoon tea for afters.
The last time we drove to Ilkley, the car in front of us exploded on the motorway off-ramp, but nothing so eventful happened this time. We drove home down winding roads, and were so pleased to come home to happy daughters and a not entirely exhausted Nana who was triumphant in having put Iris down for her nap (all of whom were made all the more happy by the fact that we bought treats back from Betty’s). And now I am going to have a bath in the most luxurious tub in the Northwest and read some Barbara Comyns whose Our Spoons Came From Woolworths I loved so very much.
Tomorrow we have no plans to visit a bookshop, but we are going to a cheese shop, which should be just as good.
**Speaking of Independent Bookshops, I’m happy to be taking part in Authors for Indies Day on May 2 at Book City on the Danforth. Between 2-4, I’ll be guest bookselling, talking up my favourite titles. I hope you will come and visit! And if it sounds good but not local, I am sure you can find a similar event going on in your neighbourhood. It’s going to be great.
April 15, 2015
I love the cover to Susan Hill’s I’m the King of the Castle, designed by Zandra Rhodes as part of Penguin’s Decades series. I’m halfway through it now, although my book a day record is about to be stymied by us actually doing things other than spending the afternoons reading. (I know!!!) Today we went to Lancaster where my sister-in-law lives in an adorable terrace with a park across the street. “This house only has two rooms,” Harriet whispered when we went inside, and then Iris literally somersaulted down the steep staircase and now half her head is purple. It was terrifying for everybody involved. Lancaster is wonderful because they have an amazing Waterstones, an Oxfam bookshop, a castle, and a market with stalls and stalls of meat pies on sale. Unfortunately, all the books on my list don’t seem to be in stock anywhere—”They’ll be out in paperback in September,” I keep being told, which isn’t very helpful. I want Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey and Rachel Cusk’s new novel Outlines, or anything from the Bailey’s Prize shortlist except the novel from the perspective of a bee. But I did get The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns (who wrote Our Spoons Came from Woolworths) and I have high hopes for stock at The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley tomorrow and the London Review Bookshop next week. I shall not go bookless, rest assured.
April 14, 2015
This morning we went to Kirkham, which is about 30 mins from here, to Silverdell Books, which is more than just a bookshop—it’s an ice cream parlour too! With teas and cakes, and even chocolate. Perhaps Florence Green in Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel should have pursued the confectionery end of things and she might have been more successful. I learned about Silverdell Books from The Bookshop Book, and we were pleased that it lived up to our expectations. I got a copy of Susan Hill’s novel I’m the King of the Castle, as well as a book for Harriet. Kirkham was a pretty town and the sun even came out for a little while. Yesterday we ate ice cream on the beach whilst shivering in the sea air, and made a trip to the local library for books for Harriet and Iris to read while we’re here, and they had some good ones, plus the bookshelves were a train, so that was super exciting. And now Iris is having her nap, so I’m going to seize the chance and go away to read…