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April 15, 2015

Vacation Book Three: I’m the King of the Castle by Susan Hill

i'm kingI 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

Vacation Book Two: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

thebookshopThis 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…

April 6, 2015

Departures and Arrivals

IMG_20150405_072206We leave for our trip this week, and I keep waiting for that lull between our departure and the time in which nobody in our family is sick, but the window for such a thing is disappearing, and I am so very tired. And sick, again. There was about five minutes on Friday when I wasn’t, and then cold symptoms returned on Saturday morning shortly after my child threw up in a shoe store, which was a brand new milestone for all of us. But nevertheless, Easter was had, a holiday we celebrate for its pagan roots and not the Jesus bits. We’re all about the eggs, and the new life that comes with spring—I met a baby today who turns two weeks old tomorrow, and she was a miracle unfolding. We had a lovely visit with my parents, and saw friends on other days, and Harriet and Iris got the new Annie movie on DVD, and Harriet has watched it five times already. There are crocuses across the street. We are assembling our playlist, a CD of driving tunes for the journey from Berkshire to Lancashire (which I’m the smallest bit nervous about, Iris having just now decided that she hates cars. “Car, no. Car, no.”)

mad-men-best-of-everythingTonight we’re watching the new Mad Men, which premiered last night, but we watch it on download from iTunes so are behind the people who watch it on TV. I don’t know what I’m going to do in a world without Mad Men, a show that has been such a huge part of my life for years now and which has seriously informed my reading life too. It’s a good time to re-share The Canadian Mad Men Reading List, which I made last year, and am seriously proud of. Oh, Stacey MacAindra. Maybe I’ll finally get around to finishing The Collected Stories of John Cheever. I still haven’t read “The Swimmer.” I’ve been saving it, I think, of the post-Mad Men world. In which I am probably going to go right back to Season One.

Today I found a poem about motherhood, bpNichol Lane, Coach House Books and Huron Playschool, written by Chantel Lavoie for the Brick Books Celebrating Canadian Poetry Project. I find myself struck by the poem and the various ways it connects with my life, and how literature and motherhood and the fabric of the city are all so enmeshed. Particularly in this neighbourhood.

And finally, I am in a peculiar situation book-wise. I don’t know what books to take with me on vacation. Now, on a certain level, bringing any books on vacation is simply stupid because all I ever do when we go to England is buy books. And when I look at my to-be-read shelf now, no contenders jump out on me—nothing good for an airplane, nothing I am truly destined to love, no book with which I’d be thrilled to be holed up with in an airport terminal. You can’t take chances in a situation like this! So I have decided…to bring no books with me. This is truly the wildest and craziest thing I’ve ever done. This year, at least… To pick up a book at the airport, and trust I’ll find the right one there, and then live book to book. No safety net. This is terrifying. And yet potentially exhilarating, rich with adventure. The book nerd’s equivalent of jumping out of the sky.

November 19, 2014

Happy to Be Affiliated

mcnally-robinsonWe’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

The M Word at Parent Books

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.

The Book Table

The Book Table



Ransacked book table at the end of the night. The BEST!

Ransacked book table at the end of the night. The BEST!


May 10, 2014

Destination Bookshop: Blue Heron Books

IMG_20140510_160612Destination 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.

IMG_20140510_145226We 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.

IMG_20140510_151456My 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.

IMG_20140510_152547Books. 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.

IMG_20140510_155802Though 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.

IMG_20140510_164933I 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.

IMG_20140510_172352Finally 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.

IMG_20140510_165047So 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

A Tale for the Time Being

a-tale-for-the-time-beingIt 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

Saying Goodbye to Bookstores

dark-age-aheadThis 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).

the-bookshop-bookI 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

The Morning After: What Do We Do Now?


Harriet trick-or-treating at Book City on Halloween

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

The Saddest News

annex200A 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.”

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