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Pickle Me This

July 13, 2017

Nova Scotia Dreams

We went to Nova Scotia for the same reason we go anywhere, which is to say that it was bookstore-related. And also that I have a very indulgent family, it is true, who are willing to come along on these bookshop adventures, even if they’re not quite as crazy about bookshops as I am (and to be half as crazy about bookshops as I am is a lot of crazy to ask of anybody).

But the thing about bookshops is that are frequently located in interesting places, which makes bookshop adventures about more than just the bookshop. They are also about snacks, and lunch, dinner, croissants, good coffee, playgrounds, picnics, toy stores, and more snacks. In this case, they were also about the ocean, playing on gorgeous beaches, seeing big ships in Halifax Harbour, getting so close to PEI that the road turned red, seeing a bear and a deer by the side of the road on the very same day, collecting seaglass, getting sunburned, and eating lobster and all the seafood chowder, and getting a write-up in the Tatamagouche Light.

We went to Nova Scotia because Sheree Fitch had opened a bookshop there, Mabel Murple’s Bookshoppe and Dreamery, in River John, and also because the rest of my family is made up of new Canadians (i.e. nobody has been a Canadian for more than a handful of years) and we wanted to explore a new part of the country. And so as the rest of the country was celebrating 150 years of settler-colonialism, we were up in the sky above it all, which seemed a lot better than the alternative. We also got to see the giant duck from the air.

Mabel Murple’s was built in an old granary, and it was full of colour and books and magic. The books were terrific, the vibe incredible, and the way the sun poured in through those windows. The carpentry was the handiwork of Fitch’s amazing husband, Gilles Plante, and I suspect it was Sheree who supplied the dreams and whimsy…and the colour. The place was enchanting, and while my children have seen a lot of bookshops in their time, even they were impressed. Outside the shop in the sand, someone had scattered tiny purple sparkles, and Harriet and Iris were busy trying to capture some. Opening Day was also the Wordplay festival, so we sat down on our picnic blanket and took in music and readings, plus there were sheep, and a goat, horses and a donkey, a shed that had been painted purple and transformed into Mabel Murple’s house and we were all quite delighted as we peered inside.

And then we got to meet Sheree, who we met for the first time when Iris was an infant and Harriet was four (remember that?). Sheree, who has the most remarkable ability to make a person feel like the most special person in the world. And there were hundreds of there who came to see her, and I think we all came away feeling exactly that way. 

And then we drove up the road from Mabel Murple’s to Cape John, because we hadn’t properly seen the sea yet. Later we’d discover that it’s one of the best beaches in Nova Scotia for finding sea glass. We found some lovely pieces, but mostly just revelled in the goodness of putting our feet in the ocean, feeling the sand and stones beneath them. The sparkles on the wave, those clouds, and that sky. It was one of those holiday moments where we’re all thinking, “This is everything everything everything.”

We were fortunate to get the use of friends’ beautiful home in the North End of Halifax for our home base during our visit, and we explored the city with such pleasure. Fantastic meals, fun by the harbour, the Africville Museum, the Discovery Centre, the Farmers’ Market, the Central Library, Woozles and The Bookmark, and so much more. 

We spent a wonderful afternoon at Crystal Crescent Beach, with white sand and blue water that could almost trick you into believing that you were in the tropics—except the water was cold

We loved the Public Gardens, which reminded us all vividly of the book Mary Poppins in the Park, which we read not so long ago, because there was a park keeper and bylaws and everything. It was pretty magic and we got ice cream, and were given a tour by Rohan Maitzen, who I’ve been a fan of online for awhile now and it was very nice to meet properly in real life. 

Tragedy struck on our final morning in Halifax—we ran out of cereal (oh no!) and therefore had to have our breakfast at Two If By Sea in Dartmouth, whose croissants we’d tried early in the week and they were so extraordinary that we had to make a return trip. Sour cherry cheese, guys. It was seriously the most delicious thing ever. 

Someone threw up on the way to Peggy’s Cove, as you do. 

And then we were in Lunenberg! UNESCO World Heritage Site, BABIES! 

There was lobster dinner to die for, and then we spent the next morning with Hirtles Beach to ourselves (the puke bucket subs in nicely for a sand pail, FYI) which was so magnificent (even with grey skies and shrouded in fog) that we felt like we were in a story. 

And speaking of stories, we got to visit Lexicon Books, where I’d be doing a reading that evening. I’d seen photos of the store on social media, but they did not even come close to how great the space was in real life, and how good the books were. 

So there was more, squids in the street, and our excellent B&B, and incredible things to discover ’round every corner in Lunenburg.

The reading that night was terrific, and I was pleased to be there with Johanna Skibsrud and Rebecca Silver Slayter—and I had a good time reading Rebecca’s novel In the Land of the Birdfishes for the rest of the weekend. 

We stopped in Mahone Bay on our way to the airport, to get sandwiches and oatcakes for the plane, and for one last bowl of chowder, not to mention a quick look for sea glass in search of some elusive lavender glass. Which was not meant to be. Next trip, I guess? I hope so.

Quick! Somebody open up another bookshop….

June 28, 2017

Destination Bookshop: Creemore

After spending part of Authors for Indies Day at Curiosity House Books in Creemore, ON, I knew I wanted to return there, and a quick visit to the nearby Cardboard Castles Toy Store that day clinched the town as a family road trip destination. A bookstore and a toy store? Everybody was going to be happy. And so for Saturday, which was my birthday, my family gave me the greatest gift of all, which was a day trip to the wilds of small town Ontario, where the beer and books were abundant and the sun shone all day long.

When we arrived in Creemore, we got a take-out lunch at the bakery and walked down to the park by the river to eat under a shady tree. We’d brought our picnic blanket and some frisbee toys, and partook in the pleasures of the great outdoors which was nice right after our car journey.

After lunch, we checked out Creemore’s main street and checked out the cool gift shops, art galleries, and the delicious food available at the 100 Mile Store, where we got chocolate and ice tea, and marvelled the local fishing flies and other wondrous things. And then next door was the bookshop, which was the reason for everything (but don’t tell anyone). Iris walked in and found a rocking horse, started riding it and exclaimed, “I’m having a very good time here.” Harriet went and asked the clerk if they had the new Fitzgerald-Trout book, and they did. Mitzi Bytes was on the shelf. The books I wanted to buy were in stock.

And then finally to the toy store, which is such a good toy store, and my kids found all kinds of cool stuff (and they have a discount clearance shelf that is honestly to die for). Next stop was the Clearview Tea Company, just around the corner, where we each got a cuppa, and I bought some Creemore Market Blend to take him and have been enjoying it ever since. (I also liked that she was was selling bouquets of fresh flowers, because the woman who own the flower shop next door had gone home to put her baby down for a nap.)

There is a small public garden across the road from the bookshop and we headed over there next to see what the growing and indulge in more grassy shade. (“Isn’t hanging out under a tree on the grass the most wonderful thing?” I asked Harriet. “Too bad it’s so expensive.”) The park features a sculpture of small children playing dress-up—too big shoes and capes—dancing in a ring around an actual fountain, which Harriet and Iris found quite delightful, particularly because when they danced around the fountain too they got wet. I was reading in the grass. All of us were pretty happy.

We went to the brewery next, where we would have lingered longer, but the children were getting tired—but we still managed to sample some delicious Creemore beer. And then we headed to one more park, where there were climbers and they were amazing—but not before stopping off at the bakery for lemon tarts and cookies to sustain us.

Dinner was at the Creemore Kitchen, where the fried chicken really was as good as they said. And then we headed back to the city as the gorgeous summer day turned into evening, and we were laden with books, our bellies were full, and the one member of our family who wasn’t happy proceeded to fall asleep within five minutes of being strapped into her carseat, and she slept blissfully all the way home.

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.

November 21, 2016

Destination Bookshop: Hunter Street Books

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Saturday started pretty badly: literally seconds into our road trip to Peterborough, I hit a bollard while backing out of a parking space and took the front bumper off a giant Toyota. How was this even possible? My front wheel well hit the bollard and away went the bumper, and this was as upsetting as you might expect. I tried to put it back on myself, but it turned out the car wasn’t made of lego. I’m going to be getting an unpleasant bill. I cried and two teenage boys came over to marvel at the damage while I cried. Miraculously, the car sharing company gave me use of another car, however, and this one I managed not to destroy. And so we were off, flying down the highways toward Peterborough’s brand new bookstore, as planned, and we were talking about how I’d never had a car accident before, and if one has to have such a thing, this one is probably best case scenario, and how nobody was hurt, no other cars were involved, and even the bollard was unscathed. How the Toyota was too big anyway.

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And so the stakes were high. This trip to Peterborough has now cost us perhaps $1000. Hunter Street Books had better be worth the journey and the damage. But I had a feeling it would be. A brand new bookstore in the city I’d grown up in—I knew how much downtown Peterborough needed a store like this. I knew how excellent it was that writer Michelle Berry had taken a chance on a new business. I’d seen photos online of the space and it was beautiful. Though, as always, a true mark of the store’s goodness would be the quality of the books on the shelves.

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Well, Reader, I bought them. The books, I mean. The books I’d planned on buying, because Michelle had them in stock and facing out even—did she knew I was coming and was intending to purchase a copy of Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter? And Hot Milk, by Deborah Levy? And then I ended up buying I’m Judging You, by Luvvie Ajayi, which I hadn’t known I’d needed, but Michelle made me realize. I bought Marnie Jackson’s new book too, because I’d only had an ARC and it’s stayed on my mind in such a way that I realized I needed something more substantial.

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I go to a lot of bookstores. I’ve been to ones that are good, bad and middling, and my standards are higher than most people’s because I’ve been around a bit and because I have a million books at home already. You have to be more than adequate to satisfy me. You have to stock small press titles and prize lists and the books everyone has heard of and those we haven’t yet. You have to have both of Anakana Schofield’s novels and Double Teenage, by Joni Murphy, facing out. You need mysteries and commercial favourites and Maria Semple and books in translation. You have to stock all the books I love best, and the ones I’m still looking out for. And Michelle Berry has done it all—Peterborough is so lucky.

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Check out the curated shelf, with picks by Dave Bidini, Esta Spalding, Eden Robinson and Madeleine Thien. (Madeleine Thien used to have more books on her shelf, but people bought them all). These books are selling well, Michelle Berry says—and then she asked me to curate a shelf of my own for January (and just you wait and see what I’ve come up with…)

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The space is big and airy and full of light. My husband reports that the chairs are comfortable—and he’s sat down in a lot of bookshops. More than that, he also had a good time browsing—the Oliver Sacks book in our stack was his pick. And then he sat down and waited for me to finish exploring, and he was happy to do so. He saw it coming when I hung up my coat on the rack by the door—we’d be there for a while I perused every shelf. A small table and chairs is set up in the back for littler readers. There will also be space for events in the New Year, and I can foresee this being a very good spot for literary-minded people to come together.

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And they already were—coming together, that is. I took a photo of the line at the till, for lines at tills in bookshops are my very favourite thing in all the universe. I’d happily wait in one forever. Well done, Michelle Berry, for supporting local authors, boosting your downtown community, putting more books in the hands of people of the world, and for doing it all so well. You’ve made the world a more beautiful place, and I can’t wait to come back.

Although next time I’ll try to drive more carefully.

August 31, 2016

Extraordinary Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 2, 2016

Destination Bookshop: Lighthouse Books in Brighton, Ontario

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

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

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

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

May 29, 2016

Alone in Montreal

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I’m not alone very often, and when I am, I am never lost or aimless. I say this not smugly, but as a mild lamentation. I don’t know that I’d like being alone, lost and aimless to be a pastime, but sometimes such things can lead a person places. This is what I teach in my blogging course, that a blogger needs space to roam, room to wander. And on Friday, I had some of that for myself, as I flew to Montreal to talk about blogging with the Association of English Language Publishers of Quebec. If you know me, you know I rarely leave my couch, so this was a pretty novel opportunity. I flew out from the Island Airport on Friday morning, the whole experience infused with goodness from the get-go—tea, ample leg-room and a good book. A whole hour and a bit in which to read.

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I had a few hours to kill before my event, so I made a plan to explore the Mile End neighbourhood and then make my way through the city to Westmount, where the AELAQ event was being held. My taxi from the airport dropped me off at Librairie Drawn and Quarterly, which immediately landed a space on my Best Bookshops I Have Ever Been To list. A world-famous publisher of amazing graphic novels and comics, they sell their own books, as well as other such books from other publishers, and then kids books, poetry, fiction, cookbooks etc etc making them a perfect general-interest/speciality hybrid. I walked in there and contemplated never leaving.

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I ended up choosing Rivka Galchen’s Little Labors, which is SO GOOD and I read yesterday. I thought maybe I was through with moms making sense of the new baby books, but no. Looking forward to writing about this one more this week. I also got Photobooth: A Biography, by Meags Fitzgerald, and it’s brilliant. The rest of the books were for my family, and I think I chose very well.

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So of course this meant I had a pile of books now to add to all the stuff I had to carry, and although I have never, ever complained about carrying books (the most pleasurable burden I’ve ever had the privilege to experience), my load in general was kind of heavy. It was also 38 degrees outside (no lie: factoring humidity), but no matter, I was on my way. I felt more like Mary Tyler Moore than I usually feel ever, if she’d been making it after all in French Canada whilst carrying a stack of books. I hit up a boulangerie, and got a croissant, and then followed it up with an ice cream cone at Kem CoBa, double scoop because you only live once. And it was so hot that my ice cream was melting faster than I could eat it, and I do appreciate that Montreal was so kind to me in spite of the melted diary stains all over my bag. After that, I added a dozen bagels from Fairmount Bagel to my load, and then set off down Rue Saint-Urban toward my final destination.

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It seemed ridiculously hot, though I think the heat (and the books. and the bagels) were the problem, plus I had to wear a giant shirt because I continue to be allergic to the SUN. I walked through Jewish neighbourhoods, a Portuguese neighbourhood, skirted the park and the mountain, and then arrived downtown where I turned and walked along Rue Sherbrooke, though the McGill Campus and past museums and galleries and there was so much to see..and I was so very hot and did not seem to be arriving at my hotel ever. So I had to stop and steal wi-fi from the Ritz Carlton (whose signal is very strong, stretches all the way across the street) to figure out where I was going. Luckily the right way. I got there eventually, to my hotel with enough time to cool down and change my clothes and iron my dress and be ready for my presentation, which was not far away at the Atwater Library.

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As would be apt for a presentation about how blogging in 2016 is small and focussed, the group that arrived for my presentation was much the same—and they were WONDERFUL. I had such a wonderful time giving my talk, and the group was so receptive, and I was pleased to meet some people again, meet others for the first time, and in particular people whom I’d grown to like already in engaging with them online. It was a terrific experience, and such a privilege to be there. And I was so appreciative to everybody for making me feel so welcome. (And for coming, even though it was by then the middle of a rainstorm and thunder was rumbling outside).

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Afterwards, a few of us piled into a taxi and headed back up to Drawn and Quarterly for the Biblioasis launch of books by Alice Petersen and Catherine Laroux. It was a pleasure to be back there and also to have it all set up for an event, and to meet other local writers and readers and get a feel for the Montreal English literary scene. I was so happy to hang out with Saleema Nawaz, who contributed to The M Word and who i’ve long admired, but had really only met fleetingly, and also Elise Moser (who has a new nonfiction children’s title coming out in the fall about “the pioneer of plastics recycling”) and Alice Zorn (whose latest novel, Five Roses, I am so excited to have ahead of me). The readings were great, and then afterwards, we went out for dinner and drank bourbon lemonade and ate fried chicken and nothing annoying or not wonderful had happened to me all day (nearly collapsing from heat stroke notwithstanding). It was nice to be alone in Montreal, particularly in those moments when I actually wasn’t.

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Spending the night in a hotel room BY MYSELF (without even sand in the bed. I like holidays, but the bane of my existence is sand in the bed, but there were none in this one) was a ridiculous indulgence, so surrounded was I by good pillows, clean sheets, a comfortable mattress, and many many books. Once I stopped reading I slept soundly, and then spent the morning enjoying a few good hours of quiet and aloneness before it was time to fly back home again.

April 28, 2015

Destination Bookshop: An English Journey

IMG_20150414_120646And 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.

IMG_20150414_121512Silverdell 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.

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IMG_1007The 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.

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IMG_1104The 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.

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IMG_1078The 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.

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booksaremybagPlackitt 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.

IMG_1154And 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!

IMG_1218The 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?

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IMG_1224Downstairs, 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.

IMG_1259And 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).

IMG_1254I 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.

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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.

August 29, 2013

Destination Bookshop: The Annex/Harbord Circuit

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.

annex200This 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.

Bakka-Phoenix-Books-LogoThe 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 storeenormous 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, little islandparenting, 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.

Photo Credit: Strolling with the Bean http://strollingtoronto.wordpress.com

Photo Credit: Strolling with the Bean http://strollingtoronto.wordpress.com

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

IMG_20130702_152043-e1372819977232-1024x769Where 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.

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