October 14, 2014
I was always going to love this book. Would have loved it for the cover alone, the colours, the jumbled shelves, even if it weren’t a celebration of bookshops, which are things I like to celebrate better than almost anything else. “Some Wonderful Things” is a collection of bookshop facts appearing every few pages throughout the book, and I adore any mindset that collects under such a designation. Under which the entire book should appear, probably, because it’s that good, a variable delight. The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell, which asserts that bookshops are here to stay and more excellent than ever, and such a vital part of communities and our reading and writing lives.
I dare you to read this book and not start planning trips around the world to the incredible bookshops featured within its pages—I’m already planning a trip to Silverdell Books in Kirkham, Lancashire, which is a bookshop/ice cream parlour; and how have I never been to Munro’s Books in Victoria BC; and a trip to Parnassus Books in Nashville has never been so necessary; and Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice is the most exquisite sight I’ve ever seen. Campbell shares short profiles of bookshops on six continents (because sadly, there’s not one on Antarctica yet). I do appreciate that at least one shop in the book is within walking distance, The Monkey’s Paw here in Toronto getting special treatment, and I want to go back to Re:Reading on the Danforth, in particular since I read that owner Christopher Sheedy rejigged his store’s layout to accommodate families with strollers (so nice!).
More than just a travel guide, The Bookshop Book is a history too, of the history of bookshops in general and the stories of remarkable ones (which is most of them—including a bookshop on a boat, a bookshop without an address, a bookshop that only stocks one book, and many many more). Campbell talks to writers including Tracy Chavalier, Bill Bryson, Ian Rankin and Ali Smith about their bookshop thoughts.
Ali Smith: “If I owned my own bookshop? I remember when I first found a copy of Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book, a slim Penguin from the 1970s—you wouldn’t even notice it on a shelf. My bookshop would be full of those types of things: the books that, when you picked them up, you knew immediately that that was the book you were going to read that day. Moreover: whatever you’d been planning on doing, you’d just sit down with that book you’d picked up by chance and read that instead. The days when we sit down with a books o good we don’t get up until it’s read—those are some of the best days of our lives.”
The Bookshop Book made me think of my own bookshop stories: marvelling at The World’s Biggest Bookstore as a child, compulsive book buying at Nicholas Hoare the summer I spent the paycheques I should have been saving for university tuition, the Waterstones in Nottingham and having money after a long bout of poverty, Shakespeare and Company in Paris where my husband and I had our very first fight, discovering Margaret Drabble at Wantage Books in Kobe, and when Harriet ate a sandwich she found on the ground under a table at the Waterstones in Edinburgh, The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley, an altogether delightful place. It made me think of the bookshop stories I’m passing onto my own children, the bookshop adventures we go on together, even though the destinations are getting rarer. But bookshops, this book and the voices within it assert, will never disappear altogether.
Unsurprisingly for a book that heralds places in which the book as object is their reason for existing, this book as an object is a most remarkable one. Hardcover, gorgeously designed, with two sections of colour photographs that make clear that these bookshop are as lovely as Campbell says they are. The prose is something else that falls under the category of “some wonderful things” and the whole thing is a delight to encounter, something I first intended just to dip in and out of, but I couldn’t help myself and read the whole thing. You will probably have a similar experience.
Want to know something really wonderful though? I’m in it. I’m even in the index (and yes, there is an index. In fact, there are two. Because this is the very bookish of books.) I wrote a small piece about my sadness at losing our beloved Book City last winter, which is included on page 176. And I appreciate that while Book City Annex is gone, my love for that place has been immortalized within The Bookshop Book, a most fitting place for such an ode. Good company too, and it’s an honour to be a part of project like this, celebrating places that are the best places in the world.
The Bookshop Book is out in the UK now. It’s coming out in Canada in the new year. Make sure you pick up a copy. This is definitely a book you will treasure.
October 8, 2014
The New Family is a really neat project by writer/editor Brandie Weikle that features all the wonderful ways that modern parents are remodelling family life, a project underlined by the challenge: “I bet we can find 1000 ways to be a family.” And I’m so pleased that today, my own family is in the mix, a family whose constitution is not unusual by any means, but I’m glad to tell the story of how our family began with a decision we made in 2008 not to buy a house.
“It was almost Copernican. Because there’s an order to the universe: we hook up, we move in, become property owners of an impossibly small space equipped with a windowless den. We wait until that small space acquires enough value that we’re able to trade up for a proper home, albeit a starter one. And only then are we ready to start pondering such a thing as the future, to put down roots and maybe even have children.”
But we decided to do it another way, and I am so happy we did.
October 1, 2014
Blogging is all about immediacy, and I love that, though it’s hard when plans are brewing in other less-immedate media that I can’t tell you about for months and months. But I have couple of neat things now. The first is that I reviewed The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton in Chatelaine, which is one of “9 Hot Books to Read in October“. The review is also in the print issue of the magazine, in which you can also read this story about a woman who climbs trees for a living. I enjoyed the book a lot, and it’s receiving some excellent buzz (not just mine).
The second thing is that I helped to make this list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime for 49th Shelf and amazon.ca, which is a very good answer to the question, “Does Kerry have the best job ever?” So pleased to have come up with a list with favourites and curiosities, which will no doubt irritate people, but we all know that it’s THE definitive list, so no matter. You can also add your own picks to the mix, which is fun. And I do so appreciate anything that gets readers excited about books.
September 7, 2014
I was so pleased to review Joan Thomas’s new novel, The Opening Sky, in this weekend’s Globe and Mail.
““Never explain, never apologize,” is part of a quotation attributed to Nellie McClung, the title of a chapter in Joan Thomas’s novel The Opening Sky, and an admirable motto, unless one happens to be parent to a young person whose behaviour embodies it. Which is the predicament in which Aiden and Liz find themselves.”
August 19, 2014
Today, a little dream came true. My short story, “If Life Gave Me Lemons”, has been published at Joyland. It’s a story about unrequited love, finding yourself, the bizarre culture of English teachers in Japan, and all the ways we fool ourselves. I love this story, not just because it’s part-ode to my life in Japan more than 10 years ago, though the lovingness of that ode is mostly hidden. But it’s there. So I’m so pleased that the story has found a home, and what a home it is. Thanks to Kathryn Mockler for her great edits, and to the Joyland team for making such a fantastic space online. I’m so thrilled to be a part of it.
August 3, 2014
My review of K.D. Miller’s wonderful story collection, All Saints, was in the Globe and Mail yesterday. I enjoyed the book so much when I read it in July, and appreciated its vital links to Lynn Coady’s Giller-winning collection, Hellgoing, as well as its Barbara Pymmishness, and the ways in which outright Pymmishness is subverted.
“…All Saints reads like a collision between Pym and Lynn Coady’s recent Hellgoing, whose epigraph is from Larkin’s “Church Going,” a poem which asks the question, “When churches will fall completely out of use/What we shall turn them into.”
The easy answer is condos – their developers are the only ones still banging on All Saints’s door. As with those in Coady’s collection, Miller’s characters are negotiating existence in a world in which the old rules and morality Pym satirized no longer apply.”
July 2, 2014
Things are busy around here with the usual summer things (swimming pools, barbecues, celebrating Canada Day at Queen’s Park, not sleeping at night, lazy days, beer and chicken wings with my husband on a rooftop patio) and with a top-secret project that is going to keep things quieter on the blog front this summer. Which is as it should be–you’re all out gallivanting anyway. But I did want to share two amazing things I’ve been up to lately in celebration of two really excellent books.
The first is All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, which I was lucky enough to review for Canadian Notes and Queries 90, their summer issue. It’s out now. The review was a pleasure to write, to be working with material that was just so good. The book is the most hilarious heartbreak I’ve ever experienced. A teaser of my review:
“While markedly different in style and tone, All My Puny Sorrows reads as an interesting companion to Sonali Deraniyagala’s memoir, Wave, another book about grief and trauma, in which Deraniyagala recounts the loss of her family in the 2006 Boxing Day tsunami. Both books are haunted by narrators whose voices are measured and understated, existing to evoke the dead and the past rather than to illuminate the present, partly because the narrator in the present is a hollow shell of grief. And that grief itself remains a quiet presence in the text, until it doesn’t, bursting onto the page with a torrent of rage. Interestingly, both narrators enact their rage by making obnoxious phone calls, describing themselves as “haunting” the calls’ recipients on whom they (inappropriately, but who can blame them for that?) lay blame for their tragedies.
Unlike Wave, however, and just like everything Toews has ever written, All My Puny Sorrows is also terrifically funny. The young version of Elf is a wonderful character, with her dramatic flares and karate-chop gestures. The most hilarious scene in the book takes place at a funeral (of course) when a young child steps up and begins to eat the ashes of the deceased. Elf and Yolandi’s mother emerges as the real hero of this story, a woman of unlimited faith and optimism (and who, in shock after her daughter’s death, answers every utterance with, “Ain’t that the truth”). And this is Yolandi’s revelation as well, that all this grief has not been put upon her alone, and that her mother, in her obsession with Scrabble games and detective novels, is trying to decode the mystery of things and put words together so they mean something, just as Yolandi herself is.”
I am also very pleased with my interview with Saskatchewan Metis writer Lisa Bird-Wilson about her short story collection, Just Pretending. I read the book in early May and found it incredibly affecting. Bird-Wilson’s answers to my questions were thoughtful, challenging, provocative and profound–just as her book is. And a taste of that?
“Also, don’t you think there’s something a bit unfair about criticism that turns on the fact that stories made the critic feel bad? It’s unfortunate, but I’ve really noticed that audiences want you to read things that are funny—boy, they love that kind of thing. I find myself sometimes trying to excise funny bits from my stories and use them for readings—shame on me for bowing to the pressure but we all want to be liked, don’t we? I guess it’s human nature—we want to be able to laugh together—but in order to laugh together we also have to cry together sometimes. And sometimes we just laugh our way through the pain because there’s nothing else you can do.”
Reading the whole thing here.
June 26, 2014
I had the pleasure of reviewing Peach Girl by Raymond Nakamura and Rebecca Bender for Quill & Quire. It’s a story about a feisty girl that depicts the gorgeous countryside of Japan, a country that was once my home. I definitely recommend it.
“In his engaging debut, author Raymond Nakamura puts a feminist bent on the Japanese folk tale Momotaro (Peach Boy).
In Nakamura’s version, a young girl emerges from a giant peach discovered on the doorstep of an elderly couple (who are, notably, a farmer and her husband). Momoko, which translates as “Peach Girl,” is a feisty creature determined to make the world a better place, a mission that involves ridding it of a child-eating ogre. Gently shrugging off her adoptive parents’ concerns for her safety, Momoko embarks on her quest with peach-pit armour for protection, plus a bundle of peach dumplings to eat on the way.”
You can read the whole review here.
June 8, 2014
I wrote a fun blog post for 49th Shelf last week about books with fun summer covers, including my favourite summer cover of all time which is All the Voices Cry by Alice Petersen.
And speaking of summer reads, Chatelaine has a bumper-crop of great books lined up in their Summer Reading Special. I am happy to have reviewed the memoir Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan, about a young American woman whose eyes are opened to motherhood and the experiences of her own mother during a gig working as an au-pair for a widower and his children in Australia. I found the book touching and remarkable for its M Word associations. You can read my take on it here.
Some summer reads I’m looking forward to getting to soon are Mating For Life by Marissa Stapley, The Vacationers by Emma Straub, Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken and Based on a True Story by Elizabeth Renzetti.
June 6, 2014
I’ve had no blogging mojo this week—sometimes this happens. I have also been incredibly tired, a condition that will not be ameliorated by my attendance on Harriet’s school trip to the High Park Nature Centre this afternoon. With the baby in tow. In my experience, shepherding 20 kids on the subway is one of the more crazy-making circumstances of one’s life. But the weather is beautiful, and I think we’re going to have a great afternoon. Tonight’s plan is wine on the porch, followed by Top of the Lake. The wine is from the Farmers’ Market, which means that the Farmer’s Market (and summer) have returned to us, and also that wine is now permitted to be sold at local markets, and both of these points are incredibly pleasing. So I am looking forward to tonight, though not so much, because I find that evenings that are too anticipated usually result in my cleaning up one of my children’s vomit. Somehow, they just know.
Also pleasing, I wrote a review of the memoir, Birding With Yeats, by Lynn Thomson in the National Post. It’s a curious book which only became weirder the more I thought about it, which I mean as an endorsement, actually. The fact that I thought about it so much, mostly. I was also reading it at the same time I was reading A Siege of Bitterns and Pluck. So many birds. It inspired me to create a list of these books and more–as ever, putting a bird on it is popular.
And I was thrilled by this review of The M Word in The Winnipeg Review this weekend by Angeline Schellenberg. She got the book exactly, and wrote about it so well. I loved, “Some moms decorate Barbie cakes in their sleep. The M Word is a kind of What to Expect When You’re the Rest of Us” and “A book about motherhood that includes those who never gave birth? Those who’ve been pregnant but never held a child? Halleluiah! Finally: a conversation with no “us versus them.” Here is only “us,” those who desire to “be connected by this understanding of what it is to love and celebrate your children.” The M Word offers what mothers (new and old) need most: to know we’re not alone.” So proud of this, and pleased that this book continues to find its way into the world.