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Pickle Me This

July 16, 2019

Summer Reads

Last week was splendid, all the time in the world for swimming, reading, fun with friends, and board games, and chips and butter tarts. We couldn’t have asked for better weather or company, and it was wonderful to return to this lovely lakeside spot that we’ve been enjoying for the past four years and to be reunited with some of our favourite people. Of course, what most distinguishes a perfect holiday for me is that I got all the books read.

My first book was Woman No. 17, by Edan Lepucki, co-host of the Mom Rage Podcast, which I’ve become obsessed with in the last few months. And it was really good, so different, California-lit that put me in mind of Joan Didion or Rachel Kushner. Fucked-up women and what it means to be an artist, and examining motherhood from a fascinating angle—I was really interested in reading how the novel fed into Lepucki’s other projects (both the podcast and also Mothers Before). It was moody and atmospheric, and incredibly interesting. I loved it.

Next up was Miracle Creek, by Angie Kim, a courtroom drama by a lawyer-turned-novelist. An oxygen chamber—designed to treat such things as autism symptoms and infertility—explodes, and two people are dead, and everybody has a secret to hide. Did the mother of a young boy with autism kill her son intentionally? The machine’s owner, a recent immigrant from Korea, is not telling the whole truth either, and the novel is pretty riveting as all the pieces come together. Another book, like Lepucki’s, about motherhood and its demands on those whose children have special needs. Plot-wise, the book is excellent, although I yearned for a bit more subtlety (the last chapter is way too explainy) but I like my summer reading with a hook, so this was fine.

*

I read about How Could She, by Lauren Mechling, in Vanity Fair, which has far too little books coverage in it lately for my liking, and here was a book about female friendship that was partly set in Toronto, so I was most intrigued. It’s about a woman in her late 30s who wants to kickstart her life by moving to Manhattan, where two good friends—one an artist it-girl and the other a new mother—are well established in their lives. On the surface, the book seems light and frothy and somewhat untidy as a narrative, plus there were too many details about Toronto that were all wrong (such as, tragically, we don’t have a Shake Shack), but the whole thing came together really satisfyingly for me, and Mechling really finely articulated the weird and prickly nuance of friendship and its dynamics.

*

I’ve been meaning to read Pachinko for ages, and I’m perhaps the last human being on earth to get around to it. I’ve never heard anything but massive praise for this novel, a sweeping historical narrative about Koreans in Japan. And perhaps I’d been putting it off and putting it off because “sweeping historical narratives” are just not my thing, but I am glad I finally read this one, a five hundred page novel I read in a day. It was compelling in itself, but extra for me because I used to live in Japan and know that the historic prejudice against Koreans is not only historic. And it was fascinating to have a window about Japanese history that I haven’t seen before. It was an emotional and really interesting read.

*

The opposite of a sweeping historical narrative is Liane Moriarty’s The Last Anniversary, which was a little bit stupid, but it was her second novel and I bought it for $8 at the drug store, so what was I expecting? It was terrific fun—family secrets, maybe murder, so much humour, and a map at the beginning!—and came together in such a smart way that foreshadows Moriarty’s eventual strength as a novelist. I also just really love mass market paperbacks and that you can buy novels at the drug store.

*

Not stupid at all was Sally Rooney’s second novel, Normal People, a novel whose hype was so amped that I almost resented buying the book, as though I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I’d read Conversations With Friends and liked it well enough, but had been led to expect way more from it than it actually delivered (and I thought it was kind of annoying). I bought Normal People after hearing Sally Rooney on the radio, and in hardcover even, but it was worth every penny. About a mismatched relationship between an outcast girl from a wealthy family and the popular boy whose mother is their cleaner, and what they find in each other and what they take from each other, and the dynamic is never static. Nothing is in this coming-of-age tale of love and friendship, a sad and beautiful heartbreaking story that was both familiar and strange at once. It was everything they said it would be.

*

I read Normal People in a morning on our last day, when it was cool and grey and all I wanted to do was wear sweaters and read on the porch, but then the sun came out and we went back to the beach, and I got to dig in to This is My Life, from Meg Wolitzer’s back catalogue, which I bought at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn in May. And it was a really wonderful book. Flawed as a novel, as Wolitzer admits in her preface to this 2013 edition, but there were paragraphs in it that made me gasp with recognition, so perfectly articulated. It’s interesting to see what Wolitzer was up to so close to the beginning of her career, and I really loved this one. Definitely worth a read (and it was made into a movie in 1992, Nora Ephron’s directorial debut, although it looks like the movie version of the story was very different).

May 30, 2019

The Severed Wasp, and New York City

Peace sculpture at Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It was installed after the novel was written, and would probably feature better in ML’s fantasy-inspired works. But seemed fitting.

Sometimes, one’s inflexibilities rub up against each other in complicated ways, for example: yes, one wants to read Madeleine L’Engle’s lesser known novels in chronological order (ie two more Polly O’Keefe books to go before I read The Small Rain/A Severed Wasp) but also: I really want to read A Severed Wasp during the weekend we’re in New York, because of its setting (which is the same setting for The Young Unicorns, a novel I adored). So what to do? Well. because I am all cool and laidback, I just skipped ahead to be the other books, NBD. Ha ha.

So first to The Small Rain, which was Madeleine L’Engle’s first novel, published in 1945, 37 years and 29 books before its sequel, almost 20 years before L’Engle made her great success with A Wrinkle in Time. And…it was not good. There were interesting tastes of what would come to be L’Engle’s literary preoccupations—it begins with a young girl being cared for by a friend of the family, because her musician parents are unable to be there for her, which reminded me of Maggy in Meet the Austins. There is romance, there is melodrama, there are weird dynamics between teenage girls and grown men, there is a sea voyage. There are weird problems with plot and pacing, and I didn’t really like the book–it read like something terribly old fashioned written by someone who was terribly young and trying to be terribly edgy, and the effect was kind of terrible. I am glad I read it, but I desperately hoped that A Severed Wasp would be very different, but then I supposed it would be, written 37 years and 29 books later. Possibly, L’Engle has learned something about writing novels in the meantime.

A book cover with the cathedral in front of the actual cathedral!

A Severed Wasp—published in 1982, and blurbed by no less than Norman Lear!—finds Katherine Forrester in her seventies now, instead of a teenage ingenue. Now widowed and retired after a hugely successful career as a pianist, she has returned to the scene of the previous novel, to New York where she came of age and suffered her first heartbreaks, and she runs into her old friend from Greenwich Village, Felix, who was once a violin-playing beatnik, but now he’s a bishop, which is the way things go in Madeleine L’Engle novels, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on New York’s Upper West Side.

Which is a cathedral I first encountered through L’Engle’s The Young Unicorns (1968), the one book in the Austin series that did not feature Vicky at its centre and which was odd, plot-driven, and very compelling. Dave Davidson, who was a teenage boy in the first book, appears again in this one, now grown and Dean of the cathedral, and married to ACTUAL Suzy Austin, who has realized her dream of becoming a doctor, and is also now a mother of four. Interesting because Suzy had been the one who’d always challenged her own mother’s anti-feminism, and I’d wondered about L’Engle’s emphasis on women who had abandoned dreams of career for families, as though the two were impossible to balance. But here was Suzy, doing it all, which Katherine thinks about a lot, because she is conscious of having failed her own children as she’d travelled and toured for much of her daughter’s childhood, and her daughter now remained quite distant from her—in terms of geography and emotion.

But then we will learn that Katherine’s relationship with her daughter is complicated not just for this reason, but also because the daughter was conceived not with Katherine’s husband who’d been castrated at Auschwitz, but by her Nazi prison guard, with whom she’d had a brief affair right after the war. I know, right? The Katherine of The Small Rain has not lost her taste for melodrama, but the stakes have been raised much higher, plus Katherine is receiving obscene phone calls, Felix is also receiving threats to reveal his homosexual affairs, her pregnant downstairs neighbour’s husband has having an affair with a man, the Bishop’s wife is a former pop-singer whose past involvement with drugs continues to haunt her, the streets of New York are dangerous and riddled with crime, and Suzy Austin’s youngest daughter had lost her leg not long ago after being hit by a car in what may or may not have been an accident.

Suzy turned, pausing to explain. “My offspring love pizza and the best pizza in New York is made just across the street at the V&T—one of our local restaurants.”

Too much, all of it. Also, too many racist stereotypes—the worst. But the plot did unfold in a most compelling way, and actually being in New York as I was reading made the whole thing much more meaningful to me. (I don’t think many people make A Severed Wasp pilgrimages. There wasn’t even a copy of the book in the Toronto Library system. I had to order a secondhand copy. My instagram hashtag was the only one!) We went to the Cathedral on Friday evening (“The very size of the Cathedral was a surprise…” the book begins. It was!) and got there too late to be able to visit or even explore the grounds, but I just wanted to see it anyway. (Would have been interested to see the plaque that is apparently there once the Cathedral was made a literary landmark because of L’Engle in 2012—she was a writer in residence and librarian there for decades.) We did get to the see the albino peacock in the garden, although the peacocks in the novel seemed to have been conventionally coloured.

We had dinner across the road from the cathedral, and then it was very exciting to be reading the next day and realize that the very place we’d eaten at—the V&T—was described by Suzy Austin was “the best pizza in New York.” It really was! And then the next day we visited other parts of the city, and though I never got to Tenth Street, where Katherine lives in Greenwich Village, we were just close enough that I felt her presence and the streets she’s describing. And the book was in my bag the entire weekend, to be taken out and read on long subway journeys—not that Katherine ever took the subway. I don’t think she even knows it exists.

“Odd, how complex and intertwined life is. Every time I think I’m settling for chance and randomness, then pattern enmeshes me in its strands.”

May 28, 2019

New York is Magic

I’m having trouble finding my feet again after a weekend away where everything was extreme: hot, amazing, delicious, fun, expensive, tall, far, sunny, crowded, and wonderful. A record of our adventures can be had over at Instagram, where I will continue to post New York photos into the weekend because it was summer and beautiful there, and here it’s just cold and raining (again). I didn’t spend the entire weekend on bookish pilgrimages, because I want my family to continue to want to go on vacations with me in the future, but I did spend the whole weekend reading Madeleine L’Engle’s now-obscure 1982 novel for adults The Severed Wasp (blurbed by Norman Lear, no less!) which underlined my New York experience in terrific ways, even if the novel was like a soap opera set in a church community (and how come, between L’Engle and Barbara Pym, soap operas set in church communities are my favourite kind of book?). The book was why I wanted to see The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which was not far from where we were staying, so we went there on Friday evening. Saturday we spent walking through Chelsea, just close enough to Greenwich Village that I was channelling my two patron saints, Grace Paley and Jane Jacobs—and while I wanted to go find Faith Darwin in a tree in Washington Square, we went to Union Square instead because it was closer to The Strand Bookstore, and I can’t expect my children to traipse across the entirety of New York City on my bookish whims, because New York is very big and also then my children would hate me.

Sunday’s allusions were more musical, as I went to Strawberry Fields in Central Park, a memorial to John Lennon, which was kind of the worst kind of circus, but I suppose that was the case with everything with the Beatles in the end. I was also excited to see The Dakota, not for John Lennon because I don’t like to be morbid, BUT because it was home two to amazing literary characters, Rosemary Woodhouse in Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (well, the film version, at least) and also Laine Cummings, Stacey McGill’s best friend in The Babysitters Club, which was how I learned about many places in New York in the first place. (I wonder if they ever met in the elevator?)

On Monday, we went to Brooklyn, because I wanted to visit Books Are Magic, which everybody in our family really liked for its great aesthetics, chilled out vibe, and good books selection, plus Stuart and Iris got to read stories and lie in the floor, which is always nice at the end of a busy four days of touristing. Which was still not enough to even get a proper sense of the city and all it holds, but it was a very good start, and now we all want to go back again.

January 2, 2019

Happy New Year

No one got sick on our holiday—no pneumonia, or strep throat, and even the colds were fairly unspectacular. No one threw up on Christmas Eve, which is the first time ever that such a miracle has transpired in recent memory, and could be down to the fact that we ate bread and chicken noodle soup for dinner that night, because it had occurred to me that there could possibly be a correlation between the rich foods we eat every December 24 and the inevitable puking, although it’s embarrassing that it took me so many years to figure this out. With bread and broth, however, all the stomachs were settled, and it all has been a very low-key, relaxing, restorative and pleasant holiday.

Mostly, I just read books, so many books, barrelling through titles on my To-Be-Read shelf, and also getting rid of other books that have been sitting there for years and that I’m never ever going to reading. True confession: the piles of books I had before me* have been overwhelming for quite some time, and reading should never feel that way. *These aren’t necessarily the books I’m sent by publishers, because I’m less responsible for these. Instead the ones that I’ve been picked up on my travels, and have not made enough time for. So I skipped the used book sales this fall, and made a point of reading the books I had this holiday, and now I feel much less likely to die in a book avalanche, which is an excellent way to start off the new year.

The downside to this, however, is that now I’m going to around telling everyone about this amazing novel called Beloved, by Toni Morrison, which only came out and won the Pulitzer Prize 30 years ago, so I’m really on the cutting edge, right? So hip and current. But oh my gosh, the book is extraordinary, and I can see how it ties right into the contemporary Black women writers whose work I’ve been loving these last few years. Another buzz worthy pick was The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, which is not quite a new release, instead 97 years old, but I did get the spectacularly designed new edition from Gladstone Press, and it was gorgeous, and such a pleasure to read.

I also really loved Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered, which I asked for for Christmas after reading this profile in The Guardian in October. It starts off kind of clumsily and didactic, more about ideas than being a novel proper, but the ideas were so interesting that I didn’t mind, and I also loved how well the two different storylines worked, that I was interested in both of them. And then partway through the book, the narrative grew legs, and I’ve been thinking about it steadily ever since I finished reading.

But I wasn’t only reading. And how can a person read this many books and not only be reading, you might ask? The answer being: I turned off my wifi for a week for my biannual holiday from the internet. It was glorious. I don’t have data on my phone anyway, so no wifi rendered me entirely internetless, and while I love the internet, since I’ve returned to it it’s only occurred to me that Twitter is wholly joyless, Facebook is pointless, and I like Instagram a lot still, but want to make our relationship more casual. And I want to focus on my blog instead, an online space that as ever is in transition. I’m going to be writing more about this in the coming weeks, about what blogs might be turning into. I’m not sure, but I think that for me, mine might be my online salvation. Stay tuned.

While I wasn’t reading, I was ice skating, checking out museums and galleries, playing card games—we got Rhino Hero for Christmas, and I love it with all my heart. I was knitting and delighting in Fargo Season 3 and watching Mary Poppins Comes Back,  and going to for walks down residential streets and through ravines, and making turkey leftovers into all kinds of different things, and seeing friends, and even cousins (which I don’t have enough exposure to and which have always been my favourite part of Christmas), and also reading. Every day when I woke up, the first thing I did was turn on my bedside lamp and pick up my book, which is my very favourite way to start the day, and sometimes people even brought me tea.

And now it’s a new year, and my house is really tidy, after a marathon clear-out on Sunday (including a thorough pruning of my shelves to make space for the books I read on the holidays). I also have a new coat that doesn’t make me look like a hobo, and bought new bras, which was an errand that was three years overdue. Plus, I am currently in the midst of my ideal state of being, ie I am awaiting the arrival of a teapot in the post. What that I could be suspended in this reality forever, but when it ceases I will have the consolation of a teapot at least.

August 21, 2018

Summer

Summer adventures continue. Follow along on Instagram. 

July 16, 2018

Summer Reading

When we arrived at our rental cottage up north last Saturday, I was surprised to feel troubled, because here we were in the most idyllic place imaginable on a glorious summer day, the beginning of a splendid week. But it was unease that I encountered—so slight but visceral—as I climbed the hill, took in the vista, and walked the paths I last walked almost a year ago. A few moments before it all clicked: it had been the books, of course. And also the weather—last summer the sky was always dark and brooding and there were storms every day. It was such an uneasy summer, climate-wise, and the books I’d brought along with me only complemented the atmosphere. It is possible that anyone would feel disturbed upon returning to the place where they’d read Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves, I mean, or experienced the intensity of Liane Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Guilty. Wilde Lake too, which was a modern take on To Kill a Mockingbird, but with more sinister undertones. Our last night there I started reading a Louise Penny novel and the weather in the opening chapter was identical to the thunder storm crashing outside our cabin window, and I began to wonder if the line between fiction and reality had become blurred. It really was intense, all of it, nine books in a week the definition of intensity anyway. So that when I arrived back there, it all came back, those incredible books I’d been so wrapped up in.

Last year’s summer reads.

It’s funny how books stay with you, and not always in the ways you’d expect. I really enjoyed Jessica J. Lee’s Turning: A Year in the Water last year at the cottage, but it wasn’t a book I expected to return to. I gave that book away in the spring, but when I jumped into the lake last week (over and over again) I realized what a mistake I’d made, that here was a book that had changed my life. I’ve been jumping into lakes and pools ever since I read it instead of easing my way in gently (and sloooowly) as in previous summers, thinking, “If Jessica J. Lee can use a hammer to crack the ice and jump in a lake in December, I’m certainly capable of a cannonball in July.” Back in the lake beside which I first read it, I realized how much this memoir needs a space in my book collection. How much all those books I read last summer had gotten under my skin.

I wasn’t sure how the reading was going to pan out this year—we were going on vacation with three other families, and while this was a very good plan, I was concerned that being surrounded on all sides by people I like might get in the way of my reading prowess. But it turned out not to be the case because, a) it turned out no one was interested in surrounding me on all sides 24 hours a day b) everyone else was reading too and c) our friends had brought their children, who whisked mine away for so much freedom, fun and adventure that I scarcely saw them all week long and therefore got to read so much that I almost go bored of reading. (Almost. I did, however, get bored of potato chips, shockingly, but that was only very temporary and things are back to normal.)

Anyway, it turns out that I read nine books again, and it was exhilarating and amazing. Liane Moriarty again, who does not get nearly enough credit for being a literary genius—the nuance and craft in her work is astounding. More Laura Lippman too, because she is just such an astounding novelist. The latest Birder Murder Mystery, A Tiding of Magpies, which was the first anti-Brexit novel I’ve read since Ali Smith’s Autumn (and it made me thinking about whether a good pro-Brexit novel was a literary impossibility). I really liked it, and also Death in a Darkening Mist, by Iona Whishaw, the third book I’ve read in the Lane Winslow mystery series which has really been a highlight of my summer. The new Caitlin Moran, which was so terrific, laugh-out-loud funny, powerful and profound. So glad to read Celeste Ng’s first novel after loving her latest a few months back. I was happy standing in line at Webers, because I had Tish Cohen’s Little Green in my bag, which was a certainly a novel that had me in its thrall. And Rumaan Alam’s That Kind of Mother still has me thinking about all the spaces in between its story and I think I’m haunted by the ending—such a subtly provocative book.

I wonder which of these will still be haunting me a year from now?

March 13, 2018

More Fun at English Bookshops

That we only visited three bookshops seems a bit paltry, although a little less so when you consider we were only in England for six days. My only regret is that this time we didn’t get to visit a bookshop on a boat where we were fed Victoria Sponge Cake, but perhaps that can only happen so often in a lifetime. Our trip to England was a little more local this time, focussed on Lancaster where we’d rented a house for a week. A house that came with a wall full of books, which seemed like a good omen—”But don’t let this make you think we don’t have to go to all the bookshops,” I reminded everybody.

We’d actually visited our first bookshop before we even got to England, because I like the idea of travelling to England with no books, instead picking them up on my travels. Which is pretty risky, actually, considering the decimation of book selection at the Pearson International Airport where there are no longer actual bookshops, and instead a small display of books on display alongside bottles of Tylenol and electrical volt adapters. But I found a couple of titles that interested me, ultimately deciding on Anatomy of a Scandal, by Sarah Vaughan, the story of a political wife whose life comes apart when her husband is accused of rape. A timely book, and it was interesting, but spoiled for me by a “twist” that made this very fathomable story a little bit less so. Which meant that I was all too ready to buy another book at our first English bookshop, Waterstones in Lancaster.

I love the Waterstones in Lancaster. My heart belongs to indie bookshops, but Waterstones is better than your average bookshop chain, and the Lancaster Waterstones in particular, which its gorgeous storefront that stretches along a city block. With big windows, great displays, little nooks and crannies and staircases leading to more places to explore. It’s a gorgeous store, with great kids’ displays too, and my children were immediately occupied by reading and also by a variety of small plush octopuses. I ended up getting Susan Hill’s Jacob’s Room is Full of Books, a follow-up to Howards End is on the Landing, which I bought when we were in England in 2009 and Harriet was a baby and I spent our week there reading it while she napped on my chest. Jacob’s Room… would turn out not to be as good as Howards End…, which broadened my literary world so much (and introduced me to Barbara Pym!). The new bookwas kind of rambling and disconnected and not enough about books, but was so inherently English that I was happy with it.

On the Wednesday we drove across the Pennines to Ilkley to visit The Grove Bookshop, which is one of my favourite bookshops ever. It’s located up the street from Betty’s Tea Room, which makes for one of the best neighbourhoods I’ve ever hung out in. After afternoon tea, where the children behaved impeccably, we took them to a toyshop for a small present as reward, which was good incentive for their behaviour in The Grove Bookshop too, where I was able to browse for as long as I liked. I love it there, the perfect bookshops and well worth a trip halfway across the world. I had been in the mood for a Muriel Spark novel since reading this wonderful article, and The Grove Bookshop delivered with The Ballad of Peckham Rye, a new edition in honour of Spark’s centenaryI was also very happy to find a rare copy of Adrian Mole: The Collected Poems, as Mole’s work has had a huge impact in my own development as an author and intellectual.

I really loved The Ballad of Peckham Rye, so weird and contemporary in its tone, strange and meta, the way all Spark’s work is. When we’re on vacation, I don’t like getting out of bed, lingering instead with a cup of tea and toast crumbs, and Peckham Rye was perfect for that,

On Friday we went to Storytellers Inc, located in Lytham-St. Anne’s, just south of Blackpool. Originally a children’s bookshop, they’ve branched out to books for readers of all ages, although the children’s focus remains—they have a huge selection of kids’ books and a special kids-only reading room with a tiny door and kid-sized furniture. (Sadly, we’d not brought our kids along with us that afternoon and it would have been weird to go in there without them.) In addition to the kids’ books, they had lots of Canadian fiction, and poetry. We ended up buying Welcome to Lagos, by Chibundu Onuzo, just because we liked the cover. And also Motherhood, by Helen Simpson, because I’d seen it on the shop Instagram page, and then I saw that Emily was reading it.

I don’t think I’ve ever read Simpson before, but this is a mini-collection of her stories from a few different books over the decades—and I loved it. Plus there was a boob on the cover. I finished reading it on the plane journey home, and then started Welcome to Lagos, which was really great. It’s Onuzo’s second novel, after the award-winning The Spider King’s Daughter. The latest is about a ragtag crew who arrives in Lagos and attempts to make a life there, in spite of the odds. They end up running in with a corrupt former Minister of Education with a suitcase full of money, and what they choose to do with this fate will make or break their destinies. In this case, choosing to buy a book for it’s cover was a very good decision.

March 6, 2018

We Went to England!

When I go on vacation, I usually like to put up a post and tell you so, to remind readers that there is indeed a human being behind this blog who sometimes needs a holiday, and also so I don’t leave you hanging (and having to head over to Instagram to find out just what I’ve been up to in the last five minutes). But about three weeks ago, I made the fatal error of noting that I hadn’t been ill or even really had a cold in ages and ages, which meant it was inevitable that I’d become sick a few days later. Three days before we were set to depart for a trip to England, I was in terrible shape and confined to my bed, and the prospect of an international flight seemed impossible. Fortunately two days in bed meant there had been some kind of recovery, in that I no longer felt like I’d been hit by a truck, but I had to lie down frequently on the way to the airport, and by the time we got there I’d developed a fabulous rash all over my face. So all this is to explain just why a review of Kim Fu’s The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore has been hanging out here for ages. But then it’s such a terrific novel, maybe/definitely it deserved to be.

But the better part of the story is that we went to England! And losing an entire night of sleep left me so discombobulated that my body forgot I was sick and the rash mostly cleared up, and we were ready for all kinds of adventures that would not be deterred by the weather event titled, “The Beast from the East,” to be followed by the less-intimidatingly named “Storm Emma.” We were happy to be staying on the northwest coast, where the weather conditions were not so severe, and really just meant that everywhere we went we didn’t have to queue for things. Our AirBnB was in Lancaster, and it was fantastic—with an actual hot tub. And it was not so wintry on our first day there, where the sun was shining and there were flowers in the windows. We explored the city centre, happy to be in the company of Stuart’s mom and sister, and our tiredness mostly just had the effect of making us all laugh hysterically at stupid things. We hiked up to Williamson Park, which afforded beautiful views of the city, and delighted in the butterfly house and the animals in the zoo there, and then took turns on the zip line.

On Tuesday we drove (our amazing little Mercedes hire car!) to Stuart’s town by the sea, and had ice cream cones in frigid temperatures. We had our first experience looking for English beach glass, until the beach got too cold and we had to go in.

On Wednesday winter had arrived with a vengeance, and we took in the snow-covered hills of Yorkshire on our way to Ilkley, which is one of our favourite places in England, where we partook in afternoon tea at Betty’s and on the way home the kind people at the Pennine Service Station all worked together to figure out how to open our bonnet because we’d run out of windshield fluid.

On Thursday, we all went to Bowness in the Lake District to see the Beatrix Potter Attraction and eat lamb shank in a pub, and we had the best scone of the week (we had many) at the Cornish Bakery there.

And on Friday we had another pub lunch (our children are confused and now thinks their auntie only has lunch in pubs) followed by delicious ice cream cones, and then Nana and Auntie Jen took the children to the Blackpool Sea Life Centre while Stuart and I went looking for bookshops. (More about the bookshops in a following post.) And then back to Stuart’s parents’ house for fish and chips, which were so delicious.

On Saturday, we went into the city centre for the Magic of Harry Potter Exhibit, and Harriet got to hold an owl whose variety was the British Little Owl, which is the cutest name ever. And then one more pub lunch with Auntie Jen—this time with a cheese board—and we really loved Lancaster so much. Then we drove back to Stuart’s parents’ down the narrowest road of our entire vacation (which is saying something) and I wasn’t even terrified. We spent our last afternoon there, and I got to read the Saturday Guardian (with all the supplements!) and then had a roast dinner before heading to Manchester for an airport hotel stop. And then getting up at 5:30 am (but they were already serving our continental breakfast and we got to have it!) and heading to the airport for the long trip home, via Amsterdam, where we had the most delicious lunch in an airport ever, and then I spent $17 on cheese.

It was a wonderful week, so good to see our family, discover new places, and eat delicious things. And now we’re back and getting over the jet lag, and happy to settling into ordinary life again, and to be reminded that ordinary life is pretty darn nice.

December 22, 2017

On Holidays!

See you in 2018.

October 2, 2017

Pickle Me This goes to Edmonton

I lost my umbrella when I was in Edmonton, possibly in a bookshop, or somewhere en-route to the Hotel MacDonald, where I got to have fancy drinks with writer and blogger extraordinaire Shawna Lemay. So does that make it a literary lost umbrella, I wonder, even if it didn’t happen in fiction? Although I include the umbrella Virginia Woolf lost on a bus, and that wasn’t fiction either. Does it still count as a literary lost umbrella if it’s pocket-sized? Pocket-sized umbrellas just don’t seem all that literary. But they are particularly easy to lose.

Umbrella losses aside, however, as well as a minor mishap where I drank too much tea and managed to poison myself and spent an afternoon in bed in my hotel room, I had a wonderful time in Edmonton. (This was about two weeks ago. I’m a bit behind, blog-wise, and working hard on catching up.) I was invited for the Book Publishers Association of Alberta’s Annual Conference to give a presentation about why book blogs matter, and arrived in Edmonton on Thursday afternoon on a plane packed with women who were heading to some weird multi-level marketing conference for beauty products and obviously tried to convert me into their cult. (“Are you looking for your Plan B?” the woman sitting next to me on the plane was asking, and I’d never before considered how awful it would be to be trapped on a plane with people who were trying to convert you into their cult. I am still disappointed that I never thought to answer, “Are you peddling beauty products, sister? Cuz I don’t need no beauty products.”)

I had half a day to spend in a city I didn’t know yet, which is the most incredible kind of luxury, I think, in terms of time and opportunity. After finding my novel for sale in the airport bookshop (where the booksellers had even heard of it, or at least were very convincing in pretending they had…) a taxi delivered me to Whyte Avenue where I poked in shops and hung out in a Second Cup to charge my phone, and then I started walking, taking in the golden light in this place where Autumn comes earlier than it does where I live. Edmonton is beautiful, and it was a gorgeous, crisp fall day, and I had a very good time exploring on my own, making lines on a map that was new to me. When I reached the edge of the river valley, I was able to take in a great deal of the city at once, and it was gorgeous. I stopped at the High Level Diner for dinner, and it just happened to be Ukrainian night, so I got to have pirogies and borscht. And then I began my long long walk across the High Level Bridge with great dramatic clouds rolling in (see my first photo, above) and at this point I was pleased that I still had an umbrella.

As visiting bookstores is basically the reason I go anywhere, a trip to Audreys was the thing I most wanted to do in Edmonton, and it lived up to my amazing expectations. Although I must admit I’m partial to Audreys after my book was an Edmonton bestseller in April, and it was also pretty splendid to see it on the Staff Picks shelf. But even without these glorious details, I would have been happy to spend time browsing in Audreys, where I managed to find perfect gifts for each member of my family, and I bought Jen Powley’s memoir Just Jen and Claire Kelly’s debut poetry collection, Maunder, both of which would turn out to be very good choices.

Shawna met me at the bookstore, and then we went out for drinks, and had a delightful time. We’d met briefly at Shawna’s book launch in Toronto awhile back, but not exactly properly. However she is one of those bloggers that gives you the impression—with her candour, generosity, eloquence, thoughtfulness—that you know her. And I think I really did, because we had a terrific time together, never running out of things to talk about, and I could have talked forever, except that it was getting late and I was operating after a day of travel (planes and walking) and a two hour time difference. Luckily we got to keep on talking as Shawna kindly drove me to my hotel.

I saw the sun come up the next morning—I woke up at six so I could call my children before they headed off to school. There is nothing in the world quite like a prairie sky. And then I ordered room service and read books, and prepared for my presentation later that morning, which went very well, and it was so terrific to meet people in the Canadian book world with whom I communicate often and/or have been familiar with for years. I take for granted sometimes Canada’s hugeness, and that there are also these people I’ll never have the chance to meet face-to-face and then I do meet them and realize how powerful it is to bring people together and how much our culture benefits from these true connections being made. I loved Saskatchewan poet Brenda Schmidt‘s presentation about how social media has become her workbook—I identified so completely. And it was especially nice to be there to celebrate Alberta Books when I’ve been especially fond of them lately—Annie Muktuk and Other Stories and What Is Going to Happen Next  are two stand-outs. It was a privilege to be part of it all, and hanging out in Edmonton. 

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