Bookish in Britain

In February, my partner and I took a short holiday to London, Oxford and Cambridge. This was my second trip to the UK and I was excited to fit some bookish elements into our itinerary. My first time there, I was in London the summer before grad school. Despite the August heat and crowds of pushy tourists, it was everything that my tiny anglophilic heart desired: visiting historic monuments and museums, eating in pubs, and generally revelling in the stereotypical British culture that I had received second-hand through my maternal grandparents. This time around, I was on the lookout for lovely libraries, iconic bookstores, author haunts or statues, and definitely a book or two. We only had 10 days and needed to fit in other touristy activities, but I’m happy with what we managed to see and do in that time.

It feels like ages ago since we touched down in Heathrow airport, bundled in heavy winter clothing and excited for a new adventure despite the biting wind and chill air. A part of me has wondered if it was even worth blogging about the trip given the time since, self-conscious of being too late or irrelevant. The UK is a treasure trove of literary loci and we barely scratched the surface in the cities we visited. But I wanted to share because maybe you’re a reader who’s planning your own trip and are looking for a few ideas. I can talk myself into most anything if I think it would be helpful.

It seems to me that the best place to start is with what I read; the paperback that weighed down the purse on my arm as I passed through the turnstiles onto the tube. Because as any good reader knows, no trip is complete without at least one book in your carry-on.

What Did I Read?

This time around, I wanted to read a contemporary UK story and chose to re-read Zadie Smith’s NW.

NW’s characters navigate aspects of class, gender and race as they intersect in their lives and communities in London’s northwest neighbourhood of Willesden. Our path ended up overlapping at times with the character Natalie Blake’s as she studies law and begins her career as a barrister. As a law student, Natalie frequents Middle Temple Lane and the Seven Stars pub, not far from where we stayed for a few nights in Southwark. Later in her life, she commutes on the Jubilee line between Kilburn and Canary Wharf, the same we took as we travelled between accommodations and sights. It added an extra dimension to our time in the city and infused the novel with sights and sounds that would be harder to reproduce in my imagination if we hadn’t been in London.

Book cover of N W by Zadie Smith

 

Natalie Blake hurried up the steps and past the clerks’ room to avoid any other briefs. She stepped out into the slipstream of Middle Temple Lane. Everyone flowing in the same direction, towards Chancery Lane, and she fell in step, found two friends, and then two more. By the time they reached the Seven Stars they were too large a party for an inside table.

Continue reading “Bookish in Britain”

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All Booked in May

…Well, that whole posting-once-a-month resolution hardly panned out as planned, did it? To be fair, a lot has been happening. I travelled to the UK in February (more on that trip to come), started a new job, and figured my living habits for the next year. With all that happening, I couldn’t get my fingers or my brain to concentrate for long enough to get words out when I sat down to write.

But I’m here and itching to get back on track with my posting schedule. Luckily enough, May has been an eventful month for books. Here’s what I got up to.

The Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD)

If you read my post here on the first year of the festival, you’ll know it was fantastic. There was no question that I would be attending again this year.

My friends and I were at the Peel Art Gallery Museum + Archives bright and early for the first Saturday session, On My Mind. Farzana Doctor facilitated this discussion on writing and mental health with authors Eden Robinson, Danielle Daniel, and Leah Piepzna-Samarasinha to explore ideas of catharsis, connection, courage, and the importance of portraying the messiness of real human relationships in their writing. Next, in Wonder Women, Sarah Raughley, Kai Cheng Thom, and M-E Girard talked about the different considerations they had when exploring femininity, language as empowerment or entrapment, and the use of fantasy, all to the tune of Shoilee Khan’s thoughtful prompts. After an extended lunch, I dipped into Jen Sookfong Lee’s workshop, Plotting Your Novel, where she served up some seriously practical advice on how to think of a novel as a balance of macro and micro stories, and the types of questions you should be asking yourself as you plan out your book.

My TBR list was growing with each session, but we visited the bookshop too late and many smarter, more decisive attendees had snapped up a few of the titles I had been eyeing. However, I did get a copy of Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster, which I’ve been wanting for a few weeks now. Jen’s plotting advice really impressed me, so I also picked up The Conjoined — it’s a chilling premise and I’m curious to see how she tackles it.

Covers for Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson and The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee.

Toronto Comic Arts Festival

The weekend after the FOLD, I popped down to the Toronto Reference Library for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF). The reference library is a huge venue but TCAF has been growing larger and larger every year. Even with booths splaying across 3 of the library’s 4 storeys, it was absolutely teeming with eager comic readers. After about 3 hours we were exhausted and hadn’t even seen everything! While I like seeing more mainstream artists (meeting Kate Beaton a few years ago was a dream), my favourite part of the festival is finding newer Canadian comic artists and cute, funny zines. I picked up False KneesA Guide to Understanding Bird Behaviour, four-panel comics of the awkward and clueless birds of Kitchener-Waterloo, along with Rosena Fung‘s Eating Time Comics, which features some serious instant ramen hacks and general food-frolicking. I really liked Rosena’s Streetcar Greeting postcard, and picked up the rose print by San Francisco–based Minnie Phan.

Toronto Comics Arts Festival haul: Eating Time and Streetcar Greeting by Rosena Fung, A Guide to Understanding Bird Behaviour by False Knees and rose print postcard by Minnie Phan.

Doors Open Toronto

If you love architecture or you’re a bit of a snoop like me, then Doors Open Toronto can be the best way to investigate buildings that you might not visit otherwise. Last year, I learned about sugar production at the Redpath Sugar Refinery and visited historic Fort York for the first time. This year, this blogTO article tipped me off to the Great Library inside Osgoode Hall and I knew I had to check it out. This is the largest private law library in Canada and is comprised of two rooms, the American Room and the Main Reading Room. The former boasts dark wood shelves and a narrow upper gallery reached via a corkscrew staircase, while the latter is even more grand in its scale and ornamentation. Unless you’re free during regular working hours, the library is really only readily available to members of the Law Society of Upper Canada. So it was a special treat to explore these beautiful and functional spaces.

I didn’t realize how bookish the month of May had gotten for me until I took a hard look at my calendar. But that makes sense, what with the ability to read outside again, spring book releases, and stocking up on reading material for summer holidays. I definitely have a lot of reading to look forward to in the next few months!

So, what kind of bookish activities did you get up to this month?

2016: My Year in Reading

A photo of books and a one-eyed daruma figure. The books are Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero.
How I’m starting 2017

It’s great to be safely on the other side of the new year. It’s been too long since I last posted, and that’s because 2016 turned out to be a personal lesson in resilience. Ideas that I had for the fall were waylaid due to some difficult personal issues; my mental health took a dive and my creativity went with it.

In looking at my 2016 reading goals, I came in just short of achieving them fully. As you might recall from my post on My Best Books of 2015, I didn’t set particularly difficult goals because I wanted to keep them achievable. I was trying to reduce some of the pressure I put on myself so that reading would continue to be an enjoyable pastime for me. The goals were to keep using Goodreads to track my reading; chase books that interested me instead of worrying about reading a certain number of books; and to read at least 10 of the books sitting on the shelf in my small apartment.

I did continue using Goodreads, often using the mobile app to update when I finished something en route to work. I really love their personalized infographic about your year in books (you can click here to see my 2016 Goodreads infographic). I only wish there was the option to save it as an image that could be shared elsewhere online.

But despite my intention otherwise, I started to concentrate on how much pleasure I took watching my list of finished books grow. And when pressures in my personal life increased and I realized that I might not be able to match the number of books I read in 2015, I started feeling upset about it and picked up the pace. In the end, I fell just short of 30 books, finishing the thirtieth in the second day of the new year.

To my credit, I read slightly longer books on average than the year before. The time I had for reading also decreased. I was commuting to work by public transit less often as the weather got colder, and that is usually prime time for me to submerge myself into whatever I’m reading. Instead, I was driving, and I didn’t switch over to audiobooks.

I read through 6 books that had been sitting on my shelf for a few years, acquired through publishing events and bookstores. All but Bryson were real food for thought, and 3 are creepy tales that I savoured during October. I’m happy that I made the time to chew on them all before I send them off to new homes.

Photo of 6 books: Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson, The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood, The Door in the Mountain by Caitlin Sweet, Head Full of Mountains by Brent Hayward, and Cauchemar by Alexandra Grigorescu.
Six books off my shelves by authors Caitlin Sweet, Margaret Atwood, Brent Hayward, Alexandra Grigorescu, Yann Martel, and Bill Bryson (clockwise from top).

So, this past year of reading hasn’t been quite as I’d envisioned. But I still found several ways to explore books and engage with other readers in ways that really enriched my reading life:

  • I re-read a beloved high fantasy novel from my teenage years with a friend, and learned that it didn’t hold up to my critical, adult eye.
  • I bought books at publishing events and bookstores in addition to relying on the library.
  • I read important, entertaining and interesting books by First Nations/Indigenous/Métis authors (specifically Thomas King, Cherie Dimaline and a comics anthology edited by Hope Nicholson).
  • I tried out a book subscription box (specifically Book Riot’s September box) with mixed results.
  • I added bookish elements to a trip to Tokyo.

These are the kinds of experiences I plan to carry into 2017, and I hope to be able to share more of them on this blog. In particular, I want to explore my personal reading habits in relation to all the ways modern readers can connect with books. I might try an audiobook or an eReader, or join a different book community through a new app. I also hope to write about how I’ve incorporated literary tourism into my travels. Admittedly, it still takes me a long time to write posts, but I’m determined to post here once a month.

And despite the problematic nature of a numbered reading goal — the point of reading is not competition — I’m going to embrace a 30-book reading challenge this year. Avoiding a reading number last year did allow me to relax somewhat, but in reality my number was in the back of my mind all year. I figure it’s better to be honest with myself about my goals, whether consciously made or otherwise.

Photo of books to read to 2017: Very Sensible Stories for Grown Persons by Jason Taniguchi, This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz, Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero, How Should a Person Be by Sheila Heti, Eutopia by David Nickle, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Sarah Barmak's Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality.
Some of my planned 2017 reads by authors Jason Taniguchi, Zarqa Nawaz, Junot Diaz, Sheryl Sandberg, Jen Sincero, Sheila Heti, David Nickle, Marjane Satrapi and Sarah Barmak (left to right).

Of course, I already have a pile of unread books from my shelves that I’m excited to start. I set some personal goals for 2017, so this month I’m trying to channel inner strength and positivity to prepare myself going forward. To do this, I’m reading some self-help and personal growth books I’ve had on my TBR for a while. I’m halfway through Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, and I’m pairing it with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I’m aware of the backlash Sandberg’s book has received, but I’m curious to see if I find any useful advice there (or if I end up putting it down early).

Let me know if you have any reading goals this year. What are you reading this month?

Nuit Blanche By the Book

This year, October 1 marks the night Nuit Blanche descends upon Toronto. A late-night exploration of installation and performance art dispersed across the city, this festival has hosted some absolutely mesmerizing pieces in the past few years that have been worth braving the large crowds and long queues to experience.

To the delight of my bibliophilic heart, there are a number of works on the 2016 lineup centred on books and storytelling. While I probably won’t be able to see them all myself, I’ve compiled some of them here in case other readers are keen to fill their white night with book art.

nb-85_05#85: 100 Libraries. 99 Books (St. Matthew’s United Church, 729 St. Clair Avenue West)

Excerpt from website: Visit 100 libraries and explore 99 books secured by chains. Bring your own book to catalog and then borrow it back. Make a mini-book. Post your nomination of a library and book special to you.

Library love with a side of DIY bookmaking? Yes, please. Each chained book in this work is representative of a different Canadian library or bookstore, and I’m curious to see which get paired together. I’ll make sure I have a book in my purse so I have one to check in to the catalogue and “borrow” again, but which one? Continue reading “Nuit Blanche By the Book”

Kobo’s Aura ONE: First Thoughts

Last week the publishing and tech industries started buzzing after Kobo unveiled its newest premium eReader, the Aura ONE. I read eBooks very seldomly, but the hype has been loud enough that I was curious to learn more about the device and hear what early reviewers have been saying about it.

A quick search immediately yielded both promotional and industry news, with sites like The Verge, Tech Crunch, and The Digital Reader reacting quite positively to the Aura ONE. Kobo’s ad for the device focuses heavily on appealing to fantasy and romance readers, but I think their behind-the-scenes video on designing the device does a better job of showcasing its scale and features:

The Aura ONE’s size is apparently bucking eReader standards but I must admit, I like it and its screen-to-bezel ratio. It doesn’t look oversized in any of the customers’ hands and the screen seems able to display a comfortable amount of text (the font size function notwithstanding), which should lessen the number of times you have to touch the screen to change pages. According The Verge article, the device hardly weighs more than an iPhone 6S Plus. The waterproofing of the device is also impressive at 2 metres for 60 minutes, which will come in handy whether in the bath, at the beach or at the cottage. Users can adjust the screen’s lighting temperature from blue to a deep orange to make it easier to read right before bed, and integrated OverDrive software will allow users to sign out eBooks from their local library system directly from the device. It sounds like the Aura ONE really is a combination of all the best features, and it does make me consider whether I would want a dedicated device for digital reading.

Currently I read web articles and my Inoreader feed on my iPhone 6. I originally upgraded from the iPhone 4S a year ago because I wanted a larger screen to facilitate an easier reading experience and make my smartphone a primary reading device, but despite this the majority of books I read are in print. (I haven’t even tried audiobooks yet.) I have used the OverDrive app to read short fiction on my smartphone and found its interface straightforward, if sometimes a bit too responsive — a touch to pull up menu features can often trigger the turning of a page if your finger doesn’t hit the dead centre of the screen.

By contrast, the E Ink interfaces of eReaders seem slower to respond to touch, and their monochromatic display makes understanding which elements are clickable less intuitive to me.  I also consider the Aura ONE pricey for my budget when I can use Kobo’s free reading app on my smartphone, a device that was a much larger financial investment. I have tried Kobo’s app for reading free excerpts and I have liked it, though it doesn’t prompt me to browse their latest titles (I have to search specific titles, which prevents opportunities for impulse purchases). I would still be open to trying an eReader for long-form reading, but I may just borrow a friend’s for now before running off to the store.

Do you use an eReader? If you do, what made you start using one? Are you excited for the Aura ONE?

At the Festival of Literary Diversity

Logo of The Festival of Literary Diversity
Source: http://thefoldcanada.org

May 6th to 8th was the inaugural Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). It was held in Brampton, Ontario, across several venues in the city’s downtown core and featured writing and educational workshops, spoken word performances, author interviews, and publishing industry panels to showcase excellent literature and authors often underrepresented in the Canadian literary landscape.

There were signs from the beginning that the FOLD was going to be great, and it was all in the way their team built anticipation and excitement. They partnered with local businesses in Brampton and created fundraisers that would get people meeting each other and fostering community. As Art Director and FOLD founder Jael Richardson has explained in interviews, it was important to center Brampton as another literary locus in the Greater Toronto Area. They held fitness classes and a 5k marathon in the city, they sold bookish t-shirts, and they had fantastic book giveaways in the weeks leading up to the festival. They created workshops and sessions just for educators and school children to discuss the craft of writing and importance of sharing one’s voice. And when an author wrote them about the lack of authors with disabilities and accessibility information, they updated their venue information online and created a new panel on diverse bodies and disability. The programming has been fun and inclusive, about folding everyone into a wider sense of literary community.
Continue reading “At the Festival of Literary Diversity”

My Best Books of 2015

In 2015, I made some changes to my reading habits.

First, I started tracking the books I read on Goodreads instead of scribbling them in the back pages of my journal, as I’ve done most years. I even downloaded the app on my phone for easy updates in case I finished a book on the bus or in a café. This meant I wasn’t opening my journal as often (which I wish to correct this year), but otherwise I enjoyed logging each finished book and seeing their colourful covers accumulate in my profile. It’s also been useful for tracking books that I’m interested in reading next.

Second, I decided against setting a number of books to read. I already had a lot of other resolutions last year, and I wanted to somewhat ease the pressure I had put on myself. I wanted to focus on enjoying whatever I was reading, and letting my curiosity and the general flow of life effect what types of books I read.

As a result, I completed 30 books from a wide variety of genres: classic lit, police procedural fiction, business nonfiction, horror fiction, essays, short stories, self-help, and memoir. The authors on my list are a variety of genders, ethnic backgrounds, and sexualities; two-thirds of them are women, a good number are also Canadian. If you’re curious, you can check out my full list of 2015 reads here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2015/8062603

I’m happy to say that I read hardly any duds this year, and thus it was tricky to narrow down a shortlist of absolute favourites. But here they are, the 7 best books I read in 2015:

 hopkinson_coverFalling in Love with Hominids, by Nalo Hopkinson

(Tachyon Publications)

This anthology of sci-fi and fantasy stories gave me the chance to cavort inside the imagination of a writer who is unbound by the common tropes of each genre. Wyrms and dryads, Trinidadian douens and orchid-rat hybrids, even Garuda and Vishnu intermingle with human characters who are often people of colour and/or queer in narratives of transformation, magic, epidemics, time travel, genetic modification, and haunting. Brief introductions contextualize Hopkinson’s inspiration for each story, but I couldn’t always follow her line of thinking. That’s the thing about this anthology: you’ll never know quite where Hopkinson will lead you, but you’ll be pleased and fascinated by what she’s concocted. My personal favourite? “Message In a Bottle.”

Continue reading “My Best Books of 2015”

Quotables #2

Cover, The Artful Edit by Susan Bell

 

Forget about being pure. […] Purists are people who create ideas, not art. At some point, when you work with an editor, she will say you have erred, and you will have to somehow blend her insights with your own. Sometimes everyone is right, yet each with a blind spot. We need […] to maintain our authority even as we open up to an opposing point of view.

—Susan Bell, The Artful Edit: On the practice of editing yourself

Skin-Crawling Stories

While I was never a big fan of Goosebumps or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as a child, I now crave skin-crawling stories the instant the trees start changing colour. It’s finally Halloween, and to help you get into the spirit of the season, here are some of the stories I’ve been reading, listening to, and watching to give myself a serious case of the heebie-jeebies.

Note: Some of these could be considered very disturbing and will have a more sensitive reader sleeping with the lights on — I’ve marked them with a black flag (⚑).
Cover images for books by de Mariaffi, Carroll, Tucholke, and Datlow.
Continue reading “Skin-Crawling Stories”