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.

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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?