Taking a Page Out of Tokyo

When last I wrote, I was certain that no large overseas trips were on the horizon, and that 2017 would close with a little time off for Christmas and rolling a handful of unused vacation days into the next year. But then luck intervened in late August, when I was invited on a 2-week trip to Tokyo that would start at the tail end of December. I had been there in spring 2016 (and had been meaning to post the bookish things I found there ever since), but I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to go again. After all, it would give me the chance to explore more!

So on December 28, my plane touched down in Haneda Airport and my next adventure in Tokyo began. Read on for the bookish touches that I was able to incorporate into my trip.

To begin, the question I ask before every trip:

What Did I Read?

As with my UK trip, I was interested in reading a book set in the city I was travelling to. In 2016 I enjoyed NP and Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto, but I wanted a new author to settle down with at night. After some intense research and several possible contenders, I found myself stuck between Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being and The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami. I knew I would be lugging my suitcase up and down stairs in stations and Airbnbs, so in the interest of packing light, I decided to bring whichever one grabbed me from the first few pages. A Tale for the Time Being won without a doubt.

Book covers of A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki and The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami.

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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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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?

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”