Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code

September 14, 2014

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In a week with headlines dominated by misbehaviour and wavering values, it seemed like a good time to think back on some solid sense. Gene Autry would be celebrating his 107th birthday in a week’s time but I think his code is still relevant today.

 

 

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Wouldn’t you love to perch upon one of these literarily-themed benches? If you’re visiting London, England this summer you can indeed take a seat.  In fact, you’ll have a choice from among fifty benches positioned throughout the city. The benches will be auctioned off for the benefit of the National Literacy Trust in October 2014. This special event was planned to “celebrate reading for enjoyment” and, in so doing, also show off some of the wonderful artistic talent and strong literary heritage of the city. To read more about this endeavour and to get a glimpse of all the benches, click here. I think visiting the benches in person or even just pictorially will inspire us all to pick up an old, favourite read. Have you been able to guess the titles represented above?

Four different Books About Town Book Bench trails have been established: The Bloomsbury, The City, Greenwich, and Riverside. Relevant literary works in bench form have been positioned along each path. If you would like to vicariously travel a route, then visit one of the map pages.

Souvenir posters are also available for purchase through the travel map and bookstore, Stanford’s:

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Dear Mr. Harper …

April 17, 2014

Sometimes I struggle to select a blog post topic, usually due to an excess rather than a dearth of ideas. And sometimes, like today, a most wonderful subject simply lands in my in-box!

After reading the e-mail message (from my boys’ high school English teacher) and its contents, I was reminded of my own high school English teachers and their roles in inspiring my interest in, and love for, engaging with the written word. I imagine many of you share a similar experience. What an influential role those teachers have!

Today, a high school teacher and a politician share a refreshing devotion to instilling a love for reading in young minds. Ms. Gin, the English teacher we are fortunate to have teaching the boys in our family, began a project with her students which involved connecting with none other than our country’s Prime Minister. The e-mail I received this morning was Ms. Gin’s update on this project. Read on and enjoy! (Original letters are followed by text for easier reading)

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Dear Mr. Harper:

Over the summer, I came upon a book about books: 101 Letters to a Prime Minister, by Canadian writer Yann Martel. As a high school English teacher, I often find myself in a predicament similar to Mr. Martel’s but instead of wondering about what kind of literature piques the mind of our country’s leader, my concern lies in our country’s youth. What books are of particular importance in shaping the next generation of adults, the next wave of thinkers and leaders?

Inspired by Mr. Martel’s steadfast, albeit, one-sided book club, I asked my grade 11s at St. George’s School a similar question: If you were to recommend a book to our Prime Minister, what book would you put forth?

Our discussions were so rich and enthusiastic that I knew I had stumbled upon a “teachable moment.” What is enclosed in this envelope is a collection of letters from a coterie of energetic, astute and passionate young minds. They have spent a good deal of the past three weeks brainstorming, writing, editing, and sharing their book recommendations. More than anything they hope you will take their painstaking compositions seriously.

While it is widely known that Mr. Martel never received a personal reply from you, my two classes of grade 11s are hopeful that you will not only take the time to peruse their letters, but that you will also honour their work with a reply of your own.

Happy reading.

Ms. Sandra Gin

English Teacher

Letter-from-Stephen-Harper1Letter-from-Stephen-Harper1   Dear Ms. Gin,

Thank you for sharing the letters from your Grade Eleven English classes. They clearly demonstrate that a love of reading is alive and well in Canadian schools.

I would like to extend my congratulations on your efforts to promote literacy among your young charges. We are fortunate to have dedicated mentors in our nation’s classrooms.

My love of reading was also nurtured at an early age by teachers passionate about the written word. Reading opened up a tremendous window on the world for me, as it has for your students. The local public libraries near my childhood home were places of wonder and exploration.

My late father, Joseph Harris Harper, was an avid researcher and historian. He produced two studies for the Canadian Military of his day – “Old Colours Never Die” and “A Source of Pride”. I credit him for instilling my passion for history. Books, of course, have been an integral part of pursuing this great interest.

As your students will be aware, 2015 will mark the bicentennial of the birth of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald. Author Richard Gwyn has written an outstanding two volume biography which I would highly recommend to your students. The Man Who Made Us and Nation Maker present Sir John A’s compelling story with great skill. Canadians are in his debt.

On a more personal note, I would like to share a story with your students. In August of 2012, I had a speaking engagement in Amherst, Nova Scotia, on the grounds of the local high school. I was graciously accorded the school’s library as my temporary office. It is not often that one has an entire library at one’s disposal, and I was compelled to peruse the selection of reading materials on hand.

To my delight, a book entitled Here Stays Good Yorkshire, written by Will R. Bird, was prominently displayed. This historical novel tells the story of hearty immigrants who came to Canada from Yorkshire in the 18th century. My ancestor, Christopher Harper, was part of this early wave of immigrants, and I was deeply moved by this imagined account of experiences that would have been similar to his own.

If I were to offer one piece of advice to your students, who are obviously bright and engaged, I would strongly encourage them to continue reading, both for edification, and for pleasure. And to any budding young authors, I would reiterate that reading voraciously is the best preparation for writing of any kind. I found this to be true when writing my own book, A Great Game. I have enclosed a signed copy for your school library.

In closing, it is my hope that your students will follow in your fine example, and encourage younger students to take up this most fulfilling pursuit.

Sincerely, Stephen Harper

The Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.

Prime Minister of Canada

Books mentioned in this exchange:

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Playtime with Proust

April 12, 2014

Quizzes have long been a source of social entertainment, from parlour games in the times of Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde to present day airport lounge diversions in the pages of Cosmo. One, long-standing in popularity, has come to be known as the Proust Questionnaire and is determined to honestly reveal the character traits and interests of its participant. Though the questionnaire takes the name of Marcel Proust, he was an enthusiastic and witty test-taker rather than the actual creator.

The Proust Questionnaire has come to be used in modern times by a number of talk show hosts, famously by James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio who asks each guest to complete an adapted version at the end of his or her interview. CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter also poses a few of the questions to its guest Writers.

Since 1993, the last page of each issue of Vanity Fair magazine has been devoted to The Proust Questionnaire featuring a different celebrity’s responses each time. The best of these pages were collected into a book by VF editor Graydon Carter. Great reading entertainment! You can also link to the magazine’s Proust page here and read a few samples.

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So are you intrigued enough now to want to answer your own Proust Questionnaire? Here it is!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
What is your greatest fear?
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Which living person do you most admire?
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your current state of mind?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
On what occasion do you lie?
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Which living person do you most despise?
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
When and where were you happiest?
Which talent would you most like to have?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Where would you most like to live?
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
What is your favorite occupation?
What is your most marked characteristic?
What do you most value in your friends?
Who are your favorite writers?
Who is your hero of fiction?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Who are your heroes in real life?
What are your favorite names?
What is it that you most dislike?
What is your greatest regret?
How would you like to die?
What is your motto?

I just discovered the charming work of Last Lemon. They are clearly book lovers and create all sorts of groovy illustrations with smart phrasing attached. I know you’ll have fun discovering them for yourselves. (Last Lemon home page) Here are a few of my favourites: 6e8ab9fb7d6c46731a516aa25f579914.jpg

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And my ultimate favourite, for obvious reasons …

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I’m so giddy about this discovery that I am pirouetting about in search of where to even begin (I am actually ‘pivoting’ but pirouetting sounds more like what a Parisienne would do!)  I recently discovered the engaging work of Canadian-living-in-Paris, Janice MacLeod, and couldn’t wait to tell you all about her and her art, and her letters, and her book … As I sit here playing with phrases to aptly capture her charming allure, I am realizing her very own words will best give you a sense of her playfulness and the guaranteed fun ahead when you read her letters and book. I just know you are going to be reading her letters and book!

From Janice’s website:

“After a childhood in Canada that was just dysfunctional enough to make me funny, I became an advertising copywriter and eventually an associate creative director. Most of my time was spent in top agencies throughout the USA and Canada, because I’m kinda into fame. And modesty. I’m humble, too. And perfect.

After 110 years of writing junk mail in advertising, I devised an exit strategy to finance my own sabbatical. My Shawshank Redemption, if you will. When I met my financial goal, I skipped town and traveled with nothing more than my suitcase and a small set of watercolors. Along the way, I painted letters about my travels and mailed them to friends. Enamored with this unique medium, I opened an online shop. Each month I create one painted letter, copy it, personalize it and mail it to hundreds of subscribers who are hungry for fun mail.”

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“I am the artist behind Paris Letters, a painted letter series sent out via snail mail to those who crave getting fun snail mail from the land of fromage, rosé and lippy waiters.”

So, you can enrol to receive a single masterpiece, or a 6-month subscription, or a full year of 12 treasures! (I  know, I know, my mental math is mind blowing) To do so, visit Janice’s Etsy shop, as above, or by clicking here. Just imagine the delight of finding Paris in your postbox and what an impressive wall display you could have! Hooked already? Wait! There’s more.

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Now for the booky bit …  Run, not walk, to your nearest bookshop and snag yourself a copy of this (if you can find one!):

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You see, there’s a love story afoot too. (Mais bien surParis Letters – One Woman’s Journey from the Fast lane to a Slow Stroll in Paris is Janice’s story behind how she came to start her letter writing endeavour and the Amour who motivated her to find a way to stay in Paris. It’s an inspiring tale of making dreams come true. So if you’re not packing up for a trip to Paris over Spring Break, and heck, even if you are, this enchanting read will bring you joy.

A Short Love Story

July 22, 2013

A recent edition of The Globe & Mail, in a little feature called “Book Lovers”, asked Janet E. Cameron (author of Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World) the question:

What book has the most romantic significance for you?

Her answer:

“In 2002 I was on a plane from Tokyo to Dublin – off to see my Irish boyfriend, whom I’d met at the soccer World Cup and known less than a week. I was terrified I’d made a mistake. What if it turned out we had nothing in common? The book I was reading on the flight was How to be Good by Nick Hornby, an entertaining novel about a profoundly unhappy couple, and it wasn’t helping my nerves. Then the plane touched down, and I saw him in Arrivals, waiting for me. He was holding a copy of the same book; in fact, I could tell he was practically on the same page. Three years later we got married.”

How to be Good by Nick Hornby

Anyone else want to share a “romantically significant” book title with us? (back story required, of course!)

Dear Janet E. Cameron:

July 22, 2013

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Dear Janet,

I promised I’d write when I’d finished your book, Cinnamon Toast at the End of the World. Your web scouting let you know it was featured on my summer reading list and you were curious, as I imagine every writer must be, to learn how your work would be received. Lots of pressure for both of us there! What if I’d promised, and then abhorred the book? What if I couldn’t finish it, even? Fortunately, neither of those scenarios applies.

Let’s start at the very beginning ( a very good place to start, tra la,la) What led me to selecting your book from among the many vying for attention on the shelves of my neighbourhood book shop? The cover of the book is enchanting – pastel tones with a portly little toaster popping up toast. Intriguingly, said toaster seems to be sitting at the beach. I had beach books on my mind so this must have been a subliminal draw. (I’m none the wiser after finishing the story as to why the toaster is at the beach but really not an issue. I also understand that most authors have little to no say in the appearance of the book.) The “Cinnamon Toast” in the title evokes cosy nostalgia and simple traditions … a waft of burnt toast always reminds me of breakfasts with my late Grandmother who preferred her bread charred … “The End of the World” had me a bit confused but I was convinced there was humorous hyperbole involved – a good thing in my mind.  I flipped to the opening paragraph and found immediate clarification:

‘It’s not the end of the world.’ That’s what people will tell you. That’s what people will tell you when they want to say, ‘Your problems are stupid, your reaction to them laughable, and I would like you to go away now.’

‘Oh, Stephen, for God’s sake, it’s not the end of the world,’ my mother will say, over and over, in tones of sympathy or distraction. Or sometimes plain impatience. 

So of course if she’s ever running around looking for her keys and cursing, I’ll always tell her, ‘It’s not the end of the world, Mom.’ And if she’s really been pissing me off, I’ll scoop the keys up from wherever she’s left them and stick them in my coat pocket. Then I’ll settle back to watch with a sympathetic expression while she tears the house apart looking. Lost keys? Not the end of the world.

You had me, right there. Fantastic! This Stephen seemed a bit of a scamp and I wanted to get to know him.  As an ’85 Grad myself, the promise of a nostalgic tour through the era in his company seemed inviting too … So Writer, I purchased your book.

In this modern era, a quick trip to the author’s website is often a worthy venture. Sometimes, you’ll find out she/he is a wit, a charmer, friendly to fans … and sometimes, not so much. You, Ms. Cameron, come across as the former: personable and fantastically fun. And thoughtful too – an 80’s music soundtrack to accompany a reader is kindly provided on your site along with photos of the setting’s inspiration.

And so, all of this pastel and perkiness had me ready to ease myself into a light and airy read …

Alas, I was hoodwinked!

As I merrily started in, it soon became clear that this journey was going deeper than a mere trip to the beach. I won’t expose the tale but let’s just say as I compulsively turned pages, my heart broke and then was pieced back together with optimism and then out loud laughter (OLL?) – repeatedly;  tears ran down my cheeks on several occasions. You took me so convincingly to small town Nova Scotia and the era with wonderfully evocative details like  a “Welcome to Town” sign with a “Thanks for Visiting” message on the reverse and a Grandmother sporting those crocheted slippers with the pom poms on the toes.

I am astonished by your compelling ability to write from the perspective of a teenaged boy – an awkward, tormented teenaged boy. Frankly, I wouldn’t normally be drawn to a character exhibiting tormented traits and you might have lost me (especially as I had toast at the beach in mind) but you imbued him with the most lovely optimistic spirit despite his situation in life. He’s a character who will linger with me. Beyond Stephen, the story illuminates the importance of family, whatever it may look like, and friends, whatever they may look like. Vital values indeed. One reviewer declared this “an important book” and I couldn’t agree more.

And so, I thank you for the positive experience of Cinnamon Toast and The End of the World. As your publisher, Hachette Ireland, fittingly included on the last page of your book:

“Reading is so much more than the act of moving from page to page. It’s the exploration of new worlds; the pursuit of adventure; the forging of friendships; the breaking of hearts; and the chance to begin to live through a new story each time the first sentence is devoured.”

Your story succeeded in doing all of those things for this reader. I already look forward to reading your next endeavour … perhaps a love story featuring a Nick Hornby book? (Blog readers will be let in on the joke in the next post)

All the best to you, Janet. Do hope you are happily writing your way through a lovely summer!

Susan

Gatsby

May 10, 2013

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Today is the release of the latest cinematic version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Are you Gatsby-ed out already?  Are you thinking of re-reading the book? Or going to read it for the first time perhaps? It’s not a long endeavour (fewer than 200 pages) so I’m considering a refresher. The movie appears to be an extravaganza – influencing trends in fashion and design for almost a year now and promising to launch what marketers claim we’ll remember as the “Summer of Gatsby”.

A few Fitzgerald/Gatsby inspired books are appearing on the shelves too – the biggest among them probably Z – a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. So maybe I’ll set aside Gatsby and take on Zelda instead. It’s a fictionalized memoir, focusing on Zelda’s search for self during the roaring 20’s.  I read an article today recounting how she and F. Scott hunched on all fours on a stranger’s doorstep in New York City, barking to be let into the party. When the door was finally opened to them, Zelda marched in and up the stairs to have a bath. Hmmm … if that’s any indication, this could be a rather lively read. Click on the cover for a summary if you’re intrigued.

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And if you’ve done all of your reading already and are thinking of heading to the movies, here’s a trailer of what’s in store:

Bits and Bobs

March 27, 2013

Over the past three (three !?!) years of maintaining Bedside Table Books, I have collected an assortment of images, quotes, and whatnot that seem to defy categorization and yet at the same time, seem destined to be shared with thee. So today, we have Bits and Bobs  – a wee assortment of Booky things.

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“She drinks pints of coffee and writes little observations and ideas for stories with her best fountain pen on the linen-white pages of expensive notebooks. Sometimes, when it’s going badly, she wonders if what she believes to be a love of the written word is really just a fetish for stationery.”

—   David Nicholls (One Day)

I am not afraid of storms ... by Louisa May Alcott
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