July 10, 2014
I always love making a special discovery and then being able to share it with all of you. I am particularly charmed by this find and hope you will be too. Zoot and Sandy are the lovely critters you see perched so amiably next to one another in the image below. Their creator, one Bobby Stevenson, writes beautifully evocative prose and poetry in a creative writing forum called ReadWave (another new discovery!)
And so, allow me to introduce to you, Zoot and Sandy and The Universe.
“Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were, without doubt, the best of pals in the whole wide world. They loved to sit by the river and watch time floating passed (sic) their little seat.
“Looks like another great day,” said Zoot.
“It’s always a great day,” agreed Sandy. “Tell me something pal, what do you see when you look in the mirror?” Asked the elephant.
“Usually I notice that the paint in the wall behind me needs painting, that’s what I see. To be honest it annoys me,” said the dog.
“Anything else?” Asked Sandy in a real curious manner as elephants tended to do.
“Well I see me.”
“Aha!” Shouted Sandy.
“What? What have I said?” Questioned the dog, feeling as if he must have put his paw in it once again.
“You see what you think is yourself. What your brain tells you to see.”
“So you’re saying, that I ain’t a dog?” Asked Zoot.
“Of course you’re a dog, Zoot and if you don’t mind me saying, the best dog I’ve ever met. But you don’t see what I see.”
“Cause you see an elephant when you look in your mirror,” said Zoot smugly.
“I grant you that point, but when I look at you, I see you through an elephant’s brain and it won’t be what you see through a dog’s brain.”
“Is there a point to all of this?” Asked a perplexed Zoot.
“I’m just saying that we judge folks on what we see, and we sometimes think that they are wrong when all the time it’s just the way our brain is warping everything that makes us see them differently.”
“So we don’t really stand a chance at being fair, is that what you’re saying Sandy?”
“I’m just saying that you have to make allowances. I make allowances for you being a dog, just as you make allowances for me being perfect,” said Sandy with the biggest elephant grin.
“Oh I make allowances for you, that’s for sure,” said Zoot.
“Meaning what?” Asked a curious elephant.
“Meaning that you are much bigger than me and sometimes when you sit on the bench real hard, I shoot up several feet. Twice I’ve landed in the sea.”
“And I make allowances for you, Zoot when you get in to one of those ‘chasing your tail’ things.”
“I do it because it’s fun, Sandy.”
“Exactly Zoot. You see a wild thing that needs to be chased and I just see a dog’s tail. Beautiful as it is. No one sees the universe the same. Some people look at those birds and wonder where they’re headed. Some look at them and wonder what they’d taste like with some potatoes and some just look at them in wonder.”
“So what do we do, Sandy?”
“We make allowances for everyone and everything.”
And with that Zoot and Sandy just stared at the universe and saw different things.”
~ Written by Bobby Stevenson
If you want to spend a little more time with these pals you can read about Zoot and Sandy discussing Happiness here.
July 2, 2014
“I love that Canadians love books, and that we boast a disproportionate number of outstanding authors. I’ve had the privilege of hosting CBC’s Canada Reads for the past seven years. It’s a celebration and discovery of homegrown lit. Last year, an American observer wrote, “Let me get this straight: In Canada they have a hit reality show … and it’s about books?! Wow.” I loved reading that. Pride. “ – Jian Ghomeshi, Broadcaster. Quoted in Canadian Living magazine, July 2014
Have you ever tuned into the above mentioned Canada Reads show on CBC Radio? I’ve followed along in the last few years and enjoy the lively format of a notable Canadian devotedly defending his or her literary favourite with a panel of fellow debaters. The discussions among panel members are often funny, even feisty, and always entertaining. It’s been proven that the final selections and the winning choice enjoy an enormous surge in sales following the show. The past seasons’ winners are listed on the website and it is worth a perusal if you’re new to the program. Tune in to Jian Ghomeshi on Q on CBC in early September to learn how the 2015 season will unfold.
Sticking with a CBC/Canada theme … CBC Radio has compiled a Canada Day themed list: “100 Novels That Make You Proud to Be Canadian” I found myself impressed by the list itself – such a great collection of books – but, even more impressive, is the fact that all the authors are Canadian. Click on the red banner below to be taken to the page showing all 100 novels. I’ve included a few of the titles I’ve read below as a little teaser … How many have you read?
Happy Canada Day and Happy Reading Canadian!
June 21, 2014
Sarah Jio is a writer from the Seattle area who is enjoying considerable success with her novels: The Violets of March, Blackberry Winter, The Bungalow, The Last Camellia, and Morning Glory to date and more on the way. Book clubs seem to be particularly fond of her creative, multi-generational story lines, often set in the Pacific Northwest. I have read Morning Glory which takes place in a floating home community and look forward to making my way through her other tales.
In her recently released Goodnight June, Sarah has explored generational connections through a beloved classic children’s book and it’s sure to be a favourite of book and bookshop lovers. The back cover blurb states: “June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown — and steps into the pages of American literature.”
I’ve only read the Author’s Note and I’ve already learned all sorts of intriguing trivia. So if you feel like a nostalgic trip to the Green Room and an imaginary visit into the world of books, writers, letters, and bookshops, this may be your next cozy read. I know I’m looking forward to it!
May 31, 2014
In my opinion, the best reading list, summer or otherwise, offers up a good variety of themes and places to visit, intriguing characters with whom to visit, and challenges to the imagination. An opportunity to come away from the experience having learned something new or having enjoyed a few belly laughs along the way is certainly a bonus. And so, with these parameters in mind, here is a list of books I think are worthy of accompanying you on your summer adventures. I will be choosing from among these titles as I toodle to the deck chair or beach blanket or ferry line. Most are paperback though a few exceptionally well-reviewed new hard covers have made the cut. (Click on above covers for links)
The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee
Have had this on my shelf for a while. Summer seems the best time to tuck into its pages as its description reads: “a young woman in turn-of-the-century England finds love and independence at a seashore resort.” Light perhaps but engaging view of the times.
The Storied LIfe of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
An enormously popular book with all reviewers. Features a grumpy book shop owner and his emergence into a fresh new approach to life motivated by the arrival of a mysterious package. A charming community of characters and a devotion to books are at play. Count me in!
I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crossley
Released in 2008, this has been on my list to explore for a while. A book of short humorous essays seems like a good choice during the summer and these promise to be entertaining.
The Ghost Horse: A True Story of Love, Death, and Redemption by Joe Layden
This might not be for everyone but I’m already loading the beach bag with tissues in anticipation of this true tale of an underdog filly and her trainer/owner. You’ll find the book in the Sports section under Horse-racing but it is a love story too as the trainer finds a connection with his beloved late wife through time spent with the horse.
Studio Saint Ex by Ania Szado
We’ve talked before about the delicious genre of historical fiction and the fictionalized memoir. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan about Frank Lloyd Wright is perhaps one of the most popular in recent times. Studio Saint Ex is a novel that brings to life Le Petit Prince/The Little Prince author Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Writer Lawrence Hill (The Book of Negroes) sums up perfectly: “Studio Saint-Ex is an unputdownable novel about twentieth century fashion, French expatriates in Manhattan during World War II, the miracle of creative genius and the lives of the great writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery and the women he loved.”
The List of My Desires by Gregoire Delacourt (also titled My Wish List)
Translated from a very well loved French edition … just a wee book to sneak in between the long ones. Have you ever played the “If I Won the Lottery …” game? This heartwarming novel takes the dream to a new level in one simple woman’s life with thought provoking results.
North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both by Cea Sunrise Person
A memoir of an entirely unique upbringing and how it influenced a young woman’s choices in her adult life. Cea Sunrise Person grew up in remote Northern Alberta with her hippy family devoted to escaping civilization. Her life was unorthodox and highlighted as even more so when Cea became a model at the age of 13. Quite a ride and quite a tale.
Love, Nina – A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe
If you love London, British humour, and a dash of Brit Lit gossip … I read the review in the NYT and knew it would have to be on the list. Nina Stibbe heads to London to serve as a Nanny and finds herself working for a prominent literary figure and her family. During her time there she writes to her sister of her adventures and the real-life characters who spend time with the household, many of them well-known. Her letters are hysterically funny and were only shared with the family and friends much later on at a party. They were such a hit that, with the family’s blessing, they have become this cheeky book.
The Circle by Dave Eggers
A modern take on things … Recommended to me by BTB blog reader AM who warned this story makes one think twice about the way we use social media. Prolific writer Dave Eggers writes of an optimistic young woman who gives up her private life to work at a company called the Circle. Promises to be a bit provocative.
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
The one book which appears on almost every single Summer/Beach Reading list this season. Opening the cool as a cucumber cover (still in hardback) reveals an account of a family heading on vacation to Mallorca, Spain. They’re bringing lots of baggage, if you catch my drift , and with apparent heartwarming humour sort through the drama over the course of the holiday. Leading best seller lists everywhere.
The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
Newly in paperback, this novel seems to rest comfortably on the fluffy chick-lit shelf (not that that’s a bad thing) however, I’m quite intrigued by the real life source of the story. J. Courtney Sullivan has researched the life of Mary Frances Gerety, the copywriter responsible for creating the advertising tag-line “a diamond is forever” for De Beers in the 1940s. Using Mary Frances as inspiration this story explores the lives of a number of women through various decades and social and personal challenges during the twentieth century. A diamond engagement ring links the characters and each plot strand together.
I am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum
A good stream of humour apparently flows through this novel about an artist and his desire to re-ignite his marriage following his wife’s discovery of his wayward ways. Almost every review of this book comments on the humour and the poignancy of this tale and, of particular note, declares this author one to keep an eye on.
So there it is. Let us know what selections you make this summer and be sure to share any others you’re reading and loving. A special hello to Janice who when I met her recently for the first time, (You’re the Blog lady!) told me of her commitment to reading every book on last year’s Summer list. Impressive!
Happy reading, one and all!
May 28, 2014
Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
I was sorry to learn of Maya Angelou’s passing today. She contributed so much to the arts in general but will be particularly remembered for her fine way with words. The following quote is my favourite of all and is always prominently displayed at my desk. I can’t help but hear Maya’s lyrical voice anytime I read a quote, poem, or passage of her writing. For that reason, I had to include a recording of her reading a poem that captures her vivacity as we say good-bye. Enjoy!
by Maya Angelou
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman” from And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Used by permission of Random House, Inc.
Source: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House Inc., 1994)
May 19, 2014
I have yet to meet a Rosie Project reader who hasn’t become smitten with the quirky charm of its protagonist and the premise of his “project”; such a universally appealing cast and adventure. If you haven’t had a chance to read this yet, do yourself a favour and cuddle up this long weekend with a copy.
Author Graeme Simsion was recently visiting Vancouver from his native Australia and appeared at a Meet the Writer event hosted by the cozy 32 Books bookstore of Edgemont Village in North Vancouver. Graeme Simsion’s personal back-story is an intriguing one with several successful career incarnations before the extraordinary success of Rosie allowed him to leave his day job. At one point, he delights in pointing out, he was even “an alien with extraordinary abilities” according to Immigration officials. Graeme’s address exuded enthusiasm and good-natured self-deprecating humour – he assesses his success with an Innocent’s air of awe at his own good fortune and a cheerful commitment to enjoying the ride. The Rosie Project, which had its start in a short story and then morphed into a screenplay and finally evolved into a novel, is now in the process of becoming a movie. (Starring role actors were not revealed but were happily described as “unexpected” like Russell Crowe was in A Beautiful Mind. That gets the imagination churning!) Graeme did share the good news that a sequel to The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect, will appear on shop shelves in September. Can’t wait!
Blog readers AW, DH and I had a fun, quick chat with the personable Graeme. He is a fierce advocate of the Independent Bookstore and was quick to give credit to an indie book shop for his “Fictional Character” tee-shirt seen in the picture below. (available here) Inevitably, comparisons between the character Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory and Rosie character Dan Tillman are made but Graeme explained he’s never seen an episode and will strategically avoid Big Bang viewings in order to remain true to his version of Dan. Dan is in fact inspired by a long-time friend of his.
Graeme expressed concern that any reader ever feel he is ridiculing Dan’s Asperger’s condition; he indicated it was his goal to simply reveal the social anxieties we all feel and I am sure readers would feel he has indeed done that sensitively and very well.
I enjoy attending these events as it gives one some insight to the humanity behind the stories – a real person, sitting at a real desk or kitchen table, creating our entertainment from a spark of an idea. Hearing Graeme speak only enriched the Rosie experience. I hope you have chances to attend meet-the-writer events soon too!
May 7, 2014
The commencement of Commencement season is well underway and I’m sure, as every year, there will be memorable speeches given. Perhaps some not-so-memorable ones too – do you recall who spoke at your graduations? Some speeches are so well-received that they end up published as books for gifting as inspiration to generations beyond. If you’re seeking a little gift for the Grad this year, here are a few books based on speeches and a few that just seem timely with their wisdom.
Congratulations, by the Way – Some Thoughts on Kindness by George Saunders – Presented at Syracuse University in 2013. If you’d like to read the speech in its entirety, and I recommend you do, it’s available right here on the NYTimes website. If you’d like a precious little hardbound copy with a pretty cover, then off to the bookshop you go.
Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow – Not Commencement Speech based but full of lovely, nostalgic Life advice gleaned from the pages of the treasured little books (golden) we all had/have on our bookshelves. Diane Muldrow is the Editorial Director of Golden Books in her real-life and shares her personal connection to the books here in a Huffington Post blog post.
A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen – Inspired by a speech given by Anna to a high school graduation class. An excerpt can be read here.
Wear Sunscreen – A Primer for Real Life by Mary Schmich – This was a column written almost 20 years ago by Mary Schmich in the Chicago Tribune. Though she stated in her introduction that this was merely her version of the Graduation Speech we all have inside us, it has been mistakenly attributed to Kurt Vonnegut. Filled with plenty of important guidelines like “Floss” and “Sing” (Wait a minute, … maybe my Dad wrote this!) The original can be read here. A Tenth Anniversary edition was published, a Twentieth can’t be far off.
This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace – From a speech given by DFW in 2005 at Kenyon College. The original can be read here. Another message gone viral and particularly poignant now that Wallace is gone.
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow – Speaking of poignant … (You have my permission to step out and stock up on tissues.) A speech about what matters most, given by a university professor with the knowledge his own life is ending soon. Randy Pausch titled his presentation, “Really Achieving your Childhood Dreams” and spoke about living life most fully. One for the ages. Carnegie Mellon (Pausch’s university) has video and text of the speech available here.
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)
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.
Ms. Sandra 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:
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.
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?
April 3, 2014
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:
And my ultimate favourite, for obvious reasons …