A Book is a Present You Can Open Again and Again

I had a poster that said that, when I was a little girl, that was on my wall.  Thanks to the Internet, even though the poster is long gone, the image is easily found – it’s a Mary Engelbreit, and it looks like this:

(image via bookweb.org)

The Holidays and books just go together.  I read more in December and January then I do the rest of the year – scrolling through my list of books I read (which goes back to December 29, 1998, when I finished Possession and started a list on my computer), the week of Christmas through New Year’s I appear to do very little but sit and read, if my rate of book consumption is to be believed.

A lot of this is due to the fact that, with a birthday on Christmas Eve and a wish list that is comprised primarily of books, I have a fairly strong chance of getting an awful lot of books I’m excited about reading on the 24th and 25th of December.  And in the cozy stretch between Christmas and New Year, with at least a little less work than usual (although in my bookstore years not very much), books are the very best thing for a cold afternoon.

I used to do this to the point of being a bit terrible – there are multiple pictures of preteen me at family Christmases sitting on a couch surrounded by cousins and uncles and aunts, all of whom are talking animatedly while I am completely embroiled in a book.  One year it was Clan of the Cave Bear, a choice by my Aunt I can only imagine was made with absolutely no idea how racy that book was.  No.  Idea.

Eventually I learned to lift my head up and actually talk to the people around me (and find out that can be reasonably pleasant too), but it still doesn’t feel like Christmas day if I don’t get a chance to curl up by the Christmas tree for at least an hour with one of my new books.

This year, my Christmas and Boxing Day read was Rebecca Eaton’s Making Masterpiece, which was fun when it dipped into the history of the PBS show, and fantastic when it took a deep dive into some of the specific programs and challenges of bringing things British over in this general direction.  Now I’m on to The Ocean at the End of the Lane which is going to destroy me completely, I suspect.  There is an impressive stack of books yet-t0-be-read that I’ll be greeting 2014 with, and they are still my favourite presents to get.

 (image from the Richard Gleeson Library)

Nanowrimo 2013


After an ill-fated attempt a few years ago to give it a try, I decided to take another stab at National Novel Writing Month this year.

A few reasons why:

  •  There was a first draft I very much wanted to barrel through and get going.
  • There is a funny, talented and determined group of fellow writers at work who intended to do the same, and with whom I write, and eat delicious crepes and drink delicious hot chocolate, every couple of weeks.
  • If there is one thing I learned about myself in graduate school, it’s that I’m mildly obsessed with countdowns, deadlines, and charts, and if I had those things, I might actually make it go.

And this time it happened.  Here I am, on a Saturday morning, with 50,000 more words than I had at the beginning of the month.

And I think I can credit most of it to having people I worked alongside.  It’s the one thing I’ve never managed to do – I’ve spoken here before about just how difficult I find talking about writing – and now that I have, it is splendid and amazing and I am going to keep at it, because garrets and solitude are only useful some of the time.

I’ll be a sociable person yet.

And I’ll be a sociable person with 50,000 words to spend the winter revising.

A World of Muchness

The last few months have been full of muchness.  Full of friends getting married and travelling to watch them do that, full of visiting my mother in the slightly more northerly climes of Georgian Bay, full of family birthdays and family Thanksgivings and bridal showers and baby showers and all of the things.  I have read several marvellous books, been lucky enough to attend some truly lovely events to celebrate marvellous books and the magical people who write them, settled into my new work sphere in kids and teen books JUST in time to know where my feet are before the pre-Holiday madness started, and madly agreed to try to write 50,000 words next month like a crazy person.

Every time I try to catch a moment to capture the moment, I feel like three other things are already whizzing by, and instead of the moment, I have a picture of me taking a picture of me:

But as much as I wish I’d related all these adventures as they happened, I’m awfully glad they did, and I’m even a bit glad there’s been so many of them it was hard to find the time.

Walking and Writing

One of my favourite moments for thinking about stories is on my walk to work.  Seven a.m, downtown in the city.  A little over four kilometres from our front door to my office.  The first half we walk together, talking or not talking, looking at the city, maybe commenting on the odd characters who share our route each day.   After about twenty minutes, we stop at a coffee shop for tea and croissants.  Then, I leave my husband at the bookstore where his day will start, and continue on.

Part of the walk I spend underground, walking by closed stores, weaving around commuters who are moving northward from the train station, a river of people where I’m fighting against the current.  Then up and outwards again, into a city that might have gone from just waking up to bustling while I was beneath it, westward a while yet until I’m at the front door of my work.  The journey is automatic, my feet moving with so much certainty that my head sometimes forgets where I am.

All of which is why it’s such a good time for dreaming.  Immersed in the city that so many of my stories are set in, my mind fires madly off in all directions, down paths of stories I’ve been working on for a while or in places altogether new.  By the time I get to work, for a blessed half hour of quiet before the day really begins, I might feel nearly electric with ideas, and it’s all I can do to scribble them all down while I drink my tea and get ready to be bookish, rather than writerish, for the day.  It’s the breakthrough moment, that “aha!” moment, where things I thought I’d never figure out become clear and bright and obvious, like I should have known all along that was how the story went.

It’s not every day, but the days that it happens are magical.

Always New Eyes Looking Up

One of the most delightful things about children’s books, which you’ll recognize from all sorts of angles (working in bookstores, being a librarian, or being a parent for that matter), is that good books live a thousand lives.  Every year, just as one group of children leave Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear behind for the first train to Hogwarts or Misselthwaite Manor, there is a new set of hands eager to turn the pages that lead them to the Hundred Acre Woods.

It’s something we know instinctively as we search for the right book to give, when the first question we have is always “How old are they?” (not so much a question you hear in the politer company of a Fiction department).   Children’s books are like clothes, that we grow into and grow out of, laying the most treasured of them away to share with a younger sibling, or the next generation.

What’s fun, at least for someone like myself who spends much of their time sifting through information and numbers, always with that goal of the right book, the right hands, the right store, is how clearly we’re told this in how children’s books sell.  While it may not be as true for the teen market, in the world of picture books and early novels, classic titles are the pillars that hold up the edifice, and joining that hallowed company is a tricky task.  Sometimes quality and originality shine through so brightly there’s very little doubt (if Oliver Jeffer’s “Lost and Found” and “How to Catch A Star” aren’t around in 20 years I’ll eat my hat), while others are quirky and of the moment, and you’re not certain if they’ll stay or fade.

How lovely is it to know that there will always be someone out there who is just finding out what happens when a Rat, a Mole, and a Toad go on a road trip?  Who wonders if the voice Mary Lennox hears crying each night is a ghost?  Or has never heard a Wild Thing declare “We’ll eat you up, we love you so”?

It makes me happy just to think about it.

Books for babies, and teens, and early readers, and holidays…

I’ve shifted spheres within Indigo once again, finally settling down in what is pretty much my ideal place to be – working with inventory for kids books.  My particular responsibilities are making sure books for babies, books for early readers, books for holidays, and books for teens are all on the shelves for the customer who is looking for them.  Teen is the behemoth, of course – so many books that so many people are so very passionate about.  I have a soft spot for Early Readers, though – it’s the place where a lot of the stories my parents would read to me, a chapter at a time, come to rest.  Winnie the Pooh, Paddington – books where whole passages live in my subconscious, and when I encounter them again I find I know them, word for word.

I think, if I have my way, I shall stay where I am for some time to come.

The Pause that Refreshes?

The last time this blog saw an epic pause, it was due to highly exciting events like Weddings!  and Graduations!.  This time, not so much.  It’s simply been a busy year, with a lot of my energies pouring in to my offline world, rather than my online presence.  Many of those things are steadily happy-making, like the two writing projects I’m working on, or my just-beginning new position at Indigo as the Inventory Analyst for Genre Fiction, but they don’t make for a terribly interesting blog update.

In fact, the most exciting thing I’ve done in the last two weeks was my taxes:

Which really don’t rate much of a mention, except for the fact that I find myself continuing to do them on paper each year, despite increasingly easy ways to compute them online, and increasingly irritated letters from Revenue Canada asking me to join the 21st century and do so.

There are some things I just seem to do better with a pen in hand.  Taxes, definitely, but also certain types of creative endeavours.  I do my entire job on a computer – I send something to the printer perhaps once a week – but there are points in the creative process where staring at a computer screen is entirely useless.  I think better curled up with a notebook, even though there’s no decent reason why it should be so.  I worry it’s the beginning of that point in my life where technology leaves me behind, blinking querulously, but I find it too steady a reality not to accept it.  If I’m dreaming, I dream better on paper.

That said, it is time to shake the dust off this blog, and talk about writing books, and reading books, and thinking books, again.

Giving Good Reads a Go

As any casual glance at this blog reveals, I’m much better at writing about reading then writing about writing.  My reading life is just as important to me as my writing life, although I think making the distinction is almost silly -what we read shapes who we are, personally and artistically.  I’ve kept a list of books I’ve read since 1998, and looking back through it maps my personal history.

That’s why Good Reads is so appealing, and why I spent an hour uploading 2012’s books to my new account.  You can find me, friend me, and talk books with me here:  http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/10577813.  I haven’t gone very far past listing and starring so far, but I aim to get some capsule book reviews in there soon, and start filling in pre-2012 titles as well.

Recently read and loved – Used and Rare, by Nancy and Laurence Goldstone, and the marvellous Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.  Bring up the Bodies has a moment where you realize you are watching perfect, cold, implacable vengeance, and it’s shivery-good.


Ray Bradbury

“First of all, it was October, a rare months for boys.”

Something Wicked This Way Comes lands precisely in a mysterious genre that is everything I love about stories and is hard for me to articulate, because I love it so much. This world blending with the mysterious, with a strange mix of matter-of-fact and wonder, the dark and bright of childhood understood and respected. Fantasy that hovers at the border of horror, but feels so true, so real and rooted in the twentieth century landscape. It is my favourite Bradbury novel, and one of my favourite novels, full stop.

And while short stories are not always my favourite form, Bradbury’s sci-fi was jewel-sharp, so perfectly constructed that when the knife at the end came (and I firmly believe all the best short stories need a knife’s twist at the end) it was both completely unexpected and the only way things could have gone. “All Summer in a Day” broke my grade seven heart.

With the loss of him, and of Maurice Sendak so recently, we have lost some of the best mapmakers of the terrain of childhood.

For a tribute that captures a lot of what I love about Bradbury, check out this blog post at Indigo.ca: A Tribute to Ray Bradbury.  RIP, sir.

Stopping and Starting

I’m of two minds when it comes to writing.

Two actual minds, it feels like sometimes.  The first mind is the one racing through the story, jumping ahead to the next scene, listening at doors to what characters will say next, wondering if it will all end the way I think it will.  The second mind looks back at what I’ve already written, tweaking at it, worrying at it, realizing a better way to do this or a better place for that, seeing how those changes would ripple through the rest of the story like a sheet being snapped until it smooths over the bed.

You’ll notice neither of these minds settle with any great focus on the present – the actual words spreading across the page.

When things are going well, these two minds balance out just right in the present moment, and I have one of those days where notebook pages get filled or laptop screens scroll by.  When things aren’t going well, I either spend my time worrying backwards, getting things into a snarl that probably shouldn’t be snarled like that until the next draft, or I spend my time dreaming forwards, certain of what happens after the thing that happens, but strangely farsighted about the present.

Computers don’t help with the desire to keep fussing with what I’ve already done.  It’s so easy to go back and edit, whereas before a draft was a linear creature, a notebook, a typewritten page, moving forward always.  Oh cut and paste, what a ditherer you’ve made of me.

Nevertheless, when the two minds are working together, the story moves too, and I am glad.