Bella's Bookshelves

O day of days, when we can read! - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Category: books (page 1 of 11)

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores North American Giveaway

I’ve posted about this hilarious book before, compiled by writer and bookseller Jen Campbell, and it’s finally just been released in North America! Jen’s generously offered to send a lucky winner a signed copy all the way from England. Thinking about Christmas yet? This book will make the perfect gift for a bookseller friend or any booklover who’s spent time browsing in a bookshop.

Customer: Have you read every single book in here?

Bookseller: No, I can’t say I have.

Customer: Well, you’re not very good at your job, are you?

A simple Twitter question posed by John Cleese — ”What is your pet peeve?” — inspired Jen Campbell to start a blog that collected all the ridiculous conversations overheard in her bookstore, everything from “Did Beatrix Potter ever write a book about dinosaurs?” to the hunt for a paperback that could forecast the next year’s weather; from “I’ve forgotten my glasses, please read me the first chapter” to “Excuse me … is this book edible?”; and from “Can books conduct electricity?” to “My children are just climbing your bookshelves: that’s ok… isn’t it?”

In addition to these gems, Overlook and Jen Campbell have selected new material from booksellers throughout the United States and Canada, thanks to very generous (and eager) submissions. Christopher Sheedy, at Re: Reading on the Danforth, has a bit in there, too!”If we didn’t know it already, this irresistible book is proof positive that booksellers are heroes, the world over.” Hear hear!

For more info:

Jen’s blog:

Jen on Twitter:

The Facebook Page:

Jen is currently accepting submissions from booksellers and librarians for the sequel, More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, which will be published next year.

Now! To enter the contest, simply write “Pick me!” in the comments, and I’ll have the draw in a week, on November 7. Good luck all! Trust me, this book, with all its weirdness and quirky illustrations, will make you laugh.

UPDATE: Weird Things just got nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award!!

Giving Over to the Reader in You

There are tons of book people, and we have different reading habits, prefer different types of books and reading locations and formats, have diverse ways of organizing our books, and differently prioritize the way we live our love of books (some are collectors before readers, for instance, but are still readers). However, one thing I’ve found is that for the most part, we harbour not only a love of books and reading but also a weakness for accumulating more than we can read. And we often see this as a bad thing.

This morning, I read a post by Pasha Malla called “Bookshopping.” In it, he talked about how he felt on walking into a bookstore, overwhelmed by the number of books, sad that so many would likely not be touched (“all those spirits and lives sunk into unending shelves of ignored words”), feeling as a writer a futility, then, in what he was contributing.

Because we love books (reading, buying, writing them), none of us wants to become depressed when we walk into a bookshop. For a different perspective, Malla turned to Borges, who wrote:

Sometimes, looking at the many books I have at home, I feel I shall die before I come to the end of them, yet I cannot resist the temptation of buying new books. Whenever I walk into a bookstore and find a book on one of my hobbies—for example, Old English or Old Norse poetry—I say to myself, “What a pity I can’t buy that book, for I already have a copy at home.”

How many of us could have written the same thing!

And I think, This is where I find the beauty in reading but also in owning far more books than I’ve read: the number I have, or the number I’m confronted with in a store, signifies abundance and flexibility and diversity. For which we’re fantastically lucky, really. I have the gift of being able to walk to my own shelves or the shelves in a shop and pick what I like depending on what attracts me right then. I don’t see all the books as languishing. I see them as potential.

Of course anyone who truly loves books buys more of them than he or she can hope to read in one fleeting lifetime. A good book, resting unopened in its slot on a shelf, full of majestic potentiality, is the most comforting sort of intellectual wallpaper. — David Quaimen

When faced with abundance, we often cower — an inappropriate response in many cases, when you think about it. But abundance wasn’t only what Pasha was talking about; as an author, he was feeling sensitive to all those labours of love on the shelf, perhaps never to be touched. It is sad if we look at it that way. How do we make ourselves feel better about that while not buying up every copy in the store? We simply keep doing what we love, buying and reading what interests us. Most important, we understand our bookbuying and reading selves as absolutely essential, and not only to keep alive the industry that keeps our passion sated.

In the end, Pasha concludes: “Each of those books that appears so ignored, really, only needs one human being to ignite its potential, to breathe life into it, to rescue it from the dead heap of remainderdom.” As Borges wrote,

A book is a physical object in a world of physical objects. It is a set of dead symbols. And then the right reader comes along, and the words—or rather the poetry behind the words, for the words themselves are mere symbols—spring to life, and we have a resurrection of the word.

It’s exciting, isn’t it?

What Good Fiction Looks Like

Sorry if you thought this was going to be one of my serious opinion pieces. But really, every time I write a review I tell you what good fiction looks like, don’t I?

So just for fun — because I’m really struggling with writing reviews right now and that frightens me — you guys want to see what’s on my tbr pile, not including the many books I’ve actually bought and haven’t read? These are all the books waiting to be read and reviewed right now, sent to me by publishers and authors. They are shelved right beside my desk and every now and then I turn to them and say, “I know, seriously, I know. I really can’t wait to get to you. I wish I could read you all RIGHT NOW!” How does one have such great fiction waiting and not read it at once? I WANT to read all these. I’m dying to. But I am only one person and I pretty much read for a living, too. So this pile goes down slowly (but surely).

I left a little Paddington Bear in there for you. You can click on this photo to enlarge, too.

And then there’s my bedside table, and all of those except one, the bottom one, are also waiting for something. Tomato Red is by Daniel Woodrell, and I just really want to read that book because Woodrell is one of my favourite writers on the planet. But The Sisters Brothers is for June book club and review, Beautiful Ruins is a review book, the Gifts of Imperfection is for therapy, Inside is for work, and A Matter of Life and Death or Something is also for review. I’m reading that and Inside and Gifts right now. All three are very good, particularly Inside, which I don’t want to put down.

I think it’s fun to look at what others are reading or what they’ve got on their shelves and in their tbr piles. Want to share? Lead us to your photos by including links in the comments or simply list the books.


Seen Reading

This is not a review. Not yet. I only just went to bed with the book (I badly wanted to tweet last night that I was taking Julie Wilson to bed but my computer was already off), and I haven’t finished it. I just wanted to call your attention, you book lovers, you readers, to a book I think is very cool. You may have already heard of it. You may have already seen my reaction to it, even.

It’s called Seen Reading, and it’s by Julie Wilson. I’ve included below a very interesting press release that was sent to me earlier, as well.

This is me, when I received the book in the mail last night. I hadn’t been expecting it — I’d fully expected to buy it. I still will because I think it would make a great gift.


That right there is genuine book excitement, folks — a friend even pointed out my dilated pupils so you know I’m not faking! I didn’t pose for this picture: when I unwrapped the book, I ran and grabbed the camera and propped it on a shelf and pressed the button and jerked back and it almost instantly took the photo. Pure luck I made it in there, and not looking too much like a dork. First try, even! What you don’t see, unfortunately, is the dog right at my lap looking up at me and doing her boxer bean dance because I’ve barely come in through the door and my flurry of activity has got her all excited, too.

In the (exciting) moment is what this photo is.

I’ll tell you why, too. Seen Reading is a really neat concept. So neat I was trying my damnedest last night to swallow back the raging jealousy. Why did I not think of this? How many of us haven’t been curious as to what others are reading when we catch them in the act in public? Before my husband and I had a washing machine and dryer and our own place, I used to go down to the laundromat with my book. Every single time someone else had a book too I struck up a conversation. I waited till their nose wasn’t in the book and I’d ask them about it. Like it? I’d say. Or, I’ve heard about that one! One time I went out and bought a copy of Richard Russo’s Empire Falls because of a laundromat conversation. (We’re booksellers all, when we’re readers.) I never finished it. But that’s kind of the beauty of it, too, isn’t it? I always marvel at how someone can love a book so much and I strongly dislike it or vice versa. Chacun à son goût! The difference in people’s reading tastes intrigues me. They say there’s someone for everyone. It’s like that with books, too. Well, to each his own. I love witnessing that.

I’ve been known to lower the passenger window in our car and stick out my head to gawk at a pedestrian who was amazingly walking and reading at the same time. The last time I did this, all I got was a Caucasian male, in his twenties, junk food gut and wearing a trench coat, longish shaggy hair, carrying a black backpack, and reading some battered paperback sci-fi novel that may or may not have been by Robert Heinlein. I couldn’t tell; I was in a moving car. I wanted to shout at him, Hey! Awesome! I love it that you’re reading and walking! I love seeing such nerdiness! I think you’re cool! Or maybe, you know, just give him a thumbs up and drive away grinning.

I’ll talk more about Seen Reading when I’ve finished it, but I’ll tell you that what’s cool about this book is that Julie’s taken her observations of readers in transit and imagined who they are, how they got there, where they’re going. There’s a description of her reader, the book they’re reading, even sometimes the page they were on. And across from it, on the left-hand side, which is interesting in itself, is the fictional scene she’s imagined about that reader — it might be from when they were a kid, or what they did on a particular morning, or how they interacted with a family member or beloved.

Julie’s taken an everyday thing, readers in public, extraordinary or exciting perhaps only for people who love books, and wondered aloud about these wonderful people who make up the urban transit landscape. I have so many questions about this! I think it’s fascinating. I mean, why do we read in public?  So many reasons! What is it saying about us? Is there anything these readers in public have in common? Are they all wearing some similar article of clothing? Are they all a similar age? Are they a certain “type”? Do readers in public generally read a certain kind of book? Perhaps more interesting: do readers on the Toronto transit have what they read in common? Are they reading predominantly Canadian, or even Torontonian, authors? If there’s nothing at all in common besides the fact that they read in public, interesting in itself, WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

It’s this question Julie asks and imagines the answers to, and it’s this question that also makes us want to connect with the people we see investing their time in a book. Each time we ask a person about what they’re reading, it’s not only about the book: it’s also an urge to connect with someone we feel an instant, albeit it perhaps fleeting commonality. For book lovers, there’s no denying we feel a special unspoken connection with others who read. Certain car owners, motorcyclists, too, feel it, people who have an article of clothing or an accessory in common…it’s all about a sense of validation, of fitting in, of belonging. A meeting of passions.

Sometimes we say something, sometimes we don’t: instead, we quietly watch as they turn the pages, as they dogear, smile, become absorbed — as they mirror ourselves. We understand what they’re doing. To a small extent, we already know who they are. But that makes us want to know more about them.

Julie gives us one interpretation. And best thing about her profiles, about her sketches, is that they’re not, in fact, short stories. Not to my mind. Better, even, in this case, they’re open-ended, a kind of teaser. Beautifully, sympathetically rendered paragraphs that encourage more interpretation, further imagining. Her pieces are as transient as her readers, as they come and go from one stop to another — mere glimpses, but deeply considered. And perhaps most neat of all, they’re in book form. I want to say it’s a kind of postmodern thing, but Ms Wilson is too forward-thinking for postmodernism. She’s forging her own, thoughtful, curious path. There’s more to this than I’ve told you, more than meets the eye, to quote a famous Transformers cartoon.

That’s one of the great things about this book. As simple as it is, as much as it’s one woman’s imaginings about the characters she observes, it’s also making a societal statement and asking societal questions. As readers, both of any books and this one, all we need do is think about it. I think we’ll find our minds opened.


February 24, 2012

For Immediate Release:

 Freehand Books and HarperCollinsCanada announced today the simultaneous April 1 publication of SEEN READING by Julie Wilson. Freehand Books acquired Canadian English print rights to the title over a year ago. HarperCollinsCanada acquired Canadian English digital rights this month.

“I believe this could be a first for Canadian publishing,” says Samantha Haywood, who arranged both deals on behalf of Transatlantic Literary Agency. “It is certainly a first for me as an agent. It just goes to show that when the industry works in the best interests of the project, everyone walks away happy. The partnership makes good business sense for all involved.”

Seen Reading is the exciting debut collection of microfictions from Canada’s pre-eminent literary voyeur, Julie Wilson. Based on the beloved online movement of the same name, Seen Reading collects more than a hundred stories inspired by sightings of people reading on Toronto transit, each reader re-invented in a poetic piece of short fiction.

“Everyone at Freehand was so excited when we found out about this project,” says Sarah Ivany, Freehand’s Managing Editor. “We were all fans of the Seen Reading online movement, which is such a fresh and creative concept. However, we didn’t want to rush the book to print—we believed that this collection had the potential to be so much more than a facsimile of a pre-existing blog. Julie, editor Robyn Read, and designer Natalie Olsen (Kisscut Design) have all put an extraordinary amount of work into this book, and I am delighted with the results. Julie’s known for being a creative force within the publishing industry, but she’s also a really beautiful writer, and I can’t wait for people to get their hands on this collection.”

“The unique nature of this project is a clear fit for the direction HarperCollinsCanada is taking with our digital publishing program,” said Deanna McFadden, Associate Director of Digital Product Development at HarperCollinsCanada.

Wilson has been working closely with Read and Olsen to ensure that the transition from new media to literature is a smooth one, to come full circle with a new online community to be launched in conjunction with the book’s release, April 1. Freehand Books has contracted Ziegler, Mitchell, and Associates to redesign and expand the Seen Reading website, The new site will feature a blog, reading guides, a newsletter, and interactive forums where people can log their own reader sightings and connect with like-minded literary fans.

“My own love of reading includes curiosity about what others are reading, and how they came to those books,” says Vicki Ziegler, web/online/social media manager for the Griffin Poetry Prize. “My team is now helping to extend the online presence of a venture that celebrates that curiosity, with the extraordinary Julie Wilson no less. That’s bookish nirvana.”

For her role as both creator and author, Wilson is thrilled with the evolution of Seen Reading from blog to book to online community, and the opportunity this unique publishing partnership brings to the table. “I love Seen Reading dearly, and the love-in continues with the tremendous support of Freehand Books and HarperCollinsCanada. Over the years, I’ve considered self-publishing, but just like the web of friends you call when you start dating someone new, you benefit from some distance, along with a variety of opinions and perspective. I simply don’t want to do this alone, because nothing about Seen Reading is intended to point to a solo identity beyond casting myself as The Literary Voyeur. Too many people feed into it, from writers to publishers to booksellers, librarians and, of course, the reader. That more than one publisher should help spread the word speaks to the true nature of Seen Reading.”

For more information, to request a review copy, or to arrange interviews, please contact Freehand Books Managing Editor Sarah Ivany at 403-452-5662 or via email at For more information about the ebook, please contact Rob Firing, Director, Publicity and Communications at HarperCollinsCanada at 416-975-9334 x141 or via email at

About the author: 

Julie Wilson is The Book Madam, a self-professed “professional publishing fan” living and working in Toronto. She’s the past Online Marketing Manager for House of Anansi Press and recent Host of the CBC Book Club.

You can follow Julie on Twitter: @BookMadam and @SeenReading, and you can tweet your own reader sightings using the hashtag #seenreading.

Praise for Seen Reading:

“Beneath the surface of Julie Wilson’s energy, biting wit, and quirkiness lays intelligence and insight—a fresh observer to the dynamic ways in which we communicate.”—Anthony De Sa

“I spy, with my little eye, something that is utterly delightful. Take a peek at Julie Wilson’s Seen Reading. There are treasures to be found within.”—Ami McKay

“With Seen Reading, Julie Wilson has done something revolutionary for the time: seamlessly combine books-related gossip, arts reportage, and creative writing in every post. The results are exhilarating and deliciously voyeuristic.”—George Murray,

There and Back Again

The one book I must always have on my shelves. The one I would have with me on a desert island. The book I would have if I could have only one. (But if I could have more than one, say one more, the LOTR trilogy, in one volume, would be the other. Illustrated by Alan Lee, of course.)

I’ve been there and back again for twenty-eight years, since the story was first read to me in grade three, under a large tree in the Alliston, ON, St. James cemetery beside my elementary school. Mrs. Henderson read from a giant hardcover plastic-covered library book, illustrated by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, the copy of which I years later inherited when the book was discarded and my mom worked at the library, and which I promptly, lamentably, lost at a friend’s house. The Hobbit has been the single-most influential book in my life.

Mrs. Henderson, if you’re out there: thank you. I still have a crush on you.

I get the urge to read Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings every Christmas. Unfortunately, I can’t live in the Shire or go on adventures on the neverending road, but I can read myself there!

Which books do you love to revisit?

[For those like me who care—though if you do, you probably already have it bookmarked—I give you The Hobbit Blog. Watch the production videos! And the trailer. Oh, the trailer.]

To see it much larger and clearer, and just all around better, click here.

Books to Buy or Ask For This Christmas

Give books for Christmas!

This post is a little late, considering there’s only two weeks now till Christmas, but it’s not so time-consuming to pick out a book or four (and what’s easier to wrap than books?), and you should still be able to order online in time for Christmas at some places (many publishers, like Anansi, are selling directly, and offering nice discounts!)…or ask for these fantastic books on your wish list. Alternatively, you can ask for a gift certificate to spend at your local bookstore (preferably independent! My sister did this last year. She lives in Barrie but she called the store where I work and ordered a gift certificate for me, which they sent her in the mail, totally without my knowledge. I had had no inkling whatsoever. Awesome. Guess how long it took me to spend it)!

Okay. This post was a lot of work! Which is too bad, because since I’ve run out of steam, I’m not going to include other bookish gifts, like bookish jewellery, or cards, or other fun stuff that I often include in my LitBit posts. I grew very overwhelmed, too, while writing it: there are so many great books not listed here! so many I wish I could share with you, and even more types of literature, like plays for instance, I haven’t covered. Non-fiction is a huge category with countless subcategories, like bios, and travel, and books on how to write, etc.
This is why I’m a bookseller right now, but also why I want to broaden my horizon and find a job at which I can help publicize more books to a wider group of people. Anyway, if you have any books you think would make fantastic gifts, share them in the comments. If you need more suggestions, check out the annual edition of the Advent Book Blog, where there are several recommendations each day, submitted by enthusiastic book lovers. And don’t be shy; what books are on your list this holiday season?

Why Endorsements Don’t Sell Me A Book

Whenever I’m receiving at the bookstore, I check out almost every book. I take note of the design first and then read the covers, and if I’m interested I often flip through the text to sample the writing. Today I was perusing a copy of Margaret George’s Elizabeth I, a new release by Penguin (under their Viking imprint) (note: there was nothing I could see indicated on the box or invoice telling us to hold back the book, and I did check, though Penguin’s site shows a release date of April 4. For that reason, the book is not yet out on the floor). I have three other books by George, so this one caught my attention because of her name and the subject matter. And it’s a really desirable hardback (albeit cumbersome, being 688 pages), with attractive cover art and a nice finish.

Then I read the back endorsements and I honestly suddenly felt overcome by the desire to throw that beautiful book. These particular endorsements culminated into the straw that broke the camel’s back and inspired this post. I’m serious about this, because I assume that endorsements are a crucial part of the marketing strategy and often affect a buyer’s decision, particularly if they recognize the endorser. So how many of you are utterly weary of reading hyperbolic clichés like “Stunning tour de force,” “Best book I’ve read…” “The next so and so” (lately every suspense, thriller, and mystery author is the next Stieg Larsson—seriously, it’s laughable now), “An utterly engaging masterpiece,” “A literary banquet,” “The prose sparkles…” “Soars with inspiration and crackles with joy…” ad nauseum? And then there’s “Think so and so and so and so…” or “Think so and so and give him such and such, etc., and you’ve got…” and other bizarre author mashup recipes. Lastly, there’s the unimpressive yet overused “So and so does it again.”

Often, the endorsements are flowery and overflowing with adjectives. And when you clump a bunch of them together, the effect, for me, is not that I’m going to bust if I don’t purchase this book right now because it sounds so freaking awesome. It’s rather that I’m turned off or nonplussed. If these writers are saying the same thing about everyone, if they couldn’t be bothered to come up with a few original words of praise, what is that telling me not only about the writer but also the book itself?

These endorsements do the author no favours, then; in fact, quite the opposite. They’re trite and unimaginative, and as such have lost their credibility. When reading them, I get the sense that the reviewer either didn’t love the book but was asked to produce a sentence or two for clout or had no time to come up with something that might indeed reflect any genuine emotion. And I’m not sure who’s that busy. In the end, I open the book and let the the writing speak for itself. That, above all else, is what sells a book to me. I always read before buying.

What gets to me most is that these hackneyed tidbits splashed across covers are typically written by renowned authors. Or reviewers for notable newspapers. People who, one expects, have at least a modicum of talent in the way of creative writing, and not only talent but imagination. So are all these poor reviewers suffering from endorser’s block? Why do all these books sound the same? And is it really possible that we have this many stellar books being published? I argue no. Either we’re getting lazy in our reading and critiquing or our standards are slipping. Not every book is perfect, and that’s likely not what the blurbs are saying but they’re coming pretty damn close. Every book’s a potential award winner. Another reason I can’t believe the endorsement hype. I’m too often disappointed.

If we—I include us book bloggers, booksellers, book lovers who recommend books, as well as esteemed endorsers—cannot think of anything original to say in praise, how can readers believe us? And how can what we say be effective if it sounds as though we’re trying too hard to come up with brilliant and clever blurbs? Each book is different; each author deserves our translation of how we feel into unique compliments that sound genuine. Incidentally, I find more examples of this genuineness on book bloggers’ sites, because they’re just trying to share the love, not dress up a sentence or two for their coming out on the front or back cover. Perhaps more publishers should start quoting us, the real person, the average reader, on their books. We receive ARCs all the time. Some authors argue that we book bloggers are relatively ineffective when it comes to book sales. Perhaps we could improve that by venturing out of our box. The question that arises is, is an endorser’s name more important than what they say? I’d hate for that to be true.

Regardless, a note to professional endorsers: hyperbole is tiresome. Cliché is boring and unimpressive. Tiresome and boring and unimpressive equal ineffective and unattractive. Even insulting.

So I issue a challenge to all of you out there who are reviewing books, whether book bloggers, authors, newspapers, or journals. And I include myself. Create your own vocabulary, but try not to use the thesaurus. This is not about you: it’s not your job to try and make yourself sound awesome at the same time. So no more tours de force, no more masterpieces, no more stunning literary banquets, no more authors’ finest and most compelling page-turners, no more unputdownables. No more entertaining, superb, captivating, enthralling, brash, irreverent, inventive, and impressive volumes or debuts. No more exaggeration. Be original. Be creative. Be bloody fair to the author. Praise means nothing when it’s over the top and you’ve said it to all the girls.

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