UPDATE on the Campaign to Help Saleema Nawaz Rebuild Her Book Collection After Fire

Hi all,

I just heard from Saleema and I have her permission to repost her email to me here.

Hi Steph,

Thank you again for your incredibly touching and generous idea you shared on Bella’s Bookshelves.  As much as I love the idea of receiving a hand-picked book from literary folks all over Canada, I could never accept them. Not least because many of our belongings (including books!) have been saved, but also because we are now guests in somebody else’s house — we will be staying with my in-laws for the next two months.

[Steph: No worries! You can send the books to me or give them to her personally. If you send them to my address, which you’ll find on my Contact page, I will personally deliver them to Montreal or ship them myself.]

[Saleema’s response: Thanks so, so much … Of course, I would never object to somebody buying my books!  But honestly that is the most I could accept, and the support I have already felt from everyone is the most amazing bolstering help I could ever receive or want.  Please do feel free to post my earlier email.  I’m hoping to do a blog update, but I’m so exhausted, having been up for so long with just a couple of hours of snatched sleep… I’m not sure how soon it can come.]

You have no idea how much it means to me that so many people came to our aid…with offers of places to stay, food to eat, clothes to wear, and so wonderfully, books to read.

Some books have been lost to water and falling plaster, but most seemed to have been spared based on our cursory visit to the building this morning. In fact, although half of our kitchen, the bathroom, the front entryway and most of the living room have been destroyed (not by flames, but by falling plaster, fire axes, and water), our bedrooms and our hallway were spared from everything except for very heavy smoke. Many of the books were actually on bookcases in our hallway and in the half of the kitchen that was spared.

It is like a tornado has ripped through the place, with odd items here and there lying intact amidst the destruction of splintered wood and crumbling plaster.

I’m not sure how costly (or, indeed, possible) it will be to remove the smell of smoke from our large collection (and from everything else we own), but it is one we will cheerfully investigate.  I am so grateful to you and all the loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and strangers who have reached out to us.

With so much thanks,


I’ve asked Saleema to keep me posted on whether or not the books that were not damaged by water or fallen plaster and such can be salvaged from the smoke damage (this can be pretty bad as to render the books unreadable), and if so, whether or not insurance will cover it. If the books can be salvaged and insurance will not cover it, perhaps we could start a campaign to help her pay for the recovery.

Alternatively, I’ve asked her if she has a wish list. Again, I’ll let you know. If not, even if she receives doubles, your copy will be better than what she has, and she could always pay it forward by donating hers. Don’t be afraid, either, of not knowing what to choose. As a former long-time bookseller, I can advise: Let your heart tell you. What book would you match her to? What book would you press into a friend’s hand and say, oh, you must read this? Whatever you send, it will be picked with concern and thoughtfulness and received with gratitude.

Thank you so much, everyone, for your generosity of spirit so far.


PS. Saleema is on Facebook, and her Twitter handle is @pinkmeringue

Help Canadian Author Saleema Nawaz Rebuild Her Book Collection After Fire

426457_10151528279906368_309430823_nUPDATE: This post is no longer in effect. Please read this one!

In case you haven’t heard yet, Saleema Nawaz, author of the collection of short stories Mother Superior and the recently released and very well received Bone and Bread, lost her apartment in a fire last night. I can only imagine how devastating this must be, and I’m deeply saddened by her loss. She wrote briefly and bravely about the experience. She lost 16 packed bookcases of books. I’m very thankful that she and her partner are safe.

What I’d like to propose—since we are all book lovers and would be utterly destroyed by the loss of our precious books, which we’ve taken years and much time and love to collect and read—is purchasing one or more books to help Saleema and her partner rebuild their library. I’m thinking we could buy our favourite book(s) for her, so she’ll have a shelf or more to remind her she is supported both as a Canadian author and friend, and has our best recommendations as well.

We all know that a house without books is not a home. We know that books are friends and lovers. And we know that without our books, we would be uncomfortable, displaced. When I look at the familiar volumes on my shelves, no matter where I’ve just moved to, they help me feel instantly at home.

This idea is fresh, and admittedly I’m writing this without her permission. I haven’t been able to reach her. Saleema will likely find this out from this post. She may protest. I don’t know.

I bought Mother Superior on her birthday. If I can do something to give back to an author who’s enriched my reading experience, right now there’s no other way I can think that’s more appropriate.

There are few things more tragic than losing one’s home for whatever reason. If the fire didn’t annihilate the books, likely all the water did.

To help, please just leave a comment below and I’ll email you with details. Saleema doesn’t yet have an address, but I will arrange the particulars of this campaign and then get back to everyone. Either all the books can be sent to my home and I can drive them to her, or we may be able to send them directly to her. She will have an apartment soon, and it would be fun for her to keep getting mail at this new address, since books in the mail are not only exciting but also make a house feel like home.

Thank you so much in advance for your support of this endeavour. If anything changes once Saleema reads this, I’ll be sure to let you know.

PLEASE NOTE: I’d really appreciate if the books you buy or donate are your very favourite, not ones you just need to get rid of. Thank you!

Short Stories for Breakfast Weekly Recap

2013-02-19 08.00.24Another week of good stories. Some better than others, but I remain convinced that I don’t have a shitty book in this whole house.

April 15: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Of God and Cod,” by Anthony De Sa, from BARNACLE LOVE. So much richness in one little story. A man leaves his family behind for a voyage from Portugal and Newfoundland. The beginning of what promises to be a very good collection of intimately connected stories. Doubleday, 2008.

April 16: #shortstoriesforbreakfast is abominably late today. But better late than never. I read “Elk Talk,” by Elizabeth Gilbert, one of my favourite writers. It’s from PILGRIMS. Yes, she wrote short stories, and a novel, before Eat, Pray, Love! And her short stories kick ass. I’m jealous all over. A family in the country is surprised by unwelcome neighbours who appear on their doorstep en masse and invite themselves in. And the father has an elk call apparatus. [1997], Penguin, 2007.

April 17: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “For Puzzled in Wisconsin,” by Bronwen Wallace, from PEOPLE YOU’D TRUST YOUR LIFE TO. M&S, 1990. A woman’s reflections are triggered by a letter to the newspaper. “Dear Allie: My husband has an intricate tattoo on his chest. I am very fond of it, and I don’t want to see it go with him when he dies…” Very good, but I wouldn’t expect less from Wallace.

April 18: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Cleats,” by Johanna Skibsrud, from THIS WILL BE DIFFICULT TO EXPLAIN. My first Skibsrud read. And I like it. It’s pretty funny, this one, mature and well-done. I’ve heard more negative about Skibsrud than good, and I feel like I want to prove them all wrong. I don’t even need to read more to do that, but I will. Hamish Hamilton, 2011. (Read from the ARC)

April 19: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Big Bitchin’ Cow,” by D.W. Wilson, from ONCE YOU BREAK A KNUCKLE. I keep reading stories, like this one, that make me think, yes, this is exactly what mine’s supposed to be! A father chases his son across a frozen lake, remembering the past between them. So damn good. The structure is perfect. Hamish Hamilton, 2011. (Read from the ARC)

April 20: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Out of the Woods” by Chris Offutt, from his collection of the same name. A man goes and picks up his wife’s dead brother. Such a poor summary for such a masterful story. I love the vernacular, the tone. The greatest thing to come from the US is its literary talent. Like Woodrell, Offutt is a great American writer whom Tobias Wolff (yet another goodie) says is one of the best. I agree. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

April 21: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “With Daddy,” by Allison Baggio, from her collection IN THE BODY. In the wee hours of the morning, a girl’s father plucks her from her bed in the house where she lives with her mother, and takes a trip. Heartbreaking, an excellent story idea, and an interesting exploration of the collection title in a juxtaposition sort of way, but something tells me this story could have been better. Having worked on Girl in Shades, though, and having thought it rather strong, I look forward to reading the rest of this intriguing collection. ECW Press, 2012.

If you have suggestions, do let me know and I’ll add them to my list. Thank you to those who’ve recommended already. Duly noted!

Next up: who knows! I get to pick each day depending on what I feel like for breakfast!

Writers’ Trust Identifies Literary Stars of Tomorrow

This is a Writers’ Trust press release

Finalists Announced for RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers

Toronto – April 18, 2013 – The Writers’ Trust of Canada is delighted to announce finalists for a literary award that plays an instrumental role in discovering and promoting the next stars of Canadian literature.

The RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers rewards writers under age 35 who are unpublished in book form. Alternating each year between poetry and short fiction, the award will be given this year to the author of an exceptional work of poetry. The $5,000 award is supported by the RBC Emerging Artists Project, which invests in up-and-coming artists to help build their professional careers. Two finalists will each receive $1,000.

A jury comprised of the poets Mary Dalton, Phil Hall, and Susan Holbrook read 135 blind submissions and selected three finalists:

Laura Clarke for “Mule Variations”

Laura Clarke is a Toronto-based writer and a graduate of the MA program in creative writing at the University of Toronto. She has published work in The Antigonish Review, Grain, PRISM international,Qwerty, and Freefall. The jury said of her work: “Something both hip and ancient is given full rein: hard limits slurping in the sun, Aristotle and police reports, electric fences and pick-up lines, subway riders with donkey heads. A washed-out sardonic tone delivers a sure push that is humane and celebratory.”

Laura Matwichuk for “Here Comes the Future”

Laura Matwichuk holds an MA in art history from the University of British Columbia and is a recent graduate of the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. She lives in Vancouver and will be a writer-in-residence at the Banff Centre later this spring. Her poems have appeared in Contemporary Verse 2 and Emerge. The jury citation said of her work: “Matwichuk hangs poetry from the syntactical hooks of the sentence, offering us prose poems that are flexible, slightly surreal, both expansive and focused.”

Suzannah Showler for “The Reason and Other Poems”

Suzannah Showler holds an MA in creative writing from the University of Toronto. Her writing has appeared in many places, including The WalrusHazlittThe Puritan, and Joyland, and she won the 2012 Matrix LitPOP Award for Poetry. She is the poetry editor for Dragnet Magazine and curator of the website Art of Losing (artoflosing.ca). She lives in Toronto and is working on her first collection of poems. The jury said of her work: “These poems distinguish themselves by the quality of their poetic intelligence. They are astute, linguistically and syntactically adept, and full of sonic energy.”

The winner will be announced on May 28, 2013, at an event hosted by acclaimed poet and past Bronwen Wallace Award winner Jeramy Dodds. The event will be held in Toronto at the Leslie and Anna Dan Galleria at the TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, located at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

The nominated work of each finalist is available for free to download exclusively on Apple’s iBookstore starting today at iTunes.com/BronwenWallace.

“At RBC, we believe in the power of creative writing to enrich our lives,” said Shari Austin, Vice-President, Corporate Citizenship, RBC and Executive Director, RBC Foundation. “That is why we are proud to support the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, because it helps promising young writers to build their professional careers and fosters the next generation of great Canadian writers.”

“The RBC Bronwen Wallace Award has a stellar track-record of launching literary careers,” said Mary Osborne, Writers’ Trust executive director. “A nomination for this award signifies exceptional potential and gives young writers a boost at a crucial point in their development as artists.”

About Bronwen Wallace

Bronwen Wallace was a poet, short story writer, and mentor to many young writers as a creative writing instructor at Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College in Kingston. This prize was established in her honour in 1994 by a group of friends and colleagues. Wallace felt that writers should receive greater recognition early in their careers and so this annual award is given to a writer below the age of 35 who has published poetry or prose in literary magazines, journals, or anthologies, but has not yet been published in book form.

About the Award

Over 19 years, this award has distinguished 66 young writers with a nomination and many have gone on to receive literary acclaim. Several past honorees have new books out this spring, including Michael Crummey, Shashi Bhat, Natalee Caple, Dina Del Bucchia, and Tanis Rideout.

About the RBC Emerging Artists Project

In 2012, RBC invested $6.2 million in programs that support Arts and Culture in Canada and around the world.The RBC Emerging Artists Project consists of support through sponsorships and donations to organizations whose programs bridge the gap from academic excellence to professional careers in all forms of art.

About the Writers’ Trust of Canada

The Writers’ Trust of Canada is a charitable organization that seeks to advance, nurture, and celebrate Canadian writers and writing through a portfolio of programs, including literary awards, financial grants, scholarships, and a writers’ retreat. Writers’ Trust programming is designed to champion excellence in Canadian writing, to improve the status of writers, and to create connections between writers and readers. Canada’s writers receive more financial support from the Writers’ Trust than from any other non-governmental organization or foundation in the country.


You can view the 2013 finalists on the Writers’ Trust site.

You can read Bronwen Wallace’s writing, too, but she does seem hard to find, except for the short stories. Try abebooks.com.


  • Marrying into the Family – 1980
  • Signs of the former Tenant – 1983 (winner of the Pat Lowther Award)
  • Common Magic – 1985
  • The Stubborn Particulars of Grace – 1987
  • Keep That Candle Burning Bright and Other Poems – 1991

Short stories


  • Arguments with the World – 1992


  • Two Women Talking: Correspondence 1985-1987 – 1994 (with Erin Mouré)

Short Stories for Breakfast Weekly Recap

2013-02-14 14.30.46Oy. This post was supposed to be set for this past Sunday but, well, this Sunday passed. As did Monday. These are the days of our lives, yes? As the world turns. Had we but world enough and time, etcetera.

Here’s a recap of the short stories I read last week. Most were exceptional. I swear, if I didn’t have favourite authors and wasn’t so excited about some upcoming novels, I’d read only collections for the rest of my literary life.

April 8: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Runner,” by Derek Hayes, from THE MALADJUSTED. Quirky, humorous, observant, and honest. This is a collection of stories that explores people’s idiosyncrasies, our special brands of neurotic. I’ll bet all of us can relate to at least one character! Thistledown Press, 2011.

April 9: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: The hilarious and fitting “Della Renfrew,” by Jessica Grant, from MAKING LIGHT OF TRAGEDY. Holt Renfrew’s daughter applies for a job at Holt Renfrew. Oh, Jessica. Please, please write more. Lots more. And hurry the hell up about it. Porcupine’s Quill, 2004. Such great, natural writing! A fantastic example of an author who knows what it means to write wholeheartedly.

April 10: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Attempts at a Great Relationship,” by Lee Henderson, from THE BROKEN RECORD TECHNIQUE. Henderson also wrote a novel called The Man Game that I bought a long time ago and now really look forward to reading even more. Why haven’t I read this collection till now?! Why haven’t I heard of this guy? I bought this collection on a whim, while browsing the basement in Greenley’s. I bought any short collections that I didn’t already have, and found many Canadian gems. Anyway, this is a fantastic story. His metaphors wither me as a writer. His characters, their dialogue, the setting, the structure of the story! Gah. Two couples go to a wave pool, and we get all four perspectives. Funny and tenderhearted. Penguin, 2008.

April 11: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Transported to Louisiana by Tim Gautreaux, a new fave: “Welding With Children,” from the collection with the same name. Running out of ways to express the greatness of what I’m reading. These days I just emotionally shake my head in appreciation. This story is gold. The colloquial language, the characterization, the voice, and the very idea. A grandfather has to look after his “white trash” daughters’ children while trying to get his daily errands run. I look forward to reading not only the rest of this collection but also the rest of Gautreaux’s books. Many thanks to Hugh Cook for the recommendation! Picador, 2009.

April 12: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Tikkun” and “Say It Again…” by Ayelet Tsabari, from her newly released collection, THE BEST PLACE ON EARTH. Wholehearted, very sensory, and the Middle Eastern setting is so well conveyed. Concepts foreign, perhaps, to us, but made familiar through good writing. Also, she can write a great sex scene, let me tell you. It takes skill! HarperCollins, 2013.

April 13: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Chronology of an Egg,” by Peter Tieryas Liu, in WATERING HEAVEN (nominated for this year’s Frank O’Connor award!). “I tell her I think she’s beautiful and she tells me she has an unusual genetic quirk that scares off most men. ‘Every time I have sex, I lay an egg.’ I assume she’s joking, get her email address.” This story is hilarious…and slightly horrifying. I really enjoyed it and look forward to the rest of the collection. Signal 8 Press, 2012.

April 14: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Sucker,” by the talented Carson McCullers, from THE COLLECTED STORIES OF CARSON MCCULLERS. Great characterization! The narrative voice is so clear, as well as the tone. There was an ominous feel to it, and I was just waiting for something terrible to be recounted. And then when it was…ho boy. Creepy. McCullers is another American fave. I adored The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Mariner Books, 1998.

Thanks for following along, all! Any collections you want to recommend? I’m open! Send me a message over Twitter, FB, or here.

Short Stories for Breakfast Weekly Recap

2013-02-05 07.25.15The short stories I read this weekend were a nice mix, by women and men, contemporary and older, even different in format, since one I read, today, was from a pdf. Here are the breakfasts I enjoyed this week:

April 1: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Many Faces of Montgomery Clift,” by Grace O’Connell, author of the novel Magnified World. This story, which reminded me so much of a friendship I had, was part of Writers’ Trust Journey Prize Anthology #24. I enjoyed it so much I emailed Grace and we had a neat chat about it.

April 2: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Going for seconds after reading Matthew Trafford’s aptly titled “Gutted” from The Divinity Gene. I’m caught. Hook, line, & sinker! “Gutted” specially blew me away. I read it three times. “Camping at Dead Man’s Point” is interesting in that he uses himself as a character in the story, a gay guy named Matthew Trafford, but the story also includes a walking, talking dead guy. An original, cool way to make a good point in this one! Trafford deserves much more attention. Douglas & McIntyre, 2011.

April 3: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Mother Superior” and “My Three Girls,” by Saleema Nawaz Webster, from Mother Superior. Enjoyed both, particularly the first one. The second was somewhat horrifying, but also very well done. I could keep reading! Freehand Books, 2008. Already in the first few stories there is a theme of motherhood and children.

April 4: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Cracked Wheat” and “Pisces,” by Hugh Cook, from Cracked Wheat  and Other Stories. Middleburg Press, 1984. Early stories by my former English prof. I read the book years ago and remembered “Cracked Wheat” fondly, reading it again. I recall why the story has stuck with me all these years. Well-written.

April 5: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Foley’s Pond,” “Occidental Hotel,” and “Spokane,” by Peter Orner, from Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge. (Reissue August ’13; Little, Brown. I hope they reprint all of his, as they’re hard to find.) You know you’ve just read some stellar writing when the first thing that comes out of your mouth is a giant sigh and “holy shit.”

April 6: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Premier’s New Pajamas,” by John Lavery, from Very Good Butter. ECW Press, 2000. NO ONE writes like John. No one. I miss you, cher ami.

April 7: #shortstoriesforbreakfast, “Better to Lose an Eye,” by Jamie Quatro, from I Want to Show You More. Powerful and surprising. I’ve read some of her stuff on McSweeney’s too, and it’s hilarious! Quatro’s been getting a lot off attention in the US. She’s one to pay attention to. Thanks to Hugh Cook for bringing her to my attention.

In all, a great week of stories. I’m understanding little by little more about how stories work, and what makes a good story better than another. I’m also finding myself hungrier for more literature in general (the way eating breakfast makes you hungrier the rest of the day), and finding myself becoming more inspired by ordinary things.

Next week includes some lesser-known Canadian authors, plus Diana Athill.

Stay healthy: read well.

Short Stories for Breakfast Weekly Recap

the books

the books

About a week and a half ago I began the tradition of reading a short story for breakfast. You can read about it here. This post is a recap of all the stories I read, plus a little more. A different spin on my LitBits posts, kind of!

March 21: Really enjoying a short story for breakfast every morning! This morning was Jess Walter’s excellent titular story from We Live In Water. A man tries to find out what happened to his father, who disappeared when he was a kid. Tough, heartbreaking, but not in the way you might expect. So much is revealed in such a short period of time, with such clean prose. I loved the structure, the tone, the bravery of it. Walter is a master, there’s no doubt. HarperCollins, 2013.

March 22: Short stories for breakfast: “Flies” and “The Table” from Paolo da Costa’s The Green and Purple Skin of the World. Unique style, evocative of a sort of fairy-taleish Europe. I like! Freehand Books, 2013.

March 23: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: The striking “Kiss Me Like I’m the Last Man on Earth,” from Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s How to Get Along with Women. Funny but also really not. How the innocence of kids playing a game they don’t quite understand is lost, and how a heritage of cultural trauma goes from curiosity and exploration to something more. Invisible Publishing, 2012.

March 24: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: All-girl band, east/west Toronto divide story “Saudade,” by Nicole Dixon, from High-Water Mark. Captures the competition and complexities of women relationships. Porcupine’s Quill, 2012.

March 25: #shortstoriesforbreakfast A boozy, confessional start with “The Sorrows of Gin” & “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill,” from The Stories of John Cheever. One of my favourite American writers. Satirical, clever, excellent dialogue. Ballantine, 1980.

March 26: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Stuart Ross’s “Me and the Pope,” “Cow Story,” & the titular story from Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. Genius gems. I LOVE this book. Funny, absurd, satirical, timely. Freehand Books, 2009.

March 27: #shorstoriesforbreakfast: A teary start with “Elephant Air,” by Fran Kimmel from Everything is So Political: A Collection of Short Stories by Canadian Writers. Fernwood Publishing, 2013.

March 28#shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Pheasant,” by Raymond Carver, from Carver, Collected Stories. I can read story after story from this collection, but after reading this one, I just want to sit with it for a while. I don’t believe there really is anyone better at short stories than Carver. Library of America, 2009.

March 29: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Emergency Contact,” by Michael Christie, from The Beggar’s Garden. Yes, finally I’ve picked it up. This story, about a woman who will go to great lengths for her infatuation with a paramedic, is funny, sad, tender, and skilfully written. Ugh, this guy is so freaking good. I just want to read him all day. From HarperCollins (I have to add, this hardback is DREAMY.)

March 30: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Prowlers,” by Charles Baxter, from A Relative Stranger. On love and other demons. A former best friend, a woman loved by two, a blizzard. And a lot of reading between the lines! WW. Norton, 2001. I actually think this might be out of print! 

March 31: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Revisiting my Catholic upbringing with “Remember for Me,” by Susan Zettell, from Holy Days of Obligation. Marvelling at the characterization. NuAge/Signature Editions, 1998.

short stories bookcase in the kitchen

short stories bookcase in the kitchen


Short Stories for Breakfast

As much as the magazines and websites and professionals stress that you must eat breakfast every morning, I just can’t. I’m not ready, I don’t want it. It takes me a while to ease into my day. But everyone argues that you must have nourishment to start your day properly, to jumpstart your metabolism, blahblahblah. Sorry. No can do.

More than ever I’ve been listening to my intuition—literally, here, my gut. It tells me the best time for me to eat is between 10:30 and 11:30, and sometimes even later. I eat when I’m hungry. I used to eat every couple of hours, but that was because I was so restless. Now I’m finding calm and not needing to eat so much.

But I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss out on nourishment to start my day properly. And if I can’t jumpstart my metabolism, how about jumpstarting my creativity?

A few months ago, I decided to see how many short story collections I had, so I pulled them out from wherever they were, got a bookcase from Greenley’s, and shelved them all together. Not only was this very exciting for me, seeing them all, but it also elicited a kind of Pavlov’s dog response. All that potential in one place. The culmination of a deep and abiding passion for short stories.

But I was also overwhelmed. Lately, the shorter the book, the better, and I’ve been reading more short stories than anything else. But how was I going to read them all with so little time? How would I overcome that feeling of wanting to read them all at once?

Out of this question and the whole breakfast issue, Short Stories for Breakfast was born. In the morning, no less.

On the menu this week

On the menu this week

The first thing I do when I wake up now is pick a book of stories, bring it down into the kitchen, put on the stovetop kettle for lemon water, and then enjoy a short story for breakfast. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t survive without food for breakfast. I’m thriving.

Yesterday morning, I read the excellent and also gut-punching titular story from Jess Walter’s We Live in Water. It’s not the first story I’ve read from the book, and I’ve skimmed through some of the other pages, and I can tell you, this is very good writing. No surprise there. But this is my favourite so far of his books. I love his style, the topics, the theme of “personal struggle and diminished dreams,” the roughness of it all. Walter’s been called one of the greatest young American writers today. I will not disagree. We Live in Water is from HarperCollins, where he couldn’t have a better team of supporters.

This morning, I read two stories because they were somewhat short, called “Flies” and “The Table,” from Paolo da Costa’s The Green and Purple Skin of the World. Da Costa lives on the west coast and has won several literary awards. He was born in Angola and raised in Portugal, and this cultural background enriches his stories. He’s a writer, editor, and translator. This collection is from Freehand Books, also this year, and, well, I can’t help it, but I recommend this one, too. It’s not your usual breakfast, which is partly why I like it so much.

You guys, I feel so great and excited about this new idea. I love starting out the morning this way. I’m getting to read a bunch of authors at once. I’m incorporating variety, which, as they say, is the spice of life.

This is my new reader’s diet. I imagine that not only will my creativity get stronger (had an idea for a NEW short story on my  walk today!), but also my reading muscles will tone, and my writing will become nice and lean.

Stay tuned for literary tweets and Facebook statuses sharing what I had for breakfast every morning. Isn’t that more exciting and appealing than telling you I had oatmeal with cinnamon and slices of banana and chia seeds and hemp hearts? Or granola and almond milk? Buckwheat pancakes with blueberries? I’ve always preferred breakfast foods at supper time anyway.

LitBits 29

Surprise! Yes, it’s long absent me. I’ve been collecting LitBits for you since SEPTEMBER. But let’s shift the focus away from how much I suck to how much these things don’t:

1. Amanda Leduc is a young Canadian author. She has a novel coming out in May, called The Miracles of Ordinary Men, from ECW Press. And because I very happily work for ECW, I had the extreme privilege of working on Amanda’s book. READ IT. It’s very good. Allegra Young is also a young Canadian, a classical music producer at the Canadian Music Centre. She’s sent me some of the music put out by and I listen to it fairly regularly. Allegra lives in Toronto and Amanda, in Hamilton, but that hasn’t stopped the two of them, as dedicated lovers of CanLit, from conceiving a new and daring project called Bare it For Books. Today, their endeavour, in support of PEN Canada and Canadian authors and literature, was featured in the National Post. Please read it here, and buy a calendar when it comes out! I can’t wait! I know at least one person, besides me, who’s getting it for a Christmas gift.

2. This is super cool!! The world’s largest collection of authors on vinyl – for sale! It seems he’s selling the collection as a whole rather than having a sale somewhere or online, so maybe an organization will buy it and make it accessible to others, or perhaps they will be archived and then sold? I would love some of these! I grew up lying on my stomach on the living room floor listening to authors on vinyl. Great times.

3. Uh oh. A new bookish place to spend our money. Gone Reading: Gifts for Readers.

4. Remember this post I did, The Rights of the Reader? So many thought it was awesome. I did too. So my sister bought it for me, in England. But you, like Inderjit Deogun, can buy it from the Book Depository! Inderjit said: “The book was nothing like what I was expecting but I mean that in the best way possible. Once you get into it, you realize it’s actually quite insightful. I really ended up enjoying it! Thanks again!”

5. You likely already know this if you followed Canada Reads this year, but February, by Lisa Moore, is the 2013 winner. For my part, participating in the chats and watching the videos, I strongly felt that this year’s discussions were the best yet. I was wholly impressed by the insight into and the debates surrounding the books, the coverage of the material within, and the lack of viciousness and cutthroat strategy we’ve seen in previous debates. This year’s books were very much respected, and I believe they were carefully considered during eliminations, and that February, while it wasn’t my choice for the win, won not totally because of Trent McClellan’s points, which I felt were somewhat repetitive and cliché, but on the merit of the book itself. How utterly refreshing and exciting. I have renewed faith in the contest. It was also exciting because all but one of the authors are alive and as such, their panelists got to know them and also react. Lisa’s reaction on the final show to her win was moving. Most of all, the passion and admiration the panelists held for their respective books themselves was palpable and portrayed exactly the kind of reception CanLit deserves. There are quite a few links to click on for the debates, the question and answer periods, and related events, on CBC’s Canada Reads page. CBC’s changes to the program this year were perfect. My thanks also go to CBC’s Erin Balser (@booksin140) for sending me the books and allowing me thus to participate in the thrilling discussion.

6. I just recently made room on my shelves for bookends. Probably the spaces will be filled before I could get one of these pairs, but have a look. Which is your favourite?

7. Who’s hungry for waffles? Giant typewriter waffles! I love the innovation.

8. I’ve noticed that many of my bookish friends are also knitters. Here are some bookish knits compiled for you by the lovely Ainsley for  Random House’s Literary Retreat site.

9. Flavorwire compiled some cool literary fashions for book nerds. I would love the Sylvia Plath Bell Jar tee!

10. I haven’t got an iPhone, or any mobile for that matter (yet), but I do like these case/wallets!

11. Have you seen this already? The Literary Gift Company has From Neverland to Wonderland: A Map of Children’s Literature in Britain. I’d love to hang this in my guest bedroom, where all my YA and children’s lit resides. Of course, feel free to browse the rest of the site!

12. Introducing ECW Press’s Poetees.

13. Ready for a product break? Grace O’Connell won my heart when I met her in Picton for last year’s IFOA, and also on Twitter, where we’ve had a little chat about her love of fairy tales. And it’s always fun to meet another bookish person who has the same books as you do on your shelves. Here’s Grace talking about the books she shares with boyfriend Evan Munday (works at Coach House, also a Canadian author). PS. Hazlitt is a great literary mag, you guys.

14. We booklovers tend to also love looking at photos of others’s shelves and the reading nooks they carve out for themselves. Where do you read? My favourite photo in this post of 10 Excellent Reading Nooks is the last.

15. Just in case you hadn’t yet heard: Penguin is publishing Khaled Hosseini’s newest, And the Mountains Echoed! I loved The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns (I think this was my fave), and I wait for his next with bated breath.

16. And again, in case you don’t know, and I’m super excited about this, Esi Edugyan’s next book is coming out with HarperCollins. She’ll be working with Patrick Crean again, under his new imprint at HC, Patrick Crean editions. I’ll be reading her newest for sure. Half-Blood Blues blew me away.

17. LibriVox is a repository of free public domain audiobooks. This may interest both those who love audiobooks (Literary Hoarders? I’m looking at you!) and those who would like to volunteer to read to get more books in stock.

18. Classic children’s literature–inspired bedrooms. Mine would have been the Surrender Dorothy one, no question.

19. This isn’t a new post but it’s an interesting one, and in case you missed it, here is how Canada’s Orange Prize, created for women writers, was born. (A hint: out of frustration. Surprise!)

20. The official unofficial Viking / Penguin tumblr. With gifs.

21. Zombies are so in right now! So Margaret Atwood, yes, the real one, and UK author Naomi Alderman partnered to pen The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home. With zombies. You can read it at Wattpad.

22. You know what? I really like JK Rowling. I find her a fascinating, open woman. Here is Rowling talking with Jian Ghomeshi on Q.

23. I also really love Kate Beaton, the Canadian artist who did the hilarious Hark! A Vagrant. She does tee-shirts, too, among other stuff. I love this Canada tee. Here is the rest of her store. I cannot look at anything she’s done without laughing. It’s the faces. Oh, the faces. Well, and the words. Hahaha!

24. Did you guys hear that Johnny Depp launched his own publishing imprint? No kidding. Like Patrick Crean’s new imprint, Johnny’s, unsurprisingly called Infinitum Nihil, is with the ever innovative HarperCollins.

25. This is pretty neat: The Novel Diner, for hungry readers.

26. Zohara: Art on Tights. This site is so cool! And I want these tights.

27. This is the most awesome book design I’ve seen. It’s for Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. There was also a F451 jacket design contest. You can see all the designs at that link, and wow, some are amazing. So much talent out there. And here is the winner.

28. What’s a LitBit post without a little more jewellery? Can’t help it, and I’m an etsy junkie. Here is Jezebel Charms: Charming Literary Creations. For the guys: in case anyone still wears cufflinks: Penguins in your sleeves, also here for a more vintage look, and here. For the Agatha Christie enthusiast: subtle Miss Marple text earrings. More bookish charms. And for the more refined: The Reader’s Catalogue, from NYRB.

29. I shared this before, but if you haven’t read Billie Livingston’s One Good Hustle, this very interesting post, “Tales from the Conman’s Daughter,” may convince you to get to it soon. I knew I wanted to read the novel before reading this, but her article made me move her book to the top of the pile. I haven’t reviewed it, which would by now require a reread, but I enjoyed it very muchJ. And Billie is absolutely fabulous, and hilarious, and awesome. She’s one of my favourite people to correspond with. Never a dull moment! On that note, I owe her an email.

I’ll leave you with this hilarious parody of JK Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy.

Till next time!


Bella’s Bookshelves is a Canadian Weblog Awards Winner!

Hey all,

Great things happened today. First, I received an extremely lovely email from a guy named Martin who lives in Switzerland. He wrote to tell me he enjoyed this blog and the reviews and loved the recommendations, and was sad that my reviewing had been infrequent lately.

To be honest, I’ve actually wanted to blog here more than ever since that previous post in which I spilled some guts, but my impending deadlines are currently such that I can’t even take a moment to start a review, let alone finish one. However, things will be back on track soon, and I’ll be able to take off weekends. I have a bunch of books to recommend, and I’m genuinely excited to start frequently blogging again. I visit here once in a while just to look around and maybe tweak something, and I miss being in the saddle! And then Martin’s beautiful email really made me feel like taking care of business once more. Martin, if you’re reading: thank you for making my day.

I appreciate everyone’s patience and your loyalty most of all. There’s little more unnerving for a blogger than to feel that if she doesn’t post every day everyone will leave and she’ll be playing by herself. Sure, I say I write for me, but every blogger knows, deep down at least, that this is about the love of sharing (which I really insist on, much to some people’s dismay and others’ delight) and even some ego on the side, like a cherry on top, about sharing with some skill.

Struggling to finish a deadline today while obsessing over a house on MLS, I ate an entire McCain Ultra Thin Crust Roasted Vegetable and Goat Cheese pizza. And it occurred to me, on licking my fingers clean and feeling I should unbutton my jeans before something went awry, that I’m such an all or nothing person. Either I blog like ninety or I don’t blog at all. Either I swear off pizza or I eat an entire one. You get the idea.

What I need to figure out is how to do everything. I don’t want to read and thus stop reviewing. I want to do both. Plus write stories, plus get my work done. Seriously, it’s not impossible. I’ve been thinking about this in terms of Bella’s Bookshelves. How does one do it all?

The answer is that I stop saying yes to every bit of work that comes my way. Crazy, right? But sometimes, like lately, I take on too much. Sure I can do it—because I’m not doing anything else (occasionally I watch Supernatural, okay, but come on. Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, people!). And in light of some ugh comments lately about bloggers being meh compared to newspaper reviewers and being only appealing to those who are on our side anyway (which may I say is the biggest load of shit I’ve heard in a long time), I’m determined to sort myself out and get tattoos on each wrist to remind me that I AM ENOUGH and I DO ENOUGH, and blog like a woman who has something to say. (Speaking of which, read Julie Wilson’s post. I like it. Even though I haven’t got any interest in reviewing for the Globe. Call me stupid, but it’s not for me.)

NOW. For big news! A long, long time ago, Bella’s Bookshelves was nominationed for the 2012 Canadian Weblog Awards. This is what Ninjamatics said about their announcement of the winners today:

Over the past year, the Ninjamatics’ 2012 Canadian Weblog Awards saw 467 weblogs nominated across 36 categories. Our 51 volunteer jurors worked hard over the course of this January using our ten criteria to judge each of the 467 weblogs in the first round and each of the approximately 180 weblogs in the second round to arrive at our winners. Our jurors have been an incredible group to work with, and I wish I could adequately express the level of my gratitude, because they are what really make these Awards possible as a tool to promote weblogs of quality across Canada.

winner-firstI’m very proud to announce that Bella’s Bookshelves took first place in the category of Best Weblog about Writing and Literature! Thank you mille fois to anyone who submitted the blog for nomination! I’m deeply honoured and even more determined and encouraged to keep this contribution to the literary world going strong.

Thank you so much, all, for reading here, for being enthusiastic about books, and for supporting book bloggers everywhere.

PS. Martin very kindly recommended a book to me today. Here it is:

So after all the inspiration and recommendations from you, this is my recommendation for you: by Nick Healy, It Takes You Over. A fine writer and good stories, from Americas Midwest, from Minnesota.

I’ve added it to my wish list and will procure it shortly.

Happy reading, book lovers! Stay sharp.

The Rights of the Reader

I relate to every single one. Thank you, Daniel Pennac. Yes. And oh! Quentin Blake! How much he understands with these illustrations! Look at those faces! The body language! I love number 10.

(Dear Readers, I’m under several deadlines so I haven’t had the time to post or do anything else [I’m exercising right number 1 for the time being], but I thought in the meantime this below would suffice. It really says so very much.)


Year’s End and Then Some

2012 was a great year for Bella’s Bookshelves. I found good friends, albeit mostly online, who helped me understand and forge my place in this world and who allowed and encouraged me to give back to it in several ways. Yes, this world, not just the literary one. These new friends are mainly bookish—authors, publishing professionals, book bloggers, book lovers in general. It is not amazing when you think about it—rather, it makes sense—that books bring people together in intimate ways.

I’m utterly grateful for these friendships, for the warm exchanges between us, for the scores of books, some so beautifully inscribed, that I have received over the past two years, for the important and fun copy editing, proofreading, and writing work that publishers have entrusted to me, for the contributions I’ve been invited to make to the Quill & Quire and the CBC, and for the joy I find in recommending books to you. I’ll say it again: it was a fabulous year for me and for Bella’s Bookshelves, and the kindness, generosity, encouragement, and support constantly surprised and buoyed me.

And I needed that. At the same time, I was experiencing severe anxiety and mild depression. I had it for about fifteen years, but in 2012 things came to a head. I started to have panic attacks every day, wherever I was: in the car, behind the cash register at Greenley’s when a customer approached, even while just out enjoying a walk with Lucy and my husband. I avoided going on busy streets, and then streets altogether, because even one person on the other side could make me feel crowded. Instead, I took sanctuary in the nearby woods. I was afraid to take the train to Toronto (though money is more the issue there). I had panic attacks as soon as we hit the 401, or certain intersections or areas of town, particularly the street on which I worked. I physically struggled to get out of the car to go to work. Some attacks were so severe my limbs contorted and froze, I shook and cried uncontrollably, and I couldn’t get enough air. If we were in the car, my husband would have to pull over. I was always petrified that I was going to barf.

Finally, I hit my limit, not just of panic attacks and anxiety and being unable to do anything but also of hearing myself bitterly complain that I was incapable of change regardless of my efforts. It’s amazing how much we can put up with, though, how avoidance makes our agony greater, yet we continue the way we always have. But by March, I couldn’t make myself do anything, except get to work (and then barely). Thanks to the last shred of tenacity in me, I made an appointment for therapy. Along with medication, another thing I was phobic about, it has helped tremendously.

Erin Balser, me, and Michael Enright chatting on the Scotiabank Giller Stage at WOTS Toronto.

Erin Balser, me, and Michael Enright chatting on the Scotiabank Giller Stage at WOTS Toronto.

In April or May I quit my job at the bookshop and started freelancing full-time again from home. That action in itself changed so much, especially since I love the work and it’s coming in regularly. I also started writing short stories again and have had some truly life-changing writing coaching. And my posts on this blog have given me great opportunities. I’ve been on the Giller stage with Michael Enright and Erin Balser at Word on the Street, I’ve done CBC radio interviews about Canada Reads 2013, I’ve posted on the CBC blog, I’ve worked with Esi Edugyan and Sarah Selecky on discussion questions for Half-Blood Blues and This Cake is for the Party, I’ve edited Ann Patchett for Kobo, and I’ve submitted a book proposal to Anansi Press (fingers crossed!).

The direction I’m confidently taking now, one dedicated to helping authors and publishers produce their best work and sell as much as they can, as well as pursuing publication of my own stories, is good. I feel that in my soul. I know what I’m doing. I know where I belong. I’m happy. And busy. Now that I’m freelancing full-time, it takes more of my time than a regular job. Then there’s my creative writing (writing, being part of a writer’s group, doing Sarah’s Story is a State of Mind course, and mentoring with her soon!). I’ve recently started reading more, though not nearly as much as I want to. I also like to be connected to all of you on FB and Twitter. I love this blog, and I love being in the bookish loop.

Where Reviewing Comes In

But it’s obvious that my reviewing on Bella’s Bookshelves has fallen off. Partly it’s because I’ve been tied up doing other things. But also I haven’t felt an urge to do it, and this has been a great cause of stress, not least because so many have kindly and generously and excitedly sent me books for review and I’ve accepted them.

Read but not yet reviewed

Read but not yet reviewed

Someone suggested that perhaps I haven’t been inspired to review here because now I am writing my own stuff, or that reviewing for the Quill, for money, has taken away my desire to do it for free. The former is possible, I suppose. Not the latter: money is a bonus but not a determining factor for me; with the Quill, it’s about fulfilling a goal and contributing to what I think is Canada’s greatest lit mag. And reviewing for them is different than the kind of reviewing I’ve done here.

No, I think it’s more that I find reviewing here exceedingly difficult. It takes me an entire day, at least, to write a review for this blog—because I want to make sure I include everything, because I have such strong feelings about what I want my reviews to be, because books are hard work to make and are thus not to be taken lightly, because I want my writing to be my best, and because I suddenly have no idea why, considering the over-abundance of reviewers and reviews, I should do it. I have been struggling with this question for a couple of months now.

Then today I came upon Saleema Nawaz’s post called “The Art of the Elegant Review.” I read it three times. I cleaned the house and while I was sweeping I thought about it. I’d been composing an “I can’t do it, I’m taking down the shingle” email, believe it or not, when her post showed up.

Not yet read, for review

Not yet read, for review

There have been plenty of essays and posts on reviewing, some even heated. The right way to review, the right things to say, the way you mustn’t write a review, the way you must…I don’t much care for most of them because I have enough shoulds in my life and I don’t like being told what to do or what I can’t do. But Saleema’s post, even more than the bookcase of books I’ve been sent making doe eyes at me, answered my question as to why I should continue to review, as much as I’ve felt resistant, scared, dubious, guilty, and overwhelmed.

Saleema describes author Joan Thomas’s review of Atwood’s Robber Bride as “not some kind of boldly negative exposé (that’s at least what some people (not me) mean when they wish we had more ‘real’ reviewing), but an insightful and elegant take on the novel.” She talks about the value of longer, explorative reviews over “brief reviews, star ratings, Likes and +1s.”  She quoted a sentence she appreciated for its craft. And then she tweeted to me, “I know I’m elated to find long, excellent reviews everywhere they turn up, online or offline.”

And I thought, hey. I’ve written the kind of reviews she likes. There is a place for them. There is value to them. People read them in their entirety.

More not yet read, for review

More not yet read, for review

And that’s what it took, not much but enough, together with the terrible thought of disappointing everyone who’s sent me books for review, for me to finally change my mind.

I’m a slow reader. I’m a very slow reviewer. I feel I should apologize for this to all those wonderful people who have sent me books with the hope of a thoughtful review in a timely manner. There are about a hundred books now, and I badly want to read every single one of them.

So then. The reviews will continue, but in order for me not to dread them, they have to be when I can and when I feel ready to put my best effort into them. If you can be (very) patient, I promise they’ll be worth it.