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This week I received my second birthday gift in the mail. How exciting that is! My birthday isn’t till February 20th (I’ll be 36), but the post, of course, doesn’t know that, and better to mail something ahead of time than too late. (I sent a special edition to my sister in England for her birthday [January 20th] and it still hasn’t arrived.)
My family and close friends know that they can’t go wrong with giving me books, even if it’s for every holiday and my birthday. So one of my sisters sent me Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, which has been on my wish list since I read it: I kept giving it to people and never bought it for myself after I gave away my own copy because I felt it would somehow come back to me. Well, it did; it came unexpectedly in the post with a lovely card. I was ecstatic! I love it when people know me so well.
The second gift was also a book, beautifully wrapped in quality paper with a large classic print and encircled with twine. It too had an artful card that accompanied it. Both my sister and my friend are art lovers and they appreciate paper and books as much as I do. The book was Gunnar’s Daughter, by Sigrid Undset, author of the 1928 Nobel Prize Winner Kristin Lavransdatter (which is a fantastic substantial saga, one to hunker down in the winter months with, preferably with Cloudberry tea and on a sheepskin).
I think there’s nothing more rewarding, more satisfying, than receiving a gift that reflects a person’s true understanding of you. If books and paper and art are your thing, may you be forever blessed in the receiving of them, as I am.
I love stories in which various unlikely characters are tied together in some way and often, as the reader hopes, come together, even if only briefly. The ways in which human beings find themselves somehow connected is fascinating to me. Often, too, these stories are told from the perspective of each main character; I’ve always enjoyed this. I can think of several books presented in this way, from Carol Shields‘s brilliant Happenstance to Julian Barnes’s humourous .
As for the unlikely characters and the strings of objects and/or events linking them together, look at ‘sA Long Way Down, in which four people find themselves surprisingly met in a strange location—the rooftop of Topper’s House in London—where each had previously decided, before they saw the other, to privately commit suicide. More recent is A School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister, in which eight strangers gather together for a cooking class and become transformed and connected through the art of creating and preparing food.
Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner, the 2008 Governor General’s Award winner for translation, is one of these books in which strings of events, objects (a compass that points only to Nikolski, a Frankenstein of a book with no face, fish, books, and the sea), and themes (namely, archeology and history and pirates), as well as one man, Jonas Doucet, link 3 young people.
Told from the perspective of each, the story unfolds in a surprisingly original way, with humourous yet touching prose as Noah, Joyce, and an unnamed bookseller come from distant places in search of meaning and purpose, but either end up meeting or coming so close as to pass like ships in the night. Added elements of magic realism, which I especially enjoyed, make the story all the more compelling and wondrous. Dickner even acknowledges the unlikely by blatently labelling it so, which adds to the humour (you can tell he was having writerly fun): an apology of sorts without apologizing. The description of the Book with No Face was so excellent I read it aloud to my husband:
The book had followed an unimaginable trajectory. After several decades on the shelves of the library of the University of Liverpool, it had been stolen by a student, been passed from hand to hand, escaped two fires, and then, left to its own devices, returned to the wild. It had crossed thousands of kilometres in various bags, travelled amid the cargo in damp crates, been thrown overboard but continued on its way in the acidic belly of a whale, before being spat out and retrieved by an illiterate deep-sea diver. Jonas Doucet finally won it in a poker game in a Tel Aviv bar one intemperate night.
Its pages were brittle, spotted with countless small rust-coloured specks, and if you buried your nose in it you could detect vegetation patiently endeavouring to colonize the depths of the paper. Not only was this Noah’s one book, but it was also one of a kind, bearing a host of distinctive signs. In the middle of page 58, for instance, there was a large, brownish bloodstain. Between pages 42 and 43, a fossilized mosquito had made its home, a tiny stowaway flattened by surprise. And scribbled in the margin of page 23 was the mysterious word Rokovoko. (Vintage 2009, 28)
Much like the Book with No Face, the story itself is artfully pieced together, layered and complex, weaving in and out of time and space and perspective. We truly get a sense of loss and questing, of disorganization and looseness, of being adrift in the great world without much in the way of guidance. So much of me wanted to see these three people come into their own, find a sense of peace and belonging.
While reading this book I couldn’t help but keep thinking of Nino Ricci’s Origin of Species: I think it was the sense of learning, of myriad facts, of the ever-looming character of water, that caused this. That story, too, though, is richly layered and somewhat similar in theme; perhaps a study of the two would be an interesting paper! (Alas, those days for me are long past.)
I also have a soft spot for translated literature, and this book, masterfully translated from the French by Lazar Lederhendler, blew me away with its beautifully rendered prose. The words seemed so carefully chosen, the text so seamless and smooth, without a trace of awkwardness, that it was though it had been originally written in English. I regret not having kept up with my French enough to be able to read the original work. But I do not feel I’ve missed out in any way. This is one book I’d recommend to anyone.
This is the best news I’ve heard in ages! I’m quite relieved. When I first heard about the dreaded HST, my heart leapt into my throat. I was horrified that I was going to have to pay 13% tax on my beloved books, among other things that don’t currently carry more than GST. But here is the Toronto Star’s word on that:
There will be some exemptions, such as children’s clothing, feminine hygiene products and books, but the 13 per cent will be applied for the first time on things like homes of more than $400,000, heating fuel, gasoline, tobacco, taxis, golf green fees and landscaping, newspapers and magazines, gym membership, veterinarian fees and even vitamins.
Imagining the expense of things when this comes into effect, and agreeing with Conservative Leader Bob Runciman in the article, I still very much wish this new tax wouldn’t happen at all, but I’m grateful that one of the things I was most worried about will be excluded. If they weren’t, what another blow that would be to book sales and shops!
Almost every day there’s either a grand or small thing to discourage me from opening Biblio or from thinking the idea of books and tea will work.
Putting aside the relentless news articles announcing the death of yet another indie bookshop, take this, for instance:
I’m sitting in the living room, busy editing an article for CJDS. Beside me are not one but two sidetables on which very attractive books lie. A small shift in position and my ginger lemon tea goes flying across all four books. Two I rescue; they are happily unharmed. But my clothbound copy of The Hobbit and my oh so beautiful Bedside Book of Birds are hit on their bottom edges. No amount of dabbing will help. They rest now on floor vents, where the heat from our furnace was rising but seems to have suddenly ceased as soon as I placed the books there. Already, the Bedside Book is warping.
I want to weep. I admit to having spilled tea on manuscripts I’ve been proofing before. If the spill is major, I reprint and reproof the pages. If only a drop or two or a minor smudge, I write a little “enjoying chai rooibos tea! Sorry!” note with a smiley face. In this case, putting my tea on the sidetable, which is not, of course, unheard of, is obviously asking for trouble if I’m going to decorate those tables with books as well. Going further, perhaps drinks and books in Biblio is a stupid idea! I don’t want to spend my time marking down beautiful books because of damage.
Sigh. Will I have to enforce some rule that customers can’t sip tea and peruse a book at the same time just in case? That would be totally counter to the idea of Biblio!!
In case you don’t already know and are interested, CBC’s 2010 Canada Reads program will take place March 8–12. The program will air on CBC Radio One at 10:30 and 7:30 pm. Are you ready? Have you read any of the books yet?
If you don’t know what Canada Reads is, here’s CBC’s own description:
In this annual title fight, five celebrity panelists defend their favourite work of Canadian fiction. One by one, books are voted off the list, until one panelist triumphs with the book for Canada to read this year.
This year’s books and their defenders are:
I’ve read (and quite enjoyed) all but Generation X (even though I’ve read quite a few of Coupland’s novels and liked them) and Good to a Fault. I think I might, if I can, buy the two and read them before the Canada Reads program starts so I can participate in my own way. I love knowing the books they’re going to be discussing, and I can say right now, it’s going to be a hard choice.
On the other hand, perhaps I’ll wait to hear the debates. When I bought Lullabies for Little Criminals when it was the 2007 CR winner (I missed the debates that year), I was…disappointed. It took me a while to decide how I felt about it, but in the end, I ended up donating the book to the library. It just wasn’t for me. (Caution: this link leads to a post that contains some profanity. But then, so did the book.)
If I had to pick the winner of the ones I have read here, I’d say The Jade Peony, even though Nikolski really blew me away only recently. Wayson Choy’s writing is just so powerful and poetic, his characterization so real and concrete. He also treated the serious and important subject matter with humour, which is something I admire of Thomas King as well. The subject matter of The Jade Peony, from what I remember (it’s been years since I read the book and led a Chapters book club on it), gave voice to what must have been the experience of many Chinese immigrants in BC. Also, the format of the novel, three perspectives, worked very well to portray how adapting to immigrant life affects each in a different way.
Not to discount the ones I haven’t yet read, of course, but this book’s won quite a few awards and accumulated very high praise. Its subject matter is part of Canadian history and identity. It would be no surprise to me if it was the Canada Reads winner, too. Still, not one of these contests has been easy. Looking back to previous shows, the lineups have been impressive, each book a significant contribution to Canadian literature. In that case, perhaps it’s anybody’s guess, until we actually hear the show.