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!
Yann Martel, author of the brilliant novel Life of Pi, has a very interesting and extraordinary project on the go. It’s called What is Stephen Harper Reading? Every two weeks, for as long as Harper is prime minister, Martel will send him a new book to read, accompanied by a letter. (I’m extremely jealous!) He’s sent 74 books so far and had about six responses, not one of them from the prime minister himself.
You really should check out this site. It’s simultaneously humorous and not at all funny. You’ll see what I mean. It’s quite thought-provoking, in fact.
I’m thinking this would be a very cool project to take on myself, actually—to read the books Harper’s been sent and Martel’s letters with them, and then actually respond. (I feel all these gratis books (what an ideal gift, yes?) are wasted on Harper, unfortunately, but who knows: maybe he secretly reads them before bed and in between sessions and waits with bated breath for the next package?)
My main point for this post, however late I’m getting to it, is this. I just read the About page, and it made me think of the post I wrote only last night. While it is a very interesting and provoking About page, and the entire script made me feel somewhat perturbed (ironically: it’s about being still but I felt moved to do something, though I don’t know what), here is the paragraph that spoke to me most at this particular time.
On March 28th, 2007, at 3 pm, I was sitting in the Visitors’ Gallery of the House of Commons, I and forty-nine other artists from across Canada, fifty in all, and I got to thinking about stillness. To read a book, one must be still. To watch a concert, a play, a movie, to look at a painting, one must be still. Religion, too, makes use of stillness, notably with prayer and meditation. Just gazing upon a still lake, upon a quiet winter scene—doesn’t that lull us into contemplation? Life, it seems, favours moments of stillness to appear on the edges of our perception and whisper to us, “Here I am. What do you think?” Then we become busy and the stillness vanishes, yet we hardly notice because we fall so easily for the delusion of busyness, whereby what keeps us busy must be important, and the busier we are with it, the more important it must be. And so we work, work, work, rush, rush, rush. On occasion we say to ourselves, panting, “Gosh, life is racing by.” But that’s not it at all, it’s the contrary: life is still. It is we who are racing by.
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:
Canada Reads celebrates five Canadian books for three months online, at public events and on air. It all leads up to a week-long show hosted by Jian Ghomeshi.
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:
Nikolskiby Nicolas Dickner, trans. Lazar Lederhendler, defended by Michel Vézina
Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott, defended by Simi Sara
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.
It’s been forever since I read a good mystery. Way back, I used to devour Agatha Christie and the like, and I do enjoy a good puzzle, especially murder mysteries, but for some reason, they just haven’t appealed much to me lately. I think the last I read might have been Joanne Harris‘s Gentlemen and Players (which was excellent!). Or maybeThe Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruis Zafon, if that can be considered a mystery; it’s hard to classify that well-written page turner.
This evening, though, we were grocery shopping, and no matter where I am or what our focus is, I check out the books if there are any. So I broke off from C, who was picking out veggies (boring!), to peruse the novels.
I’ve seen this book before and even picked it up once elsewhere: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. An unusual and intriguing title! I must not have been in the mood before, however, because I put it back. This time, though, the matte, textured paperback cover attracted me and then so did the blurb on the back. I checked out the author’s bio. He was born in Toronto (cool, he’s Canadian), raised in Cobourg (holy crap, that’s only a half hour away, so even cooler) and then I read that he now lives in Malta (where my parents live and the country of my heritage) and that clinched it for me. Three great facts in a row, bang bang bang, together with the intriguing storyline and protagonist, and the book was in our cart within perhaps five minutes.
Sometimes I read a book’s cover, then bits and pieces of its insides, and also the author’s bio. Sometimes I hem and haw and weigh the book in my hands, trying to decide, because not only is money a factor, but I also hate to regret a book purchase. For this reason, I very rarely do.
And then sometimes a purchase is as effortless as the easiest thing you can imagine. Either it’s premeditated or I’m just that quickly sold, upon inspection, like tonight.
I can’t wait to read it. And if I really like it (which you’ll find out one day when I write the review, but first I am trying to write about Nikolski—it’s been difficult. The book is so good, all I could think was how good it was!), the sequel to Bradley’s first, The Weed that Strings the Handman’s Bag, is coming in March!
It might be the optimist in me but I like to believe that businesses don’t fail, people do. I’ve heard this somewhere, and it rings true for me. I’m not pointing the finger whatsoever, but the fact remains that there are indie bookshops still actually opening and surviving regardless of the devastating effects of box stores and burgeoning technology. I want to believe that if I’m properly educated in how to run Biblio and how to differentiate it from other shops, and I act on that education and continue to learn, I won’t fail.
Almost every single day I read news of yet another independent bookshop closing. It’s both sad and frustrating because these shops have been significant in their community, most of them for a very long time. David Mirvish Books, one of Canada’s oldest bookshops and possibly the most most popular visual arts, photography, and design bookstore closed almost a year ago after 34 years of operation, opting instead, like many others, to sell their inventory online (Miller, Toronto Star). The very popular Pages in Toronto closed its doors after 30 years this past August due to impossible rent increases (Levack, Toronto Notes). A couple of weeks ago I saw that Duthie Books in Vancouver had written a rather bitter- yet devastated-sounding announcement that they are closing their last shop after 53 “(mostly) happy” years, due to competition. And today I read that Prime Crime Mystery Bookstore in Ottawa, an award-winning specialty shop in the Glebe, is closing its doors in March.
The shops are closing for many reasons: the economy, the box-store competition, the rising popularity of the ebook and ereaders, it’s just time to retire and no one has offered to buy, rent is increasing beyond affordability, etc. They’re all very real and very valid reasons to close up shop. But something keeps telling me that if I have a great business plan in place, one that is well-advised, takes into account what works, and considers the future, but one that is also constantly reviewed and adjusted if necessary based on keeping abreast of the industry, and if I educate myself well enough and keep learning and participating in the literary community, and if I don’t give up and let the media coverage get to me, I can make a go of it.
I’m willing to take that risk because I hate the alternative. I don’t want to contribute to the bookshop “depression” by not opening Biblio out of fear of failure. This might sound counter to what I just wrote about staying abreast of the industry and growing with it, but I’m also hoping that I can stand for what I believe in—that is, the value of a “real” book—and still be successful.
I can’t help but refuse to buy into the techno hype surrounding the tiresome ebooks and ereaders. I know there are others like me for whom the lure of saving space and even money falls short. I’m certain I’m not the only person who derives great pleasure from the fragrance of ink and paper, the art of a beautifully bound volume or set, the warmth of a book as opposed to the coldness of technology. If I were an author, I’d want to hold that tangible novel in my hands, fan its lovely deckle-edged pages, and breathe in the fragrance of a dream come true. I’d want to sign pages to readers with a lovely pen; I’d want to see that book on my shelf and the shelves of others. Stephen King is apparently some kind of huge proponent of ebooks, but after writing so many books he can’t even remember having written half of them, what’s another newly bound novel?
The thought of a group of book club members sitting in a cozy circle discussing Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book while clutching their Kindles or iPads seems ridiculous to me, and somewhat sad. There’s something lost there. But that’s because when I discuss books I like to be able to have access to that book in every possible way. I love to run my hands over a matte or cloth cover, to flip through the pages, to weigh a novel’s heaviness in my hand. The ereaders are just no match for the real thing.
Perhaps people like me are dismissed as behind the times, sentimentalist, romantic. So what if we are? We’re also lovers of a certain art and history; we appreciate the creative process that goes into making a book. And we value a different sort of practicality. I think of books as more accessible than technology, less discriminating, and just easier for people of all ages. We booklovers want something we can trust—and often readily own.
I just think technology can be unreliable, no matter how well it’s engineered. Sure, it’s convenient in many ways. But there has been many a time when I’ve wanted to toss this laptop out the window even though it’s only a year old and a good one, and countless occasions at work I’ve wasted time waiting for a program to reload after a crash while a customer stands impatiently before me.
Technology is fallible. Its growth rate is exponential and you have to keep up or it becomes useless. It’s expensive. It’s limited. There will be glitches. You might be in the middle of a terrific chapter when your battery runs out and you’re nowhere near a charger, or perhaps you’re a writer giving a reading and suddenly your ereader won’t load your book. I mean, what if? Then how happy will you be about this hand-held piece of convenience when you could have simply turned the page or flipped to where your Post-it Note indicated? Really. How inconvenient is a book if you only need one at a time?
Besides, over the next twenty years or so, it’s the baby boomers who will be doing most of the buying still anyway, so regardless of how obsessed younger generations may be with technology, books will still be purchased. And people will still enjoy the sensory and tactile experience of shopping in a store rather than online. They’ll also frequent bookshops for all the other things they offer, for that tangible sense of a literary community. I don’t believe that “normal” books and indie bookshops will die out altogether. People will still want them. Thus, someone has to provide them. One of those someones will be me.
But for those who need something more convincing than sentimentalism and romantic notions, read Margaret Atwood’s Three Reasons to Keep Paper Books, and More on Keeping Paper Books. She argues better than I do (and writes better, too). More importantly, she rationally presents her points, and then, like a good debater, backs them up with credible sources. The point we both make is, there is value to the traditionally made books. And I say that its up to those of us who feel passionate about that to keep buying, selling, and reading them.
Since it’s going to be some time before I can finance the bricks and mortar version of Biblio, I’m going to start the shop online. I may have already mentioned this, but I’ve been dreaming of this for years now and I can’t stop thinking about it. The very idea makes my heart race. I can’t wait!
Each day I find myself daydreaming about running the shop, and I’m always so happy being busy and in my element and using my skills and doing what I feel meant to do. I also deliberately put aside a bit of time to close my eyes and visualize what the place will look like and what’s going on there. This morning, for instance, I was welcoming Atwood on the little stage in the room where we’ll have author readings and signings, book clubs, art exhibits, and other events. I had her water ready on a little round side table beside the wingback Author’s Chair. She’s admired the display we set up of her works alongside Graeme Gibson‘s two Bedside books (because they’re so beautiful). [EDIT: While searching for a picture of an author on stage to use for this post, I found one of Atwood signing books. And will you look at the display behind her?! Ours will be much nicer, but still. They combined their books as well!]
Anyway, I keep a notebook with me all the time now to jot down ideas. Biblio is becoming so real, so fleshed out, and there are times I feel so badly like going there, that I find myself incredulous it doesn’t actually exist. Even my husband is starting to feel that way. “If only…”
Impatience moves me, so tonight I drafted up a skeleton plan of what I want the Biblio site to contain. And then I remembered with a start that Biblio is actually not unheard of, probably even quite a popular name online, and I needed to find a domain I could use. After trying several domain names and finding them unavailable, C and I finally decided on www.bibliobooksandtea.com. To me, it’s perfect. It sounds just right and there’s no guessing as to what the site is, either. This is it! And whoa, do I feel excited!!
I’m not sure yet whether Bella’s Bookshelves will eventually morph into bibliobooksandtea to give it some history. I might borrow from it, anyway, or keep it as is and make it a sister blog. There’s still planning to do for Biblio online and the design as well and contacting other sites as either suppliers or for permission, etc., but the process has been started.
I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately, particularly for the literature I used to read more, the literary events I used to frequent, the literary talk in which I used to participate much more often. University was a fertile ground, and on being out of it now for ten-plus years, I can say that I’m almost having to start that garden from scratch. Almost.
Unable to contain myself any longer today I leapt from the supper table and went to pull from my shelves my favourite book of poetry: Beyond Remembering: The collected poems of Al Purdy. I’ve seen and heard Purdy read twice, and what I remember most was laughing, and wanting to kiss his cheek, and thinking him a dirty old but very sweet man. I remember him half blind at the time, too. His poetry, his writing in general, is frank and honest, unafraid, humorous, thoughtful, observant, beautiful. Read his own preface to BR and you’ll know just what a man he was. I wish I could have really known him. He was what they call “a character,” and his personality comes out very much in his writing.
It’s still my great pleasure to have heard him, to own a signed book (The Cariboo Horses, a lovely find, unfortunately not signed to me. My own signed copies disappeared along with my first husband), and to have one day spoken (rather breathlessly and incredulously but after all I live in Purdy Country) to his wife when she phoned Chapters where I worked at the time, looking for a copy of her late husband’s book.
Poetry is a very personal and intimate thing, so of course Purdy’s musings aren’t for everyone. But he is nevertheless a Canadian icon, perhaps mostly because of his observant studies of the country’s landscape, politics, and people. Landscape is always a big theme in Canadian writing.
I remember in particular two poems: “At the Quinte Hotel” (located in Trenton, the next town over from Belleville, here) and especially, one of my favourites, “Concerning Ms. Atwood.”
Purdy and Atwood had a very special relationship, one that makes me laugh and cry at the same time. One of her signed books to him was dedicated: “To Awful Al from Perfect Peggy.” Her foreword to his collected poems was lovely: “Listen to the voice,” she writes, “and watch the hands at work: just hands, a bit grubby too, not doing anything remarkable, and you can’t see how it’s done, but suddenly, where a second ago there was only a broken vase, there’s a fistful of flowers.”
Atwood’s been one of my favourite authors since…well, forever. I love her writing, and I love how prolific she is. You’ll find novels, stories, articles, CBC Massey Lectures, significant bits and bobs of all kinds everywhere. You have only to glance at this list to see what I mean, and it’s probably not even complete.
I could wax poetic about this beautiful and amazing woman, this wee powerhouse of brains and creative talent. Her voice—that is, her tongue-in-cheek and direct style—thrills me. Margaret Atwood is not afraid to think and ask questions or to speak her mind. She is an active contributor to bettering not only Canada but our world.
One of Atwood’s interests, as you might already know, is the state of our world. She talks environment. She speaks politics. She writes, perhaps surprisingly but very successfully, about debt. Atwood’s also known for uncannily predicting the future (though maybe it’s not so uncanny if you, like her, are paying attention).
As a result of her important reflections and contributions, Atwood was recently announced a winner of the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award in Davos, Switzerland. The conference where the award was presented was called Improve the State of the World: Rethink, Restate, Rebuild, and the purpose of the meeting was to recognize artists who have used their art to provide significant insight and effect positive change.
Unfortunately, apparently due to time constraints, acceptance speeches were cut. You can find Atwood’s speech here.
If you know Atwood only as a dystopian novelist because you were told to read The Handmaid’s Tale in school, I dare you to venture beyond that and see what else she has to say. You might be surprised to find more than you bargained for, and a voice you support.
PS. Already a Margaret Atwood fan? Check out her lovely new set of Bloomsbury editions!
This following was a book meme floating around the blogosphere back in 2009. I thought I’d answer the questions too, and I’d love to see your answers as well!
Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
Sometimes. I have to have a cup of tea when I read, and with tea goes either my extra-fine dark chocolate with chili (Lindt) or my favourite gingersnaps, by Nyåkers, in Sweden.
Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
No, no, no: I never write in my books. I don’t even remember doing that in university, unless they were textbooks I didn’t plan on keeping. Too many times I’ve gone to purchase a nice book only to find writing in it. I’m okay with books that are in less than fine condition, but I’m not okay with writing in them. I do have one book, my grandfather’s copy of Macbeth, that has his and my mother’s notes and doodles in it. That’s a different thing altogether. The other thing is, I read books for pleasure, for escape. I’m not even thinking of taking notes. But if something in particular strikes me as quote-worthy, I will write the page number down on a scrap piece of paper.
How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?
Always some sort of bookmark. There are bookmarks everywhere. But I will also use a business card, a clean tissue, a postcard, whatever is lying around. I rarely even dogear magazines. It’s just not a habit I ever learned or picked up.
Do you lay your books flat open?
Fiction, non-fiction, or both?
I have always had a very large soft spot for fiction. Fiction is definitely my favourite and it’s what I mainly indulge in. For me, non-fiction has to read like fiction, more or less, so my favourite type is literary travel or particular memoirs (I’m very fussy about these) or letters, like those by Elizabeth Gilbert, or Carol Shields, or Will Ferguson, Peter Mayle, and Isabel Huggan.
Hard copy or audiobooks?
Neither really. I mean, if I simply can’t wait, I buy the hardcover. But my very favourite are trade paperback. I don’t find time for audiobooks, but I do have a dramatized set of the Chronicles of Narnia. I think there’s something like 17 CDs. They’re lovely if you’re cooking or baking or in the car.
Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
I must finish the chapter. I’m like this with copyediting as well. There is always a good place to stop, and I can’t stop until I reach it.
If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
It depends. If the word is crucial or interesting, I’ll look it up, though I admit I’m hard-pressed to remember the definition unless the word grabs me. Most times I let it go. I actually feel ashamed to admit it!
What are you currently reading?
I think I have something like five books started. I’m the overstimulated type. But I’ve decided to read only one at a time, which is the usual way things go, because it’s too much. I’m not a good multi-tasker. Or rather, I hate multi-tasking. Anyway, now I’m reading Nikolskiby Nicolas Dickner—and it’s excellent so far. We’ll have more of that in another post, when I’ve finished it!
What is the last book you bought?
Hmmm. I bought four books last, but I can’t remember which was last in the pile when I paid. :) See this post.
Are you the type of person who reads only one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
I believe I just answered that! See two questions up.
Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
My favourite place is in my office, believe it or not. This used to be my book room, my little library (little being the operative word; it’s quite a small room), until I decided to move everything downstairs to create a lovely wall of books. But the clock in here is the single most relaxing thing I own, and then there’s my comfy chair and my warming blanket… Combine that with the pile of books on the floor by my chair, a cup of tea, and a free evening or afternoon, particularly a rainy afternoon, and I am in heaven.
Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
I don’t have a preference. It doesn’t matter to me, so long as the following books in a series are as great as or better than the first. Series are the most fun if you’re reading them aloud.
Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
Many. It’s my favourite thing to do! But lately especially Elizabeth Gilbert. Usually what I recommend depends on the person I’m talking to as well.
How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
Over the years it’s changed. It was alphabetical by author, it was willy-nilly, and it was by country, more or less. So Canadian authors, American authors, Indian, and so on. Children’s were all together but in no particular order, unless they were series. Series are always together, no matter what, and usually books by the same author are grouped together. Now it’s still kind of like that, but also based on where they’ll fit best height-wise. The thing is, I love to browse my shelves, and too much order takes some of the fun out of that.
One of my favourite books will always be Catcher in the Rye (you should see my dilapidated copy!), which I first read as a young girl, and which most people know was written by J.D. Salinger.
I’m sorry to be a day late on this but I’m sad to announce the famous author passed away, at the age of 91, on January 27, 2010. It is reported that he was healthy but experienced a sudden decline this year.
Like many of us, Salinger was apparently very attached to Catcher in the Rye, and passionately disallowed a film adaptation as well as a sequel to the novel. I have to say he won my heart with these actions as well as his book, because I love to see an author stick so strongly to what he believes in, which in this case is the sacredness and preservation of his art. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate some books made into films (although I won’t read a sequel unless it’s by the original author) (my favourite adaptation is probably Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but I wonder what he would have said about it?). But Salinger’s book meant so much to him he cared nothing for fame and advancement. In fact, he was reclusive, and hadn’t published anything since 1965.
There’s something to an author who produces only one novel, that then becomes wildly influential and successful and even, later, famously banned, and then never publishes another (stories yes, but not a novel). It’s as though that particular book was destined to come from him, as though it was his purpose to produce it. He was otherwise a reluctant success.
But that’s not to say he was a reluctant writer. Although writers becoming wildly famous such that they are constantly in the spotlight does excite me because it means that people are still reading, I also have a deep respect for those writers who write solely for their personal satisfaction.
In 1999, Salinger’s New Hampshire neighbour Jerry Burt said the author had told him years earlier that he had written at least 15 unpublished books kept locked in a safe at his home.
“I love to write, and I assure you, I write regularly,” Salinger said in a brief interview with the Baton Rouge Advocate in 1980.
“But, I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it.” (Associated Press)