I know you’re very busy, Mr. Harper. We’re all busy. But every person has a space next to where they sleep, whether a patch of pavement or a fine bedside table. In that space, at night, a book can glow. And in those moments of docile wakefulness, when we begin to let go of the day, then is the perfect time to pick up a book and be someone else, somewhere else, for a few minutes, a few pages, before we fall asleep. —Yann Martel

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KIRBC Civilians Reads panelists

Canada Reads is a well-known CBC program. Perhaps not quite so well-known yet is the Canada Reads spinoff Civilians Read, dreamed up and hosted by an excellent booklovers’ blog called Keepin’ it Real Book Club (KIRBC). This time around (they’ve done it before), five panelists, each pulled from the publishing trade, battle it out over the same five books Canada Reads will begin debating on March 8 on CBC Radio ONE: Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald, The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy, Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner, Generation X by Douglas Coupland, and Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott. I’m excited about this list of works, mainly because so far I’ve already read 3 of the 5.

As I type this post, I’m listening to a podcast by the KIRBC gang that is exciting because I feel as though I’ve rediscovered a lost piece of my life I’ve long missed. It’s been eons, about ten years or so, since I’ve had any sustained stimulating discussion about Canadian literature among other booklovers, and not only stimulating but intelligent—which you generally do not find in your local bookstore or library club. Wait—let me rephrase that lest I offend anyone: at least, I haven’t found that in the book clubs I’ve joined…and left. What I’m listening to now is the kind of discussion I want to hear in Biblio. It’s very good, well done, but not too serious—a perfect balance. Laughter abounds, and you can really hear the energy in the room. It makes me jealous, makes me wish I was there, but I feel woefully unprepared for such things now, being so out of practice.

Have a listen to the KIRBC podcast (at about 6 minutes in, I think, there’s a little blank air but keep listening, it will catch up) and see what you think. Their discussion has me pondering about not only who might win (I’m rooting for Nikolski, but the Jade Peony is a fave as well), and how best to defend a novel, but about how we might perpetuate this kind of appreciation for literature—particularly Canadian, which to my mind merits our support—by constantly changing the way we appreciate it, by how we voice that appreciation, and by keeping our expression of it interesting, unique, imaginative, exciting, and most of all tempting.

I’ve been thinking about this for Biblio, so that I don’t have a lame book club and so that I can watch those deserving books we discuss and promote fly out our wooden doors, beautifully wrapped in paper and twine, ready to be devoured with a cup of tea.

But I think the KIRBC has a fine head start (especially on unique: check out their YouTube pre-game confessionals in the bathroom, the only room with a closed door!). Stay tuned for more each day as they continue their debate!

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I meant to post this earlier but didn’t have time, so we’ve missed a day, but February 21–27 is Freedom to Read Week.

Here is what the Freedom To Read site says about this:

Freedom to read can never be taken for granted. Even in Canada, a free country by world standards, books and magazines are banned at the border. Books are removed from the shelves in Canadian libraries, schools and bookstores every day. Free speech on the Internet is under attack. Few of these stories make headlines, but they affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they choose to read.

Exercising his freedom to read. photo: Graham Lavender.

How does this make you feel? I get angry reading it. I personally don’t believe anyone has the right to tell me what I can and can’t read, should or shouldn’t explore when it comes to books. Literature is a reflection of life, creativity, imagination, essentially what it means to be human on this planet.

As such, it is our duty, I say, to read as much as we can, educate ourselves, and even form our beliefs and ability to defend those beliefs through what we read. Take what you will from what you read and toss out the rest you don’t want. But don’t deprive yourself of good literature simply because you’re told you’re not allowed to read it. Sticking your head in the sand or allowing someone that particular power to censure stunts your growth and limits your awareness of the world and its events, philosophies, and creativity around you.

This week in particular, but always if you like, exercise your prerogative to choose what you want to read. Think for yourself. Pick a book from the challenged and banned books list and read it. Better yet, speak your mind about it here in the comment section! Perhaps in the future we can get a spinoff on Canada Reads going, with readers defending their favourite challenged or banned books. In this way you’re not only thinking for yourself but supporting authors and their freedom to write.

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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:

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.

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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 Nikolski by 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.

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I’ve decided to start this blog as an attempt to become even more well-read and in preparation for when I have my own bookshop tearoom and can passionately share my love for certain stories with the customers who venture in. I also want to actually experience all the books on my shelves rather than simply collect them. And I hope this blog will act as a sort of catalogue, too, of what’s on my shelves.

Not least, I also hope to use this blog as a venue for my passion for sharing my love of books and great stories, and for you to express how you feel about what you read, too. I no longer work in a bookshop or a library, where I could discuss books all day long to people who actually cared. Instead, I copyedit as a freelance editor, and also work in a naturopathic clinic where the topic of the day is illness rather than books (although I have sneaked in a book chat or two with patients, especially kids, who come in bearing dogeared volumes to sit with while they wait).

Lastly, please don’t hide. If you’re reading this blog and want to say something, do! I want this to be an interactive site for everything books and for those who love books. Tell me your favourite place to shop and I’ll post it on the Everybody’s Favourites page. Send a picture of your personal collection, and I’ll add that to the Personal Collections page. Or simply comment whenever you have something to share. Reading is completely personal and subjective: there are no right or wrong opinions here.

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