Ok,  “Anonymous” commenter – this one’s for you.  I can’t resist responding to a “Quick, I need a book recommendation!” plea … These are the books that stood out to me in the last year or so of reading. Hope you find something that sparks your interest. Feel free to add your own recent favourites in the Comments.

The Braid by Laetitia Colombani – A creatively structured story of three women living across the globe from one another, in vastly different circumstances, whose tales become entwined in poignant ways. Not widely promoted for some reason but a special find. I hope more readers get to enjoy it.

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily and Finding Home by Tembi Locke – I simply adored this. I wasn’t expecting the writing to be so evocative but there were moments to stop and savour throughout. You will smell the Sicilian soil and tomatoes, I promise! An emotional story but told without high drama, just tenderly and respectfully shared. I don’t re-read very often (so many books, so little time) but am tempted already to re-visit this one.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins –  A juggernaut of positive promotion preceded its publication, Oprah blessed it too, but then controversy set in. I’ll leave you to the Googling to learn more about the politics but my experience as a reader was absolutely positive. I was captivated by the storytelling and found it to be a fascinating portrayal of a mother and son’s bond while bravely fleeing terrifying circumstances. I suggest reading the Author’s Note first. When I learned of the author’s inspiration for the story, I could personally reconcile any concerns raised among the naysayers.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – A big thank you to KM for this recommendation. A juicy big multi-generational saga set over several decades in Korea and Japan. An immigrant journey and a family story that is epic in scale and yet intimate in its portrayal of each character. Engrossing.

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott – Sometimes when all the news articles seem to be too much, the reading of a personal essay can be a pleasant, just as brief, escape. This collection from a charming, self-professed Type A-overthinker, abounds with humour and poignancy. Philpott writes self-deprecatingly but honestly and often with a wink. Marriage, parenthood, big life moments, and more importantly, the little moments all feature.

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali – A stationery shop in Tehran in the tumultuous 1950s provides the setting for a young love to ignite. The romance is complicated by politics, culture and family but the love remains intensely felt for a lifetime. An emotional story of paths taken and not taken – a really heart wrenching journey but so worth the read.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal – Don’t let the title scare you away (or make you overly giddy for that matter!) This is a wonderful story of a writing group for Punjabi widows that takes a bit of an entertaining turn. I get so many requests for “funny book” recommendations and this one has lovely humour, though it has some feisty adventure in it too. In fact, I was surprised by the unexpected depth. Looking forward to Jaswal’s next work.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean – AN thoughtfully gifted this to me and I looked forward to an interesting non-fiction foray. But let me tell you, I was not expecting this to be as riveting a tale as it was. Wow. I was fascinated by each of the many threads that Orlean wove together. It could be considered an academic account but it reads like a page-flipping novel. The essence of the story begins with the 1986 Los Angeles library fire and then fans out to explore the life of the suspected arsonist, the history of the library – its architecture and the people who were part of its soul over the years. This was written by a lover of reading, and this lover of reading approves!

An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff – Homelessness is a social condition that intimidates many people. In this memoir, Laura Schroff writes honestly about her own lack of understanding and how, through a simple gesture that grew, her life was changed by a young boy on the streets of New York City. Reminiscent of The Blind Side, this is an inspirational story that will stick with you.

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes – The word “romp” keeps coming forth whenever I describe this book. It reminds me of one of those Oscar Wilde plays, a comedy of manners, where everyone is dancing around everyone else and we’re only in on half of the story until it all pieces together in the end with a few wily maneuvers that leave you gasping and snickering. Julian Fellowes is of course the creator of the Downton Abbey antics and this, too, has become televised in the UK. The book was such fun, I can only imagine the TV series will be too.

Turbulence by David Szalay – A slim little chapter book oh-so-creatively pieced together and beautifully written. You know one of my favourite books of all time is Let the Great World Spin and this has a little sprinkle of that fairy dust. A passenger on a plane (you know, in the olden days) converses with his neighbouring seatmate. That seatmate goes on to have another conversation in a different city and so on and so on. The story winds around the globe and back again connecting regular people in extraordinary ways.

The Waiting Hours by Shandi Mitchell – The world of first responders doesn’t often appear in mainstream novels and so this was an interesting world in which to travel. With elements of suspense and heart wrenching emotion, it provides a glimpse into the challenge of processing trauma, personally and professionally. A Canadian writer who has also written Under This Unbroken Sky.

illustration by Charlie Mackesy

This blog began February 9, 2010 (see the very first post here) The Help by Kathryn Stockett was #1 on the bestseller list, The Hurt Locker was about to win the Oscar, Vancouver was embracing Winter Olympic Fever, and the H1N1 Flu pandemic was winding down (say what?!!!) After a pretty reliable first few years, Bedside Table Books began to waver and then revive and then wilt again … poor thing. All along, whenever its writer was not actually writing, she’s continued to maintain regular blog conversations in her head. Worrisome, I know. Now, prompted by a pandemic, I, the Writer, have been propelled back to the blog page with burbling bookish thoughts I am irresistibly inclined to share. Not sure you’re still out there … anyone out there? … but stand by for a few of the most recent compelling, and propelling, thoughts!

To quote the character Babe in the TV show, Grace & Frankie, it’s time to “Get Crackin’ Toots!” 

 

 

 

 

I’d Rather Be Reading

December 6, 2018

I’d Rather be Reading. Wouldn’t we all?! “I’d Rather Be Reading – The Delights and Dilemmas of The Reading Life” is exactly what you should be reading. Though after reading “I’d Rather be Reading” I learned I should not be saying “should” – apparently that’s called being “Book Bossy”.  Made me laugh! I learned a few other terms that made me chuckle in recognition. In fact, the entire little book resonated with me on every level.

Besides being a charming personal memoir, this read felt just like sitting down for a chat over tea with a friend (a “book twin” apparently) who shares the same giddy delight in all things bookish. There’s happy chatter on topics like the joy of witnessing your children embrace reading, the process of choosing what to read next, books arriving at opportune times of life, managing library due dates, what to keep on your shelf, what not, and how to rein in the whole collection …  She even devotes a chapter to the secret fantasy of having a bookshop that so many readers harbour. It’s not a “how-to” though, it’s more of a gentle “isn’t-it-funny-how-we …?” Anne Bogel seemed to have special access to all my inner thoughts on what books have meant and do mean to me. I’m pretty sure you will all feel the same personal connection.

The book itself is simply beautiful – a lovely addition to any bedside for certain. Not much bigger than a large postcard and as pretty as one. 156 pages and I promise you’ll savour every one. This is such a perfect little gift for a fellow reader but be sure you buy yourself a copy too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going to the Movies!

August 28, 2018

It seems movie makers have been inspired by our bookshelves lately and that’s not a bad thing. No debate from me that the book usually takes the cake over the movie but, based on their trailers, I think these will translate to the big screen quite well. If it’s not in the theatre quite yet, it will be soon.

Crazy Rich Asians

I admit, I started off as a reluctant reader of this book when it was selected for book club but ended up enjoying it immensely. The movie looks like just as much pure designer-dressed family saga fun.

The Children’s Act

One of Ian McEwan’s (of Atonement book and movie fame) more recent books. This looks awfully compelling!

The Bookshop

Was impressed by Emily Mortimer in The Newsroom series. Here she is nestled among books and huge stars, Patricia Clarkson and Bill Nighy.

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I’ve already seen this one (it’s new to Netflix) and it’s lovely, heartwarming entertainment.

Bel Canto

Can’t wait! Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto remains one of my favourite stories of all time.

Juliet, Naked

So many of Nick Hornby’s novels have appeared on screen and this is the latest.

 

Lots of Brit Lit it seems! Share your reviews … book or movie.

Bella Grace

August 2, 2018

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Is it a magazine? Is it a workbook? Is it a journal? Is it a treasure? Yes, yes, yes and yes!

Whatever you label it, Bella Grace is an absolutely beautiful publication.  Issued quarterly by Stampington & Company, its content is driven wholly by reader-submissions thereby striking a personal and intimate tone without any intrusion by garish advertising. You will find food for thought and inspiration in quotes, stories, lists, writing prompts, random reflections, and photography. Oh, the photography! The quality of the paper alone will have you sighing deeply. I promise.

Bella Grace really defies categorization because you will find yourself gazing at it and pondering new ideas like you would with a book or magazine but then you’ll also be sketching and scribbling in its pages as if it’s a workbook or journal. At first I was reluctant to scar the pretty pages but its messaging will convince you that you’re actually adding to the beauty.

As for that “message”, Bella Grace describes its aim: “to touch the souls of our readers through beautifully penned stories and striking photographs that capture life’s beautiful adventure.” The Bella Grace manifesto reads:

  • Every cloud has a silver lining.
  • An ordinary life can be an extraordinary life.
  • There is beauty and magic to be found everywhere.
  • It’s OK to embrace imperfection.
  • Life should be lived with a full heart and open eyes.

Hopelessly romantic? This one’s for you!

My favourite article in the latest issue (#16 Summer ’18) if I was forced to choose just one, is written by Holly Clark and called Beyond the Cutting Room Floor. Holly points out that those photos we eliminate because we deem them not quite “perfect” may in fact capture the real gold, the real essence of a person or a memory. I completely agree.

Locally, Bella Grace can be found at Chapters and Michael’s (of all places). Subscriptions and back-issues can be ordered on-line here.

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“I’m a rare book librarian. I get to touch books every single day. My colleague and I have a joke that we are Defenders of Wonder. A physical book assigns a sense of reverence to the content inside. It’s the same feeling you get when you look at a painting or hear a piece of music. And I think that’s something worth defending. And just like a book gives reverence to it’s content, I think the library gives reverence to books. The building itself is a masterpiece. So many famous thinkers have come here to study and write. Just being here connects you to that lineage.”

Just another gem from Humans of New York.

 

The title and the cover of this recent release convinced me it was most worthy of a summertime post. What could be more appropriate for a season when so many Canadian families hit the road than a book subtitled “The Informal Study of the Family Road Trip”? I couldn’t help but laugh at the title. What kid hasn’t heard this at some point? What parent hasn’t been known to utter the same?

Reviewer Andrew Ferguson (Land of Lincoln, Crazy U) writes: “A book with a title as good as Don’t Make Me Pull Over! has a lot to live up to, and somehow Richard Ratay manages to deliver. It’s a memoir, a work of popular history, and a love letter all in one. Books this wise are seldom so funny; books this funny are rarely so wise.”

Powell’s Books has a fun piece on its site by the book’s author Richard Ratay which includes a playlist of some of the music that forms the soundtrack to his travels. This article alone had me fondly recalling the songs we would croon at the top of our lungs, with windows down, on trips with my parents and brother and then later with my husband and our boys. Abba, anyone? Johnny Cash? Jimmy Buffet? 

… When things hit a lull after long hours on the road, I’ll flip this tune on and our car suddenly turns into a downtown club. My wife and two boys seamlessly spit every lyric, while I add “mad hype” and sing the female backup parts in a ridiculous falsetto. Because I’m the dad and that’s what dads do.”  (Richard Ratay)

While this book is an engaging social study, there is no doubt it will be a popular nostalgia trip for its readers. I’d offer to read it aloud but I’m afraid I’m one of those passengers!

Enjoy your road trips this summer, be safe, and … sing your lungs out!

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Reads 2018

July 4, 2018

Art by Laura Lacambra Shubert

Summer is already off to the races so it’s high time for the Bedside Table Books annual (except when it’s not!) Summer Reads list. For those new to the scene, the list is a collection of books that have caught my attention in recent times and seem suited to savouring over the slower pace of the Summer. I try to keep a variety of themes and genres in mind but in the end, they are just titles I can’t wait to read along with you!

    

 

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall – Probably the one I’m most looking forward to curling up with as I’ve been hearing and reading great things about this story for months now and it’s not even on the shelves until next week. I know we all love a little historical fiction and this one promises to deliver all we desire. Susie wrote a great article in Harper’s Bazaar magazine sharing her inspiration and some of the back story on the real Subway girls. Some of us hear interesting stories on NPR and then wander away to the next distraction, Susie is motivated to write an entire book! Can’t wait. A summer reading bonus: The Subway Girls of Decades Past

Travels Through the French Riviera: An Artist’s Guide to the Storied Coastline from Menton to Saint-Tropez by Virginia Johnson – Long time readers will know I swoon over a book beautifully illustrated with watercolours. This is capital G, gorgeous. Virginia is a Canadian treasure and you’ve met her here before when she illustrated for Kate Spade and Deborah Needleman. Now you can vicariously join her on her colourful (and detailed) travels along the Riviera and do it from your matching beach towel no less. The Bay presently carries Virginia’s art on a fluffy towel you may need to justify purchasing as a required Summer Reading accessory.

Full Disclosure by Beverley McLachlin – Another one written by an extraordinary over-achiever … The Right Honourable former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada has written a very well reviewed courtroom thriller. Methinks she knows of what she writes! Ms. McLachlin was a mere appointee to the BC Court of Appeal when she was invited to address my high school graduating class; she was inspiring then and look at all she’s been up to since! Like all the good ones, she’s a big reader and shares her literary journey in this Globe and Mail article. Suspense in the summer is a good match. 

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce – The Guardian calls this a “Winning Wartime Romp” and refers to the heroine as “plucky” and “charming”. The reviewer also bandies about descriptives like “hilarious”, “poignant”, and that it has a “madly winning spirit”. The Irish Times calls her the “Bridget Jones of the Blitz”. ‘Nuff said. Sold! Set in the era of WW II London, it follows the antics of a twenty-something War-correspondent-wannabe who ends up instead typing the Problem Pages letters. She finds herself drawn in to the personal stories and becomes secretly a little more deeply involved than she should.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – “This is complicated emotional territory navigated with succinctness and precision …” according to the NY Times reviewer. A “wise and compassionate” story of a young newlywed couple who find themselves managing a wrongful conviction and its devastating impact on their relationship and family. Certainly more emotionally demanding than other titles on this list but I’ve heard this one’s an important read and highly engaging.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – The BBCE (Best Book Club Ever) has selected this as our one assigned Summer choice. I’ve yet to meet a reader who has not been deeply moved by Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale story and this one seems set to prompt as many positive experiences. The Great Alone is set in a post Vietnam era when a family affected by the War seeks a new life, off the grid, in the Alaskan wilderness. According to the author’s website, “The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.” Chills for you when it gets hot out!

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman – I’ve had this one on my YTR (Yet To Read) shelf for some time now. What better time to embrace a novel featuring a Gardening class than in the height of a flower flourishing summer!  While the initial premise sounds dark (young family loses father in a tragedy) its reviewers promise it’s laden with optimism and good humour as the little family finds its footing. Mom is an illustrator who is sent to a Gardening Class to learn the intricacies of the plants and finds a new and loving community of support. Dare I say, romance blooms?

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern – The title alone put this one in the running of course. Everything I’ve read about its storyline brings to mind The Breakfast Club movie but this cast of misfits finds themselves in a small town library rather than on Saturday detention. Some of the characters are there to find solace in the ever-comforting realm of books, another to do community service for the crime of Dictionary theft of all things, and others circulate through as “offbeat” library regulars do. Together they are healing from past difficulties and are finding new ways forward. Sunny is a young girl who befriends the librarian with the mysterious past and seems to bring the light to the group.

Let us know how many you get through or if you have some of your own recommendations to share. What’s on your bedside table? Happy reading!

 

 

Art work by Tricia Robinson

Just a quick note to say thanks for all the lovely Comments and personal notes to welcome this negligent blogger back to work. Happy to be here and grateful for the kindness. xo

Tuesdays with Jack

June 26, 2018

Seems right to share this with you on a Tuesday ….

As new parents we’re inevitably advised to record the funny actions and observations made by our children. “Or you’ll be sure to forget!” The chaos of the busy days indeed steals those moments from us. Pauline Daniel is a savvy Grandmother who has learned not only to record her grandson Jack’s little moments but to share them too. Those little gems grew into regular Facebook posts and now into Tuesdays with Jack, a memoir of the time spent with her young grandson on their standing Tuesday date during his pre-school years. Her observations are not only about Jack and his wisdom but also about her own personal transitions and the things Jack has helped her notice about her life. It is an honest and heartfelt account.

As a modern day grandmother (or a Baby Boomer Buba as Pauline thinks of herself) she Facebooks, Facetimes, is an entrepreneur, wears hoodies and does Cross Fit. She may not spend the majority of her time in the kitchen but she and Jack do embrace play there and literally whip up some special new traditions. Traditions, new and old, thread through Daniel’s writing but mostly, a Grandmother’s newfound patience, mindfulness, and joy in just ‘being’ in the moment comes to the forefront.

Lest this all sound knee deep in inward reflection, please know you will laugh out loud (as Buba does) while wee Jack delivers one innocent blow after another: ‘ “How strong are your muscles, Buba?” I proudly flex my bicep. “What’s that floppy bit?” ‘ or  ‘ “This is your fault Buba.” “What’s my fault?” “Everything!” ‘

Phyllis Diller is said to have declared on her way to the delivery room that she was having a child just so she could become a grandmother. If you’re a modern Gran, like Pauline, or a parent looking forward to Grand-hood, you will enjoy the simple pleasures of this quick and poignant read. It’s a great gift for a new Grandparent as well.

Enjoy!

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