Getting Cozy

November 10, 2020

I’ve written here before about the deliciousness that is Bella Grace magazine. A little spin-off that is equally worth delving into is The Cozy Issue. What a beautiful cover on the newest edition! Race you to the newstand! Available now at Chapters/Indigo and a few other independent magazine shops. Michael’s has had it in the past too … Worth the hunt I’m sure.

Marc Johns

November 2, 2020

It’s truly a sign That things will get better When a walrus named Frank Wears a crimson-striped sweater

I am not sure artist Marc Johns anticipated being a Covid-era charmer but, I must declare, discovering his whimsy and wit during this time has charmed me immensely. The illustrations are quirky and cute but the words are usually what seal (sorry) the deal for me. In investigating a little further into the source of these creations I was delighted to discover Marc and his family live nearby, on Vancouver Island. Not sure why this was so exciting to me as the world wide web makes us all essentially neighbours nowadays and I have no plans to set off stalking but I suppose it’s comforting to know these seals and gulls and people with banana ears are local inspiration.

It’s amazing we’re able to get through the day With no seagulls on bicycles, leading the way.
Going bananas.
The whisk wasn’t the tallest, but he had terrific hair.
Books were his favourite way to escape.
The bedside lamp, disgusted by the horrid selection of books that Mr. Denman insisted on reading lately, flew away in a huff.

If you fall for these little doses of cheer as soundly as I did then you can add them to your daily life by following Marc’s Instagram or Pinterest accounts, buying a calendar, poster, or other merchandise (merch as the cool kids say – I’m not cool enough to use the term but aspire enough to make mention) or buy one of his books. Visit Marc’s website here to learn more and may you all find a chuckle in his delightful work!

Celebrity Book Clubs

August 19, 2020

Hiking 2015, by Darren Thompson

Hope you’ve all been enjoying a good summer with books galore. I’ve had some hits and misses but overall there are some good pages in the bank. You’ll hear about the best ones soon.  Feel free to share your own hits!

I have an arm’s-length list of topics to share with you but it was a message in my in-box this morning that put me back in the chair to write. From whence the message? A shoe company I once patronized. The content? An invite to join their new Book Club! Not the first place I think of when I think of book clubs.

I’d already begun piecing together notes about the recent surge of celebrity book clubs so it seemed a sign. It seems everyone from the iconic, (Oprah and Reese and former NFL-er Andrew Luck), to all the TV hosts (Jenna and GMA), to every bookseller (Chapter’s, Parnassus, Powell’s) and yes, even to the shoe store, has formed a virtual book club. I haven’t actually joined in with any of the groups but I do give the books and their reviews a second look. Oprah’s picks have sometimes been a bit dark for my liking, Reese’s are quite consistently choices I’ve enjoyed though sometimes a little on the “lite” side and I’ve said before that Heather’s selections are dependably good ones for me too. What’s your experience been? Do you follow any celebrity book clubs you’d recommend?

Here are some of the latest picks that have caught my eye in a few of the most popular “Celebrity” Book Clubs:

Heather’s Book Club (Heather Reisman of Indigo-Chapters)

The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power, A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabelle Allende, The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

 

Hello Sunshine Book Club (Reese Witherspoon’s picks)

The Henna Artist by Akra Joshi, The Guest List by Lucy Foley, Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat, Untamed by Glennon Doyle

 

Andrew Luck’s Book Club

The Overstory by Richard Powers, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan, Preaching to the Chickens: The story of a young John Lewis by Jabari Asim, The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

 

Good Morning America (GMA) Book Club 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis, In Five Years by Rebecca Serle, Long Bright River by Liz Moore

 

Read with Jenna (Today Show)

A Burning by Megha Majumbdar, Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore, The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare, All Adults Here by Emma Straub

 

Oprah’s Book Club

Deacon King Kong by James McBride, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

 

And the shoe company, Margaux’s, inaugural selection for their new book club called (wait for it) Footnotes!

Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud

Do You Read Me?

August 3, 2020

 

I know for certain that bookstores bring me comfort like few other places do. The beauty of the spines colourfully stacked together can be awe-inspiring but the fact that each book is evidence of some soul’s hard work, creativity, and commitment is even more inspiring to me.  I think above all,  I’m taken by the sense of optimism that perfumes the air of a bookshop. Therein may be your next favourite escape, your next learned thing, the next time someone “gets you”,  your next big laugh, the next time you can travel in time (back or forth) the next time you just savour the joy of well chosen words. Every visitor to a bookstore, whether they leave with a book or not, must feel a spark of optimism when they head in the door. So many potential experiences await. It’s downright thrilling. And so is this book.

I was recently gifted Do You Read Me? a book that explores bookstores around the world (Thanks, Mom!) and I’ve been enthralled.

Carturesti Carusel in Bucharest, Romania

From Tel Aviv to Tokyo, Porto to Portland, New York to New Delhi and beyond, Do You Read Me?  is a glorious study of some of the world’s most wonderful Independent bookstores. Being pandemically shackled, we’re not making treks to far off lands these days. Nothing, however, is stopping us from virtually voyaging world-wide through these pages. There are fascinating discussions on the independent bookstore business, the diverse and innovative bookshop keepers, and the importance of bookstores to communities. Throughout each feature are gorgeous photos and engaging back stories about what makes each store unique.  I’ve been known to steer a travel itinerary in the direction of a special book shop before, now entire “someday” trips may be inspired by a certain bookstore!

“A town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.” – Neil Gaiman

Some of the bookstores are astonishing architecturally – converted banks, churches and theatres restored to epic glory. There are also a few modern architectural stars, new, sleek and shiny.  Others are quaint and cute and a puzzle of rooms pieced together. Some are thematically focused on travel, romance, art … Some are named with a wink to readers, like the  “The Wild Rumpus” and “The Ripped Bodice”  and others simply tell it like it is: “Books are Magic!”

I hope someday you can locate a copy of this lovely book and enjoy the journey yourselves.

“Running a bookshop is a curious profession. It is a delightful, weird, and wonderful thing. I am grateful to have been part of it.” – Jen Campbell

Twenty or so years ago, the creative home improvement reality shows we’ve come to love were just getting started on TV and the initiator of them all, the Belle of the Ball, was Debbie Travis (The Painted House to start …). She brought her effervescent personality and her zesty sense of humour to the mix along with her sponges and designer’s eye, providing the perfect formula for the legions of others who followed in her footsteps.

Not only did Debbie (along with her husband Hans) create an empire of TV production, home decor and paint products, books, speaking engagements etc., she, at the same time, was mother to two busy little boys. When she noticed an increased fixation among her fans on how she was managing family and firm, she responded by writing a wonderful book called Not Guilty: My Guide to Working Hard Raising Kids and Laughing Through the Chaos. I think the title says it all!

Just because we haven’t seen Debbie on TV as often in recent years, doesn’t mean she hasn’t been her usual busy and creative self. In fact, she had a bit of an epiphany and had an utter reinvention. In short form, inspired by Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, Debbie and Hans purchased a rundown villa in Italy and set to restoring it as a boutique hotel with a vision to Debbie hosting themed women’s retreats for starters. Of course, they’ve done it all beautifully. See Tuscan Getaway for a glimpse. I see now that Olive Oil, Lavender products and Wine sales have evolved from the groves, fields, and vines. Ever the business mind!

Fortunately for us, Debbie was again inspired to share the knowledge she gained along the path. The new book (recently released in paperback) is called Design Your Next Chapter: How to Realize your Dreams and Reinvent Your Life. It is a very personal account of her own recognition, in her early 50s, that she needed a change. The tools and exercises she (and her important friends and guides) found to help her choose and forge a new path are offered in the book. Stories of others who’ve dreamt and then pursued new directions are also featured. It’s a delightful memoir, a workbook and an inspiring self-help guide all in one! I would say, beyond her boisterous Brit humour, Debbie’s best qualities are her honesty and her easy-to-relate-to demeanour. You’ll read this and feel like you just walked the seawall with a best pal – the advice is that good and the tone that encouraging!

A bonus and a perfect companion read, Frances Mayes’ recent novel, Women In Sunlight, may well be inspired by one of Debbie’s women’s retreats. And if all of these gorgeous descriptions of the Italian people and countryside still aren’t enough for you, read the newest travel guide releases by Mayes called See You In the Piazza: New Places to Discover in Italy  and Always Italy with Ondine Cohane.

I think I can safely say most of us love a Saturday morning. My Saturday mornings have recently become even more special thanks to my friend Karen and the Bookless Club.

At the beginning of May, a new column written by the talented Jane Macdougall, surfaced in the Vancouver Sun newspaper. A few kind friends immediately alerted me to this delight, “The Bookless Club“, knowing it would be right up my alley. They were so right! They also know condo living has complicated my newspaper delivery so I’m not savouring my Saturday papers in the same way anymore and may have missed out.

Karen took things further and has devotedly and reliably (even when she’s road tripping!) snapped a photo of the column each week and forwarded it to me. This spark of joy, courtesy of Karen, makes my day. The texted photo arrives with a “Have a lovely day!” and a “This is a great one!” Sometimes we have a quick conversation generated by the article. The Comfort Food column prompted this exchange: “Honey on toast!”  and “PB on toast fingers dipped in chocolate milk!”

What’s a Bookless Club you ask? Well, according to its creator, it takes the best part of book club which is the conversation and community but isn’t limited by a single focus; it’s not just one story, it’s an exchange of stories. Jane explains: “For me, author Carol Shields summed it up best when she said, “We want, need, the stories of others. We need, too, to place our own stories beside theirs to compare, weigh, judge, forgive and to find, by becoming something other than ourselves, an angle of vision that renews our image of the world.”  The Bookless Club found its footing when, housebound in a Pandemic, Jane realised that “I miss conversation. My mind is going to weeds without it.

The actual column is lively and facilitates thoughtful conversation just as Jane intended. The most recent featured the friendship between Jane’s son and his best buddy. “One of them brings the fireworks, the other one knows where the hoses are. One of them spits in the wind, the other one makes sure the getaway car is gassed up. I like to think they complement each other, that they’re good for one another.” Deep sigh. I loved this!  Each week, Jane provides a prompt based on the column’s theme and the replies appear the following Saturday. Tune in and see the submissions to: “Are old friends best? Do you have friendships that go back to childhood?” Search the Archives for Car Loves, Precious Pandemic Pets, Memorable Travel Moments and more … all terrific.

Storytelling indeed connects us and Jane oversees a wonderful forum during a time when connectedness is most meaningful. Look her up, enjoy the well-written content, and join the conversation with your own stories. And, if you have a heart as big as my friend Karen, pass the article along to someone and make their Saturday!

 

Aaaah dear Stuart, you’ve been on my mind so often in recent times. We lost you just over three years ago and we’ve missed you terribly but these recent months have created a chasm that it seems only you, and maybe a little dose of Dr. Bonnie Henry, could fill. Stu, things have been grim, glum and grating. But there have been shiny moments too. I know you would have found them, sprinkled them with your fairy dust and invited us down the path with you to see and savour these little joys. There is no way you’d have allowed us to wallow and whine. 

It’s Canada Day today and there has probably never been another Canadian who has visited and embraced as many parts of this country as you did. You and your vibrant curiosity were welcomed warmly at coffee shops, and bake shops and book shops (especially book shops!) in cities and towns, big and small. The small were clearly your favourites (though you would never play favourites) and you conveyed their very essence to us in a way that made us feel we were there along with you and the villagers. Thank you for helping us know and love our Canada and all its citizens.

I heard your voice the other day and it stopped me in my tracks. CBC was playing in the background and all of a sudden you were there with me in my kitchen. I can’t begin to explain how that felt. I know you would have found the perfect words and captured the moment. One follower of the Vinyl Cafe wrote this: “I was listening to the Current on Friday and suddenly the story came on. I wasn’t prepared. I had to lean against the counter and feel the emotions rise.” So I wasn’t alone with the surging sentimentality. Lest anyone doubt your lofty position in the hearts of Canadians, this comment made me laugh out loud: “Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s address was broadcast instead of (Stuart’s) story in Manitoba. Any way it can still be heard via another source? Was very disappointing!” You will always be the Primest of our Primes.

The CBC and its legion of fellow Stuart and Vinyl Cafe devotees recognized your voice was desperately needed in our kitchens and hearts again, and soon. The Current played a few of your stories to overwhelming delight and now, it’s been officially announced – you’re back for the Summer! I know exactly where I’ll be on Sundays at noon. And I can’t wait. I can’t wait to hear your comforting cadence, your playful pauses to allow us to catch up with your wit, your own battles to overcome the giggles … and I’ll have the tissues at the ready, for the inevitable happy tears and for the ones shed in missing you too. 

Happy Canada Day, Stuart!

(illustration by Michael deAdder)

 

Hand Drawn Vancouver

June 23, 2020

 

In a Summer where we’re being encouraged to stay close to home, how wonderful to have a new guidebook of sorts to help us explore our nearby neighbourhoods. If you’ve become too comfortable being housebound, this might be just the inspiration you need to get out there and investigate.

Illustrator and writer, Emma Fitzgerald has imaginatively captured scenes of little pockets around the city of Vancouver and included conversations with those she’s encountered or overheard. Her work has been described as “part sketchbook, part journal” by the Globe and  Mail and we like both. We’re also big on “Whimsical” and “Charming” here at BTB and this promises each in abundance.  I’m particularly fond of the storefronts and streetscapes captured in Emma’s drawings as we know, all too well, that the city is changing and these may be the nostalgic views we’ll treasure most in the future.

This little story explains the source of Emma’s inspiration: “My daily commute to school, an hour each way in the backseat of the car, was an education in the geography of the city. We passed through Dundarave and Ambleside, stalled in traffic at Park Royal, went over the Capilano River Reserve while crossing the Lions Gate Bridge, and then were momentarily surrounded by trees in Stanley Park. It was often a quick drive through the West End and Downtown, seemingly before anyone else was awake, then over the Burrard or sometimes Granville Bridge, through Kitsilano, all the way to Dunbar—only to do it all in reverse at the end of the day. Looking out of the window, I discovered that each neighbourhood had its own unique architecture and population, and they became endlessly interesting to me.” 

While Emma mostly grew up in Vancouver, she also spent some time studying and living in Halifax. She successfully captured that city in Hand Drawn Halifax. Rumour has it that she’s now in Victoria and exploring that city for its own Hand Drawn edition. We’ll have to stay tuned!

 

 

 

These are beautiful coffee table books through the pages of which we can vicariously travel to traditionally dreamy domains of Summer. Coffee Table Books are not easy on the wallet, unless you compare them to the cost of the tickets to travel, yet they are a wonderful way to savour beautiful photography and design. I have a healthy little collection focused on travel and design and art and I enjoy visiting the titles often. They are indeed “trippy”! I don’t put them on my coffee table, however, lest someone spill the coffee.

Summer to Summer: Houses by the Sea is a new one, being released today in fact. It features the stories and photos of a selection of gorgeous homes along the North East Coast of the United States. The area really is a mecca for stunning Summer home architecture. Even if you are lucky enough to visit the region, you can’t always get inside the homes – through these pages you can! “All we need to do is settle back, kick off our shoes, and let the sun-kissed pages of Summer to Summer wash over us.” (publisher)

Summertime is colourfully filled with images that represent the epitome of an ideal summer; 46 different photographers share places that are lodged in their summer memories. Evocative quotes and summery reflections by literary icons are sprinkled among the photographs and there is true sense of nostalgia throughout. Joanne Dugan, the editor of this lovely book, writes: “It turns out that my first summer love was not a person but a place.” Read a mood-setting excerpt here.

Summer Houses by the Sea: The Shingle Style focuses on perhaps the most iconic design of a traditional summer home. Shingled summer homes “are an expression of the romantic longing for the sea.” (publisher) While this one may be more of an architectural study than a seasonal celebration, its photographic pages will still give you a sense of summer days spent in some treasured historic homes as well as in some newer shingled havens. You’ll learn a little in this one but the dreamy summer journey will be there too.

 

Summer Reads 2020

June 9, 2020

Art by Charlie Mackesy

The Summer Reads list is a bit of a tradition here at Bedside Table Books and started as a way to help you make choices to fill your seasonal book bag. You won’t find Dostoevsky on this list (sorry, Fyodor!) but you will hopefully, without too much effort, travel the world a little bit with some interesting folks, learn a little here and there, have a good laugh and maybe even get a chill down your spine.  I’ve researched and narrowed down a mountain of choices to these few. I’ll be digging in soon and hope you’ll join me. If you have found an ideal Summer Read yourself, feel free to share it with us.

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell – A memoir of a young man and his penguin. How’s that for a unique start?! A young Englishman heads for South America to teach at a boarding school and on a weekend adventure finds himself rescuing a penguin who insists on sticking around.

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin – An elderly Irishman spends an evening at a hotel bar, making five toasts to five influential people in his life. This one might be your rainy day read as it seems reflective and bittersweet but by all accounts features a well written character who will remain with you. “If you had to pick five people to sum up your life, who would they be? If you were to raise a glass to each of them, what would you say? And what would you learn about yourself, when all is said?”

Last Days of Cafe Leila by Donia Bijan – There are many tales of people leaving Iran but few telling the story of returning. In this novel, a woman leaves San Francisco to return to Tehran and her family and the restaurant that has been their business for three generations. She brings her teen daughter and together they explore themes of change and family.  Refinery 29 says, “… a love letter to family, food and culture.”  I thought it interesting that the author is an award-winning Chef and former restaurateur – so many reviews mention how beautifully the Persian food features.

The Summer Country by Lauren Willig – This one travels in time and location, to Victorian era Barbados. A family saga, epic in scale, set in the Caribbean of the 1800s. Comparisons to the Thorn Birds had me convinced if the gorgeous cover art hadn’t already. A young woman surprisingly inherits, from her grandfather, a sugar plantation that no one even knew existed. The plantation, or what remains of it, has stories (romance, ghosts!) that must be explored. So many good reviews and apparently one to really sink into and savour.

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok – I absolutely loved the author’s first book, Lost in Translation, and so am really looking forward to this one. A Chinese immigrant family’s hidden story is revealed as a younger sister goes looking for her elder sister who’s mysteriously disappeared in the Netherlands. Suspense and secrets and sisters … sounds simple but it’s complicated! 

Wild Horses of the Summer Sun by Tory Bilski –  A group of women, initially unknown to one another, meet annually to escape from their regular lives to ride horses in Iceland. The author recounts stories of her annual trip, her companions (four footed and two) and the extraordinary setting while exploring themes of identity, aging, friendship, freedom … “Filled with adventure and fresh humor, as well as an incredible portrait of Iceland and its remarkable equines, Wild Horses of the Summer Sun will enthrall and delight not just horse lovers, but those of us who yearn for a little more wild in everyday life.”  Paperback will be released in August. I’ll be in line!

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes –  Beloved Irish writer, Marian Keyes, takes on life and all its foibles with equal doses of humour and poignancy in her fiction and non-fiction. This one is a big juicy novel featuring a fancy family who becomes a bit unraveled when one member’s concussion causes her to become a little too unfiltered. The revelations cause the extended family to have to “grow up”. Along with the hilarity is some complexity in the lives of well-crafted characters.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett – Already an accomplished author of The Mothers, Brit Bennett’s newest book was released on June 2nd into a world that could not be more ready to receive it. By all accounts this is an impressively written and important book. Identical twins escape their small town together but choose different paths in life, one as a black woman and the other, passing as white. The story moves forward through the 1950s to the 1990s, on to the next generation, and boldly examines the historical and social influences on their lives. Book clubs are going to be leaping for this one.

We Came Here to Shine by Susie Orman Schnall – You may recall Susie’s last book, The Subway Girls, appeared on a previous Summer list. Susie takes inspiration from a moment in history, does extensive research for true authenticity, and weaves stories featuring intrepid heroines. The historical inspiration for this latest book was The 1939 New York World’s Fair. Two feisty young women are working at the Fair, both in positions beneath their aspirations and limited by the biased environment around them. They form a friendship which provides support and gives them courage to face their challenges. Susie describes the Fair meticulously and more than one reviewer described the book as “cinematic” with the Fair itself acting as a prominent character. 

Beach Read by Emily Henry – This seems poised to be the runaway beach bag hit for the summer. Very generous reviews and apparently more depth to it than the cover might suggest. An acclaimed writer of Literary Fiction is spending the summer at a beach house. Next door is a bestselling Romance writer. Each is suffering from severe writer’s block and so begins the tale of them challenging each other to bust out of the creative doldrums. The witty banter, Lake Michigan in the summer, and a little romantic frisson evidently adds up to excellent summer entertainment.

Saturdays at Noon by Rachel Marks – “Endearing, emotional and uplifting” The reviews for this book are outstanding. Circumstances bring a father and son to an Anger Management class where they engage with a young woman, also enrolled. Neither adult is especially fond of the other but a bond develops between the young woman and the boy who happens to be on the Autism spectrum and the story evolves from there. This is Rachel Marks’ first book and her inspiration came from her struggles in understanding her own son’s autistic behaviours. She writes exceptionally well and also from a place of true empathy for the characters’ experiences. 

The New Girl by Harriet Walker – This is the goosebumps contribution.  A psychological thriller in which a freelance journalist is brought in to cover the maternity leave of an accomplished fashion magazine editor. The temp plays at assuming the so-called perfect lifestyle of the editor in her absence while the new mother, responding to a few triggers, becomes highly suspicious and paranoid. Is it an innocent game or is something sinister at work? 

 

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