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)

 

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.

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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.

 

Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code

September 14, 2014

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In a week with headlines dominated by misbehaviour and wavering values, it seemed like a good time to think back on some solid sense. Gene Autry would be celebrating his 107th birthday in a week’s time but I think his code is still relevant today.

 

 

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Wouldn’t you love to perch upon one of these literarily-themed benches? If you’re visiting London, England this summer you can indeed take a seat.  In fact, you’ll have a choice from among fifty benches positioned throughout the city. The benches will be auctioned off for the benefit of the National Literacy Trust in October 2014. This special event was planned to “celebrate reading for enjoyment” and, in so doing, also show off some of the wonderful artistic talent and strong literary heritage of the city. To read more about this endeavour and to get a glimpse of all the benches, click here. I think visiting the benches in person or even just pictorially will inspire us all to pick up an old, favourite read. Have you been able to guess the titles represented above?

Four different Books About Town Book Bench trails have been established: The Bloomsbury, The City, Greenwich, and Riverside. Relevant literary works in bench form have been positioned along each path. If you would like to vicariously travel a route, then visit one of the map pages.

Souvenir posters are also available for purchase through the travel map and bookstore, Stanford’s:

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Dear Mr. Harper …

April 17, 2014

Sometimes I struggle to select a blog post topic, usually due to an excess rather than a dearth of ideas. And sometimes, like today, a most wonderful subject simply lands in my in-box!

After reading the e-mail message (from my boys’ high school English teacher) and its contents, I was reminded of my own high school English teachers and their roles in inspiring my interest in, and love for, engaging with the written word. I imagine many of you share a similar experience. What an influential role those teachers have!

Today, a high school teacher and a politician share a refreshing devotion to instilling a love for reading in young minds. Ms. Gin, the English teacher we are fortunate to have teaching the boys in our family, began a project with her students which involved connecting with none other than our country’s Prime Minister. The e-mail I received this morning was Ms. Gin’s update on this project. Read on and enjoy! (Original letters are followed by text for easier reading)

Summer-Reading-letter-to-Harper

Dear Mr. Harper:

Over the summer, I came upon a book about books: 101 Letters to a Prime Minister, by Canadian writer Yann Martel. As a high school English teacher, I often find myself in a predicament similar to Mr. Martel’s but instead of wondering about what kind of literature piques the mind of our country’s leader, my concern lies in our country’s youth. What books are of particular importance in shaping the next generation of adults, the next wave of thinkers and leaders?

Inspired by Mr. Martel’s steadfast, albeit, one-sided book club, I asked my grade 11s at St. George’s School a similar question: If you were to recommend a book to our Prime Minister, what book would you put forth?

Our discussions were so rich and enthusiastic that I knew I had stumbled upon a “teachable moment.” What is enclosed in this envelope is a collection of letters from a coterie of energetic, astute and passionate young minds. They have spent a good deal of the past three weeks brainstorming, writing, editing, and sharing their book recommendations. More than anything they hope you will take their painstaking compositions seriously.

While it is widely known that Mr. Martel never received a personal reply from you, my two classes of grade 11s are hopeful that you will not only take the time to peruse their letters, but that you will also honour their work with a reply of your own.

Happy reading.

Ms. Sandra Gin

English Teacher

Letter-from-Stephen-Harper1Letter-from-Stephen-Harper1   Dear Ms. Gin,

Thank you for sharing the letters from your Grade Eleven English classes. They clearly demonstrate that a love of reading is alive and well in Canadian schools.

I would like to extend my congratulations on your efforts to promote literacy among your young charges. We are fortunate to have dedicated mentors in our nation’s classrooms.

My love of reading was also nurtured at an early age by teachers passionate about the written word. Reading opened up a tremendous window on the world for me, as it has for your students. The local public libraries near my childhood home were places of wonder and exploration.

My late father, Joseph Harris Harper, was an avid researcher and historian. He produced two studies for the Canadian Military of his day – “Old Colours Never Die” and “A Source of Pride”. I credit him for instilling my passion for history. Books, of course, have been an integral part of pursuing this great interest.

As your students will be aware, 2015 will mark the bicentennial of the birth of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald. Author Richard Gwyn has written an outstanding two volume biography which I would highly recommend to your students. The Man Who Made Us and Nation Maker present Sir John A’s compelling story with great skill. Canadians are in his debt.

On a more personal note, I would like to share a story with your students. In August of 2012, I had a speaking engagement in Amherst, Nova Scotia, on the grounds of the local high school. I was graciously accorded the school’s library as my temporary office. It is not often that one has an entire library at one’s disposal, and I was compelled to peruse the selection of reading materials on hand.

To my delight, a book entitled Here Stays Good Yorkshire, written by Will R. Bird, was prominently displayed. This historical novel tells the story of hearty immigrants who came to Canada from Yorkshire in the 18th century. My ancestor, Christopher Harper, was part of this early wave of immigrants, and I was deeply moved by this imagined account of experiences that would have been similar to his own.

If I were to offer one piece of advice to your students, who are obviously bright and engaged, I would strongly encourage them to continue reading, both for edification, and for pleasure. And to any budding young authors, I would reiterate that reading voraciously is the best preparation for writing of any kind. I found this to be true when writing my own book, A Great Game. I have enclosed a signed copy for your school library.

In closing, it is my hope that your students will follow in your fine example, and encourage younger students to take up this most fulfilling pursuit.

Sincerely, Stephen Harper

The Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.

Prime Minister of Canada

Books mentioned in this exchange:

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Playtime with Proust

April 12, 2014

Quizzes have long been a source of social entertainment, from parlour games in the times of Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde to present day airport lounge diversions in the pages of Cosmo. One, long-standing in popularity, has come to be known as the Proust Questionnaire and is determined to honestly reveal the character traits and interests of its participant. Though the questionnaire takes the name of Marcel Proust, he was an enthusiastic and witty test-taker rather than the actual creator.

The Proust Questionnaire has come to be used in modern times by a number of talk show hosts, famously by James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio who asks each guest to complete an adapted version at the end of his or her interview. CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter also poses a few of the questions to its guest Writers.

Since 1993, the last page of each issue of Vanity Fair magazine has been devoted to The Proust Questionnaire featuring a different celebrity’s responses each time. The best of these pages were collected into a book by VF editor Graydon Carter. Great reading entertainment! You can also link to the magazine’s Proust page here and read a few samples.

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So are you intrigued enough now to want to answer your own Proust Questionnaire? Here it is!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
What is your greatest fear?
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Which living person do you most admire?
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your current state of mind?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
On what occasion do you lie?
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Which living person do you most despise?
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
When and where were you happiest?
Which talent would you most like to have?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Where would you most like to live?
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
What is your favorite occupation?
What is your most marked characteristic?
What do you most value in your friends?
Who are your favorite writers?
Who is your hero of fiction?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Who are your heroes in real life?
What are your favorite names?
What is it that you most dislike?
What is your greatest regret?
How would you like to die?
What is your motto?

I just discovered the charming work of Last Lemon. They are clearly book lovers and create all sorts of groovy illustrations with smart phrasing attached. I know you’ll have fun discovering them for yourselves. (Last Lemon home page) Here are a few of my favourites: 6e8ab9fb7d6c46731a516aa25f579914.jpg

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And my ultimate favourite, for obvious reasons …

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I’m so giddy about this discovery that I am pirouetting about in search of where to even begin (I am actually ‘pivoting’ but pirouetting sounds more like what a Parisienne would do!)  I recently discovered the engaging work of Canadian-living-in-Paris, Janice MacLeod, and couldn’t wait to tell you all about her and her art, and her letters, and her book … As I sit here playing with phrases to aptly capture her charming allure, I am realizing her very own words will best give you a sense of her playfulness and the guaranteed fun ahead when you read her letters and book. I just know you are going to be reading her letters and book!

From Janice’s website:

“After a childhood in Canada that was just dysfunctional enough to make me funny, I became an advertising copywriter and eventually an associate creative director. Most of my time was spent in top agencies throughout the USA and Canada, because I’m kinda into fame. And modesty. I’m humble, too. And perfect.

After 110 years of writing junk mail in advertising, I devised an exit strategy to finance my own sabbatical. My Shawshank Redemption, if you will. When I met my financial goal, I skipped town and traveled with nothing more than my suitcase and a small set of watercolors. Along the way, I painted letters about my travels and mailed them to friends. Enamored with this unique medium, I opened an online shop. Each month I create one painted letter, copy it, personalize it and mail it to hundreds of subscribers who are hungry for fun mail.”

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“I am the artist behind Paris Letters, a painted letter series sent out via snail mail to those who crave getting fun snail mail from the land of fromage, rosé and lippy waiters.”

So, you can enrol to receive a single masterpiece, or a 6-month subscription, or a full year of 12 treasures! (I  know, I know, my mental math is mind blowing) To do so, visit Janice’s Etsy shop, as above, or by clicking here. Just imagine the delight of finding Paris in your postbox and what an impressive wall display you could have! Hooked already? Wait! There’s more.

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Now for the booky bit …  Run, not walk, to your nearest bookshop and snag yourself a copy of this (if you can find one!):

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You see, there’s a love story afoot too. (Mais bien surParis Letters – One Woman’s Journey from the Fast lane to a Slow Stroll in Paris is Janice’s story behind how she came to start her letter writing endeavour and the Amour who motivated her to find a way to stay in Paris. It’s an inspiring tale of making dreams come true. So if you’re not packing up for a trip to Paris over Spring Break, and heck, even if you are, this enchanting read will bring you joy.

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