Sarah Jio is a writer from the Seattle area who is enjoying considerable success with her novels: The Violets of March, Blackberry Winter, The Bungalow, The Last Camellia, and Morning Glory to date and more on the way. Book clubs seem to be particularly fond of her creative, multi-generational story lines, often set in the Pacific Northwest. I have read Morning Glory which takes place in a floating home community and look forward to making my way through her other tales.

In her recently released Goodnight June, Sarah has explored generational connections through a beloved classic children’s book and it’s sure to be a favourite of book and bookshop lovers. The back cover blurb states: “June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown — and steps into the pages of American literature.”

I’ve only read the Author’s Note and I’ve already learned all sorts of intriguing trivia. So if you feel like a nostalgic trip to the Green Room and an imaginary visit into the world of books, writers, letters, and bookshops, this may be your next cozy read. I know I’m looking forward to it!

goodnight-june-cover-final Goodnightmoon

Maya Angelou

May 28, 2014

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 Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

I was sorry to learn of Maya Angelou’s passing today. She contributed so much to the arts in general but will be particularly remembered for her fine way with words. The following quote is my favourite of all and is always prominently displayed at my desk. I can’t help but hear Maya’s lyrical voice anytime I read a quote, poem, or passage of her writing. For that reason, I had to include a recording of her reading a poem that captures her vivacity as we say good-bye. Enjoy!

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Phenomenal Woman

by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman” from And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Used by permission of Random House, Inc.

Source: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House Inc., 1994)

The Rosie Project

May 19, 2014

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I have yet to meet a Rosie Project reader who hasn’t become smitten with the quirky charm of its protagonist and  the premise of his “project”; such a universally appealing cast and adventure. If you haven’t had a chance to read this yet, do yourself a favour and cuddle up this long weekend with a copy.

Author Graeme Simsion was recently visiting Vancouver from his native Australia and appeared at a Meet the Writer event hosted by the cozy 32 Books bookstore of Edgemont Village in North Vancouver. Graeme Simsion’s personal back-story is an intriguing one with several successful career incarnations before the extraordinary success of Rosie allowed him to leave his day job. At one point, he delights in pointing out, he was even “an alien with extraordinary abilities” according to Immigration officials. Graeme’s address exuded enthusiasm and good-natured self-deprecating humour – he assesses his success with an Innocent’s air of awe at his own good fortune and a cheerful commitment to enjoying the ride. The Rosie Project, which had its start in a short story and then morphed into a screenplay and finally evolved into a novel, is now in the process of becoming a movie. (Starring role actors were not revealed but were happily described as “unexpected” like Russell Crowe was in A Beautiful Mind. That gets the imagination churning!)  Graeme did share the good news that a sequel to The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect, will appear on shop shelves in September. Can’t wait!

Blog readers AW, DH and I had a fun, quick chat with the personable Graeme. He is a fierce advocate of the Independent Bookstore and was quick to give credit to an indie book shop for his “Fictional Character” tee-shirt seen in the picture below. (available here) Inevitably, comparisons between the character Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory and Rosie character Dan Tillman are made but Graeme explained he’s never seen an episode and will strategically avoid Big Bang viewings in order to remain true to his version of Dan. Dan is in fact inspired by a long-time friend of his.

Graeme expressed concern that any reader ever feel he is ridiculing Dan’s Asperger’s condition; he indicated it was his goal to simply reveal the social anxieties we all feel and I am sure readers would feel he has indeed done that sensitively and very well.

I enjoy attending these events as it gives one some insight to the humanity behind the stories – a real person, sitting at a real desk or kitchen table, creating our entertainment from a spark of an idea. Hearing Graeme speak only enriched the Rosie experience. I hope you have chances to attend meet-the-writer events soon too!

 

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Graduation Goodies

May 7, 2014

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The commencement of Commencement season is well underway and I’m sure, as every year, there will be memorable speeches given. Perhaps some not-so-memorable ones too – do you recall who spoke at your graduations? Some speeches are so well-received that they end up published as books for gifting as inspiration to generations beyond. If you’re seeking a little gift for the Grad this year, here are a few books based on speeches and a few that just seem timely with their wisdom.

Congratulations, by the Way – Some Thoughts on Kindness by George Saunders – Presented at Syracuse University in 2013. If you’d like to read the speech in its entirety, and I recommend you do, it’s available right here on the NYTimes website. If you’d like a precious little hardbound copy with a pretty cover, then off to the bookshop you go.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow – Not Commencement Speech based but full of lovely, nostalgic Life advice gleaned from the pages of the treasured little books (golden) we all had/have on our bookshelves. Diane Muldrow is the Editorial Director of Golden Books in her real-life and shares her personal connection to the books here in a Huffington Post blog post.

 A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen – Inspired by a speech given by Anna to a high school graduation class. An excerpt can be read here.

Wear Sunscreen – A Primer for Real Life by Mary Schmich – This was a column written almost 20 years ago by Mary Schmich in the Chicago Tribune. Though she stated in her introduction that this was merely her version of the Graduation Speech we all have inside us, it has been mistakenly attributed to Kurt Vonnegut. Filled with plenty of important guidelines like “Floss” and “Sing” (Wait a minute, … maybe my Dad wrote this!) The original can be read here. A Tenth Anniversary edition was published, a Twentieth can’t be far off.

 This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace – From a speech given by DFW in 2005 at Kenyon College. The original can be read here. Another message gone viral and particularly poignant now that Wallace is gone.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow – Speaking of poignant … (You have my permission to step out and stock up on tissues.) A speech about what matters most, given by a university professor with the knowledge his own life is ending soon. Randy Pausch titled his presentation, “Really Achieving your Childhood Dreams” and spoke about living life most fully. One for the ages. Carnegie Mellon (Pausch’s university) has video and text of the speech available here.

Spring with Mary Oliver

March 20, 2014

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Mary Oliver simply writes the most beautiful, evocative poetry. The first day of Spring seemed like the ideal time to draw your attention to her spunky spirit and love of Nature. Gosh it was hard to narrow down the quotes from her poems – I have collected so many. You may recall her Peonies poem being featured here a few years ago. I encourage you to take a Spring stroll through the pages of any one of her books, savouring the images she paints with her words as you go. She has won many awards (a little one called the Pulitzer among them) and she is widely cherished though rarely appears in the media. Fortunately, she has made good use of her quiet time and has many volumes available, the most recent being these two:

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“Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.

Hello, you who made the morning

and spread it over the fields

and into the faces of the tulips

and the nodding morning glories,

and into the windows of, even, the

miserable and the crotchety –

best preacher that ever was,

dear star, that just happens

to be where you are in the universe

to keep us from ever-darkness,

to ease us with warm touching,

to hold us in the great hands of light –

good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day

in happiness, in kindness.”

― Mary Oliver

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Happy Spring to you!

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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.

A Short Love Story

July 22, 2013

A recent edition of The Globe & Mail, in a little feature called “Book Lovers”, asked Janet E. Cameron (author of Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World) the question:

What book has the most romantic significance for you?

Her answer:

“In 2002 I was on a plane from Tokyo to Dublin – off to see my Irish boyfriend, whom I’d met at the soccer World Cup and known less than a week. I was terrified I’d made a mistake. What if it turned out we had nothing in common? The book I was reading on the flight was How to be Good by Nick Hornby, an entertaining novel about a profoundly unhappy couple, and it wasn’t helping my nerves. Then the plane touched down, and I saw him in Arrivals, waiting for me. He was holding a copy of the same book; in fact, I could tell he was practically on the same page. Three years later we got married.”

How to be Good by Nick Hornby

Anyone else want to share a “romantically significant” book title with us? (back story required, of course!)

Dear Janet E. Cameron:

July 22, 2013

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Dear Janet,

I promised I’d write when I’d finished your book, Cinnamon Toast at the End of the World. Your web scouting let you know it was featured on my summer reading list and you were curious, as I imagine every writer must be, to learn how your work would be received. Lots of pressure for both of us there! What if I’d promised, and then abhorred the book? What if I couldn’t finish it, even? Fortunately, neither of those scenarios applies.

Let’s start at the very beginning ( a very good place to start, tra la,la) What led me to selecting your book from among the many vying for attention on the shelves of my neighbourhood book shop? The cover of the book is enchanting – pastel tones with a portly little toaster popping up toast. Intriguingly, said toaster seems to be sitting at the beach. I had beach books on my mind so this must have been a subliminal draw. (I’m none the wiser after finishing the story as to why the toaster is at the beach but really not an issue. I also understand that most authors have little to no say in the appearance of the book.) The “Cinnamon Toast” in the title evokes cosy nostalgia and simple traditions … a waft of burnt toast always reminds me of breakfasts with my late Grandmother who preferred her bread charred … “The End of the World” had me a bit confused but I was convinced there was humorous hyperbole involved – a good thing in my mind.  I flipped to the opening paragraph and found immediate clarification:

‘It’s not the end of the world.’ That’s what people will tell you. That’s what people will tell you when they want to say, ‘Your problems are stupid, your reaction to them laughable, and I would like you to go away now.’

‘Oh, Stephen, for God’s sake, it’s not the end of the world,’ my mother will say, over and over, in tones of sympathy or distraction. Or sometimes plain impatience. 

So of course if she’s ever running around looking for her keys and cursing, I’ll always tell her, ‘It’s not the end of the world, Mom.’ And if she’s really been pissing me off, I’ll scoop the keys up from wherever she’s left them and stick them in my coat pocket. Then I’ll settle back to watch with a sympathetic expression while she tears the house apart looking. Lost keys? Not the end of the world.

You had me, right there. Fantastic! This Stephen seemed a bit of a scamp and I wanted to get to know him.  As an ’85 Grad myself, the promise of a nostalgic tour through the era in his company seemed inviting too … So Writer, I purchased your book.

In this modern era, a quick trip to the author’s website is often a worthy venture. Sometimes, you’ll find out she/he is a wit, a charmer, friendly to fans … and sometimes, not so much. You, Ms. Cameron, come across as the former: personable and fantastically fun. And thoughtful too – an 80’s music soundtrack to accompany a reader is kindly provided on your site along with photos of the setting’s inspiration.

And so, all of this pastel and perkiness had me ready to ease myself into a light and airy read …

Alas, I was hoodwinked!

As I merrily started in, it soon became clear that this journey was going deeper than a mere trip to the beach. I won’t expose the tale but let’s just say as I compulsively turned pages, my heart broke and then was pieced back together with optimism and then out loud laughter (OLL?) – repeatedly;  tears ran down my cheeks on several occasions. You took me so convincingly to small town Nova Scotia and the era with wonderfully evocative details like  a “Welcome to Town” sign with a “Thanks for Visiting” message on the reverse and a Grandmother sporting those crocheted slippers with the pom poms on the toes.

I am astonished by your compelling ability to write from the perspective of a teenaged boy – an awkward, tormented teenaged boy. Frankly, I wouldn’t normally be drawn to a character exhibiting tormented traits and you might have lost me (especially as I had toast at the beach in mind) but you imbued him with the most lovely optimistic spirit despite his situation in life. He’s a character who will linger with me. Beyond Stephen, the story illuminates the importance of family, whatever it may look like, and friends, whatever they may look like. Vital values indeed. One reviewer declared this “an important book” and I couldn’t agree more.

And so, I thank you for the positive experience of Cinnamon Toast and The End of the World. As your publisher, Hachette Ireland, fittingly included on the last page of your book:

“Reading is so much more than the act of moving from page to page. It’s the exploration of new worlds; the pursuit of adventure; the forging of friendships; the breaking of hearts; and the chance to begin to live through a new story each time the first sentence is devoured.”

Your story succeeded in doing all of those things for this reader. I already look forward to reading your next endeavour … perhaps a love story featuring a Nick Hornby book? (Blog readers will be let in on the joke in the next post)

All the best to you, Janet. Do hope you are happily writing your way through a lovely summer!

Susan

Long time readers will know I have a special place in my heart for poems and have been inclined to share a stand-out with you now and then. I couldn’t resist gifting you this one.

A secret indulgence of mine has been to tune into the charming, and inspiring, “bent-lily” blog for a poetic perk in my day. Samantha Reynolds is a Vancouver-based entrepreneur and a mother who, desiring to be mindful of the moments in her baby son’s first year, decided to write a poem a day capturing the essence of even the tiniest events. (Some of us just aimed to take a shower!) Samantha has compiled a wonderful archive of poetry, along with other creative thoughts and opportunities, at bentlily.com. My secret is no-more, I encourage you to visit!

And so, I share this little gem with you in honour of Mother’s Day. As a mum of boys, I remember all too well, moments like these. My boys are now long past the toddler stage and it’s my actions causing the embarrassment (they tell me) so I loved this little trip back in time. I marvel at how simply Samantha creates the scene.

We sneak into the elevator before it closes
us with our cart full of groceries
her with just one cloth bag

I blurt out would you mind
if my son presses the button
but her face doesn’t move
so that I wonder if she is deaf
or sad or just as austere as she looks
her hair grey as stone
her potato-coloured raincoat
her sensible shoes
which is when my son
turns to me and asks

does that lady have a bagina

which had been a topic over breakfast
who does and doesn’t
the mention of certain people
making us both giggle

but in the confines of the elevator
and the brittle twitch of her old cheek
his question turns my brain to mud
and I am trapped in the boiling
heat of awkwardness

then the doors open
and with a voice as light as a moth
and a look that absolves me
she says

would you believe
I left it at home.

(Bagina, by Samantha Reynolds, April 27, 2013)

The Gardener

Happy Mother’s Day

Gatsby

May 10, 2013

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Today is the release of the latest cinematic version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Are you Gatsby-ed out already?  Are you thinking of re-reading the book? Or going to read it for the first time perhaps? It’s not a long endeavour (fewer than 200 pages) so I’m considering a refresher. The movie appears to be an extravaganza – influencing trends in fashion and design for almost a year now and promising to launch what marketers claim we’ll remember as the “Summer of Gatsby”.

A few Fitzgerald/Gatsby inspired books are appearing on the shelves too – the biggest among them probably Z – a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. So maybe I’ll set aside Gatsby and take on Zelda instead. It’s a fictionalized memoir, focusing on Zelda’s search for self during the roaring 20’s.  I read an article today recounting how she and F. Scott hunched on all fours on a stranger’s doorstep in New York City, barking to be let into the party. When the door was finally opened to them, Zelda marched in and up the stairs to have a bath. Hmmm … if that’s any indication, this could be a rather lively read. Click on the cover for a summary if you’re intrigued.

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And if you’ve done all of your reading already and are thinking of heading to the movies, here’s a trailer of what’s in store:

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