August 31, 2014
I’ve rarely been accused of being a trend setter but I feel I’ve sniffed a whiff of one recently. Back-to-School season, wherein we all crave a new pack o’ pencils, seems the most appropriate time to roll it out to you.
Beginning in France, and moving swiftly to the UK, has been news of a super solution to stress. It strikes me as a bit of an old-school fix but I like it! Colouring. Yes, colouring. Not the kiddie version, something a bit more intricate and therefore consuming, keeping one’s attention focused and settled into a peaceful, calm state. Remember Doodle Art? This is Doodle Art on steroids. Sales of amped up colouring books are moving from shelves rapidly now that “Anti-Stress” and “Therapeutic” have been added to a number of the covers, in some cases beginning to out-sell cook books.
(Here is a link to an interesting background article in The Telegraph.)
One of the most lovely colouring books on the market, and intended for adults, is created by Brit, Johanna Basford. She calls herself an illustrator and “ink evangelist”. Her work is absolutely wonderful and indeed inspires one to seek out his or her favourite colours and set to colouring between the lines. Her “Inky Treasure Hunt” titled Secret Garden is a trove of detailed images just pleading for your penmanship.
This looks like such a lovely way to pass the time, and more importantly in my opinion, a great way to escape our technological ties. Tackle tweeters in this garden with a magic marker rather than a keyboard. Here’s a sample page from within and click here to see a gallery of pages shared by proud pencilers.
March 27, 2013
Over the past three (three !?!) years of maintaining Bedside Table Books, I have collected an assortment of images, quotes, and whatnot that seem to defy categorization and yet at the same time, seem destined to be shared with thee. So today, we have Bits and Bobs – a wee assortment of Booky things.
“She drinks pints of coffee and writes little observations and ideas for stories with her best fountain pen on the linen-white pages of expensive notebooks. Sometimes, when it’s going badly, she wonders if what she believes to be a love of the written word is really just a fetish for stationery.”
— David Nicholls (One Day)
February 14, 2013
June 30, 2012
Great quotes are often drawn from commencement addresses; the occasion of graduation itself inspires heartfelt and thoughtful sentiment and wisdom. Every year there are a few outstanding messages but this year, one really stood out: David McCullough Jr., an English teacher (and son of writer David McCullough), spoke to the graduates of Wellesley High School in Massachusetts on June 1st and struck a resounding chord. Not one, but many quotes will likely endure from this honest lesson. An excerpt of the text is here for you to enjoy. A video of the entire address appears below.
“You are not special. You are not exceptional.
Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.
Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet. … And now you’ve conquered high school… and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building…
But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.
The empirical evidence is everywhere, numbers even an English teacher can’t ignore. Newton, Natick, Nee… I am allowed to say Needham, yes? …that has to be two thousand high school graduates right there, give or take, and that’s just the neighborhood Ns. Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians… 37,000 class presidents… 92,000 harmonizing altos… 340,000 swaggering jocks… 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs. But why limit ourselves to high school? After all, you’re leaving it. So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you. Imagine standing somewhere over there on Washington Street on Marathon Monday and watching sixty-eight hundred yous go running by. And consider for a moment the bigger picture: your planet, I’ll remind you, is not the center of its solar system, your solar system is not the center of its galaxy, your galaxy is not the center of the universe. In fact, astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it. Neither can Donald Trump… which someone should tell him… although that hair is quite a phenomenon.
“But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection! Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!” And I don’t disagree. So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus. You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another–which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it… Now it’s “So what does this get me?” As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans. It’s an epidemic — and in its way, not even dear old Wellesley High is immune… one of the best of the 37,000 nationwide, Wellesley High School… where good is no longer good enough, where a B is the new C, and the midlevel curriculum is called Advanced College Placement. And I hope you caught me when I said “one of the best.” I said “one of the best” so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distinction, however vague and unverifiable, and count ourselves among the elite, whoever they might be, and enjoy a perceived leg up on the perceived competition. But the phrase defies logic. By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not.
If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning. You’ve learned, too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us, that wisdom is the chief element of happiness. (Second is ice cream… just an fyi) I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize how little you know… how little you know now… at the moment… for today is just the beginning. It’s where you go from here that matters.
As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison. Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages. And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations, and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon.
The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer. You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–quite an active verb, “pursuit”–which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on Youtube. The first President Roosevelt, the old rough rider, advocated the strenuous life. Mr. Thoreau wanted to drive life into a corner, to live deep and suck out all the marrow. The poet Mary Oliver tells us to row, row into the swirl and roil. Locally, someone… I forget who… from time to time encourages young scholars to carpe the heck out of the diem. The point is the same: get busy, have at it. Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you. Get up, get out, explore, find it yourself, and grab hold with both hands. (Now, before you dash off and get your YOLO tattoo, let me point out the illogic of that trendy little expression–because you can and should live not merely once, but every day of your life. Rather than You Only Live Once, it should be You Live Only Once… but because YLOO doesn’t have the same ring, we shrug and decide it doesn’t matter.)
None of this day-seizing, though, this YLOOing, should be interpreted as license for self-indulgence. Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.
Because everyone is.
Congratulations. Good luck. Make for yourselves, please, for your sake and for ours, extraordinary lives.”
November 16, 2011
On November 3rd I introduced you to the scrumptious artwork of Janet Hill. You will remember the beautiful colours and charming subject matter, often featuring readers with their books. I jotted a quick note to Janet and let her know I was a fan and, as such, had featured her here on Bedside Table Books. She kindly replied, professing her own love of books, and mused that because they were all around her they seemed to find their way into her paintings.
Tonight, as I was about to climb into bed with my book (looking much frumpier and more flannel-ized than the lovely lady above!), I thought I’d drop in on Bedside Table Books and see what was happening. And something WAS happening. A flurry of visitors was making its way over from Janet Hill’s blog site. It seems (and you’ll have to click here and read the story for yourself) that Janet was intrigued by John Gannam who was chatted about along with her here on the 3rd of November. She was so taken by his work in fact, that she was inspired to create the absolutely gorgeous painting above. She writes that she painted it with Gannam and the impish Holly Golightly in mind. The work is called “Goldfinch” and you will want to spend some time admiring it on Janet’s etsy site. Sadly, it has already sold. I am sure it will make its new owner very happy though!
And so I thought I’d share this tale with you – I love a little story of sharing ideas and inspiration … and always with a book in hand.
August 23, 2011
The days may be sunny and warm but in the next few weeks a chill will settle in the evenings and thoughts will lead to sweater weather again. An end of summer ritual for many is spending time with the September issues. Traditionally, the September issues of fashion magazines, appearing in mid-August, have the greatest sales and the most significant heft of the year. The record breaking edition was September 2007’s American Vogue magazine at some 840 pages, weighing in at over 5 pounds. Advertisers have been a bit harder to come by in recent years but Vogue’s 758 pages this year is still impressive. Understandably, the cover model is an important decision for these issues. September 2011 will see the following:
Vogue (US edition) – Kate Moss
In Style – Beyonce
Elle (US)– Gwyneth Paltrow
Harper’s Bazaar – Lea Michele
Vanity Fair – Jennifer Lopez
For entertaining insight into the behind the scenes development of not only a magazine, but one of these iconic issues, view The September Issue. This documentary follows Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue, during the entire process. View the trailer here and then plan to hoist a big September issue onto your lap and snuggle up to watch the DVD on a cool late summer evening.
April 26, 2011
We chatted last week about scrumptious book covers by Penguin (In Stitches) and today there are more to share with you. This Great Food series looks beautiful and contains culinary delights within from all eras. The good news this time is that they’re available as of April 2011. I haven’t seen them in person yet but I imagine they will appear prolifically in time for Mother’s day.
Pen Vogler of Penguin Books shares her personal tale of how the Great Food series came to be: “The twenty books in our forthcoming series GREAT FOOD are the love-children of an affair with old cookery books that began in the British Library last year. … It was a shout-it-from-the-rooftops kind of love (which doesn’t go down well in the British Library) so, instead of disturbing my fellow readers, when I came back to Penguin after my sabbatical, I suggested to the Penguin Press MD that we publish them in the Great Ideas format, for everybody else to love too. … Some of the books are tasters from the best-known of our cooks and food writers. … Some of these books aim to reintroduce the forgotten cooks of the past. … And some of the books in GREAT FOOD are, simply, wonderful food writing.”
The collection features the beautiful art work of Coralie Bickford-Smith who also did the cover work for a Great Gatsby series (lovely Art Deco theme) and the cloth covered Classics series. Take a look at these on Coralie’s web site.
Enjoy a few close-ups here of some of the Great Food covers and titles:
March 3, 2011
There have been two book titles this week that have buzzed through an extraordinary number of my conversations. I’ve had an opportunity to read (and recommend!) one and am eagerly anticipating a reading of the second based on the enthusiastic commentary I’ve heard.
One Day by David Nicholls has travelled the globe by word of mouth in a way few other titles have. It follows the journeys of a man and a woman who meet in university during the 1980s and remain connected through the decades that follow. We are given a glimpse into their lives at various points, always on the same day – July 15th. This “one day” makes for an interesting device to move the story forward. From the author’s website: ” 15th July 1988. Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew meet for the first time on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year which follows? One Day is a funny/sad love story spanning twenty years, a book about growing up – how we change, how we stay the same.”
A big part of the appeal of the book is the realistic “warts and all” behaviours of the characters – these are people you will recognise and relate to in many ways. “Honest” is a word reviewers have used frequently to describe the writing. You may be reminded of other beloved hip British writers: Nick Hornby and Tony Parsons.
Pop culture also plays an important role – the setting is London, England for the most part and references to the music and news of the times colour the story. In fact, David Nicholls has responded to repeated requests by actually posting a playlist of mix tapes (remember mix tapes? – now they’re playlists) that appear in the story. I love that!
David Nicholls himself is an engaging fellow in his interviews and his sense of humour comes across on his website as it does of course in his writing. One Day is the third of his novels and like me, you’ll no doubt be inspired to search out the previous ones, Starter for Ten and The Understudy. Get thee to a bookshop – the movie version will be released in September. I refuse to tell you who is starring (even though she’s BIG!) as I’d hate to influence your own vision of the characters. Your fault if you look it up!
And now for a Canadian read … Room by Emma Donoghue. (“Canadian” because Irish-born Ms. Donoghue now lives in Canada.) Diplomatically, both of the author’s homes have honoured the book with Novel of the Year – the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for best Canadian novel. I’ve yet to read this but am promised a copy shortly and can’t wait (no pressure on my book-loaning friend!) Also short-listed for the Man-Booker prize, this book inspires animated conversations everywhere. I’m motivated to start turning the pages not as much by the topic which feels dark but by the creative style of the book and the actual writing within. From the author’s website: “Jack and Ma live in a locked room that measures eleven foot by eleven. When he turns five, he starts to ask questions, and his mother reveals to him that there is a world outside. Told entirely in Jack’s voice, ROOM is no horror story or tearjerker, but a celebration of resilience and the love between parent and child.” As with many new releases seeking to inspire the market to embrace them, this book has a solid presence in social media and very creative ways to engage with the story beyond its covers. Visit Room on the book’s website and take a visual journey through the eyes of Jack.
If you’ve read either One Day or Room share your comments with us!
January 8, 2011
The new year brings with it releases of some new titles by writers of some of our old favourites. These all look terrific to me and will no doubt be big book club hits. If you haven’t yet read the old ones, you have time to get caught up. So …
if you liked … you’ll be delighted by the new ….
Still Alice by Lisa Genova must be one of my most frequently recommended books in recent years; its poignancy has remained with me long after the last pages were read. While Still Alice followed Alzheimer’s from the perspective of the patient, Left Neglected, (released on January 4th, 2011) features the sufferer of a traumatic brain injury. (left neglect or hemi-spatial neglect refers to a lack of awareness of the left side of one’s body as a result of an injury to the right side of the brain) Not light stuff but as a Harvard Neuroscientist the author is more than prepared to shine some fascinating light on the world of the brain. She wrote that her first book wasn’t just about the illness but also “… about identity, about living a life that matters, about family and what a crisis does to relationships.” In telling a story of the recovery of a Type A over-achieving working mother after a life-altering accident, Left Neglected promises to do the same.
I read The Memory Keeper’s Daughter while snuggled up in a ski cabin in a snowstorm which was suitable considering the opening scenes of the story take place in a wild snowstorm. Now I’m off to find a cabin by a lake as it appears a lake plays a pivotal role in Kim Edwards’ latest tale. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter explored controversial and ethical decisions and their impact on a family in an absolutely enthralling way. A father decides to conceal the birth of his child with Down’s Syndrome and is thereafter haunted by his actions and the related actions of others.The Lake of Dreams (released on January 4th, 2011) also examines family and secrets and is apparently just as successful in creating memorable characters and evocative imagery. A young woman returns home, obsessed by her father’s earlier death and finds herself engaged in conflict and intrigue with her remaining family. Apparently there are secret letters and artefacts revealing a mysterious family past. Do tell.
I haven’t encountered a reader yet who wasn’t captivated by Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. In Loving Frank we followed a fictional account of the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. A fascinating story made all the more interesting by the times in which it took place. In the new The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (to be released February 22,2011) we are drawn into the relationship between real life characters Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson. The story is written from the fictional perspective of Hadley during their time together, based mostly in Paris, during the 1920’s. According to Goodreads: “The city and its inhabitants provide a vivid backdrop to this engrossing and wrenching story of love and betrayal that is made all the more poignant knowing that, in the end, Hemingway would write of his first wife, “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her.” Insert deep sigh here.