A Fresh Start

January 4, 2011

I always think of the year as having two fresh start opportunities – September with back to school and its new beginnings and then the flip of the calendar to a new year in January.  “Self-help” books (now more often referred to as “Health and Well Being”) tend to garner more attention during these times of year so I thought we’d take a peek today at one of the titles in the genre deemed “buzz-worthy”.


The Happiness Project or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean my Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin  

 “For those who generally loathe the self-help genre, Rubin’s book is a breath of peppermint-scented air.” (The Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Gretchen Rubin devoted a year to an experiment in which she “test-drove the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier”.  She recorded her findings in a blog and then in this book. View the video below to understand the impetus for her project. 

The Happiness Project has been wildly popular; book clubs galore are reading this together and challenging one another to pursue “Happiness Projects” too.  The book (and Gretchen’s) appeal is apparently in the lack of “preachiness” – resolutions and tasks are left open for a reader’s personal interpretation while the author readily admits her failings. She does not feel her way is the only way, she simply shares her experience and enthusiastically encourages others to pursue their unique version of Happiness Project. 

Let us know if you’ve read the book and what your thoughts are. Have you launched your own Happiness Project for 2011?

Four Fun Books for Gifting

December 8, 2010

A few unique books that I’m sure you’ll enjoy gifting or reading yourself… Feel free to send along titles or gifts you’ve loved giving or receiving as well.

   For the Book Clubbers in your world. This is a visual treat and veritable smorgasboard of delightful distractions: travels, books, hosting tips, recipes and an overall celebration of friendship. Offers a glimpse into the fun had by a group of Canadian book clubbers who took their love for reading and enjoying a good book together to new heights through travel and adventures together beyond their monthly meeting. In these pages they include reading recommendations and instructions for creating a book club in the style of their own. Click on the image to be taken to the authors’ website and view a few of the gorgeous pages within.

              I posted earlier about the Kate Spade group and their enthusiasm for words and books ( Whimsical Words by Design ) They’ve stepped up their quirky literary enthusiasm with a wonderful new project in collaboration with the famous New York City bookstore The Strand. A group of seven women writers were assigned the task of writing a short story in which the phrase “She is quick and curious and playful and strong” must appear. The results are apparently “charming” as is the packaging of course.  Click on the images to read excerpts and learn more about each writer.

         Perhaps you share my perfectionist angst that surfaces every time I come to start a fresh first page in a journal or notebook. Who is comfortable with scarring those initial pristine pages?  Keri Smith has recognised this dilemma and gives us permission to creatively “Wreck this Journal”. She even includes inspiring instructions on how to really do a number on the journal, having great fun expressing your personal creativity as you do.   Visit her website by clicking on cover and review the gallery to see how different users have interpreted her instructions.  A whimsical idea which results in a unique work of art.    

                                                                  Another enchanting find and on my all time favourite list. My boys have a rather worn out copy of Jamie Lee Curtis’ hilarious review of one’s many moods and we used to guffaw together at the hilarious illustrations by Laura Cornell. The story is told in rhyme and while it is very cute it also has a dose of poignancy in it.  This little volume should not be restricted to the children in your life – it’s scrumptious and will amuse all. A glimpse inside is just a click away!

Ballerinas Everywhere

November 20, 2010


I’m not sure if it’s because The Nutcracker season is upon us but I am conscious of a ballerina trend in the air. A new movie called Black Swan is coming to theatres, our local Ballet is undergoing a sea change (what? no tutus!) and then there’s the bookshelf … An intriguing new hardcover fiction release is pleading to be added to the stack on the bedside table. And in the children’s section, with an apparent nod to the Madeleine books, a new storybook has arrived which promises to be a delight. Finally, carrying forward with our last posting’s theme,  a fond but almost forgotten classic from youth …

The True Memoirs of Little K  written by Adrienne Sharp follows the story of a century old ballerina reflecting on her life story.  Exiled in Paris, tiny, one-hundred-year-old Mathilde Kschessinska sits down to write her memoirs before all that she believes to be true is forgotten. A lifetime ago, she was the vain, ambitious, impossibly charming prima ballerina assoluta of the tsar’s Russian Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg. Now, as she looks back on her tumultuous life, she can still recall every slight she ever suffered, every conquest she ever made. Through Kschessinska’s memories of her own triumphs and defeats, we witness the stories that changed history: the seething beginnings of revolution, the blindness of the doomed court, the end of a grand, decadent way of life that belonged to the nineteenth century. Based on fact, The True Memoirs of Little K is historical fiction as it’s meant to be written: passionately eventful, crammed with authentic detail, and alive with emotions that resonate still.”  (From amazon.ca Product Description)

And then there is Miss. Lina’s Ballerinas written by Grace Maccarone and illustrated by Christine Davenier. Enjoy a glimpse here:

Remember Noel Streatfeild’s classic published in 1936: Ballet Shoes? Three young orphans are adopted and then through circumstances and serendipity follow dreams in diverse directions. One young girl is a gifted dancer and dreams of being a prima ballerina. Noel Streatfeild wrote a number of stories following the Shoe theme:  Dancing Shoes, Skating Shoes, Tennis Shoes, Movie Shoes, Party Shoes and Circus Shoes among them.

What to read next

October 13, 2010


So many new books to explore but so many timeless ones yet to enjoy as well. I’m turning the tables today – if you could recommend one book (or a few if so inclined) what would it be?  It could be a recent read from the bestseller list or an all time favourite … let us know what we should read next!

 in·trep·id (ĭn-trěp’ĭd) adj. Resolutely courageous; fearless, brave, bold. See Synonyms at brave. (1627 (implied in intrepidness ), from L. intrepidus “unshaken, undaunted,” from in- “not” + trepidus “alarmed.”). Additional synonyms: audacious, gritty, gutsy, heroic.

I happened upon word of a wonderful endeavour in our fair city a month or so ago and it’s been dwelling in my thoughts ever since.  Our little blog here seemed like the perfect spot to launch a conversation about it and perhaps even inspire a flurry of action. While I dallied, sorting my thoughts and words, The Vancouver Sun and the Vancouver Courier coincidentally both printed related articles this week. The focus?  The Intrepid Pens.

The Intrepid Pens is a creative writing workshop and book club based at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre on Cordova Street in Vancouver. Founder, facilitator and nurturer of the group, Amanda Grondahl  encourages the women living with addiction, poverty, and homelessness to engage their creativity and self-expression through writing of their own. She also gives them an opportunity to explore and discuss novels of the group’s choosing. In her own words from her blog she says: ” … how amazing it is when 15 (or so) women get together to talk, read, write, share, laugh, and grow; how group members’ writing has improved; how group members’ confidence is soaring; how some are sharing their stories for the very first time; how beautiful it is that those who struggle with reading or writing are read to by fellow group members – their work transcribed for them, and read aloud by their friends; how we’re learning through reading and healing through writing; how several group members have already been published, and how group members talk with excitement about writing more, learning more, and doing more…” Amanda believes there is a “quiet magic” taking place within the group. She is adamant that the women are as important to her as she might be to them and fondly speaks of “my ladies” as she writes “… we are a little family of writers and readers and friends now. …”      


Amanda makes it clear that she is enormously grateful to a number of sponsors, friends and families who offer help, support and donations. There are a few very easy ways in which Bedside Table Books and our readers can give The Intrepid Pens a little boost of encouragement too:

Firstly, Amanda and her fellow Intrepid-ers have applied to the Pepsi Refresh Grant Campaign with hope of qualifying for $25,000.00 toward their cause. The grants are based upon the number of supportive votes each applicant receives. Please take the time to add your vote by clicking here and then crossing your fingers that the group is selected to receive the money. Voting deadline is October 31st.

Secondly, The Intrepid Pens have need of the following:

  • Novels (new or used copies)
  • Writing supplies (journals, notebooks, and pens)
  • Bus tickets for transportation around the city (Adult 1-zone Faresavers)
  • Money (for books, supplies, food and drinks, transportation, field trips, and special events)

As readers, many in book clubs, you might like to review the Intrepid Pens’ impressive book list (they are reading great stuff!) and see if you have any copies you’d like to donate. If your book club or a group of your friends has recently read one of the list entries then suggest anyone not wishing to keep her copy share it with the Intrepid ladies. Another option is to shop for a few copies and send them along.

I hope this fine venture and its story captures your hearts as firmly as it does mine.

Visit the website for The Intrepid Pens here and follow their story or make contact.

You may recall another special book club in an earlier post this year. Read The Word is Their Bond from March 12th.


September 15, 2010

I just came across my horoscope for today on msn.com and felt compelled to share …
Cancer June 22- July 22

“When’s the last time you read a really good book, hmm? Why not email a few friends whose taste you trust and ask for a recommendation or two. Or, better yet, pick up one of the classics. They’re the classics for a reason, you know (because they’re really good!). Then make yourself a nice soymilk hot chocolate and spend the evening reading, reading, reading. You’ll be glad you did.”

© Astrology.com 1996 – 2010

I might replace the soymilk with a cup of my favourite Lady Grey tea but sounds like a good plan otherwise!
My favourite classic would be Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Or maybe Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. And I was reminded of my beloved Heidi by Johanna Spyri recently …  So if your horoscope advised reading a classic (and it has for all you other Cancers out there) what classic would you read? What, my “friends whom I trust”, would you recommend?

    Here are the most popular responses to Bedside Table Books’ request for summer reading recommendations – they either appeared on your wish list or you wished to share them with others…

  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, otherwise known as The Millennium series by Stieg Larsson – overwhelmingly the choice of the summer. One devotee among you has located another Swedish writer with a thrilling series on the go: Death Angels and others in the Erik Winter series by Ake Edwardson. She aims to compare the two.

   Another huge hit of this summer is unfolding: Justin Cronin’s The Passage. This is apparently the first in a series yet to be entirely released. Described as a thriller, post apocalyptic, and featuring some of the scariest monsters ever – enthusiastically cheered by those who’ve read it. Stephen King is a fan and writes: “Read this book and the ordinary world disappears”.

      The Help by Kathryn Stockett –  Another candidate for most-talked about book this summer. “A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope.” I have personally been encouraged to read this numerous times and can’t wait to get my hands on it.

    The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. Many of you are reading this and unanimously telling me it’s a great read.  The House at Riverton is another of Kate Morton’s popular reads.

     Open by Andre Agassi. The tennis great reveals all … and more! Eye-opening I’m told.

     Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream  both by Barack Obama. Immensely readable, timely and inspiring. Politics aside, Mr.Obama has a gift for words worth considering.

   New York by Edward Rutherford (also London, Sarum, Russka etc) Reminiscent of James Michener – long sagas of fictionalized history. Great characters spanning generations as history unfolds. Huge dedication to research here.

    The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is a classic and yet his newer works, Whitethorn for instance, are also coming to be considered classics. A fantastic storyteller who fills thousands of pages with captivating characters and adventures. Trivia note: Courtenay didn’t start writing until he was fifty-five! Love him already.

More summer reading recommendations next time!

 You may have read that Britain’s once ubiquitous red phone boxes are in the process of becoming extinct. So, too, the mobile library relied upon by many small rural communities. “Aha!” said one small town and got to work solving two problems at once by creating a book exchange in a phone booth!

Somerset’s Westbury-sub-Mendip residents purchased the phone box from British Telecom for £1.00 and converted it into a library by donating a collection of approximately 100 books.

According to the Daily Mail, “resident Angela Buchanan was also full of praise for the book box. ‘It’s such a brilliant idea,’ she said. ‘Our nearest library is Wells, four miles away, so if you don’t want to go into the town but have run out of something to read, it’s great you can use this. All sorts of interesting books turn up – manuals, picture books, good literary novels.’

The door to the phone box graciously remains unlocked 24 hours a day and is conveniently kept lit at night.  Volunteers review the collection of books and remove any that appear not to have been of interest, donating them to charity and replacing those books with new titles. Everything is kept fresh and interesting.  It may be the smallest library in Britain but I bet it’s one of the busiest and certainly most quaint!

Remember that big fat Back to School issue of Seventeen magazine? … It may be the first connection many of us had with magazine reading.  I tend to read a collection of magazines on a monthly basis but always enjoy compiling a stack of special ones for summer days or travel.  Here are a few of my favourites …


Mental Floss

If you love trivia and good wit you’ll love this! A great Father’s Day gift too.

On the website they answer the question: What is mental floss magazine?

“For the record: mental_floss magazine is an intelligent read, but not too intelligent. We’re the sort of intelligent that you hang out with for a while, enjoy our company, laugh a little, smile a lot and then we part ways. Great times. And you only realize how much you learned from us after a little while. Like a couple days later when you’re impressing your friends with all these intriguing facts and things you picked up from us, and they ask you how you know so much, and you think back on that great afternoon you spent with us and you smile. And then you lie and say you read a lot. “  (Loving it already aren’t you?! )

La Vie Claire

Not always easy to find this one in our town but worth hunting for – absolutely scrumptious photography and inspiring articles about creative and entrepreneurial folk. They describe themselves at La Vie Claire as: Celebrating the art of living a creative life with passion, purpose, and inspiration. With beautiful photography of extraordinary places, La Vie Claire invites you to escape.

It’s a special treat to splurge on occasion and venture into the international section of the rack.  You may spend a bit more but I assure you that you’ll find exciting new ideas and images based on refreshingly different sensibilities: recipes, gardens, entrepreneurial ventures, fashion, essays, decor, travel, shops and yes, even reading recommendations.


Country Living, The English Garden

Country Living – UK edition has stunning photos as well that will make you feel like you’ve traveled through the English countryside yourself.  My garden may never strike even a faint resemblance to the gardens featured in The English Garden but a gal can dream!

Cote Maison

Leave the UK and head south to France and any of the Cote Maison series (Cote Sud or Cote Ouest/Est and Cote Paris) A little European vacation … you’ll be so inspired!


The summer season prompts many magazines to publish special editions. Business might not be your first pick at the beach but take a peek at Fast Company and its 100 Most Creative People in Business edition or Entrepreneur magazine’s 100 Brilliant Ideas issue.

You may pick up your magazines at the grocery store or pharmacy check-out but if you want a perfect rainy day adventure and you are in Vancouver head to Does Your Mother Know? magazine mecca in Kitsilano at  2139 West 4th Ave just west of Arbutus Street. You will not believe the variety!  Don’t be intimidated by the shop’s name – it’s a bit odd and has no doubt intimidated a few meek souls fearing the worst.  The neighbouring shop is Readerwear which sells nothing but reading glasses so if your eyes are dim and you cannot see you won’t be adrift in the magazine shop.


June 2, 2010

The weather isn’t inspiring but flipping the calendar page has been …  it’s time to think of summer reading! 

Many of us have rituals around packing and selecting books for extended stays away, sometimes to destinations remote. Have you begun your planning? I have a list on the go and will be sharing it with you here soon. Before I do, I thought I’d offer to collect some of your summertime reading suggestions and then put them together with mine in a “shopping list” of sorts for Bedside Table Books followers. To make it easy, here are two headings to get you started:   (E-mail your responses to bedsidetablebooks@hotmail.com and I’ll tally the titles and post here for all to see)

a)      Summer favourites I recommend:

b)      My top choices to read in Summer 2010:

The sooner you reply, the sooner I’ll get the list out … looking forward to your input!

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