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!

 

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? 

 

Charlie Mackesy

June 6, 2020

 

I’ve had such an urge to share a few recent discoveries with you. Never more insistently than when I came upon the gentle wonder of Charlie Mackesy and his Boy, Mole, Fox and Horse. This little crew will charm you with their poignant observations and kind support and encouragement of one another. The messages are sweet and thoughtful and oh, so precious. Charlie captivates and communicates with a sweep of ink and a splash of paint; seemingly simple arcs and wisps become the characters and his beautiful script, their wise words. Art and Lit!

I first encountered Charlie’s work within the wilds of Pinterest. As I joined the slightly more exotic Instagram world, there he was again. Lucky for all of us, he gathered those posts and pages into a charming book. While The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse was published in October 2019 and was a popular Christmas gift, it has become a particularly comforting touchstone of the COVID era. I encourage you to take a peek into Charlie’s world; you will savour the friendship and adventures and your heart will grow three times. The actual book itself is beautifully bound and makes a pretty little gift.

Do follow along with Charlie and add his book to your shelf, or to someone else’s special collection. You’ll treasure always.

 

 

 

 

 

This has never been a place for politics; you come here to find out about books, reading and things bookish. This will always be a place for empathy though. One of the best ways, I find, to develop empathy is through our reading choices. Today’s post was going to be about travelling through books to experience new cultures when our ability to actually travel is limited. After the events of the past week, I felt a journey into race related reading was more merited. Jane Mount, whose work I’ve featured before, has nicely captured a very important reading list. I invite you to explore her Anti-Racism titles and to travel into these worlds if they’re not familiar to you already. (Click on image to see the titles more clearly)

Over the past year or so I’ve also read the following highly recommendable books.(Click on covers to learn more) In each of these novels there was at least one reference or scene where I found myself thinking, “Hmmm, I’d never considered that.” I appreciate any book that offers a different perspective. I feel it is my responsibility to choose books that educate as well as entertain. Feel free to share any suggestions you have where you’ve been challenged to think in new ways, especially with relation to race.

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Three to Bookmark

September 24, 2014

Three favourite authors are set to release new books and I am taking note. Looking out at the first truly rainy day in some time, it seems like a perfect time to sink into a cozy chair and settle in with some of the great Fall releases hitting the shelves. Let us know what you’re looking forward to reading!

images-126   mambo-in-chinatown

I enjoyed this one ….                       so am looking forward to this one.

od_book_cover  us

I enjoyed this one ….                     so am looking forward to this one.

9781443422666  the-rosie-effect

I enjoyed this one ….                       so am looking forward to this one.

The-Canadian-flag-with-mo-002-1

“I love that Canadians love books, and that we boast a disproportionate number of outstanding authors. I’ve had the privilege of hosting CBC’s Canada Reads for the past seven years. It’s a celebration and discovery of homegrown lit. Last year, an American observer wrote, “Let me get this straight: In Canada they have a hit reality show … and it’s about books?! Wow.” I loved reading that. Pride. “ – Jian Ghomeshi, Broadcaster. Quoted in Canadian Living magazine, July 2014

Have you ever tuned into the above mentioned Canada Reads show on CBC Radio? I’ve followed along in the last few years and enjoy the lively format of a notable Canadian devotedly defending his or her literary favourite with a panel of fellow debaters. The discussions among panel members are often funny, even feisty, and always entertaining. It’s been proven that the final selections and the winning choice enjoy an enormous surge in sales following the show. The past seasons’ winners are listed on the website and it is worth a perusal if you’re new to the program. Tune in to Jian Ghomeshi on Q on CBC in early September to learn how the 2015 season will unfold.

Sticking with a CBC/Canada theme … CBC Radio has compiled a Canada Day themed list:  “100 Novels That Make You Proud to Be Canadian” I found myself impressed by the list itself – such a great collection of books – but, even more impressive, is the fact that all the authors are Canadian. Click on the red banner below to be taken to the page showing all 100 novels. I’ve included a few of the titles I’ve read below as a little teaser … How many have you read?

books100-bannerdesktop-nwq

book-u6-a183-b207-r423 419 by Will Ferguson Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards The Birth House by Ami McKay Annabel by Kathleen Winterfallonyuorknees-books100latenightsonair-Books100cellistofsarajevo-books100secretdaughter-books100lifeofpi-books100room-books100thebestlaidplans-books100

Happy Canada Day and Happy Reading Canadian!

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

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