January 29, 2013: This Book Has Been Flagged

Remember the episode of Seinfeld when George took an expensive art book into the bathroom at a bookstore (he finds the pastoral imagery of the French Impressionists very conducive to…) and then is forced to buy it because he defiled it? He tries to return it when different people are working and discovers it’s been flagged as a bathroom book. He then tries to donate it to get a tax receipt and learns that it’s been flagged in all the city’s databases. So good. I mean really, who wants to touch a book that someone else has brought into the bathroom with them?

But what if you keep all your books in the bathroom? In a lot of ways, it’s the perfect library-bathroom-1place for a bookshelf. According to George, “If it weren’t for the toilet, there would be no books!” so why not keep a supply close at hand? Author Michael Cunningham’s bathroom library was featured on Remodelista last week. Isn’t it gorgeous? I love how packed the shelves are, interspersed with the odd artfully placed objet. But the display isn’t too contrived; it’s mostly about the books. And the stack of magazines on the side of the bathtub? I love it. I’m imagining it to be just the right blend of New Yorker and Vanity Fair. I can see how someone might log a lot of hours in this room (no pun intended).

Below, a clip of George’s best moments from The Bookstore (season 9, episode 17). Still the funniest show on television.

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January 27, 2013: How To Raise A Reader

I grew up in a family of readers. Beyond parents and siblings, this extends to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews… everyone. Reading has been a lifelong pleasure for my entire family tree. Tastes range from fiction to biography to medical journals to every page of every local weekend paper; as long as there is reading material at hand, it will be consumed by some member of my family. One of my earliest memories is of a summer evening at my grandparents’ cottage, saying goodnight to a roomful of adults who were each reading their own book, not conversing with one another. (This may or may not have actually happened. My older sister has no memory of same. And it’s not to say we’re introverts; we just really enjoy some quiet reading time.)

So how do we foster a love of reading in our children? The literature suggests some pretty standard strategies: read to them often, have books readily accessible in the home, model the behaviour, etc. A recent international literacy study looked at reading ability in grade four students in 45 countries and by all accounts, Canada scored very well. The study pointed to several key factors that can help or hinder children’s early affinity for reading. Parental involvement is important but it seems there’s a subtlety to it. It’s not about teaching the children to read, but rather teaching them the joy of reading. Research suggests that teaching a child to read early, as North Americans seem inclined to do these days, may result in early ability but the child is more likely to be disinterested in reading by the age of eight. Socioeconomics plays a role as well, although the good news in Canada is that this plays less of a role than anywhere else in the study. Kids will be happy to hear that time spent on homework isn’t all that important either. Canadian students doing less than 15 minutes a day scored higher on the test than kids in other countries doing much more.

I’m very happy to report that my family’s love of reading has (so far) been passed down to my own children. They’re keen to be read to and now that my eldest can read on her own, she devours chapter books at a breakneck pace. One of our current favourite activities is “reading club”, where we curl up on the couch together and each read our own book. It truly warms my heart. We’ve even started a two-person book club. I’m going to read her favourites and then we’ll talk about them. In honour of National Family Literacy Day (today!), I’ve added the first book to my 2013 completed list: Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows. So far our discussion has been limited to: “Didn’t you think it was funny when Bean called her sister a boogerhead?” although I’m hardly disappointed. That’s 100% more discussion of the book than my last book club evening.

Happy Family Literacy Day everyone. I hope you’ve been able to find a moment to celebrate.

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January 25, 2013: Judging A Book By Its Cover

A few months ago, I wrote about Random House of Canada’s planned Books Are Beautiful collection featuring 30 titles from the publisher’s backlist reissued with a single-colour Books 165text-only cover treatment and billed as a “celebration of the physical book as objet d’art“. The collection is now available for sale (only at Chapters Indigo stores… not exactly a celebration of Canada’s independent literary spirit) and I think we can all agree that the collection’s effect is quite pleasing, both as individual objects and as a Pantone-inspired set. And while I haven’t found a complete list of titles and authors, it looks like a pretty great collection of serious fiction.

yellow spinesBut what was stressing me out, if you recall, was how they were going to decide what colour they would assign to each title. As you can see from the picture, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures is a mustardy yellow, which makes no sense to me whatsoever. (Shouldn’t it be dark red?)

A little digging revealed that the colours were assigned in an almost indiscriminate manner by Random House of Canada’s Creative Director. He apparently chose 30 colours arbitrarily and then made a second pass to ensure that the colours fit the tone and content of each book. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time went from bright yellow to deep plummy blue. At least that colour choice makes sense.purple spines But The Satanic Verses in a grassy green? Not so much. Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland, which I haven’t read but understand to be a story about loneliness, is a shocking hot pink. Doesn’t really work for me. Black Swan Green is neither black nor green… I could go on. It’s really all about not judging a book by its cover.

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January 21, 2013: New Beginnings

Welcome back, Leigh-Anne. We’ve missed you and I’ve done a spotty job of holding the fort during your hiatus. I need to respond to your Sweet Tooth critique, but I can’t quite muster the energy to actually finish the book. Actually, that’s probably all the response I need to give. It’s not McEwan’s finest work; nevertheless, he remains my literary boyfriend.

In keeping with Leigh-Anne’s spirit of new beginnings, I recently made a pact with my friend Nathalie (I think it might have actually been a pinky swear) that we would endeavour to read 24 books this year. Two books a month. Nothing earth-shattering, below the pace of my best reading years, but still well ahead of my 2012 tally. Given all that I have on the go and my limited amount of free time, it will be a challenge. Nathalie has given herself some parameters: 12 fiction, 6 non-fiction in the biography vein, and 6 non-fiction in the business and current events vein. I’m choosing not to be so clearly defined; I’m going to let my reading whims take me where they may. My first book of the year (once I finally finish Sweet Tooth) is I’ll Seize The Day Tomorrow by Jonathan Goldstein, recommended by our very own Leigh-Anne. Beyond that, I’m looking to my previous to-read lists as well as the many unread books on my shelves for inspiration. My list for 2011 is below with annotations reflecting what I’ve read since I posted the list. What else should I put on my 2013 list? Suggestions are most welcome.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
October by Richard B. Wright
The Assassin’s Song by MG Vassanji
An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
Life by Keith Richards
Open by Andre Agassi
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
Mordecai: The Life & Times by Charles Foran
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
Great House by Nicole Krauss
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
Annabel by Kathleen Winter
The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb
The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrub
Let’s Take The Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell
The Day The Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro


The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
419 by Will Ferguson
Inside by Alix Ohlin
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
The Purchase by Linda Spalding
Umbrella by Will Self
The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I’m also considering dipping my toes into Hilary Mantel. And finally, there’s some great inspiration here: The Millions: Most Anticipated: The Great 2013 Book Preview.

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Ian and the ladies

Hi everyone, I’ve missed you. I cannot explain my long absence from 50pagesaday other than to say that I don’t feel that I was my most interesting self in 2012. I spent much of the year not reading, feigning interest in Greek mythology, being hung over from a rash of excellent birthday parties, and working. And who wants to read about that?

Well, as you all know, it’s now 2013 and I figured it was time for a comeback.

My first topic of the year has got to be about Amy’s boyfriend. I don’t think he was his best self in 2012 either.

I’m talking about Ian McEwan and Sweet Tooth. I have to register my disappointment. I don’t want to be a hater, but in my opinion, Sweet Tooth was cliché after cliché. We’re set up from the first page as the main character; Serena gives away the ending from the future. For me, there is only one Serena, and that is Van der Woodsen, so guess I was put off from the get-go. The rest unravels as literary espionage, and I often found myself wishing I were watching Daniel Craig in Tom Ford instead. Then, worst of all, everything culminates with a shabby epilogue disguised as a letter to the narrator. Yuk.

The other thing is that about half way through, I began to suspect that Mr. McEwan is not a fan of the ladies. And I don’t mean in a fabulous way. I mean in a misogynist way. His character, Serena is completely uninteresting in every way. She is described as beautiful, but not captivating. She is jealous of her friends, lives in an ugly flat and falls in love with the wrong people. Okay, that last one can happen to anyone, but you get my point. Her big undoing is that she lies and betrays her lover. But her betrayal is wimpy. I kept wishing she’d become a cold-hearted kick ass spy.

So we don’t like Serena because Ian doesn’t. I suspect she is based on some tepid British gal that scorned him, possibly a long time ago. He should have tried therapy instead of subjecting the rest of us to her also.

So it seems, my crush is over. Amy is free to love who she wants.

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November 20, 2012: Pi on the Big Screen

It’s always so nerve-racking when one of your favourite books is being released as a movie (or film, as my friend Catherine would say). There’s so much potential for greatness (I’m looking at you, English Patient) but more often than not, it’s a total disappointment (Water for Elephants, The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby… and don’t even get me started on Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). Usually the movie doesn’t live up to the world that your mind creates while absorbed by a great novel. Needless to say, I’m giving Cloud Atlas a very wide berth.

Despite that, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about Life of Pi, which is scheduled to be released tomorrow. It’s directed by Ang Lee, a director whose success rate is higher than most. He’s shown that he can cross genres with ease and already has two excellent book adaptations under his belt (The Ice Storm and Sense and Sensibility). I’m pretty intrigued by the trailers, which prompted me to pull the book off my shelf and re-read the last 50 pages to refresh myself on the specifics of one of the best book endings I’ve ever read.

On the other hand, Life of Pi has generally been considered to be “unfilmable” which I guess is why it’s taken so long for a movie to be made. (The book was published in 2001 and won the Man Booker in 2002.) And it’s being released in 3D which seems… unnecessary. So far I’m not a convert to the religion of 3D movies; I’ve yet to see a movie that was substantially improved by being filmed that way. So far critics are calling Life of Pi a technical masterpiece, the nuances of which would generally be lost on me. I’ll just be looking for whether Lee does justice to the superb storytelling of Martel’s unforgettable novel. That is, if I go and see it at all. It might be better to let Richard Parker live on in my imagination.

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November 14, 2012: The Biblio-Mat

Ah, the internet, such a weird and wonderful place. With each visit you never know what you’re going to find. A trip to Pinterest for Halloween costume inspiration might result in a helpful how-to for achieving perfect Farrah Fawcett hair on any day of the year. Linger on Youtube for any length of time and you’re bound to have the Gangnam Style dance down pat. It really is the ne plus ultra of wasting time and for me it’s the blind corners that hide the best surprises.

The other day, I was catching up on one of my favourite blogs, pi’lo, written by the very talented Heather Shaw. Heather owns a housewares business of the same name (although the term housewares doesn’t quite do it justice; everything she sells is beautiful, simple, useful and handmade by her) and her blog reveals her sources of inspiration and the process behind her work. Her aesthetic is minimalist and monochromatic, almost Quaker in its simplicity. I find her blog extremely calming and am always inspired to madly de-clutter my house and paint everything white after reading one of her posts.

It was a delightful surprise when one of Heather’s recent posts talked about visiting her friend Stephen’s book store armed with a fistful of toonies because the store has a book vending machine that spits out random old books for just two dollars each. How great is that? Obviously I clicked through to the book store’s website and found myself face to face with the Biblio-Mat, the world’s first and only antiquarian book vending machine. The Biblio-Mat was installed at the end of October at The Monkey’s Paw, Toronto’s most idiosyncratic secondhand bookshop (self-described). Although their books are only available to purchase through their physical shop at 1229 Dundas Street West, the store’s blog reveals some of their recent acquisitions and more unusual stock (with four ways to sort the titles – beautiful, arcane, macabre and absurd). While I could certainly spend hours browsing their site, I’d rather head over to the store armed with toonies of my own so I can experience the Biblio-Mat for myself.

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