Books Inspiring Design

When school let out for summer, I had a great big to-do list of home improvement. I also had a stack of really good books. For the first week of vacation, when all of the kids were in camp, I read The Night Circus by Amy Morgenstern and redecorated my laundry room.

It’s interesting to me, the way that my mood is so affected by what I’m reading. I had found this great wallpaper with images of Paris and London on it and needed to choose a paint colour to go with it. When I got to the card in the fan deck filled with magical names, I choose Para’s “Shape Shifter”. How could I not?

The Night Circus-Inspired laundry room
The Night Circus-Inspired laundry room

So I spent the week painting, reading The Night Circus (while the paint was drying), and hanging wallpaper (thanks Dad!) Now I have a laundry room that I actually like to be in, and I even leave the door open so that everyone can see it.

The Night Circus-Inspired laundry room
Even the clothes are from the closet of a Reveur.

A fantasy writer to watch for

The Closer by Ari Goelman

Publisher’s Weekly has described his work as “outstanding” and “lovingly constructed,” while The Harvard Crimson has described him as a master of “sci-fi, fairies, and the urban ghetto.”

Ari Goelman is a writer to watch for. With several short fiction pieces published, and a novel in the works, Ari Goelman is a writer to watch for.

Leah’s summer reads for 2011, and One Day

I was a little taken aback last week when I spotted my most memorable 2010 summer read in Chapters sporting a new cover – turns out One Day is about the be released as a film starring Anne Hathaway. My stomach dropped, and I was rooted to the spot. It took me months to get over this book, now I am about to be reminded of it constantly. Would I feel obliged to see the movie? Could I sit through 90 minutes, knowing the punch that would be heading in my direction at the climax?

Sometimes a book or story just won’t let go of you. You try and live your life as normal, but you continue to have conversations with the characters, dream of new endings, sketch out conflict resolutions. One Day was like that, I kept rereading the same page, hoping the words would change. But I think that’s what made it such a great book, these characters could be someone you know, went to school with, or live with. How would you deal with their circumstances?

Two days after seeing the book in Chapters, I picked up the latest edition of Chatelaine. This month’s author interview? David Nicholls discussing his book and new screenplay for One Day. I think I need a book club intervention, I need to discuss this book!

So what will be a memorable read for Summer 2011? Librarians at Vancouver’s Public Library recently reviewed their top choices and I plan to try the following:

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoft

Jane by April Linder

Cleopatra, A Life by Stacy Schiff

Truth to Tell by Mavis Cheek

What’s best for summer reading these days? A good old fashioned book, a Kindle, a Kobo, an Ipad, or ?? How do those e-readers handle the sand and a little suntan lotion?

Rediscovering a great author

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan BradleyI had completely forgotten about looking for the next book in Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce Mysteries until Leah posted an article on fb featuring  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I went right to my library’s website and reserved the next two books and, because I’m not known for my patience, I went to the village library (actually a reading room) to look for them there. Success! I came home with the second book, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. I just have to finish the book I’m on now (no, I’m not saying what it is, everyone reads “candy” books sometimes!) and then I can dig in. Hopefully the third book, A Red Herring Without Mustard, comes in soon.

Books: a Love Story

I just don’t seem to have much time to read right now. It’s frustrating, but it’s true.  I work six day a week and have kids and writing projects and household stuff to do, and reading has become a luxury reserved for those rare moments when I feel like I have “spare” time. Tonight, for instance, it’s 9:45, my kids have just gone to bed and I have a small writing contract to get done, I’m supposed to write five pages of my novel, and it’s my turn to write a blog post. In reality, I figure I have about 15 minutes left before I fall asleep at my desk.  Maybe ten…

But despite the fact that I don’t have much time to read them, books are strewn everywhere in my house. My favourites are usually in my bedroom, either in a precariously leaning stack beside my bed or actually IN my bed, buried somewhere under the covers.

My favourite books have always been well-loved. My definition of this is that I’m not exactly careful about keeping them pristine. They become bent and dog-eared, I open them and lay them flat, things get piled on top of them, tea gets spilled on them, they get dropped in baths.

If I feel especially attached to a book I don’t let it out of my sight until it’s been read. It bangs around in my purse by day, rattling around with the mints and lip gloss and pens. At night it’s pressed under my pillow while I sleep, or sometimes I fall asleep with it still in my hand.

If you see a book at my house that looks battered and worn, creased, and stained with red wine, it’s not  a lack of respect for the author or the book. Quite the opposite. It’s the books on my shelf that look like they’ve never been cracked open that, well…probably haven’t.

Books that are on my bedside table right now:

Small Mechanics by Lorna Crozier

The Blue Light Project by Timothy Taylor

Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod

Firestarter by Stephen King

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell ( I heart David Mitchell. Have I mentioned that before?)

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton (This one isn’t mine…)

Explaining steampunk to a cowboy

Last weekend I found myself explaining steampunk to my 73-year old in-laws. Oh, where to start.

The Diamond Age: Or, A young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
The Diamond Age: Or, A young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson

We were all at a family reunion in ranch country, staying in an old hotel on a working ranch. The hotel has a saloon. Our first evening there, a man was sitting in the saloon, dressed up like he was posing for an old-time photo. I’m talking round glasses, bowler hat, vest, jacket, tie, and a handlebar moustache! The next afternoon we came across some cowboys on their day off, dressed in old-time garb. I think it was the same man with the handlebar moustache (could there really be more than one?) who was wearing a checked shirt with leather gauntlets, a leather vest, bandanna, and hat.

My father-in-law was a cowboy for 20 years, but he didn’t get the fashion these guys were sporting on their time off. I suggested that maybe they were Steampunks who just didn’t know where to hang out. Blank looks, of course. I explained that in science fiction, the pre-Victorian era is considered to be the height of civilization, and if you pair the fashion and conventions with futuristic technology, you get Steampunk. Thanks to Maria, I read The Diamond Age: Or, A young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson, making this conversation possible.

He steered the conversation to cowboys who will work for lower wages so that they can ride horses while they work.

The Musty Smell of Old Books

I am a big big fan of technology. I am also grateful to be alive during the birth and development of the internet. But one thing I don’t think I will ever be able to wrap my mind around is the “E-Reader”. Don’t get me wrong. I fully intend to avail myself of an iPad2 once the insanity at the stores has subsided. But I really don’t see using it to replace books.

Books have a special heft to them. They smell good. And I can take it into the bath with minimal risk of expensive damage. And let’s face it, the bath is where I read the most.

E-books also have no history. Because I also love old, used books.

As a kid, I used to trawl the libraries when they were selling off their old collections. I remember one book in particular that apparently had been a school book during the 1910’s and 20’s. There were doodles of flappers in the pages. How awesome!

Flipping through the pages of these used books and discovering the story was literally like following in the footsteps of the previous reader. You also discover great books that are no longer in print.

I kept all of my books from childhood. And now I am rediscovering them as I read them to my kids each night. Another reason why the internet is great, you can easily track down some of these old titles that have either been re-printed or else are available used. One of my all time favorites, “Beginners Luck” by Oriel Malet is sadly not available at However, many of my other favorite titles are:

A few years ago I was visiting Portland and discovered Powell’s. An amazing 4-story book store that takes up an entire city block. In their children’s section was an entire wall right up to the 15’ ceiling of old, used children’s books. Heaven.

If you haven’t been there, it is worth a trip to Portland just for this (although there are lots of other good reasons to visit Portland). Or you can check them out online at

What book would Janet Evanovich take to a desert island?

A stack of Scrooge McDuck comic books

Recommended by Janet Evanovich, Author of One for the Money a Stephanie Plum Novel

To learn more about our “Special Guest” Book Recommendations project, please click here.

Our Book Club Pick for February 2011

Not Wanted on the Voyage,
by Timothy Findley

Recommended by Hal Wake, Artistic Director of the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival

To learn more about our “Special Guest” Book Recommendations project, please click here.

I’m a Book Club Overachiever

I have started keeping track of what I’ve read. This is partly because I love lists, and partly because I’m getting tired of bringing home the same damn book every couple of months. I prefer to read hardcovers, and I like to pick out a stack from the new releases section of the library. Also, I’m usually in a rush.

I choose books based on their looks. I scan along the spines, looking for a title, image, or familiar author name to stand out. I rarely read the jacket description because I like to be surprised by the plot. If I think I may have read it before, I’ll read the first page or so to see if it’s familiar. This has worked out pretty well for me, but I do keep bringing home books I’ve read before. So, the new system.

In 2010 I read at least 60 books. Many of the books were outstanding and a few were blah. Only two were given a “don’t read any more by this author” rating, and one was given a “YES, this author is great!” That book is Say You’re on of Them by Uwem Akpen. It’s a book of short stories of children’s lives in various situations in Africa.

Alright, a Top 10 Books I’ve read in 2010:
1. Say You’re on of Them by Uwem Akpen
2. The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
3. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
4. Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously by Adrienne Martini
5. Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant
6. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
7. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
8. Deloume Road by Matthew Hooton
9. The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb
10. The Help by Kathryn Stockett