The wonder of wandering in Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse

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What I read

Flâneuse by Lauren Elkin

What it’s about

Flâneuse is a non-fiction book that looks at women exploring cities by foot. The book follows historical figures such as Jean Rhys, George Sand and Virginia Woolf and examines how walking in cities affected their lives and their work. Elkin also describes her own experiences walking in cities. But, ultimately, the book is about finding your way and finding a place of your own.

Why I picked it up

It was several months ago when I first read something about Flâneuse online. As a woman who loves to walk in cities, I knew I had to read this book. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but I’ve been wanting to branch out with the books I choose to read, and this one sounded like a good fit.

It wasn’t easy for me to find Flâneuse, though. I saw conflicting Canadian release dates for it, so I wasn’t totally sure when I’d be able to get it. I searched a couple of bookstores and the city’s library system before I recently came across a copy at Queen Books.

What I liked about it

I love how this book crosses genres–that it’s not entirely a cultural study nor a biography of famous women and yet it’s not entirely a memoir either. I love that it is all of these things and more. Flâneuse made me think about my own relationship to walking and about my own search for place.

Elkin’s writing style is a delight. The prose is lovelier than I expected it would be. (I suppose I thought the writing would be more journalistic.) In Flâneuse, there are certainly some well-written descriptions of cities and characters, but there are also wonderfully crafted passages describing the author’s own personal path.

You’ll want to read it if…

You don’t have to be a woman or a walker to enjoy Flâneuse, but I think identifying as both of these may have had some influence on just how much I absolutely adored this book. But any reader interested in literal and metaphorical journeys should pick up Flâneuse.

Recommended refreshments

Paris is featured prominently in this book, so it seems like I should recommend a French pastry of some sort (a good accompaniment for any book). But what I’m craving the most after reading Flâneuse is the food Elkin came to love while she was in Tokyo: katsudon and okonomiyaki. (I think I’ve convinced myself to get Japanese food for dinner tonight.)

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10 books by Canadian writers for Canada Day

Canada has produced many fantastic writers and lots of amazing books. For Canada Day, I’m sharing a few of my personal favourite books written by Canadian writers.

20170701_103732Lemon by Cordelia Strube

This coming-of-age tale follows Lemon, a teenaged girl who doesn’t fit in at home or at school. Unapologetic and witty, Lemon is a character you can’t help but root for.

20170701_103704Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill

This novel tells the story of a 13-year-old girl growing up on the streets of Montreal. Still a child, she must deal with her father’s drug habit and learn how to survive.

20170701_103721One Bird’s Choice by Iain Reid

This memoir, about Reid moving back in with his parents in his 20s, is both humourous and touching–a very entertaining read.

20170701_103519Life After God by Douglas Coupland

Published in the 1990s, this book of short stories gives glimpses into various Gen-X lives and is filled with lines and passages I’ve returned to over the years.

20170701_103613Natural Order by Brian Francis

This novel, about a woman in her 80s reflecting on her life and the mistakes she has made, is beautiful and heartbreaking. You’ll want to keep a box of tissues nearby.

20170701_103454Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

This novel is about an Ojibway man and his story of being forced into a residential school, his gift for playing hockey, and the racism that follows him throughout his life. The book deals with difficult subject matter that is important to read.

20170701_103745The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

In this novel, Whittall does an excellent job of giving the perspectives of the family members of someone accused of a crime.

20170701_103604That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan

Callaghan’s memoir about his friendship with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald begins in Toronto before moving to Paris. I picked this up for the story about writers in Paris, but I found it’s actually a very moving account of friendship and how even those friendships that only last a short time can affect us for our lifetimes.

20170701_103630The Last of the Crazy People by Timothy Findley

This haunting novel tells the story of a boy whose family is disintegrating around him and the horrific conclusion he comes to about what must be done about it.

20170701_103638The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys

This beautiful novel takes place in the Second World War, and alternates the perspectives between an English officer in a German POW camp, his wife back in England and his sister.

The Nix: an engaging novel about the things that haunt us

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What I read

The Nix by Nathan Hill

What it’s about

University professor Samuel Andresen-Anderson hasn’t seen his mother, Faye, since she abandoned him as a child. But when Faye is arrested for attacking a politician, the media digs into Faye’s past, revealing details that contradict what Samuel remembers about her. It has been more than 20 years since she’s left her family, but now Faye needs Samuel’s help, and Samuel needs to find out which version of his mother is real.

The narrative alternates between 2011, 1988 and 1968, and, while primarily dealing with Samuel’s perspective, it also switches to the point of view of others in Samuel’s and Faye’s lives.

It’s a story about a mother-son relationship, but it’s also about understanding other people’s stories in order to understand our own. It’s also about how our past can haunt us, and how our pain can be passed on to others in our lives.

Why I picked it up

I’d heard about The Nix, but it wasn’t until a fellow book club member nominated it that I really considered reading it. The Nix wasn’t selected for our book club, but I became curious enough to read it anyway. At the time, I was also craving a longer contemporary novel to immerse myself in, and it seemed like this one would fit the bill.

What I liked about it

Reading this book was quite an enjoyable experience. For one thing, it’s entertaining. I was impressed with Hill’s ability to write humour so well, and also with his ability to balance the humour with some more serious content.

Hill also did an amazing job of capturing the different voices of the characters. I especially enjoyed the voice of Laura, one of Samuel’s university students, and Pwnage, a master gamer who plays the same computer game as Samuel.

One warning: There are a lot of characters in this book, and I wanted to hear more from a lot of them. The one disappointment was feeling like the story ended before I got enough from some of them.

You’ll want to read it if…

At certain points while reading The Nix, I thought of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. This was largely because each book explores a childhood friendship between two boys that is central to the narrative, and because both stories involve a childhood crush that remains important to the protagonist in adulthood. Regardless of whether or not you liked The GoldfinchThe Nix is a great choice if you’re looking for a longer novel that’s easy to read.

Recommended refreshments

The green tea that Samuel orders at the airport coffee shop where he meets Guy Periwinkle, his editor and publisher. Or the cappuccino that Periwinkle orders. (As you can see from the photo above, I went with the cappuccino.)

The literary side of Halifax and Lunenburg

Halifax and Lunenburg may not be as famous for their literary culture as, say, London or Paris are, but during my recent trip to Nova Scotia, I was delighted in the bookstores, libraries and cafes I visited. Book lovers, take note: You will want to stop by these places the next time you’re in the Maritimes.

Bookmark

Bookmark, on Halifax’s Spring Garden Road, carries not only books but also a selection of literary accessories, including toys, mugs and tote bags. I visited the store on a Sunday morning. While it was quiet, there were a few other customers browsing along with me.

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Trident Booksellers & Cafe

I had heard about Trident ahead of my trip, so I was super excited to check it out. It’s a used bookstore that’s also a cafe and bakery–basically, it has all of my favourite things under one roof.

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I browsed the bookshelves for some time before ordering my breakfast.

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Although the view isn’t much to get excited about (a parking lot is across the street), I was happy to get a table by the window. A screen door allowed a pleasant breeze to come through. Top that off with a pot of Earl Grey, a cinnamon bun fresh from the oven and a good book, and that makes a pretty perfect morning.

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Halifax Central Library

love browsing in bookstores, but I think what makes a city absolutely fantastic is when they have a top-shelf library. The Halifax Central Library was built in 2014 and it is gorgeous.

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I love this display of books for Halifax Pride. Beautiful!

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This room is called The Sunroom, and it’s basically the upstairs cafe in the library (there is another cafe on the ground floor). The place was bustling on this Wednesday afternoon. It’s not surprising. Who wouldn’t want to hang out in here?

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The library, of course, has many books too. This is the view I had of some of them as I looked down from the staircase.

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On a lovely day, it can seem a shame to read or study indoors. The library offers a rooftop patio so that you can enjoy sunshine and work or read at the same time.

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If you prefer to enjoy the sun from a distance, here’s a great spot to hunker down in: This is what it looks like from inside that cube on the top of the library shown in the first picture.

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There are so many different nooks and crannies in this library, I suspect it would be hard to get bored hanging out here.

Woozles

It seems odd for me to visit a children’s bookstore, since there aren’t many children in my life and I’m not a particularly big fan of children’s literature. But Woozles is Canada’s oldest children’s bookstore, so I had to stop by. And with that charming exterior, it’s a pretty inviting place.

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Lunenburg Bound

I didn’t know what to expect in Lunenburg. I hadn’t heard much about this fishing town before I was actually in it. But once we arrived, I was thrilled to find three bookshops on one street. The first store I visited was Lunenburg Bound, which primarily sells used books. I loved all the old typewriters lined up across the windows.

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In here you’ll find lots of tables piled with books, packed bookshelves and some comfy chairs for reading.

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Elizabeth’s Books

Sadly, I did not get to go inside Elizabeth’s Books, as it was closed during my brief stop in town. But I do have a photo of the shop’s lovely exterior.

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Lexicon Books

While Lunenburg Bound is the place for used books, Lexicon Books is where you’ll want to shop for new books.

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I loved the lights that were strewn all over the store as well as the wooden beams. They give the shop such a cozy atmosphere.

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I noticed a poster advertising the Lunenburg Literary Festival and asked the woman working in the store about it. It’s happening in September–a great time to visit Lunenburg.

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Statues of literary figures

What I didn’t expect to see when I was strolling through Victoria Park in Halifax was a statue of Robert Burns looking down at me. But of course there is a connection between this province and Scotland, and when you think about that, seeing the great Scottish poet isn’t so surprising.

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I’d barely passed Robert Burns when I came across a bust of writer Sir Walter Scott. Both of these monuments were put in place by the North British Society.

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Nice places to read

There’s nothing particularly literary about Halifax’s Cabin Coffee, but it’s a cozy place to curl up with a book. The place is designed to make you feel like you are in the wilderness, with lots of wood, a canoe and even fake trees.

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The Old Apothecary, located on Halifax’s Barrington Street, is also a cute place to read. The old-fashioned couches are adorable. (I had a delicious chocolate-almond croissant but was told later that their chocolate eclairs are even better.)

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When it’s nice out, there’s no better place for reading than down by the Halifax Harbour. I was happy to snag a bench in some shade.

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I must say, as much I enjoy browsing bookstores, visiting libraries and viewing literary landmarks, sometimes there’s nothing better to do while on vacation than to read a good book. And when you can read by the ocean–well, that’s just the icing on the cake.

 

Spring and summer in Toronto for book lovers

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There’s one month left of spring, and the May long weekend is the unofficial start of summer. Temperatures have been a little unstable in Toronto lately, but warmer weather is coming. If you’re in the city, here are some ways to make the next few months a bit more literary.

Go on a bookshop crawl

Step outside your comfort zone of your local indie and explore more of Toronto’s independent bookstores. Devote a day to walk or bike to as many as you choose.

Two of my favourite Toronto bookshops are Ben McNally Books in the financial district and Book City on the Danforth. The city’s newest bookstore, Queen Books in Leslieville, may also be of interest.

Need some help planning your route? BlogTO has a handy list of the city’s best bookstores that includes a map showing their locations.

Arrange a picnic for your book club

Book clubs often meet in a member’s home or in a pub or coffee shop. But when the weather’s nice, the options for meeting places increase. Sure, you can enjoy the sunshine on a patio somewhere, but there are also lots of beautiful parks to gather in. Organize a potluck picnic for your book club and sprawl out on some blankets.

If it weren’t for the recent flooding, I’d suggest going to the Toronto Islands. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look that that will be an option for a while. Luckily, there are lots of great parks in the city–High Park, Trinity Bellwoods or Withrow Park, to name a few.

Take your book outside

I know this one is obvious, but it can’t be omitted: Read outside. Go to a park, the beach, a patio or simply find a bench to occupy or a tree to sit under. Some of Toronto Public Library’s branches have outdoor reading gardens where you can hang out.

Spend some time alone with a book or try going on a reading date with a friend or romantic partner. (Tip: Break for ice cream or lemonade and discuss what you’re each reading.)

Use rainy days to your advantage

Sometimes the weather won’t be ideal to be outside. On those days, you can head to the Toronto Reference Library to do some exploring. While you’re there, stop by Page & Panel to pick up a literary T-shirt–perfect to wear when the sun comes out again.

If you want to enjoy some refreshments in a literary atmosphere, go to Famous Last Words to enjoy a book-inspired cocktail, or to Bookworm Coffee, where you can check out their library with a caffeinated beverage in hand.

Another option: Stay home. Sometimes there’s nothing better than curling up on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book, listening to the rain and thunder. No matter what the weather’s like, there’s never a bad time to be reader.