3 bookish New Year’s resolutions for 2018

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I’m not a big fan of making rules for what or how I read, but after writing about the books I read in 2017, I started to think about what I might do differently in 2018.

Take more time to reflect on books

Sometimes, when I finish I book, I’ll jot down some notes about what I liked about it, or questions I had while (or after) reading it–things I want to remember or go back to think about later. In 2018, I’m going to make this more of a priority. I want to do this for all books I read. It won’t be anything too in depth–just a few notes for when I want to reflect on that book later.

Read more diversely

There are so many books to read and such little time to read them, so I don’t want to force myself to read stuff I just can’t get into. But I do want to be open to genres I’ve avoided, and I want to read more books from other parts of the world and time periods. I read a lot of contemporary North American and British literary fiction–and I’ll continue to–but I want to hear more voices and see other perspectives as well.

Let (some of) the books go

Earlier this year, I donated some of my books to Toronto’s First Post Office’s first used book sale. The money raised went the Town of York Historical Society’s research library. It was easier to give away books when I knew it would provide someone the chance to read them at a discounted price (it was PWYC) while also helping a good cause.

I want to do more of that in 2018. I mean, I can’t imagine emptying my bookshelves completely, and I hope to one day create my dream home library (complete with a comfy reading nook). But, to be honest, I still have at least a few books on my shelves that I doubt I’d miss if i got rid of them. And if I do miss them, i don’t have anything so rare I wouldn’t be able to replace it. (And, seriously, I’ll never complain about making a trip to the bookstore.)

Here’s to lots of great reading in 2018!

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The books I read in 2017

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As 2017 comes to a close, I’m taking some time to reflect on the books I read in the past year. When I reread the post I wrote at the end of 2016, I found the percentage of Canadian books I’ve read hasn’t changed, the books I buy and the ones I borrow from the library remain pretty equal, and I’m still a sucker for a compelling coming-of-age tale. The years change but some things stay the same.

Stand-out books

The longest book I read

The Nix by Nathan Hill (737 pages)

The shortest book I read

Animal Farm by George Orwell (95 pages)

The book I expected to hate but didn’t

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This book received so much praise that it might be surprising to hear I didn’t think I’d like it. But, the thing is, I’m not usually a fan of science fiction. I really only read this book because it was a book club selection. I didn’t totally get into the parts that take place in the future, but I was drawn in by the parts that occur in modern day. Above all, I loved the connection between characters over the different time periods.

The book I expected to love but didn’t

Smile by Roddy Doyle. I liked this book more at the beginning, but, as it went on, I was disappointed in the direction it took and I found the end somewhat predictable.

The book that had been on my TBR list for too long

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I first read Plath’s poetry when I was a brooding teen and I’ve continued to turn to her poems throughout my adult life. But I never got around to reading her novel The Bell Jar until this year. I had a dream that I came across a copy in a used bookstore. Later that week, I was in a used bookstore and, without looking for the book, I found myself face to face with The Bell Jar. I took it as a sign that it was time to read this book, and I’m so glad I did.

The book that surprised me the most

Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill. I put this book on hold at the library when it was longlisted for the Giller Prize. I was intrigued by the premise of a woman trying to meet her doppelgänger, but I wasn’t totally sure I’d get into it. A few days after the book won the Giller, my hold arrived. The entire time I was reading this book, I kept thinking WTF? And yet I thoroughly enjoyed it. I definitely wasn’t expecting this book to have so much going on.

The book that gave me a life lesson when I wasn’t expecting one

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine. I hadn’t heard any music by The Slits before, but I wanted to read the autobiography of the band’s lead guitarist because I wanted to hear the perspective of a female musician during the ’70s punk era. I didn’t expect to get some general life advice that I’ve found myself returning to.

In a section of the book where Albertine discusses trying to say yes to more opportunities in her life, she also mentions that sometimes the best thing is to “say yes to nothing.” Sometimes none of the options available to us are good for us. “If your choice is either the wrong thing or nothing, however frightened you are, you’ve got to take nothing.” I don’t know if that will make as much sense without the context of the rest of the book, but it’s something that really hit home for me.

The books that had me saying “Just one more chapter”

My 5 favourite books read in 2017

By the numbers

Books I bought: 45% (bought new: 40%, bought used: 5%)

Books borrowed from the library: 47%

Books received as gifts: 3%

Books borrowed from friends or family: 5%

Books written by Canadian writers: 35%

Books written by women: 63%

Books written by men: 37%

Books published in 2017: 44%

Fiction: 90%

Non-fiction: 10%

Lessons learned

Sometimes the buzz is warranted, but sometimes it’s just noise.

I am guilty of buying into the hype. I won’t read just any book that gets a 5-star review, but if the premise sounds interesting the title gets a lot of praise, too often I’ll get excited, thinking the book will change my life or something. And of course that isn’t being fair–to me or to the book. I still plan to read book reviews and turn to social media to find out about new books, but I also want to make more of an effort to find those titles that aren’t getting that kind of attention. I love it when I pick up a book at the bookstore or library on a whim and find an absolute gem. I want more of that.

Don’t dismiss an entire genre.

Of course I’ve always known this in theory, but I do have a bad habit of seeing a book categorized as a certain genre and deciding it’s not for me. But this year I read some science fiction and horror–genres I tend to avoid–and found that I liked some of these books. So I’m going to try to give more genres a chance.

It doesn’t matter how long it takes to read a book.

Sometimes I feel a bit guilty if it takes me longer than usual to finish a book, especially if it is a book I really enjoy. But I’ve been trying to remind myself that I’ve got other things going on, too. Some weeks, I have more time to read, and other weeks, I end up being more social or busy with other interests. There’s nothing wrong with being a reader who does things other than read.

 

9 of Toronto’s best literary events in 2017 

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I try to get out to as many literary events as I can (at least to the ones that interest me). Here are a few of the highlights from this year. Looking forward to seeing what events this city has to offer in 2018!

Literary cocktail class at Famous Last Words

This was my first time visiting Famous Last Words, a book-themed bar in Toronto’s west end (I’ve since been back). We learned how to make cocktails that were inspired by authors and their books. You can read more about the class in the post I wrote back in February.

IFOA Weekly’s Lit Jam

This one is a bit biased because it’s not just an event I attended, but it’s also one I performed in. This was IFOA Weekly‘s inaugural interactive storytelling competition, held at Harbourfront Centre. Teams of emerging writers improvised stories on stage based on prompts from the audience. My team didn’t win, but it was a lot of fun. And, from what I can tell, the audience really enjoyed it, too.

Beer and Book Club with Zoe Whittall

Henderson Brewing Co. paired with their neighbour, House of Anansi Press, to present a series of beer and book club events. I’m not a beer drinker, but I am a fan of Zoe Whittall, so I attended on the evening when her book was discussed. For non-beer-drinkers, Henderson Brewing had their own root beer and lemon-and-ginger soda on tap. Whittall was interviewed by the brewery’s general manager, and while it wasn’t the best interview I’ve witnessed, I loved the casual atmosphere.

Trillium Book Award 30th anniversary readings

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Trillium Book Award, the Ontario Media Development Corporation organized an evening of readings by past winners. Authors who read included Kate Cayley, Wayson Choy and Nino Ricci. The event was free to attend, and was held at St. Paul’s Church on Bloor–a beautiful venue.

The Cooke Agency’s 25th anniversary event 

Celebrating 25 years of their literary agency, The Cooke Agency organized an event that raised funds for First Book Canada. Three Cooke Agency authors gave short readings–John Irving, Rupi Kaur and Jeff VanderMeer–which was followed by an entertaining and fascinating discussion among the authors led by literary agent Dean Cooke.

The Word on the Street

I couldn’t write a post about book events without mentioning The Word on the Street. It’s one of my favourite days of the year! This year, the book festival fell on what was quite possibly the hottest day of the year. This made it not as enjoyable for walking around, but I drank plenty of water and took breaks in the shade, and managed to stay almost all day. As always, I had a great time browsing (and buying) books at the booths of publishers and booksellers and attending some of the author talks.

IFOA: The Basement Revue

The Basement Revue is a showcase of Canadian musical and literary talent, where the performers are kept a secret until they are on stage. The showcase has been going on for more than 10 years, but this event, partnered with the IFOA, was my first time attending. Co-hosts musician (and Basement Revue founder) Jason Collett and poet Damian Rodgers put together a great lineup of music and readings. My favourite part was at the very end, when crime fiction writer and comedian Mark Billingham got on stage to provide some stand-up comedy, sharing some of the feedback he’s gotten from readers.

Between the Pages: Scotiabank Giller Prize readings

Held in Koerner Hall, each of the five Giller Prize shortlisted authors read from their books and then participated in a discussion led by journalist Johanna Schneller. At the time of the event, I hadn’t read any of the shortlisted titles. But after the event, I knew I wanted to read Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster (which I picked up that evening from Ben McNally Books) and Michael Redhill’s Bellevue Square (which I later checked out from Toronto Public Library).

Helen Humphreys at Toronto Reference Library

Helen Humphreys is one of  my favourite writers, and I was thrilled to see her promoting her newest book, The Ghost Orchard, at the Toronto Reference Library’s Beeton Hall. The room was packed–staff had to bring in some extra chairs. I’ve never heard so many questions from a book audience before, and while not all of them turned out to be actual questions, it was great to see the audience so engaged. I was also happy to have Humphreys sign my book afterwards. While I may have came across as a bit of a fangirl, it was nice to briefly discuss our mutual adoration of Robert Frost.

The sweet taste of The Ghost Orchard by Helen Humphreys

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What I read

The Ghost Orchard by Helen Humphreys

What it’s about

The Ghost Orchard‘s subtitle is The Hidden History of the Apple in North America. It’s not that this subtitle is inaccurate, but it doesn’t cover everything the book is about. Sure, Humphreys delves into details about the history of the fruit (which is much more fascinating than I expected), but the book is also partly a memoir.

Humphreys was inspired to write this book when she found the White Winter Pearmain variety growing near her home. At the same time, a friend of hers was in the process of dying.

In The Ghost Orchard, Humphreys starts with the apple but moves beyond it, creating a book about relationships, friendship, art and the human connection with nature.

Why I picked it up

I’ve read several of Humphreys’ books (I’ve also written about Wild Dogs), and so far I have liked everything I’ve read. There was a good chance I was going to pick this one up at some point. While browsing in the bookstore at IFOA this year, I saw The Ghost Orchard and read the first couple of pages. Sucked in by Humphreys’ writing style, I bought the book that evening.

What I liked about it

The book is broken up into five main sections, and one of these sections is about Robert Frost. Frost is one of my favourite poets, so I sort of expected to like this part as soon as I saw the heading. This section beautifully described Frost’s personal relationship with apples as well as his close friendship with poet Edward Thomas.

There is also a section on the United States Department of Agriculture watercolour artists. Here, Humphreys tells of the lives of the artists who used to paint apples before photographers ran them out of jobs. She also brings in stories of her grandfather, who used to paint pictures of plants for seed catalogues. It’s a job I’d never thought of, and I appreciated these stories of art and artists.

But the main thing I liked about this book is what I like about all of Humphreys’ books: her gorgeous prose. She writes so beautifully. It’s no surprise that she is not only a non-fiction writer and a novelist, but also a poet.

You’ll want to read it if…

Readers who will enjoy The Ghost Orchard the most are ones who like nature, or at least have an appreciation for it. It’s for readers who might be intrigued by the history of the apple, but who are even more fascinated by people and human relationships. And if you’re looking to develop more of an appreciation for agriculture, this might do the trick, too.

Recommended refreshments

This is too obvious. However, venture outside of your local grocery store to get your apples! For the ultimate refreshment, visit an orchard. Pick your apples off a tree! I must agree with Humphreys and Henry David Thoreau: The apple tastes best when it’s eaten outdoors.

(I know; it’s getting cold. A mug of hot apple cider while reading by the fire is also a good option.)

Where the books I read come from

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Taking a cue from Laura at Reading in Bed, I’ve listed the last 30 books I’ve read and have included how I got them.

Putting this list together reminded me about a post I wrote a while back titled How did your bookshelves get so full? In that post, I selected a few books from my shelves that I thought had some interesting stories tied to how I acquired them. This, however, is a straight-up list of the last 30 books I’ve read.

All of the books I review on this blog are books I’ve acquired personally; I don’t receive copies from publishers in exchange for reviews. If you’ve noticed that my reviews seem unusually positive (except for one that I wrote early on), it’s because I’ve decided to only write about books I really enjoyed–the ones I want to rave about to other readers. That being said, there are books on this list that I have not reviewed but have still enjoyed immensely. What can I say? I guess sometimes I’d just rather be reading than reviewing.

The last 30 books I’ve read

  1. Smile by Roddy Doyle — borrowed from library
  2. Brother by David Chariandy –borrowed from library
  3. Marlena by Julie Buntin — borrowed from library
  4. The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker — purchased from publisher (ECW Press) at Word on the Street Toronto
  5. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng — purchased from Book City (Bloor West Village location)
  6. Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton –borrowed from library
  7. The Burning Girl by Claire Messud — borrowed from library
  8. Things that Happened Before the Earthquake by Chiara Barzini — purchased from Queen Books
  9. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto — purchased at used book sale in Toronto Reference Library
  10. All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai –borrowed from library
  11. Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese — purchased from Queen Books
  12. Strange Light Afar by Rui Umezawa –borrowed from library
  13. Slow Boat by Hideo Furukawa — purchased from Book City (Danforth location)
  14. Be Ready for the Lightning by Grace O’Connell — purchased from Book City (Danforth location)
  15. Flâneuse by Lauren Elkin — purchased from Queen Books
  16. Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash — borrowed from library
  17. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel — borrowed from library
  18. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami — purchased (secondhand) from Eliot’s Book Shop
  19. Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez — borrowed from library
  20. For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known by Danila Botha — purchased from Ben McNally Books at the Trillium Book Award readings at Toronto Reference Library
  21. Pedal by Chelsea Rooney — borrowed from library
  22. The Nix by Nathan Hill — purchased from Ben McNally Books
  23. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid — borrowed from library
  24. Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller — purchased from Ben McNally Books
  25. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami — given a secondhand copy from an acquaintance who was getting rid of some books
  26. Rain: Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison — purchased from Ben McNally Books
  27. It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany — borrowed from library
  28. So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum — purchased from Ben McNally Books
  29. Clothes, Clothes, Clothes; Music, Music, Music; Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine — borrowed from library
  30. I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid — borrowed from my mom

Looks like I’m pretty evenly split between the books I purchase and the books I borrow. It feels like I buy more secondhand books than is reflected in this list, and also that I buy more books at events than is shown here. I do admit to having several books on my bookshelves that I haven’t read yet (don’t we all?), so that might be why. But I can’t say that acknowledging this is going to put a pause on my trips to the bookstore or library.