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.)

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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.

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.)

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.