The Baltimore House

Friday 30 December 2011

A friend recommended that I visit The Baltimore House, a new space that the Hamilton Spectator called "part cafĂ©, part reading spot, part music venue, and eventual night club." I'm so glad that I immediately took her advice. After one quick visit, I already know that The Baltimore House, which is located on King William on top of one of my favourite new restaurants in the city, The Flavour of Himalaya, will become one of my go-to places when I'm looking for somewhere to work, blog, or read. How can you not love a place that names its sandwiches after one of your favourite poets, Edgar Allen Poe? It doesn't hurt that the antique furniture and minimal lighting creates the perfect atmosphere for snapping photos. I would definitely recommend The Baltimore House to anyone in Hamilton who is looking for a mature place with plenty of character. I'm so happy that there is finally a coffee culture beginning to thrive in Hamilton.

Holiday Round-Up

Thursday 29 December 2011

It's December 29th and I'm only just starting to emerge from the food and drink coma brought on by the holidays. I hope everyone was lucky enough to have a few days full of good food, relaxation, and family like I did. I wasn't only spoiled through food and drink, but also way too many gifts, including a new Kobo Touch from my sister, which has hurled me into the world of e-Reading.

The best part of the holidays so far has been a few well-needed days off. The last few months have been hectic at work, and I've been looking forward to some time away. Last night Jordan was out, so I took some time to start navigating my Kobo and watch Finding Farley, a documentary I've been trying to watch for quite a while. The film, which is about a family's adventure travelling from coast to coast to visit Farley Mowat, has given me the crazy idea that I should try to read each of Farley's books in 2012. It's ambitious, but I've put The People of the Deer on hold at the library. It's worth a try.

I'm not one for resolutions, but I paid off my student loan last week as a Christmas gift to myself, which has my mind reeling with possibilities of travel and upgrading to a larger apartment in 2012. I'm hoping that a little bit of financial freedom will bring me a step closer to a home office and stepping away from the daily commute. Cheers to 2012!

For the bookish folks on your list …

Wednesday 7 December 2011
The tree is up, I've watched a few snippets of It's a Wonderful Life, and I've been humming along to holiday tunes for the past few weeks; however, I'm far from ready for the holidays. A few stocking stuffers aside, I've barely bought any gifts, let alone provided Jordan (the better half) with any useful ideas for me. My own disorganization has prompted this post, in hopes that it will spark a few ideas for people with book lovers on their lists.

1. Vintage Books

This list isn't in chronological order; however, personally, vintage books take the top spot on my list. (Are you taking notes, Jordan?)

Not only are vintage books wonderful, tactile artifacts from the past, they're also the perfect gift to personalize. I'm not talking about taking a Sharpie to the inside cover; rather, I mean the act of choosing the perfect vintage book for the person on your list. Because I work in educational publishing for children, and picture books are a love of mine, vintage picture books are one of my favourite relics to buy and receive. I also find myself drooling over vintage cookbooks in used bookstores and at antique shows, wishing I had a vintage-cookbook-loving foodie on my shopping list.

The best part about gifting vintage books is you can often find the perfect gift sitting in a stack for only a few dollars or even cents.

2. Tree of Codes

I wasn't going to list any specific books here because, as book lovers, we all have such unique tastes; however, Tree of Codes by Jonathon Safron Foer is so unlike anything else that exists that any book lover will truly appreciate it. I don't think I can describe this book any better than I did in the first post I ever wrote on Not My Typewriter:

"Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer is so delicate that I can barely turn a page without worrying one might tear. It is one of those books that almost seems too beautiful to read. Foer, who wrote possibly the best book I read in 2010, Eating Animals, has extracted his own story, using the text of his favourite book, Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz. Tree of Codes is an art project, utilizing die-cutting techniques to literally carve a new book in to an old one. Aesthetically, it is breathtaking, and I can’t wait to (very carefully) read it."


3. Postcards from Penguin

Quick thinking isn't always one of my strongest skills, especially when it comes to shopping, so I passed up on this collection of postcards at Pottery Barn (of all places) a few weeks ago, simply because I couldn't think of what I could do with 100 Penguin postcards. I've been regretting that decision ever since, hoping that my shopping partner (my sister) somehow found a way to sneak back and buy them for me while I was in a fitting room or taking a bathroom break.

I keep thinking of places around my apartment where a few of them would look perfect in tiny frames, and they could also be my inspiration for a postcard-writing revival. If I find this wrapped under my Christmas tree, I'll be on the lookout for some bookish penpals.

Advent Book Blog

Sunday 4 December 2011

In 2009, the Advent Book Blog launched, fuelling me to begin my own challenge on my now almost defunct personal blog. Just as I've failed at maintaining my personal blog, I very much failed at my challenge to write a one-sentence book review every day in December 2009. Despite this personal failure, I still look forward to the relaunch of the Advent Book Blog every December, which always prompts me to add at least one or two new titles to my Christmas list. I'm so thrilled that it's December and the Advent Book Blog's mini reviews are pouring into my Google reader, but I'm even more thrilled to have contributed a review this year. Check out my mini review of the Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary. I don't think I need to write a post about my favourite book of 2011. It's pretty obvious!

Hamilton Literary Awards

Sunday 20 November 2011
The 18th Annual Hamilton Literary Awards were handed out on Monday; however, rush-hour traffic from Toronto to Hamilton stood between me and the ceremony, which was held at Theatre Aquarius’s Norman and Louise Haac Studio Theatre. I was especially happy to hear that Gary Barwin won the poetry award for one of my favourite recent collections, The Porcupinity of the Stars.

The winners were …

Trevor Cole for Practical Jean

Peter Edwards for The Bandido Massacre

Gary Barwin for The Porcupinity of the Stars

Sylvia McNicoll for Last Chance For Paris

David Haskins for Urban Fox

Giller Light 2011

Tuesday 8 November 2011
I'm a little bleary eyed post Giller Light, but all I can say is "What a fantastic night!" From meeting some blogger friends to watching Esi Edugyan collect her prize for Half-Blood Blues, it was simply a marvellous time. But now, it's off to bed …

Newest additions to my mantel

Sunday 6 November 2011
I picked up these vintage printing blocks at a store called Nice Old Stuff over the summer. It's in Jarvis, and it's full of amazing finds. Today they finally found a home on my mantel.

Old Hamilton Public (Carnegie) Library

Saturday 5 November 2011
There are a million reasons I love living in Hamilton, and today I was able to experience at least a dozen of them from doing a few hours of work at Mulberry Coffeehouse to visiting the Art Gallery of Hamilton's art sale. Another of these reasons is the old architecture that lines my route from home to Mulberry, including the old Hamilton Public Library on Main Street West.

My favourite place to work: Mulberry Coffeehouse
I met this little guy on my way home to catch a few hours of relaxation before heading out to tonight's Steel City Stories event at the Cathedral. It was a perfect fall day in Hamilton, and the extra hour of sleep tonight is only going to make things better!

Happy Canada Reads!

Monday 31 October 2011

While the rest of the world is out celebrating goblins and ghouls, I'm at home blogging about tomorrow's Canada Reads announcement. Though I love fiction, the majority of my favourite books are non-fiction, so CBC's decision to celebrate true stories this year seems perfect. Many of my favourites made the Top 40, and I'm hoping to hear at least a few of them tomorrow when Jian Ghomeshi announces the top ten. If I were the queen of all things books, these would be my top picks.

And No Birds Sang by Farley Mowat

This is a nostolgic pick for me. Buried in a box somewhere in storage is a high-school English essay that is covered in horrible clipart and probably way too many adjectives. And No Birds Sang was the first memoir I read about a World War, and only my second Farley Mowat book (following Lost in the Barrens, of course). I didn't know it then, but it would be the first of many more Farley Mowat memoirs I would devour. The specifics of this book have become hazy to me in the ten years since I've read it, but I remember being unable to put it down. Without a doubt, it helped to shape my love for memoirs. I'm long overdue for a second read.

The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown

If there is one book I want to see in the top ten more than any others it's The Boy in the Moon. It, to me, is the best example of why I gravitate toward non-fiction. It's so raw and beautiful in its honesty that I was captivated by it the second I cracked the book's spine. On one hand, it's the story of Walker Brown who was born with a rare disorder called cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome. But equally, it's a story about Ian Brown and his quest to find meaning in his son's life. I wouldn't normally call a book perfect, but if a perfect book exists, this could be it.

The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary by Andrew Westoll

This choice won't come as a surprise; I already gushed about Andrew Westoll's book last week. It may be a new release, but The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is affecting enough to deserve a top spot beside classics like Mowat's And No Birds Sang and Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities. I actually can't stop talking about it (and apparently I can't stop writing about it either!) It's truly an incredible read, and I think a spot on the Canada Reads top ten list could give it a lot of great exposure.

Review: The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary by Andrew Westoll

Sunday 23 October 2011

A week ago, if someone had asked me about the last book that made me cry, I wouldn’t have had an answer. Thankfully, I didn’t inherit the crying gene that causes my mom to lose it to Hallmark commercials. That’s until I read the last few pages of Andrew Westoll’s The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, which completely did me in, forcing me to become that unstable girl with tears streaming down her face on the GO Train.

My favourite books are those in which an author paints pictures of characters that are so tangible and vivid that I can’t help but hope for their happy ending. I didn’t expect to find these characters in a non-fiction book about Westoll’s time living and working at a sanctuary for retired biomedical research chimps, but that’s exactly what happened. Westoll creates loving portraits of each of the chimpanzees rescued by activist Gloria Grow when she started her sanctuary outside Montreal in 1997, resulting in a book that I have been recommending to everyone I know.

The chimpanzees living at Fauna were lucky to escape their traumatic lives as biomedical test subjects; however, they carry the psychological scars of their horrific experiences, which for some included being torn from their mothers shortly after birth, social isolation, and hundreds of operations and other cruel procedures. The book is a stark reminder of how alike chimpanzees and humans are, as Fauna’s residents experience post-traumatic stress, grief, depression, and at times, even self-mutilation even years after entering the “labyrinth of private and communal living spaces” that make up Fauna.

What makes Westoll’s book exceptional is that he is not simply an outsider observing the chimps of Fauna Sanctuary and interviewing the staff who take care of them, rather he is an active participant in their day-to-day lives, scrubbing crusted excrement from their belongings, blending and serving them smoothies, and slowly learning to recognize their unique and colourful personalities.

“This understanding comes with an unexpected consequence. As much as seeing each chimpanzee as a distinct being fills me with happiness, it also fills me with dread,” writes Westoll. “Real empathy has two sides, the joyful one and the grieving one. Everything that has happened to these apes, for better and for worse, is now a lot more personal to me. They have welcomed me into their world, and with this new citizenship comes a responsibility I’m totally unprepared for.”

Most readers will find themselves totally unprepared for what they read in The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary. As soon as one feels optimistic about the destiny of these often-misunderstood creatures, Westoll writes another startling scene, jerking readers away from any misconceptions that life at Fauna is a five-star retreat.

“Confronted with Annie’s body just moments after she died, Binky pounded on her with his fists over and over in a grief-fuelled attempt to wake her up,” writes Westoll in an especially affecting scene.

The emotions exhibited by the chimpanzees are so raw and written about so eloquently that my heart ached in a way that is usually reserved for unbelievable works of fiction. Thankfully, Westoll also shares the many small triumphs that Gloria and her team experience at Fauna, urging them to continue their heartbreaking, yet heartwarming, work.

“The Fauna team began to focus on these small triumphs, these passing moments of connection, to get them through the days: a faint expression of a unique personality, the pleasure of a happy memory, an act as simple as opening the fridge to a cacophony of hoots and hollers,” writes Westoll. “They had no choice but to persist; there was no turning back now. Somehow, they had to find ways to counter the profound distrust, fear, and anger that each chimpanzee held inside. Through simple acts of kindness and concern, Gloria and her sisters worked to lift, one small corner at a time, the veil of annihilation that had been cast upon these apes the moment they were born or sold into research.”

The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary may not always be an uplifting read; however it is a necessary one that readers are unlikely to forget. Personally, in the week since I finished the book, I haven't been able to shake the colourful cast of characters that Andrew Westoll made me fall in love with.

What kind of person makes a good editor?

Sunday 16 October 2011
"What kind of person makes a good editor? When hiring new staff, I look for such useful attributes as genius, charisma, adaptability, and distain for high wages. I also look for signs of a neurotic trait called compulsiveness, which in one form is indispensable to editors, and in another, disabling."

The Elements of Editing: A Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists by Arthur Plotnik,
a manual from 1982, which I picked up at a wonderful used bookstore in Halifax. 

Review: The Big Dream by Rebecca Rosenblum

Thursday 6 October 2011

This review was originally published in This magazine, and Rebecca Rosenblum was nice enough to write about it on her own blog. It was a nice reminder that sometimes authors actually read the reviews that I write!

The characters in Rebecca Rosenblum’s second collection of short stories, The Big Dream, have one thing in common: they work at Dream Inc., a lifestyle magazine publisher struggling to stay afloat. Like the troubled company, most face an uncertain future, navigating their problems from trial separations and parenthood to a terminally ill parent.

Drawing from her own experiences working in an office, Rosenblum creates characters who, despite their canned lunches and obligatory office parties, are anything but dull. Anyone who has ever worked inside the partial walls of a cubicle, ignoring the constant hum of a computer, while counting the minutes until lunch, will easily relate.

There is Clint, a contract employee, slurring his words as the result of an infected wisdom tooth he can’t afford to have pulled. There’s Andrea, the new hire, who is “straight out of school” and “as jittery as a jailbreak.” And among the most memorable are Mark and Sanjeet, the company’s CEO and COO, who are likely to blame for the company’s demise.

Rosenblum has crafted a reputation as a Canadian writer to watch for, especially after her 2008 collection of short stories, Once, earned her the Metcalf-Rooke Award. The Big Dream only accelerates this expectation. Each short story is rich with memorable dialogue, capturing the empty banter, complaints, and flirtations that often fill the halls of an office. Rosenblum’s natural dialogue and descriptive prose result in a collection that successfully depicts the complex balancing act between home and work that so often define the lives of office workers who struggle to stay afloat inside and outside of their cubicles.

Erin Morgenstern and Brian Francis at the Staircase

Wednesday 28 September 2011
Erin Morgenstern's short, perfect sentences had me hooked just seconds after she began reading from her debut novel, The Night Circus, at the Staircase tonight. The book has everyone talking, and though I haven't read it yet, I'm not surprised. Erin's enthusiasm while talking to the small, but attentive crowd, was infectious, and I can only imagine how that translates into her writing.

Equally as infectious was Brian Francis, who is probably best known for his Canada Reads selected novel, Fruit. Tonight he read from his second book, Natural Order. Despite both of their success, both seemed remarkably humble. The reading also gave me the chance to rediscover one of my favourite places in Hamilton, which once housed Tapestry Bistro.

I'm not quite sure when this blog turned into a photo blog, but that seems to be the case as of late. I blame it on lack of time due to work and class and my attempt to squeeze as much into these last warm days as possible. I'll return to longer posts and reviews soon, but in the meantime, a few of my favourite photos from tonight.

Word on the Street 2011

Sunday 25 September 2011
Today was the day that book and magazine lovers look forward to all year — Word on the Street at Queen's Park. I was there volunteering with, but I made sure to get there early enough to fill my own book bag with back issues and bargain books. As always, there was just too much to see and do. Among the highlights were Cormorant Book's five-dollar grab bags and Groundwood Guides for five dollars a piece! You'll see the stack I walked away with in one of the photos below.

I must admit I let out a little squeal of joy when I saw Best of 2010 on display.

Telling Tales

Sunday 18 September 2011
Today's weather was perfect for a trip to Westfield Heritage Village in Rockton, where the 3rd annual Telling Tales festival was taking place. I'm not sure there could be a better festival for a book geek and a history geek like myself.

I snapped many pictures today, but these are a few of my favourites. If you look closely, you will see Anne of Green Gables and a friend sitting outside the Jerseyville Train Station. Many scenes from Anne of Green Gables and Road to Avonlea were shot at Westfield. The blue dress with the "puffiest" sleeves that Matthew bought Anne is on display in the dry goods store.

I didn't walk away from the festival empty-handed. I bought a copy of 13 Ghosts of Halloween by Robert Muller to gift to my little cousin, Evan, and Alma Fullerton's Burn, which I've been hoping to read for awhile.

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