Antiquing at Christie Conservation Area

Saturday, 28 May 2011

I am no longer the owner of just one Underwood typewriter, but two! And the best part is that my newest addition isn't only wonderful to look at, but it should also work once I track down the correct ribbon. This bright blue Underwood 315 is one of a handful of finds I took home today after a muddy but successful day at the Christie Conservation Area antique show. As always, it was paradise for a bookish antique-lover like myself! I unfortunately couldn't take all these amazing finds home, but I did walk away with a few treasures.

The smaller typewriter was a child's toy from Eaton's. It was tempting, but not in the budget, especially after commiting to the blue Underwood. It was priced at $40, but became mine for $30.

 I didn't exactly wear the most appropriate shoes on this soggy Saturday.

Every year I pass up on these vintage type blocks, because I'm not quite sure what I will do with them. This means spending the rest of the year regretting not buying them! I decided on my initials (J and R) and a few punctuation marks to represent the grammar geek in me.

I also added one of these long type blocks to my collection.

This trunk (circa the 1930s) is quite possibly my favourite purchase. I haven't quite decided what we will use it for, but I think it might become a side table. It's covered in stickers from hotels located across Europe. I'm in love.

My new type blocks ended up on the same shelf as a previous purchase from Christie's — a vintage stamper I bought a few years back.

An exciting first!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Book trailers are a fairly new phenomenon that have some people asking whether “viral videos the future of literary discussion.” I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to either side of that debate, but I can say for sure that I am thrilled that my recent review of Monoceros was featured in this addictive trailer by Coach House Books!

Review: Hey, Shorty! A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets

Thursday, 26 May 2011
“She deserved it.” “She was fast.” “She shouldn’t have been alone.” In 2001, Joanne N. Smith listened as young female students regurgitated the opinions of their parents, teachers, and peers, blaming an eight-year-old victim who had recently been followed, dragged, raped, and left bloodied on her way to school.

Smith, the founder and executive director of Girls for Gender Equity (GGE), was shocked. At the time, the Brooklyn-based grassroots organization had just begun, aiming to “improve gender and race relations and socio-economic conditions for our most vulnerable youth and communities of colour.” She knew that GGE faced, among many other things, the daunting task of teaching girls to deconstruct stereotypes and systems of belief after they had already been trained by society to internalize misogyny.

“Blaming the victim by identifying with the aggressor allowed the girls to distance themselves from her, thereby gaining a false sense of security,” writes Smith of this experience in the introduction of Hey, Shorty! A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets, a new book co-written by Smith, Mandy Van Deven, and Meghan Huppuch.

Hey, Shorty! is arguably less a how-to guide about combating sexual harassment and violence and more a case study of the “incremental, slow-moving, and sometimes difficult to see” success of GGE, which, like most organizations of its kind, has faced systematic barriers and resistance since it began on September 11, 2001. Since its inception, GGE has operated on the belief that public schools should be safe for all children and that parents should feel good about sending their kids to school each day. Unfortunately, their research, much of which is presented in Hey, Shorty!, shows that this isn’t the case.

A 2007-2008 study conducted by young GGE researchers presented three major findings, each exposing truths about the sexist, racist, and homophobic violence embedded in school culture.

The study concluded that:
1. In-school harassment happens in many ways, to many people, and in many locations.
2. Sexual harassment is a “normal” part of young people’s school experience
3. Youth want and need more education about sexual harassment.

“ ... the girls shared their own stories of being propositioned in the hallways and in classrooms, having other students touch their bodies without permission, and people spreading rumours about their sexuality or sexual experiences,” write Smith and Van Deven, recalling their many conversations with young girls about sexual harassment. “By sharing their own personal stories, the personal became political,” they write of students who began to see themselves as agents of social change even when the education system failed to protect them from gender-based discrimination and violence.

“It is painfully clear that schools are failing to ensure students’ safety when they are “groped daily” or when their classmates declare it “grab-anything-you-want day,” implying that they have a right to grab another person’s body,” write Smith and Van Deven.

Teachers and administrators often adopt a “boys will be boys” attitude when dealing with instances of ogling, touching, and sexual teasing. Even students who are courageous enough to speak up to authorities aren't taken seriously leaving boys and girls who are sexually harassed with feelings of anger, powerlessness, and shame.

What I wanted most from this book was more. I wanted to know about the activist fatigue likely experienced by GGE organizers. I wanted to hear from students themselves, parents, and teachers. I wanted to know more about the roles privilege, race, and sexuality play in hostile school culture, and I wanted to know more about the repercussions of ugly words like “faggot” and “slut” echoing in the hallways of schools. However, I know firsthand how costly a book like this can be to a grassroots organization, and there simply wasn’t enough room to provide readers with GGE’s complete wealth of research and knowledge.

Hey, Shorty! is an especially important read for community organizers and activists attempting to give voice to vulnerable and underserved communities, but it should also be read by parents, educators, and young boys and girls who live the reality of an often unsafe and oppressive public school culture. The book’s Appendixes section brims with crucial information about how to stop and respond to sexual harassment; strategies for prevention for students, parents, and school staff; how to take advantage of teachable moments at home and in the classroom; and how we all can help to dispel myths about sexual harassment.

Not My Typewriter is part of the Hey, Shorty! Virtual Book Tour. Check out this link ( to see other stops on the tour.

Perfect reading for a holiday Monday

Monday, 23 May 2011
I shall not grow old
as the part of me that's left
grows old
rage shall not weary me
not the damn years

— Gary Barwin, The Porcupinity of the Stars

A day in the life of a book blogger

Sunday, 22 May 2011
My plan for today was simple: Spend the day at the Hamilton Public Library, digging through the archives for some missing genealogical links and reading Hey, Shorty!, a book I will be featuring on the blog this week. Simple, right? Apparently not. I arrived at the library to find it closed. Summer hours.

I do much of my reading on the train, commuting from Hamilton to Oakville, constantly interrupted by screaming babies, loud cell-phone talkers, and music leaking from headphones. It isn't ideal, so I was really looking forward to a day of peace and quiet at the library.

Much of the afternoon was rainy, so I headed to my favourite coffeeshop to read. Mulberry Street Coffeehouse is a fairly new addition to James Street North and truly is my favourite place in the city to work.

After a few hours, and almost reading Hey, Shorty from cover to cover, the rain stopped and the sun began shining, so I relocated, finding a shady spot beneath a cluster of trees in full bloom at Durand Park. Until today, I had never visited Durand Park, despite it being a less than five-minute walk from my apartment. It's a beautiful space, which I'm sure I will visit again.

Literary sightings

Friday, 20 May 2011
"'We will make,' said Mr Fox, 'a little underground village, with streets and houses on each side — separate houses for Badgers and Moles and Rabbits and Weasels and Foxes. And every day I will go shopping for you all. And every day we will eat like kings.' The cheering that followed this speech went on for many minutes."
— Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox

This beautiful fox was a part Surfacing, an exhibition by Textile graduates of Sheridan College. He was one of my favourite parts of last Friday's James Street North Art Crawl, mostly because he reminded me so much of one of my favourite literary characters — Mr. Fox from Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Review: Monoceros by Suzette Mayr

I am thrilled to say that I was lucky enough to be a part of This Magazine’s 45th anniversary issue. It’s the first time I’ve written a review for This, and I have my fingers crossed that it won't be the last. It’s been a favourite for many years, especially since competing in their fantastic cupcake challenge as part of the team a few years back! (The judges didn’t pick us, but I continued to support the magazine anyway!)

Here is my review of Monoceros, Suzette Mayr’s beautifully complicated offering.

After Patrick Furey, a heartbroken and bullied gay student, hangs himself in his bedroom, there is no minute of silence, no special assembly. Instead, his school's closeted principal forbids staff to share any information, fearing a teen suicide would damage the school's reputation and possibly spawn copycats. Furey's death may happen in the first few pages of Suzette Mayr's fourth novel, but it echoes from cover to cover. His empty desk forces students and staff to contemplate the finality of his death, and the fact that they hardly knew the troubled student at all.

Mayr skilfully crafts each chapter from the perspective of one member of her colourful, but flawed, cast of characters. Furey's secret boyfriend, Ginger, suppresses his grief to keep their relationship hidden, especially from his jealous girlfriend, Petra, who had scrawled "u r a fag" on Furey's locker before he died. There is also Faraday, Furey's unicorn-obsessed classmate, who wishes she had done something nice for Furey before he died, like written him a note saying "Hi" or donated her virginity to him.

In a tragedy laced with humour, Mayr engages readers with her meticulous attention to detail, providing vivid descriptions of not only her characters, but also the heavy emotions — grief, confusion, aching — churning inside them. Monoceros may spark a visceral reaction in some readers, especially as the unnerving words "faggot" and "homo" roll off characters' tongues with teenage ease. But mostly, it is a thought-provoking tale of a boy who chooses to take "charge of his own ending" and the interconnected web of lost souls he leaves behind.

Reviews: Veganize It!

Thursday, 19 May 2011
This article was originally published on It is the second of a two-part series. Read the first part here!


The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions
by Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman
(Fair Winds Press, 2010, $20.99)

Most people have that old family recipe that they can’t live without, whether it’s Grandma’s favourite casserole or Dad’s famous chili. Unfortunately, for vegetarians and vegans, many of these recipes call for animal products such as cheese, meat and eggs. Luckily, The Complete Guide to Vegan Substitutions boasts that “pretty much any dish can be vegan using your own hands and your own set of cooking and basic skills.”

This book makes it easier for home cooks to embrace a vegan lifestyle, providing more than 200 dairy-free, egg-free and meat-free dishes, along with tips to give readers the confidence to create meatless versions of their favourite recipes. It provides many soy-free, gluten-free, wheat-free and nut-free recipes for readers with allergies.

The Complete Guide to Vegan Substitutions is also full of fun facts (Did you know that the human race is the only species on earth that consumes another mammal’s milk for sustenance? Or that bananas can be used to replace eggs in some recipes? I didn’t!). Full of colourful pictures and informative charts and diagrams, this book gives new vegans answers to many questions, such as what dairy replacement to use (Almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, rice milk) and encourages them to start from scratch, making their own animal-product replacements like vegan cheese!

Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World
by Bob Torres and Jenna Torres
(PM Press, 2010; $16.95)

“We don’t care what Whole Foods says: there is no humane animal product, period,” write Bob Torres and Jenna Torres in the second version of their book Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World. This sometimes abrasive book takes the stance that even local, organic, free-range and so-called ethical farming practices don’t cut it in the fight for animal rights.

Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World is likely best read by someone who shares the authors’ beliefs that eating any animal product, even occasionally, is directly contributing to the exploitation of animals. If readers can get past the sarcasm that plays a huge role in this book, it is full of interesting and useful information for “vegan freaks” attempting to navigate a non-vegan world, including what happens when your partner isn’t vegan, how to raise your children vegan, how to survive the grocery store when you’re vegan and how to deal with vegetarians and ex-vegans who don’t share your beliefs.

Mary of Mud Creek
by Caitlin Black

If you were like me, you read Charlotte’s Web over and over again as a child, delighting in Charlotte the spider’s inventive way of saving Wilbur to pig from ending up on the dinner table. Toronto artist and illustrator Caitlin Black undoubtedly read E.B White’s book as well, as her new graphic novel, Mary of Mud Creek, is a much darker take on the classic.

Interspersed with facts about the Canadian factory farming industry, this daring black and white book follows Mary, Black’s protagonist, who visits a beloved pig at a factory farm, where sows are kept continually pregnant until they ultimately face violent deaths as illustrated graphically in the novel. It is a far cry from the picturesque family farm where Fern visits Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web.

Black’s story takes many twists and turns as Mary navigates the factory farming system, herself becoming a victim of it. Three pages of notes provide readers with links to more information about huge agribusiness and animal rights. Readers are likely to have a visceral reaction as Black illustrates many of the truths of the meat industry that many of us choose to ignore.

For more information and to see an excerpt of Mary of Mud Creek, visit the blog.
Generation V

Generation V: The Complete Guide to Going, Being, and Staying Vegan as a Teenager
by Claire Askew (PM Press, 2011; $16.95)

When teenager Claire Askew first decided veganism was the right choice for her, she experienced a lot of emotions, including feelings of isolation, alienation and loneliness. In her new book, Generation V: The Complete Guide to Going, Being, and Staying Vegan as a Teenager, she argues that being vegan as a teenager, especially when still living at home, is much different than being vegan as an adult. So, she decided to write a book about it!

“Generation V is for all the teenagers out there who wander around just-adding-water to boxes of vegan food, trying their hardest to defend their choices to their friends, and thinking they’re they only vegan teenager in the world,” writes Askew in the introduction of her fresh, well-written, sometimes-funny take on veganism.

Askew, who first began questioning her relationship with meat at the age of 14, shares her own story about going vegan with readers, offering advice learned from her own experiences, including suggestions about how to break the news to friends and family and how to react to their responses, such as “You’ve been brainwashed!” and “It’s just a phase!”

Askew’s well-researched book, which provides insights into factory farming, staying healthy when vegan and vegan activism is one of the best books about veganism I’ve read while barricading myself between stacks of resources about eating vegan and living vegan over the past few weeks. It is smart — full of convincing insights, arguments, and links to resources and organizations — but it’s also so much fun and different than anything else I’ve read on the subject, providing information about everything from vegan clothing and toiletries to which bands have vegan members. It is truly the perfect book to end this series.

Reviews: Chowin' Down Vegan Style

This piece was originally published on

Just like any good chef, a vegan chef needs to be equipped with the right tools: fresh plant-based ingredients, a sharp knife, and — of course — a few good books. Over the course of‘s vegan challenge, the book lounge will provide a sampling of some recently published books available for vegans and aspiring vegans.

Ripe from Around Here: A Vegan Guide to Local and Sustainable Eating
by jae steele
(Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010; $24.95)
As soon as I pulled Toronto nutritionist jae steele’s second guide to vegan eating, Ripe from Around Here, from the shelf of my local library, I was hooked. The inviting cover shows the beaming author at a farmer’s market, clutching a bunch of fresh, local carrots in her hand on a sunny day, immediately transmitting me from the rainy mid-April weather I had just escaped. Dedicated to “organic family farmers-hardworking and heroic growers of green things,” Ripe from Around Here brings together the vegan and local food movements. Thought-provoking text encourages readers to take pleasure in the textures, smells and preparation of food, reminding us that food is meant to nourish and bring joy, fuelling our bodies by providing nutrients. The book also encourages more talk within the vegan community on important topics such as working conditions for farm labourers, capitalism and health. jae steele’s healthy, plant-based recipes use minimal non-local luxuries such as olive oil.
Among the recipes I’ve bookmarked to try are homemade nut milk, spring sesame noodles and baked Mexican bell peppers. As though this wasn’t enough, steele also provides readers with detailed instructions for container gardening in small spaces, canning, vermicomposting and making environmentally friendly homemade cleaners. Ripe from Around Here is the perfect book to introduce aspiring vegans to hassle-free recipes and educated reasons for choosing veganism. It is an especially good read for those from jae steele’s bioregion, which luckily for me, is Southwestern Ontario. Her charts show readers when their favourite foods are in season, and her detailed list of resources will undoubtedly encourage readers to visit local farmer’s markets and participate in community-supported agriculture.

The Vegan Scoop
by Wheeler Del Torro
(Fair Winds Press, 2009; $21.95)

Even the biggest proponent of a vegan lifestyle might find giving up a favourite food difficult. For many new vegans, this difficult habit to break is cream in their coffee. For others, like me, it’s cheese. And for those with a sweet tooth, ice cream might be the deal breaker when deciding whether to plunge into veganism. Luckily for dessert lovers looking for an ethical, dairy-free alternative, there’s The Vegan Scoop: 150 Recipes for Dairy-Free Ice Cream That Tastes Better Than the “Real” Thing by Wheeler Del Torro.

Del Torro, who opened the first vegan ice cream parlor in Boston, introduces his readers to the possibility of ice cream made from soy milk; fruits and vegetables; legumes, nut and seeds; and spices, herbs and flowers. Among his tempting creations are many that likely can’t be found at most ice cream shoppes, including Sweet Potato Basil, Sweet Curry Coconut, Orange Dragon Fruit, Seaweed and Jalapeno. Del Torro’s Almond Cookie ice cream on top of his vegan fudge brownies sounds especially delicious!

The only downside to reading The Vegan Scoop is that, unfortunately, an ice cream maker isn’t in my budget, meaning my only glimpse of Del Torro’s unique recipes have been on the colourful pages of his book.

The Natural Vegan Kitchen
by Christine Waltermyer
(Book Publishing Company, 2011; $23.95)

“When I first stopped eating meat, I was the epitome of a junk food vegetarian,” writes Christine Waltermyer in her upcoming book, The Natural Vegan Kitchen. Luckily for her health, she switched from high-fat cookies to a combination of healthy vegetables, whole grains and legumes, learning to cook simple and delicious vegan meals.

“I was going to transform the world, armed with carrots, kale, and barley,” Waltermyer writes. In a way, this is just what she is attempting to do in her new book, encouraging readers to savour their meals and enjoy a natural and ethical lifestyle, both inside and outside of the kitchen.

“For a health-promoting lifestyle to last a lifetime, the food has to taste so good we think it must be bad for us,” she says. Waltermyer proves that vegan cooking is anything but boring through recipes for everything from tofu sushi to sloppy joes.

The Natural Vegan Kitchen is full of tips for the newly vegan chef, including a glossary that simplifies the terms I usually dread pronouncing at my local health food store. It also provides new chefs with crucial information, such as how to cook dry beans and which ingredient combinations make the perfect salad dressing. These may seem like small hurdles, but for an apprehensive cook, these tips might just help to make or break a meal.

Review: Four Fish by Paul Greenberg

Wednesday, 18 May 2011
I have never had complicated relationships with most kinds of meat. I gave up poultry, beef, pork, and most others when I was fifteen without ever looking back. My reasons for giving up meat were murky back then, but since, I have cultivated a firm belief that giant agribusiness is harmful to both the environment and our health.

I avoid the word vegetarian as much as possible for two reasons. Firstly, I see the ways in which labels hurt movements. Constant struggles exist within many activist circles, where we point fingers and pass judgement for not being vegetarian enough, not being feminist enough, not being progressive enough. This fighting within movements doesn’t help any cause.

Secondly, I avoid the word vegetarian, because simply, I’m a fraud. I eat fish. If I were to label myself, technically, I would be a pescatarian, which is a person who abstains from eating all meat with the exception of fish. Unlike my relationship with all other kinds of meat (And yes, fish is a meat! People often I assume I still eat poultry and fish), my relationship with seafood has been a complicated one. At fifteen, I gave it up entirely, but was lured (pun intended) back by crabmeat soaking in warm butter. For years, I ate shellfish, but resisted salmon, trout, and all other fish, eventually caving completely when my Dad took a cooking class and I felt guilty not trying the fish he cooked at a fancy restaurant in downtown Hamilton. It was a slippery slope. Since then, fish has re-entered my diet about once a week.

I was reluctant to pick up Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg, worried it would fuel the guilt that has already been propelling forward since watching a documentary at last year’s Hamilton ECO Film and Arts Festival, which made me cut down my consumption of all kinds of tuna to almost nothing. While I did feel twinges of guilt at times as I read Greenberg’s 2010 bestseller, I am so glad I picked it up. Greenberg’s book is a thoughtful and careful exploration of four archetypes of fish flesh — salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna — “which humanity is trying to master in one way or another, either through the management of a wild system, through the domestication and farming of individual species, or through outright substitution of one species for another.” 

Greenberg, himself a life-long angler, takes a different approach than many food activists and environmentalists who urge consumers to stay away from farm-raised fish, instead arguing that wild catches simply can’t support the world’s immense appetite for fish. “If we take as a given that humankind will keep eating fish, more and more of it every year, then we need to come up with a way to direct that appetite away from sensitive, unmanageable wildlife and usher it toward sustainable, productive domesticated fish,” he writes.

If some nutritionists had their way, health-conscious consumers would be eating far more than the world’s wild catch of “170 billion pounds — the equivalent in weight to the entire human population of China, scooped up and sliced, sautéed, poached, baked, and deep-fried.” With countless health benefits, many consider it a necessary part of a balanced diet, so it’s unlikely that humans will stop eating it any time soon. Greenberg’s suggests that “A small-scale, artisanal, wild-fish fishery would be a great thing that could inevitably lead to better protection of wild fish.” Definite food for thought.

Greenberg attaches personal stories to these large issues, introducing readers to the people who fish salmon in Alaska and the scientists who first made fish farming a reality. He also brings readers face-to-face with troublesome truths, noting how whales have become considered “wildlife,” ferociously protected, while “no one has yet motored a Greenpeace Zodiac between a school of breaching bluefin tuna and the boat that would haul them in to a market.”

Four Fish is an excellent read not only for those — like me — who struggle with their own food-related choices, but for anyone who wants to be a better consumer or caring citizen of the world.

I see no better way to end this review than to include the words of wisdom that Greenberg used to end his important and thoughtful book:

“Wild fish did not come into this world just to be our food. They came into this world to pursue their own individual destinies. If we hunt them and eat them, we must hunt them with care and eat them with the fullness of our appreciation. We must come to understand that eating the last wild food is, above all, a privilege.”

Review: Feminism FOR REAL by Jessica Yee

This post originally appeared on

What is a feminist?

Is a feminist an academic who can quote bell hooks and Betty Friedan with ease? Is a feminist a great orator who steps up to podiums, demanding freedom for all women, using buzzwords such as marginalization, empowerment and exploitation? Is a feminist white, benefitting from class privilege and well-versed in feminist theory, as the representation in last week’s highly criticized CBC documentary The F Word might suggest? Or is being a feminist simply antiquated, as columnist Margaret Wente declares “The war for women’s rights is over. And we won.

Editor Jessica Yee and the contributors to her new anthology, Feminism FOR REAL: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism argue that none of these descriptions accurately define a feminist. Instead, many feminists who fight for rights every day are voiceless within mainstream an academic feminism, including single mothers who fight upward battles to provide their families with food and the many women “who have taught us everything we know about feminism, without ever labelling themselves as such.”
In her introduction, Yee argues that “feminism itself has become its own form of oppression,” that many feel alienated from. “I’m constantly questioning what feminism is, and I’m increasingly disturbed every day at the gate-keeping of who and what gets to decide the answer to that question,” she writes.

In her own words, Yee is a “Two Spirit, multi-racial, Indigenous, hip-hop feminist, reproductive-justice freedom fighter.” She is the founder and Executive Director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, and though she doesn’t fancy herself a writer, she is a contributor to, Bitch, and here at Feminism FOR REAL has been published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Each of the contributors in Feminism FOR REAL share their own — often unsettling — truths, revealing the ways in which they have felt alienated and oppressed within mainstream feminism and academia. Yee makes it clear in her introduction that the book is not a “hate-on of academia” or a “hate-on of feminism,” rather it seeks to break down the limited reach of an academic industrial complex of feminism that contributors call passive, theoretical, classist and deeply alienating — to name only a few. In her essay, called “Maybe I’m not Class-Mobile; Maybe I’m Class-Queer,” contributor Megan Lee says she was “met with slight-of-hand, apologist pandering, and dismissal,” at the academic institution she attended.

Feminism FOR REAL provides a positive space for many talented young writers – whose genres vary from prose, to poetry, to dialogue — to share their very-personal stories. Among the contributors are 16-year-old Nimikii Couchie of loon clan from Nipissing First Nation, whose poetry is raw and wise beyond her years, and Shabiki Crane who witnessed enough racism and other barriers within a women’s studies program that she concluded “feminism (in academia) just seems like another place where there is no room for me.”

The anthology closes with a piece by academic Kate Klein called “On Learning How Not to Be An Asshole Academic Feminist,” where she recalls “having [her] activist spirit virtually beaten out of [her] in the classroom.” “All I can hope for in the work that I do is to attempt to kick a couple of stones into that gap between the academy and the community and listen to them rattle around until they hit the bottom, hopefully contributing just a little bit to filling the gap,” she writes.

The greatest success of Feminism FOR REAL is that it is void of the academic jargon that is typical of many so-called feminist texts, which seem only accessible with PhDs in Women’s Studies. It puts real stories and real people in the spotlight, not theory and rhetoric. It will undoubtedly encourage all readers to question and redefine what feminism means to them.

See my video of the Toronto launch here.

I read banned books, and so should you!

This piece was also published on It appeared on Not My Typewriter on February 26.

I was probably ten the first time I read The Agony of Alice, a book for young adults written in 1985 by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Alice McKinley, Naylor’s protagonist, was slightly older than me. She was in sixth grade, fumbling through adolescence without a female role model, wearing two shirts to hide her breasts because she didn’t know how to buy a bra, and agonizing over her yet-to-come first kiss.

Unlike Alice, I had female role models, but like many girls my age, I chose to catch my first glimpses of sex and puberty between the covers of weathered paperbacks, including those of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Judy Blume. I can’t imagine growing up without these books, which satisfied my adolescent curiosities and helped to foster my love of reading.

Unfortunately, if some had their way, books that depict curiosity about sexuality, like The Agony of Alice and others in Naylor’s Alice series, would be kept out of reach of children and adolescents. In 2000, a complaint was issued to the Toronto Public Library urging staff to deny access to Outrageously Alice, one of Naylor’s later books where Alice learns about sex.

Outrageously Alice is only one of more than 100 titles on the Challenged Books and Magazines List available at, which was updated this month in time for Freedom to Read Week, which took place across Canada between February 20 and 26.

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council, which encourages Canadians to think about intellectual freedom and remember that the freedom to read should never be taken for granted. To celebrate reading and to create awareness of censorship issues, events were held across the country, including an evening with Amy Goodman in Edmonton and a discussion on censorship, advocacy journalism and the gay press in Toronto.

Over the last year, a number of high-profile debates over censorship have made headlines in the mainstream media, the most notable example probably being posthumous editing of both Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But the truth is, we only hear about the censorship that makes headlines. There are hundreds of other examples each year where books are challenged and sometimes removed from classrooms, bookstores and libraries. Among the most-challenged books are those that depict female sexuality or same-sex relationships.

My own bookshelf holds many of these challenged titles, such as Lives of Girls and Women, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Handmaid’s Tale – to name only a few. These, and many others, are copies I purchased after eagerly digesting them in high-school classrooms or my city’s local library. As part of Freedom to Read Week, I can’t help but imagine what my life would be like if these titles had been pulled from the shelves of my library and restricted in my classrooms. These are titles that opened my eyes to injustices – racism, classism, sexism – and urged me to cultivate my own world view. They helped nudge me toward an interest and eventual involvement in progressive politics, and to dig deeper and learn more.

For these reasons, and many more, it is so important to me to read challenged books – not just during Freedom to Read Week, but all year long – and to continue spreading the word about censorship, in hopes that future generations will have the same access to books that thankfully I was not denied.

Review: Night Gears by Bren Simmers

As I make this switch to Blogger, I will repost a handful of the reviews from my Wordpress site. This review was originally published in H Magazine.

In Bren Simmer’s impressive debut collection of poetry, Night Gears, ravens don’t just fly — they “twirl like paper airplanes.” Evening doesn’t just fall, it “approaches like a timid suitor.” And a spider isn’t just spinning her web, she is “darning” it.

These are just a few examples of Simmers’ obvious flair for descriptive language, which she skilfully uses to make the most ordinary of situations seem extraordinary. Night Gears pays tribute to the simplest occurrences of life, like “licking peanut butter off a spoon, CBC news, clean sheets, [and] dew.” Even the “fat fragile bodies” of bugs with “stained glass wings,” caught quivering in window frames seem beautiful in Simmers’ colourful language.

It’s no surprise that Simmers’ attention to detail seems most acute when writing about nature; She is a park interpreter in Vancouver with an obvious love of nature. Readers can’t help but visualize her muses, whether they are tiny insects or a gentle giant, like a thousand-pound moose. “Still, haunting creature, its silver-tipped whithers, last remnant of a winter coat,” she writes of the creature that is “listening at the edge of the road.”

Simmers’ poetry has been published in journals across the country. She is also the winner of the Arc Poem of the Year Award and she was shortlisted for the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award.

The pictures Simmers artfully paints with her words are not always rural, rather she excels at blending nature with modernity, the two often clashing. Tranquil scenes are interrupted by the growing realities of rural life — “Dump trucks lumber up the street, shrug dirt from their humped backs. Workers in reflective orange spacesuits emerge from underground bunkers to lunch in the loose gravel,” she writes in her poem “Road Work,” which pays homage to the roots of trees that have been replaced by “the labyrinth of pipes and cement, which we once took for solid earth.”

Simmers’ poems land readers in uninspiring offices and the small houses and buildings that dot small towns, however, it is her enthusiasm for nature that is most infectious. Among the best examples of this is “Northern Postcards,” a 20-page poem that makes up the last of the book’s four sections. Here, Simmers takes readers on a memorable road trip in the Yukon, making it nearly impossible to not want to jump in a car and drive across unfamiliar and often-desolate land.

Bren Simmers read from Night Gears on Sunday, December 5 as part of the Lit Live Reading Series at The Sky Dragon Centre. Night Gears was published by Hamilton publisher Wolsak and Wynn in September.

My New Home

This is my second blank slate in four months. After five years of maintaining a personal blog on Blogger, I decided to make a move. I wanted to create a space separate from my personal ranting, focused only on my love of books, reading, and book reviewing. In January, Not My Typewriter was born on Wordpress, simply due to availability of a domain. I struggled to create momentum. Wordpress and I just couldn’t make it work. I wanted simplicity — a crisp white background and minimal design features — that Wordpress couldn’t offer me. Like a hopeful partner, I tried to make it work. I tried new things — new templates and new banners — but they only hid the truth temporarily; I knew it was over.  

Four months of archives are still available here, but from now on, Blogger will be my new home. As I said four months ago, "I’m not sure exactly what this blog is going to look like, whether it will be a series of essays, anecdotes, reviews, or all of the above. I hope it will be about more than just the information held between the covers of books, but also about the act of reading, launching, collecting, and loving books." Second time's a charm.
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