Lit Lunch Snapshots

Tuesday, 26 February 2013
“To be able to talk to your heart’s content about a book you like with someone who feels the same way about it is one of the greatest joys that life can offer.”
― Haruki Murakami

Until last weekend, I hadn’t offered to a host a Lit Lunch for a number of reasons, among them my painfully small one-bedroom apartment and unsightly couches from the early 90s that have been slashed to bits by cat claws. But I put these issues of vanity aside, stocked up on wine, and had the better half craft up a killer cheese platter.

I’ve written before about how Hamilton seems to be brimming with like-minded and passionate people, and our monthly Lit Lunches always confirm that. Whether we’re chatting about upcoming book releases, festivals, or just talking about books we’ve read and loved (or hated), it’s always a casual, yet engaging, afternoon with a changing cast of characters, good food, and lots of wine.

We’re always happy to welcome new faces!

Quotable: The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Tuesday, 12 February 2013
“And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter— they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long.” 
— Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath's death. Of all the many tributes I read to her yesterday, this was my favourite. The colourful photograph with Plath smiling that accompanies the post has haunted me all day.

Winter Walking on a Snow Day

Saturday, 9 February 2013
In six years of working at my job, the office has never once been closed for a snow day, so I didn't get my hopes up. I couldn't risk the disappointment after a crazy week of early mornings and late nights. But it did happen! So after an amazing morning of sleeping in, reading, and lazily drinking coffee, Jordan and I trekked through our neighbourhood for a winter walk. I've spent enough winters in Ottawa that I've learned to appreciate a good snowfall, and this one was blissful! 
We're lucky to live in a beautiful neighbourhood, which is just minutes away from Whitehern (Check out the library!), and the back gate just happened to be unhinged, giving us access to the gardens.
To read more about Whitehern and the family who lived there, I recommend reading Dr. Mary Anderson's second book about the McQuesten family called Tragedy and Triumph: Ruby and Thomas B. McQuesten.
 Inside Whitehern's Gated Garden

 Church on James Street South

Book Lover's Ball 2013

Friday, 8 February 2013
I can't think of a better day for a snow day than one that follows a late night spent at the Royal York volunteering at the Book Lover's Ball. The event, which is in support of The Toronto Public Library, is the perfect place to catch glimpses of some of my favourite authors — and I didn't have to pay the $750 ticket price. 
Here are a few random tidbits I picked up while volunteering: Grace O'Connell has amazing taste in shoes. Brian Francis looks great with a beard. Everybody stops talking when Jian Ghomeshi walks into a room. CanLit's most glamourous couple is from Hamilton. And based on conversations I overheard, and the burlesque show it inspired, S.E.C.R.E.T is going to be huge!

Favourite Reads of 2012 (Part Three)

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

It took me a while to get here, but this post is the third of three, each reviewing, in order, the best three books I read in 2012 (though none were released in 2012). My favourite read of 2012 was Just Kids by Patti Smith. Read part one here and part two here

We all have opinions about Bob Dylan. We can recognize his gait or mop of hair. Some of us can spew out facts and dates, often from the Rolodex of information we carry locked inside our minds. But none of us can write about the way the air seems to change when he walks through a door. But Patti Smith can.

“We played as one, and the pulse and pitch of the band spiraled us into another dimension. Yet with all that swirling around me, I could feel another presence as surely as the rabbit senses the hound. He was there. I suddenly understood the nature of the electric air. Bob Dylan had entered the club. This knowledge had a strange effect on me. Instead of humbled, I felt a power, perhaps his; but I also felt my own worth and the worth of my band. It seemed for me a night of initiation, where I had to become fully myself in the presence of the one I had modeled myself after.”

Patti Smith can write about a lot of things most of us can’t. She was there. She lived at the Chelsea Hotel when the Chelsea Hotel brimmed with misfits and rebels. She frequented places haunted by Andy Warhol and his cast of oddities like Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis. She was in the room when Kris Kristofferson and Janis Joplin first sang “Me and Bobby McGee.” These are just a few of the many anecdotes found in her National Book Award winning masterpiece Just Kids.

“I sat on the floor as Kris Kristofferson sang her “Me and Bobby McGee,” Janis joining in the chorus. I was there for these moments, but so young and preoccupied with my own thoughts that I hardly recognized them as moments.”

When Patti Smith arrived in New York City it was the late 1960s, and she was “beat and hungry, roaming with a few belongings wrapped in a cloth, hobo style, a sack without a stick.” Then she met Robert Mapplethorpe, an artist and a soul mate, who became her lover and roommate in a tiny room in the Chelsea Hotel, the place where Dylan Thomas spent his last days, Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again, and Bob Dylan wrote “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.”

In Just Kids, Mapplethorpe is a light — blazing with energy and mystery and art and romance, and Smith is instantly attracted. The pair has no money and little food, but they own Blonde on Blonde and they have their art — Mapplethorpe a photographer and Smith, not yet a singer, but a creature dedicated to creating.

“So many had written, conversed, and convulsed in these Victorian dollhouse rooms. So many skirts had swished these worn marble stairs. So many transient souls had espoused, made a mark, and succumbed here. I sniffed out their spirits as I silently scurried from floor to floor, longing for discourse with a gone procession of smoking caterpillars.”

I loved this book fiercely and completely because it’s unlike any memoir I’ve read. Just Kids isn’t Patti Smith’s story. It isn’t Robert Mapplethorpe’s story. It’s the story of their lives together as young bohemians at a time unlike any other. “When I look at it now, I never see me. I see us,” writes Smith.

Smith and Mapplethorpe’s spirits and creativity become knitted and they remain each other’s muses, even after their relationship crumbles. You can’t read Just Kids without examining your own relationships and the relics they’ve left behind. One of the most endearing aspects of Just Kids is Smith’s relationship to the ephemeral and the fleeting, and a relationship with “stuff” that I easily understand. “After Robert died, I agonized over his belongings, some of which had once been ours,” she writes of the things Mapplethorpe left behind when he died of AIDS-related complications in 1989.

“Yet I have a lock of his hair, a handful of his ashes, a box of his letters, a goatskin tambourine. And in the folds of faded violet tissue a necklace, two violet plaques etched in Arabic, strung with black and silver threads, given to me by the boy who loved Michelangelo.”

I have never had an answer to that question book lovers get all the time, “What’s your favourite book,” but I do now. I felt a connection to Just Kids, which to me, is that unique quality that makes a book a favourite. A favourite book isn’t only one that is captivating and well written. It goes beyond that. It’s something else. It’s a connection to something that someone else has written that feels so personal that it crawls and slides and cracks into your soul like no other book has.

A favourite book is one that you want to read again as soon as you’ve finished it. It’s one you want to gift to every single person you’ve ever met from your best friend to the guy whose name you don’t know where you buy your coffee in the morning.

Just read this book. You’ll see for yourself.
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