Graphic Novel Monday

Monday 29 December 2014

Finishing two graphic novels in one day makes me feel like a reading superstar.

Living Arts: I Write, So I am a Writer

Sunday 28 December 2014
This post originally appeared as part of the Hamilton Arts Council's Living Arts series.

Some of the most important advice I’ve ever received came from a Carleton University journalism professor, though I can’t remember which one. Back then, I was one of hundreds of teenagers packed into a large, impersonal lecture hall, wondering how the hell I was going to succeed in a program where more than half of students get cut after the first year.

I can’t remember the exact wording of this advice, but it went something like this.

“As a student in this program, you’re doing the work of a journalist. You’re collecting facts and interviewing sources. You’re packaging together stories. You’re not just a journalism student. You are a journalist.”

These were empowering words, and they gave me a sense of purpose in the four years I spent in journalism school. It’s advice I think about often. It’s also advice that I often fail to apply.

In bookish circles, I sometimes find myself the lone editor among writers, and I inevitably get asked the question, “Do you write, too?”

“I write, but I’m not a writer,” I’ve found myself saying, insecurities creeping to the surface. “I write book reviews and blog posts,” I’ve said, “but I don’t really write.”

I know I’m not the only one who struggles to find the words and phrases needed to define oneself as writer. There’s no exam to pass to enter the literary arts. There’s no magical moment when we look in the mirror and say, “Yes. Today is the day I’ve become a writer.” Writing is just something we’ve carried with us every day since we were small. It’s just always been something we’ve done.

The holidays are here, bringing with them gatherings of friends and family who inevitably ask me prying questions that force me to question the legitimacy of my work. “When will you write a book?” I’ll inevitably hear, as though the only worthy writing is a 300-page novel that can be stocked on the shelves of Indigo.

In the literary arts, we work tirelessly to hone our craft in the way those in any other career might. But I’ve yet to hear someone say, “I perform surgeries, but I’m not a surgeon.”

The Living Arts blog attempts to answer the question, “What do artists need?” We need confidence! It might seem early for resolutions, but there’s one thing I need to do this holiday season. I need to suck back some eggnog and assert to everyone I can that “I write, therefore, I am a writer!”

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas ...

Wednesday 24 December 2014
My true love gave to me, a kitten in a Chistmas tree.

Thank you to everyone who has been keeping up on my 12 Days of #HamOnt Read Local. I wish you and your families the happiest holiday and a 2015 that is filled with love, happiness, and good local books. Happy reading, Hamilton!

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas ...

Tuesday 23 December 2014
My true love gave to me, tickets to Romeo and Juliet with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.

I finally went to see my first Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra show on Saturday night. Home for the Holidays was part concert, part sing-a-long, and most importantly, part a musical rendition of one of my all time picture books, The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier. Carrier joined the HPO onstage to perform HPO Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte's musical version of the Canadian classic. I even got to meet Roch after the show, which was a huge highlight. 

On February 21, the HPO is bringing another literary classic to the stage, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Tickets to the performance is the perfect gift if you have last-minute shopping to do, but like me, don't want to leave the house!  

The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra makes me feel way younger than I am by offering $17 youth tickets for anyone under the age of 35. Check out their HPO GO program

On the Tenth Day of Christmas ...

Monday 22 December 2014
My true love gave to me, They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
— A.A Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Earlier this year, six months ago now, I moved from my tiny one-bedroom apartment on Duke Street in Hamilton’s Durand Neighbourhood. The three-storey building was my home for seven years, and though it was cluttered and messy, I loved that place.

I took pictures, hoping to remember every detail. “I’ll never see this crack, these floorboards, that shadow again.” And finally, after eating sushi and drinking a glass of cheap sparkling wine on the floor, I left the keys on the windowsill and walked out the door one last time.

Leaving a home is emotionally charged, and the experience was only heightened because during the time I was packing my life into boxes, I was reading They Left Us Everything, a memoir by Plum Johnson. After the death of Johnson’s mother (a handful of years after her father died), her family is left with a daunting task — prepping Point O’ View, the family’s expansive Oakville waterfront home, for sale.

I know what you’re thinking. A memoir about rich suburbanites. But They Left Us Everything is anything but. It’s the story of a large, but drafty, old cottage, which was purchased by Johnson’s parents, Alex and Anne, for $10,000 half a century ago. It’s also the story of the lives that were lived (and lost) within its walls.

Johnson moved into Point O’ View with the intention of clearing the house in six weeks. But Anne kept everything, and the home’s 23 rooms were filled with a lifetime’s worth of heirlooms, notes, mail, clothing, and books. A year later, she found herself still packing her parents’ things, while unpacking many emotions — among them grief and anger — at the same time.

They Left Us Everything doesn’t paint the picture of a perfect family, which is what makes it so easy to relate to. We’ve all lost people and places, and found ourselves lost in the complexities of it all.

This book reminded me of a favourite quote:

“This house sheltered us, we spoke, we loved within those walls. That was yesterday. To-day we pass on, we see it no more, and we are different, changed in some infinitesimal way. We can never be quite the same again.”
— Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

They Left Us Everything was recently longlisted for the RBC Charles Taylor Prize, and I can’t think of a book more deserving. It is the book I have been recommending to everybody this year.

On the Ninth Day of Christmas

Sunday 21 December 2014
My true love gave to me, Peacefield by Philip David Alexander.

This book came to me by way of the man I wearily buy my coffee from every morning at the Aldershot GO Station. He was handing out bookmarks for the author, who is a commuter on an earlier train.

A version of this review originally appeared in Hamilton Magazine.
The quiet town of Peacefield, the setting for Burlington author Philip David Alexander’s aptly named third novel, isn’t a likely scene for a crime. However, the lives of Peacefield residents change in one instant as the town erupts in gunfire and hostages are taken. The result is a gritty and unpredictable novel that thrusts readers into the crossfire. Told from multiple perspectives, notably constables Grant Ambler and Arnold Strauss, Peacefield is packed with mystery and action. It’s also littered with memorable, nuanced characters grappling with internal struggles of their own.

On the Eighth Day of Christmas

Saturday 20 December 2014
My true love gave to me, All the Way: My Life on Ice by Jordin Tootoo and Stephen Brunt.

In early November, sports journalist Stephen Brunt launched his latest book at Gallery on the Bay. He told the crowd that he was reluctant to write All the Way: My Life on Ice, a collaboration with Jordin Tootoo, the first Inuk player in the NHL. Brunt had co-written a sports biography before, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to write another. However, Tootoo’s story was one that needed to be told.

From Penguin Random House Canada:
All the Way tells the story of someone who has travelled far from home to realize a dream, someone who has known glory and cheering crowds, but also the demons of despair. It is the searing, honest tale of a young man who has risen to every challenge and nearly fallen short in the toughest game of all, while finding a way to draw strength from his community and heritage, and giving back to it as well.”

I’m a hockey fan. But I’m not a hockey fan. I watch Leafs games, I check standings, but I definitely don’t read hockey memoirs. But All the Way is anything but your typical hockey memoir. Tootoo’s candour is remarkable, as he shares his darkest moments with readers, from his older brother’s suicide to his own alcoholism. All the Way is above all a story of perseverance.

A less-than-great cell phone shot of Stephen Brunt reading from All the Way at Gallery on the Bay.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas ...

I went to a Christmas party, and didn't have time to publish my post. So here it is, one day late.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a weekend pass to gritLIT, Hamilton's Readers and Writers Festival.

Full disclosure. I am completely biased on this one. I actually couldn't get more biased if I tried. You buying a pass to gritLIT, Hamilton's Readers and Writers Festival directly benefits me, because I'm a committee member, acting as the festival's social media co-ordinator. That said, the reason I got involved in the festival (which is run by a team of volunteers) is that I truly believe in it. gritLIT brings some of Canada's finest authors to Hamilton. This year's festival takes place between April 16 and 19 at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, and the line-up so far is stellar. We still have many amazing authors to announce in the New Year, but here is a sneak peak at who is coming to gritLIT 2015.

In no particular order: Richard Wagamese (Medicine Walk), Russell Wangersky (Walt), Kathleen Winter (Boundless), Heather O'Neill (The Girl Who Was Saturday Night), Ian Hamilton (The King of Shanghai), Claire Cameron (The Bear).

Weekend passes are $60 and they're available at Epic Books, Bryan Prince Bookseller, and J.H. Gordon Books.

On the Sixth Day of Christmas ...

Thursday 18 December 2014
My true love gave to me, This Orchard Sound by John Terpstra.

One of my favourite local books is Naked Trees by poet and woodworker John Terpstra. In 2012, Naked Trees urged me to look back at my own childhood and the important roles trees played in it, offering shelter, hidden worlds, and other adventures. Like in Naked Trees, Terpstra's recent offering of poetry, this Orchard Sound, examines the clash between nature and urbanity.

They say big things come in small packages, and this Orchard Sound is a perfect example of this old saying. At only 36 pages, it's a tiny collection, perfect for reading in one sitting. It takes readers inside a fruit orchard that is meeting its demise, making way for development we're all too familiar with.

this Orchard Sound is subtle and graceful without been seeped with sentimentality. It urges readers to look at their surroundings, appreciating the nature in our own backyards before it is lost to subdivisions and parking lots.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas ...

My true love gave to me, a Quills magnetic bookmark.

I've included magnetic bookmarks by Quills, a Hamilton stationary company, in my #HamOnt gift round-up in the past. I don’t want to be repetitive, but these beauties are still my favourite thing to put in a stocking, gift alongside a book, or to slide into a Christmas card. They’re beautiful, but they’re also so practical, making it nearly impossible to lose your page. (Keep in mind, this post is by someone who often uses credit cards and train tickets as a bookmark, which is NEVER a good idea).

Jordan and I went our separate ways at Hamilton’s Maker’s Market a few weeks ago, but I made sure to call him back to the Quills’ booth because pretty much everything is on my wishlist. I already have a few Quills’ Scrabble necklaces, but this year they’ve made letterpress block necklaces, and they’re stunning.

Quills is currently located in the Rock Castle (95 Arkledun Avenue). (It’s the probably haunted but beautiful building you see while driving up the escarpment.) You can visit by appointment only, but the magnetic bookmarks are available throughout the city, including at Epic Books.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

Wednesday 17 December 2014
My true love gave to me, In Grace's Kitchen by Vince Agro.

Imagine a Hamilton that is much different than the one we know today. One with milk delivery, corner butcher shops, daily trips to the Hamilton Farmer’s Market, and smelt fishing in the Hamilton Harbour. This is the Hamilton explored in Vince Agro’s memoir meets cookbook, In Grace’s Kitchen: Memories and recipes from an Italian-Canadian childhood, which pays tribute to his mother, Grace, nearly 30 years after her death. 

In In Grace's Kitchen, Agro shares many of the recipes his mother lovingly prepared in her North-end kitchen alongside stories about growing up in Hamilton. I love this book dearly, and it’s one that would be perfect not only for an at-home chef, but anybody with an interest in Hamilton’s not-so-distant past.

To learn more about In Grace's Kitchen, read an excerpt on the Wolsak and Wynn website or watch Vince chat with Annette Hamm on CHCH Morning Live.

This was a scheduled post that was supposed to autopost yesterday, so forgive the incorrect date. Apologies!

On the Third Day of Christmas ...

Monday 15 December 2014
My true love gave to me, Out of Print clothing from #HamOnt's Girl on the Wing.

In the weeks before summer became fall, I moved to Hamilton’s Stinson neighbourhood, meaning my new walk home takes me right through the International Village. This has meant exploring some of my favourite Hamilton haunts (like J.H. Gordon Books) more often, and also discovering new favourites like Modify Your Closet and Girl on the Wing.

Last week, after the tree lighting ceremony downtown, I stumbled upon Victorian Night in the Village. Complete with a horse-drawn carriage and carollers, it was magical. I bought myself a vintage magazine/record stand at Modify Your Closet, and my holiday wishlist grew much, much longer at Girl on the Wing.

Girl on the Wing carries my items from my absolute favourite bookish collection — Out of Print Clothing, which, to steal from its website, “celebrates the world’s great stories through fashion. Our products feature iconic and often out of print book covers. Some are classics, some are just curious enough to make great t-shirts, but all are striking works of art.”

Here’s a little video from the Girl on the Wing instagram account showing off the Great Gatsby sweatshirt that I’m really hoping shows up under my Christmas tree. (I also not-so-subtly hinted to my better half that I’d like a pair of Deco Squares earrings.)

This Christmas I challenge you all to go into one shop that isn’t a regular haunt. #HamOnt is full of surprises.

On the Second Day of Christmas ...

Sunday 14 December 2014
My true love gave to me, a list of the best places in #HamOnt to buy books.

Hamilton offers dozens of reasons not to shop at big-box stores over the holidays. We've got independent record stores, a handful of craft fairs, neighbourhoods like James Street North and the International Village that boast stores of all kinds. We also have some of the best independent bookstores I've been to.

It's probably no surprise that I spend a lot of time in Hamilton bookstores, constantly adding to the pile of books that I'll never get through before I inevitably die. Despite the obvious commonality of books, books, and more books, each store offers something unique.

J.H. Gordon Books
314 King Street East
(905) 522-1862

I'll start with J.H. Gordon Books in the International Village because it's where I bought my most recent haul (pictured above) on an evening when I was supposed to be shopping for others. If you're not familiar with J.H. Gordon Books, you can't miss its bright blue exterior. There are a few things you should know about the shop. Firstly, it's perfectly curated. Owner Julie carries new (mostly local and independent books) and used books: "We pride ourselves on carrying only the very best in gently used literary fiction, classic literature, award-winning Science Fiction and Fantasy, and scholarly and general non-fiction titles. Secondly, the store will trade store credit for your gently used books. And finally (though I could go on), Julie is currently blogging through the recipes in one of my favourite local books this year, In Grace's Kitchen by Vince Agro. In related news, now I really want pasta.

226 Locke Street South
(905) 525-6538

Maybe it's because I edit kid's books for a living, but I'm a gigantic snob when it comes to picture books. My go-to place to buy children's books is Epic Books on Locke Street. Despite being a small store, it has a huge collection to choose from. And let's face it, I'm 31, so I pretty much have a baby shower to go to every other weekend these days. Epic also has a section devoted to books written by local authors, so it's a great place to get some of the books I will highlight in this 12 Days of #HamOnt #ReadLocal series. And to state the obvious, Epic is located on Locke Street, where you can find something for everyone on your list (unless you're buying for somebody who hates books, cheese, chocolate, music, and antiques).

Bryan Prince Bookseller
1060 King Street West
(905) 528-4508

One day, I want my entire house to look like the inside of Bryan Prince Bookseller. I want to have books from floor to ceiling, and I want to need a ladder to reach the top shelf. I don't make it to Westdale often, therefore I'm not at Bryan Prince Bookseller as much as I would like; however, the shop occupies a big place in my heart because of its support of local authors and the city's literary festival, gritLIT, which I am happily a part of. The staff at Bryan Prince Bookseller are friendly and helpful, and I desperately need to spend more time there. The shop is responsible for so many of #HamOnt's literary events. Expect announcements about their 2015 events in January.

James Street Bookseller & Gallery
134 James Street South
(905) 296-1251

I'm biased, but James Street South is one of Hamilton's most unique neighbourhoods. It's a tiny stretch, but it's home to some of my favourite places, including House of Java and James Street Bookseller & Gallery. I lived seconds away from James Street South until recently, and I miss calling Durand my home. (Sorry, Stinson. I love you, but change and I aren't always on the best of terms.) Each day, multiple times a day, I walked past James Street Bookseller & Gallery, sneaking in whenever I had the chance. Like J.H. Gordon Books, this shop offers a wonderfully curated collection of second-hand books. I've always been most successful in the shop's biography and memoir section. Recently, James Street Bookseller became James Street Bookseller & Gallery, showcasing the work of visual artists. Learn more on the Artist Gallery section of their website. 

The Bookworm
852 King Street West
(905) 523-4345

It's confession time. This is embarrassing to admit as somebody who spends a lot of time writing about local books and reading local, but I've never been to The Bookworm in Westdale. I do, however, know it's a go-to shop for many people in Hamilton's literary scene whom I trust. Be a better citizen of #HamOnt than I am, and go browse the store's 27,000 second-hand books, among them many that are difficult to find and/or out of print.

Speaking of stores I haven't visited, I'm sure there are bookstores on the Mountain that I'm missing, among them Mountain Books on Concession Street. Let me know which stores I'm missing, and I'll happily visit them (and blog about them) in the New Year. 

Don't forget there are also many stores in Hamilton that don't specialize only in books, but do carry them, including Mixed Media (154 James Street North) and the newly opened STORE (in the old Leon Furs building on James Street North).

Happy shopping.

On the First Day of Christmas ...

Saturday 13 December 2014
My true love gave to me, Smoke River by Hamilton's Krista Foss.

Each day between now and Christmas I will highlight gifts that any #HamOnt booklover will like. First up is Smoke River by debut novelist Krista Foss. Pick it up at one of Hamilton's many independent booksellers! Krista is a huge advocate for the arts in Hamilton, and there's no better way to support the arts during the holidays than by supporting a local artist.

This short review originally appeared in Hamilton Magazine (which also makes a great stocking stuffer.)

Smoke River
, the debut novel from Hamilton’s Krista Foss, broaches some weighty topics: Aboriginal rights, racismclassism, urbanization. However, it’s the tender relationships forged between impeccably developed characters that make the book unforgettable. Tensions flare when a proposed subdivision threatens the land between a First Nations reserve and a neighbouring town. Through her vivid imagery and the distinct voices of multiple characters, Foss brings readers inside the conflict. Readers can’t help but empathize with the mosaic of complex characters caught in the storm of turbulent times.

12 Days Of #HamOnt #ReadLocal

Friday 12 December 2014

Starting December 13, Not My Typewriter presents 12 Days of #HamOnt #ReadLocal, because why do one post about reading local when you can do twelve? Check back tomorrow!

Over the Years: Christmas in Gore Park

Friday 5 December 2014

The Gore Park Christmas Tree is decorated in 1959

Tonight marks one of my favourite events in Hamilton. It's the night when the Christmas Tree in Gore Park will be lit. There's something magical about the simplest of traditions, and I love that moment when everybody stands around, the tree is lit, and the holidays officially start in Hamilton. What can I say? I'm a sucker for traditions.

Here are the details from Tourism Hamilton:

Location: Gore Park

Time: 5:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Tree Lighting at 6:00 p.m.

This festive event, much enjoyed by Hamiltonians young and old, is presented in partnership with the Downtown Business Improvement Area and AM 900 CHML and will bring together people from all parts of our community for the lighting of the tree and a free concert by local band Crank.

Children can ride holiday amusement rides and place their letters to Santa in a "direct to the North Pole" mailbox. The free children’s train and carousel rides will begin 12:00 p.m. Friday December 5th and continue operation in Gore Park until 3:00 p.m. Christmas Eve - December 24th. The rides run Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 12:00 to 7:00 p.m.; Tuesdays 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.




All images of courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library PreVIEW database.

Living Arts: Writing is a Lonely Business

Tuesday 25 November 2014
This post was originally posted as part of the Hamilton Arts Council's Living Arts series.

When Tyler Keevil collected his 2014 Journey Prize from the Writer’s Trust of Canada earlier this month, he’s quoted as saying something that resonates with many writers. “Writing is a lonely business,” he said.“So, it means a lot to connect with the community.”

Every writer has his or her own writing process, but for many, creativity and solitude are connected. As words, ideas, and characters percolate in a writer’s mind, a quiet workspace, isolated from people, ringing phones, and other distractions, can be essential. Personally, I like to be surrounded by the whirr of a coffee shop’s espresso machine or the hum of voices at a local pub while I work, but despite this background buzz, I still work alone. It’s not a bad form of isolation. It’s voluntary and often temporary, but it’s isolation nonetheless.

When I jotted down Tyler Keevil’s quotation, I found myself circling what I thought to be the key word — community. I started to picture Hamilton’s writing community as a collective of individuals, each inhabiting a solitary space that can sometimes get lonely. And I started thinking about my own role in this community and how much it has changed since I moved into my first Hamilton apartment in 2008.

Back then, I thought in order to meet people who shared my interest in the literary arts, I had to put myself out there. I had to network. And for this introvert, face-to-face networking is anything but easy. I associate networking with standing in the dimly lit corner of a book reading or launch party, doing the dance I always do, thinking to myself: I should go talk to that person. I should go introduce myself. Instead, I awkwardly nibble on the free cheese. (Yes, many book launches have free cheese). Needless to say, this form of networking didn’t get me far. However, online networking is what helped me shake the feeling of isolation I felt in the first two years I lived in Hamilton.

You can tell a lot about a person from their social media outlet of choice. For me, my weakness is twitter. On twitter I found a social circle of writers and editors (and booksellers, reviewers, librarians, and readers). I was a skeptic, but in the quiet moments when isolation bred loneliness, tweets about what I was reading and what I was writing were welcomed breaks. Eventually, twitter became something more. It became a space to share ideas, offer encouragement to others, engage in discourse, and meet people feeling the same gnaw of isolation.

A decade and a half ago, parents and teachers warned us that only predators lurked online. But in the past handful of years, the relationships I’ve built through networking online have grown to exist outside the world of 140-character or less tweets. Some of the Hamilton writers and editors I first met on twitter have become my close friends and my support network. And that network continues to grow, all because of a social network I almost chose to dismiss.

Inspire: Toronto International Book Fair

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Imagine a huge room — and I mean a huge room — filled from one end to the other with books, people who love books, things related to books, and organizations that are devoted to advocating for reading and literacy.  Yep. It makes me swoon, too.

This weekend marked the first edition of Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair, which took place at the Toronto Metro Convention Centre. The inaugural event boasted big names from both the Canadian and International publishing worlds, among them Margaret Atwood, Anne Rice, Andrew Pyper, and Amanda Lindhout (to name only a few).

Full disclosure, I was reluctant about this event. Its timing so close to the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) struck me as a conflict with an already established (and well-loved) festival. However, the stellar line-up, inexpensive ticket price ($15 for the entire weekend), and promise of “hundreds of great books and booths” lured me in. The fair also won me over with a First Nations, M├ętis, and Inuit Literary Circle, which brought some of the most beloved Aboriginal storytellers from around Canada to Toronto.

Inspire! had a lot of things to see, a lot to read, and many people to talk to, including some familiar faces from Hamilton, including the Hamilton Public Library, Project Bookmark Canada, and Telling Tales. Unfortunately, unlike Word on the Street and other fairs that showcase books and book culture, there weren’t many deals to be had. However, I did come home with a subscription to the Canadian Children’s Book News, an Owl Magazine t-shirt (with the magazine’s vintage logo), a handful of holiday picture books to give as Christmas gifts (including two copies of The Snowy Day because it’s the best), and a wealth of picture books from Good Minds, including a handful by Michael Kusugak and Christy Jordan-Fenton.

I really enjoyed my time at the fair, but it had a few problems, which I’ll attribute to being the growing pains of a new festival. The signing policy was incredibly restrictive compared to most book festivals I’ve been to, and since I wasn’t given a programme (and signage was lacking), I found it difficult to know which authors were reading and signing when.

All that said, the panels I did stumble upon were fantastic. A particular favourite was the Canadian Author’s Association panel on self-publishing, featuring the always-charming Terry Fallis talking about the different types of editing. (Any recognition that there are different types of editing and different skill sets needed for each makes this editor swoon!)

The biggest problem I think was that Inspire! didn’t encompass all the fun of Canada’s literary culture. It felt very corporate. Very tradeshow. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing — I expected it. But I do hope the fair expands its programming in the coming years to better include the book bloggers, reviewers, and critics who play such a crucial role in the book biz. I would have loved to see a panel featuring local book blogging or a panel on the literary landscape through the most-recent CWILA numbers.

All that said, I can’t wait to attend the Toronto International Book Fair next year. The diverse programming and wonderful location have me hooked. My favourite part of the entire fair was the Spontaneous Prose at the CBC booth where after supplying a topic, title, or first line, Kaile H. Glick (seated at a typewriter) wrote personalized prose. And some of the booths were incredible (I’m looking at you, Simon and Schuster and Random House). It took everything in me not to choose a good book and curl up in one of Simon and Schuster’s impeccably designed rooms.

Review: Tomboy by Liz Prince (plus giveaway)

Saturday 8 November 2014
This post is part of the Zest Books True Stories Fall Blog Tour.

There’s a joke among my friends. If I ever get married, I’ll have the least attractive bridal party. It will be made up of beer-guzzling 30-somethings who sport flannel shirts and beards. It’ll be made up of my best friends, all of which are dudes. Being one of the guys has always been part of my identity, standing in line with being bookish and being shy. I never gave it much thought. These friendships just always seemed natural. Obvious.

Yet while reading Tomboy, a graphic memoir by Boston cartoonist Liz Prince, I thought a lot about gender and friendship. I thought about navigating that in-between space when you don’t feel like a girl, but you don’t feel like a boy either. I thought about how Prince articulated this in-between space so much better than I ever could through her clever dialogue and illustrations.

Growing up, Prince was anything but a girly girl. While girls her age played dress-up, wobbling in their mother’s high heels and painting their faces with make-up, she preferred emulating Luke Skywalker and Dennis the Menace. She played sports. She drew comics. She befriended boys. She was by all definitions a tomboy. But what exactly does that mean?

The definition Prince uses, and dismantles, is “a girl of boyish behaviour.” But “boyish behaviour” is all kinds of subjective. In order to understand that definition, you have to have pre-conceived notions about what it means to behave like a boy. (As I saw in an advertisement for Toys’R’Us the other day, society has no trouble pushing what that means on children from a young age.)

Tomboy begins with Prince as a toddler, screaming bloody murder at the sight of a dress, which turns out to be the least of her problems. In the decade and a half that follows, she’s bullied mentally and physically as she navigates love, friendship, and loneliness as a tomboy. It’s impossible not to relate to Prince and her funny, heartbreaking, and often awkward tale. This is especially true if like Prince you were a child of the 80s and 90s. Tomboy not only has multiple Popples, but both a Frog and Toad and an Are You Afraid of the Dark reference!

But I digress.

I can’t call myself a tomboy. As a kid, I loved pink. I played with Barbies, I loved my plastic Fisher Price food, and I thought Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid was the handsomest of all the Disney princes. But there was also one birthday when I only asked for a soccer ball, and I got three. I loved my Easy-Bake Oven, but I much more preferred baking up Creepy Crawlers. I wore nylons and dresses, but never minded getting them dirty. I caught frogs, minnows, turtles, and snails. I was all kinds of contradictions, and I still am today.

When I was about eight, my parents were chaperones on a class trip to Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair. I was given the high honour of choosing who would be in our “group.” I chose my best friends, who of course, were all boys.

“Do you realize you’ve chosen all boys?” my teacher asked with a raised eyebrow. “Are you sure you don’t want to choose some girls?” He looked at me as if I were mistaken, or worse yet, committing a crime.

“I didn’t understand why the schoolyard decided to function like an awkward school dance, with boys on one side and girls on the other,” writes Prince. I couldn’t understand either.

Tomboy is a coming-of-age memoir, but at the same time it’s something more. It’s cheeky and charming, but it’s also subtly political. It questions what it means to be a girl on society’s terms, and how difficult it can be to live outside that pastel pink box.

Toward the end of the book, Prince’s mentor asks her one of many, but likely the most crucial, questions raised in the book: “Do you hate girls? Or do you hate the expectations put on girls by society?”

It’s a good question, and one that Tomboy unpacks completely.


Interested in reading this amazing book by Liz Prince? I'd love to give you a copy! This giveaway if open to all residents of the United States and Canada.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

On Being Polite

Thursday 30 October 2014
“I remember manners, that's when people are scared to make other persons mad.” 
― Emma Donoghue, Room

This morning, actress Lucy DeCoutere told Anna Maria Tremonti that more than a decade ago, Jian Ghomeshi slapped her, pushed her against a wall, and strangled her. All without her consent. "He did take me by the throat and press me against the wall and choke me," she said. "And he did slap me across the face a couple of times." She didn’t leave right away because she wanted to be polite.

I’d love nothing more right now than to write an essay about politeness, and the way that telling women to be “good girls” and to be “polite” is just one ways in which women are repressed, but I’m on a train, on my way to work, so I can’t. So this is just a very quick note to write that I get it. I’ve found myself in dozens of situations where I feel uncomfortable, with hands slid around my waist that I didn’t want to be there, or questions and comments so wildly inappropriate that I wanted to leave, but didn’t, all in the name of being polite. I've also been polite in fear that a situation would escalate further. I’ve done what DeCoutere did, too. Blamed myself. “I shouldn’t have come here. This is my fault.” But sexual harassment and assault is never the victim’s fault.

This Ghomeshi thing is a terrible, violent, disgusting mess, but I’m so happy to see some of the discourse it is inspiring.

Living Arts: So, I Have This Idea for a Book

Tuesday 28 October 2014
I'm lucky enough to be taking part in a new project created by the Hamilton Arts Council called LivingArts Hamilton. In short, "LivingArts Hamilton aims to improve the capacity of professional artists in the Hamilton region to develop and sustain their careers by creating resources that will address knowledge gaps in the creative sector and increase awareness among audiences. Community focus groups in six discipline-specific arts areas – literary arts, music, theatre arts, visual arts, arts education and public art – will play a central role in identifying the challenges and needs of their respective sectors. The following article originally appeared on the Hamilton Arts Council website. 

“So, I have this idea for a book.” If you’re a writer, an editor, or a publisher, you’ve heard this one before. I’ve heard it dozens — maybe one hundred — times. It’s the common follow-up to my answer to the question “What do you do?” It doesn’t matter that I usually reply with “I work in educational publishing” or “I edit kids’ books.” Any mention of the word “publishing” and suddenly somebody is telling me his or her brilliant idea for a post-Apocalyptic zombie novel or the next (but so much better) Fifty Shades of Grey.

I’m not complaining. I like these exchanges. I love hearing about people’s artistic aspirations and learning about the ideas that percolate in their heads. As Neil Gaiman once wrote, “You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.” I love hearing stories about how people transmit these ideas to a page.

It’s the question that inevitably follows that I don’t look forward to. “Do you mind taking a quick look?” As an editor, I’m trained to be critical. I’m trained to dissect words and their meanings, and this is rarely a quick task. But here’s the thing. A lot of times I do the thing I know I shouldn’t do. I say yes.

I’m the first to chime in against unpaid internships. When WestJet solicited local musicians to play free concerts, billing it as a “performance opportunity,” I was livid. Yet, I’ve written blog posts, classified ads, copyedited menus, and taken a “quick look” at proposals, grant applications, and essays all in the name of friendship.

This article is starting to feel like a confessional.

As writers, editors, and publishers, for the most part, we do what we do because we love doing it. But writing and editing aren’t our hobbies. They’re our careers. And in order for them to be valued that way, we (I!) need to say no.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to read a short story she had written, and I found myself apologizing for accepting her cheque. Her response was perfect.

“I truly believe people should be paid for their work.”

And she was right. Words have power, and being paid for writing or editing words is essential.

Speaking of words with power, Tom Kreider perfectly summed up why we need to say no to working for free in his 2013 editorial “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!”

“Do it for your colleagues, your fellow artists, because if we all consistently say no they might, eventually, take the hint. It shouldn’t be professionally or socially acceptable — it isn’t right — for people to tell us, over and over, that our vocation is worthless.”

Solo Adventure: Scottish Highlands

Sunday 28 September 2014

The best part about solo travelling is undoubtedly being your own boss — spending hours in bookstores, museums, and gift shops, knowing there's nobody wishing you'd hurry up. That said, sometimes it's nice to have others make the decisions — doing the planning and ushering you from place to place. That's why I booked a highland tour (called Full-Day Trip to Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands) through Viator. It was a nice treat to not have to worry about train schedules and maps for a day. 

The day was so uncharacteristically clear for the Highlands, that we managed to spot the peak of Ben Nevis, something that is apparently quite rare. The winding roads beneath mountains and hills brought us from Edinburgh to Loch Ness (and back), stopping along the way to explore the moors, glens, and quaint villages along the way. I didn't spot Nessie, but I manged to snap dozens, maybe hundreds, of photos along the way. 

When I think of bus tours, I think of blue-haired ladies en route to Atlantic City, but this was anything but. Our tour guide was young and knowledgeable, musing about local politics and folklore, and playing Scottish indie songs by Camera Obscura and Paolo Nutini along the way. 

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