Favourite Books of 2015

Wednesday, 30 December 2015
In March 2015, I delightfully ditched my commute. I regained my sanity, but at the same time, I lost a few designated hours of reading time each day. That said, I've done my best to keep up on my reading list, and I uncovered quite a few gems this year. I can't say for certain these are the best books of the year, but they're my favourites, and each was a joy to read.

Surprisingly, there's no fiction on this list of favourites. That's not to say I didn't read amazing fiction this year. The first book I read in 2015 was Us, Conductors, and I was crushed when it ended. (With quotes like "There is cruelty to the way a person, a place, can sometimes feel so close, and then the next day far away" and "I had known many silhouettes," Us, Conductors quickly became one of my all-time favourite reads). I also wept my way through Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese, a gorgeous and heartbreaking novel. These were just two of the stunning works of fiction I read in 2015; however, both were 2014 releases.

The following books are the books that kept me up at night in 2015. They're the books I want to tell everyone to read. They're books I can't recommend enough.



This is Happy by Camilla Gibb (Doubleday Canada); Released August 18, 2015
Each year, there's a book that I recommend to everyone I know. It's usually a memoir. It's been Just Kids, The Boy in the Moon, and The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary. Last year, it was Plum Johnson's They Left Us Everything. This year, it was This is Happy, a memoir that I boasted about on the blog and in person to everyone who asked for a recommendation. If you're going to read one book on this list, read This is Happy. (But don't stop there. Read them all.)

Mountain City Girls: The McGarrigle Family Album by Anna and Jane McGarrigle (Random House of Canada); Released November 10, 2015
Because of my dad's influence, I grew up on American folk music, but Canadian folk music is something I've mostly discovered on my own, and the McGarrigles are no exception. Mountain City Girls is unique in the way it's told, as both surviving McGarrigle sisters, Anna and Jane, each take turns sharing their memories. I'm currently working on a review of this one for rabble.ca, so stay tuned for my complete thoughts on it.

M Train by Patti Smith (Knopf Canada); Released October 6, 2015

It surprises people that I have a favourite book, but I do. It's Just Kids by Patti Smith, and it's magical (as evidenced here). So, of course, when Patti Smith's follow-up was released this fall, I snuck out of work to get a copy on release day, and I devoured it in one or two nights. I'm going to be honest and say that M Train didn't hit me in the gut as Just Kids did, but that isn't because it's not a brilliant book. It is a brilliant book, but it's lonelier and laced with solitude. It's a tougher read, but Smith's stunning prose makes it worth the challenge.

A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail by Jenna Butler (Wolsak and Wynn); Released October 6, 2015 

Full disclosure: I read this book yesterday. I read it in one sitting because I couldn't put it down. In 2006, Butler and her partner, Thomas, purchased 160 acres of land in northern Canadian bush. "They knew they weren't purchasing anything more than hard work and hope but still they headed up every weekend to clear a spot in those woods where they could plant their first crops." A Profession of Hope is a short book, but it brims with hope and possibility.



I'm obsessed with the four books in my "Beautiful Books" category. Each is the type of book that shouldn't be destined to collect dust on a bookshelf. Each begs to be displayed and shared with as many people as possible. I'm aware that I'm overusing the word "stunning" in this post, but these are stunning books!

The 52 Lists Project: A Year of Weekly Journaling Inspiration by Moorea Seal (Sasquatch Books); Released September 8, 2015
This one is part book and part New Year's resolution. "This beautiful undated journal of weekly lists will help nurture self-expression and self-development. Each seasonal section includes list prompts, with plenty of space to write your own lists, and challenges to help you take action and make your dreams a reality." I can't wait to begin journalling in 2016. (Look how beautiful it is inside.)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Decoded: The Full Text of Lewis Carroll's Novel with It's Many Hidden Meanings by David Day (Doubleday Canada); Released September 29, 2015
I can't do this book justice. It's huge and colourful, and it's full of endless insight about Lewis Carroll's classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It's my perfect book, combining children's literature with history, from the Liddell siblings who inspired the book to the historical context in which the book was published. "Day's commentary, woven around the complete text of the novel for ease of cross-reference on every page, uncovers the many layers of teaching, concealed by manipulation of language, that are carried so lightly in the form of a fairy tale." This isn't only one of the impressive books I read this year, but one of the most impressive books I've ever read.

This is Sadie by Sara O'Leary and Julie Morstad (Tundra Books); Released May 12, 2015
I can't describe This is Sadie any better than the description Tundra Books offers: "Sadie is a little girl with a big imagination. She has been a girl who lived under the sea and a boy raised by wolves. She has had adventures in wonderland and visited the world of fairytales. She whispers to the dresses in her closet and talks to birds in the treetops. She has wings that take her anywhere she wants to go, but that always bring her home again. She likes to make things — boats out of boxes and castles out of cushions. But more than anything Sadie likes stories, because you can make them from nothing at all." Sometimes I wish I had kids only for the picture books.

Plotted: A Literary Atlas by Andrew DeGraff and Daniel Harmon (Zest Books); Released October 20, 2015
The joy of reading is creating a world inside your head that nobody else can see. "This incredibly wide-ranging collection of maps — all inspired by literary classics — offers readers a new way of looking at their favorite fictional worlds. Andrew DeGraff’s stunningly detailed artwork takes readers deep into the landscapes from The Odyssey, Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, Invisible Man, A Wrinkle in Time, Watership Down, A Christmas Carol, and more." Plotted brings fictional worlds to life through imaginative illustrations that are frame-worthy. It goes without saying, but I loved this book completely.


There are two books of poetry and no fiction books on this list. What can I say? 2015 was a weird year. 

We Can't Ever Do This Again by Amber McMillan (Wolsak and Wynn); Published April 15, 2015

I read this one on a patio on one of those rare days when you've got nothing better to do than to drink a cold beer on a hot day with a good book as your only companion. We're lucky to have a local publisher here in #HamOnt that excels in poetry, and this one by Amber McMillan is among my favourites Wolsak and Wynn has published. I tend to judge books by their covers, and the cover of We Can't Ever Do This Again drew me in, but McMillan's tender and detailed poetry kept me hooked.

rue: poems by Melissa Bull (Anvil Press); Published April 15, 2015 
Oddly enough, rue by Melissa Bull was published on the same day as We Can't Ever Do This Again, proving April 15 is a good day for poetry! Here's just a snippet of my review of rue, which appeared in the Humber Literary Review: "In rue, Bull writes of experiences that mimic our own — friends gathering on balconies, strangers exchanging grins, and ambiguous conversations — but, of course, most of us lack her finely tuned precision of language. Bull’s ability to capture the most ordinary things and experiences make it no surprise that rue was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award. Bull is a welcomed addition to Canada’s poetry landscape." There's a line that killed me in rue, but it's not a line I'll reveal. As in the case of good poetry, it's a line that hit a little too close to home for comfort.

Honourable Mentions:

I've already mentioned Us, Conductors and Medicine Walk, but there are a few other books I read in 2015 that were released in previous years. Leak by Kate Hargreaves (Book Thug) and One Hour In Paris: A True Story of Rape and Recovery by Karyn Freedman (Freehand Books) are both equally deserving of a mention.

Not My Typewriter: A Year in Review

Blog posts have a short life span and they die a quick death. They appear, and then quickly they disappear. In order to give a few of my favourites from 2015 a tad more longevity, I've compiled a list of my favourite posts from 2015. Somehow, Not My Typewriter has been around for five years now, and incredibly, 2015 boasted my most posts so far. Hoping to follow this momentum through to 2016! Wishing everyone a happy and healthy year ahead.



Living Arts: (Don't) Quit Your Day Job
Two weeks ago I quit my job. I walked into my boss's office with a letter in hand, and I gave my resignation after eight years. It wasn't an easy decision.

Bookish CanCon (Juno Edition)
It's Juno weekend here in Hamilton, which gave me the perfect opportunity to finally compile the Bookish CanCon playlist I've been thinking about for a while. It won't come as a surprise, but a lot of Canadian artists reference literature in both their songs and band names.

Hamilton Winterfest
Hamilton WinterFest kicked off today at Pier 8. The festival, which is in its 37th year, runs February 7-16 at galleries, museums, and parks across the city. Today's WinterFest Kick-Off event included live music (notably Hamilton's Wax Mannequin), art installations, crafts, and a mini film festival, featuring two of my all-time favourite bits of Canadiana — The Sweater and The Log Driver's Waltz.




Doors Open Hamilton
If you've followed this blog for any more than a year, you'll know all about my enthusiasm for Doors Open Hamilton. It's undoubtedly in my top three events in the city (and I love events!) and every year it marks the beginning of spring for me. This year was no exception.

gritLIT2015: The Good, Great, and Even Better
I've had a lot of incredible opportunities as a committee member of gritLIT: Hamilton's Readers and Writers Festival, but sitting in Richard Wagamese's literary salon (and introducing him) is now firmly planted at the top of that list. The intimate crowd was captivated from the second he started sharing his experiences, among them having money for food but not shelter and devouring the wealth of material at the St. Catherines library.

A few weeks ago, on a road trip, we took the less-travelled route between Toronto and Ottawa (and later Ottawa and Toronto), taking the scenic route along Highway 7, and stopping along the way. The trip also took us to Olympic Stadium in Montreal for a pre-season Jays game.




Judy Blume at the Toronto Reference Library
Book signings are a strange but wonderful experience. For me, an anxious introvert, they mean standing in line playing conversations over and over again in my head: What will I say? What should I say? What will he/she say in response?

Fringe Binge 2015
This year, I received the chance to review Fringe Festival plays for one of my favourite Hamilton sites, Raise the Hammer.

Review: This is Happy by Camilla Gibb
I read the first pages of This Is Happy, Camilla Gibb’s first memoir, on the edge of Guelph Lake with a folk festival buzzing behind me. It was the final weekend of July, and I’d snuck away from the chaos: The sweaty bodies fighting for shade, the dancing women in flowing skirts, the line-up for overpriced beer. I found an hour of solitude as the sun began to set and hipster parents called their little ones back toward shore. This is happy, I thought to myself.

Hamilton Haunts: Quills
On the first Thursday of every month, a bright and open loft space that overlooks Hamilton’s trendy Locke Street becomes alive with the sound of typewriters. For the past few months, Quills, a stationery shop that specializes in far more than paper, has hosted the Locke Street Lettering Society, an evening that encourages people to toss aside their cell phones and write letters instead. Quills supplies not only the vintage typewriters, ink and pens, but even the envelopes and stamps, too.




Supercrawl: Day One and Supercrawl: Day Two and ThreeHamilton is one tough city. During a weekend of cold drizzle, many of us still took to the streets even though the sun refused to shine. Despite it all, we rallied, and we made the best of it, under ponchos and umbrellas.

Hamilton Haunts: The River Trading Company The carefully curated collection that makes up the River Trading Company (at 559 Barton Street East) is the pride of siblings Mary and David McGowan. It's also watched over by two cats, Walter (who Mary says chose bookstore living when he wandered into the Toronto store) and Nickel, and a dog, Thor, who greets book browsers at the door.

#GLB2015: Outline by Rachel Cusk
This year, Giller Light has enlisted the help of bloggers to highlight the five titles that comprise the Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist. Yesterday, Karen of One More Page reviewed Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill. Karen is a tough act to follow, but I'm happy to be today's #GLB2015 blogger, reviewing Outline by Rachel Cusk. 

Holiday Wishlist: gritLIT Weekend Pass

Wednesday, 23 December 2015
In case you missed it, we released a partial-list of gritLIT 2016 authors, and if I do say so myself, it's impressive! Between April 7-10, we’ll be welcoming to Hamilton Camilla Gibb, Anakana Schofield, Nino Ricci, Helen Humphreys, Terry Fallis, Russell Smith, Plum Johnson, Bernadette Rule, Rachael Preston, Gary Barwin, Pamela Mordecai, Emily Urquhart, Giles Blunt, Kim Echlin, and John Terpstra (among others to be announced)!


Pick up a weekend pass at the following locations:
Bryan Prince Bookseller, 1060 King Street W., Hamilton
Epic Books, 226 Locke St S., Hamilton
J.H. Gordon Books, 314 King St E. (near Wellington), Hamilton

To read more about these bookstores and others local to Hamilton, visit last year's holiday round-up.

Holiday Wishlist: Quills' Notebook of the Month


You've heard me gush about Quills before.
The Locke Street Lettering Society may only be a few months old (beginning with Quills’ recent move from Hamilton’s historic Rock Castle to a neighbourhood with far more foot traffic), but Quills has been a hidden gem in the city for more than a decade. Co-owned by Jenn and James Lewis, Quills specializes in Chiyogami (a handmade screen printed Japanese paper), wedding invitations and hand lettering, and unique gifts, including jewellery and notebooks. Phyllis Macaluso, Quills’ in-house calligrapher, is a world-class hand-letterer, as you’ll see in her impressive resume. (via Paper Trail Diary)
Besides boasting the Locke Street Lettering Society and one of the most impressive storefronts in the city, Quills has also launched the Notebook of the Month Club, which gifts subscribers with a handmade 48-page notebook each month. Subscribers get the choice of blank, lined, or dot graph pages, and there’s a new cover design every month. The notebooks measure 5.25x8.25 inches and are staple bound. They’re the perfect gift for writers to jot down ideas or for readers to keep track of the books they’ve read. The best news is Quills is open today until 8 and Christmas Eve until 2.



Holiday Wishlist: Hamilton Literary Awards

Thursday, 17 December 2015

I cross paths with a lot of incredible books throughout the year, and as much as I wish I could, I don't get to highlight all of them on this blog. Each year, the holidays are an opportunity for me to share some of my favourite reads, while at the same time promoting the importance of buying and reading local. Check back between now and Christmas for some of my favourite gifts for readers and writers. First up, it's the Hamilton Literary Award winners.

Last week, the Hamilton Literary Awards were given out, celebrating the local talent we're lucky enough to have in the Hammer. This year felt especially special as three of my favourite local authors, Gary Barwin (poetry), Krista Foss (fiction), and John Terpstra (non-fiction), took home awards. A fourth award, the Kerry Schooley Award, was awarded to Chris Laing for A Deadly Venture. I haven't read this one, but I've added it to my own personal holiday wishlist.

The WINNER of the HAMILTON ARTS COUNCIL LITERARY AWARD for POETRY:

Moon Baboon Canoe by Gary Barwin
From Mansfield Press's website: A follow-up to his acclaimed The Porcupinity of the Stars, Moon Baboon Canoe is filled with Gary Barwin’s trademark humour, invention, musicality and craft. These witty and surprising poems confront subjects as diverse as time machines, elves, hummingbirds, birth and cows, yet manage to explore the perennial themes of poetry: delight, mortality, childhood, love, the natural world and squirrels. It is a moon-guided, baboon-paddled canoe of a book, and around each bend in the river we find the sources of our strength: consolation, goofiness and joy.

The WINNER of the HAMILTON ARTS COUNCIL LITERARY AWARD for NON-FICTION:

The House with the Parapet Wall by John Terpstra
The House with the Parapet Wall, "weaves stories of caring for [Terpstra's] elderly mother with notions of home and place; and stories of the 19th century brick houses in his city neighborhood and the families who lived in them, then and now." As someone who is currently researching the history of my Hamilton home, I couldn't put this one down. It will appeal for any devotees of Hamilton's storied history.

The WINNER of the HAMILTON ARTS COUNCIL LITERARY AWARD for FICTION:

Smoke River by Krista Foss
Smoke River was one of my holiday picks in 2015, but it warrants a second mention. Smoke River is Krista's debut novel, centering around a proposed subdivision that threatens the land between a First Nations reserve and a neighbouring town. It's a gripping read and it's one of my favourite local books.

Our Turn with Kirstine Stewart

Monday, 30 November 2015
This article originally appeared on the Hamilton Media Guild blog. 


“We have to stop thinking about how other people define success,” said Kirstine Stewart, VP Media at Twitter Inc., addressing a crowd of mostly students at McMaster University on October 22. The event, which coincided with the release of Stewart’s book, Our Turn, gave the audience a chance to hear about both Stewart’s personal and professional experiences as a woman leader.

Stewart oversees Twitter’s North American media partnerships, including television, sports, music and news. She was previously the executive vice-president of CBC’s English Services, CBC/Radio-Canada, where she was the first woman and the youngest to hold the job.

Stewart’s talk at McMaster, an in-conversation with journalist Carol Toller, was part of the AWSM Lecture Series, aims to “stimulate an inclusive and wide-range dialogue that can engage a broad diversity of students, faculty, alumni, and community members in conversations about women’s leadership, mentorship, and strategies for gender equity.”

“Being myself is what got me to where I am,” said Stewart, who shared her own experiences working her way up the corporate ladder, starting her career as a “Girl Friday,” doing clerical work. She credits knowing her own values as a key to her success. She also recognizes the critical role mentorship has played in her own career and continues to play today in the career trajectory of women.

Among the issues faced by women in the workplace, Stewart highlights pay parity and access to the workforce; however, despite these obstacles, Stewart thinks the future looks bright.

“We’re seeing different kinds of leadership than we have in the past,” she said, noting that millennials have a different mindset than previous generations, making their own rules, wearing hoodies to the office, and embracing technology.

“My book is about optimism and trying to see the challenges as opportunities,” she said about Our Turn, which “shares ideas and strategies that are both original and crucially important for anyone interested in setting a course for success today. Among the advice she provided to her McMaster audience was, “We live in a world that is so fast changing that you can’t rely on that five-year plan,” noting that as industries change and technology changes, so must our goals. “You may have a goal in mind,” she adds, “but you can’t plan it step by step.”

The best tool to overcome obstacles and to propel one’s career is to do good work, said Stewart. “If you do good work, how can someone argue that?”

“Be brilliant. Be bold. They can’t ignore you.”

#AGHayx: are you experienced?

Wednesday, 25 November 2015



When I first started this blog, my intention was to write mostly about books, with an emphasis on local literature. For a while, I did just that, but slowly things started to evolve, especially with so much to do and see in Hamilton. Even still, my passion lies in literature, so I get really excited when I see other disciplines embracing the literary arts.

On Friday, I was invited to the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s Social Media Influencer’s Night, giving me an up-close look at are you experienced, a series of “immersive and interactive installations, photography, video, painting, sculpture and sound art, the artists engage viewers and invite participation.”

After an hour of wandering the exhibit, taking photos, and connecting with other “social media influencers,” I attended a talk with artists Hadley+Maxwell, in conversation with writers Jennifer Fisher and Jim Drobnick, who spoke about their incredible work, When That was This, which was created using cinefoil, steel, magnets, 6-channel sound, LED light-programming.

The history junkie in me was immersed in the story of the story of the work, “a reflection on masculinity and the transformation of a public into a war machine as was the case at the turn of the 20th Century.” But what most stunned and gripped me was how the artists brought together the literary and visual arts in the most innovative way:

From the artists’ website: 
“The soundtrack features vocal recordings by writer Lisa Robertson, who reads a passage from Gertrude Stein's Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and actor Kai Meyer, who reads a passage from Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. The sound is composed of extended processing and editing techniques to create various acoustic atmospheres and disembodied voices that, combined with the programmed LED lighting, illuminate the curiosity and anxiety common to the shifting social, political and perceptual sense of humanity of the time.”
are you experienced? is on view until January 3, 2016, and is made up of “spectacular installations by six internationally renowned artists: Nadia Belerique, Jessica Eaton, Olafur Eliasson, Dorian FitzGerald, Hadley+Maxwell and Do Ho Suh.”

Visually stunning, each piece was a photographer’s dream, and getting the opportunity to snap photos in a museum setting (without worrying about the wrath of security guards) was a joy. I lack the lexicon of the visual arts, so I urge you to enjoy are you experienced? for yourself.

Works by Dorian FitzGerald are daunting in scale. They're captivating in different ways depending on where in the room you view them. 

When That was This


Giller Light 2015

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Last year, at gritLIT's pre-festival event with Lit Live, we hosted AndrĂ© Alexis, who read from his then brand-new novel Fifteen Dogs, which was released by Coach House Books just two weeks before. At the event, I handed Alexis a cheque and thanked him for reading for us. On Tuesday, he received a much, much bigger cheque — the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize cheque.

I celebrated the Giller Prize as I do every year, at Giller Light, the party that takes place in major cities across Canada in support of Frontier College. As always, it was a wonderful evening full of wine, temporary literary tattoos from Litographs, and catching up with publishing folks I haven't seen in a while. This year, also had a red carpet, some flashy CanLit pants, and a survival-kit-esque swag bag. I'm already looking forward to 2016!

With the fantastic Ashley from Wolsak and Wynn.

Somehow my eyes managed to be closed in every single picture at the Indigo photo booth.

This year's Giller Light was co-hosted by Evan Munday who rocked CanLit leggings, complete with the faces of all the Giller shortlisters.

The Giller Light swag bag was less of a loot bag and more of a survival kit this year, complete with a full bottle of water, condoms, chocolate, and a lot of reading material. I challenge a short story writer out there to craft a short story using only materials found in this bag. 

Hamilton Feminist Zine Fair

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Saturday was the second annual Hamilton Feminist Zine Fair, organized by SACHA, the amazing organization celebrating 40 years of supporting survivors and working to end sexual violence. The zine fair "celebrates and creates spaces for marginalized groups to have discussions about feminism through do-it-yourself publishing." Pictured is my haul, which includes a few issues of Static Zine by the fantastic Jessica of one of my favourite blogs, Paper Trail Diary. I also scored a Tavi Gevinson, and since she's the person I wish I was at 19, I'll wear it proudly.

Review: Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

"I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure."
— Oliver Sacks, Gratitude



I received a perfect gem in the mail on Friday. At 45 pages, Gratitude by Oliver Sacks may be compact, but it's large in impact, as the author and neurologist reflects on the life he knows he's leaving behind as he nears death. I read Gratitude in one sitting, and I'll read it again, because despite Sacks' diagnosis of fatal cancer, this book brims with optimism and grace.

Gratitude includes four essays: "Mercury," which was written as Sacks' 80th birthday loomed; "My Own Life," which was shared widely after it was published in the New York Times in February; "My Own Periodic Table," which reflects on the author's tie to metals and minerals, which he calls "emblems of eternity"; and finally, "Sabbath," which was published in the Times a mere two weeks before Sacks' death

Gratitude wasn't enough, so I spent much of this morning reading other pieces Oliver Sacks published in the New York Times in the years leading up to his death, including "This Year, Change Your Mind," an essay that, among many other things, speaks to loss of sight. Even long before Sacks' himself became partially blind, a result of his cancer, he wrote at length about blindness. The pocket watch photographed above was my great-grandfathers, and family lore tells me it's one of the first braille pocket watches, useful to my great-grandfather who suffered sight loss after the First World War. It seems especially fitting to a book about time running out by a man captivated by metal and who himself wrote some of the most beautiful text about blindness.

It's a cliche, but good things come in small packages. Gratitude is proof of that. 

Great Event Alert: Hamilton Feminist Zine Fair

Thursday, 5 November 2015

The Hamilton Feminist Zine Fair, organized by SACHA, celebrates and creates spaces for marginalized groups to have discussions about feminism through do-it-yourself publishing. HFZF will have people tabling, selling and chatting about their zines, workshops, a calm chill out space and a six hour zine challenge.

When: Saturday, November 7th from 11am to 5pm
Where: YWCA Hamilton – 75 MacNab Street South, Hamilton ON
Accessibility: The space is accessible, including washrooms.

 
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