The Book Bag from Toronto

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Early Sunday morning, or as early as we could manage after a full day of driving on Saturday, the husband and I woke up to snow falling in Niagara. My phone's weather app had promised a day of sunshine and some clouds, but there wasn't any mention of any kind of precipitation. Somehow, we dragged ourselves out of the hotel into our car to see the Niagara falls from the Canadian side (photos coming later) and then cross over to the US.

Even though we woke up to 20 F degree weather, we reached home nine hours later to 62 F degree weather. The sun has been out ever since and I (someone who generally abhors summer) am super excited to see no more snow or fleece jackets. Two weeks in Canada was amazing but the weather wasn't the best. Toronto wasn't too cold, Quebec city could have easily left some frostbitten toes or fingers, while Niagara was more of a middle ground. I plan to post some highlights of my trip later this week (once I fully recover from the nasty cold I picked up at Quebec), and in the meantime, mention the books I purchased at Toronto's many amazing bookstores.

The entire stack

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I went to a total of 8 bookstores in Toronto, and bought books at 6 of them. The only reason I walked out empty-handed from the other two stores was because one was more of an art store than a bookstore while the second store had more strange or theory books plus the books cost way more than I was willing to spend. Once we reached home, the husband stacked all the books up for me and did a count as well to book-shame me. (He knows well that book-shaming doesn't work on me at all.) Honestly though, when I found that I had purchased 25 books, I did feel a bit sheepish. Who buys that many books in a week? At least, I am done for the next two years, as far as book shopping is considered.

Books I bought because "I've been meaning to read them forever" (or maybe not for that long)

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
Small Island by Andrea Levy
Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson
The Walking Dead, Vol 21 by Robert Kirkman
The Accident by Ismail Kadare
The Walking Dead, Vol 22 by Robert Kirkman

Books I bought because I want to read this author but know nothing about his/her works

The Joke by Milan Kundera
The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi
July's People by Nadine Gordimer
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
A Map of Glass by Jane Urquhart
Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
I'll Steal You Away by  Niccolò Ammaniti

Books I bought because I had vaguely heard something good about these titles (though now remember nothing about them)

People Park by Pasha Malla
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Books for the husband

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
Shadow of the Hegemon by Orson Card
Gandhi by Kazuki Ebine
Phoenicia's Worlds by Ben Jeapes
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (not pictured)

Books I bought just because

NW by Zadie Smith
I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
Yalo by Elias Khoury
A Woman in Jerusalem by Abraham B. Yehoshua
Happiness, like Water by Chinelo Okparanta

The Sunday Salon: The joy of bookstore hopping

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Sunday

Hello again from Toronto! We have been here for about a week now and will leave the city in a couple of days to head to Quebec City, a trip I am schoolgirl-excitedly looking forward to. We will be in Canada another week or so before heading back home to routine, work, and hopefully warm weather.

Picture credit
I spent a good chunk of this week in bookstores. Shopping for books was not even something I planned for this trip but after discovering that Toronto is home to so many amazing bookstores, I had to squeeze them into my trip plans. I've been to a total of 7 bookstores in the city, one on Sunday, one on Tuesday, two on Thursday, and three yesterday. Honestly, I'm shocked. I haven't done bookshop hopping ever, much less spend so much time over a few days in bookstores.

To me, Toronto downtown is certainly a much easier place to drive in than most other big city downtowns I've been to, which isn't many. I guess it helped having one of those tourist maps, the kind that boast about the many must-see places in downtown, complete with major road markings and parking spot indicators. So on Tuesday, when the husband and I were driving to meet a friend in downtown near his workplace, I immediately picked my map to see which bookstore was in the vicinity. As we walked into the Eliot's Bookshop, the owner immediately warned us that they were closing. I was a little bummed out - who wouldn't be when a book-shopping plan gets derailed? But he asked us if we were looking for something specific, to which we replied that we just wanted to browse. For whatever reason, he amiably let us in for "a few seconds". And then he divulged that there were three stories of books. Huh, excuse me? How was I going to get through three stories of books in "a few seconds"? I decided not to book-browse while the clock was ticking in my head and come back later, but the friend who was meeting us took us to another nearby bookstore, from where I snagged four great steals, including a Walking Dead volume.

Since the husband had to work most of this week, I spent one morning by myself at the downtown, doing... more book shopping! I went back to Eliot's Bookshop, where I spent about two hours on the second floor which housed all the literature titles. I think I may have picked about 8 books here, but the one I was most surprised to find was The Raw Shark Texts, which Wendy of Literary Feline recommended a few weeks back. I had looked for this title everywhere and then decided to buy it later whenever I got to it in my TBR. And there it was sitting at the top of a shelf, right where I wouldn't miss it.

I had a similar experience yesterday when I went to She Said Boom!, where I found a gorgeous copy of Ismail Kadare's The Accident, which had been on my wishlist for a while but wasn't easily available anywhere. It is experiences like these that make me so thankful for used bookstores. Sure, I will probably find both these books in less than a minute on Amazon or Barnes and Noble online, but there is something to be said about coming across a much-awaited gem of a book where you least expect it. It almost feels like getting an early Christmas present.

Photo from..
Another used bookstore I went to, BMV Books, had brand-new looking paperbacks and hardcovers. If I didn't know that this was a used bookstore, I would have thought that this was a new books store. But with the shiny books shelved at this store, I was very surprised when I saw plenty of books for 5 CAD or under, including a hardcover copy of Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked!

The backseat of our car is now stuffed with all my book purchases. I had to fight a strong desire to bring them all up to our hotel room, so that I can surround myself with them, maybe even do a photo shoot with them. But of course, we will have to take them back to the car again for our return so it didn't seem like a sensible thing to do. I will put up a post of all the books once I return back to Virginia.

Hello from Toronto!

Monday, March 9, 2015

The husband and I, and the dog, just drove over to the other side of the border, on to Toronto to spend some of my mandatory vacation that I will lose if I don't use it up by April. The drive wasn't too bad - just 10 hours. We left on Saturday morning and got to our hotel by late evening. We hit a couple of strong flurries on our drive but otherwise the weather was reasonably cold. We are actually staying in Mississauga, about 15 minutes from Toronto, after we managed to get good rates on a pet-friendly hotel here.

Picture from Flickr.
We still need to take our cameras out.

Yesterday, we decided to explore the downtown. The traffic wasn't too bad - probably because it was a Sunday and it is the middle of winter after all, but the sun was out and it wasn't terribly cold. We spent some time in Toronto's Underground City, which was pretty awesome and warm. (Every city should have an Underground City - wouldn't it be awesome to not have to walk through the cold outdoors during winter?) Most of the shops were closed however - the Underground City is under the financial district which obviously doesn't run on Sundays, but we did find a few good shops inside. We enjoyed a yummy fudge cake at the Foodwares Market and, later once we surfaced, a nice chocolate mocha at Tim Hortons. Neither me nor the husband enjoy shopping much - in fact, the husband has more tolerance for it than I do. So we didn't hit any stores while in downtown. We just spent a few hours walking. Every bone and muscle in my body was aching by the time we reached the hotel - my pregnant body sure doesn't enjoying exploring places.

So far, Toronto feels just like any other American city. It's metric system here in Canada however, so it took a little mathwork to make sure we were driving within the speed limit. Later however, we saw that our car's speed dial did have the metric indicators as well, so that has helped a lot. Canada is also a commonwealth country, so we have been seeing several signs of that as well everywhere. Next week, we will be heading to Montreal and Quebec City - a trip I am highly looking forward to. My French is pretty rudimentary right now so hopefully, we will be able to adapt easily.

Have you guys been to Toronto? Or do/did you stay in this city? What are some of the places we should visit here? There is an Art Spiegelman exhibit currently going on that I am planning to check out and we also want to check out the much recommended St. Lawrence Market and the Toronto Islands. I also plan to hit a few used bookstores one of these days. But other than these, we are just planning to explore the city more and also check out other scenic places in the vicinity. One of the things we did do yesterday was head to Eaton Center (a shopping mall in downtown) and check out an Indigo bookstore. I'm pretty sure there will be a lot more bookstores in the days ahead, once I figure out the logistics of getting into the city using the subway and minimal walking.

Quick Short Thoughts - Marbles and Calling Dr. Laura

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Marbles by Ellen Forney

Marbles is a super important book for everyone to read because

1. it is a memoir,
2. it is a graphic memoir (so you see the world from the artist's eyes), and
3. it is a book about how the author realized she was bipolar and how she battled it.

Honestly, you have to read it to appreciate it. Although the beginning of the book felt like being thrown into a wild roller-coaster ride without really having the time to understand what was happening, I loved that it was also a reflection of the author's true nature. Ellen has a wild personality, when she is manic, which she is when the book starts. She is an unimaginable bundle of energy who has a zillion ideas about what to do and what projects to start and what parties to plan. It is exhausting just watching how she spends her time. Her social worker recommended that she meet a psychiatrist and that is when she learns that she is bipolar. But she doesn't want to do anything about it, because hey, all this immense energy has to be a good thing, right? As she recounts, when a bipolar person is going through a manic phase, she has a skewed optimistic memory of what a depressive phase actually feels like. So when the depression hits her a few weeks later, and armed with the knowledge that she is bipolar, she finally understands why she has to treat her bipolar disorder.

The treatment isn't a piece of cake though. She is an artist and after finding out that many famous artists have also suffered various mental disorders, she wonders if the disorder is what makes her an artist. Plus, none of the medicines really work too well on her (for reasons she reveals to her doctor towards the end).

I loved this book. I will admit that it was a challenge reading it occasionally, if only because of her energy. In person, I struggle with people who have so much energy. So I found it amazing that this book had the same impact on me - the author certainly portrayed herself well in the book. But it was totally worth it. It was as good as (and maybe even better than) books about mental disorders, especially considering that pictures can enhance the story too.

And the artwork? It speaks volumes. If you have read Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, then you are already familiar with Ellen's work.

Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. Georges

Nicole Georges grew up believing that her father was dead. But one day, while in her 20s, a palm reader ominously hints that her real father is alive. Of course, she isn't someone who buys into anything fortune tellers say but she couldn't help but think about her real father (her mother had since lived with and/or married several men).

Her mother isn't the kind of person one could just ask about her father, so she had to try different approaches. One of her sisters suddenly seemed to want to meet her to discuss her father and around this time, she falls in love with Radar, a singer who encourages her to find out the secret about her father.

The title of this book really refers to a radio talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who happens to be someone Nicole and her mom listened to often, but whose impact to the story is limited to a few pages in the book. The book had a lot more going for it than just what the talk show host says to Nicole. Throughout the book, Nicole struggles with her identity, her being a lesbian, her idea of a father, and her relationships with her mom, her sisters, and Radar. A lot of it screams dysfunctional family out loud and makes you feel sad for Nicole. Radar is the most important person in Nicole's life at the time of these events, but even this relationship begins to get affected by Nicole's obsessions and insecurities.

I wasn't a big fan of this graphic memoir. It jumps too often in time and the chapters are too small and jarring. Maybe this is a book better enjoyed when reading it a second time. While I didn't love the artwork too much initially, I came to enjoy it over time. Not that the drawing is bad - it is pretty good. But I didn't find it contributing to the story too much.

January and February in review

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

At the beginning of the year, I promised not to make any goals and just let my reading take me on its own journey. I did have a little hiccup in January trying to decide what to read next. Even when there are no goals, or especially when there are no goals, I find it very hard to decide what I want to read next. I got through only 3 books in January, but by February, I had a scheme set up which worked very well for me when it came to deciding what to read next. The "scheme" involved a little bit of but mostly building a running list of recommendations I get every day through blogs or book sites. I managed to read 8 books in February in the end.

My favorites of the 11 books are

Stuff was quite fascinating - more than I expected it to be. Family was a moving book to read.

The other books I read during these two months are:
Letters in the Attic by Bonnie Shimko
Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zukoff (Nonfiction)
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Marbles by Ellen Forney (Graphic memoir)
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole Georges (Graphic memoir)
Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki (Graphic fiction)

Blog highlights from the January and February:
2015 bookish plans, or lack of
Four Strange Books I've Enjoyed
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (review)
The Martian by Andy Weir (review)
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (review)

And on the personal side...
A trip to Richmond and DC
Our Little Secret
And it's a...