This is What Happens When the Porcupette Goes on a Walking Tour of NYC’s Literary Landmarks

Earlier this year, I found myself in the Big Apple, so what’s a porcupette to do but amuse herself by visiting a few literary landmarks while in town? I ventured from my Times Square hotel and started walking, stopping every so often at a couple awe-inspiring bookish places.

It was a hot, humid day, but undaunted, I started down 42nd street, passing through a very crowded Bryant Park. From there, I caught a glimpse of the famous New York Public Library, a bastion of learning that is appropriately awe-inspiring to look at!

The steps were populated by tourists and book lovers alike–people who wanted to beat the heat by lounging in the shade, or who just wanted to soak up a little inspiration.

Of course, I had to get a photo of one of the iconic NYPL lions! Dappled by sunlight, they looked appropriately regal for the occasion.

After that, it was a long trek down 5th Ave. before I finally got to experience the Amazon Books store on W. 34th.

Amazon Books was an interesting animal. It’s not like any bookstore I’ve seen before. If you’re looking for a particular title, well, good luck.

It’s not organized in a way that would be recognizable to a typical book lover, but I can see how it would appeal to people who aren’t quite sure what they want to read. With quirky categories and an emphasis on user reviews, it is more of a recommendation engine than a traditional bookstore, which probably fits with the Amazon brand anyway. Plus, with all those face-out displays, it is pretty to look at!

After a quick stop in Amazon Books, I was off once again. I took a shortcut through Union Square Park and after a block or two down Broadway, it was time to visit the place that was the impetus of my pilgrimage: the Strand Bookstore.

With construction happening on the front steps, pretty much, I couldn’t get much of a glimpse of the building, but that’s OK. There was still plenty to look at. Outside, the discount racks were packed with readers browsing for an inexpensive treasure.

But inside … books, books as far as the eye can see. Floors of books. Stacks of books. Book cases so tall the main floor was dotted with ladders to reach the top shelves. Copies of most every book you could want.

If there’s a heaven, it looks like this.

After all that, exhausted, carrying a book or two, it was time to make the long trek back to my hotel. I was footsore, for sure, but I was also high on books, and excited to crack the spine (figuratively) of my next great read.


PortraitHope you enjoyed this little walking tour of NYC. I would definitely love to go back and revisit these sites, but also many of the other fantastic and unique little bookstores in and around the Big Apple. Literary tourism? Yes please!


Posted in Letters from the Porcupette (the Intern's Blog) | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PQ Weekly Roundup: 10 Aug 2018

pqroundup2Every Friday, the PQ Weekly Roundup collects the most shared links in our social media network—bookish articles, reviews, quizzes, recommendations and more—in convenient digest form.



And there you have it. Another week, another PQ Weekly Roundup. Hope you enjoyed your bookish links this week.

Have a happy Friday!

Posted in Letters from the Porcupette (the Intern's Blog) | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Porcupette Braces for Inevitable Belletristic Assault and Other News for August at the Porcupine’s Quill

I never thought I’d say this, but my bookshelves have, of late, engendered some slight consternation on my part.

To write this feels akin to insanity—how could I, of all people, ever feel anything but the warmest regard when faced with the bewitching sight of a well-stocked shelf? But to my profound dismay, every time I peruse those wooden edifices of erudition to select something new to read, I find that the books on them have, seemingly of their own accord, managed to multiply. Every few weeks, a new bookish soldier sneaks past the battlements to join its brothers. I now fear that a belletristic assault is all but inevitable.

two men fencing, with pen versus sword

The oft-overlooked martial prowess of books can include (but is not limited to) tripping unsuspecting book lovers, maiming them with paper cuts, and beating them about the head, kamikaze-style.

The unfortunate truth is that books are among those marvellous entities that, like rabbits and lemmings, can’t help but reproduce at a rather disquieting rate. If you enjoy a particular book, naturally you’ll seek out a few more volumes by the same author. Perhaps a good friend recommended a title—naturally you’ll pick that up, if only in solidarity. Of course, there are always those books that you procure in order to read for school or work. If you noticed a good review of a book that everyone is talking about, well, you’d better buy that, too, so you can keep up with the conversation. And let’s not even mention the shopping sprees that crop up every time your favourite bookstore has a particularly tempting sale.

Like magpies—or addicts—we disciples of print culture pick up books here and there, placing them reverently among our other treasured literary possessions until one day we look over and wonder, “when did I get so many books?” and “just how much of my paycheque does this collection represent?” and “is it time to cull some of these for donation?” and, my particular favourite, “will one more book topple that stack?”

Luckily the side effects of this addiction—empathy, enlightenment, enjoyment—are ones that I readily embrace!


What’s happening this month…


Mrs RomanovIt’s a printing bonanza! With a couple of reprints in the cards and the Fall 2018 season looming just around the corner, the shop will be abuzz as we prepare for some truly exciting new releases, including a positively beautiful collection of poetry by Lori Cayer called Mrs Romanov. This book will bring the Russian Revolution to life through the lens of the very flawed but very compelling tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, a loving mother, a stalwart wife, and a rather hated political figure. Also look out for Overtime, a book of photographs and interviews by Karl Kessler and Sunshine Chen, which documents the disappearing trades, arts and cultural practices of the Waterloo Region. It is fascinating to learn about the inevitable shifts in the labour market over the years, especially given the rapid increase of automation and the reliance on technology nowadays.

In Toronto.

The work of PQL poet and artist Joe Rosenblatt will be on display at yumart in Toronto August 4 to 18. His show, entitled “Strange Appearances”, features recent paintings and works on paper.

In Stratford.

And for you artistically minded out there, don’t forget to check out Gerard Brender à Brandis’s exhibition of A Gathering of Flowers from Shakespeare at Gallery Stratford. The event is running now through September 30.

In the world.

August 8 is Sneak Some Zucchini on Your Neighbour’s Porch Day, which is proof positive that there is a holiday for everything.

August 15 is Relaxation Day, which I think we can all agree is a great holiday to get behind.

man relaxing next to cat

Now that’s some Grade-A relaxation right there.

And August 27 is Global Forgiveness Day, which is, I suppose, a good time to forgive that friend who cracked the spine of your favourite book. Or spilled wine on it. Or dropped it in the bath. Or otherwise mangled it.


From the porcupette’s corner…

For some reason, it feels like more of a mad dash than usual when it comes to our Fall new releases. I couldn’t be more excited about the books that are on their way, but my goodness, have they been coming down to the wire. I can’t wait to actually hold finished copies in my hands—and to know that launch plans have gone off without a hitch!

Also this month, tipsheets, my old friends, are back again. I’ve been diving deep into a couple of the fascinating and somewhat educational books that are coming down the pipe for Spring 2019. I’m particularly a fan of the new Essential Poets book for the spring season. Something about the bold, dynamic poetry just gives me the shivers. But more on that soon enough—I don’t want to give too much away just yet.


PortraitIn the meantime, I bid you adieu, and wish you a lovely (and air conditioned) month. Don’t forget to take advantage of all the festivals, fairs, exhibitions and shows that happen during the summer. So many literary and cultural events, so little time!


Posted in Letters from the Porcupette (the Intern's Blog) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PQ Weekly Roundup: 03 Aug 2018

pqroundup2Every Friday, the PQ Weekly Roundup collects the most shared links in our social media network—bookish articles, reviews, quizzes, recommendations and more—in convenient digest form.



This was a particularly fascinating PQ Weekly Roundup, if I do say so myself. Hope you learned an interesting bookish tidbit or two to tide you over until next week.

Have a great weekend!

Posted in Letters from the Porcupette (the Intern's Blog) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Pulled from the Pages: Jan in 35 Pieces by Ian Hampton

Have you ever been browsing the stacks in the library or perusing the new releases at the bookstore when you come across a book that just doesn’t seem to fit the mould? Maybe it takes an unexpected position, or features a unique voice, or for whatever reason just feels different from the rest.

That feeling is something I’ve experienced a time or two, myself, in libraries and bookshops, but also occasionally when venturing into our unsolicited manuscripts here at PQL. In fact, I experienced this feeling quite clearly when I stumbled across Ian Hampton’s beautiful memoir, Jan in 35 Pieces.

Jan in 35 Pieces cover

Jan in 35 Pieces recounts the life of Ian Hampton, an accomplished cellist whose career brought him to Canada as part of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the acclaimed Purcell String Quartet. Over the course of his career, he travelled the globe, graced some of the world’s most respected stages, and performed alongside a who’s-who of storied musicians and conductors. His memoir is, not unexpectedly, full of hilarious anecdotes, judiciously balanced with enough fascinating music history to appeal to pros and novices alike.

Needless to say, the book caught me with its lyrical writing and fascinating subject matter, but what really struck me as unique and important about the book was the way it was put together. The manuscript was billed as being “structured like a concert”, and as I scrolled through the chapters, I began to see just what that meant. It was not only an organizational device, but also as a useful way to immerse readers into the narrative and a novel way to experience Hampton’s musical journey. In focusing on pieces of music as an organizing principle, Hampton demonstrates his development as a musician, relates his experiences as a performer and provides readers with a slice-of-life glimpse into a life as a professional musician. With its interludes—intervening glimpses of a tight-knit quartet—and its portraits—commemorative depictions of influential figures—it is an ode to music and an appreciation of the culture surrounding it.

Needless to say, this elevated the manuscript, piqued my interest, and made it one of the submissions that we thought was worthy of publication.

Keep reading for an excerpt pulled right from the pages of this delightful book.


From “Nine: Sibelius Second Symphony”

As Jan was growing up, he became accustomed to a certain postage-stamp-sized photograph of Jean Sibelius, regularly featured in the BBC schedules printed by The Radio Times. There it was, year after year beside the announcement for the upcoming BBC Symphony concert—Sibelius in his retirement years, unsmiling, a hairless skull over the furrowed brow of a career of concentrated musical thought.

So it comes as a surprise to Jan, now almost as bald but not as furrowed, to come a cross a large-for mat photograph of Sibelius standing in a doorway dressed in a white suit, smoking a cigar and laughing, the glee on his face strongly suggesting a penchant for banana-peel humour. Who is standing beyond the doorway? It almost seems as if Sibelius is laughing at the unseen someone’s hilarious discomfiture.


The Scherzo is going faster than Jan practised. His fingers leap at the notes like a dog running after rabbits. Checking that he’s in the right bar, he looks ahead to Rowena, the principal cellist, whose tight skirt seems inappropriate for cello-playing; the zipper seems to be stuck at the halfway mark. ‘Keep your eye on the music, laddie,’ says Doug as Cameron, the cello instructor, standing close by. Jan blushes. His fingers catch up with the rabbits.

Jan is playing in a symphony orchestra for the first time—the Second Symphony of Sibelius is exhilarating. This is also Jan’s introduction to the music of Sibelius.

‘Sibelius’s music doesn’t look like anybody else’s,’ Elf had once said to him. Nor does it sound like anybody else’s. The National Youth Orchestra (NYO) is large, with copious string sections and a full complement of winds and brass. Jan has never been confronted before with such a legion of trumpets, French horns and trombones. In the second and last movements, Sibelius provides columns of brass sound entirely new to Jan, accustomed to the modest school orchestra at Bedales.

Sibelius’s music is of a different place. The language is post-Tchaikovskian but the ingredients are shaken up. Jan loves the warmth of the first movement with its consummating melody opening with five repeated notes, and the second movement’s suggestion of a slow walk through Finnish forests with its hint of bad weather. In the NYO, Jan does finally learn to scamper through the Scherzo. (Later, in the LSO, Jan will listen to the conductor, Sir Malcolm Sargent, putting the words, ‘Oh what a long and beautiful summer we’ve had’ to the repeated notes of the Scherzo’s middle section that echo the opening theme.) He revels in the glorious brass sound of the Finale when Sibelius inverts the symphony’s opening notes to a motif of increasing intensity.

Jan’s deep experience with the NYO is such that he remembers the hall in Liverpool instantly every time he encounters the Second Symphony. On one such occasion, as principal cellist of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, he’ll play it in Seattle and the local critic will observe that the conductor, Meredith Davies, ‘has fine horns’. Listening to these fine horns in the Finale on the car radio, the mother of one of Jan’s students is pulled over for speeding: ‘Oh, officer, listen to this. How could I possibly keep within the limit?’


PortraitWhat did you think of this excerpt from Jan in 35 Pieces? Doesn’t it tug you along on a journey through space and time, buoyed by music? Doesn’t it make you long to do a little reading, perhaps with a carefully curated soundtrack? It gets me every time!

Happy reading,Steph

Posted in Letters from the Porcupette (the Intern's Blog) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

PQ Weekly Roundup: 27 Jul 2018

pqroundup2Every Friday, the PQ Weekly Roundup collects the most shared links in our social media network—bookish articles, reviews, quizzes, recommendations and more—in convenient digest form.



Congratulations, ladies and gentlemen. You have officially made it to Friday! Have a wonderful weekend full of summer fun, and of course, a few good books.


Posted in Letters from the Porcupette (the Intern's Blog) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.