At this time of the year, when the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is upon us, and visions of sugar plums arise (to our delight or dismay), gratitude becomes almost a coping mechanism. Or if not gratitude, at least thoughtfulness—a conscious desire to look back, to appreciate what we learned or felt or experienced.
It strikes me as a perfect opportunity to think about our reading lives, and to take stock of all the books we’ve loved, or the ones that taught us something about ourselves, and the world around us.
For me, this represents an opportunity to write a love letter of sorts….
It’s a love letter to my favourite childhood books. To Karen Cushman’s Catherine, Called Birdy, which taught me to love confessional, journalistic entries, unique and entertaining voices, and badass female characters historical and otherwise. To Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, which showed me that magic isn’t always about wands and wizards—that it can be about desert sands and politics and duty and honour, but that it is always still enchanting. To J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which taught me that “wildly popular” doesn’t always mean “better” (though it can mean “pretty good”).
It’s a love letter to surprise discoveries. To Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind, which proved to me that books in translation do not always feel stilted, and that it’s refreshing to read outside the Anglo-centric universe in which we often find ourselves. To Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, which taught me required course readings are not always dull, dusty tomes written by dead white guys. To Adam Davies’s Mine All Mine, which is proof positive that amazing, underrated books can be found in the remainders bin for two dollars. To Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, which started off an enduring obsession with fiction about books, librarians, and literary concerns of all stripes, and to Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which further cemented it.
It’s a love letter to books that have made me feel. To M. L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, in which I learned doing the wrong thing can be so right, and doing the right thing, so wrong. To Harriet Lane’s Her, in which I found out that a heavy feeling of dread and confusion can build up in my stomach page after page—and that I can love every second of it. To Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, which taught me a book written from a dog’s perspective can absolutely make me moue with cuteness, then want to throw things, then ugly cry.
It’s a love letter to books that have brightened my day. To Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which has instilled in me a great appreciation of British humour—and a partiality for the number 42. To Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, which taught me it’s OK to laugh on public transportation, even if people look at you funny. To Susan Juby’s The Woefield Poultry Collective and Christopher Moore’s Fool and Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! and Mary Ann Shaffer’s and Annie Barrows’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, all of which have inspired chuckles, guffaws and numerous re-reads.
Finally, this post is a love letter to books that have inspired me. To Jane Urquhart’s Stone Carvers and Away, which first instilled in me an appreciation for the beauty and power of Canadian literature, and to Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, which reminded me of the fact years later. To Jason Guriel’s The Pigheaded Soul, the book of criticism I wish I had encountered as an undergraduate, or as a graduate student, and which I still treasure to this day. To books like Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, whose simple elegance occasionally gives me the idea that I could, someday, maybe, write something of value. To Alistair McLeod’s Island (and in particular, his story “The Boat”), which I have read and reread with bittersweet pleasure because the true mastery of every beautiful, carefully considered line makes me despair of writing anything good, and certainly nothing that could compare, ever, at all.
So many books, over so many years, have contributed not only to my literary tastes, but to who I am as a person. To look upon my bookshelves, at all the spines on display, is, I think, to know something about me. To know my favourites is to get a glimpse inside my heart.
Spoiler alert: there are lots of books there.
What’s happening this month…
Enough drippiness and on to business! The shop is a-hum with the sounds of printing, as the 85th issue of the Devil’s Artisan coming down the pipe. DA 85 will feature a spotlight George A. Walker’s reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. It also has a feature on small press publishing in 1960s Ottawa as well as one on experimental comics. My personal favourite is Tim Inkster’s “The Thing about Major Street”, which tells the fascinating origins and behind-the-scenes details of the publication of Leon Rooke’s The House on Major Street.
Next on the press is Nick Tooke’s debut novel, The Ballad of Samuel Hewitt, a lyrical and beautiful adventure story full of profound insight about identity, home and family. Look for copies soon!
Rob Reid will be presenting a talk on “Tom Thomson as Canada’s Most Famous Fly Fisherman”, based on a chapter in the upcoming book Casting into Mystery, at the Forest City Fly Fishing Club on December forth at London’s Western Ontario Fish.
The Porcupine’s Quill will be participating in this year’s Bound Book Arts Fair at the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto on December 6. The annual fair will be full of one-of-a-kind books, prints and ephemera, perfect for the literary lover in your life.
In the world.
December 5 is Bathtub Party Day. Reader, I have questions.
December 12 is Gingerbread House Day, which sounds like an excuse to nibble on candy and make yourself sick on icing to me. And if that’s the case, count me in.
December 28 is Card Playing Day. Who’s coming over to play cards at my house? Euchre? Pepper? Rummy? Crazy Eights? I’m game!
From the porcupette’s corner…
You’ve waited long enough. I’ll put you out of your misery and just announce it. It’s December, so it’s officially the start of the PQL Holiday Giveaway season! If you’ve followed us for the last few years, you know we like to give away some nice freebies to our loyal Quill Fans. This year, we’ve got three great gifts planned for you, so keep checking back on the blog, and be sure to sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media so you don’t miss a contest!
Thanks for checking in to see what’s happening at PQL during this most festive of months. We hope you enjoy all the pleasures December has in store!
Cheers, and good luck,