Freedom to read

I’m on a reading kick. Does that sound ridiculous coming from a voracious reader? The truth is, I don’t always have time, make time, or sometimes I’m only in the mood for a particular kind of book that hasn’t found me yet. Thankfully, that is not the case now.

Sharing good books is not only something I feel compelled to do, it’s something I’ve been doing to make up a fair part of my living for the last 20 years. So in that spirit, here are some must-reads from me to you. They’re not all literary. Some are purely for entertainment value. I’m not going into major detail here, just a taste.

camilla-gibbThis is Happy, Camilla Gibb – Though I worried the topic would upset me, I knew the writing would get me through. When her partner left her early in her pregnancy, Gibb cobbled together a crew of people who would become confidants, friends and family to her and her newborn. It’s excruciating at times because you don’t often read depictions of raw despair, but is joyful in the end. And the writing is exquisite, as always. You’re right there with her, even when she’s not afraid to show herself at her non-best. The best memoirs don’t white-wash the truth in every single character and situation.

Sixty+Ian+BrownSixty, Ian Brown – Wit, insight and emotional truth are the three elements present in all Ian Brown’s writing. Here he takes all the cliches about getting old and either debunks them or explains why they’re true. A big revelation is that the brain begins to decline after 28. Brown captures his day-to-day obsession with aging, while pining for his younger self but never takes himself too seriously, except when he knows that a certain truth can be universally applied. The bits of the book that are the most revealing are those that involve his children and his feelings about his father’s life and death.

I’ve previously written about the book for TVO.org and produced a segment with Ian Brown for The Agenda with Steve Paikin: This is what 60 feels like / Ian Brown: Diary of a Sixty-Year-Old

tender-bar The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer – A boy grows up knowing nothing much about his dad but he becomes fascinated with Dickens, a local bar in his hometown of Manhassat, New York. The story is of his life in and out of the bar, how the fellas there acted as mentors, sounding boards, friends and sometimes, bad influences. Moehringer is a seasoned journalist and writer and it shows – every word is beautifully, skillfully measured for maximum storytelling, entertainment and emotional lurch. This is by far the best book I’ve read in a very long time. ‘Course I do have a soft spot for men in search of fathers.

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Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe – Don’t judge. I’ve been fascinated with him since we were in our 20s. Turns out he can write – not ghost written. The big reveal for anyone interested in his work in The West Wing is that he grew up with the Sheens and Martin Sheen was father-like to him. That knowledge gives his scenes with Sheen a richness that makes sense when you re-watch. I’m thinking especially of when President Bartlett tells him one day he could run for office and to not be afraid to do so. As the NYTs review I’ve linked to above says, Lowe must know that his ridiculous good looks and fame mean he couldn’t take the easy way out if he wanted to be taken seriously as a writer and storyteller. And he doesn’t. It’s full of insights, humour and just plain juicy info about Hollywood of the ’80s and ’90s. He’s candid about his missteps, his alcoholism and his issues on The West Wing. His later life continues in Love Life.

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Not My Father’s Son, Alan Cumming – See what I mean about fatherless sons? This follows the actor’s journey to have his roots chronicled for the TV show, Who Do You Think You Are — only it’s what’s going on behind the scenes as his brother and he confront his father with questions about why he abused them. A fascinating look at Cumming’s early life and its threads to his work in front of the camera.

This is his episode of WDYTYA.

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All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews – One of those books you must read slowly in order to handle the emotion. It’s relentlessly sad, so thankfully Toews is adept at lightening up just when you need it. One sister is dying, the other is falling apart – their connection is unforgettable, especially as they grapple with how and when to die. A timely read as Canada figures out how to legislate assisted death.

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Childlessness does not equal selfishness

spinsterLife-long singledom and childlessness – two still questioned, somewhat feared lifestyles are enjoying a rare media spotlight due to two U.S. publications: Selfish, Shallow and Self Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum (Picador), and Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick (Crown). When you consider Western population demographics, it’s not surprising that these books would crop up.

The question is will the topics have staying power?

Read whole article at ottawacitizen.com

Fall Books Preview, Ottawa Citizen

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Ann-Marie MacDonald has a new novel coming out this fall called Adult Onset. It’s her first in 11 years.

Here’s my annual fall books preview in the Ottawa Citizen.

IFOA stories: Ken Kesey teaches me to parallel park, circa 1992

To celebrate the start of the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) in Toronto this week I’ll be reminiscing about my precious time spent with authors over the many years of working in and around publishing.

First up: Ken Kesey at the IFOA in 1992

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Ken Kesey’s parting gift to me, a handmade scarf depicting Native American art, and signed: For Carla – thanx – Ken.

 

This was the festival where we had to make everything about baseball or we wouldn’t get media coverage or author participation! That’s because the Toronto Blue Jays had made it to the World Series – in fact they won it on the last night of the festival – and Toronto was in the frenzied grip of baseball fever.

Just like McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Ken Kesey, who was at the festival with his book Sailor Song, never wanted to be away from a television if the game was on. Read  more

Personal memories of Alice Munro, Nobel Laureate!

“That’s a lovely skirt. Tell me, is it difficult to iron all those pleats?”

In the green room of the North York Centre for the Performing Arts, I’m keeping Alice Munro company until it’s time for her to step on stage for her rare double-bill appearance with Robertson Davies. I’m not sure who’s minding Mr. Davies, but I definitely got the good gig!

Of course, I want to gush to her about how Friend of My Youth (her 7th and my cherished title) changed my life, about how her writing is such an inspiration and how reading it makes me somehow feel less alone.  But she wants to talk about something… anything else, as a way to calm her nerves. I’m happy to oblige her every need. In fact my job as the publicist for the Harbourfront Reading Series which is presenting the evening’s event, depends on seeing to her comfort. So, we talk about the challenges of keeping well-formed pleats in my skirt.

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Alice Munro signed my copy of Friend of My Youth, 1994

When she’s sufficiently relaxed, I shyly ask her to sign my copy.

That was in 1994. I declared my PR career could end then since I reached the ultimate goal of meeting and chatting with my favourite author.

Fast forward to 1998, Ms. Munro is up for the coveted Giller Prize for The Love of a Good Woman. I’m production coordinating the live-from-the-cocktail party portion of the Giller Prize broadcast on Bravo! where I work as PR director. Of course, the producers and hosts want to talk to her, but knowing as I do about her shyness and reluctance to be in the public eye, I keep telling them she will likely not show up until the absolute last minute. Sure enough, she sneaks by all the cameras into her seat in the Four Seasons ballroom.

Her acceptance speech is a very humble few words about how maybe now the short story will gain acceptance as a legitimate form of writing.

I didn’t speak to her that night, just simply basked in her graceful, winning aura.

Alice Munro at VPL

Alice Munro accepts the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award at Vancouver Public Library. Also pictured, Mayor Larry Campbell and VPL Board Chair Joan Anderson, 2005.

In Vancouver in 2005, I get to talk to Alice Munro one more time after she accepts the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award in the atrium of the beautiful Vancouver Public Library main branch. I line up to congratulate her and to my absolute astonishment, she remembers me from those many years ago in the green room at the North York arts centre. I wish I could tell you what we talked about that day at the library. I think I was overwhelmed knowing she could recall ever meeting me!  She invited me into the small private gathering inside the library.

What I remember most is her warmth, grace and the generous way she spoke to her fans and colleagues that day.

I’m so pleased she’s won the Nobel. I can’t think of a more deserving or worthy Canadian writer whose first thought, when accepting this honour, was directed to those for whom she’s set the trail.

“I would really hope that this would make people see the short story as an important art, not just something that you played around with until you’d got a novel written.”

Sadly, Alice Munro has announced her retirement from writing.  But then again, she’s put so much of her singular talent out into the world, we can only be happy and grateful for it, and for her.

Vancouver’s Shaena Lambert, Oh My Darling, review

I once heard Doug Coupland refer to book reviews as “homework,” and there is an element of drudgery to them. That is, unless you get assigned a great book that you would read even if you didn’t have to.

lambertOh, My Darling by Vancouver writer Shaena Lambert is one of those. If you appreciate finely crafted short fiction, this is well worth the read.

Here’s my Globe and Mail review: Shaena Lambert’s life in miniature

Reading is always a good choice: Fall books preview 2013

worst person ever

Best. Author. Ever.

Every year for the past six I’ve written a fall books preview for the Ottawa Citizen. It’s labour intensive in the sense that I have to research all the fall offerings from the many large and small publisher catalogues (most are online now, which helps) then write a succinct few sentences on a variety of books ranging from fiction to non-fiction, lifestyle to memoir, biography, food, sports and Young Adult/Kids books. Since I’m writing largely from marketing copy with so few books actually finished or even in the advance reading copy stage, it takes awhile to come up with something new, fresh and lively to say. The task takes me awhile to research and a longer while to write.

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A lively YA read.

Still, I love doing it because a) it introduces me to the new exciting list; b) I get boxes of books, the equivalent of Christmas morning to a book-lover; c) it’s become an annual assignment that I can count on.

So without further ado: Fall Book Season: Fact and Fiction

This year we added a side bar: What they’re reading this fall

My personal recommendations are:

Shaena Lambert, Oh My Darling 

all stories take place in and around Vancouver; she has unusual ways of describing the most common of feelings

Joseph Boyden, The Orenda

it’s been too long since we’ve heard this important and interesting literary voice

Doug Coupland, Worst. Person. Ever.

Favourite. Author. Ever. / Most. Inspirational. Creative mind. Ever.

Stephanie Domet, Fallsy Downsies

another inspirational person and wonderful writer

Steve Paikin, Paikin and the Premiers: Personal Reflections on a Half Century of Ontario Leaders.

Steve Paikin is my best example of a hard working, wide-brained, fully engaged and professional journalist and a helluva nice guy

Gail Gallant, Apparition

I love YA novels and this one is a page turner. Also, you gotta love a TV writer turned novelist!

Happy Reading!