Posts Tagged ‘books’


I will be reading a book and out of nowhere I will find one, a sentence, a thought, or sometimes just a couple of words strung together in just the right order and I’ll hear it.

The click.

The sound in my brain when something resonates, fits, slides perfectly into a gap in me that I didn’t know existed until that moment.

I’ll close the book, sliding my fingers between the pages so I don’t lose my place, and just think. Think about the sentence, the click, and appreciate how finding it in that moment has made me consider something I hadn’t before.

And then I’ll wish I could take it with me, rip the paper out of the book (which I would, of course, never do) and carry it with me in my pocket so I could have that feeling with me all the time.

For awhile I tried carrying a little notebook around with me and I would pull it out and write down these things when I came across them.

But then I would change purses and forget to move the notebook, or I wouldn’t have a pen, or I would have a pen but not the “right” pen and then it became more about the notebook than the thing I was trying to remember by writing it down.

It turned into a chore rather than a gift. And I have enough chores.

What started as a click turned into a thud.

Because what I really want is to remember them. I want to be able to recall them at will with little effort, no planning and without a notebook and pen. I want them to be in every pocket of every jacket I own and I want to be able to pull them out and comfort myself and make things make sense when they don’t.

But I can’t, it just doesn’t seem to work that way and so I instead try to just pause and appreciate them when they come along. I will consider them and mull them over like rubbing a smooth rock between my fingers before throwing it back into the water.

And I will open my book again and read, waiting for the next one to come along.

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I like to think I know what’s going on.  I like to think that, generally speaking, I’m up on what’s in and what’s out and what it’s all about.  Sure, I realize there are things that fly over my head on a regular basis but I tell myself that those are the things that I don’t need to know about so I’m really not missing out on anything.  Lumped in that category would be things like: the newest cell phones, what’s going on in the world of soccer, jazz music and foreign films, just to name a few.  And I’ve come to peace with the fact that I don’t know anything about those things and if they should come up in conversation at a dinner party I will casually excuse myself and spend ten minutes washing my hands in the bathroom in the hopes that the subject will have changed in my absence, or I will casually change the subject to something about which I am more well versed, like Scandal or the newest nail polish colours for spring.

But, once in a while I am caught completely unaware about something that I should know something about.

This happened to me today.

I read about this book in a magazine a little while ago and it sounded funny.  And heh, it’s a book with cartoons in it so I’m up for that.

Hyperbole and a Half

Not to mention that I liked the name and the cover.  Apparently I’m not supposed to judge books by their covers but I totally do, pretty much all the time, and I think if you were being honest you would admit that you do as well.

So I put it on hold at my library and it came in the other day.  To be honest, when I got the email notification and I saw the title I couldn’t remember in the slightest which book it was or why I would have put it on hold but I was ready to be surprised.

Initially the biggest surprise was that it was heavy.  Man, it was like carrying around a brick.  This didn’t bode well because I do most of my reading on the train which means I have to carry the book around with me most of the day.  I have to REALLY like a heavy book to drag it around with me but I decide to give this one a try.  Again, the cartoons were proving to be a big selling feature.

And within five minutes of cracking it open this morning I almost peed my pants.

This book is hilarious, and touching, and brutally honest and witty and sarcastic and everything I wish my writing could be, but it never will.  I want to be friends with Allie Brosh.  Not let’s go hang out at the mall friends but let’s sit on the couch in our fuzzy pants and shoot the shit and realize that the world is often a place where we don’t quite fit.  The book includes stories about her dogs which, I’m definitely not a dog person but it almost made me want to go out and get a dog on the off chance that maybe it would inspire me to write hilarious stories about it like she does.  It also includes a story about getting lost in the woods as a child with her mother and sister that almost had me laughing out loud, in public, and not caring who stared at me.

But the ones that got me the most were the two chapters she wrote about depression.  Incredibly insightful and brilliant and so unflinchingly honest that I want to rip them out and carry them around in my pocket and show them to everyone I meet.  I can’t even imagine the courage it would take to be that honest about something so personal but she did, and in such a way as to make it seem like the simplest thing in the world to share.  I’m not one third the writer that she is and even I know that one of the hardest things about writing is to take something so difficult and make it look easy.

Of course, upon discovering what I thought was a hidden gem, I messaged my bestie to see if she had heard of it and tell her she absolutely HAD to read the book immediately.  She promptly wrote back that of course she’d heard of it, she’d been reading the blog forever and how had I not heard of it?

In response I immediately did what any rational person would do and I looked it up on Wikipedia to see if it really was something everyone else already knew about.  And yes, at least I’ve heard of Wikipedia.  Of course from there I learned that I apparently totally missed the boat on this.  One of the blog posts (one of the ones about depression) apparently got 1.5 million views in a single day.  How did I miss out on something that 1.5 million people managed to know about, all in a single day?  What rock must I have been living under on that particular day for this to have gone completely unnoticed by me?

It’s kind of like the day I “discovered” Post Secret only to figure out that it had already been discovered, about two years before I “discovered” it.

So I feel kind of lame and I admit it.  But I also feel mostly kind of great because I finally found it and it’s amazing and I just might have to run out and buy my own copy.  My own copy so I can put it under my pillow and hope that some of Allie Brosh’s writing greatness seeps into my brain while I sleep.

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From time to time I’m asked about good books that I’ve read recently.  I surround myself with people who love to read so the passing and sharing of book recommendations is fairly commonplace, and cherished.  To me, recommending a good book is like giving someone a hug to tuck away in their pocket and pull out when they need it.  However, as a solid memory has never been something in my possession with any regularity, I am rarely able to pull out the recommendations when they’re required.  In an attempt to fix this, I’ve decided to make note of my favourite books that I read this past year.  If you haven’t read them, give them a try; and if you’ve read anything good, definitely share them.  Just like hugs, you can never have too many good books.

The Unfinished Child by Theresa Shea

If you have a child, or ever thought about having a child, or if you have a best friend who is so much a part of your life that you can’t imagine living without them, this book is going to tear your heart out.  It was recommended to me by my mom and her recommendations are pretty much always spot on and this was no different.  I read the first 25 pages and couldn’t put it down and I carried it with me everywhere I went until I finished it.  The author manages to write almost the exact way things sound in my head and seeing the words down on the page made me think that maybe others think the same way I do.  It was like finding a friend and then living through something horrible with her, and realizing you’re so glad you didn’t have to do it alone.  This the kind of book where I basically locked myself in the bathroom while I frantically read through the last 50 pages because I couldn’t be disturbed.  And it’s also handy that in the bathroom I was very close to the Kleenex, because I certainly needed it.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

I have no idea how I found this book, or, more correctly, how it found me.  I must have read about it somewhere and put it on hold at the library.  Either that or by way of a magical book fairy it somehow ended up on the shelf with my name on it.  Either way, I’m very glad it found its way to me.  It’s a funny, quirky, loveable little book that when I got to the last page, I realized it had taught me a lot, but in a very subtle, I’m going to make you think you came to these brilliant realizations all by yourself, kind of way.

Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

If you told me one of my favourite books of the year was going to be about a guy who creates an on-line dating program to match people up based on their on-line personas (emails, on-line shopping, video chats) and then ends up tweaking it to allow people to communicate with people who have died, I definitely would have rolled my eyes at you and questioned our friendship.  I have no clue how I ended up with this book on my hold list at the library (this seems to be a theme of my reading history for 2013), and truth be told I almost returned it without even opening it, but I’m so glad I didn’t.  The premise is just crazy enough to require you to suspend reality just a little bit, but still realistic enough that you find yourself asking “what if.”  Give this book a try, I did and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor

One of my favourite bloggers, Outlaw Mama, included this book in her 2012 book review post and when I read the blurb about this book, I knew I was going to have to read it.  I knew it was going to be horribly painful and gut-wrenching, but I knew I would have to read it all the same.  It’s a memoir from a woman who was 24 years old and five months pregnant when her husband died in a freak accident.  Enough said.  Read it.  I cried and (perhaps surprisingly) laughed my way through it and when I was done I wanted to track down Natalie Taylor and ask her to be my friend.  She made me love her and respect her and want to have her over for a cup of tea, all by the end of the third chapter.

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

If you haven’t read a Maeve Binchy book, stop what you’re doing right now and go to your nearest library and grab all of them off the shelf.  Then call in sick to work for the next week and read them, one after another after another until you come to this one, her very last.  And once you’ve finished them all, take a breath and then cry a little when you realize that Ms. Binchy is no longer with us and we will never have the pleasure of reading a new novel born from her brilliant and humble brain.  She is proof that there is exquisite beauty in a simply told story with characters you want to know and places you want to visit.  Her books, for me, are like a cozy, well worn blanket that you curl up with on a cold day: comforting, familiar and always, always warm.

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

My mom told me to read this book.  She told me to read it on a Monday and asked me on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday if I’d read it yet.  I told her my library didn’t have a copy yet but I would put it on hold when I saw it.  She told me she couldn’t wait that long; couldn’t wait that long for me to read the book so we could talk about it.  That’s how much she loved this book.  I have to admit, I went in with pretty high expectations, perhaps unrealistically so, but this book still turned out to be one of the best of the year, and that definitely says something.  There’s a twist at the end that you may see coming, but it doesn’t make it any less amazing.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

If 2013 was the year that I was caught off guard by books, this one goes to the top of that list.  It’s a book written from the perspective of Budo, the imaginary friend of an interesting little boy named Max.  Normally that would have been enough to get me to put the book right back on the shelf but a strong recommendation from my bestie made me give it another chance.  She was right, I was wrong, and this book is amazing.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

There are books that touch you, and then there are books that change you.  There are books you like, and then there are books you love.  There are books that make their mark, and then there are books that draw a line in the sand that is so distinct that everything else comes either before or after.  This book turned out to be all of those things to me.  Some day when I can find the right words there will a post just about this book, and how it came to find me at just the perfect moment, but until then I will simply add it to this list and recommend that you give it a try.

Happy reading from the Polka Dot Palace!

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the library

A special shout out to the Eagle-Eyed Editor for passing along this writing prompt in response to my “stuck on repeat” post.  As soon as I saw this suggestion on the list, I knew I had to write it.

“The Library that means the most to you.”

When my daughter was eight months old we moved to a new house, in a town about half an hour from where we used to live.  I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know where anything was, I didn’t know anything.  I was also on maternity leave which meant I had hours upon hours upon hours alone with my daughter during the day.  And, as those of you with kids know, there are only so many hours you can spend playing with Duplo before your brain begins to shrink.  After just a week of being in the house, I was bored.  I needed to find something.

So I packed my daughter up in the stroller and off we went, looking for something.  What we found was the library.

It was only about a 15 minute walk from our house, down a beautiful tree-lined street.  It was September, the leaves were changing and the whole street seemed to be on fire.  The library was at the end of the street, an old, dark, depressing looking building but, upon closer inspection, I could see some construction trucks tucked in behind.  They were in the process of building a new library, right behind where the old one stood.  Once it was done they would tear down the old one and put in a courtyard where it used to be.  It wasn’t much to look at, but it was what was inside that mattered.

We made our way up the ramp that led us to the second floor.  I had to struggle to get the stroller through the door and I was wondering if maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all.  But once I got inside I knew I was home.  All of the books, shelf upon shelf upon shelf.  The light was dim, the carpet was dark, the windows were small but I didn’t care.  My eyes adjusted quickly and my heart beat faster; I hardly knew where to begin.

I don’t remember how long we stayed that first day.  Knowing my daughter as she was at that age, she probably gave me 10 or 15 minutes before she started to fuss and whine in her stroller, no longer entertained by the crackers or toys or keys from my pocket.  I can’t remember how long we stayed but I can pretty much guarantee that by the time we left, the bottom basket was full of books.  I probably never even read half of them but just the idea that I could if I wanted to was enough, it was enough for me that day.  When my brain was shrinking from stacking and unstacking blocks all day, I could read a book and feel better, feel human, feel like maybe I could still matter.

As overly dramatic and cheesy as it may sound, I feel like that library saved me.  Whenever the walls of my house felt like they were closing in, I went to the library.  Whenever I felt out of touch with the rest of the world, I went to the library.  Whenever I just wanted 10 minutes to flip through the latest edition of People magazine and find out what the Kardashians were up to, I went to the library.  It helped me remember, if only for a few minutes, who I used to be.  When I used to read and read and read, hardly coming up for air, when I used to dream of one day writing a book that someone else would devour in the same way I had devoured the words of others.  Slowly I began to come back into focus.

When the new library opened, I went through the doors that first day and stood in awe at the floor to ceiling windows, the spacious aisles, the comfy arm chairs.  It was beautiful and filled with so many new books I hardly knew what to do with myself.

Nine years later we still live in the same little town but we’re in a different house and sadly, we’re no longer walking distance to the library.  No matter, I’m still there at least three times a week.  My hubby jokes that it’s my second home.  It’s really not a joke though because, next to my own home it’s the place where I feel most at peace.  There’s just something about being surrounded by all of those words, all of those ideas; it simultaneously makes me feel incredibly small and yet part of something incredibly big.

Maybe one day my name will be on one of of the books on one of those shelves.  Maybe one day someone who is lost, like I was, will find it and not feel so lost anymore.  Maybe.  You never know, amazing things can happen.

Especially at the library.

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‎Each year at my office we do a used book sale with all of the proceeds going to charity. It is, without a doubt, my favourite work day of the year. About a month before the big event I start combing through my shelves and drawers, looking for some books to donate. Although I get most of my reading material from the library I still seem to accumulate a bunch I’m willing to part with.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been finding a few here and a few there, but last night I was overcome with the urge to purge and manage to pull together a few stacks. I took some from the kids shelves, ridding ourselves of the last of Dora and Diego, Max and Ruby and The Wiggles. I stopped myself when I got to Franklin. I’m not quite ready to let go of him yet.

I went through the armoire ‎in the spare bedroom (aka the reading room, aka the control your emotions room – that’s a post for another day) and came up with another stack. I sat back and took a moment to appreciate the purge before it hit me that I had forgotten the bookshelf in the basement.

I bounded down the stairs, turned on the lights and made my way to the shelf, crammed with knick-knacks and pictures frames and, squeezed in amongst everything else, a few non-fiction books I had been hanging on to for far too long.

The first one I pulled off the shelf was a Martha Stewart book. Martha’s Homemade Christmas or something like that. The picture on the front was of her from her younger days, holding a wreath she had no doubt made herself. ‎ Just looking at her, smiling back at me, made me feel suddenly depressed. I cracked the book open and flipped through it, past the chapters on how to sew cute little buttons on homemade stockings, or make a gingerbread house from scratch, or decorate cookies with icing that does not come from a tub I bought at the grocery store.

The more I looked, the more depressed I got. Why don’t I make my own wreaths? They look so beautiful and Martha makes it look so easy and yes, dare I say it, fun! I’m a reasonably intelligent person and I’m sure if I just had one of those paddles with wire wrapped around it that I too could make something worthy of hanging on my front door! If only. If only I had the supplies, the time, the desire. If only I was Martha.

But I’m not Martha.

And I could keep the book on my shelf for another five years and periodically contemplate making my own marshmallows, but who am I kidding? I don’t want to make marshmallows. I want to buy them in the bag at the store and take the other three hours and sit on the couch and watch episodes of Scandal. That’s what I want to do with my time. And I’m not going to feel bad about it.

I don’t judge Martha, or anyone who wants to do all of those amazing things that she does. There was a time when I wanted to be her, thought I could be here, and seriously contemplated what path I would need to take to get there.

But not anymore.

So I closed the book and threw it in the donate pile. And then I grabbed its companion, Martha’s Good Things, and added it to the pile as well. Maybe someone else will want them. Maybe someone else will actually make the wreaths and the gingerbread houses and the marshmallows. Or maybe it will just sit on their shelf, making them feel depressed.

Either way, it won’t be me. Out with the old. Time to take a breath, give myself a break, and let myself off the hook. ‎‎‎

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I’m not a big fan of packing, even if it’s to go somewhere fun.  I’m always sure I’m going to forget something, or two somethings, or ten.  I feel like as I’m pulling out of the driveway inside the house there is a spotlight shining on all of the things I’ve forgotten: the camera, my glasses, my son’s favourite hat, just taunting me.

In an attempt to counteract that, my list-making skills are put to full use.  I start weeks before anything ever needs to get in a suitcase although, inevitably, there are things that make it onto the list but never actually into the bottom of the bag.

I don’t usually have a problem deciding on which clothes to take because, let’s be honest, my closet isn’t that extensive.  Once you take away the things that don’t fit and the things I don’t like anymore, it leaves a select few items and those are the one that make it.  Same with shoes.  I’m guessing there are people out there who line 10 pairs of shoes up on their bed and have to make some cutthroat decisions about which ones get to come on the trip but for me, if they’re comfortable and they match at least three of the outfits I’m taking, they’re in the bag.  And believe me, that still only means I’m taking three pairs with me, no matter how long we’re going to be away.

However, my real issue comes when it’s time to decide on reading material.  For me, picking the wrong books, or the wrong number of books for that matter, can make or break a vacation.  It is a decision that needs to be pondered, thought out, strategically analyzed and then finally a small prayer needs to be said before the final decision is made.

Take too many with you and you’re left lugging them around for the duration of your trip.  Don’t take enough and you’re half-way through your vacation with nothing to read, which to me is basically a fate worse than not being on vacation at all.  One time my hubby and I went on a trip to the beach and three days in I had already devoured “A Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” and was left book-less.  My hubby is not a big reader himself but had brought a book with him on the off-chance the mood hit him.  It didn’t.  I was desperate.  That’s how I spent the last two days of our vacation reading a biography from an NHL hockey player.  A good way to expand my reading list but let’s be honest, not nearly as satisfying as a good chick-lit beach book.

Some people I know solve this entire issue by just preloading a dozen books on their e-reader and taking that instead.  It’s light-weight so you can take it anywhere, no matter how many books it has on it, and if you don’t like the one you’re reading you can just move on to something else.  In theory it sounds like a great solution and in my head I totally understand the rational behind it.  I even have an e-reader that I could easily take with me.  But I don’t want to.

I don’t like reading from an e-reader, no matter how convenient it is.  I like to have a book, the real book, with pages and a cover and a spine.  I like to be able to stick mementoes from my trip between the pages as a bookmark that also serves as a keepsake.  I like to come back from a great trip to the beach with sand in the spine and some of the pages slightly warped from having been wet and dry and wet and dry.  The book becomes the keeper or some pretty great vacation memories.  And I’m sorry, you just can’t get that from an e-reader.

So this time I have tried to plan accordingly.  The kids are coming on vacation with us so that is going to limit my reading time.  However, there will still be idle hours to fill and without a book to read at all times, I will most likely go crazy.

And so I have decided on three.

My vacation picks.

My vacation picks.

One that I have tried to read a couple of times in the past and am determined to finish; one that a dear friend gave me to read and her recommendations are always spot-on; and a back-up in case I actually manage to finish the first two.

Because I don’t think I can handle having to read another sports biography.

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When I was a kid my parents had a huge dictionary that sat on a shelf on the wall unit in our family room.  It was so big that it took up the entire shelf, all by itself.  It sat right down near the ground because it was so heavy you couldn’t really pick it up (or at least I couldn’t) and you kind of had to slide it off the shelf and onto the carpet in order to open it.

It’s probably been almost 20 years since I’ve seen it but if I close my eyes I can picture the cover as though it were yesterday.  Whenever I opened it the spine would crack, making a very satisfying noise, and it had those finger holes along the side, marking where each new letter started.  The pages were whisper thin and would slide through my hands like silk.  I remember running my fingers across the letters, in awe of the fact that I had in my possession one book that held all of the words in the world (or so I thought at the time).

I remember running downstairs at random, just to pull that huge book off the shelf and look up a word, any word, it didn’t really matter which one.  I would read it over and over, rolling the sound of it around in my mouth, trying to memorize the meaning to ensure I used it properly.  Even then, I knew there were few things in life worse than using a word incorrectly.

My parents have moved three times since leaving my childhood home and somewhere along the way, the dictionary was discarded, along with the set of encyclopedias and the record player, lost to downsizing space and upgrading technology.

Now I guess we are supposed to look words up online, using one of the dozens of electronic dictionaries that now exist.  I really feel like it’s lost some of the magic though.  You can’t run your fingers across a computer screen and be inspired by all of the words your fingers touch.  Well, maybe some people can, but I’m more of a “hard copy” girl.

So the other day when I was cleaning out a shelf in my basement and I came across a smaller, and less fancy version of that dictionary, I took a pause.  It took my mind a minute to go back to the place in my memory where this particular dictionary existed but I finally got there.  I majored in Journalism in university and one of my professors mandated that each of us purchase a dictionary.  Not a pocket-sized one but a full-size, unabridged, Canadian dictionary.  ‘Canadian’ so that colour would be spelled colour and not color, which belongs to our neighbours to the south.  That’s neighbours spelled neighbours, not neighbors.  You get the idea.  And so I went out and bought one, used it frequently over my four-year university career and then promptly packed it away and forgot about it.

But for some reason I have kept it all these years, making move after move after move, packed in box after box and unpacked onto shelf after shelf.  I don’t know why.  I can’t even remember the last time I cracked it open but something stopped me from getting rid of it.

And the other day when I rediscovered it again, after all these years, I pulled it off the shelf in the basement and took it upstairs to the room where I do my writing.  There’s nothing pretty about it.  It has a bright red cover that has been bent and folded over years spent being shuffled around.  The pages aren’t smooth or shiny, but rather are kind of rough and, if I hold them close enough, have a faint dusty odour.  It’s also horribly outdated; and probably was even when I bought it.  The word ‘Internet’ does not have an entry, nor does ‘texting’ and ‘friend’ exists purely as a noun and not the “he friended me on Facebook” verb version that (wrongly) exists today.

But as soon as I saw it, I was instantly drawn to it.  I put it on a shelf right beside the computer so I can see it whenever I sit down to put fingers to keyboard.  Something about seeing it there inspires me.  Something about realizing all those words are there, all lined up neatly on pages, waiting for me to discover them, makes me want to write.  I feel like whenever I get stuck, I can just close my eyes, open it up and pick a word, any word, and use it as a starting point.  A starting point for something that probably won’t be brilliant and it probably won’t be amazing but it will be something, and at the very least I will be sure to use the word correctly.

It’s not the beautiful book I remember from my childhood but maybe one day I will have a writing room big enough to hold a bookshelf, a bookshelf with a space right close to the bottom that could fit one like that amazing book I remember.  In the meantime, I’ll settle for the one I have, and all of it’s 90,000 words.

After all, everyone needs somewhere to start.

startv., n. 1. to get in motion; set out; begin a journey; 2. begin; 3. set moving, going, acting, etc.
(The Gage Canadian Dictionary – copyright 1983)

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