Silent book club – getting us through those cold, dark winter days


On a cold, brooding Saturday morning, we bundled up, grabbed our books and gathered again at local cafe Press Books Coffee Vinyl for our second silent book club meeting. Three of us returned from the inaugural meeting in November and two new members joined us. This time, we gathered at a table near the back of the book-lined room (how perfect is that?) with our books, beverages and pastries, eager to share and be warmed by good, bookish company.

We were only together for a little under two hours, but I came away feeling simultaneously calmed, rejuvenated and energized. The reading time was grand (I finished off two books I teetered on the edge of finishing all week, then started a third) and learning about fellow readers’ latest bookish interests and delights was illuminating. The gathering offered other special moments. One member who is getting back into reading asked for suggestions, and one of the books I brought along for her to sample captivated her: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. I was so pleased to see her leave with it tucked under her arm. Another member shared an important milestone: a very special project she has been devoted to for three years is nearing publication.

In addition to coffee, tea, treats and books, Press purveys used vinyl records, and the music that plays in the shop is often from the vinyl selection. Absorbed as I was in my reading, I did let the background music seep in enough to realize that for part of the hour, we were listening to Klaatu. Did that blast from the past add to the pleasant coziness of the occasion?

Here are the books the members our silent book club meeting read and/or discussed today:

I can’t wait until our next meeting, already scheduled for mid-January. I’m certain the warmth of these gatherings will see me through the winter.

Pockets, by Stuart Ross

bookcover-ross-pocketsWhen I first read (well, devoured) Pockets by Stuart Ross, I rushed to Goodreads with my delighted reaction. I thought I would go back and expand on those thoughts for here on the blog, but you know what? I like that initial burst of enthusiasm so much, I’m just going to tuck it in here as is …

Fresh from the last page of this exquisite, poignant poem/novella, let me just tumble out some reactions, like a grateful exhalation. Pockets is a unique meditation on childhood and grief, shifting from dreams and hallucinatory half-dreams to sharpened-pencil-precise memories and images. The shifting continues between childhood and seemingly reluctant adulthood (“I was driving a car, but I can’t remember if I was a child or an adult. I reached a hand to my face. It was rough, unshaven. I was an adult.”) … from fleeting happiness to bewildered despair, from love to anger to yearning. Throughout, the title hovers and takes many forms. Pockets are places of safekeeping and secrets withheld, but most strikingly, pockets turned out (like those of a Red Skelton clown) denote everything from poverty to generosity denied to being drained of every last resource.

Each segment of these beautiful and sometimes quietly harrowing reflections is bottom justified on the page, and even that gives a sense of a narrator who has perhaps reached rock bottom in reconciling his sorrows. But … “Then, out of the sky, my mother’s hand reached down.” So small, Pockets invites you to turn to the beginning and read it again, where new pockets of grace and consolation will be revealed.

Pockets by Stuart Ross (ECW Press, 2017)

Thank you to the publisher, ECW Press, for providing a complimentary copy of Pockets.

Silent book club – looking for time to companionably read together


How did it go?

The inspiration started here … and then it came up in conversation with some neighbourhood friends this summer after a lovely yoga-in-the-park class. We’re now starting to organize our first silent book club get-together at a neighbourhood coffee shop. We’ve scheduled it for early November, when the weather’s getting cooler and folks might be seeking cozier indoor pursuits, still coupled with an excuse to get out of the house and get out and about in the neighbourhood.

As the description at the link above reinforces, a silent book club is a completely no-pressure version of the traditional book club. The idea is that people still gather with books, and do so at a local cafe, watering hole, restaurant or the like, but …

  1. Everyone shows up with their own book or books, whatever they’re reading at the moment or want to start reading.
  2. At the start of the silent book club, you do a quick survey around the table so everyone can introduce themselves and speak briefly about what they’re reading.
  3. Once the introductions are done and refreshments are ordered and in place, everyone puts their noses in their books and reads – for an hour.
  4. When the hour is up, folks can stick around to chat about their books or whatever, or they can be on their way. No pressure!

I recently heard an item on CBC Radio about something called The Loneliness Project. In my mind, the plight of contributors to the project connected with the reference on that Silent Book Club web page to “introvert happy hour”. I certainly don’t want to downplay or oversimplify why people are lonely and how difficult it is to remedy that … but maybe little gatherings like this are a modest possibility.

I’m guessing you come away from a silent book club gathering having enjoyed some quiet fellowship and perhaps having picked up some leads on future good reads. If you hold the gathering in a neighbourhood establishment, you’re helping support your local businesses while you’re at it. Well, this is my humble hope as we anticipate our first gathering. I’ll be sure to report back.

How did it go?

Splendidly! We held our first silent book club meeting on November 4th at local cafe Press Books Coffee Vinyl. Four of us gathered with books in hand – three reading paper books, one reading on iPad and phone. We settled in by the front window with coffees and chai lattes. We not only discussed the books we were planning to read during the upcoming silent reading hour, but other books we’d read recently. We all compiled lists of recommendations and ideas. And then we got to it, engrossed in our reading for the next hour while other cafe customers wandered in and out, the cafe’s resident dog trotted about and the Tragically Hip’s Phantom Power played in the background. The hour went quickly. I felt I’d gobbled great chunks of the novel and poetry collection I brought along.

We’ve already made a date for our next silent book club meeting, in about a month. I can’t wait for what I know will feel like an oasis of calm and thought, just as it did today.

Here are the books the members our silent book club meeting read and/or discussed today:

No TV For Woodpeckers by Gary Barwin
Bella by Terri Favro, illustrated by Ron Edding
In the Cage by Kevin Hardcastle
Next Year For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson
Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer
Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

See also:

Sustained silent reading (Wikipedia) – thank you, Gary Barwin!

Celebrating the beautiful book object – Dart, by Alice Oswald

Most recent of poet Alice Oswald’s many accolades is the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize, for her 2016 collection Falling Awake. While the words on the page are glorious unto themselves without further enhancement, it is even more enchanting and satisfying when an accomplished poet’s beautiful words are showcased with rich and gorgeous packaging. Such is the case with Oswald’s early work, Dart, produced in a special edition by publisher Faber & Faber.

Dart, by Alice Oswald

Dart, by Alice Oswald

Dart, by Alice Oswald

Artist Jonathan Gibbs’ design feels very attuned to how Oswald approached the extended poem’s subject matter, as she describes it:

“This poem is made from the language of people who live and work on the Dart. Over the past two years I’ve been recording conversations with people who know the river. I’ve used these records as life-models from which to sketch out a series of characters – linking their voices into a sound-map of the river, a songline from the source to the sea. There are indications in the margin where one voice changes into another. These do not refer to real people or even fixed fictions. All voices should be read as the river’s mutterings.”

I don’t know what Gibbs’ creative brief might have been for this lovely assignment, but the phrase “river’s mutterings” seems captured perfectly by the lush tumblings of leaves and strands and colours on the cover.

Dart, by Alice Oswald

Dart, by Alice Oswald

This inviting book has already inspired me to share its contents:

Dart, by Alice Oswald (Faber & Faber, 2002, 2016)

Minds of Winter, by Ed O’Loughlin

bookcover-minds-of-winterMinds of Winter, by Ed O’Loughlin has been on my mind a lot in recent months.

As I’ve mentioned before, I regularly prepare readers’ guide discussion questions for some House of Anansi Press titles. Early this year, I had the pleasure of losing myself in Minds of Winter, then finding my way back out sufficiently to put together some questions that I hope did this sprawling, engrossing novel justice.

As I’ve also mentioned before, I’ve discovered that formulating these questions is an excellent way to more fully and deeply appreciate a work. You go in as a book’s advocate when you know you’re compiling questions, because you assume from the outset that people have been motivated to obtain the book, read it and discuss it with others, so there must be some respect for the book and positive perspectives on its value, out of respect for those readers. I didn’t have to work hard to remind myself of this advocacy role, however, because I quickly found myself wrapped up and captivated by the book.

The following are the reader’s guide questions that I developed for Minds of Winter. (These are the questions I submitted to Anansi. An edited version of the questions are provided to accompany the book.) If you’ve read the book, are these questions useful for exploring the book further? If you haven’t read the book, do the questions perhaps spark your interest in the book?

  1. “Maybe stories converge at the poles. Like the lines on the map,” Fay observes to Nelson as they realize her grandfather and his brother seemed to have similar interests and trajectories as they made their way in the Arctic. How does this observation inform the entire collection of stories in Minds of Winter? Are there logical and perhaps mundane reasons for why these stories seem to intersect – at both poles, in fact – or is Fay suggesting something bigger and perhaps more mystical?

  2. How does “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens, the poem that stands as the epigraph to Minds of Winter, serve the story that follows? Select a line or phrase that could best capture the novel’s over-arching theme. For example, argue for or against:

    For the listener, who listens in the snow,
    And, nothing himself, beholds
    Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

    Are all of the characters who survive and even thrive in their time in the Arctic good listeners?

  3. Who are the most attuned listeners in Minds of Winter (referencing again Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man”)? As readers, we are given intimate access to Hugh Morgan’s thoughts as he listens and listens. Who else is a good listener, of either the Arctic environment or of others around him or her?

  4. What useful purposes are served in stories like this, where real-life characters intermingle with fictional characters or, from another perspective, fictional characters are put in front of a real life/historical backdrop?

  5. Exploration and mapping were historically male-dominated pursuits. In Minds of Winter, several women influence the explorers and voyages. Discuss three women who play significant roles or make important appearances in the novel’s different exploration stories.

  6. In the prologue to Minds of Winter, horologists are delving into the mystery of the carriage clock that is purported to be a disguised chronometer from the Franklin expedition. Horology is defined as both the science of measuring time and the art of making instruments for indicating time (Merriam Webster). Give examples from the novel of where the passage of time and use of timepieces helps or fails different characters or enterprises.

  7. The chronometer described in the prologue to Minds of Winter appears, disappears and reappears throughout the novel. The object is a resonant thematic component throughout the novel, but as part of the mysteries being explored, is it an important talisman or kind of a red herring?

  8. “The white planks of the deck were a snow field; the dancers were swirls in a blizzard, figments of a winter dream.” Minds of Winter begins with an elaborate society ball in Tasmania that juxtaposes political and military machinations with seemingly trite society intrigue. Give examples of the several ways in which this opening sequence sets the stage for characters, storylines and themes that follow.

  9. J.R.R. Tolkien once observed the following about the fictional maps designed to accompany his fantasy works: “They are more than illustrations, they are a collateral theme. I showed them to my friends whose polite comment was that they reduced my text to a commentary on the drawings.“ How do the maps included throughout Minds of Winter enhance – or distract or detract from – the novel’s storylines?

  10. Is there significance to explorer John Meares’ repeated declaration “I was trading in furs”, and his observations about whether others he encountered in his travels were or were not also interested in the fur trade?

  11. Does Minds of Winter give convincing evidence of the true identity of Albert Johnson, the Mad Trapper of Rat River?

  12. “Was it to rob her of freedom that Amundsen had sent for her? Is that what possession had meant to him? Was that why he’d flown away in the end?” Bess Magids muses in her final search for clues about Roald Amundsen’s fate. Who in the sprawling cast of characters in Minds of Winter has true freedom? Do all seem to be shackled to another person, to a commitment or obsession?

  13. “Some people slip through the cracks,” enigmatic RCMP Sergeant Peake concludes in his report that closes Minds of Winter. Is that true, or does someone only truly do that if no one remembers them anymore? For example, even though Sgt Peake purports to not know the people he is referring to in his report, we the readers do. Build a case to agree or disagree with this conclusion by connecting it to the concept of people dying two deaths: first, their physical death and second, their death when the last person who remembers them dies.

  14. “[the photograph] showed two men in winter clothing standing at the door of an old-fashioned ski-plane. It was not these men who had interested Bert, it seemed, but two shadows, one on either side of them, cast by figures just out of the frame. Bert had circled both shadows several times with a marker pen.” Several characters in Minds of Winter are situated more out of the stories’ frames than in it. Who casts the biggest shadow?

  15. Family relationships are clearly important throughout Minds of Winter, but are they largely a burden or a blessing? Give examples of both.

  16. Is Fay and Nelson’s final fate tragic or romantic? Is it surprising?

My fascination with the book didn’t end when I handed in the questions, however. A potential opportunity to promote a work of my choice from an Ontario-based publisher inspired me to record a 30-second review of Minds of Winter … which you can, er, endure right here:

… and if you don’t want to listen, here’s basically what I had to say:

Minds of Winter continues with the legendary Franklin expedition from where the likes of Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler and Stan Rogers left off. [Author Ed] O’Loughlin melds historical fact with enigmatic fictional characters, blending in World War I intrigue, Inuit life and traditions, polar climate and terrain, ghosts, hallucinations and maps, lots of maps. The maps are kind of ironic because this is a story about people who are lost or who want to be lost.

Oh no, I won’t make a habit of book vlogging. It’s good book reviewing practice, mind you, to force yourself to boil it down to 30 seconds. That was fun.

Thank you to House of Anansi Press for the opportunity to read an advance version of Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin.

See also:

Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin (House of Anansi Press, 2017)

Fever Dream, by Samanta Schweblin (translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell)

“I see my feet walking and I wonder if I am the one moving them.”

bookcover-schweblin-fever-dreamSamanta Schweblin’s vivid snapshot of a nightmare is at its most unnerving when it alights on paralyzing moments of bodily disconnection. What compels the reader to endure the at times unbearable tension of this deceptively slim novella is the equally powerful moments of tender connection and intimacy. The tale captures two portraits of intense motherly devotion against a murky backdrop of what might be a toxic environmental disaster, or might be some other (or otherworldly) form of menace. Those moments of connection also include the fleeting kindnesses of strangers, just as dreams sometimes forge emotional affinities where they are least expected.

The rewards of those moments of connection, and awe at the grip and momentum of Schweblin and translator Megan McDowell’s words are what will hold the reader to the end. It won’t be the closure of a clear explanation or resolution.

(As a haunted, rattled and very appreciative reader, I can’t begin to imagine how Schweblin’s Lynchian vision had to have taken root in translator McDowell’s mind. She likely had to live with and be immersed in it more than anyone.)

You’re relieved when a nightmare releases you back to reality … but you don’t soon forget it, you don’t soon disengage its tendrils.

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell (Riverhead Books, 2017)

A, by André Alexis

A, by André Alexis bookcover-aAndré Alexis’ novella A packs an incredible amount to enjoy and ponder in its infectious 74 pages.

To start, it’s a charming celebration of place. As Toronto book reviewer and aspiring poet and novelist Alexander Baddeley makes his way through his city’s streets and neighbourhoods, they are shown as simultaneously muted and vibrant, welcoming in understated fashion:

“It was again November. Parkdale was grey, but it was a soft grey. Its streets were wet; its pedestrians in half-unbuttoned coats.”

It’s also a sly CanLit romp, oh my. Though the inspiration for Gil Davidoff is thinly veiled (“I’m writing about all the great television I’m making my son watch”), it doesn’t make the character and his ilk and their haunts and machinations any less deliciously observed and criticized. Baddeley circulates in the peripheral waves around other recognizable literary names (Alexis doesn’t always mask them), making wicked observations:

“… it seemed to Baddeley that there was something of the iguana to her …”

A is also a meditation on the nature of artistic inspiration. It offers reflections on mortality and spirituality, rendered haunting and given profundity as they emerge in the midst of the novella’s savoury mischief.

A, by André Alexis (BookThug, 2013)

The Two of Us, by Kathy Page

bookcover-pageKathy Page’s hypnotic short story collection The Two of Us reinforces its title from the first to the last of its unforgettable tales. Each story, unto itself and building successively, piece by piece, spirals in and out from the power of duos and duality. That power is dizzying, and intensifies and deepens with each relationship depicted … and discovered.

The force, the impermeability, the intricacy and the mystery of different types of bonds run the gamut in Page’s collection, from every type of familial configuration – siblings, parents/spouses, parent/child – to former, current and possibly future lovers, to teacher/mentor and student, to service provider and client, to colleagues, and even to human/animal connections. Each pairing offers something that strikes a chord – or something discordant, which still makes an impression, however uncomfortable – and many are piercingly moving.

Sometimes “the two of us” are lost, sometimes found, sometimes sadly not realized or discerned. Your heart breaks for the child who pursues what she thinks is the dog for which she has yearned and, woefully, has emulated with her adoptive family. Sometimes, the most striking and poignant reactions are for couples that seem at first glance to be the most ephemeral or perfunctory. A hairdresser called to substitute in for another stylist makes a startling connection with a client who has a wrenching special request.

Page’s words and observations range from the whimsical …

“On the way back to her house, Sonia posted the quiche into a letterbox.” (from “The House on Manor Close”)

… to the painful but vital:

“It’s such a soft but sudden feeling … the sensation of what used to be turning itself, in the space of a breath, into the beginning of something else.” (from “Open Water”)

Those words come from the final, extended story in the collection, in which one of the unique pairs is the main character, a swim coach and parental figure to a young woman who, although she has Olympic-calibre gifts, has decided to give up the sport. Somewhat buried in the story beneath this central and absorbing relationship is another pair: the two different identities, including different names, that the swim coach has assumed over the course of his life. While the story of the mentor and mentee is as richly affecting as all in this collection, Page reminds us tellingly that sometimes we cannot join in any kind of harmony with others until and if we can reconcile our own dualities.

See also

An added delight of The Two of Us is that the cover was designed by David Drummond. I’ve praised his work on covers for Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott and New Tab by Guillaume Morissette.

The Two of Us, by Kathy Page (Biblioasis, 2016)

What I read in 2016

When I graduated from university, I started to keep track of my books read in this wee diary that was a gift from my roommate.


I started the books diary in 1983. It’s coming apart at the seams a bit. Over the years, I’ve backed up my list in databases, spreadsheets, Goodreads and other book apps du jour … but I’ve always updated this little diary as part of my reading routine. Yes, this book and this part of my reading ritual is getting on 34 years …


Here are the books I read in 2016 – once again, diligently recorded in my book diary, along with a backup spreadsheet and Goodreads – with links to reviews where I have them. By the way, this is an exhaustive, “all of” list, not a “best of” list.

I continued my commitment in 2016 to a daily devotion to at least one poem … and usually more, as friends on Twitter continued to generously share their poem choices and reflections via the #todayspoem hashtag. Now five years in, I still haven’t missed a day, both contributing and enjoying selections from others in this edifying, often spirit-lifting and vital communal experience. I’ve now pondered the works of close to 1,000 unique poets, writers, translators, songsmiths and wordsmiths I’ve revisited or unearthed myself, and countless more via others wielding that often revelatory hashtag. On into its sixth year, I’m continuing with my #todayspoem habit every day heading into 2017. I hope many contributors will continue or join anew.

I welcomed some wonderful and insightful guest reviewers and correspondents to this blog in 2016. I’m so grateful for the time and thought they spent on their pieces, from which I learned a lot and hope you did, too. Let’s revisit them again:

Here are the books I read, reread and read aloud in 2016. Wherever I go, I try to carry a book with me, so for each book, I’m also going to try to recall where I was when I was reading it.

  1. Hope Makes Love
    by Trevor Cole

    I vividly recall reading this book at the cottage during the wintry first days of the new year.

  2. The Beauty of the Husband
    by Anne Carson

    I was reading this amazing book while waiting for a friend who was arriving by GO Train at Toronto’s Union Station. We were meeting another friend to go to a poetry reading – how perfect is that?

  3. Fates and Furies
    by Lauren Groff

    I distinctly recall reading this engrossing book snuggled in bed.

  4. A Little Life
    by Hanya Yanagihara

    I went through a protracted period of insomnia last winter and if, after trying to relax and consciously breathe myself back to sleep, I was still wide-eyed in the dark, I would turn on my little book-light and read. This book actually didn’t help get me back to sleep – quite the contrary – but it was stunningly memorable company during those sleepless hours. What an unforgettable wallop of a reading experience.

  5. The Mark and the Void
    by Paul Murray

    I read this two-volume paperback (a very interesting packaging of the story) mostly at our dining room table. It was February, when this household observes a month of abstinence from alcohol, so the accompanying beverages were likely tea and coffee.

  6. bookdiary3

  7. Between You & Me
    by Mary Norris

    I took this entertaining book with me on more than a few subway rides.

  8. When Words Deny the World
    by Stephen Henighan

    This book kept me company on streetcar rides to physiotherapy appointments.

  9. The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl
    by Sue Goyette

    I read this gorgeous book (also a gorgeous book object) at home.

  10. Just Watch Me – The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1968-2000)
    by John English
    (read aloud)

    A lot of our reading aloud takes place in the kitchen, with my talented husband cooking and me singing for my supper. We actually read a lot of this book during the interminable 2015 Canadian federal election and it was a great reminder that there were dedicated, thoughtful and honorable politicians of all political stripes as recently as just a generation or two ago.

  11. M Train
    by Patti Smith

    I read this sweet, luminous book at home.

  12. All the Gold Hurts My Mouth
    by Katherine Leyton

    This poetry collection was company on several subway rides.

  13. Birdie
    by Tracey Lindberg

    This book was warm and fascinating company on streetcar rides to physiotherapy appointments.

  14. Innocents and Others
    by Dana Spiotta

    Among his many talents, my husband is a great seeker and finder of first editions of books. When I fell in love with author Dana Spiotta on the basis of this intriguing New York Times Magazine interview, he made it his mission to find all of her novels for me. And then I read them all this year. To a book, they were amazing. I already can’t wait for what she’ll do next.

  15. Don’t Be Interesting
    by Jacob McArthur Mooney

    I read this collection (which had me at the John Darnielle references) at home and on public transit.

  16. Model Disciple
    by Michael Prior

    This collection was fine company during the continued streetcar rides to physio appointments.

  17. Tell: poems for a girlhood
    by Soraya Peerbaye

    You know what? I was so wrapped up in the entrancing, often horrifying but also heartwrenchingly beautiful world of this collection that I in fact don’t recall a specific place or moment when I was reading it. What does that say?

  18. Lightning Field
    by Dana Spiotta

    I read this book at home, probably mostly at my desk and the dining room table.

  19. Providence
    by Anita Brookner

    I read this tiny, battered, much loved paperback on the subway, where a fellow passenger remarked that it was her favourite Brookner.

  20. Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments
    by Ulrikka S. Gernes, translated by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen

    This poetry collection accompanied me on more than one road trip.

  21. Who Needs Books? Reading in the Digital Age
    by Lynn Coady

    I pretty much read this in one sitting … with lunch.

  22. Sustenance … lunch with Lynn Coady's nourishing Who Needs Books? @clcualberta #canlit #books #bookstagram

    A photo posted by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  23. Caribou Run
    by Richard Kelly Kemick

    I read this very fine collection at home, on public transit and I recall packing it along to the cottage, too.

  24. The Mercy Journals
    by Claudia Casper

    I remember reading this haunting novel late at night at the cottage.

  25. Zero K
    by Don DeLillo

    I vividly recall reading most of this book in an incredible, absorbing whoosh while driving home from the cottage. (No, I wasn’t driving.)

  26. Saints, Unexpected
    by Brent van Staalduinen

    I remember reading this fine and amiable book while relaxing on the back porch.

  27. All That Sang
    by Lydia Perovic

    I pretty much had this captivating book read in a couple of subway rides and a sit on the front porch.

  28. Stone Arabia
    by Dana Spiotta

    I remember being absorbed in this book while sitting on the cottage dock with a refreshing beverage or two.

  29. The Quotations of Bone
    by Norman Dubie

    Subway reading, I do believe …

  30. Independent People
    by Halldor Laxness

    This one took a while to read – which was fine, as it was a read to savour and get immersed in – so I had it with me everywhere. It’s another book that a fellow subway rider remarked on, most enthusiastically.

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  32. I’m thinking of ending things
    by Iain Reid

    I had the good sense to only read this book during daylight hours.

  33. The Hatred of Poetry
    by Ben Lerner

    Some subway rides went quickly with this wise book for company.

  34. Thirteen Shells
    by Nadia Bozak

    I was reading and enjoying this book during a weekend visit with friends at our cottage.

  35. Yiddish for Pirates
    by Gary Barwin

    This book was thoroughly delightful company during a week’s vacation at the cottage.

  36. History’s People
    by Margaret MacMillan
    (read aloud)

    We read this book aloud – and learned a lot about greater and lesser known historical figures – during cozy reading sessions at home and at the cottage.

  37. The Cauliflower
    by Nicola Barker

    Not my favourite Barker, although Barker remains one of my favourite writers … I read this book while on my own for a working week at the cottage.

  38. The Dancehall Years
    by Joan Haggerty

    Remembering this book reminds me of our shade-dappled dock at the cottage.

  39. The Clay Girl
    by Heather Tucker

    I will remember The Clay Girl and the next book on this list, Still Mine, side by side and as my constant companions everywhere (home, out and about, cottage) for two or three weeks. I had the honour in 2016 of moderating a couple of special book club events for the Toronto Word on the Street Festival. Selected contest winners qualified for small, private book club meetings with authors Heather Tucker and Amy Stuart, and it was my job to introduce them to their book fans and keep the conversations going with pertinent questions about their respective books. I prepared exhaustively with questions and observations … but then didn’t need a lot of those preps because those book fans showed up excited, motivated and brimming with their own wide-ranging queries and reflections. It was really rewarding to see such warm and dynamic meetings of readers and writers – truly wonderful!

  40. Still Mine
    Amy Stuart

    See my comments about The Clay Girl … I also recall enjoying Still Mine on a coffee shop patio on a sunny Saturday morning while waiting for my husband.

  41. English is Not a Magic Language
    by Jacques Poulin, translated by Sheila Fischman

    This charming novella was good subway company.

  42. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
    by Mona Awad

    I read this book at home and out and about.

  43. The Best Kind of People
    by Zoe Whittall

    I read this book at home and out and about.

  44. The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses
    by Michael e. Casteels

    I recall being wrapped up in this enchanting little collection while waiting for my husband to join me for dinner out.

  45. The Tobacconist
    by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins

    I read this fascinating and rather prophetic book at my desk in my home office, as I prepared the readers’ guide / book club questions for this book, offered by House of Anansi Press.

  46. The Emily Valentine Poems
    by Zoe Whittall

    A squirrel jumped up next to me on the park bench I was sitting on as I read this while waiting for a friend in a parkette outside her office in downtown Toronto.

  47. Wenjack
    by Joseph Boyden

    I read this small, moving book in one sitting at home.

  48. Thrillows & Despairos
    by Chris Chambers

    I discovered this collection when I heard Chris Chambers read from it at the 2016 International Festival of Authors, and I ran to the book table and purchased it right after the reading. Immersive indeed!

  49. Do Not Say We Have Nothing
    by Madeleine Thien

    This beautiful book was constant, contemplative company at home throughout the fall.

  50. The Goddess of Fireflies
    by Genevieve Pettersen, translated by Neil Smith

    I remember standing on subway platforms with this book in my hand.

  51. Where’d You Go, Bernadette
    by Maria Semple

    I remember carrying and reading this sweet book on transit and waiting for friends at restaurants and before musical events in late November.

  52. Eat the Document
    by Dana Spiotta

    I read this intriguing book, the final in my year-long Dana Spiotta-fest, at home.

  53. Based on Actual Events
    by Robert Moore

    Devoured in just a few subway rides, I believe …

  54. The Break
    by Katherena Vermette

    I had this absorbing book with me at home, out and about and even on a wintry trip to the cottage.

  55. bookdiary5

  56. Life On Mars
    by Tracy K. Smith

    I stayed up late reading this gift on Christmas night.

  57. #Poetry break after all the holiday excitement … #airedalesofinstagram

    A photo posted by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  58. Pond
    by Claire-Louise Bennett

    I treasure this quirky read, a spontaneous gift from a lovely colleague.

  59. The Albertine Workout
    by Anne Carson

    Another Christmas gift, I read this poetry pamphlet pretty much in one gulp while sitting at my home office desk.

  60. bookdiary6

In 2016, I read a total of 54 works: 32 works of fiction (novels and short story collections), 15 poetry collections and 7 works of non-fiction. I re-read one book, read 4 works in translation, and read 35 works by Canadian authors. My husband and I read two books aloud to each other this year and have a third in progress as we greet the new year.

Currently in progress, heading into 2017:

Looking back fondly on my 2016 reading, looking forward eagerly and with anticipation to my 2017 reading, I’ll simply conclude (as I’ve done in previous years) …

It’s not how many you read that counts. It’s that you read that counts.

Postscript (added January 11, 2017)

I love the discussion this post has sparked, both here and on social media, including some debate about whether or not such list-keeping is usual or kind of nutty/anal-retentive. Obviously, keeping these lists every year is part of enjoying my reading. I’ve added a bit more to my scrutiny of what I’ve read every year, not so much with a view to altering the flow of what I decide to pick up and read every year as to just be aware if there was more or different directions in which I should explore. So, for example, I’ve looked in recent years at how much fiction vs non-fiction vs poetry I read, and how many works in translation, how much Canadian versus international literature, how many rereads, read-alouds, etc, etc, etc. Because the lists are easy to scan, I can quickly figure out the author gender mix every year … just to see how I’m doing, usually not to be corrective in my reading habits.

One thing I’ve decided to add to my record-keeping in 2017 is the publication year of each book read, to gauge how much current/hot-off-the-press vs back catalogue/older stuff I’m reading. I love that everyone who has joined this conversation loves their reading, loves to examine it to some extent and loves to share it. We all learn and benefit from that.

Another postscript (added March 17, 2017)

emsley-book-journal2Sarah Emsley has segued a career teaching writing at Harvard University to her beautiful blog, where she writes about Jane Austen, Jane Austen for kids, Edith Wharton, Lucy Maud Montgomery and other writers, and about places she loves (especially Nova Scotia and Alberta). I am thrilled that she has taken a cue from this blog post to restart her own handwritten “books read” journal … and oh my, her journal and mine are twins!