Category Archives: Books and stuff

I am the midnight gardener

During the day, I am consumed with work and family commitments. But the night—it belongs to me. Sure, mostly because that is when I have the time to think about projects outside of grocery shopping, making lunches, and paying bills.

The night is for garden-puttering. If you happen to follow my tweets on twitter, you will already know that I pull weeds by the light of the moon—all while the hubs works with me, sometimes laying interlock stone and other times playing guitar to a chorus of crickets. You will also know we like to kick a soccer ball around the yard in the dark while stargazing.

Much of my late night activity is the result of being a bona-fide night owl. I am always more inspired (and productive) when the sun goes down. That is my time to write, paint, water the geraniums, and simply “be.” It is my time to postulate my next project and put my dreams on my to-do list. It’s also the best time to see the day in a whole new light. And what a treat it is to wake up the next morning and observe the results of midnight toil-abouts! Now, if only the neighbors would stop leaving garlic on our front porch (for real). We are not vamps, people. We just enjoy the night.

What can I say? Life happens. I happen later…

What keeps you up at night? What is your midnight garden?


P.S. Books (with pretty covers) also keep me up at night. I’m reading some great garden fiction right now:

  • GARDEN SPELLS by Sarah Addison Allen

Looking for more garden fiction? Check out these Library-recommended novels that have to do with gardens or growing green things. Fun titles like: SECOND THYME AROUND, CREEPING JENNY, BAD GIRL CREEK, and TULIP FEVER! You know you want to…. click here.


Filed under Books and stuff, Inspiration, Life and stuff

Mark Twain’s Full Autobiography to be Published

Some cool book news for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn fans.

Mark Twain’s autobiography is finally going to be published 100 years after his death. The autobiography has been kept locked in a vault at the University of California at Berkeley since his death 1910. Twain’s autobiography will arrive in bookstores in November.

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

You can read more about Mark Twain here on the official website from the Estate of Mark Twain.



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20 Great green reads—eco-books rise in popularity

Alternatives Journal recently released its 3rd annual review of environmental books. Staff compile a list based on an informal survey of independent bookstores across Canada. While books on climate change dominate best seller lists, smaller bookstores continue to stock shelves with more practical titles—fiction and non. In fact, Environmental Fiction is now its own genre.

Here’s a snapshot of some new titles receiving mention or review:

Information is important, but stories are essential. A plethora of recent book titles are out there for you to explore. Join us in celebrating environmental writing—and reading.

Do you have a “great green read” to share?



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Two books, two communities

I think the committee of One Book One Burlington (OBOB) must have a really rough time deciding on a single book for all Burlingtonians to enjoy. I just finished reading Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam, the 2009 pick. I loved it, but I have talked to other readers who say they’re on the fence. But that’s really the point. Getting people talking is what One Book, One City initiatives are all about.

The 2010 OBOB pick will be announced by Burlington Public Library officials at noon on Saturday, May 1 at Youth Fest in Central Park, Burlington. Check out the OBOB page on Facebook to see if you can guess the book from a few clues (just log in and search for obob burlington).

An even bigger challenge? One Book One Twitter, an initiative of @crowdsourcing. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods was chosen today to be the one book that the Twitter community will be reading this summer. Learn more with #1b1t.

Happy reading!


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Changing of the guard at A Different Drummer

According to last weekend’s Burlington Post, one of the things that Richard Bachmann is looking forward to in retirement is having more time to read books.

Hearing about Richard’s retirement, and about Ian Elliot’s new role as owner of A Different Drummer bookstore, led me to reflect on some of the things I learned in the nine months I worked at the best little bookstore in the GTA.

Simplify your life. Live where you work, or work where you live. Don’t lose valuable reading or writing time to long commutes.

Take long lunches whenever you can. This is especially important in the summer. And if you can get a craft beer named after your store, á la “Different Drummer Ale” as brewed by Pepperwood Bistro, enjoy a pint with your midday meal. Just don’t count on getting any work done in the afternoon.

Politeness counts. On my first day working the cash register, Jane taught me to say hello whenever a customer came into the store and to say thank you whenever a customer handed me their payment. It’s amazing to think that such little things can make a difference in a person’s day, but they really do.

A cat makes every space better. I still think fondly of Manda, the bookstore’s recently departed torti, but Abigail, the new(ish) kitten, is quickly stealing my heart.

Canadian authors are larger than life. Literally. Pierre Berton was really tall and intimidating, and I was honoured to have met him at a Different Drummer event.

I’m looking forward to reading Richard’s memoirs if he ever does write them.

Best wishes to both Richard and Ian.


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All I want for Christmas

I don’t know about you, but my Christmas wish list is jam-packed with books. What with a new Margaret Atwood, the Giller short list, and shelves of new and compelling non-fiction, I will have serious eye-strain come the end of January!

Mind you, I still haven’t gotten through the stack of hardcovers I got as gifts last year. It’s not like books go bad, so I will be able to read and re-read them over the decades, but I hate feeling like I’m missing something special.

Many years ago, I got a copy of A.S. Byatt’s Possession for Christmas. Reading that vast, glorious book changed the course of my academic career.

Although it wasn’t a gift, I was similarly entranced by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon when I read it as an impressionable teen. To this day, I listen for women’s voices, or lack of them, when considering our culture’s canon.

Another of my favourites is Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin. That novel took me back to my days at Luther College in Regina, and made me believe that fairy-tale characters walk the corridors of all private schools. I try to read it every September.

What similarly life-changing book awaits me on my “to-read” shelf? Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys and Maria Snyder’s newest series could be contenders, along with the most recent P.D. James.

I had better get reading.

I’d love to hear about the books that changed your lives. Restless Writers, chime in!

Best wishes to everyone for a wonderful holiday and a productive new year.


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Sweet agony

I’m reading Andrew Pyper’s The Killing Circle. In Part One, the reader is introduced to protagonist Patrick Rush, a “recently widowed journalist and failed novelist,” according to the blurb. 

In one of the best expressions of a writer’s envy I’ve ever read, Patrick explains why he got to hate reading the New York Times Review of Books:

“The reviews themselves rarely mattered. In fact, I usually couldn’t finish reading the remotely positive ones. As for the negative ones, they too often proved to be insufficient salves to my suffering. Even the snarkiest vandalism, the baldest runs at career enders, only acted as reminders that their victims had produced something worth pissing on. Oh, to awaken on a rainy Sunday and refuse to get out of bed on account of being savaged in the Times! What a sweet agony that would be, compared to the slow haemorrhaging in No Man’s Land it was to merely imagine creating words worthy of Newspaper of Record contempt.” (p. 20-21, Seal Books, August 2009).

Before his life goes to hell in a hand basket—as lives do in thrillers—Patrick joins a writing circle. Da da…DAA!

Perhaps my fellow Restless Writers would like to pick up a copy. I also recommend The Wildfire Season by the same author.


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On rain, reading and rabbits

Nothing like a rainy Saturday to curl up with a great book. Next on my reading list is The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. I, unfortunately, have not had the opportunity to enjoy it yet.

Here’s how the day has gone so far:

5:00 a.m. Woken up by the sound of our newest cat, Mary Piper, knocking over her water dish. Found and used the paper towels, sighed, and made some coffee. Read the Saturday Star.

6:00 a.m. Went for a long walk. Tried a bit of jogging to counteract the evil-but-delicious hunk of cake I had during a farewell party for a work colleague. Gave up and counted rabbits instead. Still felt virtuous. Early in the morning, watching the sun rise and breathing in the scent of grass and wild chives, it felt like anything could happen.

7:00 a.m. Walked to grocery store for more milk. Remembered to bring reusable bags for once. Had breakfast (fresh apple lattice tarts).

8:00 a.m. Showered. Watched infomercials while brushing my teeth.

9:00 a.m. Worked on my current indexing project for about an hour. Avoided getting distracted by laundry.

10:00 to 11:00 a.m. Continued to work on indexing. I now know a lot about glaciers and glacial landforms. Next chapter—soil erosion.

11:00 a.m. Jeremy wants an early lunch; I am persuaded. We have hot beef sandwiches on rye with gravy, potato salad and pickles. Nap is inevitable.

12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m. Yes, I napped. For a whole hour. Sue me.

1:00 p.m. Once again woken up by feline fumblings. This time it was Two-Wee, asking nicely but incessantly for food. I served my furry master and yawned my way downstairs for more coffee.

2:00 p.m. Drove out to my sister’s place for a quick visit with her and my new niece. Visit turned into a Doogal marathon (my other niece’s favourite movie). Finally said my farewells and headed back home. Rain started. While driving down Highway 6, I thought about stopping by at Beckie’s. I debated with myself: I can’t just show up without calling. Sure you can! Anyway, her phone number is in your cell. I left my cell at home. No, it’s right there, in your purse. I’m sure she’s visiting with her family—or even sleeping in. You’ll never know unless you call. But I have to go work on my index. Oh, you have all night. Live a little. Go, have a nice visit! Okay, I will. But it was too late—I’d already reached Brant Street. (Sorry Beckie! I’ll see you next week.)

Present time: I’m back at the computer, 400 pages of geomorphology waiting for my attention, and I decide to catalogue my day. I didn’t get to my novel, but there are still hours to go before I sleep. I actually feel productive.

Maybe I’ll have time to crack that new book after all.

What have my fellow Restless Writers been up to today?


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The Writer’s Shelf: New uses for old books

I just inherited the full Encyclopaedia Britannica for 2002, and, I must say, the books look quite impressive, lined up neat and tidy across one shelf. The black binding looks official, an impression strengthened by the logo, an engraved gold thistle. The spines still bear orange “For Library Use Only” stickers, which I can’t remove without damaging the covers.

The books were an unexpected gift. An Oakville woman found my name on the Indexing Society of Canada’s website. She had bought the whole set for $15 from a book sale held by the Friends of the Oakville Public Library, thinking it would be helpful as she started an indexing career. At 80, perhaps she was being a bit optimistic. Her husband’s failing health led her to cast aside her indexing ambitions and to box up all 29 volumes (not counting the index and propaedia).

I’m happy to take books if they’re offered. I do have a frugal side, and the 2002 Encyclopaedia Britannica set was probably worth a few thousand when acquired by the library. At the same time, I was gifted with two newspaper style guides, Whitaker’s Almanac 2000, and The Unofficial Guide to Hockey’s Most Unusual Records.

Over the years, I’ve accepted carton after carton of old books. Friends and family know their old sci-fi novels and beach-read doorstops will find a good home with me. Why not? I’ll read anything.

I have also accepted slightly dated non-fiction books in the past. Just yesterday, I came across a third edition of Written Communication in Business, a 1971 college textbook. I can picture this book being carted from class to class by pony-tailed young women—women destined for careers as secretaries, women well positioned to find and wed promising businessmen. There is an entire chapter on dictation, and, of course, no mention of e-mail.

While I likely won’t use this textbook to improve my writing, I can get a better picture of the mechanics and context of business communication in the ‘70s. What would a student of business need to know before sitting down to write a report? How has resume writing changed in the past 35 years? (Would you believe readers were counseled to include their height and weight in a job application?) Was the semi-colon as detested as it is today?

While some second-hand pieces of my library find their way up to the cottage—Nora Roberts and Debbie Macomber being the most likely to be banished—books like the communication textbook will probably stay right where they are. The same goes for other found dated gems, like my second edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage; a decade-old Canadian atlas; and a book on the best home-based businesses of the ‘90s.

As a writer living in and observing the world, I know the books I purchase will fade away, lose their immediacy, become old-fashioned, quaint, archaic. Yet those same resources are the ones that remind me that all I can do is record my own brief moment in time. The instant I write one word, the world has already changed. I am a new person by the time I finish a sentence. Yet that moment of change is what gives each piece its own luminous, eternal significance.

I’m sure I’ll cherish my new/old set of encyclopaedias. The Internet can take me only so far, and I don’t completely trust the communal and changeable nature of Wikipedia. While the encyclopaedias won’t help me if I want to read up on current events, I still value their physical heft and their thoughtful essays. I am left gaping in wonder that all those volumes still only manage to capture just one brief, bright perspective of a vast and varied humanity.

So, a question for my fellow Restless Writers: what resource in your library gives you a nostalgic thrill?

Maria McDonald

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