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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Literary Tour of New York

Should you happen to go to New York (where I would love to go to see Come From Away, the Canadian musical on Broadway), why not take a literary tour of the city.

To that list I would add two other hotels:
The Hotel Chelsea (at 222 West 23rd St.) had several writers as residents and guests:  Thomas Wolfe, Eugene O’Neill, O. Henry, Jack Kerouac, and Dylan Thomas.
The Plaza Hotel (Fifth Avenue and Central Park South) hosted Truman Capote, Dashiell Hammett, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Carson McCullers, and Dorothy Parker.

There are also a number of bars for bibliophiles:
Chumley’s (86 Bedford St.) had John Steinbeck, Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Eugene O’Neill as patrons.
McSorley’s Old Ale House (15 East Seventh St.) was immortalized by e. e. cummings, and Frank McCourt bestowed to the bar a signed copy of his memoir Angela’s Ashes.
Pete’s Tavern (129 East 18th St.) has a sign indicating O. Henry’s favourite table where he penned “The Gift of the Magi” in 1905.
White Horse Tavern (567 Hudson St.) was a favourite of Dylan Thomas who apparently once downed a reported 18 shots of whiskey at the tavern.  Jack Kerouac mentioned the bar in his novel Desolation Angels.

While in New York, you might want to take a literary tour.  There’s the Bohemian and Beat Poets of Greenwich Village tour ( and the Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl (, among others.

If you love browsing through bookstores, here’s a list of bookstores in New York City:

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Staying in a Book Lover's Airbnb

I’ve posted about a number of literary accommodations in Scotland, Wales, Portugal, and Japan.  These days many travelers like to stay in an Airbnb, and now there’s help for book lovers who want to stay in a bookish environment.

BuzzFeed has a list of 18 Airbnbs with photos and links for making reservations:   There are places in Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Malta, Australia, and the United States. 

BuzzFeed has no Canadian listing but maybe my husband and I could open up our home to travelers.  We have a guest room and a beautiful library!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Attending a Wizarding School

If you are a Harry Potter fan, you might consider attending a wizarding school. 

Housed in East Sussex's 15th-century Herstmonceux Castle, the Bothwell School of Witchcraft will host weekend-long live-action roleplay experiences.  Players will be asked to complete a questionnaire when purchasing their tickets; their answers will be used to design a character for their weekend at the castle.

The school’s website states, “You'll stay for 3 days, full board, and be sorted into your house, take part in lessons, attend a banquet, explore the grounds and meet weird and wonderful creatures.”  Costumes will be provided, but wands will not.

The school does not have the rights to any of the Harry Potter universe so The Bothwell School of Witchcraft is set in an entirely different universe and time with entirely new characters and plots.

The first event is scheduled for Aug. 11 – Aug. 13. 

For further information, go to

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Hereford Chained Library

If you happen to be visiting England, why not take a trip to Hereford to visit the Hereford Cathedral Library with its chained books.  It is the only library of this type to survive with all of the chains, rods and locks still intact. 

Most of the books in the collection date to about 1100.  The cathedral’s earliest and most important book is the 8th-century Hereford Gospels; written in Anglo-Saxon characters, it dates to around the year 780.  It is one of 229 medieval manuscripts which now occupy two bays of the Chained Library.

The chaining of books was the most widespread and effective security system in European libraries from the Middle Ages to the 18th century.  A chain is attached at one end to the front cover of each book, and the other end is slotted onto a rod running along the bottom of each shelf.  The system allows a book to be taken from the shelf and read at the desk, but not to be removed from the bookcase.

The cathedral and its library are open to visitors.  Check this website for further information and opening times:

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Review of FROZEN ASSETS by Quentin Bates

3.5 Stars
I recently read Snowblind by the Icelandic author Ragnar Jónasson and discovered the translator was Quentin Bates who has also written a series of Icelandic mysteries.  So I thought I’d give Bates’ book a try.

Frozen Assets is the first in the series introducing Sgt. Gunnhildur Gísladóttir, known by everybody as Gunna the Cop.  A body is found in the water near Hvalvík where Gunna is the police officer in charge.  It might seem like an accidental drowning but then Gunna discovers that the victim had been seen in Reykjavik severely inebriated so the big question is how he got 100 kms away from the city.  Gunna’s investigations uncover corruption involving the victim’s boss, Signurjóna Huldudóttir, who is married to the country’s Environment Minister. 

It is Gunna the Cop that interests me enough to get me to read more of the books in the series.  She is described as “a big fat lass with a face that frightens the horses” though that is an obvious exaggeration.  She is astute and intelligent and straightforward.  She doesn’t suffer fools easily.  Colleagues respect her.  For me, she is just a character I could not help but like.

Minor characters, unfortunately, tend to be a blur.  I had difficulty differentiating the other police officers.  Only the journalist shadowing Gunna and the villain emerge as fully developed characters.

I enjoyed learning more about the political and economic turmoil that Iceland experienced in 2008.  I had never clearly understood what had happened, but Bates manages to explain in a way that makes sense. 

The story is told from multiple perspectives; being given the viewpoint of the villain certainly increases suspense as a cat-and-mouse game develops. 

I also appreciated the touches of humour.  Throughout the book, blog entries by an anonymous blogger are inserted.  This blogger provides “completely reliable, totally unsubstantiated and extremely libellous gossip about the great and the good of Icelandic entertainment, business and politics.”  Some of his comments are hilarious, though of course his victims are less than pleased. 

I will definitely return to this series because of the protagonist who is anything but a stereotypical police detective.

Free Libraries

Free libraries have been cropping up in more and more communities.  What is a free library?  It’s a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange.   Free libraries come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books.  Anyone may take a book or bring a book to share.

Amongst my favourite free libraries are the book trees in Renfrew County where I grew up.  Free Community Book Trees are currently located in Petawawa, Killaloe, Arnprior, Pembroke, Cobden, and in Bonnechere Ontario Provincial Park.  In an area where forestry was a major industry, it is appropriate that already fallen trees from local forests are used.  There’s a Facebook page with photos of the various book trees: 

The Bonnechere Park tree is unique as it is the first inside a provincial park. Made out of a massive 100-year-old white pine that fell during a wind storm two years ago, this Book Tree is crowned with an authentic Pointer Boat ( 

When visiting a community, why not hunt out the free libraries.  The Globe and Mail even did a feature article on some free libraries in Toronto:  There’s even an organization which can help you find these in your travels:

If you would like to build a free library where you live, you can find advice here:   And check out the tips from someone who has a free library:

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Literary Vacation by Rail

The British Tourist Authority has dubbed 2017 as the “Year of the Literary Heroes” because of its many milestones:  the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death; the 20th anniversary of the release of J. K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel; the 75th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series and 120th anniversary of her birth; the 100th anniversary of the birth of the poet Edward Thomas; the 150th anniversary of the birth of Matthew Arnold; the 50th anniversary of the death of children’s author Arthur Ransome; the 125th anniversary of the death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and the 125th anniversary of the publication of the first Sherlock Holmes novel ( 

To help celebrate this year, Rail Europe is offering a series of literary-themed itineraries from London to surrounding areas.  With the help of the rail company, you can see Jane Austen’s home, visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street, or hang out at the Edinburgh cafes where J.K. Rowling wrote her first books.

“’These stories and authors are treasured around the world, and now is the perfect time to celebrate them on their milestone anniversaries,’ Melanie Albaric, Marketing & Communications Manager for Rail Europe, told Condé Nast Traveler. ‘Many trains offer easy transportation to these stories’ settings or author’s hometowns, so travelers can truly immerse themselves in the worlds of their favorite books’” ( 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Library in a Hotel Bar

Yesterday, I blogged about a bookish hostel in Japan.  If Japan is not on your itinerary, perhaps New York City is.  There’s a hotel bar to check out. 

The NoMad Hotel at 1170 Broadway and 28th St. in Manhattan has a bar with a library with 3,650 books in various genres.  “Everything about the space invites you to sit down and read from the deep-seated leather chairs to the long cushioned couches”(,EORP,4M9UM2,1I2QZ,1).  A glass of wine and comfy chairs in a library – who could ask for anything more!

Of course, if you’re interested in a room, check out the hotel’s website at

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

An Accommodating Bookshop?

If you are a book lover and are fortunate enough to visit Japan, you might want to consider a stay in an accommodation bookshop. 

The Book and Bed Hostel, centrally located in Tokyo and Kyoto, features semi-private sleeping nooks built right into the bookshelves.  With rates starting at 4,445 yen ($53 CAN) per night, everything is set up dorm style with shared bathrooms.  Each sleeping nook has a personal lamp, a privacy curtain, luggage space under the bed, clothes hanger, and power outlets.  Wi-Fi is free.

Apparently there are about 5,000 Japanese and English books from which to choose.  Unfortunately, they can’t be purchased on site. 

Check out the website for further information:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Visiting Harper Lee's Hometown

I am not alone in listing To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee as one of my favourite novels.  For this reason, I’ve always wanted to visit Monroeville, Alabama, Lee’s hometown, which was used as the model for Maycomb in the novel. 

Monroeville calls itself the literary capital of Alabama because Harper Lee and Truman Capote had roots in the town. 

Apparently, one of the must-see sites in Monroeville is the Old Monroe County Courthouse.  The courthouse is now a museum, with the second-floor courtroom restored to its 1930s appearance.  (An exact replica of the courtroom where Lee used to watch her father in court sessions was recreated in Hollywood for the filming of To Kill a Mockingbird.)  There are two exhibits in the museum, one focusing on Lee and one on Capote. 

In the spring, from mid-April to mid-May, an all-local cast known as the Mockingbird Players, stages a play based on To Kill a Mockingbird.  “The first act of the two-act play takes place at the amphitheatre on the lawn of the Courthouse Museum.  Act II takes place inside the historic courtroom.  Once inside the courtroom, you will see the trial unfold as Finch makes a passionate plea in Robinson’s defense. The members of the jury are always selected from the audience, so you might get a shot at sitting on the jury during the second act” (  Apparently tickets sell out quickly. 

A self-guided walking tour, known as Monroeville in the 1930s, is available with sites such as the building where Lee’s father had his law office, the building where Capote’s cousins ran a millinery shop, the location of the Boulware house believed to be the model for the Radley house, and the jail. 

Other places to visit include the Budget Inn (where Lee met Gregory Peck), David’s Catfish House (where Lee was known to indulge in the house specialty), and Mel’s Dairy Dream (located on the site of Lee’s former home).  There’s a To Kill a Mockingbird mural, a Truman Capote historical marker, bronze statues of the novel’s young characters, and a birdhouse trail with several birdhouse designs depicting scenes from To Kill a Mockingbird.  You can eat at the Mockingbird Grill or Radley’s Fountain Grille where Radley’s BLT Supreme is featured in the “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die”.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Libraries in Unusual Places

Libraries are not found only in buildings.  Sometimes, librarians have to be creative in getting books to readers. 

BookRiot has had a couple of articles about finding libraries in unexpected places:

In your travels, perhaps you can find one (or more) of these.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Quirky Bookstores

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the biggest bookshops in the world to visit.  If big isn’t your thing, how about “quirky”?  Bookstr made a bucket list of “well-loved and quirky” book stores:

Of the 20 on the list, two are in Canada, both in or near Toronto:  The Monkey’s Paw, which has a coin-operated vending machine filled with old books, and a self-proclaimed World’s Smallest Bookstore which sells books on the honour system. 

The Monkey’s Paw website is at .

The World’s Smallest Bookstore, unfortunately, is now closed, though here’s an informative article about it and its owners: 
At this bookstore, visitors could pick up complimentary handbills titled “Why I Love Books” with the following reasons listed: 
1) Books are silent.
2) Books do not require hydro.
3) Books do not interrupt
4) Books open easily — no switches or remotes
5) Books can be shut up easily anytime
6) Books cannot be offended
7) Books do not talk back
8) Books do not demand T.L.C. — but get it anyway.
9) Books do not require food or water
10) Books will not feel neglected
11) Books will not send you on a guilt trip if you lose interest or ignore them
12) Books never require medical attention
13) Books do not have commercials
14) A book does not go into a snit if you look at another book
15) A book won’t mind if you are reading more than book at a time.

I guess the Pushcart Bookshop in Sedgwick, Maine, (which was mentioned in yesterday’s blog) is indeed the world’s smallest bookstore:

Saturday, May 20, 2017

World's Biggest Bookstores

Biggest is not always best, but there is something to be said for big bookstores:  “there's something pretty breathtaking about a ginormous room full of all the books your heart could ever desire. Even just standing inside one, staring up at the mountains of books that surround you, is enough to give any book-lover serious chills.” 

One of my favourite big bookstores was The Highway Bookshop located on Ontario Highway 11 near Cobalt, Ontario, which operated from 1957 to 2011. Considered a landmark and cultural institution in the region, it was one of the largest and most famous independent bookstores in Canada.  At its peak, the store had over 300,000 titles in stock in a variety of locations, including the main building, on-site trailers and several warehouses.  It has even had a book written about it:  Highway Book Shop: Northern Ontario's Unexpected Treasure by Lois Pollard. 

But if big isn’t to your taste, perhaps you can visit the world’s smallest bookstore:

Friday, May 19, 2017

Cities of Literature

Yesterday, I posted about book towns, small rural towns/villages in which second–hand and antiquarian bookshops are concentrated.  Well, big cities can also have a literary designation; UNESC, in 2004, started an initiative called Cities of Literature, in order to “promote the social, economic and cultural development of cities in both the developed and the developing world.”

To become a City of Literature a city has to, among other things, score highly for:
·         Quality, quantity and diversity of publishing in the city
·         Hosting literary events and festivals which promote domestic and foreign literature
·         Existence of libraries, bookstores and public or private cultural centers which preserve, promote and disseminate domestic and foreign literature.

There are 20 cities around the world which have received this designation:
Baghdad, Iraq
Barcelona, Spain
Dublin, Ireland
Dunedin, New Zealand
Edinburgh, Scotland
Granada, Spain
Heidelberg, Germany
Iowa City, United States
Krakow, Poland
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Lviv, Ukraine
Melbourne, Australia
Montevideo, Uruguay
Norwich, England
Nottingham, England
Óbidos, Portugal
Prague, Czech Republic
Reykjavik, Iceland
Tartu, Estonia
Ulyanovsk, Russia

If you are interested in investigating any of these cities, go to  It provides links for the cities and explains why they are deserving of the title City of Literature.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Book Towns

When planning your next trip, why not include a visit to a book town? 

A book town is a small rural town or village in which second–hand and antiquarian bookshops are concentrated.  There is even an International Organization of Book Towns.

If you are visiting any of 15 European countries, check the IOB website for book towns to include in your itinerary:

And see this article which highlights five book towns in Wales, Norway, Belgium, England, and Spain:

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review of SNOWBLIND by Ragnar Jónasson

3.5 Stars
This is the first volume of the Dark Iceland series.

Rookie policeman Ari Thór Arason takes a posting in Siglufjörður, a remote, isolated village in northern Iceland, just south of the Arctic Circle.  Soon, in the place where “nothing ever happens”, Ari Thór is involved in investigating two cases:  the death of a celebrated author and an assault on a woman found half-naked in her garden. 

This is very much a type of closed-room mystery.  An avalanche blocks the only tunnel leading through the mountains to the rest of the country.  That event and the oppressive, unrelenting snow create an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia. 

Ari Thór is developed as an interesting protagonist.  He is young and keen to prove himself.  Thus far he has been rather directionless; he dropped out of philosophy and theology studies to become a policeman.  His boss describes him as “inclined to be temperamental and impulsive [but] his intentions were always good.”  He is intelligent, except when it comes to women; for instance, he takes the policing job without discussing it beforehand with his live-in girlfriend whom he knows will not be able to leave Reykjavik. 

The book is not especially fast-paced.  A great deal of time is devoted to giving the background of various characters.  Keeping everyone straight can be difficult, but providing so much information does make the reader feel like Ari Thór, a newcomer to a close-knit community in which everyone knows everyone.   We get to know the villagers as Ari Thór gets to know them.  And, of course, these various people often have motives that make them possible suspects. 

I appreciated that clues are not withheld.  All the information is there; it just needs to be pieced together into an intelligible whole.  The only technique that is artificial and feels awkward is the intentional omission of specific details as Ari Thór gets close to solving the cases:  “It was the name that she mentioned that took Ari Thór by surprise” (without revealing the name) and “Ari Thór asked his question” (without indicating the actual question).

I am planning a trip to Iceland so I must admit that part of the appeal is the setting of the novel.  I may not quite make it to Siglufjörður, but I have come across it in my itinerary research.  Certainly, the book interested me enough that I’m off to read Blackout; the events in it supposedly follow those of Snowblind.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review of NEW BOY by Tracy Chevalier (New Release)

3 Stars
This is Chevalier’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello set in the 1970s in suburban Washington, DC. 

Osei Kokote is a Ghanaian diplomat’s son.  He arrives at an all-white school to attend the last month of Grade 6.  The smart, popular, all-American girl, Dee Benedetti, is assigned to help him through his first day.  A mutual attraction is evident from the beginning, though Dee’s best friend Mimi advises caution.  Mimi’s boyfriend Ian also looks askance at Dee’s relationship with a black boy who also threatens his position as king of the schoolyard:  “Ian would always notice anyone new who stepped into his territory.  For the playground was his.  It had been all year, since he had started sixth grade and there were no older boys to rule it.  He’s had months to relish this domination.  Any new boy posed a challenge.  And this new boy, well . . . ”  Ian uses his sidekick Rod to make Osei suspect Dee is attracted to Casper, the popular boy in the school, even though Casper is involved with Blanca. 

Chevalier’s version parallels Shakespeare’s play quite closely.  The names of the characters clearly suggest their counterparts in the latter.  Besides Osei (Othello), Dee (Desdemona), Ian (Iago), Mimi (Emilia), Rod (Roderigo), Casper (Cassio), Blanca (Bianca), the teacher who distrusts Osei is Mr. Brabant (Brabantio), and the principal is Mrs. Duke.  The handkerchief with embroidered strawberries from Othello’s mother has become a pencil case embossed with strawberries belonging to Osei’s beloved sister.  There are some nice touches:  apparently “Osei” means noble, a trait emphasized in Othello.  When Osei becomes less rational, Chevalier even includes some animal imagery to describe him, just like Shakespeare does:  “he looked like a wolf growling.”  Love changes Desdemona such that she disobeys her father Brabantio; Dee also becomes a bit of a rebel and stands up to Mr. Brabant even though he is “the teacher you impressed if you could – the way she felt about her own father.”   Ian’s last words (“Nothing.  I have nothing more to say”) copy Iago’s “Demand me nothing.  What you know, you know./ From this time forth I never will speak word.”

Though clever in its parallels, this retelling does not always work.  The main characters are in Grade 6 and between 11 and 12 years of age, but they seem very sexualized.  They engage in French kissing and sexual touching, “make out” in corners of the playground, and speak about “going all the way”.  I understand schoolyard drama with its ever-shifting allegiances and ever-changing crushes, but pre-teens 40 years ago were less sexually aware than modern tweens.  (I couldn’t help but think that Chevalier was thinking of Shakespeare’s Juliet who is 11 years old.) The children in the novel are also inconsistent; at times they behave childishly and play childish games but at other times make mature, insightful observations and are very self-aware.  I think high school students as main characters would have been more appropriate.

Another issue I had is the duration of the story.  I understand that Chevalier was following Aristotle’s unities of action, place and time (a single action represented as occurring in a single place and within the course of a day), but she could have dispensed with this theatrical convention since she was writing a novel.  Dividing the story into five parts of the school day spent in a school yard (before classes, morning recess, lunch, afternoon recess, after classes) is a nice nod to the five acts of the tragedy but is not really necessary.  The events occur in about 8 hours at most.

A strength of the novel is its examination of racism.  It is emphasized much more in the novel.  The treatment Osei receives from classmates and teachers is very much caused by racism:  “In some ways overt racism based on ignorance was easier to deal with. It was the more subtle digs that got to him.”  There is no doubt that the racism “a bl – a new boy” encounters is realistic.

The character of the villain is problematic.  In the play, Othello believes Iago because he has made himself seem very trustworthy.   His behaviour seems exemplary so it’s plausible that Othello fall for Iago’s manipulations.  Ian’s behaviour, on the other hand, is not exemplary; he is a bully whom everyone, even the teachers, fears and no one trusts.  There has not been sufficient time for Ian to prove himself trustworthy.  Osei even sees Ian bullying the younger students.  Why then would Osei trust him and believe him so easily?  He so easily distrusts Casper whom everyone seems to like, but he doesn’t question the motives of the boy who is disliked by virtually everyone?  Osei seems exceptionally even-tempered but then rapidly changes into someone quick to anger, and that character change is not believable either.

The book is a quick, undemanding read.  It adapts some elements of the tragedy in an interesting way.  Unfortunately, the use of pre-teens as main characters and the adherence to the unity of time do not work convincingly.  The novel lacks depth; I found myself reading only to see how the author would adapt the ending of Othello.

Note:  I received an eARC of the book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, May 15, 2017

How Much Can You Read in a Lifetime?

If you are like me, your to-read pile keeps growing higher no matter how much you actually read.  Of course I know I’m not immortal and my reading time is finite.  For this reason I find I have less and less patience with books that do not interest me; I am much more likely to not finish a book now than when I was younger and my mild OCD compelled me to plod to the very end of whatever book I started. 

Literary Hub had an interesting article recently about estimating how many books you will be able to read before you die.  Two factors are taken into account:  how long you will live and how fast you will read.  According to their chart, if I reach my expected life expectancy, I, as a voracious reader, should be able to read about 1,200 more books.  See the chart and explanation of it at

That got me thinking to how many books I’ve already read.  I’ve been tracking my reading on both LibraryThing and Goodreads for about a decade now, and the statistics show that I’ve read 745 books in those years.  That number is more of an estimate because I didn’t keep meticulous records until I retired in 2009. 

If you like to track your reading, you might be interested in a new app called Bookout.  It gives you stats and infographics about the time you invest in reading, as well as your reading speed.  According to the app website, the app has several features:
·         Track your books:  Easily track and organise all your books. Quickly add them by scanning or searching for them online.
·         Thoughts & Quotes:  Thoughts and quotes can be easily added for each book. You can add both text and image quotes.
·         Reading statistics:  Gather reading stats that will show your progress and help you understand how you evolve over time.
·         Real time tracking:  You can track your reading in real time as a daily workout. Just start a new reading session and we’ll do the rest.
·         Goals:  You can set up monthly and yearly goals, both help you keep your focus and make a habit out of reading.               
·         Achievements:  Bookout has tons of achievements that you can unlock to keep things interesting and fun.

See for details.  Unfortunately, at the moment, Bookout is only available for iOS.  For a review of the app, go to

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Readings for Mother's Day

Today, May 14, is Mother’s Day.  I thought I’d share two lists I’ve found.

The Huffington Post recently compiled a list of a dozen books about mothers and their children; they are books that “explore parenthood from a decidedly adult point of view”:

BuzzFeed published a list last year which I think has some great suggestions for books to read with your mother:  There are several books here that I will check out.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and those women who are like mothers.