December 31, 2013

2013: Year in Review

It has been a crazy year. And so much has happened, I feel like I’ve blogged about 50% of it. Maybe 2014 will be quieter and I'll spend the next 12 months just catching up.
Some of the big things:

I changed jobs (back to my old job, but still)
My book came out
We renovated our new apartment (note: this was happening concurrently with both of the above)
We had a major fire in our old apartment, where we were still living
We moved in (temporarily) with my in-laws
We moved into our new home
I travelled all over for writers festivals and other book-related events: Montreal, Ottawa, Eden Mills, Toronto, Winnipeg, Kingston, Victoria, and Vancouver
I won a prize! 

I blogged more than I ever have, and I read more, too. There were a lot of other things I wish I'd accomplished (more writing, for one), but as I keep reminding myself, this was an unusually busy year. I can't be too upset that I haven't finished unpacking all of my boxes or hanging all my pictures. I had a lot of commitments, as well as all the necessary preparation and pre-event anxiety that inevitably accompanies them. 

2013 book-related stuff by the numbers, as far as I can remember:

2 CEGEP talks
2 library talks 
2 book launches (MTL and TO) 
1 public lecture 
9 writers festival events
2 other miscellaneous public readings 
2 book club visits 
1 awards ceremony
1 gala
2 TV appearances
3 radio spots
10 (?) interviews
3 cover photos 
6 photo shoots 
1 nearly nude fundraising calendar

When I remember that all of this was alongside working full-time and moving (twice! kind of), I'm inclined to go a little easier on myself. I really am so lucky to have had all of these opportunities to  promote Bone and Bread, and I hope that I haven't let the book down in this regard. There are writers who are so much better at talking about their books, and just better at talking, period, that it's hard not to feel like one is constantly letting down one's novel. I hope that this is something one can get better at over time.

2013 really has been a year of highs and lows (though mostly highs). Notable best moments were the winning the QWF Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, the Arcade Fire show at Salsatheque on 9/9/9 (!!!!! times a billion), the Ottawa Writers Festival, and my trip out west to Victoria and Vancouver (if ten days can be lumped into 'moments'). 

Worst moments include the fire, losing my grandmother, and some other passing moments of doubt and insecurity that aren't worth dwelling on.  

Actually, the fire was a kind of mixed lowlight and highlight in that I've never felt more overwhelmed by kindness than I was through the generous messages and offers of help we received in its aftermath. It's probably counterintuitive for a disaster to make one feel safer, but it really kind of did. And it made me feel so grateful for what we have and for the amazing people that we know.  

I haven't made my resolutions for 2014 yet, but among them I'm definitely going to include some non-book-related travel and a lot of writing. I also need to listen to more new music and go to more shows, so any suggestions on these fronts are very welcome...

Happy New Year, everyone!

Books I read in 2013

This year is the first year I've ever kept a list of the books I read, mostly thanks to joining Goodreads last December.  I took an inordinate amount of pleasure in tracking my progress in the 2013 Reading Challenge, for which I set a modest goal of 34 books. Modest --- and at the same time more than what I would probably have read in years past. It's hard to tell for sure, though, since I've never kept a list. 

Once I saw that I was on track for reading fifty books, I joined the 50 Book Pledge site, which has a very satisfying shelf graphic. 

The list doesn't truly reflect the number of pages read in 2013.  I didn't include rereads as part of the count, which this year tended to be Victorian novels that I read here and there on my phone (it seems wrong not to count Dickens, even as a reread, but there you go). There are also some books (four or five) I abandoned halfway, which obviously are not part of the list either. A few of these abandonments were only because I lost track of the book in our multiple moves, so as soon as I find them they will likely make an appearance on my 2014 list!

A few of the books I read this year

The list is endlessly fascinating to me (a few of these titles I would have forgotten if I hadn't recorded them), and in case you're interested in the breakdown, too, it's as follows:

By genre:

4 poetry collections
4 short story collections
4 memoirs
4 graphic novels
7 children's/YA books
27 novels 

By nation:

21 Canadian
15 American
13 UK
1 Japanese

By gender:

16 titles by 12 men
34 titles by 30 women

And which was my favourite? Well, to tell you the truth, it's easier to pinpoint the disappointments. The newest Bridget Jones novel, for instance, was a let-down, though it was a decent enough companion during an endless flight delay. My Sister's Keeper, too, was generic in the ways you'd expect (though truly a page turner, in that I literally read it in a day). The Agatha Christie novel is probably the worst of hers I ever remember reading (maybe I should have stopped when I noticed the dedication to her dog), and the Neil Gaiman book, while interesting and genuinely a little frightening (!) is something I somewhat regret buying in hardcover. I seem to have petered out on the Jasper Fforde Thursday Next series, but only after the fourth book. I couldn't stop talking about the first three. 

The Interestings stands out among the novels I enjoyed the most in 2013, maybe partially due to length, as I spent some time with it. I remember loving Juliet, Naked and finding it hilarious, though at this point I couldn't tell you what it was about! In terms of contemporary novels, Malarky and Our Woman has probably lingered the longest in my memory, especially considering I read it in January. The Juliet Stories, too, was beautifully written and has stayed with me in unexpected ways. I sobbed throughout most of the astounding February, and The Fault in Our Stars made me cry a little, too. It pretty much lives up to the hype. The Wayne Johnston novels both made me laugh and laugh, as did Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. 

The book I may have been quoted as saying I wished would never end is The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who not only wrote beloved children's books (including my all-time favourite A Little Princess) but a number of books for adults, as well. From a (guilty pleasure?) narrative point of view, this one truly has it all: rags-to-riches, romance, a murderous plot, all wrapped up in a delightful Victorian package. Even writing about it kind of makes me want to read it again.  

My best discovery of the year is Margaret Drabble, whom I've never read before. I also read my first Judy Blume! (My mother confiscated the only one I'd ever started.) I'm sure I'll read more. 

I also liked how many funny books I read this year. I might not look like a very diverse reading list (certainly it pales in comparison to those of many librarians and reviewers and full-time writers I know, especially in terms of numbers), but many of these books were outside of what I might normally have read in the past (Serious Canadian Novels). 

Most of all, this year I read almost entirely for pure enjoyment (not to bolster something I was working on, or for a panel or for a review I needed to write, etc.), and I really loved almost all of it. Even the handful of books I didn't love were still pretty okay (say, three-star books). Just looking at this list makes me pretty happy about 2013.

I'm not sure what goals I have for next year, though I'm tempted to say Read Exactly Whatever I Want. (This remains, to date, the greatest thing about not being in school. I still savour this freedom, even after having it for so long.) It would be nice to read a little bit more poetry, as I'm always really happy when I'm in the middle of a collection. I also wouldn't mind reading one really great non-fiction book that isn't a memoir.

What are your reading goals for 2014?

December 23, 2013

Snow, reading, holidays

Not much is happening here except for this....

 There is a lot of snow.

I took this photo of our street last week some time (and, rather pathetically, almost slipped and fell down the stairs in the process). Since then, it has snowed the same amount three times over. Yesterday, neighbours with snowblowers were out in force in the back alley, while neighbours without snowblowers hailed and cajoled them or blessed their all-wheel drive.

It took some doing, but we finally got our tree up last week! There are even a few presents under it.

 Our tree!

Today is my last day at work, and I'm looking forward to our first Christmas in our new home. And to heading out to North Hatley for more family time, and some time for snowy walks and cozy reading, too. I complained on Twitter that Goodreads sent me an email congratulating me on having read 45 books this year. But I plan on making it to 50! It's not the end of the year yet, Goodreads! This weekend I finished another, which leaves four to finish before the end of the month. The one I mention here, in this round-up of what the McGill community will be reading over the holidays, I likely won't start until January. And it will probably give me a less impressive total for 2014.

What are you planning to read over the holidays?

December 20, 2013

Mother Superior goes on vacation

A professor in my department went on vacation last week and sent me some photos of my first book relaxing in St. Lucia.  I got a big kick out of them!

 A photo of my first book, Mother Superior, in St. Lucia, soaking up the sun.

On the subject of my first book, it is getting a little bit of a new lease on life thanks to Bone & Bread. I’m really grateful to Jay Miller for this review of Mother Superior on the fantastic

Some of my favourite phrases from this review include “morally piebald” and “the damaging innocence of adults.”  I really like the last sentence, too: “Nawaz’s emphasis on the importance of mothering raises the question of how vulnerable children truly are, as well as the adults they become.” I’ve never described the collection that way (but I find talking about my own writing, especially in a summarizing or thematic sense, very difficult), but this strikes me as very accurate. It really is more about the vulnerability of children than it is about bad or indifferent mothers. Jay, I will probably be quoting you on this for the indefinite future, if that’s okay.

Itty bitty radio studio at CBC

In other writing-related news, I was so happy to be invited in to CBC Radio to take the 5 à 6 Culture Quiz as part of the show's 2013 round-up. I’m kind of a disaster at thinking on my feet when it comes to these things (What’s your favourite boutique? Uhhh…I blanked. Most intriguing artwork you’ve seen this year? Uh, art? What’s that?!?), but I’m hoping the magic of editing will remove some of my ridiculousness on that front. The lesson learned from this is that spontaneity is not my friend (which I already knew). In spite of feeling like no amount of coffee could make my brain work properly, it was really fun to go in and do the taping in a teeny tiny little studio and meet the lovely Tanya Birkbeck and Jeanette Kelly. From what I understand, it will air on the show tomorrow. 

 Jeanette Kelly and I at CBC!

December 13, 2013

Victoria: the rest

The day after the festival I lingered over my breakfast. One of my favourite things about my (admittedly limited) experience with British Columbia is the food.I love the health food obsession in that province. It's nice to know that anywhere I go, there will be an option with edamame or wheat germ.

The hotel had a continental breakfast that was kind of like my dream breakfast, with cottage cheese and fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, hard boiled eggs, and coffee with vanilla soy milk.   The muffin and yummy (and very helpfully wrapped) cereal bar were squirrelled away with me and eaten mid-morning.

First breakfast: consumed. Second breakfast: pictured.

Harbour breakfast view

Then I wandered around Victoria, where I was lucky enough to have two days free after the festival. This was exciting because a) I'd never been there before and b) my friend H. just moved there a few months ago. She kindly consented to playing tour guide and hanging out tons. I hope she doesn't mind starring in many of these photos! I took way too many one-handed cell phone photos,using my knuckle to click the shutter on the touchscreen, and unsurprisingly most of them are blurry. But I took a little more care when there was a person in the frame.

Major features included coffee (I also love B.C.'s coffee obsession and expertise), vintage clothing shopping and an amazing stationery store. We also tasted tons of fancy olive oil and vinegar at this neat place in the market. I would probably have been tempted to bring some home if it wasn't for the potential suitcase disaster involved.

Photos from our wandering:

There are bronies among us.

Victoria: looking pretty

I can really get behind this pie shop sign

We went to Rebar for dinner, which I'd heard of thanks to the famous cookbook but somehow always thought was in NYC. It was yummy.
Rebar, lovely friend, and a bottle of Blue Buck!

Another thrill about my stay in Victoria was that my hotel room was also one of the most amazing hotel rooms I've ever stayed in. It was roughly the size of my old apartment, except with real furniture.

Oh hello, home-away-from-home

The best part was the fully equipped kitchen that made it perfect for saving and reheating leftovers. (Being without food and the fear of being without food is one of my major travelling paranoias.)

Precious, precious leftovers in my hotel fridge

My second day in Victoria was not unlike the first: long breakfast, wandering/shopping, meeting up with H for a movie and late drinks/food. Hurrah for true vacations.

Beautiful sky

More Victoria vintage heaven
A trip to Victoria would not have been complete without a visit to Munro's Books.

Munro's Books of Victoria has a surprisingly imposing street presence (former bank?)

At first I thought they didn't carry Bone & Bread and I was sad, but then I turned around and saw that they had a whole special section for Canadian Literature!

Beautiful CanLit shelves at Munro's Books
 (I love the proximity of Bone & Bread to Dear Life by Alice Munro)

The next morning I left to catch the ferry to Vancouver to attend the Vancouver International Writers Festival... To be continued...!

December 11, 2013

Victoria Writers Festival

(I'm playing catchup here on my blogging, though I'd actually written most of this in Victoria.) 

I had a rough start to my journey that involved horrendous Montreal traffic, missing my flight, waiting a bunch of hours for another flight via Toronto which then ended up being diverted to Vancouver, where we spent a bunch of hours waiting for Victoria's fog to clear. Eventually they sent us to hotels at around 2 in the morning to sleep for four hours before an 8 a.m. flight that (luckily!) turned out to be one of the only ones to make it out of Vancouver that day.

I'd called ahead to the hotel to make sure I'd be able to check in early and get some sleep, and I even got there in time to get some breakfast before an intense power nap until the early afternoon. I was sorry to miss Jan Zwicky's talk on Poetry and Meaninglessness (doesn't that sound amazing?? and apparently it was), but the sleep and shower were more important at that point after a full 24 hours of stressful travelling. 

The festival event itself was stellar...the kind where you're absolutely riveted by everybody's reading and immediately want to run out to buy and read all the books you don't already have. I was nervous before the reading but I was happy with how it went. The other amazing writers were Angie Abdou, Ayelet Tsabari, Sarah Peters, Jay Ruzesky, and Annabel Lyon

It was fun to meet Angie in person after knowing her from Twitter, and Ayelet, after meeting briefly at Eden Mills. (At this point, looking back after the Vancouver festival, it seems crazy to think this was the first time I really hung out with either of them! Love you ladies!) I was sorry not to have remembered to bring my copy of 1996 to get Sarah Peters to sign is one of the few books I can actually locate after the great post-fire-cleaning-move-jumble of earlier this year. 

It was also nice to re-meet Annabel Lyon, though I was a little too shy to say much. (It is just possible I may have accosted her in the bathroom at the offices of the Canada Council a few years back and introduced myself as a superfan. I've noticed that I am way, way more awkward around the women I adolize than the men...or at least feel as though I am...but let's not analyze that here. Is anyone else like this or is it just me?  Anyhow, I'd convinced myself that maybe I had only thought about introducing myself then, but actually hadn't...or that I'd waited for a more opportune moment in the hallway or something...but this remains unconfirmed.) She brought her daughter along to the reading, which was nice to see, so I managed to keep myself in check and not bother her with, well, all of the above!

Here are some quick cell phone snaps from Julie Paul, who was up in the balcony, to give you an idea of the venue.

Reading at the Victoria Writers Festival

We all did a Q & A up on stage later

There were so many lovely readers and people to talk to afterwards that I had to be hurried out to get a ride to the afterparty and I missed checking out the bookstore (which had already packed up)!  My friend H. came with her mom, which was so nice. I love meeting people's moms!

I got to meet other internet writer friends, too! 

Mega-selfie with Ayelet Tsabari and Will Johnson

The afterparty was at the lovely home of festival co-organizer John Gould and his partner Sandy, and it was a beautiful spread! I was unfortunately still really tired, in spite of my nap (and maybe partially because of the time difference, too), and so I caught a ride back to the hotel at the rather respectable hour of midnight (it's respectable either way you look at it...somehow managing to be both reasonably late and reasonably early). Nevertheless, I managed to have a lot of fun while I was there. I also had some really interesting conversations with people about their travels up north and have vowed (again) to make it up there one of these days.

Here are a couple of photos I nabbed from Twitter:

Me and Ayelet!

A photo where you can spot my encroaching fatigue:

 Twitter pals IRL: Me, Angie Abdou, and Ayelet

One party highlight was meeting the daughter of Julie Paul, one of the festival organizers. Thanks to Julie's posts on Facebook, I basically now regard her as a kind of celebrity. She offered me a cupcake (absolutely delicious and looked professionally made, which is not surprising because she has her own cupcake business!) I also got to hear her play and sing one of her own songs before I left. Pretty cool for a girl who (I think) just started high school not long ago. You rule, Avery Jane!


I also got some nice goodies from the festival I've been using a lot, including some nice Victoria Writers Festival bookmarks that I'm using in the, oh, nine or so books I'm in the middle of right now and a giant Greater Victoria Public Library reusable bag with funky graphics that people keep commenting on and which has now been used for groceries, an overnight trip to Halifax, and even trick-or-treating.

All in all, a wonderful festival and a great experience and I'm so grateful to have been invited!

December 5, 2013

more naps, please

I had a major nap earlier this evening, and thank goodness because I am still playing sleep catch-up from last week and last weekend. 

This past weekend was rehearsal for and singing in my big choir concert (singing for four hours on Friday night, and four and half on Sunday), co-hosting a birthday sleepover (remember when you were twelve and parties lasted 22 hours??), and then getting up early on Monday morning to get to the Global Montreal studio for 7:10 a.m. (the time I normally wake up!) to talk with the awesome Richard Dagenais about Bone & Bread and winning the QWF Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. Let's be clear: I am not complaining. All of these things were amazing experiences and fun in their own ways. But I swear I am still tired and tomorrow's already Friday. It's possible that part of the reason is the fact that I ended up going to a party on Tuesday night (haircut party!) and Wednesday (holiday party at work).  It's just that time of year. 

Oh, and last Thursday (in between the four-hour dress rehearsals on Wednesday and Friday) was a 24-hour trip to Ottawa to attend the Governor General's Literary Awards gala! It's also possible that that is what I'm still recovering from. (Yet another to-be-blogged later promise I may or may not live up to.)

Taking pictures in the green room at Global Montreal

Because of birthday festivities, I had to miss an extra concert my smaller choir did on the Saturday. (The bright side is that it meant I got to sit down for one song during a rehearsal last week and just enjoy...and take pictures!)

McGill Chamber Choir rehearsing

Blowing on candles on leftover birthday cake on her real birthday

In other news (and possibly marking the end of book-related activities for 2013), I'm reading with some other lovely writers and looking forward to a delicious meal at Souvenir d'Indochine this Sunday night at a Magical Evening with Canadian Authors. If you'd like to come, there may still be spots available. (I'm really hoping this restaurant is as delicious as promised because it's just around the corner from me.)