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April 2011

Monkey’s Paw (favorite book haunts #2)

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The thing about book buying in our digital age is that it is very easy to find what you ARE looking for and even what you MIGHT be looking for (i.e. “customers who bought this item also bought…”) Less easy is to find what you are NOT AT ALL looking for.

Antiquarian bookstores (a dying breed) offer that possibility of swerve. So, every now and then, I like to take off my literary blinkers and look around a used bookstore. Even a few minutes of browsing can unearth unexpected treasures.

The Monkey’s Paw has become my favorite go-to shop for odd and old books. Curated by owner Stephen Fowler, the store is home to a collection of mostly non-fiction books fitting his criteria of “the beautiful, the arcane, the macabre and the absurd.” On any given day, the window will showcase a motley assortment of books on gems, aircraft engines, nuclear brinkmanship, opera, metaphysics… Among my recent finds: A Close-up Look at Insects and Yoga Illustrated Dictionary.

If you haven’t done so lately, I’d highly recommend visiting a used bookstore. Forget the tried and true, it’s the twists that take our minds out of gridlock.

Type Books (favorite book haunts #1)

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It may come as no surprise to hear that I am a bibliophile. I came to write books because I love them so much. I love to touch, smell, peruse and collect them. (Yes, I also like to read them.) Over the years I have amassed a modest but special collection of rare books, first editions, pop-up books, typographic books, books with unusual bindings.

I happen to have the great fortune of living within short walking distance of several amazing book destinations.

The first: Type Books. A fabulous, beautifully-curated indie bookstore on Queen Street West in Toronto.

In celebration of its fifth anniversary (April 30), Type is hosting a full-day party and I will be one of 18 local authors who will perform a “pop-up” reading at the event. (Come out and hear David Wall accompany me on guitar with his rousing number “The Tines They Are A Changing.”)

Happy Birthday Type! Here’s to another successful five years. xo

(More neighborhood book haunts to come…)

Uncle Andrew and the Sixties

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I’ve always had a special fondness for my Uncle Andrew (my father’s half brother.) Andrew is a creative roamer who divides his time between Brighton, Paris, Sollier (Mallorca), and Asilah (Morocco.) When I was a child, I remember hearing about his latest adventures as a restauranteur, screenwriter, filmmaker, musician, photographer, etc. (There must have been a few stories dealing with his mishaps but if there were I’ve forgotten them.) The romance of Andrew was that I always imagined him doing everything brilliantly and dashingly.

In person, the first thing that strikes you about Andrew is his deep restlessness. It is almost impossible for him to sit through a meal without circling the restaurant or leaving the premises or joining a neighboring table or even offering his services to the kitchen staff. He gravitates towards corners, loves to people watch, interviews random people he meets.

All this peripatetic energy and curiosity is there in his sixties’ photographs—the unexpected angles, the feeling that you will constantly happen upon stuff if you just open your eyes and look around.

Here is Andrew on Andrew (and the sixties):

Born – England. Early childhood – rural Sussex. Expressed an interest in photography when quite young. (Birds). Left school at fifteen with no qualifications. Moved to London aged sixteen – was a bicycle messenger for a film company. I still remember every alley and shortcut in the West End through which one can – or could – manoeuvre a bicycle. Soho was then an energetic, cosmopolitan village and I grifted along on my salary of four pounds ten shillings a week. I was elevated to cutting room trainee but was fired after 18 months. Aimless, my father gave me a camera and I began shooting pictures of what I saw around me, London – 1967 onwards. I taught myself darkroom technique and adopted a simple, reportage style of shooting. I found myself photographing John Lennon, Allen Ginsberg, Francoise Hardy, Jimi Hendrix, Jean-Luc Godard and in bed – literally – with Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg. It was a different world, virtually no security, everyone was friendly and compliant. I developed an interesting, eclectic portfolio of pictures – the famous and the anonymous – which evolved into a small but comprehensive view of late sixties London.

Check it out:

Hope Blossoms

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Please excuse the lapse in my blog, I’ve been busy working with a group of Toronto artists on an upcoming benefit for Japan. Here is the info. I hope you’ll join us if you’re in town.

Toronto To Japan: Hope Blossoms

Canadian literary icons Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, along
with renowned environmentalist David Suzuki, former Blue Rodeo frontman Jim Cuddy, head a star-studded cast joining forces in Hope Blossoms, a variety show organized by Toronto to Japan to assist relief efforts in that
country’s hour of need.

APRIL 21, 2011
350 King Street West


Toronto to Japan is a Toronto-based collective of Canadian artists,
musicians, writers, activists and business leaders organizing events
to raise funds for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in
northeastern Japan.