Dear Santa: the drool-worthy books I lust for (and you will too)


(Yes, this is me, once-upon-a-time.)

I thought I’d mention the books I swoon over—books you might want to consider buying for yourself, or giving to a very special someone.

Lost in Translation

The first book on this list is Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Catalog of Beautiful Untranslatable Words from Around the World. The amazing Marie Popova mentioned it on her blog——and I was immediately captured. Why?

Well, judge for yourself. This is just one example:


 TSUNDOKU: a Japanese noun for leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books.

 Ha! Say no more! I need this book—to pile on all the others.

The Book of Miracles

Another book that sets the imagination afire is Taschen‘s The Book of Miracles.

The illustrations are breathtaking. Click here for a slideshow. Some examples:

Untitled 2 Untitled Untitled3

At one point this fall, I decided that I really must have a complete set of Penguin’s Dropped Cap series—until I remembered that my publicly-announced goal was to begin culling books. ;-(

Even so, I might just give in. These books are luscious and beautifully crafted; a complete set would be something to behold. They are, also, classics well worthy of such care. The cover fabric is velvety: just holding one of these books is a sensual treat. Here are only a few …


I look forward to seeing a photo of them on your shelves.

My last recommendation is a series I know well, for I own (and devoured) two of them. These are the lavishly illustrated and annotated editions of Jane Austens‘ work from Harvard University Press:


I have had the very great pleasure of reading the Pride & Prejudice  and Persuasion editions. Simply superb.

And, as if this isn’t enough to tempt you, there are many, many “best of” lists coming out now. Here are a few lists I found interesting:

The Best Books of 2014, from the Huffington Post

The 24 Best Fiction Books of 2014, by BuzzFeed Books

The best fiction of 2014, from The Guardian

The Globe 100: The best books of 2014

The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2014 This is an unusual list: extremely interesting.

Station Eleven

Two books I’m going to dip into are Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, as well as My Life in Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead.

My Life in Middlemarch

And don’t forget to check out own “best of” summaries for this year:

The best of 2014 in six books, one movie, one plus four podcasts, and three apps

Mags & blogs: my 2014 shortlist


The best of 2014 in six books, one movie, one plus four podcasts, and three apps

I read many, many books this year, but here are the ones I enjoyed the most, in no particular order:

The Paying Guests

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. Kept me up way past midnight. Waters is a master.


Caught by Lisa Moore. Delightful detail, smart dialogue and an intriguing plot. Wonderful! #CanLit

Life After Life

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. Wow. I will read this novel again. If I had to chose one book for the year, this would be it.

The Testament of Mary

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin. I listened to this on, as read by Meryl Streep. Simply amazing.


Longbourn, by Jo Baker. I loved this novel about the servant world of Austen’s Pride & PrejudiceExtremely well done.

They Left Us Everything

They Left Us Everything, a memoir by Plum Johnson. An often-funny yet moving account of dealing with parents’ “stuff” after their death. I wept! I laughed! #CanLit


Of course, I must also mention movies—well, just one, which I watched three times and will watch three times over again, no doubt. It’s the 2005 release of Pride & Prejudice, staring Kiera Knightly. I love this movie so much I can hardly stand it.


Ok, now for podcasts—but again, I’ll just mention one: Serial. It’s a reality-crime-mystery sort of series, and therefore highly unlikely to capture my interest, so trust me on this. It’s very well done—and extremely compelling.

Yet! How can I not also mention the podcasts that have been my daily bread for years? They include: This American Life, Learn French by Podcast, Book Review by the New York Times, and Writers & Company from CBC Radio.


In addition to my standby apps, I became fond this year of: Duolingo and Anki (for learning languages), and Lyne (a game).

And, as if this weren’t enough, here is another 2014 shortlist:

Mags & blogs: my 2014 shortlist

You might also want to check out my last year’s round-up:

My top 5 fiction titles for 2013: virginal and not

My top 5 non-fiction and memoir reads of 2013: a canvas in red, black & blue—irreverent, wise, tragic, and ultimately unforgettable




Sentence Swoon: the wonderful Laurie Colwin


What I love most in a novel are bright, witty sentences.

Here is one from the delightful novel Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin:

To ward off the cold, she wore as a cape what looked like a series of horse blankets with exposed seams. In the yarn shops, she did business briskly. Otherwise, she was a study in manifest chaos.

“Manifest chaos”: c’est moi.


This novel is one of few I’ve reread. If you are in the mood to be charmed by a love story with a difference, I highly recommend it. Actually, it’s two love stories, and what’s different about them is that the women are selfish cads and the men emotional wrecks who fall at their feet in worship of every little nasty thing they say. Refreshing! And very, very sweet.

My top 5 non-fiction and memoir reads of 2013: a canvas in red, black & blue—irreverent, wise, tragic, and ultimately unforgettable

I’ve caught shortlist fever. It’s irresistible—this impulse to sum up the year.

I will begin with the books I gobbled up and which made a lasting impression. It’s a very odd mix this year of wise, irreverent, profoundly sad and profoundly lurid. (Compare it to the well-rounded list for 2012.)

Note: Not included is my very long list of sometimes eccentric research titles.

And so here, in no particular order:


Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed. I loved Strayed’s Wild last year, and so ventured onto her advice-column book, which I loved even more. My daughter loved it too. Strayed is wild and wise and calls it like it is. 

Odd type writers

Odd Type Writers: from Joyce and Dickens to Wharton and Welty, the Obsessive Habits and Quirky Techniques of Great Authors, by Celia Blue Johnson: inspiring and gossipy and fun. Every writer on your gift list would love this book … and buy one for yourself while you’re at it.


Paris, I love you but you’re Bringing Me Down, by Rosecrans Baldwin: about my favourite city, very funny. It’s not for people who are new to Paris, but for those who know it well.

Two  memoirs that will stay with me forever because of their brave, sad and striking beauty, are:


Wave, a memoir by Sonali Deraniyagala. Read this book; it will open your heart. It’s a profoundly moving book about unbearable grief. That sounds scary, but trust me: this is a beautiful book.


Nocturne: On the Life and Death of My Brother, by Helen Humphries; Humphries is one of my favourite writers, and this is a stunningly beautiful and heartfelt memoir.

Now to the fiction shortlist, followed by my essential apps… Stay tuned.

Glutton for book books

I’m a glutton for print books during our Canadian half of the year. The other half my husband and I are in Mexico: books are hard to get and I enjoy the ease of an e-reader, but by the time we get back to Canada, I’m ready to go hog wild.

And I know why: because a book book is a 3-D experience.


I just finished Nocturne by Helen Humphreys. Her writing always knocks me out, but this memoir about her brother, his life and death, is extra special.

I sat for a very long moment after I finished it, teary, holding the book, turning it in my hands, running my fingers over the slightly raised type of the title and author’s name. Turning this little volume again and again, taking in the beauty of the cover image, relishing that curtain-down-on-the-last-act fullness. Encore! Encore!

Yes: a book book. There’s nothing quite like it.

Thank you, Helen, for your crystal clear prose, as beautiful as both music and silence.

And thank you, as well, to HarperCollins Canada and editor Phyllis Bruce: it’s clear that you loved this beautiful book.