The chaos of departure: a snow bird’s lament

Every spring and every fall my husband and I make the journey to our “other” home: north to Ontario in the spring, and south to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in the fall.


It’s not an easy move for a historical novelist, not easy wrapping up an office and trying to anticipate what reference books I will need in the months ahead.

This fall my move is additionally complicated by  having two works-in-progress in two different eras: THE SHADOW QUEEN (set in the 17th century court of the Sun King) and my first Young Adult novel about Hortense (set in the Napoleonic era).


I don’t like returning to an office still in chaos, so I make an effort to sort things out before I leave. This usually means taking care of things I’ve been putting off, and the big “No, not yet” chore I hadn’t faced this summer was sorting out my books.

The shelves of my little office have been filled to capacity with books on the Court of the Sun King and 17th century life for almost a decade. I needed to find room for my stacks of books on Hortense and her world (other than on the floor), and so all day yesterday  I hauled books from one place to another. The ping-pong table room is now well stocked with biographies on Sun Court characters, another basement room cleared of the remnants of my Napoleonic book collection, and the floors of my office are almost clear. (Wow.)

Here are my shelves devoted to Hortense:

 Hortense shelves

And here are the books I’ve yet to find a place for:

 books in office

(Sigh. Back to work.)

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.

The smell of a good book

{Photo by Leah Feldon, taken from the roof terrace of our house in Mexico at sunset.}

We’re nearing the end of our half-year stay in San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico. I begin to feel the push/pull of leaving one home and returning to another.

There is always the challenging business of clearing the desk — the piles of papers! — and deciding which books go, and which ones remain behind.

The books that go back and forth are research texts. For pleasure while here, I read almost exclusively on my iPad. There is no longer a good bookstore here (alas!), and ordering on-line is expensive. When I return to Canada, one of my first stops will be at a bookstore.

I love digital reading, but I love books even more, love the sensual dimension of holding a book in my hands, turning the pages, gazing at the cover, making notes in the margins. I love, too, picking out the perfect bookmark (I have quite a collection).

This wonderful YouTube TED talk by Chip Kidd on book design brought all that home to me:

Ah, the smell of a book! As an editor, I loved when the printed book arrived: I would always take a deep sniff. (Books and horses are similar that way.)

What do you love about a book? What books have been extra special physically for you?