January 25, 2013

A Patient and His Doctor Learn About Empathy

Dr. K is a large, hairy man, and this is my second time seeing him as my GP. The examining room where I wait for him is a mess of folders and needles and pamphlets, the floors scuffed, the walls in need of a coat of paint; it’s as if the doctor and his office staff pursue the aesthetic of the apocryphal teenage boy. As in most any situation where I will be waiting or sitting for any amount of time, I have a book with me. For the occasion of my first physical with Dr. K, I happen to be reading After the Falls, a memoir by Catherine Gildner about her teenage years in America during the rebellious sixties and seventies (which happens to be a very well-written, very engaging book; I highly recommend it). I came across the book when I found it on the kitchen table at my parents’ house; my aunt had lent it to my mother and as soon as I picked it up I was immersed in Gildner’s world. When Dr. K finally trundles in he notices the book immediately. “What are you reading?” he asks, picking up the book with hands that I […]
January 2, 2013


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination – well, that’s not exactly true. Certain names, characters, places, and incidents might be from that mysterious place, the author’s imagination, but most are not. Where are they from, you ask? Well, like any work of fiction, these things come from the author’s own life, her memories, stories of friends and family members, stories overheard on the bus, what she’s read, movies, things she’s misremembered, things she’s fantasized about, things she half-researched, half-made-up, all stirred until light and fluffy with the mix-master of craft, thickened with the flour of wordchoice, raised with the baking soda of time, and baked in the writing-process oven, eventually becoming the novel you are holding in your hands. So yes, there will be resemblances to actual events, locales, and persons, living and dead, and no, they most likely will not be entirely coincidental; but try and keep in mind that in almost every instant, it is done without malice, it is done with only the best intentions: to create something fresh and alive, something that has that most elusive of qualities, truth. All of which to say: […]
September 11, 2012

Blurb’s Blurb

A Blurb For All Seasons After a perhaps-longer-than-intended hiatus, the Institute is back! And to celebrate our return, we’re thrilled to announce the much-anticipated release of Blurbs, our book-length collection of some of the most famous, most controversial, and most down-right brilliant blurbs throughout English literature! Apropos of the theme, here is, in all its blurby splendour, the blurb for Blurbs: As long as there’s been books, there’s been blurbs,* and now, for the first time, in this incredibly awe-tastic collection, these blurbs are available at your fingertips. Included in this raunchy, so-good-it’s-shocking-it’s-not-illegal-or-at-least-frowned-upon book are all the blurbs you’ve loved and cherished. Blurbs from your childhood, blurbs over which you’ve had your first love, blurbs that have grabbed you by the lapels and not let go. All your favourite blurb writers are represented: Stew Mac, Julie Plantain, the husband and wife duo of Lester and Tracy Groovy, and, of course, on the eve of his five thousandth blurb, the one and only, the inimitable Brew-ha-ha Barry. Blurbs is arranged into easy to use categories, such as: Poorly Written; Factually Inaccurate; So Hyperbolic it Hurts; and Downright Silly, with the subsection How Did This Ever Get Past the Publisher’s Desk?. So […]
April 25, 2012

Bookstores (On the Hunt)

Dispatch From The Institute For Things To Do With Books’ Field Agent For some months now I have been on the search. Not for buried treasure, not for the elixir of life, not for untapped reserves of energy, no, but for something that at times is all three: a book. It has been a slow journey. The book is The Rape of Europa, by Lynn H. Nicholas, and it is the comprehensive story of what happened to Europe’s art during the Second World War. I became aware of The Rape of Europa when I came across mention of it in an article I was reading: the book was cited for its description of the evacuation of the Louvre moments before the invasion of Paris by the Nazis. Imagine it: trucks loaded down with the treasures of France, convoying west out of the city in the pitch black, their headlights off to avoid detection, “The Raft of the Medusa,” that gigantic painting of people dying at sea, catching in the power lines. My attention was snagged, my cognitive faculties on fireworks mode: I needed this book. So I did what I always do: I went to my neighbourhood’s used and independent […]
March 15, 2012

Things to Do With Books #444: The Joy of Books

Resting an open book on your forehead. Resting an open book on your chest. Cracking in a new spine. Finishing a book you loved and minutes later starting a new one; finishing a book you loved and not reading anything for two weeks. Keeping a candy-cane coloured string on your wrist in case of bookmark-emergencies. Wondering over each dogeared page, each splatter of coffee, each scribbled inscription, name and date. Trying to unobtrusively catch the title of what the person across from you on the subway is reading (and, each time you do so, remembering that one time you held up your own book so a curious fellow passenger could get a clearer view of the title, and they responded with a look of the deepest offense, as if by acknowledging the fact that people are interested in what other people are reading you were maliciously breaking some sacred taboo). Reading a book of poetry in one sitting. Reading a single poem over and over again in multiple sittings. Memorizing a sentence and leaving it on the voice-mail of every single member of your book club. Hearing the name of a book in a grocery store and picturing its exact […]
February 4, 2012

Welcome to Adverb City

The Institute For Things To Do With Books’ Mailbag Letter #218 Dear The Institute: I am writing this letter to share with you a strange experience of mine. A few weeks ago I borrowed a book from a friend, a collection of short stories by an author I was excited to read for the first time. I started reading the collection, and was enjoying it immensely: however, when I got to the end of the first story, I found the page covered in writing: words were underlined, passages were remarked upon with comments like “brilliant closing sentence,” squiggly arrows traversed the page. I recognised immediately the healthy pencil scrawl of the friend who lent me the book, and while I knew of her habit of writing in the margins of books – a holdover from our graduate school days – encountering it in this way threw me for quite the loop. It took me forever to get through those last few paragraphs. I read and reread the underlined words as if I was stuck in them; wondered at each boxed-in sentence; stared bewildered at “so many adverbs, yet still effective.” Finally, after some struggle, I got to the end of […]
December 16, 2011

Things To Do With Books #27

For this month’s entry we have a simple, yet fun exercise that can really spice up your book reading with minimal effort on your part. We here at The Institute For Things To Do With Books call it the self-induced deja vu. Here’s how it goes. Next time you find yourself in a book store – which, if you are anything like us, happens with frightening regularity, and often when least expected – go out into the fiction stacks and find a book that meets the following criteria: you have not read it; you have no immediate intentions to read it (which includes having it already on your shelf at home, having a hold on it at the library, or having dropped obvious hints around friends and family members as your birthday/gift-giving holidays approach); and, finally, you can see yourself reading said book somewhere down the line, say in two, three, or five years. Once you have found a book that satisfies these guidelines, open the book to a random page, somewhere after page 50 but not much farther than page 200. Now read a full paragraph from this page. There. That’s everything needed on your end. Close the book […]