952130-gfCockroach unfolds during a bitter Montreal winter. Its narrator, despite his de facto membership in a community of exiles, is utterly isolated and both fearful and desirous of human ties. As a master thief, he ties himself instead to people’s effects, using them to read the people he cannot trust. He skirts the edges of neighbourhoods, friendships, and drains, trying to stay warm and remain undetected. The story shifts back and forth between the narrator’s mainly nocturnal fossicking on chilly Montreal streets and remembrances of his troubled life in Lebanon. At first the narrator’s self-exile and suspicions make him seem alien and unknowable, but by deftly imperceptible turns Hage reveals a mind and heart as knowable as any other…which is to say barely knowable at all.

Montreal landmarks in Cockroach: the mountain, Old Port, rue St-Laurent, Côte-des-Neiges, Chinatown, Notre-Dame Basilica, Outremont

Rawi Hage grew up in Lebanon and Cyprus before moving to New York City and finally Montreal: he “arrived in the winter in the suburbs of Montreal and it was a bit of a shock.”1 At first Hage found the city to be remote and very different from New York, but once he began studying, the city grew on him considerably. During a recent stay as writer in residence at the Vancouver Public Library, Hage said, “I must confess that my first love will always be Montreal. It is home to me. I’m a true Montrealer…”1

Next up: Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner.



1 Sherlock, Tracy. “Q&A: Rawi Hage on how driving a taxi inspired his writing — ‘A chamber for intimacies, lies, tension.’” Vancouver Sun, August 29, 2013.

Photo credit: Luigi Novi


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Montreal Reads

My usual rules for pleasure reading are few. In fact, I may have only one “rule” for reading, which is that I must have variety.

I like to routinely switch from one genre to another, from one setting to another, from one century to another (I have a particular soft spot for unselfconsciously florid conduct manuals from the 18th century). I read nonfiction about all sorts of things under the sun (most recently an account of the decoding of Linear B and a fun little book on astronomy). I like to read books by authors from around the world, books by and about people with disabilities, books representing diverse voices and experiences. I like graphic novels and plays and novels (and at least one pop-up book I read aloud every time someone under three foot tall comes to visit—it’s freaking hilarious).

But, this year, I’ve decided to embark on a bona fide reading project—as a relative newcomer to Montreal, I’ve decided to get to know the literary side of the city by reading books by Montreal writers or books set in Montreal…and often both. Still, I must have my variety, so my reading list includes all sorts of different books, which is clearly a good thing since there’s at least one version of Montreal for every Montrealer who’s ever lived here.

First up: Cockroach by Rawi Hage.


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Recommended Read

Bartlett, Allison Hoover. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2009. [ISBN-13: 978-0-14-3116824-9]

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is the story of John Charles Gilkey, an inveterate rare-book thief; Ken Sanders, the rare-book dealer and bibliodick determined to catch him; and Allison Hoover Bartlett, the objective journalist who finds herself mesmerized by the dance between these two book lovers.

Who among us can enter a bookstore and leave empty-handed? I know it happens sometimes—it’s even happened to me once or twice—but it takes more than a little willpower to pull it off. What happens, though, if you just don’t have that willpower or the inclination to find it? And what if the shops you enter contain really beautiful rare books, books like the first trade edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit with a price tag of $15,000?

Well, if you’re John Gilkey, you steal them.

“[Ken Sanders] estimates that from the end of 1999 to the beginning of 2003, John Gilkey stole about $100,000 worth of books from dealers around the country. In the past decade, no other thief has been anywhere near that prolific. What was even more unusual, though, was that none of the items Gilkey stole later showed up for sale on the Internet or at any other public venue. It was this […] and the fact that some of the books he stole were not very valuable, that had Sanders convinced that he actually stole for love.” —Bartlett

Still, lots of us love books and manage not to steal $100,000 worth of them, so what makes Gilkey different? Bartlett asks that very question in this fascinating book, and I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy (via legal means) to find out how she solves that mystery.


Looking for more literary high jinks and mystery? Here are a couple more recommendations for your reading list:

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde



Art for Word Lovers

The Ideal Bookshelf is an ongoing project by artist Jane Mount. She says, “We show off our books on shelves like merit badges (the ones not on our Kindle, at least), because we’re proud of the ideas we’ve ingested to make us who we are, as we should be. The spine of a book, as I paint it—only a few inches tall and with slightly wobbly text—is a sort of code for the giant cloud of ideas the author included within it. Just ten of them together on a sheet of paper tells the story of the mind that picked them in a way that is easily digestible but allows for endless study.”


This Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea poster is created using the first 8 chapters of the book. Find posters for other classics of literature at the PosterText website.

Accessories for Word Lovers

Bibliophiles, don’t fret! All of these purses are made from damaged or discarded books, 90% were being thrown out by libraries. All care is taken to never use valuable or rare books. Have a favorite book that is falling apart? Send it to Rebound Designs and they will turn it into a one of a kind purse or wallet for you!

This bag is hand made from two volumes of the United States Code Annoted, taking around 7 hours to make! It has a maroon faux leather trim & a black microsuede lining with pocket. Check out other designs at the BookBags website

DIY Gifts for Word Lovers

Make your own wordy wreathes from the pages of discarded books! Lindsay can show you how at her blog, Living with Lindsay.

A shelf that floats on air? Learn how to make one at the Instructables website.

Photo by P5ychoP3nguin

Games for Word Lovers

Take turns adding letters to a teetering tower of words. Go for longer words – upward, downward, or sideways – to score more points. But watch out…the next letter may cause gravity to kick in and a Konexi collapse!

WordJong features simple engrossing gameplay: Use a set of lettered tiles to create words, clearing the board as you use them. Aim for high-scoring words, earn bonus tiles, and work to clear the board with no leftover letters

Books for Word Lovers

Ever wanted to be a character in a classic book? Well, here’s you chance with Personalized Classics.
Substitute the name of the leading character with your name, and create your own cast list – choose yourself, family and friends to play 6 leading characters

The Book Lovers’ Borrow Book consists of a bound set of bookmarks with stubs. Slip a bookmark, with your name added, in each book you lend someone, then write their name on the stub. It reminds them to return your book and gives you a record of borrowings. Very clever.

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Please welcome to the stage the high priestess of romance, the one-of-a-kind Vicki Essex! The news came out this week that one of my good buddies is now a bona fide published romance novelist. I’m super proud of her and exhort you to visit her blog,, check out her Facebook fan page, and follow her delightful Twitter feed.

You should also be prepared to have your preconceptions about romance novels and nerdiness smashed to bits! I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneak peek at some of her work and can vouch that she’s writing smart romance for smart people, so off you go! Check her out!

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Avatar of the eBook by Javier Candeira

Though some bibliophiles are threatened by the advent of the digital book, I can’t help but love books in all their forms. There are times when I’d rather jump on the subway with a paperback, but there are also times I’m grateful not to have to put down a 2-pound copy of The Count of Monte Cristo just because my bedtime arms have gotten too lazy to keep holding it up.

This roundup is an ecclectic mix of how the digital is changing how and what we read, the environmental impact of digital ereaders, the future form of literature and more. Have any thoughts on the future of reading? Let us know in the comments.

The Evolution and Future of Ereaders

Five Books on Electronic Literature

The Environmental Impact of Ereaders

The Future of Paper Books…and E-readers

Can the Internet Save the Book?


Empire of the Word

by Heather

My awesome parents, knowing all about my obsession with words, recorded the Empire of the Word documentary series that aired on TVO last month for me. It was developed and narrated by the very impressive Alberto Manguel, author of A History of Reading, The Library at Night, and The City of Words among other titles.

I watched every episode in a single sitting, and I have a hunch you’ll be as fascinated as I was. So brew some tea, get comfy, and follow the links below to the Empire of the Word.

Episode one is called “The Magic of Reading” and explores the origins of the written word and our irrepressible desire to read.

Episode two is titled “Learning to Read” and considers the intellectual triumph of reading from the neurology of the human mind to the education of new readers.

Episode three is called “Forbidden Reading” and investigates the authorities who have tried to ban the creation and consumption of texts as well as the people who fight for our right to read.

Episode four, “The Future of Reading,” speculates about how technology is changing the way we read and asks what will become of bound libraries in the years to come.

If you’re still craving more programming about the wonders of language, check out the BBC’s Why Do We Talk? over at the Lingua Franca blog. When you’re done you’ll want to stick around and read some of the really fun posts you’ll find there.

Thanks for watching!


Recommended Read

Prose, Francine. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. [ISBN-13: 978-0-06-077705-0]

Seeing Francine Prose speak last week galvanized me into finally posting on a book of hers I read last winter. Reading Like a Writer is your chance to sit in Prose’s classroom, where you’ll pull out your magnifying glass to examine  just what it is that makes some of the finest books around really tick. This is a course in close reading that everyone can take.

Close reading is one of my favourite ways into the bones and sinews of a good book. You know the kind of book I mean—the book in which every word, detail, and turn of phrase feels as if it is the only one that could fit, as though it were somehow ordained from the beginning? Yeah, I’m remembering some of those books fondly right now…

But to get back to what I was saying, close reading asks you to slow down and ask yourself why the author chose that particular name for the little girl, why you don’t believe the aunt when she says she’s not drinking anymore, why it was Liberace playing on the radio when the taxi crashed. Each of these details reflects the broader story and each one can uncover another of its secrets.

Now, just as every good sleuth studies the case files of the great detectives who came before them, you can read Prose’s chapters on words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, details, and gestures to learn how to unravel the mysteries your favourite books may still be concealing from you.

Prose provides a wealth of literary examples to show you what to look for: how Edith’s tepid and ill-fitting replies reveal that she’s just not that into Albert, how a boiled potato in a spreading pool of blood can make a scene more chilling, how the movements of a housefly can reveal the mind of its tormentor. After reading her examples, drawn from so many excellent books and stories, you’ll be glad to find that Prose has included all her sources in a list of “Books to Be Read Immediately.” And when you’re done this book, if you’re like me, you’ll be tempted to head back to all your favourite reads with an eye for what’s there that you haven’t yet seen.