For Whom the Caged Bird Sings

For Whom the Caged Bird Sings

On a balmy Sunday like today, when we are in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, we taxi up to El Charco del Ingenio before the sun is fully up. The Charco is a swath of grassland, dotted with cacti and mesquite, that frames a shallow lake created by damming the stream that cuts through a wild gorge down into the city. Charco del Ingenio translates variously as “puddle of wit,” “water-works,” and “spirit pool.” I prefer the latter.

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Neighbours

Neighbours

We moved to Calle Animas—Spirit Street—in San Miguel de Allende just as the jacarandas were coming into bloom. When we rented the place, I was leery of the three dogs on the rooftop next door, but once they got used to our routine of spending the sunset hour on our neighboring terrace, they were blessedly quiet. Our mornings, however, were thunderous. We’d wake shortly before dawn to deep poundings in the water pipes. We called our house manager, who sent her master-of-all-trades handyman, but by the time he arrived at a decent hour, the pounding had stopped.

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Creatures of Habit

Creatures of Habit

The spring of 1956 was slow to arrive. That April—unlike ours—was cold, with heavy snows; at the end of the month, the ice on Pimisi Bay was still solid. The spring migration seemed off-kilter to Louise. The few flyttfågar—migratory birds—that landed in her woods were five to eleven days late. The vast flocks were stalled, she assumed, somewhere to the south.
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The Long Game

The Long Game

This week, a female mallard with a slight limp came waddling through our condo courtyard, sizing up the planters beside each front door, hopping into one, wiggling her breast into the debris of last year’s plantings, then jumping out to try the next. Two years ago, this same female sat for ten weeks on soil barely covered by the dried tops of my potted daffodils and tulips. Roofers working nearby left corn and cut-off Coke bottles filled with water.

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Expeditions in Birdland

Expeditions in Birdland

On March 25, 1945, a neighbour of Louise de Kiriline Lawrence followed a pair of Canada Jays carrying twigs among the conifers on the cliffs near the chute where the Mattawa River begins, east of North Bay. He spied the nest, and knowing Louise’s interest in birds, led her to the bushy white spruce and pointed up. Eight feet overhead, parent birds had woven dry sticks between a fork of branches, creating a frame for a nest of oak leaves, birch bark, bits of a wasp’s nest, and threads from tent caterpillar cocoons. On a mattress of fine grasses, animal hair, and breast feathers lay five white eggs spotted with olive brown, their small ends neatly nestled to the centre.

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Spring LitBits 2019

Spring LitBits 2019

March marks the beginning of the new year for indigenous peoples in this part of the world, and for gardeners everywhere. The sense of renewal that requires real effort to conjure on January 1 comes naturally in March. It’s spring, the equinox is past, the sun is now in ascendance and the world is bursting with blossom and courting display.

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Infinite Iterations

Infinite Iterations

My husband hears draft and thinks beer. I hear draft and think breeze. We’re both writers, but when it comes to producing drafts (not beer or breezes but the scribbling kind) we are as different as two writers can be. Ask him how many drafts it takes to write a book, and he’s likely to say, “Six or eight.” I’ve never racked up fewer than fifteen. I thought my new book would be different, but here I am at ten, and my agent has just spoken those dreaded words: “It’s not ready yet.”

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Books Without Character

Books Without Character

Rachel Cusk’s protagonist, Faye, narrator of the novels Outline, Transit, and Kudos, is a strangely silent, receptive character who acts as a blank page on which others unspool their stories. At times heart-wrenching, philosophical, and bleakly mundane, these stories slide off her seemingly without effect—or affect. Everyone else goes on about themselves at length, but Faye reveals almost nothing of herself. She is cold and withheld—for me, a distinctly unlikeable character.

“I’m not interested in character,” Cusk says, ” because I don’t think character exists anymore.”

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January LitBits 2019

January LitBits 2019

Considering the Lego-like malleability of letters and the ease with which new arrangements come into fashion, words have astonishing power — to provoke, irritate, catch a moment or a year in their syllables. Word of the Year is a game we play in North America every December, searching for the one arrangement of those bits of alphabet that perfectly reflects where we stand at this moment in the sweep of history.

Others play a different game: Words that should be wiped from our mouths.

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Because sometimes the world moves too fast for books.

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As I wrote Gutenberg’s Fingerprint, I thought a lot about books, what they are, what they mean, why I love them, how they are changing and how they are becoming what they started out to be. The brain doesn’t turn off when an editor says “Stop!” so in Books UnPacked, these thoughts spool on, exploring the past and future of books, and the actual books I’m unwrapping to read.

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