Off My Bookshelf

Off My Bookshelf blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

I’m getting ready to move, an event that’s overdue, stressful, exciting, and exhausting. My days are consumed with organizing and packing, with the last couple of weeks focused entirely on books (and no, I’m not done yet). But as I’ve been sorting through them all, I realized I’ve ended up with a small collection of signed copies, which I’ve decided to share here, along with their stories. Enjoy…

The Recipe of Love is a cookbook by the owner of a (sadly, now closed) Ethiopian restaurant in Toronto, Addis Ababa. Aster, the owner, was a big part of the warmth and appeal of Addis Ababa and I didn’t hesitate to buy a copy of her book the first time I was there. Of course she was kind enough to sign it. It’s still one of my favourite cookbooks.

Off My Bookshelf blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Off My Bookshelf blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

 

This obscure little book on photography used to belong to a friend of my SO’s family, Lillith Black. When Lillith was 98, I spent some time reading to her at her nursing home (it was only for a couple of months before she died, unfortunately). My SO’s dad ended up with a few of her things and gave us some of her books, including this one. As I was getting ready to pack it a few days ago, I took a look inside and realized the author had signed it for Lillith. Book friends never really die.

Off My Bookshelf blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Off My Bookshelf blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Off My Bookshelf blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

 

Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book was a fun find. Written by Terry Jones and illustrated by Brian Froud, this is “Lady Cottington’s” album of pressed fairies (think pressed flowers but slightly grosser). I wasn’t expecting to find this at a hospital fundraising book sale, and was even more surprised when I got home and realized it was signed by the author.

Off My Bookshelf blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Off My Bookshelf blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

 

I few years ago I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Anthony Bourdain (RIP) and Eric Ripert. Afterwards they were selling books, including some that were signed. Get Jiro! was one of the few Bourdain books I didn’t already have. Everyone seems to focus on his TV career, but for me his writing was where he really shone.

Off My Bookshelf blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Off My Bookshelf blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

 

I bought The Blind Assassin on a whim at a secondhand shop (I’m not normally a Margaret Atwood fan– heresy, I know– but the story sounded interesting). I didn’t get to it for a couple of years and it was only then that I noticed it was signed (I even checked online to make sure it was really her signature– definitely looks authentic). I really need to learn to look inside books right away.

Off My Bookshelf blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Off My Bookshelf, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

 

This next book is my favourite, not only because I loved reading it, but also because of what happened the day I got it. My friend had convinced me to go see Salman Rushdie give a talk. This was sometime after the fatwa had been lifted and I think he was starting to do more events. That talk ended up being inspiring in ways I hadn’t expected. Rushdie touched on what it was like to be a writer and what his process involved…and I could relate. I loved writing and wanted to spend my life at it, but I was new enough that I still had doubts that I had any chance at it, or that I really “belonged” among real writers. But everything Rushdie said that day made sense to me and confirmed what I was doing. This isn’t to say I’ll ever be anywhere close to the talent that he is, but, yeah, I made the right choice with my life (maybe not the sensible choice, but the right one). Afterwards I bought a signed copy of The Enchantress of Florence, and every so often I peek at what other authors are saying about being a writer– just to make sure I’m still on the right track.

Off My Bookshelf blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Off My Bookshelf, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

 

I have a couple more signed volumes by fairly obscure authors, but I’d already packed them by the time I thought to do this post. How about you– what are the interesting books in your collection? Share in the comments…

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

PS: I have signed copies of Love Lies Bleeding available for $21 (S&H incl.; price is for North America). Contact me if you’re interested.

Aspasia S. Bissas's books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw

 

 

 

 

 

Library Love

00 when in doubt

From the smallest neighbourhood library to the mega-libraries some cities have built, libraries are amazing places. They’re community hubs, bastions of knowledge (the librarians, as well as the books), respites from the chaos of everyday life, and as Doris Lessing said, “the most democratic of institutions.” There are people who argue that libraries are pointless in this digital age, a waste of resources for cash-strapped municipalities. Those people are wrong (I’m also willing to bet they haven’t been to a library in the last decade, and probably also brag they’re “too busy” to read).

For those of you who know the value of a library, I’m sharing a few of the standouts around the world (although there are many more out there)…

BIBLIOTHECA ALEXANDRINA

00 BA

If you cringe when you think about the destruction of the original Library of Alexandria, then you can take some comfort in knowing that Egypt has built a new library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, with help from around the globe. Besides a massive (about 5 million volumes) book collection (including rare manuscripts), the Bibliotheca also hosts an international book fair, holds art exhibitions, and has four museums. Tours are offered in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish. Find out more.

AUSTRIAN NATIONAL LIBRARY

00 austria

This library in Vienna is a work of art on its own, featuring marble statues, columns, and frescoes. It boasts an impressive collection of archives, including a map department with 295,000 sheet maps, 700 globes, 100 reliefs and models of castles, and more. It also has its own museums, including the Papyrus Museum and the Esperanto Museum. Not surprisingly, they offer guided tours. Find out more.

REAL GABINETE PORTUGUÊS DE LEITURA

00 rio 2

Another stunning library, the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura in Rio was recently renovated and restored. The collection features Portuguese and Brazilian literature, but this library is worth a visit just to admire the beauty of the surroundings. Find out more (in Portuguese) here.

Toronto Reference Library

00 trl

Local pride insists that I can’t make a list of extraordinary libraries without including the Toronto Reference Library. There’s good reason to include it, though. The Reference Library not only offers an impressive collection of books in multiple languages, it also features a Canadian Literature Collection, Arthur Conan Doyle collection, a book printing service (indie authors take note), an art gallery, and even two electric pianos for all your practicing needs. Find out more.

BIBLIOTECA VASCONCELOS

00 Vasconcelos

Described as a “city of books,” the Biblioteca Vasconcelos in Mexico City was designed to help you get lost among the stacks. The library is actually five libraries in one, with collections based on five famous Mexican intellectuals. Although the Biblioteca misses the mark in a major way by including only men as its five inspirations, the library itself is a book-lover’s dream. It also features art throughout, a music collection, guided tours, and 26,000 sq metres (6.4 acres) of gardens. Learn more here.

LIBRARY OF PARLIAMENT

The Library of Parliament

Canada’s Library of Parliament in Ottawa is a beautiful space with an amazing collection. Or so I’ve heard, since it’s open only to Parliamentarians. Not only is the library closed to the public, but they don’t even offer tours. I think it’s time that changed, don’t you? Read more here.

What do you love most about libraries? What’s your favourite library, or one you would love to visit? Share in the comments 🙂

Cats and Books

Cats and Books, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Klaudia Ekert on Pexels.com

Anyone who knows me knows I love cats (all animals, actually, but cats are the only ones who get to boss me around). Cats and writers are a natural combination (see my post about it here), but it turns out cats and books are also perfect together. Maybe they like the cave-like atmosphere of being tucked into a shelf or surrounded by piles of books; maybe it’s the intriguing way the pages move, or the convenient surface for lounging. Maybe cats like books because we like books (and we clearly have good taste since we also like cats). Or maybe their reasons will ever remain mysterious, which is how cats like it. Whatever the appeal, cats love books, and we love them (even more) for it.

These photos were all found online–if you see any that belong to you and would like me to remove them, please comment to let me know. Enjoy…

Cats and Books, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Matthews Library Cat at Arizona State University, 1968. Found on Mostly Cats, Mostly.

 

Cats and Books, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Found on Pinterest.

 

Love the jaunty little beret on this kitty…

Cats and Books, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
From The Miao Chronicles.

 

Cats and Books, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Found on Luxe Pauvre.

 

Cats and Books, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Found on Flickr.

 

Cats and Books, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
From The Unread Librarian.

 

Cats and Books, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Found on Pinterest.

 

Cats and Books, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Via The Bibliophile Files.

 

Cats and Books, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Found on Attempting Project 365.

 

Every bookstore needs a cat…

Cats and Books, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Juniper the bookstore cat, via Flickr.

 

Cats and Books, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Michel Porro on Unsplash.

 

Cats and Books, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Found on Date a Girl Who Reads.

 

Cats and Books, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Sabrena Ellison, via Mostly Cats, Mostly.

 

And some final words of wisdom from the man who literally wrote the book on cats.

Books and Cats, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Do you know a kitty who loves books? Share in the comments…

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Further Reading

Writers and Cats

Bookstore Cat Love

Writers and Dogs

Guest Post: Disrespecting the Gods

Kneeling Aphrodite at the Louvre, Aspasía S. Bissas
Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas

New guest post I wrote on Druid Life. Take a look…

I blame Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson & the Olympians) and Neil Gaiman (American Gods).

All right, I don’t really blame them, but they and a host of other fiction writers and TV showrunners aren’t helping. By turning the Gods into mere characters, showing no real regard for the beings that inspired and populate their stories, they’re setting the stage… (Read more)

My Notre Dame

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, 2016
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas

By now you’ve likely heard about the devastating fire that gutted Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, collapsing the roof and spire and destroying much of the interior (but thankfully not killing anyone). If you haven’t, you can read about it here, here, or here.

Notre Dame Cathedral devastation
Photograph: François Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

Notre Dame is an icon of Paris, and as some locals described it “the heart of France.” It’s also an international icon, a place many people wished to see in their lifetime, and an unparalleled historic monument. What was lost in that fire is far more than just a building. We can take heart in the fact that the bell towers, the rose window, and even the rooster from the top of the spire were saved; that much of the artwork was removed in time; and that Notre Dame will be rebuilt. But it will never be the same.

The first time I saw Notre Dame, I was in a cab heading from Charles de Gaulle airport to my hotel. We approached the Cathedral from the back, alongside the Seine, and as I caught my first glimpse I realized I was looking at Notre Dame. The Notre Dame. The next thing that went through my mind was “I thought I knew Gothic architecture. I had no idea what it was until now.” This wasn’t the neo-Gothic Victoriana I was used to seeing at home in Canada– this was a 900-year-old Gothic masterpiece. You know what else? Flying buttresses are awesome.

When I’d booked it, I didn’t realize my hotel was so close to Notre Dame–just around the corner. I ended up spending time in and around the Cathedral every day while I was there. When I left, I expected I would see it again one day (hopefully when the cherry trees were blooming this time). I’m not sure what will be waiting for me the next time I go, but in honour of what has been lost, I thought I’d share some of the pictures I took on the trip when I got to know Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Cathedral, front
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Copper statues in front of the base of Notre Dame’s spire. The statues were removed before the fire as part of the restoration that was taking place. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Notre Dame gargoyle
Gargoyle, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Notre Dame gargoyles
Gargoyles at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Side entrace, Notre Dame, Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris (side facing the Seine). Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Inside Notre Dame
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
My photos don’t do the windows justice. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
Stained glass detail, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.

 

Inside Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass rose window, Notre Dame, Paris
Rose window, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass and woodwork, Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Inside Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. The fire extinguisher at the bottom right of the photo takes on new significance now. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Inside Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Painted column, Notre Dame, Paris
Beautiful painted column inside Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
Vivid colours, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
Stained glass, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass window, Notre Dame, Paris
Stained glass, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.

 

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral taken from my hotel roof. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.

 

Did you get a chance to see Notre Dame? Do you have any special memories of it? Please share in the comments.