The House of Books is on a snowy, pine tree lined street in a northern district of Toronto. It is not the largest home on the block, but neither is it the smallest. The ground floor, which is actually elevated from the cold ground--to reach the front door one must climb icy steps--is mostly open concept: a white stucco wall with two unequal door frames separates the crisp dove-grey tiles of the kitchen from the warm pine floor of the dining room/sitting room. The sitting room is psychologically distinguished from the dining room by a dark-brown vertical beam with a great crack running up it, meeting a similar beam running horizontally along the ceiling. Winter light comes into the sitting room from the tall bay windows, and it is supplemented by three lamps, not including the lamp crouched over the piano. The most noteworthy elements of the dining room are fancy plates and of the sitting room, books.
The family obsession with the written word spills out over all flat surfaces in the house, but the sitting room is a machine for reading. The leather-top table between the two armchairs by the window is currently home to the following items:
Robert Harris' Imperium;
Richard Restak's Think Smart: A Neuroscientist's Prescription for Improving Your Brain's Performance;
Michael Ende's Die unendliche Geschichte;
a pile of newspaper clippings which turn out to be my most recent columns in the Toronto Catholic Register;
Patrick O'Brien's HMS Surprise;
the television guide;
the parish bulletin;
Monika Maron's Pawels Briefe;
a German-English dictionary;
a Kobo reader;
the cardboard box to the Kobo reader;
a TV/DVD channel changer/control;
an empty coffee mug;
a big ball of red crochet thread;
a pin cushion;
a cordless telephone;
an old vinyl wallet of my mother's from the 1960s (why?);
a Kindle reader;
an electronic tablet;
a receipt from the local library for "Spy sinker";
a penny notebook;
two pairs of earrings;
a large lamp;
two power cords;
the lace doily that should be under the lamp but is all wedged up beside it, under the TV guide;
a consumer warranty for something from SONY in a clear plastic bag; and
an old wooden box containing shelves made from wooden coasters.
Until a moment ago my mother was in the other chair reading Cornelia Funke's Tintenblut. She has just put her book down on the card table set up in the middle of the room and gone downstairs to do the laundry. The card table is not for cards but for puzzles. On the card table is also a box containing a wooden jigsaw featuring "Amhuirnnsuidhe Castle, Harris, Outer Herbredes" (sic), which is hidden by three pieces of paper containing the details of business class travel to and from Montreal in the near future.
The observant person would also notice the books in the window: The Jerusalem Bible, Neue Horizonte (Dollenmeyer/Hansen), Augustus: From Revolutionary to Emperor (Adrian Goldsworthy), The Playful Brain (Richard Restak), Foundation (Isaac Asimov) and History of Britain (Carter and Mears), Third Edition. There are also some very dead leaves from a poinsettia plant although there is no poinsettia in sight.
Any of my brothers and sisters would recognize this immediately--and by the titles alone--as the joint lair of our parents. Evidence of the other occupants on the house can be found in the kitchen, where three Hardy Boys books stand as if showcased on the window ledge (why?) and two French books sit--no, sat--on the table. They are gone now. My sister must have removed them before she went to work.
The kitchen is full of French, as a matter of fact, for every box, bottle, tin and bag of food sold in Canada is labeled in both English and Canadian French. This morning's breakfast was "gruau" made from "avoine", But the sitting room clearly belongs to German although soon a Polish note will be introduced to the leather top table.