Bucket List Item #19: Live in a Bookish Home

When I was six years old, a young woman with a briefcase came into my home and spoke to my parents over a cup of coffee. And from her briefcase, she laid out on our small kitchen table, glossy brochures. As she spoke, my parents nodded, enthusiastic, calling whatever they were about to do, an “investment.” My father wrote out a cheque and a week later the woman came back with boxes. These boxes changed my life.

My father opened up the packages and in sequential order, placed the beautifully binded encyclopedias on our bookcase. There was a set from A to Z, two separate dictionaries, and an index. My father read each volume from cover to cover until he completed the set.

The other set, the Childcraft Encyclopedia, was dedicated to me and I was encouraged to read as my father did, each volume to my liking.

So I did.

It was with awe that I sat in my room discovering the secrets within the pages of the book I had opened. It was with each word that I grew powerful. I could finally translate what the letters meant. I could pronounce with a little hesitation, new words that were heavy, but playful in my mouth. Slowly, the sentences became verses. The verses soon became paragraphs. And the paragraphs into chapters. And at the end of each story, I was filled with a knowledge of something fantastic—so imaginative, yet real, it comforted me more than the world I lived in. Books had become my playground, my solace, my secret friends.

While other children complained when prompted to read in school, I secretly looked forward to it. I did my homework because I had to. I read my books because I loved to.

My school librarian was my heroine. And when the annual Scholastic Book Fair came around, I was ready and eager in the front of the line with my pencil in hand. My family couldn’t really afford books, so I knew my choices were limited. I would have to be frugal, but wise. As I searched the tables, I found a book with a picture of a girl, a spider, and a pig.

At home my mother asked me how the Book Fair went and if I found anything that I liked. I was shy about my choice, eager to own it, unsure if my mother or father would agree to buy it, guilty that it might cost them more than they could really afford.

I pulled my Scholastic order form out of my hand-sewn knapsack and thrust it out to my mother in hope my urgency would be expressed in that one act.

“‘Charlotte’s Web’ by E.B. White…that looks like a good one. Let’s go and see what your father thinks.”

My encyclopedia-reading father who routinely and adamantly sat me down at the dining table to write out my ABC’s everyday would surely be my ally. (Until this day, I am frequently complimented on my “graceful” and “elegant” penmanship—so much so, I have been asked if I could turn it into a font!)

My father looked at my one-item list, pulled cash from his wallet and said, “Remember to always spend this wisely. There will be things you will want to buy, but a book will always be something you need. Remember, a book will always be better than a toy.”

I had no complaints. I had toys and I played with them. But, what my father didn’t know at the time of his advice was that books were already my secret treasure. I didn’t read books because I had to, I read them because there were stories in them that needed telling, that needed reading. So, as a child, I read voraciously. My appetite grew with each finished novel, each new, explored genre.

My second home would be the local library. I was eight when my father helped me apply for my very first library card. It was the most valuable thing in my wallet. It grew creases with age as my book lists grew and my tote bags lugged with weight.

Years later, my library has grown, but I still own the Childcraft Encyclopedia set that my parents bought for me, I still have the original copy of the “Charlotte’s Web” book that I bought from the school Book Fair.

If anything, I am proud to say I’m an avid reader. It isn’t a go-to line as much as it is a short biography. I am an avid reader and have been so since I was a child.

I’m an avid reader. I’m a book borrower. I’m a bibliotaphe.

I’m one of those people who puts books on hold at the library two months in advance so that I can be one of the privileged few to get my hands on new releases before they come off press.

I’m one of those people who will sit in an aisle at a book store and forget I am there because I’m enthralled with what I’m reading. (I finished reading the poems in “The Blizzard of One” by Mark Strand in one sitting.)

I’m one of those people who will ignore my telephone so that I can finish reading the end of a line or the end of a chapter.

I’m one of those people who organizes my books by author, genre, or emotional attachment.

I’m one of those people who miss literary characters once a book has ended.

I’m one of those people who has piles of books in each and every room of my house.

I am also one of those people who will shrug off a date in order to go to a book signing, a poetry reading, a wine and cheese party, or literary gala.

And I am also one of those people whose awe in meeting an author in person is equivalent to the hysteria found in others for famous rock stars and starlets found in Hollywood.

I’m one of those people who knows the different names, literary genres, and styles of publishers who print and distribute the books that I love.

I’m one of those people who collects bookmarks and isn’t ashamed about it.

I’m one of those people who loves the feel and smell of a new book.

I’m one of those people who will stay up late into the wee hours of the night in order to finish reading a book, finish writing a review, and post it onto my book blog.

My love of books has not only inspired me to write this blog entry, but to imagine what it would it be like if I could transform my actual living space into bookish delight.


I’d like to live in a book house.

On Paper Avenue.

With pens as my picket fence.


My book house would have book stairs:


A book nook closet:

(From: “Turn a Closet into a Book Nook.”)


A book bed:

(From: “Design for Mankind.”)


And a book desk.

(From: “5 Jaw-Dropping Ways to Repurpose Vintage Books.”)


I’d read under a book chandalier:

(From: “5 Jaw-Dropping Ways to Repurpose Vintage Books.”)


Take a shower behind a written page:

(From: “What a $65 Dave Eggers Shower Curtain Looks Like.”)


And watch my paper flowers bloom.

(From: “DIY Storybook Paper Roses.”)


I’d “unscramble” my pillows:

(From: http://www.etsy.com)


Keep myself “literally” warm with this scarf:

(From: http://www.etsy.com)


I’d jot my thoughts about books into these:

(From: http://www.etsy.com)


And when I’m done, carry them all in this typewriter tote bag.

(From: http://www.etsy.com)


Sure, I want books under the tree at Christmas time. But, I love books so much, I’d want to make my Christmas tree out of books as well.

(From: “Make a Book Christmas Tree.”)


And instead of giving my daughter a Barbie, I’d buy her, her very own Margaret Atwood doll:

(From: http://www.etsy.com)


And when I travel, I much prefer to pack these in my luggage instead of clothes:

Photo: (c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez


Forget the old lady who lived in a Shoe. I’m the dame who wants to live in a Book!


If you find any “bookish” treats to add to my bookish dream home, please don’t hesitate to post a comment with a link and I can post it here on my blog.


Until then, happy reading.



(c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez


Bucket List Item #18: Keeping my 50-Book Pledge for 2012

The savvy readers at The Savvy Reader have motivated hundreds of book lovers again this year by calling out a 50-Book Pledge in 2012.

This is my first time pledging to anything other than my marriage vows ten years ago, so as you can see, I mean business.

50-books kinda business.

Here are my 50 hopefuls for this year:

1. Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan


2. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht


3. The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay


4. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward


5. The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar


6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


7. Tell It to the Trees by Anita Rau Badami


8. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami


9. The Antagonist by Lynn Coady


10. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt


11. 11/22/63 by Stephen King


12. The Free World by David Bezmozgis


13. In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood


14. Mordecai: The Life & Times by Charles Foran


15. Killdeer by Phil Hall


16. The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock


17. The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq


18.  An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy


19. Why Men Lie by Linden MacIntyre


20. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett


21. American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar


22. Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers


23. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan


24. The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai


25. Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki


26. Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner


27. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver


28. When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman


29. Some Ether by Nick Flynn


30. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion


31. The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories by Don Delillo


32. The Best American Poetry 2011 ed. David Lehman


33. Printmaker’s Daughter by Katherine Govier


34. An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer


35. Carry the One by Carol Anshaw


36. The Flowers of War by Geling Yan


37.  The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey


38. Floating Like the Dead: Stories by Yasuko Thanh


39. History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason


40.  The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen


41. Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson


42. The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol


43. The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy


44. The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood


45.  Swamplandia! By Karen Russell


46. The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak


47.  All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson


48.  The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam


49. Folk by Jacob MacArthur Mooney


50. Ossuaries by Dionne Brand


It’s a list. It’s a start. Why don’t you join me and countless others in our quest toward 50 books by the end of 2012?

Time to make a hot cup of tea or coffee, wrap yourself up in a cozy blanket, put on those ugly, fuzzy slippers Aunt Suzy gave you last year, make sure your reading lamp is on, the children are in bed, and the phone is disconnected. Time to bend that binded beauty.


Let’s go!

(c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez

Bucket List Item #17: Learn how to knit and finish the scarf I started in 2009

I don’t know what came over me. Just before I became pregnant, the desire to create a pair of gloves from scratch flourished into an obsessive craft.

I went to the library and borrowed as many “how-to knit” books I could find and carry. And then I went to a local superstore and bought my first pair of knitting needles. Next, I filled my basket with different colours and textures of yarn.

I meant business.

And so, in one night, I read up, and put those knitting needles to use. Once I learned a basic stitch, I went crazy!

I knitted at the dining table. I knitted in front of the television. I knitted in bed. I knitted in the car on the way to work (while my husband was driving, of course). I knitted any chance I got.

The end result? A very LONG BEGINNING of…

…a scarf.


I couldn’t quite pick up an end stitch to finish my project.

And so, I say, I’m not one to turn away from challenges I face—sometimes I only stop, pause, and take a little break.

But, the desire to knit still lives in me and has resurfaced. I’d very much like to begin a new scarf—one in turquoise—and finish it. I’d like to wear my accomplished task proudly around my neck as I run errands downtown. I’d like to know that what was once left behind, can also be picked up again and continued. I’d like to know that in each stitch came with it a resolution to learn, to persevere, and to complete.

I’d like to know that someday I will be able to make more than just a scarf: mittens, a hat, slipper-socks, a doll. I’d like to know that.

Here’s to the power of the needle, the fun of fuzzy yarn, and the stitches I have yet to conquer!

Scheveningen Woman Knitting. Van Gogh. Watercolour. December 1881. Private collection.

(c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez

Bucket List Item #16: Learn American Sign Language (ASL)

When I was nine years old I joined the American Sign Language Club in my school. We met every Tuesday in a classroom after school went out and learned to talk with our hands.

First it was a few words. Then it was lines to a song. After a few months of learning, my nine year-old self was able to speak basic sign with my friends and my peers who could not hear.

Around Christmas time, our school held its annual Christmas assembly. I was also a part of my school’s Junior Choir. Being a part of both clubs, I was asked to sing and sign the words to “Silent Night.”

The deaf children in the school were able to fully participate in the assembly. I was happy to see their hands signing in unison to the song. To the song they could hear privately and communally with each gesture. I was exceptionally humbled to be able to share in their experience. To be able to speak with my hands. To be able to speak.

As I grew older, my practice of signing dwindled. I had fully entered the hearing world and lost the language that enabled me to connect with the deaf.

Communication is important to me. Inclusivity, too. Empowering yourself and others in order to demolish the lines between those who are marginalized and those who are not is a meaningful cause, one I adamantly participate in and advocate.

It is my desire to re-learn American Sign Language. To be able to speak to the unwanted silence in all of us.

(c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez


Bucket List Item #15: Create and print my photography portfolio

You know the shots you take at special events that you attend? You know the pictures you take as a tourist? Well, I’m not talking about those photos.

I’m referring to the photos that you take of daily things. Of something that originally caught your eye enough for you to immortalize it into a photograph.

Because that’s what I do. I see. And I try to capture within the frame of my camera lense, a shot that will commemorate what I love visually.

The photo of an almost empty alleyway. A picture so clear, you can see the pores of the face you are honouring. The photograph of stone, flower, and cistern. The shot of an unused swing. A man smoking a cigarette. A woman’s lips.

Every photo has captured in its moment a personal and secret story. A visual homage.

Photo by (c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez

I’d like to take more photographs, print them, collect them, mount them into an album that will tell my own as a visual tourist of ordinary things.


(c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez

Bucket List Item #14: Print an updated version of my writing portfolio

Every writer has one. It may take the form of yellow foolscap, a collection of strewn napkins, jotted notes in a secret book, or Word documents filed away in a computer.

My own collection is spread out loosely on lined paper, between book pages, in file folders, as scribbles in a journal, and marks on Post-It notes. Some are on my hard drive, others in the cloud. And I have a pile of hardcopy bursting out of a tray beside my desk.

My husband told me once, “I think you like mess and clutter.”

It’s true on some level (the level being equivalent to the height of my stock and archival paper).

But, I think it’s time to get organized. Time to get professional. A duo-tang. A binder. A pretty box. Something.

It’s time to print my pieces on white 8.5″ x 11″ paper and stamp them with a sturdy paperclip.

It’s time to pound the words out like dust from a Persian rug. It’s time to roll the ink on and feel the warmth of freshly printed paper. It’s time to tie everything up with a string and say, “This is done.”

(It’s time to show my husband the depth of his error… or at least, the depth of how far I will go to try to prove him wrong.)

A toast, then: to my upcoming portfolio—and my husband’s fruitful nagging.

(c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez

Bucket List Item #13: Take a mehendi-henna art class

I’ve always been fascinated with the traditions of culture. I want to know languages, taste foods, touch fabrics, learn dances, understand worship and the propriety of courtship.

Having reluctance toward the pain and permanence of a tattoo, I opted instead to discover the art of mehendi.

Mehendi is more than body art. Its original purpose was to bring down temperatures and cool the skin of its wearer in the heat of the country of its original bearers.

The art of mehendi in the Indian culture was practiced on a bride-to-be as a way of female bonding and advice-giving to the ways of love and marriage before the wedding. The labour-intensive and intricate detail of the design calls for time, delicacy, and a little bit of pampering.

The woman, branded in her henna, is given the privilege during her “honeymoon” period to abstain from physical labour and chores that may come with domestication—until the henna dye fades and disappears, since water has a way of speeding up this process.

It is a beautiful art and a wonderful practice that speaks more than simply “a body tattoo.” To think of it simply as a tattoo would be to dishonour the practice.

So, in my own curiosity and fascination, I took a course in practicing mehendi. When I wish to take some time for myself, I create the henna paste and in quiet meditation brand myself with the intricacies of my own artistic imagination.

Here is an example of my mehendi on my hands and arms:

It takes creativity, grace, and discipline. All worthy traits of an ancient art.

(c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez

Bucket List Item #12: Learn how to make prayer mala beads

I watched the movie, “Kundun” about the 14th Dalai Lama and was intrigued not only by his personal story, but the story of Tibetan history, spirituality, and exile.

I am not a practicing Buddhist, but I wanted to understand and connect with the Tibetan people and their cause in an intimate way.

So, I searched for prayer malas, both in shops in downtown Toronto and online. I did find a few pieces that I liked and bought them. But, my desire to buy them were, of course, hampered by my financial inability to do so.

So, instead, I decided I would learn how to make the malas themselves. Not as pieces of jewellery, but as tokens of love, meditation, and prayer for the Tibetan people.

I have given some to friends whom I have had to leave (for example, friends from work that I grew to know, love, and respect).

Here are some of my creations:

(c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez

Bucket List Item #11: Get a Monroe body piercing

I had my ears pierced when I was six years old. It hurt, I think. I don’t know, I don’t remember. I remember one day having plain earlobes and then the next,  having gold studs in them. Thus, began the fascination. Now, earrings are an important accessory.

I will, however, avoid the pain of getting a tattoo, afraid more of its permanence than its sting or bleeding. To be “branded” for life isn’t something I take lightly. The only needle that will ever enter my body is the one I’ll get at the doctor’s office for my annual flu shot.

Perhaps my early idol worship of Madonna as a preteen during her “Like a Virgin” tour did me in. Perhaps it’s been my admiration of beautiful women with “beauty marks” just above their upper lip.

I don’t know. I was born with many beauty marks—a few on my face, actually, but none just above my lip.

If I wasn’t to be born with this phenomenon, why not put a stud there instead?

So I did. When my daughter got her ears pierced, I got a Monroe piercing.

(c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez

Bucket List Item #10: Grow my hair down to my waist

For me, hair has always been a mere accessory. I have a small fear of spiders, centipedes, snakes. I have a larger fear of heights. But, I’ve never feared doing anything different with my hair.

My mom grew it out when I was a young girl.

In highschool, when I paved the way for girls to join the wrestling team, I felt it pertinent to shave all my hair off as a statement of gender issues people have.

In university, I went pixie.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I couldn’t be bothered to go to the salon for a haircut, so I left it alone until it grew to my mid-back.

As a mother of two, I went for the easy “Mommy bob.”

In between all this hair frenzy, I’ve been bald, had French braids, and dreadlocks.

So, now, I feel like letting down my hair.

Down to my waist, that is.

(Grant me the patience and the shampoo-budget to make this happen!)


(c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez

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