Cristina's Library

Joie de livres

Category: Winter Life

Buy a book

booksLast year, I made the tragic mistake of going to Yorkdale mall on the first Saturday of December.

A deafening barrage of shrieking children, frantic parents, lazy walkers, loud talkers, anxious employees, aggressive hagglers, and booming holiday music hit me upon entering. It was a depressing composition of repeated staccato notes, in the phrases of “I’m sorry” and “Excuse me” and “Watch out!”

I felt like I was on fast-forward, my heart palpitating, head spinning, and green tea sloshing mercilessly out of its cup, burning my fingers.

Meandering through the crowds, I overheard different pieces of survival advice in conversation:

“Oh, I always have a big breakfast beforehand.”

“Take a few deep breaths, and you’ll be fine.”

“Coffee. A lot of coffee.”

It seemed that I was the only person who did not know what to do or where to go. I did not walk briskly through the mall with an intended road map in mind (first Williams-Sonoma for dad, then Roots for mom – she just loves those wool socks). The truth is, I possess none of the skills of a professional shopper. I wander, I look around, I pick up and put down. I found myself taking small steps and small sips of tea, gazing at items in store windows for a short time before moving on, my body gently rocked side-to-side by the rushing crowd.

Finally, I made it to the front of the bookstore.

Ah, peace and quiet.

Unsurprisingly, here, I finished most of my holiday shopping. It really is that easy. And if you believe your loved ones are not big readers, I beg you to think again. There’s an escape route for everyone.

They might like Canlit, non-fiction, romance, mystery, history, or art. They might have an idol, a pet, a New Year’s resolution to finally start yoga, a desire to learn French, or an inexplicable relationship with Mexican cuisine. There’s a book for them.

There are cookbooks, how-tos, big and beautiful photography tomes, literature on the performing arts, language, business, or travel. There are books for kids, teens, tweens, adults, grandparents. There’s a book for the plumber, the private dancer, the stay-at-home parent, the cheese addict, the architect, the storyteller, the graphic designer, the cinephile, the writer, the baker-on-the-side, the teacher, the music buff, or the wine aficionado in your life.

And in no way am I limiting the selection to shiny new hardcovers or glossy paperbacks. Do you have a book in your own collection that you think might benefit a close friend or relative? Give it to them. Let them know why. Books, and the stories inside of them, are meant to be recycled into new hands.

Growing up, my parents always gave my brother and I books, and then quizzed us on them afterwards to ensure that we read them. We spent hours in the library, and they took note of the books we were engrossed in. In December, we found them under the tree. In return, we wrote little poems and heartfelt messages in handmade paper cards. We signed them with our own insignia at the bottom, pretending that they were from Hallmark or Carleton: “Cristina Cards” or “Joseph Cards” circled with a sparkly gold pen.

My parents grudgingly accepted our small gifts, while insisting that we did not have to give them anything, that they had their family around the Christmas tree, which is more than enough. They appreciated the little things, the practical and sentimental value of a gift. They taught me the art and importance of truly giving.

So, my brother and I bought them books, too. Last year, I added to my father’s bookshelf Open Secrets: Wikileaks, War, and American Diplomacy. For my mother, The Glass Castle. For my brother, Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization. (He’s a plumber).

You may not think so but, as I learned from my family, buying a book is an intimate and thoughtful act. It is as personal as a piece of lingerie, as gracious as a box of chocolates. It’s like placing a blanket on top of someone after they’ve fallen asleep, or smiling at a stranger. If you’re buying a book for someone this holiday season, you’ve made a conscious effort to enhance their life. You care. Think about how much consideration goes into choosing a book — it means that you are attentive to what they say, that you know and support what they’re interested in.

A book may not be the only gift you’re giving someone, but it is perfect on its own, or in addition to something else. Make it even more special by writing a little note inside. They’ll treasure it forever.


Jan 7, 2:15 AM

It is a cold, frigid night in Toronto. How lonely the wind makes me feel, enveloping my body in isolation. There is a lot happening outside — snow squalls drift aimlessly and bitterly cold gusts blow garbage, trees, branches, into the street. The bumps and claps and booms make noise, noise that only emphasizes the loud emptiness of this place. I wondered, while walking up the frozen concrete stairs to my front door, how the city would look if all of our creation did not exist. It would be a barren land of ice-laden trees, shoe-print-free snow dunes, darkness after sunset. There would be no tire tracks, no street lights, no debris, no complaining about the weather. It would simply be, in its purest state, and then Spring would come and it would carry on beautifully with no one to see it, living and ageing gracefully anyway, dying, then born again. Are we simply in the way of the earth’s natural processes, or have we created them, new and scary and manipulated, like Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, having rebelled against nature only to die at the hands of his own creation, a modern-day Prometheus.


This book was one of the most memorable of my childhood. C.S Lewis’ letter to Lucy says, “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” And so, tonight I descend into the world of Narnia, because I need to remember.



It was wonderful to be shortlisted for the CBC Canada Writes Competition: The Song that Changed Your Life. I enjoyed reading all of the stories, funny, heart-wrenching, dramatic, and sad, each evoking a particular emotion and a keen sense of nostalgia, though their stories were not my own. I was able to feel what the writer felt, step inside their memory and walk around in it for 400 words.

Here is my story.

MAD RUSH by Cristina Rizzuto

I used to think that love was best understood in silence until I heard music. I have fallen in love with it before, that brimming shadow that gives definition to all things, but there is a special place in my heart for Mad Rush by Philip Glass. It’s one of those striking compositions that affirm the experience of life, bringing with its one note beautifully played, its repetitive melody, rushing images of love and loss.

The first time I heard Mad Rush was in the winter. It was a cold evening, and I had been waiting for him for almost an hour, listening to an obscure radio station. My mind was jittery with worry, fatigue, sadness. 
“And now, we are playing Philip Glass, one of the most important composers of this century. Glass composed this piece in honour of the Dalai Lama’s visit to North America. This is Mad Rush.”
He entered my car as the notes began, both parties at once contemplative and urgent. I calmly waited for what I knew I had been waiting for all along. As he told me that he has to leave me now, that he loves me more than anyone he has ever known or will know, I heard and felt only Mad Rush. The mad rush of time, of emotion, of broken hearts and tears, of the best and worst years spiraling slowly out of my grasp, piano keys hitting earth over and over again. We cried together, our foreheads touching as the music rose and fell. We had reached the inevitable point in our strange relationship, acknowledging the time to part ways. We knew the song would one day end.
Have you ever seen a snowfall? For a few moments, time is still and the snow rushes by in a daze, briefly veiling the world. You are mesmerized, staring at the beautiful destruction from a window, your reflection shining in front of you. The music is playing, and all the snowflakes that fall from the sky are falling in the right spot, this secret, intricate pattern unfolding around us, this gossamer web we know nothing about. And suddenly the sun breaks through, sidewalks clear, cars return to the streets. Somehow, it’s like it never snowed at all. The love that came so quickly into your life left without a trace. This is Mad Rush.

2nd Place!

The 15th Mattia International Poetry Competition came to a close last month, and I just received news that I won 2nd Place! Click on the link to read all of the winners. Here’s the poem and review:

Bay & Bloor

Is there anything as sad as reality?
There’s a homeless man who plays milkshake-flavoured
tunes on the corner of Bay and Bloor.
I see him in the subway tunnels sometimes, crouched over
an ancient guitar case,
the leather gallantly peeling after years
of artistic creation,
induced happiness.
He is on the street, playing to an audience of
careless, faceless people,
stray beetles, the one woman who
listens quietly and gives change,
a lone warrior for humanity.
Play a song for me.

“The decision to choose how we view the world and how we pen it – that is a writer’s stand. Rizzuto might be any one of us walking up and down the street. However, one can’t help but feel that the poet captured a moment rather effectively – standing still. There is a good hit here on introspection and it draws the reader in to, “Bay and Bloor “, beginning with well penned lines: “There’s a homeless man who plays milkshake-flavoured/tunes on the corner of Bay and Bloor.” The thought of what ‘milkshake- flavoured tunes’ sound like before any more information is provided about where the reader might be makes the intersection come to life (Even if you are not familiar with this famous Canadian intersection). We have all seen elements of what this piece portrays in every city. That is not the point. Rizzuto brings us to that corner. The cross popular sidewalk. Anywhere street. Most attempts at placing Canadian streets in poetry fall short in using street names – she made the reader stand there at Bay & Bloor and think about the last coin I tossed when I was there (and some other coins tossed into cases in other cities as well). Congratulations!” – Gerry Mattia