Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

July 31st is Harry Potter’s birthday. It’s also J. K. Rowling’s birthday and I remember a time when being aware of that little nugget of information was a lesser-known treat shared among fans of the sensational new book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  Now, 20 years later, it seems that the whole world is steeped in knowledge of the world of Harry Potter, his friends, their time at Hogwarts, and the genius of J. K. Rowling. Everyone is a fan of Harry Potter. According to Rowling’s British publisher there have been over 450 million Harry Potter books sold and when the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the deathly hallows, was published in 2007 there were 2.65 million copies sold in the first 24 hours.

It’s hard to think back to what life was like 20 years ago before the first Harry Potter book was published. We think that we remember what life was like back then but do we really? Jean Chretien was our soapstone sculpture-wielding Prime Minister, Bill Clinton was investigated and impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice and we were looking forward to the Nagano Winter Olympics. Does any of that sound familiar? What if you had a soundtrack of Celine Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On” from the Titanic? It was constantly on the radio, I think it was playing everywhere. If you are having a hard time thinking of how much life has changed in twenty years look at J. K. Rowling herself.

jkrowling

I remember exactly what it was like to read the first book in the series. I read it on the GO train as I went back and forth to work at my first job in a library in Toronto. In fact, I remember looking around at the people around me, who often dressed in conservative, dark suits and long coats, and felt like we looked as if we all might be heading off to Hogwarts.  Everything she wrote about Harry’s life seemed so real, maybe I was living it? And, I wasn’t the only adult traveling on the GO trains who read that first book or any that followed. It was not unusual to look up from the pages of one of those books and see someone else enjoying the same book. I loved the smiles that we shared as we looked over at other people who were wasting their time reading newspapers – newspapers! When they could have been getting to know Harry, Ron and Hermione? They were missing so much.

Remember how it took so long to wait for the next book to be published? I have often told my own kids that they have no idea of how lucky they are that the entire canon of Harry Potter’s life just existed on our shelves for them to read when they wanted. They didn’t have to wait like all of the ‘older’ people did. Well, the books weren’t just sitting there for them to read at first, I read the books aloud to them the first time and made some of the chapters a little less ‘scary’. I said that Harry and Voldemort were just fighting ‘a bit’ and I might have left out some of the more horrible moments entirely. I was never able to read the final moment in Dobby’s life at Shell Cottage without crying.  However, like so many people who come into WPL and talk about their love of Harry Potter we have endless happy memories that come from that wizarding world. We have inside jokes that come from the books, we have seen the movies together, we have celebrated Harry Potter birthday parties complete with wands, robes and chocolate frogs and made the pilgrimage to the theme park so that we could all have the fun of seeing the ‘wand choose the wizard’ and bring home a Pygmy Puff.

The Harry Potter books have never stopped being popular here at WPL. We often purchase new copies as the books keep wearing out from use! It’s rare that a week goes by without someone coming in to say that they just felt like a Harry Potter movie marathon. Whether it is the original seven books, the supporting material (we have such a great wizarding craft book, for example) or the films, every customer comes in with a conversation about how much the stories have meant to them. It always comes with an instant smile and a feeling of recognition, as if we are all part of the same little nation of people who share the same language and jokes. I remember an afternoon at the McCormick branch where an elegantly dressed woman came in and asked for the first book in the series and, as we walked back to the front desk, she confessed that she made a habit of re-reading the books every summer. Other customers have said that they read them for comfort when they have a cold, or have taken to reading the chapters about Harry’s Christmas holidays as a part of their family tradition each year. We have families who enjoy the audiobooks on long trips to the cottage or to visit grandparents in Nova Scotia every summer. The tale of a lonely boy who finds acceptance, friendship and love means something to so many people and, 20 years after the first book was published, it continues to be so important to all of us.

I’m not saying we should all go out and bake a chocolate cake as Hagrid did when he helped Harry to celebrate his birthday (oh, those horrid Dursleys had previously ignored the day or given him absurd things like a coat hanger as a gift) but it might be a good way to celebrate the boy who lived and the woman who gave us pages and pages of a world to escape to whenever we need it.

-Penny M.

The smaller things

First off, I loved this book.

I have read a lot of “small books” lately, stories that are less than 200 pages but in no way lacking heart. My favourite at the moment is Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong. This novel is about Ruth, who after suffering through a major breakup with her fiancé realizes she must finally acknowledge the mess that is her parents’ marriage as well as her father’s dementia. Ruth’s discovers good things as well; that her father kept a diary from when Ruth was little. He rips pages from it and leaves them around the house for Ruth to find and they are lovely and funny. There are so many funny bits in this novel, little discoveries given to us from the author, different ways of seeing simple things.

At one point Ruth wonders why she spends so much time on spending money instead of spending time with her family. Another time she is thinking about a good day she had with her stupid ex-fiancé Joel and wonders if now, since they are no longer together, it still counts as something that matters in her life. She is tired of things that don’t matter or don’t count.

Like I’ve said, the book is small so Khong gives us glimpses into these thoughts, but that’s all we need for them to stick. The novel is beautifully written and it is hard to imagine how the author fit so much into such a small space. It made my heart feel big. And have I mentioned how gorgeous the book’s cover is, because it is gorgeous.

Other wonderful, small books I have loved:

My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout
On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
The Great Gatsby  – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Chicken soup with rice: a book of months – Maurice Sendak

-Sarah C.

A glimpse of old Hollywood

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is an utterly engaging look at a Hollywood icon – her trials, tribulations, successes and multiple marriages – as she struggles to make her way in life, love and career within the confines of Hollywood and those she creates for herself.

Evelyn is a complex character. She’s stunningly beautiful, head strong and confident in some aspects of her life. As a young woman, she doesn’t always make the right choices but she’s a compelling character that readers will gravitate towards. Readers will become engrossed in Evelyn’s life as she struggles to find love, accept love and find her true self – unabashedly and totally. Personally, I loved the older Evelyn who had paid her dues, made her mistakes and came out of it all with a quiet confidence, strength and self-awareness.

 Evelyn isn’t a character that I’d normally enjoy … and yet, I liked her. I really liked her. She’s exceptionally flawed but she’s aware of many of her flaws – she accepts some, regrets a few and is unashamed of many. She has used her body and played the Hollywood game to further her career in an industry that didn’t value strong, independent women. She made horrible choices, betrayed loved ones and even ignored parts of her own identity to further her career. But underlying it all there was always a glimmer of a woman I could get behind as a main character and I wanted to see her succeed, despite herself. 

The story is told with two different time lines with Reid dropping juicy tidbits to keep her readers attention. The first timeline follows Evelyn as a young starlet in Hollywood and the other, decades later, focuses on an elderly Evelyn as she tells her life story to Monique, a young, unknown journalist. There are some twists thrown in and the mystery of why Monique was chosen to write the memoir added mystery to the book. 

 The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a mesmerizing read that gives readers a bird’s eye view into Hollywood and touches on some bigger issues, including sexism, sexuality, owning up to one’s choices and even has its touching and romantic scenes too. 

Your emotions will get a work out with this book. You’ll laugh, feel exasperated, cry, get all mushy with true love and even enraged! And through it all you’ll find yourself cheering on this unique, sassy and flawed character who persevered, lied, loved and betrayed to achieve success at the box office and in her personal life as she struggled to know herself. This is some wonderful storytelling that would make a fantastic summer read if you want to delve into old Hollywood with a truly unique and flawed character that you can’t help but root for.

-Laurie P.

Oh, the horror!

I am taking a course this summer that requires me to read from genres outside of my normal reading tastes. Horror is a genre I haven’t touched since the mid 1980’s, when I read Stephen King’s Pet Semetary, became terrified of my roommate’s cat, and had to sleep with the light on for a week!

The other day I noticed one of our new books at WPL called The Only Child by Andrew Pyper. When I saw National Post quoted on the cover saying “Pyper could be the next Stephen King” and then discovered that Pyper is Canadian, I was willing to give horror another try.

The Only Child revolves around the character of Dr. Lily Dominick, a forensic psychiatrist, who became obsessed with the human mind after witnessing her mother’s death at the age of six. Lily’s newest patient, however, shakes her to the core: not only does he claim to be 200 years old, but he says he knew her mother. Lily struggles between what is real and not real, both in the memories of her mother and the stories this “man” tells her about his life. The patient/man/monster quickly establishes a hold on Lily that keeps both her and the reader in suspense and looking over a shoulder until the end of the book.

Elements of the characters of classic horror, including Jeykll and Hyde, Dracula, and Frankenstein are present in this storyline, so it definitely had the potential to be terrifying. However, I found the book to be more creepy than scary. I was able to determine a couple of plot twists way in advance, which also helped reduce my fright (and our hydro bill). Overall, I would give The Only Child 3 stars out of 5.

-Sandy W.

A graphic novel masterpiece

Jeff Lemire’s latest graphic novel, Roughneck, is a beautifully illustrated backdrop to a troubling story that Canadians, sadly, have seen played out so many times. Set in the fictional Northern Ontario town of Pimitamon, Derek Ouellete is a ‘has-been’ hockey player battling his demons from a troubled childhood and hockey career as an ‘enforcer’. While being a ‘thug’ during his career was his role, using his fists in his civilian life has become his mode of communication and the patience of the local constabulary is running thin.

The story accelerates with the arrival of his sister Beth, who has clearly been on the wrong end of her boyfriend’s punch. Having escaped from Pimitamon to the urban lights of the big city as a teenager, Beth has lived a life unknown to her friends and family back home. As Derek discovers, Beth is also struggling with addiction and when a crisis point is reached, old friends help Derek to get Beth to a safe place to begin the withdrawal process and hopefully, her healing journey. Both Derek and Beth need to unravel a harsh upbringing in order to have any chance of finding peace in their hearts and minds. Together and apart, they piece together the harshness of their childhoods and with the strong bond of sibling love between them, manage to start looking at the world in a different way.

The thread that breaks and binds the relationships in the tale is the Indigenous blood both Derek and Beth possess, a gift from their maternal side.

The artwork is stunning, eloquently and quietly communicating this unfolding drama without the overuse of dialogue. You feel the intense desperation that has gripped both Derek and Beth as they face their demons. Even something as simple as walking on a snow-covered road is brought to life vividly. Jeff Lemire is a master of the graphic novel genre!

-Nancy C.

 

Magazines galore at your fingertips

I’d like to say that I love all of the Waterloo Public Library’s online resources equally, but PressReader has a special place in my heart. PressReader is an online resource that you can access through the Waterloo Public Library’s Digital Library webpage. PressReader gives you access to thousands of online newspapers and periodicals. Although most people use PressReader for their daily newspaper intake, the database offers a variety of magazines, including many that we don’t have in our physical collection.

When I first found out about the magazines that PressReader offers, I got quite excited and spent a good chunk of my afternoon perusing the selection. It’s interesting to see the international versions of familiar magazines like Good Housekeeping. In my browsing, I came across five magazines that piqued my interest, and I wanted to share them with you.

Top 5 Magazines I want to read on PressReader:

BBC History Magazine

This magazine has articles on different bits of World and British history. This jumped out to me, because it seems to make history accessible to the average person. It seems to cover interesting topics without the density of an academic journal.

The Simple Things

This is a lifestyle magazine that focuses on slowing down, living simply and enjoying life. I love a good lifestyle magazine, and one that’s designed beautifully, and makes me feel peaceful while reading it, is a winner.

Flea Market Décor Magazine

This is a décor magazine that focuses solely on the Bohemian/Shabby Chic/Vintage decorating style that is Flea Market inspired. I really enjoy seeing inspiration for this style of decorating and trying new DIY projects; this magazine offers both!

Practical Photography

This magazine is all about how to take better pictures. There’s a feature in the current issue of this magazine that’s all about the story behind a great photo. Too often photography magazines explain how a great photo was taken, but not why. Hopefully that feature is a sign of a good magazine!

The London Magazine

This magazine is the oldest literary periodical in England. I always enjoy reading a good literary magazine, so I was excited to see that this was available online. If you’re interested in short stories or poetry, this is the one for you!

As you start to travel away from Waterloo on your well-deserved summer vacations, don’t forget to check out the digital resources on wpl.ca . Resources like PressReader, the Download Library and Zinio are all available wherever you have internet access, 24/7. Take some time this summer to explore WPL’s online resources. You never know what you’ll find!

-Jenna H.

To Buy or Not to Buy

I very rarely buy books.  Why ever would I? Every book I want to read is here in the library so I just check it out or put it on hold and then check it out.  When my loan period is up I bring it back to the library for safekeeping and I know I can come and get it again when I need it.  It’s just the best system ever.

I am occasionally tempted to buy a book though if it is particularly beautiful to hold in my hands.  For example, just a few weeks ago there was a fantastic book about the history of card catalogues, called The Card Catalog : books, cards and literary treasures, published with a foreword by Carla Hayden (you should really check out her Twitter account – she is @LibnofCongress – it will make your day), and I so enjoyed reading that book and then flipping through the gorgeous pages again that it seemed like it might be worth having to keep.  But, I didn’t buy it.

Once in a while I find a book so charming that I check it out of the library more than once and then I think that it might just be worth it to buy a copy to save myself the trouble of coming in to check it out over and over again.  Then I remember that it isn’t really that much trouble.  It’s fun to come and find it on the shelves again and really, since I am reading it for the second or third time, is it really a rush job anyway?  No.  So I don’t buy that book even though it meant so much to me. This has happened a few times, especially with novels written about books or booksellers.  Like with Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry or Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.  Really sensational books.

Well, in this summer’s list of Featured Titles I have found a book that is making me think I might change my ways.  This might be the beginning of a whole new me.  Feast: recipes & stories from a Canadian road trip is an outrageously beautiful cookbook that extends beyond that genre into coffee table book-style with photography that will knock your socks off.  Maybe you will put it in your kitchen or maybe you will leave it artfully displayed in your living room to impress visitors?  It is that stunning.  The authors, Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller, decided that they would spend the summer of 2015 traveling across our country to write about Canada’s food, culture and the wonderful people they would meet.  They have done this in a way that includes recipes, of course, but also has a warmth and sense of spirit that you don’t expect in a cookbook.  The idea of ‘road trip’ comes across just as strongly as the food does.  They are in love with our country and they write about it with such passion.

downloadThe recipes in Feast are wonderful, of course, and are broken down into regions and also into sections like “grazing” and “cheers”, and the instructions included with each one are very clear.  I like clear directions with my recipes and they have done so every time.  It’s comforting and encouraging, it’s absolute perfection.  They photograph each recipe and also include images from the places that they visited to source those foods and that is where the true beauty of our country shines.  This is one of the rare cookbooks where you won’t skip a single page.  Say you find that an individual recipe doesn’t suit your family, maybe you are vegetarians and you won’t be interested in the Slow Cooker Moose Stroganoff, but you will want to read all about how they came to meet chef Roary MacPherson, who gave them that recipe.  It’s 304 pages of great reading and it just happens to have beautiful photographs and incredible recipes.

I brought the book home, slowly turned the pages and called out to my family about the things that caught my eye like “bannock!”, “sausage rolls!”, “come look at these chickens!”, “holy cow, they went to Churchill and had apple fritters!”  Generally my kids don’t love it when I do this but I did wear them down and they had to come to see what these two cookbook authors were up to.  It’s beautiful from the first page, from the cover.  You can, by the way, read the whole story of how they got to the final decision on the cover of their book on the website that they maintained as they traveled across the country.  Check it out at edibleroadtrip.com

Their adventure began on their blog and they continue to update it with lovely posts about food and travel.  It’s inspiring, vibrant writing and a wonderful way to get to know more about the two women who created this incredible book.  I’ve seen many Canadian-themed cookbooks before, as I am sure so many WPL customers have, but this one stands out because they aren’t just talking about food, they are talking about our country with humour and cheer.  They cover many of the foods that you think that someone might in a typically Canadian cookbook and introduce you to people in bakeries, restaurants and communities across the nation while they do it.  I’m going to buy my copy and return this one for the shelves now.  I hope that this doesn’t start a new personal trend and I just keep buying more books for my home.  Perhaps I should start looking at bookshelf designs? I know that we have some great books on that topic (one nice choice that I’ve found on the shelves is called Bookshelves & Cabinets) if I do.

— Penny M.

 

An autobiography from the heart

In the Christian community the name Steven Curtis Chapman is a familiar one. A popular musician in the contemporary genre, Steven is particularly known for his songwriting skills. His songs speak from the heart and resonate with his audience in powerful ways. If you’ve ever heard his song, Cinderella, you’ll know what I mean. If not, see it on YouTube before proceeding!

A staple on the concert circuit for many years, Chapman, along with his wife, Mary Beth, have become strong advocates for adoption. Initially urged to consider embracing a non-biological child by their then adolescent daughter Emily, they went on to adopt three girls from China and developed a passion for encouraging others to do the same, even creating an organization called Show Hope to provide financial support.

In the book Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story, Steven shares more of his personal journey. From his humble upbringing in Paducah, Kentucky, to his decision to pursue music as a career, to meeting Mary Beth and beginning a family, to the challenges they have faced as a couple, he holds nothing back. The reader walks with him through his mountaintop experiences, as well as through some of life’s deepest valleys. He admits a tendency to want to “fix” things; describes the challenges of married life; and pours out the anguish of losing a child.

Even if you weren’t a Steven Curtis Chapman fan in 2008, your heart couldn’t help but bleed for the family as news of the accident that killed his adopted daughter came to light. Nine years later, the hole left by five-year-old Maria Sue is still profound, and the family has found healing through their faith and purpose through charitable activities undertaken in her name.

I highly recommend Between Heaven and the Real World for fans of Steven Curtis, as well as for anyone interested in Christian memoir or autobiography. Though he would be the first to acknowledge he is far from perfect, the author’s story is incredibly inspiring and, ultimately, hopeful.

–Susan B.

Other autobiographies I have enjoyed from our collection include:

Choosing to See: a Journey of Struggle and Hope by Mary Beth Chapman (e-book)

marybeth

Grace Will Lead Me Home by Robin Givens

robingivens

It’s All About Him: Finding the Love of My Life by Denise Jackson (wife of country musician Alan Jackson)

denisejackson

This Is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith and Life by Gavin MacLeod

gavinmcleod

Against All Odds: My Story by Chuck Norris

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Revisiting a classic

Sometimes you want a new (or newish) book. And sometimes you want an old classic.

I’m doing the classic thing. I recently checked out Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind for a re-read. I expect I’ll be hanging out with Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler et al for a good chunk of the summer as it’s 1037 pages long. Maybe I’ll have to skip a few of those pesky household chores…

I am so caught up in this magnificent piece of historical writing. The book, as most people know, is set in the American South just before the Civil War. It’s kind of bittersweet, maybe sad, to see Scarlett O’Hara’s comfortable, gracious world and know that it is about to disappear forever (though since the whole system was predicated on slavery you can hardly regret its disappearance).

Then comes the war (1861-65) and all its horrors and uncertainties. When it is over, the people of the South struggle to pick up the pieces of their life again. And through it all, our heroine schemes and manipulates time and time again to get what she wants. (But maybe the scheming and manipulation are really not so bad. Since Scarlett lived in a time and place where women had very little power, I’m not sure I blame her for using what means she could to exert some control over her life.)

So yes, GWTW is a wonderful story. It is also a first-rate piece of writing and has a large cast of well-drawn characters. It’s no wonder the book was a sensation when it was published in 1936 and is still widely read today, a classic in other words.

–Penny D.

Join us for book chats!

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Fragile by Lisa Unger

Date: Monday, July 10th at 7 p.m.

Location: Main Library – Auditorium

Ricky’s girlfriend, Charlene, has disappeared, and Ricky’s mom wonders whether he’s responsible. Despite reassurances from her husband, a police officer, Maggie is worried that Ricky’s new black garb and tattoos signal a dangerous change of outlook. What’s more, Charlene’s disappearance echoes another case 20 years earlier, stirring community concerns. A parent’s biggest nightmare, with standard cold-case parallels.

Poles Apart by Terry Fallis

Date: Thursday, July 20th at 1:30 p.m.

Location: Main Library – Board Room

Eve of Equality, a new feminist blog, becomes an overnight sensation when a wildly popular talk show host stumbles upon it, tweets about it, and promotes it on her show. The anonymous blog is intelligent, thoughtful, and bold, brazenly taking on various injustices in the lives of women. But it’s the blogger Eve’s post about the controversial entrepreneur behind XY, a new chain of high-end strip clubs opening up across the country, that sets off a firestorm. In a matter of hours, the site crashes, its Twitter count jumps from a paltry 19 followers to nearly 250,000, and Eve is suddenly lauded as the new voice of modern feminism. But who, exactly, is the Eve behind Eve of Equality ? Well . . . not who you might think. Meet Everett Kane, aspiring writer and fervent feminist. He writes his erudite blog in his new apartment, at his kitchen table, and his life is about to change forever.

Find more information about WPL Book Clubs here.