In a Reading Slump

Reading slumps are the worst. People come to WPL staff to ask for help with these every week and they can happen to anyone. For so many reasons. Sometimes the books you have been enjoying just aren’t cutting it anymore. In other situations, life is making it difficult to enjoy reading as you normally might or there might be a time when you can’t pinpoint the reason but you just need help getting out of a rough spot.

I have been smack in the middle of one of a reading slump since my mother died. I used to turn to books for comfort and it’s not working as it used to. I take shiny books home and read them but they aren’t giving me the same happiness. I find it difficult to retain anything beyond the bare bones of the plot even with books from my favourite series. Flavia’s last adventure involved her sister’s wedding but the rest is a blur. What to do?

Well, we don’t give up around here. Have you ever seen a group of library staff trying to find an answer to a really tough question? We LOVE to answer the hard questions. I’m very sure that the term “leave no stone unturned” originated in a library. My theory is that it’s likely that a group of librarians* were trying to find the answer to a question about something like properties of bricks and masonry in European buildings of the early 1900s and someone said “…leave no stone unturned.” because it was a clever pun.

When someone experiencing a downturn in reading happiness comes to the desk it has been my habit to ask what they read in the past. If they are open to reading “anything” then I might to suggest that they dip into some recently published non-fiction. The treat of a well-written non-fiction book is that you can set it down easily after a chapter or two and feel like you have accomplished something. Reading non-fiction is satisfying and can also help you to easily channel your reading towards a particular topic and steer clear of others.

Often customers who are caught in the middle of a slump know that they need to avoid certain topics. In my case I know that I will not enjoy reading anything about health care, aging parents, mother-daughter relationships or well, I guess anything about hair care, cooking, and shopping. The non-fiction shelves at WPL have been good to me recently. Matt Haig’s recent book was an opportunity to rethink some less healthy habits like focusing on the bad news in the newspaper each morning and trying on some new ones like spending more time outside and connecting with friends. Small goals. Notes on a Nervous Planet was the kind of book that was fun to fall into every time I picked it up. I felt like I was getting to spend time with the author and see the world through his eyes each time. It’s memoir with and a dash of self-help and a soupçon of technology advice. I found it to be very useful, it passed the time and it can be enjoyed by any reader.

If we are fighting a reading slump then we need a book or series that is truly good. Not a by-the-numbers thriller or standard romance. A great book can break through a downtrend in reading pleasure and help to return a reader to that place where books can be pulled from the shelf with abandon. I have a list of authors that I keep to give to someone who is suffering from the “yips” in their reading habits. These must have enough story to keep you turning the pages, can’t be about a serious health issue or death, about coping with a family crisis or the aftermath of one, and should not be about a topic that is too light-hearted. If a book character’s life is so perfect then it can be a bit hard to take. No thank you. Favourites from our shelves include books by Nina George (oh, The Little Paris Bookshop), Julia Stuart, Rainbow Rowell, Jenny Colgan, and Louis De Bernières.

Take home two or three books, put one or more on hold, and be ready to try again. Curing a reading slump doesn’t happen easily and sometimes it takes more than one attempt. Often the remedy isn’t found on the new books shelf and will come from a trusted back-list novel that has been sitting on the shelf, just waiting to go home and perform a reading rescue. I once passed along Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore to someone and had them return to say that it kept them going through a difficult weekend.

I’m thrilled to say that I was pulled from my funk by Elinor Lipman’s most recent book. It’s so bright and unexpected with characters who are absolutely charming. I’m still thinking of them and will be reading her past books as well. Can’t wait. In Good Riddance Daphne Maritch inherits her mother’s yearbook and is at the mercy of an annoying neighbour who finds the yearbook after she recycles it in their apartment building. Why do their paths cross? This horrible neighbour thinks the 1968 yearbook would be a great subject for her next documentary and will not return it. She absolutely will not. Even worse, she wants Daphne to help her with the documentary. Horrible neighbour. Daphne spends the rest of the book trying to sort out her life, her feelings about her family, and prevent this film project from ever happening. She does this with the support of her part-time professional dog walking father and a terrific across-the-hall neighbour who is a part of the “Riverdale” cast. It’s tremendously fun, despite the difficulties surrounding the yearbook debacle, and Daphne is trying her best throughout. It is quirky, lovely and was just the thing to brighten my reading mood. I didn’t know I would love it before I picked it up. Actually, I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t like it. I hadn’t really liked reading anything for months. That’s how it is with getting rid of the dreaded reading slump. The cure comes in surprising forms. So, come to the desk and ask us to help you find one. It’s what we do.

— Penny M.

*There is quite a debate online about the collective noun for a group of librarians. You know, like a group of crows is called a “murder” of crows and a group of ants is a “colony”. I have seen postings which say a group of librarians could be called a “stack of librarians” or a “volume of librarians”. I think my very favourite of them all was “a collection of librarians” but in the end the very best answer was from someone who just said “Ask us.”

Fascinated by Queen Victoria

Good old Queen Victoria was born on May 24, 1819…200 years ago!! Queen Victoria may be long dead and gone, yet in a way she lives on. She lent her name and birthday to the glorious long weekend we are now celebrating. And she lives on in numerous place and street names around the globe as well as inspiration for books and movies.

My daughter and I recently decided we wanted to watch a TV series together, something British. We selected Victoria and steadily worked our way through Seasons 1 and 2. We were enthralled — addicted? — from the get go! Just so you know, this is NOT your stout, dowdy, “we are not amused” Queen Victoria. This is a young, vibrant Victoria (just 18 years of age when she came to the throne), a headstrong Victoria filled with steely determination to do things her own way. Viewers are treated to pomp and circumstance, romance (both royal and below stairs variety), juicy scandal, and plenty of scheming and intrigue.

The cast is superb. Jenna Coleman plays Queen Victoria, Tom Hughes is her husband, Prince Albert, and Rufus Sewell portrays Lord Melbourne, the prime minister. I have to confess to a secret hankering after the Prince Ernst character (David Oakes), the oh-so-handsome and charming but badly-behaved older brother of Prince Albert.

Season 3 of Victoria comes out on DVD later this month. Cannot wait!

As we watched the series, I also read the companion book, Victoria by Daisy Goodwin, the creator and writer of the TV series. Highly enjoyable. Looking for more Victoria-inspired reading or viewing? Here are a couple of newish offerings I would recommend: Victoria & Abdul (DVD) and Queen Victoria: twenty four days that changed her life (book) by Lucy Worsley.

I have become quite fascinated with Queen Victoria, so I will leave you with two facts I bet you did not know. First, when Victoria was born the chances of her ever becoming queen were extremely remote as she was the daughter of the fourth son of the old King. Also, when Queen Victoria died (in 1901) she was the longest reigning monarch in British history (at 63 years) … though that record has recently been surpassed by her great-great granddaughter, the present Queen, at 67 years, and counting.

Happy Victoria Day!

— Penny D.

It’s Genius

I recently borrowed Food 52’s latest cookbook, Genius Desserts : 100 recipes that will change the way you bake. After reading it through and trying 3 different recipes, I can’t say it has changed the way I bake BUT the recipes are certainly genius. Each one was awesome and I’ve already made a list of others that I want to try out.

Food52 is an award-winning kitchen and home brand. Established almost 10 years ago, their mandate is to help followers “…eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.” They have an extensive team behind the scenes led by CEO and Co-Founder, Amanda Hesser. She herself has written a few books including Cooking for Mr. Latte : A Food Lover’s Courtship, with Recipes, The Cook and the Gardener, and The Essential New York Times Cookbook. The Food52 website won a James Beard award and with over 4 million followers on social media, I think I am not alone in being pleased with the look of their books and online presence as well as being very satisfied with the recipe results.

The content shared in print and online by Food 52 is a mix of food, cooking, design, culture, and travel. The recipes shared are from talented home cooks as well as celebrity chefs like Nigella Lawson, Jacques Pépin, and Madhur Jaffrey.

food 52 004The first recipes I tried were for cookies: Dorie Greenspan & Pierre Herme’s “World Peace Cookies” and Julia Moskin’s “Peanut Butter Sandies”. I decided to bring them to the library for staff to taste test. While both plates emptied quickly, the World Peace Cookies were the hands down winners. Comments included “Those chocolate cookies are the best!”, “Nice texture and not over-the-top chocolatey.” and “The World Peace cookie was very good. I didn’t find it too sweet and the addition of chocolate chips was a pleasant surprise.” That recipe is a keeper!

Next up was “One Step, No Churn Coffee Ice Cream” by a favourite of mine, Nigella Lawson. I do have a Pampered Chef Ice Cream Maker (which is amazing, btw) but I was intrigued by this no-frills recipe. There are just 4 ingredients and the only equipment needed is an electric mixer and a freezer. Basically, you just beat the ingredients together until airy, place the mixture in a container with an airtight lid and freeze overnight. The resulting ice cream is SUPER rich and decadent which means you don’t need to eat very much to be satisfied. I’d definitely try this again with some other flavours.

I have plans to make the Guinness Stout Ginger Cake next although I will be skipping the Parsley Cake on the page that precedes it. Parsley Cake aside, there are plenty just begging to be tried: Pistachio Millionaire’s Shortbread with Coriander Butterscotch, Weird & Wonderful Banana Cake (which sounds just that!) and Butterscotch Budino to name but three.

Embrace your inner genius. Borrow this book. Give the recipes a whirl. You won’t be disappointed.

  • Sandi H.

P.S. after writing this post I did make the Stout Spice Gingerbread and it was out of this world. It’s going to become a staple in our household.

World Peace Cookies

1 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ c plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 c. packed light brown sugar
¼ c. granulated sugar
½ tsp. fine sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla
¾ c mini chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer.

Pour in the dry ingredients and mix at low speed just until flour is mixed in.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 ½  inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — let it warm just enough so that you can slice the log into rounds and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease baking sheets. Remove dough from fridge. Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.

Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be.

Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Ask Again, Yes

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane is an inter-generational domestic drama that focuses on two families who find their lives intertwined by one fateful event. The story follows the families for several decades allowing readers to witness the implications and far-reaching effects this one event has on members of both families.

Readers will have to be patient with the book’s slower start but soon they will be pulled into the lives of the Stanhope and Gleeson families. I particularly appreciated Keane‘s candor and sensitivity regarding the issues of mental illness and addiction and how she illustrates the long-term influence parents’ decisions have on their children.

While I found the story to be somewhat predictable (and perhaps a little long in the tooth) at times, the topics that are addressed (family, loss, tragedy, addiction ..) were explored in depth making it a good choice for book club discussions.

Overall, Ask Again, Yes is a well-written, poignant and insightful story that illustrates how one tragic event can change the trajectory of many lives and how the bumpy road to forgiveness and healing after such an event can reverberate through a family for decades.

— Laurie P.

The Hottest Titles for Spring 2019

The snow has melted, and dreams of lounging in the sun will soon be a reality. What better way to welcome the new season than with a good book or two from our  Spring Featured Titles list.

Non-Fiction

Our topics are, as ever, wide ranging on the Featured Titles List. From a study of animal emotions to a look at how Canada’s past is affecting its future to following Alex Hannold on his free solo climb up el Capitan. We have a true tale of star-crossed lovers in Sicily or you could get the buzz from Meredith May about growing up on a honeybee farm. Hungry for more? There’s the latest from writer and food critic Ruth Reichl (including recipes!) and a behind-the-scenes look at Queer Eye’s Karamo.

Fiction

There are so many great new novels coming out this spring it was difficult to select just seven! “The Stranger Diaries” is a modern gothic novel which will have you guessing at the killer’s identity until the last page. In “If, Then” by Kate Hope Day, small glimpses at another life lead four neighbours to discover something cataclysmic in their small town. A woman suspects her new neighbour was involved in an unsolved murder but will anyone believe her? “Before She Knew Him” is a must read. High school romance moves to an elite university battleground for Marianne and Connell in the award-winning “Normal People” by Sally Rooney. Wilderness survival has never been as thrilling as it is in “The River” by Peter Heller. Or if fantasy mysteries are more to your taste, give “The Binding” by Bridget Collins a try. And finally, once again focusing on the relationship between neighbours, “White Elephant” by Julie Langsdorf is a darkly humoured look at the suburban town of Willard Park as it becomes a battleground.

FT-Spring-2019

Celebrating Mothers

Mother’s Day is May 12th. You could just go out and celebrate your mother or mother-like figure with books this year (and I have such a good suggestion for you) but why not give them what they really really want… what every parent wants – the gift of spending time together!

With my last few Mother’s Day celebrations we realized that was what we liked best about the day. It didn’t matter where we got together or what we did – it was the amount of time that we were able to spend together that really meant the most. The library is the first place to come to for valuable tools you can use to make the most of your time to be together and possibly find extra time in your day.

Your first step is not wasting your time on cleaning and tidying. Why would you? Stop spending hours on things that don’t matter so that you can hang out with your Mom and relax. In a recent shipment of books we received several copies of a gem of a book from Reader’s Digest called Home Hacks which contains all the tips you need to make home care faster and easier. Just flipping through this book made me feel energized and ready to attack several home projects that had been languishing for months – papers that needed to be filed and a guest room that needs to be more guest room and less storage space. Reader’s Digest Home Hacks is so comprehensive that they include sections which suggest when you can “save time”, use an “insider’s hack” and “save money”. I am also a big fan of the paragraphs when their editors tell the truth and say that there is no way around it and you simply have to call in an expert to fix a particular problem. It saves me the worry and time I might have spent researching something to know that I should have just called in a specialist in the first place.

The next step in your plan for time saving is to pull together some simple meals and stay out of the kitchen. I used to call these easy meals “one pot meals” when our kids were small because I really didn’t like to wash dishes so using just one pot was fantastic. This works as a search term or you can also try one pan or one sheet when you are searching through the WPL catalogue. The key is to find a meal that is quick and delicious so that you get out of the kitchen and can just be cozy. Although it is possible to hang out and chat in the kitchen as well, so maybe speed isn’t the key for you and your Mom. You could always bake or cook something side by side? A gorgeous cookbook that came in with some spring books includes several clever options for chicken and a four-page spread for stuffed peppers. You will find something to suit every appetite with Betty Crocker Make It In One and it will be cooked in time for you to do something else like head out for dessert that someone else baked.

Now that you can care for your home more efficiently and cook up a super-quick meal, you will have so much more time to spend with the fam. How about going for a walk using a WPL pedometer kits which include a pedometer, tips for safe walking and a walking/cycling map of Waterloo. Or you could check out one of our museum passes – we have them for THEMUSEUM and the Region of Waterloo Museums – and plan a fabulous, free outing in our community. As the weather gets warmer these passes will be in high demand so you might have to place a hold but it will be so worth it and an absolute treat to look forward to. Plan to spend more time together.

And… if you just want to stay home and read (or possibly share a great book with someone) then a recent favourite of mine will absolutely beguile you. Steven Rowley is back with The Editor. He took the publishing world by storm in 2016 with his semi-autobiographical novel Lily and the Octopus and I was so excited to read this one. In The Editor his main character, James, has had the extreme good fortune of having his first novel selected for publication by a Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Meetings with Jackie! Just imagine. To make this even more special for James (if it is possible to have this become even more spectacular) his mother is an enormous Kennedy family fan and he knows she will be thrilled to hear his news. He hopes that working with her might smooth over some of the rough spots in their relationship. Mothers, right? The friendship and working relationship between Jackie and James is one half of this wonderful book and the other half is his relationship with his mother. It’s not as quirky as his first novel but leaves you with the sense that you have been right there beside the character every step of the way. And you will be thrilled you were there.

We really do have you covered with time saving hacks, recipes, suggestions for activities in the community and an absolutely wonderful book. If these don’t work for your Mother’s Day plans then go with flowers – my mother was partial to the smell of carnations. Enjoy your day!

— Penny M.

Lighten Up!

Book clubs are a nice way to enjoy books, friends, and discussions. So why is it that almost every book club I hear about only reads depressing books? I feel like every time I ask someone what their book club is reading, they describe a novel that involves a family member slowly dying, a memoir of someone who lived in a concentration camp, and so on and so forth. I know it is human nature to focus more on negatives than positives, but I think we can successfully turn this trend around.

Why can’t we talk about happy books? There are still things to discuss, even if a book doesn’t have you in tears the whole time. There are even books that have a little bit of both for some more emotionally balanced reading. When I read an exciting book that has made me laugh, I love talking about it. Especially with other people who have read it as well. Imagine: a room full of people happily talking about funny or uplifting things!

The world has enough sad things in it that I think it is okay to read something happier for a change. Jenny Lawson’s books are hilarious with moments of poignancy, and are really fun reads. They would give a book club plenty to talk about! Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series are books that are full of literary references, humour, and intelligence – another great addition to your book club list.

I’m not saying you should never read or discuss books that evoke difficult emotions, but I do believe we should mix it up a bit. There are so many types of books to read and enjoy exciting debates about, so why not widen the scope of your book club roster? It’s important to remember to keep laughter and light in our lives, and what better way to add to your life than with a book? Here’s to happy discussions!

— Ashley T.

My Unexpected Encounter with Father Brown

As a young millennial, I never thought I’d find myself watching period-drama mysteries. Miss Marple, Midsomer Murders and the like–those were TV shows for other people of a more *ahem* mature lifestyle to enjoy. I was in for a big surprise when on a whim I borrowed Season 1 of the BBC’s Father Brown.

I originally intended to let this show play in the background, while I worked on other things around my apartment. Before I knew it my housework had been forgotten, and I was fully enthralled in 1950’s era mystery. I had gotten lost in the world of Kembleford and fallen in love with Father Brown and his hodge-podge group of sidekicks.

As I watched through the episodes of Father Brown, I couldn’t quite figure out why I was enjoying it so much. Normally I lose interest in the “one-and-done” crime shows that don’t have any over-arching plot lines and the crimes are contained to one episode, never to be spoken of again. The episodes of Father Brown were of the “one-and-done” variety, but I was addicted.

Somewhere in Season 3, I figured out the Father Brown appeal: escapism. The power of escapism is often overlooked in conversations about the stories we consume. We boast that good stories help us see other people’s point-of-views, inform us of other ways of living and ultimately make us more empathetic human beings. This is all true, but good stories have another role.

Watching Father Brown — in all of it’s “one-and-done” glory–gave me an escape from the stresses of everyday life, and that’s why I loved it so much. I could turn on the TV and know what to expect. By the end of the episode, the balance would be back in check and I’d have had the opportunity to spend a good 45 minutes with the now-familiar characters. It might sound silly to some, but the episodes were a stable comfort during a chaotic period in my life.

So, if you’re looking for an escape or just enjoy a plain, old-fashioned mystery, I’d definitely recommend trying a season or two (or six!) of Father Brown.

— Jenna H.