In-Between Days

In-Between Days is a memoir about living with cancer. For people who are sad-averse, this subject matter would be enough to keep them away from this book. Having it presented in a graphic novel format could be the last straw for the reader sitting on the fence. However, I urge you to step outside of your comfort zone and experience this illustrated emotional, spiritual and physical cancer journey that Teva Harrison takes us on.

At the age of 37, Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, a disease that, at the time, was classified as incurable but controllable. Believing that she would be living with this disease as a chronic illness, Teva sought the help of a psychiatrist who worked in the oncology department at her hospital. Talking through her concerns led her to creating drawings of the dark emotions she was experiencing. Her doctor encouraged her to continue with this therapeutic exercise and from that encouragement, this graphic novel was born.

The reader is taken through Teva’s cancer journey from diagnosis through numerous treatments to her eventual acceptance of the incurability of the disease. The illustrations are done in black and white, which allowed her to depict her experience, both starkly and also more-lightheartedly. Visually, the drawings are stunning in their simplistic detail.

We learn of her first meeting with her soul-mate/husband David and the incredibly beautiful way their romance unfolded and the solidity of that relationship through some of Teva’s darkest moments.

Anyone who has experienced a devastating diagnosis of any kind, whether personally or alongside a friend or family member, will understand the oscillating moments of torment and hope that patients experience. The need for connection versus the need to be alone; the need to eat versus the emptiness of hunger; the need to get up and out versus the paralyzing fatigue that makes the smallest movement seem monumental. Harrison walks us through the map of the intimacies of her life with candor and humour. She was blessed with a family of exceptional women and that legacy and support was the steel in her spirit when the days seemed their darkest.

Spoiler alert. I’m not going to lie to you… by the time I reached the end, I really thought/hoped/prayed that Teva’s story would end well. And I think to a certain extent, it likely did insofar as she lived with passion and ferocity, in the face of an uncertain future. I expect that she packed more ‘living’ into her dying days than some people do in their ‘living’ days. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking and life-affirming tale told by a very brave and very talented woman.

— Nancy C.

Staff Picks for Summer

WPL staff love sharing what they’re reading…or looking forward to reading! If you’re looking for a new great read, why not check out our Staff Picks List for Summer 2019. This list of fiction and non-fiction is for adult readers.

We’re also sharing our top picks for kids and teens. We hope you have a summer full of sunshine, good times and great reads.

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We have a great summer read for you!

Summer is upon us and that means a double edition of Featured Titles! With 14 Non-Fiction and 14 Fiction titles to choose from, we’re sure you will find a book (or two or … ) to sit back, relax, and enjoy the summer sun with.

Looking for even more great reads? Check out our Staff Picks List for Summer 2019 too.

We hope you have a wonderful summer full of beautiful weather, happy times with family and friends and, of course, great reads!

Mind & Matter

Beach read, smeach read. I think that we should all read anything we want in the summer – spin the wheel and pick a genre, any genre. The New Yorker (available to us online, 24-hours a day, through RBdigital) published an article which unveiled the truth behind the summer reading season.

It turns out that the whole summer reading phenomenon is a put-up job created by the publishing industry at the turn of the last century. Those clever marketing people just wanted to sell more books! When vacation getaways became popular, thanks to railways and steamships, they got to work and made sure that their product would be ready for packing into stylish suitcases. They repackaged older titles as “summer” editions (I know that I would be fooled by this – I can easily be taken in by a book with a straw hat on the cover), encouraged their authors to write novels set on campsites and summer resorts and poof, made the summer novel an important part of the publishing market. Well, it all worked out well for them, didn’t it?

Now it seems like every newspaper and magazine we receive here in the library runs a feature on summer reads, beach reads, resort reads or cottage reads. Men’s Health magazine (available on the shelf and through RBdigital) has even promoted books that are ‘unsung beach reads’ in their July/August issue. I’m in favour of this, wholeheartedly. Let’s all read more!

I recently fell so hard for a book that didn’t have a straw hat on the cover and looks more like a back-to-school title than anything else but I encourage you to rush out and grab a copy. Mind and Matter, the memoir by former Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel is not your typical NFL story. It’s really not like any book I’ve ever read before. The subtitle of his book is “a life in math and football” because at the time his book was published John was working towards his PhD in math at MIT. Not something might expect to read about a former NFL player and maybe that is what makes this book a fantastic read. I read it, one of my daughters read it and then my husband picked it up and we all have not stopped talking about it whenever we can move conversation towards the topic of John Urschel. If we have talked to you in the last few weeks we have probably mentioned him.

Although he was born in Winnipeg, Urschel had moved to Buffalo by the time he attended high school. He began to play football because he was inspired by his father’s college career and saw it as a way to be popular. Urschel enjoyed the sport and loved being on a team right away but it wasn’t easy. He worked hard, practiced at home and had extra coaching from his father so that he could catch up with kids who were far stronger players. But something that did come easy to him, even at a very young age, were puzzles and math.

When John Urschel was just 13 his mother arranged for him to audit a college-level Calculus course because she knew that he would enjoy it so much. They played a little game where she would let him have the change from their shopping trips if he could calculate the tax before the cashier finished tallying their purchases. She had to stop that quickly as his mental work was so quick.

Everything Urschel writes in this autobiography is very matter of fact, partially because he wants to tell a convincing story about following the path that feels right to you, even when people around you are telling you it isn’t the right one, and all of the little glimpses he shares about his younger grades just jump off the page.

He wrote this book with the assistance of his partner, author Louisa Thomas, and it is honest and inspiring (even when he gets down to the nitty gritty of explaining a multi-step logic problem). Urschel made the choice to accept a scholarship to Penn State in 2010 although his mother was pressuring him to attend Stanford because he felt like their football team would be the best fit for him. When he arrives on their campus it’s the first step in a long journey to the NFL and this half of his life story is filled with exactly what you would expect – grueling workouts, games out of town, making lifelong friendships with other players and fighting to keep his spot on the roster. Learning about his time at Penn State is particularly interesting as he was there during the time that football players were sanctioned for the acts of their former coach Jerry Sandusky. It’s the first of many moments in John’s life that the reader feels like they have that “fly on the wall” experience.

When Urschel was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2014 draft he had completed his master’s degree and even published a paper in an academic journal. At this time in his football career he was starting to feel the pull of his academic interests but still wanted to stay with the team. Incredibly he was able to balance both his school world and the life of an NFL player. It’s wonderful to read the story of his management saying that now that he is signed to a big football contract it’s time to do something about the horrible car he has been driving. Urschel had been driving the same car for years so he agreed to this and asked that they order him a Nissan Versa. A new one, certainly, but not the type of car you would expect of someone who has just signed an NFL contract. And definitely a slightly smaller car than would comfortably fit an offensive lineman. It’s a story that is constantly fascinating.

Something you would expect in a memoir about a football player is for it to discuss concussions. He talks about the possibility of injury, brain and body, throughout his career and the part they play in his life. Each time he considers whether he will continue on in the sport this is something that is on his mind and he spends time in the book discussing how he is able to compartmentalize his feelings about injuries. He is aware of the chance he could develop CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and addresses his concerns. He is honest about how it might change the direction of his career as a mathematician but he continues to work at both math and football with equal passion despite experiencing a concussion during Ravens training camp in August of 2015.

His love of football and mathematics are interwoven perfectly throughout the book and that is one of the things that make it such a pleasure to read – the balance. He gives equal weight to both and as you read you can see why he devotes so much to making both parts of his life a success. This isn’t an autobiography that gives much detail outside of those two pursuits but this helps you to see why he does so well in both vocations. He occasionally mentions other players on his teams, shares details about the mentors he has at the universities or says how much he enjoys the campus where he lives but there are very few incidental moments shared about how he spent his life. At the end of the book you realize the reason for this is because it’s likely he didn’t have much extra time between playing a competitive sport and his academic life. Well, he does mention wanting to take a break at one point, and this is when he takes up chess in a more serious way. He had enjoyed it off and on throughout his life but when he decides he needs it for a change of pace he orders specialized books, studies the most famous games, and finds himself spending hours contemplating a particular position on the board.

Finally Urschel does find that his life at MIT is the more appealing one. He acknowledges that either football or mathematics would benefit from his full-time attention and he knows that he is looking forward to going back to school more than being at ‘work’ on the football field. It isn’t a decision that he makes easily (and in an interview I read he says that he does miss his NFL pay cheque) and he notes that his fiancé and their daughter factor into his retirement from the NFL.

At a young age John Urschel decided that he wanted to choose an unexpected career path and put everything he could into making his unlikely future happen. In Mind and Matter he has written an inspiring, enjoyable memoir that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages – whether they enjoy math or football or neither of those things – his story is so compelling. And, if you want to, skip ahead to the logic puzzle it is on pages 8 through 12 (yes, it takes 5 pages to describe this puzzle and the solution, he is the real deal).

— Penny M.

Autism in Heels

71K+4FtgxrLWhile browsing the “New Items” section of the WPL website, I came across a memoir entitled Autism in Heels : the untold story of a female life on the spectrum by Jennifer Cook O’Toole. O’Toole is the bestselling author of the Asperkids series of books, a motivational speaker along the likes of Tony Attwood, and is described as “…one of autism’s most prominent figures.” O’Toole certainly knows her stuff. Not only are her husband and all 3 of their children on the Autism spectrum, but she herself was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when she was 35 years old. She says that was when her “real life began.”

Although Autism is definitely a hot topic in the news right now, I don’t think I really had a true grasp of how difficult it is for children and their caregivers to receive a diagnosis, support and treatment, let alone how much it all costs.

I learned a lot from this book. I learned that in the not-so-distant past, Autism assessment screening tools were often gender-biased towards males. Girls often had to present more obvious characteristics to even be noticed, and experts believed autistic girls had “…more severe symptoms and more significant intellectual disabilities.”

I also learned that girls with autism are more prone to eating disorders, inflicting self-harm, and to be victims of abuse. Another thing was that people with autism can feel overwhelming compassion and empathy for others, to the point that it literally hurts them to see someone else or something else hurting.

I have to say, however, that I found this book difficult to read. O’Toole suffered through a lot of bullying as well as mental, physical, and sexual abuse in her life before her diagnosis. There are even content warnings for a couple of chapters later in the book. These are difficult topics to read about but to discover the author thought her mistreatment was deserved or her fault? To learn how hard she tried her whole life to make friends and feel accepted. Absolutely heartbreaking.

O’Toole has a huge list of accomplishments but at times I felt as though she was still seeking acceptance and acknowledgement from me as a reader. O’Toole confesses to having a “… jumpy thinking style.” I often found her writing style to be repetitive or fragmented and I could not read more than a few pages at a time before stopping for a break.

Do not be discouraged from reading this worthy book. I refused to give up on this less-than-easy read and gained valuable, important information and insight.

— Sandy W.

 

Long Live the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll

When we think of Tina Turner we tend to think of wild hair, red lipstick and legs that can dance for days. Everyone knows of course about her tumultuous marriage to Ike Turner and how she left with nothing but 36 cents in her pocket. We know some of her greatest hits like “What’s Love Got to Do with It” and “Private Dancer” came out some years later. What most of us don’t know, however, is what happened in the years between her split from Ike and becoming a superstar.

My Love Story is an autobiography about the second half of Tina Turner’s life – the life that began after walking away from her success with Ike.

The beginning of the book does cover Turner’s early days and how Ike controlled every aspect of her career including her name. Born Anna Mae, Ike came up with the stage name Tina, had it trademarked and therefore owned everything she did. It does go into the abuse and how she reached her lowest point before walking out the door. But the majority of the book is about Tina’s resilience. How she remade her career and how she found love again.

The journey starts with her giving up everything she knew. Tina was finally free of her marriage but what else did she have? She was a woman approaching 40 and only known for performing with Ike on stage. She didn’t have the conventional looks of other female artists. She wasn’t curvaceous, her voice was raw rather than sensual and to top it off, she was being sued for breach of contract for the concert dates she missed after leaving Ike.

North America had a hard time accepting Tina Turner as a solo artist. She really did have to start from nothing. At times all she had to rely on was meditation and prayer, which she learned as a student of Buddhism. I found myself devouring page after page of her story as she takes back her life and transforms herself into the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Even if you are not a fan of Tina Turner herself, the book is full of historical events in music including her Las Vegas show with Sammy Davis Jr. and her iconic performance with the Rolling Stones at Live Aid. (She claims to have been the one who taught Mick Jagger his moves).

My Love Story is just that – a love story. Like any story it has a villain, a hero and some romance but most of all it’s a story about loving yourself. It is simply the best!

— Lesley L.

Graphic Novels : way more than superheroes

Are you a graphic novels fan? Until recently my answer would have been a resounding “no.” Just not my cup of tea, or so I thought. But one day, more out of idle curiosity than anything, I decided to give them a shot. Now graphic novels are a part—not a big part, mind you, but still a part—of my reading repertoire.

Here’s what I like about ’em. They allow for a fairly quick and easy read but then you can go back for a second (or third) look and discover things you didn’t see the first time round. Also, the words and pictures work together in a very special way so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I think you call that “synergy”.

This is the one I’m reading right now: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (2018). Krosoczka has written and illustrated a number of kids’ books, including the very popular Lunch Lady series. In this outing, Jarrett tells his own story and that of his big, messy, dysfunctional family. He was raised by his grandparents and never knew his father. As for his mother, she flitted in and out of his life but mostly she was gone. One day he learned the reason why: his mother was a heroin addict. Much of her adult life was spent either in jail, in rehab or using. For such a bleak subject, I found this book to be ultimately positive and affirming.

Here are some other graphic novels I have enjoyed over the years. All of them are real life stories (which I think is part of the appeal for me) and just note the incredible range of subject matter.

My Friend Dahmer by Derk Backderf. This was my intro to the graphic novel world and was recommended by a former WPL staffer. It’s the story of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer while he was still in high school but already plenty disturbed. A very interesting read. You might want to check out the DVD of the same title. Actor Ross Lynch is excellent in the title role.

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs. The author, a renowned children’s illustrator, tells the story of his parents, two working class Londoners who met in the 1920’s and stayed together until their deaths. It is utterly delightful and more moving and funny than you might expect from a graphic novel. Also check out the DVD of the same title. Every bit as charming as the book.

Becoming Unbecoming by Una. This one is about sexual violence against women, including the author’s own experiences. There is a lot more going on in this book besides personal narrative (such as various stats, questions and musings) which adds to this graphic novel’s complexity. The illustrations perfectly express the author’s emotions.

Secret Path by Gord Downie (of The Tragically Hip) and Jeff Lemire. It’s a true, unbearably sad story about Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a 12-year-old Indigenous boy sent to a Canadian residential school. Then Chanie decided to run away… The story and images will haunt you.

— Penny D.

PS  And just released is Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation. I haven’t read it yet, but it is getting a lot of buzz.

GuRu

I was so excited to see GuRu : by fixing one piece of the jigsaw puzzle, you’ll miss seeing the whole picture by RuPaul in WPL’s collection. I had just finished a RuPaul’s Drag Race marathon over the holidays, where I watched all seasons on Netflix in an embarrassingly short amount of time. It’s safe to say I am addicted. I don’t normally enjoy reality TV, but I find this show compelling, so much fun and yes, addictive. While watching Drag Race I had the impression that RuPaul was someone who was smart, wise, and funny. I looked forward to reading GuRu to gain some more insight into just who RuPaul is.

While I enjoyed the book it wasn’t what I thought it would be. It was more of a coffee table book than a wordy tome. GuRu is a beautiful book, filled with philosophies, insights, and pictures. The photos are all shots of RuPaul and are unsurprisingly fabulous. As with RuPaul’s Drag Race, I find the transformations fascinating. The different looks and aesthetics that can be achieved by one person is mind-boggling to me, with my own very limited look. RuPaul, like all the drag queens on the show, are far better at being women than I will ever be. It is great to see so much variety in self-expression and the vivid colours of the photographs adds to the positivity conveyed in the book.

81vrmbonjslWhile there isn’t a lot of writing in GuRu, the words that are present are from the heart. They are genuine philosophies meant to inspire readers. There are a lot of good quotations, some insightful and some absolutely hilarious. It’s a book you can read through from cover to cover or you just read a random page for a pick me up. These quick inspirations can help to brighten your day and make you think about your perspectives. From thought provoking quotations like “The ego perceives us as separate from one another, but we are not. We are one thing.” to the inspiring “You’re actually stronger than you allow yourself to be.” to the unexpectedly practical “When driving in the rain, always turn on your headlights.”, RuPaul’s book offers wisdom for many situations.

GuRu is such a positive book. It was fun to read and offers some light when your world view is feeling dark. I definitely now want to read RuPaul’s others books to see what they have to offer.

— Ashley T.

Hillary : Everest & Beyond

Recently, the Waterloo Public Library added the DVD Hillary: Everest and Beyond to its feature film collection. It’s a fictionalized version of the life of New Zealand adventurer and philanthropist Sir Edmund Percival Hillary. I wanted to try something different (I usually prefer mysteries or action packed thrillers) so I took this one home. To my surprise it was quite good.

In Hillary it was very interesting to learn that as early as 1885 there were suggestions that climbing Everest would be possible. People were eager to scale the mountain. Some of the earlier attempts are briefly dealt with in the film and feature the northern approach which was discovered in 1921 by Brits George Mallory and Guy Bullock even though they were not equipped for such an attempt. In 1922, Mallory and Bullock returned with George Finch. They climbed using oxygen which allowed the team to travel at a pace of more than 951 feet per hour but still they did not reach the summit.

In 1924, Mallory and Geoffrey Bruce’s attempt was cancelled due to poor weather conditions but Norton and Somervell, who climbed without oxygen and had good weather, managed to reach 28,050 feet. They attempted to finish the climb using oxygen but did not succeed. On June 8, 1924 Mallory (this time with Andrew Irvine) tried again via the North Col-North Ridge-Northeast Ridge route but never returned. On May 1, 1999 Mallory’s body was found by the Mallory-Irvine Expedition. Irvine’s was never recovered.

screen-shot-2017-04-02-at-09.28.28There were several other early yet unsuccessful expeditions in the 1920s also mentioned in the film, as well as attempts in 1933 and 1936 via the North Face. Also in 1933 (and not mentioned in the movie) British Millionaire Lady Huston financed the Houston-Mount Everest Flight Expedition, in which aircraft flew over the summit of Everest for the first time.

In 1950 access to the north-to-west route was closed after China took control of Tibet. Bill Tilman and a small party made an attempt using the route which has become the standard approach to Everest (or what the Tibetans call “Chomolungma,” or “Holy Mother”) from the South. A Swiss expedition in 1952 led by Edouard Wyss-Dunant was granted permission, taking the Khumbu Icefall and ascending to an elevation of 26,201 feet. Raymond Lambert and Nepali-Indian born Sherpa Tenzing Norgay reached 28,199 feet on the southeast ridge setting a new climbing altitude record. As a result of Norgay’s experience he was hired to be part of the British expedition in 1953.

After all the build-up from the other expeditions and Hillary’s sheer determination (which is depicted marvelously in the film) at 11:30am local time on May 29, 1953 the then unknown man, Hillary from South Auckland, New Zealand, along with trusty Sherpa Norgay, successfully made it to the summit of Mount Everest. News of the expedition reached London on the morning of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. Several days later Hillary, along with Col. John Hunt (who led the expedition), received knighthoods.

Although there were parts of Hillary’s life that the film didn’t depict it is a worthwhile watch and made me want to find out more about this fascinating man. If you want to learn more about his exploits and philanthropy check out the following titles from WPL’s collection. They will fill in the gaps left by the film and help readers better understand the tall, shy, sensitive man who loved to read and also to push life’s limits.

High Adventure: true story of the first ascent of Everest” – in this autobiography, Sir Edmund Hillary recounts his life, his ascent of Everest and the history of mountaineering expeditions in China and Nepal.

To the Top! Climbing the World’s Highest Mountain” – in this eBook for kids, author S.A. Kramer describes how Hillary and his Sherpa reached Everest.

View from the Summit” – another autobiography where Sir Edmund Hillary recounts more about his life including jet boating up the Ganges and initiating a building program which included schools, clinics, airstrips and bridges in Nepal.

Sir Edmund Hillary & the People of Everest” – this coffee table book illustrates the social life and customs of the Nepalese people, as well as the life of Hillary and mountaineering. It’s filled with beautiful photos and celebrates 50 years and the golden anniversary of the conquest of Everest.

— Teresa N-P

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The Salt Path

If savouring the majesty of the great outdoors is not your thing, you would be well-advised to steer clear of The Salt Path. However, if you are in need of a  meandering hike on Britain’s sea-swept South West Coast Path, you will will find this wilderness romp a satisfying way to spend a winter weekend.

In The Salt Path, Raynor Winn begins this heart-breaking story by revealing that she and her husband Moth are about to lose their home as a result of an investment in a friend’s business having gone awry. After years in financially ruinous litigation to save their beloved home, the court’s final decision is a ruling not in their favour. As they huddle in a cupboard under the stairs while they listen to the bailiffs pounding on the door, they are withered by the reality that their family’s dream life is irrevocably coming to an end.

As if that isn’t enough burden to bear, they also learn that the chronic pain that Moth has been experiencing in his upper back for the last six years is actually the result of a rare disease called corticobasal degeneration which will begin to further destroy Moth’s body and mental acuity resulting in a slow and agonizing death. Losing the love of her life is a burden too onerous for Raynor to bear and she simply believes that the doctors have got it wrong.

Knowing that they have nothing left to lose, they embark on a 630 mile walk of the Southwest Coast Path from Somerset to Dorset. Their decision to wild camp along the way is borne from the fact that they have no money except for the 40 pounds the government will deposit into their account each month. Food wins over comfort and, with only the bare essentials of life in their backpacks, they begin their journey.

a1o3bibuohlTheir constant companion on the trip is a guidebook of the trail hike written by the much fitter and more experienced Paddy Dillon. They quickly come to understand that there is no chance of completing the walk within the same time parameters that Dillon did. This release of their preconceived expectations is just the beginning of the emotional and spiritual journey they both experience as their need to survive ellipses all other previous concerns that have burdened them.  The power of nature is a force that they eventually learn to stop fighting. In letting go they find that their struggle with their financial and emotional impoverishment falls away.

The Salt Path is a story of the power of love and the recognition of the interconnectedness of all things. It is a story of survival in the darkest of times and the joy of opening one’s eyes to seeing the world in a whole new way.

— Nancy C.