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.

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

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.

 

You Inspire Us

In honour of International Women’s Day, our bloggers are sharing the women (real or fictional) who inspire them. From sleuths to librarians, activists to llamas (yes, that’s right), inspiring “women” come from all periods of time and walks of life.

Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew has a special place in my heart. I can still vividly recall the first Nancy Drew book I ever read, The Hidden Staircase. I was immediately hooked and went on to devour every single other ND book. Why? How could you possibly not love Nancy Drew?? She makes a terrific heroine for young girls. Smart, brave and independent, Nancy was always keen to tackle a new mystery and more than capable of outwitting rascally bad guys.

The author was no slouch either. Using the pen name Carolyne Keene, Mildred Wirt Benson wrote the first 23 Nancy Drew mysteries and more than 100 other books. Later she worked as a journalist and — how amazing is this? — continued writing for newspapers until just before her death at age 96.

— Penny D

Elena Greco

The fictional character that has inspired me recently is Elena Greco, the narrator of the My Brilliant Friend series by Elena Ferrante. What inspires me most about Elena Greco is her quiet determination and ambition. Elena, who was born and raised in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Naples, defies expectation by graduating high school and proceeding through a university degree. With the encouragement of her friend Lila, Elena carves out her own career, leaves her hometown, and achieves her goal of becoming a published author. Elena Greco’s resounding voice inspires me to believe in my own abilities and remain disciplined to work towards my goals.

— Eleni Z.

Lillian H. Smith

There are many inspirational women I could write about, but the one that stands out bringing me back to my research assistant days. Lillian H. Smith was born in 1887 in London, Ontario and was the first professionally-trained Children’s Librarian in the British Empire. She came to Toronto in 1912, trained staff and created programs. By the end of her 40 year career she had helped expand a library system and the framework for the innovative delivery of children’s services, forming a guide for libraries across Canada and globally. Her motto to get “…the right book, to the right child, at the right time [and her feeling that] “…the love for a good story, well told, lies deep in every human heart” says it all.

— Teresa N-P

Viola Desmond

When Viola Desmond first appeared on our new ten dollar bill I have to admit that I didn’t know much about her story. I quickly set out to remedy that, and the more I learned about her, the more I admired her. Desmond is often remembered for taking a stand against racism and refusing to move from the “White Only” section of a movie theatre in Nova Scotia, but did you know that she also owned and operated her own beauty salon? In addition to owning a salon, Desmond also started a beauty school so that other black women could have the same business opportunities as her. There’s so much to be learned from the way Viola Desmond stood up for what was right and supported the women around her. To find out more about Viola Desmond, be sure to check out Meet Viola Desmond by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Mike Deas. Although you’ll find it in the Children’s section, it’s definitely worth looking at no matter how old you are!

— Jenna H.

Helen Keller

Helen Keller is one of the world’s most well-known Deaf-Blind persons but did you know she was also one of the 20th century’s leading humanitarians? After losing her sight and hearing at an early age, she was tutored by Anne Sullivan and later graduated from Radcliffe College, cum laude, in 1904.

Keller became a well-sought after lecturer and supporter for people with disabilities and women’s issues. In 1920, she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a non-profit organization whose goal is to defend and preserve the rights afforded to all individuals. For these accomplishments, Keller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, included in the Women’s Hall of Fame and received several honourary doctoral degrees.

Helen Keller died in 1968 at the age of 87 and will be remembered for turning her adversity into a powerful legacy. Keller is an example of the strength, tenacity and skills that people, who are often seen only for their ‘disabilities’ by society, can accomplish if provided the appropriate resources, language and education.

— Laurie P.

Llama Llama

“Come and listen little llama. Have a cuddle with your Mama…
Gifts are nice, but there’s another: the true gift is, we have each other.”

Mama Llama (in Anna Dewdney’s charming books) represents the ‘every mom.’ She’s up in the night with little llama. She’s up every morning getting him ready. She teaches him how to share. She deals with tantrums. She deals with meltdowns. She takes care of her of her little llama, even when she’s sick herself. And she does it all with patience and love. There are no awards for the Mama llamas of the world. There are no pages reserved in the history books. Yet she shapes her child in many ways –both in mind and in heart.

— Lesley L.

Louise Arbour

There are many reasons why Louise Arbour, currently the UN Special Representative for International Migration, has captured my attention for so many years but first and foremost is the time she spent as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The strength and resilience she demonstrated throughout the agonizingly brutal and horrific testimonies she and her fellow judges presided over during these trials is a testament to her courage and unwavering sense of justice. These civil wars were as barbaric as they come and under her leadership, for the first time, sexual assault committed in the name of war was prosecuted as a crime against humanity.

— Nancy C.

Louisa May Alcott

My mother gave me a copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women when I was in elementary school. I quickly joined the thousands who admire Jo March’s fierce loyalty, creative spark, and constant despair over having to act like a young lady. As a teen I learned that Alcott put much of herself into Jo, including the writing of sensational “potboilers”, and that she also wished for a life beyond what was acceptable for women in her time. Although best known for writing books for children she published over 30 books and story collections, worked as a Civil War nurse, was a passionate abolitionist, and early suffragette. A fascinating woman and incredible writer, Louisa May Alcott has been inspiring us for over 150 years. Quite a legacy.

— Penny M.

Alice Munro

Alice Munro is one of the most gifted short-story writers in Canada and the English speaking world. She has the innate ability to be able to fully develop a character and their experiences within a short story, something that could take another writer an entire novel to achieve.

In 2013 Munro became the first Canadian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. She has also received 3 Governor General awards, 2 Giller Prizes, the Man Booker International Prize for Lifetime Achievement, a Canada-Australia Literary Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and an O. Henry Award. In 2005, she was one of Time magazine’s “100 most influential people.”

Yet, for all her achievements and recognition, Alice Munro remains as humble and unassuming as the characters she creates. I had the tremendous honour to meet her at a reading for her book Dance of the Happy Shades. When I told her that I was focusing my undergraduate thesis on her writing she said, “Oh my goodness, can’t you find something more interesting to do?”

— Sandy W.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman, was an amazing woman, one worthy of emulation. She never let her status as a slave get in the way of her goals. She believed she was entitled one of two things: liberty or death. After escaping her “owner,” she put herself in danger many times to work as a “conductor,” rescuing others through the Underground Railroad. She also gave of her talents to help the Union Army during the American Civil War, serving as a nurse, scout and spy. Following the war, Harriet continued to fight against inequality and to offer assistance to those in need. With slavery and injustice continuing to persist, Harriet’s story serves as a powerful example and call to action.

— Susan B.

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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Becoming

This book was a joy to read. I’ve been a fan of Michelle Obama for quite some time. I’ve always liked her strength, her passion to help others, her positive outlook and her strong devotion to her family and this book just made me appreciate her even more.

WPL has Becoming in three formats: hardcover, large print and recorded book (CD). I listened to the CD and found Michelle Obama to be an engaging narrator who allowed her warmth, humour, compassion and honesty shine through. She is the Michelle Obama you’ve seen in interviews and with Becoming, she brings readers into her personal triumphs, losses, insecurities and struggles from her early days as a young Black girl growing up in the south side area of Chicago, to her love of education and her years at Princeton, to meeting a fellow lawyer with a ‘weird name’ and her eventual role as First Lady of the United States. Readers are privy to the Obama’s early years as a couple, Barack’s increasing involvement in politics, parenting two daughters together, his run for the presidency of the USA and their eight years living in the fish bowl that is the White House.

Michelle Obama has always seemed like a regular kinda gal to me. She’s a mom, wife and daughter who just happens to be living an extraordinary life. As FLOTUS, she has lived under public scrutiny trying to balance family life with the daunting workload that she bore as First Lady. She wanted to give their children a reasonably normal childhood and use her role as First Lady to make positive changes in the country she so clearly loves. She gives readers a bird’s eye look at her life in the White House – the unique experiences made available to her as well as the limitations to her freedom and I appreciate that she doesn’t hold back on her opinions on some of the issues that have plagued and still plague the US.

Throughout the book Michelle Obama is well-spoken, genuine and she comes off as relatable and often inspirational as she shares personal anecdotes that show her fears, loves, struggles and accomplishments. Some of her anecdotes had me grinning, relating to her thoughts as a wife and mother, while several caused me to tear up as I listened to her speak about the devastation and loss her country has faced.

This is a moving, powerful and reflective book that readers, especially women and those who have ever felt unseen and ignored, will appreciate. You don’t have to be a Democrat (or even an American – says this proud Canadian) to enjoy this book. If you weren’t a fan of Michelle Obama’s before, you will be after reading Becoming.

— Laurie P.

The Book of Books

Did you watch the PBS series The Great American Read? It was wonderful. It was a booklover’s delight from beginning to end. The network began promoting it about 6 months before it aired so there was lots of time to get excited about it.

I know that library customers and staff enjoyed the series because I have been a part of some spirited conversations about it. Some of the people I follow online were so passionate about the books that they wished were included that their posts got quite heated. We watched some of it ‘live’ at our house and watched some if it taped but the good news is that all of the episodes are available online and the series’ creators have published a fabulous illustrated book as a companion that we have been flipping through with happiness at our house.

The Book of Books has a page or two dedicated to each of the novels that were featured in the PBS series. Within the entry for each book they include a summary of the book, some text dedicated to the author and interesting tidbits about the publishing history or how the book might have influenced other writing. It’s a meaty little coffee table book with great bonuses like a section of read-alikes and summaries of trends in the reading world. This is a book written for fans of books and authors with each page including something fascinating. On one page they included a photograph of a letter opener that was specially made for Charles Dickens (his book, Great Expectations, was #29 on the final list) out of the paw of his favourite cat “Bob”.

dogThey kicked off the series in May 2018 with a 2-hour special that began in the Library of Congress with host Meredith Vieira encouraging everyone to vote and share their feelings about their favourite books online, perhaps start a book club, maybe even read all 100 books (although she eventually admitted to Diana Gabaldon that she hadn’t read her fabulous series until she started working on this PBS show). I had a lot of fun following the voting and competition online throughout the summer. I loved seeing the shameless things bibliophiles would do to get people to vote for their book. The image above is a plea from someone to request that everyone vote for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (this book was recently defended by a last-minute stand-in at Waterloo Reads : the battle of the books, coincidentally).

The process for The Great American Read began with a national survey of about seven thousand people that narrowed the book choices down to the 100 that PBS used as their final list. The kick-off special featured people like Sarah Jessica Parker, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chelsea Clinton, John Green, and Venus Williams sharing their own favourite books and encouraging people to read their book (or any book really) on the list. George R. R. Martin’s pitch for The Great Gatsby almost made me cry. I think that the next time we have a student in the library who isn’t pleased to have been assigned that F. Scott Fitzgerald classic I’ll call up this video and have them watch Martin speak about how the language in the novel has always moved him.

askfmlThis contest and the show they produced put libraries and literacy front and centre and it really felt wonderful to hear people – young and old – say that libraries meant so much to them. I remember loving my little library branch in Hamilton so much and still think that it was the best thing ever that I was never reprimanded for checking out a favourite book more than once. The freedom of the library shelves is such a perfect thing. The Freeport Memorial Library in Freeport, NY created the coolest social media campaign that I’ve seen in a long time with one of their library staffers taking photographs of coworkers, library visitors, and authors in poses that were inspired by their favourite books, adding quotes from the book, and then manipulating them. You really have to check out these inspirational moments on their twitter feed at @ASKFML They are amazing – this is one that they did for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Although the program was called The Great American Read, the final list of 100 books had only fifty-one books set in the U.S.A. and only sixty-four of the authors were American. Flipping through the gorgeous book that they created is a lovely trip through literature – for kids, adults and teens. You will start thinking about other books you might have wanted to include, you might consider re-reading favourites or picking one up that you haven’t read yet. I think that you will end up with a list – keep your pencil and paper handy.

The team at PBS did not limit their choices to literary classics. They included popular authors like Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook was voted #51), Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code made it to #33), and Stephenie Meyer’s Twlight series came in at respectable #73 beating out James Patterson who only made it to #81 for the Alex Cross series (although I’m quite sure he isn’t worried about his popularity). They have details about the original voting process and how the 100 books were determined on the website but we talked about the final list at our house often and I think they did a pretty good job of including a diverse section of books, authors and genres. I was disappointed to note that Madeleine L’Engle was not included in their choices but I think everyone has a pet author that likely didn’t make the cut and, in her introduction, the author notes that some of her favourites were missing from the final list as well. Culling a list to one hundred must have been painful for that team.

The final episode of the show had Meredith Viera and nominated authors, librarians, celebrities and readers on stage talking about the five semi-finalists and counting down from 100 the list of books that had been featured in the previous shows with a little bit of extra time spent on the ‘big five’. I cheered aloud when I learned that there is a convention for fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, was thrilled to hear that actor Wil Wheaton feels his wife fills the role of Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings in his life and felt that inviting a Harry Potter superfan onto the stage to talk about the series was spot on – fans have always been loyal to J.K. Rowling and the voting showed this.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird received special attention as they were able to invite the cast and playwright for the Broadway adaptation to discuss the themes of the book and how they are using them to inform their performances. The final book in the top five was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which had an accompanying video filled with people holding copies of the novel, some dressed in period costume, and one enthusiastic fan wearing a shirt that read “I ❤ Mr. Darcy”.  I’m going to look into getting one for myself, to wear here at the library, on casual day.

So, which book took away the big prize? I don’t mind typing it here in this post (spoiler alert!) because it was on so many websites the next day that it was impossible to miss – you can go to their website for the final reveal, if you like – but I’m pretty sure that many of you will have a strong guess of which of those top five would make it to number one. The book with the most votes was Harper Lee’s classic novel from 1960. It led the voting from the first day they opened the polls and never dropped below first place. It was a clear winner in the eyes of people who were participating in the PBS contest and is always a favourite book here at WPL.

I don’t know if I could choose. I always find it very difficult to choose one favourite book. We receive boxes and boxes of new ones here at the library each week and I find something wonderful in those shipments almost every week. I have several that I return to almost every year – some by John Irving (his interview in the PBS series was fabulous!). I have re-read The Stand (#24) more times than I can count and Charlotte’s Web (#7) never fails to cheer me, especially when I hear the recorded book in E.B. White’s own voice.

I think the most enjoyable part of this series was learning how books and libraries impacted individual people. Hearing Margaret Atwood read aloud from Anne of Green Gables (#11) and knowing that she was having difficulty with the emotion behind the words that she was saying as she quoted Marilla felt so special. Only a television show about books could bring this kind of magic alive. I encourage you to pick up this wonderful book, go online and click on a few inspiring snippets of video from PBS, and start a conversation about a book that meant something to you – if you need someone to talk to about that book we’ll be here, at the library.

— Penny M.