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.

Deconstructing The Beatles

I watched a fabulous film series at The Princess Cinemas over the past year. A couple of WPL co-workers also saw the series –and loved it! And now it has come to the library.

It’s called Deconstructing The Beatles and it’s a fun and fascinating look into the creative process behind The Beatles’ music. Presenter Scott Freiman is lively and engaging and has a ton of knowledge about music and the recording studio. Now I know and love The Fab Four and their music (slight understatement) but after viewing this series I now hear and appreciate their music in a whole new way. I think you will too.

Deconstructing The Beatles is the centrepiece of the series, a 4-DVD set, with 1 disc for Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and The White Album. This is The Beatles at the very top of their game, eager to experiment and take their music in new directions. Using a multitude of audio and visual clips, Freiman highlights unusual instruments used, looks at early takes of songs, the evolution of key songs, and ideas attempted and then abandoned, among other things. Very, very interesting.

Or check out this, Deconstructing the Beatles. The Magical Mystery Tour (1 disc). This is The Beatles in their psychedelic phase, so Scott Freiman shows you how all those glorious (and strange) sounds were made. Hearing the earliest version of Strawberry Fields Forever (John Lennon playing into his own tape recorder) is an absolute “wow” moment. And hearing the whole story of the recording of this song will blow your socks off.

And there’s this, Deconstructing the Beatles. The Early Years (2 discs). These discs focus on the musical influences of the Beatles and the wildly exhilarating year of 1963 when the Beatles went from nobodies to the biggest name in music in Great Britain and were poised, though they didn’t know it, to take on the rest of the world.

And lastly… there may be, fingers crossed, one more segment coming to WPL in the future. Earlier this summer I saw Abbey Road Parts I and II (one for each side of the album). These two films were—need I say it– great. Hopefully when the Abbey Road segment is released onto DVD, it will be joining the others at the library. (BTW, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Abbey Road LP. Bonus marks for you if you knew that.)

— Penny D.

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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Failure Is Not An Option

In the library we see publishers responding quickly to events in the hope that they will capitalize on reader interest and sell more books. In some cases their rush to get a book on the shelves can result in books that meet a need but won’t find their way into your top ten list. With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing publishers, authors, illustrators, scientists and astronauts had ample time to pull together every resource to make their products top-notch and it has been an absolute thrill to see these book treasures arrive on our shelves. It seems like I have been taking home a book or two a month to read or share with my space-loving family and we have learned some wonderful new facts, sneaky behind-the-scenes tidbits or relived the details we already read.

coderWhen we look back at those blurry images on the moon it’s hard to comprehend that it was only fifty years ago that engineers and technicians (almost entirely men) huddled over the desks to wait and see if decades of work would pay off. It seems like much more than fifty years because advances in technology have reached an absolutely dizzying pace. The computers used to provide guidance for the Apollo mission were so big that they took up entire rooms but are known to have been no more powerful than a calculator used by today’s high school student. It’s astounding to realize that the code was fed into the guidance computer using punch cards. You can actually see the code listing on the Caltech archive and imagine the incredible amount of work that went into just one part of the mission. Or you don’t have to imagine it. Here is a photograph of Margaret Hamilton, an MIT computer programmer working at NASA during the Apollo missions, standing next to a stack of some of the Apollo guidance computer source code.

Landing on the moon is the anniversary being celebrated on July 20th but there could have been hundreds of thousands of individual anniversaries celebrated before that day. An estimated number of about 400,000 people worked to make it possible for three men to safely travel to the moon and two men to walk upon it. The dedication, the incredible risks, the scientific advances and the decades of research and development since the Apollo mission have culminated in a publishing surge and it’s making for some fabulous reading.

In 1961 John F. Kennedy shared his goal that the United States put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and put into motion his plan to conquer space and the world at the same time. Historian Douglas Brinkley (a professor at Rice University where Kennedy gave his famous “we choose to go to the moon speech”) has done well in tying together the story of Kennedy’s family, that of engineer Wernher von Braun, NASA’s role in American politics and the space program’s future following the president’s assassination. He successfully blends politics, history and the thrill of the space race into one compelling narrative in American Moonshot : John F. Kennedy and the great space race. It’s a must read for anyone interested in the Kennedy story or someone who wants to get a feel for all of the forces that came together to make Apollo 11 happen.

Another 2019 book that has far fewer pages but held me captivated for hours was a gorgeous picture book by Dean Robbins and Sean Rubin. The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon is not about the Apollo 11 mission but about the mission that follows and the images are so beautiful. It’s a sweet choice to take home to read aloud but a reader of any age could learn from this one. Alan Bean was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 12 and was the fourth person to walk on the moon but is also known as the only artist to have ever seen the moon up close. What a perfect chance to use your art to communicate a unique experience! This picture book is a wonderful opportunity to learn a little more about his life as a navy pilot and his work at NASA but focuses more on his work as an artist. The author was able to collaborate on this story with the astronaut before his death and the illustrations share some of Bean’s own bold use of line and shape. It’s a little more STEAM than STEM and it’s perfect. Read more about Alan Bean on his own website or through the NASA website.

Alan Bean was a part of the group known as Astronaut Group 3 which included Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins. But in the early days at NASA all of the astronauts worked closely together by backing each other up at mission control, training together, testing equipment, flying together and helping each other to learn the dense material required to make each mission a success. We have so many fantastic books on the shelves about these fascinating days – some old and some new – but Neil Armstrong’s authorized biography (the one that the Ryan Gosling biopic was based on) is one that stands out in my mind because it is so clearly written. It reads like a textbook because it is free of extra emotion but filled with incredible fly-on-the-wall detail. The chapters that cover his time as a test pilot are so explicit that I am sure I will remember the types of the planes he flew longer than I will remember the names of the people in his family or the town he was born in (Wapaknoeta, Ohio). If you read one book about the Apollo 11 mission then I suggest you set aside a few evenings and spend some time with First Man : the life of Neil A. Armstrong. It’s the closest you will ever get to feeling like you have experienced the life of an astronaut.

For another perspective on the Apollo 11 mission we have a newly reissued copy of Michael Collins’ Carrying the Fire here on the shelves. As a member of the crew, he followed a similar astronaut career path to many of the other pilots with a graduation from West Point, time spent as a test pilot and a spacewalk on Gemini 10. Where his story becomes interesting is that with Apollo 11 he had the unique worry of being the man who might have to fly home and leave Buzz and Neil behind. He was concerned that they might crash on the moon, that there might be a failure to launch from the moon or any one of a number of other catastrophes. He writes about this weighty knowledge in his memoir. Mike had time to think about this as he piloted the command module and listened to his crewmates make their historic first steps onto the lunar surface. So much of the spotlight has focused on their actions in those days on the moon but his story – and his feeling of being truly alone out there – make this a fascinating memoir.

We have also been experiencing an increase in other material focusing on the Apollo 11 anniversary so if you haven’t satisfied your curiosity through shiny, new books you can view a documentary like the one that features newly discovered 65mm footage of mission control and the astronauts on the moon. It’s a truly unbelievable viewing experience. You can also check out one of the many magazines that have featured the moon landing – Make, National Geographic, Popular Mechanics and Sky & Telescope are a few of the periodicals that I’ve been reading lately – the photographs and features have been a great way to augment my reading about the anniversary.

We have some of the classic books about space flight on the shelves like NASA flight director Gene Kranz’s Failure is Not an Option and Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff (many contemporary astronauts say that this book was an early inspiration for their career choice) and your options for fiction about astronauts are endless. We have so many great books to suggest that you could be reading until we return to the moon. I know I’ll be on the holds list for the book about that mission.

— Penny M.

NOTE: if your children are into space, check out the Moon Lander (see below) in the Children’s Department at the Main Library. And don’t forget to register for the super-fun, space-themed Summer Reading Club. Activities, events, challenges and prizes all summer long.

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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.

Escape at Dannemora

A Real Life Shawshank Redemption Miniseries

On the morning of June 6 2015, two prisoners were discovered missing from their cells at the Clinton Correctional Facility. Since its construction over 150 years ago, no one had ever escaped from this New York State maximum security prison. What followed was a 3-week manhunt that would be plastered across the media. Convicted murders David Sweat and Richard Matt tunneled out of their cells, crawled through a heating pipe and made their way out of a manhole to the streets in Dannemora. Once outside, they hid in the wilderness for weeks planning to cross the border into Canada.

escape-at-dannemora-dvdEscape at Dannemora is a dramatic television miniseries that retells how Sweat and Matt, along with the help of prison worker Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell, orchestrated a real life Shawshank Redemption prison break.

The first episode starts with Tilly being brought in wearing a black and white jump suit. Her involvement with Matt and Sweat is fully fleshed out throughout the series. Without her, their escape would not be possible. Six more episodes follow, focusing not only on the escape plot but on character motives as well. It is a far more complex story than just two men breaking through cell walls.

In the beginning of the series, the story humanizes Sweat and Matt. Although they are inmates, you can understand that their lives in prison are brutal. You can relate to their desperate need to get out. Then, after the pair escapes, the story very bluntly reminds you that they are in fact very dangerous people who have committed horrendous acts. They were in prison for a reason.

At the start, Tilly’s character was also somewhat sympathetic, only to show, little by little that in her own way she is as sinister as Sweat and Matt.

The biggest surprise for me was that it was directed by Ben Stiller. Looking at his previous movies, which are mostly over-the-top comedies like Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed he could create such an exceptional dramatic production. He has shown to have remarkable ability when it comes to storytelling and character development. The shots Stiller used to visibly demonstrate the escape plan were brilliant. Where was he hiding this talent for all these years?

This series puts Ben Stiller on par with the likes of directors Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) and Joe Chapelle (The Wire). Escape at Dannemora has proven that Stiller has an incredibly versatile skill set. I can only hope he takes on more dramatic projects in the future.

— Lesley L.

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.

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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.