In a Reading Slump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Penny M.

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

Ask Again, Yes

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

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

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

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

— Laurie P.

The Hottest Titles for Spring 2019

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

Non-Fiction

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

Fiction

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

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Celebrating Mothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Penny M.

Lighten Up!

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

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

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

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

— Ashley T.

My Unexpected Encounter with Father Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jenna H.

Step into the Fantasy World of Faerie

Teen Feature: Folk of the Air Series

Jude once lived in an ordinary house on an ordinary street. She watched TV and ate fish sticks drenched in ketchup like any ordinary girl. She was just a child when a man in a long dark coat took her and her sisters from the mortal world to the high court of Faerie, where nothing is ordinary. It is a realm where winged pixies, cat-faced goblins and faerie princes wear clothing made of flower petals and moth wings. They ride on giant toads and dine on bouquets of garlic and enchanted fruit.

The folk of the Faerie are not always kind to the humans who live in their world. They look down at them. They taunt their mortality. They use enchantments to torment them. Jude, despite her human limitations, refuses to be intimated. She has strength and a spirit of her own.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black reminded me of Game of Thrones. Although it is a fantasy novel, it is really a political intrigue story at its core. It took a few chapters for me to figure out that behind this beautiful fairy tale there is a web of conspiracy. Schemes for power and position are hidden in every corner of the plot. The further you get into the story, the more the beauty of the realm fades and its true nature is revealed.

Much like Game of Thrones author George R. Martin felt none of his characters were truly good or bad, every character in The Cruel Prince has both strengths and flaws. Even Jude, as moral as she is, will resort to deception when it comes to furthering her own ambitions.

“Someone you trust has already betrayed you.”

In the second book, The Wicked King, the realm of the Undersea threatens to invade. All the while Jude continues her balancing act – letting the faerie folk believe she is just a foolish mortal while secretly pulling the strings behind the throne. Like any game of deception, she can never be sure who is plotting against her.

8e6b3b52-50e3-4294-b4ea-6cabf0136fa4-hollyblackHolly Black is a master at painting pictures with words. The court of Faerie is beautifully described in both The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King. You can almost feel yourself being weaved into this world of magic and wonder.

I completely devoured both books in this series. I hung on every word, loved every page and rooted for Jude through every step of the story.

The final book in the Folk of the Air series will be released next year. I already have it highlighted on my calendar.

— Lesley L.

Wunderland

Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein is a historical fiction page-turner that brings readers into the lives of two teenage friends, Ilse and Renate, who have vastly different perspectives and experiences during World War II.

The story begins in 1989, shortly after Ilse’s death, when her daughter, Ava unearths Ilse’s long-held secrets. The story then heads back in time, to Berlin in the late 1930’s when Ilse and her best friend Renate are teenagers. It’s through the bond of these two young women that we get varying views of the war and witness the disintegration of their friendship and the reasons for it.

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What made this book stand out from the many, MANY WWII historical fiction books I’ve read, is how Epstein vividly describes what life was like for German citizens leading up to and including WWII. She describes the rise of the Nazi regime and their horrific methods of growing their power and shows how some German citizens began to believe the propaganda and felt justified when they participated in fear mongering and terror of their own neighbours. She also reveals the dire restrictions, discrimination and abuse Jewish families faced from their own government as well as the pitiful aid from other countries as they tried to flee.

While there’s a fair bit of jumping back and forth between time lines (and one that I was less invested in), in the end, Wunderland is an engaging read with story lines that merge into an incredibly revealing look at the rise of Nazism within Germany. But ultimately, the focus on the poignant, heart-wrenching tale about a complicated friendship, long-held secrets, loss and betrayal is what will keep readers glued to the pages.

— Laurie P.

American By Day

Derek B. Miller is a brilliant writer!!! He has taken a typical murder mystery and peppered it with philosophical tension and relatable character development. I loved his debut book Norwegian by Night featuring Oslo Police Chief Sigrid Olegard, who he continues to showcase in American by Day. The writing in both of these stories is light-hearted and yet gripping. I found myself laughing out loud at much of the dialogue and the political and cultural references.

In Miller’s newest offering, Sigrid finds herself unexpectedly travelling from her home in Norway to upstate New York in search of her brother Marcus who, based on their father’s intuition, has gone missing. Her perspective on all things American is hilarious and yet eye-opening.

Set in 2008, just prior to the election of Barack Obama, Sigrid finds herself in the middle of a racially charged murder investigation in which her brother is thought to be the perpetrator. In spite of all of her efforts, Sigrid finds herself teamed up with the local sheriff, Irving Wylie, a man who is unusually theologically well-read and philosophically-minded for a man in his position. The discussions that follow are often hysterical and yet didactically interesting. The clash of cultures is a giant wall that seems impossible to breach and yet in spite of themselves, a glimmer of understanding cracks open the barrier that entrenches them in their ideologically based approaches to criminology.

Woven throughout the narrative is the story of the family tragedy that Sigrid and Marcus experienced as children, that being the death of their young mother. The magnitudinal impact that this event had on 11 year old Marcus underscores the cosmic difference in how these siblings related, and continue to relate, to the world.

Peppered throughout are thought-provoking discourses that range from the actual physiological changes to a person’s face while they are in the throes of lovemaking (on page 34), to the best way to approach a known and certain death (on page 232).

American by Day is a fabulous read for people who love to be able to have a perspective challenged by their casual reading choices. And while not necessarily critical to the enjoyment of this literary experience, I do recommend the reading of Norwegian by Night first. There is a lot of background information that forms much of the basis of Sigrid’s perspective and behaviour during her American adventure.

— Nancy C.

Re-Reading…Yes or No?

Do you ever re-read books? I have found that people absolutely do or absolutely don’t and there really is no middle ground. I myself am a big fan of re-reading, but I can understand where the opposition comes from. The argument I hear most often from people is that there are so many wonderful new books that they don’t want to spend their time reading something that they have already experienced. I get it. It’s logical BUT I’ve never really been one for logic.

There are so many books out there that I want to read and I can’t wait to start them but there really is something so amazing about re-reading. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t re-read every book, just my favourites, and when I re-read I remember how I felt the first time I read the book and add on to that experience.

There are different levels of enjoyment that can be had from re-reading. You will discover new things, perhaps because you have a different mind set the second time round or maybe there has been a few years between reads and your perspective has changed. I find it so exciting when this happens especially with a special book which I have read many times over. I still love the re-reading experience even without any new discoveries. I live vicariously through those stories and love spending more time with my favourite characters. It’s like eating comfort food or wearing that cozy old sweater.

I must confess that there are books that I have read more than twice. Books like The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay, Dune by Frank Herbert, Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, and The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – to name just a few. My record for the most re-reads though goes to a series I first read as a child and have re-read every single year since. I have read the Belgariad and the Malloreon series by David Eddings twenty-four (yes, that’s 24!) times and counting. Reading these books is both comforting and comfortable, and feels like coming home.

There are a lot of books that I have never read before and while logic dictates that I read those, my heart says to read what makes me happy. Sometimes that will be a new book but sometimes it will be an old faithful. So go on, go re-read one of your favourite books right now. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

— Ashley T.