The Widows

I have to admit at the outset that I struggled a bit to get into The Widows by Jess Montgomery. I don’t know if it was the book or just my attitude at the time but I came very close to bailing. However, I am glad that I didn’t as I became quite engaged with the story and the strong female characters within.

Based in 1924 Ohio coal-mining country, this is the story of two women, both young widows, who overcome the powerful grip of grief and pain to stand strong for what they believe in. Lily Ross’s husband, Sheriff Daniel Ross, had been murdered and pregnant Lily is asked to replace him as Sheriff until elections can be held to fill the role ‘properly’. Marvena Whitcomb, Daniel’s best friend, (unbeknownst to Lily) is in the throes of grieving for her own husband who was killed in an explosion at Ross Mining Company’s Mine No 9, also known as “The Widowmaker”.

Two prominent themes, still evident today, thread through this story. Both Lily and Marvena are powerfully courageous women butting up against a male-dominant societal norm that is eager to suppress and negate them.

In a town where corporate greed has been responsible for the killing and maiming of many of the town’s miners, organizing for unionization puts Marvena directly in the sights of the ruthless mine owner, Luther Ross. He will stop at nothing to suppress calls for improved conditions at his mine.

Lily too meets powerful resistance as she tries to uncover the truth about her husband’s murder. In a town where trusting someone can be a fatal mistake, these two women must find the courage to overcome their fear and join forces to uncover the truth that will set them and their community free.

All of the female characters in this story demonstrate an iron rod of internal strength and commitment to caring and nurturing their families and their community.

In the author’s notes, Jess Montgomery talks about learning that in 1925, in Vinton County Ohio, a woman by the name of Maude Collins was elected Sheriff after filling the post temporarily upon the unexpected death of her husband, Fletcher Collins. She went on to have a long career in law enforcement.

Technically, The Widows is at times well-written and then, variously choppy. I struggled off and on to keep characters straight but the underlying story was strong and some of Montgomery’s descriptions of the countryside landscapes were just gorgeous. So, I would rate The Widows 3*** for writing but 4**** for the story and the character development.

— Nancy C.

Shade

In Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents author Pete Souza throws plenty of shade and how.

Souza was the official White House photographer for Barack Obama. When Donald Trump became President, Souza took to Instagram @petesouza to highlight the differences between the two presidents. So, he takes say, a newspaper headline or a Donald Trump tweet and juxtapositions it with one of his own photos of Barack Obama, and serves it up with a caption. People started to notice Souza’s work and some commented that he was “throwing shade.”

What does that mean, “throwing shade”? I didn’t know and neither apparently did Souza. So he consulted a dictionary which told him it’s “a subtle, sneering expression of contempt or disgust with someone.” Though as Souza says “You can call it shade. I just call it the truth.”

Shade is a compilation of Souza’s Instagram posts. Some of them are sooo funny. When I first picked up the book I started laughing so hard I think I scared a few people. Other posts made me feel sad or appalled—in a how-did-we-get-here kind of way.

Here are a couple of Pete Souza’s posts that grabbed my attention (though really you have to get the book and see for yourself. And yes, you really have to.)

Donald Trump’s tweet: “Throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” juxtaposed with a photo of Barack Obama and someone dressed up as Abraham Lincoln with the caption “Two, like, really smart Presidents.” Ouch, ouch, ouch.

And here is the one that really got me. Trump at the time of the neo-Nazi, white supremacist rally in Charlottesville very famously — or is it infamously — said there were “…very fine people…” on “…both sides.” And Obama on that occasion? He took to Twitter and quoted Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin … People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” Just let that sink in — the stark, worlds-apart difference between those two men.

pete-souza-white-house-obama-favorites-51I would also highly recommend Pete Souza’s previous book: Obama: an Intimate Portrait. Obama is a collection of Souza’s photos of the former president. I especially loved the photos of Obama and his family and of Obama interacting with ordinary Americans.

— Penny D.

Turning 100

Frank’s Jewellers and the Ellis Little History Room

There is a prevailing perception that libraries are a place for books only. Like most library customers, I’ve spent most of my years visiting WPL for the sole purpose of checking out books. It wasn’t until my teen years that I discovered that the library also has a vast collection of movies, CDs, audio books and programs. Yet the one resource that remained elusive to me over the years was the Ellis Little Local History room. The door was always open and inviting, but I didn’t have a reason to venture inside. It wasn’t until the summer of 2017 that I went in for the first time.

I’ve grown up in Waterloo with a strong connection to the King Street business community. My father was the owner of Mr. Sub for forty-one years. I spent many summers and weekends serving sandwiches and smiles to both Waterloo patrons and neighbouring business owners regularly. The King Street business community as I remember it was tight knit and familial. While we were known as the place to pick up a quick lunch, there were other businesses on King Street that were known for other things: McPhail’s for sports equipment, Tora Tattoo for piercings and tattoos, Ontario Seed for seeds (and a handful of peanuts for my dad), and Frank’s Jewellers for jewellery and gifts.

franks 001Since my dad retired in July 2016, I’ve found myself missing that connection to the Uptown Waterloo community. It wasn’t until Bob Frank, owner of Frank’s Jewellers, approached me with a local history inquiry that I found a way to reconnect with the uptown business community. How was I going to do my research? I would begin by visiting the Ellis Little Local History room.

His inquiry was simple. Bob, the third-generation owner and operator of Frank’s Jewellers on King Street, wanted to confirm that his business was indeed celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2019. Realizing that the Ellis Little Local History Room was the best place to begin my research, I made my first visit and began exploring the shelves of Vernon business directories, local business news clippings, and archives of photo negatives to find evidence that in 1919, Bob’s grandfather, W.P. Frank, took over operations from the previous owner.

During this search, my research expanded from finding evidence to solve this important question to finding any artifacts that trace the mark Frank’s Jewellers has had on the Uptown business community for the past one hundred years. The search has been fruitful! I’ve found many old articles and pictures in the Ellis Little Local History room. I’ve found pictures that reflect the changing landscape of King Street over the years like the image above of Frank’s Jewellers from the mid-1970’s when Bob’s father was the owner.

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 I’ve also found pictures that reflect the strength and camaraderie of the Waterloo business community that traces back to July 27, 1938 when a wide landscape of Waterloo merchants gathered for a first annual picnic which Bob’s grandfather, W.P. Frank (Picture left: middle row center with striped tie) attended.

I’ve lost myself for hours poring over business directories, maps, and books that map the history of Waterloo Region by local authors. I know I’ve only scratched the surface but these discovers have allowed me to appreciate the library for another purpose: being a local history keeper. The library not only brings people together for a love of reading, but for a shared history of our community that has grown from the small farming town to a modern tech start-up city.

Another local history resource that I’ve perused is OurOntario where I’ve searched through thousands of photographs as well as digitized Waterloo Chronicle newspapers. It’s an excellent resource that saves the time and energy previously spent going through microfilm and has been a very helpful resource.

The online and offline history collection at the Waterloo Public Library has been and continues to be an excellent resource to find answers to any local history inquiries. Should you require help with more specific requests, contact Janet Seally to assist your local history missions. To see Frank’s Jeweller’s collection of historical artifacts, follow them on Instagram and/or Facebook.

It’s easy to live somewhere for your whole life without questioning where you live. You may have just moved to Waterloo two years ago. You may be a third-generation resident. It’s worth questioning and learning about the place you live in because each of us plays a part in how it became the place you inhabit today. History may be the story of our past, but it’s easy to overlook our place in the present.

— Eleni Z.

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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Six Degrees From a Typewriter

A popular game suggests that all things in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other. Who would have thought that this applies to a vintage typewriter?

This tale begins when a staff member offered a vintage typewriter for display at the Main Library. Shortly thereafter I displayed the typewriter in the lobby near Borrower’s Services on an equally old oak desk the library had kicking around. Immediately our customers began to try out the vintage machine and the click-clack of the keys could be heard in the library.

This is not a new idea. The book “Notes From a Public Typewriter” edited by Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti is a collection of a series of notes left on a vintage typewriter set up in a book store in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The book combines essays with favourite notes (like “I ended up alone on my birthday but being here makes it easy to forget that. Thank you.”) as a nod to community.

At WPL we too began to experience our own unplanned community-building exercise. Jokes, words of advice, famous quotes and reminiscences were typed up, slowly or quickly, on the old machine at the Main, revealing the heart of our community here in Waterloo.

The heartwarming:

“Dear whoever reads this. You matter.”
“You are loved. You are accepted.”
“Love yourself.”
“Books are good for you and books love you too”

Gentle advice:

“Learn something new every day.”

Salutations:

“Hello person who is reading this.”
“Whoever you are? Have a good day.”

Memories:

“My dad had a typewriter like this in his office in Buffalo.”
“This is the typewriter that I learned on in 1950 when I could do 40 words a minute.”

Kids:

“Give me ccccoooookkkiieeeessss.”
“I wish I could use one of these for school. It’s cooler than Google docs.”
“This is old school. How did anyone ever type like this?”

Generations mingled:

“This is an ancient keyboard.”
“It’s not that old. I used to have one!!!”

Suddenly, I began to see images of typewriters everywhere I looked including on the cover of Tom Hank’s collection of short stories “Uncommon Type”. Each of Hanks’ stories features a typewriter almost like it was a character in the story. My favourite “Christmas Eve 1953” tells the story of a World War II vet who has achieved the American dream but is still haunted by flashbacks to Christmas 1944.

Hanks himself is an avid collector of typewriters which he talks about in the documentary “California Typewriter”. The documentary examines the extinction of the beloved typewriter and the movement to keep these “ancient” machines clicking away.

WPL customers really enjoy the sound from yesterday. Customers noting “The sound of the keys clacking is nice.”

In the popular feature film, “You’ve Got Mail“, a cherished neighbourhood bookstore (owned by Meg Ryan’s character) is being pushed out by a big book store chain (owned by Tom Hanks’ character). Another character in the movie collects vintage electric typewriters, rhapsodizing about the hum of the machine and the sound of the keys. Spoiler alert, he doesn’t keep the girl – but he does hang onto the vintage typewriters! The viewer can judge who got the better deal.

If all this typewriter talk has made you want to learn more about the trusty machine, check out the book “The Typewriter Revolution” by Richard Polt. It includes a chapter on care and repair which I may need when unsticking keys and adjusting the ribbon every morning. Curious customers have a habit of fiddling with buttons and adjusting levers and, as one typist freely admitted, “Help! My finger is stuck between the keys!”.

Finally, I seem to be right back where I started – the typewriter. You see, I have my own typewriter story. When I started at WPL almost 30 years ago one of my jobs was to type catalogue cards on just such a machine. I think a WPL customer summed it up best when they so wisely clacked out in short staccato strokes “Remember who you are. Remember who you were”.

— Maureen S.

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The Girl They Left Behind

I’m an avid reader who reads many different genres but historical fiction is the one genre that I regularly gravitate towards. When you read a lot of one genre, you sometimes feel like you’ve read it all. The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos brings something new to this very popular genre with an engaging, informative and heart-felt story based on her mother’s early life during WWII and later during the Soviet occupation of Romania.

During the horrors of the 1941 Pogrom in Bucharest, Veletzos’ grandparents made the difficult choice to leave their three-year-old daughter, Natalia, on the steps of a building hoping to give her a chance to survive. Sent to an orphanage, she was quickly adopted by a wealthy couple who were devoted to her and gave her life of privilege.

Veletzos follows her mother’s early life and also provides vivid descriptions of Bucharest during WWII and afterwards when the Soviets took control, a time when life for many Romanians continued to be fraught with uncertainty and danger – especially those who didn’t support the Communist regime. She includes the lesser known history of Romania during these times and blends her personal family history into a riveting, fictional read. This is a captivating, sometimes heart-wrenching story about family bonds, resilience and hope.

I highly recommend The Girl They Left Behind to fans of historical fiction who enjoy getting a different perspective in the popular WWII historical fiction genre and especially for those of us who think they’ve ‘read it all’. Veletzos may just surprise you.

— Laurie P.

The Library Book

Susan Orleans The Library Book is not always an easy read. The chapters where she details the 1986 Los Angeles Central Public Library fire feel so real you almost have to take a break from reading them for an hour or two. When she shares the experiences of the library staff who worked there at that time of the fire and tells of how they experienced something very like PTSD from seeing their workplace burn, it seems as if you were right there with them while they stand on the street and watch it happen.

gettyimages-50689565One of my favourite moments in The Library Book is when she interviews a senior librarian (he started working there in 1979 and still works there today), Glen Creason, about the moment when the books are finally delivered back into the building after the rebuilding and he says “when the library reopened, we were so happy to see our books again!” It seems like those books are his coworkers as much as the people he walks in with every morning or eats lunch beside in the gorgeous gardens surrounding the library. It took over seven years for their library to be refurbished and more than 400,000 books were destroyed and 700,000 were damaged. The cost of the fire was astronomical but, to the people who worked there, Orleans found that the emotional cost stays with them. Many can walk through the stacks and point to books that ‘survived’ the fire.

Everything I had read about this book told me that it was exactly the kind of book I would love – part love letter to libraries (I also love libraries), part mystery, a whole lot of history and a little bit of a personal story of the author – but it was also about a library fire so I was hesitant about reading it. A library fire? Maybe I would have to skip this one. It seemed a little too close to home for me. I took one look at the stunning cover that author Susan Orlean helped to design (the publishers did not choose to include a dust jacket) with a bright red background, beautiful gold lettering and a single flame in the centre with a terrific design on the spine and wonderful end papers. This is a woman who knows her books, I was thinking as I first picked up my hold on the book, so I bravely jumped in.

I was rewarded for my courage. In researching the terrifying fire the author weaves a powerful story of how the community worked together to rebuild their library and she tries to unravel what really happened. Each chapter begins with three or four citations for books that relate to the topic she is going to cover in that chapter and then she dives right in. Some of those chapters were so fascinating I feel like I couldn’t tease out a single fact to quote here because everything was worth remembering or mentioning. I haven’t stopped talking about this book since I began reading it. The research that she must have done into individual things like fire suppression, the psychology of arsonists or the investigation into the fire was extensive which isn’t surprising from a staff writer at The New Yorker. I’d say that I’d love to meet her but I don’t want her to waste her time talking to me – she should be busy researching and writing.

Some chapters are dedicated to the history of the Los Angeles Public Library system but others are about libraries and the world of librarianship. Susan Orlean wanted to write this book because she was thinking about her own relationship with libraries and how her mother let her roam about their local library when she was young. She tells the story that her mother would take her there weekly and then let her travel to the library alone when she was old enough. She felt that her library visits were “dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived because in the library I could have anything I wanted.” This author is a superfan of the library and she interviews many others who are equally passionate throughout her book. She spends time with members of the library’s staff – sometimes an entire day – and I can’t say that those were my favourite chapters because I thought the whole book was an absolute delight, but when she joins the reference staff for a morning and writes about the variety of questions they receive I did feel a shiver of familiarity. I was actually laughing on the couch as I read about the call from a person who was writing a script (the book is set in Los Angeles) and called in to ask how someone would say “the necktie is in the bathtub” in Swedish. I’ve never had exactly the same question during any of my shifts on the desk but I have experienced something very similar. This is part of what makes library work so much fun – the endless variety.

Variety is the right word to describe the history of that particular library in downtown Los Angeles. I was astonished to read about the incredible people who were hired to be the chief librarians of the Los Angeles Public Library from 1873 on. I mean, Lin-Manuel Miranda could find enough in here to create his next musical, it’s really that much fun. One of the chief librarians, a man named Charles Fletcher Lummis, hired a blacksmith to create a branding iron so that he could mark books that he thought were inappropriate because they included content that featured ‘pseudoscience’. Imagine how that would go over in 2018 and the world of social media. It’s worth reading this book just to learn more about Charles Fletcher Lummis but he isn’t the only fascinating character in the library’s history. There was also a period in their history known as ‘The Great Library War’ when their board of directors decided to fire a beloved, qualified librarian – Mary Jones – in favour of a male candidate saying that she didn’t need the job because she wasn’t required to support a family. Can you believe it? The debate became quite heated and there were protests by library patrons as well as staff with support from Susan B Anthony! You can read more about it on their library’s blog. It’s absolutely fascinating.

Susan Orlean doesn’t confine herself to the history of the library in this book. She delves into every possible nook and cranny of the current library world by interviewing their front-line staff, fundraisers, their CEO, staff from smaller branches, even the staff who pack the endless number of books that are transferred from their central branch to the outlying locations (there are seventy-two) and their professional security guards. By the time she reaches the end of her book Susan Orlean has done more than told the story of a catastrophic library fire, she has made a contribution to the long list of ‘must-read’ books that bibliophiles will be talking about for years. I never miss books about libraries or bookstores and this one was outstanding from beginning to end – and, on the final page, there is an image of a date due slip with Ray Bradbury’s name, the author’s mother’s name, her own name and her son’s name – so the book is almost perfect, really. Her final chapter summarizes her feelings about writing the book and her relationship with libraries as she shares that she wanted to write the book “to tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine, and how that feels marvelous and exceptional.” You really have to read this book. The Library Book.

— Penny M.

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.

The fascination with Marilyn Monroe

What’s with the ongoing fascination with Marilyn Monroe? How do you explain the enduring fame of an actress who died one hot August night 56 years ago? This new book provides some answers to those questions.

I really didn’t know much about Marilyn Monroe when I picked up this book and have never seen any of her movies. But what highs and lows in one short life! Such tragedy and heartbreak on the one hand and dizzying success and acclaim on the other.  

The reader gets a good overview of the life of Norma Jeane Baker (her birth name), from her unbearably sad childhood, to her first tentative steps as a model and actress, and then success and fame beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Favourite fact in this book about MM: When she was already a famous movie star, she left Hollywood to go to New York to study acting. She was determined to improve her craft and to earn respect for her acting ability. Gotta respect her for that. 

I found it heartbreaking to read of MM’s decline. What a lost, troubled soul. She was desperately unsure of herself and her acting ability, drinking too much, downing sleeping pills every night, showing up late for work–or not at all. On top of all that, she feared growing old when so much of her fame and most of her self worth was based on her looks and sex appeal. Even if you didn’t already know the ending, at a certain point her self-destruction just seems inevitable.

There was one thing I didn’t like about this book. It focuses a lot on her last days and particularly her very last one. I found that rather ghoulish, not terribly interesting and also don’t believe her last days defined her as a person.

MM died August 5, 1962 at the age of 36 from a combination of sleeping pills and alcohol, whether suicide or accident is not known for sure.

WPL also has a TON of other books on Marilyn Monroe, as well as some of her movies.

-Penny D.

That’s Epic!

When a friend heard I was planning to go to Hawaii, she gushed, “Oh, you have to read James Michener’s book! It will give you such perspective on the history and culture!”

I had already known that James Michener’s Hawaii was long (I had shelved his books early in my library career) but when I discovered how long (937 pages!!), I dug in my heels. I’m an avid reader and often have several books on the go at once, but almost a thousand pages? And in such small print? No way.

I resisted. I even avoided my friend for a while, or at least avoided sharing my reluctance. Finally, I checked out the book and began the first section, which dealt with the geological forces that created the Hawaiian Islands millions of years ago. Written in 1959 with that overly descriptive John Steinbeck style, blah, blah, blah. I guess it’s okay if you like that sort of thing. I do not.

But following that we get into the story of the Polynesian people who set forth to find a new land. The reasons, the dangers, the omens and superstitions. My friend was right; it gets fascinating!

The Polynesians settle, they follow their ancient traditions, they impact the land. Eventually they are followed by missionaries from America who have heard about the heathen people and are moved to leave friends and families and all that they know to bring Christianity to the pagan shores. Though their intentions may be good, some of their attitudes and methods are questionable. Some positive changes are wrought, but there’s also hostility and suspicion.

The Chinese are brought in as labourers for the sugar plantations. The Japanese then come to work the pineapple fields. The Second World War arises and Pearl Harbour is struck. With each new section, Michener introduces the reader to new characters, contexts, historical realities and outcomes. It really is a wonderful initiation for anyone who would visit these isles.

It took me a while to get through (about two months of intermittent reading, actually), but apart from the first section, it was time well spent. In a way, I almost don’t need to go now – I feel like I know Hawaii and it’s not like the trip is cheap.

Ah, who am I kidding? Michener only informed me up to the 1950s. I need to find out what happened next and experience the spirit of aloha for myself!

Other work I read set in Hawaii

The Aloha Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
Jack London in Paradise by Paul Malmont
Roughing It by Mark Twain (confession: I only read the Hawaiian sections)

Movies and Television Shows I Watched

The Descendants
From Here to Eternity (years ago)
Hawaii Five-0 (if you want to be looking over your shoulder all the time)
Soul Surfer

And if you like epic novels, I highly recommend The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (a former One Book, One Community selection) with settings in Africa, the United States and Canada.

— Susan B.