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.

FT-Spring-2019

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.

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.

91Su3iUnQUL
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.

If Beale Street Could Talk

They’re here. All those great big, beautiful Oscar-winning movies are (mostly) out on DVD and available at WPL.

Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star is Born and Green Book are the really hot ones. You might be lucky enough to snag a FastView copy, otherwise you’ll have to take your place in the rather lengthy holds lists.

Here’s one that didn’t garner quite the same level of attention but which I’m eager to see: If Beale Street Could Talk (it won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, Regina King). I read some great reviews and wanted to see this film at the theatre, but somehow never did. Just take a look at the trailer, don’t you agree it looks beautiful?

Then I discovered it’s based on a novel by American author James Baldwin, so now I’m immersed in the book as I await my turn for the movie. (BTW, I’ve found reading the book beforehand — if there is one — really enhances the movie-watching experience.)

I can’t praise the book highly enough. Set in New York City, it’s a tender love story between 19-year-old Tish and 22-year-old Fonny and so much more. Tish discovers she is pregnant, and the scene where Tish tells Fonny’s family, now that’s memorable. I just can’t wait to see that in the movie! When Fonny is wrongfully accused of rape and thrown in jail, Tish and her family — Fonny’s family isn’t much use — work tirelessly to get him released from an openly racist system.

A lot of themes come into If Beale Street Could Talk. Race and racism and injustice, certainly, but also the universal themes such as hope vs. despair and staying strong and resilient in the face of adversity because, after all, what other choice is there?

N.B.  It was a great thrill for me to discover the writer James Baldwin (1924-1987). Within the first half page of the book, less than that really, I knew he was the real deal, a REAL writer. His writing is spare and clean with nothing extraneous added, yet so genuine. I know I will be reading more of James Baldwin.

— Penny D.

The Island of Sea Women

Fans of Lisa See know and love her for her detailed historical fiction stories that include strong female characters. In See’s latest book, The Island of Sea Women, her story begins in the 1930’s and 40’s during the Japanese occupation of Korea and the island of Jeju. Through the eyes of best friends, Young-Sook and Mi-ja, two young haenyeo, we witness the political upheaval after WWII, the atrocities committed against citizens, and their desire and struggle to control their own country without interference from others.

I had never heard of the haenyeo before reading this book. With her meticulous research, See introduces readers to these well-respected, strong and staunchly independent women and their unique matrilineal society. They are the heads of their families and the sole providers who risk their lives daily to fish using the methods haenyeo have used for generations while their husbands typically stay home to watch the kids (and apparently not much else).

While the haenyeo culture and its matrifocal way of life was interesting to witness, the story itself is a bit of a slower read. A lot of historical detail is given and having that background is important to understanding Korea’s struggle for independence and how that influenced the haenyeo. While some scenes were difficult to read due to their violence, I respect that See doesn’t hold back on her descriptions detailing the horrors inflicted on the people of Jeju as they struggled under Japanese occupation and later when the US got involved.

51kn-DDoHlL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Island of Sea Women is a historical fiction novel that focuses on the lives of the unique and powerful haenyeo (a culture many people have probably have never heard of), the history of Korea (that many people may have never learned about in school) and the lives of two friends whose sister-like bond is put to the test by family loyalty, hardships, loss and misunderstanding. This is an eye-opening and touching read about culture, friendship and the struggle of a nation to be autonomous.

— Laurie P.

Note: our friends at Kitchener Public Library are presenting “An Evening With Lisa See” on March 25, 2019 at 7:00pm at the Central Library on Queen Street. Registration is required for this free event.