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.

Why NANOWRIMO?

Have you ever had a story idea that’s been floating around in your head but you didn’t have the time to write it? Well look no further. November is just around the corner, which means you are just in time to finally get that novel out from your head and onto the page. How? NANOWRIMO.

NANOWRIMO stands for National Novel Writing Month. On July 21st 1999, NANOWRIMO was launched by a group of freelance writers in the San Francisco Bay area who sought to find a solution for finishing the first draft of their novels. Their solution? Write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. In the following years, NANOWRIMO has become a global writing event where thousands of writers from around the world use this month to write the stories they’ve wanted to tell. No experience required.

Now, I signed up for NANOWRIMO for the first-time last November and I didn’t “win”. Reaching 50,000 words for the projects I was working on was very unlikely since I was attempting to write short stories. For most, winning NANOWRIMO isn’t about reaching that word count. Winning NANOWRIMO means dedicating yourself to write a story no matter how many words you end of producing. Whether you finish or not does not determine if you win. Daring to commit and try to write for the month is a win in itself.

So why NANOWRIMO? You may argue that you don’t have the time. You may be overwhelmed with the prospect of writing 50,000 words. You may have never written a creative piece in your life and don’t know where to start. But I’ll tell you where to start. Create your account and declare your writing project. You not only can track your progress with your account throughout and beyond the month of November, but you will be joining a community of writers from near and far that you can lean on and learn from. The Kitchener-Waterloo region has its own chapter with liaisons that plan events throughout the month. You can access the Google calendar by joining the chapter with your account. In fact, WPL has a series of writing programs this October and November that writers can look to during NANOWRIMO.

NANOWRIMO is a challenge. There will be days where you’re flying high and days where you will get stuck. Its stern deadline will help you put words on a page for a story you otherwise wouldn’t have written. Yet it’s a challenge that helps us learn about who we are and what we care about through the storyteller in all of us.

Dare to try? Check out nanowrimo.org and the WPL’s programs for writers and aspiring writers to explore the writer in all of us.

— Eleni Z.

Have You Met The Durrells?

You know how bookstores have ‘Staff Picks”?  Well I think we should have ‘WPL Customer Picks’.  Or maybe when customers return a popular DVD or book we could keep a tally of who is reporting that it is good/bad/worth the trouble and then post it at the returns desk with a little image of a thumbs up or thumbs down.  The opinions of our neighbours should be more important than the reviews we read in the Globe & Mail or the New York Times, and I would rather watch a DVD that a WPL customer recommends rather than one that gets a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  In fact, I find that material suggested to me by WPL customers is a guaranteed good read or good watch.  Thumbs up!

A favourite customer ‘gifted’ me with the television miniseries The Durrells in Corfu recently and I was as smitten with the series as she so confidently said I would be.  In fact, when I placed my hold on Season One she told me that I should place a hold on season two right away as I would be sure to want to watch Season Two as well.  She was right – it was that good (I have since thanked her for her sage advice, not to worry).  The miniseries originally aired on the British television network ITV and was picked up by PBS as part of their Masterpiece series.  We are fortunate to have both seasons at WPL and when the third season is encased in plastic on our shelves I will be faithfully waiting for it to arrive.  I will have a cup of tea ready to go and might even break out a festive meal in celebration.

The television show is an adaptation of the trilogy of books that Gerald Durrell wrote about the years his family spent on the island of Corfu.  He is at the centre of the books My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods but the screenwriters have chosen to make his mother, Louisa, the focus of their stories.  This was a great decision on their part – it gives the series a bit of snap that might be missing if the stories all centred on a young boy.  I’m sure that it would have been lovely but not quite the masterpiece we now have to enjoy.  It is fabulous.

After struggling to raise four willful children alone on a widow’s pension in gloomy England, Louisa decides to move them to a sunny Greek paradise.  Well, Louisa decides with the enthusiastic prompting of her eldest, Larry, who is determined to be a successful novelist (and becomes one – renowned author Lawrence Durrell ). The reaction of the other three is mixed at best. The chemistry between the family members is just magical.

When Louisa, Larry, next oldest son Leslie, only daughter Margo and young Gerald arrive on the island they are warmly welcomed by a taxi driver named Spiros who becomes their interpreter, protector and negotiator for everything – a villa, furniture, and the release of their funds from the bank.  While the family waits for their money to arrive they must ‘forage’ for something to eat and this is the first of many opportunities to see the different ways that the Durrells cope with adversity.  Larry flat out refuses to help, saying that he is busy writing.  Margo says that she is looking for a job and does so by sitting on their sundrenched patio in a bikini.  Leslie, always keen to help his mother, goes out with one of his many rifles and shoots some of the local wildlife while Gerald hunts for berries but ends up eating many, feeding some to their dog, and letting the remainder spoil while he is distracted by a neighbour who offers him a puppy.  Oh, the glorious little puppies.

Gerald Durrell’s passion for animals started when began keeping local wildlife as pets. They pile up so quickly that I can’t remember them all.  He had many species of birds, several types of mice, a number of insects, plus scorpions (!), turtles, otters, tortoises, snakes. In one lovely episode he wanted a goat so, so much.  The classic W. C. Fields quote about not working with children or animals does not apply in this series because actor Milo Parker, who plays Gerald, is top-notch and the furry and feathery supporting actors are sublime.  Animals and children are everywhere and make the show that much more enjoyable.  If you were to play this series without sound you would enjoy watching it for the visuals alone.

The three older children of the Durrell family also play their parts to perfection.  Larry is an aspiring novelist who spends every day wearing his underclothes and a polka-dotted robe while he types away in his room and when forced to provide encouragement or advice to his siblings he grudgingly does so but there is love behind the snide remarks.  Poor Leslie stomps about trying to find his place in their family, on the island, in the world and says “maybe I’m not the sort who is meant to be happy” but when Larry wonders if it might be time for him to return to England and they have a real brotherly conversation it is as if the two actors have really grown up together.  There is great chemistry there.  And Margo is sublime.  I’m sure that this young actor, Daisy Waterstone, is meant for great things.  She delivers every line – comic or dramatic – with such flair.  When she confesses to a local countess, played by the exquisite Leslie Caron, “I’m a bit dim”, there is really nothing more delightful.  It is so hard to choose a favourite among this cast of wonderful actors.

Each episode finds the family getting to know their new neighbours, the culture of the island, and finding their way to a happiness that they did not have in England.  It’s not an easy journey for them, thankfully, or the series would end and it would seem far too effortless.  It’s because life is a struggle for Louisa and her children that you keep watching, you become invested in their success, whether it be in Leslie’s love life, Margo’s quest for employment, or Larry’s constant pecking away at the typewriter.  And they are doing all of this while the sun is shining, they are wearing the most colourful clothes (well, Larry is usually wearing a dressing gown) and eating glorious meals on their patio which overlooks the Ionian Sea.  What more can you ask of a miniseries?  I read some terrific news online (there are spoilers about Louisa’s romantic prospects in this article so tread carefully) which tells us that ITV has committed to making a fourth season of The Durrells and that many key figures are returning to produce, direct and act in the show.

Besides Season One and Season Two on DVD,  we have many, many books written by Gerald and Lawrence in the collection.  Rosy is My Relative is a fabulous pick if you wanted something to read aloud on a car journey – it is sure to please everyone in your family.   You will find endless information about all of the Durrells on the Internet including wonderful content about Gerald’s conservation efforts and his Wildlife Conservation Trust.

It’s possible that after enjoying this miniseries you might be inspired to cook like Louisa, dress like Margo or plan a trip of your own to Greece.  The Durrells will keep you busy all through the summer with the help of the staff here at WPL.  And, if you are inspired to adopt a goat or a turtle then that’s entirely on Gerald.

— Penny M.

The Genius That Is Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer has been tearing up the bestseller list as well as the airwaves this spring with the release of her newest book, The Female Persuasion. Just listen to her interview on Q .

meg_wolitzer_and_Emma_Straub._040418I read The Interestings last year and I enjoyed it, however it was not until I read her latest novel that I truly understood the genius that is Meg Wolitzer and why another of my favourite authors, Emma Straub, felt the need to make herself a t-shirt with Meg’s name on it. I would wear a t-shirt with either of their names on it any day of the week!

This is a big novel, the kind you get muscles from because for the week you are reading it, you never put it down. The novel tells the story of Greer Kadetsky, a college student who left home to get away from her pothead, negligent parents to make something of herself. Greer knows she has something to offer the world and that when she can get over being so shy and figure out what it is, she is going to be amazing.

One night at a party, she is groped by a stranger who ends up being someone who has assaulted numerous women on campus. Greer begins to get her voice and speak up with her friend, Zoe (they make t-shirts too!) only to fall short when the male is given a mere slap on the wrist. One night, she and Zoe attend a speaking event featuring the very famous feminist, Faith Frank, think Gloria Steinem with awesome boots. After the talk, Greer meets Faith in the washroom and this meeting is the jumping off point for the rest of Greer’s life.

The novel tells the story of these women over the years, as well as Cory, Greer’s high school boyfriend. He may end up being the strongest demonstrator of equal rights when he is forced to give up his career and take care of his family. His feminism is quiet and shows it doesn’t need to be in the spotlight. His story is heart wrenching and beautifully written, perfectly juxtaposed with the fame Greer gains as she grows into herself as a writer and activist. The evolution of their relationship was real and never felt manipulated.

Wolitzer has written a story of relationships within the story of Greer’s coming of age. She writes of female triumphs and the roadblocks and setbacks often caused by men. She shows the ways women can lift each other up – the theme of mentoring is a dominant one – but also how badly they can hurt each other. This book is a new favourite of mine for sure and I will definitely be reading the rest the Wolitzer’s backlist.

— Sarah C.

What I love about working at WPL

You know what I love about working here at the library? It’s the… People. I bet you thought that I was going to say books. I do love the books. Books have always been very good friends of mine but in an hour or so of working here at the desk I can have such great conversations on so many different things this comes from the people who visit the library. You know, it’s pretty quiet in here before we open the doors every day. On a recent afternoon I enjoyed chats about classic action movies, a great new mystery book with a suspect known for wearing a crooked hat, and a shared love for short stories. This is the kind of lively dialogue you just don’t get anywhere else.

On that afternoon I was speaking on the phone to a customer about the good old days of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.  You know, when you search for films on the catalogue you can narrow it down by the name of the actor so it can be a treasure trove for the customer who is in the mood to take a walk down memory lane and watch movies from someone’s back catalogue. After he and I had placed holds on some of the classics, like Rocky and Die Hard (of course), we also moved ahead a decade or two and he decided he would dip a toe into the world of Iron Man. I gave him my wholehearted recommendation for these films although confessed that I found that Marvel films are like potato chips, once you watch one, you find yourself wanting to watch another…

I was also talking to a customer about a new mystery novel called The Man in the Crooked Hat because we were agreeing about how much escapist pleasure there is in reading murder mysteries. There are many new ones each week – how do you pick a good one? This particular title caught my eye because of the improbability of searching for a suspect wearing a crooked hat. Surely even the least bright of all criminals would know to remove his hat after he committed a murder and was spotted by a detective? Is he so attached to his chapeau that he can’t bear to part with it? This book has snappy dialogue, the main character is a former police officer turned private detective so the gritty details are spot on, and there are twists to the mystery that I just never see coming. And the man with the hat?  Well, he is simply terrifying to me and I’ve had to stop reading it in the dark which comes at 5:00 every day so it’s limiting my reading time to lunch hours in our comforting staff room. Will the man keep wearing his hat to the end of the book? I just don’t know but Harry Dolan is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

A discussion of a shared love of short stories began with talking about the movie You’ve Got Mail. This is one of the movies that I watch every year while I wrap presents and a library customer was agreeing that she felt it had a great holiday vibe and then we started talking about the book, Uncommon Type: Some Stories, that Tom Hanks had recently written. It is getting a lot of attention right now but short story collections don’t get as much love as they should. They really are the unsung heroes of our shelves! You can pick up one of these gems and find yourself transported into another world in just minutes. Perfection – you have low commitment, low stress and so much opportunity for distraction. Try Alice Munro’s short stories or for additional CanCon I also recommend Alistair MacLeod’s wonderful writing. We have short stories in collections from different time periods, some which are organized by country, and can even provide you a 2017 story collection with a tale narrated by a talking lion in James McBride’s Five-Carat Soul.  You have got to get your hands on some of these.

So many conversations we have here at the library begin as one thing, like talking about the movie ‘You’ve Got Mail’, and then turn into another, with two people sharing how much we both enjoy a the low commitment and high reward of a good short story.  The public library is vibrant and ever changing, like life, and that’s why I just love it.

-Penny M.

Join us at a book club discussion

It is a new year and a wonderful new selection of book club titles awaits. Please feel free to join us for a discussion of the book. No registration required and everyone is welcome.

Date: Monday, January 8th at 7 p.m.

Location: Auditorium, Main Library, 35 Albert Street. Waterloo

Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

Ned Marriner, fifteen years old, has accompanied his photographer father to Provence for a six-week “shoot” of images for a glossy coffee-table book. Gradually, Ned discovers a very old story playing itself out in this modern world of iPods, cellphones, and seven-seater vans whipping along roads walked by Celtic tribes and the Roman Legions.On one holy, haunted night of the ancient year, when the borders between the living and the dead are down and fires are lit upon the hills, Ned, his family, and his friends, are shockingly drawn into this tale, as dangerous, mythic figures from conflicts of long ago erupt into the present, claiming and changing lives.

Place a hold on a WPL copy of the book here.

Read a review of the book from Quill & Quire here.

Discover information about Aix-en-Provence from Wikipedia here.

 

Date: Thursday, January 18, 2018 @ 1:30 p.m.

Location: Boardroom, Main Library, 35 Albert Street. Waterloo

The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens

Five days. Four hikers. Three survivors. On his 18th birthday, Wolf Truly takes the tramway to the top of the mountain that looms over Palm Springs, intending to jump to his death. Instead he encounters strangers wandering in the mountain wilderness, three women who will change the course of his life. Through a series of missteps he and the women wind up stranded, in view of the city below, but without a way down. They endure five days in freezing temperatures without food or water or shelter, and somehow find the courage to carry on. Wolf, now a grown man, has never told his son, or anyone, what happened on the mountain during those five days, but he can’t put it off any longer. And in telling the story to his only child, Daniel, he at last explores the nature of the ties that bind and the sacrifices people will make for love. The mountain still has a hold on Wolf, composed of equal parts beauty and terror.

Place a hold on a WPL copy of the book here.

Read a review of the book from Globe and Mail here.

Discover how to survive in the wilderness here.

Please feel free to contact Christine Brown at cbrown@wpl.ca or 519-886-1310 ext. 146 with any questions.

Resources for Writers

As I was looking through the WPL’s Adult Programs & Events Guide for fall 2017, I noticed an interesting lecture series being offered at the Main Library.  On October 11, Jane Ann McLachlan spoke about Publishing and Marketing Your Novel and, on October 25,  will speak on how to be Motivated to Write.

There’s something cyclical and lovely about a public library offering programming to develop writers whose books could one day stock the library shelves. If you’re a budding writer, or an old hand polishing up a ten-year project, I’d encourage you to check out the talk. Registration is required.

WPL has more writing resources beyond the McLachlan lectures. Here are five valuable resources for budding authors:

1. Writer’s Digest Magazines

This magazine has all sorts of writing tips and advice, including the business parts of writing (such as finding an agent, writing a query letter etc.). Writer’s Digest has eight issues a year plus back issues are available for borrowing.

2. Gale Courses

Gale Courses are online classes that are available for anyone with a library card. There is a whole category dedicated to Creative Writing. Take courses like “Write Fiction Like a Pro” and “Writeriffic: Creativity Training for Writers.”

3. Books

The library has tons of books that talk about pursuing the craft of writing. Look for classics like On Writing by Stephen King or peruse the 808.3 section in Adult Nonfiction.

4. Market Directories

Figure out where to sell your writing by taking a look at Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market. This directory is updated yearly and helps you find the right publisher for your work.

5. Bookable Study Rooms

Sometimes you need a fresh, dedicated space to help you focus on your writing. The John M. Harper Branch has study rooms that you can book with your library card. The Main Library also has lots of common work spaces available.

The great thing about these library resources is that they’re all FREE! It’s such a terrific opportunity to be creative without having to spend a penny (or a nickel). Why not be inspired by these resources and pen your own story?

— Jenna H.