Men & Women of Our Past

Greetings from the Ellis Little Local History Room!

The Ellis Little Local History Room is located at WPL’s Main Library. The many threads of Waterloo’s history are woven together in our extensive collection of photos, documents, newspaper articles, books and more. One of the most unique and precious collections in the room is the Ellis Little Papers.

Ellis Little was a local historian and retired teacher who spent many hours at the Waterloo Public Library researching the history of Waterloo. When he passed away in 2004, all of his research papers (“The Ellis Little Papers”) were donated to the library. Often Little’s research notes were written on the backs of scrap paper, which adds an interesting flavour to the files. His papers have given many researchers (myself included) insight into those hard-to-find local history topics.

There are many intriguing files in the Ellis Little Papers, but one of the best is called Men and Women of Our Past. This file is a collection of handwritten biographies that Little wrote during his years of research. The biographies focus on people from Waterloo’s earliest days. Some cover the expected prominent figures, such as Abraham Erb who was the first permanent resident of Waterloo, but many more are about people who might sometimes be overlooked.

For example, did you know that there was a Waterloo doctor named Dr. William Sowers Bowers who married a woman named Hannah Flowers? Dr. Bowers trained at the University of North York, and had a medical practice in the house of John Hoffman on King Street South. The charming story of this rhyming family is just the beginning of what can be found in the Ellis Little Biographies.

Sometimes the biographies are only a few lines long, but no matter the length, each biography has a list of information sources at the end. The book Welcome to Waterloo by Marg Rowell, Ed Devitt and Pat McKegney must have been a favourite resource for Little as it often appears in the source section for the biographies. Little also used newspaper articles, local atlases, registries and Waterloo Historical Society articles as sources for the bios. These source lists now provide an excellent path for researchers to chase down primary documents and find even more information about the people Little wrote about.

The Ellis Little Biographies are definitely worth checking out if you want to know more about past Waterloo residents. The original paper versions are available in the Ellis Little Local History Room. With volunteer help, we are transcribing all of the Ellis Little Biographies and making them available through Our Ontario, which hosts WPL’s local history collection online. This is an ongoing digitization project but we already have 80 biographies uploaded and ready for you to enjoy.

Reading through these biographies is a great reminder that the past is made up of people who lived their daily lives and made decisions that would influence the future, just as we are doing today.

— Jenna H.

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.

Why I Love Short Books

When I was a kid, I yearned after long books. 500 pages was chump change. The longer the book, the better. There was a certain pride in picking the thickest, heaviest book from the school library bookshelves. I loved to pick the book that didn’t quite fit in my already overflowing backpack. There was nothing like having to walk home from school with a giant chapter book in my arms. I wanted everybody to know that I was a reader. The bigger the book, the smarter the kid. That’s what I used to think.

af907240-20a9-0132-7156-0add9426c766I’ve grown up (a little bit) since then, and I’ve come to realize that more pages does not equal more pleasure. Short narratives have something great to offer. My to-be-read pile is full of short novels and short stories. Those slender spines on the bookshelves have taken on a new appeal for me.

At first, I was drawn to the short books because they promised to be quick reads (and they fit nicely in my purse for on-the-go reading), but I soon realized that they have a merit of their own. Shorter novels tend to be tighter stories. Often there’s more dialogue and less exposition. More story-showing, and less story-telling. The sparse style of shorter books allows the reader to come to their own conclusions about theme and meaning within the story. Shorter novels have greater potential to engage the reader beyond the page.

What solidified my loyalty to short books was the last long book that I read. In the spring, I read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Coming in at 771 pages and 32 hours on audiobook, it definitely classified as a “long book”. Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful book, but it was long. The story covers a lot of ground in the characters’ lives, but the ending dragged out a bit for me. There were paragraphs and paragraphs of exposition in the final section of the book. I found myself wishing that the book was a hundred pages less and that Tartt would let her story stand on its own.

Although long books can have so much to offer and short books can be superciliously stylistic, I will always love the short book.

Here are some short books and books of short stories that you can borrow from the Waterloo Public Library:

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (110 pages)

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (192 pages)

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks (180 pages)

All Saints by K.D. Miller (short stories)

Skin and Other Stories by Roald Dahl (short stories)

— Jenna H.

 

Be Frank with Me

Last week, when I was scrolling through the available audio books in the Download Library, the bright turquoise cover of Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson popped out at me. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but I’m glad I did, because is a pleasant read. Be Frank With Me follows Alice who gets the assignment of “assisting” (read: babysitting) M.M. Banning, a washed up author, who’s writing her comeback novel, and the author’s son, Frank. Frank is an incredibly smart, well dressed kid, who needs Alice’s one-on-one attention, more so than his mother. Although the book starts off a bit slow, (it picks up more at the climax) it has humorous moments, as well as heart warming ones. The bonding moments between Alice and Frank, and Frank and his mother are touching. It’s refreshing to see a very imperfect mother who loves her son deeply, even if she struggles to express it sometimes. Frank and M.M. Banning where definitely the highlight characters of the novel.

The real drawback of this book is that Alice isn’t a very intriguing character. She does have a slight romantic and personal development arc, but both seemed a bit flat and drew away from the mother-son narrative that I found more interesting. The book would have been much stronger if Alice had been used, not only as the reader’s window into Frank and M.M. Banning’s world, but as a nuanced character who had a stronger role in this novel.

Overall, this book was an enjoyable summer read and a great audio book option. However, if you are looking for a book with similar themes that is a bit more complex, I’d suggest The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.   3.5 stars

  • Jenna H.