From Horror to Hope

Two books written  about the experiences of North American Indigenous women had the power to shake my assumption, based on a lot of previous reading on the subject, that I understood the kind of pain and suffering that First Nations women and girls have endured since colonialism ripped their worlds asunder.

NotYourPrincess#NotYourPrincess, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, is a stunningly beautiful compilation of short stories and poetry, written as “…a love letter to all young indigenous women trying to find their way, but also to dispel those stereotypes so we can collectively move forward to a brighter future for all”.

Broken down into four sections, the selections take us from horror to hope, from brokenness to healing. The written words are accompanied by rich and powerful artwork and photography and compel the reader to stop and breathe in the message being relayed. The emotional intensity jumps off the page and takes your breath away, not just as an empathetic response but as a celebratory ‘high five’ for the healing that is happening and the strides that are being made.  A mere 109 pages in length, this book doesn’t ask for a huge commitment from the reader but it gives back value a hundred times over.

calling down the skyRosanna Deerchild, a celebrated author and broadcaster, has written Calling Down the Sky, a powerful poetry collection that gives voice to the generational effects of her mother’s experience as a residential school survivor. You can sense the struggle her mother feels when her daughter prods her to share her story. She is overflowing with the emotional impact  of her experience and yet overwhelmed by the telling of it.

One of my first thoughts reading Deerchild’s poems was how she used such small words and yet the message they delivered was like a punch to the gut. I could almost visualize her mother reverting back to the language of a child as she remembered the cruelty and horror inflicted on her and her fellow ‘inmates’. No flowery language required; her voice is as trenchant  as the cruelty bestowed upon them.

Both are stunning and important works of art.

— Nancy C.

World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day has special meaning for me. I have friends in K-W who have recently arrived from Syria. (Actually I don’t think “refugee” is the best word to describe them. They have made K-W their home and are here to stay. I think “newcomer” is a much better word.)

I know it hasn’t been easy for my friends. They left behind a good life in Damascus. They have lost all contact with one sibling, and have no idea where he is or what his fate might be. And their formerly close-knit family is scattered across the globe. Some family members remain in Syria, while others have gone on to Germany and Sweden.

(Just a little background: hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the war in Syria. Countless numbers have been displaced within their own country, and millions more have left their homeland, resulting in the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.)

Here are a couple of recent books that I would recommend for a greater understanding of the Syrian crisis: The Boy on the Beach by Tima Kurdi and We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled by Wendy Pearlman. Both tell a similar story, though one is told with a large cast of characters and the other is about one extended family.

In September 2015 a horrifying image flashed around the world: a small boy, lying face downwards on a Turkish beach, drowned, trying to flee with his family from the war in Syria. Canadian Tima Kurdi is the Aunt of that small boy and The Boy on the Beach is her story and that of her close-knit Syrian family.

Author Wendy Pearlman interviewed hundreds of Syrians and We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled is their stories, told exclusively in their own words. They describe the very best of humanity (hope, faith, resilience, courage, altruism) but also horrors that (luckily for us) we cannot even imagine. I think you will be deeply affected, as I was, by the raw and painful words in this book.

So what are we to do on June 20th, World Refugee Day? Maybe pause for a moment and reflect on how fortunate we are to live in Canada. A different roll of the dice and it could have been us, born in some war-ravaged country. And then, who knows, we might be the refugee.

— Penny D.

Earth Day

EarthDaypic2_editedHow will you celebrate Earth Day on April 22? Maybe an Earth Day project, such as picking up litter? Or maybe some quality time spent in nature? I’m planning to visit one of my favourite places, a nearby wooded nature trail. Running along side it is a meandering creek, and I love to stop and listen to the running water and look at the play of light on water. Just thinking about it makes me feel happy (and peaceful and calm)!

If you’re looking for some quality Earth Day viewing or reading material, here is a selection of DVDs plus a recently published book that will, hopefully, leave you feeling positive and inspired about this beautiful, fragile planet that we call home.

Taking Root: the vision of Wangari Maathai (DVD)
Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman, started a greenbelt movement that led to the planting of 35 million trees in her home country. For her efforts, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first African woman to receive that honour.

Growing Cities: a film about urban farming in America (DVD)
The filmmakers take a road trip around the U.S. looking at urban farming. They profile people who are reclaiming vacant lots and working together to change those spaces into places to grow nutritious food. Now that’s a win all round. Growing Cities is very inspiring viewing.

Jane Goodall: Reason for Hope and Jane’s Journey (DVDs)
You can’t go wrong with Jane Goodall, the Englishwoman who studied chimpanzees for many years. She now devotes her time to travelling the world, bringing a hopeful environmental message to people. Both these DVDs examine her life and legacy. Or how about this? Go see her in person! Jane Goodall is appearing at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square on April 25th. How cool is that?

Earth: one amazing day (DVD)
I can only provisionally recommend this DVD, as, alas, I haven’t been able to see it (I’m stuck near the end of a holds list). This film, shot over the course of just one day, boasts spectacular and up-close nature photography.

The Nature Fix by Florence Williams (book)
This book poses the question, “Is being in nature good for us?” The answer is a resounding YES. Nature is deeply beneficial for our bodies and our minds. And I believe our spirits, too, should be added to that list.  In this lively-written, science-based account the author checks out many outdoor activities from forest bathing in Japan to rambling (a cool word for hiking) in Scotland. Read the book and find out for yourself how many hours a month are necessary, scientifically-speaking, to reap nature’s benefits. It’s probably less than you think!

Happy Earth Day!

— Penny D.

Seven Fallen Feathers

I am struggling with what to say about Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death And Hard Truths In A Northern City by Tanya Talaga. It is a raw, deeply moving and horrifying look at how our Indigenous youth continue to be treated in this country, specifically in Thunder Bay in this instance. It takes us through the stories of seven teenagers who came to their deaths living in a city far from home, because education at home was not an option for them. Forced to live in boarding houses with strangers, they were overwhelmed by urban life and while there were many conscientious and heartfelt attempts by kind-hearted souls to try to ease the blow of assimilating, the truth of the matter is that these kids were separated from family and friends during a very difficult transitional period.

It is the story of the families left behind without answers to why their children perished. It is the story of racism and neglect in a 21st century Canadian community. The cover of the book was painted by the father of one of the victims, Christian Morrisseau, son of renowned painter Norval Morrisseau. It is a stunningly beautiful depiction of the fragility of life and the incredible strength of the human spirit.

How is it that in 2018, a large segment of our population continues to be treated as ‘savages’ with no access to clean water, health services and educational opportunities for their youth? What aspect of colonialism is still so embedded into our national psyche that we are not pounding on the doors of every single Member of Parliament to demand action immediately? It is inconceivable that children still need to be flown to ‘residential’ schools hours away from their families and communities. We have the money to bail out Bombardier but we can’t erect schools, water purification systems or hospitals for our Indigenous communities. We pay huge amounts of money to ineffective and inefficient political policies and procedures but don’t have the financial resources to live up to the false promises that have been made over and over and over again.

This book should be essential reading for anyone holding or aspiring to hold political office in this country. This book should be part of the curriculum in every high school across Canada. And, it should be mandatory reading for any and all people involved in our legal, policing and judicial systems.

-Nancy C.

Breaking Free

I think everybody has their weird interest in certain subjects. Or is that just me?

 

Anyway, one of my “weird” interests is in the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). There’s just something about this very patriarchal/hierarchical church and its emphasis on total obedience. And I really can’t wrap my head around their practice of polygamy—the men with multiple wives. It’s also hard to believe that such a group operates right here in North America—mostly in Utah and surrounding states, but also in British Columbia.

 

I’m currently reading Breaking Free by Rachel Jeffs. She’s the daughter of the FLDS Prophet, Warren Jeffs. So the author certainly has a unique perspective from which to look at and comment on the church. Just so you know, Warren Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence + 20 years for sexual assault against children. Despite being in prison, he still heads and directs the church. WTH!

 

Rachel Jeffs, now a young woman, comes across as strong and feisty in this book. Good thing for her, as her life has been a difficult one. Her father (the Prophet, mind you) repeatedly molested her, beginning at the age of eight. When she was 18, she was married to a man she barely knew, becoming his third wife. Later on, she would share a home with two more “sister wives.”

 

Warren Jeffs has ruled the church with an iron fist. Rule-breaking, whether real or perceived, is dealt with harshly. Punishment often means a person being sent into isolation, for weeks or months at a time. In one instance, Rachel was sent away without her baby son. When she was allowed to come back, he had forgotten who she was! Becoming ever more angry by these repeated punishments, Rachel left the church.

 

If you share my “weird” interest, here are some other WPL titles I have enjoyed reading: Becoming Sister Wives by Kody Brown, The Witness Wore Red by Rebecca Musser and Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall.

-Penny D.

Creative Nonfiction is a term that often gets thrown around in literary discussions, but do any of us really know what it means? I sure didn’t. I often described it as nonfiction that was…creative, or if I was feeling really clever, as nonfiction that was experimental. Needless to say, those definitions would not satisfy any vocab teacher.

Luckily, the internet had the definition I was looking for. On the website for a literary journal called Creative Nonfiction, Lee Gutkind describes creative nonfiction like this:

The words “creative” and “nonfiction” describe the form. The word “creative” refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques fiction writers, playwrights, and poets employ to present nonfiction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to make nonfiction stories read like fiction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.

As I learned more about creative nonfiction, I realized how great this genre is. It’s the perfect bridge for dedicated readers of fiction who find nonfiction boring. I’ve met lots of people who want to expand their reading habits, but find it difficult to slough through some of the heavier (both literally and figuratively) nonfiction titles. If you’re looking to venture to the nonfiction side of the library this summer, then some of the creative nonfiction listed below might be for you.

Whether you’re a lover of nonfiction, or someone who just wants to dip their toe in, I hope this list can serve as an introduction to a genre that has a lot to offer. Happy reading!

Five Creative Nonfiction Books that You Should Check Out at WPL:

Theft by Finding by David Sedaris

“David Sedaris tells all in a book that is, literally, a lifetime in the making. For forty years, David Sedaris has kept a diary in which he records everything that captures his attention-overheard comments, salacious gossip, soap opera plot twists, secrets confided by total strangers. These observations are the source code for his finest work, and through them he has honed his cunning, surprising sentences. Now, Sedaris shares his private writings with the world.”

Hannus by Rachel Lebowitz

“Hannus is a creative biography of Ida Hannus, a Finnish-Canadian suffragist and socialist living in Vancouver and in the BC Finnish commune Sointula through the turn of the century to the Cold War. Approached from different angles, employing a collage of techniques, Hannus is a constantly shifting – and consistently engaging – narrative that raises questions about the reliability of history and biography.”

Getting out of town by book and bike by Kent Thompson

“Getting Out of Town by Book and Bike is a collection of popular essays which take an often comic look at how reading and bicycling both transport people to places unknown. Thompson introduces the reader to travel writing by the nineteenth-century bicycle adventurer Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg and Canadian rock star Neil Peart, explains why he visits small-town libraries in search of copies of Anna Karenina, and ponders the social significance of the Tim Hortons coffee shops which dot the Canadian landscape. Writing in the spirit of James E. Starrs’ The Literary Cyclist, Thompson also contemplates the role of the bicycle in works by writers from George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells to Elizabeth Bishop and Ernest Buckler. On the whole, it’s an offbeat and entertaining book of curiosity. George Elliott Clarke calls this book “a cool meditation on the Zen of cycling, a zesty memoir about growing up in the rural Maritimes, and an ‘off-duty’ scholar’s energetic studies of a host of writers.”

South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion

“This book has two extended excerpts from her never-before-seen notebooks–writings that offer an illuminating glimpse into the mind and process of a legendary writer. Joan Didion has always kept notebooks: of overheard dialogue, observations, interviews, drafts of essays and articles–and here is one such draft that traces a road trip she took with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, in June 1970, through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. She interviews prominent local figures, describes motels, diners, a deserted reptile farm, a visit with Walker Percy, a ladies’ brunch at the Mississippi Broadcasters’ Convention. She writes about the stifling heat, the almost viscous pace of life, the sulfurous light, and the preoccupation with race, class, and heritage she finds in the small towns they pass through. And from a different notebook: the “California Notes” that began as an assignment from Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976. Though Didion never wrote the piece, watching the trial and being in San Francisco triggered thoughts about the city, its social hierarchy, the Hearsts, and her own upbringing in Sacramento. Here, too, is the beginning of her thinking about the West, its landscape, the western women who were heroic for her, and her own lineage, all of which would appear later in her acclaimed 2003 book, Where I Was From.”

Small Beneath the Sky: A Prairie Memoir by Lorna Crozier

“A volume of poignant recollections by one of Canada’s most celebrated poets, Small Beneath the Sky is a tender, unsparing portrait of a family and a place. Lorna Crozier vividly depicts her hometown of Swift Current, with its one main street, two high schools, and three beer parlors–where her father spent most of his evenings. She writes unflinchingly about the grief and shame caused by poverty and alcoholism. At the heart of the book is Crozier’s fierce love for her mother, Peggy. The narratives of daily life–sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking–are interspersed with prose poems. Lorna Crozier approaches the past with a tactile sense of discovery, tracing her beginnings with a poet’s precision and an open heart.”

-Jenna H.

*All book synopses were taken from the Encore catalogue.

To Buy or Not to Buy

I very rarely buy books.  Why ever would I? Every book I want to read is here in the library so I just check it out or put it on hold and then check it out.  When my loan period is up I bring it back to the library for safekeeping and I know I can come and get it again when I need it.  It’s just the best system ever.

I am occasionally tempted to buy a book though if it is particularly beautiful to hold in my hands.  For example, just a few weeks ago there was a fantastic book about the history of card catalogues, called The Card Catalog : books, cards and literary treasures, published with a foreword by Carla Hayden (you should really check out her Twitter account – she is @LibnofCongress – it will make your day), and I so enjoyed reading that book and then flipping through the gorgeous pages again that it seemed like it might be worth having to keep.  But, I didn’t buy it.

Once in a while I find a book so charming that I check it out of the library more than once and then I think that it might just be worth it to buy a copy to save myself the trouble of coming in to check it out over and over again.  Then I remember that it isn’t really that much trouble.  It’s fun to come and find it on the shelves again and really, since I am reading it for the second or third time, is it really a rush job anyway?  No.  So I don’t buy that book even though it meant so much to me. This has happened a few times, especially with novels written about books or booksellers.  Like with Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry or Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.  Really sensational books.

Well, in this summer’s list of Featured Titles I have found a book that is making me think I might change my ways.  This might be the beginning of a whole new me.  Feast: recipes & stories from a Canadian road trip is an outrageously beautiful cookbook that extends beyond that genre into coffee table book-style with photography that will knock your socks off.  Maybe you will put it in your kitchen or maybe you will leave it artfully displayed in your living room to impress visitors?  It is that stunning.  The authors, Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller, decided that they would spend the summer of 2015 traveling across our country to write about Canada’s food, culture and the wonderful people they would meet.  They have done this in a way that includes recipes, of course, but also has a warmth and sense of spirit that you don’t expect in a cookbook.  The idea of ‘road trip’ comes across just as strongly as the food does.  They are in love with our country and they write about it with such passion.

downloadThe recipes in Feast are wonderful, of course, and are broken down into regions and also into sections like “grazing” and “cheers”, and the instructions included with each one are very clear.  I like clear directions with my recipes and they have done so every time.  It’s comforting and encouraging, it’s absolute perfection.  They photograph each recipe and also include images from the places that they visited to source those foods and that is where the true beauty of our country shines.  This is one of the rare cookbooks where you won’t skip a single page.  Say you find that an individual recipe doesn’t suit your family, maybe you are vegetarians and you won’t be interested in the Slow Cooker Moose Stroganoff, but you will want to read all about how they came to meet chef Roary MacPherson, who gave them that recipe.  It’s 304 pages of great reading and it just happens to have beautiful photographs and incredible recipes.

I brought the book home, slowly turned the pages and called out to my family about the things that caught my eye like “bannock!”, “sausage rolls!”, “come look at these chickens!”, “holy cow, they went to Churchill and had apple fritters!”  Generally my kids don’t love it when I do this but I did wear them down and they had to come to see what these two cookbook authors were up to.  It’s beautiful from the first page, from the cover.  You can, by the way, read the whole story of how they got to the final decision on the cover of their book on the website that they maintained as they traveled across the country.  Check it out at edibleroadtrip.com

Their adventure began on their blog and they continue to update it with lovely posts about food and travel.  It’s inspiring, vibrant writing and a wonderful way to get to know more about the two women who created this incredible book.  I’ve seen many Canadian-themed cookbooks before, as I am sure so many WPL customers have, but this one stands out because they aren’t just talking about food, they are talking about our country with humour and cheer.  They cover many of the foods that you think that someone might in a typically Canadian cookbook and introduce you to people in bakeries, restaurants and communities across the nation while they do it.  I’m going to buy my copy and return this one for the shelves now.  I hope that this doesn’t start a new personal trend and I just keep buying more books for my home.  Perhaps I should start looking at bookshelf designs? I know that we have some great books on that topic (one nice choice that I’ve found on the shelves is called Bookshelves & Cabinets) if I do.

— Penny M.

 

The truth about food

One of my favourite ways to find new-to-me books and authors is word of mouth. There’s nothing like finding a book based on a friend’s recommendation. The New Farm by Brent Preston is one of those books that a friend strongly recommended I pick up. I’m not a huge non-fiction reader but I liked that the book is set in our local(ish) area and I was intrigued by a big city couple trying to make their mark on the food industry.

I won’t lie, I went into this book humming the theme song from Green Acres but The New Farm is so much more than a story about a couple leaving the big city to start a farm. Preston’s writing is engaging and humorous and he isn’t afraid to show his missteps or naive notions about what it would take – financially, time-wise or personally – to run a successful, organic farm.

He shares the hard truth about where much of our food comes from, how we can and need to do better for ourselves and our environment and how good quality food should be available for everyone, no matter their socioeconomic standing. Throughout the book he weaves in the social, economic and environmental aspects of the food we eat. He stresses that it’s important to know where our food is coming from and how it has been treated from the very beginning and that we need to insist on better food for our health and the sustainability of our food industry and environment.

This book is well paced and you find yourself learning about sustainable farming, the good food movement, immigrant workers in Canada and so many other important issues all within the framework of a humorous and entertaining read. You don’t have to have an interest in organic farming or know the difference between a rutabaga and a turnip to enjoy this book. This is a story about a family who wanted to do better and did. The Prestons challenged the food industry, small farming, who has access to organic food and much more.

I have a new understanding of our current food industry and a greater expectation for quality, safe food for my family. I now wander the food store and wonder where and how this head of lettuce or potato was grown. I want better food and plan to take better advantage of the local farmer’s markets near me and even inquire about a local Farm Share.

I’m so happy that I picked up this book. It is inspiring, educational, funny, honest, important and has helped to remove the blinders I’ve had about the food that I buy. Even though the issue of successful, sustainable organic farming feels like a huge challenge Preston shows that it is possible.

–Laurie P.

Life in the ER

In his latest book, Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicine, celebrated humanitarian Dr. James Maskalyk has provided a fascinating and sometimes discouraging account of life in emergency rooms in Toronto and Ethiopia. Mingled throughout this portrayal are peeks into his relationship with his hunter/trapper grandfather who is in deteriorating health himself since the death of Dr. Maskalyk’s grandmother. The common thread in both of these narratives is the incredible strength of the human spirit in the face of crisis.

He begins with the basics, the “ABC’s of medicine”, and moves through the alphabet of ER necessities. A for Airway, B for Breathing, C for Circulation….if we can’t get those back in working order, there is not much else to do. Interspersed through the book, you’ll pick up interesting facts on how the body operates and how it tries to compensate for lost functions.

But the real story lies in the emergency rooms themselves and the relentless pressure on the medical teams that try to resuscitate, comfort, heal, and repair the broken bodies that flow endlessly through the ER doors. You can feel the frustration, exhaustion and despair whether in the supply starved ER in Addis Ababa or the state-of-the-art trauma centre in Toronto.  

He reveals the irony that in spite of a lack resources, such as modern operating rooms and diagnostic tools, emergency care in impoverished parts of the world may be at times more humane and heartfelt. Some of the most profound healing happens when all one has to offer is one’s kindness and compassion.  

Dr. Maskalyk portrays very well the grinding hopelessness that eventually drives some talented medical personnel from this kind of work. And yet, in spite of it all, he shows us that there are glimpses of hope and that trying again is what really matters.

-Nancy C.