GuRu

I was so excited to see GuRu : by fixing one piece of the jigsaw puzzle, you’ll miss seeing the whole picture by RuPaul in WPL’s collection. I had just finished a RuPaul’s Drag Race marathon over the holidays, where I watched all seasons on Netflix in an embarrassingly short amount of time. It’s safe to say I am addicted. I don’t normally enjoy reality TV, but I find this show compelling, so much fun and yes, addictive. While watching Drag Race I had the impression that RuPaul was someone who was smart, wise, and funny. I looked forward to reading GuRu to gain some more insight into just who RuPaul is.

While I enjoyed the book it wasn’t what I thought it would be. It was more of a coffee table book than a wordy tome. GuRu is a beautiful book, filled with philosophies, insights, and pictures. The photos are all shots of RuPaul and are unsurprisingly fabulous. As with RuPaul’s Drag Race, I find the transformations fascinating. The different looks and aesthetics that can be achieved by one person is mind-boggling to me, with my own very limited look. RuPaul, like all the drag queens on the show, are far better at being women than I will ever be. It is great to see so much variety in self-expression and the vivid colours of the photographs adds to the positivity conveyed in the book.

81vrmbonjslWhile there isn’t a lot of writing in GuRu, the words that are present are from the heart. They are genuine philosophies meant to inspire readers. There are a lot of good quotations, some insightful and some absolutely hilarious. It’s a book you can read through from cover to cover or you just read a random page for a pick me up. These quick inspirations can help to brighten your day and make you think about your perspectives. From thought provoking quotations like “The ego perceives us as separate from one another, but we are not. We are one thing.” to the inspiring “You’re actually stronger than you allow yourself to be.” to the unexpectedly practical “When driving in the rain, always turn on your headlights.”, RuPaul’s book offers wisdom for many situations.

GuRu is such a positive book. It was fun to read and offers some light when your world view is feeling dark. I definitely now want to read RuPaul’s others books to see what they have to offer.

— Ashley T.

Featured Titles – Winter 2019

Our WPL Collections Department staff have waded through reviews, catalogues and blogs, searching out the next must-read titles to share with you. You can browse through their latest selections on the Featured Titles list for Winter 2019.

Fiction Picks

Secret identities. Deception. The theft of people’s scandalous stories for personal gain. Murder. Fashion design. Royals. The topics are wide-ranging and there are definitely novels for every taste on the winter 2019 list.

Non-Fiction Picks

From essays and speeches to Googling that weird rash, seasonal eating to autonomous cars, downed ships and, a popular topic year round, the weather. It was difficult to select just seven titles to feature but we did it!

Happy reading!

featured-titles-winter-2019

Powerful Women. Powerful Books.

I wish that my reading goal for 2018 had been to read books about outstanding women because I would have fulfilled it several times over.  I know, it’s like I’m retconning my reading list goals but I read some really fantastic memoirs last year from authors like Elizabeth Hay and Terese Marie Mailhot. B.C. writer Lindsay Wong gave us the terrifically-named memoir The Woo-Woo : how I survived ice hockey, drug raids, demons and my crazy Chinese family while Michelle Obama beat U.S. publishing records this year with her warm autobiography Becoming.

Being welcomed into the lives of these outstanding women felt like a break from the everyday grind. It seemed like they were becoming new friends with each page I finished whether they were telling stories of caring for parents, children or relaying their own coming-of-age journey.  There was something to be learned from every one of these books and I think it’s possible that I might return to them again in the future, something that I love to do with books that become such good companions.

At first glance you might not consider the women in my non-fiction favourites of 2018 to be among your first choice for a companion as they include characters who use deception and, when the situation required, incredible violence to succeed.  But when I looked back at the list of novels that I adored this year I found that I had read quite a few featuring women who used their strength, determination, and wit to make their way in difficult situations – these really are perfect choices for a new friend even if they come in book form.

heresyHistorical fiction often focuses on women who need to be rescued and so many contemporary novels have a tendency to make women into victims or heroic figures – women who can ‘do it all’ and wear a snappy business suit at the same time.  The author of Heresy, Melissa Lenhardt, recently pointed out that it is no longer enough for novels to portray women as superheroes. They must also be permitted to demonstrate their need for revenge, greed, and bloodlust – just as male characters have been doing for decades.

I thought her latest novel, Heresy, about a group of female outlaws living in the American West in the 1870s seemed to spring to life the minute I began reading it.  I could almost hear the piano soundtrack while I read the first pages.  This was one of those rare books that had a story that wins me over even though I didn’t really like the concept.  She tells the story of a group of women from multiple perspectives, different time periods, and even includes a transcript of a podcast from a 2018 but this didn’t spoil the thrill of learning about the lives of Hattie La Cour and Margaret “Garet” Parker.  I loved these two women and their loyalty to each other as soon as I met them.

Hattie and Garet are the driving force behind the Parker Gang who begin robbing banks and stagecoaches after their ranch is stolen from them by their dishonest neighbour (who also tries to force Garet to marry him).  The story of either of these women would be enough to fill any epic Western but combine their crime spree with shootouts, a few bar fights, the possibility of being caught by Pinkerton detectives (one eventually joins their gang) and this is a book that would satisfy any reader.  It certainly prevented me from getting any meaningful work done while I had the book at home.  I haven’t stopped talking about it or thinking about the way that these women controlled their destiny at a time when this was not an easy choice.

a1-tqf9zzvlIn The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco the main character, Almas Rosales, is another kind of outlaw and, coincidentally, also a Pinkerton detective.  Or, was she a Pinkerton detective?  I don’t want to spoil things by revealing too much about the role Alma is meant to play in this novel but at one point it is suggested that she has been discharged from the agency for ‘bad behaviour’.  This poor behaviour serves her well because in the world of 1880s opium smuggling the skills needed to succeed include being able to use weapons, fight in dingy warehouses, wear any number of disguises and out-think criminals.

Alma Rosales is one of the most compelling characters that I have read in years and, although this novel is written as an adventure with high stakes, it was also absolutely fascinating to learn about the Washington port town.  I cheered for Alma in every gunfight, during every horrifying walk down a dark alley, and each time she made the decision to scrap with a despicable thug.  She is trying to solve a mystery– to discover the leak in the opium smuggling ring – but is also slowly being caught up in a romance with the powerful woman who heads the local operation and cleverly use this attraction to her advantage.  Alma’s choices make this a thrilling story that is worthy of a stay-up-until midnight read.  You will not regret it.

I read some other fabulous books featuring first-rate female characters this year including Madeline Miller’s Circe (you can read my review) and the amazing YA sensation by Tomi Adeyemi Children of Blood and Bone.  Sarah Bird chose the first woman to serve with the Buffalo Soldiers as the main character in her novel Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen and Imogen Hermes The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock was a voyage into 1870s London through the eyes of a beautiful courtesan named Angelica Neal.  She wasn’t the only person in that novel to think that creature would make her fortune but the story will capture your heart – I can’t wait to see what this author does next.

Looking ahead to the rest of this reading year I think I will continue on this streak of enjoying books featuring female characters in all their complexities – not just being rescued or becoming victims of crime.  I’ve just placed a hold on a debut novel by Lauren Wilkinson called American Spy.  It’s the story of an FBI operative who had been caught in the dull bureaucracy of 1987 until she is chosen to be part of a CIA covert operation.  The summary of this novel is fascinating but my favourite line was about how she and her sister dreamed of being secret agents when they grew up – that sounds like my kind of book.  I can’t wait to read about more mayhem, deceit, and a few fights in dingy warehouses, with women making the choices about who will be throwing the punches.  2019 is going to be an exciting year.

— Penny M.

The Salt Path

If savouring the majesty of the great outdoors is not your thing, you would be well-advised to steer clear of The Salt Path. However, if you are in need of a  meandering hike on Britain’s sea-swept South West Coast Path, you will will find this wilderness romp a satisfying way to spend a winter weekend.

In The Salt Path, Raynor Winn begins this heart-breaking story by revealing that she and her husband Moth are about to lose their home as a result of an investment in a friend’s business having gone awry. After years in financially ruinous litigation to save their beloved home, the court’s final decision is a ruling not in their favour. As they huddle in a cupboard under the stairs while they listen to the bailiffs pounding on the door, they are withered by the reality that their family’s dream life is irrevocably coming to an end.

As if that isn’t enough burden to bear, they also learn that the chronic pain that Moth has been experiencing in his upper back for the last six years is actually the result of a rare disease called corticobasal degeneration which will begin to further destroy Moth’s body and mental acuity resulting in a slow and agonizing death. Losing the love of her life is a burden too onerous for Raynor to bear and she simply believes that the doctors have got it wrong.

Knowing that they have nothing left to lose, they embark on a 630 mile walk of the Southwest Coast Path from Somerset to Dorset. Their decision to wild camp along the way is borne from the fact that they have no money except for the 40 pounds the government will deposit into their account each month. Food wins over comfort and, with only the bare essentials of life in their backpacks, they begin their journey.

a1o3bibuohlTheir constant companion on the trip is a guidebook of the trail hike written by the much fitter and more experienced Paddy Dillon. They quickly come to understand that there is no chance of completing the walk within the same time parameters that Dillon did. This release of their preconceived expectations is just the beginning of the emotional and spiritual journey they both experience as their need to survive ellipses all other previous concerns that have burdened them.  The power of nature is a force that they eventually learn to stop fighting. In letting go they find that their struggle with their financial and emotional impoverishment falls away.

The Salt Path is a story of the power of love and the recognition of the interconnectedness of all things. It is a story of survival in the darkest of times and the joy of opening one’s eyes to seeing the world in a whole new way.

— Nancy C.

Becoming

This book was a joy to read. I’ve been a fan of Michelle Obama for quite some time. I’ve always liked her strength, her passion to help others, her positive outlook and her strong devotion to her family and this book just made me appreciate her even more.

WPL has Becoming in three formats: hardcover, large print and recorded book (CD). I listened to the CD and found Michelle Obama to be an engaging narrator who allowed her warmth, humour, compassion and honesty shine through. She is the Michelle Obama you’ve seen in interviews and with Becoming, she brings readers into her personal triumphs, losses, insecurities and struggles from her early days as a young Black girl growing up in the south side area of Chicago, to her love of education and her years at Princeton, to meeting a fellow lawyer with a ‘weird name’ and her eventual role as First Lady of the United States. Readers are privy to the Obama’s early years as a couple, Barack’s increasing involvement in politics, parenting two daughters together, his run for the presidency of the USA and their eight years living in the fish bowl that is the White House.

Michelle Obama has always seemed like a regular kinda gal to me. She’s a mom, wife and daughter who just happens to be living an extraordinary life. As FLOTUS, she has lived under public scrutiny trying to balance family life with the daunting workload that she bore as First Lady. She wanted to give their children a reasonably normal childhood and use her role as First Lady to make positive changes in the country she so clearly loves. She gives readers a bird’s eye look at her life in the White House – the unique experiences made available to her as well as the limitations to her freedom and I appreciate that she doesn’t hold back on her opinions on some of the issues that have plagued and still plague the US.

Throughout the book Michelle Obama is well-spoken, genuine and she comes off as relatable and often inspirational as she shares personal anecdotes that show her fears, loves, struggles and accomplishments. Some of her anecdotes had me grinning, relating to her thoughts as a wife and mother, while several caused me to tear up as I listened to her speak about the devastation and loss her country has faced.

This is a moving, powerful and reflective book that readers, especially women and those who have ever felt unseen and ignored, will appreciate. You don’t have to be a Democrat (or even an American – says this proud Canadian) to enjoy this book. If you weren’t a fan of Michelle Obama’s before, you will be after reading Becoming.

— Laurie P.

100 Books That Changed the World

Wow, this is such a fascinating book! Flip through this book, pick a page–any page–and you are guaranteed to learn something.

That’s what I did when I borrowed 100 Books That Changed the World by Scott Christianson & Colin Salterand. And here’s what I found. A title, previously unknown to me, so intrigued me that I immediately went and grabbed it off the library shelves. The book is Maus by Art Spiegelman. It’s the author’s Pulitzer-Prize winning account of his father’s experiences during the Holocaust, told in graphic novel form. Now, I am not a graphic novel person but Maus is amazing.

100 Books that Changed the World is arranged chronologically, from I Ching (2,800 BC) to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything (2014). Each listing comes with information about the book and why the authors considered it to be significant. The book is split about 50/50 between fiction and non-fiction.

Some of the 100 books are religious or moral teachings, such as the Bible, the Torah, the Koran and the writings of Confucious. There are books about scientific discovery (for example, books by Stephen Hawking, Charles Darwin and Rachel Carson) and works related to culture/economics/politics (for example, books by Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Dr. Benjamin Spock).

Turning to fiction, some of the choices are hundreds or thousands of years old and still widely read today. How amazing is that! Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey (got to read those one day) and Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales rub elbows with more recent picks that include Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and George Orwell’s 1984. Even a couple works of children’s literature get the nod. Can you guess what they might be?

Most of the choices in this book I would certainly agree with. Though to be completely honest a few I had never even heard of. And here are two titles not part of this book that I would have included: The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

— Penny D.

Outrageous!

I have a few confessions to make. I love cooking. I love baking. I love discovering new recipes. I love cookbooks. Perhaps the most surprising confession? I rarely will buy a cookbook.

I borrow many (many) cookbooks from the library, finding a recipe here, a recipe there. However, very few cookbooks engage me enough to want to own the book forever and try the majority of recipes between its covers.

Family, friends and colleagues regularly share recipes with me, which I love. Sometimes I use good old Google to locate a recipe, especially if I’m trying to finish up something or other that is lingering in my pantry. There is an exception to my cookbook buying “rule”, well, a couple really. One exception is the cookbooks of Ina “The Barefoot Contessa” Garten.

Ina’s recipes are absolutely wonderful. They aren’t overly complicated, are flavourful and always work. Plus, they look awesome. Her roast chicken recipe is absolutely delicious, tender and juice and it looks exactly like the photo in the book. I shared the recipe with my nephew when he was hosting his first dinner party and his friends spent 10 minutes taking photos of the chicken to share online before diving in. Not a bite was left. That’s how good it is. Her chicken salad recipe. The best! Beef Bourguignon …amazing. I could go on and on.

choc_blogThe latest Barefoot Contessa book, “Cook Like a Pro”, was published this year. I believe it’s her 11th! As I wait patiently on the holds list, I decided to go back to Ina’s first cookbook and bake a batch of her incredible, super-chocolatey brownies for a recent family gathering. It has become my “go to” brownie recipe. Always work. Always decadent. Always disappear quickly.

— Sandi H.

Outrageous Brownies

1 cup butter
1 ¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 – 1 oz squares bitter chocolate
3 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup white sugar
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a 9” x 9” baking pan.

Combine the butter and chocolate in a double-boiler. When the chocolate has melted, set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture.

Combine flour, powder and salt. Add to chocolate mixture and stir just until combined.
Bake for 20 minutes. Do toothpick test. It is VERY easy to overbake. These should be moist.

Allow to cool thoroughly before cutting into bars.

Note: the original recipe is for a much larger quantity. Although my husband would love that, I usually make 1/2 and that is the recipe that I am sharing above

Bake It Better

The Great British Bake Off has spawned a LOT of cookbooks, from judges (Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood), from winners, and others. GBBO’s Bake It Better : Puddings and Desserts is written by food stylist Jayne Cross.

The Bake It Better series, which came out in 2016, is a new addition to WPL’s collection. The “Puddings and Desserts” volume (#5) with a beautiful trifle gracing the cover caught my eye and, yes, traveled home with me from the library that night.

It guarantees the recipes are tried and true. There are more basic recipes for newbees as well as “show stoppers” for those more seasoned bakers or for those looking for a challenge. I have to say I thought that, although not overly impressive on first glance, the book was interesting and I confess I did find it difficult to decide on which recipe to try so I left it in the hands of my chief tester: my husband.

He took a quick look through, lingered over a couple of recipes (one of which sounded particularly good but I didn’t have the ingredients for…it happens) before choosing the Coconut Lime Rice Pudding.

The pudding was very easy to make and the flavour was good. I chose to add some raisins (what is rice pudding without raisins??) as well as a bit of dried coconut which I think complimented the lime perfectly. I also like a less creamy pudding, so chose to add a bit more rice. The recipe made quite a lot of pudding so we’ve ended up reheating and it was scrumptious. The lime came through even a bit stronger second time round.

In my opinion, this cookbook is definitely worth borrowing but perhaps not worth buying, but you borrow it from the library and be the judge.

— Sandi H.

Coconut Lime Rice Pudding

For the Pudding
2 tblsp butter
½ c rice
¼ c white sugar
1 – 400 ml can coconut milk
400 ml homogenized milk
Grated zest of 2 limes
For the Sauce*
¾ c fresh or frozen raspberries
¼ c white sugar
Juice of 1 lime

Preheat oven to 275F.

To make the pudding, put the butter in a heat/oven proof casserole. Set over element on low to melt. Stir in rice, then sugar. Stir for 5 minutes or until the sugar melts.

Add in both milks, stirring. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Stir in zest. Cover casserole with foil and bake for 1 ½ hours, stirring every 30 minutes.

While the pudding cooks, make the sauce. Put raspberries, sugar and lime juice in small saucepan over low. Heat, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved and the raspberries start to soften.

Serve the pudding with warm topped with the sauce.

*Option : if you don’t want to make the sauce, serve the pudding plain, or with raisins mixed in or with a dollop of high-quality red jam on top.

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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.