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.

Ethel & Ernest

Now here’s a real charmer for you. By turns sweet, sad and funny, the animated film Ethel & Ernest will steal your heart.

I looked for this recently-made animated film at the local theatres, but didn’t spot it playing anywhere. So when a fellow library worker mentioned it had just come into WPL, I was thrilled! And I was not disappointed.

PEOPLE-PROD-Ethel-and-ErnestEthel & Ernest is based on the graphic novel of the same name by renowned children’s writer/illustrator Raymond Briggs (The Snowman, and many others) and pays affectionate tribute to Briggs’s real life parents. Ethel and Ernest are working-class Londoners who meet in 1928 and stay together until their deaths in 1971.

The movie consists of little vignettes of daily family life, told against the backdrop of changing times. The days of the Second World War are particularly fraught. The parents argue over whether to evacuate young Raymond to the countryside (“Over my dead body!” wails Ethel. “No, it will be his dead body.” counters Ernest), the family’s house and street are damaged by bombs and Ernest, working as a volunteer fireman, is utterly overcome by the destruction he has witnessed.

Ethel & Ernest packs a lot of emotion, but in an understated, maybe English, kind of way. I was a bit surprised at how involved I became with the characters, something I didn’t expect from an animated film. Watching Ethel & Ernest age and their health decline and then pass away, well, it is moving.

So yes, check out Ethel & Ernest. You might also want to have a look at the graphic novel (published in 1998). It is every bit as lovely as the DVD.

— 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.


I’m in the midst of a Gordon Lightfoot love affair. Well, okay, not with him personally, but with his music, life and times.

Awhile back, I placed a hold on the new book Lightfoot by Canadian music journalist Nicholas Jennings, and had to wait a bit as there were a number of people ahead of me. I guess there are lots of Gordon Lightfoot fans are out there! Finally, it was my turn.

Besides reading the book, I’m also listening to his music and watching some of his performances on YouTube. I feel I’m taking part in a Gordon Lightfoot-fest, a feast for the eyes and ears — and mind and heart as well.

In Lightfoot, Jennings traces the unlikely trajectory of a kid from Orillia, Ontario to international super star. It’s clear from reading Lightfoot — just in case you didn’t already know — how enormously talented this Canadian singer-songwriter is.

The book strikes a good balance between Lightfoot’s personal life and his music, though as a songwriter there is obviously considerable overlap between the two. Jennings gives a good, nuanced account of who the singer really is. Despite some personal demons (alcoholic excesses being pretty high up on the list), Lightfoot comes across as a decent guy with a lot of personal and musical integrity.

I have borrowed some CDs (WPL has a good selection) and can honestly say it has been a delight to rediscover his music. It’s so real, so genuine. I think my all-time favourite Gordon Lightfoot song has to be “If You Could Read my Mind.” Other greats are “Early Morning Rain,” “The Last Time I Saw Her,” “I Heard You Talking in Your Sleep” and oh, so many others. I love his rich, melodic voice.

Lightfoot is a great read but might I also suggest you check out some of his timeless music as well. Maybe start (or rediscover) your own love affair with Gordon Lightfoot.

BTW, Gordon Lightfoot is scheduled to appear at the Centre in the Square November 22, 2018. I have my ticket bought. I will be there.

— Penny D.

New DVD Anticipation

I’m in a state of eager anticipation. I’m really excited about a couple of great new DVDs coming to the library soon.

Thing is, I am not good at waiting. I want those two DVDs, My Cousin Rachel and The Circle, here today—if not yesterday. So in the meantime, I’ve been reading the books the movies are based on.

I was a huge fan of English writer Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) when I was a teenager and scarfed back all of her classics, including My Cousin Rachel. So I was really pleased when a movie version (starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Clafin) came out earlier this year.

WPL does not at present have the book version, but it is on order. However I have my own copy and am currently re-reading this classic novel of suspense.

My-Cousin-Rachel-2017-movie-posterMy Cousin Rachel (published in 1951) is about a young Englishman in Italy who meets and marries his distant cousin Rachel. The man falls mysteriously ill, believing he has been poisoned, and then dies. Rachel then goes back to his estate in Cornwall, England and meets his ward, who (a) finds himself falling in love with her and (b) also falling mysteriously ill. Has Rachel committed the crimes she is suspected of, or is she innocent?

I’m also waiting (none too patiently!) for the release of the DVD The Circle, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. It has quite a holds list. So if you are interested, better place that hold now!

I just recently read the book (published in 2013) by Dave Eggers. It’s about a young woman Mae Holland who lands her dream job at The Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company. At first everything about the organization seems perfect. But slowly questions start to creep in. Questions involving surveillance, privacy, collection of data (who is doing it and for what purpose) and authoritarianism. The Circle is a good read with lots to think about.

— Penny D.

Mary Tyler Moore Show


Who can turn the world on with her smile? And take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile….Why, Mary Tyler Moore— of course.

I’m so excited. WPL has just ordered all seven seasons of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I love that show! It is my all-time, favouritist TV show, ever. (Though unfortunately Mary Tyler Moore herself died in January.)

I’m looking forward to being reunited with the gang, who almost feel like old friends. In the TV newsroom, there’s Mary Richard’s boss, crusty Lou Grant; ego-maniac news anchor Ted Baxter; and good old dependable Murray Slaughter. In later seasons, Sue Ann Nivens (played by the incomparable Betty White) came on board and chased after Lou Grant every chance she got. In her home life, Mary’s best friend was the wonderfully wacky Rhoda Morgenstern (surely one of the greatest TV characters of all time).

For me, a lot of the appeal of the show is due to the Mary Richards character. She was young, single, pursuing an exciting career. Yet she always came across as a real person, as we saw plenty of insecurity and vulnerability in her.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was excellent in every regard. It was always so well written, so well acted and so very, very funny. It was awarded–let me see, quick Google check here–29 Emmys over its seven-year run.

The DVDs should be coming into the library soon. Yippee, time to celebrate. I know, I’ll  take off my hat and toss it up into the air—just like Mary.

– – Penny D.

Becoming Unbecoming

myfriend   ethel   becoming   secret

I’m not a huge graphic novel fan. They’re really not my thing.

To date, I have read two graphic novels. Yup, that’s a whole big two of them. I’ve previously read  Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs which I found utterly charming. And also one recommended  by a former WPL staff person, My friend Dahmer, by Derf Backderf. The author knew the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in high school and writes a pretty interesting account of him.

So this brings me to my third graphic novel, Becoming unbecoming, by Una. It’s easy to say what it’s about—sexual violence against women—but it’s a lot harder to describe or categorize.

The author presents her own story of being sexually assaulted as a young girl and the varying emotions she felt. The Yorkshire Ripper also comes into the story, as he was at large at the same time and place where Una grew up (northern England in the 1970s).

Also thrown into the mix are stats on sexual violence, various musings and some pretty pointed questions (for instance, why does it take so many women to bring sexual assault charges against one man before they are believed. Yes, Bill Cosby, she’s talking about you.)

I really like the way Una ends the book. She does a drawing of each one of the Yorkshire Ripper’s 13 female victims, imagining what they would be doing now if still alive. All too often it seems we focus on the killer and forget the victims.

 Becoming Unbecoming is an interesting and powerful read. Hmm, maybe time to revise my opinion of graphic novels.

I just want to add that I have a hold on another graphic novel, Secret Path, by Gordon Downie (of the Tragically Hip) and Jeff Lemire. It’s a true, but unbearably sad, story about a 12-year-old native Canadian boy.

– – Penny D.

The Making of Donald Trump

makingofdonaldMy work colleague recently contributed  a post about the upcoming presidential inauguration. Here are my thoughts.

I cannot, for the life of me, understand how the American people elected Donald Trump as president. I am actively fearing and dreading his presidency.

For awhile I hoped there might be a kinder, gentler Donald underneath, but nothing he has said or done since the election has shown that to be the case.  Basically, I think we are up s*** creek without a paddle (don’t know if I’m allowed to say that, but I am anyway). My way of coping, or trying anyway,  is to read and stay informed.

First up, there are some books out there written by Donald Trump himself. Let me just say I have zero interest in reading them.

A recently published, new addition at the library is The Making of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnston. The author is a Pulitzer- prize winning investigative journalist who has been writing about Donald Trump for 30 years. He says his credo as an investigative journalist is, if your mother tells you she loves you, check it and then double check it. So I think his credentials are solid.

So what does Johnston have to say about Trump?

Nothing good, I’m afraid.  A lot of it we have already seen for ourselves (his striking back, hard, at anyone who crosses him, his skill at exploiting the media, his mindset which seems more akin to dictator than democrat).

Here’s something I was unaware of. Trump has a long history of  close association with criminals. Johnston describes this association  as “a vast assortment of con artists, swindlers, mobsters and mob associates, a major drug trafficker he went to bat for, and other unsavory characters.”  Deeply troubling connections in a man who will shortly be the President of the United States, I would say.

The reader also gets a detailed account of Trump’s history of  flouting regulations– and often getting away with it. Johnston’s account of Trump University is a good case in point. After numerous complaints, government officials in various states, including Florida, began investigating Trump University. At which point Donald Trump made  a large donation to the Florida attorney-general’s re-election campaign (as did Ivanka Trump). Then, poof—as if by magic– the attorney-general’s investigation into Trump University ceased. Yeah, money talks alright (and silences, too).

I feel like I should end this post on a positive note. Well, reading and generally staying informed is a valuable thing, especially considering Trump’s repeated attacks on the news media.

But the truth is I fear we are in for a rough ride ahead. I hope I’m proved wrong.

Penny D.

Wild Tales by Graham Nash

Wild Tales by Graham Nash

I love autobiographies.

It’s fascinating to get a glimpse into other people’s lives: the things they did and thought, the choices they made. And I found this one, Wild Tales by Graham Nash, to be so interesting. (In case the name doesn’t mean anything to you, Graham Nash was a founder of the 60’s band the Hollies and later became part of the supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.)

I liked hearing about Graham Nash’s childhood, as it was so different than mine. He grew up poor in the north of England. When he was just a kid, his dad went to prison for a year and then things were really, really tough.

I especially loved Nash’s stories about his time with the Hollies and CSN&Y. Did you know he met his future Hollies bandmate, Allan Clarke, at the age of 6 and they became instant best friends as they bonded over their love of singing and harmonizing together. How cool is that?

After leaving the Hollies in a less than classy way (told the record producer, didn’t tell his bandmates), Nash joined CS&N. What a crazy time that was! With rampant drug use and huge egos and clashes of all kinds, it’s a wonder they were able to record so much music and give so many concerts. Actually, it’s a wonder they are all alive and (so far as I know) fully functioning.

And then there is the music.

I had such fun rediscovering the Hollies. They made some great music!  Unfortunately none is available at WPL. I inquired why not and apparently their music is no longer available to purchase.

I’ve also been listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young for the first time. Is it me, or are these guys maybe a little over-rated? I found some of the music to be pretty sleep-inducing. Gorgeous harmonies, yes, but I’d say the music needs more bite to it. I’m sure there are people who would disagree, maybe vehemently. If so, you can check out the library’s selection of CSN&Y CDs, as well as individual albums by David Crosby and Neil Young.

– Penny D.

What We’re Watching: 1971

 Can citizens ever be justified in committing illegal actions against their government? How about if the government itself is acting illegally?

The movie 1971 looks at some of those questions. On March 8, 1971, a group of eight people broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Philadelphia) and stole every single document there.

 Up until then, they had participated in peaceful protests against the Viet Nam war, but decided it was time to up the ante. The stolen files showed that the FBI was behind a vast and illegal system of spying on and intimidating American citizens, an issue with plenty of relevance for us today. All hell broke loose when the files were sent to newspapers and published.

 The DVD re-enacts the, shall we say, liberation of the documents– a couple of last minute glitches in the plan made for some very anxious moments. It also interviews some of the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI, as the group called themselves. It is interesting to hear what they thought at the time (in 1971) and also their reflections on it 40 odd years after the event. They certainly held deep convictions about trying to end the Viet Nam war. I have to admit to feeling a lot of respect for their point of view and their actions.

 All in all, very interesting viewing.

 N.B. There is a book at WPL on the same subject: The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI by Betty Medsger. I’ve just taken a look at it. Whoa, Nellie! Those people who stole the FBI files deserve a medal for service to their country! The extent of the FBI ‘s illegal activities, as documented in this book, is simply staggering.

– – Penny D.