Fascinated by Queen Victoria

Good old Queen Victoria was born on May 24, 1819…200 years ago!! Queen Victoria may be long dead and gone, yet in a way she lives on. She lent her name and birthday to the glorious long weekend we are now celebrating. And she lives on in numerous place and street names around the globe as well as inspiration for books and movies.

My daughter and I recently decided we wanted to watch a TV series together, something British. We selected Victoria and steadily worked our way through Seasons 1 and 2. We were enthralled — addicted? — from the get go! Just so you know, this is NOT your stout, dowdy, “we are not amused” Queen Victoria. This is a young, vibrant Victoria (just 18 years of age when she came to the throne), a headstrong Victoria filled with steely determination to do things her own way. Viewers are treated to pomp and circumstance, romance (both royal and below stairs variety), juicy scandal, and plenty of scheming and intrigue.

The cast is superb. Jenna Coleman plays Queen Victoria, Tom Hughes is her husband, Prince Albert, and Rufus Sewell portrays Lord Melbourne, the prime minister. I have to confess to a secret hankering after the Prince Ernst character (David Oakes), the oh-so-handsome and charming but badly-behaved older brother of Prince Albert.

Season 3 of Victoria comes out on DVD later this month. Cannot wait!

As we watched the series, I also read the companion book, Victoria by Daisy Goodwin, the creator and writer of the TV series. Highly enjoyable. Looking for more Victoria-inspired reading or viewing? Here are a couple of newish offerings I would recommend: Victoria & Abdul (DVD) and Queen Victoria: twenty four days that changed her life (book) by Lucy Worsley.

I have become quite fascinated with Queen Victoria, so I will leave you with two facts I bet you did not know. First, when Victoria was born the chances of her ever becoming queen were extremely remote as she was the daughter of the fourth son of the old King. Also, when Queen Victoria died (in 1901) she was the longest reigning monarch in British history (at 63 years) … though that record has recently been surpassed by her great-great granddaughter, the present Queen, at 67 years, and counting.

Happy Victoria Day!

— Penny D.

Earth Day is April 22

Have you been thinking about how to take better care of our planet? I know I have. WPL can help, here’s how. The library has a TONNE of resources (books, magazines, DVDs, and digital resources) on environmental issues and on the choices we can all make to be a little kinder to the earth.

WPL also has some seriously cool programs focusing on the environment. How about a family-friendly hike? The last hike in a wildly popular series takes place next Saturday, April 27th. Click here for more info on the hike and to register.

And then there’s this! WPL is launching an Eco Year Challenge. Starting up this month, this challenge features a different environmental theme for the next 12 months, ranging from plogging (I bet you don’t know what that is! I had to look that one up myself) to energy conservation and the 100-mile diet. Click here for more info on our exciting Eco Year Challenge.

This is what I’m reading and thinking about these days as I try to reduce waste, and particularly single-use plastic. I recently read Life Without Plastic and Plastic Purge. Just now I’m reading the, ah, interestingly titled book F**k Plastic. All of these titles offer great tips for reducing your use of plastic, though some ideas are maybe a little too hard core for my taste. (Don’t think I will be making my own tooth paste or deodorant any time soon.) It’s also great to talk to people and pick up on their ideas. One of our library customers showed me a piece of cloth she had bought and was going to use to make her own reusable produce bags. Pretty nifty.

One final thought: becoming informed and making individual/household changes are important but so is political action. Get after your politicians and tell them you want to see meaningful action on environmental issues and pronto.

So happy Earth Day! I hope you will mark the occasion by thinking about our amazing planet and how we can all walk a little more lightly upon it. But keep it going. What actions can you take today, and then tomorrow, and the day after that, and ….

— Penny D.

If Beale Street Could Talk

They’re here. All those great big, beautiful Oscar-winning movies are (mostly) out on DVD and available at WPL.

Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star is Born and Green Book are the really hot ones. You might be lucky enough to snag a FastView copy, otherwise you’ll have to take your place in the rather lengthy holds lists.

Here’s one that didn’t garner quite the same level of attention but which I’m eager to see: If Beale Street Could Talk (it won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, Regina King). I read some great reviews and wanted to see this film at the theatre, but somehow never did. Just take a look at the trailer, don’t you agree it looks beautiful?

Then I discovered it’s based on a novel by American author James Baldwin, so now I’m immersed in the book as I await my turn for the movie. (BTW, I’ve found reading the book beforehand — if there is one — really enhances the movie-watching experience.)

I can’t praise the book highly enough. Set in New York City, it’s a tender love story between 19-year-old Tish and 22-year-old Fonny and so much more. Tish discovers she is pregnant, and the scene where Tish tells Fonny’s family, now that’s memorable. I just can’t wait to see that in the movie! When Fonny is wrongfully accused of rape and thrown in jail, Tish and her family — Fonny’s family isn’t much use — work tirelessly to get him released from an openly racist system.

A lot of themes come into If Beale Street Could Talk. Race and racism and injustice, certainly, but also the universal themes such as hope vs. despair and staying strong and resilient in the face of adversity because, after all, what other choice is there?

N.B.  It was a great thrill for me to discover the writer James Baldwin (1924-1987). Within the first half page of the book, less than that really, I knew he was the real deal, a REAL writer. His writing is spare and clean with nothing extraneous added, yet so genuine. I know I will be reading more of James Baldwin.

— Penny D.

You Inspire Us

In honour of International Women’s Day, our bloggers are sharing the women (real or fictional) who inspire them. From sleuths to librarians, activists to llamas (yes, that’s right), inspiring “women” come from all periods of time and walks of life.

Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew has a special place in my heart. I can still vividly recall the first Nancy Drew book I ever read, The Hidden Staircase. I was immediately hooked and went on to devour every single other ND book. Why? How could you possibly not love Nancy Drew?? She makes a terrific heroine for young girls. Smart, brave and independent, Nancy was always keen to tackle a new mystery and more than capable of outwitting rascally bad guys.

The author was no slouch either. Using the pen name Carolyne Keene, Mildred Wirt Benson wrote the first 23 Nancy Drew mysteries and more than 100 other books. Later she worked as a journalist and — how amazing is this? — continued writing for newspapers until just before her death at age 96.

— Penny D

Elena Greco

The fictional character that has inspired me recently is Elena Greco, the narrator of the My Brilliant Friend series by Elena Ferrante. What inspires me most about Elena Greco is her quiet determination and ambition. Elena, who was born and raised in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Naples, defies expectation by graduating high school and proceeding through a university degree. With the encouragement of her friend Lila, Elena carves out her own career, leaves her hometown, and achieves her goal of becoming a published author. Elena Greco’s resounding voice inspires me to believe in my own abilities and remain disciplined to work towards my goals.

— Eleni Z.

Lillian H. Smith

There are many inspirational women I could write about, but the one that stands out bringing me back to my research assistant days. Lillian H. Smith was born in 1887 in London, Ontario and was the first professionally-trained Children’s Librarian in the British Empire. She came to Toronto in 1912, trained staff and created programs. By the end of her 40 year career she had helped expand a library system and the framework for the innovative delivery of children’s services, forming a guide for libraries across Canada and globally. Her motto to get “…the right book, to the right child, at the right time [and her feeling that] “…the love for a good story, well told, lies deep in every human heart” says it all.

— Teresa N-P

Viola Desmond

When Viola Desmond first appeared on our new ten dollar bill I have to admit that I didn’t know much about her story. I quickly set out to remedy that, and the more I learned about her, the more I admired her. Desmond is often remembered for taking a stand against racism and refusing to move from the “White Only” section of a movie theatre in Nova Scotia, but did you know that she also owned and operated her own beauty salon? In addition to owning a salon, Desmond also started a beauty school so that other black women could have the same business opportunities as her. There’s so much to be learned from the way Viola Desmond stood up for what was right and supported the women around her. To find out more about Viola Desmond, be sure to check out Meet Viola Desmond by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Mike Deas. Although you’ll find it in the Children’s section, it’s definitely worth looking at no matter how old you are!

— Jenna H.

Helen Keller

Helen Keller is one of the world’s most well-known Deaf-Blind persons but did you know she was also one of the 20th century’s leading humanitarians? After losing her sight and hearing at an early age, she was tutored by Anne Sullivan and later graduated from Radcliffe College, cum laude, in 1904.

Keller became a well-sought after lecturer and supporter for people with disabilities and women’s issues. In 1920, she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a non-profit organization whose goal is to defend and preserve the rights afforded to all individuals. For these accomplishments, Keller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, included in the Women’s Hall of Fame and received several honourary doctoral degrees.

Helen Keller died in 1968 at the age of 87 and will be remembered for turning her adversity into a powerful legacy. Keller is an example of the strength, tenacity and skills that people, who are often seen only for their ‘disabilities’ by society, can accomplish if provided the appropriate resources, language and education.

— Laurie P.

Llama Llama

“Come and listen little llama. Have a cuddle with your Mama…
Gifts are nice, but there’s another: the true gift is, we have each other.”

Mama Llama (in Anna Dewdney’s charming books) represents the ‘every mom.’ She’s up in the night with little llama. She’s up every morning getting him ready. She teaches him how to share. She deals with tantrums. She deals with meltdowns. She takes care of her of her little llama, even when she’s sick herself. And she does it all with patience and love. There are no awards for the Mama llamas of the world. There are no pages reserved in the history books. Yet she shapes her child in many ways –both in mind and in heart.

— Lesley L.

Louise Arbour

There are many reasons why Louise Arbour, currently the UN Special Representative for International Migration, has captured my attention for so many years but first and foremost is the time she spent as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The strength and resilience she demonstrated throughout the agonizingly brutal and horrific testimonies she and her fellow judges presided over during these trials is a testament to her courage and unwavering sense of justice. These civil wars were as barbaric as they come and under her leadership, for the first time, sexual assault committed in the name of war was prosecuted as a crime against humanity.

— Nancy C.

Louisa May Alcott

My mother gave me a copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women when I was in elementary school. I quickly joined the thousands who admire Jo March’s fierce loyalty, creative spark, and constant despair over having to act like a young lady. As a teen I learned that Alcott put much of herself into Jo, including the writing of sensational “potboilers”, and that she also wished for a life beyond what was acceptable for women in her time. Although best known for writing books for children she published over 30 books and story collections, worked as a Civil War nurse, was a passionate abolitionist, and early suffragette. A fascinating woman and incredible writer, Louisa May Alcott has been inspiring us for over 150 years. Quite a legacy.

— Penny M.

Alice Munro

Alice Munro is one of the most gifted short-story writers in Canada and the English speaking world. She has the innate ability to be able to fully develop a character and their experiences within a short story, something that could take another writer an entire novel to achieve.

In 2013 Munro became the first Canadian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. She has also received 3 Governor General awards, 2 Giller Prizes, the Man Booker International Prize for Lifetime Achievement, a Canada-Australia Literary Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and an O. Henry Award. In 2005, she was one of Time magazine’s “100 most influential people.”

Yet, for all her achievements and recognition, Alice Munro remains as humble and unassuming as the characters she creates. I had the tremendous honour to meet her at a reading for her book Dance of the Happy Shades. When I told her that I was focusing my undergraduate thesis on her writing she said, “Oh my goodness, can’t you find something more interesting to do?”

— Sandy W.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman, was an amazing woman, one worthy of emulation. She never let her status as a slave get in the way of her goals. She believed she was entitled one of two things: liberty or death. After escaping her “owner,” she put herself in danger many times to work as a “conductor,” rescuing others through the Underground Railroad. She also gave of her talents to help the Union Army during the American Civil War, serving as a nurse, scout and spy. Following the war, Harriet continued to fight against inequality and to offer assistance to those in need. With slavery and injustice continuing to persist, Harriet’s story serves as a powerful example and call to action.

— Susan B.

Shade

In Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents author Pete Souza throws plenty of shade and how.

Souza was the official White House photographer for Barack Obama. When Donald Trump became President, Souza took to Instagram @petesouza to highlight the differences between the two presidents. So, he takes say, a newspaper headline or a Donald Trump tweet and juxtapositions it with one of his own photos of Barack Obama, and serves it up with a caption. People started to notice Souza’s work and some commented that he was “throwing shade.”

What does that mean, “throwing shade”? I didn’t know and neither apparently did Souza. So he consulted a dictionary which told him it’s “a subtle, sneering expression of contempt or disgust with someone.” Though as Souza says “You can call it shade. I just call it the truth.”

Shade is a compilation of Souza’s Instagram posts. Some of them are sooo funny. When I first picked up the book I started laughing so hard I think I scared a few people. Other posts made me feel sad or appalled—in a how-did-we-get-here kind of way.

Here are a couple of Pete Souza’s posts that grabbed my attention (though really you have to get the book and see for yourself. And yes, you really have to.)

Donald Trump’s tweet: “Throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” juxtaposed with a photo of Barack Obama and someone dressed up as Abraham Lincoln with the caption “Two, like, really smart Presidents.” Ouch, ouch, ouch.

And here is the one that really got me. Trump at the time of the neo-Nazi, white supremacist rally in Charlottesville very famously — or is it infamously — said there were “…very fine people…” on “…both sides.” And Obama on that occasion? He took to Twitter and quoted Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin … People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” Just let that sink in — the stark, worlds-apart difference between those two men.

pete-souza-white-house-obama-favorites-51I would also highly recommend Pete Souza’s previous book: Obama: an Intimate Portrait. Obama is a collection of Souza’s photos of the former president. I especially loved the photos of Obama and his family and of Obama interacting with ordinary Americans.

— Penny D.

Graphic Novels : way more than superheroes

Are you a graphic novels fan? Until recently my answer would have been a resounding “no.” Just not my cup of tea, or so I thought. But one day, more out of idle curiosity than anything, I decided to give them a shot. Now graphic novels are a part—not a big part, mind you, but still a part—of my reading repertoire.

Here’s what I like about ’em. They allow for a fairly quick and easy read but then you can go back for a second (or third) look and discover things you didn’t see the first time round. Also, the words and pictures work together in a very special way so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I think you call that “synergy”.

This is the one I’m reading right now: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (2018). Krosoczka has written and illustrated a number of kids’ books, including the very popular Lunch Lady series. In this outing, Jarrett tells his own story and that of his big, messy, dysfunctional family. He was raised by his grandparents and never knew his father. As for his mother, she flitted in and out of his life but mostly she was gone. One day he learned the reason why: his mother was a heroin addict. Much of her adult life was spent either in jail, in rehab or using. For such a bleak subject, I found this book to be ultimately positive and affirming.

Here are some other graphic novels I have enjoyed over the years. All of them are real life stories (which I think is part of the appeal for me) and just note the incredible range of subject matter.

My Friend Dahmer by Derk Backderf. This was my intro to the graphic novel world and was recommended by a former WPL staffer. It’s the story of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer while he was still in high school but already plenty disturbed. A very interesting read. You might want to check out the DVD of the same title. Actor Ross Lynch is excellent in the title role.

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs. The author, a renowned children’s illustrator, tells the story of his parents, two working class Londoners who met in the 1920’s and stayed together until their deaths. It is utterly delightful and more moving and funny than you might expect from a graphic novel. Also check out the DVD of the same title. Every bit as charming as the book.

Becoming Unbecoming by Una. This one is about sexual violence against women, including the author’s own experiences. There is a lot more going on in this book besides personal narrative (such as various stats, questions and musings) which adds to this graphic novel’s complexity. The illustrations perfectly express the author’s emotions.

Secret Path by Gord Downie (of The Tragically Hip) and Jeff Lemire. It’s a true, unbearably sad story about Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a 12-year-old Indigenous boy sent to a Canadian residential school. Then Chanie decided to run away… The story and images will haunt you.

— Penny D.

PS  And just released is Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation. I haven’t read it yet, but it is getting a lot of buzz.

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.

Juliet, Naked

Ooh I love the English writer Nick Hornby. He writes about human frailties and vulnerabilities in a way that is always smart, funny and so spot-on.

I recently read his book Juliet, Naked (from 2009) and also saw the movie during its recent run at the Princess Cinema.

Juliet, Naked is a great read! What’s with the title, you might be wondering. It sounds a little, er, provocative. But there is no clothing-less woman named Juliet parading through the book. Juliet, Naked is, in fact, a music album. Perhaps that will come as a disappointment to some.

Anyway, Annie and Duncan live in the north of England and have been together for 15 years, wasted years as far as Annie is concerned. Then she starts an email correspondence with Tucker Crowe, who also knows a thing or two about wasted time. Tucker used to be a famous singer-songwriter, who Duncan just happens to be obsessed with, and which will throw a few curveballs into the story line. It has been 20-odd years since Tucker’s last album and his life has been pretty aimless since then.

Tucker comes to England to deal with some complicated family stuff and arranges to meet up with Annie. They have built up quite a connection through their correspondence. The burning question (no real surprise here): are they willing to give relationships a second shot?

The movie Juliet, Naked stars Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke and Chris O’Dowd. All of them are excellent. I have to say I preferred the book over the movie (mostly because I love Nick Hornby’s writing so much) but a fellow WPL staffer told me that she preferred the movie. So there you go, two different people, two completely different opinions–and that’s great.

The DVD is not yet available at WPL, but is on order.  Here’s the link to the trailer in case you want a sneak peek. There are quite a number of holds on it already so if you are interested you might want to place your own hold soon. Like, now.

— Penny D.

Treating People Well

Love may make the world go round but civility is a close second.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been noticing a real decline in civility lately. People have a difference of opinion and before you know it, the name-calling and the insults start flying. Social media is certainly part of the problem, so is the fellow currently sitting in the Oval Office…

What to do? Here’s a new book on the very subject: Treating People Well: the Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and in Life. The authors, two former White House social secretaries, explain the whys and wherefores of civility.

First a definition of civility. My dictionary defines it as “politeness.” But I would take it further than that. I see it as a kind of glue that binds society together, allowing people to get along with each other. Or maybe it’s treating people like they really matter—because they do.

Treating People Well is a lively and engaging book by Lea Berman and Jeremy Bernard, who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama respectively. Being a White House social secretary is a tough gig! Working a 12-hour day is considered a “light” day. One of the authors recounts planning 24 holiday parties in 21 days, hosting 11,000 people. Whew!

The authors offer numerous anecdotes about various White House social events, what worked (or didn’t) and what they learned along the way. Favourite anecdote: the time an elderly nun body-checked a female military aide in order to be the first to shake the president’s hand. WH social secretary response: help the officer up and gently steer the over-exuberant nun towards the food table.

Who’s got difficult people in their life? Who doesn’t? The authors offer a number of helpful suggestions: keep smiling, ignore what you can, distract and deflect, and set firm boundaries. (Actually they sound a lot like toddler-taming tips. LOL)

Berman and Bernard suggest that civility is contagious. (Alas, incivility is too.) So that makes civility a win-win for everyone. Or as the authors so elegantly put it “it’s the rising tide of respect and well-being that raises all boats and over time makes the world a better place.” Sounds good to me.

— Penny D.

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.