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.

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.

Lightfoot

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

marytylermoore

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.