I Love Lucy

We don’t buy a lot of books at our house because we really don’t need to – everything we need to read is right here on the WPL shelves or, if we want to dip into something off the beaten path, it can usually come to us through the joys of an interlibrary loan.

Once in a while we do buy books and it is most thrilling if it can come through an interaction with the author. I know, from comments made by authors online, that they enjoy these conversations even though book tours can be exhausting so I try to keep the chats brief but sometimes it is so hard to keep that in mind. A favourite author (maybe I’m obsessed) of mine is returning to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this year and she will be signing copies of her latest book Kid Gloves: nine months of careful chaos and I am buying a copy of that one. Even though I have already read it. I read it straight through the very first day that I picked up my hold and then read it through again. She is that good.

The first Lucy Knisley book I came across was Relish: my life in the kitchen which she published in 2013. I think I found it while I was looking for inspiration in our own mealtime – a constant battle – but found so much more than cheerfully illustrated recipes she includes at the end of each chapter. It’s about Knisley’s relationship with food, complicated but optimistic, and how that is tied up with how she feels about her parents and herself. It’s definitely a helpful reference for a young cook, and includes clever tips with gorgeous illustrations, but it’s the kind of book that mixes facts with autobiographical references so a reader can use it as a chance to reflect on their own relationships with family and food. The two are inextricably linked and Knisley uses a combination of humour and honesty to make this clear. She will make you think, enjoy your meals more, possibly try something new, and you might even connect differently with family members.

Relish was such an unusually pleasant book – a great mix of comfort and challenge – that I went to the catalogue to see if we had anything else from this author and I was thrilled to find an earlier book she wrote called French Milk. In this graphic novel Knisley is celebrating her 22nd birthday while her mother is celebrating her 50th. They head to Paris to enjoy the beauty and food of the city they both love. It’s a wonderful travel journal because she includes photographs as well as her own illustrations of their six week journey but it is also a poignant story of a mother and daughter. A story that is sometimes difficult – all mother-daughter relationships have some tension, right? Travel just brings it into focus for both. The author brings the same honesty to this novel that she did to Relish and you really do ache for her as she describes disagreements with her mother, the turmoil of her own romantic life, and what she is feeling as she realizes that it is time for her to become an adult.

Knisley hits adulthood at high speed in Displacement: a travelogue which is another travel journal but entirely different French Milk. In this novel she volunteers to go on a ten-day cruise with her grandparents. Both grandparents are in their 90s when this trip happens and, wishing that she had more time to spend with them, Knisley decides this is the perfect time to bond and maybe ask her grandfather some questions she has about his WWII memoir. She is also realistic about the possibility of the trip becoming the topic of another graphic novel.

Early in the book Knisley describes the trip as possibly being “comedy gold”, “a bonding trip with my grands”, “a frustration fest”, “a worrisome glimpse into decadent first-world irresponsible luxury”, “a depressing insight into my grands’ deteriorating health”? And then she answers herself with “all of the above”? It turns out that she is right. It is possible to laugh while reading this book but the realities of caring for her grandparents gives Knisley constant anxiety throughout the trip and even her cheer falters more than once. This book can hit very close to home if your life has ever taken you down the path of caring for an elderly relative or friend and if that hasn’t been your experience I’d suggest you pick it up for the chance to see and feel it as close to first-hand as possible. Well, experience it while trapped on a ten-day cruise.

Turning to the other end of the life cycle Lucy Knisley published (after considerable excitement online) her latest book Kid Gloves. This book is getting a lot of attention from librarians and book reviewers – it has joined many of her other books by making it onto the New York Times Best Seller List – debuting at #13! Kid Gloves is a memoir of her experience with fertility, conception, pregnancy and the first few days with her child (she calls him ‘Pal’ in an effort to give the baby some privacy) and it is raw and so honest. As she has done with her previous novels she chooses to blend her autobiographical storyline with something ‘more’ and this time she is taking on the mounds of misinformation in history and science about reproductive health. She weaves in some fascinating and important facts while battling misconceptions that are worth attacking.

Kid Gloves is a book that could be on a reading list for expectant parents, health-care professionals and anyone who supports them. So, it’s a book for everyone. I wish you could reach down under your chair right now and find a copy of this book. Like Oprah used to do. “You get a book! You get a book! You get a book!!” A fan favourite at book signings because she goes the extra mile for readers, Knisley included a playlist for this novel on her website – it even includes Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to be Mine” from Waitress. Perfection. I really can’t wait to meet this author and try to act cool about it. If you can’t make it to TCAF2019 you can read her books and meet her that way. Reading is a great way to make a new friend.

— Penny M.

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.

Waffles, Knope & Galentine’s Day

February needs all the help it can get. It’s the shortest month in the calendar but just seems so long. Breaking it up midway with a cheerful holiday on the 14th really helps give February a much needed boost. Here at the library we celebrate Library Lovers month in February so it’s a special month for us and in recent years I have also been participating in the wonderful celebration of Galentine’s Day, on February 13th, with the encouragement of friends. I’ve found that this makes all the difference in getting me through the second month of the year.

If you aren’t yet participating in this worldwide celebration sensation you can get started by watching Parks and Recreation, Season Two (Episode Sixteen) where the always enthusiastic Leslie Knope first brings all of her very best female friends together for a brunch which she describes as being “…like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas!”

Knope honours her friends with appropriate gifts (Leslie is the best at gift giving) and the personalized gift bags include fabulous items including gorgeous mosaics she has made of their faces. In seasons four and six of the show the writers return to Galentine’s Day and the theme of enjoying breakfast foods continues as does the emphasis on the strength of friendship. These are traditions worth adopting and you can find inspiration across the Internet as the special season arrives.

Turn to Etsy for gifts and cards made by talented artists. Or look to our collection of books that can help you to craft something special for your friends. I think a sweet little origami box made in your BFF’s favourite colour that you fill with delicious treats could be just the thing to drop into her book bag on February 13th. Or, if you really want to do this Knope-style you can make that mosaic of her face but you’d better get started now. That kind of gifting magic takes a long time to pull together.

Cover.final_.wAnother great way to celebrate Galentine’s Day is with a wonderful meal. We have so many great spots in town that you can hit for a delicious meal but how about you invite some friends over to your house for some treats and a good long chat about your friendship. There really is nothing better. When you eat at home there is no chance of feeling like you need to give up your table because the restaurant is getting busy – it’s your table. Just brew some more coffee or boil additional water for tea and make the fun last longer. It’s the best feeling. You can choose to go with a Parks and Rec classic and make the very best waffles or splash out make frittatas. You can’t help but be inspired by this 2017 cookbook from Rebecca Wellman, called First, we brunch: recipes and stories from Victoria’s best breakfast joints – your breakfast and brunch will really never be the same.

Should you feel like you want to keep your Parks and Rec vibe going after February 13th I heartily recommend the books of actors Amy Poehler and Retta (both women narrate their own audiobooks so you could listen to their wonderful voices tell you the secrets behind filming the television show where they first met – it is so much fun).

And finally. A personal tip. If you cut up your waffles in advance and make a small pool of whipped cream on your plate, you can dip each bite one-handed while you hold your book in the other hand and make it seem like you are celebrating a one person Galentine’s Day at any time of the year. We are all, as Lesley Knope says, “…beautiful rule-breaking moths.”

— Penny M.

Book Clubs @ WPL

I recently had the chance to facilitate one of the WPL Book Clubs as the staff person who usually fills that role was ill.  It was an absolute pleasure.  I came away from the hour that I spent with that group of WPL readers feeling more enthusiastic about books than I have in a long time.  And it’s not like I don’t have experience with book clubs. I participate in more than one in my personal life and I passionately follow book discussions online using Goodreads.  I just love book chat.

I think that the difference with this group of people is that they all come to the WPL Book Club with such different perspectives.  Usually book clubs are made up of friends – I was invited to both of my book clubs by someone who knows me well – and you tend to have similar life experiences so your discussions can be pleasant and chatty but very much same old, same old.  In the WPL Book Club the participants are all attending because of the convenience of the location and not because they know each other in their personal lives, so the conversation was much more diverse and stimulating.

Each discussion question we covered brought multiple perspectives and it was invigorating.  We were discussing Ami McKay’s book The Witches of New York so there was ample opportunity to discuss spiritualism, midwifery, medicine, the depth of the research that the author had done into the time period, the role of the independent women at the centre of the story and witchcraft, of course.  What a great book!  We ended up discussing the role of women in the workplace in the last half century, touching on the Waterloo area in particular. We found our way to speaking about nursing and midwifery and even chatted about experiences with the spirit world.  The hour went by so quickly I was surprised when it was time for us to close up our books.

Some participants have been coming to the WPL Book Club for years, a few for decades, and others were new arrivals to the group but everyone had a chance to share their thoughts about The Witches of New York.  It was very welcoming.  And while not every reader would say that it was their favourite among the author’s books – many preferred The Birth House, her 2006 novel – it did provide so much for us to discuss and a chance for us to talk about novels to read next like Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River (because of the nurse character, Rita Sunday) or The Witch of Blackbird Pond which was a Newbery Medal winner in 1959.  It was the best kind of book talk, really, because we came away with other ideas of what we might read next.  I think a few members wrote down some movie titles as well. It was a jam-packed hour.

If it sounds like a wonderful time, it was!  And, WPL’s Book Clubs are open to everyone, even if you haven’t been able to attend a session this year, you can jump right in.  They run on Monday evenings and Thursday afternoons at the Main Library and I can tell you from first-hand experience that you will have the best time.  I had so much fun that I almost forgot that I was at work.  Hope to see you here in the library soon!

— Penny M.

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.

Happy 30th Die Hard

It’s so hard to believe that Die Hard is 30 years old this year. Bruce Willis has been saving his estranged wife and her coworkers from Hans Gruber and his ruthless henchmen for decades now and it’s still one of the most enjoyable action movies of all time. It was nominated for a few Academy Awards in 1998, the ones you would expect, like Best Sound Effects and Best Visual Effects, but that doesn’t take into consideration that the writing was top-notch and Bruce Willis takes you on an emotional journey unlike any other in that genre. All two hours and twelve minutes of that film are filled with action and set the standard for movies in that genre that come to follow.

When the movie first came out I saw it with high school friends and we joined the rest of the audience in cheering each time John McClane made it through another terrifying moment against the despicable criminals – they were so calculated in their lawbreaking. As time has passed and I’ve seen the movie again and again (and with the help of my two daughters’ critical eyes) I can see that they carefully set everything up to make the whole film an endless barrage of moments that keep you on the edge of your seat. McClane removes his shirt (and shoes and socks, after his seatmate in the airplane suggests that it will help him to relax after his stressful airplane flight) to clean up after his flight to see his wife Holly and without this ‘armour’ he is even more vulnerable when the first shots are heard. The very fact that he has flown to Los Angeles from New York to try and mend some of the damage in their marriage makes the audience care for him even more. And when he just doesn’t stop, despite grueling injuries and the terrifying thought that his wife could be in danger, well, we are there with him every step of the way. We are watching through our fingers as he continues to battle, despite everything horrible that comes his way, we are on McClane’s side until the last bullet and flash of a bomb.

Of course, throughout all of those horrible moments comes what Bruce Willis was known for at the time, his perfect comic delivery. He made “Die Hard” while he was filming the TV show “Moonlighting” and the dialogue seems as if it were written specifically for him, even though in the years since the film was released we have learned that he wasn’t the first actor they considered for this role. I’ve read that Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone were possible leads. Even Frank Sinatra was considered. I can’t imagine anyone else saying some of the things McClane said as he crawled through those air ducts or as he wrapped his battered feet on the floor of the barren office tower.

Some of those things are filled with language that isn’t appropriate for this post but he was under such strain at the time so we need to forgive him. When he called for help from the top of Nakatomi Plaza, they didn’t believe him and told him that the phone line was for emergency calls only. Just imagine… that 911 operator had it coming to her when he said he wasn’t calling to order a pizza (or something very like that, I’m leaving out a few words). Each time it seemed like things were going his way the cup is dashed from his lips. It’s maddening and exciting at the same time and so, so watchable.

Attention must also be paid to the dialogue that they wrote for McClane’s worthy adversary, Hans Gruber, because he was equally enjoyable to watch. Alan Rickman was so incredible in this part that you feel as if the writers were giving one snappy line to McClane and then one to Gruber like they were shelling out for Hallowe’en. His character is never at a loss, always a step ahead, and terrifying. When he and McClane cross paths he is able to quickly switch to an American accent and convince McClane that he is a victim – as if he were one of his own hostages! I almost always feel like shouting at the screen when this happens. He is ruthless, cool under the extreme pressure of their heist and is oh, so clever. When he is trying to convince Mr. Takagi to give him the code he says “I could talk about industrialization and men’s fashion all day but I’m afraid work must intrude.” in a voice that makes you believe that perhaps he might be willing to talk but he also might be willing to kill at any moment. It’s eerie.

The impact of McClane and Gruber’s fight to the finish might not have resulted in multiple Oscars but it does cause people to discuss whether or not this film should be considered a “Christmas Movie” every few years. I am firmly on the side of watching it during the holiday season – McClane is going home for the holidays, Holly and her co-workers are taken hostage during their Christmas party and the soundtrack includes classics like “Winter Wonderland”, “Let it snow” and Run-D.M.C.‘s “Christmas in Hollis”. It’s an absolutely fun watch and it has a happy ending – that all says Christmas movie to me. The movie has been listed in many ‘Best Of’ lists, it spawned a franchise for Bruce Willis, and his sweaty undershirt and police badge are now in the Smithsonian. (see image below)

If you search the Internet you will find t-shirts, Christmas sweaters and gifts with all of the best Die Hard quotes printed in various fonts. You can purchase a box set of the DVDs in a Nakatomi Plaza-shaped commemorative box (I’ve seriously considered it) and we recently added a graphic novel to the collection called A Million Ways to Die Hard by a group of authors and illustrators who have worked for Marvel and D.C. You can read it and find out what these artists imagine McClane’s life is like now that he is in retirement, or could have been like if he wasn’t dragged back into the world of policing to face a psychotic serial killer.

Die Hard and John McClane will be with us for years to come and I am thrilled. This movie goes out regularly throughout the year at all library locations and every holiday season we have requests for it to go home with someone for a special festive viewing. I know that I’m looking forward to watching it again, probably not exactly for the 30th time but I’ll take a minute to contemplate how much I’ve enjoyed it through the years and perhaps I’ll walk barefoot on the carpet for a while, just making fists with my toes, like someone I know.

— Penny M.

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Books About Snow

I feel like most children’s books about snow owe a debt of gratitude to Peter and his walk through the fresh snow in a bright red snowsuit. In The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats created a simple but beautiful story of a little boy experiencing the joys of winter as he looks back at his footprints, makes a snow angel, tries to keep a snowball and crunches through the city while the snowflakes fall around him. Although it was written in the early 1960s the images come back to me each time I crack open a new book that celebrates this wonderful time of year.

Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek are teaming up again to observe the change in the season with their new book Winter is Here. The language is perfect for a read aloud and the images invite you to come back and read it more than once. I was especially fond of the pages where they show that winter can appear to be two different things – grey in the morning and then blue in the night – by using the same landscape at different times of day (with a lovely little bunny tucked into the corner). They also provide a visual example of a child experiencing the slowly colder temperatures adding more snow and layers of clothing while he plays. On the next pages they share examples of how the warmer weather will arrive as the snow melts away and the first shoots of spring arrive. It’s a book that will become a favourite in any household and seeing the animals and children enjoy the season makes it almost impossible to want to stay indoors.

The animals on the cover of Daniel Salmieri’s book about the coldest season are quite different from the ones in Henkes and Dronzek’s series. In Bear and Wolf we are a part of the story of how wild animals experience different elements of the weather – from the smell of the wet bark on the trees and the small sounds that the snowflakes make on their fur. Although Bear and Wolf are wild animals who are hibernating and following the scent of caribou, it’s still possible to get a sense of their friendship in this picture book about winter. The author-illustrator has created images that almost feel like they could have been lifted from a Wes Anderson film because you feel so much emotion as you turn each page. On one both animals have their faces turned upwards as they notice a beautiful white owl and then on the next page they are tiny spots in a great white clearing, surrounded by trees that are entirely bare of leaves. It’s a chance to be a part of a trip through the forest with two animals who enjoy the season so much and become friends while they explore.

And, it’s very important to read that animals aren’t the only creatures who enjoy snow. Teagan White has illustrated an absolutely perfect book written by Kerri Kokias and it is called Snow Sisters! with two girls enjoying a cold day in exactly the way they choose. They approach the first flakes of snow in very different fashions and it’s a pleasure to read. One sister is so excited to wake up to see the snow from their bedroom window that she steps outside in her nightgown and socks while the second sister looks out at the snowy landscape with a touch of trepidation. The first sister bundles herself up to go out and play while the other stays indoors with cocoa, books and a blanket. While she moves on to making cookies, her stuffed bunny watches the cold-loving sister throw snowballs in the company of a brown squirrel with a very bushy tail. As the day progresses their places swap and they wave at each other when the first sister comes inside to enjoy a cozy house and the second heads outside for some fun in the snow. This marvelous book ends with the two girls snuggled up together inside in a blanket fort making paper snowflakes – the perfect way to celebrate the end of a snowy day. It’s a book that celebrates all of the different ways you can enjoy a winter day and is sure to encourage indoor and outdoor activities with the merry illustrations and encouraging text.

Great picture books are so much more than just the illustrations married with text. A book like Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day has had decades of staying power just as many books from this year’s selection will in the years to come. I love seeing the way that the blustery winds and frosty temperatures have inspired these artists to share their own version of winter with us – perhaps you will enjoy them in your own cozy blanket fort someday soon.

— Penny M.

Ho-Ho-Holiday Magazines Are Here

There used to be a TV commercial featuring a mother celebrating the back-to-school season with the Andy Williams classic “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” playing in the background and that really bugged me. I understood why that mother felt so pleased about the return of her quiet time but I felt that advertising choice was a poor one. I prefer the regular routine of things – it’s comforting when things are in their correct place.

Holiday music should play in December (although Christmas CDs go out on the shelves a little earlier here at WPL so that customers can enjoy them) and should never be played in September to commemorate the sale of notebooks and pens. The malls and grocery stores stock up on gifts and wrapping paper and then, just as the holiday season starts to hit full steam, our collection of new Christmas magazines hit the shelves and this is beyond thrilling for me.

It’s the sheer diversity of the collection that makes me happy. We have baking magazines, ways to make your holiday more splendid with a crochet needle (also several magazines featuring knitting), we can encourage you to make something out of beads or you can just relax and look at Victorian homes decorated for the holidays. It’s all so beautiful and festive and each year I believe that I might actually do some of the things that the magazine editors suggest I do.

We keep a collection of these magazines in the library throughout the year so that customers can be inspired at any time but we purchase new ones every November so that customers can stay current on the trends in the holiday world – it’s exciting to see the latest news in cooking and gifting. I love it! It’s also handy to have these magazines available throughout the year as crafters certainly need a head start (especially on those beaded ornaments, oh my goodness, where does the patience come from?) if they are going to get things done on time and, if you plan to send anything by mail, then you need to add even more time to your planning.

Many magazine publishers like Canadian Living create special issues for the season so you can also have a look at the magazines on our regular shelves for inspiration as well. Don’t miss Martha Stewart living, Good Housekeeping or Marie Claire idées for show-stopping creativity (both Martha Stewart living and Good housekeeping are available through WPL’s RBdigital subscription too). You can start on your holiday baking, crafting and decorating from the comfort of your home using your device and your WPL card.

One customer favourite is from celebrity chef Ricardo Larrivée and the December 2018 issue features everything from deserts that are easy to take along if you have to travel over the holidays, to gift ideas for someone who enjoys food and cooking, and suggestions for ways to relax by embracing ‘imperfection’ in your holiday meal. The sweetest part of this issue is the article that features his daughter, Clémence, making her first holiday meal for the family. Her article is filled with bright young touches (and her Montreal apartment is a treat to see) and the recipes that she includes are a nice mix of old and new. Absolutely everything in this magazine looks delicious in each issue but the holiday mood and nostalgia from this article added to the appeal. I’ll be trying Clémence’s holiday dumplings (because they look delicious and fairly easy to make) and I probably won’t wait until the festive season begins to get started on those.

Come on into the library and peruse this glamorous selection of Christmas-themed magazines (we also have books and an endless supply of movies and CDs you can enjoy) and you too can believe that you might possibly try a recipe or craft that these clever editors suggest. Relish in some holiday fun through these glossy pages – consider it a gift that you give to yourself.

— Penny M.

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.

The Book of Books

Did you watch the PBS series The Great American Read? It was wonderful. It was a booklover’s delight from beginning to end. The network began promoting it about 6 months before it aired so there was lots of time to get excited about it.

I know that library customers and staff enjoyed the series because I have been a part of some spirited conversations about it. Some of the people I follow online were so passionate about the books that they wished were included that their posts got quite heated. We watched some of it ‘live’ at our house and watched some if it taped but the good news is that all of the episodes are available online and the series’ creators have published a fabulous illustrated book as a companion that we have been flipping through with happiness at our house.

The Book of Books has a page or two dedicated to each of the novels that were featured in the PBS series. Within the entry for each book they include a summary of the book, some text dedicated to the author and interesting tidbits about the publishing history or how the book might have influenced other writing. It’s a meaty little coffee table book with great bonuses like a section of read-alikes and summaries of trends in the reading world. This is a book written for fans of books and authors with each page including something fascinating. On one page they included a photograph of a letter opener that was specially made for Charles Dickens (his book, Great Expectations, was #29 on the final list) out of the paw of his favourite cat “Bob”.

dogThey kicked off the series in May 2018 with a 2-hour special that began in the Library of Congress with host Meredith Vieira encouraging everyone to vote and share their feelings about their favourite books online, perhaps start a book club, maybe even read all 100 books (although she eventually admitted to Diana Gabaldon that she hadn’t read her fabulous series until she started working on this PBS show). I had a lot of fun following the voting and competition online throughout the summer. I loved seeing the shameless things bibliophiles would do to get people to vote for their book. The image above is a plea from someone to request that everyone vote for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (this book was recently defended by a last-minute stand-in at Waterloo Reads : the battle of the books, coincidentally).

The process for The Great American Read began with a national survey of about seven thousand people that narrowed the book choices down to the 100 that PBS used as their final list. The kick-off special featured people like Sarah Jessica Parker, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chelsea Clinton, John Green, and Venus Williams sharing their own favourite books and encouraging people to read their book (or any book really) on the list. George R. R. Martin’s pitch for The Great Gatsby almost made me cry. I think that the next time we have a student in the library who isn’t pleased to have been assigned that F. Scott Fitzgerald classic I’ll call up this video and have them watch Martin speak about how the language in the novel has always moved him.

askfmlThis contest and the show they produced put libraries and literacy front and centre and it really felt wonderful to hear people – young and old – say that libraries meant so much to them. I remember loving my little library branch in Hamilton so much and still think that it was the best thing ever that I was never reprimanded for checking out a favourite book more than once. The freedom of the library shelves is such a perfect thing. The Freeport Memorial Library in Freeport, NY created the coolest social media campaign that I’ve seen in a long time with one of their library staffers taking photographs of coworkers, library visitors, and authors in poses that were inspired by their favourite books, adding quotes from the book, and then manipulating them. You really have to check out these inspirational moments on their twitter feed at @ASKFML They are amazing – this is one that they did for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Although the program was called The Great American Read, the final list of 100 books had only fifty-one books set in the U.S.A. and only sixty-four of the authors were American. Flipping through the gorgeous book that they created is a lovely trip through literature – for kids, adults and teens. You will start thinking about other books you might have wanted to include, you might consider re-reading favourites or picking one up that you haven’t read yet. I think that you will end up with a list – keep your pencil and paper handy.

The team at PBS did not limit their choices to literary classics. They included popular authors like Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook was voted #51), Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code made it to #33), and Stephenie Meyer’s Twlight series came in at respectable #73 beating out James Patterson who only made it to #81 for the Alex Cross series (although I’m quite sure he isn’t worried about his popularity). They have details about the original voting process and how the 100 books were determined on the website but we talked about the final list at our house often and I think they did a pretty good job of including a diverse section of books, authors and genres. I was disappointed to note that Madeleine L’Engle was not included in their choices but I think everyone has a pet author that likely didn’t make the cut and, in her introduction, the author notes that some of her favourites were missing from the final list as well. Culling a list to one hundred must have been painful for that team.

The final episode of the show had Meredith Viera and nominated authors, librarians, celebrities and readers on stage talking about the five semi-finalists and counting down from 100 the list of books that had been featured in the previous shows with a little bit of extra time spent on the ‘big five’. I cheered aloud when I learned that there is a convention for fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, was thrilled to hear that actor Wil Wheaton feels his wife fills the role of Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings in his life and felt that inviting a Harry Potter superfan onto the stage to talk about the series was spot on – fans have always been loyal to J.K. Rowling and the voting showed this.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird received special attention as they were able to invite the cast and playwright for the Broadway adaptation to discuss the themes of the book and how they are using them to inform their performances. The final book in the top five was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which had an accompanying video filled with people holding copies of the novel, some dressed in period costume, and one enthusiastic fan wearing a shirt that read “I ❤ Mr. Darcy”.  I’m going to look into getting one for myself, to wear here at the library, on casual day.

So, which book took away the big prize? I don’t mind typing it here in this post (spoiler alert!) because it was on so many websites the next day that it was impossible to miss – you can go to their website for the final reveal, if you like – but I’m pretty sure that many of you will have a strong guess of which of those top five would make it to number one. The book with the most votes was Harper Lee’s classic novel from 1960. It led the voting from the first day they opened the polls and never dropped below first place. It was a clear winner in the eyes of people who were participating in the PBS contest and is always a favourite book here at WPL.

I don’t know if I could choose. I always find it very difficult to choose one favourite book. We receive boxes and boxes of new ones here at the library each week and I find something wonderful in those shipments almost every week. I have several that I return to almost every year – some by John Irving (his interview in the PBS series was fabulous!). I have re-read The Stand (#24) more times than I can count and Charlotte’s Web (#7) never fails to cheer me, especially when I hear the recorded book in E.B. White’s own voice.

I think the most enjoyable part of this series was learning how books and libraries impacted individual people. Hearing Margaret Atwood read aloud from Anne of Green Gables (#11) and knowing that she was having difficulty with the emotion behind the words that she was saying as she quoted Marilla felt so special. Only a television show about books could bring this kind of magic alive. I encourage you to pick up this wonderful book, go online and click on a few inspiring snippets of video from PBS, and start a conversation about a book that meant something to you – if you need someone to talk to about that book we’ll be here, at the library.

— Penny M.