In a Reading Slump

Reading slumps are the worst. People come to WPL staff to ask for help with these every week and they can happen to anyone. For so many reasons. Sometimes the books you have been enjoying just aren’t cutting it anymore. In other situations, life is making it difficult to enjoy reading as you normally might or there might be a time when you can’t pinpoint the reason but you just need help getting out of a rough spot.

I have been smack in the middle of one of a reading slump since my mother died. I used to turn to books for comfort and it’s not working as it used to. I take shiny books home and read them but they aren’t giving me the same happiness. I find it difficult to retain anything beyond the bare bones of the plot even with books from my favourite series. Flavia’s last adventure involved her sister’s wedding but the rest is a blur. What to do?

Well, we don’t give up around here. Have you ever seen a group of library staff trying to find an answer to a really tough question? We LOVE to answer the hard questions. I’m very sure that the term “leave no stone unturned” originated in a library. My theory is that it’s likely that a group of librarians* were trying to find the answer to a question about something like properties of bricks and masonry in European buildings of the early 1900s and someone said “…leave no stone unturned.” because it was a clever pun.

When someone experiencing a downturn in reading happiness comes to the desk it has been my habit to ask what they read in the past. If they are open to reading “anything” then I might to suggest that they dip into some recently published non-fiction. The treat of a well-written non-fiction book is that you can set it down easily after a chapter or two and feel like you have accomplished something. Reading non-fiction is satisfying and can also help you to easily channel your reading towards a particular topic and steer clear of others.

Often customers who are caught in the middle of a slump know that they need to avoid certain topics. In my case I know that I will not enjoy reading anything about health care, aging parents, mother-daughter relationships or well, I guess anything about hair care, cooking, and shopping. The non-fiction shelves at WPL have been good to me recently. Matt Haig’s recent book was an opportunity to rethink some less healthy habits like focusing on the bad news in the newspaper each morning and trying on some new ones like spending more time outside and connecting with friends. Small goals. Notes on a Nervous Planet was the kind of book that was fun to fall into every time I picked it up. I felt like I was getting to spend time with the author and see the world through his eyes each time. It’s memoir with and a dash of self-help and a soupçon of technology advice. I found it to be very useful, it passed the time and it can be enjoyed by any reader.

If we are fighting a reading slump then we need a book or series that is truly good. Not a by-the-numbers thriller or standard romance. A great book can break through a downtrend in reading pleasure and help to return a reader to that place where books can be pulled from the shelf with abandon. I have a list of authors that I keep to give to someone who is suffering from the “yips” in their reading habits. These must have enough story to keep you turning the pages, can’t be about a serious health issue or death, about coping with a family crisis or the aftermath of one, and should not be about a topic that is too light-hearted. If a book character’s life is so perfect then it can be a bit hard to take. No thank you. Favourites from our shelves include books by Nina George (oh, The Little Paris Bookshop), Julia Stuart, Rainbow Rowell, Jenny Colgan, and Louis De Bernières.

Take home two or three books, put one or more on hold, and be ready to try again. Curing a reading slump doesn’t happen easily and sometimes it takes more than one attempt. Often the remedy isn’t found on the new books shelf and will come from a trusted back-list novel that has been sitting on the shelf, just waiting to go home and perform a reading rescue. I once passed along Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore to someone and had them return to say that it kept them going through a difficult weekend.

I’m thrilled to say that I was pulled from my funk by Elinor Lipman’s most recent book. It’s so bright and unexpected with characters who are absolutely charming. I’m still thinking of them and will be reading her past books as well. Can’t wait. In Good Riddance Daphne Maritch inherits her mother’s yearbook and is at the mercy of an annoying neighbour who finds the yearbook after she recycles it in their apartment building. Why do their paths cross? This horrible neighbour thinks the 1968 yearbook would be a great subject for her next documentary and will not return it. She absolutely will not. Even worse, she wants Daphne to help her with the documentary. Horrible neighbour. Daphne spends the rest of the book trying to sort out her life, her feelings about her family, and prevent this film project from ever happening. She does this with the support of her part-time professional dog walking father and a terrific across-the-hall neighbour who is a part of the “Riverdale” cast. It’s tremendously fun, despite the difficulties surrounding the yearbook debacle, and Daphne is trying her best throughout. It is quirky, lovely and was just the thing to brighten my reading mood. I didn’t know I would love it before I picked it up. Actually, I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t like it. I hadn’t really liked reading anything for months. That’s how it is with getting rid of the dreaded reading slump. The cure comes in surprising forms. So, come to the desk and ask us to help you find one. It’s what we do.

— Penny M.

*There is quite a debate online about the collective noun for a group of librarians. You know, like a group of crows is called a “murder” of crows and a group of ants is a “colony”. I have seen postings which say a group of librarians could be called a “stack of librarians” or a “volume of librarians”. I think my very favourite of them all was “a collection of librarians” but in the end the very best answer was from someone who just said “Ask us.”

Celebrating Mothers

Mother’s Day is May 12th. You could just go out and celebrate your mother or mother-like figure with books this year (and I have such a good suggestion for you) but why not give them what they really really want… what every parent wants – the gift of spending time together!

With my last few Mother’s Day celebrations we realized that was what we liked best about the day. It didn’t matter where we got together or what we did – it was the amount of time that we were able to spend together that really meant the most. The library is the first place to come to for valuable tools you can use to make the most of your time to be together and possibly find extra time in your day.

Your first step is not wasting your time on cleaning and tidying. Why would you? Stop spending hours on things that don’t matter so that you can hang out with your Mom and relax. In a recent shipment of books we received several copies of a gem of a book from Reader’s Digest called Home Hacks which contains all the tips you need to make home care faster and easier. Just flipping through this book made me feel energized and ready to attack several home projects that had been languishing for months – papers that needed to be filed and a guest room that needs to be more guest room and less storage space. Reader’s Digest Home Hacks is so comprehensive that they include sections which suggest when you can “save time”, use an “insider’s hack” and “save money”. I am also a big fan of the paragraphs when their editors tell the truth and say that there is no way around it and you simply have to call in an expert to fix a particular problem. It saves me the worry and time I might have spent researching something to know that I should have just called in a specialist in the first place.

The next step in your plan for time saving is to pull together some simple meals and stay out of the kitchen. I used to call these easy meals “one pot meals” when our kids were small because I really didn’t like to wash dishes so using just one pot was fantastic. This works as a search term or you can also try one pan or one sheet when you are searching through the WPL catalogue. The key is to find a meal that is quick and delicious so that you get out of the kitchen and can just be cozy. Although it is possible to hang out and chat in the kitchen as well, so maybe speed isn’t the key for you and your Mom. You could always bake or cook something side by side? A gorgeous cookbook that came in with some spring books includes several clever options for chicken and a four-page spread for stuffed peppers. You will find something to suit every appetite with Betty Crocker Make It In One and it will be cooked in time for you to do something else like head out for dessert that someone else baked.

Now that you can care for your home more efficiently and cook up a super-quick meal, you will have so much more time to spend with the fam. How about going for a walk using a WPL pedometer kits which include a pedometer, tips for safe walking and a walking/cycling map of Waterloo. Or you could check out one of our museum passes – we have them for THEMUSEUM and the Region of Waterloo Museums – and plan a fabulous, free outing in our community. As the weather gets warmer these passes will be in high demand so you might have to place a hold but it will be so worth it and an absolute treat to look forward to. Plan to spend more time together.

And… if you just want to stay home and read (or possibly share a great book with someone) then a recent favourite of mine will absolutely beguile you. Steven Rowley is back with The Editor. He took the publishing world by storm in 2016 with his semi-autobiographical novel Lily and the Octopus and I was so excited to read this one. In The Editor his main character, James, has had the extreme good fortune of having his first novel selected for publication by a Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Meetings with Jackie! Just imagine. To make this even more special for James (if it is possible to have this become even more spectacular) his mother is an enormous Kennedy family fan and he knows she will be thrilled to hear his news. He hopes that working with her might smooth over some of the rough spots in their relationship. Mothers, right? The friendship and working relationship between Jackie and James is one half of this wonderful book and the other half is his relationship with his mother. It’s not as quirky as his first novel but leaves you with the sense that you have been right there beside the character every step of the way. And you will be thrilled you were there.

We really do have you covered with time saving hacks, recipes, suggestions for activities in the community and an absolutely wonderful book. If these don’t work for your Mother’s Day plans then go with flowers – my mother was partial to the smell of carnations. Enjoy your day!

— Penny M.

Being Green

I was excited to see that our latest issue of In the Loop has a focus on green initiatives because the public library is really the ultimate ecological tool. We are all about sharing resources around here. I recently had a book in my hand that had been checked out of the library over 250 times since it first arrived in the library. That’s how a community comes together to make use of valuable materials (quite valuable because it was an M.C. Beaton title, she really is the best). Many customers walk, cycle, or use public transit to travel to the library as the branches are centrally located – a win-win for everyone. Combining a public library’s outstanding resources with the ability for community members to come together in a shared space is just the tip of the iceberg in what makes WPL your one-stop shop for becoming more earth-friendly.

rrayI’ve noticed that our latest Program and Events guide isn’t the only publication feeling inspired by all things sustainable. It looks like every possible magazine is taking this for their cover story right now. Oprah is gallivanting in front of a waterfall and proclaiming “…the earth has taken excellent care of us, let’s return the favour.” Martha suggests 80 ways to live “cleaner and greener” and Rachael Ray has a gorgeous veggie-filled pasta on her cover. That image is really calling out to me, especially as the recipe inside includes a pistachio pesto. Yes, it does.

Each of these magazine powerhouses provides their own spin on how to reduce waste, shop more responsibly, and try to make your home a more earth-friendly one. It is curious to compare your own environmental efforts with those of these three women. Well, when you consider the options available to us and those that a celebrity has it might seem different at first but the impact of our actions are exactly the same (my personal chef will not be chopping the pistachios for my pesto). Each time we purchase less single-use plastic bags, decide to spend less time in a drive-thru or try to carry reusable cutlery so that we can enjoy bakery treats on the run we are all making a decision to keep help our shared planet. The same goes for Oprah, Rachael or Martha. Same earth but less personal chefs at my house.

We also have magazines that promote a sustainable lifestyle 365 days of the year like Mother Earth News and Taproot. These magazines regularly publish articles on topics like gardening, preserving, pickling, and suggest projects that use responsible materials or reusing what you have. Their step-by-step directions can’t be beat – even I have had success with a few. You can access some of our magazine collection both on the physical shelves and through RB Digital while other magazines, like Harrowsmith, are only accessible as an electronic version. It is worth a few extra clicks to get to this gorgeous Canadian publication – a trusted source since 1976 – to find their profiles of farmers and companies that work with the produce that comes from just down the road in some cases. A recent story was about a small dairy farm from Brantford called Little Brown Cow Dairy. One-hundred mile diet fans will love to check them out but you should too, if only to admire their beautiful Jersey cattle, sample the cheese and maybe some ice cream?

With sustainable ideas that come from our shelves (both digital and on the physical shelves) it’s possible to make some exciting plans for greening up your life in the next year. And you won’t have to feel guilty about purchasing anything to do your research because we have all of the information here for you in the library! For a more hands-on approach to some Earth-friendly activities you can join us here for one of our free activities. We have something for everyone because we’ll be gardening, learning about butterflies, making non-toxic dryer sheets (yes!), walking at Laurel Creek Nature Centre, and vermicomposting. Want to learn more? Come to the library…

— Penny M.

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.