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.

Marilla of Green Gables

Enthusiasts of Anne of Green Gables always worry –rightly so! – when a contemporary author takes on the task of writing a new story involving their favourite setting and characters. Is it possible to get it right or will the writer make a mess of it?

As someone who personally owns the full collection of Anne books, this was certainly my concern when I discovered that Sarah McCoy – an American author, no less! – had tackled Marilla’s story, bouncing off of this exchange between Marilla and Anne in chapter 37 of the original book:

“John Blythe was a nice boy. We used to be real good friends, he and I. People called him my beau.”

Anne looked up with swift interest.

“Oh, Marilla–and what happened?–why didn’t you–”

“We had a quarrel. I wouldn’t forgive him when he asked me to. I meant to, after awhile–but I was sulky and angry and I wanted to punish him first. He never came back–the Blythes were all mighty independent. But I always felt–rather sorry. I’ve always kind of wished I’d forgiven him when I had the chance.”

“So you’ve had a bit of romance in your life, too,” said Anne softly.

“Yes, I suppose you might call it that. You wouldn’t think so to look at me, would you? But you never can tell about people from their outsides. Everybody has forgot about me and John. I’d forgotten myself. But it all came back to me when I saw Gilbert last Sunday.”

McCoy’s story begins when Marilla is 13 years old and chronicles her life in Avonlea and at Green Gables. We experience her joys and sorrows and encounter familiar characters including Matthew Cuthbert, Rachel Lynde, the Barry family, and of course, John Blythe. We attend sewing circles, church picnics, Ladies’ meetings and a hanging, and visit a Nova Scotia orphanage on more than one occasion.

Just as Budge Wilson captured the essence and tone of Anne in Before Green Gables, Sarah McCoy has encapsulated Marilla’s story in this additional prequel, bringing in historical aspects such as the Underground Railroad and the rebellion of 1837. Marilla is smart, strong, capable and independent, but struggles with pride and difficulty communicating the deepest feelings of her heart to those she cares about most. She is family-oriented to a fault. Does this sound like the Marilla we know? It certainly makes me want to reread the series to remind myself!

McCoy herself reread the Anne books and conducted considerable research in writing this book, consulting primary and secondary resources, visiting the “Avonlea” area of PEI and interviewing L.M. Montgomery’s descendants, who gave her their stamp of approval.
Marilla of Green Gables is a great addition to the series and Christmas gift idea for your Anne fan. I only wish it had been written by a Canadian author!

— Susan B.

That’s Epic!

When a friend heard I was planning to go to Hawaii, she gushed, “Oh, you have to read James Michener’s book! It will give you such perspective on the history and culture!”

I had already known that James Michener’s Hawaii was long (I had shelved his books early in my library career) but when I discovered how long (937 pages!!), I dug in my heels. I’m an avid reader and often have several books on the go at once, but almost a thousand pages? And in such small print? No way.

I resisted. I even avoided my friend for a while, or at least avoided sharing my reluctance. Finally, I checked out the book and began the first section, which dealt with the geological forces that created the Hawaiian Islands millions of years ago. Written in 1959 with that overly descriptive John Steinbeck style, blah, blah, blah. I guess it’s okay if you like that sort of thing. I do not.

But following that we get into the story of the Polynesian people who set forth to find a new land. The reasons, the dangers, the omens and superstitions. My friend was right; it gets fascinating!

The Polynesians settle, they follow their ancient traditions, they impact the land. Eventually they are followed by missionaries from America who have heard about the heathen people and are moved to leave friends and families and all that they know to bring Christianity to the pagan shores. Though their intentions may be good, some of their attitudes and methods are questionable. Some positive changes are wrought, but there’s also hostility and suspicion.

The Chinese are brought in as labourers for the sugar plantations. The Japanese then come to work the pineapple fields. The Second World War arises and Pearl Harbour is struck. With each new section, Michener introduces the reader to new characters, contexts, historical realities and outcomes. It really is a wonderful initiation for anyone who would visit these isles.

It took me a while to get through (about two months of intermittent reading, actually), but apart from the first section, it was time well spent. In a way, I almost don’t need to go now – I feel like I know Hawaii and it’s not like the trip is cheap.

Ah, who am I kidding? Michener only informed me up to the 1950s. I need to find out what happened next and experience the spirit of aloha for myself!

Other work I read set in Hawaii

The Aloha Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
Jack London in Paradise by Paul Malmont
Roughing It by Mark Twain (confession: I only read the Hawaiian sections)

Movies and Television Shows I Watched

The Descendants
From Here to Eternity (years ago)
Hawaii Five-0 (if you want to be looking over your shoulder all the time)
Soul Surfer

And if you like epic novels, I highly recommend The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (a former One Book, One Community selection) with settings in Africa, the United States and Canada.

— Susan B.

It’s About Time

It’s likely that time travel has fascinated people for centuries. I mean, who among us hasn’t wished we could go back and do something over, even if it was just one conversation or decision? If only time travel were possible, we could make so many different choices!

When I think about time travel material, my mind inevitably lands on Back to the Future, the “modern” film classic that debuted in 1985 and was first in a trilogy featuring Marty McFly (played by Canadian actor Michael J. Fox). You can pick up parts I and III or the three-volume 30th anniversary set at WPL. And, if you do decide to watch it, don’t forget to strap on your capacitor!

But did you know that before Back to the Future there was the short-lived television series, Voyagers? Running only one season (1982-83), the show starred Jon-Erik Hexum as Phineas Bogg, part of a society of time travellers who used a hand-held device called an Omni to travel back and forth through time to make sure history (as we know it) stayed on track.

And after Back to the Future was another popular series called Quantum Leap, which aired from 1989-1993. Here, actor Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett time travelled to correct historical errors while his trusty sidekick, Al (played by Dean Stockwell), appeared to him as a hologram.

From 1995-2000 Sliders presented a different take on the subject, transporting travellers through a wormhole to parallel universes during the same time period. The sliders’ goal was to safely return to Earth Prime, but in the meanwhile they learned about alternate Earths and unwittingly became involved in events that had to be resolved before they could “slide” again. Jerry O’Connell and John Rhys-Davies were probably the two most prominent actors to appear in the series, which also had a Canadian connection with the first two seasons filmed in British Columbia.

Phew! That’s a lot of time-travelling and we’re not quite done! My husband and I are enjoying the new series Timeless, which first aired in 2016 and stars Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter and Malcolm Barrett. Historian (Lucy), soldier (Wyatt) and scientist (Rufus) are tasked with stopping a sinister group known as Rittenhouse from changing history to serve their own nefarious purposes. The three travel in a “lifeboat,” jumping to different points in time, following the movements of the stolen mother-ship. What happens when things don’t go quite as planned…? [As a point of trivia, when NBC said it would drop the show after one season, ardent fans convinced the network to bring it back. I, for one, was relieved and thrilled.] The plot is fascinating and so are the historical periods visited by the characters. [NBC had better bring it back for Season 3!]

You’ll be happy to know that WPL owns or has ordered all of the above series on DVD. Visit the catalogue now (using the title links above) to see what is in or what you need to place on hold!

— Susan B.

2016-0801-Timeless-AboutImage-1920x1080-KO

 

Who Done It? (or as the French say, Qui Fait?)

I love a good mystery. And even though I haven’t read many Agatha Christie novels (shame on me), I was interested in Agatha Christie’s Criminal Games when I recently saw this DVD on WPL’s list of new items. I always like to consult the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) to get an impression of viewer ratings, but when I typed in this title, it didn’t come up. Instead, there was something called Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie, a French television series. A quick review of the DVD description on the catalogue confirmed that these must be one and the same, and the IMDB rating was 7.5 out of 10. Not bad. I took it home.

That night when we popped it into the DVD player and pressed play, I was a bit dismayed to see English subtitles pop up with French audio. While I have high school level French and did a minor in university, it’s been a while. I can get us through Quebec, but this was France French, not Quebecois. And my husband’s French is pretty much limited to oui, comment ca va, au revoir, and frites. I wasn’t sure he’d go for watching the movie, but given his interest in learning French, he agreed to give it a chance.

8409e218d65dde23069e23e5295a1a3aIt was a good decision. Even though it meant a lot of pausing to read the subtitles, I eventually picked up much of what was being said audibly and my husband expanded his French vocabulary. Not only that, but the actors did an excellent job of portraying their characters. Samuel Labarthe convinced the viewer that he was an arrogant Commissaire, the only detective with the intelligence to get the job done. Blandine Bellavoir (I just love saying her name) is fantastic as his sidekick, Alice. An advice columnist seeking the big story that will finally earn her recognition as a bona fide journalist, she is always underfoot and an aggravation to the Inspector. Of course, the viewer also gets the sense that the two have an attraction for each other, though each pursues alternate romantic interests. A third prominent character is played by Elodie Frenck. Marlene is the Commissaire’s receptionist/ secretary. She is head over heels for her boss, but he either doesn’t see this, or pretends not to.

We had a ball watching this and were sorry when the discs ended after only six episodes. I don’t know whether too much translation work was involved in creating subtitles for more episodes, but hope there’s a sequel that includes English language viewers. The plotlines are quite intriguing and there’s always a twist at the end.

Next on the list of foreign language films I’d like to see are A Man Called Ove (Swedish) and Son of Saul (Hungarian)

Wonder if I can get my husband to join me!

— Susan B.