Monday, November 30, 2009
However, watch this space, because let's face it, the recommendations we really love and trust come from our own Canadian librarians! Starting tomorrow, we'll be running Favourite Reads of 2009 lists from librarians across the country, a couple each day. There will also be some great suggestions for teen and kids reading from our children's librarians too. I promise some surprising choices and definitely some hidden gems well worth checking out.
In the meantime . . .
The Globe and Mail's Top 100 of "buzziest" and best-reviewed books can be read here along with Margaret Cannon's picks of best mysteries.
The Guardian asks writers for their favourite picks here.
The Telegraph does the same here.
The Times lists their favourite novels here.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Perhaps it is the unseasonably warm weather that made the picture book Waiting For Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser to strike such a chord with me this year, but I suspect that I still would have found it charming had we had a blizzard in October!
The illustrations are delightful: mainly pencil sketches with muted colours of brown and green at first, then lovely blue painted backgrounds are introduced in the final pages as the snow falls and the animals work together to build a snowman. The text is very simple, with lots of pages of just illustrations to help the story progress. Meschenmoser does a fantastic job of capturing the animals’ personalities in the artwork- if you can get through this one without laughing out loud, I’d be very surprised!
Originally published in Germany in 2007, this book has been published in North America by Kane Miller, who are well known for introducing readers to quality children’s books from around the world. It has received a starred review from both Kirkus & Publishers' Weekly, and was recently named one of the New York Public Library's 100 Books for Reading and Sharing for 2009.
So, Winter, what are you waiting for? I want to build a snowman too!
This is the highly autobiographical, but fictional, story of three generations of women; strong, artistic, rebellious, frustrated, funny - indomitable and endearing in the craziest of ways, and lonely and sad in the most heartfelt ones. It is in some ways a feminist story of the American Dream gone awry in the twentieth century, as Hobhouse alludes to on the first page:
the speed of American life in this century . . can not only provide a solitary immigrant with the means to create, in a matter of decades, a secure and well-populated dynasty, but can also, and at the same rate, take all these steps in reverse, reducing, as in our case, a huge, prosperous, civically active and internationally connected clan to a mere handful of desperate solitaries, operating like loose ball bearings in outer space.The novel chronicles Helen's complicated love-hate relationship with her beautiful but mentally unstable mother Bett - from her feelings of abandonment in a boarding school as a young child, her guilty yet empowering flight to Oxford, trying to re-establish a meaningful adult relationship years later, to finally coming to terms with her mother's eventual suicide. Along the way Helen falls in love, gets married, divorced and has several affairs (including one apparently based on the author's own affair with Philip Roth), all the while trying to battle her two interior instincts - her cravings for human connection and love, and her duelling need to be alone. She is also geographically and culturally torn - between an elegant, sophisticated British lifestyle and the excitement and creativity of her native New York - so tied up with the painful memories of her mother and childhood.
Part of the joy of reading this novel is Hobhouse's prose, always introspective and questioning, and frequently cynical, but nevertheless zinging with a narrative and poetic energy and rhythm:
I didn't know what I wanted to do. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life or whether I was going to live it with someone . . . These two questions of what you did and how many of you you were were very much connected, only I had no idea of that then. You say I should have; all decent girls in the early seventies knew these things were the same. But I wasn't taking part in history, I was my own zeit, geisted by the shark life of survival and chomping, as I say, fresh from Oxford with its cockaded hats and champagne corks, about as much a part of history as a window of chocolate squirrels. . .This was an incredibly beautiful and moving novel to read. In its portrayal of the very fractured relationships between women, it reminded me of Jonathan Coe's The Rain Before it Falls. The younger voice of Helen at times recalled Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. Fans of the novels of Mary McCarthy would also enjoy this as Hobhouse's female characters suffer similar frustrations and difficult choices. It covers some tough topics - suicide, depression, poverty and a potentially terminal illness - and yet there's such honesty and even humour on display, that hope doesn't seem very far behind. There is literally a light at the end of the tunnel by the novel's end. Not, alas, for Hobhouse herself, who died of ovarian cancer at the age of forty-two. I highly recommend this novel - it would be great for bookclubs as well.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I was intrigued to pick up The Princess' Blankets because it's written by one of my favourite poets - Carol Ann Duffy who is also England's current Poet Laureate, and the first woman to hold the job.
It's the story of a princess who is very, very cold and nothing her parents do - lighting warm fires, dressing her in layers of fleece - can make her warm. Finally the king announces a reward to anyone who can find a solution. Along comes a stranger with "hard, gray eyes like polished stones" who promises he can warm the princess up and as a reward, he wants her for his wife. But the princess finds him arrogant and when the stranger asks how cold she feels, she replies "As cold as the ocean is." He immediately creates a blanket made up of all the oceans and tosses it onto her body, but she still isn't warm. Blankets of forests, mountains and finally the Earth are subsequently piled upon her - to the consternation of the rest of the kingdom which is now bereft of the things it needs to survive. It takes a musician with a lovely tune and warm lips to save the day.
This is one of those romantic fairy tales that can be read by and to adults as well (ahem, those blankets come off the princess fairly quickly after she falls in love with the musician), but the beautiful and moody oil paintings by Catherine Hyde have enough embossed foil and sparkle to enchant little princesses too. It certainly warmed the cockles of this cynical old heart.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Hergé, whose real name was Georges Remi, was working as a photographer and illustrator of ads at a Belgian newspaper when he was asked to design a comic strip for the newly created children’s supplement at the paper. His only instructions were that the central character must be a good Christian reporter who travelled the world and did good deeds. Only a year after the first strip appeared, Tintin and his little dog were such a huge hit that a promotional appearance at a train station by Tintin and Snowy look-a-likes attracted a huge crowd of enthusiastic fans.
This is a fascinating biography, especially for anyone who grew up reading Tintin. Born in 1907, Georges Remi’s life reflects all the major events in the 20th century, and even though he was an untrained artist, his work has had a major impact on the look of contemporary comic strips. In 2011 a new trilogy of 3-D Tintin movies will be released, directed by Stephen Spielberg.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
P.S. No cats were harmed in the making of this book.
My weekend project is definitely to go out and buy a slow cooker. My colleague comes in every Monday morning gushing about the latest recipe she's made out of Canadian Living's new Slow Cooker Collection and it just seems the perfect type of cooking to be doing in the fall and winter. It's also energy efficient, great for budgets and I think it'll make my apartment smell really good. The book is beautiful - there are tips on choosing a slow cooker and how to convert your favourite recipes into slow food ones. I'm fairly amazed at the variety of recipes and types of meals that can be concocted out of this method of cooking. My friend swears by the Boeuf Bourguignon (much easier and quicker to make than Julia Child's famous recipe), the Smoky Pork Stew and the Thai Green Curry Chicken. There's also a section for desserts and the Chocolate Peanut Butter Pudding Cake looks heavenly!
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Originally published in 1926, the novel deals with one of the main after effects of the First World War - the superfluous spinster. Laura Willowes is the typical maiden aunt who has stayed at home to look after her aging father. When he dies, her brother Henry decides that "Aunt Lolly" will live with him and his wife in their London home and help with the children. She spends the next twenty years of her life bored, lonely and unfulfilled and desperately missing the beauties of the countryside where she grew up. Finally, following an unexpected experience in a florist's, Lolly - fed-up at 47 - announces to her astonished family that she's moving to Great Mop, a tiny village in the Chilterns. The second half of the book follows her rural adventures, including some very odd nocturnal outings that turn supernatural. Lolly quickly realizes that there's something very strange about her neighbours and that she too is changing. A chance meeting with Satan offers her even more life choices.
There's a thematic switch in the latter half of the novel but it's not a jarring one - the reader just naturally - almost matter-of-factly - follows Lolly as she escapes from one type of society into a coven of a very different nature. And while the war is only obliquely referred to, this novel seems almost a direct - and feminist - response to its carnage and the subsequent upheaval of British society. Its effects have not gone away. A neighbour and friend of Lolly's is Mr. Saunter, a war veteran, who has chosen poultry farming over his previous job working in a bank. The countryside is seen as a place of healing even if the devil does walk its hills, "a little jaded moreover by the success of his latest organized Flanders battue". And this dangerous tinge to the quiet yet vivid natural world, beautifully evoked by Townsend Warner's descriptive writing, is presented as a completely viable, even desirable alternative for women. As Lolly tells Satan, "we have more need of you. Women have such vivid imaginations, and lead such dull lives. Their pleasure in life is so soon over; they are so dependent upon others, and their dependence so soon becomes a nuisance."
I love a book that is unclassifiable (Lolly Willowes is not quite Cold Comfort Farm, not exactly a jazz age novel, not A Month in the Country), and that really stands out from others written at the same time. NYRB has published other books by this author - I'm sure that Summer Will Show for example, will pop up later on in this challenge and I think I have some old Viragos of hers on my shelves at home. Sylvia Townsend Warner is definitely a writer I want to read more of - and about.
So yes, I'm shamelessly plugging his new book. But my second confession is that I rarely drink. Maybe the odd glass of wine now and then. Or a gin and tonic on a summer's day. The only time I ever drink beer is on Pashley's annual pub crawl and then it's strictly half-pints spaced out between four hour stretches. He once gave me a dirty look for ordering a cappacino (well, it was an Italian bar!) And yet I read every word of his first book, Notes on a Beermat and I'll buy this new one and read it too. Because the guy is just so darned funny! And let's face it - Canadian history could use a few laughs. So his books are definitely not just for beer drinkers - anyone who likes to read Bill Bryson, Bill Richardson, or Stuart McLean, likes pub trivia or just quirky non-fiction - give this book a quaff.
And you can check out an interview with Nick in the Globe and Mail here.
So congrats on the new book Nick - I know deep down, it's just a shameless tactic to get people to buy you a drink. And yes, the next one's on me.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Five Principles Needed for a Canadian Reading Program
- Recognize Literacy as a Fundamental Human Right
- Reading Material Should Always Be Available and Free From Censorship
- Need to Address All Audiences and All Ages
- Need to Create Places, Time and Spaces for Reading to Happen
- We Cannot Priviledge Reading: reading is reading whether it be a book, newspaper, comic etc.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
I am currently attending the TD National Reading Summit. I have to tell you it is simutaneously inspiring, informative and overwhelming. There is so much to do! Out of the 150 plus attendees, the vast majority of the attendees are librarians and many are from across the country. The panelists and speakers have been discussing amongst many things National Reading Policies from other countries. Ingrid Bon, who is the Chair of the Children's Libraries Section at the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions in the Netherlands, gave a detailed blueprint of how the Netherlands has enacted their National Reading policy. The challenge for them, as well as us, is how to create a National program when there are so many different stakeholders and it crosses so many juristrictions.
One of the many interesting things I heard was that in Richmond, VA, they are able to predict the number of jail cells they will need based on Grade Two reading scores.
Elisa Bonilla, who lead the National Literacy Program in Mexico, gave the Ten Commandments to Ensure Effective Public Policy which is crucial when developing a National Reading Strategy.
- Long Term Shared Vision
- Precise Legal Framework
- Ambitious Goals
- Actions That Promote Equity and Fairness
- Regular and Sufficient Budgets
- Capacity Building
- Developing Human Capital
- Coordination of Efforts
- Continuous Evaluation
The effect of National Reading Policies on both of these countries has been profound; as I am sure it will be on ours!
Stay tuned...more to come.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
to watch them, oneself a part of them, respond to the war landscape; for I think the day by day in the Waste Land, the sudden violences and the long stillnesses, the sharp contours and unformed voids of that mysterious existence, profoundly affected the imaginations of those who suffered it. It was a place of enchantment.
this groom's brother Charlie what was a proper crawler and had some posh job back there reckoned he heard this torf he forgot his name came out of ther Gen'ral's and say as how it was going to be a first clarst bollocks and murthering of Christen men and reckoned how he'd throw in his mit an' be no party to this so-called frontal-attack never for no threat nor entreaty, for now, he says, blubbin' they reckon, is this noble fellowship wholly mischiefed.
This group of 315 men and women from thirteen nations risked their lives in the final year of the war and beyond to track, locate and recover artwork and items of cultural significance that had been stolen by the Nazis during the war on the orders of Hitler. They also assessed damage and protected buildings of architectural or historic significance. Faced with so many stories he could tell, Edsel focuses strictly on the stories of one group of Monuments Men- the eight men assigned to cover France, the Netherlands, and Germany in the 11-month period from D-Day to VE Day. With no supplies, vehicles or radios, they had to use their wits in order to get the job done. The book is based on field journals, war reports, dispatches and orders from command, diaries and letters home as well as interviews with some of the survivors. Also included are the contributions of two French civilians, one of whom was Rose Valland, art historian, member of the French Resistance and one of the most decorated women in French history. Fiction readers might recognize her story too- the character of Rose Clément in Sara Houghteling's book Pictures at the Museum was based on Valland. A volunteer at a museum adjacent the Louvre, she spied on the Nazis throughout the occupation and her detailed notes were instrumental in the recovery and tracking of numerous works of art.
The book is very accessibly written and packed with incredible stories. Anyone interested in art or WWII history will find this of interest. The stories in here make your heart ache for all that was lost, but also profoundly grateful for the actions of these men and women, who risked (and some gave) their lives to save what they could of these important cultural artifacts for future generations to enjoy. It was just reviewed in the Toronto Star last weekend. Click here to read what they had to say.
Robert M. Edsel is also the co-producer of the related documentary film, The Rape of Europa, which was inspired by the book of the same name by Lynn H. Nicholas. He also wrote a mainly photographic companion book called Rescuing Da Vinci. Those in Ontario can watch the first part of the documentary on TVO Thursday November 12th at 10:00 pm, which is airing as part of their Masterworks series.
Also airing on TVO November 11th at 9 pm is the documentary Paris 1919, inspired by the book from Margaret MacMillan. We were lucky to see a screening of the film while up in Ottawa last week. Despite some technical difficulties, I found the film was absolutely fascinating. The visuals (archival footage from the time as well as dramatic recreations of the events) are fantastic.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
However, I love seeing which books make the first cut on awards lists, and these ones do read like a list of the who's who of the children's publishing book world. Plus they make a handy list to have on hand for holiday shopping! I particularly like these two awards as they are nominated and voted on by children's librarians, because let's face it, who knows kids books better?
CILIP Carnegie Medal 2010
- Killing God by Kevin Brooks (Published in North America as Dawn)- Janet's pick, Fall 2009
- Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur- Lahring's pick, Summer 2009
- The Midnight Charter by David Whitley- Lahring's pick, Fall 2009. Is it just me (and my inner SF geek) but does the guy on the cover of this jacket look like the evil emperor from The Return of The Jedi? Seriously, picture him wearing a black robe...
- Big Bad Bun by Jeanne Willis, Illustrated by Tony Ross- Lahring's pick, Fall 2009
- Dogs by Emily Gravett - my pick, Spring 2009 (see my post from March 20th, 09 for more)
Let's Do Nothing! by Tony Fucile- Lahring's pick, Spring 2009
- Moon Rabbit by Natalie Russell - this was a favourite of Maylin's (see her post from April 17 for more)
- Stick Man by Julia Donadlson & Axel Sheffler-Janet's pick, Fall 2009
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
It's particularly great to see Steven Galloway's The Cellist of Sarajevo nominated so many times - not just from Canadian libraries, but from England and Finland as well.