Monday, November 30, 2009

More round-ups to savour. . .

And some favourite cookbooks of the year. . . oh, I want some dumplings NOW!

Year-end Round-ups. . .

It's that time of year again - the newspapers are rounding up the best books of the year. Lots of great reading and xmas buying recommendations abound. (Personally, I read every single book that Jonathan Coe ever recommends, but that's just me!)

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.
The New York Times Notable 100 books is listed here.
More recommendations from authors and other famous people here and here and here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Waiting for Winter

It’s the end of November. The snow tires are on the car, my waterproof boots have been unearthed from the depths of the hall cupboard, and there is a new warm coat hanging there begging to be worn. Now, I’m just waiting for winter to begin...

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 story stars Squirrel, who is told by Deer that winter is on the way, along with snow, ‘white and wet and cold and soft’. Squirrel, who typically sleeps through winter, has never seen snow and is determined this year to see it for the first time. But waiting for snow is rather boring he finds, as he keeps nodding off. He tries exercising to try to help stay awake, then singing sea shanties. In the process, Squirrel disturbs several other hibernating animals, Hedgehog and the delightfully rumpled Bear, who both know they will get no peace unless they help in the watch for snow. The threesome humorously mistake several items for snow, including a sock, before the real stuff starts to fall: ‘Winter will be wonderful! (But the snow is a little smelly.)’ It is a great winter read aloud for storytime.

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!

NYRB Challenge Book #11: The Furies. . .

Not every NYRB Classic is decades or centuries old - they also rescue great contemporary literature that, for whatever reason, among the mountains of new books that are published every year, got buried in the landslide and subsequently went out of print. Such is the case with Janet Hobhouse's The Furies, originally published posthumously in 1993.

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

A Fairy Tale for Fall. . .

It's getting colder and if you've been digging out the extra blankets lately, then this might be the perfect children's fairy tale to read.

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.

Writers' Trust Awards announced. . .

Congratulations to Annabel Lyon who takes home the $25,000 fiction prize for The Golden Mean and Brian Brett who is also $25,000 richer, taking the non-fiction prize for Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life. A full list of the other winners is located here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tintin & Snowy

2009 marks the 80th Anniversary of the creation of the Tintin series.

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.

Was it Good For You?. . .

The Guardian posts extracts from this year's Bad Sex Award. But I'm with this columnist who asks, where's the good sex in fiction? In the comments section, there are some suggestions.
Or just read the brilliant A. L. Kennedy on the subject here. A sample:
Literature within which people have sex is, in many ways, curiously like literature within which people grind coffee, lick wet tea bags, play the trombone, or visit cottages – it simply involves a humdrum physical activity which has to be accurately described with a sense of personality, psychology, voice, tone and plot.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Profile of One Half of the Great Swedish Crime Duo. . .

I've only read the first three in the ten book Martin Beck crime series, written in the 1960s by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, but I will definitely tackle them all some day. Vintage is bringing them all back into print - book #7 The Abominable Man, and #8 The Locked Room came out last month and the final two, Cop Killer and The Terrorists will be out next summer. These are best read chronologically so start with Roseanna. You'll be hooked, I promise, especially if you like the crime novels of Henning Mankell. There's a fascinating interview with Maj Sjöwall in the Guardian in which she talks about the writing collaboration with Per and their love affair (Wahlöö died 44 years ago). You can read the interview here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Silly!

Reviews are very important to publishers; the Globe, the New York Times, Quill and Quire; these are all great places that publishers vie for attention. Reviews can have a big effect for the book. Glamourpuss is a very silly book about cats and wigs and the people who put wigs on their cats. 60 stylin' cats are presented wearing the most craziest of wigs. So what better place to review this book than the National Enquirer! I thought I had seen pretty much everything when it came to books...but apparently not.
P.S. No cats were harmed in the making of this book.

Slow Cooking is Fast Becoming This Season's Latest Trend. . .

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!
Lucy Waverman's new cookbook, A Year in Lucy's Kitchen, organizes the recipes and meal suggestions around seasonal ingredients, though certainly they can all work at any time of the year. But I turned to the November chapter for some ideas and the theme was - slow cooking! There is a recipe for Spiced Braised Lamb Shanks that has me salivating.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NYRB Challenge Book #10: Lolly Willowes. . .

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner is a very unusual, delightful and completely original novel, and in many ways was the perfect follow-up read to In Parenthesis.

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.

Raising a glass to Nicholas Pashley. . .

Two confessions. Nick Pashley, the author of the new book Cheers!: A History of Beer in Canada is an old friend and former colleague from my bookselling days. He essentially was my mentor in the book business and I know I wouldn't be doing what I am today if he hadn't shown me (mostly by example) how crazy, unpredictable, yet ultimately fun and rewarding bookselling is as a profession. Booksellers don't get paid much. You need a lot of laughs - which Nick provided pretty much on a daily basis, back when we both worked at the University of Toronto Bookstore. Many of the Deweys who also sell to bookstores had the pleasure of working with him. When he has a book launch, the entire Toronto book industry comes out.

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

Inside Hana's Suitcase

Hana's Suitcase is the amazing tale of Hana Brady who died in a concentration camp and was one of the untold millions that disappeared from her family. The movie Inside Hana's Suitcase has just opened to rave reviews; the Globe gave it 3 out of 4 stars. There is now a very cool website to go along with the book and the movie. It is totally interactive and has a magical quality to it. Anyone who has read the book cannot help but be enchanted by the site. This book has received more awards than any other Canadian children's book in the past 30 years. I had the privilege of meeting George and Fumiko when the play debuted. It was very moving to see them reconnect; George spoke about the nightmares he had until Fumiko was able to help put his mind at ease. If you haven't picked up this book, seen the play or watched the don't walk.

2009 Governor General's Literary Awards announced. . .

Kate Pullinger's The Mistress of Nothing (one of Ann's fall Dewey picks), takes the fiction prize, while the non-fiction prize goes to M.G. Vassanji for his travel/memoir book A Place Within: Rediscovering India. The full list of winners in both the English and French categories can be found here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In fashion. . .

This fall has seen the release of a couple of movies about the fashion industry, from the stylish and historical Coco Avant Chanel to The September Issue, a documentary about Vogue's largest issue, which is fascinating not so much for what we don't learn about Anna Wintour, as an inside look into some of the tough and quick decisions that take place while putting together the magazine (you'll also feel better knowing that even movie stars have really bad hair days).

But for something completely different, creative and powerful, check out Sally Potter's new film, Rage, now out on DVD. I've been a huge fan of hers ever since she adapted Virginia Woolf's Orlando, and I can also highly recommend her movie Yes - an unusual contemporary love story starring Joan Allen, in which all the characters speak in rhyming couplets. Potter just doesn't make films like anyone else and Rage is no exception. The movie is a series of documentary style "interviews" with various characters all involved with one particular fashion designer preparing to put on his big show. There's everyone from the designer himself, his models, his financial backer, his bodyguard, a pizza delivery boy recruited suddenly for the runway, and the manager of the factory where the clothes are made. Tragedy suddenly strikes the show (which is never shown on film) and the characters, including a Shakespeare-quoting cop, all react in different ways. The two standout performances are from two of my favourite actors. Judi Dench is excellent as a tough and bitchy fashion critic. There is a moment when she hears and has to react to something terrible happening offstage and the close-up on her face is just terrific.
Then there's Jude Law pictured here, who plays Minx - a narcissist terribly concerned with his/her beauty. The way his character switches from a tough, seductive model playing to the camera - oh, those piercing eyes - to someone feeling very vulnerable and scared is a pretty impressive bit of acting and certainly unlike anything he's done before. I loved it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Jane Pyper, Toronto Public Library's CEO was one of the many speakers at the TD National Reading Summit. Here is what she had to say:

Five Principles Needed for a Canadian Reading Program

  1. Recognize Literacy as a Fundamental Human Right

  2. Reading Material Should Always Be Available and Free From Censorship

  3. Need to Address All Audiences and All Ages

  4. Need to Create Places, Time and Spaces for Reading to Happen

  5. 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.
  1. Long Term Shared Vision
  2. Precise Legal Framework
  3. Ambitious Goals
  4. Actions That Promote Equity and Fairness
  5. Regular and Sufficient Budgets
  6. Capacity Building
  7. Developing Human Capital
  8. Continuity
  9. Coordination of Efforts
  10. 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

NYRB Challenge Book #9: In Parenthesis. . .

This book is one of the first NYRB Classics that I ever bought and yet it has been sitting unread on my shelves for years. Actually on one particular shelf - the top one among the many I have dedicated to books written by and about participants in the First World War. It's a crowded bookcase and this is one of the key reasons I started this challenge - it forces me to finally read books I have been meaning to get around to for eons.

In Parenthesis by David Jones is unlike any war memoir or novel that I have read. Jones himself experienced life in the trenches - he was twenty when he joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and he fought at both the Battle of the Somme and at Ypres. The book - it's hard to know whether to call it a novel, a prose poem or a memoir - covers the months from December 1915, to the beginnings of the Battle of the Somme in July, 1916. Unlike many other war narratives, it doesn't follow the experiences of any set characters; rather the seven parts are a series of intense visual, auditory and felt impressions. There are descriptive paragraphs of the landscape as the soldiers march through the countryside, or a detailing of what shells falling really sounds like, sandwiched between the conversational slang of the soldiers and the abrupt interruptions of commands. While certain "characters" do pop up throughout - Private John Ball, Lance-Corporal Lewis, Corporal Quilter - there's no single story line; our narrator observes them all as they come into his view, along with the minute details and challenges of living in such close quarters in the trenches.

Jones acknowledges in his preface that his war companions were a mixture of Welsh and Londoners, and the intermixing of these two groups was a major theme in his work. He writes about his fascination:
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.
That last sentence is interesting. I'm always fascinated by the reading materials of people in extreme situations - the First World War soldiers took a lot of different books with them to pass the time, both commercial and literary. Lots of Shakespeare and poetry made their way to France. (And Jane Austen too if Rudyard Kipling is to be believed - I highly recommend his short story "The Janeites"). In Parenthesis is filled with references to Henry V, Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur and the Welsh Mabinogion. But don't worry if you're not familiar with those works - Jones has provided plenty of his own footnotes. What's clear is that he identifies and embues his experiences with a literary and mythological tradition which doesn't glorify the war, but seeks to understand and place the horror in a continuing historical and even magical tradition. Perhaps this is necessary in order to survive it. And the real beauty of this novel is its language, veering quite literally into poetic form at times (particularly when the battle begins), or rigorously energized by a rhythmical, colloquial, modernist prose. This excerpt about the rumours flying among the men prior to the Battle of the Somme, gives a good example of Jones' style:

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 was a powerful and moving read and my favourite book so far in this challenge. Just a note on a mistake on our website - the book isn't translated by W.S. Merwin (it was originally written in English). Merwin contributes the foreword. There is also an introduction by T.S. Eliot reprinted from an earlier edition.

NYRB has published a number of classics dealing with war themes. I've read and can recommend The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig (see my review here), and Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge (spies during WWII), and A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr (just a beautiful novel about healing after WWI).

Others include:
Apartment in Athens by Glenway Wescott (about a Greek couple sharing their apartment with a Nazi officer)
The Gallery by John Horne Burns (which takes a look at gay life in the military during occupied Naples in 1944)
The Singapore Grip by J.G Farrell (set during WWII and the invasion of the city by the Japanese)
The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G.B. Edwards (covers in part the German occupation of Guernsey)
Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte (WWII in Russia and Eastern Europe)

And the Giller goes to. . .

Congratulations to Linden MacIntyre for his Giller winning novel The Bishop's Man. Coverage of the event can be found here and here. Good review coverage of all the shortlisted and longlisted books can be found at KevinfromCanada - he was part of a Shadow Giller Jury that correctly picked the winner a few days ago and there are several reviews of MacIntyre's novel on the site as well. Not much international coverage as far as I can tell, although the Literary Saloon gives it a mention.

Remembrance Day Recommendations

One of my picks this Fall is Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel & Brett Witter. A great choice for Rememberance Day, this book recounts the fascinating yet little known contributions of a division of the Allied Forces in WWII- the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archive Section.
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

CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Longlists Announced

It seems like just yesterday that the winners of the 2009 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals were announced, but I guess it is just the unseasonably warm weather here making it feel like it is still summer! Last Friday (November 6th) the longlists for the 2010 Medals were posted on the official website. The shortlists won't be announced until April 23rd 2010 and the winners on June 24th 2010, so I know it is a bit too early to be getting excited.

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?

Of course, it is always nice to see some of our Dewey Diva picks from the past year on these kinds of lists! You can read the full shortlists by clicking on the links below, but I've highlighted a few favourites from the past year.

CILIP Carnegie Medal 2010
Gullstruck Island by Frances Hardinge gets my vote! I have been a fan of this author since her first book Fly By Night, and all three of her books have now been Dewey Diva picks. I think Hardinge is one of the best and most versatile fantasy writers writing for kids today. She creates entirely different but fully realized new worlds in each book, touches on deep themes but always creates a highly entertaining and action-packed story. She is a language lover's dream, writing sentences that beg to be read aloud, creating new languages and dialects that are unique to her characters' background. Gullstruck Island was one of my Spring 2009 picks. Gullstruck Island is a land of jagged coastlines, quarrelling volcanoes (with names like Crackjem The Mad, Spearhead, and The King of Fans), and populated with creatures like elephant birds, and blissing beetles that can kill with the hum of their wings. Home to a native population called the Lace, the island has been overrun by newcomers from across the sea, the Cavalcaste, who are using up all of the arable land to build monuments to their dead ancestors. Forced to the edge of the island, living in villages literally clinging to the cliffs, the Lace do what they can to survive. Highly valued on the island are those who are born with the ability to send their senses 'travelling' independently outside their bodies. These 'Lost' can see a storm approaching over the sea, read messages posted on boards in towns on the other side of the island, and listen into conversations in neighbouring villages- all extremely valuable talents on an island whose treacherous landscape makes long distance travel slow and extemely dangerous. Not many of the Lace have been gifted with the abilities of a Lost- Arilou is the first in quite some time. Or is she? Shortly after the book begins, Hathin and Arilou must flee their home and everything they know when Arilou's supposed magical abilities are suspected to be fraudulent. The inspector sent to test Arilou's ability- along with every other Lost on the island except Arilou- die suddenly under mysterious circumstances during the test. Suspicion for the crime falls on the people of Hathin and Arilou's village and their neighbouring villages' fear and anger results in a massacre. Narrowly escaping, the two young girls have to outwit the bounty hunter on their trail and join up with a rebel group in order to stay alive. What starts as a flight for their own lives becomes a fight for their people as the Cavalcaste government uses the incident as an excuse to round up and imprison the remaining Lace tribes. Hathin must figure out what caused the Lost deaths in order to save her sister well as her people. The book touches on themes of native displacement, racial prejudice, violence (and so much more) and will keep readers on the edge of their seats. While published for middle grade readers, I think teens and adults will also enjoy this moving adventure story.
Other Dewey Picks on the list include:
  • 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

Lest we forget. . .

My fellow Deweys know about my passion and fascination for all things relating to the First World War, and they are always alerting me to new books covering that devastating period. And I promise to get to them, I will! Tomorrow I'll blog about the WWI book I'm just finishing up now, but I wanted to acknowledge a couple of very interesting books that I'll be browsing through this week as well.

Oxford University Press published a much needed anthology of Canadian war poetry earlier this year. Canadian Poetry from World War I, edited by Joel Baetz contains more poems from John McCrae than just his famous "In Flanders Fields", and war poems by well-known Canadian poets E.J. Pratt, Frank Prewett, Duncan Campbell Scott and Robert Service to name a few. The collection also includes contributions by many women poets that I'm unfamiliar with, but look forward to reading.

From McArthur & Company comes Juliet Nicholson's The Great Silence: 1918-1920 Living in the Shadow of the Great War which is a great bookend to her previous book, The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911. Both promise a detailed and interesting sociological look at the many levels of British society before and after the war, including the many ways in which the lives of women were drastically altered.

And somewhat related, I'll also be buying a copy of L.M. Montgomery's The Blythes Are Quoted - a collection of short stories (some never before published) about Anne and Gilbert and their family, both before and just after the First World War. Readers of Rilla of Ingleside will remember that two of Anne's sons go off to fight in France, with only one returning.

Also for younger readers is Jack Batten's new book The War to End All Wars: The Story of World War I which provides a good overview of the conflict, and highlights the individual stories of Canadians who fought - both men who were famous such as Billy Bishop, and boys such as 18 year old Ray Goodyear, who was one of the many, many Newfoundlanders who lost their lives in France. I enjoyed Batten's earlier book, Silent In An Evil Time which told the story of Edith Cavell, the British nurse who was executed by the Germans during the war - it's also an excellent overview of the history of the nursing profession up to that time.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

NYRB Challenge Book #8: L'amour dans deux langues. . .

I've had a busy week on the road in Montreal and Ottawa and I needed another short read. But even if I'd had all the time in the world, I still would have packed No Tomorrow by Vivant Denon, translated by Lydia Davis, as it really was the perfect accompaniment for my trip.

This entrancing little novella was originally published in 1777 and then revised in 1812 (this is the edition included here), and what NYRB have done is published a bilingual edition. With my dictionary close by, I read the French version first on the train to Montreal. But my French isn't strong enough to get all the nuances - I tend to translate too literally - and so was happy to follow it up with the English translation, and then go back and read certain sections in French again. Because this is a story of playful seduction (very erotic at times), and quite frankly, it reads better in French. I have certainly improved my French vocabulary.

Our main character is only twenty and by his own admission is quite naive. He is desperately in love with the Comtesse de -----, yet willingly allows himself to be seduced by her married friend Mme de T ----- only to find out that she has some ulterior motives of her own. But it's all part of the delicious game of love; as Peter Brooks writes in his introduction, No Tomorrow is about the "ethics of pleasure". And the setting plays an important part: moonlight, a terrace overlooking the Seine, an empty pavillion, comfortable cushions strategically placed to catch reclining bodies. It's just a lovely little interlude, both the romantic encounter and the reading experience. Fans of Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangeuses will enjoy this.

Just as fascinating is to read about Vivant Denon's life, which is charted in the excellent introduction. He accompanied Napoleon on his Egyptian campaign and was appointed as the first director of French museums, responsible for starting up the Louvre with many of the "spoils" that Napoleon gathered during his battles. He also had a private museum in his Paris apartment that apparently contained, among other relics, a drop of Napoleon's blood, one of Voltaire's teeth, some ashes of Abelard's Eloise, and a few hairs from the moustache of Henri IV. (Having just read Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence, I find this fascinating).

And to make the experience even more relevant, I had a few spare hours in Montreal and went off to the Musée des beaux-arts, where there just happened to be an exhibit of personal artifacts from the Napoleon era, including the famous hat he wore during the Russian campaign in 1812, furniture, clothing and paintings and etchings depicting him. I wished I'd written down the name of the artist - but there is a very interesting and quite amusing print, depicting the rise and fall of Napoleon purely through the changes in his hat. Do catch it if you are in the city. I can also highly recommend the J.W. Waterhouse: Garden of Enchantment exhibit if you are a fan of Pre-Raphaelite painting. To see the vibrant colours of those paintings up close is magnificent. And lots of lust (if repressed) and longing there too.

And now, if you'll excuse me - I need to find a comfortable divan to recline and languish upon.

Monday, November 2, 2009

IMPAC Longlist announced. . .

It's a huge longlist with 156 titles, but what a great list of reading recommendations! They come from 163 libraries in 43 different countries. The authors themselves represent 46 different nationalities and 41 of the titles are in translation. Lots of Canadians on the list too!
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.

You can see the full list of nominees and the libraries who nominated them here.