books

The Emerald Circus | Book Review

34218720The Emerald Circus is an excellent collection of fairy tale ‘retellings’ written by Nebula Award-winning author Jane Yolen. Although I use the term “fairy tale retellings” since it is a labelled sub-genre, Yolen’s collection incorporates the retelling of more than just fairy tales. Children’s books like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Peter Pan are also retold in this short story format from different perspectives, as well as Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and Emily Dickinson’s lifestyle and inspiration. The third category of retellings in this collection is of medieval legends of Camelot and Robin Hood. “The Quiet Monk” is the story of the hidden grave which supposedly had Arthur and Guinevere’s bodies in it which falls under Arthurian Retellings along with “The Confession of Brother Blaise,” and “Evian Steel.” Some of the short stories in this collection have been previously published in anthologies, or individually. For instance, “Lost Girls” the feminist retelling of Peter Pan where women riot and protest for their rights in Neverland won the Nebula Award in 1999 and has been published in Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

The Emerald Circus is a great introduction to Jane Yolen as it incorporates works from various points in her writing career. This anthology includes all the stories that haunt us past childhood and stay with us in a collective imaginary space. Arthurian Legends, Children’s Literature, and 19th Century American gothic poets share a fantastical quality that remains a point of comparison when reading contemporary literature. At the end of the collection of retellings, Yolen takes a few pages to explain how the idea for each of these stories came about. I will focus on one of her stories to give you an idea of how Yolen’s stories come through. As a big fan of Peter Pan and Neverland retellings, “Lost Girls” was the story that stayed with me most.

Yolen explains:

“I wrote ‘Lost Girls’ because I couldn’t forget the uneasy scene in which Peter Pan is weeping because he can’t re-attach his shadow. When Wendy sews it on for him, he crows and cries out ‘Oh the cleverness of me!’ As if Wendy had done nothing and he had done it all.”

Yolen’s research led her to Alison Lurie’s study of Peter Pan in a 2012 essay where she compares Peter’s existence with what we currently know of child psychology. He is easily distracted, has little understanding of the future, and lives in a world where real life and make-believe are almost the same thing. Peter might be “gay and innocent and heartless” as the last words of Peter and Wendy suggests, but according to Yolen:

“he [Peter] is also deeply self-centered and without remorse…Peter might be eternally young in his looks, but his eyes betray his real age. He has seen so much, he would have an old and narcissistic soul.”

Yolen takes this analysis and applies it to her story “Lost Girls.” In it, the main character is a young girl named Darla who has been raised by today’s Western standards of feminism and equality. As Darla reads Peter and Wendy she finds it unfair that “Wendy only did the housework in Neverland and that Peter and the boys got to fight Captain Hook.” Darla arrives in Neverland that night and Peter immediately sees her as “a regular Wendy” —as all women are interchangeable to him, in fact he refers to all the women he comes in contact with as “The Wendys.” As celebrations continue with Peter and the Lost Boys, the girls would obediently stand behind the boys “like banquet waitresses.” When Darla cannot stand being called a ‘regular Wendy’ she asks the girls why Peter refuses to call them by their actual individual names, to which the girls respond:

“Because he can’t be bothered to remember…and we can’t be bothered reminding him…it’s all right…really. He has so much else to worry about.”

The injustices present in Neverland and children’s literature are highlighted by Yolen in this story as she pinpoints examples in narratives that follow us and we enjoy without questioning. Yes, Peter Pan is about adventure and fun but who gets to have most of it, and who ends up hurt in the end as she must put up with his moods, flaws, and inability to adapt to circumstances? Innocence and living in the moment as ‘fun’ children do results in selfish behavior and unbearable cruelty to others.

This story is just an example of the kind of excellent work that Yolen accomplishes by creating alternative possibilities in this collection of retellings. Such attention to detail is present in all the stories in The Emerald Circus and it is a collection I would recommend to everyone.

Welcome to Night Vale | Review

23129410This book has been an experience for me in the last week: I read the text while listening to the audiobook, and listened to the Podcast when colouring, walking, or doing other activities.

The book is written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and is published by Harper Perennial.

Night Vale is a town in the middle of the ‘American’ desert that is overall peculiar. All its inhabitants are very strange. The main story follows a single mom (of a shape-shifting boy) Diane, and a pawnshop owner named Jackie. A mysterious man in a tan jacket arrives leaving behind a note with only two words on it “King City.” The memories of this man fade and all Jackie is left with is “King City.” It’s a mystery/thriller that feels very much like Twin Peaks, but with the storytelling style of The Twilight Zone. The strangeness of each character is fantastical similar to Stranger Things where it’s sci-fi but told in a realistic way, highlighting human mundane problems using the supernatural. Between the narratives there are passages that look like transcripts from the town radio show. The radio passages unite the narratives because the news applies to all citizens of Night Vale and as a reader one can get a better sense of what goes on in town and what all the characters talk about communally.

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Podcast Cover

I understand that the Podcast is wildly popular and has achieved great success between 2015 and 2016. I did not get a chance to finish the Podcast so I will write my impressions of the book/audiobook.

First: if you can get the audiobook I recommend it strongly. In fact, if you must choose between the printed text and the audio, choose the audio. There are several reasons why it works better in audio format. The first reason is that in Night Vale there is a radio broadcast and the narrator who reads the radio host voice Cecil is also the one who does it in the podcast. The second reason is that this is not a ‘literary’ book, but a highly atmospheric one. The musical accompaniment and sound effects from the audiobook help enhance the setting and atmosphere. It reminded me of so many things (like the shows mentioned above) and reading it I just got an overall feeling of eeriness and mystery. The plot itself is not that exciting and the characters are not that deep, but somehow it works and it works well.

If I had to choose between its three existing formats as a narrative I would say the Podcast is the best. Although I haven’t heard it through to the end, I can tell from the few episodes that it is this narrative’s best format. The novelization incorporates some characters from the Podcast but not necessarily the best ones. There are several parts with lulls where the novel lost my interest but it does pick up again.

That said, overall I loved this book and the experience of it. I look forward to finishing all the Podcast episodes.

The book is filled with lines that left me in awe and some that just made me laugh out loud. Here are some examples of lines I found funny and some I found beautiful.

Humour extracted from Cecil’s Broadcast:

“coming up after this break, some exclusive clips from my recent three-hour interview with myself, in which I interrogated myself on my motivations, where I am in life, why I’m not in a different place in life, whose fault that is, and why I said that one embarrassing thing once.”

“If you see one of these False Police, act right away by shrugging and thinking What am I gonna do? And then seeing if anything funny is on Twitter”

“if the School Board could not promise to prevent children from learning about dangerous activities like drug use and library science at recess…”

“if you see hooded figures in the Dog Park, no you didn’t.”

Beautiful Lines

“Later she understood databases, having become the person she’d lied about being…”

“How does a person discover whether they are shy if they never have the time to meet new people?”

“There is nothing more lonely than an action taken quietly on your own, and nothing more comforting than doing that same quiet action in parallel with fellow humans doing the same action, everyone alone next to each other.”

“She left the shower as most people leave showers, clean and a little lonely”

“A person’s life is only what they do.”

Hopefully I captured some of Night Vale’s charm. I definitely recommend the Podcast, and the book/audiobook. This work will have a sequel coming out on October 17 this year with the title: It Devours! from the same authors.

The Audiobook is available through the public library with Overdrive. The ebook is also on Overdrive, and  the public library should have the printed copy in its system.

There are also two volumes of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast SCRIPTS:

  1. Mostly Void, Partially Stars
  2. The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe

 

 

 

Rendezvous with Rama | Review

774928 I realized that I haven’t read anything by Arthur C. Clarke so I decided to read Rendezvous with Rama–winner of the Hugo and Nebula Award.

By the year 2130 humans have already been travelling in space to various planets, and after a disastrous event of asteroids hitting the Earth they created many protocols and safety systems to prevent future celestial objects from hitting our planet. When a large celestial object is “at the gates” Commander Norton and a committee of space military advisers go explore this celestial object which is spherical in shape. We are told:

 

“by our standards, Rama is enormous–yet it is still a very tiny planet…its ecology could survive for only about a thousand year.”

They try to map it by giving several points names of cities on Earth, and the ‘asteroid’ is given the name of Hindu God Rama because:

“long ago, the astronomers had exhausted Green and Roman mythology; now they were working through the Hindu pantheon.”

The greatest chunk of this book involves the various encounters with Rama and its cylindrical sea. The silence, the darkness, and the attempts to understand it. We see most things through the eyes of Commander Norton. Some of the writing is actually quite funny. For instance, Norton thinks:

“when Rama shot through some other star system, it might have visitors again. He would like to give them a good impression of Earth.”

or

“you know Jerry Kirchoff, my exec, who’s got such a library of real books that he can’t afford to emigrate from Earth? Well, Jerry…” (:D)

I loved this work so much. I was trying to analyse what sets it apart from less heavy sci-fi and I think what made this book wholesome for me were the many historical references and deep roots. It rounded the characters and gave the story line a sturdy foundation. For instance, when the Commander is hypothesizing what Rama could be he considers that he has once heard of the excavation of a tomb from an Egyptian pharaoh, King Tut and how Rama too, could be a tomb. He contemplates the possibility of that by discussing King Tut for a little while. Moments like these made Rama real for me as a reader. Another time, we find that Norton is a big fan of Captain James Cook who had sailed the world between 1768 and 1771. He read all the Journals and knew everything about him:

“it still seemed incredible that one man could have done so much with such primitive equipment…it was Norton’s private dream, which he knew he would never achieve, to retrace at least one of Cook’s voyages around the world.”

Norton became so interesting to me the moment he had a dream and was a well-read person with historical heroes. The historical details sprinkled in this futuristic novel make it dynamic, and it works.

There were some things that upset me in the projected future. I decided to let it slide because it’s a great book and it was written in the early ’70s. The main one is that Norton, like other people who are making all these important space decisions and meetings, has two wives and two separate families. One is on Mars, one on Earth (they travel fast). The way women are discussed ever so briefly are like these interchangeable things who have enough on their hands because Norton or whichever man impregnated them. There is one team leader doctor/biologist Surgeon-Commander Laura Ernst and she has some influence, and I think it was here where I kind of let the whole “2-wives” thing slide and trying to keep 1970s as a context.

There are several interviews conducted by Strange Horizons on impressions of Rendezvous with Rama, looking back on it, and Karen Burnham says:

“So wow, this was really refreshing! A mixed-gender, mixed-race, comfortable-with-polygamy team and society with some solid world building involving asteroid threats. I liked it much more than I thought I would.”

I gathered from this comment that this was as “mixed-gender” as sci-fi got at the time.

Full Strange Horizons interview: CLICK HERE.

All in all, this is a great book, great science fiction classic, and I strongly recommend it. I especially recommend it to those interested in science fiction and fantasy and want to read the foundational texts or “classics” in the genre. Heinlein, Clarke, Herbert, and Asimov are the four main pillars.

 

Central Station | Book Review

25986774Lavie Tidhar’s Sci-fi Novel Central Station is one of the six on the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, was a finalist for the Locus Awards, and only two weeks ago has been awarded the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction of the year.

The composition of Central Station is known as a ‘fix-up’ novel, meaning that several stories that have been published in the past (in this case ranging between 2011-2015) have been brought together along several new added chapters to form one cohesive narrative.

In its essence Central Station is an in-between place, similar to an airport and/or port located between Jewish Tel Aviv and Arab Jaffa. We learn that trades and cargo play a huge role in this distant future, even on a spiritual level:

“Cargo came from everywhere. In space, cargo was a religion all by itself. It came from Earth, shipped up to orbit, to the massive habitat called Gateway. It came from Lunar Port, and it came from the Belt, from Ceres and Vesta where the wealth of the Belt poured.”

The location is the core of the novel because it’s the only thing all the characters have in common. In the prologue an author sits down and writes of a civilization in the future imagining and reminiscing of the past (which is still quite distant from us and what we know). The term often used is the “imagined past.” It reminded me of one of those notebooks that certain hotels or locations make you sign every time you visit. It’s as if all these species of ‘people’ from the future (from all over the Solar System) get to sign their names at Central Station and tell their story.

Every chapter focuses on one character and is told from a different perspective, and the same character will re-appear in future stories as a secondary character. What is astounding is that even though all these species of the future are so different they seem to be a lot more tolerant of each other and understanding than humans are now. They look to us and our history the way we look at Cavemen. There are a few characters that dominate the naraative, mainly Miriam (Mama Jones), Boris, Caramel, and Kranky.

What amazes me is that Tidhar managed to create entities so different from us and somehow breathe air into their lungs and humanize them giving them relatable cravings and vices. The story I found most fascinating was that of a creature called “Strigoi” which we follow in chapter five, by name of ‘Caramel.’ Strigois are data vampires and absorb everything one knows. We follow how Caramel herself became a Strigoi and what her feelings were being at Central Station:

“she had never imagined the Conversation as she experienced it just then –the nearness and yet the distance of it, the compressedness of it all. Billions of humans, uncounted billions of digitals and machines, all talking, chattering, sharing at once. Images, text, voice, recordings, all-immersive memcordist media, gamesworlds spill-over—it came on her at once, and she reeled against it.”

When she meets Boris and Miriam at Central Station her parasite-like nature is viewed by Miriam as a disease, something Caramel can’t help similar to the ways we look at depression or Schizophrenia. There is a sort of dangerous aspect about being a Strigoi but also involuntary on their part. For Boris, Caramel is a sexualized entity. He is

“aroused by her difference…all the while knowing his own weakness, admitting to his sexual infatuation with her, this human kink that made them lust for Strigoi, for the thing that could harm them.”

To me this story is representative of the whole. Tidhar takes something so distant from us and makes it relatable. As readers we empathize with the non-human and that is the result of great craftsmanship and storytelling. I absolutely love this book and I will read it again soon.

Also, the cover art for this novel is so beautiful. This is the work of Sarah Anne Langton. 

I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys science fiction. To learn more about Lavie Tidhar and his other works click HERE.

I received a digital copy of this novel from Tachyon Publications in exchange for an honest review (thank you Tachyon!) however I bought my own copy and an audible version. I hope it’s come through that I genuinely enjoyed this work. It brought me to a good place and I will take a look at Tidhar’s backlist and forward to his future publications.

 

June Wrap-Up

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In June I haven’t read as MANY books as before mainly because I am participating in a read-along of Infinite Jest with Ennet House (a reading group from Vancouver). More details can be found HERE. I did get a chance to read some other things too as the month progressed.

Books I Read For Early Review

Attributed the the Harrow Painter — Poetry collection. This book is scheduled for publication in November from University of Iowa Press.

Gork, the Teenage Dragon — children’s fantasy book. This book is scheduled for publication on July 11, from Knopf Publishing Group.

Plank’s Law – young adult book. The book will be published in September by Orca Book Publishers.

Pillow Thoughts & The Road Between – two poetry collections by Australian Poetess Courtney Peppernell. Both works will be released on August 29 by Andrew McMeel.

Glances of Life by J.B. Anderson – poetry collection by Detroit poet. Collection was already published on May 30 by Dog Ear Publishing.

Books I Read for Myself 

Short Stories

“When She is Old and I am Famous” by Julie Orringer from her larger collection of short stories How to Breathe Underwater. I will be finishing this collection in July, but I read this particular short story in June and it’s wonderful. It’s about a young woman name Mira who is not very good looking or in shape and lives in the shadow of her Model-like, gorgeous cousin Aida.

26 monkeys, also the abyss” by Kij Johnson from her larger Sci-fi/Fantasy short story collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees.

I will be working my way through the two collections above for the summer.

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

28389305A few weeks ago I started watching National Geographic’s biopic of Einstein which is one season long called “Genius.” The show is based on the biography written by Walter Isaacson Einstein: His Life and Universe. For the first time I was introduced to Mileva Maric who was Einstein’s first wife and quite possibly one of my favourite historical women. She was brilliant, one of the first women at the physics academy in Zurich, and just an overall fierce feminist symbol. I fell in love with Mileva and I wanted to know more. I then discovered Marie Benedict’s book The Other Einstein. Because I have seen the show first, this book read like the first five episodes only from Mileva’s perspective. I went on Goodreads to see what other people thought of this book that came out in October of 2016. Every low rating seemed to be regarding Mileva’s preoccupation with her leg deformity and limp, with the fact that Einstein called her “dollie,” and that it was somehow women’s attempt to shame a brilliant man by making this unknown woman play a larger role than she did. Having been introduced to National Geographic and Walter Isaacson’s biography first, all these things were not shocking, nor a surprise, and certainly not Benedict’s invention with a feminist brush. All those things seem to have been true and Benedict did her research. I loved Mileva, and I love this book because it’s really good, and well-researched. It’s also heavily based on a true story, and it has pulled from the margins a woman that wasn’t that well known. So if you read this, keep in mind that the things that irk you, frustrate you, and annoy you about society in that time, about the academy, the gossip, or Einstein himself, was actually very close to reality and the “novelization” part comes simply from the invention and addition of dialogue.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovich

9476292Nina Sankovich’s sister Anne-Marie dies at the age of 45. The author deals with her sister’s death by throwing herself into a reading project: read one book per day for a year. I found that the author focused more on her life, her struggle, her personal biography and the relationships in her life more than on the books. I think some of the books she read deserved a little more reflection and thought than she accorded. It felt like she was sprinting through this reading list and didn’t even discuss or acknowledge half the books she read. After the conclusion we finally get a full list of all the books (and short stories) she read that year. I wanted to hear more about the books. I appreciated her personal heartfelt attachment and the way she tied in the novels to her life, but I think it would have worked better if that was an “introduction” or “chapter one” and then the rest of the book focused on her reading process, the thoughts she had on each book objectively and subjectively, a little context for the books, quotations she enjoyed. I wanted it to be more about the books is what I’m trying to say. Some reviewers on Goodreads called this “the memoir no one asked for” and while that is a bit harsh—as a reader I’m open to hearing everyone’s story—I think this promised to be a reading journal/experience rather than a ‘coping with grief’ kind of book and so it did become in the end the memoir no one asked for. I encountered a similar problem earlier in the year reading Spinster which instead of talking about spinsterhood ended up as a personal life story/memoir. Maybe we’re more interested in the memoirs and biographies of people we consider “important.” I did appreciate that she read diversely.

Our Numbered Days by Neil Hilborn

24471629This collection plays with the idea of “numbered days” in more ways than one. It explores the theme of death in the form of thinking about death, considering suicide, and manic-depressive illness episodes where this can happen. It also looks at relationships in one’s life whether in love, parents, or friends and how those days are in a way limited or numbered. From time to time Minnesota and snow will make an appearance. The content of this collection is very well put together. There are various kinds of relationships, followed by kinds of mental illnesses, and concluding with a literal death of a grandmother. Every few poems one will begin with several quotations from other poets and well-known figures on each respective topic (time, death, heaven, hope). The poetry is very accessible and it tells things rather than alluding to them through clever use of language. In that respect I wanted more from this collection. However, the things it does tell are pretty memorable and some sentences strike deep. Also, I read this out loud and I found that in the way things were written (sentence-structure-wise) I was almost shouting. It comes across as a forceful rant or complaint bulldozing and demanding to be heard.

Hilborn explores the ways OCD affects romantic relationships, how depression ruins your days, how suicidal thoughts can be preventable by people in a position of privilege. In his poem “Joey” the poet compares himself to a friends who was going through something similar but who could not afford therapy:

“I can pinpoint the session / that brought me back to the world. That session cost seventy-five dollars. / Seventy-five dollars is two weeks of groceries…I wonder how many kids / like Joey wanted to die and were unlucky enough to actually pull it off.”

Here are some lines I enjoyed:

“Depression wasn’t an endless grey sky. It was no sky at all.”

“To Break Something but Being Too Weak; /The Sadness that Comes from Always knowing / exactly where you are.”

“I will lie here forever and sing to you all the things / I stopped myself from saying when we were alive.”

“Though he couldn’t name it, her favorite / color is Bakelite seafoam green”

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

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Walden is one of my favourite classics and it’s one I return to often. I re-read it this month as my monthly classic mostly because it’s summer and nice out, but also because I haven’t been reading as much this month as the one before and with full enjoyment so I picked it up to get me out of the little slump. I also wanted to brush up on it so I could write an entry on why Walden is my “comfort classic.” Click HERE to read it.

 

 

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides 

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This book came up in conversation when I was discussing my read-along project of Infinite Jest. My friend said that one of the characters in the Marriage Plot was based on David Foster Wallace and it’s a “campus book,” so I had to read it. I love campus books as much as island books. The story follows a female protagonist who is an English major and has just graduated from University. I have only read about 50 pages of this book and all I’ve read about was graduation day, parents coming to visit, and some boy dilemmas. I am intrigued by this book and it’s reading quite smoothly but I will do a proper wrap-up at the end of July after I finish all of it.

Book I hated and could not finish

9086994I have never been this frustrated with an author as I am with Paulo Coelho. This is the most selfish book I’ve ever read in my life. It’s selfish in so many ways. First the plot: Coelho, bored with his life, is taking on an adventure with his publicist and decides to go on a train trip across Russia and be all mystical and spiritual. That’s it. Why is it selfish? First he is preying on his readers and taking advantage of them. He knows he did well with The Alchemist, he knows people look to him for advice the way they do to a life coach so he uses this “oriental mysticism” to absorb the reader and try to convince us that he is in fact enlightened. The first 10 pages were actually kind of amazing. It was like candy.

“I began my apprenticeship in magic…grownups have no time to dream…what am I doing here…there exists a parallel universe that impinges on the world in which we live”

and in conversation with his guru or spiritual guide who tells him

“you feel that nothing you have learned has put down roots, that while you’re capable of entering the magical universe, you cannot remain submerged in it”

How lovely right? The first ten pages made me want to highlight and take notes. But nothing he says is original, or interesting. It’s basic self-help book rewording. He uses this as an excuse to go “conquer his kingdom” because he’s special and needs travelling and experience. He then spews lines like “travel is never a matter of money but of courage.” Come on! Then he waves good bye to his wife in Brazil who is understanding about this whole thing for some reason, and lo’ and behold on his train trip he meets a 21 year old (did I mention he is 59) and he basically sleeps with her….but it’s okay apparently because he met her in a previous life. One reviewer on Goodreads wrote: “I don’t know how Coelho’s wife in Brazil can accept her womanizing husband and letting the whole world know about it.”  I found this book to be selfish in that it’s a personal journal and he does things that are not so admirable but he paints them in a light of him being so enlightened for doing these things….and he keeps dropping every five lines how well his books are doing. It’s selfish to his readers because they buy his books and admire “his” ideas. It’s selfish to his wife. I would say it’s even selfish to the people he dragged along on this trip, and to that poor 21 year old. I also found that it painted people who are genuinely spiritual in a bad light. I pictured monks face-palming. It’s very self-absorbed… I wish he titled it “a journal entry from my trip and midlife crisis.” This is hardly a novel. I don’t generally review negatively because I research my books before reading them but this book really upset me because I expected something better.

 

Walden | Comfort Classic | Journal

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”

 

Walden

Thoreau lived at Walden Pond from July 4, 1845 to September 6, 1847. Walden was published in 1854.

pond

Pond near my house

For the last few years I’ve returned to Thoreau’s Walden many times. Sometimes I read it from beginning to end, sometimes I listen to the audiobook. Other times, I read only a chapter, or the things I’ve highlighted. Themes, excerpts, and the work as a whole especially come to mind when I visit my parents’ home and take a walk around the forest and the local pond. I am trying to figure out what is it about Walden that makes it what I call a “comfort classic”—a classic I re-read to make the world feel right again. This entry is really meant to read like a personal reading journey entry where I log notes and discuss them.

In the first section ‘economy’ Thoreau points out all that is wrong with society, which frankly has not changed, if anything it has only worsened (particularly discussing student debt from the Universities). He points out all that is wrong, and all that we should aspire to be. He writes:

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

The mass is quiet, that is what makes it awful. They have the natural consequence but they do not know how to express this quiet desperation.

ainting“What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true to-day may turn out to be a falsehood to-morrow.”

“One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned anything of absolute value by living.”

“Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me”

“Are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change.”

“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.”

Thoreau also mentions how impractical the anxiety to be fashionable is (in terms of clothes, household furnishings and objects).

Earlier I mentioned that certain things have worsened since (like fees, rent, etc). I wonder how Thoreau would react or write about (in the middle class West) people spending the majority of their time on the Internet indoors.

“It would be well, perhaps, if we were to spend more of our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies…birds do not sing in caves, nor do doves cherish their innocence in dovecots…many a man is harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box.”

There is something in Walden, particularly in the beginning that strongly reminds me of things I’ve seen or heard recently but figured Thoreau said it first. Most of the discussion of your things owning you was strongly ringing of Fight Club (not the book but the movie).IMG_20170620_120942

I think what I like about his writing is that he goes from contemplative and philosophical writing to the mundane and every day speech all in the same sentence. Thoreau wrestles with social constructions that have ones seemed natural and a part of our existence.

I like imagining Thoreau walking, and thinking, and just tapping into some of his thoughts on literature and what he sees, to me, is a very idealized pastoral scene so Walden has become my comfort classic.

If you were to compare what some of today’s styles and trends are: eating organic, growing your own food, travelling and reconnecting with nature, hiking, etc. This sort of ‘hippy’ or ‘bohemian’ lifestyle is often divorced from the intellectual now. I realize that Thoreau did all these things back in the 1840s and combined it with the intellect. His chapters on “reading,” and “where I lived and what I lived for” are imbued with literary references and discussions. It is akin to books like Ex Libris or the genre we all love so much recently ‘books about books.’

“A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself.”

His every thought is an allusion or a reference to a literary work from antiquity to his contemporaries. Through the voices of other literary giants and describing the sounds around the pond, Thoreau shows how you can be surrounded while completely alone in a contemplative state.

Every section of Walden has its own charm. There are so many YouTube channels for instance focusing on cooking, growing your own things, and budgeting. Thoreau writes about all those things explaining in detail how he did it. I sometimes imagine 19th century readers reading this the same way millions of us subscribe to channels online now. I enjoyed reading about his budget, savings, and spending when it came to building the house and investing in clothing, food, and farm supplies. It’s both personal and distant, it’s doable and also impossible. Most importantly it brings me to a good place mentally because I think about nature, and what the natural realm means.

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May Wrap-Up | 2017

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Books I read for Reviews (with links)

  • Drinks with Dead Poets by Glyn Maxwell. A poet/professor wakes in a town where he must teach a syllabus on dead poets, and the dead poets come to life (To be published in August of 2017)
  • Matter & Desire by Andreas Weber. Academic text exploring the relationship between our existence and nature through erotic experience (To be published August 3, 2017)
  • The Man Who Loved Libraries by Andrew Larsen. This is a very short children’s book about Andrew Carnegie (to be published August 15)
  • Thin Places by Lesley Choyce. Free verse poem telling the story of Declan Lynch who can hear voices and follows them. (To be published July 29, 2017)
  • The Excursionist by J.D. Sumner. This is a travel satire with a very grumpy main character (published May 17)
  • The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle. A collection of new fantasy short stories (to be published August 18, 2017)
  • Scion of the Fox by S.M Beiko. Young adult book with magic, battles, family traditions and history, and is very much entwined with the natural realm (out for publication October 17, 2017)
  • Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith by Shaun Hume. Pleasant children’s adventure about Ewan Pendle who receives a special education. (published)
  • How to Read Nature by Tristan Gooley – book on navigating through nature and reviving the connection between ourselves and the natural realm (out for publication August 22, 2017)
  • Of Men and Women by Pearl S. Buck – short essays comparing the American household to that of China, published/written in 1941, currently being republished in a newer, updated eBook edition (out for publication June 27, 2017)
  • Ex Libris – Anthology of Sci-fi and Fantasy short stories with Librarians, Libraries, and Lore (out for publication July 11, 2017)
  • The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory by Chris Banks – poetry collection (out for publication Sept 5, 2017)
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay – a memoir; a history of Roxane Gay’s body and experience with weight gain (out for publication June 13, 2017)
  • Up Against Beyond by Jason Holt –Poetry collection (out for publication July 20, 2017)
  • Iain M. Banks by Paul Kincaid –academic book, short biography, close analysis/reading of Iain M. Banks and his works published both as ‘Iain M. Banks’ and ‘Iain Banks’ (out for publication May 30, 2017)

Books I read for Myself

I had a great reading month mostly because I had all the time in the world: no work, no school, no exams.

According to my Audible App I also spent about 8 Hours listening. The listening included a variety of dramatizations of classics, or some audiobooks for the things listed below where I would follow along in the text while listening to an audiobook.

I read two short stories:

“The Machine Stops” – by E.M. Forster which already made it onto my ‘favourites’ list. The story is written in 1909 but it’s highly prophetic and describes a time where people are glued to conversation machines and lose touch with the organic. It’s like a “pre-WALLE” critique of our attachment to screens.

“The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe. This story took me a while to get into, mainly because I wasn’t sure what was happening for the first few pages. A man wakes up tied, in a pit, where a pendulum swings above him (one of those with a blade) and he doesn’t know why. He spends the story figuring it out. It didn’t really strike me in any way and it’s not as memorable as “The Black Cat.”

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

9200000000656014I then read my monthly classic. This month I chose The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Again, this didn’t sit with me quite as well as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. What I’m saying is: I can see why it’s important, I can engage in conversation about many aspects of it BUT reading it wasn’t a very exciting experience. Anne looked at domestic abuse and the ways women would put up physical barriers like Wildfell Hall itself. I liked the many perspectives in this work but I had one major issue with this novel and that was the characterization of Gilbert Markham, the first narrator. Gilbert as a first narrator to me was so feminine that I had a hard time imagining this man as a (straight) man. Everything he said was something I could never picturing a man caring about like the way a woman’s eyebrows look like, or the fabric of their clothing. It sucks that in my head I kept comparing Markham to manly Rochester and Heathcliff but one cannot help but lump the Brontes together. I would have no problems with bending gender norms and stereotypes but I think in this case Anne Bronte just didn’t know how to capture a masculine voice. I did enjoy that Helen was a painter and the descriptions of her paintings got to me in a very heartwarming way. Helen’s character is very interesting.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

sleepinggiantsI am not sure how to describe the synopsis without spoilers. I’m going to briefly borrow parts from the synopsis at the back. Rose Franklin falls through the earth when she is a child and ends up in the palm of a giant metal hand. She spends her life studying physics and gets involved with a military/science team in search for other remaining parts of these giant metal giants which are scattered worldwide. The book is written in interview format. Interviews are conducted with Rose connecting her personal experience to the expeditions, with Kara Resnik (a military leader on this mission), and with other members involved in this investigation. I sort of imagined it as someone from the Pentagon interviewing all the people involved or around anything relating to these robot parts showing up all over. There are romances hidden, mysterious components to the robots or “giants” and it’s definitely not boring. I read this book with the text in hand and with the audiobook. It is an experience I recommend mainly because audible has different voices for the different characters and you really experience their presence. Lastly, I couldn’t help but be reminded of A Monster Calls, The Iron Giant, and most of all the giant guardians that are dormant in Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire. I don’t know if anyone remembers those but as a kid I watched Atlantis so many times and the moment when the giants pop out from the ground to protect the city is a scene forever ingrained in my memory. I don’t know if I’m alone in making this association.

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River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

river-of-teethThis is a small novella that just got published by Tor.com. In the early 20th century America had a plan to import hippos to supplement the meat shortage. The plan was scrapped but Sarah Gailey re-imagines an alternate 1890s where hippos are present in the U.S. It’s a weird hybrid of fantasy and a westerner. This is the story of Winslow Houndstooth who rides his hippo. Every rider in this book has a hippo. Tor.com published an article introducing every hippo by name here. The novella is only 170 pages and a very easy read. The cover art is done by Richard Anderson and designed by Christine Foltzer. I’ll put together a better review for this on Goodreads later tonight.

Concluding Thoughts and Announcement

My favourite reads this month were Drinks with Dead Poets by Glyn Maxwell and Ex Libris: Libraries, Librarians, and Lore. I’ve also been reading Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan which I have not yet finished so it will be featured in next month’s wrap-up.

announcement-clipart-cliparti1_announcement-clipart_09BIG ANNOUNCEMENT! Along with Ennet House I will be reading Infinite Jest from June 1 to September 18 (along other books of course). If you would like to participate there is still time to get the book and join our community. More details on this HERE. Everyone is welcome!

The Man Who Loved Libraries | Children’s Book | Review

34507448I couldn’t resist—I had to request this book for review because: LIBRARIES. As a librarian and bibliophile I think it’s vital to encourage young children to know more and more about the library world and the important figures in its history, so I am very happy this book exists. The targeted audience for this book is children grades 1-3, and I’m fairly certain it is intended for school libraries or public libraries to purchase and have in their collection—mainly because near the end of the book the author writes:

“Andrew Carnegie built public libraries so that someday someone like you could feel the joy of borrowing a book like this.”

The text is written by Andrew Larsen and it’s accompanied by Katty Maurey’s beautiful illustrations.

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Andrew Carnegie in Colonel Anderson’s private library

The main story is non-fiction and simplified for the targeted age group. The language makes this book very accessible and I found myself rooting for Andrew the whole way through.

The book covers Carnegie’s life: born in Scotland facing extreme poverty, his family’s immigration process to Pittsburgh, U.S.A, and the help he himself received from Colonel Anderson who opened his doors to his own private library so that Andrew may read. Larsen writes:

“Andrew knew that learning was the key to the future.”

After several smart investments Andrew Carnegie became quite wealthy but instead of hoarding his savings he decided to invest in things to help his community and everyone around the world:

“he believed that riches are for sharing.”

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Andrew Carnegie helping worldwide

I loved this story, and I hope they stock many school libraries with it. It’s vital for children to admire philanthropists for their kind work rather than their lavish lifestyle. I also think it’s important to introduce children to a time when libraries and access to information didn’t exist. It’s so hard to imagine now a time when this was true. Also, I’m a big fan of library history being taught early on. The first time I heard of Andrew Carnegie was in the first year of my Masters.

Overall this book is awesome and I think it achieves what it sets out to do for the intended age group. It’s difficult to criticize a book for children that encourages sharing, kindness, and respect for libraries and learning. If anything my only criticism is that it could be longer. Strongly recommend to elementary school libraries.

This book is scheduled to be published by Owlkids Books on August 15.

 

The New Voices of Fantasy | Review

33838972The New Voices of Fantasy is an anthology compiled by Peter. S. Beagle (famously known for his work The Last Unicorn) and Jacob Wiseman. All the stories in this collection have been previously published between 2010 and 2017 in short story magazines like Clarkesworld, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com. In 2010 Beagle edited another anthology The Secret History of Fantasy exploring the merging of genre fantasy and mainstream markets into a new form of literary fantasy. Wiseman asserts that “this anthology constitutes something of a sequel.”

Beagle begins his introduction to this anthology with a block quote paraphrasing an excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination:

“Jules Verne, who always considered himself a scientist, was distinctly put out by the work of the younger writer H.G. Wells. ‘Il a invente!’ the author of From the Earth to the Moon sniffed at the author of The War of the Worlds. ‘He makes things up!’”

The older generation constantly unwilling to accept the young/new. What Verne could not accept was that Wells invented machines beyond what was mechanically possible—unlike what Verne did in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with the submarine—Wells expanded by creating a time machine. Beagle relates an anecdote from his experience as a young writer where one of his older teachers, Frank O’Connor, could not accept Beagle’s storytelling in the writing class back in the ‘60s because he was a fan of realism and classics. Beagle writes: “I was outraged at O’Connor’s rigidity.” The resistance from the older generation is not the only thing keeping young fantasy writers back–there is also the hierarchy, favouring ‘literary works’ and ‘realism’ above the innovations brought forward by fantasy. Ursula K. Le Guin tells Beagle:

“all of us [fantasy writers] feel, to one degree or another, that mainstream fiction has been stealing our ideas—and even our classic clichés—for generations, and selling them back to us as ‘Magical Realism.’”

Realism is not everything, and fantasy under a different name does not become more ‘literary’ or significant. Beagle and Le Guin ask us to open our eyes and see that it was Fantasy all along.

What Beagle does with this anthology is an elegant passing of the writing pen to a younger generation of fantasy writers, and he presents them to us, the readers, without rigidity as his teachers before him have. He accepts them as they are and is in awe of their risk-taking, creativity, and courage. I cannot imagine how many works Beagle must have read through to select these top 19 stories, but I had a hard time selecting my favourites, as each one of them brings something completely unique to the Fantasy cornucopia. His selection includes a great balance of men and women writers, as well as various backgrounds.

The stories featured in this anthology are as follows:

  • “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong
  • “Selkie Stories are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar
  • Tornado’s Siren” by Brooke Bolander (opening line: “Rhea is nine years old when she first meets the tornado that will fall in love with her”)
  • “Left the Century to Sit Unmoved” by Sarah Pinsker
  • A Kiss with Teeth” by Max Gladstone (featuring Dracula as a suburban dad so worth reading)
  • “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon
  • “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu
  • The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate” by A.C. Wise
  • “The Tallest Doll in New York City” by Maria Dahvana Headley
  • “The Haunting of Apollo A7LB” by Hannu Rajeniemi
  • Here Be Dragons” by Chris Tarry
  • “The One they Took Before” by Kelly Sandoval
  • “Tiger Baby” by JY Yang
  • “The Duck” by Ben Loory
  • “Wing” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • The Philosophers” by Adam Ehrlich Sachs
  • “My Time Among the Bridge Blowers” by Eugene Fischer
  • “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado
  • “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” by Usman T. Malik

I linked some of my favourite ones, but in support of Beagle and his work I would recommend this anthology as an individual codex because it is cohesive and works well as a collection with the choices Beagle has made.

I recommend this anthology to anyone who loves fantasy and wants to try some of the new emerging voices. I have no doubt that each one of these writers will continue to write and publish larger works in the future, and this anthology is a great introduction to them. I would especially recommend this to readers who are new to fantasy and want to sample shorter works without committing to an entire series and/or trilogy.

Many thanks to Tachyon Publications for sending me an ARC for review. This anthology is currently scheduled to be published on  August 18, 2017 (though books are always subject to having dates pushed back). Regardless of publication date, it is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

My Top 5 Librarians in History

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I thought it would be fun to write a post of my top favourite and most inspiring librarians in history (and a bonus one). There are many others I have left out, but these are the ones whose works I have had the pleasure of reading. It will become apparent shortly as to why they are so inspirational:

  1. Jacob Grimm

grimm-jacob-imageJacob Grimm is by far my favourite librarian. This man, like most librarians on this list, was multi-talented. First, he’s one of the two ‘Brothers Grimm’ which is what he’s most famously known for. The two brothers (Jacob and Wilhelm) collected fairy tales and wrote them down (and refined them). Jacob though, was also a prominent linguist and he contributed greatly by creating “Grimm’s Law” which was very useful when studying Old English. Jacob Grimm also worked as a librarian in Kasel, after graduating with a law degree. His work on language, and fairy tales has had a huge impact on my life and career trajectory, which is why he gets the #1 spot.

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  1. Lillian H. Smith

IMG_20170425_164640Lillian H. Smith was the first head of the children’s services at the Toronto Public Library in the earlier days of the public library (starting with the 1920s). She created many programs for children like story time and founded the Girls’ and Boys’ House. The reading clubs that she hosted expanded in all aspects of storytelling like puppet shows, literary discussion/debate, and historical subjects. She was a firm believer that a librarian’s job was to deliver “the right book, to the right child, at the right time.” Her published work The Unreluctant Years: A Critical Approach to Children’s Literature (1953) includes the choices of literature she deemed appropriate as well as her new classification system specific to children’s literature. Her services for children and philosophy spread worldwide and she was a highly influential woman. Her name is currently used as the name for one branch of the Toronto Public Library.

  1. Jorge Luis Borges

jorge-luis-borgesJorge Luis Borges was an Argentinian writer who made significant contributions to literature in the 20th century and nominated many times for the Nobel Prize in literature but alas did not win. He lost his sight completely in his later years. He was a municipal librarian from 1939-1946 in Argentina, before getting fired by the Peron regime. One of his most famous short stories, “The Library of Babel,” depicts the universe as a huge library and is one of my favourite stories of all time. His poetry, essays, and reflections on literature, as well as his own major contributions have made him a prominent author—and often his librarian role is discussed as an extra.

  1. Eratosthenes

Eratosthene.01Eratosthenes the chief librarian at the Great Library of Alexandria. In addition to pretty much running the world’s greatest wonder, Eratosthenes discovered the system of latitude and longitude and made significant contributions to astronomy. He calculated the circumference of the earth without ever leaving Egypt, and has been nicknamed “the father of geography.” His work Constellation Myths: with Aratus’s Phaenomena was recently reprinted by Oxford Classics.

  1. Lewis Carroll

300hCarroll is known for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but his main career was in mathematics. After graduating from Oxford with a B.A. in mathematics, he became a sub-librarian at Christ Church there. He left that position in 1857 to become a Mathematical Lecturer. In addition to this, my favourite fun fact about him was that he was a stickler for near writing. He would often get great ideas for writing after he had already gone to bed but didn’t want to wake up and light the lamp, and he also didn’t want to have messy writing under any circumstance.

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A recreation of the Nyctograph and the alphabet Carroll created for it

So he created this rectangular device called the nyctograph, where he would have his own “alphabet” and write in code at night, so it looks neat in the morning. Recently someone printed a copy of Alice completely in nyctograph from, and that’s just awesome. Carroll’s bibliography is vast and I don’t have to convince you that he was amazing. The key thing here is that he was also a librarian which makes him extra amazing.

Bonus Librarian: Benjamin Franklin

BenFranklinDuplessisBenjamin Franklin founded America’s first lending library the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731. He served as librarian there for three months (Dec.1733-Mar.1734). He was a huge fan of John Baskerville’s printing work back in England and is responsible for bringing back to America the font of John Baskerville. Franklin also started the first medical library in Pennsylvania. I can’t list in a paragraph all the incredible things Franklin did in his lifetime. He was an inventor, a printer, an intellectual in every sense of the word, a newspaperman, a library founder, politician, mathematician, oceanographer, and scientist. I think sometimes his other works are so incredible that they overshadow the fact that he was a librarian and founded many of America’s firsts special and lending libraries—which is pretty amazing.

How to Read Nature | Book Review

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cover of bookThis year I started my reading journey with an attempt to learn more about nature. I ended up picking Tristan Gooley’s book The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs, for which I wrote a very passionate review at the beginning of April. I also got a hold of Gooley’s book How to Read Water which has been on my TBR for a while but I got the chance to browse through it. Naturally I requested How to Read Nature as soon as I was notified that it will be published this year on August 22. I came to this book with knowledge of Gooley’s previous works and having watched a few lectures of his on YouTube. Gooley is a natural navigator and teaches classes on navigating through nature. This book read like being in one of his classes and receiving an introduction to the course. His previous works are much more detailed and go in-depth for each topic like navigating the sky, understanding fungi, trees, reading water (which has its own 400 page book) etc. I think this book will become the best place to start with Gooley’s works and an important starting place for readers of nature books.

This book very much resembles a course syllabus and gives readers a glimpse into each topic with exercises attached. Gooley focuses in this book on building a relationship with nature and the ways in which every person can begin to do so in a world that is very much detached from the natural realm. It’s almost as if Gooley is a relationship therapist here to fix the miscommunication between us and nature. He writes:

“a connection with nature allows us to see the roots that sustain and explain everything around us.”

He focuses on Maslow’s pyramid of needs and points to how lacking our society is in its foundation: physical needs. We take better care of everything else on the pyramid and neglect the most important one of all.

I learned a lot from this book about colour and time. Tristan Gooley spends a long time in this book focusing on the senses, colours, and timekeeping. One small example is the way he talks about plants:

“plants react to colours…if we are dressed in blue we can change the way a plant grows, while if we wear red we will influence its timekeeping”

What I particularly enjoyed is that the book is accompanied by images and exercises (which go hand in hand) helping the reader act on each section and practice. At the end of the book Gooley also provides readers with a bibliography of other nature books they can read on the topics he covers in this book. My reading list just grew ten-fold.

Many thanks to The Experiment for sending me an ARC. You can now purchase this book here.

 

 

Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries & Lore | Book Review

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front coverI requested this book for review when I saw the word ‘librarians’ in its title. I did not expect to love it as much as I did. This book is 5 Star rating for me, and I pre-ordered the hardcopy from Amazon after reading the introduction. This is by far my favourite anthology. Sci-Fi & Fantasy on the topic of Librarians and Libraries. Need I say more? Okay I will:

Paula Guran, the editor of this anthology, has compiled 24 short stories that have been previously published in Sci-fi and Fantasy magazines like Uncanny, and Clarkesworld which have at its core the topic of libraries and librarians. Some of the authors include Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, Ray Bradbury, Ken Liu, and Xia Jia (the last two were in a short story anthology I reviewed last month Invisible Planets). These writers are contemporary giants in the Science Fiction and Fantasy community, and I was pleasantly surprised by the stories they wrote.

In library school the subject of “the image of the librarian in the public sphere” was a topic that was frequently discussed. We often looked at film adaptations and the usual depiction of a librarian was either the frumpy/spinster librarian like Marian the librarian in The Music Man, stern-shushing librarian figures like the librarian in Monsters University (Pixar Film), and real-life elderly librarian figures like Nancy Pearl (who is now an action figure), or the sexy librarian like Evy from The Mummy, Tammy Swanson from Parks and Recreation, or seductive library-figures in ads like Margot Robbie’s skit on SNL.

What Paula Guran outlines in the introduction is that librarians in fiction tend to be unhappy or stereotyped, but since this is science fiction and fantasy, the librarians expand beyond that. She writes:

“Science fiction and fantasy, is thank goodness, not ‘serious fiction’ (whatever that is). The troubled, gloomy librarian does, of course, occur in speculative fiction, but librarians are also characterized in many other ways.”

She explores libraries and librarians in sci-fi and fantasy works that have been published with the exception of the stories in this collection. She explores Borges’s Library of Babel, The Library of Dream in Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel series The Sandman, to Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library Novels, Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Series, and even projections of future libraries like in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, to give just a few examples. I was so intrigued that for the first time, a discussion of librarians explored literature that entertained possibilities rather than capturing stereotypes. Guran provided me with a bibliography of the many books I must read with a library at its core (added to my TBR).

I must admit that I read the Ray Bradbury story “Exchange” with a lot of passion—particularly since Bradbury is famously known for having been made a writer by the public library. He said in an interview with Sam Weller:

“I graduated from the library when I was twenty-eight years old. So that’s why I’m here tonight—because I believe in libraries. They’re more important than universities. They’re more important than colleges. Libraries are the center of our lives.”

My favourite story in this anthology however is “In the House of the Seven Librarians” by Ellen Kloges. It’s about a small child who is left at the doorstep of a library where seven librarians ‘live.’ Library space and time are explored in a way I have not yet encountered in literature. These are just a few lines that stayed with me:

“Librarians are guardians of books. They help others along their paths, offering keys to help unlock the doors of knowledge.”

“knowledge is not static; information must flow in order to live.”

“Books were small comfort once the lights were out, and their hard, sharp corners made them awkward companions under the covers.”

“time had become quite flexible inside the Library. (This is true of most places with interesting books. Sit down to read for twenty minutes, and suddenly it’s dark, with no clue as to where the hours have gone.)

I recommend this book to everyone, particularly librarians, people who love libraries and book descriptions, and lovers of science fiction and fantasy. This book will be published on August 15, 2017  and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon. Many thanks to Diamond Book Distributors and Prime Books for sending me and ARC.

How to Get Out of a Reading Slump

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A few words of kindness before the list:

First of all: if not reading is something you call “a slump” and it’s something that makes you feel sad, not yourself, and guilty—then clearly my friend, you are a reader. That in itself is an encouraging thought because only a reader can feel those emotions when not reading. So don’t despair, and don’t feel hopeless because there are many ways to get back into doing what you love most. Sometimes it’s really not your fault. Maybe you had several bad reading experiences in a row. Maybe life events took over. Either way, guilt is not something you should associate with this tragedy that has befallen you (the reading slump). The following methods are taken out of my personal experiences. If there are ways I left out I encourage you to comment and contribute suggestions that have helped you with your reading experience.

Step One: Get Inspired by Others

  1. In my experience nothing has been more inspiring than Booktube. Book lovers sharing their reading experience, their book hauls, and TBRs on YouTube. Over time I felt like each one of them was my friend. When you find someone whose reading tastes are so similar to yours it’s like a book is recommending a person; then in turn, when that person recommends a new book you have not read, you know you can trust them.bt

These are some people who have completely inspired me to get back into reading in the past:

Following these people often leads to Buddy-reads on Goodreads, Reading along with a booktuber a specific book (like Books and Things is currently reading Our Mutual Friend six chapters at a time) and other online book groups that keep alive the reading momentum through encouragement and support.

  1. The only thing better than hearing/seeing reading communities talk about books with enthusiasm is to watch some of your favourite authors talk about their books or with other authors. For me personally watching Neil Gaiman, Brandon Sanderson, Markus Zusak, David Mitchell, and Robin Hobb discuss some of their books at Google Talks, classes, or reader events have brought back the “feels” for what I enjoyed in books in the first place.
  1. Join Bookstagram. Instagram for Books. When pictures of new books, classics, and pretty covers show up on your daily social media you feel a surge of energy that draws you to pick up a book. You can follow other people’s, or start one of your own. I found that even when all you have to work with is a pretty book cover, readers still communicate with each other in encouraging ways. The greatest part is that you get to know readers from all over the world that way. You get to see what’s popular in Australia, the UK, North America, etc.

Step Two: Proactive Steps You can Take Alone

  1. library-clipartGo to the Library. I know this sounds strange, but as a book lover (like all you reading this) I have been drawn to buying books. Buying, collecting….hoarding. The pile of “to be read” has grown and grown. I get used to the covers and over time I end up with far more unread books than read ones. Going to the library gives me an activity that ties into my reading experience. I get to meet people, interact with other human beings, and take a walk. The time limitations force me to actually finish the book (and I would recommend taking out just one book at a time). Walking through a library also results in stumbling across books you might have never heard of and taking a chance on them. There’s also no pressure because they are free so if you don’t like them, you can return them (no strings attached).
  1. Audiobooks. For me this has been a huge one. I used audiobooks as a crutch through undergrad (studying English Lit) because I had so many books to get through a week and I needed my mind to stay focused. I would listen to an audiobook AND follow along in the text for highlighting/note-taking. I divided my reading based on audio TIME rather than pages. After my degree was done, I fell into a reading slump as I forgot what it was like to read for fun and not for homework. I got back into audiobooks as a means of having company. I would listen while commuting, while shelving books, and while doing other things in my room. There are some books (believe it or not) that only exist in audiobook format and not in print yet, like Kel Kade’s Free the Darkness for instance. I read George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo on a single train ride to Montreal, and Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn on the ride back with the help of well-done audiobooks and then picked up so much reading momentum for the weeks to follow. I wrote an entire post on Audiobook Resources (some are free and connect through your library card).
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    Example of a page from Wagamese’s book Embers

    Start Small. The very first book I read this year was Richard Wagamese’s Embers. It’s one of my favourite books now. The truth is, it’s not really a novel, or a non-fiction book. It’s Wagamese’s (Ojibway writer) morning reflections. Every page has pictures with a paragraph on something to meditate on like: silence, nature, etc. Because I was interested in the topic, and because it was short, I felt the need to finish it and having finished it, I felt good about myself. I felt great having closed that back cover. It felt like an achievement. Perhaps for you that is the same book, or a different small books, or even a collection of short stories, or poetry. Finishing something will automatically make you feel good and you will pick up momentum.

  1. Return to topics that make you excited. For some this may be re-reading a Harry Potter book, or a classic that got you on this path, or adventure travelogues, or nature guides. I have three topics that get me so pumped I can’t even explain why: islands, dragons, and pirates. This year I worked on an early review of The Whydah (a sunken pirate ship). At first it felt like an assignment/homework but because it was a topic of interest to me I got so excited I wanted to read more books on ships and pirates. Everyone has those topics that get them so excited (I kid you not one of my friends has read every book about Tuberculosis because that’s her favourite topic). Return to one of yours.
  1. Although_Of_CourseRead the Bio of your Champion (or interviews with them). If a person interests you/inspires you, then read their biography. Weirdly enough reading biographies sometimes doesn’t even feel like reading because it’s you finding out more about a person you already love. Some of these people for me are: David Foster Wallace, Walt Disney, Jane Austen, George Sand, George Eliot, Vincent Van Gogh, The Brontes, J.R.R. Tolkien (and the Inklings), Octavia E. Butler, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and H.G. Wells. I always return to their biographies when I feel down. It just feels like you’re in good company rather than going through an assignment.

Final note of encouragement: whenever my friends have talked to me about a reading slump they almost always have been giving themselves “assignments” like “read the top Nobel winners,” or “read only classics,” “read only the Nebula/Hugo awards…” etc. and when that happens you start looking at your reading list like it’s a homework assignment so you do what’s familiar to student problems: procrastinate. Take it one book at a time, and think of it as YOUR personal sacred time, your healing time, your YOU time. You don’t owe anyone a thesis, a report, or an explanation for what you are reading. If it makes you happy and gets you onto reading again, then read what makes YOU feel right.

April Wrap-Up

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This month has been very hectic. The first two weeks I was writing final essays, wrapping up my Masters degree. I did get some good reading in this month. I was pleasantly surprised by the poetry collections I got a hold of this month because they really nourished the soul. Overall it was a good reading month. Here’s what I read starting from the most recent:

The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy – Edited by John Brehm

32926209This collection is an amalgamation of poems from various authors who are a source of wisdom in both the East and the West. The collection brings together a spiritual community that remains connected in that they wrote of essential human truths universally experienced. The collection includes poets like Frost, Whitman, Shakespeare, Kerouac from the West as well as poets from the East like Han Shan, Wei Ying-Wu, and Li Po. I wrote a full review here.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things – Patrick Rothfuss    

21535271Earlier in the month I finished the first book and while I am saving the second volume for later on in the year, I thought I would give the novella a chance: The Slow Regard of Silent Things. I read a few reviews and people seem to be very angry at this novella for its lack of plot and character depth. I too expected a history of Auri. I hoped we would find out what happened to her, how she ended up in the Underthing, maybe some secrets she knows from overhearing conversations. I had to connect some dots from the first book. First I remembered that Elodin told Kvothe that he had known Auri for many years around the University and that she herself had been a student studying Alchemy. Also Elodin with Auri are both mentally unstable characters so it’s subtly hinted that Auri may have also been affected by the Naming of things. Reading this novella is almost like a play or a very concentrated experience of what it’s like to be Auri. We don’t get a history, we don’t get much plot, or even much character development, but you get ‘a day in the life’ of Auri in case you wondered as a reader what she does all day.

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Illustration by Nate Taylor

In the novella she moves around the Underthing and has a lighted object or bio-luminescent creature that she has named Foxen. She observes objects and rooms. I think this concentrated experience is in a way appropriate for Auri because it still keeps her a mysterious figure but it captures the isolation and loneliness of the most hermetic character in the series. Her experience of life is certainly going to be different and perhaps less exciting than Kvothe’s—who experiences more things than anyone else in the entire first book.
This is my theory: she messed up something in Alchemy and out of that she got Foxen and became unstable, but Foxen keeps her alive somehow—which is why Elodin could have known her for years and she still looks young. Foxen is tied to her existence and daily habits/routine. That’s what I got out of this novella. I look forward to moving on to the second book The Wise Man’s Fear.
The novella is also accompanied by the beautiful illustrations of Nate Taylor.                     

The Hour Wasp by Jay Sheetsfront cover hour

I received an ARC for early review from April Gloaming Publishing. The Hour Wasp is a poetry collection written by Jay Sheets and illustrated by Robyn Leigh Lear. This is a debut collection for Sheets and I read this on a lovely Sunday afternoon in the Month of April. If you’d like to know more about this collection you can read my full review. The book will be published on May 28.

This is What a Librarian Looks Like by Kyle Cassidy

I received a copy of this book as an ARC from Hachette, Black Dog & Leventhal for early review. The book will be officially published on May 16. This book is a combination of library history, author interviews on what the library means to them, and over 200 photographs of individual librarians across America with a little excerpt on them. Interviews include Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Nancy Pearl, Cory Doctorow, and George R. R. Martin, among others. The purpose of this book is to promote and celebrate libraries and the role of librarians in our society, particularly now when the funds of libraries are threatened by Trump’s proposed “skinny budget.”

Invisible Planets Translated by Ken Liu

ipThis is a short story anthology of contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in translation. I wrote an individual Review for this collection. Invisible Planets is a 2016 TOR publication. The thirteen short stories had been previously featured in short story publications like Clarkesworld, Uncanny, and Tor.com. The short stories are written by Chen Qiufan, Xia Jia, Ma Boyong, Hao Jingfang, Tang Fei, Cheng Jingbo, and Liu Cixin. All the stories are translated by Ken Liu. Each author’s stories are preceded by a brief biographical note on the author.

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

25110931I then half-read, half-listened to (on Audible) Lois McMaster Bujold’s second book in the Vorkosigan Saga Shards of Honor because she suggested starting with Shards of Honor and follow it with Barrayar. I will say in advance that this is definitely what is called a hard sci-fi book. There is a lot of military speech and military tactics. The main character whose point of view we follow is Cordelia Naismith’s, she is the captain of a Betan Astronomical ship. I love the way Bujold characterised Cordelia because she is strong and has a backbone. The work begins with the Betan base camp being attacked and Cordelia remaining behind with only one other person from her camp and Captain Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar. A romance ensues between Cordelia and Vorkosigan but it’s very subtle in terms of ‘cheesiness,’ because as I mentioned this is a strong character and a hard sci-fi book. This may sound weird but Cordelia and

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Rourke and Sinclair, Atlantis

Vorkosigan reminded me of Commander Rourke and Helga Sinclair from Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The relationship is complicated, there is a mutiny, and a lot going on that I can’t explain without spoiling it. I am willing to give the rest of series a try but not in a row. It’s an easy and pleasant listen/read and very exciting so it doesn’t require too much effort but it’s not a series I can binge.

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

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This book is a retelling of Peter and Wendy only it reads more like a sequel or continuation. In this retelling Peter is trans and was born as Wendy. He returns to Neverland ten years after leaving and choosing to grow up as Wendy. I have written a full review on this book. There is a romance aspect between Peter and Hook, however most of this novel deals with issues of identity, losing and finding oneself, and fighting to reclaim one’s spaces.

The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found by Martin W. Sandler

whydahThis is a book about the Pirate ship: Whydah. I received this book from Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review: Full Review. In short, the first half of the book Sandler begins by following our main Captain pirate: Samuel Bellamy and the ship he hijacks: The Whydah. He explains the Articles of Agreement (among pirates), fun facts about the origins of The Jolly Roger, details of torture methods on board, punishments, as well as the good parts of pirate atmosphere on the ship, and facing the wrath of the sea as well as critical weather conditions. The second half of the book focuses on the wreck of The Whydah and the importance of each artifact which was retrieved in 1984. The details of each artifact, its history, and importance are absolutely fascinating and throughout Sandler debunks many pirate myths.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfusscover_277

This book is written by Patrick Rothfuss and was published in March 2007 by DAW Books, Inc. That year he won the Quill Award.

The Name of the Wind is about Kvothe—a young, red-haired man who tells his life story to Chronicler (a scribe whose life he saves and who is ultimately writing the ‘true history’ of Kvothe) and Bast—a young man who is absolutely enchanted by his master Kvothe and is eagerly listening to his life story. There are few interruptions but overall, The Name of the Wind is a bildungsroman. We follow Kvothe from his childhood where he is raised by a guild of actors, follow him through several years on the Tarbean streets where he lives in absolute poverty, and eventually through his University education where he studies Sympathy (among other subjects). Finance and poverty drive Kvothe’s plot as he must always make another strategic move to earn a day’s living, or another semester’s tuition. By the end of this book you’ll feel like you understand their economic system and all about ‘jots’ and ‘talents.’ The characters he meets at University and in town are diverse and very interesting, though no character is as flushed out and dimensional as Kvothe himself. His main talent on top of his studies is being a skilled lute musician. What is particularly strange to me, is the “magic” system. It’s very difficult to explain because it exists, it’s ‘different,’ and somehow it’s not very present. At the university, students study Arcanist’s arts which include Sympathy, Sygaldry, Alchemy, and Naming and then there’s a sort of Fae-world kind of magic. Some professors study things that make them fall into madness like “learning the name of the wind.” The description of classes sound a lot like courses in our world (including tuition), and a little bit like alchemy. The use and presence of ‘magic’ is really subtle and sometimes I wonder if it’s even there. There are mysterious figures like Auri, the Chandrion, and the professor who is held up in what resembles the University’s ‘asylum.’ Things like ‘forbidden stories’ and the effects of ‘sympathy’ used outside of the University give off a ‘magic’ element, but when as the story is told I sometimes forget that this is a different realm at all. There is also a romance woven in, but it is not overpowering. This book is 722 pages, so being brief in describing what it’s about is complicated without giving too much away.

What I love most about this work is how it is told. The storytelling and world building makes me feel like I’m listening to one of Scheherazade’s stories. What really accomplishes that for me is the many ‘stories within stories.’ There is a man at a tavern telling stories, there are songs being sung resembling medieval songs and filled with mythology and …well…stories. There are tutors, actors, guilds, dealers, clans, a hierarchy of class systems, and languages. All these components added while discussing the growth of Kvothe as a character give the reader a full experience of this world. It’s all in the details, like on page 300 where Kvothe and Wilem discus Siaru idioms:

“it means ‘don’t let it make you crazy’ but it translated literally as: ‘don’t put a spoon in your eye over it.’”

My favourite of all though has to be THE ARCHIVES. Descriptions of books in this novel are phenomenal. The presence of codices, and archives are everywhere. The descriptions of books, the presence of them, the contents, the things they help characters achieve just make this book so perfect. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys fantasy, books, schools, and bildungsromans. Here are a few of my favourite lines:

“You’d be surprised at the sorts of things hidden away in children’s songs” (39)

“I hope they spent those last few hours well. I hope they didn’t waste them on mindless tasks: kindling the evening fire and cutting vegetables for dinner. I hope they sang together, as they so often did. I hope they retired to our wagon and spent time in each other’s arms. I hope they lay near each other afterward and spoke softly of small things. I hope they were together, busy with loving each other, until the end came.” (124)

“The door of forgetting. Some wounds are too deep to heal, or too deep to heal quickly. In addition, many memories are simply painful, and there is no healing to be done. The saying ‘time heals all wounds’ is false. Time heals most wounds. The rest are hidden behind this door…there are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.” (135)

“[Skarpi] – I only know one story. But oftentimes small pieces seem to be stories themselves…it’s growing all around us…sometimes the story is growing in squalid backstreet bars” (202).

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This is What a Librarian Looks Like | Book Review

“‘What do we need libraries for? We’ve got the Internet now!’ FACEPALM” – Cory Doctorow

“Wherever you are in America, there is a librarian fighting to get YOU something”

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This book will be published on May 16, 2017 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

Last week I recommended five non-fiction books on libraries which were mostly academic and history-focused.

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Front Cover

This book is not a history book but a celebration of libraries, and librarians, accomplished by a collaboration between photographers, librarians, publishers, and authors. By comparison to last week’s recommendations, this book is much more accessible. Kyle Cassidy published a photo essay on Slate in 2014 called “This is What A Librarian Looks Like,” a montage of portraits and a tribute to librarians. The essay had success and spread widely through social media. Cassidy expanded this project into what is now the new-coming book This Is What a Librarian Looks Like: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information.

The book has three components:

  1. Brief essays on the history of the American Library
  2. Photographs of contemporary American Librarians
  3. Essays by writers, journalists, and commentators including Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Nancy Pearl, Cory Doctorow, Jeff VanderMeer, and others who discuss what the library means to them now, and what memories they have of the library from their childhood and/or youth.

The three sections are woven beautifully combining the history, interviews, and photographs according to historical periods and American geographical regions. Cassidy opens with an introduction to this book on the ideal of the library by discussing the Library of Alexandria. He writes:

“What made the Library of Alexandria great wasn’t just the collection of books, but rather, its intellectual raison d’être: the insatiable pursuit, creation, and dissemination of knowledge as a force to drive civilization.”

While discussing the leap across the digital divide and community service provided by librarians, this book urges readers not to look away while the Government is taking funds away from libraries. One such initiative is called Send Librarians to Congress, where the goal is to put a copy of this book in the hands of each member of Congress before Federal funding for libraries is eliminated as proposed in the “Skinny Budget” from President Trump. Cassidy writes:

“libraries in America today are at a crossroads, facing dangers not unlike those of the Great Library [of Alexandria] as well as an evolving technology that has the power either to make libraries exponentially more valuable or to erode their foundation if we are not careful.”

lcThe book then focuses a chapter on America’s First Lending Library: The Lending Company of Philadelphia which was opened in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin. The second history-based chapter is on artifacts and tablets interviewing Sumerologist Steve Tinney at the Tablet Room at the University of Pennsylvania, who focuses on the tablets similar to those which got us the Epic of Gilgamesh (British Museum) and Cuneiform writing.

Cassidy then turns his attention to individual library histories like the chapter “The Little Library That Tried” on M.N. Spear Memorial Library in Shutesbury, Massachusetts and “History you can Hold” focusing on the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library. There are also insights to libraries collecting non-texts like the Franklin Public Library which collects ‘The American Girl’ dolls instead. The book closes with “Archiving the Past” at University libraries in Texas and Iowa with a conversation between Cassidy and George R.R. Martin.

I really enjoyed this book with all its components, however, as a reader and librarian I was much more interested in the essays written by authors and the history parts. I wish they were longer. Some author interviews were only a paragraph long. For 220 images of librarians to fit in this large book, expect a coffee-table-style  book.  I understand the political undertones, specifically the one I mentioned above, where this book aims to put a face to the community of librarians in America for Congress, but as a physical codex, the book will become immediately dated because of the abundance of contemporary photographs. On the other hand, the same component makes it somewhat unique to preserving the ‘here and now.’ I would urge the reader to look at this book first and foremost as an art/photography book, where the histories and author essays are the supplements for the images, not the other way around as is usually the case. Nonetheless, the book advertises itself as a celebration of libraries and librarians, and in that respect, it has succeeded.

In terms of librarians photographed, this book is America-centric. Though the librarians are multicultural and diverse, the workplaces of the librarians photographed are mostly in the United States covering an array of public libraries, special collections, school libraries, and academic libraries. The authors interviewed are American, Canadian, and British. Overall this book focuses on the Western experience of the library.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in libraries, photography, and who has enjoyed blogs/books like Humans of New York which focus on individuals with an excerpt on what they do, and what they enjoy. I especially recommend this book to Congress.

Many thanks to Hachette Books, Black Dog & Leventhal for sending me a copy of this book for an early review.

I will leave you now with this excellent quotation on the importance of librarians taken from the introduction to the book :

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Audiobook Resources

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NOTE: the prices listed online fluctuate over time

PAID SUBSCRIPTION

  1. Downpour.com_AudiobooksDownpour: Downpour, like Audible below, is subscription-based. For $12.99 per month you get one credit. If used wisely the credit can go a long way. For instance, if you were to get with the one credit Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, you’ve just invested in over 55 hours of narrative time. That’s like paying someone 23 cents per hour. Twelve credits a year amount to a $156 commitment, but you can cancel at any time, and get only one credit at a time. This is the same sum as an audible gold membership, so it really is quite even. What I love about Downpour is that they have more indie and hidden gems that are not quite so mainstream, and they constantly have sales going on. I also appreciate that they have a connection to Soundcloud (through Blackstone Audio) where you can access some of their audiobooks, and have many academic affiliations. It’s a great platform if you enjoy newer audiobooks, and well-done classics.
  2. audibleAudible as is probably most commonly known, Audible is owned by Amazon. Audible, like Downpour, has a similar price range for their credits and audiobooks: $14.95 per credit, and $150 for a yearly gold membership (which makes the long-term membership a better deal). As an avid audiobook listener I found this membership price to be worth it. I made the mistake of cashing in most of my credits near the beginning of the year, and did not pace myself, but then I found out you can exchange audiobooks all year round! You get access to podcasts on almost every topic under the sun including TED talks, and my personal favourite: Orson Welles broadcasts. The variety of lifestyle, literature, science, as well as vintage podcasts given free entry is worth every penny. There are also dramatizations of classics like Jane Eyre. The podcasts here are called Channels and you can tap into almost every topic. There’s one on dialogues between MacArthur Genius Grant winners, or stand up comedians…and everything in between. The audiobooks themselves are of new books and old/classics. Sometimes a famous actor will read an audiobook which is always nice to hear. My personal favourites are Nick Offerman and Richard Armitage. I am an audible believer so I would strongly recommend a membership, but again, it’s only worth it if you do use it. According to my stats I listen to about 15 hours per month. This is a sum of me listening while shelving books, while painting, while commuting etc.
  3. GraphicAudio: The quality of the audiobooks on this is top notch. Their tagline is “a movie inLbvJ3SJ- your mind” which is quite possibly the best descriptor for how their audiobooks are produced. GraphicAudio includes a few free short stories, and has discount codes for sets, or other deals from time to time. The content is by far the most different from all the rest. They have obscure comic books, graphic novels, fantasy series. It’s like entering an entirely different new world. It is a bit pricey and sometimes one can find discounts as I mentioned, but if this is your niche, it’s worth it.
  4. Libro.FM: 51pWEQcAL6L this service while it works with credits similar to Audible will give 100% of the proceeds to an independent bookstore of YOUR choice. You can select your favourite local bookstore near you or one from somewhere around the world. I find this is a wonderful way to show support to your local businesses particularly when times are hard. The selection is not as wide as audible, though it has some books audible doesn’t. Again, this is more of a way to give back and show support.

FREE (Through Library and Public Domain) 

  1. one clickOneClickDigital: This audiobook program is a hybrid of the two above. It is a system connected to the public library. You can download the app on your phone or tablet, or get an online account and connect to it using your library card. It has books that are a mix of new and old but it won’t have brand new releases right away in form of audio. OneClickDigital also has eBooks in addition to eAudiobooks. Because it works through the library system you must “check out” an audiobook meaning, once downloaded, it will remain on your phone for a limited amount of time, as if it was a library book. Nothing stops you from checking it out again. It’s a good balance of book selections and it’s free, so long as you have a library card.od-touch-icon
  2. OverDrive: OverDrive works like OneClickDigital through the public library. I found that OverDrive is connected to more public libraries than OneClickDigital and has wider selections.
  3. Librivox.org: This was my introduction to the audiobook world back in high school. This organization runs on volunteers from all over the world reading and recording books on demand. Because it’s free and volunteer-run, it can only cover books that are in the public domain (not under copyright). It’s basically the ‘project Gutenberg’ of audiobooks. The pros are: free audiobooks. However, the cons are: most books won’t include new releases or even relatively librivoxnew ones (like 10-20 years old), and because it’s a volunteer-run audiobook program, sometimes you will get haptics, coughing, different volumes of recording, static, etc. For instance, some books that are longer like Ulysses will get various volunteers from all over the world and one chapter will sound awful, one will sound great, one will have a lot of background noise, some accents won’t be understandable, etc. I personally liked this ‘con’ because it felt like I was being read to by a friend and I enjoyed those human errors. However, sometimes it’s a bit frustrating like when reading a play because every character is played by a person who is not in the same room and every line is very choppy and has a delay.

Other Resources for Audiobooks:

Pay/Digital:

  • iTunes
  • HooplaDigital

Pay/Physical

  • Bookstores like: Chapters/Indigo (Canada), Barnes and Noble (US), Blackwells (UK) have physical CDs.
  • Used bookstores like BMV often have discounted prices for the same CDs only they are of older books.

Free Digital:

  • Typing “audiobook” on YouTube often leads to free chapters
  • Tor.com often has free audiobooks for individual short stories featured on their website. These are most likely to be Science Fiction and Fantasy.
  • OpenCulture has over 900 free audiobooks in various formats, but like librivox they are in the public domain and can only have books out of copyright
  • Escape Pod – Science Fiction podcast with frequent readings

5 Non-Fiction Books About Libraries

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  1. Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles

IMG_20170413_104645In this book Battles covers the history of the library, giving an overview, starting with Alexandria and working his way to present times. This is a great starting point to get a general history of the library and readership. Battles takes into account Chinese and Middle-Eastern approaches to librarianship in history though it is mostly Euro-centric, particularly in the sections discussing the Medieval period and the Renaissance. I would highly recommend this book  as an introduction to the long history of libraries. To go from Antiquity to Present time in only 222 pages is a lot to cover so he doesn’t go into too much detail. Very pleasant.

  1. Apostles of Culture by Dee Garrison

imagesThis book covers the history of the American Public Library System since its conception post-American Civil War until present times– which for this publication is 1979, missing a rather large portion of the technological advances in the digital revolution. Its main focus is expository from an objective standpoint though it dives into the ideals and theoretical beginnings of the library and contrasts them with what the library eventually has done/become over time. It focuses on the transcendentalist ideals and key figures such as Melvil Dewey, and Andrew Carnegie and their role in the transformation of the library from a private institution to a public one. In addition the book explores the role of the librarian both from a gender studies perspectives exploring the collision between men and women in the field, the feminization of the field as well as the librarian’s role moving from imposing censorship to advocating for freedom of information. This book focuses on the public library as we know it today as it was begun by the United States in the mid-1800s.

  1. Part of Our Lives by Wayne A. Wiegand

51buX+n-NnL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This book covers the history of the American Public Library as well, like Garrison’s book, but it’s published in 2015 so it incorporates newer concepts and does a much more detailed job. What makes Part of Our Lives different from Apostles of Culture is that it uses many anecdotes. Wiegand interviewed many people who had experienced the library and uses the anecdotes to draw conclusions on American Public Library history. It’s not as history-heavy as Garrison’s book, but the anecdotes bring history to life. Wiegand wrote a lot on librarianship history. He also wrote a book focusing on Lewis Sinclair’s library mentioned in Main Street and looks at four small town libraries and argues that although people claim the library to be the pillar of democratic culture of an entire country, libraries actually cater to each individual town locally, and each individual community. Wiegand contextualizes the library within specific communities and shows how they specifically adhere to local rules that are negotiable and adaptable rather than broad and nation-wide. He published that book in 2011 and it’s titled Main Street Public Library.

  1. The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

IMG_20170413_104654IMG_20170413_105347More famously known for A History of Reading, Manguel focuses on readership histories and reading patterns in a lot of his published works. In this one he focuses on library history, but more on the library as an idea. For instance he examines how the library exists in our society as order, as space, as power, as shadow, as mind, as imagination, or identity (among others). It’s an easy and pleasant read. Unlike Dee Garrison’s book this is not as academic heavy. Manguel takes into account non-Western libraries and explores readership practices in other parts of the world as well. It’s more inclusive than books 1-3 mentioned above.

  1. The Library Book (2012)IMG_20170413_104638

This is a tiny book and contains 23 essays written by different authors. Each author discusses in a brief non-fiction essay what books as print culture or the library as space means to them on a personal level. They contextualize the library into their history as they were growing into the authors they became today. Authors include Lionel Shriver, Stephen Fry, Zadie Smith, Kate Mosse, China Miéville, Caitlin Moran, and Tom Holland, among others. Its main goal as the foreword suggests is to celebrate libraries. This is an easy read, it’s pleasant, and it’s the least academic form the five listed.

BONUS: Essay by Neil Gaiman (the first in The View from the Cheap Seats) Called “Why our future depends on libraries, reading, and daydreaming.”

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March Wrap-up

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In the month of March I read all the books below (the first at the bottom and the latest at the top). I also read Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services by Carol Kuhlthau but I won’t count it because it was for class and filled with statistics and graphs. The month ended with me reading 456/722 pages (63%) of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, and two short stories from Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation edited and translated by Ken Liu. Those last two will be incorporated in next month’s wrap-up because I have not finished them yet. Though Rothfuss did occupy 1/4 of my time this month so I should acknowledge that in this brief introduction. I foresee a 5 star rating and since I will definitely continue with the series I may do a spotlight on the Kingkiller Chronicles and novella in a separate post.

The Last Interview: Ray Bradbury; interviews by Sam Weller

ray bradbuyThis series of interviews captures the spirit of Bradbury. All the interviews took place between 2010-2012 and they are all conducted by Sam Weller. I didn’t really like the interviewer as much and sometimes I felt like his block quotes were larger than Bradbury’s. I was more interested in what Bradbury had to say. I wish there was a transcript in there of some of his lectures in his later years. I would also recommend watching a YouTube video of his lecture so you know his tone in his later years, otherwise he (Bradbury) comes across as very self-centered, but if you understand his tone it’s really sweet. I think if I read these before watching him I would have thought he was very full of himself, but having done it the other way around I just smiled and appreciated his words. He also speaks so highly of libraries which is easy to love:

“I graduated from the library when I was twenty-eight years old. So that’s why I’m here tonight–because I believe in libraries. They’re more important than universities. They’re more important than colleges. Libraries are the center of our lives” (42).

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Bradbury’s works and wants to know more about his personal life, and the ways in which he got inspired to write Fahrenheit 451, and Something Wicked this Way Comes, as those two works are the most discussed in these interviews. It’s a very quick read and pleasant.

DA: A Journal of the Printing Arts. Number 77. (Fall/Winter 2015)

34657437I received this from one of my favourite grad-school professors who taught me about rare books, readerships, and bookbinding. To celebrate fifty years of being a Press a series of Canadian printers have written several articles within this codex encompassing the history of Coach House Press. This press is closely affiliated with the University of Toronto and has printed several library catalogues for the UofT library system throughout the years, as well as launching famous authors with beautiful editions of their books like the recent award winning Andre Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs. This book covers the Press’s history and its adoption of newer media and ways of printing as well as exploring prominent figures in its history like Alfred H. Howard and his contribution to the city of Toronto by means of his manuscript collection. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in small printing press histories, Toronto-specific history, or this history of printing arts

At the Speed of Light – NewCon Novella by Simon Morden

dm atsplThis novella was sent to me by EarlyReviewers from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest: review.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

It’s a good story about parallel universes and it’s exciting. I didn’t like the whole “I was on a path to fulfill my potential as a genius but then my wife got pregnant and everything went to hell.” How many times more will I have to encounter this story line? Also this book was very obviously written for the big screen. It reads like the DaVinci Code and the sentences are short and choppy which makes me very frustrated. It was exciting though, and I’d watch the movie, but as a book it was lacking.

The Martian by Andy Weir

martianMark Watney is a botanist astronaut who has gone on an expedition to Mars with a team. Due to unforeseen events the ship had to leave as the team thought he was dead and he is ultimately left alone behind on Mars. The novel follows Watney’s struggle to survive on Mars and communicate with NASA and his team as well as all the various teams on Earth making great efforts to bring him home. I understand that since the film came out the plot is no surprise to anyone and I am perhaps a little late to the party. What I found endearing about this novel was that despite the science-heavy space exploration vocabulary it was a combination of Robinson Crusoe in Space, and the renewal of faith in humanity. Reading about so many people around the world working together to bring one person home was so satisfying and rewarding. In addition, reading about one person being so isolated for so long explores dark corners of the human condition. I wish Weir would have focused more on this. I would have appreciated a chapter from Watney’s perspective on what he was thinking on a daily basis, what the loneliness felt like, what he was experiencing. A break from all the action and science and business for a moment of reflection and spirituality would have added more depth to both Watney and the novel. It’s a little difficult to remember that Watney is away from Earth for 2.5 years, and completely alone on Mars for 565 days (or a year and a half) because the novel focuses only on the actions taken rather than the intense reflective moments that would break the human spirit in such a situation. From time to time I had a hard time believing Watney was hired by NASA for this expedition in the first place because of his attitude. Maybe it’s just me, but I think NASA would make exceptions for only Nobel-prize winning physicists with attitudes but not for botanists with attitude. Even Watney refers to himself as a ‘dorky botanist’ who is not that great compared to anyone else on the team. I believed that people would fight to get him back, I didn’t believe NASA would have sent him in space in the first place because of his attitude. Why would you send a person on a team in an enclosed space for years if he has a hard time getting along with people and following instructions? I definitely wanted to get to know Watney more. His character was not that well flushed out and I’m a little tired of the ‘genius with an attitude’ plotline. The one missing chapter adding depth to his character would have made this books so much better. For once in a long time I can say: the movie was better. Damon added more depth to Watney than Weir did. Sorry, but…it is what it is.

Spinster by Kate Bolick

spinstaKate Bolick can write well and she is intelligent. There are many literary references, and an outline of five great women who have inspired her in her life including three of my favourite female authors: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, and two people I learned about for the first time: Neith Boyce and Maeve Brennan. What bothered me was how much of a memoir/autobiography it was. It read like a Carrie Bradshaw rant about herself. I kept thinking that maybe if I cared more about who this author was then this memoir and reading journey would have been more inspiring. I read this at the same time as John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and the whole time I was hyper-aware that her content is by far more interesting and well-researched, but I didn’t care about her biographical parts as much as I did about Steinbeck. I also wanted this book to be what it promised: a book covering the history and cultural analysis of the spinster. I wanted to know about perception, barriers, how to break them…I wanted to feel inspired. There were several parts when she was discussing biographies of authors that I did feel somewhat inspired, but then it would slowly vanish in the background as Bolick started talking about her life again….the men she dates, the things she does on a daily basis. Lastly, and perhaps this is somewhat shallow but it REALLY bothered me, was that she writes many times about how ugly she was, and how “not like other girls” she was in terms of looks and how she was not desirable. Just google her…or flip the book over. She literally looks like a model for any beauty product. She’s white, tall, thin, beautiful hair……it honestly felt like she was mocking the reader and was fishing for compliments. So if you expect the book to be about what it means to be a spinster, or a social history of it, you will NOT find it here. This book is exclusively about Kate Bolick and 5 authors who were women and who inspired her, and then she tells you why in her life particularly these women were important.

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

traveslxHave you ever thought “I love Steinbeck! I wish I could hang out with him!” If you have, then: READ. THIS. BOOK. This journal/travelogue work is John Steinbeck’s account of his travels across the United States in the 1960s, with his dog Charley, in a trailer that he names ‘The Rocinante’ (after Don Quixote’s horse). He describes what he sees, records interactions with different people he meets on the way, and this book is filled with reflective notes on what he thought of certain situation and how they relate to other instances in life or giving his opinion on his immediate reaction. There are a few literary references, and instances of simple humour (i.e. getting stopped at the Canadian border for “dog reasons”). I kept thinking that if anyone other than Steinbeck wrote the same travelogue it wouldn’t be that interesting. It’s interesting BECAUSE it’s Steinbeck. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys travel literature, travelogues, journals/diaries, and those who love Steinbeck and his work because in the end it just feels like you’re hanging out with him and his dog.

February Reading Wrap-up

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In the month of February I began my month by reading five poetry books, four of which I wrapped up individually here. The fifth I will feature as an independent book review in the near future. These are the novels I read and/or listened to in the month of February:

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

image0053.5-4. Mary Yellen is a 23 year old who lives on a peaceful farm when her mom dies. She is forced to move in with her aunt Patience and terrifying uncle Joss Merlyn at Jamaica Inn (which is a real 18th century Inn, made famous by this novel– the structure still stands). Jamaica Inn has a bad reputation mainly because Joss Merlyn hosts evenings with pirates and bad company. Mary stays at the Inn for her aunt. What follows midway through the novel is a romance with an unexpected character (won’t spoil it). The atmosphere of this novel is very Gothic, mainly due to the night time pirates and the fog-covered moors by which the Inn is surrounded.
Du Maurier is an excellent storyteller. Her descriptions, the atmosphere, character depth, and language uses are absolutely flawless. I will definitely read Rebecca in the near future. What I did not enjoy was that Jamaica Inn (published 1936) tried very hard to sound like Wuthering Heights (1847). The two works are almost 90 years apart and I think Du Maurier could have really accomplished more in her novel if she would have used the tools and writing techniques developed in that time for an atmosphere suitable for her contemporary audience (we’re even past the Jazz age at this point). In addition, the romance which begins half-way through the novel feels very forced. The relationship is not developed nor explored and feels unnecessary, which is why the second part of the novel really lacks substance and the narrative takes several directions after the half way point. This is a shame because it really takes away from the great atmosphere built in the first half. I would recommend this novel to anyone who likes Gothic novels, and pirates! Also I would count this novel as straddling the line of a “classic” and “mainstream literature from that time.” It’s not too heavy but it’s well written. I will definitely read more by this author.

Lincoln the Bardo by George Saunders

978081299534314 Stars. In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert, Saunders said that he was so moved by a story he heard 20 years ago about Abraham Lincoln holding his dead son’s body in the crypt that it inspired him to take the short story long and write his first novel. With this excerpt from history, Saunders then explored the concept of the Bardo, which is a Tibetan word meaning “in between” or “transition”–the Eastern concept of purgatory. Saunders appropriated the Bardo for this narrative so that if one had any unresolved issues he/she would have to resolve them to move on. Willie Lincoln (the son) is stuck in the Bardo and there are many voices around him of other people from across the ages who are not aware they are dead, or what’s keeping them there.
In content, I couldn’t help but compare this story to Dostoevsky’s ‘short’ story “Bobok” which is about a man walking through a graveyard and overhearing conversations of the dead. Stylistically it reminded me of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” I will say, that in this novel Saunders is definitely more focused on style and exploring a very detailed moment (death of Willie) and a very specific concept (consciousness in the Bardo). Academics are going to love this book I’m sure. It’s very “focused” and has room for a lot of discussion. Also if this is ever performed on stage it would have a very Samuel Beckett feel to it.
Personally, I listened to it on audible on a train ride exactly the length of the audiobook. I would STRONGLY recommend the audiobook because Audible got several actors for the different voices and it really comes alive (Nick Offerman is awesome).
All in all, I’m not sure if DURING the experience of listening to it I was intrigued or really into it but after it was done I couldn’t stop thinking about it as a whole. I recommend it to anyone who is into different experimental styles of writing, Beckett, T.S. Eliot, and again strongly recommend it in audio format.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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Squirrel friends have perfect timing

4.5 Stars. My heart’s a mess right now. At first this book reminded me of The Iron Giant and Coraline with echoes from the Deathly Hallows‘ “The Tale of the Three Brothers” but then it grows into something more, a book about healing, and by the end I just couldn’t believe how well it was crafted. This book was so well written. The book is about a young boy named Conor whose mother is dying of cancer. He is visited by a monster who is also a giant Yew Tree at night (12:07 precisely) and tells him three fairytale-like stories with a highly atmospheric description and a twist. That’s all I can say about the summary without being too spoiler-filled for those who have not read it yet. What is particularly magical about the way this really depressing story is told is the use of language and metaphor (and sometimes allegory). This is a book I would teach and discuss at length. It’s highly memorable and I expect it to haunt me forever. Here are just some lines that stayed with me:

“there is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between” (70).

“And if no one sees you…are you really there at all?” (163).

“But there are harder things than being invisible” (171).

“You must tell the truth or you will never leave this nightmare…you will be trapped here alone for the rest of your life” (204).

A Hermit’s Cookbook: Monks, Food and Fasting in the Middle Ages by Andrew Jotischky

index4 Stars. I really enjoyed this book. It’s a great non-fiction read. I never thought someone would look into the eating habits of medieval monks and it’s a topic that absolutely fascinates me. Jotischky not only looks at habits and behaviours around food in relation to faith, but also at where each item would be cooked, the kinds of ovens, and sometimes includes recipes as well. He also contrasts monks in various locations and contextualizes eating habits according to what those people would have access to. Overall it’s a very history-heavy text and I would recommend it to anyone interested in history, and the medieval period, or the history of eating/food

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

255262963 Stars. I can’t tell if it’s because this book has been so hyped up that I came to it expecting more. The IDEA of this novella is fantastic. Teens who have been to different worlds like Wonderland, Underland etc. return to this world and can’t go back so they go to this “school” that’s kind of a rehab facility. It’s mental institution meets fairy tales. It sounds amazing right? The metaphors and allusions are great. Some characters had such potential. The idea is Golden. Even the book cover design is so alluring that you want to pick it up and read it. BUT the way the story is told is absolutely awful.  I gave this three stars for the idea. I wish that someone could re-write this because the idea is so good. I’m so angry that such a good idea with such great potential wasn’t given the chance to be fully explored. There is a chance I read it at the wrong time, in the wrong mood, and it piled up on top of the built-up expectation of how good it’s supposed to be. Maybe I’ll re-read this after a while and see if I feel the same way.