Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bookish Days Off Are Best

I had today off work, and sometimes a nice day plus free time to go bookstore hopping is the best of all possible worlds. 

One of my favourite excursions is to head down the road to London (Ontario) and check out all the thrift stores, ending up at the glorious 3 floor used bookshop downtown, Attic Books. It's a clean, well-organized, affordably priced and well-stocked place that I can spend quite a bit of time and money in! 

Today's sunshine and free time led us that way, and this is the result... I held myself back, by the way, and didn't buy everything I'd looked at. This is my summer book haul from both Attic and 3 thrift shops. 

Bottom to top:

An excellent book on embroidery, by Thomasina Beck

An Alan Bradley to add to my colourful series

Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, something I have been looking for for a while

Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place, ditto

Two unread titles by Kyiv author Andrey Kurkov, in perfect condition

Two Viragos that I didn't yet own, Storm Jameson's Company Parade and Radclyffe Hall's The Unlit Lamp

Two Scandinavian women in translation that I've been wanting to read, Rosa Liksom (Finnish) and Therese Bohman (Swedish)

Classic SF, Asimov's Foundation

Classic Helen MacInnes, one of the only titles of hers I haven't read

And then topping it all off, a score: 6 titles by my favourite Harlequin author, Mary Burchell (originally Ida Cook). That should keep me going for a while! 

It's always fun to uncover treasures and stock the home library. You can see a handful of my husband's purchases in the background of my picture as well... we really can't help ourselves! 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Levelling Up: Canadian Book Challenge theme!

What is this logo all about? This year's theme! 

This year we're going to be all about the road trip, crossing Canada in our literature and in the levels you'll reach as you read. As you read this year, you'll advance along a series of highways - representing most of the provinces and territories of Canada, and ending up with our longest road, the TransCanada Highway.

Here's a little bit about each one:

1 -Alert to Alert Airport Road

2 -Charlottetown Perimeter Highway 

3 - Cabot Trail 

4 - Icefields Parkway

5 - Klondike Highway

6 - ALCAN (Alaska-Canadian) Highway

7 - Coquihalla Highway 

8 - Dempster Highway 

 9 - James Bay Road

10 - Queen Elizabeth Way 

11 - Trans-Labrador Highway 

12 - CanAm Highway

I hope you'll decide to sign up for the Challenge and read your way across Canada with us!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Two Indigenous stories with art

Finishing off my week of reading graphic novels, I picked up two titles which have been getting a lot of attention (and prizes) lately. Both are on my library shelves, but I hadn't got to them yet.

First I picked up The Secret Path, by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire. This is the story of Chanie Wenjack, a young boy who tried to walk home from the residential school he was sent to in 1966 - though his home was 400 miles away. Sadly he didn't make it. 

This is now a well-known story, and Downie's dedication to sharing this story and giving all the proceeds to The Gord Downie Secret Path Fund for Truth and Reconciliation via The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at The University of Manitoba is admirable. You can learn more about how and why it was written, and hear the music and watch the animated CBC version over at the Secret Path website.

The book itself is oversize, quite large and unwieldy. It's laid out with one poem/song on a page and then illustrations to follow, with no words or dialogue. Chanie's experience is all drawn in blue/grey/white and his memories are in colour. Despite the importance of the story and the good intent behind it I didn't love this book. I think it works better in its online format, with music, as an animated short etc. rather than an oversized softcover.

Then, I read Patti Laboucane-Benson's The Outside Circle. This is based in her work with the Warrior
program focused on healing and reconciliation of gang-affiliated or incarcerated Aboriginal men. 

In this story, two brothers struggle against a life shaped by crime and addiction. The eldest, Pete, joins a gang and eventually goes to prison. The youngest is left to manage on his own, until finally they reunite and find a long lost uncle who was separated from his siblings (their mother) as a child in residential school. 

Much of the book is about Pete's journey to self-awareness and a knowledge of his identity as an Indigenous man. The book lays out history and reasons for the social conditions they face in this story, and a move toward a more stable future as someone with a strong and respected cultural identity.

I found it very interesting, and a really good blend of text and illustration. It held a sense of hope and meaning that really touched me. There are links and information about the services that the author has been involved in at the end, as well, for anyone who wants to learn more. 

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Two by Two Tamakis

Two more graphic novels to add to my recent reading streak: I was told I must read some Mariko Tamaki. So I checked my library and behold, two titles by cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. 

This One Summer / Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
Toronto: Groundwood, c2014.
319 p.
First I read this longer book. And really liked it. Rose and Windy are summer friends whose families have been vacationing at Awago Beach for years. This year, Rose, who is older, is starting to notice boys. She and Windy observe the development of a local crisis as the weeks go by, while Rose also tries to manage her parents who are arguing and distant. 

Both of these storylines meld, coming to a head in one incident at the shore. It's a simple book, with sketched blue & white illustrations, but with so much feeling in it. The drowsiness and pace of a summer at the lake is clearly evoked, as are all the relationships that drive the story. Rose and Windy's friendship is realistic and engaging; the story that emerges to explain Rose's mother's depression and anger makes so much sense. And the local drama between teen lovers is both everyday and intense. These young girls are realizing that everyone around them has a secret, and in their own friendship there are things they don't tell others about, nothing scandalous, just their own.

I thought it was lovely, intriguing, and evocative. I really enjoyed this book. If you want to feel like you've had a trip to the lake this summer, read this book.

Skim / Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
Toronto: Groundwood, c2008.
143 p.

This much briefer book is for a slightly older crowd. In it, Skim is a teen goth at a fancy private girl's school. When one of the cool girls, Katie, is dumped by her boyfriend - who then goes on to kill himself - it upends the school. A clique of cool girls starts a club, Girls Celebrate Life!, which strangely enough Katie doesn't feel like joining when she finally returns to school with unresolved anger and two broken arms. Skim, generally a bit of an outsider as a wannabe Wiccan Goth, befriends her, understanding her emotional upheaval.

Skim herself is going through quite a bit of emotional stress. She's fallen in love, with someone she really shouldn't have, and any relationship will be doomed from the start. This book is darker and more steeped in the angst and heartbreak of being young and questioning everything, including your own sexuality, identity, and reason for living. It wasn't all gloom, even if the subject matter was very serious - there was a touch of lightness and a sympathy with the reader inherent in it. Although the subject was darker than the first book I read by the Tamakis, the illustrations were brighter, more intense. I did feel, though, that the ending was inconclusive and a bit unsatisfying for me. 

It was well done and absorbing, but in the end I think I preferred This One Summer just a bit more. Still, both are really worth exploring.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Seconds & Snotgirl

Seconds / Bryan Lee O'Malley
Toronto: Random House Canada, c2014.
322 p.

This is a graphic novel that was on the 2016 Ontario Library Association's Evergreen Award list, and I read it then but never reviewed it. I've just picked it up again for a reread and realized what a great story it is.

I really enjoyed the philosophical underpinning of this tale -- the idea that our life is what it is and do-overs aren't really that helpful -- and enjoyed the fun illustration style as well. 

Katie is head chef at Seconds, a fashionable restaurant. But that's not enough, she wants to start her own restaurant where she'll be owner as well. While she waits, she lives in the tiny apartment upstairs. But Seconds is an old building, and there is a house spirit living there. Lis appears when something goes terribly wrong, and a server is burned. She gives Katie a magic mushroom that will give her a chance at a do-over - in the morning, none of the disaster had happened. 

But Katie gets greedy, wanting her new restaurant to be ready sooner, wanting to get her ex back, wanting, wanting, wanting. And when she finds more mushrooms in the cellar, there's nothing to stop her from eating them and shifting reality every night.

But changing history is not so easy or so result-free. Katie gets more and more tangled in alternative timelines and spirits, until things are a confusing mess. Only when she accepts that her original life is good enough and should be lived as is, do things fix themselves. 

This was a clever, funny, visually interesting and magical story that read quickly. It was entertaining and thought-provoking and just as good on the second read. 

Snotgirl v.1: Green Hair Don't Care / Bryan Lee O'Malley & Leslie Hung
Portland, OR: ImageComics, c2017.

Snotgirl just arrived in my library, and was the incentive for me to pick up Seconds again. Snotgirl is quite different, though with some similiarites, both in drawing style and in the main character as a messed up 20 something with an ex, who gets involved with something perhaps supernatural, and definitely beyond her ken. 

Lottie Person is a fashion blogger, living the glamorous life... until you get to see her off screen. She refers to others, especially other fashion bloggers, by cutesy nicknames, since that's the only way she can remember anyone. Have I mentioned that Lottie is just a little self-absorbed? Her friends are Cutegirl, Normgirl, etc etc. Then she meets Coolgirl, a truly glamorous It Girl who seems interested in her as an inspiration and mentor. But Lottie's allergies and her emotional swings lead to Coolgirl giving her a nickname: Snotgirl. 

With an ex and his new girlfriend in the picture, and an incident with frenemy Coolgirl that Lottie can't quite recall the facts of, she is a mess. When Normgirl has a fancy engagement party, and they all end up in the same place, disaster strikes -- and the volume ends! Can't wait to get my hands on Vol. 2. This volume includes comic books 1-5, as it originated as a monthly comic book series.

This was a lot of fun, with some more touching bits thrown in about Lottie's questions about real life vs. blog life, and the quest for authenticity.

I enjoyed the style of it and thought it captured the modern existence of the lifestyle blogger effectively -- and humorously too. Lottie is a good balance of popular and messed up, not too much of either, and the story has legs. While I don't usually read a lot of graphic novels, I've had fun with both of these this week.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

11th Annual Canadian Book Challenge: one month countdown

One more month to think about signing up for the 11th Annual Canadian Book Challenge! I hope to see many readers joining in this year, as we are going to have a lot of fun with it. 

The Challenge part is easy: to read and review 13 books from July 1 2017 to July 1 2018. You can do it! 

Get full details and sign-up information here.

I'll be sharing some inspiration for your book choices over the next weeks, along with more details about our Theme and what names our reading levels will take, and a few other fun things, too.

Including a wonderful incentive: Simon & Schuster Canada is sponsoring our very first month, and is offering a wonderful 13 book prize pack to anyone who signs up to the challenge by the end of July. They want to get people started on their 13 Book Challenge! More information on the contents of this prize pack coming soon.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything / F.S. Michaels
Kamloops, BC: Red Clover, c2011.
190 p.

A fine nonfiction read to follow Taxi!, this brief and clearly stated examination of our monoculture was excellent and thought-provoking.

What is the monoculture? It's one story that takes over and becomes the lens through which our culture interprets and understands everything around us. Michaels posits, very convincingly, that our current monoculture is an Economic one, that all parts of life are judged in a transactional manner. Whether it's relationships to other people, nature, spirituality, education, work or creativity, an economic lens limits how we can interact. 

Transactional relationships limit our committment and interconnection to just one interaction, the one in which we are exchanging whatever it is, rather than allowing us to develop relationships which are long-term, engaged, and responsible for one another.

Each chapter is brief and clearly argued, and builds to the next. Over the length of the book, different aspects of how a monoculture shapes us individually are drawn out and highlighted. And there are some ideas about how to think yourself outside of the one story. I would have liked to see more of a direct "action plan" somewhere in the book to help people strategize further, but really, self-education and knowledge seem to be the key to unlocking your tunnel vision.

There is a lengthy section in the Community chapter about the public good and how Economics isn't always the best way to view the viability of public services. The example that Michaels uses is public libraries, and she argues that letting corporate services and philosophies take over libraries is very much NOT in the public good. I must admit she's preaching to the choir here -- I also believe much of what she shares about the direction of public libraries in an Economic monoculture. I love that she makes so clear why libraries are powerful and need their independence, and that she shares a very good bibliography in this area, as well as the others she tackles. She points out over and over again, in most chapters, that the needs and values of profit-driven corporations don't always reflect what we might think of as the "good life" in terms of human connection.

I really enjoyed this read. It's thorough, well-argued, and not even close to being a screed. It's balanced and thoughtful, and brings up many, many points that are calmly made obvious. It makes you question your own assumptions, and allows you to see life differently. And as she says, life is about many stories, not just the One story. Widen your narrative and enrich your life.

I'll leave you with a brief quote that summarizes why it's important to widen your life story.
When you conform to the monoculture's version of who you are and what the world is like, you lose your freedom along with your ability to be truly innovative in terms of your own life. Being able to draw on many different stories, not just the economic one, allows you to creatively and authentically meet the challenges that face you in your life. The monoculture, determinedly single-minded, insists that economic values and assumptions can be used to solve your problems, whether those problems are spiritual, political,  intellectual, or relational.

This book pulls back the curtain on Economic assumptions that rule our culture, now more than ever; although this book was only published in 2011, the Economic worldview seems to have even more firmly grasped our cultural imagination since. This is a necessary read.