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    Book Club in a Bag

    Wintery Reads

    by Dieu - 0 Comment(s)

    Winter has always appealed to the secret hermit in me. Although I complain about the snow and ice just as much as anybody, I do love having even more good reasons to stay inside with a cup of tea or hot chocolate and a good book. Winter allows you to be a homebody with no guilt. While you’re not shopping for gifts or planning your holidays, here are some great wintery books to cozy up with.

    The Left Hand of Darkness book cover Snow Falling on Cedars book cover

    The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

    A science fiction classic about a human emissary, Genly Ai, who travels to “Winter,” an alien planet named for its extremely cold climate. Genly’s mission is to convince the alien race to share ideas and technology with the rest of the human intergalactic civilization. Things are complicated by the fact that the alien race is essentially genderless, and Genly must navigate this completely different culture.

    Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

    A Japanese American, Kabuo Miyamoto, is charged with murder after the suspicious death of a fisherman on San Piedro Island. As the trial ensues we are pulled into a love story that goes back to World War II. Through flashbacks, we discover that the journalist covering the trial, and the wife of Miyamoto were once childhood lovers, but were separated by the internment of Japanese citizens. Evocative and beautifully written, Snow Falling on Cedars is a suspenseful mystery and love story in one.

    Blankets book cover In Cold Blood book cover

    Blankets: an illustrated novel by Craig Thompson

    One of my absolute favourite graphic novels, Blankets is an autobiographical story about the author’s coming of age. Craig Thompson’s illustrations are full of movement and brushwork, realistic while also retaining a cartoon-like appearance. His story of growing up in an isolated part of Wisconsin, his search for love, and his doubts about his faith is heartbreaking, poignant and sentimental.

    In Cold Blood: a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences by Truman Capote

    In 1959 in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family are murdered in their home. Truman Capote decides to travel to Holcomb with his friend and fellow author, Harper Lee, who will later publish To Kill a Mockingbird, to write about the crime. Taking thousands of notes, they interview the killers, towns-people, and investigators to reconstruct the events. Considered by many critics to be the first non-fiction novel, and the second biggest selling true crime book ever written, In Cold Blood is a riveting account of the psychology of the killers and the effect of the mass-murders on the small community.

    Books about Obsession

    by Dieu - 0 Comment(s)
    Enduring Love book cover

    Ian McEwan sits high up on my long list of favourite contemporary authors. Enduring Love was the second book of his that I had read many years ago. When I was putting together this post I instantly thought of Enduring Love, one of the most disturbing and yet fascinating books on obsessive love, fate, and on how the extremes of a man’s delusions can lead to the destruction of lives.

    The novel starts off with probably one of the most memorable beginnings of any book I have read. It begins with a freak accident involving a hot-air balloon in the middle of an English field with two witnesses, Joe Rose and his girlfriend, Clarissa. This event sparks a chain of events that come to haunt and menace Joe Rose, namely in the form of a man, Jed Parry, one of the persons who was involved in the incident on that day. Jed, inexplicably, sees the chance meeting between him and Joe as divinely fated, and proceeds to stalk Joe with the intention of bringing him to God. The stalking becomes more and more intense. As the plot takes you through the perceptions of both victim and pursuer, you start to question the stalker’s true feelings. Is he merely lonely, in love with Joe, insane or just a zealous religious fanatic? McEwan’s concise, yet cinematic writing describes the horrific events and misperceptions that unfold in a way that made it impossible for me to put this book down.

    During the summer, I made it a goal of mine to finally get around to reading Anna Karenina. As is my habit, I have my own obsession of buying books and then allowing them to sit in piles unread, sometimes for years. At over 800 pages, Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel may seem like a daunting book to read, but after the long haul, I have to say it was worth it.

    A brief description of Anna Karenina may mislead you into thinking that Tolstoy’s classic novel of doomed love as something not very original: a wealthy, beautiful aristocratic woman in an unhappy marriage falls in love with a handsome, young and dashing army officer. I have read many classic and Victorian novels, many of which were great reads, however, Anna Karenina far exceeds all of them. The character of Anna, one of the most famous literary female characters of all time, fascinated me. As the novel progresses, we see Anna Karenina transform from a sympathetic and enchanting woman, to a destructive, tormented and tragic figure as her obsessive love for Count Vronsky takes its toll on her life.

    The biggest surprise for me was in the secondary plot following the character of Konstantin Levin, a young man who is obsessed with the big questions of life. Levin throughout the novel is preoccupied with what it means to live a good life. In complete contrast to Anna, Levin is a sympathetic, warm, awkward character with an unrequited love. He goes through a journey of self-actualization that I found more satisfying and deeply affecting than Anna’s story.

    Anna Karenina book cover

    Great Graphix: NOT Your Run of the Mill Comics

    by Adrienne - 0 Comment(s)

    Think that comic books are only for teenagers and picture books are only for kids? It might surprise you to see what actually ends up being published as Graphic Novels these days and the complex and mature content that ends up being published as… basically, picture books. Everything from the biology of our DNA to the Bible; from Math Romances to Book Spine Poetry can make it between these pages.

    Here are five subjects you might have never thought would be published as a comic book:

    The Stuff of Life : a Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA by Schultz, Mark

    Think you’ll never grasp the science behind DNA? Even the basics of genetics can sound utterly alien. So who better than an alien to explain it all? Enter Bloort 183, a scientist from an asexual alien race threatened by disease, who's been charged with researching the fundamentals of human DNA and evolution and laying it all out in clear, simple language so that even his slow-to-grasp-the-point leader can get it.

    Manga Shakespeare by Paul Duffield

    I have found these the fastest way to understand Shakespeare’s plays in a 20-40 minute sitting. Get the context complete with actual quotes from the plays – THEN read the texts and you're sailing. Plus they are illustrated in Manga--did I mention that? Start with Romeo and Juliet and then try The Tempest on for size. (It’s set in a sci-fi future!)

    Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto

    Another great graphic novel form that has evolved is the Graphic Memoir, and this is a prime example. Heartbreaking and funny, it details how Marchetto set out and succeeded in “kicking cancer in the butt – in 4 inch killer heels, no less,” managing to keep her optimism, her high end restauranteur fiancé, fashion, humour, support from family and friends, wits AND get married on time in high style to boot.

    Book of Hours : a Wordless Novel Told in 99 Wood Engravings by George A. Walker

    Some events are best described wordlessly. George A. Walker certainly felt this when he chose to chronicle a day in the life of the events of 9/11 in Book of Hours. It’s hard to describe what these black and white illustrations impart but should take you approximately 9-11 minutes to flip through the book and get it.

    The Bible: a Japanese Manga Rendition, Translated by Glenn Anderson, edited by Marie Iida

    Whoever thought you could enjoy the bible Manga style? Well, you can.

     

    There are many other gems embedded in the Library's Art, Graphix and Children’s book collections.

    Stay tuned next week for five unexpected… picture books!

    Great Science Fiction Reads

    by Dieu - 3 Comment(s)

    I must confess that for a very long time I had a prejudice against science fiction. I thought of science fiction books as all the same with their usual spaceships and aliens. Science fiction just didn’t seem like real literature to me until I discovered books that, yes, involved aliens and space travel and other common elements of the genre, but were as moving, fascinating, thought provoking and compelling as anything I’ve ever read.

    Expand your summer reading list and your mind by including some great science fiction reads. If you have never read science fiction, I recommend trying out these outstanding books to give you a sense of what you’ve been missing, and hopefully have you wanting more.

    The Sparrow book cover

    The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

    Set in 2019, the novel is about humanity’s first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization and the ethical, moral, religious and philosophical complications that can arise with such an encounter.

    When an observatory picks up radio broadcasts of music coming from Alpha Centauri, the nearest star in our solar system, a Jesuit missionary order decides to organize an expedition to the alien planet. A crew made up of agnostics, believers, and scientists is formed. Led by Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest and linguist, they embark on their journey with idealistic hopes of meeting intelligent life beyond their own world. Upon their arrival on the planet, which will come to be known as Rakhat, the travelers discover that the planet is occupied by two different alien races that are hostile to each other, the Runa and the Jana’ata. The humans settle among the Runa, learn their language, study their customs, and over time become friends with them. However, through seemingly harmless and well intentioned actions, such as introducing to the aliens the growing of coffee beans, the humans set off a series of disastrous events which will cause them to question their own morality and humanity.

    Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the British Science Fiction Association Award, The Sparrow is a powerful, suspenseful and provocative read.

    Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

    Depressingly beautiful, devastating, and emotional, Never Let Me Go is one of my all time favourite novels. The novel starts off as a female coming-of-age story, but turns out to be something so much more profound and unsettling. Set in 1990s England, the story is told from the point of view of Kathy H., who is now 31 and recalling her times at Hailsham, the boarding school where she, along with her fellow classmates, grew up and were "told and not told" about their secret conditions.

    I hesitate to say more about the plot of the novel, so as to not spoil the secret hidden at the center of the story. Without saying more about what happens, I can say that Ishiguro's descriptions of Kathy H.'s memories of her childhood and coming of age into adulthood are restrained, taut, and dream-like. Never Let Me Go is a novel that raises controversial questions about what makes us human, what are the limits of scientific progress, and the value of human life.

    Never Let Me Go book cover

    Einstein

    I consider Alan Lightman’s slim novel, Einstein's Dreams, as made up of a little bit of magic realism and science fiction all dashed together. The story begins with the young Einstein as a patent clerk who is secretly working on his theory of relativity. When Einstein heads to bed, we take part in his dreams. These dreams make up a collection of stories of different worlds where the nature of time changes. For example in one story, time is circular and people are destined to repeat the same events and actions over and over again. The stories are imaginative, poetic, philosophical and whimsical. After reading Einstein’s Dreams I found myself going back to certain phrases and ideas that were like little poems:

    “Some say it is best not to go near the center of time. Life is a vessel of sadness, but is noble to live life and without time there is no life. Others disagree. They would rather have an eternity of contentment, even if that eternity were fixed and frozen, like a butterfly mounted in a case.”

    It's a Cat's World

    by Dieu - 2 Comment(s)

    It seems to me that in recent times cats have become the internet celebrities of the animal kingdom. Obvious examples like the famous Grumpy Cat, aka, Tardar Sauce, with his own line of books, t-shirts and plush toys, the video of a cat saving a little boy from a dog attack that quickly went viral, and whole blogs devoted to the weird and cute world of cats have proven that most of us have gone officially cat crazy.

    I admit, I am also one of those guilty of ailurophilia (a love of cats). If like me, you can’t get enough of anything cat related, why not peel yourself away from the infnite scroll of the internet and dip into some literary fiction about these lovely creatures?

    I Am a Cat book cover

    I always think of cats as mysterious creatures who tend to treat us humans with some aloofness. Soseki Natsume’s novel, I Am a Cat, hilariously imagines what exactly cats think about us. Set in Meiji era Japan, the novel follows a cat who spends most of his time observing human nature, making wisecracks on what he sees as the clear inferiority and silliness of humans, and in general providing amusing stories of the activities going on around him. One of the more humorous bits in the novel:

    This must have been the very first time that ever I set eyes on a human being. The impression of oddity, which I then received, still remains today. First of all, the face that should be decorated with hair is as bald as a kettle. Since that day I have met many a cat but never have I come across such deformity.

    I consider The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide, a book recently added to the Library’s collection, as a little gem of a novel. A New York Times bestseller, and a bestseller in France, The Guest Cat is about two writers, a young couple, who become friends with a neighbor’s cat. One day, the cat they name Chibi, visits them. Eventually, she makes their little cottage a second home and over time Chibi tints their lives with happiness and light. Like a cat, Hiraide’s novel has a relaxing charm and grace to it in its quietness. A novel about love and loss, and the everyday brief lovely moments of life, The Guest Cat is one of those rare books that stay with you over time.

    Other great reads for cat lovers:

    The Guest Cat book cover

    New York Review Books Classics

    by Dieu - 0 Comment(s)

    NYRB Classics are, to a large degree, discoveries, the kind of books that people typically run into outside of the classroom and then remember for life. ~ from NYRB website

    Ice Trilogy cover Love in a fallen city cover Pedigree book cover Stray dog cabaret: a book of Russian poems book cover The True Deceiver book cover Songs of Kabir book cover The mountain lion book cover Proud beggars books cover

    If you were to ask me what my favourite books of all time were, my answers would be predictable with a mix of surprises thrown in for good measure. I find that many of my most pleasurable reading experiences involved books that came as surprises, books that should be considered classics and yet for some reason missed reaching a mass audience.

    Another fellow library staff person recently wrote about the book Stoner by John Wiliams, a novel that I had read many years ago and loved. I remember thinking at the time, “why has no one heard of this book?” To my delight, the book is now getting the attention it deserves, reaching bestseller status all over Europe.

    Stoner is one of many books published by New York Review Books as part of its Classics series. You can browse the New York Review Books Classics collection on their website and the Calgary Public Library owns many titles in the series. Just do a general search for “New York Review books classics” in the Library’s catalog to find all the titles we have in the collection.

    Stoner book cover

    The World I Live In Book Cover

    At the moment I am reading The World I Live In by Helen Keller, a title that had been out of print for nearly a century before NYRB decided to publish it again. Helen Keller was an American author and was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of arts degree. Many people may know of her biography from the play and film, “The Miracle Worker”.

    Born in 1880 as a healthy child, Helen was mysteriously struck by an illness over a year later that left her deaf and blind. It was not until five years later that she was released from her despair by a 21 year old half-blind teacher, Anne Sullivan. It was then that Helen learned how to communicate through the use of the manual alphabet.

    I found The World I Live In to be extremely personal and inspiring and more than anything, the essays in the book showcase Helen's gift for writing. In the book, she explains to readers the emotional and psychological link between language and the spectrum of senses that she uses to navigate the world around her.

    What I love most about the NYRB Classics series is its diversity. The collection includes translations of masters such as Dante, Chekhov, and Balzac, works spanning geography, eras, and genres including fiction, cult favorites, literary criticism, travel writing, biography and even cookbooks! If you are on the hunt for a lost classic, then consider the NYRB Classics series as your guide. I certainly do, and find myself looking to their list whenever I am in need of something less ordinary.

    Did The Hunger Games leave you a bit peckish?

    by Suzen - 0 Comment(s)

    America Pacifica by Anna NorthSo I’ve been on this pretty major dystopian fiction kick. It’s an on-going theme – storylines beginning in the not too distant future when the environment has crumbled under the weight of humankind, the government has become a totalitarian regime and the protagonists are hell-bent on revolution. My recent obsession started with The Hunger Games, a wildly popular trilogy by YA author Suzanne Collins that’s presently being developed into a series of huge blockbuster films. I devoured (ha, ha) the books in a matter of days and became so invested in the characters’ fight for survival that I felt a little lost when the story ended. Immediately, I began scavenging for more books within the genre and found America Pacifica, the debut novel from author Anna North.

    America Pacifica is one of many in a genre of dystopian futures. In this book, North introduces us to Darcy, a young woman who lives in the grim replica of North America located on a small island in the South Pacific Ocean called “America Pacifica”. Overcrowded and divided by the unequal distribution of wealth, the island is dissolving into the sea from toxic pollution and on the verge of civil war. Our heroine, Darcy, works as a cook and nurse’s aide at World Experiences, a retirement residence for the island’s first inhabitants, and is completely ambivalent to the problems of the island. That is, until her mother disappears and Darcy’s safe and private world is thrown into a tailspin.

    The novel follows Darcy’s desperate search for her mother through the island’s most troubled districts where she is acutely suspicious of everyone she meets. The small world she had come to know as a child dangerously expands to include mute nuns with talking parrots, circus folk with missing limbs, bug-eyed solvent addicts and rich kids with too much free time. There are very few acts of kindness in this world and Darcy quickly learns that everything comes at a severe emotional, financial and physical cost. As the secrets of her mother’s past and disappearance come to light, Darcy finds herself the unwitting heroine of a revolution set to overturn everything she has ever known.

    Like The Hunger Games, this book shares a similar character-driven storyline set in a future not terribly far off from our own, where the struggle for freedom is a matter of life or death and survival tests our most vulnerable of human virtues. America Pacifica is a fast-paced and a very quick read, and if you can forgive the author’s often long-winded use of dialogue, this novel is a great compliment to other dystopian reads. While some readers may think the genre a bit morbid, I’ve always appreciated the perspective it gives to our current political, social and environmental climate. If things are bad now, how much worse could it get? While America Pacifica does take a fantastical approach to the imagined fate of North America, at its core I found myself relating to Darcy and her plight, contemplating how I would respond in similar situations. Would I run or would I stay and fight?

    I would recommend this book to anyone fascinated by the end of the world. If you enjoyed similar titles such as The Hunger Games, A Handmaid’s Tale or 1984, you’ll definitely quench your dystopian appetite with America Pacifica.

    Similar titles:

    When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

    Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood

    Children of Men by PD James

    Off the Shelf: Father of the Rain

    by Jasna Tosic - 0 Comment(s)

    In Father of the Rain, Lily King explores why we stay in relationships that seem counterproductive and why we leave them. Daley’s father is an alcoholic, a behaviour easily sustained in the heavy-social-drinking small town where he lives. Her mother stays too long with him but does leave and takes Daley with her. As a conflicted daddy’s girl, Daley literally and emotionally seesaws between her parents. She never quite abandons one to fully support the other in the never-ending low-scale guerilla war between the two households.

    Her older brother left home before his parents split, and he remains emotionally uncommitted to his family despite occasionally paying cursory visits. As an adult, Daley has perfected detachment. Her mother’s sudden death causes a rift in Daley’s relationship her father, although her father is clueless about the reason for it, even when Daley confronts him with her hurt.

    Pursuing anthropology has been successful for Daley, and as the novel opens, she is on her way to UCLA Berkley for a tenured position. But much to the dismay of her devoted lover, Jonathan, she decides to take a brief side-trip to visit her father after many years of alienation.

    Daley wants her father to become sober; her father wants Daley to take care of him. So begins a symbiosis that befuddles both Daley’s friends and her father’s friends. Why has Daley embarked on such a hopeless quest? Why has her father agreed to such socially awkward abstinence in a community that socializes over liquour? And, who will crack first? Because no one but Daley thinks this is going to work.

    Over time, community is what saves her, and she learns much about herself as a part of community. By casting Daley as an anthropologist studying children in community, Lily King veils the whole story with a delicate and delightful irony. The deft handling of strained relationships is what makes Father of the Rain such a good novel.

    Judith Umbach