Sunday, 27 September 2009

Sunday September 27th Howard Norman, The Almost Canadian

Sometimes a gift can come to you completely out of the blue and change your life forever. I’m sure the cantankerous senior librarian I once worked with was quite oblivious to the fact that he had given me something truly and absolutely wonderful one day through the simple recommendation of a book. This book was The Museum Guard by Howard Norman. From here, I zealously ploughed my way through his entire fiction repertoire without looking back.

It’s hard to actually pinpoint what it is about Norman that makes him so readable, but confirmation came to me, one day, that I’m not alone in my admiration. I was in a quiet little book store in Hobart, Tasmania, in search of a copy of The Bird Artist for my own collection, and the store owner shared with me how he had enjoyed reading it so much that he refused to read any of Norman’s other titles. He just wanted to keep that one book in isolation from anything else and not risk being disappointed. I know for a fact that he wouldn’t have been, but as an established fan, I knew exactly where he was coming from.

When I first started reading Norman’s novels I assumed he was Canadian, an easy mistake to make as his novels are all set in Canada. He is so at ease with the Canadian landscape and its people that it’s difficult to remember sometimes that he is, in fact, an American. Norman’s lengthy periods living here, though, have rewarded him with a profound empathy for the very essence of Canada.

Basically, there would be three reasons why I enjoy Norman’s writing so much. First would be his fascination with Aboriginal culture. After working with a number of Cree in Manitoba on a fire crew, he set about to change the direction of his life. This resulted in a devotion to Aboriginal languages and the translation of an array of poems and folktales. TBPL has two of these: one in our non-fiction collection, Northern Tales: Traditional Stories of Eskimo and Indian Peoples; and the other in our children’s collection, Trickster and the Fainting Birds. We also have Who-Paddled-Backward-With-Trout, which is an original children’s story. These all have beautiful illustrations and present the stories in a wonderful format for both children and adults.

Norman refers to the Aboriginal culture and way of life extensively in his earlier novels as well. In Fond Remembrance of Me is interesting in that it explores the stories of Noah’s Ark from the perspective of the Inuit culture, a somewhat different and entertaining approach to the traditional telling.

His first book, The Northern Lights is set initially in Northern Manitoba amongst the Cree and then concludes in Toronto. Whenever I’m walking on College Street in Toronto, I can’t help but be reminded of this story, as it revolves around a fictitious movie theatre located on this street.

My second reason would be a shared interest in ornithology. Howard has an extensive knowledge of Canadian birdlife and they are used as a literary tool in a number of his writings. Devotion draws a subtle correlation between a bevy of swans and the protagonists of the novel, depicting similarities and distinctions between their lives and behaviours. The Bird Artist, too, focuses largely on a young man, Fabian Vas, and the ongoing development of his talent as a bird artist. And similarly, in My Famous Evening, Nova Scotia Sojourns, Diaries and Preoccupations, a personalized travel guide of sorts, Norman gently weaves his extensive knowledge of bird life into the dialogue along the way.

The third reason would be Norman’s characters. Mildly odd and eccentric they are immediately intriguing. With a craftsman’s ease, Norman intertwines their idiosyncrasies into seemingly ordinary, even mundane, lives. But it is through this normality that Norman sustains an authenticity about his characters – a believable balance. They are simultaneously extraordinary and credible, and the reader is easily compelled by their foibles, habits, and complex relationships.

If you’re interested in trying Norman’s novels, I would recommend The Bird Artist, The Museum Guard, or The Northern Lights first. For a review of the first two, visit TBPL’s Best of the Backlist blog.

Rosemary Melville, Library Technician

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Sunday September 20th, 2009 First Nations Legends

When I was little, I used to spend a part of every summer at my neighbour’s camp at Sandy Beach. I loved it there. We kids would spend most of the day in the lake (until we turned blue) and then after dinner, we’d sit around a huge bonfire burning marshmallows and listening with wide-eyed fascination to the grownups recount the same yarns that they had spun so many times before. Somehow, the repetition never bothered us and we’d often request “retells” – usually the ones about the Sleeping Giant – again and again. When I grew older, I realized that these enchanting stories were traditional, First Nations tales that had been passed down and shared orally through multiple generations and I was very excited to find that several of my most beloved had been documented and published so that I could read and enjoy them as often as I wished. I also discovered that quite a few could be found at the Thunder Bay Public Library ! Here are some of my personal favourites and I sincerely hope that they will stir your imagination and spawn an abiding interest in indigenous peoples’ folklore in the same way that they did for me.

The premier storyteller of this book, Thomas Fiddler, was the last traditional, hereditary chief and a patriarch to the people of Sandy Lake. He was one of many elders who remained strong in his tradition despite the changes wrought by the 20th century. The tales that he relate often predate the 19th century and many reach back to Stone Age time. All are shaped by the boreal forest and centuries of forest survival, uninterrupted until recently by sedentary living, technology and Judeo-Christian concepts of life.

This amazing historical resource, translated from its original German, is lauded as “a stunning legacy” and one of the richest collections of First Nations mythological texts which will “serve the Native and academic communities” for a long time. All true, but it is also hugely entertaining, informative and an invaluable asset to anyone seeking the real essence of British Columbia.

NORTHERN TALES, is a collection of folktales from the far North amassed from the tribal peoples of Greenland, Canada, Russia, Alaska and the Polar Region. It is meant to include indigenous peoples worldwide, who lived or still live a hunting and fishing life and who have predicated much of their cultural self-definition on ancestral, sacred, “tribal” beliefs.

“Anishinaubaek” (pronounced nish-NAH-bek) is an Ojibway word, translating literally as “the good beings”. Here is the spirit of the Anishinaubaek – legends of mermaids and medicine women, thunder spirits and wendigos – set against an elemental backdrop of wind, river, flower, forest and sky. Retold by Basil Johnston and Sam Ozawamik, and exquisitely illustrated by Maxine Noel, this book is a favourite of mine in large part due to Noel’s beautiful artistic renderings.

Once again, Basil Johnston, a noted scholar and leading expert in the Ojibway culture, records a spell-binding collection of tales, tribal teachings and native legends derived from the earliest oral tradition. Simple in narration, complex in ideology and wonderfully rich with incident and detail, they explain the mysterious ways of the natural world using the insight and wisdom of an ancient tribe.

The library also offers a selection of First Nations legends that have been worded and illustrated specifically for younger children such as the Nanabosho series written by Joe McLellan and his wife, Matrine. I especially like a collection of stories called GIVING: OJIBWA STORIES AND LEGENDS BY THE CHILDREN OF CURVE LAKE because, as its title indicates, it is written and illustrated by children for children. Today, with the advent of the Internet, First Nations culture and mythology is available to a much broader, more diverse readership and it remains wonderfully and inextricably interwoven into the fabric of our Canadian heritage.

Jill Otto, Library Technician

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Sunday September 13th, 2009 Download Audiobooks

Download Audiobooks Anytime, Anywhere
Enjoy popular titles from the comfort of home

Thunder Bay Public Library is proud to offer you a new collection popular audiobooks, accessible 24/7. We are excited to announce this at-home or on-the-go service for a new way to enjoy your library. This collection is brought to you by the Ontario Ministry of Culture, through Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS) and Ontario Library Service-North (OLS-North).

With hundreds of popular and classic titles to select from, our OverDrive digital collection is guaranteed to have something for everyone. Offering popular fiction and non-fiction, our “Virtual Branch” has over 2600 titles, covering a wide range of genres and including juvenile and young adult titles.

OverDrive makes it easy to find something you like. You can browse by category. Audiobooks are divided in to eleven fiction categories (including drama, horror and romance), and 13 non-fiction categories (including business & careers, family & relationships and science). You can also easily search by collection, such as New Releases, New Additions, Hot Titles and May We Recommend. If you have a specific title or author in mind you can do a quick search. Advanced search gives you more ways to find good audiobooks, including format, language, publisher, subject and awards.

Getting started is easy! Visit our website,, and follow the path Find Books / eBooks / OverDrive. Install the free software, browse the collection, and add titles to your cart. Check out with your library card number and PIN and download titles to a personal computer or laptop. When the download process is complete, you can enjoy titles on your Windows or Mac computer or transfer to supported devices, like an MP3 player. Many audio titles can be burned to CD to listen in the car. OverDrive is also accessible to visually impaired patrons, and is compatible with screen reader programs, such as JAWS for Windows and Window-Eyes.

So what’s the catch? There is none. Digital downloads are easy to check out and download, and the best part is- there are never any late fees because your titles are automatically returned at the end of the lending period.

How many downloadable audiobooks may I borrow at once?

You may sign out up to five OverDrive audiobooks at a time.

If the audiobook I’m interested in is signed out, can I put a hold on it?

Yes, you can place a hold on any signed-out audiobook. You will receive an email notice when the audiobook is available for you. It will be held for three days.

Can I renew an audiobook if I’m not finished with it?

No, renewals are not possible within OverDrive. However, if no one has placed a hold on the audiobook, you are welcome to sign it out again.

What is the loan period?

You can choose to borrow an audiobook from OverDrive for either 7 or 14 days.

What happens when the book is due?

The aduiobooks is automatically returned when it is due. Part of the agreement OverDrive has with the audiobook publishers states it is your obligation to delete the audiobook from any device you have transferred it to, once the loan period is finished.

Can you recommend a good MP3 player?

The OverDrive site has a link to “Supported Portable Audio Devices” which organizes MP3 (and other) players by make, model, price and storage. This is a great place to start your search for a portable audio device that will work with OverDrive.

What if I need help or have questions?

Our friendly staff is always happy to help! Call 345-TBPL (8275) to reach all locations, use AskON, the chat reference service accessible from our Web site (, email, or visit the About TBPL / Contact Us page on our Web site.

Joanna Aegard, Head of Virtual Library Services

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Sunday September 6th, 2009 Backyard History

The Thunder Bay Public Library is just wrapping up another busy summer full of visits from local history and genealogy researchers. For anyone who has ever attempted the gauntlet that is local history research, you are fully aware of how difficult it can be to piece together a story that is only remembered by those who lived it. For the personal, and often complicated, history of the area there is often no better resource than the wealth of local authors and historians living and working in Thunder Bay.

Instead of pestering the neighbours with questions, you could pay a visit to the Library and spend some quality time with the large variety of titles by local authors. Our collection is constantly growing and offers a unique and interesting look at the history of Thunder Bay. If it’s the shipping industry that floats your boat, check out BEACONSFIELD, MOHAWK AND THE RED BARGES by Gene Onchulenko and Skip Gillham. To get on the right track with railway history, try THUNDER BAY TO GUNFLINT: THE PORT ARTHUR, DULUTH AND WESTERN RAILWAY by Elinor Barr. Want to know which type of crime was most common in 1912? Sneak a peek at the THUNDER BAY QUIZ BOOK: 101 FASCINATING QUESTIONS ABOUT OUR HISTORY.

In addition to these works, the Gateway to Northwestern Ontario (which can be accessed through the Library’s Virtual Collection) provides you with historical photographs and images. The portions of this collection that focus on the shipping industry and the laying of the Canadian Pacific Railway through this region are particularly interesting to all local history buffs. Another option for finding information specific to the local area is to come by the Brodie Resource Library for our additional local history materials. We have newspapers on microfilm from Fort William and Port Arthur which date to the mid 1870s, as well as local history files and obituary indexes.

All this local talent is not limited to historical accounts alone, check out authors such as Ruby Slipperjack, the author of popular children’s and youth fiction. For the biography lovers, Charles Wilkins recently released IN THE LAND OF LONG FINGERNAILS. To find out more about these and other local authors, or to start digging around for information on your own family’s history, come to the Library and you might be surprised at what you’ll find.

Jesse Roberts, Acting Head of Reference Services at the Brodie Resource Library