Sunday, 26 June 2011

Sunday June 26th, 2011 My Summer with Dreiser

Now that school for many students is coming to an end for the summer, many of us are faced with the question of how to spend our precious few months of freedom. For some, it will be a summer of relaxation and basking in the sun all day. Others see the summer as a great opportunity to pick up a good book. So why not make this summer the year you tackle some of the classical works of American literature. Who knows, maybe one of these will appear on your course syllabus next September.

I started my reading list with Theodore Dreiser's 'An American Tragedy'. Published in 1925, this epic crime novel about an ambitious but naive young man who gets caught up in the world of drugs, alcohol, and prostitution is regarded as one of the finest works of the twentieth century. 'Jennie Gerhardt', another work of Dreiser, and one of my favorite books, tells the simple story about love and family and how a young woman sacrifices her own happiness for that of others.

Some similar themes that I have found within Dreiser's works have also appeared in the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Many of us will have already read Fitzgerald's most famous work, 'The Great Gatsby'. For those unfamiliar with 'Gatsby', it explores the lives of four characters, including that of the mysterious and elusive Jay Gatsby and the notion of the American Dream.
One of Fitzgerald's darker works and his last publication until his death, is the 1934 novel 'Tender is the Night'. Written during a difficult period in his life, the story centers on an affluent couple who live in the south of France where they encounter love and hate, truth and deception, mystery and death. A fascinating novel that, like 'Gatsby', introduces a number of colorful characters placed in extraordinary circumstances. However Fitzgerald wasn't only a novelist. He is also well known for his work in short fiction, most notably the humorous 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button', which was later produced into a film starring Brad Pitt in the title role.

William Faulkner’s 'As I Lay Dying' tells the story of one family's bizarre journey back to their hometown to bury their mother. As told by 15 different narrators, 'As I Lay Dying’ is considered the best work Faulkner has ever done and also contains the shortest chapter in literature history. Perhaps a future essay question lies within!

Finally, as you may have noticed, all the authors mentioned so far are all deceased, but a writer still alive today that draws comparison to the authors listed above is Cormac McCarthy. 'Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West', a sprawling western that takes place along the U.S and Mexico border, is about a teenage drifter and his involvement with the Glanton Gang. Soon, he encounters Judge Holden one of the most memorable and depraved villains I have ever read. McCarthy is well known for his unique writing style and introducing unforgettable characters. Remember the ruthless hitman, Anton Chigurh, from the film 'No Country for Old Men'? Well this film is a solid adaptation from the 2005 novel by McCarthy by the same name. McCarthy's prose has the ability to make your blood run cold.

Of course I have only skimmed the surface of classical American literature. Thunder Bay Public Library has hundreds of well known and beloved works of great fiction. So next time you’re in the neighborhood, come check out a timeless classic and be sure to impress your English professor next fall!

Petar Vidjen, Page

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Sunday June 19th, 2011 Check out a Biography

Next time you stop by one of the branches of the Thunder Bay Public Library why not check out a new biography, perhaps one from the Globe and Mail top-ten nonfiction list some of which are noted below. Biographies are a great read for several reasons. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote “There is properly no history: only biography.” And back in 1670 Sir Isaac Newton wrote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Admittedly not every biography is about a “giant” but even if the person you are reading about is not exactly your idea of a hero, there may be surprisingly many lessons to be taken from his or her life experiences.
From this Moment On by Shania Twain is a story of her life which had evolved from a series of key moments. She takes those moments and turns them into her own insights; interesting, wise and sometimes inspiring.

Does the Noise in my Head Bother You? : A Rock 'n' Roll Memoir by Steven Tyler, with David Dalton, talks of what it is like to be a living legend complete with fame, money, hotels and limos. It also reveals a side of him seldom seen.

Bossypants by Tina Fey tells her story right from childhood days to Saturday Night Live nights. Her hopes, dreams, struggles, aspirations and victories, and true to the title, how she claims her success became apparent to her when she gained the status of being bossy.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography by Rob Lowe, openly tells his story giving us an inside glimpse into his world full of successes, disappointments and chance encounters with the people in his life. Well written, he holds the reader’s attention.

Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan is the biography of a twenty-nine year old who traded in his job for a year-long trip around the world. He started his adventure by volunteering at the Little Princes Children’s Home, an orphanage in Nepal where he found children that both challenged him and won over his heart.

There are also excellent biographies that were not recently published. For example, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer, published in 1998, is a detailed recount of the physical and mental cost of Krakauer’s spring 1996 expedition to Mt. Everest, and how he lived to tell the tale.

The M
apmaker's Wife : A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon by Robert Whitaker, is a story set in the 18th century about a couple, Isabel Grameson and her husband Jean Godin who had become geographically separated. In an attempt to reunite she set out to cross much of South America and in doing so survived several weeks alone in the rainforest. A harrowing experience well told.

How about downloading an audiobook to listen to Sir Winston Churchill’s greatest speeches, selected and introduced by his grandson, Winston S. Churchill. Titled Never Give In!: Winston Churchill’s greatest Speeches, you will hear words of inspiration from his many speeches such as 'The Few', 'This was their finest hour', and 'We can take it!'.

Biographies also serve as a reminder that history often does repeat itself. A principal figure in classical American philosophy, George Santayana said that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (1905). Biographies enable us see things from a perspective other than our own. Why not take a glance at the world through someone else’s eyes? You never know what you may learn.

Caron E. Naysmith, Library Technician

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Sunday June 12 Royal Reading

In addition to the plethora of souvenir tea cups, tea towels and t-shirts, royal weddings traditionally spawn a publishing boom. Almost two months after the nuptials of Prince William and Catherine, the books and special editions of magazines are hitting the shelves. Visit your Library and read about the latest royal courtship and wedding, and reminisce about those in the past.

William and Catherine: A Royal Wedding” by Andrew Morton was the first royal wedding book to hit the shelves this year. Filled with photos of the big day, as well as glimpses in to William and Catherine’s early years, this book provides a complete picture of both the couple and the event.

The Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton”, published by Life Books, does not include any photos from the actual wedding day, as it came out before the event. It does however document the lives of William and Kate, in words and a nice variety of pictures of the couple and their families.

People Magazine published a Special Collector’s Issue on May 16, 2011, featuring the Royal Wedding. It includes all the official wedding portraits and much more. One article of note is “a guide to the princes’ dashing military attire” which explains the ornate details of William and Harry’s dress uniforms. The May 9, 2011 edition of Newsweek includes a slightly cynical account of the wedding by Tina Brown, as well as a helpfully labelled photo of the wedding party on the balcony.

Charles & Camilla: Portrait of a Love Affair” by Gyles Brandreth chronicles the romance that led to their wedding on April 9, 2005. This “riveting, gossipy and touching” (Mail on Sunday) book takes the reader through the controversial relationship from its most early days, to the wedding. It includes many pictures.

Edward & Sophie: A Royal Wedding” by Judy Parkinson, begins with the story of the engagement of the Queen’s youngest son. This book goes on to profile the bride and groom, and ends with photos from their wedding day, June 19, 1999. It is interesting to compare fashions and styles of members of the royal family as you review royal weddings past.

Debrett’s Book of the Royal Wedding” by Hugo Vickers was written in celebration of Prince Charles’ and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding. Like the Life book about William and Kate, it was published before the actual wedding day, so does not include wedding pictures. “Charles and Diana: The tenth anniversary” by Brian Hoey does feature a few photos from their wedding, along with a varied collection of images of the couple and young princes.

Elizabeth and Philip: The Untold Story of the Queen of England and Her Prince” by Charles Higham and Roy Moseley provides a history rich with detail and well documented sources. This is recommended reading for a full understanding of the role and development of the Royal Family.

Back to the latest royal nuptials, “Knit Your Own Royal Wedding” by Fiona Goble is a delightful book to look at, even if you don’t knit! Patterns include all the key players from the latest royal wedding, from the bride and groom to a corgi.

For more levity and a unique view of William and Catherine’s big day, take a look at The People’s Royal Wedding Album on the photo sharing site Flickr ( Browsing this collection of photos gives you a taste of what it was like to be on the streets of London on April 29, 2011.

Joanna Aegard, Head of Virtual Services

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Sunday June 5, 2011 Sequels, prequels and re-imaginings

Summer is nearing at its typical too-slow pace, and with it comes the promise of block-buster summer movies. This year Hollywood is counting on a number of 3-D and special effects films and there is sure to be the various remakes, retakes and sequels that they hope will draw back the audience which enjoyed the original film.

This pattern is certainly familiar in the book world as well. For every successful book there is pressure to produce a sequel or series which extends the reading pleasure. When Frank L. Baum wrote his book The Wizard of Oz he had no thought of a sequel in mind, but urging from thousands of children who loved the book and wanted to read more inspired him to write The Marvelous Land of Oz in 1904. After that, he was pressured by success to continue writing about Oz and produced a sequel every year until he died in 1919. And even after that, his publisher commissioned Ruth Plumly Thompson to create 21 more books set in Oz so that the characters could continue their adventures.

Most of the iconic and memorable characters in children’s literature have appeared again in subsequent stories; from Curious George to Fancy Nancy, the sequels seem to arrive annually for new generations of children to discover. I’d like to highlight some of the novels in the children and teen collections which are particularly good examples of different authors re-imagining a previously published classic.

Anne Shirley made her debut over 100 years ago in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, a true Canadian classic. On the centenary of this publishing event in 2008, Canadian author Budge Wilson published a prequel to the Anne story. It honours the original with faithful attention to details and works as a compelling back-story for those who love the character of Anne.

Peter Pan also has a back story, courtesy of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson who shared writing the best-seller Peter and the Starcatchers in 2004. It was a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, and it also spawned a series of Peter and the Starcatcher books.

For a very different take on a classic I recommend the young adult book The Looking Glass Wars. This book (which also became a series) has the creative premise that the books written by Lewis Carroll were actually distortions of true events which had occurred. In the world of the Looking Glass Wars, the character, Alyss, tells the ”real” story of her life. Knowing the original Alice books will greatly enhance one’s reading as you learn that the white rabbit was actually Alyss’ tutor Bibwit Harte, and the Mad Hatter was actually a very serious and sober bodyguard named Hatter Madigan.

It is not a new idea to adapt the classic Jane Eyre; the story has already been re-imagined in many books such as the Wide Sargasso Sea. Jane by April Lindner however, offers quite a new perspective for the characters. She places Jane Eyre into the 20th century, with Mr. Rochester as Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star. Imagine the possibilities.

Whether respectful homage to an admired or totally new creative works which are inspired by iconic characters, these prequels, sequels and re-imaginings will take you into somewhat familiar territory and then into a whole other world. This summer, you might wish to “revisit” an old classic yourself. You can find these and many others @ Your Library. Visit our book blog too, The Best of the Backlist, for lists of recommended reads from library staff. You’ll never know what you might discover.

Angela Meady, Head of Children’s Services