Monday, October 20, 2014

Staff Pick: sometimes my heart pushes my ribs by Ellen Kennedy

This slim little volume came in on hold for me at the library a couple of weeks ago. I looked at its simple cover and the glowing review quote on the back and I wondered - where did I hear of this book and why did I put it on hold? I still can't answer the question, but I'm glad at some point that I did request this title -- a combination of poetry and short prose pieces -- which ended up being a quick and thoughtful read that was by times soothing, baffling and profound.

What I like about the writing in this book is that it is frank and unadorned. Like the title of the book itself - sometimes my heart pushes my ribs (the lack of capitalization is intended) - the pieces say things that are very profound in ways that are extremely understated.

A piece about buying fruit at the store and riding home on your bike with it takes something seemingly mundane and makes it something beautiful. There are several poems on different aspects of relationships, several that consider life and death and several that talk about going to the bathroom - all with the same matter-of-fact, simple style.

Three prose pieces - one which documents a romance between Woody Allen and Ned Vizzini, one that has an unnamed young girl visiting home after being away for college, and one in which Norm MacDonald walks around (one assumes) New York just doing random things - echo that same style. There is little to these stories except a straight presentation of what the characters did or said and yet they are very rich and vivid.

Back in April, I issued a poetry challenge to the other writers on this blog (and in hindsight - perhaps its during that poetry challenge that I discovered Ellen Kennedy's book). What I really wanted to see with that challenge is how we could interest ourselves - and others - in a form that I think is read less and less is our society. It's terribly difficult to describe a poet's style, so I'll finish with a poem from sometimes my heart pushes my ribs that illustrates Kennedy's style, and says something about the state of poetry in our world today.

No One Cares About Poetry

You ask me if I have been doing any comics

I say “I am trying to focus on poetry right now”

You say “no one wants to read poetry”

I say “I know, I’m just doing it for the money”

My friend says “poetry is terrible”

I say “I don’t want to think about poetry”

Your girlfriend says "do you want a moon pie?"

I say "yeah, I'll have a moon pie I guess."

post originally published 2009 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Staff Pick - Tough Without a Gun by Stefan Kanfer

Although he's been gone some sixty plus years, Humphrey Bogart remains an icon of American cinema. In Tough Without a Gun: the life and extraordinary afterlife of Humphrey Bogart, Stefan Kanfer explore the movie legend's life, career and legacy.

Bogart sprung from a privileged, yet tumultuous childhood into a rebellious adolescence and eventually into a career on stage and screen. He wasn't "discovered" nor achieved instant fame, rather he worked extremely hard to hone is craft in live theatre and then in movies, largely playing gangster roles. His breakthrough roles came in his 40s with High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon, and the character for which he will always be remembered Rick Blaine in Casablanca.

Kanfer's biography skims the surface of Bogart's personal life (that in itself is a volume and a half) and focuses more on his film career and his legacy. Bogart's success arrived as the United States entered World War II and his image fit the times - tough and cynical, yet wounded. Early photographs in the book show a smooth cheeked Bogart who seems out of place with the scarred, lined face which was to be his trademark. While this is not a Hollywood tell-all, it is also not unrelentingly flattering. Bogart is depicted as a skilled actor and a generous and loyal friend, while at the same time not hiding his less desirable side. He chose poorly with his first three marriages - the third erupting in alcohol fueled violence. He final, happy marriage with Lauren Bacall was tinged with hypocrisy as he continued his long term affair with his hairdresser. Bogart, of all people, probably hurt himself the most with his utter unwillingness to cease his self destructive behaviour. Central to his image was hard drinking and chain smoking and this was ultimately to lead to his early death.

Bogart and Bacall will be associated with The Rat Pack (who Bacall memorably named). Robert Randisi has written a mystery series which features the surviving members of the Rat Pack in the 1960s beginning with Everybody Kills Somebody Sometime which has Dean Martin receiving threatening letters during filming of Ocean's 11.

Lauren Bacall (or Baby to Bogart) was 25 years his junior and went on to live a long life following his death. Bacall passed away recently. For her perspective you might like to try her memoir By Myself and Then Some not only for her memories of Bogart but to have insight into her own fascinating life.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

2014 National Book Award Finalists

The finalists for the 2014 National Book Awards have been announced.

The mission of the National Book Foundation and the National Book Awards is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


Age of Ambition: chasing fortune, truth, and faith in the new China by Evan Osnos
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant: a memoir by Roz Chast
The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson
No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the war through Afghan eyes by Anand Gopal
Tennessee Williams: mad pilgrimage of the flesh by John Lahr

Friday, October 17, 2014

Keshen Gooman's Thomas Raddall Book Club reads The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden - Keshen Goodman's Thomas Raddall Book Club

This month the Thomas Raddall Book Club tackled Joseph Boyden's new novel, The Orenda which is a historical novel about the roots of colonialism in Canada.

"An epic story of first contact between radically different worlds, steeped in the natural beauty and brutality of our country's formative years. A visceral portrait of life at a crossroads, The Orenda opens with a brutal massacre and the kidnapping of the young Iroquois Snow Falls, a spirited girl with a special gift. Her captor, Bird, is an elder and one of the Huron Nation's great warriors and statesmen. It has been years since the murder of his family, and yet they are never far from his mind. In Snow Falls, Bird recognizes the ghost of his lost daughter and sees that the girl possesses powerful magic that will be useful to him on the troubled road ahead. Bird's people have battled the Iroquois for as long as he can remember, but both tribes now face a new, more dangerous threat from afar. Christophe, a charismatic Jesuit missionary, has found his calling among the Huron, and devotes himself to learning and understanding their customs and language in order to lead them to Christ. An emissary from distant lands, he brings much more than his faith to the new world. As these three souls dance with each other through intricately woven acts of duplicity, small battles erupt into bigger wars and a nation emerges from worlds in flux." - Discover

Opinions about The Orenda were somewhat mixed for the book club members. Although most (though certainly not all) agreed that it was an important book and one worth reading, it was also almost universally acknowledged to be a challenging read. One reason for the difficulty was that the novel is incredibly violent. Boyden attempts to showcase the mentality of violence among warring Huron and Iroquois factions, the effect of which is a book that is both "terrific and horrific". Many of the book club members had listened to Wab Kinew's defense of The Orenda on CBC radio's Canada Reads and were not unanimously convinced by his argument that violence was a form of respect within the novel.

The book club was also interested in discussing the interesting conceptions of faith and belief that run throughout the book in the juxtaposition of native faith and spirituality with the Jesuit and Christian concepts of religion. The concept of the orenda, which a kind of life force, pervades discussions of the novel and the characters' motivations.

There were some members who felt that Boyden overstepped his abilities in attempting to portray the thought processes and way of speaking of Native Canadians at that time. There were also criticisms of the way that violence was most often attributed to Huron and Iroquois characters. The problem which continually creates controversy about The Orenda is whether Boyden's portrayal of Jesuits and Native Canadians represents a colonialist alibi or a reconciliation manifesto -- it seems to depend who you ask.

For more on the debates surrounding The Orenda try Canada Reads and an a CBC article:

If you enjoyed The Orenda, Joseph Boyden's Through Black Spruce and Three Day Road are similarly controversial and fascinating novels.

Through Black Spruce

"A young Cree woman who has been searching for her missing sister sits at the hospital bedside of her unconscious uncle, an injured bush pilot. Both share family tragedies and personal resilience." - Discover

Three Day Road

"It is 1919, and Niska, the last Oji-Cree medicine woman to live off the land, has received word that one of the two boys she grudgingly saw off to war has returned. She leaves her home in the bush of Northern Ontario to retrieve him, only to discover that the one she expected is actually the other. Xavier Bird, her sole living relation, gravely wounded and addicted to the army's morphine, hovers somewhere between the living world and that of the dead. As Niska paddles him the three days home, she realizes that all she can offer in her attempt to keep him alive is her words, the stories of her life. In turn, Xavier relates the horrifying years of war in Europe: he and his best friend, Elijah Whiskeyjack, prowled the battlefields of France and Belgium as snipers of enormous skill. As their reputations grew, the two young men, with their hand-sewn moccasins and extraordinary marksmanship, became both the pride and fear of their regiment as they stalked the ripe killing fields of Ypres and the Somme. But what happened to Elijah? As Niska paddles deeper into the wilderness, both she and Xavier confront the devastation that such great conflict leaves in its wake. Inspired in part by real-life World War I Ojibwa hero Francis Pegahmagabow, Three Day Road reinvents the tradition of such Great War epics as Birdsong and All Quiet on the Western Front. Beautifully written and told with unblinking focus, it is a remarkable tale, one of brutality, survival, and rebirth." - Jacket

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Celebrating Canadian Citizenship

In October we celebrate Citizenship Week 

Acceptance, tolerance, freedom, kindness, diversity, home, friends, family, peace, opportunity, multiculturalism, beauty, comfort, and desire to help others - that is how our library patrons reflect on being Canadians.

These books talk about the rights, the values and responsibilities that bind us together:

Belonging: the paradox of citizenship by Adrienne Clarkson

“Clarkson masterfully chronicles the evolution of citizenship throughout the ages: from the genesis of the idea of citizenship in pre-history, to Aristotle and the Greeks, to the medieval structures of guilds and class; from the warring factions of the French revolution, to Icelandic law-making tradition, and present-day modern citizenship based on values, consensus, and pluralism. She concludes by looking forward, vividly imagining what will happen if we don't live up to our ideals of democracy, identity, and belonging."--From publisher.

A Cowherd in Paradise: from China to Canada by May Q. Wong

“A Cowherd in Paradise manages the task of evoking the perilous, impoverished life of peasants in pre-revolutionary China while delving deep into the psyche of an immigrant to Canada during the period of discriminatory head taxes. With honesty, Wong also sympathetically recounts the disastrous conjugal encounter between two strangers—her parents—meeting for the first time on their wedding night. Wong's description of the enforced polarization of one nuclear family, set asunder by a Canadian law excluding ethnic Chinese immigrants—no matter if they are wife, daughter, or son—should be required reading for anyone who cares about citizenship and human rights.” —Jan Wong, author of "Red China Blues".

Souvenir of Canada by Douglas Coupland

“Full of surprises and insights, Souvenir of Canada presents us as we have never seen ourselves before in an irresistible flow of text and image. Every Canadian should own this book. It’s amusing, thought-provoking and it’ll sure make you proud, in your own strange way, to be Canadian.”

My Canada: every step of the way by Hélène Viel

“A story of endurance and dreams fulfilled. After a decade of planning and dreaming, Hélène Viel, from Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec, and her husband Ole Olson from Broadview, Saskatchewan, marked their retirement by walking across Canada, from the Arctic Ocean to the Pacific to the Atlantic. Maintaining a pace of 40 to 50 kilometers a day through Canada's four seasons, the walkers passed through two territories and ten provinces, completing the longest recorded walk across Canada: from sea to sea to sea. Ole did it all: 10,081 kilometers. Hélène, 66, achieved a fantastic 8,107 kilometers. This is her story.”

Selling Canada: immigrants, soldiers, tourists, and the building of our nation by Daniel Francis

"Between 1880 and the 1930s, the big railway companies, and the federal and provincial governments launched three aggressive campaigns to "sell" Canada at home and abroad... With compelling research, insight, and wit, Daniel Francis documents how these three campaigns established Canada as a destination for immigrants and tourists and turned us into proud defenders of western civilization. In doing so, they also transformed the way Canadians and outsiders thought about Canada, inadvertently providing the raw material for nationhood. Each campaign produced images expressing what Canadians believed to be fundamental about their country. Those images were incomplete and misleading, providing an idealized portrait of Canada rather than a realistic snapshot."--From publisher.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October is Mi’kmaq History Month

"Mi’kmaw history and culture is like a puzzle that has many different pieces. It is our stories and legends that help put all the pieces of the puzzle together into a picture we can call our own." - Mi’kmaq Association for Cultural Studies. 

Read more about Mi’kmaw history and culture on the website of the Mi’kmaq Association for Cultural Studies

Mi’kmaw people have enriched our province with their legends, art, music, spirituality, and language. Enjoy this selection of stories about the culture, language and history of native peoples of Nova Scotia:

We Are the Dreamers: recent and early poetry by Rita Joe

"A book of new poems from Cape Breton Mi`kmaw writer Rita Joe, Order of Canada recipient and respected spokesperson. These poems offer evidence of author’s continuing journey to understand and to share the unique combination of native spirituality and Christianity that is her daily life. Her poems are small, tough monuments, left in our care. This book is a keeper. “

Stones and Switches by Lorne Joseph Simon

“Stones and Switches takes the reader into the world of the Mi’kmaq during the depression era - a world where beautiful legends and terrible spiritual powers meet; a world where a hard-working people struggle against poverty, racism and lethal epidemics; a world where one sensitive, young man, caught by events, questions the idea of free will and is tempted to do something - even something wrong - in order to assert his will.”

Cibou by Susan Young de Biagi

"Sensitive and enlightening, Cibou is set in 17th-century Mi'kma'ki, territory of the Mi'kmaq of Maritime Canada. The story is that of a young Mi'kmaw woman and her relationship with Jesuit missionary Anthony Daniel - a historical figure who was stationed in Cape Breton - and his brother, Captain Charles Daniel who had established a French fishing and trading post there. Susan Biagi has woven a marvelously intuitive tale ... at once beautiful and harsh, observing the simple and dangerous lives of cultures interacting on the threshold of new world history."

Six Mi’kmaq Stories retold by Ruth Holmes Whitehead, illustrated by Harold McGee

"These six Mi’kmaq stories are great tales, brilliantly retold by Ruth Whitehead. They have their roots firmly planted in the collective life of a people who had made Nova Scotia their home for centuries before the arrival of Europeans. They offer us a rare and valuable insight into the powerful relationship between the Micmac and the often surprising world in which they lived."

The World Above the Sky by Kent Stetson

“17-year-old Eugainia St Clare Delacroix - the Living Holy Grail - is transported from certain death at the hands of her enemies to the safety of the New World. The year is 1398. Fleet commander Prince Henry Sinclair clings to the dying Templar dream of establishing a New Arcadia with Eugainia enthroned at its beating heart. Eugainia lands, weakened and near death, on the Atlantic coast of present-day Canada. She meets Mimktawo'qu'sk of the peaceful tribe of Mi'kmaqs. In the time of the Two made One, Mimktawo'qu'sk and Eugainia redefine divinity and forge a new and shining world.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Cornucopia of Stories

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” – L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

I love autumn, especially in Nova Scotia! There is something magical about this beautiful season! I enjoy the smell of leaves, bright colours, crisp air, apple cider, and pumpkin spice latte. For many of us the autumn is a transition time from summer to winter: we slowly exchange our summer wardrobe for warmer clothes and wait for shorter days and longer nights. For others, the beginning of fall signals a fresh start, a new school year. For some, apple picking season begins, and many of us spend weekends at local orchards.

We compiled a list of novels set in autumn where characters are searching for answers in autumn in their lives.

October by Richard B. Wright

"Visiting his gravely ill daughter, James Hillyer encounters by chance Gabriel Fontaine, whom he met as a boy while on holiday in Gaspé. At the time, the boys had competed for the love of a French-Canadian girl from the village. Now, over six decades later and faced with the terrible possibility of outliving his own daughter, James is asked by Gabriel to accompany him on a final, unthinkable journey."

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

"In 1913 a tiny orphan girl arrives alone on the shores of colonial Australia from England. Struck by pity, the dock master and his wife take her in and raise her as their own. On her 21st birthday, they finally reveal to her true origins. Suddenly troubled by her missing history, she returns to her country of origin, hoping to trace her roots. She parses together some of her hidden past but dies before she can learn the complete story. Years later, her young granddaughter Cassandra pieces together the final missing parts of the puzzle."

The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

“A sportswriter and a real estate agent, husband and father –Frank Bascombe has been many things to many people. His uncertain youth behind him, we follow him through three days during the autumn of 2000, when his trade as a realtor on the Jersey Shore is thriving. But as a presidential election hangs in the balance, and a postnuclear-family Thanksgiving looms before him, Frank discovers that what he terms “the Permanent Period” is fraught with unforeseen perils.”

Grace In Autumn by Lori Copeland and Angela Hunt

“Authors Lori Copeland and Angela Hunt revisit the Island of Heavenly Daze in the second book of the highly acclaimed series about a small town where angelic intervention is commonplace and the Thanksgiving feast a community affair.”

Cloud Nine by Luanne Rice

“One of Luanne Rice’s most emotionally powerful novels, Cloud Nine tells the story of Sarah Talbot, a cancer survivor who beats the odds and vows to make the most of her second chance at life. It is a new beginning for Sarah - a fresh start at life that few are given. It is a time to take roads she always passed by, to experience a world she'd all too often watched from the sidelines.”

October Fest (Murder - by - Month mystery) by Jess Lourey

“Politics can be dirty, but with Battle Lake, Minnesota, on your campaign trail, they can be lethal. A series of murders, beginning with the untimely death of blogging pundit Bob Webber, plagues the little town. Part-time librarian, part-time reporter for the Battle Lake Recall, and part-time amateur sleuth, Mira James is determined to find the killer.”

November 22, 1963 by Adam Braver

"It begins that morning, with Jackie Kennedy in a Fort Worth hotel, about to leave for Dallas. Interwoven throughout are stories of real people intimately connected with that day: a man who shares cigarettes with the First Lady outside the trauma room; a motorcycle policeman flanking the entourage; Abe Zabruder, who caught the assassination on film."

Dear Reader, this magical season will be over soon, let’s bundle up and embrace the beauty of the autumn with a good book.