Saturday, October 10, 2015

Furiously Happy: a funny book about horrible things by Jenny Lawson

Furiously Happy: a funny book about horrible things by Jenny Lawson is an open, revealing book about and by a woman is who is determined to find happiness in life despite battles with depression, anxiety, arthritis, ocd .... Lawson takes the good moments and makes them joyful and makes the more challenging times funny. Lawson is known to many as "The Bloggess" and has been sharing her stories and her insights on mental illness and life in general in a darkly humorous and brutally honest way.

In her first book Let's Pretend This Never Happened (a mostly true memoir) Lawson shares tales about her early life in Texas and her somewhat dysfunctional family. The racoon on the cover of her latest book is Rory - a taxidermied (is that a word?) racoon compliments of her taxidermist father - who appears to have found a new "life" in a Flat Stanley kind of way.

Lawson writes with her filter off which have caused some reviewers are saying that her book is uneven, cringey and uncomfortable. It is this total honesty and candor that has made her such a successful blogger and has driven her books to the best seller lists. Library Journal wrote: "The stigma surrounding mental illness can only be lifted if people affected are willing to talk about their experiences and everyone else is willing to listen. This book is a profane, hilarious, touching, and essential part of that conversation." and a half of bother

Friday, October 9, 2015

Spark Joy - the art of having less

It is curious to see the books that will resonate with people and end up on the bestseller lists. Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing and her follow up Spark Joy: the illustrated guide to the life changing KonMari method are two such books. Who would have thought that a book about tidying your home would inspire such interest?!

From the publisher: "Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles? Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).  With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire."

It seems to be that phrase "spark joy" that stays with readers. The object is to examine your possessions and keep only those things that spark joy in you. If you have a terrific pair of jeans that fit great and make you feel attractive, then don't save them for a special occasion. Wear them and get rid of the jeans that don't fit quite right. Divesting yourself of possession will soon make you realize that you can live with fewer possessions and Konde reminds you to thank the objects you are done with for the service they gave you.

Kondo addresses the problem of having too much by disposing of it while others have elected to opt out of the consuming lifestyle. Sarah Lazarovic's memoir A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy reflects on the idea that we have so much stuff because we are exposed to too many options to purchase creating needs and wants that don't really exist. She reflects on her own relentless need for "things" that lead her to purchases that were unwise and ultimately garbage. She found that her desire for things diminished as she consciously chose not to make purchases for an entire year. right now the home you have room open your heart

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Governor General's Literary Awards 2015 - Finalists

Governor General's Literary Awards

Each year, the Canada Council for the Arts honours the best
in Canadian literature with its Governor General’s Literary
Awards (the GGs). As Canada’s national literary awards, the
GGs represent the rich diversity of Canadian literature.


How You Were Born by Kate Cayley
Outline by Rachel Cusk
The Evening Chorus by Helen Humprheys
The Winter Family by Clifford Jackman
Daddy Lenin and Other Stories by Guy Vanderhaeghe


The Social Life of Ink: culture, wonder and our relationships with the written word by Ted Bishop
Dispatches from the Front: Matthew Halton, Canada's voice at war by David Halton
Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada's radical makeover by Michael Harris
Norval Morrisseau: man changing into Thunderbird by Armand Garnet Ruffo
Bee Time: lessons from the hive by Mark L. Winston

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Scotiabank Giller Prize 2015- Shortlist

The Giller Prize was founded in 1994 by Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller, who passed away from cancer the year before. The award recognized excellence in Canadian fiction – long format or short stories – and endowed a cash prize annually of $25,000.00, the largest purse for literature in the country.

Daydreams of Angels by Heather O'Neill

"Heather O'Neill's distinctive style and voice fill these charming, sometimes dark, always beguiling stories. Heather O’Neill’s unforgettable novels, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night and Lullabies for Little Criminals, captured readers with their disarming characters and irreverent descriptions of life on Montreal's St Laurent Boulevard. Here, O'Neill's voice takes flight in a collection of original stories that evoke sorrow, laughter, and heartbreak. From the title story of a naive cult follower in "Dear Piglet" to the struggle of two young women in occupied Paris in “Snow-White and Rose-Red” to the story of generations of failed Nureyev clones in post-Soviet Russia in “The Ugly Ducklings”, these stories surprise and delight at every page, showing once again that Heather O’Neill is a remarkable talent and among our best, most inventive writers." publisher

Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

"A contemporary take on the apologue offers an utterly compelling and affecting look at the beauty and perils of human consciousness. By turns meditative and devastating, charming and strange, Fifteen Dogs shows you can teach an old genre new tricks." publisher

Martin John by Anakana Schofield

"Martin John?s mam says that she is glad he is done with it. But is Martin John done with it? He says he wants it to stop, his mother wants it to stop, we all want it to stop. But is it really what Martin John wants? He had it in his mind to do it and he did it. Harm was done when he did it. Harm would continue to be done. Who will stop Martin John? Will you stop him? Should she stop him? From Anakana Schofield, the brilliant author of the bestselling Malarky, comes a darkly comic novel circuiting through the mind, motivations and preoccupations of a character many women have experienced but few have understood quite so well. The result confirms Schofield as one of the bravest and most innovative authors at work in English today." publisher

Arvida by Samuel Archibald

" With its stories of innocent young girls and wild beasts, attempted murder and ritual mutilation, haunted houses and road trips to nowhere, Samuel Archibald?s Arvida, the portrait of a remote mining town in French Canada, reads like a Proust-obsessed Cormac McCarthy. A 25,000-copy Bestseller in French, it does for northern Quebec what Faulkner did for the south. Samuel Archibald's debut collection of short fiction, Arvida (Éditions Le Quartanier, 2011), won Quebec's Prix Des Libraries 2012 and Prix Coup de Coeur Renaud-Bray 2012." publisher

Outline by Rachel Cusk

"Outline is a novel in ten conversations. Spare and lucid, it follows a novelist teaching a course in creative writing during an oppressively hot summer in Athens. She leads her students in storytelling exercises. She meets other visiting writers for dinner. She goes swimming with an elderly Greek bachelor. The people she encounters speak, volubly, about themselves: their fantasies, anxieties, pet theories, regrets and longings. And through these disclosures, a portrait of the narrator is drawn by contrast, a portrait of a woman learning to face a great loss. Outline is Rachel Cusk’s finest work yet, and one of the most startling, brilliant and original novels of recent years."

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes and Other Fictionalized Authors

Writers pay homage to the authors who inspired and entertained them by including them in their very own novels. Get a little insight (in most cases!) into some of these classic authors from these suggestions.

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes features Arthur Conan Doyle and a true story involving a wrongfully accused man. Conan Doyle's family life is central to this richly detailed biographical novel.

Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellars imagines the complex relationship that existed between artist Vanessa Bell and her sister, writer Virginia Woolf. It follows their lives from a childhood clouded by loss to adulthood as women forging their artistic careers in post-Victorian England.

Not Quite Dead by John MacLachlan Gray is a two-for featuring both Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens. Irish stowaway Devlin finds Dickens' manuscript aboard a cargo ship sailing from Liverpool to the United States. Meanwhile Dickens and Poe find themselves to be uncomfortable roommates as Poe has faked his own death to avoid the Irish Mob.

Peril at Somner House by Joanne Challis is a murder mystery featuring writer Daphne Du Maurier. Young Du Maurier, not yet a writer, investigates the murder of Lord Max Trevelyan. This is a leisurely paced mystery rich in the atmospheric detail of Cornwall in the early twentieth century.

Another mystery, Angel with Two Faces by Nicola Upson, features Josephine Tey. Again in Cornwall (apparently a dangerous spot) Tey and a close friend, who is also a Scotland Yard Inspector, investigates a death that most believe at first to be an accident.

Jane Austen has been a popular choice (target?). In Jane Goes Batty by Michael Thomas Ford, Jane was apparently taught to be a vampire by her former lover Lord Byron - who knew? She is trying desperately to keep her identity a secret and somehow an undead Bronte becomes involved. A serious and complex work of literature - just kidding! - silly and fun.

Emily's Ghost by Denise Giardina features Emily Bronte who lived out her short life in Yorkshire in the early nineteenth century. Giardina speculates on the relationship that might have existed between Emily and curate William Weightman. A biographical, historical and romantic novel rolled into one.

The Tale of Applebeck Orchard: the cottage tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert is the latest installment in this whimsical mystery series featuring talking animals who would live perfectly in Beatrix Potter's world. Three cats and a dog visit a ferret to find out why mean old farmer Harmsworth has barricaded their pathway through his Orchard. Miss Potter herself is on the case.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Staff Pick: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

On the cover of Ta-Nehisi Coates' latest, Between the World and Me, the celebrated novelist Toni Morrison declares, "this is required reading". Outside such glowing book blurbs, readers report mixed feelings. For anyone with a stake in racial justice (this means you), Between the World and Me is an important book to read at this particular moment in history.

A 2015 recipient of the MacArthur fellow “genius” grant and a well-regarded national correspondent for The Atlantic, Coates was inspired by James Baldwin's 1963 publication The Fire Next Time . Like Baldwin, the structure of Between the World and Me is presented as a letter to a 15-year-old child; in this case, Coates' own son, Samori. In his book, Coates touches on dominant themes in current critical discussions about race and racism. Describing how systemic racism functions, he points out,

The law did not protect us. And now, in your time, the law has become an excuse for stopping and frisking you, which is to say, for furthering the assault on your body. [...] It does not matter if the agent of those forces is white or black - what matters is our condition, what matters is the system that makes your body breakable.

Throughout the text, Coates criticizes the myth of the American Dream and its Dreamers, particularly those most invested in the racial hierarchy and their privileged positions therein.

In her review in the Independent, Ayesha Siddiqi finds fault with "a message that appears to be addressed to white America, to those that need it justified that black lives matter, or do not seem to realise that they are in jeopardy." Perhaps because I am white, I feel somewhat differently: I believe that this population needs to hear and act on Coates' message if the conditions he describes are to change. In opting to speak to a white audience, however, Siddiqi laments that Coates may have compromised the book: "what work of beauty and introspection a writer as thoughtful as Coates could have produced if he had chosen as his intended audience one of the young black men or women with similar journeys to his own that he befriended at Howard [University]." We can but hope that Coates' writing is moving in this direction and that Siddiqi's vision will be realized in a third book.

By contrast, Michelle Alexander draws attention to those passages Coates clearly directs at his son and to Black America as a whole. Neither Samori nor the social movements emerging in response to racist police violence should expect white people to easily give up their privileges, in spite of the damage done. Wrestling with her expectations for the book, Alexander concludes that Coates seeks to challenge his son and the reader; to grapple with the questions he raises without offering any easy solutions. Alexander suggests that "maybe, just maybe, this is what is most needed right now — a book that offers no answers but instead challenges us to wrestle with the questions on our own." If so, Between the World and Me might very well prove to be ground-breaking.

Such an incisive and elegantly-written book invites multiple readings. Pessimistic or challenging? Did Coates miss an opportunity or is he fleshing out of a new kind of struggle? Read for yourself and decide what comes next.

Looking for more titles along these lines? Consider these books from Halifax Public Libraries' collection:

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Citizen: an American lyric by Claudia Rankine
 Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward|library/m/halifax-horizon|1863482|library/m/halifax-horizon|1821812

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Staff Pick—The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

On Twitter, someone recently asked, “If you could drop everything to read one book right now, which would it be?” My answer is undoubtedly The Dark Forest, the second in Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Trilogy. Since finishing The Three-Body Problem two weeks ago, I’ve been hungry for the next book to get here, whetting my appetite by constantly recommending the first book to my sci-fi loving family and friends.

The Three-Body Problem is some of the most imaginative fiction I’ve ever read, so much so that I’ve had to think long and hard what plot details I can reveal in good conscience. Really, it would be much better if you would just take my word for it, check the book out right now, and discover its magic for yourself. But I understand if I haven’t convinced you yet.

The novel opens against the backdrop of China’s cultural revolution as Ye Wenjie watches militant student revolutionaries interrogate and kill her professor father. While the full impact of this formative experience remains unclear until near the end of the book, the immediate aftermath finds Wenjie searching for her place in a new China, unsure of who she is or whom to trust.

When an abrupt new chapter opens on Wenjie’s future, the book shifts into the present day, following the perspective of Wang Miao, a nanomaterials researcher caught up in the aftermath of a suicide spree among physicists. His research leads him into contact with an international government investigation, a cultish peer group called the Frontiers of Science, and a mysterious virtual reality game where players struggle to understand and defeat a world where our laws of physics appear to be moot.

The Three-Body Problem was recently awarded the Hugo award for best novel, as controversial and surprising a winner as it was deserving. Readers who already enjoy sci-fi should be completely at home in this excellent and unique book. On the other hand, I am reminded of why sci-fi can be viewed as a niche genre by outsiders. The Three-Body Problem was obviously thoroughly researched, but the saturation of scientific terms can be alienating to those without a scientific background. Personally, I was pleased to learn tidbits about both Chinese history and astrophysics, but I found myself turning to Wikipedia more than once while reading.

As I finish this blog post, The Dark Forest has a comparatively short wait list. Waste no time in adding your name, though I am bracing myself for a long wait in the aftermath: Death’s End, the trilogy’s final chapter, is not due for English release until April 2016.

If you’re looking for more engrossing science fiction books, but would like something a touch more accessible, try Andy Weir’s The Martian. I dare you not to read this book in a day, and as a special treat, the much-anticipated movie adaptation opens this weekend!