Saturday, October 25, 2014

Staff Pick - The 2 ½ Pillars of Wisdom by Alexander McCall Smith

Autumn is beautiful: the trees look really pretty, everything gets a bit more atmospheric, there are leaves to kick, and plenty of rain, too. On these rainy gray days I wanted to read something funny and light. So I found myself rereading The 2 ½ Pillars of Wisdom by Alexander McCall Smith, a comic trilogy, introducing the unnaturally tall Professor Doctor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, the proud author of the Portuguese irregular verbs.

I am having so much fun reading The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom which incorporates three titles Portuguese Irregular Verbs, The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs, At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances. The trilogy tells the story of Professor Dr. von Igelfeld and his friends and colleagues at the Institute of Romance Philology in Regensburg, Germany: Professors Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer and Florianus Prinzel.

The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom follows unbelievable adventures of Professor von Igelfeld and his colleagues from Regensburg to Switzerland, from Venice to Ireland, and from England and Columbia. In his crazy escapades Dr. von Igelfeld investigates the world of archaic Irishisms, takes part in a duel, transports relics for a Coptic prelate, and is pursued by lovesick widows on a cruise ship. I adore the quirky and "socially clumsy" Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld.

These three novellas are filled with humour, warmth, and insight into friendship, love, and kindness. This book will have you laughing out loud and brighten up your dullest day.

Unusual Uses for Olive Oil is the latest and fourth book about new series of adventures of Professor Dr. von Igelfeld. "In Unusual Uses for Olive Oil, von Igelfeld finds that his academic rival Detlev-Amadeus Unterholzer has been winning undeserved recognition, a situation that must be addressed. Then von Igelfeld stumbles toward a romance with Frau Benz. Later, von Igelfeld fearlessly plunges 3000 feet into mountaineering history, and turns his survival into the subject of inspirational lectures. Finally, at a dinner party, he is the only kind soul who can aid an unfortunate dachshund whose sticky wheels are in need of lubrication." The book is definitely on my list. I cannot wait to read "Unusual Uses for Olive Oil".

Friday, October 24, 2014

Letter by Letter - part 2

Q by Evan Mandery is a sort of time travel novel. I say sort of because the unnamed protagonist is visited by a man who claims to be his future self. With each visit he is warned not to marry the love of his life, Quentina Elizabeth Deverill. One reviewer states that this novel is the perfect combination of humour, truth and poignancy. For someone (like me) who wonders what could have been versus the reality, this is the book for you.

R by Chuck Palahniuk has me cheating a little on the title. On the novel’s cover all you see is the letter “R”, but it is also known as Rant. I am a fan of Palahniuk, but I can’t really tell you why since he often writes about unpleasant topics, however with a dark humourous twist. R is an oral biography of Buster “Rant” Landru Casey. It takes place in a dystopian future with the citizens divided into the respectable Daytimers and the oppressed Nighttimers. Rant is one of the Nighttimers and is actively involved in this lifestyle, which causes his eventual death, or does it? Read the novel to figure this mystery out.

S by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams is a very unique book that is so unique that there Youtube entries on just how to read it. It is a story within a story, with a mystery tied in. It is packaged within a box and has various materials, such as postcards and napkins to insert within the pages. Within the box is the fictional novel Ship of Thesus written by a fictional author and handwritten notes between two college students written in the margins. The fictional novel can be read as a separate entity, but the notes between Jen and Eric are what make it so very striking. I know that I am not doing it justice, so dear reader, I urge you to pick it up for yourself.

V is the debut novel by Thomas Pynchon. It was a National Book Award nominee in 1963. It is the tale of discharged U.S. Navy sailor, Barry Profane and his adventures in NYC with a group of pseudo-bohemians. He encounters a number of characters but his life changes dramatically when he befriends Stencil. Stencil’s main mission to find out the identity of V. V may be a person, a place or could be neither. Pynchon has called it “A remarkably scattered concept.” Read the novel to judge yourself.

Y is a stunning debut novel by Marjorie Celona. The tale of Shannon, an infant who is abandoned at the Y. It follows her life, starting with why her mother, Yula, decides to leave her and through her life moving through one foster home to another. Y is not only the place where the story begins; it also symbolizes “That perfect letter, the wishbone, fork in the road…”.

Z by Therese Fowler is based on a person I have always been curious about, Zelda Fitzgerald. Zelda always seemed like such a free-spirited yet tragic figure. While most people focus on F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda is an interesting and unrecognized talent. This novel shows this talent and that of the legendary circles that the couple circulated in.

If you had been paying close attention you will notice that there are letters of the alphabet not listed here. That is because I could not find any to represent this on the library catalogue. So, Dear Reader, perhaps you can recommend some for us to purchase, or write one yourself!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Letter by letter - part 1

A by Andre Alexis is a short (74 pages) novella that can easily be read in an afternoon. The protagonist, Baddeley, is obsessed with a reclusive writer, Avery Andrews. In his search, Baddeley joins a dinner party attended by Canadian literati. I love that he describes Margart Atwood as “having something of the iguana to her.” That description alone made me love the book.

C by Tom McCarthy was short listed for both the 2010 Man Booker Prize and the Walter Scott Prize. Even though you are not supposed to judge a book by the cover (which we all do) this novel has a fascinating one. Serge Carrefax lives in a world of “c”, that of communication and connection. His father teaches the deaf and experiments with wireless telegraphy. This affects his family, and the story, in many ways. Serge seeks the message behind all the messages.

J by Howard Jacobson is another novel shortlisted Man Booker. Jacobson won this award with his novel The Finkler Question.  Jacobson is not known for feel-good novels and he proves this once again with his 13th. He has stated that it is the duty of novelists to take a gloomy perspective ; “I have never met an intelligent optimist” J takes place in a dystopian future in which the memory of the past is only referred to as “the thing that happened, if it happened.” But don’t let this stop you from reading this wonderfully written novel, which has been compared to Orwell’s 1984 and Brave New World. I can easily imagine this novel being taught in schools in the future.

N by Stephen King was one book that I didn’t understand at first. Mind you it could be because there was something lost in translation. It was originally a short story in King’s Just After Sunset and the version I read was a graphic novel. Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but I think in this case I would take King’s words over the drawings (as good as they are). The “N” in this novel is a person’s name but I took it as a symbol for numbers. The characters in the novel all become obsessed with numbers, especially if there are seven or eight stones in Ackerman’s filed. Read either version of the story to find out more.

O by Anonymous follows in the footsteps of the political novel, Primary Color, in which anonymous is Joe Klein. The Anonymous of O is Joe McCain’s ghostwriter, Mark Slater. While the story detailed in Primary Colors had already happened the plot in O has not. It is a portrait of Barack Hussein Obama. It is a novel of aspirations and delusions. And you, Dear Reader, can you guess what is fact and what is fiction?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

NextReads - History and Current Events

Are you looking for a few good books to read? Sign up for our e-newsletters and get great book suggestions by email. We'll deliver reading lists right to your inbox along with new gems, bestsellers, and related titles. Select from your favourites (Biography and Memoir, Mystery, Romance and more), or choose them all! 

This month we feature the History and Current Events newsletter with a selection of new and recent titles with a spotlight on the history of the American Civil War, Canadian and American politics, and Elizabethan England. For more information about these titles check out the October 2014 Nextreads Newsletter.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Listen to Your Stomach -- Downloadable Audiobooks for Food Nerds

Food is big business these days: celebrity chefs, foodie travel, restaurant insider exposés: the media world can't seem to get (and give) enough. From travel TV to the bestseller list, the last number of years of have been the story of food. I have to admit having caught the bug and have found myself digging more and more into books about food. Recently I've noted how much I enjoy listening to a good book about food (or a book about good food) and thought I'd share a few food related titles that are available via the library's download service Overdrive. Many of these are not new, showing that this is trend that's been with us for a while.

(Each of these books is available as a downloadable audiobook, but most are available in other formats as well. The first link is direct to the audio download, the 2nd to the library catalogue where you can view other formats including print, ebook, and in some cases CD).

Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food by Colman Andrews (print edition): A look at the career of the world famous chef who is credited with the rise of "molecular gastronomy".

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan (other formats). Pollan's website describes him as a writer who focuses on the "places where nature and culture intersect" and he has written extensively on food topics. Here he merges culture and health in a book that is a sort of follow up to his wildly popular The Omnivore's Dilemma. (Of note as well, the audiobook is read by award winning audiobook narrator Scott Brick.)

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain (other formats). Everything you ever wanted to know (and much that you didn't) from behind the scenes at busy restaurant kitchens. Sarcastic, irreverent and endlessly entertaining: it's a great introduction to Bourdain's style and experiences.  If you've already read it, you might want to also check out the follow up Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. (other formats) Both audiobooks are read by the author.

My Life in France by Julia Child (other formats). Does our current food obsession all come back to Julia Child? Maybe, but certainly our current food obsession has taken many people back to Julia Child. Beginning in the late 1940s, this is the story of how she discovered French culinary traditions and shared these discoveries with North America.

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss (other formats) Though many of these books appeal to what might be called a foodie sensibility, Moss' book is an exposé of the processed food industry and what this industry is doing to eaters.  Wonder why you can't eat just one potato chip? Moss has an answer to that and much more.

Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson (other formats) From orphan to celebrity chef, Samulsson's memoir takes you from Ethiopia, to Sweden to North America with a fascinating story of culture, cooking and achievement. The audio book is read by the author.

Never used the library's download service? Click here to find out more information.

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.