Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nova Scotian Poetry

April is National Poetry Month in Canada, a time set aside to celebrate poets and their craft through events, and to expand awareness of poetry’s vital role in Canadian culture. Enjoy this selection of poetry from award-winning Nova Scotia authors!

Live From the Afrikan Resistance! by El Jones

El Jones is Halifax’s 2013-2015 Poet Laureate, a resident spoken word artist who advocates for literacy and reflects our community through heartfelt, passionate poetry about her experience as an African-Canadian woman.

“The first collection of spoken word poetry by Halifax’s fifth Poet Laureate, El Jones. These poems speak of community and struggle. They are grounded in the political culture of African Nova Scotia and inherit the styles and substances of hip-hop, dub and calypso’s political commentary. They engage historical themes and figures and analyze contemporary issues—racism, environmental racism, poverty and violence—as well as confront the realities of life as a Black woman. The voice is urgent, uncompromising and passionate in its advocacy and demands. One of Canada’s most controversial spoken word artists, El Jones writes to educate, to move communities to action and to demonstrate the possibilities of resistance and empowerment. Gathered from seven years of performances, these poems represent the tradition of the prophetic voice in Black Nova Scotia.” —publisher

How to Be Alone by Tanya Davis, with illustrations by Andrea Dorfman

Written by Halifax’s 2011-2012 Poet Laureate, this book is an illustrated version of the poem “How to Be Alone,” which made a splash as a viral video with its wise tips for embracing life by being alone without being lonely.

“Since its debut on YouTube, Tanya Davis’s beautiful and perceptive poem ‘How to Be Alone,’ visually realized by artist and filmmaker Andrea Dorfman, has become an international sensation. In this edition of How to Be Alone, they have adapted the poem and its compelling illustrations for the page in a beautiful, meditative volume—a keepsake to treasure and to share. From a solitary walk in the woods to sitting unaccompanied on a city park bench to eating a meal and even dancing alone, How to Be Alone reveals the possibilities and joys waiting to be discovered when we engage in activities on our own. As she soothes the disquietude that accompanies the fear of aloneness, and celebrates the power of solitude to change how we see ourselves and the world, Tanya reveals how, removed from the noise and distractions of other lives, we can find acceptance and grace within. For those who have never been by themselves or those who embrace being on their own, How to Be Alone encourages us to recognize and embrace the possibilities of being alone—and reminds us of a universe of joy, peace, and discovery waiting to unfold.” —publisher

Masstown by Chad Norman

Chad Norman’s poems have appeared in magazines across the world, and he currently has 15 books of poetry, most recently Masstown, about a farming community in Colchester County. At the Halifax Central Library, he recently read from his work-in-progress Simona, which celebrates the Colchester County SPCA and the furry feline they allowed his family to rescue.

“Masstown is a small farming community in Colchester County, near the Cobequid Bay in Nova Scotia. Set in the past, this is a collection of poetry that accentuates the struggles of life on a family-run dairy farm for owners Bert and Gladys, grandparents of the author. Not only do Bert and Gladys run the farm, they’re also parents striving to find the balance between running a farm and raising a family.” —publisher

Traverse by George Elliott Clarke

Born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, George Elliott Clarke has spent much of his career writing about the black communities of Nova Scotia and is now Toronto’s Poet Laureate. This book was written in a one-day (!) poetry marathon when he traveled back to Halifax.

“From Toronto’s poet laureate (2012–15) comes a new book that is a tour de force in confessional verse. This autobiographical sequence in 980 lines contains 70 stanzas of “skeletal sonnets” composed, astonishingly, in one day and one evening. Traverse is a web of intersecting, crisscrossing impulses, a great burst of imaginative energy and aesthetic reflection that celebrates a 30-year period of Clarke’s writing poetry.” —publisher

Cottonopolis by Rachel Lebowitz

Rachel Lebowitz has lived on the east and west coasts of Canada and has now settled in Halifax, where she supports literacy in the libraries. This well-researched poem combines genres to depict the complex history of the cotton industry.

“Cottonopolis is a sequence of prose and found poems about the Industrial Revolution, in particular the links between the cotton industry in Lancashire, slavery in the Americas and the colonization of India. From the Irish slums of Manchester to the forts of the Slave Coast to the ruins of Dhaka, India; from Civil War battlefields to Lancashire factory floors, from slave ship sailors to machine-breakers to child labourers, these poems tell the stories of the industrial age.” —publisher

And I Alone Escaped To Tell You by Sylvia D. Hamilton

Sylvia D. Hamilton is an author, artist, and documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on the history of African Nova Scotians and women through in-depth firsthand research and storytelling. As part of the celebration of African Heritage Month, she read from this moving collection of poetry at the Halifax Central Library in February.

“The settlement of African peoples in Nova Scotia is a richly layered story encompassing many waves of settlement and diverse circumstances—from captives to ‘freedom runners’ who sailed north from the United States with hopes of establishing a new life. The poems in And I Alone Escaped to Tell You endeavour to give these historical events a human voice, blending documentary material, memory, experience and imagination to evoke the lives of these early Black Nova Scotians and of the generations that followed. This collection is a moving meditation on the place of African-descended people in the Canadian story and on the threads connecting all of us to the African diaspora.” —publisher

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Staff picks - The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

When a book gets a lot of buzz around it and there’s talk of movie rights, etc. then it’s truly time to check out the title and see what all the fuss is about.    

The Girl on the Train is a first novel for former journalist Paula Hawkins.  The premise is simple:  a daily train commute staring at the same buildings day in and day out.  There are predictable stops that become part of the background.  Some people are always on this train and others are occasional users.  What’s different about Rachel, the girl on the train,  is that she recognizes some of the houses at a stop.  She used to live in one, with her ex-husband, and now he’s living there with his new wife and baby daughter.   A few doors down are one of those perfect couples:   Jason and Jess (her names for them) have a great marriage, great looks, and great sex.  Rachel is envious.  But she is about to learn that things are never quite as they seem.

One day the perfect woman whose real name is Megan goes missing and the tabloids are frantic with pictures, suspects, and plenty of dirt.  Rachel is questioned by the police when her ex’s new wife Anna tells them she was drunk and out of control when Megan disappeared.   From then on Rachel inserts herself into the investigation and into the lives of those she knows and those she fantasizes about knowing. 

The ending is suspenseful and unpredictable.   I was suspicious about who the bad guy was and I was right but for all the wrong reasons.   Even the keenest detectives are occasionally stumped!

Friday, April 17, 2015

2015 IMPAC Dublin Literay Award shortlist

The International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award  is sponsored by the city of Dublin, Ireland, and the company IMPAC. Works of fiction are nominated by public libraries from around the world. It is one of the richest literary prizes in the world.

This year's shortlist features two of the three novels nominated by Halifax Public Libraries.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"A searing new novel, at once sweeping and intimate, by the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun: a story of love and race centred around a man and woman from Nigeria who seemed destined to be together--until the choices they are forced to make tear them apart.

What did The Reader think of Americah? Find out here.

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

"In 1845, a black American slave lands in Ireland to champion ideas of democracy and freedom, only to find a famine ravaging the countryside and the poor suffering from hardships that astonish even him. In 1919, two brave young airmen emerge from the carnage of the First World War to pilot the first non-stop transatlantic flight, from Newfoundland to the west of Ireland. And in 1998, an American senator crosses the ocean to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion. Taking these stories as his point of departure, Colum McCann weaves the lives of Frederick Douglass, John Alcock and Teddy Brown, and Senator George Mitchell into a tapestry that is provocative, ambitious and unforgettable."

Others on the shortlist are:

Horses of God by Mahi Binebine
Harvest by Jim Crace
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
K by Bernardo Kucinski (not available in Canada at present)

Brief Loves that Live Forever by Andrei Makine
Someone by Alice McDermott
Sparta by Roxana Robinson

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fiction Debuts of Note: April -June 2015

Back in January, I did the first in a series of posts on promising new first novels.  It's time to take a peek at some being released in the next 3 months. Celebrate the newbies with one of these debuts!

Nothing Like Love by Sabrina Ramnanan  (April): Set in 1970s Trindad, the story of a young girl of promise whose future is turned upside down when she lands in the middle of a small town scandal. From the publisher, "A sparkling, witty and confident debut from a rising Canadian star whose Trinidadian roots and riotous storytelling heritage inform her completely delightful novel."

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy (April):  As the title implies, at the centre of this Detroit-set novel is a house; a family home that has seen 13 children pass through it. Set to be vacated by the family matriarch, the house is only worth a small percentage of what is owed on the mortgage and the Turner children must decide what to do. Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, called it "Utterly moving and tough as nails, The Turner House is a love story as immense as the family it describes, and as complicated as the city that made them. A clear-sighted ode to the bonds that make and break us, to resilience across generations, to shared joys and solitary struggles, Flournoy's debut is as fresh and bold as they come. Commanding and un-putdownable."

The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger (May): From a Canadian born author, a debut literary novel that is being compared to the books of Annie Proulx. From the UK publisher: "Tom Berry has always been a loner, a man content to live out his days in the wilderness with just enough ammunition and kerosene to last out the winter. A single father, he has raised his children with the same quiet and absolute dedication he brings to his forestry business, but now he’s discovering that might not have been enough." Canadian Publishing magazine Quill and Quire called it a first novel that "displays a powerful facility with language, setting, and character that in future work will undoubtedly make her a master".

White Crocodile by K.T. Medina (June): Released to positive reviews in the UK last summer, this debut thriller is now poised to capture summer readers on this side of the ocean. Tess Hardy receives a strange phone call from her ex-husband who is working in Cambodia: two weeks later he is dead and Tess travels to Cambodia to find out what happened. The Independent praised the book's "vulnerable but tenacious heroine" and The Stylist Magazine called it "a page-turning, unsettling thriller". For fans of Mo Hayder and readers of dark Scandinavian thrillers who are interested in stories set in a different locale.

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler (June): Lots of folks over on Goodreads are saying that this one will be great for fans of The Night Circus. The description makes it sound like the sort of Gothic Fiction readers frequently ask after at the library.  Simon, a librarian, receives a package from an antique bookseller -- a book of course, but a mysterious one. As he reads through the pages he finds his own family history woven into the tale. When the sister he hasn't seen in years makes a reappearance, he realizes he must quickly determine if her fate is foretold in the book's pages.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

In Memoriam - Günter Grass

Günter Grass, Germany’s best-known contemporary writer, poet, playwright, illustrator, sculptor and recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature, has passed away at the age of 87.

Grass designed his own book jackets, and his novels often contained his illustrations. As well as being awarded the Nobel Prize, he won the 1965 Georg Büchner Prize, the Carl von Ossietzky Medal (1977), and was a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was a fan of the writings of Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe and John Dos Passos.- The Telegraph.

His first novel “The Tin Drum is the autobiography of thirty-year-old Oskar Matzerath, who has lived through the long Nazi nightmare and who, as the novel begins, is being held in a mental institution. Willfully stunting his growth at three feet for many years, wielding his tin drum and piercing scream as anarchistic weapons, he provides a profound yet hilarious perspective on both German history and the human condition in the modern world.”

The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) became the literary spokesman for the German generation that grew up in the Nazi era and survived the war. The Tin Drum was a “satire of those, like his parents, who were seduced by Nazi ideas and the novel was decried as blasphemous pornography and banned in numerous dictatorships.”

A film adaptation of the novel won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1979. The Tin Drum, the novella Cat and Mouse and the novel Dog Years are known as the Danzig trilogy.

In the autobiographical Peeling the Onion Mr. Grass revealed that at the age of 17 he had been drafted into the Waffen-SS in the last few months of the Second World War.

“During the Second World War, Grass volunteered for the submarine corps at the age of fifteen but was rejected; two years later, in 1944, he was instead drafted into the Waffen-SS. Taken prisoner by American forces as he was recovering from shrapnel wounds, he spent the final weeks of the war in an American POW camp. After the war, Grass resolved to become an artist and moved with his first wife to Paris, where he began to write the novel that would make him famous. Full of the bravado of youth, the rubble of postwar Germany, the thrill of wild love affairs, and the exhilaration of Paris in the early fifties, Peeling the Onion—which caused great controversy when it was published in Germany—reveals Grass at his most intimate.”

For more information about Günter Grass’s life read the obituary in The Guardian.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April Literary Birthdays - Part 2

So many birthdays!

Beverly Cleary (born April 12, 1916) is an American author of more than 30 books for young adults and children. "She specialized in library work with children. She was the children's librarian in Yakima, Washington. Clearly has sold 91 million copies of her books worldwide. Some of her best-known characters are Henry Huggins, Ribsy, Beatrice ("Beezus") Quimby, her sister Ramona Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse. Mrs. Cleary won the 1981 National Book Award for Ramona and Her Mother and the 1984 Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw."

Charlotte Brontë (21 April 1816 – 31 March 1855) was an English novelist and poet, whose novels have become classics of English literature. "She first published her works under the pen name Currer Bell. Charlotte Brontë worked as a teacher and governess before collaborating on a book of poetry with her two sisters, Emily and Anne, who were writers as well. In 1847, Brontë published the semi-autobiographical novel Jane Eyre, which was a hit and would become a literary classic. Her other novels included Shirley and Villette."

William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 (baptised) – 23 April 1616) was an English poet and playwright, and actor. "His work comprises 36 plays, 154 sonnets, and two narrative poems. Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford, England. His exact date of birth is uncertain, but it is thought to have been April 23. From the late 1500s to early 1600s, Shakespeare became known for his comedies and tragedies, including Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. By about 1610, Shakespeare was mainly retired from the stage. Among his last plays were the comedies The Winter's Tale and The Tempest."

Russian novelist, poet, scholar, translator, and butterfly collector Vladimir Nabokov (22 April 1899 – 2 July 1977). "While Nabokov's first nine novels were in Russian, he later rose to international prominence as a writer of English prose. He also made serious contributions as a lepidopterist and chess composer. Nabokov's Lolita was a landmark in both storytelling and controversy and was later made into a film by Stanley Kubrick. Nabokov's major critical works are an irreverent book about Nikolay Gogol and a four-volume translation of, and commentary on, Eugene Onegin."

Halldor Laxness (23 April 1902 – 8 February 1998) was an Icelandic novelist and 1955 Nobel Prize winner. "He is considered the most creative Icelandic writer of the 20th century. Major influences included August Strindberg, Sigmund Freud, Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair, Bertolt Brecht and Ernest Hemingway. His spiritual experiences are reflected in several books of an autobiographical nature. Beginning in the late 1950s, Laxness increasingly turned from social issues to philosophical questions and the problems of the individual. The novels from this period, including The Fish Can Sing and Paradise Reclaimed, are more lyrical and introspective. In Christianity at Glacier and Domestic Chronicle he even engaged in modernist experimentation as he had in his early works."

Sue Taylor Grafton (born April 24, 1940) is a contemporary American author of detective novels best known as the author of the 'alphabet series' featuring private investigator Kinsey Millhone in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, California. Sue Grafton started writing as a teenager. Grafton published her first novel, “Keziah Dane”. Her next book, The Lolly Madonna War, was turned into a feature film. After working as a television writer for several years, Grafton debuted her first Kinsey Millhone novel, A Is for Alibi, in 1982."

Marcus Aurelius  (26 April 121 – 17 March 180 AD) was Roman philosopher, humane emperor, and author of The Meditations. "As Emperor of Rome from 161-180, Marcus Aurelius kept the empire safe from the Parthians and Germans, but is best known for his intellectual pursuits. Marcus Aurelius' Stoic tome Meditations, written in Greek is still revered as a literary monument to a philosophy of service and duty, describing how to find and preserve equanimity in the midst of conflict by following nature as a source of guidance and inspiration".

Monday, April 13, 2015

April Literary Birthdays - Part 1

Celebrate your favourite author birthdays and explore their works!

Edmond Rostand (1 April 1868 – 2 December 1918) was a French dramatist and poet best known for Cyrano de Bergerac, “one of the last examples of the Romantic period. “The play was a success in France and beyond. Rostand wrote many other plays, and was one of the last great Romantic dramatists of the period. His other lasting work is “L'Aiglon”, which provided a triumphant role for actress Sarah Bernhardt.”

Anne Inez McCaffrey (1 April 1926 – 21 November 2011) was an American-born Irish writer, best known for the Dragonriders of Pern science fiction series. She became the first woman to win a Hugo Award for fiction and the first to win a Nebula Award. “Ms. McCaffrey, an avocational horse breeder, was often asked Why dragons? “You can get closer to a dragon than you can to a horse,” she said in an interview. “Horses are smart within their own boundaries, but dragons are very smart.”

Hans Christian Andersen (2 April 1805 – 4 August 1875) was a Danish author, a prolific writer of plays, travelogues, novels, and poems. “No collection of fairy tales would be complete without the works of Hans Christian Andersen. In fact, Andersen's life was like a fairy tale in many ways. Out of the poverty, hardship, and loneliness of his youth, he came to be one of the most honored men of his time. Many of the more than 160 fairy tales he wrote, including "The Ugly Duckling”, "The Princess and the Pea”, and "The Little Mermaid”, have become literary classics enjoyed by children and adults alike.” – Scholastic

Émile Zola (2 April 1840 – 29 September 1902) was the most prominent French novelist of the late 19th century. "He was noted for his theories of naturalism as expressed in Les Rougon-Macquart. Zola wrote numerous short stories and essays, four plays and three novels. Among his early books was Contes à Ninon. With the publication of his sordid autobiographical novel La Confession de Claude attracting police attention, Hachette fired him."

Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) was an American author, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. "He was the first American to gain national acclaim as a professional writer. He wrote many short stories, including “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. Although his reputation declined in the 20th century because of the sentimentality and excessive gentility of much of his work, he remains important as a pioneer in American humor and the development of the short story."

"With over 50 honorary doctorate degrees, Dr. Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) became a celebrated poet, memoirist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and she was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. Dr. Angelou is best known for her series of autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, tells of her life up to the age of 17."

Anthony Horowitz (born 5 April 1955) is a British novelist and screenwriter specializing in mystery and suspense. His work for young adult readers includes The Diamond Brothers series, the Alex Rider series, and The Power of Five series. His work for adults includes the novel and play Mindgame, and two Sherlock Holmes novels The House of Silk and Moriarty. He is the most recent author chosen to write a James Bond novel by the Ian Fleming estate."

Barbara Kingsolver (born April 8, 1955) is an American novelist, essayist and poet. "Her work often focuses on topics such as social justice, biodiversity and the interaction between humans and their communities and environments. Her widely known works include The Poisonwood Bible, the tale of a missionary family in the Congo, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction account of her family's attempts to eat locally.