Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Science Book Challenge!

It's back! The Science Book Challenge is being hosted by Jeff at Bearcastle Blog for another go-round in 2009. The official challenge page is found at his science education company, Ars Hermeneutica. I love this Challenge as I really need to focus on reading some non-fiction in there during the year. I was thinking of posting about some of the Challenges I want to join in 09 next week, but couldn't wait. I've joined my first '09 challenge.......

The 'rules' are simple:

1. Read at least three nonfiction books in 2009 related somehow to the theme "Nature's Wonders". Your books should have something to do with science, scientists, how science operates, or science's relationship with its surrounding culture. Your books might be popularizations of science, they might be histories, they might be biographies, they might be anthologies; they can be recent titles or older books. We take a very broad view of what makes for interesting and informative science reading.

2. After you've read a book, write a short note about it, giving your opinion of the book. What goes in the note? The things you would tell a friend if you wanted to convince your friend to read it--or avoid it. Naturally, you can read some of the existing Book Notes for ideas. You might like to read our Book-note ratings for ideas about how to evaluate your books.

3. Don't worry if you find that you've read a book someone else has also read; we welcome multiple notes on one title.

4. Get your book note to us and we'll post it with the other notes in our Book Note section. Use the book-note form or the comment form to get in touch with us.

5. Tell other people about the Science-Book Challenge:

I'm going to go the spontaneous route and read whatever comes to mind as I go along. However, I do have a couple of really good books in the TBR and may read one or all of those. A few of those titles are:

Empire of the Stars / Arthur I. Miller

Reinventing Gravity / John W. Moffat
(the publisher has also just sent me a link to a wonderful site called BookWrap; read a book excerpt or an interview, view video of Moffat talking about his book. Great stuff!)

The Arcanum / Janet Gleeson

Mauve: how one man invented a colour that changed the world/ Simon Garfield

Hope that some of you will join, too!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Canada Reads, again

The 5 panelists and their chosen books have just been announced for Canada Reads. If you follow this event, you know that it is a group of Canadian 'celebrities' who discuss and debate which book of the five choices all of Canada should read. The debate and vote takes place March 2-6, so you have until then to read one or all of the following books, if you want to join the fray:

The Outlander / Gil Adamson
defended by Nicholas Campbell
blog reviews:
Wendy at Caribousmom

The Book of Negroes / Lawrence Hill
defended by Avi Lewis
blog reviews:
Jen at The Keepin' It Real Bookclub
Aaron at InkNoire

Fruit / Brian Francis
defended by Jen Sookfong Lee
blog reviews:

Mercy among the children / David Adams Richards
defended by Sarah Slean
blog reviews:
Framed from Framed & Booked

blog reviews:
none found yet

Monday, November 24, 2008

Take a deep breath...

Breathe Smart: the secret to happiness, health and long life / Aaron Hoopes
Vershire, VT : Zen Yoga Press, c2008.
80 p.

This is a book I received from Mini Book Expo. It interested me because for a few years I was taking yoga classes and found that what I most appreciated was learning how to breathe properly. It is something that we can always use a reminder of, and I found this small book very helpful.

It's a brief book by a 20 year veteran of yoga and the martial arts, Aaron Hoopes. He created an amalgam he calls Zen Yoga, and it looks fascinating. This book covers the different elements necessary to breathe consciously and powerfully; posture, breathing techniques and exercises, and the role breath can play in stress relief and even weight loss. As he says in the introduction:

The ideas presented here may seem like an oversimplification at times, yet the plain fact is that most of us simply do not breathe effectively. We consign our breathing process to a reflexive act at a subsistence level, totally unaware of the potentials that would flow from more breath consciousness.

The reminder to breathe deeply is very effective in stress relief (I'll have to wait on a judgement as to how it affects weight loss!). The way he lays out the breathing exercises makes it very easy to follow along and get the hang of them. He even points out that deep breathing is not equivalent to hyperventilation! I found it to be a calm and relaxed approach to the subject, with lots of useful information despite the brief nature of the book, and it makes me want to look at a few of the other books he has available on his website as well. I think that a person who is interested in yoga or simply in increasing one's health levels naturally would find this a useful guide -- and it's the perfect size for a stocking stuffer. Just the thing to get someone started on their New Year's resolution to get healthier.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Golden Notebook, Week 2

We're now at the end of the second week of the Golden Notebook Project, according to their schedule:

Week 1 & 2 - Ending Sunday, November 23
Finish Free Women 1 and The Notebooks
End Page - Online: 206 (UK: 229; US: 241)

I'm still barely at p.100; better get reading! Some people are very annoyed at the lack of a posted schedule until now; they comment that bookclubs are arranged with better forethought. I'd thought that it would be self-evident that a book of approximately 600 pages read over 6 weeks would result in an approximate schedule of 100 pages a week. But that's just me. In response to this, one of the organizers has noted that this isn't a 'book club', rather, an online experiment in close reading. As she says,

One of the things I'll be looking for is how the Readers re-visit their own earlier commentary as they move through the text. Right now, it seems as though the discussion is happening linearly and tangentially ie: read some, type some, move back to the text and on to the next chunk, repeat.

The online margins invite input in a way unlike paper margins do, and as a result we readers are privy to thoughts and ideas as they develop instead of just final and often times more polished ends. As I mentioned in a different discussion, we'll soon (if not now) be better served by a navigation method other than chronological page or time order. Where will the technology for that come from? This is good stuff!

I am curious as to why I don't see more out-going links in the commentary. If you're going to talk about feminism, for example, if parts of the text remind you of something else, why not use the space and functionality to build the bridge to it and open this novel up to its own themes and implications? (I have my own answers to that question.)

Also noteworthy and curious is why a writer given (theoretically) infinite space to build on an idea might limit her handling of the text to short responses and critiques. Expectations appropriate for a different medium or setting, maybe.

What do you think of all this? Is an 'experiment in online reading' necessary? Do those of us who use this medium feel that anything new needs to be discovered, or are we using the technology successfully for these purposes already? Do you agree with this statement from the posted mission of the Project -- "We don’t yet understand how to model a complex conversation in the web’s two-dimensional environment " ?
Personally I find this project quite interesting, and am glad to read the comments of the women participating; it's a relief, for example, to discover that I am not the only one to become bored in parts! And it is helpful to have the text and comments side by side. I'm trying to hold back on viewing the comments beyond where I've read, so really should speed my reading up a bit.

The layout and organization of the site seems to me to suggest marginalia; I don't expect treatises with lots of links -- and generally I'd expect that type of information to be linked into the text itself. If I want to say something like "I'm not sure I agree with her here!" it would make sense to me to note it in the margin. If I want to write a longer, thought out essay on why I don't agree with her, I'd place a link in the text to lead the reader to my discretely posted essay. So I am not sure what I think about the purpose of the Golden Notebook project, but I do enjoy reading it along with a group of other close readers whose comments are available.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Gift of Wings

As shown by my recent recommendation of this book in my gift guide suggestions for 2008, I loved the newest biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery, The Gift of Wings -- it was recently released, and this week I was lucky enough to meet the author, Mary Henley Rubio, who spoke at my library! It was a wonderful talk. She was full of extra tidbits in answer to people's questions, and in her slideshow she had images of some of the men in LMM's life; Ewen (of course) but also L.C. Page, her American publisher with whom she was involved in a long court case - and won - as well as Edwin Smith, a friend and dashing kind of fellow, and William Deacon, long time book critic of the Globe & Mail who denigrated her both for her writing and personally.

The book is excellent, as it should be, with 30 years gone into the making. Mary Rubio co-edited all the Montgomery journals (at LMM's son Stuart's own request) and has been involved in LMM scholarship since the 70's, and her expertise is fully evident. This biography is a fully fleshed out tale of the social conditions and interpersonal entanglements that LMM lived among, and it is fascinating. There are things revealed here that are new to scholarship, particularly the controversy over a contested suicide note; was it or wasn't it? All the agonies Maud suffered (family troubles, gossipy maids and nosy neighbours, court cases, depression, the war) while writing lovely, uplifting books are here, and reveal a complicated woman who is hard to pin down. Mary Rubio herself stated that there were difficulties in the writing, as Maud was very good at presenting her life in the manner in which she wished it to be seen. For example, even those very personal diaries were all recopied into fresh books by LMM once she became famous; who knows what she excised? Certainly, the pages containing the beginnings of her relationship with her husband were sliced out of the journals altogether. It reaffirms the status of LMM as an extremely complex, endlessly fascinating woman and writer. If you like author bios, or are a big LMM fan, read this. It is fabulous! I have been waiting for it for quite some time, and am suitably impressed by the result of those years of preparation.

Some more good news from Mary Rubio:

The LM Montgomery Research Centre at the University of Guelph is digitizing many photos and items from their archives, and eventually the diaries as well! There is already quite a lot to look at, including a picture of LMM's house in my hometown of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Neat.

The University of Guelph also recently held a conference on LMM (how I wished I could have been there!) But for those of us who could not attend, they've posted one full lecture online, with a promise of more to follow... Can't wait!

Mary Rubio (left) and me, after the reading

Some other reviews:
Bookshipper (this is a friend of mine who is as LMM crazy as I am, and as she says, this is THE LMM biography)
Pickle Me This (who makes the great point that this book places LMM into her social context)
Nota Bene Books (some quick tips from Nigel Beale)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sorokin's Queue

The Queue / Vladimir Sorokin; translated by Sally Laird
New York: NYRB, c2008
263 p.

As the final book in my Russian Reading Challenge, I picked up this book when it came into the library. Why? Just look at it; the cover is wonderful. And, it is a modern Russian novel with a twist -- it is told entirely in dialogue. Perhaps the fact that Sorokin has written plays and opera librettos helps him here, because despite my concern that the idea of the characters talking while in the queue would be gimmicky, I was quickly proven wrong. It works wonderfully! He somehow captures the desultory exchanges between strangers accustomed to waiting, waiting, waiting. And in parts his writing becomes simply brilliant, a list of words with amazing energy which carries you along with it. Near the beginning we get to know Vadim who becomes the main character we follow through the book. He meets a young woman in line and chats her up; the line is hours long so they have lots of time to talk. They end up sleeping in the park, not wanting to leave their position in line, and as Vadim falls asleep, the dialogue trails off, and then... the next page is blank. And the next. Six blank pages as Vadim sleeps, and somehow, it truly expresses the silence of Vadim's being out of commission.

Later, the officials in charge of whatever it is that is for sale up front, make their way down the line, calling a roll call -- giving people numbers as placeholders in line. There are three or four pages where a voice is calling out last names, with responses of "Yes!" and a few non-responding absentees. Astonishingly, it is not dull, rather I felt the rush of people pressing in to make sure they maintained their place in the queue. In the notes it mentions the tour-de-force creativity Sorokin draws upon to come up with such an extensive list of names, some Russian, some Ukrainian, some Lithuanian, some of Jewish origin, and so on. To a Russian reader I am sure this would be much more evident, but I was at least able to recognize that some of the names were Ukrainian which tipped me off to what he was doing. It really does feel that you're seeing a cross section of Soviet life.

The whole book doesn't take place in line, however. The populace is so accustomed to spending their days in line that they have protocols in place, wherein the people in front or behind will guard the place while the individual goes off to use the phone, to eat or to find some facilities. Thus Vadim and his lady friend wander off to a cafeteria to have lunch (where she meets someone more interesting). When it rains, they all scatter to doorways in the courtyards nearby, knowing they will all restablish the line as it was before, once it is dry. Still, seeing as it is Soviet Russia, there is evidence of corruption; people selling their queue numbers to others further back, workers being bussed in and pushing in at the front, the sellers taking a break and letting people stew for hours. Despite the story having no descriptive narration, and no plot besides getting to the front of the line, it is full of interest. It feels like it teems with action and local colour and cleverness.

The translation is British so some lines come across a bit oddly, but it really doesn't affect the flow and is easily understood. It's also a quick read, due to the single line conversations and blank pages! Seriously, it was a great choice for another Russian read and one I would certainly recommend.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Weekly Geeks 25: Gift Giving Guide

This week's Geeks assignment is fascinating! Dewey says:

With winter holidays coming up, many of us have started thinking about gift giving. And, of course, many book bloggers prefer to give books. At Amazon, there are gift guides based on relationship or personality. Unfortunately, I don’t really find the gift suggestions for mom and wife very suited to me, and the personality guides are even worse. I may be interested in green living, but I’d be pretty disappointed to find an energy-saving lightbulb in my stocking. So let’s make our own, a books-based Weekly Geeks Gift Giving Guide!

How to:
1. Think about the books that you and people in your life love. It’s best to use more obscure books, because we’ve all heard plenty about the more popular ones.

2. Come up with categories, based on relationship, personality, or whatever else you like. I think this is easier to do once you have your books in mind; you can then just assign categories to those books.

3. Post your own gift giving guide! Add short blurbs about the books, just enough so that your readers can determine if it’d be a good gift for people on their list. Don’t forget to come back and sign Mr Linky.

4. Visit other Weekly Geeks, and if you like their guides, maybe add links to the bottom of your own.

So here is my gift giving guide for the bookish this year:

For that manly Uncle who loves reading about arctic exploration even though he complains about having to go out and shovel the sidewalk:

Fatal Passage : the true story of John Rae, the Arctic hero time forgot / Ken McGoogan

This is the story of an Orkney boy who became an HBC man and the acknowledged expert on Northern exploration. He could snowshoe 50 miles a day, design boats for ice-filled rivers, hunt, mend his own clothes, take scientific readings which were widely recognized as the best available, maintain relationships with the local native groups - respecting and using their traditional knowledge, oh yes, and he was a doctor as well. Not forgetting to mention that he found the remains of the Franklin expedition and discovered that in their extreme duress they had taken to eating one another. Since this was not the answer that Lady Franklin and the British navy wanted to hear, Rae was vilified and left out of history. It's a wonderful read, restoring this explorer to his true status.

For the aunt who doesn't know what to do with herself since Mary Stewart died:

An historical love story involving time travel/genetic memory and Scotland, who needs anything more? Lots of tension, historical drama and enjoyable characters, just right for a holiday read.

For the teenage niece who adores fairy tales but feels she's too old to be caught reading any:

Set in Transylvania and loosely based on the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, this story of 5 sisters and their connection to the world of fairie is wonderfully, magically told. And the books look gorgeous; what cover art!

For that cousin who's taking a degree in art history, with a minor in Russian:

One of my favourite books last year, this tells the tale of a man who is losing his place in society as his Russia moves further away from communism and into the wider, free market world. As perestroika arrives in Moscow, he begins to question what the sacrifice of his artistic gifts to the party has been worth.

For your sister who is just marginally more crazy about Anne of Green Gables than you are:

The first rigorously academic biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery, aimed at adults and pulling no punches.


A companion read to the biography, this ties elements of LMM's life to the writing of each and every one of her novels. Essential for the enthusiast.

For your peripatetic brother who can't settle down:

Nikolski / Nicolas Dickner; trans. by Lazer Lederhendler.

This book just won a Governor General's award for translation; it's a French Canadian tale of 3 restless characters who drift to Montreal and there discover their family connections. As the blurb says:

With humour, charm and the sure touch of a born storyteller, Nicolas Dickner crafts a tale that shows the surprising links between garbage-obsessed archeologists, pirates past and present, earthquake victims, sea snakes, several very large tuna fish, an illiterate deep-sea diver, a Commodore 64, a mysterious book with no cover, and a broken compass whose needle obstinately points to the Aleutian village of Nikolski.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Coventry / Helen Humphreys
Toronto : HarperCollins Canada, c2008.
175 p.

And now for a much delayed review of a book I read and was fortunate enough to hear the author read from last month. I received Coventry from HarperCollins in anticipation of hearing Helen Humphreys speak at a library workshop, and it was a much appreciated event. She is a fascinating speaker, straightforward and dryly amusing.

Like much of her earlier work, Coventry is a small, poetic novel that somehow contains much more than is first apparent. The story occurs over one night, the night in WWII that the town of Coventry was bombed almost to oblivion. There are 3 primary characters: Harriet Marsh, James (Jeremy) Fisher, and his mother Maeve. Harriet meets Jeremy when they are both on firewatch duty on the roof of Coventry Cathedral. As the bombing begins, and they realize the entire town is burning, they travel together as if undergoing a mythic ordeal, trying to return to Jeremy's home to see if it is still standing and whether Maeve is there and safe. They struggle through a nightmarish landscape, full of explosions, fire, danger, noise and chaos. In her reading, Humphreys mentioned how difficult she found the writing of this book; she had two characters who had to spend the entire novel together, but the noise and darkness of the night bombing made any kind of realistic conversation problematic. To her credit, she seems in the end to have neatly solved that problem, as I found the action of the story very natural and very moving. Here are Harriet and Jeremy walking through the streets shortly after they leave the cathedral together:

Harriet and Jeremy see the horses on High Street. Three horses running down the road, their manes lifting through the smoke, their hooves knocking on the cobblestones. Three night horses. The horses run right past them, close enough to touch. They are running away from the fire and the bombing, running toward the open fan of countryside outside of the city.

Above them, Harriet can hear the bombers. The planes come in waves and sound exactly like that, like the pulse and pound of sea on the sand, a muffled, rhythmic heaviness. She doesn't look up, even though, on such a clear night she might be able to make out the shape of the planes. But they have been warned not to watch bombing raids, not to gaze upwards, as the pilots might see the reflection of their faces in the light of the fires and use their faces as guides to drop their bombs.

Throughout the novel, the images were so consistently strong that I felt deafened by the constant barrage of bombing, I felt choked with smoke and uncertain of the outcome of the night. Harriet and Maeve do eventually meet up, and realize that they had also met years before, the day after Harriet's husband enlisted in WWI. The events of the night in Coventry link them for the rest of their lives, with the closing pages of the story consisting of their continued communication, told from the vantage point of age. Both the structure of the book and the language are exquisite, a wonderful example of brilliant storytelling.

It is an extremely strong storyline, told so well I feel unqualified to pass any judgement. Still, there was only one element of the relationship building between Harriet and Jeremy which I didn't like; it came near the end and though I can see how it fits in and actually makes the conclusion more plausible, I still felt it wasn't absolutely necessary. That one reservation is the only reason I am not a complete raving maniac about this book; otherwise I was absolutely astonished and enthralled by the story. If you haven't read Humphreys before you are missing a wonderful author. If you can find any of her books pick one up; her sparse style is captivating and the emotion she can capture in a few words is worth experiencing.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Faust in Copenhagen

Faust in Copenhagen : a struggle for the soul of physics / Gino Segrè
New York: Penguin, 2008, c2007.
310 p.

In the interests of full disclosure, I will start by saying I am in no way a scientist, and yet I loved this book. LOVED IT!! I was inspired to read this for a couple of reasons; because I am trying to finish up my Science Book Challenge reads, because it was new and shiny at the library, and because it reminded me of how much I enjoy reading about physics.

The author is a nephew of the famous physicist Emilio Segre, who was part of the great development of quantum physics in the early part of the 20th century. Gino Segre is also a practicing physicist, as is his brother, and a large number of their cousins. I could tell throughout this book that he was involved with physics; the scientific explanations and vast understanding of his subject showed. But I could also feel the influence of his father, an historian, by the excellent writing and felicitous choice of detail which made this history really live. The book is structured around a satirical skit based on Goethe's Faust, which was performed in 1932 at an annual gathering of physicists in Copenhagen. 1932 is referred to as 'the miracle year' because of all the stunning discoveries that pushed quantum physics forward, and the meeting in Copenhagen (home of Nils Bohr, a towering figure in physics) was the last one untouched by the beginnings of war. At that meeting, the younger scientists in the crowd wrote a skit of the type enjoyed by the people involved; they took Faust and played around with it, making Bohr into The Lord, and the notoriously sarcastic Wolfgang Pauli into Mephistopheles. The triumph of this book lies in how Segre takes a scene and explains it to us, going into the background of each personality and the significance of each of their discoveries, so that we understand the skit and all the in-jokes by the time we are done reading. When I laughed heartily at an in-joke half way through the book, I suddenly realized Segre's talent at making us feel part of the crowd ourselves.

This really isn't a scientific read as much as a history of a moment in science. What I like about books like these is to have the import of the science explained in a way I can understand -- which was done extremely well here. I feel as if I now comprehend more fully how discoveries build on other research and how even the geniuses in the field could start off in the wrong direction and have to begin again. Oftentimes the genius' work was superceded by that of another hardworking physicist who was not as much of a star. That leads to another element of such books that really appeals to me, that of explaining who all the players really were. I loved reading about all these people and learning about their relationships, their flaws and their admirable qualities, their families, how nationality affected them during the war, why they might have done the things they did... essentially, all the good gossip. And Segre is a wonderful gossip! He tells us all the facts that we might want to know if we were sitting around having coffee and talking about people known to us. He sketches out Pauli's caustic personality (which led to his nickname of "The Scourge of God"), he talks about Heisenberg's roots in Germany and his love of the outdoors, he mentions Paul Dirac's very unusual taciturn personality - he was often known not to speak for days - and points out how surprised everyone was when they learned he was going to be married. There are lots of photos included, many of them from his uncle's collection.

One caveat: as a non-scientist, I was unaware until reading a few reviews that the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics is not, in fact, widely accepted nowadays (as Segre suggests early on in a toss away sentence). In reality, as one reviewer states, the debates about the Copenhagen interpretation - and in particular about causality and indeterminacy - have a resonance far beyond quantum mechanics. From nuclear fission to silicon chips, the quantum revolution has helped transform the modern world. Yet the interpretation of the quantum world developed by Bohr and his colleagues remains controversial and contested.
(any physicists out there to weigh in on this?)

Also noteworthy is the excellent index and bibliography. In his chapter notes Segre includes suggestions for further reading; his recommendations for the best biography on a subject, or the best source for further scientific exploration. It has inspired me to continue on.

A good indication of how much I enjoyed this book is that when I finished it, I immediately turned to the front and wished I could again read it for the first time. It is a wonderful book, highly recommended to anyone with the slightest interest in physics during that golden period, or in any of the personalities involved. (Bohr, Einstein, Heisenberg, Pauli, Dirac, Rutherford, Meitner, Ehrenfest... the list goes on and on)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Local Authors!

One of the really lovely things about working in a library is meeting the patrons. Today I met a very interesting patron, one who all you readers may be interested in hearing about!

She's a Stratford woman who is having her first middle grade fiction published in 2009 by HarperCollins. She tells us is about fairies, and if you're intrigued by this you peruse her books at R.J. Anderson.

She also told us she belongs to a group of new YA authors being published in 2009. If you want to hear some pre-pub author talk (and see some gorgeous new covers to make you drool) check their blog. I have already found some great new books to put on the want-list!
**Update: Thanks to Cat, who pointed out that there is both a different cover AND a different title to this book in it's US and Canadian incarnation. This is the North American version. Which do you prefer?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Weekly Geeks #24: Author Profile

I've missed the last couple of Weekly Geeks projects, mostly through distraction and disorganization! So this week I really want to play along, especially as this week’s theme is:

Fun facts about authors.

How to:
1. Choose a writer you like.
2. Using resources such as Wikipedia, the author’s website, whatever you can find, make a list of interesting facts about the author.
3. Post your fun facts list in your blog, maybe with a photo of the writer, a collage of his or her books, whatever you want.
4. Come sign the Mr Linky below with the url to your fun facts post.
5. As you run into (or deliberately seek out) other Weekly Geeks’ lists, add links to your post for authors you like or authors you think your readers are interested in

I had thought of noting some facts about Alexander McCall Smith -- see my recent post on his work! -- but saw that Juliann at Unwritten Reads had already done so, quite enjoyably. So I thought I would try sharing a bit about a very obscure author, a romance novelist from quite some time ago. She was an Englishwoman and wrote for Mills & Boon (later to be bought out by Harlequin). I've talked about my surreptitious adoration of one of her books before. Now that I've read her autobiography as well, I admire her even more. She was an example of how we can't hold stereotypes of 'romance writers', as she is the farthest thing from Barbara Cartland as I can imagine. So here are some random facts about:

Mary Burchell, Mills & Boon author

Mary Burchell's real name was Ida Cook

Despite being a romance novelist, she never married

She and her sister (Mary) Louise were huge opera buffs, even travelling to New York by steamer just to hear one of their favourite opera stars sing

She wrote an entire cycle of 13 romance novels, The Warrender Saga, based in the opera world; very culturally educational love stories!

She worked as a civil servant before giving it up to write full time, in 1936
She and Louise used their opera connections and the income from her romance novels to assist in getting 29 Jews out of Germany in the 1930s

In 1965, they received the designation of Righteous Gentiles by the Yad Vashem Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Israel for this service

Her 1950 autobiography, We Followed our Stars, was republished as Safe Passage in a lovely new trade paper copy this year.

A few more interesting author facts:
Dr.Seuss at Belle of the Books
George Eliot at Book-a-Rama
Astrid Lindgren at Pink Blue Whale and at Lou's Pages

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Golden Notebook, Week 1

The online Golden Notebook project began yesterday, and so far there is marginalia added for about the first 100 pages. They are planning to read around 100 pages a week, and so the project will run for 5-6 weeks. The seven women participating write their comments "in the margins" of the online text (so you can read along there quite easily), but there are also then forums in which everyone can discuss both Lessing's text and the comments posted. So far I've only read 50 pages in my 1973 edition (pictured here) so perhaps I will find something to say about the first section of the book...for the moment I'd like to share with you a wonderful quote from Lessing's own introduction to the book:

There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag — and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty — and vice-versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The World According to Alexander McCall Smith

Random House recently sent me one of Alexander McCall Smith's newest books, The World according to Bertie. I say ONE OF his most recent books, as McCall Smith is the most prolific author I can think of. A publishing season wouldn't be the same without a McCall Smith book in the works; just this year we have The World According to Bertie (part of the 44 Scotland Street series), The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday (in the Isabel Dalhousie series) and soon to be released (Mar 09) Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, featuring Mma Ramotswe in his most famous series, the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.
In addition, he has a standalone novel coming out shortly, La's Orchestra Saves the World (set in Suffolk between 1936 and 1962), AND the dvd is now available, at least in the UK, of the film of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, filmed in Botswana. All of this along with a daily serial in the online Daily Telegraph, called Corduroy Mansions.

Whew. Pause for breath!

I have read every single item published thus far by McCall Smith. I know some people like Mma Ramotswe best, and some like Isabel Dalhousie, and some prefer Bertie! Not to mention lesser known Professor Von Igelfeld. But I love them all. And I adore the man himself; he seems such a moral, quietly funny, interesting and invigorating kind of man. Here he is talking about his new online serial, Corduroy Mansions:

I would recommend all of his books -- if you like gentle mysteries in a stunning setting, try Mma Ramotswe. If you'd like a Scottish based soap opera, read the 44 Scotland Street series. If you want a more intellectual, philosophical book, try Isabel Dalhousie. For a beautiful set of stories in the Canongate Myths series, read his Dream Angus, the one most different from his other works and I think one of my favourites. For hilarious academic shenanigans, read the older Von Igelfeld trilogy. Is it clear yet that I adore McCall Smith and every facet of his varied imagination?

Well -- I will now try to talk about the specific book I was just given. The World according to Bertie is the fourth volume in the 44 Scotland Street series, which began as a serialized newspaper story. It features the denizens of 44 Scotland Street, Edinburgh, and all their interactions and romances and disagreements. After the first volume it has also spread out to include the stories of persons incidentally connected to the original characters, including a wonderful gold-toothed dog, Cyril, and many singular individuals both young and old -- including, of course, the 6 yr old saxophone-playing, yoga practicing, Italian speaking prodigy, Bertie. In this volume, Bertie (who has not aged throughout the series) is trying to figure out his world. His annoying mum and new brother Ulysses are thorns in his side, and Bertie, being the intelligent child he is, wonders why Ulysses looks so remarkably like Bertie's psychotherapist, Dr. Fairbairn. There is so much humour, philosophical musing, and understanding of personal foibles in this book (as in most of McCall Smith's work). The philosophical asides, usually attributed to a character's internal monologue, are one of my favourite things about his writing, and here are a few quoteable bits to share with you -- hopefully it will entice you into picking up this series yourself:

...people might equally well look at their lives and ask what the point was. Or should one really not ask that question, simply because the question in itself was a pointless one? Perhaps there was no real point to our existence - or none that we could discern - and that meant that the real question that had to be asked was this: How can I make my life bearable? We are here whether we like it or not, and by and large we seem to have a need to continue. In that case, the real question to be addressed is: How are we going to make the experience of being here as fulfilling, as good as possible?

And then, she thought, there were those books bought and not read. Somewhere there might be those who read each and every book they acquire - read them with attention and gravity and then put them carefully on a shelf, alongside other books that had received the same treatment. But for many books, being placed on the shelf was the full extent of their encounter with their owner.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Cookbook Goodness

Just wanted to share this wonderful link for all you cookbook aficionados out there -- the Toronto Public Library has an exhibit right now of historical cookbooks. I'd love to see it in person, but the online version is nearly as good! Click on the poster to visit the virtual exhibit:

Incidentally, I love the 'page-flip' technology they use, it is very cool. The same technology is used on some texts on the Internet Archive -- a site you must look at if you haven't yet. The Internet Archive holds books, music, images, and video scanned from numerous libraries. It is amazing. Here is their mission statement:

The Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public.

And since there is so very, very much available over there, do take a wander through their resources. And check out this historical video about librarians (it made me laugh...)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

7 Random Facts - Book edition

Michele at Reader's Respite has tagged me for this meme -- I have not done a meme in quite a while now so this is the perfect time to try this one out!

So here are seven bookish facts about me:

1. I am a librarian and I always have loads of library books at home. (properly checked out, of course.)

2. When I was about 12 I decided to put spine labels and pockets with date due cards on all my books. Fortunately I didn't have very many of my own at the time! I recall forcing my friend Laurie to help me all of one afternoon when she'd rather have been playing outside. I still have my copy of Anne of Green Gables with the pocket and spine label attached with yellowing scotch tape. I wrote them all in pink. Weird.

3. I have to be reading more than one book at a time. I think it's because I'm mostly a "mood reader" and have to have a variety of options to pick from depending on how I feel.

4. The first book I ever bought for myself was Watership Down, in Grade 4. I had a gift certificate from my teacher and chose WD because it was big and fat and looked wonderful. Even though the bookstore owner tried to talk me into something more 'age appropriate', my Mom stood up for me

5. I could read before I went to school but have no memory of ever learning how.

6. I lived in the basement of a library for seven years.

7. I really like rereading old favourites, mostly to remind myself what I was like when I first read them. This works especially well with obscure, non-literary books which I haven't heard many people talk about; my original reactions remain clearer for those ones.

I am not sure who to tag for this one who hasn't already done it! But if it interests you and you'd like to share your bookish oddities with us, please leave a comment letting us know. I am always interested in a bibliophile's quirks!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yay, America!

I'm so pleased with the election results in the US! American politics really affects Canadians, and it is so nice to know that there is someone in charge who we can respect, and hope to work together with. Yay for everyone whose anxieties were eased yesterday!