Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More African stories

Somewhat in keeping with what I was trying (clumsily) to express earlier re. the TV series "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," I just heard that Ebun Okubanjo is guest editing Chris Cleave's website, and recently announced that he is planning a series introducing positive stories about Africa. He writes that he wants to explore the Africa "that simply does not do hopelessness. The folks that have been dealt a tough hand and struggle to get through the days, the mothers that hold their newborns, with dreams as big as those of other parents but with nothing but love to help them on. The side that cries, but quickly gets out of the cycle of self pity, getting back to it, simply because they know that where there is life, there is hope - the folks that define the humanity of the African people. These are the stories that we want to explore."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Escapist TV?

I watched the premiere last night of the new television series"The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" last night on HBO, based on the books by Alexander McCall Smith. It was quite good (Jill Scott was an excellent Precious Ramotswe, for one!) and was really filled with the palpable love you feel McCall Smith has for Botswana when reading the books.

There is much debate about the appropriateness of McCall Smith's books. As a fairly decent Newsweek article asks, "is it appropriate for an escapist fantasy to be set in a culture where so many people are suffering?" When I first read the books, I had more "issues" with the escapist plot itself than where it was set. To me, it wasn't fair/unfair to set it in an African country, but I did feel slightly disappointed in the narrative as narrative. I've since heard the series compared to "Murder, She Wrote," which is perhaps quite apt. I suppose I was just expecting more, the first time I read it. I did feel, however, quite strongly, the sense of the setting: the love of bush tea, the love of the land, the love of the people.

The Newsweek article responds to criticisms about the setting by observing that ""Agency," like any other fictional story, should be judged on how skillfully it renders its world, not on the degree to which its world reflects reality. After all, the movies and television shows that have depicted Africa as a slide show of human suffering haven't shown the entire picture either." Indeed! It worries me that children grow up only hearing doom and gloom. I read a picture book about a young girl in Lesotho to a class of elementary school children last year, and one child raised his hand to ask me, "But aren't all children in Africa poor?" I would love for this child, and people who see Africa this way, to experience for a second, even via TV, a more positive image of life in African countries. I am ashamed to say I've never visited the continent, but my cousin lives, and is raising his two daughters, in Cape Town.

I think it's funny that I had the most concrete memory of Precious sitting down to tea in my head from reading the books, especially when I read the following in in a 2006 column in the Observer where McCall Smith wrote that "it is not for entirely escapist reasons that people visit and revisit such scenes; the small rituals of life - the drinking of tea and the eating of cake - are really big things in disguise. We need to sit down at the table with others while discussing with them the small, and the major, events of our lives. These activities anchor us in our relationships with others and establish patterns in our lives."

So check it out. Sundays @ 8 on HBO.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saving public libraries in Britain

Interesting post over at The Guardian online about public libraries in Britain. Critical of the amount of $ being spent on buildings, when collections seem to be dwindling and some libraries are closing outright. Rachel Cooke writes that "expenditure on books in our libraries is below 8% of the total public library funds, and in inner London that figure is just 5.7% (across the country, councils spend just 1.6% of their funding on children's books; several councils, Hackney and Doncaster among them, spend less than 1%." Disturbing stuff! Cooke also has an interesting perspective on the Idea Store (having not yet visited one, I can't say if she got an accurate picture, but it's certainly not the picture painted at conference sessions I went to about Idea Stores! They neglected to mention the waifish book collection!)

Fun stat: "1.5 million visits to Norfolk and Norwich Millennium library last year makes it the UK's busiest library." I'll be putting that one on my list for December.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Match made in heaven

I just read in the January/February issue of Public Libraries that Ian Sansom (of The Mobile Library series, which is hilarious, and a great read-alike for fans of Jasper Fforde) and Oliver Jeffers (whose Lost and Found I blogged about awhile ago) are teaming up on a children's book. Sounds delish!

Book launch @ the Manx

For you local followers, here's a news item of interest: Octopus will be hosting a launch of Shani Mootoo's new book, Valmiki's Daughter, at the Manx Pub on Elgin on Sat., April 4th. Info here!

Congrats to Seamus Heaney

... for winning The David Cohen Prize for Literature!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Made my day

It doesn't take much, as you readers know from the bag episode last week. Yesterday, I was buried in a mountain of work (at least a foot high... I know because it's still sitting over there staring at me....). What kept me from utter despair was numerous coffee refills, a nice run after work, and THIS (see pic) on my desk: a new copy of Three Little Ghosties, with a mobile in the back! Wheee!

And no, that pile is NOT the foot-high one. That's another one that I forgot about until after I took this picture. Darn it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New fiction

My good friend and former professor, the lovely and talented Claire Holden Rothman, has a new novel out, a fictional biography of Maude Abbott. One of McGill's first women graduates, a cardiologist, and early curator of McGill's Medical Musuem, Abbott is more or less unheard of by most McGill students, and likely some faculty as well. She was Osler's protégé, and was on McGill's academic staff as a Lecturer in Pathology, and eventually as an Assistant Professor.

Oh, and Diego Rivera painted her into his 1943 mural of the 50 most important heart specialists in the world, which hangs in the National Institute of Cardiology of Mexico City.

I think it's going to be a fascinating book (I have to pick one up...! I know, for instance, that Books on Beechwood has 3 on order...). If you're in Montreal, go to the launch at Nicholas Hoare on Greene Ave. this week (see the end of the Gazette article for info).

I also think Claire makes an excellent point about women's stories not being told. One great source is We walked very warily: A history of women at McGill, which a very good friend gave me as a graduation gift. But then, see, even as I was looking that book up online just now, it's not even listed in Amazon.ca..... I can't even find a cover image. So, that's it. I'm linking to LibraryThing... and I'm not happy about it.

New book from the Booker-winning author of The White Tiger

Coming soon!

A confession

I am slavishly devoted to small presses, and especially to small presses that publish literary fiction. We're talking Faber & Faber, Hamish Hamilton, and, in Canada, Cormorant Books (who I love especially for reprinting Gwethalyn Graham), for instance.

So, when I found a half-page ad announcing the new Hamish Hamilton Canada imprint, I was, of course, ecstatic. Even Martin Levin couldn't put me off. I was soon also drooling, because to celebrate, they were handing out Hamish Hamilton Canada bags at selected Canadian bookstores. Of course, I. Had. To. Have. One. Of. Those. Bags.

Thanks to a fabulous spouse, I now do.

Excuse me. I'll be over there with the bag now, being a total geek.

The changing role of the public library

There was an interesting post on the PLA Blog yesterday about the changing role of the public library. Blogger Nate Hill describes a food and agriculture-related event he attended at the Bushwick branch of Brooklyn Public Library. Hill says he suggested, in conversation, that "the public library relies far too much on its reputation, provenance, and historical book-circulating model for its clout in the community," and he saw an unfulfilled need in the community, at that event, for the organization, categorization and centralization of information related to various local eco projects ("growing vegetables on [...] rooftops, organizing a food coop, [...or] becoming a part of [a] community garden"). He adds, "They all know that the information is out there, but they wanted to come together, share experiences and best practices, and create some kind of centralized well of information that they can all drink from."

He suggests a wiki, or something, and I totally agree! Some libraries are already moving towards this type of resource, and I hope there's more to come. Hill talks about designing resources and training patrons... and I think these types of roles for librarians are going to be more and more important in the coming years.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Fun things I've been reading this morning

Well, mostly I've been consuming various cups of coffee and reading The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan: An Enola Holmes Mystery, but also...
  • A lovely sketch of Shakespeare and Company (been there! But I feel left out now, because George didn't throw a book down onto my head...) by Jeanette Winterson. "We sell books for a living, but it's the books that are our life," says Sylvia Whitman. Hear, hear.

  • Not sure how I feel about it, but the Living Library idea is coming to Canada. I think it makes me nervous because it's oddly fetishistic. Also, are we really that bloody ignorant and sheltered that we need to formally "check out" a human being? If I want to learn about a certain subculture, I find a way to get into it: via books, culture, events, museums, etc. Oh well, whatever works, I guess.

  • My friend, author Chris Cheave, over-caffeinates himself in Seattle, and films a seagull trying to break into his hotel room. I think I'd be even more of a mess if I was on a book tour (I don't always travel well) so I sympathise. Also, he's just hilarious.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday news!

Before I collapse back into bed with my Sac magique, here's some stuff I've been reading (on the laptop, in bed, surrounded by Kleenex - wait, that's probably more info than you wanted...):
  • Server craps out on several small public libraries in Quebec, closing their doors temporarily

  • Stop hanging on to that "Get out of jail free!" card from your Monopoly board! All you have to do is join a book club!

  • Four stars, and "a new power," for Diaz and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, from The Independent. If you haven't read it yet, hurry up.

New title

You will see I have adopted a new title for this blog. I suppose in some ways it's in honour of the fact that it's no longer a workshop-induced blog, but a personal one. The real explanation is that I'm not so good at coming up with titles, and I'm embarrassed to say it took me this long to come up with this (super-obvious, for me) one.

Some of you may know that the phrase above is the epigraph to E. M. Forster's novel, Howards End. The complete quote, which appears in Chapter 22, is "Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die."

I am a big Forster fan. I wrote my undergrad Honours thesis about him, but that's a whole other story about forging connections across cultural, religious, ethnic and social classes, and we don't have time for all that here. Suffice it to say that I will see this blog as a space for connections, mostly of the literary sort.

Since I'm hopped up on Advil Cold and Sinus, that's all for now!

Turning the page

I've come to the end of my OPL course, so there is no formal reason for this blog to continue. Nevertheless, I think, like BookPusher said on our course wiki, I have unleashed my inner blogger. So (good news for my 3 readers! Or maybe there are more?) I am staying put. Unleashed I am.

My last course assignment is to blog about this workshop experience. I really enjoyed it. Frankly, I knew a bit about the technologies already, but I really valued the opportunity to share the tools with my colleagues @ OPL. I learned some more about many of them, both personally and professionally, and that was a great gift. Plus, we got to share ideas, opinions, and learning tools. That was very helpful for me.

So, onward.

TPL-filled weekend!

Yup, I had a TPL-filled weekend. I usually try to visit a few branches of the Toronto Public Library when I'm in town (gotta make a dent in 99, you know!), and this time, it was well worth the schlepping around town. Here's a summary, with links to TPL info and my Flickr pics along the way.

I first made my way to the Annette Branch (a Carnegie library), based solely on the fact that someone who attended my recent OLA talk worked there. Annette Branch is a lovely, traditional Carnegie branch, opened in 1909, and it bears many similarities to my library... or, it, ahem, will, once mine gets its major facelift. Annette Branch boasts lovely dental moulding on the ceiling, an intriguing Edison phonograph, and a cozy periodicals area. Not to mention, I got a personalised tour, as it turned out my friend from OLA was working (ah, public libraries... always making us work Saturdays...).

Based on this friend's recommendation, I next made my way to the Dufferin/St. Clair Branch, which has several unique features. First off, it has breath-taking murals by G. A. Reid and Doris McCarthy, painted between 1925 and 1932 and recently restored (they had been painted over in 1964, which is criminal!) Hats off also to Makrimichalos Cugini Architects for a lovely renovation, including two little wings off either side of the branch, acting as glassed-in reading rooms. I love it when we smaller branches make the absolute most of the limited space we have! That's thinking, kids! (Sorry, no wings pics since I didn't want to risk my life in the middle of the street). The gorgeous dark wood stacks inside the Adults area, moreover, are perfectly in keeping with the elegance of the branch (made the husband very happy, too - he's a tough critic when it comes to wood finishes, and, let's admit it, libraries usually cheap out on this and it's very visible...), and the muted colour scheme lets the murals shine through.

Now, the pièce de résistance: the KidsStop. I just about died with sheer excitement at the sight of it. I had heard that TPL was building these interactive early literacy spaces to re-inforce pre-literacy skills taught in library programming (TPL uses Ready for Reading; we at OPL use ALA's Every Child Ready to Read). Nothing prepares you for seeing the space, though. It was, by far, the absolute best library experience that my husband (not a librarian!) and I have ever had. We both walked out of it in awe. I'll start from the beginning.

So, you're in the Children's Department (terribly dark photo here). Pretty kickass on its own, I might say, with mirrors on the edge of each row and lovely natural light pouring in. If you're me, you immediately spot the dragon from The Paper Bag Princess on the wall, and exclaim about it. A random mum nearby overheard me (apparently I left my "library voice" at home that day) and says, "Wait until you go inside." Me: "Inside where?" "Over there," she replies, pointing underneath the dragon where wooden beams are cut to look like tree branches forming an archway.

Under the archway you go, looking up to see a ceiling of stars. You come out (pleased as punch, if you're me!) in a small, separate room, filled with picture books and various toys and games. Everything is in the same polished wood, painted in places, naturally stained in others. Another Martchenko dragon fills the centre of the room, carrying books on his back. One wall is mostly taken up by the castle for play-acting, bookended by pit stops for narrative skills and print awareness. Other stops for letter knowledge and print motivation caught my eye (who could not be motivated on a throne?), as did the colourful home for the Dial-a-story phone. Just past the dragon's backside (sorry, but it's true) were more pre-literacy games at baby's eye level (one of my favourites was the spin-a-story thingamajig) and a toy book return bin (every budding librarian's dream!).

I think TPL did a fabulous job with this branch. I can't say enough about it.

After all that, I must say my first visit (I know - that's just sad) to the Toronto Reference Library was anticlimactic. It is quite something, what with the collections in many languages and all that (Finnish included!) and the various special collections (we peered into the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection room). I did have the palpable feeling that I was in an important space, and I reminded myself of authors and intellectuals who have hung out here, doing research, even if the fraying carpeting on the staircase walls (who carpets walls?) was doing its best to kill my mood. I must end on a positive note, though, to assuage my own conscience if nothing else: I really like the Foundation's recent poster campaign. You can read the stories featured on the posters here.

That was enough for one day. We retired to a pub for dinner.

Just in case you think I'm a total geek who goes to different cities exclusively to check out libraries (I suppose that's not far off, though...), I was there for a work-related purpose. And I did do other stuff, I swear!

Meanwhile, I came home exhausted and managed to somehow make myself ill again. Charming.

It was worth it for that dragon, though.