Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday news: readers' guides, movie buzz for Little Bee, and Gatsby as ballet

I kid you not:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sick day musings

Yup, home sick am I. Simply too stuffed up and weak to get out of bed most of the weekend. Which means I got bored stiff, and plowed my way through 5.5 novels and 4 movies. Some highlights of my weekend:
  • I never thought I would be linking to, or talking about a Hallmark movie, but last night (after 4.5 novels!) my brain was too tired to do anything except sit catatonically in front of the TV. The only thing on that wasn't awful was the Hallmark movie about Irena Sendler, who saved 2500 Polish Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto during WW2. For me, the most amazing part of the story was that her deeds went more or less unrecognized on the global stage, due to lingering post-WW2 anti-Semitism and the repression of the postwar Polish government. That is, until an American high school history class (class motto: “He who changes one person changes the entire world,” and yes, I'm letting the sexism there go for now) uncovered Irena's story, wrote a play about it, and started an Irena Sendler Day in their town in Kansas. I could go on, but I'm just going to link to this and encourage you to check it out. Final note: the play has toured Canada, but their upcoming dates are all in American cities: find out more about getting them to visit here.

  • The best book I read this weekend was the British novel, Broken, by Daniel Clay. Don't let the Independent review turn you off: while it is about a mental breakdown, it's also about a young gir's innocence, courage and purity of spirit. Clay writes in the acknowledgements that his novel would not have been possible without To Kill A Mockingbird. In a certain sense, while Broken is not a re-telling, it does draw on some of the same themes: Skunk is a bit like Scout, her father's name is Archie, her mother is absent, and the title character is a bit like Boo, only likely in much worse shape. Broken also has a lot of humour in it, which helps it avoid being utterly bleak. The final scene in the book is what sold me on it completely (I was in tears, and showing emotions openly is quite rare for me when I'm reading - I tend to be pretty stone-faced when reading even the comics). I hesitate to say (but it is kind of true) that the final scene reads a bit like Molly Bloom's speech at the end of Ulysses. So utterly life-affirming. Don't get excited (or think I'm trying to sound pretentious) - I have actually only read parts of Ulysses. I know, I know. I'll get right on that next time I'm lying in bed for 3 days straight.

  • So, Broken won't break your spirit, but this will: libraries play pop music! ...And sometimes I wonder where I draw the line? The answer is, here. This is where I draw the line. There is so much wrong with this, I'm not even going to go there. Suffice it to say, it's simply wrong to see Sugababes and Bishops Cleeve in the same article. Also, little known fact about me: I can't listen to music and read at the same time. I could never even study or read anything in a café, unless under great duress. If more libraries started doing this, I'd go insane. Not to mention, how much would it suck to work there? I still can barely listen to Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" album because it reminds me of endless hours at Nicholas Hoare. Twitch, twitch.

  • The Annoyed librarian almost got a laugh out of me (if I laughed out loud while reading, that is) with this gem, related to her opinions about unconferences: "The trendy librarians might think they're doing something fresh and new, when really they're just trying to replicate the political meetings of a bygone era, where hairy, unwashed people sat around without direction arguing about politics and smoking dope. Those were the days! It just makes one want to scream, "Take a bath, 'unconference' attendees!""

Last, but not least, here is the rest of my reading/watching list from the weekend marathon, in case you're interested:
  • The Prairie Bridesmaid by Daria Salamon: not-totally-annoyingly-self-absorbed chicklit, so I don't completely hate myself. Plus, it's Canadian!

  • Down the Rabbit Hole (An Echo Falls Mystery) by Peter Abrahams: very good teen fic., with an entirely loveable heroine and a choppy writing style that actually really works.

  • Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter: second in a series I am reading to fill the hole in my life once filled by Veronica Mars - OK, it can't be filled, but this keeps me going like a cracker when you really want a steak. It's not bad, and it has its moments, but it's no Veronica. Funnily enough, there is a Veronica reference in this book!

  • Broken: A Novel by Daniel Clay ('nuff said)

  • Savvy by Ingrid Law: Newbery Honor book, PW Best Book of the Year, etc. - alas, I have to say I think it's a bit over-rated: seriously, how many running-away-going-on-a-roadtrip/sick parent/outcast children/incompentent adults who fall in love children's novels can you read? I think I'm reaching my legal limit. Nice subplot about a lonely minister's daughter, though - don't worry, I wasn't that lonely!

  • The Saver by Edeet Ravel: pretty good teen fic about a girl whose mum dies. She has no one, so she has to survive on her own in Montreal. The references to 'hoods I know was comforting, and I really loved her cat. Nice ending: not utterly unbelieveable, like those types of books often are.

  • Ballet Shoes (DVD): on a friend's recommendation, I watched this adaptation of the classic children's novel by Noel Streatfield. It was, as the friend told me, really well done. Emma Watson is quite good, as are the other young girls playing the three sisters. Emilia Fox is stunning, as usual!

  • Twilight (DVD): yes, I know, half of you are saying, get with the times, already! And the other half of you want to disown me for not having watched this yet. Don't even start: I haven't read the books, either. Life is short, and vampires just aren't my thing (sorry, Care. I still love Willow, though). Anyway, all I'm going to say is that Kristin Stewart can't act! Seriously! She looks confused all the time! It's like she has mistaken the "confused" face for the "angst-ridden because I'm in love with a vampire" face! Also, did they skip a lot of the book? Because there is no solid foundation for the love story in the movie: they keep skipping over the actual conversations Bella and Edward have by going all wide angle and playing (lovely) classical music. If the audience is going to believe in this obsessive love thing, it has to be substantiated by more than moody (or in Kristin's case, confused) glances. Great special effects and lovely scenery, though.

I'm off to re-enter the land of the living now (hopefully!)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday news: literature in public spaces, book-lending on London's Tube, and did you know libraries change lives?

I've been bad this week - again. I'm finding it pretty much takes all my energy these days to keep my head above water at work, although I'm hoping that will settle down in the next few weeks. I've also been feeling really tired, but hey, this blog is SO not going to turn into a depressing litany of health complaints, so I'm shutting it now.

Aside from working, reading, and running, I haven't been up to much, but here are some stories that have moved me or inspired me this week:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Glug, glug

This is kind of neat. A fishbowl conversation instead of a PowerPoint presentation! I might have to try it one day...

Plus it gave me an opportunity to post this photo, which I love. I sincerely hope fishbowl convos don't turn into this, though. Bonus points if you Montrealers can ID the location.

Earthquake in Italy damages state archives, national museum, and primary school library (among other things... and people)

I admit I've been remiss in my news-watching and reading this week. Something about coming home dead tired and collapsing into a heap on the couch. This photo made me wince. Other great articles are here and here.

Armchair library traveler

Check out The European Library Web Exhibition of the architecture of the great national libraries of Europe. This collection of over 300 photos and postcard (the latter coming from the collection of Sjoerd Koopman, who I had the pleasure of meeting at IFLA in Quebec City last year) are magnificent.

My only *minor* complaint is the fact that the photos open up in a window-on-window set-up, which is really annoying. You have to open and close each one individually.

Nevertheless, enjoy!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Google encourages promiscuity!" WSJ throws down its glove!


Robert Thomson, the editor of The Wall Street Journal spews this and many other quotables in this article about news aggregation.

Some other jewels: "There is no doubt that certain websites are best described as parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet."

"Google argues they drive traffic to sites, but the whole Google sensibility is inimical to traditional brand loyalty. Google encourages promiscuity -- and shamelessly so -- and therefore a significant proportion of their users don't necessarily associate that content with the creator. Therefore revenue that should be associated with the creator is not garnered."

"There is a collective consciousness among content creators that they are bearing the costs and that others are reaping some of the revenues -- inevitably that profound contradiction will be a catalyst for action and the moment is nigh."

And finally, "readers have been socialised - wrongly, I beleive - that much content should be free."

While he has some valid points, I think that ship has sailed. Sorry. I doubt the moment is nigh, after all. Methinks it's long gone.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

News-tastic Saturday!

Enjoy your weekend! I'll be scavenging for maple candy at Canada's only urban cabane à sucre!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Great new Canadian novel about chemistry, philately and sisters

I just finished Sweetness at the bottom of the pie, by Alan Bradley (which won the Crime Writers Association's Debut Dagger in 2007). I thought I would simply pop by here to say how great it was. It's always especially thrilling when a Canadian title with hype lives up to it (hmm. That sounds awfully pessimistic, doesn't it? I'm not sure where that passive agressive hostility comes from....).

Anyway, it's great. Eleven year-old detective Flavia is charming, for starters, and I was left with the distinct feeling that I wanted to read more about her. What completely engrossed me, and left me wanting more, oddly, was her relationship with her sisters. Bradley did a lovely job of hinting at their love for each other (I can't give too much away, so stop wondering, already! Just trust me on this!) while, on the surface, they were all quite utterly hideous to each other. Poison ivy, chemically mixed into lipstick. That's all I'm saying.

Read it!

My story, your story

I just finished reading an excellent article by Mitali Perkins (seen via Mitali's blog entry) for School Library Journal.

I've been thinking a lot lately about books written by white authors about different cultures. A colleague was telling me recently that a parent came to her, upset about a book written by a white author about her ethnic group. The parent complained to my colleague about this, stating that she felt it wasn't appropriate. I was really upset by this (although not surprised). While I can understand the initial feeling that your story has been told, perhaps not accurately, by someone else who may not know all of it, it worries me immensely that there is a feeling that "this is my story, not yours." Increasingly, the line between mine/yours is and should be blurring. What of the white writer who grew up in an African country? What is his story? What of the mixed-race author? And so on.

Mitali raises some interesting points. She mentions how Toni Morrison, in her book, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the American Literary Imagination, "described how white authors have used stock black characters to help a white protagonist spiritually and emotionally." That's one issue, for sure. It would be great if there was more variety in stories, and in characters. I think this will happen as time passes, and Western culture becomes even more diverse than it already is. We also have to nurture this diversity, as Mitali points out, by ensuring that authors are supported and, in my case, that libraries are buying material that tells a story from a different perspective.

Mitali also hits the nail on the head with respect to the mine/yours issue. She says, "Am I suggesting that a white author should never articulate clearly that a secondary character is not white? Not at all. [I'm not] calling for a rule in storytelling that restricts us from creating characters who don’t have the same racial makeup as we do." This locks us "into smaller and tighter boxes. What I hear echoing in that sort of talk is the mad drumbeat of apartheidspeak."