Friday, April 30, 2010

Felt Friday #1: "Things that go!"!

I can hear you now: "Whaaaa? Cars and a bus and some animals? Huh?"

Also, the first thing you should know about my felts is they are frequently not to scale. Look - I got the colours right. Bite me already. Besides, the giant bunny makes me laugh.

I like to combine Ye Olde Traditional Transportation-themed storytime with The Seals on the Bus. Some other favourite stories are on my LibraryThing here.

My advice re. Seals: do the animals from the book, and then let them pick others to do using the felts you have and just using improv: they love the interactivity of that. Save something quiet for the end, though, like the bunnies; otherwise you will have a room-full of hyperactive children and no script left. Oh, and be sure to plug your nose for the skunk.

Here are some songs for you.

Windshield Wiper (tune: “I’m a little teapot”)
I’m a windshield wiper,
Watch me wipe
First on the left side,
Then on the right.
I just love to wipe, and wipe and wipe.
I can wipe all day and night.

Old MacDonald’s Truck (tune: “Old MacDonald had a farm”)
Old MacDonald had a truck, E-I-E-I-O.
And into town he drove his truck, E-I-E-I-O.
With a bump, bump here,
And a bump, bump there,
Here a bump, there a bump.
Old MacDonald had a truck, E-I-E-I-O.

Old MacDonald had a truck, E-I-E-I-O.
And into town he drove his truck, E-I-E-I-O.
With a beep, beep here,
And a beep, beep there,
Here a beep, there a beep.

Old MacDonald had a truck, E-I-E-I-O.
Old MacDonald had a truck, E-I-E-I-O.
And into town he drove his truck, E-I-E-I-O.
With a vroom, vroom here,
And a vroom, vroom there,
Here a vroom, there a vroom.
Old MacDonald had a truck, E-I-E-I-O.

The Wheels on the Bus is an obvious choice. Here is a French version:

Les roues de l'autobus
Les roues de l'autobus roulent, roulent
Roulent, roulent, roulent, roulent
Les roues de l'autobus roulent, roulent
Toute la journée.

Le consucteur de l'autobus dit: "À l'arrière”…
Les essuie-glaces de l'autobus font swish, swish, swish…
La porte de l’autobus ouvre et ferme…
La monnaie dans l’autobus fait, clinc, clinc, clinc…
Les bébés dans l’autobus font wouah, wouah, wouah…
Les gens dans l’autobus font shh, shh, shh….
Les parents dans l’autobus disent je t’aime, je t’aime, je t’aime…
Le klaxon de l'autobus fait tut, tut, tut…
Les passagers de l'autobus font bomp, bomp, bomp…
Le consucteur de l'autobus dit: "Au revoir”…

Seals On The Bus
The seals on the bus go errp, errp, errp, …
The tigers on the bus go roar, roar, roar, …
The geese on the bus go honk, honk, honk, …
The ducks on the bus go quack, quack, quack, ….
The rabbits on the bus go up and down, up and down, …
The monkeys on the bus go eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, …
The vipers on the bus go hiss, hiss, hiss, …
The sheep on the bus go baah, baah, baah, …
The skunks on the bus go ssss, ssss, ssss, ….
The people on the bus go help, help, help, …

And if you're really desperate to entertain the little squirmy worms for awhile, embark on this one...
The Wheels on the Racecar
The wheels on the racecar go round and round,
Round and round, round and round,
The wheels on the racecar go round and round,
All around the track.

The engine in the racecar goes vroom-vroom-vroom,
Vroom-vroom-vroom, vroom-vroom-vroom,
The engine in the racecar goes vroom-vroom-vroom,
All around the track.

The driver in the racecar yells “Go-Go-Go!”
“Go-Go-Go!” “Go-Go-Go!”
The driver in the racecar yells “Go-Go-Go!”
All around the track.

The racecar on the track goes zip-zip-zip
Zip-zip-zip, zip-zip-zip
The racecar on the track goes zip-zip-zip
All around the track.

The driver in the racecar steers and steers,
Steers and steers, steers and steers,
The driver in the racecar steers and steers,
All around the track.

The racecar mechanics go zizz-zizz-zizz,
Zizz-zizz-zizz, zizz-zizz-zizz,
The racecar mechanics go zizz-zizz-zizz,
All around the track.

The gas from the gas can goes GLUG-GLUG-GLUG,
The gas from the gas can goes GLUG-GLUG-GLUG,
All around the track.

The driver in the racecar speeds on back,
Speeds on back, speeds on back,
The driver in the racecar speeds on back,
All around the track.

The driver in the racecar makes his move,
Makes his move, makes his move,
The driver in the racecar makes his move,
All around the track.

The driver in the racecar zooms to the lead,
Zooms to the lead, zooms to the lead,
The driver in the racecar zooms to the lead,
All around the track.

The checkered flag goes swish-swish-swish,
Swish-swish-swish, swish-swish-swish,
The checkered flag goes swish-swish-swish,
All around the track.

The wheels on the racecar go round and round,
Round and round, round and round,
The wheels on the racecar go round and round,
All around the track.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Congratulations, Jessica Grant!

...whose lovely novel, Come, thou tortoise, has won the First Novel Award.

I would not say no to a tortoise.

Excerpt here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Announcement: Felt Fridays coming soon!

I had a few positive comments about those felt ducks who made an appearance on this blog last week, so I thought I would try something new here. As you know, my first love in public library services is readers' advisory, and many posts here have been about RA.... but....

I also struggle valiantly against children's services taking over my life. My job is to serve all ages at my branch, which means, on a good day, literary conversations about the next Booker compete with a rollicking storytime about monkeys, and maybe a Twilight read-alike recommendation. On a bad day, it means being told how to spell Margaret Atwood (how stupid do I look?) while filling the printer with paper (x 100), trouble-shooting the PCs (remember to extract the pencil from the floppy drive!), tripping over toys in the early literacy corner, shouting over screaming babies, all while conducting a "conversation" with a monosyllabic teen about his 2 hour+ Facebook use and the need of other individuals visiting the library to use the Internet as well. Man, I really do love my job.

Anyway, I do children's programming, and I like the balance of serving all ages, except that there is always SO MUCH to do for children's programming. Luckily, after 8+ years of storytime experience, I am beginning to get good at pulling the occasional program out of my hat. I have a special place in my heart for felts. When I train new staff who are doing programming for kids, I always say, do what you love. Don't do a stick story if you hate stick stories. Don't do a tell-and-draw if, like me, you suck at tell-and-draw (10 seconds into mine: "It's a whale!" Thanks, kid). Unless you hadn't already noticed, kids can smell fear. Do what you are comfortable doing in your storytime, or practice something so you become comfortable with it. I don't recommend practicing on your family members, though, unless you want your husband to hate every children's book except for Bark, George (well, it is an amazing book, you have to admit. Another great example of the willing suspension of disbelief).

Felts are my security blanket. Not only are they tactile and interactive (given you have indestructible felts and a secure board, and preferably children older than 2), they are a great way to break the ice in storytime: set up the felt beforehand and ask kids if they can tell you what today's storytime is about. Be sure to make outrageous guesses yourself: "Did you say toothbrushes? I don't see any toothbrushes!" "Bellybuttons? I don't think so!" They can also act as marketing if your storytime room, like mine, can be viewed by the public. I leave my felts up unless another group is using our room, so people coming and going can see through the glass the types of programs libraries do. This is also why I never leave a messy program room: duh. Well, except for now, when it's full of boxes for the migration.

So, I hereby christen Fridays on this blog Felt Fridays! I will be posting a photo of one of my handmade (yes, by me! As the wise Kaya once muttered as she and I grimly glitter-fied some felts years ago, F.A.C.E. did teach us some life skills!) felts and some accompanying songs/rhymes/stories in French and English.

Have fun, children's programmers.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Caine Prize shortlist

The Caine Prize for African Writing has announced its shortlisted short stories:

Ken Barris (South Africa) for "The Life of Worm," from New Writing from Africa 2009. Writes the Guardian, "the story of a very anxious man with an almost uncontrollable dog. Barris has said that the story is an "ever so slightly" exaggerated version of his own experiences as the anxious owner of a difficult dog.

Lily Mabura (Kenya) for "How Shall We Kill the Bishop?" from Wasafiri No53, Spring 2008, which the Guardian summarises as being about "religious hierarchy in a north Kenyan town."

Namwali Serpell (Zambia) for "Muzungu," from The Best American Short Stories 2009, described by magazine as an exploration of race and class in Zambia "through the eyes of a snotty eight-year-old girl."

Alex Smith (South Africa) for "Soulmates," from New Writing from Africa 2009, described by the Guardian as "a fictionalised account of the first recorded mixed race love affair in Africa, in which a white woman finds love with an African slave."

Olufemi Terry (Sierra Leone) for "Stickfighting Days," from Chimurenga vol 12/13 (Guardian: "in which adolescent boys fight and sniff glue in a city rubbish dump.")

Saturday, April 24, 2010

International storytime

You would think that singing songs with animal noises in storytime would be easy, right? Not so much in a bilingual environment, in which a French cow goes "meuh" (a subtle difference) and a Frenc duck goes "coin".

Thank heavens there is now a table of animal sounds to back me up.

Now, all together, "Old Macdonald had a farm...."

Felts made by me!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Prolific kids' nonfic author profiled in Canadian Children's Book News

... In Canadian Children's Book News this month (full-text here). Elizabeth MacLeod says:

"Non-fiction books for youth will continue to be important in the future. 'Not much internet material is written for children. Parents need to stand there to verify the material is not only credible, but age appropriate. With books,' MacLeod enthuses, 'parents can give their kids that alone time.' "

Happy Birthday, Will!

Stratford, Ontario, 2007.

Age cannot wither you, nor custom stale your infinite variety.

Shortlists for Kate Greenway and Carnegie medals

The Guardian has lovely galleries set up for both the Kate Greenway Medal and the Carnegie Medal.

Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book is on both lists.

This is the way the ILS migration begins...

R: divided by collection code; L: to be filled later

Not with a bang, but with a lot of boxes

(and yes, some whimpering!)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dude totally pretty much stole my title

But that's OK. I guess we can still be friends and all.

I like that he points out that public libraries have a responsibility to provide the most "accurate and up-to-date information possible. Weeding not only allows for this, but also presents the library as a more credible source for information."

New York City Library Card Act

It's true - there is such a thing! Mayor Bloomberg signed it into law last week.

It will require
"the Department of Education (DOE) to supply library card applications and information on how to apply for the cards. The applications will be distributed to students who are entering kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade. It also requires the DOE to supply students who are transferring to a new school with library card applications."


DDC vs. world, Round 4, 685

A fellow blogger and colleague pointed me toward this article about DDC and how it's killing our libraries. The hook for the article is the idea that libraries should be intuitive, like the iPad (or Apple products in general), which is a nice idea but likely totally unrealistic.

The comments after this article are the best part, especially this one, which unpacks the issue properly.

On the benefits of poetry to parents

Elliot Vanskike of The Poetry Foundation muses about clinging to poetry of moments of high emotion or extreme vulnerability in life. He mentions Yeats's "A Prayer for My Son," Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Spring," Stevie Smith's "Not Waving but Drowning," Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," George Garrett's "Or Death and December," and his small children can now recite e. e. cummings and Blake's "The Tyger."

I can recite my favourite poem, Yeats' When You Are Old:"

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Other than that, my head swims in T. S. Eliot (usually Prufrock - ugh, what does that say about me? "I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker"?), and scads of Canadian modernists (Purdy, MacEwen, Atwood, Kroetsch), with a smattering of Neruda (my cousin Kielan kindly read out "It Is Born" at our Uncle Michael's funeral, at my request).

Vanskike also briefly makes fun of the poetic gems of Lily Allen, but it reminded me that there are many musicians who are poets (or should be) - and I don't mean Leonard Cohen. I'm thinking of Aimee Mann, in particular. Some of her rhymes are inspired: one autumn, I was quite hooked on "Ray, can we repay/Ourselves for days that we've lost through indecision/With one of recognition?/If so, then here I go/'Cause some things you know/And some you just believe in/And hope it comes out even." She also has my undying love for rhyming "here" with "chanticleer."

What are the snippets of poetry or musical lyrics that stay close to you? What have you memorised? What have you read at weddings (or funerals)? Comments encouraged!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mid-week melee of news

And I started my day today by accidentally deleting a file I needed, and having to call IT to open a request to restore. Ya, so OPLers, if you delete from the S or H drives, it doesn't go to the Recycle Bin. Just saying.

I've been a bit swamped here: planning summer programs, hosting author visits (one down, 2 to go, including local author Paul Glennon!) and LANCR events, arranging stuff to do during our library's system downtime during migration to a new version of our ILS, doing class visits and storytimes, working Sunday overtime, helping my mum buy a new PC, training for an upcoming running event, and more.

Meanwhile, I just finished Savage lands by Clare Clark (on the Orange longlist; shortlist announced yesterday) - I liked it, but definitely didn't love it. It was certainly steeped in its setting, and a solid historical novel, but nothing, to me, especially remarkable.

I'm now on to No fixed address by Aritha van Herk (based on a recommendation from fellow blogger, Maylin), which I am quite enjoying even though it is somewhat different from the type of thing I usually read (more illuminating thoughts forthcoming). My lunchtime book is Straight Man, by Richard Russo, which is also somewhat different in tone from my usual pick, but interesting.

Anyway, news. That's what I started out talking about, didn't I? With no futher ado:

Two solitudes in women's lit?

"Women's fiction: All misery and martinis?" from is a great read about women's fiction, and whether it's either dark and problem-based (Orange Prize juror: "If I read another sensitive account of a woman coming to terms with bereavement, I was going to slit my wrists") or light and airy as a caramel-flavoured rice cake (think: chick lit).

At right are four covers for Heartburn, a book which I suppose would easily be categorised as "women's fiction," (all the hallmarks: life changes, dastardly husband capable of "having sex with a venetian blind," food as therapy) but which is serious, thoughtful, and intellectual (a propos of nothing, really, the real-life husband, whose ability to have sex with inanimate objects remains unconfirmed, is journalist Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame). At top L, the original cover; at top R, a later movie tie-in cover (yes, that's Meryl); at bottom L, a random reprint; at bottom R, the newest edition. I was embarrassed to be reading this edition from the library. I'm sure it was a marketing decision; I can just see publishers salivating over the demographic they can hook into Ephron's 1983 roman à clef (a demographic likely in diapers when the book originally came out).

To wit:
  • Author Jessica Duchen contends we write seriously because we want to make sure we aren't corralled into the chick lit market. As Salon phrases it, "Let one character crack a joke, and you risk inviting a candy-colored cover and all of the attendant derision."
  • Salon also does a great break-down of current bestsellers, and where they traditionally fit on the audience and genre spectrum.
  • Salon points out that women buy the majority of fiction, anyway, so "wouldn't it make sense to consider women the default buyers of fiction, and men the picky niche market?" That made me laugh.
  • A B&N blogger points out we would never dismiss books written by men, for men, as "men's fiction," so why do we ghetto-ise "women's fiction?"
So, as Salon concludes, what kind of women's fiction do we read, or what kinds exist? All kinds.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The library at Alexandria

Two good articles recently about the ancient library at Alexandria, and the modern Biblioteca Alexandrina (I had the great pleasure of seeing Dr. Ismail Serageldin, Director of the BA, receive an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Laval during the opening ceremony of the IFLA 2008 conference). The first is "heavy" reading; the second, light:
  1. "Toward a New Alexandria: Imagining the future of libraries" in The New Republic: "We want to preserve that which we have not yet incorporated into our learned canons: the near-extinct and the barely remembered, the oral traditions and the dying languages, the esoteric and the sacred—the reviled, even—and the persecuted. We want the Nazi state papers and the Lodz ghetto archives, the Soviet encyclopedias and the samizdat literature, the Maimonides commentaries and the Genizah fragments, the Ethiopians' church songs and their memories of the recent famines." Conclusions: "The question is not whether there will be future scholars. It is how these future scholars will remember and integrate previous scholarship. And in pondering that, which means pondering our own scholarly legacy, it is worth remembering that “the generational war is the one war whose outcome is certain.” "
  2. "A Great Library of the Past and Present" from the SPL Shelf Talk blog

Friday, April 16, 2010

Passive aggressive library signs

My favourite: Do not chew on the headphone cords. Seriously, who do you think is doing that?

Link here!

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Shortlist

It's up!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Would you like a cat or a hot water bottle?

(I prefer a Sac magique, but be that as it may....)

Sylvia Plath on first staying in an English home:

"And I remember particularly when going to bed at night, she very seriously offered me the choice of a hot water bottle or a cat. She didn't have enough hot water bottles to go round or enough cats to go around, but if she used both of them they came out even. And I chose the cat."

The BBC has recently released an audio recording of Plath and Hughes talking about meeting, courting, marrying and, of course, writing.

CLA’s Book of the Year for Children Award

Well, dear readers, I can now share with you our selections for the CLA Book of the Year for Children Award (BOYCA). Fellow judges Kay Weisman, Helen Kubiw, and Myra Junyk, and I gave this year's award to Watching Jimmy, a first novel by Nancy Hartry. Our Honour Books were Vanishing Girl by Shane Peacock, and Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson (another newcomer). Watching Jimmy, about a brain-damaged young boy (the title character) and his young friend, and the secrets they share, moved me quite deeply. Hartry deftly captured the time period (1950s Canada) in minimalist prose, brilliantly weaving a story about two young single mothers into a story about war, peace, family and health care (Tommy Douglas makes a brief appearance). There, that last bit should pique your interest.

Press release here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Why crime novelists don't get women"

Bookninja pointed me towards this great article about female stereotypes in crime novels (the author points out four tropes: the cop's wife who just doesn't get it, the babe assassin, the ice queen bureaucrat, and the token lesbian cop. As I was trying to say in my post about this last month, "when a writer wants to write a thriller from a woman's point of view, he needs to do more than slot one of the caricatures above into the starring role."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Librarians without Borders are going to Guatemala!

Read more via A Canuck Librarian.

Edzell Library

Edzell Library, Inglis Memorial Hall, Edzell, Angus, Scotland

This is just one drop of water in a sea of ineptitude, but it merits mentioning. Stories like these illustrate the human impact that community library closures have.

The lovely Scottish town of Edzell, famous for its Edzell Castle (visited by Mary, Queen of Scots, while on her northern expedition to quell the Huntly Rebellion - shhh, those were probably my Huntly relatives!) and its walled gardens, is losing its library. In fact, all four rural libraries in the Angus Council area closed at the end of March 2010 and will be and will be replaced by a mobile library service, for a saving of £30,000. There was no prior public consultation. Meanwhile, as Edzell Library Action Group underlined, it is deeply troubling that no consultations were made over this decision, and that larger decisions which involved more money being spent have gone through Council.

Take a walk inside your head for a minute (I'd fly you all over, but, you know, the cost....): The Edzell library was donated to the community for use as a library by Lieut. Col. Robert William Inglis in 1898 (Inglis' books are still there). The Edzell Library Action Group believes it to be one of the best preserved examples of a late 19th century public library surviving in the UK.

It features stained-glass windows, original fixtures, and - brace yourself - it is one of the few remaining libraries with the Cotgreave indicator. Be still my heart.

As the Edzell Library Action Group (henceforth christened by me ELAG) pointed out, while the Council has claimed the mobile library will provide Edzell with better service, it will only be parked outside the former library building for 2 hours a week; the former library building was open nine hours a week. Oh , and the mobile library will not have Internet service - looks like the digital divide is still alive and well, and not merely in the Third World!

Never fear, my pretties. The Council has promised to not only maintain but improve the Edzell Library building, making it a destination for local history material and resources. They say they hope to promote the historical library and building, without (of course) being specific about anything. Hmph. As ELAG points out, could they not have done this while maintaining the library? God knows, they will need some staff for the heritage centre, beyond the volunteers they hope to rely on. Who better to help promote local history than librarians or library assistants, guardians of the recorded word (and sometimes realia, too!)? Hey, wait, this reminds me: I strongly urge Council to read Public Libraries, Archives and Museums: Trends in Collaboration and Cooperation. How horribly vain is it to quote myself? Oh well, don't hate me (sources referred to are at the end of this post):

'While there are certainly both benefits and risks to collaborative projects between libraries, museums and archives, “all the evidence indicates that pooled resources and shared expertise will help … promote social inclusion, meet special needs and touch the lives of hard-to-reach groups” (Spelman and Kelly 24). Writes David Carr, “when we capture and express such possibilities, we come to own a view of the future” (38). Libraries, archives and museums must respond to [the challenges of the digital age] by similarly defying physical boundaries: finding new ways to deliver information to the public, collaborating to preserve and digitise heritage information, and pursuing new joint-use facilities.'

Now then, ahem. A few numbers, just to keep it all scientific-like. 2001 Census results show that Edzell is:
  • a growing community [current population approx. 1000].
  • home to the highest percentage of people over 75 in Angus
  • home to the highest percentage of people with a limiting long term illness or poor health in Angus (I find they always have the most fun getting in and out of mobile libraries, don't you agree?)
Library statistics show that:
  • When calculated at 'per head of population per hours open,' (figures calculated in different ways show different things) Edzell's borrowing rate and visitor rate is close to 3 times that of libraries with regular, full time opening hours.
  • Use of "part-time" libraries is growing in Angus, while use of "full-time" libraries is dropping off.
Councils have a duty to provide adequate library service to communities; the question is, is 2 hours a week in and out of a bookmobile adequate for a growing population in a rural area, full of seniors and generally enthusiastic borrowers?

For the moment, the Scottish Library and Information Council/CILIP in Scotland seems to be on the ball, advocating for the importance of library services in Edzell and Angus Council. The battle, however, is far from over, and it's only one battle in the war.

For more information about Edzell Library, follow these links:

Sources quoted in the excerpt from my professional paper above:
  1. Carr, David. “In the Contexts of the Possible: Libraries and Museums as Incendiary Cultural Institutions.” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts and Cultural Heritage 1.2 (2000): 117-35.
  2. Spelman, Anne, and Paula Kelly. “In Visible Light: Illuminating Partnerships Across Libraries to Facilitate Lifelong Learning for Young People.” Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services (Aplis) 17.4

Reading aloud to your children: "The Streak"

Rebecca sent me the link to this lovely article about a father-daughter project: 1, 000 nights of reading together (they called it "The streak"). It's really moving:

"Generation B: A Father-Daughter Bond, Page by Page." by MICHAEL WINERIP. New York Times.

"In those nine-plus years, they survived many close calls. [...] Kristen [...] was active in community theater groups that would rehearse late, and a few dozen times, Mr. Brozina turned up and read to her between scenes. One night, a rehearsal for “I Remember Mama” was supposed to end at 11:30, but the director, upset with the performance, was yelling at the players. “Our rule was we had to read before midnight and it had to be at least 10 minutes,” Mr. Brozina said. “It was 11:45 and he wasn’t letting up.”

“Dad took me off the stage,” Kristen said. “I was 17.”

“We sat in the auditorium and I read to her,” said Mr. Brozina.


Pulitzers announced, too!

Fiction winner: Tinkers by Paul Harding. Paul was interviewed by Bookslut here; other reviews abound.

Small Island on TV

Masterpiece Theatre (still known in my house as Monsterpiece Theatre) is showing the British-made 2-part series based on the Andrea Levy book, Small Island, this coming Sunday, April 18 and the following Sunday, April 25, at 9pm. Here is the trailer:

And, since I know you're still thinking about it, here you go, in honour of "the feelings that bubble deep within all of us" (and I'm sorry Mel is in this, because I hate that crazy man):

Now, as Hamlet tells Elmo, get thee to a library!

Orange you glad for new writers?

I'm sorry, that was terrible. In my defense, it's early in the morning...

Orange New Writers Award Shortlist Announced

Monday, April 12, 2010

Commonwealth Writers' Prize awarded!

... To British-Indian novelist Rana Dasgupta for Solo!
Australian Glenda Guest's Siddon Rock won for best first book.

School librarians in school libraries: the South African struggle

Ah, it's not just in Quebec, dear readers. It's everywhere.

And it makes me gnash in despair to read this about the country, even the same city, where my lovely cousin and his fabulous wife are raising two strong, brilliant, imaginative and lively girls (below) at Samhitakasha:

"In 2010, when we have built fine football stadiums across the country and will undoubtedly run an organised and inspiring World Cup, children were marching under the same banner as in 1976: Equal Education. [...The organisation] Equal Education points out [that] fewer than 7% of schools in South Africa have a functioning library. Perhaps 21% have some kind of structure called a reading room, but these are usually used for classrooms, are seldom stocked properly and do not have a library professional in charge to ensure that the right books are there and that they are used properly."

I hereby confess...

...that I have only read one of the shortlisted IMPAC Dublin Literary Award books:
The Believers by Zoë Heller (which I really liked)

Which is one less than Obama (a fact that becomes quite sad when you realise how much less time he probably has for novel-reading!)

The other contenders are:
The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
In Zodiac Light by Robert Edric
Settlement by Christoph Hein
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin (title in Canada and the U.S.: Out Backward)
Home by Marilynne Robinson

The winner will be announced on June 17th.

I can't pick any of these up right now; I'm reading my way through the Orange list (completed The way things look to me by Roopa Farooki last week - brilliant; on to Savage Lands by Clare Clark this week - which so far reads like a Dear Canada children's novel, but I am only at the very beginning and I have high hopes).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bookmobile news flood

I should have seen it coming: the US is looking towards National Bookmobile Day on April 14. That suddenly explains a lot...

This is pretty neat, though: authors driving bookmobiles! And interviewing people about books that changed their lives. Michael Ondaatje could ask me about anything in the cramped quarters of an antique bookmobile ANY DAY.

Also featured, but tragically less hot than Ondaatje: Lewis Black, Junot Diaz, Daniel Handler... Hey, only 10 out 40 of are women. What's with that?

Anyway, none of the stops are near the Canadian border, unless you want to swim across the great lakes to Michigan etc. Sigh. I have already met Ondaatje, and heard Diaz speak, so I'll sit this one out. I guess.

Literacy initiatives at my old high school

Heritage Regional High School, formerly Macdonald Cartier High School, where I attended the now-unavailable International Baccalaureate program, was written up in the Gazette recently for some upcoming literacy initiatives.

First of all, due to re-shuffling since I left (and MCHS was always big), the school's catchment area is now roughly the size of Northern Ireland. Yikes!!

I have many very, very fond memories of teachers, especially in the English department, from my time at MCHS, including Carol Tynan, Carmen Woolgar, and Mr Jones (I still think of you when I hear the Counting Crows song) in the English department. Woolgar and Jones had enough faith in me, despite shyness and general uncoolness, to cast me in the school play, and Mrs. Tynan, especially, encouraged my writing. I still remember her obstinate ways, too, including making us all memorize passages from Antony and Cleopatra ("You'll remember these later and thank me!"), exhorting us to learn the rules before we break them (using the story of Picasso scrawling something abstract on a napkin as payment at a bar. When an observer points out he could have scrawled something similar, Picasso admits, "Yes, but first, you draw a horse!") and making us listen to Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel #2," refusing to explain the opening lines, and making sure we didn't tell our parents we heard them.

Another thing I always found interesting when I looked back at my time at MCHS was that we had a very large library, staffed by an actual librarian or tech (I confess I didn't much care at the time, but as my Math teacher frequently pointed out, she was young and hot). It was two floors, no less. I should really go back and investigate. It's just so hard to find a reason to visit St. Hubert, across from the military base. A real tourist destination, let me tell you.

Anyway, the Gazette piece profiles a new(ish) English teacher's efforts to galvanise interest in literature among the students, including talks by Mike Boone (about journalism and hockey), Endre Farkas (about poetry), Sheree Fitch (about writing), Norman Nawrocki (about multi-media creativity), and the Montreal Shakespeare Theatre Company's Dany Lopez (about Shakespeare). English teacher Mary Eva's other big project is a Hemingway Six-Word Short Story contest (oh, for God's sake, if you don't know what that refers to, look it up).

Love it!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Non-book-related interlude...

My good friend and stylist for the past 10+ years, Trent Lowther, has opened up his own salon! Called Sweet William (some pics on Facebook if you're nosy), and located on St Laurent Blvd in Montreal (between Fairmont and St Viateur, across from a nice resto called the Sparrow, btw), it is a salon for those who cringe at the though of salons.

Here's how Trent described it to me (I likely can't do this concept proper justice here, but I'm all for trying...): Many people such as, for instance, Trent and I, in our twenties and thirties, can name a stylist they like but can't name a salon they like. In fact, many salons are pretty icky places to be, if you're a certain type of person: loud, pretentious, stagey, superficial, and frankly stinky (I told Trent if Sweet Willam starts doing nails, I'm out - thankfully, that will never happen!). Many also suffer from the Leather Pants Factor, or employ stylists who take their jobs way too seriously.

Sweet William is being set up as a salon for the type of person who cringes at this salon experience: someone who wants a spectacular haircut, but without the hype (or the sensory overload). She's attracted to the work, not the scene - to the human factor. It wouldn't kill her if there were some books lying around to look at while she waits, too, instead of those hair magazines (often older than her). And, if Trent wants to play Philip Glass, that's fine with her, too.

Sweet William inhabits a second-floor unit in a building that is also home to a few dance studios, and looks much like a dance studio itself: bright, airy, open, with varnished wood floors and toile wallpaper. The walls are adorned with antique sepia-toned photographs of Sam and Trent's ancestors. A sofa faces a coffee table laden with art books and various other client-donated reading material.

*Sigh.* I hope I spend another decade visiting this place, 200 kms be damned!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Whoa now!

I'm all for protesting cuts to libraries in the UK, especially in the city where I spent many happy summers of my childhood, but eep. Getting arrested is no fun.

Social media detox, social media suicide, and general unplugging

Very interesting article (seen via the Huffington Post) about signing off Facebook and Twitter for 4 months. Edan says he felt "equal parts annoyed, superior and wistful.And also relieved," to be an outsider to the "Did you see what so-and-so posted?" world.

He also quotes from Jaron Lanier's book, You Are Not A Gadget, in which Lanier writes about personal reductivism in the 2.0 world. He points out that "personal reductivism has always been present in information systems. You have to declare your status in reductive ways when you file a tax return. Your real life is represented by a silly, phony set of database entries in order for you to make use of a service in an appropriate way. Most people are aware of the difference between reality and database entries when they file taxes. But the order is reversed when you perform the same kind of self-reduction in order to create a profile on a social networking site. You fill in the data: profession, marital status, and residence. But in this case digital reduction becomes a causal element, mediating contact between new friends."

An interesting point. It reminds me of how someone was saying to me recently how the Plateau neighbourhood of Montreal is over-hyped: residents feel as though they are describing themselves by saying they live there, when all they really do is go home and eat take-out and watch a movie on TV, which they could do in Sudbury, and they don't participate in the community life they self-identify with.

Edan also mentions that since the Internet age is still so young (relatively speaking), we are quite preoccupied with what it will do to us, how it will affect us, over time.

The Globe yesterday had a similar article, profiling a woman who deleted her Facebook account after customers started finding and friending her (I'm more worried about the kids who bullied me in high school - wtf are they friending me for?) Some of the article focuses on privacy concerns, and corporate salivation over the possible markets in social media memberships, but another quote from a writer who "reduced" his Facebook profile to mainly work-related posts strikes the same chord as above: he said, "you get the sense that you’re someone else’s entertainment. Your life is a product and that to me is a frightening idea.”

There is definitely the possibility that some of us (I confess this happens to me sometimes, but rarely) will be narrating our lives in our heads, pre-packaged for mass consumption (ooooh, wait until I describe this on my FB/Twitter/blog....). I guess, like anything, moderation is key; we just have to figure out if we're capable of it.

Or, you know, you can just subscribe to the Elmdale Tavern's approach to social networking. You don't even need to live in Ottawa to participate!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"They're like Swiss army penknives on wheels."

I just couldn't resist that quote. It's from a Guardian article about whether mobile libraries (commonly known in North America as bookmobiles) are dead. All this since Baldwin bought one to use as a playhouse. Sigh. I thought we were all slavering pathetically over Keith Richards this week? No? Now it's Alec? Whoops, sorry.

The key to good bookmobiles, according to the Guardian, is "good livery" (another quote I just couldn't resist), choosing the right neighbourhoods (families, seniors) for stops, and catchy marketing doesn't hurt: one bookmobile is emblazoned "The book stops here," which I love.

Here in Ottawa, we have 2 bookmobiles. In case you've always wondered, here's what an interior looks like:

Photo credit: Cynthia Spekkens

So hokey, but also cute and accurate

I think I am going to show my students this video on Thursday. The bit that kills me is the frantic book repair that starts at 3:50:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Publishers and librarians

I often wonder why we aren't better connected; God knows we are working towards the same general goals (although often very different bottom lines!)

Now, here is a great, thoughtful article (accompanied by storybook-style profiles of your average publisher and librarian) from Library Journal, by librarian and mystery writer Barbara Finter. And I quote:

"Though publishing and librarianship may have different cultures, we have a common goal. S.R. Ranganathan put it in a nutshell with two of his famous rules: every reader his book; every book its reader. In an era when publishing opportunities have proliferated and the number of titles being published has skyrocketed, libraries rely on professionals who can do the painstaking work of developing quality books. In turn, publishers need librarians, who help spark a love of reading among children, sustain it through the stages of life, and know what's important to readers.

Though book sales have slumped in recent months, library circulation is soaring. If publishers didn't get the importance of libraries before, now's the time to get the message, because it's in libraries that book culture will be sustained through these hard times."

Two RA forums I hadn't heard of...

You learn something every day!
  1. AbeBooks BookSleuth®: "Is there a special book that you read, or perhaps had read to you, at some point in your life but you can't remember the author and title? Perhaps you know the plot, or a character, or maybe even what the front cover looks like. BookSleuth® is here to help you find that book! Simply post a short description of what you can remember here on our board. Visitors from all over the world will read your post, and one of them is bound to know exactly what you're talking about and post a response. Not missing anything? Why not see if you can help anyone else find their long-lost books?
  2. LibraryThing group: Name that book

Sunday, April 4, 2010

I hear the bells

OK, I finally think I successfully uploaded this. Come sit on my balcony with me. Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Literary scholarship + science?

A match made in....? Decide for yourselves here (thanks to Pilar, Rideau and St Laurent Branches' book club maven, for the link).

"[The] layered process of figuring out what someone else is thinking — of mind reading — is both a common literary device and an essential survival skill. Why human beings are equipped with this capacity and what particular brain functions enable them to do it are questions that have occupied primarily cognitive psychologists. Now English professors and graduate students are asking them too. They say they’re convinced science not only offers unexpected insights into individual texts, but that it may help to answer fundamental questions about literature’s very existence: Why do we read fiction? Why do we care so passionately about nonexistent characters? What underlying mental processes are activated when we read?"

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday meditation

Too Many Armadillos
by David Yarrow, 1989

There's too many armadillos in the zoo,
Or, to translate into the current jargon,
We need to be vulnerable, not impervious,
Who needs Christians with thick skins
                impenetrable armour
                dead certainty
                inscrutable demeanour?
That isn't the Jesus we see in the Gospels,
He sighs,
and weeps,
and rages.
He is sometimes at a loss for words.
He needs the human company of Mary and Martha.
He cherishes friends, love, and a place to put his hat and sandals.
He 'so loves the world' that he is willing to risk
loss of face
loss of prestige,
for the sake of truth,
and for the sake of others' salvation.

I don't want a guarded Lord,
              an impassive Saviour.
If there is a certainty I long for,
It is simply the certainty that I am loved, accepted, and forgiven,
By One who has plainly suffered.
It's not an armour-plated God I want,
but a Jacob wrestling in Gethsemane with the angels of darkness.
They break his body
but not his spirit.
And I can identify with that.
I can accept a Saviour who has suffered,
and let go of pride, prestige, and self;
Never one who is invulnerable;
Never one who covers up the cracks, denies the earthquakes;
Never one who pretends to know it all.

People, priests and prelates alike
Do themselves no service when they act like the armadillo.
Who can relate to the armadillo
when there's hailstones and coals of fire falling about our ears?
Give me the Man of Sorrows;
the Jesus who said he felt forsaken!
Give me the Christ who was misunderstood.
His power, as stubborn Saul found out,
is "made perfect in weakness."
Not in covering it up,
Nor in pretending it doesn't exist.
For an armada of armadillos
I'll exchange One who "suffered under Pilate,
was crucified,
and rose again."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Scathing review of The Swan Thieves

You might remember author Elizabeth Kostova from that Dracula book, The Historian. While the plot of The Historian was engrossing, that woman definitely could have done with an editor (or a team of seven). Alas, she hasn't found one (or one who will stand up to her) in the interim between The Historian and her latest, The Swan Thieves.

I read The Swan Thieves recently while home sick with a cold: OK, in my defense, I ran out of books at home and it was the only thing on the Express reads shelf at work when I stopped by on the way to the doctor's office. It wasn't bad, so much as just plain LONG. I was heartily sick of everyone's problems half-way through. More than I was sick of the art history talk, even.

Writes the reviewer from the NYT, reprinted in the National Post blog: "Absorbing so much blather about paintings you'll never see is like slogging through a scrapbook of social columns recounting parties to which you've never been invited."

Hee hee.

Someone buy Kostova a red pen, already!