Monday, March 28, 2011

"The Montreal Prize" is created

"And the sun pours down like honey / On our lady of the harbour.*" The Globe and Mail reported today that the Montreal Prize has been created. Touted as the “World’s Largest Poetry Competition,” the prize will award $50,000 for a single poem of up to 40 lines written in English by any poet around the world, already published or not. This year, the prize money was donated anonymously; future years will require a sponsor, says Peter Abramowicz, one of the Prize’s three founders (with Len Epp and Asa Boxer). Oh, and this year's judge is Andrew Motion. Whew! Exciting! * I know, I know. Unoriginal. I just couldn't help it. But hey, there's a good discussion question - what's your favourite line of poetry about the city of Montreal?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Exploring other roles

So, yes, in the midst of change, there is, um, more change.

It's spring, thank goodness! I only have four more weeks of class (and am beginning to realise how much I will miss this crop of kids)! I am able to run a little without crying over my kneecap! There's light at the end of the tunnel!

.... and I will be exploring new roles (temporarily) at the Ottawa Public Library!

OK, I am going to stop with the exclamation points now.

Starting at the end of this week, I will be acting as Coordinator of Diversity and Accessibility Services for the next few months. This centralised service department includes adult literacy, services to new Canadians, disabled and homebound patrons, and the bookmobile.

This position will take me away from Rideau Branch for the next little while, temporarily. I am conflicted in many ways about leaving a community I have so enjoyed serving, but I know I will return, and I also know that some of the programs I have initiated in my time there will continue to thrive without me, thanks to the rest of the wonderful team there. I am also excited to try a new challenge, see some library services and programs with fresh eyes, and contribute to my library in a different way.

So, can you smell spring in the air? I can!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

new Lisa Lutz!

I was exploring websites relating to fiction genres for the online course I am developing for Algonquin College this summer, and I came across an upcoming Lisa Lutz title I hadn't heard about (thanks to Stop, you're killing me for the link, and for graciously allowing my future students to explore their site).

Entitled Heads you lose, the book is co-authored by Lutz's ex-boyfriend, David Hayward.

Really, the best thing you can do to find out more is to watch this. Cuteness!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

On (not) running

Well, it's 1ish on a Sunday afternoon and I am still in my pyjamas! Bliss! I will now subject you to an annoyingly non-bookish post. Sorry about that.

The pace of the past few weeks has been especially punishing, pushed over the edge of what is humanly possible by physiotherapy, as alluded to earlier. So what's the deal with me? Basically, I fell up the stairs (as I keep saying, "better than down!") at work in January, catching my kneecap on the metal edge of our staircase. I know knee injuries can be especially complicated and stubborn, but I am still kind of amazed that two and a half months later, my knee is still swollen. The pain has gone down a fair bit, mind you, so that's good.

The biggest stressor in all this (well, besides dashing off to physio, fighting with WSIB, and icing the 'cap every night) has been NOT RUNNING. At all. I have never, ever, taken the ability to run for granted; I have always been actively grateful for the fact that I am able to push my body to new limits. Not to belabour the point, but I did grow up with one parent frequently short of breath. I treasure the fact that I am healthy, and, overall, I still am. But the knee thing has scared me a fair bit, if I am honest (as in, awake in the middle of the night in a panic); not only does it remind me how fragile health can be, but it also reminds me how much I rely on running as an outlet for releasing stress and generally improving my mood. I don't have a lot of hobbies; it's pretty much reading and running. Without one, I am feeling a bit bereft (others might add depressed, lazy, especially needy and generally ill-tempered).

There is light at the end of the tunnel, though: on the advice of my slightly-blasé GP, I did attempt a short 4k run yesterday, to Library and Archives and back. I conscientiously walked all the hills, and anytime I felt a twinge of knee pain. It mostly felt like I had a bruise, and not like my kneecap was going to pop off (which is how it felt the only other time I attempted running since the fall).

I can't tell you how great it felt. Some of you are runners, and you know what I mean. I feel a bit like the last two and a half months were in a fog of endorphin withdrawal; I was slightly tired all the time, but in a weary-but-restless kind of way.

Here's to getting back on track, especially for a very special event in May. More news of a non-knee-related nature tomorrow; there have been other interesting developments to shake things up recently!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

ah, March Break

Yes, I have been posting short and sweet notes to you all this week because I am particularly swamped at work. It's that time of year, when you frantically construct paper cranes on your lunch hour....

P.S. My lunch-time book, in case you were wondering, is Only the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter.

P.P.S. In Grade 8, I went through a paper crane obsessed phase. It involved making millions of cranes, especially from watermelon Jolly Rancher wrappers. I'm not as good as I used to be....

Orange Prize longlist announced

... Find it here, with two Canadians on the list: Kathleen Winter for Annabel and Emma Donoghue (listed by the Orange as Irish) for Room.

The Guardian observes that "debut novelists will make up nearly half of the Orange prize for fiction longlist, which this year tackles strikingly difficult subjects: incest, sadistic cruelty, polygamy, child bereavement, hermaphroditism and mental illness."

This list always comes out right after I finish judging BOYCA (check!), and am usually on an adult fiction binge (check!), so I think I will go order some of these right now.

Currently reading: Hand me down world by Lloyd Jones - interestingly constructed novel that portrays one woman's cross-continent search for her son through the eyes of the people she meets along the way.

Finished since last blog post: Major Pettigrew's last stand by Helen Simonson, and Holy fools by Joanne Harris.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2011 Longlist

Jenny Erpenbeck, Visitation (translated from the German)

Marcelo Figueras, Kamchatka (translated from Spanish)

David Grossman, To the End of the Land (translated from Hebrew)

Daniel Kehlmann, Fame (translated from the German)

Véronique Olmi, Beside the Sea (translated from French)

Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence (translated from Turkish)

Per Petterson, I Curse the River of Time (translated from the Norwegian)

Santiago Roncagliolo, Red April (translated from Spanish)

Jachym Topol, Gargling with Tar (translated from Czech)

Alberto Berrera Tyszka, The Sickness (translated from Spanish)

Juan Gabriel Vásquez, The Secret History of Costaguana (translated from Spanish)

Per Wästberg, The Journey of Anders Sparrman (translated from Swedish)

Michal Witkowski, Lovetown (translated from Polish)

Shuichi Yoshida, Villain (translated from the Japanese)

Juli Zeh, Dark Matter (translated from the German)

Details here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Coming up at Rideau Library...

Monday, March 14, 7 p.m.

The Firestone Story
The Ottawa Art Gallery is home to the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art. Come and learn about the family and their art collection: who they were, how they lived, why and what they collected. Hosted by the Ottawa Art Gallery.

Presentation in English with bilingual facilitator / Présentation en anglais avec animateur bilingue.

Emily Carr, Sunlight in the Forest, oil on linen, 1912

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Alex's half-marathon run to support Medic to Medic

Hi everyone,

I am running the Ottawa Race Weekend half-marathon on May 29, 2011 in support of the work of Medic to Medic.

Medic to Medic was founded by my cousin-in-law, Kate Mandeville, and support trainee health workers who have academic potential, but are in financial need.

The program currently operates in Malawi, and will be expanding to Uganda in September.

If you wish to support my run, please visit this page to make a donation.

Thanks for your support!


Me, just before last year's half-marathon

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Occassionally, when I am really good, I get to read....

One afternoon earlier this week, I took what felt like a 30 minute vacation and read this Master's paper. When I have some time to read at my desk in the basement, I like to put my feet on the desk. I know, how unseemly! I remember my dad doing this, and chewing on the end of his pen or pencil, in his office in All Saints, Verdun. It's a little thing I can do to channel that.

So, the doc.:

Harvey, Aisha A. Homeless perspectives of the public library. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2002. Web. 2 March 2011.

What an interesting paper: Harvey rightly points out that "While hardly any homeless people are asked about their perceptions of libraries many librarians are asked about homeless patrons," and her paper takes one step towards remedying that situation. Harvey conducted five interviews with homeless individuals who visited the Durham Public Library's central branch (located across the street from the Durham Urban Ministries homeless shelter); the five participants' personalities jumped off the page, alternatively moving me to laughter and (honestly) tears. Harvey paid the participants $10 each as an honorarium; one gentleman "folded the ten-dollar bill five times before placing it in his shoe."

I would highly recommend this study to anyone interested in use of libraries by homeless populations in an urban/suburban area. Here are some other interesting bits (and sorry for the bullet points):
  • "Most of the informants did indicate that they had gone to libraries as children." And later, "There is some evidence that the current relationship that the informants have with the library, stems from positive experiences that they had with the library earlier in their lives. Some of the informants indicated that they had used the library as children."
  • Almost all the individuals interviewed were really pleased with library services and the interactions they had with staff. One individual had a bit more of a colourful experience to report, and although some of his comments could probably be taken with a grain of salt, one phrase struck me as being pretty accurate: he said "Well basically, I wish they would get a GED class going over there, something to help people. It would be useful. Like classes to help people learn to get their GED or whatever. Basically, you are helping yourself. I don’t see any activities they are doing over there to try and help anybody."
  • That being said, "from the informants’ responses, it can be concluded that most of them believe that they welcome at this public library. This feeling of acceptance encourages them to ask for help when they need something and can play a power role of encouragement and support in their lives."
  • "It is interesting to note that all of the informants except for Informant #5 went to the library either every day or more days out of the week than they did not." That absolutely holds true with the experiences I have had, as well.
  • Again, something I have heard patrons say: "Some informants indicated that presently the library was also used to combat drug use. While most of the informants said that the library collection held nothing to help them stay clean, some informants said that because the library is free from the pressure to use drugs that they encountered on the streets, that it was an agent of sobriety in their lives."
  • "All of the informants said that they read in the library. [...] Most of the informants use the library to gain knowledge of many topics. In many ways, the library may appeal to the informants more than the classroom as a learning environment."
In related news, my colleague drew my attention to this article about the 10th anniversary of the Calgary Homeless Foundation "Plan to End Homelessness," which, instead of focusing on services to the homeless, actually gives homes to the homeless. "In its first three years CHF has housed 1,300 chronic and episodic homeless people, almost half the foundation's 2018 goal. Roughly 90% have stayed housed." Not an easy solution, nor one I would have expected a major urban city to try out, but so far, a pretty successful one.

Friday, March 4, 2011

We'll miss you, May.

A mere four days before International Women's Day, we've lost a wonderful role model. Former Westmount mayor and founder of Tundra Books, May Cutler, has died.

By the time I began working at Westmount Library in 1998, May was no longer mayor, but she was a frequent visitor, honoured guest at events, and a regular Reference desk patron. I hope those who know May far better than me will forgive me my scant remembrances.

May was a force to be reckoned with, and she was never short of opinions! She was unfailingly charming and passionate about new ideas, of which she always had many: some of the things she inquired about when I was working Reference were so interesting that I had to read about them after she left, and many of her ideas were years ahead of the game. If memory serves me, she was one of the vocal advocates for the inclusion of a large children's department in the plans for the 1994-5 renovation of the Westmount Library; this department, as some of you well know, now flourishes as a a true home for imagination and a place of wonderful personal service (not to mention whimsical parties!)

At Tundra, of course, she worked with greats such as Carrier and Kurelek, C. J. Taylor and Bonnie Shemie, and she helped "discover" and support the work of Dayal Kaur Khalsa.

I only hope I'm on a six week trip to Antarctica at age 86. Well done, May!

Commonwealth Regional Winners Announced

... And another prize for Emma Donoghue..

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Things read during recent stolen moments!

I know, my pretties. You missed me, right?

The past few weeks have flown by, a crazy muddle of various things, including Reading week at the college, some massive promo for some library programs (art, gardening, legal aid), a Freedom to read week event for LANCR that was great, but also kind of a comedy of errors, two conference calls for the BOYCA shortlist (announced today!), a deadline for Algonquin stuff, and some other random things. In addition to all that, I've been swamped with after-work stuff - fear not, I haven't recently developed a glittery social life, it's just cat-sitting and physiotherapy for a knee injury I sustained at work in January. Yeah, you try fitting in 3x physio a week, when you already work two nights a week and teach on one of your mornings off. I'm not complaining; just saying it requires a certain finesse, every spare second of free time, and a long-suffering spouse.

Meanwhile, now that I have been released from the BOYCA reading list for another year, I can go back to reading some adult novels. Here are some things I've had on my living room reading table / in my handbag / on the staffroom table / at physio in the past few weeks:

Great House by Nicole Krauss: I loved, loved, loved 2005's The History of Love. Great House is less neatly tied together, in terms of plot; The History of Love was full of somewhat unlikely coincidences, and a lot more humour to relieve the tension of some of the heartache. The Washington Post's Ron Charles says Great House "doesn't take [as] many risks" as The History of Love, and thus also "never dazzles us, never sweeps us away. Its beauty is a heavy brocade of grief that won't let these characters soar." I think I agree with him, but I don't think that this is a criticism, per se. I think Great House is just a different kind of book, showing a less perfect set of human relationships. The Telegraph says that Krauss, in this novel, "gives us her tragic vision pure. It is a high-wire performance, only the wire has been replaced by an exposed nerve, and you hold your breath, and she does not fall." I would agree.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman: I confess I mostly read this to see if it was worth recommending to the spouse and his mother-in-law; they enjoy their religious debates, and I thought a myth told by an atheist might be a good discussion starter. This book took me awhile to get the hang of: it is so simply written that I found it rather disarming; the thing is, despite the simplicity of the text, it is a deeply thoughtful examination of truth, fact, mythology, faith, fame and envy. Essentially, Pullman makes Christ and Jesus into two different characters who are brothers. While Jesus is the one with the fan base, Christ records his travels and preachings, embellishing and manipulating the facts of their story to allegedly get at the "truth" of things. I thought this was an interesting idea, but neither character jumped off the page for me, in the end. Read more via the Guardian if you wish.

Something Missing by Matthew Dicks: File this one under "randoms"; I think it was something I picked up at a Divas talk...? Anyway, it's a strange and thoroughly entertaining story of an professional thief who suffers who begins to feel that he should help the people from whom he steals.... Mayhem ensues, of course. A quick read.

Folly by Marthe Jocelyn: This one was like candy, so easy and fun to read. Technically a YA title, this was at least one reading level up from the, oh 38-odd books I just polished off for BOYCA. On that subject, Folly was shortlisted today for one of the other CLA Book Awards, the Young Adult Book Award. Folly is a richly-detailed historical novel set in Victorian London, and following the plight of a young girl sent into service by her unkind stepmother; before long, she finds herself in London, and in love. For romance-loving teens, or the Upstairs, Downstairs / Downton Abbey crowd.

The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell: As usual, when this came in, I thought blankly: did it win something? Get shortlisted for something? Looks familiar.... Welcome to my world. Anyway, this novel won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, and you can read an extract here. In the end, this story took awhile to get going, in my opinion; the first half drags a fair bit. The second half, however, is riveting. Essentially, this is the story of another Alexandra (!), known as Lexie (no. Just NO, before you ask...). A young Lexie leaves her stifling Devon home after being sent away from university (in England in the 1950s, for exiting a door marked for men after an examination). She takes up with charismatic magazine editor, Innes Kent, and begins a whirlwind life in Soho. An alternate strand in this story depicts the struggles of Elina, a new mother in modern London, whose partner, Ted, seems to be rather falling apart at the seams; twists and turns in the two women's stories reveal that they are, in fact, linked. An interesting examination of the evolution of women's roles in society, and the impact our childhood has on us as adults.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender: Well, this was an odd book, in a kind of wonderful way at first, and then in mostly just a strange way. At age 8, Rose discovers (via her mother's lemon cake) that she can taste the emotions of the person who prepares her food; the lemon cake tastes so overwhelmingly of sadness that Rose is ill. You can imagine how this might pose various problems: for one thing, forget about enjoying a cookie from the local bakery, and also forget about the concept of "too much information" - Rose simply can't stop the insights that come from other people's food, and she learns some disturbing and unwanted things about those around her. In the last 50 or so pages, this book takes a bit of a weird turn, and I wasn't sure I wanted to go there, honestly. I have to say I ended up feeling the same way about this that I do about most sweets: at first I'm all, yeah, fabulous, and then when I take the 3rd bite, I begin to wonder why I'm eating this and what else I would rather have eaten, and then when I put the fork down I pretty much remember why I don't eat sweets a lot: I don't really like most of them. Sorry!

The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna: I don't know how I ended up reading so many novels about women who either have children or don't; I guess you could say that's a central choice for female characters of a certain age, but I must say I was beginning to feel a bit stifled by these stories as I put down the last book on this list. This is a bit of a read-alike for The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist.... The Birth of Love weaves together four stories, each pertaining to childbirth and/or the mother-child relationship. One, in the past, details the mental breakdown of a real-life physician, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis (who discovered that rates of "childbed fever" could be drastically reduced by physicians washing their hands); another follows modern-day mother, Brigid, whose hopes of a home birth are somewhat confounded. Yet another, this time futuristic, storyline consists largely of trial transcripts from a post-apocalyptic England, where several men and women are accused of conspiring against their authoritarian government by protecting a pregnant woman, also named Brigid. Finally, the last storyline involves an anxious writer who attends his own book launch but is plagued by worries for his own ill mother. While I can understand the Guardian's comparison of this book with The Hours, I didn't enjoy it as much as Cunningham's novel. I was drawn to both Brigids (although I found the links between the two strained credibility), but less to the other characters.