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Je t'aime, Jean Paul Sartre!

by Katherine - 0 Comment(s)

One of my all-time favourite lines on the TV series The Sopranos is delivered when Tony, worried about the mental health of his son, AJ, seeks the council of psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi. After Tony tells Dr. Melfi about AJ’s recent remarks and behaviours, Dr. Melfi concludes that AJ likely “has discovered existentialism”, at which Tony barks: “F***ing internet!”

Existentialism is certainly not a product of the internet, nor is it something that parents need to exorcise from the minds of their children. It’s a comprehensive philosophy; a worldview. It’s anchored in the last few centuries of the Western philosophical tradition, but it’s most well-known representative is the late writer and philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre.

Though it undeniably has roots in philosophers that predate Sartre, it was this French thinker who brought existentialism to the consciousness of the masses, when he wrote both fiction and non-fiction books during the time of the Second World War, and afterwards.

So, what is existentialism? Well, to be sure, it’s notoriously difficult to define. Here’s my own version, in brief: existentialism is the situation / worldview wherein we realize that human beings are thrown into a world that is not only absurd, but devoid of any meaning. Having realized this bizarre truth, it is up to us – all humans – to craft our own meanings, identities and moralities.

No pressure, but you are entirely responsible for the life you create.

You decide: bleak or empowering?

The Calgary Public Library has enough of Sartre’s musings to send you into an existential frenzy! Get reading!

Writer's Itch?

by Katherine - 0 Comment(s)

After a little Easter break, I was anxious to get back to work and do some blogging. What can I say, I’ve always got the “writer’s bug”. Or should that be “writer’s itch”? Which sounds more illustrative, I wonder?

Whatever it is, I’ve got the urge to write! If you do, too, then check out our programs and collections.

This spring we’ll host a wide variety of book clubs, a creative writing club and several author readings, too. For more information, drop by your local branch, give us a call, or check out our programs online!

Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut

by Katherine - 1 Comment(s)

I’ve been a fan of Kurt Vonnegut since high school. As soon as I finished Slaughterhouse-Five, I raced to the library (OK, full disclosure: it was a Chapters store) and picked up as many of his novels as I could afford. I read them voraciously until I entered university and no longer had time for leisure reading.

However, the prodigal Vonnegut fan has returned! I’ve just finished Breakfast of Champions, and I think I’ll carry on with a reunion tour, of sorts.

Breakfast of Champions is the story of Kilgore Trout, a failed science fiction writer, and the effect that one of his stories has on Dwayne Hoover, a used car salesman who is losing his mind. Their lives converge – with heartbreaking and poignant results - when they meet at an arts festival in a city otherwise devoid of culture.

Die-hard Vonnegut fans will surely remember that Kilgore Trout had appeared in several of Vonnegut’s novels, prior to Breakfast of Champions. So, the fact that Vonnegut actually writes himself into the narrative, in order to free Kilgore Trout, is both funny and fantastic. It’s also quite moving, since Trout and Vonnegut bear such strong resemblance to one another.

Vonnegut’s own drawings are interspersed throughout, and for that reason alone this book is worth checking out. But there are so many others! If you’ve never read a Vonnegut novel, start today! They are humourous, insightful, cynical and a touch melancholy. Vonnegut’s musings about American culture are as relevant today as when they were written – most of them several decades ago.

All the World Loves Margaret Atwood!

by Katherine - 0 Comment(s)

I first started reading novels by Margaret Atwood when they appeared on my “recommended reading” lists, way back in high school. Having won a slew of awards, Atwood is one of Canada’s best-known writers. Indeed, her writing has earned her recognition from around the world (although that’s a fact I only recently came to realize).

Interestingly enough, one of my ESL students asked me if I was planning to hear Atwood speak when she comes to Calgary. I told him that I didn’t realize she was so popular outside of Canada, to which he replied, “Oh, yes. She’s very famous, you know!”

In the course of our conversation, I found out that The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my student’s favourite novels – definitely something I wouldn’t have predicted about a young, Iranian computer programmer. Talk about a lesson in not judging books by their covers!

Literature has the amazing ability to unite people from varied backgrounds. Individuals who have read the same book are individuals who share an intangible, (though certainly not identical!) experience. Immediately after my student told me about reading Atwood’s books, I felt as if I knew him better. I felt like the ocean that separates his land from mine had suddenly shrunken, and so had our cultural divide.

On September 29th, make your way to Knox United Church for an evening with the legendary Margaret Atwood. Tickets will be sold through the WordFest box office at 403.237.9068 for $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Copies of The Year of the Flood will be available for sale courtesy of Pages Books on Kensington, and Margaret Atwood will be available to sign after the reading.

For more information, see the following:

Atwood at the University of Calgary

Atwood at Knox United Church

Year of the Flood tour dates and locations

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