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    Book Club in a Bag

    New York Review Books Classics

    by Dieu - 0 Comment(s)

    NYRB Classics are, to a large degree, discoveries, the kind of books that people typically run into outside of the classroom and then remember for life. ~ from NYRB website

    Ice Trilogy cover Love in a fallen city cover Pedigree book cover Stray dog cabaret: a book of Russian poems book cover The True Deceiver book cover Songs of Kabir book cover The mountain lion book cover Proud beggars books cover

    If you were to ask me what my favourite books of all time were, my answers would be predictable with a mix of surprises thrown in for good measure. I find that many of my most pleasurable reading experiences involved books that came as surprises, books that should be considered classics and yet for some reason missed reaching a mass audience.

    Another fellow library staff person recently wrote about the book Stoner by John Wiliams, a novel that I had read many years ago and loved. I remember thinking at the time, “why has no one heard of this book?” To my delight, the book is now getting the attention it deserves, reaching bestseller status all over Europe.

    Stoner is one of many books published by New York Review Books as part of its Classics series. You can browse the New York Review Books Classics collection on their website and the Calgary Public Library owns many titles in the series. Just do a general search for “New York Review books classics” in the Library’s catalog to find all the titles we have in the collection.

    Stoner book cover

    The World I Live In Book Cover

    At the moment I am reading The World I Live In by Helen Keller, a title that had been out of print for nearly a century before NYRB decided to publish it again. Helen Keller was an American author and was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of arts degree. Many people may know of her biography from the play and film, “The Miracle Worker”.

    Born in 1880 as a healthy child, Helen was mysteriously struck by an illness over a year later that left her deaf and blind. It was not until five years later that she was released from her despair by a 21 year old half-blind teacher, Anne Sullivan. It was then that Helen learned how to communicate through the use of the manual alphabet.

    I found The World I Live In to be extremely personal and inspiring and more than anything, the essays in the book showcase Helen's gift for writing. In the book, she explains to readers the emotional and psychological link between language and the spectrum of senses that she uses to navigate the world around her.

    What I love most about the NYRB Classics series is its diversity. The collection includes translations of masters such as Dante, Chekhov, and Balzac, works spanning geography, eras, and genres including fiction, cult favorites, literary criticism, travel writing, biography and even cookbooks! If you are on the hunt for a lost classic, then consider the NYRB Classics series as your guide. I certainly do, and find myself looking to their list whenever I am in need of something less ordinary.

    Celebrate your Freedom to Read

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    In preparation for Freedom to Read week, which runs this year from February 24 to March 2, I've been looking at lists of banned and challenged books. Have a look through Freedom to Read's list of Banned and Challenged books for more details on specific challenges in Canada and the outcomes.

    The most interesting thing I notice about these types of lists is it's often those books that receive the widest critical acclaim that are also the most often challenged or banned. Incidentally, two of YOUR chosen favourites from "Calgarians Choose a Century of Great Books" are also titles that have caused complaints, requests for banning, and even a book-burning! (Well, book-cover-burning...) Since these two titles are also two of my all-time favourites, and both by fabulous Canadian authors, I'll feature them here with a few suggestions for further reading:

    The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

    This book is considered a modern classic, chilling and yet believable in its portrayal of a future in which infertility is reaching crisis proportions. And the fallout from this situation is horrifying for the average woman...

    From the book's description:

    It is the world of the near future, and Offred is a Handmaid in the home of the Commander and his wife. She is allowed out once a day to the food market, she is not permitted to read, and she is hoping the Commander makes her pregnant, because she is only valued if her ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she was an independent woman, had a job of her own, a husband and child. But all of that is gone now...everything has changed.

    We love dystopian fiction here in the Readers' Nook and have posted about it before. Read more from Atwood: Oryx and Crake (also a "Century" title) and The Year of the Flood both explore the same near-future world, a disturbing place in which "[t]he triple whammy of runaway social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event." (Publisher's Weekly)

    Oryx and Crake is told from the point of view of Snowman, who introduces the strange world he finds himself in, alone, starving and bewildered; the story gradually reveals how he came to survive, and what lead to the cataclysmic changes in the world. What is most fascinating to me is how Atwood builds a believable near-future in which we can recognize all the disturbing trends of our own world which have snowballed and grown until daily life is both unrecognizable and eerily familiar.

    The Year of the Flood revisits this before-and-after time again from a different perspective: a group of followers of a new religion, God's Gardeners. We are introduced to the characters in the "before" time, and then follow some of the same people years later, as they try to survive in the bleak "after" world. It's difficult to describe in detail without giving too much away... Both Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood can be read as stand-alone novels, but plot points and characters overlap, and if you read them as a pair, each one enriches the other.

    Other great dystopian visions you might enjoy:

    The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

    Seed by Rob Ziegler

    Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

    Lovestar by Andri Snaer Magnason

    The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

    This riveting work of historical fiction follows the life of Aminata Diallo from her childhood, through her life as a slave, and later as an associate and speaker for slavery abolitionists in London. It is the most powerful and memorable novel I've read in a long time, and it highlights some little-known corners of Canadian history, one example being the document from which the book takes its controversial title.

    From the book's description:

    Abducted as an 11-year-old child from her village in West Africa and forced to walk for months to the sea in a coffle--a string of slaves-- Aminata Diallo is sent to live as a slave in South Carolina. But years later, she forges her way to freedom, serving the British in the Revolutionary War and registering her name in the historic Book of Negroes. This book, an actual document, provides a short but immensely revealing record of freed Loyalist slaves who requested permission to leave the US for resettlement in Nova Scotia, only to find that the haven they sought was steeped in an oppression all of its own. Aminata's eventual return to Sierra Leone--passing ships carrying thousands of slaves bound for America--is an engrossing account of an obscure but important chapter in history that saw 1,200 former slaves embark on a harrowing back-to-Africa odyssey. Lawrence Hill is a master at transforming the neglected corners of history into brilliant imaginings, as engaging and revealing as only the best historical fiction can be. A sweeping story that transports the reader from a tribal African village to a plantation in the southern United States, from the teeming Halifax docks to the manor houses of London,The Book of Negroes introduces one of the strongest female characters in recent Canadian fiction, one who cuts a swath through a world hostile to her colour and her sex.


    For more from Lawrence Hill, try his novels Any Known Blood and Some Great Thing.

    If you've already read these and are looking for other epic historical fiction that transports you to a time and place, I will recommend a few more favourites:

    What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin

    The Tiger Claw by Shauna Singh Baldwin

    A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

    The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

    Not all Hearts and Cupids - Part II

    by Jasna - 0 Comment(s)

    There are a few famous love stories less tragic than the ones featured last week, of course. Still marked by challenges, sacrifices and obstacles of all sorts – that is, after all, what makes them timeless – these at least didn’t claim the very lives – or body parts – of the parties involved.

    Odysseus and Penelope

    Their love was put through one of the most difficult tests – waiting. After he fought in the Trojan War for 10 years, it took Odysseus as much time to return home. In the meantime, Penelope had to turn down 108 suitors, anxious to take her husband’s place. On his long voyage home, Odysseus himself was tempted by everlasting love, eternal youth, and many other hard-to-resist promises, but stayed devoted and loyal to his wife.

    Napoleon and Josephine

    They are proof that a marriage of convenience can nurture true love and passion, if only temporarily. At age 26, Napoleon married Josephine, a prominent, wealthy (and six-years-older) widow and they fell deeply in love with each other. Napoleon, as we know, wasn't a homey type - like Odysseus, he found war games way more interesting. Unfortunately, unlike Penelope, Josephine wasn’t big on waiting. While Napoleon was busy campaigning far away from home, his wife got lonely and found solace in a string of lovers, starting with a handsome Hussar lieutenant. Napoleon retaliated with the wife of his junior officer, and so on… Infidelity aside, they were unable to produce a much-needed heir for the Emperor, so they divorced. Napoleon married Marie Louise of Austria and had a son with her. Josephine remained single, but stayed on good terms with her ex.


    Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler

    “Rhett, Rhett… Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?”

    “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn…”


    Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester

    She is plain in appearance, poor, and lonely. He is also not easy on the eyes, rich and lonely. They grow closer, revealing a tender heart beneath his rough exterior (Edward) and budding self-confidence (Jane). The roadblock this time is no less than polygamy, not an easy stunt to pull off, even in the times of more flexible morality that was England at the turn of the nineteenth century: on her wedding day, Jane discovered Edward was already married to a mentally incapacitated wife. Jane ran away, only to return later to find Edward’s mansion destroyed by fire, and Edward himself blind yet conveniently widowed... This time there were no barriers for their love to triumph.


    Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy

    Finally, here is one happy love story: the end of the novel found Miss Pride and Mr. Prejudice alive, in love and in possession of all their body parts. We were left to believe they married and lived happily ever after... or did they? (wink)

    On the 200th anniversary of this novel (a couple weeks ago), it's the perfect time to revisit the classic love story.

    ...And if you find you're in the mood now for some sugar-coated romance and a box of chocolates, have a browse through our Next Reads newsletters for recommended Romance titles!

    Happy Valentine's!

    Not all Hearts and Cupids

    by Sonya - 0 Comment(s)

    If you're unhappy, lonely, or heartbroken this Valentine's season, never fear... there are many famous lovers who ended up miserable. Abandoned. Dead. Even castrated. So, if you're in the mood to immerse yourself in a novel of love gone wrong rather than read another sugar-coated happily-ever-after, read on for epic tales of love and tragedy.

    In fact, consider St. Valentine himself: far from flowers and lace, although very little is known about his life, the namesake of our February 14th chocolates-and-sweethearts extravaganza suffered a martyr's death.

    Romeo and Juliet

    Shakespeare’s famous pair, who've become synonymous with young lovers and doomed love, seem to be a logical choice to begin a list of timeless couples.

    Whether is was fate or a series of unlucky chances that got them both killed, one wonders what would have become of their love if they hadn’t been teenagers, and therefore crazy by design. We know Juliet was 13. Romeo’s age is not stated, but his often heated thoughts and impulsive actions suggest he wasn’t much older.

    Antony and Cleopatra

    The last Pharaoh of Egypt, Cleopatra is the one of the most famous women in history. It is said that she was an accomplished mathematician, fluent in nine languages, a skilled politician and popular among her subjects.

    She married her brother Ptolemy, became Julius Caesar’s mistress, and, upon his death, started an affair with Marcus Antonius, which scandalized Rome and deeply worried its politicians.

    Mark Antony and Cleopatra married in 36 B. C. Egypt seemed not large enough for the ambitious lovers to rule, so they plotted to conquer Rome. It didn’t turn out too well, though. After a disastrous defeat in Aricum in 31 B. C. and a false report of Cleopatra’s death, Antony killed himself. Cleopatra died shortly after, inducing a snake to bite her.

    Lancelot and Guinevere

    A crushing love story is the central theme of one of the best known Arthurian legends. Guinevere was the legendary Queen consort of King Arthur. She was said to have fallen in love with her husband’s knight Sir Lancelot. Their betrayal of the king ultimately led to the downfall of the kingdom.

    This famous love triangle has been the theme of many literary, music and film adaptations.

    Tristan and Isolde

    The sad story of Tristan and Isolde, also set in Arthurian times, has been retold countless times. Isolde was a daughter of the king of Ireland, betrothed to the King of Cornwall, who sent his cousin Tristan to escort Isolde to Cornwall. During the voyage, Tristan and Isolde fell in love. She did go on to marry the king, but it didn’t do either of them any good, and of course, they both died of a broken heart.

    Abelard and Heloise

    They are famous for their letters, the apotheosis of their great love. Abelard was an outstanding scholar in twelfth-century France and Heloise’s tutor, appointed by her uncle. They fell in love, conceived a child and secretly married. The enraged uncle sent Heloise to a convent and had Abelard castrated. Abelard became a monk, Heloise a nun, but they remained in (platonic) love.

    Next week: Cupid's (slightly) better attempts and one stellar example...

    Freading ebooks

    - 0 Comment(s)

    Did you know? Calgary Public Library has an excellent selection of e-books.

    You may already be familiar with OverDrive, which was kind of a pioneer in the providing of e-books through libraries, and was our first ebook provider. Click here for more information about OverDrive.

    Recently, we’ve added another service to our e-book collections: Freading is an e-book source that provides access to a very wide variety of reading material. I was exploring a bit the other day to see exactly what was available and found a treasure-trove of classic fiction and literature titles. There was Turgenev, James, Dickens, Austen and more, all waiting for me to download!

    Fathers and Sons (Barnes & Nobleics Series)

    The Wings of the Dove (Barnes & Nobleics Series)

    Oliver Twist (Barnes & Nobleics Series)


    Pride and Prejudice (Barnes & Nobleics Series)

    Freading is a little different from OverDrive in that there are unlimited downloads available for each title so if you see a book you want to read, you can download it immediately. It uses a token system where each reader is allotted a specific number of “tokens” each month and each book “costs” a certain number of tokens. As long as you have the right amount of tokens in your account, you can borrow a Freading title. It is a very neat little system and really good for people who want an e-book right away. If you are a lit-geek like I am, you will love the selection of classics. (Be sure to check out the history titles, too.) Click here for tips on how to get started with Freading.