Friday, March 29, 2013

1001 Books: The Red Queen, Disgrace, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Gulliver's Travels

Before I continue to discuss my 1001 Books experience, I think it pertinent to consider a key element of my journey: namely, what distinguishes a good book from a great one? When one thinks about essential versus non-essential reading, what does that mean? For me, a good story told well makes for a decent start, but this criterion alone doesn't ensure greatness. Well-drawn characters are terrific, but can be quickly undermined by a weak ending. So, plot and participants aside, what makes a book awesome? Naturally, a list was in order. In my opinion, to judge a book as truly great, I must be able to answer the following questions with a resounding YES!
  1. Did I feel a sense of loss or sadness when I finished the last page (not because it had a sad ending, but because I didn't want it to end)?
  2. Did the book challenge my perceptions about identity, reality, morality, or <insert abstract philosophical concept here>?
  3. Did the book become a sort of standard by which all future reads would be judged?
  4. Can I see myself talking about it to anyone who would listen--for months, years, or for perhaps the rest of my life?
    and, to some extent
  5. Did the author's overwhelming genius (brilliant ideas, flawless use of language, perfect pacing) leave me adrift in a sea of awe mixed with jealous rage?
With these criteria in mind, let us consider the next four books on the List. I find it difficult to understand how Margaret Drabble's The Red Queen got onto a "Read Before You Die" list. I recognize that Drabble is an acclaimed and prolific writer, so perhaps The Red Queen wasn't the best example of her talents. It wasn't badly written, but it was dull--one of those narratives where there's one story line that interested me, but the rest was just tedious. I probably need to read a few more of her titles.

Next on the List was J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace, a book whose excellent prose could not surmount its unrelenting bleakness. Having read a few of Coetzee's titles since, I can honestly say that although he's a gifted storyteller, the stories he chooses to tell don't really appeal to me as a reader.

Fortunately, the third book on the List was pretty much a guaranteed winner. Lest I make this blog a continuous valentine to H.G. Wells, I will simply say that The Island of Dr. Moreau was very timely in its consideration of the potential (and potential creepiness) of genetically modified creatures. Also, I love H. G. Wells.

Lastly, I read Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, which is a book I'd read abridged as a child and always meant to get around to as adult. It was not the least bit disappointing, whether you read it as an adventure story or as the political satire it was intended to be. Fascinating stuff.

The List had yet to provide me with a complete round of highly recommendable books, but I was certainly learning a lot about myself as a reader, which was an intriguing discovery in itself.

- Steph

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

F for Effort!

Edited by Richard Benson

It’s Teacher Appreciation Day at your child’s school, or Christmas, or the last day of classes. As usual, you’re wondering what to buy for the person who’s responsible for keeping your little beloveds flourishing and in one piece while you’re out bringing home the bacon. And, as usual, you have no idea. After all, how well can you get to know a person by sitting down three times a year with your knees crammed under a kid-sized table during parent-teacher interviews? Well, here’s a way to leave them with a laugh.

F for Effort! is a collection of absolutely hilarious test responses, some unintentionally so, some calculatedly so. Almost all of us, after having gone through a exam and answered all the questions we could, have returned to stare blankly at a question to which we have not even the hint of an answer. It’s that moment, as we glance repeatedly from paper to clock to the air a foot in front of our faces, that separates those who blow the question from those who blow it in style.

Section one, which contains answers from elementary students, runs the gamut from revealing Freudian slips (“Every morning my Dad has a slice of dread before he goes to work”) to odd mental contortions (“The north pole is so cold that the people that live there have to live somewhere else”). Section two, which covers high school, reveals everything from absolute cluelessness (“Q: Correct the Sentence—The girl were extraordinarily intelligent. A: The boy were extraordinarily intelligent.”) to brilliant smartassery (“Q: How would you stop wine from turning into vinegar? A: Drink it.”)

Teachers could only wish that doltishness was always so entertaining. And who knows? As you flip through, perhaps you’ll discover one of your own brilliant efforts to score part marks.

- Bruce

Monday, March 25, 2013

Meeting Lloyd

Lloyd Robertson
The Kind of Life It's Been

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would be interviewing a man that I had spent many nights with (on TV, that is). But there he was: Lloyd Robertson—a very hardworking journalist who, with aplomb and grace, has explained to millions of Canadians the tragedies, intrigues, tensions, and sometimes joys of each day for over forty years—talking to me in our makeshift studio at the back of the bookstore.

Lloyd had been invited to speak to the Guelph Men’s Club that morning. There must have been at least 300 men in attendance, and it was obvious that there was a great deal of interest and respect. I had sat outside the room (as, genetically, I was unable to qualify for membership) personing the book table. Later, I had the pleasure of having lunch at Ox with club execs George Hughes and Mark Waldron, and Lloyd. The conversation rambled over senate reform, free trade, the now-defunct but wonderful farm report on CBC noon that gave us the daily price of beef on the hoof, the impact of the twenty-four-hour news fix, and a whole lot more.

Lloyd’s book The Kind of Life It’s Been is surprisingly well written and, needless to say, endlessly fascinating. I really shouldn’t have been surprised at the quality of writing because, after all, he worked daily for all of those years crafting words that would express the complexity and novelty of what was happening in the world every day. And the fascination arises because he has so many stories—not only about major events, but also about what really happened behind the scenes at CBC and CTV.

I hope that you enjoy the chat that I had with Lloyd, which is available on our YouTube channel. He is particularly candid about his early life and his mother, who suffered from a variety of mental illnesses her whole life. During the day I saw many acts of kindness as he spoke to men at The Guelph Men’s Club, to customers who had come to The Bookshelf to have their book signed, and to a Guelph journalist whose story you might have read in the Tribune. It’s fitting that the word kind is in his title because truly, he is.

Here is a sample of our conversation. To view more, see the playlist on our YouTube Channel.

- Barb Minett

Friday, March 22, 2013

Four Great Books on Sustainable Living

In celebration of the Resilience Festival, the H2O Go Festival, and the Ecomarket that are taking place tomorrow, Saturday, March 23 in the downtown area (see our blog on the day's exciting events), here are some recommendations for books on sustainable living.

The Transition Companion
Rob Hopkins

Over four hundred communities around the world are transitioning away from their dependence on fossil fuels. The Transition Companion offers insights on starting out, deepening, connecting, building, and daring to dream, as well as showing how Transition Towns are developing their own unique tools and ingredients to meet local needs, fossil-free. Author and Transition Network founder Rob Hopkins shares the ongoing story of humanity's most effective strategy for mitigating climate disaster: getting off the carbon.

- Sally Ludwig and Kevin Sutton

Radical Simplicity
Dan Price

Imagine you're first in line at a buffet of the world's resources. How much do you take? According to author and Global Living Project founder Jim Merkel, the equivalent of 4.7 acres each would allow the planet to survive. So why are we in the West gorging ourselves (almost 30 acres each!) with no thought for tomorrow? Radical Simplicity explores modern humanity's core needs and not only offers practical tips and tools, but useful charts and worksheets for reducing your global footprint.

- Kevin Sutton

Gaia's Garden
Toby Hemenway

As awareness of environmental concerns grows, so does interest in the question of how we will manage our natural resources. In Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, Toby Hemenway shares what he has learned about establishing gardens that are healthy, vibrant, and productive ecosystems. Hemenway does an excellent job of sharing insights that will help people living in spaces of any size to conserve water, produce food, enrich soil, attract helpful wildlife, create beauty, and reduce the work of gardening. This book not only assists people to garden productively, but it empowers them to become stewards of their land and water resources on a household scale.

Hemenway writes in an incredibly clear, personal, and accessible way that makes this book useful and enjoyable for both novice and highly experienced gardeners. More than just an informational book, Gaia’s Garden explores the philosophy behind permaculture, shares illustrative and at times amusing anecdotes, and inspires readers to re-evaluate how they think about gardening. With a particular focus on approaches that are effective in a North American climate, this book is a must-have for any Canadian gardener.

- Elisa Cooper

Prescriptions for a Healthy House
Paula Baker-Laporte, John Banta, and Erica Elliott

Preventative health care is crucial for Resilience, the "quality that makes a community strong and able to handle the unexpected."
Many of us in our homes have been affected by poor indoor air quality, electronic devices, and off-gassing of materials. Add to this increased time spent indoors, tighter construction, and higher levels of insulation to keep us warm and draft free, and our health suffers in this toxic mix in a plastic bag. A medical doctor, an environmental consultant, and an architect have come together to offer practical solutions, based on their years of practice, for building and renovating to help prevent chronic health conditions and to provide safer indoor living conditions.

The third edition of this quintessential book on the subject has been updated to include several essays from leading building biologists on house assessment, mould, furnishings, electrical wiring, water treatment, finishes, air filters, and earth energies (by yours truly).

- David McAuley

Sally Ludwig is a co-founder and volunteer with Transition Guelph, a group dedicated to building resilience for a community that will be just, thriving, and sustainable.
Kevin Sutton is a poet, spoken word performer, game developer, and playwright.

Elisa Cooper has a B.Sc. in Water Resources Engineering from the University of Guelph. She currently works as a research assistant in the University of Guelph’s School of Engineering, where her research is focused on fostering grassroots innovation in water management.
David McAuley is a Guelph architect who specializes in green buildings and sustainable architecture.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

1001 Books: The Sea, Cryptonomicon, Dracula, Candide

Having read the first eight books on my “Must Read” agenda, I was beginning to notice a bit of a pattern. Each “round” seemed to present one book with which I was enthralled, one that was diverting but not fantastic, one that was better than I’d expected, and one that was a relative disappointment. What did this pattern mean? Was it a sign? Was it irrelevant? I read on.

I began with John Banville’s The Sea, which was a bit of a slow burner until I settled into his exquisitely poetic style. The story was more melancholy than those I am typically drawn to, but I fell in love anyway. I’d never read Banville before this, and, noting that he had several other titles on The List, I was very eager to discover his works beyond this Booker Prize winner!

My next book was a disappointment, as it was the first book I abandoned before completion. Fifty-odd pages into Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, I had to admit defeat and give it up. I’d had the best intentions--really, I did--but having stumbled my way through the first few chapters with nary a clue as to what was going on, I knew that things weren’t working out between the two of us. And it was really a shame, because Stephenson is one of the behemoths of science fiction and I wanted to lose myself in his fantastical world. Perhaps this is one title that warrants a re-visit.

Thankfully, the third book from this round was the exact opposite of regrettable. I cannot say enough great things about Bram Stoker’s Dracula. If I could reiterate some of my statements regarding H. G. Wells: never underestimate the classics when it comes to delivering genuinely terrifying and creepy stories! Even after all of the re-imaginings of and so-called homages to this vampire story, the original still has the power to disturb and thrill. A must-read for all!

The last book from round four was Voltaire’s Candide, which was a funny little story about a ridiculous person. I found it to be a light-hearted, easy read--a pleasant surprise, since my last two forays into the eighteenth century (The Monk, The Sorrows of Young Werther) dealt with serious subject matter much more seriously. Voltaire’s classic is a wonderful satire.

Twelve books in, I was officially committed to the madness and wonder of The List.

- Steph

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Guelph Cultural Mapping Project: A Success from Its Infancy

The real challenge of our time is to complete the system we have given rise to—to build the broader creative society that can harness the creative energy we have unleashed and mitigate the turmoil and disruption that it generates.
- Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class

The Guelph Cultural Mapping Project, a collaborative undertaking between the City of Guelph, the Guelph Arts Council, and the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, was officially launched yesterday at the River Run Center. The goal of the project is to take an inventory of all of Guelph’s cultural assets, including artist's studios, businesses, festivals, writers, musicians, and many other elements in Guelph's cultural scene. The project gives people who work in the culture industry a place to post what they do and where they are. Given its ambitious nature and how many moving parts there are to the project, its launch was very impressive.  So far, there are over 350 individuals and organizations on the map. Guelph is very lucky to have such a diverse inventory of creative types living and breathing in this city. This is a major part of what has made and will continue to make Guelph successful.

If you are a visual artist, photographer, art gallery owner, busker, musician, or letterpress printer extraordinaire, check out the site and get yourself on the map. It is interesting and very user-friendly.  


Friday, March 15, 2013

Take a Green Journey on Saturday, March 23

On Saturday, March 23 Guelph residents will be treated to a fun day featuring two festivals and an ecomarket, all focused around the issue of sustainable living. All events occur downtown, so it'll be easy to walk from one to another. Here are the three events at a glance, along with a brief introductory video. More information on each event follows below.
  • The Resilience Festival offers activities and speakers that reflect on the social and environmental progress of our community, and will take place at St. George's Church.
  • The H2O Go Festival focuses on issues related to water, and will take place at City Hall from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
  • The Ecomarket features exhibits with products, services, and technologies and workshops to help people live in a environmentally-sound way, and will take place in Old Quebec Street Shoppes.

For more information on each event, read on!

The Resilience Festival

To celebrate our community’s progress, we are holding our third Resilience Festival, Resilience 2013: A Community Festival, with keynote speakers on Friday, March 22, 2013 and festival activities on Saturday, March 23, 2013 at St. George’s Anglican Church halls. This event provides an opportunity for organizations, businesses, families, and individuals to build community, learn together, and celebrate their social and environmental commitment to our community.

The festival will include:
  • Keynote speakers Richard Heinberg and Helena Nodge-Horberg on March 22nd.      
  • Health and sustainable building symposium.
  • Skill-building demonstration market.
  • "Stuff Swap" cash-free market. Bring something and take something!
  • Community Connections Fair for organizations to showcase their projects.
  • Earth Hour candlelight potluck, poetry slam, and concert--our most popular event.

This year’s Canada Water Week will run from March 18-24, 2013, with the theme “I Love my Water Body: Engaging Communities for Living Waters.”

For the 2013 week-long event, the City of Guelph is partnering with the University of Guelph’s School of Engineering to host the first ever H2O GO Festival: An Engaging Celebration of Water at Guelph City Hall on Saturday, March 23 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The family-friendly day will include engaging programming, interactive displays, information booths, children’s activities, as well as thought sharing through art and science with educational activities for people of all ages. The day will also include free workshops on greywater reuse, rainwater harvesting and efficient landscaping. Admission is free.

Bridging both Festivals, the Ecomarket will take place in Old Quebec Street Shoppes to showcase thirty-plus exhibitors with leading-edge ideas, green products and services, and technologies that can help citizens take steps to live lighter every day. Free workshops run from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., with topics including net zero city, smart controls for your home, residential solar hot water and rooftop solar, edible food forests, making sense of renewable energy in Ontario, community car sharing, and healthy landscape design.

There's lots to do in Guelph on March 23--take a trip downtown and start your Green Journey!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Here and Now

Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee

You wouldn’t think that Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-un had anything in common with Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee, but they do. That very strong link is sports. Rodman recently visited North Korea and hung out with Kim while they bonded over their basketball obsession. In a recent book of letters exchanged between 2008 and 2011, Auster and Coetzee spend at least a quarter of the book lobbing their ideas about sports back and forth. They meander between wonder about various games they’ve played and absolute confusion and guilt over the hours spent glued to a TV screen vicariously hypnotized.

I’ve never understood this culture’s obsession with spectator sports, so it is an incongruous pleasure reading these great minds at work. This is Coetzee musing about envy: "One starts by envying Federer, one moves from there to admiring him, and one ends up neither envying or admiring him but exalted at the revelation of what a human being—a being like oneself—can do." At one point they go into this riff about the rise of mass sports, the cult of numbers, and the importance of hooking people with numerical packaging (think baseball stats). These guys are anthropologists, historians, poets and most importantly pretty engaged human beings.

I have experienced such a strange pleasure reading these letters, perhaps a little like watching spectator sports. One of them will serve up a subject like dying, which will lead into the difficulties with language and the chimera of memory, which opens up a path to our obsession with food and food rituals. I feel like I’m almost there with them.

They both dislike interviews. Coetzee writes, "I have often felt oppressive boredom as I listen to myself mouthing off to interviewers. To my way of thinking real talk only occurs when there is some kind of current running between the interlocutors. And such a current rarely runs during interviews." The current in this book kept me up reading late into the night!

- Barb

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

City of Bones: The Mortal Instruments Book One

City of Bones: The Mortal Instruments Book One
Cassandra Clare

Before I left Guelph for a graduate program in New Zealand I was given a copy of City of Bones: The Mortal Instruments Book One, by Cassandra Clare. I, being the YA lover that I am, had spotted the cover but had never gone for it. Needless to say, the mammoth book had me from the start and I was nose in spine for most of my twenty-five-hour flight.

As a newbie in a new town, the majority of my company has been me, myself, and I plus City of Bones, which has wined and dined with me on many an occasion. I'm not ashamed to say I always carry a solo-outing safeguard in my bag, whether it be a book, notebook, pen, or what have you to keep me entertained and occupied rather than staring off into a wall or at an adjoining table.

It was just after arrival that I took myself out to the movies to go see Beautiful Creatures, yet another YA book I've not read (it was entertaining...and starred babe Jeremy Irons). During the previews, the Mortal Instruments movie trailer came on, which made me want to get home and continue with my reading. 

City of Bones is dark, and Clare paints a vivid portrait of a mythic underworld in New York City with angel guardians (shadow hunters), werewolves, faeries, vampires, and other demons no human can see. The main human character, Clary, has the Sight, and witnesses a crime at a bar one night that changes her life forever. The detail and characters are all intriguing, and whether you love them or hate them, they add to the tale. Without giving shocking reveals away, I have to say that by the end I was yelling at the book and couldn't believe where Clare had taken the tale (Let me know your thoughts!).

I finished book one late Thursday morning and on my Friday to-do list was "Buy book two." After scouring all the bookshops in the downtown core, which were completely sold out, I became that customer--the one that doesn't want to order it because she wants INSTANT gratification and turns almost animalistic in demeanor while on the hunt. Blinded by the need but frustrated, I gave up and figured I should get back to my neglected research. My pen ran out and I popped into the campus bookshop to grab a new one. When I saw the last copy of Book Two: City of Ashes calling my name on a distant shelf, I swear I almost cried out.  In a line that stretched at least ten people long, all with with piles of textbooks, there was me with my pen, my teen book, and the hugest grin on my face.

The Mortal Instruments series is now up to book six, The City of Heavenly Fire, which comes out in May 2013, and there is a prequel series, The Infernal Devices, which is set in Victorian London. For more information, see Cassandra Clare's website.

- Ashley

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dr. Brian Ostrow Wins Award

Twenty-two years ago a wonderfully eccentric customer, Brian Ostrow, asked Barb Minett to see Woman in the Dunes, directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, upstairs in The Bookshelf cinema. The next day there was a bike ride, and born from that has been twenty-two years of highly entertaining companionship. How lucky we are that this character joined our family, fully engaged and open about his "Brian-ness." He is the gentleman mowing his lawn in a lungi--a passionate opera goer, excellent reader and critic, and outdoor enthusiast. I have sung Leonard Cohen with him in the Himalayas, fought with him over cards in France, and watched him make impossible structures of whimsy out of mini marshmallows with his grandchildren. Call on him to recite any song or poem (seriously) and he can with gusto. Speaking of gusto, he is my fellow Neruda enthusiast about food. Last Friday I called him and he was preoccupied and muttering about how to make pomegranate molasses for a special dinner that night.

The reason for the fancy dinner, and for this blog post, is that Dr.Ostrow has just been given the 2013 Journal of Wound Care Award for Best Research From a Developing Country. Brian has been leading a research team that, by working with local health care professionals, has reduced by more than fifty per cent the number of leg amputations due to diabetes in Guyana, South America. Mazel Tov to The Bookshelf's madame's guy. We are so proud of you and your team. May you continue to change the world around you, even when few are aware of your tremendous work.

- Hannah

While Brian couldn't attend the award ceremony in London, England in person, he did send along a brief acceptance speech via video, which we'll also offer here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Essays, Michel de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne
The Complete Essays, Trans. M. A. Screech
The Complete Works, Trans. Donald M. Frame

Imagine you’ve been granted your wish of hosting a dinner party to which you can invite any writer, living or dead. But things are going badly. William Shakespeare and Sam Beckett stare blankly at each other. Salman Rushdie looks utterly bored as he listens to Ralph Waldo Emerson prattle on. Virginia Woolf and Henry Miller are exchanging heated barbs. You stare at your appetizer, wondering how to rescue the situation.

Suddenly a late guest arrives (he would be late). He doesn’t look promising—a sixteenth-century Frenchman—but in a moment he’s sweeping around the room, amazing the party with his erudition and worldly wisdom, disarming everyone with his soul-baring honesty, entertaining with anecdotes both ribald and profound. There’s nothing he doesn’t have an opinion about, but somehow he doesn’t have that “me me me” air most opinionated people have. In fact, he’s set your party on fire. Things are hopping and people just can’t stop talking to one another. Hours later, as the guests are playing caps (or maybe a rollicking round of the Jane Austen drinking game), the conversation drifts to whom everyone would invite to his or her ideal writers’ party. And it’s no surprise that even before your invitations went out, your late guest was already at the top of everyone’s list—famous among the famed. His name: Michel de Montaigne.

Montaigne announced that “Every man bears the whole stamp of the human condition,” and his Essays, arguably the most penetrating and revealing self-portrait of a human being ever written, demonstrate that. His pieces run the gamut from the trivial (“On Smells”; “On Thumbs”) to the profound (“To Philosophize is To Learn How to Die”; “On Freedom of Conscience”). He writes frankly about friendship and sex, arguing provocatively for the advantages of having both a spouse and a lover—for both men and women. He ruminates on disease, lying, books, education, customs, and aging. His book is thick because life is large. And in an era when dogma drove Protestants and Catholics into mutual slaughter, there was nothing Montaigne didn’t question. He inveighs against cruelty in all its forms and compares Frenchmen and cannibals, to the advantage of the cannibals. As the title of his work suggests (Essais, meaning attempts or tries), Montaigne doesn’t claim to have the truth. In fact, he baldly states that it doesn’t matter if he’s right or wrong on the many subjects he probes. Rather, his aim is to reveal accurately the dance of his own mind as he contemplates them: “I myself am the subject of my book.”

The one constant in this vast array of topics is Montaigne. Four hundred years stand between him and us, and perhaps the greatest shock of reading the Essays is how thoroughly time and distance are erased when another human being stands stripped so completely bare before us. By the time you turn the last page, you will know him better than you know many of the people you’re surrounded with day by day. Whether you choose the classic Donald Frame translation with its elegant prose or the M. A.Screech translation with its more muscular, vigorous voice, you will be entertained, educated, and, yes, befriended. 

- Bruce

p.s. For a taste of what the essays have to offer, see this collection of Montaigne quotations.

This is an expanded version of a review that ran earlier in Off the Shelf.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

1001 Books: On Beauty, The Romantics, War of the Worlds, The Sorrows of Young Werther

Having completed my first round of books from the 1001 List, I was eager for round two. Zadie Smith’s On Beauty was next to be tackled. Smith’s writing was sharp and witty, and the story itself was diverting enough, but it’s what I would call a “good book,” not a great one. I remember that I found Beauty to be a well-written, fast-paced read, and that the plot was somewhat soapy in nature. That being said, it would be a perfect book for reading during a vacation--but not exactly must-read-before-you-die material.

Next on the List was a book I’d never heard of --The Romantics, by Pankaj Mishra. At the time that I was reading this book, I’d had very little experience with Indian literature (although I’d loved  M. G. Vassanji’s Book of Secrets). For me, the lovely thing about The Romantics was how effectively it created the sensation of being transported to South East Asia. The setting of Mishra’s novel made a simple, beautifully told story even more fascinating.

The transition from reading a story set in India to one set in Britain would have been less jarring, had the U.K. not been in the midst of an alien invasion.  I’m referring, of course, to The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, a book so marvellously terrifying that everyone should just skip the movie adaptations (and the countless rip-offs) and just read it immediately. Here’s why:  If there is one thing more distressing than being attacked by malevolent Martians, it is being attacked by space creatures without the benefit of modern communication and transportation technologies! The War of the Worlds was published in 1898, but it still packs a solid action-packed punch today. Before the List, I thought I might like Wells; it turns out that I adore him. See also: The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The Time Machine.

The final book from round two was Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, which made no impression on me whatsoever. I’m not sure if I was losing something in translation, or whether it had been included on the List for its historical significance rather than any particular merit it might possess. But it strikes me as strange, that despite my vivid recollection of the other books I was reading during this period, that I do not have any strong memory of neither Werther’s content nor its execution. Perhaps further explorations of Goethe’s work will yield better results….

- Steph

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Joy and Pain of Literary Obsessions

There's no greater thrill for me than finding a new writer. It's comparable maybe to the thrill a fly must feel once it's found the chink in a window screen after days of dumb bumbling.

I go a bit nuts. Once I find him or her, I glut myself on that author. And I'm a completist limned with obsessive tendencies. So I don't rest, and am bothered even, until I've got all there is to get of that particular author. Kerouac was the first. As a teen, I'd poke into Macondo and Sunrise here in Guelph a few times a week, hoping that some yellowed paperback had been left there for me since the last time. Looking at my order history here at the Bookshelf, I even see that the first book I ever ordered into this place was The Town and The City. That was way back in June 2001. Vonnegut was next and, Jesus, did I ever binge. Come university it was Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, and likewise I obsessively skulked through the Anglo shops in Montreal hoping to find T Zero or Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi. Post-university, I had to have everything by Flannery O'Connor and Lorrie Moore. 

For about fifteen years I had been propelled by this behavior until finally my author lust was mostly slaked. Which is to say, as far as authors and their books went, I wasn't really desirous of much. In the past few years there've been a cadre of stunning writers and their works, but nothing absolute, compelling, or, for lack of a better term, quest-worthy.  

For sure there's a comfort to obsession. It's nice to walk into a place with a directive. The flip side of this, for me at least, is the sallow waywardness that comes once I've got everything there is to get. And I find myself nostalgic about the time before I had any given corpus. I still find myself moping to the Ms to see whether that store has Like Life, or to the Cs to see if they have Six Memos for the New Millennium, and maybe to the Os, just to pick up the copy of Everything That Rises Must Converge to thumb through. It's a maudlin feeling I get, having already found what I was looking for. And so follows an aimless span where I drag my feet through bookstores, trying to get excited, being a weirdo, and double-checking whether books I already own are there or not, trying to—jeez—recreate that thrill.

In preparation for the The Big Lebowski screening in our cinema, I decided I'd have a look at Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, upon which I'd heard the Coens had loosely based their movie. The connections are diaphanous, but they're there. Chandler's been hailed much by writers I admire (and had been compulsive about), such as Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem, but I'd never given Chandler a shot. That was two weeks ago, and I'm now about four novels in. The rest are on the way. And while I'm reeling with this fresh discovery, I can't ignore the certainty that, in time, I'll have read everything Chandler left, and again find myself leering at the mystery section, just to double check that they've got The Little Sister on the shelf.

- Andrew

Monday, March 4, 2013

Books on Managing Anger

I am happy to be collaborating with Joyce Pharoah and her staff at the Homewood Health Centre, a premiere Canadian mental health facility in Guelph, Ontario. We are creating short, carefully selected lists of books from the psychology and self-help sections for people to read on their own, or ideally with the support of a therapist. These lists will be focused on dealing with particular challenges such as phobias and depression, cultivating positive human qualities such as mindfulness and compassion, and exploring helpful therapeutic practices.

The focus of today's list is books that are helpful in managing or dealing with anger.

- Ken

The Dance of Anger, by Harriet Lerner

In this engaging and eminently wise book, Dr. Lerner teaches women to identify the true sources of our anger and to use anger as a powerful vehicle for creating lasting change.
When Anger Hurts Your Relationship, by Matthew McKay

A first-aid manual for angry couples. Psychologists and best-selling authors Matthew McKay and Kim Paleg present an array of tools and strategies that couples can use to reduce conflict, diffuse intense rages, and move beyond repeated anger dynamics.
30-Minute Therapy for Anger, by Ronald T. and Patricia S. Potter-Efton

Here are proven-effective skills developed by therapists for helping people process and control their anger instead of lashing out at others. These conflict-defusing techniques will help you "cool down" anger so that you can respond calmly and effectively, even in life's most aggravating situations.
Anger: A Message for Men, by Keith Ashford

Anger cannot be managed or massaged---chances are you know that already. Nor can it be denied, avoided, projected, or repressed with any satisfactory result. But here is the miracle: Anger can be transformed into its opposite, which is inner peace.
The Compassionate Mind Guide to Managing Your Anger, by Russell L. Kolts and Paul Gilbert

Show you how to take responsibility for your anger and your life by cultivating a new strength: the power of compassion. Based in compassion-focused therapy, these skills and techniques will help you replace angry habits, gain control of your emotions, and improve your relationships.
A Volcano in My Tummy, by Elaine Whitehouse and Warwick Pudney

The book offers engaging, well-organized activities which help to overcome the fear of children's anger which many adult care-givers experience, and distinguishes between anger the feeling, and violence the behavior. Primarily created for ages six to thirteen, it is accessible for use in class or at home.

See also the Canadian Mental Health Association's article on dealing with anger and the American Psychological Association's online guide to anger management.