Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Greatest Music You've Never Heard

Available now at the Bookshelf!

If you Like This...     Try This!
Ella Fitzgerald Nikki by Nikki Yanofsky, featuring "God Bless the Child"
Vampire Weekend Bigfoot by Cayucas, featuring "East Coast Girl"
Radiohead Amok by Atoms for Peace, featuring "Ingenue"
Joni Mitchell Once I Was an Eagle by Laura Marling, featuring "Where Can I Go?"
Ryan Adams Country Sleep by Night Beds, featuring "Ramona"
Oasis Soft Will by Smith Westerns, featuring "Idol"
The Strokes Free Dimensional by Diamond Rings, featuring "It's Just Me"
Beach House Strange Pleasures by Still Corners, featuring "All I Know"
Bob Dylan Wakin' on a Pretty Daze by Kurt Vile, featuring "Pure Pain"
Amy Winehouse Avalanche by Quadron, featuring "Hey Love"

- Steph

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Travellers versus Tourists

Which country?
I once read a critic who proposed that mall entrances all over the world are actually wormholes into a single space that exists outside regular geographical space. So whether you’re in Toronto, Berlin, or Beijing, once you’ve crossed over the threshold into those relentlessly air-conditioned, tiled, fluorescent corridors, you’ve forsaken whatever locale you’re in for the transcendent country of mall land. Walking into a mall in Tokyo through the entrance by the Banana Republic, it’s not hard to imagine yourself indulging in some retail therapy and then stepping out of the exit adjacent to the Gap, only to find yourself in Moose Jaw.

The generic nature of chain stores is much the same. McDonaldsland and Wal-Martland are their own places no matter where they are. Which is why, if you want to actually know the place you’re visiting (or, for that matter, the place you’re living), it’s necessary to step outside of the solacing predictability and climate-controlled comfort of chains and into the bending backways and unknown sidestreets to sample local fare. The daunting problem, of course, is that outside of the regimented world of chain stores you never know exactly what you’re going to find—food poisoning or a local delicacy, dusty junk or a hidden gem, ripoffs or bargains of a lifetime. But daring, even modest daring, is the difference between a tourist and a traveller—and it’s possible to live your whole life as a tourist, even if you never leave your home town.

These thoughts come after a visit to some friends in Chicago, during which I visited Quimby’s, a famed indie bookstore in the city’s amazing Wicker Park area. Great indie bookstores differ from one another almost as much as they differ from the chain bookstores they compete with. If the chain stores are all wearing buttondowns and Dockers, indies can wear anything from leather and tongue studs to paisleys and bell bottoms. I’m not quite sure in what I’d dress The Bookshelf. Given the wonderfully motley crew that inhabits the store, its closet would be a bulging mishmash, but it’d be a challenge to find a blue tie or a Manolo pump in the mix.

 Quimby’s definitely tends toward studs and rings and is famous for its collection of cutting-edge comics, magazines, and, most notably, hand-made zines. The place is like a  primordial soup of literature. Almost all of the zines and a good number of the comics and books are by unknowns and are either self-published or put out by micropresses. Some of them will no doubt someday be picked up by major publishing houses and repackaged as the next bleeding edge. But in situ there’s no one to tell you what’s good and what’s bad, what’s worth reading and what’s a waste of time. The browser is in the uncomfortable position of having to flip through each work and actually exercise his or her own aesthetic judgement without the guiding hands of publishers, editors, or critics—to be, in another words, a traveller through books rather than a tourist. To varying degrees and in various ways, I suppose that’s what all good indie bookstores do.

- Bruce

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An Interview with Douglas Davey, author of M in the Abstract

This past spring The Bookshelf hosted a very successful reading featuring Douglas Davey, author of the YA novel M in the Abstract. Here Douglas responds to questions from Athme Sivapalan,  a member of the Brampton Library's Teen Library Council. Thanks to Michele Collins, Librarian at the Cyril Clark branch of the Brampton Library, for arranging this interview. You can also see Athme's review of M in the Abstract in our Bookshelf Reviews.

What was the initial idea in coming up with a story such as M in the Abstract?

I began at the end, with the final image—the metamorphosed girl standing on the brink—then I worked backwards.

Mary is such a relatable girl in her personality and “normal” everyday problems. How were you able to realistically create her character?

I wanted her to feel authentic even though her circumstances were so strange, so I gave her really relatable problems, such as being overly self-conscious. I think a lot of teens feel like everyone is always staring at them, judging them. She also experiences more mundane dilemmas, such as trying to put off going to the bathroom because she doesn't want to get out of bed. Who doesn't do that?

A lot of the dialogue is based on real-life conversations that I remember from my teenage years. It's strange—I can't remember what I had for breakfast but somehow I can recall every detail of a conversation I overheard when I was 16. I still eavesdrop a lot because teens are giving away free material every time they speak!

The emotions in this story are very powerful. Did you ever feel when writing that you experienced the same feeling at the same moment the characters you were writing about were?

It was more like the remembrance of feeling. Being a teen is such an emotional time—I felt like I was constantly on the edge of going crazy. I tried to remember what I was feeling at the time and then tap into that pain and frustration. But being a teen isn't all bad. When Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, he knew that there is nothing quite so all-encompassing as falling in love when you're a teenager. *Sigh*

Thinking back, there was one moment when I was editing M in the Abstract where I came across a little passage that I'd forgotten all about. Rereading it made me feel very blue, although I can't pinpoint why. It's sad when friends part.

Was there any research done in the making of this story or was everything made from your imagination?

I didn't need to do much in the way of research as much of the book is a mish-mash of my own experiences, or those of my friends. I did do some artwork to try and finalize the look of the characters—you can see some it on my website.

Where did the idea of Mary having her strange ability come from?

I wanted to combine comic book concepts (like super-powers) and the classic teen problem novel, the kind where a character has to deal with a specific, real-life issue. If you look on my website you'll see many of the comics/cartoons that inspired me. But I also wanted there to be this ambiguity about her abilities—are they even real? For me, that made it more interesting to write.

Is there any real life inspiration for M in the Abstract?

Most definitely my own life played a big part, as well as the lives of those around me. I'm still woefully self-conscious, although you wouldn't always know it. And I still want to join the X-Men.

I also used real-life people (or at least my recollections of their voices) in order to keep the dialogue consistent. I assigned people I know (or knew) to many of the characters. If I couldn't imagine my friends saying the lines, then I'd rewrite them.

The city of Guelph, Ontario where I live served as the inspiration for Mary's town, although there are significant differences. There really is a long footbridge in Guelph, but it's nowhere near as big as the one in the book.

This story's characters are largely in the teen age group. Why?

I really wanted it to be enjoyed by teens, so that's the age of the cast members. It's just more relatable for the target audience. Plus, I love writing teen dialogue!

Why is the the title M in the Abstract?

On one hand, I simply wanted an evocative title, one that would sound intriguing. Joni Mitchell has an album called The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Isn't that great? I don't know what it means but I can picture it perfectly.

On the other hand, I wanted a title that described the content without being obvious, in the same way that an abstract painting can evoke an emotion or idea without explicitly describing something.

The main character's unstable personality is reflected in the fact that she goes by many names: Mary, Mariposa, Mare, and Posey (there might even be more). When Mary refers to herself as the letter M, she is at her most reduced and abstract. She doesn't know who she is. Who does?

Also, I was reading Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (of Heart of Darkness fame) and I came across a line referring to "ambition in the abstract," meaning a drive to achieve and excel at everything—having ambition for its own sake. That idea (or rather, the opposite of that idea) was intriguing to me and stuck around long enough in my brain to make its way into the book title.

Were there any messages you wanted readers to take away from this? If so, what would they be?

Mary is surrounded by people want to help her, but because of her overwhelming fear and shame, she refuses, choosing instead to keep both her secret and her sadness, at least until she starts opening up towards the end.

Suffering thrives in silence. Like a living thing, it will do anything to stay alive. To overcome your suffering you have to talk about it, you have to break the cycle. But that's easier said than done.

If people take away anything from the story, I hope it's this: no matter how much of a freak you think you are, you're never alone.

Can we expect to see more from Mary?

If you'd have asked me that question a little while ago I would have said no, but now I don't know. I've had a lot of people ask me what happens after the final page. I've started writing some more material, but the pieces are short stories and not a straightforward sequel. Instead, it's a collection of "what ifs?" What if the shadows are real? What if they're not?

I've written one piece I like quite a lot where Kristyn and Cammy (who are just a blast to write) take Mary out for a night on the town and show her how to get up to no good. Not only does she learn a valuable lesson (how to make a convincing lie about your whereabouts) but her mom gets to go on a date, something which is long overdue!

If the demand is there, I promise I will write more!

Thanks for reading,

Douglas Davey

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave
Rick Yancey

I must admit I was taken aback when I finished The 5th Wave. I opened the front cover expecting to be let into a world very similar to that of The Hunger Games, Divergent, or even City of Bones. Boy, was I wrong. Yes, The 5th Wave shares a lot of the same themes and attributes that are hungered after and devoured by today's YA readers: adventure, heroism, fighting, survival, unlikely friendships, romance, and the unexpected. However, Rick Yancey wrote his novel in a way that sets the bar for YA books even higher, and he creatively sets these themes in an alien apocalypse that, as our protagonist Cassie points out, has no "flying saucers and little green men and giant mechanical spiders spitting out death rays." Yancey’s version of aliens taking over the world is much more advanced, horrifying, and chillingly unpredictable.

The 5th Wave starts off with Cassie describing the state of disaster the earth is in. Unlike the narrators in a lot of other young adult books, Cassie sounds so real, as if she is right beside me describing everything as she vividly remembers it. Cassie is one of the few female protagonists I have come across who seems like a real person and not some robot who feels scripted. In fact, Yancey did a fantastic job creating all his characters.

The thing I loved the most about The 5th Wave, though, was that it was about aliens. But not just any aliens. Yancey takes the whole alien apocalypse idea and puts a new spin on it. The notion of "little green men" is often laughable, but the invaders in this book seemed more real than any others I’ve read about, which  made me think that Yancey’s book could be an allegory for how we humans treat each other in our own world.

The romance in The Fifth Wave is just at the right caliber: realistic enough so we know it's there, but not so much that it's overkill. Those who love reading about the relationships and those who just want to get on with the story will both be satisfied. The 5th Wave is easy to follow, action packed, quick paced, and refreshing.

- Ellie

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Books That Teen Boys Will Enjoy

A recent online inquiry sought book recommendations for thirteen-year-old boys. After some deliberation, I compiled the following list, taking into consideration some popular themes for this age group: adventure, mischief, technology, and, above all else, the Apocalypse. I chose books from both our 10-14 Year Old and Young Adult sections to appeal to boys of different levels of maturity and reading ability. A lot of these titles have adult appeal, so reading these books together is an excellent idea!

- Steph

Dodger, by Terry Pratchett
Funny, fast-paced adventure played out in Victorian London. Dodger is a good-hearted teenaged thief—action and hilarity ensue.
After the Snow, by S. D. Crockett
A post-apocalyptic survival tale set during a new Ice Age, focusing on one teen's quest for his missing family.
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Classic dystopian novel. A timeless and important look at the effect of extreme censorship on a population.
The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton
Brotherhood, friendship, and Robert Frost—a terrific character study examining the consequences of violence.
Hoops, by Walter Dean Myers
Thoughtful depiction of a teen deciding between a life of crime and the promise of a scholarship.
The End Games, by T. Michael Martin
Action-packed adventure set in the wake of a zombie apocalypse, as two brothers seek other survivors.
Pirate Cinema, by Cory Doctorow
A teenaged protagonist obsessed with creating pirate remixes of his favourite films learns to use technology and art to effect political change.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
A teenager growing up on a reservation must surmount internal and external obstacles to attend a white school twenty-two miles away.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan
Full of fun and music, this book examines the lives of two boys—one gay, one straight—who share the same name.
This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, by Kenneth Oppel
The imagined prequel to Mary Shelley's horror classic, with young Victor as the brilliant, but not-yet mad scientist's apprentice.
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
In preparation for an invasion by aliens, the most talented children on earth are taken to a special school that finds and trains fleet commanders.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Books on Living with Bipolar Disorder

I am happy to be collaborating with Joyce Pharoah and her staff at the Homewood, 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 helpful therapeutic practices. Other lists we've put together include books on anxiety, dealing with anger, and eating disorders.

- Ken Hood

Here is a list of books about how to work with bipolar disorder.

The Bipolar Handbook: Real Life Questions with Up-to-Date Answers, by Wes Burgess

Drawing upon the real questions asked by patients and families during his nearly twenty years as a bipolar specialist, The Bipolar Handbook comprehensively tackles every area of the disorder, from its causes to medical treatment and psychotherapy, to strategies for creating a healthy lifestyle, to the prevention of, coping with, and treatment of bipolar episodes.
The Depression Workbook: A guide to Living with Depression and Manic Depression, by Mary Ellen Copeland

Learn to practice the latest research-based self-help strategies to relieve depression and address other mental health issues. A new chapter guides readers through developing your own plan for managing symptoms and staying well. This edition is updated in all areas including new medical and holistic perspectives and extensive lists of helpful resources and Web sites that will assist you in your journey to wellness.
Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, by Julie Fast

Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder offers information and step-by-step advice for helping your partner manage mood swings and impulsive actions, allowing you to finally focus on enjoying your relationship while also taking time for yourself. This book explains the symptoms of your partner's disorder and offers strategies for preventing them and responding to these symptoms when they do occur.
Mind over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think, by Dennis Greenberger
This popular workbook shows readers how to improve their lives using cognitive therapy.  Step-by-step worksheets teach specific skills that have helped hundreds of thousands of people conquer depression, panic attacks, anxiety, anger, guilt, shame, low self-esteem, eating disorders, substance abuse and relationship problems.
An  Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, by Kay Redfield Jamison

Dr. Jamison is one of the foremost authorities on manic-depressive (bipolar) illness; she has also experienced it firsthand. For even while she was pursuing her career in academic medicine, Jamison found herself succumbing to the same exhilarating highs and catastrophic depressions that afflicted many of her patients, as her disorder launched her into ruinous spending sprees, episodes of violence, and an attempted suicide.
Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide, by David Miklowitz
Dr. David J. Miklowitz offers straight talk, true stories, and proven strategies that can help you achieve greater balance and free yourself from out-of-control moods. The updated second edition has the latest facts on medications and therapy, an expanded discussion of parenting issues for bipolar adults, and a new chapter, "For Women Only."

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Instructions for a Heatwave

Instructions for a Heatwave
Maggie O'Farrell

How does she do it?

My subconscious has never spoken to me so directly. I was brushing my teeth a few days ago and wondering why I find Maggie O’Farrell’s writing so addictive when the Beatles sang out the first stanza of their famous song:
Something in the way she moves
Attracts me like no other lover
Something in the way she woos me
I don't want to leave her now
You know I believe and how
Aha! It really was the way she moves--and on so many levels.

O’Farrell’s latest is a story about the struggles of a lower-middle-class and of course dysfunctional family of Irish background living in London. It’s 1976 and a severe heat wave has loosened rationality and made the characters in this family reunite to solve a problem. Robert, the stable and quiet husband of Gretta and father to Monica, Aoife, and Stephen, has left home to buy the paper that he has bought every morning for years, and doesn’t return. They reluctantly come together and move toward solving the mystery.

Reading this novel is almost like watching a superb game of soccer. O’Farrell moves the ball of consciousness around so fluidly and artfully that we see how each of the players runs and walks, how they pass, when they pass, when they intercept, if they play dirty, and, in the end, how they fit into the team. Gretta is religiously motivated and never stops thinking and talking--mainly about nothing. Monica is her favourite but has been trapped by her mistakes. Stephen is the brainy one but is still beset by anxiety and challenges. Aiofe is a character that I will not forget. She has never been able to read, and this has fractured her into many jagged but brilliant pieces. My understanding of illiteracy has been greatly enhanced.

And then there is the O’Farrell genius of moving through the geography of words. The characters, so different from each other, are believable because of her understanding of what the geology of time, character, and circumstance does to a person’s language and consciousness.

I had to check the lyrics of the song to write this and the last stanza also says it. Indeed, it’s also something in the way she knows.

Something in the way she knows
And all I have to do is think of her
Something in the things she shows me
I don't want to leave her now
You know I believe and how
- Barb

Friday, July 5, 2013

Bookshelf Non-fiction Bookclub: Cooked (Thursday, August 1)

Hey everybody, it's been a while! I've found the perfect non-fiction book for our next book club meeting. It's perfect not only because the author is a great writer, food historian, cook, and food industry critic, but because he will be appearing in Guelph on September 14. The book is Cooked, the author is Michael Pollan, and the first three people who purchase the book for a book club and mention our Twitter handle (#reallongtweets) will receive a voucher for a free ticket to see Michael Pollan, Sarah Elton, and Evan Fraser's talk at the University of Guelph as part of the Eden Mills Writers' Festival.

In our little book club we have talked about everything from politics to economics to chaos theory to food. Food makes for great conversation, as our hearts, minds, mouths and stomachs are very dependent on this topic. Food politics can make for a contentious conversation; however, healthy debate in this case can lead to healthier lives.

Stay tuned for details on some fun culinary activities happening in the eBar and Greenroom kitchen on August 1. The members of the book club are a smart, fun, and respectful group, and all are welcome. I hope to see you on August 1.

- Ben