Monday, December 31, 2012

Licking Our Lips and Clucking Our Tongues

YA author Kenneth Oppel wrote an interesting piece in the Globe shortly after the release of the first Hunger Games movie this past March in which he criticized The Hunger Games for appealing to its audience’s baser instincts. The Globe comments section, as usual, expanded my mind vastly by demonstrating that there were more ways to miss a point than I possibly could have imagined: “Can’t you see it’s a critique?” “Psst…it’s fiction,” “You’re just jealous,” etc. I’m pretty sure Oppel knows Hunger Games is a critique of our current realmedia obsession and that he realizes it’s fiction. I think his point, though, is that the audience watching the film is no less entertained by the games than is the fictional audience in the film (something that is, perhaps, less possible with Battle Royale, the rawer Japanese precursor to Hunger Games). The difference is that the audience within the film openly acknowledges that it enjoys watching teens fight to the death, whereas the audience walking out of the theatre gets to cluck its tongue and think itself morally superior.

And after the audience leaves the theatre, they can demonstrate how the film’s social critique has transformed them by buying Hunger Games gear, including Katniss and Peeta pen and pencil sets, Hunger Games “movie socks” with mockingjays on them, “Capital Colors” nail polish from China Glaze (Show which district you’re aligned with—what’s your “hunger colour”?). And yes, inevitably, Katniss Barbie. How lucky we are to live in our world and not Katniss’s: we have better morals AND better merch! Sure, the games are fictional, but given that the trademarked slogan of our modern gladiatorial games, the Ultimate Fighting Championships, is “As Real As It Gets”—precisely intended to reassure us that the spilled blood in the ring is the real deal—might it be that there are spinoff opportunities yet to be explored?

- Bruce

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

By Guy Delisle

Delisle has done this before (Burma, Pyongyang). He accompanies his Doctors Without Borders spouse to an area of conflict, and wanders around as a stranger-in-a-strange-land, an illustrator-guide to the history and politics of a region or culture. I think he’s brilliant. His little, strangely shaped humans elicit enough pathos that there is a journalistic near-impartiality to his comics. Even his straightforward, slightly squiggled linework is non-judgmental. He makes direct reflections about culture and conflict and their ramifications in tense settings.

In Jerusalem, Delisle pokes his nose into the lives of Muslims, Christians, and Jews living on both sides of the wall of this holiest of cities. What he finds is plainness beneath the violence: traffic jams, groceries, vacations that get held up at geographical checkpoints. It’s a complex city, and I appreciate the tour free of an authorial agenda to solve complex problems. This is a very good travelogue, and a subtle argument for magnifying the common moments of being human.

- Dan

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Inconvenient Indian

Thomas King

Drama and math usually don’t have much to do with each other. But there is one formula most people connected with drama know, and it goes like this:

comedy = tragedy + distance

This formula describes our well-established proclivity to find the suffering of others funny, provided it’s presented to us in a way that removes us from the people or the pain involved. A million ten-ton Acme weights falling on a million hapless Coyotes testify to the success and ubiquity of this formula, even if they don’t necessarily rub out its ethical shadiness.

Thomas King, an author, broadcaster, professor, actor, director, and Massey Lecturer who is justifiably known for his humour and wit, is no doubt familiar with this law of human nature. But, when he doesn’t make himself the butt of his own jokes, as he so often does in CBC's Dead Dog CafĂ© Comedy Hour, he tends to work the formula from a different angle, and it goes something like this:

comedy – distance = tragedy

That is, comedy and wit can induce us to move closer to issues we might not otherwise want to look at, and in his latest book, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, King plays a sly, ironic, and sometimes biting Virgil to the reader’s Dante as he conducts us on a tour of how Native people have been depicted in history, film, literature, and the media. As reviews in the Star and the Globe have pointed out, there’s much to admire in King’s book: It covers a broad swath of history from Columbus to Caledonia in an engaging way that gives the reader an authoritative overview of issues and events. It incisively dissects historical efforts to erase Native people through war or education and illuminates present attempts to erase them through law or policy. It displays impressive rhetorical acumen as King argues for and against various positions on the past and present status of Aboriginal people.

But most of all, King is a master storyteller, and The Inconvenient Indian is a masterfully-told story. In his popular Massey Lecture collection The Truth About Stories, King said, “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are,” and if stories are central to how we construe ourselves, they are even more powerful determinants in how we perceive others. King’s examination of  the narratives that have defined Native people for non-Native cultures isn’t written from on high. Rather, King gives to us the story of his own encounters with these stories in a humorous, personal, and humane way that never obscures the bitter injustices that accompanied and still accompany them. In many ways The Inconvenient Indian is an account of King’s own journey, and an invitation to walk alongside him as he takes it. You’ll rarely encounter a better travelling companion.

- Bruce Dadey

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars

John Green

Let’s hop on the bandwagon for a ride to WE ADORE JOHN GREEN land. I had no idea this guy was so popular. He’s an interweb star, apparently selling out auditorium after auditorium (auditoria?) on his book tours. And after a couple of emotional days with The Fault in Our Stars in my hands, I can more clearly see what the hype is about.

Green assembles lovely sentences full of gulps for more breath and the run-ons of teen enthusiasm, his characters sound authentic with slang in their mouths, and he has a wonderful ear for quick wit in dialogue. All skills that suit his ambition here: creating a teen love story that rivals the great tragedies in the literary canon.

Green first unleashes sixteen-year-old Hazel Lancaster—a terminal cancer patient, a poetic philosopher, and a scared teenager. Hazel’s lung tumours are stable; not shrinking, but not growing either. An experimental drug has bought her a few more years. She narrates with honest and sarcastic observations that capture her sense of mortality, keeping readers engaged and off-balance: “Depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really.)”

Into Cancer Support Group hobbles Augustus Waters, a one-legged, charismatic “survivor” of osteosarcoma. He quickly recognizes radiance beneath Hazel’s illness, and that’s about the only cue he needs to engage in a playful courtship. She never stands a chance against his charm: “You’re beautiful. I enjoy looking at beautiful people, and I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence … particularly given that, as you so deliciously pointed out, all of this will end in oblivion and everything.”

Their love story fattens on time spent with an amazing supporting cast of friends, fantasies, idols, and parents hovering nearby to make their pain and fear bearable. (All sick people deserve such a cast in their lives.) All the blunt, persistent chatter about death permits readers to be horrified, comforted, and encouraged.

It’s an awkward but thorough introduction to cancer etiquette and faux-pas alike; as The Fault in Our Stars casts its gaze on a deep tenderness fraught by an ominous time limit, readers gawk alongside. Keep close your hankies.

- Dan

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Yes, I know that this is not a word because my spell check has squiggly red lines under it, but it certainly describes what has happened in our store this December. Our top five selling books are by or about people who live in Guelph or very close to it. At number one we have Driven to Succeed, the fascinating biography of Linamar founder Frank Hasenfratz. This exciting story is written by two of Canada’s top business writers, Rod McQueen and Susan Papp. It is such an extraordinary story that I expect that there will soon be a major motion picture, and you can see video of Rod, Susan, and Frank talking about the book on the Bookshelf YouTube channel. At number two stands The Inconvenient Indian by novelist, broadcaster, and professor Tom King. It has had stellar reviews from both the Globe and the Star. It is a must read for anyone, but especially if you are interested in the Native, or shall I dare say, Indian question. Next is a lovely Christmas tale called Porcupine in a Pine Treeillustrated by the talented and imaginative Guelph artist Werner Zimmerman. This might someday supplant the traditional "Twelve Days of Christmas" song. In the number four spot you can read about The Universe Within by Neil Turok. Turok is the director of the Perimeter Institute and is this year’s Massey Lecturer. It’s not a quantum-mechanics-made-easy book, but an ode to what Turok loves--people and physics. You can see a fascinating and wide-ranging Q&A session with  Turok on our YouTube channel. Last, but not least, is a book called Who Could That Be at This Hour by Lemony Snicket. Snicket is one of the most popular kids' writers in North America, but his latest is illustrated by Guelph’s own famous graphic artist Seth. The cover is one of the best I’ve seen in years! Well done locabibliophilias, you have great taste!

- Barb

Friday, December 14, 2012

Winning the Story Wars

Jonah Sacks

For some time I have been thinking about creating a website to give expression to my particular perspective and versions of practice in regard to the Buddha’s dharma, philosophy, and meditation. Because the Internet has become such a sprawling “Tower of Babel,” my main concern was that I produce something unique and helpful. However, I am now beginning to realize that I will also need to tell a compelling story.

In light of this, I picked up Jonah Sachs’s book, Winning the Story Wars. Sachs, an internationally-known storyteller, author, designer, and entrepreneur, has been centrally involved in the creation of a number of entertaining and notable educational resources on the web, such as The Story of Stuff, a critique of modern consumerism, and The Meatrix, a critique of factory farming. Winning the Story Wars is a fun, fast read that covers a lot of ground. His main premise is that as human beings our lives are made up of stories. In the past these were largely religious and philosophical ones; however, many of these old stories are in decline, and this creates what he calls a “myth gap.” People hungry for meaningful stories are  being deeply influenced by the de facto alternative, marketing. Unfortunately, for the last several decades, advertising and marketing have become a “dark art” where the main theme is inadequacy: make people feel inadequate about themselves, and then provide them with the magic product that will complete them.

From here Sachs guides the reader through a series of exercises to figure out who they are—their real values and core message. He also helps readers figure out who they are speaking to and how to speak to them truthfully and in a way that will interest them, particularly on an archetypal level. Sachs closes with the admonition that whether we are part of an organization or working as an individual, we must follow through on the values and vision we have just communicated. Sachs’s hope is to transform the once “dark art” into a medium that can be used to empower us worker-consumers to become citizens again and to take active responsibility for the world.

- Ken

Thursday, December 13, 2012

2012: The Year of the Mighty Music Bio

If this year’s crop of new biographies is any indication, it would appear that many music legends are getting confessional in their autumnal years. Either that, or after ages of being hounded by the press, they have reluctantly permitted one lucky biographer to spill the beans on their behalf. Regardless, 2012 has seen an unprecedented number of popular music’s originators telling their stories, some for the first time.

The release of a celebrity tell-all is not always a spectacular event. In fact, it’s frequently irritating (will someone please revoke Conrad Black’s word processing privileges?), or insulting (Ahnold, I’m talking to you), or downright unnecessary (the Situation gets to write a book? Really?). However, when the likes of Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and Pete Townshend decide to commit their stories to print, I’m just as excited to hear what they have to say as I’ve been to hear what they have to sing.

In addition to the self-penned bios of Nelson, Young, and Townshend, several prominent musicians, preferring to stick to song writing, have shared their experiences with noted biographers. Peter Ames Carlin’s Bruce is the first biography endorsed by the Boss. Sylvie Simmons, an excellent music journalist who has also authored a bio on Serge Gainsbourg, takes on an equally enigmatic subject in Leonard Cohen with her new book I’m Your Man.

If you’ve ever been curious about the humble origins, creative inspiration, wild tour experiences, or personal philosophies of some of the world’s most influential songwriters, here is a selection of the music biographies released in the past 12 months:

- Steph

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Crazy Time

'Tis the season for hurried, slippery mornings and knuckle-dragging walks home in the dark. The month of December (if you work retail especially) goes by at face-melting speed. I've made my lists and checked them about fifty times. My planner is on its last legs already--it's busting at the seams and, to a foreign eye, full of gibberish. My arms ache from carrying additional daily errands and when my mouth touches the lunch I pulled out two hours earlier it's actually pure bliss.

But even with all the chicken-with-its-head-cut-off visuals and hermit-like behaviour on my downtime, I swear there are good bits in-between.

We may hate the early darkness, but it does make for more time to enjoy the twinkling lights and snow that sparkles. The bitter cold seeps into your bones, but the feeling of burning cheeks crossing a warm threshold can't be beat--warm meals, good wine, classic Christmas movies, and games around the table. Yes, there is nothing more embarrassing than a public face plant, but it happens to almost everyone at least once during winter and it's nothing a hot toddy doesn't fix (that's what I tell myself anyway).

The time I savour most is reading in bed, and now that I'm running on empty there is nothing I love more than a "non-thinker," something a little fantastical that can take me away to a place that is not behind a till. Old favourites like Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and The Phantom Tollbooth and new ones like Insurgent by Veronica Roth and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (one of my favourite Y.A. releases of the year) are hitting the spot before my head hits the pillow.
These small moments in a day that feels like ten hours instead of twenty-four not only make me grateful for my friends, co-workers, family, and alone time, but fill the tank ever so slightly so I can do it all again the next day.

- Ashley

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Shelf of Booksellers (And Their Recommendations)

This morning we had a rare gathering of all the booksellers in our store over breakfast at Ox. (I'm not sure what you'd call a gathering of booksellers. A crash? No, that's rhinos. A parliament? No, that's owls. Maybe a shelf? We're a notable exclusion from the list of animal groups.) In any case, each of us was asked to bring along three books we were enthusiastic about and would like the other booksellers to keep in mind during this busy season.

So what do booksellers recommend to one another? Here, following the example of Jane Mount and Thessaly La Force's delightful picture book, My Ideal Bookshelf, are photos of some of the books that shared the table with our toast, coffee, and eggs. First the kid's books:

Then the adult/YA books:

Want more information on these books? Click on the covers below!

Kids' Books

Adult/Young Adult Books


Happy browsing!

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