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Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Library Book: A History of Service to British Columbia by Dave Obee



“My elementary school was Lord Roberts in the west end of Vancouver.
Its library was the place where I felt most like me.”
—from the Foreword by Sarah Ellis in 
The Library Book: A History of Service to British Columbia

150 years of anything would probably make a good book—so long as the research and writing are up to snuff. In 2011, the British Columbia Library Association marked its centennial, fittingly, with a book dedicated to the development of libraries over the past one-and-a-half centuries. Journalist and author Dave Obee was awarded the task, and the result is a visually engaging history appealing to anyone with a love of libraries and history.

Explorers as far back as Simon Fraser brought books with them on their journeys, to stock the lending libraries of the Northwest Trading Company. British Columbia’s early libraries were established in saloons, hotels, news agents, in private collections, company reading rooms and a shelf or two of shop space.  In the 1860s, British Columbia’s pioneers were eager for the writing of Charles Dickens; George Eliot; Anthony Trollope and Charles Darwin. Today, despite the fact that more than 50 million books [are now] circulated through British Columbia public libraries every year” you can make a purposeful and productive trip to the library without even looking at a book.

Since their inception, every aspect of public libraries had great appeal to British Columbia’s growing communities, except for who would pay for them. And how. The precarious financial position of libraries continued well into the 20th century and Obee cites the many measures, from the delightful (picnic fundraisers) to the dire (summer and permanent closures) that have been implemented to deal with debts and rising operating costs.

Andrew Carnegie’s place in the history of British Columbia’s libraries is worthy of a chapter all it’s own. Of the 100 libraries in Canada made possible by Carnegie money three were in British Columbia: Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster. There would have been a fourth, in Nelson, had the town not spurned the railway magnate’s generosity.

Historical photographs and carefully curated quotes from librarians, writers, public officials and patrons bring colour to this chronicle. “The library is the mother ship,” writes Annabel Lyon. “It’s vast, it’s warm, it hums, you can sleep there if you need to, head on your arms in a carrel, and no one will bother you.”

Beyond books, the library was, even early on, an “alternative to the saloon and a refuge for those with no place to go”. Today, libraries continue to function as “community living rooms” and librarians in the information age are relied upon to help us find “and filter the good from bad”.

“The Internet is marvellous,” librarian Mark Y. Herring is quoted as saying, “but to claim, as some do now, that it’s making libraries obsolete is as silly as saying shoes have made feet unnecessary.”

Monday, February 23, 2015

"Indian Horse" by Richard Wagamese




“You go somewhere when you’re on the ice,” 
Virgil said to me after one practice. 
“It’s like watching you walk into a secret place 
that no one else knows how to get to.”

Hockey is the saving grace of young Saul Indian Horse’s life. Lost to his family and orphaned in his grandmother’s arms, eight-year-old Saul is discovered at an icy railroad stop in northern Ontario and stolen away to spend the next six years at St. Jerome’s Indian Residential School.

“St. Jerome’s took all the light from my world,” Saul remembers. He saw children die of abuse or suicide, with whatever they had to take themselves away from hell on earth: a pitchfork; rocks to weigh down a dress in water; rope to swing from the rafters of a barn. Anything, even death, was better than the despair of suffering the school’s daily humiliations.

It is a hockey ice rink, built at St. Jerome’s during Saul’s second winter, that saves him. In the years that follow, the crack of light opened by hockey will widen to include friendships, community, and a home life for Saul. Short and skinny—“a bag of antlers”—he earns his place on a reserve team with his honed skill and speed. 

Shunned by the mill and mining town teams, the reserve players create their own bush league circuit. Through tough play they make each other better, but they cannot overcome the racism that rages through the game. Eventually, it unleashes a fury in Saul that he cannot control. 

Looking back on his life, Saul must tell his story to save himself. But to do that, he must remember. And to remember is to see clearly the darkest truth of his time at St. Jerome’s. Richard Wagamese gives Saul Indian Horse all the vision he needs, and what he sees is both devastating and beautiful.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Give and Take: a Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant

February 11, 2015


In his 1986 autobiography Is that it? Bob Geldof, the Irish rock musician and humanitarian, quotes Mother Theresa on giving. “When you give, give generously and without conditions,” said the Albanian nun known for her lifelong devotion to the poorest of the poor. But in organizational dynamics, it’s not that simple—an individual may be a giver, a matcher or a taker or a complex combination of the three. Their dominant tendency will not only shape their career, and the satisfaction they draw from it, it can also create a ripple effect throughout the organizations and the communities they serve.

The giving that The Wharton School's Adam Grant studies is not primarily of the charitable kind, but it is no less generous. Grant’s givers may or may not be writing cheques to worthy causes, but they share a common aptitude and interest in supporting the well-being and fulfillment of others. In Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Grant describes how wise “givers” have conditions, and that is not a bad thing.  Among those who give wisely, many can tell a story of being taken for a ride (or two) before they realized that not everyone they helped was going to pay it forward. 

Grant’s case studies are experts in the gift of time—not freeing up time, but time given to mentorship and helping others to grow their skills and networks. By bringing their stories together in Give and Take, Adam Grant creates an expanded definition of what it means to give in life, and at the office.

Monday, December 01, 2014

"A Power Christmas Special" free for you on iBooks (and here in a PDF)



December 1, 2014

Merry Christmas everyone! My gift to you and your family is A Power Christmas Special (6-10 year-olds especially), illustrated by Marc Mongeau--where Mimi and her family find all the chaos the season has to offer. Broken gingerbread, the TV log fireplace, a Wise Man behind the wheel, elves with their own trading cards and a very hungry Santa Claus...

It's free to download from the iBooks store right here:

If you don't have an iPad, you can link to the PDF version from here. Go ahead, give it a try!

I hope you enjoy it. It was fun to write. I think I figured out about half the story standing in a two-hour line-up to get a balloon poodle made at a Santa's Breakfast two years ago. Anyway, you can let me know what you think anytime at victorianunuk "at" telus "dot" net or on twitter @victorianunuk

Merry Christmas, and remember, "It's not what Santa can do for you..."

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry



November 11, 2014

“And you’d thank everyone for coming. We all raise a glass to Maya.
Everyone goes home happy.”
“So it’s basically a book party.”
“Yeah, sure.” 
Lambiase has never been to a book party.
“I hate book parties,” A.J. says. 
“But you run a bookstore,” Lambiase says.
“It’s a problem,” A.J. admits.

from The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Book parties aren’t the only thing A.J. Fikry hates. He is not fond of book blurbs, summer people, ghostwriters, children’s books (or children, for that matter), celebrity picturebooks, “…’postmodernisms, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism … and… this goes without saying, vampires’”. He does not like how much he drinks (that is, too much), or the frozen Vindaloo entrees and the loneliness that accompany them. And since his wife died, he has hated the work of being what he is, a bookseller on a small New England island.

Despite his closely held list of professed dislikes, Gabrielle Zevin’s A.J. Fikry may be one of the most likable characters published in 2014. Because, as The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry unfolds, A.J. discovers that his ever-growing list of likes and loves is a much better one to live by. Vampires, he learns, can be watched in large doses on television without any ill effects and children are not so bad after all—nor are the books that go with them.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Mr. Fox" by Helen Oyeyemi



"Solitary people, these book lovers. 
I think it's swell that there are people you don't have to worry about 
when you don't see them for a long time, 
you don't have to wonder what they do, how they're getting along with themselves. 
You just know that they're all right, and probably doing something they like." 
-- from Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

Writer St. John Fox has a penchant for killing his heroines and the women in his life don't like it, not one bit. Nor are they terribly keen on each other. So it is that Mr. Fox's wife, Daphne, and his muse, Mary, each vie for his attention and affections while trying to avoid the inevitable losses that come with love. To Oyeyemi's great credit, their insightful discoveries touch upon habits, idiosyncrasies and dilemnas of all who seek love and understanding from those we care for the most.

"The girl tried, several times, to give her love away, but her love would not stay with the person she gave it to and snuck back to her heart without a sound."

Helen Oyeyemi's fascination with fairy tales is in fine form here, but Mr. Fox is no Grimm retelling.  For all its swift slayings, bodily severings, decapitations and such, Mr. Fox never loses the lightness of a game for three players where the scenes change and the characters dance in different directions, uncertain of each others' affections but always in each others' sights.

Note, a little guidance getting started with Oyeyemi is a good thing, for she is a writer and observer unlike any other. Eleanor Wachtel's 2014 interview with Helen Oyeyemi is just the ticket here

Monday, August 04, 2014

"The Lifeboat" by Charlotte Rogan



"But wouldn't you want to live anyway?" 
I asked, astonished by his vehemence. 
"Don't you want to live for yourself?" 

So asks 22-year-old Grace Winter of Mr. Preston, who sits beside her in an overcrowded lifeboat after the Princess Alexandra sinks in the Atlantic Ocean. It is 1914 and Grace finds herself, suddenly, both newlywed and widow, adrift and waiting for rescue in Charlotte Rogan's The Lifeboat.

But when the hardtack is gone and the drinking water run dry, the days wear on with neither land nor salvation in sight. A strange and mysterious separation emerges between passengers with the will to live and lead, at any price, and those made weak--or noble--by their circumstances. This  menacing rift swells and dangerously divides the passengers from "the only person among us who knew anything about boats and currents and the boiling sea." 

A tension of opposing forces builds to one of the few decisive acts that Grace will take in her young life. To preserve her chances in The Lifeboat any choice will be a terrible one, leaving many questions unanswered that no doctor's analysis or judgment day could ever resolve. 

A dark and masterful meditation on power, guilt, sacrifice and survival.