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Heat Wave!


Image via Dev Carib.

It’s hot out there.

Here in the Greater Toronto Area, which is not typically known for its hot weather, we’re experiencing temperatures around 32°C, but with a humidex of at least 40°C. And it will be that way for at least three long days.

There are various schools of thought on how to deal with this kind of heat, at least from a reader’s perspective. I’m a fan of cranking the a/c and “thinking cold”; the novel on my nightstand right now takes place in the Arctic. (More on that one in a future post.) But I know there are all kinds of ways to handle the heat. What’s your style?

Whatever you do to beat the heat, let me offer up a selection of summer reads to accompany you while you do it.


The “Eat Pray Love” Booklist

By now it’s no secret that I’m not too interested in seeing Eat Pray Love, and I’m not sure I even want to put the time into reading the book. Memoirs really aren’t my cup of tea in any case. But that doesn’t mean I can’t pull together a bundle of reading recommendations and suggestions for people who want more of the Eat Pray Love phenomenon.

If you loved Eat Pray Love, what was it that captured your heart? It could be the exotic settings. Maybe it’s the idea of a woman finding freedom or self-discovery. It could be the romance, or the spiritual seeking. Or maybe you’re a foodie at heart. There’s no doubt that Eat Pray Love is a multi-faceted concept that could draw people in on a lot of different levels. So I’ll try to recommend a few volumes to appeal to any Eat-Pray-Lover. (more…)

The Drama of Reincarnation

“Conversations with His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama are strange for a Westerner who does not believe in reincarnation. He points out such linkages, nodding his head with pity at how human behaviours continue to spin the web of lives, one after the other, through connections – actions, motivations, associations in past lives – that are impossible for most of us to see. For the Dalai Lama, this is a story of a connection, as he defined it, between two humans, played out over a thousand years, demonstrating a mixture of the divine and the human as manifested in corporeal lives.”

Can you imagine any story more dramatic than that? The relationship between two people playing out, not over a single lifetime, but over more than one. Past history and past emotions intervening in the dynamic of present relationships, changing the way we view one another, adding a layer of richness to our experience. I’ve been reading about that kind of relationship over multiple lifetimes in The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama, and it has inspired me to create a booklist of stories that explore past-life relationships in fiction. Thus I give you . . .

The Drama of Reincarnation

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – The story of a highly intelligent and educated dog named Enzo, who reflects on his life and his relationship with his racecar-driving human companion, Denny. As he prepares to leave this life, Enzo hopes he can become human in his next incarnation.

Audrey Rose by Frank de FelittaA bereaved father comes to believe that his little girl, killed in a horrible car accident, has been reincarnated into another child, one who seems to remember the torment and pain that ended her prior incarnation. Later adapted into a 1977 film.

Avalon High by Meg Cabot – The relationships between teenagers at a seemingly average high school come into sharp focus when Ellie begins to discover that she and her classmates are reincarnations of characters from the legend of King Arthur. YA

A Dog‘s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron – Over several lifetimes, Bailey tries to discover the reason behind his lives and loves as a dog.

Eternal by Craig Russell – A Jan Fabel detective story, in which Fabel and his team pursue a serial killer who believes he is taking revenge on those who wronged him in a past life.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson – The arrogant and cynical narrator plans to kill himself after he is disfigured in a horrible car accident . . . until a mysterious woman enters his life, claiming they were lovers in a past life in medieval Germany. Through her, the nameless narrator begins to question his understanding of reality and even to entertain the possibility of redemption.

The Hypnotist by M. J. Rose – When FBI agent Lucian Glass visits a hypnotist as part of an investigation, he learns about past incarnations in Greece and Persia, which just might be related to his current investigation and also to the unsolved case that haunts him to this day.

My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares – In their first incarnation together, Daniel loved Sophia deeply and hurt her deeply. Now, in each successive life, he searches for her and tries to make amends however he can, even when that means he must not be her lover this time around.

Red Earth and Pouring Rain by Vikram Chandra – A seventeenth-century poet-adventurer returns as a monkey, shot by vacationing student Abhay, who strikes a bargain with the gods: he will entertain Abhay and his family with stories from his rich past-life history.

Reincarnation by Suzanne Weyn – Over the history of the human race – in ancient Egypt and Greece, witch-hunt Salem, the American Civil War, Nazi-occupied Paris, 1960s Mississippi, and modern New York – two lovers meet over and over in different incarnations. YA

The Reincarnationist by M. J. Rose – A modern photojournalist remembers a life as a pagan priest in ancient Rome after he almost dies in a terrorist attack. As these memories surface, he begins to sense that a collection of modern-day murders might be related to a relic from his ancient past.

Replay by Ken Grimwood – An award-winning work of fiction in which, after dying of heart failure in 1988, Jeff Winston returns to a point in his life decades earlier to relive the past. He learns he cannot change the time and date of his death, but he can make other changes in the course of his life.

Sengoku Nights by Kei Kusunoki & Kaoru Ohashi – Masayoshi, a Japanese teen, learns that he lived a past life as a legendary witch. As he tries to come to terms with this knowledge, he finds he must also face the restless spirits of men he murdered in his prior incarnation. MA

The Star Rover by Jack London (also published as The Jacket in the U.K.) – Imprisoned for murder, Darrell withstands his guards’ torture by learning to enter a trance in which he roams amidst the stars and discovers the stories of his previous lives.

Yes, My Darling Daughter by Margaret Leroy – Single mom Grace searches for answers when her daughter Sylvie starts acting out in bizarre ways. She manages to trace the child’s troubling behaviour to past-life memories with the help of a professor who studies the paranormal.

MA = manga & anime.
YA = written with Young Adult readers in mind.

Inspired By Drama: Book Lists Inspired by the Stratford Festival

One of the things we learned as we studied public librarianship in school was the art of the book display, which is a librarian’s way of highlighting books that people might not otherwise think to check out. A similar concept is a book list, which offers up themed reading selections in the same way, but prints out titles and authors on paper instead of constructing a real-world display with physical books. That means it can be posted on the Internet or distributed over multiple libraries; also, a book that gets selected off a book display disappears, but its name is still on the list for people to place on hold.

Often book displays or lists focus on a theme, which can be pretty much anything – ‘Fiction and Fashion’, say, or ‘Spies in Paris’, or ‘Civil War Romance’. A clever librarian will often tie a book display to something that’s popular or topical right now. Here’s an example: there’s a lot of buzz about the new Twilight movie, so a savvy librarian might display on related themes: ‘Vampires in History’ or ‘Paranormal Romance’ or even simply ‘If You Like Stephenie Meyer, You Might Like These’.

(Personally, I’m hoping to one day create an ‘I Would’ve Picked the Werewolf’ book display for readers who think Jacob was a better choice, full of books with strong heroines, sweet love interests, and arrogant creeps who get their comeuppance.)

Today I happened upon a copy of the 2010 Visitors’ Guide for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. This is a big deal for Ontarians. The Stratford Festival is one of our most popular theatre destinations, featuring a fairly eclectic mix of traditional Shakespearean plays, historical classics, popular musicals, and contemporary shows. And I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun for a librarian who knows the Stratford Festival is a popular event for her patrons to create a book list based on the Stratford Festival repertoire?” There are so many directions you could take! How about focusing on something specifically related to the Festival as a whole? It could capture the imagination even of patrons who aren’t planning to attend a show in Stratford. For instance:

Shakespeare in Spades – Not just his works, but also fiction and non-fiction about his life and times, or about his characters.
Shakespeare Updated – Ever heard it said that Ten Things I Hate About You is an update of The Taming of the Shrew? Or that somebody is wrapped up in a classic Romeo & Juliet situation? Find a bunch of stories, set in the modern world, that retell traditional Shakespearean plots like “son seeks revenge for the death of his father” (Hamlet) or “controlling man seeks revenge in tropical paradise” (The Tempest). And why stop at Shakespeare – they say Bridget Jones’ Diary is just updated Jane Austen. See what you can find!
The Show’s the Thing – Since preparing a theatrical performance can be as dramatic as the subject matter it’s written about, why not gather together some fiction and non-fiction about the dramatic arts and performance? That could make for some extremely compelling reading.
Theatre Back Then – From Greek tragedy to Elizabethan drama to the Restoration comedy to vaudeville – and beyond – a greater knowledge of how theatre played out in past time periods could enrich the experience of a modern performance . . . or just make a restful backyard escape for the book-lover.

Shakespeare knew drama; let's take a cue from him! (I stole this image from a fellow WordPress user. Click to check out his blog!)

There’s also a possibility of creating not-necessarily-theatre-related displays inspired by the ideas, themes, and characters explored in individual performances. Think about it this way: Why not tailor reading lists around individual performances in ways that might inspire Festival fans to delve deeper into the ideas they’re seeing enacted on stage? Here are some ideas based on Stratford’s 2010 lineup:

As You Like It – “Crossing Boundaries.” This was one of several Shakespearean plays to exploit the comedic possibilities of cross-dressing and gender-bending. How about a scattering of other such instances – fictional, historical, or sociological – in which men dress up as women or women dress up as men? Alternatively, especially if there’s a big romance-novel crowd at your branch, the spotlight could shine on romantic comedy, romance and politics, or secret loves.
Dangerous Liaisons
– “Revolutionary Stories.” This is a racy story based on a nineteenth-century novel that was banned as “an outrage to public morality”. It’s a great opportunity to put the spotlight on banned books or controversial, steamy stories. Not every library is well-suited to controversy, however, so it’s a good thing this is also a period piece. Fiction and non-fiction from around the time of the French Revolution could be a great alternative.
Do Not Go Gentle –
“A Dylan Thomas Collage.” This is a one-man show about Dylan Thomas, and it put me in mind of a different approach. Select a particularly evocative piece of Dylan Thomas’ poetry, and make copies. Then, use that poem as the theme to tie together a display or a book list on Dylan Thomas, his life and times, his works, Wales, whisky, and anything else that matches nicely with the piece of poetry you’ve chosen
“Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina!” Was there ever any better introduction to the country’s politics, history, and culture than Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic? Femmes fatales and powerful women throughout history could also make a great Evita-inspired book list.
For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again
– “Crazy-Making Mothers!” Almost everyone can relate to a mom who sometimes annoys you, sometimes makes you crazy, and loves you always. They’ve been mined quite thoroughly as a source of relatable humour. A book list might suggest some memoirs and stories about relationships between humourously exasperating mothers and their humiliated, humbled daughters and sons . . . or, choose worn-out and bittersweet mother love like that of Angela’s Ashes for a poignant twist.
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
– “Musical Living.” Since Jacques Brel was a real musician from Belgium, you might have some books about him somewhere around your library. But even if you don’t, what’s to say you can’t take a closer look at other (fictional and non-fictional) European musicians whose lives would make for compelling reading and compelling dramatic performance?
King of Thieves
– “Dirty Double-Crossers.” It’s a story of corporate crime in the city, so it can easily lead into more stories of criminal dealings in the upper echelons of business and politics, where the stakes are high.
Kiss Me, Kate
“Drama Behind the Curtain!”This famous musical about performing a musical could inspire a book list about musical theatre more broadly. And if you think that sounds boring, well, the same kind of drama and antics you see in Kiss Me, Kate – with bickering co-stars and gangsters looking for loot – can appear in any kind of theatrical performance. Perhaps a behind-the-scenes look at theatre – fictional and non – is in order.
Peter Pan –
“Never-Never Lands.” Fantasylands and fairy tales, whether traditional folk stories or modern adult concoctions, could form the backbone a great book list for this one. And don’t neglect non-fiction if you’ve got any fascinating literary criticisms talking about what those sorts of fairylands symbolize psychologically. That can make really interesting reading!
The Tempest
– “Island Dreams – and Nightmares.” The Tempest takes place on a magnificent island where everything is not as perfect as it seems. Any story that starts off with an island escape and then turns sinister could be a perfect jumping-off point for a Tempest-inspired book list. And since Prospero is a magical wizard, let’s not shy away from supernatural themes here! (An even better idea given the recent popularity of Lost.)
The Two Gentlemen of Verona – “Romance in Black and White.” What stands out most about the Stratford Festival’s imagining of this Shakespearean classic, as far as I’m concerned, is the race politics it’s playing with. By casting black actors in certain roles and white actors in others, the director turned it into a story about a black man in love with a white woman, and his (white) best friend who abandons his (black) fiancee to pursue the white girl. It’s a comedy, but the underlying race issue could make for a compelling collection of reading material.
The Winter’s Tale – “A Child Without A Father.” Could there be any greater drama than a family in which suspicions about illicit affairs leads a man to doubt the paternity of his wife’s baby? It may sound like an episode of Maury Povitch, but the topic has appeared enough times in heart-rending fiction and real-life historical drama to make it well worth considering as a common thread to tie together a reading list.

And the neat thing about these particular sorts of book lists? They don’t depend on the library-going public having seen the plays or even having heard of them. They may be inspired by the Stratford Festival, and they may pique the interests of a patron whose Festival-going experience has made them curious about Argentina or corporate crime or mixed-race romance. But they can also be just as interesting to people who’ve had nothing to do with the Stratford Festival.

It’s all about generating interest. And as a librarian, sometimes all you need to make it happen is a little bit of inspiration. That can come from anywhere.

(To the reader: Let me know if you’d like to see any of these developed into an actual reading list, and I’ll see what I can come up with.)

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