Thursday, June 2, 2011

Works of genius at a library near you

Late this winter we were plagued by a sinister smell in the library. Something was broken in the metallic bowels of the furnace. Something was cracked and bleeding oil. When dizzy spells and upset stomachs resulted, things got serious. This problem is unfortunately still dogging us and sadly the library has been closed for a while because of it. Much as I appreciate the sudden influx of free time, I do miss my work there. 

One of the things I miss most is dishing about books. Fawning over the sparkling new covers, getting recommendations, prodding for impromptu reviews when members return their latest batch at the circ. counter and giving out my own "you have to read this" advice - that is a large part of what makes library work fun. 

I especially miss all the booktalk now that café terraces are so inviting with their drowsy summer breezes and icy drinks. Obviously delicious reading material is required. Not that there's a dearth of possibilities. In fact I often find myself cowering in the shadow of my to-read pile. Therein lies the problem, really. When so many tantalizing titles are calling to you it can be difficult and overwhelming to try to pluck just one at a time. In that instance it can be something of a relief to have someone simply put a book in your hands with a wink and promise that it is worth your time. 

By necessity (weeding) I've had to trawl the depths of my library shelves and so I've found a great many glittering gems. This is a list of library books I would happily, heartily put in your hands if you had come to me desperate for something tasty to read.

The Girls by Lori Lansens
Canadian (small town Ontario), lovely, haunting. A fictional life story of conjoined twins, Rose and Ruby Darlen - though it is so realistic that people often assume it's based on real people*. The premise seems to scare people off a bit, the idea that these young women are inherently tragic. While there is some heartache in this book, there is also humour and mystery and very little time is spent making you feel sorry for the girls. In fact you begin to wish you had a twin of your own at your side.

The story is told by the girls (women, actually, as they are 29) themselves, alternating between the two very different voices. The prose completely took my breath away and this has become one of my favourite books.

This is the opening paragraph: 
"I have never looked into my sister's eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to the beguiling moon. I’ve never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that. I’ve never driven a car. Or slept through the night. Never a private talk. Or a solo walk. I’ve never climbed a tree. Or faded into a crowd. So many things I’ve never done, but oh, how I’ve been loved. And, if such things were to be, I’d live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so exponentially."

* Check out this interview with Lori Lansens for some background on her inspiration.

 Mystery series, set in England in the 1950s. Our plucky heroine is Flavia, an eleven year old chemist who lives in a fossilized manor house with her grief-stricken father, her treacherous older sisters Ophelia and Daphne as well as their shell shocked groundskeeper, Dogger. Oh, and Flavia's trusty bicycle Gladys, of course. This series is: clever, funny, marvelous. There are currently three, and I just finished the most recent one (A Red Herring Without Mustard). The second one (The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag) was maybe a bit slow, but the first is wonderful and the third one is the best so far.

Childhood memoir, graphic novel, heart-breakingly good. This has bite and literary merit and so much heart. I've seen people go from "I don't read comics" to "where do I find more of this kind of thing???" after reading this book. Take your time reading it because the panels contain an astonishing amount of detail. 

Have you ever read David Sedaris? Why ever not? He's brilliant. This was the first of his books that I read and it was instant love. Since then I've switched to audiobooks for his work because he does them himself and the only things better than his writings are his readings. If you get the chance to see him live, do it.
"On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use. From the dog owners I learned "Lie down," "Shut up," and "Who shit on this carpet?" The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count. Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. "Is thems the thoughts of cows?" I'd ask the butcher, pointing to the calves' brains displayed in the front window. "I want me some lamb chop with handles on 'em." "

English history, non-fiction, but not dry at all. Originally this was published in three parts, but it has since been made available as an omnibus and I was thrilled when I got it for Christmas (my library only has the first two parts). I really enjoy historical fiction but I've never studied history properly and so I feel that my understanding of the unfolding of things is more than a little patchy. This is obviously a general overview, not a lot of depth can be gone into about each figure, but it is so readable and so fun that I think it's a great resource to have on hand. When you come across a name that you know you should know but can't quite recall, this is the place to go.

Also, the woodcuts at the beginning of each chapter are a nice touch.

As Levar Burton used to say on Reading Rainbow, "you don't have to take my word for it!" There are sample chapters for you to peruse on Lacey's website here.


  1. The Girls book sounds really great and something I would love to read! Thanks, my dear and have a lovely day

  2. Hi Diana - I hope you do read it, it's such a great book! If you do, let me know what you think.
    : )