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November 2015 Staff Picks

Becky’s Pick: Beastly Babies by Ellen Jackson

beastly babies

Puppies slobber.
Kittens spill.
Young gorillas can’t sit still.
Mamas gobble, mamas cluck.
Barnyard babies run amok!

In our house, this was not a cozy up and fall asleep type of book. This was a fall off the couch because you laughed too hard type of book. The rhymes are very catchy and this book became a quick favourite with the under four crowd. I found our two year old reciting bits and pieces of the story days later. The illustrations are beautiful and humorous, done with bright colours and cut paper. Beastly Babies makes a great [fall off your] lap book, but it also works well for a larger pack of wild, little animals.

Brenda’s Pick: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

big magic

Liz Gilbert’s newest non-fiction book is aimed not specifically at writers but creative people of every kind, which includes all of us according to her. “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then it stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels – that’s creative living.” Throughout the book are personal stories, encouragements, lists (including a long one of every possible fear), inspiration and coaching – delivered in Gilbert’s quirky and upbeat style. She is uplifting and connects us to the “big magic” she has discovered in her work and life. The description of her friendship with author Ann Patchett has a surprising twist and Gilbert is relentless in drawing us into the mystery of living life with the flourish of imagination. Mostly, what she is saying in this book, or audiobook (if you prefer) is, dive in and listen to what is inside, be it writing, painting, skating, cooking, sewing – and then express it however you can. I totally enjoyed the tone throughout and finished feeling positively liberated.

 David’s Pick: The Sound on The Page by Ben Yagoda

sound on the page

What makes for good writing? Are there rules or formulae we can follow? Who should we be reading if we want to expose ourselves to a range of idiosyncratic writing styles? How (and why) do writers do what they do with language and form to achieve the effects they’re after? These are some of the questions at the heart of Ben Yagoda’s surprisingly charming and readable survey of style in English. He weaves together interviews with writing samples and analysis to depict a landscape of writers with their own approaches and problems to solve, from Manny Farber to Bill Bryson to Dave Barry to Joan Didion, as well as many others. This book sent me scurrying off to appreciate some of the authors I was less familiar with, and gave me some insight into the timeless question of why some writers are such a joy to read and reread (and why some just fall flat no matter how hard they try).

 David’s Pick: Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories From History and The Arts by Clive James

cultural amnesia

A stupefying survey of the twentieth century and beyond. James synthesizes a lifetime of avid reading and criticism into an amazingly dense master class in modern culture, how we got here, and the perils posed to culture by fanaticism and philistinism. Arranged alphabetically from Anna Akhmatova to Stefan Zweig, with stops along the way for figures as diverse as Kafka, Satie, Sartre, & Louis Armstrong, James typically uses each cultural figure as a jumping-off point for ruminations on any number of topics. A wonderful book for diving into in any order, this has been responsible for renewing my appreciation for many artists I thought I knew and for exposing me to some new ones (Egon Friedell, in particular, who is by way of being one of the patron saints of the project). James writes as a cultural and political conservative, and it’s interesting to see cultural criticism from this angle that does more than lament the passing of the era of greatness, although that elegiac tone does pervade the book and gives it much of its power.

 Deb’s Pick: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

burial rites

Burial Rites is Hannah Kent’s first novel. It is an amazing feat if you consider that the author was 29 years of age when the book was published and that she hails from Australia, not Iceland where the story is set. It is based upon the true-life historical tale of Agnes Magnusdottir, convicted of murder and waiting, for most of the novel, for her sentence to be carried out. In Agnes’s words: “They say I must die. They said that I stole the breath from the men, and now they must steal mine.” The best aspect of Burial Rites is that the reader is privy to every possible detail of Agnes’s plight in an era where the line between death and survival petered out daily. 19th century Iceland was an isolated place, its people beset by poverty and disease, its landscape equal parts gorgeous and squalid. Hannah Kent’s descriptions of life on a feudal farm are riveting. A New York Times review aptly observed that her research is naturally embedded in the narrative. I was needing a good read when I picked up Burial Rites. This book, although gothic and dark, brought a big scandal in a little known country to life, thanks to Hannah Kent.

 Joanne’s Pick: Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen: Easy, Delectable Living Food Recipes by Ani Phyo

ani's raw food kitchen

Ani’s raw food kitchen by Ani Phyo is one of my favourite cookbooks. I find that many creative raw recipes are the answer to replacing fast food. The inspiring drinks and puddings take very little effort to make and are packed full of nutrients that give you energy that lasts. My favourites are Cashew Banana Milk and Fruit Parfait. The dessert soup, pie and cobbler recipes are elegant and delicious. My favourite is the Fresh Mango Cobbler! Not only does this book have wonderful, inspiring and tasty recipes but it also has a lot of very helpful information about nutrition and inspiring thoughts on green living.

 Joanne’s Pick: One Zentangle A Day by Rebecca Krahula

one zentangle

Zentangle is an interesting form of artwork that has its roots in doodling. This is an inspiring book for all ages and levels of expertise that is fun and can be very relaxing. The book has 42 exercises with instructions on how to draw new patterns called “tangles” each day to create small square drawings. I am not an artist and found the instructions easy to follow and I was pleased with the artwork I had produced. There are also other projects that experiment with patterns, art principles and techniques and the last chapter is a gallery of Zentangle combined with other art forms.

 Mark’s Pick: A Field Guide to Foraging For Wild Greens and Flowers by Michelle Nelson

field guide

Michelle Nelson has prepared a very handy field guide for edible and even tasty greens that are growing in our lawns and in the woods. I find it amazing to learn that many plants that we call weeds and that we may spend time and even money trying to kill, are actually good food and more nutritious than most of the salad we eat. This pamphlet is an excellent source of knowledge that we would all benefit from acquiring.

 Sandra’s Pick: In the Slender Margin by Eve Joseph

in the slender

Canadian author Eve Joseph offers a truly unique exploration of the slender margin between life and death in this part memoir, part poetic, part factual and historical offering. Her honesty and ability to weave stories with life’s big lessons and challenges left me feeling thoughtful and informed about the many issues and opportunities in life and death. Her time working in the palliative care field provides first-hand insights into the process of dying along with personal stories of dying people that are often surprising, humorous and enlightening. Her research into death and dying, grief, funerals and the like is presented in a way that results in a thought-provoking and lyrical sort of meditation. Sharing her reactions to the deaths of both her brother and mother add a vulnerable dimension to her study as well. Overall, Joseph’s book is both elegant and intimate, but also practical and chock full of wisdom.

Sandra’s Pick: The Heart Specialist by Claire Rothman

heart specialist

Author Lawrence Hill describes this book as “a beautiful, moving, utterly captivating novel,” and I agree. Claire Holden Rothman is one of my favourite Canadian authors and I love that this novel is set in the turn of the century Montreal and based on the life of one of Canada’s pioneering female physicians, but it is so much more than that as well. The story is one of relationships, gender roles, and the quest for a long lost father that brings about many adventures and life lessons. This is a book of the heart—the anatomy, physiology and love that it is capable of.