January 2016 Staff Picks

Updated 2016/08/09

Brenda’s Pick: Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

fifteen dogs

I was in the middle of another book when I picked up Fifteen Dogs and couldn’t stop reading it. The premise of the story is fascinating, a group of dogs given the gift of human thought. These dogs live in Toronto and their tale continues under the eye of the gods (Hermes and Apollo) who granted the favour. A language is created and as their awareness increases the pack evolves and splits. This apologue follows the fate of each dog as they experience new depths of feeling with each other and with humans. As a dog person (I hesitate to call myself “owner” now) I found myself regarding my dog in a different way, wondering how she sees life through her old eyes. There is insight into the pack mentality and its callous brutality, but also delightful dog-poetry. The book could be labelled as a moral tale, but as the final dog reached his final days I found myself profoundly moved. This short novel will stay with you…

 Brownie’s Pick: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

the fishermen

Grounded in mythology and storytelling, this is a haunting tale of four brothers growing up in Nigeria of the 1990s. It is suffused with magic but we never quite know the source of it—is it the beliefs of his mother and her neighbours or is it simply because a young boy is telling the story with childlike wisdom and worry. Father makes a powerful pronouncement about his four sons and so the threads of their lives are sealed, woven mysteriously and tragically with each strand. The innocence of the telling is sweet and powerful as Obioma sees life through the eyes of the four brothers, Benjamin, Ikenna, Boja and Obembe. You recognize the anxiety and love of Mother, also caught in the weaving of their life’s tapestry. The childhood trust, the fated conclusion; Obioma shines a light on two generations living the same events, but oh so differently. The myths and stories expand outwards, unfurling to the world. You have the child’s world, the parent’s world full of struggle, the community’s world tinged with vulnerability and fear, Nigeria’s world of complex political strife with a long thin thread linking all to our own homeland, Canada. The mystery and language is beautiful as you are inevitably drawn into the narrative. I could not put this book down. I had to know. This is Obioma’s first book. He is only 29. It was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2015. A writer of this sensitivity is a gift as we try to sift through our assumptions and try to understand each other all over the world.

 David’s Pick: Mon oncle Antoine (DVD)

mon oncle antoine

Mon oncle Antoine, dir. Claude Jutra (1971): One of the Library’s many fine DVD releases from the Criterion Collection, this is one of the films that kickstarted the upsurge in Canadian filmmaking in the 1970s. It’s a simple story, simply told, with very few frills but a sense of reality in the scenery and characters that really sinks in. On Christmas Eve in the 1940s in a small mining town in Quebec, a boy and his gin-swilling uncle, the town’s undertaker, must go pick up the body of another boy who has died suddenly. It doesn’t entirely go according to plan, and the journey there and back is marked by sadness, humour, and the central characters dawning sense that growing up and becoming an adult is not going to be as simple as he may once have thought. Be sure not to overlook the short film, also included on the DVD, of Jutra’s Academy Award-nominated 1957 collaboration with Norman McLaren A Chairy Tale.

 Deb’s Pick: Walk the Line (DVD)

walk the line

This is a chronicle of country music legend Johnny Cash’s life, from his early days on an Arkansas cotton farm to his rise to fame with Sun Records in Memphis, where he recorded alongside Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. It stars Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reece Witherspoon as June Carter. The
chemistry between these two main characters is well worth the price of admission. The music is as energetic and attuned to the storyline as it could possibly be.

Some biographical movies don’t do justice to the whole picture of a person’s life. Walk the Line is so darned satisfactory in that regard. We understand why Mr. Cash had demons, we feel for his young wife in spite of disliking her. We are walking the thin line in the film between disgrace and fame, and always we are aware of how easy it is to lose footing. Loneliness and love is what it is about.
Joaquin Phoenix pulls it off. Reece Witherspoon is a delight as his elusive love, his kindred spirit.

 Deb’s Pick: Louis I, King of the Sheep by Olivier Tallec

louis I

This is a children’s book about unwittingly becoming a king and adopting all the foibles that go with being royal. The story begins with a paper crown blowing about and landing on the head of Louis, a common sheep. Really, that is all it takes for a change in status! Louis is transformed. In the end of the tale (spoiler alert!) the same paper crown lifts off again and finds another unsuspecting recipient. I love children’s stories that appeal equally to kids and adults alike. The pictures in Louis I, King of the Sheep are very droll and chockfull of expression. The words are simple but powerful too. They are just the right words. This book should be sent to rulers and autocrats all over the world.

 

 Leanne’s Pick: The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant

the tiger

When I heard that bestselling author John Vaillant would be visiting our library in February, it got me interested in reading some of his books. I chose The Tiger after reading the blurb on the back of the book. A man-eating tiger terrorizing a remote Russian village? I had to find out what it was all about.

The book tells the story of a man who stole part of a tiger’s kill, and then later tried to shoot the tiger. The tiger, almost unbelievably, tracks the man down, lays in wait, and ultimately kills him. The tiger then went on to terrorize a small village in the area before finally being hunted down.

Amur Tigers don’t normally prey on humans; there is usually a healthy respect – almost an unspoken rule of live and let live – between the animal and the humans who also share that remote land. A large part of this story is devoted to the investigation into what caused this tiger to go against the norm. The main story is interwoven with passages about the history and culture of the region, which all together creates a narrative that is captivating, suspenseful, and informative. I highly recommend it!

Please note: since this book deals with a man-eating tiger, there are a few gruesome scenes!

 Mark’s Pick: Rivers, Roads & Rails (Board Game)

Rivers, Roads & Rails is a very engaging multiplayer board game suited to players aged five and up. Playing this game is very similar to playing a card game. Each player has pieces with different combinations of rivers, roads and railroads printed on them. The object of the game is to put down all of your pieces, while building networks of rivers, roads and rails. All you need is a big table, a couple of players and time to have some fun. If you would like to borrow and play this game, come to the Library’s Boardgame Night, Wednesdays from 5:00-8:00 pm.

 Michelle’s Pick: The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems

diva and flea

The Story of Diva and Flea is a sweet and dazzlingly illustrated junior fiction book. A chance encounter in Paris between Diva, the posh dog, and Flea, the street cat, allows both of them to open up to new experiences and friendship. The French word, flaneur, is referenced several times in this story. In case you need to know, the definition of flaneur, is to saunter around observing society. The illustrations of the Eiffel Tower as well as the streets of Paris are amazing!

 Sandra’s Pick: The Wild in You: Voices From the Forest and the Sea by Lorna Crozier

the wild in you

The photographs in this gem are not to be missed and if you take time to read the text you’ll have an even deeper experience of The Wild in You. The jacket cover describes the book as “a testament to the miraculous beings that share our planet,” but the book is a much more intimate offering for those of us who live with and near the specific wildness and beauty of British Columbia. Photographer Ian McAllister, co-founder of the wildlife conservation organization Pacific Wild, lives in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. Lorna Crozier, award-winning Canadian poet, lives on Vancouver Island. What they bring together in these pages is obviously their love and respect for the amazing nature that saturates our province. This is beyond nature photography and inspiring description. The photos are unlike any I’ve seen and the text will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and resonate with the wild in you.

 

 Sonia’s Pick: Güeros (DVD)

gueros

Shot in black and white and set amid the Mexican student protests of 1999, this debut feature meanders as listlessly as its disaffected characters with a cinematic stylishness that is both stunning and illuminating. I can’t remember the last time I wanted to watch a film repeatedly just to relive its visual artistry. Güeros is such a film. And while it is, essentially, a road trip movie that goes nowhere as its characters “strike against the strike,” run away from a furious neighbour whose electricity they’ve been stealing, and drive in circles around Mexico City in search of a crumbling folk rock legend, the guts of the film are not empty. Güeros is a fascinating portrait of Mexico City and its history of student dissent (these protests take place in the shadow of the violently suppressed student strikes of 1968), social disparities, and the optimism and disillusionment of the young characters who call it home.