Truth in (Dewey Decimal) Numbers

Every once in a while I get asked the following question:  Why is x shelved in the non-fiction section?  With x being some poem or some play or some book on astrology.  The questioner usually has a glint in their eye and a smirk on their lips when they say:  “You know the events in Hamlet didn’t really happen?”

Melvil Dewey

So I tell them:  Melvil Dewey, the man who invented that silly string of digits that libraries like to put on the spine of books, was so incredibly smart that he knew that plays of one Bill Shakespeare so deeply explored the human condition that, if not empirically true, spoke to the soul in such a way that his plays NEEDED to be shelved in the non-fiction section.  Achieving the same through literature, he thought, was a fool’s errand.  Thus, fiction and non-fiction.

Of course, the previous paragraph is almost completely fiction. Melvil Dewy…yadda yadda… invented silly string… yadda yadda…–that part is true.  The rest, not so much.  The truth is a little inside baseball and kind of boring.  But since you asked… the Dewey Decimal System is actually capable of cataloguing fiction. Meaning, if we wanted to, we could attach silly strings of numbers to the spines of all your favourite novels.  Unfortunately, and you’ll have to trust me on this, the way Dewey works and because our fiction collections are so large, this would make it much harder for you to find the books you’re looking for.

Since the great librarian revolt of 1815 [not true], most public libraries have opted forsake Dewey for their fiction collections and sort them alphabetically by author [true].  The reason poetry and plays remain under Dewey rule, and again you’ll have to trust me on this, is that their collections are so small having Dewey numbers makes them easier to find.  In short, when libraries divide their collections into fiction and non-fiction they aren’t really making a judgement call on the veracity of the content of the books, they are really just trying to make books easier to find [also true].

While you’re pondering the meaning of fiction and non-fiction, here are a pair of books that skirt the line:

A Million Little PiecesA Million Little Pieces by James Frey

In terms of popular culture, this is probably the quintessential example of the conundrum faced in categorizing something as fact or fiction.  Originally billed as the memoir of a 23-year-old drug addict, it came to light that a number of the scenes represented in the book were fabrications.  This, of course, raises the question:  Does the liberal way in which the author tells his story affect the overall ‘truth’ of the book?  After all, it is a common societal practice for people to alter and exaggerate the way they narrate their lives to tell better stories.


The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe GloecknerThe Diary of a Teenage Girl

I view this as kind of the opposite scenario as A Million Little Pieces.  The Diary of a Teenage Girl is categorized as a Fictional Graphic Novel, but has been described as autobiography or biography.  This book is a coming of age story told from the perspective of a 15-year-old girl and deals with heavy topics such as sex and drug use.  In being categorized as Fiction I wonder if it lessens the impact of the novel.  In the book we follow the main character Minnie as she faces many difficult and confusing situations.  I worry that being ‘fiction’ allows the reader to avoid grappling with many of the questions the book by dismissing uncomfortable situations as fictitious and thus not something 15-year-old girls might have to face in real life.


“Fifty Shades of Tartan”

“I’ve seen the second episode, too. And then I had to be supine with a cold cloth on my head. That powerful, yes.” John Doyle, film critic for Globe and Mail

Feeling world weary and need some escapist entertainment?

The cover of Outlander Season One Volume Two

Look no further than the Outlander series on DVD  based on the best selling books by Diana Gabaldon. Part swashbuckler adventure, bodice ripping romance and time travelling fantasy, it features a resourceful and gutsy  20th century  heroine  who meets a handsome highland warrior in the 18h century. Claire Randall is a British Army nurse enjoying a second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband following World War ll. She time travels back to 1743 where she meets Jamie Fraser  a “braw” laddie fighting against English rule and she must attune her modern woman’s mindset with his 18th Century world view. The period costumes look authentic; the photography of the rugged landscape, castles, and crofts are lush; and the writing and acting are strong. Warning : scenes of  gruesome violence along with explicit eroticism may offend some viewers.

Hungry to know more about the Outlander world while waiting for the next season? Here are some spin off titles:

Cover of the Outlandish CompanionSynopses, commentary, controversies and more are covered in The Outlandish Companion . “The Methadone List” provides read alikes for readers “jonesing” for the next Gabaldon sequel.




 The Making of OutlanderCover of the Making of Outlander is a “fully illustrated companion that offers exclusive access to the behind the scenes world of The Outlander. Includes hundreds of set photos, production and costume designs, storyboards and insider stories.”




Cover of Highland Knits   Inspired by the romantic tale, Highland Knits is a rustic yet sophisticated collection of quick to knit projects from “Claire’s Rent Collection Shawl “ to the “Sassenach Cowl”. “All your favourite pieces worn by the beloved heroine are here waiting to be knit.”



Cover of Outlander Kitchen   “Take a bite out of Outlander with  Outlander Kitchen the  official cookbook from It retells Claire and Jamie’s story through the flavours of the Scottish Highlands and beyond.”  As the Scottish say ith do leor! Enjoy your meal!


So wrap yourself in a tartan shawl, mix yourself a Rusty Nail and be transported to a world that  “threatens life, limb, loyalty , heart and soul” * and is perhaps a wee bit more dangerous than life post November 8, 2016.



*credit to Doubleday


What’s in a Word?


Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity.
Yehuda Berg

Words and language are fascinating to me. I remember as a child feeling very smug about the British slang words I learned from reading Enid Blyton books, and how funny it was to me that my name sounded the same as the word for truck in the “Famous Five” books. That fascination has stayed with me as an adult, as I’ve seen the way we communicate evolve from rotary phones to Facetime. Some things haven’t changed all that much, though. Words still have the power to transform the world.

Humans on an individual level experience changes in language as a part of growing up, as we can see by the way babies  start out using babble and nonsense sounds as all-purpose tools to convey their needs and wants. Reading, talking and singing to babies is an integral part of developing language skills that will eventually lead to the use of words.




Wordless picture books are a wonderful means to assist in language learning, as the story is told literally in the words of whoever is looking at the book.






A fun twist on this format is the picture-less picture book, where the story strings together silly sentences to create a series of visual images that will be different for everyone who reads or listens to the book.



The effect that comic books and graphic novels have had on language is also interesting. While these formats primarily use images to tell a story, they have also  introduced some of the most enduring catchphrases in recent history.


It’s a bird, it’s a plane….


With great power comes great…









William Shakespeare gave the world timeless images in his plays and poetry still influencing us today, but he also created many new words that are still in use. Where would we be without words like amazement, luggage and puking? I wonder what the audience thought upon first encountering these words, and if the reaction was much the same as we’re experiencing with the widespread use of abbreviations in text messages.




Using abbreviations in texts has created a new form of language, one that requires a certain skill set to negotiate successfully. At first glance it would seem that this style of communication is purely utilitarian and very basic, but like any language there is nuance and a certain set of rules to follow in order to get your meaning across.



The widespread use of emojis and emoticons has also influenced our language. Some see this as evidence that people are losing the ability to use language, or that people are lazy and in too much of a hurry to write things out properly. However, just as new words are being continously added to language, other words drop out of use. When was the last time you asked for a “firkin” of something?


It’s something of a chicken or egg question as to whether transformations in language lead to changes in society or that changes in society lead to changes in language. In the end, it’s all about communication, whether you use archaic English on parchment, a microprocessor, or a string of emoticons on your smartphone. Everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard.






New Perspectives on the First World War (and its memory)


Cover image for Canada's Great War album : our memories of the First World War

The direct living links to the First World War are no longer with us, but we are still living in the world that it helped shape perhaps more than any other event in the 20th century.  Popular interest in the conflict has seen a resurgence worldwide because of the Centennial commemorations, and this also led to the re-examining of what we really “know” and how we choose to remember the “War to End All Wars”.  Winnipeg has monuments  and plaques to commemorate the sacrifices of a generation, regimental museums preserve artifacts and records of past members of their units, and libraries (both ours and others) have many titles of both fiction and non-fiction works that helps preserve the history of the war for the living.
Though there are plenty to recommend from, two recent additions are personal favourites I would like to share.  The first is Canada’s Great War album : our memories of the First World War ,  which is an excellent source of information for anyone, no matter how knowledgeable you are on the subject.  It’s seventeen chapters are written by different authors, including historian Tim Cook and Peter Mansbridge who writes about how Canadians have chosen to remember.  This particular title covers a variety of topics and is filled with gorgeous photography, memorabilia, and personal stories from veterans or their relatives.  You will learn about the use of  animals on the frontline, innovations in battlefield medicine, and the Conscription Crisis.  The authors also discuss the nascent Canadian Navy and Air Force, how the mobilization of the home front permanently changed Canadian society, and much more.


Cover image for Band of brigands : the first men in tanks

Another book I discovered recently is Band of brigands : the first men in tanks by Christy Campbell, which uses diaries, letters, and personal accounts to tell the story of what was at the time a new breed of soldiers: the British Tank Corps.  This is actually not a very well covered part of military history, which might sound strange since Great Britain was the first nation to develop and field tanks in large numbers (which is why I found this book fascinating).  You can read about how tanks were developed specifically as a breakthrough weapon to overcome the network of trenches and barbwires of the Western Front, clearing the way for the infantry in an effort to end the bloody stalemate.  The men who trained and fought in those unfamiliar and unreliable machines faced miserable living conditions inside overheated metal boxes surrounded by fuel and explosives (such were the infernal conditions of being in an early tank that it required 36 hours recuperation for each day fighting in one).  However, their appearances in battle had a dramatic effect in France and Belgium, while changing the face of warfare forever.


Cover image for Capturing Hill 70 : Canada's forgotten battle of the First World War Cover image for The greatest victory : Canada's one hundred days, 1918

In Winnipeg, as in Canada, the First World War is part of the collective identity because we have linked our success to not only the battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, but also our sense of Canada as an emerging fully-independent nation.  At the time, the Canadian Corps gained a reputation as an elite attack force and the victory raised the morale of allied forces in what had been a dismal year of bloody stalemate with no end in sight.  But what is forgotten was that Vimy Ridge was only a small part of a much larger Allied offensive, one in which Canadians continued to successfully contribute with a high cost of casualties.  This is why Serge Durflinger’s newly released book Capturing Hill 70 : Canada’s forgotten battle of the First World War is useful in highlighting an overlooked chapter in our military history.  In the early morning of August 15, 1917, the Canadian Corps successfully seized the high ground  near the French City of Lens and repelled twenty German counterattacks at a cost of 9,000 dead and wounded.
When we think of the First World War, we associate it with static trench warfare, because that was what the majority of combatants on the Western Front experienced for years.   This changed dramatically in 1918, as that was the year where soldiers on both sides exited the trenches and the war became mobile again.  Ironically this is also where the Canadian Corps took a central role in the final offensive that forced Germany to sue for peace.   The greatest victory : Canada’s one hundred days, 1918  by J.L. Granatstein is a well-researched and well-illustrated book that I recommend for anyone interested in learning more about Canada’s role in ending the war, as well as the innovation in training and tactics it helped invent.


Cover image for The long shadow : the legacies of the Great War in the twentieth century  Cover image for Antiques roadshow : World War One in 100 family treasures

In Antiques roadshow : World War One in 100 family treasures by Paul Atterbury, we have the opportunity to learn about the personal histories of the people who lived and fought through the war via the various mementos they left to their descendants.  When the famed television program launched an appeal for artifacts related to the Battle of the Somme in 2011, hundreds of families answered by bringing objects like postcards, keepsakes, artwork, photographs, military documents and decorations, from which  100 were selected for the book.  The personal stories of courtships, close brushes with death, and painful loss are quite poignant, helping  us relate to the world back then through the experiences of various individuals.  Some of the objects featured are quite unusual – a violin that was used as a diary, an egg that was used to communicate messages between two lovers, and a football that used to signal the start of an offensive.
The long shadow : the legacies of the Great War in the twentieth century by David Reynolds is an original book to read because it focuses on how American society was directly affected by the war.  As well, Reynolds discusses how the war has been commemorated but forgotten and mis-remembered over  the ensuing decades, largely fading from collective memory.  This is a dense read less suitable for the casual reader but it’s focus is quite relevant as we are in the middle of celebrating the war’s centennial.  We have seen a constant evolution over the decades of it’s mythology, choosing to emphasize lessons in addition to whose voices were heard.  Because the Second World War and the Cold War overshadowed the lives of the generations that came after, conflicting mythologies that had been created to justify the outcomes of the First World War were further distorted and changed to fit new narratives, a process that is still happening today.


Cover image for The great class war, 1914-1918

A case in point is the continuing debate of what we see as the root causes that caused the outbreak of the First World War.  In his new book The great class war, 1914-1918 , Canadian author Jacques Pauwels has challenged what he sees as the old widely held belief the European heads of state blundered into the war with reluctance and little idea of how things would escalate into an industrialised slaughter.  He takes the long view instead, noting many of the upper classes of the warring nations saw the war as a way to curb what they perceived as the rise of the lower-class that reversed the trends of liberalism and democracy that were challenging a century-long status quo – one that had benefitted them through nationalism and crushing “un-patriotic” dissent against a war fought mostly by the working classes of the warring nations.  Ironically, the war ended merely accelerating many of these popular movements, and lead to the birth of radical parties that would hasten the fall of the old order and gave birth to fascism and communism, and later the post-colonial movement.


Cover image for Testament of youth [DVD videorecording]
Vera Brittain was a young British woman planning to begin her studies at Oxford University.  She decided to enlist as a nurse when the war was declared at the same time as both her brother and fiancé fought in France and Italy.  They would all live through hellish events, and some would pay with their lives.  Vera published Testament of youth, a memoir of that period of her life, and it has now been adapted as a film under the same title with Alicia Vikander in the starring role.  This is a great example of how the film medium can help expose real historical accounts to a new generation.   While the film shines by the excellent acting and historical reconstruction, the real record of her experiences that are dramatized near the front, and the changing role of women in society (many countries saw the achievement of female suffrage as a direct result of wartime mobilization, including Canada) has long been considered a classic, and it is great that it is given this chance to keep the memory alive.



BookFest! The Bookiest of Days!

[Yes, we know ‘bookiest’ isn’t a word – but we couldn’t find the perfect one, so we made one up.]

We are super excited to have put together a really special event – our first ever BookFest is just two weeks away on Saturday, November 19! What is a book fest? Well I’m glad you asked. It’s a smorgasbord of prairie book goodness taking over the second floor of Millennium Library, brought to you by Winnipeg Public Library as well as the Association of Manitoba Book Publishers, and generously funded by the Winnipeg Public Library Board. There are tons of things planned:

1-handwrittenBook Tastings

Like a wine tasting — but with books! We will provide small yummy samples of new and top titles in prairie fiction and non-fiction. A sure way to find new favourites, with one of the showcased books up for grabs at every ‘tasting’.
Running time is 11 am – 4 pm in the Anne Smigel Room (second floor, west side of the library).

Here are the 30-minute seatings:

11-11:30 am Life and Death: notable new memoirs & mysteries

12-12:30 pm Past and Present: compelling local history and military must-reads

1-1:30 pm Fact and Fiction: hot (and hidden gems) in non-fiction and fiction

3-3:30 pm Turtle Island Reads: new and classic Indigenous titles

2How to Judge a Book by Its Cover

I’ve started to notice a trend in what books pique my interest enough to pick them up (bold colours, retro photographs). What kind of cover makes you reach for a particular book? How does a publisher choose which cover to use? Why do so many book covers feature headless people, anyway? Charlene Diehl of the Winnipeg International Writers Festival will lead a discussion 2-3 pm in the Carol Shields Auditorium featuring cover designers from Doowah Design and Mel Matheson, Librarian Barbara Bourrier-Lacroix, and Jamis Paulson of Turnstone Press.

See what I mean by a headless cover?


3-2Book Fair

Tables and tables and tables of local authors and publishers scattered around the second floor, with prize draws every hour! From 11 am to 4 pm.

number-4   Colour & Create

Anishinaabe artist Jackie Traverse will be showcasing her brand new Indigenous colouring book, Sacred Feminine. Colouring sheets will be available to try out. From 11 am to 4 pm in Wii ghoss.


number-5-handwritten     Book Club Corner

We know you’re always searching for good book club picks and we’ve got titles your group will love (or love to discuss, at any rate)! Plus, enter to win a set of 10 copies of The Opening Sky and an appearance by its author Joan Thomas at your book club!


 And Even More Books!

Just in case you weren’t already staggering under armloads and lists of to-read books, there’s still more! Displays of recommended reads on different themes will be stashed throughout the second floor, including a selection of titles personally curated (so fancy) by our Writers-in-Residence, Christine Fellows and John K. Samson!


See you Saturday, November 19 all over the second floor, Millennium Library, 251 Donald Street!!




Charleswood Staff Picks


Fiction and memoirs, movies and music. Whatever it is, there’s a library staff member who loves it. Many WPL branches have displays of the top choices of the folks who work there, and Charleswood Library is one of them. Now that it’s getting chilly, and thoughts are turning to taking some inside time with a good book, we thought we’d share our number one, top-of-the-top choices with you all in cyberland. But there’s lots more to share, so if you’re in the neighborhood, please come by to browse the rest of our display.

Candice’s top pick:

My recommendation is The Fireman by Joe Hill. I really enjoy this author, because his style is reminiscent of his father’s (Stephen King), but still clearly his own.

Ian’s top pick:

My staff pick would be an upcoming book club selection, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson.  I like all of Larson’s books, but this one especially.  He’s a master of suspense, yet solely writes non-fiction literature – if that’s a thing.  His books read more like thrillers than histories.  As in all his books, he carefully follows two seemingly separate stories (in this case it’s life on an early 20th century luxury liner and life on a WWI German U-Boat – hugely and starkly different realities – one can practically smell the lavender soap on the Lusitania, and the watery grease in the submarine), whose narratives eventually collide in the most earth-shattering of ways.

Danielle’s top pick:

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

Any Louise Penny book is great! Her novels are set in “Three Pines” Quebec with a slew of interesting characters and the protagonist, an Inspector Gamache, is a detective who solves murders.

Michael’s top pick:

Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin

If you’re curious about small farms and the push towards sustainability, this broad ranging book brings the cumulative wit and wisdom of Salatin, and details the life of his multigenerational farm in Virginia. He goes deep to explain his can’t-hold-back antipathy toward the way modern agriculture has impacted our way of life.

Sarah’s top pick:

Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi

Kobayashi has a sharp eye for the poetic in the everyday, and for the small resonant truths that gleam amidst the seemingly mundane.” [From Goose Lane Edition’s website].

Ingrid’s top pick:

A book that I have recommended many times is The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. I also just finished The Lake House by Kate Morton, and would highly recommend both titles.  If you enjoy reading books with beautiful settings, where the past and present intertwine, and that have an element of mystery thrown in, then you will thoroughly enjoy books by Kate Morton.  Her stories are captivating and the author keeps you guessing as the story slowly unravels.  In The Forgotten Garden a young women named Cassandra searches for her true identity and discovers her family’s history and secrets that have been hidden for generations.

Shelley’s top pick:

Under One Roof : Lessons I Learned From A Tough Old Woman In A Little Old House by Barry Martin

A heartwarming true story about a feisty octogenarian, that refuses to leave her tiny home as a Super Mall is constructed around her. Despite the offer of millions of dollars, Edith Macefield, stubbornly stands her ground as construction foreman Barry Martin, helps her maintain her dignity and respect in the true spirit of human kindness.

Erica’s top pick:

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

A seemingly simple story of an lovable ragtag crew  and their patchwork ship (think Firefly), trying to make an honest living building wormholes while facing questions of what it means to be human in a universe filled with other species; invoking questions of sameness and difference, aggression and peace, friendship and family.

Tegan’s top pick:

My pick is Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. This book is the perfect fall read, twins Julia and Valentina inherit their Aunt Elspeth’s London apartment and find their lives intertwining with the peculiar residents of the apartment block. I love to recommend it because it has classic ghost story elements coupled with modern characters, and is set in the spooky Highgate Cemetery in London. Niffenegger does an amazing job of bringing the characters to life, and making you feel like you’re there in the cemetery as well.


Happy reading!

– Charleswood Library staff (pictured below)

Top Spooky Picks of 2016

“I could make you scared, if you want me to.” The Tragically Hip

Halloween is just around the corner, so maybe you’re in the mood for something a little creepy or spooky to curl up with this evening?

Here are some of the most popular HORROR novels published in 2016.


Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay


You know you’ve made it as a horror novelist when Stephen King says your book “scared the living hell” out of him. Even though this book’s title sounds like it belongs in the Hardy Boys series, it is a dark tale about the disappearance of 13 year old Tommy Sanderson and the ensuing search to find him. Steeped in the history and lore of New England, this book would satisfy those of us who binge-watched Stranger Things on Netflix over the summer and tide us over until season 2 of that series is released.

the-fireman[1]The Fireman by Joe Hill

I already wrote a separate blog post about this great thriller back in June, so I won’t say too much more here. If a post-apocalyptic world resulting from an epidemic of spontaneous combustion is your thing, I highly recommend this read. Also, it’s written by Stephen King’s son, who is rapidly emerging as a force of nature in his own right.


Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt


This is the English language debut of the best-selling Dutch novelist, Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Here’s the premise: a picturesque town in the Hudson Valley, Black Spring, is ACTUALLY HAUNTED by the Black Rock Witch, a 17th century woman who has her eyes and mouth sewn shut. The witch moves among the townspeople, and has become almost accepted as a part of life there. The power of the hex is that no one is ever allowed to leave the town, and legend has it if the stitches are ever cut open, everyone in the town will die. The town elders have quarantined the town to prevent the spread of the hex, but some teens are starting to question the legend. It’s a great mix of the supernatural intermingled with every day small town life.

End of Watch by Stephen King


Okay, so technically this one isn’t a HORROR novel, but it’s Stephen King so I felt like I should include it. It’s actually the third book in a trilogy with retired police detective Bill Hodges, so if I were you I’d go back and read the first two, Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, before tackling this one. And yes, elements of the supernatural weave their way into this third book so I feel okay recommending it.

Happy reading and Happy Halloween, everybody!