Lives in Images: Graphic Novel Biographies

 

The graphic novel format is not only about telling fantasies with superheroes, zombies and dark anti-heroes.  It can also be used to effectively portray the lives of real people and make their stories accessible and quite entertaining, which is why I chose this theme as the topic of this post.

Cover image for Marzi : a memoir

I came upon this first example totally by chance but it inspired me to research the whole genre of graphic novel memoirs.  Marzi: A Memoir is the true story of Marzena Sowa’s childhood growing up during Poland’s last decade under Communism.  Born in 1979, we see her, her family, and the rest of the adult world’s daily struggles (shortages of everything, political censorship and repression) under a stifling dictatorship and the rise of the Solidarity movement that would eventually topple it.  But at the same time we also experience the self-discovery of an ordinary girl, going through experiences that almost all of us can relate to at school and at home.  The balance between a human story and the bigger “History” is what makes this entertaining and enriching.  Readers who enjoyed Persepolis will want to check this title out as it shares common themes, and the artwork is excellent.

Cover image for Feynman
Despite being an avid history reader, I suprisingly had never heard of Richard Feynman (the Noble Prize winner and one of the great geniuses of the 20th century) until I discovered the graphic memoir about his life.  This is a great format to learn about his fascinating life, as Feynman was involved in the Manhattan project, wrote books and lectures still being used today, uncovered the cause of the Challenger shuttle explosion and had a knack for cracking safes.  It effectively explains many of the concepts in the fields of mathematics and physics he created. For someone like me who does not have a background in quantum physics, this book was more accessible than a “classical” biography and I learned why he really is kind of a big deal.

Cover image for The imitation game : Alan Turing decoded

After decades in obscurity, the vital work made by mathematician Alan Turing has finally been receiving it’s due in recent years. Benedict Cumberbach gave a good performance in the starring role in the movie Imitation Game, but the movie ended up suffering from many historical and factual inaccuracies. In addition to telling us about his life, the graphic novel The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded corrects many misconceptions from the movie about Turing (one notable example is that his homosexuality was not a secret to his co-workers at Bletchley Park and he was never blackmailed by a Communist spy) .  The novel also describes in detail the monumental task he and others faced in trying to break the German Enigma Code, which lead to the creation of Turing machines, ancestors to our computers.

Cover image for The adventures of Hergé
It seems fitting that writers and illustrators of graphic novels would end up having memoirs made about them in that format as well. Giants of the comic industry like Stan Lee and Will Eisner are obvious examples but I would like to mention two less-well known but worthy candidates. I was pleasantly surprised to find during my research the graphic memoir of Georges Prosper Remi, better known to generations of avid readers as Herge, author of the Adventures of Tintin series. In  The Adventures of Hergé , illustrated to resemble a Tintin comic, we learn of the life and career of one of the great European comic illustrators, from his humble beginnings in Belgium, to worldwide fame. It’s a fun quick read where we learn about the inspirations behind many of his ideas, famous characters as well as his personal life.

Cover image for Showa : a history of Japan, 1926-1939

For fans of comics, Shigeru Mizuki may not be a household name in North America like Jack Kirby, but in Japan he is still one the greats. Shigeru wrote an excellent memoir about his life which roughly spans the Showa period, named after the reign of Japan’s emperor Hirohito from 1924 to 1989. The 4-volume Showa: a History of Japan is a much denser read than the titles above, and it weaves the personal experiences of the author during this tumultuous period in his country’s history. Before he made his fame and fortune writing numerous mangas and  books, Shigeru experienced the rise of militarism in his country and fought in the Second World War (he was wounded and lost an arm while stationed in the Pacific though he never met an enemy soldier face to face). Like his defeated country, he had to redefine himself and lived in poverty for many years before he found his calling as an illustrator in times of peace. Again we see a mix of the personal and national history skillfully weaved and beautifully illustrated. It should be noted that the volumes are read from right to left, just like the original Japanese prints.

This is but a small sample of personalities, both famous and less-famous that have had their life stories told in the graphic novel format, and we have plenty more titles to discover.
Louis-Philippe

Signs of Spring

Spring won’t let me stay in this house any longer! I must get out and breathe the air deeply again. – Gustav Mahler

While Mahler is far better known as a composer than a writer, he has come up with a most eloquent statement about this time of year.  I do get out and about in the winter, but given even half a chance I’ll stay indoors. While the calendar optimistically declares that March 21st is the first day of spring that just doesn’t happen around here. Just as winter arrives a lot earlier than December 21st , spring arrives a lot later than March 21st.

The signs of spring are different for all of us, and  everyone has their own way of declaring that spring has arrived, from the sight of daffodils and tulips to taking the tarp off the boat. No matter what your sign of spring is or when it arrives, it all celebrates the same season.

bee friendly

You can’t “bee” unhappy in a garden.

If you’re a gardener, the season can commence as early as the day you start your seeds indoors. Thankfully spring eventually arrives for all of us not blessed with a green thumb.  Flowers or veggies, nothing says spring like doing some digging in the garden.

canadian gardening

This is what eating your veggies should be like.

 

 

 

A few hardy souls ride their bicycles all winter, although most people put away their two-wheeled transportation in the fall. And there are those who prefer four tires to two, but still retire their ride when the snow falls. If you need some guidance getting your summer cruising vehicle roadworthy, check out the Chilton’s Auto Repair database on the library website or some of our great books on bikes and motorcycles.

Personally, I prefer walking to riding, regardless of the number of wheels on the vehicle. Once the weather gets warmer and things start to get green, it’s time for me to dig out my hiking boots and take to the trails.

a swing

It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing.

Much as I enjoy a good walk, I find my enjoyment of it spoiled when I’m expected to chase a little white ball around a large open space with a long stick. But for the golfers among us, the best sign of spring is being able to dust off the clubs and take to the golf course.

 

curious george

This is the way I play golf!

I could go on – seeing and hearing the first robin, stepping outside with bare toes, putting away the snow shovel and taking out the lawn chairs, everyone has their own rituals to rejoice in at this time of year. How do you spring into spring?

Lori

Our authors, our stories

On Saturday, May 7, Millennium Library hosted our first ever Local Author Fair, which featured 40 Winnipeg and Manitoba authors. In the morning we heard talks from three on their personal journeys through writing and publishing, which I thought I’d share with you (as well as a bonus one at the end).

mamieFirst to speak was Elizabeth Murray, author of Holding on to Mamie. It was gut-wrenching to hear her talk about the need she felt to write her memoir, in order to deal with how her mother’s dementia poisoned their relationship and turned mother against daughter. About her book:

“As her dementia advanced, Mamie wrote a multitude of notes that evidence the anger and paranoia that are often symptomatic of it. This memoir offers unique insight into this inner turmoil, as well as the fears and frustrations of her daughter and primary caregiver.”

ensNext was Melinda Friesen, author of the dystopian novel Enslavement (book one of the One Bright Future series). In addition to speaking about how she got into writing as a stay-at-home mom, Melinda told us about how and why she and her team started the new Winnipeg company Rebelight Publishing. About her book:

“‘One World. One Currency. One Bright Future.’ That’s the promise made by OneEarth Bank after a global economic collapse—but only for those who obey. When Rielle’s parents refuse to comply, government officials force her into a Community Service Contract—a legalized form of slavery—and sell her to a wealthy, abusive banker, who might nevertheless hold the key to Rielle’s freedom.”

dancing.jpgLast to speak was Daniel Perron, author of Dancing Gabe: One Step at a Time. He told us how he unexpectedly found himself writing a book about a local celebrity and the many things he’s had to learn in order to see it self-published. About his book: 

“He was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, institutionalized at six, and non-verbal until he was ten…. Then became one of the most recognized and adored figures in Winnipeg. This is the journey of Gabe Langlois, his mother, his family, his friends, and the many medical professionals, local media and sports figures who influenced his life.”

There were dozens of other books at our fair in the afternoon (for a short time you can still find them all listed here).

For a small taste, here’s one. Because, you know, chocolate.

Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate by Doreen choco.jpgPendgracs

A delicious chocolaty tour, introducing us to chocolatiers, chocolatemakers, cocoa growers and chocolate events around the world. My kind of tourism. 

Want to learn more about our local authors? Get in touch, or stay tuned for our next Local Author Fair in November.

Keep on reading!

Erica

Sci-Fi for a Rainy Day

There’s something about rainy days that really makes me want to read science fiction. Maybe it’s wanting to escape to another world, or maybe it’s that time of year where you can practically feel things growing around you with almost magical speed. Here’s a quick list of 5 books to keep you busy this spring.

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis is a “what if?” exploration behind the consequences of robotics. “The Clakker: a mechanical man, endowed with great strength and boundless stamina — but beholden to the wishes of its human masters. Soon after the Dutch scientist and clockmaker Christiaan Huygens invented the very first Clakker in the 17th Century, the Netherlands built a whole mechanical army. It wasn’t long before a legion of clockwork fusiliers marched on Westminster, and the Netherlands became the world’s sole superpower. Three centuries later, it still is.

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson might use a trope that has been around since the beginning of science fiction but this offering has more twists and turns than a Forumla 1 track. “Generations after leaving earth, a starship draws near to the planet that may serve as a new home world for those on board. But the journey has brought unexpected changes and their best laid plans may not be enough to survive.”

 

Or how about Planetfall by Hugo Nominated Emma Newman? “Renata Ghali
believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.

 

The Drafter by Kim Harrison has one of the most interesting premises I’ve seen in a long time. “Peri is a Drafter, someone with the ability to rewind time 30 seconds and change the past. But every time she Drafts, her own memories are muddled—a confusion Jack, her lover and partner at Opti, the secret government agency they are both a part of, helps her muddle through. When Peri discovers her own name on a list of corrupt Opti employees, she suddenly has reason to doubt Jack—and herself, as she realizes her entire existence has been manipulated.”

If you think too many Science Fiction books rely on distopian future then you should definitely check out Gene Mapper by Taiyo Fujii. “In a future where reality has been augmented and biology itself has been hacked, the world’s food supply is genetically modified, superior, and vulnerable. When gene mapper Hayashida discovers that his custom rice plant has experienced a dysgenic collapse, he suspects sabotage.”

 

So if you’re looking to escape these rainy days just pop by your local branch a pick up one of these great titles.

-Arryn

Unleash the Kraken!

We all do it. Us book lovers.  But who would have thought it could be so dangerous?  We come across a book: be it the recommendation of a friend, a mention on a podcast, a gripping title, maybe even through a blog post.

“Ahhh, yes,” we say. “I’d like to read this book, but not right this second, I’ve already got three on the go.” So what do we do? We put it on a list. A little innocuous scrap of paper we tuck into our wallet.

And this list grows. And grows. And grows some more.  Every once in a while we’ll try to cross a book off the list, but when we do we find three more have taken its place!  Then one day, when we’re out for dinner, we pull out our wallet in a vain attempt to find our credit card a hundred little innocuous scraps of paper fly out like confetti. Our friend exclaims, rather loudly, for this isn’t the first time this has happened:  “Gee, maybe you should think about getting rid of some of those old receipts!”

We try to explain that these aren’t receipts. These are guideposts, reminders of our interests that we haven’t yet had time to pursue. But it’s too late; our friend is busy paying our bill, again.  So we fall to our knees, partially out of shame, partially to collect those little innocuous bits of paper.  It’s at this point we know we’ve created monster and as we hear the whir of our friend’s credit card receipt print out we realize this monster is not dissimilar to the ancient Greek Hydra with its ever expanding collection of heads.  This in turn reminds us we should probably brush up on our mythology, so we jump up and snatch the receipt out of the machine and quickly scrawl The Iliad on the back. The glare on our friends face as we shove the receipt into our wallet suggests that this particular piece of paper may not in fact be so innocuous.

And if you’re wondering about me, here is a (small) sample of the innocuous pieces of paper in my wallet:

hourThe Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
I have a friend who reads a lot a lot. When pressed for a favourite book she can’t choose just one, but hands down her favourite author is Wally Lamb.  So when I asked her where to start she sighed, “Really anywhere, but The Hour I First Believed is great.” I’m not convinced she didn’t just say the first title that popped into her head, but I’ll believe his entire body of work is worth reading.

Remainder by Tom McCarthy
I have no memory of why I added this book to my list, which is ironic because apparently the main character receives a substantial sum of money and, unsure what else to do with it, attempts to recreate half-remembered events from his life.

roboRobopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
I want to read this book based on the title alone. Robots are cool and I love apocalyptic literature.  It is also written by an actual robotics expert!  This book also seems more pertinent now than when I added it to my list as autonomous robots come ever closer to being a part of society’s day-to-day life.

The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winnipeg Campaigns by Sasha Issenberg
As the slow burn toward the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election continues I find myself more and more fascinated by the inner workings of the U.S. political system. The Victory Lab takes a look at how big-data can help to predict who an electorate will vote for and how politicians are using this information to aid their campaigns.

sellDo Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt For The World’s Rarest 78 RPM Records by Amanda Petrusich
I’m pretty sure I found out about this book on a podcast. While I have no particular interest in 78s (they were a little before my time) I find reading about people who have passions that border on obsession fascinating.

 

If you would like to share any of your innocuous pieces of paper, please do so!

Alan

Books about Libraries and Librarians!

“People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.” – Saul Bellow

Libraries and librarians seem, in some circles, to be under siege. Labour troubles at Toronto’s public libraries almost led to a strike this week, not to mention the dozens of libraries that have been slated for closure in Newfoundland due to budget cuts. And yet libraries and librarians are still nearly universally supported. How do I know? I continue to be amazed at how each day thousands stream into our Winnipeg public libraries to find their next good read, to research that nagging question about their genealogy or home renovation project, or bring their kids to story time. In addition, if we look at our shelves, virtual or in person, writers are still writing and publishers are still publishing excellent books about their cherished libraries and the interesting, skilled people who serve within them. Take a look at these selected works, all of which you can borrow from WPL:

 

icequeen The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

The Ice Queen is the tale of a librarian in a small town whose wishes come true, but not always for the best. When the unnamed narrator is 8 years old and her brother, Ned, 12, their mother leaves the children alone one night, ostensibly to celebrate her birthday with friends. The narrator wishes her mother would disappear – and she dies that night, her car crashing on an icy road. Years later, Ned becomes a meteorologist and moves from New Jersey to Florida, while his sister goes to library school, still feeling the guilt and self-loathing brought on by her wish the night her mother died.”

“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.” – Neil Gaiman

 

Niffenegger_TTW_mech.inddThe Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

“Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, have known each other since Clare was 6 and Henry was 36, married when Clare 23 and Henry 31. Impossible but true. Because Henry unintentionally jumps in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity, past and future. His experience can be harrowing or amusing.” (Goodreads)

“I think of life as a good book. The further you get into it, the more it begins to make sense.” – Harold Kushner

 

1379961People of the Book: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks

“In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding – an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair – she begins to unlock the book’s mysteries.” (Goodreads)

 

mediumThe World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

“A funny and uplifting story of how a Mormon kid with Tourette’s found salvation in books and weight lifting. Josh Hanagarne couldn’t be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn’t officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old when he first began exhibiting symptoms. When he was twenty and had reached his towering height of 6’7”, his tics escalated to nightmarish levels. Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh tried countless remedies, with dismal results. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman taught Josh how to “throttle” his tics into submission using increasingly elaborate feats of strength. What started as a hobby became an entire way of life—and an effective way of managing his disorder. Today, Josh is a librarian at Salt Lake City’s public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting—and the proud father of five-year-old Max. Funny and offbeat, The World’s Strongest Librarian traces this unlikely hero as he attempts to overcome his disability, find love, and create a life worth living.”

“If we encounter a person of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

index.aspxLiving With Books by Alan Powers

“Some people never have more than a shelf or two of books. Others are more committed: they hoard books, rearrange them, and seldom get rid of any. Living with Books, aimed at the latter group, addresses the challenges and joys of a home masquerading as a library, from storage to display to the use of books as structural elements and furniture.Each chapter covers a different room and the special way that books can exist in or enhance that space. Obvious areas such as dens and offices are covered, along with more daring places such as hallways, kitchens, and bathrooms. Special features include a closer look at the care and display of decorative books, decorative papers, and bookplates, and a final chapter on custom-building bookshelves to suit every home.” (Goodreads)

“No two persons ever read the same book.” – Edmund Wilson
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The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World by Guillaume de Laubier

“Here, for the first time, architectural photographer Guillaume de Laubier takes the reader on a privileged tour of twenty-three of the world’s most historic libraries, representing twelve countries and ranging from the great national monuments to scholarly, religious, and private libraries: the baroque splendor of the Institut de France in Paris; the Renaissance treasure-trove of the Riccardiana Library in Florence; the majestic Royal Monastery in El Escorial, Spain; the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Bodleian Library; and the New York Public Library, a Beaux-Arts masterpiece.”

 

1527318.jpg In the Stacks: Short Stories About Libraries and Librarians by Michael Cart

“Libraries, with their miles and miles of books are, for writers and readers alike, the magical portal to new worlds-the source of terrors, delights, and pleasures aplenty. Here, in one volume, noted author and librarian Michael Cart has assembled a fascinating collection of twentieth century short fiction about libraries and librarians: from such classics as Borges’s ‘The Library of Babel’ and Isaac Babel’s ‘The Public Library,’ to such contemporary gems as John Cheever’s ‘Trouble of Marcie Flint’ and Lorrie Moore’s ‘Community Life.’ Love, lunacy, obsession, and the joy of reading come together in a collection that readers, booksellers, and librarians would agree is long overdue.”

“A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.” – Neil Gaiman

 

medium

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

“In this delightful, funny, and moving first novel, a librarian and a young boy obsessed with reading take to the road. Lucy Hull, a young children’s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both a kidnapper and kidnapped when her favorite patron, ten- year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy’s help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly antigay classes with celebrity Pastor Bob. Lucy stumbles into a moral dilemma when she finds Ian camped out in the library after hours with a knapsack of provisions and an escape plan. Desperate to save him from Pastor Bob and the Drakes, Lucy allows herself to be hijacked by Ian. The odd pair embarks on a crazy road trip from Missouri to Vermont, with ferrets, an inconvenient boyfriend, and upsetting family history thrown in their path. But is it just Ian who is running away? Who is the man who seems to be on their tail? And should Lucy be trying to save a boy from his own parents?”

“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.” – Ray Bradbury

 

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco119073.jpg

“The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, the empirical insights of Roger Bacon – all sharpened to a glistening edge by wry humor and a ferocious curiosity. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey, where ‘the most interesting things happen at night.'” (Goodreads)

“The most important asset of any library goes home at night – the library staff.”
– Timothy Healy

  • Lyle

Young, Scrappy and Hungry: The Hamilton Phenom

“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten part of the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”

hamilton-the-musical-official-broadway-poster-3[1]

 

These are the opening lines of the new Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway musical, Hamilton. The musical tells the life story of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s “founding fathers”. Hamilton is best remembered as creating America’s Treasury department and being the architect of the new country’s financial system. He also died in a duel against his life-long rival, Aaron Burr. In the musical, Burr acts as the narrator.

Lin Manuel-Miranda, who wrote the words and music, also currently plays the lead role of Hamilton on Broadway. He famously picked up Ron Chernow’s biography on Alexander Hamilton at an airport before going on vacation, and began to see possibilities in turning his story into a musical. It’s a great read all on its own and its fun to pick out little bits and pieces of the real story that get turned into songs.

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Now, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. I mean, a musical about some American founding father doesn’t exactly sound like the most exciting thing you’ll ever see, but after listening to the soundtrack earlier this year, I was immediately hooked. Manuel-Miranda fuses classic Broadway styles with modern hip-hop and rap, and the result is a 2 hour “mix-tape” that hasn’t stopped playing in my car, or through my ear buds, or at home. I feel like I am becoming insufferable around my friends, family and coworkers talking about it all the time. (And now I am using the Reader’s Salon Blog as a platform to get the word out further. I’m the WORST.)

Let me just say: give it a listen and let us know what you think! You can borrow the CD from WPL, or get the album on Hoopla.

For a start, you can see what the opening number looks like in this link, as they performed it for the 2016 Grammy Awards just before winning the Grammy for best musical theatre album. Surely more awards await this musical at the Tony Awards in June?

Lin Manuel-Miranda has recently published a book called “Hamilton: The Revolution”. It focuses on the process of making the musical, and it’s filled with tons of photos of the production, cast profiles, and lots of interesting bits of trivia. A must-read for any Hamilton fan. It’s currently only playing on Broadway, but a run is planned for Chicago this fall, and surely touring productions after that. Road trip, anyone?

51fIgKM9NUL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_[1]

“And yo, I’m just like my country: I’m young, scrappy and hungry, and I’m not throwin’ away my…shot”. Alexander Hamilton

Trevor