Monthly Archives: May 2012

Green Gloves and Red Squares

Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, was a recent guest on The Colbert Report.  When Stephen Colbert commented that fashion was a trivial pursuit,  she countered that “fashion reflects culture; it reflects our times. A great fashion photograph can tell you just as much about what is going on in our world as any headline or TV report.”

Take Michelle Obama for example. A recent book entitled Michelle Style studies the choices of Mrs. O, “the first lady of fashion.”  Because she mixes off-the-rack clothes from Gap and J. Crew with American designer frocks, Obama sends the message that she is accessible, someone that Americans of every economic status can relate to. Following the inauguration she donned a pair of olive green leather gloves from mid-priced brand J. Crew and their stock immediately jumped 10.6 percent, an indication of the power of her influence. 

Michelle Obama in J. Crew

Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style analyzes her image as it has evolved from what was initially dubbed  “angry Black woman”  to the current one of  “Power Wife” and “Mom in Chief.” Clearly how one dresses communicates one’s associations and values.

Tomboy styleClothes have played a significant role in my life and helped shape my political views. I recall the day in 1967 when I was sent home from high school for wearing blue jeans in violation of the dress code of skirts only for girls. My feminism “clicked” on that day.  Alison Lurie noted in The Language of Clothes that “women in trousers are viewed as wanting to wear The Pants, which in our culture, for centuries is the symbolic badge of male authority.” That rebelliousness is celebrated in Tomboy Style,  which champions those women who “blur the line between masculinity and feminity” and defy gender stereotyping.

Scott Schuman began photographing street style and posting images on The Sartorialist blog, with the idea of creating a dialogue about the world of fashion and its relationship to daily life. He looks beyond runway models and haute couture to the individual on the street who expresses his or her own point of view apart from the idealized images and dictates of fashion magazines. 

Similarly, the DVD Bill Cunningham New York documents the photographer who has immortalized real people and their personal style on the streets of New York for decades.

Speaking of the street, Quebec protestors are wearing their politics on their sleeves by safety-pinning on red felt squares as a symbol of solidarity. The “red square” appeared at Cannes Film Festival on the tuxedo of Quebec director Xavier Dolan. Montreal-based band Arcade Fire wore red squares when they performed on Saturday Night Live with “street fighting man” Mick Jagger who sported a red shirt.

Far from being a trivial topic, fashion raises many different and important questions. So say the editors of Fashion : Thinking with Style, which explores how changing sex roles, political upheavals, class structure and globalization have all influenced fashion.

Thoughts to ponder as we pull our summer clothes out of storage.


The Write Kind of Crime

I’d never heard of the Arthur Ellis Awards for best crime and mystery writing in Canada until recently. The annual awards given out by the Crime Writers of Canada — on May 31 this year — have as their icon a whimsically-designed hanging man statue. Cute, no? The CWC awards ‘Arthurs’ for best crime short story, crime nonfiction, juvenile crime book, French crime book, unpublished book and best first crime novel published in the previous year. For whodunit fans of all ages, what a great way to get a leg up on our got-to-read-soon list! Now I’m all into this awards scene because the engrossing mystery I’m reading now is up for Best Crime Novel. Go Peter Robinson!

Robinson, noted for his Inspector Banks mystery series, is from Yorkshire, England but now lives in Ontario. With this new book, Before the Poison, Robinson spins a tale of a British-born film composer, Chris Lowndes, in retreat from a successful life in Hollywood. Having recently lost his beloved wife to cancer, Chris buys an old estate house in the Yorkshire Dales, the former home of a woman hanged for murder. He wonders what really happened in his house, and whether the beautiful ‘murderess’ actually committed the crime of poisoning her cold fish of a husband. He discovers a lot more than he bargained for…

The other books on the 2012 Best Crime Novel shortlist are:

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

Having won the Arthur Ellis best crime novel award last year with Bury Your Dead, Louise Penny makes her return to the limelight with A Trick of the Light, her seventh novel featuring the detective magic of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. “Like P.D. James, Penny shows how the tight structure of the classical mystery story can accommodate a wealth of deeply felt emotions and interpersonal drama.” (Booklist)

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

Set in a cosy British village at Christmas, Bradley in this novel continues his detective-in-training Flavia de Luce stories which reflect his love of the singular (I love that word) Sherlock Holmes. “We find in Flavia an incorrigible and wholly lovable detective; from her chemical experiments in her sanctum sanctorum to her outrage at the idiocy of the adult world, she is unequaled.” (Library Journal)

I’ll See you in My Dreams by William Deverell

Another in Deverell’s series of Arthur Beauchamp comic mystery stories, this one “finds the outwardly crusty, poetry-loving, wily old lawyer compelled, by new developments, to look back at his first — and most disastrous — murder trial… which went horribly wrong. Now, nearly 50 years later, he is opening old wounds but also facing a chance for redemption and reconciliation.”

The Guilty Plea by Robert Rotenberg

Famous American criminal lawyer F. Lee Bailey said: “A few lawyers are really expert in managing cases — especially criminal cases — in the courtroom. A small percentage of these are very good at making trials come alive. Robert Rotenberg is one of the few, along with Scott Turow, David, Baldacci, John Lescroat. His Guilty Plea is a crackling good read, plan to keep turning pages late into the night!”

Take a look at the other shortlists on the Crime Writers website, and come back in June to find out who won. Now, back to my book!


Break Forth the Rhythm and the Rhyme

“Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.” Plato

Poetry as a literary form has existed for centuries. It’s a part of our lives that influences and enriches us in ways we’re not aware of. Even if you’re not a fan of the form, there are poems to be found all around.

Take the term “Trojan horse” — that one has been around for hundreds of years, since Virgil wrote the Aeneid.

View full imageNot familiar with the works of Edgar Allan Poe? Never fear! I bet you can still finish this line: “Quoth the Raven…”

Readers of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series already know that it couldn’t exist without Robert Browning’s work, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”.

View full imageIf you’re on Twitter, here’s a style of poetry you’ll appreciate. Haiku uses a maximum of 17 syllables to express an idea, rather like a very well expressed tweet. Basho Matsuo wrote this in the 16th century:

“An old silent pond…

A frog jumps into the pond,

splash! Silence again.”

Poets have other uses, as well. If you’re looking for a pithy put down, look no further than Oscar Wilde: “Some people cause happiness wherever they go, others whenever they go.”

View full imageElizabeth Barrett Browning is a wonderful choice when you’re falling in love: “How do I love thee, let me count the ways…”

Her husband, Robert Browning, wrote the lines that have been used countless times at weddings and anniversaries: “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be…”

But if you’ve just ended a relationship you can’t go wrong with Dorothy Parker: “My own dear love, he is all my world – and I wish I’d never met him.”

Looking for a laugh? My choice is Shel Silverstein, every time. “Bear in There” from the anthology A Light in the Attic never fails to make me chuckle:

“There’s a Polar Bear
In our Frigidaire—“

Wondering where your life is going? Robert Frost can tell you all about The Road Not Taken: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”

And, of course, where would we be without the immortal words: “Roses are red, violets are blue…”

See, you’re a poet and didn’t know it! Or at least you’ve got more poetry in your life than you realized. Next thing you know, you’ll be setting your own words in verse. Writing this blog has certainly inspired me to waste no time and start some rhymes.

Now, what should come after: “There once was a blogger named Lori…”


Planting the Seeds of Change

Just last weekend, my nephew and I went to go see Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.  It was a fabulous movie, and my nephew was absolutely riveted (of course, he was in a popcorn coma, which helped).  If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ve likely read the book, so you’ll know that at its heart, The Lorax is a story about environmentalism.  A boy named Ted lives in the walled city of Thneed-Ville, where everything is artificial, and in order to win the heart of his dream girl, Audrey, he tries to make her wish of seeing a real tree come true.  Ted seeks out the Once-ler, an old businessman outside of town, and upon hearing of how the hermit gave into his greed for profits and devastated the land, Ted is inspired to undo the disaster. 

 I love stories like this, especially in the wake of news about melting ice caps, horrific oil spills, polluted lakes and endangered species.  Tales of environmental heroism give us hope, and when the message is packaged for children, it inspires our little ones to take action, and to care of their world. 

 According to a recent study, over the past few decades, fewer children’s books have included any images of nature.  Picture books increasingly show a world that humans have shaped, with an emphasis on houses, stores, and anything man-made.  But there are still a few gems out there that illuminate the natural world in an entertaining and approachable way, and (you guessed it) you can find them at the library:

 Yucky WormsYucky Worms by Vivian French

Who would want to be friends with a wiggly, slimy worm? You can’t even tell which end is which! But there’s more to these lowly creatures than meets the eye. Kids are invited to find out where worms live, see how they move, and understand why gardeners consider them friends with the help of this humorous and informative look at an unappreciated — and fascinating — creature.

 Our World of Water: Children and Water around the World by Beatrice Hollyer

Wherever we live in this world—whether our country is rich or poor—water is vital to our survival on this planet. This book follows the daily lives of children in Peru, Mauritania, the United States, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Tajikistan, and explores what water means to them. Where does it come from? How do they use it?  With the growing threat of climate change affecting all our lives, this book invites discussion on the ways different countries and cultures value this most precious of our planet’s natural resources.

Recycled Crafts Box by Laura C. Martin

Using such materials as paper, plastic, metal, and cloth usually consigned to the recycling bin or the garbage can, a master crafter presents 40 craft projects that show budding artists how to make something beautiful and save the planet at the same time.

The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough by Kate Smith Milway

A young Honduran girl is left in charge of the family garden when her father must leave home to find work, and is introduced to sustainable farming practices by a new teacher at her school.

Miss Fox's Class Goes GreenMiss Fox’s Class Goes Green by Eileen Spinelli

Noted author Spinelli re-teams with illustrator Kennedy in this follow-up to their “Peace Week in Miss Fox’s Class” that puts Miss Fox’s class on a mission to go green. Includes practical suggestions for kids and families wanting to protect the environment.

Our Earth: How Kids Are Saving the Planet by Janet Wilson

From the author of One Peace comes a new book of beautiful portraits and exciting profiles of ten young environmental activists from around the world.  They include fourteen-year-old William Kamkwamba from Malawi, who realized that the strong winds in his country could be put to good use and so borrowed a book from his library, taught himself how to build a working windmill, and brought electricity to his village.  Full of environmental facts and advice, this book will inspire budding young eco-activists everywhere to start making a difference for their planet


Long Days and Pleasant Nights: A Look Back at Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” The Gunslinger (1982).

The Gunslinger: On the Beach. By Michael Whelan

When Stephen King published his seventh and final book in his epic Dark Tower series in 2004, you could almost hear an audible sigh of relief from his fans. The series is considered King’s Magnum Opus and truly spans his entire career, considering the fact that he began writing the first book in 1970. After he recovered from life threatening injuries from being struck by a van in 1999, he was surprised at some of the comments he would get at book signings. “I’m so glad you’re okay,” one fan told him. “I thought you wouldn’t be able to finish the Dark Tower series!”

The premise is simple enough: a gunslinger must make his way to the Dark Tower and discover its meaning. Inspired by Robert Browning’s poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came“, the actual telling of the story took over thirty years and continues to be sculpted and modified to this day. Stephen King himself sees the seven books as a “first draft” and plans to rewrite them, George Lucas style, at some point in the future. In fact, referring to the series as complete in seven books is not entirely accurate either. King wrote a novella set in the Dark Tower universe called “The Little Sisters of Eluria” and most recently has published an eighth book in the series called “The Wind Through Keyhole” taking place between books four and five of the series. I guess you could call it Book 4.5.

Like most epic fantasies, The Dark Tower series develops its own lingo and phrases. For example, “ka” stands for destiny, and “ka-tet” is a group of people put together for some purpose. A favourite greeting of the Gunslinger is “Long Days and Pleasant Nights”. Throughout the series, Roland the Gunslinger builds his ka-tet with Jake, Eddie, Susannah and Oy. “The Wind Through the Keyhole” will meet up with the ka-tet at its height, and so it should be interesting to spend some time with those characters again.

In addition to the books themselves, a number of spin-offs have popped up. Most importantly is Robin Furth’s Concordance of the Dark Tower series. This two-volume set is an excellent source for learning more about the people, places and things of Mid-world, not to mention being able to keep straight some of the more complicated twists and turns along the way.

Beginning in 2007, Marvel Comics have been adapting the Dark Tower story in graphic novel form. These stories take a more linear approach to the gunslinger’s story than do the books, beginning with Roland as a youth. Written by Peter David based on plots by Robin Furth, the first 30 issues were illustrated by Jae Lee and Richard Isanove.

The Gunslinger Reborn. The first collection of stories from Marvel Comics.

For as long as I can remember, there has been talk of a “Dark Tower” movie or T.V. series. I won’t go into the details of how many times this has been rumoured to be in development only to hear that the project has stalled or died completely. I will say that the most recent news is that Warner Brothers are in talks with Ron Howard and his people to develop movies and an HBO series. I’m not sure how well transitioning from movies to TV will work, but HBO’s current series “Game of Thrones” might be a template for how it could look. This website is keeping tabs on the project as it develops.

Finally, for those who can’t seem to immerse themselves enough in the gunslinger’s world, there is now Discordia, an online game that you can play for free at The game takes place in the Dark  Tower world, and as you move through the scenarios you’ll encounter some familiar places and people, and meet some new ones too. This game has Stephen King’s blessing and is supervised by Concordance writer Robin Furth, so you know it’s legit.

I haven’t had a chance to read “The Wind Through the Keyhole” yet, and I have mixed feelings about entering the Gunslinger’s world again. I’m happy to spend some more time with Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah and Oy, but I feel like I have to go and “cram for the exam” before I pick it up. It’s been eight years since I read the last Dark Tower book, and I’m not sure how well I’ll fit back into that world. On the other hand, it’s a new Stephen King book, and that is something to celebrate no matter what. Long days and pleasant nights, people!


Truth, Lies, and Paranoia in the Age of Conspiracies

“Fundamentally, people are suckers for the truth.” 

We live in the age of communication where information is now more readily accessible than ever and yet we also hear about this being an age of conspiracy.  What effect has the new digital communication era has had on its quality, namely its truthfulness and accuracy?  If lies have always travelled faster than the truth, then the Internet has certainly amplified that phenomenon.

Conspiracy theories are legion in today’s world, but they are hardly a new phenomenon.  Already in the 1950’s the dangers of Communist infiltration and nuclear war proved a fertile ground for fear of the hidden enemy and popular culture reflected that, and not only in the U.S.  A good tale using this atmosphere of paranoia and conspiracy as its themes is “Shutter Island”.  The main character is a tormented U.S. Marshal investigating the disappearance of a mental hospital patient, but who is really interested in uncovering the truth behind the hospital’s true goals?  What is real? What is delusion?  And how can anyone tell?   The library has in its collection the graphic novel and the original novel, which differ markedly from  the movie  and which I highly recommend for fans of psychological thrillers. 

As the Cold War entered its second decade, the culture of paranoia truly blossomed as misinformation and secrets became weapons of the ideological struggle between the eastern and western blocs.  The classic comedy film “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to stop Worrying and love the bomb” may seem absurd to our eyes, but was most pertinent to those who lived daily with the threat of nuclear annihilation.  It criticized the insanity of many of the attitudes that defined the era: Mutually Assured Destruction,  nuclear deterrence, political brinkmanship.  Spy fiction became popular as they were seen as the vanguard/enemy of a new kind of covert warfare.  For fans of spy and/or conspiracy novels, it should be noted that the library has an extensive collection of John Le Carré novels, including  “Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy” which has just been adapted to cinema.


By the 1970’s our own governments became sources of suspicion and could no longer be trusted, and conspiracy theories about hidden state agendas became mainstream.  An interesting book on these effects on society is “Strange Days Indeed: the 1970’s: the Golden Age of Paranoia” by Francis Wheen. It gives fascinating insights into how events like Watergate and the rise of urban terrorism, cults, fears of ecological and economical catastrophes affected public consciousness worldwide and contributed to new popular attitudes toward government.  The 1970’s also saw a surge in the phenomenon of UFO sightings, and related to them, accusations  that various official or secret organizations were, and are still hiding or manipulating the truth about extraterrestrial life.  This is the topic explored by Mark Pilkington in his recently-released Mirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare and UFOs.” 

Science can be a solid foundation on which to base one’s reality, since it is supposed to be a discipline based on objective and measurable facts.  Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou “Logicomix: an Epic Search for Truth” is the tale of mathematician Bertrand Russel and his obsessive quest to develop the means to uncovering objective truth through mathematics and logic.  The novel also includes the authors as protagonist as they debate how best to present his story for the general public, and they succeed quite handily in making Russel (and other mathematicians of the time) absorbing and fun. 

But what about us, you may ask?  What can we trust?  Quite apart from big conspiracy theories, we still deal with both small and bigger lies on a daily basis, often served to us by the people we are supposed to trust to make informed decisions.  How can one sift through daily misinformation and half-truths?  Well, Jamie Whyte’s Crimes Against Logic: Exposing the Bogus Arguments of Politicians, Priests, Journalists, and Other Serial Offenders, might help in one’s quest for the truth.  The interest of this small book is in its stated goal: to make the reader aware of the various ways “experts” and other shapers of opinion use faulty reasoning, generalizations, and misinformation to shape arguments supporting their biases.  The book is easy to read and full of examples that are pertinent to us as information consumers in an age of misinformation and half-truths.

Naxos Music App – Tech Tips

Naxos AppOne of the Library’s most popular electronic resources is our subscription to the Naxos Music Library database. This fantastic music resource contains nearly 70,000 albums and nearly 1,000,000 tracks that can be streamed to your computer for free, 24/7. But did you know that there is also a Naxos Music Library app for your smartphone that allows you to create playlists and stream music anywhere, anytime?

If you have an iPad/iPhone or an Android device, you can download and install the NML app, and then use the Library’s subscription to create a personal login and build your own NML playlists!  (The apps are easy to find in your device app store: just search for the word “Naxos,” and it should be the first thing that pops up!)

Basically, you need to log in to our library subscription (get there from our Music Resources page) to prove to Naxos that you’re a card-carrying library member; once you’re in there you can set up your personal login for free, which the app will then recognize as valid. Everyone else (i.e., NON-library members) has to pay a personal subscription fee to access the app content. 

One of the most interesting things about Naxos is the wide variety of music available in their database. While they DO specialize in classical and jazz, there is also a fascinating mix of pop and folk music mixed into their catalogue, including the entire Nettwerk label.

To create playlists that you can access in your app, log in to the web version of Naxos (always going in via the library’s page, otherwise you won’t have access to our institutional subscription) and then choose “Playlists” and “login.” You can then browse the catalogue, find tracks that you want to play, and add them to a personal playlist.

A couple of cautions: the Naxos website has a fairly short time-out window, which means you might find you get logged out of your personal account a few times when you’re browsing around looking for music to add. The short logout window is because our subscription only allows a certain number of people to be logged in at the same time, and because it’s a popular site, users do occasionally get “bumped.”  

Please note as well that the app uses streaming music technology to bring you your music, which means of course that it’s using your device’s data plan to deliver the stream. If your monthly data usage is a concern, you should probably only use the app only when hooked up to a Wi-Fi network.

Happy streaming!


Trust and the Public Good

How healthy is our democracy? That’s a loaded and provocative question. For some commentators it is the most pressing question of our time.

In Chris Hedges’ collection of essays The World As It Is, he cites Sheldon S. Wolin’s concept of “inverted totalitarianism“, detailed in Wolin’s latest book Democracy Incorporated. Wolin claims that modern democracies are not threatened by direct forms of dictatorship like a one-party state or a demagogic leader, but by more subtle forms: indifference, apathy, and ignoring social problems in favour of individual pursuits and pre-occupations.

This analysis can be traced back to Neil Postman’s 1985 classic Amusing Ourselves to Death (a 20th anniversary edition was published in 2006) which saw the pursuit of being entertained becoming an end in itself. The idea of challenging oneself and questioning the world around us is considered boring and the ultimate waste of time. 

Writers like Cass Sunstein (author of Robert D. Putnam trace how traditional organizations like social service clubs and various associations once built social networks between people who would not normally have much in common. These informal social networks helped create the bonds which formed the sinews of democracy. For some, social media and the voluntary relationships found online have effectively replaced these traditional building blocks of democracy. For me, personally, I’m not so sure.

The unifying theme of these various points of view is that if democracy is to flourish in our age and into the future, there must be ways for diverse people with little in common to establish trust between us. But trust appears to be the rarest of commodities today: we don’t trust the expert,  we don’t trust the elitist intellectual, we don’t trust the company executive, we don’t trust the self-serving union bosses… if everyone has an agenda, where do we find the common ground or the public good?

How to build that trust in our democracy and in our personal relationships is one of the most pressing problems we face. I certainly can’t get my head around this issue in a single blog post, but here are some titles that may help us get started:

 Liars and Outliers by Bruce Schneier

Smart Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey

Trust: Self interest and the common good by Marek Kohn

Greater Good: How good marketing makes for better democracy by John A. Quelch

The Spirit of Democracy by Larry Jay Diamond.