Monthly Archives: April 2013

It’s a Dog’s Life

Nothing lifts my spirits or gives me a better laugh than watching comical videos many dog owners post on the Internet. Whether it is some sort of trick, or a funny scenario, it never ceases to amaze me how incredibly intelligent and receptive our four legged friends are – particularly when a reward of some sort is involved. The videos often showcase the bond between a dog and their master, invariably featuring a wagging tail paired with laughter and enjoyment on the part of the teacher.

Entertainment that includes trained dogs has long been part of popular culture. Many of us grew up watching various movies and TV shows that highlighted dogs in various familial situations. For example, in the 1950’s there was Lassie and Old Yeller and later on Beethoven, Benji, Eddie from Frasier, and Marley from Marley and me. However, my first real exposure to the truly strange things people will teach their pets was the “stupid pet tricks” segment on the David Letterman show. People from across North America brought their pets on stage to perform for the viewing audience. The sillier the trick, the more it evoked laughter and amazement (and sometimes a cringe worthy reaction).

Yes, without question the lengths that people will go to have their pets emulate human behaviour(s) is quite inspiring. Case in point is this recent video on CNN narrated by the very deadpan Jeanne Moore,featuring a dog eating peanut butter with a spoon.

While hilarious, I selfishly tend to lean towards the more practical. Sometimes before I leave the house for work and the place is clearly upside down, I look over at our dog with envy. Most days he lies contently, bathing in the light streaming from the kitchen window. While I don’t begrudge his pleasures and tranquillity  I must admit the thought has crossed my mind – what if our Rocky could help out with some light housework while we are at work?  Life would be so much simpler. After all, many dog breeds have served and continue to serve important functions ranging from working in an agricultural context to assisting the visually impaired as well as police and rescue. Check out Jessie’s remarkable housekeeping prowess to see that anything is possible!

More realistically, we have recently upped the ante by attempting to graduate our dog from simple sitting and fetching to learning how to smile and even crawl. Unfortunately, no amount of treats or encouragement has interested him in becoming more adept at these behaviours, and if nothing else, we have come to understand that many hours of training is required for what looks like the simplest of tasks.  Of note are the variety of training resources that employ assorted techniques and strategies based on different schools of thought that are available at Winnipeg Public Library.  These include:

training 7Cesar Millan’s short guide to a happy dog [sound recording] : [98 essential tips and techniques]  by Cesar Millan.
Uses Cesar Millan’s unique insights about dog psychology to create stronger, happier relationships between humans and their canine companions. Both inspirational and practical, A Short Guide to a Happy Dog draws on thousands of training encounters around the world to present ninety-eight essential lessons.

TrainTrain your dog positively : understand your dog and solve common behaviour problems including separation anxiety, excessive barking, aggression, housetraining, leash pulling, and more by Victoria Stilwell.
This book offers counselling to dog owners on how to train their pets using positive reinforcement, offering insight into how a dog thinks, feels, and learns to suggest the best approaches to treating behavioural problems.

Training2Training for both ends of the leash : a guide to cooperation training for you and your dog by Kate Perry and Yvonne Conza.
Helps an individual develop the tools and understanding required to be the best trainer for a new puppy or adult dog-it’s never too early or late to start!

Training 3Training the best dog ever : a 5-week program using the power of positive reinforcement by Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz and Larry Kay.
An award-winning program of positive reinforcement and no-fail techniques, Training the Best Dog Ever takes only 10 to 20 minutes a day; works whether you’re training a puppy or an adult dog, even one with behavior problems; and requires no special dog-handling abilities.

training4Barron’s dog training bible by Andrea Arden
Author Andrea Arden is a well-known trainer who currently works on Animal Planet’s shows, Underdog to Wonderdog, Dogs 101, and Cats 101. She stresses the importance of understanding canine psychology and a dog’s learning capacity as necessary prerequisites to effective and humane training.

training5Clicker training by Katharina Schlegl-Kofler
Clicker training is an animal-friendly positive reinforcement method that really works for training dogs. This manual gives detailed instruction to dog owners, inexperienced pet owners, those planning to acquire their first pet, and older
children looking for pet care information. Each title features
approximately 70 color photos and offers practical advice on purchasing,
housing, feeding, health care–and where applicable, grooming and training

training 6Your dog : the owner’s manual : hundreds of secrets, surprises, and solutions for raising a happy, healthy dog by Marty Becker with Gina Spadafori
Through surprising facts, moving stories and tested solutions, the veterinary expert from Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show will give every dog owner the secrets to raising a healthy,well-behaved dog. For anyone who owns a dog or is thinking about getting one, Dr. Marty Becker’s manual is a must-have guide to anything and everything canine.


The Trail is the Thing

“The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast, and you miss all you are travelling for.” – American author Louis L’Amour

I was caught off guard last week when I saw the news that the American Jewish writer E.L. Konigsburg had died. She was 83. Death jars because it seems so final, the very end of the trail. I don’t know about you, but it makes me sit up, and remember. Especially now after my dad passed on last summer.

Back when she was an aspiring writer, Konigsburg penned – when authors still used pens! — a novel that won her the 1968 Newbery Medal for the best American children’s book of the year. Recently it was named one of the ‘Top 100 Chapter Books’ of all time by the School Library Journal.

The book mixedupwas From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I remember it not because I read it. It was read to me and my classmates by my well-liked Grade 5 ‘literature arts’ teacher in the early ’70s. I distinctly remember sitting transfixed in my desk as my teacher gazed out the window into the empty schoolyard before launching into a thrilling narration of the exploits of young Claudia Kincaid and her even younger brother Jamie. These two kids had the nerve to run away from home and hide out in the washrooms and exhibits of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art  overnight! After sleeping in an antique bed, while avoiding the security guards, they blended into visiting school groups during the day. It didn’t take long before they were busy investigating a mysterious Renaissance-like angelic statue the museum had recently purchased — from the narrator, as it turned out, the enigmatic Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Why has this memory stuck with me so vividly I wonder? It must have been the similar ages of the characters with my own, but it was also the thrill of risks not taken in my own life, but explored so well in story. Have you a favourite story read to you in elementary school?


Another book by Konigsburg that we have in the library’s collection is The View from Saturday.

As I was saying my dad, Norman Penner, passed on. He was 82. He spent many fruitful years as a teacher-librarian and independent book store owner in Saskatchewan and Alberta, while raising a family of 3 with my mom. He loved reading, and listening to people’s stories, among other pursuits.

wanderingAfter his death, a generous and thoughtful friend gave a donation – through the Friends of the Library – in my dad’s honour. He presented me with a bookplate sticker to place in a library book of my choosing! After a long period of indecision I decided on Education of a Wandering Man, the autobiography by Louis L’Amour, one of my dad’s favourite authors. (L’Amour was a prolific American Western writer who had at the time of his death in 1988 had an amazing 105 works in print.)

So I walked up to the Millennium Library’s fourth floor biography section, found the book, and holding back a tear, placed the sticker on the title page. I returned the book to its rightful place on the shelf, and there, right beside, was a familiar title, Traveling Mercies by booksAnne Lamott. I stared in amazement. ‘Travelling Mercies’ is the title of a little personal essay I am writing about my trip to Alberta last year that includes thoughts about my dad and his passing. The trip had been a meaningful time of reflection, connection with family and old friends, and unusual experiences of accompaniment.

Seeing the book with that title (which includes the author’s reflections of her own dad’s passing!) beside the book I had chosen gave me a shiver down my spine. What were the odds? What is the meaning of this syncronicity? Whatever its means I’m glad it happened. I think my dad would have loved the story of the bookplate, my friend’s generosity, and the stories contained in the books themselves. He loved hearing stories, and I guess, so do I.


Life on the Wild Side

“Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened”  ~ Anatole France

Recently there has been a rise in the number of animal memoirs.  Many of these books,  such as Marley & Me and Dewey:  the small-town library cat who touched the world, are about our domestic friends.  But I’d like to discuss some great tales about more exotic animals who have befriended humans.

Born Free

Born Free

Let’s start in Africa where some very famous animal-human relationships have been forged.   Born Free is Joy Adamson’s memoir about her friendship with the African lioness Elsa.  Joy and her husband George raised Elsa from a cub and released her back to the wild.  Born Free was followed by Living Free and Forever Free, which continue with the story of Elsa and her cubs.  So popular was  Elsa that there was also a movie (the theme song of which was a hit too) as well as a television series.

Another interesting lion story is A Lion Called Christian by Anthony Bourke and John Rendall.  Christian was bought from Harrods department store in England and lived in London with his humans for a year before being reintroduced back to the wild in Africa by none-other than George Adamson.   The official website is here, and includes the famous video footage of Christian’s reunion in the wild with his previous caretakers.

A Lion Called Christian

A Lion Called Christian

Lions aren’t the only African species to have connected with humans.  The  popular book and movie Gorillas in the Mist tells the story of Dian Fossey and her time spent with gorillas.  Dian was actually one of 3 women who dedicated their lives to studying the great apes.  Birute Galdikas has written several books detailing her study of orangutans in Borneo, one of which is Orangutan Odyssey,  and of course there is Jane Goodall and her lifetime dedicated to chimpanzees, celebrated in the book 50 Years at Gombe.

Birute Galdikas

Birute Galdikas

In North America there are many cases of humans rescuing and living with wild animals.  Two of my all-time favourite books are Rascal by Sterling North, which tells the story of the author’s year spent raising a baby raccoon, and Paddy: a naturalist’s story of an orphan beaver by D.H. Lawrence (which will forever change the way you think of these industrious animals!).indexCAG8WJ33

If you’re a bear-lover like me you might enjoy the goings-on at Bear With Us Sanctuary and Rehabilitation Centre for Bears  in Ontario.  Every year this wonderful facility rescues and rehabilitates orphaned or injured bears before releasing them back to the wild.

Bear With Us Sanctuary

Bear With Us Sanctuary

If you’re more interested in canines, you might like the film A Man Among Wolves about Englishman Shaun Ellis, who spent time living with a pack of wolves in the United States.   Or how about The Daily Coyote, about Charlie the coyote.  Charlie’s blog has a huge following of over 1 million fans and he also has a website here.

The Daily Coyote, Charlie.

The Daily Coyote, Charlie.

The above suggestions are only a smidgen of the many animal-memoir books and movies available in the Winnipeg Public Library.  For the complete catalogue list please click here………and happy reading to you!

When Judy isn’t at work as a Customer Service Assistant with the Winnipeg Public Library, she spends time with her 9 animal companions. 

The balcony is closed…

“We are put on this planet only once, and to limit ourselves to the familiar is a crime against our minds.”  Roger Ebert

Earlier this month, on April 4th, we were sad to hear that beloved Pulitzer prize winning movie critic, Roger Ebert, had died. Many of us remember him from his weekly t.v. show, “At the Movies” with partner Gene Siskel. Their “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” reviews from the balcony were often the only reviews people saw in those pre-internet days. Those two were such a part of our pop culture landscape that David Letterman once joked that there was only one reason why he had two guest seats next to his desk: “Siskel and Ebert”, of course.

We'll see the movies.

We’ll see you… the movies.

In addition to his t.v. appearances, Roger Ebert made a name for himself as the movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. He held that position for almost 50 years. If Mr. Ebert loved a movie, he would convey his joy and wonder to all who would read or listen. But if he hated it, he was not afraid to say so, and often he would say it in creative and hilarious ways. A few years ago, Ebert compiled a list of his worst reviews in a book called “Your Movie Sucks” and it makes for some great reading. For example, here’s an excerpt taken from his review of 2005’s A Lot Like Love, starring Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet.

A Lot Like Love is a romance between two of the dimmer bulbs of their generation. Judging by their dialogue, Oliver and Emily have never read a book or a newspaper, seen a movie, watched TV, had an idea, carried on an interesting conversation, or ever thought much about anything. The movie thinks they are cute and funny, which is embarrassing, like your uncle who won’t stop with the golf jokes. This is not the fault of the stars, who are actors forced to walk around in Stupid Suits.”

your movie sucks

In more recent years, Roger Ebert took to social media in a big way, and his presence on Facebook, Twitter and his blog allowed his followers to learn more about the man and his life, not just about his opinions on film. We learned about his love of the New Yorker cartoon caption contest, his annual Ebertfest Film festival, and things like his favourite eateries in Chicago or favourite bookstores in London. He also talked directly and honestly about his ongoing health issues and challenges. His wonderful 2011 autobiography, “Life Itself” is a must read. He spent the last ten years of his life battling cancer, and since 2006 had lost the ability to speak due to a number of surgeries. Amazingly, when he lost his actual voice, he found his “voice” through other outlets and remained relevant and active up to the day he died. It’s a difficult realization that we’ll never get another Roger Ebert movie review.

life itself

In honour of Roger Ebert, we’ve put together a list of a few of his favourite movies that we have in our libraries, accompanied with a few of Roger’s own words as to why these movies were great. All of Roger’s quotations were taken from his 2002 book of essays, “The Great Movies“.

Citizen Kane


“Its surface is as much fun as any movie ever made. Its depths surpass understanding. I have analyzed it a shot at a time with more than thirty groups, and together we have found, I believe, pretty much everything that is there on the screen. The more clearly I can see its physical manifestation, the more I am stirred by its mystery.”

Apocalypse Now

apocalypse now

Apocalypse Now is more clearly than ever one of the key films of the century. Most films are lucky to contain a single great sequence. Apocalypse Now strings together one after another, with the river journey as the connecting link.”

Raging Bull

Raging_Bull_by_Moran89[1]Raging Bull is the most painful and heart-rending portrait of jealousy in the cinema-an Othello for our times. It’s the best film I’ve seen about the low self-esteem, sexual inadequacy, and fear that lead some men to abuse women. Boxing is the arena, not the subject.”

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001-poster_2048[1]“The genius is not in how much Stanley Kubrick does in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but in how little. This is the work of an artist so sublimely confident that he doesn’t include a single shot simply to keep our attention. He reduces each scene to its essence and leaves it on-screen long enough for us to contemplate it, to inhabit it in our imaginations. Rare among science fiction movies, 2001 is not concerned with thrilling us, but with inspiring our awe.”

La Dolce Vita

La-Dolce-Vita_1[1]“Movies do not change, but their viewers do. When I saw La Dolce Vita in 1961, I was an adolescent for whom “the sweet life” represented everything I dreamed of: sin, exotic European glamour, the weary romance of the cynical newspaperman. When I saw it again, around 1970, I was living in a version of Marcello’s world; Chicago’s North Avenue was not the Via Veneto, but at 3 a.m. the denizens were just as colorful, and I was about Marcello’s age.

When I saw the movie around 1980, Marcello was the same age, but I was 10 years older, had stopped drinking, and saw him not as a role model, but as a victim, condemned to an endless search for happiness that  could never be found, not that way. By 1991, when I analyzed the film a frame at a time at the University of Colorado, Marcello seemed younger still, and while I had once admired and then criticized him, now I pitied and loved him. And when I saw the movie right after Mastroianni died, I thought that Fellini and Marcello had taken a moment of discovery and made it immortal. There may be no such thing as the sweet life. But it is necessary to find that out for yourself.”


Canadian Aviation Pioneers


Because of its vast geography, Canada occupies a unique place in aviation history.  To this day, vast stretches of our territory can only be reached by planes. This was even more pronounced during the first half of the twentieth century.


Before the First World War saw their use as military vehicles, airplanes were considered somewhat as gadgets for rich people. The war years brought about a dramatic increase in the number of people who were able to fly them.  After the war, returning pilots sought civilian work in new fields like air mail delivery and locating forest fires.  At the same time, the airplane began to be used to explore previously-inaccessible regions of the Canadian north, and help create new human settlements and keep them linked with the rest of civilization.  Wilfrid “Wop” May is a remarkable local example, and you can read a fascinating account of his life in Wings of a hero: Canadian pioneer flying ace Wilfrid Wop May by Sheila Reid.  This Carberry native returned from the First World War an ace (involved with the shooting down of the Red Baron), and continued flying in Canada by starting his own company, first doing barnstorming shows, but later expanding in delivering critical medical supplies to isolated communities (the most famous example being the “race against death” in Little Red River, Alberta) and helping police in manhunts using his plane for locating fleeing fugitives like the Mad Trapper.  This new breed of airman became known as bush pilots.

The era of the bush planes and the pilots who flew them is filled with stories of exploration and adventures.  These men and women flew aircraft which were primitive by our standards (no radios, radars, or pressurized cockpits) but which were uniquely suited to the environment of the Canadian north (like the Curtiss HS-2L flying boat featured on the top book cover).  They used to ferry people and supplies to isolated outposts of humanity in the Canadian North, and using only lakes and strips made in the snow for landing.  A recent title that is easy to read and focuses as much attention on the machines and the historical “firsts” as the people who built and flew them is Flying on Instinct: Canada’s Bush Pilot Pioneers by L. Dyan Cross.  Bush pilots are still around to this day, and still carry on many of the same vital tasks as their predecessors, From Fox Moths to Jet Rangers: A Bush Pilot’s Life tells the life story of Harvey Evans, another Manitoban, who started his career flying biplanes in northern Canada in the 1950s to graduating to helicopters ferrying construction material and other supplies.

During the Second World War, the country became the “aerodrome of democracy” with the creation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.  Dozens of training centers for air crews were set up throughout the country, but especially in the prairie provinces, where they helped train over 130,000 pilots and air crews.  Again, both our geography and the fact that we were protected from enemy aviation made Canada the ideal training center for pilots of all Allied nations, from all the dominions as well as the United States.  Of note, the first flight simulators (called Link trainers) were used.  This was one – if not the – most important contribution of Canada to Allied victory.  Wings for Victory : the Remarkable Story of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada by Spencer Dunmore tells how the plan was put into action and is filled with personal stories from the recruits who went through the program.

During the Cold War, Canada was faced with the threat of nuclear devastation on its own soil.  Because Soviet nuclear bombers and missiles would pass over Canadian territory as the most direct route to reach the United States, it became urgent for both countries to develop means to intercept those threats before they could strike.  This is where probably the  most controversial chapters in Canadian aviation history began, with the development of the Avro Arrow interceptor.  This new jet, entirely designed and built in Canada, was set to revolutionize military aviation, with performances ahead of everything that was available and a top speed that approached Mach 3 (3 times the speed of sound).  The project was cancelled in 1959 under circumstances that are still debated but it became known as a lost opportunity for the Canadian aviation industry.  In Janusz Zurakowski: Legend in the Skies, local author Bill Zuk wrote the story of this saga through the eyes of one of its test pilots: Janusz Zurakowski, a World War II veteran of Polish origin who was also a superb aerobatic pilot.  The library also has the CBC miniseries The Arrow which recounts the saga of plane, the team that designed and built it, and the political machinations that brought it down.


For those of you who prefer more visual reading or even coffee table books about beautiful flying machines, there is plenty to choose from at the library.  Two personal recommendations, both because they focus on Canadian aviation history and their visual content:  A Memory of Sky : a Pilot’s View of Canada’s Century of Flight by Jim Shilliday and Wings Across Canada : an Illustrated History of Canadian Aviation by Peter Pigott.  Even though it covers the history to the present day, Memory of Sky is excellent for covering the epoch of the Silver Dart, the first airplane that flew in Canada, as well as the early men and women who paved the way for the new era of flight.  Pigott’s book is focused on the machines and is divided by aircraft models. It include notably the Fokker planes used to keep Hudson Bay trading posts supplied, and several models of cargo planes used to fight forest fires.

There are far more to cover, so please add your suggestions.

– Louis-Philippe

Money, money, money, or, “Greed is good”

Making it, spending it, needing it. It’s on the news and in commercials, game shows, and reality shows. Some days it seems money is all anybody talks about. Well, that and the weather.

The world is still struggling with the financial crisis triggered in 2008, so it is quite fitting that the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre is exploring themes of money, greed, and corruption with a remounting of Other People’s Money, a satire on the excess of the 1980s by Jerry Sterner.

In the business world, corporate takeovers are the ultimate seduction. Larry the Liquidator preys on companies that are worth more dead than alive and he’s set his sights on the aging New England Wire and Cable Company. As he prepares to play monopoly with people’s lives, Larry realizes this family business has more game – and heart – than he anticipated.

If the financial ridiculousness of the ‘80s (and today) is of interest to you, or if you would just enjoy similar stories, we have compiled a list of good reads (and movies) that explore the themes in the play:

On the Financial Mischief of the 1980s

Barbarians at the GateBarbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar is the definitive account of 1980s-style deal making, corporate mergers, and what was at the time the largest takeover in Wall Street history.

Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart tells the story of four top Wall Street players and the massive insider-trading scheme that made them billions – before they were caught and brought to justice.

Liar's PokerLiar’s Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage On Wall Street by Michael M. Lewis is an often humourous take on his own experiences as a bond trader in the 1980s and the greedy high-stakes game known as liar’s poker.

Going for Broke: How Robert Campeau Bankrupted the Retail Industry, Jolted the Junk Bond Market, and Brought the Booming 80s to a Crashing Halt by John Rothchild outlines the legacy of a Canadian real estate developer, financier, and leveraged buyout enthusiast who bankrupted Bloomingdale’s, Abraham & Straus, Jordan Marsh and others.

Roger & Me

Roger & Me. When his hometown was devastated by an automobile plant closure, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore tried to track down General Motors Chairman Roger B. Smith (the elusive Roger of the title) for an interview. A devastating look at the victims of downsizing in the midst of the 1980s economic boom.

On the More Recent State of Things

I.O.U.I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay by John Lanchester. How could so many smart people be so dumb? This entertaining overview of the recent financial crisis explains how the booming global economy collapsed seemingly overnight.

Inside Job is a documentary examining the sources of the global financial crisis of 2008 through exhaustive research and extensive interviews with key financial insiders, politicians, and journalists.

Some Fictional Explorations

Capital, by John Lanchester. It’s 2008 and the world’s financial markets are falling apart. The residents of Pepys Road in London receive anonymous postcards reading “We Want What You Have.” Who’s behind it, and what do they want? A novel of a city at a moment of extraordinary tension.

FinancialIn The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walter, Matt is losing his job, his house, and his wife – until he discovers a way to possibly save his family from economic disaster. Of course, it happens to be illegal…

The Privileges, by Jonathan Dee. Wealthy New Yorkers Adam and Cynthia Morey seem to have it all, but they believe they deserve even more. As their marriage begins to collapse, Adam is confronted with an ethical choice that may destroy his family.

A Week in DecemberA Week in December, by Sebastian Faulks. A shady hedge fund manager touches several intersecting lives over seven days in London. The writing on the wall appears in letters ten feet high, but the characters refuse to see it in this vicious satire on modern life.

Wall Street. “Greed is good.” This 1987 classic features corporate raider Gordon Gekko, a composite of the most notorious private equity figures of the 1980s, and his scheme to take over a failing airline, lay off its employees, and strip its assets.

Local HeroLocal Hero. This charming film by Bill Forsyth portrays another clash of big business and small-town values, as a Texan oil executive is sent to acquire an entire Scottish village to make way for a refinery.

I hope there’s something in this list that you enjoy. If you get to see the play, drop me a line and let me know what you thought of that Larry the Liquidator guy. Quite a character, no?


A Wolseley Story

In the fall of 2006, I was walking through the neighbourhood of Wolseley. I had recently fled my comfortable apartment on Langside St, where the living situation had become unbearable. With nowhere to go, I hesitantly returned home to the suburbs – where all the houses look the same, and nothing exciting ever happens. Despite this temporary setback, I was already planning my next escape. But where to go? At this point, I had already lived in South Osborne, Osborne Village, as well as (albeit very briefly) West Broadway.

By coincidence, a good friend of mine was also looking for a place to call home. After talking about what we both wanted in an apartment (preferably it would have a sunroom), we decided to team up and find a place. So one sunny afternoon, she and I decided to take a stroll through Wolseley.

At the time, I knew nothing about the neighbourhood. In fact, Wolseley had always been a mystery to me. Being a ‘suburb kid’, I was familiar with the south end of Winnipeg; Windsor Park, Southdale, St Vital, River Park South, and of course Saint Boniface. Supposedly, Wolseley was where the hippies lived. It was close to (but not a part of) downtown, and best of all, it was a short walk away from Osborne Village.

As we walked towards Wolseley Ave, my friend spotted a sign advertising a house for rent. Her excitement was impossible to miss, as she pretty much jumped up in the air while pointing towards the ‘For Rent’ sign.

Fortunately, Lady Luck was smiling on us that afternoon: the real estate agent happen to be on site, which meant we were able to have a look inside of the house. It was an old house which had a gazebo, hardwood floors, a chimney, a deck, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dishwasher, large basement, and… a sunroom!

On October 1st, we moved onto Arlington St, into a house that would be our home for the next two years. This neighbourhood which had once been unknown to me would become as familiar as the paths in suburbia which I had navigated in my youth.

wolseley storiesWolseley Stories is the first book written by Laina Hughes, and while some might describe it as a collection of short stories, it is far more than that. This book is a compilation of personal stories from various individuals who live in Wolseley; furthermore, it offers readers a rare glimpse of the community’s history.

While this is not the first book to be written about Wolseley, it remains an important piece of literature because many of these stories are told by baby-boomers, ‘Generation X’, as well as ‘Generation Y’. This is an accomplishment, because at the moment there are very few writers that have written about the recent history of Winnipeg, specifically this last decade (2000-2010).

Within these 50 pages, the reader is regaled with stories such as falling in love, starting and raising a family, all while living in a truly unique community.

Along the way, we learn about Friends of Omand’s Creek, a community group which opposed the city’s attempt to build a new bridge by the Omand Creek. To some among us, this development may seem like a great idea; however, these individuals were horrified about the idea that their park would be transformed because of rest of the city’s desire to erect something new and shiny.

When I came across the story about ‘The Wolseley Elm,’ I was thrilled to learn about a group of women who in 1957, decided to chain themselves against a tree which was in danger of being torn down because the city had deemed it a traffic hazard. It’s a wonderful tale, and one that reminds us of this neighbourhood’s history of opposing authority.

WP12751 (1)

Class photo of all women in school uniforms from the Wolseley area’s Gordon Bell High School, 1934, part of Winnipeg Public Library’s PastForward postcard collection.

And since we’re on the subject of history – I’m curious to learn whether anyone knows about Happyland Park. No, not the park in Saint Boniface. Back in 1906, the original Happyland Park stood between Aubrey and Dominion Street and Portage Ave. This park which closed in 1914, featured Japanese tea gardens, a miniature train, as well as a baseball park (Winnipeg Maroons baseball club).

This is one of the many historical gems that the reader finds through out the book.

Not a fan of history? Never fear! As I mentioned earlier, Wolseley Stories  features a collection of personal stories. Whether reading “It’s Warmer In Wolseley,” “Halloween On Ruby Street” or “Right In the Neighbourhood,” you will laugh, smile, and quite possibly even relate to the experiences of these Wolseleyites.

There is a warmth to the book that is difficult to describe. Perhaps it’s because the stories are genuine and the characters are real people – people that you might share a beer with at Cousin’s Deli, or unknowingly walk past them while taking a stroll down Westminster Avenue.

In the end, this book is not simply about a community, neighbourhood, or the people who live there. It’s a love story. Laina Hughes has not only taken the time to collect these stories, she spells out her love for Wolseley on every page of the book.

It is a promising start for this local author.

– D.P. Bohémier

Perfectly Baked, and FREE, too!

It’s that time again to see what the Winnipeg Comedy Festival is cooking up! This year’s Comedy Festival is filled to the brim with talent, some that are flown in for the festival, and others from our local comedy scene. Basically, that means a lot of opportunities to enjoy comedians that you’ve seen before and also a chance to discover new gems.

Aisha Alfa performs at the @wpgcomfest.

Aisha Alfa performs at the @wpgcomfest
Photo Credit: Leif Norman

Winnipeg Public Library is right in the middle of the action again this year with three great FREE lunch time shows which are leaving audiences laughing hysterically and hungry for more.  Monday’s show with former Winnipegger Aisha Alfa and Tuesday’s  follow-up with K. Trevor Wilson have both been big hits, drawing quite a crowd. If you missed those two, don’t worry, we’ve got  Charlie Demers still to come on April 10. Show starts at noon, get there early of you want a good seat! 

The best part is that you can check out these comedians again at other shows during the festival as each of them are part of several line-ups during the festival!

The BedwetterIn order to get into the mood for the festival, check out our great selection of books by funny people like Sarah Silverman (The Bedwetter: a story of Courage, Redemption and Pee) and  Tina Fey (Bossypants). If you’re more into the serious history of all things funny, the library has several books on the rich history of  stand-up comedy. Try Seriously funny: Rebel Comedians from the 50’s and 60’s by Gerald Nachman or I’m dying up here: Heartbreak and high Times in Stand-up Comedy’s Golden Era by William Knoedelseder. 9781586483173And if the Comedy Festival has motivated you to try stand-up yourself, we can help there as well!  as we have many different books that walk you through the process, including classics like Richard Belzer’s How to Be a Stand-Up Comic.

And of course, if reading is not your cup of tea, we also have fantastic performances on CD and DVD.  So get to the library, and get laughing!

– Adam

Spring Training: Getting in Fiction-Ready Shape for Summer

Anyone who knows me well knows I am not a great reader of fiction. Even as a kid I was drawn to biographies and autobiographies. I went through a whole Kennedy family phase and then a Royal family phase (Princess Di’s wedding was everything at the time). Then my father starting researching our family histories and I became obsessed with family trees. Reading about different royal families in books with elaborate and overlapping lineage charts gracing the insides of front and back covers served to feed that particular interest until my child-brain went on to the next thing. So, yeah, a different kind of kid maybe!

But I wasn’t entirely “fiction free”. I ploughed through Anne of Green Gables, all of the Sweet Valley series and, like most kids at the time, anything Gordon Korman wrote. And these were the books I returned to time and again in order to pick up on details I might have missed (the wonderful geography described by L. M. Montgomery) or just to escape (life certainly wasn’t anything like Sweet Valley High!).

As an adult, and even as a librarian, I have to admit I’ve fallen into the (nearly) fiction-free rut once again. But the calendar (if not the view out my window) says it’s spring and it feels like a good time to pick up a new habit. Where to begin?

[Warning: non-scientific statement ahead!] Reading fiction revs up a different, more free-flowing, part of your brain than, say, working through something about Thomas Scott. It may feel good once you get going, but I always find switching back tough. My solution (before branching out into the great suggestions offered by friends and librarians) is to re-read some of my favorites. The ones I love most remind me of the pleasure and genius of great fiction – how they can both entertain and instruct all at once. These are some of my favorites:

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields


At this point, a Canadian classic. I’ve loved this book because it feels like non-fiction to me (ha!). More than even just feeling like you’re getting a peak at a really interesting diary, Shields put you right into the head of main character Daisy Goodwill Flett and others that float in and around her life in 20th century North America.

Alice in Wonderland
by Lewis Carrol

AliceTalk about escapism! I never read this book as a child and, as a complete work, I actually do think it’s best enjoyed by adults. Our experience of the world serves to fill out Carroll’s characters – from the Queen of Hearts to the White Rabbit to Alice herself. And there’s some great poetry to boot!
Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
 Alice moving under skies
 Never seen by waking eyes.”

And last but not least:

Dr. Zhivago  by Boris Pasternak

ZhivagoI bought this book about 15 years ago at the massive Norman Park community garage sale (which just goes to show you that great reads can be found anywhere!). It was one of those “it’s a classic, I should probably read it” type purchases and it was 50-cents well spent. Tragedy, family strife, and some pretty questionable love life choices are layered against the dramatic back drop (non-fiction rears its head!) of imperialist, then revolutionary, then World War II Russia. And there’s a poetry bonus in this one too. Pasternak’s “The Poems of Yuri Zhivago” at the book’s end are wonderful on their own (get them in a separate title here).

So that’s my fiction “spring training”! Here’s hoping I report back in a few months rarin’ to go with other peoples’ great new recommendations.


April Fools!

Yesterday was April Fool’s Day, a day when people play practical jokes and hoaxes on each other. My favourite joke from yesterday was the announcement that Disney would be producing a Buffy movie and Ryan Gosling would play Angel. I admit to being a little disappointed. Even literature is not immune to hoaxes – remember the Hitler diaries?

GoAskAliceFor many of us, reading Go Ask Alice by Anonymous in our teens was a rite of passage. I remember, at age 13, being completely engrossed while reading this tale about a troubled teenage girl who became addicted to drugs. The book was originally promoted as nonfiction. Not long after its publication however, Beatrice Sparks, a psychologist, began making media appearances presenting herself as the book’s editor. Interestingly, she is listed on the copyright record as the book’s author, and not as the editor, compiler, or executor, which would be more usual for someone publishing the diary of a deceased person. In 1979, Alleen Pace Nilsen wrote an essay for School Library Journal in which she surmised Sparks partially based Go Ask Alice on the diary of one of her patients, but she had added various fictional incidents. Sparks told Nilson that she could not produce the original diary because she had destroyed part of it after transcribing it and the rest was locked away in the publisher’s vault. Sparks’ second “diary” project, Jay’s Journal, gave rise to a controversy that cast further doubt on Go Ask Alice’s veracity. Jay’s Journal was allegedly the diary of a boy who committed suicide after becoming involved with the occult. Again, Sparks claimed to have based it on the diary of a patient. However, the family of the boy in question, Alden Barrett, disowned the book. They claimed that Sparks had used only a handful of the actual diary entries, and had invented the great majority of the book, including the entire occult angle. This led many to speculate that “Alice’s” diary- if indeed it existed-had received similar treatment. No one claiming to have known the real “Alice” has ever come forward.

OddManOutOdd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit is a 2009 memoir by Matt McCarthy in which McCarthy recounts his experiences as a professional baseball player in the Anaheim Angels minor-league system. Major themes include steroids, minor league living conditions, players’ sexual hijinks, the crass attitudes held by players and coaches, and the clubhouse segregation between white players and  Latino players. McCarthy has stated that much of the book’s content was taken from detailed journals he kept while he was playing. However, several people mentioned in the book have criticized its factual accuracy. Two reporters from The New York Times pored over box scores and transaction listings as well as interviews with people named in the book, and concluded that many portions of the book are incorrect, embellished, or impossible.

FragmentsFragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood by Holocaust survivor Benjamin Wilkomirski, was published in 1995. The book won many prizes and was hailed as a classic of Holocaust literature. However, his story was debunked by Swiss journalist Daniel Ganzfried in 1998 and Zurich historian Stefan Maechler in 1999. Not only did his account contradict historical facts, but Wilkomirski’s real name was revealed to be Bruno Dossekker, a man who is neither a Holocaust survivor nor Jewish. Many people have excused this hoax for being emotionally honest, a lie pointing to a greater truth which can help victims of the Shoah.

PapillonPapillon is a bestselling memoir by convicted felon and fugitive Henri Charrière, first published in France in 1969, describing his escape from a penal colony in French Guiana. It even gave rise to a 1973 film starring Steve McQueen as Henri Charrière and Dustin Hoffman as Louis Dega. Charrière stated that all events in the book are truthful and accurate, allowing for minor lapses in memory. However, since its publication there has been controversy over its accuracy. Some consider that it is not actually true, noting not all the events and jails which he describes correspond to the time frame of the events in the book. In the view of some, it is best regarded as a narrative novel, depicting the adventures of several of Charrière’s fellow inmates. In an interview before he died, the book’s French publisher, Robert Laffont, admitted the book was originally submitted to him as a novel. Laffont specialised in real-life adventures, and had persuaded Charrière to release it as if it were an autobiography.

nasdijjTim Barrus, is an American author and social worker who is best known for having published three memoirs between 2000 and 2004 under the pseudonym Nasdijj, by which he presented himself as a Navajo. The books were critically acclaimed, and Nasdijj received several literary awards and recognition from major institutions. His memoirs, which dealt in part with issues of two adopted children who suffered from severe problems were also acclaimed by children’s rights and HIV/AIDS activists advocating for greater awareness of American children living at acute risk. In 2006 journalists revealed that Barrus had published the Nasdijj books under a fictional identity, and the events depicted in all three were largely fiction. Native Americans strongly criticized Barrus for appropriating the historic suffering of their people.

MillionLittlePiecesJames Frey was exposed as a fraud for his ‘memoir’ A Million Little Pieces in what was probably the story of the year in 2006.  The book centers on a 23-year-old alcoholic and drug abuser and how he copes with rehabilitation in a twelve – steps oriented treatment center. While initially promoted as a memoir, it was later discovered that many of the events described in the book never happened. Published in 2003 to mixed reviews, it was picked as an Oprah’s Book Club selection in 2005. Shortly after, the book topped The New York Times bestseller list for fifteen straight weeks. But after reporters at The Smoking Gun began questioning details about his so-called “criminal record” (they later found out he spent just three hours in jail, not the 87 days he had claimed), the book once dubbed “The War and Peace of addiction” quickly became the literary scandal of 2006. Frey consistently defended himself by pointing out that he was, in fact, a recovering addict, but that didn’t stop Oprah from inviting him (and book publisher Nan Talese) onto the show to explain the inconsistencies.

— Barbara