Tag Archives: books

Planning to be Spontaneous


“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are…”

J.K. Rowling

These days, even though our entertainment choices are so diverse, it seems as though we’re constantly being steered towards a minor variation on the same old thing. Once you look up a book on Amazon, view something on YouTube or stream a movie on Netflix, you’re given a list of recommendations based on that choice, whether you want it or not. This is fine, sometimes, but can get pretty dull.  It also makes being impulsive and spontaneous a bit of a challenge.

Conversely, being faced with the overwhelming selections coming at us thick and fast can mean that we retreat to the comfort zone of what’s familiar. It’s difficult to break away from the tried and true, and as someone whose comfort zone begins in the tried and ends in the true I know whereof I speak. But the new year brings new resolutions, and one of mine is to start making different choices. Notice I didn’t say better choices, just different ones. When making a change experts sometime say to take baby steps. Just one small shift can make a huge difference down the road. With that in mind, why not start making new choices at the library?

Here’s something easy to do: think of any 3 digit number. Let’s say 814. Thanks to Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey decimal system, that number could take you to something like Roxanne Gay’s book, Bad Feminist, which contains fascinating essays written on a wide variety of topics. This technique will work on any 3 digit number combination, and if you want to get fancy you can add a decimal point and more numbers.

If you’re like me and you like structure in your spontaneity, you could choose to do what Phyllis Rose did, and read every book on a library shelf. In her book The Shelf: from LEQ to LES Phyllis relates her reading adventures, and what she discovered along the way, about translations, authors who stop writing and herself as a reader.


Another way to free your mind from the usual is to deliberately look at something you don’t like. Take Shakespeare, for example. Not a writer that everyone loves, but his works have endured for hundreds of years for a reason. Try something from the No Fear Shakespeare collection, which includes character summaries, modern English translations and explanations throughout the text.


Or  the next time you reach for something to read or to listen to, try something by an author whose name falls alphabetically just before or just after your usual choice. Or you could take the first book off of each shelf in a bay of shelves, or books by authors whose names start with vowels or double consonants, or books that have been translated from another language, or books with red covers. There’s really no wrong way to open your mind to new possibilities, the hardest part is deciding where to begin. Join me in my plans to be spontaneous, and see where your choices take you.


How Do We Retire With Dignity?

After 30 years of working in administrative support at Winnipeg Public Library – mostly as a desktop publisher and marketing assistant – I am retiring at the end of June. Immediately upon deciding I felt a wave of sadness for having to say goodbye to my co-workers (who have been great to work alongside) and tasks like making posters or web pages that sing or taking photos for our newsletter that make others smile. I also felt relief like an untied balloon finally able to (slowly) lose its long-stored air. I could mentally begin to let go of work responsibilities which always tended to weigh on me. There was also a refreshing note of expectation as I began to anticipate new rhythms, including more time to do the things I’ve always wanted to do. (Perhaps more reflective writing, cooking and gardening?)

But how do we retire with dignity and not a ton of regret? I’m not entirely sure. I haven’t navigated this transition before so I am by no means an expert. It’s likely a different challenge and experience for each individual, but I have noticed there are a lot of library resources right here that can help with the process. What a privilege it is to be part of a library that serves so many in so many meaningful ways!

There are self-help books that help you to think financially smarter about retirement or how to set goals and a bucket list for a more ‘fulfilling’ next life chapter. The ‘Parachute’ series is one such resource.

Screen-Shot-2016-05-18-at-12.32.06-PM.pngWhat Color is Your Parachute? For Retirement by John E. Nelson

“Today’s economic realities have reset our expectations of what retirement is, yet there’s still the promise for what it can be: a life stage filled with more freedom and potential then ever…What Color Is Your Parachute? For Retirement offers both a holistic, big picture look at these years as well as practical tools and exercises to help you build a life full of security, vitality, and community.” (Publisher summary)


How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie J. Zelinski

“The key to achieving an active and satisfying retirement involves a great deal more than having adequate financial resources; it also encompasses all other aspects of life–interesting leisure activities, creative pursuits, physical well-being, mental well-being, and solid social support.” (Publisher summary)

I’m imagining retirement as a transition into something less definable than ‘fading gently into the sunset’. Maybe it’s time to take stock of my life and its many mistakes and learn from them as best I can. How can I be of service to others when I don’t have a 9-4:30 job anymore? How can I work on neglected parts of my life with hope and not give in to despair? After all the external labels like ‘Library Marketing Assistant’ are stripped from me, who am I anyways? Somehow I think reflective books as well as works of fiction and movies might be the ticket for me, and maybe for others too.

Here are just a few alternatives for those dreaming about retirement, or who are about to go down this hopeful yet scary path into the unknown with me:

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

This perhaps is a movie and a book about how not to retire, a cautionary tale about leaving your job in bitterness!

” …Fredrik Backman’s heartwarming debut is a funny, moving, uplifting tale of love and community that will leave you with a spring in your step… At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet. He thinks himself surrounded by idiots – neighbours who can’t reverse a trailer properly, joggers, shop assistants who talk in code, and the perpetrators of the vicious coup d’etat that ousted him as Chairman of the Residents’ Association. He will persist in making his daily inspection rounds of the local streets.
But isn’t it rare, these days, to find such old-fashioned clarity of belief and deed? Such unswerving conviction about what the world should be, and a lifelong dedication to making it just so? In the end, you will see, there is something about Ove that is quite irresistible….”

About Schmidt directed by Alexander Payne

Loosely based on the book of the same name by Louis Begley, this fascinating movie is about self-discovery of a very ordinary person:

“Warren Schmidt is a retired insurance salesman, who at age 66 has no particular plans other than to drive around in the motor home his wife insisted they buy. He’s not altogether bitter, but not happy either, as everything his wife does annoys him, and he disapproves of the man his daughter is about to marry. When his wife suddenly dies, he sets out to postpone the imminent marriage of his daughter to a man he doesn’t like, while coping with discoveries about his late wife and himself in the process.” (rottentomates.com summary)

index-2.aspx.jpegFalling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life
by Richard Rohr

“In Falling Upward, Rohr seeks to help readers understand the tasks of the two halves of life and to show them that those who have fallen, failed, or ‘gone down’ are the only ones who understand ‘up.’ Most of us tend to think of the second half of life as largely about getting old, dealing with health issues, and letting go of life, but the whole thesis of this book is exactly the opposite. What looks like falling down can largely be experienced as ‘falling upward.’ In fact, it is not a loss but somehow actually a gain, as we have all seen with elders who have come to their fullness. Explains why the second half of life can and should be full of spiritual richness Offers a new view of how spiritual growth happens and loss is gain. This important book explores the counterintuitive message that we grow spiritually much more by doing wrong than by doing right.” (Publisher summary)

I imagine I concur. Retirement will not be much of anything unless I’ve learned – or am learning – at least from some of the mistakes from my ‘first half of life’.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

This is a quirky yet lovable book about a recently retired man who decides to make profound changes to his predictable life. His long-suffering wife is surprised when he decides to walk 500 miles in an attempt to save a dying work colleague. “It’s the proverbial case of a man going out to mail a letter and never coming home.” (Publisher quote)

Think ‘Forrest Gump’ for the middle-aged. I have an affinity for this book since I took a walking tour of England last summer, but not for 500 miles! Walking I find is a great metaphor for exploring outer and inner worlds at the same time.


Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Ann Lamott

“…Lamott ventures to explore where to find meaning in life. We should begin, she suggests, by ‘facing a great big mess, especially the great big mess of ourselves.’ It’s up to each of us to recognize the presence and importance of mercy everywhere — ‘within us and outside us, all around us’, and to use it to forge a deeper understanding of ourselves and more honest connections with each other. While that can be difficult to do, Lamott argues that it’s crucial, as ‘kindness towards others, beginning with myself, buys us a shot at a warm and generous heart, the greatest prize of all.” (Publisher summary)

Wow. That’s a lot to learn, but I do have the rest of my life. I guess we all do.

Au revoir!

  • Lyle



BookFest! The Bookiest of Days!

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

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

1-handwrittenBook Tastings

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

Here are the 30-minute seatings:

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

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

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

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

2How to Judge a Book by Its Cover

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

See what I mean by a headless cover?


3-2Book Fair

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

number-4   Colour & Create

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


number-5-handwritten     Book Club Corner

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


 And Even More Books!

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


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




“Great Scott!”

As summer winds down, the nights get cooler, and we realize another eight months of cold is about to begin, I can’t help but wish I could stop time, rewind back to May, or fast forward through the winter.

Time travel has long been a popular sub-genre of science fiction in books as well as on the big screen. H. G. Wells spearheaded the movement (and arguably the genre itself) with his classic novella The Time Machine. In this story, the Time Traveler ventures eons into the future and is surprised and disturbed by the disparity between the upper and lower classes, which now form two separate species.

replayAudrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife is about a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel, and his wife, who is forced to cope with his unpredictable absences. Replay by Ken Grimwood tells the story of a 43-year-old man who dies and awakens in his 18-year-old body. Some say this novel was a precursor for the comedic time-loop film, and one of my personal favourites, Groundhog Day.

groundhogMany other films have aimed to capture the thrill of time travel. Michael J. Fox won our hearts as he drove the DeLorean from 1985 to 1955 in Back to the Future. Woody Allen brought our favourite writers of the 1920’s to life in Midnight in Paris. Arnold Schwarzenegger even used time travel to go back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor in The Terminator!

Current research on time travel argues it is possible to bend time if we can travel faster than the speed of light. Stephen Hawking outlines this theory, along with others, in his famous essay How to Build a Time Machine. Hawking does an excellent job of breaking down cosmology and fourth dimensions into layman’s terms: “All you need is a wormhole, the Large Hadron Collider or a rocket that goes really, really fast.”

futureYes, the grass is always greener, but travelling back to fix a mistake, or fast forwarding to a cool, futuristic city seems pretty tempting. Sadly for us, the ability to time travel isn’t readily available yet, so reading about it in our favourite books will have to do for now. But, if we stop and think, we might find we do time travel in our own small ways. Every time we recycle a fashion trend from the 90s, listen to vinyl, or pore over pictures on our iPhones. Every time we read about the past and dream about the future. We don’t need the DeLorean to time travel – just our imaginations.

*Check out our “Great Scott!” display on the main floor at Millennium Library for more materials on time travel, outer space, and science fiction.


Mental Meandering Leads to Picturesque Picnic


Tap, tip, tip, tap, tap…tap.*sigh* It’s been raining again. This is not a very auspicious beginning to a Sunday morning. As I lie awake in my bed, I begin to ponder what to do. Do I get up and prepare for this afternoon’s picnic in the hopes that the weather will clear, or do I stay curled up in bed and finish that novel I started last night. Woman readingTap, tap, tap, whoosh. I turn my head and notice the rain falling harder as the wind picks up. My bed and book win out. I rise slowly and soon make myself comfortable with a small fort of pillows. As I find that lovely equilibrium between fantasy and reality, my mind begins to wander. Within my hands, I am holding a miraculous journey of creativity. A person of unknown, and dare I say, even mysterious circumstances, has given birth to an idea, an idea that, through painstaking love and determination has been brought into being. Ideas are fluid, unfixed and in some cases, unstable. Yet a writer takes this idea and transforms it into a form that becomes more accessible, more available, dare I even say more real than the original idea itself. book-gift-wrap1-300x290From birth, this idea has grown through the passage of many hands and many thoughts to arrive in a new form, a new means of expression that touches those who come in contact with it. This is why I find the writer to be both unknown and mysterious, for they are a person I will most likely never encounter, yet I experience the journey the idea has taken and become a part of it.

My mind stops here and I realize how much time I have spent woolgathering. It looks like the rain has finally died down. I put down my book reluctantly and get up to start packing for the picnic. As I stand in the kitchen, I notice the large pile of books awaiting my perusal on the dining room table. usedbookboxApril 30th marked the 53rd annual Children’s Hospital Foundation Book Mart at St. Vital and as usual, I made sure I could make an appearance this year. I have very fond memories of the book mart going back as far as I can remember. Each year on opening day, we would line up at the genre of our choice (children’s when I was little and sci-fi now that I’m older) and wait for the doors to open. Do you remember when there used to be large white booths that were crammed with books and boxes or more books on the floor and the crowds were so thick, it was like being in a sauna? Those were always very happy memories, because I always knew that I would walk away with some new book that would lead me into a new experience I never thought to expect. Plus I always felt that I earned my books because I took the time to see what was out there and appreciate the novel ideas. Some of my finds for this year include:

indexGlobish: How the English Language Became the World’s Language by Robert McCrum. As the title suggests, it is a history of the English language, but with a twist. It also discusses how different cultures, ideologies, and even to some degree, politics, led to the English language becoming the dominant language of our world.

index1Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Clay has left his previous job as a web-designer and now finds himself working at a bookstore. Only things are a little strange. Customers are coming in at all hours, and finding obscure titles, yet never actually buying anything. What is going on?

By far my best find of the day was two copies of The Teddy Bears’ Picnic; one by picnic2Jimmy Kennedy and the other is by Renate Kozikowski. When I was little, my mother used to sing me the song about teddy bears going to a picnic, which at the time, didn’t seem so strange. One of my favorite shows growing up was Rupert, both a book and tv series about this bear, dressed in a red sweater and yellow pants with a yellow scarf ,went on all these adventures with his friends. picnicThis was long before such children’s shows as Little Bear, Octonauts and Max & Ruby, though Peter Rabbit, the Care Bears and Babar were around at that point. In any case, the idea that animals could talk and do anything is quite appealing to a child. It reinforces the notion presented in A Little Princess, by Frances Hogson Burnett, and later by Toy Story, that toys live their own lives when we are not present. But if we could witness what adventures they have, what marvels we would see. It is this question of being a witness, of engaging, or of being a part of tale, even if only by reading it that never ceases to amaze me. Even when separated by time and space, a book, an idea still has as much presence as when it was first created.
picnic3I better run. It’s getting late. The 28th annual Children’s Hospital Foundation Teddy Bears’ Picnic at Assiniboine Park is starting. While it has not been running as long as the book mart, the effect is the same: to raise money for charity, to reveal new worlds and new ideas to children and to have a lot of fun in the process. Huh, would you look at that. The sun is finally making its debut. So farewell for now and remember:

If you go down in the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise
If you go down in the woods today you’d better go in disguise;
For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain
Because today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic*

*Song by John Walter Bratton, Lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy. Available on CD.














Restaurants and the experience of eating out

Venite ad me, omnes qui stomacho laboratis, et ego restaurabo vos“. 

Translation: “Come to me, whose stomach screams in misery, and I will restore you.”  Motto on the door of the first restaurant, Paris 1765.

It seems strange to think that there was a time without restaurants in either America or Europe until a certain Roze Boulanger opened his business in pre-revolution France.  There were taverns that served alcohol, and inns where clients could expect a meal prepared by the innkeeper served at a common table, but no menu selection was available, nor was it offered all day. There indeed was no establishment that served selected cooked meals to their clientele.  The term “restaurant” itself used to mean a broth  of concentrated meat juices that was prescribed to restore one’s strength (hence the origin of the name).  Mr Boulanger had to fight in court for his right to serve meat (forbidden at the time unless you were member of a guild) as part of a variety of dishes available to the public in his establishment, but others quickly opened their own “restaurants” and the rest is history.

I discovered this by reading The invention of the restaurant: Paris and modern gastronomic culture by Rebecca Spang, which tells of the evolution of the early history of restaurants, and of the concept of gastronomy (fancy eating) as a new facet of popular culture.  Something that was once the realm of aristocracies and their personal kitchens became available to the emergent bourgeoisie, and eventually to everyone.

Canada is not exactly the most high-profile country as far as haute cuisine is concerned, but we have carved our own unique niche in the gastronomy and hospitality business.  Canadians at table : food, fellowship, and folklore: a culinary history of Canada by Dorothy Duncan covers the entire length of Canada’s history with food, starting with its first European settlers’ attempt to adapt their food habits to a new world with First Nations’ practices (most notably pemmican), and to integrate local plants and fauna into their diets. In addition to providing glimpses at what Canadians ate and how it evolved to the present day, the book covers topics like the importance of public markets for new settlers, the proliferation of cookbooks written by organizations for fundraising, and the history of local supermarkets and restaurant chains that became national brands.  Restaurant menus from different eras give readers an idea of what Canadians’ experience of eating out involved.

For those in the mood for a lighter read, You gotta eat here! : Canada’s favourite hometown restaurants and hidden gems is all about the lesser known but still excellent local restaurants and diners all over the country, including some in Winnipeg, which are worth discovering when you visit.  The book includes recipes of favourites from each establishment and fun descriptions of the author’s eating experiences.  The book has just arrived in our collection and has inspired me to try out “maple fried oatmeal.”  Also, kudos to the authors for including Schwartz’s Deli, a Montreal institution.  On a more local note, Russ Gourluck’s books about Winnipeg’s North End neighborhood and Portage Avenue contain many stories about popular local eateries, some no longer in existence, but others who are still very much part of the city’s popular attractions.

If you are looking for the best places to eat in the whole world, if you want to REALLY eat out, there is a book for that: Ultimate food journeys : the world’s best dishes & where to eat them. Whereas a travel guide is a book filled with information on what to see and where to stay with some recommendations on where to eat, this book is the reverse: it’s all about global gastronomy and the best places to eat with some recommendations on where to stay and sights to see.  The book is gorgeously illustrated and is very thorough in its coverage of every continent.

After World War II, speed – as symbolized by the automobile – became a symbol of the new modernity and restaurants adapted by introducing fast food (or, if you prefer, “good food, quickly”) and the drive-in/drive-through service.  Car hops and curb service : a history of American drive-in restaurants, 1920-1960 tells the story of this trend which first appeared in California and spread to the entire continent.  The book is full of great historical photographs as well as reproductions of menus and memorabilia spanning the 1920-60’s decades that preceded large fast food chains.

Food trucks : dispatches and recipes from the best kitchens on wheels deals with another aspect of the evolution of restoration: the mobile kitchens, or food trucks which serve an incredibly diverse variety of meals to a pedestrian clientele (hence the term “street food”) at affordable prices.  Even though the focus is on American cities, it is worth the read for the personal anecdotes from the owners of those movable feasts.

I am sure everyone has their own favourite eating-out spots, so please give suggestions, or share memories of places no longer open for business.


What are some (possibly) great upcoming book-based movies?

What are some (possibly) great upcoming book-based movies? I ask myself this at least a couple times a year. This is one of those times, given that the best non-action-with-amazing-special-effects movies are released in the last part of the year to catch a glimmer of Oscar fever.

Book-based movies to me imply quality plots with intriguing, provocative stories and great characters – even characters that develop. Car chases, explosions and 3D effects are somehow of lesser importance. But the reality remains: some movies made from books are just not as good as the books that inspired them. Successful adaptations are possible, but not a guarantee. (Two recent films that survived translation were the films made from Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo [both versions!] and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner).

Why so difficult? Because the mediums are so different. Movies are a more linear form, and can only ‘show’ maybe 100 pages of a book in a comfortable period of time. Books can play on our imagination at different levels that movies can’t seem to reach. For instance, it’s not easy to put the complex interior thoughts of characters on screen, nor the narrator’s guiding voice. I’ve heard that in the upcoming adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina whole sets of characters have been excised to make the film manageable. (Given Tolstoy’s sprawling prose, this was probably a very good idea.)

Although great books are hard to translate to screen, I am glad filmmakers make the attempt. Often they show great creativity as brand new works of art come into being before our eyes. Maybe we need to see movie adaptations as entirely different animals, and not compare them so much to their book counterparts? (An almost impossible thing to do if you’ve read the book before the movie!)

Here are just a few upcoming movies based on books you can borrow in the library:

Les Miserables‘  – Apparently this is the first musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic tale. Why it could be good? A formidable cast for starters: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway. A vivid story of crime and punishment in which ex-convict Jean Valjean searches for redemption in revolutionary France.

Life of Pi‘ (original book here) –  A fantastic tale of a Indian zookeeper’s son lost at sea with only a wild tiger to keep him company. Based on Canadian Yann Martel’s bestseller. Trivia: Martel had a hard time selling his manuscript. Many have wondered if this book could ever be put to film, but apparently even Martel likes what director Ang Lee has done!

Rise of the Guardians‘ is a popular inventive children’s book series by William Joyce. Classic characters like the Tooth Fairy and Jack Frost come to life to challenge the villain, ‘Pitch the Boogieman’ voiced by Jude Law. Has potential for a fun kids’ movie.

Midnight’s Children‘ is based on the 80’s book by Salman Rushdie.  “A pair of children, born within moments of India gaining independence from Britain, grow up in the country that is nothing like their parents’ generation.” Intriguing.

Jack Reacher‘ – A movie made for Tom Cruise’s talents based on the works of British author Lee Child. “A homicide investigator digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims.” This wouldn’t be another movie about vigilante justice, would it?

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty‘ — starring and directed by Ben Stiller, based on the James Thurber short story. A timid man who lives life vicariously through heroic daydreams embarks on a true-life adventure when a negative goes missing. Coming later in 2013.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I almost don’t need to give a reminder about this one. The first of three movies by Peter Jackson to be released over the next 18 months. “A curious Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, journeys to the Lonely Mountain with a vigorous group fo Dwarves to reclaim a treasure stolen from them by the dragon Smaug.”

There are many more coming down the road including Oz: The Great and Powerful,  Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations (yes, another one!), Serena, and, you might have guessed, On The Road.

What do you like best? Reading the book before seeing the movie, or the other way around?


Upcoming Books to the Screen…

We know the books are ‘better’ but seeing the movie version often enhances our understanding of the story, its characters and the subtle relationships between all the parts. And they give us another delicious chance to relive the great novel we just read. But which books adapted for the screen are coming to the movieplex or your stay-at-home theatre? Maybe we can read before we see (or do you like reading the book after the movie?).

A widely read book that is just out in theatres is the movie version of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. Set in the South in the early ’60s, it’s the story of three African American women who work as household maids in rich white homes. Wikipedia explains: “The stories of the three women intertwine to explain how life in Jackson, Mississippi revolves around ‘the help’, with complex relations of power, money, emotion, and intimacy typing together the white and black families of Jackson.”

The Hedgehog is an intriguing subtitled French comedy-drama about Paloma, a really bored 11-year-old who decides to kill herself on her birthday. Adapted from the best-seller The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, the pessimist child, you may be happy to note, questions her dour fate after entering unlikely friendships with her offbeat concierge and a neighbour.

I love a good spy thriller, so the film version of John Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is much anticipated. “In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6’s echelons.” Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and the amazing Benedict Cumberbatch star, among others. For curious minds everywhere, can you beat a movie where no one should be trusted, and everyone is a suspect? I like the movie’s tagline: “How do you find an enemy who is hidden right before your eyes?”

On a more sensitive and heart-rending topic, we can look forward to the movie version, starring John C. Reilly and Tilda Swinton, of We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. “The mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree tries to deal with her grief — and feelings of responsibility for her child’s actions — by writing to her estranged husband.” Think bullies at school turning your kid into a monster. Yikes!

The Descendents starring the ineffable George Clooney looks promising, and is due in theatres in late fall. Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, it’s the dramatic story of a father trying to reconnect with his two daughters after his estranged wife is left on life-support after a boating accident. A study of the impossible, parenting — the proverbial generational gap — while dealing with grief.

The movie Carnage, based on the play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, “tells the story of two sets of parents who decide to have a cordial meeting after their sons are involved in a schoolyard brawl.” This battle of wills is a lot more about the parents and spouses than the scrapping kids. Directed by Roman Polanski, and stars Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet.

These are just a few selections, but more are in the works. Books being turned into movies for release in 2012 include Yann Martel’s engaging Life of Pi, and The Hobbit by some guy named J.R.R. Tolkien. Heard he’s a pretty good writer!