Category Archives: literary

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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Totalitarian control. Censorship. Loss of Freedom. All of these things are as much of a concern in 2017 as they were decades ago. Since Trump entered office, Orwell’s 1984 has become a bestseller once again. There are growing concerns about government control, “Big Brother” and spying to name a few. However, while 1984 has been highlighted in North America’s conscious, there is yet another perspective that should be considered: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. While not quite as popular as Orwell, Bradbury makes excellent observations about Western Society’s possible downfall.

The world of Fahrenheit 451 is one of entertainment- parlour families shown on large screens in individual’s houses that one can interact with, radio, and the pastime of driving extremely fast for the fun of it. The average citizen has been amused into submission. They have no interest in books. It happened slowly- universities gradually lost all enrolment and therefore closed; schools became places to learn how things operate- not why. Individuals gradually become submissive and they were happy to abide by the illegality of books as they continued to be increasingly entertained. At least, most citizens were.

Guy Montag is a fireman- not a person who extinguishes fires- a person who creates fires largely for the purpose to destroy books and the places that house them. One day he meets 17 year old Clarrise McClellan who is so peculiar she makes Guy question his worldview- especially his definition of happiness and his career choice. He brings these questions home and to work which makes his peers suspicious.  His superior, Captain Beatty, comes to comfort him in his doubts about being a fireman – to promote happiness, since books cause unease and unrest in people. Surely they are the detriment to people’s happiness and must be destroyed at all costs. But Montag wonders, how can that be true since his wife tried to take her own life with sleeping pills one night? Surely, there must be a reason why some risk their lives to protect books- like one lady he himself helped burn.

As I read through Fahrenheit 451 I couldn’t help but apply the themes to my own life. I have an entertainment machine in the palm of my hand-my smartphone- and I often use it for mindless dribble more than for educating myself. I look at the party culture of my generation and the inability many of my peers have to think about even the short term future and it saddens me. As I gain encouragement from Bradbury and other writers, I have been changing what I do in my spare moments- listening to audio books in the commute to and from work, taking classes, and so forth. Let’s not be made passive by entertainment, but use leisure for building us up.

 

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

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cover of Swimming LessonsSwimming Lessons is the second novel by English author Claire Fuller. I was lucky enough to get an advanced reading copy of the book to review for our readers.

Swimming Lessons is a story within a story about a passionate but troubled marriage and its aftermath. Ingrid Coleman wrote letters to her husband, Gil, and hid them in his collection of books before disappearing, presumed drowned. In the present day, Gil sees a woman who looks like his wife and has an accident attempting to chase after her. His two adult daughters, Flora and Nan, return home to care for him. Flora, who never believed her mother was dead, desperately wants to know what happened to Ingrid; she doesn’t realize that the answers to so many of her questions lie hidden within the books around her.  

I loved Fuller’s descriptive passages, especially the ones detailing the world as Flora sees it (for example, “cigarettes the colour of wet bark” on pg 261). I found Ingrid’s letters to be absolutely fascinating, making Ingrid very alive and present throughout Swimming Lessons, even though she wasn’t physically there. Her letters overshadowed the present-day story about Flora, Nan and Gil for much of the book. But I also loved how the letters gradually became connected to the present more and more as the book progressed.

Swimming Lessons was a fantastic read that was extremely hard to put down. The book is expected to be published in early February – keep an eye out for it in our catalogue! We’ll also have an interview with Ms. Fuller here on this blog on February 1st, so stay tuned for that!

Interview with Amy Jones

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Amy Jones photoAmy Jones won the 2006 CBC Literary Prize for Short Fiction and was a finalist for the 2005 Bronwen Wallace Award.  She is a graduate of the Optional Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, and her fiction has appeared in Best Canadian Stories and The Journey Prize Stories.  Her debut collection of stories, What Boys Like, won the 2008 Metcalf-Rooke Award and was a finalist for the 2010 ReLit Award.  Originally from Halifax, she now lives in Thunder Bay, where she is associate editor of The Walleye.  Follow her on Twitter @AmyLauraJones.

Her debut novel, We’re All In This Together, has been chosen as the Thunder Bay Public Library’s first One Book: One Community title.  Be sure to check out tbpl.ca/onebook for more information,  and for details about our upcoming events and reading challenges!  She will also be participating in the International Festival of Authors‘ Lit on Tour event in Thunder Bay November 1st.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write We’re All In This Together?

Amy Jones: I always knew I wanted to write a novel set in Thunder Bay, ever since I moved here. I had been working on a few ideas, but nothing really stuck. We had visited Kakabeka Falls quite a few times, and every time I was there I would always wonder if anyone had ever gone over, either on purpose or accidentally. We would come up with scenarios, like, if you fell in here, would you be able to swim to shore? Do you think anyone could survive this? And one day it all just came together and I was like, this is it, this is what I need to write about. It just made sense, that this place that inspired me so much in life would provide me with the inspiration for my first novel.

You always knew you wanted to write a novel set in Thunder Bay – why is that?

For a couple of reasons. One, I really believe in the importance of representation, and I feel like the more books and movies and art that are set in Thunder Bay, or recreate the artist’s experience of Thunder Bay, the better understood Thunder Bay will be. It’s also important for people to see their own experience reflected back to them in art, and the number of people who have come up to me since the book has been published, so excited to read about a place they know, just proves that to me even further. Two, one of the themes I really wanted to explore in the novel is the idea of “home,” and that whole push-pull it exerts on all of us. One thing about Thunder Bay that stands out to me is how rooted people are here, how strongly they are connected to their families, and yet how many people have to leave in order to find work, or for school, or whatever. People want to go out and make their own way, but also the north always seems to draw people back. So it was the perfect place to explore those themes.

That’s very true! When reading We’re All In This Together, one of my colleagues noticed that you name some Thunder Bay restaurants (like Norma Jean’s and Nippers) but not others. Was there a reason for that?  Did you have to get permission to use the real names?

I use real names for places that don’t figure as prominently in the story, but I make up names for places that I don’t want to be beholden to reality when describing. For instance, Barkley’s is based on a specific bar but it’s not exactly that bar, and by naming it something else I can make it fictional, and therefore do what I want with it (no one can argue, for instance, about how “at the real bar, the bathrooms are on the OTHER side of the room!”)

I sure hope I didn’t have to get permission! I think my publisher would have told me.

I’m sure they would have! How many of the houses in your book are based on reality?

Most are based in some reality. I set the Parker’s house quite near my own for the same reason I made Finn and Nicki close to my age: laziness (it’s much easier to figure out years or distances that way!) But their house is not a specific house on Victor Street, it is more an amalgam of a few houses. Same with the house Katriina buys. I take elements I like from each house and put them together.

Remaining true to the way Thunder Bay people speak, your characters say things like “camp” instead of “cottage.”  Why did you decide to use this distinction, especially since your book is being read by people who may not be familiar with Thunder Bay colloquialisms?

It was really important to me to get things “right” about Thunder Bay, especially the feel of the place, the atmosphere, the certain culture. I don’t think any of the references I make are so obscure that people who are not from here wouldn’t understand what they were (or if they are, I make sure they are explained somehow). I remember during the editing process my editor asked me about a character saying that her friend moved “down south.” She thought it meant, like, Florida or the Caribbean (as I did, before I moved here!) But when I explained to her that this is how people from Thunder Bay refer to Southern Ontario, she was like, okay, it should stay.

We’re All In This Together has ten different characters who all get chapters as the narrator.  Why did you decide on so many narratives?

I didn’t really decide on it more than it just kind of happened. The novel began as two short stories, one featuring Finn and the other featuring Katriina. When I realized that there were similarities between the two, I thought, okay, this can be a longer narrative. Then as the story progressed, it became important to me for Kate to have a voice, because I didn’t want her story to be told only by others. Then London pretty much insisted on having a voice, too. After that, it became important to have the others in order to balance out the story, in order to show things from many perspectives. So much of the book is centred around perception, and how we all (especially within families) remember things differently, have different views of the same event. Having the multiple narrators allowed me to explore that further.

Did you have a particular character you identified with more than the others?

A lot of people tell me that they pictured me as Finn, maybe because she is the one who moved away from her family. And I definitely had a lot in common with London when I was younger. But if I were to pick a character I identified with the most, it would be Katriina—her constant over-thinking of things, of wanting to keep everything together for everyone. I find it hard to read over her scenes sometimes, because of that.

Okay, I have to ask – was the idea of the shark in Lake Superior based in reality at all?

Haha, no, it wasn’t! It’s just another of those things we always talked about, whether or not the possibility existed, if it had ever happened. I think I might have seen something on television about it once, probably on Shark Week. It became a joke between me and my boyfriend, because he is really afraid of sharks. And then, like everything else in my life, it just became fodder for fiction.

So what are you working on now?

A new novel! It’s in the very early stages right now, so I don’t want to jinx it, but I definitely feel like I want to keep up the momentum with the novel writing.

Good luck!  Let’s finish up with a little bit about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I don’t think it was just one… when I was a kid I loved to read, and would often invent new endings for books that I felt didn’t end the way I wanted them to (in fact, until I was an adult I always thought the blank pages at the end of books were there so you could write your own endings). When I first decided to try to write as a profession, I read a lot of contemporary Canadian and American short fiction: Lisa Moore, Barbara Gowdy, Annabel Lyon, Lee Henderson, George Saunders, Lorrie Moore, Aimee Bender, Rick Moody, Amy Hempel, Grace Paley. All of them inspired me in different ways.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I don’t think so, actually. Reading is such a personal thing, and it really breaks my heart when I try to match up someone I love with a book that I love and it doesn’t work. I don’t think there is one book out there that will speak to everyone, but as long as there is one book that speaks to you, that’s what matters.

And what are you currently reading?

I’m on a huge mystery kick, so I’ve been reading a lot of Laura Lippman, Tana French, Megan Abbott. I’ve just started the new Megan Abbott, You Will Know Me. I’m also really looking forward to the new Louise Penny at the end of the month!

We're All In This Together cover photo

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami “Life is Beautiful, Messy, Strange, and Chaotic”

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norwegian wood

 

Haruki Murakami is a difficult author to write about. He is one of my favourite writers, who surprises and delights me each time I begin a new novel of his. If there is one commonality that ties his novels together, it’s the fact that his body of fiction defies categorization. Murakami frequently writes about people’s intimate life experiences while they deal with love, loss, growth, pain and revelation. Often these stories are set within a certain point in history, which adds a human dimension to our understanding of that time.

Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” is just that novel. Published in 1987 to critical acclaim, “Norwegian Wood” has been cited as his best novel. “Norwegian Wood” tells the story of Toru, an introspective young man studying in Tokyo during the sixties. The story follows Toru’s coming of age while he navigates his new life in Tokyo as well as coming to terms with the unexpected death of his best friend, Kizuki. As Toru tries to understand Kizuki’s senseless passing as well as determine what path, both personally and academically to take, he rekindles his friendship with Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko.

Toru and Naoko soon realize that their feelings for each goes beyond friendship, which is further complicated by Naoko’s own inability to cope with Kizuki’s death. Naoko’s fragility makes it difficult to maintain a relationship with Toru, who eventually ends up falling equally in love with his classmate, Midori. Midori is radically different from Naoko, and Toru finds himself torn between the two loves of his life. As the plot delves deeper into Toru’s romantic and existential pain, Murakami effectively conjures the mood and atmosphere of the sixties, complete with historic and pop culture references.

The details of Toru’s experiences ultimately add up to Murakami’s sentiment that life can be beautiful and sad, tragic and unpredictable. Each and every one of us is on our own paths seeking truth in our lives and relationships. As we follow and listen to Toru’s first person narrative, Murakami reveals not only Toru’s thoughts, anxieties, and questions about life, but our own.

 

 

 

 

 

Shakespeare for the Queen’s 90th Birthday

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hrh Queen Elizabeth

In honour of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday, the Prince of Wales chose a selection from Shakespeare to commemorate the occasion. The passage was taken from Henry VIII and presented this morning on the BBC.

The reading from act 5, scene 5 (edited) begins: “Let me speak, sir.

For heaven now bids me; and the words I utter

Let none think flattery, for they’ll find ’em truth”.

It ends:

“She shall be, to the happiness of England,

An aged princess; many days shall see her,

And yet no day without a deed to crown it”

The extract is from a speech by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer to King Henry VIII after the birth of the future Queen Elizabeth I.  In consultation with Greg Doran, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Prince Charles  chose and read the selection for both the birthday celebrations and the 400th anniversary of death of William Shakespeare.

A Sonnet Upon Sonnets by Robert Burns

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Fourteen, a sonneteer thy praises sings;

What magic myst’ries in that number lie!

Your hen hath fourteen eggs beneath her wings

That fourteen chickens to the roost may fly.

Fourteen full pounds the jockey’s stone must be;

His age fourteen – a horse’s prime is past.

Fourteen long hours too oft the Bard must fast;

Fourteen bright bumpers – bliss he ne’er must see!

Before fourteen, a dozen yields the strife;

Before fourteen – e’en thirteen’s strength is vain.

Fourteen good years – a woman gives us life;

Fourteen good men – we lose that life again.

What lucubrations can be more upon it?

Fourteen good measur’d verses make a sonnet.

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The word sonnet comes from the Italian word “sonetto” which means “little song” and normally contains fourteen lines. Sonnets are divided into categories based on their rhyme scheme. Shakespeare’s poems follow the “abab cdcd efef gg” format. The other traditional sonnet types are Petrachan and Spenserian. The Spenserian sonnets follow the rhyming sequence of “abab bcbc cdcd ee”. The Petrachan or Italian sonnet was named for Francesco Petrarch who popularized the sonnet and began to appear in the 14th century.  This type of sonnet, has the rhyming pattern in the first octet of “abba abba” with the last six lines having various rhyming patterns.  It was lines in this sextet that mark the volta, or turn in the sonnet; so that the first eight lines posed a question and the final six answered it.

 

Young Adult Titles Inspired by Shakespeare (taken from the TBPL Teen Tumbler) Romeo and Juliet

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r and j poster

 

Inspired by Romeo & Juliet

Fielder, Lisa. Romeo’s Ex: Rosaline’s Story

Gabel, Claudia. Romeo & Juliet & Vampires

Jay, Stacey. Juliet Immortal & Romeo Redeemed

Marquardt, Marie. Dream Things True

Selfors, Suzanne. Saving Juliet

Serle, Rebecca. When You Were Mine

Taub, Melinda. Still Star-Crossed

Trout, Jenny.  Such Sweet Sorrow