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2013 Toronto Book Award Nominee: Giant

September 26, 2013 | Soheli | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...

Aga Maksimowska's Giant is one of those books that takes some time to sink into - and definitely takes time to forget.

Blogger Soheli dips into Giant.

Polish-Canadians may very well feel the authenticity of the locations and the political conflicts, but the universal nature of so much of this book will resonate with a multitude of readers.

Gosia, our 11-year-old protagonist, is a peculiar child trapped in an overgrown body: the Giant for which the novel is named. It is through her eyes that we are introduced to her grandparents, who care for her in Morena, a Polish suburb, along with her younger sister, Kasia. Her parents split up long before, with her father close by but mostly absent, and her mother away in Canada.

Although a significant part of the novel is about the political upheaval in Poland, eerily reminscent of the more recent Syrian, Libyan and Egyptian revolts, it was always the relationships between the characters that really struck me above all.

When Gosia and her sister leave Poland to join their mother in Canada, she is faced not only with the trauma of moving out of her motherland, but also the new journey of womanhood within a strange culture. She is unsure, scared: "Do you want to go to Canada?" her father asks her. She stutters back, "I-I don't know." Again, he throws out: "You think you'll like Canada better than your homeland? Do you? You think you'll be happier with your mother and her gigolo?"

Happiness is an elusive emotion for Gosia, but once in Toronto, she does her best to settle into a foreign life: she borrows books on basketball from the North York Central Library, hides out at school after classes, and watches news reports about the Iron Curtain and the end of Communism in Europe.

Watching Gosia transform, from a sullen child, to a somewhat more collected young woman with a university scholarship in hand, is what this story is about. As a child of immigrants myself, there were so many parts that just encapsulated so much of what it means to grow into yourself without any real guidelines. By the end, Gosia's sister remarks:

"You feel what you feel: Canadian. It's good. You're definitely not Polish anymore, just your own wierd hybrid."

Giant is one of the five 2013 Toronto Book Award nominees. The winner will be announced October 9. To read Giant, place a hold or see a librarian at any branch for assistance. Good luck to all the nominees!


Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir by Amanda Knox

May 16, 2013 | Viveca | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

Waiting to Be HeardWaiting to be Heard: a Memoir by Amanda Knox promises to tell her side of a particularly brutal story.

Knox, an American student living in Italy, was sentenced to 26 years for the 2007 murder and sexual assualt of her British roomate, Meredith Kercher. Knox's boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito was also convicted for his role in this gruesome murder.

In 2011, the convictions were overturned on appeal and both were released.  In March 2013, these acquittals were reversed and a retrial ordered.

Sensational media coverage with reports of satanic rites, sex, drugs, police brutality, false allegations, conspiracies, and cover-ups makes it difficult to tell fact from fiction. 

Here is a timeline of the main events. 

One thing is clear: people just love to hate Amanda Knox. Social media and online communities are fixated on the 25-year old woman now living in Seattle. 

Her supporters claim she is a victim of a sexist and corrupt judicial system. Her haters (and there are many) claim she is simply a pretty little liar - a psychopath who might get away with murder.  

Here's some recent coverage of her book: Toronto Star, Globe, New Yorker, CBC, Telegraph, Guardian, and The New York Times.

Watch an excerpt from Knox's first interview after her release from prison with Diane Sawyer. Full interview (warning-some graphic content): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6

Listen to her Canadian interview on the CBC. 


Meredith Kercher, Age 19 in England

Meredith Kercher


The Kercher family responds to the release of Knox's book and her impending retrial. Meredith's father, John Kercher, is a journalist and has released a book in the UK about his daughter (to date, it's not available in Canada).

 Further reading available at the Toronto Public Library:

A Death in Italy
 Honour Bound

Angel Face

The Fatal Gift of Beauty

Planning a Harlem Shake? Resources to Optimize Your 30 Seconds of Fame

February 19, 2013 | Viveca | Comments (3) Facebook Twitter More...

Just perfected your Gangnam gallop?  Forget it - the Harlem Shake is where it's at.  Baauer, a Brooklyn producer, released this electronic dance groove last May. This month, a 30-second concept video set to Baauer's song went viral.  Not only that, 40,000+ videos have since been posted to YouTube by people doing their own version. Celebrities, office workers, firefighters, grannies, cats, campuses and the military are offering their spin on the Shake.  Check it out on CBC and CTV, in the Star, the L.A. Times, the Independant, Forbes, and the Huffington Post

Here's how it works: a lone dancer (wearing a helmut or mask) dances to the intro, ignored by those around them. The beat drops, a jump cut, and everyone goes nuts. Dancers in costume (or in underwear), waving props, do a very loose approximation of the Harlem Shake - an old-school hip hop dance made famous by American rapper, G-Dep in Let's Get It.  

Here is a fraction of the funniest (heads up: some are nerdishly naughty).

*Updated*  Check out this interesting video response: Harlem Reacts to 'Harlem Shake' Videos.

Planning your own Harlem Shake video?  Hurry, before the cool kids on Tumblr say this meme is over.   

YouTube Insiders Guide to Climbing the Charts Complete Idiot Guide to Memes Conquering YouTube 15 Minutes of Fame

 Culturematic  Watching YouTube YouTube

This version has only two people, but it's sweet.  Note the bemused family dog in the background.

Con los terroristas!


Related Posts:

The Skinny on The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet

February 4, 2013 | Viveca | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

 The Heavy Book CoverThe Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet by Dara-Lynn Weiss is the latest parenting memoir causing controversy with supporters and critics eager to weigh in.

Weiss put her overweight daughter on a strict calorie-based diet which she policed vigorously and very, very publicly. So public, in fact, that Weiss, a free-lance writer, got her story published in last April's Vogue, with photographs of mother and daughter in designer duds, sipping tea. 

Now here's the thing: Bea is only seven years old.

A firestorm of outrage followed the Vogue article - with Weiss at its epicentre, and according to her - she remains 'stunned' by the negative reaction.  As with Amy Chua's The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Weiss' memoir of extreme parenting evokes strong feelings from parents, pundits, doctors, critics, and bloggers.

The alarming statistics on childhood obesity is creating front page news, and Weiss' supporters see her as courageously proactive in protecting her daughter's health.  Conversely, her critics have accused her of damaging Bea physically and emotionally. Jezebel, a feminist blog, spared nothing in its assessment of Weiss and her project.  

Critics also zero in on her public enforcement of Bea's diet (just ask the Starbucks barista who put whipped cream on Bea's hot chocolate without asking). Indeed, much of this memoir is Weiss defending her actions against her many critics.  

Listen to Weiss' CBC interview today on the Current. Read the coverage in the Toronto Star, the Globe, Huffington Post, New York Magazine, UK Times, and Slate.  Watch the coverage on CTV and on ABC below (click on the link to take you to YouTube, then click on the new tab to view).


The Heavy is also available in these formats:

  Always the Fat Kid Overcoming Childhood Obesity Combat Fat Get a Healthy Weight for Your Child

Further Reading:

Related Posts:


Finally, on a lighter note: Internet cats and body image? 

Fluffy Not Fat Cat




Feeling Misérables?

January 23, 2013 | Viveca | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...

Les Miserables book coverVictor Hugo has a lot to answer for. His 1862 novel, Les Misérables, has been adapted for stage, screen, and radio, inspired music and art, and infiltrated popular culture with Susan Boyle, Sideshow Bob, Glee, and countless internet memes. Tom Hooper's recently-released film based on Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's musical has readers storming the barricades to check out this 19th century classic.  

Les Misérables isn't just a good read - it's a magnificent read.

Readers can be intimidated by the historical breadth of Hugo's novel. Prisoner 2-4-6-0-1 doesn't appear immediately - you must be patient. This is a book for a cold, dark night, to be read by candlelight with a glass of Bordeaux.  Hugo is a poet - his masterpiece on social injustice, love, and redemption is as beautiful as it is brutal. 

Would the lovely Anne Hathaway be as ready for her close-up if she appeared the way Hugo dreamed the tragic Fantine  - with her two front teeth knocked out? 


Reserve a copy of Les Misérables in French or English. The eBook is available in English and on audiobook in French in five volumes: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Watch Les Misérables in Concert: the 25th Anniversary Live on DVD. Listen to the original 1985 London cast on CD with Colm Wilkinson, Patti LuPone and Roger Allam.

On the right: the elegant "Javert in 12 Panels by the artist, ~hun-tun.

Further Reading:

The Reinvention of Love by Helen Humphreys. Toronto's award-winning novelist imagines Victor Hugo and his wife, Adèle, in a love triangle.

Cosette: a Sequel by Laura Kalpakian.  At least there are no zombies.

The Temptation of the Impossible: Victor Hugo and Les Misérables by Mario Vargas Llosa. Llosa, the 2010 Nobel Prize winner for literature, offers a passionate reading of Hugo's novel.

Victor Hugo: A Biography by Graham Robb

Related Posts: Red Carpet Reads

 Cosette Reinvention of Love Tempation of the Impossible Les Miserable in Concert  Victor Hugo A Biography

Hugo was no stranger to misery: his son Léopold died in infancy, his daughter Léopoldine drowned, and his youngest daughter, Adèle suffered from mental illness (the basis for François Truffaut's film, L'histoire d'Adèle H which is, sadly, unavailable at present).    

Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo circa 1853 photographed by his son, Charles Hugo

 Internet cats and Les Misérables?  Mais bien sûr.  Look down, look down . . .

  Grumpy Cat Le Miserable
The legendary Grumpy Cat.

Writing the Revolution by Michele Landsberg

October 9, 2012 | Beatriz | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...

 Why should Michele Landsberg's Writing the Revolution win the Toronto Book Award on October 11th? Let me tell you why:

To begin with, Writing the Revolution is a lively and unpretentious read. Composed mostly of articles selected from Landsberg's long career as a columnist for The Globe & Mail and The Toronto Star, Writing the Revolution is edited to follow the evolution of the feminist movement in North America in a neat and vivid arch.

Index.aspxYou don't have to have stood as witness to the events Landsberg so courageously wrote about (i.e. you don't have to be middle aged) to get excited about this book, because Writing the Revolution does a good job of taking you there, exemplifying through Landsberg's own trajectory the world that was Canada in the 1950's through the 1980's.

It wasn't all that good, as it turns out. Much needed to change. The activist work of women like Florence Bird (first Chair of The Royal Commission on the Status of Women), Doris Anderson (ground-breaking Editor of Chatelaine magazine), Kay Macpherson (first woman elected to the House of Commons), Jane Doe (tireless activist for victims of rape), June Callwood, and so many more, did, in fact, constitute a revolution, a transformation of Canadian society.

Writing the Revolution is meaningful and important, not just because Michele Landsberg is a good writer willing to fight for space in the male-controlled media of the time, but because she herself was an active agent of the change she was chronicling.

Painterly in its writing, these selections are accompanied with a plethora of photographs (don't miss Michele Landsberg and Stephen Lewis' wedding photograph on page 69) which bring to life the excitement of an era that shaped who we are today.

Beyond Honey Boo Boo: Scary Little Monsters in Fiction

September 24, 2012 | Viveca | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

The current fascination with TLC's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo proves that children, real or imagined, can become projections of adult fear and loathing.  For many, cheerful little Alana appears to be responsible for the impending fall of Western Civilization.  If this seems a tad unfair, and you would like to meet some truly terrifying children, try this reading list:

Bad Seed We Need to Talk About Kevin Blueeyed Boy Turn-of-screw

The Bad Seed by William March. This 1954 classic introduces Rhoda Penmark, an 8-year-old sociopath. You don't want her in your kid's playgroup.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.  Kevin's mom insists that something is "off" about her boy from the day he is born to the final, horrific act he commits as a teenager. Book clubs debate: whose fault is it?  Winner of the Orange Book Prize.  The film starring Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller is available at your local branch.

Blueeyed Boy by Joanne Harris.  Is this blue-eyed boy a murderer? If we believe his blog, yes. A dark, psychological thriller from the author of Chocolat.

The Other by Thomas Tryon. Niles and Holland are identical twins - and yes - one of them is evil. Don't reveal the ending. This 1971 bestseller continues to creep out readers today.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.  This 1898 classic is very sneaky in avoiding who or what is evil  - but Flora and Miles are two very creepy kids who drive the nanny insane (critics argue that it wasn't a long drive).  The 1961 film, The Innocents was based on this.

The OtherFifth Child Illustrated ManLord of the flies

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing.  The Lovatts live in domestic bliss with their four lovely children - until the birth of Ben.  Lessing, a Nobel prize-winner, says she hated writing this book because it was so upsetting.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding. A plane crashes leaving a group of young British boys stranded on an island. Twelve year-old Jack wants to be the leader - by any means necessary (he is nothing like the Jack in Lost.)

"The Veldt" in The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury.  Little Wendy and Peter are spending hours in the nursery using virtual technology to project an African veldt.  What are those lions eating?  Written in 1951 by one of the great sci-fi visionaries. Careful, parents: there may now be an app for this.

And if the classic sociopath fails to interest you, there are always the supernatural/demonic kiddies: 

Carrie Exorcist Bad Girls Don't Die The Ring

Related post: Psycho Killer: Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Eat Your Heart Out: Cookbooks to make you drool!

July 6, 2012 | Soheli | Comments (4) Facebook Twitter More...

I openly admit it: I'm addicted to cookbooks. I like to gaze lovingly at their rich covers, leaf slowly through their glossy pages, and, of course, silently promise myself that I'll try each and every mouth-watering recipe I stumble across. The truth is, however, I rarely end up actually making anything (and let's face it, you probably fall in that category too!)

Every once in a while, though, I do actually try something out. It becomes immediately clear that I have a few preferences of any cookbooks I pick up with intentions of actual cooking -

1. Simplicity is key. I can't stand instructions that begin with something like: "Now drizzle the sauce over the..." and then goes on to tell you how you should have prepared this sauce two days ago. Sigh. I don't mind a challenging recipe once in a while, but I don't generally start planning a dish days in advance.

Colourful and delicious!

2. I need photos. And lots of them. In high-def colour, please. A cookbook without pictures is a sad, sad thing.

3. Give me options! I'm usually pretty relaxed when cooking, and I actually rarely use recipes. My mother taught me to cook as a kid, and her idea of measurement was more along the line of: "Here, take some cumin and throw it in until it starts to smell amazing." At the same time, when I'm trying out a new recipe that involves flavours or ingredients I'm not very familiar with, it can be difficult to make my own substitutions or variations.

A cookbook that works in some variable ingredients is great, especially for a less experienced cook.

With BBQ season in full-effect, I've been going a little crazy with the grilling guides, but I'm always dipping into all cuisines. Here are a couple of books that are sure to get you inspired (or at least drooling)!

The New SteakThe New Steak: Recipes for a range of cuts and savoury sides
by Cree LeFavour
Place a hold on this book.

Don't be alarmed by some of the fancy sounding ideas in here: a lot of them are pretty easy. Check out the super simple roasted tomatoes (p. 40) or purple slaw (p. 69) as side dishes. I've yet to try out a steak recipe (I know; strange!) but so far, the ingredients listed for most of the recipes sound manageable, and the amount of time needed in the kitchen is reasonable.I like that there's a decent mix of meat and veggie-friendly recipes, so if you're cooking for a mixed crowd, you have a few items to choose from.


RasoiRasoi: New Indian kitchen
by Vineet Bhatia
Place a hold on this book.

This is a beautiful book: the photos are stunning, and Indian food takes on a glam that I never quite expected, despite having grown up cooking it! Most of the recipes come with a somewhat intimidating ingredients list, even if you have a well-stocked Indian spice cupboard. Try the simpler stir-fried rice varieties (p. 206), where you can easily toss in leftover odds and ends to suit your style. Bhatia actually even mentions that these dishes are "LOVE" dishes that consist of "Left Over Vegetables, Etc." For the most part, this was more of a book I'd consider for its visual appeal, although there are some great ideas.

ToomanytomatoesThe too many tomatoes cookbook:
classic and exotic recipes from around the world

by Brian Yarvin
Place a hold on this book.

This is one of those books that really is great when you have too many tomatoes. There is a good blend of recipes, as the title promises, and most require ingredients you probably already have. Yarvin almost mentions that a good number of the recipes call for "fresh, chopped tomatoes" and the kind of tomato really depends on you - so you can use whatever you have and still end up with a tasty dish. I personally love tomatoes, so I've made a few of the recipes in this book with satisying results. Try the Tomato-Brown Rice Pilaf (p. 131) which has only 2 main steps and less than 10 common ingredients! The Salsa recipe (p. 203) is also really easy and delicious, although I adjusted it a bit here and there.

Have a favourite cookbook? Or a cookbook you loved to look at (but avoided trying out...)? Share with us in the comments!

Dispatches from the War on the Internet

January 27, 2012 | John Elmslie | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

When Wikipedia darkened it's site last week to protest the passing of laws that would have placed new restrictions on our use of the internet to share books, music and video, I was very glad to have just finished reading two excellent collections of essays by Cory Doctorow on the issues involved.

Photo by Derryl Murphy

Cory Doctorow by Derryl Murphy

Content smallDoctorow was born in Toronto and has a reputation as an author of fine science-fiction and as a co-editor of the wildly popular blog Boing Boing. He has also been writing marvelously entertaining articles on the internet using down-to-earth, easy to understand language and examples from everyday life.

In his first collection -- Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future he writes in detail about the negative effects of Digital Rights Management (DRM) and other forms of control on the internet.

Doctorow's argument boils down to his belief that whatever we lose in the free exchange of information on the internet, we will gain in innovations which will enrich our culture in ways that cannot yet be predicted. Call him an optimist.

Doctorow has given away free downloads of all his novels from the beginning of his career. He has found that by making these copies free and encouraging his fans to share them online he has expanded the market for the printed editions of his books.

Context smallIn his latest collection -- Context: Further Selected Essays on Productivity, Creativity, Parenting, and Politics in the 21st Century he writes about how these issues affect him as a creative writer and as a new parent.

He explains intellectual property, the "information economy", copyright enforcement and digital licensing in clearly understandable ways.

His warnings about the vulnerability of our passwords and our personal data online are frightening and sobering.

He explains why streaming will never replace the downloading of music online.

He also talks about how he manages the hundreds of non-spam emails he gets every day, and why he will never buy an iPad.

Together these books cover ten years of exciting, insightful coverage of these increasingly important issues in a highly readable way.


Christopher Hitchens: 1949 - 2011

December 16, 2011 | Viveca | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

  Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens, British author and essayist, died last night of complications related to cancer. A fierce intellectual and polemicist, Hitchens was no stranger to controversy. Indeed, his impressive body of work has both engaged and enraged his many readers over the years - and his passing has resulted in an outpouring of editorials reflecting on his life and work.  

Read obits from the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the BBC, CNN, the Guardian, the National Post, the Wall Street Journal, The Daily Mail and Vanity Fair.

See Vanity's Fair's photo essay.  Read some of his memorable quotes here and here.

Watch Hitchen's inteview with Sally Quinn of the Washington Post in which he reflects upon his life's work. 


The Guardian reports on a forthcoming memoir, Mortality, based on his Vanity Fair columns.

Until then:

God is Not Great Christopher HitchensArguably Christopher Hitchens Hitch-22 Christopher Hitchens Quotable Hitchens Christopher Hitchens







Christopher Hitchens Young Man
Hitchens in 1968.


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