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Why you should judge a book by its cover.

November 26, 2014 | Soheli | Comments (6)

I'm guilty of reading pretty books. Chances are, you've been sucked into that too.

I recently had the pleasure of listening to Peter Mendelsund, sought-after book cover designer, talk a little about what goes into the process of design. 

If you think you haven't heard of him or seen his work, think again:

Stieg Larsson Trilogy

Here is some of his Kafka art:

Kafka Covers by Mendelsund.

Looking familiar yet?

An avid reader himself, Peter describes the process of interpreting a book into a single look as sometimes exhausting, but a great chance to connect words and art to make sometimes simple, but memorable, covers. For The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he drafted nearly fifty versions before he settled on the subtle swirls we now know so well.

As he's often asked to do covers for many works by a single author, he plays with thematic elements that become a thread through them all: note his use of the eye in his Kafka series. (Some of his art has become so iconic, it's even made it onto phone cases and tote bags, which Peter finds both "strange and awesome.")

With other covers, he will focus on the particular feel of a book rather than a straight forward representation of 'what it's about'. In his design of Lolita, he reminds us that the story is still often child-like, and as a reader, he could never quite shake the idea that lovely Lo is really just a little girl despite the very adult situations. The pink paper cut out, phonetic spelling, and girl-ish handwriting covers allude to that.

Pink paper cut out cover of Lolita   Spelling out Lolita and Handwriting

 A lot of thought goes into designing the jackets of these books. Many of the titles have been published before, so a designer's job is often attempting to re-interpret a story or character and appeal to a broad audience. If you want to check out more of Peter's eye-catching designs, take a peek at his latest art book, the aptly titled Cover. And as if it wasn't quite ambitious enough, he's also released another book, What We See When We Read, this year. You can also read a review from the National Post about it that explores how we visualize and create meaning when we read.

Cover by Peter Mendelsund  What We See When We Read

If you're feeling inspired by all of this book jacket eye candy and are suddenly re-thinking your current career path, Peter also offers an online design course.

Of course, there are tons of other memorable, distinctive and gorgeous book covers from all over. Maybe you've heard of a little something called Jurassic Park?

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.

This easily recognizable cover art is courtesy of designer Chipp Kidd. He's also written a book for would-be designers called Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design

GO: a Kidd' s Guide to Graphic Design 

His design work is hugely diverse, with covers ranging from the deceptively simple...

The Antagonist  A Wolf At the Table
(The Antagonist by Canadian author Lynn Coady and A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs) dazzling, colourful images that catch you off guard:

1Q84  South of the Border West of the Sun
Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 and South of the Border, West of the Sun (in eBook)

  Cool It
Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg

As Chip Kidd says, 

“Book designers responsibility is three fold. To the reader, to the publisher and most of all to the author. I want you [the reader] to look at the author’s book and say,

‘Wow, I need to read that.’” 

Her Story: Women in Politics

November 7, 2014 | Soheli | Comments (2)

About a hundred years ago, on November 7, 1916, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to the US Congress. Five years later, Canadians welcomed their first female member of Parliament, Agnes Macphail. Women have come a long way since then. Here are eight books to mark some of the memorable, (in)famous, and fierce women in politics.


Olivia Chow
My Journey

Although she lost the last election, Chow remains a strong voice for the New Democrats in Canada. Like Hillary Clinton, mentioned later, Olivia was also one half of a powerhouse political couple. My Journey chronicles her life, from a difficult transition from Hong Kong to Toronto as a teen to her rise on the #topoli scene.


Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin
Going Rogue: An American Life
Love her or hate her, Palin became a household name in 2008 when she ran, unsuccessfully, for vice president in the US elections. She remained governor of Alaska until the following year. She later wrote Going Rogue. If you're feeling a little more irreverent, try Going Rouge: An American Nightmare.


Condoleezza Rice
No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington

 Rice served as the 66th US Secretary of State - the first black female to hold the position. Like most politicians, she's received her share of criticism, but is still a notable figure in the intersection of race, gender and politics in the US.


HRC state secrets and the rebirth of Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton
HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton

To have a list of women in politics and not mention Hillary? Just. Not. Possible.


Angela Merkel
The Chancellor and her World

Merkel has served as the Chancellor of Germany since 2005. She joins the ranks of other 'firsts' in political history: she's the first woman to hold the position. She also became the longest running head of government in the European Union as of 2014. No big surprise that she's been named Forbes' Most Powerful Woman in the World this year.


Benazir Bhutto
Daughter of the East

Bhutto was Prime Minister of Pakistan twice; first in 1988, then again in 1993. She's credited as being the first female leader of a Muslim country. Nicknamed the 'Iron Lady' because of some of her tough political stances, Bhutto survived a coup d'état in the mid 90s only to later be assassinated in 2007.


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
This Child Will Be Great: 
Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President

 Yet another woman to break the barriers down! Sirleaf is the first elected female head of state in Africa and she currently serves as the President of Liberia. In 2011, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in promoting the rights and safety of women in some of the most impoverished nations in the world. 


Abigail Tarttelin's Golden Boy shines.

April 25, 2014 | Soheli | Comments (4)

Golden Boy by Abigal TarttelinEarlier this month, I picked up a pretty looking little novel called Golden Boy. The synopsis describes it as an exploration of gender and sexuality, but this book is so, so much more.

The titular golden boy is Max Walker. He's a bright, likeable teen with an adoring family, admiring friends and a reputation as an all around good guy. As typical as many parts of his life are, Max, however, is anything but ordinary.

Told in alternating perspectives, Golden Boy explores the complex legacies families share and hide. Max has spent his entire life simply accepting who he is - but acceptance doesn't always mean understanding. As he approaches his sixteenth birthday, he will be thrown into a whirlwind of emotions, labels and difficult decisions.

At its core, Golden Boy asks: who are you? What makes you who you are? And do you ever really know for sure?

I read this book in big, hungry gulps. Max's story is not only entirely unique to me, but is told in such vivid language that makes this novel hard to put down. There are parts of the story - mostly narration from his parents - that really highlight the fear of making the wrong choices and somehow failing to protect the ones you love. "Life turned out differently from what I had predicted," Max's mother, Karen, reflects. "I'm not always the best parent, but I try very, very hard."

Golden Boy is an emotional and gripping story that will be very hard to forget.

I look forward to Abigail Tarttelin's next book. Her style is definitely something that many readers will anticipate.

Don't forget to place a hold on Golden Boy and start reading!

Edit: May 7, 2014
It is probably important to note that there is a rather uncomfortable rape scene that unfolds pretty early on in this story. It is important to the plot, but this shouldn't stand as too much of a spoiler. Hopefully, you'll still be able to enjoy the rest of the story!


Best of 2013: It's Not Just About Books #1

January 25, 2014 | Book Buzz | Comments (0)

While it's true that the name of this blog is The Buzz...About Books, it is also true that Toronto Public Library has a lot of non-book items that are worth promoting. When I asked library staff members for their favourite books of the year, some people shared favourites in other formats, too. This is the response from AL, one of our resident television experts:

Don't have Netflix? Never fear, the library can assist you in your new year's resolution to finally go on a Breaking Bad binge! In fact, if you're thinking about staying inside for some marathon TV watching instead of venturing out on the wintry streets, we have many shows in our DVD collection suited for that weekend plan. Have you already seen every adrenalin-amped episode of 24 and watched every head-scratching hour of Lost? Here are some more shows best consumed without week-long waits between episodes:



Season 1
Season 2





Carnivàle, set in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl circa 1934, is the weird, maddening story of a travelling carnival and its colourful members and, incidentally, an ancient battle between light and dark. Run away to join this circus of creepy symbolism and disturbing dream sequences, but don't expect clear-cut resolutions.



Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4


After the Hulk-sized splash The Avengers made in theatres, you may have heard of Joss Whedon, pop culture's reigning god of geekdom. Many viewers who don't usually watch science fiction shows have been charmed by his space western Firefly, despite its untimely cancellation after only a season. Want more Whedon? You can access the complete series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel with your library card.

Freaks and Geeks

Freaks and geeks

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4
Disc 5
Disc 6

Reminiscing about the awkward halcyon days of high school? Even if you're not, Freaks and Geeks will make you chuckle and cringe and wax nostalgic about gym class, first love, and the early careers of James Franco and Seth Rogen.

The Hollow Crown

Hollow crosn



The Complete Series


Perhaps you feel like you haven't seen enough of the Bard on the small screen. New to our collection is The Hollow Crown, a BBC adaptation of four of Shakespeare's history plays collectively known as the Henriad. The impressive cast includes Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Patrick Stewart and Ben Whishaw.



Season 1
Season 2
Season 3

Based on the late Elmore Leonard's work, modern western crime drama Justified recently had its end date announced, so you can start organizing your schedule to catch up on its early seasons. It's well worth it - and unexpectedly funny - to make the trip into the deep dark hills of eastern Kentucky, where you'll meet the assorted villains of Harlan County and the marshals who try to keep them in line.



Season One
Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4
Disc 5
Disc 6



Season Two
Disc 1
Disc II
Disc III
Disc IV
Disc V


Rome wasn't built in a day, but you can theoretically watch it in a day if you prepare food in advance, minimize bathroom breaks and forgo sleep. This expensive pre-Boardwalk Empire, pre-Game of Thrones HBO production hits all the familiar gritty, bloody and sensual notes.

Best of 2013: Book Buzz Member Recommendations #2

January 16, 2014 | Book Buzz | Comments (0)

Book Buzz is Toronto Public Library's online bookclub. We love reading and we love sharing reading suggestions. The members have selected their best reads of the year. It's a nice mix of old and new titles, fiction and non-fiction.

All my friends are superheroes Breeding in captivity Daytripper English girl

All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman
thatguyalex says, "It's a short book with a magical realism bent about a guy trying to figure out how to get his wife back on a plane ride. I can't do it justice with an explanation, there are two moments where it just gave me chills (good chills). I loved it in a way that's rare for me and books these days. I like a lot of books, but love few and this one was a wonderful read!"

Breeding in Captivity: One Woman's Unusual Path to Motherhood by Stacy Bolt
Recommended by breathe_and_smile.

Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
Anonymous Librarian loved this graphic novel where each chapter is an alternate version of the main character's last day of life, each at a different point on his timeline.

The English Girl by Daniel Silva
Large Print
Talking Book (restricted to Print Disabled patrons)
October enjoyed this acclaimed spy novel.

Everything is perfect when you're a liar Fault in our stars February How to save a life

Everything is Perfect When You're a Liar by Kelly Oxford
nancypants says, "It's funny, sweet, relatable and honest. Every page makes me smile."

The Fault in our Stars by John Green
This YA book captured the imagination of many readers this year, including cmc who considers it "a modern take on Romeo & Juliet".

February by Lisa Moore
Talking Book (restricted to Print Disabled patrons)
bookworm 101 calls the Canada Reads winner "Beautifully written, haunting, important".

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Recommended by breathe_and_smile.

Related Post:

2013 Toronto Book Award Nominee: Giant

September 26, 2013 | Soheli | Comments (2)

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)

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)

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)

 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)

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.

Welcome to The Buzz...About Books -- the official blog of Book Buzz, Toronto Public Library's online book club.