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Pet Therapy

February 5, 2016 | Carolyn | Comments (6) Facebook Twitter More...

  Let's count the ways in which pets are good for us:

  • they provide companionship
  • they give purpose to our days
  • they diagnose life-threatening illnesses

Come again?

It seems there may be some truth to stories about pets that sniff out tumors; there's enough anecdotal evidence that clinical trials are being conducted to test the ability of dogs to detect volatile cancer-related compounds. So when I saw Heal: the vital role of dogs in the search for cancer cures on a new book display recently, I was intrigued.

The author, science journalist Arlene Weintraub, spent two years researching the ways dogs are being used not only to detect human cancers but also to develop new therapies. Reading this fascinating book, I learned:

  • researchers working with dogs that find can tumors are hoping to identify exactly what they are detecting and develop a diagnostic tool with the same ability to identify cancers in early stages
  • dogs are ideal subjects for cancer studies, and in the field of research known as comparative oncology veterinarians and oncologists are working to apply knowledge gained from studying cancers in pets to develop new tools and therapies that will benefit both animals and humans                                                                              

Heal put me in mind of another book about dogs and cancer that I came across a couple of years ago. The author of Lucky Dog: how being a veterinarian saved my life is a veterinary surgical oncologist who tells the story of her diagnosis with thyroid cancer, and her treatment and recovery. I appreciated the way Sarah Boston conveys the warmth she feels for the animals in her care and her ability to find humour in her own journey as a patient. Comparing her experiences with those of her canine patients, she reaches conclusions about what our health care system could learn from the timely and compassionate care vets are able to provide to those pets whose owners are able to pay for it. In a 2014 Globe and Mail interview Sarah Boston discusses what we can learn from animal health care.


If you're interested in reading more about the ways in which pets can benefit human health:

The Role of Companion Animals in Counseling and Psychology: discovering their use in the therapeutic process. Book

Slavery, Antislavery and Resistance in 19th Century Toronto

February 1, 2016 | Carrie | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

Many Canadians are unaware that slavery existed here during the colonial period and that a number of prominent families in the Town of York (as Toronto was called until 1834) were slaveholders.

Upper Canada's first lieutenant governor, John Graves Simcoe attempted to abolish slavery in the colony but faced resistance from members of his legislative assembly, many of whom were slave owners themselves. He was able to pass a compromised version of his proposed legislation in 1793 which allowed for gradual abolition of slavery and prevented the further introduction of slaves into the province.

Toronto was also an important terminal of the Underground Railroad and became a hub of abolitionist activities. St Lawrence Hall was an important meeting place of the abolitionist movement and hosted the famous "North American Convention of Colored Freemen" in 1851.

The North York Central Library is excited to have Karolyn Smardz Frost on Wednesday, February 17 for her program entitled "Slavery, Antislavery and Resistance in 19th Century Toronto."  This seminar explores the experiences of the enslaved in the early Town of York,  and describes the resistance mounted by African Canadians against both slavery and racial oppression up to the time of the American Civil War.

Karolyn Smardz Frost is the Harrison McCain Visiting Professor at Acadia University, Nova Scotia, and a Senior Research Fellow for African Canadian History at the Harriet Tubman Institute at York University, Toronto. She was formerly the Bicentennial Visiting Professor for Canadian Studies (2012-2013) at Yale University. Smardz Frost won the Governor-General's award for English language non-fiction in 2007 for "I've Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad".

What: Slavery, Antislavery and Resistance in 19th Century Toronto

When: Wednesday, February 17 from 7:00-8:00 pm 

Where: North York Central Library, in the Concourse

For more information and to register: Please call the Society and Recreation Department at (416) 416-395-5660

Check out the other Black History Month programs happening at branches across the city during the month of February.

If you would like to read more about the history of blacks in Canada, check these out:

  The Promised Land   Black canadians   Ontario's African-Canadian Heritage   Black refugees in Canada
  I've got a home in a glory land   Underground railroad   Race on trial   The Underground railroad

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl and More New Books Hot Off the Presses

January 29, 2016 | Maureen | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...

When it comes to reading, I’m in no hurry. I love that new book smell as much as the next guy, but I can wait. The book I’m happily immersed in now was published 164 years ago -- I’m sailing aboard the Pequod, keeping company with mad Captain Ahab, on his mission of vengeance to destroy Moby Dick, the whale that devoured his leg. For those of you who like to stay ahead of the curve in your reading, here are some books hot off the presses. This post’s for you, brave explorers of the uncharted seas of the written word! As I write this, the books I've featured below haven't been released in Canada yet -- some will be released very soon, some within the next month or so. But you can reserve them – or, as we say in the library, place a hold on them. I've reserved several, including Mona Awad's debut novel, 13 ways of looking at a fat girl, which takes aim at our culture's obsession with appearance. Bonus: Lizzie, the main character, grows up in "Misery Saga" aka Mississauga.  So step right up, folks, get ‘em while they’re hot!

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
A Doubter's Almanac
A girl's guide to moving on
At the edge of the orchard

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad. Release date: February 23.

In her brilliant, hilarious, and at times shocking debut, Mona Awad simultaneously skewers the body image-obsessed culture that tells women they have no value outside of their physical appearance, and delivers a tender and moving depiction of a lovably difficult young woman whose life is hijacked by her struggle to conform. As caustically funny as it is heartbreaking, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl introduces a vital new voice in fiction. The Globe and Mail described it as "...horrific and funny, bleak and uplifting – grapples with ideas of self-worth, friendship, sexuality, and the lengths we will go to find beauty in the mirror".

A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin. Release date: February 16.

Milo Andret is born with an unusual mind. A lonely child growing up in the woods of northern Michigan in the 1950s, he gives little thought to his own talent. But with his acceptance at U.C. Berkeley he realizes the extent, and the risks, of his singular gifts. California in the seventies is a seduction, opening Milo's eyes to the allure of both ambition and indulgence. The research he begins there will make him a legend; the woman he meets there--and the rival he meets alongside her--will haunt him for the rest of his life.

A Girl's Guide to Moving On by Debbie Macomber. Release date: February 23.

A mother and her daughter-in-law bravely leave their troubled marriages and face the challenge of starting over. Leaning on each other, Nichole and Leanne discover that their inner strength and capacity for love are greater than they ever imagined. An inspiring novel of friendship, reinvention, and hope.

 At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier. Release date: March 15.

A riveting drama of a pioneer family on the American frontier. James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck - in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings so they can cultivate the 50 apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.

Cometh the hour
The assistants
The association of small bombs
The good liar

Cometh the Hour by Jeffrey Archer. Release date: February 16.

Cometh the Hour opens with the reading of a suicide note, which has devastating consequences for Harry and Emma Clifton, Giles Barrington and Lady Virginia. This is the penultimate book in the Clifton Chronicles and, like the five previous novels, showcases Jeffrey Archer's extraordinary storytelling with his trademark twists.

The Assistants by Camille Perri. Release date: May 3.

A wry and astute debut about a young Manhattanite whose embezzlement scam turns her into an unlikely advocate for the leagues of overeducated and underpaid assistants across the city. The Assistants speaks directly to a new generation of women who feel stuck and unable to get ahead playing by the rules. It will appeal to all of those who have ever asked themselves, "How is it that after all these years, we are still assistants?"

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan. Release date: March 22.

When brothers Tushar and Nakul Khurana, two Delhi schoolboys, pick up their family's television set at a repair shop with their friend Mansoor Ahmed one day in 1996, disaster strikes without warning. A bomb--one of the many "small" bombs that go off seemingly unheralded across the world--detonates in the Delhi marketplace, instantly claiming the lives of the Khurana boys, to the devastation of their parents. Mansoor survives, bearing the physical and psychological effects of the bomb.

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle. Release date: February 2.

Veteran con artist Roy is a born liar—and when he meets wealthy widow Betty online, he knows she’s an easy mark. In no time at all, he’s spinning his web of duplicity and betrayal around her, even moving into her lovely cottage. He’s sure his scheme will be a success. He’s done this before. A stunning and suspenseful feat of storytelling, The Good Liar unravels the past of a man who lives to deceive.

The high mountains of Portugal The life of elves The Nest The north water


The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel. Release date: February 2.

With this highly anticipated new novel, the author of the Life of Pi returns to the storytelling power and luminous wisdom of his master novel. The High Mountains of Portugal is a suspenseful, mesmerizing story of a great quest for meaning, told in three intersecting narratives touching the lives of three different people and their families, and taking us on an extraordinary journey through the last century. 

The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery. Release date: February 9.

Seven years after the publication of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery returns with a lyrical novel about the quest for enchantment in a world that seems to have forgotten such a thing ever existed. Maria lives in a remote village in Burgundy, where she learns that she has a gift for communicating with nature. Hundreds of miles away in Italy, Clara discovers that she possesses a stunning musical genius and is sent from the countryside to Rome to develop her preternatural abilities. The Life of Elves tells the story of two children whose extraordinary talents will bring them into contact with magical worlds and malevolent forces.

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney. Release date: March 22.

Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a 19-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs’ joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are but months away from finally receiving.

The North Water by Ian McGuire. Release date: March 15.

A 19-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp, and highly original tale that grips like a thriller. "A fast-paced, gripping story set in a world of gruesome violence and perversity, where 'why?' is not a question and murder happens on a whim: but where a very faint ray of grace and hope lights up the landscape of salt and blood and ice. A tour de force of narrative tension and a masterful reconstruction of a lost world that seems to exist at the limits of the human imagination." --Hilary Mantel


What is not yours is not yours
What lies between us
Why We Came to the City
Wreck and Order

What is Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi. Release date: March 8.

From the award-winning author of Boy, Snow, Bird and Mr. Fox comes an enchanting and thought-provoking collection of intertwined stories. Playful, ambitious, and exquisitely imagined, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is cleverly built around the idea of keys, literal and metaphorical. The key to a house, the key to a heart, the key to a secret--Oyeyemi's keys not only unlock elements of her characters' lives, they promise further labyrinths on the other side.

What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera. Release date: February 16.

In the idyllic hill country of Sri Lanka, a young girl grows up with her loving family; but even in the midst of this paradise, terror lurks in the shadows. When tragedy strikes, she and her mother must seek safety by immigrating to America. There the girl reinvents herself as an American teenager to survive, with the help of her cousin; but even as she assimilates and thrives, the secrets and scars of her past follow her into adulthood.

Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma. Release date: February 16.

Five years after their college graduation, the fiercely devoted friends at the heart of this richly absorbing novel remain as inseparable as ever: editor and social butterfly Sara Sherman, her troubled astronomer boyfriend George Murphy, loudmouth poet Jacob Blaumann, classics major turned investment banker William Cho, and Irene Richmond, an enchanting artist with an inscrutable past. A warm, funny, and heartfelt novel about a tight-knit group of twentysomethings in New York whose lives are upended by tragedy.

Wreck and Order by Hannah Tennant-Moore. Release date: February 9.

Decisively aimless, self-destructive, and impulsively in and out of love, Elsie is a young woman who feels stuck. She has a tumultuous relationship with an abusive boyfriend, a dead-end job at a newspaper, and a sharp intelligence that's constantly at odds with her many bad decisions. An autodidact who prefers the education of travel to college, Elsie uses an inheritance to support herself as she travels to Paris and Sri Lanka, hoping to accumulate experiences, create connections, and discover a new way to live.

Your Brain on Exercise: How Physical Activity Can Improve Your Mental Well-being

January 22, 2016 | Jeannette | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...

We all know that regular exercise is good for your health. But did you know that it also benefits your brain?

Studies have found that physical activity plays an important role in brain health and recovery.

Psychology Today explains that exercise increases blood flow to the brain which improves cerebrovascular health, releases neurotrophic factors like BDNF which stimulates the growth of new neurons, metabolizes glucose and lipids which brings nourishment to the brain and finally, it improves white matter integrity.

Another study found that light resistance training, like weight training, may also slow the age-related shrinking of some parts of the brain.

Join us at the North York Central Library to find out more about how exercise can improve mental well-being. The presentation will explore how the brain responds to exercise to prevent and manage symptoms of depression. It will also include best exercises and foods to stay mentally healthy.


What: Your Brain on Exercise: How Physical Activity Can Improve Your Mental Well-being

When: Wednesday, February 3rd at 7 – 8:15 PM

Where: North York Central Library, in the Auditorium

For more information: Call the Science & Technology Department at (416) 395-5649


In the meantime, here are some books about the benefits of exercise for the brain:

Exercise and the mind   Exercise for mood and anxiety   Healthy brain, happy life   Spark

Here are some books with activities and foods to keep your brain healthy:

The brain training revolution   Exercises for brain health   Mindfull   Power foods for the brain

And here are some exercise DVDs that are good for your health and your brain:

30 minutes to fitness   Maximum strength overload with Skip Jennings   Strength and stability training for the back and core   The tone every zone walk

There are also exercise e-videos, from Hoopla, that you can access from home with your library card:

The firm   Jillian Michaels beginner shred   Mari Winsor pink ribbon pilates   Richard Simmons sweatin to the oldies 4


Canadian Opera Company Talk: Learning to Love in Wagner's Siegfried

January 15, 2016 | Muriel | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...



Canadian Opera Company Talk:

Learning to Love in Wagner's Siegfried

Tuesday, February 9, 2016, 7 to 8 p.m.

North York Central Library Auditorium

Please register for this free program by calling 416-395-5639.

Siegfried        Siegfried CD        Siegfried DVD

The comic scherzo in Wagner's epic Ring cycle is also opera's strangest
coming of age story.  What's a boy to do when he knows little
about his background - and nothing about the opposite sex? 
Join Opera Canada editor Wayne Gooding as he introduces the
Canadian Opera Company's production of Wagner's Siegfried

Der Ring des Nibelungen.  Siegfried DVD        Sing Faster the Stagehand's Ring Cycle        The Nibelungenlied   

   The Nibelung's Ring        Wagner's Ring         Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung   

  My Life by Richard Wagner        The Sorcerer of Bayreuth         Wagner & Me 
Be sure to visit NAXOS, the online music library available through
Toronto Public Library, and listen to great music spanning
medieval to modern - classical, jazz, electronic, world music
and more, and find expert educational content.

There is a free iPhone/iPod Touch app available in the
iTunes App Store which can be used with the user's playlist
login information.  The app will give you streaming playback
access to the entire library of music and saved playlists. 
A wifi or cellular data connection is required.

Food Junkies

January 8, 2016 | Carolyn | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...


Public domain image courtesy of Pixabay


Foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt can be hard to resist. A study published in 2015 found that " highly processed foods, which may share characteristics with drugs of abuse...appear to be particularly associated with food addiction” and suggested that they're intentionally designed to promote addictive behavior. The study also included a list of the most addictive foods. I must share my weakness for delicious (but high fat) cheeses with many other people; cheese is number ten on the list.

Are you concerned that you may be dealing with a food addiction? You can use this test* (PDF)based on the Yale Food Addiction Scale, to find out more. But while self-assessment is a good place to start, its also important to get professional advice.

On Tuesday January 12 at the North York Central Library, you're invited to attend a talk on food addiction. The speaker is Dr. Vera Tarman, an accredited addiction medicine specialist with a special interest in food addiction. Dr. Tarman is the author of Food Junkies: the truth about food addiction. She will discuss her book and provide practical, evidence-based advice for dealing with this problem. 

If you have resolved to change your relationship to food in 2016, attending Dr. Tarman's presentation would be a great place to start! 


Food Junkies: the truth about food addiction

Here are more resources for information on food addiction and related issues:





Date: Tuesday January 12, 2016

Time: 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Location: North York Central Library Auditorium


 * This test is from the Food and Addiction Science & Treatment Lab at the University of Michigan.

Exercise Your Talents in New & Exciting Ways

January 4, 2016 | Ann | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

Exercise titles available at North York Central Library
The above image is licensed by under a Creative Commons license which permits the free use of the image.

The holiday season for 2015 has drawn to a close. Consider the next signpost to appear over the horizon on the proverbial road through life that reads, "Exercise." This is a daunting suggestion right after a delirious period of holiday binging and relaxing. 

The interesting aspect of this word is its dual nature--it can either describe a "thing" or an "action." An exercise, for instance, conveys a static description of tasks to be completed whereas the phrase to exercise reflects a dynamic expression of movement.

When the static state awakens into dynamic motion, this is what Robert Pirsig, an American writer and philosopher, defines as the concept of Quality (or the Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ) in his later works). Much like a resting muscle fiber anticipates a jolt of electricity to leap into action, this qualitative point represents a brief opportunity to leap into new terrains of thought and creativity. The concepts of past and future are stored as static memories and planned goals, respectively. The present moment is a small window in time to act, create, and live in full alertness.

Pirsig contrasts this dynamic state with its opposite--a busy mind occupied with regrets over past actions or anxiety over future situations yet to unfold. In other words, the mind is not focused on the present moment:

“We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone.”

“In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Also take a moment to listen to a special (1974) interview by Connie Goldman with Robert Pirsig on CBC.  

The best way to appreciate this philosophical concept on Quality is to crack open his book, The Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and escape with him and his young son on a journey through the world of metaphysics. 

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Here are more life-affirming titles on philosophy for exercising the awakening mind:

Use philosophy to be happier: 30 steps to perfect the art of living Heads up philosophy The weight of things: philosophy and the good life The consolation of philosophy
  Philosophy: all that matters The best things in life: a guide to what really matters The cartoon introduction to philosophy, 1st ed. Stoicism and the art of happiness

For some readers who prefer a quick "pick me up" on self-motivation instead of longer detailed discussions on philosophical concepts, the psychology section offer suggestions on how to view the world in a fun and positive light:

Positive psychology for overcoming depression: self-help strategies for happiness, inner strength and well-being    One simple idea: how positive thinking reshaped modern life The positive dog: a fable about changing your attitude to be your best Kiss that frog: 12 great ways to turn negatives into positives in your life and work
A life worth living: contributions to positive psychology   Lift: becoming a positive force in any situation Pursuing the good life: 100 reflections on positive psychology Hardwiring happiness: the new brain science of contentment, calm, and confidence

Once the mind is awakened to think beyond the mental sludge of everyday schedules, projects, and routines, consider expending this energy in new inspirational ways. The authors listed below have documented their own adventures in the world:

Long way down Climbing the seven summits: a comprehensive guide to the continents' highest peaks Golf freek: one man's quest to play as may rounds of golf as possible for free The adventures of Henry Thoreau: a young man's unlikely path to Walden Pond
Backpacking with the saints: wilderness hiking as spiritual practice Zen and the way of the sword: arming the samurai psyche Solo, yet never alone: swimming the Great Lakes What I talk about when I talk about running - a memoir

If you are ready to delve into a new terrain, learn the latest skills to be competitive in today's job force, or improve your current skills but do not know where to start, the Toronto Public Library website offers a superb selection of databases with a wealth of information. Some useful topics include: 

Ancestry Library Edition
Business Writing
Business Writing
Career Cruising
Career Cruising
Chilton's Auto Repair
Chilton's Auto Repair
Learning Express Library
Learning Express
Mango Languages
Mango Languages
Study Skills Success
Study Skills Success

Ancestry (In-Library use only) is a popular genealogy resource that includes U.S., Canadian, European, Australian, and New Zealand records. Specific topics include census, birth, marriage, death, immigration, military records and more. Ancestry offers a great opportunity to access records essential to building your family tree.

Business Writing offers an opportunity to sharpen your writing skills in various forms of business correspondence such as writing letters, reports, and emails. This resource would benefit those who plan to work in a business environment and need to communicate effectively to clients and staff.

Career Cruising enables you to preview a career and see whether this profession suits your personality. The career guidance resource offers career profiles and links to relevant Canadian college and university programs and also includes a Canadian Job Search section.

Chilton's Auto Repair is a useful database for looking up repair manuals, maintenance schedules, service bulletins and Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) test prep quizzes. If Robert Pirsig could repair his own motorcycle with Zen-like grace, imagine an increase in self-confidence while changing the oil or replacing the brake pads on your vehicle. 

Learning Express Library offers practice tests and answers for all ages. LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, SAT, GED, Canadian citizenship practice test, TOEIC, TOEFL iBT, math, grammar, writing and more are available here. This is a chance to practice writing the entry tests and determine how prepared you are before applying. For those who just enjoy testing their many skills, this would be a good resource to use. is a new database that offers over 3,500 video tutorial courses led by experts on web design, software development, photography, business skills, home and small office, project management, 3D + Animation, graphic design audio, music, video editing and more. This resource requires the creation of a personal account which will allow you to track your progress through your tutorials and offers certificates of program completion that you could proudly post on your LinkedIn account.

Mango Languages offers an opportunity to practice and converse in new languages or to improve your spoken English. The online "cue cards" provide audio and visual interaction with the interface to develop these skills effectively. If you want to feel more confident conversing with people in a different country, this resource will help you on your way.

Study Skills Success offers high school and college student skills on how to do research, write term papers and essays. This database also offers practice tests with answers.  If your aim is to improve your studying skills, then this resource will nicely dovetail with your goal.

Enjoy the New Year by living every single second in the present. Inspire yourself to exercise your talents in new and exciting ways each and every moment in life.

Talk on Material Splendour: Materials and Techniques of 15th and 16th Century European Painting

December 18, 2015 | Muriel | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...


Talk on Material Splendour:

Materials and Techniques

of 15th and 16th Century

European Painting

Speaker: Betsy Purvis,
University of Toronto, Department of Visual Studies

Thursday, January 21, 2016 from 7 to 8 p.m.
North York Central Library Auditorium
Please register for this free program by calling 416-395-5639

Fra Angelico    Fra Angelico by Christopher Lloyd    Reconstructing the Renaissance    

Jan van Eyck Renaissance Realist    Van Eyck in Detail    Van Eyck

This talk explores how master craftsmen and painters of the era
manipulated their materials to create gleaming, elaborately tooled
gold background tempera paintings; brilliant, crisp fresco paintings;
and sensuous, jewel-like oil paintings.  We will look at a variety
of works by artist such as Beato Angelico, Jan van Eyck,
Michelangelo and Titian.

Michelangelo    Michelangelo the Vatican Frescoes    Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel

Titian His Life    Titian by Norbert Wolf    Titian

With a Sun Life Financial Museum + Arts Pass, you can go for
free to the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum.

The Best Science Books of 2015 are...

December 11, 2015 | Carolyn | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

This is a great time of year for readers. Lists of the best books of the year can help you plan your holiday reading and gift buying. In November we featured the Royal Society's 2015 Winton Prize winning and nominated popular science books. This month, a look at critics' choices for some of the best popular science books of 2015.


The Vital Question: energy, evolution, and the origins of complex life

Biochemist Lane, whose previous books include the prize-winning Life Ascending: the ten great inventions of evolution, argues that all multi-cellular life shares a common ancestor created by a single event. A comprehensive yet accessible exploration of a novel theory. According to Publishers' Weekly "The science is both a puzzle and a dance; Lane retains a sense of wonder as he embraces a bold hypothesis and delights in the hard data that gives it weight."



Silberman traces the history of autism from when it was first identified and named in 1943. He describes the evolution in our understanding - from viewing autism as a single disorder to a condition that exists on a spectrum - as well as the remarkable shift from it being considered a profound disability to today's more nuanced view which recognizes the unique gifts and abilities of autistic individuals.



In this widely praised memoir Macdonald recounts her year spent training a goshawk as she also mourned the death of her father. A history of falconry, an exploration of T.H. White's "The Goshawk", a meditation on loss and a portrait of a complex human-animal relationship: this beautiful, poetic books is all these things and more. 


A working pilot, Vanhoenacker is an ideal guide to the world of commercial aviation. He manages to restore a sense of the wonder of flight while providing a behind-the-scenes look at the workings of airlines and the lives of pilots. The Economist called this book "a highly readable account, as moving as it is unexpected".



Wulf's respect for her subject shines through in this biography. She describes a hugely influential explorer and naturalist who was ahead of his time in believing that the natural world is an interconnected web of life. He was early proponent of environmentalism whose ideas influenced Darwin and Thoreau. According to Kirkus Reviews "Humboldt was the Einstein of the 19th century but far more widely read, and Wulf successfully combines a biography with an intoxicating history of his times".



Gavin Francis is a physician who describes his book as “a journey through the most intimate landscape of all: our own bodies”. In each of the 18 chapters he describes a part of the body, from the brain to the toes. Filled with anecdotes and insights, this is a fascinating and humane book.


Technologies familiar to science fiction fans, such as cloning, time travel and teleportation are discussed in this accessible book by physicist Brian Clegg. Kirkus Reviews calls it "satisfying soul food for your inner geek: an enjoyable tour of science fact and fiction by a writer who obviously revels in both".
Here are a few more well-reviewed popular science books published in 2015:


Happy holidays - and happy holiday reading!

Alternative Holiday Activities!

December 7, 2015 | Emoke | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

Healing with the ArtsDecember is the month of holidays. Christmas songs and decorations most obviously bombard us and take over. But what if you don't enjoy the holidays, or do not observe any of them?

If this is the time of year for you where you need a good distraction more than anything, I thought I would find some alternative activities for you to get you through the month!

The following will be my personal suggestions, and other ideas I have come across. If you follow my blogs, you will not be surprised that the first thing I can think of is to get out of town! Avoid the holiday shopping madness and escape to an exotic destination, not to spend a specific holiday with anyone, but just for your own personal enrichment. Perhaps take an exciting "alternative holiday" where you volunteer and give back to a specific group or community. I will recommend books at the bottom of this post from the library that can be borrowed with specific ideas for destinations.

Other activities you can enjoy are winter sports! Such as skiing, snowboarding, or my favourite; ice skating.

The other activity that I have personally started getting into is the adult colouring trend. I now own all of Johanna Basford’s books: Secret Garden, Enchanted Forest, and Lost Ocean. She is a Scottish illustrator who uses pens and pencils to create illustrations, predominantly in black and white outlines, which can be coloured in with pencils, crayons, thin markers, or pens. The drawings are very intricate and detailed, and the act of colouring in her drawings, finishing them or adding to them yourself or finding hidden treasures among them is completely therapeutic (at least for me). There has been some fuss in the media over her books, and art therapists have recommended the act of colouring to soothe nerves and lessen anxiety, tension, and stress.

This is a completely addictive activity (if you like this sort of thing and enjoy creative activities). I can see the holiday season being the perfect time to stay at home and stock up on these books (and other adult colouring books on the market) and quietly colour to your heart's content while others are busy pushing through the huge holiday crowds at the malls.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful to get through the month of December. These are just my personal suggestions, but please feel free to share in the comments below some of your personal favourites! Whatever you end up doing this time of year, stay warm and enjoy!

Daniel Rotsztain is a freelance artist, writer, and cartographer. Throughout 2015, Rotsztain visited every public library in Toronto and illustrated their exteriors, releasing the collection online. 

And please see the following related materials that can be borrowed from Toronto Public Library. 


The ethical travel guide  Hands-on holidays  Snow travel  Let it snow

  Healing with the arts  Art therapy and creative coping techniques for older adults  Volunteer vacations in Latin America  Wide open world how volunteering around the globe changed one family's lives forever

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