Sunday, 18 June 2017

Sunday June 18, 2017 Pride Month

Books let us explore new worlds and experiences, and are one the best ways to develop empathy and understanding. Every reader deserves both mirrors and windows: literature that reflects their life and literature that offers insight into the lives of others. TBPL is committed to making those mirrors and windows available to Thunder Bay’s LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) community.

Over the last several years, the number of available books featuring LGBTQ experiences has grown, especially in fiction for young adult readers. As the collection specialist for Young Adult materials since 2011, it has been very gratifying and exciting to watch this evolution. It wasn’t that long ago the most well-known LGBTQ books for youth could be counted off on one hand: And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman for young children; Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan, Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky for YA. Today, a wide breadth of experiences, orientations, and identities can be found in all sorts of different books. Of course, there are still many gaps in representation, but we are moving in the right direction.

If you are interested in finding some mirrors or windows in books featuring LGBTQ experiences, a great place to start is by checking out award winners and nominees like the Rainbow Book List of recommended books with “significant gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning content” for youth from birth to 18: Another resource is the Stonewall Book Awards, presented to adult and young adult books on the basis of “exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience”: The Stonewall Awards cover adult and youth picks. Finally, there are the Lambda Literary Awards, which “identify and celebrate the best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books of the year and affirm that LGBTQ stories are part of the literature of the world”:

For more personalized suggestions, visit the Browse section of our website for reading lists tailored to the materials available at TBPL. For young readers, try Worm Loves Worm by J J Austrian, a sweetly funny picture book about gender identity. Worm loves worm and they want to get married – but their friends have lots of questions. Which worm is the bride? Which is the groom? And does it matter? What makes a family is explored in Stella Brings the Family by Miriam Schiffer, a picture book about a child with two dads navigating the Mother’s Day holiday.

Tim Federle’s Nate Series for ages 9-12 foregrounds a young boy who is passionate about Broadway, musicals, and making his acting dreams come true. He is also gay. This middle grade chapter book is one of the very few titles for this age featuring a gay, lesbian, or bisexual protagonist. George by Alex Gino is one of several middle grade novels foregrounding transgender characters, and is the winner of a Stonewall Award. Graphic novel fans will enjoy Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill, an adorable romp that subverts the typical princess conventions and ends with the girls finding their happily ever after together.  

Readers can find more representation in Rick Riordan’s two new series for youth. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard has a gender-fluid transgender character appear in book two, and has won a Stonewall Book Award. His other series, The Trials of Apollo, features the god Apollo as a present-day bisexual teenager. There are too many great Young Adult books to suggest here, so please visit our website’s Browse section to peruse the complete book lists!

Finally, our collection of non-fiction is also growing. We have resources like Transgender Children and Youth: Cultivating Pride and Joy With Families in Transition by Elijah Nealy and Queers Were Here: Heroes and Icons of Gay Canada, edited by Robin Ganev and RJ Gilmour. This June, why not celebrate Pride Month by picking up one of the many recommended reads and expanding your perspective by reading through some windows.

Laura Prinselaar

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Sunday June 11th, 2017 Wonder Women

The release of Wonder Woman, the latest film adaptation based on the DC comic books, was a major step forward for female character driven films. Not only was it a critical darling, it was a box office success for a female centered film. Surprisingly, the character of Wonder Woman, introduced in 1941, has never achieved the level of fame as other DC characters, such as Superman or Batman. This new entry presents Wonder Woman, not as a romantic or comic foil, but as a bold and determined fighter trying to bring about an end to World War I. Strong female characters like Wonder Woman serve also to remind us of other beloved female literary and cinematic icons.

One of the most memorable female heroines in recent years is Lisbeth Salander, the mysterious computer hacker who fights to protect woman from violence in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005). What makes Salander such a brilliant creation is the writer’s refusal to create her into a clich├ęd avenging angel. Instead, the reader is treated to a nuanced depiction of a fully realized character that uses her intelligence and skill to seek and defend the truth. The progression of Salander’s story continues onto the The Girl Who Played With Fire (2006) and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (2007). The series continued most recently with the addition of The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2015).  

Clarice Starling, the main character in The Silence of the Lambs is a similar example of a woman who completely commits herself to a professional calling in order to rescue a missing woman. Published in 1988 and accompanied by a film version in 1991, FBI agent Starling’s pursuit for justice was complicated by her gender in a male-dominated environment. One of the underlying themes in both the novel and film is the latent sexism and harassment that Starling endures while trying to competently determine the location of a missing woman at the hands of a sadistic serial killer.

The ongoing Alien franchise is another example of female led action films that have shown that when it comes to battling blood thirsty extraterrestrials, woman have proven to be the stronger sex. Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien introduced audiences to Ellen Ripley, a space officer aboard the Nostromo, who fights to protect her crew from an alien life form that threatens to kill everyone on board. Ripley’s story continues into the sequel Aliens (1986) and Alien 3 (1992), all of which have left an indelible impact in the plethora of science fiction films. Most recently, the display of awesome feminine strength continues with Elizabeth Shaw, a scientist hoping to discover the origins of human life in Prometheus (2012), a prequel to Alien.

Strong female characters, however, do not have to be good or virtuous in order to demonstrate their strengths. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2012) is a powerful example of how a female character challenges sexist thought and observation about women by employing a sinister deception to demonstrate her point. On the surface level, Gone Girl may seem like well-crafted pulp fiction about murder and deception, but a closer observation reveals a complex feminist commentary on gender roles. The discussion of gender roles can also be found in television, most notably in House of Cards. The anti-hero Claire Underwood in the hit show depicts a woman in power who resorts to questionable actions in order to prove her worth among her colleagues in order to obtain one of the highest positions in the world: the American presidency.`

Petar Vidjen

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Sunday June 4th, 2017 Video Game Novels

Years ago, I remember laughing at the thought of a novelization of my then-favourite video game, Starcraft. The book was Jeff Grubb’s Liberty’s Crusade, which novelized the first third of Starcraft.  I’ve played the game many times, and know the story like the back of my hand.  Why would I want to read about it, too?  Flash forward a few years and I ended up reading Liberty’s Crusade as part of a collection of the first three Starcraft novels.  Thanks to Grubb’s excellent writing, Liberty’s Crusade was actually a fantastic read!  I no longer snub my nose at video game novels (although I know they can be hit or miss, much like any other genre of book - it depends on whether or not you like the author’s writing style).  This is just as well, since nowadays video games are often part of vast transmedia empires, with many books and movies to enjoy along with the games.  And while we may not have Liberty’s Crusade, many others are available here at the Thunder Bay Public Library.

One book that I particularly enjoyed was Fable: the Balverine Order by Peter David.  The premise of the book is that two guys go on a quest to find the rare balverine.  I thought this was hilarious because within the Fable games, balverines are not remotely rare. But David is an excellent writer; he turns this premise into a fantastic read about proving to the world (and yourself) that the impossible truly is possible.

If you’re a fan of the Halo franchise, we have many books and graphic novels available both in our libraries and online on Hoopla. I thought Eric S. Nylund’s Halo: the Fall of Reach was interesting; it tells the story of how the Master Chief became a Spartan.  It has a bit of overlap with the game Halo: Reach, but the story differs; the book details more of the space battles rather than the ground ones that contributed to the planet’s fall.  I love how the books in the Halo franchise take place during different time periods. Books like Greg Bear’s Halo: Cryptum take place in the distant past before humanity existed; others, like Karen Traviss’s Kilo-Five books (Glasslands and The Thursday War) take place after the original Halo trilogy.

While I’m talking about Halo, I should also mention that Red vs. Blue is available to stream on Hoopla.  Red vs. Blue is a comedy series created using the Halo video games and has very little to do with the Halo story.  I find it quite hilarious and very much recommend it.

While many television series based off of video games have been popular, the movies have a long history of being rather bad.  But last year, Warcraft, the highest grossing video game adaptation to date, was released.  The movie is based off of the first game (made in 1994); you may be familiar with the franchise thanks to the very popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft.  The movie follows both the horde of invading orcs and the humans who are fighting against them.

I’ve mentioned a lot of books and movies for adults; we of course have things for kids, too.  We’ve got plenty of Pokemon books, graphic novels and movies, including the latest games adapted as graphic novels (Pokemon XY, and Pokemon Omega Ruby Alpha Sapphire - there are no adaptations of Pokemon Sun and Moon yet).  We’ve also got lots of Minecraft and Angry Birds books, which are also quite popular.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the books or movies I have mentioned here (and many more!) be sure to head to your local library!

Shauna Kosoris

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Sunday May 28th, 2017 Simplify Your Life

The simple life has been attractive for generations, but with an increasingly fast paced world it seems to be gaining ever broader appeal.  As people strive for work life balance they may find it elusive.  This can then lead to thorough evaluation of what kind of life they want to live.  Some of those who have gone down the path towards simplicity have chosen to share through writing. 

An n early book on this topic is Voluntary Simplicity:  Toward a Way of Life That is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich by Duane Elgin first published in 1981.  In the very first chapter Elgin notes that we all “know where our lives are unnecessarily complicated” and that’s important to note.  How I may simplify my life will differ somewhat from each other person who does so.  We each can make the changes to reduce unnecessary complications from our lives.  In the 1990s Elaine St. James wrote several books on simplicity not the least of which is Living the Simple Life:  A Guide to Scaling Down and Enjoying More.  As with other books on this topic there’s no one way to do things, but St. James offers methods to make any life simpler.  One such suggestion is never to touch a piece of mail more than once.

Many of these books include an environmental or ecological component.  This comes as no surprise given that there is an idealized back to the land aspect of what many people yearn for when thinking of simple living.  A great read for those looking for those with an environmental slant is Sweetness of a Simple Life:  Tips for Healthier, Happier and Kinder Living Gleaned from the Wisdom and Science of Nature by Diana Beresford-Kroeger practical advice with a deep respect for the natural world. 

Working in tandem with concerns for the environment is  following a path that is true to oneself are woven into many of the books on living a simpler life.  In Present over Perfect:  Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist we are invited to join the author on a journey towards her essential self.  The world frantic in the title gives an idea of the life Niequist was no longer satisfied with and she invites the reader to live a more present life. 

In Downshifting:  The Guide to Happier, Simpler Living authors Polly Ghazi and Judy Jones examine different options to create a more balanced life.  They make it clear that there is no one solution that fits for everyone, but rather a variety of ways to improve the quality of one’s days.  Real life examples are included and challenges are not glossed over.  Financial considerations have a major impact as does the amount of control the downshifter may have.  Downshifting due to corporate downsizing is not the same as making a choice to downshift when you see downsizing on the horizon.
Ruth Hamlin-Douglas