Category Archives: Uncategorized

Gritting it out to reach your Peak

I read Anders Ericsson’s Peak a few months ago, so I’m cheating a bit here, but I loved it and thought I’d share. While, Angela Duckworth’s Grit feels like a sequel to Peak, insofar as it dovetails with the overarching theme of Peak’s thesis: how to become more successful at the things you love. Peak is the methodology for how to practice and achieve success; Grit is the explanation for why some of us achieve more than others, and the prescription for how to become an achiever.

Peak is a game changer if there ever was one.

You’ve likely heard of the 10,000 hour rule that postulates you need that many hours to become an expert in a given field. It was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell a few years back, you know, Gladwell does his is thing where he takes a complex idea, chops out the complicated parts and serves the juicy bits to the masses, as only he can.

Ericsson is the man behind the 10,000 hour rule’s science. His theory: that talent doesn’t exist. That it’s the word we give to hard work and practice.

Which, if you pause to reflect, is the most inspiring notion.

If Mozart had no natural born proclivity towards music and his ‘genius’ was simply the result of endless hours of practice at an early age; if Mario Lemieux’s skill on the ice was the result of countless hours of practice as a child in his basement; if John Irving’s penchant for story telling was built upon a lifetime sitting at a typewriter, it opens up a world of achievement that we assumed closed to us. Ericsson is not saying everyone can or will become Mozart, Lemieux, or Irving, but he is saying that if you work hard, through deliberate practice and expert coaching, you can get close, or perhaps closer than you dreamed possible.

Ericsson underpins his thesis by citing countless examples from his own research, including random test subjects who, with training, become memory experts, and a Hungarian family of chess masters whose intense workload dispels the notion that hi IQ plays any role in chess mastery.

Recently, I put Ericsson’s ideas to work in my own life. For the past six months I’ve been training for a triathlon, making constant improvements in running and biking, failing miserably at swimming. So miserably in fact that I hadn’t improved one bit since I’d started. Four laps and I was exhausted. I treated swimming like biking and running – a test of will and a slow build up of cardio – failing to realize that success in the water is all about technique, and acquiring perfect technique requires deliberate practice. I began by Identifying each key element of a stroke, analysing them and focusing on making them perfect. Within a week of studying strokes and focusing at the pool, I had gone from four laps in a row to 20. A 500% improvement, simply by following the steps laid out in Ericsson’s book. It was an epiphany for me, with far reaching implications for the rest of my life.

Now, you could make the case that I’m an idiot for not realizing this sooner and that practicing something properly isn’t exactly a ground-breaking idea. But when you further dive into the nuances of deliberate practice, it becomes clear that there’s a specific methodology behind it. Ericsson includes a detailed how-to guide that involves explanations on mental focus, mental maps and self-analysis. He’d argue that when most of us practice something, we are often just going through the motions and he offers ways to correct that.

So, if you finally want to master that Rachmaninov concerto, hit that driver farther or, finish that thesis faster, Peak is a great place to start.

Up next, Angela Duckworth’s Grit.

Nolan Kelly is a library tech student at Langara.

In Search of Lost Time

 

As part of a half-baked New Year’s resolution, I decided to read 5-10 pages of a classic novel every night before bed. The thinking, that drier works whose epic length might once have caused consternation, ultimately resulting in disinclination and lack of completion, could be boiled down to smaller, less intimidating bits.

I viewed the process as a lagniappe in the field of book-reading accomplishment, as though I could complete a behemoth on top of my regular reading list without even noticing (“Has it been 78 months already? That Gravity’s Rainbow just flew by!”).

It began in January, with the granddaddy of them all, Marcel Proust’s, In Search of Lost Time.

A breezy 4215 pages, but who’s counting?

Unfortunately, it’s been a harder than I thought to keep up with this resolution. For starters, Proust’s style –  heavy on minutia, light on plot – can be trying.

Sometimes, after a long day, I just can’t do eight pages of Proust waxing poetic about an ephemeral memory of a glimmering doorknob in his childhood bed chamber.

Sometimes, I can’t struggle through yet another endless digression, following young Marcel as he plots to have his mother come in and kiss him good night for a second time. Come on child Proust, get it together. Somebody buy that kid a football.

And, a more general and obvious difficultly I found when attempting and failing at this process before with War and Peace: over a long period of time it can be hard to keep track of everything at play. I’d forgotten about Mr. *****vich, whose last acquaintance I’d met some three months ago at a ballroom in *****berg, with six more *****stov’s and an *****ovna. Remembering becomes a war of attrition and the book always wins.

But overall, it’s been a rewarding gambit. Despite my previous criticisms, I couldn’t have chosen a better book to begin with.

For starters, Proust’s writing is masterful. The pacing, the rhythm. It’s languid and smooth and comforting. It’s literary hot chocolate, made with thick cream, drunk by candle light on a cold winter’s night.

And In Search of Lost Time’s profoundly peaceful nature has a calming effect before bed. Nothing much is happening, but that’s okay, because Proust somehow manages to turn simplicity into profundity. Take his famous Madeleine Passage. For Proust, dipping a madeleine in tea takes on religious significance.

As well it should.

The passage and the general theme of Proust’s writing has made me appreciate the Little Things more. Or at the very least, I’ve become more aware of trying to appreciate them. That mocha on a cold day, those chicken wings and beer. Far too often we gluttonously move from pleasure to pleasure without pausing to reflect on the simple joy found in a singular moment. The law of diminishing returns in a post-scarcity world can make appreciation a difficult endeavor and inflecting Proust is a way of challenging that.

These small moments make up the bulk of our lives, and we miss them because they’re old hat, or as Proust poetically summarized: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but seeing with new eyes.”

It’s rare and wonderful when a book improves your life in some small way, even if it is trying at times and it takes nine years to read.

Nolan Kelly is a library tech student at Langara College.

 

 

 

Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects: A Mesmerizing Gothic Thriller

While taking a mini-break from the heavy, slow-paced books that I was supposed to read for my book club, I discovered a gritty, gothic thriller which I greedily consumed within a few days. This darkly magnificent book was Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects—her first ever published work. Flynn is mainly famous for her third novel Gone Girl, a book that had hypnotized and shocked readers around the world. I will not argue that Sharp Objects was better than Gone Girl. No—but I will say that it is brilliant in its own way.

sharpBefore I begin to excitedly ramble on about how much I enjoyed this book and how other thriller enthusiasts should read it (ASAP!), let me provide you with a synopsis of the novel:

When the murdered body of a preteen girl is found and a second girl goes missing in a small town, reporter Camille Preaker is given the task of returning to her eerie hometown and covering the troubling story. While trying to fulfill her assignment, she is forced to stay at her family’s Victorian mansion and spend time with her hypochondriac mother and strange half-sister. As Camille attempts to unravel the mystery behind the murder case, she struggles to deal with her own disturbing past and soon discovers family secrets which have been hidden for a long time.

Now that you have the summary, I am going to list my three reasons for recommending this book:

  • Sharp Objects is a good gothic thriller!

Being a huge fan of the gothic genre, I absolutely loved how Flynn incorporated elements of Southern Gothic throughout her novel—the Victorian mansion, the grotesque scenes, the eccentric and deeply flawed characters, the terrifying matriarch, the underlying madness, violence and decay. For me, these components helped to build the suspense and dark atmosphere of the narrative, which completely drew me in and left me unsettled.

  • The narrative is complex and intriguing!

Unlike other simple mystery novels, which focus on one particular puzzle throughout the narrative, this book contains multiple layers of mystery that get unraveled: first is the murder case and the disappearance of a young girl; second is questions about Camille’s past and mental state; and third is the enigma behind Camille’s cold and reserved mother. As the story progresses, Flynn gives us a few clues at a time, either through flashbacks, new discoveries or subtle dialogues. These multiple layers make the story complex and interesting, which compelled me to piece the different puzzles together. It took a lot of effort to not jump to the last page in order to figure out all the answers!

  • The main character is flawed yet realistic!

While Camille was not my favorite character (because of her frustrating choices and her passive nature), she does behave in a realistic and human manner. Suffering from the loss of her sister and lack of love from her mother, she chooses self-destructive methods to deal with her emotions—alcohol, men and self-harm (scarring her body with words). Even though she has gone to rehab and seems to have recovered from these self-destructive behaviors, it is interesting to watch Camille’s mental state unfold when she is faced with her mother and her past once more. However, despite her emotional frailty, I admired the fact that she uses her strength and love for her sister to push forward and find out the truth about her family. Unlike the majority of the characters in the small town of Wind Gap, who willfully ignore the ugliness festering beneath the society, Camille chooses to look beneath the surface even if the truth may be horrifying. This strength and resilience makes her quite the intriguing protagonist.

Before I leave you to run towards the library and grab a copy of Flynn’s Sharp Objects (don’t push anyone out of the way!), I would like to leave you with a few warnings about the book:

  • If you are looking for a simple psychological thriller with light descriptions, then this is not the book for you. Sharp Objects is a very dark novel with heavy and disturbing details that may keep you up at night.
  • If you are looking for a happy ending with everything resolved so you can sleep all satisfied at night, then, once again, this book is not for you. Flynn is well-known for her twisted endings and frustrating conclusions, so don’t read this novel if you expect the story to end on a happy note.

Lastly, if I have managed to pique your interest in this story, I do encourage you to read this book sooner rather than later because HBO is going to release a mini-series based on the book this year. The mini-series will have Amy Adams as the star of the show and Jean-Marc Vallee as the director (he is absolutely fantastic!). From my experience, it becomes impossible to get a copy of the book once the movie or mini-series gets released. So, go get your copy now!

~ Ehlam Zaminpaima, Librarian, West Vancouver Memorial Library

Biography & Memoir

Ever been asked for an award-winning biography or autobiography?  Here are some suggestions – award-winners and finalists – that will knock your readers’ socks off!

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, by Hisham Matar (2016)

Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

After an absence of thirty years, acclaimed Libyan novelist Hisham Matar returns home to his native country to look into the disappearance of his father.  Leaving Libya when he was twelve, Matar’s family lived in political exile.  Matar’s father, a former diplomat turned political dissident, was kidnapped off the streets of Cairo by the Libyan government and his whereabouts remain to this day uncertain.  Most likely held in Libya’s most notorious prison, it is improbable that Matar’s father is still alive.  Nevertheless, the author makes the journey to post-Qaddafi Libya to seek answers.  A moving family memoir and a portrait of a country in the midst of change.

Mordecai: The Life and Times by Charles Foran (2010)

Winner of the 2011 Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction.

A thoroughly engaging, detailed and intimate portrait of one of Canada’s most celebrated and influential writers.  Devoted husband and father of five, Mordecai Richler won numerous awards for his adult and children’s fiction.  His was a persona that was larger than life and his influence spread beyond the borders of Canada. Growing up in turbulent times, Richler participated actively and was a bohemian, a rebel, a passionate and romantic lover, an outspoken Canadian, a family man.  Foran’s is the first biography to pull from family letters and archives, making this the most complete and richest picture of Richler’s life to date.

 

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan (2014)

Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

Now a distinguished writer and war reporter, William Finnegan began life as a surfer.  This autobiography documents his beginnings in California and Hawaii, where surfing quickly became an obsession, and follows him around the world to the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, and Africa, where he chased the big waves.  Finnegan expounds on the inner workings of the surfing culture, which is less a sport and more a way of life to the truly dedicated.  Finnegan remains enamoured of surfing and continues to chase waves wherever he can find them.  His autobiography tells the story of an adventurous, and sometimes crazy, life.  A highly skillful and entertaining read.

 

Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, by Megan Marshall (2013)

Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

A richly researched book that tells the fascinating story of a 19th century author, journalist, critic and pioneering advocate of women’s rights who died in a shipwreck.  Because of her untimely end, and the tragedy and scandal that surrounded it, Margaret Fuller’s unique life is often glossed over.  This biography seeks to redress that injustice and tells her story in glorious detail.  A passionate thinker ahead of her time, Fuller was the first ever female war correspondent, covering the 1849 Siege of Rome.  While in Italy, she took a secret lover and bore a son.  As a news correspondent, she became passionately concerned about the urban poor and the plight of prostitutes and she was an outspoken advocate for personal and political freedom.  Just before her 40th birthday, she, her lover and her son were drowned in a shipwreck.  Marshall’s biography brings Fuller back to life.

 

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss (2012)

Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

The remarkable tale of real-life swashbuckler Alex Dumas, the father of Alexandre Dumas, author of the Three Musketeers and the Count of Monte Cristo.  The little known truth about Alexandre Dumas’ father is that he was born in Haiti, the son of a black slave.  He was sold into bondage briefly but ended up in Paris, where he was trained in sword-fighting with the French aristocracy.  He enlisted in the army and commanded troops during the French Revolution, leading campaigns across Europe and the Middle East.  A fascinating true story about an ex-slave rising to the top in a time when such things were rare.

 

Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva

by Rosemary Sullivan (2015)

Winner of the 2016 RBC Charles Taylor Prize for Non-Fiction.  Winner, BC National Non-Fiction Prize, 2016. Winner of the American Plutarch Award for Biography (First Canadian Winner).

Winner, 2015 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction

Meticulously researched, this is the tale of Svetlana Alliluyeva, Josef Stalin’s daughter.  Despite being protected from the physical hardships suffered by the rest of Russia during Stalin’s regime, Svetlana nevertheless knew suffering.  She lost her mother, two brothers, aunts, uncles, and a lover who was exiled by her father to Siberia.  After Stalin’s death, she learned ever more about his brutality and she could no longer stay quiet. She defected to the US in 1967, leaving her two children behind.  Her life in the US was not happy and she died poor, in 2011. Sullivan used the KGB, CIA and Soviet archives to do her research, and had the cooperation of Svetlana’s daughter. As a result, this masterful biography delves into Svetlana’s life with incredible intimacy.

 

Stephen Harper by John Ibbitson (2015)

Winner of the 2016 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.

Stephen Harper is an important figure in our country’s history and has, for better or worse, helped to shape the nation Canada is today.  Stephen Harper as a person, however, has remained enigmatic despite his public life.  Bringing together years of research and in-depth interview material, Ibbitson demonstrates why he is one of this country’s most respected journalists with this intimate and detailed portrait of Harper the politician and man.

 

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2007)

Finalist, 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

An intensely personal and honest work, this book catalogues a year in Didion’s life when her world fell apart.  Her daughter became ill with a mysterious malady, and was eventually put into an induced coma and put on life support.  Days later, her husband of 40 years died of a heart attack.  Her daughter recovered, only to collapse again two months later at LA airport.  After 6 hours of surgery to release a massive hematoma, she pulled through.  This book comprises Didion’s attempt to make sense of these events and explores questions of life, death, illness, and family.  Powerfully written.

 

Just Kids: From Brooklyn to the Chelsea Hotel: A Life of Art and Friendship by Patti Smith (2010)

National Book Award Winner.

In her first book of prose, Patti Smith chronicles her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the late sixties and seventies.  Honest and moving, this is a beautifully written autobiography from a great artist of our time.

 

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2015)

Winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.

At heart a tale of loss and bereavement, H is for Hawk tells the story of the author’s decision to train the deadly predator, the Goshawk, in the wake of her father’s death. Already an experienced falconer, Macdonald had never trained a Goshawk before.  Relying on T.H. White’s The Goshawk to guide her in this endeavour, Macdonald chronicles her work with the Goshawk “Mabel” and her journey through the grieving process. An unusual combination of nature writing and memoir from a master writer.

 

American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood by Marie Arana (2005)

National Book Award Finalist.

With a brilliant Peruvian engineer for a father and a gifted American musician for a mother, Marie Arana’s childhood was bound to be interesting. Her father’s family taught her about being a “lady” while her mother’s taught her more practical skills like shooting a gun and snapping a chicken’s neck. Upon immigrating to America, Arana soon realized that she was caught between two worlds. This is her story, filled with the colourful characters of her childhood and her journey towards the reconciliation of two disparate cultures within herself.

 

The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe by David I. Kertzer (2014)

Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

Based on seven years of in-depth research in the Vatican and Fascist archives, Kertzer’s book tells the story of the Vatican’s role in the rise of Fascism in Europe.  Coming into power in the same year, 1922, Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini shared a hatred of Communism and a distrust of democracy.  While it is generally believed that the Vatican did all it could to fight against Fascism, Ketzer shows that “Il Duce” and the Pope worked together to support each other’s goals.  Il Duce restored many of the privileges that the Church had lost and the Pope in turn ensured that Mussolini stayed in power. Only later did the Pope regret his actions, as Mussolini got closer to Hitler, and he tried to withdraw his support.  But as always, there is a bigger cast of players in such politically charged scenarios and the Pope was not the only one to exert his influence as others in the Vatican strove to retain the solid working relationship with Fascist Italy that had benefitted them for so long.  An intriguing and dramatic tale which draws its sources from the newly opened archives covering Pius XI’s papacy.

 

Buffy Sainte-Marie: It’s My Way by Blair Stonechild (2011)

Winner of the 2013 Saskatoon Book Awards: Aboriginal Peoples’ Writing Award winner

Written in the context of the politics and world events of the time, Stonechild’s book examines the life of musician and activist Buffy Sainte-Marie. Born on an impoverished Cree reservation in Saskatchewan, Sainte-Marie nevertheless went on to take part in the international folk music/protest revolution of the 1960s with the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Gordon Lightfoot. Stonechild’s biography does not follow a strictly chronological timeline, but instead jumps around into different periods of Sainte-Marie’s life, as he puts together a full picture of her ambitions and achievements, and captures the essence of this international musical icon.

 

Red Star Tattoo: My Life as a Girl Revolutionary by Sonja Larsen (2016)

Finalist, 2016 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction

Larsen tells the story of her youth, spent on the move between communes around North America. Her mother, kicked out of her home as a pregnant teenager by her evangelistic father, joins in the communist movement, attracted by its idealism and radical ideas, and she drags her daughter Sonja along with her.  Larsen moves to Brooklyn at the age of 16 and joins the Communist Party of America, known publicly as the National Labor Federation, where she works hard to impress the party leaders.  She attracts the attention of the “Old Man,” the party’s charismatic leader, who takes her under his wing and makes her one of his “special” girls.  Can one survive a childhood such as this?  Rootless, without reliable adult guidance or protection, full of abuse and loss?  Larsen’s story is a remarkable one.

~ Fiona Hunt, Casual Librarian, West Vancouver Memorial Library

Reading for Running Inspiration

Will you be joining me and over 40,000 other runners at Vancouver’s 2017 Sun Run on April 23rd?

If you’re training for the Sun Run or another run this Spring, you may need a bit of inspiration to stick with your program every now and again. Find motivation in a great runner’s memoir or enjoy a novel with a running theme for a creative look at the runner’s psyche. Many of the titles I recommend are available on audio – listen while you run!

Alternatively, if you join Richmond Public Library with the Running/Walking Book Club idea floated by Meghan Savage on this blog last month, these titles could be useful fodder for accompanying booklists.

  1. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
  2. Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder
  3. The Illegal by Lawrence Hill
  4. The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe
  5. Mile Markers: The 26.2 Most Important Reasons Why Women Run by Kristin Armstrong
  6. Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women’s Sports by Kathrine Switzer
  7. The Oatmeal’s The Great and Terrible Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman
  8. Once a Runner by John L. Parker Jr.
  9. Paula My Story So Far by Paula Radcliffe
  10. Run or Die by Kilian Jornet
  11. Runner: A Short Story About a Long Run by Lizzy Hawker
  12. Running Like a Girl: Notes on Learning to Run by Alexandra Heminsley
  13. Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
  14. Running Uphill by Fil Fraser
  15. Run to Overcome: The Inspiring Story of an American Champion’s Long-Distance Quest to Achieve a Big Dream by Meb Keflezighi
  16. Tales from Another Mother Runner by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea
  17. Terry by Douglas Coupland
  18. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  19. What I Talk About When I talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
  20. Why We Run A Natural History by Bernd Heinrich

 

PS The Barkley Marathons finished yesterday with a heartbreaker of an outcome  for North Vancouver’s Gary Robbins. If you haven’t already watched the documentary, The Barkley Marathons, it is a highly bizarre yet incredibly compelling slice of the running life in which books are involved in the race.

Oral Literary Traditions: Storytelling

I love my books. Words on a page yellowed with age, the smell of old books, the way they look on my bookshelf all neat and orderly… I just love books. I’ve been known to download and enjoy an ebook or ten, but it’s no secret to those who know me that I favour a good ol’ physical book. However, I come from a long line of storytellers. My people—the Appalachians—were known for their oral stories.

regionmap
(The area in white is considered Appalachia, as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission.)

There were always a few people in each community known for their wordsmith capabilities, who could pull words out of thin air and stick them with other words to form even better sentences that could make you laugh, cry, or just plain think. When I was a kid, a few family members, friends, and neighbours would gather on the front porch at twilight during the warmest time of the year with a glass of sweet iced tea in hand to cool us from the oppressive heat of the summer’s day. The lightning bugs would be blinking and the frogs would be ribbitting, and it was at that moment, when the sky was burning into darkness, that stories would be told. Inevitably, the topic at hand would remind someone of a story, passed down to them by a long-deceased relative or friend. The first few sentences were punctuated by long sips of iced tea, keeping the audience rapt attention (or perhaps creating impatience for the person to get on with the story), then the storyteller smoothly began to weave a tale, playing to our reactions and expectations. And even though I love my books, these front porch gatherings have remained some of my fondest memories from childhood. I maintain this early and consistent exposure to storytelling helped me become a reading superstar at school and fostered a love for writing my own stories.

In the Western world, we tend to favour the written word over the oral one, but there is something about storytelling that is innately personal and interactive. Whether at an intimate gathering or in a large group, it feels like the storyteller is telling you—and only you—a personal story. The storyteller works to keep the audience’s attention and is able to tailor and tweak the story by “feeling” the mood of audience. For years and years before the advent of movies, television, and radio, my people—and people around the world—told stories for entertainment. People gathered together to deliver tales they had inherited from an older generation. Some of the most popular stories to tell, the “Jack” and the “Grandfather” tales and the “Br’er Rabbit” stories, had been brought to the mountains of Appalachia from the British Isles, Germany, and places in the west, central, and south of Africa. Carried by immigrants to their new mountain homes and by people who were forced to migrate due to the slave trade, these stories remained relatively intact as they travelled from place to place and home to home. They were passed down from generation to generation and were favourites at family and community gatherings. Beginning in the late 1800s, Appalachian culture was “discovered” by folks residing outside the region when they came to the area looking to reap the plenteous coal and timber there. Its ballads, arts and crafts, and the oral stories and traditions were becoming more of an interest to folklorists; it was during this time that these stories began to be written down. One such folklorist, Richard Chase, travelled to North Carolina and interviewed scores of folks, writing down the stories that had been passed to them by their elders.

Storytelling was important for literacy in Appalachia. There weren’t many people who could read or write (there were schools in the region, but the challenging mountainous terrain made it difficult to get there, especially if the school was quite far from home; also, reliance on farming as a way of life made any kind of consistent schooling difficult because families relied on everyone for labour) and books were very expensive to buy. For a culture that made their living farming and whose economic system was based on bartering, oral storytelling was the most important literacy tool available. Knowledge, history, ancestry, religion, values, and morals were passed down, incorporated into fantastic tales designed to keep you on the edge of your seat and subtly teach you and thing or two about life. Appalachians weren’t the only folks who created stories and passed them down. Storytelling can be found in cultures around the world. How is storytelling just as important in building literacy skills as reading a printed book?

“Understanding and creating narratives is a fundamental literacy skill—it is also a universal human activity. When students work with written texts, recite or listen to stories, or present narratives through non-verbal means, such as art or dance, they are learning to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate their world. Teachers can build rewarding experiences for students that activate their natural love for and interest in stories. They can do this in a way that expands children’s fluency and confidence with language, as well as their respect for the rich diversity of narrative approaches and language use across cultures. As students experience narratives from different cultures, they gain perspectives on people and stories in worlds that may be unfamiliar. This will be valuable to students in many ways, for example by helping them bring a sense of perspective to their own culture and stories” (PBS Learning Media).

If you’re not familiar with oral stories, I urge you to try attending a storytelling event or, if that’s not possible, listening to or watching storytellers online. World Storytelling Day is March 20th and is an international celebration of the oral art of storytelling. Storytellers of Canada / Conteurs du Canada has an events page of storytelling events happening in each province and online. Storytelling isn’t just for children, but for adults, too. And don’t be afraid of making up your own story! The more you do it, the better you’ll be.

For further information on how oral storytelling can improve literacy, please visit The Power of Story: Using Storytelling to Improve Literacy Learning. For examples of the art of storytelling or to simply enjoy a story or several, please see:

Telling Tales

Storytelling Sampler

Ghost Stories by Jackie Torrence–Part 1

Ghost Stories by Jackie Torrence–Part 2

Richard Chase Tells Three Jack Tales From Southern Appalachia

Ray Hicks Telling Four Traditional Jack Tales

Appalachian Storyteller Ray Hicks Tells “Jack and the Giant”

If you would like more information about prominent storytellers or oral literature in general, please feel free to contact me at catherine.bellamy@surrey.ca.

-Catherine Bellamy, Youth Services Librarian – Community Outreach, Guildford Branch, Surrey Libraries.

Reader’s Fatigue

I have reader’s fatigue.

Today, I asked my colleague, “What is the point of reading all these books?” Like, there’s just another pile waiting for me anyway, and it’s never going to end, and some of the books are literally the same story as the one I just read (I read a lot of YA). So, I’m feeling kind of bitter, jaded, and mostly fatigued about the whole thing. Has anyone else felt this way?

She told me to take a break, to listen to music instead. Good advice. Except for the fact that one of the books in my pile is an interlibrary loan, and I NEED TO GET TO IT. Do you know that stressful, anxious, urgent feeling I am speaking of?

It also doesn’t help that I am currently on committees that require me to read books (ALA’s Over The Rainbow booklist and the Red Cedar Award selection committee). I also have magazines that I subscribe to that I haven’t even had a chance to even flip through. Don’t even get me started on the journals that route my way at work. Why did I sign up for all those again? Oh right, so I can look through them to find MORE BOOKS TO READ. And I have to apologize to all my friends and anyone else who has loaned me a book of theirs, because they are sitting in the corner gathering dust, as I wade my way first through library books and have put your lovingly bought and owned books on the back burner.

Then there’s the book club I’m in, which some of you may be familiar with: the Book Club for Masochists. Each month a different genre is pulled out of a hat. This is a great way to read books from genres that one normally would never explore. I love this idea! And I like the people that are in the book club! But this month, I bowed out. I just didn’t participate (it’s mainly online). So, I felt guilt and shame about it. I wanted to be part of it, but I just had no time. And February is a shorter month than the rest so that makes it even more time-constrained.

It’s a never ending cycle and I need some intervention. Please, fellow readers and reader advisors, help me! How can I rediscover my love for reading when I am feeling completely burnt out? What is your advice? Do I just have to give up some of the titles that I have at home? Return them and release them back into the wild, and hope that one day they will cross my path again when I am feeling better?

Or when do you give up on a book? How many pages do you give it before you toss it back into the Return Bin? My threshold is about 50-100 pages, unless the first few pages are excruciatingly bad. Or do you power through so you can feel accomplished? I’m a quitter. I don’t have time to read bad books if I’m not into it. Or perhaps I need to quit reading for awhile and try and find myself again.

Someone just told me Reader’s Fatigue is an actual thing. Is it? Does anyone know?  I didn’t do any research on this topic. I am just expressing what I am going through at the moment, and hopefully it will touch a nerve with someone out there. Has anyone else heard of or suffered through Reader’s Fatigue? If so, how did you get through it?

– Alan Woo, Information & Teen Services Librarian, Guildford Branch, Surrey Libraries 

UPDATE:

Today, the next morning, I am feeling better. Maybe all I needed was a good night’s sleep? Or maybe I just needed a BETTER BOOK? I ended up taking that interlibrary loan I spoke of for my morning commute read, and wow, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it and dare I say, chuckling audibly on transit. This is the book that may have saved me from myself:

Meaty by Samantha Irby.

meaty-by-samantha-irby

This book is a collection of essays that read like hilarious blog posts from Samantha Irby, creator of the blog Bitches Gotta Eat. Thank you Ms. Irby for rescuing me and renewing my faith in reading!

Do you have a book recommendation that would save someone from Reader’s Fatigue?