March Book Round-Up

Here are the books I read in March:

1. Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs (Temperance Brennan #1)


I picked this off a friend’s bookshelf, and brought the little brick of a book home to read. I’ve been a fan of the TV series Bones for years, but have never read any of the source material—until now. It was moderately captivating, and it was interesting to see how different the books are from the show. But I’m not interested in reading any further Brennan books.

2. The Llama of Death by Betty Webb (A Gunn Zoo Mystery)


Continuing my quest to read every llama-related book at the Winnipeg Public Library, I read yet another book about llamas… and death. Unfortunately, it sucked. Inconsistent, with weak characters and writing, The Llama of Death disappointed.

3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Chronicles I: Art & Design by Daniel Falconer


This is a beautiful coffee-table book created by Weta Workshop to showcase the incredible amount of talent and hard work that went into creating the Hobbit movies. It’s packed with drawings and illustrations, all credited to their artists, as well as commentary from a ton of the people who were involved in the behind-the-scenes creation of these visually stunning movies.

4. Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman


I shall here echo what every Goodreads reviewer of this book says—it lacks focus! I was disappointed by this book, by veteran psychology writer Goleman (why is every psychology writer named Daniel!?!?!!?!). It seriously just doesn’t know what it’s doing. And it doesn’t have much to say!

• • •

You can also read my January and February book round-ups. They are longer than this one. I’ve been watching too much TV (Person of Interest!!!).

Running tally for the year:

  • Books read per month: 8 / 8 / 4 = 20 total
  • Books by women: 3 / 5 / 2 = 10 total (not by design… good sign though)
  • Books about llamas: 3 (plus numerous children’s books)
  • Fiction / non-fiction: 8 / 12
  • Mysteries: 5 (normally I don’t read any!)
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Kim’s Convenience at Manitoba Theatre Centre: Some Thoughts

I saw Kim’s Convenience (by Ins Choi) at the Manitoba Theatre Centre mainstage last night. That old adage “I laughed, I cried” literally applied. This play got me excited. I think it’s important. Not important in a stuffy, haughty, academic way—quite the opposite. This is accessible theatre. This is Canadian theatre. But this isn’t Canadian theatre in a boring, small-town, stereotypical, hoser way—quite the opposite. This is the story of first and second generation Korean immigrants. But it’s not a drama. It’s not a sob story. It’s not about hardship (although it is about hard work). It’s not about painting a large group of people in broad strokes (although the story in large part does reflect the experiences of a huge number of Canadians, including my dad and his family). It’s about individuals. It’s about family. And there isn’t a white person in sight.

As a play, Kim’s Convenience is a lot of fun. It’s very funny, with some serious moments. The set—a convenience store—is really neat and very effective. The writing is excellent—playing off stereotypes without falling right into them; on occasion heartfelt but never sappy; well structured. The actors in this particular production are all excellent: Jane Luk as quiet, family-minded Umma (mom); Chantelle Han as energetic, contrary daughter Janet; playwright Ins Choi as headstrong, repentant son Jung; Andre Sills as various customers and as love interest/policeman Alex; and the brilliant Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Appa (dad). The play rests squarely on Lee’s shoulders, and he lifts it up high. His scenes with Han in particular are great fun, full of a feisty father-daughter enmity/love.

But works of art don’t exist in a vacuum. And that’s why Kim’s Convenience is not just a great play. It’s an exciting and important one too. Because there are no white characters on stage, ever. Because the women don’t play weak, small, supporting roles. Because the Asian—and black—characters portrayed aren’t just stereotypes; they are real, individual people. Because at no point is this an overt piece of activism; it’s just a story. A Canadian story, a current story, an engaging current Canadian story, one that we can be proud to call our own. A couple generations ago, all these characters could easily have been Ukrainian, or Hungarian, or Chinese. Now, they could be Filipino, or Ethiopian. The story would be different but the same.

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see five non-white people hold their own on stage. Ins Choi has done an incredible, powerful thing in writing a comedy that tells his own family’s story, and in so doing created real, fun, engaging Asian characters. This is not a counter-culture work of art. This is a mainstream, mainstage play. And that is exactly why it is so unusual. And so important.

Kim’s Convenience runs until April 5th at the MTC Mainstage, and it is awesome. After that, it heads to the Vancouver Arts Club, April 24–May 24. Cross fingers that it will make it to your city soon.

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February Book Round-Up

Here are the books I read in February:

1. Serving Victoria by Kate Hubbard


This book focuses on six members of Queen Victoria’s court, throughout her long reign. The title infers servants, but this is not the case—members of the queen’s court were Ladies and Gentlemen, people of title. Hubbard chose her particular six people because they had left behind a large amount of correspondence, so she was able to piece together a strong picture of what their lives in court had been like. Unfortunately, it turns out that life in Queen Victoria’s court was dull, dull, dull. How do you make a dull subject interesting reading? This is a question to which Hubbard has yet to find a satisfactory answer. The book assumed the reader had a fairly significant pre-existing knowledge of Queen Victoria and her entourage, so this would probably have been a better read for someone well-versed in the royal family.

2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — Official Movie Guide by Brian Sibley


Always an enjoyable delve into movie worlds, Sibley provides another broad view of a major fantasy film. I love all the behind-the-scenes pictures, from so many different departments; it’s a great way of getting an overview of more than just the actors, and I really like the variety of departments he interviews. It’s incredible to see just how much work (and joy) goes into making these films!

3. The Victorian Home by Jenni Calder


This book is from the 1970s, and I don’t know whether that’s what makes the tone different to the recent Victorian-era books I’ve read, or whether it’s simply Calder’s writing style. I found this book difficult to get into—again, because of the large pages, or because of the writing style?—and it felt a bit disorganized, but I did appreciate her insights. Not content to simply state facts, Calder often drew those facts together to create some really valuable conclusions about the era.

4. 100 Ideas That Changed Art by Michael Bird


Who needs chronologies or movements, when you can have ideas. A whole new take on an art book, this volume attempts to distill art into its 100 most influential ideas. Some seem pretty solid; some (“white”??) more questionable. Since I know very little about art, I enjoyed reading about it from this angle—it didn’t feel as overwhelming as attempting to go year-by-year, country-by-country, movement-by-movement—and looking at the pictures on every page.

5. A Most Unpleasant Wedding by Judith Alguire (Rudley Mysteries #3)


The third book in the Rudley mystery series is another fun ride through the Ontarian resort scene. I’ve enjoyed coming back to these characters every time.

6. Llamas: An Introduction to Care, Training, and Handling by Sandi Burt


Want to know whether or not you should start a llama farm? This book won’t be enough for you to actually start the farm, but it will certainly let you know whether you’d be up for the job (I abandoned any idyllic llama-raising dreams around the first aid chapter). Now over 20 years old, at least some of the material is assuredly outdated. But this was one of the first llama care books in North America.

7. The Silence of the Llamas by Anne Canadeo


A llama has been murdered! Oh no! A stupidly easy read (so that’s the difference between literary and mass market) that leant towards vapid, this was still a fun enough volume. It follows the exploits of the black sheep knitting club, as they determine the identity of the llama—and then human—killer!

8. The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz


I struggled with what to think of this intriguing volume of psychoanalysis anecdotes. Grosz tells true stories of encounters he’s had with patients. That’s it. That’s the book. He has selected the stories carefully. We are meant to take meaning out of them without any further explanation, without any sitting us down and checking that we got the message. This isn’t normally how psychology books work. Normally the anecdote draws the reader in, and then the real book begins. But that’s all that this book is. The feeling of half the book being missing stayed with me throughout this quick volume. And yet if anyone could pull off a volume of just psychoanalysis anecdotes, Grosz has done so.

• • •

Read my January book round-up HERE.

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Llamas at the Library, Part 1: Kids’ Books

Here is what you can discover about llamas in books from the Winnipeg Public Library. These are all the WPL’s children’s books that appear in a keyword search for the word ‘llama.’

Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney (text & illustrations), 2013


Main character: Llama Llama
Secondary characters: Nelly Gnu, Gilroy Goat, zebra teacher
Llama factor: 100%
Overall book rating: 4/5

Book 7 in Dewdney’s Llama Llama series, we are once again drawn into the schoolroom of Llama Llama, with his teacher the zebra, and his classmates the gnu, sheep, cat, giraffe, rhino, calf, and the bully goat. Everyone gets along great, except for the bully goat, who doesn’t know how to share and play nice. Luckily, Llama Llama stands up for himself, and enlists the teacher’s help to get Gilroy the goat to behave. Beautifully illustrated once again, with pleasing rhymes, and an important but not too in-your-face playground lesson, this is another solid addition to the Llama Llama series.

The other Llama Llama titles are also available from the Winnipeg Public Library, as picture books and as board books.

• • •

Harley by Star Livingstone (text) & Molly Bang (illustrations), 2001


Main character: Harley the llama
Secondary character: the shepherd
Llama factor: 100%
Overall book rating: 3.5/5

Based on the true story of Harley the real-life llama from Massachussetts, Harley is a fun story for young readers about Harley’s journey to become a guard llama (yeah that’s a thing!). Although the text is quite simplistic, Harley’s personality shines through, and this is an entertaining read. The many paintings are not exquisite, but they do match the text well. I like Harley because it accurately represents the life of a ranch llama to young readers—Harley is not anthropomorphized, but instead gets to be himself, and is still super cool. Harley is a total bad-ass llama. Go Harley!

• • •

The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems by Mary Ann Hoberman (text) & Betty Fraser (illustrations), 2006 ed. (original 1998)

The Llama who had no pajama

Main characters: varied
Llama factor: 1%
Overall book rating: …I only read the one poem. I would give it a 4/5

This book is ideal for parent-kid reading, but alas! only one poem is about a llama. The poem itself is very cute and entertaining (and fits into a children’s literature llama theme of baby llama and its mother), and the illustrations are lovely. But, I admit, I only got this book for the title and its llama content. So after I read the llama poem in question, I set this one aside.

• • •

Tales of Latin America: Retold Timeless Classics retold by Peg Hall with illustrations by Margaret Sanfilippo, 2001


Main characters: Acoynapa the llama herder & Chuquillanto the daughter of the Sun
Secondary characters: Acoynapa’s mother
Llama factor: 5%
Overall book rating: I only read the one tale, which was fine. 3/5

This short book for children contains five tales and one play. Tale 4 is called The Llama Herder and the Daughter of the Sun: An Incan Legend. It is a tale about a llama herder, who lives on Earth, who meets one of the Sun’s daughters, who is basically a goddess who lives in Heaven. They fall in love, but can’t be together (for reasons which are hopefully obvious in the previous sentence), but through some sneaking around, figure out how to live happily ever after. Unfortunately, there are no actual llamas in this story. It is just the man’s job title. Humph. The other tales are not llama-related.

Fun fact: this book is in the ABE (Adult Basic Education) section of the WPL. I had to ask a librarian where to find it. He thought it was strange that I wanted an ABE book. I did not explain to him that I was checking out every book in the WPL system with the keyword ‘llama’ in its description. I don’t know if an explanation would have made our interaction more or less awkward.

• • •

Maria Had a Little Llama / María tenía una llamita by Angela Dominguez (text & illustrations), 2013


Main character: Maria (human girl)
Secondary character: Maria’s llama
Llama factor: 92% (loses points for llama not being the main character)
Overall book rating: 3/5

Maria is an English-Spanish bilingual children’s book with full-page illustrations. It is only 24 pages long, with extremely little text. As you can guess from the title, this book is based off of the Mary Had a Little Lamb rhyme. But in this case, Maria takes her llama to school! I absolutely adore the idea of bilingual children’s books, but unfortunately the little text in this book is not very good—the English text barely holds the rhyme scheme together, and the Spanish does not rhyme at all, which I think rather defeats the purpose of basing it off of a known children’s rhyme. That said, the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, and tell the story in and of themselves.

• • •

Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino (text) & Steven Kellogg (illustrations), 1989


Main character: Lloyd, a young llama
Secondary characters: various animals from around the world (apparently Lloyd can teleport or something)
Llama factor: 100%
Overall book rating: 4/5

A hugely popular book published 25 years ago, this delightful children’s book hasn’t aged a day. The illustrations are expressive and adorable, the positioning of the text is simple but effective, and the text itself is clear and entertaining. I am a little concerned about Lloyd’s mother’s parenting abilities (where is she while he is meeting all these other creatures!?), but he seems fine in the end, so he must be very independent and capable.

• • •

Llama by Caroline Arnold (text) & Richard Hewett (photographs), 1988


Main character: Gypsy the baby llama
Secondary characters: lots of other llamas
Llama factor: 100% TO THE MAX
Overall book rating: 5/5

This book should be called Llama 101. It is a non-fiction children’s book (in the same series are titles including Giraffe, Kangaroo, Koala, Penguin, and Zebra) with quite a lot of text, and many wonderful photographs. Well, technically it’s a children’s book. In reality, it could be used as a llama primer for all ages. From this book, I learned:

  • There is a llama in Peru’s coat of arms.
  • Llamas’ closest relatives (lamoids) are alpacas, guanacos, and vicuñas, all of which can interbreed.
  • In Incan times, clothes made from the wool of vicuñas was so valuable that only royalty were allowed to wear them.
  • In Spanish, the male llama is called el macho, the female la hembra, and the baby la cria.
  • A baby llama starts walking ON THE DAY THAT IT’S BORN. Impressive!
  • Llamas have a split upper lip, front teeth only on their lower jaw, and they have three stomachs.
  • Because lamoids have lived in cold mountain regions for so long, they have evolved not only heavy wool coats, but also enlarged lungs, big hearts, and more red blood cells, so that they can breathe in the high elevations (but they have no problem living at lower elevations).
  • Although some people shear the wool off their llamas, most obtain it by brushing.
  • There are LLAMA SHOWS where llamas are exhibited and the prettiest ones get blue ribbons. At the llama shows, there are sometimes also LLAMA OBSTACLE COURSE RACES (the photos are priceless).

So basically this book is the best.

• • •

Coming soon—Part 2: Adult Books (fiction & non-fiction)!

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January Book Round-Up

Here are the books I read in January:

1. The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
Ever since I read Brideshead Revisited, I’ve been picking up Evelyn Waugh books at second hand bookstores and used book sales. Of course, the funny thing about Brideshead Revisited is that it’s nothing like any of Waugh’s other (fairly extensive) work. But English satire is still my thing, thus another Waugh book is added to the ‘read’ list.

2. The Pumpkin Murders by Judith Alguire (Rudley Mysteries #2)
This one was published by Signature Editions, where I work. I really enjoyed the first Rudley Mystery, and this one is good fun too. They never have a whole ton to do with the actual murders occurring, but are all about the goofy and endearing guests of the Pleasant Inn. Great quick reads, filled with wit and charm.

3. Angloman by Mark Shainblum & Gabriel Morrissette
Another title from Signature Editions’ back catalogue, this is a satiric graphic novel of Québec superheroes, based around language politics of the 90s (when it was written). Very clever and fun, although obviously full of Québec references, which might go over some people’s heads.

4. The Exiles of Faloo by Barry Pain
I smooth read this book for Distributed Proofreaders (yep, that’s a thing). You can find all sorts of fascinating things on that site. It was about some Englishmen who had done bad things and run away from Britain to a small (fictitious) island called Faloo, where they founded a gentlemen’s club, invested money with the local King, and eventually got in a lot of trouble (they were bad men, after all).

5. The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed by Judith Flanders
This hefty tome was absolutely fascinating, heavily researched, and a joy to read. I learned an enormous amount, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to anyone interested in how Victorians lived their day-to-day lives.

6. Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison
An autobiography by Lady Astor’s (very very rich lady in turn-of-the-century England; see: Downton Abbey) ladies’ maid. Really interesting and entertaining, especially because she and Lady Astor are both such characters. She was clearly quite a privileged maid, so her perspective is very different from that of a lower servant, but if anything, that makes this book even more interesting, because it shows that a servant could have quite a rewarding and enjoyable time if they were an upper servant in a good position.

7. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist—the Facts of Daily Life in 19th Century England by Daniel Pool
This book looks at life in 19th century England from a literary perspective, specifically explaining things that you might read in Dickens or Trollope or Austen. I found this take a bit irritating, as it seemed to leave things out, and especially because I hadn’t read every book that he references (about 35 in total), and there are spoilers throughout! He does touch on lots of things that I genuinely have wondered about—I know now the rankings of duke, marquis, earl, viscount, and baron go in that order—but the format and the writing aren’t spectacular. It’s probably a good reference book, but not a totally satisfying sit-down read.

8. Nineteenth-Century Britain: A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Harvie & H.C.G. Matthew
I picked this up thinking that it would be a good overview of the century, and it is an overview, but a challenging one, full of people, places, movements, etc. unexplained for lack of space. This was taken from a much larger encyclopedia, and it shows. My conclusion: now I know what I don’t know about 19th century Britain.

Conclusions for the month:

  • I figured out where all the female non-fiction writers are. They’re writing about the British home. (Private sphere! Makes sense!)
  • Nobody is as good as Judith Flanders, but I’ll keep trying to prove this point wrong.
  • As soon as I read Evelyn Waugh books (except for Brideshead), I forget them.
  • Maybe light-hearted mysteries are fun. Worth reading more to determine veracity.
  • If I continue reading at this pace, I will read 96 books this year! This seems unlikely. Time shall tell!
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Sheepbook: The Problem with Sharing the Same Thing as EVERYONE ELSE

I am sick of Lookbacks. I am sick of Bitstrips, Zimbio, and every other shallow, overshared site that’s giving you a taste of identity so that you don’t have to make your own. But most of all, I’m sick of mindless sharing. I didn’t sign up for Sheepbook. I want Facebook back.

I have had Facebook since 2006, just like millions upon millions of other people. Over the years, I have griped about its often irksome, backwards, and anti-user (pro-ad-revenue) changes. But I have also encouraged anyone I knew who didn’t have Facebook to make themselves an account.

Because if you’re not on Facebook, you’re missing out.

You’re missing out on conversations with friends, on events from friends and companies you know and many you don’t, on news articles published five minutes ago, on comics and memes, on the zeitgeist of your acquaintance group. You miss things like your friend’s birthday party, your cousin’s engagement, the new son of an old classmate. You miss out.

But now…

All of those valuable posts and conversations are still happening. But unfortunately, you now have to ALSO wade through an ever-increasing deluge of memes, Bitstrips, clickbait articles, re-shares from popular pages, quiz results, and this week, hundreds (or at least dozens; in any case, WAY TOO MANY) of Facebook Lookback videos, ‘celebrating’ Facebook’s 10th birthday.

What’s the problem?

Good content becomes more and more diluted every day. I can block Bitstrips, or individual websites like Upworthy or Zimbio (the home of all those accursed quizzes). But I don’t want to unfriend a real-life friend just because they shared their Lookback. The problem is, I can’t hide the Lookbacks. Just like I can’t hide, say, TIME if I still want some results from TIME to appear in my feed, but just not the annoying ones.

Facebook used to be a place for people to share their personal news, big and small (sometimes VERY small). And it still is, or at least some small part of it still is. But the ratio of good content vs banal is tipping over to the verge of uselessness. And all because people are sharing essentially useless posts. Facebook has set things up this way. And it will lead to their downfall. For now, I will continue to trawl through my News Feed (set to Most Recent), desperately searching for scraps of meaningful content. Wishing, nay dreaming, that the users of this social media platform would quit dragging themselves—ourselves—down, making me resent my online experience, longing for the days when Facebook didn’t feel like a chain letter, or friend-created spam, or an exercise in speed-reading.

Turns out curating takes skill. I think I knew this all along. But when you expect hundreds of diverse people to all curate their online experience well… I guess that’s expecting too much. I never like lowering my expectations.

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Life Happens: An Update on the Past Two Years

Oh yeah, this thing still exists. Here’s some stuff I’ve done since last I posted here.

Fall 2012—Winter 2013

Returned to Victoria after my summer of Fringe-ing.

Got a contract job as Communications Assistant at the Victoria Film Festival.

Assisted Missie Peters in the creation of the 2013 Victoria Spoken Word Festival, as her right-hand woman aka Festival Administrator.

Stage managed a play called “That Face” at Victoria’s awesome community theatre Langham Court. Trial by fire!!!

March—Summer 2013

All of the above wrapped up… and I moved to Winnipeg to live with my partner Aaron!

Got a contract job over the summer with the Winnipeg Folk Festival as Performer Services Assistant. Had the time of my life.

Volunteered at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. It is maybe the best Fringe ever (apart from Victoria, OF COURSE).

Briefly returned to Victoria for Fringe as Front of House Manager for Wood Hall (2nd year in a row) with my rad tech Simon.

Fall 2013

Did a ton of volunteering for the Winnipeg International Writers Festival (where Aaron works).

Started a mentorship with Charlene Diehl, the director of the Winnipeg International Writers Festival, through ACI’s Youth Mentorship Program.

The mentorship was for… the creation of the inaugural Winnipeg Spoken Word Festival, which I decided to found with Aaron, and for which I am the Festival Director. The festival is scheduled for June 2014.

Started working as Marketing Assistant at Signature Editions, a literary press based in Wolseley.

2014 (aka now)

Currently working at Signature Editions.

Alternately very excited about, or panicking about, the creation of the Winnipeg Spoken Word Festival.

This summer, I will be the Guest Producer of the Victoria Fringe Festival. VERY EXCITING!!!!! I absolutely cannot wait.

Aaron has an amazing year ahead of him, and I am very proud of all his achievements and the recognition his spoken word career is receiving. He has been admitted to the Banff Spoken Word Program, will be doing a show in the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, and will be featuring at shows all across the country. I get to look on and bask.

No idea what the fall will hold. But I don’t need to know. It will sort itself out.

For now? Onwards!

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