"at your library" in the north island eagle: stress reduction one of the top 10 benefits of reading

A regular reader of this column asked me, “I spend a lot of time reading, then I feel guilty because I’m wasting time. ….”

Reading is many things, but it is never a waste of time! Here are the top benefits of reading.

1. Reducing stress. We live in stressful times, when the complicated demands of work, family, and personal health can be great, and the news of the larger world can be distressing. Reading something engrossing and enjoyable lets you lose yourself in another world. This helps you relax physically and mentally, which is something we all need.

2. Improving memory. Studies have shown that staying mentally stimulated can slow the progress of age-related memory loss. Just like our muscles, our brains need stimulation to keep them strong and healthy. Reading is exercise for our brains.

3. Building empathy. Studies have shown that people who read have more empathy than people who don’t read. That shouldn’t surprise us, since when we read, we enter other people’s lives, their concerns, their motivations. We think about life from another person’s point of view – the very definition of empathy. Building empathy helps us accept and care about other people, something our world could use more of.

4. Gaining knowledge. All reading, whether fact of fiction, helps us learn about the world. The more we know, the more prepared we are to face the many challenges that life throws at us. 

5. Improving focus and concentration. In a time of information overload and the pressures of multi-tasking, many of us find it difficult to focus and concentrate. Reading helps focus your attention. If you find it difficult to focus on a book, try reading for a short period of time – even 5 or 10 minutes. Even that small period of concentration will help calm and re-focus your mind. If you gradually expand the time you spend reading in one sitting, you’l probably find your focus improves in other areas of your life, too.

6. Improving vocabulary. The more you read, the more words you are exposed to. Without your realizing it, these words will become part of your vocabulary. Being more articulate and better able to express our thoughts are very useful skills.

7. Sharpening analytical thinking. Since reading exercises your brain, it increases our ability to analyze issues and problems. Combined with an enhanced ability to understand other people’s points of view, this is a winning combination in facing many of life’s challenges.

8. Improving writing skills. Being exposed to good writing helps us write better. These days, the ability to express oneself in writing is not an extra, it’s an essential skill. People who read are better equipped for this.

9. Combatting insomnia. Since reading helps us de-stress and relaxes our minds, it can help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Many readers have a habit of reading before bed, for this very reason. 

10. Reading is free entertainment. When money is tight and budgets are limited – as they always are – knowing how to enjoy ourselves without spending money is important. Fortunately, two of the best ways to relax and enjoy ourselves are free: walking and reading. Both of these are important habits to cultivate – for your health, and just for fun.

"at your library" in the north island eagle: celebrate asian heritage at your library

As I mentioned here, I'm posting three of these columns each week until I'm caught up.

May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada, and the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) invites you to celebrate. 

People of Asian heritage have lived in Canada since before Confederation, and have contributed to every aspect of Canadian society. This year’s Asian Heritage Month has special meaning, as there has been a sharp rise in acts of racism against Asian Canadians. 

Your library has curated many resources related to Asian heritage in Canada, yours to read, watch, and explore. Here are just a few highlights; you can see the full menu at virl.bc.ca/asian-heritage-month.

*** Have you heard of Paldi? Paldi was a mill town near Duncan, established in 1916 by Sikh immigrants from India. The town was a thriving, multicultural community, also home to immigrants from China, Europe, and Japan. Today, all that remains of Paldi is a Sikh temple, designated an Historic Site in 2014.

On our website, you can learn more about how Asian heritage intersects with Vancouver Island. There are short, interesting stories, with links to more information.

*** Fiction by Asian Canadians

The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang: In this historical novel set in China in 1937, a group of students flee the university when Japanese bombs fall. But it’s not just the students who are at risk: they have been entrusted to safeguard a 500-year-old collection of folklore known as the Library of Legends.

The Conjoined, by Jen Sookfong Lee: This page-turner is part family drama and part mystery. After the recent death of her mother, Jessica is cleaning out her mother’s home, when she comes upon a shocking family secret.

Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje: The latest novel by this award-winning Canadian author  follows two siblings in the period after World War II. Abandoned by their parents, they are educated and cared for by a mysterious man who may be a criminal. Years later, one sibling investigates everything they didn’t understand at the time.

*** Nonfiction about the Asian experience in Canada

Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related, by Jenny Heijun Wills: In this memoir, Wills writes about re-connecting with her Korean birth family after having been adopted as an infant by a white family in Canada, exploring family, kinship, and culture.

Chop Suey Nation, by Ann Hui: Hui took a cross-Canada road trip, visiting small-town Chinese restaurants and talking to the people who own them. The author blends journalism with memoir, and discovers more about her own family history.

Secrets from My Vietnamese Kitchen By Kim Thúy: This cookbook by celebrated Vietnamese Canadian novelist Kim Thúy explores her cultural heritage through food. The easy recipes are interspersed with stories about the “many mothers” in Thúy’s life from whom the recipes came.

*** Movies: On Kanopy, you can watch a wide variety of movies – both fictional and documentary – exploring Asian Canadian heritage. Kanopy is always free; all you need is an internet connection and a device. 

Here are a few titles you might want to check out.


One Big Hapa Family: A loving, life-affirming documentary about Japanese-Canadian culture, and how each successive generation perceives and expresses their heritage.

Painted Nails: Van Hoang, a Vietnamese nail salon owner, never intended to be an activist. When you meet Hoang, her employees, and her clients, you can’t help but cheer her on.

The Donut King: Cambodian refugee Ted Ngoy builds a multi-million dollar empire by baking donuts. A story of fate, love, survival, and redemption.

Fictional Film

Old Stone: A psychological thriller about a taxi driver battling bureaucracy and legal manipulation in China.

Ploy: A tale of love, jealousy, and danger, set in Thailand.

The Third Wife: This period piece, set in the 19th century, follows a 14-year-old girl who becomes the third wife to a wealthy landowner in rural Vietnam.

For many more choices, visit virl.bc.ca/asian-heritage-month.


what i'm reading: the cold millions by jess walter

There is an accepted wisdom that socialism and communism failed, and capitalism prevailed, because the former is bad, and the latter is good. That humankind rejected socialism and embraced capitalism, because socialism is unnatural and unsustainable, and capitalism reflects the natural human condition.

This accepted wisdom, like so many others, is a lie.

Jess Walter's novel The Cold Millions illustrates a slice of the truth that counters that lie. This excellent historical fiction illuminates one of the many ways that the dream of socialism was persecuted, suppressed, and ultimately killed by the people whose power it threatened. 

The Cold Millions is set in the northwestern United States -- mostly Spokane, Washington -- in the early 20th Century. It was a time when a tiny portion of the population controlled vast resources, including governments and police forces, and the majority of the population lived in poverty and squalor. (Sound familiar?) There was a fledgling middle class, but it was only steps away from poverty, and so, easily frightened and controlled. 

Even though these oligarchs controlled nearly everything, they must have known their position was unsustainable, because they systematically broke or bought anyone who sought to change the prevailing conditions. Labour unions and socialists were constantly in their sights.

The International Workers of the World -- the IWW, often called the Wobblies -- particularly inflamed and enraged the ruling class. The Wobblies were (and are, they still exist) a special breed of labour organizers: they wanted to organize all workers, regardless of industry, regardless of the type or level of their skills. They were also well ahead of their time in standing up for all workers, including Black people, all immigrants, and all women. 

The IWW and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, one of the fiercest and most progressive labour leaders in history, figure prominently in The Cold Millions, intermingled with labourers, drifters, burlesque performers, hired thugs, corrupt police officers, yellow journalists, and other colourful characters. 

The central characters are a pair of Irish brothers, drifters and sometimes workers, caught up in their own survival and a vague desire for a better life. There are wonderful sketches of many characters' backstories, and intimate stories of love and loss, set against a sweeping backdrop of social unrest.

Jess Walter's history is well researched, and his fiction is lively and engaging. He weaves different and competing philosophies into the characters, and although he's clearly sympathetic to the workers, the book left me wondering where his own politics shake out.

Walter also paints a portrait of some American cities in their infancy, especially a Spokane and Seattle that no one would recognize today. These were towns with barely one foot out of the Wild West and Gold Rush days, mired in a wildly corrupt and chaotic brand of feudalism. I found this aspect of the history especially fascinating.

The Cold Millions is a thought-provoking book, and a solid, page-turning read.   

* * * *

A few more personal thoughts. 

I am drawn to anything about the IWW and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Reading about them ignites my most deeply held beliefs, and makes me feel like I was born in the wrong time. I imagine I would have been a better labour leader in the days when workers downed tools and walked out of factories. People such as Flynn and Clara Lemlich and the New England "mill girls" are my spiritual godmothers.

In an afterword, the author sorts fact from fiction, and recommends further reading. I was so pleased to have read a few of the books on his list, most notably Big Trouble by J. Anthony Lukas, published in 1998, one of my all-time favourite books. At one point in The Cold Millions, there is a reference to the former governor of Idaho being dynamited by radical mineworkers (the survivors of a massacre he ordered). I immediately thought, Big Trouble! That's the event from Big Trouble!


in which the cool coastal climate kicks my ass: my first #gardenfail

I decided to convert a small patch of the front yard, overflowing with plantings from the previous owner of our house, into a small garden. My experiences with my gardenettes in southern Ontario were all very positive. They were also very easy: buy seedlings, put them in the ground, feed and water them, and et voilá, vegetables. 

This simple success has not followed me to my new home on the northern end of Vancouver Island. Unfortunately, there was more than one change, so I don't completely know what caused the failure. But failure it is. 

I'm not strongly invested in gardening, hence the words "tiny," "modest," and "gardenette" always appearing in these types of posts. But still, some vegetables to show for my efforts would have been nice!

Here's what happened. (I didn't document this experience with photos; photos below are generic.)

I didn't find a lot of seedlings (little plants already growing in small containers) for sale, and I always hear people talk about starting gardens from seeds, so I thought I'd give that a try. Never having planted seeds before, I researched quite a bit. 

I planted carrots and beets in the ground, and started tomatoes indoors. 

The beets and carrots never sprouted. Not a single leaf of either plant appeared. I have no idea why.

In our cool, coastal climate, you're supposed to start tomatoes indoors, then cover them when you plant them outdoors.

We saved small styrofoam containers from takeout food. I poked a few holes in the bottom, filled them with potting mix, and planted the tomato seeds. 

They sprouted quickly and grew bigger and stronger every day. I ended up with 14 plants growing in 10 containers. 

While the tomato plants were growing, we saved empty juice containers, then cut the bottom off, making a nice shelter for the plants. 

I waited until over-night temperatures were above 10 C (50 F), all the while saving juice containers and tending to the little tomato plants. When it seemed safe, I planted the seedlings and covered them, so they looked something like this. 

And then they died.

Not a single plant survived the transplanting. 

I know from past experience that plants often wilt after transplanting, so I continued to tend to the them. But it soon became obvious that my plucky little seedlings were not making  a comeback.

So I have a garden space cleared, I've started vermicomposting in the garage, but I have no plants. 

I'm done. For this year, anyway.

* * * *

Now I know why so many people in our area have a greenhouse in their backyard. There was a greenhouse in the yard when we bought our house, but we asked the sellers to remove it. 

I really don't want a greenhouse, but I won't attempt to start a garden from seeds again. Next year I'll make a greater effort to find seedlings. And if I try tomatoes again, I won't put them in the ground until they're much larger and stronger, or maybe grow them indoors only. 

"at your library" in the north island eagle: more favourite e-resources, always free with your library card

More Favourite E-Resources, Always FREE With Your Library Card

The Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) offers so many “e-resources,” it can be difficult to remember them all! That’s why I’m always reminding you about the treasures hidden in your library card. Everyone with a VIRL library card has access to all these digital resources, and they are always free of charge. 

If you don’t have a computer, come to one of our branches and use ours. If you don’t have internet access at home, come use our free wifi. And if you don’t know how to use these resources, don’t worry – we’re here to help!

Today I’ll highlight three of my personal favourites: Mango Languages, Naxos Music Library, and Kanopy. There are many ways to find these resources on VIRL’s website, but I like to use: virl.bc.ca > learn > all databases. That will bring you to a list of all our e-resources, in alphabetical order. 

Mango Languages is the premier online language-learning system. Mango features 75 different languages, plus courses to learn English, taught in more than 20 different languages. 

There are many language learning programs online, but none compare to Mango Languages. On Mango, each language is taught by a native speaker. Lessons start very simple, and build gradually, so you can quickly see progress and gain confidence. There’s lots of repetition and review built in. There’s even a feature where you can compare your pronunciation to the teacher’s and see how it matches up. 

I love Mango Languages because it’s designed for real life. Mango knows the kinds of words and phrases that you need for traveling or living in another country. I’ve used it several times for travel (remember travel?) and it was incredibly helpful and easy to use.

Naxos Music Library, plus Naxos Jazz Music and Naxos World Music Libraries, lets you listen to music by thousands of artists, in a vast range of styles. You can search by artist, country, culture, genre, or style, and listen to whole albums or single songs. You can tag favourites, create playlists, and search multiple ways, just as you can with commercial streaming services, but the Naxos Music Library is free and incredibly extensive. The jazz library alone contains more than 230,000 tracks. Where else could you explore so much music – legally, and at no cost? Only at your library.  

Many people – myself included – enjoy watching British movies and TV series through AcornTV, free with your VIRL library card. But to me, the pinnacle of all streaming services offered through VIRL is Kanopy. Kanopy is film. Independent film, hard-to-find movies, documentaries, award-winners, classics – if you love movies, you will love Kanopy. Using Kanopy, you can watch 10 movies per month. If you live with someone who also has a library card, that’s 20 plays between the you. Kanopy Kids and the Great Courses are unlimited. If you haven’t tried Great Courses, you must! 

[Shortly after this column was published, the company that owns Acorn ended its free library use.]

"at your library" in the north island eagle: three reasons to give virl virtual programming a try

Three Reasons to Give VIRL Virtual Programming a Try

Among the many victims of the covid pandemic have been library programs. Large libraries down-island – and in towns and cities all over the world – have moved their programs online. Many programs are offered live, through Zoom (or similar video-conferencing programs), and also recorded for future watching. 

This has been disappointing to many people, but for people in the North Island and other remote regions, it’s a very positive development! So many wonderful programs that would never come to our tiny communities are now available to us. Here are a few being offered by the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) that may interest you. 

Climate Reality: Finding Local Solutions
April 19, 6:30 pm
Presented in partnership with North Island Climate Hub
Join people from every VIRL location to understand how climate change is affecting us right now – and learn practical, achievable steps your community can take to reduce that impact. 

To get the Zoom link, go to virl.bc.ca/calendar, scroll to April 19, then choose show all > register.

VIRL Virtual Gardening Series
Next program: April 24, 1-2:30 pm, Rhododendrons: More than Just a Big Green Shrub
Presented in partnership with the Vancouver Island Master Gardeners
This virtual program focuses on specific gardening issues, with tips specifically tailored for Island gardeners. The series has been very popular and very useful. Future programs include How to Grow Squash & Pumpkins (May 1), A Primer on Roses: Varieties, Planting and Care (June 5), Winter Vegetables (July 3), and Native Plants for the Urban Landscape (Aug 14).

To get the Zoom link, go to virl.bc.ca/calendar, scroll to April 24, then choose show all > register.

Eden Robinson: Reading and Conversation
April 23, 2-3:00 pm
Attend an exclusive event with Eden Robinson, an internationally acclaimed Haisla and Heiltsuk author. Eden will read from and talk about her latest book, Return of the Trickster, the third and final installment in her Trickster trilogy. Eden’s work has won multiple awards in Canada and beyond. In 2018 she received an honorary doctoral degree from UBC for her literary works. Space is limited, so register early. 

Go to virl.bc.ca/calendar, scroll to April 23, then choose show all > “CLICK HERE for our registration page”.

To participate in any of these opportunities, and many more, all you need is an internet connection and a device (phone, tablet, or computer). 

If you haven’t used Zoom yet, or if you’ve used it but still feel unsure, stop by your favourite library branch. We’ll be happy to walk you through the process. No need to be embarrassed. None of us were born knowing these skills! 

"at your library" in the north island eagle: booklists: we could use a laugh

As I mentioned here, I'm posting three of these columns each week until I'm caught up.

Booklists: We Could Use a Laugh

I have one last booklist for you before I write about other things for a while. As the pandemic enters its second year, we could all use more humour in our lives, so here’s a list of funny books. 

Of course humour comes in many different flavours. A book that makes you laugh 'til you’re gasping for air may leave your friend totally cold – or worse, may offend them. Use this list with caution.

Title: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls
Author: David Sedaris
A collection of essays with Sedaris’ trademark humour: witty, sly, warm, personal, often easy to relate to. If you haven’t tried him yet, this is a good place to start.

Title: Bossypants
Author: Tina Fey
Essays on the crazy things that happen in life. Heartwarming, self-deprecating, funny observations on a wide range of topics from the creator and star of the clever sitcom “30 Rock”.

Title: A Confederacy of Dunces
Author: John Kennedy Toole
An extremely clever spoof novel and a modern classic, this book is full of crazy characters and dialogue written in New Orleans-ese. 

Title: Hyperbole and a Half
Author: Allie Brosh
A clever, witty, honest, self-revealing graphic novel. Look online for Brosh’s wildly popular blog.

Title: Good Omens
Authors: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Two literary comics offer a cutting satire of religion and other social institutions. 

Title: Cold Comfort Farm
Author: Stella Gibbons
First published in 1932 – and never out of print – this book’s dry, tongue-in-cheek humour could have been written yesterday. A clever parody and a “country mouse, city mouse” tale.

Title: Albatross
Author: Terry Fallis
This modern fairy tale follows an unlikely hero and his even more unlikely success. A sweet, funny book from a witty Canadian writer.

Title: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13-3/4
Author: Sue Townsend
The fictional diary of a pretentious, un-self-aware teen who fancies himself an intellectual. If you like it, you’re in luck – it’s the first in a series.

Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living
Author: Jason Gay
This humorous “how to live” book celebrates small, everyday wins that make life happy and rewarding, if we know how to recognize them.

Title: How To Be a Woman
Author: Caitlin Moran
An irreverent memoir of what it’s like to be a woman in the 21st century. Moran is brutally, hilariously honest, skewering every institution and social convention that holds women back.


how i resolved the feedburner (subscribe by email) issue: mailchimp

A while back, Blogger announced that it will no longer support the subscribe-by-email widget. This means readers who receive blog updates by email will no longer receive them.

I posted about this, looking for input from other bloggers about how they are handling this. I must have been unclear, because I heard mostly from readers, telling me they don't subscribe by email, and so will not have a problem. That's very good! But didn't help my dilemma.

The only email service I was familiar with was Mailchimp, which is used by many grassroots and nonprofit groups to manage mailing lists and communicate with their subscribers. I've used Mailchimp with a few different groups. It's very easy to use, and has a lot of great functions even on the free level. But I thought Mailchimp would be overkill for my needs.

I also don't want to pay for a service. I have many paid subscriptions; I don't expect to get everything for free. But since I do not (and never will) have ads on this blog, it doesn't generate income. I write for free and you read for free. All good. But I'm not going to pay for people to read a free blog!

I researched all different subscription services, and when all was said and done, I chose Mailchimp. I found nothing better -- not even close.

Bringing the list of wmtc subscribers to Mailchimp also has the hidden advantage of giving subscribers an opportunity to unsubscribe, and cleaning the mailing list of defunct email addresses. I expect my mailing list to shrink a lot, but at least I'll know that everyone who subscribes actually wants to -- as opposed to people who stopped reading 10 or 15 years ago.

I plan to keep this very simple. Current subscribers will get the option to sign up for the new list or to unsubscribe. Subscribers will receive an email whenever a new post is up. The end. I hope!


"at your library" in the north island eagle: booklists: hidden gems of historical fiction

Booklists: Hidden Gems of Historical Fiction

Here’s a booklist you may want to save: historical fiction. This genre brings history to life, by letting readers view it through the eyes of ordinary people. Sometimes there’s a romance or mystery set against a backdrop of an earlier time. Often there’s a mix of historical figures and fictional characters. Beyond the very popular titles, such as Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace (both terrific reads!) here are 10 titles that are worthy of your time.

Title: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafón
What you’ll find: A literary mystery set in post-war Barcelona. A bookseller’s son stumbles on a lost masterpiece – then realizes someone has destroyed every copy of the book. As he investigates, a complex web of murder, love, and intrigue emerges.

Title: The Home for Unwanted Girls
Author: Joanna Goodman
What you’ll find: A dark and little-known piece of Canadian history, set in 1950s Quebec. Secrets, suspense, heartbreak, and love, as a mother and daughter, forcibly separated, search for each other.

Title: Song of Batoche
Author: Maia Caron
What you’ll find: The story of Louis Riel and the 1885 Métis resistance, told from a woman’s point of view. A new perspective that raises new question about this epic history.

Title: Code Talker
Author: Joseph Bruchac
What you’ll find: The “Navajo Marines” who fought in World War II – their courage and pride, their amazing, life-saving work, all using a language they were told was useless. A stirring look at a hidden history.

Title: The Given Day
Author: Dennis Lehane
What you’ll find: Immigrants, revolutionaries, crime bosses, the fledgling labour movement, a fascinating array of historical figures – plus the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. Set in the U.S. cities Boston and Tulsa, this book is full of great characters.

Title: A Rising Man
Author: Abir Mukherjee
What you’ll find: A murder mystery set in 1919 India. Colonialism, the seeds of rebellion, the teeming city of Calcutta – and a tangled maze of investigation. A page-turner where the setting becomes a character in the story.

Title: The Alienist
Author: Caleb Carr
What you’ll find: A fast-paced murder mystery rich with historical detail, in a society that is reeling from change. Set in New York City in 1896, this book was wildly popular when it was published in the 1990s, and it remains a great read.

Title: The Invention of Wings
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
What you’ll find: Sarah and Hetty Grimke, real-life sisters who transformed themselves from wealthy slaveowners in the pre-Civil War United States to pioneers of the abolitionist and women’s movements. Moral courage, unconventional and inspirational lives, and some truth about slavery.

Title: In the Skin of a Lion
Author: Michael Ondaatje
What you’ll find: Toronto in the 1920s – a city of immigrants, full of poverty, upheaval, promise, and hope. With beautiful language and multiple story lines, this book is one to read slowly and savour.

Title: The Three Pleasures
Author: Terry Watada
What you’ll find: 1940s Vancouver, where the RCMP are rounding up Japanese-Canadians and seizing their fishing boats. We see this painful history up-close, through the eyes of three members of the community.

"at your library" in the north island eagle: booklists: hidden gems of fiction

Booklists: Hidden Gems of Fiction

Here’s a list of 10 so-called literary novels. These are great reads that will move you, make you think, and maybe make you sad when they end. Here are ten novels that could be called hidden gems.

Title: White Teeth
Author: Zadie Smith
A big mix of characters of many generations, ages, and backgrounds, all living in northwest London. Friendship, love, war, and just about everything else. One of the most talked-about debut novels ever, written when Smith was only 25.

Title: Sag Harbor
Author: Colson Whitehead
Before Whitehead became super famous from The Underground Railroad, he wrote many wonderful novels. This coming-of-age story is funny, sweet, sad, and tender. 

Title: News of the World
Author: Paulette Jiles
In the wake of the U.S. Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, reading newspapers to paying audiences, and enjoying a rootless, solitary existence. When he is offered a substantial sum to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. The two lonely survivors travel 400 miles together, facing dangers and great uncertainty. A poignant story of makes a family.

Title: Love
Author: Roddy Doyle
Two men, talking in a pub, unspooling their lives. You could call this a book where “nothing happens” but the men’s memories reveal that life’s most important moments may also be the smallest ones. Funny, sad, sweet, beautiful.

Title: Brooklyn
Author: Colm Toibin
Young Irish immigrants in Brooklyn in the early 1950s, finding love, leaving family behind. A mesmerizing, quiet, powerful historical novel about the power of love.

Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Two teenage misfits, both with burdens of their own, slowly find their way to each other. When the chips are down, community comes to their defense. A novel about first love that perfectly captures what it feels like to be a teenager. 

Title: Circling the Sun
Author: Paula McLain
This historical novel brings to life Beryl Markham, an English-Kenyan aviator, adventurer, and author, the first first person to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. McLain’s powerful novel reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time.

Title: City on Fire
Author: Garth Risk Hallberg
Set in 1976 New York City, this book is chock full of characters, whose lives intersect, sometimes in ways they will never know. A shooting in Central Park on New Year's Eve reverberates through families, friendships, and the loneliest corners of the city. During the blackout of July 13, 1977, each life will be changed forever.

Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
This book follows a woman’s journey from a vibrant but passive girl into an independent  and free woman, someone who has liberated herself from the many ways society wants to define and limit her. It’s also a lush love story, told in dazzling language. Rejected when it was first published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God is now considered a classic of the 20th Century. 

Title: The Three Body Problem
Author: Liu Cixin
During China's Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. On Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome them as superior beings or to fight against the invasion. This is considered a masterpiece of science fiction – and just plain masterpiece.

"at your library" in the north island eagle: booklists: meet amazing people through reading

As I mentioned here, I'm posting three of these columns each week until I'm caught up.

Booklists: Meet Amazing People Through Reading

In my last column, I suggested ten travelogues that might tempt you. Today I’m highlighting ten memoirs – great writing by fascinating people with a unique view of the world.

Title: Just Kids
Who’ll you’ll meet: Patti Smith, poet, musician, storied pioneer of punk rock
What you’ll find: The art and music scene in 1970s New York City; a warm and loving portrait of friendship; not a “tell-all” – a love letter.

Title: Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook
Who You’ll Meet: Alice Waters, chef, restaurateur, food activist. Founder and owner of the first restaurant to feature organic, locally grown ingredients.
What you’ll find: The story behind the woman who changed the way we eat and how we think about food. Wonderful details of her food and the famous people who ate it.

Title: A Mind Spread Out on the Ground
Who You’ll Meet: Alicia Elliott, award-winning Indigenous author and editor
What you’ll find: An exploration of how trauma, colonialism and Indigenous identity intersect with depression and mental illness. Heartbreaking and important.

Title: Born To Run
Who You’ll Meet: Bruce Springsteen, musician, poet, thinking person
What you’ll find: Honesty, self-awareness, every day struggles; great writing looking into an intelligent and thoughtful mind. 

Title: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Who You’ll Meet: Alison Bechdel, pioneering LGBT cartoonist.
What you’ll find: An exploration of coming of age, and a complicated relationship with a parent, told in graphic (comics) form by a masterful artist. If you’ve never tried a graphic novel, this is a great place to start.

Title: A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Who You’ll Meet: Ishmael Beah, former child soldier, acclaimed writer, human rights activist
What you’ll find: Tough, gritty, disturbing – but also a story of redemption and hope. Powerful, moving, beautifully written.

Title: Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir
Who You’ll Meet: Alan Cumming, actor,  comedian, singer, writer, filmmaker, and activist.
What you’ll find: Honest insights into the forces that shaped an award-winning actor; a search for clarity; how early family secrets and trauma echo through our lives.

Title: Down and Out in Paris and London
Who You’ll Meet: George Orwell, English novelist, essayist, and journalist, known for his social criticism and opposition to authoritarian regimes.
What you’ll find: A classic by one of the greats; an unsparing view of life in the margins. 

Title: Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things
Who You’ll Meet: Jenny Lawson, journalist, columnist, blogger; outspoken about her own mental illness
What you’ll find: Raucous, silly humour about a very serious topic; an author who finds joy through the pain.

Title: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me
Who You’ll Meet: Sherman Alexie, acclaimed Indigenous author and filmmaker, author of the YA classic, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”.
What you’ll find: A complicated relationship between mother and son; deeply felt, intense, powerful.


happy birthday to me: in which i arrive at a milestone

I have been alive on this planet for 60 years. 

I don't know how that happened. It doesn't seem even remotely possible. Yet here it is. I am 60.

I keep hearing that getting older sucks. I've been hearing about it for 30 years, but have yet to see it for myself. 

There are tough things about aging, for sure. Unpleasant things. There's no denying it. But there were tough things at every stage of life. Being a child is not the proverbial picnic, nor being a teenager, nor a young adult. There are always issues, always heartache, and sometimes much worse. If we're lucky, there is also love and joy, wonder and excitement, adventure and meaning. 

Aging is a privilege. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to have it. 

Thank you for being part of my life.


"at your library" in the north island eagle: book lists: travel the world by book

Book Lists: Travel the World by Book

In my last column, I promised you lists of books on various topics. I’ll highlight ten books in each column. You might want to clip and save them!


The pandemic put all our travel plans on hold, but we can always travel through reading. In the books on this list, talented writers tell amazing stories about the places they visit, and they invite you to come along.

Title: My 25 Years in Provence
Author: Peter Mayle, a British writer who lived in France
Where you’ll go: Southern France
What you’ll find: Great descriptions of food and food culture, gorgeous scenery, unexpected pleasures. Humorous, sweet, and charming.

Title: Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000-mile Adventure
Author: Monisha Rajesh
Where you’ll go: From London to Russia, North Korea, Kazakhstan – and Canada
What you’ll find: A young woman’s perspective on train travel and the people she meets. Witty and irreverent.
Title: Blue Sky Kingdom: An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya

Author: Bruce Kirkby, a Canadian adventurer and travel writer
Where you’ll go: Across the Pacific on a container ship, then to South Korea, China, India, Nepal, and finally, a remote monastery in the world’s highest mountain range.
What you’ll find: A big adventure, a rare view of a hidden culture. Meditations on love, devotion, and family. Wise and often funny.

Title: Miles from Nowhere: A Round-the-world Bicycle Adventure
Author: Barbara Savage
Where you’ll go: Across the U.S., then Europe, North Africa, and New Zealand
What you’ll find: Adventure, relationships, humor, danger. 23,000 miles by bicycle, in the 1970s.

Title: Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and A Scottish Adventure Like No Other
Author: Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish, stars of the “Outlander” series
Where you’ll go: Across Scotland by van, boat, kayak, bicycle, and motorcycle.
What you’ll find: Scottish history and culture via two funny men. Hilarious, rollicking, colourful, earthy.

Title: Elsewhere: One Woman, One Rucksack, One Lifetime of Travel
Author: Rosita Boland, a solo adventurer and travel writer
Where you’ll go: Peru, Pakistan, Antarctica, Bali, Japan, and more. Nine journeys in all.
What you’ll find: Both travel and introspection, from a perspective of a female solo traveler. Some hair-raising stories. 

Title: Gone Viking: A Travel Saga
Author: Bill Arnott, traveler, researcher, writer
Where you’ll go: All over the world, over the course of a decade.
What you’ll find: Beautiful writing, fascinating stories, informative, wry humor. Plus Vikings!

Title: Signs of Life: A Doctor’s Journey to the Ends of the Earth
Author: Stephen Fabes, an emergency-room doctor turned travel writer
Where you’ll go: Around the world, by bicycle.
What you’ll find: A view of healthcare and healing practices around the globe. Fast-paced, entertaining.

Title: The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places
Author: William Atkins, travel writer
Where you’ll go: Eight deserts on five continents
What you’ll find: Rich descriptions of fascinating places and unusual landscapes. Worlds about as different from Vancouver Island as you can get.

Title: Becoming Coastal: 25 Years of Exploration and Discovery of the British Columbia Coast by Paddle, Oar and Sail
Author: Alex Zimmerman, a Vancouver Island author
Where you’ll go: Our corner of the world
What you’ll find: Beautiful descriptions of landscapes that you know well. The author’s discovery of his new environment and his own capabilities.

"at your library" in the north island eagle: happy new year and happy book lists

Happy New Year and Happy Book Lists

2020 was such a difficult year. Most of us were not sorry to see it go! Your library is here for you, dreaming of a time when we can open our doors wide and welcome everyone back inside.

Do you ever wonder what to read next?

Do you ever want to learn about a specific topic but you don’t know where to start?

Librarians have lots of tips and tricks to help you find what you’re looking for. For my next few columns, I’ll be sharing lists of books on various topics and themes. Some of these lists will be strictly for pleasure reading. Some will be useful resources on a particular topic. 

If you have an idea or a request for a book list topic, drop me a line at lkaminker@virl.bc.ca, or leave a note at the library when you pick up your holds. I promise to make a list for you!

Librarians at the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) have already created many book lists to help you find your next great read. You can find them online at bit.ly/virl-booklists, or you can ask for print copies at your favourite VIRL branch.

Another way to find your next read is NoveList Plus. NoveList Plus is an e-resource that is all about finding books to enjoy. When you first login, you’ll see the words “I'm in the mood for books that are...”. You can choose from adult, teen, ages 9-12, or ages 0-8, in categories such as “bittersweet and compelling,” “sweeping and dramatic,” “funny and own voices,” among many others.

On the left, you’ll see a menu of genres, such as mysteries, historical, romance, and science fiction. Then each genre breaks down further. Historical fiction, for example, has more than 15 sub-categories, including Dear Diary, World War II, Royal Reads, Family Sagas, and Discovery and Exploration in Fiction.

One fun NoveList Plus category is called “For Fans Of”. If you watch Netflix or borrow DVDs, you’ll recognize many of these – For Fans of Ozark, For Fans of Sherlock, For Fans of Outlander, Fans of The Umbrella Academy, and so on.

Another source to find your next great read is through book review websites. The largest of these sites is Goodreads.com, which is owned by Amazon. At Goodreads, readers share reviews, thoughts, and opinions on what they’ve read. You don’t have to join or post reviews in order to use the site. You can just jump on for ideas any time. There are many book review websites that you may not have tried, such as Book Riot (my personal favourite) Bookish, and Book Lists. 

If you like to learn by video, there’s a corner of YouTube affectionately known as BookTube. BookTube features people who are love to read, reviewing books by video. Some popular BookTubers are Climb the Stacks, Little Book Owl, RinceyReads, and Better Than Food. To find these and so many others, go to YouTube and type in one of these names – or type “Book Tubers” and see what comes up.

If you need help with any of these ideas – and of course to request any book title – stop by your favourite VIRL branch. We’re here to help.

"at your library" in the north island eagle: holidays in the time of covid: let your library help (yes, that's how long it's been)

Oh dear, I'm way behind on posting the biweekly columns I write for the local free newspaper. I don't imagine wmtc readers need to read these, but I like to preserve them on this blog.

To avoid a barrage, I'll post a few columns each week until I'm caught up.

* * * *

Holidays in the Time of Covid – Let Your Library Help

“Give Library” is back! The Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) stocking stuffer for you. They’re good for everyone on your list, they look great -- and best of all, they’re free. Yes, I’m referring to a library card, a gift that never goes out of style.

This year’s “Give Library” cards are available at local businesses. In Port Hardy, you can pick up a beautiful “Give Library” card at Book Nook and at Field’s. The Field’s in Port McNeill will also have a “Give Library” display. In other communities, ask at your library branch where you can get one.

A VIRL library card gives you access to millions of books, eBooks, audiobooks, streaming movies, digital music, video games, and magazines and newspapers from around the world. They’re good at all 39 VIRL branches, from Masset to Sooke, Tofino to Bella Coola.

There’s no doubt that the 2020 holiday season is an unusual one. COVID travel restrictions have many people missing family and friends. Maybe you’re preparing Christmas dinner for two instead of 12, or mailing off gifts that you’d rather be giving in person. People prone to feeling sad or lonely around the holidays may be especially vulnerable this year. 

If this describes you, now is a good time to discover more tools that could boost your well-being. Your library has a huge number or books, audiobooks, and articles on self-help, spirituality, and physical and mental health. If you need help finding information, we’re here to help – and anything you share with us will be confidential. 

Your library can help you with your holiday preparations in so many ways. VIRL has hundreds of cookbook titles, covering every type of cooking and baking you can name. Crafting and libraries are a natural fit, whether in magazines, books, or e-resources. Creative Bug and the Hobbies and Crafts Reference Center – two amazing e-resources -- are perfect for beginners and experts alike, and crafters of all ages.

If you’re wondering how this works, or you’re wary of trying it on your own, we’re here to help. Even wearing masks and practicing social distancing, library staff will do our best to get you started. 

If you need some escapist fun this holiday season, your library is the place to go. DVDs, streaming movies, videogames – and of course, books – are all there for you, and with your library card, they’re all free. 

To get the most out of your library card and all VIRL has to offer, your best bet is to order in advance. Your favourite library branch is a a wonderful place, but VIRL has so much more to offer. If you’re not in the habit of using “holds” to order materials, let our staff help you. Once you see how it works, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.


bearing witness: 215 tiny skeletons speak to us. canadians must listen.

The discovery, last week, of the remains of 215 children on the site of a former Indian Residential School has sent shock waves through Canada, especially through this province, where the gruesome evidence was found. 

The skeletons of the children, some seemingly as young as three years old, were in an unmarked mass grave.

For survivors of residential schools, this has almost certainly brought retraumatization, and profound grief and sorrow throughout their communities. For many of us not directly impacted, this has brought great sadness. I myself feel a deep sadness that I can't shake.

Shocking and not shocking

Many Canadians seem to be shocked by this discovery, which means we have a lot more work to do to educate ourselves about the Residential Schools, and the horrors of imperialism and colonialism -- the home-grown variety, the kind that created this country. The kind that non-Indigenous Canadians benefit from every day.

The discovery is shocking, in that the news rockets us out of our everyday worlds, and forces us to contemplate the enormity of these crimes. But that these graves exist, that this horror actually took place: we should not be shocked. We should know very well this happened. 

The discovery of unmarked graves of Indigenous children should be no more surprising than finding a bullwhip buried in Parchman, Mississippi. No more surprising than finding the extermination rolls in Auschwitz. No more shocking than bones and bullets found at Baba Yar. 

There are almost certainly many more sites like this, all over Canada and in many parts of the United States, where similar institutions were called Indian Boarding Schools.

Canada, this is part of our history. 

It doesn't matter that we didn't personally perpetrate the crimes.

It doesn't matter if our ancestors were not on the continent at the time. 

It doesn't matter if we only learned about the Residential Schools a few years ago.

The Residential Schools and their continuing legacy is part of Canada

Most of us enjoy living in Canada, including those who are highly critical of it. We enjoy and benefit from a world that was created by colonialism. By theft. By murder. By genocide. All Canadians must accept and reckon with that legacy. 

We can't pick and choose which parts of Canada, which moments of history, we want to own. We own it all. 

How much does Canada officially resist owning this legacy? The Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that Indigenous people in (first) British North America and (later) Canada were the victims of "cultural genocide". 

"Cultural genocide" is not a thing.

"Cultural genocide" is not legally recognized by any international body. If we read the definition of genocide -- for example, from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum -- and we look honestly at Canadian history, it's quite clear that Canada engaged in the purposeful genocide of the Indigenous peoples of this land.

But Canada doesn't want to wear that. Instead, it hides behind this qualifier -- as if it were possible to kill a people's culture without actually killing them. And as if the murder of a culture did not actually murder people.

An image that burns in my brain

When I took the University of Alberta's Indigenous Canada MOOC, I was incredibly moved and shaken by the unit on the Residential Schools. 

Quoting myself:

One of the characteristics shared by almost all Indigenous cultures is an emphasis on family, usually extended family. In oral traditions, knowledge is transmitted directly from generation to generation. Skills -- hunting, gardening, cooking, building, healing, everything you can think of -- are learned by observation and participation. Values, morals, and ethics -- all the guideposts of life -- are transmitted through storytelling and observation. From birth to death, every aspect of life is shared communally, and done for the benefit of the new generations, to build for the future.

Now imagine a culture such as this with no children. Villages where all the children have been stolen. The trauma and grief and shame left behind. The despair, the helplessness.

At the same time, imagine generations of children who have never been exposed to familial love, or at best that love was a distant memory. Generations of children who have been raised institutionally, with harsh discipline, meager food rations, minimal health care, forced lessons intended for wage-slavery, and of course, verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Generations of children who have been forbidden to speak their own languages or learn anything about their cultures -- and who are indoctrinated to believe that their original cultures are dirty and shameful.

When these children become adults, how can they know how to raise families of their own? They have not seen normal parenting. They lack the supports of their culture and communities. They know only shame and abuse.

These entwined conditions are at the root of the intergenerational trauma that echoes through Indigenous communities in countless destructive ways. The wonder is how people and their cultures have survived at all -- a testament to the determination and resiliency of the human spirit.

The image of whole villages and communities where all the children have been stolen burns in my brain. Imagine that in your own community! Imagine you and all your peers were forced into institutions, even though your parents were alive, even though you had loving relatives who could provide a good home.

Imagine your children being forcibly removed from your home -- not because you were incapable of raising them, but because you are -- fill in the blank. Your children being stolen from you because you are Irish. Because you are Black. Because you are Jewish, or Catholic, or an atheist.

Fuck the haters

Since the discovery in Kamloops was reported to the public, Canada has been gripped by a paroxysm of response. The government -- both Federal and of BC -- declared a week of mourning. Flags have been at half-staff. Resources for survivors who almost certainly have been retraumatized by the discovery are being shared widely. There was (thankfully) a moving tribute before an NHL playoff game.

My inbox is full of responses: from my union, Amnesty International, both my federal and provincial representatives, and of course from any Indigenous groups I follow.

Along with these responses comes an inevitable backlash. Racist right-wingers, without a doubt, are flooding local and social media with ignorance and contempt. These are the people who believe Indigenous people should "get over it", who believe First Nations "get a free ride", and subscribe to degrading stereotypes (many of which apply to plenty of white people!).

In some contexts, I can speak to why we must care about this history, and why Indigenous people cannot and should not just "get over it". 

But not right now. 

I am avoiding any space where I might hear or see this type of response. Because my reaction will not be measured, calm, or professional. Fuck them.

Facts are still emerging

The children's remains were found by a private company using ground-penetrating radar. Many people and organizations are calling for ground-penetrating radar to be used at the sites of all former Residential Schools.

I haven't seen good information about why this operation was taking place. It does not appear to have been organized by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. 

The remains were not, as some early reports suggested, found on a construction site; the former site of the largest Residential School in Canada was not being excavated. Whether the site will now be excavated will be up to the Nation. 

You may find this summary from The Globe and Mail very useful: The Kamloops residential school's unmarked graves: What we know about the children's remains, and Canada's reaction so far.

How can I be an ally?

I've been trying to write this post since the find was announced. When I sit down to write, I am overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by emotion, by the sheer magnitude of the horror embedded in our past, by our inability to adequately address it. 

Coincidentally, right now I am reading The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer. 

Coincidentally, the horrific discovery came on the eve of Canada's National Indigenous People's History Month, which culminates in National Indigenous People's Day, on the summer solstice. I am part of a team that created this Indigenous People's History Month Challenge.

Coincidentally, I see the continuing effects of the Residential Schools every day.  

It is very, very sad. I wish I could do more.

Education as an act of Reconciliation

Many useful resources can be found through the Vancouver Island Regional Library's National Indigenous People's History Month Challenge.

I highly recommend participating in Indigenous Canada, the online course offered by the University of Alberta. It's a 12-week course, and each unit can be easily done in the course of a week. You can enrol for free; to obtain a certificate is only $65. If your employer has an education fund, you can ask about reimbursement.

Statement from BCGEU Indigenous Advisory Committee statement on discovery at Kamloops Indian Residential School:

On behalf of the BCGEU Provincial Executive Indigenous Advisory Committee and all Indigenous members of the BCGEU, we express our deepest condolences to the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, the survivors of the Kamloops Indian Residential School and the kin of those who never came home. The BCGEU's Indigenous members across the province, including members of the committee, have shared their stories about the impacts of residential schools on their personal lives and in their communities. We all carry heavy hearts especially at this time.

We know that the discovery made by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc is not an isolated case; with almost 140 IRS operating across the country over 150 years it is inevitable that other mass graves exist on other territories and that they will be found. In fact, survivors of Indian Residential Schools from across Turtle Island (North America) have shared their lived experiences, including stories of graves similar to the one found this week. In Canada specifically, these stories are reflected in The Survivors Speak: A report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) and the transcripts from past reports, such as the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996).

In the coming days and weeks as we grieve and heal together, it is critical that every Canadian understand settler colonialism—including the tragic legacy of the Indian Residential School system—not as a historical event or a closed chapter but as an ongoing reality that continues to damage Indigenous lives and communities from coast to coast to coast. The last IRS was shut down in 1996, but the removal of Indigenous children—and the cycle of harm perpetuated in families and communities denied the opportunity to raise and protect their children—continues to this day. While roughly 150,000 children went through Canada's residential school system between 1890 and 1996, more than 130,000 Indigenous children are currently in Canada's child welfare system. 

As the BCGEU Provincial Executive Indigenous Advisory Committee we call on all levels of government to do the following:

1. To provide adequate and sustainable mental health and addictions services to Indigenous Peoples on and off reserve in both rural and urban areas of British Columbia and Canada.  

2. To provide First Nations communities with the necessary funding to conduct ongoing searches of the graves of children who lost their lives in these schools in British Columbia and the rest of Canada. 

3. To fully implement all 94 calls to action from Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (2015); all 231 calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (2019); including providing adequate funding as well as enforcement, reporting and accountability mechanisms to support implementation . 

4. To legislate full adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), with full support and collaboration from Indigenous Peoples.

From the BCGEU's more than 82,000 members, we would like to share our message of grief and urge all Canadians to join and support us as this healing carries on. BCGEU members and others who want to show their solidarity can:

1. Wear orange shirts during the month of June, which is Indigenous Peoples Recognition month, to honour the children and support the survivors and families impacted by the Indian Residential Schools.

2. Call on your local MLA and MP to integrate the calls to action in the TRC report, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the calls for justice of the MMIWG report into their work, and to advocate for the necessary funding to conduct further searches for grave sites across British Columbia and Canada. Click here to find your MLA and click here to find your MP.

As Indigenous Peoples we have survived government's extraordinary genocidal policies of all levels of government and we will continue to survive, as our ancestors did. We hear the drums in our hearts that give us strength, and we honour the lives of our children who lost their lives and their families across British Columbia and Canada. May they be at peace.