I'll tackle the "how" first. The truth is, reading has become a bit more of an ordeal than it used to be. It's not a matter of being illiterate or dyslexic - the problem is much more physical and mechanical than that, the result of my ageing eyes. Still, I'm very interested in the whole relationship between medium and message. If you listen to a novel as an audiobook, how does that affect the way you relate to the characters and the story? I've never been much into audiobooks, although I've listened to one or two. I've read a handful of large print books (although the selection as far as paper books go is a bit limited). Then of course there are the ubiquitous e-books. I have a kobo e-reader (which always seems to need recharging, even when it's been mostly turned off), and a kindle program on my laptop. But that's never been my preferred way to read, although the adjustable font size is certainly a useful feature.

For now, I'm mostly reading the same formats I've always preferred: traditional paper newspapers and magazines, and books on paper. It's just that I generally have to look over my glasses or remove them completely and put the page right up to my face. It means I don't generally read for long periods at a stretch like I used to.

Anyway, on to the "what".

I recently finished The Arc of the Swallow, by S.J. Gazan. Her first book, The Dinosaur Feather, was voted Crime Novel of the Decade by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.

Like The Dinosaur Feather, Arc of the Swallow takes place in an academic setting. A biology professor is found hanging in his office one day and the death is dismissed as a suicide. But the PhD candidate whose work he was supervising is aware he was just on the verge of releasing some groundbreaking and highly controversial research regarding vaccination in the developing world. She and several of his colleagues are convinced that he would never have killed himself, particularly at this point in his career.

The book combines an enthralling murder mystery, which is pure fiction, with some interesting and factual information about the Bandim Health Project in Guinea-Bissau, where a Danish-founded research group discovered some disturbing non-specific effects of the high-dose measles vaccine on the mortality of girls - their mortality DOUBLED after the vaccine was introduced. Had the WHO not withdrawn the vaccine (albeit very quietly), it could have cost at least half a million additional female deaths per year in Africa alone!

Subsequent research points to the conclusion that ALL vaccines have some nonspecific effects, though luckily most of them are beneficial ones. And in April 2014, the WHO finally decided that more research into the nonspecific effects of vaccines was warranted. For more on the Bandim Health Project, see http://www.bandim.org

My own take on this is that there was resistance to acknowledging the findings in both the prosperous first-world nations and in the developing world, but for very different reasons. In the former case, the attitude was "Well, we mustn't encourage Jenny McCarthy and all those wacko antivaxxers who think vaccines cause autism, so vaccination must be presented as unambiguously positive in all instances"; in the developing world, girls and women are considered (at least by those in power) as inferior and expendable so the attitude is "Well, if the effects are limited to the female of the species, then who cares?!" Needless to say, both extremes are severely misguided. "Vaccine-hesitancy" as I've recently heard it called, is a legitimate stance that deserves a thoughtful addressing of concerns on both an intellectual and an emotional level.


The other book I recently finished reading was Us Conductors, by Sean Michaels, about the inventor of the theremin. I've seen and heard a thereminist in action a few times now, at both this year's and last year's Music and Beyond festival. It's a fascinating and eerily ethereal instrument. And Us Conductors, a novel about the inventor of the theremin, his life in New York City, his marriages and doomed love affair and his subsequent return to and imprisonment in the Soviet Union, makes for some gripping reading.

Finally, I'm about two-thirds of the way through one of Doris Lessing's shorter books, Memoirs of a Survivor. While she called it something like an attempt at or a fragment of an autobiography, it certainly doesn't read like a traditional memoir or autobiography, although it's told in the first person. But the characters in it, be they fictional or otherwise, are certainly preoccupied with survival, so at least that part of the title is accurate! The "I" of the story - I don't think we actually learn her name - finds herself early in the book saddled with a girl of about 12 or 13, named Emily, brought to her by a man who assures her that Emily is her responsibility now. Emily and her cat-like dog named Hugo live with her for the next year or two and Emily gets drawn into the street-culture of transient children and youth outside, who seem to be homeless or at least more or less left to their own devices most of the time. In the building where the narrator and Emily are living, a wall periodically opens up and the narrator sees visions of the recent past - perhaps ten years ago - when Emily was a much younger child and had parents and a baby brother. She tries from these visions to piece together who Emily is and where she's come from.

I'm trying to decide what books to tackle next... something not too long or challenging, while still being interesting.
I do! Seriously, I scarcely recognize the Ottawa Citizen since they revamped it about a month ago.

For starters... don't most people want to see front-page news on the front page? Or at least in the first few pages? There doesn't seem to be any international news at all in that first section any more - instead, the first section is "politics and the public service", generally at the national level. OK, so I know this is a government town - but have we become that insular?

Then there are the bizarre names for the sections. "Context"? "You"? I guess we live in an age when everything starts with either i or u - iPods, iPads, iMacs, youtube... unless of course it's e- as in e-mail, e-books and e-zines!

They've also fired dear Abby and mucked about with the comics and puzzles pages. No more Sally Forth, Rose is Rose, Classic Peanuts or For Better or Worse (though to be fair, those last two were all reruns anyway). No more Dilbert or Doonesbury. I do quite like having Bizarro, Rhymes with Orange and The Other Coast but would cheerfully dispense with Hagar the Horrible, Family Circus and Hi & Lois. Maybe they could bring back a few golden oldies like Cathy or Calvin & Hobbes? Even Mary Worth and Brenda Starr were good for a few campy laughs!

Then there are the puzzles. No more Canadian Cyberquotes - I used to do those every day without fail. In fact there's very little Canadian content of any kind - it's much more generic. They even tried to get rid of the North of 49 crossword on Saturdays but brought it back after some protests from readers. Even so, it's in much smaller type now, further alienating the paper-paper's main demographic fan base! When they got rid of the Sunday paper, I guess I knew in my heart of hearts that they wouldn't keep giving us double puzzles on Saturdays forever but some of these changes really seem to defy reason.

To be fair, I haven't explored some of the new e-features (there's that awful prefix again) like 6PM updates pushed to your iPad (mainly because I don't have an iPad).
I don't think I'm exactly e-illiterate but I do object to being expected to constantly multitask and skim the surface and not being allowed to go into anything in any depth
any more. Seems to me a good portion of the younger generations have the attention span of a flea.

Is ADD/ADHD the new normal?
Will we in our lifetime see the end of the book as we know it, or used to know it? The evidence, I think, is mixed.

On the one hand, a lot of small independent bookshops are closing, downsizing, or becoming online-only booksellers. On the Ottawa scene, the following spring to mind:
Mother Tongue Books (to close July 21); Nicholas Hoare; Shirley Leishman; Prime Crime; Patrick McGahern; at least two incarnations of a science fiction bookstore; The Bookery (children's books); Books Canada; Jarvis's; Classics (these last three are long gone). On the other hand, we still have Perfect Books on Elgin Street; Collected Works on Wellington; Books on Beechwood (location obvious); plus the chains - Chapters/Indigo, Smithbooks, Coles - and a number of second-hand bookstores.

Many people have e-readers, of course, or other devices like iPads on which they can read books and other text that they download. I have a Kobo (non-touch version) which came pre-loaded with about 100 classics - and it's wonderful knowing I've got them there in easily portable and accessible (at least till the next great technological development comes along) form.

Many people also order the traditional paper books but from an online source - or they take them out of the library. I buy a lot of books through Abebooks (which apparently is now owned by Amazon, though I've discovered a number of the individual booksellers who sell through Abebooks): it's a great source for out-of-print items.

Then there's the second-hand booksales. Two months ago, I wrote about my haul from the Rockliffe Park book sale. A quick update about that - thus far, I've read the memoir of an Ottawa family by Grace Day Hartwick; I've baked muffins, adapting a recipe from the Veganomicon; and I've watched one of the videos I bought there.

What else is Blogcutter reading? Well, at the moment it's John Irving's latest book, In One Person (may not be the exact title) as well as Jan Wong's Out of the Blue (her self-published book about her experience with depression). I recently read a number of the books by authors who were appearing at Bloody Words the weekend of June 1-3 (including Gayle Lynds, Lou Allin, Janice Macdonald, Garry somebody, Erika Chase (a.k.a. Linda Wiken) Hilary McLeod, Kay Stewart); I read Anne Holt's first Hanne Wilhelmsen mystery, Alexander McCall Smith's "The Great Cake Mystery" (a children's book about Precious Ramotswe when she was a little girl); and a history of the free public library movement in Ontario from 1860-1930.

And today, I went to the Friends of the Experimental Farm booksale. They were a little better organized than they seemed to be last year; I joined the line-up around 9:45 where a woman was distributing plastic shopping-bags (I wonder what they do in Toronto now that plastic bags are to be banned?) You could fill one of their bags with paperbacks for a flat fee of $15; hardcover books were $2 apiece.

So here is a list of what I brought home:

Hardcovers - Karol Wojtyla (aka Pope John Paul II), Collected Poems
John Masefield - Poems

Crime novels - The Puzzling Adventures of Dr. Ecco, by Dennis Shasha (about a mathematical detective in Greenwich Village)
- The Dying of the Light, by Robert Richardson
- A Wreath for my Sister, by Priscilla Masters
- Striding Folly, by Dorothy L. Sayers
- Thrones, Dominations, by Dorothy L. Sayers, completed posthumously by Jill Paton Walsh
- The Point of Murder & Almost the Truth, both by Margaret Yorke
- By Hate Possessed, by Maurice Gagnon
- Beware of the Trains & Frequent Hearses, both by Edmund Crispin
- All Shall be Well & In a Dark House, both by Deborah Crombie
- The Keys to the Street, by Ruth Rendell

Canadiana - Dancing in the Dark & Family News, both by Joan Barfoot
- The Husband, by Dorothy Livesay
- Swann: A Literary Mystery, by Carol Shields
- The Falling Woman, by Shaena Lambert

Other fiction - The Woman and the Ape, by Peter Hoeg (translated from Danish - the author also writes crime fiction)
- The Search, by Naguib Mahfouz
- The Black Prince, by Iris Murdoch
- Blitzcat, by Robert Westell
- Jizzle, by John Wyndham

Non-fiction & Reference
- The Ojibwa Woman, by Ruth Landes
- Early Irish Myths and Sagas
- The Bronte Myth, by Lucasta Miller
- Dictionary of Classical Mythology, by Pierre Grimal
- From Abacus to Zeus: A Handbook of Art History, by James Smith Pierce
- The Book of Classical Music Lists, by Herbert Kupferberg

Total haul, 30 books.

I'll issue an update later on where I am with my various reading.

Meanwhile, I've been dismayed by the demise of some newspapers, including the Sunday edition of the Ottawa Citizen and the entertainment weekly, Xpress. But further commentary on that will have to wait for another time.
This past weekend, I was in Toronto for the Bloody Words mystery conference. As many people are aware, Toronto was an eventful place to be.

I took the 8:30 train Friday morning from Ottawa, arriving in Toronto around 1PM. If I had gone down Thursday morning instead (as most of the Ottawa-based members of Crime Writers of Canada did), I would have had to take a bus to Brockville to get a train the rest of the way. But by Friday, CP workers had been legislated back to work so the VIA trains (which use CP tracks between Ottawa and Brockville) were able to run normally.

The train got to Toronto more or less on time, and I was just a short walk from the hotel where the conference was to be held. Had it been an hour late or so, I would have been caught in the flood - Union Station was transformed into a sewage-plagued swimming hole when construction workers severed a water main on Front Street, and the subway station was out of commission altogether.

The weather was chilly and rainy however, so after checking into my hotel I decided it would be a good afternoon for indoor activities. I wandered up to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see the Picasso exhibit and a few of the permanent exhibits (Emily Carr and Group of Seven). Then I headed back to College Street and the Lillian Smith Branch of the Toronto Public Library, where I visited the Osborne Collection of children's literature and the Judith Merril science fiction collection (formerly known as the Spaced Out collection). I was back at my hotel in time to watch the news and see some incredible pictures of Union Station, and then watch Frank Foster get murdered on Coronation Street, before attending the first panel of the evening.

The main guest authors at the conference were Gayle Lynds, author of the Book of Spies, a mystery about the secret Library of Gold under the Kremlin; Linwood Barclay, who has written numerous bestselling thrillers; and Rick Blechta (who writes mysteries with musical themes). But there were many of my favourite authors there, including the usual Ottawa contingent, as well as some I had not heard of before but who will doubtless join my list of favourites.

Saturday morning I attended three panels, then left around noon for an extended lunch break and a visit to the Sleuth of Baker Street bookshop. As the next event I wanted to attend did not start till 3:30, I returned by way of the Eaton Centre food court where I stocked up on a few edibles. Of course, we all know what happened there just a few short hours later!

Saturday evening was the conference banquet and awards presentations and Sunday morning, I went to a presentation of a play: The State of New York vs. Peter Pan. It had originally been written and performed as part of a Fringe Festival and was really very funny. Tinkerbelle clearly isn't as naive as she looks (Disney might want to reconsider using her to introduce their show) and pixie dust should definitely be a controlled substance!

I had decided to stay over Sunday night as well, since I always find it a bit of a rush to get checked out of my hotel on a Sunday morning. So I had Sunday afternoon to wander about the city. I crossed York Street over to Harbourfront, browsed the museum of Inuit art at the Queen's Quay Terminal, and returned over to the east side of Front Street, ambling about the antiques stalls in the St Lawrence Market area. I went to Nicholas Hoare Books (soon to be the last in the country, if it isn't already), then up to Queen Street and back to my hotel. I had hoped to go into Indigo books but like the rest of the Eaton Centre, even with its separate entrance, it was "closed until further notice". I even managed a dip in the hotel pool. It would have been tempting to try to get tickets for the ballet version of Hamlet, which was playing at the centre right near the hotel, but by then I was rather tired and wanting to get packed and organized for my departure on Monday.

And so I survived my extended weekend in the big city, with lots of good reading ahead of me (and plenty of fodder if I ever get around to writing a crime novel myself!)
So today, Queen Victoria is a ripe old (yes, very old and no doubt very ripe too!) 193. We celebrated "Victoria Day" three days ago; the day is also supposed to be in lieu of celebrating the birthday of the currently reigning monarch, Elizabeth II. But even in the U.K., they don't celebrate her birthday ON her birthday - it actually falls in April, but they don't celebrate till June.

I've always thought it must be nice to be able to have free rein and free reign as to what day you'd like to celebrate your birthday. My birthday falls in the first half of August, when the weather is often nice enough, but people tend to be away on holidays. That made it hard to organize birthday parties when I was a kid but on the plus side, I never had to go to school on my birthday! Some people who have their birthdays on Christmas Day, or just before or just after Christmas, feel somewhat cheated because they don't have a day just for themselves. And of course in some families, more than one member shares a birthday. In my own family, I was born on my father's birthday, while one of my sisters was born on our mother's birthday. My daughter was born on what would have been my grandmother's 91st birthday. Twins and other multiple birthlings are obvious examples of shared family birthdays. Then you get people born on February 29, who only get to celebrate that specific date once every four years.

In honour of Queen Victoria's birthday, I recently re-read a biography of her by Molly Costain Haycraft, which I originally read for school in grade six. It basically emphasized the same period of her life as that covered in the movie Young Victoria, with only one chapter at the end dealing with all the things that happened after Albert died. There were two big differences between the book and the movie, however. First of all, the book was clearly written for children while the movie was directed at a more general audience. Secondly, the book was written about fifty years before the movie was made, and both reflect the sensibilities of their respective times.

The book had quite a lot of descriptive details in it - what type of lessons Victoria was taught by her tutors; extensive descriptions of her wardrobe and meals on various occasions, description of palace architecture and grounds (including a somewhat coy observation that indoor plumbing was an "innovation" in Victoria's day). It made liberal and (one assumes) quite innocent use of the word "gay" in the then-prevailing sense of cheerful or cheery. It also included quite a bit on Victoria's difficult relationship with her mother and the whole situation with suitors and arranged marriages. There was some reference too to what was going on in the rest of the world at the time, including the "problem" of Canada (referring mainly to the 1837 rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada) and of the Irish (including an observation along the lines that they had always been an excitable people).

I actually found myself remembering parts of the book, though through a rather different set of lenses! Reading books, especially about the past or the future, involves such a complex interaction between the viewpoints of author, reader, characters... and re-reading at different times in your life complicates those complexities still further. Not a new insight, but that's my thought for the day.
Hi. My name is Blogcutter and I'm a biblioholic.

Today I went to a book sale at Rockliffe Park Community Centre. There was already a line-up when I got there, about ten minutes before their 10 AM opening. I emerged around 11 AM with a shopping bag filled with 26 books and 2 videos - all for about what I would have paid for one new book. Some of the books I got looked as if they hadn't even been opened, let alone read. Others looked as if they'd been around the block a few times. Some of them I'll probably keep; others I'll probably read and pass along to others who share my addiction. My haul is listed and discussed below.

1) Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook - This was my only hard-cover book. In mint condition and copiously illustrated, it was evidently pre-owned by folk who never followed through on their noble intentions.

In the crime fiction category (no particular order):

2) The Hollow, by Agatha Christie (Poirot)
3) Smilla's Sense of Snow, by Peter Hoeg
4) The Fifth Woman, by Henning Mankell
5) Red Wolf, by Liza Marklund (Can you tell I'm on a Scandinavian crime novel jag?)
6) The Impossible Dead, by Ian Rankin

In the Canadiana category (again, no particular order):

7) Lunatic Villas, by Marian Engel
8) The Shack, by Wm Paul Young
9) Glass Voices, by Carol Bruneau
10) Coventry, by Helen Humphreys
11) One Hundred Years of an Ottawa Family, by Grace Day Hartwick
12) The Home Children, edited by Phyllis Harrison

In the "other fiction and literature" category (though that's a rather artificial distinction):

13) Jennie, by Paul Gallico
14) Something in Disguise, by Elizabeth Jane Howard
15) Affairs at Thrush Green, by Miss Read
16) The Aeneid of Virgil, a new verse translation by C. Day Lewis (new in 1952, that is)
17) Barbary Shore, by Norman Mailer (This should possibly go in the "humour" category: it purports to be his "explosive novel of love and violence in post-war America" and according to Mailer himself is "the richest of my first three novels" and "has a kind of insane insight into the psychic mysteries of Stalinists, secret policement, narcissists, children, Lesbians, hysterics, revolutionaries"
18) The Haunting (of Hill House) by Shirley Jackson
19) The Woman Destroyed, by Simone de Beauvoir
20) The Rector's Daughter, by F.M. Mayor
21) The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami
22) Porterhouse Blue, by Tom Sharpe

And finally, in the miscellaneous non-fiction category:

23) The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus
24) Under the Sign of Saturn, by Susan Sontag
25) History the Betrayer: A Study in Bias, by E.H. Dance
26) A Small Sound of the Trumpet: Women in Medieval Life, by Margaret Wade Labarge

The two videos I bought were:

Voices from a Locked Room and
Miracle on 34th Street (the classic 1947 version, starring Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood)

So that's all I'm writing for today, folks - more in the near future.

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