25th Trillium Award

Open Book’s Holiday Book Guide 2011: Arts & Culture

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Happy Holidays from Open Book! Our second annual Holiday Book Guide will direct you to some of the most engaging books on store shelves this season. Open Book's Guide will be regularly updated throughout December, featuring a fresh theme with each listing.

Today's theme is ARTS & CULTURE


When you hear the words "Thrush" and "Hermit,"' what do you think? If you now find yourself humming the chorus to "The Day We Hit the Coast," then chances are you're going to want to read this book. Maintenance is the second novel by Rob Benvie, who in his first life was a member of a fairly influencial indie rock band. Benvie has since started a successful writing career, employing a clever, ironic literary style that has led him to publish with the vanguard of the literary establishment, including McSweeney's. Coach House and Benvie did something really fun for the release of Maintenance: Benvie recorded a “soundtrack” for the novel. The mostly ambient and cinematically tinged score fits perfectly with the pre-millennium tension that builds in the novel. In a classy gesture, the musical score for Maintenance is available for free on Coach House's website

Vincent Boudgourd's Beastly Books offer hours of doodling fun. The latest in the series is My Beastly Book of Hilarious Heroes (OwlKids), which consists of 150 partial drawings of super heroes and their nemeses for kids to colour, add to and doodle on. Children will delight in completing "Elasto-Boy's body," drawing armour for "Shrimp Man," cutting out superhero glasses to assemble and wear and the many other activities in Hilarious Heroes. Pair with a box of crayons for a great gift for an imaginative and creative kid.

Celia Franca was born into a working-class family in 1921 London and against the odds fought her way towards ballet greatness. In The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca (Cormorant Books), author Carol Bishop-Gwyn tells the captivating story of The National Ballet of Canada’s founding Prima Ballerina and the history of an organization that has become a cultural force in Canada.

Poetry lovers will relish George Jonas's translations, imitations and variations of poems in other languages for his newest collection The Jonas Variations: A Literary Séance (Cormorant Books). This multilingual collection is both a lesson in literary history and an inspiring testament to the power of the written word.

A perfect book for any foodie and at-home chef, The Curry Original Cookbook (General Store Publishing House) by Crystle Mazurek is a compilation of the best-loved recipes from the popular Kingston restaurant Curry Original. From delicious curry dishes to amazing kormas, this cookbook makes Indian cuisine a snap for home cooking.

Holger Petersen has interviewed many awe-inspiring musicians on his CBC Radio show, Saturday Night Blues. You can now read 19 of those interviews in Talking Music: Blues Radio and Roots Music (Insomniac Press). The interviews are deeply interesting, and you get to read about remarkable moments in music history, such as when Alan Lomax and his father discovered Lead Belly: “When he sang to us, of course, we appreciated his whole repertoire, and we worked with him — well not worked, we enjoyed with him.... We recorded everything he knew, we played it back to him, and we helped him establish his own... a portrait of a really great rural folk singer.”

“A gentleman, a hunter, a deep-sea fisherman, a lover of food and fine wine, a man of precise words and my grandfather,” writes Mariel Hemingway in her foreword to Hemingway, a life in pictures (Firefly Books). The 350 photographs in this homage to the American writer were selected by Mariel Hemingway and Boris Vejdovsky, an associate professor at the University of Lausanne. Fans of Ernest Hemingway and of modernism will enjoy looking at the striking and often personal photos.

In truth, very few books age well. Books are most often, whether intended or not, a snapshot of a time and a place; of a mind set and a dominant style that comes and goes, like that year's winter flu. Initially, they are powerful and overwhelming. Then, we become resistant to their tropes and they fade away until the next pandemic of ideas arises. What is most dangerous and exciting in both the realm of virology and literature is when a combative strain re-emerges. Daniel Jones' slim book of discordant verse — The Brave Never Write Poetry (Coach House Books) — is one such example of ideas that are both repellent of the ravaging of time and defiantly a snapshot of a particular moment. That moment was the mid 1980s, and the down-and-out primetime Gen X angst that today feels both gloriously naive and dismally prescient. This book is spare enough to fit in even the most overwhelmed book-lover's stocking and grand enough to be that unexpected favourite gift that keeps on giving. 

The latest book in University of Toronto Press’s fabulous Canadian Cinema series is an analysis of Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo by Paul McEwan, the Director of Film Studies at Muhlenberg College. The book looks at the film as an adaptation of Michael Turner’s novel and in relation to other films by McDonald. A great book for cinephiles and those interested in popular Canadian culture.

Hooked on Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather series? Love Luchino Visconti’s film adaptation of di Lampedusa’s The Leopard? Mafia Movies: A Reader (University of Toronto Press) is an excellent
guide to American- and Italian-made mafia movies. Edited by Dana Renga, a professor of Italian and French studies at Ohio State University, the reader features essays on over 40 films and television series.

Prizing Literature: A Celebration and Circulation of National Culture (University of Toronto Press) by Gillian Roberts offers an insightful analysis of Canada’s literary awards, “Canadian-ness” and the way in which the prize-winning authors’ identities and citizenships are understood and presented by the media. An engrossing read for readers of CanLit and followers of literary awards.

Depending on your palate, The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1750): The Art and Craft of a Master Cook (University of Toronto Press) will either curb your appetite or whet it. But regardless of whether a description of the preparation of a goat kid’s tripe and lung makes you hungry, this is a fascinating collection of over 1000 recipes along with menus compiled by the 16th-century Italian master cook. Scappi’s cookbook is translated by Terence Scully, and it includes reproductions of the engravings from the original book.

Learn to Speak Dance: A Guide to Creating, Performing and Promoting Your Moves by Ann-Marie Williams is a great gift for a budding dancer. Williams knows her stuff; she’s the director of the Movement Lab, a Toronto dance school for kids, and a ballet teacher at the Royal Academy of Dance. The book covers a broad range of subjects, such as why we dance, muscle memory, collaboration in dance, setting up dance space, calming pre-performance stomach butterflies and more. Colourful and stylish illustrations by Jeff Kulak compliment the text.


Buy these books at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

The Holiday Book Guide is written by Kate Burgess, Michael Doyle and Clelia Scala

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