Are you proud to be Canadian?

Hello readers!

This week, I’ll be reviewing a play I saw this week. I like theatre a lot (I’ll admit to being a huge fan of musicals!) –  theatre is another form of storytelling and it was a pleasure to go see Proud, put on by Theatre Projects Manitoba. If you have a chance, check it out – it’s on until November 16th!

A review of Proud by Michael Healey

“Although much of our life is rooted in the anxiety of time, in other words the fear of death, the continuity of knowledge and wisdom that has brought us here together is rooted in love, a love that is not only as strong as death, but able to cast out its fear.”
– Northrop Frye

As 75 first-year CreComm students gathered at the Rachel Browne Theatre this Wednesday to see Proud, a play by Michael Healey, the above quote was projected onto a black screen above a darkened set.

What does this quote have to do with the play? Up front, not much. But after spending time pondering how the quote related to the play, I realized that in some way, ‘the anxiety of time’, the ‘continuity of knowledge and wisdom’, and ‘love’, all have something to do with politics. What’s this now?

Here’s the connection between the quote and the play as I understand it: Healey’s production, according to the synopsis provided on the Theatre Projects Manitoba website, is a “biting political satire” that is “humorous and clever” in its exploration of the “corrosive nature of the politics of division.” And as the cast members acted out each scene with guile and hilarity, the roles of anxiety, wisdom, and love in politics became a little more apparent.

The play is set in an alternate reality right after the 2011 Federal Election, where the Conservatives have won a majority government. There were only four characters in the play: Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Cary Baines, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, new Member of Parliament Jisbella Lyth, and her son, Jake.

Ross McMillan’s portrayal of Stephen Harper was the most entertaining and impressive role in the play. Healey’s Harper is true to reality in that his Harper has an outward persona that is controlled, cold, and calculating. But the best part of Healey’s Harper was the Harper behind closed doors. The ‘real’ Harper is awkward, passionate, wise, at times both mean and sweet, and lonely. In other words, human. And it was this human portrayal of Harper that had us laughing and falling in to ‘like’ with him. 

Political opinions and leanings aside, the Harper of Healey’s imagination was real and funny and (surprisingly?) likeable. Ross McMillan’s interpretation of the character made me want to believe that that is what Stephen Harper is like in real life – who knows, maybe Proud nails Harper’s true nature. After the play, members of the audience had a chance to question the director, Ardith Boxall, and all of the actors, in a Talkback session  (a brief Q+A period) and McMillan told us he has been studying Harper’s mannerisms since 2006 – you can tell he did a thorough character-study because his acting was spot on. I loved it.

I’ve never attended a play with a Talkback session afterwards and I thought that was a really valuable component to the play – having the chance to chat with the actors and director about certain aspects of the play as well as the metaphors and underlying messages in the play was awesome. It helped provide more insight into how they felt about the play and what the play was trying to say. 

My favourite scene in the play was between Jisbella and Harper after hours in his office, talking about beliefs. Healey’s Harper had simple goals to accomplish as Prime Minister – he didn’t care about abortion, he didn’t care about Quebec, and he really didn’t care about hockey. All he cared about was “self-reliance” and creating a government that would help Canadians realize a self-reliant life. This scene showed Harper’s version of love for Canada and politics, allowing us to see something other than the anxiety of controlling different branches of governments and creating laws that solve imaginary problems. 

One thing that surprised me (but didn’t surprise me, sadly) was how women in politics are portrayed. The character Jisbella Lyth was ridiculous: both bright and astoundingly dumb, and both politically savvy and extremely naive. Her character was obsessed with sex and not at all concerned about politics. She was a willing distraction and scapegoat. Harper created a political monster in her and then when he wanted to turn the situation he had created around, she dared him to try to ‘unmake’ her.

Is this how women in politics are perceived? Is this how women in general are perceived? Are we dumb, conniving, naive, sex-crazed creatures to be made and unmade? No. While Daria Puttaert did a phenomenal job portraying Jisbella Lyth, I really wanted to know how she felt about her character and what her character was saying about the role of women in politics and the (mis)treatment of women by the Harper government. I didn’t have a chance to ask this during the Talkback session – bummer. Anyways, fascinating stuff.

While I don’t know if this play invoked a “proud to be Canadian” vibe, I left the play proud of Canadian theatre – we have phenomenal playwrights, directors, and actors, not to mention those who work behind the scenes.

In all, this play was extremely well done. While only four characters and only one set could have been lacklustre or boring, the actors did a great job moving the story forward. Healey’s script was well-written and the play was well-executed under the direction of Boxall. To me, everything worked well and reminded me of some of the Fringe plays I’ve seen in the past, with small casts and political messages. Job well done.

I encourage you to check Proud out at the Rachel Browne Theatre this weekend if you can!

Next week, we’ll get back to books – I just finished The Goldfinch!

Until then, happy reading!
-Katrina

Goodreads Choice Awards 2014

Hello readers!

Because I am still working my way through The Goldfinch, I thought I would tell you a little bit about the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards.

I found out about Goodreads from a friend of mine while we were traveling through South Africa a couple of years ago – he was surprised I had never heard of it because it is the online hub for readers to share reviews with one another and bond over favourite titles, and I really love books. So naturally, I should have known about this website! He encouraged me to get the app and join the community and, so far, it’s been a useful tool to keep track of what I’ve read, what I want to read next, and what is coming out soon.

Every year, Goodreads assembles a list of the most popular and bestselling books of the year and invites the community to vote for the best of the best per category. As of today, over 1,000,000 votes have been cast for the 2014 opening round – that’s pretty exciting! It’s encouraging to see so many readers engaged online.

I already cast my votes for this round of voting and I’m happy to see a few of my favourites from this year listed as nominees. I’ve also found a few new titles to pick up on my next bookstore run.

Check out this year’s nominees and cast your vote!

Happy reading,
Katrina

Vampires!

Happy Halloween, my friends!

For those who know me well, you know how much I love a good read about vampires. For those who don’t know me all that well…you’re about to find out! The truth is, I pretty much like anything vampire related – up until this year, my best friend and I got together every Thursday to watch The Vampire Diaries, and one of my favourite movies to watch around Halloween is The Lost Boys (you must see it to understand!).

If you’re looking for some Halloween-inspired, spooky, vampiry reads, I’ve put together a little list of the best (or perhaps worst) vampire books out there:

1. Stephenie Meyer’s The Twilight Saga: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn

  • Yep, I am that girl.
  • I was 15 when the first book came out – give me a break for loving it! I totally re-read these books on a regular basis and even though the movies are really, really bad, sometimes I am just in the mood to watch them. This series is a definite guilty pleasure.
  • True story: When New Moon was being released, the Chapters head office called me to talk about their marketing scheme for the book release and the series, so all those displays in the store when Twilight was a big deal? You’re welcome. Chapters (cleverly) anticipated that the series would be the “next big thing” even before there was a movie deal. They were so right.

2. Thrist No.1 (The Last Vampire, Black Blood, Red Dice) by Christopher Pike

  • This was the first vampire book I ever read – I borrowed it from my older sister, Amanda, and it was scandalous and creepy and cool.

3. The Dark Heroine: Dinner with a Vampire by Abigail Gibbs

  • I really liked this book but it did spark a lot of controversy because of the way sex is portrayed in the book – a lot of critics didn’t like the way the author dealt with consent and violence (read the GoodReads reviews!).

4. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

  • loooooooooong but good!

5. All of the vampire books by Anne Rice

  • Also, let’s be real – the movies based on her books!
    • Interview with a Vampire
    • The Queen of the Damned

6. And of course, the ever classic Dracula by Bram Stoker

giphy.com
Hotel Transylvania – giphy.com

There’s a ton of vampire-lit out there that I haven’t read yet but plan on checking out. My sister has all of the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris (True Blood was based on her series) so I will likely borrow those in the future! What are your favourites? In other news, I’m currently reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) and it’s very interesting so far – I recommend it!

Happy reading,
Katrina

Gone Girl

Okay so I know I had an autumn reading list and I know I was supposed to read something light and fun after The Storyteller, which was really well-written and pretty dang awesome but also sad….but here’s the catch: I went to Chapters.

I can’t not buy things at Chapters. It’s my kryptonite. There was a table with a 2 for $15 promotion and I fell victim to the deal (I’m from Winnipeg, let’s be real). Therefore, I am now reading Gone Girl. And guys, it’s good.

It’s an addictive read – I am close to the end and things are coming together in a weird, weird way. I like it a lot. I’m also looking forward to seeing it on the big screen – the film adaptation is currently in theatres, featuring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. The movie has an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – looks like it’ll be worth seeing!

Rosamund Pike was on the cover of last month’s Glamour magazine and there’s a pretty grand article written about her experience playing Amy in Gone Girl – check it out here.

Read it. Love it.

Happy reading,
Katrina

Why I went to Sachsenhausen

I am currently reading Jody Picoult’s The Storyteller.

My friend Jessica, a fellow lover of literature, recommended it to me this summer. She told me it was her favourite book written by Picoult and she also warned me that it was an intense read. I’m grateful that she gave me the heads up because this book revolves around the experience of a Jewish girl, Minka, during the Holocaust – any book that talks about war, genocide, or crimes against humanity, let’s face it, make me really sad.

The book deals with the complex issues of abuse and forgiveness, and while I only finished Part 2 last night, some of the scenes I have read so far have been heart-wrenching. I don’t want to ward you off the book because it is important and beautiful and well-written, but it does deal with difficult subject-matter.

Reading The Storyteller has brought back memories of a trip I took two years ago. I was traveling with friends of mine and while we were in Berlin, Germany, we decided to visit Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp located about an hour from the city centre. We could have gone to visit nearby castles or the Reichstag (Parliament), but all of us felt that it would be important to visit the camp.

Context: I had just finished my university degree in Human Rights, and in my last year of school, I had taken a course on Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. All of us have German ancestry. We had to go.

We took the train to Oranienburg and walked to the camp museum and memorial. The weather was terrible – it was windy and cold and we kept thinking it would storm. The gloominess amplified the atmosphere of despair at the camp. I can’t really describe the feeling of being there – it was terrifying, sad, grotesque. I will never forget that visit.

While Minka, the girl in The Storyteller, didn’t spend time at the concentration camp I visited (she was a prisoner at Auschwitz, then at Bergen-Belsen), every time I read a scene detailing Minka’s experience, I think of Sachsenhausen.

As we draw closer to Remembrance Day and as governments around the world make difficult decisions regarding ISIS and other threats to human security around the world (conflict in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, political unrest in Hong Kong, and the Ebola virus crisis, etc.,), I think it is important for us to remember the Holocaust and other past atrocities. We always say “never again” and we always say that this time, we’ve learned how to be better. The concentration camps left standing in Europe as memorials and museums are there to remind us to be better. Here’s hoping Canadians can demonstrate that we have learned from past mistakes, and that we are a better people.

Read The Storyteller. Visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Be kind to one another.

Happy reading,

Katrina

To learn more about Sachsenhausen, visit the museum and memorial website: http://www.stiftung-bg.de/gums/
*All pictures below are my own.

What’s on Your Shelf?

It’s time to change it up!

Sometimes, your brain needs a refresher. I usually don’t read a series from start to finish in one lump – I like to change it up and read books from completely different genres in between instalments to keep things exciting.

I recently finished The Drums of Autumn, the fourth book in the Outlander series, and I decided I needed a bit of a break. I read Lucy March’s A Little Night Magic for something fun and light, and have now moved on to Jody Picoult’s The Storyteller.

I have one of those Ikea cube bookshelves in my room and one cube is dedicated solely to books I haven’t read yet. These make up my in-between-Outlander books, so it may be a while before I get back to the series…

Here’s a taste of what’s on my autumn reading list:

1. The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

2. The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling

3. Edge of Eternity – Ken Follett

4. 1984 – George Orwell

  • I read it in high school and hated it. I’m now going to give it a second chance. Because I’m like that.

5. All The President’s Men – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

  • I bought this book back in June after meeting Carl Bernstein at a conference that was held here in Winnipeg – little did I know it would come in handy for second semester J class!

If you’re looking for other titles to check out, take a look at LaurenConrad.com’s Fall Reading List for tons of great suggestions. I now have to make a trip to Chapters…

As always, I’d love to hear back from you – let me know what’s on your shelf and what I should read next!

Until next time, happy reading!

giphy.com
giphy.com

Top 10: Historical Fiction

Who doesn’t love a good list post? To continue along the historical fiction vein, here are some of my favourite historical fiction books and/or series. Fun!

1. The Century Trilogy – Ken Follett

  • Follett writes really, really good historical fiction. His new release, the final instalment of the Century Trilogy, Edge of Eternity, was just released in September and is sitting on my shelf waiting to be read! You can expect a future blog post about it.

2. The Order of Darkness series – Philippa Gregory

  • I have read most of Gregory’s books about the Tudors and the War of the Roses. Her new Young Adult series is a fresh departure from her usual style.

3. The Ibis Trilogy – Amitav Ghosh

  • So far, only books one and two (Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke, respectively) have been released. I can’t wait for the third. Ghosh is an amazing writer.

4. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

  • The film adaptation didn’t make a lot of noise but the book is certainly worth reading.

5. The Help – Kathryn Stockett

  • This one’s a winner. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.

6. The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

  • Winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize. Dense but fascinating.

7. Outlander Series – Diana Gabaldon

  • See my last post about why Outlander the series and Outlander the TV show get a thumbs up.

8. When The Lion Feeds – Wilbur Smith

  • I started reading Smith’s books after traveling to South Africa in 2011 and they helped provide some historical context to the subjects I studied there.

9. A Dangerous Fortune – Ken Follett

  • More Ken Follett! This book helped me understand how the economy works way more than my Global Political Economy class ever could.

10. Cathedral of the Sea – Ildefonso Falcones

  • This epic is centred around the construction of a cathedral on the coast of Spain and the people who helped build it (reminiscent of Follett’s Pillars of the Earth and World Without End). After reading it, I had to go to Spain (and did, in 2012!).

Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you thought of them! I’d also love to know which books you’ve enjoyed – I’m always looking for recommendations.

Until next time, happy reading!

 

Outlander and Scotland’s Vote for Independence

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series was recommended to me last year by some of my colleagues and because I am always looking for new books to read, I did what any booklover would do – I went to the Children’s Hospital Book Market at St. Vital Mall with my dad and we stocked up.

It was fun to search through the endless tables of books in the fiction section just to find the three Gabaldon books that were for sale. They may have been hard to find but I took this as a good sign – people who have read the Outlander series clearly liked the books so much that they wanted to hold on to them rather than sell them. I started reading the series this summer and guys, it is booklover approved. Here are some reasons why I like it.

Historical Fiction and “Getting It”

I read a lot of historical fiction and one of the reasons I like this genre is because I like history. I took a lot of history courses in university because it’s essential to understand the past in order to understand the present (you must be thinking, “duh, Katrina” – bear with me). I started reading historical fiction related to the conflicts I was studying (let’s be real – textbooks don’t do it all and frankly, they can be pretty boring), which helped me interpret past and present events on a deeper level. Historical fiction helps me “get it.” I started out reading historical fiction for an academic reason but now I’m hooked.

How does this relate to Outlander?

The first book in the series, Outlander, is – for the most part – set in the Highlands of Scotland in the 1740s. That’s right, Outlander is historical fiction (with a neato sci-fi twist). The subsequent books take you to France, the West Indies, the American colonies, and I’m sure the list goes on (I’ll admit that I’m only on the 4th book of 8). It’s a well-written and fascinating series.

Scotland’s Vote for Independence/Katrina, when will you get to the point of this post?

Anyways, the whole reason I brought up Outlander is because the first two books are all about the Jacobite Rising (a rebellion of Scots against British rule) and the consequences of that rebellion. This brings me to the real point of this post. Reading historical fiction has helped me understand and interpret not only the past but current events as well. Reading the Outlander series has provided context for the recent vote in Scotland for Independence and because I read the series, I was that much more interested in what the results of the vote would be and what kind of fall out we would see either way. Super fun stuff.

Lastly, Outlander the TV series

Also relevant to this subject is the premier of Outlander the TV series. I like watching it not only for the attractive men in kilts (not usually my thing), the delightful accents, and the period-costumes, but also because I’m interested in seeing how the show will recreate and depict scenes from the books. You should probably watch it.

Outlander airs Sunday nights on Showcase.

For fun, you should also check out this Buzzfeed list: http://www.buzzfeed.com/melaniepoloff/21-verra-verra-braw-reasons-why-sam-heughan-is-the-dhod?sub=2950370_2348945 #4 explains how to properly pronounce “Sassenach”, the Scottish word for Outlander. Very informative and pretty sexy. Enjoy!

 

What it really means to be a “Booklover”

Booklover Backstory

When filling out the “Hobbies and Interests” sections on application forms and the like, I’m the kid that puts “likes to read” at the top of the list. This is the unglamorous truth – my favourite pastime is reading and it has been that way since I was nine years old. Here’s how it all started:

When I was in Grade 3, I discovered Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone and it soon became my absolute favourite book. I know, how cliché! You probably want to stop me here and say “but Katrina, we’re supposed to be avoiding clichés when we write!”. However, the truth is the truth. All of you 90s kids will know the magic that was Harry Potter when it was first released. The Philosopher’s Stone changed my life – for reals.

Reading the first HP instalment drew me to other books (Ella Enchanted was a big hit) and I became a “reader”. This likely shocked my teachers because it was a foreign concept for me to enjoy a silent activity (I really like to talk – some of you may have noticed).

By the time I was in Junior High, I was an addict. I’m sure my parents are proud that the only thing I have ever been addicted to is reading (and maybe shoes!) – it’s probably the safest addiction to have. So in the summer between Grades 7 and 8, I did what any normal book nerd would do – I entered the national “Junior Booklover” contest for Chapters, Indigo Inc. by writing a book review of Eoin Colfer’s The Supernaturalist. And by the grace of the universe, I won.

(The contest was real! Here’s a link to the website featuring my 13-year-old self with braces – it isn’t pretty. http://www.jabteam.com)

Entering that contest got me my first (and best!) job: reviewing books for youth and young adults for Chapters. Since then, I’ve never lost my love of reading  – or my passion for advocating for better literacy and education in Canada. Reading is important! Working as a “Junior Booklover” for Chapters also exposed me to several areas in the communications industry and that exposure is what got me interested in CreComm. So here I am!

So get excited for some posts about Harry Potter, other favourite books of mine, and how my life is informed by what I read/how what I read is informed by my life. Happy reading!

Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios
Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios