Monday 13 July 2020

Moccasin Square Gardens

Moccasin Square Gardensby Richard Van Camp
Many authors are known for just one type of fiction, but not Richard Van Camp. The award-winning novelist also pens comics, TV scripts (CBC’s ‘North of 60’), and is an internationally renowned storyteller. Steeped in the oral traditions of his people, the Tlicho (Tłı̨chǫ) of the Dene First Nations, Van Camp’s storyteller’s voice is wonderfully evident in his highly recommended short story collection, Moccasin Square Gardens.

Set primarily in the Northwest Territories, or Denedeh, Moccasin Square Gardens vividly evokes the rhythms and characters of small-town life 'north of 60'. While some tales bring to mind Stephen Leacock or Stuart McLean, those comparisons fail to capture the dazzling range of themes and genres in this collection. Family discord and reconciliation, environmental degradation, sexuality, fantasy, mythology, and even a smattering of horror is all found here. Yet, even the darker stories are permeated with the author's optimism and sense of humour.

Moccasin Square Gardens opens with 'Aliens’, a lyrical tale of budding romance and two-spirit identity. In 'Man Babies', a resourceful park ranger confronts the lay-about, videogame-obsessed son of the woman he's considering moving in with. In 'Super Indians', an embezzling band chief is hilariously held to account at a community sports day. In the haunting 'I Am Filled with a Trembling Light', the social ills of addiction and abuse are explored when a dying man tries to reclaim the home his father has lost to gambling debts. 

The outliers in the collection are the two 'Wheetago War' stories. Van Camp, a fan of Star Wars who also writes graphic novels, combines Indigenous myth and popular culture in the form of Zombie-like Wheetago monsters, brought back to life by global warming.

It's a cliché, but this clear-eyed, emotion-filled collection will have you laughing and crying, while at the same time contemplating questions of Indigenous and Canadian history and culture.

Richmond Public is offering a free, online discussion of Moccasin Square Gardens on July 29th, from 10:30 to 11:30am, on Zoom. To register, visit and search for ‘adult summer reading', or phone 604-231-6413.

Thursday 2 July 2020

The Weight of Ink

The Weight of Inkby Rachel Kadish

In our increasingly digital age, the value of the tangible written word that one can hold in their hands is often questioned. Yet as is shown in Rachel Kadish’s The Weight of Ink, paper can prove to hold more than just words conveyable on a screen. This historical medley intertwines the lives of two women, living centuries apart yet connected by paper and ink. The Weight of Ink embodies a story of resilience, of faith and of the connections and histories that surpass even the bounds of time.

We meet two women, separated by centuries. Ester Velasquez is a scribe working to write the words of a blind rabbi. Helen Watt is an ailing professor with a love of Jewish history. When a former student of Helen’s reconnects, having discovered historic documents hidden within the walls of his home, she and graduate student Aaron Levy seek to answer questions that the documents raise, starting with determining the identity of the documents’ author: the elusive “Aleph”.

The plot of The Weight of Ink is complex and the text is constructed in such detail that one cannot help but wonder if they are capturing everything; it seems that every phrase, when read a second time, reveals something new. Kadish explores Judaic themes and connections beyond faith, asking what it means to be born into Judaism, what bridges may be crossed and what boundaries must always remain. I loved this book for its intricacies; I could see every scene described and could imagine myself in each situation. Though a long and complex read, I recommend this book for history-lovers and for any reader looking to immerse themselves in a reality that though set centuries away, can be easily understood.

The Weight of Ink is part of the Ben and Esther Dayson Judaica Collection at the Richmond Public Library.

Humble Pi

Humble Piby Matt Parker

I watch math videos on YouTube for fun.  For a lot of people that’s probably a strange concept.  Math has always been considered “hard”, and for the really advanced stuff, it is.  I’m not going to pretend that I understand a lot of it, but the idea that really strange things happen with math that we don’t ever notice because we aren’t mathematicians is fascinating to me.  After all, I work in a library: I chose words over numbers for a reason (and the Dewey Decimal System isn’t math).

Matt Parker is one of the best math YouTubers, and he has written several books for the layperson.  Easily accessible with very few equations to throw you off, he just uses regular plain English to show how much fun? Math can be.   


How does he pull it off?  He’s not just a math enthusiast and former teacher: he’s also a standup comedian. 


Humble Pi is his latest book, and it’s a tale of mathematical misery where math has gone wrong in the real world. Case in point: when Canada switched from Imperial to metric not every industry was prepared.  An Air Canada flight from Montreal intended for Edmonton never made it when the plane ran out of fuel mid-flight.  Fortunately the pilot was a skilled glider pilot as well and managed to find a runway to land on without power, but it was proof that a simple math problem can have potentially huge consequences. 


I realize that this doesn’t sound like the most appealing book if you just look at it on the surface, but I promise you that you’ll really look at the world in a new way when you realize how much these simple mistakes can affect you.  The stock markets can swing wildly based on a single typo in a spreadsheet. 


Humble Pi is a fun read.  There aren’t any complicated formulas or too many weird symbols.  Parker recognizes that the average reader probably isn’t too interested in a bunch symbols that we have probably never seen and never will see again unless we are doing a doctorate in theoretical physics.  He recognizes that not only do we not know, we don’t need to know to realize that math is more than just numbers: it’s ideas, and most of the time they are actually fairly simple ideas.  His enthusiasm shows, and it’s what makes me recommend Humble Pi  even for people who would rather never look at math again.