Guess What I Found?

Photo by Plume via

A few months ago, our local library held a book sale; it was their semi-annual fundraiser of library discards, and patron donations. I was joined by a couple of dozen others, and ever so carefully, each of us made our way through all the tables, and inside all the boxes underneath them. I think most of us were a bit excited, but then again, searching for buried treasure is like that.

One of the books I picked up was called Icebound: A Doctor’s Incredible Battle For Survival At the South Pole by Dr. Jerri Nielson with Maryanne Vollers. The blurb on the back described a doctor who, while wintering over at the South Pole, discovers she has breast cancer and is forced to treat herself until help can arrive in the spring. It had a familiar ring to it. I was sure I’d caught the tail end of a made-for-TV movie, a few years back, based on this very same account.

When I flipped open the front cover, I found a label there. Not just any label, though, it identified this book as a Bookcrossing release. (More on Bookcrossing here.) Aha, I thought, a treasure – and into my box of books it went.

I was anxious to get Icebound home; open up the website and trace its journey to North Battleford, SK. Online, I discovered it had been purchased at a Saskatoon Symphony sponsored garage sale, read, then passed on to the purchaser’s sister. That’s where the record stopped but it didn’t take long for me to log on, and to record its new location as Cut Knife, SK.

I’ve since read the book. It’s an amazing tale of courage in a truly inhospitable environment, described by Dr. Jerri Nielson with honesty and candour. She tells her story with such affection for that icebound continent that I’ve been inspired to read more on arctic exploration.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I passed Icebound on to a friend in a controlled release. And, now, because my curiosity will force me to, I’ll have to check in occasionally to follow the rest of its journey!

Readers Rule!

Flipping through the April 25th edition of People magazine, I came across a blurb about “The Hunger Games” entitled “Nerds Rule.” The movie had just hit the theatres a couple of weeks earlier; their PR was everywhere and here was, yet, again, more commentary. This had an interesting twist, though. Read on:

“Rejoice bookworms, for we are the most powerful people in Hollywood. Mega-hit series like “The Hunger Games,” “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” make studios ever more reliant on readers to know what will sell, which means they have to listen to fans. In the end, Hollywood has a simple choice, really: Surrender or die.”

Point taken. These movies were made because of the popularity of the books upon which they were based, and they’ve generated billions of dollars in profits. So, think about that. The shear number of copies sold had to have been enough to inform Hollywood producers, and their financial backers that a blockbuster production would almost certainly be successful. But . . . are there really that many bookworms out there?

In 2009, an American agency, The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), published the results of their most recent survey of the reading habits of Americans: Reading on the Rise. For the first time in 25 years, they had figures to show that the amount of literature read in the United States had increased; the actual number of people reading literature had increased, and the fastest growing segment of readers was young adults, aged 18 – 24. And, that demographic, co-incidentally, is the same demographic responsible for the bulk of movie ticket purchases (stats here).

In Canada, in 2003, the Association for Canadian Studies was commissioned to poll Canadians on their reading habits in the six months prior to the survey. Only 15% of respondents had not read any books at all in the previous six months. Among 18 – 29 year-olds, only 14% had not read a book in that time period but a whopping 44% had read from 1 – 5 books. For the full story, click here.

It’s great to see that literacy initiatives are succeeding; that engaging novels are being written, and that a love of reading is being nurtured.  As the NEA concluded in their report: “Cultural decline is not inevitable.”

And the Winner is…

84 Charing Cross Road by Off the Quill Inc. Productions

Sandwiched in between the music and sound categories at this year’s Oscars’ ceremony were the awards for Best Short Films. The winner for Best Animated Short was The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. I’d never heard of any of the nominees, but the next day I googled the winning film to see if I could find out a little bit more.

Sure enough, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore has its own website and the 15 minute film was available for viewing on YouTube, and for purchase on Itunes.

Quoting their website:

“Inspired in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story. Using a… hybrid style of animation that harkens back to silent films and M-G-M Technicolor musicals. “Morris Lessmore” is old-fashioned and cutting edge at the same time.”

It is very good, well worth taking the time, and it’s just as heart-warming as their press suggests.

It reminded me of a few other movies I’ve seen made about books. 84, Charing Cross Road was based on one by Helene Hanff, which I absolutely loved. The movie was a little disappointing, as they often are. However, the book was also made into a stage play, which has gathered quite a following. A British fan has put together a website devoted to the books’ historical elements starting with its bookstore, Marks & Co. If you’ve read Hanff’s novel, 84, Charing Cross Road Revisited will put the story into context.

And, if you have children, you’ve probably seen The Pagemaster, with Macaulay Culkin, at least once. It was a favourite in my house for quite a while. Although panned by many of the critics, it encouraged my son to pick up a few of the classics, which was good enough for me!

There are many movies based on books, but movies about books are harder to come by. Which one of your favourites would you recommend?

From Medals to Movies; From Letters to Photos to Jewellery…


A few years ago my siblings and I inherited a huge collection of boxes and trunks belonging to our parents. These also included, as we were soon to discover, items passed down from their parents, as well. Each container was full of treasures and, soon, we were leafing through family bibles, sorting through a hundred years worth of photos, untangling medals and service pins, and trying to identify odd pieces of obsolete technology.

Once the final tub had been inspected, we sat back and looked at each other. I can’t remember who spoke first but it was soon apparent we had no idea where to start, or how to go about the huge task of sorting, apportioning, and / or throwing away the family history spread out before of us. In fact, we were so overwhelmed by it all we simply boxed everything back up and packed it away, out of sight, in my attic, where it’s remained for the last five years.

And, I suspect, it would have stayed there indefinitely – well, probably forever – gathering cobwebs if I hadn’t discovered something at our local library: A two volume set entitled Help! I’ve Inherited an Attic Full of History by Althea Douglas. If anyone reading this post ever finds themselves in this same position, needing to sort through someone’s lifetime accumulation of personal possessions, these books are absolutely the first stop to make before tackling the job.

Douglas starts at the very beginning of the process with ideas on how to split the job between family members; how to assess what you’ve just unpacked and then how to evaluate it all. She explains how to determine historical value and where to look to establish a monetary value for collections and collectibles. She provides guidelines for giving items away to archives, historical societies, and libraries but, also reminds us that, sometimes, an item’s value lies more in its sentimental worth to the family. Douglas includes a Chronology for technology that covers cameras, sewing machines, calculators and computers, film, video, and sound equipment. There’s also a Glossary, and a Bibliography along with Notes, and Sources. And, that’s just Volume I. Volume II is all about how to care for, and preserve the things you’ve decided to keep, and contains just as much essential reference material as the first book.

Attic spider webs

The first thing I learned was that my attic was the wrong place to store our collection of memorabilia. In fact, these kinds of materials require dry conditions with a constant temperature, which means unheated garages and barns, and cold, damp basements are out of the question, too. So, number one on the agenda, now, is to haul out the almost two dozen boxes tucked away in the crawl space upstairs. Number two, is to call my siblings. Or should it be the other way around?

Help! I’ve Inherited an Attic Full of History, Volume 1: Dating, evaluating and disposing of the accumulation of a lifetime.  Althea Douglas, M.A., D.G.(C) Published in Toronto by The Ontario Genealogical Society, 1998. 92 pp

Help! I’ve Inherited an Attic Full of History, Volume II: Archival conservation in the home environment.  Althea Douglas, M.A., D.G.(C) Published in Toronto by The Ontario Genealogical Society, 1999. 94 pp