Ex-Libris: The New York Public Library

Ex-libris-dvd“Frederick Wiseman’s film, Ex Libris – The New York Public Library, goes behind the scenes of one of the greatest knowledge institutions in the world and reveals it as a place of welcome, cultural exchange and learning. With 92 branches throughout Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, the library is a resource for all the inhabitants of this multifaceted and cosmopolitan city, and beyond. The New York Public Library exemplifies the deeply rooted American belief in the individual’s right to know and be informed. It is one of the most democratic institutions in America – everyone is welcome. The Library strives to inspire learning, advance knowledge and strengthen communities.”

Earlier this week I stumble upon this enormous documentary on PBS. If you are into books and libraries, you’ll just love this movie that gives us an extensive tour of the New York Library and demonstrates how dedicated and welcoming the staff of its 92 branches are, what are the challenges they face in order to keep up with the demands and needs of their patrons, and particularly how important libraries can be to foster the diffusion of culture & knowledge as well as artistic creativity. It’s certainly one of the best examples of what an ideal library should be (as I recently discussed).

It is amazing how our local libraries look insignificant and puny in comparison of the behemoth collection and the huge diversity of services offered by the New York Public Library… With 53 millions documents, it is the second largest public library in the U.S. (third largest in the world after the British Library and the Library of Congress). Surprisingly, despite its name, it is a private, non-profit library, but it’s using public/private partnership (and funding) to work in collaboration with local governments (city, state, federal) in providing a large array of services… It is quite interesting (and serendipitous) that, with our imminent provincial elections, a librarian and teacher at the U de M Library Science School has been very recently questioning the commitment of the government in regards of libraries. Will the government create a strategic plan for the development of libraries (like the PLA recently did) ? It is direly needed at a time when the usefulness of libraries (and even our society’s fundamental concepts of knowledge and truth) are being challenged  (NYT, The Guardian) !

Of course, for such an enormous documentary, the reception has been rather mixed (with a critical response at 97%, but with only a 61% audience score, on Rotten Tomatoes) with reviews going from bad (Globe & Mail), to good (Variety) to excellent (The Guardian).

For me it was very interesting to watch and compare (seeing the similarities and differences) our library work here, in relatively small municipal library branches, to what’s done in NYC. However, even with the mastery of legendary documentarist Frederick Wiseman, I do think that 3h17 is really too long for any documentary to keep the attention of the viewers (at least in one sitting)! Many sequences are unnecessarily long. Also someone can get easily annoyed by Wiseman’s “no-comment” documentary style where he just show the scene as it happens without much editing or information (like not telling us who is talking!). In the end, despite those faults, this documentary is definitely worth watching for anyone (with spare time) who’s interested in the realm of books and libraries.

Ex Libris – The New York Public Library : USA, 2017, 197 mins; Dir./Ed./Sound/Prod.: Frederick Wiseman; Phot.: John Davey; Exec. Prod.: Karen Konicek; Cast: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Elvis Costello, Richard Dawkins and the very dedicated staff of all NYL branches. The DVD will be available soon from the producing company, PBS or Amazon (UK / FR). It can also be streamed online (legally?)… stars-3-0

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Un dimanche au musée

IMG_3412J’ai encore visité une exposition au Musée des beaux-Arts de Montréal in-extremis: en effet, l’exposition D’Afrique aux Amériques : Picasso en face-à-face, d’hier à aujourd’hui se terminait aujourd’hui. Comme toujours, cela en valait la peine (malgré la foule).

Je n’ai jamais beaucoup aimé Picasso (et l’art abstrait en général) mais, comme il se situe aux limites du figuratif et que j’ai toujours été fasciné par la vision du monde qu’il exprime dans son art, il m’intéresse tout de même. J’ai toujours interprété son oeuvre avec l’entendement que, la photographie ayant rendu le besoin de représenter la réalité caduque, les artistes modernes ont délaissé le figuratif pour l’impressionisme, d’abord, puis pour l’expressionnisme et même carrément l’abstrait (cubisme, surréalisme, etc.). On déforme la réalité pour exprimer et inspirer des sentiments. Picasso a commencé à peindre durant une période troublée du XXe siècle, alors ce n’est pas surprenant qu’il exprime des sentiments perturbés, dérangés ou dérangeants. Je me suis toujours demandé comment il pouvait réussir à déformer la réalité d’une telle façon ou s’il voyait vraiment le monde comme cela. Quoiqu’il en soit, j’ai toujours trouvé son art plutôt laid. Mais bon, comme je dis souvent à mon épouse, pas besoin d’aimer ça pour l’apprécier! Pour apprendre, il faut aller au-delà de ses goûts et de sa zone de confort.

Toutefois, ce n’est vraiment qu’en visitant cette exposition, qui met en parallèle des oeuvres de Picasso et de l’art Africain (dans ses très multiples déclinaisons), que j’ai finalement compris son inspiration. À cette époque-là, les artistes tribaux africains tentaient de représenter les esprits de la nature, le divin, la terreur de leur démons. Et c’est dans ces formes là que Picasso a trouvé sa muse.

Étrangement, l’art africain m’a aussi toujours fasciné. J’y trouve quelques chose de surréel, et, là où l’artiste tentait de représenter le surnaturel (esprit, démon), j’y vois une vision d’outre-monde, tantôt lovecraftienne, tantôt l’expression d’une science-fiction accidentelle (extra-terrestre, créature “star trekienne” ou “alienesque”, robot, arme klingonne, etc.). 

Et c’est sous le prisme de ces deux considérations que j’ai visité, et apprécié, cette exposition…

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About [not] reading

GreatAmericanReadI just watched The Great American Read on PBS, a show that searches for the “100 best-loved books and explores the many ways in which these novels affect, reflect and connect us all”. People are invited to vote for their favourite book in the list. It made me want to read more and wonder why I read so little.

I used to read a lot. As far as I can remember I often read books (novels, comics, books about space, about lost civilizations, about extra-terrestrials; all sort of books). My parents always encouraged us to read. I was spending long nights reading (and sometimes writing), particularly in the summer, when I didn’t have school the next day. I remember going to the public library (first, the one in the basement of our elementary school, and then the city library on top of the fire station). In my last year of high school, I remembered reading over a hundred books, mostly cheap science-fiction novels (space opera that freed my imagination and made me feel that everything was possible). Why did I stop reading so much? 

I was still reading a lot in college and in university (undergrad and grad school). That’s when I started reading also in English (first with L. Niven’s The Ringworld Engineers and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings). Ironically, it’s only when I got busier with my publishing company that I seriously reduced my reading habit. Working hard (even at the library) takes much of my energy. Now I barely read twenty to fifty books a year, and it is mostly manga or comics. I guess I got lazy and life doesn’t leave me enough free time to read. I cannot read in the bus/subway anymore, I’m too tired. I read sometime on the weekends and more often than not before going to sleep. Mostly, I watch too much TV. It’s much easier to watch the movie version than read the novel; but it’s also an unfortunately diluted experience. A book is so much more than a movie. You can create your own visual of the story while the movie provide it for you…

On that Great American Read list, I’ve read only a dozen books: 1984 (G. Orwell), And Then There Were None (A. Christie), The Da Vinci Code (D. Brown), Dune (F. Herbert), Foundation (I. Asimov), A Game Of Thrones (G. R.R. Martin), The Grapes of Wrath (J. Steinbeck), Jurassic Park (M. Crichton), The Pillars of the Earth (K. Follett), The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (D. Adams), The Little Prince (A. De Saint-Exupery) and The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien). There are many that I think I might have read, at least partially, or maybe I just saw the movie… I am not sure… But there are many, many more I just wish I had read. I will. I still have time. 

I just can’t wait to retire and I have the entire day to myself, with a nice cup of tea and a book!

I wish my entire life was only about books. Wait! It is: I work in a library and I write a blog (partially) about reading! Gosh! I should dedicated even more time to books…

Unfortunately, I cannot vote for the Great American Read. First, I am not American. Second, I haven’t read enough books in that list. And finally, I would have really a hard time deciding which book is my favourite… Each one has its own value and it’s difficult to compare one to another. They all had an impact on my life, because they all transmitted to me a valuable experience one way or another. But I have such a bad memory for those things… Maybe Dune, La nuit des temps (R. Barjavel), Neuromancer (W. Gibson), or Lord of the Rings ? I don’t know… Anyhow, you can follow my readings on Goodreads

And you, what are your favourite books?

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Dimanche à la ferme

FarmerFair2018-logoNous avons décidé de passer notre dimanche aux Portes Ouvertes sur les Fermes du Québec qui se déroulaient (entre autre) au Parc Olympique de Montréal. Nous avions déjà visité cet événement l’an dernier et, comme nous avions bien apprécié, nous avons décidé de récidiver cette année. C’est l’occasion pour les différents producteurs agricoles de la province de présenter et de promouvoir leur production au public. On peut donc y découvrir les différentes variétés de vaches qui sont élevées au Québec (Holstein, Ayrshire, Jersey, Suisse Brune, Canadienne, Limousin) ou les différentes variétés de grains qui y sont cultivés (Maïs, Soya, Orge, Blé, Canola, Avoine). Il y avait même une petite ferme avec une grande variété d’animaux que les enfants pouvaient caresser (chèvres, âne, Alpaga, etc.). C’était fort amusant…

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J’y ai découvert quelques nouveaux produits intéressants comme la bière bio artisanale Boldwin, l’huile de Caméline, les produits de la cidrerie Lacroix, la boutique de produits de laine Merlaine, etc.

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