Many thanks to guest blogger Karen Ng for contributing the below post! Karen is a graduate student at UBC’s iSchool (School of Library, Archival and Information Studies) and the co-curator of Judging a Book by Its Cover.

Fantastic Books and Where to See Them!

At Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC), I work as a student assistant, and it is both exciting and daunting to learn the collections and holdings. What do we have and what’s interesting about each thing? In searching for books with visually appealing covers that draw our attention, we turned our focus to items that show the progression of bookbinding techniques over time, as well as items that highlight Vancouver’s book arts scene. The exhibition, Judging a Book By Its Cover, showcases items from the following categories: early European bindings; works from local bookbinders and designers; artists’ books and odd formats; examples of the Arts and Crafts Movement; special qualities of bindings that make books unique; and notable and aesthetically beautiful covers.

Some of my favourite items from the exhibit include The WunderCabinet: The Curious Worlds of Barbara Hodgson & Claudia Cohen, The Canned Think, and Le trésor du fidèle. The WunderCabinet is a charming contemporary cabinet of curiosities filled with odd bits and pieces alongside a journal inside the wooden box. The Canned Think, created by Tyrrell Mendis, Joel Matthews, and Jon Matthews, is a cute selection of “poemtry” inside a can. Finally, Le trésor du fidèle is a small book published some time in the 1800s. It lives in a plain little black box, and with a beautifully sculpted ivory cover with engraved initials, it sits in delightful contrast to one of the biggest books in the exhibit, a large music chant manuscript with wonderfully obnoxious metal bosses and clasps.

When nearly all the books on the shelves were beautiful, it was easy to pick out the ones with gold lettering and decorations for display. These books formed our cases that highlighted the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late nineteenth century, when there was an emphasis on aesthetics and the fine arts, which was a response of sorts to the industrial nature of mass-produced books. A major focus in this exhibition is also on the handmade quality of books ranging from medieval manuscripts to artists’ books. At times, it became difficult for me to fully appreciate the work and craftsmanship that went into artists’ books in particular when they looked like a machine had made them, and perhaps that’s the fascinating part about the book.

This exhibition was an exciting opportunity to judge and explore the books in RBSC on a largely superficial level. These books look great and we want you to see them.

The exhibition Judging a Book by Its Cover is free and open to the public at Rare Books and Special Collections through January 4, 2019. The RBSC reading room is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, please contact Rare Books and Special Collections at (604) 822-2521 or rare.books@ubc.ca.

 

 

UBC alumus Lindsay Wong is getting a lot of attention this fall for her new book The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family. The gut-wrenching and beguiling memoir details Wong’s coming of age in a dysfunctional Asian family whose members blamed their woes on ghosts and demons when in fact they should have been on anti-psychotic meds. Wong’s story is a witty and touching account of the Asian immigrant experience and a harrowing, honest depiction of the vagaries of mental illness. The book was a finalist for the prestigious 2018 Hilary Weston Prize for Non-Fiction.

We spoke with Lindsay about her writing process, her time at UBC’s Creative Writing Program, how she came to find her unmistakable dark, comedic voice as well as her experiences at UBC Library. Spoiler: she was almost hit by lightning in front of the Koerner Library! Read on to learn more.

What inspired you to write your memoir?

I think I fell into memoir, or maybe the genre just grabbed me. Anyway, I blame the sorting hat system in UBC’s Creative Writing Program, where they assign us to classes based on our admissions portfolio. Memoir just felt like a very necessary and painful thing to do (like root canal surgery). Writing the manuscript was a means for me to understand who I was in relation to my family and to make sense of the severe mental illness that surrounded me.

Did you write your memoir for a particular audience?

Mostly, I wrote the memoir for myself, as this would be a book that I would have desperately needed and wanted being CBC (Chinese Born Canadian) growing up in the suburbs of Vancouver.  But I do think that mental illness has never been explicitly addressed in Asian immigrant writing in North America, as it’s such a taboo subject in our culture. I hope all readers, not just Chinese-Canadians, connect to the universal themes of mental illness and dysfunctional family relationships in the book.

Tell us about the statement: “We would eventually learn that we could not run away from ourselves” and why it’s a reoccurring theme throughout the book.

There’s a motif in The Woo-Woo about migration and diaspora and running away. My family flees extreme poverty in Hong Kong, and when they arrive in Canada, they’re always running from ghosts (which represents mental illness and various other issues). My character, too, is always trying to run away from herself, by first running to Honolulu then all the way to New York City. I wanted to show that there was this intergenerational cycle of frenzied physical relocation that almost every member of the family attempts, yet it never works. All the members in my family are always trying to outrun “ghosts”, each other, and themselves. Essentially, the Wongs and their extended kin are trapped.

Can you share how your writing process while at UBC evolved and how your decision to change the tone of your book came about while at Columbia University?

As a younger writer, I was definitely more serious in tone, and I didn’t quite have a sense of humour. I was still finding my voice, and as a writing student, you tend to think that all literary writing has to be serious in order to really matter. When I moved to New York City, there was an emphasis on humour and comedic writing in our workshops, and I think one naturally tends to develop an absurdist point of view in order to survive the subway system in New York City. While I was studying at Columbia, there were also three suicides. It was a difficult and competitive place. Anyway, once I allowed my subconsciousness to flow, I was able to find my voice, and the writing came naturally.

How did you do research for the book? Did UBC Library’s resources inform your work in any way?

I only wrote 1-2 character sketches about my grandmother and my aunt while I was a UBC Creative Writing student, so most of my research was done through phone or in-person interviews. I did not need to use the library’s resources for the memoir at the time. But I did use the printer and photocopier every few days, especially during graduate school application season. I broke the printer at Koerner Library trying to print out my application for Oxford and I was later wait-listed. Does that count as a library resource? (Our answer: Yes, it absolutely does! Learn more about UBC Library’s Pay for Print services.)

Did you have a favourite study spot at UBC Library while you were a student here?

I’d find an empty corner to study at Koerner Library in one of the quiet upper levels or sometimes I’d write my essays in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre and drink 3-5 chai lattes in Ike’s cafe. Those lemon poppy seed muffins were addictive. True story: I was almost struck by lightning right outside of Koerner Library!  It was around 10 p.m., I had a first-year Women’s Studies paper due the next day, and I was leaving the library to make the long trek back to Totem Park. All of a sudden, I was blinded by very hot, intense white light and knocked backwards. I landed on my butt a few feet away and my skin and hair felt fried!  It was all very weird and confusing, but then I saw lightning splashing everywhere. I survived.

Follow Lindsay’s writing on her website.

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