Alyssia is an Information Assistant at the Vaughan Public Libraries. Nothing makes her happier than a great book and a great cup of coffee. She loves fiction in all formats - books, movies, television, you name it - and is always on the lookout for awesome new music.
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I have a distinct childhood memory of being at some older cousin’s wedding, listening to the Maid of Honour give a speech. She was my cousin’s best friend, and I remember her saying something along the lines of “we can go months without seeing each other, and then pick right back up where we left off.” To little me, the idea of not seeing your friends for monthswas preposterous. How can you even call yourselves friends, if you’re not seeing each other every day? Of course, as an adult, that speech now makes a lot of sense to me. Even before COVID, it wasn’t unusual to not see good friends for months and months. Keeping in touch is easier now, of course: smartphones and social apps. But in-person hangouts are far less frequent than as kids. Reality isn’t like Friendsor New Girl—you probably don’t live across the hall from or in one giant apartment with your adult friends.
Adult friendships are a lot harder to maintain than sitcoms would suggest, due to competing commitments. Jobs, significant others, children. We’re busy! If you’re an avid podcast listener, you might know Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman from Call Your Girlfriend, the hit podcast “for long distance besties everywhere.” The show’s manifesto is as follows, from the website: “We believe that friendship—particularly among women and femme-identified people—is a defining, important, and powerful relationship, and that conversations among friends can be the source of incredible social and political power.” A bold statement, and one that’s at the core of their new book Big Friendship, though in a down-to-earth, accessible (and fun!) way.
In Big Friendship, Aminatou and Ann (as they refer to themselves) work through their living example of a successful friendship that has survived all sorts of adult problems. The trick? They simply cared to maintain that friendship. And that meant putting in work, the kind of work we usually associate with romantic relationships (they have, for example, been to Friend Therapy). Big Friendshipmakes the argument that, though society doesn’t seem to value it as such, deep, lasting friendship is—and always was—a vital part of the human experience.
If, like me, you are still missing Downton Abbey, or are not-so-patiently waiting for the next season of The Crown (November 15 on Netflix!), why not sate your appetite with some historical fiction? Jennifer Robson’s The Gown is a fascinating peek into a largely overlooked part of history. I can tell you exactly what Kate Middleton’s and Meghan Markle’s wedding dresses looked like, but I could not tell you who designed them (upon googling: Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, and Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy, respectively). Even less could I tell you who made those gorgeous gowns by hand.
The titular gown here refers to the one worn by then-Princess Elizabeth during her wedding to Prince Phillip. Robson’s novel follows three women: Ann and Miriam in 1947, and Heather in 2016. Ann and Miriam are both embroiders working for the prestigious British designer Norman Hartnell, tasked with creating a wedding gown befitting a future queen. In modern day, Heather is left behind an expensive piece of embroidered silk by her grandmother, and sets out overseas to piece together the life of this mysterious woman. Robson’s tale takes us from war-ravaged England to current-day Toronto and London, tracing the lives of these three very different women.
Fans of historical fiction are in for a treat with The Gown; meticulously researched, the novel’s sense of place and time will envelop you, like the warm and welcoming glow of Hartnell’s workshop. And it’s no wonder Robson recreates this setting beautifully, as she is a scholar of the economic and social history of early 20th century Britain. Particularly apt is her doctoral thesis, which focused partially on the rationing of clothing during WWII. This academic background is seeped into her writing, in small details that bring a sense of tangible reality to this historical tale. Interestingly enough, one of the doubts ofmy reading experience was just how niceeveryone at Hartnell is. I thought, there’s no way everyone gets along this well. Where’s the workplace drama? Where are the rude superiors? Surely, at a prestige fashion house like Hartnell, everyone would be posh and snobby? Not the case, it turns out! In an interview with the Thunder Bay Public Library, Robson recounts a story from her on-the-ground research at the former Hartnell location in London, in which the head seamstress (overseeing the making of Elizabeth’s gown) “invited every woman in the sewing workroom to add a stitch to the princess’s gown; that way they could all rightly say they had helped to make it”.
Princess Elizabeth on her wedding day, 1947
Even in real life, Hartnell’s legacy’s shows up in heartwarming places. The most recent royal wedding took place in July of this year, between Princess Beatrice and Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi. Just as her grandmother—the current queen—was married following the devastation of the war, and thus had to ration the cloth for her own dress, Beatrice was married in the midst of a pandemic. Rather than source a new dress, Beatrice chose to rework an old gown of Elizabeth’s—a 1960s Hartnell design.This sense of warmth, of teamwork and just general loveliness saturates every page of The Gown. Even when Ann is freezing in her little councilhouse, in a winter so cold it might as well be Canadian, the coziness of the house, the hearth of the fireplace, and the kettle on the stove are a comfort to read about.
Just in time for gloomy November, we’re happy to bring some much neededcomfort into your homes. Robson will be interviewed by local writer, author, and podcaster Louise Johnson. Johnson has written for The Globe and Mail, Flare Magazine, and The Huffington Post. If you are one of the millions of quarantine bread bakers, you might want to check out her article on the science behind the phenomenon. Johnson has also worked as a professional speaker for the University of Toronto and the Harvard Business Association, among others! Her bookish podcast, the Word Weaver Podcast, is available on Apple, Stitcher, and Spotify.
On October 23, our Late Nights at the Library team is putting together a special Halloween-themed program. Get ready for Friday Night Frights! We’ll be talking ghosts and hauntings and all that good stuff, with special guest Jaymes White. Along with some oracle reading, we’ll be delving into some local urban legends and haunts—come with your best spooky stories! Ages 18+.
If you’re like me, you love a good urban legend. Unlike older myths and folklore, the origins of urban legends can often be traced back to a source, if you really cared to find it. A lot of mid-20th century legends—campfire classics like “The Hook”, “High Beams”, and “The call is coming from inside the house…”—stemmed from newspaper advice columns, where fears about teenage impurity abounded (you know all those stories about “Lovers Lane”? That’s what happens when you get caught neckin’!). And this goes double for all the newer stories that originated on the Internet; oftentimes, we literally know who created the legend. These modern stories usually don’t concern themselves with morals, like those of the past—we’re just looking for a good spooky scare! In The Vanishing Hitchhiker, well before the dawn of the Internet, urban legend historian Jan Harold Brunvald notes that “It might seem unlikely that legends—urban legends at that—would continue to be created in an age of widespread literacy, rapid mass communications, and restless travel”, and yet here we are. It seems nothing will quell our collective desire to explore the unknown. To borrow a catchphrase from The X-Files, we want to believe.
So in honour of the spooky season, and these time-tested tales, let’s look at some urban legends—some very new and some quite old—and see how exactly they came to be the—wait for it—legendsthat they are today.