What does your library mean to you? Some answers in the mid-January issue of TYSN

January 2024 Vol 6 Issue 1

Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):
Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Linguistic Storytelling
Let me teach you to tell your story!

Welcome Mid-January 2024!

After having an unusually mild and “brown Christmas” with next to no snowfall, Saskatchewan has made up for lost time! On January 10th, a deep cold-front descended on us, bringing extreme temperatures and wind chills (some nearing -50 degrees Celsius). And, like most Canadians, we Saskatchewanians loooove to discuss (i.e. complain about) our wintry weather!

One of the best ways to endure Prairie winters and windchills, as I know you know, too, is to read (or re-read) wonderful books from the local library (or, even better: your own). So in “Article One” this month, I visit an article from Freya Howarth that asks what a library can mean to you, as its reader.

In addition to suggesting that we become conscious curators of our own library holdings (hardcopy and online), Howarth recommends nine very sensible steps to keep, use, and prune our libraries to allow the best access possible.

In “Storytellers’ Corner,” this month, I visit an oft-cited but only confusing rule for spelling in English that is better off forgotten. And “Shop News” chronicles some of my recent activities,  after I introduce a new “Entrepreneur of the Month”– designer and photographer, Tara Kalyn, of “Gentoo Expressions.” What does Tara’s business name mean? Read on, to find out!

What are you doing, good readers, to keep your minds and bodies warm this winter? When the weather moderates this week, I’ll watch for skiers and snowshoers on the trails near where I live. (Meantime, thank heavens for indoor treadmills!) I’m also reading theory for teaching English as
a Second Language, and am preparing my books for another tax season . . . .

And on the food front, what have you been cooking? . . . . I’ve fired up my kitchen with family staples like hearty Asian stew and zesty Italian spaghetti, both filled with plenty of seasoned ground chicken and whole wheat noodles for fortification!

While Ol’ Man Winter again breaths his hoary breath on us this month, I hope that good books, films, exercise and soulful food will keep you well, good readers. After all, as many of my neighbours are fond of saying, “Winter’s already more than half-way over!”

Wishing you all the best for the first month of 2024.

Storytelling Communications


—>ARTICLE 1: ” ‘An escape, a sanctuary, a place of pleasure, a memoir’: What does your library mean to you (with Freya Howarth)”

” ‘I’ before ‘e’: A spelling rule to forget!”



Article One: “An escape, a sanctuary, a place of pleasure, a memoir”: What
does your personal library mean to you (with Freya Howarth)?

In a recent article in the online journal, “Psyche,” writer Freya Howarth refers to an earlier decade in her life when she worked in various libraries or bookshops (“bookstores” in North America).
She recalls meeting many people who cared deeply about the books they were reading and plenty who also valued the idea of a library, itself: “that wild, sprawling and chaotic—or, perhaps, methodical, logical and organized—thing that emerges through the accumulation of books over time.”

At the dawn of a new year, many of us may avoid “resolutions” that seldom last, anyway, butfind ourselves decluttering and reorganizing our belongings. What separates our libraries from cluttered rooms of books, Howarth says, is “the considered process of curation.” A public library will hire a librarian to order and organize a collection that meets the needs of the local community.

By contrast, Howarth writes, is your “personal library,” that serves only you, and makes you both its reader and librarian.

Some writers (obsessively) organize their libraries alphabetically by title or author, or by the antiquated Dewy Decimal System. Others want to group books thematically or historically.  Howarth reports that Argentinian-Canadian novelist and essayist, Alberto Manguel, collected 35K books that forced him to buy an old house in France to store them!

Twenty-five years ago, I remember hearing a story of a theology student at a prominent Canadian university in the 1950s who obsessively organized the books (by author’s surnames) that he’d borrowed from the college library. One weekend, his peers thought they’d get the better of him while he travelled elsewhere, by reorganizing his library, according to the colours of their

Most academics, teachers and researchers build up a library over many years, one book at a time. As the years march on, Howarth notes, we take a broader view of our collections, assessing what titles we’ve added and why.

She says that a personal library may be “an escape, a sanctuary, a place of pleasure, a memoir.” She likens a “well-tended library” to “a landscape, with its valley of crime novels, its peaks of reference texts, its shores of memoirs.” The collection of these titles becomes “part of something greater . . . something with emergent properties, something totally unique to you.”

If you, good readers, have long ago formed your own libraries, Australian public librarian, Meaghan Dew, says the aim should not be to build what you think your library “should be,” but instead, a library “that you are actually going to use and appreciate.” And that, one hopes, on a regular basis.

It can be helpful to consider what functions you have in mind for your library: A personal collection may (i) house your personal and professional memories, allowing you to “revisit ideas and feelings,” and to help you “enjoy the pleasures of rereading”; (ii) provide a research tool, which offers you new ideas; (iii) become a source of “various pleasures” such as inspiration,
escapism, entertainment, etc.

The major paradox of a contemporary library, Howarth says, is that it aspires to be huge (in these Internet and AI-driven times), but also selective, setting boundaries around a “seemingly limitless sea of content.” You can focus on a single volume in your collection, while stepping away from the noise and distraction of online reading.

Our personal libraries are autobiographical, she writes, with some of their value inhering in their ability to help “shape your personal identity and intellectual pathways, changing and growing with you.” Reading and collecting favourite books help to form our identities, since “certain
books become personal touchstones for [your] values and interests.”

Libraries serve folks from all walks of life. I have built some of my collection around my work as a copywriter (e.g. with titles by Steve Slaunwhite, Michael Katz, Ed Gandia, Nick Usborne, Bob Bly, David Ogilvy and more). I still have many volumes from my years as a student of English literature, that I regularly return to. And most recently, I’ve added standard texts for teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), in the effort to teach newcomers most effectively.

Mentor and friend, Monica Kreuger, an expert on entrepreneurship, has spoken of working during her high school years in the local public library and frequenting bookmobiles, most summers, by bicycle. She has since collected and pruned a significant library for the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship (both online and in hard copy). Most recently, she has donned that
familiar librarian’s hat, by happily curating collections for many buyers, when selling the huge library of her late brother, in yard-sale settings.

As we age, libraries can become burdensome. They cause us to worry when we learn we must protect our books from damage and decay, or to pack them to move, sell, or give away. We must, Howarth writes, “prune strategically,” keeping only the titles we actually need and want through the journeys of our lives.

By controlling a library’s size, we make it more manageable and more rewarding for ourselves and other readers.

Have you seen that photo that has circulated (for shock value) over social media in recent years (circa 1979), of psychologist, Jean Piaget, sitting (almost buried), by thousands-upon-thousands of books, newspapers and other printed materials? (If not, try to “Google” it—the photo is
copyrighted to prevent publication.) Piaget has effectively became a hoarder, never pruning his library. Howarth says we can only prevent this by becoming “more conscious” of our work as our own librarians.

When the library is yours, it won’t look the same as anyone else’s. It could include glossy magazines as diverse as “Architectural Digest” and “Victoria”; or a many-year subscription to The Guardian or The New York Times newspapers; or audiobook recordings of contemporary crime novels; or recipe books from lesser known times and cultures, and so on.

But regardless, in order to keep and use our libraries optimally, Howarth recommends these nine (9) common steps:
(1) “Take stock” of your collection, considering what you’ve acquired over time and how those titles reflect your reading tastes and interests. Which ideas and topics do you find likely to explore further, and which ones, not?
(2) Categorize books generally as “fiction,” versus “non-fiction,” history, philosophy, crime fiction, memoir, etc., like the sections in an old-fashioned library or bookstore.

Consider the categories that have many subcategories (e.g. “medieval history,” and “French history,” etc.), since they will indicate to you that “they represent an area, genre or topic that you’re especially interested in.” Those topics will guide you when you acquire and organize the books.

(3) Decide which titles to keep and which to sell/give away. Having assessed your collection for what value it holds for you (e.g. informational, sentimental or other), you’ll recognize when you’ve outgrown or moved beyond many titles. Do this strategic pruning occasionally, to clarify what your interests are, and to make space for new and pertinent titles.

One helpful strategy, Howarth advises, to first sort books into “read” versus” unread” piles and discern whether you want to re-read any titles (so “keep” them); books that you didn’t understand at the time and might want to try again later (“keep”); books that you enjoyed once but haven’t stayed with you and that you wouldn’t buy today (“sell/donate”); books you gave up,
part-way through, and have no interest in restarting (“sell/donate”).

When assessing the unread books, consider whether you just haven’t found the time for a title (likely “keep”), or you would buy again if you lost your own copy (“keep”), or if you can see it has value, but you no longer work in the subject (“sell/donate”).

Howarth observes that some books may be especially lovely as objects or as books emotionally connected to a particular time, place person or memory, and so are “likely worth hanging on to,”
even if you’re unsure when you’ll find the time to (re-)read them.

And she shares that “It’s OK to hang on to some ‘maybes’ for a while. Sometimes, you’ll rediscover a book years later and be glad you kept it.”

(4) You may want to collect a shelf or bookcase of certain titles that have “an enduring place in your own reading life.” These favourite titles may “affirm your tastes” or be “comfort-reads” that you might return to when life is hard.

(5) If you do add more books to your library (because you presumably have decades of reading ahead of you and are not retiring and downsizing your home), consider acquiring titles that speak to each other, or to your already existing titles. For instance, if you enjoy Simone de Beauvoir’s memoirs, then your library could grow by collecting some of the novels that the
philosopher refers to in her account of her childhood and adolescence (e.g. Louisa May Alcott, George Eliot, etc.).

Howarth rightly says that “from a single author or a single book, infinite reading pathways [can] open to you.” You will begin to find that you are curating collections of classic and contemporary titles that are thematically or historically related (e.g. Charles Darwin, Rachel Carson and Andrew Wulf, etc.)

Howarth says that the websites “Five Books” and “Goodreads” can provide reading lists tailored to be either very specific or broad.

(6) Make friends with a local bookseller (such as at “Turning the Tide”) to learn of titles relevant to your collection or that you haven’t yet read (and may love).

(7) Find a book club with like-minded readers, “whose tastes overlap with yours.” You may find these people on “Goodreads” or through your local arts’ community.

(8) Locate a book reviewer (possibly from an internationally reputable publication) whose tastes are similar to yours (see sources above).

(9) Read about books: Look at the history and background of a book you’re considering buying. Howarth says the website “Book Marks” (run by the online magazine, Literary Hub) collects book reviews from different sources and assigns “a cumulative rating” for each book.

Howarth makes other suggestions that are less advisable, in my view, such as “signing up for a book subscription service,” that will send you a selected book each month. I think you’d do better to talk to a librarian or experienced bookseller, so that your acquisitions will be tailored to your interests.

Also, I wouldn’t recommend (as Howarth does) to “pick up a book on the street,” in Saskatoon’s “neighbourhood library” boxes or on the city bus. These books are seldom clean and may carry dreaded bedbugs or other pests that you want to avoid!

But two final suggestions from Howarth are great—(i) to create a simple notebook of your holdings (so you can find it to consult yourself or to loan titles to friends); and, possibly, (ii) to annotate your books in pencil, on their blank closing pages, with a few chosen words and page numbers, to
remember what was interesting in each volume. If/when you return to the book, those notes will save you time.

Howarth concludes that despite all of this organization, libraries can “grow a bit wild over time,” because many books defy easy categorization: “A library should be a little bit chaotic and contradictory. . . . A library of perfect harmony would be a rather boring and uninspiring place.”

Meantime, consider visiting reliable used bookstores in Saskatoon, notably, Westgate Books (8th and Louise Streets) and, especially, Peryton Books (408th 20th St. West), to sell back titles of interest to their owners/managers.

Although you will be paid less money to resell former titles, at least those titles will more likely be read, second-hand, than if they collect dust on your shelves.

And finally, some books and literary adaptations pertaining to bookstores and libraries that are fixtures in my library (or on my “To acquire” list) are The Bookshop (novel by Penelope Fitzgerald) and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows), both of which raise urgent questions on issues of democratic thought, the
stewardship of knowledge over generations, and lasting ties that connect us as humans.

Both also have uncommonly good film adaptations that may spur you on to even more intensive thought.

And now it’s your turn: Do you agree with Howarth’s ideas of how to organize and use your personal library? Please write in and share.



STORYTELLERS’ CORNER: Words, Stories, Riddles and Jokes on Writing and Editing . . .

This month: ” ‘I’ before ‘e’: A spelling rule to forget!”

There are many spelling rules that writers and editors of English have cited over the centuries, such as how and when to add suffixes to words, when an “e” is silent, how to make suffixes plural, and so on.

Readers often struggle to remember the correct spelling of words when multiple vowels are involved. Years of the repetitive process of editing (our own and others’ work), in addition to the aging of our brains, can sometimes wreak havoc with our ability to remember to spell words correctly.

Some writers develop rules to try to facilitate better recall, but often those rules backfire.

One such case, is a rule that I encourage my English language students to FORGET is the rule of “ ‘I’ before ‘e,’ except after ‘c.’” This rule has so many exceptions that it’s worse than useless–it’s downright confusing.

American “Grammar Girl,” Mignon Fogarty, has cited these exceptions that are not governed by that rule:

Ancient         Species           Feisty      Neither      Weird

Glacier          Sufficient       Kaleidoscope   Seize   Science

Being               Leisure          Sovereignty   Society

Caffeine          Neighbour      Vein

There’s seldom a better way to learn spelling in English than simply to read a good deal and from many sources. If you are a newcomer learning English, you may also want to keep a vocabulary/spelling list, which you can review instead of always consulting your dictionary for a word’s meaning.

What other commonplace spelling or grammatical rules are inaccurate and useless to you? Please write in; I’d be delighted to hear from you.



Featuring Entrepreneur of the Month: Meet Tara Kalyn, from “Gentoo Expressions!” 

I’m pleased to introduce to my readers, Tara Kalyn, a Saskatoon-based freelance graphic designer and photographer.

Tara’s business name is “Gentoo Expressions” (an explanation of which follows below.)

Tara (pronounced “Terra”) has, in total, over 25 years of experience in the print industry and graduated in 1999 from the Visual Communications program at Medicine Hat College.

Tara has worked on various design projects for clients including Jolene Watson, Chickenlip Consulting Corp., and DBreckner Printing Services. She also contributes stock photography to Pexels and Stockimo (for which freelance writers like me are grateful!).

Her passion for photography began when she received her first camera, as a child. In 2024, she plans to expand Gentoo Expressions’ photographic services to include studio photography.

Tara enjoys working on projects that challenge her abilities and allow her to experiment to bring her clients’ vision to life. “Even after so many years,” she says, “there’s always more I can learn, and I love that.”

To view Tara’s work and contact her about design or photography projects, please visit gentooexpressions.myportfolio.com.

When asked to explain her business name, Tara says that “expressions” refers to the artistic aspect of graphic design and photography. And “Gentoo” is her favourite species of penguin, whose resilience allows it to survive in some of the planet’s harshest conditions.

She adds: “Gentoos are the fastest swimmers of all penguins, and in my opinion, the most beautiful, with their striking black and white colouration and bright orange beaks and feet.”

“In my work,” as Tara details, “I aspire to be adaptable to my clients’ needs and to work effectively and efficiently, completing projects within the agreed upon timeframe. Helping people express their ideas is my goal. The name ‘Gentoo Expressions’ is meant to convey those aspirations.”

Please visit Tara’s online portfolio and contact her for your next design or photographic project!


Special thanks this month also go to Professor Emeritus, Robert (Bob) Calder and writer Paula Jane Remlinger for sharing two enjoyable visits over the past couple of months, including coffee, dessert and thoughtful conversation.

Bob will soon launch his latest book—film adaptations of W. Somerset Maugham (stay tuned for the dates of the McNally Robinson launch). He also will shortly release his own memoir of writing over the last five decades, while a member of our local English Department. There, he influenced the reading practices and selections of both Paula Jane and me (in the mid-90s), along with hundreds of other students. He was also recently awarded an “Alumni of Distinction” Award by the University of Saskatchewan.


I’m grateful, too, this month, to mentor and friend, Monica Kreuger, for sharing entrepreneurial conversation that (prior to Christmas) included her recommendation of the popular Netflix TV (hospital) series, “New Amsterdam.” Its stories appeal to me by offering some hope for the deeply troubled healthcare system of Saskatchewan (and beyond).

Similar thanks go out to other friends for sharing  Netflix/library  recommendations that I viewed through the holidays, including the “Bank of Dave,” (for most of us, troubled by our late capitalist banking system); and “The Lost King” (based on the true story of how a brave woman  found the remains of  King Richard the Third and worked to restore the monarch’s identity and reputation, after misrepresentation by Tudor period writers, including Shakespeare.  (Thank you to Dani VanDriel and Lesley-Anne McLeod, respectively.)


And “thank you” goes to my French student, who has introduced me to French crooners of past decades, from Edith Piaf (whose work I knew only a little) to Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour and Yves Montand.

As a regular patron of the Arts, Eliane has also informed me of the work of Canadian-born contralto, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, who has won the admiration and respect of operatic audiences across Europe. Lemieux is a household name in Quebec, but less known in English speaking Canada, which should be remedied!


And a final thanks this month to ESL teacher, mentor and colleague, Steve Cavan, who has shared some  insights on accent reduction for English language students, for which I’m (as ever) very grateful.

I hope that the currently oppressive winter will be the last Steve has to spend in Saskatchewan, as he anticipates semi-retirement in sunny Southern Italy!



Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country.

Effective January 1, 2019, I rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.” I now help Canadian newcomers land better jobs by improving their language skills and I help small-businesses to close more sales by communicating more effectively.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant website (www.elizabethshih.com).

After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!

Please visit my website for more information (www.storytellingcommunications.ca).


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