Monday, January 26, 2009

The Book That Haunts Me

You just finished THE most compelling book. Maybe you even stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish it. You long to discuss it with others, but no one you know has read it. You're curious to learn what others thought of a certain character: sometimes you liked him, and sometimes you didn't know WHAT to make of him. You wonder why the hero made the choices he did. You can't get the ending out of your head--it haunts you.

Does this sound like you? Then you should definitely register to attend one or more of our book discussions! The Tuesday morning group meets the first Tuesday of every month at 10 am. The Thursday evening group meets the second Thursday of every month at 7:30 p.m. And this year, between now and May, the library is hosting a special series of book discussions on "Love and Forgiveness," featuring literary works from Shakespeare to Ian McEwan that "explore how time and experience can lead to forgiveness in the presence of wisdom--and how wisdom can emerge."

A book rich in wisdom and depth that has haunted me for years is Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, and I'm very pleased to lead the Tuesday morning group in a discussion on February 3rd at 10 am. I was introduced to the play by my favorite high school English teacher, Ms. Judith Jahant, in whose class I first read it and listened to excerpts of Lee J. Cobb's explosive performance as Willy Loman. Willy Loman and Arthur Miller's other characters were unlike any I'd encountered in a book: their emotional lives and feelings for one another were as rich and complicated as life itself. Until then, I didn't know that could be captured on the page.

At the center of the story is Willy Loman, a man who worked over forty years as a salesman only to find himself tossed aside by his longtime employer at the age of 63. The play is a portrait of a flawed and misguided but ultimately sympathetic man. It's also a play that shines a harsh light on the American dream.

There is still time to sign up for the discussion and pick up a copy of the book at the Readers' Services desk on the third floor.

I'll leave you with the words of one of the characters in Death of a Salesman:

"I don't say he's a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Love Comes to the Library

Is that the sweet smell of roses wafting down from the 3rd floor? And who's that fat kid with the arrow? Harbingers of love, my friends. The Des Plaines Public Library is pleased to announce the creation of a separate romance section.

Not only are romance novels extraordinarily popular at our library, their sales account for the largest percentage of all categories of fiction. That's right - bigger than mystery, bigger than science fiction. In fact, romance fiction generated $1.375 billion in sales in 2007.*

Perhaps the reason for their popularity is because the world of the romance novel has grown so wide, it now encompasses mystery and science fiction as well as another genres. In the old days, there were only sweet love stories that Grandma read and "bodice-rippers" that everyone else read but wouldn't admit to. (Actually, I think my Grandma not only read the bodice rippers, I suspect she was secretly writing them.) Today, consider the following subgenres of romance: contemporary, chick lit, historical, paranormal, suspense, inspirational, erotica (now called "romantica"), women's fiction and young adult romance. So you can read a tender, inspirational love story set in the 1800s or you can read a thriller about two vampires who fall in love on Mars. As long as the central plot line is about falling in love and the ending is emotionally-satisfying and optimistic, you are reading romance.

I'll make my own vows to you. I promise to select titles that represent all types of different taste as is consistent with our collection policy and I vow to review one romance title a month in our "Staff Picks". (I've already promised to read Brothers Karamozov in a prior post. Doestoyevsky and romance? It's going to be an very interesting year.)

So get your romance on. We're going to have many events planned for Valentine's Day, Saturday, February 14 - the official launch date. Contests with prizes! Food! Movies! Come up to the floor d'amore and find some passion.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Okay, please raise your hand if you love going to movies (I know some of you mentally raised an arm). If so, you are like me. I absolutely love this time of the year because this is when many of the film studios release their Oscar hopeful movies (I call them their "heavy hitters"). The submission deadline for a film to be considered for an award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is in the beginning of December (in this seasons case, December 3). Since the studios evidently don't trust the Academy members to have long memories, they save most of their Oscar hopefuls to be in theaters right around the submission deadline and after, to drum up support while the Academy members are watching the films to decide which films to nominate, and eventually, reward. The bottom line to all of this is that the true winners of this whole situation is the movie lover (I like to use the phrase "cinemanaic" myself)!

Now, admittedly, I have been terrible this year at getting to see all the movies that I wanted to. I still haven't seen Milk, a film by Gus van Sant chronicling the uplifting yet tragic story of San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, or Slumdog Millionaire, the darling of some film festivals based on the novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup. These are two flicks that are on my list to see before they exit the theaters. Another is Doubt (based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by John Patrick Shanley), a picture that tackles the age-old themes of religion, authority, and morality.

Occupying the absolute top of the list of movies I'd like to see, however, is the Wrestler. This work seems fascinating to me as it sheds light onto the human side of the generally bombastic and showy world of professional wrestling. Mickey Rourke plays Randy "the Ram" Robinson who was a star in the wrestling world twenty years ago, but is now working through an independent wrestling circuit. Forced to reassess his life after he has a heart attack, he tries to balance his desire to re-connect with his estranged daughter and romantic attraction to an exotic dancer with the allure of the sport that he has always loved. Incidentally, Rourke won the Best Actor in a Drama prize at the Golden Globe Awards. In the sense that a picture is worth a thousand words, please see the trailer for this film linked to the title above.

Now, of the movies I have been able to see so far, one of my favorites has been Gran Torino. It portrays Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran who has recently lost his wife of many years. As his neighborhood is becoming more and more multicultural he must deal with his many prejudices, especially when he catches a Hmong boy trying to steal his 1971 Ford Gran Torino. This film is an excellent character study and extremely engaging, Eastwood does an terrific job in this role, which he says is his last acting role.

These films don't promise to be in the theaters for much longer, so keep in mind that you can always be able to get them from the library when they are released on DVD (presumably within the next few months). Have you seen any terrific movies lately? Let us know about them!

Also, the Oscar nominees will be announced next Thursday morning, January 22. Remember to keep an eye out for them.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reel DVDs

She walked by me as I peeled potatoes in the kitchen in front of the TV and said, "I don't know how you watch those films."

Later the cook walked by the college student in the lazy-boy recliner and said, "You are watching that? Again."

The savvy college student with excellent grades and a strong resume loves Reality TV. Looking back to the year 2000, the student's parents may be to blame. Survivor was the show of the hour, and it was a perfect show for a family of mixed ages and genders to watch together. COPS, Survivor, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Real World, Amazing Race were the pioneers. Now, Reality TV seems like the majority of programming. (anecdotal -- for facts access the library's database General One File)

So, the savvy college student likes to watch real things, happening to real people. What's so terrible? So does the cook peeling potatoes. It's just that the cook calls them documentaries.

What a plain word compared to "Reality TV". The description that really draws people in is the "300's". As in the Dewey Decimal system classification of the social sciences. In reality, though, you can find some interesting and entertaining viewing in the library's nonficton dvds section. The 300's are just the beginning.

The Beales of Grey Gardens. The Beales were reclusive cousins of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. The film goes into the home of mother and daughter socialites who strayed from high society's norm. In the dvd, their true personalities are captured complete with song, quirky dress and revelations about men and neighbors in affluent East Hampton, NY. This documentary was actually filmed in 1975 and released on DVD a few years ago after the story gained a resurgence due to a Broadway production and a Hollywood rendition.

The Cats of Mirikitani. This is a heartwarming and thoughtful film. The filmmaker walks by homeless eighty-year Jimmy Mirikitani in lower Manhattan day after day admiring his art. She takes an interest in him and and builds a friendship as he tells her his story of surviving the US WWII internment camps and Hiroshima. He's a hearty, proud, talented man who's wisdom is captured as he recounts his experiences. The story is told soon after 9/11 and Jimmy's point of view is moving.

Pure delight is It's Happiness: A Polka Documentary. A peak into the lives of people who love to dance the polka, go to polka festivals and play the concertina. The film highlights Jimmy Sturr, the Elvis of polka music, embracing his fans. Watch these folks, and smile AND dance as they express their admiration and concern about this pastime's future.

Discover this section of DVDs. The social sciences category covers a wide range of topics often by very creative artists and film companies.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What were they thinking??!!

The gifts have been opened, the wrapping paper tossed (or responsively recycled) and hopefully what you have left is something you really, really, wanted. Or not. What do you do if you received one of those "what were they thinking" gifts? You know the ones. The strawberry scented bubble bath when you only take showers and are allergic to strawberries, the Chia pet that is shaped like Britney Spears' head, the Santa Claus placemats, or the pink sweatsuit with puppies and kittens romping all over them. What did your face look like when you opened the gift? Hopefully you practiced your "oh my, I'm speechless!" face in front of the mirror before the holiday. Now, what do you do with that gift? Do you hide it? Do you throw it away? Or do you ... regift it? (If that's not a word, it should be.) You know what regifting is don't you? It's passing on that gift you received, and can't or won't use, to some other poor unsuspecting friend. Just remember not to give it back to the same person who gave it to you. Oh, and remember to remove the tags. It's also not a good idea to try to unload that pink sweatsuit on your sister for her birthday when she was there on Christmas when Mom gave it to you!

I'm sure my sisters just loved the Neil Diamond book I gave each of them for Christmas. And of course they cherish the scarves I knitted for them. Right? Oh, well. If I get it all back on my birthday I guess I deserve it.

What crazy gifts have you received this season and what do you plan to do with them?

Linda Knorr

Monday, January 5, 2009

Coming Attractions May 2009

Bestsellers arriving soon - place your reserves now!

Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg

Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly

The Language of Bees by Laurie King

Mr. and Miss Anonymous by Fern Michaels

The 8th Confession by James Patterson

Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston

Wicked Prey by John Sandford