Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Debutante of the Blog

Like standing in the doorway on the first day of kindergarten, each time we step out of our comfort zone and into new territory, we can't be sure of how we'll fit in. All we can do is take that first step and hope we don't trip on our laces.

Trying something new can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially in a public forum. As a first time blogger, I am a bit of a debutante, a newcomer here at Positively Ellinwood Street. My fledgling effort is my introduction to this community. And while I am hardly ever caught without something to say about something, I don't quite feel qualified to expound at large. I am a nervous teenager teetering around a dance floor in her first pair of heels, hoping to avoid humiliation at all cost, and maybe even have a bit of fun -- a total deb.

I am also a life-long bibliophile. I love exploring new books, new music and movies, too. But now, as I tremble a bit at the idea of sending this humble little blog-post out into the world, I imagine what it must be like to see your own debut novel, album, or film put out there for public consumption. Thrilling, undoubtedly, but how terrifying it must be, as well. If the work is well received-- fabulous, but if it flops--talk about tripping on your laces! What courage that first step must take.

Novice works are most often rough attempts that, later, lead to more refined products. Sometimes, however, an artist's first effort is worth serious attention. One such effort is Kathryn Stockett's The Help. Writing about the struggles and striving of three very different women in Jackson, Mississippi during the civil-rights era, Stockett gives her characters voices that ring true. That truth infuses the novel with color and depth, so that these richly believable characters inhabit an accurately-drawn, nearly photographic, setting. We, the readers, care about and share in their experiences. Had I not known this was a debut novel, I never would have guessed it.

Below, I've listed several debut works of note. I hope each of you finds something there to enjoy, to appreciate among these artists' courageous first steps.

5 debut novels to look for:

The Cradle by Patrick Somerville

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker
The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by C. Alan Bradley

Debut films by 5 great directors:

The Maltese Falcon 1941 - John Huston
Night of the Living Dead 1968 - George A. Romero
This is Spinal Tap 1982 - Rob Reiner
Say Anything 1989 - Cameron Crowe
Reservoir Dogs 1992 - Quentin Tarantino

2009 Best New Artists Grammy nominees:

Adele - 19
Duffy - Rockferry

Jazmine Sullivan - Fearless
Jonas Brothers - Jonas Brothers
Lady Antebellum - Lady Antebellum

Friday, September 25, 2009

Truly Beautiful Movies

Soon the spotlight of world cinema will be cast upon the mighty Windy City as thousands of film enthusiasts will flock to the 45th Chicago International Film Festival from October 8th to the 22nd. They'll be among the first to view a wide variety of cinema offerings from around the globe at an event that has a storied history. It is the oldest competitive international film festival in North America: the first competition in October 1965 was held at the Carnegie Theater, and King Vidor, Stanley Kramer, and Bette Davis were honored for their impact on American cinema. Throughout the years the Chicago International Film Festival has placed a great emphasis on "fostering better understanding between cultures" and "making a positive contribution to the art form of the moving image" (according to their website).

It is at the Chicago International Film Festival that many movies gather a huge part of the momentum that turns them into strong Golden Globe and Oscar Award contenders. Just last year, films such as The Wrestler, Happy-Go-Lucky, Slumdog Millionaire (Chicago International Film Festival Audience Choice Award winner), and Gomorrah (Chicago International Film Festival Silver Hugo winner for Best Screenplay) were praised by festival-goers and went on to become multiple-time nominees (and for Slumdog Millionaire, major winners) during the Award season. Many people also got their first peek at my favorite vampire film ever made, Let the Right One In, at last year's festival.

Another excellent factor of the Chicago International Film Festival is the involvement of those who have helped create the films. This year it is possible to see director John Woo, actress Uma Thurman, and actors Martin Landau, Willem DaFoe, and Ben Foster, among others, talk about their pictures after a screening of them. Granted, the ticket price is usually higher when they will speak afterwards, but how often do you get a chance to watch a flick with Willem DaFoe?

Now, for as much as I love film and the city of Chicago, I've never attended the Chicago International Film Festival. Other plans always seem to come up or the festival arrives and ends before I realize it. This year, I am determined to get downtown for at least one flick. There a few I'd like to target: Red Cliff (directed by John Woo) depicting war, romance, and espionage on an epic scale at the end of the Han dynasty in 3rd century AD China; Berlin '36 where Jewish athletes combat hatred and racism as Germany unwillingly allows them to compete in the Olympics to avoid a boycott by other nations; Hipsters in which rock and roll and other blatantly American trends permeate young men and women in 1955 Moscow, making the authorities none too happy (many predict this film will become as popular as Slumdog Millionaire was last year); and Spy(ies) showing an airport worker being thrust into a world of fear, secret agents, and intrigue just by picking up the wrong bag.

Tickets for films at the festival are available through the website, but don't delay as they sell out pretty quickly. As a parting thought, consider what actress Jodie Foster has to say about this great Chicago tradition,"The Chicago International Film Festival reminds us that movies are truly beautiful.” Come downtown for a fresh cinematic perspective!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Excellence of Television

People sometimes get a little cranky about TV. Either there's too much of something they don't like (reality TV, infomercials, doctors in love), or not enough of what they miss (whether it's the Beav or Buffy). And people don't want to admit they watch TV all that much, anyway. "Oh, I happened to catch five minutes of Oprah or American Idol or America's Next Top Model . . ."

Several years ago I realized that if I read 50 to 75 books a year, then I had enough credit built up to also watch as much TV as I wanted. What I realized, in this orgy of CRT love, was that TV . . . had gotten pretty darn wonderful. Great acting, fantastic stories, and the time to really explore characters and their worlds to an extent the multiplex will never match. Rome and Deadwood were as compelling as any documentary or drama I'd seen in the last ten years. I liked Dexter way better than the books. Supernatural was a delicious fill-in for Angel. True Blood was a little steamy for my taste, but In Treatment had me glued to my couch.

And you know what? I don't even have premium cable. I watched all of the above series courtesy of the library - and at no charge. I checked out each season of Deadwood (in order, of course) for 14 days and had my own little McShane Marathon.

So here's to the magnificence of the small screen! Whether it's a classic like The Far Pavilions or a gritty eye-opener like The Wire, you can enjoy it long after its run has ended. What's on your personal marathon list?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to put a reserve on Little Dorrit. Hey, it won all those Emmys, I should give it a chance.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fall Fiction: My Most Wanted List

A few weeks ago, my supervisor and I were looking at a list of major authors with books coming out in the next few months: Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, Ha Jin and Anne Tyler are just a few. It's an exciting season for fiction lovers. The only difficulty is selecting the titles you most want to read! Here are three books at the top of my to-read list.

Lorrie Moore, best known for short story collections like Anagrams and Birds of America, has a new novel out, A Gate at the Stairs. Set in a midwestern college town in the aftermath of 9/11, the narrator is Tassie, an intelligent but naive twenty-year-old college student and former country girl who works as a nanny for a wealthy restauranteur who wants to adopt a baby. According to Publishers Weekly: "The story's apparent modesty and ambling pace are deceptive, a cover for profound reflections on marriage and parenthood, racism and terrorism, and especially the baffling, hilarious, brutal initiation to adult life -- what all of us learn to endure 'in the dry terror of cluelessness.'"

If all that sounds too heavy, let me add that Moore is one of funniest writers around: I've wanted to read more of her ever since reading "You're Ugly, Too," which John Updike selected for the The Best American Short Stories of the Century anthology. (The story opens: "You had to get out of them occasionally, those Illinois towns with the funny names: Paris, Oblong, Normal. Once, when the Dow Jones dipped two hundred points, a local paper boasted the banner headline 'NORMAL MAN MARRIES OBLONG WOMAN.' They knew what was important. They did! But you had to get out once in a while, even if it was just across the border to Terre Haute for a movie.")

I've never read anything by Chicago writer Sara Paretsky, but two trusted readers have been raving so fervently about her Chicago mysteries, which often address social issues and injustice, that I've decided to dive into her latest novel, Hardball. Hardball is the 13th novel to feature kick-ass private investigator V. I. Warshawski (née Victoria), who in this novel is asked to locate a man who has been missing for over 40 years, and in the process "confronts an ugly period in Chicago's history, [including] a peaceful march in 1966 by Martin Luther King that resulted in a white riot and the murder of a young black woman" (Publishers Weekly). If you're someone who likes to start with the first book in a series, Paretsky's first V.I. Warshawski novel is Indemnity Only.

I previously posted about my desire to read something by Pete Dexter after his hilarious appearance on Book TV. Well, his new novel, Spooner, has just hit the shelves, and the first few pages indicate it was worth the wait. Characterized by Publishers Weekly as "calamitously funny and riotously tragic," its hero is Spooner, whose life begins inauspiciously in 1956: his mother "issues Spooner, feet first and the color of an eggplant, an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, like a bare little man dropped through a gallows on the way to the next world." The life of Spooner, "who tends toward a life of criminal mischief" (Publishers Weekly), is contrasted with that of his stepfather, a high school principal.

Some other fall titles are The Humbling by Philip Roth, A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve, and Suicide Run: Five Tales of the Marine Corps by the late William Styron. (Remember, you can place any book on hold as soon as it appears in our online catalog. To place a hold on a book mentioned in this blog, just click on the appropriate link. If the catalog indicates that a book is showing on shelf, give us a call and we will set it aside for you.)

What fall books are you most looking forward to?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What are you afraid of?

In our meeting the other day we were planning our big scary Halloween display. At one point someone said, "Vampires are out, Zombies are in". What about mummies, ghosts, and werewolves? What scares you?

Personally I don't get scared of either zombies or vampires. Things that really exist in the real world? They terrify me. What scares me the most? Serial Killers, Viruses and my mother's driving.

We decided we would ask around to find out what others felt was the scariest movie and scariest book.

When I was a kid we drove out to Glacier National Park. On the way everyone in my family read a little book called Night of the Grizzlies by Jack Olsen. It was the true account of a series of bear attacks in Glacier National Park. The park was beautiful, but the book was so terrifying that none of us wanted to set foot outside of the car. That was terror. We also read Jaws on a trip to Martha's Vineyard. Maybe that's not normal.

For me, Silence of the Lambs was both the scariest book and movie. I saw the movie first. You'd think having seen it and knowing what happens, the book would be less so. It wasn't. I will never read that book again.

Since we have to pick a book and a movie and I assume they should be separate. My second scariest book ever was The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. It is nonfiction about the Ebola virus. Richard Preston is the brother of Douglas Preston, a very good horror author. But real stuff scares me more. Just thinking about that book makes me want to go wash my hands.

What about you? Name your scariest book and movie IF YOU DARE!!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Talk Good: the status of speaking well

We had a great book group discussion last night about Aleksandar Hemon's novel The Lazarus Project. Hemon is Bosnian and he met with the ultimate vacation nightmare. While vacationing in Chicago in 1992, war broke out in Sarajevo and he was unable to return home. He used this catastrophe to improve his English and in a mere three years, Hemon had published his first book, A Question of Bruno. Like Joseph Conrad (born Jozef Konrad Korzeniowski in Poland) and Vladimir Nabokov, Aleksandar Hemon not only writes in his non-native tongue, he does it brilliantly. If this fact weren't daunting enough, one of the discussion members, a former high school English teacher, noted that even she was unfamiliar with some of the words in the book and was sent scurrying to the dictionary. ( Here's a sampling: abseiling, piebalded, edentate.)

This prompted another member of the group to query whether language will be the new status symbol now that the economy has taken a downturn and we won't have our fancy material goods to showcase our importance. What if the new Kings and Queens of the Hill are the ones with the largest vocabulary, most perfect syntax and most clearly enunciated murmur diphthongs? After all, it was duly noted that the fight song for the old football team at University of Chicago was "Repulse them! Repulse them! Make them relinquish the ball!" All those Pulitzer prizes can't be wrong.

If the day ever comes when the finely wrought phrase replaces the Rolls Royce, who will be your hero? The first person who comes to mind is Winston Churchill. I can't think of anyone who spoke or wrote better than he. (Note the correct choice of "he" instead of "him".) As for the living, I love to listen to Christopher Hitchens speak even though I disagree with half of his arguments. Who would you choose? If a good vocabulary is the new black, who is your little little black dress?

P.S. Here are the definitions of the words above.

apseil: rappel

piebald: marked by or with two different colors

edentate: lacking in teeth.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In the Name of Friendship

When a friend or family member says, "You must read this book." Must you?

Many of the books I've read lately have come to me by the way of friends. They are not books that I've researched or read about in the many magazines or online sources privy to those in the business. When I get these suggestions sometimes I want to say, "Recommending books -- that's MY job."

Most of us behind the desks at libraries have a long list of books we want to read. We don't "need" suggestions. When a friend's suggestion dovetails with my list, then life is good and that title moves up in order. But often I read the suggested book as an act of friendship.

The last three books I read were not recommended after a series of questions about my reading preferences or interests. Instead they were given to me with wide eyes and smiles big enough to make me happily stray from my methodically prepared list. It's hard to resist the opportunity of a shared experience under such pleasant circumstances. And happy I was. All three - different but engaging. One mysterious, one thoughtful, one funny...mirroring the good friends that recommended them.

The Help A debut novel by Katherine Stockett that portrays black maids' perspectives of working for white folks in 1960s Mississippi.

Sharp Objects
A city news reporter goes back to her small rural hometown to write a story about unsolved murders. A suspenseful, psychological story by Gillian Flynn.

Foreskin's Lament Shalom Auslander writes his memoir about growing up in contemporary America as a male in a Jewish Orthodox community.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Not so fast... what's your hurry?

We live in a world of hurry up and wait. No time to stop and enjoy the garden. No time to just sit and read a book. Texting, talking on the phone while dining with friends, while in a movie theater, or while standing at the desk ordering a book at the library, has become the norm rather than the exception. (Last week a teen went through her entire summer reading list with me, looking for a fast read to finish in time for the start of school. Unfortunately she was also talking to a friend on her cell phone at the same time, asking for titles in between sentences.) Too busy?
Slow down!

I don't have the cell phone habit but I often find myself in a hurry, even when there's no reason not to stop and enjoy what's going on around me. For example, I used to complain about the slow elevators in the library (okay, I still complain, sort of, now and then) but I've found a way to enjoy the downtime. I've discovered a treasure trove of materials on the carts waiting to be shelved near the 1st floor freight elevator. Now instead of standing there willing the elevator to hurry up, I browse the carts destined for the Youth Services floor. Good books and DVDs just jump out at me! Here's a few examples:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney is an account of the life of, well, a wimpy middle-school-aged boy. Cartoons and humor abound and if you like it, there's more books in the series.

Dead is So Last Year by Marlene Perez proves that it's tough being a teen in Nightshade, California; a town of some pretty strange characters. Coping with a boy friend who's a werewolf can be a trial. Wouldn't you agree? This book is also part of a series along with Dead is a State of Mind and Dead is the New Black.

Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe (I'm a sucker for anything with cat or kitty in the title) is about awkward 17-year-old Jasmine's troubles on a family vacation to Las Vegas. A bad kitty by the pool is the least of her problems.

Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck has a tombstone on the cover, which along with the title, is enough to make any library fan want to read it.

And my latest find... a DVD called The Original Nancy Drew Movie Mystery Collection with movies originally released in 1938. Hypers!

So stop on the 2nd floor and check out a few leisurely reads that will take you back to when things moved a little more slowly. Don't let the kids have all the fun!

Posted by Linda - The photo is a picture of my favorite spot in my garden, with a bench under a white pine tree and cat mint, lamium, lady's mantle, some containers and a few garden cat ornaments. Stop and smell the mints?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Coming Attractions October 2009

Bestsellers coming in October! Reserve your copy now!

Nine Dragons
by Michael Connelly

The Christmas List
by Richard Paul Evans

Blood Game

by Iris Johansen

by Jonathan Kellerman

The Professional
by Robert B. Parker

Angel Time
by Anne Rice

Rough Country
by John Sandford

Southern Lights
by Danielle Steel