Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween, that's the Spirit!

A barren tree silhouetted against a harvest moon, crows cawing into the night wind, a wrought iron fence surrounding a field of leaning gravestones, forlorn and bereft of any earthly care.

This was the vision conjured up by the ghoul now rising in front of me after I had intentionally stepped on its activation pad at the Halloween costume store I visited recently. An insidious whisper seeped out from its mechanically jointed jaws, "Step forward into the Graveyard of the Damned, if you dare!" Giddy with excitement, I dragged my wife away from the wig section so that she too could stand before this rapture of Halloween Incarnate. Though her awe did not exactly match mine in this ghoulish vision (and her repulsion of the rotating-head automated zombie children display did not equal my enjoyment of the same), she and I laughed as we shared a terrific sense of the season.

Along with every conceivable foodstuff and beverage being flavored by some variant of pumpkin, it is the time of year to celebrate goblins and ghouls, witches and werewolves and other creatures that utter eldritch ululations into the night. I bask in the cold moonlight of this time of year for an apparently stupid reason: I love being scared.

There is more to it than that, however; I've always viewed being afraid as a means to an end. Why do we trade creepy stories around a snapping campfire, casting furtive glances back into the forest? Or why do we sit in crowded movie theaters at the complete mercy of the scary movie unfolding before us? We need to find out what happens! But the true beauty of the spooky story is encountering the shivers and frights along the way to get us in the right mindset to receive the revelation at the end. Fear holds us within the story and bathes us in a cold sweat to make sure we are paying attention, keeping us focused on the big reveal. The movie that encapsulates this facet of fear perfectly is one entitled Them (not the big ant movie, it's another one by the same title). But this is only half of the story of why I enjoy being spooked out of my wits.

Homo sapiens
as a species is often scared of what we do not understand, and we are cursed with a brain capable of imagining what we don't know. Werewolves, the Goat-Man, and Bigfoot were constant companions in my childhood, always a flick of the light switch away from jumping out at me. As I've grown up, my world view has refined and become more realistic. My conviction that there are entities and events that are still beyond human understanding has been tempered against proof and evidence. These tools of confirmation are the other source of prickles on the spine, or rather, the thrill of the chase. If something survives all the proof and evidence that can be laid against it, and still cannot be explained, it makes me wonder, "What else can be out there, beyond the realms of science?" A personal favorite TV show of mine, Ghost Hunters, is an archetype of this scientific approach. They explain away about 95% of what is reported, but what they catch on audio or video that cannot be explained .... Shiver City, my friends.

Being scared intentionally is not for everyone, but for those of you relish a good case of the heebie-jeebies, I tip my mug of cider to you. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. I say, "Awesome, what's playing?"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The End

Oh, that lovely moment in old movies when the lovers kiss, the hero rides off into the sunset, the villain breathes his last, and a child's sled fades into nothingness. Fin. Finis. The End. Connie Willis recently said "One of the reasons we love history and literature is because we get endings. We find out what happened: they got married; they died; they were able to vanquish EVIL. Sometimes we don't even really care how it works out, so long as we know how it works out."

This is why so few readers can bear to put a book down unfinished, no matter how much they're not enjoying it. This is why I skip ahead to the ending of books I don't like. I suspect this is why many
people refuse to read series fiction out of order. It messes with their sense of "the end."

Everyone can recite a few famous first lines of great books; "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." "Call me Ishmael." Do you remember last lines as clearly? The first line of a book is an embarkation, a jumping off point, where nothing is known and all is possible. The final sentences carry with them the entire world of the novel and its characters, and so the exact words may get a little lost. That's a shame, because I'm sure the author thought as long and hard about her final sentence as she did her opening lines.

My favorite ending of all time is, "Well, I'm back," he said. In a few words, J. R. R. Tolkien sums up one of literature's great sagas of good and evil, with a plain-spoken hobbit returning to his family and fireside. There is loss, and contentment, and the sense of a job well done at great cost: a lot of emotion to be found in five words.

Another fantastic closer, which struck fear and dread into my heart as a teenager, is from the short story The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke: Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were slowly going out. And I was stunned as a child that E. B. White could sum up a character's true importance in these few syllables: It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

It brought back such wonderful memories when I started looking through my best-loved stories for their closing words. Sometimes I think that is all I want out of life; to rediscover that childish but pure satisfaction of a fantastic tale, well
told. I hope you'll also go back to a few of your favorite books and enjoy their last lines.

"Four o'clock! Come along - we'll just be in nice time for tea!"

Friday, October 23, 2009

From a book to a movie

This week, I saw the movie adaption of Where the Wild Things Are. I always loved that book and it was a fantastic movie. I wondered how they would make a full length feature film out of a 38-page childrens book. They obviously had to take liberties with the story, but I think they did a great job with it.

Some people like to read a book before the movie. Usually I do the opposite. If a movie really moves me, I will seek out the book. My favorite movie adaptation of a book was Big Fish (book by Daniel Wallace). I also really enjoyed the book and movie Martian Child (book by David Gerrold)

Do you prefer to read the book before or after seeing the film?

I have often heard people complain that some movies stray too far from the book. I have heard people complain that a movie left out crucial scenes. And I have heard people complain that certain movies followed the book too closely. We all have opinions. I like it best when one adds something to the other. In Big Fish, the tall tales the father tells are different in the book then the ones in the movie and this adds more to the story.

What are some of the books you think made the best movies?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On this day in history...

It was a favorite rainy-day game in my family. What happened on this day in history? With the gold-embossed, leather-bound Encyclopedia Britannica volumes stretched out before us on the bookshelf, we would see what we could find out about the day at hand. The contest was to see who among the four of us kids could come up with the most momentous historical happening. We divided up the volumes among us and stacked them beside us, sitting cross-legged on the den floor.

This was before the Internet, when research weighed several pounds and smelled of leather and dust. And when I said it was a favorite family game, I really meant one of those activities mandated by a parent and that, at the time, we children interpreted as torture -- probably medieval torture, from when that parent (Dad)was a kid himself. It was also an activity which, once begun, was a lot more engaging, stimulating, and yes, I'll say it, fun than we ever thought it could be. It was definitely more fun than we ever would admit to my dad. (He liked to torture us on road trips, too -- by organizing running races and leading us in calisthenics at rest stops and gas stations.)

So there we were, books spread open across our laps and the carpet, rifling through the thin pages, hunting for anything that happened on that day. We each had our strength. My eldest sister was the true researcher, methodical and organized. No willy-nilly page shuffling for her. Meanwhile my brother was the least invested in the game. He was easily distracted by any subject that caught his eye and held his interest. Volumes B and C were his favorites (for Boy Scouts, camping and cars). My other sister was the one who could call upon her powerful memory to lead her to the information she sought. Her sharp mind made her the competitor to beat. Maybe it was my survival strategy as the youngest child, I don't know, but my talent was creative problem solving. If I couldn't find the answer, I could fashion a pretty credible fiction instead. If I could weave a story that captured my audience's attention, I could distract them from my thin facts. It didn't score me the win very often, but it was fun. I think it's what first sparked my interest in historical fiction.

Voting for a winner, the best thing that happened on this day in history was loud and hotly debated, but ultimately, the deciding vote was Dad's. No doubt, there was more to his plan than simply occupying our attention for a while. I think he was happy to see us using our minds and expressing our views -- especially if we could argue our point with skill. (When he had us doing jumping jacks at a Mobile station, I'm fairly certain his plan was just to wear us out, so we'd sleep in the car.)

Nowadays, the game would be played on the Internet. We can test our skills at running search engines and utilizing keywords. A good brain game transcends technology, though.

Here are a few websites that could get you started at your next family game night: http://www.libraryspot.com/ask/today.htm,

So what are a few of the things that happened today, October 20, in history?

* In 1803, the Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. That agreement doubled the size of the country for about 4 cents an acre.

* A 1947 Congressional committee began an investigation into communism in Hollywood, kicking off the Red Scare.

* On this day in 1990, members of 2 Live Crew were acquitted of obscenity charges.

* Bela Lugosi, Charles Ives, Christopher Wren, and Micky Mantle were all born on October 20.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Fall!

Fall Color Fest
The Morton Arboretum

It's hard not to love a season with moderate temperatures, beautiful color changes and of course, pumpkins, goblins, zombies, ghosts and witches, oh my! Each year I look forward to visiting garden centers, the Chicago Botanic Gardens, and the Morton Arboretum. If you haven't been to the Arboretum in the last few years, then you are in for a treat. They have completely updated the Visitor's Center and gift shop and have a new garden and maze for children that is truly a-maze-ing. (It's especially
nice on a chilly, rainy day when very few kids are visiting!)

Every weekend in October through November 1st you can find gorgeous plant displays, pumpkins, taffy apples, free wine-tasting and a parade of scarecrows around Meadow Lake. The scarecrows have been designed and built by local Girl Scout troops and are very festive. Every year the scarecrows get more and more creative. They make a great addition to the colorful setting around Meadow Lake. Here's just two of my favorites from more than three dozen.

So last weekend I went to the Fall color Fest with my sisters for our annual sister fest. We toured the children's garden, the maze garden and walked around the lake. What a treat! As you can see from our smiles we had a great time.

What's your favorite fall activity?

Linda K.
Readers' Services

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Book That Finds You

In The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Peel Society, the main character receives a letter from a man on the island of Guernsey who has come into possession of a old book she once owned and had to sell many years prior. She wonders how the book got to Guernsey since she sold it in London. "Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true!," she says.

Call me nutty, but part of me believes that you don't find the book as much as the book finds you. Think about the books you have read in the last year and how you came to decide to read them. Sure, you have your favorite authors and put those titles on hold at the library, but weren't there just as many books that you read because you: 1. saw the cover and liked it; 2. the blurb on the back mentioned "Venice" and you were in Venice twenty years ago and it's your favorite city in the world; 3. were told by a friend that it was a good book and that's all you knew before you read it; 4. found the book at a book sale and the price was right - $1. How do these books know to cross our path?

Naysayers will claim this is simple coincidence, but I say otherwise. These special books seem to have a mystical type of intelligence that operates independent of reason and logic. Why was my new apartment immaculately cleaned when I moved in except for an old copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being? I read it and it quickly became one of my favorite books.

Or what about the time one of my friends in Los Angeles was talking about something that happened to her in Echo Park and then Michael Connelly's book Echo Park came out the next day. (Read it. Loved it.)

Perhaps the character in Guernsey was right. We don't choose the books as much as the books choose us. What books have chosen you?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A New Path

This matron of the blog loved the last blog entry, “Debutante of the Blog” by my new coworker Lynne. It broached a new topic, had that great photograph, it was focused and thematic.

While it was Lynne's first, Positively Ellinwood has been around for about 15 months now, and the talented writers impress me with every entry. The contributors are, for the most part, readers not writers. Yet through the Positively Ellinwood Blog, the soul, humor, and intelligence of this group becomes apparent in the form of the written word. These thoughtful essays illuminate a facet of the library and invite the community to comment, to participate, to benefit.

The debut Tour De Des Plaines Bike Ride was held this past weekend and accomplished something similar, for me at least. Mayor Martin Moylan and the Des Plaines Police Department sponsored the first annual ride through Des Plaines’ eight wards. Back roads, quiet neighborhoods, the new river walk – all places I would have never experienced otherwise. Though the guides were peddling and not furrowing their brow to find the perfect word, they highlighted the best of the city and encouraged the community to comment, to participate, to benefit.

Titles being talked about around town:

Mastering Your Metabolism

The Lost Symbol

Fugitive: A Novel

Olive Kitteridge