Friday, June 24, 2011

Unputdownable (yes, it's in the dictionary)

I get it. Summer is here and you're looking for a book you can read without too much effort: people in the reading business call this phenomenon a "good book". Maybe you weren't aware of the question, but we have the answer. The following is a list of books that you shouldn't pick up if you don't want to read a book you can't put down:

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Recently released from prison, Shadow faces a different kind of life then what he envisioned: his wife is dead and he discovers that forgotten gods exist in North America. Leprechauns wear denim jackets and mesh baseball caps, genies drive taxis, and the goddess Easter has picnic lunches in a park in San Francisco. But new gods such as Technology and Media are threatening elimination of the old ones. Like the coin tricks that Shadow had become adept at performing in the clink, nothing is what it seems in today's world. Amidst all of this uncertainty, only one truth is known: the storm is coming.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr
Dr. Laszlo Kreizler is investigating a series of brutal killings in 1896 New York City. He puts together a team of investigators to delve into the dark underworld of the city, using techniques that were state-of-the-art at the time, such as fingerprinting and profiling. The detailed description of New York City and its people (including historical cameos by Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan) on the verge of the 20th century is clever and entrancing. Lovers of Sherlock Holmes will thoroughly enjoy his American counterpart.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
In a Barcelona that is still recovering from the Spanish Civil War, a boy named Daniel becomes enthralled by a book named The Shadow of the Wind written by an obscure author named Julian Carax. However, as he searches for more of his books, he comes to discover that someone is systematically destroying every book written by Carax. Daniel realizes that the identity of this mysterious author lies at the heart of a tale filled with such intrigue, murder, heartbreak, and madness that someone is willing to go to any lengths to keep it hidden.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
When the new Mrs. DeWinter comes to Manderlay Estate, she discovers that the frosty housekeeper and the sometimes distant new husband are nothing compared to the specter of the original Mrs. DeWinter that is still casting a pall over those who live there. Published in 1938 but timeless in its impact, Rebecca has become the archetype of a dark suspense novel filled with themes of passion and betrayal.

Do you have some books that cannot be set aside once started? Let's hear about 'em!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The # 1 Western

Martin Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen, Clint Eastwood and the American Film Institute can't all be wrong, can they? That was my thinking when I decided to watch the John Wayne western The Searchers, named the number one western by the American Film Institute and praised by the above among others. (Check out the AFI's Top Ten Westerns here.) Also in its favor: the director is John Ford, director of The Grapes of Wrath, which impressed me in spite of occasional heavy-handedness and Henry Fonda looking more like a model for a toothpaste ad than a weathered and impoverished fruit picker.

The Searchers tells the story of a former confederate soldier who spends years tracking down his niece, who was kidnapped by Comanche Indians, the latter of whom the veteran seems to hate more than he loves his niece. The movie is beautifully filmed--much of it near the Utah-Arizona border--and it has several memorable moments. I've seen more John Wayne parodies than actual John Wayne footage, and there were scenes in which he moved me, one in particular in which his eyes widened in a manner that suggested innocence and vulnerability as well as horror. But I wasn't as taken with it as I expected, although I'm usually able to appreciate older movies--melodrama and all. Granted, I'm new to westerns. Someone has since suggested I might prefer Red River or High Noon, also on the American Film Institute Top Ten Westerns.

That said, I've created a western DVD list for those who enjoy or want to explore the genre. It includes the AFI Top Ten Westerns and others recommended by western fans, including one of our regular patrons. All of the DVDs on the list are owned by our library. (We even have a special section just for western DVDs. There's also a section for western fiction. Both are on the third floor.)

Do you have a favorite western? What are your thoughts on The Searchers?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Just in time for Father's Day...

Diabolical Dads

This weekend families everywhere will take time to celebrate all the ways they have been blessed by the dads in their lives. Gifts will be given and hugs exchanged and all of the tender, fatherly moments of wisdom, guidance and love will be remembered.

Sometimes, though, it's fun to head on over to the darker side and take another look at those dastardly dads we love to hate. These film and television characters have parenting styles that would give any family counselor the chills, but they sure can entertain us.

On TV:
  • Archie Bunker All in the Family - He is the patriarch of badly-behaved TV dads.
  • Al Bundy Married With Children - Al would probably sell his wife and kids for a some alone time -- if anyone would buy them.
  • Homer Simpson The Simpsons - As a dad, he is best characterized by this iconic image:
  • Peter Griffen Family Guy - Another animated example of over-the-top bad parenting, Peter is not the ideal family man.
  • Dexter Morgan Dexter - Here's a quote from the new dad/serial killer: "Wanna know a secret? Daddy kills people." Enough said.
At the Movies:
  • Darth Vader (James Earl Jones & David Prowse) The Empire Strikes Back 1980 - Dismembering your kid with a light saber will not win you a Father of the Year award.
  • Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) The Shining 1980 (Not a good year for dads.) - Nothing says daddy's home like, "Heeeere's Johnny!"
  • Dr. Evil (Mike Meyers) Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery 1997 - "I hate you! I hate you! I wish I was never artificially created in a lab!" Poor Scott Evil.
  • "Dad" Meiks (Bill Paxton) Frailty 2002 - Axe-murder is not the typical father/son bonding ritual.
  • Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) There Will Be Blood 2007 - Papa Plainview should have known better. Ruthless ambitious and violent paranoia are not character traits that engender filial piety.
What is it about these guys that make them so fun to watch? I honestly don't know, but this weekend, you and the dad in your life can relax on the couch with some popcorn and enjoy the exploits of some of these diabolical on-screen dads.

Did I miss any? Which fictional father-figure do you love to hate?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Can You Read This?

One day recently, I heard a news story about the types of jobs forecasted to grow in the next decade. I thoroughly expected to hear about engineering, nanotechnology and the service sectors. Instead, it was stated that the employment of adult literacy and remedial education teachers is expected to grow 15% in the next ten years*. That struck me. Even though I talk about books and information daily, I take for granted the ability to read, as I bet most readers do.

According to Open Books, a nonprofit organization that promotes literacy, 53% of the current adult population in Chicago has low or limited literacy skills. Of course, these adults miss out on great novels and fun beach reads, but they also run into barriers everywhere in daily life. Imagine the difficulty with the dosage instructions on medicine, credit card agreements, nutritional labels, finding a job, choosing light bulbs.

The need to improve reading skills for adults is great, thus the forecast for an increase in jobs for trained teachers. Luckily there are tens, probably even hundreds of organizations that promote literacy in various different ways. Many popular fiction authors and writers donate to literacy. David Baldacci created the Wish You Well Foundation, Nora Roberts supports the ProLiteracy Foundation, columnist Liz Smith is the honorary chairman of Literacy Partners.

Locally, the Oakton Community College VITA (Volunteers in Teaching Adults) program plans to serve over 1100 students in fiscal year 2012. Here at the library, our reading clubs encourage reading and many learners practice with a novel and its corresponding audiobook. Additionally, a large collection of literacy and ESL materials are located on the fourth floor.

I hope it will be soon when I hear the next news story state that literacy rates are 100%.

*Bureau of Labor Statistics

Literacy Organizations:

American Library Association Office for Literacy and Outreach Services

Illinois State Literacy Office

Literacy Chicago

National Coalition for Literacy

Oakton Community Free Reading/Literacy Classes

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Very Best Books You've Already Read

On a recent visit to the high school from which I graduated (now, nearly half a decade ago) I reminisced with a former English teacher of mine about the best books assigned in High School English classes. He favored The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien; a collection of interconnected stories chronicling the experiences of a platoon of American soldiers during the Vietnam War (characterized by the often visceral, graphic images put forth by the author). While I appreciated the effortless imagery devised by O'Brien even as a high school sophomore, my tastes tended more towards Austen and Forster at the time. I recounted to him the story of one winter break during which I spent nearly every hour of the day curled up in a dilapidated arm chair next to a space heater with a cup of hot cocoa and a blanket, totally immersed in Pride and Prejudice. It was the first period novel I ever read and it kicked off a marathon which included several of Austen's other books as well as novels by the Bronte sisters and Forster's A Room With a View. It was in High School that my love of reading really flourished and my tastes evolved into something resembling what they are today. Adolescence is often a time of self-discovery, and discovering one's self as a reader is one of many revelations a person might have during that phase of his or her life.

Personally, I find reminiscing on, or even rereading the books which spoke to me at such a pivotal time in my life very grounding, as if i were being drawn back to a simpler time.

Here are some great summer books you might want to reread (and if you haven't read them before, get on it--they're classics!).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How Much Information Is Too Much Information

Summertime is here. And at the library, summertime is about reading. For our adult summer reading club, all you need to do is read a book, any book and enter your name at the library and you could win a gift certificate to a local restaurant.

Where do you go to find a good book? Do you go online and read all the reviews, all the comments on Amazon or on MyCatalog or LibraryThing or Shelfari or Facebook? How much do you really want to know about a book before you read it?

Since I read a gazillion reviews I find out a lot about books before I read them. But too much information will ruin an otherwise great book. I am quickly becoming a minimalist when it comes to what I want to know about a book before I read it. I am tiring of letting the reviewers and commenters tell me a story before I let the author do it. I long for the days of picking up a book knowing little about it and then getting wrapped up in the story. That is what summer reading is about, getting swept away. But it is hard to do when there is so much information out there.

I recently found a book and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I'm not going to tell you much about it. After reading another book by Blake Crouch, I went to see what else he had written. His older book Abandon didn't have a blurb or annotation (and I purposely didn't go looking for one). In the library catalog there were just a couple of subject headings: Ghost Towns - Fiction, Abandoned Mines - Fiction, Haunted Places - Fiction, Wilderness Areas - Colorado - Fiction. That was enough for me. Now I just need a field where I can lay down and read.