Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month

photo of Julie Otsuka by Robert Bessoi
Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month

It's a mouthful, the above is. It's not quite a tongue-twister, but nor does it roll off the tongue like Mother's Day or Memorial Day, those better-known days in May. But May is and has been Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month since 1992, when that designation was officially signed into law. The choice of the month of May was not random. It was selected for two reasons: the first Japanese came to the United States on May 7, 1843, and the transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10th, 1869. (Chinese immigrants composed the majority of workers who built the railroad tracks.) Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month is a reminder to honor the contributions of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islander-Americans, many of whose contributions to our country were overlooked for years.

But I'd also like to use it as an opportunity to spotlight two contemporary fiction writers of Asian descent--the sort of writers who will be lauded in years to come for their contributions to American literature.

One of these writers is Julie Otsuka, already winning accolades for her abundant literary gifts, which she has used to illuminate the lives of Japanese-Americans like her mother, who was sent to an internment camp at the age of ten during World War II. Her second novel, The Buddha in the Attic, recipient of the 2012 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction, tells the stories of the Japanese "picture brides," women who arrived in the U.S. in the early 1900s to marry men from their native Japan. After struggling to find their way in an unfamiliar country and language, many of them gave birth to American children, only to be forced to leave their homes alongside those children during World War II, when the U.S. government considered them potential traitors. Otsuka writes of a Japanese-American husband who "left on crutches with an American legion cap pulled down low over his head" and "college girls . . . who left wearing American flag pins on their sweaters and Phi Beta Kappa keys dangling from gold chains around their necks."

The characters in Gish Jen's first novel, Typical American, who come to the U.S. from China, also struggle to achieve the American dream, this time in New York City, while grappling with family loyalty, the nature of success, and what it means to be an American. I'm tempted to call Jen a comic novelist since her books are incredibly funny, but that doesn't do her justice: she's also wise, insightful and approaches her characters and stories from slightly skewed, fresh angles. In her follow-up to Typical American, Mona in the Promised Land, the daughter of one of the former's main characters grows up in 1960s suburbia, rankling her more traditional parents by, among other acts, converting to Judaism.

Below are a few books by authors of Asian descent on my to-read list:

The Namesake by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri
Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum (I enjoyed a chapter of this that appeared in the Best American Short Stories anthology)
Native Speaker by Chang Rae-Lee
A Good Fall by Ha Jin, author of the wonderful National Book Award winner, Waiting

Do you have any favorites to recommend or titles on your to-read list? 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ratt Infestation

There is in fact a Ratt Infestation. No not a mouse rat infestation, I'm talking about Ratt's last album entitled Infestation. Ratt had major success in the 80's and are now back better than ever. Infestation I believe is their greatest album to date. I am not one of those people who believes an artists earlier work was their greatest nor their most recent was their greatest. I am honest. The album had been out for quite some time but it is one of my favorite personal albums. When most people hear of Ratt they say, "Oh yeah I like that song, Round and Round." I am here to hopefully change that. While that song is perhaps their most known song thanks to the likes of the ever popular game franchises like Grand Theft Auto and Guitar Hero and of course the mainstream, this band is definitely undermined by the Rock and Roll community. This album, Infestation, definitely takes its influences from bands like KISS, The Scorpions, Rolling Stones, Van Halen and other huge Rock names. 36 years later and they still have that rock spark they started with.

Infestation starts out with their hardest song. Its a real rocking tune perfect for listening to at the gym or at a party or if you wanted to wake up your neighbors. When I first heard it, I was in awe, the song really surprised me just comes out of nowhere. Fast solos, upbeat drumming and strong vocals from lead singer Stephen Pearcy. The next track, Best of Medefinitely gives you a feeling of nostalgia. There is that 80's Glam signature sound in the song as well as subtle hints of sound from their earlier works. Look Out Below has somewhat of a more serious tone, not fast and just a normal beat. Slower than most of the songs on the album, I can definitely envision a man with his leather jacket riding his motorcycle emblazoned with tattoos. There's a reason the song is titled what it is, very appropriate I may say. Last Call is another one of their more rocking songs with fast tempos, lots of drumming, cymbals, bass drumming and a great double lead soloing. Not a disappointing song whatsoever. The album is appropriately topped off with the final song, Don't Let Go. The song does intend to mean don't let go of love, but I like to think "Don't Let Go of Ratt." I think in instrumental terms, this song is a perfect way to end it. A hard rocking song with an abrupt ending just like how it was in the 80's. No teary ending, no goodbyes, just straight to the ending. 

When I heard this album I listened to it almost everyday for months. This album definitely is one of those albums you would expect to be heard at a biker bar or something of that sort, and also gives me visions of the band trashing their hotel room like so many 80's bands did. While the band is on an unfortunate hiatus, this satisfying album definitely put Ratt on the watchlist again. After reading this, maybe later down the road when someone asks you about Ratt, you will have plenty to say then. If this album is any indication of how successful they are, I say they definitely can achieve higher success. If they came out with this powerful comeback, I can see them establishing a bigger name for themselves.

Official Website: www.therattpack.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/therattpack
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/therattpack

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Before You See The Avengers...

Considering what a huge box office hit The Avengers has been, there's a good chance many of you have already seen it. Being late to the party, I just saw it last weekend. Allow me to put my feelings toward this film into the most eloquent language I can muster while thinking of it.

It. Was. Awesome! Ridiculously awesome. Like, left me all full of adrenaline and feeling dumbstruck because the only word I could think to describe it was “awesome.” There were times when I was sitting in the theater, on the edge of my seat, wanting to cry, laugh, and then hit something because it was just that awesome.

I have been excited for this movie since seeing Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger last summer, and I was absolutely not disappointed. And I am not someone that one might call a superhero or comic enthusiast by far. I just really, really enjoy good action/fantasy/sci-fi films with intense, climactic battle scenes. This delivered that and so much more. Action? Check. Inspirational and tender moments? Check. Clever and funny banter? Check. Attractive people in absolutely marvelous (pst, get it? Marvel?) superhero suits? Major check. 

But the part I enjoyed the most were the references and in-jokes to past movies starring all the different Avengers. While one can definitely understand (and like!) the movie without having seen any previous films, to enjoy it to its fullest, I would highly recommend seeing these movies first (or even after, and then going back and watching The Avengers again. You really can't lose). And while most people would probably agree that The Avengers is certainly the apotheosis of all of them, these films are also, shall we say... awesome?

Friday, May 18, 2012

What to Read Until Your Hold Comes In

If you recently placed a hold on one of the latest bestsellers, chances are you are still eagerly anticipating the email or phone call letting you know that your hold is available for pickup.

So what do you read while you wait?  Check out Novelist Plus to find reads similar to the hottest new books. You can find it under Reference Databases on our website. Here are a few of Novelist's suggested read-alikes for the current Publishers Weekly fiction bestsellers:

Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris -- try River Marked: the latest in the Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King -- try The Name of the Wind: book one of the Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss

Innocent by David Baldacci -- try Rules of Deception by Christopher Reich

Calico Joe by John Grisham -- try The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Witness by Nora Roberts -- try Escape to Love by Alice Wootson

Robert B. Parker's Lullaby by Ace Atkins -- try A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

Unnatural Acts by Stuart Woods -- try Live Wire by Harlan Coben

Guilty Wives by James Patterson & David Ellis -- try Smash Cut by Sandra Brown

The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark -- try Save Me by Lisa Scottoline

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani -- try Her Father's House by Belva Plain

Here's another thought: all of the authors on this bestsellers list have written many other books. Take another look at their previous titles -- you may find one you missed, or want to revisit.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Quote a Day ...

"Now they know that we know that they know that we know." - The 'Burbs
Recently I found myself smiling while I was in the comedy DVD section. It wasn't hard to figure out why: I was surrounded by the films nearest and dearest to me because of their ability to reduce me into an unresponsive mass of laughter. Two movie lines that had automatically sprung to mind (and made me smile) are below.

From Without a Clue - Dr. John Watson (Ben Kingsley) is referring to the evil Professor Moriarty when he states to Sherlock Holmes (Michael Caine) "Don't worry - he knows you're stupid!" To which Holmes replies, visibly relieved, "Oh, good."

From The 'Burbs - His neighbors call out to Art Weingartner, "Art! You're wife's home .... and your house is on fire!" Art responds, "My wife's home?!?"

Out of context, they may seem somewhat vanilla. Within the framework of their respective films, however, these lines can be utterly giggle-inducing. Many experiences of my life are passed through the comedic quote-filter in my head, providing me more chances to laugh along with life as it comes at me (ask my wife how many times a week I quote The 'Burbs and she'll tell you, "Too many."). Here are some other movies enshrined in my Quotable Hall of Fame:

The Big LebowskiClue

How about you? Which movies help you sometimes to get through the day?

Friday, May 4, 2012

All You Can Read Buffet

There library is a veritable smorgasbord of delectable reading. From hard candy to cheesecake to doughnuts, we have more than enough variety to satisfy even the most discerning sweet-tooth. We even have some broccoli in stock if greens are more your pace.

This summer is all about "Taste" at the library--one program we're running is for Super-Readers. It's a contest straight out of Man Vs. Food, but in this case it will be Man vs. Book. Here's the challenge: 20 books in a little more than two months. You have from June 9th to August 19th to get in your twenty books and beat the challenge. Prizes include a library tote-bag, a coupon for a free coffee at a local McDonalds, bookmarks, and other fun goodies. You'll also get your picture up on our Wall of Fame. Come by the Readers' Services Desk on the third floor any time after June 9th to pick up a form to log your books.

Are you ready for the all you can read challenge?