Friday, January 25, 2013

When a Reader Becomes a Writer

We all know that there are books capture the imagination of the reader. But did you know that sometimes, wheels begin turning in the reader’s head—What would the story be like from a minor character’s perspective? What happened after the end of the book, or between chapters? What was happening to Mr. March while Little Women was taking place? What if Bella Swan worked in an office, and Edward Cullen was her boss…?

When the wheels start turning in the head of someone with the ambition to write, these thoughts can result in the hobby that dare not speak its name-- fan fiction. Fan fiction is what is produced when “what ifs” become a story in itself. And, as it turns out, writing it has been an urge people have had before this term was coined. Some who write it may not even realize that what they are doing has a name. In some instances, these writings go on to become beloved books unto themselves.
For example, did you know that 50 Shades of Grey began as a piece of Twilight fan fiction on the internet? Anastasia Steele used to be Bella Swan and Christian Grey was actually Edward Cullen. It was written as an “alternate universe,” “what-if” scenario, and then gained a popular online audience. Eventually the names of characters and places were changed, edited, and the piece was eventually made into an ebook. The rest is history!

Here are some more examples of novels that have been inspired by already-existing, usually classic works.

Death Comes to Pemberley takes place after Pride and Prejudice ends. The drama centers around the murder of the notorious Mr. Wickham, and leaves his wife Lydia heading to Pemberley in a frenzy. 

Phantom by Susan Kay is a sympathetic, detailed re-telling of Phantom of the Opera, from the perspective of people the Phantom has been acquainted with (including an extremely minor character, The Persian, from the original novel), and the Phantom himself. 

Cosette is a sequel to Les Miserables, continuing the story with her marriage to Marius, and the continuing political drama unfolding in 19th century France.

Wicked is a re-telling of The Wizard of Oz, from the perspective of Elphaba. We learn what it was like growing up as a green girl, follow her friendship with Galinda, the Good Witch, and learn about her true love, all leading up to her undeserved reputation as the Wicked Witch of the West.

In March, we follow the father of the March family from Little Women, through his trials and tribulations as a preacher during the U.S. Civil War. Well-researched and full of rich description, March takes its inspiration not only from Little Women, but from the letters and diaries of Louisa May Alcott's father. 

The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy is, you guessed it, in the form of Mr. Darcy's diary from Pride of Prejudice. If you ever read Pride and Prejudice, and longed to know Darcy's daily struggles, his relationships outside of the Bingleys, and his innermost thoughts when he was finished with a day of gazing helplessly at Elizabeth Bennett, this is the book for you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Mighty Peace

Between 1999 and 2003 a bloody war raged in Liberia. It erupted after only a few years of peace following the first Liberian civil war which spanned between 1989 and 1996. The second outbreak of violence is thought to have been a reorganization and a resurgence of many of the same factions which contributed to the original conflict. A small number of powerful men with competing claims to power and wealth who used their resources to divide and subjugate the population of Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea. While the United Nations did become involved in negotiations, the conflict proved to be beyond the intervention of the usual diplomatic strategies.

Leymah Gbowee observed that in war-time it is often the women who suffer most, and it was based on that understanding that she founded the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement. Their demonstrations began in 2003 with mass sit-ins in a fish market where thousands of women spent days singing and praying. The group refused to abide the violence that had strangled Liberia for so long, and it was based on their efforts that Charles Taylor (then president) was made to agree to attend peace-talks. Once the talks began women from the same movement blocked entrances and exist to the presidential palace forcing the continuation of negotiations until a resolution was reached.

In 2006 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first female president of an African country with the support of Gbowee who had mobilized an enormous political force on behalf of peace in Liberia. Her fearless leadership and her refusal to accept any alternative to peace were essential to the resolution of a bloody war which victimized many, particularly women, and her memoir Mighty be Our Powers is the story of those women; who transformed themselves from the voiceless victims of war to a silent, immovable force which destroyed the influence of so many battling war lords. Women who decided unanimously that peace was the only option and accepted no substitute.

In 2011 she and other leaders of the movement including Ellen Johnson Sirleaf were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and on February 14th we we celebrate her incredible accomplishments by discussing her book. Please join us in the Heritage Room on the third floor at 7:30 PM for our evening book club. Copies of Mighty be Our Powers are available to rent from the third floor Readers' Services Desk; even if you don't have time to read, we'd love for you to stop by to discuss this remarkable story of triumph. Truly though, there is nobody better to inspire you to pick up this book than Gbowee herself, so please check out this clip of some of the ideas she shared during a TED talk in March of last year.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Stand Up

 A few years ago I encountered the Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson. Reading it, I was amazed at the compassion he felt for fellow human beings, despite beatings, threats, and other severe mistreat-ments. He practiced non-violent protest at all times and called upon others to do so as well. I remember the inspiration Dr. King had on me at that point, and that feeling has stayed with me.

Nowadays, I am reading a children's book about Martin Luther King, Jr. to my son, and it makes me very happy to assist in explaining what he stood for and what he helped to accomplish. However, the conversation of why he had to stand up for social justice is a sobering conversation to have with an almost 4 year-old. I hope to continue discussion with my son about Dr. King as we celebrate the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this coming Monday (yes, the library will be open).

The following is a quote by Dr. King that I continually come back to in my life, and it really helps me stay the course through difficult times: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." I encourage you to investigate Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. a little closer, either this weekend or sometime soon, even if it's just to explore a little context around some of his quotes. My hope is that you come away refreshed with a sense of peace and compassion and energized to go out and achieve positive change. I would certainly recommend his Letter from Birmingham Jail as a quality read in that vein.

"Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Adult Winter Reading Club 2013 has Fabulous Prizes!

Chill out with a good book!
Not only is it a great way to stay warm now that it's really cold, it's also a great way to win!
Through the generous support of the the VFW Post 2992 and the Friends of the Library, participants in the 2013 Adult Winter Reading Club have a chance to win a wide variety of prizes, just by reading.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars of Des Plaines is not only focused on supporting Veterans but also the community in which it resides. This year Post 2992, under the leadership of Commander Mike Lake, has donated a series of prizes to the Library in support of their Adult Winter Reading Program. Those prizes include Gift Certificates to Jimmy’s restaurant, oil changes at Accurate Auto and an overnight stay at the Hilton Inn. The goal is to increase the number of participants.
The Friends are a volunteers organization dedicated to helping the library provide services to the community. They raise money through used book sales held throughout the year in order to fund special programs like our Winter Reading Club. Their generosity means that several participants will receive $25 gift certificates to local businesses and one lucky winner will walk away with a Nook HD.
So curl up under the covers or next to the fire and read the winter days away. Then simply fill out an entry form and drop it into a box on the 3rd or 4th floor of the library. Entries are being accepted now through February 24th and the drawing will be held on February 25th. The more you read, the better your chances to win!

Friday, January 11, 2013

What if the Confederacy won the Civil War?

I overheard my coworkers commenting on the rekindled interest in Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War that seems to be occurring in pop culture, with the release of the Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln. The movie is based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals : The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.  Of course there is also Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard's Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever strumming up interest in history.

Regarding the Civil War books, one of my coworkers joked "do not spoil the ending for me!" It is interesting that a lot of historical fiction tells stories we might already know the ending to. But it is the storytelling itself that draws an audience, along with discovering new details or perspectives on a historical event. 

But what about if history deviated from its course? Then you get a delicious genre of books known as alternative/alternate history. 

Image courtesy of altrapoint.com

For example, what if Abraham Lincoln balanced political duties with hunting down vampires? Then you get Seth Grahame-Smith's quirky horror/action combo Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Or what if the Confederates won the U.S. Civil War? Harry Turtledove's Southern Victory series traces the reasons for the victory and consequences through the the 1940's. The books begin with How Few Remain

In Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR in the 1940 election, and brings about an era of extreme anti-Semitic sentiment in the United States as he decides not to oppose Hitler in World War II.

An Axis victory in World War II is a large subdivision in the alternative history genre.

British comedian Stephen Fry's Making History is a time-travel book where a student and teacher manage to ensure Hitler is never born, but accidentally pave the way for a superior Nazi leader to come into power and subsequently win WWII. 

In Philip K. Dick's award-winning The Man in the High Castle, the United States loses WWII and becomes a Fascist state where Germany, Italy, and Japan conspire against one another.

Of course, the science fiction television show Sliders explored the idea of time-traveling through parallel universes which featured plenty of alternative history to keep things exciting.  

If you are interested in exploring what could have been, click here: "Alternative History" to see a list of library materials that fall under the genre. Also check out the winners of the "Sidewise Award for Alternate History" for great reading ideas.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Should Have Been a Contender: Overlooked by the Oscars

Kimberly Elise as Denver in Beloved

On January 10th, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce the Oscar nominees, and unless this year is any different from years past, there will be amazing performances, songs and movies that are overlooked. Below are some of the past omissions that made me think: What's wrong with you people?!

In 1998, much of the Oscar buzz around the movie Beloved centered on Oprah Winfrey's performance. Oprah was excellent, but it was the performance of Kimberly Elise as her daughter, Denver, that left me thinking: ok, they should just give her the award now. Although not as showy a role as those played by Oprah Winfrey and Thandie Newton, Denver's fear, pride, pain and intelligence are all on display in Elise's expressive face. The moment when I thought, ok, just give her the Oscar: when she forces herself to leave her home and seek out work--and help--a tear sliding down her cheek as she tells a stranger: "My mama. She don't feel too good."

Another supporting actor I thought gave a wonderful performance was Bill Pullman in The Accidental Tourist. Full of charm, his eyes sparkling with mischief, Pullman plays Julian, the boss and editor of Macon Leary (William Hurt). Julian is fascinated by Macon and his eccentric siblings, particularly Macon's sister Rose, whom he falls in love with in spite of their very different lifestyles. I left the theater thinking, "Who is Bill Pullman and why isn't he in more movies."

Finally, until I looked it up, I was certain that Do the Right Thing had at least been nominated for Best Picture. But no. Although the controversial movie received nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Danny Aiello) and Best Original Screenplay (Spike Lee), it won neither. The Academy snubbed Lee's masterpiece about racial tensions that explode on a hot day in Brooklyn in favor of safer fare, such as Dead Poets Society and Driving Miss Daisy. (The latter won Best Picture.)

Other masterpieces that weren't nominated for Best Picture include The Wrestler and Vincent and Theo. The Academy also overlooked the former's title song by Bruce Springsteen, the best song he's yet written for a film, and Tim Roth's amazing, understated performance as Vincent Van Gogh in the latter.

The good news: it's never too late to check out a classic movie or performance on DVD. All of the above can be obtained through the library. (And so can the books Beloved and The Accidental Tourist.)

What other great performances or movies have been overlooked by the Academy? Who should be nominated this year?