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Books

May 22 2015

Maps to the Stars: A Classical Tragedy

by Rebekah B

Kafka on the Shore

Hello readers,

Japanese author Haruki Murakami claims in his novel Kafka on the Shore that in our dreams and our imagination lie the roots of responsibility–meaning that those who refuse to accept responsibility for their actions are also most likely to remain almost totally unaware of the dark depths of hidden meaning tugging at us from below the surface of our lives. Just as Adolf Eichmann considered his design of the final solution as a “practical problem,” his lack of imagination echoed his inability to see the moral implications of his acts. In this same novel, Murakami’s characters Kafka Tamura and Oshima also speak of “living spirits,” a common feature of Japanese tales. Unlike a ghost, a living spirit separates from the body of a person who has not yet died in order to accomplish certain acts without the consent or awareness of the person in question. The difference between living spirits and ghosts, and the notion of timelessness, are key to this novel. For example, a 15-year-old Miss Saeki visits Kafka Tamura in his room at night, while the adult Miss Saeki, in her later 40’s, is most likely asleep in her bed at home.

Kafka on the Shore deals with the myth of Oedipus, translated to contemporary Japan in the person of young Kafka Tamura who runs away from his father’s home to avoid the effects of the dire prophecy issued to him by his father, a famous sculptor. The memory of Kafka’s mother has been wiped from his memory. She and his older sister disappeared from his life when he was four years old. The depths of the soul and unconscious mind take a strange cast of characters to places within themselves and one another to carry out the injunctions of fate. Murakami’s vast intelligence is astounding and reveals the mysterious meaning of the ironies of our lives, as a variety of beings–some rational and highly intelligent, others bereft of their faculties yet connected to a deeper form of guidance–use their hearts and minds to lead them all to an interconnected destiny.

Kafka on the Shore quote 2

David Cronenberg’s film, Map to the Stars, stars Julianne Moore (aging neurotic actress Havana Segrand, haunted by the memory of her deceased and abusive mother), Evan Bird (Benjie, at 13 an appallingly overconfident child star and recovering addict), John Cusack (Stafford Weiss, somewhat creepy therapist to the stars and New Age self-help guru, also Benjie and Agatha’s father), Olivia Williams (Christina Weiss, an overwrought and sensitive woman, as Benjie and Agatha’s mother and ostensibly Stafford’s wife and sister), Mia Wasikowska (Agatha, Benjie’s schizophrenic older sister who has been banished years ago by her parents after trying to drug and immolate herself and Benjie), Sarah Gadon (Clarice Taggart, Havana Segrand’s mother and film legend who perished in her youth in a fire), and Robert Pattinson (Jerome Fontana, aspiring actor and limo driver). This link (spoiler alert) will take you to a New Yorker review of the film, although I find this review by Matt Zoller Seitz on RogerEbert.com to better capture the qualities of the film and the intentions of the director and writers.

mapstothestars

Of Cronenberg, critic Seitz says: “Maybe because he’s less interested in gore and goo than in the beasts within: the monstrous nature of obsession and desire; the difficulty of escaping oneself, physically or emotionally; the cruelty of the societies that enfold and define his characters. Look back over Cronenberg’s filmography, and you realize that he hasn’t made an according-to-Hoyle horror picture since 1986’s ‘The Fly.’ The horrific quality seems to come more from his being appalled by what people can be, and do—and from being sympathetic to their urges anyway.”

A fairly recent addition to the DCPL collection, Map to the Stars features a fatefully interconnected group of human beings as they face the deepest of all fears, both personal and collective. Haunted with ghosts and visions, several of the characters are compelled by these shades to behave in ways which appear to be beyond their conscious control. While on the surface the story seems to involve the superficial realms and ambitions of the rich and famous in Hollywood, very quickly the viewer realizes that below the surface there is much more to the story than the apparently ridiculous struggles of an aging actress to reassert herself on screen and maintain her reputation. The taboos of incest and the Oedipal conflict as well as the conflict between reason and the irrational are the primary themes of this film. Violent without being overwhelmed by gore, the characters are torn by their fears and desires, and a dominating sense of fatalism prevails. Despite several graphically violent scenes, the characters, as in Murakami’s novel, maintain a certain level of self-awareness. Each is a seeker, and each is aware of the limits of the rational mind.  All are haunted by secrets and ghosts of lost love and opportunities and by grief caused by relationships and choices gone wrong. And yet the dramatic and tragic unfolding of these tormented souls is somehow poetic. The violence is at times pervaded by a peaceful sense of human beings finding their own dignity within tragedy, although a sense of the ridiculous is never far away.

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Fans of George R. R. Martin’s phenomenal fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire experienced some disappointing news recently when Martin confirmed that his long-awaited next installment in the series, The Winds of Winter (hereafter referred to as TWOW for brevity’s sake), won’t be released in 2015. Initial hints that he was aiming for a 2016 release emerged in an EW interview published a few weeks ago in which he stated:

Having The Winds of Winter published before season 6 of Thrones airs next spring “has been important to me all along,” says the best-selling New Mexico author. “I wish it was out now. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic about how quickly I can finish. But I canceled two convention appearances, I’m turning down a lot more interviews—anything I can do to clear my decks and get this done.”

Further confirmation that it wouldn’t be out this year came soon after, in a comment reply on his blog. In response to a question about whether TWOW would be nominated for a HUGO award in 2016, he answered that it wouldn’t be eligible for nomination. Only titles published during the previous year are eligible for HUGO nominations, thus the implication was that TWOW wouldn’t be published in 2015.

While it is unfortunate that we won’t get our hands on TWOW this year, Martin has been sporadically releasing excerpts from the book for the past several years, and recently confirmed that more will be forthcoming. So far, sample chapters that have been officially released online include Theon Greyjoy, Arianne Martell, Arya Stark, and Sansa Stark. In addition to the excerpts made available online, all official excerpts as well as another unreleased elsewhere (from POV character Tyrion Lannister) are available for free along with the World of Ice and Fire app. Still want more? Several fan summaries (and in one case, a video) of chapter readings that Martin has done at conventions and appearances over the years are available for the following characters: Arianne Martell (part 2), Victarion Greyjoy (video), and Barristan Selmy.

Hat tip to the folks at the ASOIAF subreddit for compiling all of the sample chapters and excerpts on their wiki.

A World of Ice and Fire coverAnother good way to get your fix of all things Westeros is to watch the TV adaptation of the ASOIAF series, Game of Thrones. Season five is currently airing, and you can catch up on all four previous seasons through DCPL! Or check out Mr. Martin’s most recently published work, The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. This gorgeous and comprehensive guide will tell series readers all they might want to know about the history and culture of Westeros and the lands beyond the Narrow Sea, including never before published material.

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Apr 13 2015

I Challenge You!

by Jencey G

Are you up for a challenge? Are you tired of reading the same types of books all the time and interested in a change? A reading challenge is a great way to do that. There are no prizes, but there are opportunities for you to try something different. Who is ready for something new or different?

Reading challenges, such as Pop Sugar, have tasks to help you pick books that you the reader would not ordinarily read. Since summer reading is coming up soon, this challenge would be a great way to keep track of books for the summer reading program at your local library. This year, Pop Sugar came out with a reading challenge that offers many opportunities for you to grow as a reader.  The challenge offers up tasks such as:

What book can you read in one sitting?

What is the first book that came out by your favorite author?

Read a book that has a number in the title.

Read a nonfiction book.

The Library has all kinds of resources to help you pick a great read.  Take a look at our Shelf Help page, DCPL on Pinterest, or use our online resource Novelist. For other reading challenges to participate in visit Goodreads or Book Riot. See how one of these challenges might fit into your summer reading!  You never know where a good book might take you!

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Mar 9 2015

Survival 101

by Hope L

232In a couple of months I will be going on an Alaskan cruise. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we will have to fly to Vancouver, B.C., to begin the cruise. I’m excited, as this will be my first cruise. Alas, it will not be my first time flying.

When I was growing up my family traveled a lot, so flying was no big deal for me. And frankly, I did not think about how and why that huge thing we were in was up in the air.  But the older I get, the less I want to get on an airplane to go anywhere.  I should not have started reading about aircraft.

You see, some fifteen years ago, I made the mistake of reading about airline turbulence and what can happen when one is not wearing a seatbelt. This was around the time when airlines started asking passengers to keep their safety belts fastened even after the captain turned off the seatbelt sign. It was then that my OCD really started to kick in and I became obsessed with hurtling through the sky in a tube. (It shouldn’t surprise you that during this time I began to experience panic attacks.)

According to Aerospaceweb.org, a Boeing 777 has a typical cruise speed of about 560 mph (900 km/h) at an altitude of 35,000 ft. (10,675 m).  That’s over six miles up, folks.

Now, I know that it is common knowledge that flying is much safer than riding in an automobile (which on I-285 can be a real death wish), but still.

Recently, I read Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival by Laurence Gonzales, and I have learned that yes, it IS possible to survive an airplane crash. So now, I shall choose to meditate on my “Brace, Brace, Brace” position (this is what the flight attendants called out to remind the passengers what to do just prior to when the plane landed -er- crashed in that Iowa cornfield in the summer of 1989).    Miraculously, 184 of 296 passengers and crew lived.

A miracle because:

“…the captain has told us that we have lost all our hydraulics.”  (According to a flight attendant informing another United pilot onboard.)

“He stared at her for a minute…. He knew that wasn’t possible. DC-10s must have hydraulics to fly them. Period.”

But the aircraft had lost its hydraulics.  And according to the pilot:

…The plane was traveling northeast at thirty-seven thousand feet. Just east of the Cherokee airport, the fan on the number two engine blew apart, cutting hydraulic lines and disabling flight controls.

“Having hydraulic fluid in the lines is a necessary condition of flight in a DC-10. After a complete loss of hydraulic power, the plane would have no steering. It would roll over and accelerate toward the earth, reaching speeds high enough to tear off the wings and tail before the fuselage plowed into the ground. Or it might enter into an uncontrollable flutter, falling like a leaf all the way to the earth, to pancake in and burst into flames.”

 

And yet the pilots of this aircraft managed to steer and careen, in circles, and somehow lower the 185-ton behemoth. You can see the wild flight in the diagram below.

232path

Evidently, I’m not the only one obsessed. The author of this book has written other books about surviving, the following which are available at DCPL:

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why–True Stories of Miraculous Endurance and Sudden Death

Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things

Actually… I’ve just been thinking…wouldn’t the view be just gorgeous to Vancouver on Amtrak…or Greyhound?

 

 

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Hello readers,

Fiction offers a window of privilege into the inner worlds of others, also opening channels into our own intimate thoughts, dreams and desires. I recently read two debut novels by extremely talented novelists, John Darnielle and Rebecca Makkai: Wolf in White Van and The Borrower.

John-Darnielle-Wolf-In-White-Van-608x608

The ability to create worlds within worlds may be a coping mechanism, a testimony to the power of creativity, as each of us struggles to situate our perceptions of reality with the model of the real taught to us by our culture as well as the possibly conflicting model provided by our family of origin. In John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van, we witness the unfolding of the psychological isolation of a young man, Sean, brutally disfigured by his own hand with his father’s rifle when he is an adolescent. This labyrinthine hypnotic story engulfs the reader in a powerful and fascinating novel that is written with a crystalline clarity of word and image. Imagination, intellect, and emotion are encapsulated in this story of senseless violence and brutal honesty, as Sean seeks to come to grips with his own reality–of his destroyed face, of his ability to interact with others through games he creates, and of his sense of responsibility or lack thereof, for the consequences of his choices. In this novel, imagination is at once savior and abyss, and the mind of a solitary man, rendered a hermit by his own hand, is revealed with beautiful and tragic art.

The Borrower Rebecca Makkai

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai is slightly less hypnotic, but equally fascinating.  A quirky and humorous novel full of suspense, the author’s rebellious protagonist Lucy Hull has inadvertently drifted into the career of full-time children’s librarian in the sleepy town of Hannibal, Missouri. Her active mind and imagination predispose her to a more creative career, yet she somehow lacks the motivation to explore what the author repeatedly refers to as her revolutionary Russian cultural roots.  She encounters a moral dilemma when her favorite library patron, 10-year-old Ian, decides to run away from home and takes shelter in the library stacks after hours. Ian’s own identity crisis rises from his probably being gay, and also from loving fantasy literature and generally books of which his family does not approve and will not allow him to check out. From this situation, Lucy draws on her heritage and only mildly emerges from her own torpor to take Ian under her wing. She inadvertently becomes both a kidnapper and hostage of the young boy, who is revealed to be rather manipulative. The cast of characters and storyline are all very compelling, and the quality of writing is excellent.  If you enjoy suspense, moral ambiguity, and imaginative writing, you will enjoy this novel.

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Dec 17 2014

Foxy Brown, She-ro

by Hope L

pamI’m not really a Twitter person, but when I joined Twitter and tried to use the doggone thing, I was surprised when a famous person, none other than Pam Grier–yes, THE  Pam Grier of Foxy Brown, Jackie Brown and most recently, The L Word (cable TV series) fame–started following me.

Now, there are probably those of you who have celebrities following your Twitter feed. I, on the other hand, am a complete social media novice, and when Pam Grier’s name popped up–well, I mean, with Foxy and Roger Corman and Richard Pryor and Freddie Prinze and Kareem, oh yeah, and more recently, Jackie Brown and Quentin Tarantino…

Being the Hollywood gadfly that I am, I went and checked out Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, by Pam Grier with Andrea Cagan, from my DCPL branch. It just confirmed what I already knew about Pam Grier/aka Foxy–she is one cool chica.

Now, I had watched her for a few years around the turn of the millennium in Showtime’s The L Word.  And of course a chick like Pam would play a character who could only drive a green vintage late 60’s/early 70’s vehicle (Chevelle? Impala?).  She couldn’t exactly drive around in a Subaru, now, could she?

As Pam explains:

“I had become one of the most recognizable female stars of the blaxploitation genre…  This movement of which I was such a prominent member was shadowing the women’s movement, where women were demanding equal rights to men in art, business, family, and all aspects of life.  My movies featured women claiming the right to fight back, which previously had been out of the question.”

You, GO, Girrrrl!

pam2Yes, the queen of Blaxploitation movies is not only cool, she has had one heckuva life so far. Highlights of her life include enduring and witnessing racial discrimination from all directions, like being in a church choir bus that was shot at in the middle of Watts during the historic riots of 1965;  and, just as she garnered her first job as an actress, meeting and dating the soon-to-be famous college basketball player Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. (“Call me Lew” before he changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar); and, upon prodding from Gloria Steinem, appearing on the cover of Ms. Magazine; AND, dating and loving two major comedians who would struggle with drug addiction (Freddie Prinze and Richard Pryor), and on and on.

Pam Grier did many of her own stunts, like riding the stunt horses and popping wheelies on motorcycles. She starred in movies with Paul Newman, Eartha Kitt, and had a role on the blockbuster TV miniseries RootsShe survived both cancer and the entertainment industry.

As I watched Jackie Brown the other night, I rooted for Jackie (Pam). In the end, I knew she would get revenge, the money, and the guy–if she wanted him.

Pam Grier defines the word SHE-RO. Plus, unlike me, she knows how to tweet and use Twitter.

 

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Dec 8 2014

The Best Books of 2014

by Jesse M

The MartianLooking for something good to read? It’s that time of year again when organizations begin putting out their lists of the “best books” published over the past twelve months. Over the past week, lists have been released from NPR, Goodreads, and Publishers Weekly, among many others.

I haven’t yet read any recently published books this year, so I’m hoping to rectify that by closing out 2014 with Andy Weir’s The Martian: A Novel, which I have heard described as a MacGyver story set on Mars. Weir initially had difficulty finding a publisher and began putting up the story for free in serial format on his website before eventually releasing a Kindle version at the request of his fans. The Kindle version (which is available through DCPL’s OverDrive collection) quickly rose to the top of Amazon’s list of best-selling science-fiction titles, where it sold 35,000 copies in three months, eventually attracting the interest of publishers. The book debuted on the New York Times Best Sellers list at number 12 in the hardcover fiction category, and a movie adaptation based on the story is slated for release in late 2015.

What were your favorite books published in 2014, and why? If you’re like me and haven’t read any yet, what books published this year are you most interested in?

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Sep 30 2014

Banned Books Week 2014 Wrap-Up

by Jesse M

Out from Boneville coverLast week was Banned Books Week, and this year the focus was squarely on comic books and graphic novels. Charles Brownstein, Executive Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, tells The Guardian:

Comics are one of the most commonly attacked kinds of books. They’re uniquely vulnerable to challenges because of the medium’s visual nature and because comics still carry a stigma of being low-value speech. Some challenges are brought against comics because a single page or panel can be taken out of context, while others come under attack because of the mistaken notion that all comics are for children.

This stigma Brownstein mentions is reflected on the list of the top 10 challenged titles of 2013; both the #1 and #10 spots are occupied by graphic novels.

The holder of the #1 spot is the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, which also occupied the top spot in 2012. Since I did a write-up of that series last year (see my blog post on that topic here) I decided to focus today’s post on the 10th book on the list, Jeff Smith’s award-winning series Bone.

Series author and illustrator Jeff Smith first began drawing the characters that would populate the pages of Bone when he was five years old. He began self-publishing the series in 1991 under his own company label, Cartoon Books, although eventually by 1995 the series was picked up by Image comics. Originally serialized in 55 irregularly released issues from 1991 to 2004, the story is now available across nine volumes (in addition to a number of spin-offs). The series is critically acclaimed and has won numerous awards (winning the Eisner and Harvey awards multiple times), which makes its position of #10 on the list of most challenged books quite puzzling. According to the American Library Association, the book was challenged by critics for three main reasons: political viewpoint, racism, and violence. Smith responds to the charges in an NPR article on the topic:

Smith doesn’t understand how anyone could find his books racist. As for political viewpoint, he says books should reflect a certain moral sensibility. And violence? Well, he says, it is a comic book.

Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin, and Weird Al Yankovic show their support for banned booksAnd that’s it for this year’s banned books week wrap-up. To conclude, I’d like to share this image of three of my favorite entertainers (parody musician “Weird” Al Yankovic, and fantasy authors Neil Gaiman and George R. R. Martin) showing their support for banned (comic) books. Until next year!

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Sep 22 2014

A Sad Goodbye

by Hope L

diva1“Can we talk?”

One of my all-time favorite icons passed away unexpectedly.  She was as active as ever. Still tossing her barbs out, she had just written a book, was starring in two television programs and a podcast, and was still delighting audiences including myself in her stand-up performances (I saw her three times, the latest this past February at Atlanta’s Symphony Hall), plus she was hawking her very successful QVC merchandise.  Her energy amazed me, and I had to keep reminding myself as we watched her recent performance that she was an octogenarian.

“I don’t exercise; if God had wanted me to bend over he would have put diamonds on the floor.”

Her jokes were often salty and politically incorrect, but her favorite target was definitely Joan Rivers. Her constant joking about her numerous plastic surgery procedures and gravity’s effect on her aging body, the fact that she was ugly (“Bow-wow!  Arf-Arf!”), or fat, or old…  And, of course, one must ALWAYS marry rich, no matter what:

“The problem with marrying for money is that you end up earning it.”

Now, arguably, much of what came out of Joan’s mouth is not appropriate to include here, and she was constantly garnering attention because of her politically incorrect or just plain crude statements.  I always thought she got a lot of flak, though, for saying things that male comedians could say with impunity.

“The first time I see a jogger smiling, I’ll consider it.”

When I find myself missing that catty chatter from my favorite comedienne, I can turn to one of the books written by Joan here at DCPL, her most recent being this year’s Diary of a Mad Diva.

“My mother kept asking ‘why can’t you be more like your sister?’ My sister had died at birth.”

I must admit that I have winced and even pouted at things she said at times during the all the years I’ve listened to Joan.  But, I know what Joan would say to me:

“Oh, GROW UP!!!”

Joan, you made me laugh until I cried.  You will be missed.

 

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gate with arch

Hello readers,

Any publication about introverts or introversion usually catches my eye and my interest. While perusing The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling, I began to wonder about introverted fictional characters. Books and films abound with them and, it is no wonder, many authors and artists are introverted.

What qualities (positive) characterize introverts and introversion? While the forefathers of psychology and pop psychology tend to couch their descriptions in pejorative terms, it has been reassessed that at least 50% of all humans are introverted. And, luckily for us, the great Carl Gustav Jung also thought highly of introverts. Much of his work was devoted to the inner worlds of imagination and intuition–skills that delight many introverts. 50% of the population is indeed a high percentage in a Darwinian equation in which only the most fit survive. There must be something highly important about the introvert personality with regards to human adaptation to have such a strong presence within the general population. While American culture glorifies the active, risk-taking, impulsive, highly social and (from an introvert’s perspective) short-fused, superficial, and attention-deficit oriented individual, a sense of balance seems to require a very different personality type to keep the group going.

extrovert-introvert

Introverts are slower, more thoughtful and careful planners, more detail-oriented, and less socially inclined. Introvert brains process information differently, using more areas of the brain to assess information. High sensitivity (see Elaine Aron’s site about HSPs–Highly Sensitive Persons) also often is a characteristic of introversion. Introverts often need to be alone, to reflect, to digest observations. In ancient times, the wealthy and powerful surrounded themselves with sages and advisers. The introvert is just the woman or man for that job. While not seeking out the limelight, the introvert tends to seek truth, knowledge, or justice. The bottom line is that all personality types are valuable and necessary for our collective survival and wellbeing as humans.

Perhaps taking a closer look at fictional characters contributes to our ability to perceive the value of “the other half.”

MyersBriggsTypes

While searching online, I found a fun and interesting tumblr site MBTI-in-Fiction in which numerous fictional characters are analyzed along the lines of the Myers-Briggs personality profile system. Just for fun, take the free online 16 Personalities quiz (not an official Myers-Briggs test), and compare your personality type with those of your favorite fictional characters.

individuationIn the Myers-Briggs personality evaluation system, the various letters stand for key personality traits. I represents introvert, while E stands for extrovert, N for intuitive, T for thinking, J for judging, F for feeling, P for perceiving, S for sensing, etc. Various traits have different levels of dominance in each personality type, which is a combination of four traits, inspired by the Jungian theory of individuation.

Some of my favorite introverted film characters include warm-hearted dreamer AmelieAmelie Poulain, from the 2001 French film Amelie, “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain,” directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and Tim Burton’s Edward, of Edward Scissorhands  (1990).  The contrast in personalities and creativity of the various characters in both films highlight the challenges of these two very lovable characters.

edward-scissorhandsWhether your own temperament is characterized by a dominant introvert or extrovert, I think we can all learn to better know and appreciate ourselves and one another by enjoying works of literature or film, helping to make our human community more balanced and our inner lives richer.

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