Online Reading Challenge – Halfway Through May

Hello Fellow Traveling Readers!

How is Kenya treating you this month? Because the selection of books about or set in Kenya is pretty slim, probably the hardest part of this challenge is finding a book that interests you. Don’t give up – there are some excellent ones that are well worth the search! (see this post for some suggestions)

Of course, because of the lack of Library Police, there is no rule that says you can’t read a book set in a different African country. Or different country from anywhere for that matter. However, if you’d like to stick with the African continent, there are some amazing books.

Travel to Botswana with any of the titles in the delightful No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. These fun and charming books follow Mma Precious Ramotswe as she untangles the various problems of her clients with wisdom and humor. Her love of Botswana and its people shines throughout. There’s also a beautifully done television series which originally ran on HBO.

The Congo, with it’s dark history, has inspired some outstanding books including The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, a journey into the African wilderness and the human heart. I would also recommend The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver about a fire-and-brimstone preacher who brings his family to the Congo to be a missionary. The book is elegant and thoughtful and absolutely devastating.

If you want to explore South Africa, there is no better place to start than with Nelson Mandela. Look in the Biography section alphabetical under Mandela for books about this man’s remarkable life. For a classic, try Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton about a black man’s country under white man’s law, written with dignity, courage and love. Or check out the Tannie Maria mysteries by Sally Andrews, set in rural South Africa. The first in the series, Recipes for Love and Murder, is filled with humor, romance and recipes (and a murder!)

What about you? What have you read this month?

Now Departing for: Kenya

Welcome to the May edition of the Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re headed for Kenya!

When I think of Kenya (a country I’ve never visited) I think of large expanses of open savannah grasslands, wide skies and lots of wildlife. I’m afraid I know very little of the people who live there or much about it’s history – but that’s what this year’s Reading Challenge is all about, isn’t it? Exploring new places!

You have a variety of titles to choose from. Try The Constant Gardener by John LeCarre, about the dark side of capitalism and the long-reaching effects of corruption and political intrigue (and it’s also a movie) Suzanne Arruda has written mysteries set in 1920s Kenya including The Leopard’s Prey and Treasure of the Golden Cheetah.  Love, Life and Elephants: an African Love Story is a memoir by Daphne Sheldrick about her lifelong work with the elephants and wildlife of Kenya. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain follows the remarkable story of an independent woman, Beryl Markam (author of West with the Night)

For movies you can’t beat Out of Africa, an adaptation of Isak Dinesen’s time spent in Africa trying to establish a plantation. Starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, it is both sweeping and intimate and incredibly beautiful. Or search out The Flame Trees of Thika, a gorgeous, heartbreaking story of an English girl growing up in Kenya and starring Hayley Mills.

Unfortunately, the number of books and movies that we have available that are set in Kenya is pretty slim, and the majority of them view the country through the eyes of white settlers. Because of this, I think it’s fine to read a book set in another African country this month if you’d prefer (remember, no Library Police!) It is a disservice and rude to imply that all of Africa is the same when in fact it is made up of a diverse range of nations and cultures with unique (often ancient) histories.  But if you’re having difficulty finding a book set in Kenya that interests you, feel free to explore a different African country.

I am planning to read A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicolas Drayson. It’s fiction, not an actual bird guide and reviews describe it as “charming” in the same vein as Alexander McCall Smith’s books. “Charming” is always a good idea.

What about you – what are you going to read this month?

 

Now Arriving from: Paris

So, how was your April in Paris? Nothing can compare with the real thing, but I hope it was good!

Shockingly, my month did not go as planned and I didn’t manage to finish any books set in Paris. However, books about Paris are always on my list and I will always be reading about the loveliest city, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out. Also, there are no Library Police.

I did squeeze in a movie though – Coco before Chanel  (yes, it’s in French!) starring Audrey Tautou. It’s about Coco Chanel’s early life and the experiences that helped shaped both her artistic vision and her life choices. As shown in the movie (and I believe it is accurate), Coco was not an easy person. She was opinionated and bold (at a time when women were encouraged to be quiet and decorative), and demanded her own way – which sometimes seemed to shift without warning. She is also largely responsible for cutting women out of restrictive corsets and creating clothes that are elegant, timeless and comfortable with clean lines and little fuss. In addition, she created and directed her own company in a world run by men and she set her own course unapologetically.

Sadly, there is very little about Paris in the movie until the end (Coco grew up in the French countryside, left in an orphanage by her father along with her sister after their mother died) and only a little is shown about her growing business and fashion influence. I would have like to seen more about that and also seen something about her life in Paris during World War II – she took a German lover during the Occupation and there has been speculation that she collaborated with the Nazis. She is a complex, enigmatic figure (French history seems to have lots of them!) and I’d like to learn more about her.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read/watch/listen to this month and what did you think of it?

 

Photo Essay: Spring at Fairmount

As you may know, the Davenport Library at Fairmount is bordered by the Davenport bike path on one side and backs up to the woods that line the path. With a wall of windows along the back wall of the library you are treated to a particularly beautiful backdrop no matter what the season. Right now the redbud and crabapple trees are in full bloom, everything is fresh and bright green and the birds are singing in full chorus. It’s really the best time of year. Come join us for a brief photo stroll of Spring at Fairmount.

All photos by Ann Hetzler. Taken April 22, 2017.

Question: Is the Movie Ever Better Than the Book?

Here’s the question – Have you ever thought that a movie was better than the book it was based on?

This question is a little unfair – comparing books and movies is like comparing apples and oranges. They are very different media with very different user experiences; a 2-3 hour movie cannot possible capture the nuance of emotion or inner dialogue that a book can. Nor can a book show you sweeping vistas in full color (especially if it’s a landscape you’ve never experienced)

Most people would claim, strongly, that the book was better and for the most part, I agree. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy many of the movies based on books – movies have their own kind of magic and can often enhance the overall experience.

But there are some exceptions. A quick internet search brings up several articles with “better than the book” lists including these from Buzzfeed,  Bustle,  Hollywood.com,  and Purewow

It’s interesting to note that while there are some differences, most of the lists tend to agree on several titles including Forrest Gump, The Godfather, The Notebook, Jaws, The Princess Bride, Fight Club and Jurassic Park. This is often due to the creativity and vision of the director, or to careful editing of the original source material. It’s also enlightening to note that most of the books that these movies were based on were not hugely popular successes on their own, but considered fair to middling.

As for movies that enhance the book without insulting it, I would include movies such as the Harry Potter series, the Lord of the Rings movies and Master and Commander. And as much as I love to read Jane Austen, some of the Jane Austen adaptations are some of my favorite movies of all (I especially love the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility and the PBS version of Emma) In all of these cases, the beautiful settings, costumes and music contribute to and expand well-loved stories. (Although I still prefer the book!)

What about you – have you ever thought the movie was better than the book? Or thought that the movie caught the spirit of the book especially well? Tell us what you think!

 

Online Reading Challenge – “Comment allez-vous?”*

Bon jour! We’re halfway through the April Reading Challenge – have you found a good book set in Paris yet? There is no lack of excellent books (and movies) set in Paris, but if you’re still searching, here are a more couple of ideas.

For non-fiction lovers, try Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba which is about how the women of Paris survived the Nazi occupation during World War II. With few non-German men left in the city, it was the women who dealt with the Germans, making life or death decisions on a daily basis, just to survive. From collaborators to resistors, famous to ordinary, it’s a complex, fascinating story. Or try The Only Street in Paris by Elaine Sciolino who lives on Rue des Martyrs and shows you the charming, everyday world of Parisians away from the tourist sites.

Fiction readers should check out The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery just for the title alone but also because it’s a sharp look at the various lives of an elegant Parisian apartment building as observed by the concierge who is smarter and more sophisticated than anyone suspects. The Race for Paris by Meg Clayton is about three journalists who are following the American liberating forces in Normandy. If they can arrive in Paris before the Allies, they will have the scoop of their lives, but at what cost?

As for me, I’m finding the selection to be an embarrassment of riches – there are almost too many to choose from! However, my plan is to watch Coco Before Chanel starring Audrey Tautou (of Amelie fame) and to finish reading The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro but I’m also eyeing My Life in France by Julia Child. Obviously, I will be reading books about Paris long after April!

Now it’s your turn – what are you reading this month?

*”how are you?”

The Return of the Doctor

Hello Fellow Whovians!

I am happy to report that the long wait is over – Doctor Who returns to BBC America on Saturday April 15! Hooray! This will be Peter Capaldi’s last season as the Doctor and Steven Moffat’s last season as the main writer and showrunner, plus there’s a new companion this season. Lots of changes coming for our favorite Time Lord!

Of course, change is nothing new for Doctor Who – the show is brilliant at reinventing itself season after season, changing to keep up with current tastes yet remaining essentially at its core the story of the Doctor, a survivor and explorer of the Universe, zipping around in his time traveling TARDIS (it’s bigger on the inside!), chased by Daleks and Cybermen. And who is not opposed to stopping and helping various aliens and cultures (and time periods) on his journey, always with a faithful companion or two in tow. There’s a lot of humor in this series, but there’s also a lot of depth and heart.

Doctor Who has been a mainstay of British television since it premiered in 1963. When the original Doctor, William Hartnell became ill and could no longer work, the producers came up with the idea of having the character “regenerate”, allowing a new actor to take over. This turned out to be a brilliant move, keeping the series running almost continuously since then and allowing each actor to bring his own interpretation and personality to the show. The show slipped in popularity, ending in 1989 but was revived 2005. It’s been embraced by old and new fans and is now enjoying some of it’s greatest popularity.

Interested in jumping aboard this crazy train? (It’s tons of fun) The library has DVDs of all of the series including the originals. I recommend that you start with the “modern” series by watching a season when a new Doctor is introduced – the Ninth Doctor (series 1), the Tenth Doctor (series 2), the Eleventh Doctor (series 5) or the Twelfth Doctor (series 8). This way you are introduced to the “rules” of this series at the same time as the new Doctor, who is just as confused and bewildered as you are as he adjusts to his new body and gets back his memories. There are also the Christmas episodes (a British Christmas is listening to the Queen’s Speech in the morning and watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special in the evening!) and the excellent 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor.

The library also has novelizations, graphic novels and fan guides. It’s a fandom that just keeps giving!

So, here’s a question that can set off endless debates: who’s your favorite Doctor? I love Ten (played by David Tennant and most people’s favorite) but Eleven (Matt Smith) is my favorite. (Actually, the TARDIS is my absolute favorite character!) Who is your favorite doctor? Favorite episode? (“Vincent and the Doctor” maybe, or “Blink”?) Favorite villan? (Weeping Angels? The Silence?) Join the conversation!

Someday We’ll Go All the Way

A sure sign of spring – baseball is back! The national pastime has returned with (and I never thought I’d get to say this so I’m going to savor it) the defending World Series Champions Chicago Cubs (yeah, the thrill of saying that is never going to fade!), an early favorite to repeat.

Like any sports team that wins a championship, a new crop of books about the team soon pop up as publishers rush to take advantage of the excitement and interest. Most of the time – for 108 years actually – Cubs fans haven’t had a reason to look for books to relive a great season. All of that has changed now and books about the 2016 team and their epic World Series run are arriving. Here is a sampling:

Three titles that came out shortly after the World Series highlight the season. Won for the Ages by the Chicago Tribune only goes through the National League Championship Series; both 2016 World Series Champions from Major League Baseball and Believe It by the Chicago Sun Times include the World Series. All are packed with photos and stats and the ups and downs of 2016.

A Season for the Ages by Al Yello is more in-depth and looks at how the Cubs built a team that could break the drought. Just arrived is The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci which also looks at the winning Cub formula, concentrating especially on Theo Epstien (president of baseball operations) and Joe Maddon (manager) and the strategies they followed to create a team.

Coming soon is The Plan by David Kaplan, also about Epstein and Maddon’s baseball strategies (it’s safe to say that baseball managers everywhere are studying these ideas very carefully!), My Cubs: a Love Story by NPR’s Scott Simon and Teammate: My Life in Baseball, a biography by David Ross, one of the key Cub players, now retired (and on Dancing with the Stars!) It’s safe to say there’s plenty to read during rain delays and travel days!

The Cubs home opener is tonight; they’re going to raise the World Series banner (I still get chills saying that) and there’s sure to be lots of pomp and circumstance and happy tears (and maybe Bill Murray in the stands?) Someday has come and we went all the way – let’s do it again!

Bring Back Snail Mail!

 

April is National Letter Writing Month!

In this age of email and texting and snapchat – one more transitory than the next – the idea of sitting down and writing a letter – with a pen! and paper! – seems quaint and a waste of time. But think about how you feel when you receive a handwritten note, something physical that you can hold in your hand, evidence that someone cared enough to take a few moments and let you know they were thinking about you. There’s a need for the quick and ephemeral, but that doesn’t mean that we have to abandon something more permanent. And who doesn’t like to get something special in the mail, even if it’s just a “hello, how are you?”

Write_On, which began in 2014, is a campaign created “to promote joy, creativity, expression, and connection through hand-written correspondence”  and challenges you “to write 30 letters in 30 days during April…” Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it?

You don’t have to write long, angsty letters – just a quick hello is fine. And you don’t need special stationary or cards. Write_On offers a starter “kit” but it’s completely optional.  Also, postcards are completely ok. And you don’t have to mail a card, you can always hand deliver!

Interested in trying but not sure where to start? Write_On has lots of encouragement and resources.

Don’t know who to write too? Chronicle Books has a great article about the importance of letter writing and a nice long list of people you might write to (Hint: notice “a librarian” is on the list and I love to get mail. You can write to me at Davenport Public Library, 321 Main St, Davenport, Iowa 52801)

I’m not going to commit myself to the full 30 days this year, but I am going to try to write a few more quick notes this month. It feels great to get letters, but it’s also pretty awesome to send them too!