Halfway Home : San Francisco

Hello Fellow Readers!

How are you liking our trip to San Francisco so far? Do you have an overwhelming urge to eat Rice-a-Roni? (omg that aged me!) Have you managed to soak up some of the atmosphere and culture and history of this lovely city?

If you’re having trouble settling on a book, you might want to try a movie. Some great classics are set in San Francisco including Dirty Harry with Clint Eastwood and Vertigo with James Stewart. Or check out the award winning Milk starring Sean Penn (who won an Oscar for his performance) about the first openly gay man to hold an elected public office. Or try a TV series set in San Francisco such as Monk starring Tony Shalhoub as a private detective with OCD.

And don’t forget, we have lots of Books on CD, especially nice for a summer road trip. Or check out Overdrive which has both ebooks and audio books – your local library is never far away, no matter where you are in the world!

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat“You have the best kids books!”, exclaimed a library patron with her son in tow. Smiling, I thanked the patron and stole a quick glance of the title in her hand. Javaka Steptoe’s Caldecott award-winning Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat  is as beautiful as you might expect a book about Jean-Michel Basquiat to be. What is particularly unique about this book, in addition to the messages it conveys, is that Steptoe’s illustrations emulate the kind of street art you might find Basquiat himself producing in New York in the 1980s on various organic textures & surfaces. The book itself is a literal work of art.

The dominant message Javaka conveys in this book is simple: imperfection is beauty.  Is this not an important and timeless message that we can and should celebrate and teach? Adults and children alike stand to benefit simply by acknowledging this pure and simple wisdom. Determined to create a masterpiece, the narrator notes that young artist Jean-Michel’s pictures “are sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird” but they are nonetheless “still beautiful”. I’ll definitely be reading this book to Pebbles, my 8 year-old Blue Heeler dog since I don’t have any human children. I’m a dog mom — does that count? Also, Pebbles embraces the “imperfection is beauty” credo because she likes to rip holes in comforters and knock the trash can over. She gets it.  But in total seriousness, spread the aforementioned important message! (Especially in today’s Black Mirror world in which the bizarre expectation and practice is that the images we project of ourselves on social media are disproportionately perfect, happy, and overflowing with rainbows and unicorns). Let us remember that what is flawed is real. Even more?: what is flawed is beautifully and uniquely human.

Other representations of Jean-Michel Basquiat are also available at Davenport Public Library if you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating and legendary artist! For example, check out the 2002 film entitled Basquiat  that features David Bowie, Gary Oldman, Benecio del Toro and others alongside Jeffrey Wright who plays the unforgettable part of Jean-Michel. (The late great David Bowie, playing the role of the quirky and iconic Andy Warhol easily makes Basquiat one of my absolutely favorite films.) One particular scene in this film perfectly summarizes the idea that imperfection is beauty when Jean-Michel takes a paintbrush to his girlfriend’s new dress because he thought “it needed something”. In short, this film does an excellent job of illustrating 1980s Brooklyn and how Basquiat went being homeless to a wildly successful artist overnight. Sadly, and as is the case with so many inimitable artists of our generation, however, Basquiat struggled with a drug addiction that would derail him and his career.  What Basquiat left behind–his legacy–is far greater and more memorable then any of the challenges he endured in his lifetime.

Also amazing? Check out Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, a book of poetry by the amazing Maya Angelou with illustrations by the one and only Jean-Michel Basquiat!

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?

 

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!

 

Little People, Big Dreams

I happened upon a charming series of books for children called Little People, Big Dreams. (Not to be confused with the TV series Little People, Big World.) These are picture book biographies of notable figures from different parts of history. I loved reading them and learning more about the protagonists along with my children. The depictions of the heroines are captivating and, although they do not all have the same author and illustrator, they share an endearing similarity in style – large, round faces and colorful attire and settings.

I first read Frida Kahlo to my kindergartener. He came up with so many follow-up questions, I soon realized I didn’t know as much about this famous artist as I would like. I mentioned this to a friend and she insisted I should see the 2002 film Frida starring Salma Hayek as the title character and Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera. I did (alone), and enjoyed the sensual interpretation of the artist’s life.

Then an idea occurred to me. Wouldn’t it be nice to read a bedtime story for the kids and after they are fast asleep, read or watch something more adult on the topic? You know how a wine will sometimes be suggested that pairs well with your food? Couldn’t we do that with the books we read, as well? With that thought in mind, here are some recommendations you might want to try.

In Maya Angelou, author Lisbeth Kaiser and illustrator Leire Salaberria present to children the difficult topics of racism, domestic and sexual abuse, and mental health sensitively. Don’t let the fact that this book covers a difficult childhood deter you from reading aloud to your little ones what is a very inspiring story. Angelou’s story is, ultimately, one of hope. Most of us are aware of Angelou’s prolific career as a writer and civil rights activist, but how many knew her as a cook, streetcar conductor, dancer, singer, and world traveler? Share this inimitable woman’s story with the children in your life. Then on your own, read her classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings if you haven’t already done so (or even if you have, it may be time for a re-read). Also, listen to Angelou read her poetry in the book on CD entitled Black Pearls: The Poetry of Maya Angelou. I’d recommend the kids not be within listening range of this one, as there are vulgarities in it.

 

I will be the first to admit I am not a couture kind of gal (my style would more aptly be described as thrift store eclectic). Still, I enjoyed learning about Coco Chanel in the book written by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Ana Albero. Tired of seeing her contemporaries unable to breathe in their tight corsets, she designed clothing that was looser and easier to wear while dancing. She also designed hats and, of course, let’s not forget about the perfume. For more on the life of the woman once known as Gabrielle Chanel, you may wish to check out the 139-minute DVD Coco Chanel, a 2008 made-for-TV movie starring Barbora Bobulova as the young Chanel and Shirley MacLaine as old Chanel. You may also enjoy the coffee table style book Chanel: Collections and Creations by Daniele Bott. With 159 illustrations, it goes into delightful detail on Coco’s unique styles. My favorite was the chapter on the Camellia flower, which is pictured on the cover. Other chapters detail ‘The Suit’, ‘Jewelry’, ‘Fragrance & Beauty’, and ‘The Black Dress.’

All the suggested children’s books are from the Little People, Big Dreams series.There are more books in this series and you can find all the ones the library owns by doing a series search for Little People Big Dreams. If you have favorite books or movies that you think go together like Chardonnay and Gruyere, please let us know.

 

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!

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker, starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth, tells the story of Tilly Dunnage, played by Kate Winslet. This movie is based on the novel of the same name by Rosalie Ham. Tilly is an accomplished dressmaker who spent years traveling the world learning her trade. She has returned to her small Australian hometown in 1950s Australia. Tilly escaped from this town when she was young after being accused of murdering a young boy. She has returned to learn the truth.

Upon arriving back in town, Tilly finds her eccentric mother, played by Judy Davis, living in squalor. She begins taking care of her and scheming to get revenge on those who accused her of murder. Tilly’s way of dressing shocks the town. She begins to offer her dressmaking services to women in town, seemingly as a kindness, but really as a way of revenge. She begins working with the local sergeant, a man who has secrets of his own. Tilly also falls for a local farmer, Teddy, a man who lives next door to her mother and whose family has been stopping in to care for her mother while she’s been gone.

This small backwoods Australian town is rife with secrets and scandals, more than just Tilly’s exile for the supposed murder of her young classmate. More and more of these secrets are exposed as Tilly works her magic on the local women. This movie shows that nothing is what it seems and that everyone has secrets. Tilly struggles to find out the truth, remember her past, and clear her name. I really enjoyed this movie because Tilly clearly knows how to get revenge on people. While she may appear strong, she also has a lot going on under the surface.

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (DVD)

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World is a documentary DVD that explores the influence of the internet on human life.

It begins by following internet pioneer Leonard Kleinrock into a room on the UCLA campus where the first internet communication took place at 10:30pm on Oct 29, 1969, between UCLA and Stanford Research Institute. Kleinrock describes the moment he began typing the very first internet message, “Login.” Before he could complete it, the computer system crashed, and the first message transmitted by the internet turned out to be “Lo” – thus the movie’s name.

Danny Hillis, an American inventor and computer scientist, describes the phone book he owned back in the early days of the internet. It contained the names of everyone on the internet. Can you imagine a directory of everyone on the internet today? It is estimated it would be 72 miles thick.

Director Werner Herzog takes us to Stanford Dept of Robotics, where we learn how the discovery of biomolecule patterns was enhanced by the creation of a crowdsourced video game called EteRNA. Crowdsourcing, as defined by Wikipedia (itself a famous example of crowdsourcing) is “to divide work between participants to achieve a cumulative result.” In this case, a videogame played by a multitude of interested laypeople -“lawyers, grandmas, students, bedridden people” contributed in useful ways to the collective knowledge base about RNA (Ribonucleic Acid), which is present in all living cells. Crowdsourcing has been used in a variety of other ways for the common good. In addition to Wikipedia, another well-known example of crowdsourcing is crowdfunding, the collection of funds from a crowd (for example, Kickstarter). If you would like to learn more about how you can be similarly involved in contributing to the universe of knowledge (sometimes even by playing video games!) see this list of crowdsourcing projects.

While at Stanford, Herzog takes us to Professor of Computer Science and director of the Artificial Intelligence Lab, Sebastian Thrun, who is designing self-driving cars. He addressed the concern for safety of self-driving cars by saying, “When a computer makes a mistake, it learns from it, along with all the other computers (in use and unborn.) When a human makes a mistake, just that one person learns from it.” He shares a fascinating anecdote about a certain class he taught to 200 students enrolled at Stanford. He was able to offer the same course online to interested members of the general public. Over 1000 people signed up for the online class. When he tested them, he found that the best Stanford student ranked 412th among all the students combined. From this he said he learned that for every one great Stanford student, there are 412 better out there in the world who couldn’t or didn’t go to Stanford.

Then, we are presented with some particularly dark sides of the internet. The family of Nikki Catsouras shares their story, explaining why they no longer use email or the internet. Nikki died in a car accident in 2006 when she was 18 years old. Gruesome photos of her decapitated body were posted online shortly after the accident. Then, the family began receiving anonymous emails containing the photos, one with the caption “Woohoo Daddy! Hey daddy, I’m still alive.” The Catsouras family deeply lamented the lack of accountability on the internet.

What would today’s landscape be like without the internet? We find out more about that by visiting Green Bank, West Virginia, home of a telescope 100 meters in diameter that picks up radio waves from outer space. To eliminate interference with the radioastronomy project, all wireless transmissions are disabled within a 10 mile radius. The area has become a haven for people who experience severe physical reactions to being in the presence of radio waves. Diane Schou and Jennifer Wood describe their lives before they moved to Green Bank. They spent all their time inside Faraday cages –  boxes named for the 19th century scientist Michael Faraday, designed to shield their contents from electromagnetic fields. Some regard their condition as a supersense. They regard it as a nightmare.

We visit an internet addiction treatment center near Seattle, Washington where we hear the personal stories of some clients. We learn about a South Korean couple who were imprisoned for allowing their newborn daughter to starve to death while they were consumed with playing a video game. Ironically, it was a game in which they were nurturing an electronic baby.

Adler Planetarium astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz tells us about large solar flares called Carrington Events, which have the power to disable communications and create widespread power outages, and how we could see the next powerful solar event soon. We are given a glimpse of what that might look like from footage of a recent, relatively small-scale blackout in New York City. Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss warns “if the internet shuts down, people will not remember how they lived before that.”

Famous hacker Kevin Mitnick is interviewed about the methods he employed to gain access to secured information. He goes into detail about how he manipulated weaknesses in cybersecurity systems, noting that he always found them in the people, not the systems.

In the final third of the documentary, the possible future of Artificial Intelligence is explored. Entrepreneur Elon Musk, who made a fortune through PayPal, talks about the rockets he is launching into space, and his goals of creating a colony on Mars in case Earth becomes unlivable.

Marcel Just and Tom Mitchell, brain scientists at Carnegie Mellon postulate on whether or not it is possible for computers to dream.

The Wikipedia Emergency Project is described. It is a plan that people should print out hard copies of the information found on its website and store them somewhere our heirs can find them should a catastrophic planetary event occur.

The documentary prompted much thought, and left me with so many questions the first time around, I eagerly watched it a second time a couple of weeks later, after I gave myself some time to let the ideas rattle around in my mind for a while. If you like to explore multiple sides of issues relating to the past, present, and future of technology I would recommend you watch Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World.

 

 

 

Now Departing for: Japan

Welcome to the next stop in our read-the-world Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re heading to Japan.

A beautiful land with a diverse culture very different from our own, Japan offers a wide range of possibilities for exploration through reading, from ancient shoguns to modern anime, there is bound to be something for everyone. Here are some suggestions.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. If you haven’t read this gem of a book, now is the perfect time. Memoirs is an inside look at the mysterious, often misunderstood world of the geisha, a uniquely Japanese occupation. Set in the 1930s, the beautiful, serene face of the geisha hides an often harsh and brutal reality. A fascinating read.

Shogun by James Clavell. This is the best kind of historical fiction, completely immersive and impossible to put down. We are introduced to late 16th century Japan through the eyes of a shipwrecked Englishman named Blackthorn. This is a Japan that is still ruled by military shoguns and has  been long isolated from the Western world. The massive culture shock, the beauty and brutality of this foreign land and the lives of the people in this drama are unforgettable. Read it. (There’s also an epic movie, staring Richard Chamberlain)

Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. A blend of surreal and fantasy, Murakami’s novels have been popular in the US for years. Imaginative, philosophical, experimental, intense are all words that describe this novel about a man searching for his wife’s lost cat. Of course, there is much more going on than that simple story line would indicate.

The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz. As the first commoner to marry into the royal family, Haruko, worldly and well-educated, faces cruelty and suspicion in the Imperial court, suffers a nervous breakdown and becomes mute after the birth of her son. Years later, now Empress herself, she must persuade another worldly and well-educated young woman to marry her son. This book draws heavily from real stories of the Japanese Imperial family and royal court.

Shall We Dance (DVD) Please, please I beg you – do not watch the version of this movie that stars Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez. It might be a fine movie, but it entirely misses the point of the original Japanese version. In Japanese culture, men and women do not touch in public, even if they’re married. A businessman taking up ballroom dancing is shocking; this is the story of one man who, dulled by routine and boredom, falls in love with the beauty of the dance he glimpses every day on his train ride home and takes the leap to learn. Yes, it’s in Japanese and you’ll have to read the subtitles – buck up! It’s so completely worth the effort (and it’s funny too!)

I am planning on reading A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton which explores the long term consequences of Nagasaki and long-held family secrets. I also plan to watch the movie of Memoirs of a Geisha; I’m not sure how well it will follow the book, but it should be beautiful to watch.

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

 

Now Departing for: Seattle

It’s time for our next stop on our 2017 Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re exploring Seattle in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Home of Pike Place Market, the first Starbucks, the Space Needle and lots of rain (although I’m sure there’s much more to it as well!). It’s also the setting for some great books and movies so this month’s Challenge should be a lot of fun too. Some suggestions to get you started:

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.Set in the ethnic neighborhoods of Seattle during World War II and Japanese American internment camps of the era, this novel tells the heartwarming story of widower Henry Lee, his father, and his first love Keiko Okabe.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. Steampunk. Zombies. Air-ships. Mad-scientists. All in a toxic and ravaged Civil War era Seattle. Don’t say we can’t mix things up.

Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister. Six women gather to celebrate their friend Kate’s recovery from cancer, where she strikes a bargain with them: to celebrate her new lease on life, she’ll do the one thing that’s always terrified her, but if she does, each of them will also do one thing that they’d find difficult.

Second Watch by J.A. Jance (all of the JP Beaumont series is set in Seattle) Second Watch shows Beaumont taking some time off to get knee replacement surgery, but instead of taking his mind off work, the operation plunges him into one of the most perplexing mysteries he’s ever faced. His past collides with his present in this complex and thrilling story that explores loss and heartbreak, duty and honor, and, most importantly, the staggering cost of war and the debts we owe those who served in the Vietnam War, and those in uniform today.

If you’d rather watch your Challenge this month (and remember – that’s totally allowed!), check out 10 Things I Hate About You with Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles, based (very) loosely on The Taming of the Shrew and is full of sharp and witty dialogue, Sleepless in Seattle (of course) with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan or any season of the television series Frasier, possibly the best tv show ever unless you don’t like superb comedic acting, clever writing and engaging characters. Also look for Say Anything, the modern classic love story.

I’m planning on reading Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple which has been on my “to read someday” list for ages and has been a favorite with our patrons.

What about you? Do you know what you’re going to read for the Seattle leg of our journey? If you’re still looking for ideas, be sure to stop by any of our locations and check our Reading Challenge displays!