Now Arriving from : St. Petersburg

We’re back from our book-ish trip to St. Petersburg and the surrounding area – how was your adventure? Did you find something new and intriguing? Any Russian novels that are light and happy? Yeah, I didn’t hold out much hope for that last one!

I went with watching a movie this month and I chose the recent production of Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law. I have to admit, I’ve never read Anna Karenina (#badlibrarian) but maybe that helped. I watched with no expectations (well, it’s from Russian literature – I knew it was going to be dark and depressing) and, while I disliked the story line, I found the movie to be both beautiful and interesting.

In case you don’t know the story, here’s a quick rundown. Set in Imperial Russia during the late-1800s, Anna is a young woman who has nearly everything – wealth, status, a beloved child. What she does not have, but doesn’t realize she’s missing, is a passionate marriage. When she meets cavalry officer Count Vronsky, sparks fly and they begin an intense affair. When the affair is publicly acknowledged, the scandal has far-reaching effects on everyone around them.

My objection to the story is how Anna is treated (which was most likely typical for this time period). Two people take part in the affair, but when it is revealed it is Anna that suffers the most. The Count is married off – willingly it seems – to a princess. Anna’s husband, cold and dull, gains sympathy and custody of the children (Anna has a daughter with the Count). Anna, however, is not allowed to see her children, is shunned by society, divorced by her husband and abandoned for another woman by her lover. Plus, it’s very cold all the time. No wonder she does what she does. There is also some commentary on the excessive wealth of the upper class versus the simpler lives of the peasants – a hint of the social unrest that Russia will soon face, but it is not fully explored (in this version of the book).

The movie itself is quite beautiful – the costumes and jewels are stunning, with lots of sumptuous furs and dark, rich colors. The production is shown as if you were watching it in a theater, albeit a theater with spectacular, moving, multi-level sets. The movements of the actors are also very theatrical, with lots of hand waving and synchronized standing and walking and sitting. Plus, there is the strangest, arm-waviest waltz I’ve ever seen. I may not have appreciated the story, but it was a fascinating movie to watch.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read or watch this month?

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Conspiracy theories run amuck in Dennis Lehane’s Since We Fell. This piece of psychological fiction will pull your mind taunt with the heart-breaking, suspenseful story of a woman struggling to find herself while her life falls to shambles around her.

Since We Fell tells the story of Rachel Childs’ journey to find herself again after she has a mental breakdown on air while working as a journalist. Obviously many stressors piled up to lead to Rachel’s breakdown and watching Lehane plot out Rachel’s demise is fascinating. Readers are privy to Rachel’s close examination of her life and how she ended up where she is today.

Rachel’s childhood was fraught with turmoil. She was raised by Elizabeth Childs, a self-help author with a Ph.D. who spent her days criticizing Rachel and left her life as damaged as she could. Elizabeth relished in the fact that only she knew the true identity of Rachel’s father while Rachel was left wondering continuously who her father could be. The fact that her mother kept her father’s identity such a secret from her left Rachel missing a part of her identity and determined to do whatever necessary to find her biological father.

Rachel’s relationship with men is a testy one, yet she always finds herself looking for the good in them. Enter in Sebastian and Brian. Both men pop up at important moments in Rachel’s life. Sebastian is a producer at the TV station where Rachel works. Brian is a man that Rachel knows casually, a man that Rachel tried to enlist to help find her father. Both Sebastian and Brian propel Rachel forward and drag her back in life. They add both positivity and negativity to her life.

Rachel finally feels like she has everything under control filled with a loving husband and a worthwhile career. After she has her on-air meltdown however, Rachel becomes a shut-in and life becomes significantly more difficult. One rainy day while out of her apartment, Rachel has an encounter that drastically changes her life. She soon finds herself questioning everything. Rachel’s life starts to unravel and she can’t pull herself out of the conspiracy that she finds herself thoroughly enmeshed in. Dealing with her mental breakdown and subsequent psychological issues, Rachel has to work to discover what is actually true despite all of the madness, deception, and violence that continuously rock her life.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Class Mom by Laurie Gelman

Have you ever been a class mom? These women(or men) serve as the teacher’s right hand person and handle a lot of the grunt work. My mom was a class mom multiple times for both myself and my younger siblings. I remember her organizing parties, meeting with teachers, volunteering in my classrooms, and organizing events for me all throughout school. She was always busy and I thought she pulled everything together effortlessly. When I was looking for a new book to read and saw Class Mom by Laurie Gelman in the catalog, I decided to give it a try because I was feeling nostalgic about all the work that my mom put in to my classrooms when I was younger.

Class Mom by Laurie Gelman is a hilarious romp into the life of Jen Dixon. Jen is married to Ron, who she continuously refers to as her ‘first husband’ much to his annoyance. Jen and Ron have an adorable five-year-old son named Max who is just starting kindergarten. Jen is not new to the school system as she has two older daughters, by two different men, who are now in college. Jen had a lively youth following bands around the country and the world. Her two daughters were born as a result of her carefree younger days. Jen raised her two daughters with some help from her parents and when she met Ron, her life seemed to fall together pretty perfectly.

Now that Max is starting kindergarten, Jen finds herself being prodded into becoming class mom for Max’s class. Nina, the PTA president and Jen’s best friend, keeps telling Jen that the new parents have a lot to learn from Jen’s expertise and experience. Jen thinks that’s all baloney and it’s just because she’s older than the other parents that Nina is asking her to be class mom. Regardless of those factors, Jen soon finds herself as the class mom to Ms. Ward’s new class of kindergarteners!

Jen’s tenure as class mom is full of hilarity, snarkiness, offensive, and uproariously funny emails and interactions. She holds nothing back in her emails to the other class parents and is sure to note specific response times to her requests. Jen is responsible for assigning conference times, finding field-trip volunteers, and doing whatever the teacher Ms. Ward wants her to do.  She soon finds herself as the middle-man between Ms. Ward and the other class parents. The interactions between Jen and everyone at Max’s school are ripe with hilarity from Max’s supersexy kindergarten teacher who has a very odd way of running her classroom, an old flame of Jen’s popping up as one of the parents of another student, a mother whose son is severely allergic to almost everything, and two moms who Jen can never seem to tell apart! Outside of Jen’s interactions at Max’s school, Jen herself is struggling to get in shape to do a mud run to make up for last year’s disastrous attempt, trying to figure out what’s going on with her two older daughters, and working to keep her relationship solid with her husband. This book was very entertaining. Definitely recommended.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Davenport Public Library will be closed on Thursday, November 23 and Friday, November 24 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. All three of our locations – Main (321 Main Street), Fairmount (3000 Fairmount Street) and Eastern (6000 Eastern Avenue) will reopen with regular business hours of 9am to 5:30pm on Saturday, November 25.

Have a safe and happy Holiday!

Bright Futures and Nikki Grimes’ Bronx Masquerade 10th Anniversary Edition

Nikki Grimes’ Bronx Masquerade is deserving of the 2003 Coretta Scott King award and would be a welcome addition to classroom reading lists because it would foster understanding  and self-expression while encouraging us to celebrate our differences. While it has been a long time since I was in junior and high school, I’m pretty sure school (which is not nearly as beautiful of a word as library) and my teachers conspired to make me hate reading.   At least, that’s what I felt at the time, and still do to this day in many ways.  Not only could I not  identify with my teachers or parents or the books on our assigned reading lists, but I was really winging it when it came to being a teen. And being a teen was brutal at times: I was an incredibly intuitive person with so much to say yet I lacked the language proficiency to fully communicate my emotions and experiences with the people who guided me.

But that’s where art, poetry, and amazing teachers come into play.

When you’re not legally an adult, you rely on the adults in your life–parents and teachers, mainly–to help you through this thing called life. You rely on them to provide you a platform to share your story, and you hope they don’t drop the ball.   And then there are the teachers–the good, the bad, and everything in-between. Hopefully you had the kind of teacher movies like Dead Poet’s Society, Dangerous Minds, Mr. Holland’s Opus, and School of Rock celebrate. In my experience,  “good” teachers facilitate self-directed learning opportunities, foster curiosity, and help students identify and build upon their strengths. That’s a tall order, since much of the work good teachers do is an extension of what good parents do. In Bronx Masquerade, Mr. Ward is one of those teachers who deeply impacts his students in ways they can only begin to understand. He makes his entrance early on when he assigns a lesson about The Harlem Renaissance and other works by popular and lesser known African American authors. The classroom environment begins to take on a life of it’s own: students no longer shame their peers for wanting to read and feed their intellects. Eager to relate hip-hop and rap to the rhymes and rhythm of poetry, students begin writing and sharing original poetry.  The act of writing and the resulting community they find in Mr. Ward’s class profoundly changes them.

In terms of format, Bronx Masquerade  introduces you to a cast of characters, most of whom are Black and Latino with a White and Asian minority, whose lives intersect around poetry and Mr. Ward. Each subsequent chapter introduces you to a new character: Diondra, Amy, Art, Raul, Natalina, Porscha,  Mai Tren, Wesley. Aside from Poetry itself, Tyrone is the central character around which all of the characters revolve.  By the end of the book, Tyrone’s life has changed for the better, and “Open Mic Friday” is at the center of the positive change. As other students begin to read and perform their poetry, sometimes in the style of a poetry slam and often incorporating musical rhythms and beats, Tyrone’s guard begins to come down.And most notably, for the first time, he can envision  a real future for himself and his peers, a future that seemed distant and dismal at the beginning of the book.

By the end of the book, it is clear that through poetry and community, Tyrone has developed a new understanding of himself and his peers. Most remarkably, the opportunity to create and share his writing under the wing of Mr. Ward has literally changed the course of his life that now includes a bright, beautiful future.

Online Reading Challenge – Halfway Home!

So, how is your St Petersburg/Moscow/Russia reading adventure going?

I admit I’m struggling a bit this month. I wanted something a bit light and modern and, guess what – apparently that doesn’t exist in Russian fiction. Russian authors, historic and modern, tend to write really dark, really tragic stories steeped in mysticism and history. And it’s always cold.

Obviously, this is a huge exaggeration but I still could not find anything that wasn’t deeply sad (and not bittersweet sad but depressingly sad). I think a lot of this has to do with tradition and with Russian history which seems especially harsh with despotic leaders, crushing military battles and the bleakness of Soviet communism. And Siberia truly is extremely cold. Surely someone, somewhere has been happy? And warm? Sadly, I’m still looking for that book (please let me know if you’ve found one!)

Instead I’m going to watch the DVD of Anna Karenina starring Keria Knightly. Yes, very sad and tragic (and cold), but I’ve read that the costumes are exquisite and the production is very theatrical. I’ll let you know what I think.

If you’re still searching for a Russian connection, you might try a DVD too. The Americans, a TV series starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell is about a young Russian couple that have been sent to America as “sleepers” – KGB agents that are infiltrating the United States by posing as Americans. It’s gotten lots of great reviews. Or check out The Last Station starring Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer about Leo Tolstoy’s later years when, to his wife’s horror, he said he planned to give up everything to live in poverty. Child 44 stars Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman about a disgraced Soviet police officer that has been exiled to the countryside and is now searching for a serial killer.

So tell me, what you reading (or watching) this month?

The Crown – Now on DVD!

Good news if you’re a fan of English history or royalty. Or, you know, a fan of excellent film making and story telling. The first season of The Crown, starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith is now available on DVD!

Opening with the young Elizabeth about to marry Philip, season one of this brilliant series follows the first ten years of her reign, from her accession to the crown upon the death of her father King George VI through the turbulent years guiding postwar England into a new, modern era. There is a strong push/pull between the old ways – which just won World War II – and the inevitable new. English society, with its long-held class structure and tradition, struggles with the changes and the Royal family, as an example to the country, must show the way, often with great personal sacrifice.

Highlights from the first season include Elizabeth and Philip’s sometimes rocky early marriage as Philip struggles to find his place as consort and yet maintain some independence (Parliament at first refused to allow him to take flying lessons); Elizabeth’s sister Margaret falling in love with a divorced man (very scandalous, especially after Edward VII abdicated to marry a divorcee); Elizabeth’s coronation; the question of how to treat the disgraced Edward VII and the reluctant stepping down of Winston Churchill. Throughout, Elizabeth remains serene (at least on the surface) and steadfast in her devotion to her country. The demands put on her, not just by the government and her duties, but by her advisors and family, is staggering.

Beautifully filmed, superbly acted (Claire Foy won an Emmy for her role), sparkling storytelling, this is a series well worth bingeing on – if you don’t have Netflix (who produced it) or missed it when it first came on, now is the time to catch up – season two begins December 8!

For more background both on the events and how they actually happened (the writers took some liberties although they stayed close to the facts) as well as insights on filming the series, pick up The Crown. Volume 1: the Official Companion by Robert Lacey. The book includes side-by-side shots from the time period with shots of the same event from the film – the similarities are striking. In addition, Lacey provides more information on why things happened like they did in more detail than can be done in the series. It makes for fascinating reading (and watching)!

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

Being a woman cop in the 1970s meant your day was filled with harassment from multiple sources: the men you worked with, the people you encountered on the streets, and usually the family you left behind to become a cop. No matter what you did, you would feel the heat from everyone around you. You were never good enough. This type of harassment and degradation led to some women not even making it through the police academy and for those that made it, enduring that treatment only fed their fire to become the best cop that they could. Reading fiction and nonfiction about women during this era showed me that those pioneering women were continuing on a quest for equality that started many, many years ago.

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter dives into what policewomen in the 1970s went through on a daily basis by following the Atlanta police force in 1974 as they struggled to deal with the murder of an officer and a suspected murderer on the loose. It’s Kate Murphy’s first day on the job. From the moment she steps foot in the precinct, Kate realizes that the Atlanta Police Department is not the place for her. The other police officers are not welcoming to the women and even within the female ranks, they’re all separated by color. Kate is juggling with the fact that her uniform is way too big, she’s not sure how to handle her gun, and the men she’s supposed to be working with only see her as a collection of attractive body parts. Add in the fact that the Atlanta Police Department is still reeling from the death of a fellow officer and Kate has walked into an extremely volatile situation. Despite all of this, Kate refuses to give up. She sets out to try and prove herself even though she really has no idea what she is doing.

Maggie Lawson is only too familiar with the craziness in the Atlanta Police Department. Both her brother and her uncle are on the force. Add in the fact that Maggie is a cop as well and her family life is more than a tad complicated. Having family so enmeshed in the force means that Maggie has to continuously prove herself and that has left her with multiple axes to grind. When Kate Murphy shows up, Maggie knows she is going to be a handful. Kate and Maggie soon find themselves partnered together, even though it’s against regulations. This action is made to isolate Kate and Maggie from the rest of the police, to essentially keep them out of everyone else’s way. Despite being paired together, the women soon find themselves right in the middle of a major criminal situation.  Kate and Maggie are forced to learn to work together to figure out who they can trust and what the real truth is.


This book is available in the following formats:

Now Departing for: St. Petersburg, Russia

Hello Online Reading Challenge Readers!

November has arrived and that means it’s time for our next destination – St. Petersburg!

Situated on the Baltic Sea in western Russia, St Petersburg has an interesting history. It’s relatively new (for Europe), having been established by Peter the Great in 1703. It served as the capital of Russia from 1713 to 1918 when the central government moved to Moscow. It has had several name changes, from St Petersburg to Petrograd (in 1914) to Leningrad (in 1924) and now back to St Petersburg (in 1991). It is considered more “Western” due to its proximity to the rest of Europe, than Moscow which is thought of as more traditional. St Petersburg has more tourist traffic and it has less of the “Soviet bloc” architecture than Moscow and, while there is no shortage of art and culture in Moscow, St Petersburg is considered to be more of a cultural mecca.

There are some great books set in St Petersburg, but somewhat limited in quantity. Because of that, I’m expanding this month to include Moscow (or, really, any setting in Russia you’d like to read about). Here are a few titles to get you started.

One of my favorite books is City of Thieves by David Benioff. Set during the siege of Lenningrad (as it was called then), it brings this horrific chapter of World War II vividly to life. Yet amongst the suffering there is friendship and joy and hope. I wrote about it in more detail here. Highly recommended.

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay follows the memories of a retired Russian ballerina who lived through the Stalinist era. Her memories of the dark, Postwar years and what she did to survive are equal parts haunting and beautiful. Read more about it here.

If you like history, you may wish to read more about the last Tsar of Russa, Nicholas II and his family’s tragic story. Try The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport or The Romanovs: the Final Chapter by Robert Massie or the greatest mystery, Rasputin: Faith, Power and the Twilight of the Romanovs by Douglas Smith

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is a relatively new book that has been getting a lot of positive buzz. Shortly after the Russian Revolution, a member of the nobility is sentenced to live the rest of his life in a hotel in Moscow. His watches and observes the changes that his country and the world go through, all from his small room above the city.

Of course, if you wish, you can go the classic route – Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Let me know how that goes!

Watch our displays at each building for more ideas of some great reads set in Russia.

 

Now Arriving from – China

Hello Reading Fans!

How did this month of the Online Reading Challenge treat you? Did you find something really fantastic to read? Something that opened a little window of understanding of the great mystery that is China?

I’m afraid I didn’t do so well this month – I got caught up in reading other books and never came across anything China-related that grabbed my attention. These things happen sometimes (This is why I’m not very good with traditional book clubs – the rebel in me doesn’t always want to read the chosen book!) Fortunately, there aren’t any Library Police and I can simply try again next month!

I do want to draw your attention to two favorite movies set in China that deal with the ancient history of China and are deeply rooted in mysticism. Both are absolutely beautiful

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon caused quite a sensation when it first came out and you may very well have already seen it. Beautifully photographed, superb acting and a story that requires the watcher, much like the characters, to take a leap of faith makes this a film that linger long after the closing credits. A young Chinese warrior steals a sword from a famed swordsman and then escapes into a world of adventure with a mysterious man in the frontier of the nation with serious, long-reaching consequences.

Hero, starting Jet Li, was released shortly after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and may have been overshadowed by it, but it is stunning in it’s own right.  Set in ancient China, warring factions plot to assassinate the most powerful ruler, Qin. When a minor official defeats Qin’s three deadly enemies, he is summoned to the palace to tell Qin the story of his surprising victory. The martial arts scenes, beautifully, artfully choreographed, are worth watching alone but the message, about power and how it is wielded is relevant to all times and societies.

Bad Behavior has blocked 1605 access attempts in the last 7 days.