On July 21, 2023, Universal Pictures released the historical drama Oppenheimer, based on the life of Robert J. Oppenheimer. According to Box Office Mojo, Oppenheimer has grossed over 300 million dollars in domestic movie sales and nearly 800 million dollars in movie sales worldwide. The film stars Cillian Murphy as Robert J. Oppenheimer (1904-1967), an American theoretical physicist who was the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory during the Manhattan Project. The Los Alamos Laboratory was responsible for the design of the atomic bomb, and Oppenheimer is often referred to as the “father of the atomic bomb.”
Directed by Christopher Nolan, best known for science fiction films Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014), and Tenet (2020), the film is mostly told through the perspective of Robert J. Oppenheimer, beginning in 1926 when he is a doctorate student at Cambridge University. Weaved into the story are scenes in black and white that tell the point of view of Lewis Strauss, a powerful figure in developing nuclear weapons after World Ward II, whose actions sabotaged Oppenheimer’s career. Visit Roger-Ebert for a more detailed movie review.
Oppenheimer is not merely a work of historical fiction, but a cinematic masterpiece with unforgettable performances by Cillian Murphy, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., and Emily Blunt. Oppenheimer is expected to be released on DVD sometime in October of this year and will be available at all three Davenport Library locations. While you are waiting for Oppenheimer, we recommend the following materials about the development of the atomic bomb currently in The Library collection.
Killing the Rising Sun: How American Vanquished World War II Japan by Bill O’Reilly
The Girls of Atomic City: the Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
Trinity: a Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorn
The Bastard Brigade: the True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb by Sam Kean
Atomic Spy by Nancy Thorndike Greenspan
Black Snow: Curtis LeMay, the Firebombing of Tokyo, and the Road to the Atomic Bomb by James Scott
Fallout: the Hiroshima Cover-Up and the Reporter Who Revealed it to the World by Lesley Blume
Trinity by Louisa Hall
Universe of Two by Stephen P. Kiernan
Hannah’s War by Jan Eliasberg
Bomb: the Race to Build-and Steal-the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit
“In love and life, we never know when we are telling ourselves stories. We are the ultimate unreliable narrators.” – Jean Kwok, Searching for Sylvie Lee
Searching for Sylvie Lee is a mysterious suspenseful drama that tugs at the complicated lives of three women – two sisters and their mother. Every person in this story is full of secrets – some more deadly than others.
Sylvie is the beautiful and successful older daughter. She can do no wrong. Sent to the Netherlands by her parents when she was a baby, Sylvie spent the first nine years of her life living separate from her family. Sylvie is heading back to the Netherlands to visit her dying grandmother who raised her. Now Sylvie has vanished.
Amy is the baby of the Lee family. She looks up to her older sister Sylvie. Sylvie may be seven years older, but she basically raised Amy. The younger sibling who never quite measures up to her sister, Amy is trying to figure out what to do with her life. She has dropped out of college and moved back into her parents’ tiny apartment. When Amy learns that Sylvie is missing, she will do whatever it takes to find her. It is time for her to step up and help Sylvie. The more she explores Sylvie’s disappearance, the more secrets she discovers.
Ma is broken. When she moved to the United States from China, she and Pa were newly immigrated and too poor to raise their eldest daughter Sylvie. They made the difficult decision to send her to the Netherlands to be raised with family. She was only supposed to be there for a little while, but it was nine years before Sylvie brought home to help take care of Amy. Their relationship has been a bit strained as a result, but Ma loves Sylvie and Amy.
When Sylvie disappears, the whole family is thrown. She is the solid middle of their family that they all revolve around. They have to find her. She wouldn’t just disappear without letting one of them know.
This book is also available in the following formats:
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “graphic novel”? Comic books? Japanese manga? A book with pictures and not much to read? While those answers are correct, graphic novels are so much more than what you may think! Graphic novels can be memoirs, fiction, biographies, nonfiction, or adaptations.
For a reader who doesn’t have time to knock out a 400 page novel, graphics are the perfect alternative! I love to read graphics when I want something quick and easy. But don’t let “quick and easy” fool you- graphic novelist have a way of putting a lot of story in just a few lines!
In this series I will be highlighting adult graphic novels that fall outside the comic book and Japanese manga categories.
First up is The Adoption by Zidrou. This graphic novel follows the story of Gabriel, a retired butcher whose life flips upside down when his son adopts a Peruvian orphan, Qinaya. Gabriel is your typical retiree; he workouts with his friends at the local park, he reads with his wife before bed, and he tends to his vegetable garden. Gabriel was absent for most of his children’s lives, so when Qinaya starts spending more time at Gabriel’s house, he isn’t sure how to handle it. As Qinaya and Gabriel begin to bond, an unexpected visit changes everything. Gabriel must face his own past in order to overcome the new challenges in his retired life.
The Adoption is a great pick for first time graphic novel readers. The story highlights family, friends, love, and loss. I did not know what to expect out of the story and Zidrou kept me intrigued until the very end. When I finished reading, I found myself reflecting on my own family and the relationships I have with them.
Alongside beautiful illustrations, The Adoption provides an intimate portrait of life during retirement and how the little things can matter the most.
How is your October going, reading-wise? Have you found something to read yet? Or are you still looking? Maybe a movie will be your choice this month. Here are a few suggestions.
A Knight’s Tale starring Heath Ledger. The rousing story of lowborn William Thatcher’s quest to change his stars, win the heart of an exceedingly fair maiden and rock his medieval world. Follow this fearless squire and his band of medieval misfits as they careen their way toward impossible glory that’s part romance, part road trip and part exuberant swashbuckling.
Kingdom of Heaven starring Orlando Bloom and Eva Green. Balian, a young Frenchman in Medieval Jerusalem during the Crusades, having lost everything, finds redemption in a heroic fight against overwhelming forces to save his people and fulfill his destiny as a knight.
The White Queen produced by the BBC and based on the novel by Phillipa Gregory. A riveting portrayal of one of the most dramatic and turbulent times in English history. A story of love and lust, seduction and deception, betrayal and murder, it is uniquely told through the perspective of three different, yet equally relentless women – Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort and Anne Neville. In their quest for power, they will scheme, manipulate and seduce their way onto the English throne.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail. OK, admittedly, this one is somewhat lacking in historical accuracy. But! So funny! So British! “It’s just a flesh wound”! “Your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries”! The quest for the Holy Grail by King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table is retold in the inimitable Python fashion. Enjoy.
Now, while I don’t normally listen to books on CD or audio, I truly enjoyed listening to Calypso by David Sedaris, read by the author himself. And I must say that it was a lovely, riveting, and a hilarious ride….ride I say….. in that I only listened to the book on CD while I was riding around town or making my entire family listen to it when we took a short road trip over the Labor Day holiday weekend….and believe it or not, they actually listened, although they did let me know at times that the language was not appropriate for teenage ears….but whatever is all I have to say about that! As the video games I have seen them play are way worse than anything that could have ever been written in this novel. Sedaris’ prose is almost autobiographical writing mixed with what seems to be comedy bits that could have been written by his comedic actor sister Amy Sedaris. Calypso will keep the reader and/or listener engaged, entertained and especially amused in the comical sense and laughing in a very familial relatable scenes with parents, adolescence, and aging. Check out Calypso David Sedaris’ latest book and you won’t be disappointed….instead it will leave you crying with laughter…at times.
How is the month of September going for you? Are you reading something inspiring/thoughtful/entertaining? If you’re still looking or are short on time, maybe a movie would be a good option. Here are some to consider.
Places in the Heart. Starring Sally Field, John Malkovich and Danny Glover, this film takes a look at surviving the Dust Bowl. Battling prejudice, injustice and devastating weather, the three main characters – a recent widow, a blind man and a black man – form an unlikely alliance.
Cinderella Main starring Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger. No longer able to box after breaking his hand during a fight, James Braddock turns to manual labor. Desperate for money, he agrees to one more fight which, to everyone’s surprise, he wins, returning him to the violent and unpredictable sport. Based on a true story.
The Grapes of Wrath starring Henry Fonda. An American classic, this film takes a hard look at the reality of the struggle to survive during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Heartbreaking and often difficult to watch it is nevertheless highly recommended.
Water for Elephants starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson is set against the backdrop of a small-time circus operating during the Great Depression. A secret romance threatens to destroy many lives and nearly ends in tragedy.
I’m a sucker for literary movies, movies that give me a glimpse into the lives of my favorite authors, the time period that they were writing, and their motivations for writing. Genius fell right into my lap one day and I knew I needed to watch it.
Genius tells the story of the relationship between Maxwell Perkins and Thomas Wolfe. Perkins was a book editor at Scribner, one who discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, among others. Thomas Wolfe’s manuscript was put into Perkins’ hands by an associate who said that is was unique and that he should take a look at it. What follows is a deep dive into the psyche of Wolfe and Perkins’ relationship.
Wolfe is portrayed as a lovable American South writer who does not believe his novel will ever get published after he worked on it for four years. Perkins drops into his life right when he is at a crossroads. The two work together to carve down Wolfe’s massive manuscript into something the public will actually read. The scenes where Wolfe and Perkins are actively working on his manuscript are some of my favorite as both of their personalities shine as they rally for their favorite parts to be saved or for certain sections to be cut. Perkins’ relationship with his family as well as Wolfe’s relationship with his lady benefactor also play key roles in this movie.
Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald make frequent appearances in the movie, letting viewers see into their own personal lives and the struggles they were facing as writers. Seeing the characters’ relationships grow and change throughout the course of this movie really allows viewers to see how complex Wolfe and Perkins’ relationship was with each other and with the outside world.
This movie is based on the 1978 National Book Award-winner Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. It’s important to remember that this is a dramatized version of a biography, so the director and writers strayed from the book a little bit. If you’re curious about what was left out or need a little more background, check out this New Yorker article entitled “The Odd Factual Gaps in Michael Grandage’s ‘Genius’ “and judge the movie’s authenticity and factuality for yourself.
If you’re looking for a new television show that will immediately grab your attention and, most importantly, keep it until the very last episode, I recommend Quantico. This riveting mystery begins by introducing viewers to a set of new recruits going through training at the FBI Quantico Base. Alex Parrish is one of these New Agents in Training, aka “Nats”, a thoroughly vetted group of recruits from all across the US considered to be the best and brightest the FBI has ever seen.
Conspiracy, seduction, and suspense rock the recruits as they struggle to complete their training and not get kicked out of the program. Each recruit is subjected to high levels of scrutiny with their trainers digging into their lives and subjecting them to immense pressures all to prepare them for the rigors of daily FBI cases. Each NAT has their own secrets and complicated pasts, but they are all considered to be the best. This series flashes between Alex and her fellow agents training time at Quantico and the present where a bombing has rocked New York, shattering the FBI and the nation, while leaving Alex to try to figure out the truth of what really happened.
A deadly bombing has destroyed Grand Central. This event is the most lethal attack on New York since 9/11 and Alex is being framed as the mastermind. She must race against time as well as the judgments of her fellow FBI agents and the public to prove that she isn’t behind the attack. Alex is in a race against time to find the real culprit in order to prevent future destruction. Her task becomes even more difficult when it becomes apparent that the bomber is working from inside the FBI. Alex is forced to betray her friends and colleagues to find the truth and to prove that she is not a sleeper terrorist.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn completes my mission to read all of Flynn’s work. Living in my own little bublle, I only became aware of Gillian Flynn as an author when Gone Girl became a movie. After it came out on DVD, I quickly checked it out and watched it, which lead me down a quick path to reading everything that Flynn has ever written (I’ve written blog posts about her other works, so search this blog for more info!).
Dark Places is a gripping piece of suspense fiction following the life of Libby Day, a thirty-one year old woman whose mother and two sisters were brutally murdered twenty-five years ago when Libby was just seven years old. Based on her testimony, Libby’s fifteen year old brother Ben was sentenced to prison for life for the murders. After a meeting with her trust fund manager, Libby, who has never worked a day, realizes that the public donations and life insurance money that she has been living off is almost gone. She has no idea what to do next.
A chance phone call from a man named Lyle, who is a member of the Kill Club, proves to be Libby’s somewhat salvation. The Kill Club is a club for people who are obsessed with murders, serial killers, violence, regular killers, and a wide variety of related subjects. She meets with the Kill Club and realizes that she can get them to pay her; the only caveat being that she has to dig into her brother Ben’s case and the murders of her family. Once she starts talking to people and answering the questions the Kill Club has for her, Libby starts questioning if what she thought she saw twenty five years ago was what actually happened. Did Ben really commit those heinous crimes? Or is someone else responsible. This book will have you sitting on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next.
Dark Places was also made into a movie that came out in 2015 starring Charlize Theron as adult Libby Day. The library has this movie available in DVD and Blu-ray.
This book is also available in the following formats:
Concussion, starring Will Smith, is based on the true story of American immigrant Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic neuropathologist, who is known for looking deeply into the autopsies he performs to learn more about why people died. Dr. Omalu wades through this dramatic thriller by making waves in the scientific community by discovering a brain injury that has the power to topple the NFL.
Running side-by-side with Omalu’s story is the story of several different NFL players experiencing trouble after their careers have ended. They display erratic behavior, aren’t themselves, and the people that they turn to for help seemingly have no idea what to do. When a pro football player shows up dead and Omalu has to do the autopsy, he discovers trauma that will change the NFL forever.
Dr. Omalu made the first discovery of CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have a history of repetitive brain damage. After paying for tests out of his own pocket for various football players, Omalu discovers that this traumatic brain injury is something that more football players will suffer from and that they should all be made aware of CTE. After publishing a paper with his findings, Omalu begins fighting for the concussion truth to be heard. He finds major pushback from both the NFL and the public with threatening phone calls to his house, visits from the FBI, and other doctors dismissing his findings among just some of the threats. The National Football League works to quiet Omalu’s findings, something that he simply cannot allow. This movie follows Omalu’s journey to make the NFL acknowledge CTE and the incredible uphill battle he faces to make the public believe his findings.
This movie is based on a book Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas.