I read to make sense of my own life most of the time. When I became a mother, I naturally found parenting themes more compelling. After months of hiatus from reading, I picked up Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, which resonated so much with me at the time that it got me right back into reading. While looking for similar themes and authors (young-ish professional mothers), I came upon Outline by Rachel Cusk and After Birth by Elisa Albert. Children bring changes to our lives in such profound ways that it takes the new parents quite some time to re-orient themselves in the world. Each work delves into lives of women who are trying to make sense of what the world means to them when their focus shifts from self to their tiny offspring. I think it will resonate especially with those who have strong desires to achieve both being there for their families and to continue on with their dreams pre-baby. Wait, that’s all of us.
May 4, 2015
May 1, 2015
“Kane Starkiller and his friend the elderly General Luke Skywalker are the only two surviving Jedi left in the galaxy, having escaped death at the hands of the Sith knights who have hunted down all the other Jedi-Bendu. The two Jedi lead a rebel alliance against the Empire and destroy the ‘death star’ space fortress. The Black Knight of the Sith and commander of the Empire’s legions is Prince Valorum, who is assisted by his General, a man named Darth Vader.” – One of the first drafts of George Lucas’ The Star Wars contains some familiar names and concepts
The history of Star Wars is long, very often contradictory and endlessly fascinating as a chronicle of revisionist history, both onscreen and off. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens coming out in December, and the impromptu pun-based holiday May 4th nearly upon us, it’s time to reflect on the labyrinthine history of what began as a straight-up remake of Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. Michael Kaminski’s new book The Secret History of Star Wars: The Art of Storytelling and the Making of a Modern Epic traces Lucas’ populist space opera-turned-franchise through an exhaustive (and in some ways exhausting) unauthorized reference work. Tracing the series’ development from conception of the first film (sans Episode IV retroactivity), touching on the effect Indiana Jones had on the tone of the films, as well as the addition of first a sequel trilogy and then the eventually shot first (heh) prequel trilogy, Secret History is a detailed, illustration-free one-stop shop for Star Wars information.
“Based on the few comments he gave between 1979 and 1983, it appeared to revolve around ‘the rebuilding of the Republic’ and was to be a more introspective series of films about ‘the necessity for moral choices.’ Contrary to popular belief, the Sequel Trilogy was not supposed to follow a grey-haired Luke and company with the aged original cast portraying their elderly selves – this was a later addition used as an alternative after the original Sequel Trilogy was cancelled.” – Lucas’ oft-changing plans for his never-filmed sequels
Kaminski also covers additional, less well-known material related to Star Wars, including the Journal of the Whills, a pre-New Hope document that laid out the rules of the Star Wars universe, as well as an analysis of just exactly when Darth Vader morphed from villain to father. It’s not light reading, but no other book on the subject collects everything in one place. Place a hold on The Secret History of Star Wars today!
April 28, 2015
One for the Murphys and The Boy on the Porch are a perfect pair. Each fiction book presents a tale that will require a tissue during the final chapters. One for the Murphys is Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s debut book. Carley’s world is turned upside down when she is placed in a foster home. The Murphys show her what a stable and loving family looks like where life offers endless possibilities. Just as they win her heart and trust she must decide to stay or return to life with her mom. Newbery Award winner Sharon Creech’s latest book The Boy on the Porch tells the story of a young couple who find a boy sleeping on their front porch. Jacob is unable to speak, but communicates in other ways. Jacob’s presence in the couple’s lives leads them to become foster parents. Both novels tell delightful stories about how family can be found in unexpected places. Either would make a fantastic read-aloud and appeal to kids in fourth or fifth grade.
April 27, 2015
Imagine that your family is stalked, harassed and threatened by a neighborhood thug. Local law enforcement appears to be unconcerned and unwilling to act on your behalf. Everyone – from the officer on the street to the District Attorney – remains indifferent to your pleas for help. Meanwhile your marriage falls apart. Your daughter narrowly escapes sexual assault and your son is hospitalized for a gunshot wound, all at the hands of this brute. What can you do? What do you do?
To Kill a Man is an award-winning Chilean drama, based on a true story, in which each scene forms an intense character study, intentionally and artfully “composed like paintings” by Director, Alejandro Fernández Almendras. In this film, we follow the quiet desperation of hardworking family man Jorge, a genuinely nice man who loves his wife and two teen-aged kids. We also meet Kalule, the leader of a gang of thugs who reside only a few blocks from Jorge’s family. We get the sense that the neighborhood was once a safe and happy place in which to live and raise children. Now, however, working class families like Jorge’s are trapped and confused as street crime increases.
Eventually, the terror reaches a level that Jorge can no longer tolerate. Without support from law enforcement, he takes matters into his own hands in the most extreme manner possible: he murders Kalule. Determined to end his family’s torment once and for all, Jorge is clearly conflicted as he acts and reacts in the heart beat of each moment by moment. Here the film assumes a trancelike quality as Jorge confronts the horror of his actions. This is not a film of revenge but of human qualities much more complex and primal in our resolve to protect those we love and ultimately come to terms with our choices.
To Kill a Man is April’s feature film for the Cedar Mill Library Film Club. Join us at 6:30 this Wednesday in the library’s community room to watch the movie and discuss it afterwards. You’ll ask yourself…would I be so different from Jorge if I found myself in his predicament?
April 24, 2015
“In 1919 anything seemed possible, including this ‘flying hotel’- a biplane with a thousand-foot wingspan and multiple dining rooms. Apparently nobody considered what might happen to dishes, glasses and passengers in one of those wingtip restaurants when the aircraft banked to make a turn.” – Commentary on an enthusiastic Australian article on the future of aviation from Food in the Air and Space
Aeronautics and astronautics both demand a high level of precision. Flight dynamics, cabin pressure, getting from point A to point B sans catastrophe – all are mission critical. Less celebrated, however, is the need to feed. Culinary critic Richard Foss’ new book Food in the Air and Space follows the development of in-flight cuisine, from curiosities like the short-lived Cornish game hen fad to NASA’s engineering obstacles. From day one, getting food to an appropriate temperature without turning it into vulcanized rubber became one of the most pressing problems, especially as air travel became commonplace. Foss explores the logistics of meal preparation, delivery and removal, detailing slow advances in convection oven technology and the disastrous introduction of the microwave to galleys.
“The first recorded usage of a quicklime stove in flight was the next year, when the balloon Royal Vauxhall set sail on September 9, 1836. […] The balloon traveled overnight, and at dinner that evening there were many puns about the high flavor of the food. […] They also had a quicklime coffeemaker developed just for the purpose. Unfortunately this pioneering invention is not in any museum – as the balloon passed over Belgium in the middle of the night, Captain Green accidentally dropped the coffeemaker overboard. […] Since the loss of the coffeemaker meant that they wouldn’t need the volatile quicklime any more, he tossed that overboard too. He did attach it to a parachute for the consideration of those below.” – Early heating issues in the Golden Age of Ballooning, from Food in the Air and Space
Foss also covers food quality, cooking and preparation issues in space, as well as making room for an analysis of special meals and economy-class airline food’s decline and fall. There are even a few thematically appropriate recipes! Immerse yourself in the warm glow of nostalgia for tiny bags of honey-roasted peanuts and see just why so many airborne meals were awful with Food in the Air and Space.
April 22, 2015
Bee People is a high energy glimpse into the lives of honey bees and the people who tend to them. This lively DVD introduces bees and why everyone should care about our pollinators. It includes information on how you too can embrace bees into your suburban or urban life. You’ll be stung by the fun!
Featuring Gregg McMahan, aka The Bee Guru: one part rock-star, one part bee evangelist, Gregg is the most passionate member of the Bee People community you’re ever likely to meet. — Lisa
April 21, 2015
If you have any interest in art, or you like excellent documentaries, then you need to see Tim’s Vermeer, a documentary produced by magicians Penn & Teller. They make an appearance, but really aren’t in the film too much, although Penn Jillette narrates.
This documentary is about inventor and businessman Tim Jenison’s quest to copy a painting by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. This quest started when Tim read the books Secret Knowledge, by British artist David Hockney, and Vermeer’s Camera, by British architecture professor Philip Steadman, which theorizes that Vermeer potentially used a camera obscura to guide his painting technique. Tim then sets about to recreate a Vermeer, using the techniques discussed in these books. Tim ends up finally creating his own copy of Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, but he finds some surprises along the way.
A documentary about a guy copying a painting doesn’t sound like it would be interesting, but trust me – it is. Tim was in no way an artist when he started, and it took him several years to complete his quest, with trips to Vermeer’s home in Delft, the Netherlands, and also to London. With humor, intellectual curiosity and sheer determination, Tim recreates a masterpiece, and you get to go along for the ride.
April 17, 2015
Q. If every human somehow simply disappeared from the face of the Earth, how long would it be before the last artificial light source would go out?
Q. What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?” – Ponderables from What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Everyone’s wondered at one time or another (usually late at night, after the credits have rolled on Sharknado vs. Godzilla) what would happen if the irresistible force met the immovable object. Not that question specifically – that one’s more philosophical than anything – but more fun stuff. Like how many arrows, fired 300-style, would it take to blot out the sun? (Answer: Way too many, particularly if it’s at high noon, as in the movie. Archer density and rate of fire mitigate against light reduction, unless it’s at dawn or dusk, when shadow elongation might just get the job done.) Or how many Yodas worth of Force energy would we need to ensure our energy independence? (Answer: Yoda generates a back-of-the-napkin 19.2kW of power to lift Luke’s X-wing off Dagobah. Each Yoda is worth roughly $2/hour at average electricity rates, so the world would need roughly a hundred million Yodas, also known as a green of Yodas.)
Both the aforementioned questions are explored and answered in Randall Munroe’s cheeky What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, full of meticulous research and the same droll stick figure art as in his webcomic xkcd. Many of the questions posed in What If? end hilariously and/or tragically. For example, nothing good happens when a baseball is pitched at 90% of the speed of light, from the point of view of the pitcher, batter, stadium or surrounding city, although Major League Baseball would at least be able to record the at-bat as “hit by pitch.”
So when you’re up at three AM, and you’re wondering which planet or moon other than Earth would have the most appropriate atmosphere for a Cessna to fly in (weirdly enough, turns out it’s the low gravity of Saturn’s moon Titan), rest assured that this book has your back, and so do we. Place a hold on it today, and please don’t try assembling a display of all the elements. You’d be in trouble long before you hit the transuranics!
April 10, 2015
So begins A Wizard of Earthsea, the first volume of the epic Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin. Ever heard of it? Forty years before the turrets and dungeons of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry ever existed, there was the island of Roke and its magnificent Great House- the wizard school of Earthsea where even the greatest wizards started their journeys as children and apprentices. The series is geared toward young adults, features a great deal of magic and mayhem and restoration, takes advantage of a really unique setting (an archipelago!) and its natural tendency to isolate and compartmentalize cultures, and includes a few of the absolute coolest dragons in literary existence. Even better, the author is an Oregonian! How could this book NOT deserve a read?
A Wizard of Earthsea follows who is perhaps the greatest of them all – a wizard named Ged, who began his life as a boy named Sparrowhawk and rose to become a both dragonlord and an Archmage, but not, of course, before making some really bad decisions and putting the entire world in peril.
In the first few chapters, you’ll see the same sort of “dormroom drama” that became so integral to Harry Potter and made even the scenes of everyday life at school feel real and interesting. Ged, who arrives at the school as a wizard of much power and potential but very little knowledge, enters into a grim rivalry with an older student, whose arrogance only feeds Ged’s ego and sense of superiority. This leads to… well, I suppose I ought to let you find out. Copies of this first novel, and its sequels, are readily available through WCCLS. Get your copy today!
April 7, 2015
American Ghost, by Hannah Nordhaus, is not your average ghost story. First of all, it’s nonfiction. Second, the aim of this book isn’t to creep readers out with extra spooky details. Instead, the book is about the author’s journey to learn about the life of her great-great-grandmother, Julia Staab, who is New Mexico’s most famous ghost. After hearing many stories about her ghostly ancestor, who supposedly haunts La Posada, a hotel in Santa Fe that used to be the family home, Nordhaus set out to find the truth behind the legend. Not only did she conduct more traditional genealogical research to learn the history of the Staab family, but even consulted psychics, ghost hunters, and a dowser to see if she could get in touch with her grandmother’s spirit. Nordhaus weaves both factual history, less factual legend, and her own research story together to make one very fascinating narrative. This is a must read for fans of both American history and the supernatural!