Happy Birthday, Antonio Banderas!

The great Antonio Banderas turns 55 today! Wow! Hard to believe this one-time heartthrob qualified for AARP benefits five years ago, but it’s true. Since we’re fond of lists around these parts, I’ll go ahead and list my favorite Banderas projects in a few loose categories:

Action Movies

Antonio has certainly done his fair share of small and big budget action thrillers, but for my money, these are his best:

Desperado – Modern, south-of-the-border shoot-em up featuring the luminous Selma Hayek.

The 13th Warrior – Anachronistic but entertaining adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel Eaters Of The Dead.

Assassins – Antonio and Sly Stallone blowin’ stuff up? Sign me up for some of that.

 

Romantic Turns

Romance, you say? Antonio was seemingly born to play romantic roles! But I can really only mention one in particular that I have seen:

EvitaAntonio and Madonna sing and dance their way through this 1990s update of a musical classic!

 

Voice Work

Mr. Banderas has done a surprising amount of voice work for animation. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Shrek 2 – Antonio steals the show as Puss-n-Boots in this hilarious sequel to the original.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water – Mr. Banderas plays the bad guy in this one, and he delights in hamming it up while doing so!

With such a storied career, Mr. Banderas is almost certain to have starred in something you’ve loved too! Join me in wishing him many more great years of movie magic!

–Scott P.

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I Say, You Say, We All Essay

Remember essays? You know, those structured paragraphs of writing that were graded for how well they conformed to the prescribed formula that your fifth grade teacher dictated? Yeah, those. They’re baaaaaaaaack.  And before you delete this post for the cringe-worthy feelings it might evoke of writer’s block and broken pencils (remember pencils?) there’s something you need to know about The Essay: Today’s essays are not the essays of your elementary school days. They’re better. Much better.

Like that kid who was the bane of your existence, The Essay also has grown up and evolved and has a heart and a soul. If it isn’t obvious, I love essays. And in another shocker, I admit that I was one of those kids who loved writing them, too …five sentence paragraphs and all. (I often took some liberties in my essay writing, but that’s another post for another day.)

I love essays in the same way I love short stories – although the two are very different. For me, it’s all about time. Essays (and short stories) are perfect for shorter chunks of time, like a lunch hour or 15 minutes before going to bed or waiting for someone.

Maybe it has been awhile since you read an essay. If so, the Library has a great selection to choose from. True Stories Well ToldAt the top of my list is Creative Nonfiction, one of my favorite magazines and perhaps my favorite form of writing. I like Lee Gutkind’s description; as the editor and founder of Creative Nonfiction the magazine as well as several books on the subject, he knows a few things about essays and whatnot. (Pictured: True Stories Well Told, from the first 20 years of Creative Nonfiction Magazine and one of the books currently on my nightstand.)

“In some ways, creative nonfiction is like jazz—it’s a rich mix of flavors, ideas, and techniques, some of which are newly invented and others as old as writing itself,” Gutkind writes on his magazine’s website. “Creative nonfiction can be an essay, a journal article, a research paper, a memoir, or a poem; it can be personal or not, or it can be all of these.”

Creative Nonfiction offers tremendous content; some pieces are from well-known authors and others are by writers who have never submitted anything for publication. It’s compelling journalism and every issue is different. Best of all, it is published right here in Pittsburgh and has a devoted readership that extends well beyond our bridges.

Additional essay collections that I’ve enjoyed recently include:

Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit  You may know the name Rebecca Solnit from her now-viral essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” which launched the book of the same name. You might also think that this is a humorous essay collection, but aside from the first essay it isn’t. Solnit writes honestly about a range of women’s issues and social justice topics.

Whatever … Love is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves, by Maria Bello We’ve already discussed this back on June 9 in this Eleventh Stack post, but it’s so good that it is worth highlighting again.

I consider Anne Lamott a national treasure and love her writing. If you haven’t experienced her particular blend of religion, politics, self-reflection, parenting wisdom and advice from the school of life, start with Small Victories: Improbable Moments of Grace, which is a collection of previous and newly-published essays.  And after that, go back and read all of her work. (Except her novels. You can skip those.)

In This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett does, indeed, write about her marriage and a lot more, including writing.

Reading these essays has made me want to read more of Roxane Gay, Barbara Kingsolver, classics by Virginia Woolf, and—although I am partial to female writers—male essayists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Baldwin, Henry David Thoreau, Oscar Wilde, Adam Gopnik and David Foster Wallace.

Who am I missing?  What say you?

~ Melissa F.

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Back to School Countdown

This time last year was tough for me. My first born was getting ready to start kindergarten and every night I laid awake in bed wondering where the years had gone. I bawled my eyes out after she got on the bus and I even hightailed it to the school to watch her walk in the doors for the first time. Slowly we found a rhythm and while there were a few bumps in the road she had a good year.

This August, as the new school year (and first grade) approaches, I am still a little sad to be sending my baby off to school but also excited for her to head back to class, make new friends, and learn even more about herself and the world around her.

If you are getting your kids ready for kindergarten (or 1st or 2nd grade) here are some fun picture books we have been reading around my house that may help you with the transition from summer to school!

bookcover11 Experiments That Failed by Offill & Carpenter

This book is the literary embodiment of my daughter. Crazy science experiments that make big messes? Perfect. If you have a budding scientist on your hands they will love seeing their own crazy experiments mirrored in this picture book. Better for slightly older kids.

Mom, It’s my First Day of School by Hyewon Yumbookcover.php

I loved this book last year, and I still love it this year! Mom, It’s My First Day, takes the first day jitters and gives them to Mom, instead of the kid. The little boy reassures his mom that everything will fine and before she knows it he will be back home!

bookcover.phpAmelia Bedelia’s First Day of School By Herman Parish

I loved Amelia Bedelia as a kid, and I love the newer kid version too. Amelia makes some silly mistakes on her first day of school, but that is okay: school is for learning and with a brand new teacher to help her she is sure to make lots of fun memories this year!

Dinosaur Vs School by Bob Sheabookcover.php

The Dinosaur vs. series is a favorite in our house. In this installment Dinosaur heads off to school for the first time and the day is broken into segments that any pre-schooler or kindergartener would be familiar with; storytime, music, snacks, and, of course, clean up! Perfect for younger kids who are wondering exactly what they will do in school.

bookcover.phpSchool for Bandits by Hannah Shaw

Mr. and Mrs. Raccoon are worried about their son Ralph. His behavior is awful: he is thoughtful, clean and polite! How will he ever fit in at Raccoon Bandit School? Turns out it is okay to be yourself and being polite can be very good! Longer text.

Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintoshbookcover.php

Marshall Armstrong is very different from everyone else at school but that doesn’t mean you can’t be friends! Worried about making new friends? This is a great book to remind kids that everyone is different, and that’s okay, its our differences that make us special.

Firbookcoverst Grade Stinks by Mary Ann Rodman

Haley is worried about first grade because it is so different from kindergarten. But with a caring teacher and new friends she begins to love first grade as much as she loved kindergarten.

Let the count down to the first day BEGIN!

-Natalie

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Three Absurdist Short Story Collections

One of my favorite sections at the Main Library is the short story collection on First Floor. Every time I have occasion to walk back to the stacks that way, I linger (just for a minute!) over the books the wonderful First Floor librarians have put on display.

And let me tell you, they put some awesome books on display.

Recently I’ve discovered three absurdist / fabulist collections by new-ish writers that I absolutely loved. If you want to laugh, cry, shoot your breakfast cereal out through your nose or just enjoy a delightful story, I recommend checking out all three (or if you wanted to be conservative you could start with one, I guess, but don’t ask me to rank them).

grayAmelia Gray’s Museum of the Weird: This collection delivers on the title’s promise in a big way. The front cover features the weird objects from each story, illustrated and placed on pedestals with name tags, like something you’d find in a real-life museum: Plate of Hair. Armadillo With Miller High Life. Javelina Eating Sunflower Seeds. Human Tongue Sauteed in Buttermilk. The stories themselves plumb the depths of humanity in an off-kilter way. They often end short of a satisfying conclusion (what happened to the woman with a bezoar in her throat?!), and leave you with an unsettled feeling.

When Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen FoundsWhen Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds: Founds’ debut collection reads almost like a novel instead of a collection, except that each story can stand on its own. Taken all together, though, the book becomes a powerful meditation on mental illness, education and the joys and trials of love. The stories mainly follow an English teacher and several of her students, and take the form of school assignments, email exchanges, diary entries and more. About two-thirds of the way through the book, it gets rather dark, but the ending redeems it.

cohenThe Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen: Cohen tackles the bizarre world of online dating in this hefty collection of flash and short fiction. Cohen’s made-up dating site names alone are worth the read. Marryme.com, loveforreals.com and flirtypants.com appear on the second page, and the names get funnier as the book progresses. Some of the stories feature fantastical elements, like a mother who can literally remove her heart from her chest, but most compellingly highlight the strange things people do when they’re in love, think they’re in love or really want to be in love in a way that’s only a little bit exaggerated.

What’s your favorite absurd, bizarre or fabulist book?

-Kelly

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Bromance Has No Age Limit

For myriad reasons, I was having a crummy week. Fortunately, Land Ho!–written and directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz–was just the pick-me-up I needed.

Whilst catching up one day, Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson), a former surgeon with a raunchy streak, tells his taciturn ex-brother-in-law, Colin (Paul Eenhoorn), a former bank manager, that he’s bought them two tickets to Iceland. Reluctant to join Mitch at first, Colin eventually acquiesces and the adorable odd couple traverse the majestic land of Iceland.

And did I mention that they’re both senior citizens?

Despite the fact that they’re no longer linked by a marriage, Mitch and Colin’s friendship remains. Think about that for a moment:  the friendship these two forged was longer-lasting than a marriage, the supposed end-all, be-all of relationships. Speaking personally, I’ve had male friendships last much, much longer than my romantic relationships. Oftentimes I’d much rather be bro-ing it out with my bros than listening to a girl continually ask me if it’s cold outside or watching her obsessively pin things on Pinterest (this sentence brought to you by Iliza Schlesinger).

Image from RogerEbert.com - all rights reserved to the same - click through for a review of the film

Image from RogerEbert.com – all rights reserved to the same – click through for another review of the film

Even at their age, Mitch and Colin still wonder about what they’re going to do with their lives. Maybe that’s why I felt a connection to this movie. Hearing them talk about life was much more relatable than when, say, Lena Dunham complains about life. It comes across as much less whiny, to be sure. It got me thinking about life and its cyclic nature. The problems of life don’t subscribe to things like age restrictions.

Whoa, this just got way too serious. Let’s get back to what I liked about this film.

Like when I saw Ant-Man, I had a grin on my face for nearly every frame of film. At one point a fellow traveler is taking their picture in a hot spring and she remarks that the two friends make the picture. That’s true of the film as a whole. I loved the friendship between Mitch and Colin and I could totally see myself and a few of my guy friends embarking on a similar journey in half a century. Mitch came across as a bit too vulgar at times, but I feel like anyone in their sixties has earned the right to say whatever he wants. In fact, part of the humor is when Mitch and Colin act like teenagers—Mitch loves seeing girls in leggings. I don’t think I would have liked it nearly as much if the two leads were younger millennials. Seeing them dancing on the beaches of Iceland to the film’s title song was both surreal and oddly comforting.

And speaking of the soundtrack, it sounds like it stepped right out of the 80s (which was no accident). The synth-heavy songs, along with Keegan DeWitt’s dreamy score and the breathtakingly gorgeous scenery give the film an almost-ethereal quality. It’s basically a travelogue for Iceland. In fact, when the film ended I immediately placed a reserve for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, also filmed in the Nordic island nation (and one of my faves). I’ll have to live vicariously through film until I can visit the land of unpronounceable names. Seriously, Grundarfjörður? Reyðarfjörður? Kirkjubæjarklaustur?! How did they come up with these names?

Oh, that makes sense.

Makes sense.

So what didn’t I like?

Land Ho! is definitely in the mumblecore genre and the one problem I always have with such films is that I’ve never seen one with a satisfying ending (except for Frances Ha). I guess I was hoping for a more definite ending because these men are, for all intents and purposes, nearing the end of their lives. I suppose ignoring their ages and just telling the story is in keeping with the rest of the film, but to the mumblecore filmmakers I ask, is it too much to ask to just pick an ending?

If you don’t like mumblecore, or quiet character-driven films, then this probably isn’t for you. If you don’t think two sexagenarians road-tripping around Iceland is a realistic depiction of seniors, I defer to the epic bromance of Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here passing a few languid hours with this light, airy film. I forgot about my crummy week and felt happy while I watched it. What more can you ask for from a film?

Do you have a favorite bromance, fictional or otherwise? Have you ever been to Iceland? Let us know in the comments below!

–Ross

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Graphic Novels from a Woman’s POV 3

I used to be able to say that graphic novels were outside my comfort zone and a new reading endeavor for me. Now that I’m on my third post about graphic novels written by women (here are one and two) and the umpteenth one that mentions the genre, I don’t think I’m able to truthfully make that statement any longer.

My graphic novel journey began six years ago, when I was new to the First Floor and felt I needed to be more familiar with the format, in order to be able to talk to library customers about them. Fast forward and I now find myself reading more graphic novels than almost any other genre. They fit my lifestyle and, for the most part, make me laugh. I enjoy seeing myself in their stories and pictures. Plus, I am still the type of person that likes pictures in books. Bonus is that I can now comfortably discuss and recommend graphic novels to anyone. There’s such a wide variety of topics available in this format, that there is literally something that could appeal to anyone and everyone.

So here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell – Based on the title, I thought this book might be more titillating that it turned out to be. (I’ve read some that are for sure!) Turns out we are the voyeurs observing the author’s life. But also, she’s the voyeur observing, and possibly over-analyzing, her own life. This book made me glad that I’m not an artist or author. It seems that the self-doubt and paranoia can be soul-crushing. Kudos to all of those who are able to overcome these feeling and produce the works we all enjoy. Bonus feature: There was a brief appearance by my second favorite graphic novelist!

Journal: February 2011-October 2012 by Julie Delporte – This peek into the daily life of an artist in post-break-up status is raw, but visually beautiful. She purposefully shies away from using black in her doodling and journaling pallet because it’s safe, and the last things she feels, or wants to feel currently, is safe. Her little drawings on each page are miniature works of art. The daily entries are akin to stream of consciousness writing at times. Watching her journey to discovering herself as an artist is intellectually satisfying.

Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger – This book is visually stunning from cover to cover. It is a pictorial synopsis of designer Christian Dior’s career, from his first collection as a solo designer to his untimely death, through the eyes of one of his “young ladies”, which is what his runway models were called. Although the protagonist in the story is fictional, the other people, and most importantly, the designs pictured are factual. This book was originally published in French and is basically a love letter to Dior and everything he represented. A timeline of his life, short biographies’ of his well-known associates and supporters, list of all his fashion collections and glossary of fashion terms are included at the end. I leave you with these parting words from Christian Dior’s Little Dictionary of Fashion (1954), “Uncomfortable shoes will alter your gait and harm your elegance.” Truer words were never spoken.

But I Really Wanted to Be an Anthropologist by Margaux Motin – True to life comics of the days, and nights, of a fashion-obsessed, French wife and mother of a young girl. Watch her try to “hint” to her husband what she wants for her birthday, navigate life with a preschooler who parrots the words of her mother at the most inopportune times and deal with her post-pregnancy body. This book talks to you like you’re one of her girlfriends. And since she lives in Paris, that’s what I want to be!

On Loving Women by Diane Obomsawin – In this collection of stories, French Canadian lesbians tell their tales about realizing their sexual orientation, first loves, and first “times.” They are all variations on a theme, but each individual follows a slightly different route. If you can get over the people in each story being replaced by anthropomorphized animal-like creatures, you’ll discover very human tales of coming-out and becoming comfortable with yourself.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures by Caroline Preston – Opening this book is like discovering your great-grandmother’s scrapbook in the attic. You can’t help yourself. You sit right down in place and begin flipping through the pages — marveling at the assortment of old photographs and clippings from magazines and newspapers. What’s even better is that there’s a story here for you to read. You don’t have to try and figure out the meaning of the ticket stub, the pressed flower or that scrap of fabric. Before you know it, you’ve spent the better part of the afternoon absorbed in another time period. And you realize you’ve been rooting for the scrapbook keeper to find fame, fortune and love.

Will You Still Love Me if I Wet the Bed by Liz Prince – Liz is one of my top four favorite graphic artists/novelists right now. (The others being Lucy Knisley, who is number one; Jeffrey Brown, as you already have learned above, is number two; and the team of Hubert and Kerascoët are number four, just FYI.) This book is super short, a small, graphic novel that is full of laughs. It took me less than an hour to read, but I kept stopping to show comics to my boyfriend, accompanied by comments like, “This is TOTALLY us!” and “You’ve/I’ve done this on more than one occasion.” This is a hilarious and sweet look at relationships and it doesn’t hurt that my second favorite graphic artist drew the preface!

-Melissa M.

P.S. Turns out that I unknowingly had a theme this time. Four of the seven books above were originally published in another language and subsequently translated into English. We have graphic novels from all countries. Fun fact!

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July Recap

Team Eleventh Stack has enjoyed another sunny month of summer Library adventures. Here’s a look back at the topics we blogged about in July 2015.

Ross finally got to see Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. He also looked forward to The Voices and read a book that made him want to gouge his eyes out. Elsewhere in movie madness, Tara explored some amusing taglines.

It’s a thin line between love and hate, and some of our bloggers explored that this month. Irene mused about unlikable characters and shared some of her secret talentsScott, for his part, gave voice to his love for Tumblr and paid tribute to one of his local TV heroes with a post in a similar delivery style.

Kayla shared how The Girl on the Train helped her with her summer reading goal. Suzy also wrote about her reading goals (feminist classics) for the Adult Summer Reading program. As of this writing, she has not freaked out.

Ginny recommended some books to go along with your favorite podcasts and asked for your input about what her book club should read next. Elsewhere in technological advances, Kelly rejoiced over Hoopla’s new digital comics content. We’re pretty sure she’s reading a digital comic right now, too.

"Woman Reading in a Forest," by Gyula Benczúr. Via Wikimedia Commons/Google Art project - click through for source page/details.

“Woman Reading in a Forest,” by Gyula Benczúr. Via Wikimedia Commons/Google Art project – click through for source page/details.

Many team members reviewed single titles this month. Melissa F. offered some thoughts on Pittsburgh native Gerald Stern’s new poetry collection, Divine NothingnessJoelle was moonstruck by Neal Stephenson’s new novel, SevenevesAbbey finished Go Set a Watchman before the rest of us, and wasn’t all that impressed. Meanwhile, Eric was completely blown away by the sci-fi anthology Mothership.

Jess celebrated a milestone birthday with some classic callbacks and spilled some book club secrets. She may or may not still be reading under an umbrella. Meanwhile, Leigh Anne ran around trying to convince you that exercise doesn’t have to be awful. She may or may not be exhausted.

Last, but certainly not least, Eleventh Stack featured two great guest posts this month. Whitney Z. confessed her affinity for robots, while Sheila explained how she’s stumbled across some of her favorite books and authors over the years.

Now that you’re all caught up on what you may have missed in July, we hope you’ll stick with us for bloggish adventures in August and beyond. Summer’s not over yet, and the wealth of Library-related goodness we have to share with you is just beginning.

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