Read Harder: Vol. 4

This year, I plan on chronicling my adventures with Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge.

Time for a graphic novel, friends. The charge is to find a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years and here are a few that fit the bill just fine…

 

In Lady Killerwritten by Jamie S. Rich and illustrated by Joelle Jones, Josie is the picture perfect ’60s housewife. Or is she? The strain of caring for her husband and daughters while balancing her career as a trained assassin is starting to take a toll on her life. Can this lady really have it all?

Sydney Padua’s The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage is a fun bit of speculative fiction – Charles Babbage, inventor and machinist, was essentially the inventor of the computer; Ada, Countess of Lovelace, was a proto-programmer, who translated and added on to Babbage’s notes. Neither completed their work, but Padua wonders what if they had…

Jane, the Fox & Me was written by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, and translated from French by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou. Hélène is a lonely outcast at her school, with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre as her only consolation. After a brief encounter with a fox on a school camping trip, she begins to come out of her shell to embrace life.

Written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by her cousin Jillian Tamaki, This One Summer is a coming of age story about Rose and Windy, neighbors at a summer rental community. Rose is trying to navigate her mother’s depression and her interest in the boys who hang out at the small store where they rent horror movies. Windy, a few years younger, is still a bit silly but understands more about adults than she lets on.

Any other suggestions?

— Jess

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Victoria: A One Shot Film

Victoria_film

Victoria ponders her fate. Image from andsoitbeginsfilms.com. Click through for source.

We open on a young woman, possibly alone, dancing in a nightclub with strobe lights ominously flashing around her. On the way out of the club she runs into four cheeky German men. The men talk and goof around with our female protagonist, and then ask her to come hang out with them, to which she concedes. This happens in about the first 10 minutes of the movie, but everything that happens afterward is a direct consequence of that one impulsive late night decision.

At this point in the film we learn that the titular character, Victoria, is from Spain and has been temporarily living in Berlin. Her German isn’t very good, but her English is passable. She shares some drinks with her new friends, and strikes up a flirtation with one of them. But what starts out as light-hearted hijinks at 4:30 am eventually swerves into darker and more dangerous territory, as Victoria is coerced into participating in her German companions’ dangerous plans.

victoria1-352x480While the plot may sound like your standard issue crime drama — with an innocent finding herself in the wrong place/time with the wrong people — Victoria turns out to be something a little different. This is largely due to the thrilling and unusual way it was filmed, with everything we see on screen being captured in a single shot. That’s right, no cuts. Films such as Birdman and Rope are lauded for being shot in long takes that are then cut together to feel like everything is happening in one take, but very few movies are actually shot using one long take (a couple that come to mind are Russian Ark and Timecode).

In interviews the director has talked about his process, and the challenges of filming a 2-hour-plus movie (it clocks in at 138 minutes) in over 20 different locations throughout the city of Berlin; because there are no cuts, and no edits, the director and actors must have constantly felt like they were walking on a tightrope, just hoping that some random person on the streets of Berlin didn’t mess up a scene. In the end, Victoria was filmed three times (after much rehearsing) and then the best take was chosen as the eventual film. The “one take” filming process could be viewed as a stunt, but in this case, I think it really works to serve the story. The tension built from the tightrope walk of the actors and filming crew adds to the ratcheting tension of the story line, as Victoria is drawn into more and more dangerous situations.

Still, even with the tense story line, my favorite thing about this movie has to be the performances — especially the astounding lead performance from relative newcomer Laia Costa. She won the Best Actress award at last year’s German Film Awards, and boy did she earn it. There is not a single scene in Victoria where she is not present, and the movie would simply not work without her performance.

If you’re a fan of foreign or independent cinema, you should absolutely see this movie. Or, even if you’re not and you just want to experience something a little different, I recommend giving Victoria a try.

What about you, dear readers? Have you watched anything good recently? What do you recommend?

Happy viewing,

Tara

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Bibliotherapy and Me

I’ve become intrigued with the field of bibliotherapy, having been the recipient of a few recent articles forwarded from Facebook friends who have told me that I should consider becoming a bibliotherapist when I grow up.*If you’re unfamiliar with bibliotherapy, it involves much more than suggesting a good book to someone going through a difficult time. Our colleagues at the American Library Association (ALA) offer the following description and background:

“The use of books selected on the basis of content in a planned reading program designed to facilitate the recovery of patients suffering from mental illness or emotional disturbance. Ideally, the process occurs in three phases: personal identification of the reader with a particular character in the recommended work, resulting in psychological catharsis, which leads to rational insight concerning the relevance of the solution suggested in the text to the reader’s own experience. Assistance of a trained psychotherapist is advised.” —bibliotherapy in ODLIS, Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science.

In 1966, the Association of Hospital and Institution Libraries, then a division of the American Library Association, issued a statement on nomenclature accepting the following definition:

“Bibliotherapy: The use of selected reading materials as therapeutic adjuvants in medicine and psychiatry; also guidance in the solution of personal problems through directed reading.” (AHIL Quarterly, Summer 1966, p. 18.)

For as long as I can remember, books have always been a source of comfort for me during times of personal struggle.  Like many teenage girls who grew up in the ’80s, my formative years were spent with Judy BlumeMargaret and Deenie made me feel less alone and Davey (Tiger Eyes) showed me that life can go on after the death of one’s father. Other books were transformative during our infertility journey, parenting a child with autism and many other life challenges.

novelcureI’m a believer in literary kismet, the happenstance of discovering the right book at precisely the right time.  And nothing makes me happier than matching a reader with a book that gives them new knowledge or insight — or simply some comfort or respite from the problems and worries at hand.

Bibliotherapy is more than this, of course. It involves specialized training and knowledge. Still, it’s a concept that I find fascinating and interesting to ponder.

In the meantime, while my job here at CLP isn’t one of a librarian, I love that I’m able to participate in opportunities to share my favorite books.  Those of you who have visited one of our neighborhood locations may have noticed that some books (and DVDs and CDs, too!) have slips of paper tucked inside as bookmarks, indicating that it’s a “Staff Pick.”  Displays in the libraries often highlight books that staff have selected as especially noteworthy. (My personal staff picks will be on display at the Main Library in Oakland next week. If you have a chance to visit, I’d love to know what you think!)

Who knows?  Someday when I grow up, I might explore the possibility of pursuing bibliotherapy more seriously.  (* Note to my bosses: I’m perfectly happy in my current job, thank you.)

And if I do, then I know I’m in the right place.

For more on bibliotherapy, check out our catalog offerings here.

What are some of the books that helped you through a difficult or challenging time in your life?

-Melissa F.

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Hero or Traitor?

serialAnyone else here obsessed with the Serial podcast? I listened to the whole first season in one sitting. Yes, that’s 12 hours. No, I didn’t talk to anyone or move.

If you aren’t familiar with the series, it’s from the creators of This American Life with host Sarah Koenig. It tells one true story over the course of a season; hence the name.

The first season was a riveting story about Adnan Syed, a young man — wrongfully? — convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee in 1999. Using court documents, police interrogations, witness interviews and even driving tests, Koenig found far more information than was ever revealed in court. In fact, her investigation led to an appeal in Syed’s case (currently pending).

Season two follows another case: that of Robert Bowdrie Bergdahl, better known as Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl is the Army soldier captured in Afghanistan and held captive (and tortured) for five years by the Taliban. The circumstances of his capture and release have generated a lot of controversy. Donald Trump called for his execution. Is he a traitor? Is he a hero? Why did he leave his post? Was he working with the Taliban? Is he just a dumb kid who made a terrible, life-altering mistake? Koenig articulately captures the frustration of Bergdahl with his superiors, as well as the frustration and anger of the soldiers tasked with “rescuing” him. I hate to be the one that tells you, but you never really find out the answers. In December, Bergdahl was charged with one count of desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty (Article 85) and one count of misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place (Article 99).

AP Photo/U.S. Army, file

AP Photo/U.S. Army, file

I wanted to read more about Bergdahl himself, but it turns out that no one has written a book about him! Sebastian Junger should get on this. I did find this list of books to read if you’re addicted to season two of Serial. And while lists don’t usually do it for me, I read two of them: one from each end of the spectrum.

NoWayOutNo Way Out: A Story of Valor in the Mountains of Afghanistan, Mitch Weiss and Kevin Maurer

I have read very few books about the Afghanistan War, even though it’s been going on most of my adult life, and I am friends with people that served there. Part of me thinks it’s surreal to read about a war that is still happening. And maybe part of me doesn’t want to know. No Way Out is the story of a Special Forces team dropped into an enemy-held valley with the mission to capture a terrorist leader. Instead they were ambushed, stuck in the Afghanistan mountains, continuously attacked by machine gun fire and rocked-propelled grenades. It’s fast-paced, especially the battle scenes, and you often have to remind yourself that you are reading non-fiction. This actually happened. While learning about the war, the battle and the weaponry, you are also introduced to individual soldiers, which makes the book better, but harder to read. When the battled ended, 10 soldiers were awarded the Silver Star, the Army’s third highest award for combat valor.

GuantanamoGuantánamo Diary, Mohamedou Ould Slahi

This is the first (and only) diary written by a Guantánamo detainee. Mohamedou Slahi has been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba since 2002. It is very easy to think of the remaining 93 Guantánamo prisoners as faceless, nameless, American-hating religious extremists. But then there’s this German-trained engineer from Canada. In his third year he began a diary. By turns darkly funny and terrifying, Slahi recounts his life “before” U.S. custody. Page upon page of text have been black-bar redacted by the United States government. Slahi has never been charged with a crime. A federal judge ordered his release in 2010. The U.S. government appealed. Slahi remains in U.S. custody.

Serial fans, how did you feel about the last episode? Does Bergdahl seem like a traitor?

For the record, I think he was far more “dumb kid” than “needs to be executed.”

suzy

 

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Greek Food Festival Season

realgreekHello everyone, if I’ve seemed grumpy for the past several months, I apologize.  I’m pretty sure I suffer from undiagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder.  But now I’m ready to talk, ready to smile and ready to come out of my hibernation.  I love spring and summer, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this happens to be the time of year when my favorite events start popping up: Greek Food Festivals.  I think we should just call this time of year Greek Food Festival season.  

The season kicks off with the Saint Nicholas Festival in Oakland, right across the street from the Main Library. Usually the season ends with Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in the North Hills, with several others in between.  Last year we were extra lucky, with Saint Nicholas doing a mini festival in the fall.

I’m not Greek, so I don’t know what it is about Greek food and culture, but dining out, enjoying a glass of wine, listening to the Greek band and enjoying Greek dance equals an amazing spring/summer evening.  My kids often end up dancing when audience members are invited to join the dancers, and it’s an all around good time. This year I intend to recreate some of the Greek food festival flavors at home.  

I don’t have much experience making Greek food.  I’ve made this spanikopita recipe several times, I’ve made some Greek salads, and I’ve made this honey cake, but other than that, not very much. That will change this year with the help of my garden, some local businesses and some Greek cookbooks from the library.

My garden this year is being planned with the end goal of cooking Greek food in mind.  I’m planting cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, lettuce and more.  We also have useful perennials like mint, sage, thyme and oregano that will be useful in celebrating the glory of Greek food.  I also plan on utilizing ingredients from some of Pittsburgh’s Mediterranean supermarkets like Pita Land in Brookline, the Greek Gourmet in Squirrel Hill and Groceria Merante in Oakland.  

Some of the books I’ve looked at so far are:    

ikariaIkaria: Lessons on Food, Life and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die by Diane Kochilas — The subtitle of this one says it all: recipes that are healthy and delicious, to be enjoyed slowly with friends and family.  

The Greek Vegetarian: More than 100 Recipes Inspired by the Traditional Dishes and Flavors of Greece by Diane Kochilas Another great selection by the author of Ikaria. To me Greek cooking evokes fresh and delicious vegetables.  The first thing I plan on making from this book is the Spinach and bechamel lasagne.    

The Real Greek at Home: Dishes from the Heart of the Greek Kitchen by Theodore Kyriakou — Great cookbook with excellent photography and information on the ingredients.  

 

 

By far my favorite title has been this one, so please give it a try:

The Greek Cook: Simple Seasonal Food by Rena Salaman — There are several things I love about this book.  One is that it is divided into seasons.  I try to cook using what is fresh and in season; it’s cheaper and more delicious.  Another thing I love about this book is the excellent photography of all of the recipes.  One precaution about this one though, some of the recipes don’t have volume measurements, which got me into trouble when I was making a recipe and it called for 3 oz of Greek yogurt, and I didn’t have a scale (although some of the ingredients in the recipe did include volume measurements too).  Other than that, this is a great cookbook.  

Unrelated note:  While you’re requesting all of the above cookbooks, you should also check out My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is one of my wife’s favorite movies.  Its sequel is in theaters now, maybe good viewing before heading off to one of the Greek food festivals listed above!  

Enjoy Greek Food Festival season!

-Scott M.

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A Legend For All Times – Beverly Cleary

motorcyclemouseToday is the 100th birthday of outstanding children’s author Beverly Cleary.  She is most well-known for her funny, laugh-aloud, homespun tales featuring Henry Huggins, Beezus, Ramona (the Pest) and the Mouse and the Motorcycle, all beloved characters who have stood the test of time and are still well-read today.

Aside from a biography about Queen Elizabeth and her playhouse, which I mentioned several years ago on this blog, the earliest “novel” I recall reading was the Luckiest Girl by Beverly Cleary.  It was published in 1958 — just imagine!  It was a coming of age story for pre-teens, a romance which set in place my longstanding partiality for this genre.  I think I must have read it in 1962 around the age of 12.

The cover depicted a girl in a pink raincoat with a black velvet collar.  Shelley, the girl, wanted a yellow slicker like all of the other girls in her class, but her parents refused and Shelley was stuck with the pink coat.  She stood out like a sore thumb, much to her dismay and humiliation.  I really identified with Shelley.  My parents were strict and we had little extra money to indulge me and my sisters in the latest trends of kids’ fashion.  Typically we got three new outfits as the school year began and they rotated with our older clothes, which in turn became hand-me-downs.  I was the luckiest girl in my family as I was the oldest.

luckiestgirlI can clearly remember having a huge fight with my dad over whether or not I could wear lipstick in 7th grade to my Confirmation!  He finally relented as my mother, aunts and teenage neighbor girls — Judy, Linda and Sis, pleaded my case.  I only wear lipstick now on special occasions, probably some deep-seeded, principle-only victory.

Shelley — the Luckiest Girl — got a reprieve when she was sent for the school year to live in California with an old friend of her mom’s.  There, she gets a taste of freedom she never imagined at home.  And when she meets Hartley, a boy who wants to be a writer, and Philip, a boy on the basketball team, what a dilemma — sigh! It’s first love.  This book was bound to make a lasting impression on a young, wanna-be rebel girl like me.

Happy birthday and thanks, Beverly Cleary.  Ms. Cleary lives in California and is assured an enduring place in children’s literature, having won the Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw and having had both Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and Ramona and Her Father named as Newbery Honor Books. Cleary also won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association for “substantial and lasting contributions to children’s literature”.  She was a great read then, as she is now.

Introduce her books to your young friends.

-Sheila J.

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“I Paint So That I Don’t Have to Talk”: The Art of Drew Struzan

Back in December when we were reflecting on all the Star Wars-related materials the Library has, I briefly touched on the majestic music of John Williams. Today I want to talk about another artist who was first introduced to me via Star Wars–Drew Struzan.

If that name doesn’t ring a bell, what about names like Indiana Jones, John Rambo or Harry Potter? Now there’s probably so much bell-ringing in your ears you should make an appointment with an audiologist. You might not recognize Drew Struzan’s name, but you’ve certainly seen his work, whether it’s in the form of an album cover, a book jacket or one of his over-150 movie posters.

Some of his most famous movie posters are collected in Drew Struzan: Oeuvre and The Art of Drew Struzan. From Hook to Hellboy, The Thing to The Walking Dead, Blade Runner to Batkid Begins, Struzan’s work is instantly recognizable and unquestionably beautiful. The books also include some of his studio work, like portraits of his grandchildren and his own interpretation of Baba Yaga. I’m someone who can barely draw stick figures, so I admire an artist like Struzan—his drawings and paintings almost look like photographs.

For more on Struzan beyond the art, I highly recommend the 2013 documentary Drew: The Man Behind the Poster. It reveals a placid, taciturn family man, like the sweet grandfather everyone wants. While the details of his early life are fascinating, hearing him talk about his work is the most interesting aspect of the documentary. Regarding movie posters, he says how important it is for a poster to not only sell the movie’s premise but also evoke the feeling or emotion of the movie. In a world where most movie posters consist of awful photoshopped giant heads, Struzan’s work has a classiness to it that harkens back to a golden age of cinema, when the multiplex was a portal to another world of imagination and wonder. Often imitated, but seldom replicated, you can look at a movie poster by Struzan and know exactly what kind of movie you’re going to see.

If you’re a fan of Steven Spielberg or Star Wars (read: everyone), or if you just like good art, you should check him out.

–Ross

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