A word about the Library…


I know that Sundays are when we usually talk about books and movies, but today, I think it’s important to take a moment and reflect on the power of libraries in our communities, especially in difficult times.  libraries are always terrific resources; always sources of fun and learning.  But they are so much more, besides.  Time and time again, we see libraries and librarians bringing communities together in the midst of tragedy and adversity, and today is the day to celebrate the good they do in the hardest of times.

Tragically, this week, Cynthia Hurd, manager of St. Andrews Regional Library branch of the Charleston County Public Library, was killed at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  Hurd worked at the St. Andrews Library for 31 years, and, according to an article from Library Journal, was also the longest serving part-time librarian at the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library.  Reflections on her and her work have been pouring in, noting how she encouraged children to read, to work on homework assignments, and college applications and, how later, those patrons returned to the library with children of their own.  In a quote from the Charleston Post and CourierKim Odom, manager of the nearby John Dart branch library, (and a patron of Hurd’s library as a child) said:

“She really opened up to me what library service meant,” Odom said. “(It’s) not just a building where you come for storytime but a place where you really can get help … whether it is helping someone with a resume or helping them use a computer a little bit better.”

In Dr. ZhivagoBoris Pasternak wrote, “You in others–this is your soul. This is what you are…your life in others.”  In reading about Hurd’s dedication to her job, and to her patrons, about the lives she touched and changed for the better, it is clear the memory she left behind is one that will long be remembered, even as we learn that the St. Andrews library is to be renamed in Hurd’s honor.

Another reminder of the power of libraries came several weeks ago, when the Ferguson Public Library was named the Library of the Year by Library Journal.  Even during the most turbulent days in that town, the Ferguson Library remained the one agency in town to keep its doors open and support all its citizens.  Teachers held classes there when schools were closed, and the library hosted educational programming for some 200 children in a nearby church during the day; the U.S. Small Business Administration set up a temporary disaster loan outreach center there for business owners; but most importantly, the library remained a space where people could talk, could share, and could begin to rebuild.  With the donations that came pouring into the library during this time, Library Director Scott Bonner, established a collection of books on community development and problem solving.  He also placed a call to Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Library during the unrest there in April, supporting the library’s decision to remain open even when other schools and other business were closed to the public.

A sign at the entrance of the Ferguson Municipal Public Library.
A sign at the entrance of the Ferguson Municipal Public Library.

In recognition of his work, Bonner was awarded the second annual Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity, an award established by the American Library Association, and Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler.  Along with a cash prize, the recipient of this award is also given “an odd, symbolic object”.  As Handler has yet to accept his award, we’re not sure what he’ll be getting, but if last year’s award is any indication, it will be deeply meaningful, as well as unique.

The first recipient of the Lemony Snicket Award was Laurence Copel, the founder of the Lower 9th Ward Street Library in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Copel first saw the Lower 9th Ward, one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina, in 2009.  After noting how little progress was being made on rebuilding the area, and the lack of support for the people living there, she left her job at the New York Public Library and moved to New Orleans with a suitcase full of children’s books in June, 2010.  She accepted donations and peddled her bike around local neighborhoods, handing out books and reading to children all summer long.  Through her outreach work and fundraising (including a Book Parade that features kids dressed as their favorite literary characters), Copel has recently opened a brick-and-mortar library, and debuted a bookmobile that doesn’t require peddles.  In recognition of her work, Copel’s “odd” object from Mr. Snicket was a platter, illustrated by Mo Willems, beloved author of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and so very much more, showing her on her book bike.


I don’t know if there are words to adequately express the heartbreak that we have faced in the news recently, or how we are to move on appropriately.  What I can do is reiterate the words of the very wise Mr. Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

These librarians are the helpers.  Their libraries have provided a haven for good, even in the scariest of time.  And while we know very well how lucky we are everyday, we, too, want to be the helpers.  Today, we can do that by saluting these brave, intrepid, and honorable librarians and the work that they do.

To learn more about the Library of the Year Award, click here.

To learn more about the Lemony Snicket Award, click here.

Saturdays @ the South: Death in Paradise

Hello, Harry!

Ah, summertime when thoughts turn towards sandy beaches, gentle waves, tropical drinks, warm breezes and untimely death. Wait… what was that last one? Nope, that’s not a typo. This week’s South Branch post features all of these unlikely qualities coming together in the British television hit Death in Paradise.

If the idea of sitting on a beach leaves you worrying that you’ll be vacuuming sand out of crevices in your car, house and just about anywhere else that ubiquitous little grain can end up, try a beach “staycation” this summer with Death in Paradise. This little gem of a show (Season 4 premieres on Wed, June 24th on PBS) infuses a wry, British wit with a traditional murder-mystery detective series and incorporates a cast of quirky, colorful characters that just may have you thinking that your couch is as good a place as any to soak up some island warmth.

Set on the idyllic, fictional island of Saint-Marie  (a neighbor of Guadeloupe where the show is actually filmed), a London investigator is stationed in the capital, Honoré. Equipped with sharp wits but no air conditioning, the detective is expected to navigate island life while solving the murders of the people who seem to drop dead on this little island at a disproportionately high rate. The series has seen two detective inspectors: D.I. Richard Poole, who is plagued by the island’s perpetual cheeriness and laissez-faire attitude, hates the sand and sun, believes in “properly” dressing daily in a wool suit and longs for an English cuppa tea. After his exit (and no, I won’t tell you how or why; no spoilers here!), we meet D.I. Humphrey Goodman, far better suited to island life, but equally as quirky and brilliant as D.I. Poole. Locked-room murders, fun side shenanigans, and a lizard named Harry (that’s him in the top picture) are just a sampling of what you can expect from this  light, entertaining series.

91bGXpgSNjL._SL1500_        91cZJ6nG77L._SY606_       DeathInParadise_S3

If you prefer to begin a series at the beginning, the South Branch owns all of the first three seasons of Death in Paradise. Check them out to be in the know when the fourth season starts or just to enjoy a little escapism from the unpredictable (and not always summer-like) New England weather!

If you’re looking for more murder without the mayhem, try checking out these selections:

Sugar and Iced by Jenn McKinlay

3537142In keeping with the murder-in-unlikely-places theme, Jenn McKinlay’s Cupcake Bakery Mysteries indulge readers as two artisan cupcake bakers in sunny Arizona end up getting tangled in murder mysteries. In this adventure, Melanie and Angie are baking an elaborate cupcake display for the local beauty pageant, when one of the judges is found dead– underneath their display. In order to keep murder out of their business profile, they’ll have to work with the police to find the culprit.  Light, breezy and a great summer read, McKinlay is always kind enough to include a few recipes of the cupcake creations she mentions in the book, so you can read your cupcakes and eat them, too!

Clammed Up by Barbara Ross:

3429842If jaunting up the coastline is more your summer speed, try this slice of Maine life, the first of Barbara Ross’s Main Clambake Mysteries. The Snowden Family Clambake company does pretty well in Busmans Harbor, Maine, but when a murder taints one of their catered weddings, the family must find out who the killer is before the business suffers. This charming series with local New England flair is sure to appeal to those looking for a quick break.

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen:

3247321If you still prefer your murder mystery set in a more tropical clime, Carl Hiaasen will take you to Florida and the Bahamas, as long as you don’t mind exploring the grittier side of those warm vacation spots. Follow Andrew Yancy of the Key West Police as he investigates a murder while encountering all sorts of unusual characters including an idiotic real-estate agent, a voodoo witch and a very strange medical examiner. If you like warm weather vacations, but are adventurous enough to go off-the-beaten-path, give this mystery a try.


2643938Yup, this movie is an unabashed reference to the classic board game. Someone murders Mr. Boddy at a surprise dinner engagement and Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum and Miss Scarlett are all suspects. Crazy hi-jinx and slapstick humor may not create a traditional murder mystery tone, but with an all-star cast that includes Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn and Christopher Lloyd, it definitely works. With three possible endings included, this movie will keep you guessing and laughing all at the same time.


2920435Like Death In Paradise, Psych also injects humor into the business of murder detection, but with far less British influence and far more snacks. If you devoured Jim Gaffigan’s Food: A Love Story from last week’s post, you’ll have a sense of the type of humor you’ll encounter in this show. Set in vacation-worthy Santa Barbara, CA (but actually filmed in Canada) the show boasts an impressive array of guest stars (including a reunion of most of the cast members from Clue) and a sharp, albeit very American wit. It’s irreverent, entertaining and one of the most underrated TV shows that not nearly enough people watched during its surprising 8-season run.

That’s it from the South this week. Till we meet again next week, remember that paradise, complete with the possibility of a good murder, is only a click away…

Five Book Friday

Another Friday, and another round of five new books on our shelves for your weekend reading delight.  As the official First Day of Summer draws ever nearer, various publishing institutions, literary magazines, and news outlets are releasing their lists of “must-reads” and favorites for the summer, a number of which are currently gracing our shelves.  So come in soon, and see for yourself what all the fuss is about!

3622768In The Country: Stories: Publisher’s Weekly listed this as one of their Best Summer Books for 2015, saying “Each story in Alvar’s debut collection feels as rich, as deep, and as crafted as a novel”.  Mia Alvar takes readers around the world in this volume, setting stories from Tokyo to Milan, and covers a range of decades, while focusing on the fate of her largely Filipino characters.  All reviews are marveling over the depth in these tales, and how much feeling that Alvar pours into her short stories, making each story into a fully-realized journey.

3606299The Sunlit Night: A Novel: Rebecca Dinerstein’s novel is set in a very remote area of Norway, and while so many novels and films focus on the darkness of these areas, Dinerstein instead forms a tale around the summertime period, where the sun never sets.  Bustle.com was blown away by this story of a long-lost mother and daughter who meet in the remote Arctic village, saying “The sites are picturesque, the love is real, and anything can happen. You’ll just have to read about it to find out what actually does.”

3637906Daughter of Deep Silence: The new adult genre continues to grow, develop, and challenge all our preconceptions, and Carrie Ryan’s new release is a striking example of this trend.  Only three people survived the destruction of the luxury yacht Persephone, but none of them will tell the same truth about what truly happened on board.  Frances Mace will do anything to avenge the death of her parents, but will revenge set her free from her past, or make her into the kind of monsters she is trying to fight?  RT Book Reviews rated this book one of their top picks for the month, saying it is “an intriguing blend of subterfuge and brutal possibilities” that will appeal to readers of any age.

3607028The Truth According to Us: Annie Barrows is already beloved by fans for her co-authored book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,  and this independent work brings readers into the heart of a quirky, small town in 1938, when Layla Beck’s father, a wealthy senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she seek an income from the newly-established Works Progress Administration.  Forced to live in a boarding house in Macedonia, West Virginia, Layla becomes enmeshed in the lives–and secrets–of those around her.  USA Today listed this book as one of the 25 Hot Books for Summer, and critics seem to be pretty universal in their praise for this little gem of a novel.

3637383Being Nixon: A Man Divided: Having tried over the course of this past semester, I can say from experience that there is no easy way to teach people about Richard Nixon, or his complicated presidency.  But rather than try and simplify this man, Evan Thomas embraces Nixon’s many complexities and odd habits.  In an editorial in The Atlantic, Thomas said “His struggle is a compelling, dramatic story, and it made me want to learn more.”  It seems like that desire translates very well into this new biography, bringing new insight to one of the most perennially controversial figures in the history of the American presidency.

Safe travels, and happy reading, beloved patrons!

Maybe we should have brought a map? A wanderer’s If/Then….

Here be monsters!
Here be monsters!

Summer is a time for exploration…for road trips and sailing trips and airplane voyages and stay-cations.  And that last one, those stay-cations, might very well be the best kind–know why?  Because it gives you plenty of time to head to the library and check out one of these books!  <–That, right there?  That was a shameless plug.  But I am ok with with this, because it’s true.

Some of the best voyages I have ever taken have been via library books, not only because they were tales of derring-do and far-flung adventures, but also because the books I read usually ended in unmitigated disaster, questionable success, or nightmare monsters that follow you home.  They are the kind of adventures you simply can’t have in real life (and probably shouldn’t, if you have any plans of telling people about them later).  And that is why we have fiction–to take us away, and let us explore those shadowy, shiny, mysterious places that we simply couldn’t see otherwise, and let us come home safely at the end.

So for those of you ‘armchair explorers’ like me (or beach-chair explorers, or adirondack-chair explorers), then these books might be for you.  Most of them feature unreliable narrators, which is one of my favorite tropes in all of fiction; every step in the story is like paddling into uncharted waters.  You can never tell if what you see is real, or if the tide might shift without warning, dragging you into another place entirely.  But I can guarantee, you will return with quite a story to tell!

So….If you like adventure novels perfect for a summer stay-cation, Then check out:

2683970Pandora in the Congo:  I originally started reading this book simply because it was there, and the first scene was really ludicrously funny.  But the more I read, the more I was absolutely captivated by the adventure tales it contains, the consistently unsettling feeling of dread that closes around the main characters, and the unrelenting tension that builds as the narrators confession slowly unfolds.  Though this story is recorded by Tommy Thompson, a ghostwriter’s ghostwriter’s ghostwriter (you read that correctly), it is told by Marcus Garvey, a man attached to a disastrous African expedition to the Belgian Congo that resulted in the murder of the expedition’s leaders, brothers William and Richard Carver and the disappearance of the African crew.  Garvey promises to tell Thompson precisely what happened in the jungle–but whose truth is he telling?  Though this is meant to be a pastiche of the 19th-century African adventure novels that were so popular in the British empire, this is so much more than satire.  It is a heart-rending, blisteringly fast-paced, and simply unforgettable tale that you need to read to believe.

2138106Life of Pi: Yann Martel’s now-classic novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2002, and has since been turned into a popular film, but don’t let it’s public acclaim deter you from giving this book a try.  It’s gentle, subtle, sometimes ridiculous humor makes the narrator, sixteen-year-old Pi, instantly endearing.  Pi is the sole survivor when the cargo ship carrying his family and a menagerie of animals sinks on its way to Canada.  He recounts his experiences after the fact, telling about his tiny life raft, adrift in the Pacific, with only Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan, and an enormous royal bengal tiger.  The story itself is extraordinary, wildly imaginative, and completely transporting.  However, like Pandora in the Congo, the real magic of this book lies in the revelations that Pi holds back until the book’s end, and the lessons he reserves for those willing to take his journey with him.

2223181Oscar and Lucinda: This is one of my favorite books ever.  Ever ever.  It is one of those books that I make people read in order to determine if we can be friends.  Peter Carey is a master storyteller, and it’s impossible not to fall under his spell in any book he has penned, but this historic narrative is his masterpiece, dealing with big themes like love and faith, as well as colonialism and capitalism.  Haunting, and hauntingly beautiful, heartbreaking and inspiring, this is the tale of Oscar, a minister’s son who is terrified of water and addicted to gambling, a Lucinda, a determined survivor who owns a glass factory.  They meet on an oceanic voyage to Australia–a moment that will change them and challenge them, and culminate in an insane, and stunning wager to transport a glass church across the Australian Outback.  Carey gives both his hero and heroine an enormous collection of quirks, foibles and shortcomings, but they only make them both more human and real, and transforms the journey across the outback into something so much bigger than them both.  There are passages in this book that are quite honestly breathtaking in their beauty, and will leave readers changed for the better.

3493764Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art: Carl Hoffman shows what a talented journalist can do with a well-worn, but little-understood story.  The disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, the twenty-three-year old son of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, in 1961, was the stuff of international news.  Michael vanished somewhere around New Guinea while searching for native cultures and their art to fill his museum in New York.  While the family and the Dutch government (who controlled New Guinea at the time) asserted that Michael had drowned in an attempt to swim to land after his catamaran capsized.  But questions lingered about whether Michael had made it to shore, and died at the hands of the people who lived there.  Hoffman not only weaves a tale of adventure–both Michael Rockefeller’s and his own in trying to follow his footsteps–but he also explains the cultures, faiths, and traditions of the people who live in the areas that Michael encountered, explaining the unending repercussions of colonialism and invasion that continue to affect their way of life to this very day.  This is an informative, moving, and relentlessly exciting story that will appeal to history buffs as well as adventures seekers.

Happy Adventures, Beloved Patrons!  We hope to see you soon!


June 14th is typically associated with Flag Day in the United States, commemorating the adoption of the ‘Stars and Stripes’ flag by the Second Continental Congress in 1777.   But there are other reasons for remembering the date: for example, it just so happens that yesterday, June 14, was the 226th anniversary of the return to England by Captain William Bligh, and the survivors of the loyal crew of the now-infamous H.M.S Bounty.

My other car is a three-masted clipper.
My other car is a three-masted clipper.

The Bounty set sail in April of 1787, charged with transporting breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the British West Indies (so named because they taste a bit like potatoes, and smell like bread).  The crew was comprised of 44 British navy-men and 2 botanists.  Among these young men was a twenty-three-year old named Fletcher Christian, who had sailed with Captain William Bligh twice before, forming a fairly close teacher-student relationship.

Breadfruit...who knew?
Breadfruit…who knew?

The trip proved a difficult one.  After being held up by weather, the crew had to wait nearly five months for the breadfruit to properly ripen before it could be taken on board, until April, 1789.  Though all this delay made Bligh anxious to head back home, there is no doubt that his men were enjoying themselves most heartily in Tahiti, and relishing the relaxed discipline.

What happened next is well known to history:  Fletcher Christian led a bloodless mutiny aboard the Bounty at approximately 5:15am on April 28, 1789, agreeing to put as many of those who remained loyal to Bligh as would fit into 23-foot launch-boat with five days’ worth of food, rather than kill them.  What we still don’t know for sure, is why.  Some say it was because Bligh’s disciplinary attitude aboard ship had become downright tyrannical, and his paranoia so profound that he was judged to be putting the ship and her crew in jeopardy (this story was first put forth by one of Christian’s descendants).  However, the Bounty’s log books show that Bligh was fairly lenient in his command.  In fact, some argue it was this very leniency that got him into trouble.

The story of the little launch is a stunning one:  When his attempts to get help and supplies from some nearby natives proved fruitless, Bligh–thanks to the navigational skills he learned under Captain Cook–piloted the tiny boat 3,618 nautical miles, from Tahiti to Timor, and from there, another 544 miles to what is now Jakarta, Indonesia, where he was able to secure proper transport home to England.  He accomplished this with no maps, no charts, and almost no food, using the stars and the sun alone as his guide.

In comparison, the group of mutineers divided within months, with 16 men remaining in Tahiti, where they were captured in 1791 by Captain Edward Edwards, whose ship, the HMS Pandora had been sent especially for them.  When the Pandora ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, six of the men died, while the rest were forced to travel in a open boat, much like the one Bligh had been forced to use.  They were court-martialed in England in September of 1792, and ultimately, three were hanged for treason.

The eight men who remained with Christian set sail for Pitcairn Island, landing on January 15, 1790, and forming a settlement with their Tahitian wives and several other natives.  However, the Tahitians, who the British men saw more as ‘property’ than fellow settlers, rose up, killing five of the Bounty men, including Christian, in 1794.  Several more years of violence and unrest followed until only one member of the Bounty, named John Adams, was left in charge of the community.  They were discovered by an American ship, the Topaz in 1808, which related the discovery of the Bounty‘s final home to the British.  Rather than punish those who now lived on Pitcairn, the British decided to use them to their own advantage, modeling the society as a model of Christianity and morality–the perfect British settlement, despite its origins.

For those of you looking to know more details about the Bounty, the Mutiny, or the people involved, here are some sources to check out, and a few to keep the armchair adventurers entertained!

2108037The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty: Caroline Alexander’s thoroughly engaging book is probably the best on the subject, bringing together generations of history in order to get as close to the truth as possible about that fateful night, and the events that took place afterwards.


1919426Captain Bligh’s Portable Nightmare: John Toohey’s work is primarily concerned with Bligh’s navigational feats after he was put off the Bounty, and emphasizes the genuinely overwhelming accomplishment that Bligh achieved in getting to Jakarta without maps or compass.  He also deals with the trial Bligh faced on his return for losing his ship, and his redemption in the Napoleonic Wars.

dFragile Paradise: The Discovery of Fletcher Christian, Bounty Mutineer: This study of Fletcher Christian, written by his great-great-great-great-grandson, is not only the tale of a mysterious mutineer, but also a great travel adventure in its own right.  It is also one of the first works to give credit to the Tahitian women who sailed to Pitcairn, and the vital role they played in keeping the settlement alive.

indexMr. Bligh’s Bad Language: A fascinating analysis of Bligh’s abilities as a Captain, and how his behavior could have contributed to the mutiny, as well as a fascinating study of power and performance in the world in which these men lived.


2680805Lost paradise : from Mutiny on the Bounty to a modern-day legacy of sexual mayhem : the dark secrets of Pitcairn island revealed:
Despite being aggressively titled, this book is highly readable, though deeply unsettling account of the later history of Pitcairn Island that begins in 2000, when British authorities were sent to the island (which remains the last holding of the British in the Pacific) to investigate the rape of a fifteen-year-old girl.  Kathy Marks was one of only six journalists sent to cover the subsequent trial, and her account, though not always easy to read, is a necessary addition to the story of the Bounty and its legacy.

2689029Mutiny: a novel of the Bounty: Crack ghost-story authorJohn Boyne turns his talents to historical fiction in this tale of Jacob Turnstile, a young man who escapes prison by accepting a position aboard the Bounty.  This tale for teens is a terrific adventure, as well as a fascinatingly complex study of human morality and strength.

2667929C.S. Forrester’s Hornblower: Ok, so it’s not precisely the Bounty, but this captivating mini-series adaptation of C.S. Forrester’s classic novels fo the British Navy (starring the very young, but still very watchable Ioan Gruffudd) features all the period detail and historical tidbits one could want out of a Napoleonic War piece.  Come on…they built a full-scale, completely accurate ship of the line specifically for the show.  Best of all, episodes Five and Six center around an alleged mutiny, thus allowing for the phrase “Black, bloody mutiny!” to be bellowed at regular intervals.

At the Movies: Literary Adaptations

On the off chance you hadn’t heard, there’s a new Jurassic Park movie out this week…on my way to the library yesterday, I heard a radio add for Jurassic World while driving by a billboard advertisement for Jurassic World, while driving behind a bus that had a Jurassic World ad on its side, so I think I am fairly safe in assuming you have heard of this movie…

And don’t get me wrong…I have no doubt that Jurassic World is indeed a terrific movie.  But there are also a number of other terrific films out there this summer, and a surprising number are based on terrific books.  Plus, movie theaters are among some of the most air-conditioned places in the entire world, so for me, there is nothing like spending a ridiculously hot summer day in the frigid atmosphere of a movie theater, gleefully fighting off frostbite.   And as the days are apparently growing steadily warmer, I thought we might take a look as some adaptations that are garnering positive reviews.

We’ve already discussed Far from the Madding Crowd and Testament of Youth, both seminal works of fiction–and stellar movies, which is a rare feat, indeed.  But here are some other ideas for you to check out, both in the theaters, and here at the library:

meandearlposterMe and Earl and the Dying Girl: Though the title alone calls to mind comparisons to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Jesse Andrew’s book is a stand-alone hit that captures all the painfully self-conscious, self-questioning self-loathing of adolescence in a way that is both funny and heartwrench, and totally, utterly unique.  The title gives a fair bit of the plot away–seventeen-year-old Greg, who is painfully awkward is a rather endearing way, has an unlikely friend in the chain-smoking Earl, but it is his friendship with Rachel (the ‘Dying Girl’ of the title, who has been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia), forced on him by his mother, that changes them all for the better.  Greg and Earl’s film spoofs are priceless pieces of arch comedy in and of themselves that are sure to translate well to the screen.  Released this week, the film version of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, starring Thomas Mann, is already amassing rave reviews.  You can watch the trailer here.

madamebovaryposterMadame Bovary: Ok, I agree, this is not an adaptation based on a contemporary book.  But I was so surprised to hear that there is an adaptation being made of this enormous, emotional epic that I had to list it here.  Mia Wasikowska has been making a number of literary films of late, from Jane Eyre to the re-invention of Alice in Wonderland,  but none of these heroine are like Emma Bovary, who attempts to escape her monotonous, suffocating society life by having extramarital affairs and living well beyond her financial means.  Gustave Flaubert’s debut novel, published in serial form over the source of 1856 caused an utter scandal in Parisian society, even being attacked by public prosecutors for obscenity.  But since then, Madame Bovary has been established as one of the best–if not the best–novels ever written.  With its hidden patterns and intricate characterizations that would inspire writers from Tolstoy to Henry James, Emma Bovary’s story is not one that will be easy to take to the big screen, but the payoff could be enormous.  You can watch the trailer here, and judge for yourself.

setfiretothestarsposternewSet Fire to the Stars: This is another cheat, as it’s not strictly a literary adaptation, but this film sounded so fascinating I add had to add it here.  Based on a series of actual events, this film is based on the memoir by Professor John Malcolm Brinnin, about his friend (and occasional tormenter) Dylan Thomas.  Brinnin facilitated several of Dylan Thomas’ speaking tours, including the tour on which he died in 1953.  This story, however, is of Dylan’s first visit to Manhattan, and while his final tour might have provided the fodder for some higher drama, this film is garnering some very positive reviews for its cinematography (which harnesses all the dramatic potential of black-and-white, as you can see here), as well as the performances of Celyn Jones as Thomas, and Elijah Wood as Brinnin.  Shirley Henderson also has a supporting role as Shirley Jackson, author of The Lottery, who was apparently one of Brinnin’s neighbors.  Those interested in Thomas’ experiences in the U.S. can check out Brinnin’s memoir, Dylan Thomas in America, as well as the work of Dylan, himself, from his Short Stories to his Poetry, as well as his Letters–and even a sound recording of him reading ‘A Visit To America’, which is seriously incredible.  For a little extra treat, here is an recording of actual Dylan Thomas actually reading ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’.   Just to start your day off on an upbeat note.

So there you have it, beloved patrons–enjoy some popcorn for me, and let us know what films tickled your fancy, as well!

Saturdays @ the South: Food & Books


I’m not sure what it is about food and books that go so well together, but they’re definitely a complimentary pair. I’d say it’s because it puts two of my favorite things together, but I’m not alone in this thought. There are scads of blogs out there that embrace the book/food pairing by creating recipes from literature, inspired by literature or simply juxtapose food with books. For a brief sampling try: Outlander Kitchen; Yummy Books, Paper/Plates, Paper and Salt, or Food in Literature, all fun blogs with great content and intriguing recipes.

Here at the South Branch, we’ve been acknowledging people’s love of food and books for a while. From our chocolate seminars, to our cooking demonstrations and hosting cookbook authors, there’s hardly a better place to indulge your yearning for food knowledge than here (except, maybe, for the Cookbook Club @ the West Branch). We’ve got some exciting upcoming programs that bring food into the library this summer, so if you’re hankering for an evening out and eager to sample a free program, check out these upcoming morsels:

The Baker Chocolate Company: A Sweet History

Whole Foods Cooking Demonstration

If after that, you craving more books that celebrate food, try some of these titles:

3565439Food: A Love Story: I’ll be honest, I wrote this post largely so I could recommend this book. Jim Gaffigan has the healthiest, unhealthy relationship with food and it’s hysterical; I’m fairly certain he’s a real-life incarnation of Garfield. I’m listening to the audiobook (read by the author) in my car and have gotten some strange looks from other drivers because I’m laughing so hard. That pretty much gets a book an automatic thumbs-up from me. Gaffigan is a self-proclaimed food lover, but NOT a foodie, preferring to have fast food over good food that takes forever to find. You’re likely to find something relatable in this book and you’re more likely to find many things that will tickle your funnybone and possibly awaken a long-suppressed craving for hot dogs. If you, too, believe that “bacon bits are like the fairy dust of food community” do yourself a favor and read this book, immediately.

3578641Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: From Mary Higgins Clark to James Patterson; Sue Grafton to Harlan Coben, mystery writers can’t seem to keep food out of their texts. And why should they? Food is a sensual experience that can drive someone further into a story by stimulating more than just the eyes. It can be a respite from intense drama or help us get to know a character better by learning his/her taste. This book collects some of America’s favorite mystery writers’ recipes: from dishes mentioned in a novel, to a writer’s favorite recipe to make at home. You’ll be hard-pressed not to find something appetizing here. (Murder and mayhem are optional.)

3199507Taste: What You’re Missing: Turns out, we’re missing quite a lot from our everyday experience of taste.  I’m not sure Barb Stuckey’s tome got the popular attention is should have given how many considered it more of an academic book. However, Taste is extremely accessible, enjoyable and even a bit fun! Should you decide to experience some of the concepts the author talks about, she offers some exercises to try them out. (Bonus, they can also double as party games if you’re throwing a party for foodies.) She covers a lot here, but it’s broken down into small doses and the chapters stand alone, so skipping around to what interests you is definitely an option here. I read the whole thing cover-to-cover, though, and found it very enjoyable, so I recommend giving it a try!

2932386Medium Raw: Oh, Tony Bourdain. I’ve gladly followed you from the jungles of Malaysia to the boardwalk of Coney Island and everywhere in-between on TV and in text. The man is insightful, sarcastic and eloquent (if a bit heavy on the f-bombs). While many tout the value of his breakout hit Kitchen Confidential (it is a great book, to be sure) and far too few mention the outstanding, albeit short-lived TV series based on that hit, I find this book to be Bourdain at his blunt, snarky best. He’s not shy about discussing the ways he’s been taken in by trappings of mainstream culture throughout his career, but he’s also brutally honest about what he likes, what he doesn’t like and what he’s tried to stay true to, and this makes Medium Raw not only a tantalizing, but also an enjoyable read as well.

3008568The Belly of Paris: I was hungry pretty much through all 300+ pages of this book. It has: people eating; people talking about food; the author describing food; the business of food; the way that food is a commentary on social status; the way food feeds the drama of the plot (see what I did there?) … Heck, I’m getting hungry just writing about it. If you want a book that is pure indulgence, but still calorie-free, you won’t go wrong here. You may want to have a snack handy, though, just in case.

I hope I’ve persuaded you that food and books are not only a logical pairing, but a mouthwatering one as well. Thank you for putting up with all of my food puns. Till next week, dear readers! I need to find myself a snack…

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass