At the Movies: Poltergeist

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Picture it: the year is 1992, and your Blog Fairy Princess here is still a very over-imaginative eight-year-old who takes everything way too literally (so nothing much has changed….anyways…).  One dark and stormy night, Poltergeist comes on TV in celebration of the film’s tenth anniversary.  I knew my mom liked the movie, even finding parts of it funny, so I figured I’d sit back and enjoy.

And then I didn’t sleep for weeks.  WEEKS.

Looking back, my mother was right.  It is a good movie, and there are plenty of moments that are funny–intentionally or otherwise.  Granted, some of those moments are because CGI was in its infancy, so some of the special effects need to be taken with an generous helping of salt, but this is a movie that isn’t afraid to take itself lightly at times.  That scene when the ghosts slide the helmeted kid across the kitchen floor for no apparent reason is still among my favorite parts of the whole film.  And those moments make the dramatic action that much more impactful.

Because the truth is that there are some parts of this film still stand up as genuinely shuddersome, even today.  TV static, for those of us who remember non-digital TVs, was annoying, yes, but there was also something thoroughly unsettling about that unrelenting shushing sound.  The essential premise behind the movie, not just the burial ground, but the reason the ghosts needed the children specifically for their nefarious plot, is remarkably creative, especially for a horror movie, which usually relies on loud music stings and jump-takes to cover up their shallow storyline .  And that clown doll.  Goodness gracious me, that clown doll…..

And now, since we live in the age of the remake, we have Poltergeist the repeat.  The film hasn’t been getting the best of reviews, mostly because the original did what it did so well that there seems very little, overall, to do better; not to mention the fact that digital TVs just aren’t scary.  But it has allowed some of the film junkies at the library to reminisce a bit about the books and movies that kept us up at night.

We’ve seen a number of supernatural horror films cross the circulation desk, from classics like The Uninvited or The Amityville Horrorto newer, but still thoroughly shiver-inducing stuff like The Others, Oculusor The Sixth Sense (though I think living on earth may have spoiled the novelty of this particular film for you).  But what about the good old-fashioned ghost story?  So here is a brief list of some of the best paranormal/supernatural/generally creeptastic  novels on our shelves for your perusal.  Make sure to leave the lights on

…and be sure to turn off the TV.

…I mean, you never know, right?
3553458The Supernatural Enhancements: It took about eight pages for this book to become one of my favorites of all time.  Wildly creative, not only in its plot, but in its story-telling, this book has also become a quick favorite among the rest of our library staff, as well.  A, a youngish European man, inherits a house from an uncle he never met, but, eager for a chance of pace, moves to Point Bless, Virginia along with his enigmatic friend Niamh, who is mute, but far from silent.  As the two begin to explore the odd house, and the legacy of A’s family, all of whom were changed and broken by living there, this story just continues to grow creepier and more intense.  Told through letters, transcriptions, and descriptions from the video surveillance cameras Niamh sets up around the house, the reader is never quite sure what is going on, but simply can’t stop flipping the pages in order to discover what happens next.  This works perfectly in this story because seeing the ghosts always ruin something in the story–when the reader is forced to imagine what A and Niamh are experiencing, it’s infinitely more scary.  Though there are some odd twists and turns at the book’s end, this is a story I cannot recommend too highly, and can only hope that Edgar Cantero comes out with a new book soon!

3136591Those Across the River: I felt about this book much the same way as I did about Poltergeist itself–the premise is superb and the build-up is wonderfully creepy, but the climax and eventual falling action feel just a little flat in comparison.  This is purely due to my own reading preferences, however, and should not detract you from trying this book for yourself.  Christopher Buehlman is a wonderfully gifted author, who can tell a gripping story that is as beautiful as it is unsettling.  This is another inherited house story, but this time our hero is First World War veteran Frank Nichols and his beloved who have run away from her husband and moved to his family estate deep in rural Georgia, where Frank plans to write a history of the house, and the horrific slave uprising that took place there.  Full of strange, hostile characters, the town itself is haunted by legends and the fear of an ancient curse that Frank learns has far more to do with this family than he dreamt.

3177315The Haunting of Maddie Claire: Simone St. James’ debut novel won a number of awards and accolades, and while it’s not difficult to appreciate the artistry in her work, this is also a fascinating story that captures the shattered disbelief of post-First World War Britain beautifully.  Sarah Piper is trying to make her way in London following the death of her parents in the Influenza Epidemic.  Poor and desperately lonely, she still isn’t convinced that her new assignment from the temp agency is fitting–she is expected to take notes of a ghost hunt.  But when she and her two employers, who both carry deep scars from their time in the trenches, arrive at the haunted barn, they find a much darker force–and a much deeper mystery–than they ever imagined.  St. James’ prose is somewhat stark, which makes it sound perfectly authentic both to her no-nonsense heroine and to the bleak times in which these characters are living, and the story of Maddie Claire is so heartbreaking and so real that readers will find it incredibly easy to suspend disbelief and following this chilling story to the very end.

2430237The Devil You Know: This some lighter fare for those of us who are starting to think about hiding under the bed for a little while.  Mike Carey is probably best known as a graphic novelist, but his series of five novels featuring the freelance exorcist Felix Castor deserves more attention.  In Castor’s debut, he is just trying to make ends meet, and agrees to take an assignment in a small London museum that seems to have some paranormal trouble.  But when Castor begins to investigate, he realizes that the spirit at work here may be the biggest and baddest that he’s ever faced.  Carey brings a fun noir-ish feel to these books, and his imagination in creating supernatural powers is impressive, but these books are much more complex and emotionally powerful than your typical urban fantasy.  Felix’s powers have had plenty of negative effects on those he loves, and he is always followed by the shadows he has cast, making his work that much more dangerous, and his cases that much more compelling.

So there is our first list of spooky stories to keep you up at night.  Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments, or mention them to your friendly circulation staff at your next visit!

Welcome to Saturdays at the South!

Welcome to Saturdays @ the South! Every Saturday, we’ll be posting about books and programs that are popular at the Library’s South Branch (78 Lynn St.) and other literature, movie and library-related musings that strike our fancy. I hope you’ll join us each week and discover something new!

To start things off, I thought it would be appropriate to recognize Memorial Day. It’s a little early this year for those who use it as a benchmark for gardening, but regardless of the date it lands on, it never hurts to recognize those who have sacrificed a great deal to help defend others. There are some amazing new books out there that recognize war efforts and sacrifices, both traditional and unusual. Here are 5 nonfiction picks on the new shelf at the South Branch right now:
3618114Roosevelt and Stalin  by Susan Butler: Butler takes a look at the unusual partnership and uneasy friendship that arose in WWII when these two leaders worked together against a common enemy and shaped their visions for a postwar future that were surprisingly similar.

 

3588586Patton at the Battle of the Bulge: How the General’s Tanks Turned the Tide at Bastogne by Leo Barron: Barron engages readers retelling the crucial battle that could have just as easily turned the tide for the Nazis as it did for the US Army. Had Patton not reached Bastogne in time, the US 101st Airborne could have been defeated. This book details Patton’s charge into Belgium and the forces that worked together to make this battle a turning point for the Allies.

35817302A Cool and Lonely Courage: The Untold Story of Sister Spies inOccupied France by Susan Ottaway: Originally published in Britain, this bok peels back the layers of how two sisters, Jackqueline and Eileen Nearne worked undercover as agents for the Special Operations Executive during WWII and sent crucial intelligence to the Allies during their time in Nazi-occupied France. While one escaped capture, the other was arrested, tortured and sent to a concentration camp. Ottaway tells the sisters’ long-overdue story of courage and patriotism during wartime.

3517382Liar Temptress Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott: Few war stories are more engaging that those told about spies, but when the spies are women during a time when women were routinely underestimated, a story becomes that much more engaging. Abbott describes four women, each of whom has her own story of espionage from dressing as a man and fighting in battle to infiltrating the White House, their tales are bound to engage even those who aren’t Civil War buffs

3517385Double Agent: The First Hero of World War II and how the FBI Outwitted and Destroyed a Nazi Spy Ring by Peter Duffy: Duffy tells, for the first time, the story of a German-American who infiltrated New York’s Nazi underground just before WWII began. Called “the most successful counterespionage operation in US history” this is the story of the man who spearheaded that mission and was the first double-agent in FBI history.

 

Bonus fiction pick!

3539736Delicious by Ruth Reichl (printed book is available here and ebook here): On its surface, this book is about food. A young ingénue leaves college to join the crew of the renowned food magazine “Delicious!” She talks about how luck she feels to be in a place that takes food so seriously, only to find herself somewhat adrift when the magazine unexpectedly shutters. This is only the backdrop, however, and the story that unfolds has a great deal to do with WWII history and the sacrifices those on the home front made to support their troops overseas. Yes, the story has the expected dashes of romance, a tragic heroine back story and uses the ugly duckling trope a bit heavy-handedly, but the unexpected and delightful forays into the creative ways those who weren’t fighting adapted to their new lives and the touching notes about how they dealt with the inevitable loss that comes with war makes this a story well worth reading.

Happy Birthday, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!

PIC BY PAUL GROVER AT CHRISTIE'S IN LONDON ON MAY 19TH THE LOST ARCHIVE OF SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE WILL BE UP FOR SALE WHICH HAVE NEVER BEFORE BEEN SEEN IN PUBLIC THE ARCHIVE IN CLUDES OVER 3000 ITEMS 80% ON WHICH HAVE NEVER BEEN PUBLISHED THE COLLECTION IS EXPECTED TO FETCH IN THE REGION OF 2 MILLION pounds PIC SHOWS A PHOTOGRAPHE OF SIR CONAN A FEW YEARS BEFORE HIS DEATH PIC PAUL GROVER

Today, May 22, is the 156th birthday of Scottish physician and author Arthur Conan Doyle.  Though he is now revered as the creator of “the world’s first consulting detective”, the one and only Sherlock Holmes, Doyle himself would have wanted you to know so much more about him.  For instance, he was a historian, publishing an impressive account of the Boer War in 1900, and a history of the British army on the Western Front during the First World War.  It was because of these writings that he was knighted in 1902 (not for the publication of The Hound of the Baskervilles, as many at the time thought).

He was also an avid (if not terribly gifted) athlete, and played on a cricket team with Sir J.M. Barrie, Rudyard Kipling, and A.A. Milne, among other literary celebrities.  The team was called the “Allahakbarries”, which Barrie thought meant “Heaven Help Us” in Arabic.  The team refused to practice on an opposing team’s pitch before a match because, as Barrie said, “It can only give them confidence.”  The team never won a match, which is a polite way to say they were really, genuinely bad, but they apparently played with great enthusiasm, which has to count for something, right?

Speaking of his acquaintances, Doyle was quite the connected late-Victorian gentleman.  He and Barrie had a long-standing friendship, and even penned a light opera together called “Annie Jane, or the Good Conduct Prize”.  The show was a complete financial failure when it debuted in 1893, but that didn’t stop Barrie from writing a delightful, darkly funny Holmes pastiche entitled “The Adventure of the Two Collaborators”.  You can read the full story in its absurd, surreal entirety here.   He was also acquainted with Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula…though it seems that Doyle was not too impressed with the great Count.  In “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”, Holmes tells Watson, “Rubbish, Watson, rubbish! What have we to do with walking corpses who can only be held in their grave by stakes driven through their hearts? It’s pure lunacy.”

Doyle was also something of a detective in his own right.  Perhaps the most famous case in which Doyle involved himself was that of Oscar Slater, who had been falsely convicted of murder in  1909.  Doyle, convinced of Slater’s innocence, publicly advocated for his release so adamantly that Slater actually smuggled letters out of prison to Doyle, who employed what he called the “Sherlock Method” to re-evaluate the evidence and re-interview witnesses, ultimately leading to Slater’s release in 1927.  You can read more about the case here.

So, in tribute to the all-around intriguing man who was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we include here a reading list for those looking to know more about Doyle, and the generations of writers his work has inspired.  Come into the library and check some out today!

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Arthur Conan Doyle : a life in letters: Probably one of the best ways to get to know Doyle is through his own words, and this annotated volume of nearly ever letter he ever wrote is fascinating, and surprisingly engaging.  Here you can meet Doyle as a student, as a struggling doctor, a family man, and as a world renowned author dealing with the weight of his own fame.

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The Lost World: Michael Critchon owes every ounce of credit for his work to Doyle, who first came up with the idea of a remote island populated by ferocious dinosaurs.  Doyle’s Professor Challenger stories are pulse-pounding, thrillingly imaginative science fiction stories that haven’t lost any of their fun over the years.  Though the public may remember Sherlock Holmes, Doyle himself loved Professor Challenger, and even dressed up as him for press photos.

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The Baker Street Letters: Not long after Sherlock Holmes first graced the pages of The Strand magazine, fans were writing letters to the nonexistent address 221B Baker Street.  Michael Robertson’s novel begins when brothers Nigel and Reggie Heath open a law office at the famous address.  When an eight-year-old girl writes to Sherlock Holmes in a desperate attempt to clear her father’s name, the hapless Nigel decides to take on the case, leaving an inconveniently dead body on the floor of his office, and forcing his brother and his part-time girlfriend to follow him to Los Angeles, where even further intrigue awaits.  The follow-up novel, The Brothers of Baker Street, brings the Heath brothers back to investigate the murder of two tourists in London in a case complicated by the descendant of one Professor Moriarty.  These books are delightfully clever and insightful tales that stand on their own, but will delight fans of the Holmes cannon who will recognize numerous inside jokes and references in the midst of this mystery.

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The Patient’s Eyes : The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes: David Pirie’s series takes as its inspiration the relationship between Doyle and his mentor, the remarkably observant Dr. Joseph Bell, the man who would become the model for Sherlock Holmes himself.  In Pirie’s work, the young Doyle finds himself involved in the case of a young woman who is troubled by the phantom image of a solitary cyclist who disappears whenever he is followed.  Though Doyle doubts the seriousness of the case, Bell recognizes in the woman’s tale a far more sinister plot.  Fans of historical mysteries will love the gritty, realistic details in this story, and fans of Doyle’s detective will recognize a good deal of Holmes’ methods in Bell’s investigations.  The two other books in this trilogy, The Night Calls and The Dark Water continue to develop this uncanny relationship and hint to the development of Holmes in Doyle’s imagination.

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Moriarty: Anthony Horowitz is one among a number of authors to develop the character of Holmes’ arch-nemesis, the nefarious genius Professor James Moriarty.  In this particular adventure, Moriarty survives the Falls of Reichenbach only to find his criminal empire threatened by a potential rival.  Desperate and under attack, the Professor finds himself in an uneasy alliance with a Pinkerton Detective, and a disciple of Holmes’ from Scotland Yard.  Readers unfamiliar with Moriarty’s role in the Holmes stories will have no trouble falling into this story and its marvelous historic details, and those who know the Professor only through Holmes’ descriptions will delight in the way that Horowitz expands and develops the character into a three-dimensional and thoroughly engaging anti-hero.  Horowitz also penned The House of Silk, the only Holmes’ pastiche to be sanctioned by Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate.

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The Final Solution : A Story of Detection: Though Michael Chabon never mentions Holmes by name, the mystery featuring an elderly bee-keeper on the Sussex Downs will immediately recall the great detective in retirement to Holmes devotees.  But you don’t need to know much about Holmes to appreciate the genius of Chabon’s bittersweet exploration of growing old, coping with loss, and making new friends, as young German boy, fleeing the horrors of World War II, arrives in England, and meets an old and weary man who used to be a famous detective…

Eat all the food and avoid the ghosts….A Pac-Man themed If/Then

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Though there appears to be a bit of debate on the actual birthday of the classic video game, Pac-Man (Google says May 21, Wikipedia says May 22), we here at the library will be celebrating it on May 21, mostly because it is my mom’s birthday, as well, and she is the reigning champion of Pac-Man, at least in our family.  (Happy Birthday, Momma!)

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Pac-Man was one of the most popular arcade games of the 1980’s, having amassed some $2.5 billion in quarters alone by the late 1990’s.  It remains one of the most well-recognized brands in the world, and has a place both in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.  Not bad for a game inspired by a pizza dinner.  Developer Toru Iwatani stated in interviews that he designed the classic little yellow hero of Pac-Man after being inspired by a pizza that was missing a slice.  The name of the game is actually a riff on a Japanese slang phrase, ‘paku-paku’, which is meant to imitate the sound of lips smacking.

The fuzzy little monsters (or ‘ghosts’, to purists) who wander the mazes of the game were each designed with their own unique personalities and habits, which was intended to make game-play a little more entertaining.  Though US arcade machines give their names as ‘Blinky’, ‘Pinky, ‘Inky’, and ‘Clyde’, (for the Red, Pink, Blue, and Orange fuzzies respectively), Iwatani’s original names for them were (as translated from Japanese) ‘Chaser’, ‘Ambusher’, ‘Fickle’, and ‘Stupid’….Poor little Orange Guy…..

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And, just to make sure you got your full dose of random trivia facts for the day, the first person to achieve the maximum possible score on Pac-Man was Billy Mitchell, of Hollywood, Florida, on July 3, 1990, after a play time of approximately six hours.

Though it received something of a lukewarm reception in Japan, the game was a smash-hit in the United States, and retains its popularity in to this day.  In fact, in the trailer for the upcoming film Pixel, you’ll see a big, lovely little paku-paku making his way through the city.  Additionally, following this link will take you to the Google Doodle honoring Pac-Man‘s 30th birthday, where you can actually play the game (which is where my Mom hones her formidable skills).

So, without further ado….If you like Pac-Man (or video games in general), Then be sure to check out:

3081149Ready Player One: Though set in a bleak not-too-distant future, Ernest Clive’s smash-hit novel is a sweet, nostalgic love song to the 80’s, particularly its video games.  Hero Wade Watts escapes his impoverished, despondent world by disappearing inside OASIS,  a virtual reality universe where people meet, learn, earn money, and remain constantly on the hunt for the elusive fortune supposedly hidden within the game by James Halliday for those clever enough to find the keys.  An exciting, romantic, and utterly original book, even though who aren’t old enough to remember the legwarmers and teased hair of the 80’s will still have heaps of fun reading this book.  Fans also might be interested to know that Steven Spielberg (who is mentioned in the book) is planning to bring Ready Player One to the big screen soon.

Reamde: 3103751Neil Stephenson’s first book after an eight year hiatus was well worth the worth for fans of his edgy, genre-bending stories.  In this story, aging, reclusive billionaire Richard Forthrast has apparently created a virtual paradise inside the world of his cyberworld, known as T’Rain.  But when a fortune hunter accidentally triggers a war inside the system, the lines between reality fantasy blur–with frighteningly real consequences.  The beauty of Stephenson’s work is that it is accessible even to those among us who aren’t as familiar with computers or with role-playing games.  Instead, he deals with issues of identity and power that take this book from a cyber-thriller into something much grander and complex.

2389580Only You Can Save Mankind: Because no book list should be complete without a little Terry Pratchett thrown in.  This debut of his Johnny Maxwell trilogy is a sensational adventure story for kids, but Pratchett’s arch humor and wonderful insight make this a fun read for adults, as well.  When young Johnny Maxwell receives a pirate copy of a strange computer game from his friend Warbler, he thinks it’s only a bit of fun–until the games characters surrender to Johnny, making him the ruler of their cyber realm.  It might seem like a mere flight of fancy, until Johnny realizes that every other copy of the game is changing based on his own actions.  Pratchett contrasts the fantastic world of “Only You Can Save Mankind” with the coverage of the First Gulf War on Johnny’s TV, adding a fascinating comparison to the battles on the computer screen.

2029633Tron: Another in our line-up of 1980’s tributes.  Tron was first inspired by director Steven Lisberger’s love of the game Pong, and was originally intended to be an animated film.  Eventually, however, it turned into a ground-breaking live-action/computer-animation blend film about a computer programmer who is transported into his computer’s mainframe and must not only find his way out, but destroy his nemesis back in the real world at the same time.  Though it received only moderate box office success, the original Tron became a classic for its innovative production values, and also because all the youngin’s who learned about it through the Disney sequel seem to think the 80’s were delightful and quaint.  Those of us who harbor an ongoing horror of blue-eyeshadow and Aqua-net hairspray may beg to differ…

3198101Death Match: This is a bit of a long-shot, but since computers feature so prominently in this book, and because it’s received pretty high reviews from the library staff, we’re including this one here.  Though perhaps better known for his collaborations with Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child is quite an author in his own right, and this thriller in particular is an excellent example.  The tech-saavy match-making company knwon as Eden has built its reputation on bringing finding each person’s perfect match–and, in rare occasions, their computer programs locate two people who are 100% compatible.  But when these ‘supercouples’ begin dying in what looks to be double suicides, Eden’s founder realizes that more than his company’s reputation is at risk.  Though its pace is lightning-quick and the twists and turns are plentiful, Child also manages to weave in some pretty interesting ideas about the nature of human intellect and emotions, and the power we give to the machines we create.

We hope you enjoy this week’s IF/THEN selection.  Please let us know if there are other books you would recommend, too!

(Re-) Considering the Card Catalog…

One of my favorite displays at the Main Library is just past the circulation desk, set up on our former card catalog cabinet, not only because I have a long-standing adoration for card catalogs in general, but because our cabinet is always a source of fascinating books and ideas.

Our beloved assistance reference librarian, Alison, is responsible for dreaming up the theme for these displays and stocking those tiny little shelves, and here, she shares her thoughts on her current display, which you can explore by paying us a visit, or checking out the links in this post

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Civil Rights in 2015

Inspired by the recent protests in Baltimore, Maryland, our current front book display is centered on the theme of “Civil Rights: Then and Now.” In order for any society to progress, it must remember and reflect upon its past to refrain from repeating its mistakes. Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior’s words exemplify the display’s meaning: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

American Race Riots through History

One of the first known racially motivated riots in the United States occurred in Washington D.C. in 1835, thirty years before slavery was abolished. Jefferson Morley chronicles this riot and its effects in his book Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835. As the novel explains, after a 19-year-old slave came into his mistress’s room with an axe and was consequentially imprisoned, a crowd of white men angrily mobbed around the jail where he was contained. Next, in fear of a slave rebellion due to the growing abolition movement, whites stormed the city and destroyed a well-known free black man’s popular restaurant – the first restaurant to open in Washington D.C. These riots quickly escalated and black schools and homes went down in flames. Morley constantly reminds readers of how history books have skewed perception of American history in regards to race, such as the disregard for our national anthem’s author’s favor towards slavery. He begs the question, are we as Americans afraid to discuss how slavery impacted, and continues to impact, our society?

Free blacks were beginning to outnumber slaves in 1830s Washington, but the slave trade was still booming.
Free blacks were beginning to outnumber slaves in 1830s Washington, but the slave trade was still booming.

Next we look at Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 occurred after a black man was accused of assaulting a white woman. Thousands of white residents rampaged through the black section of the racially segregated town: they looted stores, burnt homes and hospitals, and killed black men and women. The National Guard was sent in, and began arresting blacks rather than the white rioters. The number of blacks that died is estimated to be anywhere between 25 and 300, and 20 whites were killed. These riots lay hidden for decades, only coming to light in the past fifteen years. Check out Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and its Legacy by James S. Hirsch and The Burning: Massacre, Destruction and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan to learn more about this forgotten riot.

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Fast forward to 1991 in Los Angeles, CA. A black man named Rodney King was beaten by police officers after a high-speed chase. Despite video evidence of using excessive force, the four white officers were acquitted in April 1992 and riots erupted in the city: over 50 people died, more than 2,000 people were injured, and upwards of 1,000 buildings destroyed. Almost ten thousand National Guard troops were dispatched to restore order, and Rodney King himself pleaded publicly for peace, asking “Can we all get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?” The riots and looting ended after five days. The case was re-opened, and in August 1993, a U.S. District Court Judge sentenced two of the officers to 30 months in prison, and King was awarded $3.8 million of the $56 million he pursued in a civil lawsuit against the LAPD.  Featured books include Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD by Lou Cannon and A Gathering of Heroes: Reflections on Rage and Responsibility.

Civil Rights & Racism Today

Other books on display look at famous leaders of the civil rights movement, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, and Rosa Parks, and some focus on their legacies today. Malcolm X’s autobiography is available for checkout, as well as a Martin Luther King biography, King: A Biography by David Levering Lewis. Donnie Williams’s The Thunder of Angels: The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the People who Broke the Back of Jim Crow offers a look at those who helped desegregate Montgomery, Alabama, the violence and abuse suffered on city busses, and Martin Luther King’s court trial. Author David L. Chapell discusses the struggle for civil rights after King’s assassination in his novel Waking from the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Many of the books on display serve as a reminder of the reality of racial tensions and inequalities that still exist in the United States today. For example, Charles Barkley, a former NBA MVP and current sports announcer, uses the cheeky title Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man? to draw readers towards his book that features interviews with well-known Americans such as Bill Clinton and Morgan Freeman about race.

Touching on another taboo American subject, A Hundred Little Hitlers by Elinor Langer examines the Nazi-inpsired racist movement in the United States, examining the 1988 brutal murder of Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian immigrant who was murdered by the East Side White Pride skinhead group in Portland, Oregon. Finally, we have Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and its Legacy by Paul Hendrickson.

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In 1962, a photo appeared in Life magazine featuring seven smiling white sheriffs out to stop integration at the University of Mississippi, and one of the men is swinging a billy club. Hendrickson speaks to the two remaining men from the photograph and their grandsons, tracing the progression of Mississippi racism through three generations. The novel exemplifies how deeply rooted racial problems are in the South and offers insight into the ignorance still held by many. But moreover, he inspires hope through his evidence of changing times.

At the movies: Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch-Perfect-2-WallpaperIf you haven’t yet seen the first Pitch Perfect film, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Part goofy comedy, part musical spectacular, part love-and-friendship journey, and full of snarky, feel-good moments, this is a perfect film to lift you out of a bad day (and give you a song to hum at the same time!).

With the action-flicks and special-effects spectaculars that typically fill screens in the summertime, it was gratifying to see a long line of people waiting to get into see Pitch Perfect 2 last night (a few of them bursting into song when the mood took them).  So, for this first weekend installment of the Free-For-All, we thought we’d offer some suggestions for those of you who found the two Pitch Perfect films aca-awesome.

P2641410itch Perfect: If you happened to notice in the credits, both films were “Inspired by the book by Mickey Rapkin”.  An editor for GQ, Rapkin spent a year chronicling three a cappella groups in their quest for glory–as well as their brushes with fame, and run-ins with the law.  Told with a  journalist’s quick pacing and an eye for detail, this book emphasizes just how real the competition depicted in the films are, and just how (surprisingly) popular a cappella as a form has grown in the past decade or so.

3618214 The Lumberjanes: Though neither about college nor about music, this graphic novel features the same quirky, off-beat comedy as the Pitch Perfect films, with heaps of ‘girl power’, by which we mean positive female relationship between characters who are far more concerned about facing down a three-eyed fox than they are about finding a boyfriend.  The five friends at the center of these books are sensational heroines, and the increasingly wild adventures that occur at their less-than-ordinary summer camp are sure to keep readers enthralled.

3573199How to Build a Girl: A marvelous and surprising novel about self-invention and re-invention, Caitlin Moran’s book features an outside much like Beca, who finds her salvation through music.  After being publicly shamed on local television, Johanna Morgan reinvents herself as the flamboyant Dolly Wilde, music critic and all-around-bon vivant.  But after two years as Dolly, Johanna is suddenly forced to realize that she may have given her alter-ego a fatal flaw.

Be3183715auty Queens: Another book that doesn’t hesitate to question why women can’t be whatever they want–and do it together.  In fact, when their plane crashes on a desert island, these beauty queen contestants band together in order to survive, all while keeping up their dance practices, just in case they get rescued in time to show off their choreography.   Libba Bray’s writing is always fun, unexpected, and engaging, and this book is especially fun as it blends the ridiculous and the sublime, as well as a few timely observations about women’s power and society.

2421185Starter for Ten: This book by David Nicholls follows another oft-stereotyped, but seldom-explored student group: the college quiz team.  Told through the eyes of the charmingly hapless Brian during his first year at Bristol University, this is a wonderfully funny, occasionally heart-breaking story about fitting in, finding yourself, and knowing the right answers.  As a bonus to music-lovers, Brian’s penchant for mix tapes is sure to please any one with a fond nostalgia for the ’80’s.  We also have the film version of the book, starring the younger versions of the great James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch.

And, naturally, you can find the soundtracks to both Pitch Perfect films in our catalog, as well!

Five Book Friday: May 15

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Happy Friday, dear patrons!  In our Five Book Friday posts, we will be highlighting some of the new books that have appeared on our shelves this week.  Our inaugural
post features everything from Irish drama to vampire romances, from a wartime mystery to a man who can paint other people’s memories.  We hope you enjoy!

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3594933The Green Road: A novel that spans thirty years and three continents, Irish author Anne Enright’s newest novel tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigan family, and her four children.  But this book is so much more than a family saga.  Hailed by The Guardian as a “brilliant, devastating, radical novel”, this story reads like a collection of short stories all tied together by some of the most vivid, honest, and empathetic characters you will meet in fiction for some time.  Though the plot of this novel is more subtle than most, the relationships that readers build with these characters makes the journey feel fulfilling regardless of what takes place along the way.

M3628868aggie Bright: A Novel of Dunkirk: In order to aid the massive British evacuation from Dunkirk, Churchill authorizes civilian vessels to bring soldiers back across the English Channel.  But when Claire Child’s yacht, Maggie Bright is commandeered into service, it will bring her into contact with two men, and a dark mystery, that will change all their lives forever.  Grimly realistic, romantic, and uplifting by turns, Tracey Groot’s newest release seems to be garnering a good deal of positive attention from both readers and critics alike.

3597936The Shadows: A Novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood: J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series has become a staple of the paranormal romance genre, and with every novel, she expands the shadowy, dangerous world they inhabit even further.  This impressive thirteenth installment features Trez, a damaged and hunted loner who is trapped between the love of a powerful woman and a fate he is powerless to escape.  Though this might not be the best place for new readers to begin, fans of this series will find all of Ward’s trademark emotional highs, and clever plot twists.

3617492The Memory Painter: Gwendolyn Womack’s debut is a genre-challenging, unsettling, and immediately engaging book about an artist whose paintings are inspired by his haunting, vivid dreams, and a brilliant woman who realizes the startling truth behind his visions.  RT Book Reviews says of this book: “the dreamlike descriptions, unnerving conspiracies and eerie sense of foreboding and premonition that haunts the protagonists will keep readers fascinated even after every strange secret has been revealed.”

T3593852he Fall: John Lescroart is one of those rare novelists who succeeds in a number of different genres; from historical fiction to mystery–to this newest legal thriller.  Kirkus says that this 16th outing featuring Dismas Hardy is a “wild tale”, full of twists and surprises, and though it may not be the strongest series installment, it is certainly hitting all the right notes with longtime fans of Lescroart’s work.

Want to see what else is new on the shelves?  Come on in and check out a few new books today!

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