Tag Archives: If/Then

Westworld: An If/Then Reading List

For those of you still having feelings about Superbowl LII…we see you, and we support you.  For those of you good readers who watched the Superbowl for the commercials, it was a pretty decent showing, all in all.  Particularly those Tide ads, that played heavily on genres, tropes, and gimmicks within familiar commercials.

But for fans of the series, there was no ad quite like the trailer for the upcoming season of Westworld, which debuts on April 22.  You can catch that trailer below if you missed it:

For those who aren’t familiar with the show, Westworld is a science-fiction western thriller airing on HBO.  The television show was inspired by a 1973 film of the same name that was written and directed by Michael Crichton, and stars Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin.  The story takes place in the fictional Westworld, a technologically advanced Wild West-themed amusement park populated by android (robotic) hosts. Westworld caters to high-paying guests, who come to experience life in the frontier town of Sweetwater, and interact with the robotic “hosts”, whose advanced programming allows them to follow a pre-defined set of intertwining narratives, and to deviate from these narratives as visitors interact with them. The hosts repeat these narratives anew each day, having their memories wiped of the previous day, until they are re-purposed or put away in storage. For the visitors’ safety, hosts are unable to harm any other living life forms, allowing visitors nearly unlimited freedom to engage in whatever activities they want without retribution. A staff oversees the park, develops new narratives, and performs repairs on hosts as necessary.  The series begins when a routine update in the hosts’ programming causes unusual deviations in their behavior that allows some of the hosts to understand the truth about themselves and their world…

Though there was some behind-the-scenes drama that postponed the premier of the show from 2015 to 2016, the finished product has been, according to nearly everyone, sensational.  The debut of the series garnered one the HBO’s highest viewership ratings and remains one of the most-watched series on HBO (which, given some HBO series’ devoted followings, is saying quite a lot).  And there are plenty of reasons why it’s continued to be such a talked-about and intriguing show.  First off, the sets, costumes, and scenic details are sensational (hats off to costume director Ane Crabtree, whose historic research paid dividends).  But beneath the stunning veneers, the story of the show itself is a deeply unsettling, curiously arresting consideration of what it means to be human, and what lengths humans are actually capable of going in order to feed their appetites, and what consciousness really means.  As The USA Today wrote, “The reward, beyond the visual splendors you’ve come to expect from big-budget HBO productions, is a set of characters who grow ever more complex.”  Mary McNamara of Los Angeles Times wrote that Westworld “…isn’t just great television, it’s vivid, thought-provoking television that entertains even as it examines the darker side of entertainment.”

So, for those of you looking for a new binge-watching treat, Westworld might very well be the series for which your searching, especially as one series isn’t, comparatively speaking, a huge amount to watch before the Season Two premier on April 22.  But for those of you who are already long-time visitors to Westworld, fear not!  We have a wealth of suggestions to keep your imagination spinning and your gears gyrating until the next episode airs!  Check out some of our top picks below:

Silver on the Road: Readers who are taken with scenes of the ‘Wild West’ in Westworld, and intrigued by the idea of women finding their identity while traversing it, look no further than Laura Anne Gilman’s sensational Devil’s West series.  The series is set in a fantasy west, ruled by The Boss…some might call him the Devil…and full of spirits, stories, and other things too terrible to name.  On her sixteenth birthday, Isobel decides that her true calling is in working for The Boss.  In turn, she is made his Left Hand–but what that title truly means is a mystery.  Rather than explain, The Boss places Isobel in the company of a man named Gabriel, and sent to explore the territory that is now hers.  The story that unfolds is a gently-paced, deeply emotional, and utterly vivid one, that will have you trying to brush the dust from your coattails after every scene.  Isobel’s comradeship with Gabriel is fascinating, unexpected, and stunningly equitable, the lessons she learns about herself and her role along the road are unforgettable, and the best part is that this is just the first book of an outstanding series.  So anyone looking for a Wild West that is just as weird as Westworld, but with a lot more occult and feminism thrown in, look no farther that this book.

Karen MemoryElizabeth Bear takes inspiration from the very real Seattle Underground to create a story about airships, gold miners…and, most importantly, Karen, and her fellow “soiled doves” working at  Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello.  When a badly injured young woman arrives on their doorstep, pursued by the man who holds her indenture, Karen realizes that trouble has fixed its eye on Madame Damnable’s.  But when a body is soon left on their rubbish heap, all hell seems near to breaking loose around them.  While the steampunk genre deals less with robots than automatons (the distinction can be found in the power keeping the machines working and, often, the level of autonomy and consciousness afforded to them), there is a lot of the same high-tech, Wild West skull-duggery going on in this sensational story as in Westworld.  Best of all, once again, we get a feminist perspective on violence, history, and tech, that is heartily welcome.

Utopia: Lincoln Child has terrific fun with the tech-thriller genre, and this book, set in a futuristic theme park, deals with many of the same themes as Westworld, including huge conspiracies, techno-wizards and techno-pocalyspes, and elaborate sabotage schemes going on behind the idyllic scene.  Utopia is a technologically advanced, family-friendly theme park off the Las Vegas strip.  Not only do people flock there for a day of fun, they come to see the system known as the Metanet, a highly secretive and enormously ingenious robotics system designed by Dr. Andrew Warne–a system that essentially runs the park on its own.  But when Andrew is brought in to consult on the possible expansion of the park, he soon uncovers evidence of tampering with the system–from the inside.  His worst fears are realized when one of the rides is sabotaged–and park officials are unable to turn off the rest of the park due to threats of further violence.  Full of fancy techno-details that will appeal to those who love programming potential in Westworld, and told in a thrill-a-minute, breakneck pace, this story is sure to feed your need for danger until Westworld surges back onto the screen.

FantasticLand: This one is a bit of an outlier, but for those of you drawn to the premise of an amusement park from hell, look no further than Mick Bockoven’s vivid, violent novel about an abandoned theme park–and the people who were abandoned inside it.  When the (fictional) Hurricane Sadie threatened Florida with inevitable destruction, the decision was made to evacuate visitors from FantasticLand, but to leave park staff behind with some supplies in order to hold down the fort, so to speak.  But when help finally arrives five week later, they find gruesome and visceral evidence (literally) that something went terribly wrong at FantasticLand.  This book is presented as a dossier of testimony from survivors about what precisely happened during those weeks, when the staff broke into tribes–complete with names and mottoes–and began hunting each other.  There are a number of echoes of Lord of the Flies in this book, and though there is a lot of Milennial-bashing in Bockoven’s work, this is just the thing for a reader whose looking for another dystopian theme park full of menace to tide them over until Westworld‘s gates re-open.

Well, that was fun!

We sincerely hope everyone had a chance to enjoy yesterday’s eclipse.  While the event itself was rare enough in and of itself, it was also pretty remarkable to have an event that unambiguously brought everyone in this country together…and gave them a reason to look up and to marvel.  I was lucky enough to spend the height of the eclipse in a parking lot with a group of strangers who were all sharing their eclipse glasses, talking about the fact that the world was a weird kind of hazy orange-ish color, and, best of all, that we were grateful for each other’s presence at that moment in time.

If you weren’t able to watch the eclipse, then allow me to share with you some of the sensational images that NASA captured of the event:

Here’s the shadow of the Moon as seen from space:

From https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/the-eclipse-2017-umbra-viewed-from-space-2

This composite image shows the progression of a partial solar eclipse over Ross Lake, in Northern Cascades National Park, Washington on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017:

A total solar eclipse swept across a narrow portion of the contiguous United States from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. A partial solar eclipse was visible across the entire North American continent along with parts of South America, Africa, and Europe. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

And here’s the show itself:


And, if you, like me, took some very well-intentioned, but generally unimpressive photos of the eclipse, then you can commiserate with these photos that The Guardian collected of people’s “Underwhelming Photos of the Eclipse”.

From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gallery/2017/aug/21/bad-solar-eclipse-photos-gallery

On the day that we were reminded how small we are in the cosmos, and how great are the forces balanced around us, it’s kind of nice to know that even if our attempts didn’t amount to much, that we all collectively strove to capture some wonder and some beauty together yesterday.

So thanks to the Sun for a great show, for bringing us together, and for reminding us of our place in the Grand Scheme of Things.  And if you’re interested, we’ll be back in this position again in 2024!  But just so you know, eclipse glasses have a short shelf life, so don’t save them for next time!  If you’re looking to get rid of those eclipse glasses, here’s what to do:

  1. Take the protective lenses (the black filmy stuff) off, then put them in the recycling bin
  2. Keep an eye on the Astronomers Without Borders website–they are looking to redistribute those glasses, and yours could do some real good!  We’ll let you know when their plan is announced.

And in the meantime, in case you aren’t ready to put your eclipse-o-mania away just yet, here is a selection of books that you can check out to keep you going (maybe not until 2024, but we’ll certainly keep trying!):

Every Soul a Star: This story, about three people among thousands who gather at Moon Shadow, an isolated campground in right in the path of totality to witness a solar eclipse.  Each of these three young people, Ally, Bree, and Jack, are dealing with their own burdens, from the experience of being overweight to social awkwardness, from the insecurity that comes with popularity to the fear of growing up and moving on–but during the eclipse, they will begin to forge friendships that will slowly change their lives.  Wendy Mass does a brilliant job shifting narrative voices in this book, alternating between Ally’s, Bree’s, and Jack’s experiences to form a powerful story about the strength human bonds, even in the face of massive, cosmic changes.  Like I said, my favorite part of the eclipse was hanging out with strangers who suddenly became friends, and this book revels in that feeling from the very first chapter.

Shooting the Sun: Anyone who tried to take a picture of the sun, balancing your eclipse glasses precariously over the lens, only to get a weird, grainy blur of red and black, will be glad to hear that people have been trying to capture eclipses on film for centuries.  Max Byrd takes this premise to create a fascinating, twisty, historically detailed story of cosmic wonders and human treachery. Charles Babbage, a British genius (and famous eccentric) has sponsored an expedition into the American wilderness in order to photograph an eclipse that Babbage’s Difference Engine has predicted.  On the expedition are four men and one remarkable woman, Mary Somerville, who is determined to prove Babbage’s predictions true.  But no computer can predict the vagaries of the human heart, or the darkness of the human mind, and Mary will soon find that the eclipse poses a much smaller risk to her than the other people in this expedition…This is a terrific blend of history, science, and intrigue, that is sure to appeal to history buffs…as well as any of you intrepid eclipse-chasers who books tickets to the path of totality to witness the full eclipse for yourself!

Eyes to See: Ok, so this book isn’t about eclipses, I admit it–it’s a supernatural, urban thriller.  But in this series’ debut, our hero, Jeremiah Hunt, sacrifices his normal sight, not quite by staring at an eclipse, but in order to see the world of ghosts and dark powers in order to find malevolent power that stole his daughter, and a series about a man who describes his world through his other sense, whose sense of loss (both of his family and his eyesight) is unforgettable.  Nassise does a brilliant job with the noir tone in this book, but by sending the hero on a quest for his daughter (rather than some sort of femme fatale), he gives this whole quest a totally different, urgent, and believable feel.  This is a book about the nightmares that lurk just beyond what the rest of us are able to see–but it’s also about someone who has looked at what he was forbidden to…so if you spent way too much time yesterday trying not to look up at the eclipse, or telling other people not to look up at the eclipse, this title might be for you.

On Forgeries and Fakeries…

Last Friday, a major exhibition of the works of Amedeo Modigliani at the Doge’s Palace in Genoa announced that it would be closing early, after authorities confirmed that most of the paintings in the exhibit–21 out of 30, to be precise–were fakes.  

Via hyperallergic.com

As reported by the British newspaper The Telegraph, Carlo Pepi, a 79-year-old art critic, raised the alarm after seeing advertisements for the exhibit featuring a 1918 portrait titled “Marie, Daughter of the People.”

“My goodness, when I saw the poster of Marie and then looked through the catalogue and saw the others, I thought, poor Modigliani, to attribute to him these ugly abominations,” Pepi told The Telegraph.

Via telegraph.co.uk

I am fascinated bytale  art crimes.  I know that’s a weird thing to admit, but I do.  Maybe it’s the bizarre combination of ruthlessness and beauty that go into so many of these crimes.  Maybe it’s the dirty history behind images that we tend to take for granted–for example, Edvard Munch’s The Scream has been stolen twice, in outlandish circumstances…and recovered in operations just as over-the-top.  To be honest, I’m thoroughly enamored with the idea that you could get a job hunting these forgeries down, too.   Tales of the FBI’s Art Thefts department

It seems like the stuff of fiction–and yet the repercussions of art crime are international and unforgettable.  If you’ve ever been to the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum, and looked at the empty frames that still hang on the wall in memory of the (still missing) paintings that were cut out of them, you know what a palpable loss those pieces still have (see image to left, via the New York Post).  For those who have lost, or found, pieces stolen by Nazi authorities or during the Stalinist purgers, the enormity of the crime committed cannot be contained in a frame.  Art speaks to us in a way that words and deeds cannot, and to rob someone of that is to rob them of their humanity.  It also robs humanity of some truly staggering works of genius as well–the number of pieces that now have dubious provenance (the official history of a painting that traces its whereabouts throughout its life) is enormous, and is ever-growing.

However, if you’re even in Vienna, check out the Fälschermuseum to learn how much fun fakeries can be.  This museum is dedicated to the history of fake art, forgeries, and art fraud, and, though small, provides a fascinating education on the hows and whys of fakes, as well as some of the incredible stories behind some of the world’s best fakes, and most oddly satisfying stories–like Tom Keating, who wrote notes on his canvas before painting over them so that when the painting was x-rayed, his forgery would be discovered.

Even better, if you don’t feel like leaving your armchair/couch/beach chair/office, then check out these fantastic books on art forgeries, fakeries, and the wild stories behind them in these books!

Provenance: Speaking of Modigliani forgeries….John Myatt is perhaps one of the 20th century’s most famous (and most prolific) art forgers, and his talents for visual mimicry are shocking (check out his website here!).  In 1986, trying desperately to stay financially afloat, Myatt advertised his talents in the hopes of painting a few copies for money.  Instead, he was contacted by con artist John Drewe, who embroiled Myatt in one of the biggest, most wide-ranging art frauds in history.  In the end, a Modigliani forgery played an enormous part in bringing Drewe’s scheme down, and though Myatt spent time in prison for his role in the con, his paintings are now some of the most highly-sought in Britain.  Laney Salisbury tells his and Drewe’s story with insight, wit, and a perfect sense of timing.  Though we as readers never lose sight of the gravity of the crimes being committed, the book still reads a lot like a crime caper, and provides an enormously entertaining education on the art world.

The Forger’s Spell: In 1945, Han Van Meegeren, a Dutch artist, was arrested and charged with collaborating with the enemy, for having allegedly sold a Vermeer painting to Nazi officer Hermann Goering.  Van Meegeren’s defense was a shocking one–the painting, he claimed, was not a Vermeer.  It was a Van Meegeren.  Moreover, he had traded the false Vermeer for 200 original Dutch paintings seized by Goering in the beginning of the war.  Van Meegeren was actually called upon to paint another forgery before the court before his story was believed, and Van Meegeren’s charge was reduced to forgery, for which he spent about a year in confinement.  In this engaging work, Edward Dolnick not only relates the story of the forgeries, but placed Van Meegeren’s work in the context of the Second World War, emphasizing what a dangerous game he was playing–and the real effects his actions had on the art world.  It’s an enlightening and tense story that will appeal to military historians as well as art lovers.  You can see Van Meegeren’s forgeries for yourself here .  If you like Dolnick’s writing, be sure to check out The Rescue Artistabout the theft and recovery of Munch’s The Scream, too!

Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa: On August 21, 1911, Leonardo da Vinci’s most celebrated painting vanished from the Louvre. The prime suspects were as shocking as the crime: Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire, young provocateurs of a new art. The sensational disappearing act captured the world’s imagination. Crowds stood in line to view the empty space on the museum wall. Thousands more waited, as concerned as if Mona Lisa were a missing person, for news of the lost painting.   Though she was recovered in Florence in 1913, R.A. Scotti emphasizes that still in the case still linger: Who really lifted Mona Lisa…and why?  This story is part mystery, part history (the case was one of the first to use modern forensic science and profiling), and part love story to Paris, the Louvre, and the art it holds, this is a really engaging look into the history of what has become the most famous painting in western culture.

Saturdays @ the South: For your listening preference…

I recently chatted with someone who claimed she wasn’t much of a reader because she rarely sat still long enough to read a book in any meaningful way. That is, until she discovered audiobooks. Audiobooks have helped her become more of a reader because she was able to do it during the times when she had to sit down anyway, like during her long commute. I discovered audiobooks in a similar way. While I’m an avid reader, I was looking to get more reading time into my day thinking “good grief, I hate spending all this time in the car when I could be reading…“. Then I had a huge forehead-slapping moment when I remembered that audiobooks exactly that: a way to safely read in the car.

Once I discovered one of the benefits of audiobooks (and there are many), I didn’t necessarily jump right onto the bandwagon, though. As I mentioned in last week’s post, everyone has their own preference when it comes to audiobooks, and much like a fairy-tale princess, you may have to kiss some frogs before you find the style(s) that suit you best. Some people for example can’t read fiction in the car because they find it too engrossing. They get so involved in the story that listening to a book in the car is no longer a way to read safely; it’s distracting instead. It’s just not the audiobook style for them.

I kissed several frogs when I  started to listen audiobooks and still do, even though I’ve been listening to them for years. Sometimes a narrator of a nonfiction work sounds pretentious and didactic, rather than engaging. Sometimes the reader presents a character that sounds completely differently in your head and you just can’t listen to the portrayal without getting aggravated (been there, so many times). Sometimes the story is something that’s right up your alley, but it’s better left in print form. I come across this a lot in my reading. Sometimes I just need to see the word on the page to make it come alive in my head. Nothing against the narrator, just a personal preference.

This week, I thought I’d offer a sort of if/then for audiobooks, not necessarily based on their plot (you’ll find summaries in the catalog links), but based more on what listening style it could attract. If you’re thinking about trying audiobooks or just looking for your next listen, maybe something here will float your boat:

If you want to be engrossed but not distracted try:  The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession by David Grann

The narrator for this book did a great job expressing the tone of the text, which is about true stories that explore some form of obsession, without being overly dramatic or didactic. You won’t get someone changing their voice to mimic characters here, just a solid narration from someone who knows who to tell a gripping story. The fact that this is a series of tales, rather than one long story helps temper the tenseness of the subject matter so you’re less likely to drift too far into your imagination.

If you’re looking to laugh with non-fiction try: Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Lawson’s books are poignant, endearing and completely hysterical. This memoir about her life growing up in Texas and coming of age with her own personal issues is guaranteed chuckles and  guffaws, partly because the author reads the book herself, giving the reader a sense that they’re out having drinks with that friend who always knows how to crack you up. Plus, the audiobook has a gag reel. Need I say more?

If you’re looking to laugh with fiction try: Fool by Christopher Moore

Moore’s book about the fool in the court of King Lear is the book that made me say “this whole audiobook thing is going to work out just fine.” The narrator in this book does character voices spot-on with authentic-sounding accents, great comedic timing and differentiation that made me wonder a few times if there was more than one person reading the book. He did such a good job that I couldn’t imagine these characters sounding any other way.

If you’re looking for a cast of characters try: The Gurnsey Literary and Potato-Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Not only are the characters in this WWII historical novel well-drawn, they are very well-read by a cast, rather than relying on one narrator to do all the voices. Having multiple people read this story works very well for the epistolary style of the novel and helps keep a pretty large cast of characters in straight when you’re not seeing names on the page.

Bonus: If you’re looking for an epic cast of characters, try Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders which is read by 166 people, including Lin Manuel Miranda, Julianne Moore, David Sedaris, Ben Stiller, Don Cheadle and Nick Offerman.

If you’re looking for something classy try: The Iliad by Homer

Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Beauty and the Beast) narrates this classic, epic poem with style. His narration is subtle without being boring and he tackles the immense number of Greek names expertly. Since the Homeric tradition is an oral one, you get the sense that you’re listing to this book the way it was always meant to be done.

Bonus: If you’re a fan of celebrity narration, there’s plenty to be found out there, but few actors read books as well as Stephen Fry. Arabella mentioned his narration of the Sherlock Holmes canon (which I can’t wait to listen to myself), but may I also suggest his reading of Douglas Adams’s classic sci-fi caper, The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for a true reading treat.

I hope this post has given you some options if you’re just dipping your toe into the audiobook waters, or if you a longtime listener but are looking for something new. Till next week, dear readers, remember that good books (including audiobooks) are in the eye of the beholder, so don’t be afraid to experiment!

DRAGONS! A Game of Thrones If/Then Post

Courtesy of The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk
Courtesy of The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk

As I mentioned a little while back, when I’m not hanging out with the books, I teach at A Local University.  And, as it happens, all my students are obsessed (seriously…obsessed) with HBO’s Game of Thrones.  To the point where we make Game of Thrones analogies in class to help them better understand the History of the British Empire.  To the point where we had to delay class for ten minutes today so that everyone could finish venting, speculating, wondering, and lamenting what was, apparently, a stellar episode.

For the record, I love when students bring their outside lives to class, because 1) It means they are comfortable enough in class to bring their whole selves, 2) It means they are engaged with their other students, 3) It gives me ideas for blog posts to listen to them talk.

Episode 6 scene 20

As many of you may have heard, George R.R. Martin, the author of Song of Ice and Fire series (the first of which is titled A Game of Thrones) had always intended the books to be ahead of the series, so that readers would know in advance what was going to happen (to the extent that the show and the books aligned).  Lately, however, life has gotten in the way, and Martin missed the deadline for the seventh book in the series, The Winds of Wintermeaning that, for the first time, the show was ahead of the book in term of “what happens next” (sources report, however, that we may see the book by the end of this year, or early in 2017).  While this was certainly a blow to readers, who adore Martin’s detailed prose, his insanely complex world-building, and the sheer grandeur and goriness of his books, it’s made this season of Game of Thrones as much of a surprise for long-time fans as it is for those who discovered the series through HBO’s adaptations.

It turns out, my students fall into both categories.  Many are just discovering the addicting power of Martin’s work, but there are a number of students who are casting around for something to keep them going through the long, dragon-less days ahead.  And so for them, especially (and for you, of course!), I started putting together a list of other epic fantasy series that will tide even the most devoted Game of Thrones fan until the next scintillating episode, or series installment….

If you enjoy/enjoyed Game of ThronesThen be sure to try:

2255985The Darkness that Comes BeforeR. Scott Bakker’s The Prince of Nothing novels are perhaps a bit more philosophical than Martin’s books, as it focuses on a world undergoing a Second Apocalypse and all the holy men, crusaders, magicians, and prophets that herald its coming, but it does have that sense of dark foreboding that makes Martin’s work so compelling.  Bakker also does an impressive job balancing the epic scope of his fiction world, known as Eärwa, its armies and teeming streets, with court intrigue, love affairs, and personal interactions, making this book a page-turner on a number of levels.  There are two other books in the Prince of Nothing series, all of which have been published, so you won’t have to wait to find out what happens next.

51LyGnWecTL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Chronicles of the Black Company: For those whose favorite parts of Game of Thrones are the scenes on the Wall with the Night Watch, then this book is definitely for you.  The men of the Black Company wander their shadowy world, doing the work that no others are brave enough–or foolhardy enough–to do.  But as rumors of the White Rose begin to filter into their camps, the promise of a source of good in their bleak days, the world as they know it begins to change.  Glen Cook brings the world of epic fantasy down to the individual in these books, and the relationships and interactions between the men of the Black Company is what makes this book such a success.  As before, this the the beginning of a full series, so you can enjoy all their exploits without worry.

3613007The City Stained Red: For what it’s worth, Sam Sykes is my favorite author on this list, not only because I love the world that he has created in his Bring Down Heaven series, but also because his books are delightfully funny, his characters quirky, and its evident he is having so much fun creating this world that its impossible to not have fun while reading.  In these books, a rag-tag band of adventurers, lead by Lenk,(a man whose past is in itself the stuff of legends) must somehow defeat an ancient god who is tearing the city of Cier’Djaal apart at the seams.  Their quest will bring them into the heart of a deeply complex city, and up against the might of two frighteningly powerful armies, with plenty of action and some great plot twists to keep things interesting.  The adventures continue, and the stakes grow even higher, in the recently released The Mortal Tally.

…It’s only February?

I don’t know about you, but it seems that the presidential election has already reached a fever pitch…and there are still nine more months to go….


For those of you who revel in the election process, who thrive on the political wrangling and debate, we celebrate your good fortune–particularly in these next few days, as the political machine has descended on New Hampshire.  The airwaves, newspapers, and, in general, any public space, seemed full of debate and commentary–and commercials.  Endless commercials….

….And for those who who are very seriously considering hiding in your Officially Library Approved Blanket Fort until November, then you, likewise, have our full support.  Election decisions are difficult enough without the incessant stress that this process can induce in people, and the realization that the whole to-do is only getting started can be more than a little overwhelming…Either way, we at the Library are here to support you with voting assistance, informational resources, or a quiet sanctuary away from it all.

For President, Abram Lincoln. For Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin. (Abraham Lincoln, 1860) Caption: ÒIt seems as if the question whether my first name is ÔAbrahamÕ or ÔAbramÕ will never be settled. It is AbrahamÓ wrote Lincoln in June 1860. However, one campaign banner opted for the shorter and more typographically convenient ÒAbramÓ during one of the must crucial presidential election campaigns in its history. Credit: The Library of Congress

For today’s If/Then post, we are looking to merge the two, by offering you a selection of political films and tv shows to keep you in the election spirit, but ones that are firmly rooted in fiction, to help you escape the realities of this specific race (or at least the commercials!) for a little while.  This list has been curated, hopefully, with a blend of optimism and cynicism to suit any mood or taste.  So, without further ado…

If you’re looking for some election-themed viewing entertainment, Then check out….

2227184The West Wing:  This show had to be at the top of the list.  For many, it was the medium through which they learned how the electoral and judicial process worked, and in Martin Sheen’s performance as President Josiah Bartlett, a generation of young voters found their ideal Commander-In-Chief.  This show also became legendary for Aaron Sorkin’s linguistically complex, lightning-paced scripts that help characters sound better than any human being had a right to do.  All seven seasons of this series makes for ideal binge-watching, but even a season or two are sure to help you escape–and you’ll definitely come away with a wealth of factoids regarding the Presidency that you never knew you needed.

2089533DavePart Prince and the Pauper, part political commentary, this utterly quirky and perfectly heart-warming film is an all-around feel-good success.  Kevin Kline stars as Dave Kovic, an idealistic young man who makes some spare money by impersonating President Bill Mitchell.  But when he is called upon to help the President cover-up a personal rendezvous, he finds his job become much more permanent–Mitchell is incapacitated by a stroke, and Dave is forced to assume his duties…and in the process turns Washington upside-down.   There is plenty to be said about the shortcomings of politicians, but Dave’s wide-eyed optimism is enough to calm the most cynical of viewers, and the unexpected romance within this story rounds out a delightful film.

51dLUfhoZJL._SY300_The Thick of ItFans of British television should not miss this savagely funny series that satirizes politics across the pond.  Centered around the fictitious Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship, this show looks at the wild u-turns, bitter feuds, and hysterical side-shows that accompany every government policy and decision.  At the helm is current Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi as one of the most foul-mouthed, ill-tempered anti-heroes in television, who somehow still manages to be weirdly sympathetic.  Fans of Veep on HBO should also keep a sharp eye out for Chris Addison, the show’s current director, as Ollie, one of the most slimiest young upstarts you’ll ever hope to meet.  The cast reunited to make In the Loop, a feature film that shares many similarities with the show, so be sure to check that out, as well.

3326037 (1)Veep: Since we’re on the subject, don’t miss this show, that fans and critics seem to agree is one of the smartest comedies out there.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as former senator Selina Meyer who becomes the erstwhile second-in-command.  Though a British-conceived and produced show (the show’s creator, Armando Iannucci, also created The Thick of It), a number of Washington insiders have commented on the accuracy of the absurdity of it all.  It’s also wildly refreshing to have such an ambiguous female lead in this show, and to have the chance to follow her wild ride to power, and there is no one who can pull this all off better than Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

3378238 (1)House of Cards:  Though based off a British mini-series of the same name, the American version of this show, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, has become the stuff of legends, and given viewers permission to revel in the dark side of politics.  As the conniving Frank Underwood, Spacey’s almost Shakespearean bid for total power is a somewhat-terrifying, but wholly captivating performance that caused my mother to hang up on me whenever I called while it was on.  Best of all, all three seasons of this show are available through the NOBLE Network, so you don’t have to miss a minute!

Happy Viewing, beloved patrons!

“We must always travel with hope”…A Downton Abbey Edition of If/Then

It’s that time of year again…


Downton Abbey season is upon us.


And while every season of this marvelous historic drama has been memorial, the knowledge that this is the final season makes every episode, every lingering glance, ever caustic put-down, and every jauntily-angled hat that much more meaningful.  The season has already aired, and ended, in Britain, but we here in the US have only begun to savor our final season of one of the highest-rated shows in the western world.   Since it’s inception, this show has been hailed for its splendid characters, its rich historic setting, and its utterly engaging storylines, and has actually launched a shocking new generation of historical dramas, as production companies desperately try to capitalize on Downton’s success.  Not bad for a drama that deals heavily in the vagaries of British inheritance laws, eh?


The terrific thing about Downton Abbey, apart from the actual show, is the fact that it has such a vocal fanbase.  I can’t tell you how many delightful chats I’ve had with patrons who are picking up discs of various seasons to watch, or looking for something to tide them over between episodes, or searching for another compelling and transportive show once they’ve returned from a Downton binge.

So, in honor of all those lovely chats, and with the full knowledge that we’ll all soon be casting about for some news shows to savor very soon, here are some suggestions, from both sides of the Circulation Desk, based on the delightful denizens of Downton Abbey…

If you love Downton Abbey, Then be sure to check out:

2629560The Grand:  Like Downton Abbey, it sucks you in with its lovely setting (in this case, a spectacular hotel in downtown Manchester, England, in 1919), and holds you with its complex plots, surprising characters, and shocking twists and turns.  I owe the creator, Russell T. Davis (yup, the same guy who resurrected Dr. Who!), for helping me make friends in college. In the years before Netflix and Youtube (gasp!), this was our binge-watching fodder.  Downton Abbey fans will find the same attention to detail here in spades, and similarly powerful characters, especially as Stephen, the son and heir of The Grand Hotel’s owners, deals with his return from the First World War, and the new world in which he finds himself (in season one, Stephen is played to perfection by future True Blood star Stephen Moyer).  I realize I am rambling right now.  But it’s that terrific a show.  So go watch it, then we can chat.

3679092Peaky Blinders: On the surface, this superb BBC drama (which is now a Netflix production) has much in common with Downton Abbey: a superb cast, spectacular historical detail and costumes, surprisingly and memorable storylines…but on the other, it couldn’t be different.  This series is built around the gangs of Birmingham, England, in the 1920’s–some of the toughest, scariest, and most ruthless criminals in the country.  Their name was based on the fact that they sewed straight razors into the peaks of their caps, so that a single flick of the wrist could actually kill a man.  While not for the feint of heart, this is an addictive show that comes highly recommended.  Best of all, it stars Irish actor Cillian Murphy, who is one of my favorite people, as Tommy, whose voice can chill the blood effortlessly…and Season 2 features a guest appearance by Charlotte Riley, who played Arabella Strange in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell!

3645613The Crimson FieldIf, like me, your favorite season of Downton Abbey was the second, featuring the outbreak and experience of the First World War, then this drama of the nurses of the Western Front is for you.  It is very rare to see a story that focuses so much on women in the First World War, and, by and large, this show tells that story exceptionally well.  The French hospital in which these nurses find themselves is a battelfield in and of itself, for the hearts, bodies, and minds of those who must live, work, and suffer in it, and this show doesn’t shy away from the real and painful details of those experiences.  But it also tells stories of triumph and humor and, most importantly, of power for women at a time when women were not (and still are not) properly recognized for their work.

3645616Poldark: I went on (and on) about this show last summer, when the first season aired, but it’s certainly worth mentioning again.  Not only is this an adaptation wholly worthy of Winston Graham’s beloved literary series, it revels in its historical setting, costumes and accents, and doesn’t shy away from the deep complexities of its characters’ relationships.  Season One introduced us all to Ross Poldark, a British soldier who returns from service in the American Revolution to his home in Cornwall, and begins making a life for himself as a mine owner, a caretaker, and a husband.  Happily, for fans of this super series, season 2 is set to air in Britain sometime this summer, so our turn will be coming soon after!