The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
The best science fiction works on multiple levels; yes, it should almost always include interesting descriptions of the state of science and technology at some future (or past) place and time, along with insightful commentary on the state of mankind itself--or at least some alien species that we can all relate to in some way. And typically there is compelling action taking place. But the best of the best, I find, also works on a more personal level. There has to be something about the main character(s) of any story that draws us in and lets us identify with them, and there has to be some kind of conflict of character and an ultimate resolution of that conflict that strikes a chord within us. As I read Alfred Bester's classic The Stars My Destination (previously published in the U.K. as Tiger! Tiger!), what I initially found myself identifying with most in the character of Gully Foyle was his driving need to balance the scales between himself and a world that seemed to have gone out of its way to heap injury and indifference upon him--as I am certain that most people who have ever felt put-upon by the world will likewise relate to. But what I found even more compelling was Gully's necessary transformation from a mediocre, uneducated brute to a self-made man with iron control over his own thoughts and emotions as his quest for revenge likewise evolved from lashing out in mindless fury to flexing his intellect in pursuit of his goals. As Gully acquires intellect he also acquires empathy, and conscience, arguably prerequisites for true sentience in any species. In many stories, heroes have a tendency to become god-like in their power; in Bester's story, his main character's physical abilities are matched in turn by his mental and spiritual evolution. Not to give anything away, but Gully's quest for vengeance takes a turn that I believe makes his character superior to Alexandre Dumas' Edmond Dantès (to whom Gulliver Foyle is often compared). Give Alfred Bester's visionary classic a read for yourself and see if you agree.
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The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
Thanks to all of for helping to make the this year a great one for the Library and all who work here. We appreciate all the kind words and support we've heard throughout the year.
The fine staff of the Children's room starts things off with their favorite children's and young adult titles of the year.
Bear has a story to tell, by Philip C. Stead ; illustrated by Erin E. Stead
A beautiful, sweet book by the 2011 Caldecott Winners of A Sick Day for Amos McGee. Bear has a story to share with his friends mole, duck, mouse and frog who are busy getting ready for winter's arrival. Preschool-Grade 2
Big Mean Mike, by Michelle Knudsen ; illustrations by Scott Magoon
Fluffy, white, adorable bunnies are hard to resist. This humorous book is about the toughest dog in town with the meanest, noisiest car. Big Mean Mike finds one fluffy bunny after another in his cool car and tries to find ways to get rid of them before they ruin his reputation. Preschool-Grade 2
Cindy Moo, by Lori Mortensen ; illustrated by Jeff Mack
When Cindy Loo hears the line in the nursery rhyme, "And the cow jumped over the moon", she sets out to do just that, even when the other cows laugh at her.
Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson ; illustrated by E.B. Lewis
The watercolor illustrations and thought provoking story will start many discussion in classrooms and at home. After her teacher gives a lesson on kindness, Chloe realizes that she and her friends have not treated a classmate very well and she longs for a chance to make it right. Grades 2-5
Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett ; illustrated by Jon Klassen
I read this picture book aloud to many students during class visits to the library. The illustrations are wonderful and the story is magical. Annabelle finds a box filled with colorful yarn and her knitting transforms her cold, dark town. Annabelle knits for her friends, neighbors and animals and it seems her box contains an endless supply of yarn. Students love to share their thoughts about Annabelle's mysterious yarn box, and what they would want an endless supply of in their own magical box. Grades K-3.
Happy, by Mies van Hout
An almost wordless book for one-on-one sharing or a small group. The author uses fish with different facial expressions and postures to portray 20 different emotions. A great book for interaction and discussion about feelings with pre-school children.
Penny and her song, by Kevin Henkes
This is the first entry in a new beginning reader series by the Caldecott Medal-winning author. Henkes introduces sweet and curious little mouse Penny, who longs to share a new counting song she has learned at school but is stopped by her parents who fear she will wake the babies. Penny's dilemma is resolved when the whole family gathers for her solo performance, singing a catching tune from one to ten and putting the siblings to sleep in the process.
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio
Children's Services loves this story and "wondered" whether it would resonate as much with children. It does. Children come in to request it, to rave about the book, and to ask for stories similar to it. Wonder tells the story of Ten-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with extreme facial abnormalities and is entering fifth grade at a private middle school after years of homeschooling. Told from multiple points of view, including Auggie, his sister, and several friends. School Library Journal notes that "everyone grows and develops as the story progresses, especially the middle school students. This is a fast read and would be a great discussion starter about love, support, and judging people on their appearance. A well-written, thought-provoking book." Recommended for grades 4-7.
Cinder: a Lunar chronicles novel , by Marissa Meyer
Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi
And here are a few more young adult titles from our teen committee:
The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein Book 1 : This dark endeavor, by Kenneth Oppel
Fifteen year old Victor Frankenstein struggles with feelings of inferiority towards his identical twin brother Konrad. While exploring the family home in Geneva with friends Elizabeth and Henry, the twins find a secret library filled with books on the occult. When Konrad becomes gravely ill, Victor becomes obsessed with alchemy and with creating the Elixer of Life to save his brother. During his search for the necessary ingredients, Victor's belief in the powers of the elixer take hold of him, changing the course of their lives forever.
The Fault in our Stars, by John Green
A book about childhood cancer; it doesn't sound appealing at first glance, but it is filled with immensely appealing characters. This book follows the stories of several teenage cancer patients who meet in a support group. Augustus, Hazel and Isaac look at their lives and their illness with the frankness and irony common to teenagers. They have hobbies, dreams and relationship problems, but they live with the reality that their lives will not be long. Somehow John Green, without pity or sentimentality, manages to provide a peek into a world that most people fortunately never glimpse. Readers should push aside their reluctance to read this book for fear it will be depressing. I recommend this title to young adults and their parents. This book is written by an acclaimed author of young adult fiction and is on the 2012 list of Teens' Top Ten, a list chosen by young adult readers. Please watch this video of the author John Green reading the first chapter.
Dodger, by Terry Pratchett
Batman: Earth one , written by, Geoff Johns ; pencils by, Gary Frank ; inks by Jonathan Sibal ; color by Brad Anderson ; lettered by Rob Leigh
Code name Verity , by Elizabeth Wein
The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater
And here's what the rest of our staff has to say:
Ghostman, by Roger Hobbs
In Atlantic City a casino heist goes bad and "Jack" (our eponymous Ghostman) is called in to clean up the mess and find the money. It's not a job he actually wants to do, but he has a debt to pay for a job he botched years ago and the ruthless crime lord he owes isn't the type to forgive and forget. Jack must work against the clock and use all of his skills and cunning to outmaneuver the Feds and a rival crime lord before all $1.2 million of the casino take goes up in flames. I got the opportunity to read an advance copy of Ghostman and Roger Hobbs has written a taut, fast-paced crime thriller that will be hard to put down. This is an impressive debut novel from an author who, by my estimation, has a bright writing career ahead of him.
The Balkan Project, by Cavatina Duo
The recording I seem to be returning to most often recently is Balkan Project by the Cavatina Duo. The Library catalog describes this CD accurately enough as "Arrangements of traditional Balkan songs and dances for flute and guitar". What this phrase doesn't capture however is the virtuosity of both flautist Eugenia Moliner and guitarist Denis Azabagic and their almost telepathic interplay in service of lovely melodies, many of which are in odd-numbered time signatures. Much of this music doesn't sound particularly Balkan in origin -- more Pan-Southern European. Regardless, the often poignant lyricism of the material speaks directly to the emotions.
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
Walter re-imagines the lives of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor beginning at the time of the filming of Cleopatra in Rome. He has inserted a cast of memorable fictional characters into their lives to create an entertaining tale. In addition to Rome the narrative is set in a sleepy fictional hamlet on the Italian coast and in L. A. It weaves the threads of several story lines through nearly fifty years in amusing and occasionally tragic ways.
We Sinners, by Hanna Pylväinen
This slim first novel draws on the author's own life experiences. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the nine children and the parents in a large Midwestern family. Their lives are circumscribed by the beliefs and practices of the strict fundamentalist Finnish Lutheran church to which they belong. Each individual relates how he or she struggles to find his or her place in their family and in the world. Pylvainen who grew up near Detroit as a Laestadian Lutheran has written a sensitive portrait of family members wrestling with forbidden desires and trying to maintain their love for one another.
The Garner Files: a memoir , by James Garner
Out of the eleven books I reviewed this year, I'd have to say The Garner Files was my favorite! I read this book last March on the train when I went to visit my daughter in Charlotte. James Garner is one of my favorite actors, and I was very curious about his background. It was nothing like I expected! His mother died when he was young, his father was an absentee parent always on the road, and he and his brother were brought up by relatives. He never finished school, and never had any formal training in acting. Garner got into acting because a friend kept on prodding him. And he was a natural! This book relates his dealings with unscrupulous Hollywood managers, temperamental actors and humorous situations. He worked with some of the greatest actors of all times. As I mentioned in my earlier Staff Pick, I came away with a greater appreciation for the man James Garner. You should read it. I'm sure you'll enjoy it!
The Cherry Thing, by Neneh Cherry & the Thing
A collaboration between vocalist Neneh Cherry and Scandinavian instrumental jazz trio The Thing. Over the course of this lurching and powerful record they cover songs by the like of Suicide, The Stooges and Ornette Coleman, among others. They manage to put their own stamp on these songs. The band, made up of bass, drums and saxophone build walls of tension behind Cherry's vocals creating a singular sound.
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, by The Flaming Lips
Only Wayne Coyne and his band could actually pull off this idea, a double album featuring different "guests" on each track without things turning into a crazy jumbled mess. As it turns out, almost whoever they threw into this stew manages to hold their own and add to the band's heavy and discomforting sound. This CD version pales a bit in comparison to the now out of print double vinyl version by adding a few unnecessary touches but still, it's confounding how it all comes together.
Swing lo Magellan , by Dirty Projectors
The sheer joy on display here from the band manages to overcome their many pretensions. Plus, this features the year's best guitar riff...easily.
Pulphead: essays, by John Jeremiah Sullivan
John Jeremiah Sullivan makes essay writing seem so easy. With an easy charm and a quiet confidence,he immediately puts the reader at ease. His quirky choices of subjects doesn't hurt either; my favorite essay leads the book off. In it he visits a christian rock festival. He was ready to make fun of these folks and, he still does but also gains a grudging admiration for them. But really, anywhere you open this book you're bound to find a charmer. Currently, Mr . Sullivan is writing frequently for the New York Times Magazine, where he most recently told us about his "Multiday Massage-a-thon."
(the critics were WRONG!)
When Horror came to Shochiku
Four classic Japanese horror films from the 60s finally available from Criterion.
Blunderbuss, by Jack White
Bish Bosch, by Scott Walker
Tempest, by Bob Dylan
Lady, go die!: a Mike Hammer mystery, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Redshirts, by John Scalzi
Leviathan Wakes: an Expanse novel, by James S.A. Corey
The Big Book of Ghost Stories , edited by Otto Penzler
Lots of classic horror tales by a very diverse collection of writers from H.P. Lovecraft to Joyce Carol Oates.
Shadow show : an anthology of original short fiction by 26 authors, each of whom was inspired by the legendary work of Ray Bradbury, edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle
The Voice is All: the lonely victory of Jack Kerouac , by Joyce Johnson
Marvel Comics: the untold story , by Sean Howe
Jack Kerouac: collected poems, edited by Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell
Assassins Creed 3, by Ubisoft
Ever wondered what downtown Boston and New York looked like during the revolutionary war? Well the designers at Ubisoft have accurately recreated both cities as your playground (in fact a good portion of the eastern seaboard can be explored). This game offers a historical fiction plot line with a serious sci-fi twist. Whether on missions or moving around in free play, this game is sure to become your next great time suck! As an Assassin, your job is to stop the evil Templars (who are responsible for the death of your mother). I highly recommend this to anyone who has an extra 100 hrs at their disposal! My favorite parts are participating in the Boston Tea Party and befriending Samuel Adams. Who said learning wasn't fun!
Jerusalem: chronicles from the Holy City, by Guy Delisle; coloured by Lucie Firoud & Guy Delisle; translated by Helge Dascher
Cartoonist Guy Delisle has made a career of combining his NGO work with graphic novel travelogues. With Jerusalem he has reached a pinnacle of sorts, by masterly weaving together his day to day struggles living within the city and highlighting it's historical relevance and cultural diversity. Though they are covered, the political realities of the city rarely take center stage here, as Delisle is careful not to overshadow his narrative with the ongoing conflict. By doing so, Delisle succeeds in giving us a report from the frontlines that is remarkably humane.
The Turin Horse, directed by Bela Tarr
Hungarian director Béla Tarr has claimed that this will be his last film and it is indeed a masterwork. Shot in 30 long takes, the film's slow pace, somber repetitiveness and bleak outlook will turn away most audiences; but if you are in the mood for a Nietzchean reflection on the endtimes, this is the film for you. I found it incredibly moving, the kind of film that sticks with you for an eternity. Words truly do not do this film justice, each viewer should be left to interpret it on their own.
Black is Beautiful, by Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland
Under the moniker Hype Williams, Blunt and Copeland have released a plethora of material on mixtapes and blogs over the past few years. In the process they have built up a rabid cult following within the online underground music community. With Black is Beautiful, the UK duo have lived up to this praise and continued their prolific streak with a very non-traditional release. Every track on the disc feels like a work in progress, yet they all flow together as if premeditated. Throwing together disparate strains of free jazz, hip hop and reggae the duo take the trip hop sound laid down by artists like Tricky and Portishead over a decade ago, disassemble it and reconfigure for an uncertain future.
Lucifer, by Peaking Lights
Lucifer is a joyous celebration of low-fidelity musical mysticism. Peaking Lights combination of dance music refuse, dub and lo-fi/indie rock tropes is hypnotically dizzying in its scope. Unlike other acts mining similar territory, they approach their sound without an ounce of irony or self-awareness and this makes all the difference- as their sincerity shines through.
Rose: my life in service to Lady Astor, by Rosina Harrison
This is an engaging memoir by a woman, Rosina Harrisson, who made a career of being a lady's maid in the early to mid 20th century. During her life in service to famous and sometimes infamous Nancy Astor, she achieved her life dream of travel and adventure. It is interesting to compare her version of life upstairs and downstairs with the popular Downton Abbey and Gosford Park. It is also an excellent read in preparation for the new biography of Nancy Astor by Adrian Fort to be published in the US in January 2013. Nancy was an American southern belle divorcee who made a brilliant marriage to Waldorf Astor and became among many things, the first woman elected to the House of Commons where she stayed for 25 years.And Rose was with her the whole time keeping her clothes and diamonds in order as well as her renowned temper. This was no mean accomplishment for, a Yorkshire country girl. Enjoy!
Picks from our Cos Cob staff
Sandcastle Girls, by Chris Bohjalian
The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin
Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail , by Cheryl Strayed
Before the Poison, by Peter Robinson
The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty
Where'd you go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple
As you might expect, the Greenwich Library staff are an erudite bunch; opinionated too. Here are some of their favorite things from the past year.
My Favorite Design Books
Design Sponge at Home, by Grace Bonney
This is an amazing book by the creator of the popular design blog Design*Sponge. The book features beautiful photos and illustrations with home tours, realistic DIY projects with helpful step-by-step tutorials, and before and after makeovers. If you're looking to personalize your home on a budget, and need to know how to do it all yourself, this is the perfect place to start.
Black & White (and a bit in between), by Celerie Kemble
Black and white is my absolute favorite color combination. It is striking, dramatic and glamorous but can also be soothing and understated. In addition to her own, designer Celerie Kemble includes rooms by other well known designers, so you experience many points of view along the common theme of black and white. Kemble also covers adding neutrals and pops of color to accentuate your space. Great for inspiration.
Some 2011 highlights
Beginners, directed by Mike Mills
This deft and charming film focuses on sad guy Oliver Fields, played by Ewan McGregor, as he comes to terms with the death of his father and his attempt, after many failures, at a meaningful relationship. The story, told in flashbacks as well as the present (well, 2003 but, close enough,) allows us to see the baggage that Oliver is carrying around in his adult life. We learn that after his mother dies his father, which much aplomb, comes out of the closet. And, in a way, it's the story of Oliver coming out of his own closet of sadness and self-doubt. He begins a romance with the lovely Anna (played by the super cute Melanie Laurent))after they meet at a costume party. It's the scenes of their sometimes awkward courtship that are intermixed with the back story of Oliver's life. Neither of them is very good at relationships and, thanks to Mills excellent script, we learn why Oliver is reticent but we are offered just brief clues as to what lies in Anna's past.Despite the fact that they are in their late 30's, they are still beginners.
Christopher Plummer nearly steals the show as Oliver's dad and, even despite the presence of a cute little dog, things never get too precious.
Our Lives are Shaped by What We love: Motown's Mowest Story 1971-1973, by various artists
Who knew that, in the early '70's, Motown records founder Berry Gordy, Jr. ran a left coast version of his legendary Detroit record label. It was called Mowest and was dedicated to the grooving sounds of the west coast, with a sharp eye on the top of the charts. (Those were the days when top ten records really mattered.) Even though the label released over forty singles and close to a dozen albums the hits never happened and the imprint called it a day in 1973. But...that doesn't mean the music wasn't worthwhile because, in retrospect there were scores of great songs that were released during that time. Forty plus years later the best of those have been collected on this beautiful re-issue. Nearly every track is a winner and what's most striking is the wide variety of styles found on the collection. There's quite a bit of top shelf R&B, of course, by the like of such unknowns as Syreeta, G.C. Cameron and Sister Love but there's some nice Topanga Canyonesque rock from Lodi and some straight up hippie sounds from Odyssey. And after listening to this record I guarantee you that you'll never think about Frankie Valli & the Four seasons. They show up twice here, once offering up a fierce Meters like funk workout with a killer horn break called "Sun Country." The real highlight is a sneaky number by Syreeta called "I Love Everything Little Thing About You" that captures the breezy west coast sound Gordy was after with Mowest. It features an unmistakable Stevie Wonder on keyboards (he also produced her record for Mowest) and brings a synthesizer inflected funk sound to the track. I'd love to hear the whole record someday. This one was a super nice surprise.
Jernigan & Preston Falls, by David Gates
If all this Holiday cheer has you down I can recommend the writing of David Gates. While they aren't necessarily new (they were published in 1991 and 1998) these novels they're new to me. The men In these books, Peter Jernigan and Doug Willis, manage to wreck nearly everything and everyone they come in contact with. Jernigan is a self-centered drunk who is trying to come to terms with the death of his wife, who apparently was a bigger drunk than him. His dubious method of doing so is to drink even more than he used to and by losing his job. And, just when you think he can't sink any lower he moves in with the mother of his son's girlfriend. It's a creepy arrangement but it works...for a little while. It's a grim story but Gates makes it compulsively readable by creating characters that are entirely believable. He also adds a healthy dose of gallows humor to the book. Expanding on the same ground that Raymond Carver covered, Gates offers up a glimpse of a life that's spinning out of control. It's unclear if Jernigan actually wants to get well (at times he seems perfectly content to be a wretched drunk.) He doesn't do a whole lot of soul searching but, despite his shortcomings, he is still saved from his certain demise by his sadly neglected son. It's a powerful book that, in the wrong hands could have been too much. But Gates knows the territory well and cushions the blow with a strong dose of humanity.
In Preston Falls, Doug Willis isn't much better but at least he has a job. He's also smack in the middle of a mid-life crisis. To combat that, he decides to take a sabbatical from his corporate job and head to his summer house in Vermont with the intention of fixing it up. He leaves his wife and kids to fend for themselves. But a series of poor decisions ends turning his vacation into a nightmare. Throughout the book Gates drops hints that Willis's marriage has been on the rocks from quite some time. His wife is resentful that he's left but, in a way she seems thankful as well. His absence is one less hardship for her to deal with. Soon after his arrival in Preston Falls Willis falls in with some disreputable townies and before you know it, things are spinning out of control. He handles it about as poorly as a person could and ends penniless and on the run. And once again it's his wife, friend and family that do their best to get things squared away. Even though things are rough for a good portion of the novel, Gates leaves us with a little glimmer of hope.
Gates has scarcely been heard from since the publication of Preston Falls. Besides a short story collection there has been nothing. I can't help but suspect that some of the issues that surround his male characters come from direct experience. I also get the feeling that writing these books was a very difficult process. One that he may still be recovering from.
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson
Helen Simonson has written a real charmer of a book with Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Whether one is a avid or infrequent reader, this book can be a thoroughly entertaining and rewarding reading experience. The Major Pettigrew of the title is a retired, widowed British military officer recovering from the death of his brother. A chance encounter with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shop keeper, is the starting point of a friendship based, at first, on a mutual love of literature. Set in a seemingly tranquil English small town, the balance of this very well-crafted story follows the events in Pettigrew's life as he rediscovers the fact that joy can return to his life. While Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is Helen Simonson's first novel, this reviewer is hopeful that she will continue to write books as enjoyable as this one. The bonus of reading the Random House Reader's Circle edition available at the Greenwich Library is an interview with Simonson as well as a readers discussion section. This would be a great selection for a book club.
Briefly, if this reviewer were to pick the best books read in 2011, the fiction winner would be Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson and for nonfiction, it would be Founding Gardeners : The Revolutionary Generation, Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf. That book is reviewed in the Staff Picks column.
Chamber Music, Vols 1-3, by Rodolfo Halffter
My musical discovery of the year is the Spanish/Mexican composer Rodolfo Halffter (1900-1987). The Library owns a series of three CDs (COMP DISC 785.1 HALFF) devoted to his chamber music and I was particularly impressed with the third installment. The distinctive mix of neo-classicism and accessible atonalism on this recording has led me to more repeat listenings than any other recent release. All three discs can also be auditioned via Naxos Music Library on the Digital Music Page of the Library's website.
Complete Music for Piano, by Joaquin Rodrigo
Joaquin Rodrigo isn't particularly well known for his compositions for piano. However, I discovered his Complete Music for Piano a few months ago via the Library's subscription to Naxos Music Library and continue to revisit this uniformly charming release regularly. Magisterially played by Gregory Allen, the two disc set is also available on CD (COMP DISC 786.2 RODRI) at the Main Library.
All the Devils are Here: the Hidden History of the Financial Crisis, by Bethany McLean & Joe Nocera
If you are still looking to read a single book that will explain the cause of the continuing recession, All the Devils Are Here is the right one to read. One of the authors, Bethany McLean, is also the author of the highly readable Enron expose, The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Joe Nocera is a business columnist for The New York Times. They two have woven together the history of the mortgage industry, the historical role of the U.S. government in promoting home ownership, backgrounds of the many financial institutions that devised financial instruments to trade mortgages and the human failures at all levels. They show that there is plenty of blame to go around.
Germinal, by Emile Zola
"Out on the open plain, on a starless, ink-dark night, a lone man was following the highway from Marchiennes to Montsou,1 ten kilometres of paved road that cut directly across the fields of beet." That first sentence and Nicholas Kristoff's recommendation in the NYT last summer led me to tackle a major novel of the 19th century. This work describes coal miners in France during a strike in the 1860s. The miners are not just the simple poor, but complex men and women living an impossibly bleak life. The mine owners and managers are multifaceted characters also buffeted by the changes of the Industrial Revolution. This book resonates long after a rousing group discussion. Read this novel and you will understand the labor movement as never before. I can't recommend Germinal highly enough
Narrow Dog to Carcassone & Narrow Dog to Indian River, by Terry Darlington
These are among the funniest books I've read. "We could bore ourselves to death, drink ourselves to death, or have a bit of an adventure..." Retired Welsh couple Terry and Monica Darlington and their whippet Jim, take a couple of journeys on their narrowboat (a canal boat), first down the Rhone River to the south of France, and then down the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. It quickly becomes clear why no narrowboat has been seen in the Eastern U.S. These two books are comic, poignant, dangerous and joyful. If you love the witty observations of Bill Bryson, and if you love Mark Twain, these two books will be right up your alley!
Games of the Year
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, developed and published by Bethesda Softworks
Bethesda's fifth entry in its popular Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim, is pure fun. Explore a massive and beautifully detailed world as just about any kind of character you want to be with a multitude of things to do. Just make sure you wear some knee armor!
Just Dance 3, developed and published by Ubi Soft.
Just Dance 3: Wow. As an early adopter of the Wii version of Dance Dance Revolution, I was sure I was going to like this game. But I had no way of knowing how ridiculously fun it would be to dance by myself in my living room. Do I look like a complete idiot? Most definitely! Am I having an amazing time and learning ridiculous dance moves that will certainly be displayed at the next wedding I attend? Yes! I've never been to a wedding where a good representation of the Robot is not appreciated. I also had the opportunity of playing multiplayer. It's like being in a music video and if I can convince someone to memorize some of these dance moves with me, I will have a full on performance planned in the near future. And for anyone looking for some physical activity, look no further. This game will get your heart pumping . The basics are simple. Pick your song (literally any genre) and follow the choreographed dance moves of the character. Your movements are judged on how closely they mimic the character and points are awarded accordingly.
** I should note that all dogs, people and furniture that you don't want impaled by flailing limbs should be moved as far away as possible as you will dance like you have never danced before.
L.A. Noire, developed and published by Rockstar Games
I love crime shows. And playing this video game was like taking control of a crime show set in LA in 1947. Rock Star Games, who also created the Grand Theft Auto series and Red Dead Redemption, is responsible for this epic tale of murder, drugs, and corruption. So the synopsis of the game is as follows. You're an ex soldier who returned from the war to become a police officer in LA in 1947. As you solve crimes you are slowly promoted. Solving crimes involve all of our favorite things Rock Star Games has offered us over the years: shooting, fighting and driving fast. Unlike other Rock Star Games however, this one is slightly more structured and setup more like a level-up kind of game. Each case involves interrogations, clues, chases and or shoot-outs and not all conclude with a happy ending. I don't usually play a game for its graphics, but not mentioning them in this game would be doing this review a disservice. For anyone with an interest in old historical Hollywood, this game gives an unbelievably accurate representation. The sheer detail of the land makes you stop and look around. And the characters in the game look so real you actually can read their facial expressions. For any movie history buffs, this game will certainly excite you. The game is made to have that "Film Noire" look to it. It's dark, gritty and there's a crime of passion around every corner. It also references a lot of the emotions many men and women were going through post WWII (which for me, seems to be pretty deep for a video game). I highly suggested giving this game a shot, just be prepared to devote 60 hours of your next month!
Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 , by Warner Home Video
As a fan of the Lego series games I am rarely disappointed by the release of another Lego game. And Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 held up to my expectations. All the basic game play is the same as previous Lego games. You break blocks and build them, wizardry can be used to move items and potions help you change characters. They added a few helpful hints to help you complete the game at 100% (which I was certainly grateful for). Much like the books and movies this game takes a dark turn during the last 4 chapters. Things have gotten a lot more serious for Harry. However, the game still takes the liberty to make small jokes whenever possible (which I appreciate- Keep your eye out for the Monty Python reference). I am not as familiar with the Harry Potter story as I am with some of the other Lego franchises. However, I was still able to complete the game. After unlocking several characters you are able to return to Hogwarts and unlock the evil areas as Lord Voldemort or perform new spells on signing mandrakes. Each level has characters to unlock and crests to collect. Red bricks can be found throughout Hogwarts (unlocking these give you extra abilities) and there are a total of 200 gold bricks to collect! The one thing I noticed first when playing this game is how much of the base area they expanded since Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4. There is still Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, but they have also added some parts of London and the train stations. Seeing these areas in the movies was cool, but interacting with them in a video game is even cooler! In the end this game is not really that hard, but it is fun and lasts long enough so that you can really enjoy the game play.
Life Itself, by Roger Ebert
Having lost the ability to speak, eat and drink due to multiple surgeries for thyroid cancer, Roger Ebert has written an eloquent memoir. He recalls his early life in the Midwest, his career in journalism as a film critic, and stories about his colleagues, celebrity actors and movie directors. He writes lovingly about his relationship with his father and honestly about his own and his mother's struggles with alcoholism as well as their divergent views of the Catholic church. His vivid memories of meals he has savored are entertainingly recalled. The account of how in later life he met and married his supportive wife, Chaz and bonded with her large extended family is especially endearing. Edward Herrman's narration of the cd version of the text is perfect.
The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia, by Paul Theroux
When I thought back to the books I've read in 2011, the one that stood out in my mind was "The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia" by Paul Theroux.It reminded me of the great Agatha Christie novel "Murder On the Orient Express". Theroux decided to take a train trip to a warm, dry climate to shake off an illness brought on by the cold, damp British climate.He meets a motley crew of characters as he transfers from train to train. Train politics consists of bribing the conductor for an upgrade in accommodations. The trains seem to vary in their conformance to any kind of schedule. There are colorful descriptions of people and landscapes, as well as local customs. Sacred temples and sites are used differently from country to country. Perhaps the most striking aspect is the abject poverty visible across Eurasia. If you'd like to read a book with a touch of romanticism from an earlier time and space, and a stark look at other cultures, I suggest you download this e-book
Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People.
The only television program I watch with any regularity, Cartoon Network's Adventure Time, is a rollercoaster ride of fun and surrealism. An added bonus is having a show that I can enjoy on equal footing with my 9 year old son! Read more here.
Music for Merce, by Various Artists
The New World Records label has really outdone themselves with this 10 CD boxset. Chronicling over fifty years of music written/performed for Merce Cunningham's dance pieces, the names here are a who's who of modern music: John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, David Tudor, Morton Feldman, Gordon Mumma, and many more. The music is incredibly challenging, using primitive electronics and amplification processes to open up new avenues of composition. If you are a fan of experimental music, this boxset is simply manna from heaven.
The Viola Works, by Giacinto Scelsi
Italian composer Scelsi's work was relatively unknown during his lifetime, but his status as a true giant of 20th Century composition has been growing ever more prominent. These works for viola demonstrate his transcendent aesthetic perfectly. Touching upon elements of minimalism, non-western musical idioms and atonality; his compositions enter a realm of somber beauty all their own.
Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show 1, by Adam Hines
Hines' ambitious 400 page graphic novel may initially appear daunting, but upon reading the first few chapters the reader is transfixed. Detailing a world where animals can speak, their varying relationships with and treatment by humans are explored in depth. Hines' paints a realistic world that uses a dizzying array of layouts to form a visual narrative that never ceases to amaze. The story itself is a philosophical landmine, provoking the reader to question his/her relationship to nature and the world around them. Duncan may well be one of the smartest graphic novels I have ever read and will stay with you long after you read it.
We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, by John Maus
Maus has refined his craft as a member of Ariel Pink's collective over the years and his newest disc shows him to be at the pinnacle of his craft. Each track on this album feels like it was culled together from my own memories of the synthpop/postpunk tracks of my youth. This is further exemplified with the album's hazy, dreamlike production, leaving one with a disc that feels oddly familiar yet whose emotions are startlingly relevant.
Someone Gave Me Religion, by Arnaud Rebotini
Rebotini has always come across a vintage synthesizer fetishist, going so far as to list each piece of equipment used on past recordings. But with his newest release he finally gets his cherished gear to sing. From the opening 13-minute cosmic ambient track onwards, Rebotini references everything from minimal techno to ebm to Chicago house with giddy aplomb.
White Material, by Claire Denis
Claire Denis latest film to explore her youth in Africa is a stunning portrait of a stubborn French woman's quest to retain her family's coffee plantation amidst the violent collapse of African imperialism. Isabelle Huppert plays the woman with stoic intensity, trying her best to go about life ignorant of the chaos around her. She unwittingly becomes the savior of a wounded rebel army leader as warring factions within the country run rampant. The film's portrayal of Africa is both haunting and beautiful and carries an intense sense of foreboding till it's bitter ending. The rest of the cast are also superb including Christophe Lambert (Highlander!)and Isaach de Bankolé.
Human Centipede: The First Sequence, by Directed by Tom Six
A real guilty pleasure with this one, a horror movie that manages to disgust and humor simultaneously. Not for the faint of heart.
From the Cos Cob Branch Staff
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
Highly enjoyable with several coming of age stories. It's set in a small college community in Wisconsin with a background of baseball as a metaphor for life.
The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
A moving story of a young woman whose gift for understand the meaning of flowers helps her overcome her past and learn how to love. A very powerful, beautiful work.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
I felt transported by this book to the jungles of the Amazon. Fascinating and unpredictable and a unique read.
The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht
A young doctor in a small Balkan country find secrets abound after the war. A mix of myth and reality. It's a beautifully written tale with several stories unfolding.
Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
In the far-flung future when the Hegemony of Man has colonized hundreds of planets and Earth is only a distant and tragic memory, seven pilgrims set out for the outback world of Hyperion in search of the legendary Time Tombs. It is there that they hope (and dread) to find the Shrike, a mysterious creature with the power to deliver or destroy them all, and given the Shrike's predilection for bloody mayhem, their gamble seems a desperate one indeed.
Set against a backdrop of political intrigue and impending interstellar war, Hyperion is a story told from the point of view of each pilgrim and what has ultimately driven them to journey to the fateful planet. The pilgrims' tales themselves span a wide field of human experience, motivation and emotion, and their themes range just as broadly. Believable characters and an interesting scientific and political mileu make for a truly excellent read.
Hyperion is the award-winning first book of a four-part series, known collectively as The Hyperion Cantos. Hyperion, and the second book in the series, The Fall of Hyperion, are currently under development as a major motion picture.
(and thanks to Ed for the recommendation!)
And Another Thing..., by Eoin Colfer
Grab your towel and stick out your thumb--fans of Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy are sure to enjoy this sixth installment in the series, penned by none other than Eoin Colfer of Artemis Fowl fame. I'm always a bit leery of new authors picking up where an original author left off, but Colfer's writing is at once reminiscient of Adams's without parroting it. Wry humor and bizarre situations abound in this latest intergalactic romp, and Colfer handles it all with wit and style.
The series's protagonist, Arthur Dent, once again finds himself at odds with the repulsive and sadistic alien Vogons when they decide that contractual fullfillment for destroying the Earth (the first time around) to make room for a hyperspace bypass also necessitates eradicating every last remnant of the human race everywhere else in the galaxy (the Vogons are nothing if not obsessively picayune regarding bureaucracy). It's up to Arthur and his comrades-in-craziness to foil the plans of the dastardly Vogons, and along the way they enlist the aid of Thor (yes, that Thor) and Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged (master hurler of insults) to save the last of humanity (who are currently preoccupied with worshipping cheese and toning their abs) from total annhilation. Again.
Here's hoping that Colfer writes a seventh installment, and if he finds a way to bring back Marvin the Paranoid Android (under warranty, I would hazard), well, that would be just froody!
Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke
Although everybody keeps bringing up 2001: A Space Odyssey and its various sequels, I much prefer science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke's earlier 1953 novel, Childhood's End, which shares with the previous books the common theme of Earth's first encounter with aliens far more advanced than ourselves. Clarke's writing is much more imaginative and striking than in his later works, and the idea that we can progress and evolve into a higher form of life (albeit with help from aliens from other, more advanced, planets) is powerful and compelling. Clarke returns to the theme--but with a twist that I won't give away!- in the 1973 novel Rendezvous With Rama (which, like 2001, was spun off into a series of artistically uneven sequels) that is also thought provoking in its tone. Both Childhood's End and Rendezvous With Rama transcend their "space opera" settings with a more intellectual agenda than the average reader might think.
Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis
Kidnapped by the physicist, Weston, and his gold-hunting friend, Devine, Ransom unwillingly journeys with them to Malacandra (Mars), to be offered as a sacrifice (a misunderstanding by Weston and Devine who have visited there before) to the sorns (seroni), one of the three kinds of creatures who live there. Ransom escapes his companions, eventually meets a hross who befriends him and takes him to the place where he lives. Ransom settles down there, familiarizing himself with these highly intelligent creatures and their customs and land, learning the language gradually (he is a philologist). He hears that Thulcandra (earth) is isolated from the rest of the solar system (hence the silent planet) because it was taken over by the bent (evil) one. The reappearance of his traveling companions results in the death of three of the hrossa. Ransom is given the choice of remaining in Malacandra or returning to earth with Devine and Weston. Absorbing story that is also a still valid comment on our world.
Four Novels of the 1960s, by Philip K. Dick
Four Novels of the 1960s is what the title implies. Four books by Science Fiction writer & visionary Philip K. Dick (1928-1982), who received little beyond cult recognition until after his death when the film Blade Runner based on his 1968 book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (included in this collection) was released. Four Novels, in addition to Sheep (which details the hunt for human-like androids), also contains The Man in the High Castle (set in an alternative universe where the Axis won World War II; 1962), The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (involving a bizarre plot to conquer an already-decaying Earth via mass-produced drugs, ugly dolls designed to replace children and a false messiah;1964) and Ubik (1969), a comic novel involving consumer culture, drugs (again), life after death and God. All four novels stand out with their shared themes (characters searching for the truth, be it inner or otherwise; characters, good & bad, having multiple identities and personalities, some without their knowledge; children as forces for good and evil, and yes, drugs) and deliver powerful thought-provoking stories that will stick with you long after closing the covers. (You'll also want to reread the stories again as well, just to see what you may have missed the first time.) Also available: Dick's A Scanner Darkly, probably his best novel from the 70s and the basis for an okay movie released last year. (Read the book first.)
The Helix and the Sword, by John C. McLoughlin
A fascinating and quite believable story of a far-future civilization. Earth is long abandoned to radioactivity, but the solar system is home to numerous groups, many living in bio-engineered, living space stations - in fact, a main character in the book is the space habitat Catuvel. Despite the scientific speculation, the novel is literate and graceful (how could you say otherwise when the characters celebrate the story's conclusion by listening to Beethoven's Sixth Symphony?). McLoughlin is noted for interesting books about the past history of life, and here shows that he can extrapolate to life's future, and produce a good novel, at the same time.
The Final Program, by Michael Moorcock
One of the advantages of running the library's Science Fiction Book Club is getting to read novels in the genre that I've either not come across before or rediscovered after a long time. In the case of British SF author Michael Moorcock's The Final Program, the first of his 'Jerry Cornelius' series, it was like being reunited with an old friend. Cornelius is a bisexual musician/scientist/adventurer who gets lured into...well to say more would spoil your enjoyment. "Program" can be found in Moorcock's Cornelius Quartet collection, along with the three sequel novels A Cure For Cancer, The English Assassin & The Condition of Muzak. (NOTE: The next SF Book Club meeting on January 30, 2006, will discuss "Program", beginning at 7:30pm. Call me at (203) 622-7918 for details.)
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
Considered a classic of speculative fiction, this novel explores what it would be like to live in a society with none of our gender distinctions. A diplomatic envoy is sent to a world whose inhabitants are androgynous most of the time, only changing (randomly) into male or female during a brief reproductive season. LeGuin, the daughter of a famous anthropologist, imagines what this would mean to every aspect of society and history, in her unique style: plainly written, but highly evocative and layered with interlocked images and themes. Despite the serious themes, this is an engaging story with two main characters the reader comes to care about.
A Door Into Ocean, by Joan Slonczewski
This 1986 novel has become known as a minor classic of speculative fiction; it is SF at its most socially provocative. What happens when an all-female, pacifist society with highly advanced biotechnology is invaded by a militaristic neighbor which decides to colonize and exploit their peaceful ocean world? Slonczewski doesn't opt for easy answers, as good people on both sides try to find the best solutions to the conflict. This is something we can identify with strongly, despite the strange setting of the story.
Neanderthal Parallax, by Robert J. Sawyer
Canadian science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax trilogy has been much discussed recently by the library's SF Book Club members. Concentrating on an accidental "first contact" between our Earth and a parallel one where Neanderthals outlived humans and became more scientifically advanced and peaceful than us (little crime; no pollution or wars; social promotion of bisexuality). Of course cross-contamination of both worlds occurs, resulting in great drama and social commentary. While Sawyer sometimes seems a bit too laid back (and his depiction of his native country's government and people -they're so noble!- seems like it was written by the Canadian Tourist Board) and the various dramatic conflicts neatened up a bit too quickly, this is still thought-provoking reading. Check out (in order of sequence) Hominids, Humans and Hybrids.
Altered Carbon, by Richard K.Morgan
The first in a series, Richard K.Morgan's science fiction novel Altered Carbon introduces us to Takeshi Kovacs, a sort of Philip Marlowe-like protagonist from the 25th century. While investigating an attempt to frame an industrialist for murder, Kovacs uncovers... Well, read for yourself. Terrific thrills and excitement are guaranteed. And check out the sequel, Broken Angels, which the Greenwich Library Science Fiction Book Club will discuss here on September 30.