November 2013 Archives

2013 National Book Award Winners

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Each year the National Book Foundation presents awards to winners in four categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature.

The four winners were announced in a ceremony in New York hosted by Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe."


Established in 1950, the National Book Award is one of the most prestigious literary awards in the United States. Past recipients include William Faulkner, Alice Walker, Philip Roth and Adrienne Rich.

The winners were narrowed down from a pool of 1,432 submissions. A panel of writers, literary critics and booksellers in each category came up with a list of 10 titles announced in September and narrowed it down to five finalists in October.

The New York Times coverage of the awards can be found here.

Here are this year's winners:

FICTION


Click for availability and more information The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride
 
Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857, when the region is a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry's master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town--with Brown, who believes he's a girl. Over the ensuing months, Henry--whom Brown nicknames Little Onion--conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive. Eventually Little Onion finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859--one of the great catalysts for the Civil War. An absorbing mixture of history and imagination. 

James McBride is an accomplished musician and author of the American classic The Color of Water. 

New York Times review.



Non-Fiction

Click for availability and more information Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the prison of belief, by Lawrence Wright
 
A clear-sighted revelation, a deep penetration into the world of Scientology by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower, the now-classic study of al-Qaeda's 9/11 attack. Based on more than two hundred personal interviews with current and former Scientologists--both famous and less well known--and years of archival research, Wright uses his investigative ability to uncover for us the inner workings of the Church of Scientology.

New York Times review.


Poetry


Click for availability and more information Incarnadine: poems, by Mary Szybist
 
ary Szybist's richly imagined encounters offer intimate spaces and stagings for experiences that are exploratory and sometimes explosive. Through the lens of an iconic moment, the Annunciation of an unsettling angel to a bodily young woman, Szybist describes the confusion and even terror of moments in which our longing for the spiritual may also be a longing for what is most fundamentally alien to us. In a world where we are so often asked to choose sides, to believe or not believe, to embrace or reject, Incarnadine offers lyrical and brilliantly inventive alternatives.

Slate.com review


Young People's Literature


Click for availability and more information The Thing About Luck, by Cynthia Kadohata
 
Summer knows that kouun means "good luck" in Japanese, and this year her family has none of it. Just when she thinks nothing else can possibly go wrong, an emergency whisks her parents away to Japan--right before harvest season. Summer and her little brother, Jaz, are left in the care of their grandparents, who come out of retirement in order to harvest wheat and help pay the bills. The thing about Obaachan and Jiichan is that they are old-fashioned and demanding, and between helping Obaachan cook for the workers, covering for her when her back pain worsens, and worrying about her lonely little brother, Summer just barely has time to notice the attentions of their boss's cute son. But notice she does, and what begins as a welcome distraction from the hard work soon turns into a mess of its own. Having thoroughly disappointed her grandmother, Summer figures the bad luck must be finished--but then it gets worse. And when that happens, Summer has to figure out how to change it herself, even if it means further displeasing Obaachan. Because it might be the only way to save her family.

Kadohata is the author of the Newbery Medal-winning book Kira-Kira.

New York Times review





New DVD's

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Things are cooling down out there. It's a perfect time to pull out the blankets and watch some movies. Below is a list of some new and noteworthy DVD's that have recently arrived at Greenwich Library.


Click for availability and more information At the Gate of the Ghost, directed by ML Bhandevanop Devakul
 
First of all, in a move that was sure to get films buffs up in arms, it should be noted that this is a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, which has long been considered a masterpiece. Attempting a re-make was fraught with peril. It was certainly obvious that director, ML Bhandevanop Devakul, knew of these perils when he decided to stay relatively in line with the original. A reviewer at Japan Cinema seemed ready and eager to dislike the film but, in the end drops his fists and is won over, conceding " If you are a fan of Kurosawa, however, you might want to give this a look to see his masterpiece through the eyes of another director." 


Click for availability and more information Fred Won't Move Out, directed by Richard Ledes
 
With levity and sadness, two grown children and their aging parents struggle with the decision whether the older generation should stay in the house where they have lived for fifty years. Shot in the house where the director's parents lived for close to fifty years shortly after they moved out, the film's semi-autobiographical story is acted by a small ensemble cast led by Elliot Gould.

In the New York Times review critic Stephen Holden states "The movie gets almost everything right about the uncomfortable moment when grown children are forced to be their parents' parents" 


Click for availability and more information Going by the Book , directed by La Hee-Chan
 
Sam-po is a small town with a major problem. Its banks are increasingly targeted by armed robbers, and local law enforcement's efforts to address the issue have been nonexistent. Incoming police chief Lee Seung-woo initiates an ambitious plan to send a message to the criminals and win the confidence of the townspeople. Every member of his force will participate in a bank robbery simulation, unscripted training involving bank personnel and customers, plus a lone cop playing the role of the crook. By-the-book patrolman Jung Do-manis dismayed to find he has been personally selected for this role. But when the dedicated officer is told to "do his best," what was meant to be a simple role-playing exercise quickly spirals into a nationally televised event.

Subversively hilarious, this film was released theatrically way back in 2007 but is just now seeing it's DVD release in the U.S. 


Click for availability and more information I Killed My Mother, directed by Xavier Dolan
 
First of all, don't worry, this isn't a film about matricide. It is, however, a movie about the complex relationship between a single mother and her teenage son. Directed by 20 year Xavier Dolan (he wrote it when he was a teenager!) The film attracted international press attention when it won three awards from the Director's Fortnight program at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. After being shown, the film received an eight-minute standing ovation. It was also a New York TImes critic pick when it was released theatrically in the US earlier this year. You can read the glowing New York Times review here and watch an interview with the director as well. 


Click for availability and more information Johnny Guitar, directed by Nicholas Ray
 
Saloon owner Vienna battles the local townspeople headed by Emma, the local sexually repressed, lynch-happy female rancher out to frame her for a string of robberies. Johnny Logan is a guitar-strumming drifter with a dark past who was once in love with Vienna and has been offered a job in her saloon.

In this bizarre Western that manages to transcend the genre the women are far tougher than the men and some critics have viewed it as an allegory for the McCarthy era Red Scare. The lead cast, Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden and an absolutely twisted Mercedes McCambridge are all amazing. The usually straight-laced film critic Leonard Maltin called this movie "the screens great kinky western." 


Click for availability and more information Life is Sweet, directed by Mike Leigh
 
Directed by the master Mike Leigh, this film, originally released in 1990 is a portrait of a working-class family in a suburb just north of London, an irrepressible mum and dad and their night-and-day twins, a bookish good girl and a sneering lay about.

Leigh made many films in the UK prior to this but "Life is Sweet" was the film that broke him in the United States and has now received a deluxe re-issue courtesy of the folks at Criterion. The film is both tragic and funny and features great performances from Leigh regular Jim Broadbent and by Jane Horrocks as the bitter and reclusive Nicola. Mike Rogers, writing on rogerebert.com, calls this re-issue a "cause for celebration."

Click for availability and more information Lore, directed by Cate Shortland
 
Left to fend for themselves after their SS officer father and mother, staunch Nazi believers, are interred by the victorious Allies at the end of World War II, five German children undertake a harrowing journey that exposes them to the reality and consequences of their parents' actions. Led by the eldest sibling, 14-year old Lore, they set out on a journey across a devastated country to reach their grandmother in the north. After meeting the charismatic Thomas, a mysterious young refugee, Lore soon finds her world shattered by feelings of both hatred and desire as she must learn to trust the one person she has always been taught to hate in order to survive.

Director Cate Shortland talks more about the film here in a New York Times interview. Stephen Holden's review from the same paper is here


Click for availability and more information Obselidia, directed by Diane Bell
 
George is a librarian who in his spare time poses as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman as he writes The Obselidia, a compendium of obsolete things. George believes that love, among other things, is obsolete. In his quest to document nearly extinct occupations, he befriends Sophie, a beautiful cinema projectionist who works at a silent movie theater. Sophie believes that nothing is obsolete as long as someone loves it. This quiet and somewhat quirky film won the 2010 Sundance Film Festival's Alfred P. Sloan Prize, awarded each year to an outstanding film focusing on science or technology, or featuring a major character who is a scientist, engineer or mathematician.


Click for availability and more information Reality, directed by Matteo Garrone
 
A darkly comic look at Luciano, a charming and affable fishmonger whose unexpected and sudden obsession with being a contestant on the reality show Big Brother leads him down a rabbit hole of skewed perceptions and paranoia. So overcome by his dream of being on reality TV, Luciano's own reality begins to spiral out of control. Garrone approaches the story with a light heart, part fable, part satire. The film won the 45-year-old his second Grand Prix at Cannes last year. Here's an interesting take on the film from UK's The Guardian. 


Click for availability and more information Seconds, directed by John Frankenheimer
 
More post-McCarthy paranoia from the late 60's. This one features Rock Hudson as a disaffected middle-aged banker who wants to start a new life. So much so that he agrees to undergo a strange and elaborate procedure that will grant him a new life. As Edward Tenner states in this piece about the film from The Atlantic, not only was "Seconds" ahead of it's time, it also went from abject failure to cult classic. It seems that Rock Hudson fans initially wanted more romance and less "probing philosophy." This one is an entertaining head-scratcher.

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