Month: October 2017

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May the Odds Be Never in Your Favor: Contemporary Classics of Dystopian Fiction

May the Odds Be Never in Your Favor: Contemporary Classics of Dystopian Fiction

By Crystal Hicks, Adult Services Librarian

Dystopian fiction has seen a resurgence lately, with people eagerly checking out classics like 1984, Brave New World, and The Handmaid’s Tale. Clearly, dystopian stories are as relevant as ever, but what do you read after you’ve hit all the classics? The following are some contemporary classics of dystopian fiction that are worth taking a look at. Some you’ll most certainly have heard of, and some you may not, but all of these books make us think a little more about the uncertain future of humanity.

Let’s start with the most obvious: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Collins posits a future where North America has become the totalitarian Panem, and every year 24 teenagers are sent into a battle to the death, broadcast on live TV so eager audiences can watch the ensuing bloodbath. The Hunger Games critiques society’s obsession with reality TV and over-the-top violence all while mixing in good, old-fashioned love triangles and teen angst, resulting in a book that’s almost impossible to put down.

With technology entering every facet of our lives, it’s no surprise that other books also ponder the relationship between humans and technology. Dave Eggers’s The Circle looks at the technological ideal: a world where everything done online runs through one company, creating a seamless experience for users. In this thriller, Eggers explores the modern tendency to give up privacy for convenience and the possible ramifications of allowing a single company to know everything about you. M.T. Anderson’s Feed addresses similar concerns, taking place in a future where everyone has a “feed” implanted in their brain from infancy, telling them what to think about and even what to think. For a lighter read, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One mixes social commentary with video game culture and ’80s nostalgia, creating a plausible dystopian future that’s also fun to read about.

Large-scale catastrophes are another favorite plot device in dystopian fiction, with authors speculating across the board at how different catastrophes could affect society. In Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife, global warming has led to drought and massive water shortages, and the Southwestern states have become dried-out, dusty, and flat-out dangerous places to live. Bacigalupi sets a cutthroat thriller in the midst of this societal collapse, creating a story so compelling and exciting that you’ll forget the entire thing revolves around water rights. Margaret Atwood, on the other hand, looks at an altogether different kind of man-made disaster in Oryx and Crake. Told alternately before and after this catastrophe, Oryx and Crake looks at the murky side of morality and what obligations humanity has to each other and to the planet.

Totalitarian governments are an old standby of dystopian fiction, allowing authors to imagine the different ways that society could be reshaped and controlled. In Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies, everyone is ugly until they turn sixteen, when they undergo an operation to become a pretty. But the operation, while getting rid of all your flaws, has more insidious roots than just making people physically perfect. Red Rising, by Pierce Brown, presents another society hiding secrets, in a world where society is stratified by caste and by color. Darrow is a miner gladly giving his life up in hopes of making Mars habitable, until he discovers that the surface is already colonized, and he and his fellow Reds are nothing but slaves working for the upper class of Golds. With the help of a resistance group, Darrow infiltrates Gold society in hopes of bringing down the system from the inside.

Finally, some books defy all attempts at categorization, and Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation is one of them. Area X, an uninhabited area that’s been cut off from humanity for decades, seems like a perfect, unspoiled forest wilderness; unfortunately, it has strange effects on humans. Eleven research teams have entered Area X, and all have met their ends in disparate, bizarre ways. Annihilation follows the 12th expedition as they set out, record what they see, and try not to be contaminated by Area X. VanderMeer creates a world that’s impossible to describe, both incredibly detailed and difficult to pin down, making for a fascinating reading experience.

Manhattan Public Library is joining the dystopian discussion with our Brownbag Book Club, which will be discussing The Handmaid’s Tale on November 2 at noon. If you still need a copy of the book, stop by to pick one up from the Reference Desk. And if you’re looking for more dystopian fiction to read, we’ve got even more recommendations for you!

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Audiobooks for the Family

Audiobooks for the Family

By Amber Johnson, Youth Services Assistant

Having books read to you can be one of the most delightful experiences.  Ask any adult what they loved to do before bed as a child, and the answer will most likely be listening to their parents read them a story.  As children get older, that ritual might change into reading on their own before bed, but the excitement of being read to doesn’t always fade along with it.  Audiobooks are a great resource for children and families to quench this thirst for more books in their lives.  Audiobooks give children (and adults!) the opportunity to engage with a book that is above their reading level.  They also help readers develop a sense of prosody, or using expression as they read.  The library gives you access to thousands of audiobooks, both in CD format and digital.  The following are a few titles and series that I would recommend for the whole family to enjoy together.

The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary

This classic series follows sisters Ramona and Beezus as they try to navigate through sisterhood, silly business, and family struggles.  Ramona is the obnoxious little sister, prone to shenanigans and honest words.  Beezus is the put-together older sister, trying to figure out life and its intricacies.  The Ramona books offer opportunities to talk with your kids about family dynamics and making positive decisions.  This series is available on CD, Hoopla and Sunflower eLibrary.

All the Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket

Alleged to be an autobiographical account of his life, Lemony Snicket describes his experience as an apprentice to an investigator in this quirky series.  Snicket uses the usual gloomy, sarcastic tone throughout this series and gives readers the chance to meet a crew of very unusual characters.  If you liked the Series of Unfortunate Events, this is definitely the series for you.  This series is available on CD and Hoopla.

I, Funny series by James Patterson

Middle schooler Jamie wants desperately to be a standup comedian.  This series follows his quest for comedic greatness among the unfortunate trials and tribulations of being a teenager.  From contests to TV shows to comedy classes, Jamie tells his story in such a hilarious way, it’s sure to have everyone laughing out loud.  This series is available on CD and Hoopla.

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm

When a strange boy appears in her life who seems to resemble her grandfather in stature and character, Ellie is faced with truths about immortality, science and her family.  Filled with facts about science and funny quips from the boy, this book is lovable and entertaining.  This book is available on CD and Sunflower eLibrary.

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen is the king of writing books about children making an environmental impact.  When main character Roy discovers a building site underneath which owls have made their home, he sets his mind to sabotage the building plans.  Through quick wit and quirky characters, Hoot will surely cause you and your kids to think about the way you view the world around you.  This book is available on CD.

Any books by Andrew Clements

Children love reading about other children accomplishing great feats.  In his stories, Andrew Clements introduces numerous situations in which children want to change their world.  From inventing a new word to starting a class newspaper, his characters are determined to make an impact.  Adults listening to these books might just feel empowered as well.  This author’s books are available on CD.

If none of these titles sounds intriguing to you, or if you’ve already listened to them, a member of the Youth Services staff would be more than happy to recommend different audiobooks to you.  If you are new to audiobooks and would prefer to listen to them digitally, stop by any reference desk to get help in setting up your Hoopla or Libby account.

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World War One on Film

World War One on Film

By John Pecoraro, Assistant Director

On October 15, 1917, alleged German spy Mata Hari was executed by a French firing squad. You can read a fictionalized account of Mata Hari’s life and death in “The Spy,” by Paulo Coelho. 1917 also marked the United States entry into the Great War. While many movies have been made about World War 1, several stand out as classics.

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” from 1930, directed by Lewis Milestone. Also remade as a movie for television in 1979, starring Richard Thomas (John Boy Walton). The movie, like Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, tells the story of Paul Baumer and his journey from a youthful student patriot to a disillusioned, worn-out soldier who has grown old before his time.

“Paths of Glory,” 1957, directed by Stanley Kubrick, and based on the novel by Humphrey Cobb. This film is a devastating comment on the politics of war. During the third year of the Great War, The French General Staff sends orders for what amounts to a suicide mission. The troops advancing to take the Ant Hill are slaughtered, and do not take the objective. General Mireau cries cowardice and demands the arrest and execution of three soldiers as an example to the rest of the troops. Colonel Dax, who led the charge, acts as defense attorney, but the fate of the unfortunate soldiers is already set.

Executions of soldiers for cowardice, desertion, and disobeying orders were not uncommon. During World War One, the French Army executed over 600 of its own. The armies of the British Commonwealth executed 306; the German Army 18; and the United States Army none.

“Gallipoli,” 1981, directed by Peter Weir. Gallipoli follows two idealistic young friends, Frank and Archy, who join the Australian army during World War I, and fight at the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey. The first half of the film concerns the lives of Frank and Archy in Australia. The second half of the movie chronicles the ill-fated and ill-planned battle, where the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps is hopelessly outmatched by the enemy forces. The British Commonwealth forces suffered over 160,000 casualties during the battle.

“Sergeant York,” 1941, directed by Howard Hawks. A rabble-rouser in his youth, Alvin York has a conversion experience that makes him a pacifist, seeking conscientious objector status when he is drafted into the Army. During basic training, he has a second conversion, convinced by his commanding officer that sometimes violence is the only way to defend democracy.  York goes on to become the most decorated hero of World War 1.

“The Lost Battalion,”  2001, directed by Russell Mulcahy. The true story of the men of the U.S. Army’s 77th Division, 308th Battalion. During the final days of the war, the battalion was surrounded by German troops in the Argonne Forest. Without food, water or reserve ammunition, and cut off from supply and communication lines, the battalion suffered under constant assaults and bombardments. They managed to hold off the enemy until they were finally rescued after five days of desperate action.

“The African Queen,” 1951, directed by John Huston. In this adaptation of the novel by C.S. Forester, Humphrey Bogart plays a hard-drinking river trader, and Katharine Hepburn portrays a prim missionary. These unlikely travel companions battle nature, a German gunboat, and each other on a river expedition in the war-torn African jungle of 1914.

“Lawrence of Arabia,” 1962, directed by David Lean. This film tells the story of T.E. Lawrence. A British officer assigned to Arabia during World War I, Lawrence unites the warring Arab tribes into a strong guerrilla front and leads them to victories in treacherous desert battlefields. They eventually defeat the ruling Turkish Empire.

“A Farewell to Arms,” 1932, directed by Frank Borzage. Gary Cooper portrays Lieutenant Frederick Henry in this adaptation of the novel by Ernest Hemingway. An ambulance driver in Italy, Henry is wounded, and falls in love with an English nurse, Catherine Barkley. As the war intrudes on their affair, Henry and Catherine escape to Switzerland. For a happy ending? Watch the movie or read the book to find out.

These and many move movies about World War 1 are waiting for you at the library. Also remember to check out the collection of movies on Hoopla. Hoopla is the library’s digital collection of hundreds of thousands of titles available for download all the time.

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Literary Rabbit Holes

Literary Rabbit Holes

By Jared Richards, Adult Services Librarian

In 1865, Lewis Carroll sent Alice down a rabbit hole. Fast forward 150 years and the rabbit hole, although rarely literal anymore, remains a popular literary trope. Whether protagonists find themselves in an alternate reality, a parallel world, or on the other side of the universe, the rabbit hole, in all its various forms, can get the job done. Books in general already provide us a rabbit hole into new and exciting worlds that we can get lost in, but sometimes it is nice to follow a character and discover a new world through their eyes. You may consider some of these books a stretch, but fiction is pretty flexible, so I think we’ll be okay.

There are countless retellings, adaptations, and stories set in the world of Wonderland, but I would like to focus on other stories. Classic stories in the same vein include Peter Pan, in which the children fly off to Neverland, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which involves a tornado and an entire house. Some stories even let you know in the title how the characters will reach their destination, like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe or James and the Giant Peach. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire is the first in a novella trilogy that posits the idea that some of these classic stories were actually based on real events, like the children finding secret doorways into fantastical worlds. They have now returned and live in a home with similar children after they or their parents found their return too difficult.

V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic and The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter both involve parallel worlds. In A Darker Shade of Magic, magic is used to traverse among four very distinct versions of London. In The Long Earth, parallel versions of Earth can be traveled to by creating a simple device, called a Stepper, which is powered by a potato. These parallel worlds are devoid of humans and become more and more chaotic the farther you get from our Earth.

In Coraline by Neil Gaiman, our protagonist, Coraline, discovers a small door that should lead into the vacant apartment next door but instead leads to a nonsensical version of her world. Here she finds her Other Mother and Other Father who have buttons for eyes and may not have Coraline’s best interests in mind.

Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji, and its sequel Zathura, utilize a board game for their rabbit hole. In each book there are slight variations in how the games work, but the idea is the same, where the moves in the game are manifested around the children playing. Rather than falling down a hole or stepping through a doorway, the world is brought to them with a roll of the dice or the push of a button.

Many novels over the years have used technology to create a rabbit hole to a virtual world. Ernest Cline did this effectively with his novel Ready Player One, in which people can connect to a virtual world called the OASIS and go to school or become legendary heroes. One of the best parts about this book is all the ‘80s references.

The best way to fall down a rabbit hole at the Manhattan Public Library is to come in, wander through our shelves, and engage in a little serendipitous browsing. Stumble across new books and discover your next favorite author. Another good rabbit hole is NoveList Plus, one of our online resources that you can access from home. It lets you browse books by age group within certain genres, like diverse speculative fiction books for teens or historical fiction books about immigrant experiences for adults. You can also search by appeal factors, like the types of characters, pace, or tone you like in a story. They even have a growing list of suggestions for fans of various movies, books, and TV shows, like Gilmore Girls, The Girl on the Train, Doctor Who, and The Handmaid’s Tale. Lastly, you can search for your favorite author or book and get a list of similar authors or books with a reason for why they are comparable. It is easy to fall down a rabbit hole looking for your next book, but at least you don’t have to worry about losing your head or being trampled in a stampede.

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Amazing Artists Inspire Kids to Express Themselves

Amazing Artists Inspire Kids to Express Themselves

By Jennifer Bergen, Youth Services Manager

If you have a young artist in your house, you likely have a refrigerator or wall packed with drawings, paintings, cartoons or 3-D art. One of my favorite office decorations is a colorful page of scribbles made by my youngest son in preschool. The circles and lines in blue, orange, brown, green and lavender fill the entire page. It is entitled “Cow.” What a fascinating and surprising creature the cow must have been to him at that time.

Artists’ personal stories can be an inspiration for kids, encouraging them to express themselves and create art in their own way. They describe challenges the artists had to overcome to pursue art and stay true to themselves. The Arts & Crafts Neighborhood in the Children’s Room includes treasures like Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, which won this year’s Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award, and recently added picture book biographies for Jacob Lawrence, Ansel Adams, and Disney artist Mary Blair. Here are a few more new titles to check out:

Dorothea’s Eyes by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Gerard DuBois begins with Dorothea Lange’s childhood, describing her struggles with polio and poverty and feeling “invisible.” That doesn’t stand in the way of her desire to be a photographer. Dorothea “sees with her eyes and her heart,” Rosenstock explains. She loves examining faces, and her persistence leads her to a lucrative portrait photography career.  When the depression hits, Dorothea’s heart calls her out of the comfortable studio and on to the road, capturing the faces of the poor and downtrodden, and using her work to powerfully tell their unheard stories. A double page spread at the end shows six of Lange’s famous photographs. Many readers will be hungry for more of the intensely emotion-filled black and white photographs, which may lead them to Migrant Mother by Don Nardo, or one of the many books in our adult nonfiction collection.

This year, the Vietnam Memorial commemorates its 35th year, sparking new books about the artist behind the wall.  Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Harvey tells the story of young Maya who, while in college, entered the Vietnam Memorial design contest, and won. Her vision created one of the most powerful symbols of our nation, honoring 58,000 military service members who served in the war. Another upcoming biography by Susan Goldman Rubin, Maya Lin: Thinking with her Hands, provides more on the topic, including the controversies surrounding Lin’s design and how she was able to stay true to her vision.

Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing, written by the late Keith Haring’s sister, Kay Haring, describes the strong drive Keith had to make art anywhere and anytime. He started as a doodler, and often made pictures on walls or things on which he was not supposed to draw. This continued as he grew popular in New York City, and Keith often gave his pieces away or used them to raise money for charities. Kids who have been told to stop doodling on their class assignments will take joy in Keith’s response to those who questioned or dismissed his art. He barely had time to hear it, and was usually already on to his next creation. His words to young people are important and true: “Draw anything. Whatever you want. No one can say it’s bad or good. It’s yours.”

For an up-close, hands-on artistic treat, visit the Grafico Movil in the library parking lot on October 8 and 9.  Kids and adults can experience art with this “mural, gallery, printmaking studio and movie theater on wheels.”  The decked-out 1947 Chevy delivery truck created by Artemio Rodriguez is covered in highly detailed black-and-white art. Thanks to the Beach Museum for sharing this piece of their exhibit at the library.  You never know when a certain story or song or art form will resonate with a child, or where that inspiration may take them.