Monday, February 1, 2016

Movie Review: Wild

Check out this movie: Wild
By Cynthia Becker

Based on the book by Cheryl Strayed, a woman decides to hike more than 1,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail -- alone -- after her mom dies, destructive behavior, and her marriage dissolves.

The best parts of this movie are the acting by Reese Witherspoon, who plays the lead, and the setting. The scenes take place in the beauty of the mountains and capture the isolation and vulnerability of being in the wilderness. Witherspoon's acting comes across as genuine, and she is great at communicating the internal thoughts during her alone screen time. The movie captures those feelings pretty well, but many emotional themes are not flushed out as well as the book. In the book, you see her grow with her feelings of loneliness, feeling incompetent, her regrets (or lack thereof), her forgiveness of herself, and her relationships with other people -- all of these journeys she had at once. But the movie fails on most of those, except one -- her sorrow for her mothers death. Being that they had to condense a book to a 2-hour film, the movie choose to flesh out one emotional journey, and it did that well. You see Witherspoon's character comes to term with her mothers death and heals in a believable way. Whether or not you have read the book, the movie is still worth a see. If you read the book first, then you get more insight into the character and appreciate her journey even more.
Bonus: The soundtrack is great.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Our esteemed guest reviewer, Shirley Ayers, sent in this review of David David Baldacci's 
Zero Day (#1), which was published in 2011. 

"Chief Warrant Officer John Puller is both a combat veteran and a military investigator in the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigative Division.

"When Army Colonel Reynolds and his entire family are lined up and brutally killed in their home in Drake, West Virginia, Puller is sent to investigate.  He teams up with Drake Police Sgt. Samantha Cole to solve the murders.

"Puller is always prepared with all the right equipment from either his car’s trunk or his rucksack.  Sometimes he and he equipment seem to be testing our powers of imagination, but this is fiction, folks, so anything is possible."

Thank you, Shirley! 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Online Book Club: All the Light We Cannot See

Current Book: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Discussion questions:
  • Discuss how the radio plays a major part in the story and the time period.
  • The narration moves back and forth both in time and between different characters. How did this affect your reading experience?
  • Whose story did you enjoy the most? Was there any character you wanted more insight into?
  • When Werner and Jutta first hear the Frenchman on the radio, he says “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever." How do you think this phrase relates to the overall message of the story? The title?
  • What did you learn or realize about blindness through Marie-Laure’s perspective? Do you think her being blind gave her any advantages?
  • Marie-Laure suggests the open-endedness of the end of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is intentional and meant to make us wonder. Are there any unanswered questions from this story that you think are meant to make us wonder?
  • What do you think of the author’s decision to flash forward at the end of the book? Did anything surprise you?
  • Discuss the themes of good versus evil throughout the story. What do you think are the  lessons that these characters and their stories teach us?


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Current Book: Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim

Author Suki Kim shows us a rare glimpse of what it is like inside North Korea, and that in itself is a reason to read this book. She works as a professor who teaches English in one of North Korea's "elite" universities, though it is a science and technology university without the Internet. While there, she takes notes about the lack of technology, the lack of honesty, the lack of freedom, and possibly even the lack of friendship available to the people in that country. Her descriptions paint a picture of the emotions she felt, her frustration at the lack of freedom, her anger, and even how she developed an affection for her students. She shows how depressing and sometimes creepy the Kim Jong-il worship is, and she brings out the question: is there hope for North Korea to join the rest of the world? In all, Suki wrote a book that was needed and wrote it well, placing the reader in that world to try to humanize the country.

Discussion questions:
1. Did your impression of North Korea change after you read the book? How?
2. Were there any observations of Suki's that you found striking?
3. In Chapter 20, Suki describes the college's "buddy system" and how the alliances can shift. What does that suggest about the nature of relationships in North Korea? Is true friendship possible?
4. Why do you think North Korea allows a missionary-run school?
5. Suki is uneasy about how easily the boys lie, but eventually becomes sympathetic toward them. Do you feel sympathy? Why or why not?
6. After the book, are you hopeful for North Korea's future?


Next Book:All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Friday, October 23, 2015

New Librarian of Congress needs to embrace digital world

By Cynthia Becker

President Obama is in charge of appointing the next Librarian of Congress. James H. Billington, who had served as Librarian of Congress for the past 28 years, resigned his position on September 30.
Who the president picks is important because this position has the power over copyright policy and to declare exemptions to copyright with the use of media and digital devices.

It is important that the next librarian be in touch with the changing needs of digital copyright so they can declare fair exemptions. And in general this position could provide a broader leadership to libraries around the country. He or she could finally help the Library of Congress to participate in the Digital Public Library of American and make even more of its archives available digitally. It also could march forward for the digital revolution and be leaders in preserving materials and advocating for libraries on other information trends, such as open access to information.
Libraries are in a new world, but still can be leaders in that world. The next Librarian of Congress not only needs to embrace that role but also should be looking forward to shaping libraries' roles in the digital world.

For more information:

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Guest Review: Winter of the World by Ken Follett

Winter of the World by Ken Follett

by Shirley Ayres

Book 2 of the Century Trilogy, Winter of the World is the continuation of the five families and their daily lives in the different parts of the world.  The five main families are still coping with Europe and Russia after World War I, but in this book, their children are in their late teens and early twenties. It is the second generation that has to deal with the historical politics before, during and after World War II. (Time periods: 1933-1949.)

The von Ulrich family -- non-Nazis but who have to deal with the horrors of the Nazis -- stand their ground during the worst of times. The Russian Peshkov family undergo many changes in government, first under the tsar and finally under Stalin. The English and American families are caught up in the horrible battles of World War II.

As usual, Follett’s research is remarkable. The daily lives under the thumbs of tyrants are hard to deal with but real Germans and Russians lived exactly like his characters.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Guest Review: Fall of Giants

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

by Shirley Ayres

Covering a period between June 22, 1911, and January 1924, this first book of Follett’s Century Trilogy follows the history of five families. When the book begins, it is the 13th birthday of Billy Williams of Wales (nick-named Billy Twice by the miners) who enters the coal mines for the first time since leaving school the day before. His employment in the mines is expected, and his income needed by his family.

The first book of the trilogy follows the history of five families before, during and immediately following World War I. The families are: American Gus Dewar, Russian brothers Lev and Grigori Peshkov, German Walter von Ulrich, Welsh siblings Billy and Ethel Williams, and English mine owners brother and sister Earl Fitz and Lady Maud Fitzherbert. All these characters interact despite their geographic and economic differences. Political actions show the lead up to and the actual fighting of World War I.

I love the way Follett writes. His carefully accurate research is the envy of any historian, using real people and their actual words during one of the twentieth century's most bloody times in Europe. I look forward to the next two books of Follett’s trilogy.