Mooresville Public Library

Mooresville Public Library
MPL Courtyard

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

MPL Book Trailer #106: Six Characters in Search of an Author, by Luigi Pirandello

Mooresville Public Library (Mooresville, Indiana) presents a book trailer featuring the play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, by Luigi Pirandello.  First performed in Rome in 1921, this "satirical tragicomedy" received mixed reviews until 1925, when the playwright, Luigi Pirandello, modified the introduction to include an explanation of the play's structure and themes.  Thereafter, audiences were more favorably disposed to the play's outlandish approach.  The play has inspired numerous imitations through the years.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

MPL Book Trailer #105: Nickel & Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich

I read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed a decade ago, long before the Great Recession robbed most of us of our careers, livelihoods, and savings.  We had lost before, of course, in the dot-com meltdown in the latter 1990s, and so Ehrenreich's book touched many readers who had joined (or were dangerously close to joining) the ranks of the working poor.  Her investigation into trying to get by in America by working some of the lowest-paying, but physically demanding, jobs was sobering to say the least.

I recommend this book to anyone who has ever been, or may someday be, employed.  It should be required reading for young adults in high school social studies courses.  They need to know what their futures might hold.

William R. Buckley
MPL Reference Coordinator, Adult Services

You may learn more about the author and her books by visiting her website.    

MPL Book Trailer #104: The Pearl, by John Steinbeck

In my last posting, I mentioned Victor Hugo's novel, Les Misérables (1862), which was assigned reading in my ninth grade English course.  Another assigned book was the novella The Pearl, by John Steinbeck (1947).  The year before, my eighth grade English class had read excerpts from Steinbeck's Travels With Charley (1960)which I was too immature to appreciate despite having travelled extensively across the same regions just a few years after the author.  The excerpts in my English textbook seemed choppy and disoriented, so I gave them the shrug-off. What's so great about this Steinbeck character, anyway? I wondered.  Sure, he won the 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature; big whoop, my 14-year-old mindset mused.

The Pearl gave me a definitive answer as to why Steinbeck ranks among the 20th century's greatest authors.  The sheer power of the writing in so short a vehicle still amazes me.  Further in high school, I subsequently read several other Steinbeck classics, struggling to comprehend the more adult-oriented themes and circumstances.  But the writing remained exact, fluid, straightforward, and completely entrancing.  Reading Steinbeck's prose was pure pleasure.

Rather than engage in a long-winded description of the plot, I'll allow the book trailer above to entice you to check out The Pearl.  Your public library will have a copy; if you're an Evergreen Indiana cardholder, you'll have the pick of the litter, as there are dozens of copies available.  If you read as slowly as I, you'll still have it finished in a short weekend.  Most readers absorb it in a single sitting.  There's a lot to ponder--Steinbeck was always thematically substantive--so it makes a grand reading for a book discussion group, especially for young adults.

William R. Buckley
MPL Adult Services Reference Coordinator

Saturday, May 14, 2011

MPL Book Trailer #103: Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo

I was a high school freshman when I first read Les Misérables (1862), by Victor Hugo.  It was required reading for my English class.  A classmate found the actual novel too mentally taxing, so he read the Classics Illustrated version instead.  Laziness will always find convenient shortcuts, thereby cheating my classmate (and others like him) from relishing the complete, unabridged glory of Hugo's greatest novel, considered one of the 19th century's best.  There are plenty of websites available (see, e.g., an example) to summarize the plot, themes, and all-around minutiae, but our book trailer is reasonably concise.  It's a long book (over 600 pages in some compactly-printed or abridged editions; over 1200 pages in others), and some English translations are clunky at best (I'd read it in French if I could), but you will find it fast-paced, especially when the revolutionary bits surface.  I thoroughly enjoyed the novel when I was age 14 (almost 15), and I was (and remain) a "slow reader."  If I can manage it, you can and should.  You'll thank me later.  Gifts are always appreciated.  (That's a joke from my colleague, Cauli Le Chat.)

William R. Buckley
MPL Reference Coordinator, Adult Services

Friday, May 13, 2011

MPL Book Trailer #102: A Time to Love and a Time to Die, by Erich Maria Remarque

Our book trailer very briefly summarizes the plot to A Time to Love and a Time to Die, a novel by Erich Maria Remarque.  First published in 1954, it has been continuously in print (more or less) ever since.  Mostly known for his antiwar novel, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), Remarque wrote all his works in German, which were subsequently translated into English (and other languages).  He was born Erich Paul Remark in 1898; in 1924 he opted for the older family surname spelling, which his grandfather had changed from Remarque to Remark in the 19th century.  His novels especially angered the rising Nazi regime, which in 1933 orchestrated book burnings of Remarque's titles and widely disseminated lies to discredit his works.  In 1943 Nazis captured and executed his sister, whose only "crime" was having been related to the famous writer.  Since the Nazis couldn't reach Remarque, they instead struck at his family still living in Germany.  Remarque left Germany in 1931 and lived much of his life in Switzerland, although he also lived in France (until 1939) and then the United States, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1947.  Perhaps his most famous marriage was to actress Paulette Goddard in 1958, although his two stormy marriages to actress Ilse Jutta Zambona were probably more publicized.

Among other topics, Remarque wrote powerfully descriptive, straightforward fictionalized accounts of the traumas of the first and second world wars, as well as the economic, political, and social upheavals of 1920s and 1930s Germany.  A Time to Love and a Time to Die is a romance set amongst the horrors of World War II and Nazi oppression.  It does not carry the bleak bluntness of The Spark of Life (1952) or the intrigue of The Night in Lisbon (1962), but it manages to balance romance (and the accompanying hope that springs eternal) with the constant dangers of living in a German city targeted by Allied bombing and the ever-present risk of Gestapo arrest.  Most readers find the romantic aspects most engaging, especially in light of the wartime horrors described throughout the book.

Remarque was a powerful spokesperson against war (everyone should read All Quiet on the Western Front), and his novels should be read by anyone interested in the historical conflicts during the first half of the 20th century. 

William R. Buckley
MPL Reference Coordinator, Adult Services

Monday, May 9, 2011

MPL Book Trailer #101: Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Greene

Bette Greene published her first novel, Summer of My German Soldier, in 1973.  Intended for young adults, it powerfully and directly confronts such substantial subjects as war, jingoism, racism, prejudice, child abuse, self-esteem, and learning independent thinking and expression.  The book received numerous awards and honors, including the ALA (American Library Association) Notable Book, a National Book Award finalist, the Golden Kite Award, and one of The New York Times Outstanding Books of the Year.  

As a consequence of its realistic portrayal of its serious topics, the book has been one of the most challenged and/or banned, primarily in school libraries.  It ranked 88th in the ALA's top 100 most challenged books list for 1990-1999, but it jumped to 55th in the ALA'S listing for 2000-2009.   Challenges focus upon the book's racial epithets, portrayal of adult violence toward children, and the expression of "adult" emotions and the suggestion of an "adult relationship" potentially arising between the 12-year-old main character and the older German P.O.W. with whom she becomes involved.

Our book trailer summarizes the plot.

It is not surprising that books worthy of young adults' time and attention are continuously assaulted by the throngs of book banners, who prefer a sugar-coated portrayal of social themes and character interactions.  Anything remotely realistic offends such people, who want "to protect" teenagers from discovering that society (particularly American society) has many historical blemishes.  Teens, however, hunger for truth and realism, because they are discovering, as young. maturing (soon-to-be) adults, there is much brutality and harshness in the real world.  Reading both fiction and non-fiction that presents an accurate portrayal of life, especially in historical works, helps young adults learn to address such adult themes in later years.  It does require independent thinking, of course; this, more than anything else, is what most frustrates the "thought police" who challenge Greene's novel each year.

The book is certainly not for the faint of heart, and teachers and parents may wish to discuss ahead of time with their young adult students or children the ideas discussed in the work.  Understanding these issues up-front will enable teens to make an informed decision about whether or not to read the book, and parents and teachers will have exercised an appropriate advisory role assisting (but NOT filtering) in the decision-making process.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

MPL Book Trailer #100: The Mystery of the Buried Crosses, by Hamlin Garland

Hamlin Garland (1860-1940), who was born in Wisconsin but grew up pioneering in Iowa and South  Dakota, won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography with his book, A Daughter of the Middle Border, which was the sequel to his autobiographical/historical work, A Son of the Middle Border (1917).  Prior to turning to non-fiction, Garland had become famous as a fiction author, and he is often considered the founder of the "realistic method" in American historical fiction.  His novels covered the North American continent and influenced later writers who likewise emphasized realism in portraying the actualities and hardships of late 19th century American life.  Critics complained that Garland's books were too harsh, negative, and depressing, but Garland cared little for what such observers thought.  He was much more interested in preserving a historical record of the true lives of American frontier and post-frontier homesteaders in the latter 19th century.  Life was hard, and he didn't flinch from reporting it as he himself had lived it.

In 1929 Garland moved to Hollywood, California, and subsequently focused upon psychical research, which had attracted his attention as early as 1896 when he lived in Boston.  He was a keen observer, skeptical but open-minded, and he was firm in the face of facts that could not be rationally explained away.  His decades of investigation culminated in his treatise, Forty Years of Psychic Research (1936), which was followed by his final book, The Mystery of the Buried Crosses (1939).  It is a fascinating, true life account of the search to unmask the mystery of how an uneducated couple (Gregory & Violet Parent, of Redlands, California) was able over a 10-year period (1914-1924) to discover Spanish gold and silver coins, as well as Native American artifacts (primarily metal crosses) from early Spanish missionary days, which had been buried and forgotten centuries before in the remote desert hills and mountains of central and southern California.  With the help of Chicago psychic medium Sophia Williams, Garland leaves no stones unturned to uncover the secrets underlying this intriguing historical mystery.

Our book trailer below gives the highlights of Garland's research.

There is a wealth of information about the author available from the Hamlin Garland Society (affiliated with the American Literature Association) that was founded to promote and preserve Garland's many literary achievements.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

MPL Book Trailer #99: Krapp's Last Tape, by Samuel Beckett

Krapp's Last Tape (1958), a one-act, single-actor play by Irish writer Samuel Beckett, was reprinted a couple of years ago in a paperback edition entitled Krapp's Last Tape and Other Dramatic Pieces (Grove Press, 2009).  Beckett (1906-1989) received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969.  His style became associated with the "theatre of the absurd," with much "gallows humor" and an accompanying bleak, "tragicomic" perspective of the human condition.

Krapp's Last Tape presents a 69-year-old man as the sole cast of the play.  As his advancing age approaches death, he engages on his 69th birthday in an annual ritual:  listening to his previously recorded observations about earlier particular years as they came to a close.  He would then record the current year's summary on his ancient reel-to-reel tape recorder.  Our book trailer sums up the plot.

Krapp clearly struggles with his former selves, ridiculing his earlier thoughts, ideas, and feelings, but he is also obviously anxious to recapture the splendor of his youth while simultaneously fearing what he may discover among the tapes of his former voices.  He wants to remember--and feel superior toward--his naive, idealistic twenty-something alter ego, and his present, 69-year-old self joins in mocking his youth as he listens to the caustic commentary from his 39-year-old persona. Ultimately, himself-from-thirty-years-ago disgusts the elder Krapp, and he considers himself now fortunate to be rid of 39-him and the rest of his youthful voices.  But this isn't entirely true; he longs to recover what had been so easy and natural as a younger man--that optimism, self-assurance, confidence--before life's trials and tribulations jaded him.  This denial of desires is contrasted with his strange obsession for bananas, which is an example of Beckett's "dark humor" about sexuality.  An actor playing Krapp must carry the play by a strong solo performance, and the psychological twists and convolutions throughout make for anything but smooth sailing.

Beckett was a master at tragic comedy, or "tragicomedy," as critics dubbed it.  The absurdity of situations counterpoints seemingly ordinary circumstances, so that the emotional turmoil a character experiences descends upon the audience in waves.  Modern readers may be perplexed by some of Krapp's expressions--or maybe just because of the central prop, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, which nobody under age 35 has probably seen outside of a museum--but those more mature in the audience (or readership) can relate to Krapp's agony.  We, too, may sometimes wonder if our lives have been as productive and fruitful (or even enjoyable) as we had once hoped and dreamed.  The past is definitely more difficult to scrutinize than the future, because we have a little more certainty about what has happened than what may yet occur.  Beckett reminds us, however, that this certainty may be mostly illusory.  The lessons from our youth may teach us something in our senior years, but we have to really want to learn from them, and that, as Krapp reveals, is the truly bitter pill.

P.S.  Consider Beckett's themes in light of Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece," as covered by The Band, on the group's LP, Cahoots (1971).