Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Vol de Nuit

Antoine de Saint-Exupery is best known in this country for The Little Prince, the odd, sad children's book he wrote during World War II. He was a fascinating person and a wonderful writer, and in my opinion his adult books are well worth discovering. 

His 1931 novel Night Flight vividly describes the experience of piloting an unpressurized airplane through unpredictable weather and over unknown terrain, with few instruments. The novel focuses upon the emotions of Rivière, an Aéropostale manager, when one of his pilots fails to return. 

Saint-Exupéry wrote from experience. Born into an impoverished family of French nobility in 1900, Saint-Exupéry came of age after World War I. He went to work for Aéropostale, an aviation company that contracted to deliver mail using the dangerous new technology of flight. A pioneer of early aviation, he survived numerous mishaps, including a near-fatal 1935 crash in the Libyan desert. 

During World War II he joined the French Free Forces as a pilot, even though he was much older than the other fliers and was unfamiliar with the more technologically-advanced aircraft of the 1940s. Saint-Exupéry's plane disappeared over the Mediterranean in July of 1944; the wreckage was only discovered in 2000. 

As Saint-Exupery's life was even more fascinating than his books, I also recommend the excellent biography, Saint-Exupéry, by Stacy Schiff.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Likeness by Tana French

Tired of slick action thrillers? Try something at the other end of the mystery spectrum, something slower yet more intense. Tana French's The Likeness is a masterwork of tone and tension, evocative of the character driven books of Martha Grimes or Ngaio Marsh. The first line is reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, and introduces the old British manse which is at the center of the story.

Detective Cassie Maddox, left behind by her partner after the events of French's previous work, In the Woods, is sucked into life at Whitethorn House by a strange coincidence. A body found in an abandoned cottage is not only physically identical to her, but bears a name that she once bore as an undercover agent. The police cannot pass up the opportunity to investigate a homicide from within; Detective Maddox goes undercover, stepping into the dead girl's life. But her superiors don't understand her state of mind. She is perfectly poised to be seduced by the dead girl's life, and by the act of shedding her own reality.

The Likeness is truly entrancing; the reader balances between a desire for the idyllic mirage to continue and the certain knowledge that it has already broken apart. Check it out, in our catalog.

Why are you like this? Like, how you are?

When I was no longer a teenager -- but when the memory of my teenage years was still fresh -- I fell in love with a television show called My So-Called Life. It gave a true, heartfelt depiction of the agony and enchantment of high school, and I adored it.

Claire Danes stars as the naive, exasperating 15-year-old Angela Chase. She ditches her old friends for a cooler crowd. She has a powerful crush on a boy who is probably not as deep as she thinks he is. She is sulky and uncommunicative and demanding. Her voice-over narration is perfectly self-absorbed.

She is also unexpectedly perceptive, and sometimes hilarious.

"People always say you should be yourself, like 'yourself' is this definite thing. Like a toaster or something. Like you can know what it is, even."

My So-Called Life was tragically canceled before the completion of its first season. It has an enthusiastic cult following, thanks in part to reruns on MTV; and the Newport Library has all 19 episodes on DVD.

(Cautionary note: I have a coworker who just said, "I hated that show!" So your mileage may vary.)

Here is a tiny taste of the show:

If you decide you want to learn more about Angela, her hopeless love, her clueless parents, her destructive friends, and the rest of her so-called life, click here to reserve the DVDs.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Interlibrary Loan Brings The World’s Libraries To Your Door

Did you know that Newport Library Has almost 1 BILLION(!!) books, movies and audio items in over 360 languages?  

Sounds too good to be true? Well, yes and no. Within its four walls, Newport Library maintains a collection of about 100,000 physical items, give or take. This doesn’t count the thousands of downloadable audio and video products available through our Library2Go service. Nor does it include the many additional thousands of items available within our two-county Coastal Resources Sharing Network.

But we also have an Interlibrary Loan service (ILL) whose database, WORLDCAT, contains over 1.2 billion physical and digital items worldwide. Presently, Newport Library is able to borrow from any free lender within the United States, so our real numbers are a bit smaller, but you get the idea. Newport Library’s ILL service is a great way for students, researchers, or just the curious, to obtain hard-to-get material not usually found in smaller public libraries. If it exists at all, ILL can probably get it for you.

Click here to access the WORLDCAT database or stop by Newport Library and let us show you the world. You can also email your ILL requests directly to the library using this form.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Shadows Still Remain by Peter De Jonge

Peter de Jonge has co-authored three books with James Patterson, but the voice and tone of this, his first solo novel, is very different from the usual Patterson. The protagonist, Darlene O'Hara, is a stand-out character, hard-nosed, insightful, and easy to like.

O'Hara is a tough New York cop, a 36-year-old single mom whose wild teen years translated into motherhood at seventeen. She's still wild, at least a little, and although she now regrets naming her son Axl Rose after the lead singer in the heavy-metal band Guns N' Roses, she continues to rock out whenever possible.

O'Hara and her partner don't normally do Homicide, but when a body is found on their latest missing persons case, they're allowed to keep working it for the first 72 hours. In that time, O'Hara learns enough to become obsessed; the victim, Francesca Pena, is a slums-to-Ivy League success story, whose father died on the cusp of her adolescence just like O'Hara's did. Like O'Hara, Pena went into a downward spiral after the loss: while O'Hara's life turned around after the birth of her son, Pena ended up in a last-chance camp for juvenile delinquents, which motivated her mother to move her away from the projects. Pena made her opportunities count, and rose into the kind of upper-class life O'Hara never tried to reach for; but her efforts ended horribly. O'Hara can't leave it alone, and in the end, her determination to find the truth of Pena's life teaches her more than she wanted to know. I was especially impressed by the end of the book; I don't want to give anything away, but the book ended on a strong note that stayed with me.

If you're interested in a complex, slightly hard-boiled, intense and insightful mystery, check out Shadows Still Remain in our catalog.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Can't Believe it's Mark Twain

OK, let’s play a little free association game: I say, “Mark Twain.” You say … what? I’ll bet it’s either “Tom Sawyer” or “Huck Finn” … right? Now, what if I ask for the name of three authors that come to mind when I say, “Mark Twain?” “Come on, think a little … They’re right on the tip of your tongue … yes, yes” … “Stephen King, Robert Heinlein and Douglas Adams!” “Of Course!” “Wait” … “What?” “Mark Twain, Stephen King, Robert Heinlein and Douglas Adams?” “Have you lost your mind?” “Mark Twain never wrote horror or fantasy or things that are just plain weird.” “What are you talking about?”

If that’s your reaction, then might I suggest you take the time to check out and read The Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts, edited by William M. Gibson. The Manuscripts are a fascinating collection of three versions of a story Twain was writing before he died in 1910.

The best of the three stories, in my opinion, is the last, No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger. This version of the tale, set in Austria in the year 1490, is narrated by one August Feldner, a sixteen-year-old printer’s apprentice. The print shop is located in run-down castle, which houses over a dozen people, including the print master and his family. August relates the events that occur in the castle and village after the arrival of a strange boy who says his name is “No. 44, New Series 864,962.”

After No. 44 arrives, the novel changes, from a story about a print shop and life in a quiet little Austrian village, to an eerie fantasy. It seems No. 44 has creative powers and he uses these powers to make duplicates of many of the novel's characters. The only difference between the created duplicates and their “real” counterparts is that the duplicates have no moral or ethical codes and they are not constrained by time or place. They are able to come and go at will, they do onerous things and very soon the quiet little Austrian village erupts in chaos.

Yes, No. 44 thinks it is all quite humorous. Unfortunately, real people suffer very real consequences as a result of No. 44’s “pranks.” Duplicates commit criminal and social mischief. Hard-earned reputations are ruined. The people are in an uproar and it’s impossible to lay blame at anyone’s feet, because it’s impossible to determine if a real person or a duplicate is responsible for any specific action.

August Feldner, No. 44’s confidant, has doubts about the “rightness” of 44’s little jokes. He does his best to convince No. 44 that people shouldn’t be played with like dolls, but 44 has an answer for everything.

By the way, did I mention that No. 44's unspoken name is Satan? Yes, believe it! No. 44 is the nephew of the “bad” Satan, “the only one in the family who ever sinned.” He’s an angel, come to visit the good people of the village.

This book has all the ingredients that make Mark Twain one of my favorite authors: great characters, tense situations, liars, humor, and political and religious commentary. The last two chapters of the book, the trial and Satan’s farewell speech, are disturbing to say the least.

If you are interested in reading Mark Twain from a little different vantage point, check out and read The Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts.


Tucked away in the nonfiction section of the Newport Library is Archipelago: Portraits of Life in the World's Most Remote Island Sanctuary, by David Liittschwager and Susan Middleton. It is one of the library's loveliest books.

The Hawaiian Archipelago comprises several islands that extend northwest of what we generally think of as Hawaii. In 2000 President Clinton created the NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, an enormous (over 130,000 square miles) area that is now almost entirely off-limits to people. The reserve encompasses islands, reefs, shoals, and open ocean, and is populated by corals, albatrosses, seals, turtles, and thousands of species of fish. Photographers Liittschwager and Middleton joined a team of biologists studying the ecology of the reserve, and produced this amazing book.

In many of the pictures, the photographers collected live specimens, placed them in specially-constructed lightboxes (often equipped with aquarium tanks), and snapped portraits against the light. The results are magnificent.

The authors also catalog the damage done to the islands, which, in spite of their remote nature and protected status, are polluted with tons of plastic garbage, brought in on ocean currents to litter the beaches.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you are interested in wildlife, environmentalism, or photography, reserve Archipelago today.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ain't It Delicious!

If you’re like me, you’ve probably accumulated an unwieldy number of bookmarks in your browser’s folder, and it becomes ever harder to find that one site on alien abduction that you bookmarked a year ago.

If you don’t mind remembering one more very cool web page, it’s here and it’s called Delicious.

Delicious keeps track of all your bookmarks categorized with tags, subject headings that relate to the web page’s topic. Want to bookmark that site on alien abductions? Create a Delicious account and add a nifty little button to your browser’s tool bar “Add to Delicious.” It even sounds delicious, doesn’t it? Create a few tags: alien, abduction, UFOs, etc. Delicious will even suggest tags for you. Next year, when you want to find that page again, click on one of your related tags, and, voila, a list appears of just those relevant pages.

One of the best and perhaps most underutilized of Delicious’s deliciousness is as a search tool. Interested in alien abductions? Search Delicious and find out what other abduction fans bookmark the most. Rather than using hit counts to create relevance (like Google), Delicious makes most relevant what others have saved most often.

It really is Delicious!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Olivier’s Ophelia

July’s Literary Flick is the 1948 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Directed and produced by Sir Laurence Olivier, the movie also features Olivier as Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and Jean Simmons as his ill-fated love, Ophelia.

The role of Ophelia helped Simmons launch her career as a serious actress. Time Magazine featured her as Ophelia on its June 28, 1948 cover, and had this to say about her:

“A young (19) actress named Jean Simmons, who plays Ophelia, is a product of the movie studios exclusively. Yet she holds her own among some highly skilled Shakespeareans. More to the point, she gives the film a vernal freshness and a clear humanity which play like orchard breezes through all of Shakespeare's best writing, but which are rarely projected by veteran Shakespearean actors.”

Such poetry in their review! They go on to mention that Simmons received 2,000 fan letters a week, including multiple offers of marriage and a request from an Indian chiropodist for a photograph of her feet and a sliver of her toenail.

Many other versions of Hamlet have been filmed. The first, in 1900, was two minutes long and was projected simultaneously with recordings of the actors’ voices. French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt performed the role of Hamlet. Mel Gibson and Helena Bonham Carter played Hamlet and Ophelia in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 version. In 1996 Kenneth Branagh and Kate Winslet starred in the first unabridged theatrical film version of the play; and in 2000, Ethan Hawke and Julia Stiles play the doomed lovers in modern day New York City.

Olivier’s Hamlet stands the test of time. Much of the dialogue was cut to shorten a 4 ½ hour play to 2 ½ hours, and the characters of Fortinbas, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were dropped. But Olivier added his own stark, psychological focus to the story, from subtle adjustments to the script to the bleak, noir atmosphere of the sets. These, in contrast with Ophelia’s vulnerable innocence, give Olivier’s version a permanent place of honor in the annals of Shakespearean film.

Hamlet will be screened Tuesday, July 14, at 6:30 p.m. in the McEntee Meeting Room. Admission is free and open to the public.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fiction, and all that jazz

I don't listen to jazz very often. But I do read a lot of books, which sometimes leads to interesting musical discoveries.

The Nautical Chart is an intelligent thriller by a Spanish novelist, Arturo Pérez-Reverte. It's about a merchant mariner named Coy, who falls in love with a dangerous woman and gets drawn into her treasure-hunting scheme. Coy spends a lot of lonely hours on the sea, listening to music. Here is how Pérez-Reverte describes Coy listening to jazz:

The first notes of "Lady, Be Good" stippled the lights of the city reflected in the ink-black water ... Little by little, the classic swing of bass chords was interwoven with the intricate entrances of the rest of the instruments--the trumpets of Killian and McGhee, the solos of Arnold Ross at piano, and Charlie Parker on alto. Coy listened to it all intently, headphones to his ears, watching the luminous dots on the water as if the notes flooding his head had materialized on that oily black water. Parker's sound, he decided, was saturated with alcohol, his shirtsleeves reeking of tobacco smoke, and vertical clock hands plunged like knives into the belly of the night. That melody ... had the taste of a port of call.

Wow, I thought. I want to hear that.

So I went to Newport Library's excellent collection of jazz CDs -- we have over 200 titles -- and checked out The Charlie Parker Collection.

I'm not sure that I hear everything in Charlie Parker's alto sax that Coy does, but that's part of what jazz is all about. If you want to sample some music you haven't heard before, come in to the Newport Library and see what we have. (And while you're here, if you like well-written novels about interesting people, you might give The Nautical Chart by Pérez-Reverte a try.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Sword of Truth

I am subjecting myself to Terry Goodkind's epic Sword of Truth series again, this time in audio. It's a bored-in-the-car thing; as I travel back and forth in Newport and points elsewhere, I must listen to something other than the tinny music emanating from my son's Nintendo DS in the back seat. You would not believe how many hours of listening pleasure are in each one of these babies, but the series goes on, and on, and on . . . which is a good thing. Sort of.

Goodkind has created a complex world rife with magic and political intrigue, spiced with diverse cultures. His heroes are Richard, a young woodsguide, and Kahlan Amnel, the "Mother Confessor." Both have unusual powers and an unswerving sense of responsibility; both are targets for evil forces that threaten to rule the world. Naturally, the two fall in love, despite the many obstacles in their paths. The story line is well-crafted and fairly suspenseful.

My reservation comes from Goodkind's painstaking preachiness. The guy is a big Ayn Rand fan. Rand is the author who founded the philosophy of "Objectivism" and is well known for her novel Atlas Shrugged. I just listened to a half-hour parable on the great wrong of rewarding single mothers for their irresponsible reproductive behavior with welfare payments; all couched, of course, in fantasy-world terms (Book 3.) What would happen, asks Goodkind's character Sister Verna, if we preached that lying was wrong, but gave away a penny for every lie? Why, we'd soon be penniless, of course! The unsubtle and often repetitive nature of Goodkind's philosophical arguments distract a bit from the story line, at least for me; yet, I keep listening to them. (I've just started Book 4, Temple of the Winds.)

All 12 of these books are available at Library2Go, where you can download audiobooks and videos. They are also available in book form. The series starts with the book Wizard's First Rule (hardcopy or audiobook). Check them out in our catalog.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

They're coming!

For me, Night of the Living Dead will always be the zombie movie. This black-and-white 1968 classic looks like it cost about a thousand dollars to make, including salaries for the no-name, never-heard-from-again cast. But you know how some low-budget horror movies have an air of amusing cheesiness? That air does not linger around this one. Night of the Living Dead still packs genuine chills, especially in the unexpected conclusion.
If Night of the Living Dead is the best of the zombie movies, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks is surely the finest zombie book I've ever read. Brooks tracks the menace from its beginnings through the world's descent into chaos -- all from the point of view of a journalist attempting to recreate events from after society's utter collapse. Each chapter tells a different slice of the story; they all come together in a mosaic of blood, desperation, and survival.

Both Night of the Living Dead and World War Z drive home the point that, in the zombie apocalypse, the zombies are only one of the threats. People in extreme danger turn against one another. Except at the public library! That's the theme of this short zombie film, which was submitted to a video contest run by Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 2007. Enjoy.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Black Is The Color Of This Book

Every once in a while a book will jump off the shelf and grab your attention. This one certainly did. 

Library staff were shelf-reading one day before opening, that is, we were making sure all the books were in their proper order. As I was re-arranging the Easy Fiction “C” authors, The Black Book of Colors, by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria, fell off the shelf in front of me.

The first thing you notice about the book is the color, or more precisely its total lack of color. What otherwise appears to be a somber black book, instantly deepens when reading the first few words: “Thomas says that yellow tastes like mustard...” Braille embossed above the printed text tells you that this is a completely different kind of book. The illustrations are simple and textured rather than drawn.

The Black Book of Colors is a lovely book that opened my eyes to a new way of seeing, a new way of reading, and a new way of understanding how other people “see” the world.
Click on the title if you would like to reserve The Black Book of Colors. I’d recommend it.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Epistles Extraordinaire

Epistolary : written in the form of a series of letters.

In this age of instant messaging, phone texting, and twittering, there is a feeling of nostalgic voyeurism in reading the carefully crafted correspondence of others. The epistolary novel gives us insight into characters to the degree to which they choose to reveal themselves, and it can be delightful to watch as relationships evolve over time.

The Newport Library’s Reading Circle will discuss Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ epistolary novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, at noon on July 14th.

Set in London and Guernsey Island on the heels of World War II, the book opens with a letter sent to Juliet Ashton, a writer. Guernsey farmer Dawsey Adams found her name inside a book written by Charles Lamb. “ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” He tells Juliet about a literary club on the island, and a correspondence grows between her and members of the club.

The history of Germany’s occupation of Guernsey Island is woven throughout the letters, as is the love of reading and sharing great literature, even while suffering the deprivations of war. Juliet, looking for a new story to write, finds one in the courage of the islanders, and she herself becomes part of their story.

The book is available in print, on CD, and as a downloadable audiobook from Library2Go.

The Newport Library Reading Circle meets on the second Tuesday of each month. Participation is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dead Again

A private investigator, Mike, rescues a mysterious, beautiful amnesiac woman whom he calls Grace. Hoping to learn the woman's identity, Mike brings Grace to a hypnotist. Grace's present identity does not emerge under hypnosis; instead they learn about the person she once was in a past life. They also discover that Grace is somehow linked to a murder that happened in the 1940s.

If you think this sounds like a noir thriller, you're partly right. Dead Again is a loving tribute to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, directed by Kenneth Branagh in 1991. It is one of my favorite movies.

Branagh stars as Mike, the detective; Grace was played by Branagh's then-wife, Emma Thompson. The film incorporates beautiful black-and-white flashbacks as the hypnotist takes them back to their past lives: Thompson plays Margaret, a vivacious pianist, Branagh her moody husband, Roman, who was convicted of murdering her. Both actors easily master the dual roles with their different personalities (and the different accents, American and British, required).

As far as I'm concerned, though, the film is completely stolen by Andy Garcia, who is wonderful as a cynical newspaper reporter. The scene in which the present-day Branagh visits the elderly Garcia in the hospital is a show-stopper.

It's tough to "do" Hitchcock, and the truth is that Dead Again is not a perfect movie. It's a very entertaining one, though, with lots of mystery, intrigue, and romance. The performances are fantastic -- did I mention that Robin Williams also has a cameo role? But I think it's worth watching just for Andy Garcia.

The library has Dead Again on DVD and VHS.