Friday, November 28, 2014

Cutting edge speculative fiction: Southern Reach

The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer is comprised of Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance.

The settings:
  • Area X, where a large and possibly growing strangeness has impinged on a coastal community
    • the lighthouse
    • the topographical anomaly, sunk deep into the ground but perceived by the consciousness as a tower
    • the swamp
  • Southern Reach, the bureaucratic governmental response to Area X, in the form of a collection of brick buildings, a border crossing, watchtowers, and the people who staff them

 A few major characters:
  • The biologist: the main character and only point-of-view character of Annhilation. She’s a member of the latest expedition to venture into Area X under the guidance of Southern Reach. Stripped of her name, conditioned by drugs, hypnosis and other forms of mind control to withstand some of the previously observed effects of Area X, she may be destined to be the only survivor, depending on how you define survival.\
  • John Rodriguez/Control: The incoming director of Southern Reach, and the main character of Authority. A man whose determination to succeed is met and undermined by the horrific, extensive, and mysterious effects of Area X on his staff and himself.
  • Gloria/Cynthia: The previous director of Southern Reach, whose secret past ties her to the nascence of Area X.  Most present in Acceptance

This series is unusual, even bizarre. It may be classified as science fiction or even horror, but it’s narrated so intimately that it feels more like an in-depth study of human nature and what a truly alien influence or presence or attempt to communicate or attack might look like. After years of humanoid TV aliens, whose cultures are just instructive fun-house versions of human culture, it’s kind of wonderful to force your mind to contend with the truly alien, and how limited and limiting is our human perspective in the context of the universe.

Science fiction books definitely do this better than television—CJ Cherryh comes to mind, and Sherri S. Tepper, but Vandermeer has snuck up on it from a different direction. If this intrigues you, please give it a read. For me, the first book was fascinating and the last one a bit of a let down (I tend to enjoy the inexplicable more than the explication, no matter how vague) but I expect this series is bizarre enough and amorphous enough that many different interpretations will exist.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Empty Chair

The Newport Public Library will host a screening by filmmaker Greg Chaney of his film, The Empty Chair, on Saturday, November 29 at 2:00 p.m. The Empty Chair is a documentary about how Japanese Americans from Juneau, Alaska were sent to prison camps during WWII and how the small Alaskan community stood in quiet defiance against the internment of American citizens.

The Tanaka Family
Japanese immigrants came to Alaska in the early 1900's and settled there to raise families. Several Japanese Americans from Juneau, Alaska were sent to prison camps by the US government from 1942-1945 because all people of Japanese heritage were considered national security risks.

John Tanaka's graduation ceremony
Among them was John Tanaka, who was born and raised in Juneau. In 1942 John was going to be the Valedictorian of his high school graduating class but was interned before the graduation ceremony. In response, the school board voted to hold a special early graduation ceremony for him before John was sent to a relocation camp for Japanese Americans. When the official graduation ceremony was held for the class of '42 they set aside an empty chair on the platform to acknowledge his absence.

The Empty Chair Memorial in Juneau, Alaska
John Tanaka volunteered to join the US Army to fight the Axis powers during WWII while his family was confined in the Minidoka Idaho relocation camp. He was a member of the 442nd regimental combat team. This Japanese American unit was the most decorated Army unit for its length of service.

The Empty Chair documentary is composed of interviews of survivors from that period, rare historical photos, never before seen archival footage, US Government documentaries and historical accounts. All of these sources are woven together to draw the viewer back into this little know chapter of American history.

Chaney, the son of Newport resident Patsy Brookshire, was born in Oregon but has lived in Juneau, Alaska since 1982. Greg describes his filmmaking as "an out of control hobby." He is keeping his day job as Juneau's Lands and Resources Manager, but continues to work on diverse movie projects after hours. His projects have been as diverse as short comedies, music videos extending up to feature length documentaries. His films have been selected for dozens of film festivals and have been shown on every continent except Antarctica. Over time he has collected a handful of awards, his favorites being "Best of Fest" at the Anchorage International Film Festival and a "Special Jury Award" from the Banff Mountain Film Festival for his documentary Journey on the Wild Coast.

This program is free and open to the public.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Murderess on a Mission

The chilling opening paragraph of this gothic novel let me know instantly that it is my kind of book; suspenseful, historical, gritty and well-written. I won’t paraphrase that first paragraph but will use it to whet your appetite for this page turner of a read:

“When Pemberton returned to the North Carolina mountains after three months in Boston settling his father’s estate, among those waiting on the train platform was a young woman pregnant with Pemberton’s child. She was accompanied by her father, who carried beneath his shabby frock coat a bowie knife sharpened with great attentiveness earlier that morning so it would plunge as deep as possible into Pemberton’s heart.”

Rash introduces the reader to the title character, Serena, a woman not of her times but certainly of her place, when she responds to the introduction of Rachel, mother of her husband’s child and the daughter of the man with a bowie knife that her husband just killed, by handing her the killing knife and advising her to sell it, “That money will help when the child is born,” Serena says coolly. “It’s all you’ll ever get from my husband and me.”

Rash bring to life the times of the timber barons’ last stand in the Smoky Mountains. The story is set in 1929 with mention of the Wall Street crash as something far away from the mountain fastness but its effects are felt as desperate men appear, looking for jobs. Life is cheap in Pemberton’s lumber camp and replacements for those killed by the work are quickly found.

It’s not just the trees that kill. Serena will let nothing stand in the way of the Pembertons’ desire to cut every tree on their 34,000 acres as soon as possible, then move on to Brazil with its hundreds of miles of hardwood forests. When Galloway, the foreman, matter-of-factly loses his arm to an ax, his work turns to killing anyone who stands in the way of the Pemberton ambition. That list gets long as the story progresses through the seasons of destroying an ecosystem as quickly as possible before the land is “grabbed” by the government for inclusion in the soon to be Smokey Mountains National Park.

Rash uses a Greek chorus of loggers to comment on the action and the characters. I enjoyed this Shakespearean ploy and found their dialogue informative as well as fun. I read some of it aloud to taste the pleasures of the language. The author is as adept at bringing the setting to the life as he is with plot, character and dialogue, allowing the reader to see the Smokey Mountains in all their glory and in their devastation.

The last flawless chapter captivated me with a perfectly creepy shock that still has me wondering how he did it. Now I must go find his other books, including the short story collection, Chemistry and Other Stories (2007),that contains the first notes of the book that became Serena The movie will be released in February 2015.  I will be watching to see if Jennifer Lawrence can bring Serena's deeply evil character to life.  Brrrrrrr!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When I grow up, I want to be...

Not everyone knows what they want to be when they grow up, and many of us change careers once or twice in our life. Are you exploring career options? Do you think you might want to go into a health care profession, become a teacher, or perhaps a firefighter or police officer?

You can learn about different careers, take practice entrance tests, and prepare for an occupational exam using LearningExpress Library’s Career Center, available for free with your Newport Library card.

When you select an option, the careers that are covered show up in the left column.  For example, if you are curious about the nursing profession, you can download an eBook, “Becoming a Nurse.”

A variety of practice tests are available for the teaching profession:

After you finish a test, you can review your answers and retake the test if you want to.

Civil Service, Cosmetology, Dental Assistant, Pharmacy Technician, Veterinary Technician, Firefighter, Postal Worker, Plumbing, and ASVAB, are some of the other exams available.

If you need help setting up your LearningExpress Library account, come in to the library or give us a call at 541-265-2153.  

Monday, November 10, 2014

New Children's Magazine Titles

Newport Library has added three new titles to our children’s magazine collection.

Appleseeds: An award-winning social studies monthly for grades 3-5, with a uniquely entertaining perspective on culture and history. Puzzles, games, maps, photos and a student submission section make learning fun!

Ask en Espanol: Arts and sciences en Espanol for the curious reader, grades 2-4. Winner of the 2012 Parent’s Choice Golden Award.

Ladybug en Espanol: Designed expressly for the very young reader, ages 2-6. Filled with read-along stories, poems and colorful illustrations. Also a great way for older native English speakers to improve their Spanish!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Such stuff as dreams are made on

We'll be screening the 2010 version of The Tempest on Wednesday, November 12 at 6:30 p.m.

Helen Mirren stars in the principal role of Prospera, the duchess of Milan, who is usurped by her brother, Antonio (Chris Cooper), and cast off on a raft to die with her three-year-old daughter, Miranda (Felicity Jones). Twelve years later, Prospera has her opportunity for revenge; she conjures up a storm, the eponymous tempest, to lure her usurping brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to the island.
Ben Whishaw plays Ariel, a spirit who aids Prospera; Djimon Hounsou is Caliban, Prospera’s slave; David Strathairn is Alonso, the King of Naples; and Reeve Carney is Ferdinand, Alonso’s son, who falls in love with Miranda.

Egg and Spoon: A Russian Folktale Feast

I have to admit that I am guilty of judging books by their covers. Sometimes. My initial reaction to Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire happened to be one of those times. The cover looked awesome, so I took the book home and devoured it like a too-large chocolate babka.

Maguire is best known for his popular novel Wicked, which was later made into a hit play that has toured the country. I imagine his status as a successful writer limited his editors' attempts at trimming this big boy down, bringing to mind the example of J.K. Rowling's bloated fifth Harry Potter book. Like the Harry Potter book, however, it is enjoyable despite its too-muchness.

Egg and Spoon tells the story of an an imprisoned monk who tells the tale of two girls from radically different circumstances in 1905 czarist Russia. Starving peasant Elena Rudina is struggling to care for her dying widowed mother when a train carrying Ekaterina, a wealthy aristocrat traveling to Saint Petersberg, is forced to stop near Elena's village for repairs. As luck would have it, Ekaterina jumps off the train to rescue the Faberge egg she has been showing to Elena (who is aboard) just as the train is fixed and pulls away. The stage is set! What follows is a mishmash of fairytale, magic, humor, and ethical quandary that is essentially the book version of an amply proportioned matryoshka, a Russian nesting doll. While not for everybody, Egg and Spoon has a lot going for it. So give it a try. Or not. As the witch Baba Yaga (a major character full of vim and anachronistic witticisms) says, "There's the road, there's your life. I'm done with sharing."

Interested in other new titles from our library system?  Just click on the New Items link on the library's main page to browse and place holds on the new goodies. Приятного чтения (Happy reading!)

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Secret Place by Tana French

It’s no secret that I love Tana French, who wrote some of my favorite mysteries like Broken Harbor and In the Woods. In her new mystery, The Secret Place, she really outdoes herself with a multi-layered exploration of a death at an elite girls’ school in Dublin.

Detective Stephen Moran has been languishing in Cold Cases after the events of The Likeness, looking out for his chance at promotion. When Holly Mackey, another detective’s daughter, brings him a lead in an unsolved case, he’s bound to turn the lead over to the Murder Squad. However, he recognizes his moment of opportunity and talks himself into a temporary partnership with the lead detective, prickly and unlikable Conway.

What follows for Moran and Conway is one very tense and intense day and night of investigation. What follows for the novel is chapters of the present, interspersed with chapters of the past, when the deep friendship of Holly Mackey and her three roommates dominoes into a series of events that culminates in the murder of a teenage boy. The chapters from the girls’ point of view are exquisitely written, in a complementary but distinctive style from the detectives’ chapters, and the story unfolding within the story of the investigation is paced perfectly, so that clues from each allow you to start hypothesizing about what really happened, long before you can anticipate that final twist.

Love it! Read it in three days, all 452 pages of it! Tana French fans, fans of foreign mysteries, fans of boarding school stories and coming of age stories and lovely writing—this one’s for you.