The dog days of summer have arrived! Enjoy languid days reading and watching the recommended titles below.
Mary – Youth Services
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, New Fiction Lee
Go Set a Watchman begins when Scout (now called “Jean Louise”) returns from college in New York, to visit her aging father in her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama. All seems to be, at first, as it always had been. A childhood friend, named Henry becomes a determined romantic pursuer; Jean Louise’s Aunt Alexandra oversees that Jean Louise is getting in touch with young girls who never left town for college. Maycomb itself is enclosed in in a quiet standstill, and this childhood stomping ground still holds Jean Louise’s past like a time-capsule. But this mirage is broken, and it is broken fairly quickly as Jean Louise discovers that many individuals within her town – most notably her father, lawyer Atticus Finch – harbor terrifying ideals on race, and what constitutes an ideal American South.
The first thing one needs to know about this book is that it is not To Kill a Mockingbird, this is a very different story. In fact, Go Set a Watchman was written before To Kill a Mockingbird. After reading this book, I firmly believe Lee wrote it, and it appears to be largely unedited. I also believe that this work was published with her consent. If you are looking for a nod to Mockingbird, however, there is a reference within Go Set a Watchman to the events of that famous trial, with one major plot point changed. It seems like whatever happened to have Mockingbird published before Watchman rests largely with the fact that publishers wanted an earlier version of the famous social-justice lawyer, Atticus Finch. Simply put: they wanted a hero.
In many ways, this work opens a Pandora’s box filled with many of our country’s deep-set problems. Not one character within this story exhibits a healthy perspective on race, an issue which the work is largely concerned with. Even Jean Louise, who can be considered the best of the lot, has a view of race which is problematic, at best. And yes, this will make many people uncomfortable. But because of this, I would argue that Go Set a Watchman is the story that we need for our modern age. This book challenges one to see that even if you believe you have healthy perspectives on race, on sexist attitudes, on religion and bigotry, you better look closer.
But as Atticus’ brother, Dr. Finch, points out, it is time and time again that history will repeat itself. Wars are fought. Lives end. And still, we attach ourselves to heroes. To this, Dr. Finch poses the most interesting question of the novel: When we see our hero’s true face, why is it then we turn away?
Still Alice starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, and Kristen Stewart, New DVD Still Alice
Dr. Alice Howard is a celebrated linguist and professor at Columbia University. Only in her fifties, Alice begins to think that something is terribly wrong when small instances of forgetfulness progress to her inability to remember important events and people. Thinking she has a brain tumor, she sets out to find a neurologist, only to find out that she has a rare diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. There are few works which cover the pure confusion and rage at the loss of personal identity to Alzheimer’s disease. An uncomfortable topic for many to openly discuss, individuals with Alzheimer’s are often at odds with their diminishing sense of identity, and the loss of their ability to convey their experiences to others. Julianne Moore gives what was an Oscar-winning performance of Dr. Alice, and it was well-deserved. She brings an astounding performance to this film which challenges the boundaries of what we think is identity, what it means to be alive, and what it means to lose and love. Astounding film that all should see.
Chris – Technical Services
The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman, CD 940.53 Ack (audiobook) or Nonfiction 940.53 Ack (book)
Drawing on Antonina’s Zabinski’s diary and other historical sources, naturalist Diane Ackerman re-creates life at the Warsaw Zoo before, during, and after WWII. A not particularly brave person, she finds herself responsible for her own extended family, the zoo animals, resistance activists, and the refuge Jews, many smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto. A Polish Christian, she, her husband Jan, and young son believe it is their duty to help all, both animal and human, to survive the Nazi terror. Ackerman, the author of the bestselling A Natural History of the Senses, examines the role of nature in both kindness and savagery, and explores the disturbing obsession at the core of Nazism.
Sue – Circulation
Holy Cow by David Duchovny, New Fiction Duchovny
David Duchovny (yes, that David Duchovny, who has a Master’s degree in Literature from Yale in addition to his acting skills) has written a funny and impactful novel. Holy Cow tells the story of Elsie, a cow on a family farm in upstate New York who discovers that she and the other animals on the farm are destined for slaughter. Upon learning this horrifying news, she decides to run away to India, a country where cows are not eaten, but revered. As she makes her plan to escape, she is joined by a pig named Jerry who wants to go to Israel (no pork in the diet) and a turkey named Tom who wants to go to Turkey (where hopefully he will be respected in a country named after him and not eaten for Thanksgiving.) The three animals’ zany adventures around the world are recounted by Elsie with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor, including puns and pop culture references, as well as little nuggets of wisdom. The book is written to be humorous and quirky, but the points Duchovny makes about the horror of factory farms and mankind’s role in the destruction of the environment are valid and worthy.
Longmire starring Robert Taylor, DVD Longmire, Season 1-3
This series stars Australian actor Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire, an old-fashioned county sheriff in Wyoming. Walt recently lost his wife and is returning to work. Walt is a very honorable man, hard-working and trustworthy and deeply caring and loyal. Through the first three seasons of the series, his wife’s death and its effect on Walt and his daughter Cady is explored. His wife was suffering from cancer, but dark circumstances surrounding her death are revealed as the series goes on. Walt is running for re-election and his deputy, Branch, is running against him, financed by his rich and unscrupulous father. Unbeknownst to Longmire, his daughter is also romantically involved with Branch. The show co-stars Lou Diamond Phillips as Longmire’s best friend Henry, part Cheyenne and proprietor of the local tavern, and Katee Sackhoff as Walt’s trusted deputy Vic, a transplant from Philadelphia with a storied past. Walt’s jurisdiction runs up against a Cheyenne Indian reservation and he sometimes clashes with the chief of the tribal police. The show stands out from standard crime dramas because of the rural setting, which includes cowboys, Native Americans, cattle, and wide open spaces. It is also slower-paced than most detective shows, befitting its Wyoming setting where life moves at a different pace than big cities. I enjoy the show because of the richly developed characters and intriguing mysteries. It is an intelligent, well-made series with an outstanding cast. Unfortunately, A&E cancelled Longmire after Season 3, but it was picked up by Netflix for a fourth season, which is scheduled to air this fall.
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman, New Fiction Backman
The second novel from the author of A Man Called Ove. Seven-year old Elsa is different and gets cruelly picked on at her school. Her eccentric grandmother is 77 and Elsa’s best and only friend and stalwart defender. Every night, Elsa and her grandmother journey to a magical place called the Land of Almost Awake – a fairy tale world created by Granny that consists of a number of different kingdoms, all with their own purpose and heroes. In this magical world where being different is celebrated, Elsa feels safe and happy. When her grandmother dies after taking ill, Elsa sets out to deliver a series of letters her grandmother left behind for various people from her life, most of whom are residents of the apartment building owned by Granny where Elsa lives. As Elsa proceeds through each delivery, she learns much about her grandmother’s life before she was born and about the lives of the people around whom she has grown up without really knowing or understanding. She realizes that the stories she has heard her whole life in the Land of Almost Awake are actually pieces of the truth of Granny’s amazing life. This book is a bit complex, with the fantasy world of the Land of Almost Awake colliding with the real world, but it all comes together in the end. I didn’t enjoy it as much as A Man Called Ove, which was wonderful and one of the best new books I’ve read in years, but it is a worthy read, more serious-minded and sadder than Ove, but with a hopeful ending.
Brigitte – Circulation
Wolf in a White Van by John Darnielle, New Fiction Darnielle
Wolf in a White Van is the first novel by musician John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. It tells the story of Sean Phillips, a young man with a severe facial disfigurement who is attempting to grapple with the humdrum of every day life as a disabled person. This novel has been described as a deep meditation on escapism, especially through the means of role-playing games. It’s definitely a must-read for the summer if you are looking for something a little heavier.
The Soft Skin starring Jean Desailly and Francoise Dorleac , New DVD Soft Skin
The Soft Skin is the latest of Francois Truffaut’s films to receive acclaim. This movie follows Jean Desailly, a bored literary scholar, married to his wife but wanting more. He is charmed by Nicole, a flight attendant, and soon they begin an affair. As their relationship grows, the film becomes more frantic. As Jean’s life begins to fall apart, so does the world around him. The ending of this fast paced French film will leave you breathless.
Michelle – Administration
Ex Machina starring Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander, New DVD Ex Machina
This movie took a very interesting look at the creation and use of Artificial Intelligence and the place for AI in the world. It was beautifully acted and kept my full attention until the end. It also gave me something to think about long after the movie was over.
Chappie starring Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver, New DVD Chappie
This movie also delved into the world of AI and what it means to be human. Chappie was completely unexpected. I’d seen the advertising far too many times and I don’t think it captured what this movie is truly about. I cared more about the AI in this movie than I did most of the human characters. As a bonus, it is fun to watch Hugh Jackman play the villain!
Hubbell – Circulation
Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes) starrring Ricardo Darin and Oscar Martinez, New DVD Wild Tales
A 2014 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, Wild Tales is a collection of six distinct vignettes set in modern day Argentina showing everyday people thrown into emotionally charged situations. Produced by Academy Award-winning director Pedro Almodóvar, Wild Tales plunges the viewer into life-or-death situations and presents moral dilemmas where good intentions are not what they seem. You will find yourself unclear about whom to support as the characters take justice into their own hands. The movie’s stories include an episode of lethal road rage following a casual insult, a man’s crazed revenge on a towing company, a family’s plan to do whatever it takes to protect their son from a long prison sentence, and a bride’s maniacal wedding night retaliation on her cheating fiance. Wild Tales is simultaneously hilarious, violent, shocking, and humanizing.