Wednesday, April 16, 2014

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY by Tracy Letts


Written as a play, August:  Osage County takes place in a middle-class country home in modern-day Oklahoma.  With dark humor throughout, the story reveals the troubled, contentious extended Weston family’s secrets as closet skeletons come tumbling out, one after another.   


The disappearance of the family patriarch, Beverly, sets events into motion and elicits strong emotional reactions from each of his three daughters and especially from his drug-addicted wife, Violet, who skewers her daughters with caustic comments and criticism at every turn.  The Westons are quarrelsome and dysfunctional as they attempt to navigate the situation while dealing with their own personal agendas, their strange relationships with each other, and Violet’s abusive control. 


Billings Public Library does not yet have the widely acclaimed film starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts that is based on the book, but it has been ordered.  Given the powerful dialog and chaotic action, the story would be compelling in any format.  The play was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for drama.  -MS


Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquemont

Spring is a great time of year for many reasons, but among those reasons I have three favorites:  There's more light, farmers have sheared their sheep, and I'm ready to create.  It's time to kick winter blues and get a second wind of productiveness by picking up a hobby that's inexpensive and requires relatively little skill (at least at first):  Spinning.

Drop spindles are plentiful and relatively inexpensive to make or buy which is a great boon in learning a new craft.  Living in Montana has its advantages because freshly sheered wool is everywhere at this time of year and is a great way to support your local farmer or rancher.

Enter Respect the Spindle.  This is the book to turn to if spring fever is making your fingers itch to learn a fiber art.  It teaches you how to use the fiber and use the spindle to create beautiful yarns that go on to feature in knitting, crochet, weaving, or whate
ver else you choose to imagine.  The best thing about this book is that it turns a potentially intimidating hobby into something simple and easy to understand, and (for people like me who need lots of illustration) it's loaded with step-by-step photographs.

Give it a go, it's great.  Reserve Respect the Spindle.

If you're interested in fiber arts, we'd love to hear from you.  Come meet us at the BPL Knitting Circle; we get together and chat and share our fiber projects every fourth Thursday of the month at 1pm.  The next meeting is on April 24th at 1pm in the first floor Popular Materials Room.  You do not have to be a knitter to hang out with us!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Long Walk by Richard Bachman

Raymond Garraty is a 16 year old boy from Maine, who volunteers to compete in the country’s annual Long Walk. One hundred teenage boys are chosen out of hundreds of applications. But there is a catch. This is no ordinary foot race. Once the Walk begins, the boys must maintain a speed of 4 miles per hour. There are no exceptions. If they slow down, they get a warning. Slow down again, that’s two. After three warnings, they get a ticket; a bullet in the head. The last boy standing wins the ultimate prize: anything their heart desires. As the Walk starts, Ray finds himself making friends with some walkers, and enemies out of others. But as walkers start dying, and Ray is faced with the terrifying limitations of the human mind and body, he begins to question why any of them volunteered for a walk that was a guarantee of certain death for all but one.

I discovered this book several years ago, and it has become one of my favorite books of all time. I read it about once a year, and it never gets old. Stephen King published The Long Walk in 1979 under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman. It’s an amazingly dark look into teenage psyche, society and cultural entertainment. What I found most compelling was King’s description of the Crowd. The Walk is a hugely popular event, with people gathering on the sides of the road for a chance at a glimpse of the walkers. It’s even more exciting if they are lucky enough to be right there when a walker gets his ticket. As the walkers’ numbers dwindle, the Crowd surges on, growing bigger and bigger, until near the end the walkers can’t even distinguish faces. They are only Crowd, cheering at the chance to see a child die. It makes you wonder if authors like Suzanne Collins drew inspiration from this book for their own novels. Read this book if you are a fan of The Hunger Games, Battle Royale or even Running Man, another Richard Bachman novel.   -LT


Friday, March 14, 2014

Lulu in Hollywood by Louise Brooks


I am in the midst of Old Hollywood right now, thanks to Louise Brooks and her candid and witty memoir, "Lulu in Hollywood."  Brooks became an icon of the silent pictures due to her starring role as an innocent hedonist in "Pandora's Box" (1929) for the director Georg W. Pabst, only to walk away from Hollywood by the late '30's.  After her retirement, she went on to pen a series of essays on film for Sight and Sound Magazine, proving herself to be an insightful, graceful writer whose wit spared no one, least of all herself. This collection of eight autobiographical essays covers her years in Hollywood and the making of Pabst's masterpiece, and also includes an introductory essay, "The Girl in the Black Helmet" by critic Kenneth Tynan who was instrumental in reintroducing Brooks to movie fans in the 1970's.

This work is an indispensable and entertaining glimpse of a sequined-glittering moment in time.  -BR

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Friday, February 28, 2014

House of Cards (2013)

Politics is a brutish sport;  so says this TV drama, which portrays intrigue of Shakespearean proportions hidden in Congressional chambers and the affluent homes of Washington.  At its core is Congressman Frank Underwood, played with chilly relish by Kevin Spacey, and his equally contained wife Claire, Robin Wright.  Underwood has been slighted by a newly elected president as the series begins, and sets out to revenge himself on those who have taken what he sees as rightfully his while also maneuvering himself into a position of power.  A young, ambitious reporter, Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), complicates matters when Underwood chooses her both as his conduit to the media and as a lover.

Perhaps the greatest thrill the series gives lies in the conceit of having Underwood address the camera. His asides explain his reasoning, contradict his public stance, or sometimes offer cutting commentary on other characters.  Spacey delivers these with a villain's gleam in his eye that may make you shudder as you laugh.  I was reminded of Shakespeare's Iago more than once!

Is this in any way reflective of real politics in Washington?  In the words of Underwood himself, "you might think that, I couldn't possibly comment."  -BR

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

American Gods by Neil Gaiman


You can tell we all like Neil Gaiman here at the library! In anticipation of Neil’s visit to Billings on Friday, we have been reviewing several of his works, for both teens and adults. I’m a big fan of mythology in general, and everyone kept saying I needed to read American Gods, so now was the perfect time. The premise is quite interesting. Shadow is a small time robber who is just finishing up a stint in the slammer. When he gets out, he is approached by a mysterious man named Wednesday, who offers him a job as a bodyguard. Having no other options, Shadow takes it. What he doesn’t realize is that taking the job puts him right in the middle of a war that is brewing between ancient Gods of myth and legend, and new Gods that are forming in the modern age. The old Gods presumably forgotten, these new Gods represent the things that we worship now, like the Internet, Celebrity, Drugs and Plastic Surgery. American Gods takes us through some fascinating parts of small town America, as Shadow helps Wednesday rally the ancient Gods together. Those who are interested in mythology will love trying to figure out which God each character actually represents. I wished that there was a glossary in the back of Who’s Who, as Gaiman really packs in Gods from several mythologies like Nordic, Arabic, Native American, Slavic, Irish, Russian and Egyptian. And those who may not know much about ancient mythology will get a very interesting history lesson. Gaiman is an excellent storyteller, and I would highly recommend this book. –LT

Friday, February 14, 2014

Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

For a book about introversion, this title has certainly sparked a lively conversation, both at the library during our most recent Turning Page book group and nationwide.  It seems that many people either are close to an introverted person or are one themselves, making this a highly personal topic. 

Cain takes on a broad overview of the differences between extroversion and introversion, and makes her case for the value of each.  The book does not define introversion as shyness, but rather as a different style of communication which emphasizes listening and questioning.  In the studies used in the book, the introvert also tends towards personality traits such as favoring less stimulating environments and valuing private time to recharge one's creative batteries.  Cain argues that these traits, when given respect in the workplace or at home, can add fresh perspective and calm guidance to our busy, extrovert-centric society.  She also delves into the history of how extroversion came to be considered the most valuable personality type and explores studies that have concluded that aspects of introversion and extroversion may be hard-wired from infancy. 

I highly recommend this book, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, as much for its scholarship as for its goal of showing the true benefits of introversion "in a world that can't stop talking."   -BR

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And you might also be interested in author Susan Cain's TED talk, here .