How to Care for Your Book Hangover: An Intro to Readers’ Advisory Websites

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

What Am I Going to Read Now??  We’ve all been there. After spending days – weeks –months! – devouring plotlines, falling in love with characters, forming a map of their world inside our heads, we all must reach The End. Closing a book after reading its last line can be bittersweet, to say the least. When you’ve exhausted your favorite author’s bibliography, pored through every volume of a series, or simply finished a Darn Good Book, you may find yourself in a Book Hangover.

How will you find “The One” among all these books?

That Darn Good Book can never – should never – be replaced in your heart. But you don’t have to suffer hopelessly through a Book Hangover. Assuage your pain by picking up another book. And not just any book: though millions of books are published each year, there are ways to increase your odds of finding love again. Friends, relatives, librarians, and critics can all be a great source of recommendations. And for the internet-connected book fiend, there’s another option: Readers’ Advisory Websites.

Despite the somewhat ominous phrasing (calling to mind the sternness of a Parental Advisory, or the anxiety of a Weather Advisory), a Readers’ Advisory Website (denoted here as “RAW”) can be a useful, entertaining tool. Essentially, a reader inputs preferences, and the RAW outputs suggestions. Those are the ones we’ll look at today. Review sites also fall under the umbrella of RAWs, so I’ll list some of those, too.

I had never used a Readers’ Advisory Website before researching them for this article, so I’m presenting them to you from a new user’s point of view. Here are my four picks.

Search Engines

Some RAWs are smarter than others. You don’t need a machine to tell you that you “might also enjoy” Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets if you liked Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. That’s accurate, but thoroughly unenlightening.

Best Results: Whichbook (https://www.whichbook.net/)

Perhaps the cleverest site I discovered is Whichbook. Its various search methods are fun to use and give spot-on results. Start by customizing your search with up to four criteria, adjustable on a sliding scale. (See screenshot.) You can also search by Character, Plot, and Setting; or get results by going to an author’s name, choosing a title, and clicking “Find similar books.”

The Whichbook team eschews bestseller lists in order to bring you curated selections you may not find elsewhere. All of their recommendations for me felt personally considered. I felt seen, known, loved – by a website!

Caveat: This site is based in the UK. I didn’t find some of the authors in our local library, but that’s what Inter-Library Loan requests are for.

Thorough Analysis: Allreaders (http://allreaders.com/)

Allreaders provides detailed reviews and a “specific, searchable breakdown of the plot, setting, character types, and style.” I enjoyed reading breakdowns of books I know. And I liked the layout of book recommendations “with storylines, themes & endings” similar to the book I searched for.

Allreaders’ Detailed Power Search (DPS) isn’t very pretty, but it gives so many options, some of them quite amusing. (Be sure you’re in the right genre first – here’s the link for Literature, and there are others.) I threw a lot of criteria into a search, requesting convoluted Plots & Themes, a unique Main Character, an elaborate Setting, and even a distinct Writing Style. DPS returned a long list of suggestions – some more intriguing than others. No suggestion matched every one of my crazy demands, of course. But if I were desperately seeking something new to read, I’d have fun browsing the results.

Easy Search: What Should I Read Next? (https://whatshouldireadnext.com)

If the minutiae of the first two search engines put you off, What Should I Read Next? may be the RAW for you. Simply type in an author or book you love. Results are tagged with keywords, so you can decide whether to follow up on the suggestions. You can click the keywords to find more books with the same tag. (One suggestion I got was tagged with “attempted assassination,” “cats,” and “time travel.” Now that’s a must-read!)

Fun Interface: Literature-Map (https://www.literature-map.com/)

Calling itself “The Tourist Map of Literature,” Literature-Map offers a unique visual approach. Enter your favorite writer’s name, and you’re rewarded with a clickable constellation of authors. “The closer two writers are,” claims Literature-Map, “the more likely someone will like both of them.” Searching for Jane Austen brought up a great variety of names to explore. I was impressed that David Sedaris, Harper Lee, and C. S. Lewis were among them, in addition to predictable results (Dickens, the Brontë sisters). Also included were Nicholas Sparks and Diana Gabaldon, so there’s truly a path for every taste.

Review Websites and Social Networks

Taking the time to browse review sites, you might stumble upon a fantastic book that otherwise lies outside of your field of vision. Here are some to check out.

  • The Book Report Network (https://tbrnetwork.com/) comprises “six editorial websites … organized … by demographic and … interest.” Adults, young adults, teens, and kids all have their own specialized sites; reading groups and graphic novel fans are also provided for.
  • Overbooked: The Next Chapter (http://overbooked.com/next-chapter/) looks at new releases, both eclectic and mainstream, to “encourage omnivorous reading.”
  • With YourNextRead (http://www.yournextread.com/us/), you can “discover and share” by searching for recommendations, browsing user lists, and customizing your own book map. (Registration required for some features.)
  • GoodReads (https://www.goodreads.com/) is a large social network of readers. Browse and create reviews and shelves (custom lists), add friends from Facebook, follow users with similar tastes, and even interact with authors who use the site. (Registration required for some features.)

That’s all from me. May your horizons broaden and your tastes refine. Have fun exploring! And check out the links below for even more RAWs not listed here.

 


Article Sources, and More RAW Suggestions

Advertisements

Collecting and Saving Seeds!

By Sharon Reily, Reference Departmentseed library

Late summer and autumn are not always the most beautiful and fruitful times for many of our plants. Our vegetable patches have stopped yielding and our flowers are faded and brown. But this is the perfect time to gather seeds you can use to start your gardens next year. Here are just a few benefits of collecting and saving seeds.

  • It’s fun!
  • It’s easy!
  • It’s economical! The price of a packet of seeds seems to increase every year. The seeds you collect from your garden are free.
  • You can share or exchange seeds with friends – a great inexpensive way to try new plants.
  • Your favorite plant may not be readily available at local nurseries, but if you save seeds you can continue to enjoy it in your garden year after year.
  • Many varieties of heirloom plants are lost over time. They actually become extinct! You can help preserve different heirloom plants by collecting, saving and replanting heirloom seeds.
  • By raising many generations of plants, you’ll be able to see how certain traits are passed on, and how you can select the qualities you want to bring out. Over time, you can even “customize” your plants to suit your backyard conditions and your tastes.
  • You can benefit your community. If you collect more vegetable seeds than you can use, which is likely, you can donate your surplus seeds to a community garden that gives free fruits and vegetables to needy families.

Collecting and saving seeds is an ancient tradition. For thousands of years, farmers collected and saved seeds to insure the next year’s harvest. They also studied the results of their plantings and then saved and sowed seeds from the best plants, fine-tuning the plants to meet their needs and match local growing environments. This selection led to a genetic diversity of crops adapted to many growing conditions and climates, and created a large base for our food supply.

While farmers and hobby gardeners collect and save seeds to plant and share, seed vaults or banks do just the opposite. From the beginnings of agriculture (possibly as early as 8000 B.C. in what is now Iraq), farmers understood their seeds needed protection from the weather and animals. Scientists have discovered evidence of seed banks in Iraq from as far back as 6750 B.C. Today, there are more than 1,500 seed banks around the world that hold a wide variety of seeds to preserve crop diversity and act as insurance against disease and natural and man-made disasters that might wipe out the world’s seed reserves. The best known is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, often called the “Doomsday Vault,” located in a remote frozen mountain in Norway. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a huge international project with the capacity to store 4.5 million varieties of crops for a maximum of 2.5 billion seeds. Currently, the Vault holds more than 860,000 samples, originating from almost every country in the world.

svalbard exteriorSvalbard Global Seed VaultSvalbard Global Seed Vault

Amid all the interest in preserving and sharing seeds, libraries around the country have started seed exchanges, and the Williamson County Public Library joined that movement in March of 2015. The first year of our seed exchange, we “checked out” (gave away) more than a thousand packets of flower, vegetable, fruit, and herb seeds. It was suggested – but not required – that those who participate in the program collect seeds from their gardens this fall and return a few of them to the Library in the spring so we can keep our seed exchange going. Go to WCPL Seed Exchange to find out how our seed exchange works and see a list of helpful resources on seed collecting.

If you want to learn more about harvesting your seeds, the Library is hosting a program on Collecting and Saving Seeds with UT/TSU Horticulture Extension Agent Amy Dismukes on Monday, September 17 at 1:30 pm. Registration is required, but the program is FREE and open to anyone who is interested in attending. Just call 615-595-1243 or click here to register.


Article Sources:

When The Toys Came To Life: A Non-Scary Blog

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

It’s ok to come in, Darling Reader.  There will be no mention here of Chucky, the murderous redheaded horror movie icon, or of any other scary incarnations of dolls (shudder) becoming sentient.  We’re only going to talk about the fun, charming toys that inexplicably develop intelligence and the ability to communicate.  If you are of the sort that finds it unbearably creepy to think about any toy becoming mobile and verbal, you might wish to bypass this blog and tune in to my next brilliant installment.  But if you’re brave enough, take my hand while I introduce you to a random assortment of toys who have something to say . . .

First up on our list (because you should know by now that I do what I want) is the magnificent, delightful, enchanting The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (J F DIC).  Edward Tulane is a gorgeous, arrogant china rabbit who lives in an enormous house, wears only the finest clothes, and feels that he should be admired by all for his singular beauty.  Anyone can see that Edward is headed for a heartbreak (nothing like the Winger song from the 1980s, but I couldn’t resist borrowing that particular turn of phrase.  Apologies, Kip.)  Through no fault of his own, Edward is sent on an odyssey in which he learns what it’s like to lose, yet to love and be loved again.  This is my very favorite of all of DiCamillo’s books, and one of my favorite children’s books; the lush, intricately detailed illustrations by award-winning artist Bagram Ibatoulline enhance Edward’s adventure so beautifully, and make this journey worth taking again and again.

Next on my list, and the reason for this month’s blog theme because of the cinematic release of Christopher Robin in August of this year, is Winnie-the-Pooh by Alan Alexander Milne (J F MILNE).  Winnie the Pooh, aka Pooh Bear, first appeared as Edward Bear in a poem in A.A. Milne’s1924 children’s verse book When We Were Very Young.  The first collection of stories about Pooh and his friends was Winnie-the-Pooh, published in October of 1926 and followed by The House at Pooh Corner in 1928.  Milne named the character for a teddy bear owned by his son, Christopher Robin Milne, who was of course the inspiration for the character Christopher Robin.  Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Tigger were also toys belonging to Christopher Robin Milne and were incorporated into A.A. Milne’s stories.  Owl and Rabbit were created from Milne’s imagination, and Gopher was later added in the Disney theatrical adaptation.  Are you having a day, Darling Reader?  Make yourself a nice cup of tea and get a “smackerel” of something like Pooh would, find a quiet place, and spend some quality time with Pooh and his wonderful friends, before you go see the new movie adaptation.

Another book-to-movie-to-remake in this same vein is the Caldecott-winning book Jumanji by gifted storyteller and artist Chris Van Allsburg (J E VAN).  There are Judy and Peter, bored out of their little skulls and left completely unsupervised while their parents’ attend the opera, when they encounter a long, thin box that says JUMANJI, A JUNGLE ADVENTURE GAME, and also has an ominous, handwritten message taped to the box:  “Free game, fun for some but not for all.  P.S.  Read instructions carefully.”  There is an additional caveat in the game’s instructions, and apparently it’s a crucial one, since the writer of the note put it in all capital letters:  “VERY IMPORTANT:  ONCE A GAME OF JUMANJI IS STARTED IT WILL NOT BE OVER UNTIL ONE PLAYER REACHES THE GOLDEN CITY.”  Hilarity and highjinks ensue, and Judy and Peter survive the game just in time for their parents return home, with guests in tow.  They had a tremendous adventure that day with the game that became all too real, and learned a valuable lesson that day regarding the importance of reading the directions . . . but the sly, clever final paragraph of the book implies that young Danny and Walter, who are notorious for never listening to instructions, may not fare quite so well.

I often say that it’s a desperately sad irony that working in a library really cuts into one’s time for pleasure reading.  Hence, much time passes between my opportunities to read Beatrix Potter’s delightful, classic tales of little beasties, and I forget between readings about how charming and clever her stories are.  Such is the case with The Tale Of Two Bad Mice (J E POTTER).  “Once upon a time there was a very beautiful doll’s-house; it was red brick with white windows . . . it belonged to two Dolls called Lucinda and Jane .”  One fine morning while Lucinda and Jane were out of the red brick dollhouse for a spin in their perambulator, the aforementioned two bad mice, Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca, trashed the dollhouse out of frustration—they were hangry, to use a modern portmanteau—because they discovered that the appetizing delicacies on the dining room table were actually not edible.  Hunca Munca continued the rodents’ crime spree by absconding with a pillow, a baby’s cradle, and some of Lucinda’s clothes, and also some “useful pots and pans, and several other things.”  Reparations of a sort were later made by Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca for their vandalism and larceny, when he found a sixpence under the rug and stuffed it into one of the dolls’ stockings on Christmas Eve; and every morning before anybody is awake, she sweeps the Dollies’ house with her purloined broom.

Darling Reader, I’ve saved my favorite title for last.  I don’t remember exactly when a smart-mouthed, spiky-haired kid named Calvin and his very real stuffed tiger Hobbes entered my life.  I’m reasonably certain that it was not November of 1985, as I was a smart-mouthed, big-haired high school junior who was more concerned with my reflection in the driver’s-side mirror of my 1978 Camaro than with reflection on love, art, theology, mortality, public education, paleontology, environmentalism, and the repercussive effects of human free will.

Calvin and Hobbes was conceived by American cartoonist Bill Watterson and made its syndicated debut on November 18, 1985, and ran until December 31, 1995.  The strip follows the raucous antics and adventures of Calvin, a precocious six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his quick-witted toy tiger.  The pair was named for 16th-century French theologian John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, a 17th-century English philosopher.  Hobbes’ shifting duality is a defining theme of the strip:  to Calvin, he is always a live, anthropomorphic tiger; to all others (his parents, his archnemesis Susie Derkins, et. al.), he is merely an inanimate plush toy.  Darling Reader, if you have room in your existence for only one toy that comes to life, I beseech you to make it Hobbes.

That’s it for today, Darling Reader.  Tune in again next month for my meandering musings on literature and life.                                


Yeah, I did say there wouldn’t be any Chucky references in the blog . . . but I didn’t place any such restrictions on the appearance of his lovely bride Tiffany.  Also, any similarities between Tiffany and the author of this blog are purely coincidental, with the exception of the motorcycle jacket.

Ink, Paper, Action!

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Amidst Hollywood’s profusion of bigger-and-better sequels, nostalgic remakes, and “dark re-imaginings,” there’s a longer-standing trend: movies that are based on books. Some of these movies are so iconic – so visually spectacular – their worlds so complete – that audiences may be surprised to learn of any literary origins. (Think The Princess Bride, The Wizard of Oz, Trainspotting, Ready Player One, Mary Poppins, Die Hard…) Other adaptations are not quite so successful. (The Cat in the Hat, anyone?)

An early example of a book-to-film adaptation is a 1924 silent film called Greed, based on Frank Morris’s novel McTeague. The director’s vision led him to make a 9½ hour-long behemoth, but he was forced to cut it down to an “incoherent” two hours. (Most likely, the sentence, “The book is so much better than the movie,” was first uttered around this time.) Greed’s director, Erich Von Stroheim, had tried to be completely faithful to his source material. While that’s an admirable endeavor, it was the film’s downfall. (1)

These days, adapting a book for the big screen is an art form all its own. Just as a novel and a film are completely different mediums, so too are a novel and a screenplay. The team adapting the novel must remain true to the heart of the story. They must also choose which plot points to highlight or omit. Pacing often needs to change completely. Then there’s the daunting task of casting actors and creating worlds. Before any movie, these characters and places materialized inside thousands of readers’ imaginations. Entire fandoms wait in the wings, ready to adore or decry as soon as they glean tiny details from a promo trailer.

Like all art forms, there is going to be a lot of dreck. But there will be some shining examples, too. Gone with the Wind, Schindler’s List, Black Panther, To Kill a Mockingbird, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy – these are some groundbreaking, enduring favorites that all made their first homes on bedside tables and in bookshelves. Each is a good example of how a film can omit certain original details (Scarlett O’Hara originally had two children by other men; jolly old Tom Bombadil was axed from Middle Earth altogether) while still capturing the story’s essence. (2) Andre Dubus III, whose novel The House of Sand and Fog was adapted into a well-received movie, says, “I’m all for giving filmmakers their creative due. As long as [they’re] loyal to the spirit.” (3)

Here we see a couple breaking up due to
differing opinions
about The Shining.
(Probably.)

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, based on the Steven King novel, is an interesting case of adaptation. It manages to polarize opinions like few films do. (If you ask Google, “Do people love The Shining?” you’ll see what I mean!) For its acting and its atmosphere, for technical precision, powerful visuals, and downright scariness, film buffs and horror enthusiasts hold The Shining in a place of reverence. (4) But fans of the book say the movie falls terribly short. King accuses the film’s main character of having “absolutely no arc at all” – quite damning, coming from the author himself. (5)

So it seems that both works are well worth appreciating, but should never be compared. I wonder if that’s true of all adaptations. Writer Bernhard Schlink offers this perspective: “As an author, you can’t expect a movie to be an illustration of the book. If that’s what you hope for, you shouldn’t sell the rights.” (6)

It’s fraught with peril, this business of turning a book into a movie. So why bother? As it turns out, sourcing stories from books is actually quite low-risk – despite the possibility of alienating fans. A popular book turned into a movie “can rise above the noise [and] competition from the internet, video games, and Netflix,” explains Hawk Otsby, co-writer of Children of Men. (7) This is just another way in which we as consumers can get our fill of the familiar. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as there’s still room for original and independent films to be made.

The year may be halfway over, but there are several upcoming adaptations to look forward to. Maybe you’ve heard buzz about Mowgli (a darker remake of The Jungle Book), Bel Canto (based on the Ann Patchett novel of the same name), Ashes in the Snow (a wartime drama adapted from Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys; the title was changed for obvious reasons), or Mary, Queen of Scots (from John Guy’s lauded biography of Mary Stuart, which in the UK carries the wonderful title of My Heart Is My Own). (8, 9, 10, 11)

The faithfulness of these films to their source material remains to be seen. And honestly, I’m ambivalent. A badly-done movie won’t detract from a book I love; and a well-done movie might point me in the direction of an author I’ll adore. Creatives absolutely deserve to be recognized – and paid – for their good work. If it takes a movie to make a great writer famous, so be it!


Sources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_adaptation
  2. https://gwenonichi.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/gone-with-the-wind-differences-between-the-book-and-the-movie/
  3. https://filmmakermagazine.com/58787-turning-a-book-into-a-movie-an-authors-perspective/#.WyrBX6IpW5I
  4. https://www.reddit.com/r/movies/comments/7mcpcw/what_is_the_deal_with_the_shining/drurpzs/
  5. https://deadline.com/2016/02/stephen-king-what-hollywood-owes-authors-when-their-books-become-films-q-a-the-dark-tower-the-shining-1201694691/
  6. https://ebookfriendly.com/books-and-movies-quotes/
  7. https://www.theverge.com/2017/1/26/14326356/hollywood-movie-book-adaptations-2017-expanse-game-of-thrones
  8. https://variety.com/2018/film/news/mowgli-jungle-book-1202786074/
  9. https://variety.com/2018/film/markets-festivals/bel-canto-with-julianne-moore-ken-watanabe-sells-to-screen-media-exclusive-1202800859/
  10. https://www.bookbub.com/blog/2017/12/26/book-adaptations-2018-movies
  11. https://variety.com/2018/film/news/saoirse-ronan-margot-robbie-mary-queen-of-scots-moved-1202758120/

Rockin’ Reads For Kids

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

In honor of this year’s summer reading “Libraries Rock” theme, here is a random assortment of rockin’ reads for the young, or young at heart.  In absolutely no discernable order:

Who Are The Rolling Stones? by Dana Meachen Rau  (J92 ROL)

Sanitized for your protection, this book chronicles the meteoric rise and unparalleled success, five decades later, of this author’s favorite band.  As this is a children’s book, none of the lurid details of the many (ahem) colorful incidents that earned The Stones their reputation as the bad boys of the British Invasion are present.  (Also worth reading in this engaging series of biographies for elementary and middle school-aged students:  Who Is Elton John?; Who Was Bob Marley? (to be published in June 2017);  Who Was Elvis Presley?;  Who Were The Beatles?; Who Was Michael Jackson?; and many more music-related titles.)

Jimi:  Sounds Like A Rainbow by Gary Golio and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (J92 HEN)

A beautifully written and illustrated story of the phenomenally talented musician James Marshall Hendrix, later known to the world as Jimi, who departed this earthly realm entirely too soon at the age of 27.  His legacy lives on through his music, and his influence continues to inspire and electrify fans of all ages.

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash by G. Neri and illustrated by A.G. Ford (J 92 CASH)

Those four simple words were how this man with the deep, soulful, often otherworldly voice would start his shows after “I Walk The Line” became the number one country song in America, and the anthem for how this once dirt-poor man from Arkansas wished to live his life.  Neri captures The Man in Black’s legend in free verse, and Ford’s lush, detailed paintings of the Southern backdrop of Cash’s life make this book one that will be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Music Lab:  We Rock!  A Fun Family Guide For Exploring Rock Music History by Jason Hanley  (J 781.6609)

If an alien landed in your bedroom one night and tasked you with teaching him/her/it about Rock & Roll, it would be fortuitous if you had this sensational book close at hand.  Written by Jason Hanley, Ph.D., education director at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this book offers an introduction to some of the greatest songs in rock history, provides anecdotes about the artists and the social and historical events at the time the songs were written, and provides fun lab-style activities that begin with the basics of rock and move through the soul and punk genres, and then cover dance and new wave.  Best of all are the frozen-in-time photographs and the recommended set lists.  I totally have to throw the horns for this book. (Don’t know what that means?  Look it up.)

How The Beatles Changed The World by Martin W. Sandler  (J 782.4216 SAN)

When the Lads From Liverpool burst onto the music scene in the tumultuous decade known as The Sixties, they charmed and excited millions of fans the world over, and they ultimately transformed and transcended the rock genre.  This compendium of their rocketship ride to musical stardom contains hundreds of stunning photographs that capture the rich, beautiful history of The Beatles.

Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed The World by Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot, Sebastian Robertson and James Levine  (J 920 ROB)

Penned by 4 multitalented music industry veterans, this very cool volume would look right at home on anyone’s coffee table and includes 2 CDs with tracks from such legends as Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye, and Hank Williams, to name just a few.  The book pays loving tribute to twenty-seven groundbreaking artists whose innovations and creations altered the music landscape for generations to come.

Strange Fruit:  Billie Holiday And The Power Of A Protest Song by Gary Golio (J 782.4216  GOL)

At the time of “Lady Day’s” death from liver and heart failure in 1959 at the age of 44, she was heralded as one of the greatest female vocalists and jazz singers of all time.  Her best-selling record and signature song “Strange Fruit” challenged the attitudes of racism in America and was an important milestone in what would become the civil rights movement.

What Was Woodstock? by Joan Holub  (J 781.6609 HOL)

Well, duh, Woodstock was the sweet little yellow bird who was Snoopy’s best friend.  Right?  Charles Schulz, creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip publicly acknowledged in several interviews during the 1970s that he named the bird after the music festival held at Max and MiriamYasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York, over three days in August of 1969.  (Artwork from the festival features a bird perched on the neck of a guitar.)  My favorite part of this clever little book is the page of “Sixties Slang.”  You dig?

Shake, Rattle & Roll:  The Founders of Rock & Roll by Holly George-Warren  (J 781.66 GEO)

A whimsically-illustrated introduction to 14 of rock & roll’s groundbreakers and earthshakers, such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, and more.  In the words of Chuck Berry:  “Hail, hail, rock & roll!”

Rock on with your bad selves, and happy reading–


As always, the opinions and viewpoints expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and in no way representative of WCPL, its employees, or their parents who may have shouted at them to “turn that infernal noise down!” at some point in their lives. To that end, you may have to speak up a bit when talking to the author, because she spent many hours next to a Marshall stack in her flaming youth, and last week.

Pinocchio Syndrome: AI, Robots, and Fear

Created by Yul Jorgensen aka deviantart artist FATBM

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

I and most people in their thirties and forties grew up in an interesting time when it comes to robots and Machine intelligence. Robots are the automated devices that build our manufactured goods, the programmed tools that weld, test, and gauge everything we use. They may even for a few lucky ones have been something we got to play with as kids in school robotics labs, programming multi jointed limbs and pincer grips to move small objects from one side of the table to the other. For me, they were the first peek into Machine language. This was not, however the only way I saw robots. They were also the shining metal sidekicks, the implacable companions, and often the comic relief of some of my favorite books, movies and television shows. I could go from watching a sci-fi film on Friday to playing with an old Unimate PUMA at the local community college’s Saturday kids program the next morning. I almost didn’t see them as even similar versions of the same thing. Now that I’m an adult however I can look back and see my old Saturday morning friend was the Homo Habilis to today’s Homo Erectus. We are still in the early days of robotic evolution, but the pace is quickening and the robot who wants to be a “real boy” could be just around the corner.

IBM 7090 computer and personnel from 1961

You can’t take a look forward and appreciate the amount of journey ahead without knowing how far you’ve come. True electronic computers go back to the old vacuum tube run models that took up the same space as an entire gymnasium and were programmed with punch cards. Then came central mainframes with dumb terminals, mini systems and finally the personal computer we know and love still. In that time we migrated through magnetic tape and cartridges, through the innumerable floppy discs and hard discs to the thumb and hard drives of today. The robots have changed a bit as well. Aside from the science fiction progression we’ve seen from the Lost in Space robot to…well…um… the Lost in Space robot (1965 and 2018 respectively) there has been a huge swing from the early mechanical arms to the more modern, and yet still 18-year-old, Asimo.

Pepper is a semi-humanoid robot, manufactured by SoftBank Robotics, designed to read emotions

The future of robots is heading down two main tracks, Humaniform[1] and non-traditional robots. The Humaniform robots are learning (more on that in bit) to respond to human emotion. In some cases they are working on mimicking facial expressions with plastic and servos. It is among this variety of robot that scientists are working on human like movement. The non-traditional types are just as surprising. Military vehicle=s and drones are where the largest strides are coming from. Self-guided autonomous devices are delivering supplies and personnel. Dangerous missions are being performed with pinpoint accuracy by computers that are learning to modify their tactics. They might not look like C3P0 but the military machines are where we see science fiction meeting reality. Let’s just hope it’s more Bicentennial Man and less Skynet.

Artificial, or machine, intelligence is a different story. Until today the general maxim for working with computers is that they do not make mistakes. They do only what we have programmed them to do. Any errors are really the fault of the programmer. Going into the future we may see computers that are capable of extrapolating their own options and acting outside of initial human programming. This artificial cognition has a lot of people excited, good excited and bad excited. Advances in computing ability are allowing for computer scientists to attack the problem of A.I. in many different ways. They are approaching the problem from the angles of symbolic learning and human brain simulation among several others.  They are also using the latest tools, networks to simulate neural pathways and statistical models to build decision making. One big question in artificial intelligence is the ability of man to create a moral structure for the A.I. brain to exist within. Many do not believe we can safely create a friendly A.I. with the level of knowledge we currently possess. That might explain why fiction has a lot more HAL 9000 clones than Commander Data.

Good vs Bad… who will win?

The real future that many of us hope for is one that brings these two things, artificial intelligence and robotics, together to make a robotic being that will help us forward. Like many of the advances we have seen our imaginations are directed by the stories we hear and see and read. Advances in both fields will lead to the point where a breakthrough occurs, and it will be sooner rather than later. The only questions left to ask are will it be a benevolent discovery and are we worried about if we can rather than focusing on if we should.

[1] The terms humaniform and non-traditional are ones that I have chosen. Humaniform is a term I have lifted directly from the work of Isaac Asimov.

Further Reading (and since it’s Friday the 13th, have 13 books):

  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (F ASIMOV)
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick (LP F DIC)
  • Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (eBook)
  • The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia (eBook)
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson (F GIB)
  • Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (F WIL)
  • “Silently and Very Fast” by Catherynne M. Valente (808.838762 MOR)
  • The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez (F MAR)
  • The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (F BAC)
  • Hyperion by Dan Simmons (F SIM)
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (F HEI)
  • Otherland by Tad Williams (F WIL)
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (F LECKIE)

Beatlemania revisited – Fifty-five of the Fab Four

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

My boys, ages 9 and 13 love to sit down on a rainy day and watch Help!. The goofy antics of the four Liverpudlian lads have an entertainment value that transcends the decades. It’s not odd that people like the Beatles today, but it is an interesting change in the mindset of Americans. Most people do not listen to, let alone become avid fans of, the music of their grandparents. While I do enjoy big band and swing music, I would consider myself more exception than rule, even with the millennium era revival of Swing. My parents’ generation certainly did not listen to ragtime. So why do my kids, and many other of today’s children still love the Beatles? The answer is simply because they suffer from the epidemic that was called is Beatlemania.

The Fab Four started out as a fab five: John, Paul, George, Pete and Stuart, and were originally known as the Quarrymen, then Johnny and the Moondogs before moving through several variations of the name we all know and love, before settling on just The Beatles. They got their start in Liverpool, but played in Hamburg, Germany for a time before they all had to leave for one reason or another (Harrison was an unaccompanied minor, Best and McCartney were deported over an arson charge, and Lennon left of his own accord.)They played Liverpool and acted as a backing band and even returned to Hamburg before returning to England and starting to record their own music. Stuart Sutcliffe returned to his art, and the other three replaced Best with a drummer named Richard Starkey, Ringo. The rest of the story is known to music and pop culture fans the world over. They took England by storm in 1962 and 63, then America later that year followed by their first visit in 1964. It was the spark of the British Invasion, and the moving of a phenomenon from Europe to American shores. Beatlemania had made its beach head in the United States.

The outpouring of affection and devotion dedicated to the Beatles took the world by surprise. It was never observed before and really has not been repeated since. Many bands have been called the next Beatles, from the Bee Gees to Oasis to One Direction, but no one has ever lived up to the name. No one had or ever has caused wholesale hysteria among fans like the Fab Four, although Elvis had come the closest. The best explanation that anyone can seem to come up with is that the Beatles tapped into a confluence of factors that hasn’t occurred before or since. The large number of potential fans brought about by the baby boom, the safe appearance (despite the scruffy band stories we all hear their androgynous haircuts, suits, and simple movements while playing meant they were far less threatening than the overtly masculine and sexual Elvis), and the unsure world brought about by the height of the Cold War and death of President Kennedy, made teens everywhere ready to latch on to something. They fell to that with a will. Screaming, fainting, panicking and occasional rioting were more than just a trope from the beginning of A Hard Day’s Night, they were the reality of day to day life for the guys.

The lasting effect of the Beatles, in my opinion, is not the pop culture phenomenon. It is what they brought to music and more importantly musicians. Many people make fun of the Monkees as a manufactured Beatles rip off, but what many people don’t realize is that many bands were structured in the same manner. Even the Beatles were told they were going to play certain songs and not others. Rock and Roll was very much like today’s country music where songwriters made the songs that would sell and musicians played what they were told to. The Beatles began playing songs that were commercially viable. This meant basic formulaic songs and covers. As they increased in popularity, they gained more bargaining power so that by the time Help! (the album) came out, they only had one cover and were able to add more experimental songs like “I Need You”, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, and “Yesterday”. The greater their popularity, the more control they had, and it’s evident as you go through Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The experimentalism of The Beatles (more often known as “The White Album”) shows the power they had been able to amass. They were the first major band to tell a big label that they would play what they liked and make it stick. This changed the way rock and roll worked from that day on. That’s not to say that the manufactured band had ended, but it meant that a band with good songwriting chops and a strong following was more important than record executives market analysis, and bands have used this to innovate ever since.

I really think that the best testament to the power of Beatlemania is that the 55 years of fanaticism it caused is only based on seven years of collaborative work. Four Generations have grown up with the Beatles’ music and they are loved by members of all of them. Bands like the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and U2 have been playing together for a much longer time and released a great many more albums, but have not reached the iconic stature of the Beatles. They have changed the state of modern music for their era, but still had less impact than the Beatles. Their fans and their impact stem from the inroads made by the Beatles and, while their impact is not cheapened, it is diminished by the fact that the Beatles had already planted their flag in those lofty heights first.


Further Reading:

  • Dreaming the Beatles: A Love Story of one Band and the Whole World by Rob Sheffield 782.4216 SHE
  • The Beatles: All These Years by Mark Lewisohn 782.42166 LEW
  • Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the World by Steven D. Stark 782.42166 STA
  • Beatles ’66 The Revolutionary Year by Steve Turner LP 782.42166 TUR
  • How the Beatles Changed the World by Martin W. Sandler J 782.421660922 SAN
  • The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny) by Kathleen Krull  J 782.42166092

Sources:

ROAR! Fiercely Favorite Dinosaur Books for Kids

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

With the recent release of Jurassic World:  Fallen Kingdom, the fifth film installment in the Jurassic Park series (F CRICHTON, the book from whence it all began, just so you grownup types will know) playing in a theater near you, what better tie-in than a blog about dinosaurs for those who are too young to get in to see a PG-13 flick?

Let’s start off with two options from the fabulous Mo Willems:  Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct (J E  WILLEMS) and Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs.  Everyone in town loves Edwina, and what’s not to love?  She makes excellent chocolate chip cookies, has spectacular fashion sense, but most of all, she is a great friend.  So when oppressive know-it-all Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie delivers a report to his classmates on “Things That Are Extinct,” no one really listens to him . . . no one except Edwina, that is.  Hoobie-Doobie pontificated at great length as to the truth about dinosaurs, and Edwina was shocked (or “shook,” in today’s parlance.)  But you know what?  Edwina didn’t care!  And by the end of his lecture, neither did RVHD.  He was so stoked that someone finally listened to him, and was just pleased to enjoy Edwina’s friendship, along with a batch of her famous cookies.  The subtle irony of the situation, combined with Willems’ signature artwork, make this a delightful read.  Added bonus:  cameo appearances by Willems’ Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny.

Further evidence of Mo Willems’ brilliance is found in Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs (J E WILLEMS), his sly and hilarious adaptation of the classic fairy tale.  Behold:  “Once upon a time, there were three hungry Dinosaurs: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur . . . and a Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway.  One day—for no particular reason—they decided to tidy up their house, make the beds, and prepare pudding of varying temperatures. And then—for no particular reason—they decided to go . . . someplace else. They were definitely not setting a trap for some succulent, unsupervised little girl.  Definitely not!”  Hysterical, I tell you.

Here we have the perfect explanation for those trying times when you can’t find your mascara, and you are certain that you put it back in your traincase, or the crayons are inexplicably scattered across the playroom floor, and you know you stowed them neatly in their container before going to bed.  What The Dinosaurs Did Last Night:  A Very Messy Adventure by Refe and Susan Tuma  (J E  TUMA) is a whimsical and imaginative tale that will appeal to those of us who occasionally scoff at following the rules.  See also:  What The Dinosaurs Did At School by the same authors.

Rounding out the picture book category in today’s blog are the numerous How Do Dinosaurs . . . titles by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague  (J E  YOLEN).  The problem-solution formula for this series helps children and parents or caregivers navigate various situations such as anger management (How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad?), personal responsibility and ownership (How Do Dinosaurs Clean Their Rooms?), social interaction (How Do Dinosaurs Play With Their Friends?) and many other scenarios.  My personal favorite in the series is How Do Dinosaurs Go To Sleep?

For those times when you need more than a cute bedtime dinosaur story and want to expand your factual knowledge of prehistoric creatures, these two nonfiction choices fit the bill perfectly.  Dinosaurs:  A Visual Encyclopedia  (J 567.9 DIN) and Ultimate Dinopedia:  The Most Complete Dinosaur Reference Ever  (J 567.903 LES)  both contain profiles of hundreds of dinosaurs, including several recently discovered dinos. 

Darling Reader, wasn’t that ever so much better than watching a bunch of ill-mannered, poison-spitting, computer-generated dinosaurs?  Happy reading!

 


As always, the opinions expressed here are solely those of the author, who wishes she had a pet pterodactyl so that she could avoid flying via commercial airlines.  Also, I want to acknowledge a T. Rex-sized assist on this blog from my awesome friend Nate of Birmingham, Alabama.

June is African-American Music Appreciation Month

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Originally decreed as Black Music Month by then-president Jimmy Carter in June 1979, the designation was changed in 2009 to African-American Music Appreciation Month. In his 2016 proclamation, former president Barack Obama stated that African-American music and musicians have helped our country “ . . . to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.” Hence, I bring to you in no particular order, a great selection of books from Williamson County Public Library Children’s Department celebrating “Lady Day’s” soaring vocals, the Motown Sound, Bob Marley’s plaintive ballads, Jimi Hendrix’s groundbreaking guitar playing, and much more.

First on the list for today’s magical musical journey is Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through The Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney (J 781.6440 PIN) “You ready, child? Let’s go.” Thus begins this beautifully written account of young performers who were catalysts for change in American music, and along with it, a cultural revolution. The 1960s were exciting and often turbulent times. For Berry Gordy, the man who has been largely credited with creating what would come to be known as “the Motown Sound,” it all started with an $800 loan and a vision of greatness. The year was 1959, and Gordy was on the brink of something amazing, something that would have far-reaching influence on music for decades to come. Drawing upon the talents of his family and local performers, Gordy created a record label for black musicians such as Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves, and Diana Ross, just to name a few. The rest, as they say, is history.

Next up on the recommended reading list for African-American Music Appreciation Month is Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (J 92 HENDRIX).   A stylishly written and illustrated story of the phenomenally talented James Marshall Hendrix, known to the world as Jimi, who departed this earth at the way-too-soon age of 27. His legacy lives on decades later, and his groundbreaking music continues to inspire and electrify fans of all ages.

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday And The Power Of A Protest Song by Gary Golio (J 782.4216 GOL). At the time of her death from liver and heart failure in 1959 at the age of 44, Billie Holiday (nee Eleanora Fagan) was heralded as one of the greatest female vocalists and jazz singers of all time. Her best-selling record and signature song “Strange Fruit” challenged the attitudes of racism in America and was an important milestone in what would become the American civil rights movement.

No reading list about African-American music would be complete without mention of the excellent books about black musicians in the “Who Is/Who Was?” series, which features titles such as Who was Bob Marley? (J 92 MAR), Who Was Louis Armstrong? (J 92 ARM), Who Was Stevie Wonder? (J 92 WON), and Who Was Michael Jackson? (J 92 JAC). The books in this series feature whimsical illustrations and side notes about the subject, and are so much fun to read . Check ‘em out! (OK, that’s my one and only pun for this blog, I swear.)

                   

Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews (J 788.9316 AND) is a delightful, picturesque story of how a talented young boy from New Orleans didn’t always have the money to buy an instrument, but he did have the dream to play music. Plucked from a crowd by none other than the legendary Bo Diddley and allowed to play his trombone on stage, he was then inspired to form his own band. Today, Andrews is a frequent performer at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the place where he got his first break.

Last but not least on my list of recommendations is Bob Marley: The Life Of A Musical Legend by Gary Jeffrey (J 92 MARLEY). Part biography, part graphic novel, this very cool book celebrates famed Jamaican musician Bob Marley. His body ravaged by cancer, Marley departed this earthly realm at the young age of 36, but his music and his message of peace continues to inspire people all over the world.


As always, the opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone, and not representative of any other WCPL employees. Ms. Parish can occasionally be overheard quoting Jimi Hendrix’s lyrics and belting out “Voodoo Chile,” but only when she’s home alone or behind the wheel of her car.

We’re Not Dead Yet!: Broadway Musicals in Revival

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Did you grown up singing along with the cast recording of Broadway musicals?   If you are of a certain age, perhaps you did.  My mother had many of them, and I enjoyed singing along, whenever I knew the words.  Home was so very far away from New York in those days, so the cast albums (I’m talking old 78s and 33 1/3s) were the closest you could get to the plays themselves.  This was before the internet, when many areas of the country only got three television channels.  This was before cable.  Yes, I am old.  But I always remember how much fun I had listening to the musicals.  And I know I am not alone.

So what musicals have been the most popular through the years, popular enough to keep bringing them back, that is?

1. Porgy and Bess (music by George Gershwin, book and lyrics by Ira Gershwin , based on the book by Dubose Heyward)**

Porgy and Bess premiered in 1935 on Broadway, and has been brought back to Broadway seven times!  Part of the popularity is the story and part, possibly the larger part, is the music by George and Ira Gershwin.  And it is the most revived musical on Broadway.

2. The Threepenny Opera (music by Kurt Weil, book and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht)

The Threepenny Opera premiered in 1933; it has been revived six times.  This play was adapted from the book The Beggar’s Opera written in 1728.  This musical may qualify as being from the oldest extant source!

3. Show Boat (music by Jerome Kern, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II)

Before Hammerstein teamed up with Richard Rodgers he was famous in his own right.  He just became more so in the famous partnership.  This musical has also been revived six times.  “Ol’ Man River” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” are always show stoppers.

4. Peter Pan (music by Mark Charlap and Jule Stine; book and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh)

Peter Pan is the fourth most restaged musical.  I’m sure you thought it would be on the list somewhere!  It’s a perennial favorite for all ages, and those of us old enough will remember that Mary Martin starred as Peter in the first show in 1954.  She was the mother of Larry Hagman who became a star in I Dream of Jeannie, and became a megastar in Dallas.

5. Guys and Dolls (music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Abe Burrows)

This musical premiered in 1950.  Some from younger generations may be surprised that Marlon Brando starred in the film adaptation, singing and dancing.  Nathan Lane starred in the 1992 revival.  I’m sure that was a good one.

6. Fiddler on the Roof (music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein)

Next is one you probably thought should have been higher up on the list.  The book was based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem, telling the story of the Jews living in the Soviet Union and how they lived there.  It first premiered in 1964 and was an immediate hit.  The movie was wonderful, too.

7. Carousel (music by Richard Rodgers, and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II)

Now we come to the famous pairing of Rodgers and Hammerstein.  This was the second play in their partnership.  Oklahoma was the first, and it changed the way musicals were written and performed.  Carousel only cemented their fame, and they were even nominated for a Tony award.

8. West Side Story (music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents)

West Side Story is the eighth most popular revival.  I’m surprised it’s not higher on the list.  But perhaps because it was based on one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays was what made it so popular (aka Romeo and Juliet).  You can’t go wrong with Shakespeare…  It premiered in 1957, and was so popular it came back to Broadway three years later.

9. Pal Joey (music by Richard Rodgers; book and lyrics by Lorenz Hart, based on the book by John O’Hara)

The character and stories from this musical were based on short stories by John O’Hara that appeared in the New Yorker; he later published these stories as a novel.  The play received mixed reviews from the critics, but ran for ten months, so it was popular.  Not smash hits like with Rodgers and Hammerstein…

10. Oklahoma (music by Richard Rodgers, and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II)

Speaking of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Oklahoma is the next most revised musical.  This one was the first by the duo.  This musical broke the mold.  The singing was part of the dialogue, not just song and dance numbers interspersed in between dialogue.


Some people in the business aren’t sure all of the old favorites should be revived.  Some of the shows continue stereotypes, while others deal with abuse or misogyny.  And what about the revivals taking away room for new musicals to come to town; others have concerns about this possibility too.

In a November New York times article, Georgia Stitt, a composer, lyricist and musician, posted this on social media last fall as the 2017 season was  being announced:

“With respect to the creatives who will be employed by these projects, I will say I’m concerned about a Broadway season that includes PRETTY WOMAN, CAROUSEL and MY FAIR LADY all at the same time.  In 2017 is the correct message really “women are there to be rescued?   It’s frustrating that the material people seem to want to throw their energy into is old properties where women have no agency, and then there is the real scarcity of women on the creative teams.”

–Georgia Stitt (@georgiastitt) November 22, 2017

Creative teams have sought to rework problematic classic musicals, either by changing wording (only possible with permission from the writers’ representatives), or by rethinking staging.

Critiques of My Fair Lady have focused not only on the show’s final exchange, but on the Pygmalion narrative itself.  “Oh gosh, it is very, very sexist,” Julie Andrews, who originated the role of Eliza on Broadway in 1956, told an interviewer last year. “Young women in particular will and should find it hard.”

Pretty Woman, which will be staged for the fall 2018 season, faces different challenges, as a new musical with no pre-existing book or score. It will have a production in Chicago this spring and is then scheduled to open on Broadway in August.

Some artists think that there are a few musicals that need to be revived.  What about Funny Girl, 1776, Titanic or A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum?  Grand Hotel, anyone??

A few final words about musicals:  This year Love Never Dies will be shown in North America for the first time.  The sequel is set in New York, ten years after the ending of the Phantom of the Opera ends.  It started in Detroit and now is coming to TPAC.  And yes the music and lyrics are by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

** So what exactly do these musical terms mean? The music itself, often called the score, is often written by a different person than the person who writes the lyrics, (a.k.a. the words in the songs).  Think of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Then think of Andrew Lloyd Webber or Stephen Sondheim. Both of these men often wrote the words and music for their productions. The book is the words, the actual story of the musical, sometimes based on a book, as in Phantom of the Opera.

Sources:

%d bloggers like this: