Category Archives: Hot Topics
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
A brother and sister in the county recently decided to get their first library cards at WCPL. Let’s call them Jack and Jill for short. It is not known why they waited so long to get a card, but it turns out that Jill needs a rare and costly book that the library has on the shelf. Using the library for free (that’s right, free) saves Jill from having to buy the book with the equivalent of half her weekly grocery budget.
Soon Jack comes by the library to pick up Jill’s rare book as well the five movies his sister has reserved online from home. Since this is his first time in the library, Jack takes his own tour to see what’s here. He sees a huge collection of childrens’ books, and notices the Launchpads which could occupy his niece for hours. He browses shelves and shelves of entertainment DVDs, locating several older movies that are hard to find. Nearby is the large area holding an extensive fiction collection and Large Print books.
Jack thinks to himself, “Surely, there is more to the library than this,” and he is right. He sees the stairs and heads up to the second floor. Jack uses his card to access the public computers which offer the range of Microsoft Office software as well as photo editing and more. He discovers that there are nonfiction and documentary type DVDs on the second floor and locates two which ignite his interest.
Meanwhile, Jill is thinking about their family dinner party and texts Jack requesting two cookbooks, Rachel Ray’s Look + Cook, and The Best of America’s Test Kitchen Little did Jack know, but the Library has over 50 shelves of cookbooks upstairs, including one entire 27 foot long wall. He finds both books available, with the recipes Jack and Jill both love cooking.
Before leaving, Jack sees the Reference Desk and asks them a question regarding data for his business. Jack makes guitar pedals and wants to be sure he is speaking to every music place within 50 miles. He asks if there is a database that could help him. Jack gets back on the library computer and the librarian takes him through several databases available for library users. Most helpful is Reference USA, which lets him mine and correlate the very information he is seeking.
Jill texts again to remind Jack to schedule time for the winter family trip to Switzerland. This prompts Jack to think how he needs to learn more about his digital camera, while also brushing up on his French and German. To save time, he asks the librarians at the Reference Desk for help. They show him how to take advantage of the several eBook connections through the library, especially READS and R. B. Digital. With his new card, Jack is able to download on his ipad, David Pogue’s Digital Photography: The Missing Manual. The librarian also shows Jack the photography E-magazines available to check out free through the READS and Zinio electronic libraries. Jack downloads immediately Digital Photography from Zinio.
Jack tells the librarian, that if he ever worried the library would go out of business, he doesn’t now. “Are you as up-to-date on language learning? I need to refresh my French and German.” The Reference Desk librarian shows him the library learning site called Transparent Languages, and gets him into the German and French programs using Jack’s library card as the login.
On his way out, with books, DVDs, and electronic downloads in hand, Jack texts Jill, “There’s a lot here at the library. More than I realized. You say you like the newly designed card; I know you’ll like even more, using it. You’ve got to come check this out!”
By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
Can you believe we’re living in The Future? For decades, the year 2000 seemed impossibly far away. Folks imagined that, by now, we’d have robot teachers and colonies on Mars, and the end of all disease. Companies would add the number “2000” after model numbers to connote cutting-edge technology from the bright, distant horizon. Marty McFly’s 2015 was a land of flying cars, expanding pizza, and self-tying shoes. (And fax machines. Fax machines were everywhere.)
Some of those visions for the future were spot on; others now seem charmingly out-of-date; and we’re still waiting for many of the rest to be invented. But isn’t it fantastic how often we hear about inventions that were inspired by Science Fiction? If “[science] is magic that works,” as Kurt Vonnegut says in Cat’s Cradle, then Science Fiction is the root of much of that magic. Imagination becomes ideas, which in turn become experiments. Experiments lead to discoveries, then inventions, and ultimately to the commonplace wonders we take for granted: such as the submarine (Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), the cell phone (the direct descendent of the “communicator” from the original Star Trek series), and even nuclear power (H.G. Wells’ The World Set Free). 
Wait. A fiction writer born in the 1800s gave the world the idea for nuclear power? It’s true! Decades after its publication, a scientist named Leo Szilard “read [The World Set Free] and was immediately inspired to create what Wells had dreamed up” – for better or for worse.  And when a teenaged Robert H. Goddard read Wells’ The War of the Worlds, it set him on a path of “research [that] culminated with the Apollo program, and man’s landing on the moon.”  So there’s an undeniable link between the Science Fiction genre and humanity’s incredible achievements. Keep that in mind the next time your friends give you a hard time for being a sci-fi geek!
Another cool thing about the sci-fi genre is that it often combines elements of many other genres, as well. There’s sci-fi horror, sci-fi thriller, sci-fi mystery, sci-fi romance… You get it. So, without further ado, I’m going to leave you with a great list of Science Fiction authors (many of them you’ll find on our genre bookmarks in the library), titles of some of their works, and sometimes the additional genres that come into play. (For example, when you see “humor,” think of it as “sci-fi + humor,” and so on.)
- Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series (humor)
- A. American – Survivalist series (pulpy but fun)
- Charlie Jane Anders – All the Birds in the Sky
- Hiromu Arakawa – Fullmetal Alchemist (manga)
- Catherine Asaro – Quantum Rose
- Isaac Asimov – Foundation series; Galactic Empire series; Robot series
- Gertrude Barrows Bennett – Citadel of Fear (under pseudonym “Francis Stevens”)
- Alfred Bester – The Stars My Destination (cyberpunk); The Demolished Man
- Leigh Brackett – The Long Tomorrow
- Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles; The Veldt (short story)
- Octavia E. Butler – Xenogenesis series
- Pat Cadigan – Synners (cyberpunk)
- Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game series (YA)
- Margaret Cavendish – The Blazing World (published in 1666!)
- Becky Chambers – A Closed and Common Orbit
- C. L. Cherryh – Downbelow Station
- Arthur C. Clarke – 2001: A Space Odyssey (there are four books in the series); Childhood’s End
- Ernest Cline – Ready Player One; Armada
- Peter Clines – 14 (mystery, horror, paranormal); The Fold (thriller)
- Michael Crichton – Sphere (psychological thriller); Jurassic Park; Prey
- Philip K. Dick – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; Ubik; A Scanner Darkly (police procedural)
- William Gibson – Neuromancer (cyberpunk); The Difference Engine (written with Bruce Sterling) (steampunk); Virtual Light (dark humor, detective)
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman – Herland
- Joe Haldeman – The Forever War series; The Accidental Time Machine
- Frank Herbert – Dune saga
- Hugh Howey – Silo series (post-apocalyptic)
- Kameron Hurley – The Stars Are Legion
- Aldous Huxley – Brave New World; Ape and Essence
- P. D. James – Children of Men
- Nancy Kress – Beggars in Spain
- Larissa Lai – Salt Fish Girl
- Ursula K. Le Guin – Hainish Cycle; The Eye of the Heron; The Left Hand of Darkness
- Madeleine L’Engle – Kairos cycle (beginning with A Wrinkle in Time) (children’s, “science fantasy”)
- Cixin Liu – Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy (hard science fiction)
- Katherine MacLean – Pictures Don’t Lie (stories)
- Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven
- George R. R. Martin – Tuf Voyaging; the Wildcards universe
- Robert Masello – The Einstein Prophecy (historical fiction, mystery, thriller)
- Julian May – Pliocene Exile series (high fantasy)
- Anne McCaffrey – The Ship Who Sang
- Seanan McGuire – Parasitology Trilogy series (sociological, under pseudonym “Mira Grant”)
- Maureen F. McHugh – China Mountain Zhang
- Judith Merril – The Tomorrow People
- Elizabeth Moon – The Speed of Dark
- Larry Niven – Tales of Known Space series; Ringworld and the Fleet of Worlds series
- Alice Norton – The Time Traders (under pseudonym “Andre Norton”)
- Christopher Nuttall – The Oncoming Storm (military, space opera); The Royal Sorceress (steampunk, alternate history)
- Nnedi Okorafor – Who Fears Death
- Malka Older – Infomocracy
- George Orwell – 1984 (speculative, “social science fiction”)
- Frederik Pohl – The Coming of the Quantum Cats; the Heechee saga (space opera)
- Kim Stanley Robinson – Mars trilogy (literary)
- Joanna Russ – The Female Man (experimental and not what you think)
- Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow
- Carl Sagan – Contact
John Scalzi – Redshirts; Old Man’s War series
- Alice Bradley Sheldon – Her Smoke Rose up Forever (stories, under pseudonym “James Tiptree, Jr.”)
- Mary Shelley – Frankenstein
- Dan Simmons – Ilium series (fantasy); Hyperion Cantos series (fantasy)
- Neal Stephenson – Cryptonomicon (historical fiction); Snow Crash (cyberpunk)
- Karin Tidbek – Amatka
- Jules Verne – Journey to the Center of the Earth (adventure)
- Thea von Harbou – Metropolis
- Kurt Vonnegut – Cat’s Cradle; Slaughterhouse Five; The Sirens of Titan (all conceptual/unconventional)
- Sabrina Vourvoulias – Ink
- David Weber – Honor Harrington series (military); The Apocalypse Troll
- Andy Weir – The Martian; Artemis
- H. G. Wells – The Time Machine; The Island of Doctor Moreau; The Invisible Man; The War of the Worlds
- Martha Wells – The Murderbot Diaries series (described as a fun read!)
- Connie Willis – To Say Nothing of the Dog (historical fiction, rom-com, humor, time travel)
That’s enough to get you started, right? Remember, if we don’t have a book at the Williamson County Public Library, we’ll try to locate it with Inter-Library Loan. Enjoy – and be inspired!
I sourced most of the woman authors and their works from this excellent list: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/50-sci-fi-must-reads-by-women
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Good morning class, and welcome to Superhero 101. With the massive surge of movies, books, and television about and starring spandex clad gladiators from the last century we cannot help but look back to the origins of the archetypal superhero. Most modern comic book enthusiasts think of comics and their associated heroes as falling into the eras of The Gold, Silver, Bronze and Modern ages, with the superhero archetype we all think of (i.e. Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America) beginning in the Golden age. While I agree with the ages and their application in the history of comics, I believe the heroes go back so much farther. I would go even as far as to say that our older heroes are still as popular now as they were in their nascent era. So let us begin learning how the heroes of humanity’s past are the heroes of today’s children.
Okay, that’s what it would say at the top of the syllabus if there was a university crazy enough to give me carte blanche to design a course of my choosing. I’m not sure what department would end up with a course like that; history, literature, and anthropology all have good claims on the subject matter. (I’d probably choose anthropology.) I started to think about this back in 2005, when another set of books came out claiming to be the next Harry Potter. It was something to do with Mount Olympus in New York and some unfortunately named kid. Percy Jackson brought Greek mythology back to the American consciousness with a vengeance. I remarked to a coworker in the children’s department that it was like someone had mixed Dauliere’s mythology with comic books, and then I realized there was nothing to mix, that the original sequential pictures were drawn on the side of black-figure pottery. The more I thought about it, the further back I could push that genesis moment in drawn super heroes, back past Homer, beyond Gilgamesh, back to the paintings in Chauvet and Lascaux and the Löwenmensch. Those giant figures on cave walls and anthropomorphized animals showed a belief in a being better than an average human, a super man.
The real origin we can trace the ideas back is to the stories that have come down to us along with artistic renderings. Gilgamesh is probably the earliest recorded super hero. He was stronger and braver and more cunning than an average person. This was because he was two thirds god (yeah, I can’t make the math on that work either), but he wasn’t a god himself. Even the Old Testament refers to a race of giants like Goliath, that were the children of fallen angels and human women, but they were not very heroic. Yet still that was the de facto origin story for most of the Stone Age and Classical Age heroes, some combination of divine ancestors mixed with human to make for an invulnerable hero (Achilles), a super strong one (Heracles), or some mix of characteristics (Theseus, Perseus, Etc. ). There are even examples of plain guys with nothing but their physical prowess and sharp wits like Batman, oh, sorry , I mean Odysseus. The superhero of today would fit fine in ancient Greece and Rome if he just swapped his tights and alien parents for a toga or chiton and a more deified lineage.
The medieval world and its dominating monotheistic religions brought an end to all this human/deity philandering. Heroes now were men and women who were blessed by God like Robin Hood, Pwyll of Dyfed, and King Arthur or sorcerers of sketchy origin like Merlin. Real life heroes began to be magnified to supernatural proportions. Joan of Arc, El Cid, Roland, Boadicea, and Charlemagne all have fantastic elements woven into their stories. Off in the cold north of Europe the Vikings still had the demigod heroes of the early sagas, but even these saw a Christianization as people adopted the religion but didn’t want to give up their old fireside stories. Hero tales are not the sole property of the west in the middle ages. Sinbad the mariner was sailing the Arabian Sea while the brothers of the peach orchard, Guan Yu, Liu Pei, and Zhang Fei, were fighting to unite China.
Since the Medieval era, we have been going through our past for inspiration. There have been resurgences in interest over and over in the classical mythos as well as the Arthurian legends. Scholars debate the historicity of Troy and Camelot. Writers like Tennyson and Keats borrowed the themes for new works. It wasn’t until early last century that we began something new. Superman, Captain Marvel, Captain America and Wonder Woman each debuted and added new heroes to our mythology. This coincided with a rise in science fiction stories in the popular publishing world. Now we have science fiction retellings of the Odyssey, movies of Sinbad, video Games of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and graphic novels that tell the 4000 year old story of Gilgamesh and Troy. Children today are learning the same lessons as the kids of millennia past from the same characters. We have made our own heroes but we have built them on a timeless framework that goes back to the beginning of humanity and we have brought along a best of collection of the heroes of the past.
Sources and Suggested Reading:
- The History of Art by H. W. Janson (709 JAN)
- Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman by Marc Tyler Nobleman (J 741.5 NOB)
- D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri D’Aulaire (J 292 DAU)
- The Epic of Gilgamesh by Kent H. Dixon (892.1 DIX)
- The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (201.3 CAM)
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guangzhong (895.13 LUO)
- The Song of Roland by Anonymous (YA 841.1 CHA)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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)
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!
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.
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.
The future of robots is heading down two main tracks, Humaniform 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.
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.
 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)
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.
- 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
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.
- The 23 Most-Revived Musicals in Broadway History Since 1927
- 10 Musicals Due for a Broadway Revival
- The Problem With Broadway Revivals: They Revive Gender Stereotypes, Too
- Do Revivals Inhibit New Broadway Musicals?