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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

LibraryReads Recommends Great Books

Written by Jon Williams

Working as a partnership between public libraries and a group of major publishers, LibraryReads is a program designed to promote librarians’ favourite novels to adult readers each month. Beginning in September of 2013, each month they produce a list of ten newly published titles nominated and voted on by librarians across the U.S. That very first list was a winner right off the bat, containing, among others, the very popular Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Since the beginning, 160 novels have been selected by LibraryReads for recommendation to patrons, with a fresh batch ready to go for the first month of the new year. With December being somewhat slow for the publication of new titles, instead of producing a new list, LibraryReads instead came out with their “Favorite of Favorites,” the very best of previously selected titles. It’s a list of great books that showcases the great taste librarians have for literature. The previously mentioned Fangirl made the list, as did another novel by Rowell, Landline. The list also includes Pulitzer Prize winner The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and National Book Award finalist All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

The book selected as the overall favourite, though, was The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, originally selected for the April 2014 list. The story of a grumpy bookseller and collector who undergoes a gradual transformation when a young girl comes into his life, it is Zevin’s eighth novel. Her first, Elsewhere, published in 2005, was a YA novel dealing with the afterlife. Since then, she has written for both teens and adults, with Storied Life being her most acclaimed work to date.

The full list of LibraryReads Favorite of Favorites can be found in our January audiobook buyer’s guide, or on our website. And for January, it’s back to the usual list of ten brand new novels for patrons to check out. This first list is headlined by such titles as As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, the new Flavia de Luce title from Alan Bradley, and The Rosie Effect, follow-up to The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simison. It also includes The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison, Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar, First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen, and Full Throttle by Julie Ann Walker.

Interested in LibraryReads for your library? No problem! Check out the program’s website for materials you can use to promote each month’s titles to your patrons. While you’re there, you can find out how to nominate books for the list and participate in selection, if you don’t already. Help bring your love of books—and audiobooks!—to patrons who might otherwise miss these great reads.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Newsroom Fades to Black

Written by Jon Williams

The third and final season of The Newsroom concluded this past season, bringing an end to HBO’s series about the perils and challenges of trying to do serious TV journalism in an era of reality TV and the endless quest for ratings. The lead role of passionate newsman Will McAvoy was ably handled by Jeff Daniels (in quite a departure from his other recent appearance as Harry Dunne in Dumb and Dumber To), heading an ensemble cast that also included Sam Waterston, Jane Fonda, Emily Mortimer, and Olivia Munn, among others.

The Newsroom was created by Aaron Sorkin, who also served as the primary writer for all 25 episodes. Sorkin started his career as a playwright, and got his start in Hollywood by writing the play A Few Good Men, adapting it himself for the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise. With its famous “You can’t handle the truth!” line thundered by Nicholson’s character, Sorkin’s reputation as a writer of smart, snappy dialogue was born. He would then go on to write the films Malice (currently unavailable) and The American President.

From there, Sorkin would make his first foray into the television world—in more ways than one. His first series, Sports Night (also unavailable), was, like The Newsroom, a show about doing television. Inspired by ESPN’s SportsCenter, the show focused on a group of people putting together a nightly sports show. The comedy was well received by critics but scored low ratings (perhaps inspiring one of the conflicts at the heart of The Newsroom) and was only on for two seasons. It led, however, directly into The West Wing, the breakthrough drama starring Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet and focusing on his staff and administration.

The West Wing ran for seven seasons, ending in 2006, which saw the debut of Sorkin’s next series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. With it, he returned to the world of television production, this time looking at a sketch comedy series. However, it garnered much the same reaction as Sports Night, and only lasted one season. At that point, Sorkin returned to working for the big screen, adapting books into screenplays for the hit movies Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network (for which he won an Academy Award), and Moneyball.

With The Newsroom heading into the sunset, one of the projects on Sorkin’s horizon is another adaptation for the silver screen, this time of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. He has said recently that he is unlikely to write again for television; if that’s true, he’s certainly left viewers with some great shows and memorable moments. Make sure you have his acclaimed work on your shelves for patrons to explore and enjoy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Grammys More Than Just Music

Written by Jon Williams

In case you missed it somehow, the Grammy Award nominations were announced last week in an all-day event that culminated in a concert special that came with the Album of the Year nominees. The artists and albums up for that coveted award are Beck’s Morning Phase, Beyonce’s self-titled surprise, Pharrell’s GIRL, Ed Sheeran’s X, and Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour. You can find these CDs, along with all the others up for awards in all categories, in our collection of 2015 Grammy nominees.

When you hear about the Grammys, your mind automatically turns to music—which is only natural, as the awards honour the best and brightest in the music industry, and at the ceremony the awards themselves take a backseat to some of the most notable performances of the year. With that in mind, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that not all Grammy Awards are given out for music. One such award is that for comedy album, which has a stellar lineup this year. Here are the nominees for this year:

Louis C.K. – Oh My God: Even if you don’t know Louis C.K. by sight, chances are excellent that you know his work. In addition to his standup, he has a long and successful comedy writing career, including for Letterman and Saturday Night Live. He has been nominated for several Emmy Awards, winning in 1999 for The Chris Rock Show, and again just last year for his own show, the acclaimed FX series Louie.

Jim Gaffigan – Obsessed: If there’s one overarching theme in Jim Gaffigan’s comedy, it’s that he likes to talk about food. A lot. He has authored two books of humour: Dad Is Fat and Food: A Love Story; the titles should give you some idea. As such, his humour is generally pretty clean and family-appropriate. Although he doesn’t maintain a steady presence in Hollywood, it’s certainly not out of the ordinary to see him on film or TV, with roles in Super Troopers and That ‘70s Show, to name just a couple.

Patton Oswalt – Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time: Patton Oswalt, on the other hand, is all over the place. Performing as a comedian for over twenty years, he has also gotten regular Hollywood work. He does a fair amount of voice work, most notably starring as Remy the Rat in Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille. Most recently he’s had a recurring role on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He’s also frequently found on Twitter, where he’s been known to experiment with the form as a method of delivering comedy.

Sarah Silverman – We Are Miracles: Like Louis C.K., one of Sarah Silverman’s first jobs was writing for SNL, although she had little success and was fired after one season. Obviously, that hasn’t deterred her, as she has gone on to become one of the biggest names in comedy. She, like Patton Oswalt, has done some voiceover work, such as in Wreck-It Ralph, and plenty of other acting work besides. She has appeared on Louie, and most recently was in the Seth MacFarlane comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West.

Weird Al Yankovic – Mandatory Fun: Okay, so this one actually is musical in nature, as well as being hilarious. Al took the Internet by storm earlier this year with the release of this, his fourteenth album, releasing a video per day for a week, including parodies of Pharrell’s “Happy” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” We wrote about him and his career at the time, but one thing we failed to mention (specifically) is that he won a previous Grammy for Best Comedy Album in 2003 for Poodle Hat.

All of the nominees have plenty of hilarious material available; SmartBrowse each of their names on our website for their films, audiobooks, and standup specials on DVD and CD. Who do you think is the funniest of the bunch?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

True Detective Season 2 Cast Announced

Written by Jon Williams

Early in 2014, HBO continued its string of buzzworthy hit shows with the original series True Detective. The first season of the show featured Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as the detectives in question, and its eight episodes followed their 17-year hunt for a serial killer in southern Louisiana. The series was received well by audiences and critics alike, garnering ten Emmy nominations and five wins, including Outstanding Casting.

That outstanding casting is on display once again as the stars for Season 2 have been confirmed. As an anthology series, each individual season will tell an entirely new story, and so McConaughey and Harrelson will not return in their roles. Instead, a completely different cast of characters will focus on another case, set this time somewhere in California.

One of the early casting announcements, and one that raised some eyebrows, was Vince Vaughn as a criminal kingpin. Vaughn, of course, is known primarily for screwball comedies like Wedding Crashers and Dodgeball, which are at odds with True Detective’s dark, gritty tone. Despite this perception, he’s no stranger to dramatic (and often dark) roles, having starred in such films as Clay Pigeons and Domestic Disturbance—not to mention his portrayal of one of the most iconic villains of all time, Norman Bates, in the 1998 remake of Psycho.

Playing Vaughn’s character’s wife in True Detective will be Kelly Reilly, who was just confirmed earlier this week. This English actress has had quite a variety of roles in a career that dates back to the mid-1990s. Most prominent among them might be as Mary Morstan, paramour of Dr. John Watson in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and its 2011 sequel. She also starred as detective Anna Travis in three seasons of the British television Above Suspicion, and has been seen recently in films like Cavalry and Heaven Is for Real.

Another early announcement, confirmed in September at the same time as Vaughn, was Colin Farrell. Farrell will play one of the cops, but one that also owes allegiance to Vaughn’s criminal mastermind. First and foremost a movie star, Farrell actually got his start in television, appearing in Series 4 and 5 of the BBC’s Ballykissangel. Shortly thereafter he made his way to Hollywood with roles in films like Hart’s War with Bruce Willis and Minority Report with Tom Cruise. He’s been involved in several high-profile remakes, including Miami Vice, Fright Night, and Total Recall, and he won a Golden Globe for In Bruges.

Playing another troubled cop will be Taylor Kitsch, who burst onto the scene playing Tim Riggins, the much-loved high school football player at the heart of the Friday Night Lights TV series. From there he jumped into effects-laden blockbusters, starring in Disney’s adaptation of John Carter and as part of the Battleship group. Toning down the bombast, he recently appeared in another HBO production, the critically acclaimed drama The Normal Heart, whose ensemble cast drew rave reviews across the board.

And finally we come to the last member of True Detective’s main cast for Season 2. Rachel McAdams, like Reilly and Kitsch, was just confirmed this week, signing up to play a straight-laced detective (some descriptions list her character as a sheriff) in charge of the investigation. Also like Reilly, McAdams is an alumna of Sherlock Holmes, although she is probably most recognized for earlier roles in Mean Girls and The Notebook. McAdams has a bit of television background, with a role in the Canadian series Slings & Arrows among her first acting jobs.

With a cast like this, it’s easy to assume that the second season of True Detective will be just as big a hit as the first. Make sure you have that first season on your shelves for patrons who may have missed it on TV, and don’t forget all these other great movies and TV shows from these talented actors.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Looking at the Mockingjay Soundtrack

Written by Jon Williams

The third movie in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay Part 1, releases into theatres this Friday, and is already projected to be one of the biggest films of 2014. The soundtrack for the film came out earlier this week, and chances are good that you already have it on your shelves (or, more likely, you don’t have it on your shelves, as zealous patrons have already nabbed it). The artists who provide the music on the soundtrack are likely to become in-demand as they’re discovered by new listeners, so let’s take a look at a few of them.

It was announced months ago that the soundtrack would be curated by singer Lorde, best known for her hit “Royals,” which appears on her debut album Pure Heroine. Having just turned 18, you’d think that putting together a soundtrack for a movie in an established blockbuster series might prove a daunting task, but Lorde knocked it out of the park. She provided the lead single, “Yellow Flicker Beat” (a Kanye West rework of the track appears as well), as well as another track, “Ladder Song,” in addition to co-writing four other songs and performing on one of them.

The track she performs on is the opener, “Meltdown” by Stromae, which also features Pusha T, Q-Tip, and Haim. Stromae is the stage name of Paul Van Haver, a Belgian hip-hop/electronic musician. Very popular in Europe, Stromae is just beginning to find an American audience, having been featured over the summer on Late Night with Seth Meyers and NPR.

Two of the songs co-written by Lorde feature collaborations between artists with more familiar names. The fifth track, “All My Love,” is by Major Lazer, the electronic music project of Diplo, and it includes vocals by Ariana Grande, the gold-selling pop sensation whose second album, My Everything, was released in August. The penultimate song on the album is “This Is Not a Game” by the Grammy-winning Chemical Brothers, another electronic duo, in collaboration with R&B artist Miguel, a fellow Grammy recipient for his song “Adorn” from his 2012 Kaleidoscope Dream album.

Collaborations are definitely a strength of the soundtrack, with another coming in the form of “Kingdom,” a song credited to Charli XCX. Known for co-writing and performing on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” her own debut album, Sucker, will be released in December and feature the hit single “Boom Clap.” On the Mockingjay soundtrack, she works with Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran fame.

And there are plenty of non-collaborative songs on the soundtrack as well. One of the singles released for the album is “Dead Air” by Chvrches, an electronic band whose work has been featured in several TV shows. One of the more familiar names on the album is multitalented musician and actress Grace Jones, who contributes “Original Beast.” Other musicians and bands featured include Tove Lo, Tinashe, and Bat for Lashes.

As patrons get a chance to spend some time with this soundtrack—or if they have a hard time getting their hands on it—they’ll be looking for music by these artists. Help fuel their passion by having their CDs on your shelves.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What Is the Criterion Collection?

Written by Jon Williams

If you use our monthly DVD/Blu-ray Buyer’s Guide, you know that each month we feature a selection of movies offered by the Criterion Collection. In the upcoming December catalog, there will be a full page dedicated to them. But have you ever wondered exactly what the Criterion Collection is?

The simple answer, of course, is that it’s a video distribution company. The “About Us” page on Criterion’s website describes their collection as “a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films,” as well as “the greatest films from around the world…in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements.” What Criterion does is restore (if necessary) and remaster films for a crisp and clear presentation on DVD and high-definition Blu-ray, and then complement that film with such materials as audio commentary, deleted scenes, ‘making-of’ documentaries, and more. This wealth of esoterica allows the viewer to see the film in the context in which it was made, and has led to Criterion versions being referred to as “film school in a box.” In addition, Criterion was also the innovator of the “letterbox” format, using black bars at the top and bottom of the screen to present movies in a widescreen format, preserving their original aspect ratio (generally 2.35:1) when televisions were designed for a 4:3 display.

The Criterion Collection began in 1984, when VHS was still fighting with Betamax to become to dominant home video system of the day. Not content with the quality offered by either of these formats, though, Criterion in the beginning transferred films onto laserdisc. Although that format never became widespread, it remained Criterion’s sole format until 1998, when it made the switch to the burgeoning DVD format. Ten years later, in 2008, Criterion added Blu-ray to its repertoire, allowing for even better presentation than had previously been available. Currently, Criterion still distributes its films in both DVD and Blu-ray formats.

In the laserdisc days, Criterion would release mainstream movies, but their focus has narrowed mainly down to art, world, and classic films and documentaries. Although it no longer distributes them, the first two films issued by the Criterion Collection were Citizen Kane and the 1933 version of King Kong (and in both cases, the editions currently available are obviously inspired by the Criterion versions, boasting HD transfers and a full range of special features). It was with Invasion of the Body Snatchers (also no longer available from Criterion) that they introduced letterboxing.

Recent Criterion releases include such films as The Great Beauty (2014 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film), Babette’s Feast, Eraserhead, and the Beatles classic A Hard Day’s Night, while upcoming releases are scheduled for L’Avventura, Time Bandits (an update of their 1999 release), and Tootsie. This, however, is a mere sampling of a vast collection that includes more than 800 titles. For the full list of DVDs and Blu-rays available from Midwest Tape, SmartBrowse ‘Criterion Collection’ on our website.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Keaton Fits Right into Birdman

Written by Jon Williams

You’ve heard about all the films hovering near the top of the box office—highly publicized films like John Wick, Fury, Ouija, and Gone Girl. But there’s another film out right now that you may not have heard much about, which is garnering critical acclaim and doing quite well for itself in a limited theatrical release. That film is Birdman, about an actor whose career goes off the rails after a successful turn starring as a wildly popular superhero.

That actor is Riggan Thomson, played by Michael Keaton. It’s not hard to see the parallel between the plot of Birdman and Keaton’s own career. Keaton went through a period of immense popularity in the mid to late 1980s, culminating with his portrayal of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, the Caped Crusader, in 1989’s Batman and its 1992 follow-up, Batman Returns. He was originally set to play Batman a third time, but he opted to drop out of the production when director Tim Burton did.

Batman has done fine since Keaton’s departure, with the cape and cowl being taken up by Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale, with Ben Affleck on deck to wear it next. Keaton, on the other hand, has been relegated, for the most part, to Hollywood’s background. While his IMDb page will show you that he has remained active, he has certainly not had the same degree of prominence he did prior to his stint as Batman.

Keaton’s birth name is actually Michael Douglas; as he began working in show business in the late ‘70s, he took an alternate name to avoid confusion with the other Michael Douglas, who was already well known. After a couple of one-shots on sitcoms like Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Maude, he got a chance to show off his comedy chops against Jim Belushi in the show Working Stiffs. That then led to a role in the 1982 Ron Howard comedy feature Night Shift, and the rest is history. From there he became a sought-after comedic actor, starring in such films as Mr. Mom and Johnny Dangerously, and topping it off with a transcendent performance in the classic Tim Burton film Beetlejuice.

From Night Shift to Batman Returns was a period of ten years, with a number of notable starring roles for Keaton in that timespan. In the 22 years since, they’ve been fewer and further between, but there are definitely some gems. In 1994, he re-teamed with Ron Howard for The Paper, and in 1996 he played several versions of the same character in Multiplicity, directed by the late, great Harold Ramis. He starred in the 1998 holiday film Jack Frost and the 2005 horror movie White Noise. He’s also done some voice acting for Disney/Pixar, voicing characters in Cars and Toy Story 3. More recently, he appeared as the sinister OmniCorp CEO in the RoboCop reboot, bringing a sinister energy to the role.

Birdman features an all-star cast that includes Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, and Emma Stone, but the movie undoubtedly belongs to Michael Keaton. We’ll have info on its upcoming DVD/Blu-ray release as soon as it becomes available; in the meantime, make sure you have plenty of other Keaton movies on your shelves for your patrons to enjoy. SmartBrowse his name on our website to see everything we have to offer.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Beyond Gone Girl

Written by Jon Williams

After being released into theatres on October 3, Gone Girl has won the domestic box office for two consecutive weekends. The story of a wife who disappears on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary and the possible guilt or innocence of her husband, the film has struck a chord with moviegoers, who have spent upwards of $80 million to see it so far. When it is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the coming months, it will no doubt prove to be just as popular with library patrons as its source material, the book by Gillian Flynn.

Flynn adapted the screenplay of Gone Girl from her own novel, which was then brought to the screen by acclaimed director David Fincher, known for Seven and The Social Network, among many others. The ill-fated husband and wife are played by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Everyone knows all about Affleck, of course; Pike is probably best known for her role as a villain in the 2002 Bond film Die Another Day, and has also appeared in such movies as Pride and Prejudice and The World’s End. The cast of Gone Girl also benefits from performances by such well-known actors as Neil Patrick Harris (who recently published his autobiography) and Tyler Perry (of Madea fame).

While Gone Girl is Flynn’s third and most recent novel, it is the only one of her works to be adapted for film so far. That will not be the case for long, however. Coming to theatres in 2015 will be Dark Places, adapted from Flynn’s second novel by writer/director Gilles Paquet-Brenner (who also adapted Tatiana de Rosney’s Sarah’s Key). It tells the story of Libby Day, who survives a massacre and testifies against her younger brother, and then, years later, must face suspicion that he wasn’t the culprit after all. Charlize Theron will star as Libby in this dark thriller.

Flynn’s first novel, published in 2006, was Sharp Objects, the tale of a troubled journalist charged with covering a series of brutal murders in her old hometown, and then must deal with ghosts from her own past. Previous attempts to adapt this novel have not panned out, but it was announced recently that it is being turned into a limited TV series. Not many details have been announced, such as casting or networks, but the showrunner will be Marti Noxon, who has worked on such series as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Glee.

Make sure you have all three of Gillian Flynn’s audiobooks on your shelves for your patrons as they wait for Gone Girl and her other adaptations. In the meantime, what have you been recommending to patrons who enjoyed Gone Girl and are looking for something similar? Let us know in the comments section.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Roosevelts Rule PBS

Written by Jon Williams

The latest film series from acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History takes an intimate, in-depth look at one of the most prominent political families in American history. It entwines the tale of Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, with his cousin Franklin, 32nd President of the United States, and Franklin’s First Lady, Eleanor. Airing over seven nights in September, it proved to be one of PBS’s most popular series, and is already available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Filmmaker Ken Burns has become known over the years for this sort of penetrating looks at various aspects of Americana. His first such film was 1981’s Brooklyn Bridge, an adaptation of David McCullough’s book The Great Bridge. That film earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary, a feat Burns would repeat in 1985 with another film about a New York City landmark, Statue of Liberty. While neither film won the Oscar, Burns has won a number of Emmy Awards for his work over the years, with the first coming for The Civil War, one of his best-known and best-loved documentary works. He has also tackled such subjects as Baseball, Jazz, and The National Parks, among many others.

Of course, even aside from the documentaries produced by Burns, PBS is known for its quality programming. NOVA, for instance, is a science-focused show that has been in production for 40 years, with close to 800 episodes to its credit. The current season tackles such newsworthy issues as vaccines and computer/device hacking. Frontline is another long-running PBS show (31 years) taking on any number of current events and public interest topics, while Nature (32 years) is known, of course, for its documentaries on various aspects of nature. While shows like these give PBS an analytical, non-fictional bent, the channel is also well-known for its classic Masterpiece dramas and its educational children’s programming, such as Sesame Street. And this is just a small sampling of everything PBS has to offer.

With The Roosevelts airing so recently and garnering so much attention, it’s likely to spurn even further interest in these towering historical figures. Fortunately, there is no shortage of resources you can offer your patrons, particularly on audiobook. Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley examines at Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation efforts as president, while Lion in the White House looks at his life overall. Young Mr. Roosevelt takes on FDR’s early influences, while No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin portrays his relationship with Eleanor. And the First Lady’s story, fascinating in its own right, is told in her own words in The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt.

For more, visit our website and search using terms such as ‘Roosevelt’ and ‘FDR.’ You’ll find plenty of materials, both audio and video, to satisfy the interests of history buffs young and old. And remind your patrons that, beyond your shelves, a great deal of PBS and Ken Burns programming can be found on hoopla.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A “New” Genre Is Born

Written by Jon Williams

There was a time when “young adult” wasn’t much of a genre unto itself, when novels about young protagonists were simply grouped into the regular literature category. Examples include books like A Separate Peace and To Kill a Mockingbird, both of which feature adult narrators looking back on their younger days. Over time, as writers and publishers began to see tweens (another fairly recent term) and teens as a group with distinct interests and anxieties that could be explored, the young adult genre took off. It has thrived in recent years with novels and series like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and The Fault in Our Stars, to name just a few.

Now another new genre is taking shape in much the same way. A seed was planted with the observation that many adult readers were dipping into those above-mentioned YA titles to find reading material for themselves, not just for their kids. That seed was watered by the wild success of the Fifty Shades series (which itself grew out of the Twilight phenomenon), in which a college-age main character explores her burgeoning sexuality. Now the “new adult” genre is beginning to sprout; what it will eventually grow into is, right now, anyone’s guess.

Boiled down to its essence, new adult fiction deals with characters in their late teens to early twenties, dealing with the issues that people of that age would typically be dealing with, including identity, leaving home, transitioning into the “real world,” marriage (and divorce), etc. Of course, following in the footsteps of Fifty Shades, romance and sexuality also play a huge role thematically in the first wave of new adult books. Authors leading the way in the romance-dominated early days of the genre include Abbi Glines, Colleen Hoover, Jay Crownover, Molly McAdams, and Jamie McGuire.

Librarians, as this article notes, are now interested to see where the genre goes from here. With young, naturally dynamic characters as protagonists, there’s no reason why more tropes than just romance can’t be incorporated as a prime focus. That will perhaps (or perhaps not) help librarians solve another concern over this new genre—how to categorize it. Does it go in the general fiction section? Or should it be shelved with romance, or in the young adult area? Compounding this issue is the fact that many patrons interested in new adult fiction aren’t the same age as the characters in the books—adult readers are just as interested in these tales as their younger counterparts.

Has your library seen much patron interest in these new adult titles? How are you dealing with the categorization issues? Let us know in the comments section below, along with what you would like to see from the genre as it develops.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Meeting Murakami

Written by Jon Williams

For the past few weeks you’ve been seeing Haruki Murakami’s name at or near the top of the bestseller lists. His recent novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, released on August 12, went straight to the top of the New York Times list, where it remains in the top ten. It follows the main character as he attempts to get his life in order by reuniting and making amends with friends from his youth. Murakami’s own story, though, is just as interesting.

Born in Kyoto 1949, Murakami went on to study drama in college in Tokyo. Instead of pursuing that as a career, however, he and his wife opened a jazz club. According to Murakami himself, he didn’t write at all until he was 29 years old. Then, while attending a baseball game, he was struck with the notion that he could write a novel. He had to stop on his way home from the ballpark to buy a pen and paper, but he began work that very night on the manuscript that would become Hear the Wind Sing, his first novel. Although that book is not widely available in English, a new translation is in the works, scheduled for a 2015 release. It will be paired with a new translation of his second novel, Pinball, 1973, which is also rare in its current English version.

While Pinball, 1973 was his first novel translated into English, Murakami did not gain international acclaim until his third and fourth novels, A Wild Sheep Chase (written 1982, translated 1989; currently unavailable) and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (written 1985, translated 1991), which worked in elements of fantasy and magical realism. Then came Norwegian Wood (currently unavailable as an audiobook, although the movie adaptation is available), a realistic coming-of-age novel, and perhaps his most famous to date. That made its way to North America in 2000. Since then he has published such novels as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, and 1Q84 (his most recent work prior to Colorless Tsukuru), all of which came available to English readers in much shorter order than his previous works.

Murakami’s novels are his most popular works, but they are by no means his only literary occupation. He is a noted translator, adapting into Japanese so much of the American literature that has had such an influence on him, such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Long Goodbye, and The Great Gatsby, among many others. In between novels he writes short stories, a form in which he claims to find more joy. You can find examples of his short fiction in the collection After the Quake, a collection dealing with the aftermath of the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan. He also ventures into non-fiction with What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a memoir of his dedication to fitness. Like his writing life, Murakami came relatively late to running—beginning at age 33, he has run one marathon each year since, as well as one 110km ultra-marathon.

Needless to say, you haven’t heard the last of this driven literary dynamo. A new story, Strange Library, arrives in December. With the print version coming it at a scant 96 pages, its length is quite a contrast to most of his work. What comes after that is anyone’s guess. As Murakami prefers to challenge himself as he writes, it’s certain to be compelling.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ready for Kickoff

Written by Jon Williams

The month of August is winding down, and the kids are back to school or getting ready to do so very soon. While this can bring on emotions ranging from excitement to angst for the students in question, it also heralds the return of the popular community institution that is high school football. The traditional Friday night game has long been a source of fascination in both fiction and non-fiction, evidenced by the film When the Game Stands Tall, opening in theatres today. It tells the story of the De La Salle Spartans, a high school team in California that maintained an incredible 151-game winning streak from 1992 through 2003. It’s just the latest in a long line of stories to explore both the romance and the dark side of the game and the young men who play it.

Of course, the gold standard for high school football-related media is the Friday Night Lights juggernaut. The 1990 book by Buzz Bissinger was turned into a 2004 film exploring the 1988 season of the Permian Panthers of Odessa, Texas, dealing with the pressures of a highly touted team making a run at a championship in a state where football is king. The success of that movie then spawned a critically acclaimed TV series focusing on Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) taking over as head coach in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, and the trials and tribulations of his players and family. The show ran for five seasons, ending in 2011, and while there were persistent rumours of it coming back to the big screen, it now appears that won’t happen.

Still, there are a number of other film portrayals of high school football. One is the 1983 movie All the Right Moves, which features Tom Cruise as a star player seeking a scholarship and Craig T. Nelson as his coach (Nelson, of course, would go on to earn an Emmy Award playing a college football coach as the star of the ABC series Coach). In 1999, Varsity Blues introduced young stars James Van Der Beek, Paul Walker, and Scott Caan as players with a tumultuous relationship with their overbearing coach (Jon Voight). 2000’s Remember the Titans, like Friday Night Lights (the movie), depicts a true story, this one of a 1971 Virginia team dealing with racial tensions. Denzel Washington won accolades for his portrayal of the team’s coach, Herman Boone.

And if you prefer even more realism, there are a number of documentaries that take a look at various teams as they wilt or bloom under the lights. One of them is 2011’s Undefeated, which looks at a traditionally bad team in an underprivileged Memphis area when a new coach takes over, determined to take the team—and its players—to new heights. A staple in the genre is Go Tigers!, following the 1999 team in the football-crazy town of Massillon, Ohio.

This is just a small sampling of football movies, and doesn’t even get into the number of audiobooks (both fiction and non-fiction) that are available. For more, come search or browse on our website, and make sure your patrons have everything they need to whet their appetites for the coming season.

Friday, August 15, 2014

In Memoriam: Lauren Bacall

Written by Jon Williams

It’s been a rough week in Hollywood. It started on Monday afternoon with the news of Robin Williams’s passing, which stunned and saddened the entertainment industry and millions of fans worldwide. The veteran comedian and actor, who parlayed his role on the sitcom Mork and Mindy into a long and successful TV and movie career, was just 63 when he died.

With the shocking nature of that news, the death of another big-screen icon has been nearly overshadowed. On Tuesday, Lauren Bacall passed away at age 89. Yes, she was married to Humphrey Bogart, but she had quite a career in her own right. Her work as a model brought her to the attention of filmmaker Howard Hawks, who brought her to Hollywood. He was the one who assigned her to a voice coach that helped her develop the low, sultry voice she became known for. Hawks then cast her in 1944’s To Have and Have Not, and the rest is history.

It was on the set of To Have and Have Not that Bacall met Bogie. The two married in 1945 and remained so until Bogart’s death in 1957. In addition to being husband and wife, they also paired up on the silver screen three more times in the 1940s, beginning with 1946’s The Big Sleep (another Howard Hawks film). Adapted from the Raymond Chandler novel about detective Philip Marlowe, it featured a screenplay co-written by William Faulkner. That was followed in 1947 with Dark Passage, and in 1948 with Key Largo, directed by John Huston.

Bacall’s career was at its peak in the 1950s, beginning with Young Man with a Horn (currently unavailable), an early jazz film. She also starred in such films as How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Woman’s World (1954), and the classic Written on the Wind (1956), among others. The 1957 film Designing Woman (currently unavailable) was filmed as Bogart’s health was failing, and released just a few months after his death.

Beginning in the 1960s, Bacall dialed back her involvement in Hollywood productions, although she continued to act into her later days. One of her most significant roles was as part of an all-star ensemble cast in 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express. Speaking personally, the first time I saw her was in a small role in Stephen King’s Misery adaptation, as author Paul Sheldon’s agent. In 1996, her role in The Mirror Has Two Faces earned her a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, as well as her first Academy Award nomination. She also put that famous voice to good use with roles in such animated projects as Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and Ernest & Celestine (2012).

With Lauren Bacall’s passing on Tuesday, we’ve lost another small piece of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Share her films with your patrons. In addition to the movies listed above, you can SmartBrowse her name on our website for a more comprehensive list.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Scream Reboot Coming to MTV

Written by Jon Williams

“What’s your favourite scary movie?”

That’s the most iconic line from the 1996 slasher flick Scream, the Wes Craven-helmed sendup of horror movies and their conventions that managed to be pretty creepy in its own right. That film brought in over $100 million at the box office and spawned three further installments. Now the franchise is getting a facelift, with Bob and Harvey Weinstein set to bring a reboot series to MTV. Craven will serve with the Weinsteins as another executive producer alongside showrunner Jill Blotevogel, Marianne Maddalena, and Cathy Konrad.

Wes Craven, of course, is a legend in the horror movie business dating back to 1972’s The Last House on the Left, which he wrote and directed. He did the same on such films as The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and Swamp Thing (1982) before the birth of his most famous creation. In 1984, Freddy Krueger made his debut as the undead, dream-haunting, teen-stalking serial killer of A Nightmare on Elm Street. A number of films and a TV spinoff followed (including a 2010 remake), but Craven was only involved in Dream Warriors and New Nightmare (currently unavailable).

When Scream came out in 1996, it poked fun at the horror genre and updated it at the same time. It flouted conventions by featuring characters that were horror-savvy and aware of the clichés (“Don’t go in there!”), and then by casting well-known actors and actresses to portray those characters. The first film starred Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, and Skeet Ulrich, among others. Its success was followed quickly by Scream 2 (1997) and Scream 3 (2000), with Scream 4, the most recent, coming in 2011. All the sequels brought back Campbell, Cox, and Arquette.

Being released in 2011, Scream 4 coincided with a resurgence in popularity for the horror genre. It was originally intended to be the beginning of a new series featuring younger co-stars like Hayden Panettiere and Aimee Teegarden. While it’s unclear how or if the development of the TV series will affect plans for further feature films, it’s certain that the series will feature a younger cast. The pilot episode is set to film this summer; stay tuned for more details, like premiere dates, as they become available.

Of course, it’s not too early to start thinking about your Halloween movie collections. SmartBrowse on our website for plenty more by Wes Craven, and while you’re there, take a look around for plenty more of the horror films your patrons will be Scream-ing for.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Guardians of the Galaxy – Who Are They?

Written by Jon Williams

It’s one of the most-hyped movies of the summer. Finally, after months of excitement and lead-up, Marvel’s The Guardians of the Galaxy opens in theatres everywhere on Friday. The powers-that-be behind the film are so confident in its success, a sequel has already been announced—with an expected release date of July 28, 2017. And as anyone who has seen the trailers and TV spots will tell you, it’s for good reason. The movie looks to be a pure fun, action-packed summer blockbuster.

Of course, this isn’t Marvel/Disney’s first go-around with bringing a high-powered superhero ensemble to the big screen. In 2012, The Avengers took the box office by storm, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of all time. Of course, that movie dealt with a group of well-known superheroes; each of the principals (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk) had at least one standalone movie prior to their big-screen team-up. The Guardians, on the other hand, are relatively unknown outside of the comics world. So who are they?

The Guardians are led by Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt. Quill finds himself in possession of a powerful object that sets him in the way of the evil Ronan, an alien warlord played by Lee Pace. In order to protect the galaxy from the chaos planned by Ronan, Quill teams up with a ragtag group of misfits—the Guardians of the Galaxy.

One of the most interesting members of the group is Rocket, a wisecracking, genetically engineered mercenary…raccoon. He provides some comic relief, but is an essential member of the team as their weapons and tactics expert. He’s voiced by Bradley Cooper. Rocket’s sidekick in an anthropomorphic tree named Groot, a powerful warrior who is nonetheless the most unabashedly good-natured character on the team. Groot’s voice is provided by Vin Diesel.

Another warrior Guardian is Drax the Destroyer. Not a mercenary, Drax joins the team as a way to seek revenge against Ronan, who was responsible for the death of his family. This scarred hulk is played by WWE wrestler Dave Bautista. And rounding out the team is Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana, familiar to sci-fi fans for her roles in Avatar and the Star Trek reboots. She plays an assassin trained by Thanos, the shadowy villain mastermind behind Ronan’s shenanigans.

Of course, Thanos and Ronan have a team of henchmen as well, made up of characters played by Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, and Karen Gillan (best known as Amy Pond, companion to Matt Smith’s eleventh Doctor). Other well-known actors in the star-studded film include Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Benicio del Toro, Nathan Fillion, Peter Serafinowicz, and the voices of Josh Brolin and Rob Zombie.

With a cast like that, and all the fun the film is sure to bring, it’s no wonder that Disney feels good enough to already be thinking ahead to the sequel. The Guardians of the Galaxy are sure to be the talk of the summer from this point forward. The soundtrack is available now, and be sure to have plenty of other superhero films on your shelves for fans who just can’t get enough.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Oz Continues to Inspire

Written by Jon Williams

It all began in 1900. That year saw the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a novel intended as a fairy tale for children. Little did he know then that it would in fact capture the imaginations of adults and children alike, keeping the Land of Oz and its inhabitants and visitors alive and growing well over a century later.

Baum himself was able to capitalize on the success of the novel. Although he did not originally intend for a series, he wrote the first sequel in 1904. He hoped The Marvelous Land of Oz would quell the clamour; it did not. When he wrote The Emerald City of Oz in 1911 (the fifth sequel), he tried to cry off by claiming that he had lost his ties to Oz and therefore could no longer learn the stories from there. That didn’t work either. He followed it with The Patchwork Girl of Oz in 1913, and continued to publish a new Oz story each year after that.

Baum passed away in 1919, but as we all know, the story didn’t end there. The movie adaptation produced in 1939 has come to be even more famous than the novel that spawned it. Its bold use of new Technicolor technology brought to stunning life Baum’s fantastic world of Yellow Brick Roads and an Emerald City; paired with Judy Garland’s singing and performance as Dorothy, it remains a wonder to behold. The film was so beloved that it inspired adaptations of its own, such as 1978’s The Wiz, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, and 2005’s whimsical version starring the Muppets. And in 1985, there was a sequel called Return to Oz that mined some of Baum’s further adventures, and has since become a cult hit.

Even now, Oz maintains its grip on the imaginations of a new generation of writers and filmmakers who continue to tell stories of the magical realm. Witness the popularity of Gregory Maguire’s 2005 novel Wicked, which explored the origins and motivations of the Wicked Witch of the West, the antagonist of Baum’s novel. That itself spun off into three sequel novels and a wildly popular Broadway show.

The high level of interest in all things Wicked is one factor in the recent Oz revival that has continued to expand the story of the land and characters created by L. Frank Baum at the dawn of the 20th century. Last year’s box-office hit Oz the Great and Powerful tells the tale of how the Wizard himself, played by James Franco, came to the Land of Oz. This year, the animated film Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return brought the tale forward from Dorothy’s original visit to the Wizard, bringing her back to face a new threat to the Emerald City. And a recent novel from Danielle Paige, Dorothy Must Die, plays with a similar theme: that Dorothy has become a malevolent ruler over Oz, and must herself be defeated.

Needless to say, Oz devotees will find no shortage of titles to hold their attention. Search on our website to find more, and help transport your patrons over the rainbow.