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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?