The Chills and Thrills of October

You gotta love October – it’s the first month where you start to feel a little cozy, like sweaters and fires and stew cozy. It’s cuddling up to read books weather, stomping and kicking through rustling leaves weather, knitting weather – as you’ve already guessed, I am a big fan.

October also ends on the perfect note – Halloween – spooky fun where you can dress up as anyone you’d like but there’s also a little nip of horror in the air, a feeling that you can sojourn with the spirits or dance with the devil.

Horror movies and books capture some of that feeling, sometimes reflecting on social and political trends, sometimes just scaring the pants off you! Here are some titles you can check out for yourself:

zonepandemoniumhousecastlelegendturnwitchre-animatordon'tfollowspsychocaligeri

Happy Haunting!

~ Dori

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Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man is many people’s favorite super hero. The realistic struggle of his daily life mixed in with his super hero life just connects with people. We first saw Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War as a powerful ally to Tony Stark. We’ve seen him as a super hero in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. I think in Spider-Man: Far From Home, we really get a good mix of Peter Parker’s life and the struggle with Peter having to be Spider-Man.

The movie starts off talking about the aftermath of Endgame. We see Aunt May (Marisa Tomei)  is running a charity for those displaced by the “blip” (the 5 years people were gone) with some help from Happy Hogan (Jon Faverau). Spider-Man makes an appearance at the charity event, but Peter becomes overwhelmed when he’s asked about being a replacement for Iron Man. Later, Peter is talking to his friend, Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), about his plans for the upcoming class trip to Europe where he plans to ask out MJ (Zendaya). The scene then shifts to Mexico where Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are investigating a typhoon that “had a face.” They then get surprised as a mysterious figure known as Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) appears.

Peter and his classmates end up in Venice, Italy. Peter starts to enact part of his plan to confess his feelings to MJ by buying a black dahlia flower made of glass for her. He then gets her aside and seems like he might give it to her, when some strange things occur like crabs fleeing the river. Suddenly a water creature appears. Peter gets ready to fight it, but he doesn’t have his costume on him. The mysterious figure from earlier appears to fight the creature and seems to make some progress at hurting it. Peter focuses on rescuing people and manages to find a mask to wear.

After the creature is defeated, Peter makes it back to the hotel where everyone is staying. As he goes up to his room to get ready for bed, Ned is tranquilized by Nick Fury. Nick Fury tries to explain the situation to Peter as several people interrupt them by knocking on the door. They eventually leave and Fury briefs Peter that Beck has come from another world to save them from the Elementals. Fury also gives Peter some glasses that Tony Stark left for him. Peter doesn’t really want to get involved with the mission and he particularly wants to keep his classmates out of it. Peter leaves only to find out the next day that his trip has been “upgraded” to coincide with the mission. He reluctantly gets on the bus and puts on the glasses that have an artificial intelligence built in them that identifies itself as E.D.I.T.H.

There’s a lot going on in this movie. I really enjoy that aspect of it. We see everything Peter has to deal with, and it’s a lot for anyone; yet alone a 16-year old. It’s honestly this type of struggle to be normal that I’ve missed in these stories. So many things are done well that it really takes some evaluation to find flaws. This movie helps to build a foundation for Spider-Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe to move forward together. Rated PG-13

Ryan

What We’re Reading Now….

The Other Mrs. Miller by Allison Dickson

The Other Mrs Miller by Allison Dickson

This captivating domestic thriller leaves the reader questioning the motives of every character. Phoebe Miller, the only known heir to her father’s empire, seeks refuge in her mansion after her father’s darkest secrets hit the press. The burden of living with her father’s predatory legacy strains all aspects of her reality as she feels more isolated within the confines of her walls. After a new neighbor moves in and forges a friendship with the hermit Phoebe, things quickly escalate as secrets spiral into dark truths. Beth

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

A tense classic novel about attempted perfect murders. I loved Alfred Hitchcock’s contemporary adaptation of the thriller from 1951, so I was curious to read the source material. There are, of course, some changes in details such as character names and Guy’s profession. In the movie he’s a tennis player, but in the book he’s an architect. In both cases Guy is the upstanding character who is tormented and trapped by Bruno’s plan to swap murders when they meet on a train. Highsmith is excellent at describing the inner workings of her characters’ minds. The book builds and builds throughout with Bruno’s drunken childish manipulations and Guy covering up the crimes, so that you just wait for the consequences to catch up to them. Also the audio book is well made, if you like your books in that format. Byron

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

This is the story of Claude Auzello and his American wife Blanche Ross. They are playing hosts to Nazis that have taken over the Hotel Ritz during the German occupation of Paris in the 1940’s. Both husband and wife are separately and secretly participating in the French Resistance. Claude makes up affairs in order to leave his wife alone nights. Blanche pretends to spend her time drinking with friends. This is the fascinating tale of the little-known story of Blanche & Claude Auzello. Emma

Occult America : the Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped our Nation by Mitch Horowitz

Occult America: The Secret History of How…

In Mitch Horowitz’s Occult America readers are given a wide overview of New Thought and Mysticism in United States history and culture. Horowitz gives an accessible tone to a complicated history and how these different movements and faiths shaped the lives of leading figures. Additionally the author shows how many spiritual movements lead to icons of popular culture, like the Ouij Board. A well researched and well paced book that gathers the many threads of these many overlapping movements. Greg

Witches of America by Alex Mar

Witches of America by Alex Mar

Witches of America is a fascinating and often amusing memoir of Mar’s personal five-year exploration of modern Paganism in America. Her vantage point as a journalist and a self-described skeptic searching for her own faith make for a very approachable entry for readers such as myself, who know little to nothing about Wicca and it’s many subdivisions. Touching on Paganism’s roots in 1950s England, the first Wiccan covens in America, and the many magical societies existing today, Mar provides fascinating histories and context for contemporary readers. She visits Pagan gatherings in hotel convention centers, participates in massive circling rituals with hundreds of witches, and eventually decides to train in a coven herself. Though at times her tone comes off as slightly judgmental to me, overall this is an objective and intelligent look at Pagan religion and occult interests in the United States today. Nicole

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

At the beginning the reader meets Romy Hall, a 28 year old woman in prison facing down two consecutive life sentences. As the book advances we learn about Romy’s youth in San Francisco, her young son, Jackson, and the many difficult and disjointed relationships in her life. This is a hard story about prison life, and an equally unsettling story about Romy’s past. This book takes on hard topics of incarceration, foster care and poverty in urban dwellings. It’s a tough read but also an important read. Mary

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

Two cousins take their husbands and children on a holiday cruise that promises to be paradise with entertainment for the grownups and activities and babysitting for the children, until they go ashore on an excursion in Central America and the kids go missing. Tempers and suspicions flair as the couples blame themselves and each other for not keeping the kids safe, but the seemingly helpless children discover strength and courage that no one knew they possessed. Sara

Why Do People Ban Books?

Image result for librarian super heroes

 

Let me begin this blog post with the probably obvious announcement – especially considering our Nancy Pearl action figure above – that librarians are super heroes.  Perhaps you already know this.  Maybe as a kid you interacted with one of these strange heroic creatures, and came away thinking, “man, that librarian was AMAZING!”  Maybe this was because this librarian recommended a book that changed your life, or allowed you to think about things in a new way, or helped you with your computer skills, or introduced you to a new technology, film or database, or just generally gave you the encouragement, implicitly or explicitly, to read voraciously all your life and cultivate your inner world, as a deep, satisfying consolation for living in this crazy world.

Yes: librarians are super heroes.  But, inquisitive minds will ask, what are other ways that librarians are super heroes, beside the more obvious reasons listed above?

Well, dear blog habitue, that is the reason for this post.  Because, although you might not know this, there is an actual week that librarians, along with other bookish super heroes (booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all stripes) celebrate, exclusively to celebrate the joy of reading and the freedom to seek and express ideas – even and especially if those ideas are unpopular or unorthodox (more on that in a bit).  And that week is called….(drumroll please)……

Banned Books Week!

(pause to enjoy happy multicolored exclamations)

Okay, so what is Banned Books Week more specifically?  Banned Books Week is essentially a whole bunch of events that happens each year, in libraries, bookstores and schools all across the country and abroad, during the week of September 22-29.  These events are promoted by the American Library Association and Amnesty International, and can involve anything from displays to dramatic readings to film screenings to tables at farmer’s markets to festivals celebrating intellectual freedom – you name it.  But all these events are united by the desire to highlight the value of free and open access to information.

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A plausible response to this description might be: Why do people ban books?  And then, maybe with more bafflement, Who would ban a book?  Books are the best!  But, if we look at history as well as our current times, people definitely ban books.  Just look into the state of affairs in countries like China, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia (and a lot of other places, too, unfortunately), and you’ll see as much.  And that’s just in reference to current times.  Historically, books have been banned since we started reading the technology we call the book.  One of the first books ever printed was a Latin translation of the Bible, and we know how contentious various readings of that book have been ever since.

Even before the Printing Revolution, there are other, equally classic instances of people trying to suppress information. (I’m thinking now of more Western examples, though it applies to Eastern examples as well.)  Think about Plato banishing the poets from his ideal Republic (what a nut!), or the ongoing, vexed relationship in Judaism and Christianity between what is considered orthodox, (and therefore worthy to be read and more popular, normative or mainstream), and what is considered heterodox or heretical, (and therefore – so the argument goes – less worthy to be read, and consequently less popular, normative and mainstream).  The list goes on and on.

We might even ask, thinking about all this: what’s the benefit of celebrating the heretical, the unpopular, the unorthodox, as Banned Books Week does?  My own personal answer is a quote, “I think now that myth is simply gossip grown old, whereas heresy is the breath of profound poetic voices” (from Harold Bloom’s Possessed by Memory).  Think about it – Galileo was considered heretical; so were the Gnostics before him, and so were the Civil Rights and LGBT movements after him.  People thought William Blake was a madman; Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” was deemed immoral, as was Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.  These things made people profoundly uncomfortable – they contradicted their deeply held beliefs, assumptions, expectations, conventions and mores.  But belief, assumptions, etc. are historical, meaning they change and are therefore fallible.  What is common sense today is not common sense tomorrow – there are not many believers nowadays in the geocentric system of astronomy, to use a much-used example.  In that sense, our common assumptions about reality are in some ways analogous to deep, worldwide trends, cosmic fads – in one day, out the next.

Because things do change so incrementally and radically, we need to have the best information at our fingertips – the best from the present, and the best from the past – so that we can make intelligent and informed decisions about “How to Live, What to Do.”  Banned Books Week celebrates how lucky we are, that we live in a culture that pretty much lets us read what we want to read, and therefore think what we want to think, as long as we do not harm other people in the process.  In celebrating these ideas, which are part of our First Amendment, we can deepen our appreciation for intellectual freedom and what it brings us.

So yes, librarians, teachers, booksellers, journalists are super heroes.  But so is any reader anywhere in the world who opens a book and, without too many preconceptions, dives in and encounters a new way of seeing/thinking/feeling/imagining.  When we celebrate banned books, we are really celebrating the ability to question the status quo, what is considered “popular,” and experience something different, outside our ken, so that we ourselves can become “more truly and more strange.”

Fairfield Porter, Iced Coffee (1966)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August Playlist

We’ve hit that back to school season and the suffocating heat has worn off. That isn’t going to stop us from embracing the perfect weather for afternoon picnics, or combing the shores of Lake Erie for beach glass. Here are the tunes that are helping us make the most of this prime forecast.

Aladdin (2019)

Will Smith, Alan Tudyk, Navid Negahban, Marwan Kenzari, Naomi Scott, and Mena Massoud in Aladdin (2019)

            Disney live action remakes in recent years have been hit or miss to most audiences. I’ve personally enjoyed Cinderella, Maleficent, and Alice in Wonderland, so I do find them entertaining at times. Then there are movies like Dumbo and Beauty and the Beast where I just don’t feel engaged. With the trailer of Will Smith as Genie, many were nervous about the CGI. People were also hesitant about Smith playing a role designed around Robin Williams. While the movie has definite differences, I found Aladdin highly enjoyable.

            The movie starts off with Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) trying to find someone who can enter the Cave of Wonders (a giant animated tiger head made of sand) without the cave collapsing on the one attempting to enter. We then go to Aladdin (Mena Massoud) making his way around the village with some parkour (a form of rapidly moving through the environment). He unknowingly runs into a disguised Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) who gave two girls some bread without paying. Aladdin tricks the baker into letting Jasmine go and they kick off a daring escape number with the song One Jump Ahead. It’s a fun scene that sets off the movie well.

            Jasmine angrily leaves Aladdin after learning that her bracelet was taken by Abu (Aladdin’s pet monkey). We learn Abu took it out of habit. Aladdin and Abu break into the palace to return the bracelet. They make it to Jasmine and her handmaiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad). Jasmine is grateful for Aladdin returning the bracelet and he “steals” a hair pin promising to return it to her later. As Aladdin leaves the palace he gets caught by Jafar and some guards. Aladdin wakes up in the dessert sitting next to Jafar. He asks Aladdin to go into the Cave of Wonders and get only an oil lamp. Aladdin does so but a few other things happen, and he ends up trapped in the cave with Genie (Will Smith).

            This movie is joyful. It’s like a Broadway show brought to life. The dance numbers are tremendous. They’ve added, removed and changed things from the original movie; some of which I liked and others not so much. Jasmine’s character is much more developed and her solo song Speechless helps to deliver a strong message. If you don’t expect the animated Aladdin, I think you’ll have a great time. There was about 20 minutes where I noticed I was just smiling during the movie. Rated PG.

Ryan

Free Online Courses at RRPL: Or, Aristotle Returns with a Vengeance

I wanted to take some time this evening and talk about one of our educational databases at RRPL, called Universal Class.  I have the sneaking suspicion that many people do not know what I mean by educational databases, or for that matter that RRPL offers these educational databases for free, and that through them one can take literally thousands of online classes that cost no money, many of which are of high quality.  In future posts, I hope to talk about Lynda, (now call Linkedin Learning), which has quite an extensive series of courses revolving around technology, and Mango, for learning foreign languages, but today I want to talk about Universal Class.

So, what is Universal Class?  Why would anyone want to use it?  How does one access it?

Let’s start with the last question – how does one access it?  It’s easy – go to our website, which is http://www.rrpl.org.  You will see a menu on the left, which I have circled in blue below; and, near the middle of the menu, there is a link called “Research Resources.”  Go ahead and click on that link.

website with research resources underlined

This will take you to the screen below, with two ways of reaching Universal Class – through the “U” in the menu for searching alphabetically, or in the “Featured Databases” section, which the big arrow is pointing to:

Universal on webpage

From here you will be taken to the Universal Class website, where you can create an account with your RPPL library card number.  (If for some reason this doesn’t work, feel free to give us a call – 440 330 7610, and dial 3 for adult reference.)

Okay, so we covered how to reach Universal Class.  Now let’s answer the first question: what is Universal Class?

Universal Class is essentially a collection of online classes.  Online classes (sorry if this is obvious) are courses you can take on the internet, where you can learn at your own pace, based on your schedule.  Online education is, to put it mildly, an intensely booming industry, and is by now a completely permanent feature of our educational landscape.  One cool example of online education are “MOOCS,” which stand for “Massive Online Classes.”  These particular online classes allow for unlimited participation and are free with an internet connection.

Universal Class costs money, BUT with an RRPL card you can access it for free, and then take upwards of 500 classes on topics ranging from Accounting to Personal Development to Poetry to Business to Buddhism to office skills to social work to pet and animal care to health and wellness.  Here are the courses on Universal Class, from Accounting to Psychology:Course Catalog, A-P.PNG

And here are the courses from Real Estate to Writing Skills:Course Catalog, R-Z

So hopefully through this post I have whetted your appetite for online courses and, more specifically, Universal Class.  But we have to answer the last question – why would anyone want to use it?  I guess there are obvious, sort of circular and banal answers – well, you can learn something, you can “enrich your life,” you can professionally develop, you can personally develop.  But what do these phrases even mean? Why would we actually want to learn something new?

I’ve been thinking about learning lately, because it occurred to me recently that much of the writing I do for myself and for work – writing emails, writing blog posts, writing on social media, writing essays, writing poems, etc. – are all instantiations, in many ways, of practices I learned to value when I was still in high school and then college, when I was learning about the importance of “writing for different audiences.”  Writing for different audiences is as at least as old as Aristotle, when he wrote about the rhetorical triangle, my old buddy, as seen below:

Image result for aristotle rhetorical triangle

When we write, as was emphasized in school, we always need to think about ethos (how we establish our credibility), logos (the actual language we use), and pathos (how we move our audience).  Maybe this sounds cold-blooded – do people actually think about these things?  Why can’t they just, I don’t know, tap into their emotions, their unconscious, and pour forth brilliance?  But the reality is that good writers always think about these things, and good readers do, too, whether we’re talking reading/writing fiction, poetry, non-fiction, emails, flyers, social media posts, whatever.  If I write for an academic audience, my actual language is different than if I were writing a blog post.  If I write a blog post on Medium, say, my language is probably a bit different than if I were writing a blog post on “Read It and Weep.” Poems use language in different ways than prose.  In many ways, we are essentially talking about “code switching,” a term you find in the contexts of race and linguistics, but in this case just meaning that, based on who we are talking or writing to, we actually change how speak and write to meet the needs of our audience.  Sometimes, it should be said, we might not think in some ways of an audience at all – here is a great more academic essay on just that:

https://weareteachers.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/closingmyeyesasispeak.pdf

But we often do think of an audience, and this changes how we communicate.

How is this related to using Universal Class?  Here’s how: when I started learning about the importance of writing for different audiences, using the rhetorical triangle as a kind of guide, I don’t know how serious I took this rhetoric business.  I suppose it made sense in a cursory way, and I”m sure I nodded and agreed with what was said.  But I have come to realize that learning about these things – essentially allowing those ideas to gradually germinate and percolate – has actually profoundly influenced my life, in many different contexts and many different ways.  I use what I have learned about rhetoric pretty much every single day of my life, at work and not at work.  In some ways, it is a disciplinary lens or framework through which I see the world, or at least many parts of the world.  In other words, learning something new changed my life, and made it more interesting and meaningful, though at the time, when I was learning it, I didn’t think it would do so, and would probably have laughed if you had told me so, as a visitor from the future.

There’s a famous Russian literary critic named Mikahil Bakhtin, who is sometimes hard to understand, but he wrote quite beautifully and convincingly about how even our most mundane, everyday actions, encounters, experiences, are in many ways quite radically creative.  I think he is right.  But, if he is right, then we don’t really know what effect learning something new can have on our life, because even the most mundane new skill is powerful and creative.  Maybe we say, “screw it, I’m going to take this class on business, or ethics, or poetry, on Universal.”  And we do it, and we learn something, and then later we apply this to ourselves, others, the world.  Who can then really say what effect this has actually had on our or others’ lives? On our own characters?  In other words, if we use what we have learned to master something, or hone something, or improve something, I’m not sure we can really calibrate or calculate its benefit, its ripple effect, inside and outside.  And if it does have a ripple effect, then this is proof, evidence, that we can grow or change as human beings.  Why?  Because this effect means that something has changed, in us or in others, no matter how small or how large.  I sometimes think that we can improve our characters and our lives through a very small willingness, even something like learning a new word, a new skill, a new concept, a new idea.  I don’t know if it’s the word or skill or concept or idea itself that changes us, so much as just that willingness, that orientation, that stance, undergirding our action.  But this small willingness, at least in my experience, has effects that I think are really beyond our ability to comprehend. Taking an online course is by no means the only way to learn something new.  But they are free, they can be quite fun and interesting, and you really never know where the things you learn will take you.