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Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson

by Anne on April 3rd, 2012
Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson Cover Image

I admit it: I like celebrating anniversaries. Whether it’s for Dickens’ 200th birthday or the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I mark the dates with a book or a documentary.  However, due to a certain film by a certain director, I wasn’t interested in the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic (April 15th). As far as I was concerned, the Titanic was at the bottom of the ocean.  End of story. After stumbling upon Andrew Wilson’s Shadow of the Titanic, I’ve changed my mind.

Rather than providing an account of the sinking of the Titanic or a history of its building and demise, Wilson focuses on the people who survived the disaster and how the event was a turning point in their lives.  Some, like Renee Harris, Madeleine Astor, and Marian Thayer, lost their husbands; J. Bruce Ismay and Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon lost their reputations. Silent film actress Dorothy Gibson survived the sinking, but had to relive the whole experience when she starred in Saved from the Titanic, a film made days after the disaster by Jules Brulatour, who also happened to be Gibson’s lover.  (That relationship didn’t last long.)  What is fascinating is how some used the experience to change their lives and work for something, while others found the Titanic a black mark that they couldn’t escape. Of course, all the stories are noticeably those of first-class women.

There are times when I wish Wilson held back.  He would often surmise what individuals were thinking or what their priorities were with little evidence, making harsh judgments on certain survivors.  However, it is an interesting and surprising approach to the Titanic‘s history.

You can mark the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic by picking up Shadow of the Titanic (or the thirty other books we own).  The library is also showing A Night to Remember (1958) on Thursday, April 12th at 7 pm in Meeting Room A.

If a Tree Falls

by Anne on March 20th, 2012
If a Tree Falls Cover Image

In 2005, Daniel McGowen, to the shock of his family and friends, was arrested by the FBI for his involvement in a domestic terrorist organization called the Earth Liberation Front (or ELF).  One of his coworkers was so flabbergasted by his arrest, that her husband, Marshall Curry (a director known for the acclaimed documentaries Street Fight and Racing Dreams), made If a Tree Falls.  The documentary follows the rise and activities of ELF in the United States and why someone like McGowen, a shy, quiet working-class kid from Brooklyn, was drawn to the group.

Although the development of ELF alone makes the film worth watching, If a Tree Falls also raises questions on the meaning of “terrorist” in a post-9-11 era. McGowen and other ELF members have committed acts of terrorism under the legal definition.  However, the term is understood differently in the public sphere. Should McGowen be labeled a terrorist? It is certainly something you will think about days after watching the film.  If a Tree Falls was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.



by Anne on February 27th, 2012
Wings Cover Image

Last night, The Artist captured Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  Do you know when the last silent film took home that Oscar? 1929 (the year of the first Academy Awards); Wings was the winner.  I’ve been stumbling across this fact in the majority of Oscar coverage and, as luck would have it, a restored version of Wings was released this year on DVD.

Wings‘ plot is a twist on the familiar boy meets girl story.  In Wings, a boy falls in love with a girl, but she is in love with someone else, but there is another girl who is in love with the first boy.  It’s not important. Wings has something better than plot: World War I fighter pilot action.  And no CGI. They mounted the cameras on planes for all the flight scenes. The director, William Wellman, was also a WWI fighter pilot and used his experiences to recreate action.  It also has star power. The film stars one of the most famous actresses from the silent era, Clara Bow.  It also features a very young Gary Cooper, but not for very long (I’ve said too much).


Why Read Moby-Dick?

by Anne on January 19th, 2012
Why Read Moby-Dick? Cover Image

I have a confession to make: I have never read Moby-Dick. I realize that this is a little odd since I read a great deal of 19th century novels, I enjoy maritime history, and I was assigned Moby-Dick a few times in school.  What makes it even more egregious is that I was born and raised in the same town that Melville wrote the novel. I could see Mount Greylock at the end of my street, which is the same mountain that Melville saw from his study and thought of whales (when there was snow, it looked like a white whale). The fact that I even know that tidbit of Melville miscellanea (and I know plenty more), but continue to resist reading the novel, is sort of bizarre. Now that Nathaniel Philbrick, one of my favorite nonfiction writers, has a book titled Why Read Moby-Dick?, I feel the pressure even more.

Philbrick’s small book is comprised of short chapters on various subjects (much like the format of Moby-Dick) from the influence of Nathaniel Hawthorne to Melville’s poetic writing. He revels in the small musings of Melville (or rather Ishmael), such as his chowder preferences and advice on how to stay comfortable while sleeping in a cold room. Philbrick also looks at Moby-Dick with a wider lens, discussing Melville’s insight into 19th century America, manipulation and obsession, and the human condition (with a global perspective). Philbrick believes it is “the one book that deserves to be called our American bible.”

In his chapter on Melville’s first reading of Shakespeare (in his early thirties), Philbrick writes, “Coming to a great book on your own after having accumulated essential life experience can make all the difference.” Perhaps this is my year to read Moby-Dick. Perhaps it is yours. Check out Why Read Moby-Dick? to see for yourself.


Page One: Inside the New York Times

by Anne on December 27th, 2011
Page One: Inside the New York Times Cover Image

Is the newspaper dead?  This question underlies the film Page One: Inside the New York Times.  The documentary opens with news clips and headlines of the Rocky Mountain News ceasing publication, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer publishing exclusively online, and the Tribune company bleeding cash and staff.  At a time of decreasing circulation (as more people get news online), where does a storied institution like the New York Times fit in the new media landscape?

Although it is a scary time for newspapers, it is also an exciting time, especially if you work at the Media Desk at the New York Times. Page One follows the Times‘ media reporters for a full year as they cover the current state of traditional media and the emergence of new players.  It is an interesting year too: WikiLeaks emerges, Comcast purchases a controlling interest in NBC, the Tribune goes bankrupt, and the NY Times is deciding whether or not to charge their online readers.

The documentary is a little choppy and its structure needed a little work, but I came away thinking about the future of news, which was the point. Plus, you should see the film just to watch David Carr.




Destiny of the Republic

by Anne on December 14th, 2011
Destiny of the Republic Cover Image

Primum non nocere. When Dr. Doctor W. Bliss (yes, his first name was “Doctor”) responded to the news that President James Garfield was shot at the Baltimore and Potomac Station, he should have heeded the “first, do no harm” principle.  Instead, he was determined to save the President.  He poked and prodded the wound with his fingers and metal instruments trying to locate the bullet.  Not only was he unable to find the bullet, his actions created an infection.  Fighting blood poisoning, Garfield suffered for two whole months before succumbing to the infection. Bliss is only one of the cast of characters in Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic: a tale of madness, medicine, and the murder of a president.

Millard’s book tells the story of the individuals involved with Garfield’s assassination: President James Garfield, Charles Guiteau, his assassin, Dr. Bliss, the attending surgeon, Senator Roscoe Conkling, his political rival, and Alexander Graham Bell, who was racing to create a device that would locate the bullet.  The assassination and its aftermath are fascinating subjects on their own, but Millard also covers post-Civil War politics, civil service reform, mental illness, technological innovation, and changes in the medical field. It is well-written with interesting asides and facts (like Dr. Doctor Bliss). It is a pleasure to read. If you are interested in 19th century US history, the history of medicine, or the history of inventions, please pick up this book.  It will not disappoint.


The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

by Anne on November 22nd, 2011
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt Cover Image

I love a good story.  I love good characters.  Caroline Preston’s The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt has neither.  But it does have pages and pages of 1920′s ephemera organized in a coming-of-age story and I found it delightful.

After receiving a scrapbook and a typewriter for her high school graduation, Frankie Pratt types and pastes her way through the twenties.  She goes to Vassar, writes for True Story Magazine, and lives in Paris surrounded by ex-pat writers.  Frankie meets the interesting people and witnesses the important events of the decade. She receives advice from Edna St. Vincent Millay, sees Charles Lindbergh fly into Paris, and edits a James Joyce piece for Aero Magazine.

Honestly, I was a little annoyed that Frankie Pratt is involved with these people and events.  The 1920′s are a fascinating time.  It’s the Roaring Twenties, the Jazz Age and the Prohibition Era. The economy is booming,  everything becomes electrified, and the first radio news program is broadcast. Things are changing so rapidly that a coming-of-age tale doesn’t need Ernest Hemingway or Sylvia Beach to hold my interest.  I preferred the small, normal details, like Frankie getting a bob haircut, using Pebeco toothpaste, and disliking Lillian Gish’s acting.

But this book is not really about the story, it is about the scrapbook. Each page is filled with postcards, ads, ticket stubs, letters, music sheets, and photos.  It is a quick read and a lot of fun.


The Parking Lot Movie

by Anne on October 31st, 2011
The Parking Lot Movie Cover Image

There are documentaries about anything and everything. There is a documentary about a 12-year girl who wants to make a zombie movie. Pulling John takes a look at world arm wrestling champ John Brzenk as he decides whether to defend his championship title or retire.  And The Parking Lot Movie follows the parking lot attendants of the Corner Parking Lot, a small piece of land located behind some shops and bars near the University of Virginia campus.  However, these documentaries are rarely about their surface subject matter. The Parking Lot Movie is about more than a parking lot.

The pool of attendants and former attendants consist of grad students, artists, musicians (including the bassist from Yo La Tengo), and post-grads not sure what to do next. They come from the philosophy, anthropology, law, and religion departments of Virginia.  According to their manager, it is only a parking lot.  All they have to do is take the payment from the drivers.  It isn’t that simple. Day in and day out, they argue with people over a few dollars, fight against drive-offs, and protect the lot and the cars from inebriated college students. They are often called names and told to get a real job.  They experience boredom, anger, and burnout.

We’ve all been there. Most of us have worked in that kind of job, where pay is low, tasks are repetitive, and your patience is tried.  Although they are hard to face each day, these jobs build character and a sense of self.  At least the parking lot attendants seems to see the job as important to who they are now. Because the parking lot was more to them than just a business.  It was a way to reevaluate one’s self and values as one watches the problem’s of society play out on a small scale.  As one attendant says, “It was a lens of looking at the entire life experience through the parking lot.”



Anton Chekhov’s The Duel

by Anne on September 23rd, 2011
Anton Chekhov’s The Duel Cover Image

Maybe Laevsky, a gambling, reckless, and often inebriated civil service worker, didn’t have a plan when he ran away with Nadya, a married woman, to the Caucasus.  I’m not sure if marriage, a family, or tending to the land was ever in Laesky’s mind.  What’s important is that Laevsky has no intention to do any of those things now, especially with Nadya.  When a letter arrives informing him that Nadya’s husband is dead, he needs a way out.  Unfortunately, he does not have the funds to leave town and there is the issue of Van Koren.  A scholar and moralist, Van Koren dislikes Laevsky and his influence on the town.  There is more drinking, gambling, and improper behavior among the town’s inhabitants since he arrived.  Also, Nadya has flirted, teased, and acted inappropriately with several men in town. When Laevsky insults a mutual friend over borrowing money to leave, it is too much for Van Koren.  A challenge is accepted.

The Duel is beautifully filmed with vibrant colors and the seaside village in Croatia is a fantastic backdrop. There is also a quietness to the film that I appreciate. Although some critics dislike the slow pace of the film, I think the scenes are crafted and deliberate.  I don’t think the film’s pace lagged and the duel scene was compelling.  As I continue to think over the outcome of the duel and its meaning, I have concluded that I need to read Chekhov.  It is a shame that I have ignored him for so long.

Cooking Vegetables

by Anne on August 9th, 2011
Cooking Vegetables Cover Image

The month of August is my favorite time of year.  Summer is winding down, the weather is starting to cool (hopefully), and a number of vegetables are in season.  Although I want to make the most of  eggplants and zucchini, I tire of  them, especially if I repeatedly make the same dishes. However, I find that the Iowa City Public Library is a great place to discover new recipes for all the vegetables crowding the tables at the market.

Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi is filled with recipes showcasing vegetables. The cookbook is broken down by vegetable making it easy to flip through all the eggplant recipes at once, where you’ll find sweet corn polenta with eggplant tomato sauce.

Although Anna Boiardi’s Delicious Memories: Recipes and Stories from the Chef Boyardee Family doesn’t exclusively focus on vegetables, it does have some tasty seasonal recipes.  I particularly enjoyed the stuffed zucchini.  As a bonus, try the peaches stuffed with crushed amaretti cookies mixed with cocoa.  It is a perfect summer dessert.

One of my favorite recipes is swiss chard pancakes (or farçous) from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table: More than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. When I think of comfort food, I picture them. Greenspan also has a number of great vegetable dishes, including honey and lime beet salad.

Although I enjoy searching through the new cookbooks, one of my favorites is The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy by Domenica Marchetti.  I have never been let down by Marchetti’s recipes.  Try the zucchini blossoms in summer broth.  It is a light recipe, full of flavor, and great with bread.

Anne at the Library

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