Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Bedazzled”

The late great director Harold Ramis has many fantastic films in his long and storied career. He always had a natural bent towards comedy, and most of his characters in his films tend to be very relatable to the audience. His remake of the 1967 film Bedazzled is one of my personal favorites as a comedic take on the popular tale of Faust.

Bedazzled’s  story centers on our protagonist Elliot Richards (Brendan Fraser). Elliot sees himself as a hopeless, down-on-his-luck loser. He is socially awkward, and his co-workers constantly dodge his attempts at friendship. On top of it all, he is deeply infatuated with a woman he works with, Alison Gardner (Francis O’Conner). Elliot feels that if he could win her heart, he would finally be happy and his life would have purpose and meaning; unfortunately, he is too nervous to actually ask her out and feels he has little to offer her anyhow.

It is at this moment, while bemoaning his situation, that Elliot says he would give anything to be with her.  Suddenly, a mesmerizing and seductive woman strikes up a conversation with him. She asks if he is happy with his life and offers to make the world love, respect, and even fear him. Elliot wonders how this strange woman can know so much about him and his deepest desires. She informs Elliot that she is actually the Devil and has come to grant him seven wishes in exchange for his soul. The Devil is portrayed by Elizabeth Hurley, and she is instantly captivating, sharp-witted, and devious.  Elliot agrees to the offer and begins to make wish after wish, but it appears that the devil corrupts each wish and nullifies Elliot’s goal of having Alison fall in love with him. After a while Elliot starts to doubt himself further as he tries to come up with a full proof wish and beat the Devil at her own game. Will he come up with a perfect wish or will he find some other way of getting out of the contract?

This really is a fun and light-hearted take on a famously dark story. It’s a rather zany comedy, but it does have a positive message in the end which proves memorable.

This film is available at the Union University Library.

* It is rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive material.

 

 

 

Moments In History: September 28th, 1928

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Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

September 28th, 1928

Discovery of Penicillin

On this fateful day, Scottish physician and microbiologist Alexander Fleming made a discovery that would go on to change medicine forever. While working on research and experiments with Staphylococcus bacteria in his lab, he woke the morning of the 28th of September to find one of his Petri dishes had its lid popped off and had been contaminated. While investigating the source of the contamination, he noticed a strange green ring that had appeared around the dish. This ring was a green fungus mold known as “Penicillium notatum.”

What he found so fascinating was that the bacteria surrounding the ring had not only not penetrated it but had been destroyed by the mold. Meanwhile, those farther away from it were unharmed and still growing. He would later remark:

“I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.”

It would still take many years of peer review, as well as isolating and growing the mold into a pure culture and tested on patients for its effects as a treatment of bacterial infections.

However, by 1942, penicillin was in mass production and might even have helped tip the scales in favor of the Allies during WWII, as it is thought to have saved as many as 12% to 15% of Allied soldiers’ lives from sepsis and other infections from recently amputated limbs. It would also be used to treat prominent illnesses and diseases such as pneumonia and gonorrhea.

On average, 33 million pounds of penicillin is produced around the world each year. All told, it is estimated that penicillin has saved around 200 million people worldwide and continues to do so today.  In 1999, Alexander Fleming was named among the top 100 most influential people of the 20th century in Time magazine.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to know more about Alexander Fleming and his work, I encourage you to follow the link down below for a fantastic book and on the subject.

 

Book Review: “Empires Of The Word: A Language History Of The World” by Nicholas Ostler

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Empires Of The Word: A Language History Of The World is a fascinating book about the historical evolution of the world’s major languages. This book describes how and why certain languages persisted and became dominantly used in the world and why others fell out of use. This is as much a cultural anthropological history book as it is a dynamic linguistics book.

Empires Of The Word spans the historical antiquity of the first dominant languages, including Greek, Latin, and Ancient Chinese. As time goes on and empires collapse and expand, the book shows how different cultures begin to adopt or dominate different linguistic groups.

Author Nicholas Ostler describes what he calls the “Death of Latin” and the eventual emergence of the Romance languages from Germanic invaders. I found the development and spreading of Spanish and English to be particularly interesting. The section of the book dedicated to the evolution of the Semitic language groups of Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic are equally insightful.

Lastly, the book deals with the current top 20 languages of the earth and what the future may hold for them. Ostler then gives his hypothesis of which will become dominant and which will recede from use based on population trends and common usage.

Empires Of The Word is such a joy to read because it offers great insight into history from both social and cultural sources. It is remarkably in-depth and dense, but I found it to be an easy read for a layman with passing curiosity on the subject.  I can wholeheartedly recommend this book for anyone who has ever wondered how and why we came to speak the wide variety of languages that we do. It’s a fun travel through time and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

 

*written by Matthew Beyer

Book Review: “The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood

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Have you ever read a book, gotten to the end, and then thought, “WHAT? What’s going to happen next?” The Handmaid’s Tale will make you do that.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is known as a modern classic. Written in 1985, this novel is about an alternate society, Gilead, that runs an oppressive regime against women. Women are forced into different social classes. Some of the main ones mentioned are:

  • Handmaids (essentially surrogate mothers for Wives who can’t naturally have children)
  • Marthas (serving women)
  • Aunts (ruling women who make sure the others are put in their place)
  • Wives (married and subordinate to husbands, who rule over Gilead)

Without giving too much away, The Handmaid’s Tale ends on an exciting cliffhanger. And for 34 years, there was nothing else written about it.

Until now: enter The Testaments, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. I think it came as a surprise to most readers when Margaret Atwood announced that there was, at long last, another book in the Handmaid universe. At the time of my writing, The Testaments is currently the top bestselling book in the U.S. I couldn’t wait to read it, so I snatched it up as soon as the library’s copy came in (sorry).

*There are minor spoilers ahead, so be aware.

 

What The Testaments gets right: It’s downright chilling how the global problems in the book echo the ones in real life. I’m sure Atwood did that on purpose, but still. It’s always eerie when a fictional dystopia has a little too much in common with the real world.

The Testaments tells its story with three different narrators: Aunt Lydia, Daisy, and Agnes Jemima. Each woman has played a different part in the system of Gilead- one helped enforce it, one suffered from it, and one lived outside of it. Through their perspectives, we get a more complete picture of the political climate surrounding Gilead. For instance, the other countries don’t like Gilead. There are protests everywhere, the global climate is falling apart, and there’s an Underground Femaleroad that women can use to escape from Gilead- if they’re not caught and punished.

So much of what happens to these women is staggeringly upsetting. In fact, much of their suffering is unique to simply being a woman (such as purposefully being denied feminine products while in captivity), which is something I haven’t read much about in other dystopias. The Testaments is a great reminder to not take the little things in life for granted (or the big things either, like freedom of speech, freedom to own property, and the freedom to vote, which are denied these women).

Even though The Testaments was often hard to read because of the mistreatment of women, I loved this book. I read a review in The Guardian where a reader said that she felt like the book was talking directly to her, and that’s exactly how I felt, too. Margaret Atwood really knows how to pull you in and make you think with her writing. She might make you cry, too- I did.

 

What The Testaments does wrong: The Testaments is more heavy-handed and political than The Handmaid’s Tale, largely due to the different narrators and their positions in society. The narrators in the sequel are more self-aware and have years of perspective to look back on, while Offred from the original book lived more in the moment, which didn’t allow her to think about much more beyond her own strategies to stay alive and undetected. She often thought about her lost past, but it was less in political terms and more personal. We had access to her thoughts and suppressed feelings, and we as readers knew less about the wider scope of things that The Testaments gives us.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with The Testaments being more obvious in tone- in fact, many might say that this kind of tone is needed right now- but I missed the personal horror of The Handmaid’s Tale. The Handmaid’s Tale had so many subtle moments that made me double take and reread, as well as blatant anti-woman tactics. The Testaments stays fairly blatant throughout the whole book- which, again, could be due to the fact that we as readers already know all about about Gilead and its evil because of The Handmaid’s Tale. The Testaments doesn’t have to be subtle because, as the saying goes, The Handmaid’s Tale walked so The Testaments could run.

 

Who should read The Testaments: Older teenagers and adults, especially people who have read and enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale.

 

Who shouldn’t read The Testaments: Younger teenagers and children. It’s too mature in theme for them to fully understand.

 

Content note & mild spoilers: There are sad (but fairly brief) recollections of sexual and physical abuse in The Testaments, as well as some language. This is a heavy book.

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Books To Read Now That Fall Is Here

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Okay, I know the weather around here doesn’t scream “fall.” But September 23rd is the official first day of the fall season for 2019, and that has to count for something! For those of us who look forward to fall each year, here is a list of books that are especially perfect to read during the season of falling leaves, pumpkins, scarves, and outdoor sports:

 

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Reason: “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” – Anne Shirley. Sure, it’s not quite October yet, but we’re almost there!

 

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak

Reason: This is a charming children’s book about the changing of the seasons. Look for it in our Family Room!

 

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Reason: Get into the spooky spirit with Shirley Jackson’s classic horror novel, which was recently adapted into a Netflix show.

 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Reason: Fall means school, and The Secret History is all about a group of New England college students. The novel’s element of suspense just adds to its appeal.

 

Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe by Kate Buford

Reason: For some people, fall is all about football season! Dive into football history with this fascinating biography of the formidable athlete, Jim Thorpe.

 

 

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Signs”

M. Night Shyamalan has brought us some thrilling movies over the years, and his 2002 hit Signs is definitely one of them. It was written, directed, and produced by Shyamalan, and with that much creative control he really was able to implement his artistic vision and take credit for the finished project.

The setting is a rural farm home owned by Graham Hess (Mel Gibson). Hess is a recent widower and has apparently lost his faith. He lives with his young son and daughter. His son Morgan (Rory Culkin) uses his inquisitive mind and quirky nature to mask his pain over his mother’s recent death. The younger daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin) is socially withdrawn and has developed an odd compulsive behavior since her mother’s passing. Recently, Graham’s younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) is also in a current low point in his life and has moved in to help the family.

One morning, the family is awakened to find large acres of the corn crops have been meticulously bent and arranged into strange shapes- from the air, they look like crop circles. Graham, a prudent and pragmatic man, believes these to be the actions of vandals and pranksters seeking media attention. Soon these strange formations begin to happen across the globe. As the days go on, more and more strange sightings and panic begin to spread throughout the nation and in the Hess home itself. With all things considered, Graham slowly starts to believe the threat is real and seeks to protect his family. Only by a renewed since of faith can he pull his family together through their shared love for one another. Will they survive this frightening ordeal simply by chance, fate, or perhaps even a miracle?

Signs is a fantastic slow burn thriller that uses escalating tension to rise to a fever pitch towards the end. Shyamalan has been compared previously to a modern day Alfred Hitchcock. The dialogue of his characters are often dry and mundane and help the audience relate to the tedious periods in our day to day lives. He also taps into the fear and dread of the unknown, and how people must overcome their own shortcomings and flaws.

Signs made a respectable $400 million of a budget of around $70 million, and while some critics had negative opinions on sections of the script, most found it fresh and original.  Most audiences give it about 75% favorable to 25% unfavorable rating. Most will enjoy this suspense/thriller, but I can agree it’s not for everyone.

Signs is available at the Union University Library.

*It is rated PG-13 for some language and mild violence.

 

 

 

 

What Is Being An Intern Really Like?

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Last semester, I wrote a blog post on how to get an internship. Over the summer, I was given a chance to work as an intern at The General Insurance in Nashville, TN. While there I learned how insurance companies determine how much insurance should actually cost for different people in different areas across the country. This was my experience:

Working as an intern in a formal office was both very similar to and extremely different from what I expected. There is a LOT of sitting. I had to be extremely intentional about getting up and walking around after work and during breaks. You definitely have to be careful about exercise when working at an office job.

I learned that the expectations were high. I hit the ground running at this internship; they immediately gave me multiple big assignments that would actually impact the team I was working for. This was one of the first times I felt like I was doing work that was genuinely fulfilling. This work was also genuinely terrifying. I had to present the work I did to the heads of our department and get critiqued on the work I had done. I loved getting to present and have positive feedback loops, but this part of the job was one of the more stressful aspects. I definitely learned more public speaking and explanation skills.

There is also significantly more downtime than I expected. Sure, there was plenty of work for me to be done, but quite a bit of it was work that I finished well ahead of deadlines, and once that is finished, you are mostly waiting for another work assignment. This aspect of the job was both wonderful and awful. On one hand it was great to get paid while doing minimal work, but also the downtime was excruciating.

One of my favorite parts of the internship was getting to meet the people. I was able to meet people from all different backgrounds from all across the country. During our internship, some of the other interns and I were given the opportunity to take a week and go to Madison, Wisconsin, the place where the main headquarters of the company are located. We were able to give a presentation on our experience on the internship and pitch an opportunity for a charity. Over the course of this week, I was able to grow extremely close with my fellow interns. We still keep up even now. I am really hoping we get to cross paths again in the future.

I think one of the best parts of an internship, besides gaining excellent experience and the people you get to meet, is getting to learn if this is something you actually want to be doing for the rest of your life. You get the opportunity to work alongside people that have been doing their job for years. You get to learn their insights and passions. Learning about a specific job and actually doing the work are two entirely different things. I went into this summer trying to decide if this was something I would want to do or if I should go to grad school. I am eternally thankful for this internship, and now I know that this kind of job is something that I would love to do after my college career has ended.

Getting an internship is a fantastic opportunity, and if you ever get the chance, you should absolutely take it!

 

*written by Donny Turner

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “12 Years A Slave”

In 2013, director Steve McQueen adapted a film from the memoir 12 Years A Slave, which tells the harrowing story of the life and enslavement of Solomon Northup. Born a free man in New York in around 1807 or 1808, Northup was a farmer and a violinist. Grave misfortune befell him when he was lured into the company of men who drugged and kidnaped him and sold him off as a runaway slave. Northup was sold in New Orleans and remained a slave in Louisiana for 12 years as he struggled to survive and attempted to contact his family and friends in the north.

12 Years A Slave features an amazing cast who are so superb in their performance that it’s hard to imagine anyone else come close to pulling it off. The cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup/Platt. Michael Fassbender portrays the cruel and sadistic slave master Edwin Epps. Lupita Nyong’o landed her breakout role in this film for her moving performance as the slave Patsey. Her performance in this role would earn her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Each of the supporting actors adds their amazing talents to bring depth to this film Sarah Paulson in her role as Mary Elps shows that she can be just as cold and frightening as her husband. Benedict Cumberbatch, through the character of William Ford, gives us insight into how an honest and good man (who is also a Christian preacher) deals with the culture of Southern slavery. Lastly we are introduced to Brad Pitt’s character, a Canadian carpenter/Quaker who laments the evils of slavery and eventually helps Solomon in his quest for freedom.

This film is an amazing achievement, especially in its subtleties, which include: using period specific clothing, shooting on location of historically preserved plantations, and even researching dialect and speech patterns of the time period. All of this is made even more powerful by the film’s amazing score thanks to its famed composer Hans Zimmer. The precise attention to detail shows how immersive the scale of this production was.

12 Years a Slave would go on to receive the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screen Play, and as mentioned earlier, Best Supporting Actress. The film was also a huge success at the box office, earning nearly 188 million off a modest budget of 20 million. This is a monumental period piece and an astounding film. At times it’s quite difficult for a modern audience to comprehended how such callously horrific events could even occur in our nation’s past. It goes to show why the Civil War was imminent in the coming years, as hundreds of thousands of men would give their lives to end the scourge of slavery. This film also highlights the nearly unbreakable human spirit and our quest for justice and freedom.

This film is available at the Union University Library.

*Please note: this film is rated R for intense and violent scenes throughout, some nudity, and harsh language.

 

 

 

5 Steps To Study Abroad

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So you want to study abroad? You’ve fantasized about traveling to far off places, experiencing the culture, speaking a new language, and tasting foreign cuisine. However, despite the concept of living abroad making you starry-eyed, you may not know the best way to start planning such a trip. I recently returned from a six-month study abroad in Tokyo, and I am going to explain the steps I took to get there.

Step One: Deciding Where to Go

For some people, deciding where they want to travel is a no-brainer. For me, I had been interested in Japan for about as long as I could remember, so it had been my travel goal from the start. For some, the decision is not so easy. It can be daunting to pick one place out of the entire world to choose. To help you pick, making a list of your interests and expectations can weed out some options. Love soccer? Check out places in Europe or South America where the sport is popular. Noodles are your favorite food? Italy or a country in Asia might be your best bet. Even your dislikes can help you choose a place. Afraid of tsunamis? Avoid beachfront locations. Don’t want to learn a new language? Go somewhere that you already know the preferred tongue. After you’ve compiled your list, then you can work on the next step.

Step Two: Finding an Academic Program

If you’re lucky, your school will have a program available in the country you want to visit. If you’re not so lucky, you’ll have to be a bit more creative. If you don’t want academic credit, you don’t have to worry about finding American accredited programs, but you may also have difficulty finding scholarships. If you need academic credits, find programs that are either accredited or have connections to an American institution that can transfer those credits for you. You’ll want to contact that particular institution at this point and ask if they allow students at other institutions to concurrently enroll. This is what I did when I studied in Tokyo. I attended an international language school called KCP International but had my course credits transferred through Western Washington University. It may cost an extra fee to do this, but it shouldn’t cost a fortune, and it will open up the opportunity for a variety of academic scholarships.

Feel free to communicate with your study abroad advisor during this process. They are a wealth of information about a number of options you can choose regarding the international study. Once you’ve chosen an institution, bring it up to your advisor so that they can clear it.

Step Three: Bureaucracy, Bureaucracy, Bureaucracy

This is the part that will wear you out if you’re not careful. Between your school, the U.S. Government, and the government of the country you are visiting, you will have plenty of paperwork and requirements you will have to figure out. I cannot stress enough that you need to GET STARTED EARLY! It took me around two full years between initially talking with my study abroad advisor to actually departing for Japan.

Depending on your stay, your steps will be different. Is your country on good terms with the United States? What kind of travel insurance is the ideal one for you? Will you be flying or using some other mode of transportation? Will you have to apply for and receive an international visa? Where is the nearest consulate for your destination country? Can you bring prescription medications and, if so, how much? Will you live in dorm housing, a homestay, or will you have to arrange housing for yourself? Will you need to research and request for disability accessible amenities? Do you have to make down payments on anything for your trip? When is the best time to book travel tickets? All these and many more are questions you are going to have to figure out during the prep stage.

Use government web resources, your university staff, and your international contact to address unexpected questions. You may need to get a physical or vaccines depending on the country or program you attend, so be sure to get that done well before your trip. If this step is done well, it can save you a lot of headache down the road.

 

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Step Four: Raise Money

While you shouldn’t wait to start building your savings, you’ll probably need to apply to a program first in order to apply for some scholarships. As boring and annoying as applications can be, it can make or break your finances. I was able to receive several thousand dollars in funds from outside organizations and federal and university scholarships. Your advisor can probably recommend some scholarships for you, but a quick internet search can provide country, language, or field-specific scholarships to apply for.

Keep good track of what you’ve applied for and received, as well as application and disbursement deadlines. For many scholarships, you’ll probably need a transcript as well as letters of recommendation. I recommend getting these one time and then saving the copies to send off to however many scholarships you apply for. Many scholarships have other requirements such as writing papers after the study abroad, completing service projects, or even working for a specific entity for a specified amount of time, so please read the fine print of whatever you want to apply for. For extra liquid funds, some students get help from family members, start crowdfunding campaigns, or work to build up savings. Between my savings from two summers and winters of interning and delivery driving, as well as a generous gift from my grandparents, I had enough cash to pay for my program fees and live comfortably in one of the most expensive cities on earth while only taking out a small safety net loan. As long as you’re willing to set realistic expectations and work hard, you likely won’t have too much difficulty getting the funds you need.

Step Five: Getting Ready To Go

You’ve gotten your passport and visa, you bought your plane tickets months ago, you’ve made mental lists of everything you want to see and eat once you arrive, and you’ve even been studying your target language with renewed vigor. Now you just have to make sure your affairs are in order.

If you have a long layover before you reach your target country, I highly recommend getting a hotel room near the airport. I made the mistake of booking a sixteen-hour layover in Shanghai Pudong Airport after my fifteen-hour long-haul flight betting that the in-airport hotel would have a room available. Upon fumbling my way through Chinese customs and immigration, I hoisted my luggage on a cart and made the incredibly long trek to the hotel only to find that they were completely booked. None of the seats in the airport recline, so I was reduced to lying on the floor of the very cold international terminal, using my jacket as a blanket and maneuvering my travel pillow into a very uncomfortable headrest. All and all it was miserable, and the few hours of sleep I did get left me sore, stiff, and cranky just in time for my flight to Narita Airport.

Also, don’t forget to go to your preferred local bank and request currency for your target country as well as any countries you stop at in between. You don’t want a delayed flight to make you choose between the unfortunate airport exchange rate or starving to death in terminal C. Always remember to weigh your baggage in both pounds and kilograms before you leave and to pack only what you need. Don’t be like me and pay an extra hundred dollars on overweight charges because of a pair of ice skates I only used once.

Make sure to read up on your airline carry-on policy and to pack your carry-on bag in such a way that you can easily access its contents. You’ll also want to check the country safety rating provided by the state department for your target country and all countries you’ll stop in. The rating for China went down just a few days before I was going to leave the country. This allowed me to decide against my plans to visit the city during my layover. Look up the country’s emergency numbers before you leave and research sim card options online. I purchased a data-only sim card for my time in Japan and it was a more cost-effective tool than buying a sim card with data and a cell plan. Ultimately you’ll have to choose which option best fits your location and budget. Once all your incidentals are in order you are ready to go! However, no matter how prepared you think you are, life will still find a way to bring in odd, confusing complications to your trip. Just remember to remain flexible, and that this will probably become a funny story in a month or two.

Wherever you decide to go, I wish you the best of luck and happy travels. Studying abroad can provide a rich experience that you can learn so many things you’ll never find in a book. I know I enjoyed my experience more than words can say. If you found this useful, don’t forget to share this post and check out what else we have on the Union University Library Blog.

Bon Voyage!

 

*written by Ruth Duncan