Top 5 Musicals On DVD At The Library

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When you’re ready to sing it out, pick up one of our musicals on DVD here at the library. You can find musicals by browsing our DVD section on the 2nd floor, or by looking them up online via the library catalog. The following list is made up of some of our most popular and well-known musicals.

*DVD descriptions provided by the publishers, c/o the library catalog

 

Les Misérables

10th Anniversary version

25th Anniversary version

Movie version

In early 19th century France, the paroled prisoner Jean Valjean seeks redemption, regains his social standing, and rises to the rank of mayor. He encounters a beautiful but desperately ill woman named Fantine and cares for her daughter, Cosette, after her death. All the while he is obsessively pursued by the policeman Javert, who vows to make him pay for the crimes of his past.

 

The Phantom of the Opera

25th Anniversary version

Movie version

Tells the story of a disfigured musical genius who haunts the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera, waging a reign of terror over its occupants. When he falls fatally in love with Christine, the Phantom devotes himself to creating a new star for the Opera, exerting a strange sense of control over the young soprano as he nurtures her extraordinary talents.

 

The Sound of Music

As Nazism takes over Austria, a governess and a widowed father fall in love and escape the country with his large family of musically-talented children.

 

West Side Story

This musical sets the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet against a backdrop of the rivalry of two street gangs, the Sharks and the Jets, in New York of the 1950s. A young woman who is sister to the Sharks’ leader has her first taste of love with the former head of the Jets.

 

Fiddler on the Roof

Tevye is a poor Jewish milkman with five unmarried daughters to support in a village in Czarist Russia. With a sharp-tongued wife at home and growing anti-Semitism in the village, Tevye talks to God about his troubles. His people’s traditions keep him strong when his existence is as precariously balanced as a fiddler on the roof.

 

Bonus: We don’t have a DVD recording of Hamilton, but we do have this excellent book that will take you behind-the-scenes of the Broadway hit.

Book Review: “Circe” by Madeline Miller

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Once upon a time, I had to act out The Odyssey with a group of friends for my high school English class. I was cast as Circe, the temptress witch that turns men into pigs. This was my first introduction to a much-studied literary character.

Circe by Madeline Miller dives deeper into Circe’s origin story, exploring how she discovered her powers, her tumultuous upbringing, and her interest in mortals.

What Circe gets right: Circe is a goddess who does what she can with what she has. She’s not the strongest, wisest, or most beautiful, but she is definitely the most resourceful. Time and again, even after she makes terrible mistakes and the other gods punish her, she bounces back to try something new. She’s willing to help others, even when she has no one to help herself.

Madeline Miller made a mythological goddess into a relatable character. That’s the power of this novel. The setting and customs are foreign to modern people (and to mortals), but we can relate to Circe as an underdog of sorts.

What Circe gets wrong: Circe definitely has the unreliable perspective that she is a good person (or, at least, a reasonable person), while pretty much all of the other gods and goddesses are immoral. In reality, I’m sure that the others have their reasons for what they have done, just as Circe has hers. She slowly learns more and gains a clearer perspective as she ages.

Circe’s limited narration doesn’t make the book a bad one, but it can be frustrating when she can’t- or won’t- see the whole picture.

Who should read Circe: Anyone who wants a better understanding of Greek mythology. The Titans and Olympians are fleshed-out and more accessible in this narrative than others I’ve read. Readers who don’t like Odysseus, like me (this book exposes his flaws and his crimes after returning to Ithaca).

Who shouldn’t read Circe: Readers who aren’t interested in Greek mythology or fantasy. It does help to have at least a vague understanding of Greek mythology to read this book- maybe read The Odyssey first if you haven’t already.

 

Circe is available in the Recreational Reading section of the library.

Content note: language; violence; suggestive scenes that, while not described in detail, include some pretty wild events (remember that this is Greek mythology).

Most book reviews on this blog are written by Olivia Chin and reflect her personal opinions of the books, not the library’s view as a whole.

Reading List: Children’s Books About STEM

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Children’s books are great resources for STEM education: they’re written at a level that a child can understand, and books about science, technology, engineering, and math for children are increasingly published. The library’s Family Room houses books on these subjects as well as fiction and middle-grade books. If you’re a student teacher or a parent, you can use this reading list to pick up educational children’s STEM books from the library.

*Book descriptions provided by the publishers, c/o the library catalog

 

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by William Kamkwamba

When 14-year-old William Kamkwamba’s Malawi village was hit by a drought in 2001, everyone’s crops began to fail. His family didn’t have enough money for food, let alone school, so William spent his days in the library. He came across a book on windmills and figured out how to build a windmill that could bring electricity to his village. Everyone thought he was crazy but William persevered and managed to create a functioning windmill out of junkyard scraps. Several years later he figured out how to use the windmill for irrigation purposes.

 

Hey, Water! by Antoinette Pointis

Splash along with a spunky little girl who realizes that water is everywhere. But water doesn’t always look the same, it doesn’t always feel the same, and it shows up in lots of different shapes. And so the girl launches into a spirited game of hide-and-seek with water, discovering it in nature, in weather, and even in herself.

 

Little Leonardo’s Fascinating World of Science by Bob Cooper

Introduces kids to the vast and varied areas of science and the different types of scientists they can aspire to become. Whether it’s ancient dinosaur bones unearthed by paleontologists, anthropologists studying different cultures around the globe, or new planets discovered by astronomers, there’s bound to be something here any child will find fascinating and appealing.

 

The Girl With A Mind For Math by Julia Finley Mosca

This is a rhyming-text picture book about Raye Montague. After touring a German submarine in the early 1940s, young Raye set her sights on becoming an engineer. Little did she know sexism and racial inequality would challenge that dream every step of the way, even keeping her greatest career accomplishment a secret for decades. Through it all, the gifted mathematician persisted, finally gaining her well-deserved title in history: a pioneer who changed the course of ship design forever.

 

The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rainforest by Lynne Cherry

The many different animals that live in a great Kapok tree in the Brazilian rainforest try to convince a man with an ax of the importance of not cutting down their home.

 

The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield

Chris loves rockets and planets and pretending he’s a brave astronaut, exploring the universe. Only one problem: at night, Chris doesn’t feel so brave. He’s afraid of the dark. But when he watches the groundbreaking moon landing on TV, he realizes that space is the darkest dark there is, and the dark is beautiful and exciting, especially when you have big dreams to keep you company. (Inspired by the childhood of real-life astronaut Chris Hadfield.)

 

Even An Octopus Needs A Home by Irene Kelly

Shows how animals solve the problem of locating safe places in which to live and raise families.

 

The Brooklyn Bridge: A Wonders of the World Book by Elizabeth Mann

Describes the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, from its conception by John Roebling in 1852 through, after many setbacks, its final completion under the direction of his son, Washington, in 1883.

 

Are You A Beetle? by Judy Allen

This colorful first nature book introduces preschoolers to the world of the beetle. Ideal for reading aloud or as a first reader, the witty text and detailed illustrations bring this familiar creature to life. Young children will be fascinated by this tiny living thing found right in their own backyard.

 

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca

Here is the story of the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon: a story of leaving and returning during the summer of 1969, and a story of home, seen whole, from far away by steady astronauts in their great machines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: “Heavy” by Kiese Laymon

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Heavy by Kiese Laymon is the painfully honest story of a Southern black man’s experiences growing up and going to college in Mississippi. This memoir is a quick but emotionally heavy read (as the title aptly suggests).

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Heavy gets right:  This book says everything you’ve never wanted to hear and everything you’ve needed to hear about racism, sexism, addiction, abuse, and hope. Heavy has been the most impactful and deeply sad book that I’ve read in 2020. Right from the beginning of the book, Laymon dives into his personal experiences with painful stories of his childhood. None of it is easy to read about, and yet I couldn’t put this book down because Laymon’s writing was excellent and I wanted to know the messages he was revealing through all of the stories.

In his writing, Laymon is not afraid to explore his own shortcomings (particularly with romantic relationships) and I found his honesty refreshing. Laymon is angry about the racism and abuse he suffers, and he also recognizes the ways in which he personally has failed to avoid falling into the same vices as his mother. Heavy is actually written as a long letter to his mother, who is addressed as “you.” It’s a personal way to talk about the things that have been long buried or brushed over in their lives.

What Heavy gets wrong: Honestly, nothing. I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads. Heavy is probably the most honest memoir I have ever read. As a white woman, I don’t know and won’t experience all of the struggles that Laymon faces, but reading Heavy helped me understand them better and opened my eyes to his perspective.

Who should read Heavy: Readers who want to learn more about black experiences in the United States, and in particular the South, from firsthand accounts.

Who shouldn’t read Heavy: Heavy is best for more mature audiences due to its intense descriptions of physically and emotionally damaging events.

 

Heavy is available at the library in our U.S. history section.

Content note: racism, sexism, abuse, eating disorder, addiction, rape, language.

Most book reviews on this blog are written by Olivia Chin and reflect her personal opinions of the books, not the library’s view as a whole.

Logos Links: May 2020

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Library team members Amber Wessies and Olivia Chin have searched the Internet for the best book, movie, and library-related links. Learn more about library news around the world below.

 

Now Is The Time For eBooks

While library buildings around the world are closed for COVID-19, and while patrons are staying at home, now is the perfect time to get started with eBooks.

 

Court Rules Detroit Students Have A Constitutional Right To An Education

This groundbreaking ruling decides that children have a right to literacy.

 

The Library Of Congress Wants To Help You Remix Public Domain Audio Clips

Have you ever wanted to be a DJ? Now there’s a free way to practice remixing, thanks to the Library Of Congress.

 

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Book Recommendations

Celebrate Asian/Pacific American heritage with this book list compiled by the ALCS blog.

 

2020 Library Systems Report

Learn what’s new in the world of library technical services with this report by American Libraries Magazine.

 

Books With Memorable Moms

For Mother’s Day, this blog post names and celebrates some famous moms in literature.

 

Best Practices From World Libraries Photo Gallery

See what libraries are doing all around the world with this collection of photos and links.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt

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Donna Tartt is the bestselling author of The Goldfinch, The Little Friend, and The Secret History. Each of these novels involves suspense and intense character studies.

The Secret History is about an eclectic group of college students who find themselves in a lot of trouble as close-kept secrets are revealed.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Secret History gets right: Terrible people doing terrible things? Check. Secrets, murder, drugs, and pagan rituals? Check. An engrossing setting, to the point that you feel like you are actually in the book? Check.

Donna Tartt is excellent at drawing you in to the world that she’s created. Right away, you are introduced to a bizarre crime, and the rest of the book has you scrambling to figure out how the story ends up there.

Any book with an unreliable narrator is going to have your brain spinning, but few books do this quite so well as The Secret History. A lot of the book’s events and character development is seen through the eyes of someone who slowly begins to realize that he doesn’t really know that much about anything after all. This allows the reader to piece together the puzzle, and guess what? Some of it is entirely up to your imagination! I guessed several twists accurately throughout the book, but there were a few that weren’t fully explained (such as the characters’ true motivations and feelings).

Reading about Richard, the story’s narrator, and his university experiences in Hampden reminded me of both my own time in college and the college students that I manage at work. I loved seeing the dichotomy between Richard and his friends’ great intellect and their terrible decision-making and lifestyle habits. How can they be so intelligent as to speak to each other in Latin one minute and then try to live in a freezing warehouse in the middle of a Vermont winter the next? Honestly, this dichotomy is pretty realistic for what I recall of myself and my friends in that stage of life.

Richard wanting to be a part of the strange but exotic Greek students group is a relatable feeling. It can be hard to find your place in a new environment; however, you don’t want to pick the wrong group of people that everyone else warns you about (as Richard inevitably does). Henry, Francis, Charles, Camilla, and Bunny are in turns fascinating, terrifying, hilarious, and deeply disturbing people; as Richard gets sucked further and further into their sordid lives, so do we.

In spite of the sometimes flowery prose and the pretentious characters who are spouting Greek one moment and stoned out of their minds the next, I couldn’t put this book down. It’s a testament to Donna Tartt’s writing that she made such unlikable characters and their various crimes so intriguing and their college, despite its obvious flaws, so nostalgic.

What The Secret History gets wrong: Most of the characters in this book are unlikable. It’s kind of like a modern The Great Gatsby in that way- still a great story, but you may get annoyed by how pretentious and selfish the characters are. (Side note: the main character’s favorite book is The Great Gatsby because he identifies with Jay Gatsby, which is hilarious because he is totally a Nick Carraway instead.)

Who should read The Secret History: Readers who enjoy academia, mythology, suspense, crime, and literary writing.

Who shouldn’t read The Secret History: Readers who are looking for a shorter, faster-paced story. It’s easy to get lost in the world of The Secret History, but the plot does take a while to develop. This is a dark story that explores the evil in human nature, so if you’re looking for a light read, don’t pick this one up yet.

 

The Secret History is available in our Recreational Reading section at the library.

Content note: violence; sexual content (most of which happens off-screen); moments of racism, homophobia, and sexism from a few characters; lots of substance abuse; pagan rituals. Reader discretion is advised.

Book Review: “Normal People” by Sally Rooney

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Normal People by Sally Rooney is the bestselling story of the ups and downs of an Irish millennial couple’s relationship. Since its publication in 2018, Normal People has been adapted into a popular TV show on Hulu.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Normal People gets right: The writing in Normal People is simple, direct, and poignant; I flew through this book because it was easy to read and understand without oversimplifying its subject matter. Likewise, the characters are believable- they have flaws and virtues that constantly pop up alongside each other. Connell worries about what others think and wants to be a “nice” person; yet he is at his best when he allows himself to be vulnerable and to stand up for others. In contrast, Marianne feels different from everyone else and is not afraid to express her opinions, but she is burdened with her abusive family and fear of close relationships.

As someone the same age as the main characters, I found most of their interactions and cultural references relatable (albeit some of their political conversations were specific to  Ireland and I needed to look them up).

What Normal People gets wrong: There’s definitely some moments that will make you cringe. I was genuinely worried about both Connell and Marianne at times. It’s impressive that the book can get such a strong emotional reaction out of its readers, but at the same time, it’s not a fun book to read.

I also wasn’t a fan of the open-ended conclusion. I am usually fine with open endings, but I really thought this book was moving in a clear direction and the plot just didn’t end up there. I expected more personal growth out of the characters than how they were acting on the last few pages.

Who should read Normal People: Readers who enjoy books about relationships, recent history, and mental health awareness.

Who shouldn’t read Normal People: This is a sad one, guys. If you, like me, occasionally like to read something that will make you cringe and maybe even cry, then pick this one up. But if you’d rather read to escape, or if you don’t want to read about abusive situations, just skip this one. Readers who like linear plots and strong conclusions will not like Normal People, either.

 

Normal People is available in the Recreational Reading section at the library.

Content note: suggestive scenes, language, substance abuse, sexual assault, physical and emotional abuse. Reader discretion is advised.

Book Review: “The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires” by Grady Hendrix

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Have you ever read the title of a book and thought: “This was made for me?” That’s what happened when I saw The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires on a list of new books coming out in 2020. I was pretty sure that author Grady Hendrix had been watching me as I binged Buffy The Vampire Slayer, read any of Anne Rices’ vampire chronicles I could get through Interlibrary Loan, and attended my library team’s book club in a Southern state. In other words, I felt attacked.

Because apparently clever titles make me open my wallet, I bought The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires as soon as it came back in stock (it was sold out instantly on indie bookstore websites). I waited two days with the book sitting on my desk at home because you’re supposed to quarantine books in case of COVID-19 traces. Finally, I curled up on the couch by my husband, cracked open the spine, and settled in. A few hours later, I slammed the book shut dramatically and told my husband everything about it. I don’t usually read books in one sitting unless I absolutely can’t put them down, and this was one of those special stories that actually lived up to its title and cover.

Spoiler-free summary before you read further: this novel is about exactly what the title says it’s about.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires gets right: This is one of those rare books where a man author actually wrote from the perspective of amazing women characters with understanding, wit, and great empathy. The main character, Patricia, was so relatable and heartbreaking as she shouldered all of the emotional labor (and literal physical security) for her household that I was pleasantly shocked to find out that the author was a man. Her sense of guilt that she’s not doing enough for everyone in her life was palpable. Yet as Patricia slowly makes strong friendships with the women in her book club and in her own home, she begins to emerge as a fiercely driven, free-thinking character that still has plenty of flaws. For a fictional character in a horror novel, she’s pretty real.

Patricia’s characterization shines against the foil of her husband, Carter, who acts as if Patricia is crazy, cheats on her repeatedly, and snuggles up to the main villain of the story just because he makes a lot of money. It’s frustrating to read about, but don’t worry- there is some justice. I’ll give Carter this- he made me hate him more than the actual vampire in this book; Carter is like the Umbridge of this novel.

This is not just a book about Southern true crime-loving women, although that part is definitely awesome and I 100% want to talk with them about Helter Skelter. This book tackles gentrification, racial injustice, sexism, gaslighting, and vampires all in one story, and it does this flawlessly. You will be thrilled, shocked, and horrified all at once. I certainly was.

What The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires gets wrong: There are a few moments that seem a little tone-deaf. Racism thrives in the town’s community, and while it is addressed and called out as wrong, it is disappointing how the main black character, Mrs. Greene, has to save herself and the white women again and again without any help while her neighborhood suffers. There’s a big message here about acting like you can’t see the problems of others as long as you and your family are safe.

Who should read The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires: If you’re a Southern lady in a book club with a bent for true crime, obviously pick this one up. However, men and non-Southern women will also enjoy this novel if they are fans of horror, suspense, vampires, and humor.

Who shouldn’t read The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires: This novel is best for mature audiences.

 

The library doesn’t currently have this book, but you can request it through Interlibrary Loan once it is safe to do so, or you can check for it at your local library.

Content note: language, brief sexual scenes, emotional abuse, violence, racism, sexual assault, attempted suicide. Reader discretion is advised.

Logos Links: April 2020

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Library team members Amber Wessies and Olivia Chin have searched the Internet for the best book, movie, and library-related links. Learn more about library news around the world below.

 

Virtual Activities With The Library Of Congress

Watch authors read their books and live drawing sessions with the Library Of Congress.

 

Bird Library Livestream

This library has a mini-library for birds!

 

How To Stop Saying “Um,” “Ah, and “You Know”

Filler words aren’t inherently bad, but using them can distract your audience. Learn how to “embrace the pause” and stop using filler words with this Harvard Business Review article.

 

We Are YA Podcast

This podcast checks in with different Young Adult (YA) authors each day to find out how they’re coping with the pandemic and to see what they are working on.

 

Where To Find Free Poetry Resources For Kids Online

A list of poetry resources for children, but adults may enjoy them, too!

 

Now and Next: What A Post-COVID World May Mean For Libraries

What will the world be like when COVID-19 pandemic has ended? What trends that occur now will continue in the future specifically for libraries? Libraries are in a unique place to support and encourage positive changes to our lives after we get back to “normal.” This article discusses 10 trends in the world today and the possible impact or changes for the future.

 

Help Out Libraries And Archives 

Many libraries and archives have online transcription projects that you can be a part of from home. You can transcribe everything from Rosa Parks’ writings to Abraham Lincoln’s letters and help out archivists across the world. This article describes how to get involved!

 

Digital Escape Rooms

Some examples of what libraries are doing digitally- one fun program is a digital Harry Potter-themed escape room!

 

Library-Themed Backgrounds For Your Next Video Call

Backgrounds from the New York Public Library to use with Zoom!

 

Virtual Book Clubs

This article gives directions and a link for checking which books can be read aloud without copyright infringement.

 

All Of A Sudden, I’m Working From Home- Now What Do I Do?

More tips for working from home!

 

Virtually Visit 8 World-Class Libraries

Virtual travel is all we have right now, and, if visiting libraries is your jam, there are several libraries that have online tours.

 

 

 

People’s Choice Book Review: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

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Recently, I asked the Union community via Instagram to pick a book for me to review (these are the kind of fun shenanigans I’ve been up to while working from home). The choices were Race Matters, The Sun Also Rises, and The Handmaid’s Tale.  Each of these books are available at the library, so patrons can read the review and then pick out the book. The votes came in, and The Handmaid’s Tale was chosen!

Spoiler-free description of The Handmaid’s Tale: a woman in a dogmatic society, the Republic of Gilead, must play the hated role of a Handmaid while grappling with memories of a past life.

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale a year or two ago. I’d heard of it before, and as the show based on the book gained more media attention, the buzz put the book back on my radar (although I still haven’t watched the show). I remember reading The Handmaid’s Tale as fast as my eyes could skim the words- the story was so engrossing and equal parts mind-numbingly sad and frustrating. As soon as I finished, I handed the book over to my husband, and he also read it blazingly fast. I strongly believe that The Handmaid’s Tale is a book by women, for women (and it attracts a largely female audience because it’s talking about female experiences, and boys don’t read “girl” books starting at an early age). But this story is also very much for men, too. In fact, I wish more men would read The Handmaid’s Tale.

Let’s get one thing straight about The Handmaid’s Tale before we dive in to the review: this is a book about a very messed up society. If you’ve kept up with author Margaret Atwood at all, then you know that she is obviously not promoting the mistreatment of women with this book. She is fighting against it in real life by showing how terrible it is in fiction. This is one of those books where some really rough acts and crimes are committed, but that doesn’t mean that the book is promoting this kind of behavior- it’s actually the exact opposite. Yet, The Handmaid’s Tale still winds up on banned book lists because people are afraid to read about real problems (that’s just my opinion there, but hey, this is a book review, so most of this is my opinion).

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Handmaid’s Tale gets right: This is a very insulated story. It’s told from one woman’s perspective, and since she’s been subjected to brainwashing and abuse, sometimes her perspective is shocking. A lot of books about crazy government regimes focus on the politics or the activists, but this book zeroes in on one Handmaid’s story. I love that. It’s so much more personal and relatable than if we had 300+ pages about every terrible law that Gilead passed.

The Handmaid’s Tale is fictional. Some might call it satire, but it’s also a warning to the real world. Sometimes you can reach a wider audience by instilling your values and fears into fiction, and Atwood does this beautifully in The Handmaid’s Tale. A very paraphrased and basic version of her message is this: women are equal to men, but a lot of societies don’t treat them this way; biological differences are often used by those in power to subjugate women; and systemic oppression is wrong. As a feminist, I appreciate these messages being brought to the general public in the form of a story- this makes hard facts and opinions more accessible to everyone.

What The Handmaid’s Tale gets wrong: There are some slower parts to the book, but honestly you probably won’t notice. You’ll be too caught up in how awful Gilead is. Also, there’s a cliffhanger and we had to wait over 30 years for a sequel. So, if you’re just now picking up this book, you will be excited to know that you can read The Testaments right after (and you can read my review of The Testaments here).

Who should read The Handmaid’s Tale: Readers who enjoy dystopian books, feminist literature, and finally knowing what all of the hype is about.

Who shouldn’t read The Handmaid’s Tale: Younger audiences should wait until they are mature enough for the heavy content.

The Handmaid’s Tale is available as a print book at the library.

Content note: there are scenes of rape and abuse all throughout the book. Reader discretion is advised.