Thursday, October 23, 2014

GARRISON KEILLOR: A READER’S HOME COMPANION



Prolific, poetic and slyly silly, humorist Garrison Keillor is best known for his radio show The Prairie Home Companion. Telling tales of farmers, Midwest winters and off kilter families, the Minnesota native punctuates his shows with musical interludes and sound-effects. Keillor’s career extends beyond the airwaves and includes articles for the New Yorker and National Geographic, as well as many books that can be found on the shelves of the Monrovia Public Library.

Inspired by the hometown Keillor created for Prairie Home Companion is a series of books including Lake Wobegon Days, Wobegon Boy and Lake Wobegon Summer 1956. All of them are nostalgic and gentle stories that recall a quaint small community where everyone knows everyone and eccentricity is accepted. The humor is both dry and laugh-out-loud funny and Keillor is an absolute champ at making readers care about and be charmed by mundane moments. 



Two brothers in 1920’s Minneapolis open a radio station in WLT: A Radio Romance. They are not looking for stardom, but to finance their failing sandwich business. To their surprise the station becomes successful and their quirky cast of on-air performers and behind-the-scenes staff provide endless opportunities for readers to guffaw. Keillor further shows his storytelling skills in Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny, a satire of classic detective yarns, but this time with extra hilarity.

Keillor’s mellifluous voice can also be heard narrating Ken Burns’ documentary Civil War, found on the DVD shelves.

Friday, October 17, 2014

THE MONUMENTS MEN: FORGOTTEN HISTORY



The Monrovia Public Library owns the DVD of The Monuments Men, the movie starring George Clooney, which brought attention to a little known group of World War II art experts. Prior to and during WW II, cultural artifacts and architecture were not only stolen and destroyed by the Nazis, but also threatened by battles. It was the job of the monuments men to protect European art. Fictionalized, the movie focuses just on a few men, but there were actually more than 300 men and women in the armed forces who were assigned the task of saving artistic treasures.
 
The movie is based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert Edsel. It tells the forgotten story of the art historians, choreographers, artists, architects, museum leaders and professors who abandoned their careers to join this special unit of the allied forces. More than just a history, the book describes the clever efforts of a devoted band that operated by the seat of their pants, with little support, in a race against time and destruction. The book is a page-turner.

The January 2014 Smithsonian magazine, which the library owns, has a terrific article on the Monuments Men. You can also read the article on the Smithsonian Magazine website

There have been many books written on the topic of how the Nazis stole artwork from Jewish families. One of the most interesting is Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft and the Quest for Justice by Melissa Muller. The author chronicles 15 families who lost their art collections and how their heirs continue to search for the pieces. What makes the book so compelling is how family and art history mix with the tragedy of war. Includes great illustrations and family photos.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

DOG DAYS



Dogs or cats? The votes aren't in, but most animal lovers love a good dog book.  Let’s take a look at some newer dog titles, all memoirs, on the shelves of the Monrovia Public Library. 

Sometimes we don’t get what we want—we get something better. You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness by Julie Klam, is a memoir of a single woman who yearns for a beau, but whose dream about a Boston Terrier leads her to adopt little Otto. From him she learns sharing and caring, which were missing from her life. Soon she is surrounded by dogs, kids, and yes, a husband. This very funny book is for readers looking for a good laugh. Ms. Klam’s second book is Love at First Bark: How Saving a Dog Can Help You Save Yourself and is about her adventures in rescuing dogs and finding new human companions. Through often comical true stories she shares her philosophy of how we can become better people when we are good to animals.

John Steinbeck wrote Travels With Charley about seeing America with his poodle. Traveling With Casey is an updated version by Benoit Denizet Lewis. The author, his Labrador and his RV star in this travelogue that takes them across many states as they visit dog parks, dog experts, canine cops and even dog psychics. Heartwarming and funny, this is an affirmation that says life is best when it is shared with a dog.

Dean Koontz is famous for his suspense novels, but A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Little Dog is a change of pace. After adopting a retired service dog, a Golden Retriever named Trixie, Koontz and his wife discover what joy is. Trixie, as Oprah would say, lives in the moment, and is endlessly entertaining. The author’s description of Trixie’s decline and passing are sad, but oh, what warm memories she left behind.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

TWO THUMBS UP FOR ROGER EBERT



What do we think about when we hear the name Roger Ebert? We probably think about the incredible enthusiasm he displayed for the movies and the many films he reviewed as a newspaper and television critic. And, we probably remember the raucous conversations he and his TV partner Gene Siskel had when they defended their opinions. On their shows Sneak Previews and At the Movies, they would give films thumbs up or thumbs down. But, in the last few years before he died, we might also think about Roger Ebert, who was a natural storyteller and conversationalist, as a survivor who continued his work as he endured painful cancer surgeries and lost his voice. 
 
Before he passed on Ebert wrote an autobiography that chronicled his personal story in the same honest manner he treated the movies, sharing the good and the bad. That book Life Itself can be found on the shelves of the Monrovia Public Library, along with two of his collections of movie reviews. It comes as no surprise that the first line of Life Itself is, “I was born in the movie of my life.” It was a life that included winning the first Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and being the first movie reviewer to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

His two movie review compilations are called Great Movies and Great Movies II. Just like any average movie lover, Ebert’s taste included epics, Schindler’s List; suspense, The Silence of the Lambs, and classics, Casablanca. Check out these books and the movies on DVD. His 300 favorite movies can he found on Roger Ebert's website.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

ALL THE USUAL SUSPECTS: NEW MYSTERIES



The literati may have looked down their noses at detective writer Mickey Spillane, but Spillane got it right when he said, “Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end.”  With that in mind, let’s take a look these new page turners on the Monrovia Public Library mystery shelves.
 
With Gone Girl, the huge bestseller by Gillian Flynn now in the movie theaters, this is a good time to explore another Flynn mystery. In Dark Places, main character Libby Day relives the time when her mother and sister were murdered, but she survived. It is 25 years later and Libby is fleeing from another killer.


If British mysteries are your thing, here are three. Author Peter Lovesey writes both Victorian-era and contemporary stories. His crime novels are fast-paced, keep readers guessing and have just the right amount of humor. Lovesey’s newest is Stone Wife, a present day story of a stolen statue and some murderous thieves who are tracked down by English copper Peter Diamond. 

Deborah Crombie is also English and her detectives are the married couple Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. 
Crombie’s new police procedural is To Dwell in Darkness and is about a mysterious bombing at a historic train station.  J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, used the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith to write the mystery The Cuckoo’s Calling. Her detective Cormoran Strike is back in a new Galbraith mystery, called The Silkworm, and tracking down a missing husband, a novelist who has used fiction to expose some scandalous characters.
 

A missing husband is also the topic in Louise Penny’s Long Way Home. Penny is a hot new mystery author and her novel is about a retired Canadian homicide detective who is asked to look for an artist who has disappeared.