Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What We're Reading Now: Menace at the Opera

Falling in Love (M LEON) by Donna Leon

Commisario Guido Brunetti welcomes his old friend Flavia Petrelli, opera singer par excellence, back to Venice’s opera house La Fenice. Her performance in Tosca is a triumph. When she is inundated with unwanted yellow roses and a young singer whom she complimented is thrown down a staircase, she turns to Guido for help. Brunetti must enter the mind of the stalker in order to unmask “the villain of the piece” onstage at La Fenice.

This isn’t just a mystery series-- Brunetti’s workmates, the city of Venice, and his family life form an integral part of the story. The enterprising Signorrina Elettra at the Questura uses her contacts to home in on the stalker. Guido’s wife Paola prepares wonderful meals-lentils with hot salami and candied currants, veal roll with sweet sausage, and crème caramel for dessert-- I’d hurry home to eat, too.

Guido doesn’t limit himself to solving murders. I particularly liked his thoughts about reading:

To serious readers like him and Paola, reading was an activity, not a pastime and so the presence of another person added nothing to it…he envied Paola her ability to disappear into the text, leaving them all behind.

So, leave everyone behind. Add this title to your list for Adult Summer Reading – Read to the Rhythm. Get lost in the story (and listen to Tosca) or read other Leon titles featuring opera -- Death at La Fenice and Acqua Alta (M Leon).

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What We're Watching Now: Soccer Movies

In honor of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, we have been reviewing some of our favorite soccer movies in our collection that deserve recognition. You might notice some common themes among these movies, especially in the ways in which a passion for the game can stretch across gender, political, and territorial barriers.  

Two films in particular - Offside (2006) and Football Under Cover (2008) - make an interesting double feature. The former is a satirical drama following several women who disguise themselves as men in an attempt to watch a live World Cup game in Tehran, where it is illegal for women to attend public sporting events. Directed by acclaimed director Jafar Panahi, sentenced in 2010 by the Iranian government to a 6-year jail term and a 20-year ban from filmmaking because of his work. Panahi refuses to be censored and continues to make movies to be smuggled out of Iran, such as 2011's This Is Not A Film (DVD PERSIAN THIS).


Football Under Cover (2008) is a documentary that follows a German soccer player, Marlene Assman, who decides, after learning that the Iranian Women's National Team has never actually played a match against another international team, to arrange for her German team to travel to Iran to play a truly historic game. The documentary highlights the many restrictions faced by women in Iranian society through the lens of an international soccer match. An Iranian player tries to pass as a man to practice in public without harassment, tensions mount over finding uniforms that conform to dress code, and female spectators speak out against the government's attempts at prohibiting them from merely enjoying a public sporting event because of their gender.

Football Under Cover (DVD PERSIAN FOOTBALL)

The gender politics of soccer are especially poignant to consider during this year's Women's World Cup.  FIFA faced criticism (and a lawsuit from over a dozen high-profile athletes from around the world, which was eventually withdrawn) over allowing the matches to be played on artificial turf, rather than providing the preferred grass fields that the Men's World Cup Tournament has always featured.  

Below are other titles in our collection, recommended if you're looking for soccer-themed tales to watch in between the final matches of the Women's World Cup. Semi-finals begin next week, and the tournament final is Sunday, July 5th at 4pm PST.


The Damned United (DVD DAMNED)

Looking for Eric (DVD LOOKING)

Bend It Like Beckham (DVD BEND)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What We're Reading Now: Your Secrets Come Back to Haunt You

Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer (M STEINHAUER)

In the spy game, you accept that lies are part of the job and that people are collateral damage to getting that job done. Sophie Kohl is an American embassy wife in Hungary, long-married to husband Emmett.  When Emmett is brutally murdered in front of her, she turns to her former lover in Cairo, Stan Bertolli, to help her discover why Emmett was targeted.  She goes to Cairo seeking answers; more deaths follow in the chaos of Egypt’s regime change, with a possible trail leading back to a proposed-and later rejected- CIA operation.  There are very few heroes and many betrayals before Sophie ends her quest.

Steinhauer created a name for himself with his historical Cold War thrillers (Yalta Boulevard series) set in an unnamed Soviet country.  He followed these with the Milo Weaver CIA novels.  His latest, All the old knives, promises to be equally intriguing.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

What We're Reading Now: Investigating Murder in the Maelstrom of War

Lady from Zagreb by Philip Kerr (FICTION KERR)
Backstory: Philip Kerr’s series featuring Bernie Gunther gives a wonderful snapshot of Germany in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s through the eyes of a disillusioned detective who has little luck with women. 

Bernie Gunther is a Berliner who fought in the Great War and policed Berlin’s streets until the Nazis took over in 1933. He left the police and became a private detective, still dealing with the seamier side of German life.  He is good at what he does and prominent people command his services. To stay alive in Hitler’s Germany and in later years, Bernie must comply with their requests.  Over the course of the series, he grudgingly works for Nazis Reinhard Heydrich and Joseph Goebbels; after the war he spends time in Austria, Argentina and Cuba fleeing his past, but trouble usually finds him.  The novels don’t follow a chronological sequence, but it isn’t essential to the storylines. 

In the latest installment, “Lady from Zagreb”, it is 1942. Bernie tries to help Croatian actress Dalia Dresner, a woman with a complicated family history; he falls in love with her in the process.    Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Truth and Propaganda, has plans for the actress professionally and otherwise; he blackmails Bernie to deliver her for his next film. A seemingly pointless murder in Berlin, vicious fighting in Yugoslavia, an encounter with American heavies and more murders in Switzerland dog his tracks as he tries to make sense of his life and maintain any integrity:

"Being solitary-that’s an occupational hazard. But I’m not so crazy about being lonely.  I end up doing things I shouldn’t do. Like drinking a little too much.  Stealing other men’s wives. Trying to stay alive at all costs. And looking for just a little happiness in this life. You know, I often think if I hadn’t been a policeman, I might have been a really good man."

Philip Kerr is one of my favorite historical novelists; he also writes a good mystery. I look forward to every one of Bernie’s cases.

Monday, June 08, 2015

The Martian Trailer Released Today

The Martian by Andy Weir [SF Weir]

The trailer for the highly anticipated adaption of The Martian by Mountain View's very own Andy Weir was released today.  The film stars Matt Damon as American astronaut Mark Whatney, who becomes the titular Martian when his crew presumes him dead and abandons him on the Red Planet with limited supplies.  The star-studded cast also includes Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Donald Glover, Kate Mara, and Kristen Wiig.

The book has been hailed for its realism and attention to scientific detail, as well as for its wit and heart-stopping drama.  Weir's compelling narrative unfolds in parallel storylines happening both on Mars - with Whatney doing what he can to stay alive - and on Earth - with NASA working around the clock to figure out how to save him.  It will be interesting to see how these storylines play out on screen, as Matt Damon will be playing character not unlike Tom Hanks's character in Cast Away (2000) in which much of the dialog is a marooned character in conversation with himself.

The movie (directed by Ridley Scott) is due out in theaters this November.  MVPL has several copies so you can be sure to read it first before you see it in theaters.

Have you read the book yet?  If so, what did you think, and are you looking forward to seeing it on the big screen?

I just finished reading the Martian and I loved it, and I think it's enjoyable even if you might not normally be a fan of science fiction.  It was thrilling and at times laugh-out-loud funny; I couldn't put it down.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

What We're Reading Now: Public Humiliation 2.0

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (152.44 Ronson)

In Western culture today, we've done away with the pillories, the tarring and feathering, and the badges of shame of our puritanical past... or have we?

In his latest book, Jon Ronson ponders whether public shaming has been taken to a whole new level with the abundance, anonymity, and groupthink phenomenon present in today's digital culture.  He traces the various ways subjects of viral social media shamings -- such as disgraced pop-science author Jonah Lehrer and offensive joke-tweeting Justine Sacco, to name a few -- have dealt with their very public humiliations, and asks whether our online taste for blood might have some negative consequences in a society that supposedly celebrates free expression and non-conformity.

Have you ever begun to share something on Facebook, only to be overcome with a sudden feeling of dread that it might be taken the wrong way, or are you one of the fearless who tweet with abandon, with little worry for who might be offended?  Are you quick to call out others on social media sites for the slightest infringement, or been the victim of online trolls?  This book will draw you in and make you more aware of the ways in which public shaming is still very much a cornerstone of our democratic moral identity, for better or worse.

I was amazed reading this book at the entire business of "reputation management."  Companies exist who, for a large fee, will give your online persona a makeover through publishing fake positive content online in your voice, thereby driving whatever's online that you might want to hide down in the search results.  And now I'm going to type my own name into Google and prepare for the worst....

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

What We’re Reading Now: A Survey on (and for) Women and How They Dress--and Much More…

Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton et al (391.2 Women)

Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton surveyed over 600 women worldwide regarding their clothes.  The questions and answers ranged all over the map.

Does place determine how your dress?  Gisela Williams responded to Berlin’s harsh winter by buying (and wearing) a pair of blue-sequined Uggs.

Would you rather have great taste or great style? Actress/writer Lena Dunham opts for great style-it’s a feeling that no one else could have put on what you’re wearing that day because it came from you. 

What’s the situation with your hair? Talita S has been at absolute war with hers since she dyed it green when she was 11.

When do you feel most attractive? For Young Kim, it’s when she has clear skin, manageable hair and the right outfit for the occasion. 

What’s your stance on modesty? Claire O remembers her mother telling her that clothes are fine, but she (the mom) has always preferred the way she looks naked.

Mothers as others: Participants sent in pictures of their mothers before they had children and wrote about their reactions to Mom before she was Mom.

My outfits: Thessaly La Force describes her clothing for a January day in Iowa as “Lovechild of Shackleton and Pocahontas”

Advice and tips: 
  • Margaux Williamson advises wearing clothes that feel right when they’re on your body-and that make you feel less sad.
  • Ramou Sarr recommends Spanx-they may kill her, but she doesn’t care.
  • Writer Patricia Marx’s mother told her to stay away from white-based plaids.
  • Gillian Schwartz’s mom recommended buying cashmere sweaters and extension cords-both worthy investments.

Participants’ collections highlight the survey.  Collections vary: Tift Merritt’s handmade guitar straps; Benedicte Pinset’s white sneakers; found shopping bags from New York City streets, decorated with artistic touches; Molly Murray’s three-inch heels.  There are many more to please and puzzle the beholder. 

I loved the pictures and the stories in the Ring Cycle--fifteen women in a newspaper office photocopied their hands and talked about their rings. I identified with the “Map of my floor” project-- changing from exercise to work clothes, rejecting outfits before settling on the one to wear that day--my floor bears a resemblance to that on occasion.   This was just a fun book--read a section, think about it, then read another section.  There are strong feelings involved in what we wear and “Women in Clothes” does a great job exploring this.