Archive for the ‘We Recommend’ Category

WE RECOMMEND: Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks Definitive gold box collection


Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

I have the great capacity to be a TV junkie. We got rid of cable at my house in large part because no matter how embarrassingly degrading a show was, I could get sucked into the menial drama in no time. My most embarrassing moment in TV viewing might have been the short-lived reality show “Dating in the Dark,” in which contestants—you guessed it!—dated each other in the dark and then had to decide whether their feelings were real once they saw the person through a two-way mirror. I’m not a big believer in “guilty pleasures” but this was a real low point.

So now that we don’t have cable, my TV show viewing is limited to shows on Netflix or on DVD. Since it’s so easy for me to get sucked into a new show, I love having the option to watch the entire run of a series without having to wait for the next episode. And the show that has so far sucked me in the most, that I managed to watch over the course of about a week (30 episodes in 9 days!), is the early 90s cult classic “Twin Peaks.”

I’ve desperately tried to love David Lynch but to me his movies almost always fall flat somewhere along the way. While “Twin Peaks” isn’t perfect (wait until the second season subplot involving James and the manipulative housewife Evelyn), I think this is the best Lynch gets. “Twin Peaks” starts off as a murder mystery when the titular Washington town’s homecoming queen turns up dead. But in true Lynchian fashion things are not always what they seem, and what started off as a simple stranger-comes-to-town crime solver devolves into a supernatural head trip. The ensemble cast includes some of the decade’s up-and-comers (Lynch favorite Kyle MacLachlan, Lara Flynn Boyle, Heather Graham) and surprising appearances by seasoned actors (Piper Laurie, the mom from Carrie; Peggy Lipton, former star of the “Mod Squad” and ex-wife of Quincy Jones; Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn, both stars of the film version of West Side Story). MacLachlan’s Dale Cooper is one of the greatest characters in TV history. The images the viewer takes away from the show are lasting and haunting. Someday I want my bathroom to look like the “Red Room.”

“Twin Peaks” made such an impression on me that I was truly sad when it was over. Over for me, anyway, since it’s actually been off the air since 1991. I watched the show for the first time last summer. I rewatched it in its entirety this winter. This time I think it took about 14 days to watch the whole thing, but that’s because the DVD has some pretty great extras. And the cult of “Twin Peaks” lives on, which I realize now that I understand references to the show. The Log Ladies are a New Orleans band saluting their namesake’s memorable character; “Twin Peaks” festivals occur around the world; and the show’s stars still pop up all over the place (Leland Palmer on “Mad Men?” Awesome!).

The Monroe Library has the full series on DVD with all the excellent extras. There’s also a prequel film called Fire Walk With Me. I’m not a fan, but it’s worth seeing if only to round out your “Twin Peaks” experience. If you’re like me, you’re going to finish watching the series and then jump in your car to come back to the library 10 minutes before closing time to check out the movie. The spooky town of Twin Peaks just has that effect on some of us.

-Elizabeth Kelly, Instruction and Special Collections Librarian

WE RECOMMEND: Roman Holiday dir. William Wyler

Roman Holiday (1953), dir. William Wyler

Roman Holiday cover

Upon returning from a vacation in Italy, I was inspired to revisit a classic film from 1953. Roman Holiday follows the short-lived adventure of a runaway princess in the Eternal City. Audrey Hepburn, in her first starring role, plays Princess Ann. Hepburn’s performance earned her an Academy Award. Ann is heir to the throne of an unidentified country, and is making her way through a press tour of Europe. Frazzled by the constant and structured public appearances, she is given an injection to soothe her nerves. The princess breaks out from the embassy to begin an impromptu tour of the city while in an incoherent state. Joe Bradley, an American journalist played by Gregory Peck, reluctantly assists her.

Both the princess and the reporter attempt to conceal their true identities. Ann introduces herself as Anya, a schoolgirl on the run. Joe claims to be in the fertilizer industry. However, he has already recognized his new companion as the visiting dignitary. Indebted to seemingly everyone in the city, he is eager to publish an exclusive and lucrative interview with the royal. They soon engage in a carefree tour of the city on the back of a scooter.

Roman Holiday was shot entirely on location. The audience experiences the grandeur of many of the city’s famous sights, including the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and the Victor Emmanuel II monument. Perhaps the most memorable scene in the movie involves the Mouth of Truth. The Church of Santa Maria has a large carving of a face whose mouth is purported to chomp off the hands of liars. Inserting a hand into the monument is problematic given the couple’s ruses. A thoroughly amusing film, Roman Holiday will make you long for a gelato or an espresso at a sidewalk café in some Italian square.

- Malia Willey, Instruction Coordinator

WE RECOMMEND: Pyongyang, A Journey Into North Korea by Guy Delisle

Pyongyang, A Journey Into North Korea by Guy Delisle
Pyongyang front cover

Guy Delisle’s deadpan graphic memoir of his time working in North Korea is as gentle a reflection on the horrors of totalitarianism as can be imagined. An animator and cartoonist, Delisle is sent by his French employer to oversee cheap fill-in production at a firm in Pyongyang. Most of his time is spent working out ways to alleviate the crushing boredom of life in the panopticon–foreign workers in North Korea are constantly accompanied by guides and translators carefully selected for their party loyalty and overall blandness, exploration beyond obviously and hilariously scripted propaganda events is forbidden and the radio only gets one station.  The art sits solidly in the journalistic/memoir comic fashion, blandly approachable in the style of Marjane Satrapi or Joe Sacco. Detail is sparse but movement and characterization are handled quite well, which helps when depicting a country where too many ill-considered dialogue bubbles could land one in a gulag. The narrator’s interior monologue echoes Art Spiegelman’s wry detachment to a level that can feel almost insensitive when dealing with the forced representatives of the most oppressive regime on the planet. That aside, Pyongyang provides an amusing perspective on a fascinating topic.

- Adam Parker, Learning Technologies Developer

WE RECOMMEND: Sullivan’s Travels dir. Preston Sturges

Sullivan’s Travels (1942) dir. Preston Sturges

Sullivan's Travels DVD coverA steam locomotive barrels at high speed through the night, as two men desperately battle it out hand to hand until falling into a river.  This turns into three men in a screening room watching this film.  The director is unhappy, saying “I want to hold a mirror up to life.”  He argues with the studio executives about what kind of films to make in troubled times.  He wants to make a serious social commentary.  The studio wants light, fluffy entertainment.  The director decides to take off to travel, learning what problems common people have.  Everyone is against it; even his butler argues that the poor don’t need serious movies.  The studio threatens to sue him unless they can turn his travels into a publicity stunt.  They follow in a luxurious camper, with cook and staff in tow.  He tries to ditch the crew, but soon he gets into real trouble, first from a farm widow, and then he meets Veronica Lake in a diner.  She becomes his guide and companion through the underside of life.

Sullivan’s Travels is one of the funniest films about film and the place of art in everyday life.  It veers around, from slapstick to despair.  You have seen some of this before:  a kid driving hand-decorated car, prisoners watching a cartoon, even the title of the unmade film are all appropriated by the Coen Brothers in O Brother, Where Art Thou?  As the saying goes, “When you steal, steal from the best.”  And Sturges’ film is one of the best comedies of the nineteen forties or any time.

- Jim Hobbs, Online Services Coordinator


WE RECOMMEND: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Nickel and Dimed coverIn 2010, both the Easton, Pennsylvania and the Bedford, New Hampshire School Districts challenged Nickel and Dimed (by Barbara Ehrenreich) after several parents complained about the book’s “promotion of economic fallacies and its biased portrayal of capitalism.” However, I would argue that the book actually shows the true nature of capitalism; that it creates winners and losers.

As an experiment, Ehrenreich set out to discover if she could survive working low-wage jobs. She waited tables in Florida, cleaned houses in Maine, and worked at a Wal-Mart in Minnesota. She almost always needed a second job, so she often found herself working seven days a week, adding work as a nursing home aide and as a hotel maid at different points of her research.

In all three locations, she struggled to find housing that would be affordable for people who earned six or seven dollars an hour. A couple of her coworkers were actually homeless and living in their cars, because they always lacked enough money for first month’s rent and deposit on an apartment. Also, maintaining a healthy diet was an issue sometimes. When she was lucky enough to find affordable housing with a kitchen, she was able to cook for herself sometimes, but often she had to rely on fast food. And Ehrenreich often notes that the lunches of her coworker’s were unhealthy and insufficient for the back-breaking work they were doing.

What Ehrenreich took away from this experience is that there is no such thing as unskilled labor. None of the jobs were easy; they were all physically demanding and she never had a coworker that she would describe as “lazy.” She also comments that “You don’t need a degree in economics to see that wages are too low and rents are too high” and that when the rich and the poor compete for housing, the poor always lose. She concludes that something is very wrong when people can work as hard as they do and are still barely able to support themselves.

Overall, Nickel and Dimed is a thought-provoking read. For many, the problems of the poor are misunderstood or simply invisible, but Ehrenreich describes the problem of poverty in the United States in a knowledgeable and compassionate way. She also states that poverty is an emergency and I think anybody who would like to understand that statement better should read Nickel and Dimed.

- Kayla Whitehead, Technical Services Assistant/Serials Specialist

WE RECOMMEND: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Egan, Jennifer. A Visit From the Goon Squad. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Call number: PS3555 .G292 V57 2010

Recommending a book that in a single year has won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and is being made into an HBO mini-series may not be particularly original. But when the book is this good, it’s easy to jump on the accolades bandwagon.

Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad resembles a collection of linked short stories more so than a novel, though that is how some critics have characterized it. The common thread among the stories is music producer Bennie Salazar—while each chapter concerns a different central character, they all have some sort of connection to Salazar. The titular “goon” is time. The stories take place anywhere from 1973 to 2020, and each of the characters suffers drastically from the ageing process.  Rarely is growing old as socially and economically damning as in the entertainment business, where many of the characters begin their careers.  Despite the vastly varying backgrounds of the central characters, Egan succeeds in creating entirely new voices for each of them. If you’re having a difficult time keeping track of the characters or the chronology of the book, no worries—the blog Ready When You Are, C.B. has a number of charts, pictures and graphs to help you get things straightened out.

A Visit From the Goon Squad is at once sweet, sad, funny, and poignant. This is a book that will keep you thinking about it long after you’ve put it down.

Elizabeth Kelly, Instruction and Special Collections Librarian

WE RECOMMEND: Philadelphia Story (Dir. by George Cukor)

The Philadelphia Story, directed by George Cukor

With its fast paced dialogue, its slapstick humor, and a plot revolving around an impending marriage; The Philadelphia Story is a classic “screwball comedy.” Katharine Hepburn plays Tracy Lord, a wealthy socialite who is to be married to a man from the “lower class,” George Kittredge (John Howard). Macaulay Connor (Jimmy Stewart), an aspiring writer and reluctant reporter for Spy Magazine, is assigned to cover the story of Tracy’s wedding. With the help of Tracy’s ex-husband, C.K Dexter Haven (Carey Grant), Macaulay and his photographer/ girlfriend Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) are introduced as friends of Tracy’s brother, and they are invited to stay at the Lord household for the wedding. Hilarity ensues as the characters discover that nobody is really who they appear to be and they soon learn the lesson that they cannot judge each other based on class membership (or any other preconceived notions). The characters learn the value of seeing each other simply as human beings.

The movie is a “must-see” especially because of the witty dialogue and the chemistry between the actors. Grant and Hepburn engage in such fast paced arguments and the clever insults fly effortlessly; the onscreen chemistry between the two is pretty remarkable. Hepburn and Stewart have many humorous and tender moments together as well, including a great scene which takes place in a library (library fans will be amused). Also, look out for Ruth Hussey’s character Liz, she has some of the best one-liners in the movie. Overall, The Philadelphia Story is a wonderful classic film; definitely not to be missed.

- Kayla Whitehead, Technical Services Assistant/Serials Specialist

We Recommend: Prep: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld

Prep: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld

Prep coverThere is no shortage of coming-of-age stories (especially coming-of-age stories set in boarding schools), but rarely is there one as realistic and relatable as Prep: a novel by Curtis Sittenfeld. As the story begins, the lovably awkward Lee Fiora is a freshman at Ault, a prestigious boarding school near Boston. Lee is a witty and intelligent teen, but as a scholarship student from the Midwest, she sometimes feels as though she does not fit in with her wealthy, privileged classmates. She spends a lot of time observing her classmates instead of interacting with them and soon gives herself the role of “the outsider.”

Occasionally, Lee can be a frustrating character, because she would probably be accepted if she gave people more of a chance. She eventually makes friends and finds her place at the school, but it’s a little bit of a struggle. Along the way, she works through her feelings of isolation and she handles difficult social situations; sometimes with hilarious results. She also deals with issues of sexuality and the loss of a first love (and Prep deals with these issues in a very frank and honest way, there are a couple sexually explicit scenes and there is explicit dialogue throughout the novel).

Overall, Prep is a fun, nostalgic read. There is some “teenage angst” and heartbreak, but also a lot of laughs. Many people will find something that they can relate to; I think there’s a little bit of Lee Fiora in all of us.

Kayla Whitehead, Technical Services Assistant/Serials Specialist

Southern Horrors and Other Writings by Ida B. Wells

Southern Horrors coverSouthern Horrors and Other Writings by Ida B. Wells

It’s hard to overstate the courage of Ida B. Wells. She was one of the loudest – and loneliest – voices against the barbaric practice of lynching throughout the American South during Reconstruction. As one of the only writers to undertake a systematic study of the practice, she uncovered grotesque facts (the practice of lynch mobs keeping body parts of the lynched as “souvenirs”), common lies (the most common incitement to a lynching being the allegation of impropriety or sexual aggression against a white woman), and what she saw as the root cause: the expansion of black sufferage, black economic power, and black social mobility.

Anti-lynching certainly wasn’t Ida Wells’ only cause, but it was the one for which she gained the most notoriety, both in the United States and in Europe. It was also one of the darkest chapters in American history, one in which her voice was often the only voice speaking for the thousands of innocent men and women who were tortured and killed. Her writing is urgent, impassioned, and absolutely necessary.

- Phil Rollins, Learning Technologies Developer

WE RECOMMEND: Women in Early America by Dorothy Mays

Mays, Dorothy A. Women in Early America: Struggle, Survival, and Freedom in a New World. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2004. Call number: HQ1416 .M395 2004

Women in Early America is one of my favorite subject-specific encyclopedias. This single volume contains biographical and topical entries pertaining to women and their experience in early America. Like most great reference books, this encyclopedia is a great place to start research. Each entry has suggestions for further reading, which is useful for identifying the most relevant and renowned materials on the given topic. The articles are accompanied by a motley array of images, excerpts from primary and secondary sources, and appendices. There is also an annotated bibliography divided by topics, such as the American Revolution, arts and letters, Native American women, and social life and customs.

In addition to having the qualities of a great reference book, Women in Early America is remarkably engaging. The author, Dorothy A. Mays, recognizes that the limitations of the historical record pose a challenge for conducting research about women. May attempts to address the diversity of women’s experience during this era. Famous females are featured alongside lesser-known women. Geography, nationality, religion, and social class shaped how women lived. Many of the topics describe aspects of women’s everyday life, including birth control, death and funeral customs, hobbies and games, hygiene, reputation, and shopping. The process for churning butter, brewing beer, filling a mattress, and other laborious work are detailed in an appendix on common household chores. All of these details combine to create a mosaic of women’s experience in early America.

You can find Women in Early America and other print reference materials in the reference section on the first floor.

Malia Wiley, Instruction Coordinator