Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Birthday Bard

This year, April 23rd marked the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare -- or, at least, marked the day when the world chose to celebrate it. (The Bard was born in 1564, but his exact day of birth remains a mystery.)

We don't know much about William Shakespeare. (I recommend Bill Bryson's excellent biography Shakespeare: The World as Stage, for as comprehensive a look as one can take at the famous playwright.) One thing, however, we can be certain about: his stories, characters, and poetry remain as popular, relatable, and relevant today as they did over four centuries ago.

So in honor of the Bard's big day, I'm here to recommend some personal Shakespearean favorites.

Comedy: Much Ado About Nothing

"There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and [Beatrice]: they never meet but there's a skirmish of wit between them."

In Shakespeare's time, the word "nothing" -- pronounced as noting -- was also used to refer to gossip and hearsay. It's an appropriate reference for a story that follows the paths of two couples who have their worlds turned upside-down by the power of rumor. But it happens in two very different ways: while young Claudio is tricked into leaving his beloved Hero standing at the alter, the more worldly Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into the discovery that their feelings for one another run more deeply than expected.  For both couples, however, happiness is an obtainable goal -- but it will take work, wit, and some outside help for everyone to find their way.

One of the most recent versions of the play was directed by Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, as well as the director of Marvel's blockbuster film The Avengers). But I'll always be partial to Kenneth Branagh's 1993 release, in which Branagh (who directs the film) plays Benedick opposite Emma Thompson's Beatrice.

-- Request Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing
-- Request Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing

Runner-Up: The Tempest

Try this 2010 production, which stars Helen Mirren in the traditionally male role of Prospero. A sorcerer, Prospero uses magic (and some old-fashioned manipulation) to conjure a storm and bring about the downfall of Antonio (Prospero's treacherous brother) -- while restoring Prospero's daughter, Miranda, to her rightful inheritance.

-- Request The Tempest

History: Henry IV, Part 1

"I'll so offend, to make offence a skill;
Redeeming time when men think least I will."

Coming-of-age stories are particular favorites of mine. So I was bound to enjoy 1 Henry IV -- which, despite its name, is the first of three Shakespearean plays that focus on the character of Prince Hal (who will himself go on to become King Henry V of England).

The first part of Henry IV shows us a prince who has gained a reputation for himself as a bungling slacker (his father, King Henry IV, informs his court that he rather desperately wishes Prince Hal was not actually his son). But Hal always has the intention of shaping up once the chips are down -- despite the machinations of Falstaff, Hal's mentor, who hopes to keep the prince exactly as he is.

Hal joins his father on the battlefield in the play's final act, the two fighting to defeat a challenge to Henry IV's throne (a throne that will, after all, one day be Hal's). For some great battle sequences -- and truly fine acting -- look no further than this 2012 release from the Hollow Crown series, featuring Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, and Simon Russell Beale.

-- Request Henry IV, Part 1

Runner-Up: Richard II

I'm partial to last year's staged version from the Royal Shakespeare Company, starring David Tennant (of Doctor Who fame) in the title role. It'll be released to DVD next month; in the meantime, try the version from the Hollow Crown set, starring Ben Whishaw as the vain, selfish king whose overthrow and downfall is as necessary as it is heartbreaking.

-- Request Richard II

Tragedy: Othello

"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; 
it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on."

I've got a soft spot for Othello, my first-ever Shakespeare play. Othello is a general in the Venetian army; Iago is one of his trusted soldiers and a right-hand man. But not quite "right-hand" enough to suit Iago himself -- and when Othello promotes Cassio over Iago as his new lieutenant, Iago decides then and there to take his revenge.

What follows is a story spinning out from the machinations of one of the most evil villains in all of literature. What makes Iago so chilling (and so undeniably brilliant) is his skill in using half-truths to spin the worst lies imaginable -- lies which come to sound all the more convincing and plausible.

Jealous himself of Cassio's promotion, Iago turns jealousy into a weapon wielded against those around him. Iago may be the catalyst, but what makes the play a tragedy is that Othello ultimately becomes his own worst enemy, allowing jealousy to manipulate him as deftly as Iago himself does. The 1995 version, starring Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh, remains my favorite adaptation.

-- Request Othello

Runner-Up: Hamlet

If it wasn't for Othello, there's no question in my mind that Hamlet would be my favorite of the tragedies. The world seems to agree: it's probably the most popular of all of Shakespeare's plays, and definitely one of the most-often performed. Take your pick!

-- Request a version of Hamlet

Sonnet: Number Eighteen (Listen to it read online here)

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? 
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date: 
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd; 
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st; 
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. 

Click here to hear Joss Whedon's version of "Sigh No More," 
a song from the pages of "Much Ado About Nothing."

-- Post by Ms. B 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Music for Free (Really!)

Want to download some free music and not break any laws doing it? Then check out the latest new service available from the library, Freegal (rhymes with legal). All you need is a valid library card from any library in Allegheny County.

Millions of songs are available for download including many from some of the most popular and current artists today. Genres range from Adult Contemporary to Big Band to Hip Hop to Polka. Whatever your musical tastes, there will most likely be a genre to cover it. And there's no software to install.

Download three free music tracks (MP3 format) from popular artists each week with no software to download and no digital rights management (DRM) restrictions. Log in with your library barcode number and PIN. 

You will always see how many downloads you have available each week. Once you are logged in you will see it in the upper right corner.

You can always add items to a wish list if you want so you always have songs to choose from when your available downloads free up. Just click on the "plus" sign beside the song you want to download or to add it to your wish list. 

Once an item is downloaded it will be on your computer and it is yours to keep. You don't need to return it and you can transfer it to any device that you want.

There are also lots of music videos available for download as well. The only difference is that videos count as two downloads instead of one.

Look for your titles in your downloads folder or where ever you've chosen to save them and enjoy your new, free music! And if you want to download music and videos directly to your mobile device or tablet simply look for the Freegal app in your devices app store.

--Post by Tracy

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's National Library Week!

It's that time of year again, where we all celebrate the importance of libraries in our communities. We at New@MPL and the Monroeville Public Library join libraries in schools, campuses, and communities nationwide in celebrating National Library Week, a time to highlight the value of libraries, librarians, and library workers.

Today’s libraries can help you and your family discover a new and exciting world. Visit your library for computer resources for teens and adults, help with your job search, access to subscription databases, library-recommended websites, and homework help. You also can obtain information about how to become a U.S. citizen, bilingual resources, and neutral financial information to help you make important decisions. Libraries are an oasis if you are looking for adult education classes, or for a recommendation on the best books or e-books to expand your horizons.

Open the door to change -- visit your library!

To see what's happening this month at Monroeville Public Library, check out our events calendar here.

And check out this video to see what author Judy Blume has to say about the value of libraries!

--Post by Tracy

Thursday, April 10, 2014

April Library Reads

The April list of librarians favorite new titles from Library Reads is out and below are a select few. To see the full list click here. (All titles are available for request.)

Happy Reading!

Library Reads Favorite
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel
by Gabrielle Zevin

“A middle-aged bookseller mourning his lost wife, a feisty publisher’s rep, and a charmingly precocious abandoned child come together on a small island off the New England coast in this utterly delightful novel of love and second chances.”

Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY

Silence for the Dead: A Novel
by Simone St. James

“A young nurse working in an isolated hospital for WWI veterans finds herself in over her head. Are the patients in the mysterious estate haunted by their wartime experiences, or something more malevolent? St. James is an up-and-coming author with a flair for combining horror and romance. A great choice for readers of either genre.”

Jenna Persick, Chester County Library, Exton, PA

The Intern’s Handbook: A Thriller
by Shane Kuhn

“How did Shane Kuhn pull this off? He’s written an action-packed, twisting thriller about professional assassins, and–guess what?–it’s funny and romantic, too! In a totally quirky way, of course. You have to read it to believe it.”

Nancy Russell, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Columbus, OH

Family Life: A Novel
by Akhil Sharma

“The Mishras move from India to New York City in the 1980s in order to give their two sons better educational opportunities. When tragedy strikes, the family tries to recover the optimism and hope that propelled them to America. Beautiful, clear-eyed and compelling, this book packs a powerful punch.”

Anbolyn Potter, Chandler Public Library, Chandler, AZ

On the Rocks: A Novel
by Erin Duffy

“After her fiance dumps her on Facebook, Abby retreats to her apartment until her best friend invites her to spend the summer in Newport. This book is for every woman who’s been determined to put things back together after finding herself on the wrong side of social media, in the aftermath of a bad breakup, or elbow deep in Ben & Jerry’s when things fall apart.”

Sara Grochowski, Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library, Alpena, MI

--Post by Tracy

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Staff Recommendation #28: "Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened" by Allie Brosh

by Allie Brosh

It began as a blog. The website Hyperbole and a Half is a collection of stories from the life of its creator, Allie Brosh. While there are hundreds of blogs that could fit that description, Brosh's stands out for three reasons: her hilarious writing style, her quirky but utterly fun artwork, and the fact that she can tell a good story.

Her illustrated tales are a mixture of childhood remembrances, adventures from her day-to-day experiences, and reflections on herself and on life in general. Many of her stories are laugh-out-loud hilarious -- such as when she's remembering her beloved dinosaur costume or her childhood fondness for cake. But she's not afraid to tackle more serious fare -- such as her courageous two-part tale detailing her struggles with depression. (In fact, if I have any criticism for the book at all, it's that she is far too hard on herself for what she sees as her personal shortcomings.)

When turning her stories into a book, Brosh plucked several classic entries from her website for publication. But there is also a plethora of new material in the book, including an ill-begotten hiking trip from her childhood and the truth behind her lifelong love of hot sauce. The book was as delightful a read as her webpage stories have been, and I'm already hoping a sequel might be in the works.

Want to try a few of her tales?  Here are five of my favorites (just click on the title to read the story on her website):

1. The Milk Crisis of 2005

Before I was a librarian, I spent nine months working as a waitress. That memorable experience gives me a special appreciation for this story: a simple, heartwarming tale that rapidly turns into full-blown horror. (Of the most humorous kind.) A cautionary tale for anyone contemplating a career in the food service industry.

2. Texas

Brosh's first trip to Texas was somewhat ill-timed. Having grown up in the frigid Northwest, the beginning of summer was not a good time to make her first trip down south -- particularly not to compete in a regional track meet. Factor in a fever, fireflies, and a few inadequately-sympathetic teammates, and it's a recipe for certain disaster.

3. The Party

Dental surgery and birthday parties don't mix. Little Allie's not about to let that stop her. All she has to do is prove to her mother that she's sufficiently recovered from her surgery sedation to make it to her friend's birthday party. What could go wrong?  (This one's included in the book.)

4. Sneaky Hate Spiral

Perhaps you've already read the children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Here's another look into days like that.

5. Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving

As a long-time dog owner, I'm admittedly biased when it comes to our canine companions. And nothing tickles my funny bone like a great dog story. So I couldn't resist this tale, in which Brosh and her boyfriend must transport their two dogs -- one smart as a whip and highly neurotic, the other a gentler soul who still manages to cause all manner of mischief -- to their new home. Complete with 2 a.m. wake-ups, sled dog booties, and a Bon Jovi shout-out, this is easily my favorite of Allie Brosh's stories. (Also included in the book.)

-- Post by Ms. B 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

From His Point of View

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... 'til you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it." 
-- Atticus Finch ("To Kill a Mockingbird")

Gregory Peck (April 5, 1916) is one of America's finest actors and also happens to be one of my all-time favorite actors as well. He almost always played men of conviction and compassion, which I found very appealing even at a young age.

Peck's career took off in 1945, when he starred in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound co-starring Ingrid Bergman. The 1950s saw numerous box office successes, such as The Gunfighter, The Snows of Kiliminjaro and Moby Dick. His final acting appearance came in 1998's Moby Dick mini-series, starring as Father Mapple (he played Captain Ahab in the 1956 version).

Throughout his illustrious career, Peck starred in many memorable and noteworthy films. Below are a few of my personal favorites.

-- To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

Gregory Peck won a Best Actor Academy Award for his masterful performance as crusading lawyer Atticus Finch. Based on Harper Lee's novel, the film tells the story of Finch, his daughter Scout and son Jem in 1930s Alabama. 

-- Roman Holiday (1953)

A fun and sweet romantic comedy showcases the wonders of Rome through the eyes of a naive princess (Audrey Hepburn) and a slightly cynical journalist (Peck). 

Peck stars as Captain Mallory, who is unexpectedly put in charge of destroying German cannons on an Aegean island.  This film, also starring David Niven and Anthony Quinn, is a fast-paced and entertaining World War II thriller. 

In order to get to write an expose on anti-Semitism in post-war New York City, a journalist (Peck) poses as a Jew. This assignment begins to take a toll on this widower and father in many of his relationships. Gentleman's Agreement won the Best Picture Academy Award in 1948. 

--Post by Tracy

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Feast of Fools

"That, of course, is the great secret of the successful fool -- that he is no fool at all."
~ Isaac Asimov

As April Fools' Day winds to a close, take a look at some recommended reading focused on some of our favorite fictional jesters, jokesters, and fools. They'll be sure to put a smile on your face!

-- Fool by Christopher Moore

Of all of Shakespeare's tragedies, King Lear is one of the darkest. It tells the story of a king who pits his daughters against each other, tearing the family apart as Lear himself slowly spirals into insanity. And the consequences, as one can imagine, are catastrophic.

So was it a stretch for humor novelist Christopher Moore to turn it into a comedy?  It's surprisingly hard to say. Told from the perspective of Pocket, Lear's court jester (unnamed in the original play), Moore spins a tale that blends together elements of King Lear with a number of other Shakespearean stories -- while throwing generous dollops of his own racy and twisted humor into the mix. The result is a bawdy satire that you don't have to be a Shakespeare fan to enjoy (although it won't hurt).

Click here to request from the Catalog.

-- The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory

Phillippa Gregory is best known for The Other Boleyn Girl and its sequels, in which she uses her in-depth historical research to imagine the lives of the family, court, and citizens of Tutor England.

In The Queen's Fool, Hannah is a young teen girl from Spain who currently lives on Fleet Street with her father. Disguised as a boy to protect herself, Hannah nonetheless ends up being recognized as having "the Sight" -- that is, the power to see the future. She soon finds herself a member of the court of Edward VI (Henry VIII's son) as the "holy fool." What follows through this fictional character's eyes is the historically-accurate unfolding of the fates of two queens, Mary and Elizabeth, as Hannah herself is trained by the jester Will Sommers -- a real-life historical figure.

Click here to request from the Catalog.

-- Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

"When shall we three meet again?"
"Well, I can do next Tuesday."

Terry Pratchett has been known and loved for his Discworld series for over thirty years. Starting life as a straight-up fantasy satire, the Discworld series has evolved into an always-hilarious series that -- while still parodying other authors, stories, and genres -- tells fantastic tales in its own right.

Wyrd Sisters, which makes clear nods to the world of Shakespeare, centers on a trio of witches (the naive Magrat, the irrepressible Nanny Ogg, and the stern-and-practical Granny Weatherwax). But there's also the Fool, who has his hands full trying to avoid a destiny he's not entirely certain he's cut out for. When reading Pratchett, the ideas as are much fun as the story itself -- so this is a novel not to be missed.

Click here to request from the Catalog.

-- Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe

Sharing similar themes to The Cask of Amontillado, this short story tells the tale of a court jester who has his own ideas as to what makes rulers great and what makes jesters funny -- and he's determined to open the people's eyes to these truths with his last, and "greatest," jest. To say more would spoil the twists and turns of this horror-filled tale from Edgar Allan Poe, which delivers a surprisingly poignant message on the nature of power and and prejudice.

Click here to request from the Catalog.

-- Mad Love by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

All's fair in love, war ... and supervillainy. In the world of comic books, the Joker is the constant thorn in Batman's side -- but he's not always alone in his schemes and scams. He's got a right-hand henchwoman to help him out: the jester-like Harley Quinn.

In this classic graphic novel, written by Harley Quinn's original creators, we get the back story into one of the more twisted romantic relationships in comic book history. Formerly a psychiatrist, Quinn's now got her own problems, namely: how to get her best guy to pay a little bit more attention to her and a little less attention on defeating his arch-enemy. The solution seems simple to Harley: it's time to put a stop to the Bat once and for all. Of course, like any good scheme, things don't always go exactly according to plan.

Click here to request from the Catalog.

-- Post by Ms. B