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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fascinating History: Erik Larson's Page-Turning Nonfiction

Whether or not you’re familiar with the term creative nonfiction (also known as narrative or literary nonfiction), you’re likely a fan of the genre if you enjoy gripping and suspenseful nonfiction that reads like a novel. One of the best-selling authors in the genre, Erik Larson, is currently on tour for his recently published book - Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. And thanks to Fairfax County Public Library and Fall for the Book, hundreds of excited fans had the opportunity to hear him speak on Friday, March 20 at Northern Virginia Community College’s Ernst Theater.

While his books are gritty, delving into dark and even sinister historical events, Larson was quick with a joke. That, along with his personal stories, certainly helped lighten the mood from the death and destruction that is the focus of Dead Wake. One particularly hilarious anecdote involved his daughter. Years ago, when he was speaking at a large book festival in Texas, his young daughter raised her hand during the Q&A. Dubious, but game, Larson called on her, and she asked him how much of the book he made up!
Larson also gave insight into his writing process, discussing how he comes up with ideas and decides which real historical characters will come to life in his books. We learned much of this is determined by the archival materials available. Each book idea goes through a very thorough vetting and research process to insure he can provide the type of details that, as he says, sparks his readers’ imaginations.

Larson is best known for The Devil in the White City. This compelling history of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair follows the lives of two men, the exhibition’s architect Daniel H. Burnham and serial killer Herman Mudgett. But Larson's books span a variety of topics. Isaac’s Storm is a disturbing account of the brutal and deadly 1900 Galveston Hurricane, and In the Garden of Beasts recounts the experiences of the American Ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, as the Nazis rise to power before World War 2.  

Erik Larson is by no means the only narrative nonfiction author. Try one of these titles the next time you want to read a page-turning history book: 

Columbus: The Four Voyages by Laurence Bergreen 

The Great Influenza by John Barry 

Lost City of Z by David Grann 

Lost in Shangri La by Mitchell Zuckoff 

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt  

 --Rebecca Molineaux, George Mason Regional Library

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"The Granddaddy of Highbrow Bracketology"

If it’s March, it’s bracket time. If you’re not playing along with the NCAA brackets (go Kentucky!) then have no fear. There are brackets available for every stripe. Here at the library, we've been following The Morning News’s Tournament of Books. Now entering its 11th season, the Tournament of Books pits 16 of the past year’s most talked about and best literary fiction against each other in head-to-head battles, sweet sixteen style. Or as they describe it, "The Granddaddy of Highbrow Bracketology."
Will the literary juggernaut All the Light We Cannot See sweep the series? Which of your favorites will be upset in the first rounds? For me that was the Department of Speculation.
A Rooster?
Only for the Winner.

Kids' books more your style? Follow the School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books and read March Madness: Kids’ Book Style by one of our children’s librarians who loves the event. Superheroes? Have no fear. Fan of romance? Have that, too. Cookbooks? Bingo.

So grab a book, place your bets and follow along in the conversation.

-Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

From Page to Picture

When it comes to movies that are based on books, there are only two kinds of people: those who need to read the book before heading out to the cinema and those who prefer to venture in blindly. I’m definitely in the first group, even if it sometimes brings pain to me and those around me. My family starts to moan as soon as they hear me say, “but in the book…”  Heartbreaking though it is when a film lets me down, there’s nothing I love more than seeing a director perfectly capture the spirit and feel of a cherished book. 
There’s a great crop of movie adaptations coming your way this spring. If you’re like me, you’ll want to take a quick look at any titles you haven’t already read. Then you’ll be ready to sit back and enjoy the show! the heart of the sea: the tragedy&srchfield3=TI^TITLE^SERIES^Title Processing^Title&searchoper3=AND&thesaurus3=SERIES&search_entries3=TI&search_type3=TITLE&special_proc3=Title Processing&library=ALL&match_on=KEYWORD&shadow=NO&sort_by=-PBYR&user_id=WEBSERVER

Nathaniel Philbrick’s true account of the sinking of the Essex comes out on film in just a few days on March 13. An enraged sperm whale capsizes a 19th c. Nantucket whaling ship, forcing the crew into a lengthy struggle for survival on three small lifeboats.^AUTHOR^AUTHORS^Author Processing^Author&searchoper2=AND&thesaurus2=AUTHORS&search_entries2=AU&search_type2=AUTHOR&special_proc2=Author Processing&searchdata3=serena&srchfield3=TI^TITLE^SERIES^Title Processing^Title&searchoper3=AND&thesaurus3=SERIES&search_entries3=TI&search_type3=TITLE&special_proc3=Title Processing&library=ALL&match_on=KEYWORD&shadow=NO&sort_by=-PBYR&user_id=WEBSERVER

Coming out March 27, Serena pairs up Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Laurence in the movie based on Ron Rash’s Appalachian saga. The story follows newlywed lumber barons George and Serena Pemberton as their marriage and empire slowly fall to pieces."wolf hall"&srchfield1=TI^TITLE^SERIES^Title Processing^Title&searchoper1=&thesaurus1=SERIES&search_entries1=TI&search_type1=TITLE&special_proc1=Title&library=ALL&match_on=KEYWORD&sort_by=-PBYR&user_id=WEBSERVER

Masterpiece Theatre brings Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novels of Tudor England to the small screen April 5. This six-hour miniseries portrays the volatile events of Henry VIII’s court, as seen through the eyes of the king’s scheming advisor Thomas Cromwell.^AUTHOR^AUTHORS^Author Processing^Author&searchoper2=AND&thesaurus2=AUTHORS&search_entries2=AU&search_type2=AUTHOR&special_proc2=Author Processing&searchdata3=longest ride&srchfield3=TI^TITLE^SERIES^Title Processing^Title&searchoper3=AND&thesaurus3=SERIES&search_entries3=TI&search_type3=TITLE&special_proc3=Title Processing&library=ALL&match_on=KEYWORD&shadow=NO&sort_by=-PBYR&user_id=WEBSERVER

The Longest Ride brings another moving romance by Nicholas Sparks to cinemas on April 10. It features two couples, one looking back on their love from the end of their life and the other whose romance is just beginning."child 44"&srchfield1=TI^TITLE^SERIES^Title Processing^Title&searchoper1=&thesaurus1=SERIES&search_entries1=TI&search_type1=TITLE&special_proc1=Title&library=ALL&match_on=KEYWORD&sort_by=-PBYR&user_id=WEBSERVER

Under Stalin’s reign, the only crimes that the Soviet Union will acknowledge are crimes against the state itself. When security officer Leo Demidov suspects a vicious killer is at large, he must challenge his own beliefs and the state to get to the truth. This long-awaited adaptation of Tom Rob Smith’s debut novel hits theaters on April 17.^AUTHOR^AUTHORS^Author Processing^Author&searchoper2=AND&thesaurus2=AUTHORS&search_entries2=AU&search_type2=AUTHOR&special_proc2=Author Processing&searchdata3="far from the madding crowd"&srchfield3=TI^TITLE^SERIES^Title Processing^Title&searchoper3=AND&thesaurus3=SERIES&search_entries3=TI&search_type3=TITLE&special_proc3=Title Processing&library=ALL&match_on=KEYWORD&shadow=NO&sort_by=-PBYR&user_id=WEBSERVER

Carey Mulligan stars in the latest version, released on May 1, of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel. Three men, vastly different in status and wealth, vie for the love of impetuous West Country farmer Bathsheba Everdene. 
-Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

An Overlooked Classic: Hunger

My favorite often-overlooked classic is Hunger by Knut Hamsun. First published in Norway in 1890, this short psychological novel has a surprisingly modern tone. Told in first-person, it is the inner monologue of a starving writer trying to survive in the fictitious city of Kristiana, Norway (probably based on Oslo). Fairfax County Public Library owns the Sverre Lyngstad translation of the book. The Lyngstad translation is said to be more accurate than older translations but doesn't have the same flow, in my opinion. I prefer the Bly translation, which I find more poetic.

The narrator’s “voice” is impacted by his hunger, which begins to affect his behavior and thought-patterns, with bursts of hopefulness sliding into paranoia and despair. We see him selling off the last of his meager belongings at the pawnshop, falling in love and trying to write pieces to sell to the newspaper. All the while he is struggling to buy enough food, keep a roof over his head and cling to his sanity. Yet he maintains his dignity, refusing charity and attempting to share what little he has with others he perceives as less fortunate. It might be difficult to read if not for the dark humor in some of his bizarre musings and the spare style which keeps it moving along. It does end on a hopeful note.

Hamsun won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1920 but primarily for Growth of the Soil, a later work which was more acclaimed in its time. 

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Interested in joining a book club that discusses classic works of literature? Both Richard Byrd Library and Patrick Henry Library host classics book clubs. 
Contact those branches for more information.