Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Listen to This! Before It Hits the Big Screen

Editor’s note - Many of us in the library have read and enjoyed this book. It has been optioned for a movie, which will be directed by Ridley Scott and star Matt Damon. Another interesting fact: Weir self-published this book. Crown Publishing, a division of Random House, took note and purchased it. A sign of things to come for independently-published authors? We hope so.

The Martian by Andy Weir
performed by R.C. Bray
Brilliance Audio, 2014. 11 hours on 9 discs.
2015 Alex Award Winner
Starred Review

This audiobook was too good. Every time I stopped my car, I didn’t want to turn off the CD player and get out. Finally, when it was down to the last half-hour, I brought the final CD into my house to finish listening – even though I was already coming home late from game night. The entire book was tough to shut off at any time, but a half-hour from the end, it was impossible.

This book is set in the near future, on NASA’s third mission to Mars. Mark Watney is left behind when a freak accident convinces his crewmates that he’s dead. The book is about his struggle to survive. Using what he has (their mission was cut short), he works to figure out how to survive long enough to last four years until the next scheduled mission to Mars.

And that’s not easy. He doesn’t have enough food. He doesn’t have enough water. He has no way to contact earth. He is miles away from the planned landing of the next Mars mission.

Mark is a botanist and an engineer, and his ingenuity and resourcefulness are incredible. Everything he does to survive – making plants grow and making water out of rocket fuel for example – sounds like plausible science. And enough things go wrong to be completely believable. Just when you think he’s in the clear, something new almost kills him and new plans must be made. The description of the mission to Mars and the equipment sent is told in such a way that I caught myself thinking it’s already been done. I was so absorbed in his scientific achievements and ability to overcome life-or-death problems, I was disappointed when I finished the book and realized none of it is real.

The tension is gripping. The science is fascinating. And you grow to really like Mark, a guy who doesn’t give up even when abandoned on Mars. If NASA ever does send humans to Mars, I think they should read this book first. Just in case.

-Sondra Eklund, Fairfax City Regional Library

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Shhhh! My Novel has a Secret

"I have a terribly exciting secret in my past and now, after 60 years of silence, I’m going to bare my soul.” If you read historical fiction, you’ve probably run across this literary device at least once. The narrator of the story, usually a woman, reflects back on a terrible scandal or secret from the past that altered her life but has never, ever been told. A popular variation uses a narrator who receives a clue setting her on the trail of a hidden mystery. Secret pasts can make a wonderful story – think of Rose in the movie Titanic, forging a love for the ages on the decks of the ill-fated ship. I usually finish these types of novels with a little sigh over my ever-so-bland past. But then again, maybe I’ve got a secret or two of my own hidden away. I’ll let you know when I’m eighty.  

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier 
In this classic novel, an older woman living in exile reflects on her youthful marriage to the elegant widower Max de Winter. Her own insecurities and memories of his beautiful first wife Rebecca shadow their time at his renowned country estate Manderly.  Her quest to discover the truth of Rebecca’s tragic disappearance will lay bare the foundations of her own marriage.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters
An elderly Italian man appears in a Los Angeles movie studio searching for a mysterious woman he met 50 years ago. As their history unfolds, the story moves from a tiny, poverty-stricken Italian village, the filming of the movie Cleopatra featuring the turbulent romance of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and the modern-day Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams 
A long-lost suitcase belonging to her aunt Violet Grant arrives on Vivian Schuyler’s doorstop in 1962. Vivian, who wants a career as a journalist despite her family’s pressure to marry, is intrigued by her aunt’s life as an early female physicist. She hopes to uncover the truth of a long-suppressed scandal from the beginning of World War I.    

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes 
In 1916 France, a portrait of young Sophie Lefevre draws the unwanted attention of an officer in the occupying German forces. To protect her family, her business and eventually her husband’s life, Sophie is forced to take ever-increasing risks. In 2006 London, young widow Liv Halston clings desperately to the same portrait as a memento of her tragically short marriage. When a restitution company challenges her ownership of the painting, Liv must uncover the truth of what happened 100 years ago.

The Visitors by Sally Beauman 
Lucy Payne revisits her past as a childhood witness to the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt. Archaeology fans will probably easily guess the secret of the excavation that Lucy reveals. This slowly paced novel captures the great historic personalities of the era from a child’s perspective, where the adult world can seem mysterious and forbidden.  

--Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Great Courses: Enjoyable Lectures at Your Fingertips

Could you go back to school again and sit through lectures? My answer would be yes, provided the classroom was nearby, and there were no tests. In these busy times when we’re often multitasking, The Great Courses offer a ‘great’ way to learn while doing other things. My time for listening to books is when I drive. I have a long enough commute that I can listen to a good chunk of an audiobook before I switch off the engine. This series offers audio lectures by academics on a wide selection of subjects. If you like history, there is The American Revolution. If you’re interested in language, try The History of the English Language. For philosophy lovers, there is Masters of Greek Thought. If you’re into medicine, listen to Understanding Genetics. And if you like politics, check out Cycles of Political Thought.

For literature enthusiasts, there is The English Novel in two parts. Dr. Timothy Spurgin focuses on English novels of the 18th and 19th century. He defines the concept of the novel as a relationship of the individual with the world around him. The distinction of the English novel, using the example of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, is that the protagonist finds personal and professional fulfillment in the end whereas in the French novel, such as Balzac’s Lost Illusions, the protagonist is destroyed by his quest for fortune. Listeners will also learn terms used to describe different genres of novels such as ‘epistolary novel’ which is a novel written in letters such as Pamela by Samuel Richardson, a ‘novel of manners’ such as Jane Austen’s novels and ‘stream of consciousness narrations’ such as Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.  

Great American Bestsellers is another interesting literary find. Professor Peter Conn talks about how a book becomes a best seller (there is no sure formula but there are some patterns) and the different factors that contribute to it. He includes among others the first book published in the English speaking world in 1640, The Bay Psalm Book, as well as The Last of the Mohicans, Ragged Dick, House of Mirth, The Maltese Falcon, The Grapes of Wrath, and Catch-22 among others. He also talks about recent bestselling authors such as John Grisham, Tom Clancy and Danielle Steel.

The Great Courses offer DVD versions of some subjects. Two good examples are How to Listen to and Understand Great Music and Victorian Britain. All items, audio versions and DVDs have an accompanying course guidebook which lets you go back and read bits that you may have missed.

So, if you enjoy learning, check out The Great Courses at your local library.

-Aliya Parvez, Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Librarians Reach Out - Let Us Come to You

You expect to find librarians in the library, but would you expect to see your local librarian at the police station? If you thought librarians only work inside a library’s four walls, think again. Community partnerships are a key component of our mission:  to educate, enrich and empower our diverse community. Librarians are always on the lookout for creative partnerships that allow us to bring valuable, new services to our communities.

Staff member Darcee Huber at the Mini NOVA Maker's Faire
Librarians reach out to business owners, seniors and job seekers to tackle the newest trends. Patrick Henry Librarian Deb Smith-Cohen works with members of the Vienna Business Association to help small business leaders learn how specialized market research tools can help them grow. Oakton Library staff, including Pearline Fang, Aliya Parvez and Linda Shankle, partnered with the Lifelong Learning Institute of Northern Virginia to help older adults of all backgrounds and income levels learn to use eBooks and navigate library resources. Staff at Pohick Regional Library serve as “embedded librarians” in resume and interview clinics and English as a Second Language classes, bringing resources and knowledge directly to students in need at the Plum Center. Additionally, staff members Jim Seeley, Robert Harvey, Andrew Pendergrass, Darcee Huber and Lynette Terpak hosted a booth at the Mini NOVA Maker’s Faire, demonstrating how to program a computer to create a piano out of carrots. 

McGruff the Crime Dog
waves to his fans at Lorton Library.
Children’s programs and resources also go on the road. By bringing storytimes to Head Start programs and military communities like the Van Noy Library at Fort Belvoir, librarians help  children who may not be able to attend regular library programs gain valuable early literacy skills. In a partnership with local law enforcement, Lorton librarians brought special programs to a local community center at the West Springfield Police substation. McGruff the Crime Dog even paid a visit to one special storytime! Librarians are ready to connect students with library cards, ESL materials, homework help and other resources at Back to School Nights and other school events. 

A visitor to the Centreville Day Festival
shows off his new book.
Our outreach services include more than programs – we’re there to lend a helping community hand whenever possible. You’ll find librarians twirling book carts in parades and handing out free books to children in community festivals throughout the county. Friends of the Library groups also get involved. When a shortage of supplies at a Lorton food bank coincided with a large donation of paperback books to the library, the Friends of the Lorton Library came to the rescue. The Friends graciously allowed the library to give away the paperbacks in exchange for donations of canned goods for the food bank – a win-win situation.  

Interested in learning more about how your community organization can partner with the library?  Send us an email to learn more - let us come to you!

-Deb Smith-Cohen, Patrick Henry Library & Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library