Wednesday, November 30, 2016

If You Like...Star Wars - Read These Books!

Editor's Note - Some of us here at About Books have already bought our tickets to Rogue One. As we wait for it to open in theaters December 16, we are enjoying these recommendations. 

Almost 40 years after the release of the first Star Wars movie, the characters and stories have become bonding points from generation to generation, and there have been many who have started to study the universe’s continuing appeal. Star Wars is what is known as a space opera, a subgenre of science fiction that features space as a setting, with a melodramatic and adventurous plot often containing space warfare, romance and advanced technologies and/or abilities, like the Force. I think one of the other elements that sets Star Wars apart from a lot of other space-set science fiction is that it’s not just set in space – it’s set in a galaxy, far, far away with limited to no mention of Earth or Earth’s interactions with other planets, galaxies or species. This choice makes it even easier for readers to suspend disbelief enough for fantastic elements to coexist in the story alongside its more familiar science-based aspects. What you’ll find on the list below is a mix of retellings and adaptations, other space operas in galaxies far, far away and non-fiction reads that may interest Star Wars fans, so without further ado… read on!

The Hero with a Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell
Originally published in 1949, this work is Joseph Campbell’s exploration of world mythology through a lens of modern psychology, considering the patterns that can be found in myths through the ages and its relevance to our human experience. Why is this book of interest to a Star Wars fan? This title was actually one of many things that inspired George Lucas in his creation of Star Wars.

Star Wars: Heir to the Empire – Timothy Zahn

There are many titles that either retell the movies or expand the Star Wars universe, but our recommendation list would not be complete without mentioning Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. Heir to the Empire was the first attempt at continuing the Star Wars story, eight years after the release of Return of the Jedi, and, in it, Zahn successfully captures the characters from screen to page and makes it feel like readers have entered the Star Wars universe again. For many years, this trilogy was considered by many to be part of the Star Wars canon, but that view was officially corrected and the Thrawn trilogy, relabeled a Legend, prior to the coming of The Force Awakens and what has been dubbed the “new canon.” This reader can’t help but wonder, though, if any of the plot lines in Force Awakens can be traced back to this trilogy, despite its non-canon relabeling...

With the Lightnings – David Drake

History meets space opera in this story, which Drake himself has called a “SF version of the Aubrey/Maturin series, Patrick O’Brian’s superb knockoff of Forester’s Hornblower” series. In Drake’s universe, the Republic of Cinnabar battles it out against the Alliance in a battle for supremacy and the wealthy planet Kostroma finds itself stuck in the middle, trying to remain independent. When a powerful invasion fleet heads toward Kostroma, it’s up to Daniel Leary, Cinnabar naval lieutenant, and Adele Mundy, a scholar whose family had no love for Cinnabar and paid the price, along with their thrown together crew to help the planet Kostroma retain its independence.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope – Ian Doescher

This book is a particularly fun adaptation of George Lucas’s Star Wars that takes the story from screenplay to an iambic pentameter stageplay, exploring the question of what the story might look like if Shakespeare had told it. The six books in this series adapts the first six movies and – bonus – may be an excellent starting point for Star Wars fans learning to read and understand Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter.

Dune – Frank Herbert

This otherworldly science fiction tells the story of Paul Atreides, a son who was supposed to be a daughter, and as a result may be a sort of “chosen one” to a group called the Bene Gesserit that seeks to maintain their power and influence for the good of their society. The Bene Gesserit possess supernatural mental abilities, including one called “the Voice” which enables them to perform their universe’s version of a Jedi mind trick. This book is the first in a series of books by Frank Herbert, in a world that has had a similar lasting appeal as Star Wars for many science fiction fans

The Making of Star Wars – J. W. Rinzler

For film buffs and anyone else interested in seeing the behind-the-scenes workings of filming Star Wars, this book is not to be missed. There are many books out there that go behind the scenes of each of the different Star Wars films, but this one exclusively explores the making of Star Wars: a New Hope, the very first film created and shared, and includes interviews from the official Lucasfilm archives, conducted before and during work on the film but not released until years later when this book was published in 2007.

What other recommendations would you give to others who love Star Wars? Leave them, along with any suggestions for future “If You Like…” posts, in the comments!

- Denise Dolan, George Mason Regional Library

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

Image courtesy of Flickr

We at About Books are taking a break this week to celebrate the holiday and count the many things for which we are grateful - including you, our readers!

Don't forget, the library is closed Thursday and Friday, but you can still download thousands of eBooks and eAudiobooks from our library eBook catalog. You may have noticed OverDrive has a new look - the website updates include many enhancements to make browsing and downloading a new book easier.

A good thing, so you can concentrate on avoiding family (or Troll) conflict over the holiday dinner: Politely change the subject by showing Aunt Edna how easy it is to download her own books. Maybe even start in the Family and Relationships section. We consider that a win-win.

-Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Trip To the Lighthouse with Virginia Woolf

From the brilliant, yet exquisitely tormented soul of Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse spilled on to the literary scene in 1927. A quick glance at Ms. Woolf's life reveals many autobiographical nuances to the story - family vacations, deaths, struggles. One character muses, "She felt... how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach." Prophetic, indeed.

In the novel, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey and their eight children are vacationing on the island of Skye in the Hebrides with a collection of eclectic guests.

Mr. Ramsey, an intellectual, rules the family with emphatic force, yet craves the affection of all. Mrs. Ramsey handles the mechanics of household with the ease of a maestro: orchestrating dinner parties, soothing the children, shepherding the staff, amorously matching the guests and visiting the sick in the village. Yet she is trapped within the razor edges of her narrow life, acquiescing to her husband's mental powers and protecting herself from despair at every turn.

Guest Lily Briscoe observes the couple, weighing their strengths and weaknesses, while trying to forge her own way. She longs to follow an artistic life of painting but is plagued with self-doubts and social disapproval due to post-Victorian gender expectations.

In the orbit of these three whirl the children and the other guests, all with their individual issues.

It's an idyllic summer holiday, with the lighthouse in the distance beckoning hope, stability, guidance, permanence. But also ultimate alienation. For well hidden within each soul, there is grinding self-ambivalence.

Ms. Woolf's luscious words paint the family and guest dynamics with pages of internal musings, flowing from character to character, giving-taking, resolving-questioning, dancing-despairing like rotating beams from the title lighthouse. It is in the segment "Time Passes" where she is at her literary best, describing the deserted summer house with the specter of death and World War I looming. "Loveliness and stillness clasped hands in the bedroom, and among the shrouded jugs and sheeted chairs even the prying of the wind, and the soft nose of the clammy sea airs, rubbing, snuffling, iterating and reiterating their questions - "Will you fade? Will you perish?'"

Woolf is not without hope, but there is always the small print. Even on the last page when Lily triumphantly finishes her painting and declares, "Yes, I have had my vision", you want to believe. Until you notice the verb tense. To the lighthouse, indeed, but there is always the danger of the battering shore.

Still that same Ms. Woolf quiets our souls with the line buried within this amazing work, "And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be are full of trees and changing leaves."


-Lois Glick, Great Falls Library

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Good Pick for Book Clubs: Benediction by Kent Haruf

'Dad' Lewis, a respected but somewhat gruff member of his small community of Holt, Colorado, has just been given the news that he is dying, and this will be his last summer. With the help of his wife Mary and daughter Lorraine, he prepares himself and his family and friends for his death, making amends with the few people he feels he has wronged and making sure that his family knows he loves them. His biggest regret is the failed relationship with his gay son, whom he simply could not understand and from whom he is now estranged.

Benediction is set in the same town as Haruf's earlier novels, Plainsong and Eventide. We get a glimpse of this small community, the place Dad held in the town and the people who have touched his life. Other stories parallel Dad's-- a young girl who moves in next door with her grandmother, a young preacher who brings controversy and conflict to the town, the loyal employees of Dad's hardware store--all reminders that life goes on. While the book is structured around Dad, women are an important part of the story--their strength, their friendship, the bond between mothers and daughters. This is a quiet story, like Haruf’s other books, with beautiful, simple writing.

A favorite passage in the book is when the young preacher takes a night-time walk through the town and is stopped by a policeman:

Is there something wrong with you? What are you doing out here?
I'm just walking. Having a look around town.
Your family knows where you are?
They know I'm taking a walk.
It doesn't bother you to look in other people's houses? You think that's all right.
I don't think I'm doing any harm. I didn't mean to.
Well, these people don't like it. This man called you in.
What did he say?
That you were looking in his house.
Did he say what he was doing in his house?
Why would he say that?
People in their houses at night. These ordinary lives. Passing without their knowing.
I'd hoped to recapture something.
The officer stared at him.
The precious ordinary.
I don't know what you're talking about, but you'd better keep moving.
I thought I'd see people being hurtful. Cruel. A man hitting his wife. But I haven't seen that. Maybe all that's behind the curtains. If you're going to hit somebody, maybe you pull the curtain first.
Not necessarily.
What I've seen is the sweet kindness of one person to another. Just time passing on a summer's night. This ordinary life.

-Ellen Bottiny, Tysons-Pimmit Library

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

My Secret List of Shame

Week after week here at About Books we dish out book suggestions for our readers. Connecting people to the right book for the right time is one of the best parts of our job, whether it’s online or in person at the library. We come up with all sorts of lists to share– books that educate, books to help you through a tough time, books to make you laugh. But there’s one list I’ve always been a little embarrassed to talk about. They are books that I feel I ought to have read but for one reason or another, have just never gotten around to. It’s my secret list of book shame.

I’m not talking about the type of dense tomes that you might have been expected to read in high school or college – you won’t find de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America or Tolstoy’s War and Peace on this list. No, these are all perfectly approachable, highly-lauded works of literary fiction that I know I would love if I’d only give them a chance. Some have been recommended by friends whose opinions I deeply value. Others are on so many “Best of” book lists that it seems almost inexcusable not to have read them. Some I’ve actually checked out, only to have them sit forlornly at home while I dipped into other titles. I might have been distracted by a great series or a current “hot” title. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for that particular book at the time. However, after a summer of wallowing in current bestsellers and lighter fare, I’m determined to do a little better. I’ve made a vow to tackle the top five books on my list of shame before next summer hits. Then I can hit the current best-sellers and beach reads with a clean[er] conscience.

As I dive into my upcoming reading, let me know – what’s on your list of shame?

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz’s first book has won so many awards, it’s mind-blowing, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. My own son recommended it. I’ve checked it out several time but never opened a page.

Cloud Atlas - I’ve always been intimidated by the reviews of Cloud Atlas’s intricate plotting. It came out before I “found” David Mitchell as an author, but I’ve adored his other books. So, there really isn’t a good reason it’s taken so long for me to give his most well-known work a try.

Empire Falls - You know when you are simpatico with another reader. When someone who makes great suggestions tells you Empire Falls by Richard Russo is one of their all-time favorite novels, you know you should read it. To my shame, I’ve never even checked it out.

Life After Life - How many people have told me they loved Life After Life? How many times have I heard that someone’s entire book club enjoyed this selection? I meant to read this when it first came out. I meant to watch it before the movie hit the theaters. Alas, I’ve never read a single page.

American Gods - Please, no silent screams from all my friends who revere Neil Gaiman, I know that I have had 15 years to read one of the most lauded books by this lauded author. I promise, however, I will read this book before the television series premieres next year.

-Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library