Ready Player One

Ready PlayerReady Player One One by Ernest Cline is a fast paced action-adventure story set in a future dystopic America, complete with shanty-town-skyscrapers made from mobile homes and armored bus service between cities to guard against roving bands of highwaymen and thieves. Good stuff in and of itself to be sure.

But what really made this premier novel so much fun was the setting within the setting. Turns out that in Cline’s vision of the future, people are positively obsessed with ’80s pop culture and frequently retreat into an immersive computer simulation allowing them to escape the drudgery of living in a shanty-town-skyscraper while also indulging in movies by John Hughes, Atari video games, the music of Rush, and Cold War paranoia. Don’t you just miss those days?

There’s nothing terribly ground breaking in Ready Player One; I’m not disclosing classified information to say that the hero saves the day and gets the girl in the end. (Don’t be mad; you’d have figured out the ending after the first 50 pages anyway.) The journey though ’80s pop culture (which incidentally includes Journey) is a real treat and brought back – at least for this child of the ’80s – a flood of nostalgia. Ok, time to play some Pitfall!

Mars on my mind

If you’ve never visited the campus of Butler University and enjoyed an evening at the Holcomb Observatory, you really should! It’s free (though they do suggest a donation) and fun, and on a clear night, the observatory’s telescope will be directed at Venus, IDL TIFF fileSaturn, Jupiter or Mars (and some non-planetary objects too). You’ll be surprised at the level of detail you can see with a (relatively) small telescope in the middle of a light-polluted city.

One of my favorite experiences at Holcomb was seeing the polar caps of Mars, which got me thinking about the place of this red planet in our imaginations. Lots of authors have used our closest planetary neighbor as a setting for some great fiction.

The movie may have bombed at the box office last summer but you’ll still want to read Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter series starting with The Princess of Mars. Of course after reading the source material, you should also see the movie (since you, like most of America, didn’t see it in theatres). The library has it on DVD.

A recent homage to Burroughs’ iconic series comes from fantasy writer S.M. Stirling’s The Lords of Creation. Set against the background of the Cold War, this series journeys to both Venus and Mars, playing up the Soviet-American rivalry with all kinds of nostalgia.

For a futuristic look at the Red Planet, I highly recommend Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy (the first in the series is called Red Mars.)

Ray Bradbury also speculated about Mars colonization with The Martian Chronicles.

Dan Simmons combines the mythology of the Trojan War in an epic set on the Red Planet in two books – Ilium and Olympos.

Changes coming for Freegal!

Many of you have by now (hopefully) heard about Freegal, the library’s music download service.  With your library card, you can download three mp3 tracks per week – legally and without annoying DRM limitations!

On June 1st, Freegal will have some exciting new features!

Music videos 

Freegal is adding 8,000 MTV type music videos – the complete music video collection of Sony Music Entertainment.  Patrons who choose to download (and keep) a music video will only use 2 of their 3 weekly downloads.

New search features

A brand-new search engine and a whole new look which will make Freegal easier to use and more dynamic than ever.   The update will also have new features like song delete on the app, and iTunes backup on the app, a wishlist for downloads and more!

Expanded content 
Freegal is expanding their collection from 3 million tracks to nearly 7 million! They will be adding Some of the best music that we don’t have from Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Bob Marley, Dion Warwick, George Winston and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Matthew’s Top 10 Movies

1. Dr. Strangelove (1964) Featuring George C. Scott, Peter Sellers and a very young James Earl Jones, Stanley Kubrick’s classic film tackles the absurdity of the Cold War and the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction in the only sane way  – dark humor. Peter Sellers especially shines in this movie playing three of the major roles – President Mervin Muff (loosely based on Adlai Stevenson), Dr. Strangelove (a not-so-reformed ex-Nazi rocket scientist) and Royal Air Force Group Captain Lionel Mandrake whose interaction with the paranoid, insane American Air Force General Jack Ripper (played perfectly by Sterling Hayden) is, to my mind, the funniest conversation on film. You’ll never think about the fluoridation of water the same way. 

2. 1776 (1971) I like musicals. There. I said it. I like the idea of a world where it is totally normal for people to spontaneously break into song and dance. What if those people were our country’s Founding Fathers? Such is the amazing premise of this Tony-award winning musical dramatizing the debate and drafting of the Declaration of Independence. Featuring William Daniels as John Adams, Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson and Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom (the lovely Blythe Danner) as Martha Jefferson. Also, before I read David McCoullugh’s biography of John Adams, everything I knew about our 2nd president came from the following song.

3. Top Hat (1935)  Music is an important part of almost every movie and the old RKO pictures featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are full of classic songs and impressive (to put it mildly) dance numbers. Astaire and Rogers made several films for the now defunct RKO studio but Top Hat remains my favorite if only for the “Dancing Cheek to Cheek”bit.

4. Anchorman (2003) – If you don’t think this 2003 film about a local news team is the funniest movie ever, I will fight you!

5. O Brother Where Art Thou (2000) There are so many things to admire in this Coen brothers film. The plot – a clever take on Homer’s Odyssey, the music – a delightful romp through Southern blues, bluegrass and folk, the acting – stellar performances from George Clooney, John Goodman, Charles Durning, and even the fascinating back story for the title “O Brother Where Art Thou” – it was taken from the film Sullivan’s Travels (1941) about a film director trying to make a film a about the Depression-era South.

6. The Trip (2010)  Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon star as former colleagues who set out on a foodie road trip across the UK. Their hilarious conversations and constant games of one-upmanship (all largely improvised) are riveting, as are the delicious glimpses into the kitchens of the various restaurants at which they dine and the sweeping views northern England and Scotland landscapes. 

 7.Topsy-Turvy (1999) Since this has become a confessional post of sorts, I’ll also just come right out and also admit: I really like Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, Yeoman of the Guard – it’s all good.  This movie follows the British duo as they struggle to write The Mikado. Jim Broadbent as W.S. Gilbert is especially delightful.

8. Casino Royale (2006) I’m a big fan of the James Bond series, even the cheesy ones, which of course, is most of them. But the restart of the legendary spy series with Daniel Craig as Agent 007 in 2006 marked a notable improvement in the quality of the films. If you haven’t read Sir Ian Fleming’s source novels, you really should. The Bond of the novels is considerably more interesting (if less dependent on silly gadgets) than the Bond of the most of the movies. Casino Royale moves the film series back toward Fleming’s more interesting spy.

9. Star Wars (1977) The first CD I purchased with my own money was John Williams’ score to Star Wars. I still hum “The Imperial March” whenever I find myself walking down a long (ideally dim) hallway. George Lucas incurred the wrath of many fans with the – let’s say less than stellar – relaunch of the saga in with 1998’s The Phantom Menace. And though the prequels certainly don’t have the same panache as the original, there is a fun way to watch the series. So, try this sometime: watch the movies in this order by episode: 4, 5, 2, 3, 6. There is no need to ever watch Episode 1. I like this alternative order because it preserves the dramatic reveal involving Luke’s paternity in Episode 5. It also makes good thematic sense to introduce the Vader/Anakin back story after that dramatic moment in Episode 5, so that the entire saga can be viewed as a father/son redemption story.

10. Babette’s Feast (1987)  The final scene in this understated film is probably the most enjoyable presentation a foodie could ask for. If you like the film, why not try some of the recipes from the great feast?



The Library in Spring.

So spring took a little longer getting here this year. But now that’s it’s here – for good this time-  it’s time to get busy. The library has lots of resources to help you shake off the winter cold and dive into spring.

Perhaps you’re thinking about repairing or expanding a deck, or adding a pool? Maybe you want to take the family on a road trip across Indiana or embark on a Hoosier-themed foody adventure. Maybe your spring cleaning resulted in the uncovering of some old family photos and you’d like to learn how to preserve and share them.  

The library has you covered for all these and much more! Stop in and ask how we can help make your spring more productive, informative, active, and fun.



Looking for a way to keep track of what books you read? Ever checked out a book from the library, got home and started reading it, only to realize “I’ve already read this!”Let me suggest something to help.

LibraryThing is a simple and cheap way to catalog your personal library, keep track of what you’ve read, what you want to read, and interact with like-minded readers.It’s Facebook for bibliophiles.

Besides the great fun of cataloging your personal collection, users can also sign up for free book giveaways (often Advance Reader copies that publishers distribute to promote upcoming books) , participate in a Secret Santa exchange with other members, compare your library with others, and write reviews for your favorite (or least favorite!) books. You can also use LibraryThing to keep track of events at your favorite book related venues  – the Plainfield Guilford Township Public Library is one, right? -like bookstores and libraries. LibraryThing is also a great readers’ advisory tool. The user-recommended read-alikes have fast become my go-to source when I find myself asking “What should I read next?”


A Real Life Game of Thrones

A fascinating story out of Britain today: the remains of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, have been identified after being discovered under a municipal parking lot. Richard was killed in battle against Henry Tudor (subsequently known at King Henry VII) and the whereabouts of his body remained a mystery for several hundred years. The death of Richard, and the marriage of Henry to Elizabeth of York (who, trivia buffs, was a daughter, sister, niece, wife and mother to various kings of England) ended the War of the Roses.

There’s a reason why George R.R. Martin cites the War of the Roses as inspiration for his epic fantasy A Song of Ice and Fire – the political intrigue and positively dysfunctional dynamics of the Plantagenet family are legendary. They are also marvelous source material for contemporary authors of historical fiction.

And no one is doing historical fiction better right now than Hilary Mantel, the two time Booker Prize winning author. She struck gold first with Wolf Hall, a novel about Henry VIII, his marriage to Anne Boleyn and his failing out with Sir Thomas More, all told from the perspective of one of Henry’s principle advisers, Thomas Cromwell. Mantel presents Henry as an almost sympathetic character, no small feat considering his popular image as a lustful, obese consumer of roasted turkey legs.

Last year, a  sequel called Bring Up the Bodies was released to widespread acclaim. It tells the story of Anne’s downfall and execution and Henry’s match with Jane Seymour.  A third novel, chronicling Cromwell’s own fall from grace and subsequent execution is planned for the future.

Following close behind Martel is Ken Folltet who has authored two novels featuring medieval English politics. The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End are set in a fictional town called Kingsbridge and closely follow various English royalty including the Empress Maud, Henry II and his “troublesome priest” Thomas Beckett. Pillars of the Earth has also been made into a TV miniseries.

Finally, Sharon Kay Penman has a stand alone novel – The Sunne in Splendour – about Richard III, whom she casts in a good light. She also has a great series featuring Henry II and his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine starting with the novel When Christ and His Saints Slept.

Hail to the Chief

Five living US presidents.

In just a few days, Barack Obama will be inaugurated for a second term as President of the United States. All politics aside, the peaceful and orderly investing of power (or in this case, the re-investing of power) that happens every four years is a big deal and worthy of celebration by conservatives, liberals and anything in between. Why not celebrate with a good movie or book?

The American President

The West Wing

My Fellow Americans

The president’s photographer: 50 years inside the Oval Office by John B. Bredar

The president’s house: a first daughter shares the history and secrets of the world’s most famous home by Margaret Truman

A White House garden cookbook: healthy ideas from the first family to your family by Cara Silverstein


Downton Abbey

It’s almost here, Anglophiles! Season 3 of Downton Abbey begins on Sunday January 6!
If you want to enhance your Downton experience or find a fix for those days when the suspense around Matthew and Lady Mary’s romance just isn’t enough, you might enjoy some of these titles.
Manor House – Reality television as done by PBS. One family gets to be the aristocrats. Everyone else is a servant. If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy others in this series like Colonial House, Frontier House and 1940s House.
Gosford Park – Surely you’ve seen this dazzling murder mystery, written by Julian Fellowes and starring Maggie Smith?

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence – Censored by the US government and not (legally) available here in all its naughty glory until 1959 (Wikipedia has a great run down on the legal fight to overturn the government’s censorship of the text, including the tantalizing threat of one US senator to read the steamy portions of the book aloud on the Senate floor),  DH Lawrence‘s tale of class conflict and smoldering sexuality in the post-World War One Britain is a classic.
Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones This recent novel from acclaimed British writer Sadie Jones mixes dry wit and dark humour.

Lady Almina and the real Downton Abbey: the lost legacy of Highclere Castle by the Countess of Carnarvon Take a look at the history of the majestic house used for the fictional Downton Abbey.
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett – Grand in size and scope, this 1000+ page novel chronicles the upheaval wrought by the First World War across Europe and the Americas.
The Time Machine by HG Wells I put this book on the list in a nod to the Dowager Countess. After electric lighting and a telephone are installed at Downton, the Dowager exasperatingly says   “Sometimes I feel as if I were living in an HG Wells novel.”
The American Heiress by Daisy Godwin A wealthy American named Cora marries into the British aristocracy near the turn of the 20th century. Sound familiar?


Short Stories and Novellas

Nobody ever says they want to write the great American short story. Or the great American novella. It’s the novel, always the novel. 

This is a shame. These literary forms – the short story and the novella – can be every bit as powerful and carry the same literary punch as their larger cousins. Furthermore, these forms are a great way to fit some reading into your busy schedule. Short stories are also good ways to explore genres or authors you’ve always wondered about but were never quite able to get around to.

Here are some suggestions if you don’t know where to start.  

The library recently acquired some new editions of Richard Russo’s short stories. These stories are bound individually and are easy to overlook in the stacks – they are so small! Thirty or forty short pages, you can knock one of these out in one sitting easily.

Still not sure about George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series? Check out his “Tales of Dunk and Egg”, set several years before the events of the novels.

Not ready to commit to an 800 page screamer by Stephen King? Try some of the stuff in Everything’s Eventual – a nice mix of horror and more literary stories.

Maybe you’d like to try an up-and-coming modern writer. Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised By Wolves is full of surrealist character driven stories. 

Finally, one of my favorite books – A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller – is actually three novellas combined into a single work, tying together in a grand epic.