Staff Choices

Posted by crossin on 06/03/14
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Last year, Total Film ranked the 50 greatest movie dads.  Instead of a tie this year, why don’t you check one of these out, grab some takeaway, and chill with your dad this Father's Day?
 
Posted by emather on 05/23/14
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Know what’s awesome? True stories, and learning stuff!
Know what else is awesome? Comics and graphic novels!
Know what’s awesomerest? Putting those all together!
Here are ten of my  favorite non-fiction graphic novels. (Well, more than ten, because I’m a cheater. A filthy stinkin’ cheater.):
 
10. How to Fake a Moon Landing by Darryl Cunningham
This comic talks about all sorts of science-denial movements, like that the moon landing was faked, or people who insist climate change is a myth. It presents the arguments behind them, and the arguments against them, in really easy-to-digest snippets.
 
9. My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the most infamous serial killers of the late 20th century, and Derf Backderf was the closest thing he had to a friend in high school. In this comic, he tells about Dahmer’s broken home life, drinking problem, and role as the weird dude at school. It gives a really unique insight into a warped and disturbed mind, but also performs the odd and difficult feat of actually making you feel some sympathy for a brutal serial killer.
 
8. The books of Joe Sacco
Joe Sacco writes the incredibly unique genre of comic journalism. He goes into war-torn regions like Palestine or Bosnia, and documents the difficult situations found there in graphic novel form. It makes the brutalities he encounters a bit easier to digest and understand, while you also realize that there are very real people behind these drawings. 
 
7. Action Philosophers by Fred Van Lente
One of the great things about non-fiction comics is their ability to make really complex and intricate things much easier to understand and digest, and nothing does that better than Action Philosophers. This comic series takes famous philosophers, from Plato to Nietzsche to Spinoza to Freud, and treats them like comic superheroes. You get the basics of their life, how it shaped their philosophies, and how their ideas helped shape the world, all in a fun and funny package.
 
6. Economix by Michael Goodwin
Speaking of insanely confusing and complex, have you met the American economic system? Economix uses goofy cartoons, like an anthropomorphized factory to represent “big business” or a giant-headed version of Karl Marx, to boil down huge ideas into easily digestible chunks. What would otherwise be really dull and dry becomes both amusing and understandable.
 
5. Green River Killer by Jeff Jensen
As you can tell by some of the above entries, I’m kind of fascinated by serial killers. (Pretty sure I’m not alone in this.) This graphic novel was written by the son of Tom Jensen, the man who caught the Green River Killer, a murderer from Washington state. This book tells the story of when Jensen spent months interviewing Ridgway after he was caught using DNA evidence, trying to find some of his secrets.
 
4. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
I’ve learned more about how art works, and how the human brain interprets images, from this book than from entire art or psychology classes. This graphic novel shows you why artists make certain choices, and how the comics medium is both similar and different from other mediums like film. You’ll never read comics, or even look at a picture, the same way again. 
 
3. The books of Larry Gonick
Larry Gonick writes comics about huge issues. He’s explored chemistry,statistics, and even world history, and he does it all with incredible research and a snappy sense of humor. He’s also incredibly influential in comics; the above-mentioned Economix even dedicates the book to him!
 
2. Graphic memoirs & biographies: Maus by Art Spiegelman, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Blankets by Craig Thompson, & tons more
Like I said above, there’s a lot of cheating here. These graphic memoirs & biographies show so many diverse lives, from a Holocaust survivor to a young girl growing up during the Iranian revolution to a story of first love in Wisconsin to countless others. Comics allow for such unique and idiosyncratic ways to both show a person’s history and their inner lives, it makes each individual memoir stand out in ways that simple written biographies often don’t.
 
1. The books of Rick Geary
As you may guess from some of the above entries, I am endlessly fascinated by true crime and by history. Rick Geary’s Treasury of Vicorian/XXth Century Murder series shows that those two great tastes taste great together, especially when served up on a beautiful plate of comics. (I feel like this metaphor may have gotten away from me…) Each comic is a beautiful piece of artwork, almost resembling classic woodcuts, and tells the story of one famous true crime from the late 1800s or early 20th century. Sometimes the crimes are totally famous (Assassination of Abraham Lincoln), sometimes I knew nothing about them (The Bloody Benders). Sometimes the killer is well-known (Assassination of President Garfield), and sometimes it’s still a mystery (Jack the Ripper, the Borden tragedy). Either way, Geary illustrates the people and events surrounding each murder so clearly and succinctly, that you can fully understand what happened, or at least play amateur detective to decide which of the likely (or unlikely!) suspects did the deed. Published at about the pace of once a year, it’s like comic book Christmas every time one comes out!
 
 
Posted by Uncle Will on 05/23/14
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In 1993 writer/director Jane Campion won an Oscar for her screenplay The Piano. This film was not your typical Hollywood drama. It was a little off-center. Some thought it a little too quirky.
 
If you like quirky, you'll love this BBC 7-episode miniseries: Top of the Lake which was directed by Campion. It stars Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss as a damaged Australian homicide detective, who while visiting her cancer-ridden mother, is assigned to investigate the disappearence of a 13-yr old girl who has a deeply imbedded secret. 
 
The performances are top-notch. . .especially those by Academy Award winner Holly Hunter and War Horse's Peter Mullan. The scenery is breathtaking and the humor is ebony. This program is the equivalent of a page-turner. Make certain that you have plenty of popcorn before putting it into the DVD player.  
 
 
Crime Drama
Posted by jmurrow on 05/22/14
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When asked to name historical figures who influenced America, everyone can name George Washington, Samuel L. Clemens, and Henry Ford. But what about Dorthea Dix, who exposed the harsh treatment of the mentaly ill in the 1800s, ᎾᏅᏰᎯ who with other members of the Cherokee tribal council fought for peaceful relations with European-Americans, or Grace Murray Hopper, whose work became the bassis of the computer language COBOL? 
 
I genuenly enjoyed Charlotte Waisman's Her Story, which highlights the awesome, varied, and often unrecognized contributions of over 900 women throughout U.S. history, beginning in the 1500s and spanning all the way through 2011.  For lovers of American history, feminists, or even the simply curious, Her Story is a fantastic book that I can't recommend enough! 
Posted by dnapravn on 05/16/14
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"You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question: What is your favorite book?"
 
A.J. Fikry is a cranky, opinionated bookstore owner who has had a recent string of bad luck. His wife has died in a tragic car accident, sales at his bookstore are down (possibly because he only sells what he likes), and his prized possession, a rare collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe has been stolen. A.J. feels that his only solution is to further isolate himself from the residents of Alice Island and slowly drink himself into oblivion.
 
When a mysterious package is left at the bookstore, A.J. is given the rare opportunity to start over. He slowly begins to open up and allow himself relationships both with people who live on the island and even a few who don't.
 
A book about books, all types of love, and community.
Posted by jfreier on 05/15/14
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A man's body is found beaten and bruised under an abandoned Yorkshire railway bridge. The first police on scene rule it a suicide, but are unsure when they find 5,000 pounds in the victims' pocket. DCI Alan Banks is called in and after further inspection the man is found to be a former professor who was fired due to a sketchy sex scandal.
 
Inspector Banks and detective Annie Cabot follow the leads which lead to Lady Chalmers, a former Marxist and now famous author and member of an aristocratic and politically connected family. Banks and Cabot find out that the victim and Lady Chalmers were once former students and activists together at University.
 
The duo rule out suicide and random foul play and follow a complex trail to blackmail and betrayal that leads to the very top of british society. A complex and well plotted mystery set in the haunting Yorkshire Dales, thsi is Peter Robinson's 21st Alan Banks mystery, and another well written story.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 05/15/14
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Martin Strauss has a severe memory disorder. His doctor explains that he will get increasingly worse. Strangely, Martin will not just lose his true memories, but he will also "remember" things that never happened. Adding to his psychological discomfort, Martin is disturbed by his guilt. He was the man who punched Harry Houdini, causing his death.
 
While this is a mysterious historical fiction about the life and death of Houdini, it is also about the fictional character Martin Strauss who struggles with anxiety, uncertainty, guilt, and regret. So, pretty much, the human condition. Martin Strauss and Harry Houdini cross paths repeatedly in a twisting story of reality and illusion. It is an exciting and suspenseful novel, but also a pleasure for a fan of Houdini. Among the many wild speculations and fictionalizations, there is some solid fact about the life of the brilliant illusionist. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his spiritual medium wife make a cameo. And by the end, the reader has been lead on a crazy, fun journey with a surprising and meaningful ending.
Posted by bweiner on 05/14/14
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Clarissa is being stalked, and like most victims, she knows her stalker. She even has vague memories of intimacy between them, but her memories fade following the time she and Rafe left the bar. She is about to find out what happened that night, courtesy of some very personal pictures her stalker has been hoarding…
 
The Book of You, the debut novel by Claire Kendal, recounts the events following the one night Clarissa spends with Rafe after being discarded by her married lover. Clarissa anxiously attempts to piece together the events of the night, but her memories are cloudy. She becomes a prisoner in her home and finds respite in her appointment to a seven week jury deliberating a rape and assault case. But there is nowhere to hide; she is observed and confronted by Rafe wherever she goes.
 
Clarissa wavers between indecision and purposeful action as we witness her resolve to end this nightmare. The “you” in this story is Rafe, and Clarissa is chronicling every moment and every action of his assault on her. Will she gather enough evidence to justify police involvement, or is she too late?
 
Explore the depths of desperation in this tense, psychological thriller by an engaging new author.
 
Posted by Stagint on 05/13/14
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 “Please sit,” Sachi said, pointing to the cushions by the low black lacquer table.  Then she disappeared into the kitchen, only to reappear a few moments later carrying two cups of tea. “You must be cold and thirsty after your long walk.”
I took the small clay cup from her and sipped from it.  The warm, slightly bitter tea soothed my dry throat.  I smiled, looked up, and asked, “Is everything all right?”
“Has Matsu-san led you to believe otherwise?” she asked.
“He said very little.”
Sachi laughed softly and sipped her tea. “It is just like Matsu,” she said, shaking her head.  She sat down at the table across from me.  “Matsu didn’t want to tell you that I could no longer go down to Tarumi.  My presence there has brought great dishonor to all of you.” (Page 74-75)
Gail Tsukiyama’s The Samurai’s Garden gives insight on the effect of love and affection to overcome our sorrows and confronts us with the many challenges and hardships of personal loneliness. One of the three main characters of the book is Stephen who is a college student in Canton, China near the beginning of World War II. Stephen contracts tuberculosis and is sent by his parents to live in a small Japanese village near the ocean to recover.  In the small village of Tarumi, he is living in his grandparents’ home and being cared for by Matsu the servant and caretaker of the house.  Matsu, the second central character, is very quiet and efficient and at first does not allow Stephen close.  The third main character of the book is Sachi who has leprosy and must live in a secluded leper colony.  As the story progresses, we learn about the connection between Matsu and Sachi.  As they get to know Stephen, who though ill has great enthusiasm and love for the life he is discovering in Tarumi, Matsu and Sachi open up to this new friendship.  Stephen tells the story in the form of a journal he is keeping.  As he reflects on his parents’ relationship, his sister, the many hardships suffered by Sachi and Matsu, Stephen grows up and matures.  It is a thought-provoking and heartwarming story.
 
Posted by lsears on 05/12/14
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It is 1945, Tokyo, a month after Japan’s surrender in WWII. Francis Van Cleave is a private in the United States army attached to the Officers Personnel Section, a sort of military secretarial pool. 
 
Van Cleave gets the attention of General Douglas MacArthur when he attends an Army-Navy football game screening at MacArthur’s home with other military personnel. This invitation comes as an unasked for favor by his roommate, Corporal Clifford, who serves in the Honor Guard Company, a division assigned to work as a personal escort for the general and visiting dignitaries.  After sending MacArthur’s son, Arthur, a gift for his 8th birthday, Van Cleave begins an unusual assignment, almost an order, to visit the MacArthur’s home on a weekly basis to spend time with the boy.
 
Van Cleave is young, naïve, and receives unwanted news from his new wife back home. We see a side of life the military men partake in in their off-time not knowing the language, the culture, and still finding a way to get themselves into trouble. Michael Knight tells a story that is rooted in history but surrounds it with rich invented detail. 
 
This story made me wonder whatever happened to Arthur MacArthur?
 
Fiction
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