Staff Choices

Posted by jmurrow on 09/17/14
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What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe, best known for his web comic XKCD, which covers everything from advanced mathematics to romance and Internet memes, is a hilarious, subversively intelligent book that more than lives up to its title and was almost impossible for me to put down.  Beautifully illustrated, with the author’s trademark stick figures and infographics, What If? answers such important questions as “What would happen if you pitch a baseball at 99% the speed of light (hint: explosions), “If everybody in the US drove west, could we temporarily halt continental drift?”, and “Could a person walk the entire city of NY in their lifetime? (including inside apartments)?” (hint: you could, but the prison sentence for trespassing would be a bit of a pain). 
 
As a bit of a geek, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it for the lighthearted scientists in your life. Or those slightly odd friends, whom everyone looks at askance when they wonder aloud whether Yoda could use his Force powers to generate electricity.
 
Posted by bpardue on 09/17/14
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The MacArthur Foundation "Genius Award" Fellowships were announced today. With that in mind, why not take a quick listen to some cutting edge jazz from 1999 local Fellowship recipient, Chicagoan Ken Vandermark? "Free Jazz, vols. 3 & 4," with his ensemble the Vandermark 5, celebrates the music of saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The pieces start with the original melody, quickly swirling off into energetic free explorations.  Thrilling, challenging stuff.
 
Posted by bpardue on 09/11/14
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Codona was the trio of sitar/tabla/dulcimer player Colin Walcott, legendary free jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Nana Vasconcelos. In July 2013, The Wire music magazine went so far as to ask "Could this be the most influential group of the last 30 years?" Certainly not by sales, but they certainly anticipated the coming wave of interest in world music in the three very special albums they created between 1978 and 1982. However, their vision of world music was a unique hybrid that spanned continents, with any given song featuring a mix of instruments from India, West Africa or Brazil, along with jazz trumpet and singing/chanting. This is music simultaneously from nowhere/everywhere. It runs from experimental ("Trayra Boia") to playful ("Colemanwonder," which includes a snippet of Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke") to ritual ("Mumakata"). It might be a bit much to sit through all three albums in one package, but there's a lot of beauty in this set, and it's well worth a listen. Find it via the hoopla music/video/audiobook service.
 
Posted by dnapravn on 09/09/14
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A Man Called Ove is the debut novel of Swedish author Fredrik Backman and is, in my opinion, a real gem. I laughed out loud, cried out loud, and seriously did not want this book to end.
 
Ove is, in a word, grumpy. He likes things his way and only his way. He drives a Saab and has no patience for anyone that doesn't. He is a rule follower and expects all others to be as well. He spends hours patroling the grounds of his housing community. He is a cat-hater and is not too crazy about kids either. So why does a mangy cat that he refers to as Cat Annoyance keep showing up on his doorstep?
 
When Ove is forced into early retirement, the recently widowed 59-year-old devises a plan to deal with the emptiness in his life. He doesn't figure on the new neighbors, a stray cat, old friends, and a mail carrier, among others, to mess up that plan.
 
This is a story about love and loss, life and death, loyalty, doing the right thing, crazy neighbors, and a whole lot more. I loved this novel and its quirky characters. This is, by far, one of my favorite reads of the year.
Posted by Kelley M on 09/03/14
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Having enjoyed other books by award winning novelist Jon Krakauer, I decided it was way past time to read this book.  I have always appreciated reading about other cultures & religions, regardless of how “on the fringe” they might be.  Under The Banner Of Heaven delves into the world of religious extremism.  The book is about the extremist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (not to be confused with the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints/Mormonism).  It truly is a whole other world, full of prophecies, power struggles, polygamy and more.  So interesting to read about things I know nothing about!
 
Through the story of two brothers (Ron & Dan Lafferty), who commit murder because of prophecy, we learn more about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Sometimes, I pick up a non-fiction book & struggle to make it through.  Jon Krakauer makes non-fiction truly reader-friendly.  If you like this book, check out the author's other books Into The Wild and Into Thin Air.  Both are non-fiction but totally different than this book.  That's the great thing about this author, every book is totally different.
 
Posted by crossin on 09/02/14
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I have always loved this time of year.  I was one of those kids that couldn’t wait for school to start—I looked forward to shopping for school supplies, getting my class schedule and feeling autumn in the air.  I now live close to a high school, and when I heard the marching band practicing last month, I waxed nostalgic for my school days.  I decided to share a couple of my favorite teen movies, Footloose and The Breakfast Club, with my daughter—I think she enjoyed them as much as I did when I was young.  If you’re in the mood to relive a bit of your high school years, check out one of my eleven (no, I couldn’t narrow it down to ten) favorite teen films.
 
Posted by jfreier on 08/28/14
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 A great look at the pinnacle of hotel luxury, the Hotel Ritz in Paris from it's opening in 1898 until the present with much of the book focusing on the years of the Nazi occupation. The portion of the book during the occupation is perhaps the most interesting, the Nazis occupied one wing and left the adjoining older building to the rich and famous, Hemingway, Coco Chanel, Edgar Degas and many others.
 
Joseph Goebbels demanded that the party must go on and even the German army was not to wear uniforms while in bar or dining rooms. There are tales of wild parties, intrigue, and even romance and leads up to the night Princess Diana left on her last night and up until present.
 
A romantic look at the famous hotel with great gossip and wild stories, some of which are hard to believe, but an entertaining read.
 
Posted by jdunc on 08/26/14
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B.J. Novak, writer, producer, and actor of the popular TV series The Office, offers a highly entertaining debut work of short stories in One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories. The compilation is read primarily by Novak with appearances from some of today’s top comedians and actresses such as Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, and Emma Thompson. The collection contains random thoughts expanded into creative short stories. Some are based on well-known stories or concepts including the tortoise and the hare seeking a rematch, the real story behind train math problem, winning a cereal prize and revealing a family secret, and what heaven is like.
 

The stories range in length from one sentence to several pages. Most are funny, engaging, and witty stories with a twist. I particularly liked "Julie and the Warlord" which describes a blind date with a warlord who Julie met on an online dating service and a story about of group of friends attempting to stage an intervention in the age of Facebook. Novak offers a perceptive and poignant look at human emotions.  I recommend the audiobook for the variation in voices and BJ Novak’s sense of humor in reading his own stories. The audio is available via audiobook CD or for download in Overdrive.

 
Posted by dnapravn on 08/22/14
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I recently watched Bears, the newest Disneynature documentary to be released to DVD and Blu-ray, and all I can say is "wow"!
 
Bears is set on the Alaskan peninsula and follows a mother brown bear and her two cubs through their first year of life. Through absolutely breathtaking cinematography you witness the bears' journey from their winter den high in the mountains down to the shore and their summer food source. You see the many hazards they face and learn much about brown bears in the process. For example, did you know that fifty percent of brown bear cubs do not survive their first year of life? Also, the brown bear has an excellent sense of smell, seven times that of a bloodhound.
 
I will admit to being fascinated by bears and was mesmerized by this beautiful documentary. If I were to name a downside though, I found the narrator to be a bit annoying and the film edited to be overly dramatic at times. However, the beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife shots captured in this film more than made up for any annoyances.
 
While you are waiting for your copy of Bears, don't miss out on others in the Disneynature series. They are all beautifully done as well as educational.
Posted by lsears on 08/20/14
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9780374214913
“What do you seek in these shelves?” This is the question asked of Clay Jannon when he first enters Mr. Penumbra’s 24–Hour Bookstore looking for a job. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines penumbra (noun) as a space of partial illumination (as in an eclipse) between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light. By giving the proprietor this name, Robin Sloan gives us a hint as to the impending mystery surrounding this character.
 
Hired to work the night shift, Clay quickly begins to wonder how the bookstore makes enough money to stay in business.  Most of the customers he sees come not to buy books but to borrow them from a vast special collection. Curiosity leads him to try to understand the meaning these books may contain, these manuscripts of one’s life, these Codex Vitae. Not above using his friends at Google and Apple to pursue an answer he finds himself delving into in a cult-like fellowship called the Unbroken Spine. 
 
There is a playfulness and a humorous quality to this book that I enjoyed; even the book jacket glows with an eerie light in the dark. It doesn’t take itself too seriously even though it covers topics of old knowledge versus new technology, friendship and disappointment, adapting and rising to the occasion when warranted. These are subjects anyone can write about in their own Codex Vitae.
 
Fiction, humor
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