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Big Gifts Come in Small Packages

Sat, 09/06/2014 - 11:40am
Tess Barton and Mrs. Eve
“Give” as defined by the World Book Dictionary is “to provide something to another, usually without receiving anything in return.” Recently one of Avondale’s youngest patrons demonstrated this very definition in an extraordinary way.

What is your name?
“Tess Barton”

How old are you? 

How long have you been a Girl Scout? 
“About 2 years now.”

I understand that you have a very special reason for visiting the library today; will you please tell me about it?
“I need to give Mrs. Eve $5.00 that I earned in Girl Scouts so she can use it to help in the library; to help teach the babies how to read.”

When you were younger, did you use to come to Mrs. Eve’s Tot Time program?

What was your favorite thing about Tot Time?
“Being with Mrs. Eve”

Thank you Tess for showing us all that true giving comes from the heart, and you are never too young to start.

Carla Perkins
Avondale Library

Laura Ingalls Wilder's New Autobiography Reflects Less Rosy View of Her Pioneer Days

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 1:13pm
When I was nine years old, I loved the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read every book, several times. I went to the Children's Librarian in my local library and told her how much I liked the books and that I wanted to read more like them. The librarian gave me a book by Rose Wilder Lane, Laura's daughter. It was an adult book and I couldn't get into it.

Well. many years later, my dream will finally come true. Even though Laura died the year I was born, a new book by Laura Ingalls Wilder is coming out on November 20. Pioneer Girl is Laura's autobiography, the true story of life on the Prairie, not the version of her life as romanticized in her children's series, but the real hardships that molded her into the teller of stories that millions of young girls have grown up loving.

Thank you, Laura, for this last gift.

Links of interest: 
"The 'Pioneer Girl' Project: The Long Road to Bringing Laura Ingalls Wilder's 1930 Autobiography into Print"

"Publishing Laura Ingalls Wilder's Autobiography"

Laura Ingalls  Wilder Historic Home & Museum

Lynn Piper Carpenter
Five Points West Library

Master Gardener Richard Healey to Lead Free Workshop on Caring for Orchids, September 9

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 10:11am
Master Gardener Richard Healy will lead a free workshop on how to care for orchids on Tuesday, September 9, 6:30 p.m., at the Springville Road Library.

There are more 2,000 orchid species, including several that thrive in Alabama climate and in the home. Healy, who has about 80 orchids in his own greenhouse, will give tips on which orchids do well in this area. He’ll also have orchids on display.

“If you take care of them properly, you can get months of blooms out of an orchid,’’ said Healy, a member of the Alabama Orchid Society. “I’ll even give people tricks to get a second set of blooms after that first bloom.’’

Some of his other tips will include:
How to look for bargains when shopping for orchids
How to drop the fear of caring for orchids
How to avoid killing an orchid

“The biggest thing that causes orchids to die is over watering them,’’ Healy said. “When people feel like something is wrong, they water it.’’

For more information, contact the library at 226-4081. Also, check out the Alabama Orchid Society’s Facebook page and the Alabama Orchid Society’s 30th Annual Orchid Show and Sale on September 19-21 at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Free to the show and sale.

Birmingham Stories of Race, Redemption & Reconciliation Panel Discussion, September 12

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 9:38am

The Birmingham Public Library will present a panel discussion on race, redemption, and reconciliation on Friday, September 12, at noon in the Central Library's Arrington Auditorium as part of the city's Empowerment Week. The event is free and open to the public.

The speakers will be Chervis Isom and Nick Patterson, authors of recent books that examine Birmingham during the civil rights movement. Though one author is white and the other is black, the men's stories carry similar messages of change and moving forward.

Isom once held racist views as a child growing up in a segregated Birmingham in the 1950s and 1960s. But his opinions eventually changed when a married couple on his newspaper route taught him that it's wrong to judge people based on skin color. He shares his coming-of-age story in The Newspaper Boy.

Patterson had always felt that stories of the movement's foot soldiers were ones of struggle and perseverance that needed to live on for generations to share. Through research and extensive interviews, he delved deep into the past to tell their stories in his book Birmingham Foot Soldiers: Voices from the Civil Rights Movement.

Come learn about the city's past and how it prepares people for the future. Isom, an attorney, and Patterson, a writer, will sell and sign copies of their books after the discussion and Q&A session.

Birmingham's Empowerment Week, set for September 11-15, will include a day of service, speakers and festivals.

Children's Book Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 12:25pm
The Mysterious Benedict Society
Trenton Lee Stewart

 Reynard Muldoon is a brainy misfit at the Stonetown Orphanage. He has no friends or family to confide in aside from his tutor, Ms. Perumal. One day, during his lessons with Ms. Perumal, Reynie spies an ad in the newspaper that reads, "ARE YOU A GIFTED CHILD LOOKING FOR SPECIAL OPPORTUNITIES?" For him, the answer is a resounding “YES!” he responds to the ad with nothing to lose. He and a crowd of hopeful students are subjected to a series of bizarre and strenuous mental and physical tests. All of the other students are pared down rather quickly, leaving Reynie and three other children as the only candidates fit for the so-called “Special Opportunities.” Bald and bespectacled Sticky Washington has a nervous disposition and a photographic memory, Kate Wetherall is practically an acrobat and is always prepared with a bucket full of supplies tied to her waist, last but not least is tiny and stubborn Constance Contraire. This band of exceptional kids has been recruited by Mr. Benedict to infiltrate and act as spies at the very prestigious Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened. The head of the school, Mr. Curtain, is up to some large-scale shenanigans. The kids are deployed and accepted into the school where they use their special skills to get to the bottom of Mr. Curtain’s plan for world domination.

This book showcases clever writing by an author who never talks down to young readers. It’s a smart book about smart kids that is crackling with adventure, mystery (it’s in the title!), humor, and heart. It’s a great book for voracious middle grade readers. Weighing in at almost 500 pages it’s likely that only the most insatiable young readers will want to take it on. However, younger or less experienced readers shouldn’t turn away because of the page count. The story is appropriate for kids of all ages and the audiobook is a superb alternative to the print version. This title is the first of a series, so if you like it there are more many other adventures to enjoy. Luckily, this title wraps up the story quite nicely so there are minimal cliffhangers.

Mollie McFarland
Springville Road Library

Learn More About the Dalai Lama at the Birmingham Public Library in October

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 8:29am
The Dalai Lama and Mayor Bell at the Mind and Life Institute, Kyoto, Japan, April 2014
Photo courtesy of Office of Tibet
To help the public learn more about the Dalai Lama prior to his Birmingham visit in late October, the Birmingham Public Library will offer several free programs and resources.

Spiritual leader Lama Deshek of the Tibetan Buddhist Center in Birmingham, who's a student of the Dalai Lama and has traveled with him, will give a talk about the Dalai Lama on Tuesday, October 14, 6:30 p.m., in the Arrington Auditorium, Central Library. A question and answer session will follow.

The following locations will feature free screenings of the documentary 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama:

Wednesday, October 15, 12:00  p.m., Central Library
Tuesday, October 21, 12:00 p.m., Avondale Library
Tuesday, October 21, 6:30 p.m., Springville Road Library
Wednesday, October 22, 6:30 p.m., East Lake Library
Thursday, October 23, 10:00 a.m., Smithfield Library
Thursday, October 23, 11:00 a.m., Titusville Library

A resource list about books and DVDs on His Holiness will be available at Birmingham library locations in October.

The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet will appear at Regions Field on Sunday, October 26, at 2 p.m. as part of Birmingham’s Human Rights Week, which will be October 22-27. For tickets to see the Dalai Lama at Regions Field, please visit

Dreamland Bar-B-Que and Birmingham Public Library to Host K-8 Classroom Recipe Contest

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 12:31pm

Dreamland Bar-B-Que and the Birmingham Public Library invite K-8 classrooms to put on their chef hats and create a kid-friendly Dreamland recipe. One winning classroom will be treated to a Dreamland classroom party for submitting the most creative and delicious recipe.

The Jr. Pitmasters Cookbook Recipe Contest is open to all K-8 classes and homeschool programs within Jefferson County. The contest is part of the Birmingham Public Library’s Eat Drink Read Write Festival, set for October 3-10, 2014.

Each classroom may submit one or more recipes using Dreamland Bar-B-Que Sauce, Dipping Sauce, Seasoning Shake, and/or Rub. These items are available for purchase at Dreamland Bar-B-Que restaurants, local grocers, and online at The recipes can be for appetizers, main courses, side dishes, or desserts. The recipes should be easy to make for kids.

Recipe submission forms can be found at Dreamland and the Birmingham Public Library’s website. The deadline for submission is September 17, 2014. Classroom recipes should be sent to To find applications, visit and click on “contests.’’

Along with the recipe contest, all children in grades K-8 are invited to submit their own original works of art to be considered for the cookbook cover and inside illustrations. One piece of art will be selected as the cover for the Jr. Pitmasters Cookbook. Works may feature Dreamland Bar-B-Que or The City of Birmingham. The grand prize for the art contest is a $100 Dreamland gift card. Parents and children may submit art for consideration at the Central Library's Youth Department, second floor. The deadline is also September 17.

Winners will be honored during a family-friendly reception at the Central Library on October 6, 2014, 6:00-7:00 p.m.

For more information about the contest or the Eat Drink Read Write Festival, visit Dreamland Bar-B-Que on Facebook or

Bards & Brews Open Mic Poetry Event at Ruffner Mountain, September 5

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 9:26am
Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve
Enjoy the perfect blend of free beer samples and a night of poetry during the Birmingham Public Library's monthly Bards and Brews, Friday, September 5, at Ruffner Mountain Nature Center, 6:30 - 9:00 p.m. Live music by Susan Lawrence; beer provided by Blue Pants Brewery. Light snacks will also be served. Open Mic Night poet registration and music starts at 6:30 pm., and poetry performances start at 7:00 pm. Attendees must be 18 years or older to be admitted, and 21 years or older to be served. IDs will be checked. Bards & Brews has its own Facebook page which features a wealth of information about the event.

This program is made possible by grants from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Book Review: The Disaster Artist

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 4:58pm
The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made
Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

The Room. Not everyone has seen it, but many have probably heard of it. A 2003 independent film directed, produced, and written lead actor Tommy Wiseau, The Room’s story concerns a love triangle between three friends. Johnny (Wiseau) is a kindly, middle-aged banker engaged to the untrustworthy Lisa (Juliette Danielle). Out of boredom, Lisa decides to ensnare their misguided friend, Mark (Greg Sestero), in a passionate affair in a move that will destroy their circle of friends. Meant to be taken as a heart-wrenching drama on par with Shakespeare’s tragedies, the film’s bad acting, bewildering script, and atrocious dialogue was met with howls of laughter worldwide. Although a flop at the box office, it developed an impressive cult following, and ultimately led to Sestero’s decision to write a memoir of his experiences. Hilarious, and at times, surprisingly sad, The Disaster Artist is a wildly entertaining memoir that will definitely appeal to fans of The Room.

Liz Winn
Microforms/Government Documents
Central Library

Take a Selfie and Share it on Social Media to Support World Literacy Day, September 8

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 10:57am

WHO: The Birmingham Public Library, Instagram Birmingham, The Literacy Council, and REV Birmingham will celebrate World Literacy Day, September 8, by encouraging people to take selfies in cool places to read in Birmingham.

WHAT: World Literacy Day's aim is to highlight the importance of literacy. About 776 million adults lack minimum literacy skills, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Also, one in five adults is still not literate and two-thirds of them are women. However, there are about 4 billion literate people in the world, according to UNESCO.

WHEN: Monday, September 8, 2014

WHERE TO POST PICS: People may take photos of themselves at the library, their favorite coffee shop, the park, etc. Then, they should share the images on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. People may also send images to so that the Literacy Council may share the images on social media.

HOW: When posting images, people should use the hashtags #coolplacestoreadbham and #literacyselfie. People are also encouraged to tag the following organizations:

  • Birmingham Public Library - Twitter: @bpl; Instagram: @bplpics; and Facebook: Birmingham Public Library
  • Instagram Birmingham - Instagram and Twitter: #instagrambham
  • REV Birmingham - Twitter: @revbirmingham Facebook: REV Birmingham
  • The Literacy Council – Facebook: literacycouncil; Twitter: @literacy_update; Instagram: theliteracycouncil

For more information contact: Missy Burchart, The Literacy Council, 205-326-1925,

Free Wills to be Prepared at Birmingham Public Libraries This Fall

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 2:34pm

Legal Services Alabama, a nonprofit law firm in Birmingham, will prepare wills at three Birmingham Public Libraries in the coming months.

To qualify for a free will, a person must be a Birmingham resident and must fall into one of the required income areas: under $34,200 for a single person; $39,050 or less for a family of two; $43,950 or less for a family of three; or $48,800 or less for a family of four. For those unable to meet the income requirements but are over 60 years old, the law firm may still be able to help.

Central Library/Arrington Auditorium
Thursday, August 28, 2014
9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.

North Birmingham Library
Thursday, September 25, 2014
9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.

East Lake Library
Thursday, October 23, 2014
9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.

"Basically, we think everybody should have a will. If you have parents or kids, you should have a will,'' said Dru Clark, an attorney with Legal Services Alabama. Those also in need of a will should be anyone: owning a home, with a bank account, with elderly parents, with dependents with special needs, or without close relatives but interested in leaving items to a friend.

"The goal of the wills clinic is to raise awareness of how easy it is to get a will done. It's not a painful experience,'' Clark said. "There's a stigma associated with a will - that you will die tomorrow. But that's not the case. Having a will is just good planning.''

Those needing help with what to do with a loved one's estate may also seek help during the clinics. The service is part of “Preserving the Wealth of Our Communities Project (PWOCP),” which is made possible because of Birmingham Mayor William Bell's RISE initiative. The RISE initiative is an effort to strengthen neighborhoods, eliminate blight, and increase property values. The program is also for low-to-moderate income property owners and senior citizens of Birmingham.

For more information, call Dru Clark at 205-328-3540, ext. 3508.

BPL Closed August 31 and September 1 for Labor Day

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 10:12am
All Birmingham Public Library locations will be closed Sunday and Monday, August 31 and September 1, in observance of Labor Day.

Final Road Trip of the Summer

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 10:10am
It is getting close to the final summer road trip and sometimes it is hard to find audiobooks of interest to a carload of family members. Over the summer, I listened to two action adventure audiobooks that might keep your family awake and interested in “what comes next.” Fans of Harry Potter and the Percy Jackson books could enjoy Gregor the Overlander and The Paladin Prophecy.

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins is the first volume in the Underland Chronicles. This is the same Suzanne Collins of The Hunger Games fame. Gregor is a scrappy teen who has to forfeit summer camp to take care of his 2-year old sister, Boots, while his mother is at work. A few years earlier, their father disappeared causing the family to fall on hard times. Boots accidentally slips down a hole behind a loose grate in the laundry room. Gregor follows her into a strange world beneath New York City.

The Underland was founded centuries ago by a disillusioned Englishman who thought he could create a better world somewhere else. His descendants have the same problems as humans living above ground. As part of the fantasy world, the Underland is populated by oversized Rats, Roaches, Bats and other assorted creatures who all speak English and do not like humans very much. I would not like any group who descended into my realm and stole my land. Gregor and Boots discover that their father fell into the Underland and is being held hostage by the Rats. Gregor is told by the humans that he is a warrior who was sent to fulfill a series of prophecies. Members of the Underland plus two cockroach friends set off to solve a mystery and free Gregor’s father.

Despite the huge cockroaches who are devoted to Boots, the story is quite interesting. The author intersperses triumphs and trials in just the right intervals to keep the story moving. The first volume is family friendly and good for ages 11 to adult.

The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost is an extremely fast-paced narrative with dueling fantasy beings and lots of gadgets. Mark Frost is a longtime television writer known for Hill Street Blues, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Twin Peaks. As I listened to the audio I could visualize all the action. This book was written like a movie.

Will West appears to be a regular teenager, but he has a secret. Will constantly has to keep his physical and mental abilities hidden. He cannot afford to be the star of the track team or a whiz kid at school. Will and his parents move around a lot making Will a loner. One day Will is almost kidnapped but rescued by a monster angelic creature driving the ultimate sports car. Will’s parents are kidnapped in his place and he is sent to a high school for teens with untapped super powers. At the school there are weird happenings and a mystery Will and his new friends must solve.

If you like a fast moving reads, you will enjoy this audio. The plot zips by with enough mystery and science fiction elements to keep older teen through adults entertained.

Teresa Ceravolo
Southside Library

Book Review: Winter's Tale

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 7:17am
Winter’s Tale
Mark Helprin

Mark Helprin’s acclaimed 1983 novel, Winter’s Tale, has been called a fantasy novel, and, although it is brimming with the fantastic, it is a genre of its own. It has more in common with the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but is best described as a tall tale, an American tall tale, perhaps told around a fire over a snowbound winter by a visionary storyteller deeply in love with New York City. Helprin is entranced by color and light, and is more than willing to let narrative wait patiently while he, and his readers, are immersed in visual wonder. This brick of a book is chock full of descriptive scenes like the following:

“By the Battery itself the harbor took color with the new light, rocking in layers of green, silver and blue. At the end of this polar rainbow, on the horizon, was a mass of white – the foil into which the entire city had been set – that was beginning to turn gold with the rising sun. The pale cold agitated in ascending waves of heat and refraction until it seemed like the place of a thousand cities, or the border of heaven. The horse stopped to stare, his eyes filled with golden light. Steam issued from his nostrils as he stood in contemplation of the impossible and alluring distance. He stayed in the street as if he were a statue, while the gold strengthened and boiled before him in a bed of blue. It seemed to be a perfect place and he determined to go there.”

And, oh yes, a huge white horse with dreams of heavenly apotheosis is one of the major characters, but this is no animal fable. We come to know thieves and newspapermen, mayors and mechanics, beautiful maidens and consumptive waifs.

Winter’s Tale is still mentioned as one of the best novels of the past 30 years.

And, if you have grown weary of picky cynical reviews you may be interested in reading the three pages of effusive praise a New York Times reviewer showered upon it in 1983:

“A piercing sense of the beautiful arising from narrative and emotional fantasy is everywhere alive in the novel. And because the novelist commits himself throughout to the pursuit of nourishing truths - truths of justice, hope and cheer remote from the more fashionable truths of alienation and despair - Winter's Tale stands forth in its own right as a restorer and comforter…..The affirming voices that one is reminded of are those of Blake and Whitman.”

The patient reader will be rewarded with vivid scenes that will linger long in the mind’s eye. Winter’s Tale has been loosely translated into a recent film which is truer to the book’s imagery than to its plot and is worth viewing in that respect.

Winter’s Tale—nothing short of amazing.

Check it out.

[By the way, this is not to be confused with William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Both are worth pursuing.]

David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library

Food for Fines Begins September 1 at All Jefferson County Public Libraries

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 10:53am

Through the month of September, all public libraries in Jefferson County will be participating in a food drive that helps support local charities by replenishing food pantries in anticipation of the coming holidays.

How does it work?
$1.00 in fines will be waived for each food item donated in September for up to $10.00 per library card holder. The donations will go toward fines only, not lost/damaged materials. The drive is open to all who wish to participate.

When and where can donations be made?
Donations will be accepted at all 40 Jefferson County public libraries circulation desks during September 2014. Here is a list of acceptable/unacceptable canned and boxed food items.

Food for Fines is held in conjunction with the annual National Library Card Sign-up Month. In September, cardholders can also trade in their old card for a keychain card or receive a replacement for a worn out card without paying the usual $3.00 fee.

Don't Forget to Add a Library Card to Your Back-to-School List

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:54pm
It is that time of year again when many are shopping for back-to-school supplies. While you are shopping for clothes, shoes, pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, and backpacks, don't forget the most important school supply of all: your public library card!

With your library card you have access to a world of information.

From home, you can access our many databases and reserve books so they will be waiting for you when you come to the library.

Our databases are probably our best kept secret. Our databases include Learning Express, where you can take practice test to prepare for the ACT, SAT, and many more, to Freegal Music, where you can download MP3 songs to add to your own collection. The databases also include encyclopedias, dictionaries, full text articles from magazines, newspapers, and journals.

At the library, you can log on to our public access computers, check out books, CDs, DVDs, audio books, books with CDs, and eBooks. Many of the libraries also have computer classes to make your computing experience more productive and fun. 

Legal information, biographies, maps and more are available with your library card and a computer.

The best thing of all, your first library card is free. So, while you are doing your back-to-school shopping, stop by your local library to get your most important school supply—your library card.

Lynn Carpenter
Five Points West Library

College Football is Back

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 3:22pm

College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy

It’s so hot outside that it's hard to believe fall is right around the corner.  You know what that means.  FOOTBALL!!!  Yay!!!!!  Last season, Auburn represented the SEC in the BCS National Championship Game, but they were unable to knock off the Florida State Seminoles.  A championship trophy outside the SEC is like a day without sunshine.  It happens from time to time, but we really don’t like it.  It’s time to return the trophy to its rightful conference.  
2006 Florida (41) Ohio State (14)2007 LSU (38) Ohio State (24)2008 Florida (24) Oklahoma (14)2009 Alabama (37) Texas (21)2010 Auburn (22) Oregon (19)2011 Alabama (21) LSU (0)            2012 Alabama (42) Notre Dame (14)2013 Florida State (34) Auburn (31)2014 SEC (win) Someone else (lose)
This season, for the first time in history, there will be a playoff to determine the national champion.  Four teams enter, one team leaves. The semifinal games will be played on January 1, 2015 in two different locations.  One semifinal will take place at the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, LA.  The other semifinal will be played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA.  The winners will meet at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX on January 12th.  After the game, the winning SEC team will hoist the first College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy.  Hopefully, the playoff system will curtail some of the whining from undefeated teams in weaker conferences who have been unable to participate in past championship games.  If your team is that good, prove it in the playoffs!
The college football season kicks off with nearly a full week of games from Wednesday, August 27 through Monday, September 1st.  I’m excited about the season and can’t wait to see who competes in the first College Football Playoff.  Grab your snacks, text your friends, and get the grill ready because college football is back.   

Rise and Shine!

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 3:00pm

Getting up early in the morning can be an intense challenge. By the time you get settled and snugged, it seems like it’s time to get up again. However, after assessing the worth of getting up early, the benefits far outweigh the sacrifices. Just picture the things that can be accomplished while the world is still. You can start working on the blog you’ve always wanted to start; finish reading the book you’ve wanted to finish since forever; start an exercise regimen; meditate; and the list goes on. While many of us have good intentions to maximize the time in our days, we must make a conscious commitment and turn those good intentions into a reality even if it causes a temporary discomfort. 

The beginning of change in anything can be a challenge, but can be well worth it in the long-term. It is often stated that breaking an old habit and developing a new one for this matter takes an average of 30 days. Are you willing to commit 30 days to make a lifetime change? To find out how to wake up early, read "The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early," by Leo Babauta, which can be accessed at He addresses everything from how to get up early to solutions to common complaints we tend to have for not getting up early. Happy Rising!

Subjects of interest:

Karnecia Williams
Inglenook Library

Kaiju Explosion

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 10:18am
Books by Jeremy RobinsonDo you know what a kaiju is? I didn’t until recently but the literary market for them is exploding. kaiju are the next big science fiction/fantasy trend. We’ve had superheroes, space adventurers, and werewolves. Also, for the past few years, we’ve been up to our armpits in vampires. Now come the days of “kaiju.” Whether you know it or not, everyone knows, at least, one kaiju. If you’re familiar with Godzilla, then you know a kaiju. However, these are not your father’s kaiju.

Kaiju is defined as a Japanese word that literally translates to "strange beast." The word has been translated and defined in English as "monster" and is used to refer to a genre. Kaiju films usually showcase monsters of any form, usually attacking a major Japanese city or engaging another (or multiple) monsters in battle.

With the success of the movie Pacific Rim, we are being put on notice that they are here to stay. Pacific Rim already has a sequel, or rather a prequel in the works. There is some excellent kaiju fiction coming on the market. There are also more movies in the pipeline. So if you’re ready to move on from the Twilight crowd, check out some of these books and join us as we usher in the next big trend: kaiju.

Lorraine Walker
Five Points West Library

Book Review: Planet of the Apes

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 1:49pm
Planet Of The Apes
By Pierre Boulle

When I was a kid in the Sixties, my dad had a copy of a book called Monkey Planet on his bookshelf. I was intrigued by the title. I was old enough to realize it was a made-up story but I knew almost nothing about it. Many years later it was made into the movie Planet of the Apes (1968), which referenced the more-common name of the novel. I liked the movie and have seen it several times over the years. Some (well, more than some) of it is silly, dated, and embarrassing, but it still tells a great action story, and the soundtrack is astonishing. Recently, I read that the novel is more serious than the movie. That caught my attention, so I started reading it and discovered that the serious bit is only one of many differences between the book and film. And its seriousness is tripped up by flaws anyway. Two aliens discover a message in a bottle. It’s the story of an Earthman, Ulysse Merou, who travels to Soror, the titular Planet of the Apes. The apes-not monkeys learn French (Boulle was French) from Merou, who in turn learns the simian language. Soror isn’t Earth, but it is Earthlike, sometimes clumsily so—did the ape annals really have to have Impressionists?

The apes are the dominant species, and they have our human level of intelligence and the native humans run wild as beasts when they’re not being experimented on by the apes. Boulle isn’t a great (or even a very good) stylist, but he tells a corker of a story and handles the social, religious, scientific, and philosophical aspects of Soror in a mostly entrancing way. He means to make the reader uncomfortable, too, and the way the apes treat humans will at least make you look at PETA in a new way. The apes tell Merou that their races (chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans) are equal but our narrator quickly cottons onto the face-saving nature of the claim. The apes’ textbooks state that the planet Soror is the center of the universe, though the educated have long since discarded this belief (I couldn’t help but think of the evolution-averse statement inserted into Alabama state textbooks and what an embarrassment that is to the equivalent here.) There are many funhouse parallels in Planet of the Apes and they are enjoyable when they aren’t disturbing, which is to say that they’re usually intriguing. At his best, Boulle is in the Swiftian line, and he can be merciless.

On another front, the early-Sixties (1963) nature of the book is doubly odd. The apes have just put up satellites, and a man, into space. They see all non-ape creatures as incapable of thought, the way almost all Earth scientists saw animals back then. (One of the questions the book raises is, What is an animal, anyway?) Subplots with rich sexual potential end up chaste after all—and the author was French! There are none of the humanlike bonobos, which science knew little of at the time of the novel. In some ways, the book’s future is our past.

So check out this book already. The misfires don’t ultimately matter too much and the hits are deep and wide. It’s a compelling read with a considerable ironic underbelly. While reading, you never quite forget the precariousness of man on Soror or Earth, or man as narrator or beast.

As for my dad? I never read that, he told me the other day.

Richard Grooms
Fiction Department
Central Library