Some days it doesn’t take that much effort to imagine the end of the world. The 2007 Warner Bros. release I Am Legend brings to life the frightening idea that mankind’s own hubris will bring about the destruction we fear. Will Smith shines as Robert Neville, possibly the last survivor of a plague that has eradicated the earth’s population. Neville is valiantly trying to develop an antidote to the miracle cure that started it all while at the same time fighting off the feral Dark Seekers who viciously slaughter any living thing they find. I Am Legend is the third film adaptation of the classic science fiction book by Richard Matheson. The first, The Last Man on Earth starred Vincent Price, and 1971’s The Omega Man featured Charlton Heston.
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In The Friday Night Knitting Club, a single mother works to raise her daughter and run a yarn shop in Manhattan. Knitting is her passion, salvation, and livelihood. Over the years her regular customers have become her friends, and the Friday Night Knitting Club was formed. Among the members are a wealthy older woman who wants to fill a void in her life, a daughter with interest in the culinary arts, a best friend who returns to seek forgiveness, and an absent father who slowly re-enters his family’s lives. When the main character discovers that she has ovarian cancer, the members rally round to help.
The story of how this varied group comes to share their talents and influence each other reminds me of the sisterhood from the movie Steel Magnolias. It is interesting and pleasant reading.
The prestigious 2008 Edgar Allan Poe Awards have just been announced by the Mystery Writers of America, and the winners are available at your library! Simply click on the titles to check the MPPL catalog.
Best Novel: Down River by John Hart
Best First Novel by an American Author: In the Woods by Tana French
Best Paperback Original: Queenpin by Megan Abbot
Best Fact Crime: Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi
Best Television Episode Teleplay: Burn Notice (Pilot)
Best Motion Picture Screenplay: Michael Clayton
A truly rich and moving story collection from a master of the genre, Unaccustomed Earth lives up to the promise of its Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Though the title is taken from a classic Nathaniel Hawthorne passage, the heart of these stories is very much contemporary. Jhumpa Lahiri molds each episode with distinct character voices in the midst of transition: a grown daughter and her father’s visit, a husband and wife as they attend a wedding, an older sister and her self-destructive brother. Each has the element of divergent perspectives, and the second part of the book entwines a young couple’s experiences through alternately narrated sections. Lahiri’s delicate and lyrical style holds spellbinding appeal, and these vignettes will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.
One of the best rewards of the proliferation of TV on DVD is the chance to see series that were canceled prematurely. One such gem is Wonderfalls, a comedic drama (or is it dramatic comedy?) about Jaye Tyler, a sarcastic college graduate who has opted for an expectation-free life by working in a tourist shop at Niagara Falls. Her routine takes an unexpected turn when the souvenirs for sale begin to speak to her, giving her strange instructions: “don’t give her money back” or “break the taillight”. Jaye, played with a wry vulnerability by Caroline Dhavernas, worries she might be crazy, and her dysfunctional family and quirky friends do not offer much comfort. Wonderfalls, produced by Regency Television and 20th Century Fox, is a 2004 series not given a chance to find its audience, but this set features all thirteen episodes, including nine that were never shown.
Even if your life bears little resemblance to a twenty-something New Yorker’s, you will find yourself laughing in solidarity with Sloane Crosley in I Was Told There’d Be Cake. This debut collection of personal essays offers observations on modern rites of passage with wit and panache. Whether writing about apartment struggles, impossible bosses, friends’ weddings, or summer camp, Crosley is transparently flawed and funny. The incredible becomes outrageous, but the strangeness that is life grounds each episode. The next time you contemplate a change in your eating habits or find yourself locked out, you’ll wish it were as entertaining a story as those included here.
“You’ve known there was something special about you for a long time, haven’t you?” With these words, the students in Susan Breen’s The Fiction Class are introduced to their instructor, Arabella Hicks. Arabella is a skilled professional, though she certainly doesn’t feel that way when she makes her weekly visits to her mother. Every Wednesday after teaching her mismatched group of aspiring writers, Arabella then steels herself to spend time with the one person who makes her crazy. Elements of her two roles begin to mingle, and it is through this curious combination that Arabella finds her own true voice. Possibly the next-best thing to attending a writing seminar of your own, The Fiction Class is a tribute to those who appreciate the craft of finding just the right words to tell a good story.
Chicago native Andrew Greeley is known as priest, author, journalist, and benefactor. He is one of the most influential Catholic thinkers of our time, and his wit and insights make him a popular subject for national radio and television interviews. A prolific writer, Father Greeley is celebrated for both his general fiction and his mystery series. He is also credited with many important works on the Catholic faith, especially those that examine contemporary and controversial issues. His versatility is evident in two of his most recent works: Irish Tiger, the eleventh installment in the Nuala Anne McGrail mysteries, and A Stupid, Unjust, and Criminal War: Iraq, 2001-2007. Father Greeley is very active in his hometown, contributing a weekly column to the Chicago Sun-Times and helping to establish local charities. Further proving his loyalty, his website declares he “remains an inveterate Chicago sports fan, cheering for the Bulls, Bears, and the Cubs, while praying for them to improve.”
April 13-19 is National Library Week, and the theme is “Join the Circle of Knowledge”. What better way to celebrate than to take a trip into Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs? Author Ken Jennings uses the story of his record-breaking 74 wins on the popular game show Jeopardy! as a framework by which to explore the history and fascination of trivia contests. His style is light and personable, and his enthusiasm for the world of trivia lovers is contagious. Jennings even peppers each chapter with questions, and the reader cannot help but feel a little smarter just for following along. Moreover, if you can name H&R Block as the answer to the question above, then you already know something Jennings didn’t when he was finally beaten by another Jeopardy! contestant.
Congratulations to the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winners! The honor in fiction was awarded to Junot Diaz for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a novel that has continued to amass both critical and popular acclaim since its debut last fall. In the history category, Daniel Walker Howe took the Prize for What God Hath Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815 – 1848. Biographer John Matteson has been named a winner for Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, as has Saul Friedlander for The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945. Also newsworthy is the awarding of a special music citation to Bob Dylan, which lauded his “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”