Check It Out

Check It Out Blog

The Great Debaters

Great Debaters DVD coverIn the midst of both the Great Depression and volatile race relations, a charismatic professor nurtures the confidence, cleverness, and eloquence of four determined students.  Inspired by actual events, The Great Debaters celebrates the amazing victories of a unique debating team from all-African American Wiley College in 1935.  Four students are chosen to train intensively in argument and persuasion, and the phenomenal success of their modest team attracts the attention of the elite at Harvard University.  In his sophomore directing effort, Denzel Washington gracefully guides the action and allows the young stars to shine.  His own role of debate coach, poet, and union organizer is powerful, and he is well-matched by Forest Whitaker’s presence as the father of one of the debaters.  Distributed by Harpo Films and the Weinstein Company, The Great Debaters is an impassioned story both thought-provoking and satisfying.

The Debates That Defined America

Lincoln and Douglas book coverAnne of Reference Services recommends Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America by Allen C. Guelzo:

1858 was a congressional election year which brought a little-known Springfield lawyer named Abraham Lincoln and the then-current Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas together in a series of debates in seven Illinois towns.  In the book Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America, historian author Allen C. Guelzo uses a variety of resources to bring these men to life and to resurrect their words.  He provides a backdrop to these colorful events and discusses how they were perceived in subsequent years.  The debates stirred the interest of people across the country, brought the topic of slavery into the open, and put Lincoln on the national stage.  Lively and respectful, Lincoln and Douglas allows the reader to understand how the debates propelled the nation to face and eventually to deal with its divisions.

The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Brontë

Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte book coverIt’s always the quiet ones, isn’t it?  Lest you assume the Victorian author of classic Jane Eyre led an uneventful life, Laura Joh Rowland imagines a much more thrilling existence in The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Brontë.   On a rare but necessary journey from her country home to London, mild-mannered Charlotte finds herself an unwitting eyewitness to the shocking murder of a young woman she had met only a day earlier.  Before long, the authoress is drawn into a world of espionage and conspiracy, and she must work closely with a charming stranger who may not be who he claims.  Charlotte is more than equal to the challenge, and she discovers in herself a strength and passion that she had before only experienced in her heroines, and in circumstances that she could never have imagined.

Sydney Pollack, The Way He Was

Sydney Pollack director photoAcademy Award-winning director Sydney Pollack died yesterday, leaving a legacy of great films and an even greater love of movie-making.  Out of Africa, starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, earned Pollack Oscars both for Best Director and for Best Picture.  He also collected multiple nominations for Tootsie, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, and most recently as a producer for Michael Clayton.

Few directors can claim the camaraderie with A-list actors that Sydney Pollack cultivated.  Often named as the quintessential ‘actor’s director’, “Sydney let the dialogue and the emotion of the scene speak for itself,” said Michael Apted, president of the Director’s Guild of America.  Pollack started out as an actor himself, and he continued to make his mark in memorable character roles.  Among his many other directorial successes are The Way We Were and The Firm.  His most recent release is the documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry.

Standouts Among the Fantastic

Yiddish Policemen's Union book coverThe Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America recently announced the 2008 Nebula Awards, and your library has the winning selections!  The much-celebrated best novel is Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, an unusual and creative story of alternate history.  Ted Chiang earned his fourth Nebula for the novelette The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate.  In the category of best script, Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro was honored.  J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows won the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Veteran science fiction writer Michael Moorcock was named the Grand Master, and Ardath Mayhar was singled out as the year’s Author Emeritus.  Each year the SFWA publishes an anthology of the year’s best science fiction and fantasy writing, including the winning pieces of short fiction and several runners-up.  What better way to sample imaginative writing that is simply out-of-this-world?

P.J. Tracy

P.J. Tracy author photoP.J. Tracy is the name under which Patricia (P.J.) and Traci Lambrecht write a thrilling series of comic mysteries.  The mother/daughter team’s original whodunit, Monkeewrench, quickly became a bestseller and earned nominations for best first novel.  Live Bait, Dead Run, and Snow Blind soon followed, and a fifth title is currently in the works.

P.J. had her first short story published when Traci was young, and she established herself as a moderately successful free-lance writer.  Traci majored in Russian studies in college but joined her mother in writing when she needed money for a European trip.  Despite living in different states, the duo keeps in contact through every-other-month visits, phone conferences, and e-mail drafts.  Even when working independently, the two are so connected that they often cannot recall who contributed what to the finished novel.

My Kid Could Paint That

My Kid Could Paint That DVD coverAt the age of four, Marla Olmstead had already created a sensation in the art world.  Her paintings were colorful, complex, and vibrant, and some had sold for thousands of dollars.  However, not everyone was convinced that the work was hers alone.  The Sony Pictures release My Kid Could Paint That documents her amazing success and the controversy surrounding her paintings.  The film was intended to open a dialogue about modern art, but an even more complicated story is presented through interviews with Marla’s family, collectors, and art critics.  Do Marla’s paintings simply reflect a gifted little girl who loves to paint, or are they the end product of parental manipulation and fraud?  There may not be an easy answer, but you will be captivated by the questions all the same.

Three Girls and Their Brother

Three Girls and their Brother book coverThe adage that one picture is worth a thousand words seems an understatement in the world of the Heller sisters.  In their case, a single photo of the three striking redheads transforms them into the latest obsession in the cult of celebrity. Three Girls and Their Brother, a debut novel by acclaimed playwright Theresa Rebeck, allows each of the girls her turn in telling the story, along with brother Philip who is unceremoniously pushed aside.  Daria, Polly, and Amelia are catapulted into the life of the famous and adored, but this also marks them as easy prey to those who want to capitalize on their sudden fame.  As their celebrity climbs higher, their standards sink lower, and they find themselves seen more as products than as people.  Three Girls and Their Brother captures the tabloid appeal of being simultaneously vacuous and mesmerizing, and you will find yourself thoroughly caught up in the spectacle.

I Am Legend

I am Legend DVD coverSome 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.

The Friday Night Knitting Club

Friday Night Knitting Club book coverDonna S. of Fiction/AV/Teen Services recommends The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs:

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.