Month: March 2013

Check It Out Blog

He Did More Than Put the Lime in the Coconut

Who is Harry Nilsson? DVD coverRingo was best man at Harry Nilsson’s wedding. Nilsson knew all of The Beatles. In fact, when asked who his favorite band was, Lennon said “Nilsson.” Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? is a documentary examining the life of a songwriter who widely influenced popular music of the 20th century, but has since been somewhat forgotten. Using three dozen interviews with family and friends (like Yoko Ono, Robin Williams, and Eric Idle), along with music videos, home videos, and archive audio footage, a moving portrait of a musician is made. Nilsson’s vivid and complex creativity is exposed, along with the wild side that may have hastened his death.

The Original Eco-Fable

Rime of the Modern Mariner book cover“Water, water, everywhere; Nor any drop to drink.” This line from Coleridge’s memorable poem may have been an all-too-prescient glimpse into the havoc we have since wreaked on our natural resources. Nick Hayes certainly thinks so, and he has crafted a visually stunning work in The Rime of the Modern Mariner. Exquisite woodcut-inspired illustrations translate the story into a mesmerizing tale of environmental disaster, but one that is anchored by the actions (or inaction) of two primary characters: a sailor with a fantastic tale to tell and a jaded businessman cornered on the day his divorce becomes final. The text itself is spare, just a few words per page, effectively allowing the rhythm and rhyme to carry the reader along the waves of story. Savor both the poignant beauty and the timely message.

18 Years and 78 Days in Prison on a Wrongful Conviction

Three boy scouts were murdered in 1993 in West Memphis Arkansas. Police believed that the children were killed in a Satanic ritual. Damien Echols, his best friend Jason Baldwin, and a school associate named Jessie Misskelley were blamed, tried, and convicted for the murders without any hard evidence of doing the crime.

In 2011, after 18 years and 78 days in prison, the men were given back their freedom. In Life After Death, Damien Echols talks about his experiences with the justice system and readjusting to society. Below, he talks to the women of The View about his time in prison.

LISTS: Swordsmen (and Women)!

Three Musketeers book coverIn The Three Musketeers, arguably one of the greatest swordplay books of all time, d’Artagnan’s father tells him, “Never fear quarrels, but seek hazardous adventures. I have taught you how to handle a sword; you have thews of iron, a wrist of steel; fight on all occasions; fight the more for duels being forbidden.”

To view the fights of d’Artagnan and other swordsmen in fiction, click here.

A Honky Tonkin’ Family History

Long Gone Daddies book coverLuther Gaunt is a member of the Long Gone Daddies, a working man’s band that play dive bars. The Long Gone Daddies are on the their way to Memphis, but where the band wants to make it big, Luther mostly wants to retrace the steps of his musical father and grandfather and piece together his family’s history. Luther’s father disappeared years ago and Luther’s grandfather is definitely dead – shot for rambling around with another man’s wife, but what of his life before that bullet? Armed with Cassie, the guitar that has been passed down for generations, Luther is searching for songs, truth, and family in David Wesley Williams’ novel, Long Gone Daddies.

Book Discussion Questions: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep book cover

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.


Title: The Big Sleep
Author: Raymond Chandler
Page Count: 249
Genre: Mystery, Pulp Fiction
Tone: Witty, Gritty, Fast-paced

Questions composed by MPPL Staff:

1.    What did you think of Chandler’s constant barrage of setting details?

2.    Do you think General Sternwood had given up on being a parent? What would you have done differently?

3.    Vivian visits Marlowe’s office to try and figure out if he is looking for her husband. Why doesn’t she just go to her father?

4.    Vivian tells Marlowe, “People don’t talk to me that way.” (p. 19) What does this tell us about Vivian? What does this tell us about Marlowe?

5.    Marlow comes in contact with thugs, lowlifes, cops and the rich. Does he speak to everybody the same?

6.    Marlowe seems almost unmovable. Almost. What are some examples of Marlowe being human?

-p. 61, Marlowe blushes after Vivian leaves
-p. 190, interaction with Eddie Mars’ wife

7.    Do you count The Big Sleep as a classic of American literature? Why or why not?

8.    What makes a character classic?

9.    What are the charms of Marlowe?

10.    Do you think Phillip Marlowe has an equal in crime fiction?

11.    Did you see Marlowe as Humphrey Bogart?

12.    Who could play Marlowe in this day and age?

13.    What did you think of Carmen?

14.    Is Carmen not very smart or does she have health issues that can account for her behavior?

15.    Rusty Regan, the missing, bootlegging husband, always carried 15 grand on his person. What does that say about him?

16.    Why do you think Chandler never lets us see Rusty Regan, alive or dead?

17.    What does it say about Phillip Marlowe that he carries a gun and a bottle of rye in his glove compartment?

18.    When you read the book, did you see it in black and white in your mind? Color?

19.    Why would Vivian “loath masterful men?” (p. 20)

20.    Did Carmen getting the drop on Marlowe  surprise you? (p. 210)

21.    Eddie Mars’ wife says she still loves her husband, even knowing what a criminal he is. (p. 196) Were you bothered by her stance? Why?

22.    If you could go back to 1939, would you want Marlowe’s job? What job would you want?

23.    What does it say about Marlowe that he is a private investigator instead of a police officer?

24.    Did the slang ever bother you?

25.    Is everybody (men and women) a smooth talker in The Big Sleep?

26.    Any favorite quotes from the book?

27.    On page 48, the doctor can’t easily tell Owen Taylor’s time of death. How would this bit of information help establish the novel’s era?

28.    There ended up being a good number of characters and quite a few of them dead. Did you ever have trouble following along?

29.    One of Chandler’s most famous quotes is, “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” (The quote originates from “The Simple Art of Murder,” found as an introduction essay to his novel of the same name.) Did you see examples of that in The Big Sleep? Is this a good writing practice?

30.    Think of characters and their status levels. Is there any social critique within The Big Sleep?

31.    Do women have power in this story? If so, what kind?

32.    How does Marlowe see women?

33.    Does Marlowe have a code of honor?

34.    Some of Raymond Chandler’s biggest literary influences were Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway and Henry James. Do you see any connections in his work to these authors?

-Ex: Dickens wrote convoluted plots, Hemingway wrote in short, to the point sentences, and James wrote in very dark tones

35.    What influence do you think Chandler has had on crime novels?


Other Resources:

Raymond Chandler’s website
Extra discussion questions on Spark Notes
Wikipedia page on pulp fiction
Ian Fleming interviews Raymond Chandler
Raymond Chandler’s 1945 essay for The Atlantic about writing in Hollywood
Original 1939 New York Times book review of The Big Sleep
Extra books on Chandler: Raymond Chandler: A Biography  and The Raymond Chandler Papers


If you liked The Big Sleep, try…

L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane

LA Confidential book cover     The Thin Man book coverI the Jury book cover

Story As Saving Grace

One Amazing Thing book coverCathleen of Fiction/AV/Teen Services recommends One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni:

No one noticed the first rumble.  Lost in thought while waiting in line for visas, a diverse group of nine individuals had no idea their fates were entwined.  When the earthquake hits, they find themselves trapped in the basement of the foreign consulate with no escape, little food, dwindling oxygen, and water beginning to seep in through the floor.  It isn’t long before tensions lead them to turn on each other, until one suggests they distract themselves by each sharing an important story — one amazing thing — from his or her own life.  The tales are heartbreaking, inspiring, and vulnerable, and they illustrate the transcendent power of story as well as the quiet miracles that have the power to transform our lives.

Choosing Your Family

A successful ad rep was walking down the street in Manhattan. A young boy begged her for money for food. He hadn’t eaten in two days. The woman kept walking…until something made her stop, turn around and ask the boy to go to McDonald’s with her. For the next four years, the two met every Monday so the young boy could have a meal. After that, their bond kept growing. In An Invisible Thread, Laura Schroff tells the story of how a homeless panhandler became her son.