Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Long Train Running"

May 10th marked the 143rd anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad.  The Central Pacific Railroad heading east from San Francisco and the Union Pacific heading west from Omaha, Nebraska met at Promontory Summit, Utah in 1869.  A ceremony was held marking the joining of east and west by the driving of a golden spike into the last railroad tie.

Author Richard White has written a Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner (and a Pulitzer nominee) work about the transcontinental railroad - its social, economic and political impact on America - called “Railroaded: the transcontinentals and the making of modern America”.  White looks past the "triumph of progress" to examine the negative impact of the railroads on everyone (except the few who managed to get rich in spite of their incompetence and illegal acts). - the displaced Native Americans and the destruction of their way of life, the relations between management and labor with the recruitment of Chinese workers, wholesale political graft and corruption, environmental degradation, and finally, financial collapse resulting in the Panic of 1893. White draws parallels between the railroad magnates of the 19th century and the Wall Street bankers of the present times running highly leveraged businesses which contributed to their eventual collapse and causing an ensuing depression.

While some of White's conclusions may be controversial, White's sardonic descriptions are entertaining. Of John C. Fremont, "Fremont, in railroads as in many things, was a man not to be trusted."  Or when describing a railroad, "For hubris, grandiosity, and repeated failure, few corporations could surpass the Northern Pacific".

To read a blog written by Richard White about the 1901 Frank Norris classic, The Octopus, see the Library of America website.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Share Your Photos with the Library

Vacation, all I ever wanted …
Vacation, had to get away …

                         “Vacation” by The Go-Go’s

Do you know that you can apply for a passport at the Buena Park Library?  If you need information about the application process, see our webpage for more information.  Have you applied for a passport at the Buena Park Library?  Then let us know where in the world your passport has taken you … share your travel photo with us!  Send your “family friendly” picture to the Library at:

Let us know where you have been (and if we can tag you).  We will post your picture to our Facebook page.

And even if you don’t travel to a distant and exotic location … your library card can take you there through the books, DVDs, compacts discs, and audiobooks that you can check out. So take a picture of yourself and your library card and send it to us!  We know where your Library card can take you … but we would love to know where you have taken your card!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book vs. Movie Review: The Hunger Games

The Book: 2008
I jumped on the Hunger Games Bandwagon shortly after the final book was published.  At first I was resistant to the hype because I've been burned before (I'm looking at you, Twilight) but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I love science fiction, and this book is science fiction that manages to be highly accessible -  no spaceships or aliens, simply a fascinating dark vision of a future American society, adventure, action, and characters that immediately draw you in.

This story reminded me of other literature that I have loved and that's definitely not a bad thing.  There's a little bit of Shirley Jackson's short story The Lottery, and definitely some Lord of the Flies.  There are many parallels with Battle Royale of course, and all with a modern twist that seems the logical development of our culture's obsession with reality TV. 

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale also comes to mind.  It tells the story of a woman forced into a subservient and degrading life in a future America which, like the Hunger Games' Panem, is the result of a mysterious but violent social upheaval.  In this case, the social order is built on religious oppression, whereas in the Hunger Games, society has become a rigidly stratified class system with a dramatically unequal distribution of wealth.  Atwood's heroine can remember a life before the current regime, and there are hints as to the existence of an outside world.  In the Hunger Games, Panem has been in existence for generations, and our heroine, Katniss, has never known any other way of life.  However, this does not stop her from fighting the system, and her struggle makes for great reading.

I give the book 5 out of 5 Mockingjays!

The Movie: 2012
I could talk about how elements of the story are always lost in translation and the difficulty in communicating a character's inner turmoil etc, but I'll just skip it and admit that this is not how I pictured any of the main characters.  I remember agonizing over casting announcements during pre-production, analyzing photo releases, trying to picture how the different actors would would embody their roles based on their performances in past movies.  In short, I went a little overboard with worry.  But the final product far exceeded my expectations, both as a book adaptation and as a sci-fi adventure film.  I absolutely loved it.

The Pros:
1) The movie takes its time telling the story.  It does not rush through to the violent payoff of the games or give that part of the story more screen time than the less action-packed but no less entertaining character development and political maneuvering that leads up to it.

2) The actors!  They all give excellent performances.  Whenever I reread the book (which I undoubtedly will), I will be picturing these people and hearing their voices.

3) The movie is beautiful.  The cinematography, special effects, makeup and costumes are fantastic.  The contrast between the muted, washed out colors of poverty stricken district 12, the intense greens of the forest just outside the electrified fence surrounding the district, and the elaborate garishness of the Capitol and its residents all serve to convey the rigidly enforced class distinctions in Panem, as well as the harsh limitations faced by those who are not lucky enough to be among the upper class.

These two are probably not next-door neighbors

In the Capitol, beard wears YOU
The Cons:
1) The movie really does take its time.  At 2 hrs 22 min, it is not exactly breaking any records for length, but if your personal limit for sitting in a theater seat is around 90 min, this movie will test your fortitude.

2) The actors!  They are so attractive and well groomed.  Certainly none of the main 3 look as if they are barely scraping by (hush now, fangirls - I know Peeta's family is supposed to be comparatively well off) and even Haymitch, the bitter, drunken, slovenly former champion is just a a quick hair-brushing away from being totally presentable. 
From the District 12 Fall Catalog
"And that's when I swore off conditioner forever"
3) The franchising.  It really doesn't have anything to do the movie itself, but I'm just not sure how I feel about this... Ok, maybe jealous that I didn't think of it first?

I give the movie 6 out of 5 Mockingjays!! (Hey, it's my review, I can do what I want!)

Friday, May 11, 2012

English Conversation Club

Here is a photo of the English Conversation Club that meets here on Thursday evenings from 6 to 7:30. It is held on the 2nd floor in the Bookstore.  If you would like to improve your English, enjoy lively discussions and learn about American culture. Please join the group here at the Buena Park Library District.