Thursday, October 19, 2017

Chance's Corner: Stranger Things

You better prepare yourself because things are about to get really, really strange at the Franklin County Library! Yes, that's right, THE hottest television/streaming show of 2016, Stranger Things, has finally made its way to DVD.

Set in late 1983, Stranger Things takes place in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, where a young boy, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), goes missing. His mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder), is desperate to find him, but she isn't taken very seriously by Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) or anyone in town because she has "a past". Her running around with an ax and claiming her son is trying to communicate with her through Christmas lights doesn't really help her case. While her boy is missing, another child is found roaming in the nearby woods, a girl known only as Eleven (Millie Boddy Brown). Eleven can do things - things with her mind - and for some reason, the people at the nearby U.S. Department of Energy laboratory are itching to get their hands on her. Oh yeah, the "Department of Energy" also might of let a creature from another dimension (The Upside Down) loose. It's just another normal day in Hawkins!

Stranger Things is a blast from the past - a perfect mixture of nostalgia, Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment films, e.g. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Goonies, Poltergeist, and a combination of numerous other horror/science fiction flicks of the '80s. The score is a synthy dreamscape of whimsy and danger, and is unlike anything you've heard since the '70s and '80s. Well, unless you've seen recent horror films Starry Eyes and It Follows, but for a television show, it's still phenomenal and original. While Stranger Things certainly has moments that might make you consider leaving the lights on while you sleep, it's not too overbearing in its scares, so don't be too afraid to give it a try.

Be prepared to enter The Upside Down, because Stranger Things: Season 1 is now available for check out!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Tom's Two Cents : A Farewell to Hemingway

In the past five years or so, I've re-read most of Ernest Hemingway's major work, and I'm very sorry to say (especially in print!) that I don't think it's standing the test of time very well.  Of course I'm aware that artists, musicians, and writers, great ones, go in and out of fashion: a hundred years ago some museums had their Rembrandts stored in the basement. In his own children's time, or shortly thereafter, Bach all but disappeared from the classical repertory; and now certain so-called "great" writers are being re-evaluated.  Fitzgerald, for example, did not receive great recognition in his own time. Now "Gatsby" at any rate is up there with the best of them.

I'm one of those who, in the 50's, grew up under the spell of Hemingway's style and tried for much of my limited writing career to emulate him.  Of course I was never a Hemingway man: I didn't hunt or fish or run with the bulls in Pamplona or go on African safari, but I suppose I bought into the Hem legend of being (or wanting to be) a "Hemingway Man."  The Hem Man lived fast and loose, attracted both women and men, wrote with disciplinary precision, and, perhaps most important, faced danger and death heroically and stoically.  Hemingway did all or most of these things, except tragically he did not die young.  It seems the one thing he could NOT face was old-age disability and psychic and physical impotence.  If he had died in war or been gored by a bull or torn apart by an African lion, his death would have doubtless been considered heroic.  Instead, he put a shotgun in his mouth and killed himself.

Nonetheless, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in the 50's, principally for his then-considered powerful style and his late novella, "The Old Man and the Sea."  Neither of these is greatly admired today.  Hemingway's machismo persona comes across as rather comical, and his lean, journalistic style has been so often imitated and parodied that today it seems clich├ęd. 

What is left?  Maybe "A Moveable Feast," Hemingway's recollections of Paris in the 20's, which I do remember reading fairly recently with great respect.  As to the three great novels, "The Sun Also Rises," "A Farewell to Arms," and "For Whom the Bell Tolls," I leave it for future generations to decide.  Hard to believe that his earliest work is now approaching its 100th anniversary!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Federal Trade Commission Pamphlets

Protect Yourself

The Christmas season is fast approaching -
I can already hear the ding of the cash registers and the obnoxious honk-honk of the card readers. Protecting yourself should be in the back of everyone’s mind all year long.  Identity theft, compromised credit and bank cards, fraud, scams and data breaches have unfortunately become a way of life in the digital age. 

The library has free information on how to protect yourself and what to do if you fall victim to these crimes.  We recently received materials from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on the following topics:
Identity Theft – A Recovery Plan
Living Life Online – A Teen’s Guide to Life Online
Child ID Theft – What to Know, What to Do
Data Breaches – What to Know, What to Do
Charity Fraud
“You’ve Won” Scams
Grandkid Scams
Tech Support Scams
IRS Imposter Scams
Online Dating Scams

The best defense is a good offense!

Protect yourself and have a plan.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Julie's Journal : My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

As a teenager, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was one of my first introductions to the gothic novel.  The spectre of the first Mrs. de Winter, the remote Manderley, the overbearing housekeeper, and the shy, uncertain new bride made for a deliciously dark, romantic, mystery.  Rebecca and, having read it at about the same time, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre whetted my appetite for dark and mysterious suitors with secrets in their pasts.  


It seems strange to me that I had never read anything else by du Maurier.  My Cousin Rachel caught my attention this year because it was made into a movie and I saw the trailer.  It looked like an interesting gothic story.  I finally got around to reading the book this past week, and it did not disappoint.  It is, though, a very different story from Rebecca.  

24 year old Phillip Ashley has been raised by his bachelor cousin, Ambrose, in a household comprised only of men.  When Ambrose travels to Florence and meets Rachel, falls in love, and marries her, Phillip cannot be more surprised.  Very quickly Ambrose falls ill, and within a short period of time, he dies.  Meanwhile, Phillip has received some somewhat cryptic messages from Ambrose and believes that Rachel may have played a part in his death.  When the new widow decides to visit Phillip and the family home, Phillip resolves to have his revenge on her.  His plans are thwarted however, when he discovers that Rachel is not the evil crone he has pictured, but rather a small, pretty, charming woman only a few years older than himself.  In spite of himself, Phillip is drawn to her and quickly turns from being set on revenging himself on her, to falling in love with her. 

Rachel's thoughts, feelings, and motives are a little harder to figure out.  Is she the grieving widow of Ambrose, come to his home to return his personal effects to Phillip?  Or is she conniving, and, having been left out of Ambrose's will, coming to charm Phillip into giving her an allowance, or better yet, his entire estate?  Did Ambrose die of a brain tumor, and the insanity that seems to run in the family?  Or did Rachel help him along by using her knowledge of herbs to poison his tea?  

For much of the story, I was convinced that Rachel was simply manipulating the gullible and naive Phillip.  I wanted him to wake up and see past her charms, to the calculating, murderous woman within.  However, du Maurier is a skilled storyteller, and just when Phillip realizes that Rachel is not the woman he thinks she is and sets out on an irrevocable course of action, du Maurier casts doubt on Rachel's guilt.  The book ends cryptically with both Phillip and the reader left confused about who Rachel really is.  For myself, I think that she was manipulating Phillip for both his money and property, but I am not sure she is a murderess.  I am sure that the uncertainty is what Daphne du Maurier intended.  Now, I have to watch the movie to see how it compares to the book.

My Cousin Rachel is available as an e-book on our Overdrive app.  FCL also has the movie available for check out.  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Chance's Corner: Bigger Than Life Review

Caution! This nuclear family is in the middle of meltdown!

Ed Avery (James Mason), the core of the Avery nuclear family, suffers a complete collapse due to hardening veins, but his family doctor may have a solution to ease his pain and prolong his life - the "miracle" drug called cortisone. It's still in the experimental phases, though, so the side effects are relatively unknown - other than a few bouts of depression. Under close supervision, Ed is administered varying dosages of cortisone at the hospital to see how strong of a dosage he needs to relieve his pain, which takes place during one of the greatest and most informative graph montages ever conceived. Once the right dosage is found, Ed is released to return back to his loving wife, Lou (Barbara Rush), and his son, Richie (Christopher Olsen).

Just one more pill...
Ed has never felt better in his entire life. He's spry as a schoolboy and he picks up the habit of tossing around the ole pigskin with his son - a pigskin that once sat deflated on the fireplace mantle. Ed becomes a little too gung-ho, though, and starts spending money he just doesn't have, much to his wife's dismay. After an argument that ends with a mirror being shattered (not by Ed!), Ed has an emotional breakdown and decides that he only needs to up his cortisone dosage to solve his emotional problems. Oh brother...

Even Ed's shadow looms over his wife and son.

Once Ed becomes addicted to the cortisone tablets, his life spirals completely out of control. He calls his students morons in front of their parents during an open house meeting, he harasses the milkman for "intentionally" making the glass bottles "jingle jangle", he turns football into torture for his son, and he thinks he is intellectually superior - hence the title Bigger Than Life. Ed remarks that he feels ten feet tall after getting out of the hospital. The camera seems to agree, as a low angle makes him appear taller than the school he teaches at. His best friend, Wally (Walter Matthau), punctuates the point by saying that Ed has become a big shot - "he even looks bigger!"

Lou argues that it's only the pills that's making her husband say and think such ugly things, but I disagree. Before his collapse, Ed remarks that everyone he knows is dull, and the travel posters plastered on every wall in the house reflect his desire for a bigger and better life. The cortisone injections may have driven Ed to become a homicidal maniac, but every "superior" thought, every annoyance, was just festering inside of him from the get-go as that silent voice in his head that he always told to shut up. Lou is quick to forgive, but I wouldn't be, especially after he came after me and my son with a pair of scissors. Director Nicholas Ray tries to paint a picture of hope at the end, but the doctors point out that Ed will have to continue taking cortisone if he wishes to live. Ed, Lou, and Richie may be hugging each other at the end, but I bet Lou's telling a very terrified voice inside her head to shut up.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Poet's Perch : If by Rudyard Kipling


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, 
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold On!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling

Monday, September 11, 2017

Where We Were - September 11, 2001

This morning the news was showing footage from September 11, 2001.  I (Julie) saw again footage of the planes flying into the World Trade Center and the towers collapsing, the explosion at the Pentagon, and the plane crash in Pennsylvania.  They then cut to today's memorial.  Every year, the family members of the victims gather and read aloud the names of everyone lost in the attacks.  Even today, 16 years after the event, the reading of the names is emotional and poignant.

I asked everyone working today to write a brief paragraph about where they were when they heard about the attacks. (Lisa is out of town, so her story is not included.)

Julie:  I was a 21 year old newlywed, living in Commerce.  I had gone to the laundromat to do laundry and as I was getting out of my car, someone else was sitting in their car listening to the radio and I heard bits and pieces of what was happening.  After I started my laundry, I too sat in my car and listened to the reports.  Later, watching the coverage on TV, I felt great grief for the families of the victims and for our country.  It felt like the world was shifting around me.  I knew that the United States would never be the same.

Christian:  When I heard the news, I was on my way home from work, planning to change clothes and go to class.  As I was flipping through radio stations, I heard the news about the 1st plane.  I was floored.  When I got home, I told my parents what happened, and we immediately turned on the television.  At that point the 2nd plane had crashed into the Twin Towers.  I remember feeling shock, confusion, and overwhelming sadness.

Chance:  I was in intermediate school.  I remember that the bell rang for class to start, but the teacher wasn't in the classroom.  All the teachers were in the hallway murmuring about something.  Everyone in the classroom started to murmur too.  After a little bit, our teacher came into the classroom, and we could all sense that something was wrong.  What had we done?  Our teacher then said, "You probably don't know what this means, but the World Trade Center has been attacked."  She was right, I had no idea what that meant.  It didn't take too long after that when everyone's parents started coming to the school to pick us up early.  The news was on when I got home, and I got to see just exactly what was going on.  I was confused, and terrified, and I learned what a terrorist was that day.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Chance's Corner: Mildred Pierce Review

Joan Crawford, considered to be "Box Office Poison" in 1938 by the Independent Film Journal because her high salary didn't reflect in her bankability, looked to restart her career at Warner Brothers, and after submitting herself to a screen test, she landed the lead role in Mildred Pierce. It seemed to a be a low point for Joan, but as we all know now, it would turn out to be one of her highest highs.

Mildred Pierce is essentially a melodrama that was retooled as a film noir, and the two genres blend extremely well. This unique blend allows a strong, female character (that's not a femme fatale) to take the lead in a rather dark, murderous plot, and the plot here may be the most sinister of all. Mildred Pierce is about a single, hard-working mother (Joan Crawford) who tries to make ends meet, while also pampering her two daughters, Veda (Ann Blyth) and Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe). It's not just a matter of spoiling them, though. Mildred wants to provide a life for them that is devoid of the economic hardships that she has faced. Unfortunately, Mildred's hard work is hardly suitable to her oldest daughter, Veda. With every great film noir, there is a great femme fatale, and Mildred has found hers in her own daughter.

Joan Crawford, no matter what you may or may not believe about her, was without a doubt a phenomenal actress dedicated to her craft. Mildred Pierce may have netted Joan her one and only Oscar win for Best Actress, but it solidified her star status for all time. She's not the only great thing about Mildred Pierce, though. There's also Michael Curtiz's sharp direction, the beautifully dark shadows overcast with cigarette smoke, intense mother-daughter slaps, Eve Arden's crackerjack performance (that should have won her the Oscar), and so much more. Mildred Pierce really does spoil its viewer, and unlike Veda, we appreciate it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Julie's Journal : Gone at 3:17

Wow.  Living my entire life in East Texas, I had of course heard about the New London school explosion, the worst school disaster in American history.  I knew that natural gas had built up in the basement of the school, and that the resulting explosion is the reason that gas is now injected with the sulphuric rotten egg smell that we are all familiar with.  That was about the extent of my knowledge about the explosion.

Gone at 3:17 brings to life the real people who lived through the explosion and it's aftermath.  Gone begins with the story of the discovery of oil in Rusk county in 1930.  That discovery resulted in a boom that brought thousands of people to the area.  Kilgore, Henderson, and other small towns in the area became big towns overnight.  New London became rich with oil money and was able to build a new state of the art school in 1934 - a school that would be blown to bits in 1937 on March 18th, at 3:17 p.m., when a teacher flipped a switch, which ignited a spark and set off the explosion.

The first chapter of the book is titled 3:16 and is heartrending.  It details the tiny decisions made by people that day that determined whether they lived or died.  Bill Thompson traded seats with a girl in his class during the last few minutes of a class period.  He lived, she did not, and he lived with the guilt of trading places with her for the rest of his life.  Two girls had been pulled out of class to do some extra studying for a contest that was taking place the next day, and they survived when most of their classmates did not.  Another student survived because he was taking out the trash for his teacher.  Yet another had left his band uniform at home and was given permission to go get it because of a band contest that was happening just after school.  Perry Cox had tried to skip school, but his father caught him, paddled him, and sent him to school.  Mr. Cox never got over his son's death.

The chapter detailing the actual explosion is hard to read, but reading about the aftermath was even more difficult.  As soon as the explosion occurred, people from miles around began heading toward the school.  Men and women began digging through the rubble, pulling out survivors and victims.  Many parents found their own children in the debris.  More and more victims were pulled from the site and were taken to several towns in the area as both hospitals and morgues were filling up.  Parents made the rounds of all the places where kids were taken, hoping to identify their children.  Mother Francis hospital in Tyler was slated for its grand opening on Friday, the 19th, but opened a day early to receive victims.  Reporters, including a very young Walter Cronkite, showed up hoping for a scoop, and instead found themselves pitching in.  Many would say it was the worse scene they ever reported on, including those who reported later on WWII.  The total death toll remains uncertain, but is somewhere between 300 and 350.

Monument at the site of the explosion.

Gone at 3:17 is a very difficult book to read, but also an important one.  So many of the safety measures that are in place today in our lives were precipitated by unfathomable tragedy.  The oil boom of the early 30's brought wealth and prosperity to many people during the Great Depression, but countless lives were lost in the process.  It is important to remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before us.  So many of the luxuries and technologies that we enjoy today were purchased with the lives of those who worked to bring them to existence.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Julie's Journal : Psychological Thrillers

This summer, I have had fun recommending books to Sydney and Kristin, our summer helpers.  They both have enjoyed several books in the popular genre of psychological thrillers.

Try one out and see what you think!  Guaranteed to keep you guessing!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Chance's Corner: What is a "Good" Movie?

I get asked to recommend movies all the time here at the library, and while I enjoy doing it, sometimes it proves to be no easy task. Movies are a form of art, and the appreciation of art has always been based on opinion. So, for example, when people ask me to recommend me a good comedy, I have to wonder what they consider to be "good". Are they Adam Sandler and Melissa McCarthy types? Do they prefer dry, black, toilet, screwball, satire, or slapstick? It's usually easy to figure out once I ask them what they like. However, you also have the ones that ask me to recommend them just a "good" movie. Oh dear. There's all sorts of possibilities there. Should I walk them over to the classic section or pick out the 17th (ha) Transformers movie?

Luckily, whenever I'm put in that situation, I have some movies that I can fall back on. One of them is called The Straight Story. No, it's not called The Straight Story because it's one of David Lynch's most straight-forward films. Yes, I'm talking about the same David Lynch behind some of the most enigmatic, freaky and surreal films ever made. The Straight Story actually gets its title from the true story of Alvin Straight, and his 260 mile journey on a '66 John Deere lawnmower to see his ailing brother in "party-town" Wisconsin. The Straight Story is more or less a family film, not one of Lynch's eerie masterworks, but his trademarks are still all over the film, adding complexity and symbolism as only Lynch can. I do warn that the film is slowly paced, but overall it's a very touching story and worth the wait (and tears).

The Straight Story is available at the Franklin County Library.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Upcoming After School Programs and a Request

Summer Reading is in full swing at Franklin County Library, but we are already looking ahead to the Fall and our After-School programs.

We will be picking up Marvelous Mondays again, beginning September 11th.  Kids of all ages will enjoy science experiments and crafts.  We are going to try a little earlier time this year, moving to 4:00, for the 20-30 minute program.

We are very excited this year, to introduce a new program on Wednesdays at 4:00, beginning September 13th.  In the as yet unnamed program, we will be learning about robots and coding.  The first semester, we will focus on Ozobots.  Ozobots are tiny 1" robots that can be programmed by drawing color codes on paper, or by using Ozoblockly to program them with a computer.  Following Ozobots, we will learn with Dot and Dash robots, Makey Makey, and Scratch.  This program is for kids ages 8 and up and will last 30-45 minutes.  

And now for the request...  Have you ever wondered how you could help Franklin County Library with all the things we do?  As you can imagine, there are several items we need in order to put these programs on.  We have created a "wishlist" on Amazon of things that would be helpful to have.  If you are at all interested in supporting our After-School programming you can click on the following links to see and/or purchase the things we need.


Marvelous Monday

You can also become a member of the Friends of the Library.  The Friends fund all of our programming including Marvelous Monday, Robots/Coding, and Summer Reading.  For a small membership fee, library staff can get you signed up to be a Friend!

Thank you!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Chance's Corner: Captain Underpants Review


I honestly wasn't expecting a movie about a faux superhero named Captain Underpants, who is really just a mean elementary school principal who has been hypnotized, to be any good. It has no right to be, because its source material, which I loved as a child, is rather silly and relies heavily on toilet humor, but Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie exceeded my expectations. 

Professor Poopypants
So, what did Captain Underpants do to transcend the typical children's film cash-in craze? Well, it stays pretty true to its source material and has a lot of heart. I say pretty true because the villainous Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) wasn't introduced until book 4, but I'm not complaining because he's a great villain... and yes, that's his real name. Don't laugh! The heart revolves around the friendship of George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch), a pair of fourth-grade pranksters. Hart and Middleditch really bring these two goofs to life, and their hijinks are a hoot - not headache inducing.

For a kid's film in 2017, Captain Underpants is actually well paced, taking its time and not just throwing things at the screen to keep little eyeballs glued to the screen. You can really tell that a lot of passion went into this project. It's gorgeously animated, the story is equal parts funny, crazy and heart wrenching (yes, really), and it also dares to break outside the box by throwing in a little sock puppetry, which manages to be a real highlight of the show. Another highlight is the theme song for Captain Underpants, which is sung by parody king "Weird Al" Yankovic, whose musical talent was specifically used as a prank by George and Harold in book 1. So, it's pretty cool that he got in on the gag.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Julie's Journal : Harry Potter's 20th Anniversary

Today marks 20 years since the release of the 1st Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and the beginning of a worldwide phenomenon.

I didn't discover the books right away.  I was in college and had come home for a weekend, probably in the spring of 1999.  My dad had checked the first two books out of Franklin County Library, and he handed them to me and said I needed to read them.  I had never heard of them and he told me there was controversy around the books, and that I should read them and decide if the books were evil, promoting witchcraft, or if they were innocent, lovely books about good vs. evil.

I was hooked from the first chapter.  I read both books that weekend, and then went back to college and opened an account, just so I could order my own copies, along with the 3rd book.  I became a defender of the books, and anytime I heard someone talking about how evil they were and how they promoted witchcraft to children, I asked if they had read the books. Then when they had inevitably not, handed them a copy and told them to decide after they had read them for themselves.

The summer of 2000 found me interning in Dallas with an accounting firm, and living with my future in-laws.  I remember astounding them when I ordered the 4th book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, to be delivered on the release date, and then sat down and read all 734 pages of it in one day.

Books 5, 6, and 7 were released later, when I was a young wife, working part-time as a tutor.  I read the books along with my 7th and 8th grade students, all of us trying to figure out how the series would end.

I have reread the series a couple of times since, and of course, watched all the movies.  The movies never lived up to the magic of the books, though.

Harry Potter will always be a big part of my young adulthood.  The magical series took me through the huge transitions that happen to everyone at that age, from living away from home for the first time, to getting married and graduating college, to making decisions about where to live and what type of job to pursue.      

I will always love the books, and I'm sure I'll read them again someday, but I envy those who have not yet read the books or seen the movies.  They still have a wonderful world of magic and adventure to discover!