Thursday, January 14, 2016

And the Winner Is…

Every year since the first Academy Awards ceremony took place in 1929, the royalty of the silver screen line up on the red carpet to celebrate the artistry of film making. On February 28, individuals from all areas of the industry will meet together for the 88th Academy Awards ceremony when the winners for 2015 will be announced. 
The Al Harris Library’s Best Picture Winners display showcases these award-winning films. There are many interesting background stories regarding these movies. At the 11th Academy Awards presentation in 1939, a special award for film innovation was given to Walt Disney for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but it was not until 2001 that a separate category for best animated feature film was added to the awards. The first winner in this category was Shrek.
The most successful winning films in Oscar history are Ben-Hur (1959), Titanic (1997), and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). Each of these pictures won 11 Oscars, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the only film to win every award for which it was nominated. The Artist, 20ll’s winner, is unusual since it steps back in time as a silent movie that was filmed completely in black and white. The last time a black and white film had won was The Apartment in 1960. Wings, the only other silent film to win the Best Picture award, received the honor at the very first ceremony.
For more information about these titles and more winners, see the display in the glass case near the doors of the library.  Remember that all of these titles are available for you to check out; just ask someone at Circulation for assistance. For details about the event on February 28, you can check The Oscars. 

Writers Under Suspicion: British Female Mystery Novelists

British female mystery novelists have developed their work, over nearly a century, from something dismissed as trivial, or as  An Unsuitable Job For a Woman, to use the title of P.D. James’ first Cordelia Grey mystery, to recognition as literature equal to that of any other genre. 

The Golden Age of mystery writing began in the 1920s. Two British female writers -- Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers -- were giants of that era and helped usher in a wave of British women mystery authors that has not abated to this day.

Christie's early novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, is still considered to be one of the greatest works in that genre.  The twist at the story's end was both controversial and ground-breaking.  Christie is among the best-selling novelists of all time in any genre.

British female mystery writers were once commonly associated with the sub-genre called the  British cozy, in which the murders take place in a small community and the sleuth is an amateur, such as Christie's character Miss Marple or Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey.  However, British female mystery authors have scored hits in all genres of mystery writing, including historical, police procedural, and thrillers.

This includes P.D. James, who died in 2014, known as “the Queen of Crime” and whose work was praised in a memorial piece of the New York Times by Marilyn Stasio:

“… the complexity of her plots, the psychological density of her characters and the moral context in which she viewed criminal violence, Ms. James even surpassed her classic models and elevated the literary status of the modern detective novel.”

This description recognizes a shift in the quality of and acceptance of the British female mystery genre during James’ career from dismissal to adoration.

Currently popular authors Lindsey Davis, Ellis Peters, and Anne Perry extend the genre to new and different heights with their historical mysteries that provide depth through attention to historic detail.
•    Lindsey Davis takes the reader to Ancient Rome with the wise-cracking first-person narratives of investigator Marcus Didius Falco who works for Emperors and Senators, usually to prevent scandal for his patrons.
  •    Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter), who died in 1995, created the Brother Cadfael series about a 12th century monk who uses his knowledge as an herbalist to solve crimes.
•    Anne Perry produces intricately researched novels bringing the reader into Victorian London with the husband and wife sleuthing team of Charlotte and Thomas Pitt.  And separately, William Monk, an ambitious police detective who turns private investigator.  Both series describe the seamy side of upper-class British society.

See the book display at the Al Harris Library that highlights some of the leading female mystery writers hailing from the British Isles in the last 100 years.  In the case of mystery writing, it is no longer an unsuitable job for a woman.  When the question is “whodunit” the answer is a resounding “she did it."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

National Book Award Finalists 2015

Sponsored by the National Book Foundation, the National Book Award winners are selected in four categories:  Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature.  This annual award began in 1950 when a consortium of book publishing groups sponsored the 1st annual National Book Awards Ceremony & Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Their goal was to enhance the public's awareness of exceptional books written by fellow Americans and to increase the popularity of reading in general.   

On October 14th, the 2015 National Book Award finalists for each category were announced, and the winners will be announced on November 18th.   If you would like to find out more about the National Book Awards or if you want to watch the awards ceremony live on November 18th, please go to  

Come and check out the National Book Award Finalists display at the Al Harris Library and see if you can predict the winners!   The display will be updated with winner information when it becomes available. 

Friday, November 06, 2015

Ending or Beginning: World War I

           The year was 1914; the place was Sarajevo, Bosnia.  The event that occurred in late June—the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria—led to the outbreak of a war that involved many nations of the world.  Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Central Powers making up the Ottoman Empire were in conflict with the Allied Powers that included Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy and Japan.  The Allies were joined by the United States in 1917.

            Why did the United States enter this conflict that involved moving abroad to fight on foreign soil? Based upon events that occurred in 1915 and 1916 which involved violations of international law and warnings that were made to German authorities, U.S. President Wilson went to Congress and asked for permission to go to war. Wilson stated in his address to Congress, “The world must be made safe for democracy.”  War was officially declared by Congress on April 6, 1917.  Because the nation was not prepared for participating in combat, American soldiers were not deployed to France until 1918.  The two million American soldiers who were sent to France played a vital role in the final six months of the war.  Because their numbers were significant and they were not worn out from years of intense combat, they made a tremendous difference when fighting an exhausted and battle-worn enemy force.

            During the four years of what is known as the Great War, battlefield advances included the use of trench warfare and the introduction of modern weaponry including machine guns, tanks, and chemical weapons. As a result, the casualties were many.

            By the end of the war, approximately eighty-five million soldiers had been killed while twenty-one million more were wounded.  During the six months that American soldiers fought, fifty-three thousand died on the battlefield.  Around half of that number of troops died in the concluding battle of the war, the Meuse-Argonne.  Fighting ended on November 11, 1918, the day which became Armistice Day and is now Veterans’ Day.

The so-called war to end all wars ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. This event began another chapter in world history because the wounds that brought on war were not healed, and as a result, another world conflict would begin within the next twenty years.

            To learn more about the Great War, the battles, the locations, and the involvement of the United States and other nations, take a look at the books here on the display as well as others in the Al Harris Library.  All are available for you to check out and enjoy.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Mything in Action

Every fictional book, regardless of subject matter, invites the reader to step into an alternate reality.  Sometimes, however, that otherworld is so powerfully depicted, so wondrously realized, that writers and readers have been pleasurably lost in fantasy for a life-time.  Some insist on bringing that alternate reality into the real world by incorporating it into society’s universal mythology.

That is the purpose of the genre of modern literature known as mythopoeia, a 20th Century word for an old tradition, popularized by J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and others, continues to embrace readers. 

The Mythopoeic Society, the preeminent organization promoting the genre, describes mythopoeia “as literature that creates a new and transformative mythology, or incorporates and transforms existing mythological material. …This type of work, at its best, should also inspire the reader to examine the importance of mythology in his or her own spiritual, moral, and creative development.”

Some of the best known practitioners of the mythopoeia are:

•    William Blake, who used The Bible, Dante, and mysticism in painting and poetry presenting an invented mythology that was critical of technology and materialism.
•    H.P. Lovecraft, who used New England folk tales about black magic and monsters and created stories about sleeping monsters who will awaken, after centuries, to mankind’s doom.
•    J.R.R. Tolkien, who used Northern European cultures and a love for inventing languages to create the myth cycle of Middle-earth known as The Silmarillion that culminated in  The Lord of the Rings.
•    C.S. Lewis, who used Christianity and a blend of European fantasy creatures in his Space Trilogy and the Narnia series.
•    Ursula K. Le Guin, who uses a background of modern languages, world literature, and popular  fantasy to create stories showing the intricacies of alternative beings and the consequences of wizardry.
•    Neil Gaiman, who uses a background in classic and popular literature to create adult and juvenile literature that includes mythic beings living in the contemporary world.
•    Terry Pratchett, who used fantasy literature, world mythology, and British humor to create a wide-reaching and intricately plotted parody of the fantasy genre in more than 40 novels.

See the book display showcasing works of mythopoeic literature on the first floor of the Al Harris Library.  All books displayed are available for check out.
Accept the call to explore what J.R.R. Tolkien termed the “perilous realms” of fantasy.  But, reader, beware, you may find yourself mything in action.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Scholar in the House

Librarian Phillip Fitzsimmons has published a chapter in  C.S Lewis and The Inklings: Reflections on Faith, Imagination and Modern Technology (2015)The Inklings, an informal literary discussion group associated with the University of Oxford included J.R.R. Tolkien and the philosopher Owen Barfield.  The book is a collection of essays exploring the literacy legacy of this group and their insights on the rapid change that modern technology has wrought on our collective imaginations. 

We are very pleased to have one of our Librarians included in this area of recent scholarship and wish him much success in his future endeavors. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dystopian Literature: A Different World View

Dystopian novels have been around since the 18th century, and they continue to be extremely popular in the 21st century. These novels are often written in the aftermath of a disaster.  The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, The Maze Runner series by James Dashner, and the Divergent series by Veronica Roth were all released in the aftermath of the September 11th bombings.   Films made from these books have increased their popularity.
A dystopian atmosphere finds characters in an imaginary and off-balance setting where they experience many difficulties that are hard to work through and where the overall tone is one of fear with little hope for an improved existence.  Those who live in a dystopian society find that there is little freedom of choice along with fear of the future and the possibility of terrible events they may be expected to face. 
Some of the characteristics that are common in the dystopian world include:  an unconventional setting that is an integral part of the story; powerful leaders who rule rigidly by enforcing a strict order that does not allow for deviation; likeable protagonists who are facing difficulties that have been shaped by their
environment and the situations they must encounter; and a conclusion that implies that the dire circumstances that are part of the plot will not cease when the books ends.
Books such as Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and 1984 by George Orwell are a few of the titles that are available for you to check out at the Al Harris Library.  If you are interested in learning more, take a look at the glass display case near the doors to the library to see these books and movies.

[Surveillance camera image courtesy of crystalRyu.]