Sunday, August 12, 2018

Staff Review: God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Lawrence Wright
Lawrence Wright's new book, God Save Texas, is a personal, highly anecdotal look at his home state, a place with which he clearly has a love-hate relationship. A staff writer for The New Yorker, Wright is most well known as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of 2005's The Looming Tower (about Al Qaeda and 9/11) and 2013's Going Clear (about scientology).

He's a pleasure to read, quite funny in casual mode, and, wow, has he got some rich material. According to Wright, "a recurrent crop of crackpots and ideologues has fed the state’s reputation for aggressive know-nothingism and proudly retrograde politics." Among these are a wheelchair-bound governor who has argued that Texas should be granted "sovereign immunity" from the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and an evangelical-Christian lieutenant governor (and former radio shock jock) who opposes the separation of church and state and believes arming teachers will solve the problem of school shootings.  

The book's not all about politics though and Wright gives us chapters on the big booming cities of Dallas, Houston, and Austin (where he lives); the Texas history of oil and gas; Texas art, music, and culture; and more. Wright knows his state -- and half the people in it, it seems -- so his book is liberally sprinkled with personal stories about George W. Bush, Rick Perry, well-known Texas writers and musicians, and even actor and Austin resident Matthew McConaughey, who was Wright's neighbor at the time of the famous dancing-naked-while-playing the-bongo-drums police incident back in 1999.

Wright clearly loves Texas but makes no bones about his almost perennial desire to leave it. Despite its booming economy, the state ranks close to dead-last in spending on education, healthcare, social services, and the environment, areas vital to a high quality of life. Wright's is an honest and affectionate assessment of an extraordinary place, but you may feel quite happy to read about it from afar.

~Ann, Adult Services

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Bingeworthy TV: Daredevil

Daredevil is a streaming series released on Netflix. It takes place in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen and stars Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer by day and a masked butt kicking vigilante by night. Matt has not let his disability hold him back in the least, but it should be noted that the accident that took his sight as a child enhanced his hearing and left him with an ability akin to sonar.
As a struggling lawyer by day Matt and his partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) take cases defending their poor and underrepresented neighbors. This is how they come to meet Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) wrongly accused of murder. Karen quickly becomes an important part of the team as an investigator.
Much of Matt’s vigilante work centers around Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). His arch nemesis Fisk is something of a mob boss passing himself off as a philanthropist trying to gentrify Hell’s Kitchen, which brings Matt’s vigilant efforts together with his day job. Throughout the series Matt struggles with his love for the law and the reality that it is not always enough.
I love the character of Matt and how he uses his blindness to deflect suspicion of his vigilante tendencies, without ever coming across as helpless. The show, while having supernatural elements, remains grounded in real problems such as the effects of gentrification on the less affluent residents, human trafficking, and drug trafficking.
Daredevil takes place in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe and if you are familiar with it you will pick up on the references, but you don't need to have watched these other movies and TV series to enjoy Daredevil. On a smaller scale Daredevil is companion to several other Netflix streaming series: Jessica Jones*, Luke Cage, The Punisher, and Iron Fist. All of these characters, except Punisher, come together in The Defenders.

~Becca, Technical Services

 *Read our review of Jessica Jones

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Staff Review: Educated by Tara Westover

I cannot recommend the memoir Educated by Tara Westover highly enough. It is captivating -- practically un-put-downable -- and very well written. That said, it is not an easy book to read and if you're like me you'll run the gamut of emotions, including anger and frustration.

Westover tells the story of her Idaho youth as the seventh and youngest child of ultra-fundamentalist, survivalist Mormons, who do not send her to school nor do they home-school her. They also choose not to obtain such documents as a birth certificate or Social Security card for her or to seek medical help for illnesses and accidents. This is because her father views the outside world -- the government, educators, the medical establishment, and so on -- as of the devil and about the devil's business.

In graceful prose, Westover paints a vivid picture of day-to-day life at the foot of Buck Peak. Day-to-day life, however, is filled with horrific accidents, car accidents and industrial accidents mostly, and these events and their aftermaths can be wrenching to witness as are the volatile instability of her father, the submissive blindness of her mother, and the descent into sadistic violence of one of her brothers. At times, my credulity was stretched almost beyond its limit (thanks, James Frey and other memoir fibbers) but in the end I believe this author is telling the truth.

I generally avoid memoirs of dysfunction but Westover's is actually a story of redemption, for she eventually breaks free of her parents (though she suffers horrible guilt and inner conflict in doing so), studies on her own, gets herself into college, and completes her education by nailing a Ph.D. at Cambridge in England. The wonders of this book, besides the prose, which is often incandescent, are Westover's evident love for her family, even after the estrangement, and the deep thoughtfulness with which she tells her story. Equally wonderful is Westover's strength of character, the inner compass or guiding light she possesses, which allows her to escape what struck me as a living nightmare but to Westover was the only life she knew.

~Ann, Adult Services

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Bingeworthy TV: Red vs. Blue

Red vs.Blue (or RvB) is a series created using voice-over enhanced game play videos from the video game Halo*. So it’s kind of like watching a first-person-shooter video game with dialogue added. This doesn't mean you need to have ever played Halo to enjoy the show!
The show was only supposed to run for one season of six to eight webisodes. RvB had an unexpected popularity and went on for sixteen seasons and five mini-series, becoming the longest running episodic web series of all time.
The show centers on two teams of soldiers (you guessed it): red team and blue team. These teams are fighting what is originally assumed to be a civil war. Each team has a base on the least desirable piece of real estate in the known universe: a box canyon in the middle of nowhere. It seems each team's only reason for having a base in this location is that the other team has a base in this location.
Mostly this show consists of the characters (identically armored people in varying shades of red and blue) arguing with each other. Each team has standing orders to defeat the other and capture the other's flag (because isn’t that what war is all about?), but neither team is much motivated to do anything and only does so grudgingly.
I would give this show an R rating for language. It is definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The first time I watched it I had no idea what to think other than, "This show is crazy stupid but also crazy funny." I’m not sure I can think of a show in recent memory that has made me laugh as much or shake my head as often as the first five seasons of Red vs. Blue.

~Becca, Technical Services

*Librarian's note: You can also borrow official Halo novels or watch official Halo live-action TV series or the official Halo anime from Carnegie-Stout Public Library.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Bingeworthy TV: Westworld

If you are an adult who likes sci-fi westerns and doesn’t mind gratuitous nudity and violence, Westworld is for you. Season one of Westworld aired in 2018 on HBO and if that isn’t enough of a disclaimer, I don’t know what to tell you, besides DON’T WATCH THIS WITH YOUR KIDS!
A not entirely coherent shoot-‘em-up mostly western that takes place in the future, Westworld is a theme park run by its creator, Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Guests who visit the park get to experience the American Old West; the park is populated by “hosts” or very fancy robots that are basically indiscernible from humans. These hosts live in loops of their story lines and are there to fulfill the guests' every desire. In Westworld you can be your true self, do things you would never do in real life, and then go home afterward without consequence or remorse because after all the hosts aren’t human and have no feelings.
Westworld is visually spectacular with amazing scenery. The story line, while worth it, requires patience. I got to the end of season one and thought, “Oh, huh, now I want to watch that again!” I was often lost and confused during the series, which, I am sure, is the intent of the writers because many of the main characters are lost and confused so why shouldn’t you be as well?
Westworld has an all-star cast of characters that bring the show to life. In addition to Anthony Hopkins there is Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, and my personal favorite, Thandie Newton. While I thoroughly enjoyed Westworld, I cannot stress this enough: it is not for everyone. Parts of it can be downright disturbing.
~Becca, Circulation

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Staff Review: Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein

Janesville, Wisconsin is two hours east of Dubuque. It's a town of about 60,000 people that has traditionally had a strong economic base in the manufacturing sector, which for Janesville meant thousands of good-paying jobs, a strong union presence, and a fine community spirit with plenty of charitable giving. That rosy scenario began to change with globalization, outsourcing, the decline of union power, and other seismic economic shifts of the past few decades. What's amazing is that Janesville made it until 2008 before taking its hardest hit.

In her terrific book Janesville: An American Story, Amy Goldstein tells the story of the 2008 closure of the Janesville GM plant, which employed thousands of workers, many of them second and third generation GMers, people making $28 per hour and living solid middle-class lives. She also narrates the town's heroic attempts to shore itself back up (with mixed results).

Goldstein tells the Janesville story through the lenses of many of the individuals involved, from laid-off factory workers and their families to social workers and teachers, from affluent community business leaders to local and national politicians. Her focus on the fates of specific individuals -- and she follows them for many years -- brings the issue of middle-class decline into sharp relief. People are terrified and confused, kids go hungry, families are torn apart, the bankruptcy rate soars, one person commits suicide (the local suicide rate doubles after the closure). But there are heartening stories as well.

Goldstein effectively portrays the domino effect of just one plant closure: job losses and facility closures in other industries serving the plant, the overall plunge in local consumer spending, a sharp decline in charitable giving, mushrooming enrollment at re-training centers, an increased need for social services, and on and on and on. One unfortunate effect is a growing division in a once unified town between those who remain comfortable and those who fall. There's so much food for thought in this meticulous examination of one community and it's not all depressing despite the economic takeaway: those good wages are gone and it's anyone's guess if and when they'll ever come back.

Ann, Adult Services