Monday, August 18, 2014

This week at the library...

It's the lull before the school year… librarians are on vacation following the end of Summer Reading Club, and it's a quiet week at the library. But we do have one fun program up our sleeves this week...

Central Library, 7:00 p.m.


Join Randy Carter for an irreverent survey of movies based on works of popular literature.

Tragic romance, adventure, World Wars, potboilers. westerns and literary classics are all fair game in an evening that is part "six degrees of separation" and part "trivia quiz." Find out what summer reads were optioned before their first hardcover edition hit the bookstores, and what surefire titles were somehow never produced.

Randy Carter has worked in the film and television industry for more than 25 years. A member of the Directors Guild of America (DGA), he has worked in all categories, including unit production manager, assistant director, and director. His credits include The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Apocalypse Now, The Blues Brothers, Cheers, Seinfeld, and Becker. During the past year, he produced the indie feature LA Blues. He is currently Vice-President of the Alex Film Society, presenting classic films at the historic Alex Theatre in Glendale.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

What we're reading: Traveling in space

“To the rocket scientist, you are a problem. You are the most irritating piece of machinery he or she will ever have to deal with. You and your fluctuating metabolism, your puny memory, your frame that comes in a million different configurations. You are unpredictable. You’re inconstant. You take weeks to fix... To me, you are the best thing to happen to rocket science...To take an organism whose every feature has evolved to keep it alive and thriving in a world with oxygen, gravity and water, to suspend that organism in the wasteland of space for a month, or a year, is a preposterous, but captivating undertaking."

With this straightforward and yet extremely unsettling statement, science writer Mary Roach (whose previous works include Stiff, Spook and Bonk) lays out what she herself is undertaking in Packing For Mars: delineating exactly what it takes to allow humans to live in space. Not just exist, but live as comfortably and safely as is currently possible.

With exhaustive research, and findings delivered in at times excruciating detail, Roach provides an overview of the Japanese, Russian and American space programs from candidate testing and selection to touchdown, and ranging from the 1950s to the present. The result is an eye-opening, jaw-dropping examination of the history of humans hurling themselves into the void. Vacillating between cringe-worthy and laugh-out-loud funny, Packing for Mars is a thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable lesson on the science of survival in the vacuum of space.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Trivia Challenge is back!

The Friends of the Burbank Public Library
A Benefit for
Burbank Public Library Literacy Services

Thursday, September 4, 2014
Ritz Banquet Hall
St. Leon's Cathedral
3325 N. Glenoaks Blvd.

6:00 p.m.: Silent Auction, buffet, no-host bar, door prizes

Tickets are $25 per person ahead of time, or $30 at the door. The items donated for the Silent Auction are fantabulous! The trivia game is exciting and fun! Don't miss it! And...

Are YOU good at trivia? Do you watch Jeopardy every night and think, Yeah, I know that one...and that one...and that one...these are easy! Did you know that you, too, can fund a TEAM?

For ticket OR team information, please call the Literacy Office at 818 238-5577.

Help others LEARN TO READ! Support your library literacy program!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What We're Reading: New Natural History

The Galapagos: A Natural History
by Henry Nicholls

This is a short and altogether charming overview of the natural history of the Galapagos, one that looks at some of the famous explorers who visited the islands, recounts the growing understanding over time of the natural history of the islands, explains how the islands became so celebrated in the history of evolutionary theory, explores the impact of human habitation that occurred in the 20th century, and looks at the modern history of the islands as an example of eco-tourism and as a model project in ecological conservation and restoration. Nicholls speculates on what that modern history may teach us about preserving important ecological systems elsewhere on our planet. There are three appendices to the text. The first is a comprehensive overview of how to plan a trip to the Galapagos. The second lists organizations in countries around the world that work to support preservation of the islands. The third is essential reading if you want to understand the importance of the islands' particular geography and climate cycles, for these of course constitute the fundamental context in which life occurs in the Galapagos. There is a short insert that contains contemporary color photos of some of the famous species that live on the islands. These are supplemented by antique period plates of plant and animal species, which have been integrated into the text.

A composite of various species of Galapagos Tortoises (in nature only one species exists on any particular island) from Brehm's Life of Animals, 1892.

Robert Bowman, an ornithologist who carried out a survey of the islands on behalf of UNESCO in 1957, wrote, “No area on Earth of comparable size has inspired more fundamental changes in Man’s perspective of himself and his environment.” This is why, in brief, the Galapagos are important. Nicholls quotes extensively from Darwin’s notes from his Voyage of the Beagle and his Journal of Researches about what he observed while on his visit to the islands. He explains how the association between Darwin, the Galapagos, and the theory of evolution came about. Darwin, while always curious about a large range of natural phenomena, was primarily interested during the time of his visit in the geology of the islands, although he did collect plant and animals specimens. It was only in later years that the fact that a different species of giant tortoise seemed to reside on each island, or that islands had differing species of mocking jays, entered into his thoughts about adaptation and radiation of species in isolated environments. And the now famous finches, which have become the signature example of speciation, of where species originate, were not studied by Darwin. He had not collected the necessary specimens, although he had some knowledge of the variation in the beak design and comparative sizes of the birds. They were made famous by subsequent researchers. But the association with Darwin of the Galapagos became indelible because the islands were a place where his theories about the origin of species could be observed; they were a rare laboratory where the processes of evolution were observable as they unfolded.

In addition to Darwin’s observations, Nicholls includes quotations from the wonderful first-hand narrative of Benjamin Morrell, who happened to be in the Galapagos in 1825 at the exact time of a spectacular eruption of the volcanoes on Fernandina. The text is also enlivened by passages from Herman Melville’s account of his visit to the islands in the sketches of the Encantadas, as well as from the writing of explorer William Beebe, who produced a popular book on his scientific exploits in the Galapagos in the early twentieth century.

Marine iguanas.  While visiting the Galapagos, Darwin threw one of these creatures into the water.  It swam back to him.  He repeated this three times, with the iguana returning immediately each time. He speculated that sharks were nearby and the iguana did not want to risk diving to feed on its favored meal of algae below the water. We now know that the iguana was instinctually concerned, as all reptiles must be, about maintaining his body temperature. In short, the water was too cold!

What is Henry Nicholls's purpose in writing this book? Is it to get you to want to visit the Galapagos, or is it to make you a person who is interested in and ardent about their preservation? Well, that is the rub here. He can’t do one without doing the other. Anyone who reads this book will start thinking that the Galapagos and their wonders are something they might want to see in person. But the problem is that the very appreciation of the islands that an understanding of their importance engenders, and the desire for eco-tourism that it inspires, is at the heart of an ecological conundrum that must be solved in modern times. It is the conflict between human economic needs and desires and the values of conservation and preservation. The specialness of the islands and the desire of people to visit their wonders have given the Galapagos a small booming economy, one with a growth and standard of living that is much greater now than that of the rest of the country of Ecuador, which owns the islands. It is an economic magnate. People want to move there for a better life. And with growing human habitation comes a set of needs that often are not consonant with preservation of the islands in their pristine ecological state.

In 1950 there were slightly more than 1,000 people living in the Galapagos, while by 1990 there were 10,000. Today there are more than 25,000 people living on the islands. With humans have come non-endemic species. The most destructive of these are the mammals among the 30 or so vertebrate species that have been introduced--primarily goats, pigs, and rats. There have been more than 536 introduced invertebrates, and more than 870 introduced plant species, some of them both invasive and destructive of the native flora. Much of the hope of conservationists has been placed in the notion of indigenous populations finding (largely through the economic returns of eco-tourism) the preservation of their unique environments more economically rewarding than their exploitation and destruction. But as the challenges facing the Galapagos show, it is more complicated than that. How the Galapagos, the Ecuadoran government, and the international community and organizations interested in solving these problems will find solutions to these challenges will be important to similar efforts around the world. The Galapagos Islands are not only a laboratory of evolution, but a laboratory, as well, in which we will figure out--or fail to figure out--how we will preserve our important natural history venues and, in its more general implications, preserve the ecology of our planet.

The famous blue-footed booby of the Galapagos. 
The bluer your feet, the more attractive you are to female boobies.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What We're Reading: Greg Rucka

About a month ago, I recommended Greg Rucka's Alpha as a terrific, brisk thrill ride of a book perfect for summertime enjoyment.
Recently, I saw that its just-published sequel, Bravo, had arrived, so I gave into temptation and quickly read my way through the second Jad Bell adventure.  Bravo picks up immediately after the conclusion of Alpha and features Special-Ops agent Jad Bell and his team tracking down the mysterious figures behind the terrorist attack depicted in Alpha. Both the good guys and the bad guys are aided by a pair of capable and interesting female characters. While Bravo can be read on its own, I'd take the time to read Alpha and Bravo back to back, because the two novels are really two parts of a larger storyline. Easy to imagine that another Jad Bell adventure will come our way in a couple of years. It will be interesting to see where Rucka sends him.

Greg Rucka is fast becoming a turn-to author when I need some fast-paced entertainment. I give this book my enthusiastic approval!


Sunday, August 10, 2014

This week at the library...

Central Library, 4:00 p.m.


Bring your own loom and learn new ideas!
Share your creations
Make new friends
Swap materials
Learn new designs

Central Library, 2:00 p.m.

WINGS (1927)

A special screening of this Clara Bow classic to commemorate the centennial of the "Great War."

And over at Buena Vista…
3:00 p.m.


3:00 -- "Faction" tattoos (in henna)
6:00 -- after-hours screening of Divergent

This is a "food raiser" for BTAC (Burbank Temporary Aid Center), so bring a food item or toiletry from the list to "FEED THE FACTIONLESS"!

Here is a flyer with all the details, including the PERMISSION SLIP that is NECESSARY for you to receive a henna tattoo, and the LIST of items for BTAC. This event is for those in 6th-12th grades ONLY! But don't worry…there's another screening…

Buena Vista Branch, 2:00 p.m.

Also a food-raiser for BTAC, so bring your item to FEED THE FACTIONLESS. Flyer here.

If dystopian drama isn't your thing, don't worry!

Over at the Central Library…
2:00 p.m.

Le Petit Cinema presents…

100 minutes / rated R

The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune -- all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing Continent.

An all-star cast includes Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, and Bill Murray.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

What We're Reading: Fantasy about Sci Fi

Morwenna Phelps has had an interesting--and challenging--childhood. She and her twin sister, Morganna, grew up in Wales searching for, and playing with, the fairies who live in the local industrial ruins. Their mother, Liz, is a witch. She’s also mad. When Liz attempts to take control of the fairies, the twins attempt to stop her. Morganna is killed, and Morwenna is gravely injured. She is then sent to live with the father who abandoned them as babies, who promptly packs her off to a girls’ boarding school in western England. There’s no magic in England (or so little as to be not worth mentioning). The only joy left in Mor’s life is found in the science fiction and fantasy books that she consumes at an incredible rate. 

In Among Others, author Jo Walton allows readers to peer over the shoulder of Morwenna Phelps from September, 1979 through February, 1980. The novel is told through Mor’s almost daily journal entries. Mor’s voice is clear and is full of both the conviction and doubt held by most 15-year-olds as they struggle to make sense of the world around them. The plot progresses at a leisurely pace (as life often does), with countless small and seemingly insignificant occurrences, some of which build in resonance and significance. 

The magic in Among Others is both fascinating and frustrating. Unlike the magic encountered in most books/movies/television shows, the magic in Among Others is indirect, uncertain. It may provide the results you want, but not in the way you were expecting. And you may never really know if it was magic that brought something about. Like the idea that fairies would move into human ruins as they are reclaimed by nature, it is a wonderful premise. 

One of the joys of Among Others is Walton’s exploration and review of what is now viewed as classic science fiction and fantasy novels. Like Jim C. Hines in the "Magic Ex Libris" series (Libriomancer and Codes Born), Walton lets her “geek flag fly” naming authors and titles that range from the well known to the somewhat obscure. Unlike Hines, whose stories have required him to create titles using dramatic license, all of the books Walton lists are real. Well-read SF/F readers will find her commentary interesting and/or frustrating. (As when Mor decides that she will not read Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson because it has “the temerity to compare itself. . . to 'Tolkien at his best.'" She goes on to say that the source of the quote, The Washington Post, “will always damn a book for me from now on. How dare they?”). Those who are not as well read could use the titles listed in the story as an excellent introduction to their own pursuit of sci fi and fantasy. While the story told is both charming and insightful, Among Others is foremost a love letter to the authors and SF/F fandom of the late '70s and early '80s.

Among Others is a quirky, gentle novel. Almost everyone who values the company of books and derives pleasure from reading will find a bit (or possibly more) of themselves reflected in Mor and her journey. 

Among Others won the 2012 Nebula Award for Best Novel, the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and the British Fantasy Award. It was a nominee for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.