Thursday, October 30, 2014

What We're Reading: Award Winning Speculative Fiction

Imagine our world in the 23rd century. What will it be like? Will something like Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the 23rd century, as seen in Star Trek, be the reality? Will mankind learn to embrace diversity and no longer judge based on appearance? Will we create/discover solutions to our energy problems and find ways to feed the millions of people starving on our planet? Will humanity become less concerned with wealth and acquisition, more interested in bettering ourselves and our neighbors? Or will humanity remain essentially unchanged? Will we continue to be bigoted xenophobes using finite planetary resources with abandon until they no longer exist? Will we ignore global changes in climate until cities are swallowed up by rising oceans? And will a small portion of humanity continue to pursue wealth at any cost, even if it means millions will die as a direct result?

When the global calamities struck, Thailand closed itself off from the rest of the world. When the Thai people were plagued with cibiscosis (an almost virulent form of cancer), and the plant life was hit with blister rust (which destroys any plant), entire villages were burned to prevent the diseases from spreading. And while the inhabitants struggled to survive, the island itself was under siege by the rising seas. The city of Bangkok was saved by a series of seawalls and levees that protect it from the higher ocean levels. While these actions saved the Thai people from many of the disasters--both natural and man-made--that ravaged the rest of the planet, they also sheltered them from the technological advances that developed outside the island nation. In fact, many of these new technologies--like the genetically modified, bioengineered “individuals” created in Japan as surrogates for the waning numbers of younger Japanese--are shunned by Thai society.

While a minimum of trade and contact with the rest of the world has been tolerated over the years, a shift is beginning in the Thai government. There is a new tolerance for outsiders, a greater yearning for the technological benefits offered from outside influences. And Thailand, from the outside, is again a tropical paradise with seed and food stocks as yet unsullied by disease. There are rumors of a huge seed bank that would provide years of source material for genetic scientists racing to stay ahead of the biological terrors they have created. While most of the population on the island is too focused on mere survival to be too concerned with this new tolerance, it has split the government soundly, with tensions rising between the opposing factions. And the tenuous balance that has been reached between the two may be upset by Emiko, one of Japan’s bioengineered humans, the titular “windup girl,” who may become the catalyst for the civil unrest that will alter Thailand for decades to come.

In The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi creates a relatively near future and projects where our world may end up if we continue rampaging down the paths we have chosen (and from which we refuse to deviate). Fossil fuels will be depleted, genetically modified foods will corrupt our food supplies, and other genetic modifications will result in new types of bigotry and slavery. It is a harsh world, and existence is bleak. The divide between the “haves” and the “have nots” has expanded to an absurd level. For all but the very few, existence is a struggle. Bacigalupi uses Thailand as a microcosm to illustrate how broken our world can become, by asking the toughest “what if” questions that speculative fiction can ask. The Windup Girl is a tough read! But while relentless, it is also engrossing. The characters, while not necessarily appealing, are fascinating. And the issues raised through the telling of the story may leave readers questioning their choices long after they’ve finished the book.

The Windup Girl won the Hugo, Nebula, Campbell Memorial and Locus Awards in 2010.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Brown Bag Book Club is now reading...

For its next meeting on Tuesday, November 18, the Brown Bag Book Club will be reading Behind the Beautiful Foreversby Katherine Boo.

This selection is one of those rare titles that is both a popular bestselling success and a critically acclaimed book--it won both the 2012 National Book Award for Nonfiction and the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest.

In this brilliant, breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As India starts to prosper, the residents of Annawadi are electric with hope. Abdul, an enterprising teenager, sees "a fortune beyond counting" in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Meanwhile Asha, a woman of formidable ambition, has identified a shadier route to the middle class. With a little luck, her beautiful daughter, Annawadi's "most-everything girl," might become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest children, like the young thief Kalu, feel themselves inching closer to their dreams. But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy turn brutal. With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century's hidden worlds--and into the hearts of families impossible to forget.
Here is a link to a website with discussion questions and a whole lot more about Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Katherine Boo.

The Brown Bag Book Club meets at noon on the third Tuesday of the month at the Central Library. All are welcome to join us. Lunch, whether it is in a brown bag or not, is always a good idea too!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

This week at the library...

Number one on the list is...

Monday, October 27, through Saturday, November 1!

The sale begins on Monday from 5-8 p.m., but this is a special preview for FRIENDS members ONLY! Never fear, though--if you want to come, all you have to do (for a nominal fee) is JOIN THE FRIENDS and you, too, can get first pickings of our tremendous array of used fiction and nonfiction in multiple subjects, genres and formats!

The sale continues throughout the week with the following hours:

Tuesday, October 28:
10 AM - 8 PM
Wednesday, October 29:
10 AM - 8 PM
Thursday, October 30:
10 AM - 8 PM
Friday, October 31:
10 AM - 5 PM
Saturday, November 1:
10 AM - 3 PM

Find a treasure and help support our library! Funds raised at book sales pay for children's, teen and adult programming, and other special purchases. Do you enjoy children's Book Parties? Paid for by the Friends. Do you and your children and teens sign up for Summer Reading Club every year? Paid for by the Friends. Have you attended a film, listened to a speaker, enjoyed a re-enactment, been to a book-signing with a favorite author at our library? All funded by the Friends of the Burbank Public Library! You can see that without the funds raised by the Friends, life at the library would be much less enjoyable, so buy a book--buy a dozen! Join the Friends! Support your public library!

And other events this week...

Buena Vista Branch, 6:30 p.m.

Stories, songs, and the movie Garfield's Halloween Adventure (22 min. / rated G)
Wear a costume or pajamas!

As well as the usual Toddler Times and Preschool Storytimes at various branches...


Friday, October 24, 2014

What We're Reading: Memoirs by Veterans

Blue-Eyed Boy: A Memoir, by Robert Timberg

Robert Timberg was a 1964 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and served with the First Marine Division in South Vietnam from March 1966 until January 1967 when he was wounded. After Vietnam, Timberg went to graduate school to become a reporter, and he worked at the Baltimore Sun for more than three decades as a reporter, editor, and White House correspondent. He has written a major book on the military figures who were involved in the Iran Contra Affair, The Nightingale’s Song, as well as a biography, John McCain, An American OdysseyBlue-Eyed Boy is a compelling story, one of personal triumph over great adversity in the aftermath of war and a terrible wounding, but much of the power of this memoir comes from Timberg's use of his own story to trace the long-lasting and persistent divide in this country between those who served and those who did not. For the Vietnam generation, it forces us to remember emotional wounds we thought time had healed, and to face the fact that, perhaps like Timberg’s own physical and emotional wounds, they have healed imperfectly. Blue-eyed Boy is a call for redress from a country that treated but indifferently a generation of American veterans who served in Vietnam.

The wound Timberg received when his vehicle struck a Vietcong land mine was not one that could ever be hidden or forgotten. It would always be present for others to see, and he would have to deal with that for the rest of his life. Timberg skillfully recounts his own dawning realization of what had happened to him. He is in a great deal of pain immediately after the fiery blast, but when he first looks at his visage in the mirror he sees his familiar face, however badly reddened. He doesn’t realize what is about to happen--that the skin is simply going to fall off, that his features will morph and melt and scar. His former appearance will never be restored. He went through years of operations and reconstructive surgery after the disfiguring third-degree burns to his face. The reaction of others to his scarred and frightening visage, the pity of friends and the unguarded comments and frequent revulsion of children, is a moving story.

It is the nature of his wound that ties the personal and public aspects of this story together. The physical damage is a visible symbol of the abiding psychological damage that has taken place within. That damage is not just about the wound itself; it is about what Timberg feels is the reluctance of the nation to appreciate and honor the choices and sacrifices of those who served in an unpopular war, both the actual and metaphoric averted eyes and turning away, the frequent antipathy, these attitudes towards the soldiers that were extended to the idea of military duty and service itself in the years that followed the war. For Timberg it is not whether the war was right or wrong but whether you answered the call when your country summoned you. He can have a grudging respect for those that answered it negatively, such as the anti-war activist David Harris, who took the consequences for refusing to serve and went to prison. What he can’t abide are those who evaded giving an answer, who finagled endless deferments while they protested the war or fled the country. In Timberg's view, they were willing to let others serve in their place, and then they dishonored those who did so.

One can share Timberg’s feelings about the disrespect directed against those who made the choice to go to war because they felt they were doing their duty to their country, but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that their country was in some measure complicit with those who sought deferments and found ways to evade the draft. In practice, the selective service system compelled those to serve who had little political power or influence in order to fill the ranks for a war that would not have been tolerated as long as it was if it had sacrificed the sons and daughters of the upper middle class, the wealthy, and the politically connected.

Timberg traces here an abiding divide in America about citizenship and its obligations, about the idea of duty to country. It is perhaps a discussion we should have. As ever seems to be the case with discussions of this sort, the polarization arises from entirely different value systems. The antagonists talk past each other--they don’t even seem to speak the same language. But what makes it even more difficult now to have the discussion and reconciliation that Timberg seeks is that as a nation we have, with some deliberation, devised a way to avoid it while still finding a way to carry on the business of war. In the aftermath of Vietnam, service to one’s country has become (however much we thank soldiers for their service) a voluntary career choice. It is a more dangerous profession than some others, but not a matter of duty or civic obligation. If we any longer have such a sense of duty, we have contracted it out to a segment of the population willing to carry that burden for us. You wonder if younger people who were raised in this country after the Vietnam War might even be able to understand Blue-Eyed Boy, the pain and the anger and from where it comes. This is a book for those of us who know.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Zombies walk tonight!

Just a reminder that Max Brooks, author of World War Z, will be the featured guest at Woodbury University's “One Book, One Community” program, TONIGHT (Thursday, Oct. 23), from 5:30-8 p.m., at the Fletcher Jones Foundation Auditorium on the Burbank campus of Woodbury University. The event is FREE, and open to the public.
Mr. Brooks will speak for approximately 45 minutes, then allow about 15 minutes for questions and another 15 minutes for book signings.

At 7 p.m., there will be small group discussions or activities related to the book.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Lit Crawl/LA NoHo!


From 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. this Wednesday night, thousands of Angelenos from all corners of the city (and some Burbankians as well) will come out for a FREE night of literary mayhem.

Choose your own literary experiences, from more than 30 literary events at a variety of restaurants, theaters, galleries, and other venues within a walkable area along Lankershim Blvd.

Participating groups will share fiction, poetry, plays, and everything in between, in the NoHo Arts District in North Hollywood. They include The Rumpus, 826LA, Los Angeles Review of Books, Avenue 50’s Poesía Para La Gente, Homeboy Industries, PEN Center USA, The World Stage, Tongue & Groove, The New Short Fiction Series, Hot Dish, Beyond Baroque, Cal State Northridge Alumni Writers, and more!

There are three 45-minute rounds. Attendees can hang out at one venue to see one presentation during each round, or “crawl” from venue to venue.

Round 1 is from 7:00 to 7:45 p.m.
Round 2 is from 8:00 to 8:45 p.m.
Round 3 is from 9:00 to 9:45 p.m.

There is also a closing party at 10:00 at the Federal Bar, 5303 Lankershim Blvd.

You can take public transportation via the Metro Red Line, the Metro Orange Line, and Metro Bus.

Burbank Public Library is pleased to be one of this year's sponsors, and you will see some representatives from our library at a couple of the venues!

For more information, including a list of venues, visit the website at !

Sunday, October 19, 2014

This week at the library...

Buena Vista branch, 7:00 p.m.

Author Event:
Meet the author, get an autograph, have tea and "biscuits," get a free surprise gift.

Northwest branch, 4:00 p.m.

DIY Pumpkin Canvas Bag
A craft program for kids in grades 1-8
Space is limited! call 818-238-5640 to reserve your spot.

Buena Vista branch, 2:00 p.m.

Hallowe'en movies!
25 minutes
27 minutes