Shelfish: The Blog of Answers

The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins

“A tiding of magpies: One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told” Rear Window meets Gone Girl. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is voyeuristic like Rear Window, with an unreliable narrator like Gone Girl; this psychological thriller is a page turner!

Every day, as Rachel takes the train to London, she looks at the same suburban house where she watches a couple out on their deck. She names this couple Jason and Jess and fantasizes about what their life together is like. One day she sees something out of the ordinary and feels compelled to report it to the police, becoming embroiled in the investigation. The story is told through three different points of view, which is always helpful in unraveling a mystery. However, Rachel tells you from the beginning that she likes to have a few drinks and sometimes she has memory loss. She is also suffering from depression.  
The beginning of the book is slow and steady like a train ride. Rachel is on the train every day and she leaves a trail of clues for us to follow. When Rachel witnesses something unusual, the book picks up speed like a train that starts moving faster, making fewer stops. When Rachel inserts herself into the police investigation, the train picks up speed again.  Once you have all the clues and can solve the mystery, it’s as if the train is unrelenting and will not even stop at the station. For a quick read with twists and turns, I recommend The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins.
- Dawn, Reference Intern

Academy Awards Contest 2015

Look for Academy Award Contest entry forms at the Answers Desk. Check off your selections from this year’s nominees. Entries with the most correct answers will be eligible to win prizes. In the event of a tie, prizes will be awarded by means of a random drawing. One entry per person please. Entries will be accepted at the library Answers Desk until 5:00 pm on Saturday, February 21st.

Reading Can Make You a Better Person

little boy reading with glasses on.Do you know someone lacking empathy? Think that they can't change? A new study offers hope for grinches and grumps. Researchers from the University of Toronto suggest that reading fiction can make people more empathetic. The authors of the study wrote that literature can enhance a reader's empathy, or ability to understand someone elses' point-of-view.

So buy your grumpy sister or curmudgeonly neighbor a "chick lit" novel so that you can have a better day. The study specifically suggested "chick lit" and romance as being effective.

Shadow Puppets of Siew Lian Lim

When at the library this month, be sure to stop in the lobby for a few moments to take in the display of Southeast Asian shadow puppets created by artist Siew Lian Lim. With her use of recycled materials such as soda cans and ramen noodle packages, Lim recontextualizes characters from her home country of Malaysia into representations of modern gluttony and waste. For a gallery of Lim's puppets, visit the library's facebook page.

Winter Documentary Film Series

Keep warm every Friday afternoon this January with our Documentary Film Series, a collection of movies that are just as moving, funny, and engaging as the best Hollywood blockbusters but with the added benefit of being totally true. 
Friday, January 2nd, 12:00 pm
Take an enlightening look at the careers of veteran Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and Mets up-and-comer R.A. Dickey, the only two knuckleball pitchers in the Major Leagues.
The Buena Vista Social Club
Friday, January 9th, 12:00 pm
Wim Wenders profiles a group of legendary Cuban musicians, brought out of retirement to record a new album that leads to a performance at Carnegie Hall.
Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles
Friday, January 16th, 12:00 pm
A detective story unfurls as one man searches for the meaning of hundreds of cryptic messages appearing in the streets across the United States and South America.
Exporting Raymond
Friday, January 23rd, 12:00 pm
Take an inside look at Phil Rosenthal’s hilariously exasperating experiences making a Russian-language version of the hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown 
Friday, January 30th, 12:00 pm
Discover the unknown Detroit musicians who played on more number ones hits than The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Elvis, and The Beatles combined.

2014 Additions to the National Film Registry

Today the Librarian of Congress announced the 2014 additions to the National Film Registry, a list of films deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” that are earmarked for preservation by the Library of Congress. These films are not selected as the ‘best’ American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring importance to American culture. They reflect who we are as a people and as a nation.

This year's inductees include 13 Lakes, Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day, The Big Lebowski, Down Argentine Way, The Dragon Painter, Felicia, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Gang’s All Here, House of Wax, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, Little Big Man, Luxo Jr., Moon Breath Beat, Please Don’t Bury Me Alive!, The Power and the Glory, Rio Bravo, Rosemary’s Baby, Ruggles of Red Gap, Saving Private Ryan, Shoes, State Fair, Unmasked, V-E +1, The Way of Peace, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. 

Although some of the more obscure films are not available to borrow from the library, many of the Film Registry choices can be reserved by searching our online catalog or asking at the Answers Desk.

-Chris, Marketing

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

“Is there enough energy to move the entire current human population off-planet?”

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe is an insightful and intelligent book that takes the question “What if?” to an entirely different level. The questions range from “If two immortal people lived on opposite sides of an uninhabited Earthlike Planet, how long would it take them to find each other?”, to “What would happen to the Earth if the Sun suddenly switched off?” Munroe is a physicist whose has a background working in robotics for NASA. Now he writes a web comic called XKCD, which is chock-full of science, math, and language humor.

Munroe takes these incongruous questions about which people occasionally wonder, (but rarely try to answer for themselves), and works in the difficult math and science in order to find the answer, no matter how bizarre. He also manages to sneak in scientific wittiness, (mainly via the comics, and footnotes), while still thoroughly and effectively answering each question. Extra sections add to the dynamics of this book, such as “Weird and worrying questions from the ‘What if?’ inbox”, where Munroe posts the most disturbing questions he receives, and a short-answer section for questions that can quickly be explained.  

This book is appropriate for laymen readers, and though not everyone will be familiar with each equation Munroe throws into his explanations, the main ideas will come across to readers from all walks of life. Find What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions at the library. 

Becca, Answers

Square Foot Gardening with Kids by Mel Bartholomew

photograph of little boy harvesting tomatoes from container garden."There is nothing quite like the look on a child's face when she picks the very first tomato she's ever grown. It's plump and red, and sure to be juicy, and it's all hers."

Mel Bartholomew adapted his classic Square Foot Gardening series for kids. You might recognize his name from the PBS series or one of his other books, he's a legend in the modern farming movement. In SFG with Kids, Mel taps into the well-known truth that kids love dirt. He lays out the entire process of planning, designing, building and decorating the containers. Then he suggests what kinds of things you should grow in the garden and how to actually grow them. The book is loaded with teachable moments in science, math, and self-sufficiency.

Bartholomew is riding the wave of the DIY urban farm movement (he had a lot to do with its creation). I like instructional books to have color photos so I know I'm on the right path and this books is full of them. SFG is broken up into easily digestable chunks that should help get your family into the garden. I plan on building some next spring and I'm going to use this book to do it.

Find Square Foot Gardening with Kids in the library.

-Dan, Answers

The Rathbones by Janice Clark

Rathbones by Janice ClarkThe allure of a story steeped in mystery is the delight in the handling of the reveal. The Rathbones by Janice Clark promises the epic unraveling of ancestral secrets, as perceived through the young protagonist, Mercy Rathbone. It was this promise of enchanting family history that drew me to the tale of the Rathbones, however the reality of the story's unfolding leaves much to be desired. 

The tale of the Rathbone history is presented as a classic account of adventure on the high seas, looking back to the 1800s and the height of whaling ships and familial dynasties. Mercy is introduced as a vibrant young woman with a conflicted relationship with her mother and her strange relatives, all inhabitants of the renowned Rathbone house and legacy. As the story progresses, Mercy oscillates between a dynamic participant and a victim of this legacy, alternately resigned to and resistant against the (seemingly preordained) fate of her family. 

The Rathbones seeks to revel in the historic nostalgia for days of lore, where one's livelihood was a thrumming force of essence grander than the individuals who practiced such professions - though punctuated by gleaming examples of the epitome of whalemen like Moses Rathbone, Mercy's ancestor. At best, Moses (explored in detail as a separate character plot line) comes across as an eccentric forefather. At worst, his approach to women as breeders for sons to carry on the family calling and complete disregard for individuality and personality leaves something to be desired as an empathic character.

Likability aside, the characters in The Rathbones lack a consistency of behavior and believability that makes it hard to stomach the forays into magical-ability-imbued-by-genetics that The Rathbones relies upon. While Mercy's matter-of-fact acceptance of her familial legacy and all of its incestuous ramifications lends a sort of bittersweet empathy to her tale, the hopeful, pat conclusion to her life path is underwhelming. The main characters in Mercy's life are realistically flawed and complex, but the fatalistic component to the tragedy of her beliefs and realities are ultimately unsatisfying in the development of a good story.

(review based on the audiobook version of the book)

Find The Rathbones at the Library.

Molly, Answers

Finding Vivian Maier

“Of course, she would have hated every minute of it [being discovered]. She would never have let this happen”

Nanny. Hoarder. Prolific street photographer.  All of these labels can be used to describe the late Vivian Maier, a formerly unknown artist who is the subject of a fascinating new documentary film by John Maloof, a Chicago-based real estate agent and amateur photographer who discovered her extensive collection, which has since been exhibited here in Chicago, as well as in New York, Los Angeles, London and France.

In Finding Vivian Maier, we learn how Maloof first came across the collection while at a local auction house searching for photographs to use for a local history book he was planning to write. Knowing almost nothing about the contents or where they came from, he decided to buy the largest box for $380. In total, it contained approximately 100,000 negatives, 700 rolls of undeveloped film, as well as eight and sixteen millimeter movies.

Overwhelmed by the positive reactions and comments he received after digitizing and uploading 100 select photographs to his blog, Maloof was compelled to find out more about the collection and in particular, this “V. Maier” listed on several receipts and other documents found in the boxes. He soon discovers that “V. Maier” is Vivian Maier, a local nanny who, unbeknownst to almost everyone she knew, was a talented amateur photographer. But why would anyone so talented not share that with the the people she knew, worked for and lived with?

Throughout the course of the film, we follow along as Maloof tries to find answers to the many questions surrounding Vivian Maier’s life: where was she originally from? Did she have any family? What were her motivations? What intentions (if any) did she have for the collection? The interviews we see in the film involving friends, former employers as well as some of the children she once cared for (now grown), help reveal bits and pieces of her life, talent and complex personality. A fascinating film that would appeal to anyone interested in photography and local interest stories, I highly recommend Finding Vivian Maier.

Elias, Answers