Shelfish: The Blog of Answers

The Assistants by Camille Perri

The Assistants book coverDespite having trouble paying her bills, Tina Fontana takes pride in her work and has the utmost respect for her boss Robert Barlow, the head of the Titan Corporation, a multimedia news conglomerate. Think Ted Turner meets Rupert Murdoch. So when an accounting error leaves Tina with an unearned check for $20,000 (almost the exact amount of her student loan balance) she feels guilty about deciding to keep it. Executives at Titan spend more than $20,000 on lunches, and cab rides, and tropical fish. It's just pocket change for Robert, she justifies. Why shouldn't she get a little taste of financial freedom?

But then Emily, another assistant, uncovers Tina's accidental crime. She has student debt, too and wants Tina's help to pay it off. Then, another assistant comes along. And another. And another. Soon, Tina's ethical misstep turns into a fully-fledged movement, stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

I thought I saw the ending coming, but a slight twist on my expectations made the story richer, revealing broke Tina and rich Robert to both be real human beings, neither a hero nor a villain. In a time when income inequality is so prevalent in the public consciousness, The Assistants has a lot to say to the disenfranchised about taking back power. Plus, it's a great read, moving at a breakneck pace. It's the perfect book for the Bernie Sanders crowd.

Click here to place a hold on The Assistants.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang CoverThis weekend I'll be going to the theater. My expectations are high for The Nice Guys, the story of a mismatched pair of private eyes (played by Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling) investigating an apparent suicide in 1970s Los Angeles. The trailers have looked great, funny and sad and exciting. But I was looking forward for The Nice Guys because of the movie's writer and director, Shane Black.

At the end of the 80s, Black hit a homerun with his first movie, Lethal Weapon. That success led to the writing of some of the biggest action movies Hollywood had to offer. Last Action Hero, The Last Boy Scout, and Lethal Weapon 2. His movies were making a lot of money but Black wasn't getting any respect. His application to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was rejected. And then, The Long Kiss Goodnight. Black sold the script for an unheard of amount of money. $4 million. But his original script was butchered by director Renny Harland, the movie bombed, and Shane Black basically faded away from Hollywood for the next ten years.

Then came Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Black brought the script to his old colleague, Joel Silver who had produced Lethal Weapon, and the two hatched a plan. If they could keep the budget low enough, the studio would stay out of the way. They hired waning celebrities Robert Downey Jr, and Val Kilmer to star alongside the up and comer Michelle Monaghan and got busy making the best movie of 2005.

The plot of the film is willfully convoluted. A small-time crook gets mistaken for an actor and is assigned to research his role by tagging along with an openly gay private detective. He runs into his childhood crush, witnesses a murder, and finds himself dodging bullets. But the plot is largely beside the point. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is solely concerned with character interaction and development. Shane Black shows a love of the outsider, the screw-up who wishes he could save the day, but Harry (Robert Downey Jr.) can't even get his film noir-esque narration right. Despite being a criminal, Harry's intentions are good and he aspires to the heroic ideal. Perry (Val Kilmer) is a primping egotist, but he stands up for the little guy, doing whatever it takes to punish those who abuse women and children. All of the characters are looking for their second chances.

The filmmakers were looking for second chances, too. Robert Downey Jr. needed a career boost after years of public drug issues. Shane Black needed a way back in after a decade in exile. Although Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang wasn't a huge commercial success, it proved to Hollywood that these guys were capable of working at the top of their game. A couple of years later, Downey was back on top with Iron Man, the cornerstone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with that new power that he leveraged to bring his friend and redeemer, Black, to the helm of Iron Man 3.

So if you like the Marvel movies, and if you like The Nice Guys, you're probably going to love Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

Click here to place a hold on Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

The Nebula Awards

Binti CoverTonight the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America announced the winners of the annual Nebula Awards, recognizing the best works of science fiction or fantasy published in the United States. This year, women writers virtually swept the awards. 

Best Novel
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Best Novella
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Young Adult
Updraft by Fran Wilde
Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Best Novellette
"Our Lady of the Open Road" by Sarah Pinsker (Published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, June 2015)
Best Short Story
"Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" by Alyssa Wong (Published in Nightmare Magazine, October 2015)

Einstein's Book Club

the members of the Olympia AcademyOn May 29th, 1919, on the island of Principe off the west coast of Africa, one of the longest solar eclipses of the 20th century lasted for nearly seven minutes. Astronomer, physicist, and mathematician Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington was there to witness it. His observation of light bending around the sun provided one of the earliest confirmations of General Relativity, Albert Einstein's gravitational theory that introduced a new framework for all of physics, proposed new concepts of space and time, and propelled Einstein into the pantheon of science's greatest thinkers.

Today, it's hard to think of Einstein without imagining a genius scientist. But before he developed his theory of relativity, devised the world's most famous equation (E = mc²), or was awarded the Nobel Prize, Einstein increased his intellect with a humble book club.

In 1901, at the age of 23, while working for minimum wage as a patent clerk in Switzerland, Einstein hoped to earn some extra money as a physics tutor. His first pupil was Maurice Solovine, a philosophy student. The two quickly gave up their studies, preferring instead to have a few drinks, smoke cigars, and discuss books. With the addition of Einstein's friend, mathematician Conrad Habicht, the Olympia Academy, as they called themselves, was complete.

For the next three years, the men regularly met to read and debate books such as The Grammar of Science by Karl Pearson, A System of Logic by John Stuart Mill, Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume, Ethics by Baruch Spinoza, and even Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

Despite the brief lifespan of the Olympia Academy, it had a lasting effect on the three men. They remained in touch throughout their lives and Einstein credited their discussions with the successes of his later scientific career.

Remembering Darwyn Cooke

The New FrontierToday the comics industry lost one of its greats. Writer, artist, and animator Darwyn Cooke died at the age of 54 following a battle with cancer.

After a decade and a half as art director and graphic designer for Canadian magazines, Cooke returned to his first love, the world of comic books. By replying to an ad placed by Warner Bros Animation's Bruce Tim, Cooke became a storyboard artist on the seminal Batman: The Animated Series in the early 90s. That job advanced to animator on the Batman spinoff series Batman Beyond.

His growing reputation in animation allowed Cooke, one of the rare mainstream comic creators capable of writing and illustration his own work, to publish the graphic novel Batman: Ego followed by a revamp of Catwoman with writer Ed Brubaker. Their Catwoman redesign is considered by many to be the definitive modern version of the character and one of DC's most significant comics, commenting on the state of women in comics and offering a strong female lead.

Cooke's legacy as comic creator was cemented in 2004 when he mined DC Comics long history to bridge the gap between the Golden and Silver Ages. Set in the 1950's, The New Frontier introduces dozens of DC's A-list heroes, bringing them together to battle a world-wide crisis while growing Cold War uncertainties bring about political cynicism. Inspired by the movies, comics, and design of the story's time period, Cooke presents Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern as the embodiments of all that is hopeful and good about humanity.

Recently Cooke, has been writing and drawing graphic novel versions of the hard-boiled crime novels featuring Parker, the only adaptations wholeheartedly approved by Parker's creator Richard Stark.

As an artist, Darwyn Cooke was celebrated for his simple, vibrant style, a throwback to mid-century graphic arts, and his ability to lend a touch of humanity to larger-than-life characters. He will not soon be forgotten. The family indicated that donations in Cooke’s name can be made to the Canadian Cancer Society and Hero Initiative.

Getting Ready for This Summer's Hottest New Shows

AMC's PreacherIn the old days of television we had three networks and had to wait until the fall for new shows. In the summer... nothing but reruns. Today, we have hundreds of channels and all the hottest shows premiere in the summertime, many of them based on books available at Eisenhower. 
Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, is back with a new show on Amazon Prime adapted from the1858 book Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope, a writer of political and romantic novels during the Victorian Era.
Alex Haley's book Roots and the miniseries based on it were huge sensations in the late 1970's. The story of Kunta Kinte and the horrors of American slavery is ready for a re-telling on the History Channel.
AMC's Preacher stars Dominic Cooper as a man of the cloth who sets off across the country in search of God with his ex-girlfriend and their vampiric friend after being given supernatural powers by a mysterious entity. Sounds just about as crazy as the Garth Ennis graphic novels the show is based on.
Submission on Showtime will probably be a bit more risque than any other new show. Its story of a young woman inspired by erotic novels to experiment sexually is aimed directly at the Fifty Shades of Grey crowd. 
Already renewed for a second season before even premiering, Cinemax is counting on the popularity of The Walking Dead and its creator, Robert Kirkman, to propel his new show Outcast to similar success. In the source graphic novels, a young man struggles to understand why he's suffered from demonic possession his entire life.

2016 Edgar Award Winners

Edgar Award LogoThe Edgar Allan Poe Awards (popularly called the Edgars) are presented every spring by the Mystery Writers of America to honor the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television, and film. Today we're going to provide links links to the library catalog of each winner so you can easily place holds. Lists of all the nominees are avaialble on the Edgar Awards website,

Best Novel
Best First Novel
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Best Paperback Original
Best Fact Crime
Best Critical/Biographical
The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards
Best Short Story
"Obits" in Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
Best Young Adult
A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis
Best Juvenile
TV Episode
"Gently with the Women" from George Gently, Season Seven, Teleplay by Peter Flannery (find the entire series, too)
Mary Higgins Clark Award
Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day
Each year since 2001, the Mystery Writers of America have given this special award to a novel written in the Mary Higgins Clark Tradition according to guidelines set forth by Clark herself.
  • The protagonist is a nice young woman whose life is suddenly invaded.
  • She’s self-made and independent, with primarily good family relationships.
  • She has an interesting job.
  • She is not looking for trouble–she is doing exactly what she should be doing and something cuts across her bow.
  • She solves her problem by her own courage and intelligence.
  • The story has no on-scene violence.
  • The story has no strong four-letter words or explicit sex scenes.

NFL Draft returns to Chicago

This weekend, the NFL returns to Chicago for its annual player draft. Brush up with some inside information on the inner-workings of the draft by stopping by the Answers Desk to check out our latest display of books and dvds, including The GM: The Inside Story of a Dream Job and the Nightmares that Go with It  by Tom Callahan and The Agent: My 40-year Career Making Deals and Changing the Game by Leigh Steinberg.

As of now, the "Monsters of the Midway" own the eleventh pick of the first round and nine picks overall. Brad Biggs, the Tribune's Bears beat writer, has the Bears selecting Georgia Outside Linebacker Leonard Floyd (his latest mock draft of the first round is available here), while predicts the Bears to select Florida Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (full first round mock draft available here). Who do you want the Bears to select with the eleventh pick?

2016 Pulitzer Prize

Pulitzer AwardThe 2016 Pulitzer Prizes were announced today. Established in 1917 by provisions in the will of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer,  prizes are awarded yearly in twenty-one categories. For our purposes, we'll skip the journalism awards and focus on the Letters and Drama categories.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
A layered immigrant tale told in the wry, confessional voice of a "man of two minds" -- and two countries, Vietnam and the United States.

Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Stream now at Hoopla)
A landmark American musical about the gifted and self-destructive founding father whose story becomes both contemporary and irresistible.

Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T.J. Stiles
A rich and surprising new telling of the journey of the iconic American soldier whose death turns out not to have been the main point of his life.

Biography or Autobiography
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
A finely crafted memoir of a youthful obsession that has propelled the author through a distinguished writing career.

Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick
A deeply reported book of remarkable clarity showing how the flawed rationale for the Iraq War led to the explosive growth of the Islamic State.

National Recording Registry 2015

Metallica's Master of PuppetsToday, the Library of Congress announced its newest inductees into the National Recording Registry, a collection of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" recordings chosen to be preserved in their best existing versions at the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Virginia. The Registry includes everything from wax cylinders, radio programs, and recorded speeches, to comedy and music albums from all imaginable genres.

This year, the 25 selection for the registry are just as fascinating as ever. The list includes two different versions of Mack the Knife, a dictaphone recording of Wilt Chamberlain breaking the NBA record by scoring 100 points in a single basketball game, Secretary of State George C. Marshall's "Marshall Plan Speech" detailing plans to resurrect Europe after the end of World War II, and two episodes of Destination Freedom, a 1940's radio program dedicated to presenting the accomplishments of black Americans.

A diverse collection of songs and albums were added to the Registry this year, too. The eclectic list includes, Alex North's soundtrack to A Streetcar Named Desire, John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, George Carlin's Class Clown, The Supreme's single Where Did Our Love Go?, Merle Haggard's single Mama Tried, Santana's Abraxas, Billy Joel's Piano Man, Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive, and perhaps most surprising of all, Master of Puppets by Metallica.

You can visit the Registry's website to listen to a montage of this year's inductees, or click the titles linked above to place a hold on the CDs available from the library.