Harry Potter versus Twilight: Who did you vote for?

harry-potter-and-twilight-characters-from-the-movieYesterday Seattle teens tackled one of the biggest issues of 2009: Which is better, the Harry Potter or Twilight series? Three-hundred passionate Potter and Bella fans packed the auditorium at the Central Library for this hotly contested literary smackdown.

The winner? According to the debate judges … Harry Potter!  A poll of the audience also had Potter on top, capturing more than two-thirds of the people’s choice vote. Find out more at Push to Talk (they’ll be linking to a video soon).

This topic took on a life of its own in the past couple of weeks (a national story, lots of local coverage). Everyone has an opinion, it seems, and readers from as far as way as The Netherlands were emailing the Library’s Teen Center with information absolutely vital to the case (on both sides) and their essential viewpoints. The students in Team Read prepared as diligently as any debaters, responding to questions about which series has the better villain, the better representation of women and the most interesting minor characters.

Yesterday was a great day to work at the Central Library—there was so much energy in the building. I didn’t get to see all of the debate, but I’m definitely looking forward to the video.

Reading the Signs

A while ago we had a couple of posts about some intriguing collections of found objects – notes, photos, love letters, grocery lists – mostly things you were never meant to see that offer revealing sidelong glimpses at lives, and life. Of course, things you were meant to see can be revealing also. And hilarious.

sign-saying-deep-fried-and-look-like-squirrel

Oliver Radtke’s Chinglish: Found in Translation captures odd, inintended juxtapositions on English language signage in China. Imagine going out to dinner at “Lactopork Restaurant,” ordering up a nice platter of “Man and Wife Lung Slice” or “Black Pepper Cowboy Bone,” polished off with some “Graininess Cookies.” While you’re in the “Fixed Expectations District,” you might pick up a package of “Damage” brand condoms.

Some signs seem to wax philosophical, as this no-littering sign: “THE CIVILIZED AND TIDY CIRCUMSTANCE IS A KIND OF ENJOYMENT.”  Well, yes, but then again, there’s much enjoyment to be had in being uncivilized, to say nothing of untidy.  Or this memorable and no doubt effective keep off the grass sign: “Green grass dreading your feet.”

sign-saying-dying-right-here-is-strictly-prohibited

Long a popular website and flickr account, the folks at Passive Aggressive Notes now have a book that captures such mini-masterpieces of domestic (or dorm) dysfuction as JESUS doesn’t steal pop-tarts. NEITHER SHOULD YOU… you know who you are.” (Yes, and Jesus knows who you are, too!) Check out this missive:

Hey – Did you ever think that the silence in this room is due to YOU not intiating a conversation? Don’t rely on me for everything. – your EXTROVERTED Roommate.”

Seeing that made me so grateful I don’t have a roommate, as did this bathroom note: “Next time please use YOUR contact case, not MINE.”  But perhaps the most startlingly effective of all is this crime stopper: “Dear Milk-Thief, that was breast milk!”

Social networking has opened up new vistas for passive aggression, as seen in this entry from Facebook:passive-aggressive-facebook-note

I marvel at the variety of strategies on display here, from simple reverse psychology — “Don’t Shut the Door! It’s obviously a huge inconvenience to you!” — to cheery puzzlement — “This machine is like a box of chocolates! You never know what you’ll get!) (For Diet Pepsi, push Mountain Dew. For Brisk Tea push Mountain Dew.) Still haven’t found the Mountain Dew. — to outright aggression: “Opera Singer: Close your windows or shut up. We don’t want to listen to you.” Which sounds really harsh, until you imagine living near an opera singer who keeps his or her windows open. And that is the real pleasure of reading these, imagining the gargantuan icebergs of aggravation of which these smiley-face laden notes are the proverbial tip.

The Tudors

I have become obsessed with the Tudors. It all started when I checked out image-from-showtimes-the-tudorsthe DVD set of the first season of the Showtime series The Tudors, which stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as King Henry VIII, from the Central Library right before the big snowstorm this past December. My husband and I spent several evenings in front of a blazing fire devouring every episode on the four discs in the set. Soon after finishing season one, we visited a nearby Silver Platters and were happy to discover that the second season would be released on DVD in early January. Needless to say, we bought it the first weekend after its release, and within a week or so we had devoured all of season two as well.

While I have read that The Tudors contains certain historical inaccuracies, I have to give it credit for sparking my interest in that particular period of English history. Although I had learned about Henry VIII in history classes, I’d never found him particularly interesting. However, seeing his character and those of his court brought to life by such skilled actors and in such rich detail suddenly made me want to learn more about him, his court and family, and his legacy.

As I anxiously await the premiere of the third season of The Tudors, I am exploring the wealth of resources available at the library to feed my new interest. A general keyword search of the library catalog for the term “Henry VIII” yields well over 200 results! Here are some notable ones:

Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England’s Tragic Queen by Joanna Denny
An attempt to redeem Anne Boleyn from her historical reputation, written by the author of a fictional trilogy on the Tudors.

The Other Boleyn Girl
Originally a novel by Philippa Gregory, this fictional account of Henry VIII’s relationship with the Boleyn sisters, Mary and Anne, is available in two different film adaptations: one originally broadcast by the BBC in 2003, and one starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, and Eric Bana.

image-of-the-young-henry-8The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson
An excellent introduction to the history of British monarchy, with paintings from the National Portrait Gallery of Great Britain.

The Last Days of Henry VIII: Conspiracies, Treason, and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant by Robert Hutchinson
A detailed and readable account of the reign of Henry VIII.

The Third Policeman

The Irish may be said to possess the gift of gab, but the truth is they’re none too shabby with the pen, either. Most readers have at least a passing familiarity with the usual suspects-Joyce, Yeats, Wilde-but may not be aware of the lesser known author Flann O’Brien. O’Brien (a pseudonym of cover-of-flann-obriens-the-third-policemanBrian O’Nolan) wrote, among other things, a novel entitled The Third Policeman. Tongue-in-cheek, somewhat nonsensical, and completely engrossing, The Third Policeman relates the tale of an ill-fated murder committed by a nameless protagonist and the subsequent journey he embarks on in an effort to retrieve his victim’s wealth. Our ‘hero’ rambles along, sharing observations of his own and of his idol, the philosopher de Selby, who’s theories run the gamut from housing (he objects to a life constrained by a roof and four walls and recommends getting rid of either the former or the latter) to nighttime (darkness is caused by a staining of the atmosphere by ash from volcanic eruptions too fine to be seen by the naked eye). When he encounters a two dimensional police station and its eccentric inhabitants things really start to get strange.The plot is somewhat incidental, however, as the real magic of the book lies in the language. Rather than describe it, I feel it’s better to let O’Brien speak for himself and so here follow some select quotes Continue reading “The Third Policeman”

The Visitor and Little Bee

Two of the most powerful stories that I recently encountered were stories about immigrants and refugees. One was in a film and the other was a novel, but both left a strong impression on me.

In the film, The Visitor, a widowed, burnt-out professor in Connecticut, Walter Vale, (played to perfection by Richard Jenkins, who garnered a Best Actor nomination for the role) travels to New York for a conference and finds two strangers in his Manhattan apartment. Someone rented his apartment to this young couple, and when Walter enters at night he is accosted by the young man, Tarek, (Haaz Sleiman) who believes Walter is breaking in. When Walter lets Tarek and his girlfriend Zainab stay until they find a new place, their lives become intertwined in ways they never would have expected. Walter forges an unlikely friendship with Tarek, and his secret love of music flourishes. Walter learns that Tarek, who fled Syria with his mother, and Zainab, who fled Sengal, are both illegal and fear deportation. The more he gets to know Tarek, the more he cares about his fate, and it is this growing compassion that grounds the film.

Directed by Tom McCarthy, who also directed The Station Agent, another understated, charming independent film, The Visitor feels like a short story. It is riveting, artful, restrained—and over too quickly. Its strengths are the subtlety in its storytelling, and its clean focus on the characters and their relationships. There is no happy ending here, but Continue reading “The Visitor and Little Bee”