Labor in Film: We Are Wisconsin

laborIn late winter of 2011, while the Middle East was deep in the midst of the “Arab Spring,” United States workers in the state of Wisconsin found themselves embroiled in a take-down struggle with Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature to preserve their collective bargaining rights. Continue reading “Labor in Film: We Are Wisconsin”

Tricky books

An amazingly wide range of questions come across our library information desks, I’m sure every librarian has their favorites. My current favorite was from an earnest young man of around seven years of age who was interested in “tricky books.” I tried to show him magic books with no satisfaction. Of course there just isn’t a clear way to find those books full of sneaky tricks that little boys need to play on their friends and families…..or is there?

While I wasn’t able to find anything right away to help my young patron (much to his mother’s relief), later after poking around, I started finding some terrific books, targeted right at the adventuresome young man (or woman) in your life: Continue reading “Tricky books”

Occasional Mysteries: Reading Retro

I’ve recently been reading some classic historical mysteries. That’s classic not in the sense of “set in older times,” but as in foundations of the genre, written in the vernacular of older times.

The Riddle of the Sands book cover imageFirst published in 1903, The Riddle of the Sands, by Erskine Childers could in some ways be thought of as rather more of an early prequel to the modern spy thriller novel than a murder mystery, as the mystery it holds is one of intrigue and national strategies played out in the tidal mudflats of northern Germany. The language reads in the proper British style of the day, but the atmospheric descriptions of time, tide and endless navigational feats through rain, fog and mud create an enveloping environment of mystery and a sense of the growing menace in Europe during the years before WW1.

Continue reading “Occasional Mysteries: Reading Retro”

Films Found at my Branch

I often browse the shelves of my branch library for impulse DVD’s to watch instead of commercial TV. This can lead to some winners and some losers. Staring at the shelves one asks oneself, “If this film is really any good, how come I haven’t heard of it?”

Every now and then I get lucky and find an unknown gem. Two recent finds that were unexpected pleasures were:
deliriousDelirious, directed by Tom DiCillo, starring Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt, with assists from Alison Lohman, Gina Gershon and Elvis Costello, spins a narrative of glamour vs. obscurity in the context of an awkward friendship between paparazzi Les Galantine (Buscemi) and his street urchin understudy Toby Grace (Pitt). Les makes his living as a cynical bottom feeder in the world of celebrity fame, while Toby is all sincerity, offering to act as his assistant for nothing but the opportunity to get along in the world. Somehow Toby’s sincere approach begins opening doors into the world of the stars, lifting him away from his sleazy “mentor” and into the spotlight. As usual Buscemi is terrific, playing the role of the whining, pushy shooter to a T, with just the right undercurrent of pathos to keep you caring. Pitt’s baby face and unshaven good looks make for a believable “rags to riches” story. The scene scouts, or whoever found or created the photographers’ New York walk-up apartment set also did a terrific job: it’s the perfect combo of fading kitsch and cockroach infested slum, the natural environment of the celebrity stalker.

On the extreme opposite end of thebernardanddoris financial spectrum, Bernard & Doris, directed by Bob Balaban starring Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes depicts a friendship on the other side of the spotlight. Sarandon plays tobacco heiress Doris Duke, and Fiennes her dedicated butler Bernard Lafferty. Duke (Sarandon) lived in the fishbowl of fabulous wealth throughout her life, becoming as selfish, petty and unpredictable as anyone in her position might. Bernard (Fiennes) comes into her service rather later in her life, after the failure of her marriages, hired to care for her and her New Jersey mansion. Despite her terrible treatment of him, and his personal alcoholic demons, the two become close friends. Cushioned from her promiscuity by his homosexual preferences, Bernard has a touching affection and regard for Doris, and she slowly comes to reciprocate, finally coming to trust him enough to leave him in charge of her enormous estate when she dies.

Friendship breeds strange bedfellows certainly, and in the case of these films, amusing yet thought provoking entertainment.

Tax Haiku for You

Much work goes on behind the scenes at the library ordering and channeling federal tax forms into the hands of our patrons. Like our fellow citizens we look forward to today, the last filing day of the 2008 tax period and offer you a few haiku moments in honor of the day…

April’s cruelest day
What grim task awaitsimage-of-tax-forms-courtesy-of-roguesun-media
long avoided 1040
A? EZ? Today!

Where can I go late?
Old, set in my ways
electronic filing not
for me – the postmark.

Ode to form 4868
Tax code layered like
tiramisu on my plate
hold the dessert please!

Tomorrow I plan to re- read Wiggle Room by David Foster Wallace in The New Yorker magazine, and imagine my return sliding ever-so-gently into some IRS inbox. Better that than risk an encouter with the protagonist of Richard Yancey’s tell-all, Confessions of a Tax Collector, the gripping account of one man’s descent into from nice guy into a most uncivil servant, as the increasingly eager G-Man chases down deadbeats as a sort of Uncle Sam Spade.

I think I’d rather pay taxes than try to collect them.