Posted in Adult, eBooks & eAudio, Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction, Staff Picks, Thrillers

Books I Hated and What to Read Instead

Let’s get one thing straight up front: These are not BAD books. They’re actually wildly popular for the most part, and objectively well-executed, I just happened to hate them. Personal taste does not have to be rooted in reality or logic. We like what we like. For instance, I will put most books and movies down that feature a love triangle because they make my skin crawl. Below, I listed several best-selling books I was led to believe I would enjoy, but did not, and what I would recommend reading instead.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (2018) by Hank Green
Why I hated it: So, so, so many reasons. This is one of the only books I’ve ever rage-quit and had it been a physical and not audio copy I may have hurled the book into a different room so it would no longer offend my eyes. Based on this title alone, Hank Green cannot write female characters. The protagonist is a bisexual 20-something Asian woman. Cool, diversity is cool, but Green used this character’s sexuality like a cheat code for objectifying the other female characters in the story. Also, this book features giant robots mysteriously appearing around the world. How awesome, right? IT IS NOT the robots didn’t do SHIT. And the book ends on a cliffhanger, which I only know about because I looked up the ending online after rage quitting. Finally, the use of modern youth vernacular will NOT age well in this novel. I was wincing when I read it and the ink had hardly dried. 

Read instead:

A Master of Djinn (2021) by P. Djeli Clark
Why it’s great: Where Green totally biffed writing women characters, Clark excels. Most characters of consequence in this book are women. It blows my mind that in the year of our lord 2022 I am feeling grateful to encounter a whole book full of multidimensional female characters that don’t focus on their looks or a man to make their way in the world. Read this book for access to a mostly female cast of vibrant and memorable characters, gorgeous world building, and incomprehensible eldritch beings trying to cross into nice, semi-horror filled early 20th century Cairo. Did I mention Cairo is a world superpower because someone figured out how to let djinn and other spirits back into the world? And that’s not even a spoiler.

Nobody’s Fool (1993) by Richard Russo
Why I hated it: Sully, the titular character, is a perennial loveable loser who squandered his life being moored down by family trauma and a can’t-do attitude. Russo seems to be in love with his own prose as well as protagonist Sully, and I just don’t get it. Indeed, the writing itself cannot be beat, it was the ideas within however, which I took umbrage. For instance, a horrid racial epithet is casually bandied about at one point to describe the nature of work Sully engages in, and the level of male wish fulfillment appearing throughout was kinda gross. Every book its reader, and I am not the one. I made it about half way through the almost 600 page doorstop before I put it down. Save yourself some time and watch the 1994 screen adaptation of Nobody’s Fool starring the ever-wonderful Paul Newman instead of trying to slog through this brick.

Read instead:

Empire Falls (2001) by Richard Russo
Why it’s great: This is Russo’s Great American Novel. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction over a Jonathan Franzen book, thank god, because it deserved the honor. Now, I don’t normally stan boomer-age whiteguy authors, as they tend to write books for other men (see above for criticism of Russo’s earlier work), but this book shines with an undeniable light that we can all bask in. Empire Falls was adapted into a very passable miniseries for HBO starring Ed Harris. Watch the series for sure, but be sure to read the book too, so as not to miss out on an evil cat giving protagonist Miles a run for his money, amongst other things. 

The Spellman Files (2007) by Lisa Lutz
Why I hated it: Lutz published six Spellman books in the 2010ishes and all I could think about while reading the freshman installation was how badly this was not working for me so how could they possibly be popular enough to demand so many installations. Spellman strives to assemble a quirky and interesting family of private detectives whose dysfunction is more a feature and less a bug, but they come across as a watery Royal Tannenbaum situation with more severe antisocial disorders. And not in a fun way! While the protagonist was meant to be a daring and independent young woman, all I could see was somebody who would benefit from therapy, a reinforcing of boundaries, and maybe a damn hug. 

Read Instead:
Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead (2011) by Sara Gran
Why it’s great: I love a hot mess protagonist and where The Spellman Files falls short, Clare DeWitt succeeds in spades. DeWitt is the self-described world’s best PI who is obsessed with the work of obscure French detective Jacques Silette. In the City of the Dead, she has found herself in a recently post-Katrina New Orleans which DeWitt fled years earlier when her mentor was unceremoniously murdered. She is back to track down a missing DA as well as try to untangle her violent past. While none of that sounds earth-shattering, there is something about DeWitt and her unflinching self-destruction and devotion to Silette’s teachings that I found completely compelling. So far, Gran has graced us with three Claire DeWitt novels, and they get successively better. Read them in order for the best experience. If you’re a Mead card holder, all three are available in ebook and audio format on Hoopla, so no wait time for you. 

Lock Every Door (2019) by Riley Sager
Why I hated it: Some authors never resonate. This is the case for Sager. He is massively popular and has several titles that on paper seem like they’ll be right up my alley but in execution I can’t get into it. Lock Every Door initially appealed because it takes place in an early 20th century construction of a fabulous spooky Manhattan apartment building. There’s a Rosemary’s Baby vibe happening, but no Satanists, and buddy I got to tell you that was one of the biggest disappointments I’ve ever had in my leisure reading life. The solution to this “mystery” was pretty irritating and I wish I had the time back that I used to read this. I also read Lock Every Door which has a supernatural switcheroo as well, so maybe it’s a theme in Sager’s work. I dunno. It doesn’t do it for me. 

Read instead:

There’s Someone Inside Your House (2017) by Stephanie Perkins 
Why it’s great: First and foremost, before you read any further, take a moment to say the title of this book out loud. No wait, don’t just say it, SCREECH it. Try it, you’ll like it. Besides the very fun-to-yell title, this YA thriller has a brisk pace, interesting character arcs and juicy secret pasts to unfold. The creep-factor is high and the central mystery has a satisfying and hard to predict solution. Most who enjoy thrillers or mysteries would enjoy this highly consumable and appealingly candy-colored book.

Would I say my taste in books is highly individualistic and not based on any objective literary criticism? Yes, yes I would. That’s the beauty of leisure reading. We get to pursue what we like without justifying the reasons. Some people only read Amish romance. Some people only read nonfiction accounts of Arctic expeditions. Some people only read graphic novels and manga. Guess what, they are all valid in their reading pursuits because there’s no wrong way to leisurely read.  

If you are casting around for book recommendations consider using our reader’s advisory service, Your Next Five Books, by clicking HERE. If you are in need of ebook or audiobook troubleshooting, or help requesting books, please call us or stop in for help, and happy reading. 

Posted in Adult, Film, Staff Picks, Teen & Young Adult

Coming Soon to a Screen Near You

Cinema has been taking a cue from literature since Georges Méliès adapted The Brothers Grimm and Shakespeare for film as early as 1899. Film as a medium expanded the narrative potential and, much like photography, changed art and our collective perception forever. For better or worse, we have been steeped in and obsessed by screen adaptations of the written word ever since. 

Screen adaptations have also enriched us with the classic and endless argument: WAS THE BOOK BETTER. Short answer, in general, is “yes”. My go-to example that demonstrates the rule is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The film version won five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director in 1976. Objectively, a Very Good Film. In fact Ken Kesey, the author, famously hated the film for the same reason I felt underwhelmed. Milos Foreman chose not to narrate the story from Chief Bromden’s point of view. However, the absence of Bromden’s narration, inner life, and hallucinations were impossible to depict on-screen with the technology available at the time, thus creating a very different tale than Kesey intended, indeed. 

Below, I listed several upcoming book-to-screen adaptations that I am particularly excited about, whether they will outshine their source material or not:

Westerners have collectively lost their shit over Agatha Christie adaptations for the better part of a century now. Reboots can be infuriating, but Christie’s work begs to be told again and again. Lately, Kenneth Branagh has been taking his turn at the helm of good ship Hercule Poirot. Starting with 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh seems to be having a great time starring as Poirot as well as directing the pictures. I’m a David Suchet stan, so while I don’t mind the occasional Peter Ustinov or Kenneth Branagh portrayal, I tend to prefer the PBS version of the funny little Belgian. Will still be watching the ever-lovin’ heck out of this, however mind you. (In theaters now).

This film was supposed to come out in 2019, but got pushed back to 2020 and then SOMETHING happened and it’s still waiting to be released. The screen adaptation stars Ben Affleck, while not a personal favorite, he does excel at playing the oily love interest who may not have his partner’s best interest in his heart ala Gone Girl. Perhaps you saw Ana de Armas in the delightful Knives Out. I adore her and think she’ll shine in this adaptation. (Hulu March 18th, 2022).

I started listening to this book earlier in the week. Got to say, I am hooked. Give me a juicy story about horrible people being horrible to each other and I am IN. Throw in an insane power imbalance, sexual politics, and what I believe is turning into a revenge plot and I’m as happy as can be. I’m going to risk it and say that this is going to make for one hell of a TV adaptation. (Netflix April 15, 2022)

That’s right, it’s time for another ‘Salem’s Lot adaptation. The 1979 version is still a lot of creepy fun, but looks pretty terrible. The 2004 adaptation looks great but never quite ascends to the creep level present in 1979. I’m excited for this redo for one because vampires are fun and gross and two, I promised a friend I would finally read something by Stephen King. I read ‘Salem’s Lot, almost entirely enjoyed it, and now look forward to a new take on an old tale. (In theaters September 9th, 2022).

I listed four projects I am personally excited for, but that is not to say there aren’t tons and tons of additional book-to-screen adaptations slated for 2022. Check out a longer list HERE. Did you notice that Denis Villeneuve is on board to direct Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendesvouz with Rama when he finishes up with the Dune sequel? I wish I cared about Dune, but I just don’t. Rama, now that is a story I would love to see writ large at the multi-plex. What about you? What adaptation are you most excited about? What is your historic favorite? We won’t ask Kesey tho, he’s bitter about it.

Posted in Adult, Fiction, Horror, Staff Picks, Teen & Young Adult

Horror Fiction Beyond King

By now, most of the people in my inner circle have received their jabs so I’m back to having houseguests. My friend B came to town last weekend. We had a lovely bonfire and ate many cheeses. The nicest time was had by all. There was a moment, however, that I managed to astonish and appall my guest with one statement: I Have Never Read A Stephen King Book. In the past my biggest librarian sin was not having gotten around to reading Harry Potter. Relax, I got that covered in 2019 and it was fine. My friend B, as it turns out, is a HUGE King fan and could not believe that someone who is a librarian, avid reader, and horror fan, has not once thought to pick up something by The Master. Folks, my reading list is well over one thousand titles and while Stephen King has for sure cornered a certain portion of the market, would you believe there are literally THOUSANDS of authors cranking out content at any given moment competing for my attention? I do not actively dislike King. His work is often an emerging reader’s first interaction with a “grown-up” book and extrapolates into a lifelong love of reading and learning. His work is not unworthy, just uninteresting to me, specifically. Below, I have listed several horror authors of note for those of you who have run out of Stephen King books (I understand that is nigh impossible) and for people who love King but aren’t sure where to look next for more great horror.

Mira Grant
Grant has been churning out some of the most genuinely creepy science fiction/horror for the last dozen or so years. She is preoccupied with various iterations of zombie apocoli and eldritch horrors of the deep. Grant is best known for her Newsflesh and Parasitology series and also writes under the name Seannan MacGuire whose catalog is well worth a look. For Grant, start with Parasite (2013) or Feed (2010).

Victor Lavalle
The Ballad of Black Tom (2016), is probably Lavalle’s best known book, but I first encountered him when I read The Changeling (2017). Any threadbare notion of ever having children was burned out of me after reading that book. The horrors of motherhood and more depicted in The Changeling gave me about a week’s worth of sleepless nights. Effective horror fiction, yes, but wow sometimes there are books I wish I could unread. This statement should be taken as an enthusiastic recommendation for the work of Victor Lavalle.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This one. Moreno-Garcia has been hitting it out of the park for years now, but had her breakout to mainstream success with 2019’s Gods of Jade and Shadow, which was an extremely satisfying fairy-tale-like epic based on Mexican folklore. Last year’s Mexican Gothic upped the creep factor by serving Shirley Jackson realness at a secret-filled crumbling mansion isolated in the Mexican foothills. Grade: A+++++++++.

Harold Schechter
Horrific, but not horror fiction. Schechter is a modern true crime master beloved to the true crime/podcast community. I learned about his work because my favorite horror/true crime podcast The Last Podcast on the Left often uses his work as their primary source. I listened to the audio version of The Serial Killer Files (2003) on Hoopla, which is a kind of “heavy hitters” lineup of the creepiest and most notorious serial killers of the 20th century. The solid research and clear prose were only overshadowed by the narrator mispronouncing Ed Gein’s name. My understanding is that we say “geen” rhymes with jean, not “gyne” as in gynecologist. As a daughter of Wisconsin this was glaring to me, which is why I’m having a hard time moving on. Check out Hell’s Princess (2018), one of Schechter’s latest, which details the totally bananas true story of Bell Gunness, butcher of men.

David Wong
Jason Pargin has been writing under the pen name David Wong since before his days as editor-in-chief at Cracked.com and now even that is several years in the past. His first full-length novel, John Dies at the End (2007), was originally written in serial form on the author’s blog. It’s fun to start with this book and work through his catalog chronologically to see how his writing gets better and better. It’s also such a joy to see a personal favorite get so successful. John Dies at the End ended up getting adapted for film in 2012. It starred Paul Giacometti and was directed by horror royalty Don Coscarelli. For non-horror stans, this was a big huge deal and made many fanboys and girls spin off into dorky paroxysms of joy.

Additional horror authors who are not Stephen King:

Max Brooks (World War Z; Devolution)
Octavia Butler (Fledgling; Kindred)
Tananarive Due (The Good House; My Soul to Keep)
Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indian; My Heart is a Chainsaw)
Grady Hendrix (My Best Friend’s Exorcism; The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires)
Joe Hill (Horns; N0S4A2)
T. Kingfisher (The Twisted Ones; The Hollow Places)
Ira Levin (Rosemary’s Baby; The Stepford Wives)
Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire; The Queen of the Damned)
Riley Sager (Final Girls; Home Before Dark)

As for me, I promised my friend that I would read minimum one (1) Stephen King novel within the next calendar year, so now I have the audio copy of Salem’s Lot waiting in my Overdrive/Libby holds. There are 12 other people ahead of me, so I imagine it will be well past spooky season by the time I get to check it out. Not to worry, because I try to keep that shit in my heart the year-round.

And as for you, what happens if nothing on the list stands out? Do not hesitate to reach out for more book recommendations whether they are for horror fiction, cozy mysteries, amish romance, silkpunk, Nordic noir, cashier memoir, you name it we will help find it for you.

Posted in Award Winners, Fiction, Kids 0-5, Kids 5-12, Staff Picks, Uncategorized

Code-Switching in Children’s Literature

Code-switching is becoming an increasingly popular practice in writing children’s literature.  Code-switching happens when one moves fluidly between two languages within written or spoken dialogue.  It is often used when a word cannot be directly translated or loses meaning in translation, or as a way of better illustrating themes where another language may describe something better or be more appropriate than English. Spanglish is a common word used when referring to the code-switching between English and Spanish.

Children’s books are an enjoyable way to introduce your child (or yourself) to another language.  If you are looking to incorporate a second language into your daily life or to keep a language alive in the home, books that use two languages are a good place to begin.  They often include a glossary with translations and use repetition to emphasize words that are in the language other than English. These books can be found in a variety of languages, but the most common are English to Spanish.  Below are a selection of favorites from Mead Public Library’s children’s collection (descriptions provided are taken from the book publishers):

La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya

The Princess and the Pea gets a fresh twist in this charming bilingual retelling, winner of the Pura Belpré Medal for Illustration.

El príncipe knows this girl is the one for him, but, as usual, his mother doesn’t agree.

The queen has a secret test in mind to see if this girl is really a princesa, but the prince might just have a sneaky plan, too . . .

Readers will be enchanted by this Latino twist on the classic story, and captivated by the vibrant art inspired by the culture of Peru.

Continue reading “Code-Switching in Children’s Literature”
Posted in Adult, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Staff Picks, Teen & Young Adult

Book I Have Been Saving to Read on Vacation

What’s your favorite coping method? Lately I’ve got two. First, I’ve been daydreaming and scheming over the past 14 months about having a mini road trip adventure. Soon I will leave my dark hovel and re-enter the bright, shining world, and when that time arrives I know which books are coming with. Which leads me to coping mechanism #2; keeping an eternal, endless reading list that will never get shorter, only longer. Always longer. Check out my list below for some summer reading inspiration of your own. What’s that? It’s not officially summer til June 20th? Why don’t you tell someone who hasn’t been living in their head for the better part of a year and a half, because I will never listen.

Below, I list my top three genres and the books I’ve been saving to read on the road, along with their runners-up.

The HORROR:


The Twisted Ones (2019) by T. Kingfisher

Some will know T. Kingfisher as Ursula Vernon, author of the very popular juvenile graphic novel series, Dragonbreath. She felt the need to create a pen name to distinguish the adult titles from the juvenile titles, and after enjoying work published under both names, I can see why. Kingfisher spins dark fairytale-adjacent stories filled with sinister characters, terrifying big boss-style monsters, and genre-defying badass women. Check out some of her short fiction HERE. I’ll look for a spooky roadside motel near the woods to read this one at night. 

Here are some additional titles to make your skin crawl:

The Luminous Dead (2019) by Caitlin Starling
The Remaking (2019) by Clay McLeod Chapman
The Library at Mount Char (2016) by Scott Hawkins
Behind Closed Doors (2016) by BA Paris


The MYSTERY:


And Then There Were None (1939) by Agatha Christie

Summertime is murder mystery time, specifically Agatha Christie time. There’s just something about the warmth and the light that makes me want to read her work. One would think that after being a Christie stan for more than two decades I would have already gotten to this gold-star standard, but no. Along with Death on the Nile, The ABC Murders, and A Caribbean Murder, And Then There Were None is considered among her greatest novels. I have seen minimum one movie adaptation but have since forgotten whodunnit, but should know the solution to the mystery by the end of my vacation, if all goes according to plan. Ideally, picnicking somewhere gorgeous.

And Then There Were None is also a fascinating example of how beloved media can, and should change over time. The original title of this book featured the worst racial epithet I can think of and was also known at one time as “Ten Little Indians”. To read more about the racism subsequent publishers have done their best to purge from Christie’s work, take a look at THIS article. It’s an apt topic to explore and discuss while everyone is so het up about “cancel culture”. Some things should be relegated to the past, and unnecessary and negative portrayals of racial stereotypes is one of those things.

More mysteries to read in the sunshine:


Secondhand Spirits (2012) by Juliet Blackwell (available in Overdrive/Hoopla)
The Devotion of Suspect X (2011) by Keigo Higashino
Murder In G Minor (2016) by Alexia Gordon (Only available on Hoopla)
Naked In Death (1995) by JD Robb

The SPACE OPERA:


The Outside (2019) by Ada Hoffman

This book checks a lot of boxes for me; outer space, giant space station, giant space station disaster, artificial intelligence, neurodivergent protagonist, woman author. The past decade has been a cavalcade of excellent women and femme-penned speculative fiction and scifi, all to the credit of the genre. Reading about far off galaxies and hitherto unknown beings gives me a sense of calm and peace that I can’t articulate. I’m going to read this at an outdoor patio while I wait to be brought something delicious to eat and drink.

And EVEN MORE space operas:

The Empress of Forever (2019) by Max Gladstone
Salvation (2018) by Peter F. Hamilton
The Stars Are Legion (2017) Kameron Hurley
Too Like the Lightning (2016) by Ada Palmer

Will I actually end up reading the books I have picked out? No way to tell. Chances are that I will find many distracting and cruddy paperbacks in secondhand stores while I gallivant far and wide.
All listed titles are available through the Monarch catalog unless otherwise specified. Don’t see any titles that float your boat? Why not give the Your Next Five Books tool a try? Never hesitate to reach out for tech help, book recommendations, or encouraging words. Email publicservices@meadpl.org or call 920-459-3400, option 4. Oh, and have a fantastic vacation.

Posted in Adult, Film, Staff Picks, Uncategorized

Loved This? Watch That!

When I finish watching an engaging, beloved movie or TV show I get a kind of emotional hangover. “Nothing will ever be as appealing and wonderful! Nothing will ever measure up to Cobra Kai. NOTHING! I will never watch television again so as to not break my heart thusly!” I cry while flinging myself onto the red velvet chaise longue we keep in the library employee break room (we do not, but I need it for some imaginary Victorian hysterics). And as always, after a few listless moments casting about on the various streaming services, I always manage to find something to watch that I love, rinse, repeat. Below, I listed several beloved movies and television shows along with media that will be similar in tone. The titles listed are all available on DVD in the Monarch catalog. 

If you liked Community (2009-2015) try Mystery Team (2009, rated R)

Although the final episode aired in 2015, Community remains one of the more imaginative and funny ensemble TV shows ever produced. It’s a personal favorite of mine and some episodes made me laugh so hard I cried. Community is a Dan Harmon joint, who is also the brains behind Rick and Morty, which is all well and good, but I would like to talk a little bit about the creative output of Community alum Donald Glover. Before Community there was “Derrick Comedy”; a comedy sketch group well-known for their YouTube skits. Check out their oeuvre HERE. (WARNING THEY ARE VERY SWEAR-Y).Their association culminated in the creation of the wonderful feature film Mystery Team (2009, rated R). The film explores what happens when a plucky bunch of Encyclopedia Brown-like mystery-solving grade schoolers reach high school and try to solve a grown-up crime. The Derrick Comedy crew wrote the script so expect campy surprises and funny twists. Be on the lookout for early screen appearances by Aubrey Plaza, Bobby Moynihan, John Lutz, and Ellie Kemper. Glover is also famous for writing on another beloved ensemble comedy, 30 Rock, so fans of this and Community would be well rewarded to give Mystery Team a go. Still need more Donald Glover action? You’re in luck; Glover wrote and starred in two seasons of Atlanta (2016-) which was just renewed for two additional seasons. Now’s the time to get caught up!

If you like Saturday Night Live (1975-present) try The Kids in the Hall (1989-1994)

Saturday Night Live has been a weekly comedy stalwart for 45 years, but what is one to do between Saturdays? You could watch cast compilations or holiday specials; Monarch has several in the catalog & the Chris Farley retrospective always cracks me up. But if you’re looking for something a little different, may I suggest legendary Canadian sketch show The Kids in the Hall? As founding member Dave Foley once said, if SNL is the Beatles of sketch comedy, then KITH is The Velvet Underground. Their surreal, fourth-wall-breaking comedy is often compared to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, as well. Both troupes were famous for their absurdism and dressing in drag when the sketch called for women characters. While they had recurring characters like SNL, such as a man with a cabbage for a head, a flying pig, and catty secretaries named Kathy and Cathy, unlike SNL, celebrity impersonations were limited to Scott Thompson’s hysterical Queen Elizabeth. The Kids in the Hall is the epitome of gen x humor, and I was pleased to find they hold up after all this time. If you are easily offended by queer humor, I feel bad for you, but also, you might want to stear clear of this series. For everyone else: prepare to die of laughter. 

If you liked Twin Peaks (1990-91, 2017) try Fargo (2014-2017)

Watching Twin Peaks as it first aired in 1990 was a foundational experience for me and shaped the way I now interact with media. As much as I loved it, I had to admit I had no idea what the hell was going on most of the time. It was visually stunning, the actors were compelling and watchable, and the comedy was black as pitch. For more of the same, but with a plot that makes sense, take a look at Fargo. Each season is a self-contained story, but the discerning viewer will notice that although time periods differ, each season’s plot relates to the others. The plot also relates to the 1996 film of the same name in clever ways. In addition to the stellar writing and gorgeous cinematography, get a load of the absurd cast list. Season one alone boasts Martin Freeman (an Englishman playing a Minnesotan; BRILLIANT!), Billy Bob Thorton, and Colin Hanks. Season two includes the best performance I have ever seen from the extremely talented Kirsten Dunst, as well as a fine turn by a top-notch Ted Danson. Season three features Ewan McGregor playing a set of feuding twins. Not compelled yet? Gosh, sorry you don’t like good television (winky face).

As stated earlier, all movies and television shows mentioned above can be found in the Monarch catalog on DVD. Need help searching the catalog or requesting materials? Call us at 920-459-3400 for troubleshooting help. Not too keen on the media I listed above? We can help with that too! Just give us a call and tell us what you like to watch. We can access literally thousands of different titles throughout the Monarch library system. Thanks for reading, and happy watching!

Posted in Adult, Film, Staff Picks

The Criterion Collection on Kanopy

Welcome back to “What Has Molly Been Watching on Kanopy Lately”. This week not only am I going to encourage every Mead Library card holder to get in on the Kanopy action, I am going to encourage one to get artsy with it by exploring the Criterion Collection titles specifically.  

So, what is the Criterion Collection, anyway? Founded in 1984, the Criterion Collection was created as a collective dedicated to preserving important film from around the world. As of now, Criterion boasts editions for over 1,400 films ranging from the dawn of the medium in the early 20th century to contemporary 21st century pictures. The editions they produce represent the best possible image quality and tend to include killer bonus content. You can check out their webpage HERE.

Kanopy offers 50 titles from this prestigious collection for your viewing pleasure. Below, I listed 4 of my particular favorites. 

Ikiru (Directed by Akira Kurosawa; 1952)

This is a real one, right here. Kurosawa’s best known films like Yojimbo, Rashomon, and The Seven Samurai (the latter two are also available on Kanopy), tend to be in the vein of flashy epic dramas. Ikiru’s power lies in its pure and assured performances as well as in its relatably mundane plot. Ikiru, which translates as “to live” is the story of middle-aged bureaucrat Kanje Watanabe finding purpose and meaning in the face of an indifferent world. His wife has passed away and his daughter and son-in-law care more about Watanabe’s pension than the actual man who is earning it. When a stomach cancer diagnosis gives him a year to live, Watanabe realizes it is not too late for him to do something that matters. This leads him to focus on helping a nearby neighborhood lose a cesspool and gain a playground. This film is so beautiful it hurts. Watch it late at night with someone you love, if possible, and hug them with all your might. If this picture grabs you, please also see Tokyo Story (1953) directed by Kurosawa’s great contemporary Yasujiro Ozu, also available on Kanopy. 

The 400 Blows (Directed by Francios Truffaut; 1959) 

This is the film most people think of first when they think French New Wave Cinema. In fact, one might argue that the film’s director, François Truffaut, is the movement’s most important founder. French New Wave Cinema was characterized by naturalistic, often improvised dialogue and lots of shaky-cam jump cuts. In fact, Truffaut used footage directly from his lead actor’s audition reel in the finished movie. The story is almost embarrassing in how personal it feels and gave me the same feeling I get when I read The Catcher in the Rye, which was published around the same time. If you want to be a cool film guy, you need to watch French New Wave. Kanopy also offers several films by New Wave heavies Jean-Luc Goddard and Claude Chabrol.

Pather Panchali (Directed by Satyajit Ray; 1955)

Let this quiet, gorgeous treat of a film transport you to a completely different time and place, outside Calcutta in the 1910s. The director relied on amatuer actors and improvised dialogue throughout the film to great effect. For instance, the actor playing young son Apu is possibly one of the most darling children ever committed to celluloid. And one can practically hear the wizened old auntie’s bones creak, she’s so old and bent over crooked. These are two members of an impoverished rural family we follow over the course of several years. They live in a crumbling ancestral home and subsist on the meager wage earned by the patriarch. The defining scene of the movie comes when Apu and his older sister, Durga, run away for an afternoon to see the train whose whistle delights them in the evenings. When they walked through tall grass together and shared a piece of sugar cane I felt nostalgia for a moment I never experienced. It reminded me how the best cinema should make us feel the big feelings that define what it means to be human.

Haxan (directed by Benjamin Christensen; 1922)

Talk about what’s old is new again! This OG work of docutainment is based on the director’s personal study of the Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th century inquisition manual. Over the course of 4 parts, Haxan warns against the dangers of mistaking mental illness for deviltry and starting a false witch-hunt. If that concept isn’t already appealing enough, upon its release in 1922, Haxan was widely banned for various content reasons including but not limited to torture, nudity, and other sexually explicit scenarios. While the “educational” or narrative thrust of the picture is shaky l promise you, the nightmare scenes are coo-coo bananas and satisfying to watch in a way that I don’t know how to replicate. MMmmaaaaaaybe steer clear of this one if you don’t find satanism to be as campy and fun as I do.

I hope this sparks some interest in exploring the Criterion Collection portion of Kanopy. Also, I would love to hear which films you’ve been loving and hating best. Call 920-459-3400 to tell me all about it, or for any other library assistance. Stay safe and keep watching good cinema!

Posted in Adult, Film, Staff Picks, Teen & Young Adult

Kanopy, Take Me Away From Here

People often assume I love books more than anything given my field and profession, and they aren’t wrong! I love books, so, so much. I love books like they’re alive. But my go-to vehicle for escapism has always been the warm embrace of film. If you haven’t sought out Mead’s video-streaming service, Kanopy yet, now is the time. Mead Library card holders get 10 credits a month and access to a staggering array of film across all genres. In addition to that, the “no-credit” viewing list has risen to 60 titles to meet our needs during the most leisurely pandemic ever. Below, I listed four movies to keep you entertained while we ride this stuff out.

A Town Called Panic (2009; 76 minutes; PG)
Sometimes I get envious of people when I find out they haven’t consumed my personal favorite movies. They get to have the experience of seeing it for the first time, and I can never feel that feeling again. Please watch this movie, I implore you. Y’all are in for a treat. Not only is it beautiful to look at and very charming, but it is outright hilarious and wildly creative. This is stop-motion animation at its most absurd and watchable. I’m so confident in its appeal that I am not even going to go into any sort of plot summary. It’s a French production, so make sure to watch with original French subtitles. Kids will dig on it, too! With or without subtitles. 

Black Christmas (1974; 1h 38m; R)
Why yes, this was recently remade and no, you absolutely should not watch the remake. For those of you who do not dig on horror, by all means skip right the heck over this entry. Not only is Black Christmas an early prototypic slasher movie often copied in tone a decade later in the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th but it is genuinely creepy! Originally released under the title “Silent Night Deadly Night”, we watch as one by one, members of a sorority succumb to the creep living in the attic. You may be surprised to learn that Bob Clark, the film’s director, would go on to direct A Christmas Story so he really had all the Christmas-themed genre films locked down by the early 1980s. This is a great pick for someone who is curious about horror but can’t handle too much gore. Also, it’s a good idea to wait until the wee ones are elsewhere before giving it a look. 

The Harder They Come (1972; 2h; R)
The plot is convoluted, the acting is terrible, the cinematography is eh, so why bother? This is the king of 1970s exploitation films and warrants a peek. And have I mentioned the soundtrack? Talk about escapism, it’s like sitting by the beach, you just need to stick a tiny umbrella in your drink. The film’s protagonist, played by Jimmy Cliff, is trying his best to get a recording contract while running afoul of drug dealers and corrupt record producers. Naturally, the soundtrack is peppered with the best reggae music and artists of the time. Only one other exploitation film comes close in musical quality and that is the immortal soundtrack to Superfly (also 1972), by Curtis Mayfield. I would not necessarily call The Harder They Come “lighthearted” but it is so far afield in location and time that one will be transported, if only briefly, to a place far from the realities of COVID. 

Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015; 80m; PG-13)
While the film was released in 2015, it is based on a series of interviews conducted by Truffaut over the course of a week in 1962 at Hitchcock’s studios at Universal. The interview series would go on to be published in 1966 as a book of the same name, and is still considered one of the most important books on film published in the 20th century. Psycho (1960), North by Northwest (1959) and Vertigo (1958) had already reached the big screen at the time of the interviews, and Rebecca won for Best Picture in 1940, but Hitchcock was still not regarded as the important auteur we know him as today. Truffaut, himself a young filmmaker, idolized Hitch’s work and used the interview time to go through all of his more than 50 films to date in chronological order with almost fetishistic zeal. The addition of interjected commentary by contemporary filmmakers fleshes out the scope and gravity of what Truffaut accomplished. WARNING! This documentary will make you want to watch Hitchcock’s entire filmography so be prepared. It might also make one curious about the work of Francois Truffaut. If this is the case, I have good news. My next Kanopy-centric blog post will focus on Criterion Collection titles available, which includes but is not limited to Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. Stay tuned! 

I would love to hear which films people have found appealing, and which…not so much. Let me know! Email me at publicservices@meadpl.org. I would truly love to hear some opinions and suggestions. We’re happy to help with any Kanopy-related questions, as well. Until next time, happy watching!

-molly

Posted in Adult, Film, Staff Picks

Credit-free Viewing on Kanopy

By now, many of us have been (should have been) sheltering in place for a few weeks. If you are anything like me, it has been a crash course in staying sane and staying entertained. My favorite form of escapism has always been film so I was thrilled when Mead acquired access to Kanopy last year. To the uninitiated, Kanopy is a video streaming service available to anyone with an active Mead library card and internet access. Here’s where you can find it: https://www.meadpl.org/streaming. Similar to Hoopla, users receive 10 viewing credits each month. I burned through my credits in March watching a very soothing film documentary series called The Story of Film: An Odyssey. It’s narrated by this smartypants film scholar with an Irish accent and man, was that ever a balm on my soul. If you like film history I highly recommend it. But what does one do when all the credits get used up? Not to fear, Kanopy has compiled a list of credit-free movies to help get us through this weird moment in history. Right now, the list is up to 54 titles. Here are my favorites, so far:

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946; starring Barbara Stanwyck and Kirk Douglas)

Melodrama! Cruel aunts! Femmes Fatale! Murder! Obsessive love! This movie has it all. Stanwyck is at her sharp-as-nails best while Kirk Douglas plays against type as her alcoholic weakling husband. They seem an ill-suited match, so why are they a couple at all? The dark secret that binds them together is unraveled in satisfying film noir style over the course of this two hour movie. If you love films like Double Indemnity, Laura, and Rebecca, you will likely enjoy The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

The King of Masks (1996; directed by Wu Tianming)

Aging street performer Wang is a master of bian lian, a form of opera that involves lightening-fast mask changing. He longs for a son to teach his trade to, which leads him to purchase a young boy from an illegal child market. When Wang’s new “son” admits that she is actually a girl, a story is set in motion that demands Wang re-examine what he values most in life. Simple and solemn performances coupled with crisp, beautiful cinematography made The King of Masks a joy to watch. This gorgeous character-driven film won the Golden Rooster, or Chinese Oscar equivalent, in 1996.  If you enjoyed the dynamics present in Paper Moon (1973), Mask (1985), or even The Bad News Bears (1976), you will probably enjoy The King of Masks.

Blame (2017; Written, directed, and starring Quinn Shephard)

This is NOT your typical teen comedy romp! While it shares some thematic similarities to mainstream hits like Easy A, do not expect light-heartedness or a pat ending. Protagonist Abigail returns to her high school after a 6 month stay in a psych ward. Why was she there and why does she dress like a 1950s holdover? Abigail soon develops a rivalry with an edgy girl for the attentions of their attractive English teacher. Told with increasing paranoia and dreamy creepiness, Blame parallels the elements of stage plays like The Crucible, to great effect. The unease is palpable and I found myself getting more and more tense as the movie wore on. Although Blame has an MPAA rating of PG-13, one might want to wait until the little ones are in bed before giving it a spin.

Zoo (2017)

Not to be confused with the 2018 zombie movie of the same name, this picture is the complete escapist package, even though the story is grounded in true events surrounding Luftwaffe attacks on Belfast. A group of children take it upon themselves to rescue a baby elephant from execution when soldiers are ordered to shoot dangerous zoo animals lest they escape their enclosures due to bombing. This movie made me laugh and cry so many times I lost count. It is joyous and tense and heartbreaking and unlike Blame, this big-hearted movie is great for the whole family. 

The above four films only begin to describe the depth and breadth of films made available for credit-free viewing on Kanopy. I frequently found myself outside my comfort zone, and getting rewarded for it in the end. There are so many more great films on the list that I am looking forward to exploring. What are your favorite credit-free movies so far? I would love to know. Write me at publicservices@meadpl.org with your picks. Use this email if you have any questions or difficulties accessing Kanopy, as well. Happy watching! -Molly