Waiting for Kylo

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” Thomas Paine wrote that during the difficult early years of the American Revolution. But he could just as well have been talking about my life in the months leading up to a new Star Wars film. The second full trailer for The Last Jedi was released this week and my excitement level is higher than Anakin’s midichlorian count. This. Movie. Looks. Amazing. While there are still two excruciating months until Episode VIII hits theaters, the past few years have seen the release of some phenomenal Star Wars content to help us all survive the wait. I want to tell you about a few of my favorites in our collection, but first a warning: if you’re new to Star Wars, there may be some spoilers below.

Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars opens in the early years of the Empire, on the Outer Rim planet of Jelucan. Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell are two natives of this world leading very different lives. Thane comes from noble stock. His affluent family has plentiful Imperial connections. Ciena has far more humble beginnings. Belonging to a lower social caste, her family is proud and loyal, but also poor and marginalized. Thane and Ciena are brought together, however, by their love of flying and dreams of attending the Imperial Academy. 

Lost_Stars.png

Through hard work and determination, they both make it to the Academy where they seem destined to rise through the ranks together. Despite their strong bond their relationship soon grows complicated. Ciena continues to take pride in the order and righteousness of the Empire while Thane begins to wake to the cruelty and oppression around him. As Ciena quickly rises through the ranks, Thane chooses to defect and join the fledgling Rebellion. Their linked paths thread through many famous battles and close escapes as the Rebellion grows and begins to find success. With the battle for the galaxy heading towards an ultimate confrontation, both Ciena and Thane are forced to decide between their convictions and their ties to one another.

Despite glowing reviews, I had low expectations for Lost Stars. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good YA romance, but that isn’t what I look for in a Star Wars novel. I was delighted and surprised to find that the romance in this book takes a distant backseat to Gray’s masterful retelling of many well-known Star Wars events from fresh perspectives. As such, this sprawling novel serves as a perfect companion to the films that are indelibly ingrained in my mind.

Zahn and Thrawn are two names that are inseparable and unforgettable for many Star Wars fans. Timothy Zahn is a legendary author, while the cunning Admiral Thrawn is his greatest character. Like many fans, I was crushed when Disney excluded these novels from the new canon. But Zahn is back! He has written a novel, aptly named Thrawn, that tells the story of this captivating alien’s rise through Imperial ranks and his struggles against the bigotry and other roadblocks he faces.

51BSAKW9bZL

Alternating between Thrawn’s perspective and those of two young Imperials who become key figures in his career, Thrawn reminded me of an interstellar Sherlock Holmes mystery. Thrawn is a brilliant tactician always several steps ahead of his rivals and enemies. He is often impeded, however, by his total lack of social graces and ignorance of Imperial politics. His assistant and companion, Eli Vanto, is a perfect Watson helping smooth the way when Thrawn’s unrefined manner is problematic, but also serving as an audience surrogate who allows Thrawn to flash his superior intellect. Finally, this book gives Thrawn his own Moriarty, a mysterious and brilliant smuggler turned Rebel, who will either bring Thrawn great glory or prove to be his undoing.

As someone who has read an awful lot of Star Wars books, Thrawn simply feels fresh. While helping build backstory from years before the Original Trilogy and providing clues for events yet to come, Zahn has shown that he is still among the giants of the Star Wars world.

Darth_Vader_Vol_2_final_cover

The inundation of new Star Wars books has also spilled over into the world of comics. Marvel has put out a string of wonderful volumes covering the Clone Wars, Lando Calrission’s early years, and everything in between. My favorite series is the Darth Vader run which takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Faced with the failure of the Death Star, Vader has fallen out of the Emperor’s favor. In order to re-secure his place as Palpatine’s right-hand cyborg, Vader must face down many daunting challenges including angry Hutts, newly rebellious planets, and force-sensitive rivals. And then, of course, there is a certain lightsaber-wielding Death Star destroying young pilot. He is especially pesky. 

While all of these aspects of Darth Vader are superb, it is Dr. Aphra who steals the show. With apologies to Han Solo, Aphra is the closest thing the Star Wars universe has to an Indiana Jones: a pithy and sardonic young archaeologist who comes into the employ of  Darth Vader. Throughout the series she is constantly skirting the line between rescuing the Sith Master and meeting the wrong end of his lightsaber. Oh yeah, she also has two droids, Triple-Zero and BT-1, who aren’t that different from R2-D2 and C-3PO except that they are sociopathic killers.

Capture

Murder droid? Murder droid!

I’m trying to keep this post shorter than an opening scrawl, but there are many more new Star Wars stories worth your time. Quicker than the Millenium Falcon on the Kessel Run here are a few more quick hits:

2927255

The Aftermath Trilogy, by Chuck Wendig: These books meander at times but do a nice job traversing the years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. They introduce some key characters, revisit some old favorites, and contextualize the rise of The First Order. Perhaps most importantly, however, the third book has a brief aside revealing the sad fate of everyone’s favorite mistake, Jar-Jar Binks:

The clown, they called him “Bring the clown. We want to see the clown. We like it how he juggles glombo shells, or spits fish up in the air and catches them, or how he dances around and falls on his butt.”

The adults, though. They don’t say much about him. Or to him. And no other Gungans come to see him, either. Nobody even says his name.

612nq+bwYGL._SY445_Star Wars Rebels: This cartoon, about to enter its final season, is a thrilling look at the years leading up to the Original Trilogy. Focusing on a rag-tag group of outcasts who are fiercely opposed to the Empire, Rebels has all the droids, lightsabers, hapless stormtroopers and goofy jokes you could want. It’s the rare kid-friendly show that can hold its own with an adult audience.

We also have tons of Star Wars non-fiction, including character guides, Lego books, origami how-to’svintage action figure valuations, and even a Haynes manual for the Death Star. If you’re need something to tide you over until 12/15, stop in and we will find you a book or seven.

Just two months to go, so I feel pretty safe saying it: Alllllmost there…

Imagine a Blogger’s Holiday

books for bloggers‘Tis the season for giving, and as you may have seen here on A Reading Life, we love the idea of giving friends and family books, books, and more books for the holidays. Leslie wrote about book-gifting traditions in her family, and we bombarded you with our staff members’ favorite books, music, and movies of 2015.

I’m here today to offer a different perspective. I’d like you to close your eyes (well, after you read this part first!) and imagine a holiday made especially for bloggers, specifically those here on A Reading Life. Do you hear each blogger’s distinctive voice? The types of books or music they usually enjoy? Okay, somehow you need to know to open your eyes now, even if you’re not reading this because I told you to close your eyes and you’re obviously an excellent listener. Are you back? Great! I’ve been thinking a lot about my fellow bloggers and have decided to share with you and with them the books I would give them if I had a pile of cash at the ready. The good news is that all of these books are available at the library, and I happen to know they all frequent it.

Heartwood
Heartwood, you post about books that may have skipped our radar the first go-round and new translations of epic reads. You have a firm grasp of worldwide literary fiction, but I have something more localized in mind. I offer you Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee by Shelley Fisher Fishkin. This book straddles the line between fiction and nonfiction–those good ole 800s. It takes the reader on a journey throughout the lower 48 and offers deep insight into the places that birthed America’s greatest words, from The Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton, Ohio to Angel Island in San Francisco. There’s even a chapter featuring the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library, where the Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture resides. You will love this book about books featuring a library!

Jennifer
Girl, you read all the books I am too afraid to even pick up, let alone read! But I finally found something we can both agree on: Charles Bukowski on Cats edited by Abel Debritto. Sure, there’s a black cat on the cover, its back arched and ready to pounce. But what else could this book shelved in the poetry section have to offer? I’ll tell you: filthy, hilarious poems about cats and their undermining ways, and excerpts of prose that tell you just what is going on in those feline minds. At 3 am. In the alley below. Nonstop. There are also some very heavy words, but I know you’re good for it.

Leslie
If there’s one thing I learned early on in my career it’s this: never recommend a picture book to a children’s librarian. Either they’ve already read it and loved it, or they’ve already read it and hated it. This goes doubly true for you, the librarian who buys those picture books for the library! But I’m going out on a limb here to bring you How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour and illustrated by Rebecca Ashdown. The message is solid: you don’t need a man to get things done for you. But it’s delivered in a way that is compelling for storytelling purposes. The text is conversational, and the illustrations are humorous and action-packed. If you can’t use it for preschool storytime, you could totally read it with your granddaughters at home!

Linda
You write these amazing Did You Know? posts for the blog, and I always learn something new! But you also run the successful and fun Crochet & Knit Club at the Evergreen Branch, so this book speaks to those creative fiber urges I know you have. Knitless: 50 No-Knit, Stash-Busting Yarn Projects by Laura McFadden has a plethora of ideas for you to use up those remnants I know every crafty lady has. There’s a huge range of project difficulty, as well as different uses–wearables, home goods, gifts, and more. No matter what color or type of yarn you have leftover from a project, there’s something in here that will speak to you!

Lisa
Although you’ve been focused on blogging about music this year, I know you have an adventurous palate and love to cook. I confess I couldn’t pick just one book for you, so you are getting two! My Life on a Plate: Recipes from Around the World by Kelis marries a little bit of musical memoir with recipes and an obvious talent for cooking. I had no idea that Kelis became a chef via Le Cordon Bleu, but paging through this cookbook made it obvious that girl is talented no matter what she does. And if you want to get a little more focused in your culinary adventures, Fermented by Charlotte Pike is just what you need. It covers kimchi, yogurt, labneh, miso soup, and more. You can also learn to make drinks like mead, kombucha, and lassi, though I know you will still prefer Priscilla’s lassi the best!

Margo
Not only have you founded and successfully run the overwhelmingly awesome Southside Book Club, but you also have a love of food and cooking. Therefore I give to you the gift of Simply Scratch: 120 Wholesome Homemade Recipes Made Easy by Laurie McNamara. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Laurie’s blog, but the Simply Scratch book follows in the footsteps of the Simply Scratch blog. Laurie doesn’t take premade shortcuts, preferring instead whole food options I know you’ll appreciate. I think you’ll find a lot to love about Simply Scratch, and maybe even find a recipe to bring to the next Southside Book Club meeting in February.

Richard
Science is your thing, and it’s definitely an area where you know more than I do! However, I know you really liked 2014’s What If?, so I now give to you Randall Munroe’s newest tome of amazingness, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words. Munroe is a genius, this we know. He proves it yet again with this book, where he uses only the “ten hundred most common words” to explain very complicated processes. Everything from toilets to car engines, microwaves to space exploration. Of course Mr. xkcd illustrates throughout, so we get simple words and basic pictures to help us along. This book is also ginormously tall, so it can be used for other things besides reading: flattening posters, shooing the dog off the couch, or knocking something off a tall shelf.

Ron
Like Lisa, this year you dedicated a lot of blogging to music. I’m really happy you both do this, as I am no good at explaining what music sounds like and why it would appeal to anyone other than me! You’re also into some out-there fiction, a lot of it touching on Science Fiction. Therefore you get Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong. Down below I’m going to post a quote from the dust jacket and you’re going to see why I might think this would appeal to the guy who can dig into Science Fiction and loves seeing an absurd plot travel along at light speed.

From the disturbed imagination of New York Times bestselling author David Wong, and all-new darkly hilarious adventure. Nightmarish villains with superhuman enhancements. An all-seeing social network that tracks your every move. Mysterious, smooth-talking power players who lurk behind the scenes. A young woman from the trailer park. And her very smelly cat. Together, they will decide the future of mankind.

In case that doesn’t hook you, on the back cover there’s also a life-size photograph of a cyborg hand (I assume–it has metal joints sticking through the skin) flipping you the bird. And did I mention the sidekick slash familiar c-a-t? You need this book in your life!

Just in case Santa is reading this, here are some books I wouldn’t mind finding under the tree:

carol wants

Nerdy Nummies: Sweet Treats for the Geek in All of Us by Rosanna Pansino
I am a nerd! I am a geek! And I love to make and eat sugary treats! Rosanna is behind the incredibly popular web series Nerdy Nummies and all of her talents translate perfectly into this book. The book starts off with teaching you the basic building blocks for the recipes that follow. And OMG, the things I could make with this book! D20 cookies! Motherboard cake! Mana and health potions! Can we just call this the gift that keeps on giving? Because it totally will be.

Notorious RBG: the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I am awed and inspired by this woman, and this book goes deep into her life while still being entertaining. The Tumblr of the same name is simply incredible, but if I had this book on my shelf I could get my RBG fix even when the power is out and I’m forced to read by candlelight.

Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy by Vesa Lehtimäki
I love LEGOs. I love Star Wars. And I love a great mash-up! Vesa originally created this book as a birthday gift to his son. Using the snowy scenes inspired both by his native Finland and the planet Hoth, Vesa composed photographs that became a sort of retelling of the space saga I love. Not only are the photos incredibly detailed and fun to look at, but I could get some serious macro photography inspiration, too.

So there you have it. Unfortunately, I don’t have a bucket of money to buy you bloggers these incredible books, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Happy holidays!

Fictional Non-Fiction

One of the more frequent questions we get here at the library is: What is the difference between fiction and non-fiction? The question is usually grounded in the very real need to know where a book is located in the stacks. The practical answer is that both are shelved in separate sections: fiction by the author’s last name and non-fiction by the Dewey number. If you are of a philosophical bent and want to know why something is considered fiction or non-fiction, well that is where it gets complicated. It seems obvious that non-fiction is ‘real’ and fiction is ‘made up,’ but in fact there is more crossover than you might think.

Case in point is the weird and entertaining world of fictional non-fiction. These books have avoided the fiction label and are housed in the usually serious and reality based non-fiction stacks. They are unexpected gems of fancy, shelved alongside their more serious brethren. Listed below are a few topics that house a lot of this fictional nonfiction.

User manuals for technically non-existent, but really, really cool vehicles:

deathstarThere are a surprising number of workshop manuals, many put out by Haynes no less, for fantastic vehicles in the Star Wars and Star Trek universes. Whether you want to figure out how to kick start the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive, fix the cloaking device on a Klingon Bird of Prey, or find out where the holodeck is located on a Galaxy-class starship, we have got you covered. Whatever you do, don’t pass up the Imperial Death Star: DS-1 Orbital Battle Station manual. Sure death is in the title, but you have to admit that the Death Star was a marvel of engineering. If nothing else, this book will give you an appreciation for all the hardworking men and women, most of them just trying to collect a paycheck, whom the Rebel Alliance thoughtlessly murdered. Twice no less. Just saying.

Not self-help:

zonetheoryWhile it is true that actual self-help books can seem a bit odd, there is a small subset that are clearly not intended to be helpful, one hopes, and are played for laughs. One example is Tim & Eric’s Zone Theory: 7 Steps to Achieve a Perfect Life. From the creepy images throughout the book and advice such as ‘friends are replaceable, money is not,’ this book is funny and disturbing which is to be expected from the creators of several Adult Swim TV shows.

7secretsIf you’ve ever seen the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, you know that none of the characters should be giving out life advice. But that is exactly what has happened in the book 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today. If you are still tempted to apply their maxims, take heed of the warning on the back cover: ‘Following the advice contained herein could get you arrested, maimed or killed.’

Alternative histories taken seriously:

federationSadly we don’t even have a moon base yet, let alone the wherewithal to set aside our differences and unify the people of earth, but if you want to read a future history where there is an actual Federation of Planets, definitely check out Federation: The First 150 Years. You also might want to brush up on The Klingon Art of War and read The Autobiography of James T. Kirk to prepare yourself for the brave new world to come.

timelordlettersWhile the library has lots of great books about Doctor Who, they tend to treat it as a television show that continues to be produced. True believers know that the Doctor must surely exist on some plane of Space/Time. For this select group we have The Time Lord Letters, a detailed collection of the Doctor’s correspondence including his application for the post of Caretaker at Coal Hill School to his telepathic messages to the High Council of Gallifrey.

Practical guides to fictional places:

portlandiaWhile Portland is an actual place, Portlandia is, well, a place unto itself. But don’t take my word for it. Instead check out Portlandia: A Guide for Visitors and learn about a city where Kyle MacLachlan is mayor, knots have their own store, and cars are not allowed. If you are feeling more hands on, definitely take a look at the Portlandia Activity Book to learn how to ‘Build Your Own Chore Wheel’ and ‘How to Crowdfund Your Baby.’

zombiesurvivalZombies may not actually exist at this point, but bad things have been known to happen. If you want to be safe rather than sorry and prepare for the coming undead hordes, the now classic Zombie Survival Guide is the book for you. Chock full of useful information (including ideal weapon selection, home preparation, and useful zombie weaknesses) this book will guide you safely, for the most part, through a fictional disaster. The one gap in this very thorough tome is nutrition. Luckily we also have The Art of Eating Through the Zombie Apocalypse which contains recipes as well as advice on how to get the calories you need to fend off the living dead.

The Fastest Hunk of Junk in the Galaxy

Nothing is more practical, necessary, and – let’s be honest – downright boring than a repair manual. I don’t mean to belittle the format. The last thing you want is witty dialog or a stunning use of metaphor when you are trying to change a spark plug. But the tedium of trying to always be clear and concise, manual after manual, must weigh on the writers.

Clearly this burden has gotten to the folks who produce the Haynes Repair Manual series. Tucked away amid the usual Ford Escort and Chevrolet Nova guides, are some truly odd and fantastical Haynes repair manuals that have come out recently.

Haynes Boeing 747Take, for instance, the Boeing 747 : 1970 Onwards (All Marks) Owner’s Workshop Manual. If you just happen to own a Boeing 747, a 350 million dollar investment (and that’s without the engines), this is the manual for you. Actually since the book is only 168 pages I’m guessing you might need a little more information, not to mention a grounds crew, to fly and maintain the aircraft. Still it is a fun read and packed with useful facts: who would have guessed that an oil change is rarely, if ever, needed?

Haynes U.S.S. EnterpriseThe jump from the improbable to the impossible begins with the U.S.S. Enterprise NX-01, NCC-1701, NCC-1701-A to NCC-1701-E : Owner’s Workshop Manual. Starting in the model year 2151 this manual examines (in a level of detail only the lovingly obsessed possess) the history, major technologies and functions of every starship with the name of Enterprise. If you are curious about warp propulsion, holodecks, photon torpedoes, and deflector shields, this manual will not disappoint. The section on How Transporters Work, complete with a second by second operational timeline, is not to be missed.

I must admit, it was a kick to see how the authors put together all of the various television series and movies into one cohesive narrative based on a fictional ship. The manual shows no evidence of the internecine conflict that can happen between the different series’ admirers. It just depicts a united Federation going where no man/one has gone before. If all this goodwill isn’t to your liking, then definitely check out the Klingon Bird-of-Prey : I.K.S. Rotarran (b’rel-class), Owner’s Workshop Manual.

Haynes Millennium FalconSpeaking of rivals, that other great science fiction universe has a manual as well. Yes it’s the Millennium Falcon Modified YT-1300 Corellian Freighter: Owner’s Workshop Manual. As I’m sure you know from your Star Wars viewing, the Millennium Falcon is in constant need of repair so a manual makes perfect sense. Learning how to fix, temporarily, that pesky hyperdirve and how to successfully navigate an asteroid field (the odds of which are approximately 3,720 to 1) are just a few of the helpful skills you will learn. You will also find out about the famous pilots of the Falcon including Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca and of course Han, I shot first, Solo.

Being of a more Imperial nature, I hope the rumors are true that an Owner’s Workshop Manual for the Death Star is in the works. Until then I will have to content myself with the current petition to the United States government to build a Death Star by 2016. Having achieved 25,000 signatures it meets the rules for an official Presidential response. I’m hoping that James Earl Jones will deliver the decision.

Richard