Recommended: “It’s Superman! : A Novel” by Tom DeHaven

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(Recommended by Krupp Library Circulation Assistant Bill Doughty)

Lots of people have written prose novels featuring comic book / comic strip characters over the years, and more often than not, the end results fall into one of two categories.  You either end up with a fairly traditional sort of comic story, with extra exposition subbing in for the pictures in order to move the plot along, or else the author attempts to reconceive the characters and setting in some sort of ironic and/or postmodern context.  Neither approach is wrong, necessarily, and there are some good examples from both schools of thought (a whole lot of really bad ones, too), but there aren’t a lot out there that bridge that gap.  Tom DeHaven’s It’s Superman! : A Novel, however, is one of the few that does exist in that much sought-after middle ground.

Now if you come into this expecting something along the lines of the sort of Superman stories you see at the movie theater or at the local comic book store every Wednesday, you’ll be in for a bit of a shock.  DeHaven takes his story of the Man of Steel back to the character’s origins… not Krypton, but the 1930s.  The Superman who first appeared in 1938’s Action Comics #1 was somewhat different than the hero we know today – he could leap tall buildings in a single bound, but couldn’t quite fly yet, a powerful enough explosion could make him bleed, and he was sometimes as much a hindrance to the police as a help – and it is this period’s version of the character we come to know over the course of the novel.  Smartly, he also tells the stories of two other people important to the mythos, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, in parallel to Clark’s own, their paths slowly crossing and, soon, completely intertwining, as they eventually grow into the characters we’ll recognize once Superman’s comic book exploits begin.

And that’s the real strength of DeHaven’s work here – exploring the unprobed pasts of these otherwise familiar presences, adding motivations and even providing potential answers  to questions we might not have even thought to ask ourselves.  How would it feel to be knowingly different, alien, to everyone else around you in Depression- and Dust Bowl-era Kansas?  What events lead a farmboy to fight social injustice in the biggest city in the world (and why does he dress like *that* when doing so)?  How does a top-of-her-class journalism student fight to get her foot in the door of the male-driven journalist game, and if she really is so smart, how can she not figure out the man she loves and the man she just barely tolerates are the same guy?  Why drives a certifiable genius to crime when he could use his gifts to help the world, and why does he seem to actually enjoy squaring off against so powerful an enemy (and where do all those robots of his come from, anyway)?

DeHaven walks a fine line as he tries to find new wrinkles in a story that most people already know coming into this (seriously, how many people don’t know the basics of the Superman story by now?), but by going back to the period of the characters’ real world origins, and focusing more on Man than Superman (apologies to George Bernard Shaw).  It’s a bit like the show “Smallville” by way of John Steinbeck, really… and weird as that may sound, it kind of works.

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Bryant-owned painting gets some national exposure

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"Figure of Discovery (Columbus)" by William Morris Hunt

“Figure of Discovery (Columbus)” by William Morris Hunt, a painting that is part of the Art @ Bryant collection, is featured on the cover of the October 2008 issue of College & Research Libraries News, the journal of the Association of College & Research Libraries.  The cover reproduces the painting quite nicely, and there’s a brief, interesting write-up about its history on one of the contents pages, but if you’ve managed to misplace your copy somehow (I mean, you do subscribe, right?), you can see the genuine article on display in one of the cases by the entrance to the rear stairs on the library’s main floor.  Be sure to check it out sometime!

How to find this stuff when it is not available in our catalog.

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“Okay,” you say, “these books all sound fantastic, but I’ve looked through the HELIN catalog, and in Brown’s catalog via InRhode, and I still can’t find all of them.  How do I find them (without, you know, buying ‘em)?”

Well, the answer is pretty simple.  Just like a book (or article, or film, or excerpt, etc.) you might need for a class but can’t find through the usual channels, you can put in an Interlibrary Loan (ILL) request and have us search outside HELIN for you.

All the info you could ever need about how, where, and when to place an ILL request can be found here, or if you’re an old pro at this sort of thing and want to jump straight to the request page, click here.

Remember, never be afraid to use the resources we provide to help you track stuff down, even if you’re worried about wasting our time on “just” leisure reading.  Helping people find books of any kind isn’t a waste of time at all… in fact, it’s sort of our thing at the library, you know?

Recommended: “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Charles C. Mann

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(Recommended by Phil Johnson, MBA/MSIS 2008)

Here is a recommendation for you from a recent alumnus.

Title:  “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus”
Author:  Mann, Charles C.
Publisher:  Vintage
ISBN:  1-4000-3205-9

Don’t be daunted by the off-putting title.  Although it sounds like a heady post-modern celebration of Columbus bashing, it is anything but (well, there may be a little Columbus bashing).  Mann’s writing style can immediately lump this tome into the “leisure reading” category due to his engaging prose. Mann does for pre-Columbian history what Yasunari Kawabata did for the game of go — he makes it interesting and, at times, almost exciting.  Even if the subject matter bores you to tears, the writing will safely ferry you along through the white water of insomnia-curing anthropological theories and arguments.

The main premise of the book is that the pre-Columbian populations of the Americas were not the ineffectual and innocuous civilizations that our schoolbooks made them out to be.  They actually had a great effect on the American landscape ranging from the management of the so-called wilderness (both North American and Amazonian) to huge civil engineering projects around the Missouri/Illinois/Mississippi region. The book explores a variety of civilizations along with first person accounts of archeological excavations and interviews with scientists and scholars (that sometimes even border on the deliciously catty).

The author breaks the book up into three sections.  Part one can be summarized to “everything you’ve been taught about the indigenous peoples of the Americas is wrong and I will tell you why.”  Part two:  “Holy crap!  There were gazillions of people living here long before Columbus!”  Part three:  “The indigenous peoples way back when were not as unsophisticated as you think they were — they were far more sophisticated than we are now, they just changed the landscape in very subtle ways that we never noticed before; and you heard it here first.”

So, with “1491″ it’s come for the writing, stay for the (sometimes irreverent) anthropology.  You will be entertained and, if you’re not careful, you’ll probably learn a thing or too.  Never before have I read a detailed account of a species’ extinction told with such milk-through-the-nose hilarity.

Recommended: “American Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld

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(Recommended by Kaitlin Sidorsky, Class of 2011)

As an avid reader and a lover of politics, Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book American Wife appealed to two different sides of my nature. Although a work of fiction, it lends a very humane quality to not only the life of the President, but his family members who are equally as involved in his administration.

American Wife tells the story of Alice Blackwell, current first Lady of the United States, a woman who is eerily similar to the current First Lady Laura Bush. Alice Blackwell’s Husband, Charlie, and Charlie’s parents are also based off of the Bush family with added twists to each character to make them unique. What made this such an enjoyable read was not only the immersion into Alice Blackwell’s psyche but the humane quality it gave to the people involved in an administration. It is often that people forget that those who are making decisions, or who are closely involved with those who make the decisions, are real people. They have feelings, unique life experiences, and perhaps even differing opinions. It shows that a First Lady or first child is not the same as the President himself or his views. Each family member has their own history and what the public perceives them as is not always who they truly are.

Curtis Sittenfeld brings up extremely important questions about family, politics, destiny, the choices we make and the ultimate paths our lives take. She allows us to not only become Alice Blackwell but to recognize ourselves in her in some way. The fact that the reader can understand the thoughts, feelings and experiences of Alice Blackwell is only made more interesting and amazing because she becomes the First Lady of the United States. What made this possible is that for the majority of the book we learn of Alice Blackwell’s life journey, how she became the person she is today.

Alice Blackwell’s life’s choices are extremely important in this novel and her constant questioning of them is central to the plot. In one of the most revealing parts of the book, Alice recounts an embarrassing moment when she walks in through a door of a bathroom in a country club and thinking the other one is for the toilets, finds that it is just another entrance/exit. Instead of using the other door for the toilets, she walks out as if meaning to do that all along so that she doesn’t have to embarrass herself. Later on in the book she looks back on this small episode in her life and relates it to her husband’s presidency by saying:

“I feel a growing suspicion that Charlie continues to fight this war for much the same reason I couldn’t bring myself to reenter the ladies room at the Maronne Country Club, and he even has my compassion, except for this- that night at the club, when I needed to urinate and hadn’t, the only one who suffered for my foolishness was me.”

This was an excellent book and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys not only learning about the life of someone else but learning a little bit about themselves along the way.

Recommended: “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein

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(Recommendation written by Helen Senecal, Assistant Director of Transfer Admission )

I read your email yesterday about submissions for books to read for leisure!  I think this is a great idea and would love to make a recommendation.

I just finished reading “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein and would heartily recommend this book!  For those who have pets (particularly a dog) or have had pets in the past, this book is a humorous narrative of the human condition as seen through the eyes of a dog, Enzo.

Enzo is adopted as a puppy by a family and immediately understands that he is different from humans.  He passionately believes in reincarnation and that he will come back as a human.  As such, he is determined to learn how to be “human.”  This book is about the relationships between Enzo and Denny (the father), Eve (the mother), and Zoe (the child). Denny is an aspiring Formula One racer whose philosophy about life is much aligned with his view of racing… the best racers learn to control not only their car but themselves during the ultimate test of endurance, racing in the rain.  Enzo learns from Denny this “art” as he philosophically observes toward the end of his life as a dog, “I know this much about racing in the rain.  I know it is about balance. It is about anticipation and patience… but racing in the rain is also about mind!  It is about owning one’s own body.  About believing that one’s car is merely an extension of one’s body.  About believing that the track is an extension of the car, and the rain is an extension of the track, and the sky is an extension of the rain.  It is about believing that you are not you; you are everything; and everything is you.”  (pg. 314).  A thoroughly enjoyable read, full of humor, philosophy, and pure love.  Read it and tell me you won’t look at your pet and think, I wonder?

Changes in our Leisure Reading section, and how you can help decide its future.

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As you may know, we’ve been getting the books for our Leisure Reading shelf on a rotating basis as part of a loan/subscription agreement with McNaughton Publishing.  We’ve decided to end this subscription and are going to start outright purchasing leisure reading titles from now on, at a rate of roughly five per month.  We think this will add some variety to the sort of leisure titles we carry, and hopefully appeal to a wider audience (also, doing things this way ends up saving us some money, which is always nice).

But in order to actually reach out to that wider audience – which is you, by the way, we need input!  Got a favorite author?  Looking for a particular title that no one else in HELIN seems to own (or if someplace does, the waitlist is just too long)?  Let us know!  Leave a comment below, or else contact a member of the library staff (either Trish Schultz or Helen Matteson would be the quickest path, but any of us can pass suggestions along).  Remember, we can’t buy the books you like if you don’t tell us what you want to read!

As for the McNaughton collection, it’ll be phased out by December.  So if there’s anything on those shelves that you want that you haven’t been able to get to yet, I’d get cracking if I were you!