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Staff Picks/DVD Selections

Michael Tilson Thomas – CD Selections

In 2020, Michael Tilson Thomas will step down as Musical Director of San Francisco Symphony after 25 years. To pay tribute to the conductor, we’ve created a music CD display on 3A with titles that span “MTT’s” career including his work with London Symphony Orchestra and New World Symphony. MTT is known for championing  20th-century iconoclasts like Charles Ives, Steve Reich, and Morton Feldman. Mechanics’ is home to a large collection of 20th-century classical music, including pieces by these composers conducted by MTT. Stop by our new display on 3A and reflect on MTT’s career.


Did you know CDs can be enjoyed in the library? We have portable CD players and headphones one can check out from the 3rd Floor Information Desk.


Posted on Feb. 11, 2018 by Myles Cooper

Less Than 24 Hours to a New You!

With the welcoming of a new year, we often are motivated by the feeling of a fresh start and set new goals such as exercising more or eating more healthfully. Whether it’s learning to take better care of yourself or read a hundred books this year, our collection has plenty of audio books to help with your New Year’s Resolution. In just a few hours of listening, you can discover how to deal with stress, manage your money and more! Ok, it'll take some follow up effort too but these picks should help you get started.

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal

What Money Can’t Buy by Michael Sandel

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face By Alan Alda

You: The Owner’s Manual by Michael Roizen

You: Being Beautiful by Michael Roizen

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert


Don't forget to browse thorough out e-audiobook collection, available to download and listen instantly at RB Digital


Posted on Jan. 18, 2018 by Sou Phetsomphou

Art House Cinema - DVD and Blu-ray Selections

What is art house cinema? Picture a small, independent theater. In your mind’s eye, you’re probably not imagining the latest action movie or Summer blockbuster on the marquee. Instead, you may envision foreign, independent, or art films not intended for the mass-market. Many films that started out in art houses are now found in the collection at Mechanics’ Institute. Below are staff recommendations from the 2nd Floor DVD and Blu-ray display.

Heather says:

I’m still pining for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unrealized version of one of my favorite books, Dune by Frank Herbert. Fortunately, we have other films by this Chilean-French director, screenwriter, playwright, poet, composer, musician, and graphic novelist to whet our appetite for the surreal – in 1929, film writer David Church called his work “a hybrid blend of mysticism and religious provocation.”

Fando y Lis (Spanish language with subtitles) is an adaptation of a Fernando Arrabal play by the same name. Shot in high-contrast black and white on weekends with a correspondingly tiny budget, the film was first shown at the Acapulco Film Festival in 1968. The plot follows Fando and his girlfriend Lis through a postapocalyptic wasteland in search of the mythical city of Tar, where the true nature of eternity will be revealed. The narrative of the film mimics the workings of the subconscious, leaving much to the audience's interpretation.

The Holy Mountain (English language) is a surrealist fantasy film – directed, written, produced, co-scored, co-edited, with set and costume designs by, and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky! Partially funded by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Jodorowsky’s follow-up to Fando y Lis was shown at Cannes and various international film festivals in 1973. There’s extensive imagery from the tarot deck, and part of the plot involves a case of mistaken identity around the figure of Jesus – with plenty of confusing/interesting musings on the meaning of life. For instance, think of Marla’s iconic line about herself in Fight Club (“The girl is infectious human waste…”), which inspires the defining mantra of Tyler Durden’s space monkeys. One influential line from this film is, “You are excrement. You can change yourself into gold.” No spoilers: while watching this weird, mystical 1973 film, look for the many other ways it has influenced the mainstream modern films you know and love.

Sou says:

"Black Swan's imagery and storytelling were so vivid and memorable that I was compelled to watch it multiple times."

Rhonda says:

“I vote for "Withnail and I," which we have in our collection. If you have not seen this movie, and you like dark comedy, I encourage you to see it. Set in the late 1960's London, two unemployed best friends embark on a self-discovery trip to the English countryside.”

Myles says:

Even if you’ve already seen The Seventh Seal before, I recommend checking out our restored copy of the Swedish existential film by Ingmar Bergman. If you haven’t seen The Seventh Seal, this thought-provoking and beautifully photographed explores religion, faith, and the Black Death. For our Chess Club members, there is an iconic chess game between Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow) and the Death (Bengt Ekerot). Curious who wins? You must watch to find out!

Do you ever dream of writing a celebrated novel? Jep Gambardella, played by Marco Antonio Servillo, is a famous novelist who has retired to a life of parties and writing for a society paper in La Grande Bellezza. What happens to a writer who has spent decades resting on his laurels? Watch Gambardella reflect on love, regret, and his life in picturesque Rome.

Joel recommends:

A Woman Under the Influence - or pretty much any John Cassavetes movie. Cassavetes used his money from acting in Hollywood movies to produce and direct his own low-budget independent movies. The influence of his movies is hard to overstate – he helped define modern American independent film well before the term "indie movie" was ever used. 'A Woman Under the Influence' is one of his best and Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk give two of the most devastating acting performances you'll ever see.

Werckmeister Harmonies – Director Bela Tarr is known for his long-takes that linger and roam around complicated scenes, and this gorgeous film is packed full of them. Set in communist Hungary, the plot revolves around the arrival of a circus into a bleak and deprived town. The circus and its main attractions (a giant stuffed whale and a mysterious performer named "the Prince") unsettle the town and riots break out, sending the town into even deeper crisis.

Posted on Dec. 28, 2017 by Myles Cooper

Wintry Tales: AudioBook Selections

When cold weather sets in, we're compelled to bundle up in warm blankets with a hot drink and a good story.  The wintry tales in this month's audiobook selections will leave your hands free to decorate the Christmas tree, sip hot chocolate or bake gingerbread people.

Mike Cunningham The Snow Queen

David Guterson Snow Falling on Cedars also available as an eAudiobook

Jo Nesbo The Snowman Also available as an eBook

Maeve Binchy A Week in Winter

Sandra Brown Chill Factor

William Young The Shack

George Saunders Tenth of December


If you'd like to find something to listen to or read without leaving the comfort of home, check out one of our ebooks or eaudiobooks:

Gingerbread Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine, Leslie Meier. eAudiobook

Santa Clawed by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown. eAudiobook

Dirty Snow by Georges Simenon eBook

In the Kingdom of Ice: the Grand and Terrible Polar voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides eBook


We have many more ebooks at Axis360 and eaudiobooks at RBDigital so be sure to browse through the collection for your next winter read.



Posted on Dec. 13, 2017 by Sou Phetsomphou

Winter is Coming

Winter is coming.

Well, a little.

Here in San Francisco we don't get the dramatic winters of up north or back east, but around this time of year I start wearing my heavy jacket, reaching for my wool socks, and putting on a hat before I walk home at night. In the publishing world, holiday-themed books start showing up around this time of year – including all those fun holiday mystery novels. In the spirit of the season, this month at the Mechanics' Institute we're featuring books about winter – with all the ice and snow you (probably) won't see in San Francisco. We've selected a wide range of books, from literary fiction, to thrillers, to fantasy. Take your pick, grab a blanket and a hot cup of cocoa, and curl up with a winter's tale.

Heather Gudenkauf - Not a Sound
Orhan Pamuk - Snow
Katherine Arden - The Bear and the Nightingale
Yasunari Kawabata - Snow Country
Michelle Paver - Thin Air
John Straley - Cold Storage, Alaska
Ragnar Jónasson - Snowblind
Camilla Grebe - The Ice Beneath Her
Eowyn Ivey - The Snow Child
Maeve Binchy - A Week in Winter
Chris Knopf - Ice Cap
Sue Henry - Dead North
Arnaldur Indriðason - Hypothermia
Terry Pratchett - Hogfather
Neal Stephenson - Snow Crash

Posted on Dec. 7, 2017 by Lia Ryland

Coppola Family - DVD and Blu-ray Display

The Coppola film-making family is prolific and quite significant. Our current 2nd Floor DVD and Blu-ray selections feature films that were either produced, directed, written, or acted by a member of the family. Below are staff recommendations from the display.

Joel recommends:

Rumble Fish "A few years ago I caught a double feature at the Castro Theatre. I have no idea what the first movie was that drew me there that night, but the second feature (and the one I have not forgotten) was Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish. A box office bomb when first released in 1983, it now has something of a cult following and for good reason. Coppola described it as “an art film for teenagers”, and that sums it up pretty well: a black-and-white film about gangs of aimless youth getting into fights and trying to impress each other and themselves. It’s not the Godfather or the Conversation, but it’s a beautiful dreamlike movie that added another dimension to my appreciation of Francis Ford Coppola."

Adaptation "Nicolas Cage was actually born Nicolas Kim Coppola, the nephew of Francis Ford and cousin of Sophia. He dropped the Coppola name early in his career to make it on his own, and despite appearing in a few family made movies early on (including Rumble Fish) his career has taken its own distinct trajectory. And, for me, the high point of that trajectory was his 2002 film Adaptation, directed by Spike Jonze (Sofia Coppola's husband at the time) and written by Charlie Kaufman. In it, Cage plays the film’s screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, a neurotic and depressed screenwriter desperately trying to adapt Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book The Orchid Thief into a Hollywood screenplay. It’s a hard movie to sum up, but Orlean’s story about an orchid enthusiast gets intertwined with Kaufman’s invented story of adapting it, his neurosis, his made-up twin brother (also played by Cage), Hollywood culture, and bit of violence to make a film adaptation like no other."

Kristin recommends Acocalypse Now - "I love this movie! It may be long but it is captivating, good music and great actors make it worth watching. And Many memorable lines come from this movie such as: Robert Duvall's, "Charlie Don't Surf" and "I love the smell of napalm  in the morning!"; Marlon Brando's, "the Horror, the Horror"; and Martin Sheen's, "Never get out of the boat."

Ellen recommends:

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets "Get two Coppolas for the price of one. Nicolas Cage and Alicia Coppola. It's a sequel. . ."

Moonrise Kingdom "Co-written by Roman Coppola, this is a Wes Anderson film all the way. Quirky and surreal, well-known actors pop up as the story progresses."

Chris recommends "Lost in Translation may have taken home a bevy of awards, but Sofia Coppola’s first film, The Virgin Suicides, is every bit as powerful. It’s the story of the disastrously isolated lives of the 5 Lisbon sisters, and the lives of the neighborhood boys who were forever haunted by their inability to free them, and their inability, in retrospect, to even understand what was happening. The Virgin Suicides stars Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, James Woods, Kathleen Turner, and a number of cameos including Robert Schwartzman, Sofia Coppola’s cousin. More personal and moody than Lost in Translation, this haunting movie displays Sofia Coppola’s breathtaking cinematography and emotional resonance at their best."

Myles recommends:

Marie Antoinette "Sofia Coppola has an ear for music, and I adore the eclectic soundtracks of her films. Sofia's Marie Antoinette is a rock and roll, stylized, feminist historical drama that depicts the lavish lifestyle that few lived in 18th Century France."

Bram Stoker's Dracula "I seem to enjoy every Dracula film, but I love Bram Stoker's Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola. Optical effects replaced CGI with help from son Roman Coppola. What results is a Dracula film that feels as eerie as the originals, but the costume and feel of the film are distinctly reimagined. You won't find a Bela Lugosi look-alike in Bram Stoker's Dracula."

Posted on Nov. 26, 2017 by Myles Cooper

Family-Friendly Films

Films with an intergenerational appeal are what you’ll find on display on the Second Floor in October. Whether you are curious about animated movies that are popular with adults, documentaries that can be watched by children, or feature films that seem to work for everyone, you’ll find them, and be able to check them out, from our Family-Friendly Films DVD and Blu-ray display. Below are our staff’s recommendations.

A favorite of Mechanics’ Library staff, Ratatouille, is recommended by Deb, Chris, Rhonda, and Myles. Here are what the staff have to say:

Deb says “If you can get past the fact that there is a rat chef cooking in a top notch French restaurant, you can enjoy this fun film. You'll be hungry and smiling by the time it ends.”

Chris says “It’s won a lot of awards, appeals to (and is popular with) both kids and adults, has a lot of really subtle, not obnoxious lessons (there's a whole sub-text about washing your hands before you cook or eat). It touches on several family issues - getting along with family members who are different and learning to accept them, what family means, etc. And it's beautifully animated and has great music.”

Kristin recommends:

The Red Balloon: "A simple, nearly wordless tale, of a young boy and his adventures with a stray balloon on the streets of Paris." A must for any family that loves Paris, it was filmed in 1956 and includes great shots in Paris of the past.

Sing: "A bunch of misfit animals band together to help their koala bear friend save his crumbling theater. With a cast made up of punk rock porcupines, singing pigs, and a gangster gorilla, how can you not watch this movie?"

The Secret Life of Pets: "Do you ever wonder what your pet does when you're not home? Watch this movie and you'll be amazed at the adventures that occur behind your back."

Deb recommends:

Moana: "This fun take on folklore in ancient Polynesia as an epic adventure about a spirited teen who sets sail on a daring mission to save her people. Great music and animation."

The Sound of Music: "Our family knows this is my all time favorite movie. The scenery, the music and the story combine for a great movie (based on a true one) that will have you singing the songs long after the movie has ended. It is also sobering in the changes the Nazis brought to Austria."

Taryn recommends:

All Creatures Great and Small: “My six year old, who wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up, is all over James Herriot's tales of life as a rural vet."

Myles says:

Werner Herzog may not be a director that comes to mind when you hear “family-friendly,” but many of his documentaries are just that. In Encounters of at the End of the World, Herzog follows researchers as they brave Earth’s harshest conditions to further science in a film that is as much about the people who visit Antarctica as is it is about nature and wildlife. In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Herzog and a small crew document the oldest paintings made by humankind, the Chauvet Cave in Northern France in incredible detail. Herzog narrates blending anthropology and his artistic musings expanding the viewer’s understanding of Aurignacian and Gravettian humans.

Have you ever seen the wild parrots near Telegraph Hill and wondered how they got there? One way to learn more about the flock is to follow director Judy Irving as she investigates their caretaker, Mark Bittner, who introduces us to each bird and their personalities. Learn about San Francisco history, the social life of birds, and humans that maintain friendships with urban wildlife in The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

Posted on Oct. 5, 2017 by Myles Cooper

Thanks for the Memories

Have you ever considered writing your memoirs but don’t how to do so? If so, you must check out the Staff Picks Display in the second floor library. There you will find many books on where to begin and how to craft your memoir. Keep in mind that memoir writing will stir up a lot of emotions and one minute you’ll be laughing and the next you’ll be crying as you relive certain memories. In a way, writing a memoir is like having a second chance at life. It’s a way of reliving the past – but this time around you know the ending. To help inspire you with your writing, fictional memoirs, graphic novels, and biographies are included in the display. Many more biographies can be found in section 92 on floor 2A of the library.


For those who want to write, Taryn recommends:

Naked, Drunk and Writing by Adair Lara

You may remember Adair Lara from her days as SF Chronicle columnist - she's still hilarious and teaching a class in October on the art of memoir.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up by Lee Gutkind

Lee Gutkind is a god of creative non-fiction from essays to memoir.

Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy by Dinty W. Moore

Funny and waggish writing advice from a guy (not) named for beef stew.

Handling the Truth: on the writing of memoir by Beth Kephart

The book to read before you start writing.


For those who want to be inspired by another’s memoir, Myles recommends:

Louie, take a look at this! : my time with Huell Howser by Luis Fuerte as told to David Duron
An account of the long running California's Gold television program on California Public Broadcasting from the perspective of the camera operator, Luis Fuerte. I was a fan of the show, but I especially like this book because my grandfather was also camera operator, who worked on CBS shows like Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, and The Young and the Restless. It is interesting to read what one has to say who was not the center of attention but was there for every moment. A must read for every California's Gold fan.


For memoirs in graphic novel format, Erik recommends:

Flying Couch by Amy Kurzweil

Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. Georges


For fictional memoirs, Kristin recommends:

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada

Three generations of Polar bears share their story of growing up in East Germany during the cold war. Quirky literature at its best.


And finally, for those who keep diaries, Kristin recommends:

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris

Forty years of secrets, gossip, and soap opera plots are recorded in David Sedaris’ diary. His wish is for the reader to read the entries at random, not cover to cover.  It will be much more enjoyable that way. And he’s right, flip though the pages and read what catches your eye and you will not be disappointed.




Posted on Oct. 5, 2017 by Kristin McCarthy

“Wicked” Audiobook Selections

You don’t have to like Halloween to enjoy this selection of audiobooks with a supernatural twist. There were no scarcity of spooky stories to choose from this time around as Mechanics’ Institute members are avid readers of mysteries, thrillers and the like.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire (CD Fic Maguire)

Whatever happened to Dorothy’s arch nemesis, the Wicked Witch of the West? Wicked is about a land where animals talk, the Tin Man is a victim of domestic violence and a little green skinned Elphaba who grows up to become the infamous witch.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (CD Fic Bradbury)

This masterpiece of fiction weaves together dreams and nightmares, childhood memories and fantasies to create a magical tale about two boys, best friends Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, who come upon evil secrets.

The Book of the Dead by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (CD Fic Preston)

An FBI agent wrongly imprisoned; his gifted but mad brother about to commit a crime; a young woman on the edge of a breakdown; an ancient Egyptian tomb with a mysterious curse about to be revealed at a New York gala. A Aloysius Pendergast series book.

Stationary Bike by Stephen King (CD Fic King)

A ordinary household object seems to have otherworldly powers for Richard Sifkitz in this thrilling Stephen King  tale.

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie (CD Fic Christie)

When a 13 year old boasts that she witnessed a murder at a Halloween party, it falls to Hercule Poirot to unmask a murderer in Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery.



Need something to listen to now? Download e-audiobook and start listening immediately!:

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

The first in the popular Southern Vampire Mysteries and Sookie Stackhouse series and the basis for the HBO show True Blood

Tales of terror by Edgar Allan Poe

With The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cast of Amontillado and more.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

A story of time travel and romance; recently made into a hit TV series.


Other audiobooks to check out:

Saint Odd by Dean Koontz (CD Fic Koontz)

The Magician King by Lev Grossman (CD Fic Grossman)

Cell by Stephen King (CD Fic King)

11/22/63 by Stephen King (CD Fic King)

Revival by Stephen King (CD Fic King)

Selected Shorts. Poe! By Edgar Allan Poe (CD Fic Poe)

The Golem of Hollywood by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman (CD Fic Kellerman)

Posted on Oct. 5, 2017 by Sou Phetsomphou

Staff Picks: Do You Believe in Magic?

There’s magic in the air of the Mechanics’ Institute Library. Wizards and witches are casting their spells on the shelves of the Staff Picks Display. There are some enchanting books waiting to be read by you. Inspired by Harry Potter’s 20th Anniversary, the staff recommendations focus on witches, wizards, alchemy and magic. If you haven’t read the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (the first in the series) start there and then check out the rest.

Taryn recommends:

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
A fascinating Arthurian tale that will keep you on the edge of your seat!

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
Another vivid Arthurian tale, this one following the magician Merlin's life story.

Magical Mathematics by Persi Diaconis and Ron Graham (793.8 D536)
Behind every good magic trick there's math - get the theory behind the magic!

Heather says:

I absolutely adore V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series – start with A Darker Shade of Magic and read them in order (#2 A Gathering of Shadows; #3 A Conjuring of Light) – this series is compelling, stylish, and takes a refreshingly laissez-faire approach to gender. Its fluidity is part of its unrelenting charm, even as the world(s) crumble around the central quest of the novel. You might (over)simplify it categorically as the love child of Orlando and The Matrix – it’s far more complex than that though, so please don’t (simplify). However you describe it, it’s one of my favorite recent discoveries. Please enjoy!

The Magicians is the first in a trilogy by Lev Grossman, wherein young Quentin Coldwater attends Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy (in New York, not England). The book attempts to circumvent the comparison to Hogwarts by alluding to a Narnia-esque YA novel that Quentin and his friends are obsessed with, but this is definitely a “Hogwarts College” kind of novel, with a little Chronicles of Narnia thrown in, a hint of A Wrinkle in Time, and a soupcon of His Dark Materials… If that sounds appealing to you, dig in to this series!

Erik recommends:

The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft : eight weird mysteries of powerful women and supernatural skill-- told in words and pictures (741.5 D219)

Lia says:

I LOVE this topic because I read a ton of fantasy books!  Here are some of my favorites featuring witches, wizards, and all that fun stuff:

Uprooted by Naomi Novik - In this Nebula Award winner, a young girl is chosen every 10 years to live with the cold, distant wizard called The Dragon.  Uprooted follows a young girl named Agnieszka, and she's sure that her best friend, Katia, will be chosen by the Dragon.  After all, Katia is the bravest, smartest, most beautiful girl in town.  But when the Dragon comes down from his tower, it's not Katia who he chooses.  In this clever, beautifully written novel Novik plays with traditional fantasy tropes, along with an interesting take on Baba Yaga stories.

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines - Who could resist a book about a magical librarian?  Libriomancer follows the adventures of Isaac Vainio (librarian by day, wizard by night), who creates magic by pulling objects out of books.  In this fast paced urban fantasy, Isaac has to work together with a sword-wielding dryad to find the vampires who've kidnapped Gutenberg (yes, that Gutenberg).  This book is pure fun.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher - Butcher is one of my favorite authors, and I can't get enough of his novels about Harry Dresden, wizard and private investigator.  Working closely with the Chicago P.D., Harry Dresden investigates the oddball cases no one wants to deal with - or believe in.  In this first book of the series, the Chicago P.D. calls him in on a grisly double murder committed with black magic.  Storm Front is a beautiful marriage of urban fantasy and hard-boiled detective novels.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin  - I firmly believe Jemisin is the best fantasy writer alive today.  In The Fifth Season she introduces us to a land called The Stillness, a continent rocked by apocalyptic earthquakes.  The only people who can stop the earthquakes are Orogenes, people born with the ability to control the near daily shakes.  In this Hugo Award winner, Jemisin confronts issues of race, power, and the things people will do to survive. 

Deb recommends:

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (children's)
2017 Newbery Medal Winner
An enchanting book full of magic for those who love classic fairytales.

The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children by Keith McGowan (children's)
"I love children. Eating them, that is. So begins this funny, nail-biting adventure."

Well Witched by Frances Hardinge (children's)
Ever wonder what happens to all those wishes made with a coin toss into a wishing well? 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (children's)
This classic tale by C.S. Lewis will entice you to read all of the books in The Chronicles of Narnia series.

Kristin recommends:

Alchemy of Herbs –Transform Everyday Ingredients into Foods and Remedies That Heal by Rosalee de la Foret (615.321 F718) - Create your own magic in the kitchen and put that extra garlic and ginger you may have on hand at home to good use. This book has easy straight forward recipes that will help cure what ails you.

Posted on Aug. 30, 2017 by Kristin McCarthy