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Staff Picks/DVD Selections

DVD Selections: France on Film

With Bastille Day just around the corner, now is a great time to celebrate the rich history of France and their films. From the 50’s pioneering French New Wave movement, to the 80’s and 90’s flashy Cinema Du Look, to a recent move towards social-realism, France has and continues to be a main player in the global cinema scene. In addition to our favorite films produced by that country, we have also selected a few with settings in France. Our love affair with the literature, food and culture of France runs deep, and Americans have frequently paid tribute in their own works. Below are just a few of the many titles currently available from the 2nd floor DVD display, come check them out!

Heather recommends the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and his particular style of playful, weird, and wonderful filmmaking. 

Delicatessen  is a comedy, of sorts, set in a post-apocalyptic famine-ridden world; the story centers around an apartment building above a deli run by a butcher who finds, shall we say, *creative ways* to feed his tenants. The City of Lost Children is inhabited by a mad scientist who steals children’s dreams to fuel his own existence; it's a disturbing but beautifully rendered film. Amélie, Jeunet’s most well-known feature, retains all of the surreality of his earlier films, but takes a charming turn as a romantic comedy with a twisty plot. Mechanics’ Institute Library owns these DVDs, as well as most of Jeunet's other films in French A Very Long Engagement and Micmacs for your viewing pleasure.


Deb recommends The Pink Panther, which introduces us to Peter Sellers' hilarious Inspector Clouseau and stars some well known actors of the time, as well as the sequel A Shot in the Dark, a fun romp reprising Seller’s bumbling Clouseau role.

and The French Chef with Julia Child, which includes 18 episodes of her original 1960's series. Included are downloadable recipes for starters, side dishes, main courses and desserts. This series pairs well with Julie & Julia, which depicts Julia Child's life with her husband in Paris while Queens resident Julie Powell decides to cook every recipe in the cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking (641.5944 C53m) over the course of one year.     

Taryn recommends Lola Montez.

No one was more ravishing than Lola Montez - especially when she performed her signature spider dance! Masterpiece or flop? In brilliant Technicolor, this will keep cinephiles and story lovers talking.

and Moliere. A fanciful, lushly filmed biography of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, a.k.a. Moliére, the 17th century French playwright. Get ready for coquettes, cuckolds, and croissants!

Chris recommends The Secret of the Grain.

Recently laid off, aging family patriarch Slimane decides to invest the rest of his money and energy into a restaurant showcasing the exceptionally good couscous of his ex-wife Souad. Their extended family then takes center stage, as they eat, laugh, drink and fight together, coaxing Slimane’s dream into being. As though Mike Leigh were airlifted from London and placed on the coast of France, widening his emotional palette without losing his keen ear for conversation, director Abdellatif Kechiche pays a complex and understated tribute to family and the social realities of immigrant communities in France.

Posted on Jul. 10, 2015 by Chris Taylor

Staff Picks: Splendid Summer Reading

The days are longer, maybe a little lazier. You might even be tempted to use a sick day for a beach day. C’mon, what else are you planning to use all the extra daylight for, but to read by it! This month, Mechanics’ Institute’s staff bibliophiles recommend interesting, immersive fiction that we consider un-put-downable! Come check out the display and see if you agree.

A few recommendations to whet your appetite:

Chris recommends Outline by Rachel Cusk.

A quiet book of deep observation and insight, Outline follows narrator Faye during her brief teaching stint in Greece, primarily through the interactions she has with others, many fellow travelers like herself. Conversationally withholding, we glean Faye's personality and worldview through her internal assessments of those she meets. Autobiographical in a uniquely indirect manner, this look into strategies and habits of self-representation is highly intelligent, readable and original.

Deb recommends The Beekeeper's Apprentice and the other Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King.

I love Sherlock Holmes and when I stumbled upon the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King, I was able to continue my enjoyment of his adventures written from a woman's point of view who is a true match for his intellect and wit.

Heather also recommends So Much For That by Lionel Shriver.

I’ve made the pronouncement so many times, my friends are tired of hearing it: Lionel Shriver is one of the best writers of our generation. Everything about her works is atypical – she can’t be pigeonholed into a “type” of story – whether she’s writing about the risks of motherhood (We Need to Talk About Kevin), the perils of self-righteousness (Game Control), or smug terrorists caught in a cult of personality (The New Republic), Shriver’s expertise is in writing characters as if she doesn’t care whether you like them or not. Most often, you don’t (I despised the narrator of her most recent book, Big Brother, for instance). So Much For That is my favorite of her books – there’s no flinching at the interconnected trauma inflicted by the health care system, multi-layered family dynamics, and the strange jealousies that overtake the characters in this novel.


Zadie Smith White teeth

Daniel Alarcon Lost City Radio

Niccolo Ammaniti I'm not scared

Benjamin Anastas The faithful narrative of a pastor's disappearance

Alaa al Aswany Chicago

Alessandro Baricco Ocean sea

Richard Bausch Before, during, after

Matt Bell In the house upon the dirt between the lake & the woods

Naomi Benaron Running the rift

Roberto Bolano Woes of the true policeman

Agota Bozai To err is divine

Mike Bryan The afterword

NoViolet Bulawayo We need new names

A.S. Byatt A whistling woman

Angela Carter The magic toyshop

Anita Desai Fasting, feasting

Charlotte Greig A girl's guide to modern European philosophy

Daniel Handler We are pirates

Kaui Hart Hemmings The possibilities

Sheila Heti How should a person be?

Lindsay Hill Sea of Hooks

Takahashi Hiraide The guest cat

Eva Hoffman Appassionata

Dara Horn A guide for the perplexed

Gil Hornby The hive

Nick Hornby How to be good

Michel Houellebecq The elementary particles

Tom McCarthy Remainder

Leah Stewart The myth of you & me

Jessica Maria Tuccelli Glow

Padma Viswanathan The toss of a lemon

Wendy Wasserstein Elements of style

David Whitehouse Bed

Gene Wilder My French whore

Gabrielle Williams Beatle meets Destiny

Meg Wolitzer The wife

Daniel Woodrell The death of Sweet Mister

Tiphanie Yanique Land of love & drowning

Banana Yoshimoto The lake

Yu Hua Brothers

Alejandro Zambra; translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell Ways of going home

Jenny Offill Dept. of speculation

D. E. Stevenson; with a new preface by Aline Templeton Miss Buncle's book

Rachel Cusk Outline

Alex Gilvarry From the memoirs of a non-enemy combatant

Paolo Giordano The solitude of prime numbers

Eliza Granville Gretel & the dark

Miranda July The first bad man

Lionel Shriver So much for that

John Boyne This house is haunted

Anita Diamant The Boston girl

Peter Ackroyd The casebook of Victor Frankenstein

Antonia Arslan; translated from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock Skylark Farm

Aryeh Lev Stollman The illuminated soul

Leo Tolstoy; translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky War & peace

Sarah Jamila Stevenson The Latte Rebellion

Tonino Benacquista ; translated by Emily Read Malavita

Michael Gregorio Days of atonement

Joanne Harris Gentlemen & players

Terry Hayes I am Pilgrim: a thriller

Laurie R. King The art of detection

Jon Stock Dirty little secret

Helene Tursten; translated by Katarina E. Tucker The torso

John Brandon A million heavens

Neil Gaiman The ocean at the end of the lane: [a novel]

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The thing around your neck

Robin Black If I loved you, I would tell you this: stories

Robert Olen Butler A good scent from a strange mountain: stories

Guo Songfen; edited & with an introduction by John Balcom Running mother & other stories

David Guterson Problems with People: Stories

Koji Suzuki; translation, Glynne Walley Birthday

Yoko Tawada; translated & with an afterword by Margaret Mitsutani Facing the bridge

Laurie R. King The god of the hive: a novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes

Kurt Vonnegut Galapagos

Julia Alvarez How the Garcia girls lost their accents

Margaret Atwood Oryx & Crake

Richard Brautigan In watermelon sugar

Mikhail Afanasʹevich Bulgakov The master & Margarita

Hortense Calisher The novellas of Hortense Calisher

Amy Ephron A cup of tea

William Gaddis J R

Peter Høeg; translated by Barbara Haveland The history of Danish dreams

Laurie R. King The beekeeper's apprentice: or, On the segregation of the queen

Vladimir Nabokov Despair

Carol Olwell; commentary by Judith Lynch Waldhorn A gift to the street

Irvine Welsh Marabou stork nightmares

Jeanette Winterson Art & lies: a piece for three voices & a bawd

Posted on Jul. 6, 2015 by Heather Terrell

DVD Selections: LGBTQ Pride


With the annual Pride parade making its way down Market Street in just a few weeks, we honor the legacy of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer individuals by highlighting some of our favorite films that have been created for, by or about the community. From politically charged documentaries to campy and fun fare, below are just a few of the many titles currently available from the 2nd floor DVD display, come check them out!

Kevin recommends High Art.

Don't miss Ally Sheedy in her comeback role as Lucy Berliner, a once famous photographer now living a reclusive life with her heroin-addicted, German actress girlfriend, played by Patricia Clarkson.  Lucy begins to fall in love with her younger (and straight) neighbor, Syd, after a chance meeting and, of course, things get complicated.

Craig recommends The Boys in the Band.

Released in 1970, it was the first major-studio production to deal frankly with homosexuality and is a milestone in the history of American cinema. Every member of the show's original Broadway cast appears in the film, including Laurence Luckinbill as an out-of-the-closet husband and father.


Taryn recommends The Oscar Wilde Collection.

Always the life of the party, Wilde was effete, outlandish and utterly genius!

Chris recommends Behind the Candelabra.

Utterly earnest and generous onstage, yet enigmatic in his personal life, Liberace was an entertainer of the highest order.  Based on a controversial tell-all book written by his former boyfriend, Scott Thorson, we are witness to their clandestine relationship in all of its love, instability and banality. Playful and admiring with sharp dialogue, the film also serves as Steven Soderbergh’s final effort (for now at least) as a feature director.

Posted on Jun. 11, 2015 by Chris Taylor

Staff Recommendations: Pride Picks

In June, the city of San Francisco – and the world – commemorates the 1969 Stonewall riots, which paved the way for the Gay Liberation Movement, with Pride events and the iconic parade, held on June 28th this year. The purpose of LGBT Pride month is to recognize the historical impacts made by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. In honor of the contributions of these individuals to our collective cultural heritage, this month Mechanics’ Institute staff members select some of our favorite works by LGBTQ authors, about LGBTQ characters, and exploring subjects relevant to the LGBTQ community.

Chris recommends Fun Home : a family tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (741.5 B391)

Recently adapted into a successful Broadway musical, Bechdel's memoir recalls her relationship with her father, a gifted intellectual grappling with his homosexuality as a closeted man in a small town. When Alison goes off to college and comes out as gay, tensions rise back home. Both humorous and tragic, Fun Home is a brilliant coming of age story awash with literary reference and personal insight, uniquely told and illustrated.

Kevin recommends Now Is The Hour by Tom Spanbauer (FIC)

You'll get hooked on this funny, deeply moving coming-of-age tale that's not afraid to tell the messy truth about family, religion, growing up and falling in love. You could even say it's the coming-of-age, gay romance set in 1967 rural Idaho that you've been waiting for!

Taryn recommends The Drinker by Hans Fallada (FIC)

A prominent early 20th century German writer, Fallada was horribly injured as a child which marked his life with isolation, self-doubt, and crippling pain. His emerging homosexuality and society's increasing homophobia led to a bungled suicide pact and a lifelong addiction to morphine and alcohol. A gifted writer, Fallada's prose in The Drinker drags the reader deeply into the spiral of alcohol addiction……when you claw your way back to the surface you will greedily read Fallada's other books. 

Heather recommends White Girls by Hilton Als (814 A461)

Hilton Als reads race, gender, and culture like a modern artist slashing paint across the canvas – or like a musician improvising beats onstage, a verbal jam that spins so fast you can barely keep up, even though you’re setting your own reading pace. And that’s just talking about style. The great Junot Díaz calls White Girls a must-read, which was why I picked it up in the first place, but then I couldn’t put it down again, even when I’d read it all. That is to say, it sticks with you. (That’s talking about content.) In these essays, you’ll find insight on identity and sexuality, exploration of voice and the acquisition of knowledge. Whether he’s writing about the over-exposed Truman Capote or the under-appreciated Henry Dumas, Als is one of those people you imagine as a thrilling IRL raconteur with a searing intellect and a sizzling tongue. That is to say, he gets under your skin, makes you think about what it’s like to live the lives of others. This is one of those books you come away from, your head so crowded with thoughts that you can hardly bear it, but still – hungry for more.


Dorothy Allison Two or three things I know for sure

Carol Anshaw Lucky in the corner

Djuna Barnes Nightwood: the original version & related drafts Before Stonewall: activists for gay & lesbian rights in historical context

John Boswell Same-sex unions in premodern Europe

Melvin Jules Bukiet Strange fire

David Carter Stonewall: the riots that sparked the gay revolution

George Chauncey Gay New York: gender, urban culture & the making of the gay male world, 1890-1940

Sally Cline Radclyffe Hall: a woman called John

Samuel R. Delany The motion of light in water: sex & science fiction writing in the East Village, 1957-1965

Samuel R. Delany Times Square red, Times Square blue

Tom Dolby The trouble boy

Lillian Faderman Odd girls & twilight lovers: a history of lesbian life in twentieth-century America

Philip Gambone Beijing

Alan Helms Young man from the provinces: a gay life before Stonewall

Andrew Holleran The beauty of men Love makes a family: portraits of lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender parents & their families

Paul Kafka-Gibbons Dupont Circle

Jonathan Ned Katz Love stories: sex between men before homosexuality

Elisabeth Ladenson Proust's lesbianism

David Leavitt While England sleeps

Mabel Maney The case of the good-for-nothing girlfriend: a Nancy Clue mystery

Eric Marcus Making gay history: the half-century fight for lesbian & gay equal rights

Deirdre McCloskey Crossing: a memoir

Diana McLellan The girls: Sappho goes to Hollywood

Joanne Meyerowitz How sex changed: a history of transsexuality in the United States

David Moats Civil wars: a battle for gay marriage

Achy Obejas We came all the way from Cuba so you could dress like this?: stories Pages passed from hand to hand: the hidden tradition of homosexual literature in English from 1748 to 1914

Felice Picano Like people in history

Dan Savage The kid: (what happened after my boyfriend & I decided to go get pregnant): an adoption story

Sarah Schulman Rat bohemia

Randy Shilts The mayor of Castro Street: the life & times of Harvey Milk

Alan Sinfield Out on stage: lesbian & gay theatre in the twentieth century Baby Precious always shines: selected love notes between Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas

David Strah Gay dads: a celebration of gay fatherhood

Ronald Tierney Eclipse of the heart

Monique Truong The book of salt

Edmund White The burning library: writings on art, politics & sexuality 1969-1993

Edmund White The married man Wrestling with the angel: faith & religion in the lives of gay men We do: a celebration of gay & lesbian marriage

Alan Hollinghurst The line of beauty

Peter Parker Isherwood: a life revealed

Darcey Steinke Milk

Deborah Rudacille The riddle of gender: science, activism & transgender rights

Michelle Tea The beautiful: collected poems

Alan Downs The velvet rage: overcoming the pain of growing up gay in a straight man's world

Hans Fallada The drinker

Dan Savage The commitment: love, sex, marriage & my family

Aaron Hamburger Faith for beginners

Matt Houlbrook Queer London: perils & pleasures in the sexual metropolis, 1918-1957

Richard Tagett Breaking the silence: epistles Hitched!: wedding stories from San Francisco City Hall

Michelle Tea Rose of no man's land

Joe Keenan My lucky star The collected poems: with notes toward the memoirs

Tahar Ben Jelloun The last friend

Josh Kilmer-Purcell I am not myself these days: a memoir

Barry McCrea The first verse

Alison Bechdel Fun home: a family tragicomic

Tom Spanbauer Now is the hour

Lillian Faderman & Stuart Timmons Gay L.A.: a history of sexual outlaws, power politics & lipstick lesbians

Marcia M. Gallo Different daughters: a history of the Daughters of Bilitis & the rise of the lesbian rights movement

William Lipsky Gay & lesbian San Francisco Baby remember my name: an anthology of new queer girl writing

Peter Plate Soon the rest will fall

Christopher Bram Exiles in America

Michael Schiefelbein Body & blood

Michael Thomas Ford Changing tides

Catherine McCall Lifeguarding: a memoir of secrets, swimming & the South

Ali Smith Girl meets boy: the myth of Iphis

Nancy D. Polikoff Beyond (straight & gay) marriage: valuing all families under the law

Stephanie Grant Map of Ireland

Alain Claude Sulzer A perfect waiter

Timothy James Beck When you don't see me

Russell Bush Affectionate men: a photographic history of a century of male couples (1850's to 1950's)

Jill Malone Red Audrey & the roping

Stella Duffy Mouths of babes

Joanne Passet Sex variant woman: the life of Jeannette Howard Foster

Maureen Seaton Sex talks to girls: a memoir

Elinor Lipman The family man

William J. Mann Object of desire

Jack Fritscher Stonewall: stories of gay liberation

Peter Gadol Silver Lake

Edmund White City boy: my life in New York during the 1960s & 70s

Leila J. Rupp Sapphistries: a global history of love between women

Terry Castle The professor & other writings

Amie Klempnauer Miller She looks just like you: a memoir of (nonbiological lesbian) motherhood

Wendy Moffat A great unrecorded history: a new life of E.M. Forster

Carlos A. Ball From the closet to the courtroom: five LGBT rights lawsuits that have changed our nation

Stephen McCauley Insignificant others

Justin Spring Secret historian: the life & times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist & sexual renegade

Charles Higham In & out of Hollywood: a biographer's memoir

Will Fellows & Helen P. Branson Gay bar: the fabulous, true story of a daring woman & her boys in the 1950s

David Levithan Boy meets boy

Max Schaefer Children of the sun

Craig Chester Adam & Steve

Michael Sledge The more I owe you

Jodi Picoult Sing you home

Rupert Smith Man's world Gay in America

Sally Bellerose The Girls Club

Ian Holding Of beasts & beings

James C. Hormel & Erin Martin Fit to serve: reflections on a secret life, private struggle & public battle to become America's first openly gay U.S. ambassador

Meredith Maran A theory of small earthquakes

Jeanette Winterson Why be happy when you could be normal?

Kim Stanley Robinson 2312

Linda Hirshman Victory: the triumphant gay revolution

David M. Halperin How to be gay

Sarah Schulman The gentrification of the mind: witness to a lost imagination

John Rechy City of night

Madeleine George The difference between you & me

Emily M. Danforth The miseducation of Cameron Post

Virginia Woolf Orlando: a biography

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore The end of San Francisco

Sara Farizan If you could be mine

Wally Lamb We are water

Kristin Elizabeth Clark Freakboy

Alysia Abbott Fairyland: a memoir of my father

E. M. Forster A room with a view ; Howards end ; Maurice

Hilton Als White girls

Audre Lorde Zami: a new spelling of my name

Tess Sharpe Far from you

Francine Prose Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

Edan Lepucki California

Suzanna Danuta Walters The tolerance trap: how God, genes & good intentions are sabotaging gay equality

Amin Ghaziani There goes the gayborhood?

Terry Mutchler Under this beautiful dome: a senator, a journalist & the politics of gay love in America

Robbie Rogers with Eric Marcus Coming out to play

Robert Beachy Gay Berlin: birthplace of a modern identity

Posted on Jun. 3, 2015 by Heather Terrell

DVD Selections: Sports on Film

With Oakland’s own Warriors shining in the NBA playoffs, what better time than now to celebrate the athleticism, discipline, and drama of our favorite past time. On the 2nd floor DVD display, you will find a selection of our most beloved sports titles from the Mechanics’ collection. These films reveal what it takes to be the best in the game, on and off the field.

Heather recommends Rocky

Shot in 28 days, the original 1976 version is a timeless film about underdogs, persistence, loss, and above all, love. Rocky Balboa is a charming loser, trying to make it big as a boxer, but his big heart often gets in the way of his success. This film has humor, struggle, and sweetness. It’s one of my favorite Stallone films (Oscar is the other), and maybe one of my favorite films, period.

and The Karate Kid

I haven’t watched this since I wore out the VHS tape at an 8th grade slumber party, and it inspired my entire family to take karate classes. My sister still has her black belt somewhere, I’m certain. It’s as much about karate as it is about perseverance in the face of loneliness, bullying, boredom, and star-crossed romance -- definitely a teen angst film for the ages. Fear does not exist in this dojo, does it? NO, SENSEI !!


Craig recommends Bull Durham

Really a romantic comedy sports film, released back in 1988, starring Kevin Costner (Crash) as a veteran catcher brought in to teach a rookie pitcher (Nuke), played by Tim Robbins, about the game in preparation for the Major Leagues. Susan Sarandon plays a baseball groupie who romances Nuke, but is increasingly attracted to Crash.

Taryn recommends Chariots of Fire

Put the theme song on your playlist and go for the gold!

and Seabiscuit

Hold onto your hats, this film recounts a time when horse racing was at its peak! The book is thrilling as well.

Chris recommends Hoop Dreams

In 1995, this masterpiece received critical and commercial success, then a rarity for documentaries, thanks to the loyal support of the great film critic Roger Ebert. Shot in Ebert’s hometown of Chicago over a period of five years, two gifted basketball players from the neglected, violence-ridden and since demolished Cabrini-Green projects are recruited into a suburban, private high school on sports scholarships. The film follows their struggles and successes on their road toward adulthood and the NBA. Don't be put off by the three hour long running time, Hoop Dreams is peerless in its portrayal of basketball and its players within the context of a socially stratified city.

Posted on May. 18, 2015 by Chris Taylor

Staff Picks:Bibliophilia

Libraries have been in the business of books for centuries, from the cuneiform repositories of Sumer to the digital holdings at Bexar County Bibliotech. We bookworms love to read, no matter the format, and this month, Mechanics’ Institute staff select books which reflect certain bibliophilic tendencies. A few selections you’ll find on the display, this month, include:

Heather recommends…

The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin (809.39 B542)

Structured like a reference book, the reader of The Novel Cure can look up her ailment and -- voila! – an appropriate novel will be provided as an antidote to one’s woes. Whether you’re plagued by agoraphobia, cowardice, or midlife crisis – Berthoud has you covered!

Chris recommends…

Always apprentices : the Believer magazine presents twenty-two conversations between writers edited by Vendela Vida, Ross Simonini, and Sheila Heti (809 A477)

Compiling previously published material from the Bay Area's own Believer magazine, these interviews highlight some of contemporary literature's most fascinating writers in conversation with one another. Great pairings (Don DeLillo with Bret Easton Ellis!) and often in front of a live audiences (ensuring quick, genuine responses), these exchanges are animated, illuminating, and inspiring.

A few more recommendations…

Republic of Imagination: America in three books by Azar Nafisi (92N 139r)

The author of Reading Lolita in Tehran returns with an emphatic response to a skeptical reader who posits that Americans don’t care about books – Nafisi argues that fiction has much to teach us, and she supports her point with close readings of her favorite American novels. This passionate polemic on reading fiction will have you cheering along with the other citizens of the Republic of Imagination. Vive le Rêve!

Why We Read What We Read: a delightfully opinionated journey through contemporary bestsellers by Lisa Adams and John Heath (028.9 A21)

The authors peruse two hundred bestselling books to identify common themes and what our reading choices might say about us. This is a humorous book, including lots of interesting factoids to impress your friends. For instance, did you know that over a million Americans read more than fifty nearly-identical books every year?  -- uh oh, will your strange reading habits show up in this book?

On Rereading by Patricia Meyer Spacks (028.9 S73)

A retired literature teacher decides to spend a year rereading novels: those she read as a child, books she often rereads, guilty pleasures, and academic darlings included. She raises interesting questions about why we reread books whose plots we already know – what psychological needs does rereading fulfill, and why do we so often choose old favorites rather than exploring new stories?

Posted on May. 4, 2015 by Heather Terrell

DVD Selections: Care of the Coppola Family

The Coppola clan, consisting of Francis, Sophia, Ronan, Eleanor and Nicolas Cage (née Nicolas Kim Coppola), have made a significant impact on American film. Most prominently, Francis Ford Coppola's critical and commercial success with his Godfather series, started a broad career writing, directing and producing a variety of films, from the bold and ambitious to smaller and more personal work. In the early 2000’s, his daughter Sophia set the tone for accessible but artistic contemporary drama, with her understated debut The Virgin Suicides, and her career defining Lost in Translation. Ronan has worked repeatedly with Wes Anderson while Eleanor shot the footage eventually used for Hearts of Darkness, a documentary of Apocalypse Now’s creation. In addition to their film endeavors the family has founded both a renowned winery as well as the Zoetrope: All Story literary journal, the former located in all purveyors of fine food and drink, while the latter is located on our 3rd floor.

Deb recommends Moonrise Kingdom

Co-written by Roman Coppola, this quirky coming-of-age movie is not like anything else I've ever seen. It captures the innocence of the 1960s, but rings true today with young teens feeling misunderstood by the adults in their lives.

Heather recommends Apocalypse Now

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness was one of my favorite required reading books in high school lit class, but I'd never seen Francis Ford Coppola's translation of the work in Apocalypse Now -- until a recent showing of the film at the Roxie Cinema. Without a doubt, it blew my mind. For those who have read Heart of Darkness, you'll recognize the parallels of the ivory trade with the war machine, and the Congo with the river mission from Vietnam to Cambodia. The issues of colonialism resonate in Apocalypse Now just as strongly as they do in Heart of Darkness -- with questions about what "civilization" is, and what sacrifices people make to sustain it.

Bobbie recommends The Outsiders

The Outsiders, based on the novel by S.E. Hinton, is an 80's classic though the film setting is closer to the 1960's. Greasers vs. Socs, friendship, loyalty, and teen angst at its finest.  Not only was it a Coppola family affair (dad Francis directing daughter Sophia in a brief scene) but it also introduced us to many of the heartthrobs of the day including Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze and more. Despite its lean towards younger viewers, this is a fine film with great direction and acting from a star studded cast.

Taryn recommends Patton

George C. Scott is singularly amazing - as Bruno Ganz embodied Hitler, Scott is Il Duce.


Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Brilliant or disgusting flop? The reviews are mixed on this film but, no doubt, this is a must see if you're curious about the "monster".

Posted on Apr. 10, 2015 by Chris Taylor

Staff Picks: Astronomy Domine

The “final frontier” of outer space has consistently captured humanity’s imagination from time immemorial. We seek to understand the universe and our place in it by studying the seemingly unknowable expanse of what lies beyond our own livable nook of the macrocosm. From music and film to scientific discovery and science fiction, this month, Mechanics’ Institute staff selects books, both fact and fiction, rooted in what we know and imagine about the cosmos.

Taryn recommends Stranger in a Strange Land (FIC) by Robert Heinlein.

Named one of the 88 books that "shaped America", I don't know how you can go through life without reading this!

Chris recommends Cosmicomics (FIC) by Italo Calvino.

A set of fables detailing the evolution of the universe as observed by Qfwfq, a timeless, immaterial presence and charmingly unreliable narrator. Although Calvino has a demonstrable grasp of astrology and science, his tales quickly leave factual orbit, inviting the reader to join in on a romantic and absurd imagining of the cosmos.

Heather recommends An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything (629.45 H129) by Chris Hadfield.

Colonel Hadfield may be best known in popular culture for his in-orbit rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, but he has also logged 4000+ hours in space, serving as commander of the International Space Station before his retirement in 2013. In his autobiography, he discusses his professional philosophy: “prepare for the worst…and enjoy every moment of it.” Hadfield is a charmer, and this book sparkles with his personality.

Posted on Apr. 1, 2015 by Heather Terrell

Brains on the Brain: Staff Picks, Meta Edition


The brain is a fascinating organ: some say it’s the seat of the soul, some think it’s more like a microprocessor, and others think of it as the motor of consciousness. This month, Mechanics’ Institute staff select books on the mind, the brain, and consciousness – the whys and wherefores of self-awareness.

Chris selects Moonwalking with Einstein : the art and science of remembering everything (153.14 F654) by Joshua Foer.

A tour through mnemonics by way of memory competitions, narrated by a journalist turned participant. Describing the techniques of the trade, we are guided through memory palaces, high school class rooms, and the USA Memory Championship, among others. A colorful, readable and insightful look into the human mind.

Heather selects Phi : a voyage from the brain to the soul (612.8 T666) by Giulio Tononi.

Structured similarly to Dante’s Inferno, neuroscientist Tononi fashions Galileo as this book’s narrator, guided by three influential souls – Francis Crick, Alan Turing, and Charles Darwin – to discover what consciousness is and how our idea of it has evolved throughout history. A fascinating read, with full-color images and high-quality paper, this book is as satisfying in the tactile sense as it is mentally stimulating.


Other staff selections include:

The science of drinking : how alcohol affects your body and mind (615.78 D229) by Amitava Dasgupta

The dragons of Eden : speculations on the evolution of human intelligence (612.82 S12) by Carl Sagan

How to make a zombie : the real life (and death) science of reanimation and mind control (502 S971) by Frank Swain

World wide mind : the coming integration of humanity, machines and the Internet (612.82 C55) by Michael Chorost

Where the heart beats : John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the inner life of artists (700 L334) by Kay Larson

The secret life of the grown-up brain : the surprising talents of the middle aged mind (616.89 S91s) by Barbara Strauch

Hallucinations (616.8 S12h) by Oliver Sacks

The doors of perception (616.86 H98) by Aldous Huxley

The autistic brain: thinking across spectrum (616.8588 G753) by Temple Grandin

Take a look at the 2nd floor Staff Picks display, and get thinky about thinking!

Posted on Mar. 2, 2015 by Heather Terrell

DVD Selections: Love Stories

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, we were inspired to dig into our film collection and highlight some of our favorite love stories. The full spectrum of romantic experience is represented, from courtship to enchantment to heartache. Come check out the selections below, and many others displayed on the 2nd floor, and fall in love with the movies all over again!

Bobbie recommends Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Wouldn't it be so easy to erase the heartbreak and sadness of a love lost? To never remember that person, the moments, those memories both good and bad? In this film, an experimental procedure exists that can erase those memories and, once Joel (Jim Carrey) realizes his ex (Kate Winslet) has chosen to forget him, he vows to do the same for her. But he quickly realizes maybe he doesn't want to lose those memories and that love and affection is not so easily lost.

Craig recommends All That Heaven Allows

Starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, and released back in 1955, this is the story of an upper-class widow who falls in love with a much younger, down-to-earth gardener, much to the disapproval of her collegiate children and criticism of her country club peers.

Chris recommends Moonstruck

Family tradition is challenged by true love in this contemporary classic. Loretta has plans to marry the sensible but underwhelming Johnny until they’re shaken up by his passionate and freewheeling brother, Ronny, much to the chagrin of her close knit family. With a gorgeous New York as the backdrop, this funny and sophisticated romance has the power to win over any audience.

Heather recommends Down With Love

 Writer Barbara Novak is on a quest to help women enjoy sex without commitment, forget about love, and replace men with chocolate. However, notorious ladies' man Catcher Block is on a mission to trick Barbara into falling in love with him, thereby discrediting her methodology for female advancement....except that he's falling for her too. Uh-oh! This is a fun film full of witty banter and retro sensibilities, a parody of all those 1940's-50's romantic comedies that ALWAYS ended with a wedding.


500 Days of Summer

This film isn't your typical story of mismatched lovers. Its nonlinear structure is an interesting device, tracing the development of the protagonist's romantic life thematically rather than chronologically.

This is all a very academic way to say that it's a "smart" romance, starring talented actors. If you're in a reflective mood, this film will both entertain you and make you think about the existence of "True Love".

Posted on Feb. 6, 2015 by Chris Taylor