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Staff Picks/DVD Selections

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.

and

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

Staff Picks: The Mystique of Music

Music is one of those things. We can’t always define it, or explain why we love what we love, but its power is unmistakable. Music and identity are inextricably linked: we often define ourselves by what we listen to. Quick...name your favorite song (or band, or genre) -- your brain probably got there before your words did. Did you conjure up a few notes, belt out a couplet of lyrics, or smell the sweat coming off everyone in the crowd at the last live show you attended?

Music can be a transcendent influence. This month, Mechanics’ Institute staff select books about the mysteries, glories, and stories behind the music we love. Come check out the staff picks display to see what makes us tick.

Taryn selects Opera and the morbidity of music by Joseph Kerman

Classical music is dead. Long live classical music! Despite the title, the author makes it clear that what we call "classical music", including opera, is anything but dead. Vital and joyously alive is how I'd describe these essays and book reviews.

Bobbie selects Unknown pleasures: inside Joy Division by Peter Hook

If you are a fan of the group New Order then you probably know they originated as Joy Division in the late 70’s post-punk era. They were on the verge of mainstream success and about to embark on their first American tour when lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide. This book by bassist Peter Hook recounts Joy Division’s creation, the band mates’ deteriorating relationships, the demise of the band, and then rebirth as New Order. If you want to see Ian Curtis’ story on film, the DVD Control follows his rise and fall as the leader of the band.

Chris selects Let's talk about love: a journey to the end of taste by Carl Wilson

In this installment of the 33 1/3 book series from Bloomsbury, where an author addresses a single LP in great detail, Salon music critic Carl Wilson shares his take on the jewel in the crown of Celine Dion's career. Highly polarizing, the album was commercially embraced to near ubiquity while it was critically derided, author included. Revisiting the album, Wilson investigates the album and Celine's career, unpacking the sensibilities and narratives that created such controversy, discussing the nature of taste, cultural capital and what it means to be a fan (or not a fan) of a particular artist. Funny, generous and optimistic, this short book is a great journey through the art/pop divide.

Heather selects High fidelity by Nick Hornby

At Championship Vinyl, Rob Fleming and his crew spend their workday discussing the fine art of mix tapes, devising “top five” lists, and arguing about all things music. One problem: his long-time girlfriend has just dumped him because of his chronically juvenile behavior. Rob goes on an odyssey of self-discovery to figure out how music and love fit into his adult life. This novel twines together an obsession with music and an acute existential crisis -- two of my favorite things to explore in fiction.

Posted on Feb. 3, 2015 by Heather Terrell

Staff Picks: Playing in the Library - Sports

 

Mechanics’ Institute Library staff kicks off the new year by recommending books about pursuits that engage not only the mind, but the body as well. You’ll find one of my personal favorites, The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts by one of my favorite authors, Hanne Blank. There will be books about the sociological aspects of sport (e.g., The Secret Lives of Sports Fans by Eric Simons), as well as the mechanics of sport (e.g., Runner’s World Complete Book of Running by Amby Burfoot). Whether you’re a spectator or an athlete (or both!), you’re sure to find something to pique your interest on this month’s display.

Chris recommends Netherland by Joseph O'Neill (FIC)

In a favorite of both Zadie Smith and Barack Obama, we follow Hans, a recent immigrant from the Netherlands to New York City, as he navigates life in his new home. When the rest of his family returns to Europe following the 9/11 attacks, Hans spends more and more time playing cricket with other individuals who have recently made America home. A realistic and affirming look at sporting, place and community.

Taryn recommends Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling by BikeSnobNYC Magazine (796.6 B594)

BikeSnobNYC has made you snort coffee all over your new Bicycling Magazine issue, reassess your gear, and wonder - is it OK to wear arm warmers that don't match my jersey? Relive all the funny moments and fall in love again with cycling.

Bobbie recommends This Love is Not For Cowards by Robert Andrew Powell  (796.334 P882)

Just across the Rio Grande from the US lies Juarez, Mexico. Very possibly the most murderous city in North America. Cartels, death squads, and police battle over billions of dollars in drug profits yet the city survives and is passionate about their soccer team, the Indios. The club offers hope and gives the community a sense of pride lost among the chaos of daily life.

Deb recommends Long Distance Running for Beginners by Michael Spilling and Sean Fishpool (796.42 S756)

I decided my early morning walks needed some variety and wanted to start running again. I spotted this book on the New Nonfiction Book Table and checked it out. It covers everything from how to get started with a running program (even for someone like me who does not plan to do long distance running), the right clothing to wear, avoiding injuries, etc. I found the section on how to begin running and how to increase distance without overdoing it very valuable.

Posted on Dec. 29, 2014 by Heather Terrell

Staff Picks: Fascinating People

 

This month at Mechanics’ Institute Library, get inspired for the new year. Staff will select books about the fascinating individuals who people our collection – the lives of others who inspire, entertain, and encourage us! Get acquainted with your fellow human beings through their words and works, and enjoy these stories told about them.

Deb recommends Florence Nightingale: The Making of an Icon by Mark Bostridge  (92 N688b)

Her name is legendary, but this biography reveals much about who Florence Nightingale really was. Most of us know about her service to wounded and ill soldiers during the Crimean War, but that was only two years in her nearly six decades of service. If you want to dive deep into Nightingale’s life, 19th century hospital and healthcare reform, and her role in it, this book is for you.

Taryn recommends The Life and Legends of Calamity Jane by Richard Eulain  (92 C141)

I grew up on Doris Day's version of Calamity Jane -- this wonderful account lends a refreshing bit of reality!

Heather recommends Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson  (822.3 B91)

In general, Bill Bryson is always a delight. In specific, this slim biography of Shakespeare is as much about what we cannot know about the bard as what we do know about his life.

 

Posted on Dec. 1, 2014 by Heather Terrell

DVD Selections: Comedy

With the holidays on the horizon, what better time than now to relax, take a deep breath and have a good laugh with some of the funniest films in the Mechanics' collection? Below are just a few of our personal favorites. Be sure to stop by the 2nd floor DVD display and discover some new titles and revisit old favorites!

Heather recommends Tampopo

A much-lauded film in the “Spaghetti Western” tradition -- with a Japanese twist. The heroes who ride into town are determined to improve the offerings of a truly terrible ramen restaurant, and all of the usual hijinks ensue (fights, trickery, alliances made and broken). The main plot is also interspersed with various satirical food-related vignettes which amuse and delight.

Chris recommends Withnail and I 

As the 1960's wind down, two actors, both out of work and luck, ditch London for what they hope to be a refreshing vacation in the countryside. Upon arriving they find the elements harsh, the neighbors unpredictable, and their personalities grating on one another. As they cope in a decidedly unsober manner, they push each other to the brink of sanity. Bleakly funny and endlessly quotable, this comes highly recommended to fans of dark British comedy. The same actor/director team was responsible for the equally hilarious, but significantly lighter How to Get Ahead in Advertising.

Chris also recommends The Player

Robert Altman simultaneously pays tribute to and mocks Hollywood in this career highlight. Tim Robbins plays a successful movie executive who may have turned down the wrong screenwriter. Hijinks lifted straight from the pulpiest of noir ensue. Altman's signature long shots, celebrity cameos, and curious sound mixes are all in fine form, as is his usual zigging and zagging dialogue.

Posted on Nov. 20, 2014 by Chris Taylor

Staff Picks: Pigs, and Rats, and Kittens, oh my!

They are endlessly entertaining (pets), fascinating (octopi), sometimes terrifying (cockroaches!), and occasionally delicious (does tofurky count?) — Animals are an integral part of our human lives, and Mechanics’ Institute Library has many books which will allow you to consider our creaturely kin in a new light. My colleagues have picked some interesting books this month. I can’t wait to read every one of them! Here’s a sampling of what’s on display:

CHRIS selects:

Timbuktu by Paul Auster

A homeless poet and his dog travel from New York City to Baltimore, hoping to find their long lost friend. Narrated by Mr. Bones, a loyal and deeply thinking dog, Timbuktu is a short and touching story about life on the fringes and the comforts of companionship.

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

Wherein a philosophical gorilla telepathically offers an ecologically sustainable worldview and life-approach to a questioning student. Harsh but hopeful, this should appeal to Jared Diamond fans as much as young environmentalists.

TARYN selects:

A Feathered River Across the Sky by Joel Greenberg

A depressing account of animal extinction -- read it and help change the world!

The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think  by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods

This is only going to confirm what you already suspect - your dog is smarter than you are.

Knit Your Own Zoo by Sally Muir

Make your own menagerie! Adorable knittable animals!

ANTHONY selects:

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

This harrowing and extremely persuasive book starts with a simple premise: the author has had his first child and sets out to investigate whether or not he should raise the child as a meat eater. Along the way we encounter irreparable ecological devastation, apocalyptic contagions, the utter perfidiousness and moral bankruptcy of an entire industry and the regulatory bodies created to monitor it, and feces lagoons. Even if you hold absolutely zero empathy for the animals that we slaughter and consume, the sheer vileness of the process that gets them into our stomachs is as revolting and terrifying as anything you are likely to read in last month’s Horror Recommendations. And that applies doubly to absolute devastation on the communities that shoulder the burden of industrial meat processing plants (did I already mention the feces lagoons?). As an avid meat eater prior to reading this book four years ago, I can now fully attest to the reality that the ONLY viable reason to eat meat is this: it tastes good. But it's what we're not tasting that will chill your blood (spoiler alert: it's feces, urine, fear sweat, and chilled blood that we're not tasting). Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted on Nov. 3, 2014 by Heather Terrell

DVD Selections: Halloween on DVD

 

This month we celebrate the scariest time of the year, Halloween! With so many horror films to choose from, we’ve selected plenty of treats. From contemporary classics, to foreign gems and obscure oddities, there should be something for all brave souls available at the 2nd floor DVD display. Don’t be afraid to check them out!

Heather recommends Night of the Living Dead, the quintessential horror film: social commentary + terrifying situation = amazing story.

Kristin recommends The Lost Boys. A classic vampire movie that you don't get tired of watching.

Chris recommends The Hunger. David Bowie and Susan Sarandon co-star as a duo of jaded vampires living in neo-gothic London, who attract the attention of a scientist studying premature aging. Philosophical and atmospheric, a must for fans of the genre.

and, The Wicker Man, where the investigation of a missing person leads policeman Sergeant Howie to a remote Scottish isle where he must contend with the strange practices of its pagan population. Tense, satisfying, and intelligent, this film been dubbed the “Citizen Kane of horror movies” for good reason.

Posted on Oct. 17, 2014 by Chris Taylor

Staff Picks: Scary Stories

 

In the spirit of the season, Mechanics’ Institute staff will be selecting their favorite tales of mystery and terror this month. Here’s a taste of what you might find on display to snuggle up with on October 31st.

Chris recommends The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus

In Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet, an epidemic sweeps through the country practically overnight; the speech of children begins to make parents devastatingly ill. The story follows a small family as they navigate chaos, uncertainty and experimental treatments in an increasingly unfamiliar world. While Marcus favors a poetic and lyrical style over tense minimalism, Cormac McCarthy's familial survival tale The Road is a worthy comparison, sharing a similarly bleak outlook while quietly retaining heroism and hope.

Craig recommends The Rocky Horror Picture Show (DVD)

A screamingly funny salute to sci-fi, horror, and rock music, all rolled into one. This popular cult classic stars Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon and rock star Meat Loaf.

 and Sudden Fear (DVD)

Joan Crawford provides an emotionally charged performance as a playwright who uses her plotting skills to save her own life. This well crafted film noir thriller is an unbeatable combination of lush melodrama and drop-dead suspense.

Matt recommends... the classics – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Heather recommends...from The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James to the modern horror of Koji Suzuki’s Sadako Yamamura (the antagonist in Ring) – this is one of my favorite genres of story to read: the ghost story.

But what about specters in the real world? There’s no better place to begin than with Mary Roach. With her usual wit and aplomb, she explores the facts and the not-so-factual claims of those who deal with ghosts and ghouls in Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (129 R62).

Posted on Oct. 7, 2014 by Heather Terrell

Staff Picks: Historical Collections

This month, get to know the multifaceted historical collection at Mechanics’ Institute Library through a few staff members’ favorite tomes. We’ll be selecting books about historical periods that interest us. Here’s a sample of the works that will be on display:

Taryn recommends Brave Companions by David McCullough (920 M133b)

Seventeen short biographies that McCullough penned over the years for various magazines enlighten the reader about the subject’s extraordinary, if not well known, contributions to life as we know it in the modern world.

Craig recommends The Plantagenets: the warrior kings and queens who made England by Dan Jones (942.03 J72)

The author examines the period when eight kings ruled England in succession, starting with Henry II, who inherited the Crown in 1154 and ending with the overthrow of Richard II in 1399. He vividly describes the triumphs, savagery, cruelty, and disasters during this turbulent and violent period -- the time of Thomas Becket, the Crusades, the founding of parliament, the Black Death, the Hundred Years War with France, and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 -- a period when England became a major European power.

Chris recommends My American Century by Studs Terkel (920.073 T318)

Collecting excerpts of previously published material by Studs Terkel, this volume presents the story of America, from the 1920's to modern day, in the author's signature oral history style. Terkel forgoes a grand thesis, instead allowing his interviewees to speak for themselves, allowing the sum of their lived experiences and perspectives to create the larger narrative. My American Century serves both as a serviceable introduction to one of the great historians of our time, as well as an unadulterated survey of the modern American experience straight from those who lived it.

Heather recommends For Liberty and Glory: Washington, Lafayette, and the Revolutions by James Gaines (973.4 W318g)

The “sister revolutions” of the French and the Americans have always fascinated me. While the French were rioting over the price of bread, across the Atlantic the American rabble-rousers were making their own bid for freedom from monarchy. This book shows how intertwined the two revolutions were, and how they changed the world in their wake.

Posted on Sep. 3, 2014 by Heather Terrell