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Staff Picks/DVD Selections

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

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. 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