by Anne Mangano on August 16th, 2014
Agnes Magnusdottir and Fridrik Sigurdsson were the last people executed in Iceland. It was January 12, 1830. They were both convicted of murdering Natan Ketilsson, a noted herbalist, healer, and farmer, stabbing him to death and setting his house on fire. Agnes worked as a servant to Natan, while Fredrik was the son of a neighboring farmer. The story of this murder, and its resulting execution, continues to capture the imagination of Icelanders. Natan’s workshop and the site of the execution are landmarks. It is the subject of many books and films, all offering different interpretations of both the events and persons involved. The narratives span from Natan being an overbearing master to Agnes as a woman scorned. But, the first I ever heard of these individuals is through Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites.
In Burial Rites, Kent offers her interpretation of Agnes’ final months. Agnes awaits her execution housed with the family of District Officer Jon Jonsson, which understandably causes friction in the household. Jonsson, his wife, and daughters are unhappy about living with a murderess. Agnes, coming to terms with her fate, must navigate all the pitfalls of living in a strange household with people who don’t want you there. In addition, Agnes is visited regularly by Assistant Reverend Toti, who is charged with providing religious counsel and spiritual consolation. And she isn’t exactly receptive. But then Agnes begins to tell the story of her life to Toti, the Jonsson family listening due to the close quarters of the badstofa, and things begin to change.
What I appreciate about the novel is that the murder isn’t the center of the narrative. Rather, Kent writes well about the building of a relationship and the development of trust and understanding between people who already have their minds made up about each other. This growth is stunted by the impending execution, which hangs over the situation like a sword of Damocles. Indeed, an axe is being fashioned. I also enjoyed how Kent used government documents and letters from officials on how to deal with the prisoners and the execution into the narrative. It’s a bleak novel—but it really can’t be anything else.
by Anne Mangano on July 14th, 2014
Europe during World War II is the setting of many novels and it’s really no surprise. Such horror, fear, and devastation create an environment ripe for personal conflicts, long odysseys, and overcoming trials on an unimaginable scale. And, as with anything, there are novels that use this setting to their advantage and others that fall flat. Anthony Doerr’s latest work, All the Light We Cannot See, works with the period very well and you would do well to check it out.
For the most part, the novel intertwines the stories of two young individuals from different sides of the conflict. There is Marie-Louise, the visually-impaired daughter of the locksmith and keeper of keys for the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Her father’s position aides in her curiosity about the natural sciences and she loves to read Jules Verne. Before the occupation of Paris, she is forced to flee with her father to Saint-Malo and there is the possibility that they are carrying one of the Museum’s most prized possessions. Or is it a decoy? Marie-Louise’s story is paired with Werner’s, a German orphan with an innate understanding of radios and radio frequency. His ability opens the door for him to attend an elite military school to work on special radio projects and prepare for working with radio units in the field. Of course, this leads him to Saint-Malo on a mission to find French resistance fighters using radio transmissions, right before the allies began a bombing campaign on the port city.
There are many surprising links between Marie-Louise and Werner before this Saint-Malo connection and Doerr reveals them skillfully. I also appreciated how Doerr played with time in the narrative, starting with the bombing of Saint-Malo and weaving in the back story steadily. Many novels work this way, but his was well-paced and structured.
I recommend placing a hold on All the Light We Cannot See, but if you need something to read right now, check out some other solid World War II fiction: Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone, Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge or David Benioff’s City of Thieves.
by Anne Mangano on June 3rd, 2014
Set in Washington State during the turn of the century, Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist gently unfolds the consequences of trying to make up for the past. Two teenage girls, both pregnant, appear on William Talmadge’s apricot and apple orchard looking for food. The girls remind Talmadge, a middle-aged, lonely, withdrawn man, of his sister, who disappeared as a teenager while foraging in the forest. The loss and love of his sister pushes him to provide for the girls, Della and Jane, and they take the help as long as it is provided from a distance. As Della, Jane, and Talmadge slowly become more at ease with each other and find themselves somewhat dependent on one another, armed men from the girls’ shared past show up at the orchard looking to collect the girls. Their appearance sets in motion another tragedy for William Talmadge. The majority of The Orchardist is how Talmadge, and those around him, cope with the consequences of what happens on that day.
It is a beautiful book, well-written with interesting characters. And the narration and the setting allow you to get really lost in the story–a perfect book for the start of the summer. However, if you want to start reading The Orchardist now (and you should!), I recommend reading inside. The gnats are horrible this time of year and they bite!
by Anne Mangano on May 19th, 2014
Have you ever thought your house was older than the date listed on your property report? Find it odd that many property reports list 1900 as the year built? Perhaps everyone in Iowa City had house-building fever at the beginning of the 20th century, but the more likely reason is that this date was the generic date used for anything built around 1900 when the files were moved to an electronic version. (There are other theories on these dates and if you have one, please let us know.) If you need a better estimate than “old,” there are a few resources you can turn to at the Iowa City Public Library and online.
Melody discussed one of them, city directories, in a recent blog post. You can look up by address and trace your house that way. They offer interesting information about who lived there as well as employment.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
Following the Civil War, the Sanborn Company started drawing detailed maps of buildings in urban areas to indicate fire hazards. The bonus, unintended consequence is that we have a great resource in observing cities develop, as well as changes to a specific property. They are available for over 12,000 locations throughout the United States, including Iowa City. On microfilm, ICPL has Iowa City maps for the years 1883, 1888, 1892, 1899, 1906, 1912, 1920, 1926, and 1933. Iowa City is about halfway through each reel. The image to the right is from the 1892 map of the corner of Market and Gilbert (the current block of John’s Grocery). The old high school is in the bottom right corner, where a parking garage for Mercy is currently located. (Our new microfilm reader allows you to crop and edit images, as well as print, email, or save your information.)
Johnson County GIS Property Information Viewer
If your house was built between 1930 and the present, you can view aerial maps of your property on the Johnson County GIS Property Information Viewer website. Some images are clearer than others (the image below is from the 1960′s and is clear enough), but it is interesting to see how your house, as well as the property around it has changed. It also allows you to layer attributes to the map, including elevations, flood hazards, and zoning.
by Anne Mangano on March 12th, 2014
Running up to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Kevin Pearce, a talented snowboarder favored to compete for the United States, struck his head while training on a half-pipe in Park City, Utah. He suffered a traumatic brain injury resulting in years of rehabilitation, as well as the end of Pearce’s career on the board. Pearce’s accident, his recovery, and the effect of his injuries on his family are covered in Lucy Walker’s documentary, The Crash Reel.
While the documentary is strong in portraying coming to terms with finding a new purpose in life, I wasn’t convinced by how the director told the story. Originally, I came away from The Crash Reel thinking that the injury wasn’t the intended subject of the film, but rather his rivalry with Shaun White. The way the documentary was framed, the content of events leading up to the injury, filming during the recovery process, and the comments from interviewees all seemed to point to the idea that Lucy Walker started one place and had to steer the film in a whole other direction. The crash changed what the documentary was about. However, I am surprised that this isn’t the case at all.
In a screening event covered by Filmmaker, Walker discussed how she met Pearce six months after the accident. She put together a large portion of the film from sports coverage, family videos of the recovery, and amateur videos from other snowboarders (one of these covers the fall), which is why the film seems disjointed in its filming and narrative. Many documentaries do this very thing, but Walker tries to sew all these scenes together as if it was all an organic creation. Because of this, you question if this a documentary about Pearce’s snowboarding talents? Is this about rivalries? Is this about the huge risks of traumatic brain injuries in extreme sports?
The film is about all these things, but it’s at its best when The Crash Reel is about how an individual can rebuild a new life for oneself and find a new identity. Pearce was a snowboarder and it takes everything from his doctors, his family, and himself to see that he can’t be a snowboarder anymore. But he does and this film shows how he gets there and it’s worth seeing for this alone.
by Anne Mangano on February 18th, 2014
Do you have this problem? My holds are perpetually maxed out at eight, but I continually come across books I want to read. What to do? Well, I request what I want to read now or in the near future, but I use My Lists in the library catalog to manage a list of books for some point down the road. You can create multiple lists in the catalog, so if you want to keep track of mysteries or travel books or holiday cookbooks separately, you can create a list for each topic.
To create a list or add an item to a list, you need to use the Catalog Classic side (or the title, author, subject, keyword, call number tabs; skip the Catalog Pro side). If you started out in Catalog Pro, you can move to Classic by clicking on Classic catalog link on the right hand side of the record, under “Other Sources.”
Using the option buttons on the top of the page, click on “Add to My Lists.” It is right above the search bar.
If you are not logged in, the system will prompt you to do so. From the drop down menu, you can choose “Create a new list.“ (If you have lists set up and would like to add the item to one of these lists, you can choose a list here. Hit submit to add the item to the list.) If you are creating a new list, you have the option of adding a list name and a description. This will save the list and add the item to your new list.
You can manage your lists in your library account. From there you can delete items from your list (or the entire list itself), email a list or selected items from one to yourself or another, or rename the list. It is also a great way to see a list of books with their status to choose what to read next. From there you can go right to the record and place it on hold.
by Anne Mangano on January 6th, 2014
Sometimes one find things by chance, wonderful things and you’re thankful that you were where you were and were doing what you were doing, because otherwise, it might have remained beneath your notice. I feel this way about The Hollow Crown series. I found the series because it was the first trailer on another DVD, which I was about to skip to go straight to the menu. I never find things this way. But it is fantastic and you should watch it. It is beautifully filmed, wonderfully acted, and after every episode, you can’t wait to watch the next one. And it’s Shakespeare.
The Hollow Crown is a BBC adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henriad plays, which includes Richard II, Henry the IV, Part 1, Henry the IV, Part II, and Henry V. Set in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the series is a screened production of the plays (rather than a filmed staged production), but the script is Shakespeare’s, only minimally adapted. The series stars Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Patrick Stewart, Michelle Dockery, Julie Walters, Simon Russell Beale, Rory Kinnear, John Hurt, and many other familiar faces. And if that cast isn’t enough, Ben Whishaw’s portrayal of Richard II is excellent. Whishaw’s Richard pushes you to loathe him as an unaffected, vain king who banishes the sincere and honorable Bolingbroke and strips him of his inheritance to line the Royal coffers. But somehow his is also able to convince you to pity him in his, what now oddly seems unfair fate.
If you like good dramas, historical tragedies, or British miniseries, The Hollow Crown is for you.
by Anne Mangano on November 4th, 2013
Last month, I heard John Bradshaw on Fresh Air with Terry Gross explaining that cats do not necessarily sit on us for our warmth, they sit on us because we are friends. I liked the thought of this. I always believed that Gatsby (my cat) and I are in good standing, but can you ever really say you are friends with your cat? Well, I do, but I fully acknowledge that it is a complicated relationship. There are times I wouldn’t argue with someone that says cats are only in it for the food.
Cat Sense, John Bradshaw’s latest pet science book, doesn’t just reinforce good feelings about having my cat around. He discusses the latest studies on cat behavior to explain some of their habits, provides advice on how to interpret whether cats are comfortable with their environment, and explains how to manage their undesirable innate behavior, such as the need to hunt or the inability to get along with other cats. Bradshaw is concerned that cats need to adapt to modern expectations. We want friendly cats who, for the most part, live indoors, leave songbirds alone, and coexist with other cats or with dogs in the home. And we are asking for this rather quickly. Bradshaw puts this in perspective by providing an interesting history of how the cat has evolved as one of our companions.
I’m pretty sure that Gatsby bears me no ill will seeing as how he seems to feel extremely safe when he sleeps as illustrated in the accompanying photograph.
If you are not a cat person, Bradshaw’s previous book covered the same issues with dogs.
by Anne Mangano on February 5th, 2013
At first the documentary The Queen of Versailles seems like an episode of the Real Housewives or Keeping Up with the Kardashians (or any reality show on cable television for that matter). It follows the timeshare mogul David Siegel and his wife Jackie as they plan the building of their new Orlando home, Versailles. At 90,000 square feet, their new house will be the largest and most expensive home in the United States. The name of their new estate exemplifies their lifestyle. They have gilded furniture. They have tigers as pets. They have 17 bathrooms and complain how that isn’t enough.
However, the documentary began filming before 2008. Siegel’s timeshare business, Westgate Resorts, immediately felt the impact of bad loans and loss of consumer confidence. The documentary quickly switches its focus to the Siegels tightening their belts by Christmas shopping at Walmart, using an airline instead of a private jet, and trying to unload the half-finished 90,000 square feet mansion.
Poetic justice? If so, I’m not sure whose justice it is. Is it the Siegel’s for their outlandish, decadent lifestyle now faced with flying business class? Or, is it mine? Because in some odd way, the director Lauren Greenfield was able to make me feel [sort of] sorry for the Siegels. David Siegel is an isolated and lonely man who confesses he cannot derive any happiness from his wealth. Not from his house. Not from his wife. Not from his material possessions. And Jackie just wants to make her family happy. However, I’m able to immediately push any thoughts of pity aside when I remember they are building the largest house in America and naming it Versailles! Seriously Siegels, you may wish to rethink the name.
by Anne Mangano on December 6th, 2012
The characters in Emma Donoghue’s short story collection come from all walks of life: a German mercenary in revolutionary New Jersey trying his best to fit into his British regiment, a middle class British woman struggling to support her family, and a mother trying to find her daughter after a New York charity places her on an orphan train.
What brings these characters together is their search for a direction–whether a quest for a home, a family, a purpose, a fortune, a truth–hence the title, Astray. However, aside from the lack of settlement, the characters are often faced with a moral dilemma and finding themselves on the wrong side of right. That German mercenary? His regiment is terrorizing women up and down the state of New Jersey. That mother who lost her daughter? She had given that daughter to an orphanage, which sent her to a family in Iowa (of course!) that doesn’t want to give her up.
Donoghue’s fictional wanderers are inspired by historical events, people, and places. She wrote most of the stories after stumbling on interesting newspaper articles, biographies, or collections of letters. She cites these resources at the end in a brief description of the historical background of each story. I found these explanations fascinating. What I loved about Astray, was Donoghue allowed me to do my own wandering, from page to page, visiting colonial New England, Victorian London, and the Yukon territory during the gold rushes. Writing fiction, Donoghue states in the afterward, allows her to “live more than one life, walk more than one path.” She adds “reading, of course, can do the same.”