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Author Archive for Brian Visser

Raise a Glass to Freedom…Voting Resources!

by Brian Visser on October 25th, 2016

LinThe 58th U.S. presidential election will take place on Tuesday, November 8, but you know that already, right?  I mean, how could you not?  History has its eyes on us, but maybe you haven’t decided who you’re going to vote for or maybe you’re not registered.  You can register online here.  If you’re not sure whether you’re registered to vote in Iowa, you can check that here.  You can also register in person at any of the early voting locations, which can be found here.  Just be sure to bring along one of these:

  • Iowa driver’s license
  • Iowa non-operator’s ID card
  • Out-of-state driver’s license or non-operator’s ID card
  • US passport
  • US military ID card
  • ID card issued by an employer
  • Student ID card issued by an Iowa high school or an Iowa college

The League of Women Voters put together a website so that you can make an informed decision on who to vote for–Vote411.  You can enter your address to bring up the races applicable to you and easily compare candidates.  The Gazette has an election center as well.  If you click on the “Election Guide” and put in your address, it will show you your ballot.  The Johnson County Auditor’s website has links to all of the candidates websites here.  This is not a moment; it’s the movement.  Vote.  Don’t throw away your shot–Lin-Manuel won’t stand for it 😉

Tales of a Budding Bicyclist Part 3

by Brian Visser on July 22nd, 2016

maxresdefaultI’ve blogged about biking in the past.  I thought that doing a third post might be too much, but I realized it has almost been a year since my last cycling-related entry (the days are long, but the years are short).  I think that RAGBRAI gets me in the mood to write about one of my favorite pastimes.  My escalation in bike riding could not have been foreseen.  Seriously, though, I went from not riding a bike to thinking that going for a 36 mile ride is a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon!  I feel like it’s time to invest in a new, better bike, and ICPL has a great resource to help figure out what’s best for me.

Last year during RAGBRAI, I got serious bike envy.  Let me explain–four years ago, I had decided that riding a bike to work would be a good way to exercise.  I walked into a local bike shop and told the friendly employee that I needed a bike to make my short-ish commute downtown.  They got me set-up with a no-frills bicycle for that very purpose.  I was (and still am) very happy with it (I would like to mention that I named my bike Road Warrior).  Thing is, I feel like I’m working harder than I need to on longer rides.  My bike is heavy with wide tires.  Hence the RAGBRAI bike envy.  Everyone had really nice bikes, and I was riding the bike I use to get to work everyday.

I have an idea of what I want to get, but I definitely needed to do research.  The Library has access to the Consumer Reports database (currently only available within the Library, but we’re working on it).  Consumer Reports is known for its unbiased information and reviews on numerous products.  They have a Bike Buying Guide.  I should mention that it’s a section that they’re no longer actively updating, but the info that is provided is very helpful.  They have a great “Getting Started” section that gets you thinking about BBGhow you want to ride, how much you want to spend and where you should get your bike from.  They recommend going to a bike shop.  We’re lucky to have so many options in Iowa City including World of BikesGeoff’s30th Century Bicycle and Broken Spoke.  Going for a test ride is important to make sure you’re comfortable with the bike.

They go through the different types of bikes, which was actually quite helpful for me.  I always assumed that my current bike was a road bike, but the description is more in line with a fitness bike.  Which makes sense, because it says that fitness bikes are good for commuting.  A performance road bike seems like the kind of bike that I’m interested in now.  After that, there’s a section about several brands of bikes.  I also appreciated this section due to the fact that I was only aware of a handful of popular manufactures.  Consumer Reports also has a guide for purchasing a helmet and great articles like “Gear Up for a Safe Ride.”  They recommend getting a mirror for your bike.  I do too!  I’ve found my mirror to be invaluable.

I’ll probably be getting that new bike relatively soon.  It takes me forever to make a decision like this.  I want to be happy with it, because I plan on riding it for years and years to come.

10 Cloverfield Lane

by Brian Visser on June 22nd, 2016
10 Cloverfield Lane Cover Image

I hated Cloverfield.  Hated.  It.  The 2008 film followed a group of 20-somethings in New York the evening of an attack by a Godzilla-like monster.  All of the characters were terrible, annoying, self-absorbed people.  By the end of it, I was rooting for the monster.  I really wanted them all to be eaten.  Spoilers: They get eaten.  So, when 10 Cloverfield Lane, a sort-of sequel, was announced, I wasn’t interested at all.  But, my curiosity got the best of me, and I watched the first trailer.  I was very intrigued by what I saw.  Besides, it didn’t appear to have anything to do with its namesake.  I watched the movie this weekend, and I am very happy that I didn’t dismiss it out of hand.

Cloverfield was a found footage monster movie, while 10 Cloverfield Lane is a traditionally shot, claustrophobic thriller.  It stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle–a woman who wakes up after a car accident to find herself in a bomb shelter.  She’s shocked when she realizes that her leg is shackled to a pipe, and there’s an IV in her arm.  Howard–played by John Goodman–informs her that he saved her after the accident and brought her to his bunker.  He claims that there has been some sort of chemical attack and that it’s not safe to leave.  Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a man who helped Howard build the shelter, is the other occupant.  All three actors do an amazing job, and the movie plays with the audience about whether Howard is telling the truth or is maybe just plain crazy.  I would’ve preferred if they hadn’t connected this to Cloverfield at all, because I think the ending would’ve been a bigger shock.  I highly recommend this to anyone who likes tight, tense movies.

Grayson Vol. 1: Agents Of Spyral by Tom King and Tim Seeley

by Brian Visser on June 2nd, 2016
Grayson Vol. 1: Agents Of Spyral by Tom King and Tim Seeley Cover Image

DC Comic’s The New 52 publishing initiative has come to an end.  Grayson by Tom King and Tim Seeley was easily the best thing to come out of it.  It follows the former Robin, Dick Grayson, after he was outed as Nightwing, killed (he got better) and recruited to become a spy for the organization Spyral.  Comics!  I’d describe Grayson as a crazy sci-fi, spy-thriller.  King and Seeley took a lot of Grant Morrizon’s bizarre ideas from his tenure on Batman and ran with them.  Dick is working as a double-agent for Batman in Spyral.  Spyral has been keeping tabs on the superhero community and slowly figuring out everyone’s secret identities.  Batman wants to know what Spyral knows and wants the once Boy Wonder to undermine their operations.  This puts Dick–now known as Agent 37–in morally compromising situations.  The book also has a sense of humor:  I think of Dick Grayson as the Spider-man of the DC Universe–he’s a quipper.  He knows everyone, and he’s fun.  Even though The New 52 is done, Rebirth isn’t steamrolling everything that came before.  Grayson is still relevant to the DC Universe going forward.  Plus, it’s a great story with great art.  I don’t know how newbie friendly it is.  Batman Incorporated would be a good place to start if you want the background of Grant Morrison’s influence.  Otherwise, you can start with The New 52 Nightwing then Forever Evil.

Summer (Reading) is Coming

by Brian Visser on May 17th, 2016

SiCThe Iowa City Public Library’s Summer Reading Program begins on Tuesday, May 31, but it’s not the only Summer Reading Program in the area.  Your friendly, neighborhood Teacher Librarians put together an amazing website that has info about all of the summer reading opportunities!  They also created lists of great reads broken down by grade levels.  Check them out and find your next favorite book.  Feel free to sign up for all the programs and read all the things!  Fight the Summer Slide (which is a bad thing, and completely different from the Electric Slide)!

Disney World or Bust

by Brian Visser on May 11th, 2016

I really love amusement parks–the towering roller coasters, delicious food that’s super awful for you and beloved characteDisneyworld_fireworks_-_0228rs walking around for photo ops.  The crown jewels of American amusement parks are Disneyland and Disney World.  There’s a lot of debate online about which park is better.  The differences are obvious: Disney World is much, much larger than Disneyland.  Disney World is a ridiculous 43 square miles, which is almost twice as big as Manhattan, and it contains four (!) different theme parks and two water parks.  Disneyland is smaller, but it’s the original and dense with things to do.  As an unabashed Disney movie fan, I’d be happy at either park.  My family is planning a trip to Disney World this summer, and the Library has resources to help figure things out.  I swear, we are going to have a magical time or else!

There are oodles of travel books that you can consult for your Disney World vacation.  The first I grabbed was Birnbaum’s 2016 Official Guide to Walt Disney World.  It’s official, so you know it can be trusted :)  Right off the bat, the book gives recommendations on the best time to go to Disney World.  We’re going in June, which they rated as “Most Crowded” and totally not the time to go.  Whoops!  It says to expect waits “of as much as two to three hours (or more)” for BWDWpopular rides and attractions.  That’s OK.  We can make that work.  The rest of the early sections of the book focus on the logistics of getting to the park and paying for it (including making a budget–food is expensive in Disney World).  The really good stuff is the sample schedules.  Those gave me an idea of what all we can plan to do, because it’s impossible to see and do everything.  The schedules have a list of “Musts,” which are the attractions that they highly recommend.  They also have “Line Busters.”  Those are attractions that have shorter or faster-moving lines for when the park is busy.  The amount of stuff that you can experience at these parks can be overwhelming, so these schedule sections have been invaluable.

One of the other books that was helpful was The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids (unofficial–sketchy, I know).  This one kicks off with a discussion of how old your kiddos should be to get the most out of the parks.  Again, we have failed the book.  They think the ideal age is 8-12.  Our oldest just turned six, and our youngest is two and a half.  The authors do admit that how well your children do is a case by case basis.  We just had friends who UGWDWWKbrought their five-year-old, and they said the trip was a success.  I think our kids are outgoing and energetic enough for us to get a lot out of the parks.  The book recommends that, if you’re taking kids younger than their suggested age, there’s prep work to help make the experience better.  Part of that prep work is figuring out which rides are better for those younger kiddos.  Luckily, this book breaks down every ride and attraction to let you know the appeal factor by age and if there is any “fright potential” for the youngins.  Should we go to The Haunted Mansion?  Nope!  Nightmare City–Population: Our Daughter.  How about Peter Pan’s Flight?  Super safe.

Obviously, there are a lot of books that you can read to help plan your trip.  I was curious if there were any helpful articles in Ebscohost, so I did a search in Catalog Pro for “Disney World” after selecting the “Articles” tab.  One of the first hits was “The Best Disney for Your Family” from Scholastic Parent & Child.  It breaks down by age the best park to experience.  For Ages 3 to 5, they say The Magic Kingdom is the way to go.  YES!!  That’s what we had planned.  I didn’t let the article down.

The internet has you covered too.  There are sites devoted to getting the most out of your Walt Disney World visit.  I was impressed by Walt Disney World Prep School.  They’ve created a six step planning process for a trip.  Step Six is “Add Extra Magic,” so you know they aren’t messing around.  I’m hoping for at least a regular amount of magic on the trip.  Honestly, the thought of the whole thing makes me tired, so wish me luck.  I’m sure we’ll have a blast, and I’ll invite everyone over to our house to look at pictures from our vacation when we get back.

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1 by Kieron Gillen

by Brian Visser on February 17th, 2016
Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1 by Kieron Gillen Cover Image

Last year, Marvel got the Star Wars comics license back from publisher Dark Horse.  The move made sense since Marvel and Lucasfilm are both owned by Disney (corporate synergy!).  Marvel put some of their best writers and artists on the first three comics–Star Wars, Darth Vader and Princess Leia–and the results were (mostly) fantastic.  My favorite, by far, was the Darth Vader comic written by Kieron Gillen with art by Salvador Larocca.

Darth Vader is one of my favorite characters of all time.  He’s the best bad guy there is.  My love began early when I was drawn to an over-sized Darth Vader action figure at my babysitter’s house.  I vividly remember clutching it when confined to a playpen.  I didn’t watch the movies until years later, but Vader had already made his mark.  Because of this, I was hesitant about the Darth Vader comic.  What if they didn’t do justice to the best bad guy there is?  Thankfully, I didn’t need to be worried.

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1 takes place after Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.  Vader is disgraced after failing to stop an unknown Rebel pilot from destroying the Death Star.  The Emperor demotes him and assigns an agent to monitor him.  Vader, in an effort to get back on top, recruits a rogue techno archaeologist named Doctor Aphra.  Aphra specializes in droids, and Vader catches up with her after she has activated Triple-Zero and BT-1, which are basically murderous versions of C-3P0 and R2-D2.  Vader wants to know what the Emperor is planning next, and there are a lot of double-crosses along the way.

One of my biggest issues with Star Wars comics is that the characters don’t sound like themselves.  The writers can never quite get their voices right.  Vader is a man of few words, and when he speaks, you listen.  Gillen nails that, and I can almost hear James Earl Jones booming voice in the dialog.  Also, the artists usually screw up the helmet and make him look derpy.  Salvador Larocca couldn’t do a better job, though.  I highly recommend Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1 to any Star Wars fan.

Beer me!

by Brian Visser on February 10th, 2016

I wrote a newspaper article this month about beer books in the Library’s collection.  There are a lot of resources online for beer enthusiasts too.  So, I guess this is a companion piece.

FuriousIn my article, I mention Beer Advocate, which is a fantastic online community that spawned its own print magazine.  They also host beer festivals across the country.  Anyway, they’re an excellent place to start online.  There’s a very involved user base that post in the forums and write reviews.  The reviews are what brought me to the site.  When I’m at the store, I check BA to see what a particular beer’s score is.  Since there are so many people using the site and posting reviews, I feel like the score is a pretty good indicator of a beer’s quality.  It’s fun to browse their forums too.  I don’t post there personally, but I could see myself doing it someday.

Another great website is Rate Beer.  It has reviews too (you could probably figure that out from the name)hopslam
and includes different information than what Beer Advocate does, such as the best kind of glass to drink each beer in.  I feel like their reviews are pretty trustworthy too.  They also include information about the beer’s availability, but, honestly, I don’t find it very accurate.  It says that many hard to find beers are common, though, it probably is more indicative of national availability.  That said, the website has a Local Beer guide, which tells you the best beers that can be obtained in your area and the best beers brewed in your area.  As you can imagine, when you put in Iowa, the best beers brewed in your area list is dominated by Toppling Goliath.

Beer blogs are abundant, but which are any good?  First on our short tour is Beervana, a blog by the author of hopreviewThe Beer Bible, Jeff Alworth, one of the books from my article.  Jeff writes about the beer industry and his thoughts on it.  If you liked The Beer Bible, then his blog is definitely worth checking out.  The Hop Review is a slick looking website that covers the craft beer scene in Chicago and the Midwest.  The site features well written articles and everyone involved is obviously very passionate about brews.  Finally, there’s the fun site Pints and Panels.  Em, the creator of the site, draws comics where she reviews beers.  I find beer reviews hard to read sometimes, but Em’s reviews are very accessible.  I love what she’s doing and you should check it out too.

There’s a bunch of other stuff out there, like apps that you can use to track what you drink.  I like the idea, untappdand I’ve tried using Untappd.  I was a little confused by it and soon gave up.  It’s something that I want to explore more.  Alright, go out there and enjoy a drink.  Also, be glad that you don’t have auto-brewery syndrome, which gives home-brewing a whole new meaning.

Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach

by Brian Visser on February 1st, 2016
Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach Cover Image

Have you ever been in a book funk?  You know, where nothing grabs your attention.  For three months, I’d read the first chapter or two of a book then never return to it.  Nothing stuck.  I buy the Young Adult books, and, in doing so, read a lot of reviews.  Sometimes I’ll read a review and get really excited about a book only to be let down.  I had a good feeling about Thanks for the Trouble when I read the review for it, then I gave a quick, silent prayer to the book gods that maybe, just maybe, this would bring an end to the funk.

It did.  It totally did!  I looooooooved this book!  Read it.  Just go read it.  No?  You need some convincing?  OK, here we go…

Parker Santé has been mute ever since his father died in a car accident five years ago.  Now he communicates via his journals and sign language.  He skips school a lot, and one of his favorite pastimes is hanging out at hotels so he can steal from unsuspecting rich folks.  One such victim is silver (not platinum) haired Zelda.  Parker spots Zelda looking perfectly sad, but also notices her fat wad of cash.  After swiping the dough, Parker thinks better of it and returns the money.  Zelda matter-of-factly states that she plans to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge after she spends all of her money on a charity case.  She agrees to spend the money on Parker as long as he agrees to go to college.  This kick-starts a weekend that will change Parker completely.  Also, did I mention that Zelda looks like she’s seventeen, but claims to be 250 years old?

I absolutely loved Parker’s voice.  He’s witty without being obnoxious, and he’s an excellent writer.  He grew up reading faerie tales–the real ones, not the sanitized Disney versions he says–and we’re treated to faerie tales that he has written himself.  Most are bleak, but he can’t help being a bit romantic.  Parker grows, and Zelda shows him that it’s better to live your life than to hide yourself from everyone else.

Do I have issues with the ending?  I do, but it didn’t take the shine off the rest of the book.  I highly recommend this to John Green fans and readers of Andrew Smith.

Teen Book Award Announced

by Brian Visser on January 13th, 2016
Teen Book Award Announced Cover Image

printz award

Earlier this week, the  winner of the 2016 Michael L. Printz Award was announced.  The award honors the best book in young adult literature each year as decided by the Printz Committee.  They also name honor books, which are also really good books for teens (and adults!).  Here are this year’s books:

2016 Winner

Bone Gap

By Laura Ruby

Told from alternating viewpoints, Bone Gap perfectly melds elements of fairy tales, myths, gothic romance, and magic realism into the story of Finn, who lives in a town with gaps in the very fabric of time and place.

2016 Honor Books

The Ghosts of Heaven

By Marcus Sedgwick

Sedgwick connects four seemingly disparate stories, each of which feature a character haunted by the ever-present shape of a spiral. Spanning time, space, and genre, each story raises powerful questions about human nature.

Out of Darkness

By Ashley Hope Pérez

In 1937 East Texas, Mexican American Naomi and African American Wash begin a bittersweet romance. Perez’s beautifully crafted novel is a moving portrayal of both powerful love and a period marked by oppressive, destructive racism.