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Author Archive for Brian Visser

It’s the end of the world as we know it!

by Brian Visser on November 23rd, 2015
It’s the end of the world as we know it! Cover Image

Are you prepared for the eventual collapse of society?  I see you slowly backing away from me, but wait!  Let me put away my tin foil hat and explain.  I was recently searching for a new book to read, preferably something non-fiction. (I always make a reading resolution to read more non-fiction, but I never do).  I stumbled upon a book called Lights Out by Ted Koppel.  Koppel wrote about the likelihood of a cyber-attack against the country’s power grid, and how we’re ill prepared for a lengthy blackout.  There would be no running water or means to refrigerate our food.  The smart phones that we use constantly would be useless within days.  Heavy stuff, right?  Also, Koppel investigated the federal government’s planned response for such an attack, and, apparently, there isn’t one.  So…we’re screwed.

I’m actually not all that worried about our impending doom, but it did get me to think about some common sense preparations in the case of a disaster, natural or otherwise.  While the government hasn’t planned for a power grid attack, it does have suggestions for general disaster preparedness.  The Department of Homeland Security created the Ready website to educate us on how to respond to emergencies, and, hopefully, raise the level of preparedness across America.  If you go to the website, you’ll see a “Navigation” link on the left.  If you click on that, it brings up the site’s content including an (almost) exhaustive list of the terrible things that could happen.  Space weather (!) is on this list.  Which–this gave me a chuckle–talks about damage to the electric grid, but not to the level that Koppel is worried about.

FEMA got in on the action (cause it’s their job) and made a Recommended Supplies List.  Honestly, I need to get my act together.  We don’t have most of the stuff on the list, and it definitely isn’t assembled into an Emergency Supply Kit.  Did you look at that list?  It says to consider having household chlorine bleach and a medicine dropper in your kit.  Why?  Because if things get super dire, you can use it to treat water to make it drinkable by using 16 drops of  liquid bleach per gallon of water.  I did some checking into this, and that’s basically what city water treatment does.  So, it won’t even taste weird.  Fun stuff!  If I sound like I’m making light of all this, I’m really not.  I think it’s smart to be prepared.  I’m going to start making my kit soon…Tomorrow, probably.  I’m sure I’ll get around to it sometime.

I’m so over Star Wars Episode VII, let’s talk about Episode VIII…

by Brian Visser on October 23rd, 2015

Looper_posterJust kidding, I’m so excited for The Force Awakens that there’s a tingling sensation in my extremities (maybe I should go see a doctor about that…).  Anyway, J.J.’s take on Star Wars in December kicks off annual movie releases for the beloved franchise.  This is something that I still have trouble wrapping my mind around: We’re going to get a new Star Wars movie EVERY YEAR.  In 2016, “Rogue One,” the first spin-off film, directed by Gareth Edwards, will be in cinemas.  “Star Wars: Episode VIII will arrive on May 26, 2017, with Rian Johnson as the writer and director.  When Rian Johnson’s involvement was first announced, I couldn’t believe it.  It seemed too perfect, and I kept waiting for Disney to say, “nope, never mind, you don’t get nice things.”  Why am I so happy about Johnson directing a Star Wars movie?  Because he wrote and directed one of my favorite films of the last five years, “Looper,” and the fantastic neo-noir “Brick.”

Set in the somewhat near future, “Looper” is a time travel movie.  In it, organized crime types send people who they want to disappear back in time to get whacked.  Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is one of the guys who does the whacking. Things get complicated, though, when an older version of Joe, played by Bruce Willis, is the person sent back.  Sounds great, right?  The movie also plays with the idea of the fluidity and malleability of time.  It’s intelligent sci-fi that’s sometimes hard to come by.  Also, I looooooove time travel movies.

Brick” is a stylish, mystery that takes place at a high school.  Brendan (also Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a loner.  When the girl he loves turns up dead, he will do whatever is takes to figure out who is responsible.  If that sounds like the most basic noir set-up out there, that’s because it is.  Seriously, this movie is so hard-boiled that in my memory it’s shot in black and white.  It’s not, but I had to check to make sure.  But Johnson hits it out of the park with smart and tight writing which Gordon-Levitt nails.   Brendan gets mixed-up and roughed up, and it’s definitely worth a watch.

I encourage you to watch either or both of these great movies to get a taste of what Star Wars: Episode VIII might be like.  And now that I think about it, does this mean Joseph Gordon-Levitt is going to be in the movie?!?  I can only hope.

Tales of a Budding Bicyclist Part 2

by Brian Visser on August 18th, 2015

RAGBRAII rode the last day of RAGBRAI this year. The route was from Coralville to Davenport—68 miles—and I absolutely loved it! The best part was the people. The small towns celebrated our arrival. In Atalissa, a row of kids along the road gave riders hi-fives. People in several towns sat at the end of their driveways with hoses and offered to spray riders down to cool them off. About 10 miles away from Davenport, I had to rest, so I stopped and laid down in someone’s lawn. A little girl walked up and asked if I wanted a popsicle. All of this made me smile the biggest smile.

The people riding RAGBRAI were also great. Several times I saw bicyclists with flat tires Bike Repair & Maintenancepulled off to the side of the road. Other riders always stopped to offer assistance or would ask if they needed help. I took comfort in this because I have no idea how to fix a tire. If I had gotten a flat, I would’ve had to rely on the kindness of strangers to get back on the road. I had the thought that I should try to remedy that, and the Library has plenty of books to help teach you how to handle common repairs. One that I really liked was Bike Repair & Maintenance by Christopher Wiggins
. It has big pictures and simple instructions that even I could follow. We have a lot of other titles that you can check out here.

BicyclingI still feel like a bit of a casual rider. There’s a culture around biking that I don’t quite get yet. I’ve been reading two digital magazines that the Library offers through Zinio*– Bicycling and Bicycle Times – to help figure it out. Also, there are a lot of blogs around cycling that I’ve been checking out. One of them, Fat Cyclist, is really good. The author started his blog after he noticed that he had put on some weight and decided to shed the pounds by biking (sounds familiar, right?). He now posts stories about races and bike trips that he goes on. His writing is affable and humorous. He’s also really into mountain biking, and it’s hard not to get excited about it too. Maybe that will be the next thing I’ll try :)

I can’t wait for next year’s RAGBRAI. I need to train more, and I should get some common sense gear (like gloves!) to make the ride more manageable. I want to take more rides around the state. The Library has books about that too. You can find those here. I’ll see you on the trails!


*Magazines through Zinio are available to patrons who live in Iowa City, Hills, University Heights, Lone Tree, or rural Johnson County.

The 25 Greatest American Films

by Brian Visser on July 24th, 2015

1125019024_356243621e_oI love movie lists.  They’re a lot of fun and usually spark some good-natured debates.  The BBC recently asked a group of international film critics–which included critics from magazines, newspapers, television and online–to create lists of the 10 movies they felt were the greatest in American cinema.  They then used those to create a list of 100 films using a point system giving 10 points for a #1 pick down to 1 point for a #10 pick.  Here are the top 25 with links to our catalog:

25. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
24. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
23. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
22. Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924)
21. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
20. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
19. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
18. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
17. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)
16. McCabe & Mrs Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
15. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)
14. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
13. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
12. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
11. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)
10. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
9. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
8. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
7. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
6. Sunrise (FW Murnau, 1927)
5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

A few of the movies are out-of-print or just not available on DVD.  Here’s the page where they break-down the top 25, and this page has the whole top 100 list.  The list has already generated talk online for notable omissions like no films by the Coen Brothers or Wes Anderson.  What do you think?  How many of these films have you watched?  Any of your favorites not make the cut?

Tales of a Budding Bicyclist

by Brian Visser on June 11th, 2015

Wanna go for a rideI’ve been commuting to work on my bike for the last three years.  I started because my doctor said that I wasn’t exercising enough.  My grandma has Type 2 diabetes and my dad is pre-diabetic, and my doctor said I was traveling down that same path.  It shook me up enough to do something about it.  Riding my bike to work seemed like a good solution.  I got some exercise, and I didn’t have to sacrifice any of my precious free time.  At first, I was a little anxious to ride on the road.  The Iowa DOT has great resources for bicyclists including safety information for both motorists and bicyclists

Bike Safety

I’ve internalized the safety tips for bicyclists, especially this one–Make eye contact with motorists.
Never assume a motorist sees you or that you have the right-of-way. Expect the unexpected such as: parked vehicles pulling into traffic; vehicle doors opening into your path; and debris on the road

I can’t count how many times I’ve thought, “They see me, right?  Nope, they totally don’t see me.”  Also, motorists, I feel your pain, because you read that “Obey traffic signs and signals” in the bicyclists column and thought, “Yeah, they totally don’t do that.”  I do!  I wish more of my fellow bicyclists did too.

I didn’t expect to like riding my bike so much.  Now I go on longer rides.  I even bought some bike shorts.  Not the super tight spandex kind, but the baggy kind (this Amazon review that said they were like “wearing a fully loaded diaper” is what won me over).   I recently took a ride to North Liberty and back.  Again, the DOT website is great for planning rides like that, because they have an interactive bike map.  I know what you’re thinking, “Brian, I use Google Maps!”  Google Maps is the best, but have you ever used it to plan a bike ride?  It’s awful for that!  If you plug in the ride I just went on, this is the route it tells you to take:

You don't need to know where I live

For some reason it doesn’t want you to use the awesome Clear Creek Trail, which makes for a prettier and safer ride.  That trail is easily found on the DOT map.  Also, Google Maps considers Mormon Trek a “bicycle-friendly road” which is completely bonkers.

I’m going to make an effort to take part in more local bike events and rides. has a good page listing the cycling events in Johnson County, and Bike Iowa has a comprehensive and searchable list of events across the state.  The big one, of course, is RAGBRAI.  I’ve never gone on it before, but this year I’m riding the last day from Coralville to Davenport.  I’m really excited!

Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis Ultimate Collection Volume 1

by Brian Visser on May 5th, 2015
Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis Ultimate Collection Volume 1 Cover Image

The first season of the Daredevil TV show was released on Netflix last month.  For the uninitiated, Daredevil is a street-level superhero who was blinded as a boy when a radioactive isotope was splashed in his eyes.  His other senses were super-heightened and gave him a sort of radar sense.  Comics, everybody!  He became a lawyer (after he grew up, not some Doogie Howser nonsense), and also became a ninja.  Yeah.  He wears all red, but is basically Marvel’s Batman.

I inhaled the first season and was soon forcing it on others with a zeal.  But it was over for me, and I had a Daredevil shaped hole in my heart.  That hole was filled with comics.  Brian Michael Bendis had a 55 issue, Eisner Award-winning run on Daredevil in the 2000s, and it has been collected into three Ultimate Collection volumes.  Volume 1 is an excellent place to start if you’re looking for more about the Man Without Fear.

 “Wake Up” is the first story in the volume, and it’s surprisingly low key.  Matt Murdoch or Daredevil are not in it much.  Instead the focus is on Ben Urich, the journalist who is heavily featured in the show.  He’s investigating a young boy who’s catatonic after his father, a low-level Daredevil villain named Leap Frog, goes missing.  Urich is sure that Daredevil has something to do with the boy’s current state and seeks him out.  David Mack provides beautiful painted art for the story.

“Underboss” and “Out” make up the rest of this volume.  “Underboss” has a new player in town trying to take out the Kingpin.  “Out” deals with the fallout of that story, and the fact that the FBI learns that Matt Murdoch is Daredevil.  The writing in all of these stories is top notch, and it’s complimented nicely by the fantastic noir influenced artwork of Alex Maleev.  Seriously, the art is great.  Check this out:


I highly recommend Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis Ultimate Collection Volume 1 and the rest of the volumes to anyone who is suffering from a Daredevil hangover.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

by Brian Visser on April 8th, 2015
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Cover Image

I’ve been pretty excited for the movie adaptation of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews since it debuted to universally positive reviews at the Sundance Fim Festival this year.  It won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize, which are the two big awards at Sundance.  The first trailer just hit.  You can watch it here (warning: There’s a little colorful language).  The buzz is that it will be the next The Fault in Our Stars, and the book commonly came up as a TFiOS read-alike.  You can beat the rush and read the book (or eBooknow!

Teen Homework Help

by Brian Visser on March 18th, 2015

Homework Help

Stuck with your homework?  The Library can help!

The Iowa City Public Library has teamed-up with Envision Tutoring to provide free weekly tutoring sessions in all subjects for students in grades 7 through 12.  The tutors are volunteers–both university students and former educators–qualified to teach all subjects. Each tutor undergoes a background check and training to ensure students get the most benefit from the sessions, and tutoring sessions are confidential.

All tutoring will take place within the Koza Family Teen Center on the Library’s second floor. To sign up for your session, visit

Once you have chosen a slot that works for you, use the form at the bottom of the page to schedule that slot. We will get back to you within two weekdays to confirm your tutor reservation.

Iowa House and Senate Bill Tracking

by Brian Visser on March 5th, 2015

billThere have been some big issues discussed recently by the Iowa House and Senate including when schools must start or the recent gas tax increase.  The Iowa Legislature page is a great tool to help follow a bill’s progress.  If you know the bill’s number, such as HF13 for the school start date bill, just enter it into the “Bills Quick Search” on the right side.  You’ll be shown the bill in its entirety.  You can click on “Current Bill History” on the left, and it will tell you when the bill was introduced or if it has passed.  There’s also a link on the left to track versions of the bill.

It’s very possible that you won’t know the bill’s number.  If that’s the case, you can use the “Bill Keyword Quick Search.”  I did a search for “school” and HF13 was the sixth result.  But searching that way can be frustrating.  To take the guess work out of it, consider searching the Des Moines Register (you’ll have to scroll down a bit to get to DMR).  They do excellent statehouse reporting and often mention the bill number in their articles.

Want to contact your state representative or senator about a bill?  We have a handy page with that information right here.

Best in Books for Teens

by Brian Visser on February 5th, 2015

printz award

Earlier this week, the  winner of the 2015 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 the close, but no cigar books of the year.  Personally, I usually like the honor books more than the book that wins each year.  Here are this year’s books:

2015 Winner

I’ll Give You the SunI'll Give You the Sun

By Jandy Nelson

Published by Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group, (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House Company Once inseparable, twins Noah and Jude are torn apart by a family tragedy that transforms their intense love for each other into intense anger. Timelines twist and turn around each other in beautifully orchestrated stories of love and longing.

2015 Honor Books

And WAnd We Staye Stay

By Jenny Hubbard

Published by Delacorte, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., a Penguin Random House Company.

Reeling from her boyfriend’s dramatic suicide, Emily hides her anguish at a new boarding school, where she finds healing through poetry. Hubbard’s gem-like prose beautifully balances Emily’s poetry.


The Carnival at BrayCarnival at Bray

By Jessie Ann Foley

Published by Elephant Rock Books.

In 1993, Maggie is dismayed to leave Chicago and her beloved Uncle Kevin behind when she moves to a small Irish town. Yet it is within this evocative setting that Foley unwinds Maggie’s exceptional coming-of-age tale, where Maggie discovers music and forgiveness as antidotes for grief.


GrGrasshopper Jungleasshopper Jungle

By Andrew Smith

Published by Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.

Historian Austin Szerba is in love with his best girl friend, Shann. He is also in love with his best boy friend, Robby. Mastermind Smith takes these tender facts and swirls them into a whirlwind tale of carnivorous praying mantises, the history of the world, the role of the individual, and the end of all we know.


This One SummerThis One Summer

By Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

Published by First Second

Adolescence in its precarious first bloom is the subject of this sensitive graphic novel. The team of Mariko and Jillian Tamaki show and tell us of one special summer in Rose’s life, in a brilliant flow of pictures and text.