by Brian Visser on February 17th, 2016
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
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.
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.
In 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)
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 The 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, and 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.
by Brian Visser on February 1st, 2016
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.
by Brian Visser on January 13th, 2016
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:
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.
by Brian Visser on November 23rd, 2015
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.
by Brian Visser on October 23rd, 2015
Just 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.
by Brian Visser on August 18th, 2015
I 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 pulled 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.
I 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.
by Brian Visser on July 24th, 2015
I 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?
by Brian Visser on June 11th, 2015
I’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—
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:
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. ThinkBicyles.org 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!
by Brian Visser on May 5th, 2015
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.