Archive | August, 2014

Selections from the Hoboken Public Library’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club Part 2: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, American Gods, Hyperion, and Orlando

27 Aug

The HPL’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club meets monthly.  Each meeting a different science fiction or fantasy book is picked by the group.  Along with the selected works group members discuss other favorite science fiction/fantasy books, TV shows, and movies.  If you would like to be added to the mailing list to keep up to date about what is being read, email  The next book we will be reading is Larry Niven’s Ringworld, for the meeting on September 22 at 6 pm.  We have the rest of the year planned out as well; we will be reading Peter Straub’s suspenseful Ghost Story in October, Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein in November, and Terry Pratchett’s humorous Hogfather in December.  We would love to hear your ideas for books for the group to read in the upcoming year.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

I had first read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy back when I was in middle school and rereading it turned out to be as funny and engaging as in my memory.  The book centers around Arthur Dent, who after watching his home be destroyed to build a highway, then finds earth also has been destroyed by aliens planning a similar interstellar project.  Throughout are entries from the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which tell its readers why it is always important to carry a towel and how the Babel Fish inserted in one’s ear allows you to understand any language. The absurd humor is of the type that I find uniquely British so if you are fan of Monty Python or Dr. Who, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy should tickle your funny bone.  Adams satirizes everything from government, politics, business, religion, poetry, and philosophy.  A few of the members of the group felt it lacked any real “science” for science fiction, but we agreed that if you are looking for something humorous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a good  choice.  It is a very quick read so if you haven’t checked it out yet, I highly recommended it.  The library also held a screening of the 2005 movie adaptation and we hope to have screenings of adaptations of Frankenstein and Ghost Story as well in the upcoming months.

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

You may remember I had previously done a post on Neil Gaiman, who is one of my favorite authors.  I was therefore excited when the group chose American Gods for our June book club choice.  We read the author’s preferred text, which was released for the 10th anniversary of the novel.  American Gods mixes old gods from myths and legends that came over to America with immigrants, such as Anansi from Africa and Odin from Scandinavia, with the new “gods” from our modern society, such as Television, Media, and the Internet.  American Gods revolves around antihero Shadow, who has only recently been released from jail and becomes a pawn in the coming war between the new and old gods.  Although I have found sometimes the author’s preferred text are bogged down in unnecessary exposition that a skilled editor would leave out, in this case American Gods held my interest even with the additional text, though those with less time may prefer the shorter original edition (both are available from BCCLS libraries).  This rich novel gave the group a lot of great topics to discuss. If you enjoy this work also check out Gaiman’s Anansi Boys which further develops the world that Gaiman created in American Gods, this time focusing on the sons of Mr. Nancy (aka Anansi).

Hyperion, by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons has a bit of something for everyone in Hyperion.  Those who enjoy literature will enjoy the conceit of this Science Fiction novel having seven pilgrims on their way to a planet called Hyperion sharing their stories reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales (these include a scholar, poet, priest, detective, soldier, and consul) as well as the reference to poet John Keats and his works. Hyperion also contains elements of horror in their dealing with the mysterious Shrike.  There is even some romance in three of the stories as well in the mix.  My favorite was the Scholar’s Story, but each had interesting characters and a thought-provoking tale.  It was fun to hear the different group member’s perspectives on Hyperion.  One member of the group found the first story from the priest boring and slow moving, while another thought it was the best story in the book.  The character of the poet, Martin Silenus, was also polarizing with some of the group enjoying his antics and others finding him irritating.  This novel brought up some great debates about various elements and characters.  Check it out and see what you think!

Orlando, by Virginia Woolf

For the book club’s first female author we decided to go with not just a fantasy classic, but a classic work of literature, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.  Many of the group had seen the movie adaptation, but were curious to read the novel that inspired it.  The group was mixed in their reaction to Orlando with some praising it highly and others finding it difficult stylistically to get through.  However, everyone found a lot to talk about and discuss in this thought provoking novel.  What gives this classic its fantasy twist is that Orlando not only has an extraordinarily long life (living from the time of Queen Elizabeth into the twentieth century), but that half way through the novel he magically changes gender and becomes female.  Orlando explores the notions of both gender and sex and the expectations society places on men and women.  It therefore leads us to question the ideas that come with an insistence on a gender binary.  We can see the seeds of what many contemporary women authors write about when dealing with gender planted in Orlando and it resonated with me as a precursor to Jeannette Winterson and Sarah Waters works, both of whom I wrote about in June for our Pride month blog.

Jeanette Winterson wrote an informative and thought provoking intro to one edition of Orlando, an excerpt of which you can read here. Winterson states, “Orlando refuses all constraints: historical, fantastical, metaphysical, and sociological. Ageing is irrelevant. Gender is irrelevant. Time is irrelevant. It is as though we could live as we always wanted to; disappointments, difficulties, sorrow, love, children, lovers, nothing to be avoided, everything to be claimed.”  This to me is what the best science fiction and fantasy allow, us to move beyond and question the world as it is and look at it for better or worse the way it could or can be.

Hope to see you for our discussion of Larry Niven’s Ringworld in September!

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

Don’t Make Me Get My Flying Monkeys!

20 Aug

Scarecrow: I haven’t got a brain… only straw.

Dorothy: How can you talk if you haven’t got a brain?

Scarecrow: I don’t know… But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking… don’t they?

Dorothy: Yes, I guess you’re right.

2014 is the seventy-fifth anniversary of one of the most beloved movies of any generation: The Wizard of Oz.  Come to my house and there will be no doubt that a true Ozophile lives there.  My bookshelves contain copies of Baum’s original book, an amazing pop-up book based on the Oz story, Gregory Maguire’s arch and satirical “spin-off” Wicked, plus the three sequels telling the story of the Emerald City from the viewpoint of each of the major characters.  Since I am first and foremost a self-proclaimed Broadway Baby, you will find Elphaba’s Grimmerie, her magic spell book from the Broadway show, Wicked, and a pop-up book of the set design from the show.  Friends have gifted me with tiny dolls of the Witch, Dorothy, and the Tin Man.  I also own the DVD of the 1939 classic movie and a SYFY channel movie called, Tin Man, in which Zoe Deschanel of New Girl fame plays D.G., a Kansas farm girl who travels to a surreal Oz where she is befriended by Alan Cummings as her half-brained companion, Glitch, and Richard Dreyfuss plays a seriously scurrilous Wizard.

1939, the year that The Wizard of Oz was released, was arguably the most important year in Hollywood’s long history.  During that epic year, six films of note were released by studios: The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and John Ford’s Stagecoach.

With all that greatness, The Wizard of Oz (which did not win the Oscar for its year) is a TV perennial.  As a child, I waited anxiously for the annual showing of the movie on TV, and marveled as the screen turned from dull black and white to glorious Technicolor.  My sisters, old enough to see the film in the theatre, were taken out when the Wicked Witch appeared, scaring them into tears.  My mother never forgave them the wasted price of admission.

However, it all started with a failed businessman named Lyman Frank Baum, born in the Finger Lakes region of NY who moved to the American prairie where he failed to make his fortune but did create the only genuine American fairy tale for children.  Here is a partial list of books about the Oz, the movie, the author, and more, that you will want to explore from the comfort of your “no place like home.”

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum with illustrations by W.W. Denslow.


This was the first of some forty Oz-related books written by Baum.  If this is the first time you’ve actually read the books, you will be struck by the fact that, while designed as children’s fantasies, they are actually somewhat scary for the youngest readers. The story is somewhat different from the movie that we all know, but the bones are the same.  One iconic item that was changed was Dorothy’s slippers.  In the book they are silver.

The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion, by William Stillman and Jay Scarfone.


All the trivia you ever wanted to know about the movie is encompassed in this coffee table sized volume.  You’ll learn that Shirley Temple was the original choice for Dorothy, but her studio would not lend her out.  So, MGM used Judy Garland, but bound her breasts to make her look younger.  Buddy Ebsen (later made famous in The Beverly Hillbillies) was originally cast as the Tin Man, but developed a severe, life-threatening allergy to the silver make-up he had to wear.  The book includes dialogue, movie cards, and still photography of the original set.  It is a must-have for anyone who treasures the movie.

The Wizard of Oz: A Commemorative Pop-Up Book, illustrated by Robert Sabuda.


Sabuda is the undeniable master of paper engineering and this tribute to the Emerald City is beyond compare.  Included in the book is a pair of green-tinted glasses for viewing the wonders of the Emerald City in its original green.  Open the book to see a tornado rise from the book in all of its three-dimensional glory, as well as a gorgeous pop-up of the Emerald City itself.  The story is abridged, but the illustrations are somewhat faithful to the Denslow originals.  This is a book that is a perfect gift for older children because it is easily destructible.

The Wizard of Oz: A Scanimation Book, by Rufus Seder.


Another unique interpretation of Oz in another unusual format.  Scanimation books make the pictures move as children open and close the pages.  Seder takes ten memorable scenes from the story and turns them into an amazing, moving volume.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Eric Shanawer.


This is one of the newest interpretations of the Oz fantasy.  This time it is done in graphic novel, the updated version of comic books.  Just as Classic Comics introduced another generation to stories that might be beyond their reading levels, graphic novels serve the purpose of engaging “short attention span” readers with the wonderful story in a densely illustrated version.

The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum, by Rebecca Loncraine.


This faithful, well-researched biography of the author of the original Oz books traces his origins in the Finger Lakes region of New York, to his adult life as a failed businessman in the Midwest.  In fact, his book was something of a social satire, with the Emerald City imitating the Chicago World’s Fair and the Witches of Oz bowing to his suffragette wife and mother-in-law.  Although his books have had long-lasting success, he was treated as a joke and a failure by the fledgling motion picture industry when they tried to make the book into a movie, the first time.

Over the Rainbow, illustrated by Eric Puybaret, based on the song by Harold Arlen and E.Y. (Yip) Harburg.


This book and CD set brings the iconic song to life with folk art and ethereal graphic interpretations of the lyrics.  The CD that accompanies the book includes the song as performed by folk singer, Judy Collins instead of the original Judy Garland version.  It also includes the little sung verse of the song.  A wonderful book for one-on-one sharing with your favorite child.

Wicked, by Gregory Maguire.


I’ll admit that this fleshed-out, political satire based on Oz is an acquired taste, but it is contemporary fantasy at its very best.  Maguire extends the original story of the denizens of Oz before Dorothy came on the scene, focusing on Galinda (later Glinda) and Elphaba Thropp, the misunderstood daughter of the Governor of Munchkinland.  If you have seen the Broadway show loosely based on this book, you will be surprised by all that was left out to create the on-stage spectacle.  However, the book is a whole different creation as the politics of Oz and the Wizard’s actual evil persona casts Elphaba as a freedom-fighter for the rights of Animals.  This is the first in a series of books by Maguire, each telling the story from a different character’s viewpoint.  IMHO, this is the strongest and best of the series, although the satire in the second book, Son of a Witch, is a nearly undisguised commentary on the presidency of George W. Bush and a bittersweet representation of a gay romance.

This is a short list of all the Oz related books in print and available through the BCCLS library system.  Anyone yearning for the Emerald City need only click their heels and take out their library card to travel beyond the stars and the clouds, over the rainbow.

-Written by Lois Rubin Gross, Senior Children’s Librarian

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