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Year End Wrap Up for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club: The Stepford Wives, Interview with a Vampire, Once and Future King, and The Time Machine

27 Dec

We had some great discussion this year as part of the Hoboken Public Library’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club.  If you would like you can also check out my two earlier posts about our recommended reads.  Join us at our next meeting on January 22 to discuss The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (you can read about my enjoyment of this book in a previous blog post).  In February we will be reading The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (you can read about another of the author’s collaboration in a previous blog post).  In March we will be reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman.  You can help us plan what books we will read and movies we will watch in 2018.

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

For our September discussion, one of the group recommended The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin.  Although The Stepford Wives itself is a fairly quick read, at under 150 pages, it produced a lot of thought-provoking discussion amongst the group about topics such as our changing views of gender and the future of robotics/technology and its effects on humanity.  The group had also read another of Levin’s work Rosemary’s Baby previously and it was interesting to see how the fear and paranoia about the people one is supposed to be able to trust the most were found in both works.  The group on the whole was less positive toward the 2004 movie adaptation starring Nicole Kidman which we viewed, finding it more campy and funny than the original suspenseful work.  Instead some of the members recommend the earlier 1975 adaptation which adheres closer to the plot of the novel and keeps more of its tone.

Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice

I had written several months ago about being a fan of Rice’s work in my teens and early twenties so I suggested to the group we read Interview with a Vampire for our annual spooky Halloween pick for October.  In addition to the novel we also watched the movie adaptation starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Antonio Banderas which I remember getting for my birthday back when it was originally released on VHS.  The group enjoyed the adaptation and felt the casting for the movie was excellent.  We had an interesting discussion about immortality and the enduring popularity of vampire fiction.  If you haven’t read this classic, I recommend checking it out.

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

The Once and Future King
is White’s classic adaptation of the stories of King Arthur and his knights.  I was intrigued to read this since as a child I was a fan of the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone which is based on the first part of the book, which was at one time a standalone novel.  The length of the book made it hard to get through for all of the group, but they appreciated the style of White’s retelling.  Much like the Harry Potter series, the book gets darker and more adult as Arthur ages.  Kids and teens had fun decorating paper crowns in the Makerspace as part of our celebration of King Arthur.  We had many people pop in for our double feature of the animated The Sword in the Stone and the live action Excalibur.  Several of the group members mentioned the beauty of the setting of Excalibur which was filmed in Ireland and also the sparkly unique interpretation of the historic costuming as filtered through the lens of late 70’s/early 80’s fashion.  I enjoyed The Sword in the Stone even more having read the source material, my favorite part is the Wizard Duel between Mim and Merlin.

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

In December, with the busyness of the holidays we chose a shorter, though still classic, work The Time Machine by H. G. Wells.  Despite its length we still had an interesting discussion about the book’s view of the future and how it reflects the author and his time periods concern about class divisions.  The group also watched the 2002 movie adaptation that was directed by Wells’s great grandson, Simon Wells.  On the whole the group preferred the book, but thought the special effects held up well.  There was some discussion about how the movie predicted some things 15 years later that have become prominent parts of our lives such as virtual assistants and bicycling vending like we have here in Hoboken as an environmental alternative to cars.  One of the things I enjoy about the group is the opportunity to read books from different periods such as the past four months with books from 1972, 1979, 1958 and 1895.  Next month we will be reading a novel from this decade, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente from 2011.

Hope you can join us on January 22 at 6 PM for our next discussion; stop by at 4 PM for a classic fantasy film! The Library also has two other groups worth checking out: a Lady Memoir Book Club at Little City Books (100 Bloomfield Street) which will discuss Shonda Rhimes’s Year of Yes on Wednesday January 17 at 7 PM and the Mile Square City Readers Book Club, which this month will have author Amy Stewart discuss (via Skype) her book, Girl Waits with Gun, on Tuesday January 23 at 6:30 PM.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

Summer Reading with My 3 Nieces: The Hate U Give, Into the Wild, and Everything, Everything (and Read Harder Task 10)

11 Aug

In my last post I wrote about recommending books to my eldest niece for her summer reading assignment. This gave me the idea to assign myself the same books she and her two sisters are reading this summer so we can discuss them. This is the first post of that series.

Aimee wrote last week in her post about 1000 Books Before Kindergarten about how she enjoys reading with her son, and the importance of parents and caregivers reading to children before they start school. My nieces are all past kindergarten now, but I think it’s important to keep talking to kids about books even after they’ve learned to read independently. My friend Jenny has a whole blog about this idea called Books, Babies, and Bows, where she writes about reading with her daughters that is worth exploring.

My niece read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (my recommendation!) for fiction, and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer for nonfiction.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


This debut novel by Angie Thomas, whose title references rapper Tupac Shakur and is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, is hands-down one of the best books I have read this year. Sarah reports that she enjoyed this book, too. After finishing it I took to my social media channels to tell everyone to read it. And I am telling you, dear reader of this blog, to read it too. 

Starr Carter is a typical teenager who loves a fresh pair of Jordans, LeBron James, and Harry Potter, and believes she is somehow related to Jay-Z (aka Sean Carter, aka Mr. Beyonce Knowles) because they share a last name. She finds herself in an extraordinary situation after witnessing her friend Khalil’s murder by a police officer she refers to as One Fifteen. This book follows that aftermath in her gritty community and at her suburban private school interacting with her rather un-woke classmates, including one she considered a close friend.

I was more interested in the adults in The Hate U Give. Starr’s parents, Momma and Daddy (proper names Lisa and Maverick), are well-written and multifaceted. They too struggle with staying loyal to their community and their desire to give Starr and her siblings a better life. I will have to ask my niece for her thoughts about Starr’s parents, but they’re the ones I’m still thinking about after finishing the book.

Reading this book completed the Read a Debut Novel task for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, which I am still working on. More about that journey at this link.

The most important lesson that Starr learns in this story is to use her voice, even when it’s hard and scary and the circumstances are not ideal. I hope that is the takeaway for my niece. 

The Hate U Give will become a film. Click here to see which actors will play Starr, her parents, and her older brother Seven. But … please read the book before you see the movie!

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer


Sarah chose this book (which was published in 1996, seven years before she was born!) on her own. I have long heard of it, but hadn’t read it until now. Into the Wild appears on many school summer reading lists (an edition written for a young adult audience exists), and after reading it I understand why. This story includes science, geography, family drama, mystery, human psychology, history, practical information about survival, and even ethnography. Truly, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this book.

After his 1992 graduation from Emory University in Atlanta, Chris McCandless donated his savings to charity and drove to the American West with the goal to reach Alaska. Two years later his emaciated body was found in an abandoned bus used at shelter in the Denali region of Alaska. The book grew from an article that Jon Krakauer wrote for Outside magazine published in January 1993 about McCandless.

The biggest questions about Chris McCandless start with “why”. Why did he start this adventure? Why did he cut off contact with his family, including his sister Carine, to whom he was close? (Carine wrote The Wild Truth, published in 2014, about her and Chris’s life growing up.) Why did he take on the name Alexander Supertramp? Into the Wild explores those questions, with in-depth reporting from Chris’s family and friends and the people he encountered on his journey to Alaska.

Sarah reported that she is reading the adult edition and had trouble understanding the story at the beginning, but she likes it. What I noticed in the book was what my mother calls “ten dollar words”. Some of the language Krakauer used in the book tripped me up! My hope is Sarah remembers those words when she takes the SAT in a few years.

Sean Penn’s film adaptation of the book is remarkable. Emile Hirsch’s performance, especially in the final scenes of the movie, is haunting. Don’t make my mistake of watching this movie before going to sleep.

Sarah also read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, which she said was an easy read and really good. Now I feel compelled to add this to my bursting summer reading list because I’ve heard lots of good things about, and was recently made into a movie.


Stay tuned for the next post, where I write about the books my second niece Alyssa (who I wrote about here) read this summer.

How is your summer reading going? If you have young people in your life, do you talk about books with them?

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

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