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virtual reality

What is Virtual Reality?

virtual realityYou may have seen commercials with people wearing thick black goggles, headphones, and tiny gloves. These people might look like they’re sitting on the couch, but they may be climbing a mountain, skiing, or fighting fake zombies.  They are immersed in virtual reality, a trending technology that allows you to participate in the world of the game you’re playing, experience a roller-coaster without waiting in line, or control the Mars rover.  According to Paul Szoldra with Business Insider, “It’s not just about video games. NASA is using virtual reality to control its Curiosity Rover on Mars right now. Hollywood filmmakers are toying with the possibility of telling stories in a virtual world no longer constrained by a static screen in a movie theater. And everyone from architects to medical professionals are adapting the technology for their own ends.”

An NPR article addresses the potential for using virtual reality (or VR) to help in cognitive behavioral therapy. Itsy, a Samsung Nordic Virtual Reality app, is meant to help significantly reduce spider fear in three hours. Developed by William Hamilton and tested in cooperation with psychologists at Stockholm University, Itsy takes techniques borrowed from cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, transports them into a gamelike VR environment, and introduces viewers to animated spiders that slowly become more realistic.


Virtual reality still has a long way to go before it becomes mainstream. The devices released this year by HTC, Facebook’s Oculus, Sony PlayStation and Google largely revolve around gaming, limiting their audience. In addition, most of the devices are expensive.

But the technology has made significant strides. It works smoothly, and the experiences are immersive and stunning. Apps released this year — like Tilt Brush , a 3-D painting tool for HTC’s Vive, or SuperHyberCube , which is like Tetris with a virtual-reality twist for PlayStation VR — demonstrated virtual reality’s tremendous potential.

Chen, B. X. (2016). Biggest tech failures and successes of 2016. New York Times.
King, B. J. (2016).
Szoldra, P. (2016). It’s nearly impossible to describe the mind-blowing experience of virtual reality.  Business Insider.


Comic Snob

comic-snob-article-image-1-e1481765005383When I was a kid, I did not read comic books. I didn’t know much about them, other than that occasionally my brother got to buy one at the grocery store, while I got the more sophisticated (I thought) YM or Seventeen magazines. I thought comic books were for boys, although that really never stopped me in other areas in my young life, like being the only girl on the baseball team. But the stories in comic books seemed silly and boring, and they always seemed to be about Superman or Batman or Archie.

Though my family did read – my Mom read romance or “fluff stuff” as she called it and my Dad loved political thrillers and sci-fi – like many 80s kids I wasn’t exposed to a lot of alternative media. Comics stayed in my mind as a thing for little boys, who perhaps used them as an entry point for reading more serious literature. My brother, who struggled with reading, probably colored and shaped this perception.

As a pre-Internet era kid, if you were not exposed to something in person by stumbling across it at the library or a friend’s house, you might never get access to it. Although I loved art and books, I mostly relied on friends for recommendations, and no one that I knew was into comics, so all I knew about them was the stuff I saw my brother reading. Until I went to college. Ah, college – when you finally find your people. My people are the art nerds, and many of these new friends were interested in reading and creating comics.

The first time I stepped into a comic book store I was vaguely embarrassed. I had seen comics that my college friends were reading and they seemed ’cool’ enough, but I couldn’t shake my lifelong opinion that they were really for kids and, maybe, immature adults. But from that first time in a whole store of comics, I saw how wrong I was.

There were people who had normal body types and weren’t superheroes! Women who weren’t just damsels in distress, gay and lesbian characters treated with humanity, people with white, black, and brown skin. Hand drawn art, digital art, watercolors, mixed media. Fiction and non-fiction. There was a variety I had no idea existed, and I have never been quite the same since this realization.

I love art and stories, and comics and graphic novels are just a marriage of the two. Sure, finding ones you like can be slightly trickier than picking up your average book. If you don’t like the art it can be hard to enjoy the story, or you may love the art and find the story dull. But art and words are the medium, and as I have discovered over many years of reading comics, any type of story can be told as a comic.

Yes – there are a lot of superhero comics and mostly, I am still not interested. But Ms. Marvel is now a young Muslim girl! And Squirrel Girl is a totally bonkers take on the genre! There are comics of every type. If you can write a book about it, then a comic equivalent can also be created.

In some cases, there are graphic reinterpretations of classic books. There are graphic versions of Shakespeare plays, the Odyssey, Beowulf, and Jane Austen novels. A Wrinkle in Time, Fahrenheit 451, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and even the Book of Genesis have all been adapted.

My favorite tend to be the autobiographical. Gabrielle Bell writes about the general ennui of life. Lucy Knisley’s books chronicle different periods, usually centered around travel, family and food. Lynda Barry is the master of showing us how awkward and confusing childhood can be. Jeffrey Brown tries to show us what being a shy, big-hearted, weird man trying to figure out love and how to navigate daily living feels like.

Children’s books are an obvious analogue – we are used to illustrations in children’s literature. There are early readers like Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss, T-Ball Trouble by Cari Meister, and Stinky by Eleanor Davis. There are chapter books like the BabyMouse books by Jennifer Holm and the Lunch Lady books by Jarrett Krosoczka. Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson, Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi, and Bone by Jeff Smith are all popular graphic novels for kids. Raina Telgemeier, author of Smile, Sisters, Drama, Ghosts and new graphic editions of the Babysitter’s Club books are blockbusters of children’s literature!

History? Try “The March Trilogy” by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, which illustrates the 1965 Selma-Montgomery March and the history of the civil rights movement. Or “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi, about life in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. “Hip Hop Family Tree” by Ed Piskor is collection of stories that chronicle the history of hip-hop in the 70s and 80s. “Hark! A Vagrant!” by Kate Beaton (my absolute favorite humor/history comic collection ever) mainly focuses on European and North American history, but you can enjoy the jokes even if you have no idea who she is talking about!

Fantasy and Science Fiction? Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, is one of the top comics of the past few years. A space opera about star crossed lovers just trying to keep their family together, it has a lot of heart. Sandman by Neil Gaiman, is a classic that has a little bit of everything – mythology, folklore, and fairy tales – all bleeding into our reality. Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman is a cultural phenomenon, with its currently 26 volumes and a successful television adaptation. Rick Grimes and crew fight zombies, and even more deadly, other survivors in a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Science? Neurocomic by Hana Ros is an exploration of the functions of the human brain. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer, by Sydney Padua, is a thoroughly researched story of the collaboration between these two scientists. Radioactive, by Lauren Redniss, tells the story of Marie and Pierre Curie, and both their personal journeys and scientific work.

Cookbooks? Check out Lucy Knisley’s “Relish,” or “In the Kitchen with Alain Passard,” by Christophe Blain.
There is The Cartoon Guide to Statistics, a graphic explanation of health care reform, and books on weather, math, logic.
You get the point, as I did, after a long journey that really started by walking into a comic book store for the first time – there is just as much variety in the comic and graphic novel medium as there is for any other type of book. And if you can’t find something exactly of the topic you are looking for, someone is probably working on it.

Nicole Guerra-Coon is a part-time Children’s and Reference Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read Nicole’s column in the December 15th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.


A Taste for Reading

It is remarkable how much of an impact the mention of food has on me when I’m reading. One of my earliest recollections of this comes from the childhood memory of reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Even as I judged the traitorous Edmund for selling out his family, and indeed all of Narnia, to the horrible White Witch simply for Turkish Delight, I was mindful of the magic it had over him. My sympathetic sweet tooth kicked in as I read about how he gobbled down a few pounds of the enchanted candy – each piece “sweet and light to the very center” – and washed it down with a sweet, foamy and creamy beverage he’d never tasted before that “warmed him right down to his toes.”

Yet if descriptions of delightful food in books have the power to inspire us to hunger then so, too, does the absence of food. I was lightheaded by literature-inspired hunger as I read Elie Wiesel’s Night, nearly overwhelmed by the notion of people wasting away from lack of nourishment. Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes described one starving boy’s yearning for a simple potato so dearly that I was never again able to take for granted what for me had been a somewhat ordinary staple food. His fixation on “floury white potatoes” was so constant that the three words formed a distinct phrase that echoes in my head to this day.

Even when food isn’t pivotal to the plot, it can greatly enhance a reading experience. Last year I read several books outside of my usual genre, for a readers’ advisory class. Gail Carriger’s Soulless was an interesting mix of vampires, werewolves and steampunk that invoked a fascination for treacle tart so conspicuous that one of my classmates was moved to bake treacle tarts for us to sample. In Love Letters by Beverly Lewis, the simple, hardworking Amish lifestyle takes center stage – and the amount of time spent describing cooking, baking and canning made me famished! If I’m honest the book also caused me to wonder if there isn’t something to the idea of a simpler life spent attending well to daily tasks like cooking, instead of our modern focus on convenience and reliance on prepared foods, but I digress. In lieu of packing up and moving to Amish country, I now devote more time to cooking homemade meals, and hope to start baking the occasional pie.

As I read Gina Wohlsdorf’s novel Security I was fascinated by a passage in which a chef reflects on the profile cherries, lamenting that it has “a volatility that the common mouth does not comprehend.”  He goes on to note that cinnamon will make the cherries in his recipe too sweet while liquor will make them overly spicy. In a fit of pique, the chef exclaims, “I get desperate, monsieur – I try vinegar!”

This rekindled a curiosity I’d had about the strange alchemy of flavor that certain ingredients produce when combined. I was inspired to hunt for books on this topic, and ended up with a counter full of cookbooks from the library selected mainly on the basis of their titles. Of these, many didn’t fully address my question about the whys and wherefores of flavor combinations, they simply offered up recipes to try.

Luckily, two of the books had just what I was after. The Flavor Bible (by Karen Page) was a standout. The entries in this encyclopedia-style compendium of foods state brief characteristics for each item, followed by a ranked list of ingredients that pair well with it. I will look forward to testing the suggestions in this kitchen reference book.

Similar in concept if not format was Niki Segnit’s The Flavor Thesaurus, which contains a paragraph entry for each ingredient pairing, together with suggested recipes and variations of key ingredients. Many entries contain historical information. As an inveterate browser of cookbooks simply for the joy of it, I’ll look forward to reading this one in depth.

Since I am a member of the group of people who enjoys paging through cookbooks as entertainment, not necessarily in preparation to make a meal, I was led to some lighter fare such as The Geeky Chef Cookbook: Unofficial Recipes from Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and more. This is a fun little romp through creative (if not authentic) recipes such as one for the blue milk from Star Wars (spoiler alert: it’s not just made with milk and dye) or the lembas the travelers ate to keep hunger at bay on their journey in The Fellowship of the Ring. Each recipe is introduced by a paragraph full of pop culture references, there’s something for everyone.

Another title that caught my eye even though it was outside the scope of my search for information on flavor was What Einstein Told His Cook, an interesting compendium of over 100 science-based explanations and debunked myths for such wonderments as why we salt water before boiling pasta, or why recipes call for unsalted butter but then ask you to add salt. Although there is some practical information herein, this book is more for fun.

I realize that in order to satisfy my latest curiosity about flavor combinations, I will have to start testing them out. Yet I also admit that from the sublime to the silly, the cookbooks on my counter don’t just display a desire to learn how to cook. They suggest a love of books that showcase sustenance. You might say I have a taste for reading about food.

Kirstie David is a graduate intern at Morrill Memorial Library, currently enrolled in the Simmons College School of Library and Information Science.


Giving Thanks for Planes, Trains and Automobiles

My holiday movie-watching tradition starts Thanksgiving weekend, the four-day holiday during which I usually have some pleasant and relaxing down-time. These days, it happens when the grown children and their children have left for their own homes after some chaotic few days of high chairs, potty chairs, sippy cups, and Sesame Street.

I nestle on a couch with my knitting needles and yarn, the remote and the dozen or so of my holiday favorites. It’s a contest to see how many I can watch in one marathon sitting. Call me a sap, but there is nothing better than a few sobs and tears at the end of The Family Stone or Love Affair (the remake with Warren Beatty and Annette Benning.)  I smile broadly each and with every last scene of The Holiday or Love Actually (even after crying each and every time Emma Thompson’s heart breaks.)

There is no better movie, though, to begin my marathon than Planes, Trains, and Automobiles with Steve Martin and John Candy, and written, directed and produced by John Hughes. It’s hilarious, it’s emotional, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s uplifting. As Roger Ebert once said, this movie is an arrow “straight to the heart”.

I’ve probably watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles 25 times. I didn’t discover it in the movie theater when it was released on the day before Thanksgiving in 1987. It the time, we were raising young daughters who were not even in school yet. We certainly didn’t spend much time or money at the movies that year unless it was Benji: The Hunted or The Great Mouse Detective.

So it was several years later that my daughters and I discovered Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Simply because of its R rating, we waited until they were older when the video made it to our home. (The movie earned its R rating for its funniest scene where Martin’s character is more than a bit frustrated with the car rental clerk. There are 18 F-bombs in the one monologue, certainly inappropriate for younger children.)

I’ve loved Steve Martin in many things, particularly his role as the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors. Like most of my peers, I chuckled through the Smothers Brothers, the Carol Burnett Show, and Saturday Night Live watching Steve’s comedic routines.  I enjoyed The Lonely Guy, Pennies from Heaven, and Roxanne but sometimes his slapstick was a bit awkward for my taste. It wasn’t until his roles in Parenthood, Grand Canyon, Father of the Bride and A Simple Twist of Fate that I began to truly appreciate him.

My favorite John Candy movie was Cool Runnings (1993), one my daughters loved, as well. We watched the movie over and over in the years after his death of a heart attack in 1994. Candy was only 43 when he died and Cool Runnings was the last movie released during his lifetime.

The beautiful irony in Planes, Trains and Automobiles (and don’t forget that New York City cab, Chicago Transit Authority commuter rail, and the back of several trucks) is that while both men appear to be caught in a nightmarish attempt to get home for Thanksgiving, it is only Martin’s character (Neal Page) who has anywhere to go. Clumsy and clownish Del Griffith (John Candy’s character) is genuinely trying to help, yet he can’t escape the disastrous results in each attempt.

I was a bit disappointed to learn that John Hughes, the producer, director and writer of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, originally wrote and filmed a different ending. I simply can’t imagine an ending that leaves out the perfect and poignant Scrooge Awakening when Neal Page reflects and discovers that Del Griffith actually has nowhere to go for Thanksgiving.

I adore this movie for its comedic moments, but I love it for its pain, heart and truth. Martin plays the extremely uptight Neal Page which, apparently, is more like Steve Martin’s true personality (much more serious and quiet.) Candy’s role as Del Griffith as a clumsy, obnoxious, ridiculous and sloppy salesman is sometimes achingly uncomfortable to watch. But he is real and he wins our hearts in most scenes because he tries so hard despite his sweet and honest self.

There are some fantastic cameos in the film. One is Kevin Bacon as Martin’s nemesis hailing a cab on the New York streets. Two days before Thanksgiving. In rush hour.  In real life, Kevin Bacon was hanging around after just shooting another John Hughes film and he volunteered for the uncredited role. William Windom begins the movie in the very first scene as a terribly confused executive who can’t make a decision. If you watch the credits all the way through, you’ll find Windom still trying to make up his mind on Thanksgiving in his boardroom, surrounded by his turkey dinner. In my childhood, Windom was a favorite TV actor of mine starring in Farmer’s Daughter opposite Inger Stevens. Edie McClurg plays the sassy and clueless rental car clerk and Ben Stein is the Wichita airport employee who broadcasts the cancelled flight that begins Neal’s and Del’s three-day saga.

In the beginning of his career, John Hughes was best known for writing, directing, and producing a handful of teenage angst movies (Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). It was the moralistic Planes, Trains and Automobiles that earned Hughes great respect.

John Candy acted in eight of John Hughes’ films and Candy’s death at an early age deeply affected Hughes who stopped directing after Candy died. Although he continued to write and produce, Hughes was involved in only eight films after Candy’s death from 1994 until his own death in 2009. Hughes died fairly young himself of a heart attack at age 59.

Of course, the Minuteman Library Network has most, if not all, of Hughes’, Martin’s and Candy’s films on DVD to borrow. Morrill Memorial Library cardholders can download and watch some of Martin’s comedic antics with Carol Burnett and Johnny Carson on hoopla, our streaming video, audiobook and music service. One of my favorite Martin movies is A Simple Twist of Fate (1993) in which Martin has a very serious role as the adoptive father of a seemingly orphaned child.  It is available on DVD or on hoopla – a must-see for the holiday viewing season.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the December 1, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

2016 Sneak Peeks

Reserve December & January 2017 Best Sellers and Sneak Peeks

Want to get a preview of some of the new releases coming out next month?

book-news-december-2016Download or view the  December Fiction and December Non-Fiction lists to see if anything interests you. Click on the links for the complete list with titles (in blue) linked to the Minuteman Library catalog.  Log into your account and place a reserve. You may also pick up a complete list in the library and ask librarians to request them for you.

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