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car-dealership-lot

But Does it Have Heated Seats?

car-dealership-lotWhen was the last time you went shopping for a car? Purchasing a car is one of the single biggest purchases you’ll ever make, especially if it’s a brand new car. But where do you start? If you have the luxury of not needing a car immediately, what time of year should you start looking? Which sources can you trust when researching cars and comparing features? What do you need to know before you go to a dealership, and how do you know you’re getting the best deal when you’re working with the sales person? Lucky for you, dear readers, I had a recent foray into the wild world of car buying, and I want to share a few lessons I learned along the way.

Like most of us, my first car was a used car. My grandmother left me her powder-blue Chevy Caprice, which was a car so big it was often described as a boat. The poor car was driven on northern roads crusty with winter salt, and therefore suffered from chronic muffler problems – so chronic, in fact, that about three-quarters of the muffler eventually rusted away. My family affectionately called it The B-52 Bomber because they claimed they could hear it coming a mile away. They weren’t wrong.

My first car buying experience was at a small country mechanic shop that sold a few cars on the side, and I traded in The Bomber for a used Honda Accord. Even used, this was a significant upgrade from the ’90s-era Caprice, and I was thrilled. However, this was not the traditional car buying experience, in that selection was extremely limited and I was buying from a small local mechanic, a friend of a friend who wasn’t operating in the same ballpark of sales margin as a suburban dealership.

Nearly a decade and well over 100,000 miles later, and I was ready for a new car. Honda makes very good cars and there wasn’t anything wrong with the Accord, but I was ready. But where to start? I had a list of features I knew I didn’t want to compromise on in a new car. I had only owned sedans in the past and was used to that low-to-the-ground driving experience, but I was also hoping for the sort of storage flexibility you get from a hatchback or small SUV.

As a librarian, research is my go-to, and because I was lucky enough to not be in a crisis of needing a new car right away I starting reading about and comparing vehicles months in advance of a test drive. Consumer Reports was my first stop. We subscribe to the physical magazine and you can look at it at the Reference Desk, but we also offer full online access to Consumer Reports so you can access it at home. Go to our website, norwoodlibrary.org, and at the bottom left of the homepage under the list of Quick Links you’ll see Databases. This takes you to an alphabetical list of all the databases we offer, and to access Consumer Reports all you need is your library card number.

Consumer Reports has a whole section of their website dedicated to buying new and used cars, including vehicle by vehicle ratings and comparisons, articles about how to choose the right vehicle for you, lists of the best and worst vehicles on the market, calculation tools for financing your vehicle, and tips for how to prepare yourself for going in for a test drive and how to bargain effectively at the dealership. Honestly, there’s such an overwhelming amount of good information on the Consumer Reports website that you should plan on making several visits to their page.

Another website I found extremely useful, especially when arming myself with research for bargaining, was CarGurus.com. This site was founded by a co-founder of TripAdvisor, and is chock-full of comparison data about new and used vehicles. You can see real prices that people are paying for vehicles you’re interested in, and you can even sell your used car through the site. Their information about real invoice price paid was one of my most important pieces of data for my own bargaining experience.

One more note about vehicle information sites – there were two other sites I used called TrueCar and Edmunds. Both of these sites contract with dealerships to give buyers competitive price quotes, but don’t be fooled into thinking these are the best prices you can get for a vehicle. While they serve the purpose of starting the conversation between the buyer and the dealership about price, be wary; in neither case did they give me the best price I could get, and in one case gave me an estimate that was thousands of dollars above a reasonable value. The dealerships have a deal with these sort of services in order to reach you, the buyer, and try to get you into the dealership faster, so take their recommendations with a grain of salt.

When looking to estimate a fair market value for trading in or selling your used car, try using Kelley Blue Book, found at kbb.com, or NADAguides, found at nadaguides.com or in print at the library’s Reference Desk.

Figure out which car you want, do your research to see what other people are paying for this car and then decide on a number that is the most you are willing to pay. Do as much communicating via email about price as you can with a salesperson at the dealership so that you have the conversation in writing. Start your bargaining by saying you want to pay a price you know is lower than you will likely pay – they will be starting their end of the bargaining at a price that is far too high, and you will both move incrementally toward the middle to settle on a price. If you bring with you printouts of your research and their emailed quotes, this will help your case. This is likely to be a lengthy and even stressful process, so be confident and stick to the amount you’re willing to pay. If the salesperson ultimately won’t agree to your terms, don’t be afraid to get up and walk away. I had to do this at one dealership and was so glad I did. I’m thrilled with the car I finally found, and couldn’t be happier starting the New Year in a new set of wheels.

Liz Reed is the Adult Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the January 10, 2019 edition of the Norwood Transcript.

Becoming-Michelle-Obama-book-cover

Best Books This Christmas

Becoming-Michelle-Obama-book-coverAs a young girl, one of my preferred gifts at Christmas was a book. Classics like Heidi, Five Little Peppers, Swiss Family Robinson, and Little Women remain some of my most cherished possessions. I’ve always surrounded myself and my family with books and literally poured books into my children’s hands, overflowing the bookshelves in our home.

We all know librarians fancy books. More than that though, it takes reverence for books to pursue a profession about them. Yet, libraries are evolving places where exciting programs and marvelous things are becoming more and more relevant to a library’s mission. The field is attracting young professionals who are, in addition to clever researchers and keen readers, excited about technology, music, and social synergy.

Not surprisingly, librarians don’t have the corner on book-loving. My family of children and their spouses – educators, graphic designers, marketing gurus – all worship books. Family times always see at least one or two of the adults curled up in a nook – often with a book discovered on one of our many shelves. Our grandchildren held their first books as infants – small cloth or chunky board books were wedged into their strollers and car seats. Their own collections grew until their favorite crawling or toddling activity was swiping them all off the shelf into a heap. They always reached for their favorites: Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, or Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin. Most parents (and grandparents,alike) can recite the words by heart through closed eyelids until they open them to turn back to the first page. “Again?” And again. And again.

This year, I bought multiple copies of my two favorite 2018 books as presents for my children and friends. One is The Library Book by Susan Orlean. While I had listened to the audio version, I took out our library’s speed read copy so that I could hold the lovely book in my hand, stroking the cloth cover (no jacket) and flipping through the few illustrations. The back inside cover depicts a library book pocket and date due card. It’s so realistic that you can’t resist touching it with your fingers to find that it is only a photographic image.

The Library Book tells the story of the massive fire that burned in the Los Angeles Public Library on April 29, 1986. The mysterious blaze, officially determined to be arson, destroyed 400,000 books and damaged another 600-700,000 more. It burned for seven hours and was fought by over 350 firefighters from 60 firefighting companies. Fortunately, all 400 visitors and staff in the library at the time of the fire were evacuated. Heat swelled to over 2,000 degrees within the concrete walls and firefighters worked to cut 18 holes in the building to release the smoke and heat, thereby decreasing the temperature.

In 1986 the fire hadn’t received much attention. Chernobyl was the talk of the day that captured the media’s attention. More than 30 years later, the story unfolded through Orleans. Susan Orlean is a passionate author who began her research accidentally when she toured the Los Angeles Public Library and heard that some of the books still smelled of smoke. That smoking gun, so to speak, led to research.

The account in The Library Book is so much more than just the fire. It incorporates a history of the city library and a 1921 effort to finally build a respectable library in a sun-drenched, fantastical place named “The City of Angels.” The story includes interesting characterizations of its first and current librarians. In addition, Susan Orlean describes the notable and remarkable attempts to destroy books and libraries throughout world history. She includes the accomplishment of rebuilding the main library in the 1990s.

I gave copies of my other favorite 2018 book, Becoming by Michelle Obama, to my daughters. While it is principally an autobiography of the life of the “first” African American First Lady, it is most significantly a book about a capable woman who learned to navigate her responsibilities as a young girl and young woman, a mother, and a wife. All of our daughters and daughters-in-law are professionals, wives, and mothers and we watch them in awe as they balance all aspects of their lives. Obama’s act is one to follow and includes some of the immeasurable advice they will read.

Our grandchildren all received books, as they usually do for their birthdays, Christmas, and any other chance I have. It was our granddaughter Maeve’s book, the 75th anniversary edition of the Complete Adventures of Curious George (2016), that created the best reading adventure of 2018. While Maeve has copies of the Curious George Around Town books that she fell in love with earlier this year, I wanted to give her a copy of the seven original Curious George stories in one hefty volume. And hefty it is at 3.4 pounds.

There is debate about Curious George. Some feel (my ex-husband among them) that Curious George is obnoxiously curious and never has to suffer the consequences of his misbehavior. Others simply believe that Curious George is a good little monkey at heart who topples again and again into trouble. My ex-husband refused to read Curious George to any of my daughters; I suspect this might be why it warms my heart and tickles my fancy that my granddaughter Maeve can’t get enough of George!

The Complete Adventures actually includes only seven Curious George stories, but they are the originals published between 1941 and 1966, and written and illustrated by H.A. Rey and his wife, Margret. Our very own Curious George Christmas adventures included at least ten readings of Curious George Goes to the Hospital and Curious George Rides a Bike. Other stories in the book are Curious George Takes a Job and the original story, naturally named Curious George. “This is George. George was a good little monkey, but he was always curious.”

If you are a little bit curious, it’s not too late in the first weeks of 2019 to read some of my favorite gift books from 2018.

Charlotte Canelli is the Director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the January 3rd edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

grouchy-looking-cat

Grumps, Cranks, and Misanthropes

grouchy-looking-catCan you stand to read books or watch television programs or movies with unlikable protagonists? It certainly is challenging to connect with characters who do, say, or believe things that breach cultural norms, don’t meet our standards of courteousness, or are just plain wrong! It’s easy to distance ourselves as readers when we encounter characters who clearly take delight in hurting others and call them villains. But what about characters who are unlikable in the middle of very sympathetic situations, like navigating difficult life circumstances? It’s more difficult to forgive missteps as a reader when complicated characters don’t meet our expectations, even when they are trying their best.

Author Toni Morrison once wrote, “The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.” I take Ms. Morrison’s quote to mean that good authors should seek to challenge their readers by helping them question their own assumptions and showing them how their own circumstances shape judgments about others through creating fictional people. Creating unlikable main characters is a great way for writers to explore difficult themes in an otherwise unassuming story about everyday life. Grief is a commonly explored theme in fiction, and these types of stories often produce the most challenging characters to connect with, even though readers might empathize with their terrible losses.

Nora Webster is Colm Toibin’s poignant character study of a woman widowed in her forties who must continue on with everyday existence for her children. It was the subject of a recent book discussion at the library and people’s responses to the titular character prompted me to reflect on how I respond to difficult characters. Toibin presents Nora as a reserved woman whose husband was the center of her world. She had no other interests or work beyond being a wife and a mother in a very conservative Ireland of the late 60s and early 70s. She’s completely unsure of herself, often impulsive and resentful of the well-meaning attempts of friends and family to help her. It’s so tempting to judge her as a character and, in fact, many book discussion participants railed at her, wondering “What’s the matter with her? Why does she act that way?” But Toibin is a clever author and provides glimpses of how she lived her life before her husband died and how different her inner emotional life is now that he is gone. It forces the audience to ask themselves the uncomfortable question, “How would I feel in that circumstance?” Many of us would like to think they would do better, but a good author might make us less sure.

Most of us know David Sedaris for his darkly comic essay collections that center on his family, his childhood, and his exploits as a traveling author. Calypso, his latest effort, has a dark undercurrent of grief as he illustrates his complicated relationships with his siblings, especially his sister Tiffany who died by suicide in 2013. Calypso chronicles his efforts to gather his family together for vacations and holiday celebrations in a hastily-purchased beach house in North Carolina. Sedaris never shrinks away from casting himself as an unlikable narrator of his own stories, often admitting his flaws and his mistakes in dealing with his sister and the rest of his family. Once again, readers can choose to focus on how differently they might react, but Sedaris’ honesty and humor keep him relatable and encourage us to reflect on our own foibles.

Sometimes unlikable characters engage in bizarre and outlandish behavior so the author can explore how past trauma affects their reality. Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette chronicles a stay-at-home mother’s attempts to assert herself after completely losing all of her social and professional confidence. Bernadette is the cranky, misanthropic mother of Bee, a precocious middle schooler and the only person Bernadette can stand. Her behavior spins out of control as she tries to connect with her daughter and plan a family trip to Antarctica. Semple’s plot is far-fetched and absurd, but it reveals Bernadette’s intense pain about her massive failures as an architect and the miscarriages she endured before Bee’s birth.

Here’s my professional advice if you run into a character you just can’t stand: stick with the book. Yes, life is too short to read bad books, but if you find other parts of the book or other characters intriguing, enjoyable, or valuable, keep engaging with the unlikable main character. Secondly, ask yourself why you harshly judge a fictional person. Is it because this character does incomprehensible things? Try to put aside your own viewpoint and give the character the benefit of the doubt as you would a good friend. It might make their perspective more clear and let you access the story in a way you couldn’t have if you insisted on applying your own judgments to the book. If all authors only wrote characters we could relate to and cheer for, reading would not only be boring, but also lack any artistic merit. Books should and can comfort us, inform us, and reveal things to us if only we let them.

Kate Tigue is the Head of Youth Services at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the December 27, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Pearl-Harbor-Hat-and-dogtag-drawing

War in December

Pearl-Harbor-Hat-and-dogtag-drawingDecember 7, 2018   marked the 77th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which led to the United States’ entry into World War II. The US involvement started in 1941 and lasted until the end of the war in 1945. According to US Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 496,777 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive in 2018. We are losing 372 veterans per day.

My 96-year-old father-in-law, Bill, is one of the surviving 496,777 WW II veterans.  Although he now sometimes forgets little things, he does remember Pearl Harbor and D-Day vividly. He was not in the military at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but he had a vital part in D-Day (June 6, 1944), the day when allied forces invaded northern France by means of beach landings in Normandy.

Bill was a Seabee and responsible for the barges that were put up on the beach to form landing causeways. Food, tanks, medical supplies, ammunition, tanks, etc. were delivered for days, weeks and months before the invasion. The Seabees periodically dove for cover as they were targeted by enemy machine and artillery fire. He witnessed the invasion on June 6th when “soldiers were mowed down and losses were high.” He, himself, was treated for shrapnel wounds. The invasion was one of the largest amphibian military assaults in history and required extreme planning. It was the beginning of the end of the war in Europe.

This summer Bill was visiting us from Florida at the same time as my 10-year-old grandson, Kye, had traveled up from Oregon. One day I found Bill on the sofa telling Kye about his wartime experiences. My daughter had the foresight to video tape the conversation, which was more of a monologue with Kye interjecting questions every now and then. What a history lesson for a 10-year-old boy!

For those children or young adults who are not fortunate to have a great-grandfather to tell the eyewitness tale, there are books that will suffice.

Children’s books, “What was Pearl Harbor?” and “What was D-Day?” by Patricia Demuth, present an easy to read narrative with pictures of the actual events. Elementary school children will find these interesting to read. “True Stories of D-Day” by Henry Brook tells true stories of heroism and drama told by men of different nationalities who took part in the invasion. It is a book appropriate for junior high or high school students. The stories are written so that the violence of war is not emphasized.

For adults, the best book I have read about the attack on Pearl Harbor is “All the Gallant Men: An American Sailor’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor” by Donald Stratton. It is a powerful memoir of the day Stratton, then a 19-year-old Seaman, was aboard the USS Arizona when the explosives below his battle station ignited during the Japanese air attack. He was burned over two-thirds of his body, but he miraculously survived by hauling himself hand over hand across a rope tied to a neighboring ship.

Stratton begins his story by telling of his modest Nebraskan beginnings during the Great Depression and the lure of the Navy for a steady paycheck and a view of the world. After basic training in September, 1940, he was assigned to the battleship USS Arizona and sailed into Pearl Harbor. His job aboard the ship was to operate the five port-side antiaircraft guns and that was where he found himself at the beginning of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He found the exercise futile since the dive bombers were too low for their guns and the horizontal bombers were too high. He fired aimlessly until they were out of ammunition and a final blast to the ship made him find his way through the smoke and fire to grab a line and haul himself to safety on the neighboring vessel.

Strafford’s keen memory of all that happened leading up to, during, and after the Pearl Harbor attack is extraordinary, especially since he wrote this memoir at the age of 94. Reading it is like viewing a movie as the action unfolds.

Especially interesting are Strafford’s reflections and analyses of the event in a historical context. His views of what went wrong included 4 premises: we lacked foresight, we communicated poorly, we were overconfident and we were not alert. He even explains a parallel between December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001.

A comprehensive reading of D-Day is the book, “Voices of Valor: D-Day, June 6, 1944” by Douglas Brinkley and Ronald J. Drez. This book includes 2 audio CDs with oral histories from D-Day veterans, and many pictures amidst the detailed historical text.

For the United States, World War II lasted almost 4 years. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the D-Day invasion are vastly written about and studied in American History. As with all life changing historical events, we must not forget them.

In Donald Stratton’s words, “The great lesson we too often learn from history is that we are so prone to forget the past. And there is a price we pay for our forgetfulness.” I am sure my father-in-law would agree.

Norma Logan is the Literacy Volunteer Coordinator at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the December 13, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

A-star-is-born-movie-poster

A Star is Born: One More Look

A-star-is-born-movie-posterAashiqui 2 is the 2013 Bollywood version of A Star is Born. With subtitles in English, the musical is a lovely remake. It stars exceptionally handsome Aditya Roy Kapur, and the even more beautiful Shraddha Kapoor. The music is enchanting, and both conventional Bollywood cinematography and delightful chemistry between the two actors received much critical praise upon its release. Translated to the English “love makes one live,” the Hindi Indian film matches the 1976 musical closely – it is the intense and tragic story of two musicians, Rahul Jaykar (or R.J.) and Aarohi Keshav Shirke.

When Bradley Cooper took over the project as director, he hoped his fresh version of A Star is Born – of rising and descending stars – would be a box office success. Although Clint Eastwood had envisioned American songwriter and singer Beyoncé as the leading lady of the next remake, it was upon listening to pop singer Lady Gaga at a benefit concert that Cooper knew that he had found his star in Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, Lady Gaga’s real name.

The 2018 version of A Star is Born won’t disappoint those who will fall in love with the soundtrack of 17 original songs or music. Viewers won’t be turned away by the close-ups of either character – Jackson Maine (Cooper) or Abby (Lady Gaga.) For those of us who loved any of the A Star is Born versions, this is as good as the first time.

The foundation for all the versions of A Star is Born was laid in 1932 with the film What Price Hollywood, based on a novel by journalist Adela Rogers St. Johns. St. Johns had been detailing Hollywood’s legends for several decades, including the famous meteoric rises and painful, slow descents of its stars. Her exclusive look fuses details of the relationship of two Tinseltown notorieties (silent superstar Colleen Moore and alcoholic producer, John McCormick) and the tragedy of self-destruction of Hollywood producer Tom Forman. (Forman killed himself the night before his next film was set to begin production in November 1926.) Others claim that the film was based on the turbulent relationship of actors Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay, whose marriage slipped apart as Stanwyck’s career rose and Fay’s declined, due in most part to Fay’s alcoholism.

Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman star in this version, a black-and-white film directed by George Cukor and co-produced by David O. Selznick. Anyone who has seen any version of A Star is Born will acknowledge the story – an aspiring actress meets the man (in this version a director) who can open doors for her. The starlet (Mary Evans) rockets to the top, winning an Academy Award; the drunk (Max Carey) disrupts her acceptance speech, and eventually commits suicide.

Several years after What Price Hollywood was released, producer Selznick approached director Cukor and asked him to direct another version – the story that is now considered the original A Star is Born. Cukor speculated it would be seen as a plagiarized effort and stayed away. (Interestingly, no legal action was ever taken by the studio.)

This 1937 film, A Star is Born, was released in marvelous Technicolor and starred Janet Gaynor and Frederick March. A North Dakota farm girl is convinced by her grandmother to leave for Hollywood and the grandmother funds her dream. Girl meets guy with connections; girl shows talent; girl rises to the top. Guy then self-destructs, and in this version, and every other one, commits suicide.

In 1954, Cukor finally agreed to direct the first remake of the 1937 musical version in which Judy Garland and James Mason starred. Garland was back from a short retirement and was conveniently married to the film’s producer Sidney Luft. Controversy plagued production – Garland was typically difficult – it was just fifteen years before her suicide in 1969. Before its final release, 30 minutes of the film were cut to make it shorter so that more audiences could view it. The actual film was tragically destroyed when it was melted down for its silver content and was forever lost. A director’s cut version available on DVD includes the audio of the cut scenes while the viewer gazes upon unconvincing studio stills.

Garland and many others believed she would undoubtedly win the Academy Award for A Star is Born. The night of the Oscars, Garland was in the hospital having given birth to her son, Joseph Luft, and film crews were at her bedside for her acceptance speech. In the end, Garland lost to Grace Kelly (The Country Girl). The industry was shocked, and Groucho Marx called it the “biggest robbery since Brinks’.”

In her book, A Star is Born: Judy Garland and the Film That Got Away (September 2018), Judy Garland’s sixty-six-year-old daughter Lorna Luft explains that A Star is Born mimics much of the dark side of Garland’s life and the tumult of stardom and Hollywood. Luft describes the tragic loss – of both the film destroyed and of the award that Garland expected. (Although honored for Wizard of Oz, and nominated twice for A Star is Born and the Judgment at Nuremberg, she never won an Oscar.)

Two decades later, another husband-producer cast his wife in A Star is Born – this time a rock musical. In Jon Peter’s film, Streisand is the aspiring singer and Kris Kristofferson as the musician who discovers her. Kristofferson, as John Norman Howard, is just as risky and rowdy as his alcoholic predecessors played by Frederick March and James Mason. Notably, this Esther is just as talented and quirky as Gaynor and Garland. In the 1976 film, Streisand wins a Grammy – not an Oscar – but Johnny still shows up to ruin the night. He, too, eventually kills himself, this time in a risky car accident after traveling through the desert at 160 miles an hour.

Shortly before the 1954 version of A Star is Born begins AND ends, Norman Maine (James Mason) asks to take one more look at the love of his life, Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland.) From Frederick March to Bradley Cooper, “I just want to have one more look at you,” is like a ribbon that weaves through most, if not all, of this famous film story for nearly the past century.

Take one more look at A Star is Born. Copies of each of the past versions of A Star is Born (including What Price Hollywood) are available through the Minuteman Library Network catalog, as well as Lorna Luft’s biographical story of her mother.

Charlotte Canelli is the Director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the December 6, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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