Author: Guest Contributor

Representing all of the lovely people who have contributed to BiblioSmiles.

Bookworm Interview: Jonathan Robertson

Want to get to know the BiblioSmiles contributors? Read below to find out more about Jonathan!

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Q: Tell us about yourself in 100 words or less:

I’m a filmmaker in New York. I like The Rockford Files and I listen to a lot of Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon.

Q: What books did you love as a child?:

I learned to read from comic books. My grandfather owned a comic shop in New Jersey in the 80s, and when he closed it in the early 90s, he kept all of his leftover stock, which was about 5,000 books. He wanted to sell them off, but never got around to it, so throughout my childhood, there was always a basement full of comics to read, which he arranged into a mini-comic shop, just for me.

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Q: What kinds of books do you love now?

I started reading Raymond Chandler when I was in high school, and that got me going on a crime fiction kick that’s never really slowed down. From Chandler, I went for Dashiell Hammett, which led to George V. Higgins and Elmore Leonard, plus Erle Stanley Gardner, Jim Thompson, Lawrence Block… Great googly moogly, the list goes on and on.

Extra special shout out to Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker books. Those are some beautiful graphic novels!

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Q: Where’s your favorite place to sit down and read?

Sitting across the couch, probably with my feet up.

Q: Do you set any goals for yourself as a reader?

I try to not read the same authors over and over again. I love finding new ones and old ones that I’ve never encountered before. Just listening to recommendations and wandering through book stores has led me to find things like The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard and A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin.

Q: Have you ever met any of your favorite authors? What was that like?

I met Werner Herzog when he was signing Conquest of the Useless. He makes these awe-inspiring, bleak, and often brutal films, but he was so humble and sincere. It was a fantastic experience.

Q: How do you mark your place in a book?

Dog eared pages or the flap of a dust jacket.

Q: What books are you on your “must read” list?

52 Pickup by Elmore Leonard, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, Of Walking in Ice by Werner Herzog, Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro, All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez, Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Q: Here’s a famous question: if you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would you choose and why? Where would you go, and what would they order for dinner?

Tough one… Part of me says “Hemingway,” but I feel like we’d spend the whole meal drinking grappa and talking about him (and he didn’t exactly have a sense of humor, particularly about himself…).

So I think I’d have to go with Elmore Leonard. He always spoke so frankly about writing and the writing process – I’ve always admired his honesty. It’s reflected in his writing as well – there’s nothing extemporaneous in his prose.
We’d hang out, probably in Detroit, at a Tigers game, which means beer and hot dogs all around. I don’t even know if we’d talk about books, but I’m sure it’d be a nice time.

Q: What’s your favorite post you’ve written for BiblioSmiles? What’s your favorite post that someone else has written?

I wrote a piece about books not matching their cinematic counterparts, and how that should be expected and even celebrated – you can read it here.

And I’m a sucker for the Anatomy of a Bookshelf series. I love getting a glimpse into someone’s personality via their bookshelf.

Jonathan Robertson is a New York based filmmaker who will never be as cool as Steve McQueen. And that crushes him. But he still tries. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @itsjonrobertson for musings on film, literature, and occasionally Mexican food.

There Is No Enjoyment Like Reading: A Pride & Prejudice Collection

I was never one of those teenagers who watched romance movies or swooned over the guys on the football team (those guys are overrated anyway) or talked about their crush endlessly (instead I liked to just watch from afar and fantasize about our perfect fake relationship). So you might find it surprising to know that I now collect copies of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, which is THE romance. It’s the romance that all romances aspire to be. It’s the romance that has women of all ages and backgrounds falling in love with Austen. And I’m sure you’ve seen the endless copycats and retellings and sequels of Pride and Prejudice.

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So how did I get swept in too, despite thinking I would never ever be a romantic? It was actually the 2005 movie that sucked me in. But I didn’t see it until two years later, right before I graduated high school. And that’s when I fell in love with everything about it: the romance, the characters (especially the witty Miss Elizabeth Bennett), the language, the social situations, the clothing, and of course Mr. Darcy!

Then I read the book and loved it even more.

My growing collection of Pride and Prejudice started on a whim two years ago. I was in the Strand bookstore in the fiction section when I saw a bright pink cover peeking out from all of the boring book spines. I had my brother reach up and grab it (at 4’10” not many shelves are in reach) and saw that it was a beautiful rubber-texture cover version with engraved words and phrases of the book. It was love at first sight.

As one of my favorite classic stories, I knew I had to have more copies. There are so many stunning versions out there. So then I got another and another and another. Now I have seven copies of Pride and Prejudice as well as three copies of Persuasion (my second favorite Austen book) and I’m always looking to acquire more.

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It seems I like collecting-all-the-things because I also collect mugs and anything with owls.

What do you collect?

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Sara Strauss is an aspiring novelist. By day, she is a social media guru and by night a blogger at Sincerely, Sara. She likes staying up late to read fantasy novels and eating too many Oreos. 

Turn to Books

[Editor’s note: I’m so pleased to welcome a fellow SUNY Purchase alum, Zach, to BiblioSmiles!  Let him know your thoughts -and share your own stories- in the comments below.]

More than the books themselves, I always remember the time I spent with them. This is not an insult to the stories the authors have drafted, edited, edited again and then published for me to enjoy. I see it as a compliment, maybe even the highest praise I could give to a story.

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I remember the first and only time I read Dangling Man by Saul Bellow was in the midst of a howling New York hurricane. Mom told us to keep stapling garbage bags to the walls to prevent our possessions from getting damaged by the oncoming rain. I was supposed to go back to college to start my senior year but due to weather and the threat of death by commute, I was being held hostage in my childhood home, constantly checking my cell phone to see if my sort-of girlfriend was enjoying her first day back at college in North Carolina. She’s not my girlfriend in the way that we broke up because we both agreed that long distance relationships never work, but she’s sort of my girlfriend in the way that we keep calling and saying that we love each other.

So it’s just like every college relationship out there.

I sent her several texts, sounding more and more desperate for human contact.

12:05 AM text to Kelsi
“Hurricane’s in full swing here but don’t worry! We’re all safe! Miss you!”

12:10 AM text to Kelsi
“I’ve been reading Dangling Man so I might be up later if you wanna call!”

12:20 AM text to Kelsi
“Not that you have to call. Just if you wanted to. Hope you’re enjoying being back at school!”

The wonderful thing about books is that they will always talk back to you.

At the beginning of the night, I had no intention of reading. But my parents put me in charge of checking the walls every 45 minutes for rain damage, and if Kelsi was at a party, then she was never going to call and the world was asleep or far away from where I was and I all I wanted was someone to relate to. Enter Saul Bellow and his madcap narration of Joseph, who is left stranded in Chicago without a purpose or a person he can relate to.

In short, I fell in love. I had found someone who understood what it felt like to feel trapped in your life at the exact moment the walls started to cave inside myself. I clung to the pages for dear life.

I remember how when I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I was walking through the hallways of my elementary school, looking at all the muggles who had no idea what I was about to become. The hallway was empty save for myself who was running late to class, because when your eyes have transported you to Hogwarts, it’s hard to get your body to return to PS 29.

One day in fifth grade, I had a fever of 101 and stayed home. Missing the schedule of my school day, I decided to sit in a corner of my room and read the entirety of The Zack Files series by Dan Greenburg. I made it through book #16, Evil Queen Tut and the Great Ant Pyramids, before falling asleep.

Sixth grade was the year my friend Amr and I began competitively sneak-reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy throughout all our classes. We designed book covers that looked like our textbooks in order to give ourselves just a few more extra minutes in Middle Earth.

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My first time sitting through Grand Jury Duty for a week was made less mind-numbing thanks to Dave Eggers and his magnum opus to quarter-life strife, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The tedious proceedings of justice rendered less monotonous with Dave Eggers in my lap.

My mother lent me Paul Auster’s The Red Notebook one day at home in Brooklyn and now I make sure it’s with me wherever I go.

There was one copy of E.L. Doctorow’s classic Ragtime at Midwood High School’s library, and I spent periods one through five devouring it. Looking up from the tattered pages and out at the bookshelves and pimpled high schoolers, I began to understand that there were life experiences I had yet to participate in.

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While working on a documentary in Florida, I escaped the stench of the state with Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. When I met him two months later, I thanked him for helping me escape Florida. He told me it was his pleasure.

I read a collection of short stories from Raymond Carver on the night my friends abandoned me for a dorm party and the next morning I was the only one to wake up without regrets.

The day I finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, I stared out my first floor bedroom window at Purchase College and admired life as a whole. I saw the sun shining bright, painting the day in orange hues. I saw a guy and a girl walking to lunch and I wondered if they were in love or if they were friends or if they would enjoy reading a book today.

When my life gets strange or weird or seemingly out of control, I look for a book to sink into. I’m never sure if I would remember those moments were it not for the books I read then and I’m not even sure if my life would have ended up the way it is were it not for books. One of my favorite moments that happens every single time I read a book is that moment when you finish a sentence and turn your eyes upwards and outwards to the surrounding world ahead of you. Books are the floating piece of wood for when your plane has crashed into the ocean and you need something to help get you back to the shores of life.

When you have the time, spend it with books. They’ll always reward you for the effort spent.

Zach Lennon-Simon is a writer, filmmaker, and YouTuber originally from Brooklyn, NY. He enjoys books, sci-fi shows, beer, pizza, and the attempts of the New York Mets to achieve greatness. Check out his YouTube channel, Zach Vlogs.

Review: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

magnuschase Ever since I started reading, I’ve been a big fan of series. They’re the best. I get more time with my favorite characters than I would reading a stand-alone book, and I don’t have any issues finding my next story. You might think that’s why I started reading Rick Riordan’s novels, but you would be wrong.

Actually, I started Riordan’s books because my cousin refused to read the Harry Potter series.

I know. That doesn’t make sense. How does one person’s refusal to read a series impact another person’s next book? Well, when my cousin refused to read Harry Potter, I decided to go to some drastic measures to correct her error. Since my cousin loved the Percy Jackson series, I struck up a deal. I started reading Percy Jackson, and she took on Harry Potter. I expected my cousin’s eyes to be opened wide to the joys of the wonderful world of Harry Potter, but honestly, I wasn’t expecting much on my end. I was wrong. Our little deal left us both loving our experiences more than we thought we would. And so, my journey into the mythological mind of Rick Riordan began.

As I’m sure many of you already know, Riordan has moved far beyond Percy Jackson and his Greek mythology. You may have even read Riordan’s take on Roman myths in the Heroes of Olympus or checked out his Egyptian endeavors with The Kane Chronicles (Editor’s Note: Gabriele reviewed the series here). If you haven’t read them, give them a shot. They’re great.

Now, Riordan has embarked on a new journey: one filled with Viking war ships and the nine worlds of Norse mythology. He’s done a fantastic job.
When I first began The Sword of Summer, the first book in the new Magnus Chase series, I thought it would be a little weird. I was expecting a lot of POV shifts like the Heroes of Olympus and some pacing issues. But The Sword of Summer is different. Riordan goes back to what he does best and gives us the entire story from Magnus’s sarcastic, wonderful point of view, and his pacing is pretty good (if you ignore the first couple of chapters). Like all of Riordan’s characters, Magnus has an incredibly strong voice. He’s funny and, as an added bonus, he’s really up-to-date on his pop culture references. I mean, who doesn’t love getting a little T.A.R.D.I.S. or Britney Spears on the side of their Norse mythology? Plus, Riordan’s inclusion of pop culture references, especially those surrounding the Thor movie franchise, helps the reader understand the history and myths included in the story. And seeing as Norse mythology is already slightly less popular and more unknown than something like Greek or Roman mythology, it’s important to have a place to start from.

Riordan also gives the readers something to connect his previous stories and new stories together. Having read his other books, I really love that. His connections do get a little over the top at times, like when he titled a chapter using a reference to Jason Grace, who our main character, Magnus, has never met or heard of. But, I still enjoyed those little pats on the back for being one of Riordan’s followers.

Rick Riordan excels at including people of different backgrounds in his novels, as well. That doesn’t necessarily mean he gives a completely accurate representation of the diverse characters in his books, but seeing as, yes, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and Riordan is a white male trying to include diverse characters, I appreciate his efforts.

The Magnus Chase series includes one of my favorite characters in all of Riordan’s books, a Muslim girl named Samirah al-Abbas. She’s strong and smart, and she’s not afraid to do what’s right, making her a really kick-ass character to root for. Also in the story is another one of my favorite characters, a deaf character named Hearthstone. I haven’t read many books that include people who are deaf, so this was a nice surprise. I’ve also always wanted to learn sign language, so it was fun having a character use ASL in the story. I wanted a little more time with him, but since this is just the first book in the series I’ll let it slide for now.

The book is a tad predictable and formulaic, but not in a way that makes me want to put it down. I’m not sure if I could handle another five-book series where I know exactly what’s going to happen and how, but for a trilogy I’m definitely not upset that I can guess the endings. It makes it kind of fun, and when I’m wrong I’m all the more excited to learn how.

The Sword of Summer had some ups and downs, but overall, I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in mythology or comedic adventure stories. If you’re already a fan of Rick Riordan, you won’t be disappointed. If you aren’t a fan yet, you will be after reading this book. The only thing you’ll be upset about is the wait you have until you can read book two.

Hannah Levine is a senior at The University of Michigan majoring in Creative Writing and Literature and minoring in Digital Studies. She grew up in Oakland County, Michigan and loved every second of it, although she would never pass up a trip to travel and see the world. Hannah is most proud of the moment she met J.K. Rowling and didn’t break into tears until after getting Rowling’s autograph. She is least proud of the time she walked past Mitch Albom at Campus Martius and was too nervous to say hi. You can check out more of Hannah’s random thoughts on Twitter at @hannah_levine or on her blog, Just Hannah dot Rose.

Review: Welcome to Night Vale

nightvale Welcome to Night Vale is a wonderful debut novel set in a world with a far greater reach. Spawned from a fictional podcast that now boasts a huge voice cast and live performances in countries all over the world, it was only a matter of time before co-creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor crafted this book. Set entirely between the seventy-fifth and seventy-sixth episodes of the beloved podcast, the novel asks what day-to-day life is like for Night Vale residents other than community radio host Cecil Palmer.

Jackie Fiero and Diane Crayton are two seemingly unrelated characters, living separate existences in the same town. Fiero is the owner of the local pawn shop who’s been nineteen years old for centuries and hasn’t quite figured out how to turn twenty and move on with her life. Crayton is the head of the Night Vale Parent-Teachers Association and a single parent raising a shape-shifting fifteen-year-old, Josh.  Their lives are about as normal as life can be in Night Vale, before the elusive and forgetful Man in a Tan Jacket With a Deerskin Suitcase sets them both on the frustrating task of finding King City, California.

Chapters alternate between the perspectives of the two women, with brief interludes of Cecil’s regular radio show. The text is often as rambling and bizarre as the podcast in its strongest installments, but also manages to weave in truly poignant monologues on the perplexity of time and the complication of motherhood throughout. I honestly found myself surprised at how emotionally attached I had become to these brand new characters, whereas in the podcast the citizens of Night Vale are vitally important, but often little more then the butt of some cosmically unfair joke.

That being said, I’m not quite sure if this novel works better as an introduction to the weird world of Night Vale, or as a companion piece for devotees that are already caught up. It does a wonderful job of establishing the world, and giving you enough of an understanding that you can consume one without the other, but I have a feeling it’s best listened to before read.

Fink and Cranor always give a quick summary of the recurring characters and places our protagonists come into contact with, but often in such a way that spoils events that felt like pretty momentous twists when consumed chronologically. Then again, this is coming from someone who’s current with the podcast, so I’d be interested to hear from readers that came into the novel with no previous knowledge of Night Vale.

Regardless of the order in which you decide to explore this world, I’d still highly recommend it–especially if you’re into The Twilight Zone, The X-Files, and very dry comedy. These authors have an extreme talent for worldbuilding, and deserve all the time and attention you’re willing to give up for them. I promise, you won’t regret it, and even if you did, a vague yet menacing government agency is surely near to help you with your reprogramming.

Bob Raymonda graduated with his undergrad in Creative Writing from SUNY Purchase. He’s spent his years since graduating working primarily within the online marketing industry, though he did have a stint interning for the magazine Poets & Writers. More recently, he is the founder and principal contributor of Breadcrumbs Mag, an online literary and arts blog that fosters creativity through shared inspiration across many mediums. You can find his work, and the work of others’, there at:www.breadcrumbsmag.com.

Movie Review: Mockingjay – Part 2

mockingjaypart2 Though the first Hunger Games book was published less than a decade ago in 2008, it was an instant hit with fans, with tens of millions of books sold in the trilogy. The first film was released only four years later, with book author Suzanne Collins helping to write the screenplay. It was a massive success, with almost $700 million in box office sales worldwide. With the release of Mockingjay – Part 2, the last film in the cinematic quartet – modified from the original published trilogy – premiering last week on November 20th, excitement has reached a fever pitch.

We return to the world of Panem in the middle of an all-out war between the government and the rebellion. Katniss, played by the renowned actress Jennifer Lawrence, is fighting along with other rebels to free the districts from the evil President Snow, who has been skillfully played throughout the film series by Donald Sutherland. She’s been reunited with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who was previously tortured and brainwashed into hating Katniss, which puts a damper on their ambiguously romantic relationship.

Overall, the continuation of this story follows the immense and numerous difficulties faced by both our beloved characters and the viewers who have already invested time and emotion into the three earlier films, which can now be seen on Hulu or cable TV. Katniss finds herself doubting what and who she’s truly fighting for, realizing that both sides of the war she’s in really aren’t that different from each other. The element of propaganda also plays a huge part on both sides of the war, with Katniss at the center of the rebellion’s strategic display of propos.

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Though darker in tone and more action-oriented than the other films, Mockingjay – Part 2 successfully portrays its evolution from focusing on just one part of corruption within the government (the actual Hunger Games) to the bigger picture, in which everyone realizes the very existence of President Snow’s Panem will ultimately lead to society’s collapse. Because of this, we are able to delve deeper into Katniss’ desperation and anger even more than the novels did. Certainly more of the intricacy of the battles are put on display for the viewers: all the better to show the carnage and fear of war. This is perhaps even a reflection of today’s war-torn world, with soldiers young enough to still be called children.

Katniss is portrayed as more vulnerable initially, and President Coin (Julianne Moore) is more present and more obviously willing to do whatever it takes to win the war, including using Katniss and other innocent people in whatever ways needed. Both the nobility of the war and the savageness of it is on full display. The government heads of both the rebellion and the establishment are portrayed as cold and calculating – a clear indication of how governments are viewed in today’s actual society, where little trust is given to even our elected leaders.

Overall, the film will definitely satisfy fans and give them what they need rather than what they want. Plot points are neatly wrapped up and the drama that was created by the earlier releases continues to build through most of the film. Although it has all the elements of a war movie, Mockingjay – Part 2 does not fail to build upon the themes it has established in the last three movies and continues to comment on the problematic orders of dystopian societies. This ending to a long-loved franchise will continue to resonate with fans long after leaving the movie theaters.

Spencer Blohm is a writer and blogger based in the windy city of Chicago, IL. On the rare occasion he isn’t busy with work or catching up on much-needed sleep, you can find him indulging his other passions: pie-making and classic silent films. He’s a Gemini and his favorite food is SPAM. Find him on Twitter @bspencerblohm.

Review: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

eatinganimals When embarking on a dietary lifestyle change, acquaintances and loved ones alike enjoy nothing more than to pestering a new vegan or vegetarian with unsolicited advice and questions.

“Are you getting enough protein?”

“Oh, I think I had a cousin who was vegan once …”

“Aren’t Oreos vegan?”

“Are you becoming one of those PETA people?”

“Are you sure you can eat that?”

“You haven’t given it up yet?”

These are some examples of people’s reactions to a life-changing announcement.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals perfectly captures the experience of delving into an animal-free diet by framing personal anecdotes with facts and observations about our carnivorous society, as he seeks sociological, philosophical, and scientific answers to his questions about the type of world in which he wants to raise his newborn son. Eating Animals provokes even the most seasoned (pun intended) of vegetarians to answer ethical questions beyond “how do you get enough protein?” and instead defend the core of their personal dietary philosophy. From interviews with farmers and activists to stories of his grandmother’s kitchen, Safran Foer balances humor, academia, and sentimentality.

Although Safran Foer claimed to keep his research as neutral as possible to avoid penning another extreme veganist credo, his research clearly points toward desiring an end to, well, eating animals. That being said, Eating Animals is a valuable read regardless of personal dietary choice. In a culture obsessed with labeling our food as gluten free, paleo, organic, processed, and raw, why not explore the history and social iimplications of how that morsel landed onto your fork? After reading Safran Foer’s book, not only do I feel more justified in my choice to partake in a plant-based/cruelty-free lifestyle, but I can pinpoint exactly why I stand by my decision to become vegan.

For more information on veganism and plant based lifestyles, I highly recommend the documentary Forks Over Knives (available on Netflix), and the books The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone and Skinny Bitch by Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman. Whether carnivore, omnivore, or vegetarian, happy reading!

Jessica Balk, AKA the Vegan Ballerina (http://www.vegan-ballerina.com), believes in loving cows as much as kittens, and living with creativity, balance, and compassion. Follow Jessica on Twitter @vegan_ballerina and Instagram @vegan_ballerina_.