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Book Notes

May 1, 2014

'The Book Thief' reminds me of my father

One of the things I vividly remember my father saying years ago was that you don’t know what freedom is unless you’ve heard the knock on your door in the middle of the night. He would know since he escaped the Nazis after they took over his native Austria in 1938. Whenever I see a movie of that era I’m reminded how fortunate we are today and how we should never forget the tyranny of the Nazis.

Among the many new DVDs in our collection is one that focuses on that time period but doesn’t immediately jump out at you. “The Book Thief” didn’t get a lot of advance publicity. It debuted at the Mill Valley Film Festival which helps explain why it flew under the radar. How many people have even heard of Mill Valley besides fans of the old Doris Day TV show? This film, however, is a keeper.

“The Book Thief” is based on the best-selling novel. It’s a coming-of-age story of a young girl in Nazi Germany as World War II descends upon us. We witness all the ugliness of the Nazi regime and the horror inflicted on the Jews. One difference from other films of this genre is the brutality is not shown in a blatantly overt fashion. It’s impossible to miss however.

The film begins with the protagonist, a young girl named Liesel, riding on a train in 1938 Germany with her mother and brother on their way to be given up for adoption. Liesel’s mother is a communist and knows the kids would be in danger if they stay with her.

Liesel’s bother suddenly dies on the train and she is left alone to be dropped off with her new step-parents. Her new step-mother, Rosa, initially comes off as a cruel, unfeeling tyrant but her step-father, Hans, clearly has a kind heart. Liesel is immediately befriended by the boy who lives next door, Rudy, and the two of them develop a close relationship.

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Book Notes
  • Early 'blahs' sometimes hide a gem There are often films that sound rather "blah" when you first notice them and have no interest in seeing. It's usually due to the preview either being really stupid or the producers wanting to avoid giving away too much of the plot. If it's the latter category you must be careful. Sometimes there's a gem of a movie hidden behind the facade.

    July 24, 2014

  • 'Moneyball' author tackles Wall Street with 'Flash Boys' Have you ever read a book that feels like it's in a foreign language? It covers a subject you know is important and figure at some point it will all make sense. What do you do when that doesn't happen? Obviously, the easiest solution is to toss the book aside. But what if the underlying message is something you "get" and don't want to give up on? I faced that dilemma recently.

    July 17, 2014

  • MacNeil reading highlights novels Several weeks ago I had the good fortune to attend a talk by Robert MacNeil at the Guilderland Public Library. MacNeil is best known as the former co-host of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS. He retired in 1995 but has continued to write both fiction and non-fiction. His talk at Guilderland focused on two of his novels, "Burden of Desire" written in 1992, and its sequel, "Portrait of Julia," which was published last year.

    July 10, 2014

  • 'The Monuments Men' shows important history World War II continues to hold a special place in the hearts of readers and movie goers. The reasons are many but much of it can be traced to the endless number of storylines from that conflict. There is literally a treasure trove of material that keeps emerging. The latest example is the movie, “The Monuments Men.â€�

    July 3, 2014

  • Authors not afraid to think like freaks Conventional wisdom is something we automatically take for granted. It can be something as simple as assuming there is no cure for the common cold or political polls being a good indicator of who will win an election. Common assumptions of course can be wrong but we usually just accept them as fact. However, in many cases it would be much better to think "outside the box" and consider an alternative way of looking at the world.

    June 26, 2014

  • Book goes further into Armstrong's lies There hasn't been a shortage of elite athletes that have fallen from grace in recent years. Most of them have been baseball players who have been caught using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and then lying about it. Golfer Tiger Woods fell from his pedestal because of extra-marital affairs. He has yet to regain his previous aura and perhaps never will. But the loudest crash of all came from cyclist Lance Armstrong who was not only a liar and a cheat but ruined other people's lives in the process.

    June 19, 2014

  • Documentary proves Butch, Sundance still enchant "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" is one of the most popular films of all-time. The 1969 Western is based on the real life exploits of two infamous outlaws whose specialty was robbing trains. They became folk heroes because they supposedly never shot anyone.

    June 12, 2014

  • Pohl's call-up reminds me of Feinstein book We recently learned that Cooperstown native and professional baseball player Phillip Pohl was promoted to the AAA farm team of the Oakland Athletics where he played for nearly a month. For those that don't know, AAA is the highest minor league before reaching the major leagues.

    June 5, 2014

  • Movie gives clues into real Disney Everyone has heard of Walt Disney. How can you not when Disneyland and Disney World are the most popular family vacation spots around. Add in his historic cartoons and animated features and you have a Hollywood legend. But how many people know what the man himself was like?

    May 29, 2014

  • Wooden bio by Davis feels definitive Any long-time observer of college basketball knows that one school and one coach stand out above all others. In the 1960s and 1970s the John Wooden-led UCLA Bruins won ten championships in twelve seasons. Their level of achievement is so remarkable that it will probably never be equaled. Forty years after his last championship the ghost of John Wooden still reverberates at the university.

    May 22, 2014