E.T….35 years later

It’s hard for me to pick a favourite genre of book, almost as hard as it would be to pick a favourite child (I know that picking a favourite child probably packs more emotional punch but books are serious business around here), but I think that eventually Science Fiction would win out and any book featuring an alien would reign supreme.  I can lay the blame for my love of stories with an otherworldly being solidly at the feet of Stephen Spielberg and the ground-breaking film he co-produced and directed in 1982.  E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial hit the screen in June of that year and that little creature with a heart that filled his entire chest changed the world. For 35 years it has remained a movie you can rely on to fill you with hope and satisfaction every time you watch it.

Here at WPL, we have the 20th anniversary edition of the film which includes a reunion of the cast among the exciting special features. Along with Steven Spielberg they have Henry Thomas (Elliott), Dee Wallace (Mary), Robert McNaughton (Michael), Drew Barrymore (Gertie) and Peter Coyote (known as ‘Keys’ because of the sound that his keys made as he walked through the forest) in interviews alone and with each other.  The cast for this film was fairly small and that helped to create a feeling of intimacy around E.T. and his short time on Earth. In interviews, Spielberg has said that so much of the inspiration for this story came from his own childhood. He keeps the camera angles very low and the main dialogue is between Elliott, Michael and their friends so it plays out just like you are among a conversation with the kids. I love when Elliott first introduces E.T. to all of the Star Wars toys on his desk like that is just naturally one of the first things you would want to tell a being from another planet – “here is Lando Calrissian and here is Greedo” – not anything about how Earth works, just toys. Mary, their mother, is the classic afterthought of a parent who seems to get in the way of their good times together.  We also have a wonderful commemorative book from the 20th anniversary which includes the complete screenplay so you can relive the hilarious dialogue between the three siblings. When you check out one of our copies of this DVD – I know that you will – you should watch these reunion interviews and see the love that these actors have for each other years after this iconic film was made and marvel at the incredible talents that made the story come alive.

And what a story! I cry every time I watch it even though I know what will happen. I occasionally watch E.T. deliberately so that I can have a really good cathartic cry. I know what is going to happen, I could practically act it out if such a performance was required, but seeing those moments of heartache and joy on screen get me every time. There is magic on that screen between the little extraterrestrial and the children as they experience their adventure – from the first moments when Elliott leaves the little trail of Reese’s pieces to the last seconds of John Williams outstanding score – it’s just perfection. I’m not the only person who feels this way about E. T., you know. It was a worldwide lovefest for E.T, and the movie brought in over $11.8 million dollars on the first weekend – that was way back in 1982! When the 20th anniversary film was released the movie had made over $700 million. Reviewers loved it, it received many award nominations, and won 4 Oscars including one for John Williams, and they made endless spinoff toys and gadgets. I still have my original plush E.T. and a complete set of trading cards.

With this being the 35th anniversary of the film, there are film screenings being held at theatres and there are special edition DVD sets available to purchase but it really all comes down to the story of a peaceful alien who is left behind and the friendship he develops with the boy who saves him. Elliott doesn’t think twice before he starts to put a plan in motion to help his new friend and the other kids drop everything that they are doing so that they can do the same. They derail the government’s plans every step of the way and outrun them on BMX bikes (which has got to be one the most exciting chase scenes in movie history) and end up flying across the night sky. The idea that E.T. or any other extraterrestrial being might come to Earth has always been fascinating to filmmakers and authors, and Speilberg’s is just one of many stories about aliens that we have here on the shelves at WPL. These stories open up a whole new world of possibilities, a chance to welcome new friends, share candy, and maybe look at Star Wars figures together.  E.T. is 35 years old this year and I look forward to watching for at least another 35.

-Penny M.





Can’t Get Enough of Outlander

Have you ever read a series of books that combine history, political intrigue, battles and war, adventure, time travel, and the supernatural with a love story so captivating it has generated millions of fans around the entire world? Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books do just that.

Outlander, the first book in the series, was originally published in 1990. The story begins in 1945 when Claire Beauchamp and her husband, Frank Randall, are on a second honeymoon in Scotland. They are hoping to re-connect after serving separately in WWII.

Alone on a ramble in the countryside, Claire is drawn to an ancient circle of standing stones. She accidentally walks through a magical portal and finds herself in the war-torn Scotland of 1743. Due to her appearance and English accent, she is considered a spy by Redcoat Captain “Black Jack” Randall (no the last name is NOT a coincidence!). Only Jamie Fraser, a tall, red-headed, strong-willed Scottish Highlander, can save Claire from danger.

Claire soon becomes torn between the two very different men (husband, Frank, and Highlander, Jamie) in her two separate worlds.

The remaining books in the series, which should definitely be read in order, are:

  • Dragonfly in Amber
  • Voyager
  • Drums of Autumn
  • The Fiery Cross
  • A Breath of Snow and Ashes
  • An Echo in the Bone
  • Written in My Own Heart’s Blood

66a08d71d8a20de6e487672119ec0226Diana Gabaldon is currently working on the ninth book, Go Tell the Bees I Am Gone. Gabaldon does an incredible amount of research and puts great historic detail into her books, so there is usually a span of a few years between each publication.

When I first learned that Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books were going to be made into a television series, I was very skeptical that the screen version would live up to the images of Jamie and Claire that have been entrenched in my mind for so many years. However, I was very pleasantly surprised!

Season 1 and 2 successfully capture the important people, places, and events of the first two books, and it has been thrilling to see all these things come to life in vivid colour and detail. The screen version seems to be just as popular as the book series. Rotten Tomatoes has given Season 1 a score of 91%, with an audience rating of 94%. It also set a Rating Record for Multi-Platform Viewing. Season 1 (which is divided into Volume 1 and Volume 2) and Season 2 are available to borrow on DVD from WPL as well as all of the books, of course. Season 3 of Outlander premiered on the W Network on September 10th.

One final note: the Outlander series (both book and screen versions) contain scenes of extreme violence which is indicative of the time period. There are also some very steamy parts so keep a fanning device handy!

— Sandy W.

Who Done It? (or as the French say, Qui Fait?)

I love a good mystery. And even though I haven’t read many Agatha Christie novels (shame on me), I was interested in Agatha Christie’s Criminal Games when I recently saw this DVD on WPL’s list of new items. I always like to consult the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) to get an impression of viewer ratings, but when I typed in this title, it didn’t come up. Instead, there was something called Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie, a French television series. A quick review of the DVD description on the catalogue confirmed that these must be one and the same, and the IMDB rating was 7.5 out of 10. Not bad. I took it home.

That night when we popped it into the DVD player and pressed play, I was a bit dismayed to see English subtitles pop up with French audio. While I have high school level French and did a minor in university, it’s been a while. I can get us through Quebec, but this was France French, not Quebecois. And my husband’s French is pretty much limited to oui, comment ca va, au revoir, and frites. I wasn’t sure he’d go for watching the movie, but given his interest in learning French, he agreed to give it a chance.

8409e218d65dde23069e23e5295a1a3aIt was a good decision. Even though it meant a lot of pausing to read the subtitles, I eventually picked up much of what was being said audibly and my husband expanded his French vocabulary. Not only that, but the actors did an excellent job of portraying their characters. Samuel Labarthe convinced the viewer that he was an arrogant Commissaire, the only detective with the intelligence to get the job done. Blandine Bellavoir (I just love saying her name) is fantastic as his sidekick, Alice. An advice columnist seeking the big story that will finally earn her recognition as a bona fide journalist, she is always underfoot and an aggravation to the Inspector. Of course, the viewer also gets the sense that the two have an attraction for each other, though each pursues alternate romantic interests. A third prominent character is played by Elodie Frenck. Marlene is the Commissaire’s receptionist/ secretary. She is head over heels for her boss, but he either doesn’t see this, or pretends not to.

We had a ball watching this and were sorry when the discs ended after only six episodes. I don’t know whether too much translation work was involved in creating subtitles for more episodes, but hope there’s a sequel that includes English language viewers. The plotlines are quite intriguing and there’s always a twist at the end.

Next on the list of foreign language films I’d like to see are A Man Called Ove (Swedish) and Son of Saul (Hungarian)

Wonder if I can get my husband to join me!

— Susan B.


Why I Love Short Books

When I was a kid, I yearned after long books. 500 pages was chump change. The longer the book, the better. There was a certain pride in picking the thickest, heaviest book from the school library bookshelves. I loved to pick the book that didn’t quite fit in my already overflowing backpack. There was nothing like having to walk home from school with a giant chapter book in my arms. I wanted everybody to know that I was a reader. The bigger the book, the smarter the kid. That’s what I used to think.

af907240-20a9-0132-7156-0add9426c766I’ve grown up (a little bit) since then, and I’ve come to realize that more pages does not equal more pleasure. Short narratives have something great to offer. My to-be-read pile is full of short novels and short stories. Those slender spines on the bookshelves have taken on a new appeal for me.

At first, I was drawn to the short books because they promised to be quick reads (and they fit nicely in my purse for on-the-go reading), but I soon realized that they have a merit of their own. Shorter novels tend to be tighter stories. Often there’s more dialogue and less exposition. More story-showing, and less story-telling. The sparse style of shorter books allows the reader to come to their own conclusions about theme and meaning within the story. Shorter novels have greater potential to engage the reader beyond the page.

What solidified my loyalty to short books was the last long book that I read. In the spring, I read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Coming in at 771 pages and 32 hours on audiobook, it definitely classified as a “long book”. Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful book, but it was long. The story covers a lot of ground in the characters’ lives, but the ending dragged out a bit for me. There were paragraphs and paragraphs of exposition in the final section of the book. I found myself wishing that the book was a hundred pages less and that Tartt would let her story stand on its own.

Although long books can have so much to offer and short books can be superciliously stylistic, I will always love the short book.

Here are some short books and books of short stories that you can borrow from the Waterloo Public Library:

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (110 pages)

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (192 pages)

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks (180 pages)

All Saints by K.D. Miller (short stories)

Skin and Other Stories by Roald Dahl (short stories)

— Jenna H.