Thursday, March 23, 2017

We made it!

The 25th Annual Richmond French Film Festival, co-sponsored by VCU and UR, is upon us and promises to be the best yet!  Not only is the festival occurring over a full week at both the Byrd Theatre and the University of Richmond but there are also special events scattered throughout, such as a live concert by Henry Padovani, one of the founding members of The Police (following a documentary about him) and a special poetry recitation by one of France’s preeminent actors, Philippe Torreton, which closes the festival.  

Padovani pictured center

Jacques Perrin
Other special guests include composer Bruno Coulais and director-producer-actor Jacques Perrin.  They will be presenting symposium lectures as well as introducing and moderating q-and-a sessions for both films they have worked on together and separately. One of these, the Coulais-scored Coraline, was a popular American release in 2010.

Winged Migration, a joint hit for both, was widely shown in the United States (I saw it at the much-missed Westhampton Theatre) but on Friday afternoon it will be shown in its original French release, Le Peuple Migrateur.  As the Festival poster proudly proclaims, 700 films have been screened and 850 members of the French film industry have come to share their experiences with us since the first festival in 1993.  This year’s program includes 8 features, 6 documentaries (3 by Perrin) and 11 short films, plus the first North American showing of the Magic Lantern show from the Cinematheque Francaise.

There are several past Festival selections currently available in our DVD collection, including last year’s The Clearstream Affair.  My favorite drama of all those I have seen is Claude Miller’s (the Honorary Godfather of the Festival who passed away in 2012) Un Secret/A Secret (2008) and my favorite comedy is Le Prenom/What’s in a Name? (2013).  Other notable selections include the children’s film Belle and Sebastian, Gemma Bovery, The Hedgehog (adapted from the Muriel Barbery novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog), Pour une Femme (For a Woman), RenoirLe nom des gens (The Names of Love), Hors la loi (Outside the Law) and the extraordinary documentary Oceans, yet another outstanding cinematic work by Jacques Perrin!

(Many thanks to Robert Hickman of Westover Hills, our resident French film expert, for this annual update!)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Dublin International Literary Award 2018

...yet so little time.
I couldn't pass on the opportunity to blog about our Dublin picks on St. Patrick's Day, could I?
Every year, the RPL Dubliners read literally hundreds of new books and keep notes on our favorites to nominate for the Dublin Literary Award, then get together in the dead of winter and fight to the death over who has the best list. 
Just kidding! We are usually pretty civilized about it. This year we are thrilled to have voted on our obsessive lists of fantastic fiction (published in English for the first time in 2016) and proudly endorse these three picks for the 2018 prize!

Drumroll please:

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
A must-read for absolutely everyone, Homegoing is compulsively readable, a finely crafted story of two families separated by oceans, centuries, and slavery. It is an American epic with roots in 18th century Ghana, a sweeping multi-generational family saga that will get into your soul and stay with you forever.

The Nix by Nathan Hill
The Nix presents a political history of Chicago politics from the 1940s to current day with both humor and appropriate darkness. A loaded novel in terms of both plots and characters, The Nix follows Samuel Anderson, an English professor who prefers playing a specific video game, from a time when he is told his mother, Faye, who deserted him as a child,has been arrested for throwing rocks at an extremely conservative presidential candidate. Faye's life, and eventually Samuel's, become intertwined in flashbacks, before the reader views certain parallel circumstances between mother and son, reality and fantasy, and politics and daily life. 

Nathan Hill manages to weave historical and cultural details together in The Nix to present an accurate portrait of not only U.S. politics, but a global study of what makes politicians and their non- followers tick and compete.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Set in New York City in 2007 on the eve of the global financial crisis, a young family from Cameroon  find their immigration status tenuous after Lehman Brothers collapses and Jende loses his job. His heart pulled in two directions, back to his home in Limbe or to stay in New York with his wife and children, Jende and Neni must decide where they belong. Behold the Dreamers is a poignant love letter to home.

Now on to those 2017 books...

Thanks, Dubliners, for your contributions to this wonderfully never-ending process. Keep reading!

High five, Dublin Award committee

Thursday, March 09, 2017


It's not all fantastic fiction here in blogland, sometimes we like to get a little dirty out in the garden (and listen to an audiobook!), make our own clothes (while listening to an audiobook!), do some repairs around the house (while listening to get the idea), and even make our own darn shoes (audiobooooook!).

Well, have I got some DIY handbooks for YOU! Now, I know what you're thinking, internet friends, "isn't it easier to just YouTube that?" Sure, there's an instructional video online for just about anything--from A-Z (surviving an atomic apocalypse to surving a zombie apocalypse)! It's OK, I feel you. I successfully changed my own headlights last year in the Auto Zone parking lot with just my phone and a YouTube video.

But there's just something about having a handy how-to guide in your hot little hands to get you motivated to take on a project, or inspire you to create and do cool things with your wits and bare hands.You know what won't happen while you spend hours sitting on the couch, scrolling through smoothie recipes on Pinterest? You won't bump into a neighbor doing the same thing. A neighbor, IRL, you can look at and talk to about your mutual affection for smoothie making! It's a wonderful feeling. So, crawl out of your bunker and browse the many DIY offerings on hand at your neighborly neighborhood library.

Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener's Notebook

I have never gardened before this year, and now I want to plant all of the things. The potential for failure is high!  But this book is giving me life.
The organization of the book is fantastic, and while I don't love spiral bindings on the shelf, it makes it easy to lay the book flat near your pots and dirt for hands-free planning. Frankly, the cover has so much information on it, you hardly even need to open it.

Salad Days: Recipes for delicious organic salads and dressings for every season

Now that I have my garden all planned out, I need to have a plan for all those little leafy greens I'll be harvesting. This book is basically all about tasty dressings because "salad recipe" is usually "take pile of leafy things, add dressing". But where does dressing come from if not a bottle? Fear not, this book solves that age-old mystery. These are some crazy, year-round, all season salads too. I mean, "Sauteed Fiddlehead Fern and m√Ęche salad"? STOP. Eating ferns? I thought ferns were just for looking!
Finally, an end to the tyranny of dressing in bottles!

Custom-Make Your Own Shoes and Handbags

This book is BANANAS, you guys. It shows you how to use an old pair of shoes to create a plaster last (shoemaker term for foot shaped plaster thing), and shows how cast a last from your foot. Those shoes will be custom fitted to your exact foot. Imagine! I almost can't. Then as if that isn't enough information, this book shows you how to make handbags. Of course you could do what the author does and make shoes and a bag to match every dress, or not, because that's a little insane.

If you want to brew your own beer, but you want to break all the rules in doing so, this is your guide. Beer brewing is serious business. When those things explode you'll know what I'm talking about. Your viral GIF recipes aren't going to tell you what to do if your pilsner's popping in the wrong way.
You can't spell PAIN without I.P.A

And finally, Roughing it Easy

With quite possibly the greatest title ever it isn't hard to imagine why this classic remains on the shelf. It's chock-full of the most useful tips (with illustrations!) one could ever need should they find themselves in the unfortunate situation of having to scramble eggs on a rock. You should really, really check this book out.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Everybody loves a flowchart!

Sometimes you just don't know what you want to read so we came up with a flowchart to help.

Or do you prefer GIF-advisory?

I want a book that makes me...

Check out Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran to feel like laughing with your bestie, until something embarrassing happens.

I want a book that makes me...

Check out Little Heaven by Nick Cutter (the new king of horror, IMHO). Also, The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood to feel all the mortal terror.

I want a book that makes me...

Check out Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Leger, and Normal by Warren Ellis to think all the thinks.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Art in the Richmond Planet

This image appeared at the top of the Richmond Planet, the country’s longest-running weekly black newspaper, beginning in 1895. Its artist, John Mitchell, Jr., was the paper’s editor and first editorial cartoonist, as well as being, over the course of a life that began in slavery in 1863, a teacher, an alderman, an activist, and a bank president. 

Writing about Mitchell’s reputation in the years after his death in 1929, his biographer, Ann Field Alexander, noted, “His story was too complex to lend itself well to presentations during Negro History Week, and even his most solid achievements—his editing of the Planet, his crusade against lynching, his work on the city council, his fight for black officers during the Spanish-American War, his leadership of the streetcar boycott—did not fit in well with a celebratory view of Virginia’s past.”

Now 87 years after his death and 21 years after the newspaper he devoted his life to ceased publication in Black History Month, 1996, Mitchell’s achievements occupy a much firmer place in the celebration of Virginia’s past, thanks in part to Alexander’s biography, Race Man: the Rise and Fall of the “Fighting Editor” John Mitchell Jr., and efforts to digitize and preserve copies of the Richmond Planet at the Library of Virginia and the Library of Congress

Issues from 1889 to 1922 are online, and what can’t be seen online may be available in microfilm at the Main branch downtown. Reading the Planet in any format is an excellent way to learn about black businesses in Richmond, the history of the black community and the police, even the art of editorial cartooning.

A few scrolls through the microfilm or the website, for instance, reveal Mitchell’s clenched-fist symbol used in advertisements as early as four years before it appeared on the cover. The flexed arm amid bolts of lightning retakes strength and power from the oppressors of black Americans, the same way the "We Can Do It!" poster came to retake strength and power from the oppressors of women. When Mitchell moved the Planet out of the Swan Tavern on East Broad in 1897, his new offices bore a large sign presenting the Planet’s arm and fist to Jackson Ward. 


Beneath the paper’s logo, the Planet regularly included Mitchell’s simple but effective cartoons, the first known cartoons published in a black, Southern paper. In 1918, however, Mitchell stepped down as editorial cartoonist and hired George H. Ben Johnson in his place. Despite Johnson’s talent and the fierceness of his approach, he remains a mysterious figure in Richmond history and the history of black art. In their exhibit on the Richmond Planet the Library of Virginia noted that “almost nothing is known about Johnson aside from his name and the legacy of his cartoons.” 

Born in Richmond in 1888, Mitchell studied at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, the Landon School of Illustration and Cartooning, and Columbia University. In 1917 Mitchell published a small book of Johnson’s work, Souvenir Cartoons. The typically one-panel cartoons featured realistically rendered black men and women against starkly blank backgrounds, as well as African imagery—the pyramids and the Sphinx—used to remind the Planet’s readers that black history is ancient. In a cartoon titled "American Ideals," the Statue of Liberty holds a sign reading, "Liberty, protection, opportunity, happiness for all white men. Humiliation, segregation, lynching, etc. for all black men. All are welcome."


After working at the Planet Johnson continued to draw and paint. In 1926 he wrote a letter to W.E.B. Du Bois while in New York asking if Du Bois would like to view his cartoons for possible publication in Du Bois’s magazine The Crisis. The next year he exhibited at the Richmond Public Library, and in 1945, he won a prize from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. His painting Idyll of Virginia Mountains remains in the VMFA’s collection.

For now, Johnson's name appears in only a few encyclopedias and collections. As Mitchell makes his way further into our view of Virginia’s past, hopefully Johnson will follow and more of his life and work will be known and shared.