Consumer Reports Online

By Eric L.

Often, when I give customers an overview of Howard County Library System’s resources, people are surprised by all that we offer online. As I show them the brochure, I explain that among the other great databases and online resources, they can access Consumer Reports through hclibrary.org with their library card and pin number. They are normally flabbergasted (maybe a strong adjective).  

To get started, browse by Resource Category on the HCLS Now! Research page of our website. You’ll find Consumer Reports listed under Consumer Ratings & Reviews.

To be sure, this is full access to the Consumer Reports website, just like an individual subscription except for the ability to customize the account (sorry, it’s the library’s account). Researching even the smallest purchase through Consumer Reports is prudent, especially since your only cost is  time. You can even print the wonderful charts they include in the magazine for their product reviews. A couple was delighted when I showed them this feature. After reviewing the charts online, and printing them, they changed their mind concerning the brand X washing machine. Personally, I recently read all about the mattress in a box trend. I learned, opted for one of the “best buys,” and now I’m sleeping better. 

My significant other, a nurse currently working with COVID-19 positive patients in the ICU, decided to take up the automobile dealers on their offers of special savings for medical professionals, along with other incentives. After she did the research on the type of car in which she was interested, she used the Consumer Reports “Build & Buy Car Buying Service.” This feature allows you to build the car by selecting the model color, options, etc. You can even view the current incentives (e.g. cash back, special financing) on the vehicle. There are pricing charts, some local dealer inventory and pricing, and user reviews. (My words really don’t do justice to the interface, graphics, and ease of use).

If you’re willing to provide your email, phone number, and address, you can view more specific inventor and receive “personalized” offers from “True Car” certified dealers you’ve selected. The caveat here is that dealerships may contact you quickly. However, let me highlight that you’ve not gone to the automobile dealership, and I’d contend that’s a good thing! 

Consumer Reports even has an article concerning how to buy a car at home and spend less time at the dealership during the pandemic. There’s no commitment and nothing that would prevent you from contacting other local dealers to see if they’d match these offers. 

Sadly, it’s not possible to peruse the Consumer Reports magazines at the library at this time, but I’d still like everyone to remain an informed consumer. 

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.

Just Mercy

Michael B Jordan stands tall in a gray suit and blue shirt and tie, looking off into the distance.  Behind him, in muted yellow are scenes from the movie. Just Mercy is written in white, along with names of actors, Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson

Let me be clear… Just Mercy is a hard and emotionally draining movie to watch. And it needs to be seen. This film tells the true story of a civil-rights attorney, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan), who works to defend wrongfully convicted death-row inmate Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx).

In this deeply affecting movie, the repressed and palpable fury that Bryan Stevenson feels sits uneasy with me. Jordan portrays the complexities of emotion in a stirring and emotive way. Stevenson conducts himself professionally at all times, even when the behavior he endures made me want to scream.  My indignation and anger at Stevenson’s mistreatment pales in comparison to the outrage at the injustices that are perpetrated against his clients. This film is honest and frank about sharp truths, and it had an impact on me.

In the United States, we proclaim, “Liberty and justice for all,” but this movie shines light on the harsh reality of systemic injustice. Our system is broken: for every nine people executed by the state since 1973, one person has been exonerated and released. It is an untenable rate of error. I felt uncomfortable after watching this movie and investigating further. However, I think it is important not to shy away from that response.

Sit in that discomfort.

Ask hard questions.

Have the conversations.

Advocate for change.

“Always do the right thing, even when the right thing is the hard thing.”

– Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, is available as an eBook and eAudiobook on CloudLibrary and OverdriveJust Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults) is also available on eAudiobook on Overdrive.

During the month of June, Warner Bros. has made Just Mercy free to watch through a variety of digital movie services in the US, including Amazon Prime Video, Apple TVFandangoNowGoogle PlayMicrosoft, the PlayStation Store, RedboxVudu,  and YouTube.

Just Mercy is rated PG-13 for thematic content including some racial epithets.

Click here to learn more about Bryan Stevenson’s work with the Equal Justice Initiative.

Kimberly is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch.  She enjoys reading, photography, crafting, and baking.

Celebrating Pride Month

A photograph of a rainbow flag with red at top and purple at bottom, symbolizing gay pride.

For members of the LGBTQ community and our allies, June is not just the start of summer: it is Pride season, a time of year dedicated to celebrating our authentic selves and affirming our right to exist. In the United States, Pride Month is held in June to honor the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, which catalyzed the Gay Liberation Movement in response to police brutality and social stigma.

The fight for equal rights is ongoing. Discrimination is far too common, especially for our black sisters and brothers and gender-diverse siblings. There is still much work to be done. We must learn about and remember past struggles. We must take action towards further social change. And to maintain strength, we must also find moments of hope and joy.

In my own attempt to share queer hope and joy, I have put together this brief list of book and film recommendations available online via RBdigital, cloudLibrary, OverDrive, and Kanopy. Whether you identify as LGBTQ, I hope the following titles provide a source of entertainment, education, and inspiration.

If you would like advice on how to browse LGBTQ content on these digital platforms, or are interested in more recommendations, you can Ask HCLS or (eventually) visit me at work.

eBooks

Gay Like Me: A Father Writes to His Son by Richie Jackson

The LGBTQ community is unique from many other socially marginalized groups in that most LGBTQ youth do not grow up with community members who share the same marginalized identity. However, this is not the case for Richie Jackson and his son, who are both gay.

Short in length but full of heart, Gay Like Me is an engaging, intimate work of nonfiction that addresses the joys and the challenges of being a gay man in America. Jackson connects the past, present, and future as he recounts his life experiences and offers advice to his college-bound son. I found this book to be a quick, engrossing read. I was deeply moved by Jackson’s fierce celebration of being a proud, openly queer person in a society that doesn’t always recognize or support our truest selves. This message is even more inspiring within the context of a father addressing his son. That’s the core of this book: a father’s love.

With broad themes of love, parenting, and self-discovery as well as specific experiences of gay culture, history, and sexuality, Gay Like Me resonates with both LGBTQ people and allies.

Available on OverDrive.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

This title appeals to readers interested in highly lauded, nonconventional literary fiction. Written with a lack of standard punctuation or capitalization, the style blends poetry and prose in a way that Evaristo refers to as “fusion fiction.”

Girl, Woman, Other portrays the interconnected lives of a dozen black, British characters—all female or nonbinary—with a diversity of ages, sexual orientations, occupations, and so on. With its exploration of intersecting identities, told from the varying perspectives of characters that share a racial identity, I am fondly reminded of There, There by Tommy Orange. Where Orange challenges the idea of a singular Native American experience, Evaristo also makes clear that there are many narratives for black British women.

This novel requires one’s full attention. The poetic structure gives weight to each line, beckoning the reader to focus and truly listen to each character. With its celebration of underrepresented voices, the characters of Girl, Woman, Other deserve to be heard.

Available on OverDrive.

eAudiobooks

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe 

Written by Benjamin Alire Saenz, narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda 

I can confidently say this is my favorite YA novel of all time, as well as one of my favorite novels, period. I own the audiobook on Audible, and I have two treasured physical copies on my bookshelf. 

The simple yet poignant writing style tenderly captures the voice of a lonely Mexican American teen named Aristotle, or “Ari” for short. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s narration beautifully brings this story to life. Set in El Paso, TX in the 1980s, the center of the story centers on the development of Ari’s relationship with Dante, a boy his age who is his opposite in so many ways—and yet, they complement each other. Through joy and tragedy, the two boys grow to understand deeper truths themselves, each other, and who they want to be. 

If you enjoy a “slow burn, friends-to-lovers” storyline with a wonderfully satisfying ending, this one is a must! A beautiful celebration of love in all forms, I cannot recommend this book enough.  

Available on cloudLibrary and OverDrive.

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (Revised and Updated) 

Written and narrated by Kate Bornstein 

One of the first gender-focused books I read when I was coming to terms with being trans, it has a very special place in my heart.

Originally published in 1994, Gender Outlaw has been described as, “ahead of its time,” but I would argue that it is the rest of the world that has been lagging behind. Bornstein, now aged 72, is living proof that nonbinary gender identities – those that do not fit the male/female, man/woman binaries – are not new. However, the language used to describe gender identity has significantly evolved since 1994, which is why Bornstein updated this book in 2016 to reflect those changes.  

While our cultural and communal understandings of gender still continue to shift and grow, the core ideas expressed here are forever revolutionary, and listening to Kate Bornstein’s narration feels like wisdom from a loving, quirky, genderqueer grandmother. 

Available on RBdigital.

Films

Hearts Beat Loud (2018)

This comedy-drama is quite possibly my favorite queer-inclusive movie that I’ve watched with my parents. The central storyline tells of a daughter and father bonding over music, struggling with the decline of business at their record shop, and adapting to change as the daughter prepares to move across the country for college. The father-daughter bonding over music is beautiful, especially given that a source of musical inspiration for the daughter is her relationship with another girl. I love how her queerness is a non-issue; she simply gets to exist and love as her authentic self.

Stories that highlight LGBTQ+ struggles are certainly important, but it’s also important to have stories in which queerness is not a source of conflict. There is no grappling with internalized homophobia, experiencing harassment, or even “coming out,” and that makes Hearts Beat Loud so refreshing. The film celebrates this story of two girls falling in love, which is naturally intertwined with a story of growing up and moving forward while still remaining connected to one’s roots.

Available on Kanopy.

Vito (2011)

To all lovers of history and activism—this documentary is for you. The film follows Vito Russo, a gay activist, film historian, and author. Russo took a leading and long-lasting role in creating social change, as a founding member in organizations such as GLAAD and ACT UP. His research regarding representation of gay themes in film was groundbreaking, bringing awareness to the power that media images have, and remaining relevant to this day.

My own interest in studying LGBTQ media representation was ignited when I first watched The Celluloid Closet, an adaptation of Russo’s landmark book. My appreciation and respect for Russo only increased when I watched Vito. It is a moving portrayal of him, his accomplishments, his struggles, and the social context in which he lived and died. This story is inspiring, heartbreaking, and so important to LGBTQ history.

Available on Kanopy.

The Way He Looks (2014)

Are you a hopeless romantic interested in foreign films with satisfyingly cute endings? Look no further than The Way He Looks, a tender Brazilian film about Leonardo, a blind teenager who grows increasingly fond of Gabriel, the new boy at school. Frustrated with the taunts of his peers and the concerns of his overprotective mother, Leo strives to gain independence and live his life on his own terms.

This inadvertently strains his relationship with his best friend Giovana; fortunately, their friendship grows stronger. The friendship that develops between Leo and Gabriel has its drama too, full of romantic uncertainty, burgeoning sexuality, and mutual pining. Fortunately, their feelings for each other are brought to light in the most tender way possible, and my heart is flooded with warmth whenever I watch their final scenes.

Available on Kanopy.

Ash Baker is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Central Branch. They have been working at HCLS since graduating May 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and LGBT Studies. Their favorite TV shows with LGBTQ representation include Steven Universe, Pose, and The Bold Type.

Gardening Delights

A small clump of bright red strawberries still on the stem hangs over the edge of the weathered wood of a garden box.

by Ann Hackeling.

Mention gardening and I smile. Gardening lifts my spirits and keeps me grounded at the same time. I like the feel of damp-crumbly soil, I like to see and imagine the zillions of creatures working together below ground to support life above ground. I feel thankful when new shoots burst through the soil and reach for the sky. My heart warms when I observe birds, bees, and butterflies visit the banquet table I prepare with them in mind.

Gardening makes me smile because I can play a small part in nurturing goodness and beauty from the earth. What I miss the most about the Enchanted Garden is sharing my joy with others. For the past eight years spring meant reconnecting with volunteers and the community in the
Enchanted Garden. My mornings were filled planting, weeding, watering, turning compost… with the help of fellow gardeners and in the company of library visitors. What a treat it was to share that first picked strawberry or witness a bee pollinate a tomato, together.

I am thrilled to be the Enchanted Garden Coordinator and can’t wait to see you in the garden. Until then, I hope you enjoy my On Demand Learning videos, available on the Library’s YouTube channel.

You can also find free online resources available via the Library’s website. You just need a Library card number and PIN. If you don’t have one, you can register for a temporary digital account.

Available to read as an eBook on RB Digital Books: 
Living with Nature Underfoot by John Hainze
Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy
The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon
Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life by Marta McDowell
The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

And there’s a couple of great magazines in Press Reader: 
Organic Gardener Magazine
Kids Go Gardening,
Kitchen Garden

and in RB Digital Magazines: 
Birds and Blooms
Mother Earth News
Rodale’s Organic Life

Ann is a Master Gardener and the Enchanted Garden Coordinator at the HCLS, where she has worked for HCLS for eight years. You can find her smiling in the garden and sharing her passion for plants, nature, and our community.

Audiobooks and Activities: Fun Ways to Multitask

A bright blue hardback book rests on a natural wood table, with a red bookmark hanging from the bottom. White over-ear headphones sit on top of the book with the cord wrapping loosely in a circle on the table.
Audiobooks are a great way to enrich your current activities.

I will admit: at first, I wasn’t a huge fan of audiobooks. I prided myself on reading novels and turning the last page always seemed like a big accomplishment. However, on a whim a few years ago, I decided to listen to Shonda Rhimes’ self-help autobiography Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person. The experience of listening to Rhimes’s story from her own voice fueled my love of listening to audiobooks. 

If you’re like me, you may have started listening to audiobooks while commuting. A recent survey conducted for the Audio Publishers Association reported that 74% of consumers listen to audiobooks while driving. This makes sense, considering the number of drivers with long commutes. But what happens when work is moved online with no commute? Well, listening at home can provide a welcome addition to your daily activities during these challenging times. Here are a few ideas to help get you started: 

  • Working from Home: Transitioning to remote working and learning can be extremely difficult for anyone, from first-timers to even the most experienced. Instead of turning on the television and getting easily distracted, audiobooks help me stay engaged with my work while having something entertaining to listen to. 
    • My genre suggestion: literary fiction, humor 
  • Exercising: With many gyms closed around the country, what a great time to change up your exercise routine and add audiobooks into the mix! In order to stretch my legs, I like to listen to novels while I take walks through the neighborhood. You may even find yourself taking longer walks because your audiobook is so exciting. 
    • My genre suggestion: thrillers, inspiring non-fiction 
  • Playing Video Games: After working, I always love to unwind by playing a relaxing video game on the computer. A recent joy of mine has been listening to an audiobook during gameplay. Sometimes, the in-game sounds and music can be a bit overstimulating, so listening to an audiobook makes for great background enjoyment. 
    • My genre suggestion: science fiction
  • Puzzling: Never in my life have I seen so many people enjoying puzzles! Life at home has made many fans of puzzles and the more complicated, the better! Playing an audiobook may increase your concentration and will make finding the last piece all the more satisfying. 
    • My genre suggestion: classic mysteries
  • Gardening: What better way to enjoy an audiobook than getting hands-on in your backyard! Become one with nature and plant a garden. While you’re at it, listen to an audiobook that inspires your imagination and amplifies the colors of your plants. 
    • My genre suggestion: fantasy and romance

So go ahead, give an audiobook a try at home! Not sure where to start? Head over to hclibrary.org to check out audiobook options for your phone, tablet and computer. RB Digital now has more than 37,000 titles available for free!

Have additional questions? Contact AskHCLS and we’ll be able to help you find the best selection for your needs! 

Happy Listening! 

Claudia J. is has worked for Howard County Library System for more than four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.