Dune by Frank Herbert

Orange and yellow waves of color suggest sand dunes. Title appears in bright white type vertically in the center, with a silhouetted figure within the "U". A black space sky is across the top, with stars.

By Eric L.

There has been quite a lot of buzz concerning the new Dune film, especially since with the new trailers being released. Frankly I’m a bit excited, too, although the theatre release has been delayed repeatedly (now scheduled for Oct 22, 2021). However, I can’t say that I’m a Dune fan from way back, since I had never read any of the 18 books in the series until recently.  

I host the HCLS book discussion group Read. Think. Talk. on the first Monday of the month. More often than not, we read and discuss classic, social, and philosophical sci-fi. Several members of the group wanted to read Dune (the original). Although I had a desire to read it, and with the new movie and an HBO series on the way, it seemed like a great time to familiarize myself with the source material. However, I was a bit reluctant, as it’s not a great idea to suggest a 600-plus page book, with three appendices and a glossary of terms, for a book discussion group. Moreover, I’ll concede I’m still a bit intimidated by long books!  

The plot centers around young Paul Atreides whose world is upturned when his family/house must relocate to the desert planet Arrakis, colloquially called Dune. A rival house, Harkonnen, was governing Dune and wants to wrest back control because of the planet’s valuable natural resource melange (also called spice). House Atreides is the more admirable of the two rival houses for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the Harkonnen leader is a despicable person.

Melange enables interplanetary travel both via the pilot and as a fuel. It possesses a psychedelic effect, and people also ingest it as a mind-altering substance. Melange is only found in the sands of Dune, and harvesting it is a very dangerous endeavor because of the giant sandworms (the worms were really all I knew about Dune). The indigenous Fremen are the only folks who are able to survive in the desert with its extreme climate and dearth of water. 

Paul has an interest in the Fremen from the outset, even before a series of events place him in contact with them. I don’t want give away too many details concerning the drama and intrigue that lead to House Atreides losing control of the planet, but they make for a good read. The Fremen believe Paul to be their chosen leader and they have a common interest in defeating the Harkonnens.

This sort of story should all seem familiar, with revenge, an oppressive greedy regime, and the oft-repeated white male savior trope. However, Dune has some interesting differences. Paul is accompanied on his journey by his mother, Jessica, the unmarried concubine of his father and a member of the “Bene Gesserit.” One of the shadowy organization’s key tenets is controlling one’s thoughts to control how the body reacts. The members are taught to hone their intellect and possess the ability to persuade people using their words. They are not popular in the largely patriarchal society and are often and pejoratively referred to as “witches.” Jessica, against the rules of the Bene Gesserit, taught young Paul their ways. This skill set is the reason that some of the Fremen think he may fulfill their prophecy. 

There are interesting power dynamics between Jessica and Paul, their feelings about each other, and how individual goals change throughout the story. Other strong female characters exist as well, including Paul’s love interest. Author Frank Herbert was apparently also interested in Zen and peyote, and the book is very much a product of the late 1960s. It is undeniably long but moves quickly. The action scenes are not drawn out, in fact I found their brevity interesting. I liked that the political buildup was described more, which seems closer to reality to me. 

Dune has drama, intriguing characters, some philosophical issues, and an interesting environmental message. I half-read the appendices but found them rather dry without getting a feel for the characters first. That’s just me; perhaps you may like to have a complete understanding of the “world” before getting into the story. 

On the continuum of science fiction and fantasy (if there is one), I lean to the former. I’d argue this is more fantasy, although it’s debatable. At any rate, the book contains new words, lots of new names, worlds, and families, all of which are difficult to pronounce. This is a book that’s worth your time and great source material for a film. The new film will tell the story in two parts, unlike the 1984 David Lynch film, which is an interesting story in and of itself (I’d recommend it). 

In sum, one can get lost in another world and time in this book, and perhaps it’s nice to take a respite from current affairs for a bit. 

While you have to reserve the book right now because others are enjoying all of our copies, it is worth the wait to read. Also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook from Libby/Overdrive.

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

Bon Appetit

The DVD cover for the movie with Meryl Streep as Julia Child at the top in a green kitchen and Amy Adams licking her finger and holding a fork at the bottom.

By Peter N.

2020 was a difficult year, and we all know it. In difficult times, we often turn to things that bring us comfort such as books, music, movies, or food, and oftentimes our favorites are the ones we turn to many times over and never get tired of. What brings me comfort? The movie Julie & Julia. This 2009 film is based on Julie Powell’s 2005 book and intertwines the story of Julia Child as she grows into a chef extraordinaire with the life of government worker Julie Powell as she cooks her way through all of the recipes in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This is a favorite film of mine for many reasons: Meryl Streep as Julia Child, Stanley Tucci, comedy, and last but not least…FOOD. Seriously, I could watch this movie once a week for forever.

As a child we didn’t have cable so I had to rely on watching whatever our TV antenna was able to pick up and most often it was PBS. I remember seeing Julia Child and Jacques Pépin cook dish after dish, and they (along with many other PBS cooking shows) are one of the reasons I became the foodie I am today.

But back to Julie & Julia: as I mentioned before, there are many reasons why I love this movie, but what I didn’t mention was that it has one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard. It’s…relaxing, for lack of a better term. When I turn on this movie, it is often just in the background as I cook, clean, or when I just want to free my mind of all the clutter. Don’t believe me? Well, check it out – it is available to stream and download from Freegal through Howard County Library System. All you’ll need is your library card number and PIN. It’s that easy!

Meryl Streep shines as Julia Child accompanied by Stanley Tucci as her husband Paul. Their onscreen chemistry makes you believe in love and triumph through hard work and determination, and I love every single scene with them. Amy Adams, however, is no slouch, and her portrayal of Julie Powell perfectly conveys how arduous the task was to cook more than 500 of Julia Child’s recipes, all while enjoying most of it, despite a few burnouts and tantrums along the way. When she describes her childhood memory of the magic of Julia’s bœuf bourguignon I am sorely tempted to make the recipe myself (but would end up eating by myself thanks to my vegetarian partner).

I leave you with a quote from Julia Child:

People who love to eat are always the best people.

Peter is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch where he is one of the nerdiest people you could meet.

The Farewell

Movie poster image of 8 multigenerational family members, 3 sitting on the couch, 5 standing behind the couch. The film title, "The Farewell" is noted as is a subheading, "Based on an Actual Lie." The seal for 2019 Sundance Film Festival official selection is displayed.

Review by Cherise T.

Continents apart, but only a cell phone call away, Billi, a New Yorker, and Nai Nai, her paternal grandmother in China, enjoy a close relationship. As The Farewell begins, we fall into the humor, complexities, and challenges of cross-cultural families. Viewing the film from the perspective of Billi, played by the versatile actor Awkwafina, we soon learn that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Most of the family believes traditional Chinese wisdom that it is best to allow a family member to live out her life unburdened by the knowledge she is about to die. Billi strongly disagrees. Little Nai Nai, the grandmother’s sister, has been Nai Nai’s caretaker and takes charge of covering the truth. Together, the family creates a contrived family celebration so that everyone may be together in China to secretly say goodbye to Nai Nai. 

The Farewell feels authentic because the screenwriter and director, Lulu Wang, has recreated a beautiful journey from the truths of her own life. Little Nai Nai is played by Lulu Wang’s real-life aunt. When the family visits their deceased grandfather’s grave, the scene is filmed at the actual gravesite. We recognize the roles played out in most families – the responsible son, the guilty son, the matriarch, the awkward cousin, the daughter-in-law, the granddaughter who has yet to bring a spouse and grandchild into the family.

I highly recommend the film for its emotional depth, at turns both sad and optimistic, excellent performances, and solid script. Please also consider listening to Lulu Wang telling her family’s story on This American Life, but save the “What You Don’t Know” podcast episode for later if you don’t want to know the film’s ending.

The film is rated PG and would be appreciated by viewers aged 13+. Watch as many as 10 films per month, including The Farewell, on kanopy, one of the HCLS streaming service subscriptions.

Cherise T. is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.

20th Century Women

review by Eric L.

A group of people stand on a beach with the ocean behind them. 20th Century Women is in basic type above their heads. A gold banner at the top announces that the movie has been nominated for an Academy Award

The story centers around a middle-aged single mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening), raising a fifteen-year-old son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Dorothea owns a large old house (under slow renovation) wherein she rents rooms to Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and William (Billy Crudup). Abbie is a twenty-something, artistic, feminist photographer interested in the nascent punk rock scene; William is a forty-something hippie and handyman mechanic. The other character often in the house is Jamie’s seventeen-year-old female friend Julie (Elle Fanning), with whom he has a complicated relationship.

The thrust of the film is that the overly analytical Dorothea decides to enlist Abbie and Julie to help raise Jamie, in lieu of another man. The different ages and experiences of the characters in the film create the tension. People of different ages and backgrounds attempting to understand and relate to each other is always fraught with problems, irrespective of the setting. Different characters narrate the background of each character as they are introduced and understood, which is very well done with dialogue and images.

The washed out, sunny Southern California setting and the wardrobe selection create a strong visual aesthetic for the film. There are also wonderful scenes of a punk rock club and a seemingly out of place, psychedelic style to the car travel scenes.

I enjoyed the film very much, but perhaps that’s because it “reflected” aspects of me back. However, it’s my opinion that many people will feel the same about it. It’s “indie” and “artsy,” but has a mass appeal due to the characters deftly portrayed in the film. I would describe it as feel-good, but not overly sentimental or trite.

The film is rated R and does include some sexual content.

DVD Fiction. Available to view through Kanopy.

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