Almost 30 years ago, David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) founded a record label “to turn people onto stuff [he] liked.” Because he’s David Byrne, and because he’s eminently cooler than you or me, the stuff he liked was Brazilian pop music.
In January of ‘89, Byrne released his first compilation, "Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical." Three other Brazil Classics followed. From there, Luaka Bop — a record label name Byrne nicked off some tea packaging — and its “rather obscure Masonic” logo started to jump all over the globe. Cuba, England, India, West Africa, Japan, etc.
I wish I could claim to be a lifetime follower of Luaka Bop, but the truth is I’m a new convert. I hadn’t heard of the label until I stumbled upon the fifth of its "World Psychedelic Classics" series, "Who is William Onyeabor?" a year or two back.
"WiWO?" is a compilation of hits from one of Nigeria’s most enigmatic musicians. Throughout the late seventies and eighties, Onyeabor was “Nigeria’s answer to synth-pop and New Wave.”
He self-recorded, -pressed and -printed nine synth-propelled electronic funk records between 1977-1985 and then disappeared. He converted to Christianity, stopped talking about his music, opened a semolina mill and lived in a woodland palace as the high chief of his community until he passed away this January.
From start to finish "WiWO?" provides a smorgasbord of foot-tapping, head-bopping tunes. The album is pleasantly contradictory throughout. Firmly rooted in a specific time and place yet managing to transcend both. Paranoid and cheerful. Spiritual yet worldly. Even though its nine tracks come in at a whopping 73 minutes, when album closer “Fantastic Man” — recently popularized [thanks to Apple][2 ]— wraps up, you’re left wanting more.
Luckily, Luaka Bop has you covered. Nine times over, in fact. A year after they released "WiWO?," LB released Onyeabor’s entire recorded oeuvre in the nine-disc William Onyeabor box set. And while the albums are short — 17 minutes at the shortest, 37 at the lengthiest — they ought to occupy you for the foreseeable future.
After that, if you’re interested in what Onyeabor’s contemporaries sounded like, give "World Psychedelic Classics, Vol 3: Love’s a Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa" a try.
Published in 2004, this grab bag of '70s West African music is another delight. Going back to William Onyeabor for a minute, it was his inclusion in this collection that sent Luaka Bop on what ended up being a yearslong quest to get the rights to his discography in order to publish "WiWO?" and the box set.
But it’s not just Onyeabor that shines here. Each of the 12 songs completely transports you to an era and continent that's probably unlike anything you’ve experienced before (unless you lived in '70s Africa, I guess). Funk, soul, acid rock, Cuban rumba, Latin percussion and more elements combine with various local African sounds to expand your definition of "transatlantic" on this eminently listenable record.
Why stop there? If you’re hankering for more world music after that, you’ve still got "World Psychedelic Classics" volumes 1, 2, and 4 ahead of you. They cover Brazilian folk psychedelics Os Mutantes, America’s own Shuggie Otis and Brazilian genre bender Tim Maia. And that’s just one of Luaka Bop’s many series.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, there’s an entire world out there, and I’m glad the library (and Luaka Bop) does the legwork when it comes to introducing me to new music.
So what are ya waiting for? Come check out our world music collection already!
— Ian Stepp is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
Not long ago I took a trip across the High Plains, and in addition to seeing more pronghorns and prairie dogs than I’ve ever seen, I also witnessed the landscape of Wyoming’s Thunder Basin for the first time. While much of it is drop-dead beautiful, one gets the feeling that something ominous is brewing there — roads are being repaved, railroads are new or well-maintained, and, of course, trucks are many, big, and well-used.
One soon finds out why. Thunder Basin is where about 40 percent of America’s coal is mined, though a traveler gets only an occasional glimpse of the massive dark pits uprooting acre after acre of prairie. It’s kind of the opposite of the mountain top removal mining that's tearing down places in Appalachia.
Serendipitously, upon my return to Lawrence I discovered Kentucky author Erik Reece, who recently published a wonderful new book, "Practice Resurrection." It turns out his previous work, titled "Lost Mountain," is what poet and fellow Kentuckian Wendell Berry calls “by far the best accounting of mountaintop removal and its effects.” In it Reece describes a year on a particular promontory, “thinking like a mountain,” in ecologist Aldo Leopold’s words, before said mountain’s head is blown off for the coal beneath.
My unanticipated examination of coal happened even as I launched River City River, the library’s series on Kansas Water and the Kaw. And so it came full circle, as we were reminded that one of the largest water users in the area is the coal-burning power plant just upstream.
Wendell Berry says, “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” So what I’m really here to tell you is how in addition to discussing rivers, all last month I lived beneath a babbling blue river — of birds. Henry Thoreau noted that “the jay is the bird of October,” and so it proved to be. It’s especially obvious if you live beneath a large pecan tree, which blue jays scream about even more than acorns.
The sight and sound of all those jays took me back to a day I spent years ago on a large rock on the Connecticut River, where raucous rivers of jays also flowed past. When not watching them, I read Annie Dillard’s "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek." Surprised by an acrobatic mockingbird, Dillard reminds us “beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”
When investigating mountaintop removal mining, Erik Reece tries to be there. He takes a "live it and write it" approach. He also likes to read what I like to read, and liberally sprinkles quotes from authors of import in his wanderings. This is evident in "Lost Mountain," and is evident too in his "Practice Resurrection."
Right from the title, there is much to like in this wide-ranging collection of essays. Who can resist “Birding with Wendell Berry”? Not this reader. "Practice Resurrection" is dedicated “To Wendell, in memory of Guy,” and the title itself is from one of Berry’s Mad Farmer poems. Guy is Guy Davenport, a “densely allusive and disarmingly erudite” writer who I’ve been intrigued (and baffled) by for years. Reece considers him his mentor, and I thank him for sending me back into the Davenport thicket.
There are chapters on human aviation, nature’s circulatory system, one that appeared as the introduction to "Remembering Guy Davenport," which Reece edited, a meditation on suicide and Mark Rothko, and much more. My favorite is “A Week on the Kentucky River Reading Henry David Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Which Nobody Reads Anymore (But Should)” -- it’s shades of Edward Abbey’s inimitable “Down the River with Henry Thoreau,” but very different and also worth reading.
Reece, like Thoreau, builds his own boat, and names it for Henry’s unrequited love, Ellen Sewall. Down the Kentucky he floats (Henry and his brother John, predictably, went against the current), pondering companionship, ecology, religion, poetry, capitalism, and Henry Thoreau. It’s a lovely journey.
The penultimate chapter in "Practice Resurrection" is called “Speak and Bear Witness” and comes out of Reece’s time researching "Lost Mountain."
Part of what makes any story engaging is a degree of familiarity, a sometimes not-so-subtle reminder to us of things we already know. Mining disrupts social systems. Mining exterminates ecosystems. Mining perpetuates destructive economic systems. These things we know. We might also remember, along with Erik Reece, the words of ecologist Aldo Leopold: “A thing is right when it preserves the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
-Jake Vail is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
As an animal lover growing up in Kansas, I thought our annual grade school field trip to the University of Kansas Natural History Museum was always a high point. I adored the famous panorama of taxidermy, and the working, cutaway beehive, but what I looked forward to most was the chance to gaze upon a real jackalope.
We adults require our animals to be just what they are, but I often think the world would be a better place if we hadn’t lost whatever it is about kids that allows them to accept the possibility of crazy animal hybrids. I’m as big a stick in the mud as any when it comes to combining species. After all, it recently took 30 minutes of bickering and a Wikipedia entry to convince me that cattle and buffalo had been crossed to produce an animal called a beefalo.
If there is one place such a creature could roam free, it’s in the children’s collection at the library. In fact, there are so many weird animals to be found here, I sometimes think of it as a warmer, fuzzier "Island of Dr. Moreau," with the sociopathic, mad scientist of that title replaced by a maniacal Lisa Frank, fresh off a post-doc fellowship in genetics at Johns Hopkins, flush with grant money and ready to combine as many cute animals as she can get her hands on.
Most remember the Gryphon, a lion and eagle mash-up immortalized by Victorian illustrator John Tenniel in "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland." But there are so many other wondrous species within the pages of books, I’ve compiled them over the years into a sort of children’s literature bestiary. Without further ado, here are my five favorites:
Kitten + Mermaid = Purrmaid. “It was a paws-itively beautiful morning in Kittentail Cove,” begins this series of early chapter books. Can you go wrong with a start like that? Kitten-mermaid hybrids Coral, Shelly and Angel, with no visible gills (perhaps they invoke the same magic Daryl Hannah used to allow Tom Hanks to breathe underwater at the end of "Splash"), navigate the treacherous distance to Tortoiseshell Reef. But can they keep from devouring their own tails?
Grizzly bear + Buffalo = Gruffalo. In addition to being hailed as a modern classic, an animated version of this picture book received an Oscar nomination for Best Short Film. I agree with The Guardian reporter who called it a scandal that its author, Julia Donaldson, who was Children’s Laureate of the UK from 2011-13, is not better known. Her books, which include "What the Ladybug Heard," "Stick Man," and "Room on the Broom," are as clever as the mouse in this story, who outsmarts every predator in the forest, including the Gruffalo, rhyming in couplets all the while.
? + ? = Hank. In Rebecca Dudley’s "Hank Finds an Egg," Hank finds an egg. When the egg hatches, it’s obvious what kind of animal was inside. Just what Hank is, however, remains a mystery. Puppy? Bear cub? Weasel in a sock monkey costume? In a sequel, "Hank Has a Dream," Hank has a dream. But we still don’t learn what knitting of species produced him.
Camel + Zebra + Giraffe + Elephant + Rhinoceros + Reindeer = Whingdingdilly. Bill Peet, who had a hand in many of the animated features of Disney’s first golden era ("Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "101 Dalmatians," and most famously, due to a falling out with Walt Disney during its creation, "The Jungle Book") before he turned full-time to children’s books, may hold the record for combining the most species. He also holds the record for most books ever written about the experience of keeping a pet capybara (one).
Cat + Bird = Catwings. Ursula K. Le Guin’s children’s fiction is as thoughtfully beautiful as the adult science fiction and fantasy for which she has garnered so many awards. Her "Earthsea Cycle" is about as good as science fiction for older kids gets, and the four "Catwings" books she wrote for younger readers decades ago are still as irresistible to their audience as real live winged cats would be. Mrs. Jane Tabby’s four kittens, Thelma, James, Harriet, and Roger can fly somewhere better than the Dumpster in which they were born. But when they see themselves in a mirror, do they do that weird bitey thing cats do when they see a bird outside a window?
— Dan Coleman is a collection development librarian at the Lawrence Public Library.
Magician, wizard, practitioner of magic, whatever you want to call that person, I'll bet some of the first examples that pop into your head are male: Harry Potter, Merlin, Gandalf. The greats of the fantasy genre are usually males with women in supporting roles. Women are the wife, the jealous lover, the know-it-all, and sometimes in a world full of men practicing magic, they have no magical ability at all.
Growing up enamored with the fantasy genre and novels filled with magic, I found my favorites: Tamora Pierce’s "Song of the Lioness Quartet," Garth Nix’s "Abhorsen" series and of course the biggie, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. But for every Alanna and Sabriel there were dozens of Harrys and Eragons.
Young adult and juvenile fiction have been quick to turn around, but it can be pretty difficult when browsing the adult fantasy shelves to find a novel centered on a well-rounded female character. Fantasy has long been reigned over by male protagonists, but there are female writers like Ami McKay and Kat Howard who are daring to go where only Robert Jordan and J. R. R. Tolkien had gone before. Let me talk to you about witches in America. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
"An Unkindness of Magicians" by Howard and "The Witches of New York" by McKay are so similar yet dissimilar that when I read them back to back, quite by chance, I couldn’t wait to write about them. Let me start off by saying that these are two very different novels. They have a lot of commonalities like magic, fierce women, self-discovery, community and their big-city setting, but "An Unkindness of Magicians" reads like a gritty revenge story, while "The Witches of New York" is historical fantasy and very much an exploration of women’s issues.
The way magic is portrayed is also very different. "The Witches of New York" hails from the common understanding of witches: tea leaves, palm reading, incantations, communing with the dead. "An Unkindness of Magicians" reeks of a more technical magic: spells woven intricately with fingers to create illusions and to kill. Both books are unflinchingly beautiful.
"An Unkindness of Magicians" follows Sydney as she competes in the Turning, a magical competition that takes place every 20 years to determine the next ruler of the Unseen World. This hidden enclave of magicians ensconced in New York City, unknown to the mundane inhabitants, sold Sydney into magical servitude. She’s broken free and wants to watch the Unseen World burn.
This novel is so expertly woven that it feels as if Howard worked her own particular spell in prose. With multiple viewpoints and many switches between them all, the pace is a little dizzying but utterly satisfying; this may be my favorite book of the year. Apparently, the title is based on collective nouns: a murder of ravens, a flamboyance of flamingos, a parliament of owls. When steeped in absolute power—over magic and people — what else would brew up, except "An Unkindness of Magicians"?
We’re still in NYC for our next book, but rewind the clock 137 years. "The Witches of New York" starts in the autumn of 1880, and instead of one determined magician, we are greeted by three very different, well-rounded witches.
Compelled by an ad in the paper seeking a shop girl that closes with “those averse to magic need not apply,” Beatrice leaves her small town upstate for New York City. She begins her work at Tea and Sympathy with Adelaide, a fortune teller and Eleanor, a mixer of potions, teas, and all sorts of spells. All three women grapple with their power and what it means to be a witch in a city equally obsessed with technology and seances, superstition and progress.
Hounded by forces both normal and paranormal, Beatrice, Adelaide and Eleanor must find their place in the world while conquering their own fears. "The Witches of New York" has a lot going on, and even though there were parts I wanted to skim through, I found each character enchanting.
While "An Unkindness of Magicians" is sleek and wholly its own, McKay’s work dabbles in everything from fairies to Cleopatra’s Needle to tasseomancey (tea leaf reading). It confronts head on the persecution women faced for being “other” and has so many parallels to what women face in current times that it feels modern while being unapologetically eclectic.
There you have it: two fantasy books with women at the forefront. Finding well-developed female protagonists can be a struggle, and there are so many books that I roll my eyes at or don’t finish because the central character doesn’t have depth or isn’t compelling. But Sydney, Beatrice, Eleanor and Adelaide are sure to bewitch you. I have definitely fallen under their spell and can’t wait to escape to their worlds again.
— Lauren Taylor is a youth services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Liked it, really liked it, it was amazing — if you’re a GoodReads user, you’ll recognize these as the three, four, and five star ratings on the site. I admit, I’m probably a little over-generous with my stars.
Looking back at this year’s reads, I’ve given no less than three stars to each. But I also feel like I’ve read some really good books.
Because I order books for the teen collection, many of those reads were young adult books. I know it’s a tad bit early for “Best of 2017” lists, but here are five published this year that I unhesitatingly gave five stars:
"The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue" By Mackenzi Lee
With "The Gentleman’s Guide," Mackenzie Lee brings the 18th century to life in a way that engages and enlightens the modern reader. Henry “Monty” Montague embarks on a grand tour of Europe with his younger sister, Felicity, and his best friend Percy. Monty is charmingly arrogant, secretly obsessed with Percy, and has a penchant for getting the three of them in the worst trouble. Through their adventures, Felicity and Percy bring balance to the reckless and self-obsessed Monty we meet at the beginning of the book. It’s a fun romp full of history, adventure and forbidden romance.
"Radio Silence" by Alice Oseman
Frances spends most of her free time studying, but she has one extracurricular obsession: a podcast mystery. When she gets the opportunity to contribute her artwork, she befriends the otherwise anonymous creator, but as the podcast gains popularity, it’s hard to keep his trust. Fans of Rainbow Rowell's "Eleanor & Park" take note: current, diverse, and filled with quirky adorableness. You won't want to put it down until you're done.
"The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas
This is probably one of the most important and timely reads of the year. Starr Carter’s life is turned upside down when she witnesses the death of her best friend at the hands of a police officer during a traffic stop. Born and raised in a predominantly poor, black neighborhood, Starr attends a private school that’s mostly white. After her friend’s death, she struggles with helping bring justice for her friend and determining her place in these two communities.
"Perfect Ten" By L. Philips
If the adorable cover doesn't draw you in, the story definitely will. Frustrated with the lack of eligible guys at his school, Sam crafts a list of 10 traits he wants in a boyfriend for a love spell his Wiccan best friend, Meg, suggests performing. And voila, three perfect guys enter Sam's life — all in pursuit of him. Sam’s the kind of character you'll be annoyed with and then adore, never want to hear from again, and then find yourself obsessing over. A delightful teen rom-com with lots of heart, some drama and hints of magical realism.
"Looking for Group" by Rory Harrison
My new favorite road trip novel. It’s a beautiful story about taking charge of your own life and connecting with those who accept you for who you are. Dylan is in remission, addicted to medications and struggling to get along with a mother who only takes advantage of his situation. Arden lives with a father who refuses to accept her as she is. They've only met online playing World of Warcraft, but when Dylan shows up on Arden's doorstep, they decide to abscond across the country on their first real life mission. A fun, endearing read.
— William Ottens is the Cataloging and Collection Development Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.
Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James' nonfiction "The Man from the Train" opens with the brutal murder of 8 people in the quiet town of Villisca, Iowa during the summer of 1912.
The murders rocked the tiny town and fed the newly burgeoning press scene with half-truths and speculation. Though the press could be wildly unhelpful, authorities could now see a continued pattern of murders stringing along the rail lines from small town to small town in the Midwest thanks to the reporting and sharing of information across county and state lines.
Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James work backward through time, focusing on the later, more reported murders first, then weaving into the creation of the titular Man from the Train. We see the established patterns and psychoses, then see how the assailant built his skill set of quietly murdering families, then disappearing without a trace.
The authors not only detail the murders of those whom they have concluded are the work of our assailant, but they also detail other crimes and attacks they believe are not the work of the Man from the Train to establish a set pattern for the crimes. This psychological profiling pays off as the reader progresses through the book.
One of my favorite elements of historical nonfiction, whether it be biography, history or true crime, is the well-researched world building authors do to place the reader in their story. Learning about 19th century medical procedures in Candice Millard’s "Destiny of the Republic," or the 17th century philosophy of scientific inquiry in Holly Tucker’s "Blood Work," creates a truly immersive experience for the reader.
The authors detail police procedure (or lack thereof), the press, and the explosion of information that occurred between 1909 and 1912 that allowed police to share information and see the multi-jurisdictional puzzle that our assailant had been creating for almost 15 years.
Police work during the height of the killing spree was quite often crowdfunded and utilized the services of private investigators. Local police departments, especially in the small rural towns where the Man from the Train struck, simply did not have the resources to carry out time-consuming and expensive investigations. This created the need for private investigation firms (the most famous being the Pinkerton Agency) to step in.
One of the best characters (and by best, I mean most vile and opportunistic) is investigator J. N. Wilkerson of the Burns Agency, who was more interested in extorting money from innocent people rather than actually solving the horrendous Villisca crime. With little governmental oversight, this was common practice among investigators, who would declare innocent a suspect brought into custody by local police forces and condemn another party guilty in order to claim a not insubstantial reward for “solving” the crime.
This is only one example of the historical detail the authors go into. The rest are equally fascinating and describe the boons and perils technology brings to any time, whether it’s 1910 or 2017.
I’ve never been one for true crime until recently. "The Keepers," a seven part series that premiered on Netflix that details the continued investigation of a nun’s murder in the 1960’s, proved to be my gateway to the genre. In today’s culture, we are constantly inundated with the idea of violence with no rational motive in fiction and nonfiction, whether it’s in the shower of the Bates Motel or the pages of a memoir by convicted BTK killer Dennis Rader.
The authors of "The Man from the Train" argue early on that this is a relatively new phenomenon, no doubt stroked by sensationalism and media exposure. However, irrational killing was not on the radar of early 20th century police in small rural towns where the murder rate was only one or two cases a year. They often looked for motives such as revenge or passion, which is one of many reasons our assailant was able to kill for so long, undetected.
If true crime and historical sleuthing are your thing, "The Man from the Train" reads like a thriller and gives you a backstage pass into the authors’ research techniques and Sherlockian deductions. It’s a great read and a testament to the archaeological research done to piece together the profile of one of the worst serial killers in the country.
Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James will talk about the book at Lawrence Public Library on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. The Raven bookstore will sell copies and a signing will follow the reading.
— Kristin Soper is the programs and events coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.
Look Play Listen is the Lawrence Public Library’s team of audio and video appreciators.
Each month we’ll round up some of our favorite music, film/TV, and video game reviews from our staff and put them in one easy-to-read, easy-to-locate blog post.
"The Last Kingdom" (Season 2)
Sure, you'll make fun of it, but when you're desperate to fill that "Game of Thrones" void in your heart, where else are you going to turn? Super entertaining, great costumes, totally recommend.
–Logan from Development & Community Partnerships
I missed the boat on "Over the Garden Wall" when it originally aired on Cartoon Network in 2014, and I never got into its spiritual sibling, "Adventure Time," but I’m delighted that the show finally crossed my path on a recent, lazy Sunday afternoon as the Summer had begun fading into Fall. The anthology of ten, ten minute episodes works best when watched together as it tells the story of half-brother Greg and Wirt and their adventures making their way home through “The Unknown,” a strange, fairytale land.
Over their travels, the two encounter fantastic and grotesque characters, including witches, magical turtles, re-animated skeletons masquerading as a village of pumpkin people, a human family cursed to live as bluebirds and a soul-sapping beast lurking in the everpresent woods. The fable-like themes of the show, along with the muted, autumnal color palette make for cozy fall viewing.
–Kevin from Collection Development
A thrilling adventure with an all-star cast. I enjoyed this modern take on the classic King Kong story, with fantastic visual effects and new twists. It makes you think about the way we respond to that which we fear, but ultimately is unknown.
–William from Collection Development
"Uncharted: The Lost Legacy" "Uncharted" is back in fine form in the newest from developer Naughty Dog’s "Indiana Jones" meets "Tomb Raider" series. Chloe Fraser and Nadine Ross are a fierce duo hunting down the fabled Hoysala civilization in this perfectly paced, over the top, beautiful romp through India.
P.S. It passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.
–Ian from Info Services
An anthemic and fist-pumping conceptual record from one of Sweden's beloved extreme metal acts, Amon Amarth. "Jomsviking" is cohesive and inspiring (in a "let's go head first into a viking battle" sort of way) — an excellent testament to a band who has already established themselves as one of the greats. –Joel from Tech Services
Replete with kung-fu snippets and shout outs to high-end apparel brands, it's the Wu-Tang Clan, back again. The world of 2017 is pretty different from the super group's heyday, yet they seem unfazed, marching forward with their trademark tightly produced beats and unmatched lyrical wordplay. "If Time is Money" bittersweetly recalls "Cash Rules Everything Around Me"; though the bombastic veneer is mostly the same as it was in '94, their thoughts can be seen turning to bigger concerns, primarily the fostering of family and community.
There's something oddly reassuring that despite everything that may happen, the Wu can still be the Wu, even now. Highly recommended.
–Eli from Readers Services
So that’s it from us for October! What media are you loving this month?
Publishing, like everything, goes in cycles; spring and summer are prime time for book publications, and things tend to wane as the months get colder.
However, every year there are gems that get released after the rush, and I want to highlight a few books that are yet to come for the end of 2017.
"Heaven’s Crooked Finger" by Hank Early (Mystery - 11/7)
Hank Early brings us the beginning of a new mystery series featuring Earl Marcus, a man drawn reluctantly back into his past in order to solve a haunting mystery. The characters in this novel are as engaging and intriguing as the plot itself, and Early’s descriptions of North Georgia will draw you in. Compared favorably to James Lee Burke, this Southern crime series will leave you intrigued as it navigates unexpected twists and turns.
"Someone You Love Is Gone" by Gurjinder Basran (Literary Fiction - 11/7)
Capturing the depths and complexity of grief is not an easy task, but Basran uses beautiful prose to illustrate the loss of one family’s central member in this literary novel. We follow Simran, the eldest daughter of an Indian family living in Canada, as she learns more about her beloved late mother as well as what remains of own life after this loss. Readers who enjoy lyrical, emotional prose and literary favorites such as Jhumpa Lahiri and Marilynne Robinson will be drawn to this one.
"City of Brass" by S.A. Chakraborty (Fantasy - 11/14)
Note: I saw Chakraborty speak at a recent conference, and I was impressed by the amount of passion and research she put into her debut novel.
An adult fantasy novel that could be suitable for YA crossover, Chakraborty draws upon ancient Middle Eastern folklore to captivate her audiences. Early reviewers are raving about how fully they were absorbed into this fantasy world, one filled with trickster con-artists, mysterious djinns and political intrigue.
"Mean" by Myriam Gurba (Memoir... - 11/14)
Why the ellipses after “Memoir”? Gurba is a spoken-word performer and a visual artist by trade, and this book draws upon her unique style, resulting in a caustically hilarious yet poignant book that resists genre classification.
As a queer, mixed-race Chicana with a lifetime of intersectional observations to draw upon, Myriam Gurba has honed her “meanness” as an act of self-preservation. She turns her unflinching eye on racism, sexism, homophobia and a world of other systemic issues in this raw, engaging work. Read if you want to discover a new hero.
Why these books weren’t released during the usual hype-filled warmer months is beyond me, but I think they will all prove that the best is yet to come for 2017.
— Kate Gramlich is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
I don’t typically read books out of the horror section, but then again, categorizing the sprawling bundle of thoughts that make up a novel into just one of a handful of neat genres is not an easy task.
Of course, my latest impulse read—Hye-Young Pyun’s "The Hole"— is a far cry from typical.
The recently-translated novel binds the reader to the perspective of a man trying to recover from a devastating car wreck. He’s lost not only his wife, but also his ability to move and speak. It caught my eye thanks to an intriguing cover design that sticks out like a sore thumb next to the horror shelves' status quo of darker, bloodier fronts .
As different as it may be, make no mistake— "The Hole" fully deserves its place next to these macabre tales.
There are a number of classic stories that begin to approximate Hye-Young Pyun’s direction. Stephen King’s "Misery" springs to mind first, being the closest plot concept with a few similar captivity-related conventions that pop up. For totally non-insect-related reasons, Franz Kafka’s "The Metamorphosis," however, is The Hole’s strongest literary relative.
Ogi, a decently well-off professor of cartography, wakes from a coma to find his world utterly transformed. The reader spends a great deal of time in Ogi’s headspace as he grapples with his new, confined life, pitting hope against despair. At the same time, he tells the story of his marriage to his late wife, unraveling haunting clues one by one. Pyun masterfully dials up the looming sense of unease (both in a physical and psychological sense) as the pages fly by.
Rooting for Ogi is irresistible. At the same time, our understanding of his flaws grow constantly as we see more of his then-aloof treatment of his wife. She wasn’t perfect either, though, becoming strangely obsessed with digging in their yard.
Though there aren’t many characters in "The Hole," Ogi’s newfound caregiver—his mother in-law—stands as one of the best I’ve read in quite some time. Her enigmatic, but perhaps well-meaning behavior will give you the heeby jeebies, while also allowing consideration of her as a person—and not just a monster. There’s a funny nugget of commentary in Pyun’s choice, too, pointing to the culturally cliched fear of the mother in law.
She isn't the only bogeyman, though. Pyun’s writing injects paranoia through the pages, making every character seem ominous; every mundane choice seems like part of a malicious, unseen masterplan.
Not only is "The Hole" potent psychological horror, it’s reflectively-written literary fiction at the same time.
Ogi’s musings on his life, replete with both regret and resilience, carry deep meaning and are a pleasure to read by themselves. And when the monsters really start to come out of the closet—so to speak—the horror is all the more delirious and knuckle-whitening for it. Like most horror narratives, the ending is key, and "The Hole" delivers in spades.
Pyun is a promising new voice to know, whether you’re looking to be horrified or not. At any rate, you’ll appreciate your mother in law just a bit more.
— Eli Hoelscher is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
One of the biggest stories in children’s publishing this year has been the success of books empowering young women. Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo’s "Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls," a set of 100 brief biographies of unstoppable women, is among the highest circulating children’s books at the library this year, and similar titles like Chelsea Clinton’s "She Persisted," and Rachel Ignotofsky’s "Women in Science" have recently joined "Rebel Girls" on the New York Times bestseller list.
I’ve enjoyed reading these books to my daughter and son, but even more we love the work of author/illustrator Meghan McCarthy, who has been telling stories of women and science for over a decade and was kind enough recently to answer a few questions about her work.
A I’m sending images from a booklet I made as a kid. I think this will answer your question.
A As a kid I rescued injured animals … or at least tried to. I brought an injured wild rabbit home once, multiple birds, turtles, you name it. What upset me is that those wild animals were injured because of human encroachment on once-wild spaces. I felt a responsibility to do something.
I’ve also had a number of pets. I grew up with our family cat Molly, who lived for 20 years. My current cat, named Lily, makes me laugh. She’s kind of crazy, but I like crazy. She’s a good little companion.
Q When you were a child, would you have predicted your future career as a children’s book creator? How did you start on this path, and who are some of your greatest influences?
A When I was in elementary school I remember starting a contest with my neighbor: who could get published first. I was convinced that I could create a picture book like Chris Van Allsburg and get it published. I really thought I could do whatever I wanted.
After college graduation, I had a different attitude. I realized how tough the competition was and how hard it was to get noticed and I convinced myself that I’d never publish anything. That’s when I got a job delivering pizzas.
One big artistic influence in my life is my dad. He taught me how to draw and paint. He went to art school for a year but unfortunately could not complete his art education. The Vietnam War was in full swing, and both students and teachers stopped attending class in protest. My dad was then forced to go back to work as a social worker. But he never stopped painting. I’d watch in awe as he painted and tried my best to copy him.
My mom and grandmother were also very encouraging. Without that encouragement, I may not have kept working on my art.
Q What are your all-time favorite books?
A I don’t have any favorites. It’s too hard to choose just a couple because there are so many great books out there. I’m really into reading graphic novels at the moment — especially memoirs. I have hope that one day I’ll be able to publish my own. If I had to pick one book that I loved as a kid and still love today it would be "Where the Wild Things Are." I know that’s an obvious pick but the text and art work so well together that I have to say that’s top on my list.
A My advice is to do what you love. If you love dresses, then great, be a fashion designer. If you love sports, then become a sports announcer. I don’t think there should be boundaries.
A memory from my childhood comes to mind. When I was a kid, I loved playing baseball. I was too old for little league, so the next step for girls was to start playing softball. I didn’t want to do that, so I tried out for an all-boys baseball team in the minor leagues.
My dad said that one of the coaches at the tryouts told him that I shouldn’t be there because the sport was for boys only. My dad let me try out anyway and I got onto a team. I was the only girl playing in the league. I had fun playing, and no one seemed to take issue with my presence because I proved my worth.
So if you’re a girl and really want to do a “boy thing,” then go do it. But I think it’s a lot better to prove the naysayers wrong than to complain yourself. That was Betty Skelton’s attitude, and that’s why I liked her story so much.
— Dan Coleman is a collection development librarian at the Lawrence Public Library