Posts tagged with Library

My bookish bucket list

I’m fascinated by the concept of bucket lists. Few things fascinate me more than hearing what other people consider to be must-have life experiences, mostly because the range of “must-have” encompasses so much.

I have a general life bucket list (see the Northern Lights; go sky-diving; walk the Camino De Santiago), but I also keep a more specifically bookish bucket list, stocked with book-related experiences I’d like to have during my lifetime - everything from reading specific books to getting more bookish body art to attending conventions.

Recently, I got to put a checkmark next to a huge item on my bookish bucket list: visiting The Ripped Bodice, an all-romance novel bookstore located in L.A. I discovered the store via their excellent Twitter last year and had been sadly pining away from afar. (You know that whine-and-paw-at-the-ground thing that dogs do when they’re sad? That was me, every time someone posted photos of The Ripped Bodice.)

The Ripped Bodice by Katelyn Hancock.

The Ripped Bodice by Katelyn Hancock. by Lawrence Public Library Staff

As luck would have it, one of my dearest friends moved to L.A. last fall and issued me a standing invitation to visit her. So in May, I booked a flight, and 24 hours after landing, my beloved friend Katelyn and I walked through the doors of The Ripped Bodice. (Well, she walked — I am reliably informed that I bounced through the door, Tigger-like, and then preceded to levitate with joy for the rest of our time in the store.)

While Katelyn browsed and took photos with Sir Fitzwilliam Waffles, Esq., the store’s dog-in-residence, I got direct Readers’ Advisory help from one of The Ripped Bodice’s owners, Bea, who patiently listened to me explaining what I like in romance (competent characters trying their best; a tinge of sadness in the tone) and what I don’t (banter for banter’s sake; alpha heroes) and then helped me pick out a completely reasonable number of books for purchase.

Completely reasonable, and definitely not so many that the cost of said books hit the triple digits and I had to take advantage of the store’s free shipping policy to get them all home. Definitely not.

On a generally excellent trip, visiting The Ripped Bodice was a definite high point — not just because it is the most beautiful store in the world, but because it was so wonderful to get to talk about a topic I love with people who share my love of it. I’m pretty sure I teared up at one point.

Other major items on my bookish bucket list:

  • Visiting the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, South Dakota: I couldn’t tell exactly you how many times I read the Little House series as a kid, but it was at least 15 times all the way through (and many more for my particular favorites). Now that I live a few hours’ drive from South Dakota, I’m low-key planning a trip to the Homestead and other important locations from the books.

  • Read the complete works of James Baldwin: Given that Baldwin’s career as a writer spanned four decades and included novels, plays, essays, short stories, poems, and various other uncategorizable work, this one will be a years-long project. I wrote a thesis on Baldwin, have a tattoo with a quote from one of his novels, and read his work for pleasure, and I’ve made it through maybe 30 percent of his work — which is honestly a generous estimate. If I ever achieve this goal, you will all know because I’ll never shut up about it.

  • Completing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short): I’ve made half-hearted attempts at NaNoWriMo in the past, but I lack the drive to actually finish it. The major problem with this item is that it falls under the extremely broad category of things I want to have done but do not want to actually do.

I may never get through all of these, but it’s fun to think about. What about you, readers? What items are on your bookish bucket list?

— Meredith Wiggins is a readers' services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


3 favorite books I’m dying to read again

Okay, so “dying” is quite an exaggeration, but sometimes hyperbolic language is necessary when you’re really really excited to crack open one of your favorites. Lately, more and more, I have been inspired to revisit some old friends of mine, rather than discovering new books. There is something ultimately comforting about starting a book already knowing how much you love it.

The types of books I am talking about are the ones that whenever I see them on display, I want to selfishly snatch them up and check them out before anyone else gets a chance to read them. I just can’t help myself — these books are so good. Here are three of my all-time favorites that are all at the top of my “To Read Again” pile.

1 "The Magpie Lord" by K.J. Charles

K.J. Charles is a favorite author of several of us at the Lawrence Public Library because she manages to create such interesting and complicated characters you can’t help but fall in love with, all in around two hundred pages or so.

In this novel, Stephen is an adorable, uptight magician with a major chip on his shoulder and Lucien is a sassy and (somewhat) sophisticated nobleman with a scandalous history.

I could dedicate an entire blogpost as to why I love Lucien so much as a character — he is always quick with a comeback, shamelessly arrogant, and chronically overdressed. Set in a Victorian London where magic is so prevalent, there is plenty of fantasy to compliment the romance. When you combine that with characters you can’t help but love, you have yourselves a fantastic little novel that is perfect for binge-reading.

2 "The Girls at the Kingfisher Club" by Genevieve Valentine

I’ve already sung my praises of my colleague Meredith’s book suggestions in a previous post. Thanks to her, I discovered this absolute gem of a book, a retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," set in NYC in the 1920s.

This is one of my "you had me at hello” type of books where the setting and the plot are so unbelievably wonderful, I immediately knew it would be an all-time favorite. This is mostly due to Valentine’s lovely, gorgeous prose. A wistful exploration of sisterhood and responsibility, female friendship and the lengths that people go through to be truly considered free, this book gives me all of the warm and fuzzies.

3 "Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners" by Therese O’Neill

Last, and definitely not least, is a new favorite. I read this at the tail end of 2016 and I’ve been wanting to read it again ever since. Of all of the nonfiction titles I have read and enjoyed, this is the one that I recommend to others the most because it’s just so darn funny. Therese O’Neill takes an overly romanticized time period like the Victorian era and gives a realistic portrayal of what it was actually like to live during that time.

The author sets the book up as if the reader is a time traveler, going back to the 19th century. She is a perfect tour guide — quick to inform and educate, personable and hilarious. There are some humorous books that make you smile, some that make you laugh out loud, and then there are those that make you laugh so hard, you nearly wet yourself. This book falls into the latter category.

I’m currently re-reading "I’ll Meet You There" by Heather Demetrios, which is another book I really liked. After that, who knows? Will I be in the mood for fantasy or nonfiction? Some more romance, perhaps? There is nothing that brings me more joy than to flip through pages and go to a place I’ve already explored, just so I can spend a few more moments there. I strongly suggest you do that same, whenever you are able.

— Kimberly Lopez is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


YA Backlist: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Whatever happened to steampunk? According to some sources, this subgenre of science fiction that incorporates industrial steam-powered machinery from the 19th century in alternative histories was “over” in 2010. Others might say last year.

In this YA Backlist post, I’m taking a look back at Scott Westerfeld's young adult contribution to steampunk, "Leviathan." To be honest, this was one of three or so steampunk novels I read — but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the subgenre or Westerfeld’s novel. I do always find something fascinating about a “what if” premise.

Westerfeld reimagines World War I with steam-powered iron walkers and genetically altered animals. Caught in the middle of the global conflict are Aleksander Ferdinand, orphaned prince of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and Deryn Sharp, a girl who disguises herself as a boy so she can serve in the British Air Service.

Alek doesn't know who to trust when he's told the news of his parents' death. His mother having been of common blood, many see him as unfit to rule and even a threat to the empire, so he must flee in a Cyklop Stormwalker with his “mechanicks” master and fencing instructor. However, they don’t make it far before they have to test the defenses of the armored, steam-powered walker.

Meanwhile, Deryn, going by Dylan, manages to prove herself capable through a freak incident involving a Huxley — a jellyfish-like creature that flies by filling itself with hydrogen. She winds up on the Leviathan, a gigantic living ecosystem that doubles as a military aircraft, where she must continue to prove her usefulness on top of keeping up her disguise. When the Leviathan must make a crash landing in the neutral Swedish territory, Alek's and Daryn's paths cross, which only leads them to further adventure.

"Leviathan" is a fast-paced, adventurous novel. It’s a great introduction to the steampunk genre and an intriguing look at what World War I would have been like with steam-powered machinery and advanced biogenetics. In addition to the author's writing, illustrations by Keith Thompson throughout the pages help bring the images and scenes of the story to life. I encourage you to give it a try.

— William Ottens is the cataloging and collection development coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.


Don’t forget the Bootleg Series

There’s no dearth of Bob Dylan’s music. Last year the septuagenarian, Nobel laureate, singing-songwriting extraordinaire released yet another LP. That brings him to a total of 37 studio albums, 58 singles, 11 live “albums” — some of which, such as the 32-disc "The 1966 Live Recordings," defy any conventional definition of the word "album" — another 31 compilation albums and a whole mess of collaborations. And that’s not all, as any Dylanologist worth their salt will tell you; don’t forget "The Bootleg Series."

Since its launch in 1991 with "The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare and Unreleased) 1961-1991," Columbia Records has attempted to catalogue — and who am I kidding? — to make a whole lot of money from Bob Dylan’s prolific musical output. "The Bootleg Series" now spans 13 volumes that range from folksy demos to relatively recent outtakes (even the newest songs included are now more than a decade old). For the most part, the series sticks to the early days, as only two of the 13 volumes feature music released after 1975. But even with its relatively narrow focus on Dylan’s first 15 years, "The Bootleg Series" is a sprawling — and often fascinating — glimpse into a one-of-a-kind career.

That said, I’ll admit that it took me a while to understand the appeal. I saw a collection of outtakes, alternative recordings, and unreleased songs, and asked why I would want to waste my time with music that didn’t make the cut. The guy already has, like, 40 albums, right? It wasn’t until after some extensive Bootleg[ging] that I came to admit the folly of my ways. A guy like Bob Dylan has a lot more to give than a studio album’s worth of music any given year.

Take "Volume 7, No Direction Home: The Soundtrack," for example. It’s an amazing two-disc collection that makes for a great survey of Dylan’s transition from folk prophet/“voice of a generation” to rock and roll star/“Judas” entirely using recordings that were never released. I don’t know if any of the many alternate takes are better than their studio album counterparts, but hearing these acoustic takes of electric favorites and vice versa is a pleasantly disorienting experience. Dylan’s interpretation of old folk song “Sally Gal” (which I think is only available via this collection) is a personal Dylan favorite. I wouldn’t have heard it without "The Bootleg Series Volume 7" (by the way, the Scorsese documentary of the same name isn’t half bad, either).

For those of us who weren’t around to see Dylan in his heyday, The Bootleg Series can take some of the sting away. I’m not a fan of live albums, but "Volume 6; Live 1964 Concert at Philharmonic Hall" is one of a handful of exceptions. Dylan comes across as funny and charming and weird, and his audience clearly adores him. There are some awkward fumbling, stumbling duets with Joan Baez on the second disc, but that just makes the whole thing more endearing. Besides, the audio quality and collection of songs are just top notch. The fantastic rendition of “If You’ve Got To Go, Go Now” routinely gets stuck in my head, and despite not being the best version of the song, I love this recording of “It Ain’t Me Babe.”

And there’s a lot more where that came from — 11 more volumes to be precise — and sure, at times that can feel excessive (the complete version of 2014’s "The Best of the Cutting Edge 1965-1966 vol 12" was an 18 disc collection for Pete’s sake), but too much of a good thing is a pretty nice problem to have. So if you’re interested in some “new” versions of old songs or simply getting a peek into the creative process of one of modern music’s most influential artists, check out these albums courtesy of your friendly neighborhood library.

— Ian Stepp is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Is a book a sandwich? “Super Extra Grande” edition

Just over 100 miles separate the United States and Cuba. Yet, as history would have it, the two nations have carried on a messy and surprisingly limited relationship. Setting aside the geopolitics of the real world — for now — leaves us with a sadly restrained amount of cultural cross-pollination.

Stateside, Cuba’s strongest association is almost assuredly cigars, followed by pressed ham, pork, and Swiss cheese sandwiches, and in a distant third, there’s Ricky Ricardo, I’m guessing.

For as familiar and adoring as I am of Cuban sandwiches (let me emphasize: extremely), I had never read—or even knew of—any Cuban authors before this summer, which speaks to the unfortunate priorities of our cultural knowledge of our island neighbor. Great art can not be kept back for long, though, and a shiny new copy of "Super Extra Grande" fell into my hands one day as if it were fate.

Like most of you, I had never heard of Cuba’s greatest living science fiction writer, Yoss. The prolific author started writing in the '80s and hasn’t slowed down since, running science fiction writing workshops to further the art in Cuba and everywhere else. Most reviewers have designated "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" author Douglas Adams as Yoss’ Western analog, which is fairly apt, though I’d argue that he has more of the spirit of Robert A. Heinlein ("Stranger in a Strange Land," "Starship Troopers").

Interpreting Yoss via our familiar paragons is a dangerous game, though, as we risk missing the differences and innovations of the Cuban science fiction tradition. Augustin De Rojas, then, is a better name to link with Yoss; known as the progenitor of Cuban science fiction, he shaped the literary future of the country with stories that distilled the sentiments and consequences of communism, equating the hardships of the isolated state to those of an imperilled spaceship crew far from home.

Yoss. Source: Les éditiones Mnémos.

Yoss. Source: Les éditiones Mnémos. by Lawrence Public Library Staff

Oh, and in case it isn’t apparent enough, Yoss is also the lead singer of a heavy metal band, Tenaz. After listening to a few tracks, I can confirm that science fiction is indeed his mastercraft.

"Super Extra Grande" follows Dr. Jan Amos Sangan Dongo, better known as the “Veterinarian to the Giants.” These giants consist of enormous creatures from the depths of space, from "Dune"-esque monster worms to continent-sized amoebas. The book hits the ground running, opening with Sangan trudging through a beast’s digestive tract.

Yoss pivots from the fascinating and at times gross biological details to framing his world with its cast of alien races and their overarching geopolitical (or more accurately, astropolitical) tensions. The world building comes quickly and is well engineered; each brushstroke feels unique and necessary. Sangan also manages to get embroiled in some compelling interpersonal drama. A precarious love triangle forms with his two assistants, one being human, the other an alluring Cetian. Yoss even squeezes in a poignant backstory, delving into the transformative college years of his protagonist. These characters have real, meaningful flaws that give them a tangibility that anchors the space-faring setting of the novel.

While crafting the sci-fi cloth of this world, Yoss reflects and comments on the social and political interworkings of our own world, showcasing his genre’s hallmark ability to explore our own problems through a new lens. There is nothing so heavy-handed, but the dysfunctional and frankly awkward diplomacy of the different galactic races mirrors that of reality quite well. Spanglish has become the universal lingua franca, which functions perhaps as a jab at an Anglo-dominated globe — it also may serve as a not-so-bold prediction.

"Super Extra Grande" impresses with so many facets and such depth for a 150 page novella. There’s a little something for everyone, and each element coalesces to form a masterwork worthy of the hype Yoss has received. Even if the political and interpersonal nuances are lost on you, hey, there’s still an adventure with ridiculously cool space monsters to nerd out over.

As reductive as it is, one could even liken the book to a delicious Cuban sandwich; the sci-fi imagination forms the core of rich pork shoulder, with humor and introspection acting as the pickles and mustard, cutting through with a balancing sharpness. An endearing yet imperfect cast of characters are the ham, adding a special sweetness that put it over the top. And of course, it’s compacted into a well-finished vessel without any unused space, like a buttery telera roll made golden from a hot plancha.

No, sandwich metaphors are too easy. As great as Cuban sandwiches are, "Super Extra Grande" can’t compare. And that’s precisely why it’s so important to have writers like Yoss cross cultural boundaries; when it comes to sandwiches or sci-fi, I’ll pick this book every time. And that’s saying a lot. Ham is serious competition.

— Eli Hoelscher is a Readers’ Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


A Court of Thorns and Roses: An Ending Done Right

There is nothing more satisfying for me as a reader then reaching the end of a book that has a fist-pumping ending.

A book where every single character gets an ending that resonates with their trajectory. There aren’t any outstanding “what the heck just happened?” questions floating around in your mind. And usually there’s a supremely satisfying "happily ever after" that leaves my blood singing with a reader’s high that lasts for at least 12 hours. This feeling is multiplied when you get through a series. Will the ending fulfill every dream you’ve had for the thousands of pages you’ve consumed? Or will it be a fiery ball of “meh”?

So much rides on that last book of a series. It can change how you frame all the preceding books or cement its place in your reading hall of fame. When a series is building toward a conclusion, I can give it a little leeway in terms of shaky world building, flat characters, or weird plot twists because you trust the author will make everything come out right. Rarely is that the case.

A young adult series that seriously impressed me is Sarah J. Maas’ "A Court of Thorns and Roses" trilogy. The first book is a little shaky, but the emotional payout of the final book of the trilogy is well worth reading through the lackluster opening.

YA novels have a bad rap with adult readers, and there are definitely books that play into those stereotypes. In fact, the first book, "A Court of Thorns and Roses," checks almost all of my least favorite YA tropes: hazy love triangle, overly dramatic characters, love at first sight, every character is beautiful. On top of that, it’s also a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast," a fairy tale which has become immensely popular in YA over the last few years.

I had pretty much written off the rest of the series as being awful, but after reading more of Maas’ work (check out the "Throne of Glass" series), I shrugged, said “what the heck” and picked up "A Court of Mist and Fury." I’m glad I did. While the first book was a trite and lack luster fairy tale adaptation, the second and third books give up on politely fitting into a “retelling,” and Maas hits her stride building a fascinating and complete fantasy world.

While the world building is solid, I think my favorite part about this series is the evolution of main character Feyre from love-struck, no personality, fairy tale victim to a totally self-sufficient commander of her own fate. Sure, there is an underlying romance, and of course there’s some overwrought relationship drama, but unlike other YA heroines, Feyre has actual character development and graduates from cardboard cutout to fully realized, multi-dimensional heroine. She becomes a character you root for, and even in a book full of a great supporting cast, her growth and development keeps her at the top of the characters you care about in the novels.

Maas also does an excellent job of subtly subverting the "Beauty and the Beast" mythology. Although I will love Disney’s "Beauty and the Beast" until the end of time, as a rational adult and feminist I acknowledge there are problems with the storyline. No matter which way you look at it, there is a very blatant disparity in power. Can such a huge inequality between characters lead to a loving relationship with equality between partners? "A Court of Mist and Fury" explores what happens after the "happily ever after" and paints a realistic portrait of a relationship based on coercion.

"A Court of Wings and Ruin" is the final book in the series, and although you’ll have to get through more than 800 pages to get there, I found the final novel to be the jewel of Maas’ trilogy. Remember all that gibberish about a reader’s high? This book has it in spades. I was so happy with how the series turned out, and even happier that I stuck through the first book to get there.

Maas’ command of plot, characterization, and world building brings about a satisfying finish that I couldn’t get enough of. So if you’re looking for a fantasy series that won’t let you down in the end, come down to the library and check out the "Court of Thorns and Roses" series. You’ll be thanking me for all the endorphins as you get your very own reader's high.

— Lauren Taylor is a youth services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Reading Water, Hearing Trees

It’s Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday! In honor of the man who’s mostly famous for sitting by a pond, here’s a look at a few recent books that might be of interest – whether or not you choose to go to the woods, build a cabin, and live deliberately.

Some of us believe with Henry that “we can never have enough of nature.” In that spirit, Book Squad member Shirley B. and I recently led a rousing discussion of George Frazier’s "The Last Wild Places of Kansas" as part of our Action Book Club. We were hosted at the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center by its Education Coordinator, Roger Boyd, as well as the author George, and his daughter Chloe joined us to offer some tips on “ottering.”

So ottering we went, and Roger led us to a critter trail he had found earlier, complete with a slide to the water. Otters leave fairly distinctive signs, as both George and Thoreau have described. For the purposes of this review, suffice it to say that otter scat offers a window to understanding, well, you know that quote of John Muir’s that says when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe? You can’t pick out otter poop by itself.

This is especially true if you’ve plumbed Tristan Gooley’s "How to Read Water," a deep and refreshing book published last year. Among ten thousand other things, Gooley points out that otters love crawfish, and crawfish indicate calcium in the soil (the better to build chimneys with), and calcium tells you that you need not worry about sudden storm surges, for the substrate is porous. The next time you find scat laden with crawfish parts and rain starts to fall, you can rest easy.

"How to Read Water" explains that one need not be an otter to get a feel for aquatic phenomena. Merely studying water drops on your kitchen counter can lead to oceanic insights. Once you view water topographically (like Kansas, it’s not flat), puddles lead to voyages in the South Pacific, and rivers present zen-like profundities: pondering hydraulics in streams, Gooley observes that “a pillow is both fluid and stationary.”

Which reminded me of poet Wendell Berry’s lovely line, “The impeded stream is the one that sings,” reinforcing the notion that we usually hear water than more than read it. Similarly, despite centuries of Shakespeare going on about finding tongues in trees, we seldom listen to arboreal arias. David George Haskell is here to change that. Author of "The Forest Unseen," a highly recommended look at one wooded spot over the course of a year, Haskell has just written a book called "The Songs of Trees."

I have to say that I was hoping for something along the lines of Peter Wohlleben’s awesome "The Hidden Life of Trees," which I reviewed a few months ago, explicating the surprising science behind previously unheard maple murmurings, chestnut chants, and dogwood dirges – and Haskell supplies a little of that – but by “songs” Haskell means not only sounds, but stories. Which isn’t a bad thing. Once you get over your excitement at the notion that trees might sing, Haskell’s global survey of tree stories will enthrall you nonetheless.

Haskell says that life is not just networked, it is network, and that trees are nature’s great connector. His book provides insights on how extensive the “wood-wide web” really is, and reminds us that we too are a part of the songs of trees.

For a long time I’ve been practicing identifying birds not just by their markings, but by their calls. To celebrate Thoreau’s bicentennial, I’ll think I’ll practice arboreal aural I.D. and tune into trees. But I’m a little confused: some of the songs of trees Haskell describes seem more like songs of rain and wind acting on trees, and not actual woody emanations. If that’s the case, even dead trees sing.

In "The Practice of the Wild," another great singer of natural connections, poet Gary Snyder, also mused on dead trees: “How curious it would be to die and then remain standing for another century or two… If humans could do it we would hear news like, ‘Henry David Thoreau finally toppled over.’”

We need the tonic of wildness, Henry said. Long may he sing.

-Jake Vail is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


Our new friend Libby

It’s no secret how much I love Hoopla. I’ve been known to chat to anyone about it at the library and in my book clubs (and at the grocery store, the bar, the laundromat … pretty much anywhere.) It’s just so easy to use, and I’m a bit of a give-upper when it comes to confusing technological processes.

That’s why I was excited when I heard that Overdrive (something I shied away from in the past) released a brand new user-friendly e-book app. Meet my new friend, Libby. Not only does Libby offer amazing audiobooks and e-books for free with your library card, but it does it with a way more visually appealing and intuitive interface than before.

Because Hoopla offers content constantly without holds it sometimes means that there are titles that aren’t available in that catalog yet. Libby, on the other hand, offers access to some of those hard-to-find hits, and the occasional holds list is usually super short (or nonexistent). It also gives you the option of previewing audiobooks, whether or not they are immediately available, which is awesome for those of us who judge a book pretty quickly by its narrator.

If you’re tech-savvier than I am, feel free to just head to your preferred app store and get going on Libby. If you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a little walk-through for browsing for, checking out, and opening content:

Once you download the app from your phone's app store, you can register your library card from LPL. Feel free to add other library cards if you've got them.

In Libby, if you click "Popular Collections" you can immediately select which format you'd prefer (e-book vs audiobook). This is helpful if you know that you only need audiobooks, for instance:

Or, browse by "collection" (aka subject/genre) first and then narrow down by subgenres and format. This is useful if you'd like to find good book regardless of whether you read or listen:

Not on the app yet? You can also browse our catalog first, and then open the book in the app. For instance, if you find this list of great audiobooks on Libby, you can click "Checkout Now" and then, later, open your "Shelf" in the app and it'll be there.

The Lawrence Public Library staff is working hard to learn all about Libby, what items it has and how it works. If you have any questions, please ask and we will look for the answer.

— Kate Gramlich is a readers' services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Into the woods: a different take on beach reads

When I was growing up, “going on vacation” was synonymous with “going to the beach.” Every summer, my parents loaded me and my brothers in our beat-up Ford Aerostar — books and Barbies in tow for yours truly — and trekked seven hours straight south from our house in Alabama to a condo in Florida, where we’d spend a week splashing in the pool and building sandcastles with our grandparents and cousins.

I know how fortunate we were to have access to vacations like that. But growing up, even as I loved visiting our favorite beach haunts, I was also frustrated that we never took trips elsewhere. If my parents had vacation time, we went to the beach. The end.

I would love to say that I handled that preference with generosity of both spirit and manner, but alas, I was a child, so instead I complained about it endlessly. Even today, when summer rolls around and I get the chance to do some traveling, I’m unlikely to head toward a coast. (I’m also so pale that I basically reflect the sun back on itself, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The result: I have a somewhat fraught relationship with so-called “beach reads.”

What even is a beach read, you ask? A couple of years ago, fellow Book Squad-er Eli Hoelscher had this to say:

After careful consideration, I have formulated my own totally-made-up definition for the ever-nebulous beach read — a good beach read is a sunny, unchallenging novel that is no more than 350 pages. It must embody the ‘spirit of the summer,’ another thing I made up, which draws on idyllic feelings of freedom, adventure, and whimsy.

There is definitely a time and place for those types of books in all our lives. But through long years of summer reading, I’ve found that my preference for nonbeach vacations carries over to my book choices, too. As the temperature rises and the days get longer, beach reads aren’t necessarily what I reach for. (Personally, I save my lightest reading material for the middle of winter, when I’m desperate for a ray of sunshine and need to be reminded that joy exists in the world.)

This year, I’ve been feeling the unmistakable call of the wild. Woods to explore, mountains to climb, rivers to ford — in quiet moments, that’s where my mind has been wandering. Two reads in particular have kept me in a woodsy mood: Michael Finkel’s "The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit" and Bill Bryson’s "A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail."

Bryson’s book is something of a modern classic at this point. It’s been on my "to read" list for years, so when my online book club decided to make June’s topic “a book about travel,” I dove right in. Written in 1998, "A Walk in the Woods" combines information about the history of the Appalachian Trail with Bryson’s anecdotes about trying (semi-successfully) to hike all 2200 miles with only a backpack and a buddy for company. Forget wishing to live deliberately; Bryson just wants to be the kind of person who can say honestly, “Yeah, I’ve [expletive] in the woods.”

Don’t we all, Bill. Don’t we all.

Christopher Knight, the subject of 2017’s "The Stranger in the Woods," can definitely say that. Not that he ever would — he spent nearly 30 years as a modern-day hermit in the woods of northern Maine, during which he spoke to another human being only once, he says. He was forced out of his silent hermit’s life a few years ago, when he was arrested while stealing food from a local camp, and former journalist Michael Finkel managed to convince him to share his story.

Tonally, the books are completely different. Bryson goes through some stuff, to be sure, but his book is a fundamentally humorous story of his trip along the trail, while Finkel’s is a much more serious, probing look into Knight’s psyche. But ultimately, both seek to shine a light on a single central question: What draws a person into the wilderness?

I’m still trying to answer that question for myself. If you’ve got book recommendations you think will help, feel free to leave a comment down below.

And just so you know, my parents retired last year. When the holidays roll around, I’ll be taking vacation time to go visit them.

At the beach.

— Meredith Wiggins is a readers' services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Summer soundtracks

Ah, summer.

Grown-up summer has a lot going against it. The days of three month summer vacation are long gone, and the electricity bill is higher than ever. The humidity leaves your shirt sticking to your back the moment you step outside, and getting into your car will cook you alive. The scent of chlorine is everywhere. But despite it all, I love summertime.

Part of that is the soundtrack.

Every year, starting in the late spring and going right through August, I do a little time-traveling. Old friends like Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, and, of course, the “Fab Four” keep me constant company. A couple of classic seventies acts make appearances as well.

Is it the weather? Is it the image of hippy dippy types frolicking in the sun? I don’t know. There’s nothing to stop me from listening to these fellas year round, but for whatever reason they inevitably take over around now. It just makes sense!

Am I alone here? I got a handful of Lawrence Public Library audiophiles to share their summer soundtracks to find out.

Ilka: *Readers’ Services* An enjoyable aspect of music is its temporal quality. You could be doing a banal task, and it can transport you back to summer 1993, when you were trying to teach yourself how to play Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today” on guitar, or, 1984, when Don Henley vowed his love would outlast those “Boys of Summer.”

Before my world had internet, summer’s soundtracks were fueled by a mix tape or an entire cassette. Nowadays, thanks to streaming services like Hoopla or Spotify, those seasonal counterparts have become an immersive experience. How I’ve spent my sonic vacation, thus far, has been revisiting whole catalogues, including (The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan), or sub genres, as well as artists unbeknownst to me, such as the Canterbury Scene and Kevin Ayers. So, turn on, tune in and press play because those sounds you discover will accompany great summer memories.

Fisher: Information Services Every summer, I make a playlist featuring some of my favorite albums of the season to listen to while I’m up to my usual shenanigans. I would describe myself as a serial listener in that I play the same album on repeat until I discover my next musical obsession. Here are three summer essentials that make me feel happy even in the face of record temperature highs and 300%, “are we seriously living in a swamp” humidity.

To kick off my list, I’ll start with Kristin Chenoweth’s "The Art of Elegance." I had the incredible opportunity to see her perform live at the Lied Center earlier this year, and there isn’t a single genre of music that Chenoweth can’t sing. This collection features recordings from the Classic American Songbook and will help soothe even the most heat exhausted of souls with its relaxing, jazzy timbre.

I’ve also been in love with Paramore’s synth-pop-inspired release "After Laughter." If I need something upbeat, whether I’m exercising or getting my grill on, "After Laughter" is my go-to jam to liven up any get-together. As far as future releases go, anyone who knows me well won’t be surprised that Lana Del Rey’s "Lust for Life" makes it to the top of my list, as it wouldn’t be summer without a moody, atmospheric, hipster Americana album from alternative goddess Del Rey. Keep your eyes on the horizon, as it is slated for release in late July.

Kevin: *Collection Development* The tunes flow freely at all times during the summer, but I tend to gravitate towards a few artists/albums more than any other time of the year. When I’m going to be in the car for a while my favorite way to kill off a ride is by listening to "Blood Visions" about 5 times in a row. Its short, punchy, pop-punk tracks keep my head bobbing from beginning to end. La Roux’s self titled album contains quite possibly the best summer track ever created, “Bulletproof.” The song rears its glorious head on the radio this time every year.

Violent Femmes sound like a sunny day even at their angstiest, and their debut album is chock full of uptempo tunes. Wipers, "Is This Real?," is a little more brooding and moody, but the songs are all full of a lot of energy, and “Let’s Go Away” will make you leave town if you listen to it enough times.

Sam Cooke is always good for lowering my blood pressure and providing a tune to sing to while I tend the grill and sip a beer. And when I’m dreaming of the beach, there’s nothing better than Adron’s "Organismo" to whisk me away to a tropical paradise.

Each summer these favorites reemerge from the years before and I seek a new tune to add to the collection for the future. I haven’t found the summer 2017 song/album/artist yet, but it’s out there somewhere.

So there you have it! We’re an eclectic bunch. Make sure to swing by, grab an album or two from our display, then roll down your car windows and listen to your own perfect summer soundtrack (at a respectable volume) on the drive home.

— Ian Stepp is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.