Entries from blogs tagged with “Lawrence”

Embracing your inner unicorn, no matter what age with “Advanced Style”

After my most recent birthday, I discovered something new about my body: Occasionally when I squat down, my knees will give a little pop. That didn’t happen before. What’s also new are the little lines and crinkles underneath my eyes that definitely weren’t there before. I’ve always been a fan of sleeping, but now if I don’t get plenty of rest, my eyes become so bloodshot, I start to look a little like those white rabbits with the red eyes. I sound like I’m complaining, but I find this to be super exciting. I’m not being sarcastic. No, really.

Aging is, of course, a natural and — contrary to what the beauty industry and what certain health food companies claim — completely unavoidable process. It’s a process that I’ve been honestly looking forward to since around birth, when I was brought into this world a squalling infant with a full head of hair and the personality and disposition of a 40-year-old. If anything, the older I get, the more I relish the time spent in my body and the more excited I am to be closer to my “true” age.

Despite my own enthusiasm, aging (especially for women) is normally not treated with such a casual and welcome attitude. It’s met with rules and guidelines of how to behave, how to dress, and how to be. Clothing is often used as a tool of self-expression and individuality — a chance for you to show off what it means to be you. However, the older you get, the more you’re expected to tone it down and dress more conservatively.

Fortunately, there are people around like Ari Seth Cohen, who started a blog dedicated solely to seniors with style. The focus is mainly on women over a “certain age,” though there are a few dapper gentlemen here and there. I stumbled across his first book, "Advanced Style," a month or so ago, and it might sound hyperbolic to say that my life has been forever changed, but it’s true. My life has been forever changed.

Inside I found stunning color photographs of women I not only admired, but wanted to become. Unless you’re Betty White, who is a magical unicorn who can do whatever the heck she wants, women are so often shoved to the side and told to just blend in — color and sparkle and bold patterns are only for the youth. Each of the people featured in "Advanced Style" defy these conventions in the most glorious of ways. Signature orange hair and long, fluttery neon eyelashes to match? What a knockout. Dark, vampy lipstick and a thing for scarves or chunky jewelry? Oh my goodness. Here are all women who couldn’t care less what the unspoken rules and loud internet trolls have to say.

Shortly after the book was released, along came a documentary that follows some of the popular favorites of the book and blog. The documentary allows viewers to spend more time with some of the extravagant and fearless women Cohen has documented on his blog and in his book. Getting to know Illona Royce Smithkin (those eyelashes!) a little better was such a treat. The different personalities of the women shine through in the documentary, in the most touching (and heartbreaking) ways. No matter what, life is celebrated.

Luckily for all of us, there is now a second book — "Advanced Style: Older & Wiser," which has more than 260 pages of the best street style images you will ever come across, and more information on the people featured. For those who were left wanting more after the first book and the documentary… This will make you happy! Ari Seth Cohen’s love and affection for the people he captures on film comes across in the photography, and you will fall for them just as hard. Perhaps it’s because, like Ari, I had a close relationship with a grandmother I dearly miss, but everything in the "Advanced Style" publishing family fills me with so much inspiration and positivity.

The women are all so unique, and yet their voices all echo the same sentiment: be yourself, no matter what age, no matter what life experiences. This can be applied to how old you are, but it can also be applied to your gender identity, belief system, body size, and every other factor that makes you who you are.

If anything, this has encouraged me to truly embrace my own style and my own ways of being, because if this wonderful group of people is bold and brave enough to stand out when they have been told to stay silent, I can do the same. So if you catch me wearing light-up sneakers and kitty-cat sweaters a la Kimmy Schmidt and a Linda Rodini-inspired purple pout, don’t be surprised. I’m just playing around a little, so that in 50 years when I’m featured on "Advanced Style," I will have finally perfected my look. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have orange hair, too.

-Kimberly Lopez is a Readers’ Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


Liquor and drugs: a venture into the writings of Irvine Welsh

"Trainspotting" was released in theaters in 1996, and I saw that movie approximately 72 times at Liberty Hall after it opened. (OK, it was probably closer to four times.) I was 20 years old at the time, and although I hadn’t exactly been sheltered in my upbringing, seeing those boys from Edinburgh (specifically the district Leith) living in squalor and trying to maintain some semblance of a life while strung out on heroin was mesmerizing.

And scary. And strangely romantic. But mostly mesmerizing. The absolute spectacle of it, brilliantly directed by Danny Boyle, drew me in — as did the incredible soundtrack and the acting chops of the (then mostly unknown) cast.

"Trainspotting 2" has just been released in the U.S., and I plan to see this one 72 times as well. Boyle has brought back the original cast and what looks to be another memorable soundtrack. In preparation for the film’s release, I have immersed myself in Irvine Welsh’s work and have emerged (relatively) unscathed.

Irvine Welsh, author of the "Trainspotting" trilogy (which includes "Trainspotting," 1993; "Porno," 2002; and "Skagboys," 2012) is not for the faint of heart. His writing is gritty, profane and perverse. Think of the most hideous scenario involving sex and drugs your brain can come up with, and Welsh has most likely written it down in one of his books and made it even more heinous. He often writes in a thick, Scottish accent (depending on who’s speaking) which takes some getting used to, but hearing that accent in your head is part of the fun.

Here’s an example from Spud in "Trainspotting": “Every time ye git it thegither tae make a comeback, thir's jist a wee bit mair missin.... Yip, ah'm jist no a gadge cut oot fir modern life n that's aw thir is tae it, man. Sometimes the gig goes smooth, then ah jist pure panic n it's back tae the auld weys. What kin ah dae?” See? Fun! And, like Shakespeare, (yes, I just compared Welsh to Shakespeare without irony), once you get into the groove of the language, it becomes easier to understand.

The books are best read (and were best written) in the order they were published. The crown jewel of the trilogy- and the one you should read first- is "Trainspotting." It is the first in the series and the first book ever written by Welsh. The story follows Mark Renton who, although horribly flawed, tries to live by some sort of moral compass. He’s a junkie and a thief, sure, but he recognizes good in other people and tries to bring that out in himself when he can. Mark is made almost charming by Ewan McGregor in the film, which can make the shift from film to book somewhat jarring. The characters in the book are infinitely more disturbing.

One of the most frequent criticisms of the film is that it glorifies heroin addiction. Maybe this is because of the gorgeous cinematography, the directing or the cast itself. The film’s objective is not to glorify heroin addiction, of course. But it looks pretty, and the script is funny at times, which threw some critics off. How can these heroin addicts be attractive and hilarious? The lesson, of course, is that there is no one “face of heroin.” Addiction doesn’t care what you look like or if you’re good at a one-liner.

The book, on the other hand, could never be mistaken for something that glorifies addiction. It portrays an experience filled with desperation and depravity. The reader finds a city in the midst of an AIDS epidemic and a government that doesn’t care. Yes, it is funny and satirical, but there is no glorification here. Maybe it’s the lack of Iggy Pop in the background.

"Porno" (upon which the film Trainspotting 2 is loosely based) is a worthy sequel to "Trainspotting," even though it is one of the most vile books I have ever read in my life. Welsh gets deep into the development of his characters here. Some of the guys have sobered up, some find love, and some are even more monstrous than they used to be.

"Skagboys," although a prequel, should be read last. If this had been my introduction to the series, I probably wouldn’t have finished. It takes us back to when characters Mark and Sick Boy were just out of high school. We see them at the beginning of their addictions and some choices they make that lead them there. It shouldn’t be disregarded, but the book is lacking. I would have loved for the book to have been set even five years earlier to really get a feel for the family lives of the characters. As it is, it feels like a long exposition that isn’t necessary.

In 2013,"Trainspotting" was voted Scotland’s favorite novel of the past 50 years in a poll run by the Scottish Book Trust, despite the morally questionable characters and the self-deprecating picture the book paints of Scotland. The Scots love the book and understand its importance. The film has become a cult classic all over the world, and although sequels can often be disappointing, especially when the original is so revered, this Kansas girl will be quite chuffed to wait in the queue for "Trainspotting 2" to open.

-Sarah Mathews is an accounts assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Stories of our lives: “The Great Derangement” and “Splinterlands”

Ted Chiang’s "Story of Your Life," a short science fiction piece which I reviewed a few months ago, keeps infiltrating itself into my reading. Oddly, it reverberates most when I read nonfiction.

"Story of Your Life" is so fascinating due to its subtle manipulation of time. You may know it as the basis of the movie "Arrival," where, for one character, the future is part of the present. Nonfiction, though, often looks backwards (cultural history, natural history), using “time’s arrow” to explore the present.

But one of the most powerful non-fiction books I’ve read lately is Amitav Ghosh’s non-linear look into the future to question the present, called "The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable." The question Ghosh asks boils down to, “Why doesn’t the greatest issue of our time – climate change – show itself in more contemporary fiction?”

He starts with a historical overview: “The challenges climate change poses for the contemporary writer… derive from the grid of literary forms and conventions that came to shape the narrative imagination in precisely that period when the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere was rewriting the destiny of the earth.” Which is to say, modern fiction is molded and driven by burning carbon.

He goes on to argue that the insular modern novel has never been forced to confront what he calls “the centrality of the improbable.” Now, however, we live in an era defined by the improbable dynamics of climate change, which defy both literary fiction and common sense. We are thus confronted with the need to stretch our imaginations and writings to incorporate such improbability.

Ghosh stresses that unpredictable and terrible things don’t await in some vaguely defined future. As Bill McKibben made clear in his excellent book "Eaarth," that future is already happening.

To date, science fiction (or its youngest child, climate fiction), seems best at addressing science fact. Not too surprisingly, most of it is rather apocalyptic. It’s fairly common in “cli-fi” to read of massive storms and droughts raging over the earth while we puny humans cope as we can – roving bands of mercenaries fighting over resources and water, bioengineered animals helping us as fuel runs out and wide-spread plagues decimate populations, and global politics splintering into uncharted territories.

Many cli-fi stories seem to focus on a small group trying to make it in an unpredictable natural world. More than an upset natural order, an upset social and political order is the focus of an intense new book by John Feffer. "Splinterlands" showcases a world of crumbled geopolitics, seen through the eyes – and the virtual reality goggles – of a dying writer reaching out to his estranged family.

Feffer is director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, so he knows a bit about geopolitics. One of the startling things about "Splinterlands" is that it was written before the current administration came to power, and while we can’t know what might happen next, an awful lot of "Splinterlands" seems plausible. It’s as though Feffer has the gift of prescience Ted Chiang’s Louise has in "Story of Your Life."

2018 sees what the narrator of "Splinterlands" calls The Great Unraveling, as an increasingly globalized world breaks national boundaries apart and ushers in “market authoritarianism.” As Feffer describes it, “Commerce… merely rebranded nationalism as another marketable commodity,” and the “bloodlands of the twentieth century would give way to the splinterlands of the twenty-first.”

Soon after that, climate change rears its improbable head and an extreme weather event known as Hurricane Donald floods Washington, D.C., to such a devastating extent that the nation’s capital moves to Kansas City. From nearby Omaha, our dying narrator dons his VR goggles and surveys the world as he visits his family.

Feffer’s book seems to me to be the sort of writing Amitav Ghosh might be looking for. It’s not as outlandish as, say, Paolo Bacigalupi’s "The Windup Girl" or "The Water Knife" (both of which I also really like), but "Splinterlands" could conceivably be the story of our lives.

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


Infamous Hollywood feuds: “Bette & Joan” edition

Growing up on a farm as a kid, and being about as outdoorsy as a Kardashian, I often turned to old black and white films to escape to a world I thought better suited my own eclectic personality. I fell in love with the romanticized version of Hollywood and idolized the glamorous femme fatales of film noire along with their charming and roguish leading men.

I credit much of my infatuation to the mystique that shrouded the lives of Hollywood stars, and as an adult, I’ve tried to learn more about the real people behind these beloved characters through devouring various memoirs, biographies, and documentaries. Oftentimes, as one might expect, public perception and tabloids that dominated a very controlled news cycle do not match what lies beneath the surface.

I think one of the greatest challenges for film biographers is to get to some sliver of the truth by pulling back the studio-controlled veneer and separating myth from reality. This is a quality that very few achieve.

In preparation for Ryan Murphy’s new anthology series "Feud: Bette & Joan" on FX, I decided to visit Shaun Considine’s critically acclaimed work "Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud" to learn about the series of events that sparked Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s dramatic schism - and hopefully learn more about the real lives of these iconic starlets of the silver screen.

"Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud" chronicles the infamous rivalry between the two Hollywood legends. Beginning with their childhoods, the book covers a wide range of topics, from the alleged event that sparked their general dislike of one another (when Joan stole Bette’s headlines with her high profile divorce, thus taking attention away from what Bette thought would be her big Hollywood break), to the highs and lows of their iconic careers, to their torrid personal lives and struggles working in a misogynistic, ageist, and exploitative industry.

Considine empathically shows how their enmity evolves from mild irritation and jealousy to a full on weave-snatching extravaganza that comes to a palatable head with the filming of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" and its follow-up, "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte." The author takes a stab at all the behind the scenes drama in an attempt to reconstruct the series of events that erupted into their feud of epic proportions.

I appreciate the fact that Considine gives the same attentive care to both starlets and does his best to portray them in an equitable light, including a multitude of perspectives and anecdotes to express a variety of competing viewpoints on a single event. It’s all laid out nicely and concisely, thus allowing the reader to think critically and assess the difference between the real events and celebrity gossip.

The book is, as it should be, well researched and effortlessly structured. It has a smooth narrative feel that is thankfully compelling as Considine chronologically weaves various sources from interviews to news articles into a tale that is brimming with anticipation. It might seem a bit overwhelming to cover so much ground with two stars in a single biography, and yet Considine does it with such ease that you aren’t taken out of the moment by having to mentally switch gears every time he moves between the two stars.

By far the greatest strength of this book is how Considine portrays Bette and Joan as flawed individuals in an effort to move beyond their onscreen personas. It allows readers to see the lasting impact of their feud by bringing Bette and Joan’s individual insecurities and struggles to life. In a trailer for the FX series, Catherine Zeta-Jones poignantly remarks that “Feuds are never about hate. Feuds are about pain.” I think this statement best summarizes the underlying thesis of Considine’s work as he explores the root cause and destructive force of the rivalry.

Finishing the book left me with a feeling of just how important it is to try to put one’s petty differences aside, especially in the face of adversity. Even though Bette and Joan had disparate upbringings, they both tried to fight against the same oppressive Hollywood studio system and could have been great allies had they moved past their grudges. By showing the ravages of divisiveness, Considine shows that even though taking the low road may seem like the more satisfying path, it really doesn’t amount to anything at the end of the day, nor does it address the existing systemic problems.

Despite the fact that the book remains a bit sensational at times, and I would need to do additional research to separate fact from fiction, "Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud" provides illumination on some key contemporary issues that I think we can all take to heart. It will be interesting to see how Ryan Murphy adapts this well-documented feud for television, and I hope that he uses the show to portray the not often shown, vulnerable side of these beloved actresses and provides a platform for discussion regarding ageism and sexism in both the film industry and society at large.

-Fisher Adwell is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


Mother Nature is one tough mama

Either I have a knack for meeting a lot of garden folk in this town, or Lawrence is just full of people who like to grow green things. It’s starkly apparent during this time of year-when the unseasonably warm days spark conversations of an early spring that evokes a gleam in the eyes of knowing growers. No matter how you slice it, everywhere you look in our community people are ready for warmer climes, longer days, and a promised end to winter’s bleak and naked landscape.

If you’ve ever successfully grown your own anything — be it flower, tomato or herb — you know what I mean. From the arrival of the first seed catalog — multi-hued and glossy, with its tempting vintage seed packets and earthy adornments — winter’s enchanted garden reverie has begun. For me, pair it with a hot cup, a cozy spot and a few choice books, and I’m set for a glorious daydream season of planning the next epic harvest.

After over a decade of coaxing the fruit and leaf of plants, I’ve learned that my garden exploits have only taught me — like so many other of life’s lessons — that I have so much more to learn. Like many of my growing friends (that means all of you L-town growers!), I take refuge in the Library.

Together we seek, along with the newest trends and most reliable knowledge, the answers to last year’s garden tribulations. Hunting out companion plants, organic methods and permanently sustainable growing practices that will not only bring forth our own nourishment but also that of the land, the water and the air. Don’t be fooled; gardening is not a passive sport. If given the right opportunity, it will draw you into its cyclical rhythm, hook right into your soul and stare you down straight in the eye. Mother Nature is one tough mama.

If your garden passions lead you here to the library, like mine do, take heed of these great titles in LPL’s fantastic garden collections:

Your new go-to expert: If you want to know how far to space your lettuce, how to plant leeks from seed, or find out what in the world Scorzonera is, "The New Vegetable & Herb Expert" is your brainy new best friend. Keep it close by throughout the growing season from seed to harvest.

It’s all about community: Something magical happens when folks get together to grow great food. People talk, connect and listen to each other and the plants. Want a practical handbook about creating that perfect blend of people and food? Check out "Start A Community Food Garden" which tackles everything from meeting agendas to mobilizing volunteers to seasonal shindigs that keep both the community and garden humming.

Pop culture gardening: Level-up your raw green smoothies by learning how to grow them in your own backyard. "The Green Smoothie Garden" takes you from seed to blender with tips on growing, harvesting and honing your smooth mixologist skills.

A fresh take on permaculture: Whether you have a postage stamp or a hectare, you can integrate permaculture principles wherever you grow. "Edible Landscaping With A Permaculture Twist" is a win-win for any home garden. You get all of the beauty of natural landscaping plus the bounty of its harvest. Have more space? Try "Integrated Forest Gardening," which is sure to be the next great permie handbook for food forestry — the pinnacle of permaculturing.

One tough garden: Despite increasing climate-related changes in seasons, temperatures and precipitation, you can confidently grow a great garden with "The Undaunted Garden." This updated classic takes on the tough growing conditions that growers shy away from and gives serious recommendations for plant friends that will thrive in any growing condition.

Make peace with wildlife: Are you tired of fighting against the forces of nature in your garden? Would you like to learn a growing style that invites the benefits of wildlife? "The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener" and "How to Create a Wildlife Garden" will teach you how to accept and facilitate the gifts that nature offers any growing garden.

The siren call of next year’s great harvest is most alluring and if you feel — like I do — that you have become a full-fledged member of the garden mafia, then I wish you luck, my friend. May your best-laid garden plans result in your health and happiness and more than a few exploits of your own for 2017.

By the way, LPL launched its third Annual Seed Library on February 20th. This year we partnered with Just Food to bring more seeds and programs. Stop by to pick up free flower, herb and vegetable seeds for your garden. And look for plenty of resources and educational programs to help get your garden growing. Just remember, it doesn’t get any more local than your own backyard.

-Gwen Geiger Wolfe is an information services and public health librarian at the Lawrence Public Library.


Digital Douglas County history: get digging

Do you enjoy spelunking for local history? If so, we’ve got a goldmine for you. In January, we launched a new tool for digging into our community’s past: the Digital Douglas County History portal (find it at http://history.lplks.org, or on our Genealogy and Local History page under the Research Resources tab on the library’s homepage). This project, a collaborative venture of the Watkins Community Museum, the Douglas County Genealogical Society and the Lawrence Public Library, features hundreds of images of Lawrence faces, places, and events.

The Fitzpatrick-Postma Postcard Collection offers a trove of local images paired with messages that often add a personal dimension to the places and events of the past. The publications of the Douglas County Genealogical Society, rich resources for exploring the histories of local families, have been digitized and are available through our online portal. We’re also proud to be providing public access to the transcripts of a recent oral history project, sponsored by the City of Lawrence’s Human Relations Division, which captures firsthand accounts of the local movement behind the passage of the city’s fair housing ordinance in 1967.

We welcome you to get involved with this project, which has room to grow. If you recognize a face or place in one of the images on the site, leave a comment to add your knowledge. Or, consider contributing a story or an image of your own. Want a taste? Here are just a few of the images you’ll find when you explore Digital Douglas County History.

Fitzpatrick-Postma Postcard Collection, Digital Douglas County History

June 15, 1908. A feat of daring: that morning, the Kaw had crested at 22 feet, and the deluge of water was roaring over the dam beneath the river bridge when Carl Kurz, a plumber from Colorado Springs, “swam directly into the center of the current” and over the dam. Despite a prohibition from local police, that evening a crowd of 2,000 spectators watched him triumphantly repeat the act. (Later that summer, Kurz also stopped a team of runaway mules and reported a fire breaking out at a local business.)

Fitzpatrick-Postma Postcard Collection, Digital Douglas County History

January 23, 1910. The river has swollen once again, this time with enormous blocks of ice. A correspondent writes, “They are trying to break [the ice] by blasting, but they might as well try to move a mountain.”

Fitzpatrick-Postma Postcard Collection, Digital Douglas County History

April 12, 1911. That evening, a torrential rain, and then an ominous quiet, are harbingers of the tornado that swept through the residential districts of Old West Lawrence and North Lawrence and devastated parts of the Massachusetts Street business district and the industrial buildings along the banks of the Kansas River.

Fitzpatrick-Postma Postcard Collection, Digital Douglas County History

May 20, 1911. The employees of the Fraternal Aid Association pause in their work for a staff photograph.

Fitzpatrick-Postma Postcard Collection, Digital Douglas County History

1940s. Ted West and His Range Riders were popular local performers whose radio show aired on Lawrence radio station WREN.

-Melissa Fisher Isaacs is the information services coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.


Stronger together in the company of women

For anyone who was an avid reader of DIY design magazines Ready Made or Domino during the early to mid-2000s, or even their digital equivalent, Apartment Therapy, the name "Design * Sponge" will be a household name. In 2004, author Grace Bonney founded the daily website, which is dedicated to the creative community. Swiftly, it proved to be popular, and more than a decade later it is still thriving, unlike the defunct magazine counterparts mentioned.

Since launching Design * Sponge, Bonney has created a meetup series titled Biz Ladies that serves as a community resource for women entrepreneurs and maintains a digital presence as a column on the Design * Sponge website. It was during Biz Ladies events that Bonney realized there was a need to communicate a holistic and diverse representation for professional women. “Visibility is one of the most powerful tools we have in inspiring people to pursue their dreams and educating them about all the amazing options that exist,” says Bonney, and this is where the touchstone lies in the heart of her new book, "In the Company of Women."

This collection of inspiration and advice from over 100 creatives accomplishes this feat admirably. Not only is it an informative and inclusive representation of a vital demographic, but it is conveyed with amazing casualness and is simultaneously entertaining. Bonney personally sat down with each woman and asked a series of questions; this type of intimate detail lends each meeting an air of comfort akin to that of sitting down with a friend.

The contributors range from Style Rookie’s Tavi Gevinson, to transgender rights activist Janet Mock, to eminent poet Nikki Giovanni, to YouTube rising star Issa Rae, to lauded feminist Roxane Gay, to food stylist Diana Yen. Even Bonney’s spouse, Julia Turshen, has a turn in the interview seat.

The questions that Bonney poses are not static, but rather interpersonal. Some favorites include: “What quotation or saying inspires and motivates you to be yourself and do what you love?”, “What tool, object, or ritual could you not live without in your workday?” and “What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day on the right foot?” The answers given by these women not only display their personalities, however; they also lend sound advice that even those not a part of a creative occupation can regard.

And these questions are not limited to only those with a cheerful response. By including queries about more difficult times, such as “What is the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out?”, “Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night" or “Has learning from a mistake ever led you to success?”, Bonney's argument that a book like this is necessary in the first place is strengthened.

For a member of the creative community, no doubt, the information gleaned from "In the Company of Women" proves invaluable. However, I have always felt that inspiration can come from the unlikeliest sources. Grace Bonney encapsulates her intention best by stating: “While each woman’s story is unique, their messages are universal. They’ve overcome adversity, gone great distances on their own, and learned the power of working together to achieve their goals. In many cases, they have inspired one another, and they are role models for the generation to come. Any one of these women would inspire someone to pursue their passion, but together, they are an undeniable force.”

-Ilka Iwanczuk is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


An interview with “Unusual Chickens” author Kelly Jones

Chickens with superpowers, a farm full of junk to explore and a series of mysterious typewritten letters are just a few of the wonders within this year’s Read Across Lawrence for Kids title, "Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer," by Kelly Jones.

Jones, who recently answered a few of my questions about the book, appeared via Skype at the library on Sunday, February 19th to answer more questions from kids (between bites of free pizza donated by Rudy’s). Join us for the other events we’ve put together this month with the help of KU Libraries and the Friends of the Library to celebrate this unique book.

DC: Sophie, your novel’s protagonist, is doubly an outsider: she is both “the new kid” in town, and a Latina in a predominantly white community. What advice would you give to kids who feel like outsiders?

KJ: Remember that everyone feels like an outsider sometimes. I wasn’t an outsider in either of the ways Sophie is, but I still felt like one. Look for people that start to see the real you, and value you, the way Sophie does. You’ll find them. Make friends with them. Remember that the way someone else sees you has a lot more to do with them than it does with you. Know that Sophie would be rooting for you, and so will I.

DC: The book consists of letters Sophie writes to dead people, and features a prominent mailman character. Are you a letter writer, and have you ever written a letter to someone who is deceased?

KJ: When I was a kid, I wrote to a distant cousin about my age near Perth, Australia. I loved hearing how different things were there — kangaroos by the side of the road, and parrots in the fruit trees. Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved books in letters — I like to think about how each letter is written for a particular someone, not for the world. I’ve often written to my own dead grandparents. I find when I miss someone, I still want to tell them what’s happening.

DC: Sophie’s main activities in the book (tending to chickens, riding bikes, exploring the farm to which she has recently moved) are rooted in the physical rather than onscreen world. Was this intentional, and how do you view the impact of technology on childhood?

KJ: Technology has been an important part of my life since I was a kid, playing text adventures on floppy disks. But Sophie has physical chores that must be done every day, like feeding her chickens. Her family can’t afford a computer or smart phone for her, or even one for family use; their computer is for her mom’s work, and she works a lot. They can’t afford cable (and don’t get good TV reception).

For Sophie, computer stuff is something you do at school or at the library, not at home — not because she doesn’t want to, but because it isn’t an option for her. Still, she spends a lot of time typing, making sense of the world around her, trying to reach out. Aside from brain research on screen usage, what’s the difference between typing on a computer vs. a typewriter?

DC: You are a former children’s librarian, and among the book’s heroes is a librarian character. How have libraries affected your writing?

KJ: I was a reader long before I was a writer, and there were no bookstores in my small town. But there was a library. I learned to tell stories from books. I also learned that the books I loved would always be a safe place to escape to. While I was a librarian, I met many readers who needed that safe place more than I did. I’m so glad they found it. I guess I want my books to welcome readers, to feel hopeful and make them laugh, and to be a safe place to see things differently.

DC: What is your own experience with chickens and chicken keeping?

KJ: I got my first chickens in 2012, and immediately began to think about what superpowers they’d choose, if they could pick. "Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer" grew out of that list and what I learned about taking care of chickens.

—Dan Coleman is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.


One Book’s Hope for Wildlife and the History of How We Got Here

I treasure wildlife sightings. During the winter season, I sometimes glimpse bald eagles soaring in the sky outside my kitchen window, and I’ve been fortunate on several occasions to see beavers swimming in the Haskell-Baker Wetlands. Last summer, my East Lawrence neighbors and I were frequently serenaded by the territorial calls of barred owls. Being reminded that wildlife still thrives nearby is reassuring for the future of our environmental heritage.

I’ve been musing more than ever about wildlife since I started reading "American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains" by Dan Flores — a book recommended to me by local author George Frazier. We've reviewed Frazier’s work before; "The Last Wild Places of Kansas" inspires an appreciation for the remaining Kansas wilderness using wry wit to share his personal adventures and historical anecdotes that enhance context.

Frazier commented to me that what is most salient about "American Serengeti" is the skill used to link the experience of a place with the accounts of early explorers’ writing. Flores describes camping in the White Cliffs Narrows of the Upper Missouri River; the reflective surface of the white cliffs create a stunning-visual sensation at sunrise.

Flores writes:

I had never been on the Missouri River before. But standing there under that impossibly lit sky, watching ducks arrowing low over the surface of the water and a small herd of mule deer pogoing away through hoodoos and pedestal rocks at my sudden appearance, while a coyote yipped a dawn serenade across the river, after a few moments it came to me. I had read books and pored over nineteenth-century art and dreamed daydreams of the wilderness Great Plains for much of my life, and now here I stood, on the banks of the Missouri, in the very stretch where Meriwether Lewis had wondered whether these scenes of “visionary inchantment [sic] would never have an end.”

He continues:

This place was déjà vu for me not from some past life, but from the minds of others, who had made me know what a magical world the Great Plains once had been. The poetry of the plains was considerably fainter in my time on earth, but this particular morning on the Missouri I was hearing enough of the passages to realize that despite all, we had not entirely lost the American Serengeti. Not yet.

Flores features many vivid accounts like the example above. This is accessible natural history focused on a selection of some of the most charismatic mammals that used to flourish in the Great Plains, including pronghorns (antelope), coyotes, horses, grizzly bears, bison, wolves, and humans. Candid discussions of early explorers’ accounts of seeing great numbers of wildlife and the harsh reality of these predecessors’ responses is sobering. It seems everyone who ventured into the Great Plains from Lewis and Clark to John James Audubon was compelled to kill.

But Flores frames this book with hope, describing efforts by a nonprofit group based in Montana working to expand the American Prairie Reserve. The goal of the organization is to re-create a sustainable ecosystem, bringing back all the wildlife that thrived in the Great Plains for the past two centuries on an expanse of land even larger than Yellowstone National Park.

The library also has a copy of Dan Flores' other recent book, "Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History." I am anxious to read this book, especially because I enjoyed the chapter in "American Serengeti" on coyotes. Kirkus Reviews noted that "Coyote America" is “…a spirited blend of history, anthropology, folklore, and biology.” While most of the large herds of charismatic mammals are drastically reduced, coyotes have thrived and expanded their range even into urban environments. A few of my neighbors have reported seeing a coyote exploring nearby in Lawrence.

Another venue to appreciate the message of Flores’ book is expressed in the similarly-titled documentary "American Serengeti." This is a beautiful, romantic, and sentimental story of conservation heroes, focused on the American Prairie Reserve.

Finally, a more local view of similar efforts is the focus of the documentary "The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve." This national park in the Flint Hills of Kansas celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2016 at the same time the National Parks celebrated their centennial.

I can’t help but reflect on the words of Dan Flores now while appreciating the natural vistas at the Haskell-Baker Wetlands; I hope we all eventually see more of a sustainable, holistic Great Plains with all the charismatic fauna like the vision of the American Prairie Reserve.

— Shirley Braunlich is a reader’s services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Let’s not go home again: protecting a book you love, even when you don’t love it anymore

I’ve always been the kind of person who nurtures small obsessions. Case in point: There was a time in middle school when I was not infrequently introduced to people as “Meredith, that girl who likes 'Buffy.'”

It was an extremely fair introduction. I discovered "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" in the fourth or fifth grade, and I rapidly became obsessed. When my local cable affiliate dropped the WB, I spent two years getting up in the wee hours to watch new episodes when they re-aired on Fox at 3:30 a.m. (This was a pre-DVR era.) I delayed my fourteenth birthday party by more than three months so that the “theme” of the party could be “let’s get a group of 25 people together and watch the first episode of season 7 live.”

There is simply no way to describe what "Buffy" meant to me. It can’t be done. I know because I’ve written and re-written this paragraph about 15 times now, trying to sum it up in some way that will get at even a tenth of how important that show was to me, and I end up deleting every word of it in disgust because it’s just not enough.

And yet, when I’ve tried to re-watch "Buffy" as an adult, I can’t. It’s not a case of my tastes having changed, or at least, it’s not only that. It’s that what made it so important to me, the things that I loved about it, are now the things that I find nearly unwatchable.

The last time I tried - two, maybe three years ago - I decided I’d ease my way in by rewatching my favorite episode of all time, season four’s “Something Blue.” In this episode, Buffy’s best friend Willow, heartbroken from a breakup with her longtime boyfriend, casts a spell to have her will done so that she can make him come back to her. It’s a smart, funny episode that also has a lot to say about grief, free will, and the intent of our actions versus the effect they have on others.

I didn’t even make it halfway through.

I will never watch "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" again. I’ll never even try. I have to protect what it meant to me.

When the Book Squad was brainstorming prompts for the Squad Goals Reading Challenge, I suggested that we include a prompt to re-read a book you haven’t read in at least five years. I’m really excited about this prompt; I love to re-read, but since I’ve been working at LPL, I’ve heavily focused on new reads. In the post I wrote announcing the challenge, I said that I was planning to read Annemarie Selinko’s "Désirée," a historical fiction novel about the woman Napoleon was engaged to before he married the Empress Josephine. I was deeply obsessed with it during middle school, but I haven’t read it in several years. “I’m excited to see what I think about it now,” I wrote.

This is, strictly speaking, a great big lie. I’m not excited to see what I think about "Désirée" as an adult.

I’m actually borderline terrified that I’ll feel about it the way that I now feel about "Buffy" - which is, I suspect, the reason that "Désirée" has been hovering near the top of my to-be-read list on GoodReads for the past three years without ever making the switch over to “currently reading.”

I’ve been working on this post off-and-on for close to a month, and in that time, I’ve read about 20 books. I’ve managed a whopping 27 pages of "Désirée."

And they were good pages. I liked reading them. I felt relatively reassured that I would be okay to proceed without desecrating a treasured childhood memory.

And yet, when I reach for something to read, I still don’t reach for "Désirée."

At least I’ve made it to “currently reading.” That’s something, right?

-Meredith Wiggins is a reader’s services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


It’s a mystery — three picks you are sure to love

When I was a little girl, I lived in a very small town with a very small library, but I had a very big appetite for reading books. I devoured everything at my public library, and my mother made the excellent parenting decision to allow me to purchase one book per week at the nearest now-defunct entertainment store (spoiler alert: it was Hastings). I resented her for making me make such a difficult decision (only one?!), but I took it on as a challenge to find the best book, and for the first time, I was completely overwhelmed by choices.

Would I get another "Wishbone"? Some "Goosebumps," perhaps? Or would I settle on some cutesy book that had Mary Kate and Ashley on the cover? Even though there was more to be seen than at my little library, I quickly discovered that not all of the books were completely magical by my 7-year-old standards (I was super picky even then!). It took some digging to find the good ones, but truth be told, I still remember picking out my book, proudly holding it in my lap the entire way home and reading it as fast as I could. I never paced myself on reading, so I was always left wanting more, each and every time, anxious to get a new book as soon as possible.

I get a similar feeling whenever I walk through the mystery section now, nearly twenty years later as an adult. There is so much to discover and quite a lot I really don’t like. At the tail-end of 2016, I decided it was time I added a few mysteries to my literary repertoire, and I haven’t looked back since. I had convinced myself I hated mysteries, and it would be a pain to find anything worth reading, but much like my original disdain for graphic novels, boy, was I wrong!

Mysteries are awesome — I finally get why the genre is so popular now. After reading several books, I’ve settled on a niche that has made me quite a happy reader these past few months — historical mysteries featuring spunky amateur female detectives, finding their way in a male-dominated world and completely excelling. It sounds cheesy, I know, but that’s because it is. When it comes to mystery books, sometimes you just have to embrace the camp and the cliche moments and enjoy the ride.

"A Spy in the House" by Y.S. Lee was what first began my love affair with historical mysteries and is one that checks off all of my literary boxes. Takes place in the Victorian era? Check. Features a diverse main character and a diverse authors? Check. The plot is interesting with a unique situation? Check. There’s an adorable love interest who will show up in later books? Check. The premise is one of murder, intrigue and spying. Mary Quinn, a former thief who was once sentenced to death, was rescued and began working for an all-female spy agency that covers as a finishing school for girls.

Sent out on her first assignment, she must infiltrate a well-to-do family and pose as their maid. Her investigation leads her to a more sinister plot than was originally thought of, and she must use her wits to get herself out of several sticky situations. What I liked most about this book (the first in a series of four) was that the author used the concept of an all-female spy agency to actually give the character more agency in the world she lives in. A poor, young half-Chinese woman in late 1800s London would not have many opportunities, but in this book, the character excels at what she does.

From there, I discovered "A Front Page Affair" by Radha Vatsal, which is set in 1915 just after the Lusitania sank, just after J.P. Morgan was shot and famously fell on his would-be-murderer, and just before the United States joined the Allied Forces in World War I. This book reads like a richly written and highly rewarding history lesson, where the author (born in Mumbai, making this yet another diverse mystery) shows off her knowledge and all of her research of the time period.

Kitty Weeks is a charming but naive young woman who is determined to make her way in the newspaper industry. Tired of writing articles for the Ladies’ Page, she jumps at an opportunity to prove her worth by looking into a murder that occurred at a society party she was supposed to write about. While I would recommend this book to anyone, it’s particularly good for those new to the genre, as they can discover more and get acquainted with mysteries as Kitty hones her detective skills. The sequel is due out later this year.

I know I am late to the game on this one, but I recently discovered Rhys Bowen, and I am hooked. "Murphy’s Law," the first in the hugely popular Molly Murphy series, is a riot and all kinds of wonderful, and why haven’t you read this yet? You should stop everything you’re doing and check this out right now. Molly Murphy is the spunkiest of all of the spunky female heroines. An Irish girl out on her luck, Molly accidentally murders a man in self-defense and flees her homeland to England, eventually ending up in the United States at Ellis Island.

Set in 1900, the story is fascinating and endlessly interesting. The author is especially good at fleshing out her characters and setting so that Molly lives in a complicated and realistic world. I was pulled in by Molly as a person; her positive outlook, resourcefulness, her sassy comebacks and her ability to make a person instantly her friend (or enemy!) will keep me coming back for more. This is a series that I can see myself settling down with.

-Kimberly Lopez is a reader’s services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Re-experience the music of your youth at the library

By now, you’re probably aware of the recent Facebook trend of sharing a list of 10 albums that influenced your teenage years. Perhaps you've even made one yourself.

While many see it as a way to reflect on the music that shaped their youth in a meaningful way, others have viewed it as a self-absorbed opportunity to present a revisionist version of one’s past. I’ll take it as an opportunity to promote the library’s CD and digital music collection.

I've written before about my undying obsession with Jewel. From her 1996 debut, "Pieces of You," to her pop-infused "0304," Jewel’s music influenced the entire span of my teenage years. This isn’t revisionist, I promise. I have notebooks filled with bad poetry (with blatant plagiarisms) to prove it.

Now imagine my delight when I discovered that her entire discography is available to stream or download on Hoopla. Haven’t heard of Hoopla? Simply install the app on your mobile device and register with your library card, and you can instantly borrow free content, including eBooks, audiobooks, movies, TV shows and full albums.

So yeah, my list could have been mostly Jewel. But from that first post, you could also guess that I was obsessed with many '90s female musicians. In fact, when I sat down to type up my list of albums, all 10 were by female artists. To cut to the chase, here’s my full list:

  1. "Pieces of You" by Jewel
  2. "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie" by Alanis Morissette
  3. "This Fire" by Paula Cole
  4. "Ray of Light" by Madonna
  5. "Tidal" by Fiona Apple
  6. "Sheryl Crow" by Sheryl Crow
  7. "Firecracker" by Lisa Loeb
  8. "Ophelia" by Natalie Merchant
  9. "Surfacing" by Sarah McLachlan
  10. "A Few Small Repairs" by Shawn Colvin

Now, if you're like me, there may have been a time in your life when you needed some extra cash, and those albums gathering dust on your shelves went straight to Half Price Books, Hastings or eBay. (Who am I kidding? I still have every album by Jewel ever produced.) No worries, though. Depending on what era your teenage years were in, there’s a good chance many of those albums are available in our CD collection or on Hoopla. Take a look.

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


“A Series of Unfortunate Events” on Netflix: better than the books?

Netflix has tapped into the way the world is feeling about 2017, releasing a television adaptation of Lemony Snicket's beloved "A Series of Unfortunate Events" this month.

LPL's resident Snicket fans Sarah and Fisher sat down to sort out their feelings about it — the good, the bad, and the unfortunate.

Fisher: What were your initial impressions after finishing the show? Did it make you happy as a book reader?

Sarah: Overall, yes. There were some changes made that, at first, I was unsure I would like, but I accepted as the episodes played out. Without getting into spoilers, there were characters who had more presence in the show than in the books. But their addition made sense, so I’m OK with it now. I'm sure Lemony Snicket will be happy to know I'm not mad about it.

Fisher: What’s interesting is that Lemony Snicket wrote most of the scripts for the show, so you know it’s canon. Part of what made the Netflix series so much fun was that it got rid of the tedium of the early books by breaking up the repetitive plot points with new storylines. I was genuinely surprised by some of the twists added to the story.

Sarah: Although, the books are darker, which I prefer. There were times when I thought Neil Patrick Harris should have played Olaf a little more diabolically and a little less dumb. Don't get me wrong, Olaf is dumb, but he's more eviI than anything. The combination is flipped in the Netflix series.

Fisher: So true. Like the later "Harry Potter" films, I think they will crank up the darkness as they move into the last few books while still retaining Snicket’s impeccable witticisms (at least, I hope).

Well, if you haven’t already guessed, I’m a massive fan of a good book adaptation, so there are a couple of things I try to keep in mind when evaluating whether or not it’s successful. First, I like to see if the adaptation conveys the true essence of the source material. Second, if they do make significant changes, the changes need to make sense in the transition from print to visual media. Some of the best book adaptations like "Game of Thrones" understand how important these aspects are to fans.

Sarah: Absolutely. Sometimes it can get tricky, though, when the author of the story also finds themselves in a screenwriting position. I think JK Rowling struggles a bit because she wants to flush out the characters more and more and her audience is like, “But maybe I didn't need to know the genealogy of that wizard’s owl.” Stephen King is another one who comes to mind (and, for the record, I adore JK Rowling and Stephen King). But, remember when he made "The Shining" into a miniseries because he was unhappy with the Stanley Kubrick film? That didn't go so well.

Fisher: Haha. However, you know there are some "Harry Potter" fans who would totally read a 1,000 page tome on owl genealogy if JK Rowling wrote it. Overall, do you feel Netflix succeeded in creating a series that is better than the books?

Sarah: No, I think I still like the books more. What about you?

Fisher: As far as the earlier books go, I think that the show improved upon them by the addition of new material like we discussed before. I do like the show better in that regard. That being said, my opinion may change once they adapt some of my favorites in the series because I want them to play out just as I imagined. As a final aside, why do you think this series is so important for people to read or watch today?

Sarah: Dealing with struggles in an obviously make-believe way can help kids confront their own problems in real life. Obviously the situations are exaggerated, but Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are great role models. I love that the kids are the most intelligent people in the stories. Children can recognize when they’re being minimized. That's hard for adults to understand, but Lemony Snicket gets it. Also, it’s just fantastic escapism. Everyone, regardless of age, can use more of that in their lives.

Fisher: I also think that this series helps bring a new perspective to situations. I got into "A Series of Unfortunate Events" when my life was in a bit of an upheaval. In a way, it was therapeutic to read about the perseverance of the Baudelaire orphans. No matter what terrible circumstances life threw at them, they were able to keep moving forward because they had each other for support. And, if you can think to yourself: at least there isn’t a murderous count who will stop at nothing to steal your enormous fortune, it helps you stay positive even when the world appears to be a bleak, dire, and oppressive place.

-Sarah Matthews and Fisher Adwell are reader's service assistants at the Lawrence Public Library.


Help children in need during Read Across Lawrence

Though it is billed as the "teen" Read Across Lawrence pick, "Return to Sender" by Julia Alvarez is a highly recommended read for adults as well. Told through alternating perspectives, it is a story of friendship and conflict between teens from two different worlds, their families and their communities.

Tyler comes from a Vermont dairy farm family in need of assistance to save their farm. Mari is the eldest daughter in a family of migrant workers who come to work for them. When Tyler learns that Mari's family is in the country illegally and that his parents knew this when they were hired, the first of many questions about right and wrong surrounding immigration is raised. The reader must come to their own conclusions, though, as "Return to Sender" doesn't provide any easy answers.

Miriam Wallen, a young adult librarian and coordinator for the library's Teen Zone, encourages readers to be inspired into action and help in sending books to immigrant children in the United States. Throughout the month of February, we will be collecting small donations to help purchase Spanish language and bilingual children’s books that will be sent to groups who work with immigrant children.

This book drive was inspired by REFORMA, a part of the American Library Association, and its Children in Crisis Program. REFORMA sends books to charities that work with immigrant children, as well as to border patrol facilities and pro-bono legal representatives.

You can read more about their activities in these articles:

REFORMA Brings Books, Backpacks, and Support to Unaccompanied MinorsA Path Forward: How Libraries Support Refugee Children

If you would like to contribute, look for the donation box at any Read Across Lawrence/ Big Read teen or adult programs. Alternatively, you can check out the list of requested books here or donate any Spanish Language or bilingual (Spanish and English) books you don’t need. Just drop them off in the Teen Zone.

If you are interested in more books about teen immigrant stories like "Return to Sender," to read or discuss with your community, you can find some here.

In the words of REFORMA member and author Lucía M González:

“Un libro es un compañero que te da luz y cobijo"

(“A book is a companion that gives you light and shelter”)

-Kate Gramlich is a Reader's Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


The means of escape

People react in a variety of ways when faced with hardship. Some people eat an entire box of ice cream by themselves or blow off steam at the rec center, and these are perfectly reasonable choices. These people, however, do not get books written about them.

Two recently-released titles — "Goatman" and "Welcome to Marwencol" — present two incredible stories about the boundaries of creativity and escapism. Each book offers a look into a world where the desire to get away from it all is extrapolated with macro-sized reactions.

The bluntly-titled "Goatman" by Thomas Thwaites straddles the line between performance art and science experiment as it chronicles the author’s quest to transform himself into a goat. Such a premise may seem like a joke, but what follows is actually a very rigorous foray into transhumanism. Thwaites spares no expense in engineering an exoskeleton capable of man-to-goat conversion and a prosthetic goat stomach that allows him to digest grass. Beyond the mechanical aspects of goats, he explores the psychological world experience of the animals by meeting with neurologists, animal behaviorists, and goat herders.

He finds that current technology can not bring his consciousness to that of a goat, but he nonetheless does his best to think and feel like one. There’s something very zen in this approach. Perhaps Goat-life is the next mindfulness?

The reasons for such a project might seem lacking, but Thwaites offer his justification on the inside jacket: “Wouldn’t it be nice to live totally in the moment, with no worries about what you’ve done, what you’re doing, or what you should do? Wouldn’t it be nice to be an animal for just a bit?”

Thwaites' story contrasts with the harrowing life of Mark Hogancamp, for whom escape is vital and tragic. Instead of transforming himself, he transforms the entire world around him, creating an entirely new space in which he has total control to manifest his dreams and piece apart his traumatic memories. "Welcome to Marwencol" tells of the unprovoked attack that robbed Hogancamp of his memories at the age of 38, but it focuses on the titular Marwencol— a 1:6 scale model of a fictional (and somewhat magical) town in WWII-era Belgium.

Hogancamp uses an array of meticulously detailed models and set pieces to create stories of all kinds. Most of the characters that inhabit Marwencol have counterparts in real life; naturally, Hogie, an American pilot shot down near Marwencol, is the the alter-ego of Hogancamp. The SS troops in the town that are constantly trying to assassinate Hogie and ruin Marwencol stand in for his real-life attackers. These are not mere revenge fantasies, though. Hogancamp unravels nuanced, painful stories that recreate and reshape his trauma as a form of therapy.

His philosophy differs from Thwaites in that for him, escape is a tool that allows us to confront our pain and re-engage with our realities in a different context. A key take away from "Goatman," on the other hand, is that escape can be a door to something new and wonderful; at some point, it becomes more than just the remedy for our original predicaments.

It’s easy to lose sight of our own positions while learning about the unusual and extreme lives presented in either book. Pulling back the lens, we realize that the act of reading itself is escapism— it’s looking through the eyes of the author, into a world constructed and contained within the pages of the book itself.

By reading these two books, there’s a second layer of removal from our own lives and our own actualities. It’s not on the same level as creating an entire 1:6 scale world with hand-weathered plastic Jeeps or eating grass on all fours on the alpine slopes of Switzerland, naturally, but this is only a matter of degree. In the end, it’s hard to say how reasonable and valuable escapism really is; just as we see with Hogancamp and Thwaites, people can have radically divergent reasons to escape— and the manner in which they escape could not be more different, each approach with its own cascading repercussions.

What I can say for sure, though, is that "Welcome to Marwencol" and "Goatman" both offer incredible stories of human imagination. Either one is worth a read alone, but their real value surfaces when placed in conversation. You will, at absolute least, learn more than you could ever want to know about goat psychology.

-Eli Hoelscher is a reader’s services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Newbery Award Hopefuls

Last week I attended Kansas City Public Library’s Mock Newbery awards which basically looks like this: a bunch of librarians nerd out about a selection of books, then we vote on which one we believe is worthy of top honors. The criteria for the Newbery Award are just vague enough that a lot is left open to interpretation. For example, if a book contains illustrations, it is only to be considered if they detract from the book, not enhance it. Therefore, it was a huge surprise last year when "Last Stop on Market Street" won top honors, when we (and many others) classify it as a picture book.

Setting the rules and criteria aside, the Newbery was ultimately established to recognize excellence in Children’s Literature, and there have been some great picks over the years: "The Giver," "Holes," "Flora & Ulysses." Even the list of Newbery Honor recipients (not even the winners!) is stacked with excellent books, like "The War That Saved My Life," which was my pick for the Mock Newbery winner last year. Ultimately, if you pick up a book with that beautiful Newbery Award or Newbery Honor Award emblazoned on the cover, you are in for an excellent read. Here are three that I think were in close contention for this year’s Newbery Medal:

"Samurai Rising" If you want to learn the history of Japanese samurai without ever having to read a history book, "Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune" is the book for you. Ridiculously well researched and beautifully written, Pamela Turner takes you on a journey into 12th Century Japan that is contextualized and rich in detail. Minamoto Yoshitsune is the rockstar of samurai; still fully entrenched in modern Japanese culture, Yoshitsune is the epitome of what it means to be a samurai: fierce, clever, fearless. Turner brings a long-dead epic historical figure and era to life effortlessly. Just please go pick up this book.

"Wolf Hollow" Haunting and vivid, you’ll feel like you’ve fallen into 1940s Pennsylvania within sentences of starting "Wolf Hollow" by Lauren Wolk. Protagonist Annabelle’s peaceful town of Wolf Hollow is sent into a tailspin when Betty Glengarry moves to town. Annabelle falls prey to Betty’s mean streak and as one act of bullying is followed by escalating cruelty, Annabelle knows she has to take a stand. Betty targets Toby, a WWI veteran, as her scapegoat, but Annabelle knows Toby’s kindness, and she refuses to let Betty to heap her crimes upon strange, quiet Toby. Annabelle’s world is well-formed and beautifully described. Her heart and pluck immediately put her on the level of other literary heroines, and this book has widely been described by book critics as an “instant classic” and “reminiscent of 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'” There’s a considerable about of hype, but "Wolf Hollow" lives up to it.

"All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook" I’m flagging "All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook" by Leslie Connor as the underdog that wins it all! Of course I have no track record in guessing correct winners; I’m no Paul the Octopus. But this novel gave me all the feels. I can count on one hand the number of books that have made me cry, and the happy tears you’ll be shedding at the end of Perry’s story will be completely warranted; welcome to the club. Perry and his mom have always been together, which is normal for a mother and son, but their circumstances are anything but. Perry grew up in a correctional facility: he goes to school, eats in the mess hall, and he enjoys rec time with his mother and the other inmates. When a new District Attorney gets wind of Perry’s situation, living like a prisoner, Perry is forced into a foster home and public school. Determined to get back to his mom and the life he knows, Perry researches her crime and uncovers long-buried truths about life and love. Sounds intense, right? I love that this book also meditates on what it means to be a family and subtly pokes at the flaws in our justice system.

Oh wait! There’s one more! "Ghost" by Jason Reynolds won the Mock Newbery at KCPL last week. I didn’t include it in my summary above because it did not hook into my soul like some of the others. That being said, this book has ALL the buzz and could rack up a Michael Phelpsian pile of awards. Castle Crenshaw has had a rocky go of it: he’s picked on at school, his parents have split, and money is tight. But Castle aka Ghost is fast. After running for his life, Ghost has acquired a “scream inside him” and speed which attracts the eye of the coach of the local track club. Ghost soon finds out that running isn’t only for getting away from your problems.

If none of these books sound like your cup of tea, then do me a favor and skim through the past Newbery Medalists and the Newbery Honor Award winners. I guarantee you’ll be reunited with an old favorite from your childhood, or you’ll stumble across a great piece of literature that will floor you with its depth and excellence.

Though I hoped Perry T. Cook would pull off the win, The Newbery Award of 2017 ended up going to "The Girl Who Drank the Moon" by Kelly Barnhill, a fairy tale coming of age story about magic and mistaken identity. Read about the full list of awards at the American Library Association.

-Lauren Taylor is a Youth Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


How to Keep Up with Image Comics’ Booming Worlds!

Image Comics, a popular indie comic publisher, is known for its creative license. Their vast range includes wonderfully different, wildly successful stories such as "The Walking Dead" and "Saga."

When you walk up into Astrokitty Comics @ Game Nut on Mass Street, you’ll find that the back side of their display shelves is a giant homage to Image’s dedication to diversity of content, rather than attempting to keep all storylines within the same relative universe, i.e. like Marvel and DC Comics.

It’s hard to know where to begin. While new series are always starting, many of the popularly-recommended ones are 20 or more issues into their stories. An issue may catch your eye. There’s something about the cover that calls to you. But you hesitate — it’s the 15th issue. You don’t know the story. Sure, you’ll figure out the gist, but you want a base of knowledge to pull from. You want to be in-the-know, familiar with these characters’ dynamics and the world around them.

Everything is spinning. The story — it’s pulled you in! You black out. Hours later, you wake up at home, Issue 25 in hand. Uh-oh. Now you’ve done it. You don’t even know the backstory! It’s all about the backstory!!

Never fear, your friendly neighborhood library is here — and we keep up on our graphic novel collection! We collect volumes of many popular graphic novels, each containing at least three individual issues. This is the perfect opportunity for you to fill yourself in before jumping into the latest issue.

I’m very particular about my comics. Call me a snob. While there are plenty of great storylines unfolding in the classic superhero universes, I find myself much more drawn towards the artistic license afforded to Image’s content. They’re creating art in a way that breaks down the classic idea of a graphic novel and allowing exploration into stories that gain so much life through illustration.

Here are five stories that I can’t stop recommending:

"Descender" by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen

Dive into a robotic attack on all worlds, the story of an android boy on a far-off mining colony who wakes up ten years later, and an intergalactic conspiracy that will render you incapable of putting this story down. The artwork pulls you into the gritty, hard world in a soft, touchable way that’s worth a second read-through. Lemire explores humanity through the eyes of our own, demonized creation.

We currently hold volumes 1-3 in our collection.

"Low" by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini

The earth above grew uninhabitable millennia ago. Before mankind slunk low to the ocean depths in defeat, they released robotic probes out into the universe in a final attempt to find a world that was still living. Remender places you directly into the psyche of one of the last families holding out hope for the probes’ return, in the midst of a dystopian underwater society with no respite and little optimism.

We currently hold volumes 1-3 in our collection.

"Deadly Class" by Rick Remender and Wes Craig

Another Remender story, you say? Let me reassure you that they couldn’t be more different. Think late-80s punk movement meets assassin boarding school. Plenty of angst, rage, and gory death to satisfy your lingering anger over the social problems of that time. The stylized artwork is heavily reminiscent of this era of comics. Be warned — this one isn’t for the faint of heart.

We currently hold volumes 1-3 in our collection.

"Monstress" by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

I couldn’t have said it better myself: "Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda take eastern and western comics storytelling traditions and styles, and create something wholly their own and remarkable: a beautifully told story of magic and fear, inhumanity and exploitation, of what it means to be human and the monsters we all carry inside us. Also, some of the best cats in comics. A delight." -Neil Gaiman

We currently hold volume 1 in our collection.

Last, but certainly not least:

"Black Science" by Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera

Just Remender-ing you — see what I did there? — that this guy has been slaying the comic world. "Black Science" marries Sci-Fi and Fantasy in a multi-dimensional adventure that will leave you quite sure that nothing so good has ever graced the graphic novel world. The uniquely colorful artwork of the many dimensions portrayed throughout the series breathe life into this what-if storyline. The sincerely hateable, overwhelmingly human characters, the magical exploration of science’s limits, and the theory of the Eververse (basically, all dimensions are stacked on top of each other like layers in an onion which you can travel between given the correct tools) will leave you with a hole that could only possibly be satiated by more Remender.

We currently hold volumes 1-4 in our collection.

If we don’t have a physical copy of any of these titles, it’s likely available digitally on Hoopla.

Fisher, another graphic novel enthusiast at LPL, made this great list of other Image stories that we have, including "Southern Bastards," "Morning Glories," "Ghosted," and many more.

-Logan Isaman is the Community Assessment Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.

Reply 1 comment from Chad Hasler

Your local health spot in 2017

At the turn of each new year, I try not to make resolutions. I avoid them. I really do. Instead, I think about the clean slate that a new year brings — the fresh opportunities to try something different, to improve in so many ways, or to take a look at life through a new lens without the strict confines of being resolved to do something. Observing, staying curious and taking action to get outside of my day-to-day are how I try to greet the next 365.

We’ve taken that same spin on health this year in the LPL Health Spot. We recognize that health starts with you — your life, your community, your world. So in 2017, we’re taking a new look at health, specifically local health. You’ll see a variety of ways that we’ll read, talk and learn about health close to home. Most of all, we want to connect you with the health information that means the most to you and helps transform your life in a positive way. Here are just a few examples of what you will find:

The Health Spot: What started a few years ago as a partnership between Lawrence Memorial Hospital, the library and other community health organizations has grown into a vital local resource that pushes the boundaries of what health in libraries can look like. Our goal is connecting our community to health by providing access to reliable health information, events and local partners.

Drop-in services: We thrive on collaborative partnerships that bring health to the library. One of the ways we do this is by working with local health organizations to host drop-in hours, such as:

Career Clinic: Visit with United Way Americorps members every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. to gain insight into the job market, get assistance in your job search or help with dusting off your resume.

Health Marketplace Navigator: Get free, expert assistance in insurance enrollment from Heartland Community Health Center and Healthcare Access navigators. They are here each month year-round, and weekly on Mondays and Wednesdays during open enrollment.

SNAP/Double-Up Food Enrollment: SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and Double Up Food Bucks enrollment specialists are here the second Thursday of each month to help you sign up for food programs and answer your questions about food resources in our community.

Yoga @ Your Library: A professional yoga instructor offers a class for all ages and skill levels on the second Wednesday of each month. Bring a mat and a willingness to learn.

Family Yoga @ Your Library: Bring your whole family to stretch together and relieve stress with a professional yoga instructor. All ages and skill levels welcome. Don’t forget your mat!

{Health Kits:][7] Need to learn about how to keep a healthy heart or get fit? We have health kits available for checkout, with books, DVDs, activities and free handouts with general information on specific health topics. Find them in the Health Spot.

Gym passes: Ever wish you had a free, all-access gym membership? What if I told you that you have memberships to three local gyms, just waiting to be checked out at your library? That’s right, the GYM Pass collection is free passes for month-long memberships just for you.

Events & Programs: This year, we’re having fun keeping it local in a lot of creative ways. These are just a few of the local, healthy activities that we have in store. Stay up to date with our online calendar here.

“Light” Reading: Check out our very own Kate Gramlich’s popular program that brightens your time at the library and your mood by providing light therapy lamps during the winter months.

Seed Library: This year’s Seed Library has expanded by partnering with Just Food to bring more seeds and programing to more locations, inspired by food security and eating locally.

Nutrition Carnival: The third annual Nutrition Carnival boasts the partnerships of local health organizations, amazing carnival wonders and edible books.

Great Reads: We believe that living local means visiting the library early and often to explore your world. We have lots of fresh and healthy reads waiting to be discovered. Interested in a new perspective on health? Start with these:

"The Drug Hunters" by Donald Kirsch & Ogi Ogas

Have you ever wondered how humans discovered the healing power of plants? Or how to harness nature to develop life-saving medicines? From the earliest humans searching for roots to stay alive, to the chance epiphanies of researchers and Indiana Jones-style medical technologists, Kirsch and Ogas claim that being a drug hunter requires “talent, moxie, persistence, luck—and even then, it might not be enough.” You will be glued to the edge of your seat learning about the weird, wild, and wonderful healing agents of human history and looking at your world in a whole new way.

"If Our Bodies Could Talk" by James Hamblin

Sadly, this book will not be the diary of your body’s parts, played out in characters for dramatic effect. On the flip side, Hamblin’s book will enlighten your curiosity in a zany and playful way, covering all the why’s and how’s of how your body works, from the mundane to the unusual. Why do I get an embarrassing stomach grumble when I’m hungry? Can I stop wearing my glasses if I eat enough carrots? And why do I drool when I nap and not when I sleep? Yes, the answers to these and many other questions of interest are in there. Go get ‘em!

"The Secret Life of Fat" by Sylvia Tara

This book will be the validation you need to give yourself a break in the battle of the bulge. I didn’t say give up; rather, prepare to understand your adversary in the “friends close, enemies closer” sort of way. For starters, Tara unveils the high IQ and diabolical nature that fat, itself, embodies. Yes, it is smart! It tricks your body into holding onto it, and it does not work alone. All kidding aside, Tara’s real and approachable account of our relationship with fat illuminates new research on an old foe in an effort to help us win. You’ll never look at fat the same way again, and it will be intimidated.

"All Better Now" by Emily Wing Smith

This book is truly the trifecta of a health librarian’s great read. First, it is a story about an against-all-odds triumph over a debilitating health condition. Second, Smith delivers a delightfully honest and brave coming-of-age memoir roiling with heart-breaking beauty that demands compassion and opens your heart. And third, the heroine’s touchstone that helps define her sense of self is transformative writing--she becomes a writer. Step into Smith’s shoes for a ride that connects with you deeply and leaves you wanting to give her a massive hug.

Maybe this year you’ll join me in avoiding those resolutions, and instead observe, stay curious and take a bit of action exploring a new, local look at what we call healthy.

-Gwen GeigerWolfe is an Information Services and Public Health Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.


The sorry state we’re in

A few months ago I was invited to be a guest at the “sneak peek” of Harriet Lerner’s TEDxKC talk for her upcoming book "Why Won’t You Apologize: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts." Lerner had made a huge impact in my life with her 1998 book "The Mother Dance," so I was excited for the opportunity to see her discuss her work.

On Thursday, Jan. 19 at 7 p.m., Harriet will be speaking about her new book at the Lawrence Public Library, so all of Lawrence will get to bask in her warmth and insight, too.

When I arrived for Harriet’s practice talk, I didn’t know the topic — I was just happy see her speak. However, as soon as she said her new book was about apologies, with some special attention paid to how to deal with people who will not apologize, I felt myself moving to the edge of my seat. You see, for the past several years, I’ve been grappling with anger about an apology I fear I will never get, and Harriet was talking directly to me.

Some time ago, I had a job that was full of wonderful folks, and we were doing work that made us proud. It started off well, but over time, my supervisor began spiraling into becoming someone we didn’t recognize: verbally abusive, volatile and capriciously punitive; one by one the staff became targets. I told myself I could cope, even as people were quitting or being fired around me. I even told myself that maybe I was imagining the behavior, contrary to the fact that everyone else was having the same experience. Eventually, thankfully, I found the means to quit.

Since then, several of us who survived that situation get together on occasion to share a drink and catch up on life, but invariably— and somewhat against our will— we end up rehashing this supervisor's terrible behavior. Mostly, I think, in an effort to reassure ourselves that what happened really happened— that we aren’t crazy, we didn’t imagine it, and that it truly was as horrible as it seemed. We could feel some righteous anger, but we were never going to get an apology.

Reading "Why Won’t You Apologize" has (mostly) set me free from that anger I’ve been carrying around about what happened. Lerner devotes a good amount of her book to “non-apologizers,” those who won’t/can’t apologize and those who give completely useless or even damaging apologies. Although I’d like nothing more for this person to realize what they did, feel wretched for their behavior, and offer an honest and sincere apology, Lerner explains that often the more egregious the behavior, the less likely that is to happen.

For some people, an apology would force them to be vulnerable, a blow to already shaky esteem. Non-apologizers often can’t even acknowledge their behavior to themselves and usually won’t be able to recognize they have anything to apologize for. As Lerner explains, “No person can be more honest with us than they can with their own self.” Knowing that has helped me reframe my anger into compassion and understanding.

Lerner offers great insight into why “I’m sorry” is such a powerful phrase to give and to receive and why good apologies are necessary for creating trusting and healthy relationships in all aspects of our lives. Apologizing is not just about social niceties. We need apologies in our workplaces, with our partners and friends, within our family, with our children. (Especially our children!)

Lerner explains how many of us weren’t taught how to apologize well as children, in our families of origin, and the damage lingers our whole lives. Have you heard someone follow a child’s heartfelt and simple apology by piling on with a “teachable moment” about why what they did was so terrible? Or worse yet, they tell someone, “If you were sorry, you wouldn’t have done it in the first place”? (I can’t help but think of the "Seinfeld" episode with George Costanza yelling, “You can stuff your sorries in a sack, mister!”) If you’ve ever been here, on either side of the issue, Lerner can help.

"Why Won’t You Apologize" is direct at times, and funny and painful at times. Conversational and filled with anecdotes and research, Lerner delves into shame vs. guilt, how to give and accept apologies, how to know what to do when an apology will never come, and deciding whether you even want to accept an olive branch. I found the section on "Letting Go vs. Forgiving" especially pertinent to my particular albatross. Lerner has some wisdom on forgiveness that runs counter to what you might have heard in the past, but what she has to say has been very useful to her clients over the years.

She offers insight and compassion to both the offended and the offender, knowing that we’ll eventually play both roles in our lives. Whether you put a copy on hold or purchase one at her event, it’s worth the investment of your time.

— Polli Kenn is the reader’s services coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.


Two new books look into “The Hidden Life of Trees”

When you visit the library, do you have something of an agenda and head for a particular section, or are you more of a browser, embracing serendipity and wandering from one area to another?

When you go for a walk, do you aim for a certain place, or do you saunter until something piques your curiosity?

A fuller appreciation of most anything surely benefits from both approaches, and the authors of two wonderful new books about trees prove this to be true.

Peter Wohlleben is a forester who has written a small but dense book called "The Hidden Life of Trees." His agenda is not to wander too much, but to look long and hard at the trees of “his” woods, a municipal forest in western Germany full of beeches, spruce, and oaks. I normally don’t much go for anthropomorphizing and/or mechanical analogies when talking about natural systems, but Mr. Wohlleben makes it work.

Divided into short chapters that include arboreal friendship, language, love, and aging, not to mention vacuums and pumps, one soon wonders if there’s any other way for the author to tell his fascinating stories. Trees hear and smell and feel. They talk and even yell. Their symbiotic subterranean network of mycorrhizal fungi, the “Wood Wide Web,” is all-important, and underappreciated. Though the book explores an entirely different ecosystem than ours and is by no means a field guide, I’d suggest it’s worth reading a few chapters and then going for a slow walk in the woods.

For additional local inspiration and information, maybe also read the “Old Growth” chapter in George Frazier’s fine book, "The Last Wild Places of Kansas" and consult the maps and woodland discussions in Ken Lassman’s "Wild Douglas County." Then reach out to some neighboring oak and hackberry and Osage orange trees. Now is a good time, with the leaves and ticks and oak leaf itch mites out of the way, with nests visible and tree forms much more apparent.

But having done your homework, you’ve deduced that we humans have affected whatever it is you might find. What are we to make of it?

To offer some possible guidelines, eminent paleontologist and author Richard Fortey has been kicking around his woods in England and has just released "The Wood for the Trees," a comprehensive stroll which incorporates not only tree stories, but also tales of deep time and human associations. If Wohlleben’s book is the “how” of trees, Fortey’s is more of the “what.” As the author says, it’s “both romantic and forensic.”

So he writes of making beech leaf liqueur, firing clay ceramics from his forest soils, making glass from the siliceous flint of the area, crafting fine cabinetry from felled cherry trees, making walking sticks and charcoal, and exploring the local history of bodgers and turners (chair- and bowl-makers).

He also digs deep into the human history of his area– sometimes a bit too far afield from his woodland forays – which lends a certain bioregional air to the tale. After all, he can easily work back a couple thousand years to when Romans occupied his turf.

But above all that, Fortey loves his wood and the plants and animals in it. The scientist in him enthusiastically appears at frequent intervals, examining the beeches and elms and cherries and hollies, while looking at nearly everything else as well. Lichens, mushrooms, beetles, dormice, bats, moths, ghost orchids, and muntjacs: all are investigated. “Not so much an inventory,” he says, “as a catalogue leading to compelling and interlocking stories.”

Speaking of interlocking stories – a few weeks ago, a patron at the library asked me to help him find a book he had waiting on the hold shelves. It turned out to be Wohlleben’s "Hidden Life of Trees," so we got to talking. I told him of my previous life as an arborist and my great appreciation for the book, and he told me that he has been working on a fictional book on trees for many years. The longer he works on it, he said, the more scientists discover, and the more non-fiction it seems.

Wait until he reads these books.

-Jake Vail is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.