Entries from blogs tagged with “Lawrence”

For the love of “American Gods”

Brian Reitzell is one of the greatest contemporary composers of our generation. You may have heard of him from his well-known work on "The Virgin Suicides" or "Lost in Translation," but I first fell in love with Reitzell’s music after watching the canceled-way-too-soon series "Hannibal" on NBC.

Reitzell manages to create music that is unlike anything you’ve ever heard, so imagine my delight when he joined forces with Bryan Fuller again after their stellar collaboration on "Hannibal" to bring the world of Neil Gaiman’s "American Gods" to life for Starz.

If you are unfamiliar with the plot of "American Gods," here’s a quick rundown. The story centers on a man named Shadow Moon, who upon being released from prison finds out his wife Laura was killed in a car crash. Haunted by her undead presence and with nowhere to go, he decides to take a job offer from the mysterious Mr. Wednesday to serve as his bodyguard.

Interwoven into this narrative are vignettes of the gods currently in power in America and the dramatic schism that divides them. On one side, the old gods try to cling to the vestiges of their glory while new entities of contemporary worship (like technology and television) gain popularity with the American people who have forgotten the deities their ancestors worshiped in ages past. The storm of war is brewing, and Shadow finds himself caught in the middle of it all.

"American Gods" is my favorite new television series of 2017, and its harrowing soundtrack not only keeps pace with Fuller’s phantasmagorical visuals but enhances the visceral experience of watching the show. The soundtrack itself consists of 20 tracks with snippets from each of the major musical themes. In an interview with Billboard, Reitzell, reflecting on the process of paring down the soundtrack to 80 minutes or less, mentions that “I always make these pieces so that they can stand on their own, but really they’re meant to be a souvenir for the show.”

This is exactly what I appreciate about Reitzell’s sound, because each track feels like a small memento that transports listeners to a distinct scene, resulting in a final musical collective brimming with empathy and unpredictability. This is an aspect few composers are able to achieve and makes for an absorbing, transformative listening experience.

My favorite track would have to be “Media Bowie” in which Gillian Anderson’s character, the goddess Media, appears as the powder-blue-suit- and red-mullet-sporting “Life on Mars?” version of David Bowie. It features a spine-tingling '70s electronic beat layered with Bowie-esque cries that begs to be listened to on repeat (and will be stuck in your head for the foreseeable future). I also love the primordial feel to “Nunnyunnini” where Reitzell layers instruments that would have been available at the dawn of civilization like wood, stones, and conch shells for dramatic effect. Each second of this track feels ancient, otherworldly, and familiar, like a relic of the past imprinted on the very building blocks of your DNA.

And, the album isn’t just a compilation of background score or cues, as Reitzell enlists the incomparable Shirley Manson, Debbie Harry, and Mark Lanegan who lend their voices to a string of covers and original songs. Each piece makes a statement that is integral to the scene and pays homage to Gaiman’s vision from the novel, and I appreciate how this mixture of music captures the overall feel of the show while giving listeners a great deal of sonic variety.

Given the fact that the source material features gods from a diversity of cultures, times, and regions of the world, it makes sense for Reitzell to utilize a multitude of musical genres all while putting his own idiosyncratic take on the classics. In a way, the music matches the show’s exploration of the intersectional immigrant experience in America. Not only do the tracks interlock with the visuals, without overpowering a given scene, but also explore the inherent themes addressed by the show itself through experimentation with rhythm, instrumentation, and composition.

I believe that "American Gods" may be Reitzell’s greatest work to date, and I’m looking forward to what he brings to the table with Season 2. And, for the love of "American Gods," this is one eclectic soundtrack you won’t want to miss.

You can listen to "American Gods" right now on Hoopla or check it out in our catalog (I’m waiting impatiently for the vinyl release myself).

— Fisher Adwell is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Listen Up: Audiobook Month Listener’s Advisory

This summer, whether you’re traveling, commuting or taking a little staycation, an audiobook can be a perfect companion. The challenge is finding one that matches your tastes, which can be a little trickier than just picking a great book. Here are a few tips and suggestions for helping you find your next great listen:

Audiobook-recommending guru Renee Young has some appeal terms that you can use when browsing or asking for audiobooks. Think of these as basic lingo that can help you feel less overwhelmed and narrow down your selections.

Some listeners are voice-focused and some prefer more of a performance. For the former, you may be looking for:

-Character accents, where one person creates different voices for each character, like Jim Dale reading "Harry Potter," Robin Miles in "American Street," or Roy Dotrice from the "Game of Thrones" series.

-Multiple narrators in books that change protagonists, like "The Girl on the Train," "Small Great Things," and "How it Went Down." (Note: this is different from Full Cast narration, which will be covered in a minute!)

-Read by the author, which gives the reader more of a personal connection with the book. Examples of authors who often read their own work are Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, and Neil Gaiman. You may also enjoy the authors’ readings of The Kite Runner and Brown Girl Dreaming. (Note: This catalog search for “read by the author” gives some more examples!)

-Celebrity narrators who read audiobooks written by other authors. You can find some surprising celebrity narrations of classic works, like Claire Danes reading "The Handmaid’s Tale," Sissy Spacek reading "To Kill a Mockingbird," and Maggie Gyllenhaal reading "The Bell Jar." Kurt Vonnegut’s books also have some great celebrity readers like Stanley Tucci, Ethan Hawke, and John Malkovich!

Other audiobooks sound more like a performance, complete with full casts, sound effects, music, and more! Here are a few suggestions if you’re looking for this type of audiobook experience:

-"World War Z" by Max Brooks has a large cast of characters, including Brooks himself, as well as some celebrity voices

-"Rant" by Chuck Palahniuk is a creepy thriller featuring a full cast

-"Here In Harlem" by Walter Dean Myers is a family-friendly collection of over 50 poems, each narrated by a different voice!

-Hoopla has a 32-title "Twilight Zone: Radio Drama" series that features a large cast, as well as engaging sound effects

-"The Complete Star Wars Trilogy" is available in audiobook, with musical accompaniment by the London Symphony Orchestra

-Philip Pullman’s "The Golden Compass" provides another family-friendly full cast narration

In case that’s not enough ideas, here are a few favorites suggested by LPL staff and community members:

-Meredith in Readers’ Services recommends "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" (YA) narrated by the one and only Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as "The Book of Strange New Things" (“Super long but SO good.”)

-Jessica M. enjoyed Stephen King narrating his book, "On Writing," and said that her whole family enjoyed Stockard Channing’s narration of the "Ramona" series!

-Kim in Tech Services loved "The Bone Clocks," with multiple-narrators, as well as "The Magicians" series (also recommended by patron Jill S.)

-The popular podcast "Welcome to Nightvale" was turned into an Urban Fantasy book/audiobook, recommended by Anna T. and Kate N.

-Brittany K. recommended "The Boys in the Boat," narrated by the late great Edward Herrmann, “so it feels like Richard Gilmore is telling you this incredible story about young people coming together as a team during the Great Depression.”

-Polli in Readers’ Services recommends "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy." (Hilarious, held the attention of three teenagers on a long road trip, and narrated by Stephen Fry!)

Interested in more suggestions from your Lawrence community members? Check out this Facebook post!

Feel free to bookmark this post to come back to later. Another great resource for audiobooks is Audiofile Magazine, which provides info on award-winning narrators as well as short audio samples to help with your browsing! If you come across an awesome audiobook, please let us know :)

-Kate Gramlich is a Readers’ Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


Dreaming the Beatles is a Fan’s Love Letter

Rob Sheffield, a music columnist with twenty years experience who currently writes for Rolling Stone magazine, has recently released a new book: "Dreaming the Beatles." Roughly ten years ago, I read Sheffield’s first book, "Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time," a heart wrenching autobiographical memoir concerning his late wife and their shared passion for music via the art of the mix tape.

And in 2016, Sheffield produced another emotional collection, "On Bowie," a homage to David Bowie’s legacy as told through fan’s memories, as well as his own. It was a read that left me as gutted as Bowie’s final album, "Blackstar," due to the artist’s passing months prior. Now, if there is one thing that Rob Sheffield excels at, it’s portraying the visceral connection between music fans and the musicians they admire, so when I picked up "Dreaming the Beatles" I knew it was my ticket to ride.

The audio book, narrated by the author himself, begins with a rapid-fire introduction that reads like a teen magazine dossier of essential Beatles facts replete with nicknames for the Fab Four, such as: “The Smart One” (John), “The Cute One” (Paul), “The Quiet One” (George), and “The Drummer” (Ringo). OK, almost everyone. During this prelude, Sheffield poses a question: Why are the Beatles still popular, possibly more now, despite having broken up nearly fifty years ago? It’s a question I have never considered, as a daughter of a Beatlemaniac, because it has always been a known fact: The Beatles are fab!

He suggests the cause for their endurance is “the Beatles matter because of what they mean to our moment… over the years, your [favorite] Beatle keeps changing because you keep changing.” Which feels true when he speaks of being a Paul fan, yet it is unabashedly clear he favors George as his favorite Beatle. Even Sheffield’s wife is a “George girl,” who literally only has eyes for Harrison and sometimes refers to him as “Goth Beatle.”

Throughout "Dreaming the Beatles," the author maintains an excellent balance of personal recollection, amusement, and creativity. For example, he generates a list of 26 songs about the Beatles, ranging from different musicians, such as: Lil Wayne’s “Help” to the Beastie Boys’ “I’m Down” to Aretha Franklin’s “Long and Winding Road” — which Sheffield claims is “the most a Beatle cover has ever improved on the original.” He also goes as far to take an extensive look into “It Won’t Be Long” from 1963’s "With the Beatles," breaking down the number of “yeah”s sung, 55 in total, thus, reaching ultimate “yeah” density, to the Beatles’ use of the pronoun, “you,” and how this quality is what made their songs feel like they were reaching out to you and you alone.

Audiobook is a great format choice for "Dreaming the Beatles," as Sheffield’s voice has an informal cadence that makes me recall lengthy, late-night conversations about music with friends. I frequently found myself discussing, or laughing, aloud as I listened, sometimes pausing so I could find a song referenced and search for the nuance I may have missed. Many of my favorite moments stemmed from Sheffield’s personal memories connected to the band’s music because that’s what makes being a Beatles fan amazing: Everyone has a story.

"Dreaming the Beatles" is perfect for fans ranging from amateur to Beatlemaniac. It’s entertaining with informative tidbits throughout, while seamlessly interweaving Beatles lyrics and various other music references into the narrative. I appreciated that Sheffield stayed away from making this feel like another unauthorized exposé or salacious journalism. The Beatles’ music and the musicians themselves inspire such discourse that I feel this book would also make an excellent choice for reading along with other Beatles fans or in a book club. I mean, who doesn’t want to talk about the Beatles?

So, this summer (or anytime of year) I encourage you to go on a sonic journey through the Beatles’ catalog, their films "Hard Day’s Night" and "Help," and especially their premier documentary, "The Beatles Anthology."

They’re all wonderful accompaniments to elevate the experience found in this book, so take that long and winding road to the Lawrence Public Library’s door and find yourself "Dreaming the Beatles."

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


Finding pride in the stacks

“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel…is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.” — Ursula K. Le Guin

For me, the public library has always been place of possibility and self-discovery. As a gay youth growing up in a small, predominantly Christian and conservative community, I didn’t feel comfortable accepting my true self, let alone trying to relate to others about it.

Huddled in the stacks reading, it was in the books on the shelves of my local library that I first discovered I wasn’t alone; that other people felt the same as I did and had experienced similar journeys.

A public library is meant to serve everyone in the community. That means people of diverse experiences — including, but not limited to, LGBTQIA, people of color, and people with disabilities — should be able to find resources that will help them explore their identities and literature that reflects and honors their lives.

By doing a subject search in the Lawrence Public Library's catalog, you’ll find that the library does have some diverse resources, but they’re vastly outnumbered by those of a white, heteronormative experience. Part of the issue is the lack of representation in the publishing industry, which has yet to keep pace with the reality of diversity in the United States and the world. Fortunately, campaigns like We Need Diverse Books and #ownvoices are bringing to light this disparity and advocating for change.

As LPL Director Brad wrote last February, “Lawrence Public Library is committed to articulating the diversity of our community, our nation, and our world.” In my position as collection development coordinator, I get to help ensure that the diverse experiences of Lawrence citizens are reflected in the books, movies, and music on our shelves.

I also work with colleagues who recognize the importance of extending that reflection beyond the items on our shelves to the library’s programs and services. With signature events, lecture series, storytimes and book clubs, library staff has sought to celebrate and promote diversity throughout the year.

This Pride Month, the library will be hosting its first ever drag queen storytime on Sunday, June 25. Deja’s Reading Rainbow will be a storytime “about love and friendship, being different and belonging, being unique and being accepted, colors, rainbows, and, of course, fun!” I know my younger self would have felt much more comfortable in his skin if he had the opportunity to attend a program like this.

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


Short Story Mixtape

I remember sitting on the mauve carpet of my bedroom in front of my boombox, patiently waiting with one finger poised above the tape deck's red RECORD button. As soon as the radio DJ finished their boring spiel and “my song” came on, I jammed that sucker down and silently congratulated myself on yet another score for my mixtape.

I was in fifth grade, and this tape was a very big deal. iTunes wasn’t going to be a thing for several more years, our shared home computer probably just barely had a CD drive, and anyway that was my dad’s realm. All I needed were the sweet, sweet jams on Y-98 FM.

While I sort of wish I could find some of those old tapes for the nostalgia factor, I also know that they were very time-specific. Listening to a tape of my hard-earned “jams” would probably give me that embarrassed-for-someone-else feeling and ruin the memory. (Also true for CDs I made in high school and college… some things should just live in your head.)

To me, the importance lies in both the right-now-ness as well as the process of creating a collection of faves — whether on tape, CD, iPod, or Spotify playlist. It makes me wish it were possible to make a “mix” of other forms of media, and what I’d really love to have is a short story mixtape — a personal anthology of the short stories that spoke to me at a particular point in my life.

Over the past couple years I’ve found some amazing contemporary short story writers, almost all of whom happen to be women and (sadly) none of whom I’d heard about in school. Their works seem to be found in their own published collections or in some niche anthologies, and I’d love to cherry-pick them into my own short story mixtape.

In lieu of photocopying each one and sticking them in a three-ring binder, I’ll list them here for you, including where to find them and a very brief description (like liner notes on the fancier mixtapes).

  1. “Walkdog” by Sofia Samatar — An adolescent girl uses a school paper — complete with footnotes and snarky asides — to communicate a profound sense of discovery and loss.

  2. “The Water Museum” by Nisi Shawl — A man comes to murder a woman and is instead taken on an unexpected journey. Do not mess with the keeper of The Water Museum.

  3. “The Knowers” by Helen Phillips — Would you want to know the exact time of your death? A couple tries to find out if their final moments really are.

  4. “Patient Zero” by Tananarive Due — The diary of a child isolated from the world because of an incurable and unknowable disease. Apocalyptic creepiness at its finest.

  5. “Sorry Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea” by Helen Oyeyemi — Bizarre and surreal is Oyeyemi’s jam. This is a revenge story that will leave you smirking.

  6. “The Future Looks Good” by Lesley Nneka Arimah — Begins and ends with a woman innocently trying to find her keys to her apartment, and in the middle there’s an entire family saga condensed into a powerful little punch.

  7. “Love Medicine” by Louise Erdrich — Chapter from a novel? Story from a linked collection? Regardless, Erdrich sweeps you into an Ojibwe community filled to the brim with love and loss.

  8. “Children of the Sea” by Edwidge DanticatPDF — A back-and-forth co-narrative by two lovers separated by sea and by revolution. (From the collection, "Krik? Krak!")

  9. “Spider the Artist” by Nnedi Okorafor — Fear and intrigue mingle in this futuristic tale that leaves you questioning who gets to define “the enemy.”

Note: This was more difficult to do than I’d expected, only because I decided to follow my old mixtape rule of “no double dipping;” trying to narrow down exactly which story to include by each of these authors was a challenge. Perhaps this means there will be a Volume 2 someday…

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


Whoa, we’re halfway there: Squad Goals progress post

If you’ve stopped by the Lawrence Public Library in the past few months, you may have noticed that the Book Squad has set up monthly rotating displays featuring potential reads for the Squad Goals Reading Challenge, our inaugural reading challenge featuring a baker’s dozen of prompts designed to help you find great new books.

We announced the Squad Goals Challenge on the Spotlight Blog last December, and I wrote about what I planned to read then. Since 2017 is almost halfway gone and summer reading is upon us, I wanted to check in and update you all on how my personal Squad Goals Challenge is going.

Spoiler alert: It’s been a mixed bag so far.

Let’s start with the good.

I’ve finished books for five of the 13 Squad Goals prompts, and I absolutely loved four of the five: Jeff Passan’s "The Arm" (a book about sports); Alice LaPlante’s "Turn of Mind" (a book with an unreliable narrator); Naomi Novik’s "His Majesty’s Dragon" (a steampunk or gaslamp fantasy novel); and Cat Sebastian’s "The Lawrence Browne Affair" (a diverse romance).

Three of those titles made it onto my “top reads of 2017” Bibliocommons list (posting soon!); the fourth book was on there originally but got knocked out by a last-minute contender (the stunningly good "Peter Darling," which would, now that I think of it, actually work for the “retelling of a classic story” prompt. Make that six of 13).

Also good: I’m roughly on-track in terms of scheduling. Actually, that’s very good, because for some reason I thought I was way behind.

Oh, wait, I know why: it’s because I’ve started and abandoned four other books that I intended to count as Squad Goals reads. Ugh.

Honestly, I’ve gotten way better about quitting books when I no longer want to read them, but if a book I’m not particularly enjoying would count toward a challenge prompt, I definitely feel a twinge when I set it aside.

I DNF’d (or did not finish) Simran Sethi’s "Bread, Wine, Chocolate" (book by a Lawrence, Kansas author); Annemarie Selinko’s "Désirée" (a book you haven’t read in more than 5 years); Y.S. Lee’s "A Spy in the House" (historical novel by an author of color); and Sonali Dev’s "The Bollywood Bride" (my original choice for the diverse romance prompt).

Of those DNFs, none were bad; they just weren’t right for me right now. Sethi’s book turned out to be more of a food memoir than the straight-up science read I was hoping for; "Désirée" was enjoyable, but there were other things I wanted to read more; I somehow forgot how uninterested I am in anything to do with spies. I am surprised I didn’t connect with "The Bollywood Bride," though, since I absolutely adored the author’s previous book, "A Bollywood Affair."

But where to go now? I’m in the mood for books with some thematic heft, so I think I’ll finally pick up the copy of "My Brilliant Friend" I bought ages ago and get to work on the “book in translation” prompt. Or maybe I’ll try out the nearly 18-hour audiobook of "Debt: The First 5,000 Years" for the “microhistory” prompt. Those seem hefty enough, right?

For those of you taking the Squad Goals Challenge, how is it going so far? What have you found that you love? What didn’t quite get the job done? And as always, if you want some suggestions about what to try next, head on over to the Book Squad Personalized Recommendations Request Form and we’ll match you with some reads we hope you’ll love.

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


All the news that’s fit to print, and then some

The New York Times. The “paper of record” (well, not really, but commonly perceived as such). “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The gold standard for crossword puzzle enthusiasts. (Source of the lion’s share of my information about national and global current events: If you spend any time talking with me all, at some point you’ll almost undoubtedly hear me say, “So, I read an article in The New York Times…”)

I’ve been an avid reader of the Times for several years now, and so I was thrilled when it came to pass that we would be offering our patrons unlimited digital access to this venerable news source; (Fear not, paper lovers: We also continue to receive the print edition daily).

The New York Times. Credit: Haxorjoe via Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times. Credit: Haxorjoe via Wikimedia Commons. by Lawrence Public Library Staff

I am a stalwart fan of The New York Times for many reasons, chief among them that I trust its journalists to abide by a standard of ethics that results in trustworthy news reports. But the Times also provides me with sustenance as a reader, with articles that work in conversation with the most illuminating books of our times. Several of the most requested titles at the library in the last year — such as J.D. Vance’s "Hillbilly Elegy," Nancy Isenberg’s "White Trash," or Matthew Desmond’s "Evicted" — have discussed the interplay of race, class, poverty and policy in shaping American life. Have you not yet read Matthew Desmond’s critically acclaimed "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City," or can’t wait until he comes out with a new book? Then check out his article from last week’s New York Times Magazine, which explored to heartbreaking effect the role that the mortgage interest deduction plays in widening the inequality gap in the United States. Follow that up with Nikole Hannah-Jones’ article on segregation and schools to delve further into the issue of how housing options shape life outcomes; while the article focuses on New York City schools, the historical forces and present-day impacts Hannah-Jones describes have shaped neighborhoods nationwide.

Evocative journalism isn’t the only thing you’ll find among the digital pages of The New York Times; how-to guides abound as well. Intrigued by the myriad health benefits of mindfulness meditation, but aren’t sure where to start? There’s a guide for that. Start running! Discover the most efficient way to clean your home! Learn to cook (I’m not naming any names, but rumor has it that their Thanksgiving cooking guide has been a lifesaver for at least one less-than-confident cook).

So how can you access this embarrassment of riches? If you are in the Lawrence Public Library:

● Connect to the library’s Wi-Fi or use a library computer

● First-time users will need to register here (provide an email, create a password)

● Returning users can log in at nytimes.com

If you are not in the library:

Log in (or register if it’s your first time) on your device or computer

● Open the following URL in a new tab, then enter your library card number and PIN for access.

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


Summer Beach Reads 2017

Last year, we put together a list of some of our most anticipated summer releases to enjoy whether you’re vacationing in the Caribbean or in your own living room.

This year, we have even more unconventional beach reads that will transport you to exotic locales and introduce you to interesting new characters.

All you’ll need is a library card, and your adventure awaits.

"Made for Love" by Alissa Nutting

Hazel has recently left her husband, the famous CEO and founder of Gogol Industries, because she strongly suspects he may have implanted a chip in her brain to always keep track of her. To get away, she moves in with her father whose roommate is a lifelike doll named Diane. With an absurd premise that combines fabulism and science fiction, this might not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, if you like strange situations, clever writing, humor, and a unique plot, this might just be a perfect book to pick up on a warm afternoon.

"The Grip of It" by Jac Jemc

"The Grip of It" is an eerie psychological horror novel that follows a young married couple who are looking to get a fresh start. After James loses most of his money from gambling, the two decide to repair their relationship and take on the challenge of purchasing a new home together. Immediately after moving in, strange things begin to occur: there’s an older neighbor who obsessively watches them through the windows, bruises appear all over Julie’s body, and childlike drawings manifest in random spots throughout the house. Spooky and suspenseful, this is for those who like a good thrill.

"Down Among the Sticks and Bones" by Seanan McGuire

This companion novella to "Every Heart a Doorway" follows the characters Jack and Jill before their stay at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Born to two uncaring parents, Jacqueline and Jillian couldn’t be more different. Jacqueline is encouraged to be quiet and unassuming even though she would much rather learn new information. Jillian is the rough and tumble child her father always wanted, but she would prefer pretty dresses to mud pies. When the girls stumble through a magic portal into a dark and dreary world, the two are finally able to be themselves, sometimes with detrimental consequences.

"The Library of Fates" by Aditi Khorana

To protect her peaceful kingdom from the ruthless Emperor Sikander, Princess Amrita offers herself as his bride, but it’s not enough, and her palace is still attacked by his forces. Amrita becomes a fugitive with her only companion being an oracle named Thala who was enslaved by the Emperor. The two join forces to find the mystical "Library of All Things," where they may be able to reverse their fates and prevent the horrible events in their lives from occurring. A thought-provoking fantasy novel that brings to life Indian folklore, this is for anyone wanting a summer adventure.

"The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue" by Mackenzi Lee

This 18th-century romance follows the arrogant but charming Henry “Monty” Montague as he embarks on a stag year across Europe with his best friend Percy, a boy he harbors an extreme crush for (even more so than the ladies he typically romances). When Monty makes a reckless decision at a party, he throws the lives of everyone he loves in danger all while embarking on a journey of self-discovery. Mackenzi Lee moves beyond conventionality to craft a book that brings a unique perspective to a genre typically riddled with tropes. Who would have guessed that a book set in the past would be as culturally relevant as this one? It deserves all of the praise it has received.

"The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter" by Theodora Goss

Mary Jekyll, daughter of the infamous Dr. Jekyll, finds herself in a troublesome spot after the death of her parents leaves her alone and penniless. Mary discovers her father’s ominous lab notebooks and that her mother set up a secret account to send money to a wanted murderer named Edward Hyde, and it is up to her to track down the missing Hyde and collect the bounty on his head to solve her precarious financial situation. This fresh take on classic penny dreadful fare will hook you from the start with its gaslit and atmospheric scenery, compelling mysteries, and motley, "Scooby-Doo"-esque cast of characters.

"The Witches of New York" by Ami McKay

Equal parts "Charmed" and "Kiki’s Delivery Service," "The Witches of New York" tells the intersecting stories of three witches whose lives are forever changed when evil begins to surface. There’s Eleanor St. Clair, a wisewoman who owns a tea shop with Adelaide Thom, a powerful seer, and 17-year-old Beatrice Dunn, who goes to New York in search of a supernatural calling. McKay expertly crafts a witchy, feminist world in which you will relish spending as much time as humanly possible. It is perfect if you need a dose of magical realism to spice up an otherwise mundane summer — no plane ticket required.

"The Backstagers" by James Tynion IV

"The Backstagers" chronicles the life of young Jory, who is not thrilled about his transfer to an all boys high school. He decides to join the theater club and ends up hanging out with a group of social outcasts who are all thrust together into an adventure after discovering a door that leads to magical dimensions. "The Backstagers" is a love letter written for theater nerds that captures the diversity of the queer experience in America. Reading it will turn you into a comic book lover with its realistic characters, breathtaking artwork from transgender artist Rian Sygh, and engrossing story.

-Fisher Adwell and Kimberly Lopez are readers' services assistants at the Lawrence Public Library.


Local author’s new novel reimagines a classic

While taking literature classes through high school, many of us had to read canon staples from the likes of Dickens and Steinbeck, despite how jarring it can seem to approach something like "Great Expectations" when you’re fourteen years old. Emily Brontë’s "Wuthering Heights"— a title which my friends keep telling me to pronounce differently, for some reason — is one such classic.

And now, 170 years later, its memorable tale of love and human spirit is once again being synthesized with a high school setting, though in a much more enjoyable manner; this time, Lawrence author Mary O’Connell has remixed the classic, retelling it with a cast of modern day teenagers and adding her own twists.

The young adult novel "Dear Reader" — pronounced as it looks, like most books — follows seventeen year old Flannery Fields as she searches for her AP English teacher who has suddenly and mysteriously gone missing in New York. Flannery doesn’t quite fit in with her peers, instead idolizing the absent Miss Sweeney, giving her the impetus to go on such a quest. O’Connell injects a turn of magical realism with Miss Sweeney’s personal copy of "Wuthering Heights," which acts as a real-time diary, giving Flannery clues about her disappearance.

While in New York, the uncannily British and charming Heath appears. To Flannery, he is both alluring and odd. She begins to wonder if he might actually be a manifestation of the similarly-named "Wuthering Heights" character. The rest of the novel holds even more surprises, weaving together threads of mystery, magical realism, and a bit of romance as Flannery finds her way.

For those who’ve never read "Wuthering Heights," O’Connell’s take is a modern and more accessible opportunity. For readers who are already fans of the classic, it’s another incarnation, ripe for comparison and reflection.

We’re fortunate to have the author visiting LPL on Tuesday, May 30th at 7:00 PM in the library auditorium, where she’ll read from and share her thoughts about "Dear Reader."

— Eli Hoelscher is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Cookbooks for a vegan crash course

Deciding to eat a vegan diet is a lifestyle change that many people struggle with. It is often perceived to be “inconvenient” or somehow “unsatisfying,” and it does not need to be. Arguably, a nonvegan diet is far more inconvenient for animals, the planet and your health.

While the negative health aspects and animal cruelty arguments don’t give everyone pause, many people are rallying behind veganism because of their newfound understanding of the environmental impact that the factory farming of animals has on our environment. Factory farming accounts for 37% of methane emissions, which has more than 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide (CO2).

When you consider the millions of acres of deforestation that is happening to make room for more cattle to graze, and the fact that industrial agriculture sucks up 70% of all freshwater on the planet, it quickly becomes obvious that we all need to do our part to reduce the negative impact our lifestyles have on this planet.

Now, there’s no “correct” way to eat a vegan diet. You don’t have to exclusively eat super-healthy foods. Vegan junk food is a thing, folks. You’d be shocked by all of the products you love that are “accidentally vegan”. My personal favorites include: Oreos, Sour Patch Kids and Doritos’ Spicy Sweet Chili flavor.

Going vegan is a process. You’re probably not going to — forgive the expression — go cold turkey on consuming animal products. But you can begin to make different choices. You can choose a veggie option at a restaurant. You can explore the many varieties of vegetable-based burger products. You can even try vegan cheese options. Try Cito’s Cashew Queso. You can buy it at our local farmers market and at the Merc. It’s all of that melty, tasty deliciousness you crave with none of the stomach pain.

There are three tips that I personally find to be essential if you’re going to be vegan:

  1. Buy a stovetop steamer. Steam veggies for 5-7 minutes, then roast them at 420 degrees for 10-15 minutes for a perfectly roasted veggie that doesn’t lose its moisture.
  2. Find sauces and spices that you love. They’re going to making cooking and eating vegetables infinitely more fun.
  3. Get comfortable in the kitchen. There are a million recipes that are simple, require limited ingredients, and don’t take more than an hour from start to finish. Experiment!

We happen to have a plethora of vegan cookbooks here at the Lawrence Public Library. Some, like "Veganomicon," tend to have holds lists a mile long. Here are nine vegan cookbooks that I pulled off the shelf not 20 minutes ago — and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

"You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan! 200 Recipes for Simple and Delicious Animal-Free Cuisine"

"Vegan Family Favorites"

"Pure Vegan: 70 Recipes for Beautiful Meals and Clean Living"

"Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine"

"Quick and Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food: 150 Down-Home Recipes Packed with Flavor, not Calories"

"500 Vegan Recipes: An Amazing Variety of Delicious Recipes, From Chilis and Casseroles to Crumbles, Crisps, and Cookies"

"The Inspired Vegan: Seasonal Ingredients, Creative Recipes, Mouthwatering Menus"

"Whole Grain Vegan Baking: More Than 100 Tasty Recipes for Plant-based Treats Made Even Healthier: From Wholesome Cookies and Cupcakes to Breads, Biscuits, and More"

"Sticky Fingers' Sweets: 100 Super-secret Vegan Recipes"

When you search “vegan cookbooks” in our catalog, there are 154 items that we hold in our collection for you to browse through. Even without the massive amount of resources available online, we have enough recipes to keep you exploring for years. Have fun, be experimental, and know that every time you choose to eat a vegan meal, you are directly contributing to the health and wellness of our entire planet.

— Logan Isaman is the community assessment coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.

Reply 1 comment from Jim Schilling

Infinite, unfathomable, nonstop: Rebecca Solnit’s imaginative cartography

Once upon a time, I stumbled across a quiz that asked, “Where You At?” Despite, or perhaps because of, its sloppy grammar, the question has stayed with me. My interest in natural and cultural history, and even my fascination with infrastructure, surely dates to this time, as evidenced by the real estate that writers like Henry Thoreau, Wallace Stegner, and Barry Lopez occupy on my bookshelves.

About the time Barry Lopez released his short story collection "Light Action in the Caribbean," I discovered another writer whose take on “where you at?” I would come to appreciate immeasurably. First through her essays, and later through her books on subjects as diverse as walking, the wars of Yosemite and Nevada and the life of photographer Eadweard Muybridge, I grew to eagerly anticipate each new book by Rebecca Solnit.

By then, my personal geographic center had moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. Lopez, from Oregon, ranked among my favorite authors for his understated blend of natural history and place-based stories. Those stories, while fictional, were so grounded that they were often, in effect, verbal maps.

Maps are key to his "Light Action" story “The Mappist,” in which the narrator discovers a series of guidebooks seemingly written by different authors but with such “depth and integration” and “distinctive layering” that he is convinced they are products of the same mind. A map he happens upon confirms his hunch, and eventually he tracks down the elusive writer — a cartographer named Corlis Benefideo.

Rebecca Solnit also writes deep and integrated guidebooks of a sort, so imagine my surprise when in 2010, life imitated art, and she spearheaded a collection of maps. Titled "Infinite City," it is an atlas of her hometown of San Francisco. Collected within are twenty-two wonderful maps on different themes, drawn by different artists, each accompanied by a distinctively layered essay that is stellar in its own right. She has since coordinated two more atlases. Not too surprisingly, the North American Cartographic Information Society has awarded Solnit its Corlis Benefideo Award for Imaginative Cartography.

Following "Infinite City" came "Unfathomable City," an atlas of New Orleans, growing out of the boots-on-the-ground research she did for her important book "A Paradise Built in Hell." She and her tri-coastal tag-team of contributors wrapped up the trilogy with New York City in "Nonstop Metropolis," which just won the 2017 Brendan Gill prize.

I’ve never lived in those cities, but I’ve been lucky enough to have visited each at least a couple times. "Unfathomable City" was the most fun to explore, since I know New Orleans best. I was going to say that it comes with a virtual soundtrack — it is New Orleans, after all — but then I remembered that "Nonstop Metropolis" does too, described in the very first entry, “Singing the City,” and alluded to in several other maps.

Revisiting the three cities as presented in the atlases has been a real joy. From the SF start to the NYC finish, the juxtaposition of themes explored are nothing short of genius. A few favorites: "Monarchs and Queens: Butterfly Habitats and Queer Public Spaces." "Dharma Wheels and Fish Ladders: Salmon Migrations, Soto Zen Arrivals." "Oil and Water: Extracting Petroleum, Exterminating Nature." "Repercussions: Rhythm and Resistance across the Atlantic." "Harpers and Harpooners: Whaling and Publishing in Melville’s Manhattan." "Black Star Lines: Harlem Secular and Sacred."

The contributors are erudite and eccentric, and their essays will blow your mind, especially once you consider the research involved in each (seventy total for the three atlases). The accompanying maps display similarly inspired artwork and cartography. The overall feel of the books (especially the street map impressed hardcovers) is lovely. Additional sketches and photos are sprinkled throughout. Even the introductions are meaty and inspiring.

The approach to mapping that Ms. Solnit has taken is of course the opposite of Corlis Benefideo’s solo efforts. "Infinite City" lists her as its sole author (though others helped with the essays), Rebecca Snedeker co-edited "Unfathomable City," and Joshua Jelly-Shapiro co-edited "Nonstop Metropolis." All three atlases draw on a huge roster of collaborators, and continuity is provided by a handful who worked on more than one.

All in all, the infinite, unfathomable, nonstop atlases please and inform on every level. Except, intentionally, one: There’s no app. You can’t discover “Where You At?” staring at a little screen. Corlis Benefideo could have been speaking of Rebecca Solnit’s expansive atlases when he said, “These maps reveal the foundations beneath the ephemera.”

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


J. Robert Lennon’s “Broken River” could be his breakout novel

Each time J. Robert Lennon drops a new book, I think, "This is the one. This is the time the general public will discover J. Robert Lennon." Entertainment Weekly will give it an A+, Angelina Jolie will tweet about it or some such thing.

Famed writer of thrillers Lee Child calls Lennon’s latest novel, "Broken River," “compelling from the first page, and then smart, sophisticated, suspenseful and satisfying throughout — [it] is a first-class ride.” It has also been chosen as the May 2017 Indie Next #1 Pick, so who knows, perhaps "Broken River," his eighth novel, will be that breakout book. It is certainly worthy of that distinction.

I have been a big fan of J. Robert Lennon for well over a decade, my first discovery being a paperback copy of "The Funnies" I found at A Room of One’s Own in Madison, Wisconsin, in the early aughts. Since that first foray into Lennon’s work, I have always found his writing style eminently readable, replete with storylines that allow themselves to be stuffed with so many thoughts and ideas to ponder — morality, mortality, raison d’etre, all that kind of stuff. Starting with "The Castle," his first novel for the outstanding indie publisher Graywolf Press, Lennon began with much success to introduce new elements of a deeper psychological (and perhaps parapsychological?) bent.

"Broken River" continues Lennon’s path deeper into what, for lack of a better term, I will simply call enhanced weirdness and spookiness. At its heart, the novel is a thriller and family drama knit together as one. We start with the brutal late-night murder of a couple and the escape of their child and proceed to their empty house, which years later is bought by a family who become the central protagonists of the novel.

All of the action is viewed by the Observer, a mysterious spectral presence that becomes more aware of its consciousness as the book progresses. (That’s the “weird” part.) The book continues forward into the story of a broken family that should or shouldn’t remain united. The husband really needs to get his act together.

I don’t find much sense delving much more into the guts of the story; you can find that in summaries written by better writers than yours truly. I write this short piece only to throw my hat into the ring along with other fans of J. Robert Lennon. "Broken River" is a truly outstanding novel, and you should read it.

Additionally, Lawrence is fortunate enough to welcome Lennon to the library on Thursday, May 18 at 7:00 PM, an event that will please you if you come, and you absolutely should come.

— Brad Allen is the executive director of the Lawrence Public Library.


Filling in the gaps

As someone who works in the Children’s Department, I routinely feel bad for not knowing every book in our collection. We get so many new books each week, and between my obsession with romance and YA, there’s rarely a place for juvenile fiction in my "to be read" pile.

When I feel like I need to fill a gap in my children’s lit knowledge and I don’t have time to read, I turn to audiobooks. They are a great way to consume literature, especially the ones where people look at you and say “I can’t believe you’ve never read… This one book everyone has read!” You can listen to it without disrupting your reading schedule.

The children’s collection has a great selection of audiobooks, from classics like "Anne of Green Gables" all the way up to the newest releases: "Dream On Amber," "Storm Horse," and "Hamster Princess: Ratpunzel." I love listening to children’s audiobooks in particular because they are generally not a 19 hour commitment (I’m looking at you, "American Gods"). Shorter books equal shorter audiobooks. They are perfect for a 15 minute commute and without some of the long, drawn-out, complicated plots and subplots in books for older readers, you can easily leave it and come back to it without forgetting all of the characters' names and motivations.

I think of all of the books in this blog, I’m the most sad that I missed out on Judy Blume and especially "Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret" when I was a kid. As with most girls hitting their teens, I could have used some Judy Blume in my life. The audiobook is hilariously narrated by Laura Hamilton who perfectly captures the angsty curiosity of Margaret Simon. Not only has Margaret moved from the big city to the suburbs, she’s stumbled upon a group of friends obsessed with boys, bras, and periods. On top of that she’s on a quest to find her own religion, and she’s got her no-nonsense Jewish grandmother to help her out. With tons of laugh out loud moments, Judy Blume transported me back to my pre-teen years in the best possible way. With a run time of 3 hours, you’ll zip through this classic and want to be best friends with Margaret.

I know, I know. How could I have not read "From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler"? I don’t know. I would have loved this as a kid; my obsession with museums could have started at a much younger age. Alas, I found E.L. Koningsburg as an adult, and I love her. When Claudia decides to run away from home, she wants to do it in style. No camping or street corners for her; she’s decided to live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she drags her penny-pinching brother Jamie along with her to fund the whole adventure. This book evoked a nostalgia for days when you could buy breakfast, lunch, dinner and a pass for public transportation for less than $10, and the antics of Jamie and Claudia kept me hooked from beginning to end.

My Dad keeps asking me when I’ll stop watching animated movies, and if you’re reading this, Dad, I’m pretty sure the answer is never. I loved "How to Train your Dragon." The book series became popular after I had stopped reading in the kids section, so I thought I would take an auditory trip through Hiccup’s world. "How to Train Your Dragon," the book/audiobook, bears little resemblance to the movie, but it was no less delightful. Full of wry English wit, Cressida Cowell and narrator Gerard Doyle weave a tale of dragons so matter of fact, it makes it hard to believe there aren’t dragons among us. If Gerard Doyle isn’t your style, you can also listen to David Tennant, of "Doctor Who" fame, read it to you in his dulcet Scottish brogue. Hiccup's and Toothless’ antics will keep you amused, and whether you’re Team Doyle or Team Tennant you’ll enjoy the caper.

Audiobooks aren’t for everyone, and I have run into may fair share of annoying narrators, but if you’re sick of listening to the latest earworm on repeat, commercials or whatever else is gumming up your radio, check out an audiobook and let it take you to Neverland, Narnia, or the 100 Acre Wood. No reading interruptions required. What reading gaps do you need to fill?

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


Catching feelings at Book Club Speed Dating

Finding the right read for your book club can feel a little bit like dating sometimes. You go through a bunch of duds before finding the right fit. Sometimes your friends are helpful but other times… not so much (looking at you, Friend Who Tried Setting Me Up With Someone Who Hates Cats).

The whole thing is messy, but at least with books we can make it a little easier. Behold: Book Club Speed Dating. It’s like regular speed dating, but with books, which is way less awkward. The Book Squad (along with fab folks from the Raven and The Dusty Bookshelf) recently put on our third Book Club Speed Dating event.

Imagine this: You’re at Maceli’s downtown, chilling at a table with your book club buds. You’ve got snacks, you’ve got a cash bar, and — best of all — you’ve got books. After a little intro spiel, a nice book wizard (from either LPL, the Raven, or The Dusty Bookshelf) comes up to your crew, armed with four suggestions. A bell rings — DING! — and suddenly the book wizard launches into an enthusiastic pitch for each of the books, sometimes with hand gestures. Five minutes later, and — DING! — your book wizard moves on to another table, and a new one takes their place.

Rinse, repeat, ding, until you hear all eight fabulous folks talk about their books. It’s a lot of fun, and you don’t even have to get up (unless you want a refill)! By the end of the night, you walk away with a list of 32 hand-picked book club suggestions and some free Advanced Reading Copies of books that we give out just for fun.

In case you weren’t able to make it this time around, I want to share a few of the latest book club in a bag (BCIAB) kits that I am super pumped about, as well as a list of all the BCIAB titles we’ve ever presented on at a Book Club Speed Dating event.

"The Book of the Unnamed Midwife" (BCIAB | individual book) In the near future, a fever wipes out the majority of the world’s population, hitting women and children the hardest. Rates of infant mortality and maternal death skyrocket to nearly 100%. As a result, women become a rare and valuable commodity, often kept away from others in “protection,” or enslaved for their… services. (Super uplifting, right? It gets better.) A nurse somehow survives this fever and makes it her mission to travel the country, distributing contraceptives to any woman she finds. In order to do so, she must dress and live as a man. What results is a thrilling dystopia that questions assumptions about gender, community, religion, and self-protection.

"All My Puny Sorrows" (BCIAB | individual book | Hoopla) My best friend told me about this book, and it’s quite possibly the only book that has taken me from sobbing to laughing uncontrollably within just a couple pages. Two sisters, Elf and Yoli, love each other very much but want very different things — namely, Elf is a world-famous concert pianist who wants desperately to end her life, and Yoli is trying her damnedest to keep her alive. Miriam Toews is a masterful writer of this novel, and she really does a great job balancing a deeply personal and sad topic with the dark humor that we all need at times to just keep going.

"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" (BCIAB | individual book | Hoopla) Author Barbara Kingsolver and her husband and two daughters decide to move to some family land in Virginia on a mission to eat locally for one year. And by “local,” I mean their own yard or a small farmer in their community. (They make an exception for coffee because they are not total masochists.) I learned a lot about Kingsolver’s crew, as well as the food industry and environmental issues. There are lots of recipes for each month of the year, as well as meal plans and some how-to guides on things like cheese-making and canning. I think this would be so fun to discuss sometime in the summer and incorporate some of the meals into your book club meeting. Bonus: it actually motivated me to put on pants and go to the farmer’s market last weekend!

"Akata Witch" (individual book | BCIAB in July) At Book Club Speed Dating, I had to carry around a piece of plastic with the printed book cover taped to it like a sad weirdo because the library was out of copies since I can't stop recommending it. The bag itself will come out this summer when the paperback edition is released. The briefest summary I can give is that it’s like Harry Potter, except set in Nigeria and featuring an albino 12-year-old Nigerian-American girl and her weird witchy friends. She has a total “You’re a wizard, Harry”-esque moment and has to deal with battling demons and spirits while also battling being a pre-teen outcast. This one is Y.A., but I’d recommend it for anyone ages 12 to 112. If you can find a copy.

If you can, imagine all of those book pitches rapid-fire-style from a tall and slightly sweaty librarian, and you’ve got a general idea of what Book Club Speed Dating is like!

And here is the list of all books we’ve discussed. (Note: the ones that are not in the library catalog are linked to on Amazon for ease of reading the description. We’d love it if you bought them at our friends the Raven and The Dusty Bookshelf instead!) If you’ve got any questions about this event or any of our book club services, email me: kgramlich@lplks.org

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


“Birding While Black”: Author is lyrically rooted in place with diversity in mind

Being nearby to see a bird in flight can be a transcendent experience. The sensation of watching a bird flying overhead has inspired me to simulate my own flight, standing with my arms raised high. And this seems most powerful in a wide-open natural area like the Haskell-Baker Wetlands — in the presence of many red-winged blackbirds.

I’ve become more aware recently that most other people out on the nature trails have white skin like me. Author J. Drew Lanham poetically describes the phenomenon of uncommon black or brown birders.

His recent book, "The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair With Nature," shares lyrically-written storytelling of deep connections to family, his strong sense of place, a passion for nature, optimism and wit along with the frustration of being the singular African American ornithologist in a predominantly white field. Lanham is an Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher at Clemson University in South Carolina; he’s also a poet, naturalist, hunter and birder.

“Birding While Black” is a poignant chapter in Lanham’s book reflecting fears similar to the negative experiences expressed by the phrase “driving while black”. A black man risks being accused of suspicious activity simply for being out in a remote environment.

Lanham writes:

In remote places fear has always accompanied binoculars, scopes, and field guides as baggage. ...a white supremacist group [was] “organized” in the mountains of western North Carolina, near the places I was supposed to do a research project. They’d made the national news in stories that showed them worshiping Hitler and shooting at targets that looked like Martin Luther King Jr. Someone at the university joked about my degree being awarded posthumously. So though the proposal had been written and the project was well on its way to being funded—and as potentially groundbreaking the research on rose-breasted grosbeaks, golden-winged warblers, and forest management in the Southern Appalachians might be—I had to abandon the whole thing.

He continues:

I look at maps through this lens—at the places where tolerance seems to thrive, and where hate and racism seem to fester—and think about where I want to be. Mostly those places jibe with my desires to be in the wild but sometimes they don’t.

The wild things and places belong to all of us. So while I can’t fix the bigger problems of race in the United States—can’t suggest a means by which I, and others like me, will always feel safe—I can prescribe a solution in my own small corner. Get more people of color “out there.” Turn oddities into commonplace. The presence of more black birders, wildlife biologists, hunters, hikers, and fisher-folk will say to others that we, too appreciate the warble of a summer tanager, the incredible instincts of a whitetale buck, and the sound of wind in the tall pines. Our responsibility is to pass something on to those coming after. As young people of color reconnect with what so many of their ancestors knew—that our connections to the land run deep, like the taproots of mighty oaks, that the land renews and sustains us—maybe things will begin to change.

I’m hoping that soon a black birder won’t be a rare sighting. I’m hoping that at some point I’ll see color sprinkled throughout a birding-festival crowd. I’m hoping for the day when young hotshot birders just happen to be black like me. These hopes brighten the darkness of past experiences.

Lanham is a terrific ambassador to inspire more people to enjoy the natural world, yet he also recognizes the empowerment shared by people with similar cultural experiences.

Lanham has created several entertaining short videos to advocate his mission of diversifying the community of naturalists; one of my favorites is witty-satire “Bird-Watching While Black: A Wildlife Ecologist Shares His Tips,” produced by BirdNote and featured in National Geographic Society’s Short Film Showcase.

This is a rallying cry to help more people connect to the outdoors, and I am inspired by Lanham’s message. I will be reaching out to be more inclusive in planning future nature-related events. As a Board Member and volunteer with Kansas Native Plant Society, I have organized and attended many outings over the last 17 years; almost all the folks who have joined me have been white.

We need to be ambassadors to bring more kids and adults together from diverse communities to explore and connect with natural places — to imagine flight and experience transcendence with the birds.

I crave being outside in nature, but I was well into my 30s before I first enjoyed a wild environment. I wish someone had taken me under their wing to share wild places when I was a kid. I’ll be following J. Drew Lanham’s lead; when I visit a natural area I’ll respectfully invite new and old friends of different ages, varied hues and diverse origins to join me. I hope you’ll join me and we’ll exponentially increase the advocates for the natural world.

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


Royal reading

If you’re like me and are still in a post-"Downton Abbey" funk brought on by the gut-wrenching series finale, you may have heard about the recent ITV and PBS Masterpiece program "Victoria," based on the bestselling novel by Daisy Goodwin, which appears in many ways to serve as a capable, well-crafted "Downton" successor.

My friends have been raving about the lavish costumes, brilliant set designs, charming acting and enthralling story of "Victoria." In fact, it seems to touch on all of my favorite aspects of television. British drama set in the Victorian era, check. A haunting and amazing main title theme sung by the Mediaeval Baebes, check. Jenna Coleman from "Doctor Who" playing the titular character, a million checks.

As a massive steampunk and urban fantasy fan, the Victoria I typically read about is not the conventional variety, either appearing as an undead creature of the night or a human-mechanical hybrid. Since it was high time I gave "Victoria" a chance, I decided to break out of my narrative wheelhouse and read some historical fiction with no runic magic systems, supernatural beings, or fog-ridden streets in sight.

"Victoria" by Daisy Goodwin is a coming-of-age story that chronicles Queen Victoria’s ascent to the British throne and the first two years of her reign. Most of the narrative centers on familial drama and the unique series of events that led to her becoming queen, Victoria learning to navigate a bloodthirsty political environment with the aid of her faithful Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, her internal conflicts when it comes to balancing the responsibilities of a monarch, her own personal feelings on matters of state, and how her search for love fits into the equation. Told from Victoria’s perspective, the book brings history to life in an invigorating way. Goodwin even referenced Victoria’s personal diaries when writing the book.

I knew that "Victoria" was a match made in book heaven because I was invested from the introductory pages. I read very few books that hook me from the start, and I’ve read plenty that don’t get interesting even when you reach the concluding sentence. Goodwin doesn’t overwhelm readers with titles, government intricacies and minute historical details, but instead provides enough context to understand character predicaments without overwhelming her audience.

As readers, we’re allowed to experience the world through the mind of Victoria, who was sheltered by her mother from the world, due to the Kensington System, as a tactic to make her dependent on her relatives for advice on all matters. When Victoria learns to navigate new territory, we gain an understanding of the world in which she lives, absorbing information like a proverbial sponge. Goodwin employs this writing tactic in a brilliant fashion because it means readers aren’t bombarded with complex contexts and instead can experience the book as if they actually live in the world.

I appreciate how Goodwin focuses her narrative more on the people, their interpersonal relationships, and the omnipresent political intrigue of British life at that time rather than writing a story more akin to a biographical work. I’m the kind of person whose brain shuts down during information overload. Even my history book in high school functioned better as a napping pillow than a vessel for dispensing important information about the past. For me, historical fiction succeeds when it is able to effectively transport readers into the mindset of the characters, thus allowing them to see the past through the eyes of someone who lived during the time, which is an aspect this book exemplifies.

I’m sure that every reader will relate to characters differently, but I found Victoria to be such a captivating heroine. Even though those around her believe her to be unfit to rule due to the prevailing misogynistic attitude coupled with political jealousy from those who wish to rule in her stead, Victoria stands her ground against all the 19th-century haters while trying to be the best monarch for her people. She is frequently minimized by those around her and yet stays true to herself even in the face of difficult choices.

Although mistakes are made along the way, Victoria learns from them while continuing to move forward to face the new challenges of the day. Whether or not this is a modernist take on a character of the past or an accurate depiction of the true Victoria remains to be seen, but I like to think that Victoria is more akin to Goodwin’s positive and enthralling portrayal.

Overall, "Victoria" is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and I’m looking forward to reading more titles within the historical fiction genre along with seeing how ITV brings the book to life. Now, excuse me while I go binge watch this series and love every moment of it.

— Fisher Adwell is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Branding is everything, even in Westerns

No, we’re not actually talking about cattle today, unfortunately — or marketing, for that matter. In the library context, a brand is a personal mark a reader puts on the inside cover of a book. Normally I wouldn’t advocate defacing the collection in this way, but there’s a pretty good reason for the practice.

When you read heavily in a specific area, like some do — we’re talking two or three books a week or more — remembering which books you’ve already read can get tricky. For a series like Sue Grafton’s Alphabet mysteries, this isn’t a problem.

However, delineating Louis L’Amour’s extensive bibliography, with "Riders of the High Rock," "Rider of the Ruby Hills," "Riders of the Dawn," "Ride the River," and "Man Riding West" (Okay, we get it, Louis!) can get understandably difficult.

Book brands, then, allow a reader to make sure that they haven’t read a book before checking it out. Think of it like a very low-tech version of Goodreads.

Branding encompasses more than just utility, though. Each mark reflects its own bit of personality and artistic flair of the reader. These designs of ink and graphite form a permanent connection;not only are they mnemonic, but also meaningful. “I was here” is a powerful statement, and one not just reserved for carving into the walls of National Park picnic tables.

I admit that I might be romanticizing things, but nonetheless, I decided to keep track of some of the brands I came across. I mostly focused on the highly branded collections of Westerns and Inspirational large print, though they’re found throughout all the library's sections.

Here are my findings:

Roughly 67 unique brands exist at this time.

"Lawless Prairie" by Charles G. West is the most-branded title I found, sporting a whopping 10 brands.

The most prolific brander is far and away someone I'll call "Big Squiggle." I stopped counting their brands after 125 instances — all in all, they’ve probably branded close 200 books. Whoever you are, Big Squiggle, you amaze me.

The infamous Big Squiggle.

The infamous Big Squiggle. by Lawrence Public Library Staff

"Little X" is the runner up, with about 70 instances, though this is likely a collective brand — which greatly reduces its effectiveness, I would think.

This one is rather subjective, but the coolest brand, in my opinion, is the X-Men Logo. I like to imagine that this person is actually a huge fan of both X-Men and Western novels. Also, it looks an awful lot like an actual cattle brand, which is neat.

Other interesting brands, described to the best of my ability, include "Red Ink Asterisks," "Double X," "Underlined OG," "@," "Little Hat," "Post-Modern Tulip Drawing," what appears to be “Ewe” (like a female sheep?), and "Tilted Z with Two Dashes." Initials, numbers, and various swooping letters make up the rest of the brands.

I like to wonder about this community of branders. Does Big Check Mark open up a book, see Little Double X’s mark, and decide it’s probably a good one? Or conversely, maybe they don’t want to follow in the footsteps of another. Maybe they’re just ships passing in the night, all interacting on the same twenty-year old page of yellowed paper, each staking out their patch of the previously blank space.

— Eli Hoelscher is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Five more questions with Kansas Poet Laureate Eric McHenry

The Lawrence Public Library has been a steadfast supporter of local writing talent, so much so that we’re curating a local author section. Given this, and April being National Poetry Month, it felt synergistic to check in with Eric McHenry, Poet Laureate of Kansas. In 2015, we asked McHenry five questions, and with the release of his new collection,"Odd Evening," we felt like it was time to ask him five more.

Q: Does the lyrical nature of your work stem from the work of poets you admire, or do you have previous experience as a musician?

A: I agree with [Walter Pater] who said that poetry aspires to the condition of song. I love music and wish I could make it, but I’ve never been gifted in that way. It may be that my desire to sing and my inability to do so are among the things that drew me to poetry. They may have drawn me to metrical and end-rhymed poetry, specifically. It’s certainly true that, when I’m writing, I’m often consciously trying to make something as good as a poem or song I’ve admired, whether it’s W.H. Auden’s “Woods” or Donald Fagen’s “The Goodbye Look.”

Q: One of the many appreciated qualities of your poetry is the regional touchstones that you’ve crafted throughout each collection. In "Odd Evening," there’s “The Gil Carter Correspondence,” an elegy regarding Topekan Gil Carter’s famed longest home run during his time in the minor leagues. Is this an element that you strive for in your work or a natural instinct?

A: I write about what I remember most vividly, and about what’s around me, and about what obsesses me, and I think I’m more attracted to the familiar than to the exotic. I write about Topeka because I grew up there and I’m there a lot and I know it well and my dreams often take place there, even when I’m living somewhere else. In the case of “The Gil Carter Correspondence,” I got really interested in the idea that this man living quietly in East Topeka had hit the longest home run in history and that very few people knew that — the shot unheard ‘round the world.

Q: As with "Potscrubber Lullabies," "Odd Evening" offers poems that contain a number of references to pop-culture, modern technology, as well as word play. These devices, imbued with sardonic wit, recall poets Donald Hall or Jane Kenyon; who are some of the poets that you’re currently inspired by?

A: I don’t go out of my way to put pop-culture references in my poems, and I worry a little about doing it because they can date the poems so quickly. But, like Topeka, they’re what’s around me. Irony and humor and wordplay, too, but they keep happening in my poems. Irony sometimes gets a bad rap. It’s not the same thing as sarcasm; it’s much more resonant. Sarcasm is saying one thing and meaning the opposite. Whereas William Empson said “an irony to be worth anything must be at least somewhat true in both senses.” Poets I’ve been inspired by recently: Robert Francis, a great and undervalued poet. And my publisher, Waywiser, has just brought out a book by Austin Allen, "Pleasures of the Game," that I think is masterful. Jane Kenyon was one of my earliest influences, and I still treasure her work. When my wife and I lived in New Hampshire, I found the cemetery, and [Kenyon's] headstone, using only information from Donald Hall’s poems.

Q: As you near the end of your time as Kansas Poet Laureate, how has this been experience for you?

A: It’s been a highlight of my life. I get so much satisfaction out of sharing poetry with my fellow Kansans, and they’re so eager to hear it and discuss it. And I’ve learned as much from my audiences as they’ve learned from me, if not more. They’re always full of insights. So I feel grateful and lucky, and a little envious of whoever gets to do it next.

Q: A decade has passed since "Potscrubber Lullabies," and your latest work carries a very temporal quality about it. How would you describe where you are as a poet now as opposed to then?

A: Having kids and watching them grow ages you and tenderizes you. When "Potscrubber Lullabies" was published, I had one tiny kid and another on the way. Now Sage is almost 11, and we were talking tonight about college visits with Evan. In 2009 we moved from Seattle back to Topeka (and then to Lawrence). I never dreamed I’d go home again, and of course you can’t go home again, and all of this made its way into the new book. Which is already more than a year old, but I plan to go on calling it “the new book” until 2026.

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


Audiobooks you should be listening to on Hoopla

Sure, that title has a clickbait quality to it, but I’m pretty serious and vocal about my love for all things Hoopla. I’ve sung its praises in the past (mostly because the graphic novel selection is pretty darn great), but only recently have I really delved into the audiobook section.

Mostly because, until recently, I wasn’t exactly a fan of listening to books. Lugging around CDs is always a pain, and I’m still not sure what those MP3 things are all about, but listening to a book on your phone while multi-tasking or taking a walk? You mean I can read all the time if I want to?!

What started this new journey of mine was stumbling across "Wishful Drinking" by Carrie Fisher. I’ve been a fan of Carrie Fisher for years because of her outspoken nature and sharp wit, but this is the first time I have tried out any of her books. The audiobook was narrated by Carrie herself, which made the experience even better — she was intimate with her own writing style and knew just when to pause and emphasize certain words or phrases. "Wishful Drinking" is Fisher’s first humorous memoir, written after her first experience with electric shock therapy. She was an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness and treatment, which is one of the many reasons I admired her so much.

She covers everything in her book from her relationship with "Star Wars" (of course), to her musings on life and love, and an examination of the whole Debbie Reynolds-Eddie Fisher-Elizabeth Taylor debacle, which made me laugh until I cried. Carrie Fisher, in all of her life (which was tragically cut short this past December) was never shy about sharing her feelings or opinions, making "Wishful Drinking" one of the most entertaining memoirs I’ve ever read. Literally hearing about her life in her own words made the reading experience even better.

After that, I tackled "Shadowshaper" by Daniel Jose Older, an urban fantasy novel about a young girl named Sierra who is able to harness magical abilities through art. While "Wishful Drinking" was a sure thing (I was bound to love it based on my love for the author), "Shadowshaper" wasn’t. It’s been suggested by critics and co-workers alike, but after attempting it last year, I quickly gave up due to disinterest. In all honesty, I don’t think I would have ever read it, if it wasn’t for the book club I’m in--I’m technically the leader of it, so it always helps when you actually know what you’re talking about. I’m happy to report that this book is worth the praise!

A narrator makes or breaks an audiobook, and luckily for "Shadowshaper," the narrator is Anika Noni Rose, a talented actress who lent her voice to a little film called "The Princess and the Frog." Yes, Shadowshaper is narrated by Tiana. What a glorious discovery that was! Her narration was delightfully creepy at times, which made my nightly walks home from work both an exhilarating and absolutely terrifying (but fast!) experience. Her portrayal of all of the characters in the book made them come alive and made me recognize the humor in certain sections that I might have missed otherwise. One of the only complaints about the book during our book discussion was that people didn’t feel like they connected to the characters--almost exclusively, those comments were from people who skipped the audiobook for the physical copy. This is one of those instances where the audiobook reigns supreme, and if you’ve struggled with maintaining interest in this book, listen to it. It makes all the difference — trust me on this one.

The most recent book I listened to was a reread from a book I’ve already written about in the past — "Fat Girl Walking" by Brittany Gibbons. This book had such a profoundly positive impact on my life that I felt the need to revisit it over a year later after my life has undergone some pretty major changes. There were aspects of the book that I still related to more than anything (her battles with anxiety, her struggle with loving her body), but I rediscovered a new love for this book. I have a feeling this is one of those books that I will be glad to read again whenever I feel like I need a pick-me-up.

The narrator is someone unfamiliar to me — Lauren Fortgang, who seems to narrate some lesser-known audiobooks. She captured the author’s sarcasm quite well, and made situations in the book that were super uncomfortable a little more bearable. While I wasn’t entirely in love with her narration enough to listen to other books she has done, she did an excellent job, and I would highly recommend giving "Fat Girl Walking" a listen, even if my blog post from 2015 already convinced you to read it. I’m overwhelmed with happy feelings after finishing that book, and it’s one of those you should pick up if you’re ever feeling blue or perhaps a little down about yourself.

So what’s next? I’m definitely on an audiobook kick, and I’m not ready to give up on it just yet. Mary Miller’s "Always Happy Hour" has been on my radar for a while now (mostly because of that gorgeous cover) and so has "Things We Lost in the Fire" by Mariana Enriquez, but I could also go for a reread of "Bad Feminist" by Roxane Gay. Or how about continuing "A Series of Unfortunate Events"? The books are all narrated by Tim Curry, which is just plain awesome.

I could always give Caitlin Moran’s "How to Be a Woman" another chance, since that’s been gathering dust on my “to read” pile for an embarrassingly long time. Oh hey, did you know that "My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is also on Hoopla?! That one is always checked out. For now, I think I’ll settle on "Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls" by Jes M. Baker and carry on with the feelings of empowerment and positivity I got from my last great read. So here’s to audiobooks and a good pair of earbuds!

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


Five books that have stayed with me

When I saw the Lawrence Public Library Book Squad’s first Squad Goal (Re-read a book you haven’t read in more than 5 years), I was excited for an excuse to pick up one of the books that have been sitting untouched on my shelf for longer than I care to admit.

It also gave me an excuse to reflect on the many books I’ve read over the years. Here are five that have stayed with me:

"The Accidental Florist" (Jane Jeffry Series) by Jill Churchill

When I was in high school, my grandmother introduced me to Jill Churchill’s Jane Jeffry mysteries. Starting with "Grime and Punishment," the series follows the suburban housewife turned amateur sleuth who, with the help of her neighbor, solves the string of unrelated murders that happen around her. In the final installment, "The Accidental Florist," Jane marries her longtime beau, Detective Mel VanDyne, and it wouldn't be a Churchill mystery without someone turning up dead. Hanging on to these books has been a way to keep connected to my grandmother after she passed away more than a decade ago.

"Where the Heart Is" by Billie Letts

Beyond serving pizza and ice cream at a gas station, my only extracurricular activity in high school was book club. I’m pretty sure this was the first pick my sophomore year. Seventeen and pregnant, Novalee Nation is abandoned by her boyfriend at a Wal-Mart in Sequoyah, Oklahoma with just $7.77. She takes up temporary residence in the discount department store and meets a number of friendly, caring people who help her adapt to the community. With characters as eccentric as their names — Sister Husband and Benny Goodluck, for example — and heartbreaking events, it’s a story I never forgot. Overall, I think it’s a well-crafted representation of low-income, small town life in the Midwest.

"The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison

My junior year of college, I took an author study class on Morrison. There were about nine other students, and over the course of a semester, we read and discussed the seven novels she had published up to that point. It was basically like a book club, but with quizzes and term papers. "The Bluest Eye" was my absolute favorite, and I learned so much from it. The story — centered on a young black girl who dreams of having blue eyes — exposed me to a world that I will never be familiar with and opened my eyes to the damage of popular culture’s portrayal of beauty as “whiteness.” Definitely memorable.

"Reservation Blues" by Sherman Alexie

As an English major, I also took a course on Native American literature. Among the mix of books, short stories and poetry, we read Sherman Alexie’s novel about a group of misfits from a Spokane Reservation in Washington who form a blues band. Robert Johnson — the famous blues singer, who, legend has it, sold his soul to the devil — winds up on the reservation in search of a local medicine woman called Big Mom and leaves his guitar in the hands of Thomas Builds-the-Fire. Thomas convinces two others from the reservation to form a band and they garner near-instant fame in the Northwest.

"Invisible Monsters" by Chuck Palahniuk

I read this in one sitting at an overnight job I had right out of college. A model recovering from having her lower jaw blown off in an accident meets a transgender woman who introduces herself as Brandy Alexander (among many other names) and drives across the country selling stolen drugs at nightclubs. In my favorite scene, the model and Brandy are at the top of Seattle's space needle flinging postcards off the edge. On the back of each they scribble little sayings like "All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring."

The best thing about re-reading books is that it can remind you of where you were when you first read one, and of how that book has affected or changed your perspective. For the Squad Goal, I ended up re-reading "Reservation Blues," and I was immediately taken back to both the Spokane Reservation in Washington and my college dorm room where spent a number of late nights trying to keep up with the reading.

What books have stayed with you?

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