Entries from blogs tagged with “Lawrence”

My bookish bucket list

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

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

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

The Ripped Bodice by Katelyn Hancock.

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

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

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

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

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

Other major items on my bookish bucket list:

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

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

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

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

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


3 favorite books I’m dying to read again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


YA Backlist: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Don’t forget the Bootleg Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoss. Source: Les éditiones Mnémos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Court of Thorns and Roses: An Ending Done Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reading Water, Hearing Trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Our new friend Libby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Into the woods: a different take on beach reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t we all, Bill. Don’t we all.

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

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

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

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

At the beach.

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


Summer soundtracks

Ah, summer.

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

Part of that is the soundtrack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Local author’s new book offers hope for social justice

I am hopeful that this 4th of July has inspired more than just a feeling of patriotism or nationalism. I am hopeful that it has instead encouraged hope for social justice and a move away from a nationalism that leans dangerously toward prejudice and injustices.

I offer the books highlighted here as powerful tools for instilling hope to energize us towards social justice work and unify our differences.

Local author Diane Silver is writing a series of books using hope as daily meditations. Her first, "Your Daily Shot of Hope," is a positive way to counter aggression and prejudice expressed by politicians. Meditating on hope becomes energizing fuel—energizing us to stand up to injustices and allowing us to trust that we can make a positive change if we take action.

I asked Diane what influenced her to write this series. She responded:

Decades ago I took a year to read an amazing book called "365 Tao" by Deng Ming-Dao. I picked up the book because I thought it offered an easy way to learn about Taoism. And while I did learn a bit about Taoism, what became more important was the daily practice of reading a meditation and contemplating it.

As I journeyed through that year with the Tao, doing one meditation a day, I became calmer and a bit kinder, at least to myself. Two years ago, I decided to [write] a daily meditation book that I wanted to call 365 Love, but when I saw so many people fall into despair after the last presidential election, I realized that what we really needed was a book of hope.

Thus, I set out to write 365 meditations on hope. Because there seemed to be an immediate need for a book of hope and I didn’t want to wait to publish until the entire book was finished, I’ve sliced the book into 4 volumes. This is Volume 1, and it includes enough meditations to provide one shot of hope a day for more than three months. My wish is that readers will find a new perspective on hope through reading this book. I want them to find a place to rest, gain perspective, and re-energize in this book.

Silver shares inspired wisdom in looking at the concept of hope as a hypothesis. On a difficult day, rather than forcing yourself to accept the idea, she suggests investigating hope as a concept and the hypothesis or theory that the world is ruled by love. Then ask yourself, if this were true, what would you feel, say and do?

Book 1 of the series is titled "Your Daily Shot of Hope: Meditations for an Age of Despair." I can feel the love in these encouraging words! This is hope that instills mindfulness, realism and perseverance. Here is one of my favorite meditations:

Day 8.

Seek a list of synonyms for hope.

And along with anticipation and twenty other words,

The word endurance pops up.

Of all the insane ideas!

What does endurance have to do with hope?

And yet endurance is courage, fortitude, and grit

Patience and perseverance,

Stamina and strength.

Are not these qualities the foundation of hope?

Courage and grit enable us to go forward

Even though we’re afraid.

Stamina and strength give us the capacity to do so.

And patience?

Patience means

We’re wise enough to know

Answers don’t have to arrive in an instant.

Transformation takes time.

One fascinating source of encouragement for Diane is Diana Nyad’s autobiography. Diane commented:

"'Find a Way' by Diana Nyad is a memoir by the swimmer who conquered the more than 100-mile swim between Cuba to Key West after failing at it four times. She was 64 at the time she successfully completed the swim in 2013…These days it feels to me like we all face some pretty huge swims as we attempt to do what may seem impossible in our private lives and in our country. Nyad knows how to use hope as fuel and inspiration. She’s the definition of a daily shot of hope.

I asked Diane about her favorite authors and she shared this:

"My favorite authors are too many to count. Among those I love are Anne Lamott, whose essays never fail to touch me and make me laugh, and Karen Joy Fowler’s most recent novel 'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves' changed the way I look at humanity. That may sound grandiose, but I dare you to get to the end of that novel without having your perception of human vs. animal upended. I also love the work of Laurie J. Marks, who dares to imagine an alternative to war in her elemental logic series of novels."

Learn more about Diane Silver’s benevolent project on hope in her related blog, Hope & Politics: Educate. Inspire. Transform.

I mentioned to Diane I wanted to also recommend Rebecca Solnit’s book, "Hope in the Dark," in connection with the Shot of Hope series and Diane commented:

"I’m reading the Solnit book right now and absolutely love it. Solnit provides a path to understanding the hope of political change, and the process of change, that I had never considered before. This is a marvelous book.” And I agree; Solnit provides powerful reassurance to have faith in the impact of social and environmental activism—to accept that benefits are not usually obvious or immediate.

Another book on hope in connection to social justice is "Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future" by Margaret J. Wheatley. This is a workbook whose goal is to create connections and unite individuals in a cohesive group.

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


Tips and tricks for overcoming a reading slump

It’s no secret that I love books and that reading and exploring new stories is a major part of who I am as a person. Consequently, when I encounter a particularly brutal reading slump, it’s like a part of me is missing. It’s hard not to take it personally, when so much of my life revolves around spreading the joy of reading and introducing new people to books that might change their life or perhaps even make their day that much better.

For whatever reason, the past few months I haven’t been able to enjoy much reading at all. Nothing seems to call out to me, and when I do manage to pick up a book, there is a pattern to them — they’re nonfiction books that a) cover important topics, but are also b) incredibly depressing. Occasionally I have picked up a fiction book only to quit in frustration after only a few pages. I can’t seem to shake this literary black cloud that’s been hovering over my head.

Fortunately, because I work in a library, I not only have access to thousands of books, but I also work with some of the brightest and cleverest individuals around. In complete frustration, I finally reached out to fellow Book Squad member Meredith and asked for help. If you’ve ever had the privilege of encountering her in person, you know how great she is at recommending books.

Thanks to her, I found my new favorite book: "Ravishing the Heiress" by Sherry Thomas. As you can infer from the title, this is a romance novel. I never read romance. However, this book has all of the elements I typically look for in my favorite reads: complicated relationships, an intriguing plot, morally questionable characters, and a strong emotional component. This book has it all, and then some.

This entire experience got me thinking, though. How many others struggle with reading slumps? What can we do to get ourselves out of this hot mess of a situation? Fortunately for you, I’ve thought about this long and hard, and I’ve come up with three different ways of combating a reading ennui.

1: Don’t give yourself a hard time for “not reading enough” or for not reading, period.

This is supposed to be a fun and enjoyable experience. It it’s starting to feel like work, or if you’re just too busy right now, it’s okay. Put aside your yearly reading challenges and politely ignore that person you know who brags about how many books they read in a week. Give yourself some time to get back to reading. You’ll get there eventually.

2: Try something you would never normally read.

I’m talking the “I’m personally embarrassed to be reading this on public transport” kind of book. If you exclusively read literary fiction, now is the time to read some James Patterson. If you read pop science, pick up a bodice ripper. Are you a fan of Murakami? Maybe you’re also a secret fan of Stephenie Meyer.

3: Ask someone you know and trust to give you a recommendation and, without looking at the synopsis or researching it online, just read the book.

This might seem a little strange, but trust me on this one. This has been my most recent experiment in regards to reading, and it has been a major success. Since I don’t actually know what the book is about, it takes me several chapters to figure out what’s truly going on, and by that point, I’m invested enough to keep reading. It’s a sneaky way of tricking yourself to read more.

When all else fails, the Book Squad has your back. If you’re struggling to find a good book, you can always talk to someone in person at the library. Or, we have this handy dandy Personalized Reading Recommendation service available on our website. Just fill out the form, and one of the Book Squad members will get back to you as soon as possible with books we think you’ll love. It takes the guesswork out of finding something to read, and when you’re struggling to find something good, that can really help.

Now, after all of that, you’ll have to excuse me. I have to read the sequel to my new favorite book — "Tempting the Bride." Did you know Sherry Thomas also wrote the Sherlock Holmes retelling, "A Study in Scarlet Women"? She was born in China, learned English as a second language, and now writes all the types of books she herself enjoys reading (romance, fantasy, mystery, etc.). I have to say, I’m wildly impressed, and I think I may have found a new favorite author.

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


Hit Novel “The Chaperone” Keeps on Rolling with PBS Adaption

When the news was announced last month that Masterpiece would be adapting "The Chaperone" by Lawrence author Laura Moriarty and that it would be scripted by Julian Fellowes and starring Elizabeth McGovern (both of "Downton Abbey" fame), I was so emotionally overcome, I nearly got the vapors.

The news was announced smack-dab in the middle of my Moriarty Read Fest. I had recently plowed through "The Rest of Her Life" and "The Center of Everything" and had become an instant fan. "The Chaperone" was already next on my to-read list… and, of course, I’ve been building and sculpting my obsession with "Downton Abbey" for years now. I mean, what isn’t there to love? The drama! The fashion! The villains! And the fact that every over-the-top scenario takes place before a beautiful background (in Downton’s case the rolling, English countryside) just makes the show all that more enjoyable.

Although "The Chaperone" doesn’t take place in England (Moriarty often sets her books at least partially in Kansas, and this one follows suit), the time frame overlaps with many of the years that "Downton Abbey" is set. And if we’ve learned anything about McGovern and Fellowes, it is that they absolutely thrive in their portrayal of this era.

In "The Chaperone," the year is 1922 and 15 year old Wichita native, Louise Brooks, has been accepted to a prestigious dance school in New York City. Accompanying her as a chaperone (because a beautiful, young, Kansas girl can absolutely not travel to a place like New York City alone) is her neighbor, 36 year old Cora Carlisle. Cora and Louise are about as different as two people can be. Louise embraces and revels in a changing world- hemlines are rising and necklines are dropping. Prohibition is still going strong, but speakeasies are a dime a dozen in NYC.

And although women have just barely acquired the right to vote and the list of what is “improper” for a “lady” to do seems to have no end, there is an obvious sea-change happening and Louise is ready for it. Cora, however, is not. Moriarty brilliantly uses Louise Brooks as a foil to Cora’s conservative views.

Louise’s style (including her famous jet-black bob hairstyle) and and attitude are often too much for Cora to handle. Cora worries about everything, but what concerns her the most are Louise’s flirtations with men. She even says to Louise a one point, “Men don’t want a candy that’s been unwrapped… It may still be perfectly clean, but if it’s unwrapped, they don’t know where it’s been.” In today’s world, a quote like this could only be followed by a shock-faced emoji and a laugh at the “old” woman with her out-dated notions of right and wrong. But, this seemed to be the norm back in the day, and Louise wasn’t having it.

Louise Brooks may have been the center of attention in real life (and she certainly thinks she is in every scenario in which she is depicted), but this book belongs to Cora and her (dare I say) journey. When we first meet Cora, she is so nervous about everything, not even stripping out of her corset at the end of the day loosens her up. She’s opposed to everything fun. She doesn’t want Louise to wear makeup (“paint”), she won’t let Louise cross the street alone, and she nearly passes out when she finds herself sitting next to a black family at the theater. Frankly, she’s annoying. But, as she spends time with Louise, and uncovers secrets about her own life, the more she begins to wake up and embrace the changing world around her.

Moriarty writes complicated women and she writes complicated relationships between women. When I read "The Center of Everything," I stayed up half the night reading to the end because, in many ways, it reminded me of my own childhood and my relationship with my own mother (it also in many ways did not, but I’ll save those stories for another time). But, the point, and what any daughter (or any mother of a daughter) will tell you, is that these relationships can be really hard. And although Cora and Louise are not related- and don’t even particularly like one another- their relationship is that of a guardian and a child. And it is complicated. This, layered on top of the relationship Louise has with her mom, and Cora’s relationship with hers, allows Moriarty to hit her stride in her storytelling. She is a master at weaving these relationships so realistically and showing how relationships shift and change over the years.

The book covers a huge span of time, and there are myriad historical turning points that are mentioned but not delved into too deeply. Many of these I cannot discuss in detail because they will give away too much of the plot, but in a book that’s a little over 300 pages long, the reader catches glimpses of orphan trains, NYC slums, the dust bowl, the stock market crash (and subsequent great depression), homophobia, racism, and a world war.

Since the book’s focus is on Cora and her own internal struggles, many of these events play as a backdrop instead of their own story, which can occasionally leave the reader wanting more. But, the feeling that Moriarty conveys, even if she does not always go into detail about the characters’ surroundings, is that this was an exciting time to be alive. It wasn’t always good, but it was thrilling.

This is also what Julian Fellowes so successfully brings to the vibe of "Downton Abbey." People may die; people may abandon you; people may trip you with their cane and hope that you suffer a miserable injury… but don’t squander this life. As Moriarty writes of Cora, “She was grateful that life could be long.” Indeed. And in this life, I am grateful that Fellowes, McGovern, and Moriarty will be working together to bring their combined artistry to the screen.

-Sarah Mathews is an Accounts Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


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.