Entries from blogs tagged with “Lawrence”

Scary and smart: “The Hole” is horror and more

I don’t typically read books out of the horror section, but then again, categorizing the sprawling bundle of thoughts that make up a novel into just one of a handful of neat genres is not an easy task.

Of course, my latest impulse read—Hye-Young Pyun’s "The Hole"— is a far cry from typical.

The recently-translated novel binds the reader to the perspective of a man trying to recover from a devastating car wreck. He’s lost not only his wife, but also his ability to move and speak. It caught my eye thanks to an intriguing cover design that sticks out like a sore thumb next to the horror shelves' status quo of darker, bloodier fronts .

As different as it may be, make no mistake— "The Hole" fully deserves its place next to these macabre tales.

There are a number of classic stories that begin to approximate Hye-Young Pyun’s direction. Stephen King’s "Misery" springs to mind first, being the closest plot concept with a few similar captivity-related conventions that pop up. For totally non-insect-related reasons, Franz Kafka’s "The Metamorphosis," however, is The Hole’s strongest literary relative.

Ogi, a decently well-off professor of cartography, wakes from a coma to find his world utterly transformed. The reader spends a great deal of time in Ogi’s headspace as he grapples with his new, confined life, pitting hope against despair. At the same time, he tells the story of his marriage to his late wife, unraveling haunting clues one by one. Pyun masterfully dials up the looming sense of unease (both in a physical and psychological sense) as the pages fly by.

Rooting for Ogi is irresistible. At the same time, our understanding of his flaws grow constantly as we see more of his then-aloof treatment of his wife. She wasn’t perfect either, though, becoming strangely obsessed with digging in their yard.

Though there aren’t many characters in "The Hole," Ogi’s newfound caregiver—his mother in-law—stands as one of the best I’ve read in quite some time. Her enigmatic, but perhaps well-meaning behavior will give you the heeby jeebies, while also allowing consideration of her as a person—and not just a monster. There’s a funny nugget of commentary in Pyun’s choice, too, pointing to the culturally cliched fear of the mother in law.

She isn't the only bogeyman, though. Pyun’s writing injects paranoia through the pages, making every character seem ominous; every mundane choice seems like part of a malicious, unseen masterplan.

Not only is "The Hole" potent psychological horror, it’s reflectively-written literary fiction at the same time.

Ogi’s musings on his life, replete with both regret and resilience, carry deep meaning and are a pleasure to read by themselves. And when the monsters really start to come out of the closet—so to speak—the horror is all the more delirious and knuckle-whitening for it. Like most horror narratives, the ending is key, and "The Hole" delivers in spades.

Pyun is a promising new voice to know, whether you’re looking to be horrified or not. At any rate, you’ll appreciate your mother in law just a bit more.

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


STEM isn’t just for him: an interview with Meghan McCarthy

One of the biggest stories in children’s publishing this year has been the success of books empowering young women. Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo’s "Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls," a set of 100 brief biographies of unstoppable women, is among the highest circulating children’s books at the library this year, and similar titles like Chelsea Clinton’s "She Persisted," and Rachel Ignotofsky’s "Women in Science" have recently joined "Rebel Girls" on the New York Times bestseller list.

I’ve enjoyed reading these books to my daughter and son, but even more we love the work of author/illustrator Meghan McCarthy, who has been telling stories of women and science for over a decade and was kind enough recently to answer a few questions about her work.

Q You’ve written several books about inventors of commonly used items such as (bubble gum and earmuffs). Have you always been interested in inventions, or invented anything yourself?

A I’m sending images from a booklet I made as a kid. I think this will answer your question.

Photo: Meghan McCarthy

Photo: Meghan McCarthy by Lawrence Public Library Staff

Q Animal heroes are another common theme in your writing (Balto the sled dog, Seabiscuit the race horse, and Pale Male the city hawk). How have your relationships with animals enriched your own life?

A As a kid I rescued injured animals … or at least tried to. I brought an injured wild rabbit home once, multiple birds, turtles, you name it. What upset me is that those wild animals were injured because of human encroachment on once-wild spaces. I felt a responsibility to do something.

I’ve also had a number of pets. I grew up with our family cat Molly, who lived for 20 years. My current cat, named Lily, makes me laugh. She’s kind of crazy, but I like crazy. She’s a good little companion.

Q When you were a child, would you have predicted your future career as a children’s book creator? How did you start on this path, and who are some of your greatest influences?

A When I was in elementary school I remember starting a contest with my neighbor: who could get published first. I was convinced that I could create a picture book like Chris Van Allsburg and get it published. I really thought I could do whatever I wanted.

After college graduation, I had a different attitude. I realized how tough the competition was and how hard it was to get noticed and I convinced myself that I’d never publish anything. That’s when I got a job delivering pizzas.

One big artistic influence in my life is my dad. He taught me how to draw and paint. He went to art school for a year but unfortunately could not complete his art education. The Vietnam War was in full swing, and both students and teachers stopped attending class in protest. My dad was then forced to go back to work as a social worker. But he never stopped painting. I’d watch in awe as he painted and tried my best to copy him.

My mom and grandmother were also very encouraging. Without that encouragement, I may not have kept working on my art.

Q What are your all-time favorite books?

A I don’t have any favorites. It’s too hard to choose just a couple because there are so many great books out there. I’m really into reading graphic novels at the moment — especially memoirs. I have hope that one day I’ll be able to publish my own. If I had to pick one book that I loved as a kid and still love today it would be "Where the Wild Things Are." I know that’s an obvious pick but the text and art work so well together that I have to say that’s top on my list.

Q So much of your work takes place in arenas traditionally dominated by men — (space travel, sports, inventions). What advice do you have for the next generation of “rebel girls”?

A My advice is to do what you love. If you love dresses, then great, be a fashion designer. If you love sports, then become a sports announcer. I don’t think there should be boundaries.

A memory from my childhood comes to mind. When I was a kid, I loved playing baseball. I was too old for little league, so the next step for girls was to start playing softball. I didn’t want to do that, so I tried out for an all-boys baseball team in the minor leagues.

My dad said that one of the coaches at the tryouts told him that I shouldn’t be there because the sport was for boys only. My dad let me try out anyway and I got onto a team. I was the only girl playing in the league. I had fun playing, and no one seemed to take issue with my presence because I proved my worth.

So if you’re a girl and really want to do a “boy thing,” then go do it. But I think it’s a lot better to prove the naysayers wrong than to complain yourself. That was Betty Skelton’s attitude, and that’s why I liked her story so much.

— Dan Coleman is a collection development librarian at the Lawrence Public Library

Reply 1 comment from Paulina Cameron

To-Be-Read: A Story of Shame & Neglect

I have a theory that everyone is shamefully hiding the stack of books they’ve neglected to read this year from the world.

“It’s not my fault!” one might say, “Some were incredibly thoughtful gifts; some were found while innocently scouring the Friends’ collection; and some were impulse buys that I’m definitely, absolutely going to find the time to read. Very soon. Probably.”

It often takes big life stuff and its looming deadlines to force that to-read list out of the shadows. I’m down to a three-month wire, and can see the time that I have to read for my own enjoyment shrinking away by the moment. There’s a big, beautiful stack of books in front of me demanding I visit their pages. Six books in three months — game on!

Finally, I’m motivated. Finally, I’m going to dedicate my free time to these select, wonderful books. Finally, I’m ... totally distracted and eating at Aladdin Cafe, dreaming about living on falafel and baba ghanoush for ten days straight. You know, I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt ...

Before I know it, there are four holds waiting for me at the library. I’m face first in some super-dense texts on varying aspects of Ancient Egyptian society, culture, mythology, etc., and I’ve jumped onto Mango Languages to learn some casual Egyptian Arabic in a manic learning spree. My own books, yet again, fallen to the wayside.

Sure, I know better. I’m allegedly an adult. And yet I’m still likely to collect books, feeling certain that I’ll read them. I’ll collect them, and they will continue to stack up and up while I obsessively dive into random topics.

Always remember: Your personal stack of books may haunt your dreams, but your desire to skip them is valid, and we’re here for you.

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


Three on a Theme: Bookish Podcasts

The Lawrence Public Library’s "Book Squad Podcast" just celebrated its eleventh episode, and let me tell you: it has been on fire lately.

Recent episodes feature discussions of classics like "The Catcher in the Rye" and "Their Eyes Were Watching God," shout-outs to great events like the KU Black Love Symposium, and even a couple of recommendations from yours truly (still haven’t read "Public Relations"? Fix that now).

I could listen to people talk about books all day, and the explosion of book-themed podcasts makes that pretty darn possible. Whether you’re in the mood for book recommendations, author interviews, or deep dives into book culture, there’s a podcast out there for you. I’ve collected a few of my favorites below.

NPR’s "Pop Culture Happy Hour" is more about pop culture in general than books, but occasionally, the podcast devotes an episode entirely to bookish topics. Those episodes are, without exception, great. Case in point: in 2014, "Pop Culture Happy Hour" ran a fall books preview episode, discussing then-new releases like "The Paying Guests," "Yes Please," and "Brown Girl Dreaming." Not only have I read fully half of the nearly 30 books they previewed in the episode, but I still have the actual episode downloaded on my years-old iPod.

Looking for more regular bookish content? "What Should I Read Next," the podcast hosted by Anne Bogel of the popular bookish website Modern Mrs. Darcy, might be a good fit for you. If you’ve ever submitted a request for personalized reading recommendations to the library's Book Squad, you know that we ask you to name a book you love, a book you like, and a book you hate to help us come up with new reads for you. "What Should I Read Next" takes a similar approach; over the course of each episode, guests on the show tell Anne about three books they love, one book they hate, and what they’ve been reading lately, and she plays “literary matchmaker.”

"What Should I Read Next" traffics most heavily in mid-range commercial fiction, and longtime listeners will hear certain titles name-checked repeatedly. Anne’s real talent is for finding the underlying thread that connects readers’ favorites; rather than relying simply on books with similar settings or plots, she’s great at identifying the feelings that certain books inspire in readers.

She’s also not afraid to recommend books that she admits weren’t for her, which I admire a lot. Anne’s taste and mine don’t always overlap, but I’ve gotten some great recommendations from this podcast; I definitely wouldn’t have tried "The Crossover" or "Ballad of the Whiskey Robber" if not for hearing about them on the show.

But maybe you aren’t hunting for new book recommendations. Maybe you just want a laugh. In that case, give a listen to "By the Book," a podcast in which hosts Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer attempt to live according to the rules of popular self-help books for two weeks at a time, then gather to debrief about the experience and assess whether the book actually offers helpful advice.

"By the Book" just wrapped its first season, and in that time, they covered books like "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," "America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money," "The Secret," and "Class with the Countess," among others.

I love self-help books, so this podcast is right up my alley, but it’s a fun listen even if you’ve never considered reading an advice book. Part of what makes "By the Book" interesting is that the hosts both take the advice seriously — they genuinely attempt to follow the rules to the letter — but they bring very different perspectives to the week’s rules. (For instance, in the" America’s Cheapest Family" episode, Jolenta realizes she doesn’t know even the most basic financial information about herself, while uber-frugal Kristen searches in vain for a way to cut more money out of her $12-per-year haircut budget.)

A couple of warnings: This podcast contains explicit language, so if that’s not your jam, give it a pass. And while By the Book is usually a comedy podcast, the hosts are more than willing to share some pretty intense stuff; an episode about "French Women Don’t Get Fat" ended up delving pretty deeply into the hosts' histories of disordered eating and body image issues. (They’ve since sworn off episodes dealing with diet books.)

Those are three of my favorite book-themed podcasts, but there are hundreds more out there! Feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

Happy listening!

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


5 books to read for LGBT History Month

In 1994, a group of teachers and community leaders in Missouri, led by high school teacher Rodney Wilson, sought to designate a month for the celebration and teaching of gay and lesbian history (per http://lgbthistorymonth.com/background).

With endorsements from GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and other national organizations, October has since been recognized as LGBT History Month, coinciding with traditions like Coming Out Day on the 11th.

As the Lawrence Public Library is committed to articulating the diversity of the Lawrence and the country, there are a number of resources on our shelves that expound the history of the LGBT community. Here are five recent titles in the library’s collection that celebrate and explore the lives and influence of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals of the past and present:

"Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World" by Sarah Prager

An LGBT history book for young adults, "Queer, There, and Everywhere" features stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals who have made history around the world and throughout time. Prager profiles well-known figures like Eleanor Roosevelt and George Takei as well as some more obscure individuals, and she shines light on these inventors and trailblazers in a humorous and informative way. The book also features beautiful illustrations by Zoë More O'Ferrall and a helpful glossary of terms.

"Trans/portraits: Voices From Transgender Communities" by Jackson Wright Shultz

"Trans/portraits" is an important and informative oral history of the transgender experience in America. Shultz records the personal accounts from more than 30 transgender individuals from different age groups and backgrounds to provide a look at their lives. A beneficial read for transgender individuals or anyone questioning or exploring their gender identity.

"Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation" by Jim Downs

The start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s brought negative connotations to the gay liberation movement of the decade prior. "Stand by Me" takes a deeper look at the 1970s, beyond the gay liberation movement as just being about sex and protests. Downs shares the stories of the people who didn’t fit in with the American mainstream and who came together as a community through religion, journalism, literature, and theater.

"Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World" by Gregory Woods

Through well-researched stories and historical characters, Gregory Woods examines how homosexuality shaped Western culture in this enlightening and informative study of the 20th century. The book focuses on the Homintern, the gay and lesbian creative network of actors, writers, and other artists that influenced major cultural changes during this time period.

"Gay Lives" by Robert Aldrich

From ancient times to the modern era, "Gay Lives" covers more than 70 queer men and women throughout history and around the world. Aldrich profiles the rulers, artists, philosophers, politicians, activists and other key figures who have helped shape modern society’s attitude toward same-sex attraction and intimacy.

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


Look Play Listen roundup

Hi Lawrence!

Look Play Listen is the library’s brand new media team.

Each month we’ll round up some of our favorite music, film/TV, and video game reviews from our staff and put them in one easy-to-read, easy-to-locate blog post.

Keep an eye out.


"Get Out"

This modern horror/suspense film comes with more than a few laughs and a healthy dose of timely social commentary. Writer/director Jordan Peele impresses in this debut that is as mind-bending as it is thought-provoking.

–Adam from Materials Handling

"Broad City"

It’s crazy, raunchy, and the show might be a little hard to get into at the start, but hang in there, because Abbi and Ilana will grow on you like mold. They have the best friendship — not always perfect, but they pull through for each other eventually. Their hijinks are hilarious, and I'm so excited for season 4!

–William from Collection Development


"Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze"

The best Donkey Kong game. PERIOD. The Kongs and their surroundings have never looked, sounded — thanks to David Wise for a fantastic soundtrack — or played better. Best of all, not only do you get to play as Kong stalwarts DK, Diddy, and Dixie, DKCTF lets you play as Cranky Kong.

The dream I never knew I had has come true.

–Ian from Info Services


"Quazars vs. the Jealous Machines"

Acid rap may be the hip hop subgenre du jour, but Shabazz Palaces is content to dabble in what could be called, I don't even know, cyberpunk jazz rap? Neuromancer-core?

"Quazarz vs. the Jealous Machines," sporting a fittingly "Ziggy Stardust"-esque title, proves the group can sustain its new take on the craft, with its rolling, spacey beats and hypnotic verses.

–Eli from Readers’ Services

"Hesitation Marks"

One of Trent Reznor's finest pieces of work. Anything he does with Nine Inch Nails will forever be compared to "The Downward Spiral" and "Pretty Hate Machine;" however, for a new era of his career, this album is the flagship.

There are intricate, interesting grooves, catchy hooks and visceral sound design. This album took me from being a casual NIN listener to a massive fan.

–Joel from Tech Services


Kesha is a pretty misunderstood musical artist and a total guilty pleasure of mine. I was a huge fan of her last release, Warrior, yet a bit unsure how the media ballyhoo of her lawsuit with Dr. Luke was going to affect this new album, Rainbow. My worries were all for naught.

Kesha's recent plight has indeed made a mark on her, yet only for the better. She has gleaned some serious lessons from her ordeal, come out with a seemingly healthier mindset, and used her musical talents as a conduit in the only way she can.

–Ilka from Readers’ Services

So that’s it from us for September! What media did you love this month?


Case Studies in Solitary Refinement

Although I am, in many ways, a Luddite at heart, I’ve become aware recently that I spend altogether too much time hopscotching across the internet, searching for news. I am also a news junkie, you see, and the interesting times we live in have had me riveted to my screen.

However, I’ve also noticed that too much screen time makes me feel grumpy and my brain feel sluggish and scattered. So, I’ve been making a concerted effort lately to set aside the tablet and pick up a book, to spend more time wandering in the place of deeper contemplation that opens up for me when I am really reading.

And perhaps it is no coincidence that the common thread of solitude (the antidote to a clickbait crazy world?) has run through several of the books I’ve picked up lately. Michael Finkel’s "The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit," which chronicles Christopher Knight’s 27-year sojourn with solitude in the Maine woods, pushed this thread to its furthest extreme.

(Sidenote: I inadvertently placed my hold on the large print edition, and found the reading experience surprisingly pleasant. Fellow Gen-Xers, I’m here to tell you that there is no shame in loving large print.)

Finkel provides a fascinating look not only at Knight, but also at the various hermit traditions that have speckled human history.

While Christopher Knight withdrew from society to escape it completely, Cheryl Strayed’s search for solitude, chronicled in "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail," sprang from her desire to reconfigure her relationships, with herself and with others. Strayed’s desolation over her mother’s death, and the subsequent unraveling of her family and her marriage, had made her desperate for a reboot. Strayed’s account offers the wilderness as crucible, and as solace, and while she meets and befriends other hikers on the trail, it is by facing hardship in solitude that she earns her redemption.

Lynn Darling’s "Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding" takes the art of navigation as its device. Darling, long widowed and recent empty-nester, leaves New York City for the solitude of a timeworn house deep in the woods of Vermont. In the spirit of getting lost and finding your way, Darling’s book, which chronicles her battle with cancer in the midst of her midlife crossroads, points out the humility and frank self-assessment-- both possible side effects of time spent lost in the woods--required to successfully navigate the tricky bits.

Concerning the lure of solitude and the search for self: as Finkel writes in "The Stranger in the Woods," “Silence...it appears, is not the opposite of sound. It is another world altogether, literally offering a deeper level of thought, a journey to the bedrock of the self.”

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

Reply 1 comment from Ken Lassman

There Can Only Be One: A Biography of Everyone’s Favorite Device

“Today we’re introducing three revolutionary products … The first is a wide-screen iPod with touch control. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough internet communications device.”

It’s 2007, only ten years ago. On stage, Steve Jobs continues: “Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device.” And so the smartphone revolution started.

The “one device” wasn’t brand new. It borrowed many technologies and ideas that already existed, but it also introduced new ones, and combined everything with patented Apple smoothness.

Watching Jobs unveil the iPhone is fun, mostly because it already seems so quaint (his talk is on YouTube). The user interface, Multi-Touch, was perhaps the most miraculous tech that the iPhone gave us, and when Jobs nonchalantly scrolled through his phone’s music library with a swipe of his finger in front of that crowd ten years ago, it drew the biggest gasp of the evening.

Jobs’ first public iPhone call was to audience member Jony Ive, who answered on a flip phone. Bantering with his boss, the Apple designer now known as Sir Jony says, “It’s not too shabby, is it?”

Today, even as I finish up this review, Tim Cook is about to wow us with yet another iPhone with not too shabby features. As if to prove their importance, there have been fifteen different iPhones already, their progeny are global and seemingly without number, and here comes the new generation.

These days, the iPhone routinely accompanies astronauts in space, but it wasn’t that long ago that a library staffer wowed us by showing off an early iPhone at a staff day “technology petting zoo.” I was curious about how many of my coworkers use which phones, so I conducted an informal survey. The iPhone (in at least seven permutations) won handily. Samsung came in a very distant second, and there were some others, including four flip-phones.

Brian Merchant has written a “secret history” of the one that started it all, entitled "The One Device." What’s notable, and to me most interesting, is that it’s not just another book on Steve Jobs or Silicon Valley. In fact, it takes an ecological (iCological?) perspective of Apple’s most important product. Early reviews didn’t seem to get it, or if they did, they saw it as a distraction, but this approach sets the book apart in important ways.

Why is Merchant’s book important? Because something that has changed the world as profoundly as the iPhone demands a social and ecological perspective. By using different facets of the phone as windows to different components of its ecosystem, Merchant unearths the world in your pocket — for better or worse.

You’ve heard the suicide stories of the Chinese iPhone manufacturer, Foxconn. Have you also heard of the hellish mines of the Congo, where the ghost of Joseph Conrad may still be writing? What about the Bolivian tin mines? And what happens to those billions of old phones when new versions are announced?

Read "The One Device." You can do so on your phone, of course.

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


2017’s Best New Picture Books (So Far)

I’m lucky enough to do storytime here at the Lawrence Public Library, and while there are some challenging days of herding toddlers, it is a joy and a privilege to introduce children to literature and catch a small slice of their innocence and wonder.

When we started up storytime again this fall, I wanted to try something different: Read a handful of random books, held together only by the fact that they were published in 2017. (Weirdly, most of them are from February; who knew that was such a hot picture book publishing month?)

Here are a few of my favorites. My only disclaimer is that I chose these for a Toddler Storytime audience; I think all of these would work well for older and younger kids — I mean, they utterly delight me — but keep in mind they were picked to work for toddlers especially.

"A Perfect Day" by Lane Smith (February 2017)

The twist at the end of this book had me giggling in delight. Imagine your perfect day … then add a bear. The illustrations are full of life and are just as engaging as the text. Lane Smith is well known for his work with Jon Scieszka in "The Stinky Cheese Man" and "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs." While there is echo of the same style, the illustrations are much dreamier and less dark. I could stare at them all day.

"Stack the Cats" by Susie Ghahremani (May 2017)

What do cats do? Stack! A cute counting book full of adorable kittens who, for some reason, are going to stack themselves. A silly premise with equally quirky and colorful illustrations, this book subtly introduces math concepts in the form of stacking cats. What’s not to like?

"A Good Day for a Hat" by T. Nat Fuller, Illustrated by Rob Hodgson (March 2017)

Mr. Brown has a hat for every occasion. Raining? He’s got a hat for that. Cooking? Chef’s hat engaged. Fire-breathing dragon? Helmet acquired! With increasingly ridiculous situations and hats for specific needs, the repetitiveness of the book has you smiling as you await the next wacky situation. Boldly colored and hilarious.

"Ribbit" by Jorey Hurley (February 2017)

Gorgeous. That was my immediate thought when I flipped through "Ribbit" for the first time. I was a little worried to read this for toddler storytime because of the sparse text, with one word per two-page spread. But the illustrations are so beautiful and engaging, mesmerizing the kids as well as myself. In the picture-book world, which is sometimes full of busy illustrations with tons of text, "Ribbit" is a calm break in the clamor that reminds you less is more.

"Not Quite Narwhal" by Jessie Sima (Feb 2017)

A book with narwhals and unicorns? Sign me up! Kelp the "Narwhal" is just trying to find his place in the world. He knows he doesn’t fit in with his narwhal buddies, but when he views a strange creature on land, he realizes he might not be the narwhal he thinks he is. With swoon-worthy illustrations and an excellent message, I highly suggest this adorable book.

What’s your favorite picture book from 2017 so far? Luckily, we’ve still got three months to go. Sound off below!

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

Reply 1 comment from Clara Westphal

Renaissance Woman: Celebrating Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston wrote during the height of the Harlem Renaissance, contributing novels and short stories, as well as literary anthropology. She was a bold woman surrounded by male peers and unparalleled in both talent and ideas.

She died alone and impoverished, buried in an unmarked grave, without having received the recognition or recompense she so strongly deserved.

"Their Eyes Were Watching God" was written over a period of seven weeks when Hurston was 46. Using both poetic prose and rich, palatable patois, it tells the story of Janie Crawford as she journeys from one unpleasant marriage into another, until finally finding the love of her life in the rambunctious and unexpected Vergible “Tea Cake” Woods. She faced scrutiny and ostracization from her male literary peers for not being political enough.

In a forward to "Their Eyes" by Mary Helen Washington, Richard Wright is quoted to say the novel “carries no theme, no message, no thought.” Was the lack of politics the problem, or perhaps was it that Hurston chose to focus on the theme, message, and thought of a black woman rather than a man?

In the decades since her death, Hurston’s legacy has been carried on by her literary daughters and sons who saw what her peers had missed: a brilliant mind poetically communicating the complexities of the human condition. In other words, a Harlem Renaissance-Woman.

In the early 1970s, Alice Walker went in search for Hurston’s unmarked grave, laying a stone and writing a personal essay for "Ms." magazine called “Looking for Zora.” This passion and dedication helped to launch a revival for Hurston’s work that continues today.

Full conferences have been dedicated to Hurston’s legacy, including one that is happening in Lawrence this week. Black Love: A Symposium celebrates the 80th anniversary of "Their Eyes" on and around KU campus this week (Sept 11th – 18th 2017) with esteemed panelists, cultural events, movie screenings, and a marathon reading of the honored novel.

Further Resources:

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


Peanuts, A Great American Novel After All

The DNA of four-panel funnies, well-respected graphic novels, and highfalutin literary novels might not be so different as they seem. Obviously, a strip like "Family Circus" isn’t even remotely in the same realm as, say, Toni Morrison, to be clear, but each tradition shares some surprising hallmarks when it comes to form and philosophy.

One of my favorite graphic novels of the past year, Tom Gauld’s "Mooncop," tells of a man patrolling a dried up lunar colony.

The art is simple, almost childish, and there’s plenty of light humor adding levity to what would otherwise be undiluted dreariness. An otherwise barebones plot culminates with reflections on the dreams and disappointments of life.

It first made me think of Raymond Carver’s sparsely-written short stories, which often follow people who are well-beyond their last chance, trying to deal with increasingly hard lives. Carver is also merciful enough to offer glimmers of hope and moments of respite in an otherwise desolate world. Such treatment of the human condition has earned him the designation of being a serious, literary artist.

Gauld, too, has earned praise for "Mooncop." On the whole, graphic novels have enjoyed a growing recognition for their intellectual and emotional value, but what "Mooncop" made me think of next was actually their predecessor, the humble comic strip.

The minimal line work and distilled moments of emotion reveal a clear throughline of Charles Schulz’s revered strip, "Peanuts." And like that, the third side of the "Mooncop" triangle formed, bridging Charlie Brown and Snoopy with Carver’s destitute alcoholics and troubled blue collar laborers.

It might seem shocking at first, but "Peanuts"— the early work, especially— quite frequently delves into pain, social isolation, and all the complications of modern life. Everyone knows the embarrassment of Lucy’s classic football pull away gag, but that’s pretty mild for Schulz. Check out the the inaugural strip, published in October of 1950:

Image via "The Complete Peanuts: 1950 to 1952," fair use.

Image via "The Complete Peanuts: 1950 to 1952," fair use. by Lawrence Public Library Staff

This isn’t to say that he was a nihilist; the rest of the "Peanuts" story shows the whole spectrum of what life has to offer. In "Only What’s Necessary," a 2015 collection of "Peanuts" sketches and lore, Schulz’s notes explain his insistence on simple, minimal art and dialogue; he took this approach in part, I think, to allow the complexity of feeling to take center stage, which is precisely the essence of oft-toted “serious” literature.

Though "Peanuts" lacks an overarching plot, the same can be said for many great novels. Instead of having a linear narrative that traces a single revelatory, life-defining story, it can be seen as a novel consisting of 50 years of vignettes, flickering, mundane moments of a life. It’s kind of like Karl Ove Knausgard’s incandescent saga "My Struggle"— without all the drinking, of course.

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


“Relatively Wild”— inspired intersections of ecological and social justice

I live within a mile of the Kansas River. In spite of the Bowersock Dam and other infrastructure, this is a good place to connect with wildness. Walking on the levee beside the river offers a chance to watch birds soaring and fishing — great blue herons are frequently present at the river, and in winter, bald eagles are, too.

Frequently people are making use of the water via kayak, canoe or fishing boat. In spite of the nearby development, the river is a relatively wild place.

At the other side of the broad continuum of local wild spaces are the richly diverse Haskell-Baker Wetlands and also the expansive Clinton Lake Wildlife Area, yet there is value in every degree of wilderness.

Stan Herd's rock art on the Kansas River Levee in Lawrence. 
Photo courtesy of Kansas Geological Survey.

Stan Herd's rock art on the Kansas River Levee in Lawrence. Photo courtesy of Kansas Geological Survey. by Lawrence Public Library Staff

My reflections are inspired from reading the book "Wildness: Relations of People and Place." This new anthology includes creative and provocative essays, stories and poetry—it represents diverse understandings of our natural world by many highly regarded writers.

I was driven to the book "Wildness" when I read a review by author J. Drew Lanham. I reviewed Lanham’s book earlier; "The Home Place: Memoirs of A Colored Man's Love Affair With Nature" is a book of elegantly-written prose connecting his commitment to land ethics with social justice with a great deal of inspired optimism.

Lanham wrote this about "Wildness":

This amazing amalgam goes at the issue of nature, wildness, and our relationships to it via personal story, lyrical verse, and reflection. It is storytelling and word-singing at its best...and a book I simply want on my bookshelf to pull down and read words that flow like water but have the lasting impact of fire.

The book is filled with deep, thoughtful explorations of human connections to the idea of wildness. Each writer shares their response to these questions: What defines our ecology, and how are the natural and the human communities interdependent? What keeps the whole community in harmony and helps it sustain and thrive? —In other words, what is the process of persistent wildness?

"Wildness" was created by the Center for Humans and Nature, an organization associated with the University of Chicago. Their website, www.humansandnature.org, is an interactive forum of socially and ecologically focused tools to advocate, reach out, and explore. Here is how they describe their organization:

The Center for Humans and Nature partners with some of the brightest minds to explore human responsibilities to each other and the more-than-human world. We bring together philosophers, ecologists, artists, political scientists, anthropologists, poets and economists, among others, to think creatively about a resilient future for the whole community of life.

Several short videos related to the essays in "Wildness" are highlighted on their website at www.humansandnature.org/wildness. Each video features an author from the book and adds depth to the themes of environmental and social justice. One of the most compelling of these videos is presented by Mistinguette Smith.

She discusses African American understandings of wildness and her work with the Black / Land Project, a community garden in Cleveland. Wildness and relationships to land are defined differently, based on cultural experiences and historical injustices. For Smith, wild connections are made in a community garden where you can grow your own food.

By exploring the book "Wildness,"I have reinforced my resolve to connect environmental and social justice. And I am compelled to echo the message in my review of J. Drew Lanham’s "The Home Place." I hope you will also be inspired to reach out to be more inclusive — to engage more kids and adults from diverse communities to explore and connect with relatively wild places. I am envisioning exponentially greater advocates for our community’s wildness.

It seems appropriate to note, in relation to eco-justice, recommended assistance to survivors of Hurricane Harvey may start with the helpful resources at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, disasterphilanthropy.org.

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


Doc Discussions

I’ll be honest, until this year I had never participated in a book club. In theory, they’re right up my alley. I work at a library. I’ve always worked in bookstores. Reading = good. Discussions = good. But joining a book club can be a little intimidating.

Apart from leaving the comfort of my home, which as a rule I only leave to work or shop for groceries, it’s a time commitment. There are only 24 hours in a day, and when eight of those are spent playing video games, time just gets away from you. Who knew?

For those of you in a similar time crunch — legitimate or self-imposed — the Lawrence Public Library is launching its first documentary club, Doc Discussions. It’s as easy as “book” clubs get. Step one: an hour and a half (more or less) commitment to watch one of the best documentaries around. Step two: Come talk about it for an hour at the library. Doesn’t get more efficient than that.

Or does it?

Thanks to Kanopy it does. Kanopy is a wonderful (relatively) new addition to LPL’s online streaming services that brings thousands of documentaries right to you. It’s a curated collection of over 30,000 films that comes with free 24-hour access to some fantastic documentaries, foreign films, and Criterion Collection classics.

How do I access all this bounty, you ask?

All you have to do is sign up for an account here to get streaming from the comfort of your home (for more Kanopy information feel free to check out our website).

On Aug. 2, Doc Discussions had its unofficial kick-off with our screening of the acclaimed documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" and the amazing panel discussion that followed.

For our first official screening and chat, we’ll be watching "To Be Takei" on Saturday, September 16. It’s a delightful look at the life of Star Trek’s George Takei and a very entertaining yet poignant exploration of race, gay rights, celebrity and the power of positivity. So watch with us. Can’t make the screening? No problem; remember, you can access Kanopy at home 24/7. Either way, come to Doc Discussions' inaugural meeting right after the film. See you there!

"To Be Takei" will screen from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday, September 16. The Doc Discussion meeting will take place directly afterwards from 5 to 6 p.m.

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


What are you reading? #SummerReading2017

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock rather than reading our phenomenal blog posts, I’m obligated to tell you that my colleague Sarah Mathews is a freaking rockstar.

She reads things, she writes about them, she spreads generally wonderful vibes and every Sunday morning throughout Summer Reading 2017 she’s asked you: What are you reading?

After finding one of her favorite books of all time ("The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafón) in a comment on these Facebook posts years ago, Sarah decided to don her superhero cape and resurrect the tradition.

There are a million books you’ve never heard of. Many people won’t even pick a book up if they don’t like the cover — a practice that, as you can imagine, is very controversial among librarians.

Photo credit: William Ottens

Photo credit: William Ottens by Lawrence Public Library Staff

For three months, we’ve collected these crowdsourced reading recommendations from our community of bookish folks. Every Facebook post got responses from 20–50 people, which combined represent months of dedication and creative energy that has transformed my idea of reading as a solo endeavor into a space for cohesion, collaboration, and community.

Of the 283 total books mentioned that we currently hold in our collection, there were a handful that were spotted multiple times. So, without further ado, welcome to the Entirely Unofficial Lawrence Community Book Club! This summer, in no particular order, many of us read:

The complete list of reading recommendations is available in our catalog.

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


For Marvel’s consideration

We’ve now entered into what I’ve deemed the “weird phase” of Marvel.

With the commercial and critical success of the previously unknown property "Guardians of the Galaxy," director James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman have paved the way for indie creators to work on blockbuster titles while bringing their own unique visions and perspectives to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Yes, it has to fit within the overall Disney/Marvel branding aesthetic, but early trailers for "Thor: Ragnarok," directed by the mastermind behind "What We Do in the Shadows" Taika Waititi, and "Black Panther," directed by Ryan Coogler, look as if Marvel’s team have decided to shake things up a bit.

As someone who is typically in a state of comic book movie fatigue, this infusion of creative vitality helps keeps the superhero formula from becoming stale and pastiche while introducing a much more diverse and eclectic vision of superheroes to an already expansive world.

However, I feel that there are two beloved characters in particular who have been overlooked and deserve to make their onscreen debut either as part of a Netflix series or the new Marvel Phase: both She Hulk and Howard the Duck.

"She Hulk" by Charles Soule

"She Hulk" stars Jennifer Walters, attorney at large. She’s just your average Jane Doe, except she happens to have green skin and superhuman strength combined with a lack of anger management skills.This story treatment by Charles Soule in particular opens with Jennifer losing her job at a law firm because she failed to bring in high-spending superhero clients. In a quest for self-discovery, she decides to open up her own legal agency while taking odd jobs to pay the bills, even if it means representing the children of supervillains in immigration law cases or patent violations filed against Iron Man himself.

Charles Soule has perfected the art of superhero writing, as much of Jennifer’s story focuses on her daily life and social interactions rather than building up to an epic showdown or cosmic conquest. In many ways, this approach makes Jennifer’s story even more relatable, as she goes to the bar after a hard day, struggles to find work in a tough job market, and faces discrimination because of her appearance. For instance, nobody will rent to her because they’re afraid she’ll hulk out and destroy the premises. And you think your insurance premium is outrageous.

The dialogue is heartwarming, and Jennifer’s struggles serve as an allegorical message that speak volumes about our current economic and political climate. She Hulk will become one of your new favorite super heroes by the end of the story, and it would be a perfect series to adapt for Netflix’s Marvel Universe. Even Jessica Jones’ BFF Hellcat makes an appearance as She Hulk’s trusty sidekick, so we can only hope that Jennifer will show up at some point as part of "The Defenders." Fingers crossed.

"Howard the Duck" by Chip Zdarsky

The most recent "Howard the Duck" manifestation by Chip Zdarsky is a whole lot of weird, self-referential, fun. The story opens in a "Secret Wars" Volume 0 title called "What the Duck?" (I know it’s confusing) that follows the life of private investigator Howard the Duck. Like She Hulk, he is down on his luck and looking for work. He can’t even afford to hire a secretary and instead uses a papier-mache creation with a face drawn on it to greet his nearly nonexistent clientele.

Howard’s luck changes when a mysterious gentleman asks him to retrieve a stolen necklace, a job that has him speeding across the galaxy in true "Doctor Who" fashion and solving cases while meeting plenty of extraterrestrial creatures. The story continues in serialized format, as it was one of the more popular "Secret Wars" publications, and is one of my favorite titles done by Marvel as of late.

"Howard the Duck" is a unique reading experience with zany characterizations and plenty of laugh-out-loud scenarios. The story has a little bit of everything: She Hulk listening to Taylor Swift while watching cat videos? Check. Rocket Raccoon shaving a map of a spaceship into his chest hair? Check. An '80s workout montage complete with a tank top that says “No Harm No Fowl?” Check. In particular, I’m a massive fan of the many film noir references sprinkled throughout the dialogue, art style, and overall tone that balances beautifully with the more humorous elements to hit all the right notes.

What makes "Howard the Duck" so refreshing is that Chip Zdarsky uses the graphic novel medium to make fun of running gags and cliches within Marvel in the same way that "Enchanted" pokes fun at Disney's princess stereotypes. I think that we need more lighthearted superhero fare that moves us farther away from the brooding, Christopher Nolan "Batman" type of hero.

"Howard the Duck" proves you don’t need an impending apocalypse or a serious personality to tell a good story. Howard would be an excellent addition for new adventures in cosmic Marvel. Who wouldn’t say no to a film noir space adventure? I sure wouldn’t.

What lesser-known Marvel titles would you like to see adapted next? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Until then, I’ll just keep hoping that I’ll get to see some of my comic book favorites on the silver screen.

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

Reply 1 comment from Bob Smith

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.