Entries from blogs tagged with “Lawrence”

Lawrence author Lynn Burlingham talks about her new memoir, “Jewels that Speak”

Lynn Burlingham has had quite the journey, with New York, London, and even stops in Norway all in the mix before finding herself here in Lawrence. Her latest book, "Jewels that Speak," recounts her life while offering a look into two storied families of her heritage: the psychoanalytical Freuds and the glass forging Tiffanys, each replete with their own fascinating legacies and conflicts.

The book is emotional, charged, and raw. There is no softening of drama and loss; likewise, moments of clarity and beauty are vivid and fully formed. "Jewels that Speak" is a fascinating family saga, and a memoir that can be, at times, stranger than fiction. I was lucky enough to chat with Lynn, who offered some further insights into her work.

She will also read from her book and sign copies at The Raven Book Store on Friday, April 27th, at 7:00 PM.

Q: Can you say more about what drew you to the idea of using jewels as a frame for your story and how you developed the theme?

A: Thinking about my life and how to tell my story, I saw a thread that would serve to connect and to frame it. My great-grandfather was the American artist and designer Lewis Comfort Tiffany, and my twice-great-grandfather was the jeweler Charles Lewis Tiffany. Within the family, jewels and beautiful objects carried associations beyond the merely aesthetic.

With that in mind, I began to consider the jewels given to me by the most important people in my life, beginning with the antique birthstone pendant my father, who would soon after disappear from my life, had given me for my sixteenth birthday.

Q: What was it like writing your memoir, especially given how personal—and at times, heart-wrenching—it can be?

A: Writing "Jewels That Speak" called up every ounce of courage and resolve that I could manage. I had to pull out buried memories, dust them off, and try to understand what I could not understand when they occurred. I relived the fraught tangle of connections between the Tiffanys, Freuds, and Burlinghams, as expressed in the struggle for the soul of my grandmother, Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham, and my father, Robert Burlingham.

To the Tiffanys’ and Burlinghams’ horror, Dorothy left her husband in New York to undergo Freudian analysis in Vienna, then moved with Anna Freud to London, remaining there, with Anna, for the rest of her life, while her young son, Robert, became Anna’s first patient. These thorny relationships set the course for my own life, with its dark underpasses and shaky bridges, its unnamed demons that had to be dealt with along the way. I wanted to confront both the brilliance and the darkness that lurked beneath the glitter, to understand where I fit into the story and then be free to move on.

Q: How long did it take to put all the pieces of this sprawling family story together, and what was your process like?

A: I worked on the memoir for ten years, writing draft after draft, wrestling with the story I had to tell. It was a start-and-stop process: write what I can say now and come back later to what I can’t say yet. I would put it away from time to time, to germinate, in effect, then take it up again with renewed energy and focus.

The hardest struggles had to do with trying to convey the turmoil generated by mental illnesses in the family, with separating out the cross-currents of love and abandonment, and with having to revisit my three broken marriages and their consequences.

Q: Were there any memoirs — or other works — that inspired you while creating Jewels That Speak?

A: Yes, there were many. But a few I’m thinking of right now are: "The Road from Coorain" and "True North" by Jill Ker Conway, "The Diary of Virginia Woolf," "The Liars’ Club" by Mary Karr, "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls, the novels of Marilynne Robinson. All these books ring out with voices that speak harsh but believable truths. Reading them led me to hope that, just as I benefited from their truths, readers would benefit from mine.

Lynn Burlingham. Photo via the author.

Lynn Burlingham. Photo via the author. by Lawrence Public Library Staff

Q: I can’t help but wonder: what do you think Anna Freud, hypothetically, might make of "Jewels That Speak"?

A: I do not think that Anna Freud, hypothetically, would have liked it. In spite of her profession as a well-known child psychoanalyst, I never thought she wanted to know the truth.

Q: Having experienced life in so many different locations, how does Lawrence compare? Does it have anything on Sørenhus in Norway?

A: The happy ending, not a fairy-tale ending but an ending in which the heroine finds peace and her true home, for me is here, because my husband is here. I would have followed him anywhere. Sørenhus is where we go to reconnect with the best parts of my past. It’s filled with memories of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and children enjoying Norway’s brief summer by the sea. But Lawrence is where we’ve made our family, and it’s the place where I belong.

Q: What are you working on next?

A: I’m working on a little book about marriage. Little book, big subject.


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


Making illustration look like a cinch: a few questions with Chris Monroe

Of all the picture books I’ve read to my kids, Chris Monroe’s have been some of the most fun, so I was pleased to hear a new Netflix streaming series based on her "Monkey with a Tool Belt" books is in the works. Monroe’s versatility rivals that of her plucky primate protagonist, Chico Bon Bon.

She’s written and illustrated books about a pair of sneaky sheep, a bike-riding ladybug and a dog who can walk on two legs, not to mention titles she has illustrated for others. In the meantime, she cranked out a weekly comic strip, "Violet Days," which ran in Minnesota newspapers for over two decades. Monroe was gracious enough to answer a few questions recently about her life and work.

Q: Your "Violet Days" strips really capture the essence of being a kid in the 1970s and ‘80s. I see a lot written lately about how much childhood has changed since then. What do you think?

A: I think certain things about being a kid are always going to be the same. Having fun hanging out with your friends, listening to music, making each other laugh.

One big change, of course — I've definitely seen groups of kids hanging out and they are actually all checking their phones and basically ignoring each other. You hate to see this great hang time be wasted for no reason. It seems so alienating. Obviously not all kids are like that, but I feel sorry for kids who are addicted to their phones. I hope that has a backlash and kids move away from that someday, and honestly, I think they will. Because kids are cool. Kids are free thinkers. They'll rebel.

Q: Critters of various species, ready to tell it like it is, are ever present in your work — monkeys, ducks, sheep, squirrels, dogs, even the pickle and nickel in "Bug on a Bike." Have you been a prolific pet owner, or are you more comfortable just drawing twitchy, bushy-tailed wise guys?

A: I've pretty much had pets on and off for my entire life. Lots of cats when we were kids. Lots of tragic cat deaths. A misunderstood peekapoo named Max. Siberian huskies when I was in college in Minneapolis and that was just stupid. They were awesome pets, but south Minneapolis was not their ideal habitat for working off stress. A dog named Red Dog who dug so many craters in the lawn and buried food in the furniture. More beloved cat tragedies. Lots of years as a renter when I moved back to Duluth, so no pets. Now I have a min pin named Riley and my life is complete.

Q: When I visited La Jolla, Calif., where Dr. Seuss spent much of his life, I saw what looked like real-life truffula trees growing everywhere, and his work made a different kind of sense to me. You’ve spent most of your life in Minnesota, and continue to live in Duluth. Do you think the Midwest environment has influenced your visual style or the content of your stories?

A: My visual style is definitely affected by living and growing up in northern Minnesota. Particularly in my oil pastel drawings and watercolors. I like to try to draw trees, water, dark forests, night skies, moonlight, animals, and so yes, I am shaped by it.

I think my comic is certainly a reflection of where I am from; I mean, definitely the childhood stories, they'd have to be by their very nature. But I hope it taps into universal themes.

Q: How does your process differ between creating comics and children’s books? Do you prefer one medium over another?

A: I have a very similar process for both children's books and comics. I tend to brainstorm, write a lot of things down in my notebooks. Sift through that, edit, expand on ideas. I always put together a rough outline. For the "Violet Days" comic, I break the idea into five points. Picture books have to fit into 32 pages. So it's a tight space for both. I think about how the art can tell part of the story for both books and comics.

I wrote the first monkey book the exact way I would approach writing a comic. I didn't know how to do it another way. I was basically winging it.

In a way, children's books are easier because there's more time involved, and it is all baby steps. With the comic, the deadline is looming. With both, I write to myself. If I like it, I trust it. I try to, anyway! It can be really anxiety-producing if you have doubts. I've at times been overwhelmed by illustrating and the reality of how many different ways there are to depict a character. It's hard to know when to stop, pick one, move ahead. You could literally draw a walking dog a million ways. You have to choose. Dial it in. The comic is much less involved. Decisions are made quickly. It's scrawly. It's funny. It cracks me up sometimes.

I don't really prefer one over the other if I have the time and space to do them. Right now I am enjoying illustrating a picture book. It's fun to not think about the writing.


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


The library isn’t just for books anymore —Nintendo edition

When I think of the Lawrence Public Library, I think video games. Some people won’t like that, but I can’t help it. At the library, we have a killer game collection. And it just got killer-er with the addition of Nintendo Switch games.

Nintendo’s little system that could is off to a great start. In just over a year, the handheld/home console hybrid has moved more systems than its predecessor, the (underrated) Wii U. But the sales wouldn’t have come without some great software to back it up.

Nintendo celebrated the 31st birthday of "The Legend of Zelda" by releasing one of the series’ most ambitious (and critically acclaimed) games yet. "Breath of the Wild" (Wii U, Switch) takes place a century after a catastrophic event wreaked havoc on the kingdom of Hyrule. I immediately fell for the beautiful Studio Ghibli-esque world, but even more praiseworthy than the art direction is the amount of freedom "Breath of the Wild" gives its player.

After an expertly crafted introduction, you’re free to climb, run, ride, and glide anywhere you see. People have sprinted through the game in less than an hour, while others have taken their time and played for hundreds. The game’s not perfect; I miss classic "Zelda" dungeons and tools, but for me that small complaint pales in comparison to the game’s living, breathing and incredibly fun world that’s stuffed to the gills with puzzles, challenges and lovable weirdos.

If you love fantasy, but want something a little less joyous, put a hold on "Dark Souls Remastered," out this May. The series is known for its punishing difficulty, but the "Souls" games are more than exercises in masochism; their intricately designed, nightmarish fantasy landscapes are populated by wildly inventive monsters that can now ruthlessly kill you on the go.

Prefer something with a little more futuristic bent? Dust off the old Nintendo Wii (or Wii U) and step into Samus Aran’s space boots. It’s been over 30 years since the original "Metroid" blew the gaming community’s collective mind by revealing that the blocky orange robot that just saved the universe was actually a woman (very progressive for a video game in 1986). The "Metroid Prime Trilogy" (Wii/Wii U) is a collection of atmospheric, first-person, exploration-focused shooters and a great warm up for when "Metroid Prime 4" finally comes out on Switch (not soon enough).

If you need a sci-fi shooter for your Switch right now, things don’t get much more intense than "DOOM." It’s a reboot of the classic demons on Mars — you read that right — first person shooter. Its frenetic, propulsive gameplay rewards you for attacking aggressively. If you’re squeamish, this may not be the game for you; it is very violent.

And there are just so many other great games. "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" — probably the best go-kart-racing game since its predecessor "Mario Kart Double Dash." "Arms" — Nintendo’s newest and screwiest franchise, which has you boxing with elastic, you guessed it, arms.

"Splatoon 2" remains one of the most creative and unique shooters I’ve had the pleasure of playing. Instead of racking up kills, your goal is to spray ink wherever you can. At the end of the match, a cat named Judd tallies everything up and whichever team has inked more turf wins. If you prefer a series that’s a little longer in the tooth, "Kirby Star Allies" takes the power-sucking pink puffball and pairs him with three partners. Whether those are controlled by the computer or your friends is up to you.

And last but certainly not least, I’d be crazy not to mention "Super Mario Odyssey," one of the best Mario games to be released yet. Taking pages from "Super Mario 64" and "Super Mario Sunshine," you’re dropped into wacky digital playgrounds brimming with things to do. Woo a monster. Do some 8-bit platforming in a poncho and sombrero. Escape a rampaging T. rex ... on a scooter. And much much much more. In addition to classic Mario running and jumping, "Odyssey" introduces Cappy, a ghostly hat that allows you to possess dozens of the game's inhabitants, which opens up brand new styles of play that never disappoint. Except for maybe the pine tree. The pine tree just moves very slowly.

You still want more games? We’ve got them, but you’ll have to check them out yourself. What are you waiting for?

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


Distinguished “black birdwatcher” J. Drew Lanham to speak in Lawrence

The Lawrence Public Library is proud to announce that J. Drew Lanham is coming to speak in Lawrence on May 24. Lanham connects storytelling, wit and land ethics to advocate for greater participation in the natural world — especially among people of color. His presentation, "Range-Mapping: Connecting the Conservation Dots for the Human Animal" will be held at 7 p.m. May 24 at Liberty Hall.

He is a conservation ornithologist, naturalist, and hunter-conservationist; Drew is also an Alumni Distinguished Professor and Alumni Master Teacher at Clemson University in South Carolina.

J. Drew Lanham. Photo via the author; background photo via Shirley Braunlich.

J. Drew Lanham. Photo via the author; background photo via Shirley Braunlich. by Lawrence Public Library Staff

Reading his award-winning book, "The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair With Nature," has heightened my awareness that most other people out on the nature trails have white skin like me. Lanham poetically describes the phenomenon of the uncommon black or brown companion birders. He shares lyrically written stories of deep connections to family, his strong sense of place, a passion for nature, optimism and humor, along with the frustration of being the uncommon African-American ornithologist in a predominantly white field.

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

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

Lanham writes:

The wild things and places belong to all of us. So while I can’t fix the bigger problems of race in the United States—can’t suggest a means by which I, and others like me, will always feel safe—I can prescribe a solution in my own small corner. Get more people of color ‘out there.’ Turn oddities into commonplace. The presence of more black birders, wildlife biologists, hunters, hikers, and fisher-folk will say to others that we, too appreciate the warble of a summer tanager, the incredible instincts of a whitetale buck, and the sound of wind in the tall pines. Our responsibility is to pass something on to those coming after.

As young people of color reconnect with what so many of their ancestors knew—that our connections to the land run deep, like the taproots of mighty oaks, that the land renews and sustains us—maybe things will begin to change.

This is a rallying cry to help more people connect to the outdoors, and I am inspired by his message. I will be reaching out to be more inclusive in planning future nature-related events. As a board member and volunteer with the Kansas Native Plant Society, I have organized and attended many outings over the last 18 years; almost all the folks who have joined me have been white. We need to be ambassadors to bring more kids and adults together from diverse communities to explore and connect with natural places.

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

Learn more about Lanham’s talk on May 24 here.

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


Getting “hygge”

Late in 2016 I came across an article touting hygge, pronounced “hoo-gah”, as the newest happiness trend that could help everyone make sense of a tough year. After reading about the candle-lit, warm-blanket, fuzzy-socked Danish tradition of getting cozy, I deemed myself a hygge natural and moved on.

Yet, that funny little word stuck with me. Nearly a year later, at the last Friends of the Library book sale of the year, I came across two books that would send by life spiraling towards a quest for supreme hygge. I learned that hygge is so much more than just getting cozy — it’s a mindset, a way to relate to others, and even a life goal.

I’ll freely admit that I plucked "The Year of Living Danishly" off the shelf because the beautiful blue cover caught my eye. As soon as I opened the book, that funny little “hygge” word jumped off the page and into my life again. Russell is a Brit who expatriates to Denmark for a year after her husband receives a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for Lego.

She decides to use her year abroad figuring out why the Danes are so notoriously happy, but spends the first chapter of her book trying to figure out where the heck all the Danes are hiding. They are at home, she finds, getting hygge with friends and family.

Russell illustrates the material side of hygge — buy more blankets — but the best parts of this book come out of her hilarious life experiences as she adopts the Danish way of life. I finished this book with a better understanding of what makes a nation happy despite ridiculously high taxes and “soul-destroying” winter darkness.

"The Little Book of Hygge"

Written by Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen (talk about street cred!), this book showed that hygge is so much more than a blanket or a warm fireside drink with friends. Hygge is really more of a feeling that you can experience anywhere.

Thanks to hygge, Danes can pass on that snooty, over-starched restaurant because a hyggelig noodle shop is preferred, and they can avoid that loud, boisterous party, because the small, informal gathering with close friends is so much more hygge. Wiking goes so far as to call hygge socializing for introverts. Where do I sign up and how do I get started?

After reading about the chapter “Light,” I found myself precariously perched on top of a ladder replacing all the “alien autopsy” LED lights in my home with warmer LED lights. It was a bit dangerous, but worth it to mimic the color temperature of candlelight and sunsets, which clock in at a very hygge 1,800-2,500 Kelvin.

The chapter “Home” compelled me to rearrange the house to accommodate a hyggekrog, or nook, perfect for curling up with a book and a drink. Speaking of drinks, in the name of science I took it upon myself to try Wiking’s recipe for glogg, a.k.a. mulled wine, to which I give the ultimate hygge seal of approval.

I was overjoyed to hear that you can hygge all year round. That cozy summer picnic? Super hygge. Taking a springtime stroll with a good friend? Hygge-rific! Curling up on the couch to watch a thunderstorm? That’s probably the most hygge of all, because all that danger outside makes you realize how safe and comfy you are inside.

Thanks to the library and the Friends of the Library book sale, my three month obsession with all things Danish and hygge led me to some interesting places. Here are some of my favorite gems:

Eat: " Cook Yourself Happy" — I dare you to try Fleming’s Kartoffelfad med Bonner, a.k.a. Bean and Potato Casserole, and not want to instantly slap on a pair of cozy socks. Her Hot Chocolate with Orange Syrup recipe isn’t too shabby either.

"The Year of Cozy" — While not written by a Dane, this book is the perfect intersection of DIY and hygge. The book, broken up by month, will have you cooking and crafting your way to hygge in no time.

Watch: Danish dramas are so dark! Make sure you watch these in the dead of winter with no ambient light or you won’t see a thing.

"The Bridge" — This dark drama about about a body found directly on the border between Sweden and Denmark will suck you in from the first scene. Wrap yourself in an extra cozy blanket for this one.

"The Killing" — AMC’s adaptation of a wildly popular Danish show is just as dark as The Bridge, but pulls much more adrenaline from the start.

Read: "The Book of Hygge" — An introduction to the philosophy behind hygge through quotes, proverbs, and deep explanation.

"The Almost Nearly Perfect People" by Michael Booth — For an examination on the dark side of all this happiness, Booth’s book provides just enough researched cynicism to get your head out of the clouds.

-Angela Thompson is the Friends of the Library program coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.


What am I waiting for? Books on my to-read shelf

I have been a terrible reader lately, and it is all because of the vile temptress of Netflix. For literal years, I’ve prided myself on being that pretentious person: not watching television, certainly not owning a television (goodness, no), not using the letters “T” and “V” in the same sentence, blah blah blah. My very patient friends have put up with this for a long time, and I’d like to publicly thank you. You were right, and I am now a huge, TV-addicted weenie.

In the last month, I’ve binged several shows, the most recent of which has been the American version of "Shameless" (which you can check out here). I’m having a great time, but I also have been majorly neglecting my to-read pile. Here’s what I have not been reading, but will maybe someday read when the latest season is over and also my laptop dies and maybe my internet gets disconnected:

"Bluebird, Bluebird" by Attica Locke

Hilariously enough, this has just been announced as a TV series, but that’s not my reason for wanting to read it. I listened to Locke’s earlier novel, "The Cutting Season," finding her writing to be captivating and realistic. She takes complicated characters and throws them a slow-burn thrillers while incorporating issues of racial discrimination, class inequality and other thoughtful topics.

"An Extraordinary Destiny" by Shekhar Paleja

This is a layered, literary family saga focused on three generations of Indian men and how their lives are impacted both by “fate” and by the decisions of their elders. It’s also the author’s debut novel, and folks who have read it have been raving about his writing style.

"The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore" by Kim Fu

According to my Bibliocommons account, it was almost exactly two years ago when I read Fu’s other novel, "For Today I Am a Boy," which is fascinating and lonely and, if not “enjoyable,” then definitely worthwhile. When I heard she had new novel about girls stranded in a disastrous summer camp, I was intrigued. Fu’s prose is sharp and not overly sentimental, so I’m eager to see what she does with this premise.

"Home Fire" by Kamila Shamsie

I’m not solely judging this book by its cover, but holy moley, is it gorgeous. Fellow Book Squad member Meredith highly recommended this one at our last staff meeting, and it would be wonderful for someone who wants to be deeply emotionally impacted by a story. If you click the catalog link above, you’ll see that it’s received high praise all over the place.

So, when will I get to these books? Who knows. I’d like to think I have more willpower to fight against the fierce embrace of streaming television, but that’s turning out not to be the case. With the weather getting nicer, however, it may be a perfect time to shut down the laptop, grab a book and tackle my to-read shelf outside.

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


Choose kind at your library

February and March are Read Across Lawrence months at the Lawrence Public Library. The goal is to get everyone in the community on the same page by reading the same book at the same time. This year, we tried a grand experiment: one book for all ages.

"Wonder" by RJ Palacio was the perfect choice. Its central lesson resonates with all ages: “If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”

In the spirit of “Wonder,” we’ve put together this short list of inspirational reads that focus on the universal themes of kindness and the power of friendship. All are available at the library.

Dare to Be Kind” by Lizzie Velasquez

In “Dare to Be Kind,” Velasquez shares her remarkable personal story. Born with a rare genetic condition, Velasquez came across a viral video when she was 17 years old labeling her as “The World’s Ugliest Woman.” Instead of retreating, she decided to stand up and become an advocate for victims of bullying the world over.

“Dare to Be Kind” chronicles Velasquez’s personal experiences of being bullied and reveals her own battles with anxiety and disappointment. She shares uplifting advice on how we all have the power to overcome obstacles and move forward with greater positivity.

Velasquez will deliver the 2018 Read Across Lawrence keynote address at 3:30 p.m. today at the Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive. The event is open to the public, and no tickets are required.

Born to Be Good” by Dacher Keltner

For readers interested in the science of kindness, Keltner’s “Born to Be Good” delves into the science of psychology to explain the evolutionary origins of human emotions. Keltner is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he directs the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab. His book is based on his postgraduate research examining the science of facial expressions.

Keltner proposes that perhaps survival is not a matter of who is the fittest, but rather of who is the kindest. “Born to Be Good” is a thought-provoking book about how positive emotions like love, compassion and awe lie at the core of human nature and shape our everyday behavior.

Kindness Boomerang” by Orly Wahba

Wahba’s “Kindness Boomerang” will help you put kindness into action. Her premise: “When kindness is shared, it grows. And every bit of kindness we put into the world comes back in some way. That is the kindness boomerang.”

Wahba began her career in as a middle school educator, where she taught her students to build their self-esteem and to use the power they have to influence the world for good. In 2011, she founded Life Vest Inside, an organization that encourages people to embrace the incredible power of giving and recognize that in times of hardship, kindness, like a life vest, keeps the world afloat.

The book challenges readers to practice kindness in relationships, kindness with themselves, kindness with nature and kindness in many other forms. It recommends specific daily acts of kindness and also provides inspirational quotes and things to reflect on. Wahba’s book is a call to action for anyone who wants to live a more connected and fulfilling life.

-Kathleen Morgan is Lawrence Public Library’s Director of Development and Community Partnerships.


Another year, another Newbery Medal winner

The American Library Association's Youth Media Awards season is a heady time for librarians in youth services. We’re all trying to figure out what the best book will be while waging our own mental campaigns for our favorites by thinking very compelling arguments at the selection committee. Like the Oscars, we wait all year to find out which books will gain top honors. The big-name awards are the Printz, the Newbery, and the Caldecott awards.

The Printz is the top honor for literature written for teens, and the Newbery is the equivalent for children’s literature. The Caldecott is awarded to children's books (usually picture books) with the best illustrations. You’re probably asking, "Well, this is great, but why should I care?" Because they are all great books! And especially this year, I think they signal a shift in the library and publishing community. Almost all of the books awarded top honors this year represented diverse voices and stories, clearly peeling away from representation of only those in the majority. No place is this more apparent than in the medalist and honorees for the Newbery for 2018.

Before we get into the joy that was the Newbery this year, a few notes on how books are judged: they have to be written in English by authors who spend the majority of time in the United States; there is one truly distinguished book but honor books can be named; it must be original, and it must be “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” published in the preceding year.

Now that we have that out the way, the winner of this year’s Newbery Medal is "Hello, Universe," written by Erin Entrada Kelly. The runners-up are: "Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut," written by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James; "Long Way Down," written by Jason Reynolds; and "Piecing Me Together," written by Renée Watson. Look at these beautiful books, celebrating stories that haven’t traditionally been part of the “distinguished literature” canon.

"Hello, Universe" follows Virgil Salinas as he consults his friend Kaori, a bona fide psychic, for advice on how to make friends with the coolest girl at school, Valencia. Through a thoroughly believable, well woven plot and some “help” from a bully, Virgil and his guinea pig, Gulliver, end up at the bottom of a well. Convinced she can feel something wrong, Kaori sets out to rescue him with Valencia's help.

These four characters — the bully, the psychic, the brave girl and the shy boy at the bottom of a well — are propelled towards each other. It culminates in a finale that I definitely saw coming, but couldn’t help grinning like an idiot over anyway. I cannot wait to put this book into the hands of everyone I meet. Well done, Newbery Medal committee, and well done, Kelly Erin Entrada, for producing a book to fall in love with.

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


TV killed the literary star

The sophomore season of Donald Glover’s cult-favorite TV show "Atlanta" kicked off yesterday, continuing the story of Earnest “Earn” Marks and his struggle to make money (and sense) in an often absurd world. It’s likely one of Glover’s lesser-known works among his renaissance-man slate of music and acting—such as playing Lando Calrissian in an upcoming "Star Wars" spin off.

Though the comedy doesn’t have the clout of a celebrated galactic saga, it’s nonetheless a complex and enjoyable piece of storytelling. Television has earned increasing recognition as a true art medium— going beyond its reputation as just entertainment— and Glover’s layered vision of modern city life convincingly furthers this trend.

With the new season underway, I’ve found some analogs in the fiction stacks that backlight the somewhat familiar literary underpinnings of "Atlanta."

The show could be described, in part, as a Gothic family drama; Earn and his girlfriend Vanessa are in a precarious on-again-off-again relationship while attempting to raise a child together. Their romantic posturing and conflicts, while sometimes darkly funny, never let the audience forget that a young life hangs in the balance. Earn’s mix of money problems and interpersonal shortcomings result in a family fighting the urge to crumble, not unlike Emily Brontё’s "Wuthering Heights" or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s "The House of Seven Gables." The streets of Atlanta are certainly a big, but very welcome, shift from the estates and manors of the classics.

Atlanta Season 2, via FX.

Atlanta Season 2, via FX. by Lawrence Public Library Staff

In a similar fashion, the ambitions of Earn and his cousin, up-and-coming rapper Paper Boi, recall the archetypes of celebrated Western literature. Their urban surroundings are a harsh and unforgiving landscape, and life is simply not easy. As the pair tries to make it big, they run up against underhanded promoters, rival rappers, and the quagmire that is modern public relations and social marketing. There isn’t a lot of violence, but it’s demonstrated as a necessary part of rugged life. The epic cattle drive of Larry McMurtry’s "Lonesome Dove" is a surprisingly apt comparison in many ways.

Going beyond plot themes, a dash of magical realism is one of the most refreshing facets of the production. In one episode, local celebrity Marcus Miles — who is otherwise a totally unimportant character — has an invisible car. It doesn’t affect the plot in a meaningful way, and its impossible existence isn’t confronted at any point. For me, this immediately brought to mind Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the master of the genre, in particular his short story, “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings.”

"Atlanta" breaks from conventional TV standards in more ways, too, sprinkling in moments of post-modern weirdness and surrealism. The episode “B.A.N.” upends the typical narrative style, transforming it into thirty minutes of a talk show within the show’s universe — with hilarious results. The writing shines when it turns to social satire; T. Geronimo Johnson’s excellent and challenging "Welcome to Braggsville" comes to mind whenever issues of race are engaged. I can’t help but imagine Kurt Vonnegut would be a fan of the show as well.

To be clear, Glover isn’t standing on the shoulders of giants, by any means. Though there are surely some direct literary influences at play, the artistic rendering of "Atlanta" is its own thing.

Personally, I can’t wait to see where we’re taken this season. The team wasn’t afraid of taking risks to begin with, and I hope that innovation continues as they seamlessly join humor and drama, questioning whether this world is as rationale as it appears. Books are definitely my favorite, don’t worry, but television of this caliber proves that a nuanced introspection on life can go beyond the pages.

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


The Anglophile’s guide to historical fiction

There is nothing that brings me such unbridled joy as a richly written, atmospheric historical fiction novel. I have never been one to wish for times past, because I am a modern lady who enjoys modern amenities such as public works systems, vaccinations and air conditioning units.

However, I certainly do take delight in visiting other times and places, whether they be drab or fab. Historical fiction is an all-encompassing genre that features a variety of cultures and time periods and locations — to narrow the scope, I’ve come up with a pair of titles that are linked by their country, some general themes, and are best when paired with a cup of tea.

"The Fair Fight" by Anna Freeman

This book was all the rage several years ago on Booktube, so mostly I was afraid to pick it up for fear it would be a similar situation as to "Burial Rites" by Hannah Kent (a book that is often lauded but, for the record, one which I firmly detest). Female pugilists in late 1700's England — a story about overcoming your situation, gaining independence and the lasting power of female friendship? Surely the book itself is good in theory, but executed poorly, right? It really couldn’t be as phenomenal as it sounds, right? Wrong.

The story is gripping and surprisingly fast-paced considering the setting, and the characters are so compelling I became emotionally attached in an instant. "The Fair Fight" mainly follows two strikingly different female characters: Ruth, a scrappy, smart-mouthed individual who was born in the brothel her mother now runs, who isn’t quite pretty enough to be considered useful like her much more beautiful older sister; and Charlotte, who is born to immense wealth and privilege, but whose physical appearance is ravaged by smallpox, making her marriage and social prospects nonexistent.

The two come from polar opposite backgrounds, but their worth as women transcends their aesthetic beauty and their ability to serve other people. Ruth's fierceness and her indefatigable resolve to forge her own destiny and Charlotte’s cleverness and her ability to never be quite as she seems makes them both remarkable additions to the genre, and ones worth rooting for. I literally cheered once I reached the ending. To use a terrible pun, this one is a real knockout.

"As Meat Loves Salt" by Maria McCann

This is the book that ended my Great Reading Slump of ‘17. I have always considered myself to be a voracious reader, but last year, prior to this magnificent tome, I was relegated to anxiously picking through random books only to give up on them minutes later. It was frustrating, to say the least. Recommended to me by a wonderful friend whose reading taste is always impeccable, I knew "As Meat Loves Salt" would be a standout read, but I underestimated just how truly excellent it would be.

Set during the English Revolution, this novel is, to put it bluntly, a total assault on the senses. Maria McCann’s narrative style is visceral and immersive, even grotesque in its realistic descriptions of everyday life in the 1600’s. In spite of (or perhaps because of that), her prose is gorgeous. She has created a main character, Jacob, who for all intents and purposes is a despicable, beastly young man whose only goal in life is to better his situation without ever considering the humanity of others.

It should be easy to hate him, though the author presents him in such a way that you will find yourself sympathizing with him, even when he is vulgar or terrifying. This complicated relationship between reader and protagonist leads to moments of such bittersweet delight when Jacob is inexplicably kind, or intense sorrow when he is heart-broken over his impulsive actions. I found myself wishing for a better life for him, even though he might not deserve it. Maria McCann is a genius author — "As Meat Loves Salt" has been described as her literary masterpiece, and I am inclined to agree.

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


“Healing Mushrooms” has everything to know about the magic of mushrooms

Mushrooms are the new superfood craze you may not have heard of yet. Though they’ve been used medicinally for thousands of years for things like boosting the immune system and reducing inflammation, they’re only now becoming popular in mainstream culture due to the immense research that’s been done to assess their health benefits.

Tero Isokauppila’s "Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health" lays out all the things you need to know about the most advantageous mushrooms and includes 50 easy recipes utilizing specific varieties.

For example, Isokauppila notes that reishi are considered the queen of mushrooms and deliver myriad health advantages, including helping with sleep problems and seasonal allergies. They've been a regular part of Chinese medicine for at least 2,000 years, so your well-being is sure to reap the rewards, according to the book.

Struggling to ward off a cold or lower inflammation from your busy life? Chaga is here to assist you. It's one of the highest sources of antioxidants in the world, with an antioxidant content more than 50 times higher than that of blueberries, which are commonly considered one of the ultimate sources of antioxidants we can consume.

Cordyceps are said to increase physical performance and energy, and they can even alleviate asthma or bronchitis. Historical lore from the Himalayan areas where they grow in the wild tells us that yak herders observed their herds becoming far more active and playful when they grazed fields where cordyceps grew.

Lion’s mane mushrooms are among the most fascinating varieties discussed in "Healing Mushrooms." Their ability to improve memory, boost concentration, and protect your nervous system has many people regularly supplementing in pill form. There is even compelling evidence that suggests they have strong Alzheimer’s-fighting properties. You can buy these in pill form from health food stores such as Natural Grocers.

Shiitake are the most common medicinal variety of mushroom cultivated in the world. Local growers at Wakarusa Valley Farm regularly supply our community with freshly grown, organic shiitakes among several other varieties. Beyond their ability to lower cholesterol and support your liver, they’ve been shown to have incredible results with skin-related issues like acne. It may be time to introduce your hormonally challenged teenager to these beauties!

There’s a lot to learn from natural medicine, and mushrooms are gaining the lead in terms of promising research. Once you know which varieties you want to try out, Isokauppila offers tons of recipes to help you incorporate them into your diet. From Mushroom Hot Chocolate to Lion’s Mane Pancakes to Mushroom Sauerkraut, there’s something for everyone to enjoy while simultaneously benefiting their health.

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


What are we having for dinner?

Being a reader almost inevitably means forging relationships (at least in our own minds) with favorite authors. Once upon a time, as a nine-year-old hardcore "Little House on the Prairie" fan, I was devastated when at last it dawned on me that I would never, ever meet Laura Ingalls Wilder — I felt so deeply connected to her. The advent of author blogs has only increased the likelihood that a sense of kinship will bloom in a reader.

And so it is with my (in my heart) BFF, the cookbook author and food blogger, Jenny Rosenstrach. Back in my "Little House on the Prairie" days, I had zero interest in learning to cook — like Laura, I was way more interested in climbing trees and galloping across the plains on a fleet-footed pony than in giving Ma a hand in the kitchen (sorry, Mom!). Imagine my shock and horror when, as a college student out on my own, I came to the realization that I would need to procure and prepare food for myself pretty much every day for the rest of my life.

I limped along with my meager cooking skills, eating pasta and microwaved baked potatoes for a long time. And then I got married, and we had children — children who also need to be fed at regular intervals (and sometimes are incredibly picky eaters). Cue the dreaded question: What are we having for dinner tonight?

Enter Jenny. Her first book, "Dinner: A Love Story," was the first cookbook I ever read cover-to-cover — I even read the acknowledgements at the end. "Dinner: A Love Story" follows the early years of Jenny’s marriage and explores how the arrival in quick succession of two daughters (one, very picky!) upended and evolved their family’s approach to dinnertime. Rather than being arranged by ingredient or season or type of dish (entree, side, dessert), Jenny’s cookbook is a chronological memoir of a young family, punctuated by recipes, chronicling how the rhythm of their home life changes as the children grow.

Jenny’s companionable prose allows you to bask in the obvious affection at the heart of her family, while also embracing the less-than-camera-ready moments that make up so much of life with young children (so much of life, period, really). Being human can be hard, and I’ve often felt that a great book is one that makes you feel less alone. Who knew a cookbook, of all things — read at the right moment — could resonate so profoundly with a reader? Plus, the recipes are down-to-earth and within reach for folks who might a.) not be very comfortable in the kitchen, b.) live on a budget, and/or c.) need help coaxing a child away from a diet made up primarily of foods in the white-light tan-yellow color palette. My kids now regularly beg for homemade pizza night, thanks to in large part to Jenny’s pizza sauce recipe.

Jenny’s second book, "Dinner: The Playbook," and her third, "How to Celebrate Everything," also do a lot of heavy lifting when meal planning time comes around in my household. And her blog (also titled Dinner: A Love Story) continues to nourish the relationship that began, for me, with her first book. Odds aren’t great that I’ll ever meet Jenny Rosenstrach for real, but she’s been a welcome guest at my dinner table many times.

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


Fancasting my favorite rom-com reads

Like many people, I love a good romantic comedy. I’m always in the mood for a meet-cute, a tale-of-friends-to-lovers, a happily-ever-after (or at least for now). Luckily, as a reader of romance, I usually have a stack of rom-coms sitting on my bedside table.

The only downside to my rom-com reading habit is that I would also like to watch many of these stories, and unfortunately, Hollywood no longer seems particularly interested in making these kinds of movies. Recently, though, fellow Book Squad member Kimberly sent me the trailer for "Love, Simon," an adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s YA romantic comedy "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda." I cried watching the trailer, and I cried listening to the audiobook (it’s a comedy, I swear!), and then I almost cried again when I realized the movie won’t be released until March.

With nearly six weeks of time to kill before I can cry while actually watching "Love, Simon" (different trailer, equally worth watching), I decided to round up a few other rom-com reads I think would make amazing big-screen love stories.

The Book: Jasmine Guillory’s "The Wedding Date," an extremely charming new release about Alexa and Drew, who meet when she agrees to be his on-the-fly date to his ex-girlfriend’s wedding ... and then the pair can’t seem to shake each other, despite living at opposite ends of California and not being interested in a long-term commitment.

Why It Would Make a Good Movie: It’s about grown-ups who really like each other trying to fit into each other’s lives while also maintaining their own separate existences, and frankly I think we need more romances like that in the world. Also, it actually made me laugh out loud multiple times when I was reading it — always a promising sign for a potential romantic comedy.

My Fancast: In the book, Alexa is described as being a short, curvy African-American woman, while Drew is a tall, lean white guy, and I read both as being somewhere between late-20s and mid-30s. What about Danielle Brooks for Alexa and Matthew Goode for Drew? I would watch them fall in love and eat donuts (an extremely important recurring plot point) every single day and twice a day on Sundays.

The Book: Mackenzi Lee’s "The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue," an ever-so-slightly magical queer historical YA novel about upper-class teenager Monty, his biracial best friend (and secret beloved) Percy and his younger sister Felicity fleeing murderous noblemen across 18th-century Europe ... all while Monty tries to hide his feelings from Percy, who he’s convinced doesn’t love him back.

Why It Would Make a Good Movie: Didn’t you read my description of the plot? It’s about queer teenagers fleeing murderous noblemen across 18th-century Europe, with magic. Why am I not watching this movie right now?

My Fancast: Look, I don’t know if the cover model can act, but if he can, that’s our Monty — problem solved. If he can’t, Tom Glynn-Carney has the accent and the cheekbones to pull off the role, and Justice Smith has Percy’s sweet, shy smile down pat. I think Millie Bobby Brown could nail Felicity’s serious demeanor, and she actually looks like she could be Tom Glynn-Carney’s sister (I hate when actors playing siblings would never pass for related).

The Book: Katie Heaney and Arianna Rebolini’s "Public Relations," a completely wonderful workplace romance about fading pop star Archie Fox and his public relations representative, Rose Reed, who sets out to revitalize Archie’s career by engineering a relationship for him with up-and-coming hipster musician Raya ... which actually works great, career-wise, except that Rose falls for Archie herself.

Why It Would Make a Good Movie: This book did a great job of capturing how people in their mid-20s with careers actually talk to one another, and what they talk about; it sounded like conversations I’ve had with my friends. Plus, you get the on-screen contrast of Archie’s seemingly glamorous life with all the labor required to achieve it — very "Devil Wears Prada" — with an extra helping of “but when are they going to kiss?!”

My Fancast: This was the easiest movie to cast by far. I think Katie Stevens of "The Bold Type" would make an awesome Rose, and I was already imagining Zoe Kravitz as Raya when I was reading the book. As for Archie — well. The authors flatly acknowledge he’s heavily based on Harry Styles, and try as I might, I couldn’t think of anyone else who could be the Archie that lives on the page and in my brain. And he’s known to be a fan of rom-coms. Someone get him this script, stat!

I can pretty much guarantee that each of these movies would be a money-maker because I would personally see each of them no fewer than eleven bajillion times.

What about you? What romantic comedies do you wish you could see on the big screen, and who would you cast in them?

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


World music mixtape

Since last November’s Luaka Bop spotlight, I’ve disgracefully neglected my world music search.

Hoping to make up for lost time, I asked my coworkers to share some of their favorite albums from our world music collection. Here are their responses:

Dom La Nena’s "Ela" is a hauntingly beautiful debut that combines elements of classical string music with subtle samba beats to create a unique form of cello pop. Her melancholy vocals, sung in Portuguese and occasionally Spanish, reflect emotional sincerity and depth that aren’t always so easily conveyed by such young artists. Admittedly, nearly all of the lyrical meaning is lost on me, as I don’t speak either language, but that doesn’t impede my appreciation of her gentle, flowing vocal delivery. And while each of these songs could stand as solo pieces, I can’t help but listen to the title track “Ela” on repeat. The raised heartbeat rhythm, gradual introduction of strings accompanying Dom’s cello, and her breathy vocal delivery leave me gasping for air by the song’s end.

— Kevin from Collection Development

Julieta Venegas, Mexican singer-songwriter, comes for your heartstrings in her fifth album, "Otra Cosa," with a delicate balance of home, memory, rejections and love. It’s a mishmash of all that is forlorn and sweet about the intimacies that we carry with us long after they have ended. A worthwhile listen while you’re on your way back to yourself after heartbreak, even when self-initiated. “Ya Conoceran” is one of my favorite songs, full of lyrical aches and triumphs.

— Vanessa from Community Development & Partnerships

Do you realize how impossible it is to pick just one world music artist? Stymied, I choose a true master, a man who was active in the global music scene for over sixty years. A giant in his native land, his reach ranged from classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin to Philip Glass, from The Beatles to The Byrds, from the stage at Woodstock to the Oval Office. He could be heard on Hollywood soundtracks and just up the road at Lawrence’s Lied Center.

Sitar master Ravi Shankar, of course. Listen and be transported.

— Jake from Information Services

Funky horns and infectious guitar lines abound: Fela Kuti's "Zombie" is a fabulously orchestrated example of Afrobeat from the pioneer himself. Threaded between the vibrant instrumental sections are Kuti's Nigerian Pidgin English lyrics, which build and eventually culminate into catchy melodic chants. It is worth noting the political fervor behind this record, with Kuti's lyrics being particularly critical of the Nigerian government and military (so much so that he saw an unfortunate reaction from the government). Music that causes political reaction, to me, is inherently cool. It is powerful. Funky, empowering and endlessly groovy, "Zombie" is a must-listen for funk music lovers new and old.

— Joel from Tech Services

The distinctive sound of Paul Simon’s 1986 album "Graceland" owed much to the backing vocals by South African male choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Three decades later, the group’s newest album for children, "Songs of Peace and Love for Kids and Parents around the World," was nominated for a Grammy. The album contains songs about racial and gender harmony, a tribute to Nelson Mandela, even a Zulu version of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” That the group makes interesting a song most American kids have heard hundreds of times is a testament to the transformative power of exposure to a culture different from one’s own via music. Plus, it’s just plain fun to learn the Zulu words for the sounds that dogs, cows, goats and pigs make.

— Dan from Collection Development

Do you have any favorite world music albums? Is the library missing any seminal works? What else should I be checking out?

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, apart from "Who is William Onyeabor?," one of my very favorite albums in our world music collection is French-Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux’s "Vengo." Its unapologetic feminism and confident progressivism go hand in hand with its stylistic diversity. Triumphant trumpets and hardcore pan flutes (who knew?) abound, but they pale in comparison to Tijoux’s fantastic multifaceted delivery, which manages to be simultaneously ferocious, optimistic and a dozen other emotions all at once.

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


On “American Heart,” the latest from Laura Moriarty

I’ve been a longtime fan of Laura Moriarty’s writing since I first heard her talk about "The Center of Everything" in the tiny cafe of the now defunct Borders bookstore in 2004. Her fully fleshed characters and well-developed plots often have me reading into the wee hours of the morning. Her latest book, "American Heart," is no different.

Labeled as a young adult dystopian novel, the story is so grounded in realism that it feels like many of her other books which revolve around characters contending with the choice to stand by the social and legal expectations of their worlds or strike out on paths they feel are right and humane. In this vision of the United States, Muslim-Americans must submit themselves to registries and are forced into detainment camp.

The main character of "American Heart," Sarah-Mary, is a Midwestern teenager waiting to escape the confines of her all-too-small world. Her mother is a footnote in the lives of Sarah-Mary and her brother Caleb, always chasing the golden ticket of romance and wealth through men she meets on the internet. The two children live with their authoritarian aunt, who has enrolled them in a private Baptist school where no real learning takes place, and Sarah-Mary suffers through the 24/7 monitoring by her new guardian.

On one bitterly cold winter evening, Sarah-Mary finds herself searching for a brother she loves, but whom she has hurt. For the love of her brother, she then promises to help Sadaf, a fugitive Muslim woman, to safety, and because Sarah-Mary is stubborn and headstrong, safety doesn’t mean across state lines, it means all the way to Canada.

The book is told entirely from the point of view of Sarah-Mary, apropos of the author’s own identity as a white woman. With Caleb as her only real family, she feels she must fulfill her promise, not only out of love, but also to prove she is not like her mother. Her stubbornness in all things, whether it’s retrieving Sadaf’s $300 when she gets ripped off by a sketchy fake ID artist, the glacial evolution of her perceptions of Muslims or even her perseverance to see Sadaf all the way to Canada, is not unlike many teenagers I know, and not a departure from many of the protagonists in YA fiction.

We do see Sarah-Mary’s slow evolution towards empathy and acceptance through the novel, which happens at an expected pace, given the filtered news and blatant propaganda that she has been exposed to through her life (the internet was banned at her aunt’s house, not to mention social media, where unsavory ideas could easily plant themselves in a young, impressionable mind).

Though Sadaf needs someone to book hotel rooms and cover for her in order to get to the northern border, she remains a rock throughout the novel, never swallowing Sarah-Mary’s racist comments and questions. Their discussions range from family to politics to Jeopardy, and Sarah-Mary eventually finds a deep respect for a woman who worked hard to earn a doctorate in electrical engineering and who moved to a new country and culture for increased social and economic opportunities.

Sadaf’s own heartbreak and betrayal leave her tight-lipped and terse through the beginnings of the book, but as the promise of freedom and safety open up the closer the pair moves north, so does Sadaf, speaking of her friends, her family, and especially the son she feels she abandoned. Any perspective shifting from Sarah-Mary to Sadaf (which could be a compelling storytelling element) could easily wander into a cultural appropriation minefield, and the author avoided this through the use of a consistent first-person voice from Sarah-Mary’s perspective.

Ultimately, this is a story of how someone grapples with the endgame of the racism they were born and raised into. Moriarty’s exemplary pacing and plotting make "American Heart" a satisfying read.

If you would like to hear Moriarty speak about "American Heart," please join us on Thursday, February 8th at 7:00 PM in the Lawrence Public Library auditorium. The Raven Book Store will sell copies of "American Heart" and a signing will follow the presentation.

— Kristin Soper is the events coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.


An erratic start to 2018

One month into 2018 and I find myself in a very erratic reading mode, so much so that I couldn't settle on trying to feature one book in depth, so I thought I’d take you, dear reader, on a stroll through some books I’m really enjoying — but haven’t finished yet!

I challenged myself to dive into the new biography of Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow. Why? I guess I don’t really know a lot about Grant, so why not read 1,100 pages about him? This book is pretty easy to read in fragments given its traditional, chronological biography style.

I’m a bit over a third of the way in, and Grant has just become lieutenant general and commander of all Union armies. Chernow does a great job challenging a lot of misunderstandings about who Grant really was. Compelling reading!

Alongside the Grant biography, I have been reading "They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us," a collection of essays by Hanif Abdurraqib. The essays are wide ranging, concentrating mostly on his experience growing up black among lots of white emo and punk rock kids. I find his explorations of race most appealing, but there is also some really great music writing. I'm definitely excited about his visit to Lawrence on February 27. Thank you, KU Commons and Raven Book Store!

In addition, I have been reading essays from two soon-to-be-published books by Sloane Crosley ("Look Alive Out There") and Zadie Smith ("Feel Free"). Both books are shaping up to be pretty fantastic collections and come out in early April. Fun fact: Sloane Crosley will be here at the Lawrence Public Library on April 14 on her spring book tour.

Lastly, I decided to go back and read another in the fantastic series of Dave Brandstetter mysteries written by Joseph Hansen. I stumbled across a mass market copy of one of the books in this series in a bookstore in Vancouver and was intrigued. Little did I know that I had discovered a ground-breaking series of crime novels featuring Dave Brandstetter. He was one of the first openly gay protagonists in hard-boiled crime fiction. Every book is this series is a quick, gripping read. Pick one in the series at random and have fun.

- Brad Allen is the Executive Director of Lawrence Public Library.


“Deep” thoughts

Thanks to the discovery of a book called “Deep,” while it was below zero here in Kansas, I was immersed below sea level in a warm and magical aquatic world where the rules of life are tweaked and a different language is spoken. Hundreds of feet down and more, they speak of chemosynthetic life in the Garden of Eden. Static apnea. Xenophyophores.

In "Deep," author James Nestor describes diving with sperm whales — without scuba gear — eye to eye for as long as he could hold his breath. Which, in his case, is a long time. The whales (“the biggest predators on earth,” he can’t resist saying) didn’t mind. I found the whole thing ineffably appealing.

The more Nestor described it, the more interesting it got. The massive whales charged the divers, then pulled up short. Nestor heard — and felt — a constant clicking as the whales used echolocation bursts to check him out, increasing in intensity from gas stove sparker to jackhammer on pavement. I later found a similar story in Julia Whitty’s book “Deep Blue Home.”

I was once “clicked” by dolphins, though I didn’t realize it until later when my family excitedly told me they saw them swimming around me. I can hardly imagine swimming in the deep ocean as whales approach — and feeling the clicks of the loudest animal in the world reverberate through me.

The communications of sperm whales are but a piece of “Deep,” expertly embedded in a longer story of, as the subtitle says, “freediving, renegade science, and what the ocean tells us about ourselves.” The book starts with freediving, which I knew nothing about and now find nearly as interesting as talking whales.

As you might guess, freediving is diving without mechanical assistance. I like the idea because divers have learned tricks to overcome inner-ear pressure and extend one’s breath-holding abilities. Also, feeling gravity overcoming buoyancy at the “doorway to the deep,” around 40 feet down, must be pretty cool. Not without serious risks, freediving is now a global competitive sport.

We have learned some amazing things about the human body from freediving. One interesting phenomenon is the mammalian dive reflex, which changes our physiology and allows us to withstand the literal pressures of diving. Blood moves from the extremities to the core. The heart rate drops. The lungs shrink. But the really intriguing lessons, I think, are elsewhere. Freediving offers a chance to experience the world in an entirely new way.

Many whales tend to shy away from submersible vehicles and even the noises of scuba gear. As more is learned about their echolocation abilities, it’s easy to see why. Thanks to modern technology, the rapid-fire streams of sperm whale clicks have been broken down to discrete millisecond clicks, and they’re not random. They can be repeated down to the micro-click, directed at particular individuals, and even called back by other whales. Verbatim, if that’s the right word, over 1500 clicks per second.

Nestor profiles an amateur scientist who’s recording and analyzing these cetacean communications, a sailor who had a close encounter with a pod of whales that changed his life. After finding himself unexpectedly surrounded by curious and clicking sperm whales, Fabrice Schnoller set up a nonprofit research organization called DareWin to study whale and dolphin communication. Nestor more recently has followed suit, with an organization called CETI — the Cetacean Echolocation Translation Initiative.

“Deep” goes on to include more underwater surprises, from coral synchronously spawning under a full moon (how do they know?), to the weird organisms that inhabit the deepest trenches, to the very origins of life — which was perhaps not in tide pools, but near thermal vents at the bottom of the sea.

All in all, this was one of the most engrossing books I’ve read lately. The next time you’re holed up by the Kansas winters, expand your horizons down. Go “Deep.”

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


A new book on Kansas LGBT pride

Kansas Day is almost here, and I’ve got an inspiring way to celebrate! A new book pays tribute to the Kansans who are advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights.

In "No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas," author C.J. Janovy shares the recent compelling stories of the leaders committed to making Kansas a safer place with legal protections from bigotry. Everyone who supports social justice will learn powerful models for continued advocacy.

Janovy is a veteran journalist, including ten years working for "The Pitch," and is now the arts reporter at KCUR; this is her first book. I asked her why she decided to focus on Kansas rather than the whole region.

She responded:

Focusing on Kansas rather than the whole region was…where I knew there was a specific story… In 2013, when the US Supreme Court came out with its Windsor and Perry decisions, creating such an uneven legal landscape around the country [Kansas and many other states still banned gay marriage], Kansas was an especially interesting place to think about LGBT equality/advocacy/politics because of Westboro, which is known internationally as a place in Kansas (except when other writers mistakenly refer to it as in Florida, which I’ve seen). Finally, Kansas has a reputation. I knew an exploration of LGBT activism in Kansas would refute some of the stereotype, which made it fun and fertile territory to write in and about.

Living in the middle of the country often means being neglected by national journalists who emphasize faraway metropolises of more familiar activism in places like New York and California. Lawrencians have a reputation for making our town a liberal bubble inside a politically conservative state; we enacted protections from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations before most Kansas cities.

The examples in "No Place Like Home" champion Kansas pride and personalities from rural locales like Trego County and the tiny town of Meade to Manhattan, Salina, Hutchinson, Topeka, Lawrence, Wichita and everywhere citizens are taking personal risks to ensure this middle ground is welcoming to a wider rainbow-range of people.

Janovy vividly describes a 2014 gay pride rally in Wichita. This empowering moment punctuated ten days of pride events. The electrifying energy of the event she describes is depicted in this photo, provided by the author. At the podium is transgender heroine Stephanie Mott.

Photo via C.J. Janovy

Photo via C.J. Janovy by Lawrence Public Library Staff

Janovy writes:

Nine years after the marriage amendment defeat, on a warm, sunny Sunday, a dozen teenagers wearing T-shirts and cutoffs stood in a formation rising up the stone steps of Wichita’s old Sedgwick County Courthouse, a relic of prairie Renaissance architecture circa 1888… On the sidewalk in front of them, and spread out under shady trees, several hundred people had gathered for the annual gay pride rally.

She continues:

Everyone knew Mott, but no one in the crowd had ever seen the person to whom she passed the microphone. “Hi, my name is Sandra Stenzel. I drove four hours today from western Kansas to be here." Over the last few months, Stenzel had begun a creaky reemergence from her post-marriage-amendment decade of depression and isolation in Trego County, and people clapped when she told them how far she had driven to be with them. “Because it’s important that we have community,” she said, holding the microphone but not speechifying, just talking, as if these people were sitting at the kitchen table of her farmhouse on Downer Creek. “Don’t forget the people you left behind,” she told them. “There are so many of us here today who grew up in a small town, grew up in a rural area, and we blew that pop stand and never looked back.”

This earned cheers from people who had done exactly that. “But there’s work for us to do in the rural areas. If nothing else, it’s just to reach back because there’s some kid like you out there. There’s some single farm woman out there who needs company. And there’s someone who’s willing to drive four hours just to be with other gay people. Just to not be alone.” Stenzel reminded everyone that they were part of a long tradition and that the struggle didn’t begin with the marriage amendment. “The biggest problem we had keeping it off the ballot was we couldn’t find other gay people to work against it. We didn’t know how to reach each other. I look out here today, ten years later”—finally she yelled: “You are magnificent!”

Every page of "No Place Like Home" is filled with heartfelt courage and personal stories; there is no place like LGBT Kansas. Kansans everywhere are working to ensure that our state is friendly for us all — they’re digging in their heels just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz to declare “there’s no place like home.”

Meet Janovy and several of the heroines and heroes featured in her book at the library on Monday, January 29 — an apropos celebration for Kansas Day.

More information on the event can be found here.

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

Reply 2 comments from Lauraaustin Melissa Kounelaki

Never trust a librarian carrying a dog book

Sounder, Old Yeller, Old Dan, and Little Ann: children’s literature is littered with corpses of dogs who died too young and made us cry harder than we wanted to. Luckily, our parents burst into tears, too, which helped distract us from our own sorrow, since they looked so weird crying as they read.

As if that weren’t enough, many literary dogs earn themselves a statue, so in case you ever stroll by the Idaho Falls Public Library in a great mood and run across a statue inspired by "Where the Red Fern Grows," or approach Texas’s Mason Public Library humming a happy tune until you see Old Yeller similarly enshrined, you’ll be sure to burst into a fresh bout of tears, no matter how many years have passed since those heartbreaking days of youthful reading.

It’s funny how culpable public libraries are in the formation of so much grief over dead literary dogs, as if we were trying to teach kids that yes, while reading can be fun and rewarding, a book can also rip out your young heart and play baseball with it before your very eyes. In fact, libraries have such a bad reputation when it comes to children’s books about dogs, I’ve heard of parents who warn their children to walk the other way if they ever see a children’s librarian approaching with a book about a dog.

So, to atone for all the emotional scarring caused by my ilk over the years, I offer up this list of literary dogs who lived long, inspiring lives, which were not defined by untimely and deeply depressing demises. Each of these dogs has its own statue, by the way, although, not surprisingly, none are located at a public library.

• Balto (1919 - 1933). Much has been written about Balto over the years, but my favorite book about him has to be Meghan McCarthy’s "The Incredible Life of Balto," which presents all the highlights of his illustrious career painted in McCarthy’s trademark large-eyed and friendly style. Balto was a sled dog who rose to the occasion in the winter of 1925, when a delivery of medicine over 700 miles of snowy terrain was the only thing that saved Nome, Alaska, from a deadly diphtheria outbreak. Balto brought the serum and became an overnight celebrity, vaudeville star, and subject of a sculpture in New York’s Central Park.

When he was purchased by a neglectful sideshow, the children of Cleveland raised enough pennies to buy Balto’s freedom, and he lived out the rest of his days in peace at the Brookside Zoo. As if that weren’t charmed life enough, Balto was given voice in a 1996 animated feature film by an actor whose last name was one of Balto’s favorite foods, Kevin Bacon.

• Jim the Wonder Dog (1925 – 1937). If you grew up in central Missouri, you’ve probably heard of Jim the Wonder Dog. Jim was a Llewellin English setter who gave the people of Marshall something to talk about during the Great Depression other than failed crops and bank trouble. Instead, gathered in and around the Ruff Hotel (yes, that was its real name) where Jim lived with his master, Mr. Sam VanArsdale, the people of Marshall witnessed a number of miraculous feats of canine intelligence.

Not only could Jim point out a man’s car after reading its license plate number off a piece of paper, he also predicted the outcome of the 1936 presidential election as well as seven Kentucky Derby winners. He executed commands given in Spanish, German, Italian, French, and Morse code, silencing skeptics at the University of Missouri and the Missouri legislature. A long awaited biography of Jim was published for children last year, and just two hours east of Lawrence one can view a statue and visit a museum dedicated to his memory.

If Jim whets your appetite for wonder dogs, there are also great books on Bobbie the Wonder Dog, who walked nearly 3,000 miles back to his owners after he was lost on a vacation, and Bulu the African Wonder Dog, who adopted two baby warthogs in his personal quest to protect endangered wildlife in Zambia.

• Hachiko (1923 – 1935). Okay, I lied. Even when dogs live a long time, they can still make you cry, simply by being so darn doggie. That means loyal in the case of the Akita named Hachiko, who made history by waiting every day at the Shibuya train station in Tokyo for the return of his master, a professor who died one day at work. Hachiko kept up his vigil for over nine years on a spot now marked by a statue celebrating his faithfulness, a trait so beautifully captured in Leslea Newman’s 2004 novel "Hachiko Waits" that the book has quickly found its place in the canon of children’s books guaranteed to make you cry.

Sorry. Like I said, never trust a librarian carrying a dog book. But don’t worry, we’re also a practical bunch. Not only will we provide free tissues, but you can now come to the library and dry those tears in the cheering UV glow of a SAD lamp.

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

Reply 1 comment from Shane Garrett

What to read while you wait for Obama’s favorite book

While Barack Obama was president, he started an annual tradition of sharing his favorite books and music from the previous year, and he’s graciously kept with this tradition for 2017. At the top of his list this year? A new “dystopian” novel with some radical feminist themes called "The Power" by Naomi Alderman. The book was hovering around my to-read list for awhile, and the endorsement from this fella bumped it up several spots.

The reason I used the word dystopian in quotes above is because, when asked if the novel fit that category, Alderman’s response was, “Only if you’re a man.” Its premise asks the question: What happens if, globally, men were suddenly the ones constantly worrying about being overpowered, overlooked, and violently dominated?

The answers found in the book may be surprising, depending on the reader and their experiences. Women all over the world discover an electric power living within their bodies that has the power to shock, harm, or even kill another person. Upon this discovery, women start fighting back against their oppressors (victims of sex trafficking against their traffickers, children against abusive parents, etc.)

Given the recent revival of the #MeToo movement and the fact that rampant sexism/sexual harassment has come to light, Alderman’s book feels particularly timely. The book’s fast pace and attention to juicy detail compelled me to keep reading and filled me with an almost sadistic glee.

Along with being on Obama’s list, "The Power" won the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction and was blurbed by Her Royal Dystopian Highness Margaret Atwood. Its hype is undeniable, and the holds list might be high for some time. Although we do have a couple of copies at the Lawrence Public Library that you may find on the new sci-fi shelf, here are some books with a similar feel to tide you over:

"The Book of the Unnamed Midwife" by Meg Elison — After a devastating fever wipes out 99 percent of the world’s female population and causes maternal mortality rates to skyrocket, a courageous nurse makes it her life’s mission to pass as a man and distribute contraceptives to any woman she finds (most of whom are in captivity). She’s like a queer, super-feminist Johnny Appleseed of birth control.

"Daughters of the North" by Sarah Hall — In the not-too-distant future, England experiences a total economic collapse and its population is forcibly relocated to urban areas. A young woman known in the book only as “Sister” (what’s up with all these unnamed protagonists?) escapes a controlling husband and is welcomed by an isolated group of women training to be rebel fighters.

"Who Fears Death" by Nnedi Okorafor — In Sudan, post-nuclear holocaust, a girl born out of a rape possesses mysterious powers and goes on a quest to save her people from annihilation. Okorafor’s writing is always deep, dark, and impactful, and though I have not read "Who Fears Death" (yet), I would expect nothing less from this Hugo- and Nebula-award winning author.

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