Entries from blogs tagged with “Lawrence”

Eight(ish) Miraculous Books

Taking place every year on the 25th of Kislev, Hanukkah commemorates the story of Jewish persecution at the hands of the Syrian despot Antiochus, who made observance of Judaism a capital offense, regularly slaughtered Jews and made it a point to desecrate the Temple.

A man named Mattathias and his sons formed a band of rebels called the Maccabees. After three years of fighting, they eventually ousted the Syrians.

When they saw the state of the Temple, the warriors openly wept and went about ritually cleaning it for use again. Tradition tells us there was enough oil to light the great Menorah for one night. Miraculously, it lasted eight days — enough time to manufacture more ritual oil. In celebration (and because of the holiday’s proximity to a larger American holiday), the holiday has grown in prominence.

We eat latkes, spin dreidels and put our menorah in the windows, quietly shining amid the more conspicuous holiday lights of our neighbors.

In honor of Hanukkah starting this evening, it seemed fitting to address miracles, specifically the miracle of the right book, just as it is needed. Wouldn’t you consider it miraculous when the formation of a thought in a stranger’s head is written down, then survives the publishing process to be made into a book, which gets purchased by your local library, which a friendly librarian delivers to your hands at the right time to resonate with the deepest needs of your current life? Well, now. I certainly would.

With that in mind, I decided to visit books that were a miracle in my life. I’ve read a lot, even before I became a professional bookslinger, so there were oodles to choose from. This listing is not necessarily the best book ever written on a theme or a subject (though most are quite good), but they were miracles in that they came at just the right time in my life and made a lasting impact.

"Little House on the Prairie" by Laura Ingalls Wilder: Galvanized me as a reader with a focus on a spunky girl my age who liked to be out in nature; plus, I watched this show often with my beloved grandparents. I also think this was the start of my love of series fiction.

"Savage Inequalities" by Jonathan Kozol: I read this in college, and it changed the course of my studies and my career interests. (See also: "The Measure of our Success," by Marian Wright Edelman who helped with my career path, but also with the raising of my own children later in life. When people compliment me on having great kids, this is the book I want to hand them.)

"Our Bodies, Ourselves": BOOM POW FEMINIST AWAKENING! Everything I ever wanted to know about my body — and how the patriarchy would work to control it — but was afraid to ask.

I include the "Hip Mama Survival Guide" (which the library sadly doesn’t own) because Ariel Gore writes about motherhood, and she saved me when I was floundering and trying to figure out how to do parenthood differently from how it was done to me. I’m still grateful to her.

"Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon was the first “real” book I read after spending several years reading sociology texts, and pregnancy, childbirth, nursing and parenting books. It was a much needed respite after all the wee people who needed me were kissed and tucked into bed.

Protagonists Jamie and Claire became the cause of many of sleepless night, sometimes in tandem with a nursing a baby. However, loving this book taught me it was okay to take care of myself when I needed it and that self-care might be as simple as a tale, well-told, in a quiet moment.

"The Big Orange Splot" by Daniel Pinkwater: Mr. Plumbean lived on a neat street … until the big orange splot came along. This simple children’s book (along with anything Mr. Rogers has ever said) gave me a roadmap for raising kids. Search for your true self, love who you turn out to be and gently help those around you feel comfortable finding themselves, too.

"Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" by Amy Krouse Rosenthal: I wrote about this book before, so I won’t go on about it. But this book opened a path for me when I really needed it, and I hold Rosenthal in my heart daily.

"Heating and Cooling" by Beth Ann Fennelly: Fifty-two finely tuned micro-memoirs, which is about all I have time for some days. Fennelly writes prose as poetry. Each memoir, whether one sentence or a few pages, packs a punch. Sneaking peeks into her beautiful brain has affirmed my own midlife reality, as well as the journey it took to get here.

(OK, if you were counting, that’s actually nine books. But I decided I could give you nine books because there are nine candles in the hanukiah, as the shamash “helper” makes nine.)

Dear readers, my holiday wish for you is that you’ll always find the books that are a light at your darkest times, just like the winter holidays themselves. Happy reading.

-Polli Kenn is the Readers’ Services Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.

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Female writers of the “Star Wars” Expanded Universe

The newest "Star Wars" movie is days away from release, and there’s an electricity in the air surrounding this excitement that I’m forced to refer to as the Force. With the new trilogy and Expanded Universe movies all abuzz, it’s become clear that women have taken a firm hold of the "Star Wars" Expanded Universe. Characters like Rey and Jyn Erso are proving to be even more popular than their male counterparts.

Recently, I happily discovered that there are many female writers contributing to the fiction of the Expanded Universe, and that they're creating totally kick-butt stories. There are Expanded Universe stories for all ages, which is perfect for fostering a long-term love of "Star Wars" in young readers. They’re complex, fascinating, and cover all of the backstory that would’ve turned each of the existing movies into 6-hour features — something I wouldn't be at all opposed to, for the record.

If you have any young readers in your life, I cannot more highly recommend Jude Watson’s "Jedi Apprentice" and "Jedi Quest" series. "Jedi Apprentice," which is set before the action of "Episode I: The Phantom Menace," tells the story of how Obi-Wan Kenobi became Qui-Gon Jinn’s apprentice. Honestly, this series made "Episode I" pretty forgivable for my young mind, as I was more excited to see the embodiment of these characters I had come to adore. We can all just pretend Jar Jar Binks just didn’t exist.

Post-"Episode I," "Jedi Quest" reveals the development of Anakin Skywalker as he begins his Padawan training under Obi-Wan’s watchful eye. Because it is told from the perspective of a young Anakin, this series would be great for an even younger reader than "Jedi Apprentice." I can almost guarantee that they’ll demand Padawan robes for their next Halloween costume after following this journey.

As we get older, one of the most fun areas to explore in the Expanded Universe is the dark side of the Force. Christie Golden’s "Dark Disciple" follows Asajj Ventress, former Sith apprentice turned bounty hunter and one of the great antiheroes in the "Star Wars" galaxy. This storyline was originally part of the "Clone Wars" TV series, but was scrapped and later adapted into this novel.

After the "Clone Wars," we see E.K. Johnston’s "Ahsoka" mysteriously reappear as a Rebel operative after leaving the Jedi Order.

Martha Wells delivers us "Razor’s Edge," a perfectly raucous Han and Leia marauder story set just before "Episode V."

In the midst of the Rebellion, we have Claudia Gray’s "Lost Stars," which spans many years and switches between the voices of two best friends as they grow up and train to become Imperial pilots.

Golden returns with New York Times best-seller "Battlefront II: Inferno Squad," picking up the story from the Empire’s side just after "Rogue One." This novel lends so much perspective to the “bad guys” that you’ll find yourself almost saddened by the Death Star’s destruction. Almost.

Finally, we have Delilah S. Dawson’s New York Times Bestseller "Phasma." If you were at all curious about Captain Phasma in "Episode VII," this is an absolutely necessary read before "Episode VIII" comes out. I’ll give nothing away and just say that it is truly one of the best books I’ve read this year.

There is much more to discover in the "Star Wars" Expanded Universe than what I’ve listed here. Go explore, and may the Force be with you.

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

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“Manhattan Beach”: a mob drama for the rest of us

About a month ago I tweeted, with 100 percent sincerity, “I zone out as soon as a TV show description uses the words, ‘crime boss.’” Although in my tweet I was referring to a synopsis I had seen on Netflix, believe me when I say this is true for books as well.

I have no capacity for paying attention to a story where macho men brandish guns while calling women “broads” or where the word “capiche” is used as a replacement for a question mark. I am not so arrogant to think that just because these stories don’t appeal to me, it means they’re bad, but nevertheless, whenever I say I don’t like this genre someone usually mentions "The Godfather" or something similar as if I’ve been living under the biggest and most soundproof rock in creation.

“BUT WHAT ABOUT 'THE GODFATHER'?” “I’ve seen it!” “But did you like it?” “No!” Anyway, one week after my tweet (and its now obvious foreshadowing), I was cracking open Jennifer Egan’s newest novel, "Manhattan Beach," to find the story centered around what can best described as… sigh… a crime boss. Or, more accurately, a woman whose life is deeply affected by a crime boss. I broke out into a cold sweat as I became increasingly aware of what I was getting myself into. I’d already planned to write a review of Egan’s new book because two of her previous novels,"The Keep" and "A Visit From the Goon Squad," are some of my personal favorites. I didn’t feel like I could back out now. Besides, what would I write about if not this?

Time was of the essence and, frankly, I hadn’t expected Jennifer Egan to do this to me. Despite my trepidation, I took the plunge and read it … and as much as I hate to admit when I’m wrong, I guess I like crime fiction now.

"Manhattan Beach" is a historical novel which begins at the seaside in Brooklyn ten years before the start of WWII. Here we meet the book’s main character, Anna, as a young girl whose father has taken her on a business trip to meet up with a man we later learn is a racketeer, Dexter Styles. The reader quickly recognizes that Styles will be an important person but Anna is the character around which the story revolves.

We watch her grow from a young girl with a special closeness to her father and disabled sister, to a woman whose relationships become more complicated as time passes (as relationships often do). A little later in the book Eddie, Anna’s father, disappears, leaving the reader and Anna to presume he’s dead after involving himself with Styles and other nefarious characters. We won’t find out what happens to Eddie (or how it happens) until the end, but getting there is captivating as Egan has each of the main characters crossing paths in present day and in flashbacks.

As we discuss main characters, I would be remiss not to mention the sea itself, where this novel begins and ends. No, crime bosses and mob stories are not my normal thing, but I am a sucker for tales set in New York City, and I love a good World War II backdrop as well. Combine these with a seascape description so palpable I could feel, smell, and hear it. Suspending my disbelief came easily.

Even locations and situations which would normally cause me to zone out (back rooms of nightclubs with a lot of cigar smoke, poker dens, the repetitive use of the word “boss” which I can only hear in a thick Joe Pesci accent) rolled right off of me and, in some cases, lured me in. Egan crafts this backdrop of the beach and the sea masterfully. The ocean is always there; she has built this dreamy, foggy world so well. It cleanses, it blinds, it maims, it baptizes.

The book, of course, is not without its flaws, and I did not feel compelled to shout from the rooftops my admiration for it as I did with "Goon Squad" and "The Keep." It is plot-driven almost to a fault, leaving something to be desired when it comes to the intricacies of characters’ relationships. At 433 pages, Egan does not rush her story. In fact, at times, I wished for fewer details about ship repair and more about the inner workings of the characters and their thoughts.

But overall "Manhattan Beach" succeeds, and Jennifer Egan has proven herself to be a writer who will not be pigeonholed as someone who only writes a specific genre. And, thus, she has made this reader branch out into other genres as well, which can only be a good thing. Capiche?

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

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November Look Play Listen Round Up

Look Play Listen is the library’s team of AV appreciators. 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.

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"Hunt for the Wilderpeople"

"Hunt for the Wilderpeople" is a phenomenal film full of the heart and humor director Taika Waititi does so well. It follows Ricky Baker, a child in New Zealand's foster care system who must adjust from his city life to a life in the bush.The screenplay walks the perfect balance between light, humorous and heart-wrenching. I found this film quotable, comforting, and perfect for rewatching. If I was only able to watch films from a single director for the rest of my life, Taika Waititi would be on the very top of the list. If you enjoyed the new "Thor" film I would highly suggest giving Hunt for the Wilderpeople a watch ... or twelve.

— Margo from Youth Services

"She’s Gotta Have It"

I'm not sure how to feel about the Netflix series adaptation coming this month, but Spike Lee's original "She's Gotta Have It" is a truly special film. This artful rom-com blends humor, drama, and emotion in a manner few narratives ever can; there's also a nuanced exploration of sexuality and class dynamics (among other things) underpinning the whole production, but it doesn't demand that you analyze it — "She's Gotta Have It" remains disarmingly enjoyable at face value. Honestly, despite his later triumphs, Lee peaked right out of the gate — but that's just a testament to an incredible piece of filmmaking.

–Eli from Readers’ Services

"Metropolitan"

Whit Stillman's films are perfect for people who like character-driven, dialogue-packed films. Set in New York City in the world of privileged college youth (plus one middle-class gentleman) during the debutante season, the film documents their parties and private conversations, their romantic crushes and social commentary. It's the first in an exceptional trilogy — don't miss Stillman's follow-ups: "The Last Days of Disco" and "Barcelona."

— Tricia from Collection Development

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"Destiny 2"

Not too shabby, Guardian! With "Destiny 2," Bungie continues to inch towards delivering on the promise and hype of vanilla "Destiny." Quality-of-life changes abound, and there’s more to do than ever before. For better or worse, nothing has fundamentally changed in the sequel, but joining up with two strike buddies and absolutely wrecking some generic alien baddies has never been as fun.

— Ian from Information Services

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"Akira Symphonic Suite"

The score to the epic, anime classic about biker gangs, psychokinetic powers, political corruption and human experimentation is as unique and energetic as the movie it accompanies. The Japanese musical collective Geinoh Yamashirogumi combines traditional musical elements of Southeast Asia such as the chromatic bamboo percussion of Indonesian Gamelan and the intense, rhythmic chanting of Japanese Noh theater with the pulsating synthesizers of '80s techno and hints of prog rock to create a texturally unique soundscape. The score can be enjoyed as a solo piece without seeing the movie, but the pair complement each other so much that it’s best to be able to conjure up the striking imagery of Neo-Tokyo while listening.

— Kevin from Collections Development

"Wonderful Wonderful"

In my opinion, The Killers' "Wonderful Wonderful" is the jewel in 2017's musical desert wasteland, which seems appropriate as the band hails from Las Vegas, Nevada. I've held The Killers’ 2006 album "Sam's Town" in high esteem for years, and this new release would be a serious contender in a prizefight, no doubt. Along with combining elements of Brandon Flowers' solo works, the prototypical Killers synth-laden jams will leave you feeling wonderful wonderful.

— Ilka from Readers’ Services

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

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One Place, Many Voices: Local Authors Share Connections to Place

Writing by our local authors is rich and diverse in both mood and voice. My current focus is on such writing that provides a sense of place. This is an invitation to explore outside spaces with local authors in a series of events aptly titled Local Authors Outside.

I also want to encourage you to check out their books and hopefully be inspired to deepen your connection to this place — from the lush woodlands of Douglas State Fishing Lake to Delaware Indian landmarks in North Lawrence, the fertile prairie at Prairie Park and the wide expanse of diverse flora and fauna throughout our area.

About the weather, I have no guarantees, but if it is mild on Dec. 16 we will visit woodland trails at Douglas County Fishing Lake with Caleb Morse. Morse is a fantastic guide to learn from during a nature tour, especially if you want to learn about plant families and identify birds by their songs; he is the collection manager for the McGregor Herbarium and a contributor to "Flora of North America."

I’m curious to see these trails during their winter dormancy. Having visited this woodland in late spring, when the trees are fully leafed-out, I’ve been amazed at how much the sunlight is filtered — stepping back out of the woods is nearly blinding when the sun is shining.

Following that outing, Denise Low and Thomas Pecore Weso will help illuminate the former Delaware trading post in North Lawrence on Dec. 30. This married duo writes about connections of land to their Native American heritages.

Low is an award-winning author of prose and poetry, including "The Turtle’s Beating Heart: One Family’s Story of Lenape Survival." Her candid, compelling and poignant memoir reveals family history with vivid moments that smell like sunshine, to paraphrase the author.

Weso wrote the award-winning "Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir." He provides an intimate and nostalgic bridge into the rich heritage of his ancestors' ways of life. Wild rice is a source of cultural identity as well as sustenance, and recipes are included.

Another celebrated author in this series is Elizabeth Schultz; she will share her inspired, visual and lyrical poetry of natural wonder at Prairie Park on Jan. 6. Schultz is a professor emerita at the University of Kansas and author of "The Sauntering Eye: Kansas Meditations," a collection of poems on Kansas wildlife and environment.

Find more information about this series of events from the library’s website or this link: Local Authors Outside.

I hope you will step outside to enjoy local places, meet local authors and read their words to develop a greater appreciation for this place and our landmarks, prairies, wetlands and woodlands.

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

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Luaka Bop and the world’s psychedelic classics

Almost 30 years ago, David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) founded a record label “to turn people onto stuff [he] liked.” Because he’s David Byrne, and because he’s eminently cooler than you or me, the stuff he liked was Brazilian pop music.

In January of ‘89, Byrne released his first compilation, "Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical." Three other Brazil Classics followed. From there, Luaka Bop — a record label name Byrne nicked off some tea packaging — and its “rather obscure Masonic” logo started to jump all over the globe. Cuba, England, India, West Africa, Japan, etc.

I wish I could claim to be a lifetime follower of Luaka Bop, but the truth is I’m a new convert. I hadn’t heard of the label until I stumbled upon the fifth of its "World Psychedelic Classics" series, "Who is William Onyeabor?" a year or two back.

"WiWO?" is a compilation of hits from one of Nigeria’s most enigmatic musicians. Throughout the late seventies and eighties, Onyeabor was “Nigeria’s answer to synth-pop and New Wave.”

He self-recorded, -pressed and -printed nine synth-propelled electronic funk records between 1977-1985 and then disappeared. He converted to Christianity, stopped talking about his music, opened a semolina mill and lived in a woodland palace as the high chief of his community until he passed away this January.

From start to finish "WiWO?" provides a smorgasbord of foot-tapping, head-bopping tunes. The album is pleasantly contradictory throughout. Firmly rooted in a specific time and place yet managing to transcend both. Paranoid and cheerful. Spiritual yet worldly. Even though its nine tracks come in at a whopping 73 minutes, when album closer “Fantastic Man” — recently popularized [thanks to Apple][2 ]— wraps up, you’re left wanting more.

Luckily, Luaka Bop has you covered. Nine times over, in fact. A year after they released "WiWO?," LB released Onyeabor’s entire recorded oeuvre in the nine-disc William Onyeabor box set. And while the albums are short — 17 minutes at the shortest, 37 at the lengthiest — they ought to occupy you for the foreseeable future.

After that, if you’re interested in what Onyeabor’s contemporaries sounded like, give "World Psychedelic Classics, Vol 3: Love’s a Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa" a try.

Published in 2004, this grab bag of '70s West African music is another delight. Going back to William Onyeabor for a minute, it was his inclusion in this collection that sent Luaka Bop on what ended up being a yearslong quest to get the rights to his discography in order to publish "WiWO?" and the box set.

But it’s not just Onyeabor that shines here. Each of the 12 songs completely transports you to an era and continent that's probably unlike anything you’ve experienced before (unless you lived in '70s Africa, I guess). Funk, soul, acid rock, Cuban rumba, Latin percussion and more elements combine with various local African sounds to expand your definition of "transatlantic" on this eminently listenable record.

Why stop there? If you’re hankering for more world music after that, you’ve still got "World Psychedelic Classics" volumes 1, 2, and 4 ahead of you. They cover Brazilian folk psychedelics Os Mutantes, America’s own Shuggie Otis and Brazilian genre bender Tim Maia. And that’s just one of Luaka Bop’s many series.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, there’s an entire world out there, and I’m glad the library (and Luaka Bop) does the legwork when it comes to introducing me to new music.

So what are ya waiting for? Come check out our world music collection already!

— Ian Stepp is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.

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From coal to Thoreau: the essays of “Practice Resurrection”

Not long ago I took a trip across the High Plains, and in addition to seeing more pronghorns and prairie dogs than I’ve ever seen, I also witnessed the landscape of Wyoming’s Thunder Basin for the first time. While much of it is drop-dead beautiful, one gets the feeling that something ominous is brewing there — roads are being repaved, railroads are new or well-maintained, and, of course, trucks are many, big, and well-used.

One soon finds out why. Thunder Basin is where about 40 percent of America’s coal is mined, though a traveler gets only an occasional glimpse of the massive dark pits uprooting acre after acre of prairie. It’s kind of the opposite of the mountain top removal mining that's tearing down places in Appalachia.

Serendipitously, upon my return to Lawrence I discovered Kentucky author Erik Reece, who recently published a wonderful new book, "Practice Resurrection." It turns out his previous work, titled "Lost Mountain," is what poet and fellow Kentuckian Wendell Berry calls “by far the best accounting of mountaintop removal and its effects.” In it Reece describes a year on a particular promontory, “thinking like a mountain,” in ecologist Aldo Leopold’s words, before said mountain’s head is blown off for the coal beneath.

My unanticipated examination of coal happened even as I launched River City River, the library’s series on Kansas Water and the Kaw. And so it came full circle, as we were reminded that one of the largest water users in the area is the coal-burning power plant just upstream.

Wendell Berry says, “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” So what I’m really here to tell you is how in addition to discussing rivers, all last month I lived beneath a babbling blue river — of birds. Henry Thoreau noted that “the jay is the bird of October,” and so it proved to be. It’s especially obvious if you live beneath a large pecan tree, which blue jays scream about even more than acorns.

The sight and sound of all those jays took me back to a day I spent years ago on a large rock on the Connecticut River, where raucous rivers of jays also flowed past. When not watching them, I read Annie Dillard’s "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek." Surprised by an acrobatic mockingbird, Dillard reminds us “beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”

When investigating mountaintop removal mining, Erik Reece tries to be there. He takes a "live it and write it" approach. He also likes to read what I like to read, and liberally sprinkles quotes from authors of import in his wanderings. This is evident in "Lost Mountain," and is evident too in his "Practice Resurrection."

Right from the title, there is much to like in this wide-ranging collection of essays. Who can resist “Birding with Wendell Berry”? Not this reader. "Practice Resurrection" is dedicated “To Wendell, in memory of Guy,” and the title itself is from one of Berry’s Mad Farmer poems. Guy is Guy Davenport, a “densely allusive and disarmingly erudite” writer who I’ve been intrigued (and baffled) by for years. Reece considers him his mentor, and I thank him for sending me back into the Davenport thicket.

There are chapters on human aviation, nature’s circulatory system, one that appeared as the introduction to "Remembering Guy Davenport," which Reece edited, a meditation on suicide and Mark Rothko, and much more. My favorite is “A Week on the Kentucky River Reading Henry David Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Which Nobody Reads Anymore (But Should)” -- it’s shades of Edward Abbey’s inimitable “Down the River with Henry Thoreau,” but very different and also worth reading.

Reece, like Thoreau, builds his own boat, and names it for Henry’s unrequited love, Ellen Sewall. Down the Kentucky he floats (Henry and his brother John, predictably, went against the current), pondering companionship, ecology, religion, poetry, capitalism, and Henry Thoreau. It’s a lovely journey.

The penultimate chapter in "Practice Resurrection" is called “Speak and Bear Witness” and comes out of Reece’s time researching "Lost Mountain."

Part of what makes any story engaging is a degree of familiarity, a sometimes not-so-subtle reminder to us of things we already know. Mining disrupts social systems. Mining exterminates ecosystems. Mining perpetuates destructive economic systems. These things we know. We might also remember, along with Erik Reece, the words of ecologist Aldo Leopold: “A thing is right when it preserves the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

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

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Discover a made-up menagerie in children’s books

As an animal lover growing up in Kansas, I thought our annual grade school field trip to the University of Kansas Natural History Museum was always a high point. I adored the famous panorama of taxidermy, and the working, cutaway beehive, but what I looked forward to most was the chance to gaze upon a real jackalope.

We adults require our animals to be just what they are, but I often think the world would be a better place if we hadn’t lost whatever it is about kids that allows them to accept the possibility of crazy animal hybrids. I’m as big a stick in the mud as any when it comes to combining species. After all, it recently took 30 minutes of bickering and a Wikipedia entry to convince me that cattle and buffalo had been crossed to produce an animal called a beefalo.

If there is one place such a creature could roam free, it’s in the children’s collection at the library. In fact, there are so many weird animals to be found here, I sometimes think of it as a warmer, fuzzier "Island of Dr. Moreau," with the sociopathic, mad scientist of that title replaced by a maniacal Lisa Frank, fresh off a post-doc fellowship in genetics at Johns Hopkins, flush with grant money and ready to combine as many cute animals as she can get her hands on.

Most remember the Gryphon, a lion and eagle mash-up immortalized by Victorian illustrator John Tenniel in "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland." But there are so many other wondrous species within the pages of books, I’ve compiled them over the years into a sort of children’s literature bestiary. Without further ado, here are my five favorites:

Kitten + Mermaid = Purrmaid. “It was a paws-itively beautiful morning in Kittentail Cove,” begins this series of early chapter books. Can you go wrong with a start like that? Kitten-mermaid hybrids Coral, Shelly and Angel, with no visible gills (perhaps they invoke the same magic Daryl Hannah used to allow Tom Hanks to breathe underwater at the end of "Splash"), navigate the treacherous distance to Tortoiseshell Reef. But can they keep from devouring their own tails?

Grizzly bear + Buffalo = Gruffalo. In addition to being hailed as a modern classic, an animated version of this picture book received an Oscar nomination for Best Short Film. I agree with The Guardian reporter who called it a scandal that its author, Julia Donaldson, who was Children’s Laureate of the UK from 2011-13, is not better known. Her books, which include "What the Ladybug Heard," "Stick Man," and "Room on the Broom," are as clever as the mouse in this story, who outsmarts every predator in the forest, including the Gruffalo, rhyming in couplets all the while.

? + ? = Hank. In Rebecca Dudley’s "Hank Finds an Egg," Hank finds an egg. When the egg hatches, it’s obvious what kind of animal was inside. Just what Hank is, however, remains a mystery. Puppy? Bear cub? Weasel in a sock monkey costume? In a sequel, "Hank Has a Dream," Hank has a dream. But we still don’t learn what knitting of species produced him.

Camel + Zebra + Giraffe + Elephant + Rhinoceros + Reindeer = Whingdingdilly. Bill Peet, who had a hand in many of the animated features of Disney’s first golden era ("Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "101 Dalmatians," and most famously, due to a falling out with Walt Disney during its creation, "The Jungle Book") before he turned full-time to children’s books, may hold the record for combining the most species. He also holds the record for most books ever written about the experience of keeping a pet capybara (one).

Cat + Bird = Catwings. Ursula K. Le Guin’s children’s fiction is as thoughtfully beautiful as the adult science fiction and fantasy for which she has garnered so many awards. Her "Earthsea Cycle" is about as good as science fiction for older kids gets, and the four "Catwings" books she wrote for younger readers decades ago are still as irresistible to their audience as real live winged cats would be. Mrs. Jane Tabby’s four kittens, Thelma, James, Harriet, and Roger can fly somewhere better than the Dumpster in which they were born. But when they see themselves in a mirror, do they do that weird bitey thing cats do when they see a bird outside a window?

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

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Two books to celebrate the season of the witch

Magician, wizard, practitioner of magic, whatever you want to call that person, I'll bet some of the first examples that pop into your head are male: Harry Potter, Merlin, Gandalf. The greats of the fantasy genre are usually males with women in supporting roles. Women are the wife, the jealous lover, the know-it-all, and sometimes in a world full of men practicing magic, they have no magical ability at all.

Growing up enamored with the fantasy genre and novels filled with magic, I found my favorites: Tamora Pierce’s "Song of the Lioness Quartet," Garth Nix’s "Abhorsen" series and of course the biggie, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. But for every Alanna and Sabriel there were dozens of Harrys and Eragons.

Young adult and juvenile fiction have been quick to turn around, but it can be pretty difficult when browsing the adult fantasy shelves to find a novel centered on a well-rounded female character. Fantasy has long been reigned over by male protagonists, but there are female writers like Ami McKay and Kat Howard who are daring to go where only Robert Jordan and J. R. R. Tolkien had gone before. Let me talk to you about witches in America. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

"An Unkindness of Magicians" by Howard and "The Witches of New York" by McKay are so similar yet dissimilar that when I read them back to back, quite by chance, I couldn’t wait to write about them. Let me start off by saying that these are two very different novels. They have a lot of commonalities like magic, fierce women, self-discovery, community and their big-city setting, but "An Unkindness of Magicians" reads like a gritty revenge story, while "The Witches of New York" is historical fantasy and very much an exploration of women’s issues.

The way magic is portrayed is also very different. "The Witches of New York" hails from the common understanding of witches: tea leaves, palm reading, incantations, communing with the dead. "An Unkindness of Magicians" reeks of a more technical magic: spells woven intricately with fingers to create illusions and to kill. Both books are unflinchingly beautiful.

"An Unkindness of Magicians" follows Sydney as she competes in the Turning, a magical competition that takes place every 20 years to determine the next ruler of the Unseen World. This hidden enclave of magicians ensconced in New York City, unknown to the mundane inhabitants, sold Sydney into magical servitude. She’s broken free and wants to watch the Unseen World burn.

This novel is so expertly woven that it feels as if Howard worked her own particular spell in prose. With multiple viewpoints and many switches between them all, the pace is a little dizzying but utterly satisfying; this may be my favorite book of the year. Apparently, the title is based on collective nouns: a murder of ravens, a flamboyance of flamingos, a parliament of owls. When steeped in absolute power—over magic and people — what else would brew up, except "An Unkindness of Magicians"?

We’re still in NYC for our next book, but rewind the clock 137 years. "The Witches of New York" starts in the autumn of 1880, and instead of one determined magician, we are greeted by three very different, well-rounded witches.

Compelled by an ad in the paper seeking a shop girl that closes with “those averse to magic need not apply,” Beatrice leaves her small town upstate for New York City. She begins her work at Tea and Sympathy with Adelaide, a fortune teller and Eleanor, a mixer of potions, teas, and all sorts of spells. All three women grapple with their power and what it means to be a witch in a city equally obsessed with technology and seances, superstition and progress.

Hounded by forces both normal and paranormal, Beatrice, Adelaide and Eleanor must find their place in the world while conquering their own fears. "The Witches of New York" has a lot going on, and even though there were parts I wanted to skim through, I found each character enchanting.

While "An Unkindness of Magicians" is sleek and wholly its own, McKay’s work dabbles in everything from fairies to Cleopatra’s Needle to tasseomancey (tea leaf reading). It confronts head on the persecution women faced for being “other” and has so many parallels to what women face in current times that it feels modern while being unapologetically eclectic.

There you have it: two fantasy books with women at the forefront. Finding well-developed female protagonists can be a struggle, and there are so many books that I roll my eyes at or don’t finish because the central character doesn’t have depth or isn’t compelling. But Sydney, Beatrice, Eleanor and Adelaide are sure to bewitch you. I have definitely fallen under their spell and can’t wait to escape to their worlds again.

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

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Five-star young adult books published this year

Liked it, really liked it, it was amazing — if you’re a GoodReads user, you’ll recognize these as the three, four, and five star ratings on the site. I admit, I’m probably a little over-generous with my stars.

Looking back at this year’s reads, I’ve given no less than three stars to each. But I also feel like I’ve read some really good books.

Because I order books for the teen collection, many of those reads were young adult books. I know it’s a tad bit early for “Best of 2017” lists, but here are five published this year that I unhesitatingly gave five stars:

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

With "The Gentleman’s Guide," Mackenzie Lee brings the 18th century to life in a way that engages and enlightens the modern reader. Henry “Monty” Montague embarks on a grand tour of Europe with his younger sister, Felicity, and his best friend Percy. Monty is charmingly arrogant, secretly obsessed with Percy, and has a penchant for getting the three of them in the worst trouble. Through their adventures, Felicity and Percy bring balance to the reckless and self-obsessed Monty we meet at the beginning of the book. It’s a fun romp full of history, adventure and forbidden romance.

"Radio Silence" by Alice Oseman

Frances spends most of her free time studying, but she has one extracurricular obsession: a podcast mystery. When she gets the opportunity to contribute her artwork, she befriends the otherwise anonymous creator, but as the podcast gains popularity, it’s hard to keep his trust. Fans of Rainbow Rowell's "Eleanor & Park" take note: current, diverse, and filled with quirky adorableness. You won't want to put it down until you're done.

"The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas

This is probably one of the most important and timely reads of the year. Starr Carter’s life is turned upside down when she witnesses the death of her best friend at the hands of a police officer during a traffic stop. Born and raised in a predominantly poor, black neighborhood, Starr attends a private school that’s mostly white. After her friend’s death, she struggles with helping bring justice for her friend and determining her place in these two communities.

"Perfect Ten" By L. Philips

If the adorable cover doesn't draw you in, the story definitely will. Frustrated with the lack of eligible guys at his school, Sam crafts a list of 10 traits he wants in a boyfriend for a love spell his Wiccan best friend, Meg, suggests performing. And voila, three perfect guys enter Sam's life — all in pursuit of him. Sam’s the kind of character you'll be annoyed with and then adore, never want to hear from again, and then find yourself obsessing over. A delightful teen rom-com with lots of heart, some drama and hints of magical realism.

"Looking for Group" by Rory Harrison

My new favorite road trip novel. It’s a beautiful story about taking charge of your own life and connecting with those who accept you for who you are. Dylan is in remission, addicted to medications and struggling to get along with a mother who only takes advantage of his situation. Arden lives with a father who refuses to accept her as she is. They've only met online playing World of Warcraft, but when Dylan shows up on Arden's doorstep, they decide to abscond across the country on their first real life mission. A fun, endearing read.

— William Ottens is the Cataloging and Collection Development Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.

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“The Man from the Train”: a midwest murder case for the history books

Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James' nonfiction "The Man from the Train" opens with the brutal murder of 8 people in the quiet town of Villisca, Iowa during the summer of 1912.

The murders rocked the tiny town and fed the newly burgeoning press scene with half-truths and speculation. Though the press could be wildly unhelpful, authorities could now see a continued pattern of murders stringing along the rail lines from small town to small town in the Midwest thanks to the reporting and sharing of information across county and state lines.

Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James work backward through time, focusing on the later, more reported murders first, then weaving into the creation of the titular Man from the Train. We see the established patterns and psychoses, then see how the assailant built his skill set of quietly murdering families, then disappearing without a trace.

The authors not only detail the murders of those whom they have concluded are the work of our assailant, but they also detail other crimes and attacks they believe are not the work of the Man from the Train to establish a set pattern for the crimes. This psychological profiling pays off as the reader progresses through the book.

One of my favorite elements of historical nonfiction, whether it be biography, history or true crime, is the well-researched world building authors do to place the reader in their story. Learning about 19th century medical procedures in Candice Millard’s "Destiny of the Republic," or the 17th century philosophy of scientific inquiry in Holly Tucker’s "Blood Work," creates a truly immersive experience for the reader.

The authors detail police procedure (or lack thereof), the press, and the explosion of information that occurred between 1909 and 1912 that allowed police to share information and see the multi-jurisdictional puzzle that our assailant had been creating for almost 15 years.

Police work during the height of the killing spree was quite often crowdfunded and utilized the services of private investigators. Local police departments, especially in the small rural towns where the Man from the Train struck, simply did not have the resources to carry out time-consuming and expensive investigations. This created the need for private investigation firms (the most famous being the Pinkerton Agency) to step in.

One of the best characters (and by best, I mean most vile and opportunistic) is investigator J. N. Wilkerson of the Burns Agency, who was more interested in extorting money from innocent people rather than actually solving the horrendous Villisca crime. With little governmental oversight, this was common practice among investigators, who would declare innocent a suspect brought into custody by local police forces and condemn another party guilty in order to claim a not insubstantial reward for “solving” the crime.

This is only one example of the historical detail the authors go into. The rest are equally fascinating and describe the boons and perils technology brings to any time, whether it’s 1910 or 2017.

I’ve never been one for true crime until recently. "The Keepers," a seven part series that premiered on Netflix that details the continued investigation of a nun’s murder in the 1960’s, proved to be my gateway to the genre. In today’s culture, we are constantly inundated with the idea of violence with no rational motive in fiction and nonfiction, whether it’s in the shower of the Bates Motel or the pages of a memoir by convicted BTK killer Dennis Rader.

The authors of "The Man from the Train" argue early on that this is a relatively new phenomenon, no doubt stroked by sensationalism and media exposure. However, irrational killing was not on the radar of early 20th century police in small rural towns where the murder rate was only one or two cases a year. They often looked for motives such as revenge or passion, which is one of many reasons our assailant was able to kill for so long, undetected.

If true crime and historical sleuthing are your thing, "The Man from the Train" reads like a thriller and gives you a backstage pass into the authors’ research techniques and Sherlockian deductions. It’s a great read and a testament to the archaeological research done to piece together the profile of one of the worst serial killers in the country.

Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James will talk about the book at Lawrence Public Library on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. The Raven bookstore will sell copies and a signing will follow the reading.

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

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October Look Play Listen Round Up

Look Play Listen is the Lawrence Public Library’s team of audio and video appreciators.

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.

Look

"The Last Kingdom" (Season 2)

Sure, you'll make fun of it, but when you're desperate to fill that "Game of Thrones" void in your heart, where else are you going to turn? Super entertaining, great costumes, totally recommend.

–Logan from Development & Community Partnerships

"Over the Garden Wall"

I missed the boat on "Over the Garden Wall" when it originally aired on Cartoon Network in 2014, and I never got into its spiritual sibling, "Adventure Time," but I’m delighted that the show finally crossed my path on a recent, lazy Sunday afternoon as the Summer had begun fading into Fall. The anthology of ten, ten minute episodes works best when watched together as it tells the story of half-brother Greg and Wirt and their adventures making their way home through “The Unknown,” a strange, fairytale land.

Over their travels, the two encounter fantastic and grotesque characters, including witches, magical turtles, re-animated skeletons masquerading as a village of pumpkin people, a human family cursed to live as bluebirds and a soul-sapping beast lurking in the everpresent woods. The fable-like themes of the show, along with the muted, autumnal color palette make for cozy fall viewing.

–Kevin from Collection Development

"Kong"

A thrilling adventure with an all-star cast. I enjoyed this modern take on the classic King Kong story, with fantastic visual effects and new twists. It makes you think about the way we respond to that which we fear, but ultimately is unknown.

–William from Collection Development

Play

"Uncharted: The Lost Legacy" "Uncharted" is back in fine form in the newest from developer Naughty Dog’s "Indiana Jones" meets "Tomb Raider" series. Chloe Fraser and Nadine Ross are a fierce duo hunting down the fabled Hoysala civilization in this perfectly paced, over the top, beautiful romp through India.

P.S. It passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.

–Ian from Info Services

Listen

"Jomsviking"

An anthemic and fist-pumping conceptual record from one of Sweden's beloved extreme metal acts, Amon Amarth. "Jomsviking" is cohesive and inspiring (in a "let's go head first into a viking battle" sort of way) — an excellent testament to a band who has already established themselves as one of the greats. –Joel from Tech Services

"The Saga Continues"

Replete with kung-fu snippets and shout outs to high-end apparel brands, it's the Wu-Tang Clan, back again. The world of 2017 is pretty different from the super group's heyday, yet they seem unfazed, marching forward with their trademark tightly produced beats and unmatched lyrical wordplay. "If Time is Money" bittersweetly recalls "Cash Rules Everything Around Me"; though the bombastic veneer is mostly the same as it was in '94, their thoughts can be seen turning to bigger concerns, primarily the fostering of family and community.

There's something oddly reassuring that despite everything that may happen, the Wu can still be the Wu, even now. Highly recommended.

–Eli from Readers Services

So that’s it from us for October! What media are you loving this month?

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Four fall finds

Publishing, like everything, goes in cycles; spring and summer are prime time for book publications, and things tend to wane as the months get colder.

However, every year there are gems that get released after the rush, and I want to highlight a few books that are yet to come for the end of 2017.

"Heaven’s Crooked Finger" by Hank Early (Mystery - 11/7)

Hank Early brings us the beginning of a new mystery series featuring Earl Marcus, a man drawn reluctantly back into his past in order to solve a haunting mystery. The characters in this novel are as engaging and intriguing as the plot itself, and Early’s descriptions of North Georgia will draw you in. Compared favorably to James Lee Burke, this Southern crime series will leave you intrigued as it navigates unexpected twists and turns.

"Someone You Love Is Gone" by Gurjinder Basran (Literary Fiction - 11/7)

Capturing the depths and complexity of grief is not an easy task, but Basran uses beautiful prose to illustrate the loss of one family’s central member in this literary novel. We follow Simran, the eldest daughter of an Indian family living in Canada, as she learns more about her beloved late mother as well as what remains of own life after this loss. Readers who enjoy lyrical, emotional prose and literary favorites such as Jhumpa Lahiri and Marilynne Robinson will be drawn to this one.

"City of Brass" by S.A. Chakraborty (Fantasy - 11/14)

Note: I saw Chakraborty speak at a recent conference, and I was impressed by the amount of passion and research she put into her debut novel.

An adult fantasy novel that could be suitable for YA crossover, Chakraborty draws upon ancient Middle Eastern folklore to captivate her audiences. Early reviewers are raving about how fully they were absorbed into this fantasy world, one filled with trickster con-artists, mysterious djinns and political intrigue.

"Mean" by Myriam Gurba (Memoir... - 11/14)

Why the ellipses after “Memoir”? Gurba is a spoken-word performer and a visual artist by trade, and this book draws upon her unique style, resulting in a caustically hilarious yet poignant book that resists genre classification.

As a queer, mixed-race Chicana with a lifetime of intersectional observations to draw upon, Myriam Gurba has honed her “meanness” as an act of self-preservation. She turns her unflinching eye on racism, sexism, homophobia and a world of other systemic issues in this raw, engaging work. Read if you want to discover a new hero.

Why these books weren’t released during the usual hype-filled warmer months is beyond me, but I think they will all prove that the best is yet to come for 2017.

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.




Look

"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

Play

"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

Listen

"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

"Rainbow"

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?

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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.

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