Entries from blogs tagged with “Lawrence”
Let’s be honest, 2016 has been kind of a hot mess. Between so many celebrity deaths (David Bowie, Sharon Jones, Prince, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, Elie Wiesel) and some, uh, general upheaval, most people are ready to write this one off as a loss.
But! As much as we’d like to say goodbye and good riddance to the year as a whole, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention one of the very good things that came from 2016; this year has offered readers a wealth of fabulous new books. Debut authors and big-hitters alike have released incredible works in 2016, and the Lawrence Public Library staff would like to share a few of our favorites. If you’re looking for great gifts for bibliophiles in your life, try one of these librarian-approved reads:
Fisher: "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" (Screenplay)
Who would have known that my favorite book of the year would be a screenplay written by literary goddess J.K. Rowling herself? I love the ways in which Rowling expands her wizarding world in "Fantastic Beasts" because it not only made me feel like a kid again but also transported me to a magical world that is full of fascinating characters, gripping plot twists, and "adorkable" interactions. In addition, I appreciate that the political climate and social justice issues embedded in the story mirror what is going on in America today, which makes "Fantastic Beasts" even more impactful and relevant. Be sure to read it while listening to the breathtaking, jazzy score by James Newton Howard.
Jake: "Stamped From the Beginning"
Those in the library auditorium when Ibram X. Kendi came to speak quickly learned that this historian has done his research, and he presents it well. I vote for his penetrating examination of racism in America, "Stamped from the Beginning," as best book of 2016.
When his book won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, Kendi addressed years of sifting through centuries of racism. Though it was grueling and gruesome, he reminded us that “In the midst of the human ugliness of racism, there was the human beauty.” Read this appalling but nonetheless beautiful book.
Kate: "What is Not Yours is Not Yours"
Choosing one book is nearly impossible! I've mentioned several favorites through the year (books by Jesmyn Ward, Yaa Gyasi, Nicole Dennis-Benn, & Natashia Deon) but one that I've not specifically blogged about is "What is Not Yours is Not Yours," a story collection by Helen Oyeyemi. With hints of magic, vivid imagery, and surprising story lines, these can be savored slowly or devoured all at once.
William: "Still Life With Tornado"
This is easily one of the the best YA novels I've read this year. It’s an intense, heartbreaking look at abuse, trauma and dealing with the demons of your past and surviving. It could be hard for some to read, but it's not without its hope. Author A.S. King is brilliant.
Dan: "King Baby"
I’m always amazed at how Kate Beaton, whose comic "Hark, a Vagrant" — a sort of literary and historical “The Far Side” — is able to sketch complex sight gags and subtle facial expressions. In recent years she has turned to writing picture books. Last year’s "The Princess and the Pony," in which a princess receives a pony that is disappointingly cute instead of glamorous (and has a problem with gas), was one of the funniest picture books of 2015, and now she is back with "King Baby," a story about the most tyrannical ruler of all. Only Beaton could draw a baby who remains irresistibly cuddly, even as he brutalizes his loyal subjects with constant demands (and bodily functions). This makes a great read for young monarchs and is a perfect gift book for any with recently arrived royalty in their lives.
Polli: "The Underground Railroad"
Author Colson Whitehead is an artist, cutting language to something spare, sharp, and bright. In this face-paced work, the Underground Railroad out of slavery isn't a metaphor; it's a reality. One night, abandoned and outcast, Cora flees the extreme brutality of her enslavement with Caesar, a man she barely knows. Cora finds that brutality can assume many faces and forms, and as the fractured nation faces how to deal with the "the slavery question," true freedom seems ever elusive, no matter where she travels. Moving back and forth through time, Whitehead gives us a novel that reminds us that our nation has only recently been built on a fault line of our own making, one that can never be healed by throwing dirt over shoulders as we walk away from it. I highly recommend this book.
Ilka: "Reasons to Stay Alive"
In 2016, I’m unable to think of a more important time for self-care. Enter "Reasons to Stay Alive" by Matt Haig. It houses a vital perspective from a recovered suicide survivor and anxiety sufferer, but it has the ability to enable empathy for those who haven’t experienced these things. What better handbook to have in uncertain times than one that motivates us to keep propelling forward.
"The Last Wild Places of Kansas: Journeys Into Hidden Landscapes" by George Frazier is an entertaining, locally-focused natural history travelogue. Frazier’s compassionate and engaging writing reads like classic storytelling, yet provides rich detail of Native American and early explorers’ experiences in Kansas. Reading about this local author’s experiences will give many Kansan’s a surreal sense of personal relation to the stories.
Additionally, "Swing Time" by Zadie Smith is a coming of age story narrated by an irreverently thoughtful brown-skinned young woman. While we may not learn the narrator’s name, she offers clever, searing insights about friendship, race, class and so much more. This complex novel of serendipitous truth and wit is framed in a vivid reflection of cultural icons and dance perfection. This book is a Finalist for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
Meredith: "Another Brooklyn"
This lyrical, haunting tale of the interwoven girlhoods of four young girls in 1970s Brooklyn is beautiful and heartbreaking. It’s excellent on audiobook.
Honorable Mention: "All the Wrong Places" by Ann Gallagher — A diverse, funny, and moving romance that avoids cliché.
Eli : "A Taste of Honey"
Not only is Kai Ashante Wilson’s "A Taste of Honey" the best thing I’ve read this year, but it’s also what I would call the most surprising. When I picked it up on a whim, I had no idea this 150-some page novella could possibly contain such an original, intriguing fantasy world (with hints of sci-fi) as well as a dynamic, expertly crafted tale of LGBTQ romance. Its world may be uncanny, with its god-like beings meddling with a royal family drama, but the love story at the core is all too relatable.
There you have it, folks - ten of the best books that came out of one of the worst years.
I’m not ashamed to admit young adult lit dominated my reading list this year. It’s partly because I get to order books for the library’s teen collection—but also because YA books are awesome. Yeah, awesome. Books for teens have gotten so much more diverse, so much more in-depth, and so much more engaging over the past decade and a half. Any fan of John Green, Rainbow Rowell, Andrew Smith, Tessa Gratton (this list could go on forever…) could tell you that.
There are a ton of talented YA authors (see above), and I’ve made it a goal to highlight some of their backlist titles here. A.S. King is another one of those authors. Her characters are real and relatable, and her stories engrossing. I picked up an advance copy of "Reality Boy" at a library conference back in 2013. I remember that I couldn’t put it down until I finished it.
When Gerald, our protagonist, was five, he earned the nickname “Crapper” for defecating all over his mother’s and sister’s belongings. Oh, and on the kitchen table. On screen. In front of millions of viewers. He and his family were on a reality TV show in which a stage nanny offered advice and techniques to fix their issues. Even before the cameras and crews invaded their home, Gerald had a lot of anger, and so the show labeled him the problem child. The problem? It was actually his older sister, Tasha.
Twelve years later, Gerald is still dealing with his emotions, even with anger-management training and boxing regimes to help him find control. It doesn’t help that the source of his anger — Tasha — is still living at home. He’s convinced jail — or death — is his immediate future. Or, he thinks, he could always join the circus. Then he falls in love with Hannah, a coworker who has family issues of her own. They decide to run away together to give their parents a wake-up call, but Gerald discovers that’s not quite the answer to his problems.
A.S. King is a master of emotion, first-person narrative, and convincing dialogue. I would also encourage you to check out her latest release, "Still Life with Tornado." And if you’re a fan of YA lit too, check out the YA for Grownups book club!
-William Ottens is the Cataloging and Collection Development Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.
Every year, I try to challenge myself to diversify my reading. Whether it’s exploring a new genre or delving into books written by authors of color, part of what I love most about reading is seeing the world from a new perspective or gaining a greater understanding of the beautiful lives of others.
This fall, I became obsessed with LGBTQ+ romance novels, a genre I tend to avoid because I find it to be riddled with stereotypes. Imagine my surprise when I picked up "Widdershins" by Jordan L. Hawk, which proved to be so much more than the generic romances I’ve become accustomed to perusing at the grocery store check-out aisle.
To sum the book up, "Widdershins" is told from the perspective of Dr. Percival Endicott Whyborne, a comparative philologist who works at the Nathaniel R. Ladysmith Museum. Whyborne spends much of his time in isolation translating artifacts brought back on the museum’s expeditions— (imagine Milo Thatch from "Atlantis" with a sprinkle of Giles from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and you will get the gist). He is awkward, bookish, gawky, and lacks self confidence but is a romantic at heart with a passion for academia.
Whyborne’s life is forever changed when the roguish, handsome Griffin Flaherty walks into his door, charming smile ablaze. A former Pinkerton detective turned private investigator from Kansas, Griffin is brought in to investigate the mysterious death of a museum board member's son. Griffin is everything Whyborne isn’t—forceful, confident, flirty, and borderline impertinent.
When the museum director asks Whyborne to translate a book written in an unintelligible cipher related to the case, both Whyborne and Griffin stumble headfirst into a world of secret societies, alchemical magic and phantasmagorical creatures, all while the ghosts of their past resurface.
It’s clear that one of the best features of "Widdershins" is its characters. Hawk finds a way to move beyond queer stereotypes and avoids over-the-top caricatures, resulting in realistic, fully fleshed-out individuals. Like I said, I tend to avoid the romance genre because it is so trope-oriented. It was nice to read a gay romance that instead focuses on relatable characters with complex histories instead of cookie-cutter archetypes.
I also appreciate the fact that Hawk explores social justice issues set in a time when openly identifying as gay was a death sentence and how that shapes one’s identity and sense of the world. She takes a more subtle approach, but it impacts the journey of the characters and how they evolve over the course of the book. This added a sense of depth and dimension that I find lacking in many romance titles.
Another strength of "Widdershins" lies in the development of Whyborne and Griffin’s romance. The pacing and romantic tension build steadily, convincingly, and don’t go the whole Disney Princess route of “hey I just met you ten minutes ago, so let’s get married.” As two individuals who couldn’t be any more different are forced to work together, their friendship develops and blossoms into something much greater. You’ll start wondering if Whyborne and Griffin will ever take the plunge, and it makes the reward so much sweeter when it happens.
"Widdershins" did manage to surprise me with its intense, edge of your seat pacing. Whyborne and Griffin’s case almost has a historical and X-Files-esque feel to it with plenty of angst thrown in for good measure. The characters are seemingly always in danger, and that sense of never knowing what lurks around each dark corner keeps you up late into the night. "Widdershins" turned into a one sitting read for me since it was a late night Kindle purchase. I may have been exhausted the next day, but it was so worth it.
I will admit that I’m a card carrying member of the “I Love Big Books and I Cannot Lie” Club. Some of my favorite novels might spend three pages describing the intricate details of a gentleman’s top hat, so I often find that shorter books leave me with a sense that some facet is missing. Even if I tend to live life on a bit of the verbose side, I adored that Hawk was able to craft a unique and fascinating world, develop a cast of incredible characters, create a believable romance, and deliver on a mystery with a twist ending in a mere 236 pages. It’s an impressive feat that requires a great deal of skill, and I only hope that one day I can adopt a similar “less is more approach” to my writing while still maintaining the integrity of the story and characters.
A final warning: be sure to keep a tall glass of milk nearby, as this book gets pretty dang spicy. We’re talking habanero levels here. If steamy romance isn’t your cup of tea, then "Widdershins" may not be the book for you. However, it is a great starting place if you’re new to LGBTQ+ romance, want to explore some historical fiction with elements of fantasy and mystery or just need an escape from the real world (which I’m sure we could all use right about now).
-Fisher Adwell is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
As someone who has no kids and no television, I read a lot — during my lunch hour, after work with a beer, at a coffee shop, waiting in line. In fact, my boss and I have a segment on our podcast called “We can’t always be reading” and I always have trouble coming up with content for this section. Like Rory Gilmore, I basically always have a book with me (at least one.)
All of this is not to bookbrag, but rather to put what I say next into context: Winter is horrible for my reading. I’ve been treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as “S.A.D.,” the most ridiculous acronym available) for a decade now, and winter hits me hardest when it comes to books. I find that I just… can’t read. I don’t want to read.
I want to want to, but I can’t muster up the energy. It’s typically the first sign for me that — to steal a phrase from Game of Thrones — Winter is Coming. It’s confusing and frustrating, and for a long time I didn’t even have words for explaining myself to myself, much less to others. Ironically, it was something I read during a non-depressed time that helped.
In the book "Hyperbole and a Half," Allie Brosh talks about her own struggles with depression. The book — like her beloved blog of the same title — combines Brosh’s hilarious and often self-deprecating wit with MS-Paint-inspired drawings (like the one above), making even her serious and vulnerable essays somewhat amusing. In one of her essays on depression, Brosh offers an extremely useful metaphor; she talks about her favorite childhood toys and the daring feats and perilous journeys they would embark upon during her playtimes. As years passed, however, things changed:
[As] I grew older, it became harder and harder to access that expansive imaginary space that made my toys fun. I remember looking at them and feeling sort of frustrated and confused that things weren't the same.
I played out all the same story lines that had been fun before, but the meaning had disappeared. Horse's Big Space Adventure transformed into holding a plastic horse in the air, hoping it would somehow be enjoyable for me. Prehistoric Crazy-Bus Death Ride was just smashing a toy bus full of dinosaurs into the wall while feeling sort of bored and unfulfilled. I could no longer connect to my toys in a way that allowed me to participate in the experience.
Depression feels almost exactly like that, except about everything.
I remember reading this passage on her blog a few years ago and feeling like Brosh completely nailed it. This! This is how I feel about reading when winter hits — like I suddenly can’t connect anymore, and feel foolish for even trying to enjoy it. The rest of Brosh’s essay on depression is an incredibly worthwhile read for anyone who has similar seasonal struggles or knows/loves someone else who does.
The reminder that other people have these feelings (or lack-thereof) is one of the reasons LPL has decided to launch a Winter Reading program this year. The goal of Winter Reading for adults is to read three books in two months (Dec. 1 through Jan 31st) as well as to potentially connect with one another and our community. We want to give ourselves something to strive for and look forward to during what is often a difficult time of year.
Another program we’re offering features “S.A.D. lamps” available for use in the library. You’ll be able to come into the auditorium, lounge in a comfy chair, and read or relax while soaking up some helpful light therapy. Information will be provided on other ways for combatting seasonal depression as well, thanks to our Info Services department and folks from Bert Nash. Stay tuned for the December calendar, but if you have any questions in the meantime, please feel free to contact me.
At this point, while autumn is still on my heels, I’m eager for this Winter Reading program, and I hope people will utilize resources that can help — whether that’s doctor appointments or medications or SAD lamps or book clubs or just repeatedly reading "Hyperbole and a Half."
Yes, Winter is Coming, but maybe we can still play Horse's Big Space Adventure and get our read on.
— Kate Gramlich is a reader's services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
[Nota Bene: What I have attempted below is most likely better left to academics and others better suited to pontificate upon Zadie Smith and "White Teeth," her critically-acclaimed debut novel, but oh well, here goes…]
In celebration of Zadie Smith’s December 1st visit to Lawrence — thanks to our lovely friends at KU’s Hall Center for the Humanities — I was asked to write a piece about Zadie Smith.
Why me, you may ask? Fantastic question. Anyone who has mentioned Zadie Smith within earshot of me will most likely have been told (by me!) a well-worn, old story of writing a grad school paper on "White Teeth" and then accosting Ms. Smith with said paper at an author event in Kansas City.
They will also see me beam with pride as I say that she wrote me back and commented that some of my points were pretty good. (I still have that old, old email.) So, that’s why: because I freak out about "White Teeth" anytime anyone brings up Zadie Smith. With this prologue and the above nota bene out of the way, here’s why I think "White Teeth" is so important, perhaps now more than ever.
First, for those who have not read the book, here is some attempted enticement. Then 24-year-old Zadie Smith’s debut novel was released to great acclaim in January 2000, that cultural moment when we were all taking solace that Y2K didn’t collapse the grid. Yet it was still a giddy, hopeful, perhaps blindly optimistic time, right before our late-'90s economic boom collapsed along with the World Trade Center.
Entertainment Weekly hailed her as the “It Lit Debutante.” Salman Rushdie declared the novel, “an astonishingly assured debut.” It was in the window of every bookstore. It was an important book!
"White Teeth" is the sweeping, epic multicultural story of three families—the Joneses, the Iqbals, and the Chalfens, (one “mixed” family, one Indian, one very white, respectively). The central storylines concentrate on the parents and children of these families, but also extend backwards in time to grandparents and even a great-great-grandparent(!), stretching from the then-current times (1990s) back to the 1850s and here and there through the 1970s and 1980s. The central metaphors of the book, teeth and horticulture, concentrate on “roots,” and Smith plumbs the depths of these roots exhaustively throughout the book.
So that’s the context, the basic gist of the book, and my attempted enticement. Are you still with me? Here is a bold declaration. "White Teeth" demonstrates that fiction writing is perhaps the best situated medium there is to help us understand the complexities of all our intersectionalities as human beings.
Why? A novel allows an author and its reader (and perhaps a community of readers discussing the author’s book during and after reading it) to engage in an extended meditation on how human beings behave, how they interact with one another, and how they respond to the things that happen in the world that surrounds them.
So what? Characters interacting and reacting to their fictive world (generally based on our own real world) allow us to see examples of behavior and ways of being that help us understand a world beyond our own, and this helps expand our consciousness and even our capacity for compassion. Seeing characters in fiction move through multiple examples of ways of acting in the world help illustrate in our minds how the world operates and more importantly, ways in which it could operate.
I am being too abstract. Time for an example— okay, deal with it. Let me quote myself, from my 2001 grad school paper: “Smith, who comes from the neighborhood she writes about in "White Teeth," makes a strong argument for the importance of integrated neighborhoods in the development of cross-racial relationships and friendships. While Archie retains some of his inherent racism, he forges a true friendship with Bangladeshi Samad and he marries a Jamaican.”
Don’t worry if you don’t know who Archie and Samad are, or what Archie’s Jamaican wife’s name is (it’s Irie). I quote my former grad student self because it seems that many of the things that divide us as a nation, as racial and ethnic groups, across class and gender, come from physical and psychological distance, from not having to deal with each other in any meaningful way.
Somehow, two completely, wildly different men forge a dear friendship. How? Why? Because they were in the Army together, and then, after several years of never seeing or communicating with each other, they randomly move to the same neighborhood and forge a friendship over endless drinks together at the local pub. I’m simplifying here a bit, I know, but again, that drives home my point. In a great novel, the creation of a world doesn’t have to simplify — it can exist in its complexity; it can resist didacticism and encourage us to think about how and why things are and how they came (and/or come) to be.
I could go on and on (I did back in 2001), but let me close by saying that I personally thank Zadie Smith for writing a novel that gave me so much to chew on, and my amazing professor at the University of Wisconsin, the late great Nellie McKay, for teaching the black women’s literature class wherein I thought and wrote about "White Teeth" for several weeks.
Zadie Smith is a gift to our world. Do yourself a solid and go see her talk at the KU Ballroom on Dec. 1. I can’t wait.
-Brad Allen is the Executive Director of Lawrence Public Library.
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” -Friedrich Nietzsche
Two days after the election, I was in New York for business, and I found myself roaming the streets of Brooklyn. Everywhere I went, people seemed to be trying to make sense of the incredible divide in our country. Some people claimed to be shocked. Others claimed to be unsurprised, but there was a palpable sense of people searching for threads of understand they could weave into substance while absorbing the outcome of a long and contentious campaign.
I overheard snatches of conversation in the subways, bodegas, and cafes. I saw the growing wall of post-it notes in Union Square Station, filled with people sharing their reactions. In a very “New York moment”, I conversed with my Pakistani cab driver, a man with a Master’s degree in Psychology and Computer Science, who moved to New York in 2014 and is still searching for work in his field. He was very eager to know my thoughts on the election, but he was more circumspect about sharing his own.
This is probably why, when I wandered into the charming Word Bookstore, looking for what the booksellers in NYC were showcasing, I felt compelled to pick up the classic "Man’s Search for Meaning" by Victor E. Frankl. If I saw nothing else during my time in NYC, I saw a mass of humanity grappling with a sea-change. They were talking through theories about what happened, and why it happened, and what to do next.
Had I been on social media (which I had been trying to avoid for a while), I’d have seen the same thing. This was my read of the zeitgeist: people are searching for meaning - both within themselves and in a world that appears to be making less sense to people, no matter who they supported in the election.
Frankl originally published "Man’s Search for Meaning" in 1959. He had been working as a therapist in Vienna and creating the basis for his practice prior to being arrested by the Nazis. As a survivor of four concentration camps, his work and his hope of finishing the book and seeing his pregnant wife again sustained him. What he learned there shaped his theories and confirmed his beliefs, that even when humanity is tested to the utmost degree, it still exists. Frankl divides the book into two sections to increase understanding; first, he shares his lived experiences in the camps and second, he introduces his therapeutic doctrine, logotherapy.
The basis of logotherapy is relatively simple - our desire to have our life mean something motivates us beyond all other things. This contrasted with other popular theories of the day, which posited that either pleasure (Sigmund Freud) or power (Alfred Adler) were, in fact, our main motivators as humans. Frankl makes a compelling argument that people who have something to be responsible for, who have a goal, are the most likely to survive. This fact he saw time and again in the camps, and it has been verified with research from other prisoner of war camps and more recently with residents of nursing homes who are given animals or plants to care for.
While Frankl would stop short of sharing with us The Meaning Of Life, he did teach that there are some things that were essential to all humans in the search for their own meaning of life. Frankl writes,
According to logotherapy, we can discover the meaning of life in three different ways (1) By creating work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
(Please note Frankl stressed it must be unavoidable suffering that we may rise above it — continuing to endure suffering you can control doesn’t make you a hero, it makes you a masochist.)
Further, logotherapy issues the categorical imperative “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.” Spending years on the cusp of death himself, and surrounded by others who were balanced on the edge of that knife, Frankl saw clearly what people regretted, wished for, took comfort in — what they lived for.
An essential belief of logotherapy is that humans are free to choose their reactions to circumstances, no matter how extreme the circumstance. As long as a person is engaged in being responsible for something, has love for someone other than themselves, and can find meaning in suffering, their humanity remains. These three things are paramount in our ability to find meaning — it is through transcending the self (by doing works in and of the world, not just internal work) that one actualizes the self.
A thought that I find useful for the times we live in is that Frankl, who witnessed the very worst, the very lowest that humans can sink to, still remained convinced that no one is incapable of choosing rightly at any moment, that we should never count humans out. We always retain our capacity for choice and must continue to choose rightly, no matter our surroundings.
He reminds us that the same humanity that built the gas chambers was also the humanity who stood upright and unbroken, with prayers on their lips as they perished. Frankl was given the unwished-for task of bearing witness to the heights and depths to which humanity can achieve, and, in sharing it with world, found his meaning.
-Polli Kenn is the Reader’s Services Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.
The Spencer Museum of Art recently underwent a transformative renovation that lasted eighteen months and celebrated with a grand re-opening weekend in October. This reinvigoration was more than cosmetic; it was necessary. The museum upgraded nearly 30,000 square feet —further details can be found on the museum's website.
After dedicating great energy to time and space, the Spencer is prepared for its new exhibition, Temporal Turn: Art & Speculation in Contemporary Asia. The museum offers an eloquent summary: “Temporal Turn explores a rich mosaic of ideas about time and history from a generation of contemporary artists grounded in what has been dubbed the ‘Asian Century.’”
It incorporates an impressive cohesion of works of 26 different artists from Asia, four of whom were in residence at the Spencer: Rohini Devasher (India), Jaeyoung Park (South Korea), Sahej Rahal (India), and Tomoko Konoike (Japan). There are five themes to the exhibit—Pulse, The Edge of Infinity, Mythopoeia, Human/Posthuman/Inhuman, and Anthropocene—that unify this collective effort and its multiple literary references. The Spencer’s expansive catalog for Temporal Turn also contains two contributions from KU: short story "The Empress Jingū Fishes" by Kij Johnson, assistant professor of fiction writing, along with the piece "Time, Space, and Physics" by Philip Baringer, a professor in the department of physics and astronomy.
Not only do these works deal with ideas and concepts associated with time, but some interact on a physical and temporal level. Visitors are greeted by Temporal Turn with a site specific work outside the museum by Sahej Rahal, "Children of Days," inspired by Eduardo Galeano’s book of the same name. The installation is a large scale amalgam consisting of rummaged material found in Lawrence, ranging from church pews to chicken wire. Rahal, an unashamed science fiction enthusiast, transfigures these everyday objects into something altogether dystopian. Through the application of clay mixed with iron oxide, their new collective meaning evokes possible “ruins from the Future,” potential “forgotten war memorials,” or the fallen “pieces from the Death Star” found in George Lucas’ Star Wars saga, the artist notes.
Inside the Spencer’s Central Court is another locally generated installation by Tomoko Konoike: "Mythological Map of Kansas," a geographical reinterpretation of Lawrence and Kansas City. A cowhide is painted with subtle reference to a buffalo head and is held together by vibrant red leather stitchings that mirror the roadway system. Snakes of varied sizes represent the respective metropolises, and the singular eye of the buffalo houses a tornado. Konoike’s works maintain an aesthetic that evokes imagery found in folklore and fairytale, such as Grimm’s "Little Red Riding Hood," and "Princess Mononoke," in particular. This can be seen in the mirrored, many-legged fox in "Donning Animal Skins and Braided Grass," 2011, and the narrative within the video-projection piece "mimio-Odyssey." While maintaining this imagery, there is a visceral resonance of the five senses through the materials she uses. This felt all but confirmed when at a recent artists’ talk, Konoike stated, “When we acquired language, we became human.”
Hur Unkyung’s work is influenced by environmental issues—specifically, by the use of GMOs in food, which is of great concern in Korea, where she lives. This knowledge combines with the imagery of creatures found in H.G. Wells’ "War of the Worlds," Ridley Scott’s "Alien," even Steven Spielberg’s "E.T." in Unkyung’s "Unknown Creatures;" intriguing at first, it takes on an insidious undertone. Her use of gilding alters the perception of unidentifiable forms because, she says, “beautifulness embraced ugliness” and because it makes them appear “precious,” as well as captivating.
Jaeyoung Park’s contribution to Temporal Turn, the "Kansas Bokaisen Project" installation, is a laboratory shrouded in supernatural mystique. Movies and novels that continue a narrative of urban legends, real or imagined, are the inspirational source material behind his process. Here, Park resurrects an urban legend from 16th-century Japan, a creature known as Bokaisen. He encourages museum visitors to incorporate the mythological creature into the present zeitgeist through modern technology, via Instagram or handmade posters displayed around town.
It’s no secret that Lawrence Public Library has been focused on outer space this entire year, from 2016’s Read Across Lawrence selection, "The Martian," to our ISS chat with astronaut Takuya Onishi and our recent MOOC series culminating with a supermoon viewing party. LPL’s science fiction collection offers numerous Hugo and Nebula awarded titles, and, in anticipation for Temporal Turn’s opening, Readers’ Services has created a reading list of books (and read-alikes) as referenced by the exhibiting artists. On November 30th, at 6 p.m., you will be able to take a temporal turn about the exhibit with curator Kris Ercums as he leads a personal walkthrough.
-Ilka Iwanczuk is a reader’s services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
After a recent flight reminded me of how terrible it is to travel with my circa-2011 laptop, I took the plunge and bought myself a basic tablet. As tablets go, it’s not particularly powerful, but it doesn’t weigh upwards of 10 pounds, and the battery doesn’t fall out when I move it, so it’s a clear upgrade.
The biggest benefit of my newly acquired tablet? Much easier access to e-books.
I’ve particularly enjoyed exploring Total Boox, a service LPL offers that I hadn’t heard about before I started working here. Total Boox lets you check out as many e-books as you want and keep them for as long as you want — period. You can even check out whole shelves devoted to specific authors, topics, or genres. Just download to your device, and bam! They’re yours to read at whatever pace works for you.
I’ll be honest: if you’re looking for the newest releases by contemporary big-name authors, Total Boox isn’t the best venue for that. What Total Boox offers is an incredibly deep catalog full of hidden gems, making it great for people who like to sample widely. Here are just a few categories to explore:
Are you a romance fan like me? Avail yourself of this excellent shelf, Not Only Jane Austen, featuring 15 classic works of “women’s fiction,” including books by Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Bronte, and my beloved Georgette Heyer, queen of regency romance. Looking for something more contemporary? Try something by Samantha Chase or Carolyn Brown.
Have you been meaning to brush up on the classics? You can choose from dozens of titles that you’ll recognize from literature class. Even really fast readers might struggle to get through "War and Peace" within a single library check-out period, but Total Boox lets you hold on to that e-book for as long as it takes to earn your bragging rights.
Can’t get enough of sports writing? Total Boox has a deep catalog of nonfiction and fiction about sports, including ones that aren’t as popular in Kansas. I’m a huge hockey fan, and I rely on Total Boox to keep me up to my ears in hockey writing. From books about the history of the game to hockey romance novels (yes please!), it’s a great resource to learn more about a topic that can be hard to keep up with around here.
Total Boox is particularly great if you’re looking for books in languages other than English. You can select any genre the service offers, then filter by language - so if you want to read "Ragtime" in Spanish or a contemporary LGBT romance in Italian, you can! And if you’re not quite to the level of reading in another language, yet, you can polish up your skills through Total Boox’s collection of language-learning books.
-Meredith Wiggins is a reader’s services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
As we slide into the holiday season, beginning with our most thankful time of year, we naturally begin to think about food. As we sit down to generous plates and celebrate all we’re grateful for, it seems like a good time to give some thought to those who keep us fed. I’m not talking about Grandma’s cornbread dressing or Aunt Louise’s maple-bourbon-pecan pie. Rather, I’m thinking about the story that your meal would share if asked what it is and where it came from.
Acclaimed environmental activist, scholar, seed saver and author Vandana Shiva has spent her life collecting those stories and advocating for food freedom. In her book, "Who Really Feeds the World?," Shiva takes on our current food system, with all of its missteps and failures, and replaces it with agroecology--an approach to sustainable, local food that relies on and supports the interconnectedness of nature.
Shiva’s work takes her readers on an exhilarating, albeit lofty, ride through the foundations of “...a deep and growing crisis rooted in how we produce, process, and distribute our food.” She tears through the underbelly of an increasingly mechanistic food monopoly, run by literally five global corporations that claim to be legal people and have patent rights to the seeds that feed us. That, my friend, is just the first chapter. Warning: Her words, while righteous, are intense, and may cause you to never look at your shopping cart in the same way again.
What she weaves into the remaining chapters is hope--hope for the “promise of agroecology” that returns our food production to practices that are more local and sustainable and that maintain nutritional and ecological integrity. There is hope that those practices work: “These transitions are not a false utopia; they are actually taking place across the world. And emerging from the broken food system and the broken political system is a new living food system based on living seed, living soil, living food, and living farmers.” And there is hope that we have an opportunity to choose to make a difference.
I’ve got to be honest--reading Shiva’s work did nothing to squelch my already insatiable desire to farm whatever piece of soil I own, be it a few pots on a patio or a multi-acre plot outside the city. As a long-time gardener, I know the goodness of tromping in my garden boots and digging my fingers in the soil. I’m already dreaming about next year’s Seed Library, and the many possibilities of growing things. That’s why I followed up "Who Really Feeds the World?" with Lisa Kivirist’s new book "Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers."
Kivirist lays out the practical steps to take your growing to the next level. She lays out the importance of women farmers in our food economies, and shows how to bootstrap your own farming adventure. Lest I leave anyone out, there are many other amazing new books available to encourage everyone’s local food growing explorations: "The Ultimate Guide to Urban Farming," "The Community-scale Permaculture Farm," "The Bio-integrated Farm," and more!
Want more local food inspiration this holiday season? Join me in thanking all of those Lawrencians who contribute to our local food economy: The local food policy council that works to examine issues from food deserts to urban agriculture; the local organizations involved in reducing food waste and increasing resource stewardship; the growers, grocers, pantries and preparers that work tirelessly to feed our small corner of the world. As we plan and prepare our feasts this season, may we give thanks to those who really feed us.
-Gwen GeigerWolfe is an information services and public health librarian at Lawrence Public Library.
Just in case you haven’t been on the internet, seen a magazine/newspaper, or watched television in the last year, I’m here to inform you that there is in fact a new Harry Potter movie coming out. The screenplay is written by J.K. Rowling herself (unlike a certain play that must not be named), and it’s set the Muggle world aflame.
"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" is based on the 128 page book of same title, a character from Rowling’s "Harry Potter" footnotes, and a chance to expand the Wizarding World across the pond. The book itself is a pseudo-encyclopedia of seventy-five fantastic beasts. It’s charming, enchanting and if you haven’t picked it up, it’s definitely worth the half hour or so of reading time.
“What is a beast? The definition of beast has caused controversy for centuries.”- "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them"
One of the things I love about J.K. Rowling is the way she can twist and reinterpret our expectations of magical creatures. We think of fairies as sparkly, glittery wish-granters, but Rowling turns them on their head, making them common pests… that bite. Other magical beings she chose to include in the "Harry Potter" universe stick gloriously to their classical roots, like the centaurs that inhabit the Forbidden Forest, modeled after Chiron, mentor of Achilles and other Greek heroes. So without further ado, here are some of my favorite interpretations and reinterpretations of magical creatures/beings/beasts in other books.
The oldest recorded merpeople were known as sirens (Greece) and it is in warmer waters that we find the beautiful mermaids so frequently depicted in Muggle literature in painting. - "Fantastic Beasts"
Weaving sirens, mermaids and Greek mythology together basically makes "Sirena" my book version of click-bait. Sirena and her mermaid sisters are fated to a mortal life unless they win the love of a human man. Faced with mortality, she and her sisters sing to the men on passing ships, hoping to win their love and earn a place in the Greek pantheon.
When her first song lures a ship full of sailors their deaths, Sirena vows to sing no more. She drifts aimlessly until she finds herself off the coast of Lemnos and stumbles across a warrior in desperate need of saving. But can she save him? Or is she destined to doom him with her very nature? Written in the first person, Donna Jo Napoli perfectly voices a mermaid who longs for love and fears to embrace her true nature. Set during the Trojan War, "Sirena" beguiles and stands in sharp contrast to Rowling’s depiction of merpeople as warlike and uninterested in humanity.
The troll is a fearsome creature up to twelve feet tall and weighing over a tonne. - "Fantastic Beasts"
If you like dark, gritty novels that are macabre and a little gruesome, pick up "Valiant."Betrayed by everyone she loves, Val heads to New York City to lose herself for a little while; what starts as a night to run from her problems turns into the surreal escapism of living on the streets with a band of misfits who claim they can see Faeries. Val, doubtful faeries exist, breaks into the home of a troll named Ravus who binds her into servitude.
Holly Black’s reimagining of faeries is complex and haunting. They are capricious and fickle, in pursuit of pleasure at all costs, and are barely eking out a living in a city of iron. Drawn into a world she knows nothing about, Val has to ask herself if she has what it takes to become valiant. "Valiant" is a standalone novel, but falls into the Black’s Modern Faerie Tale series which is brilliant. If you need a dose of vampires after all the faeries, Black’s "The Coldest Girl in Coldtown" is also an exceptional!
The unicorn is a beautiful beast found throughout the forests of Northern Europe.- "Fantastic Beasts"
Cara is appalled when her grandmother tells her to jump from the belfry to stop an amulet from falling into the wrong hands. Convinced by her grandmother’s sincerity, she takes a literal leap of faith and arrives in Luster, land of the unicorns. Greeted by a strange world with even stranger creatures, Cara befriends a rebellious unicorn named Lightfoot, and they begin the journey to return the amulet to Arabella Skydancer, queen of the unicorns.
Cara, Lightfoot, and her other companions must journey across the land of the hostile delvers (who are a cross between goblins and dwarves) and through the territory of a mistrustful dragon. As Cara learns more about Luster and unicorns, she realizes that she has joined a battle that has been raging for centuries. Unicorns shine in Bruce Coville’s interpretation. More bold and capable than their "Harry Potter" counterparts, the unicorns and other beasts of "Into the Land of the Unicorns" will captivate you.
Why Magizoology matters? to ensure that future generations of witches and wizards enjoy their savage beauty and powers as we have been privileged to do. - "Fantastic Beasts"
Unlike the strange, wonderful and crazy creatures that inhabit our world (like the pangolin and coatimundi), mermaids, phoenixes, and nifflers only exist in our fantasies and on the page. The only thing needed to conserve and protect them is to read and keep your imagination alive. So hit the catalog, search dragon, selkie, unicorn, pixie and see what magical beast you’ll fall in love with. Because if you’re ever unsure what Fantastic Beasts are and Where to Find Them, they’re all at LPL.
-Lauren Taylor is a Youth Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
It’s been a very space centric year here at LPL. We’ve read "The Martian" for Read Across Lawrence, listened to astronauts at Liberty Hall, and spoke with the International Space Station via radio! And we’re not done yet.
For the past few weeks Information Services has been facilitating a MOOC (massive open online course) on the history of human space flight. We’ve watched videos and heard guest speakers from the Cosmosphere explain the “why?” and “how?” of space travel. Soon we’ll be wrapping up with a super moon viewing party on November 14 with help from the Astronomy Associates of Lawrence and music from our very own Joel Bonner and the Boot Stompers.
(You’re invited, by the way.)
I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t been as invested in the space craze this year as I should have been; I’m a long time sci-fi dabbler, but when it comes to real life space history, I’m a neophyte. I knew I had to hone my space chops before the MOOC launched (pun intended), so I started by watching two amazing documentaries: "For All Mankind" and "In the Shadow of the Moon."
Upon learning that a huge amount of footage from the Apollo missions was sitting (literally) frozen in NASA archives untouched and unseen by the public, film director Al Reinert decided to change that. Reinert and Susan Korda, the film’s editor, went through over six million feet of film footage as they pieced together what eventually would become "For All Mankind."
The documentary covers Apollo missions 8 through 17 as though they were a single mission. Combining hundred of hours of archival video and audio from diverse missions allows the viewer to feel part of something new and larger than any individual Apollo mission.
I had no idea that all the astronauts who participated in the Apollo missions were given their own 16mm cameras and the discretion to film whatever they pleased. A lot of their recordings make it onto "For All Mankind" and capture a playfulness that usually goes unmentioned when talking about the space race. There’s a great scene where an astronaut goofily demonstrates how a hammer and a feather really do fall at the same speed outside of Earth’s gravity. And I couldn’t help but smile watching two astronauts singing and hopping along the moon’s surface. The documentary excels at reminding its viewer that these now larger than life figures were all once young men, giddy at the chance to go to the moon.
As much as I enjoyed "For All Mankind," I liked "In the Shadow of the Moon" even more. Like "For All Mankind," it features a fair amount of never publicly seen footage, all of which has been remastered into HD. It looks stunning.
Beyond the gorgeous visuals, the hook here is that the film is narrated solely by astronauts. Ten of the surviving Apollo astronauts agreed to be interviewed for the film. Listening to them reminisce on mankind’s greatest adventure provides an intimate backdrop for this retrospective look at Project Apollo. And what a fascinating story it is! From the depths of Apollo 1’s tragedy to eventually reaching heights no man had ever attained with Apollo 8, from walking on the moon’s surface for the first time with Apollo 11 to holding your breath during the near-disastrous events of Apollo 13, there’s never a dull moment. Throughout its 100 minute runtime, I couldn’t take my eyes of the screen.
So if you’re a Lawrence space enthusiast who’s feeling blue that our odyssey is soon coming to a close, what are you waiting for? Go watch these stellar (or should I say lunar?) documentaries today. Keep the space craze alive.
-Ian Stepp is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
Lawrence has a vibrant, diverse literary heritage. Read on to discover notable writers connected to Lawrence and learn about local author events. If you aspire to write and share your own writing, local opportunities are included as well. Whether you’re a reader or writer, there’s useful information for everyone.
Lawrence’s notable authors include so many highly regarded names — it’s a formidable task to recognize everyone! Check out the growing list of books by Lawrence, KS authors in the library’s catalog. Well over 100 writers with Lawrence connections are represented on the shelves at Lawrence Public Library, so only a few of the biggest are noted here:
Langston Hughes was at the forefront of the Harlem Renaissance. His eloquent writing frequently used satire to challenge prejudices and emphasized the value of love and laughter. His poignant coming-of-age novel, "Not Without Laughter," is semi-autobiographical, reflecting his childhood experiences of growing up in Lawrence during segregation.
Celebrated author Sara Paretsky grew up in Lawrence. Her writing emphasizes social justice, especially in the gripping mystery series featuring private eye V.I. Warshawski.
Laura Moriarty is a local author who has earned a big reputation. Her novels are realistic, engaging, and character-driven. Also, she teaches creative writing at KU.
Controversial Beat Generation author and artist William S. Burroughs wrote experimental fiction; the novel "Queer" introduced a gay character long before society was ready to accept different sexual preferences. He spent his later years in Lawrence.
Two local authors are fast rising stars:
Crystal Bradshaw’s debut novel, "Eliza: A Generational Journey," is an inspiring and sometimes-brutal fictionalized biography of her ancestors. This story shares her family’s legacy of surviving slavery and establishing the exoduster settlement of Jetmore, Kansas.
And speaking of poetry: it’s huge in Lawrence! Local poet Joseph Harrington wryly states, “Studies have shown that 37% of Lawrencians either write poetry or are reincarnations of people who did (sometimes in Lawrence, sometimes in ancient Sumer).” Three esteemed Lawrence poets have earned the title of Kansas Poet Laureate: Eric McHenry (2015-2017), Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (2009-2013) and Denise Low (2007-2009).
A fantastic source for more information about local poets and other writers in the region was created by author and professor of English Thomas Fox Averill and his students at Washburn University. The Map of Kansas Literature website provides much information about authors and their work; be sure to review the page focused on Lawrence authors.
One upcoming opportunity to meet local authors and learn about their new books is "Tales of Two Americas" with John Freeman, Sarah Smarsh, & Whitney Terrell. Issues of inequality, in connection with Freeman’s new book, will be the focus of a chat with three authors on November 9 at Lawrence Public Library. Smarsh and Terrell each contributed stories in this book which highlights ongoing inequities and why our society still needs to work toward social justice. Sarah Smarsh is a Lawrence author, and Whitney Terrell is from Kansas City.
Additionally, The Raven Book Store presents regular “Big Tent” author readings and frequent book discussions. The staff are dedicated to promoting local and regional authors as well as selling the best mysteries and many other interesting books.
If you are an aspiring writer and hoping to unveil your own literary creations, check out the following opportunities:
The Langston Hughes Creative Writing Awards for poetry and fiction are jointly sponsored by The Lawrence Arts Center and The Raven Book Store. The 2016 submissions deadline is December 16.
Wonder Fair Gallery is a great resource for new authors who want to self-publish. The store specializes in local zines and graphic novels.
Keep on reading and writing, Lawrencians — let’s keep the Lawrence author scene diverse!
- Shirley Braunlich is a Reader’s Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library
Happy haunting to all you Halloweeners out there, in honor of the 200th anniversary of the most famous year in the horror genre: 1816.
It was certainly a horrible year for many people, for that was when the volcano Mount Tambora erupted, spewing tons of ash into the atmosphere, which resulted in the famous “Year Without A Summer,” also known as “1800 And Froze to Death.” One day was so dark that candles had to be lit at noon. Many thought the end of the world was at hand. And at Lake Geneva, five people decided to hold a contest to see who could write the scariest story.
The most famous was the host, Lord Byron, who was having a fling with his young guest Claire Clairmont. Then there was his friend, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was having a fling with Claire’s teenage stepsister, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. And finally, there was Dr. Polidori, Byron’s personal physician, (who was not having a fling with anyone, as far as we know).
So who won the contest? Second prize would certainly go to Dr. Polidori, who wrote a tale called "The Vampyre." Up until then, vampires were minor characters in horror. They were usually shown as rotting cadavers in ragged shrouds. But Polidori’s story centers around a brooding, handsome, aristocratic vampire called Lord Ruthven, who was much like Lord Byron. (Hmm...maybe there was a fling going on there after all.) Lord Ruthven sired a long line of Byronic vampires, right down to the modern Edward Cullen.
However, it was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin who won the grand prize in the contest. Mary wrote a short story called “Frankenstein.” Her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, urged her to expand it into a novel. By the time she had done so, they were married, and "Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus" changed the world of horror forever.
Now Frankenstein’s monster shows up everywhere from cartoons to cereal boxes. Author Sergio A. Sierra’s 2013 graphic novel adaptation restores some of the original horror that Mary’s original audience felt when reading Frankenstein for the first time; the sinister glowing eye and the steampunk figures will scare some kids, and a few adults too. In film, we have "Young Frankenstein," which sends up all the Frankenstein myths and motifs and reminds us what a treasure we lost with Gene Wilder’s passing earlier this year.
As for Lord Byron: his entry into the scary story competition didn’t achieve near the same level of notoriety, though he could cram more horror into 82 lines than most authors could into 82 pages. His poem, “Darkness,” is still worth the read on a chilly Halloween night.
-Jean McIntosh is a Materials Handling Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
“Do you like that book? Is it good?”
As a Reader’s Services Assistant, I hear these questions a lot. Sometimes the answer is a clear “yes” or “no.” Other times, not so much.
I recently learned about poet W. H. Auden’s idea of the five stages of mature reading. For Auden, what makes someone a mature reader isn’t necessarily a matter of age or preferred subject matter. Instead, it’s about how readers respond to a book:
“As readers, we remain in the nursery stage so long as we cannot distinguish between taste and judgment, so long, that is, as the only possible verdicts we can pass on a book are two: this I like; this I don’t like.
For an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five: I can see this is good and I like it; I can see this is good but I don’t like it; I can see this is good and, though at present I don’t like it, I believe that with perseverance I shall come to like it; I can see that this is trash but I like it; I can see that this is trash and I don’t like it.”
I’m a vocal defender of letting “like/don’t like” guide your reading habits, but as someone whose job involves making recommendations, Auden’s five verdicts are a very useful way of thinking about books.
Let’s break it down.
“This is good and I like it” : These books can be hard to find, but when you do find one, you know. You read them over and over, pressing them on friends and family with evangelical fervor. You put them on your year-end best-of lists; you give them five stars on your book rating app of choice. You may accept that other people don’t like them, but you never quite trust those folks again. For me, this is a book like Genevieve Valentine’s "The Girls at the Kingfisher Club," which is not merely an example of a Thing I Tend to Like (feminist retellings of old stories), but also a compelling, smartly constructed novel full of rich characters and beautiful language. It is good, and I like it.
“This is good but I don’t like it” : These are the most frustrating kinds of books. You don’t actually want to read them, but you wish you wanted to read them. You slog through them joylessly at a pace that would allow you to finish it sometime in the next five to seven years. You can see why someone would recommend it in general, but you are at a total loss as to why someone would recommend it to you, specifically.
The best example, for me: Patton Oswalt’s essay collection "Zombie Spaceship Wasteland," which is a smart, well-written book that is primarily about The Need to Get Out of the Suburbs and Make Art, a subject that I am basically never going to respond to well. In other words: yeah, the book is good, but I sure don’t like it.
“I can see this is good, and with some effort I’ll like it eventually” : These books make you wrinkle your forehead in confusion and let out a contemplative “Huh.” You don’t understand what’s going on, but you know that you’re feeling that way because the author wants you to, not because the writing is just shoddy.
You understand why people suggested you try them, and you respect their motives for doing so, even if you ultimately decide you’re not interested in putting in the work on any particular book. This was my reaction to Han Kang’s "The Vegetarian." It was well-written, and I could see the broad sketches of what it was trying to achieve, but I suspect it’s a book that requires multiple readings to really appreciate. Am I going to give it those multiple readings? Eh, maybe.
“This is trash and I like it” : These books are the literary equivalent of boxed mashed potatoes: enjoyable, filling and forgettable. Sometimes you read them in one sitting, sometimes in 15-minute chunks, and you find both methods equally acceptable. You’d only recommend them to someone whose taste is already pretty close to yours. As a pure numbers game, you read more of these books than any other kind. I’ll go with Lisa Kleypas’ "Cold-Hearted Rake" here. While I’d put lots of romance novels in the “Good and I Like It” category, this one is just a competent, mostly enjoyable read with a plot that I can only kind of remember despite having read it less than two months ago.
“This is trash and I don’t like it” : As a Book Squad member who is firmly against book-shaming, I’m not going to give specific examples for this category, but we’ve all got them. Do not waste your time on these books. Release them back into the universe and resume your journey toward readerly fulfillment.
So, the next time someone asks if your book is good and you don’t know how to reply, just take a deep breath and let Auden be your guide.
Here’s to the trash!
-Meredith Wiggins is a reader’s services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Has this ever happened to you? You’re at work, thinking about, say, Fermat’s theories, and an idea is sparked for an intriguing short story. But then you realize you really know nothing about the foundation of such a story, and it would take a long time to learn it.
So you spend, oh, four years learning what you need to and writing it up. The story gets published in a small magazine, and the next thing you know it wins a bunch of awards! On top of that, years later Hollywood picks it up and signs on several big name actors!
Yeah, never happened to me either.
It has, however, happened to a technical writer named Ted Chiang. You may not have heard of Ted Chiang, but he is a quiet master of the science fiction short story who you would do well to become acquainted with, even if you rarely read science fiction and/or short stories.
I found out about him only because I was pulled into a teaser for an upcoming movie and wanted to know more about it. That movie, "Arrival," is due out soon, and its backstory is what I’ve described in the first paragraph. The short story on which it’s based can be found in a collection of Chiang’s works called "Stories of Your Life and Others."
Chiang’s fresh approach is apparent right away in this compilation with an expanded telling of the tale of the "Tower of Babylon" — his first published story, and also an award-winner. Reading on, one quickly begins to get a sense of the direction of his questing — “How might this come to be?” Such philosophical or even evolutionary probing appears again and again in his stories, whether he’s grappling with time travel or ways of knowing — or both at the same time.
He cites Alan Turing in his 2010 novella, "The Lifecycle of Software Objects," describing different directions toward artificial intelligence. One, taking the more common tack, assumes things can be added together and AI will eventually result. Chiang’s stories take a more organic approach, exploring how ideas and entities manifest, grow, interact, and evolve. The scenarios are unpredictable, fascinating, sometimes hard to follow, and (maybe after a second reading) mind-blowing.
Such is very much the case with "Story of Your Life," on the surface another aliens-visit-earth scenario, but really so much more. The story is told by a linguist sent by the Army to communicate with the seemingly benign alien beings, and Chiang deftly weaves the protagonist's somehow complementary relationship with her daughter within those interactions.
It becomes apparent that the written and verbal languages the aliens use are profoundly different, and slowly our narrator comes to realize why. Linguistics and physics team up in the telling, as it turns out they must. Here Fermat’s theories make an appearance, and, without giving too much away, bring in another of Chang’s fascinations, time travel. While nearly overwhelming, it’s not a complete surprise once you know Chiang’s work. The real surprise is how well he crafts the story.
In interviews and other short stories, Chiang has discussed writing as a tool, a technology that can entirely change how we think. Surprisingly, "Story of Your Life" reminded me of a very different writer, Barry Lopez, who examined more down-to-earth examples of how we think in his book "Arctic Dreams." The Hopi, explains Lopez, don’t differentiate between time and space the way most of us do. He goes on to say, “All else being equal, a Hopi child would have little difficulty comprehending the theory of relativity in his own language, while an American child could more easily master history.”
Read some of Ted Chiang’s stories. If you think you don’t like science fiction, you just might find your mind changed.
-Jake Vail is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
For the last decade-and-a-half, my husband and I have been DIYing our quirky old East Lawrence home. Every year, right around now, our inner squirrels kick in: With skies and temperatures lowering, it’s time to batten down the hatches and start seriously cozifying the nest.
One year, we blew insulation into our attic. Another year, we reglazed the sashes of all nine windows in our sunroom (that’s 18 sashes reglazed, folks!) and hung new storm windows. (Because I am an old window evangelist, here is where I climb on my soapbox: Contrary to popular belief, well-maintained historic windows paired with properly installed storm windows can be just as energy efficient as new windows. The more you know!)
Whatever the project, there is one end goal: When it is dark and damp and cold outside, our home is warm and dry, and with gratitude we can nestle into the warmth and light within.
These years of homemaking have taught me that keeping a shelter in order is no small feat — nature is always working to deconstruct it. I’ve also come to realize that our stewardship of our home — we are just the most recent in a line of tenants stretching back 140-plus years — is an act of creativity and handiwork. Repairing a crack in the plaster upholds the work of my forebear, the unknown craftsperson who originally plastered the wall; the integrity of the repaired wall — my work blending seamlessly with his — brings me joy. (Interested in making your own home cozier before winter hits? Linda Cottin — aka “The Fix-It Chick” — from Cottin’s Hardware will be at the library on Oct. 19 to give us some tips on DIY weatherization projects.)
As Elizabeth Gilbert (of "Eat, Pray, Love" fame) maintains in her latest work, "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear," we are all intrinsically makers, calibrated to find joy in the act of creation. Her take on the source of this motivation has a decidedly supernatural bent: “Ideas,” according to Gilbert, “are a disembodied, energetic life-form... Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner.”
If you’ve been feeling stuck, Gilbert’s quick-reading treatise on living a creative life is your permission slip (literally, she offers you a permission slip) to let yourself be receptive to the ideas seeking your help in realizing them. Gilbert’s exploration of the nature and nurture of creativity rests on a paradoxical premise — making art is a serious matter that we should not take seriously at all — that is refreshingly freeing.
And the concept of shelter is an excellent springboard for creativity — I don’t think I’m alone in loving the notion of crafting a handmade home. Certainly, the current interest in treehouses and tiny homes stems, at least in part, from the perhaps primordial siren song of making a shelter with one’s own hands, which can be seen in Zach Klein’s book "Cabin Porn: Inspiration for Your Quiet Place Somewhere." It’s a collection of photographs of stunningly idyllic and/or idiosyncratic structures paired with essays detailing the creative processes of builders.
Klein’s compilation illustrates beautifully the ingenuity and artisanship people around the world have brought to bear in solving the puzzle of how to balance the human desire to shape the environment with the need to engage with the restorative power of the natural world. Perched on a mountaintop, nestled in a forest glade, cobbled from salvaged materials (like a boat for a roof!), hewn into a hillside — whatever form your ideal quiet place might take, there is endless fodder for inspiration here.
So, when it’s cold outside, stoke the inner fires of your own creative life: Settle in a cozy spot (we’ve got some lovely places here at the library!) with an inspiring book and an open mind.
-Melissa Fisher Isaacs is the information services coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.
With a preschooler and kindergartner in the house these days, trips to and from school are a big part of my life. Like most of the experience of parenting, many of my preconceived worries about school have never materialized, but issues I didn’t expect at all have surprised me. For instance, I spent my own first few years of elementary school staring down long hallways as older kids and adults rushed past me in a faceless torrent.
My kids’ experience at school has been quite the opposite—warmer and more welcoming than I predicted, even if that personal touch has included a telephone call from the school district warning of a totally unforeseen threat (and one which I’m afraid I still can’t mention with a straight face): Creepy clowns.
Another reversal of expectations has been that we sailed through the first month or so of school, since the newness of it all; the fact that my kids were so sick of me by the end of summer generated a wave of enthusiasm they rode until October. Only now do my wife and I see in our kids the fatigue and anxiety we anticipated from the start, and the back-to-school books we thought we’d be reading last month have suddenly come into heavy use.
One great new title in this genre is Boni Ashburn’s "The Class," illustrated by Kimberly Gee. Framed as a counting exercise in rhyme, the book follows 20 first-time kindergarteners as they get ready for a day of school. It’s not all rise and shine or Dick and Jane for these kids, though; each child’s preparation for the school day is as diverse as the class itself, with students of various ethnic backgrounds facing the typical challenges of waking up, dressing themselves, eating breakfast, and getting out the door. Ashburn and Gee’s greatest accomplishment here is presenting a book which doesn’t gloss over the ups, downs, and differences in each kid’s journey to school, where all eventually arrive to form a single class led by a nurturing teacher.
For children who struggle with new experiences and friends at the start of school comes a book dramatizing their dilemma in such an amusing way it may bring laughter along with insight. "Sophie’s Squash Go to School" catches us up with Sophie, whose offbeat comfort object, a butternut squash from the farmer’s market that she named Bernice in Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf’s first book about her, has left behind two offspring named Bonnie and Baxter. Sophie begins school clinging to her two squash and a negative attitude, only to learn, slowly but surely, that new human friends and a broadening horizon can be as richly rewarding as a life devoted to vegetables.
But the best of this year’s back-to-school books has to be Adam Rex and Christian Robinson’s "School’s First Day of School." Rex, whose "True Meaning of Smekday" was last year’s Read Across Lawrence for Kids book, offers a premise that can’t lose in provoking kids with first day jitters to look at their situations from another point of view. In this case, it’s the newly constructed Frederick Douglass Elementary who fears the arrival of its students.
Illustrator Robinson, who has won Coretta Scott King Award Honors two years running (for last year’s "Last Stop on Market Street," and 2015’s "Josephine"), brilliantly anthropomorphizes the building and should be in line for another award this year, while Rex, as usual, offers an offbeat take on a common situation. It’s sure to find its place on the back-to-school bibliotherapy shelf among classics like Kevin Henkes’ "Chrysanthemum," Joseph Slate’s "Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten," and Audrey Penn’s "The Kissing Hand."
Search for these, and other books, to help kids find new ways to view their struggles, or just to find characters who share them, in the Growing Up section of the Children’s Department’s Picture Book area.
-Dan Coleman is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.
One of the perks (and there are many) of working at the library is the Advanced Readers Copy mini-library that we have in our staff room. Publishers send ARCs to libraries, book critics, the media, etc. in hopes that the works will be read, reviewed, and shared before the book comes out- hoping to create some buzz and get people talking about it.
This is where I stumbled upon (and quite literally judged a book by its cover) and decided to read "The Nix" by Nathan Hill, who just happens to be speaking at the library later this month.
To sum it up simply, "The Nix" follows the life of Samuel Andresen-Anderson whose mother, Faye, abandons him and his father when Samuel is 11 years old. Twenty years later, he finds her back in his life after she has assaulted a presidential candidate and needs his help.
Summing it up simply, however, serves as an injustice to Hill’s work. The characters are complex and complicated and written masterfully, making it easy to see why he’s being compared to the likes of John Irving (who called him “a maestro,” by the way, and then compared him to Charles Dickens), Thomas Pynchon, and Donna Tartt. The main characters are three dimensional and multi-layered, if not always particularly likeable.
In fact, I would argue that the two main characters are not the most likeable or even the most interesting of all that we meet along the way. It’s really the supporting characters that give this book so much life. Laura Pottsdam, the unabating and unapologetic plagiarizer whose shorts are “the size of a coffee filter,” for example, has a special place in my heart, as does the character “Pwnage” who spends his days playing a World of Warcraft-like video game and promising himself that his new diet and healthy lifestyle will start tomorrow.
But where I found myself in a room, alone, shouting, “YES!” (and I promise this really happened), was in response to Hill’s observations of our society and current political climate. Hill has such a gift for honing in on and describing ubiquitous pop-culture that I found it almost frighteningly relatable. He describes, in detail, the metamorphosis of a news cycle with such brilliance that I read it several times to let it sink in, all the while thinking, “This is exactly what I think! This is exactly how I feel!”
What about that title, though? What exactly is a nix? Well, according to Norwegian folklore, it’s a spirit whose sole purpose is to lure children away from their families. Hill’s nix, however, can be anything or anyone who steals your happiness. And there is a lot of happiness stolen in this book. I hesitate to paint too dark a picture, though. (Although, don’t be mistaken- there is a lot of darkness here.) "The Nix" is funny; in fact, at times, it is laugh-out-loud hilarious.
I have a personal philosophy that life is too short to read a book more than once (especially if that book is over 600 pages long). Rules, of course, are meant to be broken, and I have broken this rule a handful of times. Some books need to be read first for the story and read second for the subtle nuances that may have been missed. On my list of books that have qualified for a re-read are: "The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, "A Prayer for Owen Meany" by John Irving, and now "The Nix" by Nathan Hill.
Nathan Hill will be at the Lawrence Public Library on October 24th at 7:30pm. Copies of "The Nix" are available for purchase at The Raven Book Store if you’d like to have one signed. You don’t have to have read the book twice to enjoy the talk- Although, I highly recommend reading it at least once.
-Sarah Mathews is an Accounts Assistant Lawrence Public Library.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first officially discussed as a construct in the late 1970s, but it wasn’t officially enacted until 1992 (the 500 year anniversary of Columbus’s fateful maiden voyage) in Northern California.
The city of Berkeley declared October 12 of that year “Indigenous Peoples Day” in protest to the ever-problematic Columbus Day. Since then, other cities throughout the country have celebrated this counter-holiday to honor the expansive and regionally unique indigenous cultures and their rich histories.
Tragically, these histories were blighted due to European interventions: many were forced to abandon their own sacred cultures and lands to assimilate, and many were victims of the mass genocide of native peoples. Indigenous Peoples Day is a show of continental unity and acknowledgement of tribal heritages, so what better way to participate than by reading books written by and about indigenous peoples?
In 2015, Lawrence began celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day instead Columbus Day, as this city was built on lands that were populated with Kansa and Osage people. Lawrence is also fortunate enough to have Haskell Indian Nations University, which is specifically dedicated to the education of members of federally recognized Native American tribes. The university was originally opened in 1884 as a boarding school for Native American children who were forcibly taught Anglo-Protestant cultural values. The personal experiences of many of these children are chronicled in "Voices from Haskell: Indian Students Between Two Worlds, 1884-1928" by Myriam Vučković.
Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie are names synonymous with contemporary Native American literature. Erdrich is a prestigious author, having earned a National Book Award for "The Round House" and a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for "The Plague of Doves." Her books are mainly focused on Native American communities and their day-to-day lives--their struggles and their triumphs. Her first novel, "Love Medicine," is set on a North Dakota reservation and follows two families--the Lamartines and the Kashpaws. She has also written her fair share of literature aimed at younger readers; "The Birchbank House" gives a fresh perspective to classic 1800’s pioneer stories, as this middle grade novel is narrated by a spunky 7-year-old Ojibwa girl named Omakayas (or “Little Frog” as she has been nicknamed).
"The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-time Indian" by Sherman Alexie is a young adult novel about a young man named Junior growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation who eventually attends an all-white high school where the only other Indian is the mascot. Based on the author’s own experiences, this novel is heartfelt and raw. Alexie has also written a number of adult fiction titles (as well as a few non-fiction), so there are plenty of options with this author.
Joseph Boyden, a Canadian author of Anishinaabe heritage, writes about Canadian First Nations characters and the challenges they face. His novel "The Orenda" is a contemporary masterpiece spanning over four hundred years; it follows separate tribes that must become reluctant allies to face an even bigger threat from another land that is bigger than their feud. Magnificent in its scope of history, this novel begs to be read. Alternatively, his novel "Through Black Spruce" is a more modern tale of a young Cree woman trying to find her way in the world.
"The Inconvenient Indian" by Thomas King, a native rights activist, is a heartbreaking account of Indian-White relations since Europeans first colonized the “New World.” His narration is unconventionally humorous, detailing atrocities in a manageable way--getting the point across, while still managing to entertain (and even make you laugh). Spanning decades and countries, with the inclusion of Canadian Aboriginal peoples and their experiences, this relatively short chronicle will give insight into the experiences held by North American indigenous peoples and the everlasting effects of colonization. (Thomas King has also written an adorable children’s picture book titled "A Coyote Solstice Tale," which shows the depth of his range.)
More interested in a memoir? Edmund Metatawabin, a First Nations chief, was denied his native identity at the age of six when he was taken from his family, assigned a number instead of a name and sent to residential school. He details his disturbing experiences in "Up Ghost River," in which he was finally able to make peace with his past by embracing his tribal culture. For more autobiographical narratives, check out "Here First," a collection of essays written by Native American authors, and "My Body Is A Book of Rules" by Elissa Washuta, a deeply personal account of the author’s struggles for self-identity as an American Indian — with painfully honest discussion of mental health and feminism, this little book is hugely important.
Poetry and Short Story Collections
There is an overwhelming amount of poetry written by Native American authors. "Conflict Resolutions for Holy Beings" by Harjo Joy is a stunning collection of poetry with everything from stomp dances to the Trail of Tears and beyond. (Harjo Joy has also written a memoir about her life as poet — "Crazy Brave" — as well as a number of other poetry collections.)
"How to Say I Love You in Indian" by Ross Gyasi is all above love--of family, of community, of oneself. "Dark, Sweet" by award-winning poet Linda Hogan gives insight into her Chickasaw heritage. For those who prefer science fiction or short stories, the anthology "Walking the Clouds" will surely delight with its expansive narratives; Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians, First Nations, and New Zealand Maori authors show the beauty and originality of indigenous voices worldwide.
-Kimberly Lopez is a Reader’s Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
Romance is one of the most maligned genres out there. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve gotten the “you like to read what?” response when I’ve mentioned my love of romance novels. A few people have even followed it up with “But you were an English major!” — as though having a literature degree means I should sustain myself solely on a reading diet of dense, postmodern prose written by Serious Authors.
Obviously, romance novels aren’t for everyone. No type of book is. But I’m surprised by how often someone who just told me that they’ll read “anything but romance” follows up that statement by saying they love Book A or Novel B that I would definitely classify as romance, or at least romance-adjacent.
As far as I’m concerned, there are only two inviolable principles to a romance novel:
1) It should be primarily (but not exclusively) about the romantic relationship between the protagonists, even if it’s focused on one person more than another.
2) It should have a happy ending.
That’s it! If a book does those two things, I’d probably say you could call it a romance novel.
Here are a few recommendations to help you ease your way into reading romance:
E.M. Forster wrote a handful of pretty well-known and well-regarded books ("A Room with a View," "Howards End"). But you may not have heard of "Maurice," a novel he wrote in 1913 and 1914 but didn’t publish until 1971. The reason? It was a novel about men falling in love with each other, and it had a happy ending. That’s tough enough to get published today, let alone 100 years ago!
"Maurice" is also a fascinating portrayal of English upperclass society in transition to modernity, but the real draw is the shifting relationships between main character Maurice and his two love interests, uppercrust Clive and lowerclass Alec. There’s tension between what Maurice wants, what Clive thinks he wants, what Alec knows he wants. If you like love triangles, this is a good one. (There’s also a really nice film adaptation, co-starring an incredibly young Hugh Grant.)
Madeline Miller’s "The Song of Achilles" seems to have taken Tumblr by storm of late, so clearly the young folk know all about this one. But in case you’ve missed it, this is a retelling of Homer’s "Iliad" from the perspective of Patroclus, Achilles’ sworn companion and, in this telling, his childhood sweetheart. (The 2004 Brad Pitt movie "Troy" made Achilles and Patroclus cousins, but that’s definitely not the case here.)
If you’re familiar with the "Iliad," at this point, you may be thinking, “Uh, didn’t you say that it has to have a happy ending to be a romance novel?” I’ll admit that this one stretches the definition of a “happy ending,” but I still think it qualifies because of, as the kids say, “reasons.” (Getting specific about those reasons would, alas, be a spoiler.)
And finally, just try reading (or re-reading) the works of Jane Austen, one of the earliest and best romance novelists out there. Looking for a light romantic comedy with will-they-or-won’t-they tension? "Pride and Prejudice" set the standard 200 years ago. More in the mood for a sweeping tale of past love and old heartbreak? You can grab a box of tissues and get ready to shed some happy tears over "Persuasion." Want your romantic entanglements with a strong side of sisterly shenanigans? "Sense and Sensibility" might be for you. Usually find yourself drawn to satire, antiheroes and morality tales? "Northanger Abbey," "Emma," and "Mansfield Park" are for you, respectively.
Once you’ve made your way through these suggestions, you’ll be well on your way to owning the Fiction Loop’s Romance section. I’ll meet you there.
-Meredith Wiggins is a Reader’s Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.