Entries from blogs tagged with “Lawrence”

Peculiar reading

I first encountered Ransom Riggs’ "Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children" after I started working at Lawrence Public Library over three years ago. While shelving, I would often see the creepy, antique cover leering out from the stacks, which continued to intrigue me for some time.

Eventually, I had to know what the book was about (since I am totally guilty of judging a book by its cover) and brought it home to read during a brisk autumn evening. From its opening pages, I knew that it was a match made in book heaven, and "Miss Peregrine" soon became one of my YA favorites.

When I learned that not only was Tim Burton slated to direct the film adaptation due out September 30, 2016, but that it would also star Eva Green, one of my favorite actresses, as the title character, I couldn’t have been more excited. With the new film slated for release, it also means that the holds list for Miss Peregrine has spiked significantly. While you wait, enjoy some of the titles I’ve put together that remind me of what I love most about "Miss Peregrine."

"The Diviners" by Libba Bray

Set in the Roaring 20’s, "The Diviners" follows 17 year old Evie, a rambunctious, feminist flapper who would fit in well with the sauce-drinking heroines of Tennessee Williams. She has the unique ability to learn people’s deepest secrets through touching the objects they possess. These powers get her into more trouble than she bargains for as the truth flows from her faster than gin at a speakeasy.

When she becomes too much for her parents to handle, Evie is sent off to New York to live with her Uncle Will with the hopes that she will evolve from being the town pariah to a respectable debutante. However, things go awry when a series of paranormal murders occur that has her teaming up with others who have peculiar abilities like herself to stop a nefarious serial killer.

Bray spends a great deal of time crafting her world to be as immersive as possible with vivid descriptions and exceptional character development, which is an aspect that fans of Miss Peregrine will be sure to delight in reading. Like "Miss Peregrine," "The Diviners" defies genre classification because it has a little bit of everything, including: romance, mystery, suspense, eccentric characters, and supernatural beings. Don’t let the sheer size of the book intimidate you, as it reads much faster than it looks.

"The Monstrumologist" by Rick Yancey

Nominated for the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature, "The Monstrumologist" is a haunting fictional memoir told from the perspective of twelve year old Will Henry. He is the assistant to the mad scientist Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a monstrumologist who studies grotesque creatures from myths, legends, and the deepest recesses of your nightmares.

In 1888, a late night caller shows up with the corpse of an anthropophagus (imagine the Xenomorph from "Alien" mixed with Krum from "Aaahh!!! Real Monsters"). Because anthropophagi are not native to America, Will and Dr. Warthrop must discover how the anthropophagi got there, where they reside, and exterminate them before they reproduce and consume all of humanity.

Yancey utilizes a graphic prose style that is poetic, terrifying, and not for the faint of stomach. It is true horror that will chill you to your bones and yet is written with an elegant style that evokes the brilliance of Mary Shelley. Much of the story and characters are shrouded in deep-rooted mysteries, and it will keep you glued to the page as new revelations and character intricacies are slowly teased.

If you like the darker atmosphere of "Miss Peregrine," reading about creatures that go bump in the night, and stories that explore the darkness that resides within us all, then you will fall in love with Yancy’s underrated and harrowing series.

"New X-Men" by Grant Morrison

For those of you that are unfamiliar, this is Grant Morrison’s iteration of the classic superhero team created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby that consists of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine and their protector and brilliant teacher, Charles Xavier.

At Xavier’s Institute for Higher Learning, those born with genetic mutations that give them superhuman abilities learn to control their powers in a safe haven. Charles Xavier protects them from both the general populace, who fear them, and other mutants who do not share the idea that mutants should coexist peacefully with humanity.

In many ways, "Miss Peregrine" feels like the eerie, gothic twin to the X-Men franchise in both its story similarities and the ways in which the authors tackle important social justice topics within genre fiction. Riggs and Morrison use fantastical elements to make a commentary on the intersectionality of contemporary issues like social ostracization, widespread bullying, hate crimes, prejudice, stigma, and how these not only transform the ways we perceive the world, but also impact us on an individual level.

And, if you are not familiar with the X-Men or comics, Morrison provides a perfect starting point that doesn’t require you to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise to enjoy the story. Give the X-Men a try. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

-Fisher Adwell is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


There’s no place like Lawrence

Last weekend, my in-laws visited from Iowa. Don’t worry — this isn’t a horror story. Or a rant. I actually enjoy it when they’re in town, because I get to show them around Lawrence and brag about all the great locally owned businesses and the neat events that happen in the community. It reminds me how much I love Lawrence and how glad I am to live here.

A confession: I’m not a native Lawrencian. I didn’t grow up in Lawrence, and I didn’t attend KU. I grew up in Tonganoxie, but the grass was ever so much greener in the River City for this closeted progressive from small-town Kansas. When I got the opportunity to work at the public library after college, I snatched it and moved into my first tiny apartment.

In 2011, I met then Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg through a poetry program at the library, and she invited me to participate in a Kansas-centered poetry project. Over the course of a year, 150 Kansas poets contributed ten lines each to a modified renga, a Japanese collaborative poem. Mirriam-Goldberg published the renga both online and in "To the Stars Through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga Through 150 Voices."

Among the many Kansas voices, including several from Lawrence, the ten lines I wrote spoke to my long-held appreciation for my home:

That deep far off kind of blue sky

reflected in the eyes of the child I

once was, sitting barefoot and

cross-legged in a field somewhere

south of town, searching for a new

kind of infinite. Even now there are

days I feel a stranger here underneath

and in between overbearing spaces that

invade the mind and dull the senses,

but if I were to ever leave, my heart would always call it home.

I did leave, and a part of me has always regretted it. Last September, I returned to Lawrence after a three year directorship at a small library in Iowa. I was fortunate to return to work for what’s now one of the most beautiful new libraries in North America, and even the world. I, like the rest of the staff at the library, am eternally grateful to the Lawrence community for making it possible to work in such an amazing place. We are also grateful for the continued support of the community and hope it shows through our dedication to positive customer service.

Now it’s a secret goal of mine to convince my in-laws to move to Lawrence. I know well enough how tethered the heart can be to one’s home, but who wants to live in a small town surrounded by corn anyway?

For more Kansas love, be sure to check out "To the Stars Through Difficulties," available at the library!

-William Ottens is the Cataloging & Collection Development Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.


Dahl in All

You never know what thoughts will pop into your head when you wake up two hours before dawn, creep down to the darkest, quietest corner of the basement, and make a giant papier-mache blueberry. “Why the heck am I doing this?” is one recurring theme.

This time I had a good answer: The library was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Roald Dahl, who gave us Violet Beauregarde, the character who turns into a giant blueberry in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and we thought it would be fun to offer kids a chance to pose for pictures of themselves so transformed.

But as I tore into strips the very newspaper page reporting the death of Gene Wilder, through whose portrayal of Willy Wonka so many first encounter Dahl, I remembered my own introduction to the author. It came by way of my first grade teacher, Mr. Kelly, who read "James and the Giant Peach" aloud to us, complete with a different voice for each character.

In the four decades since, I’ve read and listened to some pretty good books, watched my share of movies and plays, attended concerts, strolled through art museums, and experienced the architecture of a couple of the world’s great cities, but it occurred to me in the pasty calm of the early morning last week that sitting in Mr. Kelly’s classroom as he read that book still ranks among the great aesthetic experiences of my life.

So this week, we tip our felt top hats off to Roald Dahl and all those who have helped tell his stories. No homage to Dahl can be made without also honoring Quentin Blake, one of the UK’s most prolific and celebrated children’s authors in his own right, whose quirky drawings became the visual face of Dahl’s works. And a testament to Dahl’s enduring influence is the long list of actors and film directors he has inspired.

There is of course Gene Wilder’s musical tour of the chocolate factory, which, though it was a cultural touchstone for children of my generation, Dahl hated so much that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s remake was only allowed after the author’s death in 1990.

This year, Stephen Spielberg and Mark Rylance took on "The BFG," Dahl’s story of a gentle giant, a little girl, and how dreams are made. Jim Henson, Nicholas Roeg, and Angelica Huston combined talents to bring to life Dahl’s paranoiac vision of an England rife with child-hunting witches posing as do-gooders in "The Witches," and the all-star team of actors who voiced the characters in Wes Anderson’s "Fantastic Mr. Fox" was upstaged only by the wondrously complete world created by the film’s animators.

My old favorite, "James and the Giant Peach," was made into a movie in 1996 by Henry Selick, better known for directing "The Nightmare before Christmas" and "Coraline." I’ve never seen it, though. I’m generally a fan of watching movie versions after I read a book, but sometimes the experience of reading just can’t be topped; my first grade teacher seemed to be a regular guy for his time, right down to his stripey ties and disco ‘stache, but through Dahl he revealed an extraordinary magic. In this way he was not unlike a Dahl character himself, whose true, fantastic identity was found out by all of us everykids in his class as he launched us from the humdrum of our lives into a surreal adventure.

I’ve never read the book again either, but I probably will soon. At times I see an expression flicker across my own kids’ faces I can only describe as Dahlian, for there is no author before or since who has better captured the sense of children confronting a world whose unpredictability and weirdness are taken for granted by us adults, who, despite our best intentions, may menace when we mean to comfort. My kids seem as ripe as James’ peach for a leap into Roald Dahl’s world. I only hope my reading holds a fraction of the wonder Mr. Kelly’s held for me.

-Dan Coleman is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.


Black writers bring James Baldwin back to life in ‘The Fire This Time’

"The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race," edited by Jesmyn Ward (an author I raved about last year), is on the short list of my favorite books of 2016. A gorgeous collection of essays and poems on racial issues in America, it’s a book that punched me in the gut in the way that excellent writing tends to do. Describing her feelings on the book as a whole, Ward states:

“I believe there is power in words, power in asserting our existence, our experience, our lives, through words. That sharing our stories confirms our humanity. That it creates community, both within our own community and beyond it.”

The title of the collection is inspired by James Baldwin’s world-renowned "The Fire Next Time," and its essays are broken into three parts: the past (“Legacy”), the present (“Reckoning”), and the future (“Jubilee”). While this provides a basic map for moving throughout the essays, the number of actual topics covered is....enormous. It’s a book in which - in my opinion - all readers can find something to cling to, whether it’s a particular line in a poem, a geographical reference, or a throwback to a past relationship.

It’s a book that is important everywhere and one that I especially hope readers in Lawrence will check out as we continue to have lengthy conversations on social justice. I was excited to hear that Ta-Nahesi Coates’ "Between the World and Me" was chosen to be this year’s Common Book at KU. This letter to his son about growing up in a black body in America has touched so many people, and I can’t wait for the upcoming talks surrounding the book.

One of the many reasons why I love "The Fire This Time" is the wide array of experiences represented. In her introduction to the authors, Jesmyn Ward doesn’t overtly mention the intersection of gender and race in curating this collection, but it’s easy to notice that black women are heavily represented (10 of 18 according to pronouns used in the contributors list). This directly contrasts with Coates’ book, which has received some criticism for focusing solely on men’s experience of black bodies, overlooking black women’s part in the struggle. Ward’s variety of narratives makes the collection feel like a beautiful conversation that I’m lucky enough to listen in on. (Additionally, for a great and lengthy black-women-centric collection, check out the powerfully titled, "All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us are Brave.")

I’d highly recommend "The Fire This Time" as a pairing with Coates, or as a separate and rich conversation for your book clubs and classrooms. While this book is at times devastating in its descriptions of racial violence and daily microaggressions, it’s also filled with small nuggets of hope. Or, at least, that is Jesmyn Ward’s goal:

“I hope this book makes each one of you, dear readers, feel as if we are sitting together, you and me and Baldwin and Trethewey and Wilkerson and Jeffers and Walters and Anderson and Smith and all the serious, clear-sighted writers here - and that we are composing our story together. That we are writing an epic wherein black lives carry worth, wherein black boys can walk to the store and buy candy without thinking they will die, wherein black girls can have a bad day and be mouthy without being physically assaulted by a police officer, wherein cops see twelve year old black boys playing with fake guns as silly kids and not homicidal maniacs, wherein black women can stop to ask for directions without being shot in the face by paranoid white homeowners.”

Please pick up "The Fire This Time" and join me in the listening.

-Kate Gramlich is a Reader’s Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


Discography dilemmas

I never listened to Bob Dylan growing up. I blame it on my parents. It’s not like they banned him from the house. They just weren’t Dylan fans. In those pre-Napster, pre- job days, it was either the radio or my parents’ music collection: Fleetwood Mac’s "Greatest Hits," Madonna’s "Immaculate Collection," Supertramp’s "Breakfast in America." There was plenty of The Monkees (my mom never grew out of her girlhood crush on Davy Jones), but not much of The Beatles, and Dylan just wasn’t on the radar.

I’d like to say all that changed in 2006 when he headlined Austin City Limits; I was there. I saw a lot of great bands--Spoon, LCD Soundsystem, Wilco, Arcade Fire, to name a few — but I passed on Dylan. It was hot. There was a huge crowd. We could have snaked our way closer, but we didn’t. We went home.

It’s one my top recurring regrets.

But back to Bob. We left early. I can’t really blame myself; I hadn’t listened to any of his music. By that time, I was aware of his storied career, but some classic musicians are just too prolific for their own good. You look at a band like Fleetwood Mac’s never ending list of albums and you get intimidated. Where to start? The beginning seems like a reasonable place, but sometimes it can take an artist an album or two to really hit their stride (or eleven, in Fleetwood Mac’s case). Not to mention, you’ll be playing catch up through half a century’s worth of albums. If you choose an album at random, you could get a stinker. So instead you put it off and off and off until you end up skipping seeing an icon.

Leaving that concert really is a sore spot for me.

And I don’t want this to happen to you. So I thought I’d ask some LPL staffers to share their recommended starting album when it comes to one of those celebrated and venerable artists. Unfortunately, we don’t own all of these albums, but that’s what interlibrary loans are for. And yes, we realize you can find lists and lists online cataloging every album under the sun from greatest to worst, but this feels a little more personal. So bear with us as we share a very subjective list of music we love. And make sure to share your recommended starter albums in the comments!

Ian: Bob Dylan, "Bringing It All Back Home"

After all this Dylan talk, I’d feel silly not suggesting one of his albums. If you’re looking to embark on a lifelong love affair with Robert Zimmerman, start here. Dylan’s fifth record is a hybrid half-electric, half-acoustic masterpiece. Side one foreshadows rock and roll brilliance to come; side two perfectly captures the beloved folk prophet he left behind.

Ilka: Queen, "The Works" When choosing one album from a band as innovative as Queen, the word “dilemma” could not be more appropriate. My first instinct is to reply ALL OF THE ALBUMS, however, Queen's "The Works" from 1985 is by far their most accessible and liked of those available in the LPL Collection. If one were curious about a lengthier cross section then look no further than Queen's compilation, "Forever."

Sean: Yo La Tengo, "I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One"

Ask any YLT fan which album is the best place to start and you will get a different answer almost every time. Their catalog is sprawling and eclectic, with many different stylistic high points. That said, I would personally recommend 1997's "I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One." It is, perhaps, the most cohesive mingling of everything that the band does really well.

Fisher: Kylie Minogue, "Aphrodite"

Australia's princess of pop Kylie Minogue strikes electro-pop gold with her goddess-inspired album. It’s one of her most cohesive and empowering works to date. Minogue's 11th studio record (produced by the brilliant Stuart Price) is pure EDM, disco-infused perfection that will have you clamoring to get to the nearest dance floor. It is the perfect entry point if you have yet to listen to one of the most underrated and talented artists from Down Under.

Jake: Talking Heads, "More Songs About Buildings and Food"

After much deliberation- I settled on Talking Heads. There are so many catchy songs from only eight albums! Their second one, the first album that Brian Eno produced, is perhaps their best; it displays their humor, rhythm, and early raw energy — plus it has a great title. It’s a great sing-along road-trip material, just don't dance and drive.

Kate: Tom Waits, "Mule Variations"

“Why would you want to listen to someone who just sounds like a drunken Cookie Monster?" was my question for Tom Waits fans for the longest time, since I'd only heard random songs from various albums. Then, I found "Mule Variations," and I saw the light. Start here to get to know Waits' vocal range and lyrical style. "Hold On" is one of my all-time favorite songs.

Dan: Bruce Springsteen, "Born to Run"

In my teen years during the mid-1980’s, Bruce Springsteen was inescapable, and I worked my way back from the mega hits of "Born in the U.S.A." to the album which made him a household name a decade earlier, "Born to Run." I loved every minute of its anthemic melodrama, which evoked all the torture and elation of my own suburban coming of age, but dressed up in the gothic imagery of abandoned beach houses, tunnels uptown, and dying on the streets in an everlasting kiss. Springsteen made records before and after "Born to Run," but this is the one in which he gave up trying to be Bob Dylan and created the persona he still maintains, that of a social and economic outcast who faces down the “town full of losers” to become, paradoxically, a mainstream hero: The Boss.

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


Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt Create Unique Family Memoir

An enjoyable aspect of reading memoirs is the potential life lessons that can be gleaned from another person’s example. There are times this knowledge doesn’t come directly from the author themselves, yet it can be found in the manner they lived their life. Also within memoirs, there exists the potential of surprise in learning new information about the author, the opportunity to hear their innermost thoughts, and, possibly, to connect with them on a universal level.

In "The Rainbow Comes and Goes," written by Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, all of these qualities reside. Cooper wrote one memoir already in 2006, "Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival," that concerns his beginnings as a war reporter and how it impacted his life. "The Rainbow Comes and Goes" take a decidedly more intimate and revealing look at one of the most personal relationships, the one between a parent and their child.

Cooper fostered the idea for the book following Gloria Vanderbilt’s hospitalization from a respiratory infection, which motivated a desire to leave nothing left unsaid. On Vanderbilt’s 91st birthday, a year-long electronic correspondence began between them, leaving no stone unturned and no question unanswered. Vanderbilt touches on her health scare experience in one of their first exchanges,

“It is a cliché, but a true one, and I understand it only now: health is your most treasured gift. As long as you have it, you are independent, master of yourself. Illness grabs the soul. You plunge in and out of hope, fearing you will never recover. All that I have been, all that I am, all that I might become no longer exist. I am alone. Nothing can distract from the truth of this finality.”

I never would have considered such a unique perspective on health until hearing it from a source with so many years behind it.

“My mother comes from a vanished world, a place and a time that no longer exist,” Cooper continues, “Vanderbilt is a big name to carry, and I’ve always been glad I didn’t have to. I like being a Cooper. It’s less cumbersome, less likely to produce an awkward pause in the conversation when I’m introduced. Let’s face it, the name Vanderbilt has history, baggage.” Baggage indeed! Yet, surprisingly, Gloria Vanderbilt empathizes, “That I have the name Vanderbilt has always felt like a huge mistake. I felt I was an imposter, a changeling, perhaps switched at birth, intruding under false pretenses. For me, this feeling has never gone away.”

This feeling no doubt relates to the fact that Vanderbilt’s father, Reginald, died when she was 15 months old, leaving her in the care of her mother, Gloria Morgan, a child herself just 18 years old. Despite this, Gloria Vanderbilt was still raised mainly by her governess, Emma Keislich, nicknamed Dodo, and her maternal grandmother, Naney Morgan.

Vanderbilt artfully quotes Susan Sontag: "You don’t grow up missing what you never had, but throughout life there is hovering over you an inescapable longing for something you never had.” These are the sentiments that have been woven through Gloria Vanderbilt’s entire life, even before and after the infamous custody trial that occurred when she was only 10 years old.

There are so many poignant moments in the rest of "The Rainbow Comes and Goes" that to talk of them at any greater length would ruin it.

Prefacing the emotional weight and familial drama of the book, Vanderbilt introduces the memoir by compelling the reader to action:

“I know now that it’s never too late to change the relationship you have with someone important in your life: a parent, a child, a lover, a friend. All it takes is a willingness to be honest and to shed your old skin, to let go of the longstanding assumptions and slights you still cling to. I hope what follows will encourage you to think about your own relationships and perhaps help you start a new kind of conversation with someone you love. After all, if not now, when?”

-Ilka Iwanczuk is a Reader's Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


YA Backlist: Anything Could Happen by Will Walton

Yes, that catchy electropop hit by Ellie Goulding from 2012 is the inspiration and anthem for this young adult novel from 2015. "Anything Could Happen" is a lighthearted, pleasant read filled with optimism and a bit of cheese.

To be honest, it was the title that brought this one to my attention. The cover is fun, too, but both can be a little misleading when it comes to reflecting what happens in the novel.

It follows Tretch Farm, who enjoys listening to music and dancing alone in his room. He’s comfortable with himself, but he still hasn’t come out, and he’s deeply in love with his straight best friend, Matt. It’s winter break, and a lot certainly does happen:

To Tretch’s disappointment, Matt falls in love with a girl who may or may not like him back. A pretentious girl who works at Tretch’s favorite bookstore comes on to him. Then there’s the bully who antagonizes Tretch and calls him out on his crush and a grandparent dying of cancer. On top of all that, Tretch learns that Matt may be moving away. Oh, and a cow gives birth to a breech calf.

I appreciated that, underneath all that’s happening, Walton’s novel is a coming out story that doesn’t entirely focus on that. By normalizing the experience, Walton demonstrates that it isn’t always a negative experience. Your friends and family can accept you for who you are. I also appreciate that the novel features a same sex couple, Matt’s dads, as decent parents who raise a well-adjusted teen.

"Anything Could Happen" is perfect for teen readers who may be dealing with coming out and accepting who they are. The plot of the story tends to wander. Some issues are resolved a little too easily, and others not all. But isn’t that life?

-William Otten is the Cataloging & Collection Development Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.


Local Artist & Author Stephen T. Johnson Shares a Serendipitous Love of Letters

I have a deep sense of pride for our community’s most creative citizens; savoring local artists’ and authors’ works is often more satisfying than fine dining. Lawrence-based artist and author Stephen T. Johnson’s work is among the finest. His children’s picture books are award-winning: "A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet" was named one of the Best Illustrated Books of the Year by the New York Times, and "Alphabet City" was the recipient of a Caldecott Honor, in addition to other accolades.

With Johnson’s newest book, "Alphabet School," you can enjoy a visual celebration featuring images from Lawrence area schools. Vivid imagery depicts letters of the alphabet in ordinary objects at schools to encourage a child’s curiosity, observation, and comfort with a new school environment. This book can also be used as a classroom companion with Johnson’s previous book, "Alphabet City."

This Sunday, August 28, Johnson will visit the library for a special storytime at 3:30 PM. He’ll talk about the making of "Alphabet School" and how many of the ideas in this book came from students. Kids will be called to find library objects that resemble letters, and whoever who finds the most will win a signed copy of Johnson’s book. Librarian Linda Clay will be reading stories, and there will be a craft for those who aren't searching for letters around the library. The Raven Book Store will have copies available of Stephen’s books at the event, including “Alphabet School,” “A is for Art,” and even a few copies of his highly interactive piece books like “My Little Blue Robot”.

If you can’t make it to the library, tune in to Kansas Public Radio on Sunday, September 11th at 7:00 PM to hear an interview with Johnson and a discussion of several other 2016 Kansas Notable Authors. You can also check out one of Johnson’s many fabulous public art pieces, such as “Freedom Rings” near Clinton Lake at the Wakarusa River Valley Heritage Museum in Bloomington Park.

He explains its concept and significance:

“Highly reflective circular hoops establish physically and conceptually the relationship of the Underground Railroad to the areas’ ten extinct and extant communities and revolve around a historical windmill tower, positioned in relation to the North Star, which functions as the focal point of the site.”

There is so much more to know about the work of Stephen T. Johnson; see his website here. He’s very involved in the community with his art: he is a finalist for public artwork at a new branch of the Johnson County Public Library, and he is teaching two drawing classes in the School of Architecture, Design & Planning at KU this fall. Johnson is also among the commissioned local artists selected for the East Ninth Street art project.

Upcoming opportunities to see Johnson’s art include the Lawrence Art Walk October 21- 23 and a solo show at the Cider Gallery in November. Check out more rich, illuminating books by Stephen T. Johnson and other picture books that are beautiful, educational, and fun for younger readers on this list in the library’s catalog: Books for Kids by Lawrence Authors.

- Shirley Braunlich is a Readers Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library


Local author Karen Vaughn talks T. rex with short story debut

It’s been a good month for Lawrence writers. Author Karen Vaughn brings us the most recent piece of local literature with her debut, "A Kiss for a Dead Film Star," a genre-blending collection of short stories.

Each story is tightly crafted with vivid and weird—yet oddly relatable—situations. In “The Piscine Age,” an aging couple, still deeply in love, must cope with the husband’s sudden and tragic growth of fish-like scales. It embodies themes of transformation, loss, and the unknowable mysteries of the world that surface throughout the collection as a whole.

Fans of writers like Karen Russell and George Saunders will especially enjoy "A Kiss for a Dead Film Star," but there’s something here for everyone in this artfully written collection of uncanny and human tales.

I was able to talk to with Karen about her work ahead of the book's release earlier this month:

EH:What are some of your influences?

KV: Obviously, I am a tremendous fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I remember reading "One Hundred Years of Solitude" for the first time, thinking, my God, I didn't know you were allowed to write like this. Other writer influences are Jeanette Winterson, Vonnegut, Yann Martel, Dostoevsky, and Francesca Lia Block. I'm also hugely inspired by film and the ways it can tell stories using purely visual language. Sergio Leone is very high on my list of favorite directors, as well as Guillermo del Toro, Danny Boyle, and Ridley Scott. Basically, I'm passionate about any art that attempts something truly visionary, whether or not it fully succeeds. I am probably the only person on earth who will defend Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain." Yes, it's crazy, but I love it!

EH: You have a background in medical writing, and the story collection is described as “psycho-medical-magical realism.” How do you go about incorporating the medical style in your fiction writing? Is it a natural tendency or something you actively weave in?

KV: I would say it's a natural tendency at this point, given my overexposure to medical language and my personal tendency toward hypochondria. But really I've always had a fascination with the workings of the body. It's this strange machine that propels us through the world, our whole experience is funneled through it, but in many ways, even to scientists, its processes are unknowable. Who knows what is happening inside our body at any particular moment? It might be battling a virus, or it might be growing an extra liver. I love the idea that somewhere, right now, there is someone experiencing some kind of evolutionary leap.

EH: Per your bio, I have to ask: what’s the famous eyeball issue?

KV: Ha! It was an issue of the journal I worked on that was devoted entirely to trauma of the eyeball. There were graphic pictures of all sorts of things: ruptures, hemorrhaging, etc. The highlight, though, was this wonderfully gruesome photograph of an eyeball with a fishhook stuck through it. I was inured to a lot of the gorier medical images by that point, but this one was so horrible that I had to stick a post-it note over the picture while I was editing it in order to keep my lunch down. That issue was notorious among the staff: it freaked out every single one of us.

EH: What are your favorite places in Lawrence to write?

KV: The Roost, Aimee's, Java Break, although lately, much of my writing has been done at home. I love coffee shops because there is almost always good music playing and there's a constant hum of conversation that makes it easier for me to immerse myself in my stories. They are also fantastic places to people watch.

EH: If you had to pick one of the six stories in the collection to adapt into a full-length novel, which would it be? It seems like a few of them have much more space to explore.

KV: That would probably be "A Kiss for a Dead Film Star," because it's my favorite story of the collection, and because I could honestly write about 1920s New York forever and never get tired of it. I did so much research for that story—I even visited Valentino's tomb!—and I'd love an excuse to do more poking around in libraries and cemeteries, gathering material. It could be my War and Peace.

EH: What are you working on right now, with your writing or otherwise?

KV: A lesbian gunslinger novel!

EH: What inspired “Still Life with Fossils” ? The premise seems both very specific and very unusual, to the point of the story feeling oddly real.

KV: My husband and I went to New York City a while back, and one of our stops was the American Museum of Natural History. In the dinosaur room, there was a skeleton of a fully-grown stegosaurus, and alongside it was this tiny skeleton of a baby stegosaurus. That just hit me in the gut and made me think of these creatures as real animals in a way I hadn't before. So I started writing about what that mama stegosaurus' experiences might have been, before and after her death, and then I added a T-Rex, because who doesn't love a T-Rex? I just love the idea of two dinosaurs having an ontological debate, because in a way it's no more ridiculous than human beings trying to resolve these difficult questions.

"A Kiss for A Dead Film Star" is available now at the library.

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


Take Two Anne Tylers and Call Me in the Morning

I have a new mantra. Here it is: Welcome to your old age, Randi. OK. So it’s more of a mantra phrase, but still, it’s the repetition that gives a mantra its calming mojo. I use it whenever I feel a twinge where I’ve not twinged before, whenever an injury doesn’t heal quite as quickly or neatly as it used to, and whenever there’s some change in my overall sense of myself — of the me I have grown used to over the years.

My fifties seemed to be the adolescence of old age: things changed, but not for the better; I worried that every small thing that went wrong or hurt was a harbinger of death. Here in my sixties, well, I don’t worry (as much) that every small thing that goes wrong or hurts is a harbinger of death; I accept that every small thing that goes wrong or hurts is a harbinger of death and, as unlikely as this may sound, it’s a comfort. Welcome to your old age, Randi.

Naturally this line of thought makes me think of books, specifically books that deal with aging. Not one of those books on how to age (as if we needed instructions), or how to fight aging (as if it were a battle), or how it’s the best time of your life (it’s not). I mean novels about aging.

The queen, in my opinion, of writing novels about aging is Anne Tyler. She writes about us with sweetness and quiet humor and familiarity (she’s 74 herself). She reveals with love the failures and fears that accompany getting older at the same time that she reveals the concomitant freedom and wisdom that can also follow. There’s no pity in her portrayals of humans grappling with the recognition of the inevitable, by which I mean, of course, death. Her stories are about aging people realizing something about their lives and dealing, in their own idiosyncratic ways, with the effects this revelation has on themselves and their families.

The revelations aren’t necessarily thunderous—no voice on high suddenly reveals a universal truth or the existence of a heaven—they’re more about the way memories suddenly permeate the present, about a surprising perspective on the way things turned out and the way they didn’t, about the way our perception of what it means to be an adult changes as we age. Not thunderous, no, but nonetheless potent.

My favorite of Anne Tyler’s books about aging people is "Back When We Were Grownups" (2001) whose main character, Rebecca Davitch, is dealing with the reality of being in her fifties and having become, as she laments, “the wrong person,” a thought, I imagine, that has hit all of us upside the head at some point. Tyler tells Rebecca’s story in gentle prose and with gentle humor. The writing is lyric, and the character population is human, and Rebecca is endearingly flustered as she attempts to go back to resurrect and follow the path that she believes would have led her to become the “right” person, the person she believes was meant to be.

Additionally, Tyler’s novel "A Spool of Blue Thread" (2015) is quite simply a perfect book. It’s perfect. The main characters are in their 70s, dealing with aging, with children who are less than perfect and still needy, with the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, and with the loss of self and the touch of dementia. The Whitshanks are a charming, flawed family, and Tyler acquaints us with them in words that are realistic but not dramatic, hard-hitting but not injurious and always affectionately humorous.

And so, if you are facing your own graying (or the graying of someone you love), may I suggest turning to Anne Tyler for a perspective adjustment? Her grace and her honesty can shepherd us all to a place where we can say with at least a wry curl of the lip and a knowing shake of the head, “Welcome to your old age, YOUR NAME HERE.”

-Randi Hacker is a public services assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


The Hour of Land Explores Shared Stories and Shared Space

They look pretty good for 100 years old, don’t they? Happy Birthday to our National Parks! Well, this doesn’t date the ageless glory contained within the parks, but rather the National Park Service, established on August 25, 1916.

Even now, there are parks that have not had their stories fully told; how did I not know about a parade of massive earthen bears lining a section of the Mississippi River? Hundreds of these centuries-old earthworks quietly reside at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa, one of the 412 units of the Park Service, and I have writer Terry Tempest Williams to thank for introducing me to them.

Good nature writers will introduce us to the unknown; better nature writers at the same time re-imagine the known. Terry Tempest Williams excels at such re-imagining, whether it be of landscapes, myths, politics, or, often, the intersection of the three.

Her new book, "The Hour of Land," takes us on a tour of 12 pieces of the U.S. National Park System, from the Gates of the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico, from Acadia to Alcatraz, all just in time for the Park Service’s centennial. The Hour of Land isn’t what I expected, but I should have known. Author of 15 books and innumerable essays and articles, Williams has written such different yet compelling works as "Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place," "Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert," "When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice," and "Leap," a meditation on Hieronymus Bosch and Mormonism. Note the subtitles– she may be labeled an environmentalist, but she’s always unpredictable.

The subtitle of her new book is “A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks.” The parks, monuments, and recreation areas she visits are not so much described; instead, they are used as campfires around which we sit while Williams tells stories. The “open air of democracy” is where she does her best reimagining, getting personal while at the same time discussing often-hidden histories. Some parks exist because their previous inhabitants were removed, she reminds us, as at Yosemite. People with deep pockets and agendas have funded parkland acquisition, as at Grand Teton and Acadia. And park stories have changed for the better, too, as at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, originally called Custer Battlefield National Monument.

Reimagining the present and future is where it gets really interesting. I particularly enjoyed Williams’ visit to Alcatraz National Recreation Area, where she and activist Tim DeChristopher viewed dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s installation, as well as her trip with her father to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, an intact island of grass in a stormy sea of fracking. She also describes wildfires in Glacier National Park that trapped her and her family even while the park’s namesake glaciers recede — a metaphor for our time.

To further inspire the reader, "The Hour of Land" is literally bookended by photos — Carleton Watkins’ 1870s image of El Capitan in Yosemite and Ansley West Rivers’ 2011 “Lunar Trace” from the Grand Canyon — and each chapter is accompanied by a gorgeous black and white image by a different photographer. The collection is then nicely gathered and annotated in the back.

Williams, usually with her husband or family, traversed many miles in the course of "The Hour of Land," revealing both the sheer diversity and beauty of our parks, and of her writing. Along the way she tips her hat to friends and influences, many of whom will be familiar to readers. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner was one, who said:

“If we preserved as parks only those places that have no economic possibilities, we would have no parks. And in the decades to come, it will be not only the buffalo and the trumpeter swan who need sanctuaries. Our own species is going to need them too. It needs them now.”

Now is the time to visit a National Park or two. From Aug. 25 to 28, in celebration of their 100th birthday, your National Parks are free! Get out there!

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


The Rules and the Exceptions of Reading

I’m a natural-born rule follower. If there’s a rule in place, it almost never occurs to me to ask why it’s there or whether it’s worth following; it’s a rule, so unless it’s a pile of ethical garbage, I’m probably going to follow it.

My preference for strong, clear guidelines in all things (Obligers, am I right?) even bleeds over into my reading habits. I’ll often set rules for myself about what I can and can’t read; it’s one of the reasons I’m so drawn to reading challenges, which lay out the rules in no uncertain terms: read books about these topics in this order. Ah, sweet, sweet order.

Some people would find this incredibly limiting, I know, but I find it tremendously freeing! I know my general preferences, my likes and dislikes, and so rather than spend lots of time trying to convince myself to enjoy a genre or style that just isn’t for me, I remind myself that Book X or Movie Y isn’t in the rules, and I steer myself toward the things that have a higher success rate.

But every rule has exceptions, and that’s what this post is about.

Rule #1: No audiobooks more than 12 hours long.

I resisted audiobooks for a long time, primarily because listening to them took me so much longer than just reading the book. I’m now a hard-core audiobook convert (thanks, Hoopla!), but I’ve found that 10-12 hours is my threshold of enjoyment. It doesn’t matter how much I’m loving the book or the performer; at about 12 hours, I’m ready to Swear Off Books Forever.

Sticking to that limit has led me to some pretty great shorter audiobooks. Some of my favorites:

● "The Crossover," by Kwame Alexander (2.25 hours)

● "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe," by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (7.5 hours)

● "A Monster Calls," by Patrick Ness (4 hours)

● "Kill the Boy Band," by Goldy Moldavsky (7 hours)

The Exception: "The Book of Strange New Things," by Michel Faber (19.5 hours)

This sprawling novel follows a minister, Peter, who leaves his wife on earth to minister to an alien species living on a remote planet newly colonized by humans. It’s a dense, sprawling, layered novel containing dozens of characters, and the audiobook performer brings them all beautifully to life - including the alien species, who learn to speak English despite having no vocal chords.

Rule #2: No contemporary romances.

I’m a big romance reader, but I veer hard toward the historical side of things. Whatever issues keep the protagonists apart are usually easier for me to accept in a historical setting than in a contemporary one. It’s the difference between “ooh, this is ripping my heart out, when are they going to kiss?” and “UGH, Big Issue Z isn’t THAT big a deal, just get over yourselves and make out.”

Here are four historicals that make me swoon:

● "Ravishing the Heiress," by Sherry Thomas (my favorite romance of all time!)

● "Follow My Lead," by Kate Noble

● "Think of England," by K.J. Charles

● "The Duchess War," by Courtney Milan

The Exception: "Bet Me," by Jennifer Crusie

This novel is incredibly funny and charming, full of interesting characters acting in believable ways. The leads have a wonderful, sexy chemistry that builds up naturally and never descends into We Cannot Be Together Because syndrome, but it’s still as full of feelings as I like my romance to be! (This novel is so great it even redeems the odious “asked out on a bet” plot.)

Rule #3: No mysteries.

I tend to care more about character than plot, so mysteries, which are often very plot-driven, are a hard sell for me. But my real problem with mysteries usually comes down to one of two things: either 1) they’re way too easy to figure out, or 2) there’s no way you could have figured them out. Finding mysteries that strike that perfect note of “all the clues were there, and I could have figured it out if only I’d been smarter” is so difficult! When books in this genre work for me, they tend to be more character-focused suspense than pure mystery.

If you’re also a suspense-instead-of-mystery fan, give these a try:

● "Winter’s Bone," by Daniel Goodrell

● "The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder," by Charles Graeber

● "The Paying Guests," by Sarah Waters

● "As Meat Loves Salt," by Maria McCann

The Exception: Any of the Phryne Fisher mysteries, by Kerry Greenwood

This absolutely delightful book series follows the adventures of Miss Phryne Fisher, lady detective, in 1920s Australia. I first met Miss Fisher through her equally delightful TV series, "Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries," which I devoured over a couple of long weekends; the books are a little less frothy than the series, but no less fun. Whip-smart, fashionable, and sure of herself, Miss Fisher keeps me coming back for more - and with nearly two dozen books in the series, I won’t run out anytime soon.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who thinks this way. What about you? What are your reading rules and their exceptions?

-Meredith Wiggins is a Reader’s Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


Lawrence Author Bryn Greenwood Debuts with Novel “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things”

Lawrence’s own Bryn Greenwood comes from a long line of Kansans, a heritage that suffuses her Midwest-set debut, “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.” The novel follows the young life of Wavonna “Wavy” Quinn, daughter of an Oklahoma meth baron and an unstable, germophobe mother.

While living at the family’s desolate ranch, eight-year-old Wavy meets Kellen, a man eager to love and nurture her—while also doing the dirty work of her father. What follows is a story of bonds forged in a landscape of desperation, conflict, and beauty.

The years speed by as the chapters progress, and as Wavy grows closer to adulthood, her relationship with Kellen becomes all the more vital, but also nebulous. This is only the beginning of the dizzying challenges each character must face.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things,” but you can pick one up at the library on Tuesday, Aug. 9, when we (in partnership with The Raven bookstore) host the official release party for the book. Greenwood will be there to give a reading, and there will also be an interview and Q&A session with the audience.

Luckily, I can report that in terms of literary merit, Greenwood’s debut is definitely much more wonderful than it is ugly. The novel’s lifeblood is its wide cast of characters, each drawn with vivid and complex detail. The chapters alternate viewpoint—an impressive writing feat, to juggle all the different voices—allowing the reader to get an immersive, kaleidoscopic view of the story.

No one in “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things” is without their flaws. At the same time, though, even the most questionable acts do not leave any one character fully condemned or beyond sympathy. The result is a starkly human novel that explores the damage and love between people; no matter how precarious things get, you can never truly judge Wavy and Kellen’s story, as she declares: “I’m real. I’m as real as you are. My family is real like your family.”

There isn’t any other love story out there quite like “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.” With compelling, true-to-life prose and fascinating characters, Greenwood has created a novel that is hard to put down—and hard to forget.

Remember to come by the library on Tuesday, August 9th to see the author and get a copy.

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


Read Harder Challenge Check In

We’re more than half way through the year – you haven’t forgotten about Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge have you? Many of us here at LPL have been plugging away at the 24 challenges, ever expanding our literary horizons. Here’s a look at some of my favorite challenges and reads so far:

Challenge #1: Read a horror book

"Ring" by Koji Suzuki

This is the novel that inspired the movie "The Ring." The story follows Asakawa, a hardworking journalist, as he investigates his niece's death. He discovers a videotape that ends by alerting viewers they will die in seven days unless they complete a certain task. There’s one problem: the instructions have been recorded over. I personally didn't find the novel as chilling as the movie, but it’s still a good read.

Challenge #10: Read a book over 500 pages

"The Bone Clocks" by David Mitchell

Fifteen year old Holly Sykes runs away from home and encounters the "Radio People" - a group of psychics who follow her throughout her life. I found Mitchell's prediction of the future world most fascinating. With a number of shifts in perspectives and jumps through time settings, this is a dense one!

Challenge #11: Read a book under 100 pages

"Albert Nobbs" by George Moore

Albert Nobbs is a woman disguised and working as a male waiter at an early 20th century English hotel. Albert meets another female working as a male painter who tells her that she's married to another woman, and this encourages Albert to find a wife of her own. Albert Nobbs is a quick read, but it was turned into a film starring Glenn Close, which is one of the most touching things I've ever watched.

Challenge #12: Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender

"Symptoms of Being Human" by Jeff Garvin

This well written, informative story follows Riley Cavanaugh, a gender fluid teenager struggling to find acceptance and self-love. Riley's story is inspiring and an important one for those who can relate, and also for those wanting to learn more about gender fluidity and the transgender community.

Challenge #13: Read a book that is set in the Middle East

"Children of the Jacaranda Tree" by Sahar Delijani

This was a heartbreaking read. Delijani illustrates the effect that war and political unrest in Iran has had on mothers, fathers, children, and families. Among many others, she relates the stories of a girl born in a prison in Tehran who is then taken from her mother, and that of a three year old whose political activist parents were arrested in front of him.

-William Ottens is the Cataloging & Collection Development Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.


Autism is no joke to comedy troupe Asperger’s Are Us

Asperger’s Are Us has a few requests for audience members in advance of the Boston-based comedy troupe’s Aug. 5 performance at the Lawrence Arts Center.

First and foremost, don’t expect to see the guys – that would be Noah Britton, Jack Hanke, New Michael Ingemi and Ethan Finlan, all of whom are openly autistic — poking fun at their condition or using the show as a lofty platform for autism awareness.

And also: bring snacks. Canned goods, cereal, Pepsi and bananas are all on the guys’ wish list.

"‘Cause in RV parks, the only food available is whatever you can hunt from the slower people staying in the RV park,” jokes Britton, the self-described “old man” of the group.

From left: Ethan Finlan, New Michael Ingemi, Jack Hanke and Noah Britton make up the comedy troupe Asperger's Are Us. The comedians, all of whom are openly autistic, will perform Aug. 5 at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St., at 7:30 p.m., followed up a Q-and-A session.

From left: Ethan Finlan, New Michael Ingemi, Jack Hanke and Noah Britton make up the comedy troupe Asperger's Are Us. The comedians, all of whom are openly autistic, will perform Aug. 5 at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St., at 7:30 p.m., followed up a Q-and-A session.

Britton has been tasked with RV maintenance — a daunting task, as the 30-year-old pre-used vehicle has taken to breaking down quite a few times already — during the troupe’s cross-country summer tour. He’s about a decade older than his fellow performers and friends, whom he met 11 years ago as a counselor at a summer camp (Hanke, Ingemi and Finlan were all campers) for kids with Asperger’s.

The age gap doesn’t matter much to the guys, who all share the same quirky, absurdist sense of humor (anticipate that, plus plenty of word play, at the Lawrence show) and a disorder that so often makes socializing and communicating a challenge.

“When I met them, I desperately needed to meet other Aspies. I hadn’t known about my own diagnosis long, and I was like, ‘I need to find somewhere where I can find my own people,’” recalls Britton. “You know, you spend your whole life (having Asperger’s) and are like, ‘What? I’ve never even met anyone who speaks the same language as me,’ and then you do, and it doesn’t even matter if they’re 12. You’re so psyched.”

Since 2010, the friends (aside from Britton, they’re all in their twenties and in college, though academics have been put on hold for the moment) have performed as Asperger’s Are Us, though this summer’s tour is their biggest foray into the national comedy scene yet.

Their biggest break may arrive in the form of a documentary, also called “Asperger’s Are Us,” executive produced by Mark Duplass. The film, which debuted to a warm reception at the South By Southwest festival in Austin earlier this year, is slated to hit Netflix in the fall.

Growing up, Hanke used humor as a “shield” in social situations. It was his way of “making people like me” and finding likeminded friends – a hobby, he says, that has now become a career, oddly enough.

“In the small scale, it feels normal. We’re used to touring by now, somewhat,” Hanke says of the group’s recent successes. “But I guess in the big sense, I still have a hard time believing that this is our life right now. It’s utterly unlike anything I expected to be doing at 23.”

At the moment, that entails anything from spelunking in Ohio to gigging at such prestigious venues as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. That’s life on the road, and so far, audiences have been receptive to the Asperger’s Are Us brand of humor.

Mainly, the guys are there to make each other laugh — their influences include Monty Python, Andy Kaufman and Steven Wright — but if audiences find it funny too, well, the more the merrier. A one-on-one conversation, Hanke explains, is harder to navigate for a person with Asperger’s than performing to an impersonal auditorium packed with row after row of anonymous faces.

As much as the group prefers to shy away from an ambassador role, they don’t mind talking about Asperger’s with those who are genuinely curious. After every show, the troupe does a Q-and-A session with the audience, fielding questions from parents and teachers and others looking to better understand autism.

“Honestly, if someone wants to hire us to do some kind of educational lecture, we will, but we’re very happy to just be funny on stage and appeal to people who have similar senses of humor,” Britton says, “And that’s really, I think, what every comedian wants.”

Catch Asperger's Are Us at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. Tickets cost $10, and can be purchased at the Arts Center ticket office or at www.lawrenceartscenter.org.


Lead-off hits: best rookie authors of 2016

Summertime is in full-swing, which means more time for some of our favorite things — baseball games, new books and popsicles (which are officially their own food group from May to September.) While we can't offer you any frozen treats, we can combine the other two to give you...

Lead-off Hits: The Best Rookie Authors of 2016

These first-timers have nailed it out of the park across various genres and age groups. They've entered the publishing world with a big hit. They've earned bragging rights for their RBIs (that's Readers Batted In). They'll be sure to give you a batch of HRs (Hours of Reading). They ... OK, you get it, let's just get to the books.

Click here to get on the holds list for one (or all!) of the books.

— Kate Gramlich is a Reader's Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


Knisley does it: a journey through illustrated memoirs

As a reader, I usually don’t know where my next read is going to come from. It could be found in a magazine article, by listening to NPR, or from a person convincing me that I need to drop everything and read this book that will apparently change my life. This is the tale of my journey with author and artist Lucy Knisley (pronounced Nicely), who I discovered while researching food memoirs via the NoveList feature on the library website.

Residing in Chicago, Knisley is a serial artist who excels at infusing a personal narrative with her signature visual style. She’s a talented young woman with a unique voice that is self-deprecating and humorous, yet universal. Now, I have been around comic books and graphic novels for as long as I can recall, yet I don’t remember encountering any with an autobiographical narrative. Personally, as a visual artist, I have an immense respect for those who pursue and can actualize storytelling through the form of serial artwork.

For Knisley to have both of these qualities within the same bound pages, well, it just seemed too good to be true! Below is a tour guide on my voyage through Lucy Knisley’s work and perhaps you, dear readers, will be as endeared by her work as I have been.

Published in 2008, "French Milk" offers an introspective and intimate portrait of Knisley’s life during a pivotal time in her early 20s. The plot involves a six-week trip to Paris with her mother, Knisley’s impending 24th birthday, and her thoughts of what future awaits her upon graduating from the Art Institute of Chicago.

The narrative is portrayed through personal black and white photographs, drawings from her Moleskine notebook, as well as Knisley’s accompanying handwritten anecdotes. While the drawing style feels simple in comparison to Knisley’s other works, it supports the temporal setting of a trip abroad. French Milk almost reads like a graphic novel Moleskine edition of Noah Baumbach’s film "Frances Ha," another coming of age tale that could be categorized as Millennial French Noir.

In 2013, Knisley produced "Relish: My Life in the Kitchen," a food memoir graphic novel. You read that correctly: It’s a memoir about food relayed through an illustrated format. Relish is quite possibly the most personal of Knisley’s works once you discover just how much she not only loves food, but relishes it.

As the daughter of a chef and gourmet, Knisley weaves the thread of food and the pleasure of eating into just about every facet of her life. In addition to the lovingly crafted illustrations, there are family recipes that accompany each chapter. I offer one warning: Do not read this book when you are hungry because it will prove to be absolutely torturous.

"An Age of License: A Travelogue" follows Knisley as she travels solo for a publisher-funded book tour through Europe and Scandinavia. This work is a great combination of her writing style, like what is found in "French Milk," and the visual stylings of "Relish." In combination with her innate sense of humor, Knisley crafts not only a travelogue for her journey, but an inner diary as well.

She followed up with "Displacement: A Travelogue" in 2015, which chronicles a cruise taken by Knisely and her aging grandparents. This work is a true love letter for those who have a close knit relationship with elders in their family. Displacement continues the physical, internal journeying from "An Age of License" and adds a temporal quality with anecdotes from the storied lives of Knisely’s grandparents.

This year brings Lucy Knisley’s latest release, "Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride," and completes a romantic story arc that began in "French Milk." This opus is not only a wonderful mix of Knisley’s previous works, but it also offers a refreshing perspective of what it’s like to plan a wedding and insight on what it means to be married. This book garners a newfound respect for do-it-yourself nuptials and the work that goes into crafting a ceremony with meaning.

— Ilka Iwanczuk is a Reader's Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


Vintage Players to perform annual ‘Senior Moments’ Saturday at Theatre Lawrence

The retirees-turned-thespians of Theatre Lawrence’s Vintage Players call it “An Evening of Senior Moments,” but, as members of the group will attest, the annual comedy performance is more than colonoscopy jokes and predictable bits about failing memory.

“It’s funny,” Vintage Players director Mary Ann Saunders says of that particular brand of comedy. “But at the end of the day, it’s sort of depressing.”

“Senior Moments,” she says, is more about the kind of idiosyncrasies and human foibles we all experience, even those of us yet to experience the worst of the aging process. This year’s production — a mix of one-liners, “old vaudeville jokes” and improvised skits, from the minds of Vintage Players themselves or outside scribes — will be staged at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive. The performance is free, but a suggested donation of $5 (or more, if you're feeling generous) is appreciated.

From left, Judith Scheff and Chuck Mosley perform a scene driving a make believe automobile as Jerry Morton pretends to be a officer giving a ticket to the pair during a Vintage Players performance at Vermont Towers, 1101 Vermont St., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. The comedy troupe is staging its annual "An Evening of Senior Moments" show Saturday at Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive.

From left, Judith Scheff and Chuck Mosley perform a scene driving a make believe automobile as Jerry Morton pretends to be a officer giving a ticket to the pair during a Vintage Players performance at Vermont Towers, 1101 Vermont St., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. The comedy troupe is staging its annual "An Evening of Senior Moments" show Saturday at Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive. by Richard Gwin

A Theatre Lawrence staple since 2002, the comedy troupe performs regularly at area nursing homes and schools, including Cordley and Deerfield Elementary, where the actors share fairy tales with second graders through re-enactment. The idea, particularly with audiences who are older and often not as active as they once were, is to lift spirits and challenge preconceived notions of senior citizens.

“It lets us entertain them, because they’re confined and some of them are in ill health,” says longtime Vintage Players member Jane Robshaw. “And to see older people, that we’re still out there and performing. I’m 74 and I’m still going.”

Over the years, Saunders has seen Players come and go. Some are more active in the summer months after vacationing outside of Lawrence during the winter. Others, tasked with caring for sick loved ones, might not make every meeting, but find themselves healed — at least momentarily — when they do.

“We read new materials and share stories and laugh at each other quite a bit,” Saunders says, recounting anecdotes from fellow members with chronically sick loved ones. “I think there’s a lot of therapy in laughing. Good therapy.”

But mainly, she says, it’s about having fun. The mission statement of the Vintage Players quite literally is “Just have fun.” And that they do.

Saturday’s iteration of “Senior Moments” (Vintage Players never performs the same show twice in a row, as Saunders prefers to review new scripts and devise new material every year) will make use of the upcoming summer Olympics, bits inspired by “The Ellen Degeneres Show” and other topical elements.

And even though there’s more than a sprinkling of retiree-centric comedy involved, Saunders hopes the show will have a broad appeal.

“Some of the humor is based on the fact that we can’t hear as well or see as well, but there’s an awful lot of stuff in the world that’s funny no matter at what age you’re experiencing it,” she says. “You can find humor in just about everything, and I’m a firm believer that there’s not much out there that you can’t laugh at.”


Shakespeare 400 at your library

Perhaps you’re all up to date on all #Shakespeare400, but I (and here I hang my librarian head) have only paid glancing attention to the worldwide celebration of the Bard’s “passing through nature to eternity.”

Thankfully, I’ll be given the chance to remedy my oversight when on Final Friday, July 29 at 6 p.m., Lawrence Opera Theatre (LOT) will be showcasing their seventh season in the library auditorium. Luminous voices from LOT will be performing songs and arias from the coming season, which captures the words of William Shakespeare set to music.

Shakespeare changed the English language forever, and for the better, as far as I’m concerned. Thanks to Will, I’m able to leapfrog, misquote, and be zany. I can marvel at a dewdrop, revel in pageantry, and identify that I am heartsore when necessary. Artists through the ages have performed his works, and transformed his words into music, operas, plays, movies, novels and more.

As part of the celebration, LPL has created two reading lists highlighting Shakespeare’s varied contribution to the arts. Some of these books investigate Shakespeare’s life and influence on the world. ("Shakespeare Saved My Life" would be great, discussable pick for you book group.)

Some choices view his work through another lens. (Be sure to check out "The Women of Will" and "Worlds Elsewhere"). Some of our picks are direct tellings, some are glorious resettings, and there are books about opera, recordings, and DVD’s for those who want to learn more about what you’ll be hearing and seeing.

Check out:

Best Shakespearean Resettings: The influence of Shakespeare's works runs rampant through new books and movies. Over the years, these classic tales of love and tragedy have been re-imagined in wildly different settings-- often creating an intriguing juxtaposition.

Shakespeare 400 - The Art of Will: The world and words of William Shakespeare captured in books, music, film and stage. A list to help you celebrate the Bard.

Be sure to include the library presenting Lawrence Oprea Theatre on your Final Friday rounds. You’ll find refreshments and a place to stop and wonder at the transformative nature of art around the world and right here in Lawrence KS.

-Polli Kenn is the Reader's Services Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.


Reading under the influence with James Patterson’s Bookshots

If Nike gave out shoe deals for authors, James Patterson would be the first to have a line of $120 premium sneakers. Literary tastes aside, there’s no denying that he’s running the popular fiction game right now, with scores of best-selling titles coming out every month.

How does he do it? I think it’s time to ask a daunting question, one that might have revelatory, world-changing consequences — is James Patterson actually a human being?

As it turns out, Patterson has actually developed an extensive network of co-authors that help him churn out a steady stream of Alex Cross et. al. novels. In some ways, he is more than a mere writer now; he is a meta-author, the pulsating central brain of a mystery/thriller-themed hivemind.

And this is only the beginning.

Last month, Patterson launched a self-described “revolution in reading,” a supposed evolutionary leap for the literary form: Bookshots. His website explains: “Let’s face it — far too many books are far too long. … You try to resist the urge to turn on the TV or scroll Facebook, while the voice in your head grows louder with every page: CUT TO THE CHASE! JUST TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS! — James Patterson feels your pain.”

Essentially, Bookshots are full-length stories that play out in 150 pages or fewer. Other taglines for the books include “Stories at the speed of life” and “All thriller, no filler.” I know what you’re probably wondering: Is this actually a new thing? This is just a highly-branded novella, right?

So I read one to find out.

The first wave of Bookshots rolled out a handful of titles, like "Zoo 2," a sequel to Patterson’s novel about animals attacking humans en masse because we use cellphones too much. Though I skipped the first installment, I was hoping to grab a copy of "Zoo 2," since that sounds incredible. It was checked out, sadly, so I was forced to venture outside my reading comfort zone and instead got a copy of "The McCullagh Inn in Maine," a title from the Bookshots romance subcategory, Bookshots: Flames.

"The McCullagh Inn in Maine" is primarily written by Jen McLaughlin with input from Patterson. The cover makes it appear as a cozy, gentle read with its looping pink script and picturesque Maine beach scene. I cracked it open at 9 in the evening, expecting a heartwarming — yet fast paced — love story. I quickly grew more interested when it became clear that drug cartels and betrayal were the central conflict of the story; with a Bookshot, all bets are off.

Two hours and 137 pages later, I finished the tale of Chelsea O’Kane, a woman on the run who wants to escape her checkered past and renovate her family bed and breakfast, and Jeremy Holland, the hunky accountant who shows up in her time of need. When Patterson claimed that Bookshots were “All filler, no thriller,” he wasn’t kidding. Every scene of The McCullagh Inn in Maine involves either sensual, this-is-so-wrong-but-so-right nuzzling or hails of cartel gunfire. Just enough backstory is sprinkled in to keep the gears turning and the tension high, like a thin mortar stretched between bricks of high-octane action.

The editing must have been ruthless. The narration is frenetic and hyper efficient — I could tell that McLaughlin had many more details imagined for the this world, but only the most vital and electric made it to print. The Bookshots editors clearly know how to turn a story, though; "The McCullagh Inn in Maine" is pretty interesting, easy to follow, and has a satisfying ending that wraps it all up.

However, I didn’t feel like I had just read a novella. Compared to something like John Steinbeck’s well-known "Of Mice and Men," "The McCullagh Inn in Maine" seems shorter (even though it has a longer page count), but it also leaves the story seeming more complete. Frankly, the Bookshot read more like a short story than a novella. But that’s still not the closest analog in form.

Patterson mentions in his Bookshots philosophy that the plots have “cinematic action,” so it makes perfect sense that reading a Bookshot is like watching a two hour Michael Bay film, a la "Bad Boys 2" or "Transformers." It’s also a lot like taking an actual shot. There’s a rush of excitement and burning, and then suddenly the night is over and you’re left with nothing.

In all seriousness though, Bookshots are an intriguing new form of literature. Patterson has a valid point—a lot of people would like to read, but simply don’t have time to bust through 375 pages in a reasonable time frame. His writers and editing team have done something impressive; whereas novellas seem to be expounded short stories, Bookshots are highly-concentrated novels.

Maybe other writers will jump in with their own lines — I’d love to see Diana Gabaldon: Wikipedia Synopses and Nicholas Sparks Presents: SparksNotes. I’m confident that the world will always have a healthy supply of wordy, meandering doorstoppers to balance quick reads.

However, there is a new category of Bookshots that has troubling implications. On bookshots.com, one title is listed: "Trump Vs. Clinton: In Their Own Words, Everything You Need to Know to Vote Your Conscious." No, the category isn’t Bookshots: Flames. It’s nonfiction, but all thriller, no filler.

Just think about the rabbits, Lennie.

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