Entries from blogs tagged with “Lawrence”

Royal reading

If you’re like me and are still in a post-"Downton Abbey" funk brought on by the gut-wrenching series finale, you may have heard about the recent ITV and PBS Masterpiece program "Victoria," based on the bestselling novel by Daisy Goodwin, which appears in many ways to serve as a capable, well-crafted "Downton" successor.

My friends have been raving about the lavish costumes, brilliant set designs, charming acting and enthralling story of "Victoria." In fact, it seems to touch on all of my favorite aspects of television. British drama set in the Victorian era, check. A haunting and amazing main title theme sung by the Mediaeval Baebes, check. Jenna Coleman from "Doctor Who" playing the titular character, a million checks.

As a massive steampunk and urban fantasy fan, the Victoria I typically read about is not the conventional variety, either appearing as an undead creature of the night or a human-mechanical hybrid. Since it was high time I gave "Victoria" a chance, I decided to break out of my narrative wheelhouse and read some historical fiction with no runic magic systems, supernatural beings, or fog-ridden streets in sight.

"Victoria" by Daisy Goodwin is a coming-of-age story that chronicles Queen Victoria’s ascent to the British throne and the first two years of her reign. Most of the narrative centers on familial drama and the unique series of events that led to her becoming queen, Victoria learning to navigate a bloodthirsty political environment with the aid of her faithful Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, her internal conflicts when it comes to balancing the responsibilities of a monarch, her own personal feelings on matters of state, and how her search for love fits into the equation. Told from Victoria’s perspective, the book brings history to life in an invigorating way. Goodwin even referenced Victoria’s personal diaries when writing the book.

I knew that "Victoria" was a match made in book heaven because I was invested from the introductory pages. I read very few books that hook me from the start, and I’ve read plenty that don’t get interesting even when you reach the concluding sentence. Goodwin doesn’t overwhelm readers with titles, government intricacies and minute historical details, but instead provides enough context to understand character predicaments without overwhelming her audience.

As readers, we’re allowed to experience the world through the mind of Victoria, who was sheltered by her mother from the world, due to the Kensington System, as a tactic to make her dependent on her relatives for advice on all matters. When Victoria learns to navigate new territory, we gain an understanding of the world in which she lives, absorbing information like a proverbial sponge. Goodwin employs this writing tactic in a brilliant fashion because it means readers aren’t bombarded with complex contexts and instead can experience the book as if they actually live in the world.

I appreciate how Goodwin focuses her narrative more on the people, their interpersonal relationships, and the omnipresent political intrigue of British life at that time rather than writing a story more akin to a biographical work. I’m the kind of person whose brain shuts down during information overload. Even my history book in high school functioned better as a napping pillow than a vessel for dispensing important information about the past. For me, historical fiction succeeds when it is able to effectively transport readers into the mindset of the characters, thus allowing them to see the past through the eyes of someone who lived during the time, which is an aspect this book exemplifies.

I’m sure that every reader will relate to characters differently, but I found Victoria to be such a captivating heroine. Even though those around her believe her to be unfit to rule due to the prevailing misogynistic attitude coupled with political jealousy from those who wish to rule in her stead, Victoria stands her ground against all the 19th-century haters while trying to be the best monarch for her people. She is frequently minimized by those around her and yet stays true to herself even in the face of difficult choices.

Although mistakes are made along the way, Victoria learns from them while continuing to move forward to face the new challenges of the day. Whether or not this is a modernist take on a character of the past or an accurate depiction of the true Victoria remains to be seen, but I like to think that Victoria is more akin to Goodwin’s positive and enthralling portrayal.

Overall, "Victoria" is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and I’m looking forward to reading more titles within the historical fiction genre along with seeing how ITV brings the book to life. Now, excuse me while I go binge watch this series and love every moment of it.

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


Branding is everything, even in Westerns

No, we’re not actually talking about cattle today, unfortunately — or marketing, for that matter. In the library context, a brand is a personal mark a reader puts on the inside cover of a book. Normally I wouldn’t advocate defacing the collection in this way, but there’s a pretty good reason for the practice.

When you read heavily in a specific area, like some do — we’re talking two or three books a week or more — remembering which books you’ve already read can get tricky. For a series like Sue Grafton’s Alphabet mysteries, this isn’t a problem.

However, delineating Louis L’Amour’s extensive bibliography, with "Riders of the High Rock," "Rider of the Ruby Hills," "Riders of the Dawn," "Ride the River," and "Man Riding West" (Okay, we get it, Louis!) can get understandably difficult.

Book brands, then, allow a reader to make sure that they haven’t read a book before checking it out. Think of it like a very low-tech version of Goodreads.

Branding encompasses more than just utility, though. Each mark reflects its own bit of personality and artistic flair of the reader. These designs of ink and graphite form a permanent connection;not only are they mnemonic, but also meaningful. “I was here” is a powerful statement, and one not just reserved for carving into the walls of National Park picnic tables.

I admit that I might be romanticizing things, but nonetheless, I decided to keep track of some of the brands I came across. I mostly focused on the highly branded collections of Westerns and Inspirational large print, though they’re found throughout all the library's sections.

Here are my findings:

Roughly 67 unique brands exist at this time.

"Lawless Prairie" by Charles G. West is the most-branded title I found, sporting a whopping 10 brands.

The most prolific brander is far and away someone I'll call "Big Squiggle." I stopped counting their brands after 125 instances — all in all, they’ve probably branded close 200 books. Whoever you are, Big Squiggle, you amaze me.

The infamous Big Squiggle.

The infamous Big Squiggle. by Lawrence Public Library Staff

"Little X" is the runner up, with about 70 instances, though this is likely a collective brand — which greatly reduces its effectiveness, I would think.

This one is rather subjective, but the coolest brand, in my opinion, is the X-Men Logo. I like to imagine that this person is actually a huge fan of both X-Men and Western novels. Also, it looks an awful lot like an actual cattle brand, which is neat.

Other interesting brands, described to the best of my ability, include "Red Ink Asterisks," "Double X," "Underlined OG," "@," "Little Hat," "Post-Modern Tulip Drawing," what appears to be “Ewe” (like a female sheep?), and "Tilted Z with Two Dashes." Initials, numbers, and various swooping letters make up the rest of the brands.

I like to wonder about this community of branders. Does Big Check Mark open up a book, see Little Double X’s mark, and decide it’s probably a good one? Or conversely, maybe they don’t want to follow in the footsteps of another. Maybe they’re just ships passing in the night, all interacting on the same twenty-year old page of yellowed paper, each staking out their patch of the previously blank space.

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


Five more questions with Kansas Poet Laureate Eric McHenry

The Lawrence Public Library has been a steadfast supporter of local writing talent, so much so that we’re curating a local author section. Given this, and April being National Poetry Month, it felt synergistic to check in with Eric McHenry, Poet Laureate of Kansas. In 2015, we asked McHenry five questions, and with the release of his new collection,"Odd Evening," we felt like it was time to ask him five more.

Q: Does the lyrical nature of your work stem from the work of poets you admire, or do you have previous experience as a musician?

A: I agree with [Walter Pater] who said that poetry aspires to the condition of song. I love music and wish I could make it, but I’ve never been gifted in that way. It may be that my desire to sing and my inability to do so are among the things that drew me to poetry. They may have drawn me to metrical and end-rhymed poetry, specifically. It’s certainly true that, when I’m writing, I’m often consciously trying to make something as good as a poem or song I’ve admired, whether it’s W.H. Auden’s “Woods” or Donald Fagen’s “The Goodbye Look.”

Q: One of the many appreciated qualities of your poetry is the regional touchstones that you’ve crafted throughout each collection. In "Odd Evening," there’s “The Gil Carter Correspondence,” an elegy regarding Topekan Gil Carter’s famed longest home run during his time in the minor leagues. Is this an element that you strive for in your work or a natural instinct?

A: I write about what I remember most vividly, and about what’s around me, and about what obsesses me, and I think I’m more attracted to the familiar than to the exotic. I write about Topeka because I grew up there and I’m there a lot and I know it well and my dreams often take place there, even when I’m living somewhere else. In the case of “The Gil Carter Correspondence,” I got really interested in the idea that this man living quietly in East Topeka had hit the longest home run in history and that very few people knew that — the shot unheard ‘round the world.

Q: As with "Potscrubber Lullabies," "Odd Evening" offers poems that contain a number of references to pop-culture, modern technology, as well as word play. These devices, imbued with sardonic wit, recall poets Donald Hall or Jane Kenyon; who are some of the poets that you’re currently inspired by?

A: I don’t go out of my way to put pop-culture references in my poems, and I worry a little about doing it because they can date the poems so quickly. But, like Topeka, they’re what’s around me. Irony and humor and wordplay, too, but they keep happening in my poems. Irony sometimes gets a bad rap. It’s not the same thing as sarcasm; it’s much more resonant. Sarcasm is saying one thing and meaning the opposite. Whereas William Empson said “an irony to be worth anything must be at least somewhat true in both senses.” Poets I’ve been inspired by recently: Robert Francis, a great and undervalued poet. And my publisher, Waywiser, has just brought out a book by Austin Allen, "Pleasures of the Game," that I think is masterful. Jane Kenyon was one of my earliest influences, and I still treasure her work. When my wife and I lived in New Hampshire, I found the cemetery, and [Kenyon's] headstone, using only information from Donald Hall’s poems.

Q: As you near the end of your time as Kansas Poet Laureate, how has this been experience for you?

A: It’s been a highlight of my life. I get so much satisfaction out of sharing poetry with my fellow Kansans, and they’re so eager to hear it and discuss it. And I’ve learned as much from my audiences as they’ve learned from me, if not more. They’re always full of insights. So I feel grateful and lucky, and a little envious of whoever gets to do it next.

Q: A decade has passed since "Potscrubber Lullabies," and your latest work carries a very temporal quality about it. How would you describe where you are as a poet now as opposed to then?

A: Having kids and watching them grow ages you and tenderizes you. When "Potscrubber Lullabies" was published, I had one tiny kid and another on the way. Now Sage is almost 11, and we were talking tonight about college visits with Evan. In 2009 we moved from Seattle back to Topeka (and then to Lawrence). I never dreamed I’d go home again, and of course you can’t go home again, and all of this made its way into the new book. Which is already more than a year old, but I plan to go on calling it “the new book” until 2026.

-Ilka Iwanczuk is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Audiobooks you should be listening to on Hoopla

Sure, that title has a clickbait quality to it, but I’m pretty serious and vocal about my love for all things Hoopla. I’ve sung its praises in the past (mostly because the graphic novel selection is pretty darn great), but only recently have I really delved into the audiobook section.

Mostly because, until recently, I wasn’t exactly a fan of listening to books. Lugging around CDs is always a pain, and I’m still not sure what those MP3 things are all about, but listening to a book on your phone while multi-tasking or taking a walk? You mean I can read all the time if I want to?!

What started this new journey of mine was stumbling across "Wishful Drinking" by Carrie Fisher. I’ve been a fan of Carrie Fisher for years because of her outspoken nature and sharp wit, but this is the first time I have tried out any of her books. The audiobook was narrated by Carrie herself, which made the experience even better — she was intimate with her own writing style and knew just when to pause and emphasize certain words or phrases. "Wishful Drinking" is Fisher’s first humorous memoir, written after her first experience with electric shock therapy. She was an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness and treatment, which is one of the many reasons I admired her so much.

She covers everything in her book from her relationship with "Star Wars" (of course), to her musings on life and love, and an examination of the whole Debbie Reynolds-Eddie Fisher-Elizabeth Taylor debacle, which made me laugh until I cried. Carrie Fisher, in all of her life (which was tragically cut short this past December) was never shy about sharing her feelings or opinions, making "Wishful Drinking" one of the most entertaining memoirs I’ve ever read. Literally hearing about her life in her own words made the reading experience even better.

After that, I tackled "Shadowshaper" by Daniel Jose Older, an urban fantasy novel about a young girl named Sierra who is able to harness magical abilities through art. While "Wishful Drinking" was a sure thing (I was bound to love it based on my love for the author), "Shadowshaper" wasn’t. It’s been suggested by critics and co-workers alike, but after attempting it last year, I quickly gave up due to disinterest. In all honesty, I don’t think I would have ever read it, if it wasn’t for the book club I’m in--I’m technically the leader of it, so it always helps when you actually know what you’re talking about. I’m happy to report that this book is worth the praise!

A narrator makes or breaks an audiobook, and luckily for "Shadowshaper," the narrator is Anika Noni Rose, a talented actress who lent her voice to a little film called "The Princess and the Frog." Yes, Shadowshaper is narrated by Tiana. What a glorious discovery that was! Her narration was delightfully creepy at times, which made my nightly walks home from work both an exhilarating and absolutely terrifying (but fast!) experience. Her portrayal of all of the characters in the book made them come alive and made me recognize the humor in certain sections that I might have missed otherwise. One of the only complaints about the book during our book discussion was that people didn’t feel like they connected to the characters--almost exclusively, those comments were from people who skipped the audiobook for the physical copy. This is one of those instances where the audiobook reigns supreme, and if you’ve struggled with maintaining interest in this book, listen to it. It makes all the difference — trust me on this one.

The most recent book I listened to was a reread from a book I’ve already written about in the past — "Fat Girl Walking" by Brittany Gibbons. This book had such a profoundly positive impact on my life that I felt the need to revisit it over a year later after my life has undergone some pretty major changes. There were aspects of the book that I still related to more than anything (her battles with anxiety, her struggle with loving her body), but I rediscovered a new love for this book. I have a feeling this is one of those books that I will be glad to read again whenever I feel like I need a pick-me-up.

The narrator is someone unfamiliar to me — Lauren Fortgang, who seems to narrate some lesser-known audiobooks. She captured the author’s sarcasm quite well, and made situations in the book that were super uncomfortable a little more bearable. While I wasn’t entirely in love with her narration enough to listen to other books she has done, she did an excellent job, and I would highly recommend giving "Fat Girl Walking" a listen, even if my blog post from 2015 already convinced you to read it. I’m overwhelmed with happy feelings after finishing that book, and it’s one of those you should pick up if you’re ever feeling blue or perhaps a little down about yourself.

So what’s next? I’m definitely on an audiobook kick, and I’m not ready to give up on it just yet. Mary Miller’s "Always Happy Hour" has been on my radar for a while now (mostly because of that gorgeous cover) and so has "Things We Lost in the Fire" by Mariana Enriquez, but I could also go for a reread of "Bad Feminist" by Roxane Gay. Or how about continuing "A Series of Unfortunate Events"? The books are all narrated by Tim Curry, which is just plain awesome.

I could always give Caitlin Moran’s "How to Be a Woman" another chance, since that’s been gathering dust on my “to read” pile for an embarrassingly long time. Oh hey, did you know that "My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is also on Hoopla?! That one is always checked out. For now, I think I’ll settle on "Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls" by Jes M. Baker and carry on with the feelings of empowerment and positivity I got from my last great read. So here’s to audiobooks and a good pair of earbuds!

--Kimberly Lopez is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Five books that have stayed with me

When I saw the Lawrence Public Library Book Squad’s first Squad Goal (Re-read a book you haven’t read in more than 5 years), I was excited for an excuse to pick up one of the books that have been sitting untouched on my shelf for longer than I care to admit.

It also gave me an excuse to reflect on the many books I’ve read over the years. Here are five that have stayed with me:

"The Accidental Florist" (Jane Jeffry Series) by Jill Churchill

When I was in high school, my grandmother introduced me to Jill Churchill’s Jane Jeffry mysteries. Starting with "Grime and Punishment," the series follows the suburban housewife turned amateur sleuth who, with the help of her neighbor, solves the string of unrelated murders that happen around her. In the final installment, "The Accidental Florist," Jane marries her longtime beau, Detective Mel VanDyne, and it wouldn't be a Churchill mystery without someone turning up dead. Hanging on to these books has been a way to keep connected to my grandmother after she passed away more than a decade ago.

"Where the Heart Is" by Billie Letts

Beyond serving pizza and ice cream at a gas station, my only extracurricular activity in high school was book club. I’m pretty sure this was the first pick my sophomore year. Seventeen and pregnant, Novalee Nation is abandoned by her boyfriend at a Wal-Mart in Sequoyah, Oklahoma with just $7.77. She takes up temporary residence in the discount department store and meets a number of friendly, caring people who help her adapt to the community. With characters as eccentric as their names — Sister Husband and Benny Goodluck, for example — and heartbreaking events, it’s a story I never forgot. Overall, I think it’s a well-crafted representation of low-income, small town life in the Midwest.

"The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison

My junior year of college, I took an author study class on Morrison. There were about nine other students, and over the course of a semester, we read and discussed the seven novels she had published up to that point. It was basically like a book club, but with quizzes and term papers. "The Bluest Eye" was my absolute favorite, and I learned so much from it. The story — centered on a young black girl who dreams of having blue eyes — exposed me to a world that I will never be familiar with and opened my eyes to the damage of popular culture’s portrayal of beauty as “whiteness.” Definitely memorable.

"Reservation Blues" by Sherman Alexie

As an English major, I also took a course on Native American literature. Among the mix of books, short stories and poetry, we read Sherman Alexie’s novel about a group of misfits from a Spokane Reservation in Washington who form a blues band. Robert Johnson — the famous blues singer, who, legend has it, sold his soul to the devil — winds up on the reservation in search of a local medicine woman called Big Mom and leaves his guitar in the hands of Thomas Builds-the-Fire. Thomas convinces two others from the reservation to form a band and they garner near-instant fame in the Northwest.

"Invisible Monsters" by Chuck Palahniuk

I read this in one sitting at an overnight job I had right out of college. A model recovering from having her lower jaw blown off in an accident meets a transgender woman who introduces herself as Brandy Alexander (among many other names) and drives across the country selling stolen drugs at nightclubs. In my favorite scene, the model and Brandy are at the top of Seattle's space needle flinging postcards off the edge. On the back of each they scribble little sayings like "All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring."

The best thing about re-reading books is that it can remind you of where you were when you first read one, and of how that book has affected or changed your perspective. For the Squad Goal, I ended up re-reading "Reservation Blues," and I was immediately taken back to both the Spokane Reservation in Washington and my college dorm room where spent a number of late nights trying to keep up with the reading.

What books have stayed with you?

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


Three titles chosen purely for their covers

We’ve all heard the old adage "never judge a book by its cover." The only time I don’t think you should follow that advice is when it comes to actual books.

On a purely literal level, when we’re talking about judging actual books by their actual covers, let’s face it: It’s impossible not to. If I’m being honest, being drawn to an interesting cover is probably the No. 1 way that I find new books to try; I spend way too much time walking the shelves not to be drawn in by intriguing covers.

So recently, I decided to test myself: I grabbed three books that simply looked interesting and settled down to read them without knowing anything whatsoever about the plot. And to make it extra interesting, I jotted down a guess at the plot — based purely on the cover design.

"Mr. Gwyn " by Alessandro Baricco

What I think it’s about: I think this is about someone inventing a type of lightbulb, or possibly having a great idea. I’m also going to guess that this is literary fiction, mostly because the cover of this book is made of a heavy, leather-like material with gold embossing, so it feels fancy in the same way that literary fiction feels fancy.

What it turned out to actually be about: Well, I was right that it was literary fiction, but boy howdy was I wrong about the plot. This book (which is actually two novellas in one volume) is about a successful author who decides he’s going to quit writing books to become a copyist, a profession that does not exist and that he decides to make up.

I would recommend this book if: You generally like authors published by "McSweeney’s" (Dave Eggers, for example, and other writers of brainy, genre-busting, style-first prose); they published this book, and it is very on-brand for them.

Did I finish this book? Nope! Not for me.

"The History of Great Things" by Elizabeth Crane

What I think it’s about: No help here for the plot, but those are mid-century colors, and that’s a mid-century font, so I’m guessing it has something to do with the 1950s and 1960s. The way the colors overlap the text looks vaguely like highlighting, so maybe it’s supposed to suggest taking notes. Is this a book about education?

What it turned out to actually be about: This book explores the fraught relationship between a mother and daughter over various periods in their lives (including, yes, the 1950s and 1960s) through a series of hypothetical stories they tell one another. I suppose I could claim they’re educating one another about their lives, but not really. A swing and a miss on that part.

I would recommend this book if: You like stories about complicated family relationships (not always my thing), and also if you are okay with second-person perspective (my thing, but a hard pass for some readers).

Did I finish this book? I didn’t finish it this time, but I could see going back to it in the future.

"The Book of Heaven" by Patricia Storace

What I think it’s about: Literal interpretations aren’t going to help me here. The cover shows a multifaceted shape (an uncut stone?) reflecting clouds and sky at various angles, with a few angles showing a black sky scattered with pinpoint stars, all against a light pink background. My best guess is that this book might be about how everyone’s concept of heaven is different, skewed by our various perspectives to reflect where we’re coming from.

What it turned out to actually be about: This one is tough to explain, so bear with me. It’s sort of a feminist retelling of various Old Testament stories, but it also has a through-line of Eve telling readers about the existence of multiple heavens connected by a river of stars, which she discovers when she’s fleeing an attack from Orion in the sky. It’s not a religious book, though; you wouldn’t find this in the inspirational section. So I was technically wrong about the plot, but also kind of right.

I would recommend this book if: You like feminist reclamations of traditionally male texts and respond well to lyric writing; Storace is a poet, and her language is beautifully dense.

Did I finish this book? I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m going to keep reading. It’s not a “stay up all night” kind of book, I think — more of a “sit with this for a while” kind of book — so I’m taking it slow.

All in all, I’d say that was a successful experiment. I didn’t like everything I read, but I didn’t regret giving them a try. What about you? What’s the best book you ever picked up just because of the cover?

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


An ordinary life

I first met Amy Krouse Rosenthal while scrolling through social media. I tucked away her article “You May Want to Marry My Husband” for later, not yet realizing there wasn’t a later to be had. In fact, many people first met Amy through that New York Times article, which was published on March 3.

That was ten days before Amy died of ovarian cancer. She had written it as a love letter to her husband. When I met her again, through her obituary, I rushed back to find that article and read it with an aching wish to stop time, to bend it over on itself, to cancel it out and rewrite it.

“You May Want to Marry My Husband” left me sobbing and with a painful awareness of how much Amy and I had in common. We had both been married for 26 years. We each had three children with nearly the same age spread, hers just a few years older than mine. She had a husband whom she loved, deep and true. This husband, Jason, is nearly a caricature of The Perfect Husband, but he does exist and he was hers — flipping pancakes, fixing things around the house, admiring her whimsy, wearing amazing socks.

I am also married to my own “Jason” (minus the socks). The idea of writing him a letter like this hollowed me out. Amy and I both had a deep and abiding love of words, books, people, and serendipity. The similarities, which would have been delightful under other circumstances, made me feel heartsick.

Amy wrote many successful children’s books, but they were published when my kids were no long reading picture books, so I didn’t get to know her that way. I felt like we missed each other at a party. The day after she died, I checked out her memoir "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life," published in 2005, and saw that it was noted as one of the ten most influential memoirs of the decade. She also has a second memoir, "Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal," published in 2014.

What I found in the "Encyclopedia" was a memoir like no other. This is not hyperbole. She includes orienting features and factual asides. Amy would like us to know that the word coffee appears 23 times. Awkward, 6. Love, 78. She includes a timeline of events that chronicle the authors, activities, happenstances, and preferences that lead her to write a memoir-cum-encyclopedia. The core of the book is her alphabetized existence, starting with (of course) Amy and finishing with You. Of all the entries, most of which I read with the sadness and regret of knowing Amy was gone, You might have been the most poignant of them all.

"Encyclopedia" works on a number of levels. If you like memoirs, it’s a unique take. If you avoid memoirs, please know it is devoid of navel-gazing and woe-is-me and humble-bragging. This is a different kind of memoir. Take her entry on Bowling: "It would be difficult to convince me that leaning has no effect whatsoever on the outcome of my bowling." Or Gas Tank: "Every single time I go to get gas, I have to lean out the window to see which side the tank is on."

These are random entries collected from notes she made over years, specific to Amy and yet universal to us all. We chuckle in self-recognition and at the same time know a little bit more about this person. And then you read other entries. Distraction: "I recognize that everything I do, from my work to going to the movies to raising children to vacuuming, might also be viewed as just one big distraction — Hey, look over here! And now, over here! — from belaboring the real issue at hand: One day I’m going to die." Her words strike true and heavy with meaning.

This is a book that I would have loved regardless of when I found it. I have an affinity for marginalia, side-jogs and searches for meaning — all my boxes are ticked here. I love that several of the entries are cross-referenced and contain deep dives (Childhood Memories is a chronology: “1977 — Uses Nair for the first time”.)

Credit: Blair Jensen

Credit: Blair Jensen by Lawrence Public Library Staff

I love that some of the entries are interactive, and she invites the reader to email her through her website. In one entry, she agrees to bake the 100th emailer a pie and mail it to them. I mourned no longer being able to create performance art with her through these books. Amy took her artistry beyond just writing. She made participatory and community based art. The Beckoning of Lovely is just, well, lovely. She also has multiple Tedx talks. Here’s Amy, cheering on those running the "Marathon of Life," literally and figuratively.

I am devastated by and have cried over Amy’s death, not because I knew her when she was alive (though I have the sketch of her in her open-hearted work), but because a light has gone out too soon. Those who spend their time productively, beautifully, with the goal of human connection and uplift? Those losses hit us the hardest. Amy lived a life I found so very familiar, and I’m forced to face my mortality through hers. I wonder about my own life and what I’m creating. What is my "Encyclopedia"?

A unifying thread through Amy’s memoir and videos is meaning. Those little coincidences that we grasp and use to navigate our way through the waters of life. (I, like Amy, find meaning in things we both agree probably mean nothing, but we can’t stop looking for it.) My heart knows that I came upon this glorious, marvelous, ordinary person, one minute too late to have known her, for a reason.

Maybe the simple fact that I need to find a reason, and now will do so, is good enough. In Judaism, when someone passes, we say “May their memory be a blessing.” May Amy’s memory continue to bless us all.

— Polli Kenn is the readers’ services coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.


“Don’t drive your Jet Ski in the dark”: The wisdom of DJ Khaled

If you listen to much Top 40 radio, you’re already familiar with DJ Khaled; even if you can’t quite connect his name to a particular song or face, there’s likely some liminal awareness. Just close your eyes and think of the times a moment of transition static has been torn through with the bombastic roar of “DEE JAY KHA-LED” just as a beat starts playing.

Oh yeah, that guy! He’s one of the most eminent (and prolific) producers in popular music, responsible for anthems like “All I Do is Win” and “We Take’n Over,” often featuring a who’s-who team of A-list collaborators like Jay Z, Rihanna, and Kanye West.

But DJ Khaled is so much more than a musician. He expands his oeuvre with the recently published motivational self-help manifesto "The Keys." In this volume, part memoir and part knowledge-bomb, Khaled traces his rise to fame from troubled beginnings while describing his philosophical rules for life — the titular “Keys.” He beckons the reader on the back cover: “Ride with me through the journey of more success.”

And what a journey "The Keys" turns out to be. Right away, it’s apparent that Khaled isn’t afraid to inject the same explosive swagger that colors his music into his passages of life advice. “I need you to more than understand — I need you to overstand,” he implores the reader in the opening pages as he explains the fundamental concept of “they.” “They,” simply, refers to anyone out to hinder your success: “‘They’ don’t want you to have breakfast. ‘They’ don’t want you to have Jet Skis.”

This sounds pretty serious, right? In Khaled’s mind, we live in a world fraught with saboteurs, and thus we have to work relentlessly. Luckily, the adversity brought on by “they” also serves to make success all the sweeter. In one of the many guest anecdotes throughout the book, Khaled’s friend Cool explains one such moment of triumph involving a hot tub: “...it was so hot you could have boiled some eggs in there, and he’s like ‘Cool, we did it!’ and I’m like ‘Khaled, how do you even have skin left, bro?’ He had the Jacuzzi cranked up because ‘they’ didn’t want him to have a Jacuzzi.”

The philosophy of "The Keys" isn’t all paranoia-driven, though, to be clear. Khaled emphasizes relishing the beauty of life and all it has to offer. In one such chapter, frankly titled “Have a Lot of Pillows,” he explains: “That softness reminds your body that it’s time to relax… Pillows are like the angels of my bedroom.”

There’s something disarmingly sincere about how readily Khaled divulges this kind of personal sentiment. Having a lot of pillows seems like pretty basic advice, as well, but I’m sure at least person will read "The Keys," buy a few extra pillows, and have their life changed.

Other advice highlights include a discussion of the value of healthy, delicious smoothies and getting at least one haircut a week. Khaled is ostensibly serious, too, when he informs us to “Start every conversation you have, including ones with your best friend, by saying, ‘This is off the record,’” which is cheesy, but also looks kind of cool.

Khaled takes time to chart his own journey which has led to his current haircut-centric lifestyle. He describes his humble beginnings working for pirate radio in Miami and throwing house parties. For different stretches, he even had to live out of his car while saving to advance his DJ career. As over-the-top as Khaled’s character is, his story smacks immediately of the genuine American Dream.

At the same time, hard truths of America are given surprisingly poignant asides in other chapters: “Our prison system is flawed and unjust and the realities of that are heartbreaking… All I’m going to say is that that place is not for humans.” In the same vein, Khaled briefly touches on his experience as a Muslim, which lends new significance to his idea of the ever-present and adversarial “they.”

"The Keys" switches from serious to ridiculous with the turn of a page — “Major key for real: don’t drive your Jet Ski in the dark,” Khaled notes, which could be a pretty solid self-help metaphor, but actually is quite literal. The book is so charismatic that it’s actually undeniably compelling. To compare it to other popular self-help creeds, imagine "The Secret" enriched with a gusto that can only be conveyed by gold chains and champagne.

Khaled’s unflinching sureness of himself makes me feel motivated, and despite everything, that means the book fundamentally works. My only criticism is that upon cracking open its pages, there was no voice screaming “ DEE JAY KHA- LED” at me.

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


Fun reading romps to kick off spring

Spring has sprung, and when I get joyously happy about the weather, I generally want to grab a fun read that’s perfect for sun-lounging. Here are three books — in three different genres — that are ideal for a sunlit afternoon filled with adventure and fun times.

These aren't going to fulfill your need for the next literary classic or the best executed plots of a lifetime. Some disbelief will have to be suspended. Some eyes will be rolled. But that's OK, because these are fun and free wheeling. You’ll like them, I promise.

Urban Fantasy: "Magic Bites" by Ilona Andrews

Firmly in the urban fantasy camp, "Magic Bites" is a rollicking read. In the not-too-distant future, magic is real; it has taken over, and technology only works periodically. Filled with lesser known myths, gods, and magic systems, "Magic Bites" will start you on a swordplay-filled journey with an awesome heroine hiding in plain sight.

The protagonist, mercenary Kate Daniels, has become one of my favorite females in fantasy. She’s full of snark and tough as nails, and Andrews crafts her deftly into a heroine to root for. Another thing I love about this book is that it lacks the boring world-building exposition. You are immediately dropped into the action. Plus, the wonderful cast of side characters and bad guys will have you furiously clicking the hold button for the other books in the series.

Sci-Fi: "Red Rising" by Pierce Brown

If you’ve been bemoaning the lack of a good "Hunger Games" read-alike over the last few years, then "Red Rising" is the book for you. Part uprising, part infiltration scheme, part brutal Machiavellian games, the whole book feels like "Ocean’s 11" or the "Six of Crows": the perfect con, perfectly executed. In the highly stratified caste system on Mars, Reds are worked as slaves while Golds profit from their servitude. Darrow is recruited by the Sons of Ares when his life as a Red is ended and he is remade into a Gold. He infiltrates the top echelon of their society and joins his “peers” at the Institute, where he must succeed in order to bring down the system from the inside.

"Red Rising" is impossible to put down. You’ll race through it at breakneck speed, hoping against hope that Darrow can pull off the greatest coup in Mars’ history. Another excellent thing about "Red Rising"? It’s a trilogy, and all three books have been published. There’s no waiting to find out what happens to Darrow; the whole space opera is ready for consumption.

Romance: "The Hating Game" by Sally Thorne

Think of those perfect romantic comedy movies: "When Harry Met Sally," "Moonstruck," "Sabrina." You can officially add, in book format, "The Hating Game." Lucy and Joshua hate each other to the very depths of their souls, forever and ever. When they are both up for the same promotion at their publishing company, tension ramps up to an unbearable degree. Neither is willing to back down, and yet when a tense moment in an elevator bubbles over (cue eye roll), Lucy is left wondering if she ever hated Joshua at all, or if this is just another game to derail her from earning the big promotion.

The sexual tension will have you gripping pages, and the downright cuteness of it all will make you want to binge-watch all your favorite romantic comedies. Thorne’s use of metaphor and general wordsmithing will leave you in a rosy, rosy haze. It’s an old and sometimes overused romance trope, but "The Hating Game" may have you re-evaluating your hatred of the love-hate dichotomy.

So there you have it. Three perfectly respectable rompy reads. Enjoy them! Enjoy the sunshine! Spring is in the air and good books abound!

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


Embracing your inner unicorn, no matter what age with “Advanced Style”

After my most recent birthday, I discovered something new about my body: Occasionally when I squat down, my knees will give a little pop. That didn’t happen before. What’s also new are the little lines and crinkles underneath my eyes that definitely weren’t there before. I’ve always been a fan of sleeping, but now if I don’t get plenty of rest, my eyes become so bloodshot, I start to look a little like those white rabbits with the red eyes. I sound like I’m complaining, but I find this to be super exciting. I’m not being sarcastic. No, really.

Aging is, of course, a natural and — contrary to what the beauty industry and what certain health food companies claim — completely unavoidable process. It’s a process that I’ve been honestly looking forward to since around birth, when I was brought into this world a squalling infant with a full head of hair and the personality and disposition of a 40-year-old. If anything, the older I get, the more I relish the time spent in my body and the more excited I am to be closer to my “true” age.

Despite my own enthusiasm, aging (especially for women) is normally not treated with such a casual and welcome attitude. It’s met with rules and guidelines of how to behave, how to dress, and how to be. Clothing is often used as a tool of self-expression and individuality — a chance for you to show off what it means to be you. However, the older you get, the more you’re expected to tone it down and dress more conservatively.

Fortunately, there are people around like Ari Seth Cohen, who started a blog dedicated solely to seniors with style. The focus is mainly on women over a “certain age,” though there are a few dapper gentlemen here and there. I stumbled across his first book, "Advanced Style," a month or so ago, and it might sound hyperbolic to say that my life has been forever changed, but it’s true. My life has been forever changed.

Inside I found stunning color photographs of women I not only admired, but wanted to become. Unless you’re Betty White, who is a magical unicorn who can do whatever the heck she wants, women are so often shoved to the side and told to just blend in — color and sparkle and bold patterns are only for the youth. Each of the people featured in "Advanced Style" defy these conventions in the most glorious of ways. Signature orange hair and long, fluttery neon eyelashes to match? What a knockout. Dark, vampy lipstick and a thing for scarves or chunky jewelry? Oh my goodness. Here are all women who couldn’t care less what the unspoken rules and loud internet trolls have to say.

Shortly after the book was released, along came a documentary that follows some of the popular favorites of the book and blog. The documentary allows viewers to spend more time with some of the extravagant and fearless women Cohen has documented on his blog and in his book. Getting to know Illona Royce Smithkin (those eyelashes!) a little better was such a treat. The different personalities of the women shine through in the documentary, in the most touching (and heartbreaking) ways. No matter what, life is celebrated.

Luckily for all of us, there is now a second book — "Advanced Style: Older & Wiser," which has more than 260 pages of the best street style images you will ever come across, and more information on the people featured. For those who were left wanting more after the first book and the documentary… This will make you happy! Ari Seth Cohen’s love and affection for the people he captures on film comes across in the photography, and you will fall for them just as hard. Perhaps it’s because, like Ari, I had a close relationship with a grandmother I dearly miss, but everything in the "Advanced Style" publishing family fills me with so much inspiration and positivity.

The women are all so unique, and yet their voices all echo the same sentiment: be yourself, no matter what age, no matter what life experiences. This can be applied to how old you are, but it can also be applied to your gender identity, belief system, body size, and every other factor that makes you who you are.

If anything, this has encouraged me to truly embrace my own style and my own ways of being, because if this wonderful group of people is bold and brave enough to stand out when they have been told to stay silent, I can do the same. So if you catch me wearing light-up sneakers and kitty-cat sweaters a la Kimmy Schmidt and a Linda Rodini-inspired purple pout, don’t be surprised. I’m just playing around a little, so that in 50 years when I’m featured on "Advanced Style," I will have finally perfected my look. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have orange hair, too.

-Kimberly Lopez is a Readers’ Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


Liquor and drugs: a venture into the writings of Irvine Welsh

"Trainspotting" was released in theaters in 1996, and I saw that movie approximately 72 times at Liberty Hall after it opened. (OK, it was probably closer to four times.) I was 20 years old at the time, and although I hadn’t exactly been sheltered in my upbringing, seeing those boys from Edinburgh (specifically the district Leith) living in squalor and trying to maintain some semblance of a life while strung out on heroin was mesmerizing.

And scary. And strangely romantic. But mostly mesmerizing. The absolute spectacle of it, brilliantly directed by Danny Boyle, drew me in — as did the incredible soundtrack and the acting chops of the (then mostly unknown) cast.

"Trainspotting 2" has just been released in the U.S., and I plan to see this one 72 times as well. Boyle has brought back the original cast and what looks to be another memorable soundtrack. In preparation for the film’s release, I have immersed myself in Irvine Welsh’s work and have emerged (relatively) unscathed.

Irvine Welsh, author of the "Trainspotting" trilogy (which includes "Trainspotting," 1993; "Porno," 2002; and "Skagboys," 2012) is not for the faint of heart. His writing is gritty, profane and perverse. Think of the most hideous scenario involving sex and drugs your brain can come up with, and Welsh has most likely written it down in one of his books and made it even more heinous. He often writes in a thick, Scottish accent (depending on who’s speaking) which takes some getting used to, but hearing that accent in your head is part of the fun.

Here’s an example from Spud in "Trainspotting": “Every time ye git it thegither tae make a comeback, thir's jist a wee bit mair missin.... Yip, ah'm jist no a gadge cut oot fir modern life n that's aw thir is tae it, man. Sometimes the gig goes smooth, then ah jist pure panic n it's back tae the auld weys. What kin ah dae?” See? Fun! And, like Shakespeare, (yes, I just compared Welsh to Shakespeare without irony), once you get into the groove of the language, it becomes easier to understand.

The books are best read (and were best written) in the order they were published. The crown jewel of the trilogy- and the one you should read first- is "Trainspotting." It is the first in the series and the first book ever written by Welsh. The story follows Mark Renton who, although horribly flawed, tries to live by some sort of moral compass. He’s a junkie and a thief, sure, but he recognizes good in other people and tries to bring that out in himself when he can. Mark is made almost charming by Ewan McGregor in the film, which can make the shift from film to book somewhat jarring. The characters in the book are infinitely more disturbing.

One of the most frequent criticisms of the film is that it glorifies heroin addiction. Maybe this is because of the gorgeous cinematography, the directing or the cast itself. The film’s objective is not to glorify heroin addiction, of course. But it looks pretty, and the script is funny at times, which threw some critics off. How can these heroin addicts be attractive and hilarious? The lesson, of course, is that there is no one “face of heroin.” Addiction doesn’t care what you look like or if you’re good at a one-liner.

The book, on the other hand, could never be mistaken for something that glorifies addiction. It portrays an experience filled with desperation and depravity. The reader finds a city in the midst of an AIDS epidemic and a government that doesn’t care. Yes, it is funny and satirical, but there is no glorification here. Maybe it’s the lack of Iggy Pop in the background.

"Porno" (upon which the film Trainspotting 2 is loosely based) is a worthy sequel to "Trainspotting," even though it is one of the most vile books I have ever read in my life. Welsh gets deep into the development of his characters here. Some of the guys have sobered up, some find love, and some are even more monstrous than they used to be.

"Skagboys," although a prequel, should be read last. If this had been my introduction to the series, I probably wouldn’t have finished. It takes us back to when characters Mark and Sick Boy were just out of high school. We see them at the beginning of their addictions and some choices they make that lead them there. It shouldn’t be disregarded, but the book is lacking. I would have loved for the book to have been set even five years earlier to really get a feel for the family lives of the characters. As it is, it feels like a long exposition that isn’t necessary.

In 2013,"Trainspotting" was voted Scotland’s favorite novel of the past 50 years in a poll run by the Scottish Book Trust, despite the morally questionable characters and the self-deprecating picture the book paints of Scotland. The Scots love the book and understand its importance. The film has become a cult classic all over the world, and although sequels can often be disappointing, especially when the original is so revered, this Kansas girl will be quite chuffed to wait in the queue for "Trainspotting 2" to open.

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


Stories of our lives: “The Great Derangement” and “Splinterlands”

Ted Chiang’s "Story of Your Life," a short science fiction piece which I reviewed a few months ago, keeps infiltrating itself into my reading. Oddly, it reverberates most when I read nonfiction.

"Story of Your Life" is so fascinating due to its subtle manipulation of time. You may know it as the basis of the movie "Arrival," where, for one character, the future is part of the present. Nonfiction, though, often looks backwards (cultural history, natural history), using “time’s arrow” to explore the present.

But one of the most powerful non-fiction books I’ve read lately is Amitav Ghosh’s non-linear look into the future to question the present, called "The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable." The question Ghosh asks boils down to, “Why doesn’t the greatest issue of our time – climate change – show itself in more contemporary fiction?”

He starts with a historical overview: “The challenges climate change poses for the contemporary writer… derive from the grid of literary forms and conventions that came to shape the narrative imagination in precisely that period when the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere was rewriting the destiny of the earth.” Which is to say, modern fiction is molded and driven by burning carbon.

He goes on to argue that the insular modern novel has never been forced to confront what he calls “the centrality of the improbable.” Now, however, we live in an era defined by the improbable dynamics of climate change, which defy both literary fiction and common sense. We are thus confronted with the need to stretch our imaginations and writings to incorporate such improbability.

Ghosh stresses that unpredictable and terrible things don’t await in some vaguely defined future. As Bill McKibben made clear in his excellent book "Eaarth," that future is already happening.

To date, science fiction (or its youngest child, climate fiction), seems best at addressing science fact. Not too surprisingly, most of it is rather apocalyptic. It’s fairly common in “cli-fi” to read of massive storms and droughts raging over the earth while we puny humans cope as we can – roving bands of mercenaries fighting over resources and water, bioengineered animals helping us as fuel runs out and wide-spread plagues decimate populations, and global politics splintering into uncharted territories.

Many cli-fi stories seem to focus on a small group trying to make it in an unpredictable natural world. More than an upset natural order, an upset social and political order is the focus of an intense new book by John Feffer. "Splinterlands" showcases a world of crumbled geopolitics, seen through the eyes – and the virtual reality goggles – of a dying writer reaching out to his estranged family.

Feffer is director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, so he knows a bit about geopolitics. One of the startling things about "Splinterlands" is that it was written before the current administration came to power, and while we can’t know what might happen next, an awful lot of "Splinterlands" seems plausible. It’s as though Feffer has the gift of prescience Ted Chiang’s Louise has in "Story of Your Life."

2018 sees what the narrator of "Splinterlands" calls The Great Unraveling, as an increasingly globalized world breaks national boundaries apart and ushers in “market authoritarianism.” As Feffer describes it, “Commerce… merely rebranded nationalism as another marketable commodity,” and the “bloodlands of the twentieth century would give way to the splinterlands of the twenty-first.”

Soon after that, climate change rears its improbable head and an extreme weather event known as Hurricane Donald floods Washington, D.C., to such a devastating extent that the nation’s capital moves to Kansas City. From nearby Omaha, our dying narrator dons his VR goggles and surveys the world as he visits his family.

Feffer’s book seems to me to be the sort of writing Amitav Ghosh might be looking for. It’s not as outlandish as, say, Paolo Bacigalupi’s "The Windup Girl" or "The Water Knife" (both of which I also really like), but "Splinterlands" could conceivably be the story of our lives.

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


Infamous Hollywood feuds: “Bette & Joan” edition

Growing up on a farm as a kid, and being about as outdoorsy as a Kardashian, I often turned to old black and white films to escape to a world I thought better suited my own eclectic personality. I fell in love with the romanticized version of Hollywood and idolized the glamorous femme fatales of film noire along with their charming and roguish leading men.

I credit much of my infatuation to the mystique that shrouded the lives of Hollywood stars, and as an adult, I’ve tried to learn more about the real people behind these beloved characters through devouring various memoirs, biographies, and documentaries. Oftentimes, as one might expect, public perception and tabloids that dominated a very controlled news cycle do not match what lies beneath the surface.

I think one of the greatest challenges for film biographers is to get to some sliver of the truth by pulling back the studio-controlled veneer and separating myth from reality. This is a quality that very few achieve.

In preparation for Ryan Murphy’s new anthology series "Feud: Bette & Joan" on FX, I decided to visit Shaun Considine’s critically acclaimed work "Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud" to learn about the series of events that sparked Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s dramatic schism - and hopefully learn more about the real lives of these iconic starlets of the silver screen.

"Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud" chronicles the infamous rivalry between the two Hollywood legends. Beginning with their childhoods, the book covers a wide range of topics, from the alleged event that sparked their general dislike of one another (when Joan stole Bette’s headlines with her high profile divorce, thus taking attention away from what Bette thought would be her big Hollywood break), to the highs and lows of their iconic careers, to their torrid personal lives and struggles working in a misogynistic, ageist, and exploitative industry.

Considine empathically shows how their enmity evolves from mild irritation and jealousy to a full on weave-snatching extravaganza that comes to a palatable head with the filming of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" and its follow-up, "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte." The author takes a stab at all the behind the scenes drama in an attempt to reconstruct the series of events that erupted into their feud of epic proportions.

I appreciate the fact that Considine gives the same attentive care to both starlets and does his best to portray them in an equitable light, including a multitude of perspectives and anecdotes to express a variety of competing viewpoints on a single event. It’s all laid out nicely and concisely, thus allowing the reader to think critically and assess the difference between the real events and celebrity gossip.

The book is, as it should be, well researched and effortlessly structured. It has a smooth narrative feel that is thankfully compelling as Considine chronologically weaves various sources from interviews to news articles into a tale that is brimming with anticipation. It might seem a bit overwhelming to cover so much ground with two stars in a single biography, and yet Considine does it with such ease that you aren’t taken out of the moment by having to mentally switch gears every time he moves between the two stars.

By far the greatest strength of this book is how Considine portrays Bette and Joan as flawed individuals in an effort to move beyond their onscreen personas. It allows readers to see the lasting impact of their feud by bringing Bette and Joan’s individual insecurities and struggles to life. In a trailer for the FX series, Catherine Zeta-Jones poignantly remarks that “Feuds are never about hate. Feuds are about pain.” I think this statement best summarizes the underlying thesis of Considine’s work as he explores the root cause and destructive force of the rivalry.

Finishing the book left me with a feeling of just how important it is to try to put one’s petty differences aside, especially in the face of adversity. Even though Bette and Joan had disparate upbringings, they both tried to fight against the same oppressive Hollywood studio system and could have been great allies had they moved past their grudges. By showing the ravages of divisiveness, Considine shows that even though taking the low road may seem like the more satisfying path, it really doesn’t amount to anything at the end of the day, nor does it address the existing systemic problems.

Despite the fact that the book remains a bit sensational at times, and I would need to do additional research to separate fact from fiction, "Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud" provides illumination on some key contemporary issues that I think we can all take to heart. It will be interesting to see how Ryan Murphy adapts this well-documented feud for television, and I hope that he uses the show to portray the not often shown, vulnerable side of these beloved actresses and provides a platform for discussion regarding ageism and sexism in both the film industry and society at large.

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


Mother Nature is one tough mama

Either I have a knack for meeting a lot of garden folk in this town, or Lawrence is just full of people who like to grow green things. It’s starkly apparent during this time of year-when the unseasonably warm days spark conversations of an early spring that evokes a gleam in the eyes of knowing growers. No matter how you slice it, everywhere you look in our community people are ready for warmer climes, longer days, and a promised end to winter’s bleak and naked landscape.

If you’ve ever successfully grown your own anything — be it flower, tomato or herb — you know what I mean. From the arrival of the first seed catalog — multi-hued and glossy, with its tempting vintage seed packets and earthy adornments — winter’s enchanted garden reverie has begun. For me, pair it with a hot cup, a cozy spot and a few choice books, and I’m set for a glorious daydream season of planning the next epic harvest.

After over a decade of coaxing the fruit and leaf of plants, I’ve learned that my garden exploits have only taught me — like so many other of life’s lessons — that I have so much more to learn. Like many of my growing friends (that means all of you L-town growers!), I take refuge in the Library.

Together we seek, along with the newest trends and most reliable knowledge, the answers to last year’s garden tribulations. Hunting out companion plants, organic methods and permanently sustainable growing practices that will not only bring forth our own nourishment but also that of the land, the water and the air. Don’t be fooled; gardening is not a passive sport. If given the right opportunity, it will draw you into its cyclical rhythm, hook right into your soul and stare you down straight in the eye. Mother Nature is one tough mama.

If your garden passions lead you here to the library, like mine do, take heed of these great titles in LPL’s fantastic garden collections:

Your new go-to expert: If you want to know how far to space your lettuce, how to plant leeks from seed, or find out what in the world Scorzonera is, "The New Vegetable & Herb Expert" is your brainy new best friend. Keep it close by throughout the growing season from seed to harvest.

It’s all about community: Something magical happens when folks get together to grow great food. People talk, connect and listen to each other and the plants. Want a practical handbook about creating that perfect blend of people and food? Check out "Start A Community Food Garden" which tackles everything from meeting agendas to mobilizing volunteers to seasonal shindigs that keep both the community and garden humming.

Pop culture gardening: Level-up your raw green smoothies by learning how to grow them in your own backyard. "The Green Smoothie Garden" takes you from seed to blender with tips on growing, harvesting and honing your smooth mixologist skills.

A fresh take on permaculture: Whether you have a postage stamp or a hectare, you can integrate permaculture principles wherever you grow. "Edible Landscaping With A Permaculture Twist" is a win-win for any home garden. You get all of the beauty of natural landscaping plus the bounty of its harvest. Have more space? Try "Integrated Forest Gardening," which is sure to be the next great permie handbook for food forestry — the pinnacle of permaculturing.

One tough garden: Despite increasing climate-related changes in seasons, temperatures and precipitation, you can confidently grow a great garden with "The Undaunted Garden." This updated classic takes on the tough growing conditions that growers shy away from and gives serious recommendations for plant friends that will thrive in any growing condition.

Make peace with wildlife: Are you tired of fighting against the forces of nature in your garden? Would you like to learn a growing style that invites the benefits of wildlife? "The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener" and "How to Create a Wildlife Garden" will teach you how to accept and facilitate the gifts that nature offers any growing garden.

The siren call of next year’s great harvest is most alluring and if you feel — like I do — that you have become a full-fledged member of the garden mafia, then I wish you luck, my friend. May your best-laid garden plans result in your health and happiness and more than a few exploits of your own for 2017.

By the way, LPL launched its third Annual Seed Library on February 20th. This year we partnered with Just Food to bring more seeds and programs. Stop by to pick up free flower, herb and vegetable seeds for your garden. And look for plenty of resources and educational programs to help get your garden growing. Just remember, it doesn’t get any more local than your own backyard.

-Gwen Geiger Wolfe is an information services and public health librarian at the Lawrence Public Library.


Digital Douglas County history: get digging

Do you enjoy spelunking for local history? If so, we’ve got a goldmine for you. In January, we launched a new tool for digging into our community’s past: the Digital Douglas County History portal (find it at http://history.lplks.org, or on our Genealogy and Local History page under the Research Resources tab on the library’s homepage). This project, a collaborative venture of the Watkins Community Museum, the Douglas County Genealogical Society and the Lawrence Public Library, features hundreds of images of Lawrence faces, places, and events.

The Fitzpatrick-Postma Postcard Collection offers a trove of local images paired with messages that often add a personal dimension to the places and events of the past. The publications of the Douglas County Genealogical Society, rich resources for exploring the histories of local families, have been digitized and are available through our online portal. We’re also proud to be providing public access to the transcripts of a recent oral history project, sponsored by the City of Lawrence’s Human Relations Division, which captures firsthand accounts of the local movement behind the passage of the city’s fair housing ordinance in 1967.

We welcome you to get involved with this project, which has room to grow. If you recognize a face or place in one of the images on the site, leave a comment to add your knowledge. Or, consider contributing a story or an image of your own. Want a taste? Here are just a few of the images you’ll find when you explore Digital Douglas County History.

Fitzpatrick-Postma Postcard Collection, Digital Douglas County History

June 15, 1908. A feat of daring: that morning, the Kaw had crested at 22 feet, and the deluge of water was roaring over the dam beneath the river bridge when Carl Kurz, a plumber from Colorado Springs, “swam directly into the center of the current” and over the dam. Despite a prohibition from local police, that evening a crowd of 2,000 spectators watched him triumphantly repeat the act. (Later that summer, Kurz also stopped a team of runaway mules and reported a fire breaking out at a local business.)

Fitzpatrick-Postma Postcard Collection, Digital Douglas County History

January 23, 1910. The river has swollen once again, this time with enormous blocks of ice. A correspondent writes, “They are trying to break [the ice] by blasting, but they might as well try to move a mountain.”

Fitzpatrick-Postma Postcard Collection, Digital Douglas County History

April 12, 1911. That evening, a torrential rain, and then an ominous quiet, are harbingers of the tornado that swept through the residential districts of Old West Lawrence and North Lawrence and devastated parts of the Massachusetts Street business district and the industrial buildings along the banks of the Kansas River.

Fitzpatrick-Postma Postcard Collection, Digital Douglas County History

May 20, 1911. The employees of the Fraternal Aid Association pause in their work for a staff photograph.

Fitzpatrick-Postma Postcard Collection, Digital Douglas County History

1940s. Ted West and His Range Riders were popular local performers whose radio show aired on Lawrence radio station WREN.

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


Stronger together in the company of women

For anyone who was an avid reader of DIY design magazines Ready Made or Domino during the early to mid-2000s, or even their digital equivalent, Apartment Therapy, the name "Design * Sponge" will be a household name. In 2004, author Grace Bonney founded the daily website, which is dedicated to the creative community. Swiftly, it proved to be popular, and more than a decade later it is still thriving, unlike the defunct magazine counterparts mentioned.

Since launching Design * Sponge, Bonney has created a meetup series titled Biz Ladies that serves as a community resource for women entrepreneurs and maintains a digital presence as a column on the Design * Sponge website. It was during Biz Ladies events that Bonney realized there was a need to communicate a holistic and diverse representation for professional women. “Visibility is one of the most powerful tools we have in inspiring people to pursue their dreams and educating them about all the amazing options that exist,” says Bonney, and this is where the touchstone lies in the heart of her new book, "In the Company of Women."

This collection of inspiration and advice from over 100 creatives accomplishes this feat admirably. Not only is it an informative and inclusive representation of a vital demographic, but it is conveyed with amazing casualness and is simultaneously entertaining. Bonney personally sat down with each woman and asked a series of questions; this type of intimate detail lends each meeting an air of comfort akin to that of sitting down with a friend.

The contributors range from Style Rookie’s Tavi Gevinson, to transgender rights activist Janet Mock, to eminent poet Nikki Giovanni, to YouTube rising star Issa Rae, to lauded feminist Roxane Gay, to food stylist Diana Yen. Even Bonney’s spouse, Julia Turshen, has a turn in the interview seat.

The questions that Bonney poses are not static, but rather interpersonal. Some favorites include: “What quotation or saying inspires and motivates you to be yourself and do what you love?”, “What tool, object, or ritual could you not live without in your workday?” and “What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day on the right foot?” The answers given by these women not only display their personalities, however; they also lend sound advice that even those not a part of a creative occupation can regard.

And these questions are not limited to only those with a cheerful response. By including queries about more difficult times, such as “What is the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out?”, “Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night" or “Has learning from a mistake ever led you to success?”, Bonney's argument that a book like this is necessary in the first place is strengthened.

For a member of the creative community, no doubt, the information gleaned from "In the Company of Women" proves invaluable. However, I have always felt that inspiration can come from the unlikeliest sources. Grace Bonney encapsulates her intention best by stating: “While each woman’s story is unique, their messages are universal. They’ve overcome adversity, gone great distances on their own, and learned the power of working together to achieve their goals. In many cases, they have inspired one another, and they are role models for the generation to come. Any one of these women would inspire someone to pursue their passion, but together, they are an undeniable force.”

-Ilka Iwanczuk is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


An interview with “Unusual Chickens” author Kelly Jones

Chickens with superpowers, a farm full of junk to explore and a series of mysterious typewritten letters are just a few of the wonders within this year’s Read Across Lawrence for Kids title, "Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer," by Kelly Jones.

Jones, who recently answered a few of my questions about the book, appeared via Skype at the library on Sunday, February 19th to answer more questions from kids (between bites of free pizza donated by Rudy’s). Join us for the other events we’ve put together this month with the help of KU Libraries and the Friends of the Library to celebrate this unique book.

DC: Sophie, your novel’s protagonist, is doubly an outsider: she is both “the new kid” in town, and a Latina in a predominantly white community. What advice would you give to kids who feel like outsiders?

KJ: Remember that everyone feels like an outsider sometimes. I wasn’t an outsider in either of the ways Sophie is, but I still felt like one. Look for people that start to see the real you, and value you, the way Sophie does. You’ll find them. Make friends with them. Remember that the way someone else sees you has a lot more to do with them than it does with you. Know that Sophie would be rooting for you, and so will I.

DC: The book consists of letters Sophie writes to dead people, and features a prominent mailman character. Are you a letter writer, and have you ever written a letter to someone who is deceased?

KJ: When I was a kid, I wrote to a distant cousin about my age near Perth, Australia. I loved hearing how different things were there — kangaroos by the side of the road, and parrots in the fruit trees. Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved books in letters — I like to think about how each letter is written for a particular someone, not for the world. I’ve often written to my own dead grandparents. I find when I miss someone, I still want to tell them what’s happening.

DC: Sophie’s main activities in the book (tending to chickens, riding bikes, exploring the farm to which she has recently moved) are rooted in the physical rather than onscreen world. Was this intentional, and how do you view the impact of technology on childhood?

KJ: Technology has been an important part of my life since I was a kid, playing text adventures on floppy disks. But Sophie has physical chores that must be done every day, like feeding her chickens. Her family can’t afford a computer or smart phone for her, or even one for family use; their computer is for her mom’s work, and she works a lot. They can’t afford cable (and don’t get good TV reception).

For Sophie, computer stuff is something you do at school or at the library, not at home — not because she doesn’t want to, but because it isn’t an option for her. Still, she spends a lot of time typing, making sense of the world around her, trying to reach out. Aside from brain research on screen usage, what’s the difference between typing on a computer vs. a typewriter?

DC: You are a former children’s librarian, and among the book’s heroes is a librarian character. How have libraries affected your writing?

KJ: I was a reader long before I was a writer, and there were no bookstores in my small town. But there was a library. I learned to tell stories from books. I also learned that the books I loved would always be a safe place to escape to. While I was a librarian, I met many readers who needed that safe place more than I did. I’m so glad they found it. I guess I want my books to welcome readers, to feel hopeful and make them laugh, and to be a safe place to see things differently.

DC: What is your own experience with chickens and chicken keeping?

KJ: I got my first chickens in 2012, and immediately began to think about what superpowers they’d choose, if they could pick. "Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer" grew out of that list and what I learned about taking care of chickens.

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


One Book’s Hope for Wildlife and the History of How We Got Here

I treasure wildlife sightings. During the winter season, I sometimes glimpse bald eagles soaring in the sky outside my kitchen window, and I’ve been fortunate on several occasions to see beavers swimming in the Haskell-Baker Wetlands. Last summer, my East Lawrence neighbors and I were frequently serenaded by the territorial calls of barred owls. Being reminded that wildlife still thrives nearby is reassuring for the future of our environmental heritage.

I’ve been musing more than ever about wildlife since I started reading "American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains" by Dan Flores — a book recommended to me by local author George Frazier. We've reviewed Frazier’s work before; "The Last Wild Places of Kansas" inspires an appreciation for the remaining Kansas wilderness using wry wit to share his personal adventures and historical anecdotes that enhance context.

Frazier commented to me that what is most salient about "American Serengeti" is the skill used to link the experience of a place with the accounts of early explorers’ writing. Flores describes camping in the White Cliffs Narrows of the Upper Missouri River; the reflective surface of the white cliffs create a stunning-visual sensation at sunrise.

Flores writes:

I had never been on the Missouri River before. But standing there under that impossibly lit sky, watching ducks arrowing low over the surface of the water and a small herd of mule deer pogoing away through hoodoos and pedestal rocks at my sudden appearance, while a coyote yipped a dawn serenade across the river, after a few moments it came to me. I had read books and pored over nineteenth-century art and dreamed daydreams of the wilderness Great Plains for much of my life, and now here I stood, on the banks of the Missouri, in the very stretch where Meriwether Lewis had wondered whether these scenes of “visionary inchantment [sic] would never have an end.”

He continues:

This place was déjà vu for me not from some past life, but from the minds of others, who had made me know what a magical world the Great Plains once had been. The poetry of the plains was considerably fainter in my time on earth, but this particular morning on the Missouri I was hearing enough of the passages to realize that despite all, we had not entirely lost the American Serengeti. Not yet.

Flores features many vivid accounts like the example above. This is accessible natural history focused on a selection of some of the most charismatic mammals that used to flourish in the Great Plains, including pronghorns (antelope), coyotes, horses, grizzly bears, bison, wolves, and humans. Candid discussions of early explorers’ accounts of seeing great numbers of wildlife and the harsh reality of these predecessors’ responses is sobering. It seems everyone who ventured into the Great Plains from Lewis and Clark to John James Audubon was compelled to kill.

But Flores frames this book with hope, describing efforts by a nonprofit group based in Montana working to expand the American Prairie Reserve. The goal of the organization is to re-create a sustainable ecosystem, bringing back all the wildlife that thrived in the Great Plains for the past two centuries on an expanse of land even larger than Yellowstone National Park.

The library also has a copy of Dan Flores' other recent book, "Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History." I am anxious to read this book, especially because I enjoyed the chapter in "American Serengeti" on coyotes. Kirkus Reviews noted that "Coyote America" is “…a spirited blend of history, anthropology, folklore, and biology.” While most of the large herds of charismatic mammals are drastically reduced, coyotes have thrived and expanded their range even into urban environments. A few of my neighbors have reported seeing a coyote exploring nearby in Lawrence.

Another venue to appreciate the message of Flores’ book is expressed in the similarly-titled documentary "American Serengeti." This is a beautiful, romantic, and sentimental story of conservation heroes, focused on the American Prairie Reserve.

Finally, a more local view of similar efforts is the focus of the documentary "The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve." This national park in the Flint Hills of Kansas celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2016 at the same time the National Parks celebrated their centennial.

I can’t help but reflect on the words of Dan Flores now while appreciating the natural vistas at the Haskell-Baker Wetlands; I hope we all eventually see more of a sustainable, holistic Great Plains with all the charismatic fauna like the vision of the American Prairie Reserve.

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


Let’s not go home again: protecting a book you love, even when you don’t love it anymore

I’ve always been the kind of person who nurtures small obsessions. Case in point: There was a time in middle school when I was not infrequently introduced to people as “Meredith, that girl who likes 'Buffy.'”

It was an extremely fair introduction. I discovered "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" in the fourth or fifth grade, and I rapidly became obsessed. When my local cable affiliate dropped the WB, I spent two years getting up in the wee hours to watch new episodes when they re-aired on Fox at 3:30 a.m. (This was a pre-DVR era.) I delayed my fourteenth birthday party by more than three months so that the “theme” of the party could be “let’s get a group of 25 people together and watch the first episode of season 7 live.”

There is simply no way to describe what "Buffy" meant to me. It can’t be done. I know because I’ve written and re-written this paragraph about 15 times now, trying to sum it up in some way that will get at even a tenth of how important that show was to me, and I end up deleting every word of it in disgust because it’s just not enough.

And yet, when I’ve tried to re-watch "Buffy" as an adult, I can’t. It’s not a case of my tastes having changed, or at least, it’s not only that. It’s that what made it so important to me, the things that I loved about it, are now the things that I find nearly unwatchable.

The last time I tried - two, maybe three years ago - I decided I’d ease my way in by rewatching my favorite episode of all time, season four’s “Something Blue.” In this episode, Buffy’s best friend Willow, heartbroken from a breakup with her longtime boyfriend, casts a spell to have her will done so that she can make him come back to her. It’s a smart, funny episode that also has a lot to say about grief, free will, and the intent of our actions versus the effect they have on others.

I didn’t even make it halfway through.

I will never watch "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" again. I’ll never even try. I have to protect what it meant to me.

When the Book Squad was brainstorming prompts for the Squad Goals Reading Challenge, I suggested that we include a prompt to re-read a book you haven’t read in at least five years. I’m really excited about this prompt; I love to re-read, but since I’ve been working at LPL, I’ve heavily focused on new reads. In the post I wrote announcing the challenge, I said that I was planning to read Annemarie Selinko’s "Désirée," a historical fiction novel about the woman Napoleon was engaged to before he married the Empress Josephine. I was deeply obsessed with it during middle school, but I haven’t read it in several years. “I’m excited to see what I think about it now,” I wrote.

This is, strictly speaking, a great big lie. I’m not excited to see what I think about "Désirée" as an adult.

I’m actually borderline terrified that I’ll feel about it the way that I now feel about "Buffy" - which is, I suspect, the reason that "Désirée" has been hovering near the top of my to-be-read list on GoodReads for the past three years without ever making the switch over to “currently reading.”

I’ve been working on this post off-and-on for close to a month, and in that time, I’ve read about 20 books. I’ve managed a whopping 27 pages of "Désirée."

And they were good pages. I liked reading them. I felt relatively reassured that I would be okay to proceed without desecrating a treasured childhood memory.

And yet, when I reach for something to read, I still don’t reach for "Désirée."

At least I’ve made it to “currently reading.” That’s something, right?

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


It’s a mystery — three picks you are sure to love

When I was a little girl, I lived in a very small town with a very small library, but I had a very big appetite for reading books. I devoured everything at my public library, and my mother made the excellent parenting decision to allow me to purchase one book per week at the nearest now-defunct entertainment store (spoiler alert: it was Hastings). I resented her for making me make such a difficult decision (only one?!), but I took it on as a challenge to find the best book, and for the first time, I was completely overwhelmed by choices.

Would I get another "Wishbone"? Some "Goosebumps," perhaps? Or would I settle on some cutesy book that had Mary Kate and Ashley on the cover? Even though there was more to be seen than at my little library, I quickly discovered that not all of the books were completely magical by my 7-year-old standards (I was super picky even then!). It took some digging to find the good ones, but truth be told, I still remember picking out my book, proudly holding it in my lap the entire way home and reading it as fast as I could. I never paced myself on reading, so I was always left wanting more, each and every time, anxious to get a new book as soon as possible.

I get a similar feeling whenever I walk through the mystery section now, nearly twenty years later as an adult. There is so much to discover and quite a lot I really don’t like. At the tail-end of 2016, I decided it was time I added a few mysteries to my literary repertoire, and I haven’t looked back since. I had convinced myself I hated mysteries, and it would be a pain to find anything worth reading, but much like my original disdain for graphic novels, boy, was I wrong!

Mysteries are awesome — I finally get why the genre is so popular now. After reading several books, I’ve settled on a niche that has made me quite a happy reader these past few months — historical mysteries featuring spunky amateur female detectives, finding their way in a male-dominated world and completely excelling. It sounds cheesy, I know, but that’s because it is. When it comes to mystery books, sometimes you just have to embrace the camp and the cliche moments and enjoy the ride.

"A Spy in the House" by Y.S. Lee was what first began my love affair with historical mysteries and is one that checks off all of my literary boxes. Takes place in the Victorian era? Check. Features a diverse main character and a diverse authors? Check. The plot is interesting with a unique situation? Check. There’s an adorable love interest who will show up in later books? Check. The premise is one of murder, intrigue and spying. Mary Quinn, a former thief who was once sentenced to death, was rescued and began working for an all-female spy agency that covers as a finishing school for girls.

Sent out on her first assignment, she must infiltrate a well-to-do family and pose as their maid. Her investigation leads her to a more sinister plot than was originally thought of, and she must use her wits to get herself out of several sticky situations. What I liked most about this book (the first in a series of four) was that the author used the concept of an all-female spy agency to actually give the character more agency in the world she lives in. A poor, young half-Chinese woman in late 1800s London would not have many opportunities, but in this book, the character excels at what she does.

From there, I discovered "A Front Page Affair" by Radha Vatsal, which is set in 1915 just after the Lusitania sank, just after J.P. Morgan was shot and famously fell on his would-be-murderer, and just before the United States joined the Allied Forces in World War I. This book reads like a richly written and highly rewarding history lesson, where the author (born in Mumbai, making this yet another diverse mystery) shows off her knowledge and all of her research of the time period.

Kitty Weeks is a charming but naive young woman who is determined to make her way in the newspaper industry. Tired of writing articles for the Ladies’ Page, she jumps at an opportunity to prove her worth by looking into a murder that occurred at a society party she was supposed to write about. While I would recommend this book to anyone, it’s particularly good for those new to the genre, as they can discover more and get acquainted with mysteries as Kitty hones her detective skills. The sequel is due out later this year.

I know I am late to the game on this one, but I recently discovered Rhys Bowen, and I am hooked. "Murphy’s Law," the first in the hugely popular Molly Murphy series, is a riot and all kinds of wonderful, and why haven’t you read this yet? You should stop everything you’re doing and check this out right now. Molly Murphy is the spunkiest of all of the spunky female heroines. An Irish girl out on her luck, Molly accidentally murders a man in self-defense and flees her homeland to England, eventually ending up in the United States at Ellis Island.

Set in 1900, the story is fascinating and endlessly interesting. The author is especially good at fleshing out her characters and setting so that Molly lives in a complicated and realistic world. I was pulled in by Molly as a person; her positive outlook, resourcefulness, her sassy comebacks and her ability to make a person instantly her friend (or enemy!) will keep me coming back for more. This is a series that I can see myself settling down with.

-Kimberly Lopez is a reader’s services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.