Entries from blogs tagged with “Lawrence”
“Today we’re introducing three revolutionary products … The first is a wide-screen iPod with touch control. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough internet communications device.”
It’s 2007, only ten years ago. On stage, Steve Jobs continues: “Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device.” And so the smartphone revolution started.
The “one device” wasn’t brand new. It borrowed many technologies and ideas that already existed, but it also introduced new ones, and combined everything with patented Apple smoothness.
Watching Jobs unveil the iPhone is fun, mostly because it already seems so quaint (his talk is on YouTube). The user interface, Multi-Touch, was perhaps the most miraculous tech that the iPhone gave us, and when Jobs nonchalantly scrolled through his phone’s music library with a swipe of his finger in front of that crowd ten years ago, it drew the biggest gasp of the evening.
Jobs’ first public iPhone call was to audience member Jony Ive, who answered on a flip phone. Bantering with his boss, the Apple designer now known as Sir Jony says, “It’s not too shabby, is it?”
Today, even as I finish up this review, Tim Cook is about to wow us with yet another iPhone with not too shabby features. As if to prove their importance, there have been fifteen different iPhones already, their progeny are global and seemingly without number, and here comes the new generation.
These days, the iPhone routinely accompanies astronauts in space, but it wasn’t that long ago that a library staffer wowed us by showing off an early iPhone at a staff day “technology petting zoo.” I was curious about how many of my coworkers use which phones, so I conducted an informal survey. The iPhone (in at least seven permutations) won handily. Samsung came in a very distant second, and there were some others, including four flip-phones.
Brian Merchant has written a “secret history” of the one that started it all, entitled "The One Device." What’s notable, and to me most interesting, is that it’s not just another book on Steve Jobs or Silicon Valley. In fact, it takes an ecological (iCological?) perspective of Apple’s most important product. Early reviews didn’t seem to get it, or if they did, they saw it as a distraction, but this approach sets the book apart in important ways.
Why is Merchant’s book important? Because something that has changed the world as profoundly as the iPhone demands a social and ecological perspective. By using different facets of the phone as windows to different components of its ecosystem, Merchant unearths the world in your pocket — for better or worse.
You’ve heard the suicide stories of the Chinese iPhone manufacturer, Foxconn. Have you also heard of the hellish mines of the Congo, where the ghost of Joseph Conrad may still be writing? What about the Bolivian tin mines? And what happens to those billions of old phones when new versions are announced?
Read "The One Device." You can do so on your phone, of course.
— Jake Vail is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
I’m lucky enough to do storytime here at the Lawrence Public Library, and while there are some challenging days of herding toddlers, it is a joy and a privilege to introduce children to literature and catch a small slice of their innocence and wonder.
When we started up storytime again this fall, I wanted to try something different: Read a handful of random books, held together only by the fact that they were published in 2017. (Weirdly, most of them are from February; who knew that was such a hot picture book publishing month?)
Here are a few of my favorites. My only disclaimer is that I chose these for a Toddler Storytime audience; I think all of these would work well for older and younger kids — I mean, they utterly delight me — but keep in mind they were picked to work for toddlers especially.
"A Perfect Day" by Lane Smith (February 2017)
The twist at the end of this book had me giggling in delight. Imagine your perfect day … then add a bear. The illustrations are full of life and are just as engaging as the text. Lane Smith is well known for his work with Jon Scieszka in "The Stinky Cheese Man" and "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs." While there is echo of the same style, the illustrations are much dreamier and less dark. I could stare at them all day.
"Stack the Cats" by Susie Ghahremani (May 2017)
What do cats do? Stack! A cute counting book full of adorable kittens who, for some reason, are going to stack themselves. A silly premise with equally quirky and colorful illustrations, this book subtly introduces math concepts in the form of stacking cats. What’s not to like?
"A Good Day for a Hat" by T. Nat Fuller, Illustrated by Rob Hodgson (March 2017)
Mr. Brown has a hat for every occasion. Raining? He’s got a hat for that. Cooking? Chef’s hat engaged. Fire-breathing dragon? Helmet acquired! With increasingly ridiculous situations and hats for specific needs, the repetitiveness of the book has you smiling as you await the next wacky situation. Boldly colored and hilarious.
"Ribbit" by Jorey Hurley (February 2017)
Gorgeous. That was my immediate thought when I flipped through "Ribbit" for the first time. I was a little worried to read this for toddler storytime because of the sparse text, with one word per two-page spread. But the illustrations are so beautiful and engaging, mesmerizing the kids as well as myself. In the picture-book world, which is sometimes full of busy illustrations with tons of text, "Ribbit" is a calm break in the clamor that reminds you less is more.
"Not Quite Narwhal" by Jessie Sima (Feb 2017)
A book with narwhals and unicorns? Sign me up! Kelp the "Narwhal" is just trying to find his place in the world. He knows he doesn’t fit in with his narwhal buddies, but when he views a strange creature on land, he realizes he might not be the narwhal he thinks he is. With swoon-worthy illustrations and an excellent message, I highly suggest this adorable book.
What’s your favorite picture book from 2017 so far? Luckily, we’ve still got three months to go. Sound off below!
— Lauren Taylor is a youth services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Zora Neale Hurston wrote during the height of the Harlem Renaissance, contributing novels and short stories, as well as literary anthropology. She was a bold woman surrounded by male peers and unparalleled in both talent and ideas.
She died alone and impoverished, buried in an unmarked grave, without having received the recognition or recompense she so strongly deserved.
"Their Eyes Were Watching God" was written over a period of seven weeks when Hurston was 46. Using both poetic prose and rich, palatable patois, it tells the story of Janie Crawford as she journeys from one unpleasant marriage into another, until finally finding the love of her life in the rambunctious and unexpected Vergible “Tea Cake” Woods. She faced scrutiny and ostracization from her male literary peers for not being political enough.
In a forward to "Their Eyes" by Mary Helen Washington, Richard Wright is quoted to say the novel “carries no theme, no message, no thought.” Was the lack of politics the problem, or perhaps was it that Hurston chose to focus on the theme, message, and thought of a black woman rather than a man?
In the decades since her death, Hurston’s legacy has been carried on by her literary daughters and sons who saw what her peers had missed: a brilliant mind poetically communicating the complexities of the human condition. In other words, a Harlem Renaissance-Woman.
In the early 1970s, Alice Walker went in search for Hurston’s unmarked grave, laying a stone and writing a personal essay for "Ms." magazine called “Looking for Zora.” This passion and dedication helped to launch a revival for Hurston’s work that continues today.
Full conferences have been dedicated to Hurston’s legacy, including one that is happening in Lawrence this week. Black Love: A Symposium celebrates the 80th anniversary of "Their Eyes" on and around KU campus this week (Sept 11th – 18th 2017) with esteemed panelists, cultural events, movie screenings, and a marathon reading of the honored novel.
“Zora Neale Hurston’s Radical Black Love” by Ayesha Hardison (KU) and Randal Maurice Jelks (KU)
Films on Black Love, available online or at local video sources (LPL included!)
“Finding Zora” — University of Florida Dept. of Anthropology page on Hurston’s anthropological contributions
"Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography" by Robert Hemenway
"Glorious" by Bernice McFadden — a novel paralleling and partially inspired by Hurston’s life
-Kate Gramlich is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
The DNA of four-panel funnies, well-respected graphic novels, and highfalutin literary novels might not be so different as they seem. Obviously, a strip like "Family Circus" isn’t even remotely in the same realm as, say, Toni Morrison, to be clear, but each tradition shares some surprising hallmarks when it comes to form and philosophy.
One of my favorite graphic novels of the past year, Tom Gauld’s "Mooncop," tells of a man patrolling a dried up lunar colony.
The art is simple, almost childish, and there’s plenty of light humor adding levity to what would otherwise be undiluted dreariness. An otherwise barebones plot culminates with reflections on the dreams and disappointments of life.
It first made me think of Raymond Carver’s sparsely-written short stories, which often follow people who are well-beyond their last chance, trying to deal with increasingly hard lives. Carver is also merciful enough to offer glimmers of hope and moments of respite in an otherwise desolate world. Such treatment of the human condition has earned him the designation of being a serious, literary artist.
Gauld, too, has earned praise for "Mooncop." On the whole, graphic novels have enjoyed a growing recognition for their intellectual and emotional value, but what "Mooncop" made me think of next was actually their predecessor, the humble comic strip.
The minimal line work and distilled moments of emotion reveal a clear throughline of Charles Schulz’s revered strip, "Peanuts." And like that, the third side of the "Mooncop" triangle formed, bridging Charlie Brown and Snoopy with Carver’s destitute alcoholics and troubled blue collar laborers.
It might seem shocking at first, but "Peanuts"— the early work, especially— quite frequently delves into pain, social isolation, and all the complications of modern life. Everyone knows the embarrassment of Lucy’s classic football pull away gag, but that’s pretty mild for Schulz. Check out the the inaugural strip, published in October of 1950:
This isn’t to say that he was a nihilist; the rest of the "Peanuts" story shows the whole spectrum of what life has to offer. In "Only What’s Necessary," a 2015 collection of "Peanuts" sketches and lore, Schulz’s notes explain his insistence on simple, minimal art and dialogue; he took this approach in part, I think, to allow the complexity of feeling to take center stage, which is precisely the essence of oft-toted “serious” literature.
Though "Peanuts" lacks an overarching plot, the same can be said for many great novels. Instead of having a linear narrative that traces a single revelatory, life-defining story, it can be seen as a novel consisting of 50 years of vignettes, flickering, mundane moments of a life. It’s kind of like Karl Ove Knausgard’s incandescent saga "My Struggle"— without all the drinking, of course.
-Eli Hoelscher is a Readers’ Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
I live within a mile of the Kansas River. In spite of the Bowersock Dam and other infrastructure, this is a good place to connect with wildness. Walking on the levee beside the river offers a chance to watch birds soaring and fishing — great blue herons are frequently present at the river, and in winter, bald eagles are, too.
Frequently people are making use of the water via kayak, canoe or fishing boat. In spite of the nearby development, the river is a relatively wild place.
At the other side of the broad continuum of local wild spaces are the richly diverse Haskell-Baker Wetlands and also the expansive Clinton Lake Wildlife Area, yet there is value in every degree of wilderness.
My reflections are inspired from reading the book "Wildness: Relations of People and Place." This new anthology includes creative and provocative essays, stories and poetry—it represents diverse understandings of our natural world by many highly regarded writers.
I was driven to the book "Wildness" when I read a review by author J. Drew Lanham. I reviewed Lanham’s book earlier; "The Home Place: Memoirs of A Colored Man's Love Affair With Nature" is a book of elegantly-written prose connecting his commitment to land ethics with social justice with a great deal of inspired optimism.
Lanham wrote this about "Wildness":
This amazing amalgam goes at the issue of nature, wildness, and our relationships to it via personal story, lyrical verse, and reflection. It is storytelling and word-singing at its best...and a book I simply want on my bookshelf to pull down and read words that flow like water but have the lasting impact of fire.
The book is filled with deep, thoughtful explorations of human connections to the idea of wildness. Each writer shares their response to these questions: What defines our ecology, and how are the natural and the human communities interdependent? What keeps the whole community in harmony and helps it sustain and thrive? —In other words, what is the process of persistent wildness?
"Wildness" was created by the Center for Humans and Nature, an organization associated with the University of Chicago. Their website, www.humansandnature.org, is an interactive forum of socially and ecologically focused tools to advocate, reach out, and explore. Here is how they describe their organization:
The Center for Humans and Nature partners with some of the brightest minds to explore human responsibilities to each other and the more-than-human world. We bring together philosophers, ecologists, artists, political scientists, anthropologists, poets and economists, among others, to think creatively about a resilient future for the whole community of life.
Several short videos related to the essays in "Wildness" are highlighted on their website at www.humansandnature.org/wildness. Each video features an author from the book and adds depth to the themes of environmental and social justice. One of the most compelling of these videos is presented by Mistinguette Smith.
She discusses African American understandings of wildness and her work with the Black / Land Project, a community garden in Cleveland. Wildness and relationships to land are defined differently, based on cultural experiences and historical injustices. For Smith, wild connections are made in a community garden where you can grow your own food.
By exploring the book "Wildness,"I have reinforced my resolve to connect environmental and social justice. And I am compelled to echo the message in my review of J. Drew Lanham’s "The Home Place." I hope you will also be inspired to reach out to be more inclusive — to engage more kids and adults from diverse communities to explore and connect with relatively wild places. I am envisioning exponentially greater advocates for our community’s wildness.
It seems appropriate to note, in relation to eco-justice, recommended assistance to survivors of Hurricane Harvey may start with the helpful resources at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, disasterphilanthropy.org.
— Shirley Braunlich is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
I’ll be honest, until this year I had never participated in a book club. In theory, they’re right up my alley. I work at a library. I’ve always worked in bookstores. Reading = good. Discussions = good. But joining a book club can be a little intimidating.
Apart from leaving the comfort of my home, which as a rule I only leave to work or shop for groceries, it’s a time commitment. There are only 24 hours in a day, and when eight of those are spent playing video games, time just gets away from you. Who knew?
For those of you in a similar time crunch — legitimate or self-imposed — the Lawrence Public Library is launching its first documentary club, Doc Discussions. It’s as easy as “book” clubs get. Step one: an hour and a half (more or less) commitment to watch one of the best documentaries around. Step two: Come talk about it for an hour at the library. Doesn’t get more efficient than that.
Or does it?
Thanks to Kanopy it does. Kanopy is a wonderful (relatively) new addition to LPL’s online streaming services that brings thousands of documentaries right to you. It’s a curated collection of over 30,000 films that comes with free 24-hour access to some fantastic documentaries, foreign films, and Criterion Collection classics.
How do I access all this bounty, you ask?
On Aug. 2, Doc Discussions had its unofficial kick-off with our screening of the acclaimed documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" and the amazing panel discussion that followed.
For our first official screening and chat, we’ll be watching "To Be Takei" on Saturday, September 16. It’s a delightful look at the life of Star Trek’s George Takei and a very entertaining yet poignant exploration of race, gay rights, celebrity and the power of positivity. So watch with us. Can’t make the screening? No problem; remember, you can access Kanopy at home 24/7. Either way, come to Doc Discussions' inaugural meeting right after the film. See you there!
"To Be Takei" will screen from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday, September 16. The Doc Discussion meeting will take place directly afterwards from 5 to 6 p.m.
-Ian Stepp is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Just in case you’ve been living under a rock rather than reading our phenomenal blog posts, I’m obligated to tell you that my colleague Sarah Mathews is a freaking rockstar.
She reads things, she writes about them, she spreads generally wonderful vibes and every Sunday morning throughout Summer Reading 2017 she’s asked you: What are you reading?
After finding one of her favorite books of all time ("The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafón) in a comment on these Facebook posts years ago, Sarah decided to don her superhero cape and resurrect the tradition.
There are a million books you’ve never heard of. Many people won’t even pick a book up if they don’t like the cover — a practice that, as you can imagine, is very controversial among librarians.
For three months, we’ve collected these crowdsourced reading recommendations from our community of bookish folks. Every Facebook post got responses from 20–50 people, which combined represent months of dedication and creative energy that has transformed my idea of reading as a solo endeavor into a space for cohesion, collaboration, and community.
Of the 283 total books mentioned that we currently hold in our collection, there were a handful that were spotted multiple times. So, without further ado, welcome to the Entirely Unofficial Lawrence Community Book Club! This summer, in no particular order, many of us read:
- James Patterson, "16th Seduction"
- John Grisham, "The Whistler"
- Neil Gaiman, "American Gods"
- David Sedaris, "Theft by Finding"
- Eddie Izzard, "Believe Me"
- Frank Herbert, "Dune"
- B.A. Paris, "The Breakdown"
- Paula Hawkins, "Into the Water"
- Stephen King, "The Dark Tower"
- Angie Thomas, "The Hate U Give"
- Colson Whitehead, "Underground Railroad"
- Kate Quinn, "The Alice Network"
- Kristin Hannah, "The Nightingale"
- Nora Roberts, "Come Sundown"
- Randy Shilts, "And the Band Played On"
- Anthony Doerr, "All the Light We Cannot See"
- J.D. Vance, "Hillbilly Elegy"
- Ann Patchett, "Commonwealth"
The complete list of reading recommendations is available in our catalog.
— Logan Isaman is the community assessment coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.
We’ve now entered into what I’ve deemed the “weird phase” of Marvel.
With the commercial and critical success of the previously unknown property "Guardians of the Galaxy," director James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman have paved the way for indie creators to work on blockbuster titles while bringing their own unique visions and perspectives to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Yes, it has to fit within the overall Disney/Marvel branding aesthetic, but early trailers for "Thor: Ragnarok," directed by the mastermind behind "What We Do in the Shadows" Taika Waititi, and "Black Panther," directed by Ryan Coogler, look as if Marvel’s team have decided to shake things up a bit.
As someone who is typically in a state of comic book movie fatigue, this infusion of creative vitality helps keeps the superhero formula from becoming stale and pastiche while introducing a much more diverse and eclectic vision of superheroes to an already expansive world.
However, I feel that there are two beloved characters in particular who have been overlooked and deserve to make their onscreen debut either as part of a Netflix series or the new Marvel Phase: both She Hulk and Howard the Duck.
"She Hulk" by Charles Soule
"She Hulk" stars Jennifer Walters, attorney at large. She’s just your average Jane Doe, except she happens to have green skin and superhuman strength combined with a lack of anger management skills.This story treatment by Charles Soule in particular opens with Jennifer losing her job at a law firm because she failed to bring in high-spending superhero clients. In a quest for self-discovery, she decides to open up her own legal agency while taking odd jobs to pay the bills, even if it means representing the children of supervillains in immigration law cases or patent violations filed against Iron Man himself.
Charles Soule has perfected the art of superhero writing, as much of Jennifer’s story focuses on her daily life and social interactions rather than building up to an epic showdown or cosmic conquest. In many ways, this approach makes Jennifer’s story even more relatable, as she goes to the bar after a hard day, struggles to find work in a tough job market, and faces discrimination because of her appearance. For instance, nobody will rent to her because they’re afraid she’ll hulk out and destroy the premises. And you think your insurance premium is outrageous.
The dialogue is heartwarming, and Jennifer’s struggles serve as an allegorical message that speak volumes about our current economic and political climate. She Hulk will become one of your new favorite super heroes by the end of the story, and it would be a perfect series to adapt for Netflix’s Marvel Universe. Even Jessica Jones’ BFF Hellcat makes an appearance as She Hulk’s trusty sidekick, so we can only hope that Jennifer will show up at some point as part of "The Defenders." Fingers crossed.
"Howard the Duck" by Chip Zdarsky
The most recent "Howard the Duck" manifestation by Chip Zdarsky is a whole lot of weird, self-referential, fun. The story opens in a "Secret Wars" Volume 0 title called "What the Duck?" (I know it’s confusing) that follows the life of private investigator Howard the Duck. Like She Hulk, he is down on his luck and looking for work. He can’t even afford to hire a secretary and instead uses a papier-mache creation with a face drawn on it to greet his nearly nonexistent clientele.
Howard’s luck changes when a mysterious gentleman asks him to retrieve a stolen necklace, a job that has him speeding across the galaxy in true "Doctor Who" fashion and solving cases while meeting plenty of extraterrestrial creatures. The story continues in serialized format, as it was one of the more popular "Secret Wars" publications, and is one of my favorite titles done by Marvel as of late.
"Howard the Duck" is a unique reading experience with zany characterizations and plenty of laugh-out-loud scenarios. The story has a little bit of everything: She Hulk listening to Taylor Swift while watching cat videos? Check. Rocket Raccoon shaving a map of a spaceship into his chest hair? Check. An '80s workout montage complete with a tank top that says “No Harm No Fowl?” Check. In particular, I’m a massive fan of the many film noir references sprinkled throughout the dialogue, art style, and overall tone that balances beautifully with the more humorous elements to hit all the right notes.
What makes "Howard the Duck" so refreshing is that Chip Zdarsky uses the graphic novel medium to make fun of running gags and cliches within Marvel in the same way that "Enchanted" pokes fun at Disney's princess stereotypes. I think that we need more lighthearted superhero fare that moves us farther away from the brooding, Christopher Nolan "Batman" type of hero.
"Howard the Duck" proves you don’t need an impending apocalypse or a serious personality to tell a good story. Howard would be an excellent addition for new adventures in cosmic Marvel. Who wouldn’t say no to a film noir space adventure? I sure wouldn’t.
What lesser-known Marvel titles would you like to see adapted next? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Until then, I’ll just keep hoping that I’ll get to see some of my comic book favorites on the silver screen.
-Fisher Adwell is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
I’m fascinated by the concept of bucket lists. Few things fascinate me more than hearing what other people consider to be must-have life experiences, mostly because the range of “must-have” encompasses so much.
I have a general life bucket list (see the Northern Lights; go sky-diving; walk the Camino De Santiago), but I also keep a more specifically bookish bucket list, stocked with book-related experiences I’d like to have during my lifetime - everything from reading specific books to getting more bookish body art to attending conventions.
Recently, I got to put a checkmark next to a huge item on my bookish bucket list: visiting The Ripped Bodice, an all-romance novel bookstore located in L.A. I discovered the store via their excellent Twitter last year and had been sadly pining away from afar. (You know that whine-and-paw-at-the-ground thing that dogs do when they’re sad? That was me, every time someone posted photos of The Ripped Bodice.)
As luck would have it, one of my dearest friends moved to L.A. last fall and issued me a standing invitation to visit her. So in May, I booked a flight, and 24 hours after landing, my beloved friend Katelyn and I walked through the doors of The Ripped Bodice. (Well, she walked — I am reliably informed that I bounced through the door, Tigger-like, and then preceded to levitate with joy for the rest of our time in the store.)
While Katelyn browsed and took photos with Sir Fitzwilliam Waffles, Esq., the store’s dog-in-residence, I got direct Readers’ Advisory help from one of The Ripped Bodice’s owners, Bea, who patiently listened to me explaining what I like in romance (competent characters trying their best; a tinge of sadness in the tone) and what I don’t (banter for banter’s sake; alpha heroes) and then helped me pick out a completely reasonable number of books for purchase.
Completely reasonable, and definitely not so many that the cost of said books hit the triple digits and I had to take advantage of the store’s free shipping policy to get them all home. Definitely not.
On a generally excellent trip, visiting The Ripped Bodice was a definite high point — not just because it is the most beautiful store in the world, but because it was so wonderful to get to talk about a topic I love with people who share my love of it. I’m pretty sure I teared up at one point.
Other major items on my bookish bucket list:
Visiting the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, South Dakota: I couldn’t tell exactly you how many times I read the Little House series as a kid, but it was at least 15 times all the way through (and many more for my particular favorites). Now that I live a few hours’ drive from South Dakota, I’m low-key planning a trip to the Homestead and other important locations from the books.
Read the complete works of James Baldwin: Given that Baldwin’s career as a writer spanned four decades and included novels, plays, essays, short stories, poems, and various other uncategorizable work, this one will be a years-long project. I wrote a thesis on Baldwin, have a tattoo with a quote from one of his novels, and read his work for pleasure, and I’ve made it through maybe 30 percent of his work — which is honestly a generous estimate. If I ever achieve this goal, you will all know because I’ll never shut up about it.
Completing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short): I’ve made half-hearted attempts at NaNoWriMo in the past, but I lack the drive to actually finish it. The major problem with this item is that it falls under the extremely broad category of things I want to have done but do not want to actually do.
I may never get through all of these, but it’s fun to think about. What about you, readers? What items are on your bookish bucket list?
— Meredith Wiggins is a readers' services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Okay, so “dying” is quite an exaggeration, but sometimes hyperbolic language is necessary when you’re really really excited to crack open one of your favorites. Lately, more and more, I have been inspired to revisit some old friends of mine, rather than discovering new books. There is something ultimately comforting about starting a book already knowing how much you love it.
The types of books I am talking about are the ones that whenever I see them on display, I want to selfishly snatch them up and check them out before anyone else gets a chance to read them. I just can’t help myself — these books are so good. Here are three of my all-time favorites that are all at the top of my “To Read Again” pile.
1 "The Magpie Lord" by K.J. Charles
K.J. Charles is a favorite author of several of us at the Lawrence Public Library because she manages to create such interesting and complicated characters you can’t help but fall in love with, all in around two hundred pages or so.
In this novel, Stephen is an adorable, uptight magician with a major chip on his shoulder and Lucien is a sassy and (somewhat) sophisticated nobleman with a scandalous history.
I could dedicate an entire blogpost as to why I love Lucien so much as a character — he is always quick with a comeback, shamelessly arrogant, and chronically overdressed. Set in a Victorian London where magic is so prevalent, there is plenty of fantasy to compliment the romance. When you combine that with characters you can’t help but love, you have yourselves a fantastic little novel that is perfect for binge-reading.
2 "The Girls at the Kingfisher Club" by Genevieve Valentine
I’ve already sung my praises of my colleague Meredith’s book suggestions in a previous post. Thanks to her, I discovered this absolute gem of a book, a retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," set in NYC in the 1920s.
This is one of my "you had me at hello” type of books where the setting and the plot are so unbelievably wonderful, I immediately knew it would be an all-time favorite. This is mostly due to Valentine’s lovely, gorgeous prose. A wistful exploration of sisterhood and responsibility, female friendship and the lengths that people go through to be truly considered free, this book gives me all of the warm and fuzzies.
3 "Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners" by Therese O’Neill
Last, and definitely not least, is a new favorite. I read this at the tail end of 2016 and I’ve been wanting to read it again ever since. Of all of the nonfiction titles I have read and enjoyed, this is the one that I recommend to others the most because it’s just so darn funny. Therese O’Neill takes an overly romanticized time period like the Victorian era and gives a realistic portrayal of what it was actually like to live during that time.
The author sets the book up as if the reader is a time traveler, going back to the 19th century. She is a perfect tour guide — quick to inform and educate, personable and hilarious. There are some humorous books that make you smile, some that make you laugh out loud, and then there are those that make you laugh so hard, you nearly wet yourself. This book falls into the latter category.
I’m currently re-reading "I’ll Meet You There" by Heather Demetrios, which is another book I really liked. After that, who knows? Will I be in the mood for fantasy or nonfiction? Some more romance, perhaps? There is nothing that brings me more joy than to flip through pages and go to a place I’ve already explored, just so I can spend a few more moments there. I strongly suggest you do that same, whenever you are able.
— Kimberly Lopez is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Whatever happened to steampunk? According to some sources, this subgenre of science fiction that incorporates industrial steam-powered machinery from the 19th century in alternative histories was “over” in 2010. Others might say last year.
In this YA Backlist post, I’m taking a look back at Scott Westerfeld's young adult contribution to steampunk, "Leviathan." To be honest, this was one of three or so steampunk novels I read — but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the subgenre or Westerfeld’s novel. I do always find something fascinating about a “what if” premise.
Westerfeld reimagines World War I with steam-powered iron walkers and genetically altered animals. Caught in the middle of the global conflict are Aleksander Ferdinand, orphaned prince of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and Deryn Sharp, a girl who disguises herself as a boy so she can serve in the British Air Service.
Alek doesn't know who to trust when he's told the news of his parents' death. His mother having been of common blood, many see him as unfit to rule and even a threat to the empire, so he must flee in a Cyklop Stormwalker with his “mechanicks” master and fencing instructor. However, they don’t make it far before they have to test the defenses of the armored, steam-powered walker.
Meanwhile, Deryn, going by Dylan, manages to prove herself capable through a freak incident involving a Huxley — a jellyfish-like creature that flies by filling itself with hydrogen. She winds up on the Leviathan, a gigantic living ecosystem that doubles as a military aircraft, where she must continue to prove her usefulness on top of keeping up her disguise. When the Leviathan must make a crash landing in the neutral Swedish territory, Alek's and Daryn's paths cross, which only leads them to further adventure.
"Leviathan" is a fast-paced, adventurous novel. It’s a great introduction to the steampunk genre and an intriguing look at what World War I would have been like with steam-powered machinery and advanced biogenetics. In addition to the author's writing, illustrations by Keith Thompson throughout the pages help bring the images and scenes of the story to life. I encourage you to give it a try.
— William Ottens is the cataloging and collection development coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.
There’s no dearth of Bob Dylan’s music. Last year the septuagenarian, Nobel laureate, singing-songwriting extraordinaire released yet another LP. That brings him to a total of 37 studio albums, 58 singles, 11 live “albums” — some of which, such as the 32-disc "The 1966 Live Recordings," defy any conventional definition of the word "album" — another 31 compilation albums and a whole mess of collaborations. And that’s not all, as any Dylanologist worth their salt will tell you; don’t forget "The Bootleg Series."
Since its launch in 1991 with "The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare and Unreleased) 1961-1991," Columbia Records has attempted to catalogue — and who am I kidding? — to make a whole lot of money from Bob Dylan’s prolific musical output. "The Bootleg Series" now spans 13 volumes that range from folksy demos to relatively recent outtakes (even the newest songs included are now more than a decade old). For the most part, the series sticks to the early days, as only two of the 13 volumes feature music released after 1975. But even with its relatively narrow focus on Dylan’s first 15 years, "The Bootleg Series" is a sprawling — and often fascinating — glimpse into a one-of-a-kind career.
That said, I’ll admit that it took me a while to understand the appeal. I saw a collection of outtakes, alternative recordings, and unreleased songs, and asked why I would want to waste my time with music that didn’t make the cut. The guy already has, like, 40 albums, right? It wasn’t until after some extensive Bootleg[ging] that I came to admit the folly of my ways. A guy like Bob Dylan has a lot more to give than a studio album’s worth of music any given year.
Take "Volume 7, No Direction Home: The Soundtrack," for example. It’s an amazing two-disc collection that makes for a great survey of Dylan’s transition from folk prophet/“voice of a generation” to rock and roll star/“Judas” entirely using recordings that were never released. I don’t know if any of the many alternate takes are better than their studio album counterparts, but hearing these acoustic takes of electric favorites and vice versa is a pleasantly disorienting experience. Dylan’s interpretation of old folk song “Sally Gal” (which I think is only available via this collection) is a personal Dylan favorite. I wouldn’t have heard it without "The Bootleg Series Volume 7" (by the way, the Scorsese documentary of the same name isn’t half bad, either).
For those of us who weren’t around to see Dylan in his heyday, The Bootleg Series can take some of the sting away. I’m not a fan of live albums, but "Volume 6; Live 1964 Concert at Philharmonic Hall" is one of a handful of exceptions. Dylan comes across as funny and charming and weird, and his audience clearly adores him. There are some awkward fumbling, stumbling duets with Joan Baez on the second disc, but that just makes the whole thing more endearing. Besides, the audio quality and collection of songs are just top notch. The fantastic rendition of “If You’ve Got To Go, Go Now” routinely gets stuck in my head, and despite not being the best version of the song, I love this recording of “It Ain’t Me Babe.”
And there’s a lot more where that came from — 11 more volumes to be precise — and sure, at times that can feel excessive (the complete version of 2014’s "The Best of the Cutting Edge 1965-1966 vol 12" was an 18 disc collection for Pete’s sake), but too much of a good thing is a pretty nice problem to have. So if you’re interested in some “new” versions of old songs or simply getting a peek into the creative process of one of modern music’s most influential artists, check out these albums courtesy of your friendly neighborhood library.
— Ian Stepp is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Just over 100 miles separate the United States and Cuba. Yet, as history would have it, the two nations have carried on a messy and surprisingly limited relationship. Setting aside the geopolitics of the real world — for now — leaves us with a sadly restrained amount of cultural cross-pollination.
Stateside, Cuba’s strongest association is almost assuredly cigars, followed by pressed ham, pork, and Swiss cheese sandwiches, and in a distant third, there’s Ricky Ricardo, I’m guessing.
For as familiar and adoring as I am of Cuban sandwiches (let me emphasize: extremely), I had never read—or even knew of—any Cuban authors before this summer, which speaks to the unfortunate priorities of our cultural knowledge of our island neighbor. Great art can not be kept back for long, though, and a shiny new copy of "Super Extra Grande" fell into my hands one day as if it were fate.
Like most of you, I had never heard of Cuba’s greatest living science fiction writer, Yoss. The prolific author started writing in the '80s and hasn’t slowed down since, running science fiction writing workshops to further the art in Cuba and everywhere else. Most reviewers have designated "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" author Douglas Adams as Yoss’ Western analog, which is fairly apt, though I’d argue that he has more of the spirit of Robert A. Heinlein ("Stranger in a Strange Land," "Starship Troopers").
Interpreting Yoss via our familiar paragons is a dangerous game, though, as we risk missing the differences and innovations of the Cuban science fiction tradition. Augustin De Rojas, then, is a better name to link with Yoss; known as the progenitor of Cuban science fiction, he shaped the literary future of the country with stories that distilled the sentiments and consequences of communism, equating the hardships of the isolated state to those of an imperilled spaceship crew far from home.
Oh, and in case it isn’t apparent enough, Yoss is also the lead singer of a heavy metal band, Tenaz. After listening to a few tracks, I can confirm that science fiction is indeed his mastercraft.
"Super Extra Grande" follows Dr. Jan Amos Sangan Dongo, better known as the “Veterinarian to the Giants.” These giants consist of enormous creatures from the depths of space, from "Dune"-esque monster worms to continent-sized amoebas. The book hits the ground running, opening with Sangan trudging through a beast’s digestive tract.
Yoss pivots from the fascinating and at times gross biological details to framing his world with its cast of alien races and their overarching geopolitical (or more accurately, astropolitical) tensions. The world building comes quickly and is well engineered; each brushstroke feels unique and necessary. Sangan also manages to get embroiled in some compelling interpersonal drama. A precarious love triangle forms with his two assistants, one being human, the other an alluring Cetian. Yoss even squeezes in a poignant backstory, delving into the transformative college years of his protagonist. These characters have real, meaningful flaws that give them a tangibility that anchors the space-faring setting of the novel.
While crafting the sci-fi cloth of this world, Yoss reflects and comments on the social and political interworkings of our own world, showcasing his genre’s hallmark ability to explore our own problems through a new lens. There is nothing so heavy-handed, but the dysfunctional and frankly awkward diplomacy of the different galactic races mirrors that of reality quite well. Spanglish has become the universal lingua franca, which functions perhaps as a jab at an Anglo-dominated globe — it also may serve as a not-so-bold prediction.
"Super Extra Grande" impresses with so many facets and such depth for a 150 page novella. There’s a little something for everyone, and each element coalesces to form a masterwork worthy of the hype Yoss has received. Even if the political and interpersonal nuances are lost on you, hey, there’s still an adventure with ridiculously cool space monsters to nerd out over.
As reductive as it is, one could even liken the book to a delicious Cuban sandwich; the sci-fi imagination forms the core of rich pork shoulder, with humor and introspection acting as the pickles and mustard, cutting through with a balancing sharpness. An endearing yet imperfect cast of characters are the ham, adding a special sweetness that put it over the top. And of course, it’s compacted into a well-finished vessel without any unused space, like a buttery telera roll made golden from a hot plancha.
No, sandwich metaphors are too easy. As great as Cuban sandwiches are, "Super Extra Grande" can’t compare. And that’s precisely why it’s so important to have writers like Yoss cross cultural boundaries; when it comes to sandwiches or sci-fi, I’ll pick this book every time. And that’s saying a lot. Ham is serious competition.
— Eli Hoelscher is a Readers’ Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
There is nothing more satisfying for me as a reader then reaching the end of a book that has a fist-pumping ending.
A book where every single character gets an ending that resonates with their trajectory. There aren’t any outstanding “what the heck just happened?” questions floating around in your mind. And usually there’s a supremely satisfying "happily ever after" that leaves my blood singing with a reader’s high that lasts for at least 12 hours. This feeling is multiplied when you get through a series. Will the ending fulfill every dream you’ve had for the thousands of pages you’ve consumed? Or will it be a fiery ball of “meh”?
So much rides on that last book of a series. It can change how you frame all the preceding books or cement its place in your reading hall of fame. When a series is building toward a conclusion, I can give it a little leeway in terms of shaky world building, flat characters, or weird plot twists because you trust the author will make everything come out right. Rarely is that the case.
A young adult series that seriously impressed me is Sarah J. Maas’ "A Court of Thorns and Roses" trilogy. The first book is a little shaky, but the emotional payout of the final book of the trilogy is well worth reading through the lackluster opening.
YA novels have a bad rap with adult readers, and there are definitely books that play into those stereotypes. In fact, the first book, "A Court of Thorns and Roses," checks almost all of my least favorite YA tropes: hazy love triangle, overly dramatic characters, love at first sight, every character is beautiful. On top of that, it’s also a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast," a fairy tale which has become immensely popular in YA over the last few years.
I had pretty much written off the rest of the series as being awful, but after reading more of Maas’ work (check out the "Throne of Glass" series), I shrugged, said “what the heck” and picked up "A Court of Mist and Fury." I’m glad I did. While the first book was a trite and lack luster fairy tale adaptation, the second and third books give up on politely fitting into a “retelling,” and Maas hits her stride building a fascinating and complete fantasy world.
While the world building is solid, I think my favorite part about this series is the evolution of main character Feyre from love-struck, no personality, fairy tale victim to a totally self-sufficient commander of her own fate. Sure, there is an underlying romance, and of course there’s some overwrought relationship drama, but unlike other YA heroines, Feyre has actual character development and graduates from cardboard cutout to fully realized, multi-dimensional heroine. She becomes a character you root for, and even in a book full of a great supporting cast, her growth and development keeps her at the top of the characters you care about in the novels.
Maas also does an excellent job of subtly subverting the "Beauty and the Beast" mythology. Although I will love Disney’s "Beauty and the Beast" until the end of time, as a rational adult and feminist I acknowledge there are problems with the storyline. No matter which way you look at it, there is a very blatant disparity in power. Can such a huge inequality between characters lead to a loving relationship with equality between partners? "A Court of Mist and Fury" explores what happens after the "happily ever after" and paints a realistic portrait of a relationship based on coercion.
"A Court of Wings and Ruin" is the final book in the series, and although you’ll have to get through more than 800 pages to get there, I found the final novel to be the jewel of Maas’ trilogy. Remember all that gibberish about a reader’s high? This book has it in spades. I was so happy with how the series turned out, and even happier that I stuck through the first book to get there.
Maas’ command of plot, characterization, and world building brings about a satisfying finish that I couldn’t get enough of. So if you’re looking for a fantasy series that won’t let you down in the end, come down to the library and check out the "Court of Thorns and Roses" series. You’ll be thanking me for all the endorphins as you get your very own reader's high.
— Lauren Taylor is a youth services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
It’s Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday! In honor of the man who’s mostly famous for sitting by a pond, here’s a look at a few recent books that might be of interest – whether or not you choose to go to the woods, build a cabin, and live deliberately.
Some of us believe with Henry that “we can never have enough of nature.” In that spirit, Book Squad member Shirley B. and I recently led a rousing discussion of George Frazier’s "The Last Wild Places of Kansas" as part of our Action Book Club. We were hosted at the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center by its Education Coordinator, Roger Boyd, as well as the author George, and his daughter Chloe joined us to offer some tips on “ottering.”
So ottering we went, and Roger led us to a critter trail he had found earlier, complete with a slide to the water. Otters leave fairly distinctive signs, as both George and Thoreau have described. For the purposes of this review, suffice it to say that otter scat offers a window to understanding, well, you know that quote of John Muir’s that says when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe? You can’t pick out otter poop by itself.
This is especially true if you’ve plumbed Tristan Gooley’s "How to Read Water," a deep and refreshing book published last year. Among ten thousand other things, Gooley points out that otters love crawfish, and crawfish indicate calcium in the soil (the better to build chimneys with), and calcium tells you that you need not worry about sudden storm surges, for the substrate is porous. The next time you find scat laden with crawfish parts and rain starts to fall, you can rest easy.
"How to Read Water" explains that one need not be an otter to get a feel for aquatic phenomena. Merely studying water drops on your kitchen counter can lead to oceanic insights. Once you view water topographically (like Kansas, it’s not flat), puddles lead to voyages in the South Pacific, and rivers present zen-like profundities: pondering hydraulics in streams, Gooley observes that “a pillow is both fluid and stationary.”
Which reminded me of poet Wendell Berry’s lovely line, “The impeded stream is the one that sings,” reinforcing the notion that we usually hear water than more than read it. Similarly, despite centuries of Shakespeare going on about finding tongues in trees, we seldom listen to arboreal arias. David George Haskell is here to change that. Author of "The Forest Unseen," a highly recommended look at one wooded spot over the course of a year, Haskell has just written a book called "The Songs of Trees."
I have to say that I was hoping for something along the lines of Peter Wohlleben’s awesome "The Hidden Life of Trees," which I reviewed a few months ago, explicating the surprising science behind previously unheard maple murmurings, chestnut chants, and dogwood dirges – and Haskell supplies a little of that – but by “songs” Haskell means not only sounds, but stories. Which isn’t a bad thing. Once you get over your excitement at the notion that trees might sing, Haskell’s global survey of tree stories will enthrall you nonetheless.
Haskell says that life is not just networked, it is network, and that trees are nature’s great connector. His book provides insights on how extensive the “wood-wide web” really is, and reminds us that we too are a part of the songs of trees.
For a long time I’ve been practicing identifying birds not just by their markings, but by their calls. To celebrate Thoreau’s bicentennial, I’ll think I’ll practice arboreal aural I.D. and tune into trees. But I’m a little confused: some of the songs of trees Haskell describes seem more like songs of rain and wind acting on trees, and not actual woody emanations. If that’s the case, even dead trees sing.
In "The Practice of the Wild," another great singer of natural connections, poet Gary Snyder, also mused on dead trees: “How curious it would be to die and then remain standing for another century or two… If humans could do it we would hear news like, ‘Henry David Thoreau finally toppled over.’”
We need the tonic of wildness, Henry said. Long may he sing.
-Jake Vail is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
It’s no secret how much I love Hoopla. I’ve been known to chat to anyone about it at the library and in my book clubs (and at the grocery store, the bar, the laundromat … pretty much anywhere.) It’s just so easy to use, and I’m a bit of a give-upper when it comes to confusing technological processes.
That’s why I was excited when I heard that Overdrive (something I shied away from in the past) released a brand new user-friendly e-book app. Meet my new friend, Libby. Not only does Libby offer amazing audiobooks and e-books for free with your library card, but it does it with a way more visually appealing and intuitive interface than before.
Because Hoopla offers content constantly without holds it sometimes means that there are titles that aren’t available in that catalog yet. Libby, on the other hand, offers access to some of those hard-to-find hits, and the occasional holds list is usually super short (or nonexistent). It also gives you the option of previewing audiobooks, whether or not they are immediately available, which is awesome for those of us who judge a book pretty quickly by its narrator.
If you’re tech-savvier than I am, feel free to just head to your preferred app store and get going on Libby. If you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a little walk-through for browsing for, checking out, and opening content:
Once you download the app from your phone's app store, you can register your library card from LPL. Feel free to add other library cards if you've got them.
In Libby, if you click "Popular Collections" you can immediately select which format you'd prefer (e-book vs audiobook). This is helpful if you know that you only need audiobooks, for instance:
Or, browse by "collection" (aka subject/genre) first and then narrow down by subgenres and format. This is useful if you'd like to find good book regardless of whether you read or listen:
Not on the app yet? You can also browse our catalog first, and then open the book in the app. For instance, if you find this list of great audiobooks on Libby, you can click "Checkout Now" and then, later, open your "Shelf" in the app and it'll be there.
The Lawrence Public Library staff is working hard to learn all about Libby, what items it has and how it works. If you have any questions, please ask and we will look for the answer.
— Kate Gramlich is a readers' services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
When I was growing up, “going on vacation” was synonymous with “going to the beach.” Every summer, my parents loaded me and my brothers in our beat-up Ford Aerostar — books and Barbies in tow for yours truly — and trekked seven hours straight south from our house in Alabama to a condo in Florida, where we’d spend a week splashing in the pool and building sandcastles with our grandparents and cousins.
I know how fortunate we were to have access to vacations like that. But growing up, even as I loved visiting our favorite beach haunts, I was also frustrated that we never took trips elsewhere. If my parents had vacation time, we went to the beach. The end.
I would love to say that I handled that preference with generosity of both spirit and manner, but alas, I was a child, so instead I complained about it endlessly. Even today, when summer rolls around and I get the chance to do some traveling, I’m unlikely to head toward a coast. (I’m also so pale that I basically reflect the sun back on itself, but that’s neither here nor there.)
The result: I have a somewhat fraught relationship with so-called “beach reads.”
What even is a beach read, you ask? A couple of years ago, fellow Book Squad-er Eli Hoelscher had this to say:
After careful consideration, I have formulated my own totally-made-up definition for the ever-nebulous beach read — a good beach read is a sunny, unchallenging novel that is no more than 350 pages. It must embody the ‘spirit of the summer,’ another thing I made up, which draws on idyllic feelings of freedom, adventure, and whimsy.
There is definitely a time and place for those types of books in all our lives. But through long years of summer reading, I’ve found that my preference for nonbeach vacations carries over to my book choices, too. As the temperature rises and the days get longer, beach reads aren’t necessarily what I reach for. (Personally, I save my lightest reading material for the middle of winter, when I’m desperate for a ray of sunshine and need to be reminded that joy exists in the world.)
This year, I’ve been feeling the unmistakable call of the wild. Woods to explore, mountains to climb, rivers to ford — in quiet moments, that’s where my mind has been wandering. Two reads in particular have kept me in a woodsy mood: Michael Finkel’s "The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit" and Bill Bryson’s "A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail."
Bryson’s book is something of a modern classic at this point. It’s been on my "to read" list for years, so when my online book club decided to make June’s topic “a book about travel,” I dove right in. Written in 1998, "A Walk in the Woods" combines information about the history of the Appalachian Trail with Bryson’s anecdotes about trying (semi-successfully) to hike all 2200 miles with only a backpack and a buddy for company. Forget wishing to live deliberately; Bryson just wants to be the kind of person who can say honestly, “Yeah, I’ve [expletive] in the woods.”
Don’t we all, Bill. Don’t we all.
Christopher Knight, the subject of 2017’s "The Stranger in the Woods," can definitely say that. Not that he ever would — he spent nearly 30 years as a modern-day hermit in the woods of northern Maine, during which he spoke to another human being only once, he says. He was forced out of his silent hermit’s life a few years ago, when he was arrested while stealing food from a local camp, and former journalist Michael Finkel managed to convince him to share his story.
Tonally, the books are completely different. Bryson goes through some stuff, to be sure, but his book is a fundamentally humorous story of his trip along the trail, while Finkel’s is a much more serious, probing look into Knight’s psyche. But ultimately, both seek to shine a light on a single central question: What draws a person into the wilderness?
I’m still trying to answer that question for myself. If you’ve got book recommendations you think will help, feel free to leave a comment down below.
And just so you know, my parents retired last year. When the holidays roll around, I’ll be taking vacation time to go visit them.
At the beach.
— Meredith Wiggins is a readers' services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Grown-up summer has a lot going against it. The days of three month summer vacation are long gone, and the electricity bill is higher than ever. The humidity leaves your shirt sticking to your back the moment you step outside, and getting into your car will cook you alive. The scent of chlorine is everywhere. But despite it all, I love summertime.
Part of that is the soundtrack.
Every year, starting in the late spring and going right through August, I do a little time-traveling. Old friends like Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, and, of course, the “Fab Four” keep me constant company. A couple of classic seventies acts make appearances as well.
Is it the weather? Is it the image of hippy dippy types frolicking in the sun? I don’t know. There’s nothing to stop me from listening to these fellas year round, but for whatever reason they inevitably take over around now. It just makes sense!
Am I alone here? I got a handful of Lawrence Public Library audiophiles to share their summer soundtracks to find out.
Ilka: *Readers’ Services* An enjoyable aspect of music is its temporal quality. You could be doing a banal task, and it can transport you back to summer 1993, when you were trying to teach yourself how to play Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today” on guitar, or, 1984, when Don Henley vowed his love would outlast those “Boys of Summer.”
Before my world had internet, summer’s soundtracks were fueled by a mix tape or an entire cassette. Nowadays, thanks to streaming services like Hoopla or Spotify, those seasonal counterparts have become an immersive experience. How I’ve spent my sonic vacation, thus far, has been revisiting whole catalogues, including (The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan), or sub genres, as well as artists unbeknownst to me, such as the Canterbury Scene and Kevin Ayers. So, turn on, tune in and press play because those sounds you discover will accompany great summer memories.
Fisher: Information Services Every summer, I make a playlist featuring some of my favorite albums of the season to listen to while I’m up to my usual shenanigans. I would describe myself as a serial listener in that I play the same album on repeat until I discover my next musical obsession. Here are three summer essentials that make me feel happy even in the face of record temperature highs and 300%, “are we seriously living in a swamp” humidity.
To kick off my list, I’ll start with Kristin Chenoweth’s "The Art of Elegance." I had the incredible opportunity to see her perform live at the Lied Center earlier this year, and there isn’t a single genre of music that Chenoweth can’t sing. This collection features recordings from the Classic American Songbook and will help soothe even the most heat exhausted of souls with its relaxing, jazzy timbre.
I’ve also been in love with Paramore’s synth-pop-inspired release "After Laughter." If I need something upbeat, whether I’m exercising or getting my grill on, "After Laughter" is my go-to jam to liven up any get-together. As far as future releases go, anyone who knows me well won’t be surprised that Lana Del Rey’s "Lust for Life" makes it to the top of my list, as it wouldn’t be summer without a moody, atmospheric, hipster Americana album from alternative goddess Del Rey. Keep your eyes on the horizon, as it is slated for release in late July.
Kevin: *Collection Development* The tunes flow freely at all times during the summer, but I tend to gravitate towards a few artists/albums more than any other time of the year. When I’m going to be in the car for a while my favorite way to kill off a ride is by listening to "Blood Visions" about 5 times in a row. Its short, punchy, pop-punk tracks keep my head bobbing from beginning to end. La Roux’s self titled album contains quite possibly the best summer track ever created, “Bulletproof.” The song rears its glorious head on the radio this time every year.
Violent Femmes sound like a sunny day even at their angstiest, and their debut album is chock full of uptempo tunes. Wipers, "Is This Real?," is a little more brooding and moody, but the songs are all full of a lot of energy, and “Let’s Go Away” will make you leave town if you listen to it enough times.
Sam Cooke is always good for lowering my blood pressure and providing a tune to sing to while I tend the grill and sip a beer. And when I’m dreaming of the beach, there’s nothing better than Adron’s "Organismo" to whisk me away to a tropical paradise.
Each summer these favorites reemerge from the years before and I seek a new tune to add to the collection for the future. I haven’t found the summer 2017 song/album/artist yet, but it’s out there somewhere.
So there you have it! We’re an eclectic bunch. Make sure to swing by, grab an album or two from our display, then roll down your car windows and listen to your own perfect summer soundtrack (at a respectable volume) on the drive home.
— Ian Stepp is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
I am hopeful that this 4th of July has inspired more than just a feeling of patriotism or nationalism. I am hopeful that it has instead encouraged hope for social justice and a move away from a nationalism that leans dangerously toward prejudice and injustices.
I offer the books highlighted here as powerful tools for instilling hope to energize us towards social justice work and unify our differences.
Local author Diane Silver is writing a series of books using hope as daily meditations. Her first, "Your Daily Shot of Hope," is a positive way to counter aggression and prejudice expressed by politicians. Meditating on hope becomes energizing fuel—energizing us to stand up to injustices and allowing us to trust that we can make a positive change if we take action.
I asked Diane what influenced her to write this series. She responded:
Decades ago I took a year to read an amazing book called "365 Tao" by Deng Ming-Dao. I picked up the book because I thought it offered an easy way to learn about Taoism. And while I did learn a bit about Taoism, what became more important was the daily practice of reading a meditation and contemplating it.
As I journeyed through that year with the Tao, doing one meditation a day, I became calmer and a bit kinder, at least to myself. Two years ago, I decided to [write] a daily meditation book that I wanted to call 365 Love, but when I saw so many people fall into despair after the last presidential election, I realized that what we really needed was a book of hope.
Thus, I set out to write 365 meditations on hope. Because there seemed to be an immediate need for a book of hope and I didn’t want to wait to publish until the entire book was finished, I’ve sliced the book into 4 volumes. This is Volume 1, and it includes enough meditations to provide one shot of hope a day for more than three months. My wish is that readers will find a new perspective on hope through reading this book. I want them to find a place to rest, gain perspective, and re-energize in this book.
Silver shares inspired wisdom in looking at the concept of hope as a hypothesis. On a difficult day, rather than forcing yourself to accept the idea, she suggests investigating hope as a concept and the hypothesis or theory that the world is ruled by love. Then ask yourself, if this were true, what would you feel, say and do?
Book 1 of the series is titled "Your Daily Shot of Hope: Meditations for an Age of Despair." I can feel the love in these encouraging words! This is hope that instills mindfulness, realism and perseverance. Here is one of my favorite meditations:
Seek a list of synonyms for hope.
And along with anticipation and twenty other words,
The word endurance pops up.
Of all the insane ideas!
What does endurance have to do with hope?
And yet endurance is courage, fortitude, and grit
Patience and perseverance,
Stamina and strength.
Are not these qualities the foundation of hope?
Courage and grit enable us to go forward
Even though we’re afraid.
Stamina and strength give us the capacity to do so.
We’re wise enough to know
Answers don’t have to arrive in an instant.
Transformation takes time.
One fascinating source of encouragement for Diane is Diana Nyad’s autobiography. Diane commented:
"'Find a Way' by Diana Nyad is a memoir by the swimmer who conquered the more than 100-mile swim between Cuba to Key West after failing at it four times. She was 64 at the time she successfully completed the swim in 2013…These days it feels to me like we all face some pretty huge swims as we attempt to do what may seem impossible in our private lives and in our country. Nyad knows how to use hope as fuel and inspiration. She’s the definition of a daily shot of hope.
I asked Diane about her favorite authors and she shared this:
"My favorite authors are too many to count. Among those I love are Anne Lamott, whose essays never fail to touch me and make me laugh, and Karen Joy Fowler’s most recent novel 'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves' changed the way I look at humanity. That may sound grandiose, but I dare you to get to the end of that novel without having your perception of human vs. animal upended. I also love the work of Laurie J. Marks, who dares to imagine an alternative to war in her elemental logic series of novels."
Learn more about Diane Silver’s benevolent project on hope in her related blog, Hope & Politics: Educate. Inspire. Transform.
I mentioned to Diane I wanted to also recommend Rebecca Solnit’s book, "Hope in the Dark," in connection with the Shot of Hope series and Diane commented:
"I’m reading the Solnit book right now and absolutely love it. Solnit provides a path to understanding the hope of political change, and the process of change, that I had never considered before. This is a marvelous book.” And I agree; Solnit provides powerful reassurance to have faith in the impact of social and environmental activism—to accept that benefits are not usually obvious or immediate.
Another book on hope in connection to social justice is "Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future" by Margaret J. Wheatley. This is a workbook whose goal is to create connections and unite individuals in a cohesive group.
— Shirley Braunlich is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
It’s no secret that I love books and that reading and exploring new stories is a major part of who I am as a person. Consequently, when I encounter a particularly brutal reading slump, it’s like a part of me is missing. It’s hard not to take it personally, when so much of my life revolves around spreading the joy of reading and introducing new people to books that might change their life or perhaps even make their day that much better.
For whatever reason, the past few months I haven’t been able to enjoy much reading at all. Nothing seems to call out to me, and when I do manage to pick up a book, there is a pattern to them — they’re nonfiction books that a) cover important topics, but are also b) incredibly depressing. Occasionally I have picked up a fiction book only to quit in frustration after only a few pages. I can’t seem to shake this literary black cloud that’s been hovering over my head.
Fortunately, because I work in a library, I not only have access to thousands of books, but I also work with some of the brightest and cleverest individuals around. In complete frustration, I finally reached out to fellow Book Squad member Meredith and asked for help. If you’ve ever had the privilege of encountering her in person, you know how great she is at recommending books.
Thanks to her, I found my new favorite book: "Ravishing the Heiress" by Sherry Thomas. As you can infer from the title, this is a romance novel. I never read romance. However, this book has all of the elements I typically look for in my favorite reads: complicated relationships, an intriguing plot, morally questionable characters, and a strong emotional component. This book has it all, and then some.
This entire experience got me thinking, though. How many others struggle with reading slumps? What can we do to get ourselves out of this hot mess of a situation? Fortunately for you, I’ve thought about this long and hard, and I’ve come up with three different ways of combating a reading ennui.
1: Don’t give yourself a hard time for “not reading enough” or for not reading, period.
This is supposed to be a fun and enjoyable experience. It it’s starting to feel like work, or if you’re just too busy right now, it’s okay. Put aside your yearly reading challenges and politely ignore that person you know who brags about how many books they read in a week. Give yourself some time to get back to reading. You’ll get there eventually.
2: Try something you would never normally read.
I’m talking the “I’m personally embarrassed to be reading this on public transport” kind of book. If you exclusively read literary fiction, now is the time to read some James Patterson. If you read pop science, pick up a bodice ripper. Are you a fan of Murakami? Maybe you’re also a secret fan of Stephenie Meyer.
3: Ask someone you know and trust to give you a recommendation and, without looking at the synopsis or researching it online, just read the book.
This might seem a little strange, but trust me on this one. This has been my most recent experiment in regards to reading, and it has been a major success. Since I don’t actually know what the book is about, it takes me several chapters to figure out what’s truly going on, and by that point, I’m invested enough to keep reading. It’s a sneaky way of tricking yourself to read more.
When all else fails, the Book Squad has your back. If you’re struggling to find a good book, you can always talk to someone in person at the library. Or, we have this handy dandy Personalized Reading Recommendation service available on our website. Just fill out the form, and one of the Book Squad members will get back to you as soon as possible with books we think you’ll love. It takes the guesswork out of finding something to read, and when you’re struggling to find something good, that can really help.
Now, after all of that, you’ll have to excuse me. I have to read the sequel to my new favorite book — "Tempting the Bride." Did you know Sherry Thomas also wrote the Sherlock Holmes retelling, "A Study in Scarlet Women"? She was born in China, learned English as a second language, and now writes all the types of books she herself enjoys reading (romance, fantasy, mystery, etc.). I have to say, I’m wildly impressed, and I think I may have found a new favorite author.
— Kimberly Lopez is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.