Entries from blogs tagged with “Lawrence”

A Court of Thorns and Roses: An Ending Done Right

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.


Reading Water, Hearing Trees

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.


Our new friend Libby

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.


Into the woods: a different take on beach reads

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.


Summer soundtracks

Ah, summer.

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.


Local author’s new book offers hope for social justice

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:

Day 8.

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.

And patience?

Patience means

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.


Tips and tricks for overcoming a reading slump

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.


Hit Novel “The Chaperone” Keeps on Rolling with PBS Adaption

When the news was announced last month that Masterpiece would be adapting "The Chaperone" by Lawrence author Laura Moriarty and that it would be scripted by Julian Fellowes and starring Elizabeth McGovern (both of "Downton Abbey" fame), I was so emotionally overcome, I nearly got the vapors.

The news was announced smack-dab in the middle of my Moriarty Read Fest. I had recently plowed through "The Rest of Her Life" and "The Center of Everything" and had become an instant fan. "The Chaperone" was already next on my to-read list… and, of course, I’ve been building and sculpting my obsession with "Downton Abbey" for years now. I mean, what isn’t there to love? The drama! The fashion! The villains! And the fact that every over-the-top scenario takes place before a beautiful background (in Downton’s case the rolling, English countryside) just makes the show all that more enjoyable.

Although "The Chaperone" doesn’t take place in England (Moriarty often sets her books at least partially in Kansas, and this one follows suit), the time frame overlaps with many of the years that "Downton Abbey" is set. And if we’ve learned anything about McGovern and Fellowes, it is that they absolutely thrive in their portrayal of this era.

In "The Chaperone," the year is 1922 and 15 year old Wichita native, Louise Brooks, has been accepted to a prestigious dance school in New York City. Accompanying her as a chaperone (because a beautiful, young, Kansas girl can absolutely not travel to a place like New York City alone) is her neighbor, 36 year old Cora Carlisle. Cora and Louise are about as different as two people can be. Louise embraces and revels in a changing world- hemlines are rising and necklines are dropping. Prohibition is still going strong, but speakeasies are a dime a dozen in NYC.

And although women have just barely acquired the right to vote and the list of what is “improper” for a “lady” to do seems to have no end, there is an obvious sea-change happening and Louise is ready for it. Cora, however, is not. Moriarty brilliantly uses Louise Brooks as a foil to Cora’s conservative views.

Louise’s style (including her famous jet-black bob hairstyle) and and attitude are often too much for Cora to handle. Cora worries about everything, but what concerns her the most are Louise’s flirtations with men. She even says to Louise a one point, “Men don’t want a candy that’s been unwrapped… It may still be perfectly clean, but if it’s unwrapped, they don’t know where it’s been.” In today’s world, a quote like this could only be followed by a shock-faced emoji and a laugh at the “old” woman with her out-dated notions of right and wrong. But, this seemed to be the norm back in the day, and Louise wasn’t having it.

Louise Brooks may have been the center of attention in real life (and she certainly thinks she is in every scenario in which she is depicted), but this book belongs to Cora and her (dare I say) journey. When we first meet Cora, she is so nervous about everything, not even stripping out of her corset at the end of the day loosens her up. She’s opposed to everything fun. She doesn’t want Louise to wear makeup (“paint”), she won’t let Louise cross the street alone, and she nearly passes out when she finds herself sitting next to a black family at the theater. Frankly, she’s annoying. But, as she spends time with Louise, and uncovers secrets about her own life, the more she begins to wake up and embrace the changing world around her.

Moriarty writes complicated women and she writes complicated relationships between women. When I read "The Center of Everything," I stayed up half the night reading to the end because, in many ways, it reminded me of my own childhood and my relationship with my own mother (it also in many ways did not, but I’ll save those stories for another time). But, the point, and what any daughter (or any mother of a daughter) will tell you, is that these relationships can be really hard. And although Cora and Louise are not related- and don’t even particularly like one another- their relationship is that of a guardian and a child. And it is complicated. This, layered on top of the relationship Louise has with her mom, and Cora’s relationship with hers, allows Moriarty to hit her stride in her storytelling. She is a master at weaving these relationships so realistically and showing how relationships shift and change over the years.

The book covers a huge span of time, and there are myriad historical turning points that are mentioned but not delved into too deeply. Many of these I cannot discuss in detail because they will give away too much of the plot, but in a book that’s a little over 300 pages long, the reader catches glimpses of orphan trains, NYC slums, the dust bowl, the stock market crash (and subsequent great depression), homophobia, racism, and a world war.

Since the book’s focus is on Cora and her own internal struggles, many of these events play as a backdrop instead of their own story, which can occasionally leave the reader wanting more. But, the feeling that Moriarty conveys, even if she does not always go into detail about the characters’ surroundings, is that this was an exciting time to be alive. It wasn’t always good, but it was thrilling.

This is also what Julian Fellowes so successfully brings to the vibe of "Downton Abbey." People may die; people may abandon you; people may trip you with their cane and hope that you suffer a miserable injury… but don’t squander this life. As Moriarty writes of Cora, “She was grateful that life could be long.” Indeed. And in this life, I am grateful that Fellowes, McGovern, and Moriarty will be working together to bring their combined artistry to the screen.

-Sarah Mathews is an Accounts Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


For the love of “American Gods”

Brian Reitzell is one of the greatest contemporary composers of our generation. You may have heard of him from his well-known work on "The Virgin Suicides" or "Lost in Translation," but I first fell in love with Reitzell’s music after watching the canceled-way-too-soon series "Hannibal" on NBC.

Reitzell manages to create music that is unlike anything you’ve ever heard, so imagine my delight when he joined forces with Bryan Fuller again after their stellar collaboration on "Hannibal" to bring the world of Neil Gaiman’s "American Gods" to life for Starz.

If you are unfamiliar with the plot of "American Gods," here’s a quick rundown. The story centers on a man named Shadow Moon, who upon being released from prison finds out his wife Laura was killed in a car crash. Haunted by her undead presence and with nowhere to go, he decides to take a job offer from the mysterious Mr. Wednesday to serve as his bodyguard.

Interwoven into this narrative are vignettes of the gods currently in power in America and the dramatic schism that divides them. On one side, the old gods try to cling to the vestiges of their glory while new entities of contemporary worship (like technology and television) gain popularity with the American people who have forgotten the deities their ancestors worshiped in ages past. The storm of war is brewing, and Shadow finds himself caught in the middle of it all.

"American Gods" is my favorite new television series of 2017, and its harrowing soundtrack not only keeps pace with Fuller’s phantasmagorical visuals but enhances the visceral experience of watching the show. The soundtrack itself consists of 20 tracks with snippets from each of the major musical themes. In an interview with Billboard, Reitzell, reflecting on the process of paring down the soundtrack to 80 minutes or less, mentions that “I always make these pieces so that they can stand on their own, but really they’re meant to be a souvenir for the show.”

This is exactly what I appreciate about Reitzell’s sound, because each track feels like a small memento that transports listeners to a distinct scene, resulting in a final musical collective brimming with empathy and unpredictability. This is an aspect few composers are able to achieve and makes for an absorbing, transformative listening experience.

My favorite track would have to be “Media Bowie” in which Gillian Anderson’s character, the goddess Media, appears as the powder-blue-suit- and red-mullet-sporting “Life on Mars?” version of David Bowie. It features a spine-tingling '70s electronic beat layered with Bowie-esque cries that begs to be listened to on repeat (and will be stuck in your head for the foreseeable future). I also love the primordial feel to “Nunnyunnini” where Reitzell layers instruments that would have been available at the dawn of civilization like wood, stones, and conch shells for dramatic effect. Each second of this track feels ancient, otherworldly, and familiar, like a relic of the past imprinted on the very building blocks of your DNA.

And, the album isn’t just a compilation of background score or cues, as Reitzell enlists the incomparable Shirley Manson, Debbie Harry, and Mark Lanegan who lend their voices to a string of covers and original songs. Each piece makes a statement that is integral to the scene and pays homage to Gaiman’s vision from the novel, and I appreciate how this mixture of music captures the overall feel of the show while giving listeners a great deal of sonic variety.

Given the fact that the source material features gods from a diversity of cultures, times, and regions of the world, it makes sense for Reitzell to utilize a multitude of musical genres all while putting his own idiosyncratic take on the classics. In a way, the music matches the show’s exploration of the intersectional immigrant experience in America. Not only do the tracks interlock with the visuals, without overpowering a given scene, but also explore the inherent themes addressed by the show itself through experimentation with rhythm, instrumentation, and composition.

I believe that "American Gods" may be Reitzell’s greatest work to date, and I’m looking forward to what he brings to the table with Season 2. And, for the love of "American Gods," this is one eclectic soundtrack you won’t want to miss.

You can listen to "American Gods" right now on Hoopla or check it out in our catalog (I’m waiting impatiently for the vinyl release myself).

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


Listen Up: Audiobook Month Listener’s Advisory

This summer, whether you’re traveling, commuting or taking a little staycation, an audiobook can be a perfect companion. The challenge is finding one that matches your tastes, which can be a little trickier than just picking a great book. Here are a few tips and suggestions for helping you find your next great listen:

Audiobook-recommending guru Renee Young has some appeal terms that you can use when browsing or asking for audiobooks. Think of these as basic lingo that can help you feel less overwhelmed and narrow down your selections.

Some listeners are voice-focused and some prefer more of a performance. For the former, you may be looking for:

-Character accents, where one person creates different voices for each character, like Jim Dale reading "Harry Potter," Robin Miles in "American Street," or Roy Dotrice from the "Game of Thrones" series.

-Multiple narrators in books that change protagonists, like "The Girl on the Train," "Small Great Things," and "How it Went Down." (Note: this is different from Full Cast narration, which will be covered in a minute!)

-Read by the author, which gives the reader more of a personal connection with the book. Examples of authors who often read their own work are Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, and Neil Gaiman. You may also enjoy the authors’ readings of The Kite Runner and Brown Girl Dreaming. (Note: This catalog search for “read by the author” gives some more examples!)

-Celebrity narrators who read audiobooks written by other authors. You can find some surprising celebrity narrations of classic works, like Claire Danes reading "The Handmaid’s Tale," Sissy Spacek reading "To Kill a Mockingbird," and Maggie Gyllenhaal reading "The Bell Jar." Kurt Vonnegut’s books also have some great celebrity readers like Stanley Tucci, Ethan Hawke, and John Malkovich!

Other audiobooks sound more like a performance, complete with full casts, sound effects, music, and more! Here are a few suggestions if you’re looking for this type of audiobook experience:

-"World War Z" by Max Brooks has a large cast of characters, including Brooks himself, as well as some celebrity voices

-"Rant" by Chuck Palahniuk is a creepy thriller featuring a full cast

-"Here In Harlem" by Walter Dean Myers is a family-friendly collection of over 50 poems, each narrated by a different voice!

-Hoopla has a 32-title "Twilight Zone: Radio Drama" series that features a large cast, as well as engaging sound effects

-"The Complete Star Wars Trilogy" is available in audiobook, with musical accompaniment by the London Symphony Orchestra

-Philip Pullman’s "The Golden Compass" provides another family-friendly full cast narration

In case that’s not enough ideas, here are a few favorites suggested by LPL staff and community members:

-Meredith in Readers’ Services recommends "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" (YA) narrated by the one and only Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as "The Book of Strange New Things" (“Super long but SO good.”)

-Jessica M. enjoyed Stephen King narrating his book, "On Writing," and said that her whole family enjoyed Stockard Channing’s narration of the "Ramona" series!

-Kim in Tech Services loved "The Bone Clocks," with multiple-narrators, as well as "The Magicians" series (also recommended by patron Jill S.)

-The popular podcast "Welcome to Nightvale" was turned into an Urban Fantasy book/audiobook, recommended by Anna T. and Kate N.

-Brittany K. recommended "The Boys in the Boat," narrated by the late great Edward Herrmann, “so it feels like Richard Gilmore is telling you this incredible story about young people coming together as a team during the Great Depression.”

-Polli in Readers’ Services recommends "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy." (Hilarious, held the attention of three teenagers on a long road trip, and narrated by Stephen Fry!)

Interested in more suggestions from your Lawrence community members? Check out this Facebook post!

Feel free to bookmark this post to come back to later. Another great resource for audiobooks is Audiofile Magazine, which provides info on award-winning narrators as well as short audio samples to help with your browsing! If you come across an awesome audiobook, please let us know :)

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


Dreaming the Beatles is a Fan’s Love Letter

Rob Sheffield, a music columnist with twenty years experience who currently writes for Rolling Stone magazine, has recently released a new book: "Dreaming the Beatles." Roughly ten years ago, I read Sheffield’s first book, "Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time," a heart wrenching autobiographical memoir concerning his late wife and their shared passion for music via the art of the mix tape.

And in 2016, Sheffield produced another emotional collection, "On Bowie," a homage to David Bowie’s legacy as told through fan’s memories, as well as his own. It was a read that left me as gutted as Bowie’s final album, "Blackstar," due to the artist’s passing months prior. Now, if there is one thing that Rob Sheffield excels at, it’s portraying the visceral connection between music fans and the musicians they admire, so when I picked up "Dreaming the Beatles" I knew it was my ticket to ride.

The audio book, narrated by the author himself, begins with a rapid-fire introduction that reads like a teen magazine dossier of essential Beatles facts replete with nicknames for the Fab Four, such as: “The Smart One” (John), “The Cute One” (Paul), “The Quiet One” (George), and “The Drummer” (Ringo). OK, almost everyone. During this prelude, Sheffield poses a question: Why are the Beatles still popular, possibly more now, despite having broken up nearly fifty years ago? It’s a question I have never considered, as a daughter of a Beatlemaniac, because it has always been a known fact: The Beatles are fab!

He suggests the cause for their endurance is “the Beatles matter because of what they mean to our moment… over the years, your [favorite] Beatle keeps changing because you keep changing.” Which feels true when he speaks of being a Paul fan, yet it is unabashedly clear he favors George as his favorite Beatle. Even Sheffield’s wife is a “George girl,” who literally only has eyes for Harrison and sometimes refers to him as “Goth Beatle.”

Throughout "Dreaming the Beatles," the author maintains an excellent balance of personal recollection, amusement, and creativity. For example, he generates a list of 26 songs about the Beatles, ranging from different musicians, such as: Lil Wayne’s “Help” to the Beastie Boys’ “I’m Down” to Aretha Franklin’s “Long and Winding Road” — which Sheffield claims is “the most a Beatle cover has ever improved on the original.” He also goes as far to take an extensive look into “It Won’t Be Long” from 1963’s "With the Beatles," breaking down the number of “yeah”s sung, 55 in total, thus, reaching ultimate “yeah” density, to the Beatles’ use of the pronoun, “you,” and how this quality is what made their songs feel like they were reaching out to you and you alone.

Audiobook is a great format choice for "Dreaming the Beatles," as Sheffield’s voice has an informal cadence that makes me recall lengthy, late-night conversations about music with friends. I frequently found myself discussing, or laughing, aloud as I listened, sometimes pausing so I could find a song referenced and search for the nuance I may have missed. Many of my favorite moments stemmed from Sheffield’s personal memories connected to the band’s music because that’s what makes being a Beatles fan amazing: Everyone has a story.

"Dreaming the Beatles" is perfect for fans ranging from amateur to Beatlemaniac. It’s entertaining with informative tidbits throughout, while seamlessly interweaving Beatles lyrics and various other music references into the narrative. I appreciated that Sheffield stayed away from making this feel like another unauthorized exposé or salacious journalism. The Beatles’ music and the musicians themselves inspire such discourse that I feel this book would also make an excellent choice for reading along with other Beatles fans or in a book club. I mean, who doesn’t want to talk about the Beatles?

So, this summer (or anytime of year) I encourage you to go on a sonic journey through the Beatles’ catalog, their films "Hard Day’s Night" and "Help," and especially their premier documentary, "The Beatles Anthology."

They’re all wonderful accompaniments to elevate the experience found in this book, so take that long and winding road to the Lawrence Public Library’s door and find yourself "Dreaming the Beatles."

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


Finding pride in the stacks

“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel…is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.” — Ursula K. Le Guin

For me, the public library has always been place of possibility and self-discovery. As a gay youth growing up in a small, predominantly Christian and conservative community, I didn’t feel comfortable accepting my true self, let alone trying to relate to others about it.

Huddled in the stacks reading, it was in the books on the shelves of my local library that I first discovered I wasn’t alone; that other people felt the same as I did and had experienced similar journeys.

A public library is meant to serve everyone in the community. That means people of diverse experiences — including, but not limited to, LGBTQIA, people of color, and people with disabilities — should be able to find resources that will help them explore their identities and literature that reflects and honors their lives.

By doing a subject search in the Lawrence Public Library's catalog, you’ll find that the library does have some diverse resources, but they’re vastly outnumbered by those of a white, heteronormative experience. Part of the issue is the lack of representation in the publishing industry, which has yet to keep pace with the reality of diversity in the United States and the world. Fortunately, campaigns like We Need Diverse Books and #ownvoices are bringing to light this disparity and advocating for change.

As LPL Director Brad wrote last February, “Lawrence Public Library is committed to articulating the diversity of our community, our nation, and our world.” In my position as collection development coordinator, I get to help ensure that the diverse experiences of Lawrence citizens are reflected in the books, movies, and music on our shelves.

I also work with colleagues who recognize the importance of extending that reflection beyond the items on our shelves to the library’s programs and services. With signature events, lecture series, storytimes and book clubs, library staff has sought to celebrate and promote diversity throughout the year.

This Pride Month, the library will be hosting its first ever drag queen storytime on Sunday, June 25. Deja’s Reading Rainbow will be a storytime “about love and friendship, being different and belonging, being unique and being accepted, colors, rainbows, and, of course, fun!” I know my younger self would have felt much more comfortable in his skin if he had the opportunity to attend a program like this.

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


Short Story Mixtape

I remember sitting on the mauve carpet of my bedroom in front of my boombox, patiently waiting with one finger poised above the tape deck's red RECORD button. As soon as the radio DJ finished their boring spiel and “my song” came on, I jammed that sucker down and silently congratulated myself on yet another score for my mixtape.

I was in fifth grade, and this tape was a very big deal. iTunes wasn’t going to be a thing for several more years, our shared home computer probably just barely had a CD drive, and anyway that was my dad’s realm. All I needed were the sweet, sweet jams on Y-98 FM.

While I sort of wish I could find some of those old tapes for the nostalgia factor, I also know that they were very time-specific. Listening to a tape of my hard-earned “jams” would probably give me that embarrassed-for-someone-else feeling and ruin the memory. (Also true for CDs I made in high school and college… some things should just live in your head.)

To me, the importance lies in both the right-now-ness as well as the process of creating a collection of faves — whether on tape, CD, iPod, or Spotify playlist. It makes me wish it were possible to make a “mix” of other forms of media, and what I’d really love to have is a short story mixtape — a personal anthology of the short stories that spoke to me at a particular point in my life.

Over the past couple years I’ve found some amazing contemporary short story writers, almost all of whom happen to be women and (sadly) none of whom I’d heard about in school. Their works seem to be found in their own published collections or in some niche anthologies, and I’d love to cherry-pick them into my own short story mixtape.

In lieu of photocopying each one and sticking them in a three-ring binder, I’ll list them here for you, including where to find them and a very brief description (like liner notes on the fancier mixtapes).

  1. “Walkdog” by Sofia Samatar — An adolescent girl uses a school paper — complete with footnotes and snarky asides — to communicate a profound sense of discovery and loss.

  2. “The Water Museum” by Nisi Shawl — A man comes to murder a woman and is instead taken on an unexpected journey. Do not mess with the keeper of The Water Museum.

  3. “The Knowers” by Helen Phillips — Would you want to know the exact time of your death? A couple tries to find out if their final moments really are.

  4. “Patient Zero” by Tananarive Due — The diary of a child isolated from the world because of an incurable and unknowable disease. Apocalyptic creepiness at its finest.

  5. “Sorry Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea” by Helen Oyeyemi — Bizarre and surreal is Oyeyemi’s jam. This is a revenge story that will leave you smirking.

  6. “The Future Looks Good” by Lesley Nneka Arimah — Begins and ends with a woman innocently trying to find her keys to her apartment, and in the middle there’s an entire family saga condensed into a powerful little punch.

  7. “Love Medicine” by Louise Erdrich — Chapter from a novel? Story from a linked collection? Regardless, Erdrich sweeps you into an Ojibwe community filled to the brim with love and loss.

  8. “Children of the Sea” by Edwidge DanticatPDF — A back-and-forth co-narrative by two lovers separated by sea and by revolution. (From the collection, "Krik? Krak!")

  9. “Spider the Artist” by Nnedi Okorafor — Fear and intrigue mingle in this futuristic tale that leaves you questioning who gets to define “the enemy.”

Note: This was more difficult to do than I’d expected, only because I decided to follow my old mixtape rule of “no double dipping;” trying to narrow down exactly which story to include by each of these authors was a challenge. Perhaps this means there will be a Volume 2 someday…

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


Whoa, we’re halfway there: Squad Goals progress post

If you’ve stopped by the Lawrence Public Library in the past few months, you may have noticed that the Book Squad has set up monthly rotating displays featuring potential reads for the Squad Goals Reading Challenge, our inaugural reading challenge featuring a baker’s dozen of prompts designed to help you find great new books.

We announced the Squad Goals Challenge on the Spotlight Blog last December, and I wrote about what I planned to read then. Since 2017 is almost halfway gone and summer reading is upon us, I wanted to check in and update you all on how my personal Squad Goals Challenge is going.

Spoiler alert: It’s been a mixed bag so far.

Let’s start with the good.

I’ve finished books for five of the 13 Squad Goals prompts, and I absolutely loved four of the five: Jeff Passan’s "The Arm" (a book about sports); Alice LaPlante’s "Turn of Mind" (a book with an unreliable narrator); Naomi Novik’s "His Majesty’s Dragon" (a steampunk or gaslamp fantasy novel); and Cat Sebastian’s "The Lawrence Browne Affair" (a diverse romance).

Three of those titles made it onto my “top reads of 2017” Bibliocommons list (posting soon!); the fourth book was on there originally but got knocked out by a last-minute contender (the stunningly good "Peter Darling," which would, now that I think of it, actually work for the “retelling of a classic story” prompt. Make that six of 13).

Also good: I’m roughly on-track in terms of scheduling. Actually, that’s very good, because for some reason I thought I was way behind.

Oh, wait, I know why: it’s because I’ve started and abandoned four other books that I intended to count as Squad Goals reads. Ugh.

Honestly, I’ve gotten way better about quitting books when I no longer want to read them, but if a book I’m not particularly enjoying would count toward a challenge prompt, I definitely feel a twinge when I set it aside.

I DNF’d (or did not finish) Simran Sethi’s "Bread, Wine, Chocolate" (book by a Lawrence, Kansas author); Annemarie Selinko’s "Désirée" (a book you haven’t read in more than 5 years); Y.S. Lee’s "A Spy in the House" (historical novel by an author of color); and Sonali Dev’s "The Bollywood Bride" (my original choice for the diverse romance prompt).

Of those DNFs, none were bad; they just weren’t right for me right now. Sethi’s book turned out to be more of a food memoir than the straight-up science read I was hoping for; "Désirée" was enjoyable, but there were other things I wanted to read more; I somehow forgot how uninterested I am in anything to do with spies. I am surprised I didn’t connect with "The Bollywood Bride," though, since I absolutely adored the author’s previous book, "A Bollywood Affair."

But where to go now? I’m in the mood for books with some thematic heft, so I think I’ll finally pick up the copy of "My Brilliant Friend" I bought ages ago and get to work on the “book in translation” prompt. Or maybe I’ll try out the nearly 18-hour audiobook of "Debt: The First 5,000 Years" for the “microhistory” prompt. Those seem hefty enough, right?

For those of you taking the Squad Goals Challenge, how is it going so far? What have you found that you love? What didn’t quite get the job done? And as always, if you want some suggestions about what to try next, head on over to the Book Squad Personalized Recommendations Request Form and we’ll match you with some reads we hope you’ll love.

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


All the news that’s fit to print, and then some

The New York Times. The “paper of record” (well, not really, but commonly perceived as such). “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The gold standard for crossword puzzle enthusiasts. (Source of the lion’s share of my information about national and global current events: If you spend any time talking with me all, at some point you’ll almost undoubtedly hear me say, “So, I read an article in The New York Times…”)

I’ve been an avid reader of the Times for several years now, and so I was thrilled when it came to pass that we would be offering our patrons unlimited digital access to this venerable news source; (Fear not, paper lovers: We also continue to receive the print edition daily).

The New York Times. Credit: Haxorjoe via Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times. Credit: Haxorjoe via Wikimedia Commons. by Lawrence Public Library Staff

I am a stalwart fan of The New York Times for many reasons, chief among them that I trust its journalists to abide by a standard of ethics that results in trustworthy news reports. But the Times also provides me with sustenance as a reader, with articles that work in conversation with the most illuminating books of our times. Several of the most requested titles at the library in the last year — such as J.D. Vance’s "Hillbilly Elegy," Nancy Isenberg’s "White Trash," or Matthew Desmond’s "Evicted" — have discussed the interplay of race, class, poverty and policy in shaping American life. Have you not yet read Matthew Desmond’s critically acclaimed "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City," or can’t wait until he comes out with a new book? Then check out his article from last week’s New York Times Magazine, which explored to heartbreaking effect the role that the mortgage interest deduction plays in widening the inequality gap in the United States. Follow that up with Nikole Hannah-Jones’ article on segregation and schools to delve further into the issue of how housing options shape life outcomes; while the article focuses on New York City schools, the historical forces and present-day impacts Hannah-Jones describes have shaped neighborhoods nationwide.

Evocative journalism isn’t the only thing you’ll find among the digital pages of The New York Times; how-to guides abound as well. Intrigued by the myriad health benefits of mindfulness meditation, but aren’t sure where to start? There’s a guide for that. Start running! Discover the most efficient way to clean your home! Learn to cook (I’m not naming any names, but rumor has it that their Thanksgiving cooking guide has been a lifesaver for at least one less-than-confident cook).

So how can you access this embarrassment of riches? If you are in the Lawrence Public Library:

● Connect to the library’s Wi-Fi or use a library computer

● First-time users will need to register here (provide an email, create a password)

● Returning users can log in at nytimes.com

If you are not in the library:

Log in (or register if it’s your first time) on your device or computer

● Open the following URL in a new tab, then enter your library card number and PIN for access.

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


Summer Beach Reads 2017

Last year, we put together a list of some of our most anticipated summer releases to enjoy whether you’re vacationing in the Caribbean or in your own living room.

This year, we have even more unconventional beach reads that will transport you to exotic locales and introduce you to interesting new characters.

All you’ll need is a library card, and your adventure awaits.

"Made for Love" by Alissa Nutting

Hazel has recently left her husband, the famous CEO and founder of Gogol Industries, because she strongly suspects he may have implanted a chip in her brain to always keep track of her. To get away, she moves in with her father whose roommate is a lifelike doll named Diane. With an absurd premise that combines fabulism and science fiction, this might not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, if you like strange situations, clever writing, humor, and a unique plot, this might just be a perfect book to pick up on a warm afternoon.

"The Grip of It" by Jac Jemc

"The Grip of It" is an eerie psychological horror novel that follows a young married couple who are looking to get a fresh start. After James loses most of his money from gambling, the two decide to repair their relationship and take on the challenge of purchasing a new home together. Immediately after moving in, strange things begin to occur: there’s an older neighbor who obsessively watches them through the windows, bruises appear all over Julie’s body, and childlike drawings manifest in random spots throughout the house. Spooky and suspenseful, this is for those who like a good thrill.

"Down Among the Sticks and Bones" by Seanan McGuire

This companion novella to "Every Heart a Doorway" follows the characters Jack and Jill before their stay at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Born to two uncaring parents, Jacqueline and Jillian couldn’t be more different. Jacqueline is encouraged to be quiet and unassuming even though she would much rather learn new information. Jillian is the rough and tumble child her father always wanted, but she would prefer pretty dresses to mud pies. When the girls stumble through a magic portal into a dark and dreary world, the two are finally able to be themselves, sometimes with detrimental consequences.

"The Library of Fates" by Aditi Khorana

To protect her peaceful kingdom from the ruthless Emperor Sikander, Princess Amrita offers herself as his bride, but it’s not enough, and her palace is still attacked by his forces. Amrita becomes a fugitive with her only companion being an oracle named Thala who was enslaved by the Emperor. The two join forces to find the mystical "Library of All Things," where they may be able to reverse their fates and prevent the horrible events in their lives from occurring. A thought-provoking fantasy novel that brings to life Indian folklore, this is for anyone wanting a summer adventure.

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

This 18th-century romance follows the arrogant but charming Henry “Monty” Montague as he embarks on a stag year across Europe with his best friend Percy, a boy he harbors an extreme crush for (even more so than the ladies he typically romances). When Monty makes a reckless decision at a party, he throws the lives of everyone he loves in danger all while embarking on a journey of self-discovery. Mackenzi Lee moves beyond conventionality to craft a book that brings a unique perspective to a genre typically riddled with tropes. Who would have guessed that a book set in the past would be as culturally relevant as this one? It deserves all of the praise it has received.

"The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter" by Theodora Goss

Mary Jekyll, daughter of the infamous Dr. Jekyll, finds herself in a troublesome spot after the death of her parents leaves her alone and penniless. Mary discovers her father’s ominous lab notebooks and that her mother set up a secret account to send money to a wanted murderer named Edward Hyde, and it is up to her to track down the missing Hyde and collect the bounty on his head to solve her precarious financial situation. This fresh take on classic penny dreadful fare will hook you from the start with its gaslit and atmospheric scenery, compelling mysteries, and motley, "Scooby-Doo"-esque cast of characters.

"The Witches of New York" by Ami McKay

Equal parts "Charmed" and "Kiki’s Delivery Service," "The Witches of New York" tells the intersecting stories of three witches whose lives are forever changed when evil begins to surface. There’s Eleanor St. Clair, a wisewoman who owns a tea shop with Adelaide Thom, a powerful seer, and 17-year-old Beatrice Dunn, who goes to New York in search of a supernatural calling. McKay expertly crafts a witchy, feminist world in which you will relish spending as much time as humanly possible. It is perfect if you need a dose of magical realism to spice up an otherwise mundane summer — no plane ticket required.

"The Backstagers" by James Tynion IV

"The Backstagers" chronicles the life of young Jory, who is not thrilled about his transfer to an all boys high school. He decides to join the theater club and ends up hanging out with a group of social outcasts who are all thrust together into an adventure after discovering a door that leads to magical dimensions. "The Backstagers" is a love letter written for theater nerds that captures the diversity of the queer experience in America. Reading it will turn you into a comic book lover with its realistic characters, breathtaking artwork from transgender artist Rian Sygh, and engrossing story.

-Fisher Adwell and Kimberly Lopez are readers' services assistants at the Lawrence Public Library.


Local author’s new novel reimagines a classic

While taking literature classes through high school, many of us had to read canon staples from the likes of Dickens and Steinbeck, despite how jarring it can seem to approach something like "Great Expectations" when you’re fourteen years old. Emily Brontë’s "Wuthering Heights"— a title which my friends keep telling me to pronounce differently, for some reason — is one such classic.

And now, 170 years later, its memorable tale of love and human spirit is once again being synthesized with a high school setting, though in a much more enjoyable manner; this time, Lawrence author Mary O’Connell has remixed the classic, retelling it with a cast of modern day teenagers and adding her own twists.

The young adult novel "Dear Reader" — pronounced as it looks, like most books — follows seventeen year old Flannery Fields as she searches for her AP English teacher who has suddenly and mysteriously gone missing in New York. Flannery doesn’t quite fit in with her peers, instead idolizing the absent Miss Sweeney, giving her the impetus to go on such a quest. O’Connell injects a turn of magical realism with Miss Sweeney’s personal copy of "Wuthering Heights," which acts as a real-time diary, giving Flannery clues about her disappearance.

While in New York, the uncannily British and charming Heath appears. To Flannery, he is both alluring and odd. She begins to wonder if he might actually be a manifestation of the similarly-named "Wuthering Heights" character. The rest of the novel holds even more surprises, weaving together threads of mystery, magical realism, and a bit of romance as Flannery finds her way.

For those who’ve never read "Wuthering Heights," O’Connell’s take is a modern and more accessible opportunity. For readers who are already fans of the classic, it’s another incarnation, ripe for comparison and reflection.

We’re fortunate to have the author visiting LPL on Tuesday, May 30th at 7:00 PM in the library auditorium, where she’ll read from and share her thoughts about "Dear Reader."

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


Cookbooks for a vegan crash course

Deciding to eat a vegan diet is a lifestyle change that many people struggle with. It is often perceived to be “inconvenient” or somehow “unsatisfying,” and it does not need to be. Arguably, a nonvegan diet is far more inconvenient for animals, the planet and your health.

While the negative health aspects and animal cruelty arguments don’t give everyone pause, many people are rallying behind veganism because of their newfound understanding of the environmental impact that the factory farming of animals has on our environment. Factory farming accounts for 37% of methane emissions, which has more than 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide (CO2).

When you consider the millions of acres of deforestation that is happening to make room for more cattle to graze, and the fact that industrial agriculture sucks up 70% of all freshwater on the planet, it quickly becomes obvious that we all need to do our part to reduce the negative impact our lifestyles have on this planet.

Now, there’s no “correct” way to eat a vegan diet. You don’t have to exclusively eat super-healthy foods. Vegan junk food is a thing, folks. You’d be shocked by all of the products you love that are “accidentally vegan”. My personal favorites include: Oreos, Sour Patch Kids and Doritos’ Spicy Sweet Chili flavor.

Going vegan is a process. You’re probably not going to — forgive the expression — go cold turkey on consuming animal products. But you can begin to make different choices. You can choose a veggie option at a restaurant. You can explore the many varieties of vegetable-based burger products. You can even try vegan cheese options. Try Cito’s Cashew Queso. You can buy it at our local farmers market and at the Merc. It’s all of that melty, tasty deliciousness you crave with none of the stomach pain.

There are three tips that I personally find to be essential if you’re going to be vegan:

  1. Buy a stovetop steamer. Steam veggies for 5-7 minutes, then roast them at 420 degrees for 10-15 minutes for a perfectly roasted veggie that doesn’t lose its moisture.
  2. Find sauces and spices that you love. They’re going to making cooking and eating vegetables infinitely more fun.
  3. Get comfortable in the kitchen. There are a million recipes that are simple, require limited ingredients, and don’t take more than an hour from start to finish. Experiment!

We happen to have a plethora of vegan cookbooks here at the Lawrence Public Library. Some, like "Veganomicon," tend to have holds lists a mile long. Here are nine vegan cookbooks that I pulled off the shelf not 20 minutes ago — and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

"You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan! 200 Recipes for Simple and Delicious Animal-Free Cuisine"

"Vegan Family Favorites"

"Pure Vegan: 70 Recipes for Beautiful Meals and Clean Living"

"Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine"

"Quick and Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food: 150 Down-Home Recipes Packed with Flavor, not Calories"

"500 Vegan Recipes: An Amazing Variety of Delicious Recipes, From Chilis and Casseroles to Crumbles, Crisps, and Cookies"

"The Inspired Vegan: Seasonal Ingredients, Creative Recipes, Mouthwatering Menus"

"Whole Grain Vegan Baking: More Than 100 Tasty Recipes for Plant-based Treats Made Even Healthier: From Wholesome Cookies and Cupcakes to Breads, Biscuits, and More"

"Sticky Fingers' Sweets: 100 Super-secret Vegan Recipes"

When you search “vegan cookbooks” in our catalog, there are 154 items that we hold in our collection for you to browse through. Even without the massive amount of resources available online, we have enough recipes to keep you exploring for years. Have fun, be experimental, and know that every time you choose to eat a vegan meal, you are directly contributing to the health and wellness of our entire planet.

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

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Infinite, unfathomable, nonstop: Rebecca Solnit’s imaginative cartography

Once upon a time, I stumbled across a quiz that asked, “Where You At?” Despite, or perhaps because of, its sloppy grammar, the question has stayed with me. My interest in natural and cultural history, and even my fascination with infrastructure, surely dates to this time, as evidenced by the real estate that writers like Henry Thoreau, Wallace Stegner, and Barry Lopez occupy on my bookshelves.

About the time Barry Lopez released his short story collection "Light Action in the Caribbean," I discovered another writer whose take on “where you at?” I would come to appreciate immeasurably. First through her essays, and later through her books on subjects as diverse as walking, the wars of Yosemite and Nevada and the life of photographer Eadweard Muybridge, I grew to eagerly anticipate each new book by Rebecca Solnit.

By then, my personal geographic center had moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. Lopez, from Oregon, ranked among my favorite authors for his understated blend of natural history and place-based stories. Those stories, while fictional, were so grounded that they were often, in effect, verbal maps.

Maps are key to his "Light Action" story “The Mappist,” in which the narrator discovers a series of guidebooks seemingly written by different authors but with such “depth and integration” and “distinctive layering” that he is convinced they are products of the same mind. A map he happens upon confirms his hunch, and eventually he tracks down the elusive writer — a cartographer named Corlis Benefideo.

Rebecca Solnit also writes deep and integrated guidebooks of a sort, so imagine my surprise when in 2010, life imitated art, and she spearheaded a collection of maps. Titled "Infinite City," it is an atlas of her hometown of San Francisco. Collected within are twenty-two wonderful maps on different themes, drawn by different artists, each accompanied by a distinctively layered essay that is stellar in its own right. She has since coordinated two more atlases. Not too surprisingly, the North American Cartographic Information Society has awarded Solnit its Corlis Benefideo Award for Imaginative Cartography.

Following "Infinite City" came "Unfathomable City," an atlas of New Orleans, growing out of the boots-on-the-ground research she did for her important book "A Paradise Built in Hell." She and her tri-coastal tag-team of contributors wrapped up the trilogy with New York City in "Nonstop Metropolis," which just won the 2017 Brendan Gill prize.

I’ve never lived in those cities, but I’ve been lucky enough to have visited each at least a couple times. "Unfathomable City" was the most fun to explore, since I know New Orleans best. I was going to say that it comes with a virtual soundtrack — it is New Orleans, after all — but then I remembered that "Nonstop Metropolis" does too, described in the very first entry, “Singing the City,” and alluded to in several other maps.

Revisiting the three cities as presented in the atlases has been a real joy. From the SF start to the NYC finish, the juxtaposition of themes explored are nothing short of genius. A few favorites: "Monarchs and Queens: Butterfly Habitats and Queer Public Spaces." "Dharma Wheels and Fish Ladders: Salmon Migrations, Soto Zen Arrivals." "Oil and Water: Extracting Petroleum, Exterminating Nature." "Repercussions: Rhythm and Resistance across the Atlantic." "Harpers and Harpooners: Whaling and Publishing in Melville’s Manhattan." "Black Star Lines: Harlem Secular and Sacred."

The contributors are erudite and eccentric, and their essays will blow your mind, especially once you consider the research involved in each (seventy total for the three atlases). The accompanying maps display similarly inspired artwork and cartography. The overall feel of the books (especially the street map impressed hardcovers) is lovely. Additional sketches and photos are sprinkled throughout. Even the introductions are meaty and inspiring.

The approach to mapping that Ms. Solnit has taken is of course the opposite of Corlis Benefideo’s solo efforts. "Infinite City" lists her as its sole author (though others helped with the essays), Rebecca Snedeker co-edited "Unfathomable City," and Joshua Jelly-Shapiro co-edited "Nonstop Metropolis." All three atlases draw on a huge roster of collaborators, and continuity is provided by a handful who worked on more than one.

All in all, the infinite, unfathomable, nonstop atlases please and inform on every level. Except, intentionally, one: There’s no app. You can’t discover “Where You At?” staring at a little screen. Corlis Benefideo could have been speaking of Rebecca Solnit’s expansive atlases when he said, “These maps reveal the foundations beneath the ephemera.”

— Jake Vail is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


J. Robert Lennon’s “Broken River” could be his breakout novel

Each time J. Robert Lennon drops a new book, I think, "This is the one. This is the time the general public will discover J. Robert Lennon." Entertainment Weekly will give it an A+, Angelina Jolie will tweet about it or some such thing.

Famed writer of thrillers Lee Child calls Lennon’s latest novel, "Broken River," “compelling from the first page, and then smart, sophisticated, suspenseful and satisfying throughout — [it] is a first-class ride.” It has also been chosen as the May 2017 Indie Next #1 Pick, so who knows, perhaps "Broken River," his eighth novel, will be that breakout book. It is certainly worthy of that distinction.

I have been a big fan of J. Robert Lennon for well over a decade, my first discovery being a paperback copy of "The Funnies" I found at A Room of One’s Own in Madison, Wisconsin, in the early aughts. Since that first foray into Lennon’s work, I have always found his writing style eminently readable, replete with storylines that allow themselves to be stuffed with so many thoughts and ideas to ponder — morality, mortality, raison d’etre, all that kind of stuff. Starting with "The Castle," his first novel for the outstanding indie publisher Graywolf Press, Lennon began with much success to introduce new elements of a deeper psychological (and perhaps parapsychological?) bent.

"Broken River" continues Lennon’s path deeper into what, for lack of a better term, I will simply call enhanced weirdness and spookiness. At its heart, the novel is a thriller and family drama knit together as one. We start with the brutal late-night murder of a couple and the escape of their child and proceed to their empty house, which years later is bought by a family who become the central protagonists of the novel.

All of the action is viewed by the Observer, a mysterious spectral presence that becomes more aware of its consciousness as the book progresses. (That’s the “weird” part.) The book continues forward into the story of a broken family that should or shouldn’t remain united. The husband really needs to get his act together.

I don’t find much sense delving much more into the guts of the story; you can find that in summaries written by better writers than yours truly. I write this short piece only to throw my hat into the ring along with other fans of J. Robert Lennon. "Broken River" is a truly outstanding novel, and you should read it.

Additionally, Lawrence is fortunate enough to welcome Lennon to the library on Thursday, May 18 at 7:00 PM, an event that will please you if you come, and you absolutely should come.

— Brad Allen is the executive director of the Lawrence Public Library.