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Ballyhoo! And Fairwell to the Fair…

Sadly, the Douglas County Fair has come and gone for another year. Everyone I know seems to love the fair for a different reason. Friends who were former 4-Hers go to check out the livestock with their own kids. Ironic hipsters line up early for the Demolition Derby. Me? I go for the Midway. I love the rides, the games, the funnel cake, and the carnies. My only complaint about the Douglas County Fair is that they don’t have more circus freaks and sideshow attractions. I’d love to see a Bearded Lady. I’d line up to catch a firebreather or sword swallower. And I’d lay down good money to catch a glimpse of the Cardiff Giant. Carnival barkers dream about marks like me.

I doubt that the Douglas County Fair will go this route anytime soon, so I’ll have to make do by catching some of the acts at the annual Busker Fest and of course, reading about carnies, circus acts, and freak shows. No matter what your reading tastes, if you’ve ever dreamed of running away with the circus, then step right up! Come one, come all! There’s a little something for everyone in the Amazing World of the Lawrence Public Library Stacks!

If you like books off the beaten path:

Geek Love by Katherine DunnThe story of a carny family who, with the help of amphetamine, arsenic, and radioisotopes, breed their own exhibit of human oddities. As they take their act across the backwaters of the U.S., inspiring fanatical devotion and murderous revulsion, and as its members conduct their own Machiavellian version of sibling rivalry, Geek Love throws its sulfurous light on our notions of the freakish and the normal, the beautiful and the ugly, the holy and the obscene. Family values will never be the same. – Publisher’s Description

If you’ve always wanted to host a circus-themed book club meeting:

Wonder When You’ll Miss Me by Amanda DavisFollow sixteen-year-old Faith Duckle in this audacious and darkly funny tale as she moves through the difficult journey from the schoolyard to the harlequin world of the circus. At fifteen, Faith was lured under the bleachers by a bunch of boys at a football game and raped. Now, almost a year later, a newly thin Faith is haunted by her past, and by the cruel, flippant ghost of her formerly fat self, who is bent on revenge. This quest for retribution eventually compels Faith to violence, forcing her to flee home in search of the only friend she has — a troubled but caring busboy named Charlie, who is the lover of a sideshow performer — and to tumble into the colorful, transient world of the circus. – Publisher’s Description

If you like history, mystery, and a little romance:

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen BrysonWater for Elephants meets Geek Love in this enchanting love story set in P. T. Barnum’s American Museum. Bartholomew Fortuno, the World’s Thinnest Man, believes that his unusual body is a gift. Hired by none other than P. T. Barnum to work at his spectacular American Museum, Fortuno has reached the pinnacle of his career. When a carriage pulls up outside the museum in the dead of night, bearing Barnum and a mysterious veiled woman – rumored to be a new performer – Fortuno’s curiosity is piqued. Who is she, really? And why has she taken such a hold on the hearts of those around her? – Publisher’s Description

If you are a classically-trained reader:

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray BradburyA carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the show’s smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes — and the stuff of nightmares. – Publisher’s Description

If you like a little factual analysis with your funnel cake:

The Circus Age: Culture & Society Under the American Big Top by Janet M. DavisA century ago, daily life ground to a halt when the circus rolled into town. Across America, banks closed, schools canceled classes, farmers left their fields, and factories shut down so that everyone could go to the show. In this entertaining and provocative book, Janet Davis links the flowering of the early-twentieth-century American railroad circus to such broader historical developments as the rise of big business, the breakdown of separate spheres for men and women, and the genesis of the United States’ overseas empire. Davis explores the multiple “shows” that took place under the big top, from scripted performances to exhibitions of laborers assembling and tearing down tents to impromptu spectacles of audiences brawling, acrobats falling, and animals rampaging. – Publisher’s Description

If your coffee table needs a touch of circus:

Wild, Weird, and Wonderful: The American Circus 1910-1927 as Seen by F. W. Glasier by Mark SloanThe black & white photos of this volume, which are beautifully reproduced in full-page plates, were taken by Fred Whitman Glasier, a portrait photographer in Brockton, Massachusetts between 1901-1927. Glasier, who documented all the circuses that came to town during that period, took two kinds of photos: long, often aerial views that show the activity surrounding the circus, mainly before or after the public arrives; and classically composed portraits of the performers in costume, some while performing stunts. – Publisher’s Description

If reading really isn’t your thing:

Circus: A Show of Force by PBSSome are born to it. Some run to it. Come run away to the circus, and experience the fascinating reality of one our most potent collective fantasies. Join the company and crew of the legendary Big Apple Circus for their annual 350-show tour, an epic, unforgettable journey from town to town and stand to stand, from the big top to ‘backyard,’ where the trailers are parked and the heart of the circus beats. – Publisher’s Description


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