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In the Spotlight

Reading In Westeros

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a major obsession with Game of Thrones.  It means that when April comes around, I can’t stop speculating on what will happen in the new season along with beginning my annual reread of the epic 5,216 page series.

While I’m in a Game of Thrones induced frenzy, I often find myself pondering the following scenario: if characters from the show were to waltz into Lawrence Public Library today, what books would I suggest they read?  Although the following list is not exhaustive, or else we would be here until George R. R. Martin finally finishes The Winds of Winter, here are some Game of Thrones character book pairings featuring some of your favorite fictional personalities.

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Road Trip Idea: Haunted Locations in Kansas

Back when I worked in reference, the library received an envelope postmarked from Santa Rosa, California with our address scrawled across the lower left hand corner in untidy, barely legible print. Inside was a 20 page letter, written in the same hand, requesting information on the alleged paranormal activity at the Eldridge Hotel featured on an episode of My Ghost Story on A&E’s Biography Channel. Read More..

Cranky Kirkus

“It has come to this: werewolves on The Titanic.”

Favorite first lines of novels make great discussion fodder, but book reviews rarely begin with sentences as memorable as that one, which led off a review of Claudia Gray’s Fateful in the curmudgeon of professional book review journals, Kirkus Reviews.  Kirkus is so notoriously grouchy there is even a Tumblr blog dedicated to its crafty disses, Sick Burns: The Best of Kirkus Review’s Worst. Read More..

Kim Gordon: More than A Girl in a Band

OK, I’ll admit it. Up until about a month ago, I knew very little of musician Kim Gordon or her band, Sonic Youth. Yes, get your jaws off the floor. I know this makes me sound terribly old and decidedly unhip. Read More..

Time Travel, With and Without Machines

When I was a kid, I lived in a small town in eastern Missouri. Founded in the eighteen-teens, our little town was a goldmine of semi-abandoned artifacts in various states of disrepair: cemeteries (Daniel Boone was originally buried there!), a spooky old log house, a former general store.

I could spend hours digging  in my yard (I wouldn’t say that my parents were crazy about all the holes), searching for buried remnants of the past.

Whether it was an inherent predilection, or because of this early exposure to the mystery of old things, I found that I loved thinking about the past, wondering what it would have been like to be a different person living in a different time. So, it’s probably no surprise that I’ve spent some of my career working as a public historian, and it’s probably also no surprise that I am drawn to stories about time travel. Read More..

Ode of Time

“April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

                                                                       Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

                                                                         A little life with dried tubers.”

           These are the heralded opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” and words I oft revisit as Mother Nature makes the shift from the dreck of Winter into Spring awakening. At the very least, Eliot is frighteningly accurate about April being the cruelest month in regard to the weather conditions in Kansas. Or, perhaps, he would have altered his word choice if he had been privy to the information that April is National Poetry Month. The world will never know. Read More..

Fresh Cookbooks for Fresh Spring Veggies

For me, there’s no more-definite sign of Spring’s arrival: the return of the Lawrence Farmer’s Market. Beginning this Saturday, fresh, local fruits, vegetables, and more will once again be available to all. Read More..

Your Hungry Ear: Food Poetry @ LPL

Roses are red

Violets are blue

I like nutritious foods

And so should you.

- A poem by seventh graders Mykynzie Wright, Hailey Coon, and Rylie Stellwagon from Food Poetry by Topher Enneking & South Middle School Students

Did you know that April at LPL is both Healthy Food and Poetry month? I’m not kidding. We are lucky enough to celebrate in one month fuel for both body and soul. In fact, the poetry of food is ubiquitous, transcending time, space, culture, socio-economics, and more. Food is one of those universal connections that we have with every single living being on the planet. No wonder so many authors have chosen to write the lyrical praises of that which nourishes us all. Read More..

The Hidden Half of Nature: A Great Read About Microbes

While waiting for signs that winter is in fact waning and that it’s time to dig my hands in the dirt, pruning fruit trees is one of my favorite activities. As I thin and train branches, I ponder recent discoveries of tree health: how soil bacteria and fungi spread and exchange nutrients, how to encourage them, and how they even spread all the way up and around the outside surfaces of trees. Michael Phillips’ The Holistic Orchard  has much more on this.

But now that spring has arrived, it’s time for veggies. A few years ago we moved our garden to a new spot and since then have added loads of mulch and compost to try to get the soil life thriving— only to see the amendments disappear. Where does it all go? There’s been a noticeable increase in the populations of earthworms, beetles, and bugs, and yet…

Well, I just unearthed the newest book by David Montgomery, co-authored by Anne Bikle. Montgomery is a geologist who I heard speak a few years ago about his previous book, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations In his new one, The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health he relates similar new-garden experiences and asks the same question. The answer, in a word, is microbes.Book cover of The Hidden Half of Nature

The Hidden Half of Nature is an enjoyable read, not at all too scientific, and Montgomery is a dexterous writer who’s not afraid of incorporating some real-life experiences and subtle word play to keep it lively. I really enjoyed this book, which continually surprised me by calling to mind old connections. His book Dirt could have been lifted from the sustainable agriculture curriculum I once studied. Some of the same ideas and actors reappear as he lays the groundwork at the start of his new book. The subsequent discussions of microbe-human interactions in The Hidden Half of Nature brought to mind Rob Dunn’s book, The Wild Life of Our Bodies, which I reviewed a few years ago.

But reading it took me much further back, to when I attended a big-deal conference on biodiversity that took place before most had even heard the term “biodiversity.” James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis of Gaia fame were there, and Margulis in particular plays a role in Montgomery’s new book. It was she who suggested that the cells we are made of started as the symbiotic union of different kinds of bacteria. I wasn’t the only one in the crowd who was fascinated by this notion – many scientists were, too, and not a few were skeptical. In the years since she has been proven right.

Montgomery does an admirable job of fleshing out the history of our knowledge of microbes that led to Margulis’s insights, from Anton van Leeuwenhoek and his rudimentary microscopes to Louis Pasteur, Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin in the soil, and Jonas Salk.

Pasteur’s advances shined a new light on bacteria, but Montgomery points out that after Fleming and Salk’s successes, research tended to “isolate and destroy particular pathogenic microbes” with anti-bacterial drugs and vaccinations, rather than strive to understand the processes of the vast microbial world. Just as with the natural history of larger flora and fauna, description preceded ecological study. It took some time for us to realize, as Montgomery says, “I am not who I thought I was. And neither are you. We are all a collection of ecosystems for other creatures.”

Montgomery then moves to scientist Selman Waksman’s study of the collections of ecosystems in soil and considers industrial agriculture and the widespread use of pesticides. From there it’s a quick jump down the gullet and into the human microbiome, studies of which have exploded in just the last few years. The parallels are many– Montgomery talks of the “inner soil” of our guts affecting nutrient uptake, for example, how adding fiber to our diet is like adding organic matter to our gardens, and how antibiotics can, like herbicides in the soil, act against us in unpredictable ways.

Grab The Hidden Half of Nature and dig the latest dirt on the microbes that live within you and the earth. Dig your hands in the diverse ecosystems of your garden. Recalling Margulis’s point that your cells are symbiotic microbes, embrace some personal rewilding.

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

Author Spotlight: Juliet Marillier

There are only a few days left in Women’s History Month, and what better way to celebrate than to discuss one of my favorite authors of all time?

Juliet Marillier primarily writes adult fantasy, though she has also published two young adult fantasy series. Her work often combines fantasy with historical fiction, folklore, romance, and mystery in her most recent series. A New Zealander by birth, Marillier now lives in Western Australia, where, when she isn’t writing, she likes to spend her free time fostering elderly dogs for her local animal rescue group. This is a woman after my own heart. Read More..