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In the Spotlight

Heart of a Lion is A True Story of Fear, Cats, and Ecology

I bet when William Stolzenburg wrote his previous book, Where the Wild Things Were, he didn’t figure he would later find one of the wildest things in the Americas on a walkabout that stretched from the Black Hills of South Dakota, through Midwestern farms and cities, across major rivers, and all the way to the urban megalopolis of the East Coast. But Stolzenburg latched on to this true story of mystery and hope, and the result is a gripping and wise travelogue for our time. Read More..

Monkey See, Enkidu

Like many in town, our home has not been immune to an influx of sugar ants in recent weeks, made worse by a wet May.  Unfortunately, word spread among them that, due to its plentiful supply of improperly disposed lollipop and Popsicle sticks, my 5-year old son Ray’s bedroom was a sort of ant Las Vegas.  At bedtime for a week straight, no matter what we did to make his room less interesting, a steady line marched past his bed, the sight of which, combined with a tired brain and body, resulted in as many tears as ants.  Read More..

My Body, My Canvas

I got my first tattoo last year when I was 63: a semi-colon; yes, I’m a great fan of grammar and, unlike Kurt Vonnegut, I believe semi-colons are useful and fun to deploy, but that’s not the reason I had a semi-colon tattooed on my finger.

The reason I had a semi-colon tattooed on my finger is because of what the semi-colon implies namely, “There’s more to come.” I feel this is a useful thing to keep in mind as I navigate the second half of my life.

And, naturally, this got me to thinking about tattoo moments in books, TV and film. Here are a few that spring to mind. Feel free to add your own.

Every tattoo has a story behind it, and nothing proves this better than The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury. The sci-fi stories in this collection all spring from the ink that covers the skin of a man the narrator meets along the road. Each tattoo comes to life to tell its story and the stories are, of course, pure Bradbury – vivid, engrossing, imaginative, and original.

I’d heard that tattoos are addictive and have discovered that this is, in fact, true: you get one and you want another and another and another. Until I Find You by John Irving tells the melancholy story of a woman tattoo artist and her son as they travel the globe searching for the boy’s father, a guy who is hooked on tattoos. In this book, Irving suggests that a sleeve of tattoos makes your arm feel cold.  I’ve checked with a few massively tattooed people and they tell me this is simply not true. John Irving’s writing style – especially in his post-Garpian work – is a bit too much like John Irving trying to write like John Irving, but the look at the tattoo artist’s world is fascinating.

Getting that first tattoo can be a big step even if you’re not a 63-year-old neurotic Jewish woman from Long Island. This could be why some people make a deal with a friend to go under the needle together, but the deals don’t always work out as planned. In Season 6, Episode 10 of Modern Family, Haley wants a tattoo for her 21st birthday and, with a little encouragement from Gloria, Clare decides to make it a mother/daughter moment. But, of course, Haley changes her mind and only Clare gets inked. The same thing happens to Rachel in Friends when she and Phoebe visit a tattoo parlor to get inked together, but only Rachel is brave enough to follow through. Happily, Ross finds it incredibly sexy.

In terms of the Miller Analogy Test, tattoos of tears : gang members as tattoos of knives : Kirsten, a member of the traveling performing arts troupe in the post-apocalyptic tale told in the book Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. They are less about sheer art than about letting people know how bad-ass you are. Kirsten’s tattoos indicate just how many people she’s had to kill to survive. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

And, finally, looping right back to old age, we have Lily Tomlin’s character, Elle, in the movie, Grandma. The movie itself is predictable and underwhelming, but we are not here to criticize the film. No. We are here to talk about tattoos and the tattoo scene is pretty fabulous. How can it not be when the tattoo artist, Deathy, is played by Laverne Cox? Though Elle sports quite a number of tattoos from her radical lesbian youth, she doesn’t object to accepting ink in lieu of the cash Deathy owes her but does not have.

Okay. I’m off to the tattoo parlor. Who’s with me? Oh come on. It doesn’t hurt THAT much.

-Randi Hacker writes for Lawrence Public Library.

What Would Alfred Read? A Failed Summer Reading Challenge

In the summer of 2011, I came up with the perfect challenge: read at least one title by each of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature since its first awarding in 1901 and blog about my thoughts and reflections. I had the best title for my blog too: What Would Alfred Read? (The Nobel Prize is named after its Swedish inventor, Alfred Nobel.) Read More..

Yes! You are a Badass.

If you want to change your life, just head to your local public library. It’s amazing what you’ll find to help get you headed in a new direction.

Need to declutter your world? Check out The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Condo. Want to polish up your public speaking skills? Michael Port’s Steal the Show offers great tips on making effective presentations. From books to databases to tech classes, Lawrence Public Library will help you imagine more for your life.

One book that has been getting lots of attention at the library is Jen Sincero’s You are a Badass. Originally published in 2013, this irreverent little read landed on the New York Times Best Sellers list of Advice and How-To Books about 5 months ago. As of this week, it has climbed to the #2 spot. Its sudden popularity three years after its release is a huge surprise. “The publishing world is scratching a hole in its head wondering how we did it,” Sincero writes in her blog.

Full of blunt humor, sage advice, and the occasional swear word, You are a Badass serves up 27 bite-sized chapters full of hilarious and inspiring stories. Chapters such as “Self-Perception is a Zoo” and “Fear is for Suckers” help you to understand how you got this way, how to stop doubting your greatness, how to love what you don’t love about yourself, and how to live a bigger life than you’ve ever imagined.

Even better, the audiobook of You are a Badass is available on Hoopla, a new digital service available through the library. With Hoopla and your Lawrence Public Library card, you can borrow ebooks, audiobooks, comic books, movies, and TV shows. There are no holds, no fines, and no waiting in line for what you want. Each library card holder is allowed up to five checkouts each month. Just log on to hoopladigital.com to set up your account. Trust me, it’s super easy.

So what are you waiting for? Get to your public library and get started.  Here’s to your new awesome life.

-Kathleen Morgan is the Development & Strategic Partnerships Director at Lawrence Public Library.

Exercise Your Mind: Wealth vs. Wellth

Where do you place your wealth? That’s the question that author Jason Wachob poses in his new book, Wellth, which seeks to reframe all that you consider to be of lasting value and then turn it on its head. Founder and CEO of MindBodyGreen–a health and lifestyle blog–Wachob has written about this idea of choosing to see what’s important in life in terms other than money, specifically in terms of “abundance, happiness, purpose, health, and joy.”

His approach explores everything from one’s current job to what to eat; from being thankful to simply just remembering to breathe. All the while he stills champions each individual as unique, with a path and purpose like none other.

Remember when Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules, and In Defense of Food, first stunned the nutritional world with his uber-minimalist approach to healthy eating (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”)? Wachob’s take on holistic, self-tailored, and mindfulness-based health is easily as groundbreaking. Instead of the typical, narrowly defined, healthy messaging we usually hear (low-fat-this, cardio-that, food journals, mini-meals, target heart rates, you get the picture), Wachob espouses a new message of wholeness, uniqueness, balance, and acceptance that culminates in a diverse and broadly applicable approach to wellness for every body.

That said, it’s worth mentioning that as I began reading his book, it became quite evident that he and I differ substantially in our world view. For example, he is a six-foot, seven-inch, New York fraternity-brother basketball star turned mega-start-up-blogger with a background in Wall Street. I’m a five-foot two librarian with a public health twist from Oregon who doesn’t know her NYSE from her S&P (yes, I had to look it up to get it right) and once lived happily on a communal llama farm.

The message here is that although Wellth is an anecdotal account of one man’s foray into health and wellness, his story hits a universal nerve that not only explodes the accepted concept of health, but also redefines our American paradigm of success. Taking the expectation of monetary gain as the measure of achievement and replacing it with measures of gratitude, laughter, and purpose is as meaningful as Pollan’s plea to reacquaint mainstream society with real, whole food as a basis of daily eating.

This summer at LPL, we’re pushing the boundaries of health and wellth by celebrating the theme of Summer Reading: “Exercise Your Mind.” We’re kicking off with Library Olympics, full of crafting, gaming and jubilation. We’re hobbiting trails to Rivendell by tracking miles walked, biked, or jogged. We’re gathering together to move our bodies in new and fun ways (yoga, functional fitness, tai chi, and more!) on the library lawn for Fitness Fridays. We’re hiking through history with legendary Kansas wanderer, Henry Fortunato. We’re launching a collection found nowhere else on earth (how very Lawrence!) to bring access to fitness resources to our city with the GYM Pass collection. We’ve got storywalks, Guinness world records, teen iron chef, local foods and urban agriculture, canoeing adventures, and so much more! Not to mention the honor of being host site to both the Lawrence Summer Food Program and Tuesday’s Farmer’s Market.

So Lawrence, where do you place your wealth? What about your wellth? Not sure yet what to make of this concept? Here are a few other reads to point you in the right direction:

May your summer be long, wellth read, and wellth lived. Cheers!

-Gwen Geiger Wolfe is an Information Services and Public Health Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.

Beach Reads 2016 Edition

Summer is fast approaching, which means it’s time to travel to new places and embark on a wondrous adventure (even if it’s only in your living room, curled up with a cool drink and a great book).  We’ve put together a list of some more eclectic beach reads to help you get a jumpstart on your Summer Reading goals.

So leave your highbrow, literary nonsense at the door and enjoy some of the best new releases in genre fiction – with a bonus memoir thrown in for good measure.

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Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood

Equal parts Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children and Geek Love, Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet tells the story of Kitty, a young girl whose mother mysteriously vanishes during their trip to Coney Island in 1904.  Finding herself alone, Kitty stumbles upon Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet – a side show of human oddities who agree to help her locate her missing mother.  It has plenty of humor, intrigue, and an eccentric, Lovecraftian creepiness that lingers underneath this fascinating world.  H.P. Wood has crafted an amazing ensemble cast, so if character driven stories are your jam, this one is a must read.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Set in a hidden library connected to multiple parallel universes, The Invisible Library follows Irene, an immortal librarian sent on a quest to Victorian England to retrieve a rare manuscript while accompanied by her trainee Kai.  However, this isn’t your typical England, as there are all sorts of supernatural creatures and mechanical anachronisms.  The Invisible Library is a page turner that effortlessly blends elements of Doctor Who and Ghostbusters into an imaginative adventure that will make you wish you could join the hallowed ranks of the librarians.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

It all started with Draco Incendia Trychophyton: a plague that causes gold and black markings on the skin and develops into a fatal conflagration that sets the world’s populous ablaze.  And, there is no cure.  Here enters our Mary Poppins-esque heroine Harper Grayson, a school nurse who finds out she is both infected and pregnant.  Now, Harper just needs to survive until she can give birth to her child – hopefully infection free.  Both heart wrenching and intense, Joe Hill’s latest work provides an innovative portrait of the future with plenty of captivating, horror-infused weirdness.

Dr. Strange by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo

Kansas City writer Jason Aaron brings Doctor Strange to new, reality bending heights in this contemporary Marvel series.  The unknown Empirikul are set on purifying magic from every dimension, and it’s up to Dr. Strange, as Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, to protect the planet and save magic itself.  Artist Chris Bachalo has done a spectacular job of visual worldbuilding with bold color selections and a meticulous attention to detail.  Be sure to give this a read before the upcoming Doctor Strange film starring Benedict Cumberbatch premieres this November.

 

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Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

Best-selling author Mary Kubica does it again in this fast-paced and twisted psychological thriller that will delight fans of both Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins.  When Quinn’s friend and roommate Esther goes missing in downtown Chicago, she finds a mysterious letter in Esther’s personal possessions, which makes Quinn question everything she knew about her friend.  Meanwhile, a young man in a small Michigan harbor town is drawn to a beautiful and mysterious woman new to town, who isn’t all that she seems.  This book is a suspenseful thrill ride perfect for a summer afternoon!

In The Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

Widely known for her roles as Maritza Ramos on Orange is the New Black and Lina on Jane the Virgin, actress and activist Diane Guerrero has channeled her talent towards writing in this emotional and personal memoir of her experiences as the child of undocumented immigrants.  Guerrero’s biggest fear became a reality at the young age of fourteen, when her parents were deported while she was in school.  Guerrero’s own struggles bring to light the stories of countless children born in the US to undocumented immigrants and fosters a sense of humanity with the issues surrounding immigration.  It is a truly memorable read.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

When new girl Amanda Hardy meets Grant, Amanda can’t help but like him as they spend more and more time together.  However, as much as she wants to open up to him, Amanda is afraid to share all of her secrets—like how at her former school, she was known as Andrew.  If I Was Your Girl is a contemporary young adult novel about being true to yourself and finding acceptance, with a love story anyone can root for.  This book is particularly inclusive because not only is the main character a trans* woman, as well as the author, and the cover model!

A Front Page Affair by Radha Vatsal

A Front Page Affair is the first book in a brand new mystery series about a young journalist named Capability “Kitty” Weeks.  Set in 1915 New York just after the sinking of the Lusitania, Kitty would love nothing more than to report on stories other than fashion and society gossip.  However, her roles as a female journalist are limited…That is, until a man is murdered at a high society picnic on her beat! Determined to show what type of reporting she can really do, Kitty is thrown into a wartime conspiracy that threatens the stability of her country as well as her own privileged life.

-Fisher Adwell and Kimberly Lopez are Public Services Assistants at Lawrence Public Library

Dancing with the Family Skeleton: Family Memoirs

I’ve come to believe that every family is like a country unto itself, each with its own culture and customs, each member of that family a citizen of a singular homeland. In all our interactions with “foreigners”—that is, anyone who is not a member of the family in which we were raised—we come as ambassadors and interpreters from our native land.

So it’s no surprise that someone seeking to better understand their own experiences might delve into their family’s history for insight, or that a well-written family memoir can make for extremely compelling reading. Playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote that “If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.” Here are a few examples of family memoirs that confront the skeletons in the closet and come out dancing: Read More..

Mourning Has Broken

I sit here and find myself feeling a similar apprehension to what author Matt Haig felt upon sending his book, Reasons to Stay Alive, to his publisher. My concern stems not from the subject of mental health, but rather the associated stigmas, because I am a suicide survivor— a label not outwardly worn, not due to shame or penance, but because it doesn’t define my life. It is a designation others use to describe an experience of part of my life.

I will admit, the stigma and other people’s discomfort keeps me discreet about sharing my experience, as well as keeping the person I lost close to my chest. This is in itself saddening, because that’s where the cycle of depression begins. The silence brought on by fear of stigma propagates the loneliness attributed with depression, when, in truth, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports, “6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.”

Reasons to Stay Alive reads part memoir, part self-help, but untraditionally so, as it lacks any interspersed clinical perspectives. Matt Haig pens an account of his personal experience with depression, suicidal thoughts, and his ability to overcome. Haig is forthcoming about his life at the time of the onset of depression, when he was residing with his girlfriend amongst a seemingly idyllic and party atmosphere on the island of Ibiza, Spain. However, despite these trappings, he became unknowingly immersed with nearly paralyzing depression.

Haig recounts, “Depression is an illness.Yet it doesn’t come with a rash or a cough. It is hard to see, as it is generally invisible. Even though it is a serious illness it is also surprisingly hard for many sufferers to recognize it at first. Not because it doesn’t feel bad—it does—but because that bad feeling seems unrecognizable, or can be confused with other things.”

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You Are Not Yourself by Barbara Kruger

Accompanying Haig’s depression were intense panic attacks, expressed in intricate detail, that involved going to the shops for errands or groceries. These tasks seemed banal to those not suffering, yet would send him into a downward spiral of anxiety. It was during the reading of these testaments I became concerned. Haig’s eloquence left me teetering, having suffered similar panic attacks following my loved one’s passing. However, it was all for naught, which was a surprise to me, but also confirmation that I am truly recovered.

It’s a popular misconception that depressive episodes can be brief; however, it’s not uncommon for them to last several months, or possibly years. In Haig’s experience, his illness was lengthy. Choosing to abstain from antidepressants, Haig instead found solace in running and reading: “I read and read and read with an intensity I’d never really known before. I mean, I’d always considered myself to be a person who liked books. But there is a difference between liking books and needing them. I needed books.” He continues, “Every time I read a great book I felt I was reading a kind of map, a treasure map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself. But each map was incomplete, and I would only locate the treasure if I read all the books, and so the process of finding my best self was an endless quest.”

Haig cleverly frames his thoughts as a temporal conversation between his recovered self: Now Me, and the pained version: Then Me. This brilliantly demonstrates his shift in perspective and articulates the change in language as he moves toward recovery.

To this, he states: “You know, before the age of twenty-four I hadn’t known how bad things could feel, but I hadn’t realized how good they could feel either. That shell might be protecting you, but it’s also stopping you feeling the full force of that good stuff. Depression might be a hell of a price to pay for waking up to life, and while it is on top of you it is one that could never seem worth paying. Clouds with silver linings are still clouds. But it is therapeutic to know that pleasure doesn’t just help compensate for pain, it can actually grow out of it.”

I personally encourage those untouched by depression, suicide, or the myriad of mental health issues to read this book, because within its pages you may learn ways to help someone who is suffering, or you might find a new perspective to enrich your life. And, for those coping or still recovering, perhaps one man’s story may be a treasure map on your own quest for new reasons to stay alive.

ilkastars From The Humans by Matt Haig; image created by Ilka Iwanczuk

-Ilka Iwanczuk is a Reader’s Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library

The Bite-Sized Sci-Fi Vignettes of From Now On

We’ve all heard the cautionary advice “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” And sure, there’s a lot of truth to that. On the other hand—being judged is totally what book covers are for. My resistance to this old adage has been validated time and again by impulse check-outs that turn out to be awesome, the most recent example being Malachi Ward’s graphic novel From Now On.

When I dove in, I had no idea what to expect; I just knew things were going to get weird. From Now On does not disappoint, with stories dealing with bizarre alien worlds and the peculiarities of time travel. The thirteen vignettes stand alone as brief glimpses into future worlds, replete with imaginative technology and creatures  like lime green aliens that appear to be half-mole, half-elephant

Despite the strangeness, though, Ward manages to evoke a deeply-human and reflective mood. Flipping through the stories of lonely, hopeful space colonists made me feel like I was reading the sparse, blue-collar oriented short stories of Raymond Carver, or the succinct and wistful comics of Adrian Tomine. The science fiction elements are posed skillfully against the emotions of the characters—Ward offers only minimal world-building to let the heart of each story shine.

“Top Five” follows the daily work of a lone explorer. While carrying out his labor—menial tasks that are never explained to the reader—he thinks about the five best Star Trek episodes that feature time travel. That’s it. Though it  may seem insignificant or uneventful, “Top Five” is actually a well-crafted portrait of regret, desire, and small victories—in other words, life itself. The unearthly backdrop makes it all the more compelling, too, adding a layer of the weird that demonstrates how universal these feelings can be. It’s subtly funny, too.

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Ward’s art style is similarly restrained. Simple  illustration shows the wonder of alien landscapes, being suggestive rather than comprehensive. The result is a collection that showcases incredibly efficient and meaty story telling. Just because you don’t have time to read a doorstopper like Dune doesn’t mean you can’t go on an adventure to the stars. As much as I love the cover of From Now On, I have to admit the immersive and poignant stories within are even better.

-Eli Hoelscher is a Reader’s Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library

Image scan of “Top Five” via studygroupcomics.com, author Malachi Ward.