At least here in Lawrence, Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction this year for 6 more weeks of winter seems to have been on the money. Not a Groundhog Day goes by without fond recollections of its namesake movie, a comedy which, due to the profundity of its central problem—a man doomed to repeat the same one day of his life until he gets it right—has arguably recast the meaning of the holiday itself. Just a month past New Year’s Day and its resolutions, Groundhog Day, as symbolized by Bill Murray’s struggle to break free of banality, is a day to reflect on how difficult it can be to change. It’s another testament to the movie that, for all its lightheartedness, the title itself has become shorthand for bad habits and repetitive situations.
In the Spotlight
Golden Globes. Oscars. Grammys. Awards season is upon us, folks!
While I love seeing celebrities walk the red carpet and discussing the best movies and music of the year with friends, family, and co-workers, the awards ceremony that I most look forward to is the Youth Media Awards at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference.
The YMAs include the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and Morris awards, just to name a few. Each award seeks to highlight the best in books published for children and young adults during the previous year. The full list of honored titles can be found here, but I wanted to share some of my favorites from what I’ve read over the past year.
When you’re exploring a delicate or taboo subject, seeking out books for guidance and insight can be very helpful. I have recently come across Honoring Menstruation: A Time of Self-Renewal, and it has aided me immensely on my personal journey. Although author Lara Owen introduces it as “the story of my journey into the menstrual mysteries”, the book develops into a much more multifaceted attempt to understand the role menstruation plays in our collective psyche and the steps a woman can take to understand and embrace her moon-time. Read More..
What is nerd nite? Aside from awesome, it’s a monthly lecture event that strives for an “inebriated, salacious, yet deeply academic vibe.” (credit: Nerd Nite – San Francisco)
Check out our local chapter’s website to learn more.
After the lectures tonight, be sure and check out our resource lists if you want to get nerdier with games, puzzle and video ones alike.
From Heisenberg to Parker Brothers: Cracking the Soma Treasure Map
My Best Mathematical and Logic Puzzles by Martin Gardner
The noted expert and longtime author of Scientific American‘s Mathematical Games column selects 70 of his favorite “short” puzzles. Enthusiasts can challenge their skills with such mind-bogglers as The Returning Explorer, The Mutilated Chessboard, Scrambled Box Tops, Bronx vs. Brooklyn, and dozens more involving logic and basic math. Complete solutions included.
How to be a Genius by John Woodward
Taking a sometimes humorous approach, this heavily illustrated encyclopedic love letter to the human brain covers such topics as memory, the five senses, creativity tricks and illusions, and the brain’s evolution-not to mention how one’s gray matter actually works. One spread illuminates how the brain processes data, labels experience and creates stereotypes by using photographs of a grass snake (the brain associates the harmless grass snake with other venomous snakes); another section utilizes a cartoon robot in a discussion of the development of good and bad habits. Photographs, flowcharts and activities work in tandem to create an accessible, fast-paced and informative read. Ages 9-12. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Riddles of the Sphinx and other Mathematical Puzzle Tales By Martin Gardner
Solving these riddles is not simply a matter of logic and calculation, though these play a role. Luck and inspiration are factors as well, so beginners and experts alike may profitably exercise their wits on Gardner’s problems, whose subjects range from geometry to word play to questions relating to physics and geology. We guarantee that you will solve some of these riddles, be stumped by others, and be amused by almost all of the stories and settings that Gardner has devised to raise these questions.
How to Solve It By George Polya
In this best-selling classic, George Polya revealed how the mathematical method of demonstrating a proof or finding an unknown can be of help in attacking any problem that can be “reasoned” out–from building a bridge to winning a game of anagrams. Generations of readers have relished Polya’s deft instructions on stripping away irrelevancies and going straight to the heart of a problem. “How to Solve It” popularized heuristics, the art and science of discovery and invention.
Power-ups and Ammo Crates, or How I Saved the World Today: The Allure of Modern Video Games and How This Fringe Cultural Phenomenon Turned into a Titan of the Entertainment Industry
Extra Lives by Tom Bissell
Grand Theft Auto IV is both a waste of time and “the most colossal creative achievement of the last 25 years” according to this scintillating meditation on the promise and discontents of video games. Journalist Bissell (Chasing the Sea ) should know; the ultraviolent car-chase-and-hookers game was his constant pastime during a months-long intercontinental cocaine binge. He’s ashamed of his video habit, but also ashamed of being ashamed of the “dominant art form of our time”; by turning the eye of a literary critic on the gory, seemingly puerile genre of ultraviolent, open-ended “shooter” games, he finds unexpected riches. Bissell bemoans the “uncompromising stupidity” of their story lines, wafer-thin characters, and the moronic dialogue, but celebrates the button-pushing, mesmeric qualities and the subtle, profound depths these conceal-the catharses of teamwork and heroism in the zombie-fest Left for Dead, the squirmy moral dilemmas of Mass Effect, the “mood of wistful savagery” suffusing the rifles-and-chainsaws-bedecked denizens of Gears of War. Bissell excels both at intellectual commentary and evocative reportage on the experience of playing games, while serving up engrossing mise-en-scene narratives of the mayhem. If anyone can bridge the aesthetic chasm between readers and gamers, he can. (June 8) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal
As addictive as Tetris, McGonigal’s penetrating, entertaining look into gaming culture is a vibrant mix of technology, psychology, and sociology, told with the vision of a futurist and the deft touch of a storyteller. For the nearly 183 million Americans who will spend an average of 13 hours a week playing games, McGonigal’s book is a welcome validation of their pursuits. But for those who don’t understand, or who may worry that our growing preoccupation with games is detrimental to society and culture, McGonigal argues persuasively that games are in fact improving us. “Game design isn’t just technological craft,” she argues, “it’s a 21st Century way of thinking and leading.” And games, she argues, particularly the new wave of Alternative Reality Games, are not about escapism but a powerful new form of collaboration and community building. The book moves effortlessly from Herodotus to Halo, stitching together an intellectually stimulating view of human culture past, present, and future. And while not downplaying the potential for negative consequences, such as “gamer addiction,” McGonigal makes an inspiring case for the way games can both enhance our personal happiness and help society. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Game Boys by Michael Kane
Readers of a certain generation are surely thinking, video games hit the big time? Get serious. But their children or grandchildren know what the author is talking about. Today’s video games can be as exciting as movies; they can require as much skill as more traditional sports; and they are very big business. The author follows two video-gaming teams, Team 3D and CompLexity, as they battle for supremacy in the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL), which was formed in 1997. For a sport that many consider to be marginal (if a sport at all), gaming is highly competitive and full of players who are just as idiosyncratic, determined, and flashy as any other pro athlete. Kane does a nice job of catching us up in the excitement—no easy task, as we are reading a book about people who play a game on a computer screen. Like any good sports book, this one is about the game and the personalities in equal measure.
All Your Base Are Belong To Us by Harold Goldberg
This highly informative book, written by veteran gaming columnist Goldberg, is billed as the first of its kind, spanning 50 years of video game history with its zany personalities, many trends, and marketing coups. The video game industry boasts revenues equaling that of Hollywood and a huge consumer base of 70% of Americans playing its games, Goldberg reveals. He details the ebb-and-flow of video game history and stories of its creators such as Ralph Baer, Nolan Bushnell, Hiroshi Yamauchi, William “Tripp” Hawkins, Dan and Sam Houser, Graeme Devine, and Jason Kapulka. His coverage of the development of games like Tennis for Two, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Dungeons & Dragons, Myst, Sims, and Grand Theft Auto will appeal not only to nerds and gamers in Goldberg’s easily accessible anecdotes but to those who grew up with these games through generations. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talk: Gaming can Make a Better World
Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how.
David Perry’s Ted Talk: Are Games Better than Life?
Game designer David Perry says tomorrow’s videogames will be more than mere fun to the next generation of gamers. They’ll be lush, complex, emotional experiences — more involving and meaningful to some than real life. With an excerpt from Michael Highland’s film “As Real as Your Life.”
What books make you, you? We asked staffer Fisher to pick the most significant books to him, from childhood to adulthood, and here they are!
Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss
According to my mom, this was the first major book that I fell in love with as a toddler. I used to ask her to read it 10, 20, or even 30 times in a single sitting. It must have made a huge impact on my early development if I wanted to hear it read to me that much. Looking back on it now, I feel bad that my mom had to make all those animal sounds over and over again. Read More..
As the old adage goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. I have always been intrigued by items that carry a reminder of their past: a postcard with a hasty love note scrawled on the back, an antique photograph bearing the names of long forgotten family members. As a child I would pour over vintage Valentines, crumbling wedding certificates, and aged photo albums, imagining romantic scenarios and lives already lived. It seems I’m not alone in this interest: I first stumbled across author Ransom Riggs’ through his book Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past. Riggs, also a photo aficionado, crafted a book solely to celebrate found vintage photographs that bear some kind of written message from their past. I was transfixed by the book’s premise and enthralled by the combination of the photograph with its message. So imagine my delight upon learning that Riggs had recently written his first novel, combining found vintage photographs with an unusual, captivating storyline. Read More..
In the past several years, we’ve hosted (or cosponsored) events that welcomed several authors into the sweet embrace of the Lawrence community. From history buffs to political gurus to young adult writers, these brilliant authors deserve to have their books wrapped up and placed under the tree this holiday season.
1. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz – In November, we partnered with the University of Kansas Latin American Studies department to provide a book discussion regarding This Is How You Lose Her, which was followed by a spectacular visit from Junot Diaz himself. The mastermind behind the reckless Yunior, he details each love affair and the Dominican character’s eventual heartbreak. This street-wise, energetic, real and heartfelt tale will be a pleasure to unwrap.
2. The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan – Our 2013 Read Across Lawrence selection The Worst Hard Time brought all ages together to discuss the contents of this nonfiction account of the Dust Bowl era. Seniors in Lawrence both trembled and smiled while reminiscing throughout reading the book, as Egan was able to capture the true torture of the being completely surrounded by black clouds of dust, and the resilient spirit of those suffocating their way through the time. In the same way, younger generations who didn’t witness the struggles of the 1930s gained a vivid picture of the age through Egan’s descriptions and stories.
3. Book Lust To Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers by Nancy Pearl – If you want to talk superhero librarians, Nancy Pearl is top of the list. In 2011 she visit Lawrence and graced us with her all-knowing book knowledge. She finally put her brilliant brain on paper, providing one of the best reader’s advisory resources out there: Book Lust To Go. Also worth a read: Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason and Book Crush: For Kids and Teens – Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Interest. Plus, how could we resist this woman when on her visit to Lawrence she said: “And good golly, Miss Molly, do I love what the LPL team is doing.” Cue heart exploding with happiness.
4. What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer – Although Richard Ben Cramer recently passed away in January, we partnered with the Dole Institute of Politics to welcome his colleague Mark Zwonitzer in October for a discussion over the highly praised political book What It Takes. Both political and psychological in nature, this massive detailed account of the 1988 presidential race details the candidates’ lives and character changes while running for one of the most powerful positions in the world. For those who love politics, What It Takes is sure to serve a special spot in their home library.
5. The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty – Local author and professor Laura Moriarty always tops our list of Lawrence lovers, and we were ecstatic to hear all incoming freshmen at KU in 2014 will have the pleasure of reading The Center of Everything as part of the KU Common Book program. Moriarty details the life of Evelyn, a young girl turning young woman all too quickly in the face of financial, family, and social issues. Set in rural Kansas, she brings a strong wave of nostalgia to any Kansas farm-land native, and touches the hearts of those who call Lawrence home as Evelyn continues her journey to the University of Kansas.
6. Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz – A New York Times Noteable Book in 2011, Tony Horwitz provides another vivid account of John Brown and his rebellious nature to take back what belonged to the free state of Kansas. But don’t be fooled: Midnight Rising is not just for the history lovers, but also for anyone who enjoys a revolutionary mindset and a great novel.
7. Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri by Jonathan Earle – History buff Jonathan Earle tackled the subject of the sesquicentennial of Quantrill’s Raid with a presentation of his new book Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri during a celebration honoring the spirit of the survivors. His nonfiction account of the regional perspectives and battles of the Civil War throughout Kansas and Missouri sheds light on both sides of the Kansas river. For any history buff or Kansas native, Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri is an excellent read and highly deserving of recent praise.
If you’ve put off your holiday shopping until the last minute, don’t fret! In the span of a lunch break you can get pick up a bookish or Lawrence-themed gift for everyone on your list. In addition to supporting local businesses and artists, you won’t have to pay shipping!
If the sports fans in your life have a television, sometimes they can be the trickiest to buy for. All it takes to watch an NBA game, the MLS cup, or the Superbowl is a TV screen and (maybe) a good beer in hand. For the kids loving all-things active, they’re usually out shooting hoops during commercial breaks. Tickets to see their favorite team would be awesome, but not always financially reasonable. Not to worry – the library has a few tricks up our sleeve! Our list includes six sports-themed gifts with a literary twist for those who favor America’s greatest pastime, are crazed about the 2014 World Cup, or will dedicate an entire day to watching all five NBA games on Christmas (after opening these presents, that is).
1. “This Day in Sports History” calendar – What easier way to count down to the Big Dance or the Olympics than a calendar? The “This Day in Sports History” boxed calendar makes the journey slightly more exciting, recounting pivotal moments for athletes and fans around the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if a certain 3-point shot we like to call “Mario’s Miracle” made the cut for April 7, recalling that perfect day (alright, alright, I’m a bit biased…).
2. The Moves Make the Man by Bruce Brooks – Winner of the Newbery Honor in 1985, you might find yourself brushing it off as simply a children’s book. Yet, of all the novels I read in elementary school, the story of Jayfox and Bix overcoming racial tensions, dealing with depression, and becoming young men through the process of shooting hoops is still one of my favorite books of all time. A great read for any up and coming athlete, or a nostalgic read for those who used to have an ankle-breaking crossover and silky smooth jump shot.
3. ESPN’s 30 for 30 Box Set – Although we sports fans might know which college every NFL player attended or the exact shooting percentage and win-loss record of our favorite team, ESPN can still catch us off guard with the 30 for 30 films. These classics deeply investigate the subjects we thought we knew so much about, and manage to shine a new perspective on sports through documentary style films.
4. Ballpark Blueprints – The beauty of sports spans beyond the skill of world class athletes and into the architecture of our favorite venues. Ballpark Blueprints are a recent craze for dedicated fans around the nation. For those who attend every game at Wrigley Field, or for those whose dream vacation is to visit the park, blueprints serve as a detailed reminder for the love of the game.
5. Literary Sports Jerseys – If your gift recipient grew up with a jersey on their back 24/7 and a book in their hand whenever they weren’t on the field/court/diamond/pitch, why not try a literary sports jersey? Novel-T offers iconic authors turned varsity stars with a name, a number, and an icon that represents their work.
6. Sports-Themed Bookends – Anyone who owns more than one book of course needs bookends, and why not make them sports-themed? Many of the options would fit right into a children’s room, but who says adult sports fans can’t partake in the bookish fun? I found these soccer related bookends, but another favorite was a bicycle split in two. Definitely a great option for your sport lovers!
I’m not much for labeling books for Ladies or Dudes. In fact, my husband loved two of these five books quite a lot, and after 23 years of marriage, I can attest to his Dude-ish literary tastes. But the fact of the matter is that some books seem to appeal to women and I’m willing to bet you’ll score a hit with ladies with one or more of these books.
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran - For that sassy sister or sister–in-law who shares advice on all things womanly. The one you who knows all your embarrassing secrets. They’ll fall in love with Caitlin Moran’s honest and hilarious recounting of her journey to womanhood and the constant upkeep required in mind and spirit. This is a salty feminist manifesto for your friends who are too tired to read Shulamith Firestone and who love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Protip: Have Kleenex handy – you’ll laugh until you cry.
The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon - Does your best friend need a little romance in her life? An escape from dirty diapers or that horrid boss? Give her the gift of James Alexander Malcom Mackenzie Fraser. She will thank you for it. Epic historical fiction with a twist of fantasy and generous dollop of true love, as an English nurse from 1945 falls through standing stones to 1743 to confront the Jacobite uprising and the person of Jamie, the Highlander of your dreams. These books (seven in the series, soon to be eight) inspire a rabid fandom and will give your friend re-read material for the ages.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - Do you remember that feeling of falling in love, where every aching second of holding someone’s hand is an eternity? Every glance, song lyric, accidently shoulder rub could sustain or torture you for days? No? I didn’t either, but it all came back to me when I read Eleanor and Park, and beautiful (and heartbreaking) tale of first love. Great dialogue and emotional pacing.
Longbourn by Jo Baker - Does your wife make you watch Pride and Prejudice at least once a year? Not the wimpy two hour version, but the entire BBC version with a dripping wet Colin Firth? Call off the hounds – the search for her gift is over. Many Pride and Prejudice sequels, updates and parodies have been written, but Loungourn stands out as an actual winner. Jo Baker’s novel follows the life of the “downstairs” inhabitants of the Bennett estate, Mrs. Hill the Housekeeper and especial Sarah, one of the maids. Austen fans should love this book, but it could also stand alone.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker - Not a new book, but a gorgeous book about the strength of women, the limits of the human spirit and the pain and pleasure of the individual lives of women. Watching Celie and awaken to herself and claim her voice changed my life, so it always makes it onto my “what to read” list.