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Staff Picks

An Erratic Start to 2018

One month into 2018 and I find myself in a very erratic reading mode, so much so that I couldn’t settle on trying to feature one book in depth, so I thought I’d take you, dear reader, on a stroll through some books I’m really enjoying–but haven’t finished yet! Read More..

“My Heart Went Boom”: Hip Hop, History, and Falling in Love with Hamilton the Musical

Before this fall, my main source of knowledge of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr came from the 1993 Got Milk? commercial. Sure, we studied the “ten dollar founding father without a father” in history as the author of the Federalist Papers, but beyond that,

he wasn’t on my radar…

Until the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit musical Hamilton was released this fall.  I haven’t been able to listen to anything else since. Really. Just ask my husband, who has been subjected to my off-key singing and to me answering questions like, “Do you want some ice cream?” with lines like “Tell me how to say no to this.”

By now, you’ve probably heard of it, whether you caught Miranda with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show (the freestyle rap battle!) or have read about it in The New Yorker or The Economist, or caught one of the one million tweets about it (that’s where I first heard about it, then immediately went to Spotify to listen to it).

But if you haven’t yet fallen into a Hamilton obsession, here are eight reasons to check it out (don’t worry, if you’re already #hamiltrash, I’ve got ten things to keep you occupied until you can see the show I’m counting down to October 17, 2016, myself).

Hamilton the Musical vertical

8 Reasons To Obsess About Hamilton the Musical

The music.

Seriously, it’s the best. Miranda pays homage to the founding fathers of hip hop (here’s a track by track list) while also showing how hip hop the actual founding fathers were. Drawing inspiration from rap, soul, and traditional Broadway show tunes, Miranda has created two and a half hours of music that you won’t be able to get out of your head; it’s so catchy and covers a full emotional range.

The rhymes.

But it isn’t just the music you’ll listen for Miranda is a wordsmith to rival Hamilton himself, constructing amazing internal and external rhymes that are so unexpected you’ll be like, “Did they really just say that?” Miranda manages include actual historical quotes from Washington alongside references to Biggie. And it works.

The diversity.

Miranda’s take on the American Revolution celebrates immigrants, emphasizes the anti-slavery work of the Hamiltons, and includes a diverse cast, and is all the better for it.

The history.

Of course Hamilton the Musical isn’t entirely historically accurate. The timeline is abbreviated, and events are shifted around for dramatic effect. But Miranda sneaks in little tidbits you never would have learned in history class, like that Martha Washington named her feral tomcat after him . Check out all the tidbits of history references in the musical, decoded.

Even more importantly, Hamilton recognizes its own metatexuality – “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” is not only the theme of the show, but of the work of all historians.

Hamilton ladies

The lay-deez.

Hamilton puts women in the narrative. The show-stopping song “The Schuyler Sisters” is phenomenal, as are “Helpless”, “Satisfied,” and “Burn”.  While the love triangle between Eliza, Angelica, and Alexander may be a bit of a stretch (although it does have some basis in history), if there’s one character my heart really bleeds for, it’s Angelica. All the lady wants is a man she can match wits with, but she’s stuck with a boring English guy. Of course, Eliza is great, and what really gets me about the Schuyler Sisters is their first love is each other, rather than a man.

I am disappointed that as rocking as the Schuyler Sisters are, the show still doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, but at least we have a strong female relationship not destroyed by competition over men, and a look at their interior lives.

The scandal.

I was a kid during the Clinton years, much to my parents’ chagrin, who had to answer a lot of questions about Monica Lewinsky, which required explaining things that might have waited until I was older. I didn’t know, however, that sex scandals had been around since the birth of our nation.

The irony.

Aaron Burr is the star of the show. Leslie Odem takes the villain and makes the audience relate to and understand him. Some of the most stand-out lines in the entire show belong to him.

The laughs.

There are several moments where the music brings me near tears, but it’s balanced with enough laughter to not leave me emotionally devastated. Of course when you’re listening to the soundtrack you don’t get to see Jonathan Groff’s walk as King George (which Beyonce plans to steal), but you do get to hear his breakup song to the colonies, which is hilarious.

8 Things to Check Out While You Wait to See Hamilton On Broadway


So, now you’re addicted, and want more Hamilton to explore? Check out these eight titles and more from the library and beyond.


Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Heading somewhere tropical? Make like Lin-Manuel Miranda and take this along as your beach read. This biography inspired the musical.

In the Heights Original Broadway Cast Recording

Can’t get enough of Hamilton? Check out the original Broadway recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s other Tony award winning musical, In the Heights.

Dinner at Mr. Jefferson’s: Three Men, Five Great Wines, and the Evening that Changed America by Charles A. Cerami

Want to be in “the room where it happens?” This is the detailed account of the infamous dinner between Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton that placed the nation’s capital near Virginia and allowed the federal government to assume the state’s debts. Bonus: there are recipes, so you could recreate the dinner itself (and make macaroni and cheese, too, if you’d like).

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

Let’s hear it for everyone’s favorite fighting Frenchman! Vowell’s new nonfiction looks at the swashbuckling, teenaged French aristocrat who came back with more guns and ships to save the American Revolution.

Drunk History, Season 1 and 2

The Youtube to Comedy Central series presents historical reenactments with a “twist”  and of course the first bit of history they tackled was the Hamiton-Burr duel.


Still can’t get enough? There’s always fanfiction. Some of it will be totally NSFW, but if Hamilton’s lines  to Mulligan “I really liked those pants” and to Laurens “I really like you a lot” seemed to have some subtext to you, you’re not alone – some historians argue that Hamilton was bisexual and had a relationship with Laurens. Many of the 528 stories currently listed on Archive of Our Own explore that idea, but there are certainly other characters and themes represented. Really, Hamilton has an amazing fandom, and if reading fan fiction isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of fan art to enjoy.

The Federalist Papers

See if you can find the quotes that Miranda references by diving into the best known works of Hamilton’s writing.

Duel!: Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words by Dennis B. Fradin

Are the kids singing along to the soundtrack now, too? This nonfiction book for the younger set is perfect for exploring more of the history behind the musical.

Dragons, Deserts, and Shakespearean Cheerleaders

What I find most exciting about young adult literature is that the books in this category are often not confined to any one genre. They blend elements from many, subvert tropes, and defy conventions. Because readers of young adult fiction are more willing to explore a variety of genres, authors of young adult fiction often have success writing in a variety of genres.

One such author is E.K. Johnston, who spun a tale about carbon eating dragons in her award-winning debut and reimagined the tale of Scheherazade in this fall’s release. Her latest book, due out this spring, subverts stereotypes of cheerleaders in an incisive critique of rape culture. Though vastly different, each novel focuses on the relationships between characters (though none contain a romance), have a rhythm and cadence to the story, and a strong sense of place, whether it’s a rural Canadian town built to withstand attacks from dragons, a sweeping desert, or a cheerleading camp.  Read More..

Going Gonzo

This weekend I had the chance to visit the Lawrence Arts Center’s exhibit curated by Daniel Joseph Watkins that explores Hunter S. Thompson’s bid for Mayor of Aspen in 1970 through art, writing, and ephemera.  The exhibit transported me to Budig Hall on the University of Kansas campus, where I spent a semester my Freshman year of college ignoring my Journalism 101 lectures and instead reading the collected works of the Gonzo journalist.

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Superhero Fiction for Grown Ups

If you visited the library over the weekend or yesterday, you might have noticed lots of superheroes wandering the stacks! This year, our summer reading theme is Every Hero Has a Story, so we’ve got lots of fun programs for kids and teens about superheroes, and of course, lots of superhero fiction for them to check out.

But what about adults?

Here are seven superhero novels written for grown ups! They run the gamut from fun and campy to more literary and thought-provoking. Read More..

Once upon a time there was a drummer, and his name was Oskar…

If I was forced to name a favorite fictional character, it would have to be Oskar Matzerath from German writer Gunter Grass’ 1959 novel The Tin Drum. It’s been several years since I read that outlandish and sprawling World War II era satire, and many of the finer details have been lost to memory, but I have never been able to forget about little Oskar who is, easily, the most radical and subversive figure I have ever encountered.  After all, could there be a greater act of defiance than to purposefully throw oneself down the cellar stairs, as a three-year old Oskar does, permanently stunting his growth for the sole purpose of avoiding  entrance into the grownup world? Oskar, who claims to have been fully mentally developed at birth, can already see the trappings of the adult life and he chooses to opt out. And with perfect timing too. This bold decision will leave him nearly invisible to the majority of the adults in his home city of Danzig, as they’re slowly being seduced by Hitler and the Third Reich. Read More..

Six Degrees of Victor Frankenstein, or, How a Volcano Launched Science Fiction

You’ve probably heard that an Italian doctor is predicting the imminent re-attachment of severed heads to bodies. With the steady improvements in medical science and prosthetics technology, it’s not too surprising. Nor is it too surprising that there’s another Hollywood remake of Frankenstein in the works, this one told from the perspective of Igor — who didn’t even appear in Mary Shelley’s famous book. It is a little surprising that Igor will be played by the man forever to be known as a young wizard with a lightning bolt on his forehead.

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Like, Try, Why: Sue Monk Kidd

If you’re looking for lyrical, female-focused literary fiction, Sue Monk Kidd is a great go-to choice. Her most famous novel, The Secret Life of Bees, was later adapted into a film starring Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, and Dakota Fanning. I fell in love with this book in high school and have read it several times since. Her 2014 release, The Invention of Wings quickly became a favorite of mine for the year, and I wanted to put together a few suggestions for other fans of Sue Monk Kidd. Take a look below! Read More..

Girls Gone Graphic!

I bought my first comic seven years ago.

Feeling unsure and out of place, I ventured up the steps to Lawrence’s local comic shop, Astro Kitty, to buy Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8. As a longtime devotee of Joss Whedon’s TV show, I was thrilled when I learned it was going to continue in comic form, even if I didn’t have any experience with the format and had grown up thinking that it was just superhero stories that were really meant for boys who didn’t like to read (oh, how naive my younger self was). Read More..

Jes’ Walk Right In

For something different, I thought I would recommend a CD.

Growing up in Southern California, every Thanksgiving one of the Rock and Roll stations would always play all 23 minutes of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant.  I always enjoyed the satire and humor, as well as the powerful message of the song.  Read More..