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Staff Picks

That Repetitive Rodent

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.

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Honoring Menstruation: A Time of Self-Renewal

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..

A Peculiar Review

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..

Audiobooks for Family Roadtrips

Are you heading out of town to visit family or friends this holiday season? Are you dreading a car trip where everyone is constantly asking “are we there yet?” Audiobooks can make the time in a vehicle fly by and keep everyone entertained. Of course, finding something that fits everyone’s interest can be a bit tricky. These audiobooks are family friendly but entertaining enough for adults to enjoy. Read More..


The Ultimate Thanksgiving Movie

Recently a friend and I were discussing holiday movies—not just Christmas movies, although they probably make up the largest category—but also movies attached in some way to any other holiday.  We figured in terms of sheer numbers Halloween may be a close second to Christmas , with New Year’s and Independence Day duking it out for 3rd place.  Then there are the classics tied to more obscure holidays, Groundhog Day king among these.  But we struggled to come up with a really good Thanksgiving-related movie until my friend remembered that the thwarted travelers portrayed by Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles were headed for Thanksgiving destinations.  We also remembered Peanuts tackling Turkey Day (where would we all be without Linus to explain the true meaning of each holiday, after all?), but it wasn’t until later that evening, in a state somewhere between waking and sleeping, that I remembered the ultimate Thanksgiving movie, and one of my all-time favorites, Barry Levinson’s Avalon. Read More..


Reading the Classics: A Husband and Wife Book Club

Several years ago, actually it might be many years ago at this point, a friend gave me a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Knowing me and my penchant for reading the classics, she said, “You just have to read this!” So I put it on a bookshelf with every intention of pulling it back down and reading it the next time I was “between” reads. It sat forgotten on my shelves for decades until my wife pulled it down. “I’ve always meant to read this,” she told me. Well, what do you know? So had I! So we decided to read it together, our own little Husband and Wife Book Club…or at least we decided to read it concurrently as opposed to the cheesy You-read-to-me-and-then-I’ll-read-to-you model of spousal book clubs. Read More..


Pumpkins, Acorns, and Procrastination

I’m pretty sure I would have stuck around long enough to become an Eagle Scout if there had been more activities like the shrunken heads we made for Halloween out of decaying apples and potatoes one year early in my scouting career.  Apparently that fondness for rotten vegetables hasn’t faded, or else I was just happy to see an affirmation of my annual laziness in removing jack-o-lanterns far past their prime from our front porch, because I thoroughly enjoyed David M. Schwartz’s new book, Rotten Pumpkin , when I saw it recently on the Children’s new non-fiction shelf.  In a series of striking photographs and testimonials from 15 “voices” in the process (“Hear this, all you molds and rots: I the sow bug, owe you!”) ranging from squirrel to slime mold, the book documents the gradual decline of a typical jack-o-lantern, from fresh orange pumpkin flesh to black goo.  But not to worry, you who may expect to find such a tale depressing; Schwartz leaves us with a redemptive ending (spoiler alert, literally) in which a seed, missed by the pumpkin carver’s hand, finds nutrients in the heap of goo and sprouts the following spring.  So it’s a great book not only for the young gross-out aficionado in your life, but the budding gardener, as well. Read More..


A Winding Lane

Originally I had set out to do a write-up of Neil Gaiman’s short novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  It’s a book of magic and wonder and British children battling nefarious forces, not unlike Harry Potter or Mary Poppins.  But in Gaiman’s book those winning attributes are spun a degree darker, creating a story more akin in mood to Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.  It’s a fantastic tale, and I’d like to be able to describe it beyond simple comparisons, but I’m at a loss to adequately put some of the magical happenings into words.  Here’s a quick attempt -  Read More..

The Source Family

If you’ve been in the library lately, you may have noticed that our last display featured intriguing, unusual, and inspiring true life stories.  As Mark Twain put it, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”  Well, after spending the last month combing our library for the wildest true life stories to display, I’ve found quite an array of unbelievable tales- explorers living amongst killer ants, extreme gardeners and their giant gourds, Michael Jackson‘s life story.  Yes, I thought I had seen it all…until I came across a shocking new documentary called The Source Family. Read More..

Table Time

One of the best books I read over the summer was The Moment, a collection of very brief pieces by writers, artists, and others describing one moment in which their entire lives changed.  In addition to feeling something like a Chicken Soup for the Literary Soul (Jennifer Egan, Neal Pollack, Dave Eggers, and Michael Paterniti are just a few of the 125 contributors), I love a book like this for the new authors to whom it may lead.  In my case, I came across Laurie David, whose “moment” stood out for its simplicity among the many career and romance-related epiphanies recounted in the book.  Although her brief bio describes her as the Academy Award-winning environmental activist who co-produced An Inconvenient Truth, she chose as her momentous occasion an ordinary dinner one evening with her two teenage daughters, in which she realized she had actually done one thing right as a parent:  “to insist on a daily family dinner.” Read More..