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Staff Picks

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..


Reading the Classics: If You Were Stranded on a Desert Island…

No. It’s not the classic question about which book you might choose if you were stranded on a desert island. It’s a question of how you might behave if you were stranded on a desert island. It’s a question that William Golding asks in his classic 1954 novel Lord of the Flies. It’s a story about a group of boys during a fictitious nuclear war that have crash-landed on an island as they are being evacuated from England. Golding makes sure that no adults survive the crash so that only these boys are faced with the questions…how will you survive? What will become of society? Read More..


To make the gods laugh, tell them your plans

Well, I had planned on continuing my new series on environmental classics with Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, a favorite book by a favorite author in a favorite place. But only nine pages into a rereading of it and I got sidetracked by Kevin Fedarko, who just wrote a thoroughly enjoyable book called The Emerald Mile. As I was drawn into this compelling tale of running the Colorado River, I thought, “No problem. I’ll do a joint Abbey-Fedarko review. It’s a perfect fit.” Read More..


Hollywood Knows How to Ride

It’s easy to picture the scene we’ve been hearing so much about over the  past few weeks: A horde of shiftless young men, drunken and menacing, elaborately unkempt and reeking of smoke and grime, descends on Lawrence in the August heat.  No, it’s not the Kaw Valley Kickball League playoffs.  I speak, of course, of Quantrill’s Raiders.  And if you’ve been taking in the solemn ceremonies, groundbreaking Twitter re-enactments, and typical tasteless Missouri pouting that has caught the eye of commentators on the national stage, then you may be in the mood to check out some cinematic treatments of the historical events commemorated this week. Read More..


Reading the Classics: A Study in Sherlock

With more than a month to devote to my reading (I missed last month’s Reading the Classics deadline due to my not paying attention to said deadline), I was able to take on an extended reading project. Luckily, I had already jumped in to a project, a project that I was a bit skeptical of at first, the mystery genre. And of course if a guy trying to read classics decides on a mystery…well, there are certain authors that spring to mind. Agatha Christie was an obvious frontrunner, followed by several other huge names in mystery. However, my mind was made up with the help of LPL’s faithful Acquisitions Volunteer, Michelle. She is a pretty devout fan of Sherlock Holmes…mostly, I think, because of the current BBC TV series Sherlock. I have yet to see Sherlock…I have my hold on Season One of the series (you’d think the guy that orders the stuff for the collection would be able to get his holds placed a bit sooner). And since I couldn’t get my hands on the DVD set, I decided to do it the old fashioned way. I’d read some Sherlock Holmes stuff! And then, I decided to cheat and went straight to the audio version of A Study in Scarlet from the library’s handy audiobook partner, One Click Digital. It was a quick read listen and I enjoyed it so much that I was ready for some more Holmes stories. Luckily the library has plenty of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s greatest character! I made it through several Holmes stories, some in their printed form, and others in their audiobook format. I did a few of the big ones…The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four. And I grabbed a couple volumes of the library’s Holmes collections. I haven’t yet made it through all three volumes, but I’m enraptured enough to keep going! In fact, I said to my wife last night, “I think what I like about the Sherlock Holmes stories is trying to solve the mystery before Holmes does!” Well, she duly informed me that that’s the reason ALL mystery fans read mysteries. And so with my pride only slightly hurt (I say, only slightly because I’m proud to report that I have beat Holmes to a closed case on more than one occasion) I picked up my volume of Sherlock Holmes stories and got back to deducting, deducing, solving crimes!

-Dan Winsky, Acquisitions