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Staff Picks

Jes’ Walk Right In

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

Documentaries We Love

Released in 2013, Flex is Kings is a documentary following the lives of young African-American flex dancers over a two-year period.  Flex, an undulating, free-style street-dance, originated in Brooklyn, New York and is centered around Battlefest, where dancers face off to find out who flexes best. The filmmakers do an incredible job using artistic camera shots and beautiful staging to capture the evocative, athletic nature of flex dancing.  Focusing on the community of dancers and the struggles they face, the movie is an elegant reminder of the power of dance. Read More..

Dictating History

The stereotypical 20th century office secretary—taker of dictation, orderer of flowers for the boss’s wife, getter of coffee—was a silent participant in whatever glory or tragedy befell her employers.  Such secretaries rarely found themselves subjects of historical interest, except perhaps in studies of the marginalization of women in the workplace, and characters like Mad Men’s Peggy Olson have portrayed the heartbreaking limitations of the job with an empowered twist hopefully more reflective of today’s female labor force.  But in two of the best movies I’ve seen recently, real life secretaries quietly performing their duties became involved in the most momentous historic events of the last century. Read More..

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Halloween Reads: Horrorstör

If you ventured to Merriam to see its nascent IKEA store, you’ve gotten a taste of furnishing-rabid hordes and the mega-store’s beguiling floor plans. Perhaps you felt grasped by the need for a low-price ARKELSTORP or POÄNG. I was convinced to brave the lines to see this phenomenon, and from my visit I concluded two things: one, IKEA is pretty creepy; and two, I can’t afford to not upgrade with a new set of ÅFJÄRDEN.

I’m not the only one to be spooked. Grady Hendrix, author of Yeti vs Bear and Asian film blog Kaiju Shakedown, brings the theme to its apex with Horrorstör, an archetypal haunted-house story set in an after-hours IKEA. In a recent interview, Hendrix explained his vision: “Everyone who’s shopped at Ikea knows that they’re designed to get you lost, just like a haunted house. From “The Shining” Overlook Hotel to the Minotaur’s labyrinth, horror happens when you enter a place you might never leave. Ikea just happens to offer low, low prices and plenty of Tickar dinnerware as it lures you deeper and deeper, away from the sunlight.”

The book itself is designed to ape a typical IKEA furniture catalog. The retailer is renamed ORSK in the novel for legal reasons, but the parallel is blatant. Horrorstör is laden with illustrations— at first innocent lounge fixtures. As the story develops, they become increasingly nefarious.

Horrorstör begins on a mundane weekday morning. Readers first meet Amy, a young woman fallen into a rut of disappointments. The will-sapping aura of retail work is immediately palatable as Amy finishes her coffee and begins her shift at ORSK. Strange things have been afoot: merchandise is being desecrated in the night, cryptic graffiti appears in the restrooms, and the text message “help me” mysteriously broadcasts to every employee’s phone. Assistant manager Basil— a zealous believer in the ORSK philosophy— has had enough. When he calls Amy into his office, she thinks she’s soon to be fired for her lackluster work ethic. Instead, Basil asks that she stay in the building through the night to catch whoever is damaging BROOKAs and KJERRINGs.

That night, after all the shoppers have gone home, Amy and few other colorful employees gather to begin their watch of the phantasmagorical store. And then things get really weird. This is not a mere Paranormal Activity-esque bump in the night story. The sinister presence within ORSK comes out swinging— think Evil Dead 2 level craziness, mixed with the ambiance of The Amityville Horror.

The book is best read in as few sittings as possible and preferably late at night. The plot unravels quickly, and the characters are likable, but realistically complex. Hendrix doesn’t present anything startlingly innovative in the plot— the book is mostly a skilled application of horror tropes. Each chapter is veined with commentary on big box retail culture and consumerism. The furniture catalog format and commitment to the theme makes it an incredibly cool book; fans of House of Leaves can finally enjoy another uniquely-packaged title with wall-warping hi-jinks.

Horrorstör is a great read and is perfect for Halloween— especially if you missed out on the new IKEA, or went, and hoped for something more hair-raising than several thousand hunks of chipboard.

UPDATE-  A television adaption of Horrorstör is in the works, per io9.com. Don’t worry— there’s plenty of time to pick up a copy and catch up on the ORSK mythos before it hits prime time. 

-Eli, Readers Services

Down with the OED (Yeah, You Know Me)

It takes a certain kind of nerd to want to read the dictionary, and there’s even a name for it: logophile, or lover of words. I’m always been interested in obscure words and how definitions of certain words have changed over time. I was the kind of kid who read the dictionary for fun. Really.

I’m not quite ambitious enough to undertake reading the entire Oxford English Dictionary, but I was intrigued enough by the idea to read Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by Ammon Shea. In 26 chapters, Shea shares his experience reading every single word in the dictionary and documents the amusing words he discovers during the process. It was an interesting and entertaining read.

About the time I finished, my friend, an acquisitions editor at Oxford University Press, said she got an email at work asking for suggestions on words to add to the OED as well as nominations for word of the year (last year’s was selfie) and asked for ideas. While I couldn’t think of a word I thought warranted such an honor, it did get me thinking about how a word enters a dictionary, as well as how early dictionaries were compiled. Turns out, it’s quite a tale, and is documented in The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester.  Read More..

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J.P. Dinsmoor’s Self-Made World

What inspires the artist to create?  Is it borne of a deep connection with the instrument or medium?  Is it a need to connect one’s inner life with the outer world?  Is making art about influencing change or creating beauty or making peace?  As this process of creation is unique to each of us, the possibilities are endless.  Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Folk Art Environments offers a glimpse into the world of artists whose works “challenge long-standing ideas about what art is and what it can be.”  These artists, often self-taught, tend to focus on spiritual and mystical themes and have sometimes been categorized as outsider, visionary, or folk artists.

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The World of Tomorrow

2014 marks the double anniversary for the World’s Fairs that were held in New York City. The 1939 fair opened seventy-five years ago and the 1964 fair opened fifty years ago. The World of Tomorrow: The 1939 World’s Fair, by Larry Zim, Mel Lerner and Herbert Rolfes gives the reader a chance to relive the excitement of an event most of us did not have the opportunity to experience firsthand. Read More..

Adventures in Extreme Reading

Author Phyllis Rose wants to take you on a literary experiment like none other.  The Shelf: From LEQ to LES opens in the stacks of the New York Society Library, where Rose has taken it upon herself to read across a single shelf of fiction in order to learn about a variety of novels in a completely arbitrary way.  “Usually we choose our reading from a preselected list of books, compiled by reviewers, award panels, librarians, teachers, and professors,” Rose explains.  “What about all those books that are never read at all, never even considered?  Let me, I thought, if only for a change, choose my reading almost blindly.  Who knows what I will find?”   Read More..

Sleepreading

One of the great joys of parenting toddlers for me has been the newly acquired skill to perform basic human functions while half asleep.  Specifically, I’ve found much pleasure in recent years reading aloud to my kids, and silently to myself, in a state approaching unconsciousness.  Having never come close to mastering the art of lucid dreaming, which always sounded so fun, this may be as close as I will get to operating in the plane of the surreal (unless you count an ill-conceived game my 3-year old and I play sometimes called “Food Coloring and Shaving Cream”).  I find the benefits—strange connections between the text and various subconscious flights of my own weary, wandering mind—usually outweigh the drawbacks, which have included the replacement of P. D. Eastman’s deathless prose with my own inappropriate word salad.  My biggest complaint about reading half asleep is the simple inevitability of falling totally asleep within a few paragraphs or pages, and frequently forgetting most of what I’ve read.  But I figured there must be writing that lends itself to this mode of consumption, and after a brief quest for the perfect book to read in a half asleep state, I believe I’ve found it. Read More..

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” –Jorge Luis Borges

I walked into the Carnegie building that chilly spring morning as the newest employee of the Lawrence Public Library.  The library had moved to its temporary location and this all-staff gathering was an opportunity to meet as team and envision our library’s future.  The keynote speaker that day was Nancy Rosenwald who, having recently helped elevate her South Carolina library to Best Small Library in America, was there to share her expertise.  Rosenwald invited us to be “agents for change” in this profession of “vital and transformative work”.  She spoke of public libraries as “third places”, free grounds for social interaction that are not in the home or work sphere, where the magic of community can unfold.  “Foster the human connection,” she urged us, “love the children and get to yes!”

It was inspiring.  And it got me to thinking: Where would we be without our public library system?   Read More..