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In the Spotlight

Rompy Reads

Spring has sprung, and when I get joyously happy about the weather, I generally want to grab a fun read that’s perfect for sun-lounging. Here are three books – in three different genres – that are ideal for a sunlit afternoon filled with rompy adventure and funtimes.

Now when I describe these books as rompy, I mean it. These are NOT going to fulfill your need for the next literary classic or the best executed plots of a lifetime. Some belief will have to be suspended. Some eyes will be rolled. Some “smh” will be unleashed, but it’s okay! Because these are fun and free wheeling. You’ll like them, I promise. Read More..

Embracing Your Inner Unicorn, No Matter What Age

After my most recent birthday, I discovered something new about my body: occasionally when I squat down, my knees will give a little pop. That didn’t happen before. What’s also new are the little lines and crinkles underneath my eyes that definitely weren’t there before. I’ve always been a fan of sleeping, but now if I don’t get plenty of rest, my eyes become so bloodshot, I start to look a little like those white rabbits with the red eyes. I sound like I’m complaining, but I find this to be super exciting! I’m not being sarcastic. No, really. Read More..

RuPaul’s Drag Race & a Bit of Jargon

It’s finally happening, squirrel friends! Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race airs Friday, March 24th at 8/7c on VH1.

The herstory of Drag is one of struggle, damnation, and, most importantly, fabulous ferocity. Drag is something that has been widely misunderstood, and even more widely unaccepted. RuPaul Charles—more appropriately, Mama Ru—has been working for decades to expose Drag to the masses as a normal and respected practice and art form.

In that time, he has gained notoriety as not only a fashion icon, but as a feminine icon. Drag has shaken the foundations of commonly accepted gender roles and expanded what American society accepts and embraces as beauty. People are beginning to accept that Drag is not taboo. Thanks in large part to the success of RuPaul’s Drag Race and its contestants, the world is learning to not only accept Drag, but to respect it. Read More..

Liquor and Drugs: My Venture Into the Writings of Irvine Welsh

Cue Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life while the camera zooms in on a pair of Adidas as they hit the ground running. In a few moments, the camera pans up and we see a stick-thin Ewan McGregor running from the cops for an unknown crime with his famous monologue that begins,

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f—— big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage…” and ends with, “But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”

This is one of my favorite movie openings of all time. Read More..

Stories of Our Life: The Great Derangement and Splinterlands

Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life, a short science fiction piece which I reviewed a few months ago, keeps infiltrating itself into my reading. Oddly, it reverberates most when I read nonfiction.

Story of Your Life is so fascinating due to its subtle manipulation of time. You may know it as the basis of the movie Arrival, where, for one character, the future is part of the present. Nonfiction, though, often looks backwards (cultural history, natural history), using “time’s arrow” to explore the present.

But one of the most powerful non-fiction books I’ve read lately is Amitav Ghosh’s non-linear look into the future to question the present, called The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. The question Ghosh asks boils down to, “Why doesn’t the greatest issue of our time – climate change – show itself in more contemporary fiction?” Read More..

Infamous Hollywood Feuds: Bette & Joan Edition

Growing up on a farm as a kid, and being about as outdoorsy as a Kardashian, I often turned to old black and white films to escape to a world I thought better suited my own eclectic personality. I fell in love with the romanticized version of Hollywood and idolized the glamorous femme fatales of Film Noir along with their charming and roguish leading men.

I credit much of my infatuation to the mystique that shrouded the lives of Hollywood stars, and as an adult, I’ve tried to learn more about the real people behind these beloved characters through devouring various memoirs, biographies, and documentaries. Oftentimes, as one might expect, public perception and tabloids that dominated a very controlled news cycle do not match what lies beneath the surface.

I think one of the greatest challenges for film biographers is to get to some sliver of the truth by pulling back the studio-controlled veneer and separating myth from reality.  This is a quality that very few achieve.

In preparation for Ryan Murphy’s new anthology series Feud: Bette & Joan on FX, I decided to visit Shaun Considine’s critically acclaimed work Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud to learn about the series of events that sparked Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s dramatic schism – and hopefully learn more about the real lives of these iconic starlets of the silver screen. Read More..

America will be!

Last December, still in a post election funk (that has yet to dissipate) and shifting books, I stumbled across an illustrated copy of a Langston Hughes poem, Let America be America Again. The poem’s title seemed to riff on a now distant campaign slogan (I never imagined I’d miss the 2016 campaign), and it caught my eye.

Let America be America Again is a plea, a lament, and a statement of resolve. The whole poem is well worth reading (seriously, read it), but I want to focus on its opening stanzas in particular:

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

No matter your race, party, or creed, the words “America never was America to me” should bother you. They should sting. How many “me[’s]” are represented in that one devastating sentence? What a travesty that words written in 1935 can still ring true for so many today.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day I was spit on for not being white. I was in the seventh grade. As I got off the school bus and it started to pull away, I heard someone hock a loogie above me. Then I was covered in spit. My fellow bus riders were pointing at me and laughing. Two kids I barely knew (the culprits, I assume) were proudly sticking their torsos out of bus windows. One shouted “rice picker” as the bus pulled away. I stood there stunned. I wiped the gunk from my face and hair. Home was a couple blocks away.

Rice picker?

A ridiculous racial epithet that followed me from middle school until I graduated. Just thinking about it makes me feel incredulous. Some days I laugh at the small-mindedness of it all. At the time it only hurt. I felt embarrassed to be myself. I felt unwelcome.

That was my first experience with America being less than what I had been taught.

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I know that in the face of this country’s history of racial injustice my exposure to prejudice doesn’t amount to a drop in the bucket. It doesn’t compare to the myriad struggles that countless Americans have confronted or the disenfranchisement that millions of fellow citizens are made to feel daily.


Let America be America Again
is deeply rooted in that anguish. It is a heartbreaking poem that doesn’t shy away from the exploitative capitalism and institutional racism its author faced. But at the same time it is an inspiring and defiantly hopeful work of literature. Hughes didn’t retreat. He didn’t cower. He recognized his self worth and and waited for a day when his homeland would do the same:

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Let’s go back to the beginning. Not to the historical America of 1776 or to some idyllic America that never existed for the majority of us. Let’s go back to the American promise. The American Dream. Back to the city upon a hill. Back to “All men are created equal.” Back to the country that not only welcomed “the homeless, tempest-tossed” but demanded to be given “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” Let’s go back to the beginning and refamiliarize ourselves with those lofty, worthy, admirable ideals. Forget about some nativist, exclusive, reactionary idea of greatness. Let America be herself. Set fear aside, listen to our better angels, “and make America again!”

-Ian Stepp is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library. 

Cover Image credit: Jack Delano

Mother Nature is One Tough Mama

Either I have a knack for meeting a lot of garden folk in this town, or Lawrence is just full of people who like to grow green things. It’s starkly apparent during this time of year-when the unseasonably warm days spark conversations of an early spring that evokes a gleam in the eyes of knowing growers. No matter how you slice it, everywhere you look in our community people are ready for warmer climes, longer days, and a promised end to winter’s bleak and naked landscape.

If you’ve ever successfully grown your own anything–be it flower, tomato, or herb–you know what I mean. From the arrival of the first seed catalog–multi-hued and glossy, with its tempting vintage seed packets and earthy adornments–winter’s enchanted garden reverie has begun. For me, pair it with a hot cup, a cozy spot, and a few choice books, and I’m set for a glorious daydream season of planning the next epic harvest.

After over a decade of coaxing the fruit and leaf of plants, I’ve learned that my garden exploits have only taught me–like so many other of life’s lessons–that I have so much more to learn. Like many of my growing friends (that means all of you L-town growers!), I take refuge in the Library. Together we seek, along with the newest trends and most reliable knowledge, the answers to last year’s garden tribulations. Hunting out companion plants, organic methods, and permanently sustainable growing practices that will not only bring forth our own nourishment but also that of the land, the water, and the air. Don’t be fooled, gardening is not a passive sport. If given the right opportunity, it will draw you into its cyclical rhythm, hook right into your soul and stare you down straight in the eye. Mother Nature is one tough Mama.

If your garden passions lead you here to the library, like mine do, take heed of these great titles in LPL’s fantastic garden collections:

Your New Go-To Expert: If you want to know how far to space your lettuce, how to plant leeks from seed, or find out what in the world Scorzonera is, The New Vegetable & Herb Expert is your brainy new best friend. Keep her close by throughout the growing season from seed to harvest.

It’s All About Community: Something magical happens when folks get together to grow great food. People talk, connect and listen to each other and the plants. Want a practical handbook about creating that perfect blend of people and food? Check out Start A Community Food Garden which tackles everything from meeting agendas to mobilizing volunteers to seasonal shindigs that keep both the community and garden humming.

Pop Culture Gardening: Level-up your raw green smoothies by learning how to grow them in your own backyard. The Green Smoothie Garden takes you from seed to blender with tips on growing, harvesting and honing your smooth mixologist skills.

A Fresh Take On Permaculture: Whether you have a postage stamp or a hectare, you can integrate permaculture principles wherever you grow. Edible Landscaping With A Permaculture Twist is a win-win for any home garden. You get all of the beauty of natural landscaping plus the bounty of its harvest. Have more space? Try Integrated Forest Gardening, which is sure to be the next great permie handbook for food forestry–the pinnacle of permaculturing.

One Tough Garden: Despite increasing climate-related changes in seasons, temperatures, and precipitation, you can confidently grow a great garden with The Undaunted Garden. This updated classic takes on the tough growing conditions that growers shy away from and gives serious recommendations for plant friends that will thrive in any growing condition.

Make Peace With Wildlife: Are you tired of fighting against the forces of nature in your

garden? Would you like to learn a growing style that invites the benefits of wildlife? The

Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener and How to Create a Wildlife Gardenwill teach you

how to accept and facilitate the gifts that nature offers any growing garden.

The siren call of next year’s great harvest is most alluring and if you feel–like I do–that you have become a full fledged member of the garden mafia, then I wish you luck, my friend. May your best laid garden plans result in your health and happiness and more than a few exploits of your own for 2017.

By the way, LPL just launched it’s 3rd Annual Seed Library on February 20th! This year we partnered with Just Food to bring more seeds, more programs, more fun! Stop by to pick up free flower, herb, and vegetable seeds for your garden. And look for plenty of resources and educational programs to help get your garden growing. Just remember, it doesn’t get any more local than your own backyard!

-Gwen GeigerWolfe is an Information Services and Public Health Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.

Digital Douglas County History: Get Digging!

Do you enjoy spelunking for local history? If so, we’ve got a goldmine for you: in January, we launched a new tool for digging into our community’s past–the Digital Douglas County History portal (find it at http://history.lplks.org, or on our Genealogy and Local History page under the Research Resources tab on the library’s homepage). This project, a collaborative venture of the Watkins Community Museum, the Douglas County Genealogical Society, and the Lawrence Public Library, features hundreds of images of Lawrence faces, places, and events. Read More..

Stronger Together in the Company of Women

For anyone who was an avid reader of DIY design magazines Ready Made or Domino during the early to mid-2000’s, or even their digital equivalent, Apartment Therapy, the name Design*Sponge will be as familiar as household words. In 2004, author Grace Bonney founded the daily website, which is dedicated to the creative community. Swiftly, it proved to be popular, and more than a decade later it is still thriving, unlike the defunct magazine counterparts mentioned.

Since launching Design*Sponge, Bonney has created a meetup series titled Biz Ladies that serves as a community resource for women entrepreneurs and maintains a digital presence as a column on the Design*Sponge website. It was during Biz Ladies events that Bonney realized there was a need to communicate a holistic and diverse representation for professional women. “Visibility is one of the most powerful tools we have in inspiring people to pursue their dreams and educating them about all the amazing options that exist,” says Bonney, and this is where the touchstone lies in the heart of her new book, In the Company of Women. Read More..