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The Stages of Finding a New Favorite Author

This post was inspired by my binge-reading of the collected works of Mohsin Hamid, my (new) favorite author currently writing. Read More..

Luaka Bop and the World Psychedelic Classics

Almost 30 years ago, David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) founded a record label “to turn people onto stuff [he] liked.” Because he’s David Byrne, and because he’s eminently cooler than you or me, the stuff he liked was Brazilian pop music.

In January of ‘89 Byrne released his first compilation, Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical. Three other Brazil Classics followed. From there, Luaka Bop–a record label name Byrne nicked off some tea packaging– and along with its eyeballed, “rather obscure Masonic” logo started to jump all over the globe. Cuba, England, India, West Africa, Japan, etc.

I wish I could claim to be a lifetime follower of Luaka Bop, but the truth is I’m a new convert. I hadn’t heard of the label until I stumbled upon the fifth of its World Psychedelic Classics series, Who is William Onyeabor? a year or two back. Read More..

Coal and Thoreau: The Essays of Practice Resurrection

Not long ago I took a trip across the High Plains, and in addition to seeing more pronghorn and prairie dogs than I’ve ever seen, I also witnessed the landscape of Wyoming’s Thunder Basin for the first time. While much of it is drop-dead beautiful, one gets the feeling that something ominous is brewing there – roads are being repaved, railroads are new or well-maintained, and, of course, trucks are many, big, and well-used.

One soon finds out why. Thunder Basin is where about 40% of America’s coal is mined, though a traveler gets only an occasional glimpse of the massive dark pits uprooting acre after acre of prairie. It’s kind of the opposite of the mountain top removal mining tearing down places like Kentucky.

Serendipitously, upon my return to Lawrence I discovered Kentucky author Erik Reece, who recently published a wonderful new book, Practice Resurrection.  It turns out his previous work, entitled Lost Mountain, is what poet and fellow Kentuckian Wendell Berry calls “by far the best accounting of mountain top removal and its effects.” In it Reece describes a year on a particular promontory, “thinking like a mountain,” in ecologist Aldo Leopold’s words, before said mountain’s head is blown off for the coal beneath. Read More..

Where the Beefalo Roam

As an animal lover growing up in Kansas, our annual grade school field trip to the University of Kansas Natural History Museum was always a high point. I adored the famous Panorama of taxidermy, and the working, cutaway beehive, but what I looked forward to most was the chance to gaze upon a real jackalope.

We adults require our animals to be just what they are, but I often think the world would be a better place if we hadn’t lost whatever it is about kids that allows them to accept the possibility of crazy animal hybrids. I’m as big a stick in the mud as any when it comes to combining species. After all, it recently took 30 minutes of bickering and this Wikipedia entry to convince me that cattle and buffalo had been crossed to produce an animal called a beefalo.

If there is one place such a creature could roam free, it’s in the children’s collection at the library.  In fact, there are so many weird animals to be found here, I sometimes think of it as a warmer, fuzzier Island of Dr. Moreau, with the sociopathic, mad scientist of that title replaced by a maniacal Lisa Frank, fresh off a post-doc fellowship in genetics at Johns Hopkins, flush with grant money, and ready to combine as many cute animals as she can get her hands on.

Most remember the Gryphon, a lion and eagle mash-up immortalized by Victorian illustrator John Tenniel in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But there are so many other wondrous species within the pages of books, I’ve compiled them over the years into a sort of children’s literature bestiary. Without further ado, here are my five favorites: Read More..

Season of the Witch

Magician, wizard, practicer of magic, whatever you want to call that person, I bet some of the first examples that pop into your head are male: Harry Potter, Merlin, Gandalf. The greats of the fantasy genre are usually males with women in support roles. They are the wife, jealous lover, or know-it-all, and sometimes in a world full of men practicing magic, they have no magical ability at all; they are a foil for their wizard counterpart.

Growing up enamored with the fantasy genre and novels filled with magic, I found my favorites: Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness Quartet, Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series and of course the biggie, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. But for every Alanna and Sabriel there were dozens of Harrys and Eragons. YA and Juvenile fiction have been quick to turn around, but it can be pretty difficult when browsing the Adult Fantasy shelves to find a novel centered on a well rounded female character. Fantasy has long been reigned over by male protagonists, but there are female writers like Ami McKay and Kat Howard who are daring to go where only Robert Jordan and  J. R. R. Tolkien had gone before. Let me talk to you about witches in America. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Read More..

Five-Star YA Books Published This Year

Liked it, really liked it, it was amazing – if you’re a GoodReads user, you’ll recognize these as the three, four, and five star ratings on the site. I admit, I’m probably a little over-generous with my stars. Looking back at this year’s reads, I’ve given no less than three stars to each. But I also feel like I’ve read some really good books!

Because I order books for the teen collection, many of those reads were Young Adult books. I know it’s a tad bit early for “Best of 2017” lists, but here are five published this year that I unhesitatingly gave five stars: Read More..

The Man from the Train: A Midwest Murder Case for the History Books

Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James’ The Man from the Train opens with the brutal murder of 8 people in the quiet town of Villisca, Iowa during the summer of 1912.

The murders rocked the tiny town and fed the newly burgeoning press scene with half truths and speculation. Though the press could be wildly unhelpful, authorities could now see a continued pattern of murders stringing along the rail lines from small town to small town in the Midwest thanks to the reporting and sharing of information across county and state lines. Read More..

There Is No Such Thing As “Guilty Pleasure”

Not too long ago, I was having a discussion with my book club members, and one of them mentioned that she wanted to place an item on interlibrary loan, but she was embarrassed and worried that anyone who saw the book would judge her.

I laughed and exclaimed to the entire group (we are a rowdy and colorful bunch of people) that there is no need to be embarrassed of anything she ever requests from another library, because at one point in the near past I have checked out every available season of Kate Plus 8 through ILL.

You know, that one terrible but highly entertaining TLC reality TV show about an obsessive compulsive mother, her eight children (one set of twins and one set of sextuplets), and her at-the-time husband who every now and again does an interview with E! to make a quick buck? You know, the Gosselins? Yeah, THAT show.

Now that revelation was so “embarrassing” that the entire room laughed, and someone even made the joke that I should never be willing to admit that kind of information in public. The thing of it is – I make revelations like that almost on a weekly basis. Feel free to ask me my opinion on every single one of the Kardashians. I could talk for DAYS about them. There is no shame in my game. I will happily watch trashy reality TV series with a smile on my face and an overly produced pop song in my heart.

That experience with my group got me thinking, though. How many of us don’t want to talk about the things we love, because they are consider “lesser” and “bad taste”? The type of content I’m talking about is often marketed by that phrase I absolutely detest: “guilty pleasure.” I resent that phrase because it implies that enjoyment is somehow wrong because of the perceived social stigma or overall “quality” of the work. It’s okay to love something, even though it’s considered terrible by the smartypants you encounter on the bus who won’t stop rolling their eyes at your werewolf erotica. Read More..

October Look Play Listen Round Up

Hi Lawrence!

Look Play Listen is the library’s team of AV appreciators.

Each month we’ll round up some of our favorite music, film/TV, and video game reviews from our staff and put them in one easy to read, easy to locate blog post. Read More..

Four Fall Finds

Publishing, like everything, goes in cycles; spring and summer are prime time for book publications, and things tend to wane as the months get colder.

However! Every year there are gems that get released after the rush, and I want to highlight a few books that are yet to come for the end of 2017.

Read More..