Posts tagged with Library

Dreaming the Beatles is a Fan’s Love Letter

Rob Sheffield, a music columnist with twenty years experience who currently writes for Rolling Stone magazine, has recently released a new book: "Dreaming the Beatles." Roughly ten years ago, I read Sheffield’s first book, "Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time," a heart wrenching autobiographical memoir concerning his late wife and their shared passion for music via the art of the mix tape.

And in 2016, Sheffield produced another emotional collection, "On Bowie," a homage to David Bowie’s legacy as told through fan’s memories, as well as his own. It was a read that left me as gutted as Bowie’s final album, "Blackstar," due to the artist’s passing months prior. Now, if there is one thing that Rob Sheffield excels at, it’s portraying the visceral connection between music fans and the musicians they admire, so when I picked up "Dreaming the Beatles" I knew it was my ticket to ride.

The audio book, narrated by the author himself, begins with a rapid-fire introduction that reads like a teen magazine dossier of essential Beatles facts replete with nicknames for the Fab Four, such as: “The Smart One” (John), “The Cute One” (Paul), “The Quiet One” (George), and “The Drummer” (Ringo). OK, almost everyone. During this prelude, Sheffield poses a question: Why are the Beatles still popular, possibly more now, despite having broken up nearly fifty years ago? It’s a question I have never considered, as a daughter of a Beatlemaniac, because it has always been a known fact: The Beatles are fab!

He suggests the cause for their endurance is “the Beatles matter because of what they mean to our moment… over the years, your [favorite] Beatle keeps changing because you keep changing.” Which feels true when he speaks of being a Paul fan, yet it is unabashedly clear he favors George as his favorite Beatle. Even Sheffield’s wife is a “George girl,” who literally only has eyes for Harrison and sometimes refers to him as “Goth Beatle.”

Throughout "Dreaming the Beatles," the author maintains an excellent balance of personal recollection, amusement, and creativity. For example, he generates a list of 26 songs about the Beatles, ranging from different musicians, such as: Lil Wayne’s “Help” to the Beastie Boys’ “I’m Down” to Aretha Franklin’s “Long and Winding Road” — which Sheffield claims is “the most a Beatle cover has ever improved on the original.” He also goes as far to take an extensive look into “It Won’t Be Long” from 1963’s "With the Beatles," breaking down the number of “yeah”s sung, 55 in total, thus, reaching ultimate “yeah” density, to the Beatles’ use of the pronoun, “you,” and how this quality is what made their songs feel like they were reaching out to you and you alone.

Audiobook is a great format choice for "Dreaming the Beatles," as Sheffield’s voice has an informal cadence that makes me recall lengthy, late-night conversations about music with friends. I frequently found myself discussing, or laughing, aloud as I listened, sometimes pausing so I could find a song referenced and search for the nuance I may have missed. Many of my favorite moments stemmed from Sheffield’s personal memories connected to the band’s music because that’s what makes being a Beatles fan amazing: Everyone has a story.

"Dreaming the Beatles" is perfect for fans ranging from amateur to Beatlemaniac. It’s entertaining with informative tidbits throughout, while seamlessly interweaving Beatles lyrics and various other music references into the narrative. I appreciated that Sheffield stayed away from making this feel like another unauthorized exposé or salacious journalism. The Beatles’ music and the musicians themselves inspire such discourse that I feel this book would also make an excellent choice for reading along with other Beatles fans or in a book club. I mean, who doesn’t want to talk about the Beatles?

So, this summer (or anytime of year) I encourage you to go on a sonic journey through the Beatles’ catalog, their films "Hard Day’s Night" and "Help," and especially their premier documentary, "The Beatles Anthology."

They’re all wonderful accompaniments to elevate the experience found in this book, so take that long and winding road to the Lawrence Public Library’s door and find yourself "Dreaming the Beatles."

— Ilka Iwanczuk is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Finding pride in the stacks

“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel…is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.” — Ursula K. Le Guin

For me, the public library has always been place of possibility and self-discovery. As a gay youth growing up in a small, predominantly Christian and conservative community, I didn’t feel comfortable accepting my true self, let alone trying to relate to others about it.

Huddled in the stacks reading, it was in the books on the shelves of my local library that I first discovered I wasn’t alone; that other people felt the same as I did and had experienced similar journeys.

A public library is meant to serve everyone in the community. That means people of diverse experiences — including, but not limited to, LGBTQIA, people of color, and people with disabilities — should be able to find resources that will help them explore their identities and literature that reflects and honors their lives.

By doing a subject search in the Lawrence Public Library's catalog, you’ll find that the library does have some diverse resources, but they’re vastly outnumbered by those of a white, heteronormative experience. Part of the issue is the lack of representation in the publishing industry, which has yet to keep pace with the reality of diversity in the United States and the world. Fortunately, campaigns like We Need Diverse Books and #ownvoices are bringing to light this disparity and advocating for change.

As LPL Director Brad wrote last February, “Lawrence Public Library is committed to articulating the diversity of our community, our nation, and our world.” In my position as collection development coordinator, I get to help ensure that the diverse experiences of Lawrence citizens are reflected in the books, movies, and music on our shelves.

I also work with colleagues who recognize the importance of extending that reflection beyond the items on our shelves to the library’s programs and services. With signature events, lecture series, storytimes and book clubs, library staff has sought to celebrate and promote diversity throughout the year.

This Pride Month, the library will be hosting its first ever drag queen storytime on Sunday, June 25. Deja’s Reading Rainbow will be a storytime “about love and friendship, being different and belonging, being unique and being accepted, colors, rainbows, and, of course, fun!” I know my younger self would have felt much more comfortable in his skin if he had the opportunity to attend a program like this.

— William Ottens is the cataloging and collection development coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.


Short Story Mixtape

I remember sitting on the mauve carpet of my bedroom in front of my boombox, patiently waiting with one finger poised above the tape deck's red RECORD button. As soon as the radio DJ finished their boring spiel and “my song” came on, I jammed that sucker down and silently congratulated myself on yet another score for my mixtape.

I was in fifth grade, and this tape was a very big deal. iTunes wasn’t going to be a thing for several more years, our shared home computer probably just barely had a CD drive, and anyway that was my dad’s realm. All I needed were the sweet, sweet jams on Y-98 FM.

While I sort of wish I could find some of those old tapes for the nostalgia factor, I also know that they were very time-specific. Listening to a tape of my hard-earned “jams” would probably give me that embarrassed-for-someone-else feeling and ruin the memory. (Also true for CDs I made in high school and college… some things should just live in your head.)

To me, the importance lies in both the right-now-ness as well as the process of creating a collection of faves — whether on tape, CD, iPod, or Spotify playlist. It makes me wish it were possible to make a “mix” of other forms of media, and what I’d really love to have is a short story mixtape — a personal anthology of the short stories that spoke to me at a particular point in my life.

Over the past couple years I’ve found some amazing contemporary short story writers, almost all of whom happen to be women and (sadly) none of whom I’d heard about in school. Their works seem to be found in their own published collections or in some niche anthologies, and I’d love to cherry-pick them into my own short story mixtape.

In lieu of photocopying each one and sticking them in a three-ring binder, I’ll list them here for you, including where to find them and a very brief description (like liner notes on the fancier mixtapes).

  1. “Walkdog” by Sofia Samatar — An adolescent girl uses a school paper — complete with footnotes and snarky asides — to communicate a profound sense of discovery and loss.

  2. “The Water Museum” by Nisi Shawl — A man comes to murder a woman and is instead taken on an unexpected journey. Do not mess with the keeper of The Water Museum.

  3. “The Knowers” by Helen Phillips — Would you want to know the exact time of your death? A couple tries to find out if their final moments really are.

  4. “Patient Zero” by Tananarive Due — The diary of a child isolated from the world because of an incurable and unknowable disease. Apocalyptic creepiness at its finest.

  5. “Sorry Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea” by Helen Oyeyemi — Bizarre and surreal is Oyeyemi’s jam. This is a revenge story that will leave you smirking.

  6. “The Future Looks Good” by Lesley Nneka Arimah — Begins and ends with a woman innocently trying to find her keys to her apartment, and in the middle there’s an entire family saga condensed into a powerful little punch.

  7. “Love Medicine” by Louise Erdrich — Chapter from a novel? Story from a linked collection? Regardless, Erdrich sweeps you into an Ojibwe community filled to the brim with love and loss.

  8. “Children of the Sea” by Edwidge DanticatPDF — A back-and-forth co-narrative by two lovers separated by sea and by revolution. (From the collection, "Krik? Krak!")

  9. “Spider the Artist” by Nnedi Okorafor — Fear and intrigue mingle in this futuristic tale that leaves you questioning who gets to define “the enemy.”

Note: This was more difficult to do than I’d expected, only because I decided to follow my old mixtape rule of “no double dipping;” trying to narrow down exactly which story to include by each of these authors was a challenge. Perhaps this means there will be a Volume 2 someday…

— Kate Gramlich is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Whoa, we’re halfway there: Squad Goals progress post

If you’ve stopped by the Lawrence Public Library in the past few months, you may have noticed that the Book Squad has set up monthly rotating displays featuring potential reads for the Squad Goals Reading Challenge, our inaugural reading challenge featuring a baker’s dozen of prompts designed to help you find great new books.

We announced the Squad Goals Challenge on the Spotlight Blog last December, and I wrote about what I planned to read then. Since 2017 is almost halfway gone and summer reading is upon us, I wanted to check in and update you all on how my personal Squad Goals Challenge is going.

Spoiler alert: It’s been a mixed bag so far.

Let’s start with the good.

I’ve finished books for five of the 13 Squad Goals prompts, and I absolutely loved four of the five: Jeff Passan’s "The Arm" (a book about sports); Alice LaPlante’s "Turn of Mind" (a book with an unreliable narrator); Naomi Novik’s "His Majesty’s Dragon" (a steampunk or gaslamp fantasy novel); and Cat Sebastian’s "The Lawrence Browne Affair" (a diverse romance).

Three of those titles made it onto my “top reads of 2017” Bibliocommons list (posting soon!); the fourth book was on there originally but got knocked out by a last-minute contender (the stunningly good "Peter Darling," which would, now that I think of it, actually work for the “retelling of a classic story” prompt. Make that six of 13).

Also good: I’m roughly on-track in terms of scheduling. Actually, that’s very good, because for some reason I thought I was way behind.

Oh, wait, I know why: it’s because I’ve started and abandoned four other books that I intended to count as Squad Goals reads. Ugh.

Honestly, I’ve gotten way better about quitting books when I no longer want to read them, but if a book I’m not particularly enjoying would count toward a challenge prompt, I definitely feel a twinge when I set it aside.

I DNF’d (or did not finish) Simran Sethi’s "Bread, Wine, Chocolate" (book by a Lawrence, Kansas author); Annemarie Selinko’s "Désirée" (a book you haven’t read in more than 5 years); Y.S. Lee’s "A Spy in the House" (historical novel by an author of color); and Sonali Dev’s "The Bollywood Bride" (my original choice for the diverse romance prompt).

Of those DNFs, none were bad; they just weren’t right for me right now. Sethi’s book turned out to be more of a food memoir than the straight-up science read I was hoping for; "Désirée" was enjoyable, but there were other things I wanted to read more; I somehow forgot how uninterested I am in anything to do with spies. I am surprised I didn’t connect with "The Bollywood Bride," though, since I absolutely adored the author’s previous book, "A Bollywood Affair."

But where to go now? I’m in the mood for books with some thematic heft, so I think I’ll finally pick up the copy of "My Brilliant Friend" I bought ages ago and get to work on the “book in translation” prompt. Or maybe I’ll try out the nearly 18-hour audiobook of "Debt: The First 5,000 Years" for the “microhistory” prompt. Those seem hefty enough, right?

For those of you taking the Squad Goals Challenge, how is it going so far? What have you found that you love? What didn’t quite get the job done? And as always, if you want some suggestions about what to try next, head on over to the Book Squad Personalized Recommendations Request Form and we’ll match you with some reads we hope you’ll love.

— Meredith Wiggins is a reader’s services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


All the news that’s fit to print, and then some

The New York Times. The “paper of record” (well, not really, but commonly perceived as such). “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The gold standard for crossword puzzle enthusiasts. (Source of the lion’s share of my information about national and global current events: If you spend any time talking with me all, at some point you’ll almost undoubtedly hear me say, “So, I read an article in The New York Times…”)

I’ve been an avid reader of the Times for several years now, and so I was thrilled when it came to pass that we would be offering our patrons unlimited digital access to this venerable news source; (Fear not, paper lovers: We also continue to receive the print edition daily).

The New York Times. Credit: Haxorjoe via Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times. Credit: Haxorjoe via Wikimedia Commons. by Lawrence Public Library Staff

I am a stalwart fan of The New York Times for many reasons, chief among them that I trust its journalists to abide by a standard of ethics that results in trustworthy news reports. But the Times also provides me with sustenance as a reader, with articles that work in conversation with the most illuminating books of our times. Several of the most requested titles at the library in the last year — such as J.D. Vance’s "Hillbilly Elegy," Nancy Isenberg’s "White Trash," or Matthew Desmond’s "Evicted" — have discussed the interplay of race, class, poverty and policy in shaping American life. Have you not yet read Matthew Desmond’s critically acclaimed "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City," or can’t wait until he comes out with a new book? Then check out his article from last week’s New York Times Magazine, which explored to heartbreaking effect the role that the mortgage interest deduction plays in widening the inequality gap in the United States. Follow that up with Nikole Hannah-Jones’ article on segregation and schools to delve further into the issue of how housing options shape life outcomes; while the article focuses on New York City schools, the historical forces and present-day impacts Hannah-Jones describes have shaped neighborhoods nationwide.

Evocative journalism isn’t the only thing you’ll find among the digital pages of The New York Times; how-to guides abound as well. Intrigued by the myriad health benefits of mindfulness meditation, but aren’t sure where to start? There’s a guide for that. Start running! Discover the most efficient way to clean your home! Learn to cook (I’m not naming any names, but rumor has it that their Thanksgiving cooking guide has been a lifesaver for at least one less-than-confident cook).

So how can you access this embarrassment of riches? If you are in the Lawrence Public Library:

● Connect to the library’s Wi-Fi or use a library computer

● First-time users will need to register here (provide an email, create a password)

● Returning users can log in at

If you are not in the library:

Log in (or register if it’s your first time) on your device or computer

● Open the following URL in a new tab, then enter your library card number and PIN for access.

— Melissa Fisher-Isaacs is the information services coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.


Summer Beach Reads 2017

Last year, we put together a list of some of our most anticipated summer releases to enjoy whether you’re vacationing in the Caribbean or in your own living room.

This year, we have even more unconventional beach reads that will transport you to exotic locales and introduce you to interesting new characters.

All you’ll need is a library card, and your adventure awaits.

"Made for Love" by Alissa Nutting

Hazel has recently left her husband, the famous CEO and founder of Gogol Industries, because she strongly suspects he may have implanted a chip in her brain to always keep track of her. To get away, she moves in with her father whose roommate is a lifelike doll named Diane. With an absurd premise that combines fabulism and science fiction, this might not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, if you like strange situations, clever writing, humor, and a unique plot, this might just be a perfect book to pick up on a warm afternoon.

"The Grip of It" by Jac Jemc

"The Grip of It" is an eerie psychological horror novel that follows a young married couple who are looking to get a fresh start. After James loses most of his money from gambling, the two decide to repair their relationship and take on the challenge of purchasing a new home together. Immediately after moving in, strange things begin to occur: there’s an older neighbor who obsessively watches them through the windows, bruises appear all over Julie’s body, and childlike drawings manifest in random spots throughout the house. Spooky and suspenseful, this is for those who like a good thrill.

"Down Among the Sticks and Bones" by Seanan McGuire

This companion novella to "Every Heart a Doorway" follows the characters Jack and Jill before their stay at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Born to two uncaring parents, Jacqueline and Jillian couldn’t be more different. Jacqueline is encouraged to be quiet and unassuming even though she would much rather learn new information. Jillian is the rough and tumble child her father always wanted, but she would prefer pretty dresses to mud pies. When the girls stumble through a magic portal into a dark and dreary world, the two are finally able to be themselves, sometimes with detrimental consequences.

"The Library of Fates" by Aditi Khorana

To protect her peaceful kingdom from the ruthless Emperor Sikander, Princess Amrita offers herself as his bride, but it’s not enough, and her palace is still attacked by his forces. Amrita becomes a fugitive with her only companion being an oracle named Thala who was enslaved by the Emperor. The two join forces to find the mystical "Library of All Things," where they may be able to reverse their fates and prevent the horrible events in their lives from occurring. A thought-provoking fantasy novel that brings to life Indian folklore, this is for anyone wanting a summer adventure.

"The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue" by Mackenzi Lee

This 18th-century romance follows the arrogant but charming Henry “Monty” Montague as he embarks on a stag year across Europe with his best friend Percy, a boy he harbors an extreme crush for (even more so than the ladies he typically romances). When Monty makes a reckless decision at a party, he throws the lives of everyone he loves in danger all while embarking on a journey of self-discovery. Mackenzi Lee moves beyond conventionality to craft a book that brings a unique perspective to a genre typically riddled with tropes. Who would have guessed that a book set in the past would be as culturally relevant as this one? It deserves all of the praise it has received.

"The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter" by Theodora Goss

Mary Jekyll, daughter of the infamous Dr. Jekyll, finds herself in a troublesome spot after the death of her parents leaves her alone and penniless. Mary discovers her father’s ominous lab notebooks and that her mother set up a secret account to send money to a wanted murderer named Edward Hyde, and it is up to her to track down the missing Hyde and collect the bounty on his head to solve her precarious financial situation. This fresh take on classic penny dreadful fare will hook you from the start with its gaslit and atmospheric scenery, compelling mysteries, and motley, "Scooby-Doo"-esque cast of characters.

"The Witches of New York" by Ami McKay

Equal parts "Charmed" and "Kiki’s Delivery Service," "The Witches of New York" tells the intersecting stories of three witches whose lives are forever changed when evil begins to surface. There’s Eleanor St. Clair, a wisewoman who owns a tea shop with Adelaide Thom, a powerful seer, and 17-year-old Beatrice Dunn, who goes to New York in search of a supernatural calling. McKay expertly crafts a witchy, feminist world in which you will relish spending as much time as humanly possible. It is perfect if you need a dose of magical realism to spice up an otherwise mundane summer — no plane ticket required.

"The Backstagers" by James Tynion IV

"The Backstagers" chronicles the life of young Jory, who is not thrilled about his transfer to an all boys high school. He decides to join the theater club and ends up hanging out with a group of social outcasts who are all thrust together into an adventure after discovering a door that leads to magical dimensions. "The Backstagers" is a love letter written for theater nerds that captures the diversity of the queer experience in America. Reading it will turn you into a comic book lover with its realistic characters, breathtaking artwork from transgender artist Rian Sygh, and engrossing story.

-Fisher Adwell and Kimberly Lopez are readers' services assistants at the Lawrence Public Library.


Local author’s new novel reimagines a classic

While taking literature classes through high school, many of us had to read canon staples from the likes of Dickens and Steinbeck, despite how jarring it can seem to approach something like "Great Expectations" when you’re fourteen years old. Emily Brontë’s "Wuthering Heights"— a title which my friends keep telling me to pronounce differently, for some reason — is one such classic.

And now, 170 years later, its memorable tale of love and human spirit is once again being synthesized with a high school setting, though in a much more enjoyable manner; this time, Lawrence author Mary O’Connell has remixed the classic, retelling it with a cast of modern day teenagers and adding her own twists.

The young adult novel "Dear Reader" — pronounced as it looks, like most books — follows seventeen year old Flannery Fields as she searches for her AP English teacher who has suddenly and mysteriously gone missing in New York. Flannery doesn’t quite fit in with her peers, instead idolizing the absent Miss Sweeney, giving her the impetus to go on such a quest. O’Connell injects a turn of magical realism with Miss Sweeney’s personal copy of "Wuthering Heights," which acts as a real-time diary, giving Flannery clues about her disappearance.

While in New York, the uncannily British and charming Heath appears. To Flannery, he is both alluring and odd. She begins to wonder if he might actually be a manifestation of the similarly-named "Wuthering Heights" character. The rest of the novel holds even more surprises, weaving together threads of mystery, magical realism, and a bit of romance as Flannery finds her way.

For those who’ve never read "Wuthering Heights," O’Connell’s take is a modern and more accessible opportunity. For readers who are already fans of the classic, it’s another incarnation, ripe for comparison and reflection.

We’re fortunate to have the author visiting LPL on Tuesday, May 30th at 7:00 PM in the library auditorium, where she’ll read from and share her thoughts about "Dear Reader."

— Eli Hoelscher is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Cookbooks for a vegan crash course

Deciding to eat a vegan diet is a lifestyle change that many people struggle with. It is often perceived to be “inconvenient” or somehow “unsatisfying,” and it does not need to be. Arguably, a nonvegan diet is far more inconvenient for animals, the planet and your health.

While the negative health aspects and animal cruelty arguments don’t give everyone pause, many people are rallying behind veganism because of their newfound understanding of the environmental impact that the factory farming of animals has on our environment. Factory farming accounts for 37% of methane emissions, which has more than 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide (CO2).

When you consider the millions of acres of deforestation that is happening to make room for more cattle to graze, and the fact that industrial agriculture sucks up 70% of all freshwater on the planet, it quickly becomes obvious that we all need to do our part to reduce the negative impact our lifestyles have on this planet.

Now, there’s no “correct” way to eat a vegan diet. You don’t have to exclusively eat super-healthy foods. Vegan junk food is a thing, folks. You’d be shocked by all of the products you love that are “accidentally vegan”. My personal favorites include: Oreos, Sour Patch Kids and Doritos’ Spicy Sweet Chili flavor.

Going vegan is a process. You’re probably not going to — forgive the expression — go cold turkey on consuming animal products. But you can begin to make different choices. You can choose a veggie option at a restaurant. You can explore the many varieties of vegetable-based burger products. You can even try vegan cheese options. Try Cito’s Cashew Queso. You can buy it at our local farmers market and at the Merc. It’s all of that melty, tasty deliciousness you crave with none of the stomach pain.

There are three tips that I personally find to be essential if you’re going to be vegan:

  1. Buy a stovetop steamer. Steam veggies for 5-7 minutes, then roast them at 420 degrees for 10-15 minutes for a perfectly roasted veggie that doesn’t lose its moisture.
  2. Find sauces and spices that you love. They’re going to making cooking and eating vegetables infinitely more fun.
  3. Get comfortable in the kitchen. There are a million recipes that are simple, require limited ingredients, and don’t take more than an hour from start to finish. Experiment!

We happen to have a plethora of vegan cookbooks here at the Lawrence Public Library. Some, like "Veganomicon," tend to have holds lists a mile long. Here are nine vegan cookbooks that I pulled off the shelf not 20 minutes ago — and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

"You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan! 200 Recipes for Simple and Delicious Animal-Free Cuisine"

"Vegan Family Favorites"

"Pure Vegan: 70 Recipes for Beautiful Meals and Clean Living"

"Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine"

"Quick and Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food: 150 Down-Home Recipes Packed with Flavor, not Calories"

"500 Vegan Recipes: An Amazing Variety of Delicious Recipes, From Chilis and Casseroles to Crumbles, Crisps, and Cookies"

"The Inspired Vegan: Seasonal Ingredients, Creative Recipes, Mouthwatering Menus"

"Whole Grain Vegan Baking: More Than 100 Tasty Recipes for Plant-based Treats Made Even Healthier: From Wholesome Cookies and Cupcakes to Breads, Biscuits, and More"

"Sticky Fingers' Sweets: 100 Super-secret Vegan Recipes"

When you search “vegan cookbooks” in our catalog, there are 154 items that we hold in our collection for you to browse through. Even without the massive amount of resources available online, we have enough recipes to keep you exploring for years. Have fun, be experimental, and know that every time you choose to eat a vegan meal, you are directly contributing to the health and wellness of our entire planet.

— Logan Isaman is the community assessment coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.


Infinite, unfathomable, nonstop: Rebecca Solnit’s imaginative cartography

Once upon a time, I stumbled across a quiz that asked, “Where You At?” Despite, or perhaps because of, its sloppy grammar, the question has stayed with me. My interest in natural and cultural history, and even my fascination with infrastructure, surely dates to this time, as evidenced by the real estate that writers like Henry Thoreau, Wallace Stegner, and Barry Lopez occupy on my bookshelves.

About the time Barry Lopez released his short story collection "Light Action in the Caribbean," I discovered another writer whose take on “where you at?” I would come to appreciate immeasurably. First through her essays, and later through her books on subjects as diverse as walking, the wars of Yosemite and Nevada and the life of photographer Eadweard Muybridge, I grew to eagerly anticipate each new book by Rebecca Solnit.

By then, my personal geographic center had moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. Lopez, from Oregon, ranked among my favorite authors for his understated blend of natural history and place-based stories. Those stories, while fictional, were so grounded that they were often, in effect, verbal maps.

Maps are key to his "Light Action" story “The Mappist,” in which the narrator discovers a series of guidebooks seemingly written by different authors but with such “depth and integration” and “distinctive layering” that he is convinced they are products of the same mind. A map he happens upon confirms his hunch, and eventually he tracks down the elusive writer — a cartographer named Corlis Benefideo.

Rebecca Solnit also writes deep and integrated guidebooks of a sort, so imagine my surprise when in 2010, life imitated art, and she spearheaded a collection of maps. Titled "Infinite City," it is an atlas of her hometown of San Francisco. Collected within are twenty-two wonderful maps on different themes, drawn by different artists, each accompanied by a distinctively layered essay that is stellar in its own right. She has since coordinated two more atlases. Not too surprisingly, the North American Cartographic Information Society has awarded Solnit its Corlis Benefideo Award for Imaginative Cartography.

Following "Infinite City" came "Unfathomable City," an atlas of New Orleans, growing out of the boots-on-the-ground research she did for her important book "A Paradise Built in Hell." She and her tri-coastal tag-team of contributors wrapped up the trilogy with New York City in "Nonstop Metropolis," which just won the 2017 Brendan Gill prize.

I’ve never lived in those cities, but I’ve been lucky enough to have visited each at least a couple times. "Unfathomable City" was the most fun to explore, since I know New Orleans best. I was going to say that it comes with a virtual soundtrack — it is New Orleans, after all — but then I remembered that "Nonstop Metropolis" does too, described in the very first entry, “Singing the City,” and alluded to in several other maps.

Revisiting the three cities as presented in the atlases has been a real joy. From the SF start to the NYC finish, the juxtaposition of themes explored are nothing short of genius. A few favorites: "Monarchs and Queens: Butterfly Habitats and Queer Public Spaces." "Dharma Wheels and Fish Ladders: Salmon Migrations, Soto Zen Arrivals." "Oil and Water: Extracting Petroleum, Exterminating Nature." "Repercussions: Rhythm and Resistance across the Atlantic." "Harpers and Harpooners: Whaling and Publishing in Melville’s Manhattan." "Black Star Lines: Harlem Secular and Sacred."

The contributors are erudite and eccentric, and their essays will blow your mind, especially once you consider the research involved in each (seventy total for the three atlases). The accompanying maps display similarly inspired artwork and cartography. The overall feel of the books (especially the street map impressed hardcovers) is lovely. Additional sketches and photos are sprinkled throughout. Even the introductions are meaty and inspiring.

The approach to mapping that Ms. Solnit has taken is of course the opposite of Corlis Benefideo’s solo efforts. "Infinite City" lists her as its sole author (though others helped with the essays), Rebecca Snedeker co-edited "Unfathomable City," and Joshua Jelly-Shapiro co-edited "Nonstop Metropolis." All three atlases draw on a huge roster of collaborators, and continuity is provided by a handful who worked on more than one.

All in all, the infinite, unfathomable, nonstop atlases please and inform on every level. Except, intentionally, one: There’s no app. You can’t discover “Where You At?” staring at a little screen. Corlis Benefideo could have been speaking of Rebecca Solnit’s expansive atlases when he said, “These maps reveal the foundations beneath the ephemera.”

— Jake Vail is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


J. Robert Lennon’s “Broken River” could be his breakout novel

Each time J. Robert Lennon drops a new book, I think, "This is the one. This is the time the general public will discover J. Robert Lennon." Entertainment Weekly will give it an A+, Angelina Jolie will tweet about it or some such thing.

Famed writer of thrillers Lee Child calls Lennon’s latest novel, "Broken River," “compelling from the first page, and then smart, sophisticated, suspenseful and satisfying throughout — [it] is a first-class ride.” It has also been chosen as the May 2017 Indie Next #1 Pick, so who knows, perhaps "Broken River," his eighth novel, will be that breakout book. It is certainly worthy of that distinction.

I have been a big fan of J. Robert Lennon for well over a decade, my first discovery being a paperback copy of "The Funnies" I found at A Room of One’s Own in Madison, Wisconsin, in the early aughts. Since that first foray into Lennon’s work, I have always found his writing style eminently readable, replete with storylines that allow themselves to be stuffed with so many thoughts and ideas to ponder — morality, mortality, raison d’etre, all that kind of stuff. Starting with "The Castle," his first novel for the outstanding indie publisher Graywolf Press, Lennon began with much success to introduce new elements of a deeper psychological (and perhaps parapsychological?) bent.

"Broken River" continues Lennon’s path deeper into what, for lack of a better term, I will simply call enhanced weirdness and spookiness. At its heart, the novel is a thriller and family drama knit together as one. We start with the brutal late-night murder of a couple and the escape of their child and proceed to their empty house, which years later is bought by a family who become the central protagonists of the novel.

All of the action is viewed by the Observer, a mysterious spectral presence that becomes more aware of its consciousness as the book progresses. (That’s the “weird” part.) The book continues forward into the story of a broken family that should or shouldn’t remain united. The husband really needs to get his act together.

I don’t find much sense delving much more into the guts of the story; you can find that in summaries written by better writers than yours truly. I write this short piece only to throw my hat into the ring along with other fans of J. Robert Lennon. "Broken River" is a truly outstanding novel, and you should read it.

Additionally, Lawrence is fortunate enough to welcome Lennon to the library on Thursday, May 18 at 7:00 PM, an event that will please you if you come, and you absolutely should come.

— Brad Allen is the executive director of the Lawrence Public Library.