The rains became unpredictable, societal chaos threatened, and so they walked. Nearly a thousand years later author Craig Childs also walked, trying to follow their slow migration from Mesa Verde to Chaco Canyon and on south to the Sierra Madre. "House of Rain," published a decade ago, is one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors, exploring one of my favorite areas. You can't hardly beat that.
Unless, of course, you publish a collection of pieces about the many critters you've encountered on your mostly Southwest rambles, adding a lively layer to your already awesome back-county historical travelogue. You might call such a collection "The Animal Dialogues," as Craig Childs has done. That would be hard to beat.
Unless ... unless you walked in the footsteps of the really ancient ones, moving across incongruous landscapes as you tracked the very earliest humans to journey into the Americas. You would of course also encounter animals, terrifying animals, familiar yet different. Huge. And fast. That book might be unbeatable.
Think of it — the Pleistocene West Coast was 400 feet lower than it is today (since so much water was tied up in glaciers that sat like continents on top of continents), so a kayak might come in handy. Inland, you'd be traversing glaciers and ice fields, so you'd perhaps rig up a dog sled — and who knew those dogs would prove to be rather excellent hunting companions in the years to come? As for ice-age animal dialogues, you would have to rely on your imagination. Good thing, too, for conversations with the short-faced bear, American lion, mammoth, saber-toothed cat, or dire wolf might be rather short.
On the other hand, you’d be with family and friends, carrying a practical and proven toolkit. Though the lands and animals would be new, you’d be old hands at hunting and migration. (The indescribably massive floods that raged as the glaciers melted, though … no one could be prepared for those. Their memory would live on in the myths and religions of cultures across the land.)
Craig Childs' new book is called "Atlas of A Lost World," and, no surprise, his time-traveling compares favorably with his place-traveling. Before you know it, you’re in the company of mammoths, walking across the Bering land bridge.
By the way, the Bering land bridge was not a narrow bridge between Russia and Alaska in the Golden Gate or Brooklyn Bridge sense. It was wider than Alaska, nearly the girth of what’s now the Lower 48 between Chicago and New Orleans. Childs calls Beringia a lost continent, one not unlike the 19th century Great Plains, sunny and grassy and teeming with animals.
There was also a highway stretching 22,000 miles from Japan all the way to Baja–the so-called Kelp Highway. It was along this route that early mariners may have come to the Americas. Not only that, there was an Atlantic land bridge, stretching from the British Isles to New York(!). Jumping ahead a little bit, might it be that the famous mammoth-spearing Clovis points came over from the Iberian peninsula? They were developed on the east coast, after all, then spread west.
To his credit, Childs doesn’t pretend to know the answers to puzzles like this, and there are many indeed in the hazy past of American settlement. Over the years, I’ve tried to keep up with latest discoveries and theories of human arrival in North (and South) America, but the "Atlas of a Lost World" is loaded with new information, refreshingly presented in an educated “consider this” style that is comfortable with not knowing all the facts.
Short-faced wolves in Bonner Springs. Evidence of “bone crusher” culture in north-central Kansas, from a time when no one was thought to be there. Childs keeps the reader engaged as he travels from ancient site to ancient site, despite all the surprising and sometimes conflicting evidence that’s been unearthed.
This much is certain: people (with brains larger than ours) came from different places at different times, and moved all over. As Childs says, “Paleolithic America was never a monolithic culture, it was always many cultures.”
— Jake Vail is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never
reads lives only one.
—George R.R. Martin
I’m going to report this fact, though it hurts me to do so: In a recent Pew study, 24 percent of U.S. adults said they had not read a book in the last year. (OK, let’s look at the bright side … that means 76 percent of us have read a book in the past year.) However, not making or having time for reading is taking a toll on us beyond just missing out on the cultural zeitgeist — we’re robbing ourselves of some serious physical, social and emotional benefits as well.
There are several studies detailing how reading is good for humans. Not just reading nonfiction to educate yourself about a certain subject, but leisure reading. Yes, you heard me right — leisure reading. Romance, mystery, urban fantasy, literary fiction, westerns. All of the above and more. Leisure reading does a number of things for you that you may not realize. The act of reading decreases your stress and anxiety (okay, maybe a little less if it’s Stephen King) and can even reduce depression.
Reading increases your empathy and feelings of being able to relate to other humans. It helps keep your brain sharp as you age and may decrease your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. It increases your understanding of cultures and people that you might normally think of as “the other” and widens your horizons. Reading even improves thinking and communication skills, and goodness knows we could use more of that right now.
Libraries can enhance those benefits by connecting you to a larger local community of readers. We do that at the Lawrence Public Library through book clubs and other programming, but for the next several months, PBS’ "The Great American Read" is putting you in conversation about your best-loved books with the entire United States of America. That’s right, all the people, everywhere, talking about books.
I’ve always been a PBS fan, from my early years watching "Mr. Rogers" and "Sesame Street," all the way to the latest incarnation of "Sherlock. " But honestly, PBS has outdone itself with the creation of "The Great American Read, " which aired on May 22 and gave wings to this librarian’s heart.
Here’s the rundown: "The Great American Read" is a series that kicked off in May and will resume again in the fall for a total of eight episodes about books and reading. PBS conducted a study from a sample of Americans, weighted for age, gender and ethnicity. From this sample, they compiled the 100 best-loved-books in America. Over the course of the series, people will discuss the various books chosen and some themes in literature, all leading to the final episode, where the viewers will choose the No. 1 best-loved book. Libraries around the country will host viewing and discussion events (including the Lawrence Public Library — the dates will be available later this summer).
And discuss we shall! Already, there have been spirited conversations about the books chosen to be among the 100. Friends, people are shook! They are all at once thrilled to see their favorites, dismayed to see what they consider the worst book(s) of all time, or a mix of both. I’m telling you, it’s a librarian's dream come true, all this bookish banter. Recently, fellow library staffer Kate Gramlich and I sat down and talked it out on our Book Squad Podcast, and we had some feelings. Tune in to see what we’ve read and how we felt about it. (At this point, I’ve only read 33, and I am truly inspired after watching the kickoff episode to make my way through many more of the 100 books, starting with "The Invisible Man.")
Over the summer, the library will use our social media channels and in-house conversations to keep folks talking about "The Great American Read," and more importantly, keep people voting for their favorite of the 100. Catch us on social media and let us know who you’re voting for — make your arguments and convince us. We’ll be doing the same. Yours truly will be voting for "The Color Purple," "Beloved," "Outlander," "Ready Player One," "The Martian," "The Book Thief" and more. With this, vote early and often is actually a thing — you can vote once a day at the PBS website or on social media, from now until the final episode on October 23 that will reveal the best-loved book in America.
I don’t know if I can adequately express how it felt on May 22 to see people live-tweeting about books. Not TV, sports, movies or celebrities — about reading. About their favorites and whether or not the list of 100 was good and who they would be voting for and which one they thought could go all the way. I’m indebted to PBS for working to increase the health and well-being of our nation by encouraging folks to pick up a book, read for pleasure, and connect with fellow humans over our greatest human evolutionary achievement: the ability to create, record, and read stories across space and time. It’s a miracle, really, and it’s all right here at your fingertips.
— Polli Kenn is the reader services coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.
June 22 marks the second installment of the new Lawrence Public Library event series, Sound+Vision Sessions. The event showcases local music artists whose material we have in our catalog in a family-friendly, all-ages atmosphere.
This concert features the incredibly talented and esteemed singer/songwriter, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Heidi Lynne Gluck. Gluck's music blends elements of folk, rock and indie music, while often remaining united by a hauntingly beautiful, melancholic mood.
To gear up for the event, I asked Gluck a few questions to gain perspective on the time she has spent in the Lawrence community, as well as what we can expect from her upcoming performance.
Q: How long have you been involved in the Lawrence music community?
A: Just a little over a decade. I appeared on my first Lawrence record (The Only Children's "Change of Living") in 2005. My first Lawrence show was before I lived here. I was on tour with my old band Some Girls in 2003. We played a fun show at the Bottleneck, and Lawrence left a great impression on me. Starting in 2006, I have been a side-man in a number of Lawrence bands, and also perform solo and with my own band.
Q: What do you enjoy most about the Lawrence community — both the music and at large?
A: Lawrence has always struck me as a great place to have a balanced life. I’m grateful to live in a place that is as great for my child to grow up as it is for me to grow as a musician. The coziest times for Lawrence music is when all the students go home and the townies take the Replay back for a little while.
Q: What is your favorite library moment?
A: Can’t choose one. In no particular order:
Taking my toddler to see Truckstop Honeymoon in the old library auditorium (this was right after we moved to town and it felt really special).
Walking into the beautiful new building a few years ago.
Hosting a recital for my young music students and watching them perform so confidently.
Driving by on Saturday mornings and seeing the line out the door before LPL opens. Warms my heart.
Using the highly functional Sound & Vision studio.
Anticipating the Mavis Staples interview.
Q: The Summer Reading theme at LPL is "Libraries Unplugged." What can your audience expect from your performance that reflects this theme?
A: I am going to do a rare acoustic performance, and a big unplugged treat for me is to get to use the fantastic grand piano in the auditorium. I can't wait.
I have seen Gluck perform countless times over the last few years, and I can assure you this concert is not one you want to miss. Her talent and prowess command the attention of everyone in the room when she performs, and I have never left unimpressed.
Gluck will perform in the auditorium of the Lawrence Public Library on June 22 at 7 p.m.
— Joel Bonner is a technology assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
There are a number of ways to celebrate Pride Month, but the bookworm in me insists there's nothing like a good read. The young adult publishing industry has come a long way since my own teenage years when it comes to diverse and #OwnVoices titles, books written by authors who share a marginalized identity with their main characters. This month, I encourage you to check out one — or more — of these great, recent young adult books that put LGBT characters in the lead:
This is a fantastic collection of short stories, spanning genres and time periods, written by many of today’s popular young adult authors, including Mackenzi Lee, Shaun David Hutchinson, and Tessa Gratton.
Fellow library staffer Kate Gramlich says, “The premise of writing fairy tale-esque stories from a young queer and/or trans perspective is really interesting, and I loved all of the different directions that the authors took.”
"The Beauty That Remains" by Ashley Woodfolk
This is a beautiful story about death, grief and moving on. Autumn blames herself for the death of her best friend who died in a car accident; Logan tries to figure out the circumstances that led to the death of his ex-boyfriend whom he still loves and Shay wonders how to continue the music review blog she managed with her twin sister who recently died of leukemia.
"Looking for Group" by Rory Harrison
My new favorite road trip novel. Dylan is in remission and addicted to medications and struggles to get along with a mother who only takes advantage of his situation. Arden lives with a father who refuses to accept her true gender. They've only met online playing World of Warcraft, but when Dylan shows up on Arden's doorstep, they decide to abscond across the country on their first real life mission. A fun, endearing read.
"All We Can Do Is Wait" by Richard Lawson
This book will pull you in and keep you turning the pages because you just have to know what happened. Set in Boston, a diverse group of teens wait at a hospital to find out whether their family or friends survived a bridge collapse. At the center are Jason and Alexa, who are waiting to find out what happened to their parents. Jason, who isn’t out, bears an even bigger secret that could tear the siblings apart. Heartbreaking and emotional, but not without hope.
"The Prince and the Dressmaker" by Jen Wang
A wonderfully creative graphic novel, this is the story of Frances, a young seamstress who creates dresses for Prince Sebastian, who leads a secret double life as the fabulous fashion icon, Lady Crystallia. But Frances, who must remain secret as well, dreams of more.
— William Ottens is the cataloging and collection development coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library
Every year as schools wind down, the library winds up. Summer is just around the corner and the bulk of the Lawrence Public Library's Youth Services department went out into the wild — aka USD 497 — to promote the Summer Reading Program. (If you want to learn more about it, when it starts, how long it lasts, what even is it? Check this out.)
Getting to see kids in their natural habitats is one of my favorite things about working in Youth Services; you get to say hi to the kids you know well and maybe even make a new friend or two, but above all you are trying to wow the children of Lawrence into reading all summer long. We have a couple of different approaches to making the summer reading hype real, but by far the most enjoyment is still had by reading a good book. And oh boy did we find a winner this year.
Finding a book to delight elementary school kids can be a daunting task, especially if you think about the differences between kindergartners and third-graders. Now while you're flipping through possible book titles in your head that will please wiggly learning-to-readers and adept readers of chapter books, add this to your mental image: You are now standing at the front of a gym or cafeteria with roughly 300 kindergartners through fourth-graders sitting in front of you.
You still have a book that will hold up? Last year I used B.J. Novak's "The Book with No Pictures" and I am not going to lie to you: It killed. If you haven’t had the chance to pick up this gem, you will not be disappointed if you have a young person in your life. It is utterly ridiculous. It makes adults say silly things which kids find hysterical. You will at some point be reading the words: “Boo Boo Butt.” There were some school visits last year where "The Book with No Pictures" was read multiple times.
Not wanting to rest on my laurels and read the same book again (although I am sure they would love it), a quest was undertaken to find a new book that would be just as wonderful. I was skeptical that we would find something, but then my coworker and fellow lover of absurdity, Matt, found "I Say Ooh You Say Aah," and I knew we had struck school-visit gold.
Not only is this book laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it has a level of interaction that is rare in picture books. "Tap the Magic Tree," "Press Here" and "Abracadabra! It’s Spring!" all use this ploy, but there’s something so genuine and funny in the way this book engages its kid audience.
As the book asks kids to say "aah," or pat their heads, or yell "underpants," author John Kane weaves all of these points of engagement into an excellent punchline. The fourth-graders I read it to were definitely putting the pieces together but still laughing along, while the kindergarteners were caught by surprise and laughed out loud in the delight one feels in being absolutely bamboozled.
The bold, graphic illustrations and engaging text made "I Say Ooh You Say Aah" a school visit winner, but I have no doubt that it will inspire laughter in households all over Lawrence this summer. Plus, guess what? If you read it after May 23rd, you can put it on your Summer Reading Log and be well on your way to earning awesome prizes.
If you're ready for fun this summer, come down to the library, pick up your summer reading catalog and a copy of "I Say Ooh You Say Aah." Giggles and guffaws will be yours … well, until you have to return it. See you this summer for more reading fun!
-Lauren Taylor is a youth services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
In my years selecting children’s books for the library, I have often envied the mathematical certainty of the hard sciences. After all, when the Pythagorean theorem doesn’t work, it’s usually our own bad arithmetic at fault, and the Planck constant isn’t exactly wishy-washy.
It’s a little more difficult to make sense of children’s literature sometimes. Perhaps this arises from the fact that its consumers may go from laughing, to crying, to coloring the cat’s face blue with a magic marker, all during the time it takes to get through one book.
Since we live in a universe where a perennial bestseller can be made from a tale in which a boy reduces his favorite tree to a stump and the stump still loves him, we sorely need some clarifying principles. Here are a few I’ve been kicking around.
The "Muppet" Quotient
When I was a kid, everyone in my house looked forward to watching "The Muppet Show" at 6:30 on Saturday evenings. It may have been the only show my sister and I liked that my parents seemed to enjoy as much as we did. Only later did I understand that it contained just as many jokes written for them and was steeped in the post-vaudevillian humor that pervaded the pop culture of their own childhoods.
The "Muppet" Quotient is a measure of how humorous any given children’s book will be to the parents of its intended audience. Using myself as a guinea pig over the past year, the three picture books I’ve read with the highest "Muppet" Quotient were Roz Chast’s "Too Busy Marco," Kate Beaton’s "The Princess and the Pony," and Chris Monroe’s "Sneaky Sheep."
"The Yearling" Conundrum
Boy meets fawn. Fawn eats crops. Boy kills fawn. Boy flees, starves, and returns a haunted soul. Don’t get me wrong—I adore Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ "The Yearling," but it’s pretty strong stuff for kids. In fact, it was an adult bestseller when first published in 1938 and won the Pulitzer Prize, not the Newbery Medal. Somehow, possibly due to the popularity of the 1946 film version, the book’s audience morphed, and it became known as a children’s classic. In recent years, its readership has changed again somewhat; chances are these days, if you’re reading "The Yearling," you’re a grown-up (even if you’re crying like baby).
A lot of books, especially great ones, have experienced a similar evolution. "Watership Down" is another, with the opposite arc. Richard Adams said he based the book on stories he told to his children during long car rides, but it was most popular with adult readers during its heyday in the 1970’s, who may have been primed to delve into the psyches of talking rabbits after spending so much time doting on their pet rocks. Today, "Watership Down" is generally considered a work for children once again, and the upcoming BBC-Netflix re-animation of the series, featuring CGI animation by Pete Dodd (of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" fame), is marketed as such.
Then there is J.R.R. Tolkien’s "Lord of the Rings," which everyone has always loved, perhaps because, as Tolkien himself said, “It was not written ‘for children,' or for any kind of person in particular, but for itself."
Wilbur’s Uncertainty Principle
“No such country child would have spent day after day beside the manure pile to which the pig was consigned ... Fern, the real center of the book, is never developed.” So wrote a 1952 reviewer of "Charlotte’s Web" in the pages of Horn Book, the most well-respected children’s book review journal in history.
"Charlotte’s Web" didn’t win the Newbery, either, but there is something irresistible about a book showing up curmudgeonly reviewers and reluctant publishers to prove itself over the course of time. Other oft-cited examples are the 26 rejections earned by Madeline L’Engle’s "A Wrinkle in Time" (“This is pleasantly done — but for me there isn’t quite enough story value,” one editor intoned), and the 27 received by Dr. Seuss’s first children’s book, "And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street."
The Porcupine Pigeonhole
When will authors and illustrators let a porcupine be a porcupine, and not just a convenient symbol for a book about how poor old Poky can’t find love? I’ve had it with the rampant pigeonholing of animals. Oops, I just did it myself (do pigeons even hang out in holes?). But really. Blobfish don’t find themselves ugly or lonely. And sloths aren't actually lazy.
What I like least about this phenomenon is that it’s more serious than it sounds. As we try to create a culture of children’s literature inclusive of our many diverse human voices, it would be wise for authors and illustrators to remember how reliance on clichés and the reinforcement of a totally human-centric view of animals teaches children not to question their own (possibly false) assumptions about the people in their own worlds.
— Dan Coleman is a collection development librarian at the Lawrence Public Library.
Now is the perfect time of year to spend time outdoors, and if you need an excuse to do so, gathering ideas and art supplies is a great one. It’s fun to keep your eyes open for treasures when you are on a hike, weeding your garden or just strolling through the neighborhood.
I have always been a gatherer ... bringing home “souvenirs” from summer vacations that I could use in my projects. In fact, I usually take a travel art kit containing supplies that I might use to create art on the fly if I become so inspired. My kids grew up thinking that art-making was an essential part of any family vacation.
Note: If you choose to gather natural materials, be sure to do so responsibly. Make sure you have permission; collect only materials that are not rare or special in some way; don’t take too much or damage remaining growth.
Since I started working at the Lawrence Public Library a few months ago, I’ve been having a great time exploring our collection in depth — especially my favorite nonfiction section, the 700s. Most particularly, the 745s and 746s. We have a nicely balanced selection of arts and crafts books — including quite a few really good resources for gathering and using natural materials. Here are a few of my favorites:
"Nature Inspired: Mixed-Media Techniques for Gathering, Sketching, Painting, Journaling, and Assemblage" by Tracie Lyn Huskamp I particularly enjoy this book because it covers the gathering and use of natural objects as well as techniques for sketching and painting elements from nature. It even includes a nice small section on flower-pounding. (If you haven't tried flower-pounding, let me tell you that it's really fun and easy to do.) The early part of the book provides detailed instructions for a variety of techniques and for preserving and using natural materials; the later part of the book focuses on specific projects.
"The Organic Artist" by Nick Neddo A fascinating book! The author shows how to create pens, paint brushes, and inkwells as well as natural charcoals, inks and paints — all from things found in the great outdoors. One aspect that I especially enjoyed was the author’s sharing of his philosophy for using materials from the natural world. He encourages us to be thoughtful about our needs and to be mindful of where and how we gather our natural supplies.
"Wild Color: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes" by Jenny Dean The library has a good selection of books about making and using natural dyes, and I would suggest you browse them all if this is an interest for you. I chose this one to include here because it is a terrific basic resource. The introduction includes some fascinating historical information about all types of dyeing. Then, the author takes you step-by-step through the entire dyeing process with several variations. There is also a detailed section devoted to plants, complete with color swatches showing the variations that can be achieved with different parts of each plant, using varied mordants and dyeing processes.
"Natural Processes in Textile Art: From Rust-Dyeing to Found Objects" by Alice Fox This book is so wonderful I had to buy a copy for my personal library. The author has a lovely way of looking at the world and the detritus that could become art. I love the diverse techniques that are covered in detail including rust-dyeing, eco-dyeing, leaf-printing, and stitching of all kinds of natural materials and found objects. This is a beautiful book to simply leaf through and get ideas, but if you want to learn any of the techniques, you will find all the information you need to be successful.
"Gifts From the Herb Garden" by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead Chock-full of beautiful photos, this is a lovely book. The focus is on cultivated flowers and herbs, but you could apply many of the ideas to wild native plants as well. This book teaches good techniques for collecting and drying herbs and flowers, and it includes recipes and instructions for making wreaths, sachets, potpourri, and personal care products. After spending some time with this book, I’ve decided to plant more flowers and herbs this year so I can use them in new ways.
I enjoy these types of books because they encourage me to look at my surroundings through a slightly different lens and with a mind open to all sorts of possibilities. I hope you'll find a book that inspires you to create something new — or to take a walk on the wild side!
— Jill Mickel is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
I’m not the only one who views J. Drew Lanham as a superhero of advocacy for the natural world — especially for greater participation among people of color as well as increased celebration of birds! Lawrence Public Library is partnering with community organizations for Lanham’s visit — including the Langston Hughes Center at KU — as part of our ongoing series, "Diverse Dialogues on Race and Culture." Join us to welcome Lanham to Kansas!
We had the opportunity to ask a few questions of the author of the award-winning book, "The Home Place: Memoirs of A Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature." Read on to find out about his passion for nature, birding, conservation ethics and the extra caution necessary for a black man to explore the rural American wilderness.
Q: What are you hoping to see, bird-wise or nature-wise, during your first time visiting Kansas?
A: Kansas is at the center of everything, which means it’s at the crossroads for bird flyways and byways. I’m looking for that essence that defines the place, to see the birds singing the praises of the heart of the country — birds like bobolinks, dicksisels and scissor-tail fly catchers that roll on those waves of the sea of grass.
I hope to see a representation ecologically of the place that defines the beginning of the West, where prairie used to dominate. I’m fascinated by the Konza Prairie and I hope to catch a glimpse of bison there. And to get a feel for the native cultures that once existed there. To understand the culture of how people connect and appreciate nature and take the ecological temperature or depth sounding of the place.
I want to begin to get a sense of the conservation challenges and how things are changing there, so that maybe what I do as a Southerner can ultimately have some impact on what happens in the Midwest, because we share some of the same birds and passions for them. I’m looking forward to all of that. It’s a short stay for me that hopefully will later turn into longer stays.
Q: I would love to hear who your favorite writers about birds, larger nature topics or about connections to place and intersections of ecological and social justice are. Also, what do you read for relaxation?
A: As a writer, I am who I read. I always start with Aldo Leopold. I adopted him as a posthumous grandfather. His writings are central to who I am as a writer and as a conservationist. His writing expresses the heart of conservation and why caring for nature is our moral imperative.
And especially in the Midwest, I like to recommend George Washington Carver — any works by or about the black American conservationist are critical. He was pivotal in helping to save the soil of much of our landscape and helping farmers and agriculturalists to understand the importance of tilling on the contour and planting nitrogen-fixing cover crops. That’s as deep a conservation story as we can have.
Rachel Carson informed a new movement beyond conservation into environmentalism with "Silent Spring," but her lyrical writing in "Under the Sea Wind" is important. It’s about her love of the sea. When you can read about something people loved, that gives you fuel and motivation to love and express that love.
Note: Lanham shared more great reading recommendations; check them out here.
Q: Transitioning to that very powerful chapter, "Birding While Black” in "The Home Place" — how do you “stave off confrontation” when you’re "hunting while black"? Every day in America we hear of another unarmed black man shot, often fatally, in confrontation with police. How does this context shape your thoughts on "hunting while black”?
A: I’m still very wary when I’m out hunting. I have to be aware that I am both predator and prey. I’m always a part of some food chain of consumption — even when that consumption is hate, because I think hate is simply another fang in the predator’s jaw.
Although I am armed, I’m not mentally equipped to defend myself or kill another human being — that is unfathomable to me. If I have to defend myself, my first instinctual response is not to confront; it is to move away to hunt somewhere else. There’s never going to be a winner in that sort of a confrontation.
Q: You are a leader working with high-profile organizations to champion conservation and support greater diversity inclusion in environmental work. Your active board member participation is impressive, including the National Audubon Society, Audubon South Carolina, the Aldo Leopold Foundation, BirdNote and the American Birding Association, and you are a member of the advisory board for the North American Association of Environmental Education, and a fellow of Toyota TogetherGreen. Have you seen indications that you have made an impact — working toward greater participation and inclusion of people of color in environmental sciences?
A: I have seen it. I’m grateful to be out in the field speaking to large audiences and doing the mission of these organizations. I have seen deep, intentional thinking in these organizations — sometimes painful thoughts and beyond that to acts and doing ... Everything from climate change to conservation needs to be colored more deeply.
I hope these organizations would have been trending that way, but it’s great to be a part of helping move the work along, to make the impact. It’s better to be inclusive than not. Like my grandmother Mamatha used to say: “many hands make lighter work,” and I like to say more eyes make more birds. The more people you get to connect the better. Leopold talked about keeping all the cogs and wheels, and I think this includes components of inclusion and diversity.
— Shirley Braunlich is a reader's services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
The mission of our library presses forward only with some careful study and reflection along the way. To keep making the right decisions for our collections and services, librarians can never stop learning about our world and our community; it probably doesn’t surprise anyone that we have no qualms with this. More knowledge, please.
To do my part, I was so fortunate to attend the PEN America World Voices Festival last month in New York, seeking insights from a myriad of authors and experts from across the globe that can enrich and help the Lawrence Public Library thrive.
Standing “at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide,” PEN America shares the same spirit as any library. This year, the festival theme “Resist and Reimagine” centered the dialogues on the need for clarity, diversity, and liberty in a sociopolitical landscape with no shortage of conflict.
Writers from a far-reaching slate of countries spoke on the challenges they find at home, both as citizens and artists. Novelist Trifonia Melibea Obono, from Equatorial Guinea, illuminated her state’s suppression of ethnic languages and the resulting difficulties of finding common ground among these groups, especially through works of fiction.
Another panel featured authors Hwang Sok-yong of Korea, Petra Hulova of the Czech Republic and Georgi Gospodinov from Bulgaria; they each shared their stories of struggle in a world that can overlook — or cast aside — the voices of marginalized people and marginalized geographies.
Other programs featured our own country, and the literature we may not see in our very midst, writers and stories that may be sadly missing even from the stacks of the library. The PEN Prison Writing Program offered readings of some incredibly emotional and human work, with poetry and memoir from inmates seeking to express themselves and all that they have been through.
A writing workshop of DACA Dreamers presented their stories, as well, refusing to have their unique and bittersweet American stories go unheard. It could not have been made more clear that writing — and art as a whole — is not just an avenue for entertainment or recreation. It is a necessity of life, a human right, an irreplaceable aspect of freedom. Without writing, our own and that of our peers, we languish as with any oppression.
This all might sound rather austere, but the weekend at the World Voices Festival was actually unforgettably vivid and inspiring. Lauded Irish author Colm Toibin is hilarious, it turns out, as he opted to tell knee-slapping jokes during his session. Later, a panel consisting of New York writers — Paul Auster, Salman Rushdie, and Sergio De La Pava — provided an hour and a half of reminiscing, good-natured ribbing, and adoration for their city. Other literary stars like Jhumpa Lahiri did not fail to impress.
To cap it all off, Hillary Clinton (with "Americanah" author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) gave the final remarks for the festival, vigorously reiterating the call for unhindered expression. She even called on libraries specifically, giving us the onus of cultivating communities of “thoughtful readers” equipped with sound media literacy.
That’s precisely what we try to do every day. As we offer a portal to all the different voices within our own community and those from afar, there is always more to explore and more to learn; as the stories of the world carry on, so too does our work.
— Eli Hoelscher is a reader's services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
As the library's selector for the teen collection, I read a lot of young adult novels. As much as I love reading and sharing what's brand new, I also like shining a spotlight on some of the titles that have been hanging out on our shelves for a while. This month, I'm taking a a look back at Tim Federle's debut young adult novel, "The Great American Whatever."
I really enjoyed Tim Federle’s two middle-grade novels, "Better Nate than Ever" and "Five Six Seven Nate!" and I was happy to hear that he was trying his hand at young adult fiction. After reading "The Great American Whatever," I wasn't disappointed.
I’ve never experienced a loss of a sibling, but Tim’s characters illustrate exactly how I’d imagine it would feel. Protagonist Quinn and his mother pretty much give up on everything after Quinn's sister, Annabeth, dies in a car accident. Quinn sticks to his room and gives up on writing; his mother sleeps on the sofa and overeats. Her death has affected them deeply.
The novel starts with Geoff, Quinn’s charming best friend, encouraging him to go a college party where not much happens, other than Quinn meeting this hot guy, Amir. I really appreciated that Geoff and Quinn’s relationship is a positive example of a straight guy being friends with a gay guy. Quinn isn’t quite out of the closet — he hasn’t told his mother — but the story isn’t centered on that.
Quinn’s developing relationship with Amir, his dealing with the events that surround his sister’s death, and his finding his way back to his passion is then the focus of the story. Quinn and Amir’s relationship starts out healthy, but it’s evident that they both have different ideas of what they want out of it and its direction. I’m not sure I’m happy with where it did go, but not all relationships go the way we want them, do they?
Overall, this is a great story about coming to terms with loss, believing in friendship and discovering oneself. Quinn may come off as smart aleck, but he warms up quickly and you'll care about his journey.
— William Ottens is the cataloging and collection development coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.