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.
Aging is, of course, a natural and — contrary to what the beauty industry and what certain health food companies claim — completely unavoidable process. It’s a process that I’ve been honestly looking forward to since around birth, when I was brought into this world a squalling infant with a full head of hair and the personality and disposition of a 40-year-old. If anything, the older I get, the more I relish the time spent in my body and the more excited I am to be closer to my “true” age.
Despite my own enthusiasm, aging (especially for women) is normally not treated with such a casual and welcome attitude. It’s met with rules and guidelines of how to behave, how to dress, and how to be. Clothing is often used as a tool of self-expression and individuality — a chance for you to show off what it means to be you. However, the older you get, the more you’re expected to tone it down and dress more conservatively.
Fortunately, there are people around like Ari Seth Cohen, who started a blog dedicated solely to seniors with style. The focus is mainly on women over a “certain age,” though there are a few dapper gentlemen here and there. I stumbled across his first book, "Advanced Style," a month or so ago, and it might sound hyperbolic to say that my life has been forever changed, but it’s true. My life has been forever changed.
Inside I found stunning color photographs of women I not only admired, but wanted to become. Unless you’re Betty White, who is a magical unicorn who can do whatever the heck she wants, women are so often shoved to the side and told to just blend in — color and sparkle and bold patterns are only for the youth. Each of the people featured in "Advanced Style" defy these conventions in the most glorious of ways. Signature orange hair and long, fluttery neon eyelashes to match? What a knockout. Dark, vampy lipstick and a thing for scarves or chunky jewelry? Oh my goodness. Here are all women who couldn’t care less what the unspoken rules and loud internet trolls have to say.
Shortly after the book was released, along came a documentary that follows some of the popular favorites of the book and blog. The documentary allows viewers to spend more time with some of the extravagant and fearless women Cohen has documented on his blog and in his book. Getting to know Illona Royce Smithkin (those eyelashes!) a little better was such a treat. The different personalities of the women shine through in the documentary, in the most touching (and heartbreaking) ways. No matter what, life is celebrated.
Luckily for all of us, there is now a second book — "Advanced Style: Older & Wiser," which has more than 260 pages of the best street style images you will ever come across, and more information on the people featured. For those who were left wanting more after the first book and the documentary… This will make you happy! Ari Seth Cohen’s love and affection for the people he captures on film comes across in the photography, and you will fall for them just as hard. Perhaps it’s because, like Ari, I had a close relationship with a grandmother I dearly miss, but everything in the "Advanced Style" publishing family fills me with so much inspiration and positivity.
The women are all so unique, and yet their voices all echo the same sentiment: be yourself, no matter what age, no matter what life experiences. This can be applied to how old you are, but it can also be applied to your gender identity, belief system, body size, and every other factor that makes you who you are.
If anything, this has encouraged me to truly embrace my own style and my own ways of being, because if this wonderful group of people is bold and brave enough to stand out when they have been told to stay silent, I can do the same. So if you catch me wearing light-up sneakers and kitty-cat sweaters a la Kimmy Schmidt and a Linda Rodini-inspired purple pout, don’t be surprised. I’m just playing around a little, so that in 50 years when I’m featured on "Advanced Style," I will have finally perfected my look. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have orange hair, too.
-Kimberly Lopez is a Readers’ Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
"Trainspotting" was released in theaters in 1996, and I saw that movie approximately 72 times at Liberty Hall after it opened. (OK, it was probably closer to four times.) I was 20 years old at the time, and although I hadn’t exactly been sheltered in my upbringing, seeing those boys from Edinburgh (specifically the district Leith) living in squalor and trying to maintain some semblance of a life while strung out on heroin was mesmerizing.
And scary. And strangely romantic. But mostly mesmerizing. The absolute spectacle of it, brilliantly directed by Danny Boyle, drew me in — as did the incredible soundtrack and the acting chops of the (then mostly unknown) cast.
"Trainspotting 2" has just been released in the U.S., and I plan to see this one 72 times as well. Boyle has brought back the original cast and what looks to be another memorable soundtrack. In preparation for the film’s release, I have immersed myself in Irvine Welsh’s work and have emerged (relatively) unscathed.
Irvine Welsh, author of the "Trainspotting" trilogy (which includes "Trainspotting," 1993; "Porno," 2002; and "Skagboys," 2012) is not for the faint of heart. His writing is gritty, profane and perverse. Think of the most hideous scenario involving sex and drugs your brain can come up with, and Welsh has most likely written it down in one of his books and made it even more heinous. He often writes in a thick, Scottish accent (depending on who’s speaking) which takes some getting used to, but hearing that accent in your head is part of the fun.
Here’s an example from Spud in "Trainspotting": “Every time ye git it thegither tae make a comeback, thir's jist a wee bit mair missin.... Yip, ah'm jist no a gadge cut oot fir modern life n that's aw thir is tae it, man. Sometimes the gig goes smooth, then ah jist pure panic n it's back tae the auld weys. What kin ah dae?” See? Fun! And, like Shakespeare, (yes, I just compared Welsh to Shakespeare without irony), once you get into the groove of the language, it becomes easier to understand.
The books are best read (and were best written) in the order they were published. The crown jewel of the trilogy- and the one you should read first- is "Trainspotting." It is the first in the series and the first book ever written by Welsh. The story follows Mark Renton who, although horribly flawed, tries to live by some sort of moral compass. He’s a junkie and a thief, sure, but he recognizes good in other people and tries to bring that out in himself when he can. Mark is made almost charming by Ewan McGregor in the film, which can make the shift from film to book somewhat jarring. The characters in the book are infinitely more disturbing.
One of the most frequent criticisms of the film is that it glorifies heroin addiction. Maybe this is because of the gorgeous cinematography, the directing or the cast itself. The film’s objective is not to glorify heroin addiction, of course. But it looks pretty, and the script is funny at times, which threw some critics off. How can these heroin addicts be attractive and hilarious? The lesson, of course, is that there is no one “face of heroin.” Addiction doesn’t care what you look like or if you’re good at a one-liner.
The book, on the other hand, could never be mistaken for something that glorifies addiction. It portrays an experience filled with desperation and depravity. The reader finds a city in the midst of an AIDS epidemic and a government that doesn’t care. Yes, it is funny and satirical, but there is no glorification here. Maybe it’s the lack of Iggy Pop in the background.
"Porno" (upon which the film Trainspotting 2 is loosely based) is a worthy sequel to "Trainspotting," even though it is one of the most vile books I have ever read in my life. Welsh gets deep into the development of his characters here. Some of the guys have sobered up, some find love, and some are even more monstrous than they used to be.
"Skagboys," although a prequel, should be read last. If this had been my introduction to the series, I probably wouldn’t have finished. It takes us back to when characters Mark and Sick Boy were just out of high school. We see them at the beginning of their addictions and some choices they make that lead them there. It shouldn’t be disregarded, but the book is lacking. I would have loved for the book to have been set even five years earlier to really get a feel for the family lives of the characters. As it is, it feels like a long exposition that isn’t necessary.
In 2013,"Trainspotting" was voted Scotland’s favorite novel of the past 50 years in a poll run by the Scottish Book Trust, despite the morally questionable characters and the self-deprecating picture the book paints of Scotland. The Scots love the book and understand its importance. The film has become a cult classic all over the world, and although sequels can often be disappointing, especially when the original is so revered, this Kansas girl will be quite chuffed to wait in the queue for "Trainspotting 2" to open.
-Sarah Mathews is an accounts assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
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?”
He starts with a historical overview: “The challenges climate change poses for the contemporary writer… derive from the grid of literary forms and conventions that came to shape the narrative imagination in precisely that period when the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere was rewriting the destiny of the earth.” Which is to say, modern fiction is molded and driven by burning carbon.
He goes on to argue that the insular modern novel has never been forced to confront what he calls “the centrality of the improbable.” Now, however, we live in an era defined by the improbable dynamics of climate change, which defy both literary fiction and common sense. We are thus confronted with the need to stretch our imaginations and writings to incorporate such improbability.
Ghosh stresses that unpredictable and terrible things don’t await in some vaguely defined future. As Bill McKibben made clear in his excellent book "Eaarth," that future is already happening.
To date, science fiction (or its youngest child, climate fiction), seems best at addressing science fact. Not too surprisingly, most of it is rather apocalyptic. It’s fairly common in “cli-fi” to read of massive storms and droughts raging over the earth while we puny humans cope as we can – roving bands of mercenaries fighting over resources and water, bioengineered animals helping us as fuel runs out and wide-spread plagues decimate populations, and global politics splintering into uncharted territories.
Many cli-fi stories seem to focus on a small group trying to make it in an unpredictable natural world. More than an upset natural order, an upset social and political order is the focus of an intense new book by John Feffer. "Splinterlands" showcases a world of crumbled geopolitics, seen through the eyes – and the virtual reality goggles – of a dying writer reaching out to his estranged family.
Feffer is director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, so he knows a bit about geopolitics. One of the startling things about "Splinterlands" is that it was written before the current administration came to power, and while we can’t know what might happen next, an awful lot of "Splinterlands" seems plausible. It’s as though Feffer has the gift of prescience Ted Chiang’s Louise has in "Story of Your Life."
2018 sees what the narrator of "Splinterlands" calls The Great Unraveling, as an increasingly globalized world breaks national boundaries apart and ushers in “market authoritarianism.” As Feffer describes it, “Commerce… merely rebranded nationalism as another marketable commodity,” and the “bloodlands of the twentieth century would give way to the splinterlands of the twenty-first.”
Soon after that, climate change rears its improbable head and an extreme weather event known as Hurricane Donald floods Washington, D.C., to such a devastating extent that the nation’s capital moves to Kansas City. From nearby Omaha, our dying narrator dons his VR goggles and surveys the world as he visits his family.
Feffer’s book seems to me to be the sort of writing Amitav Ghosh might be looking for. It’s not as outlandish as, say, Paolo Bacigalupi’s "The Windup Girl" or "The Water Knife" (both of which I also really like), but "Splinterlands" could conceivably be the story of our lives.
-Jake Vail is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
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 noire 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.
"Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud" chronicles the infamous rivalry between the two Hollywood legends. Beginning with their childhoods, the book covers a wide range of topics, from the alleged event that sparked their general dislike of one another (when Joan stole Bette’s headlines with her high profile divorce, thus taking attention away from what Bette thought would be her big Hollywood break), to the highs and lows of their iconic careers, to their torrid personal lives and struggles working in a misogynistic, ageist, and exploitative industry.
Considine empathically shows how their enmity evolves from mild irritation and jealousy to a full on weave-snatching extravaganza that comes to a palatable head with the filming of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" and its follow-up, "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte." The author takes a stab at all the behind the scenes drama in an attempt to reconstruct the series of events that erupted into their feud of epic proportions.
I appreciate the fact that Considine gives the same attentive care to both starlets and does his best to portray them in an equitable light, including a multitude of perspectives and anecdotes to express a variety of competing viewpoints on a single event. It’s all laid out nicely and concisely, thus allowing the reader to think critically and assess the difference between the real events and celebrity gossip.
The book is, as it should be, well researched and effortlessly structured. It has a smooth narrative feel that is thankfully compelling as Considine chronologically weaves various sources from interviews to news articles into a tale that is brimming with anticipation. It might seem a bit overwhelming to cover so much ground with two stars in a single biography, and yet Considine does it with such ease that you aren’t taken out of the moment by having to mentally switch gears every time he moves between the two stars.
By far the greatest strength of this book is how Considine portrays Bette and Joan as flawed individuals in an effort to move beyond their onscreen personas. It allows readers to see the lasting impact of their feud by bringing Bette and Joan’s individual insecurities and struggles to life. In a trailer for the FX series, Catherine Zeta-Jones poignantly remarks that “Feuds are never about hate. Feuds are about pain.” I think this statement best summarizes the underlying thesis of Considine’s work as he explores the root cause and destructive force of the rivalry.
Finishing the book left me with a feeling of just how important it is to try to put one’s petty differences aside, especially in the face of adversity. Even though Bette and Joan had disparate upbringings, they both tried to fight against the same oppressive Hollywood studio system and could have been great allies had they moved past their grudges. By showing the ravages of divisiveness, Considine shows that even though taking the low road may seem like the more satisfying path, it really doesn’t amount to anything at the end of the day, nor does it address the existing systemic problems.
Despite the fact that the book remains a bit sensational at times, and I would need to do additional research to separate fact from fiction, "Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud" provides illumination on some key contemporary issues that I think we can all take to heart. It will be interesting to see how Ryan Murphy adapts this well-documented feud for television, and I hope that he uses the show to portray the not often shown, vulnerable side of these beloved actresses and provides a platform for discussion regarding ageism and sexism in both the film industry and society at large.
-Fisher Adwell is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
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 it 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 Garden" will 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 launched its third Annual Seed Library on February 20th. This year we partnered with Just Food to bring more seeds and programs. 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 Geiger Wolfe is an information services and public health librarian at the Lawrence Public Library.
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.
The Fitzpatrick-Postma Postcard Collection offers a trove of local images paired with messages that often add a personal dimension to the places and events of the past. The publications of the Douglas County Genealogical Society, rich resources for exploring the histories of local families, have been digitized and are available through our online portal. We’re also proud to be providing public access to the transcripts of a recent oral history project, sponsored by the City of Lawrence’s Human Relations Division, which captures firsthand accounts of the local movement behind the passage of the city’s fair housing ordinance in 1967.
We welcome you to get involved with this project, which has room to grow. If you recognize a face or place in one of the images on the site, leave a comment to add your knowledge. Or, consider contributing a story or an image of your own. Want a taste? Here are just a few of the images you’ll find when you explore Digital Douglas County History.
June 15, 1908. A feat of daring: that morning, the Kaw had crested at 22 feet, and the deluge of water was roaring over the dam beneath the river bridge when Carl Kurz, a plumber from Colorado Springs, “swam directly into the center of the current” and over the dam. Despite a prohibition from local police, that evening a crowd of 2,000 spectators watched him triumphantly repeat the act. (Later that summer, Kurz also stopped a team of runaway mules and reported a fire breaking out at a local business.)
January 23, 1910. The river has swollen once again, this time with enormous blocks of ice. A correspondent writes, “They are trying to break [the ice] by blasting, but they might as well try to move a mountain.”
April 12, 1911. That evening, a torrential rain, and then an ominous quiet, are harbingers of the tornado that swept through the residential districts of Old West Lawrence and North Lawrence and devastated parts of the Massachusetts Street business district and the industrial buildings along the banks of the Kansas River.
May 20, 1911. The employees of the Fraternal Aid Association pause in their work for a staff photograph.
1940s. Ted West and His Range Riders were popular local performers whose radio show aired on Lawrence radio station WREN.
-Melissa Fisher Isaacs is the information services coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.
For anyone who was an avid reader of DIY design magazines Ready Made or Domino during the early to mid-2000s, or even their digital equivalent, Apartment Therapy, the name "Design * Sponge" will be a household name. 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."
This collection of inspiration and advice from over 100 creatives accomplishes this feat admirably. Not only is it an informative and inclusive representation of a vital demographic, but it is conveyed with amazing casualness and is simultaneously entertaining. Bonney personally sat down with each woman and asked a series of questions; this type of intimate detail lends each meeting an air of comfort akin to that of sitting down with a friend.
The contributors range from Style Rookie’s Tavi Gevinson, to transgender rights activist Janet Mock, to eminent poet Nikki Giovanni, to YouTube rising star Issa Rae, to lauded feminist Roxane Gay, to food stylist Diana Yen. Even Bonney’s spouse, Julia Turshen, has a turn in the interview seat.
The questions that Bonney poses are not static, but rather interpersonal. Some favorites include: “What quotation or saying inspires and motivates you to be yourself and do what you love?”, “What tool, object, or ritual could you not live without in your workday?” and “What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day on the right foot?” The answers given by these women not only display their personalities, however; they also lend sound advice that even those not a part of a creative occupation can regard.
And these questions are not limited to only those with a cheerful response. By including queries about more difficult times, such as “What is the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out?”, “Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night" or “Has learning from a mistake ever led you to success?”, Bonney's argument that a book like this is necessary in the first place is strengthened.
For a member of the creative community, no doubt, the information gleaned from "In the Company of Women" proves invaluable. However, I have always felt that inspiration can come from the unlikeliest sources. Grace Bonney encapsulates her intention best by stating: “While each woman’s story is unique, their messages are universal. They’ve overcome adversity, gone great distances on their own, and learned the power of working together to achieve their goals. In many cases, they have inspired one another, and they are role models for the generation to come. Any one of these women would inspire someone to pursue their passion, but together, they are an undeniable force.”
-Ilka Iwanczuk is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Chickens with superpowers, a farm full of junk to explore and a series of mysterious typewritten letters are just a few of the wonders within this year’s Read Across Lawrence for Kids title, "Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer," by Kelly Jones.
Jones, who recently answered a few of my questions about the book, appeared via Skype at the library on Sunday, February 19th to answer more questions from kids (between bites of free pizza donated by Rudy’s). Join us for the other events we’ve put together this month with the help of KU Libraries and the Friends of the Library to celebrate this unique book.
DC: Sophie, your novel’s protagonist, is doubly an outsider: she is both “the new kid” in town, and a Latina in a predominantly white community. What advice would you give to kids who feel like outsiders?
KJ: Remember that everyone feels like an outsider sometimes. I wasn’t an outsider in either of the ways Sophie is, but I still felt like one. Look for people that start to see the real you, and value you, the way Sophie does. You’ll find them. Make friends with them. Remember that the way someone else sees you has a lot more to do with them than it does with you. Know that Sophie would be rooting for you, and so will I.
DC: The book consists of letters Sophie writes to dead people, and features a prominent mailman character. Are you a letter writer, and have you ever written a letter to someone who is deceased?
KJ: When I was a kid, I wrote to a distant cousin about my age near Perth, Australia. I loved hearing how different things were there — kangaroos by the side of the road, and parrots in the fruit trees. Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved books in letters — I like to think about how each letter is written for a particular someone, not for the world. I’ve often written to my own dead grandparents. I find when I miss someone, I still want to tell them what’s happening.
DC: Sophie’s main activities in the book (tending to chickens, riding bikes, exploring the farm to which she has recently moved) are rooted in the physical rather than onscreen world. Was this intentional, and how do you view the impact of technology on childhood?
KJ: Technology has been an important part of my life since I was a kid, playing text adventures on floppy disks. But Sophie has physical chores that must be done every day, like feeding her chickens. Her family can’t afford a computer or smart phone for her, or even one for family use; their computer is for her mom’s work, and she works a lot. They can’t afford cable (and don’t get good TV reception).
For Sophie, computer stuff is something you do at school or at the library, not at home — not because she doesn’t want to, but because it isn’t an option for her. Still, she spends a lot of time typing, making sense of the world around her, trying to reach out. Aside from brain research on screen usage, what’s the difference between typing on a computer vs. a typewriter?
DC: You are a former children’s librarian, and among the book’s heroes is a librarian character. How have libraries affected your writing?
KJ: I was a reader long before I was a writer, and there were no bookstores in my small town. But there was a library. I learned to tell stories from books. I also learned that the books I loved would always be a safe place to escape to. While I was a librarian, I met many readers who needed that safe place more than I did. I’m so glad they found it. I guess I want my books to welcome readers, to feel hopeful and make them laugh, and to be a safe place to see things differently.
DC: What is your own experience with chickens and chicken keeping?
KJ: I got my first chickens in 2012, and immediately began to think about what superpowers they’d choose, if they could pick. "Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer" grew out of that list and what I learned about taking care of chickens.
—Dan Coleman is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.
I treasure wildlife sightings. During the winter season, I sometimes glimpse bald eagles soaring in the sky outside my kitchen window, and I’ve been fortunate on several occasions to see beavers swimming in the Haskell-Baker Wetlands. Last summer, my East Lawrence neighbors and I were frequently serenaded by the territorial calls of barred owls. Being reminded that wildlife still thrives nearby is reassuring for the future of our environmental heritage.
I’ve been musing more than ever about wildlife since I started reading "American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains" by Dan Flores — a book recommended to me by local author George Frazier. We've reviewed Frazier’s work before; "The Last Wild Places of Kansas" inspires an appreciation for the remaining Kansas wilderness using wry wit to share his personal adventures and historical anecdotes that enhance context.
Frazier commented to me that what is most salient about "American Serengeti" is the skill used to link the experience of a place with the accounts of early explorers’ writing. Flores describes camping in the White Cliffs Narrows of the Upper Missouri River; the reflective surface of the white cliffs create a stunning-visual sensation at sunrise.
I had never been on the Missouri River before. But standing there under that impossibly lit sky, watching ducks arrowing low over the surface of the water and a small herd of mule deer pogoing away through hoodoos and pedestal rocks at my sudden appearance, while a coyote yipped a dawn serenade across the river, after a few moments it came to me. I had read books and pored over nineteenth-century art and dreamed daydreams of the wilderness Great Plains for much of my life, and now here I stood, on the banks of the Missouri, in the very stretch where Meriwether Lewis had wondered whether these scenes of “visionary inchantment [sic] would never have an end.”
This place was déjà vu for me not from some past life, but from the minds of others, who had made me know what a magical world the Great Plains once had been. The poetry of the plains was considerably fainter in my time on earth, but this particular morning on the Missouri I was hearing enough of the passages to realize that despite all, we had not entirely lost the American Serengeti. Not yet.
Flores features many vivid accounts like the example above. This is accessible natural history focused on a selection of some of the most charismatic mammals that used to flourish in the Great Plains, including pronghorns (antelope), coyotes, horses, grizzly bears, bison, wolves, and humans. Candid discussions of early explorers’ accounts of seeing great numbers of wildlife and the harsh reality of these predecessors’ responses is sobering. It seems everyone who ventured into the Great Plains from Lewis and Clark to John James Audubon was compelled to kill.
But Flores frames this book with hope, describing efforts by a nonprofit group based in Montana working to expand the American Prairie Reserve. The goal of the organization is to re-create a sustainable ecosystem, bringing back all the wildlife that thrived in the Great Plains for the past two centuries on an expanse of land even larger than Yellowstone National Park.
The library also has a copy of Dan Flores' other recent book, "Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History." I am anxious to read this book, especially because I enjoyed the chapter in "American Serengeti" on coyotes. Kirkus Reviews noted that "Coyote America" is “…a spirited blend of history, anthropology, folklore, and biology.” While most of the large herds of charismatic mammals are drastically reduced, coyotes have thrived and expanded their range even into urban environments. A few of my neighbors have reported seeing a coyote exploring nearby in Lawrence.
Another venue to appreciate the message of Flores’ book is expressed in the similarly-titled documentary "American Serengeti." This is a beautiful, romantic, and sentimental story of conservation heroes, focused on the American Prairie Reserve.
Finally, a more local view of similar efforts is the focus of the documentary "The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve." This national park in the Flint Hills of Kansas celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2016 at the same time the National Parks celebrated their centennial.
I can’t help but reflect on the words of Dan Flores now while appreciating the natural vistas at the Haskell-Baker Wetlands; I hope we all eventually see more of a sustainable, holistic Great Plains with all the charismatic fauna like the vision of the American Prairie Reserve.
— Shirley Braunlich is a reader’s services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
I’ve always been the kind of person who nurtures small obsessions. Case in point: There was a time in middle school when I was not infrequently introduced to people as “Meredith, that girl who likes 'Buffy.'”
It was an extremely fair introduction. I discovered "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" in the fourth or fifth grade, and I rapidly became obsessed. When my local cable affiliate dropped the WB, I spent two years getting up in the wee hours to watch new episodes when they re-aired on Fox at 3:30 a.m. (This was a pre-DVR era.) I delayed my fourteenth birthday party by more than three months so that the “theme” of the party could be “let’s get a group of 25 people together and watch the first episode of season 7 live.”
There is simply no way to describe what "Buffy" meant to me. It can’t be done. I know because I’ve written and re-written this paragraph about 15 times now, trying to sum it up in some way that will get at even a tenth of how important that show was to me, and I end up deleting every word of it in disgust because it’s just not enough.
And yet, when I’ve tried to re-watch "Buffy" as an adult, I can’t. It’s not a case of my tastes having changed, or at least, it’s not only that. It’s that what made it so important to me, the things that I loved about it, are now the things that I find nearly unwatchable.
The last time I tried - two, maybe three years ago - I decided I’d ease my way in by rewatching my favorite episode of all time, season four’s “Something Blue.” In this episode, Buffy’s best friend Willow, heartbroken from a breakup with her longtime boyfriend, casts a spell to have her will done so that she can make him come back to her. It’s a smart, funny episode that also has a lot to say about grief, free will, and the intent of our actions versus the effect they have on others.
I didn’t even make it halfway through.
I will never watch "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" again. I’ll never even try. I have to protect what it meant to me.
When the Book Squad was brainstorming prompts for the Squad Goals Reading Challenge, I suggested that we include a prompt to re-read a book you haven’t read in at least five years. I’m really excited about this prompt; I love to re-read, but since I’ve been working at LPL, I’ve heavily focused on new reads. In the post I wrote announcing the challenge, I said that I was planning to read Annemarie Selinko’s "Désirée," a historical fiction novel about the woman Napoleon was engaged to before he married the Empress Josephine. I was deeply obsessed with it during middle school, but I haven’t read it in several years. “I’m excited to see what I think about it now,” I wrote.
This is, strictly speaking, a great big lie. I’m not excited to see what I think about "Désirée" as an adult.
I’m actually borderline terrified that I’ll feel about it the way that I now feel about "Buffy" - which is, I suspect, the reason that "Désirée" has been hovering near the top of my to-be-read list on GoodReads for the past three years without ever making the switch over to “currently reading.”
I’ve been working on this post off-and-on for close to a month, and in that time, I’ve read about 20 books. I’ve managed a whopping 27 pages of "Désirée."
And they were good pages. I liked reading them. I felt relatively reassured that I would be okay to proceed without desecrating a treasured childhood memory.
And yet, when I reach for something to read, I still don’t reach for "Désirée."
At least I’ve made it to “currently reading.” That’s something, right?
-Meredith Wiggins is a reader’s services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.