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Celebrating – and Mourning – Prince

April 28, 2016

 The B SidesI have vivid memories of sitting by my boom box listening to American Top 40 on the radio, my finger poised over the record button, so I could capture Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” on cassette tape. This legendary’s musician’s work was the soundtrack of my adolescence, and I was among the many shocked and saddened by his sudden death on April 21.

If you feel moved to revisit Prince’s music, the library has not only physical CDs for checkout, but also more than 15 albums you can stream or download from Hoopla. If you are new to this service, visit the library’s website for more information. You can be singing along to “Purple Rain” in no time if you have a library card.

 Inside the Music and the MasksIf you want to read more about the complicated person Prince was and his enormous impact on music and popular culture, check out “Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks” by Ronin Ro. This is an authoritative portrait that documents his rise from an unknown musician to a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, offering insight into his role in confronting labels and fostering other young talents.

Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain” by Alan Light celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of Prince’s most popular album and provides delicious insights into the making of the movie and music that launched Prince to superstardom. This enjoyable read not only illuminates Prince’s early career but also the context in which he created and the transformations happening in pop music and entertainment at the time.

Finally, if you need to rock away some of your sorrow, seek out the recording of Prince’s 2007 Super Bowl halftime show, arguably one of the best there has ever been.

RIP, Prince. You and your music will be missed.

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The Last of Us: Docs Featuring Endangered Species

April 27, 2016
the chances of the world changing

the chances of the world changing

Bringing endangered species back from the brink has long been a concern of scientists and conservationists. Check out these documentaries that not only explore several endangered species, but also explore some of the people interested in preserving them.

the chances of the world changing

The Chances of the World Changing” (2006)

An artist abandons his life’s work to build an ark filled with hundreds of endangered animals. But his growing “ark” and preservation efforts are threatening to exhaust him, both mentally and financially. A story about time, death, art, love and turtles.

ghost birdGhost Bird” (2009)

Set in a murky swamp full of birders, scientists and reporters, this thrilling eco-noir investigates the strange but true story of a small town in Arkansas overrun by a nation of birders all in search of the Holy Grail with wings, the ivory-billed woodpecker.

racing extinction

Racing Extinction” (2016)

Academy Award-winning filmmakers expose the forces that are leading our planet to its next mass extinction, potentially resulting in the loss of half of all species. This film reveals how creatures that have survived for millions of years may be wiped from Earth in our lifetime.

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The May 2016 List

April 25, 2016

Library Reads LogoSupernatural thrillers, compelling historical fiction and a boatload of mysteries? Summer reading must be coming! Enjoy this month’s LibraryReads list of books publishing next month that librarians across the country recommend.

Britt-Marie Was Here” by Fredrik Backman
“Britt-Marie is a woman who is used to her life being organized. But when she leaves her cheating spouse and takes a temporary job as caretaker of the recreation center in the tiny town of Borg, her life changes in unpredictable ways. With its wonderful cast of oddball characters and sly sense of humor, this novel is sure to capture readers’ hearts. Highly recommended.” – Vicki Nesting, St. Charles Parish Library, Destrehan, LA

Book cover for The Fireman by Joe HillThe Fireman” by Joe Hill
“’The Fireman’ is a novel that will keep you up reading all night. No one really knows where the deadly Dragonscale spore originated but many theories abound. The most likely is that as the planet heats up, the spore is released into the atmosphere. Harper Willowes is a young, pregnant nurse who risks her own health to tend to others.This is her story and I loved it! This is one of the most creative takes on apocalyptic literature that I have read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended for all Hill and King fans.” – Mary Vernau, Tyler Public Library, Tyler, TX

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven” by Chris Cleave
“Set during World War II and loosely based on the author’s own grandparents, this was a strikingly honest look at the changes that war creates on a country’s landscape and its people. These changes were so strongly shown by the progressive style of this novel. Bit by bit, we are privy to each character’s transformation. What a great tribute to what they endured. War gives birth to many endings, also to many beginnings. Bittersweet.” – Lori Elliott, Kershaw County Library, SC

Here’s the rest of the list for your holds-placing pleasure:

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What You Don’t Know About Earth Day

April 22, 2016

earth-day-vector-01Many here in Missouri don’t know, but I used to be an environmental microbiologist in another lifetime. It seems so long ago! Consequently, I am always very excited when Earth Day approaches. I usually try to read new environmental books as soon as they hit the shelves, but they seem to come faster and faster these days. One that slipped by me is “The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation” by Adam Rome, published in 2013, so I picked it up this year to get me in the spirit. There’s so much I didn’t know!

Rome reports that before the first Earth Day in 1970, there was not an official environmental movement. Climate change was not yet a popularly known concept (scientists already knew but they were being cautious). The environment was actually considered “women’s work” as a part of housekeeping and was championed primarily by housewives and groups like the League of Women Voters. Other groups, like the Sierra Club and The National Audubon Society, came at the environment from a different perspective — conservation for the purposes of outdoor recreation. There were individual groups in different cities working on issues like smog and different polluted sites. Rome writes, “Earth Day did not just mobilize activists to demonstrate the growing power of their cause. In several ways, Earth Day helped to create the movement. Earth Day gave environmental activism a name. Earth Day also convinced many Americans that pollution, sprawl, nuclear fallout, pesticide use, wilderness preservation, waste disposal, and population growth were not separate issues.”

Book cover for Silent SpringEvents of the late 1960s made the time right for a cohesive movement to form. The war in Vietnam was raging on with all of the environmental destruction that went with it. Rachel Carson’s iconic book “Silent Spring” came out in 1962 and sent shock waves. The Civil Rights movement was heating up, many facets of which involved environmental issues. But the idea of Earth Day grew out of the interest and passion of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Nelson decided to bring the environment, overall, to the public’s attention with a “teach in.” He wisely decided to not go with a top-down approach and began involving different groups on campuses and in various cities. From there, it exploded. From the very first Earth Day, there was not just one event, but somewhere between 12,000-13,000 events! Although many colleges were included in some of the initial planning, it wasn’t long before high schools and elementary schools began to request information and ask to be included. Some of the most successful events (not all of them were successful) were in New York, Cleveland, Miami, Birmingham and Salina. Yes, you read that correctly.  Salina, Kansas.

I find it incredible that Earth Day has become so huge, so expected, considering where it began. Columbia’s Earth Day celebration is this weekend, Sunday, April 24. (The event will be moved to May 1 if it’s raining – but the weather looks clear so far!) I love that it’s in Peace Park. On a related note, you can pick up a free tree seedling from the Missouri Department of Conservation for Arbor Day on Saturday, April 23, if you stop by the Columbia Public library from 10 a.m.- 12:30 p.m. or the Callaway County Public Library in Fulton from 9 a.m.- noon.

As usual, I have made a list of all my favorite environmental books (and a couple of DVDs) from the last several years.  Happy Earth Day!!!!

Image credit: Designed by Freepik

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400 Years Gone, Shakespeare Continues to Inspire

April 20, 2016

 Verily, A New Hope“Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears.” Thus speaketh Luke Skywalker during a rousing oratory in “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.”

400 years after his death, on April 23, 1616, William Shakespeare continues to inspire new generations of writers. Arguably, everyone writing in English has been influenced by him, as he added so many new words and expressions to the language. Many authors have penned books in direct homage to his work.

Ian Doescher, for instance, has rendered the first six “Star Wars” movies into stories written in Shakespearean style. Iambic pentameter has never been more exciting. Action sequences are narrated by a chorus. Just as in the movies, many of the best lines go to C-3PO. “Fear has put its grip into my wires,” the droid laments. Each volume is a quick read and faithful to the related film’s plot.

Book cover for A Thousand Acres by Jane SmileyA Thousand Acres” by Jane Smiley, is a late twentieth-century retelling of “King Lear.” Smiley’s tale is set on an Iowa farm, where Larry Cook has decided to divide his estate among his three daughters. The story is told from the point of view of Cook’s oldest daughter, Ginny. Unlike Lear’s oldest, Ginny is a sympathetic, mostly non-treacherous character (with the exception of one notable episode.) But much like Lear, Larry seems to be losing his mind, perhaps to dementia, perhaps to long-held guilt. “A Thousand Acres” won multiple awards, including the 1992 Pulitzer Prize.

Any guesses as to which Shakespeare play inspired Matt Haig’s 2007 novel, “The Dead Father’s Club”? 11-year-old Phillip’s father recently died in a car accident. Or was it murder, as his dad’s ghost claims? Phillip is tasked with the job of exacting revenge against his uncle, who appears to be making moves on both Philip’s mom and the family business, a pub called the Castle and Falcon. Sounds a lot like “Hamlet” to me. Except contemporary, funny and — if possible — even more tragic in some ways.

Book cover for The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter PalmerIn “The Dream of Perpetual Motion,” Dexter C. Palmer presents a steampunk version of “The Tempest.” Like Ferdinand in Shakespeare’s play, Harry Winslow finds himself stranded with a character named Miranda. But instead of a desert island, the setting is a perpetually orbiting zeppelin. The zeppelin has been designed by Miranda’s father, Prospero Taligent, who mirrors Shakespeare’s Prospero in his possession of abilities beyond the ordinary, creating mechanical beasts and people to do his bidding.

Shouldst thou further wish to pursue literature inspired by the Bard of Avon, look to the reading list contained in yon catalog.

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The Gentleman Recommends: John Wray

April 18, 2016

Book cover for The Lost Time Accidents by John WrayJohn Wray’s latest awesome novel, “The Lost Time Accidents,” begins with its narrator declaring that he has been “excused from time.” Most readers will assume that he is waiting on a tardy chauffeur or a pizza delivery, but this statement is quickly clarified: Waldy Tolliver is literally outside of time. It’s 8:47 and he’s stuck in his aunt’s apartment, a shrine to the act of hoarding. Towers of newspapers threaten to crush careless occupants, and there are rooms divided into smaller rooms via walls of books with openings only large enough to barely crawl through. But this is more than a book about a man with a lot of a lack of time on his hands being stuck in a super cool house. It’s about his family, and their obsession with time, and the Holocaust, and a fairy that visits one half of a profoundly eccentric set of twins, and physics, and pickles, and the narrator’s doomed love affair with Mrs. Haven, and his father’s prolific career as a science fiction writer, and the powerful cult that his science fiction inadvertently spawned, and whether time is a sphere and other stuff too.

(While reviews for this novel are positive, some downright glowing, there are also a few that, while admiring Wray’s ambition and skill, don’t love its length (roughly 500 pages), nonlinear structure and tendency to meander. This gentleman enjoys a good meandering, though, and Wray’s meanderings are spectacular. Without them we wouldn’t get several hilarious summaries of Waldy’s father’s science fiction or the section written in the voice of Joan Didion. Besides, Wray’s genius needs the space to unfurl. The fellow writes sentences like someone that loves doing so and also owns a top-notch brain.)

The family’s obsession with time began with Waldy’s great-grandfather, Ottokar, an amateur physicist and proprietor of a thriving pickling business. He’d figured out the nature of time just prior to being killed by an automobile. His sons, amateur physicists and heirs to a thriving pickling business, search for clues to Ottokar’s discovery, but he’s left behind little more than some ambiguous and absolutely absurdly alliterative notes. (“FOOLS FROM FUTURE’S FETID FIEFDOMS FOLLOW FREELY IN MY FOOTSTEPS” — this reader thought maybe his sons should have thought about that a little longer.)

Ottokar’s sons, Kaspar and Waldemar, take very different paths. Waldemar becomes an anti-Semite (it doesn’t help that Albert Einstein, forever referred to by the family only as “the patent clerk,” gathered the glory he felt was meant for their father) and just generally insane and evil. He eventually becomes known as “The Black Timekeeper” for his time travel-related experimentation on prisoners during the Holocaust. Waldemar believes time is a sphere, and that with enough willpower, one can transcend it. He vanishes just prior to the destruction of his concentration camp.

Kaspar’s path is loaded with love and heartbreak, continent swapping, fatherhood and eventually a lucrative career as a watchmaker. He raises a set of eccentric twins, who cultivate their own obsession with time, encouraged by the fairy that visits one of them every so often. Those twin girls raise Kaspar’s next child, Orson. Orson loves writing science fiction, and though it tends to the erotic because that’s what sells, he’s pleased to be free of his family’s obsession with time. So of course, one of his novels becomes the text that inspires a time-obsessed cult. Orson’s son, our narrator, is compelled to write the story of his family, in part to free himself from his evil uncle’s shadow. Then he gets “excused from time” and has all the time to write he could ever want. So he uses it to write a family history in the form of a very long letter to a Mrs. Haven. He begins by informing her that he has been excused from time.

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The Magic of Adult Coloring and Doodling

April 15, 2016
Photo of adult coloring page by Maxime De Ruyck

Photo of adult coloring page by Maxime De RuyckWho among us couldn’t use a little more calm in our lives? With the release and spectacular success of Johanna Basford’s “Secret Garden,” the adult coloring book craze has taken off. And they are EVERYWHERE! There have even been TED Talks on the benefits of coloring and doodling.

Of course, art therapy has been touted by professionals for decades, but the trend has really exploded over the last several years. And, while it may not really be “magic,” coloring is kind of magical. According to Psychology Today, doodling and coloring help with self-soothing, problem solving, memory retention and concentration. Doodlers aren’t just daydreaming! According to the book “Doodle Revolution” by Sunni Brown, doodling can even help us to think differently.

My kids got me an adult coloring book last year for Mother’s Day, and I love it! I have to admit that I prefer coloring books with nature, city scenes and gardens over the geometric designs. But don’t discount the designs! They can have a entrancing effect. I also have to be careful to not get designs that are too tight and intricate. I just don’t have that much skill. But coloring and doodling are things that you don’t have to have skill to enjoy.

And now you can enjoy coloring at the library. Our libraries in Ashland and Fulton offer a Coloring for Adults program that lets you relax and socialize with all materials provided. You might also want to check out our collection of Zentangle books for relaxation through doodling, drawing and coloring. Zentangles are a more structured form of doodling using lines, curves and dots on 3.5-inch squares of paper or card stock.

Here’s to a calming and productive spring!

photo credit: Photomarathon: Patterns via photopin (license)

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New DVD List: Killing Them Safely & More

April 13, 2016

killing them safely image

Here is a new DVD list highlighting various titles recently added to the library’s collection.

killing them safelyKilling Them Safely
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Shown at the Missouri Theatre last year, this documentary directed by Columbia filmmaker Nick Berardini examines Taser International, the company responsible for the worldwide sale of Tasers to law enforcement, and explores whether the device’s safety record is at odds with its reputation as a nonlethal tool for the police.

dream killerDream/Killer
Trailer / Website / Reviews
Playing at Ragtag Cinema earlier this year, this documentary examines events that happened in Columbia, Missouri. In 2005, a resident named Ryan Ferguson was controversially convicted of murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison. The film is told through the eyes of Ryan’s father, whose persistent amateur sleuthing saved his son from a lifetime in prison.

off the menu asian americaOff the Menu: Asian America
Trailer / Website / Reviews
The latest from Columbia-native director Grace Lee (American Revolutionary), this film grapples with how family, tradition, faith and geography shape our relationship to food. A road trip into the kitchens, factories, temples and farms of Asian Pacific America that explores how our relationship to food reflects our evolving community.

shes beautiful when shes angryShe’s Beautiful When She’s Angry

Trailer / Website / Reviews
Playing at Ragtag Cinema last year, this film is a provocative, rousing and often humorous account of the birth of the modern women’s liberation movement in the late 1960s through to its contemporary manifestations, direct from the women who lived it. The film dramatizes the movement in its exhilarating, quarrelsome, sometimes heart-wrenching glory.

game of thrones 5Game of Thrones
Season 5
Website / Reviews
This season begins with a power vacuum that protagonists across Westeros and Essos look to fill. This season features some of the most explosive scenes yet, as the promise that “Winter is Coming” becomes more ominous than ever before.

Other notable releases:
Medium Cool” –   Website / Reviews / Trailer
Manhattan – Season 2 – Website / Reviews
Peaky BlindersSeason 2 – Website / Reviews
The FallSeason 2 – Website / Reviews
The AmericansSeason 1 – Website / Reviews
The BridgeSeason 1 – Website / Reviews
Night Will FallWebsite / Reviews / Trailer
Steve Jobs: Man in the MachineWebsite / Reviews / Trailer
Becoming Bulletproof – Website / Reviews / Trailer

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National Volunteer Week: April 10-16

April 11, 2016

Book cover for Everyone Helps, Everyone WinsVolunteer: a person who willingly does work without getting paid to do it.

Where I came from (Moscow, Russia), we never volunteered, at least not in the American way. The thing was that we didn’t have to – authorities “volunteered” us when and where they desired. The “without getting paid” part (see definition above) worked the same way as it does in America. As for the willingness, nobody ever cared to ask.

The most common cases of Russian “volunteering” during my time there included sending citizens to express their fake enthusiasm at state parades and sending city dwellers to collective farms to help with harvesting. I still remember spending long weeks (even months) picking cabbages and potatoes, hours away from my home in Moscow – living in military-style barracks, wearing oversized black rain boots and ugly telogreikas (black, shapeless quilted jackets) and drinking vodka – the only entertainment available in the provinces.

I also remember “voluntarily” greeting foreign dignitaries, including Gerald Ford, who visited Russia (then The Soviet Union) in November 1974. My whole college was positioned along Moscow’s wide Leninsky Prospect (Lenin’s Avenue) for about two hours, bored and cold, waiting for the black limousines and leather-clad motorcyclists to drive quickly past us, while we waved at them and smiled forced smiles under the command of our superiors.

Book cover for The Volunteer BookThis is not to say that nobody in Russia would take to the streets voluntarily. There were a few – some protesting against the injustice of the regime and some trying to force the authorities to allow them to leave the country. Yet they were called “dissidents,” and the country had appropriate places for them – mostly the state prisons. All in all, “altruism” was not a common word in our vocabulary – “mandate” was.

Of course, I haven’t been in the country of my birth for a very long time, and things are different there now. These days Russia, too, has volunteers. One example is Russian soldiers – sorry, I meant to say “volunteers” – who fought against the Ukrainian Army in 2014-15 (in Ukrainian territory, mind you). Unlike my days of digging in the mud in Russian potato/cabbage/carrots/ etc. fields, those guys weren’t wearing telograikas and rain boots, but military style clothing. They were better equipped, too. Instead of sacks for gathering veggies, they carried automatic rifles, drove tanks and used Russian-made rockets. Yet small differences aside, it’s clear that volunteering has finally made its way to Russia. In fact, some Russian volunteers are fighting in Syria right now.

Coming to America in 1990 was disorienting for me in a number of ways – mentally, linguistically and culturally. One of things that amazed me was this American “volunteering streak.” I remember asking people, “Do you mean that nobody forces (or pays) volunteers to travel to different states to help victims of natural disasters or to support a cause?! That some people would spend their time and money to feed the poor or organize and attend fundraisers?” And when I heard, “yes,” I just shook my head in disbelief.

I’m not saying everybody in this country is an altruist. Of course not. I am saying, though, that I know many people here who have done – and will do again – all of the above and more. And let me tell you, volunteering is contagious. These days, I am volunteering, too. I’ve participated in a number of fundraisers, and I’ve donated things to my congregation and my library. It’s not much, but it’s a beginning. For I finally understood that John Donne’s famous quote is not just poetic. It is a truth of the human condition:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

 
 
P.S. By the way, Unbound Book Festival is just around the corner. Would you like to volunteer? :)

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Columbia Public Library Welcomes Poet Nancy Morejón

April 8, 2016

Nancy Morejon“Ahora soy: Sólo hoy tenemos y creamos.
Now I am: Only today do we have and create.”

These are the words of Nancy Morejón, one of the most distinguished poets of Cuba after the Revolution. They come from her poem “Mujer Negra,” or “Black Woman.” Born in 1944, Nancy Morejón grew up and developed her talent as a writer during the tumultuous Cold War era. Her work draws from her African heritage and her life in modern Cuba.

Ana MendietaThe Columbia Public Library has the great honor of welcoming Nancy Morejón on Tuesday, April 19 at 7 p.m. She will read from some of her most well-known poems and talk about the cultural milieu of her homeland. If you would like to explore more of her work, the library has two bilingual anthologies for you to check out: “Black Woman and Other Poems” and “Looking Within.”

We will also be displaying a selection of handcrafted books by artisanal Cuban publisher Ediciones Vigía. You’ll find them in the library’s lobby from April 18-29. Among those exhibited will be Nancy Morejón’s poem “Ana Mendieta.” During her April 19 program, there will be a short documentary about the making of one of her poems into a stunning, one-of-a-kind piece of visual art.

Nancy Morejón’s presentation is part of a much larger conference, “Afro-Cuban Artists: A Renaissance,” being hosted by the MU Afro-Romance Institute and the MU Department of Romance Languages and Literature. Be sure to review the complete listing of free community events available online. There are art exhibits, screenings, children’s workshops and more!

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The Nature of Poetry

April 6, 2016

Book cover for Dog Songs by Mary OliverBook cover of A Thousand Mornings by Mary OliverApril is National Poetry Month, and I love that this celebration of language comes when spring is doing its raucous thing, sunny daffodils lifting their faces to the sky and flowering trees bursting into bloom. The earth is creating and nature expresses itself, and we, too, celebrate our expression. For what is poetry but the attempt to describe our human condition, to wrap an experience in words so precise, or a metaphor so fitting, that we slip the reader into our shoes?

For poems celebrating nature, Mary Oliver is my favorite. Her exuberant observations of the ordinary never fail to inspire me. She even has an entire volume dedicated to her four-legged friends: “Dog Songs.” Other noteworthy books of poems that meditate on the natural world include Oliver’s “A Thousand Mornings,” “Field Folly Snow” by Cecily Parks and “Terrapin and Other Poems” by Wendell Berry.

Additional ways to celebrate this month include getting familiar with some of the work by poets appearing at the Unbound Book Festival on April 23. (See our reading list for links to these books in our catalog.)

The Academy of American Poets has 30 suggestions for observing National Poetry Month, but I suggest you begin by reading this:

“So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
or the harbor of your longing,

and put your lips to the world.

And live
your life.”

– Mary Oliver (from “Mornings at Blackwater”)

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Memoirs Without the Noir: A Reading List

April 4, 2016

I like reading about real people — what happens to them and how they feel about their experiences. But I don’t want to read harrowing tales of survival. I want something lighter. I’ve read a number of these types of books recently that I recommend.

Book cover for Hammer Head by Nina MacLaughlinSome people write about making changes in their lives:

  • In “Hammer Head: the Making of a Carpenter,” journalist Nina MacLaughlen decides she needs a change and answers an advertisement for a carpenter’s apprentice. She discovers she enjoys working with tools like a hammer, a saw and a level.
  • Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek” by Maya Van Wagenen was written for teens, but I think adults could learn from it. A middle school girl makes changes to the way she approaches people and how she presents herself to the world.
  • My Kitchen Year” by Ruth Reichl describes how the writer coped during the year following the loss of her job due to the closing of Gourmet magazine. Reichl includes recipes of the foods she cooked during this time.

Book cover for Pardon My French by Allen JohnsonSome people write about experiencing other cultures:

Then there are memoirs from people who entertain us on television or in the movies:

  • In “Wildflower,” Drew Barrymore tells about her life after she met the mentors and role models who helped her become a responsible adult.
  • In “Melissa Explains It All,” Melissa Joan Hart tells about growing up working in the acting business. She knows a lot of other celebrities and reveals some behind-the-scenes moments from “Clarissa Explains it All” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”
  • In “You’re Never Weird on the Internet,” Felicia Day tells about being homeschooled and having little interaction with her peers. The Internet was one way she could connect with people. Unfortunately, the anonymity of the Internet also led to problems once she got older.
  • In “Bossypants” by Tina Fey and “Yes, Please” by Amy Pohler, both comedy writers use humor to relate some of their experiences.

Do you have a favorite celebrity? Maybe they’ve written a book. Need inspiration to make a change in your life? Read about other people who tried something different. And yes, we even have memoirs about surviving horrible circumstances if that’s your thing. The library has something for everyone.

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What to Read if You Have Hamilton Fever

April 1, 2016

Album cover for the Broadway musical HamiltonA hip-hop-inspired Broadway musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton seems as unlikely as Hamilton’s own historic rise. Born out of wedlock and orphaned as a young child, he struggled out of poverty and became one of our nation’s most powerful political leaders. “Hey yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry,” Hamilton sings in “Hamilton: An American Musical,” created by Lin-Manuel Miranda (composer, writer, lyricist, actor and all-around genius). This show is a smash hit, with even terrible seats going for hundreds of dollars. And just a couple of weeks ago President Obama hosted local students and the cast of “Hamilton” for a daylong celebration of the arts in America.

I came a little late to the “Hamilton” party, but once I heard the soundtrack this spring, I couldn’t stop listening. Or singing. Or rapping. I randomly shout “Lafayette!” or “I am not throwing away my shot!” at my kids, and they grin and dance around because, of course, they’ve heard the soundtrack multiple times by now. Mama cannot get enough. If you haven’t listened to “Hamilton” yet, and you live in Boone or Callaway County and have a library card, you can stream or download the whole thing through Hoopla. Right now! So, go ahead and take a listen. I’ll wait.

book cover for Hamilton by Ron ChernowYou back? Amazing, right? If you want to read the book that inspired this phenomenon, check out the biography “Hamilton” by Ron Chernow, which is as much a story of the birth of our nation as it is an in-depth look at George Washington’s right-hand man, author of the majority of The Federalist Papers and the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.

If an 800-page book is a little more than you want to commit to, how about learning more about Hamilton’s friend and Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette? Miranda has Lafayette rapping at about 100 miles an hour – in a French accent – in his musical, but Sarah Vowell makes him just as entertaining in “Lafayette in the Somewhat United States.” With her signature voice and wit, Vowell discusses Lafayette’s nonpartisan influence on a fledgling United States, his relationships with the Founding Fathers and his contributions during the contentious 1824 presidential election.

If your Hamilton fever has given you the history bug, Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph J. Ellis has authored a number of lyrically written books that explore the birth of America. “Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation” analyzes the intertwined careers of the founders of the American republic and documents the lives of John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington. The text doesn’t rhyme, though. Sorry. “American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic,” and “His Excellency: George Washington” (“Here Comes the General!”) are other works by Ellis worth exploring.

If all of this revolutionary reading only has you more excited about the musical, starting in September a travelling company will perform the show in Chicago. Road trip?

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Art Quilts

March 30, 2016

 Art QuiltsThe Columbia Public Library will be hosting a 2016 Quilt Exhibit featuring art quilts April 2-16. So I wondered, “How is an art quilt different from the quilts I’ve been making for the last five years?” I checked out a number of books to find out.

The quilts I’ve made are for babies to lie on or to keep someone warm. An art quilt is not made to serve these purposes. It is made primarily as a creative expression of an artist and meant to be displayed. These works are called quilts because they are layered, usually made of fabric, and they are held together by stitches, knots or other means. Artists sometimes transform the cloth through dyeing, printing or painting. The library owns a number of books with wonderful photos of art quilts.

Book cover for 500 Art Quilts500 Art Quilts: An Inspiring Collection of Contemporary Work,” published by Lark Books, includes examples of abstract as well as representational art.

Masters: Art Quilts” by Martha Sielman highlights the works of 40 artists from around the world. A second volume collects the works of 40 more artists.

Art Quilts of the Midwest” by Linzee Kull McCray includes quilts by two artists from St. Louis, Missouri and one from Kansas City, Missouri.

Cutting-Edge Art Quilts” by Mary W. Kerr presents the art of 51 quilters who offer design and technique tips to those interested in textile art.

Fusing Fun! Fast Fearless Art Quilts” by Laura Wasilowski explains how to make your own art quilt using fusible web.

Book cover for Brave New QuiltsBrave New Quilts: 12 Projects Inspired by 20th-Century Art from Art Nouveau to Punk & Pop” by Kathreen Ricketson takes you through the process of designing an art quilt and encourages you to create your own work of art.

Looking through these books was awe-inspiring, but nothing beats experiencing works of art in person. I am looking forward to seeing the exhibit. I hope you can find time to drop by the library to enjoy it, too, and maybe even attend one of the related programs. If you are a quilter of functional quilts, join us at the Callaway County Public Library in Fulton for Quilting Learning Circle on Wednesday, April 6, 2-3:30 p.m.

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In Defense of the Bard

March 28, 2016

william-shakespeareShakespeare.

No, don’t leave!

I promise this is not a blog post about old men in stiff collars doing boring recitations!

Yes, Shakespeare’s works are over 400 years old. And some of them have aged better than others. There is archaic language that requires some effort, but when it comes to storytelling and wordplay, Shakespeare is peerless.

He wrote some of the most definitive and universal stories. I don’t care what kind of movies you love; some part of their appeal is owed to Shakespeare. He pretty much created the romantic comedy and the “your mom” joke. He made history accessible and dramatic, filled with heroes and stirring speeches. He worked with smart dialogue, ghosts and prophecies to give us tales of mistaken identities, doomed lovers and power-hungry villains.

Still don’t believe me? Still think it all sounds boring?

Thanks to the timelessness of Shakespeare’s plays, they can be performed in varied and creative stagings.

Romeo and Juliet by Williams ShakespeareHow about a Brit/punk “Romeo and Juliet” set in the 1980s and performed outside, complete with soundtrack? Where the balcony scene is performed from the actual balcony of a fire escape? Greenhouse Theatre Project, based in Columbia, specializes in reimagined productions in creative spaces. You can see some of their work April 23 at the Unbound Book Festival!

The University of Missouri has a production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” adapted by Cheryl Black and Patricia Downey, coming up in April that is set in the 1950s and features a doo-wop chorus singing songs like “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and “Bad to the Bone.” You can learn more at the MU Theatre Preview at the Columbia Public Library on April 2.

If you want to give a traditional staging a go, it’s hard to do better than “Macbeth.” The Scottish Play is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy and has one of the highest body counts. The Maplewood Barn Theatre is putting on this classic April 28-May 1 and May 5-8. It’s basically “Game of Thrones” and promises to be a bloody good time.

All these years later, Shakespeare’s plays still tug at our hearts and raise our ire. I think of one of my favorite lines from “Julius Caesar”:

“How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!”

 
Yes, Cassius is commenting on how history will remember them and their deeds. But it’s also a lovely meta nod from Shakespeare.

How long will my plays be performed? In what countries and languages?

Shakespeare’s works have been translated into over 80 languages, including Klingon.
And four hundred years and counting is a pretty good run. Here’s to four hundred more.

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Her Beloved World: Sonia Sotomayor

March 25, 2016

Book cover for My Beloved World by Sonia SotomayorAs we celebrate Women’s History Month and the many women trailblazers who changed our country and the world, the name of an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, stands prominently in my mind. This is not only because she’s the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the highest court of the land, but also because to reach such a position, she had to overcome a lot of hardship and prejudice. In 2013, Sotomayor published her memoir “My Beloved World,” which quickly became a New York Times bestseller.

Born in the South Bronx to a poor Puerto Rican family, little Sonya began showing the strength of her character at the age of nine, when she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes and had to learn to give herself insulin shots. Despite being raised in a family that hardly spoke English, Sotomayor was an excellent student – she was her high school valedictorian, graduated summa cum laude (the highest of three special honors for grades above the average) from Princeton and, while at Yale, was editor of the Yale Law Review. Before becoming a Supreme Court Justice (2009), Sotomayor held a variety of positions: a district attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office, a partner in a private law firm, a justice of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York and, later, of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

A large part of Sotomayor’s memoir is dedicated to her family – her alcoholic father, her somewhat distant mother, her domineering but loving grandmother, her brother, aunts, uncles and cousins – as well as the island of Puerto Rico, which she first visited as a child and later as an adult.

Sotomayor doesn’t shy away from her difficulties either, as she describes her complicated feelings toward her parents and her unsuccessful marriage. The author’s recollections are clear-eyed and honest, and her American dream story is inspiring not just for women and minorities but for everyone in the country.

The Columbia Public Library will host a book discussion of “My Beloved World” on April 7 at noon, so bring a lunch and join us as we discuss the life of Justice Sotomayor.

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One More Lap: Docs About the Race Track

March 23, 2016
racing dreams photo

Not many people get to see the hours of practice and hard work put in by the racers in competitive motor-sports. These docs take a closer look at these drivers, both amateur and legendary, who’ve dedicated themselves to the race track.

racing dreamsRacing Dreams” (2009)

Chronicles a year in the life of three tweens who dream of becoming NASCAR drivers as they race in the World Karting Association’s National Pavement Series. This film is a humorous and heartbreaking portrait of racing, young love and family struggle.

sennaSenna” (2010)

Spanning his years as a Formula One racing driver from 1984 to his untimely death a decade later, Senna explores the life and work of the triple world champion, his physical and spiritual achievements on the track, his quest for perfection and the mythical status he has since attained.

petty blue

Petty Blue” (2010)

This documentary, narrated by Kevin Costner, charts four generations of the Petty family, all of whom became champion NASCAR drivers. The family shares their story of dedication, perseverance and tradition that provides a raw, behind-the-scenes look into NASCAR racing.

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Nowhere People: A Visit From Photojournalist Greg Constantine

March 21, 2016

Book cover for Nowhere PeopleI remember when the requirements changed regarding Missouri driver licenses. To get mine renewed, I had to find where I’d put my Social Security card for safekeeping and, for the first time in my life, acquire a raised-seal birth certificate. I’d been getting by with a copy of a birth certificate application up until then. Fortunately, the process took only a few dollars and a couple of weeks.

But what if I hadn’t been able to obtain the needed documents? What then? I would have experienced a small taste of the plight of millions of stateless people around the world.

Photojournalist Greg Constantine spent a decade documenting the lives of “non-persons,” human beings who are not recognized as citizens of any country. He shares their photos and stories in his book “Nowhere People.”

Without documentation or citizenship rights, this is a population that exists on the fringes of society, unable to find legal employment, enroll in school, open a bank account or even travel to a different country in search of a better life, since passports are unobtainable without personal identification. Some families have been stateless for generations, parents or grandparents having fled political turmoil and persecution, losing citizenship in the process. In some cases, the family has stayed in one place, but national borders have shifted.

Image by Greg Constantine. Dominican Republic, 2011“Nowhere People” is much more than a book. A website about the endeavor describes it this way: “a ten year project from photographer Greg Constantine. The project intends to give a small voice to people who for generations have had none. It aims to show the human toll the denial of citizenship has claimed on people and ethnic groups that find themselves excluded from society by forces beyond their control. More importantly, it hopes to provide tangible documentation of proof that millions of people hidden and forgotten all over the world actually exist.”

Constantine gave a presentation on the topic at a TEDx conference in London, available for viewing here.

Now, he’s bringing his presentation to Columbia. You can hear him in person at the Columbia Public Library on Thursday, March 24 at 7:00 p.m. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The April 2016 List

March 18, 2016

Library Reads LogoThis month’s LibraryReads list of books publishing in April that librarians across the country recommend includes a nonfiction work that wins the award (an imaginary award bestowed by me) for best title ever: “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts.” How could scads of librarians NOT recommend this book? We also have works inspired by Jane Austen and Sherlock Holmes, so get ready to be entertained and place some holds on these forthcoming books!

Book cover for Eligible by Curtis SittenfeldEligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice” by Curtis Sittenfeld
“Love, sex, and relationships in contemporary Cincinnati provide an incisive social commentary set in the framework of ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ Sittenfeld’s inclusion of a Bachelor-like reality show is a brilliant parallel to the scrutiny placed on characters in the neighborhood balls of Jane Austen’s novel, and readers will have no question about the crass nature of the younger Bennets, or the pride – and prejudice – of the heroine.” – Leslie DeLooze, Richmond Memorial Library, Batavia, NY

Book cover for The Obsession by Nora RobertsThe Obsession” by Nora Roberts
“Readers who love romantic thrillers will be mesmerized by the latest Roberts offering. The suspense kept me up all night! Naomi Carson, a successful young photographer, has moved across the country and fallen in love. She thinks she has escaped her past but instead finds that the sins of her father have become an obsession. The serial killer premise makes it a tough read for the faint-hearted, but sticking with it leads to a thrilling conclusion.” – Marilyn Sieb, L. D. Fargo Public Library, Lake Mills, WI

Book cover for The Murder of Mary RussellThe Murder of Mary Russell” by Laurie R. King
“Worried about Mary Russell? Well, you should be. She’s opened her door to the wrong man and deeply troubling secrets are set to tumble out, rewriting her history and putting herself and the people she loves in a dangerous spot. Once again, King spins a tantalizing tale of deception and misdirection for her readers’ delight and scores a direct hit in her latest Russell-Holmes mystery.” – Deborah Walsh, Geneva Public Library District, Geneva, IL

Here’s the rest of this month’s list with links to the library’s catalog for your holds-placing pleasure!

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Audiobooks for Your Spring Break Travel

March 16, 2016

CD cover art for The Road to Little DribblingReading while traveling in a car can be difficult. I had a friend who read magazines and books while we drove to bicycle races when I was a teenager. He was the driver.  Audiobooks didn’t exist then, but I wish they had because this would have avoided many hours of extreme anxiety for me. My daughter claims that the “barf monster comes” if she reads in the back seat of our subcompact Toyota. My wife can read for about .03 minutes in the car without feeling queasy. The answer is audiobooks, whether you are traveling this spring break as a family or alone with your phone and a backpack. Unless otherwise noted, all audiobooks reviewed below are available on CD and/or downloadable mp3 formats through OverDrive.

I can’t begin to explain my joy in discovering, with my little girls, the Harry Potter series of books by JK Rowling. (I know, I know, it is totally lame that I have not read/listened to them until now). I relish each book. If you are taking a road trip with your kids this spring break, I would highly recommend listening to the series. Narrated by the sublime Jim Dale, the audiobook version will quickly immerse you in the world of Hogwarts and Hagrid while you ply the dreary Kansas plains (or on that long flight to the East Coast).   Start with “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” especially with younger readers in the car.  Perfect for families.

What better way to pass the time while traveling than listening to a travelogue? Bill Bryson’s new book “Road to Little Dribbling” examines the societal and cultural changes in Great Britain during our relatively young century, throwing in his trademark humor and wit.  A must-listen if you are traveling to the British Isles or, indeed, Europe during the upcoming break.

CD cover art for Meditation for BeginnersCar (or plane and bus travel) can be stressful, chaotic and tedious. A calm mind and Zen attitude can help. Jack Kornfield’s classic “Meditation for Beginners” is an excellent introduction to basic meditation practices.  The audiobook is also filled with relaxing music. Exploring breathing techniques and other basic tenets of the practice, Kornfield’s approach is not to overwhelm the listener with theory but to impart basic tips and techniques to make first attempts at meditation easier.

If you are traveling out West this Spring Break, I would highly recommend what some critics argue is the best book written about the American desert and the Southwest: “Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey. The desert comes alive in Abbey’s prose: “Lavender clouds sail like a fleet of ships across the pale green dawn – each cloud, planed flat on the wind, has a base of fiery gold.”  Abbey also sends a clarion call out to the nascent environmentalist movement (the book was written in 1968), arguing that the protection of our native species and wild lands are in many ways the most pressing issues of our time.

Further, the audio version of this book also gives me a chance to mention another format that we have available here at DBRL. “Desert Solitaire” is only available through Hoopla, which is another great source for downloadable audiobooks as well as other media here at the library.

Cover art for Percy Jackson's Greek HeroesIn addition to the fourth or perhaps fifth rereading/re-listening of the first three Harry Potter books that is going on in my family, we have also started reading the fabulous Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. Riordan just put out an excellent companion to his books, called “Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes.” One of the real attributes of this series of books is that, written in Riordan’s entertaining style, they introduce my family to the wondrous world of Greek mythology. I needed a refresher, and my kids are getting a great education without the drudgery that oftentimes accompanies Greek mythology textbooks. “Greek Heroes” is meant to further our education and fills in the gaps that some of the books might have created. Again, highly recommended for family car trips!

What are your listening plans for this spring break?

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