Stretch Goals: Nobody’s Jackknife

Poetry is a lot like yoga: it asks you to stretch out of your comfort zone, and the level of difficulty varies from situation to situation. Nobody’s Jackknife, the first full-length collection from Pittsburgh’s own Ellen McGrath Smith, functions as a master class for advanced readers and a challenge to motivated beginners. Like the best classes, it is by turns gentle and fierce, and by the time you get to the end of it, you should be glowing and panting a little bit; if not, you might be reading it wrong … or, at least, not wholeheartedly.

The yoga metaphor fits because Smith used it first: an entire section of Nobody’s Jacknife is made up of poems that bear the name of specific poses. These pieces explore the nature of the pose and its relationship to the world in which one poses, as explained in “Downward Facing Dog (adho mukha svanasana)”:

Each posture some kind of creature. Each minute
some kind of creature. Each creature is some sort
of time but not waiting (67).

In this particular poem the nature and performance of downward dog are juxtaposed with the damage done by Hurricane Katrina; like a good teacher, Smith urges the reader to explore the relationship:

…Or is the dog the stretch itself
and not the body that could bark and growl if only

it could see a city under water,
under a lid that the leaders don’t lift
until it’s too late. In the beginning,
keep the eyes open. Then you will know
what you are doing and where you go wrong–(ibid).

As readers move through the sequence of poem-poses they’re asked to consider their internal and external worlds, how they’re held in tension, how to reconcile them through awareness and effort. It’s fine if you’re wobbly because you don’t have to get it right the first time; in fact, it’s better if you don’t: as you read and reread each poem, new levels of connection and meaning rise to the surface, just as continued yoga practice will, inevitably, change you.

Though they work well on their own, the yoga poems take on greater depth and resonance when read in context. Each of the three previous sections of Nobody’s Jackknife is an invitation to experience life as Smith does: full-throttle, no apologies, level-headed and clear-sighted. Her emotional range is wide and honest, as if she not only would not, but could not lie to the reader.

“The Locust: A Foundational Narrative,” for example, which stands alone as part one, will knock the breath right out of your chest. It’s pretty clear just why the poem won a 2012 Orlando Award from A Room of One’s Own Foundation, but you’ll need to read it six more times to fully absorb its impact (and really appreciate the rest of the volume). Part two  revolves around drinking, with most of the poems named after beverages (“Absinthe,” “Port,” “Rolling Rock Beer,” etc.). In this sequence, booze consumes you, but the final poem in the series, “First Communion,” with its shift towards sacramental consumption ends the section on a hopeful note:

Every tongue awaits the body.

Every body is a word.

Every word a possibility (37).

Section three has a gentler, more introspective tone and a somewhat experimental style; the imagery glides by like waves, lapping over the reader and lulling her into reflection. When linear narrative returns near the end of the sequence, it’s no surprise that it manifests in a few yoga poems, preludes to the deeper exploration in section four:

...now I was nothing
     but a body--good or bad--
          and it was something
               they could draw--
          it had mass; it was not
filthy 

("Camel Pose (Ustasana) 48).

I never feel like I’m doing the poets I review quite enough justice, but this time I’m telling you straight up: I am not doing this volume justice. Perhaps it’s not fair to you to review a work that cannot be neatly encapsulated in a few sound bites or fully appreciated on one reading. Then again, if you’ve made it this far into the essay without running away screaming, a stretch reading goal might be just what you’re after.

If I’ve guessed correctly, you can reserve your own library copy of Nobody’s Jackknife here. Are you in the mood to challenge yourself these days? Or do your summer reading plans err on the side of calm and chill? Leave us a comment and let us know where your comfort zone is.

–Leigh Anne

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That one book…

I was struggling to come up with a topic for this blog post, so I started perusing previous posts to try and spark my creative writing. Many of our posts are about items we recommend, because they have stuck with us, had an impact and/or meant something to us (and that’s great!). It made me wonder if anyone else had experienced a book or movie, that afterwards you couldn’t remember what you had just seen or read?

There have been a couple of books that I have had that experience with, and I don’t think it’s because they are poorly written. They just don’t have the same impact that so many other books have had. I mean, I have 773 books on my Goodreads list — I joined it in 2012, so that’s about 200 books a year on average — and sometimes when I scroll through, I see a title and can’t remember what happened or how the book ended. Like at all. I see the title, and I think “Did I really read that? What the heck is that book?”

Here are the top three books that I’ve read … apparently … but cannot remember:

Mystic City by Theo Lawrence
mystic city

In a Manhattan where the streets are under water and outcasts called mystics have paranormal powers, Aria Rose is engaged to Thomas Foster and the powerful Rose and Foster families—long time enemies—are uniting politically; the only trouble is that Aria can not remember ever meeting Thomas, much less falling in love with him.

What I do remember about this book is that it is part of a series, and it is in the dystopian realm. If you like series because you know exactly what you are going to read next, then give this one a try. I know it seems weird that I’m recommending a book that I don’t (entirely) remember, but I gave it 3 stars!

City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
city of falling angels

An intimate look at the “magic, mystery and decadence” of the city of Venice and its inhabitants.

I remember I wanted to read this book because it was about Venice (I’ve traveled there), and it was about a fire that destroyed a historical part of Venice (I was also a history major). I’m not a HUGE fan of nonfiction though. I’ve always struggled getting through them for some reason (I’m working on it).

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
dante club

In 1865 Boston, a small group of literary geniuses put the finishing touches on America’s first translation of “The Divine Comedy.” When a series of murders erupt throughout Boston, only the scholars realize that the style of the killings are stolen directly from “Dante’s Inferno.”

 

What books have you forgotten?

-Abbey

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Frequently Asked Questions about Library Volunteering

Last month, we celebrated both National Library Week and National Volunteer Week.  The fact that these two national celebrations always coincide is apropos; I always say “If the library is doing it, volunteers probably do it, too.”

Talking up our volunteers’ accomplishments is one of my favorite things to do, but I realize that there are still a lot of misconceptions about volunteering in general and volunteering for the library in particular, so I thought I’d use a blog post to address them all at once.

Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions I get about Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh volunteers.

How many volunteers does CLP have?

According to our official stats, in 2015, 1,428 volunteers contributed 36,717 hours. That’s an in-kind value of more than $850,000.  About 400 volunteers are active in any given month.

So, do volunteers just shelve books?

Shelving, cleaning and shifting books is important work, and volunteers do help with that sometimes, but make no mistake, it’s far from our primary volunteer role. In fact, we’ve had to turn volunteers away who want to shelve books when we don’t have shelving work available!

Andrew Card-negie

You can even volunteer to be Andrew Card-negie. Seriously.

Volunteers at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh teach global language classes, record audiobooks for visually impaired patrons,  spend hours each week reading with young children, plan special events,  promote library programs and services, facilitate book clubs and lots, lots more.  Look around at all the cool things happening in your neighborhood library — there’s a chance that volunteers can get involved.

Level with  me, are all library volunteers old ladies?

First of all, old ladies are awesome and do really meaningful work to support our community. Secondly, no! We are lucky enough to have support from volunteers of all ages.  One of the things that’s great about the Library is that it’s a meeting place for lots of different folks, and that’s reflected in our volunteer demographics.

We try hard to structure volunteer roles so that there’s a variety. For people who are retired or who have flexible work schedules, we do need daytime help. For people who are busy and would prefer to have evening or weekend options, we’ve got that too.  We even have special opportunities just for teens.  For people who aren’t able, for whatever reason, to make an ongoing commitment, we have one-time and occasional chances to help out with a special program or event.

Bottom line? If you’ve counted yourself out because you think volunteers are one “type” of person, reconsider!

Can I complete a required number of volunteer hours?

Maybe! We do provide lots of opportunities to volunteers who are looking to complete required community service hours, whether they are mandated by school, court, a scouting organization, a religious group or some other entity. We do, however, have to work with realistic time constraints, and sometimes we just don’t have the work available. I always suggest checking out VolunteerMatch.org or PittsburghCares.org as a way to find an opportunity that works with your schedule and deadline. It’s always good to get started on hours as soon as possible — volunteer roles might be more limited than you imagine!

slack_for_ios_upload.jpg

Volunteers from AmeriCorps and Gamma Sigma Sigma (University of Pittsburgh) volunteering in April 2016

Can my group volunteer at the library?

Maybe! It depends on your group size and how flexible you are with your date and volunteering location. We don’t like to make up “busy work” for volunteers, but we are thrilled to have groups help when we have projects, which is often. We have quite a few opportunities for groups to volunteer this summer, so get in touch at 412-622-3168 or volunteers@carnegielibrary.org.

What is the “Friends of the Library” and how is that different from a Volunteer?

The Friends of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is actually a separate, all-volunteer nonprofit organization whose primary focus is fundraising and supporting Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh locations.  All “Friends” are volunteers, but not all volunteers are “Friends.”

If you’d be interested in volunteering to fundraise through book sales or other events and projects, contact Volunteer Services or ask a librarian at your neighborhood library whether that location has it’s own Friends group.

I have a great idea for a class or program I’d like to facilitate at the library! How can I make that happen?

We are thoughtful about adding new programs to our libraries — trying to make sure we balance the needs and wants of our communities with the resources we have available, including space and staff time.  If you’d like to go through the application process, contact the Office of Programs & Partnerships at 412-924-0063  x. 1411 or at  programsandpartnerships@carnegielibrary.org.

Ok, so how do I start volunteering?

The easiest thing to do is fill out a volunteer application form or apply directly to an open volunteer position. If you’d like to talk over your options or you have more questions, get in touch at 412-622-3168 or volunteers@carnegielibrary.org.

Thanks for your support!

-Ginny

 

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April Recap

Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.

Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.

April saw another huge celebrity loss in Prince, which left all of us here at Eleventh Stack more than a little sad. On the happier side of thing, baseball season started, and Abbey highlighted some baseball-related resources. Sheila also helped us celebrate children author Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday.

Kayla gave a big thumbs up to Kara Thomas’s The Darkest Corners and Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass. Kelly looked at the theme of displacement in Ranbir Singh Sidhu’s work, and Ross mused on cultural expectations in his review of Nookietown. Jess looked a few non-superhero comics, and Natalie enjoyed Jane Steele, a new adaptation of Jane Eyre.

In movie land, Ross explored the desolation of Sunset Edge and the iconic movie-related art of Drew Struzan. Tara reviewed Victoria, a film shot all in one take.

novelcureLeigh Anne plugged poet Martin Espada’s new collection Failed and Sharon Dolan’s Manual for Living. Suzy made us think about mistakes and how we handle them. Melissa considered a career change to bibliotherapist, and one of our volunteers wrote about her efforts advocating for the library. Brittany compared her childhood to those of refugee kids, and Adina highlighted some recent memoirs and autobiographies she’s enjoyed.

Of course we didn’t forget about food—Scott M. took us on a tour of local Greek food festivals and highlighted some of his favorite Greek cookbooks.

What’s your favorite book, movie, or album from April? Let us know in the comments.

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Autobiography or Memoir?

One of my favorite go-to genres is autobiographies and memoirs. These days there are tons—is it just me, or does everyone seem to write a book about their life?

TypingSnoopy

Snoopy is busy writing his memoirs. Click through for source.

What’s the correct term for this popular genre? Autobiography or memoir? I’ve heard both used interchangeably, but further research shows that there are slight differences between the two. Autobiographies usually chronicle someone’s entire life, from childhood until present day while memoirs focus on a specific time period or event (and often jump around in time). Autobiographies also usually include a lot of facts. Memoirs care more about the story and are less concerned with fact-checking and getting every detail right.

Another difference between autobiography and memoir is when the book happened to be written. Autobiographies were once the preferred style, written by celebrities or politicians. Now memoirs dominate with an intimate, conversational style and more room for embellishment or “stretching the truth” of personal history. Because of their more approachable style, anyone can write a memoir (and they do!).

I’ve already read quite a few autobiographies/memoirs this year; I’ve tried to classify them below!

 

malcolmx

Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
Autobiography

This one is pretty straightforward. The word “autobiography” is actually in the title! Told to Alex Haley, Malcolm X recounts his life chronologically starting with his childhood and Haley finishes the story with Malcom’s untimely death.

 

 

 

wild

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Memoir

Strayed writes about a specific time in her life—hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Flashing back and forth in time from the trail to memories of her mother, Strayed’s struggle to hike the PCT mirrors her quest to move on after her mother’s death. Focused on her experience, not facts, this book clearly falls into the memoir category.

 

 

AnneFrank

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Autobiography

Less straightforward to categorize is Anne Frank’s account of her time spent in hiding during WWII. While her diary mainly focuses on a specific time period, you can’t get a more accurate account than a diary. Readers get to experience Frank’s thoughts, emotions, and observations day-by-day, which is why I’ve chosen to label this book an autobiography.

 

 

 

Cover of My Life on The Road
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
Autobiography

I really struggled to categorize this one, especially since it was recently published and probably branded by publishers as a memoir. Following the criteria I laid out previously, Steinem’s book falls closer to autobiographies in a couple ways. Steinem begins the book in her childhood and (for the most part) continues chronologically through her life. Even though her theme is “my life on the road,” there isn’t one event or time that she emphasizes more than others. People, places, dates and other facts are also important to the story taking place.

 

bookcover

Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures by Phoebe Gloeckner
Memoir

This book combines text, illustrations, and comic strips into a truly unique story of a teenager growing up in San Francisco during the 1970s. Though the author will not directly say how closely the book follows her own life, she highly implies most of the story is based in truth. This book’s focus on Minnie’s teenage years and its questionable veracity leads me to label this book as a memoir.

 

Disagree with my classifications? Any good autobiographies/memoirs you’ve read recently? Let us know in the comments below!

-Adina

Take a look at some of the autobiographies/memoirs that the library has to offer!

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Punch a Higher Floor

Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.

Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.


Around 2011 I was dating a girl who loved Prince. She often talked about how she’d been to a few of his concerts when she was younger. When we got back from the bars, she’d often put his albums on. We spent many nights dancing around her kitchen until the early hours of the morning, frightening her cats and annoying her downstairs neighbors as we sang along loudly and badly with Prince, particularly the Purple Rain soundtrack. It was during these sleepless hours that I was introduced to “Let’s Go Crazy.” That song will always be an anthemic battle cry for me.

Later I was looking up clips on YouTube and found the video below. Watch as Prince reaches heretofore unmatched levels of face-melting as he shreds his way through the solo of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” proving unequivocally that Prince was a supremely talented performer. I know I’ll miss him.

-Ross


I would not be exaggerating if I said Prince was involved in two of the best nights of my life.

Picture this: New Year’s Eve, 1991. I’m at an under-21 dance club called Club Nitro. I’m 14 years old and no doubt I was wearing what I considered “dress up” clothes: black bodysuit, jeans that were far too big for me and Doc Martens. I didn’t have big hair, but it was most certainly curled by the Caruso Molecular Steam Hairsetter. The song at midnight was “Diamonds and Pearls“.

One by one, my friends were asked to dance, until it was just me leaning against a wall. And then a boy that I had crushed on for months asked me to dance. I had assumed he was unaware of my existence. I got to dance to Prince on New Year’s Eve with my crush. He even kissed me at the end of the song.*

Beer Barge, 2014. The Commonwealth Press Beer Barge is an excellent way to celebrate Pittsburgh’s Craft Beer Week. Two hundred of your closest friends set sail on the Gateway Clipper for three hours of bands, craft beer and dancing. The final song on the 2014 barge was Purple Rain. It was an epic night. Look!

*Never spoke to me again.

-suzy


iwoulddie4uIt’s really hard for me to remember a time that I wasn’t singing Prince songs. His music was everything I wanted to be a part of – dancing, freedom of expression, being yourself, sexuality, fast cars and motorcycles, and on and on. He was an icon of my generation. Not just a rock star or superstar, but a certifiable icon (I run on at the mouth about the book which will convince you of that fact in this post from a couple of years ago. I STILL recommend this book on a regular basis.). Prince’s death has made me put him into a category that I certainly never wanted him to be in – artists I wanted to see perform live, but never got the chance to. It pains me that he’s now in that “box”. I always thought there’d be more time. But don’t you always think that?  Going crazy is going to be a little harder for me now.

-Melissa M.


One of my greatest parental accomplishments is providing my kids with a well-rounded musical education. Her One Direction fanaticism notwithstanding, my 14-year-old daughter proudly shares that she is the only person among her friends who can name all four Beatles. She’s heartbroken that Janet Jackson postponed her tour because, “It’s the closest I’ll ever get to The King of Pop himself.”  She’s not a child of the ‘80s, but an offspring of two of them, her knowledge of these artists acquired from us having their music on heavy rotation.

But whether it was the suggestiveness of his lyrics or something else, somehow I’d failed to introduce my girl to the power of Prince.

Until Thursday.

“He’s a good singer and all, but I don’t quite get why everyone is so sad about him dying,” she tells me.

purplerainDig if you will, then, the picture of us watching Purple Rain, its R-rating be damned. She’s laughing at the outfits, the Aqua-Netted hair.  I start speaking in fragments about how the ‘80s were such a confusing and sad decade — not only for me, but for all of us who were finding love and ourselves in an era of being scared to death that falling in love could kill us.  And then came Prince, singing and celebrating these feelings that were so powerful, so intoxicating and so dangerous enough to be slapped with a Parental Advisory sticker from Tipper Gore.

My nostalgia isn’t quite enough for my girl — she’s been down similar Memory Lanes of mine before — so I go for backup.  Like me, my high school friend Leah also is watching Purple Rain while trying to explain her sadness to her own daughter.

“I told her Prince was my generation’s Justin Bieber and One Direction and Taylor Swift and Jay Z and Beyoncé all rolled into one,” Leah says, via Facebook. “I think she understood that but what I didn’t say was Prince was also our coming of age, our first dances and first dates and first loves. He was the end of our childhood and the soundtrack of our youth and our young adulthood. I’m mourning Prince but I’m also remembering the way I felt back then and realizing that I won’t ever feel that way again, but when I’m watching and listening and singing, I can almost get there.”

The purple-tinged audience is waving their hands (“we had lighters back then, not cell phones,” I explain).  I turn the volume up louder, as one does in homage to Prince. The guitar soars through the TV, through the house, through our souls. And watching my girl, enraptured now, I begin to connect with something I’d long forgotten.

-Melissa F.



When I found out this past Thursday that Prince died I was stunned. It’s still weird for me to talk about him in the past tense. This may be odd to say, but I’ve heard a lot of people these past couple of days say the same thing: I never imagined him dying. I thought that he would be 90 years old still doing concerts singing “Purple Rain.” It’s sad, crazy and strange to think of a world without him, but alas we have to.

His passing didn’t just affect me. It affected my family because my mom is a huge fan of his and she got me into him. She’s loved him since he first came out and she had a poster on her wall of him with a big Afro from Right On! magazine. When my aunt & uncle first met each other, they broke the ice by talking about their common love of Prince. This is a monumental loss. I’ll end this by naming my top three favorite songs of his: “When Doves Cry,” “The Beautiful Ones” and “Adore.”

-Kayla


The summer of 1984, I was home from my freshman year of college. In school, I had been a DJ heavily into prog rock, and worked at the music library where I was introduced to classical and world music. My boyfriend was a guitarist in a hardcore punk rock band that frequently played at CBGB’s and the like. I also happen to be very light-skinned, and my boyfriend, very dark-skinned. This was still fairly rare in the mid-80s, even in New York. We would turn heads walking down the street. Light- and dark-skinned people alike would give us the hairy eyeball.

Our whole group of friends were quite snobbish when it came to pop music. We collectively derided the MTV phenomenon, and all of pop culture as a rule. When Purple Rain came out, my boyfriend and I wanted to see it, but we didn’t want any of our friends to know. We snuck away, even coming up with a cover story of what we were doing instead. It was the first time either of us saw mixed-race couples depicted anywhere. The aspect of one’s race was a non-issue. We were also completely mesmerized by Prince himself. We laughed at ourselves for liking the movie so much. We went to see it again the next day.

-Joelle


In the Spring of 1986 Prince’s “Kiss” was released. At the time, my family didn’t have cable TV, and the whole music video generation was quickly passing me by. But, you know who DID have cable, and MTV? My Grandpap. We would go out to his place on the weekends, visit with him and help him with stuff around the house. Right after that song came out we were over there. I had heard it on the radio, but lacking MTV, had never seen the video. For whatever reason, I was the only one in the living room, as everyone else was in the kitchen, or out in the yard. I turned on MTV and watched some videos. That’s when I saw the video for “Kiss.”

As a 10-year-old boy, growing up in a white, working class, Catholic home, this video opened my eyes in some remarkable ways. I remember thinking “OK…so HE’s wearing high heels … and SHE’s playing the guitar … that’s not … what I expected.” I feel like seeing Wendy Melvoin playing the guitar did a number on me. It let me in on a whole new world of what was possible, and opened up doors of who could do what.

It wasn’t at all what I expected, and I loved it. Billy Bragg and Morrissey (two of my musical heroes) have talked eloquently about how seeing Bowie at an impressionable age really impacted them. I feel that this song and video did something similar for me. The stripped-down funk sounds, vocals still loud and screamy enough to anger a parent, and the gender bending clothes and sexualized dancing was pretty intense, and it hooked me.

The impact of Prince’s music was felt far and wide, not least by me in a fantastic way that I’m fairly certain I never could have expected.

Rest in Power.

-Eric


How did Prince affect your life? Share your memories and tributes in the comments, and put one of his albums or movies on reserve.

-Team Eleventh Stack

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Seven Thousand Miles

As a child of the eighties and nineties, my life consisted of the following:

  • A warm breakfast before school, preferably sausage and pancakes with a mountain of syrup.
  • A snack after school, preferably the sugary kind.
  • Nickelodeon
  • Skip-it.
  • More Nickelodeon
  • Rollerblading down the hill in front of our apartment.
  • Trips to my great-grandparents house on visits to Kentucky.
  • Grassy fields.
  • Fried meals.
  • Comfort.
  • More Nickelodeon

As a child of the eighties and nineties I assumed that others like myself were enjoying a similar childhood. Perhaps my neighbors weren’t making trips to see their great-grandparents in Kentucky, perhaps they weren’t playing Skip-It, or rollerblading down hills, but without a doubt they were experiencing a childhood. In the bubble of my mind and the shelter of my childhood, this experience was being had by all. It was not.

While I was watching cartoons and eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch on Saturday mornings, children seven thousand miles away in Sudan were experiencing a childhood that I, at 8, could never have fathomed.

While I was playing Aladdin on my Sega Genesis, there were children being pulled from their homes during the day or night, fleeing for their lives from men with guns and men with machetes and men with machinery. These children wondered and worried about their brother or sister or cousin or aunt or uncle or mother or father. They worried and wondered about family they might or might not see again. They wondered and worried about life and death and not if, but when they would be next.

While I enjoyed the comfort of light up sneakers, these kids walked for hundreds of miles, barefoot against scorching hot land.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Starvation.

Reading stories about children who managed a strength to survive that I can’t even fathom has begun to put life into perspective for myself. Not everything and not everyone begins with a warm breakfast or Nickelodeon or roller blades. Not everyone’s reality is coming home to a warm bed, or coming home at all. The Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005) consumed the lives of two million people. Children were not immune to the chaos that this war and strife brought.

TheRedPencil

The Red Pencil, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney, tells the story of Amira, a 12 year old Sudanese girl living a normal life until the Janjaweed arrive. Torn from her village, she not only loses the person she is closest to, she also loses her voice, until a woman arrives with the gift of a red pencil.

ALongWalkToWater

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story, written by Linda Sue Park, alternates between the two stories of eleven year old Nya and eleven year old Salva. Although they are experiencing life decades apart, their stories intersect when the life changing force of water brings them together.

brothersinhope

Brothers in Hope: the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, by Mary Williams, describes eight-year-old Garang Deng’s determination to lead himself and 34 other Lost Boys from Sudan to the safety of a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Their journey continues from Ethiopia to Kenya, where (years later) they are given the opportunity to seek safety in America.

Fiction or non-fiction, these are the books and the children within that have stuck with me. These are the authors who help us to not forget.

-Brittany

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Sarah J. Maas’s World of Assassins

bookcover.png

I read an article a couple of weeks ago announcing that an adult coloring book based on the Throne of Glass series would be released. It will be released on September 6th, the same day as Empire of Stormsthe latest book in the series. I started reading Throne of Glass months ago, but put it down to read other things. The article made me wanna go back to it.

I’m glad that I did, because the book was so great! Throne of Glass follows Celaena Sardothien, an assassin from a land called Terrasen. She was brought to the land of Adarlan by the Crown Prince, Dorian Havilliard, to compete in a contest to become the King’s Champion. Before that, Celaena was a slave in the mines of Endovier. For the sake of the competition, only a few people know Celaena’s real identity, and they are Crown Prince Dorian; the king; and Chaol Westfall, Captain of the Guard.

Celaena is underestimated throughout the competition by just about everyone because she’s a girl. Chaol is mistrustful of her throughout most of the book because of who she really is. Meanwhile, Dorian finds himself falling for her and she likes him too, even though she doesn’t want to admit it at first. As the competition goes on, contestants start to die. Celaena begins to look into why it’s happening, and she becomes skeptical of the people around her. Although Celaena finds that most people either don’t like her or are intimidated by her skills, she makes a friend in Nehemia, a princess who is visiting from Eyllwe.

Celaena is a strong, multi-dimensional female character that you can root for. I’m excited to continue on with this series. Throne of Glass is available in print, audio and e-book format in our catalog.

Have you read Throne of Glass? If so, what did you think of it? Read anything similar to it? Let us know in the comments below!

~Kayla

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Read the Manual

The main appeal of religion, philosophy and self-help is that, as disciplines, they promise to lay out a framework for how to live a good and meaningful life. The fact that there’s no consensus between–or even within–fields as to what “good” and “meaningful” actually are is mostly delightful, and occasionally frustrating. As you pursue each path, though, a funny thing happens: searching for the answer becomes more important than finding the answer, and before you know it, boom! A life well-lived.

Sharon Dolin’s Manual for Living holds a triple boom between its covers, three sets of poems inspired by philosophy, art and religion. Each set imposes meaning on life using a different set of standards and poetic techniques, offering the reader a choose-your-own-adventure series of poems to compare, contrast, mull over and memorize.

Cross-section of the cover of Manual for Living. Spotted at University of Pittsburgh Press. Click through for source page.

Cross-section of the cover of Manual for Living. Spotted at University of Pittsburgh Press. Click through for source page.

The first section, “Manual for Living,” especially lends itself to memorization and reading aloud; it’s musically clever, with consonance and assonance for days, as in “Desire Demands its Own Attachment”:

Daunted by disastrous consequences?
Don’t be. Everyone–even you–
delights in devil-scape. Do you
rue more than revel? (11).

The poems’ titles are direct quotes from the stoic philosopher Epictetus, one of the original “suck it up and deal” guys, whose main piece of advice, in contemporary terms, best translates to “Dude, chill.” Dolin has a lot of fun restating the original epigrams in clever, musical phrases designed to stick in your memory:

Great that he gamed you. Grand
she’s gone gloomy, gorged on hemlock.
Colossal you’ve got no guy, no gig, no granita.

Greet each gravity with gratitude like a cavity

(“Everything Happens for a Good Reason”, 11).

Dolin’s framework for section two, “Black Paintings,” is a series of artworks created by Francisco Goya near the end of his life. If you’re not familiar with the works, it can be useful to click back and forth between the poems and the paintings as you read, to get the full effect. Even if you are familiar with the paintings, though, you’ll benefit from consulting them together, as the somber, introspective tone Dolin uses in this set of works mirrors the darker colors and themes Goya explores.

Calling them meditations on death is, and is not, an oversimplification. Consider “Atropos, or The Three Fates”:

O you in the back with your mantic
mirror, how do you know

how long to spill my skein–
black blood of me when I shall

no longer be? (48).

There’s a big difference between accepting fate and questioning it; the chirpy stoicism of section one has been replaced by a moody, almost resentful, challenge to the powers that be.

This challenge is resolved in section three, “Of Hours,” which is modeled after a popular form of medieval prayer book. As the name suggests, there’s a prayer-poem for each hour of the day, and each poem addresses a specific spiritual concern expressed through the beauty of the natural world observed at the given time. The speaker’s day begins at dark-thirty with a request for guidance:

…I am thrumming

your praises as the only way to hear
with the soul’s inner ear.

Tell me what you desire of me
(“Psalm of the Flying Shell (4:30 a.m.)”, 53).

As the day progresses, the style becomes more and more experimental, mirroring how a day can begin in order and gradually succumb to chaos. The prayers are what keep the speaker–and the reader–anchored to the world. Consider the dreamy images and style of “Moon Lilies (5:30 p.m.)”:

In the suffering hour >>
                        sky
                              oozing blood
                        orange

pages gone dark
             Sabbath will be starlit

(Help me find you in time) (83).

Just as there is no one answer in life, there’s no one “right” way to craft poems in Dolin’s work. It’s obvious she takes great pleasure in playing with sounds and forms, not so much concerned with truth as with the search for it, and the many ways one can search. If you consider yourself a spirited or philosophical person, or if you like playful explorations of thought and language, you really should read the Manual.

You can do that quite easily by clicking here to make a reservation in the catalog, and having these poetic devotions sent to the library location of your choice. How do you make sense of everyday living? What forms of consolation, poetic or otherwise, have helped you grapple with the many challenges of adulting? Leave us a comment and share your wisdom.

–Leigh Anne

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A Different Jane

Today is the 200th birthday  of Charlotte Brontë. Her groundbreaking novel Jane Eyre is a book that I often go back to when I need a little comforting; I am not sure charlotte_bronte_square_sticker_3_x_3what it is about Brontë’s title character, but Jane has been a part of my life for so long that re-reading it feels like visiting an old friend. I have a tattered copy under my bed that I still reach for at times.

Honestly, it is a bit embarrassing; it feels a little stereotypical for a female librarian to be obsessed with what some would argue is a dated classic. But the truth is that Jane Eyre was groundbreaking in its day for featuring a heroic female lead who took charge of her own fate. It caused quite a stir, and Charlotte even addressed some of her critics in the forward of the second printing. It also helps my pride that my favorite literary classic is beloved by many others and has inspired a number of spin-offs.

bookcoverOne of the most recent spin offs out there is Jane Steele: A Confession by Lyndsay Faye. This re-telling gives us a female lead aptly named  Jane Steele, who happens to be a contemporary fan of Brontë’s novel. This new Jane is inspired by the biographical similarities she shares with Jane Eyre (the character) to pen her own autobiographical confession.

You see, Jane Steele faced similar circumstances to Jane Eyre early in her life, but unlike the mousy future-governess sitting in the window seat behind the curtains, Jane Steele faces her enemies head on and becomes a heroic serial killer. Her first murder, that of her older cousin, is truly an accident perpetrated in self defense, but Jane believes that her actions have uncovered her true nature. When she is sent to boarding school her ability to lie and steal keep her safe for a time but can’t save her from the evil intentions of the headmaster. And so it goes for Jane Steele, time and time again she is presented with ill-intentioned people and dire situations common to women of her period, but this Jane is a fighter and meets these challenges head-on.

Despite a climbing body count, Jane Steele isn’t completely at peace with her actions and does believe her immortal soul to be damned, and when she finds herself in the company of people who truly care for her she begins to fear that the truth will destroy her chance at happiness. I began this book excited at the idea of a Jane with an edge, a Jane who stands up for herself. So many times I have wondered what a Jane Eyre unhampered by the conventions of her day would have accomplished, and Jane Steele gives readers a glimpse  of what could have been.

bookcover

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover…but that is pretty rad cover art.

Initially, I wasn’t in love with Lyndsay Faye’s writing style; it was a little heavy in my opinion, and I felt like we were taking a great deal of time and descriptive language to get on with it. I found myself skipping several of her more wordy passages, but by the time Jane makes her way to boarding school the pace picked up and I found myself rooting for this new, homicidal Jane just as fervently as I had my old beloved one.

Faye’s new take on the novel also introduced a more globally rich history of Jane Eyre’s world. When Jane Steele arrives at Highgate House, her own personal version of Thornfield Hall, she becomes tangled in the past of Mr. Charles Thornfield.  This sardonic, yet gentle, man grew up in India and doesn’t take much stock in the rules of society that seem to dictate the lives of Englishmen. He has surrounded himself with servants from his home country who seem more than dedicated to him and his young charge Sahjara and hires Jane because of the inconsistencies she presents rather than inspite of them.

Of course, all is not as it seems in this household and when an agent of the East India Trading Company makes an unexpected visit he is met with weaponry from almost every member of the immediate household. Jane feels at home for the first time in a long time among this band of warrior misfits and sets out to solve the mystery plaguing her new friends. The story follows the general path set out by Brontë but takes unexpected turns, keeping Jane on her feet. This was an enjoyable take on Jane Eyre, just different enough to feel new, but retaining many of the familiar emotions of the original. If you are a fan of crime drama, dark humor or just an ardent fan of the original Jane, then try this new take. I think you’ll like it.

Reserve a copy of Jane Steele now.

-Natalie

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