Month: June 2018

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Fantasy Audiobooks for the Road

Fantasy Audiobooks for the Road

By Diedre Lemon, Adult Services Librarian

Summer is here! And with it comes the lure of long car rides. My husband and I find audiobooks pass the long miles of summer travel to western Kansas. In May, I found myself devouring Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan. This book is the third in a series about the god Apollo who has been sent to earth as sixteen-year-old Lester Papadopoulos. He becomes a servant and friend to young Meg McCaffrey. Apollo/ Lester and Meg need to work together because they have to save the world from evil, ancient Roman emperors. I turn into a fangirl waiting for these humorous young adult novels, and I love listening to audiobook versions.

Sadly, it is now June, and I am trying to find another audiobook.  I also have to keep in mind something my husband might enjoy as we plan car trips this summer. For me, a great audiobook comes down to one of two things: the story or the narrator. Here are some ideas while Game of Thrones is checked out.

One author my husband enjoys and who meets my great audiobook definition is Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson is an excellent fantasy author who has a number of great books and audiobooks. He is similar to George R.R. Martin (but less homicidal) with beloved characters. The Stormlight Archives series engrosses listeners with its alternating narrators and rich detail of the world Sanderson creates. His characters are also vast and rich. I will warn you: the books are long, and Sanderson has only released book three, Oathbringer, in a ten-novel series. Additionally, Sanderson uses the same universe for all of his novels, which links them all together, and some characters cross over into other series, too. The Sanderson world stays the same, while the time period changes.

If you find yourself wanting to immerse yourself into Sanderson’s world slowly, then I suggest The Rithmatist. So far, this series has one book with an anticipated sequel due out any time. This series is more of a young adult series, and as a result, I found myself in a familiar world filled with magic and a familiar voice. The narrator of this series is the same one who reads for Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives. The Rithmatist tells the story of Joel, who studies Rithmatics, but who is not a Rithmatist. Joel and his friend Melody, a Rithmatist, must solve the mystery of kidnapped Rithmatist students from Armedius Academy while learning how to use Rithmatics—magic that uses chalk—to fight Chalkings, who are two-dimensional drawings. The duo must also work together to compete in the end-of-summer melee tournament.

If all else fails, then I usually listen to my go-to author, Neil Gaiman. I will listen to anything and everything that Gaiman reads himself. Neverwhere or The Ocean at the End of the Lane are two favorite audiobooks that Gaiman narrates. Neverwhere tells the story of Richard Mayhew who helps a young woman named Door. Suddenly Richard now finds himself in a parallel London—London Below. In London Below, Richard must face shadows, monsters, sinister characters, and an angel on his quest to help Door. Mixed with terror and humor, Neverwhere takes listeners on a fantastic journey to a London that could exist beneath the one most people know. BBC also created a full cast audiobook version, which I highly recommend.

Gaiman always has some chilling elements in his works. The Ocean at the End of the Lane includes this creepy element typical of Gaiman’s work, but he also includes magical realism. The novel is told in flashback form as the narrator returns home for a funeral, then finds himself at the house at the end of the lane. Visiting with Mrs. Hempstock, the narrator remembers her daughter, Lettie, who befriended him as a child. He recalls their adventure to defeat a creature and save the world as we know it. At the end of the novel, readers are left wondering if the narrator just remembered a childish fantasy he created with Lettie, or if it all really happened.

I understand fantasy–whether it be dark fantasy, high fantasy or regular fantasy–might not be your cup of tea. However, I can say nothing passes the miles like an enthralling audiobook. Manhattan Public Library has numerous audiobooks for you to check out. Should you find yourself halfway through your trip with no audiobook, then you can use our digital platforms like Sunflower eLibrary and Hoopla to ease your travel.

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One Man’s Obsession with Museum Rarities

One Man’s Obsession with Museum Rarities

By Marcia Allen, Technical Services and Collections Manager

I know nothing about fly fishing.  I knew little about the fashionable craze to obtain exotic feathers during the 19th century.  I had never heard of the British Museum at Tring, nor had I known of Edwin Rist’s past.  Yet all of those factors are a part of a wonderful new nonfiction title.

While fly fishing outside of Taos, New Mexico with his guide, avid fisherman and author Kirk Wallace Johnson learned about Victorian salmon fly-tying.  His guide proudly showed some of his expertly tied specimens that he considered more artistic than useful.  This led to a discussion about a little known theft that Johnson vowed to investigate, and that obsession became a book that took Johnson several years to complete.  But what a book it is.  The Feather Thief is an amazing piece of writing that explores obsession, greed, and even the craft of fly-tying itself.

Of all the thefts from world-renowned museums, the plundering of the ornithological collection at the British Museum of Natural History at Tring, England is one of the oddest.  In 2009, American Edwin Rist managed to thwart security measures, thus allowing him to steal hundreds of rare bird feathers and skins. He not only made away with a priceless treasure, he also evaded capture for a long time.

Many of the stolen items were collected during the 19th century by a naturalist named Alfred Russel Wallace.  Wallace was intrigued by insects and birds and made several dangerous voyages to the Amazon and Bermuda, among other destinations.  He collected specimens by the thousands and sold many of them to the British Museum.  He was particularly interested in the golden-plumed Bird of Paradise and finally captured one on the Aru Islands.  Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, came to believe in the importance of evolution through natural selection and urged other scientists to preserve his found treasures for future study.

The discovery of those 19th century specimens by Wallace and other naturalists led to a craze in collecting bird feathers.  Women’s hats sported feathers and skins, and Victorian fly-fishermen collected feathers for fly-tying.  As a result, bird populations throughout the world were decimated in the late 19th century, and many rare species virtually disappeared.

And that’s where Edwin Rist enters the story.  As a teenager, he developed an interest in Victorian fly-tying and he took lessons from some of the best teachers in America.  He became quite proficient in tying and earned honors at contests for his artful creations.  The major obstacle that he and other devotees of the skill faced was that so many of the exotic feathers the Victorians used were either no longer available or very expensive.

Rist was also a talented musician and was invited to study and play with the London Royal Academy.  While in London, he learned about the collections at Tring and became obsessed with them.  A visit to the museum, during which he casually opened drawers containing valuable specimens, made him realize that security measures would be easy to circumvent.  He convinced himself that he should steal the skins for their future artistic potential.

Exactly how many feathers and skins did Rist manage to steal?  Did he sell them or keep them for himself?  Were the specimens recovered?  Was Rist charged with the crime?  How did the museum staff react?  How did the network of Victorian fly-tiers respond?  Did the author of the book interview Rist?   For answers to these and other questions, you must read this exceptional book.  I promise you will be amazed by the Victorian craft, by the historical experiences and collections of Alfred Russel Wallace, and by Johnson’s dogged investigation into the crime.  This book is true-crime reading at its very best.

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The History of American Food

The History of American Food

By Rhonna Hargett, Adult and Teen Services Manager

My memories of my grandmother are full of cooking. She could go into her tiny kitchen and produce meals that still make me hungry remembering them twenty years later. She learned to cook on the farm, so she could take plain food and mix it up to make a variety that wouldn’t get boring over the lean times or through the winter months.

I recently took a reading journey through the history of food in the United States. We don’t often think about why we eat what we do, but there is a long history of cultural and economic forces that affect what we put on our tables.

A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman takes us back to a time when nutrition education and extreme poverty converged into one of the greatest food challenges our nation has ever faced. People did as much as they could for themselves by learning new ways of cooking and preserving foods. Farmers returned to a bartering system because so few could afford to buy their products. I enjoyed the story of a farm girl who was tired of the egg salad sandwich she took to school every day because her family had no buyers for their eggs. Another girl was tired of peanut butter and jelly because they couldn’t afford eggs or meat. After envying each other, they happily traded sandwiches. Extension taught homemakers how to stretch their food dollars and maximize yields from their gardens. Lessons and necessity produced a shift from food as a satisfying and tasty part of life to the nutritional baseline of food – what is absolutely necessary for survival. Recipes from the time are included, which aren’t necessarily appetizing, but demonstrate clearly how desperate the situation was.

The poverty was too deep and wide-spread for self-sufficiency to solve the problem, however, and the government and charity organizations stepped in with bread lines and food distribution, creating the first versions of food stamps and the school lunch program. Ziegelman also delves into the cultural and political attitudes of the time towards charitable giving and tells how these views affect us even today. This compelling narrative illuminates a period in our history when our ideas about food underwent a huge shift.

In Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, Sarah Lohman examines eight flavors commonly used in the American diet—black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, garlic, monosodium glutamate, and Sriracha – and tells their stories. Lohman’s first job was as part of a family in an historical reenactment village, where she got the opportunity to cook with the ingredients available in Ohio in 1848. Her experience led her to wonder why we use different ingredients now and when those shifts took place. For instance, Americans used to regularly use rose water in their cooking, but now we mostly use vanilla. Vanilla became popular because of a scientific discovery that had nothing to do with food: the simple fact that adding salt to ice lowers the freezing temperature of water. This well-researched and delightful exploration of American flavors includes historic recipes and Lohman’s personal experience with, and opinion of, each flavor.

After examining these books, I can see how American history is displayed regularly on my dinner table when we have gravy like my grandmother used to make, curries, stir fries, and vanilla ice cream for dessert.  Economics, science, and culture have affected every dish on our table. These fascinating narratives about the history of our diet will have you looking at your meals–and culture–in an entirely new way.

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Libraries Rock and Kids Will Be Groovin’

Libraries Rock and Kids Will Be Groovin’

By Jennifer Bergen, Children’s Services Manager

It’s that time of year again when the Children’s Room is abuzz at the library. Kids are out of school and streaming in our doors, ready to find the perfect books for summer vacation. The annual Summer Reading program is underway with the super cool theme, “Libraries Rock!” Programs will highlight musical topics, and as always, all ages can join our summer reading challenge to see how much you can read, earning prizes along the way.

Children’s librarian Rachel Carnes has chosen some amazing picture book biographies to read during the Biblio Beatniks club for kids going into 4th-6th grade.  Award winning authors Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome created the gorgeously illustrated book, “Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George.”  Joseph was born on a plantation in 1739, the son of an enslaved woman and a plantation master. He was provided an education and violin lessons, and became famous as a violinist and composer, performing at the same time as Mozart and getting equal sized crowds. Another week will feature Troy Andrews’s “Trombone Shorty,” describing the New Orleans musician’s determination to join the Treme brass band playing an instrument twice his size.  Every week, kids will be inspired learning about a musician who beat the odds. They will also view fascinating short videos of performers, and create a musical instrument to take home.

In the weekly clubs for K-3rd graders, Ms. Grace will feature stories and music from different countries around the world, including Ghana, Iran, India, Japan, Ireland and Argentina. “The Girl with a Brave Heart” is a tale from Tehran by Rita Jahan-Fouruz that retells an old fairy tale. A child, who does not feel brave, must retrieve something from a scary neighbor. The old woman tells young Shiraz to complete 3 destructive tasks first, but Shiraz instead chooses to do helpful things. In return, the old women magically rewards her. However, when the tasks are repeated by Shiraz’s jealous stepsister, the result is not the same.  Each book read aloud will provide interesting discussion from the kids, and they will get to watch some traditional music and dances.

Storytellers Jill, Hannah, Chelsea and Rachel plan to move and groove in storytimes.  Preschoolers will explore various music genres – rock, jazz, hip-hop, country and more – through hilarious picture books and fun dance moves and songs.  “Punk Farm” by Jarrett Krosoczka is always a crowd pleaser. When your favorite farm animals plug in the amp and put on their sunglasses, you know they are going to rock “Old MacDonald” like never before. Connie Schofield-Morrison’s spunky girl in “I Got the Rhythm” will make everyone want to stand up and clap, snap, shake and tap. Every page is full of movement and feeling with Frank Morrison’s illustrations exuding the joy of music. During interludes between stories, the children can shake and dance to songs like “Locomotion,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and Kris Kross’s “I Missed the Bus.”

Even the toddlers and babies can participate with beautifully illustrated picture books set to the lyrics of favorite songs like “Octopus’s Garden” and Bob Marley’s “One Love.” Did you know Kenny Loggins has entered the ranks of children’s book authors with several picture books, including a special 2016 version of “Footloose“? Now Jack (“jump back”) is the zookeeper, and he’s “howlin’ with the wolf pack.”  The book includes a CD with Loggins singing the silly and fun new lyrics so everyone can “slip on their dancin’ shoes” and cut loose.

In the tradition of storytelling, we are happy to host Richard Pitts this summer for “Stories with a Lot of Soul.”  His stories from the African American tradition will include audience participation, drumming, and singing.  Pitts describes them as “stories that make you laugh and be a little (not much) scared, and a few personal tales, too. There will be stories about animals and people, but all have a great moral to ponder.” On June 16, listening and participating with Mr. Pitts will be the perfect way to start off your Juneteenth celebration. Whether you are whistling, dancing, reading or rockin’ out, we hope you will find the perfect books, music and activities at the library this summer.