Month: July 2020

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Short Stories for Short Attention Spans

Short Stories for Short Attention Spans

By Brittani Ivan, LIS Library Assistant 2

One weird side-effect of the pandemic for me is that although on paper I have far more free time, I’ve found it hard to settle down with a nice fat book the way I used to. Gone are the days of lazy evenings filled with “Outlander” sized novels- I just can’t seem to commit to longer works of fiction! Since my attention span has been a lot shorter lately, I’ve been turning to short reads instead, and thought I’d share some of my personal favorites with you in case you’ve found yourself in a similar predicament.

For people who just want a little bit of everything in their short story collections, “All New Tales” may be right up your alley. With twenty-seven stories ranging from realistic fiction to horror to mystery to fantasy, there’s something for everybody in this collection edited by Neil Gaiman. It’s also got a lot of big-name contributors, including Roddy Doyle, Michael Moorcock, Diana Wynne Jones, and Jodi Picoult, so you may find something new by one of your favorite authors!

Lovers of fantasy and science fiction literature, why not give “How Long ‘til Black Future Month” by N.K. Jemisin a go? While she’s more well-known for her fabulous full-length speculative novels, her intriguing short stories meld fantastic elements with the mundane in seriously thought-provoking ways. I especially enjoyed “Valedictorian”’s exploration of the heart-breaking challenge of being yourself in a world based on distrust of the other. Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation” is also a good choice for readers with a hankering for quick, interesting science fiction reads. In this collection of nine short stories, Chiang explores humanity’s place in the universe, the nature of free will, and bioethics through a hefty helping of A.I., time travel, and virtual reality that is certain to entertain.

If, on the other hand, you thrive on horror or suspense, I recommend trying “Being Dead” by Vivian Vande Velde. The line between the living and the dead has never felt quite so thin as in this collection of horror stories. It’ll definitely send shivers down your spine! For more of an old-school scare, check out “The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe” by American master and enigmatic mystery man himself, Edgar Allen Poe, for some of his most spine-tingling tales and poems. While you can’t go wrong with well-loved classics like the madness-inducing still-beating heart of “The Tell-tale Heart,” anyone who likes a good scare will also enjoy his other stories like “Masque of the Red Death” or “Three Sundays in a Week.”

While a story that makes you shiver can provide a good distraction, sometimes a soft, gentle read is best. If gentle realistic fiction is more your taste, “Uncommon Type” by Tom Hanks may be just the book for you. Told with Hank’s signature empathy and heart, the whimsical and sweet stories of this collection are a nice counter to all the darkness of our daily news cycle. Hanks himself reads the audiobook, which makes the stories come alive and allows you to enjoy them while you accomplish other tasks!

Speaking of other tasks, approaching our daily lives more mindfully can be another good respite from our current situation. One good book full of bite-sized mindfulness tips is Shunmyo Masuno’s “The Art of Simple Living: 100 daily practices from a Japanese Monk for a Lifetime of Zen and Joy.” The book is split into one hundred single-page reflections on mindful ways to approach each day, from going on an early morning walk in nature to carefully lining up your shoes by the front door. While you can read multiple entries at a time, it’s nice to have the book’s permission to approach settling your mind via one tiny habit a day.

In keeping with the theme of the article, that’s the last of my recommendations today. If you want more recommendations on good short fiction or nonfiction collections, please reach out to us here at Manhattan Public Library! You can contact us via phone or in person, or, if you want a whole list of possible books based on your interests, try filling out a personalized reading list request form. We’re feeling the effects of social-distancing too, and would love to help you find your next good read.

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Engaging Reads for Teen ESL Learners

Engaging Reads for Teen ESL Learners

by Evren Celik, Library Assistant 2 The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous ...In seventh grade, I tested out of my school’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program. By that point, I could sound out words and understand most grammar rules, but I struggled to read anything quickly or, worse, out loud. Most stories I could easily get through were written for younger children, but novels with an intriguing plot often proved too difficult to actually enjoy.

No two readers are alike, and some ESL students easily transition to grade-level work; however, many readers who can understand the technical aspects of language still need practice to fully integrate with their peers. Especially in the case of later middle to early high school, reader interest is key for encouraging consistent reading practice. Texts that are too easy or aimed at much younger audiences can be boring or embarrassing, but stories that take hours of re-reading to comprehend are discouraging. When looking for books to empower and engage older ESL readers, try:

Anthologies and short story collections, which introduce a wide variety of narratives and writing styles in bite-size pieces that are less overwhelming than a full-length novel. “The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic,” by Leigh Bardugo includes elements of classic fairy tales worked into six original short stories set in the world of the Ravka Trilogy, but which require no prior knowledge of the series. Reminiscent of Grimm’s fairy tales, “Language of Thorns” introduces readers to more poetic styles of writing while avoiding extremely flowery language. The haunting descriptions, rejection of simple notions of good and evil, and tales that examine fundamental aspects of what it means to be human will appeal to teens who enjoy horror, suspense, and mystery.

The visual aspect of graphic novels can help keep reluctant readers engaged in the action, while providing context for understanding if the text becomes challenging. “The Lightning Thief: The Graphic Novel” is an illustrated adaptation of the first book in Rick Riordan’s popular “Percy Jackson and The Olympians” series, which follows Percy and his friends as they discover godly powers, fight monsters, and try to stop the deities of ancient Greece from destroying New York City. Told from the perspective of a dyslexic twelve-year-old and his friends, this brightly-illustrated story of finding one’s way in a new and unexpected world is relatable and fun for readers navigating a new language.

Struggling through completely made-up words and speaking styles can feel redundant and discouraging for teens trying to gain real-world language skills as they read. While fantasy as a whole isn’t off the table, books that are fantastical should stick to useful vocabulary and language that can be practiced aloud; rather than high fantasy or sci-fi, try dystopian fiction and magical realism.

“East” by Edith Pattou narrates the world through the wide, observant eyes of a young girl traveling far from home for the first time, as she follows a magical white bear across a snowy northern landscape. In this unique reinterpretation of the Norwegian fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” Rose describes every detail of her quest, from the texture of a new fur coat to the exact shades of colors on a tapestry. Her story of defying traditional expectations to gain independence is relevant to new teens just entering high school, while the highly-descriptive narration provides in-text definitions for new vocabulary and clearly indicates the use of metaphors.

“The Abyss Surrounds Us” by Emily Skrutskie is a thrilling cross between “Pacific Rim” and “Treasure Planet,” for anyone who had childhood dreams of adopting the kraken. In a world where pirates fill the treacherous Neo-Pacific, Cassandra Leung’s family runs a business breeding and training genetically-engineered sea monsters, dubbed “Reckoners,” to help defend crossing ships. When a vengeful pirate queen charges into Cass’s first solo mission and kidnaps her, Cass isn’t sure what to expect, until she’s ordered to raise a stolen Reckoner hatchling aboard the ship, to turn it into a weapon for the pirates. With a fast-paced plot and witty narration, Skrutskie builds a fantastical world using terms readers will encounter in real life.

These are all just guidelines, and it is interest, more than anything, that will encourage someone to practice reading. However, suggesting books that are relevant and appropriately challenging without being overwhelming can help English learning practice be an enjoyable, as well as useful, endeavor.

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by Rhonna Hargett, Associate Director

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts ...The past few months have been a time of stress, upheaval, and unpredictability for many of us. It can feel like we’re just trying to stay afloat in our work and home lives. It may help to pause and take the time to examine our practices and habits in order to prepare for the next change or opportunity that may be right around the corner.

There have been few times in our history when the need for courage in leadership was more clear than it is right now. We are all having to make decisions when there is no guidebook, and there may be new information tomorrow that forces us to steer in a different direction.  Fortunately, Brené Brown has some guidance to help us through this challenging time with her book “Dare to Lead.” Brown discovered in her research that what is needed most in future leadership is the courage to have tough conversations and tackle tough problems, so she and her team developed a method to develop courage in oneself and in others. The author’s name has been well-known since her TEDx talk on vulnerability went viral 10 years ago. Although her primary field of study is social work – she’s a research professor at the University of Houston – she has established a reputation in the business world for her teaching on building trust and improving work cultures. In “Dare to Lead,” she shows us how to be open to the ideas and perspectives of others while remaining grounded in our core values.

Atul Gawande, surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, shares his simple yet brilliant philosophy in “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get things Right.” As the world becomes more and more complex, it is more difficult for anyone to retain all of the information they need, even an expert. Human memory is faulty, and it is difficult to maintain attention when a process becomes routine. The solution may be as simple as an old-fashioned checklist. Experts in their field have a tendency to avoid such simple tools, believing their experience will help them to remember all of the steps that will lead to success, but studies have shown that simple checklists help us make sure the basics are covered, freeing up our brain power for creative solutions. Although targeted at the medical field, Gawande’s common sense approach shows how simple solutions can really make a difference for all of us.

So you’ve finally reached that position you’ve been working for. That’s great, but it’s not the time to sit back and rest on your laurels. We all have habits that keep us from reaching our full potential, whether in our paid work, community work, or home life. In “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful,” Marshall Goldsmith helps us to find what behaviors are getting in the way. He lists particular habits that can trip people up, but his most helpful advice is how to get honest and helpful feedback, and what to do with it once you get it. Filled with engaging anecdotes, Goldsmith’s book is a helpful tool for self-examination to improve leadership abilities in all areas of life.

The library has been challenged over the last few months to find ways to provide services to the community while keeping our patrons and staff safe. Currently, you can pick up items placed on hold and summer reading prizes in our atrium, and use our public computers by appointment. We have also expanded our online offerings for ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, business tutorials, craft ideas, and much more. You can find the above titles and more through our website at or by calling us at 785-776-4741.

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Secret Lives and Guarded Hearts

Secret Lives and Guarded Hearts

by Stephanie Wallace, LIS Library Assistant 2

In three very different places, bare feet skip down a silent, waterlogged tunnel beneath an ancient university of magic; steam pumps through pipes to power the spindly talons stomping over a rocky cliff; and the clamor of a thousand strangers’ wishes fills a clay woman’s mind. Each of these moments reveal a glimpse into the secret lives and guarded hearts found in “The Slow Regard of Silent Things” by Patrick Rothfuss, “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones, and “The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker.

I’ve always been fond of stories about people who have mysterious homes, like “All the Crooked Saints” by Maggie Stiefvater, or who have special powers other people don’t understand, such as “Fire” by Kristin Cashore. The people in these kinds of tales usually feel alone or misunderstood, a feeling many of us are familiar with, and yet they always find hope somehow. Since hope and a safe place to escape is something we especially need right now, it seems apt to recommend stories that can help. The titles I’m featuring stand out in particular because of how their authors use outstanding world building to develop unique, memorable characters.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things” is a fantasy novella and a companion to Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Kingkiller Chronicle” series. It follows Auri, a wisp of a girl some think is more spirit than human, as she tries to find the rightful – if unconventional – places for the many strange and wonderful things she finds in her labyrinthine home underground. Auri’s story has the charm of a fairy tale, yet also a somber tone that is cathartic and soothing. It’s a must-read for anyone with anxiety or too many problems on their plate.

Many people may be more familiar with the animated adaptation of “Howl’s Moving Castle,” but the original young adult fantasy novel has just as much to offer, if not more. The headstrong main characters, Sophie and Howl, learn as much about themselves as they do about each other. Their bickering is both hilarious and heartfelt, and Sophie’s no-nonsense attitude carries the whole story. Howl’s magic, enchanted home, and lively companions all complement each other and showcases exactly why this novel has captivated readers for generations.

The titular characters of “The Golem and the Jinni” are unique in that their home is in the people they befriend when they both find themselves stranded in 1899’s New York City. The Golem, a woman born of clay on a ship bound for the New World, and the Jinni, an ancient fire demon released from a dented bottle of oil, are as different from each other as the elements they came from. The people who shelter them, a rabbi and a metalsmith respectively, and the rest of the characters in the well-developed Jewish and Syrian neighborhoods are all connected in brilliant, subtle ways. All of their lives intersect or run parallel with each other while they each try to keep their origins a secret, growing ever closer until the explosive moment everything comes together.

For the characters in each of these stories, the places they’ve built for themselves define who they are. Auri, the finder of lost things, finds the perfect place for herself amongst broken and beautiful relics. Howl, a self-made magician, built his own castle, and Sophie transforms it into a home. The Golem and the Jinni, both outcasts with overlooked gifts, join neighborhoods that accept even the strangest newcomers. Without the homes they made, their stories would be not have been complete.

Home may not always be an easy place to find, but it is always there, patiently waiting. I hope you can find a second home with the characters of these stories, too.