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Women of the Blue and Gray: True Civil War Stories of Mothers, Medics, Soldiers, and Spies by Marianne Monson

Lately, I’m of a mood to read everything nonfiction. As such, I presently have nine new nonfiction books checked out from the library. Which is to say it was challenging to decide which book to read in its entirety and to write about for this review.

Although Karen Blumenthal’s Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend was good, to say the least, you no doubt are familiar with their story, including their brief stint here in Joplin, which resulted in those playful, infamous photographs the gang left behind as they fled town.

Another contender was Craig Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret. Admittedly, I’ve yet to finish that one. It’s not that I don’t appreciate Brown’s untraditional (for a biography) formatting, but, frankly, I find Princess Margaret exhausting in a gossipy, spoiled sort of way. I started to feel as if I was glimpsing into a collection of US Weekly or People magazine articles. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re in the mood for.

After reading, if one only in part, these two titles, as well as perusing the others, which range in topic from American capitalism to feminism to language to politics to reading (Yes, a book about reading!) and to travel, I settled on a history. Specifically, Marianne Monson’s Women of the Blue and Gray: True Civil War Stories of Mothers, Medics, Soldiers, and Spies.

Monson’s well-documented account tells the story of countless women who participated in the American Civil War: those who fought on the frontlines alongside men (often while disguised as men); those who formed so-called beardless brigades to protect their hometowns; those who nursed soldiers after, as well as during, combat; those who smuggled food, people, supplies, and weapons across enemy lines; those who created extensive spy networks; and those who otherwise contributed to the efforts of that long, bloody war.

This collection of histories and brief biographies is introduced with a discussion about woman’s veiled role throughout history and the importance of lifting that veil. And not just from women of certain or particular perspectives or upbringings, but from women—black, immigrant, Native American, white, poor, rich, middle-class, educated, uneducated, freed, enslaved, and all others, and, especially in the case of this book, northern and southern women alike.

Researching the history of women, particularly enslaved or uber-marginalized women, is a challenging, frustrating endeavor. Oftentimes, information was not recorded about women as it was about men, especially during eras when women did not own property, work outside of the home, or keep their maiden names when married. Monson’s research, which she carefully notes at the end of each chapter, is impressive, as are her chapter-by-chapter suggestions for further reading.

Monson refreshes our memories of well-known voices from this era, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lydia Marie Child, the Grimké sisters, Harriet Jacobs, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, and others. Further, she restores the histories of women who are likely lesser-known, such as Susie Baker King Taylor, Frances Clayton, Mary Jane Richards, Belle Boyd, the Sanchez sisters, Rebecca Wright, Anna Ella Carroll, Rachel Moore Brownfield, Mother Bickerdyke, Dr. Mary Walker, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Chipeta, Hanging Cloud, Sallie Peacheater Manus, and numerous others.
Through the varied voices of these women, we not only gain a better understanding of what life was like in that era, but we discover the emergence of patterns and themes that continue to be relevant in contemporary America.

As always, happy reading.

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Ukulele Resources

Imagine walking into a public library and checking out a ukulele. Now, imagine this: If you have a Joplin Public Library card, then you don’t have to imagine. Earlier this year, Joplin Public Library and Post Art Library partnered with Glory Days Music of Joplin to bring a series of ukulele resources to the library, including Uke Can Play! workshops, instructional materials, and, you guessed it, ukuleles. Although we no longer offer ukulele workshops, the library now has six ukuleles available for checkout to anyone with a Joplin Public Library card in good standing.

You might find it strange that a public library would include ukuleles in their circulating collection. But public libraries are increasingly making non-traditional material types accessible through their collections, ranging from hand tools to small kitchen appliances, from fitness kits to board games, from cookie sheets to cake pans, and much, much more.

But why ukuleles? Because ukuleles are, in a word, fun. So much fun, in fact, that all of our workshops were full and a waitlist was started before we were able to release promotional materials. In addition to their fun-factor, ukuleles are easy enough to learn to play and are relatively inexpensive, especially in comparison to other stringed instruments. Plus, we avoided reinventing the wheel by modeling our program like similar programs offered by other public libraries.

Although it doesn’t come naturally, ukulele is not a challenging instrument to begin learning. By the end of our workshops, attendees understood the basics and could play at least one song, regardless of whether they had previous experience with ukuleles or other instruments. Trust me–uke can play! And I encourage you to checkout one of our ukuleles to get started.

But let’s say you’ve started. Maybe you checked out a ukulele or you already have one. Yet you’re unsure about what comes next. We have resources for that, too. Following are brief reviews of other ukulele-related resources we offer:

Ukulele Method, Book 1 by Lil’ Rev – Of the ukulele resources we have, this is the one I recommend for complete beginners. Author and award-winning instrumentalist Lil’ Rev introduces a thorough, but laid-back ukulele method, beginning with ukulele anatomy and variations, how to hold your ukulele, and tuning before moving into notes, chords and chord charts, fretting, and strumming. Includes standard melodies for beginners.  

Ukulele Method, Book 2 by Lil’ Rev – This follow-up to Lil’ Rev’s Ukulele Method, Book 1 focuses on right-hand (fretting) techniques and melody playing. Players become familiar with movable chords and different chord families, as well as hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, and a few different strum methods/patterns. Like Book 1, Book 2 includes standard melodies for beginners.

Easy Songs for Ukulele by Lil’ Rev – Once you’ve learned how to read a chord chart, this book is an excellent resource for easy, popular songs, including pop, folk, country, and blues. Selective artists include Elvis, The Beatles, Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, and Huddie Ledbetter. Admittedly, it’s a touch scary if, like me, you don’t know how to read music, but the chords are included above the music, thus making the music playable for anyone familiar with chord grids.

Alfred’s Easy Ukulele Songs by Alfred Music – This is a songbook of “50 hits across the decades” from the rock and pop genres of music. Like other songbooks, both the music and chords are included, making the book suitable for both advanced and beginning players. Sample songs include Abba’s Fernando, Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All, and the Ghostbusters theme song. It’s a great resource for those who like pop and rock.

Ukulele Favorites for Dummies Admittedly, this is my least favorite of our ukulele books; however, it’s a good resource, especially for those interested in vocal melodies, chord harmonies, and performance notes. Although it includes intermediate material, many of the songs are suitable for beginners.  

Classic Rock Ukulele SongbookLike other songbooks, this, too, has musical notation as well as chord grids. It’s a fantastic resource for players who would like to learn some classic rock, such as The Who, Queen, Pink Floyd, Janis Joplin, and more.

Ukulele: A Beginning Method by Daniel Ho –  This is a DVD rather than a book. I recommend it to beginners who prefer visual either in addition to or instead of written resources. It includes basic techniques, scales, chords, strumming, and such, as well as highlights how to choose a ukulele, how to practice efficiently, and how to improvise.  

Finally, we’ve come to our last ukulele resource: Ukulele Club. When I started playing ukulele, I was told people are the best resource for beginners and advanced players alike. What better way to meet people interested in or already playing ukulele than to start a ukulele club at the library? First meet: Saturday, January 12th, 2-4pm. Bring your own uke or checkout one of ours!

Happy strumming…

Resources for Teen Drivers and Their Parents

Working in the library’s Teen Department, I frequently hear from teens (and their parents) about the quest to obtain a driver’s permit.  It can be an exciting and anxiety-ridden time for everyone involved. Unfortunately, formal, school-based driver education programs are virtually non-existent these days.  Fear not–helpful resources are at hand! Even if there isn’t a formal driver education program near you, there are some options for parents and guardians to get teens off to a good start behind the wheel.

Crash-Proof Your Kids: Make Your Teen A Safer, Smarter Driver by Timothy C. Smith is a solid, no-frills tool for adults teaching teens to drive.  Smith arranges the book using the same philosophy as the graduated driver license, each section introducing new skills building on previous mastery and experience.  All of the basics are covered–car care, safety of all sorts, fundamental driving skills, awareness, emergencies, road conditions, residential and highway driving, etc.  The text is clear, concrete, and friendly as is the approach. Smith also addresses parental driving habits and outlines a contract between new drivers and their adults. There are no illustrations, so use this book with other resources for complete instruction.  Whether used in whole or in part, this is a useful option.

Rules of the Road offers, in DVD format, valuable information for teen drivers and their parents.  The factual content is spot on–clear directions and explanations, helpful footage and illustrations, sound reasoning–directly and concisely communicated.  However, the presentation is pure cheesiness–a super duper block of it, in fact. This DVD is an excellent resource though. How then to use it without the trappings overwhelming the message?

One way is to focus on the DVD’s “Special Features” content instead of the main portion of the video.  This supplemental section consolidates key information with clear camera work minus the banter. The chapters “Basic Maintenance”, “In Case of Emergency”, “Signs Index”, and “3D Illustrations” are particularly useful.  “3D Illustrations” is excellent as it offers computer-animated instruction with some multi-angle viewing options. The “Special Features” alone make Rules of the Road a valuable resource.

Another option is to embrace the cheese.  Watch the full DVD together with a lighthearted approach, tongue-in-cheek; it’s a great opportunity to show a sense of humor and to start a conversation.  The main content provides important instruction in basic vehicle operation, city and highway driving, safety under normal and hazardous road conditions, and expectations for the driver’s license exam.  There is also an thorough discussion of the dangers of impaired driving. Throughout, there are opportunities to jump to related topics in “Special Features” and to take practice quizzes.

A point to consider regarding both the book and the DVD…these tools, while valuable and sound, are a decade old and do not offer the in-depth coverage needed of cell phones as a cause of distracted driving.  Be sure to supplement information on this important topic.

Need to study for Missouri’s written driver permit/license exam?  We have a resource for that, too! Driving-Tests.org is a one-stop study spot.  Among its many treasures is the latest version of the Missouri Driver Guide: A Guide to Understanding Missouri Motor Vehicle Laws and Licensing Requirements, the official handbook for driver license information.  Available in PDF, it can be read online or downloaded to an electronic device.  The site’s FAQs are well organized, concise, easy to read, and address the basic questions expected.  But, the practice tests are what make this tool amazing. Questions are arranged in batches according to difficulty and cover material on the actual exam with a separate section for road sign identification.  You can access this tool from the library’s website or directly at https://joplinpl.driving-tests.org/missouri/.

In addition to the previous resources, the library’s Teen Department has partnered with safety organization First Impact to provide a free program for the Joplin area.  First Impact is a statewide initiative of Think First Missouri, part of the University of Missouri School of Medicine, working with trainers from across the state to equip parents and guardians of teens taking the wheel.  First Impact’s presentation is designed to “teach parents about Missouri’s Graduated Driver License (GDL) law” and to “provide them with the tools they need to monitor, coach, and support their new teen driver”. Although the information is tailored for adults, teens are welcome to come along.

First Impact’s presentation will be held at the Joplin Public Library on Tuesday, November 27, from 6:00-7:30 pm.  Speakers will be Sgt. John Lueckenhoff of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Deana Tucker Dothage, Director of First Impact.  There is no charge to attend, but registration is required.  Register by calling First Impact at (573) 884-3463 or online at https://firstimpact.missouri.edu/events/first-impact-traffic-safety-parent-program-at-joplin-public-library/  For more information, email firstimpact@health.missouri.edu  The event is free, no library card needed.  Register soon to save a seat!

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

This book review is not for the faint of heart nor for the weak stomached. Imagine: You’re out for a stroll in Victorian London, prepossessed with the styles of that era’s architecture as you take in the crisp, comforting wintry air. In your prepossession, you fail to notice a spot of ice ahead on the walkway and, whoops, you slip. In doing so, your tibia breaks and, very unfortunately, protrudes through your skin. Seeing your plight, a passerby summons a constable and the two carry you to the nearest hospital, where, for one reason or another, the surgeon decides that your broken leg must be amputated mid-thigh.

Suddenly and shockingly, you find yourself on a blood-encrusted table in a stifling operating theater. At least one hundred spectators, some of whom have little or nothing to do with the study of medicine, and none of whom you know, are transfixed by the surgical sport of your leg being lopped off. Luckily, your surgeon was London’s most renowned at the time, Robert Liston. Unluckily, Joseph Lister was yet to arrive on scene and, though you survived the amputation, you died an all too common death—that of hospitalism. Or, as simply stated in today’s terms, infection.

Sparing no detail, Lindsey Fitzharris’ The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine is itself a grisly, though wonderfully written, account of the horrors of Victorian medicine, specifically those of surgery and post-operative infection. The bulk of Fitzharris’ history regards, as its title suggests, one Joseph Lister, who, most graciously, spared us from the brutal, Dickensian-like world she describes. In her words, Victorian medicine was “the age of agony.”

Victorian era British hospitals lacked cleanliness, to say the least. In one account, a patient was found convalescing in damp sheets covered with mushrooms and maggots. Putrid odors permeated the facilities, as well as the doctors and the medical students who worked within. Operating tables were not cleaned from one patient to another, instruments were not sterilized between patients, and employees’ hands, let alone the wounds of the afflicted, were scarcely washed. Surgeons and their assistants performed grimy operations, haphazardly throwing limbs and flesh into buckets or onto sawdust-covered floors. Literal body snatchers disturbed the dead by digging them up and delivering them to hospital dissection rooms, where men carved them up in the interest of medicine. This is but a sampling of pre-antiseptic conditions.

At the time, surgeons were paid less than those whose job it was to rid the hospital beds of lice and, often, those who chose to specialize in the field were stigmatized. Surgery was considered manual labor rather than medical practice. In part, no doubt due to the fact that, in its infancy, surgery was an absolute last resort primarily comprised of the quick lopping off of limbs. Not only was surgery dangerous for the patient, but for doctors and their assistants. Take, for example, a man who once assisted the aforementioned Robert Liston. Quick with his saw, Liston accidentally sliced three fingers off of the assistant when removing the patient’s limb. Both patient and assistant died of post-operative infection.

Enter Joseph Lister. Born into a Quaker family, it’s somewhat ironic that Lister chose to become a physician, as the Quakers were known for their disbelief in medicine. Fortunately, Lister’s family was very supportive of his medical endeavors. Lister and his father had a common bond–the microscope. Lister’s father made a number of improvements to the device and Lister was one of few students in medical school acquainted with it. In fact, his professors and  contemporaries alike thought the microscope either frivolous or superfluous to medical pursuits. Yet, and thankfully for us, Lister persisted.

While Lister’s predecessors and peers were more interested in treating the symptoms of infection, Lister was more curious about discovering its causes. He spent countless hours peering through the lens of his microscope, viewing, sketching, and painting human tissues, fibers, and the like. He acquired specimens from others within his field, as well as harvested from his own body. He was so devoted to his cause, that he and his wife, Agnes, who was the daughter of his mentor, spent their honeymoon collecting frogs for Lister to dissect. Throughout their marriage, she was often in his study or lab with him, taking notes and essentially acting as his assistant.

Eventually, Lister gained an understanding of infection, of how hospital environments impacted the outcome of procedures and the well-being of both patients and staff. Although his theories were initially rejected by the Victorian medical community, over time Lister was able to prove them and he received a number of awards and recognition throughout his career. Conditions improved, not only in British hospitals, but in hospitals everywhere, as cleanliness became increasingly practiced.

Fitzharris’ narrative of the transformation of Victorian medicine is altogether fascinating, if gruesome and not for the faint of heart nor for the weak stomached. Although she writes in a manner that speaks well to those outside of the world of medicine, I wrote this review after reading this title twice. Trust, it’s a lot to take in and a lot to process.

As always, happy reading.  

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I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

I don’t usually read true-crime books. The genre has never really appealed to me. The ways in which human beings can be awful leaves me lying awake at night as it is. But, as the internet makes the world ever more connected, it seems like these sorts of stories pop up on every form of social media I use. So, of course I heard about Michelle McNamara’s book. With rave reviews from the likes of Stephen King and an introduction written by Gillian Flynn, I decided to brave I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK.

There are two stories in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. One is the story of the Golden State Killer. The second, the story of Michelle McNamara. When she was a teenager, a girl in her neighborhood was killed. The murder went unsolved and McNamara was troubled by the idea that the killer was somewhere out there, unpunished. McNamara became a crime blogger, using TrueCrimeDiary.com to explore cold cases alongside other online amateur sleuths. When she came upon the story of the Golden State Killer, an obsession was born.

From 1974 through 1986, the Golden State Killer (GSK; the term was coined by McNamara) terrorized neighborhoods in Northern California, primarily Sacramento county. For years, law enforcement believed that there were three distinct criminals operating in the area: the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, and the Original Night Stalker (not to be confused with Night Stalker Richard Ramirez). The truth, however, was that these were all the crimes of one man: the Golden State Killer.

The connection between these crimes would not be discovered until the invention of DNA testing. When samples from the seemingly unconnected offenses were entered into CODIS, the federal DNA database, the full range of GSK’s crimes became apparent. A particular genetic peculiarity made the DNA samples easy to connect. His offenses had, over the years, escalated from mere break-ins to rape and murder.

The Golden State Killer was meticulous in his planning. He would survey not just individuals, but entire neighborhoods for weeks at a time before striking. Often, he would call potential victims in what were assumed to be prank calls. He operated on terror, often taking hours to complete his intrusions. Even years later, he would call his living victims and whisper threats to them. Police had very few clues to go on.

I don’t want to write too much about the individual events described in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. In many ways, the actions of the Golden State Killer aren’t the focus of the story that McNamara tells. McNamara’s writing breathes life into the places and people associated with GSK. She spends more time discussing the lives of the victims than the actual crimes, which makes them feel less like characters in a gruesome play and more like the people they were.

While McNamara doesn’t go into extreme detail about the offenses committed by GSK, the overall tone of the book is haunting. In fact, one night after I had gone to bed, one of my cats shoved open the bedroom door to join me. A fairly common occurrence, to be sure, but this time I had to choke back a scream. For an instant, I was sure that the Golden State Killer had burst into the room. I laid awake for a long while.

McNamara shares the histories of the places and people involved, building the world of Northern California so that it almost becomes a character on its own. As with many true-crime books, there are pictures included. But these are not grisly procedural shots. Instead, McNamara included pictures of some of the GSK victims and law enforcement professionals associated with the case. These portraits help preserve the dignity of those affected by these horrific crimes.

On April 24, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department arrested Joseph James DeAngelo for the GSK CRIMEs. You can find plenty of news stories about him with a quick Internet search. The most shocking aspect of DeAngelo’s arrest? He had worked as a police officer. More details will surely be forthcoming, but it seems likely that GSK has in fact been caught.

Sadly, McNamara passed away before her book was published, but her husband, actor Patton Oswalt, helped see her dream come true. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is masterfully written, tying together the author’s life and the series of horrific crimes committed by the Golden State Killer. Gripping but not gruesome, McNamara’s book is one I would recommend for true-crime lightweights like myself.

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Book review by: Leslie Hayes

New titles for Spring 2018 by various authors

Maybe it’s the boost of energy that comes along with Spring, but I’ve really been on a reading kick lately. That probably sounds silly coming from a librarian, but most of us wax and wane in our hobbies. I’ve also found myself reading a few things I wouldn’t normally pick up. And since all of these books have been so entertaining, I decided to share several short reviews covering a range of recent additions to the Library’s collection.

Future Home of the Living God: a novel by Louise Erdrich — Set in the not too distant future, or maybe just an alternative present, Erdich explores what might happen in a world where humans seem to be devolving. Cedar Hawk Songmaker is a Native American who has been adopted by a white family. And she has a secret: she’s pregnant. In an increasingly dystopian world, can she ensure the safety of herself, her child, and her families? I spent a lot of time frightened for Cedar and she journeys between worlds, both literal and spiritual. Erdich’s story is firmly within the realm of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The One by John Marrs — What if, with a simple DNA sample, you could find your genetic soulmate? The one for whom you are literally perfect? In THE ONE, Marrs explores what might happen if this were possible. Six stories unfold as people learn the identities of their perfect genetic matches. Ranging from your everyday businessman to a serial killer, these characters discover that love is complex and can lead to results no one could expect. Though, I did find a couple of the plot points predictable, it was certainly a fun read. Fans of Black Mirror will likely enjoy this sordid set of tales.

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne Valente — In the world of comic books, there is a term for a select group of characters: Women in Refrigerators. This refers to the disproportionate amount of female characters that are killed in the name of furthering storylines. Valente tells the stories of a series of women characters — no one directly from comics, but recognizable if you’re familiar with many of the big name series — who have been written out of the comics world and spend their time in the afterworld. The characters cover the gamut of emotions associated with such deaths, but also speak to the strength of female friendships. A quick read for anyone who wants a different perspective on the world of comics.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas — In Zumas’s story, only married, heterosexual couples can adopt children. Abortion is flat out illegal. And in this world, women are dealing with what these regulations mean for their everyday lives. Each woman copes in her own way, with longing, fear, or even rebellion. These characters are very real, and likely will remind you of someone you know. And some women, like a fictional explorer named Eivør Minervudottir, are out of place in their own time. This is another work that is spiritually and topically akin to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Total Cat Mojo by Jackson Galaxy — Let’s be honest: I’m a crazy cat lady. I grew up a dog person, but years ago, my husband introduced me to cats and it’s been all downhill from there. Like any responsible pet owner, I want to make sure my cats are living their best lives. And that means Jackson Galaxy. He’s pretty much the go-to guy for cat people. And TOTAL CAT MOJO is a wonderful resource for all stages of a cat’s life. Plus, he gives great advice for troubleshooting common cat problems like litter box struggles, dealing with stressed kitties, and introducing new family members — from feline to human.

Though there are some common themes in these books, I think they’ll speak to a variety of readers. We add hundreds of items every month; be sure to explore the new books and to find something that appeals to you!

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Future Home of the Living God
The One
The Refrigerator Monologues
Red Clocks
Total Cat Mojo

Book review by: Leslie Hayes