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Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

Librarians love books. We love the smell and the feel of books. We love the weight of knowledge that you feel just holding a book in your hands. But sometimes, you find a book that just makes you want to throw it against a wall. Or bury it in your yard. Or – fellow librarians, cover your eyes – set that book on fire.

In “Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks,” librarian Annie Spence writes letters to books that have left an impression on her (both good and bad).  From “Matilda” to “The Goldfinch” to “Cornzapoppin’!: Popcorn Recipes and Party Ideas for All Occasions” – Annie has read them all, and she has feelings.

Annie’s letters are well-written and approachable, she mourns her inability to get through “Anna Karenina” and sheds light on the unhealthy relationship at the center of “The Giving Tree.” Each letter is composed like a love letter, or a break-up letter in some cases, and is signed with Annie’s signature. Reading this book feels like reading someone’s personal, and very unusual reading journal.

These letters are hilarious, but also ridiculously informative. If you want to know what series is loved by both semi-truck drivers and precocious children bored of the books in the Children’s Room, Annie can help with that (it’s Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series).

Annie Spence is a master of a skill essential to library work called “reader’s advisory.” It is skill all about being able to understand and create connections between books. When a patron comes into a library looking for what to read next, we have been trained to help you find something else you will probably enjoy. Annie Spence is here – in book form – to help you find your new favorite books.

Annie is also ready if you need some advice for your life, not just what to read but also Excuses to Tell Your Friends So You Can Stay Home With Your Books (page 177) or Turning Your Lover into a Reader (page 205) – if you find that your significant other is just not that into books.

Reading this book feels like talking to a friend, the reader feels very connected to Annie and her experiences reading books. You can tell just how much she loves reading – and it makes you want to expand your own reading horizons. If nothing else, pick it up so you can truly understand how voracious readers feel about the library from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (page 163).

If you look forward to reading these book reviews that we at the Joplin Public Library provide every week, then I heartily recommend that you give “Dear Fahrenheit 451” a try.

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Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma and Manga Claus: The Blade of Kringle written by Nathaniel Marunas, illustrated by Erik Craddock

One of the things I like best about the holiday season are the stolen moments of quiet amidst the hustle and bustle–lovely, little gifts of reading or listening time when least expected, so I try to have a book of some sort at hand.  Since Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve already managed to squeeze in some titles that were on my hold list. Here are two quick (and vastly different) reads I’ve recently enjoyed and am excited to share with you.

I anxiously awaited Haben Girma’s autobiography after watching a segment on C-SPAN2’s Book TV this fall.  Her interview with host Peter Slen was engaging and entertaining, pulling me in with fascinating stories sprinkled with her great sense of humor.  Her book, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law, did not disappoint.

Girma, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Eritrea and Ethiopia, grew up in Oakland, California.  She is a graduate of Harvard Law School who currently advocates for people with disabilities. She is an avid ballroom dancer, has climbed icebergs, helped build a school in Mali, surfs and kayaks, has traveled extensively, has pioneered an accessible communication system, and has spoken at the White House.  She also happens to be deafblind.

Haben (pronounced “ ‘Ha’ like ‘ha-ha’ and ‘ben’ like ‘Benjamin’ ”) is full of adventures and insights.  Girma, in her early thirties, describes her journey navigating cultures–American and Eritrean and Ethiopian, inclusionary and exclusionary–with warmth, passion, and wit.  Her voice clearly comes through with confidence and delight.

Biographies are one of my favorite genres because I get to experience the world from different perspectives, meeting interesting people on the page even if I never have the opportunity in person.  Nowhere near the end of her story, Haben Girma already has plenty of insight to offer. In addition to her travels and accomplishments, she shows what it takes to maneuver in a world designed for others, to carve out a space for daily life.  She leads by example and by thoughtful suggestions, inviting all of us to consider ways to open accessibility for people with disabilities.

Charming and astute, Haben Girma’s autobiography is an enjoyable read and a valuable one.  I can’t wait to find out the rest of her story.

What happens when you combine a disgruntled elf, hordes of teddy bears fueled by evil magic, and an author’s obsession with samurai movies?  You get, Manga Claus: The Blade of Kringle, written by Nathaniel Marunas and illustrated by Erik Craddock.  Yes, Virginia, there is a Manga Claus.  He exists as certainly as honor and loyalty and tinsel.  He wields a pair of skillfully forged samurai blades, defending Christmas from threats internal and external and coming to the rescue as surely as he delivers toys every year.

Fritz the elf resents being assigned to the laundry instead of Santa’s workshop.  In a fit of rage with his fist raised to the sky, (“I’ll show him what I can do–I’ll show them all!!!”) Fritz uses an evil spirit to animate a nutcracker in a plot to sideline the workshop.  One thing leads to another, and the evil escapes to create an army of ninja teddy bears bent on destruction. Thanks to his katana and his wakizashi, Santa transforms into Manga Claus and saves the day.

The charmingly cheesy text pairs fantastically with Erik Craddock’s action-packed, blockish-yet-expressive art in shades of red, grey, and black.  (I got a distinct classic Cartoon Network vibe from it.) This slim graphic novel moves quickly yet unveils additional visual details with every read.  It begs to be made into an animated short! It’s a delightful, campy romp that is not designed for people who take Santa seriously.  This is a great title for teens as well as graphic novel fans and folks whose favorite Christmas movies are action flicks.

I can’t wait for the other books on my hold list to come in.  Who knows what treasures will appear before the year is out! If you would like to see what titles the library offers or to place an item on reserve, take a look at our website http://www.joplinpubliclibrary.org/ and click on “Search Catalog”.  Library staff are available to help whether you stop by or give us a call at 417-623-7953.  Happy reading!

Mildly Spooky Missouri

Haunted Graveyards of the Ozarks by David E. Harkins

Missouri’s Haunted Route 66: Ghosts Along the Mother Road by Janice Tremeear

Paranormal Missouri: Show Me Your Monsters by Jason Offutt

When it comes to all things horror, I readily admit that I am a first-class, Grade A chicken. My personal threshold of scary is so low it’s subterranean. Forget about Ghostbusters, and for pity’s sake please don’t bring up Gremlins after dark. Things are better than they used to be, though–I can now make it down (most) Halloween aisles in stores and enjoy neighborhood decorations. This is why I only mildly flinched when the library’s High School Book Club voted to read a paranormal title for October.

I found a trio of interestingly spooky-yet-mild-enough books of local and statewide interest to fit the bill. All three relate paranormal encounters or ghost stories from a variety of locations in the Ozarks or around Missouri–a combination of tales handed down, results of paranormal investigations, and the authors’ personal experiences. Depending upon the reader, the stories may register between mild to moderate on the spooky scale although there are a few that are significantly freaky. None of them are as spine chilling as Stephen King, but they aren’t meant to be.

Haunted Graveyards of the Ozarks, part of the Haunted America series from The History Press, registers at “very mild”. It is a great place to start for the easily startled. More local history than anything, this title introduces a selection of historic cemeteries around the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks noted for their paranormal activity. Author David E. Harkins focuses on each cemetery’s background, only briefly describing his visit to each site and summarizing reports of ghostly encounters there. Of local interest, he includes Peace Church Cemetery in Joplin and the Spanish Fort Cemetery near Mount Vernon.  Harkins also includes an informative overview of Ozarks funeral customs and superstitions. Haunted Graveyards of the Ozarks is great for quick bites of regional history or for readers with a low threshold of scary.

Sitting midway between the “mild” and “moderate” settings, Missouri’s Haunted Route 66: Ghosts Along the Mother Road blends more spookiness for a fun, quick travelogue. The book is divided into chapters traveling the Mother Road from St. Louis to Joplin with each entry providing some backstory and describing paranormal encounters at sites along the way. It’s a nice introduction to locations known for reported hauntings; although entries vary in length and detail, most are short and lend themselves well to reading in spurts or for use as a travel guide. Unlike the skeptical tone of Haunted Graveyards, author Janice Tremeear readily accepts otherworldly aspects of the subject relaying more stories and legends surrounding the sites without questioning their existence. As for haunted southwest Missouri, the usual suspects appear: Kendrick House in Carthage, Prosperity School, the former Freeman Hospital in Joplin, and the Spook Light at Hornet. Skip the local sites if you’re familiar with them. Otherwise, grab Missouri’s Haunted Route 66 for an enjoyable road trip.

Paranormal Missouri: Show Me Your Monsters is firmly at “moderate” on the scale for me–likely less than that for everyone else. (I had to read this one only during daylight hours.) As freaky as it is spooky, the book is an intriguing compilation of ghostly, extraterrestrial, and Bigfoot stories (many based on the author’s personal experience) with a dash of medical oddity thrown in. Author Jason Offutt, a columnist and blogger chronicling the out-of-the-ordinary, relates encounters from sites around the state–some infamous, some less known–in an easygoing, conversational style. Offutt doesn’t assume anything about the reader and offers a helpful mini-glossary of key terms in the introduction. He also adds an appendix outlining his paranormal adventures in the state. In between these two resources are 43 weird and creepy tales. Reading them is like listening to your friends tell ghost stories around a campfire with a flashlight shining underneath their chins–it’s only a flashlight pointed upward, but the spooky shadows it creates significantly up the “eek” factor. See the sections “Red Eyes in the Darkness” (personally filed under “Why did he have to include a photo?”) and “Screams of the Alien” (Are you sure those are your sister’s roommates making those noises? Do you really want to stick around and find out?) for examples.

You can find these and oodles more eerie selections year-round at the library–you don’t have to wait for Halloween to try one. Happy haunting and happy reading!

A Pair of Infographic Eye Candies

Biographic Austen by Sophie Collins

Seeing Science: An Illustrated Guide to the Wonders of the Universe by Iris Gottlieb

Summer’s heat and humidity have cooked my brain, and no matter how much I’d like to lounge around immersed in a giant, juicy, beach read I find myself unable to keep one going. Picture books to the rescue!  Adults need picture books, too, no matter their intended audience. Picture books for grown-ups are nothing new and are easy to find–titles about decorating, photography, travel, etc., in non-fiction plus loads of graphic novels and comics.

Book-length infographics are the new kids on the block. Like their stand-alone relatives, they primarily use images (charts, graphs, illustrations) to relay information and provide a digestible view of a complex topic. The images are often colorful and can be hand-drawn or computer-generated. Accompanying text can range from very light to paragraph-length captions. The visual presentation is as artistic as it is informative.

Biographic Austen by Sophie Collins is a great example of this new-ish genre. It displays Jane Austen’s life and literary career in engaging, sometimes whimsical, pictures; it also places her in context with political, economic, social, and literary events of her day.  Collins skillfully uses contemporary typeface and design elements to pull back the curtain on Regency-era life. In “Who Drives What?”, she outlines horse-drawn transportation used by various Austen characters by brief definition and a comparison to automobiles. (No surprise that Sense and Sensibility’s Mr. Willoughby drove a single-seat curricle, “Like a Porsche!”). “Plots of Persuasion” is a jaunty flow chart in muted pinks and greens that follows the final chapters of Persuasion’s final version and first draft (now in the British Library) point by point. “Austen’s Laptop” shows writing tools she would have used–lap desk, quill pen, paper–including a recipe for homemade ink.

Give this visual biography of Jane Austen to a Janeite of your acquaintance or to someone just introduced to her novels; this is a book for older teens and adults or for younger teens who absolutely love the topic. Biographic Austen is part of the “Great Lives in Graphic Form” series of Ammonite Press–several of which the library owns (including Biographic Bowie, a must for David Bowie fans).

Iris Gottlieb puts a hand-drawn, text-laden twist on the infographic in her book, Seeing Science: An Illustrated Guide to the Wonders of the Universe. A citizen scientist, Gottlieb created her book “to open up the world of complex science with art and metaphor and storytelling”. She divides her work into sections focusing on life science, earth science, and physical science. Each section offers a variety of topics presented in two-page spreads. She serves whimsy at every turn from subject choice to section titles to illustrations. Her text is clear, concise, and solid.

In “How Food Is Preserved: Eight Ways to Eat Fish Later”, she straightforwardly presents the hows and whys of chemistry’s role in food preservation while she jazzes up the entry with colorful, amusing depictions of preserved fish. I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence, but her drawings of a fish head in a Hoover (vacuum-sealed) and a fish lollipop (sugar-cured) are a hoot!  Gottlieb’s dry wit winds its way through the book as in “Vacuums: Creating Nothingness, Then Filling It With Dog Hair”, “Glaciation: As Explained By A Snickers”, and “Ferns: Introverts of the Forest Floor”. (Yes, it sounds odd. No, this is not a spoof. Read the book and see for yourself.) My favorite entry is “Measuring pH: In A Cabinet of Gross Liquids”. A drawing of shelves holding jars of different liquids sits on the right-hand page. The left-hand page holds the key to the mystery of the jars. Gottlieb defines pH and explains how the pH scale is structured. Along the top is a rainbow-colored pH scale. A box down the side of the page lists the contents of each jar in the previously-mentioned drawing with the contents color-coded according to the pH scale, so water appears in the bright green assigned to neutral pH while battery acid is written in the bright red reserved for the most acidic substances and drain cleaner shows the deep purple of the most basic end of the scale. She’s included illustrated definitions of the word “mole” at the end of the entry, thereby clearing up the perennial confusion around this chemistry term.

Seeing Science is loads of sassy, scientific fun. It’s a great way to dip into science basics or to clarify scientific principles muddied by confusing textbooks. High schoolers and adults are a great audience for this book; it’s also suitable for middle school science fans who have had “the talk” about reproduction. The author writes, “It is my hope that this book makes science more accessible, less intimidating, and more magical to anyone who has a sense of wonder–and a sense of humor.” She certainly hits the mark!

A Non-Fiction Variety Pack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hot Young Widows Club: Lessons on Survival from the Front Lines of Grief by Nora McInerny

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl

The Universe Explained: A Cosmic Q & A by Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees written and illustrated by Don Brown

Reading, like summer, can be random.  Days away from school and work open the door to the unexpected, allow the senses to notice what is hidden by everyday experience.  Surprises appear on the library shelves–new titles or those that have been circulating and were missed earlier.

I’ve stumbled upon some surprises this summer, both fruitful and not.  One was pleasant, an amazing story which lived up to its buzz. One, much to my disappointment, did not.  One snuck up on me, and one made me cry.

The Universe Explained: A Cosmic Q & A literally threw itself at my feet while walking past it in the lobby.  It’s 281 pages of awesomeness, asking and answering questions you’ve had about the cosmos and then some.  Questions are divided into chapters covering the seen (celestial bodies, space exploration, technology) and the unseen (alien life, black holes, the universe’s edge).  Each question is succinctly answered on its own page and accompanied by a full-color illustration. A helpful glossary in the back defines unfamiliar terms. Authors Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest have created an accessible book with plenty of eye-catching appeal.  Use it to answer your own questions or give it to a young person (upper elementary and older) with an appetite for reading or science or both. This would be a great title to explore as a family, sparking curiosity and discussion.

I’ve long enjoyed Ruth Reichl’s food writing; her heady descriptions of the culinary life have inspired and delighted me immensely.  I was excited to finally read her latest, Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir, covering her stint as Gourmet’s editor-in-chief and the magazine’s last days before being closed by Conde Nast.  I imagined a behind-the-scenes look at the Gourmet kitchens accompanied by lush descriptions of dishes created there, and that’s the outcome…sort of.  The book is long on magazine publishing and short on food. Reichl’s normally unhurried pace and rich description take a back seat to what sometimes feels like a breathless recitation of industry names and events by an avowed outsider trying to find her place in that world.  This is more a case of managed expectations on my part than an indictment of her writing quality. Save Me the Plums does exactly what it claims–explores Reichl’s journey into the world of luxury publishing, keeping her wit and outlook intact.  To explore what gems she has to offer, start with Reichl’s earlier memoirs or her amusing journey as the New York Times restaurant critic then come back to the rest of the story.

Don Brown has a talent for telling difficult stories using spare, strong words and pictures.  His non-fiction graphic novels have garnered acclaim and made award lists; more importantly, they engage readers and open them to experiences near and far.  Brown’s text and art are like a good movie soundtrack which doesn’t call attention to itself but lets the story take the spotlight. The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees is no exception.  It combines thorough research with first-hand accounts to track the plight of people fleeing war and death.  The art–pen and ink with digital paint–conveys struggle and desperation in watercolor greys and sepia tones.  The few bright spots are oranges and reds of explosions. Seemingly simplistic, the illustrations and spare text pack are moving.  Brown includes background information, research notes, and a bibliography at the end. Give this to teens and adults with an interest in current events or history or start a conversation with a teen who may have only heard of this in passing.  Also, try Brown’s other acclaimed graphic novels for teens exploring the Dust Bowl and Hurricane Katrina.

Reading Nora McInerny’s book The Hot Young Widows Club: Lessons on Survival from the Front Lines of Grief knocked me for a loop.  I haven’t cried that hard over a book since Where the Red Fern Grows in the 5th grade.  This is a 91-page grief memoir packing a gigantic, emotional gut punch.  It’s also a life preserver for the bereaved and a handy tool for those who aren’t at the moment.  (Because, as the author points out, “Here is one important thing we all have in common: literally everyone we know and love will die.”)  McInerny experienced a miscarriage plus the deaths of her father and husband within 7 weeks of each other. Afterward, she and another woman founded the titular club; along the way, she’s gathered observations, advice, and encouragement into a valuable resource for all of us.  McInerny’s forthright, concise style is packed with humor and sass. She offers support, space, and survival tips to those who are grieving and concrete advice to those who want to help but don’t know how. If you are grieving or know someone who is, try this book–it has so much to offer.

Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 by James Donovan

Joplin Public Library started its Summer Reading Program on May 28, 2019 and it will run until July 26, 2019. During this time, we want to encourage people of all ages to read and attend library programs based on a central theme. For this year, the theme is “A Universe of Stories”, so our programs center around space and science-related themes. Our website has more information with a link to the calendar of events. There are also game boards/event calendars available at the library with more details. You do not need a library card to participate. For adults, events will include an opportunity to go on a virtual tour through a space museum, learn about the weather, compete in a trivia contest, and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20, 2019.

Speaking of the anniversary of the moon landing, I recently started reading Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11. This book goes through the entire history of the space program, from Project Mercury to Project Gemini to the Apollo missions that put man on the moon. For each mission, it seems like the astronauts get all of the fame, but author James Donovan does a good job at telling the stories of the lesser-known people who helped get man into space and onto the moon. While there is a lot of information in this book, it is presented in an accessible way. There are plenty of pictures that help put faces to the names and add a layer to the story.

So while I can recommend this book, what I really recommend is celebrating the universe and how far we have come to understand it, although we still have a long way to go. The future of space exploration is exciting and necessary. There are all sorts of new developments that deserve recognition. Back in April, the first image of a black hole was captured. NASA has recently announced its goal for another moon landing by 2024. This mission will pave the way for humans to set foot on Mars. Curiosity is still on Mars sampling the environment. SpaceX continues its rocket launches with the ultimate goal to have humans live on other planets.

At the library we want to promote a sense of wonder. Here are some activities you can do to achieve this: Try to find some planets in the night sky. Watch the International Space Station fly overhead. Visit the Post Art Library and see an exhibit dedicated to the Hubble Telescope. Watch footage of the moon landing. Check out a book on space, whether it be fiction or nonfiction. Be curious this summer, and do some exploring with Joplin Public Library.

 

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A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester

May is Preservation Month, a celebration that promotes our heritage through our historic places. As such, I’m glad to share my impressions of a preservation-related title, A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester.

I was first introduced to this book years ago, by my friend Leslie Simpson, who said, “One of the best ways to learn about the history of a community is to study its buildings.” Indeed, architecture has a story to tell. But first, we must learn to listen. Through this title, McAlester teaches us how to listen to the stories of American domestic architecture.

Spanning centuries of the development of American houses, from the 17th-century to present, this guide is for anyone interested in learning how to identify the style of American houses through architectural features, from frame and form to embellishments or the lack thereof.

Initially published in 1984, McAlester expands the 2014 revision to include an overview of the house styles built during the millennial housing boom, 1990-2008, and a section on neighborhoods that describes the ways American houses are usually grouped together. Also, the second edition provides new information based on research that wasn’t available at the time the first edition was written.

Readers may reference this book in a variety of ways, as discussed in the brief ‘How to Use This Book’ portion, which I recommend (actually) reading. For quick identification or for a sort of crash course in the basics of American houses, both the Pictorial Key and the Pictorial Glossary that follow the how-to section are helpful. Roof form, chimneys, railings, windows, and more are depicted in the Pictorial Key, whereas the Pictorial Glossary depicts common descriptive house terms as well as classical elements often applied to houses.

The first chapter is an overview of American houses, including information about style, form, structure, and neighborhoods. The seven chapters that follow go into greater detail about the types of houses found within specific styles. For example, Native American, Pre-Railroad, National, and Manufactured houses are types of houses within Folk Houses. Italianate and Gothic Revival are types found within Romantic Houses (1820-1880); Richardsonian Romanesque, Queen Anne, and Shingle are found within Victorian Houses (1860-1900); Craftsman and Prairie within Modern Houses (1900-present); and so on. Frankly, the fun is in the details rather than the overview, though the latter is the foundation for the former.

In addition to abundant depicions of architectural elements, photographic examples, and textual information, McAlester chronicles how geography, innovation, materials, weather, and more have impacted the development of American homes. Heating innovations, for example, literally shaped American houses, as did automobiles. In fact, automobiles continue to shape our homes: the space used to house automobiles when compared to a 1,000 square foot house in 1915 was 0%, which grew to 15% by 1930; to 25% by 1950; to 45% by 1970; and to 75% by the 2000s. McAlester also touches upon some of the sufferings of old houses brought on by so-called improvements.

McAlester’s book is comprehensive, including something for everyone and for anyone with a desire to know more about how our dwellings came to be, how they’ve developed over time, how we have shaped them and, interestingly, how they have shaped us. I recommend this field guide to everyone, whether the desired outcome is to simply identify the house up the street or to survey and develop a narrative for an entire neighborhood.

I might add that we are able to provide a copy of this title for checkout, rather than for reference-only, as is typical, thanks to a donation made by the Joplin Historical Society in memory of Martha Elizabeth Belk. You’ll find A Field Guide to American Houses in our Memorial Book section, which is located at the beginning of our New Nonfiction.

Happy Preservation Month and, as always, happy reading.

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April Fool’s Day Shenanigans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letters from a Nut by Ted L. Nancy

Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual by John Hargrave

Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America by Gail Jarrow

April Fool’s Day is one of my favorite holidays.  It’s shenanigans of the highest order and delicious entertainment when practiced appropriately.  Half of the fun is planning–brainstorming ideas, choosing a “recipient”, fleshing out details, gathering supplies, lying in wait.  Small-scale or grand in scope, there’s nothing like a well-executed April Fool’s joke.

What happens when you spread your prankish master plan across the country?  Read Letters from a Nut by Ted L. Nancy to discover the possibilities.  Both the title and author have a ring of bogusness to them and for good reason.  They are the products of comedian Barry Marder who in the mid-1990s mailed many, many fake (and hilariously bizarre) customer service letters across the world to corporations, magazines, entertainers, universities, government officials, airlines, hotels, casinos, sports teams (to name just a few).  The original letters and any responses were collected into a book popular enough to spawn 6 sequels. (Yes, that’s right–6 volumes of side-splitting, asinine letters accompanied by replies from their perplexed recipients.)

Some of my favorites are the silliest letters or the least expected replies.  Nancy offers himself to Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus describing a ludicrous, one-man show; the circus calls his bluff and asks for video submission.  A letter to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel warns of an upcoming business meeting with Nancy dressed as a ripe banana; the hotel’s polite reply references its formal dress code.  Even the King of Tonga isn’t spared (see the book’s final entry). Letters from a Nut, like comedy in general, is better enjoyed at face value rather than dissected.  Read this out loud, as suggested in its introduction. It’s most easily accessible for an adult audience primarily for the sense of humor and generationally-dated references and to a smaller extent for content.  Otherwise, you might try the title on a high school student who enjoys dry humor in historical context.

Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual claims “this book is so awesome it is illegal in 13 states”.  Whether you buy that or not, it is a prankster’s dream!  Written and arranged in the style of a D.I.Y. manual, it groups practical joke ideas by mischief level and subject matter (“Classic Capers”, “Bathroom Basics”, “Startling Contraptions”, “Surprise Food”, “Experts Only”).  Each entry includes description and instructions for the prank, black-and-white illustrations, safety tips, along with a breakout box outlining supplies, budget, time, success rate, and “mischief level”. The text is aimed at an upper elementary/middle school audience but is easily enjoyed by high schoolers, adults, and evil genius types.

One of the manual’s best parts is its focus on humane pranking practices.  The author advocates for ethical joking in “The Prankster’s Code” which stresses avoiding self-harm, bullying, and property damage.  Caution boxes accompany each entry, and Hargrave addresses potential negative outcomes in the “Trouble” chapter including sections on “The Eight Steps of Confession” and “Worst Likely Scenario” (“if you’re unwilling to live with the worst likely punishment, then you shouldn’t do it”).  Despite the safety alerts, keep an eye out for some of the expert-level stunts calling for the use of dry ice or an air compressor.

With great pranking comes great responsibility.  Practical jokes–small or large–can fall flat or worse.  Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America relates the nationwide panic caused by the infamous Mercury Theatre radio play.  (For folks unfamiliar with it, the play is a convincing adaptation of an H.G. Wells science fiction title describing a Martian invasion of Earth.)

Gail Jarrow, author of Spooked!, offers a fantastic examination of this collective freakout.  She presents a detailed account of the broadcast, its creation, and its reception along with background material on the major players and the original H.G. Wells work.  She places the event within historical context, explaining the national mindset at the time. Her research is top-notch, full of primary sources, and seamlessly translates to interesting, accessible prose.  The text is accompanied by a range of engaging illustrations–sepia drawings, period photographs, newspaper clippings, telegrams. Brightly colored spreads summarize the play and highlight quotes from letters reacting to the broadcast.  A festive timeline, resource links, source notes, and a thorough bibliography round out supplementary material. Jarrow neatly ties up the package in her final chapter describing mass hoaxes from the 19th century to today, cautioning readers about gullibility in the age of viral videos and social media.  This is fun non-fiction for middle school and high school students plus adults interested in history, hoaxes, or classic radio.

I’ll be enjoying the hijinks of our Middle School Book Club on April Fool’s Day, and I can’t wait to see what they have planned.  May your holiday contain just the right amount of shenanigans. Remember–please prank responsibly!

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.

Find in Catalog

 

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…