Archive for News

Dehumanized Dystopias

By Brian Ingalsbe, Children’s Library Assistant

UgliesOctober is – in my humble opinion – one of the best months of the year. The weather is consistently cool, the leaves are changing colors, and the full anticipation of Halloween is in the air. For me, enjoying this month means snuggling up with a pumpkin spice chai and reading a great book. With Halloween so close, what better way to prepare than with a YA staple: the dystopia?

Dystopias are some of my favorite reads because they are fast-paced, action-oriented, and feature a skewed world, alarmingly similar to our own. Beyond The Hunger Games, The Giver, and The Maze Runner, the young adult collection has hundreds of other dystopian novels, just waiting to be discovered!

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

In a world where higher education is a privilege, sixteen-year-old Cia Vale dreams of being chosen for “the testing” – a program geared at further educating the best and the brightest of the Five Lakes Colony. Cia is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate, eager to prove her worthiness as a future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies: trust no one. Can she trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? To survive, Cia must choose love without truth or life without trust. In this thrilling story, Joelle Charbonneau tells a tale that is as enticing as it is flawed, begging readers to turn page after page. Anyone who enjoyed the Books of Ember or The Maze Runner trilogy is sure to love this book.

Legend by Marie Lu

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Fifteen-year-old June is an elite – born with the highest family status, groomed for success in the Republic’s most prestigious military circles. Day is the Republic’s most wanted criminal. They are polar opposites in every way. But when Metias – June’s brother – is found murdered, and Day is named the main suspect, all bets are off. Forming an unlikely duo, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its terrible secrets. In this exhilarating story – much like The Hunger Games – Marie Lu transforms two “average” characters through the most terrifying experience imaginable. The result will not disappoint!

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

In the not-so-distant future, the Second Civil War – fought over reproductive rights – has left a country that is fearful and rash. As a result, life is deemed sacred, but only from birth to age thirteen. For the next five years, parents can choose to have their children “unwound” by which their organs are harvested for alternative use, therefore deemed “a continuation of life.” During this horrific age, three children face being unwound: Connor, an out of control child, Risa, a ward of the state, and Lev, a tithe –a child conceived only to be unwound. Separate, they are powerless, but together they may be able to survive. In Unwind, Neal Shusterman creates a chilling world dominated by the effects of population control. Readers who enjoyed The Giver or the Shadow Children are sure to devour this series.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

What can be wrong with a world full of pretty people? Wouldn’t you want to be pretty? For sixteen-year-old Tally, becoming pretty is the end all. In the weeks preceding her operation, Tally can think of little else besides the carefree pretty lifestyle, in which her only real job is to have fun. But when Tally’s new best friend – Shay – rebels from society and flees, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty lifestyle, and it isn’t very pretty. Now Tally must make a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty herself. What will she choose? Her choice will change her world forever. In this well-crafted novel, Scott Westerfeld expertly creates a shallow world of external beauty. Ridden with its own vernacular and relatable characters, Uglies is a story that is sure to hit close to home. Readers who enjoy the writing style of Lauren Oliver will definitely love these books.

No matter what resources you are looking for, Manhattan Public Library has them. Our staff is always willing to help you find your next great dystopia and answer any questions you may have. You can contact the Youth Services Department at (785) 776-4741 ext. 400 or

Posted in: Adult Services, For Adults, For Teens, Mercury Column, News, Uncategorized, Young Adult Dept

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Horror 101

By Danielle Schapaugh, Public Relations Coordinator

PoppetIt’s the right time of year for a good scare, and I happen to work with some serious connoisseurs of horror. When I asked my coworkers, they were happy to give frightening recommendations.

Naturally, Stephen King was mentioned the most often, and everyone agreed that his older works were the scariest by far. As a talented writer, King’s startling tales will draw you in and leave you breathless while also making you care about the characters and marvel at the beauty that exists even in a cruel world.

“Above, the stars shone hard and bright, sparks struck off the dark skin of the universe.” – Stephen King, The Stand

If you haven’t read the complete and uncut version of King’s The Stand, you should start there. This 1,153-page epic is considered one of King’s finest works and will take you on a nightmarish journey into a bleak new world which just lost 99% of its human population to a super virus. This gripping tale of good vs evil is full of gore, violence, and horror, and it’s also packed with depth and character. For an extra bit of fright, wait and read this one when you’re home with the flu.

If you’re already a fan of Stephen King, and you’ve read The Shining, It, and all of his other major works, try something by King’s son, Joseph Hillstrom King, under the pen name Joe Hill.

Hill obviously has big shoes to fill, but all of his books have reached the New York Times Bestseller list, so it looks like he’s filling them. His works have been praised by authors such as Neil Gaiman and Harlan Coben, and his third book, a supernatural thriller NOS4A2, might be his best so far.

NOS4A2 is creepy to the max. The villain, Charlie Manx, is a Peter Pan character who cruises around in a Rolls Royce Wraith with vanity license plate NOS4A2, looking for children to capture.  When he finds an interesting prospect, he takes the child to a magical theme park called “Christmasland.”

For some reason, the children Manx brings to Christmasland become evil, so he is never satisfied and continues searching for more. Manx becomes obsessed with the only child who ever escaped. He finds her as an adult, and decides her son might be his very best prospect so far.

As you may have noticed, all the symbols in this book pack a serious emotional punch. It will tap into your deep-seated fears and keep you turning pages long past your bedtime.

For fans of major adrenaline who really don’t care about sleep, I recommend author Mo Hayder. Her books are psychological crime thrillers full of gore and action. Also, since there are seven books in her popular Jack Caffery series, you won’t run out of material anytime soon.

Hayder’s first book, Birdman, introduces the character Jack Caffery, lead investigator in the Major Crime Investigation Unit in Bristol, UK. Caffrey is new on the job and tasked with solving crimes of unspeakable horror. The first involves the brutal, ritualistic murder of a woman who is mutilated beyond recognition. As Jack delves into the details of the crime, you will squirm, close your eyes, and beg for it to end. As he gets ever closer to the killer, you’ll find yourself unable to tear your eyes away.

The seven books in this series are 1. Birdman  2. The Treatment  3. Ritual 4. Skin  5. Gone 6. Poppet (which is the Circulation Manager’s favorite) 7. Wolf.  The entire series is available at the public library along with several “stand-alone” novels by Hayder.

Books are fantastic, but sometimes what you really need is a good scary movie. The library has thousands of DVDs and Blu-rays to choose from, but my coworkers agreed hands-down that only one movie sits at the top of the horror genre. Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002) might be the scariest movie ever made. It brings the audience genuine, pit-of-the-stomach, bone-chilling fear without relying on cheap tricks or excessive gore.

Diehard fans who have already seen The Ring might want to try the original Japanese version of the film by Hideo Nakata, available online, or the novel by Koji Suzuki.

If you’re interested in exploring other recommendations, stop by the library’s Reference Desk on the second floor. A librarian would be happy to help you find a book or movie that is just the right fit.

Posted in: Adult Services, For Adults, Mercury Column, News, Uncategorized, Young Adult Dept

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Stimulate Your Brain with S.T.E.M.

By Jennifer Bergen, Youth Services Manager

Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the WorldS.T.E.M. education is opening doors for young people by offering them different ways to learn about science, technology, engineering and math, and by seeing how those disciplines are incorporated into our every day lives, from our homes, our world, and beyond.  The library is the perfect place to explore S.T.E.M. ideas, no matter your age.

Here are some titles that could be starting points for introducing S.T.E.M. concepts through stories of real people. As ideas spark, children can wonder off through the subject “neighborhoods” in the Children’s Room and take home a pile of books to peruse later.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark follows Lovelace from her childhood, estranged from her father Lord Byron and encouraged by her mother to learn mathematics, through her friendship with inventor Charles Babbage when Ada created the first computer program. Gorgeous illustrations by April Chu will keep young readers hooked, and they can continue reading about famous females in Women Who Launched the Computer Age by Laurie Calkhoven or Trailblazers: 33 Women in Science Who Changed the World by Rachel Swaby.

In Elizabeth Rusch’s Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World, kids learn how Tesla first came up with his idea for alternating currents, and how his invention was chosen above Thomas Edison’s for lighting the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Remember learning about the Fibonacci code? Joseph D’Agnese’s Blockhead is an intriguing picture book about Leonardo Fibonacci’s challenging life and his special discovery of number sequences in nature. Similarly, Paul Erdos’s unusual life is recounted in Deborah Heiligman’s The Boy Who Loved Math. “Uncle Paul” Erdos was strange and socially inept, yet he was beloved by many, and he furthered the study of mathematics in numerous areas.

More topics can be explored by identifying a child’s interests or passions, and using that as a springboard to learn more. This summer, we added four books from the Science of the Summer Olympics series. Check out titles like The Science Behind Swimming, Diving and Other Water Sports if you had a great time watching the Olympics as a family.

Kids who are into popular mainstream shows will appreciate the Batman Science series which explores the “real-world science and engineering” of Batman’s suits, vehicles and utility belt. The Max Axiom, Super Scientist graphic novel series presents S.T.E.M. topics through comic book adventures.

Hands-on kids will enjoy the many books with instructions and ideas for projects they can create themselves.  3-D Engineering: Design and Build Your Own Prototypes with 25 Projects provides enough instruction for kids to test strategies for building anything from bridges to alarms. Lego has produced a whole slew of big, exciting books full of ideas for new things to build, such as the Lego Adventure books. The books foster imaginative creations and experimenting with structures.

No one is too young to experience S.T.E.M.  Babies and toddlers have a natural curiosity that leads them to taste, touch, explore and experiment with everything around them.  While this can make childcare a little hectic, parents can easily encourage children by asking and answering questions, describing things to increase vocabulary, and allowing children to play safely with a variety of household items.  A new board book series called “Baby Loves” by Ruth Spiro captures the enthusiasm for S.T.E.M. In Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering, simple sentences and colorful, bright illustrations present questions and answers about things that fly – birds, airplanes, and a rocket. Andrea Beatty’s picture books — Ada Twist, Scientist, Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect – are also good introductions for younger listeners.

Experience S.T.E.M. at library programs, too! Every Tuesday, Chess Club for all ages and abilities meets on the first floor of the library, starting at 5:30.  It is run by the K-State Chess Club, and beginners are welcome.  S.T.E.M. Club for K-3rd graders meets on the second Thursday of the month from 4:00-5:00 in the Children’s Room.  This week, kids will find out if they really know the story of The Three Little Pigs. Activities include exploring various building materials, learning about their properties, and even building little houses to test against the big bad wolf. Later in the year, library staff will be incorporating Sphero robots into some programs for different ages. The library is a great resource for getting your kids excited about S.T.E.M.

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Lifelong Learning and Hobbies

By Jared Richards, Adult Services Librarian

Wool PetsOne of the main goals of a public library is the promotion of lifelong learning. I am sure there are many highbrow reasons for why people should engage in lifelong learning and, if you are interested in those, come on down to the second floor of the Manhattan Public Library and we will look them up for you. For the purposes of this article, however, I am going to focus on the two most important aspects of lifelong learning to me. First, learning can be fun, especially when it is not followed by a test or a grade on a permanent record. And second, learning something new not only makes your life more interesting, it makes you more interesting to other people. The world can never have enough interesting people.

My favorite way to learn something new is to find a new hobby. I’ve dabbled in more hobbies than I have fingers to count them on, and I have the usual suspects when it comes to fingers, so that is a decent number of hobbies. Despite this, I am always looking for something new, and a great way to do that is by wandering through the shelves on the second floor of the Manhattan Public Library—the 600s and 700s, in particular.

There are not many hobbies that allow a person to create something and then destroy it, while also leaving behind a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. If you are angry, pottery might be that hobby, and we have books about pottery, but I am referring to cooking. Our collection of cookbooks covers methods, diets, and cuisines from all over the world. Smoke & Pickles by Edward Lee contains over 100 recipes that blend his Korean heritage with his adopted Kentucky home. We also have seven shelves devoted to vegan and vegetarian cookbooks. Contrary to popular belief, most vegans and vegetarians enjoy food beyond the popular raw vegetable platter found at most gatherings. Before your next get together, do them a favor and consider checking out Meatless in Cowtown by Laura Samuel Meyn or Vegan Cooking for Carnivores by Roberto Martin, and give partygoers more to eat than baby carrots and cauliflower.

Taking up woodworking as a hobby allows you to build everything from small toys to large houses. Learning how to recognize different types of wood will go a long way in woodworking endeavors, so check out Wood: Identification and Use by Terry Porter. Restoring old furniture can be calming, especially if pottery was previously chosen as a hobby, and The Furniture Bible by Christophe Pourny is a great place to start learning about furniture restoration. From there, I would suggest moving on to small projects with Woodworking from the Scrap Pile by Derek Jones before advancing to The Complete Guide to Treehouses by Philip Schmidt.

Adult coloring books have been all the rage lately, but why not take it a step further and learn how to color outside the lines? We have a large collection of drawing books, including Drawing School by Ian Simpson. Or stick with coloring because it is fun, and check out The New Colored Pencil by Kristy Ann Kutch or Colored Pencil Drawing Techniques by Iain Hutton-Jamieson.

Having a pet is a huge responsibility and a decision that should not be taken lightly. For those not ready for such a commitment, I suggest one of the yarn hobbies.  With Wool Pets by Laurie Sharp and Knit Your Own Zoo by Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne, pets can be created that do not need to be walked, fed, or cleaned up after, unless you count the scraps of leftover yarn that fall on the floor as the animals are made.  Once mastered, move on to a hobby that requires a little more care with The Tao of Vegetable Gardening by Carol Deppe.  In no time at all, you can move from leafy green creators of oxygen to furry friends that consume it with the help of Top Tips from Top Trainers by members of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

The Manhattan Public Library also has programming that may lead to your next hobby. For example, every third Thursday we have Library Lab in the Groesbeck Room. At 7:00 p.m. Thursday, October 20, 2016, we will be painting mandala rocks. If nothing else, I encourage you to come to the second floor of the Manhattan Public Library to browse, find a new hobby, and join the ranks of the world’s most interesting people.

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Lights Out, Film Noir

by John Pecoraro, Assistant Director

Film Noir: 10-Movie Spotlight CollectionAutumn is here, and with the nights growing longer it is the perfect time to explore the darker side of film. The term film noir, or dark film, was coined by a French movie critic in 1946. As a genre, film noir had its heyday in the mystery and crime dramas of the 1940s and 1950s.

Critics haven’t always agreed on whether a film can be classified as noir, what elements films in the genre share, or if film noir can even be defined as a genre. Some critics determine films in the genre by their tragic conclusions, while other critics point to a distinctive visual style. Still others emphasize plot and character type, or mood and attitude.

Manhattan Public Library has an extensive collection of DVDs and Blu-rays, including many film noir classics. There are several collections that are excellent choices if you are new to the genre. “Film Noir: 10-Movie Spotlight Collection,” for example, includes ten classic films on six discs. Titles include “Double Indemnity,” “Black Dahlia,” and “Touch of Evil” to name a few.

5 Film Noir Killer Classics,” is another six disc set. In addition to the five movies, the sixth disc includes the special feature “What is film noir?,” as well as 38 classic film noir trailers. Movies included in this collection are “D.O.A,” “Detour,” “Stranger,” “Scarlet Street,” and “Killer Bait.”

Lists of the most popular film noir titles include a mix of classic examples from the 1940s and 1950s, along with more contemporary titles. “The Big Sleep,” from 1946, features on most lists of the best film noir. Humphrey Bogart stars as private eye Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall portrays the older sister of a woman being blackmailed. Along with blackmailers, there are plenty of other unsavory characters in this film, including murderers, pornographers, night club rogues, and the spoiled rich.

Several film noir classics feature the femme fatale, or fatal woman. This mysterious and seductive woman charms her lovers, and leads them into compromising, dangerous, and even deadly situations. Jane Greer is a murderous femme fatale using her wiles against Robert Mitchum in “Out of the Past.” Mitchum plays private detective Jeff Bailey, hired to find Kathie Moffat by the man from whom she had stolen $40,000 dollars in addition to shooting him. Of course once Bailey finds Kathie, the sparks fly.

Contemporary movies made in the film noir tradition are often referred to as neo-noir. “L.A. Confidential,” (1997) is one example. Three detectives in the L.A. police force of the 1950s uncover a conspiracy behind the shotgun slaying of customers at an all-night diner.

Chinatown,” (1974) is another neo-noir film. Jack Nicholson is private investigator Jack Gittes, hired to trail a Los Angeles Water Department engineer by his wife. Soon Gittes is in over his head, stumbling into a web of intrigue involving a water diversion scheme, murder, and more than he can handle in Chinatown.

Alfed Hitchcock directed several classic film noir pictures. “Greatest Classic Films Collection. Hitchcock Thrillers,” features four of them. In “Suspicion,” rich socialite Joan Fontaine falls in love with dashing Cary Grant, and slowly comes to suspect that he is out to murder her for her inheritance.

Orson Welles is another director of classic film noir. In “The Third Man,” an American novelist in Vienna learns that an old friend has been killed in an accident, and discovers that his friend was more than he appeared.

Many of the classic noir movies have literary connections, being based on novels or stories by Raymond Chandler (“The Big Sleep”), James M. Cain (“The Postman Always Rings Twice”), and  Cornell Woolrich. Woolrich’s published works provided the basis of thirteen films in the genre, including “Black Angel,” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”

In addition to titles on DVD and Blu-Ray, MPL’s streaming service, Hoopla, also features several film noir titles, including “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” “Scarlet Street,” “Pitfall,” and “Mulholland Falls.” Your library card is good for 5 checkouts every month on Hoopla.

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Ties of Blood and Love: Memoirs of Childhood and Parenthood

By Crystal Hicks, Adult Services Librarian

The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and LossRecently I picked up Nadja Spiegelman’s I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This, a memoir about generations of mothers and daughters, and it immediately pulled me in. Now, for readers of alternative comics, Nadja Spiegelman is famous as the daughter of Art Spiegelman, whose brilliant memoir Maus told of his father’s experiences during the Holocaust. For Nadja Spiegelman, though, her mother Françoise Mouly looms larger in her own life, casting a shadow she still struggles to understand and fully escape. In an effort to better understand herself and her mother, Spiegelman baldly detailed her own childhood in I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This. Quickly, Spiegelman discovered that, as much as her mother shaped her, her grandmother shaped her mother, and so on, spiraling back through the generations in inevitable cycles of love and hurt. As Spiegelman researched the matriarchs of her family, I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This became a memoir of generations, analyzing the different circumstances that shaped the women of Spiegelman’s life.

I don’t normally read nonfiction, but something in Spiegelman’s work connected with me, and that connection made me curious about other memoirs. Which other authors, I wondered, have spilt their own blood on the page in an effort to better understand themselves and their families? Here are the fruits of my research, a handful of recent memoirs that explore various aspects of childhood and parenthood.

In her memoir Where the Light Gets In, Kimberly Williams-Paisley also wrote about her relationship with her mother, which irrevocably changed when her mother, Linda, was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a rare form of dementia. All too quickly, the bright, supportive mother of her childhood began to change, as Linda physically deteriorated and eventually lost the ability to recognize her own family. Despite the enormity of Linda’s illness, Williams-Paisley’s family forged ahead, supporting each other and working to find the best in a difficult situation. In rare moments, Williams-Paisley could still recognize her mother’s spirit and sharp intelligence, and she learned to live in the present instead of mourning the loss of the mother she always knew.

Instead of a traditional memoir, The Rainbow Comes and Goes presents a year’s worth of correspondence between Anderson Cooper and his mother Gloria Vanderbilt. Near her ninety-first birthday, Vanderbilt fell seriously ill; though she recovered, her sudden illness prompted Cooper to stop waiting and begin writing to her, asking everything he’d ever wanted to know about her life. In alternating emails, mother and son reflected on every aspect of their lives, from their greatest losses to their most personal hopes and dreams. The deep connection between mother and son can be felt through the pages, and the book’s advice and musings will stay with you beyond the last page.

The final three memoirs I found all focus on grief and loss from the perspective of a parent, though each parent struggles with a different circumstance. In Falling: A Daughter, a Father, and a Journey Back, Elisha Cooper detailed his daughter’s diagnosis with kidney cancer and told how he grappled to come to terms with the uncertainty and lack of control he had over his life. Rosalie Lightning, a memoir graphic novel by Tom Hart, depicts his daughter’s sudden, heartbreaking death and the journey he and his wife went through coming to terms with their loss. This book benefits greatly from its graphic novel format, as the images help convey the depth of feelings Hart dealt with following Rosalie’s death. Finally, Cards for Brianna is a memoir from the other side of the equation, written by a terminally-ill mother for her young daughter. Once Heather McManamy realized her breast cancer was terminal, she decided to write cards to her daughter for various life events; this book presents snippets of them, along with vignettes about McManamy’s life, motherhood, and the gifts you can receive by accepting death.

All of these memoirs were published in 2016 alone; if you would like to look into older familial memoirs, Manhattan Public Library has a great selection of those, too. You might start with Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Are You My Mother?, Alan Cumming’s Not My Father’s Son, or Susanne Antonetta’s Make Me a Mother, just to name a few. For even more biography and memoir reading suggestions, you can sign up for our emailed book lists or request a personalized reading list online.

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Follow Your Whim to a Great Book

By Rhonna Hargett, Adult Services Manager

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of DistractionNot surprisingly, in my work as a librarian, I spend a lot of time in discussion about books: what people are reading, how people select books, and how they experience books. Reading is one of the few activities that has stood the test of time, persisting through centuries of distractions that have fallen to the wayside. So I always cringe when I hear someone say, “I should read more” in the same way they might say “I should eat more kale.” When an individual has stopped reading, I don’t think less of them. I just mourn for everything they are missing.

I am not exaggerating when I say that reading has made my life better and I know I’m not the only one. In the Pew Research Center’s recent study, Book Reading 2016, they reported that Americans read an average of 12 books per year. They read for work or school, to keep up with current events, to research topics of interest, and 80% read for pleasure. In direct contrast to the widely held view of younger generations being distracted by technological devices, 18 to 29 year olds are reading just as much as older age groups, and 83% of them read for pleasure. People don’t read because there’s nothing else to do or because of moral superiority; they read because they want to. Books can provide a window into worlds we would otherwise be unaware of, expose us to new ideas and different perspectives, and they can also bring comfort or escape, or even give us a hearty laugh.

So it was with great delight that I stumbled upon Alan Jacobs’ book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction.  The primary theme that Jacobs presents is “Read at Whim.” He encourages readers to read what will give them delight. This can be classic literature, but it can also be a romance novel. All he asks of the reader is to examine the part of our nature that “knows itself and therefore seeks what is really good.” Therefore, he encourages those reading the substantial tome from the list of “100 books you must read” to quit reading if you’ve gotten a good ways into a book and still find it to be a trudge. He also challenges those who stick to a genre with almost identical plots to examine if their reading is still bringing them delight or if finding something a little different might bring a spark back to reading.

The challenge can sometimes be how to find the next book, the one that will fill you with delight. We have lots of tools to explore on the library website,, but there is something to be said for seeking out the recommendations of fellow readers, whether you find them in the pages of your local newspaper or a chat with friends. A list of recommendations gives you a good place to start. From there you can pick up the ones that grab your interest and feel free to ignore those that don’t appeal.

One downside of reading is that it is such a solitary endeavor. As beneficial as reading is, we humans also require community. Manhattan Public Library is hoping to help you meet both needs. Join us at 8 p.m. Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at Arrow Coffee Co. for our first Silent Book Club. We will gather with fellow book lovers to discuss books, read, and create community. Despite the word “silent,” there will be no shushing involved. We encourage talking with each other about your favorite books. Gigi, our adept librarian, will be on-hand for book recommendations, tips on what the library can do for you, or just to chat about the world of reading.

So, don’t look at reading as an obligation or a moral directive; instead let yourself be open to the advantages that books can bring to your life. Jacobs summarizes his ideas best with a quote from writer Randall Jarrell, “He read it . . . just because he liked to, wanted to, couldn’t help himself.” We wish you all the best in finding such a book and would be delighted to help in your search.

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The Schooling of Chefs

By Marcia Allen, Technical Services and Collections Manager

Four KitchensWho can resist the temptation of a nicely seasoned meal and a beautiful presentation?  If you’re like me, you wonder about the thought and planning that goes into the dining experience at a nice restaurant, and you speculate about the chef who orchestrates the experience.  I enjoy reading books about the education of chefs and have learned that the library has a number of such books, if you are also inclined.  Let’s take a look at a few favorites and see why these books appeal to so many.

  • Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential came out in 2000 and was an instant hit. Why?  It’s his personal take on working the line.  The stories he tells about his education as a chef are sometimes humiliating (like the derision of the broiler man when Bourdain dropped a sizzling pan of osso bucco) and usually crude (like his references to old fish and blood contamination in the kitchen).  Bourdain’s book is written in what he calls “Kitchenese,” a language easily recognizable to anyone who has cooked professionally, and if you’ve ever watched any of his television restaurant tours, you’ll recognize his trademark sarcasm and bluntness.  You’ll also come to respect the determination and back-breaking work that made him the celebrity that he is today.
  • Thomas McNamee’s take on kitchen wizardry follows the career of Alice Waters and her famous restaurant, Chez Panisse. In a surprising twist, Alice did not attend a rigorous cooking school, nor did she undergo the backbreaking training of which Bourdain speaks, and yet her focus on local foods and her insistence on décor and the lovely presentation of food have made her an icon.  McNamee’s tales of the fluid restaurant menu and the talented chefs who created various dishes is a captivating read.  And the candid interviews with those who were a part of the restaurant’s early days are amazing.  Try McNamee’s Alice Waters and Chez Panisse for a groundbreaking take on American dining.
  • For a different take, you might like Lauren Shockey’s Four Kitchens. Shockey is a highly respected New York food writer, frequently published in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, among others.  She is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and has won a Culinary Trust/Julia Child Foundation Grant.  What’s the book about?  In an attempt to better understand restaurant food, she apprenticed in four different countries to four different restaurants.  At Sendersens in Paris, for example, Shockey learned what fourteen-hour days were like, and she managed to prepare langoustines for one hundred customers in one evening.  Lots of humorous stories also grace her book.
  • Raised by adoptive parents in Goteborg, Sweden, Marcus Samuelsson was destined to become a great chef. Why?  He learned to love and prepare food under the tutelage of his Swedish grandmother.  From those childhood lessons, he traveled to locations like Switzerland and Austria, where he learned the discipline involved in 6-day work weeks, as well as distinct regional cuisines.  And he also worked for a time for Georges Blanc, long considered one of the top chefs in the world.  Samuelsson learned that inexpensive ingredients, if treated with exceptional care, could become a dish of exquisite quality.  Samuelsson’s book, Yes, Chef, bustles with stories about the chef’s development and love for the process.  And here’s a special plus:  check a listing for Marcus Samuelsson on the Internet to find a terrific roster of some 11 restaurants that he owns, most located in either New York or Sweden.
  • And that brings us to another great book from a renowned chef, Eric Ripert.  Ripert is owner of New York’s Le Bernardin, a three-star Michelin-rated restaurant that has never disappointed in the 11 years since its opening.  Ripert has also starred in PBS TV specials, served on the board of New York’s City Harvest, and published several quality cookbooks.  But behind the celebrity he now enjoys was a childhood made difficult by an abusive stepfather.  Ripert’s determination to become a great chef helped him through the rigors of culinary school and eventually on to a very challenging job working for Joel Robuchon, a tyrannical chef who achieved three stars before the age of forty.  32 Yolks (the title referring to the dreaded hollandaise sauce Ripert mastered) is a wonderful testament to humility and dedication.

The titles mentioned above are but a few of the many available at the library.  In exploring the books of Manhattan Public Library’s cooking shelves, you’ll find a wealth of personal stories and mouth-watering fares.

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Babies Need Board Books

By Amber Johnson, Youth Services Library Assistant

ABC Alphabet FunAs babies grow into toddlers and begin exploring the world around them, books play a very important role.  Books offer an experience outside of their everyday world, as well as access to vocabulary and concepts that will be important as their language develops.  Not unlike other objects in their lives, babies interact with books by chewing on them and throwing them around.  Because of these developmentally appropriate actions, it is vital to offer sturdy books for them to play with.  Enter the board book.  A board book is made of thick paperboard.  The paperboard is used for the covers and the inside pages.  A board book is specially scored, folded and bound, unlike traditional hardback binding.  Board books are generally smaller than paperback or hardback picture books, making them easier for tiny hands to grasp.  Manhattan Public Library has a great selection of board books.  Here are a few that we might suggest starting with.

Touch and feel books: Even though they don’t yet have words to describe what they are experiencing, babies take in the world around them with all their senses.   Books that have different textures that the baby can feel only expands their view.  Putting books in their mouths is a developmentally appropriate action.  Having shiny and dull illustrations offers depth perception understanding.  Offer them books about animals that have pretend fur and scales.  Check out books with vehicles that are squishy and shiny.  The DK Touch and Feel series is a great series to start with when introducing your child to sensory books.

High contrast books: Some board books contain illustrations only in black and white.  The high contrast in color of these books is developmentally appropriate for younger babies.  When very young, babies can only take in illustrations or things around them when there is a stark difference in color value.  As they develop their eyesight, introducing books with bright colors is a great idea. Author Tana Hoban has many books with simple black and white illustrations.

Simple concept books: It is never too early to introduce simple learning concepts to babies.  Books that feature numbers, colors and the alphabet will help them begin their journey of learning.  Teaching shapes to children directly correlates to their learning of numbers and the alphabet.  These books also allow them to flip around in the book instead of reading it straight through.  A few good titles to consider are ABC Alphabet Fun and My Very First Book of Numbers.

Books with real photos: As is true for adults, it is important for babies to see themselves in books, as well as things and people that are different from them.  Many board books feature photos of babies expressing different emotions, or photos of real animals or toys.  When babies see real photos in the books they are reading, it makes it easier for them to identify objects and people in real life.  I See Me is a great example of a book that contains photos of babies on the move.

Nursery rhyme books: Reading books with rhymes helps children develop a sense of rhythm when reading.  Hearing similar sounds over and over gives meaning to the words themselves.  Books containing nursery rhymes allow parents to repeat the same rhymes over and over again, solidifying the rhythm and flow of the text. Manhattan Public Library offers collections such as The Real Mother Goose Board Book or books with just one rhyme as the text of the book, like Humpty Dumpty.

Manhattan Public Library has hundreds of board books available for checkout, including the aforementioned titles and series.  Library card holders have no limit as to the amount of books they can check out.  Youth Services staff are available to recommend more good titles and to talk more about early literacy skills and child development.

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Exploring Modern Folklore

By Danielle Schapaugh, Public Relations Coordinator

Eva LunaWatching the Olympics always makes me curious about other cultures. What are their values? What bedtime stories do they tell? For answers, I turn to literature, because I find storytelling more interesting than nonfiction, and because I think it’s possible to learn a lot about other cultures by exploring their folklore.

To begin, I selected a book from one of the masters of modern folklore (often referred to as magical realism), Isabel Allende, who is an award-winning author from Peru.

Allende’s books are steeped in magic and passion. Her most recent work, Island beneath the Sea is a visceral and shocking tale of endurance and triumph. Not only does this book explore other cultures, but it also takes a look at history.

Island beneath the Sea tells the story of Tété, a slave in Saint Dominique, who has been raised with the ways of the voodoo loa (deities). The story chronicles Tété’s life as a beloved child, a concubine, a slave, a servant, a revolutionary, and a voodoo priestess. Throughout her life, the loa guide, frustrate, play tricks, and provide Tété with the power to overcome.

“I strike the ground with the soles of my feet and life rises up my legs, spreads up my skeleton, takes possession of me, drives away distress and sweetens my memory. The world trembles. Rhythm is born on the island beneath the sea; it shakes the earth, it cuts through me like a lightning bolt and rises toward the sky, carrying with it my sorrows so that Papa Bondye can chew them, swallow them, and leave me clean and happy.” – Tété

If you like this book, and I think you will, then I suggest exploring other titles by Allende, such as The House of the Spirits or Eva Luna, both set in the recent past and full of cultural identity.

Laura Esquivel is another fantastic author from Latin America. Like Water for Chocolate is probably her most famous work and would make an excellent choice for a book club! There are so many recipes, themes, and striking characters that you will want to discuss with friends.

At its core, Like Water for Chocolate is a story of unrequited love and family dynamics. It is full of longing and sorrow, magic, and triumph. Tita is the youngest daughter of a respected Mexican family. She will never be allowed to marry or have her own life. Instead, it is her duty to devote herself to the care of her aging mother. Sounds a bit like Cinderella, doesn’t she? The themes are similar and both tales include magic, but Like Water for Chocolate is not a Disney version of the story.

Tita begins her lifetime of work in the kitchen where she learns to express all of her emotions through food. Since she pours herself into her recipes, the food she makes is imbued with the magic of her feelings and has the power to affect those who eat it. Imagine what happens to the wedding cake when her sister marries the man Tita loves! This beautiful tale of Mexican folklore has also been made into a movie which is available at the library.

I also read Esquivel’s The Law of Love, which is set in the future. The book includes a CD of music to be played at certain points in the text. You will enjoy every “interlude for dancing!” As you read, you’ll learn about the relationships and achievements valued in Esquivel’s culture.

Finally, a book that really surprised me was Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan, a fascinating author from Indonesia. The “rich and astonishing strangeness” of this story makes it very difficult to put down and even more difficult to forget. Visions of fireflies who rob the site of a man with a guilty conscience, a tornado of a mother who makes the house shake and drives out a cheating husband, and bees who drown out rational thinking will stay with you long after you finish this story.

It was interesting to me how the lines between “good” and “evil” characters are blurred in Of Bees and Mist. I’m used to clear distinctions in moralistic tales. Characters suffer because of bad decisions and bad influences, but at times it is difficult to figure out who the “bad guy” is. Every character is complicated, and I found myself slightly frustrated because this style is out of step with my native culture. It was a pretty cool discovery!

Of Bees and Mist has received mixed reviews, and the plot certainly doesn’t take a direct path to the finish line. Before you dive in, I suggest reading a few pages from the middle to see if you enjoy the tone and style. I certainly hope you decide to give it a try.

Literature and folklore provide powerful lenses for seeing into cultures around the world. I encourage you to explore new cultures by traveling as many places as you can and by finding new ideas in books.

If you need any more recommendations, please visit us at the Manhattan Public Library.

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