Mercury Column

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Jane Austen

Jane Austen

By Rhonna Hargett, Learning and Information Services Associate Director

Jane Austen probably would have been very surprised to find that her novels are still being read, analyzed, and reinterpreted over 200 years after their original publication. I sometimes hear them described as romance novels, but that’s not really what they are about. Austen was the master of observing her society and encouraging the reader to see things in a different light. On the surface her most famous novel, “Pride and Prejudice,” is the story of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet falling in love. When we focus in, though, we see a young woman that is learning the difference between manners and goodness, the limited options for women in 19th Century England, and a society that can be scathing in its punishment for any missteps.

This story contains so many facets that authors have analyzed it from all different angles of it throughout the years. The most recent attempt that I have encountered is “Mary B” by Katherine J. Chen. Chen shares the story from the perspective of Mary, the serious sister with a penchant for regularly displaying her limited musical talent. We get to read her thoughts about their awkward cousin Mr. Collins, her shame at the behavior of her sisters, and her true feelings about being the “plain” sister. The story really picks up where “Pride and Prejudice” ends, when Mary is invited for an extended visit with Elizabeth. At Pemberley she finds an unlikely path to a hopeful future and an unexpected ally.

I’m enjoying getting a glimpse into the context for some of Mary’s more obnoxious moments and her reflections on what is going on around her. Chen’s Mary is reminiscent of what we know of Jane Austen herself – always watching, able to observe unnoticed, able to analyze the workings of society, but powerless to change her place in it. She even has a wicked sense of humor like Austen – Mary just keeps it to herself. Her journey of finding her place in the world and gaining understanding makes for a rewarding read.

Longbourn” by Jo Baker has been around a few years but is a stand-out in the world of “Pride and Prejudice” spin-offs. Baker focuses on the Bennets’ pleasant maid, Sarah. Through her eyes we get the scoop on the lives below-stairs in the Bennet home. This novel illuminates the lives of the characters that make possible the ease that the family experiences. We get to experience their hopes and dreams, as well as the realities of their working existence. For instance, Elizabeth’s muddy petticoat is less charming to those that have to make it sparkling white again. The perspective of the servants is reminiscent of the appeal of “Downton Abbey,” making it clear that there is just as much intrigue, drama, and passion for those that are often forgotten.

I haven’t gotten ahold of it yet, but I’m looking forward to reading “Unmarriageable” by Soniah Kamal, a retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” set in modern-day Pakistan. As Library Journal describes it “Pride and Prejudice” in Pakistan may seem like an unusual pairing to some, but the rich cultural backdrop only enhances and breathes new life into Jane Austen’s classic.”

“Pride Prejudice and Other Flavors” by Sonali Dev coming out in May.

Jane Austen once famously said, “If a book is well written, I always find it too short.” Her many fans have also felt that her books were too few, but they have solved this dilemma by looking at her novels from different angles, setting them in different places and time periods, and using different media. Her timeless themes of dysfunctional families, self-discovery, humanity’s foibles, and of course love, will continue to intrigue readers for centuries to come.  

Whether you like Austen in print, digital, or movies – the original works or a reinterpretation, the staff at Manhattan Public Library will be sure to have something to satisfy.

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Three Book Discussions Explore “A Woman’s Place”

Three Book Discussions Explore “A Woman’s Place.”

By Linda Henderson, Learning and Information Services Librarian

Image result for their eyes were watching god

Mark your spring calendars!  Join us at Manhattan Public Library for three afternoon BookTalk discussions.  The theme is A Woman’s Place.  What is a woman’s place, and who makes that decision?

The discussion of women’s roles in society has advanced rapidly in the last two hundred years, and the books in this series each reflect a different period’s perspective on that dialogue.  Each author explores how women have developed personal strength of character, while dealing with their society’s and their loved ones’ perceptions of who and what they ought to be.  The stories they tell dramatically reveal the constant tensions between mothers and daughters, wives and husbands, careers and family. Humanities Kansas’s Talk About Literature in Kansas book discussions draw on our diverse literatures to help us see more clearly who we are as people.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, an American classic by Zora Neal Hurston, is the luminous and haunting novel about Janie Crawford, a black woman of the 1930s’ South.  Her journey from free-spirited girl to independent woman of substance has inspired readers and authors ever since.  The story is a tribute to a black woman who made herself heard despite the strictures of the times. 

Michaeline Chance-Reay will lead the discussion on Thursday, March 28, at 2:00 p.m.  Dr. Reay taught courses in Women’s Studies and Education at Kansas State University, and holds a Ph.D. in Humanities Education and an MSW in Social Work from Ohio State University.  Her research resulted in a 1998 exhibition at the Riley County Historical Museum, with an accompanying book: Land Grant Ladies: Kansas State University Presidential Wives.  Her current research deals with the Harvey Girls, the independent young women who served as waitresses along the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1880s. 

The Joy Luck Club, a remarkably imaginative and moving book by Amy Tan, continues to speak to many women, mothers, and growing daughters about the persistent tensions and enduring bonds between generations and cultures.  The mothers, all Chinese immigrants, tell about grueling hardships, as well as the tyranny of family pride and the fear of losing “face.”  The daughters, in turn, must try to reconcile their personalities, shaped by American surroundings, with the discordant expectations of their mothers. 

Anne Hawkins will lead the discussion of The Joy Luck Club on Thursday, April 25, at 2:00 p.m.  Hawkins teaches American History at Washburn University, as well as U.S. and world history to homeschooled children across northeastern Kansas.  She received her M.A. in History from the University of Kansas.  She has published numerous historical articles and scripts, and also performs as pioneering women, like abolitionist Mary Jane Ritchie of Topeka and author Louisa May Alcott.  She has led discussions for the Kansas Humanities Council since 2012.

A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather, centers on Marian Forrester and her husband Captain Daniel Forrester.  Mostly told from the perspective of Niel Herbert, a young admirer of Marian, it recounts their lives in the small western town of Sweet Water on the Transcontinental Railroad.  As he describes the decline of both Marian and the old West in which they reside, a tale of the shift from pioneering spirit to corporate exploitation emerges.  Exploring themes of social class and modernization, A Lost Lady is considered to be a major influence on the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

The discussion of A Lost Lady will be led by Margy Stewart at Manhattan Public Library, May 23, 2019, at 2:00 p.m.  Dr. Stewart previously taught English at Washburn University, and is co-founder of the Prairie Heritage Institute, a non-profit corporation devoted to preservation of the tallgrass prairie and the culture of the Flint Hills.  She received her Ph.D. in English from the University of Wisconsin, and has published numerous essays on many topics, including Flint Hills history, prairie ecology, writing education, American literature, and the birds of Kansas.

All three books are now available to check out at the 2nd floor Reference Desk at Manhattan Public Library.  Take a look, and join us for these lively afternoon discussions, sponsored by Humanities Kansas and the Manhattan Library Association. 

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New Picture Books to Share With Your Young Ones

New Picture Books to Share With Your Young Ones

By Jennifer Bergen, Program and Children’s Services Manager

With so many new books coming out each month, it is hard to keep up with the wonderful stories and illustrations in children’s picture books. Here are a few new titles to check out for the little ones in your life.

All the Animals Where I Live by Philip C. Stead

Caldecott winner Stead’s books are always a treat, filled with his graceful sketches, enhanced with quiet hues and textures, alongside carefully chosen words to tell a story that requires you to slow down and absorb it. There is not really any plot, just the narrator’s account of memories, animals in the backyard, and a very special teddy bear from Grandma Jane. To read it silently to yourself is a disservice; this story is meant to be read aloud, and if possible, shared.

Ira Crumb Feels the Feelings by Naseem Hrab & Josh Holinaty

What does it feel like to have your happy-go-lucky day with your best friend ripped out from under you? Ira and Malcolm do everything together. They always laugh together, eat together and play together…until everyone else wants to play tag except Ira. This is what happens when the emotions sneak up on you: “My tummy hurts. My chin is wibbling. My eyes are leaking. Even my feelings are feeling feelings!” Read this one out loud to your child when you want to explore how sadness feels, and what you can do about it. Warning: telling fart jokes might help, so if that’s something that will always cheer your child up, this is the book for you.

Small Walt and Mo the Tow by Elizabeth Verdick and Marc Rosenthal

This picture book caught my eye with its nostalgic nod toward Virginia Lee Burton (Katy and the Big Snow, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel), a favorite author/illustrator from my childhood. In Verdick’s second “Small Walt” book, driver Gus and snow plow Walt are taking action from the get go, and Rosenthal’s friendly illustrations will draw kids right in. There’s been a blizzard and it’s time to plow and spread the salt. “Wipers, swish the slush! Tires, turn that snow to mush!” When he sees a car slide into the ditch, Gus calls for help from Mo the Tow and his driver, Sue. It’s not easy work. It takes tools and lots of great sounds like “Rugga-brum-brum, HUMMAROOOM!” This will satisfy truck lovers and lead perfectly into a Mike Mulligan reading up next.

What Do You Do With a Chance? By Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom

This third book in a series of picture books about abstract ideas is another treasure. A child encounters a bright, shining, yellow “chance”, but isn’t sure what to do with it, and the chance is lost. As life continues, more and more chances drop into the child’s path, and each time the chance seems a little too scary to actually take it. Finally, the child decides to grab the next chance, but it seems none are coming anymore. What can be done? It may take even more courage and determination to seek it out, to chase it down and to make sure it doesn’t get away. This time, everything is right for taking the big chance. This metaphor will not be lost on young children, and it’s something to refer back to when a real opportunity comes along for your child. Feeling a little scared is normal, but sometimes you can be brave and just go for it! Check out their first two titles as well, What Do You Do With an Idea and What Do You Do With a Problem.

Hush, Little Bunny by David Ezra Stein

Award-winner Stein’s sweet and tender illustrations create the perfect bedtime book, which can actually be sung to the tune of “Hush, Little Baby.” Share this with your toddler for a reassuring lullaby that shows little bunny’s parent always being there for him. “And when the spring has come and gone, I’m still gonna love you all year long.” This would make a great gift for baby showers and first birthdays. Looking for more great books to share? Stop by the library and visit with our children’s librarians, browse the library shelves, or sign up for the monthly e-newsletter featuring new picture books at under Reading & Research – Newsletters.

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Guy Friendly Romance Novels that aren’t Fifty Shades of Grey

Guy Friendly Romance Novels that aren’t Fifty Shades of Grey

By John Pecoraro, Associate Director


  OK men, Thursday is Valentine’s Day. If you are looking for a gift for that someone special a little more creative than the usual flowers and chocolates in a heart-shaped box, look no further than the library. Choose among the wide assortment of romance novels to read, share, and impress.

     Thousands of new romance titles are published every year. To help make sense of the overwhelming number and variety of romance fiction available, here are a few of the more guy friendly selections.

      A mysterious plague has taken over the quaint English village of Meryton, and the dead are returning to life, as zombies. This is the premise of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” by Seth Grahame-Smith. The author maintains the structure and language of Jane Austen’s original. Elizabeth Bennett is still beautiful and intelligent, but now is an expert in the “deadly arts.” She is determined to destroy the zombie menace. Enter the arrogant Mr. Darcy, who distracts Elizabeth from her quest. As much comedy and satire as romance, there is enough blood spilled in this book to satisfy everyone.  

     Librarian Henry DeTamble suffers from Chrono-Displacement Disorder. He travels involuntarily through time. His wife, artist Clare Abshire’s life follows a natural course. This is the impossibly romantic trap in which these lovers find themselves in “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” by Audrey Niffenegger. Henry and Clare tell the story from their own perspectives at various times in their lives. In Henry’s time travels he visits Clare as a little girl and later as an aged widow, and explains how it feels to be living outside the constraints of time. Both fantasy and love story, this creative tale explores the themes of fate and the belief in the bonds of love.

     Agnes Crandall is a food writer and cookbook author whose future with her fiancé, Taylor Beaufort looks rosy in “Agnes and the Hitman,” by Jennifer Crusie. They’ve bought an old house owned by widowed mob wife Brenda Fortunato, and promised to host a Fortunato family wedding. Maybe that’s where things began to go wrong. Someone broke into the house, fell down the stairs into a hidden basement, and died. Enter hit men, Shane and Carpenter to investigate. Who sent the intruder? Who sent the hit men? This is a romantic comedy mixed with a measure of action adventure.  

     British spymaster Robert Grey came to France to track down Annique Villiers, the notorious spy known as Fox Cub. In “The Spymaster’s Lady,” by Joanna Bourne, the spymaster and the spy must enter into a reluctant partnership to escape from prison. Grey must get the Fox Cub back to London to thwart Napoleon’s plans to invade England. But Annique is determined to block him at every turn. She’s never met a man she couldn’t deceive, but has she finally met her match?

    “How to Fall in Love with a Man who Lives in a Bush,” that’s the problem faced by Julia in the novel by Emmy Abrahamson. Julia lives a life of waiting: waiting to think of an original story, waiting to quit her job teaching English. She is convinced that she is content with her dull life, until she meets Ben. Ben is younger, Canadian, strong in his conviction that he is going to marry Julia, and he lives in a bush. Julia’s life from that point on takes a turn stranger than any fiction she can imagine. 

     In “No One Like You,” by Kate Angell, we find Beth Avery running away from her past and landing in the beach community of Barefoot William. She is out of money, but maybe not completely out of luck. Baseball star Rylan Cates needs a personal assistant to organize his life, and to take care of his four dogs. Beth loves the dogs, and Ryan feels safe from romantic entanglement because Beth isn’t his type. But Cupid has another opinion.

     And, of course, anything and everything by Jane Austen. So maybe not guy friendly, but a great way to impress that special someone in your life. Also, Austen’s novels are the closest I’ve ever come to reading Romance.

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New Short Story Collections at MPL

New Short Story Collections at MPL

By Mary Swabb, Learning & Information Services Supervisor

Stories are diverse and varied, but all seek to make something tangible to the reader. It may be a feeling, a place, an experience, or something else. Traditionally, the medium of the short story seeks to portray a story in fewer words (less than 30,000), with fewer characters (one or two), and with a single basic plot. Fewer words to depict a story means that particular care has to be given to each one. Many authors go so far as to see how few words they can utilize to render a story, which is called short, micro-, or flash fiction. Lydia Davis is one author who dabbles with sentence long stories. Other author’s continue to evolve the medium by playing with, different motifs, styles, and genres. Regardless of the type of story that intrigues you, there exists a short story for you. Manhattan Public Library has an assortment of short story collections available to fulfill readers’ interests. Here are a few that came out within the last year:

In her book “The Sound of Holding Your Breath,” Natalie Sypolt illuminates fourteen tales of small town life in present-day Appalachia. Sypolt’s characters live in a small town called Warm, “a place where no one cares if you live in a trailer,” and they struggle with secrets, losses, and the complexities of family. Tragedy and violence coerce Sypolt’s characters into wrestling with who they are in a challenging world. In “Stalking the White Deer,” a woman attempts to come to terms with the life she’s chosen, the man she’s chosen to be with, and the town that they will never leave. Other characters in “The Sound of Holding Your Breath” include siblings who struggle with the death of their sister-in-law, who’s been killed by their brother; a teenage boy who loves his sister’s husband; and a pregnant widow who spends the holidays with her deceased husband’s family. “The Sound of Holding Your Breath” is a collection of haunting stories that deal with emotional conflict depicted through powerful imagery.

Kimberly Lojewski has written eleven bittersweet modern fairy tales about growing older in her debut short story collection entitled “Worm Fiddling Nocturne in the Key of a Broken Heart.” Lojewski’s tales feature evocative imagery and elements of magical realism and bildungsroman. In her titular story, Lemon, a young girl who lives in the swamps with her uncles, seeks the attention of her best friend, an alligator wrestler named Sweets, who only has eyes for an albino beast called Swamp Ghost. In “Baba Yaga’s House of Forgotten Things,” authoritarian grandmas, who “sit on their porches and rock through the night, setting a hair-raising rhythm with the clickety-clack of their knitting needles and the wet, juicy chomping of their toothless gums,” run a summer camp that supposedly reforms juvenile delinquents. “Worm Fiddling Nocturne in the Key of a Broken Heart” is a collection of enchanted stories of change featuring mainly female protagonists.

Death at Sea” by Andrea Camilleri showcases Camilleri’s famous character, Inspector Montalbano, in eight new mysteries set in the fictional town of Vigata, based on the author’s home town in Sicily. Montalbano is a middle-aged, easily annoyed man who is passionate about food, and extremely loyal to his ragtag police team. Camilleri’s stories feature tricky situations and crimes that are not always solved by traditional police work. This short story collection is a fine introduction to readers new to Camilleri’s work.

A debut short story collection by Maxim Loskutoff illustrates an alternative present where an armed occupation of a wildlife refuge is escalating to civil war led by libertarian Western Separatists.  In twelve linked stories, Loskutoff illuminates a rural northwest experience where nature and violence exist in a symbiotic relationship. “Come West and See” showcases the tension between civilization and nature and explores the loneliness, fragility, and heartbreak inherent to love. Fans of dystopian works may be intrigued by this collection. The modern short story continues to evolve, encompassing a variety of motifs and styles. These are just a few of the varied short story collections to be found at Manhattan Public Library. If short stories do not interest you, do not worry – as always, the library has numerous lengthier tomes to delight your interests.

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High Wizardry in Children’s Books

High Wizardry in Children’s Books

By Jennifer Bergen, Program and Children’s Services Manager

Reading magical fantasy is just fun. You never know where an author will take you, and that unlimited imaginative possibility is what keeps readers coming back for more. When Harry Potter swept the literary world into a wizard frenzy, many adults rediscovered the excitement of reading children’s literature. Why stop there? Here are some magical tales, old and new, that will whisk you away to enchanting adventures, no matter your age.

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell combines excitement with creepiness and humor. Readers who enjoy Roald Dahl may want to give it a try. “Once there was magic,” it begins, but now Warriors work tirelessly to rid the world of all magic, good or bad. What will happen if the very worst kind of magic sneaks back in? Cowell’s illustrations throughout are also a delight.

The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Delivery by P. G. Bell wastes no time. She hooks the reader from the very first railroad track being laid down the center of Suzy’s living room floor. If Suzy is to understand anything ever again, she knows she must find a way to get on the Impossible Postal Express.

If you like your tales to sound magical as you roll the words off your tongue, try Garret Weyr’s new book, The Language of Spells. Weyr’s mesmerizing writing easily transports you to the time of Grisha’s birth in 1803, a time when dragons were not so scarce. Grisha is an ordinary dragon who meets Maggie, an ordinary girl. “Magic is funny in that way: It chooses those who might not choose themselves,” writes Weyr. “In fact, one of the many rules governing the world of magic is that if you pay attention, you will understand how magic has chosen you. And why.” Such an invitation is hard to resist.

The Wizard’s Dog by Eric Kahn Gale puts a spin on the Merlin legend by telling the story through the eyes of Nosewise, Merlin’s pet dog. When Morgana puts a magical amulet around his neck for fun, Nosewise is surprised to hear his thoughts come out as actual words. Now that he can speak, what else can he do, and will it be enough to save his master?

In Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, Morrigan is cursed, and everyone knows it. Anything unfortunate that happens in her village is immediately blamed on her, and she must write an apology — “one to the Jackalfax Jam Society for a ruined batch of marmalade,” for example. The worst part of the curse is that Morrigan is doomed to die on her eleventh birthday…until Jupiter North arrives.

Diana Wynne Jones was one of the great fantasy authors who wrote classics for kids, teens, and adults. In the Chronicles of Chrestomanci, a series of six books and four short stories, the Chrestomanci is a sort of supervisor for the magical version of England. The first one written is Charmed Life, but another good entry point is Witch Week, which takes place in a world very much like ours. Wynne Jones’s Dalemark Quartet, beginning with Cart & Cwidder, consists of three seemingly unrelated books taking place in a vaguely medieval fantasy world, and a fourth book set in the present that ties them all together in mind-blowing ways.

For a more modern fantasy that blends with science, try Diane Duane’s Young Wizards books. The first book, So You Want to be a Wizard, introduces Nita and Kit, young teens who have just discovered wizardry and are on their “ordeal,” a big quest that each new wizard has to complete. In Duane’s world, the purpose of wizardry is to fight entropy, and their spells are full of mathematical calculations. The tenth book in the series, Games Wizards Play, is the most recent, and she’s still writing.

For some magic in Manhattan, join us at the library to celebrate J. K. Rowling’s wizard phenomenon on Harry Potter Book Night, February 7, from 6:00-8:00. Kids are invited to dress in character if they wish and enter Hogwarts on the library’s 2nd floor. Each House will be represented, as well as many different classrooms. Librarians and members of the local chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance will present activities, crafts, snacks and photo ops to create a magical experience for Harry Potter book lovers.

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New Year New Manga

New Year, New Manga

By Grace Benedick, Teen Services Librarian

The new year is always a good time for change, and at Manhattan Public Library we’re gearing up for a small change in our Young Adult collection. We’re dividing the graphic novels into three sections. The sections are Young Adult Graphic Novel Manga (YAGN MANGA), Young Adult Graphic Novel Series (YAGN SERIES) and plain-old Young Adult Graphic Novel (YAGN). Any single volume graphic novels will be found in YAGN. Manga series and one-shots will be found in YAGN MANGA, and all other multi-volume graphic novels and comics will be found in YAGN SERIES. If you’ve browsed the graphic novels in the Children’s Room, you’ll be familiar with the approach, and if you’ve looked closely while browsing the graphic novel shelves in young adult, you’ll have seen the new sections on the spine labels.

If you’re an avid manga reader, you’ll be aware that most manga translations are published a few years after the original debut in Japan. So you may not be surprised to hear that some of the following series are brand new to the English-language market, despite having aired as anime shows some time ago.

Hiromu Arakawa, the author of the cult-favorite, “Fullmetal Alchemist” has a new series that just arrived at our library: “Silver Spoon” is a “slice-of-life” story about an aimless teenager enrolled in an agricultural high school. The first volume released in 2011 in Japan, and hit shelves in the USA in 2018.

The lesbian coming-of-age series, “Sweet Blue Flowers” by Shimura Takako, came out in 2013 in Japan but had its English-language release in 2018, and the complete series is out now.

The many avid Naruto fans will be pleased to find the sequel series, “Boruto: Naruto Next Generations” now on library shelves. This series was created by a team comprised of Masashi Kishimoto—creator of the Naruto series—along with Mikio Ikemoto and Ukyo Kodachi. A note for slightly less avid fans: the manga aligns with the character’s ages in “Boruto: Naruto the Movie” which was released in 2015, not the currently airing anime. For the un-initiated, “Naruto” is about a ninja growing up in a world populated with mythical creatures, who is looked down on by his peers but hopes to become leader of his village and “Boruto” is the story of his son.

Readers who prefer their fantasy on the darker side, and can’t get enough “Tokyo Ghoul” to satisfy their appetite, can now tide themselves over with “Happiness” by Shuzo Oshimi, another series featuring a normal-high school boy turned blood-thirsty vampire.

For those who just want something light, romantic or funny, we’ve recently acquired some classic 2010’s shoujo manga series, as well. “Ao Haru Ride” or “Blue Spring Ride” by Io Sakisaka is about a high school girl who reunites with her middle-school crush only to find that he has become a very different person. It’s not possible to pick up right where they left off, but it may be possible to start over.

Horimiya” by Hero and Daisuke Hagiwara starts with the trope of a girl who is polished and popular at school but has a less-than glamorous home life that she’s hiding from her peers. Naturally, she strikes up a romance with a boy who is unpopular at school but considered cool elsewhere. However, as the series progresses neither the romance nor the hidden home life are the central plot-lines. Rather it’s about an expanding friend group and their escapades and comedic dialogs.

Sweetness and Lightning” by Gido Amagakure is about a single dad who is failing miserably to provide decent meals for his young daughter, until one of his students starts teaching him to cook. This series is all about the food, and it includes recipes.

Another “slice-of-life” series, with a cast of characters of all ages, “Barakamon” by Satsuki Yoshino, is a series about a calligraphy prodigy whose ego lands him in trouble in the art world and takes a break by moving to a rural island village.

For more great graphic novels, check out the list “2019 Great Graphic Novels for Teens Nominees” on the Young Adult Library Association’s “The Hub” website.

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A Life among the Birds

A Life among the Birds

By Marcia Allen, Collections Manager


               Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife: an unusual title for a very unusual career.  Skaife, as it turns out, had a lengthy career in the British military that took him to various locations throughout the world.  When he retired, he wasn’t aware of many options for an ex-military officer, but years of commitment to military service was the first requirement for his next great adventure.  He applied for and was accepted for the position of Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, which made him partly responsible for the security of the Tower of London.

Skaife’s actual career as ravenmaster began in 2005 when the current ravenmaster, Derrick Coyle, informed him that the ravens liked him.  To test Skaife’s mettle, Coyle led him to a cage and urged him inside, warning him to keep his distance and avoid looking the two largest ravens in the eye.  When one of the birds hopped to a perch next to Skaife and looked him over, Coyle told Skaife that he would do.  From that moment, Skaife became one of the trusted assistants. 

                Skaife’s wonderful new autobiography, The Ravenmaster, alludes to his childhood experiences and to his military career, but it’s more of a tribute to the ravens he loves.  He speaks of the individual personalities and the unusual quirks he has noted over the years.  He addresses the tragedies that have taken place, like one raven’s attempt to fly from a high perch with clipped feathers. He reveals mistakes that he made, like changing the typical routine, an event that made one night’s rushed securing of the cages a disaster.  

                Skaife also shares much of raven lore he has discovered. The tower always houses six or seven specially banded ravens, which belong to the corvid family that also includes crows and magpies.  Ravens, however, are three time larger than crows and have a wingspan between three to four feet.  They tend to have a shaggy look about them, and they make a croaking sound rather than a cawing sound.  According to old legend, the tower will crumble and the fate of London will take a hard turn should the ravens ever leave.  The thousands of tourists who walk through the tower grounds every year always seek out the birds and want to hear about their care and behavior.

                Ravens, according to Skaife, live by a strict set of rules.  They will not be hurried and their pecking order is not to be tampered with.  Their favorite treat is a dog biscuit soaked in animal blood.  They are preyed upon by foxes, so the staff members of the tower are always on the lookout for the foxes.  The ravens are also talented thieves, capable of stalking tourists carrying desirable sandwiches that they can swiftly grab.  They are also very effective communicators, and Skaife is the first to admit that he imitates their sounds in order to talk to them.

                Clearly, the author has a love for the ravens, and he cannot accept the fact that others sometimes link the birds to death and to ruin. Skaife is a big fan of Charles Dickens, the famous writer who kept a beloved raven, Grip, among his own menagerie.  And Skaife fondly remembers the time George R. R. Martin came to visit the tower, spending as much time as possible observing the tower ravens.

                The Ravenmaster is a delight to read.   The author seems a humble man who has happily found his life’s calling.  His appreciation for the ravens is clear throughout, and the knowledge he shares is amazing.  You won’t want to miss this captivating tale.

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What’s in a year?

By Rhonna Hargett, Adult and Teen Services Manager

What’s in a year? There is really no true difference between December 31st of one year and January 1st of the next, but that change of year still feels significant. Reflection over what has happened during the length of one rotation around the sun seems like a good way to measure the progress we’ve made in life, or a reasonable length of time to turn ourselves in a new direction. I’ve never been particularly good with New Year’s resolutions, but as this year came to a close, I found myself seeking out how others had recorded a year of their lives, in the hopes of gaining insight from their experiences.

Noelle Hancock spends a year attempting to live up to Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice “Do one thing every day that scares you” in her memoir “My Year with Eleanor.” After getting laid off from her life-consuming but lucrative job as a blogger for an entertainment web site, Hancock realized that she had been using her career as an excuse to avoid anything that caused her anxiety and almost everything caused her anxiety. With some urging from her therapist, she tackled one thing that scared her every day. This led her into a year of challenges as large as swimming with sharks and as small as taking on the guy that “reserved” an entire row of seats in the movie theater. Along the way she learned lessons about what fear really means and how to manage it in her world. I don’t know that she found all of the answers for arranging her life by the end of the book, but she was asking questions that lead in a positive direction. Hancock’s memoir is entertaining as well as enlightening. She openly shares her failures and weaknesses and invites us to laugh along with her. Her one-year life assignment shows how one can find themselves stuck in a rut and choose to steer in a different direction.

Cold Antler Farm” by Jenna Woginrich is less of a self-improvement book and more of a chronicle of a way of life that is completely different from what most of us experience. Woginrich shares about her experiences on her six-acre homestead in terms of the farming year, starting with the first signs of the spring thaw and proceeding through to the quiet of winter. She has goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, and work horses, as well as an extensive garden. She portrays the good and the bad – lazy afternoons of curling up in a hammock with a good book when the chores are done, as well as the extreme cold of winter morning chores in upstate New York. My favorite chapter was about the ruckus her animals make when they realize she’s awake but hasn’t come out to feed them. I appreciated this glimpse into an existence that is so different from my own. I wasn’t inspired to move to the country, but Woginrich’s story did encourage me to ponder the food that I eat, to think about how I spend my time, and to consider my connection to my dwelling space. She does an excellent job of sharing the struggles she goes through in trying to determine what her life should be without attempting to convert the reader.

Woginrich also incorporates ancient holidays and discusses how they are tied to the rhythms of the agricultural year. She celebrates Beltane, the start of the gardening and farming season, with a neighborhood potluck and a bonfire. She tells about how Halloween developed from Samhain, a quiet day to reflect. By the end of October, the harvests would have been gathered in, allowing time to contemplate the year’s efforts and losses.

A year is really just 365 days in a row, but the progress of the seasons gives us a chance to measure our progress and to see where we need to make changes. I wish you a 2019 filled with reflection, enlightenment, and good books.

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

Women Authors with December Birthdays

Women Authors with December Birthdays

By John Pecoraro, Assistant Director


It’s amazing what you can find on the Web. For example, a list of authors with birthdays in December ( The perfect theme for the final “At the Library” of 2018, but to narrow the field, I’ll highlight women authors.

     Jan Brett was born on December 1. The popular writer and illustrator has dozens of children’s books to her credit. She writes original stories, such as “Berlioz the Bear,” and “The Hat,” as well as adapting classics like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

     Also early in the month, Ann Patchett had a birthday on December 2. Patchett is the author of the bestselling novel “Bel Canto” which follows the relationships among a group of young terrorists and their hostages with opera as a centralizing theme throughout the story. Patchett’s latest novel, “Commonwealth,” tells the story of six children in a series of vignettes spanning fifty years.

     Willa Cather was born on December 7. Cather achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, including “O Pioneers!,” and “My Antonia.” Her later historical novel “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” concerning the attempts of a Catholic bishop and priest to establish a diocese in New Mexico Territory, was included on the Modern Library 100 Best Novels of the twentieth Century.

     December 10 is the birthday of the belle of Amherst, poet Emily Dickinson. Dickinson lived much of her life in reclusive isolation. She was considered eccentric for her fondness for white clothing. She was also known for her aversion to greeting guests, and late in life seldom left her bedroom. While a prolific private poet, of her more than 1,800 poems fewer than a dozen were published during her lifetime. The first complete collection of her poetry was edited by Thomas Johnson in 1955, and is available at the library as “The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.”

     Shirley Jackson, born on December 14, is remembered primarily for her works of horror and mystery. Her horror novel, “The Haunting of Hill House,” is considered a classic ghost story. Jackson also wrote about her family in “Life Among the Savages,” a fictionalized memoir about her life with her four children. Jackson is also well known for her short stories. She published over 200 stories. Her most famous is “The Lottery,” which describes a small town observing an annual ritual known. It has been described as one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature.

     Irish novelist and short story writer, Edna O’Brien, was born on December 15. Philip Roth once described O’Brien as the most gifted woman writing in English. Beginning with her first novel, “The Country Girls,” O’Brien’s writing revolves around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men and to society. O’Brien’s latest novel, “The Little Red Chairs,” is about a woman in a small village in Ireland, and the mysterious Eastern European healer who is not what he appears.

     Jane Austen was born on December 16. Austen is best known for her novels interpreting and critiquing the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Mansfield Park,” and “Emma,” among others, explore the dependence of women on marriage in the pursuit of social standing and economic security. Her novels depict manners, marriage, education, and money with a sense of humor.  In “Pride and Prejudice,” for example, the protagonist Elizabeth Bennet, learns the error of making speedy judgments and learns to appreciate the difference between the superficial and the essential in life. 

     Two popular authors share the birth date December 24, Mary Higgins Clark and Stephenie Meyer. Mary Higgins Clark is the author of 51 bestselling suspense novels. Her popular titles include “While My Pretty One Sleeps,” “Loves Music, Loves to Dance,” “Pretend You Don’t See Her,” and “I’ve Got My Eyes on You” published earlier this year. Clark’s latest offering is “Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry,” due out April 2019.

   Stephenie Meyer is the author of the popular vampire and werewolf romance series, the Twilight Saga. In the first book in the series, “Twilight,” seventeen year old Bella meets Edward, who she learns is not exactly human. Other titles in the series include “New Moon,” “Eclipse,” and “Breaking Dawn.” Each of the novels has been adapted for the screen.