Thursday, April 26, 2012

The end of a month long celebration of poetry

Dr. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg typing
a poem to send out into the world
Last night I had the pleasure of meeting the charming and brilliant Poet Laureate of Kansas, Dr. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. We invited her to do a reading at the library to celebrate the end of National Poetry Month, and she shared new and old work with an engaged audience for about 45 minutes and took questions at the end. I was certainly impressed with her eagerness to share especially her most intimate and personal titles, which included self portraits and reflections on her experiences with cancer.

At one point in the reading, she asked for the audience to give her a number of words, to which we responded with "inland," "South America," "transcendence," "middle school" and several others that seemingly had no relation. She then improvised and recited an impressive poem using each one - this was my favorite part of her presentation. In her question and answer session at the end, she shared her thoughts on the creative process and her own writing techniques. She compared it to any art form and explained that as you practice, you'll find that you'll improve and develop your own style, and the more you practice, the more easily the language of poetry will come to you.

Miss Conception's awesome poetry
slamming skills won her the grand
prize - an iPad 2!
I'm really glad hat I had the opportunity to work with the programming librarian and the Lawrence Arts Center to develop the Poetry Off the Page series of events. On Wednesday the 11th, I taught a few poets how to create a chapbook using Microsoft Publisher in our computer lab. I had hoped that they would be able to finish and print out a copy, but we ran out of time. Those who participated, though, were grateful that they now knew a much easier way to put one together. Later that evening we hosted a Poetry Slam. We had 9 poets - from teenagers to older adults - compete for a couple of gift certificates to The Raven Bookstore and the grand prize, an iPad 2.  The most coveted prize, though, was the bag of frozen burritos we gave away to the audience's favorite slammer not included in the final three! Mark Hennessy volunteered to come back and sit in as our semi-famous guest judge, and he even donned a gorilla suit! I sent him out to the lobby of the library to slam some poems, and I guess I should have given some forewarning to the rest of the library - someone from circulation called the security guard on him!

The following Wednesday, we had our normal, monthly Poetry Social. This didn't draw a very big crowd - three poets - but we had a good time creating, sharing and discussing work focused on the theme of "Transcendence." Last night's reading by Dr. Goldberg was the final program in the series, and I'm happy to say it was a great end to our month long celebration. In talking with her afterward, she expressed how great she thought it was that the library worked with the arts center on these events, and I think everyone who attended and participated in them felt the same way. I'm looking forward to next April and great things we can do then! Here's to poetry!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Book Review: 2030 by Albert Brooks

A lot can happen in 20 years. Just considering the development of computers and the Internet, cellular phones, and eReader devices, we know this, and we can look forward to a whole lot more in the future. A cure for cancer, remote controlled robots that can perform surgery, transit airplanes that can be flown without a pilot on board, 3D movies that don't require special glasses - Albert Brooks's 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America imagines that each of these medical and technological advances can happen within the next two decades. Along with these life enhancing discoveries and developments, though, can come some tragedy too - and Brooks definitely doesn't leave any of that out.

We already know people are living longer and looking younger while they're at it. Skin creams, plastic surgery, yoga, power bars, protein shakes - on top all of these, Brooks imagines that by 2030, scientists and researchers will have discovered and developed a cure for cancer, a pill that really makes you lose weight and keep it off, and machines that enhance muscles mass. All of these lead to the longevity of human life. While the baby-boomers are inching into their 70s and 80s, though, younger generations are increasingly bearing the financial burden of not only student loan debt, but Social Security and Medicare for the aging generations as well. And they're getting tired of it. And are beginning to act out in protest. It's in this tense climate that the biggest natural disaster to hit America takes place - an earthquake measuring over 9 points on the Richter Scale hits Los Angeles, pretty much leveling it. With national debt that's long since spiraled into mind-boggling depths, the government of the United States struggles to respond.

The novel focuses on the stories of those affected by both situations, including Kathy Bernard, a young adult dealing with an uninsured $350,000 medical bill from her father's shooting; Dr. Sam Mueller, the world famous and wealthy physician who discovered The Cure; Brad Miller, a retired Los Angeles resident who loses everything he owns in the quake; and Matthew Bernstein, the newly elected first "half-Jewish" president who must lead the country out of tragedy. Then enter the Chinese, who, having lent to the United States again and again, refuse to lend any more, but propose a deal unlike any the U.S. government has ever agreed to. Will the President and the leaders of the country agree to this new deal? And how will the people of America, and Los Angeles, respond?

Alan Brooks, first known as an actor, writer, comedian and director, weaves a profound tale about what could happen to America in a not-too-distant future when disaster strikes. The multiple story lines provide a well rounded look at the country 20 years down the road and the impending disaster while keeping the reader interested, not lost. Though I found some of his ideas a little hard to swallow (i.e. transit airplanes that fly themselves, and Brooks did predict the death of Kim Jong-il two years late), others I realized were all too real - the draining of tax dollars, the straining of the health care system and what Brooks calls the Enough Is Enough movement. It definitely makes me wonder how our country would respond today if a quake - or any other disaster of such magnitude - were to strike.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Top Five Friday: 90's Nintendo Games

Between the ages of 10 and 15, if I wasn't reading a book or doing my homework, I was playing video games. As many hours as I spent with my hands attached to a Super Nintendo controller or a Game Boy, I'm honestly surprised that I'm not that big of a gamer these days. As I went through high school and college, and even though I carted my system and Game Boy back and forth to my dorm each year, I started spending more and more of my time doing other, "more constructive" things. Now, I'm not saying that I think video games are necessarily bad or a waste of time - I actually think they're entertaining, can be a great stress reliever and can even be educational. A once avid reader of Nintendo Power, I'm now mostly unfamiliar with today's video game industry, but every now and then I do get an urge to pull out some of my favorite games from my youth - and that's what I'm sharing for today's Top Five Friday.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

I begged my parents for months to get me a Game Boy, and when they finally gave in and bought me one for Christmas, Link's Awakening was one of the games that came along with it. Stranded on Koholint Island after a storm destroys the boat he's traveling on, the hero, Link, must search the isolated landmass for the 8 instruments of the Sirens so he can wake the Wind Fish, the island's guardian, and return home. I'm embarrassed to admit when I first played it, I had no idea what to do, and it actually took me over a year to finish the game. Having no experience with RPG games and no access to the internet tutorials, I struggled on my own with each of the puzzling, maze-like dungeons and each nightmare creature Link had to battle in order to obtain the instruments. When I finally made way way to the top of Mt. Tamaranch, where the mysterious Wind Fish slumbered, and defeated the final evil Nightmare, I was ecstatic and proud that I had done it all by myself.

2. Mortal Kombat

Probably the bloodiest, most graphic game I played as a kid, my obsession for the Mortal Kombat series of games began in the arcade with the second installment. Once I found out, though, that the game was available for the Super Nintendo, I had to have it. From there, I tracked down and collected the first two games, and then eagerly anticipated the releases of Mortal Kombat 3 and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. Protecting the Earthrealm from the invasion of the Outworld Emperor, Shao Kahn, a batch of warriors, each with their own vendettas and reasons for competing, fight in a bloody, lethal tournament against gods, ninjas, cyborgs and four armed monsters. The gamer selects one of these characters and can fight one on one with another player, or advance up a ladder of challengers. I was so in to the game format that I thought up my own knock-off version, World Combat, and made up characters, each with their own powers and abilities, and drew them in notebooks.

3. Disney's Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse

I never actually owned a copy of this game until after college. I had befriended a couple sisters who moved in across the street, and when I discovered this game through them, I constantly invited myself over so I could play it. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure I was a horrible friend because of that. Anyway, in Disney's Magical Quest, Mickey searches his world for his missing dog, Pluto, who's been kidnapped by the evil emperor Pete. As he travels through a forest, a fiery cave, a mountain range and an icy arctic, he receives magical outfits that help him get through each level and defeat different monstrous manifestations of Pete. I remember loving this game so much that I finally bought my own copy as an adult...but I've actually never finished the game. I've come quite close to it though! As a kid, I actually found it pretty challenging, but I'm curious if, with my mature gamer understanding and skill, I'd be able to defeat Pete and get Pluto back for Mickey if I were to pick it up and play it today.

4. Super Mario World

What would be a list of Nintendo games without mention of Mario?! Bowser and his Kooplings have done it again! In Super Mario World, Mario and Luigi must interrupt their vacation and battle their way through Dinosaur Land to rescue the ever-vulnerable Princess Peach, kidnapped once again by King Koopa. My three siblings and I received our first Super Nintendo from our grandmother for Christmas, and this game was included in the package. I remember having to take turns playing, which often led to frustrations, fights and a few broken controllers. We even had to compete with our parents for playtime, as they took a liking to the game as well. I actually enjoyed playing all the Mario Brothers games - we also had a copy of Super Mario All-Stars, which has enhanced versions of all previous Mario releases.

5. Kirby's Dream Land

A cloud-like creature that floats around and ingests anything in its path, the adorable Kirby must travel through his Dream Land in pursuit of the gluttonous King Dedede, who's taken all the food from the world's inhabitants. This was another first that I got with the Game Boy, and another one that I didn't know exactly what to do with at first. It was probably one of the most frustrating games, simply because it lacks a save function. It's also one of those games in which, if you don't get every single power up or health, chances are, you weren't going to make it to the end - especially if you were an amateur, like I was. If I didn't have more than an hour to sit down and play it, I didn't bother, and I've actually only gotten through the entire game once. However, I thought Kirby - whatever he is - was pretty cool, and enjoyed the game immensely.

These were just a few of the Nintendo games that I spent hours playing as a kid, and the ones that I would probably pick up today if I found the time to do so. Now what about you? What video games do you remember playing as a kid? Which were your favorite? Comment below - I'd love to know!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Murder & Mayhem in the Library!

Michael Connelly, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham - these crime fiction authors should probably be familiar to any librarian working a reference desk. But if you have little interest yourself in mysteries, suspense or thrillers, or have so many other things you want to read, like me, you might not know the vast universe that is crime fiction. Yesterday I attended a Mid-America Library Alliance (MALA/KCMLIN) workshop hosted by the Mid-Continent Public Library titled Murder & Mayhem @ Your Library: How to Help Today's Crime Fiction Readers. Becky Spratford, Readers' Adviser at the Berwyn (IL) Public Library, library school instructor and contributor to EBSCO'S NoveList, presented several tips on basic RA service, guided participants through the different sub-genres of crime fiction, and shared different creative ways libraries can market their materials both online and in house.

If there's one thing that I took away from Becky's presentation on RA service, it's her Ten Rules of Basic RA Service. Among things that seem like common knowledge, like read widely (at least speed read widely) and read about books, she advises suggesting books, not recommending books, and points out that everyone reads a different version of the same book. That last one reminds me of a common motto from a humanities class I took in college, "Everyone has his or her own point of view that affects what they experience and how they interpret that experience" - and it definitely makes sense and fits when talking about crime fiction. Another great suggestion of Becky's was instead of focusing on basic plot summaries when suggesting titles, try figuring out adjectives that could be used to describe a book and see which other titles fit.

I've read one James Patterson book, Along Came a Spider, and loved it. I read The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver, some suspenseful Dean Koontz novels, I was mildly obsessed with the relatively unknown Jane Jeffry series by Jill Churchill, and, of course, I had to check out Stieg Larsson's Millennium series. That's about the extent of my crime fiction knowledge, but Becky shared many resources that will be every helpful in expanding my horizons. My favorite resource for all things crime fiction that Becky shared was the website Stop! You're Killing Me, which lists "over 3,900 authors, with chronological lists of their books (over 43,000 titles), both series (4,400+) and non-series." If you'd like to check out other resources that Becky suggested, her blog, RA for All is a wonderful resource for both RA service tips and crime fiction info.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Top Five Friday: Current TV Shows

Thankfully, my fiance and I don't have cable. I say thankfully because I would probably spend hour after hour flipping through the channels looking for something to watch instead of doing something (I deem) more productive, like reading books, writing blog posts, or wasting time on Twitter/Facebook. However, we do subscribe to Hulu Plus, which I LOVE because there's fewer commercials, and I'm not tempted to switch from one program to the next. Each week, we eagerly await the release of the current episode of our favorite shows, and though they're a day late, we enjoy the fact that we can watch them at our own convenience. Anyway, for today's Top Five Friday, I'm sharing my five favorite TV shows from this season:

1. Desperate Housewives

I'm awfully repetitive on this blog. Mentioned in November's A Librarian's Thanksgiving post, Desperate Housewives has been, and probably will be, one of my all time favorite shows. I actually caught on to it pretty late - like four seasons late. But ever since I checked out season one from the library, I have fallen madly in love with the ladies of Wisteria Lane. I've laughed, I've, you get the point. And, quoting one of my favorite singers, as "everything's temporary if you give it enough time," sadly, this current season is the last for these ladies. I'll always remember Susan's quirky clumsiness, Bree's sophistication, Gabbi's materialistic want for happiness and Lynette's realism - and I'll strive to emulate a little of each of them in my own housewife - er - husbandry.

2. New Girl

I loved Zooey Deschanel in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, adored her in (500) Days of Summer, and idolize her as the lead singer of She and Him. I could go without saying, then, that I have fallen in love with her all over again in New Girl. When Jess, a twee, offbeat young woman, breaks up with her boyfriend, she finds a room in an apartment with three single guys, crashing their stable environment with her unusual behavior. Clever, quirky and all too relatable, I love the show because it reminds me of my own mid-to-late-twenties life and some of the interactions I've had with previous roommates. Schmidt, Nick and Winston are pretty much stand up guys who've accepted Jess as one of their own, despite her bubbly, offbeat personality - isn't that what everyone wants in roommates?

3. Once Upon a Time

How many times can the fairy tales be remade, rehashed, and re-envisioned? When I first heard about ABC's Once Upon a Time, I thought, "Oh no, here we go again." How I've been pleasantly disproved! I was first reminded of NBC's mini-series, The 10th Kingdom, in which Kimberly Williams-Paisley played a girl who's sucked in to fairy tale world from modern New York to save the kingdoms from trolls. In Once Upon a Time, it's the other way around. When the son Emma gave up for adoption as a baby shows up on her doorstep, he draws her to Storybrooke, a small town in Maine in which she finds that magic just might be real. Convinced the town's occupants are all characters from a book he totes around, Emma's son seeks her help to bring the truth to light, despite the consternation of his adopted mother, the witchy mayor of the town, Regina. Switching back and forth between modern Storybrooke and fantastical flashback fairy tales (rewritten with stretching liberties), ABC's interrelated take on Snow White, Red Riding Hood, and all the other classic stories definitely has captured my attention this season.

4. Modern Family

A gay couple raising an Asian child, a man well past his 50's married to a hot Hispanic muchacha, a naive real estate agent with an overbearing, competitive wife - how much more modern can you get? Modern Family is another show that I caught on to pretty late, but have enjoyed immensely since doing so. Ed O'neill is hilarious as Jay, the head of a large unconventional family. Father of an adult gay son and proactive daughter and married to gorgeous Gloria from Colombia, Jay has been given a second chance with his second wife and her son, Manny. Mix in Mitch, Jay's son, and Cam, a gay couple raising an adopted Vietnamese daughter, as well as the child-minded son-in-law, Phil, and the cultural clashes, misunderstandings and comedic trials ensue. I appreciate how the show both embraces and confronts stereotypes often in a way that makes you laugh. Or cry. Or laugh so much you cry!

5. The River

Made by the same people who did Paranormal Activity, The River was, in my opinion, one of TV's most thrilling series this season. When they receive a signal from an emergency beacon six months after television documentary star, Dr. Emmet Cole, disappeared on an expedition in the Amazon, his wife, Tess, and son, Lincoln, pull together a crew to chase after it, hoping that they will beat the odds and find him alive. What they don't know as they navigate the uncharted territories of the Amazon basin is they're in for much more than they bargained. Encountering dangerous plants and animals, vengeful spirits and a powerful demon who doesn't want them there, they press on, despite the risk in which they place themselves and the crew. I love to be frightened - and each episode definitely instilled a bit of fear and wonder. The series kept me thinking, "Okay, what could possibly happen next?!"

So, now that the season's nearly over, I want to know, what have I been missing? What shows have you been watching that you'd recommend? Please comment below - I need something to watch this summer!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book Review: John the Revelator

I came across this title when pulling books for my Irish Fiction display in March, and I remembered being so intrigued by the synopsis on the flap of the dust jacket that I hid one of the copies on my shelf in the workroom, knowing I'd get to it later. The debut novel by Peter Murphy, a writer and journalist who's a contributing editor of the Irish Hot Press magazine, John the Revelator tells the story of John Devine--a young teenager who lives with his single, chain smoking, Bible quoting mother in southeast Ireland. Kind of a loner, John develops an obsession with insects, worms and parasites, spends most of his days indoors, and doesn't talk to many of his peers. Watched over by a nosy, imposing neighbor, Mrs. Nagle, and concerned for his mother, who's suffering from a mysterious illness, John struggles with loneliness and boredom. That is until Jamey Corboy comes to town.

Jamey, the self-styled libertine wordsmith with a nose for trouble, draws John out of his shell of loneliness with a friendship that some might describe as reminiscent of that of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn--except more mature, of course. Cigarettes, alcohol, late nights--John's mother might be right when she initially worries and warns her son about this Corboy kid. The two, though, become inseparable, as John finally has someone he can relate to, and Jamey has someone with whom to sharing his writings. One particular outing lands the two in a bit of hot water when John drunkenly desecrates a chapel in a fit of rage, and Jamey video records the episode. As John's mother's health fades, he must deal with the consequences of his actions while supporting and caring for the one who raised him.

Warning: Spoiler below

I found a part of the plot a little unbelievable--John gets off almost scot-free for his holy drunken rampage (even though he's caught on tape) and Jamey's sent to a juvenile detention center and boarding school. But then again, I'm not really familiar with small town Irish law enforcement. Otherwise, I did enjoy the read, and I began to care for John as his mother's health declined and he began to bear the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. Is it a coming of age story? Pretty much. It wasn't boring though, living up to the author Sabina Murray's quote on the back, "John the Revelator is the bastard son of J.D. Salinger and Ted Hughes--ballsy, humorous, and brutally honest." I'd definitely recommend the read, especially if you're in to Irish fiction, coming of age stories, or just good novels about friendships.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Off the Page off to a great start!

If you walk in the Lawrence Public Library between now and the end of April, you'll find two interesting installments in our front lobby! Our programming librarian tracked down and set up a 70's style typewriter and a mailbox for patrons to type out a quick poem and send out into the world. These poems will show up in random locations around town--in a bathroom stall at bar, in a restaurant menu, in a library book--and who knows where else! Also in the lobby is a "poetree"--thought up by one of the children's librarians. Bare branches provided by Kansas Tree Care will "grow" poetry leaves throughout April made by kids who attend poetry related story times.

The Poetry Off the Page series of events got of to a great start with last night's performance by local poet, Mark Hennessy. Before launching into his performance, he expressed his gratitude for inviting him to the library and said that if he managed to sell any of his poetry books that he brought along, he would first pay off his library fines. What I initially imagined to be a simple reading turned out to be an engaging audiovisual performance including slam poetry accompanied by a bass, girls hula hooping, video projection and a full band performance. In between recitations, Mark, bringing the symbolism of one of his poems to the audience, even passed out apples to people in the crowd. He concluded the 40 minute set list by inviting two guitarists and a couple of percussionists up to the stage for two folksy songs, led by his vocals. Altogether, it was a fun performance and I'm glad we invited him to kick off our National Poetry Month celebrations at the library.

I'm really looking forward to next week's Poetry Slam, especially since I talked to Mark and he has agreed to sit in as a guest judge! What's even more exciting is our grand prize--the programming librarian said we have enough funds for us to give away an iPad 2 to the best slammer! The first ten poets to sign up next Wednesday will compete in three rounds--five will make it to the second, and the top three will slam for the iPad. We'll also be giving gift certificates to local businesses to the first and second runners up, as well as a bag of frozen burritos to the audience's favorite poet not included in the top three. When planning the slam, I was initially concerned that there may not be much interest, but I'm thinking now that an iPad is up for grabs, we'll get a good response!