Friday, August 19, 2011

Hip Hop Hooray

Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang 
I've spent a long time craving the perfect history of hip-hop. Watched a few documentaries here, read a few books there... but never quite satisfied that desire to put it all in context as the sociopolitical movement it's always felt like to me. Until now, that is!

Can't Stop Won't Stop is a dense little volume, telling the story of hip-hop alongside the stories of polarizing housing and economic reforms, police brutality, drug trafficking, and the fight inner-city communities have put up to survive and create meaning via popular cultural movements: music, dance, the visual arts. It's not a quick or easy read, with Chang packing in as much history and context as each page can possibly hold. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the cultural and political events that birthed hip-hop, and in Can't Stop Won't Stop he gifts that knowledge to us, taking us from 1960s Jamaica to 1990s L.A., with a twenty-year stop in New York on the way.

Chang does skip major artists in his history, which might disappoint some hip-hop fans, but I thought it was a great move in the context of this book. LL Cool J, Biggie, Wu-Tang --they're not really represented here, Chang having opted instead to showcase key artists in depth to emphasize sociopolitical conditions in inner-city communities: Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy, Ice Cube. And rather than deifying these hip-hop icons, which could be awfully tempting, Chang offers up a much more complex view of their work, putting it in dialogue with feminists and other activists who've often clashed with their views along the way.

One of my favorite chapters is about Ice Cube's Death Certificate, the uber-macho gangster rap album that Chang first made me appreciate by showing how it evolved out of the race politics that defined L.A. during the Rodney King era of police brutality. But then, turn the page, and there's a transcript of Ice Cube in conversation with a prominent black feminist who questions his portrayal of women on the album. This is why I loved reading Chang! -- he puts it all in context, but without oversimplifying. He both celebrates the art form and dissects the politics, giving us layers upon layers to unravel.

Rachel - Programs

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Life's Ups and Downs

Each day I read the financial news as if my portfolio consisted of something more than the $14 in change I have parked in a jar on top of my dresser.  I just get swept up in the drama surrounding the volatility of the stock market.    When it’s up, I have a hop in my step and I’m eager to embrace my and America’s bright new futures. When it’s down, I spend the day in a funk, fretting about whether I will have to pack my whole family into a jalopy and go West to handpick crops.

Obviously, this isn’t how the stock market works.  Daily fluctuations rarely indicate lasting trends.  But knowing that to be true doesn’t exactly quell the queasiness one feels from being on this financial rollercoaster (or in my case, observing the rollercoaster from one of those coin-operated, grocery store merry-go-rounds).  I’m not the only one having these issues, check out this enlightening NPR story about the psychological impact of financial news.  

If you are more the rational sort, and all this financial bipolarity has only piqued your interest in practical money management, let me recommend - All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi (her daughter).  You may have heard of Elizabeth Warren – she is the Harvard Law professor who President Obama appointed to oversee the bailout of the banking industry and has since become a political lightening rod for her outspoken support of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (and is now rumored to be a Senate candidate in Massachusetts).  And while all of that would make for a fascinating read, none of it is in this particular book (written years prior).   Instead, the authors present a straight-forward, easy-to-understand approach to your personal finances.  The basic premise is to split your income into three broad categories: 50% must-haves (rent, car payment, electricity), 30% wants (new shoes, haircuts, vacations), 20% savings.  Their assertion is that if you can achieve this balance, you can proceed through life never worrying about money - and if you find that you miss worrying about money, you can always roll those savings into some stocks.

Ransom - Reference

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Our Fungal Friends

I wouldn't call myself a field-guide aficionado, but this guy's passionate love of mushrooms is extremely contagious.  Sit back and relax as little Grandpa Schaechter takes you on a fascinating journey through the biological jungle of phallus shaped stinkhorns, bizarre turkey-tails and ephemeral shaggy-ink-caps, peppered with anecdotes about cocktail parties and near-death experiences. 

And I'd just like to add that this book also includes really fabulous references to Jurassic Park, Alice in Wonderland (of course). . . and even Anna Karenina. I mean, did you remember that Koznyshev, trying to propose to Varenka, loses his nerve and changes the subject to mushrooms??? "'What is the difference between a white and a birch mushroom?' Varenka's lips trembled with agitation when she replied: 'There is hardly any difference in the cap. It's the stalks that are different.' And the moment those words were uttered, both he and she understood that it was all over, that what should have been said would never be said."

Rachel - Programs

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

John Brown frowns

There is a book display by the reference desk highlighting the annual event series “The Civil War on the Western Frontier” – which commemorates Lawrence’s tumultuous early history.  On the display, there are about nine different images of John Brown and for days now they have all been glowering at me.  It is amazing that such an unassuming name can be attached to such an intemperate face.  Get a load of this guy:
I think maybe he is peeved that I’m a little undereducated about Lawrence’s pivotal role in the abolitionist movement and the Civil War – although, in my defense, I’m from an area of Kansas that avoided much historical significance during the Civil War (and since).  So to escape the pressure of John Brown’s unrelenting scrutiny, I have decided to enjoy some of the events of “The Civil War on the Western Frontier” and learn the history of my adopted home.  My progress so far (achieved over the course of my lunch hour):

Stop one: The Carnegie Library’s Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area exhibit, which showcases a large, wall-mounted, back-lit, Plexiglas timeline of the area’s role in the expansion of freedoms in America.  There’s also a separate room focused on the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  If you go, be sure to take a close look at the intense political cartoons of the era.

My takeaway thought from the exhibit:  while today’s political climate feels like it couldn’t be more contentious, at least our current Congressmen aren’t bludgeoning each other on the floor of the Senate (as of this posting):

It took Senator Sumner 3 years to recover and Representative Brooks was fined $300.

Stop Two: Lawrence Visitor Center (the old train station in North Lawrence) -  I watched a 27 minute locally produced docudrama which gave the lowdown on Lawrence, from its founding through Quantrill’s Raid.  I was the only person in a theater that would seat thirty, so it felt like a command performance (take a friend).  A train went by during a battle scene and for about thirty seconds I was convinced the Visitor’s Center was equipped with Dolby.

Stop Three - Burger King on 6th (which I’m pretty sure is on the National Register of Historic Places).  Racing back to work, I managed to get ketchup on every surface in my car in an unintended homage to Bleeding Kansas. 

Tomorrow I will continue my lunchtime immersion in Lawrence history, right here at LPL, by attending guest speaker Dr. Jonathan Earle’s presentation “John Brown’s Raid.” Bring your lunch and join us – I hear he is an awesome speaker and hopefully you will feel inspired to take home one of the creepy John Brown books off the display.

Ransom - Reference

Monday, August 15, 2011

Long Live Lego!

This weekend, we loaded up the minivan with our Lego-loving kiddos and headed over to Topeka to see the “Art of the Brick” exhibit currently on display at Washburn’s Mulvane Art Museum.  If you have a chance between now and September 15, go check out this incredible display of New York artist Nathan Sawaya’s work.  He sees the little plastic brick as not just a toy, but as a sculptural medium for creating amazing art that is truly awe-inspiring.  Of course, librarians love him especially because of this.

For a glimpse into the world of Lego culture and the subculture of AFOLs (that’d be Adult Fans of Lego, of course), check out Jonathan Bender’s Lego: A Love Story.  Bender’s work reminds me of books like Word Freak by Stephan Fatsis or Candyfreak by Steve Almond – engaging blends of memoir, micro-history, and pop culture reportage.  Bender takes readers on a tour of conventions, collectors, and the creative spirit and throws in fascinating facts along the way – for example, there are an estimated 62 Lego bricks for every person in the world.  Based on the number of Legos in our household alone, I’d have guessed the number would have been much higher, actually!

For a pictorial history of the little plastic brick, check out The Lego Book and its companion volume Standing Small.  The Lego Book offers a chronology of Lego’s development, a look at sets from the seventies (minifigures had giant heads back then) through today, and factoids and minutiae that will thrill Lego fans and amaze the casual observer.  Standing Small is devoted to the history of the minifigure and is great fun to flip through and see how Lego creators have reduced everyone from Indiana Jones to Severus Snape to tiny plastic forms.   My kid checked these out so much that we ended up buying our own personal copy of each.  We’ve also got our own personal copies of this and this as well.

And, of course, if you have the kiddos with you when you come in to grab any of these items, you can always take them over to one of the most popular spots in the whole building – the Lego table in the Children’s Room.  Actually, my six year old will point out that those are Duplos, not Legos, thank you very much.  Don’t be surprised if you find yourself building right along with the kids – as the art of Nathan Sawaya and the writing of Jonathan Bender reveal – Legos are appealing to kids of all ages.  We have evidence of this from last year, when a certain local personality stopped by the library.  Turns out he’s just a big kid after all – make that a REALLY big kid!

Susan - Marketing Director