Book Sales at a Glance – 2018 Calendar
Have examples, of course, of things you like or don’t and why. But, sometimes, you need some special vocabulary and ideas in order to help you with your critique. That means it’s time to add another idea to your toolbox: high vs. low concept. This is all about how much concept a work of art contains, not how good the concept is. Think of it as a matter of the amount the concept itself contributes to the total content of the work.
Jane Austen’s novels are generally low concept. The idea of the novels – that people in various economic circumstances need to get paired up (or not paired up, or not paired up the way they thought) – is nowhere near as important to the books as the interactions between the characters, which is why people read them. Here’s an example pie chart, based on a very precise and academic guesstimate:
There’s also works that split it pretty much right down the middle, generating interest in equal parts from the idea that drives them, as well as the execution of the plot and characters:
On the far end of the scale, there’s also works that are high concept – that get their interest mostly from the ideas that drive them. I can think of no better example than 18 Days (an adaptation of the Mahabharata), which breaks down about like this:
The library has the concept art book, if you want a look at the idea, but, sadly, they didn’t get full funding for the series as it was originally conceived. Instead, you can watch it in a few different languages on the Graphic India YouTube channel. Still pretty awesome, though.
Whatever the level of concept in your media, now you have a new way to talk about the things you love: is it high concept, low concept, or a balance of the two?
Check out the full list of America’s 100 favorite novels, which were selected through a demographically representative national survey conducted by YouGov. The books that were chosen span five centuries, from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes to Ghost by Jason Reynolds. Authors from 15 different countries are represented, with genres ranging from beloved children’s classics such as Charlotte’s Web by
The series began with a two-hour episode on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. Over the following months, PBS will count down the books from 100 to 1. Americans are encouraged to vote for “America’s Most Beloved Book,” and results will be released on October 23, 2018.
Remember that LFPL’s Summer Reading is beginning and that many of these books are age appropriate for children and teens. They would be great selections for kids to read or to have read to them. For more information about the Summer Reading program or the 2018 Cultural Pass, stop your local library branch or call our JustAsk line at (502) 574-1611.
Yes, yes, 2017 was another exceptional year for Graphic Novels in the Library!
So many great titles were put out that it was really hard to put this list together. After a while, I decided to not worry too much and just list some of my favorite comics read in the past year. Per tradition, these picks have been listed in alphabetical (rather than rank) order.
All of these works can be checked out from LFPL. Each title has a “Check Our Catalog” link that will take you to where you can view the location and status of the specific item in our system.
After taking a look, if your selection is not available at the branch you wish to go to, you may have the item shipped there by placing a hold request (using the button on the right hand side of the entry).
|Black Panther, Book 1: A Nation Under Our Feet
Illustrator Stelfreeze, Brian
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A new era begins for the Black Panther! MacArthur Genius and National Book Award-winning writer T-Nehisi Coates (BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME) takes the helm, confronting T’Challa with a dramatic upheaval in Wakanda that will make leading the African nation tougher than ever before. When a superhuman terrorist group that calls itself The People sparks a violent uprising, the land famed for its …More
|Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Illustrator Hack, Robert
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On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, the young sorceress Sabrina Spellman finds herself at a crossroads, having to choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda. Archie Comics’ latest horror sensation starts here For TEEN+ readers.Compiles the first six…More
ALSO: You can read a staff review of this work by clicking here.
|Clean Room, Volume 1: Immaculate Conception
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From the minds of superstar writer Gail Simone and gifted artist Jon Davis-Hunt comes CLEAN ROOM VOL. 1: IMMACULATE CONCEPTION–a new vision of horror that takes you inside the locked chambers of sex, science, celebrity, and the supernatural.Somewhere between the realms of self-help and religion lies the Honest World Foundation. Its creator started out as an obscure writer of disposable …More
|The Fun Family
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Beloved cartoonist Robert Fun has earned a devoted following for his circular daily comic strip, celebrating the wholesome American family by drawing inspiration from his real home life… but the Fun Family bears some dark secrets. As their idyllic world collapses and the kids are forced to pick up the pieces, will their family circle become a broken mirror, or a portal to a nightmare world? In …More
ALSO: You can read a staff review of this work by clicking here.
|Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening
Liu, Marjorie M.
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Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.About the …More
|Paper Girls, Volume 1
Chiang, Cliff K.
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From Brian K. Vaughan, #1 New York Times bestselling writer of SAGA, and Cliff Chiang, legendary artist of WONDER WOMAN, comes the first volume of an all-new ongoing adventure.In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about …More
|Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia
Illustrator Mutti, Andrea
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This is 1775. With the War for Independence playing out across the colonies, young Seth and Mercy Abbott find their new marriage tested at every turn as the demands of the frontlines and the home front collide. Not merely rehashing the tales of the most famous men of the time, Rebels details the epic story of the colonists, explorers and traders, wives and daughters, farmers and volunteer soldiers …More
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From the New York Times bestselling author and award-winning creator ofEssex County, Secret Path, Descender, and The Underwater Welder comes an all-original graphic novel about a brother and sister who must come together after years apart to face the disturbing history that has cursed their family.Derek Ouelette’s glory days are behind him. His hockey …More
|Valerian: The Complete Collection
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VALERIAN is a saga that every fan of Star Wars and Star Trek will identify with and love. Valerian and his beautiful, sharp-witten and sharp-tongued partner, Laureline, live adventures set against visually stunning backgrounds: complex architectural inventions, futuristic machines, otherworldly landscapes, and odd-looking aliens that are staples of artist Mezieres’s seemingly boundless visual …More
|Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than a Man
Illustrator Walta, Gabriel Hernandez
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The Vision wants to be human, and what’s more human than family? So he heads back to the beginning, to the laboratory where Ultron created him and molded him into a weapon. The place where he first rebelled against his given destiny and imagined that he could be more -that he could be a man. There, he builds them. A wife, Virginia. Two teenage twins, Viv and Vin. They look like him. They have his …More
If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group.
Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.
Upcoming meetings will take place on the following dates:
- Monday, January 8, 2018 – Retcons, Reboots, and Rebrands
- Monday, February 12, 2018 – Black Panther Party
Formats Available: Graphic Novel
Article by Tony, Main Library
“Never say savor when you only mean taste – one is a holding on the tongue and an intoxication and the other is cursory, a sampling, connoting reluctance to bask. Never say a thing you don’t mean.”
—Bryana Johnson (Poet)
Tasting chocolate is different from chocolate tasting. If it seems as if I’m quibbling, I promise I am not. What’s the difference you say? One is a quick, almost involuntary, response to something you put in your mouth. The other is a slow and purposeful exploration of the senses and the mind. You can actually test this statement using chocolate.
In Chocolate: Indulge Your Inner Chocoholic there is a challenge to taste two pieces of the same dark chocolate at different speeds. You are instructed to eat the first piece quickly. Put it in your mouth, chew a few times and swallow. Between the first and second tasting you should cleanse your palate with water. The second piece of chocolate should be approached with slowness. Hold it cupped in your hand and hold it close to your face. Breathe in deeply and then put the chocolate in your mouth. Let the piece of chocolate begin to melt in your mouth before you begin chewing. You should be able to taste a difference between the slow and the fast. For some people it will register as more sweetness when you go slowly, for other’s there will be hints of other flavors. There is no right or wrong taste. It is an individual experience.
Where, When, What, Why and How
Before we talk chocolate tasting, there are some basic considerations and preparations. I’ll begin with the setting. Setting is important for many reasons. Smells, sounds, and external stimuli all impact the process of tasting. Choosing your location lets you control potential distractions like TV, computers or music. Certain sounds and pitches can literally change the way you taste things. Take a look at the article, “How Does Sound Affect The Ways We Experience Food and Drink?”
Choosing your setting also allows you to control smells like colognes, perfumes, lotions, hair products or even pleasant household smells! Heavy smells of any kind can interfere with the olfactory portions of tasting.
Timing is everything, or in this case can make a big difference. There is no set hour or day of the week, but you should pick a time that allows you to feel relaxed. Feeling like you have to hurry is a distraction and will take some of the fun out of it.
After where and when, comes what. What type of chocolate are you going to taste? Are you sticking to one variety from different vendors? Are you comparing and contrasting types of chocolate? Or are you sampling different flavor varieties of one type of chocolate? Think about why you want to do a tasting and choose accordingly. Whichever you choose, try to limit yourself to 6 chocolates. If you try to taste more than 6 per setting, your pleasant tasting may become a chore. For a complete beginner I’d even suggest sticking to 3 or 4.
In addition to your chocolates of choice, you will need a palate cleanser. This can be as simple as water, or it can include things like crackers and apple slices. If you buy a block of chocolate, you might need a knife and cutting board. If you are a lone taster, make sure you’ve gathered something in which to store your left over chocolate, presuming you have the self-control required to resist eating it all in one setting. If you’re like me and may not remember details about each chocolate, you may want to have a pen and some paper handy to take notes.
This brings me to engaging your mind, as well as senses. As you’ve read, there is already a bit of thought that goes into a chocolate tasting. But beyond the questions of what, where, when, and why is how you approach chocolate tasting. Although it is not inherently necessary to know anything about the chocolate chosen for a tasting, learning a little bit about your chocolate can enhance the experience.
For instance, if you’ve chosen to sample 3-4 dark chocolate varieties with 86% cacao, you might want to know a little bit about the origins, growing conditions and processing of your chocolate. In this particular instance, many of these chocolates will have distinct overtones based on all three of those factors. If you are comparing and contrasting dark (bittersweet and semi-sweet), milk, and white chocolate, you might want to know what traits define each type of chocolate. The types of chocolate are determined by the amount of cacao, milk solids, and sugars they contain. If you are a traveler, arm chair or frequent flier, you might be intrigued by the varieties of cacao and the regions in which they are grown. There is no right or wrong way to approach what you want to learn about chocolate. Like sense of taste, delving into the informational world of chocolate is an individual quest.
Now it’s time for the nitty-gritty. Your five senses and your mind are all you need from here on out.
Sight: This stage is known as presentation. Upon unwrapping, your chocolate should have a smooth, glossy surface. If dull, waxy or showing snowflake like marks it has either been the victim of poor tempering and/or bad storage habits. Ideal storage places chocolate between 59 and 68 degrees in an airtight container.
Sound: I like what Sandra Boyton wrote, “Good chocolate should have a lively, decisive break. If it splinters, it is too dry. If it breaks reluctantly, it is too waxy. If it folds, something is definitely wrong.” The snap good chocolate should make is part of the crystal structure formed during tempering. Chocolate is a six-phase polymorphic crystal, which means it can take on 6 different crystalline structures, and how those little chocolate molecules group together is determined by the temperature of the chocolate when you pour it. Who knew science could be so tasty!
Smell: Time for some orthonasal olfaction! Place your piece of chocolate in the palm of your cupped hand, lean in and take a sniff. Now put your other hand over it and make a chocolate cave. I’m totally serious. Okay, maybe not serious, but it is a real instruction. Once you’ve created your chocolate cave, inhale deeply through your nose. If you’re mind starts racing, that’s okay. Thoughts, impressions and memories are the process of the brain trying to identify what it smells. Is the scent ephemeral or pungent? Is it here then gone, or does it stick around? Is there more than one aroma?
Touch: This one involves your hands and you mouth. During the process of breaking the piece of chocolate and sniffing it, what does it feel like and what is happening to it? Is it melting? If not, put it between your forefingers and thumb and hold it there for a few seconds. Quality chocolate, with high cocoa content, will melt differently than the normal sticky mess that milk chocolate or inferior chocolate will make. The secret is the combination of high cocoa and cocoa butter. Many chocolates, milk and dark, will have fillers and/or emulsifiers instead of cocoa butter. Cocoa butter not only slows the melty mess, but gives your chocolate a fantastic texture. This brings me around to mouthfeel. As Boynton says, “This somewhat upoetic expression means texture. A good piece of chocolate should feel smooth and moist. And the dark, which may not melt on your hand at all, should begin to melt once it’s setting on your tongue and your mouth closes around it.
A personal aside is, be mindful of what you eat in the hours before you do your tasting. Anything too acidic or spicy may throw off your tasting groove. Everyone is a little different, but I have discovered that my palate is deeply affected by the chemistry of my food. Sticking with bland foods (think pasta with summer veggies), at least a couple hours before your tasting, will put you in the safe zone.
Taste: This last sense is both simple and complex. Place the piece of chocolate in your mouth, but let it rest on your tongue. Don’t chew it yet. Try to let it begin melting on your tongue. A flavor of some sort should become distinct as it begins to melt. What descriptors come to mind? Is it sweet, nutty or bitter? Does it make you think of flowers? How about spices?
If the chocolate isn’t melting and/or you’re not getting a distinct flavor, there are a few things you can try. First bite into the chocolate, try not to chew. And/or you can pinch your nose while it is melting and/or you are biting gently. Once you perceive a sensation of some melting, release your nose and inhale through your nose. This should deliver a flavor burst of some sort. Your sense of smell is linked to your sense of taste in creating what we describe as flavor. Without retronasal olfaction, you will not get a true sense of any flavor.
In Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat, John McQuaid uses the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between taste and smell. “Each partner has complementary strengths and weaknesses. Their paths through the brain unite.” And later in the same chapter, “Taste and smell blend so seamlessly in flavors that the different senses merge, becoming indistinguishable. The brain even mixes them up.”
When we think about the “smell” of chocolate, we will often default to the idea of sweet, but that is actually the taste. When we describe a taste we might say something is sharp or tangy, but those are actually descriptors derived from olfaction. Chocolate tasting should help convince you that taste and smell are an old married couple.
For more information on the marriage between your sense of smell and taste click on the picture below from the Monell Center Blog.
If you, like me, obsess over giving something the perfect description, you might want to consider the use of tasting wheels. The two primary types are texture wheels and flavor/aroma wheels. Both of these are found in the book Chocolate: Indulge Your Inner Chocoholic; but they can also be found online. Just make sure you specify chocolate before the terms TEXTURE WHEEL OR TASTING WHEEL. There are so many things to taste and different wheels for each of them.
However and what ever you choose to taste, the experience will likely impact all your future flavor perceptions. Our sense of smell, McQuaid explains, is hardwired to parts of the brain that “link the past and present.” This connector is a part of the brain known as the insula, which ultimately helps translate the “body’s internal state and external circumstances.” So have fun, make some memories, and build your flavor library.
Angel’s Reading List
In the last Savour post, Chocolate, En garde!, I wrote about the learning process involved in preparing for a chocolate tasting program. I challenged readers with a quiz; and promised answers. Here are the answers:
CCN-51; Hawaii; Paso de la Amada, home to the Mokaya; cheese; fresh pears and oranges; clean palate; symbolized the human heart, torn from chest at the moment of sacrifice; money; an agreement to certify cocoa’s “child labor free” status; froth hot chocolate.
“The secret of food lies in memory – of thinking and then knowing what the taste of cinnamon or steak is.” Jerry Saltz
Article by Angel, Bon Air Branch
The biggest problem when discussing comics in an analytical way is determining just what they are. It is easier to talk about how they work than to come up with a solid definition, other than the old “I know a comic when I see it” one. This is particularly true if you wish the definition to cover most (if not all) expressions of comics.
In one of the Graphic Novel Discussion Group‘s meetings, McCloud’s definition elicited respect on one level but was hard to defend in toto when combined with some of his other assertions. For instance, his general assertion that writing (the act of inscribing thought in physical space) is distinctly non-pictorial in nature seems hard to defend considering there is a whole species of design – graphic design – that considers writing as a pictorial element (a.k.a. typography). Even within the comics industry, the position of “letterer” has been a long established one and the style of each letterer is often a strong consideration for the development of a particular work’s look.
McCloud violates his own rejection of a single panel as comic (which is asserted on pages 20-21 of Understanding Comics) on page 98 in the third and fourth panels. Granted, he hedges in the next two panels by differentiating between captions and word balloons but I think that’s because the narration is supposed to be framing the picture rather than a part of the world of the picture. However, it is the introduction of speech and that speech takes time to happen that creates the sequential effect according to McCloud.
His distinction that in-picture indication of sound introduces sound as a narrative element — and thus changes things — doesn’t seem to add up as traditional forms of comics are a species of visual art. How such a sound is conveyed is part of the storyteller’s visual style, most clearly seen in the crafting of sound effect (think of the shape of letters used when you are to hear lightning or a punch to the jaw). Speech or audible sound is still an aspect of the story supplied by the reader’s mind, prompted by the images on the page (be they words or sound effects).
So with Family Circus, it is clear that the words are actually speech that takes place in the world of the comic. Really, Bil Keane‘s quotes below the panel are just him avoiding using a word bubble. Maybe this is for sound commercial reasons (designated space on the page), for reasons of composition (to preserve the close-up shot feeling of the panel), or simply for reasons of style.
Further, McCloud misses that there is essentially an unbound panel of text next to the panel with obvious borders that has a picture. (At least) two panels = sequence, no? Here the mind moves from one kind of visual element (pictures) to another (type) and creates a connection, right? This would also apply to the sixth panel on p. 98 (if you ignore that there is no “gutter” – or gap – between the picture and the box with text).
During the discussion, I personally foundered when trying to separate the art of comics from other arts that use sequential methods/techniques. It’s not that I can’t get behind the idea that they are all just parts of “Art” or human communication – a position vigorously defended by a particular participant – but it seems like that kind of flattens out what makes comics differ(ent). Because when I talk about Watchmen, for instance, I don’t think it would be germane to bring in references to the methods of dance or sculpture or broadcast radio.
Part of it to me is that comics are the product of a particular technology, printing. And, as Marshall McLuhan wrote, “the medium is the message.” (1964) Because comics are creatures of print, our eye works a certain way, time is controlled more by how we read than by some static rate of delivery (such as television or radio), and a certain set of senses (sight and touch) are more dominant than others (smell, taste, and hearing).
I was especially flummoxed when asked about animation. My instinct is to treat animated works differently than more realistic film, to include them directly with comics. But animation is film and any distinction there is really just my own (or a general cultural) bias. They work by static broadcast, by use of light that is projected rather than ambient, and incorporate sound directly rather than by visual approximation (sound effect words, sound motion lines, etc.).
These distinctions seem a little silly on the surface but they do matter for no other reason than that of marketing. Being able to determine what to call something often guides the producer towards a target audience (and vice versa). If Building Stories is a work of architecture then it will be sold to schools of architecture and design. If it is just a comic then it will be sold at places where comics are sold. If it is a game then it will be sold at gaming shops. And if it is a work of conceptual art, there might be an installation at some fine art gallery.
But back to Understanding Comics and the discussion it engendered. One of the participants in this discussion commented that he thought that McCloud was at his best when he was discussing the nuts and bolts of comic structure (e.g., explaining things such as conveyance of time via panels and the structuring of a story via panel placement) and also when explaining the artistic level of abstraction used to carry the story (e.g., highly detailed art for personal narratives versus pictographic expression for symbolic works). He thought that McCloud failed to really differentiate comics distinctly from visual art as a whole but that his presentation feels inspiring if one doesn’t dig too deeply, echoing an argument that Dylan Horrocks leveled at McCloud in his essay, “Inventing Comics.” (2001)
Horrocks feels that McCloud is writing more of a persuasion piece, which he deems a “polemic.” [As an aside, this feels like a mild misuse of the term as “polemic” tends to refer to a vigorous disputation of an argument rather than mounting a defense for – or presenting a supporting argument for – a position.] Further, that McCloud is trying to build a justification for comics as serious art, thereby uplifting the community of comic readers from their previous status as scruffy-looking nerf herders. Doing so comes by way of a definition (highlighted in red above) that excludes many other things that comics could be said to be without discussing why those exclusions make sense.
“Nation building,” as Horrocks calls this effort, seems kind of quaint nearly a quarter of century after the book’s first edition. In the intervening time, comics, comic nerds, and comic fans of all stripes have garnered the respect that McCloud was working towards. Comics are regular parts of academic studies and art galleries, and receive high-toned collections of previous works. Comic fans come from increasingly diverse backgrounds and feel no shame in hiding their passions. Comic industry insiders find that their work no longer traps them in the lower ends of the publishing industry.
And while I tend to like the basic idea, I also have felt the need to add a little meat to McCloud’s definition in this series of essays about comics by mentioning both cultural and historical factors that also have made comics what they are today. Even so, I feel like I am still very, very far off getting to just what makes a comic a comic. However, Understanding Comics did give our discussion a great starting place, and my sense of what is a comic was altered through that discussion. For that alone, I would recommend the book for anyone who wants to explore these questions.
Plus, it’s a fun read!
If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group. Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.
At our next meeting (October 9th), we will be talking about Monster Comics!
“Chocolate knows no boundaries; speaks all languages; comes in all sizes; is woven through many cultures and disciplines … it impacts mood, health, and economics, and it is a part of our lives from early childhood through the elderly years.” — Herman A. Berliner (Economist and Educator)
In preparation for a chocolate tasting program, I delved into all things chocolate. I traveled around the world, into laboratories and bakeries, and through a tour of the senses. It was a dizzying, yet undeniably enlightening, journey. I learned that this delightful treat has a colorful and sometimes dark history. I learned chocolate is powerful force in the economies of several countries. I learned that rainforests are vital to the continued existence of chocolate. I learned that chocolate is science in action. I learned that tasting chocolate uses all the senses. There were many more nuanced lessons that I absorbed but couldn’t necessarily recall on demand. This is how any search for knowledge works, at least for me.
I could pontificate upon the many things I’ve learned, but I much rather have a little fun. Let me challenge you with a little chocolate trivia.
To check your answers you can read all the fabulous books featured below, or you can wait for the answers to be revealed in Savour: Chocolate Tasting, an explanation of how to use all five senses to find your best chocolate(s)….I, for one, can never be satisfied with only one type of chocolate.
Chocolate by Dom Ramsey
This book is by far the best all-in-one resource. It has the nitty-gritty on the agriculture, geography, processing, selection, and tasting of chocolate. As is the case with most DK books it is full of beautiful illustrations and well placed text. This books saves the best for last with a section entitled ENJOY. Enjoy is 49 pages of recipes and beautiful photos of the finished product you, the reader, can make at home. And if the finished product doesn’t look like the beautiful picture, that’s okay. In the end, it’s all about the chocolate.
Chocolate: Sweet Science and Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat by Kay Frydenborg
I have to confess the “dark secrets” made a bigger impact on me than the “sweet science.” This book is weighted on either end by the history and future of chocolate. The book opens on April 25, 1947 with four little boys who discover their beloved chocolate bars have risen from 5 cents to 8. The boys organized a strike, and although it was ultimately unsuccessful, it drove home the point that “life without chocolate had become unthinkable.” This rolls right into an August 1502 story about Columbus, in which he observes that the Native Americans he has seized are placing great importance on something he describes as “strange-looking almonds.” What follows is a succinct but engaging narrative of the history and science of chocolate. The book culminates in a segment titled Chocolate Rainforests and discusses how chocolate might help save Rainforests.
Chocolate: Riches from the Rainforest by Robert Burleigh
This next book, part of our children’s collection, is recommended for readers eight and older. It has many of the elements of the previous two books, in a much more condensed fashion. What makes this book stand out is the art and layout. The book uses geometric shapes, rich colors and a blend of photos, historical artwork and nostalgic ads to keep the reader engaged. Even the font is color coordinated and varied for impact. My favorite factoid from this book is that chocolate has traveled from the North Pole to Outer Space and been present in both WWI and WWII as a necessary ration.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of books, rather the core of what was used for the Trivia in this blog and what was featured in our program last year. Be sure to follow up for more great chocolate related reads in Savour: Chocolate Tasting.
“Chocolate is a perfect food, as wholesome as it is delicious, a beneficent restorer of exhausted power…it is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.” — Justus Von Liebig 1803-1873 (German Chemist)
Formats Available: Book
Article by Angel, Bon Air Branch
Winter weather keeping you hibernating indoors waiting for spring? Fight cabin fever while you’re trying to stay toasty by forming your own book club. Book clubs are a great way to try out something new with your friends and share ideas
The Louisville Free Public Library has many Book Discussion Kits to choose from with a wide range of authors, genres, and topics. These kits have a longer check out time, so your group has plenty of time to read the book. The kits also come with discussion questions to help guide you.
You can turn your book discussion into a party with a theme using decorations, costumes, and foods that reflect the story. The best part about book clubs is that you can express any opinion you would like to about a book.
There are many resources to help you find books for your club to read. Besides browsing the library’s catalog to see what book kits we carry, you can also turn to bestseller lists to see what’s currently popular or has been recently popular. The website Goodreads is an excellent source for book ideas. Many readers create lists of books on the site that you can search for by keywords, and they are often quite reliable. Goodreads is also a superb way to keep track of the books you’ve read and the ones you want to read.
An example of one of the book discussion kits the library carries for teens is Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. This book is written as journal entries from the point of view of Miranda, a sixteen year old who is struggling to survive after a meteor strikes the moon. This event causes worldwide disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and severe climate changes. How will she survive in a world with such an uncertain future?
Have your book club read the book to find out.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you don’t wish to start your own book discussion group, the Library has plenty! You can check out listings of the various groups and their upcoming meetings by clicking here.
Article by Lynn, Westport
Gene Luen Yang, creator of works such as American Born Chinese, Boxers, and Saints was appointed National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature this year. Every National Ambassador picks a platform and Yang chose his to be Reading Without Walls, which means exploring the world through books.
To put this into practice, Yang challenges readers in one of three ways. He suggests the following:
A further suggestion is that one should read a book that fits all three criteria for the most different reading and the most enriching experience.
Yang also encourages readers when they finish to take a photo of the book (or themselves and the the book) and post it on social media sites with the hashtag #ReadingWithoutWalls in order to inspire others to take the challenge.
Check out his podcast about the challenge.
Article by Tony, Main Library
Remember, folks, it’s not spoilers if it happened almost two thousand years ago. In this episode of Classic Adaptations, we explore the work that represents the richest mother lode of adaptations I’ve found yet: the classic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. There’s a lot of ground to cover here, so I’ll be moving pretty fast, but this is still a really long post.
Note: Chinese names have the form – Familyname Givenname – so that the first name is the family someone belongs to, and the second is their personal name. People who share a family name are, at least in theory, related by blood (or adoption) on their father’s side. There is also the courtesy name also called style, or zi, which was used when it would be impolite to use the given name.
Example: Zhao Yun, styled Zilong.
Is this confusing? Yes, but only for a little while, until you get used to it. The real headache is that some translations use different romanization schemes than others…
The Three Kingdoms period followed on the collapse of the (Latter) Han Dynasty, and officially lasted from 220 to 280. Romance of the Three Kingdoms is historical fiction, itself an adaptation of folklore, in turn adapted from well-known history. We’re in for quadruple or even quintuple adaptations, with this classic!
History writing in Han Dynasty China (as in nearly all Chinese states) wasn’t a hobby for the educated, as it was in contemporaneous Rome, it was the foundation of any new regime. Official histories collected the previous dynasty’s paperwork, and stitched these records into a narrative, generally calculated to make the first Emperors of any government look as good as possible, and the last ones as bad and incompetent as possible, to justify not only the current regime, but also the structure of dynastic succession itself.
As to that succession, the one, overarching principle is that of the Mandate of Heaven. Unlike in Europe, where Kings and Emperors were considered God’s regents on Earth, if a previous Emperor had done a bad enough job to provoke natural disasters or uprisings that undermined the stability of the state, then he could be replaced. Anyone who successfully unseated the previous Emperor and united the other Chinese states became the next Emperor, preferably in a formal ceremony, in which the previous Emperor handed over power (and the Mandate of Heaven) to the new Emperor, establishing a new dynasty. A central concern, therefore, is from whom, and on what grounds, a dynasty claims succession of the Mandate of Heaven.
This political bias leads to some fascinating interactions, when this model for history is adapted to fiction. In an official history, someone loses the Mandate of Heaven because he’s incompetent and a bad guy, and the new ruler is, by default, a good guy, because that’s politically expedient for everybody. In fiction, someone’s a bad guy, because it makes a better story that way. Writing a Chinese historical fiction novel could get you into trouble, if you craft a villain out of the wrong person. In this context, it’s not touchiness to read an allegory for contemporary politics into historical narrative, it’s just common sense.
If you want to read more about the history behind this novel, and its many, many spin-offs, there’s actually a fan website that covers many of them, and provides timelines, and a who’s who section, including fan translations of the biographies in the Records of the Three Kingdoms – the official history of the era, written when the Jin Dynasty came to power.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
By Luo Guanzhong
In all seriousness, though, this is a loooo-oooooo-oooonnng book, up there with Les Misérables. Most translations weigh in at around 2000 pages. Given that the plot spans a century, it goes by FAST, though. Characters can be introduced and killed off within a single paragraph. This isn’t a novel about a close study of individual psychologies, it’s about the grand sweep of history. No time for navel-gazing here. Or romance. If there’s a marriage, it’s about politics, or maybe it’s an assassination plot or honey trap. That’s not to say that the main characters aren’t well developed. It’s just that there’s a couple dozen of them. In a small miracle of storytelling economy, the author lets the actions of these characters speak for themselves, and leaves the rest to the reader’s inference.
Since Luo Guanzhong‘s 15th Century audience for the novel would have been very familiar with this history, he doesn’t change the major events, but rather paints the characters in a heroic or villainous light, to conform to his own era’s biases as to who was the most fit to rule, and often at odds with the official histories, which in turn, were biased in their own way. Five centuries have passed since the novel was written, and we, as readers from a different time, and half a world away, have our own filters to deal with. The choices the author makes, to adapt this history to his own time, and then the reader’s interpretations layered on top of it, mean that a story told primarily through actions develops complex and ambiguous outcomes in the reading – and this is where it gets really interesting.
EXAMPLE: Sun Jian
Sun Jian’s character, although not as obviously as some of the others, has been tinkered with by the authors of the novel. He did, apparently, fight a bunch of pirates when he was a teen (!!!). He did, according to his official biography, eventually become a general under Yuan Shu for the Han Dynasty against the tyrant, Dong Zhuo. His biography in the Records of the Three Kingdoms says nothing about the Imperial Seal. In the novel, however, one of his followers finds the seal in a ruined well, and gives it to Sun Jian, who lies to Yuan Shu about finding it (showing how power-hungry Yuan Shu is, and also how Sun Jian harbors ambitions of his own). The novel doesn’t mention that he restored the looted tombs in Luoyang, and also credits his killing of enemy officer Hua Xiong to another character (Guan Yu, incidentally, who got a massive heroism upgrade due to being literally ascended to godhood in the course of intervening centuries, as we will see).
Subtly, fiction molds real, complicated people into emotionally resonant roles in a story.
When the actions that define a character have gained, lost, or changed meaning across time and cultures, however, the real test of a story is how well it can weather such an unanticipated and cataclysmic journey. Romance of the Three Kingdoms succeeds spectacularly, telling a universal and deeply compelling tale, including heroic weeping into sleeves, baby tossing, and the odd incident of virtuous cannibalism.
The OTHER Adaptations
It’s hard to overstate just how significant Romance of the Three Kingdoms is in terms of how far it’s permeated the culture of China, and the East Asian cultural sphere in general. If you’ve so much as eaten in an American Chinese restaurant, I can just about guarantee you that you’ve seen a representation of at least one of the characters of the novel. Specifically, Guan Yu, who rocketed to the heights of apotheosis via a heroic treatment in the novel, several excellent Chinese opera suites, and Imperial patronage. The following are just a few of the many, many adaptations of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and each one is definitely worth a look, on its own, with unique perspectives, and takes on each character (who, by and large, were real, historical, living people).
- Chinese Operas (Too many to count!)
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms (1994 TV series)
- The Ravages of Time (2001 manhua – Chinese comic book – series)
- Three Kingdoms 2010 (2010 TV series)
- Red Cliff (2008 motion picture)
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms (video game series)
- Dynasty Warriors (video game series)
Postscript:Above is a picture of the improvised Guan Yu temple at a roadblock during the Umbrella Movement protests in Hong Kong in 2014. Although often called a God of War, as if he were an analogue of Ares or Athena, Lord Guan is rather a god of brotherhood in a united cause, and self-improvement by reading literature. Really, there’s no better choice of patron deity for a (mostly) student protest movement.
Highlights of the above picture: under the oranges on the altar, hand-drawn angry chibi-style Lord Guan with an umbrella; to the right of that, a poster with the character model of Guan Yu from the Japanese video game Dynasty Warriors 5! In this image, we have history from the 3rd Century mutating into a novel which spawns a video game series centuries later in a different country, which ricochets back for religious and political use.
God of literacy in a library blog For The Win!
Article by Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch