Starting Your Own Book Club

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

The Role of Religion in these United States: Jon Meacham’s American Gospel

The proper role of religion in the United States of America has been a source of debate since the beginning of the country, a debate that continues to this very day. Political parties, social institutions, and individuals all put forth their varied opinions as to the appropriate level of influence religion should have in the public and government sectors.

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In American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, Mr. Meacham provides a well-balanced, well-researched investigation of this question focusing on the writings of the Founding Fathers, which form the foundation and framework upon which the United States government operates today, as well as an examination of the state of the country at the time of its founding and how the conditions of that time affected the authoring of the governing documents and the thinking of those who wrote them. On page 232 Mr. Meacham wrote:

“A grasp of history is essential for Americans of the center who struggle to decide how much weight to assign a religious consideration in a public matter. To fail to consult the past consigns us to what might be called the tyranny of the present – the mistaken idea that the crises of our own time are unprecedented and that we have to solve them without experience to guide us.”

The tyranny of the present. In other words, there is nothing new under the sun, and Mr. Meacham certainly has a large body of work by some of the most progressive and brilliant thinkers in history to consult on this matter. And he does not simply repeat oft-heard quotes or ideas (i.e., “a wall of separation between Church & State” taken from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802); rather, he provides the context from which these quotes were taken, which allows for a greater understanding of the intent of the author.

While this subject matter is rather complex, Mr. Meacham displays a true talent in relating it in a manner that is easy to understand, and this, I believe, is what makes American Gospel so remarkable. Furthermore, considering the import of this topic to the nation, it would seem advisable for all to become more familiar with it so that one can be in a better position to make informed decisions as an individual citizen. After all, an informed electorate is essential to the success of a republic such as ours.

“This last is the most certain and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Uriah Forrest, December 31, 1787

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type and Large Type), Audiobook (CD)

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

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Don’t mess with Magic!  Don’t fear it.  Respect it.  Learn how to practice it.

All lessons Alex ignored until she placed those she cared for, both living and dead, in the path of a powerful bruja.  The Destroyer drained the life and spirit of everything be it living or dead seeking dominance over Los Lagos and beyond.  Alex held the power the Destroyer craved, needed, to reach beyond the land of the dead into the land of the living.  But Alex also held the power to destroy her.

It begins in the world of the living.  Born into a family of brujas and brujos, Alex craves normality, to go to school and fit in with other teens.  But Alex has seen and done things with magic she can’t forget.  Only Rishi her best friend at school, accepts Alex as she is, even if she is weird.

Now her Deathday is coming, the day she will receive the blessing of her ancestors.  But, all Alex wants to do is stop this magic from growing, to get free.  To do this she needs a spell that will send it away, to reject it.  For this she turns to Nova, a dark brooding brujo boy.  But Nova has his own needs and wants, so can he be trusted?

The spell goes horribly wrong.  Alex sends her family, both living and dead to Los Lagos, a land in-between and straight into the clutches of an evil bruja.  Now she must go after them and bring them back.  To do this she will need the magic she has so long denied, a boy that may or may not be trusted, and a true friend that would go to the ends of the earth for her.

What Alex didn’t understand was that her blessings will free the magic within her to stretch out and prosper.  Without them, the magic can twist and turn, evolve, into something bad.  In Los Lagos, Alex will find not only herself, but adventure, danger, intrigue, mysteries, creatures, friendship and love.  She goes to right a wrong, to learn and hopefully find the wisdom she’ll need to handle this magic within her.  She goes for her family but will Alex have the strength, the courage, and enough magic to traverse this land of denudes, avianas, saberskins, and other unhelpful creatures of the realm?

The three main characters in Labyrinth Lost clearly have their different personalities.  Rishi is the most open, quirky.  Nova has the sense of a street kid, with magic, and dark under currents run through him.  Alex is lost, unsure, and regretful but in the end is the strongest.  Spirits of family members lost are easy to envision, showing up from time to time to help tell the tale and enrich the narrative.

There are a few things, McGuffins, not fully explained, but for the most part they add a bit of spice to the tale and in the end leaves room for “what if?”  There are other twists and turns in this culturally rich tale that had me running to a dictionary for more information.  I enjoyed the racial blending and the cultural point of view from which the story was spun.  The author, Zoraida Cordova, says her inspiration for this tale is Latin American religions and cultures.

This is a story to enjoy and talk about with others and a reminder that love can come from some unexpected directions.

Format Available: Book

Reviewed by Katy, Shawnee Branch

The Reading Without Walls Challenge

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:

RWW-Criteria

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

Classic Adaptations: Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Liu Bei hears Zhuge Liang's plans for dividing the state, but contending for power.

“Should you wish to take the overlordship, you will yield the Heaven’s favor to Cao Cao in the north, and you will relinquish the Earth’s advantage to Sun Quan in the south. You, General, will hold the Human’s heart and complete the trinity.”

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 KingdomsThere’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 History

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.

 

The Classic

Romance of the Three Kingdoms

By Luo Guanzhong

Romance of the Three Kingdoms cover image

I own this book. It’s about 800 pages long. See that “Volume I”? You better believe there’s a second volume, just as fat as the first. The introduction is a single page that boils down to “if you have this book you know why you’re here.” I love that.

In all seriousness, though, this is a loooo-oooooo-oooonnng book, up there with Les MisérablesMost 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

Qing Dynasty edition illustration of Sun Jian

Qing Dynasty illustration of Sun Jian with the Imperial Seal. Whether he even finds it – and what happens next – depends on the adaptation.

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 Warrior(video game series)

 

Postscript:

Temporary Guan Gong shrine at the Umbrella Movement barricade.

By David290 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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!

Guan Yu reading

By Fred Hsu on en.wikipedia (Photo taken and uploaded by user) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Article by Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch

George Lucas: A Life

Upcoming Author Event


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New York Times bestselling biographer Brian Jay Jones

Main Library, Tuesday, December 13, 7 PM

Join biographer Brian Jay Jones for a discussion of his latest book George Lucas: A Life, detailing the incredible life story of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones creator.

Jones is the New York Times bestselling author of Jim Henson: The Biography and the award-winning Washington Irving: An American Original.

This program is free, but tickets are required – click here to order.


Authors at the Library podcast
Miss an author event, or just want to enjoy a presentation again? Listen to the podcast or Watch it online

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

As an avid science fiction reader, I grabbed this one up 61jtbg0byal__sx332_bo1204203200_when I realized it was in my favorite genre and about my favorite place in the world – the library! After reading the book, not much of it actually takes place in a library, but the main character is a librarian so I guess that makes it still a worthwhile read!

The novel centers on the intriguing life of Irene who is a librarian for the Invisible Library. The Library exists in its own dimension and librarians can travel to other dimensions to collect books/items that may be of interest to the Library. Irene is introduced to us by way of her first mission with her new assistant Kai. She has been asked to retrieve a version of the Grimm Brothers fairy tales in an alternate reality. Each world that Irene travels to has a different combination of magic and technology available and this can be a challenge to the librarians.

Right away Irene and Kai run into trouble with the Fae, a group of vampires and a rogue librarian. The novel continues this way with multiple battles to be fought while Irene is starting to find that Kai holds a deeper secret about his past. Irene does finally acquire the book, but with plenty of plot twists and adventures along the way.

This book is your basic steampunk fantasy romp, but well-written and keeps your attention throughout. I would have liked to learn a little more about the Library because what real life librarian wouldn’t want to work in a hidden library in a different dimension? In my mind I imagined it somewhat like the Tardis with hidden rooms and giant reading rooms for all types of different genres, but I guess the author leaves it up to the reader to decide what the Library looks like in their own minds.

This series does have a second book out called The Masked City which is available now and the third book is due out in January, but I’m currently tearing through the advanced reader copy right now. Don’t worry I won’t post any spoilers!

Formats Available:  Book,  E-book

Reviewed by Sara, Okolona Branch

 

Graphic Novel Round-up – Strong, incredible, daring females!

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Vol. 1: BFF by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare

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Imagine having a colossal T-Rex as pet in the modern day Marvel Universe.

And on the other end, imagine having a plucky and fearless teenage girl as a pet.

 

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 1: Hooked On a Feline by Kate Leth and Brittney Williams

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Patsy has been to hell and back (literally) but nothing compares with having to find a job in New York City.

 

Spider-Woman, Vol. 2: New Duds by Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez

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Reporter Ben Urich joins Jessica Drew as she attempts to make a new life for herself separate from the Avengers.

A surprise Silver Age character joins their motley crew as they set out on a comical road trip across America.

 

Lumberjanes, Vol. 4: Out of Time by Shannon Waters and Noelle Stevenson

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Jen and the Lumberjanes find a way to save the day, again!

If you haven’t been introduced to Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley you are seriously missing out.

A hilariously entertaining ragtag band of brave and wondrous girls.

 

In the Sounds and Seas by Marnie Galloway

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A deep and thought-provoking wordless graphic novel.

If I had to make a pile of nice things to leave for a house guest to look at during a visit, this would be in it.

A positively beautiful book, check it out.

 

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

ghostsraina

A fantastic graphic for kids and teens (and adults!) about the Day of the Dead and letting go of the things that scare you.

Telgemeier magically and subtly conveys how at the end of the day, love transcends life and death.

I adore Raina’s books, I think this one is my very favorite of hers.

 

DC Comics: Bombshells, Vol. 2: Allies by Marguerite Bennett and Marguerite Sauvage

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Wonder Woman!  Batgirls!  Supergirl!  Stargirl!  Batwoman!  Mera!  Zatanna!  Catwoman!  Amanda Waller!  Big Barda!

Need I say more?

As World War II storms across Europe some of the most extraordinary women in the DC universe band together to fight an old villain rising from the grave.

 

Ms. Marvel Vol. 4.: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

msmarvl4

In my opinion the very best of the Ms. Marvel volumes so far.

When the world is ending do you keep fighting or give up?

Or…dance it out!

Jersey City and Kamala are just the best.

Not to mention a cameo from Carol Danvers herself!

Formats Available: Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Heather, St. Matthews

A Love Letter to Autumn and Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Although the Ohio River Valley weather hasn’t received the memo yet, it’s officially Autumn! If you make your way to one of Louisville’s many beautiful parks you might not see that much change in the tree canopy, but you might get hit in the head by an acorn or a pine cone. Call me crazy, but I think that’s infinitely better than getting smacked in the face with humidity first thing in the morning. The days are shorter and Pumpkin Spice is in the air. It is officially, very nearly, sweater weather!

This is the time of year when I feel the urge to begin planning for all the upcoming excuses for me to show my love through hearty meals with friends and family (pretending I care about sports, being thankful, and whatnot). I’ve got to start putting in the time for research now because I am a lactose intolerant vegetarian (otherwise known as sort of a vegan). Veganism is the easiest dietary option for me, but if I’m going to warm the hearts and tummies of those around me with delicious comfort food it’s best if they can’t tell what they’re eating is vegan.

isa-does-itEver since Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes That Rule came into my life in 2006 I’ve been secretly feeding my loved ones tofu and they’ve loved it. If you’re trying to be sneaky or ease people into vegan food all of their dessert books are a fantastic option and a great way to learn about vegan baking. If I’m getting fancy for a potluck or a dinner party I’m sure to find something in their massive tome Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook.

However, my favorite cookbook of all time is definitely Isa Chandra Moskowitz’ most recent solo book, Isa Does it: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week. It’s chock-full of simple, well-explained, delicious recipes organized into sections such as: Handheld, Bowls (& a few plates), and Sunday Suppers. The Dilly Stew, Curried Peanut Sauce Bowl, and Tofu Mushroom Stroganoff are in heavy rotation at my house, but anything in this book is sure to satisfy.

vegan-cupcakes-take-over-the-worldCookbooks by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero

Cookbooks by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Cookbooks by Terry Hope Romero

Format: Book

Reviewed by Magen, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch 

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

When I first heard that comedian Aziz Ansari, best known for roles in spunky TV shows such as Parks and Recreation as well as his own Netflix series, Master of None, had written a book I assumed it was another comedian biography much like Tina Fey’s Bossypants.  I’ve recently been listening to many comedians’ biographies and had heard a lot of people talking about this book, all giving great reviews.  What I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t really a biography at all.  Instead Modern Romance is an interesting look at the dating/marriage culture of today and the impact technology has played in shifting trends.  Ansari has written a laugh out loud worthy, well-researched social commentary on why singles of today are finding it difficult to settle down and stay married.

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As part of the 30 something’s crowd I hear a lot about online dating.  Once looked down upon only a few years ago, now it seems like everyone is trying it!  Newly divorced, perpetually single, etc. are wading into the world of online dating with little social judgment.  But as Ansari asks in his book, is this good?  What implications does all this access to so many single (or at least ready to mingle) strangers have on the tradition American dream of finding a partner, settling down, and raising a family?

According to research done for Modern Romance, technology does play a large role in dating these days.  But the cultural shift is deeper than just the ability to swipe right or left for new mates.  Ansari found during his interviews that most marriages only a couple of decades ago most likely happened between people who grew up around each other.  With little ability to travel, especially world travel as we have today, most couples lived within a very short distance of one another.  Roles were also very different for marriages in that time period.  Men and women had very narrow views of their roles within a marriage.  If the man found a job and provided for the family, he was a good husband.  If the woman cooked, kept a clean house, and took care of any children, she was a good wife.  In today’s culture genders no longer need to limit themselves to these narrow guidelines.  Women can have a job, men could stay at home, and overall it means that the immediacy of needing to find a partner has greatly reduced.

I found this book overall fascinating and hilarious.  I really enjoy the sarcastic humor of Ansari and found the information provided within the book extremely insightful.  As someone who has witnessed firsthand many of the frustrations discussed within the book it was helpful to find words to these experiences.  The nature of texting and instant gratification has taken a toll on patience and expectations.  Today’s singles must navigate a dating environment that mostly takes place through screens and very rarely actually involves face to face or even phone call communication.  On top of that we now have the ability to travel thousands of miles, a seemingly endless supply of options through online dating apps and websites, and a progressive society open to letting genders have more choices towards career and marriage.

After listening to Ansari’s book it made me realize how special today’s choice of marriage is.  The book’s final message is that couples today have the unique ability to choose something that is no longer economically or socially necessary.  Women don’t need to escape their parents’ house by getting married and men don’t need a wife to do all the cooking and cleaning.  Getting married today likely means you have found a life partner with whom you truly and deeply love which is a gift many generations ago were not given.

Formats Available: Book, Audiobook, eBook

Reviewed by Lindsay, St. Matthews Branch