Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library

If you use the library- which you probably do, as you’re reading this post- please read this book. There is so much the general public doesn’t see or understand about the working of public libraries and Amanda Oliver lays it bare here.

Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library, Amanda Oliver. Chicago Review Press, 2022, 210 pages

Part memoir, part expository nonfiction, Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library illustrates just how much libraries do with what usually amounts to very little money and resources. The author begins by describing a key incident at the branch where she works, immediately clueing the reader in that this portrait will not align with the idealized version of the library the public still holds dear. She leaves much of library history to the first third of the book, even noting how Thomas Fountain Blue, born to formerly enslaved parents, led the first public library branch run entirely by a Black staff here in Louisville. Oliver deliberately acknowledges how exclusionary libraries have been and continue to be –to minorities, poor patrons, unhoused patrons and, those with disabilities, among others. She grapples with how to answer the question “so, what do you do?” when the answer is difficult to explain and how so many public libraries have become de facto homeless shelters. As a library worker, most of the information Oliver relays is not new to me. The value is more that she is arguably the first to gather all these (what for many will be) revelations together in one book accessible to the reading public.

The sort of people drawn to library work are those who give freely of themselves, which is great for the patrons, but for staff it quickly leads to major burnout. Amanda Oliver relates her experience with burnout, first as a school librarian and then as a children’s librarian at one of Washington D.C.’s most beleaguered library branches. She left library work for an MFA program after nearly a year at that branch. That MFA program, in a way, led to this book. And so while Oliver is no longer working in a library, she continues to advocate for libraries. I sent the author a message when I finished reading Overdue, where I told her I felt seen. She captures so well the mixed feelings library workers have about their profession–passion and love combined with stress and fatigue, along with everything in between.

Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library by Amanda Oliver is available in print format as well as ebook and e-audiobook on both Libby and Hoopla.  

Review by Erin, Middletown

Kelly Yang’s Front Desk and Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult

Part of what I love about reading children’s books as an adult is the ending. In most adult fiction, there is no guaranteed happy ending- unless of course the genre is romance, which always includes a happily ever after (if it doesn’t it isn’t a romance!) – and this is generally more realistic. But children’s literature usually, at the very least, leaves some hope at the end.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Scholastic Inc. (2018)
286 pages
Link to Front Desk in LFPL’s collection
Link to titles by Kelly Yang in LFPL’s collection

Front Desk in particular deals with some very heady issues, and what I appreciate most is how it does so in a realistic way that still leaves room for hope. It is not a rags to riches story of the American dream, but instead the all-too-common story of barely getting by. Mia Tang and her parents have been in the United States for several years and are still very much struggling. A glimmer of hope arrives in the form of the opportunity to manage motel in California. Unfortunately, the miserly owner barely allows the family enough profit to survive and is unnecessarily strict. As a student whose first language is not English, Mia has an especially hard time adjusting to middle school, where her thrift store clothes stand out compared to her peers’ new name brand ones. The motel owner’s son gives her a particularly hard time; this tension illustrates the range of immigrant experiences, even from one country: his family is also Chinese, but culturally and economically their circumstances are quite different.

Mia and her parents support a longtime resident of the motel, Hank, when he is racially profiled by the police because he is Black. This is what separates Front Desk from many of the other immigrant stories I’ve read: the author offers the experiences of other marginalized populations in America, not just immigrants, which she easily could have kept to. The Chinese Tangs didn’t have to go out of their way to help Hank, but they did, because their struggles are similar and they have the opportunity to lift each other up. It’s a good entry point to the concepts of intersectionality and solidarity, not only because it’s from a child’s perspective but because it offers some (nuanced!) hope at the end.

Front Desk is the first in a series of books. So far there are three out and another volume scheduled to drop this fall.

– Review by Erin, Middletown

Five Sparks for Reading and Writing

I had reached a dead end reading long novels and bios about writers. I was going to take a break from reading, but browsed our shelves on a Friday afternoon hoping to find a new book that was fairly short and I found it right in the section that I shepherd: Biographies. It was new and by a poet that I never heard of. But the title drew me in, Studying with Miss Bishop by Dana Gioia with a picture of Elizabeth Bishop on the cover. I devoured it over the weekend. It was pure gold.

It contains 6 vignettes about his learning. Four were famous writers, one was a dead uncle, and the last was a long forgotten poet that he never met. Two of the writers were also his professors at Harvard – Bishop and Robert Fitzgerald, famous for his translations of the Iliad and Odyssey. It is like taking the juiciest parts of a full load of college classes.

The most famous writer he met was James Dickey, his book Deliverance and then the movie made him extremely well known. He had been a great poet up until his fame took over. Meeting Dickey should have been a great thing except Gioia met him at the wrong time. And he learns that telling the truth is sometimes the hardest decision to make and live up to.

The writer that I was least familiar with was John Cheever. Although, he don’t interest me, I went back and reread his daughter Susan’s bio on one of my favorite poets, E.E. Cummings: A Life.

Gioia is a poet also, and definitely a poet I wish to explore more.

So this also led me back to reading poetry. And I found my way back to one of my favorite poets who is a much overlooked poet, Jim Carroll. I decided to reread his memoirs, The Basketball Diaries, because the last line of the book, “I just want to be pure,” kept floating in my head repeatedly.

I read it about 30 years ago and loved it. At 58, I read it with much different eyes. I was more distanced to it because of mucho personal experience. In my 20’s, he sounded like a punk and smart aleck. Today, it sounds like the purest writing that I have ever read. No wasted words or pretense.

Carroll was 13 when the Diary begins and 16 at the end. In between he discovers drugs and sex, and a lot of both. He experiments with everything and becomes a heroin junkie. He is a star basketball player and good looking, and that is enough to get him through many struggles and into a lot of potential trouble.

There were probably many boring days in the life of a junkie but this doesn’t include any of them. Along the way, I went back and read a bit of The Catcher in the Rye (a must read). Teenage Carroll can be seen as the Vietnam Era’s version of the postwar Holden Caulfield, in proportion to the way America has progressed with the uglier things in life.

Also, I finally got around to reading a book on my TBR shelf, The Adding Machine by William S. Burroughs (who – among other things) taught Creative Writing at the Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado). It is a collection of essays roughly about the art of writing. Basically, what works for him, and what works or doesn’t work for other writers. Also, his thoughts on Hemingway, The Great Gatsby, and Jaws.

Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the smartest man in America. I believe this to be true. Kerouac was my first favorite writer and probably still is. It has been almost 30 years since I read some of his books, so onward to explore them as an old man.

– Reviewed by Tom, Main Library

Edgar Allan Poe Award Winners for 2022

Each year, the Edgar Allan Poe Awards honor the best in mystery fiction and crime non-fiction. The Awards were announced April 28, 2022 at a presentation by the Mystery Writers of America.

Check out these titles below which available in the LFPL Catalog.


BEST NOVEL

Five Decembers by James Kestrel


BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR

Deer Season by Erin Flanagan


BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

Bobby March Will Live Forever by Alan Parks


BEST FACT CRIME

Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York
by Elon Green


BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL

The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of Suspense
by Edward White

Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World by Danielle Friedman

Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World
by Danielle Friedman
G.P Putnam and Sons (2022)
328 pages
Link to Let’s Get Physical in LFPL’s collection
Link to titles by Danielle Friedman in LFPL’s collection

In Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World, Danielle Friedman sets out to do something ambitious. Friedman chronicles the rise of women’s exercise in the 20th century, the pioneers and the programs that rose to prominence and became cultural obsessions, as well as the overall trend towards health and fitness. Friedman argues that women came to exercise for aesthetic rewards, the goal being to look good, but that women stuck with exercise because it made them feel good. 

Freidman begins her story in the 1950’s when the first calisthenics style exercises for women became popular. Bonnie Pruden was one of the first to become nationally known for encouraging women to “keep fit”. Her work on fitness for women and children would lead her to be on the team that later created the President’s Physical Fitness Test (yes, you have Bonnie to blame for that rope climb). After Bonnie, Freidman takes us through a tour of fitness trends from barre to jogging, yoga to Jane Fonda. This is the part that Freidman does well. We’re given lots of interesting facts and tidbits about the history of fitness. Before “athleisure” was an everyday word we had the women who invented the sports bra. (One of those women would go on to win several Emmy’s for her work costuming the Muppets on Sesame Street.) It’s fun to see how trends emerged and how fitness influencers like Jane Fonda reflect bigger societal and cultural patterns.

Friedman tries to explain that these fitness fads, and indeed all personal fitness, is largely aimed at middle class women who have the leisure time and money to devote to fitness essentials. However, other than asserting this fact time and time again Friedman doesn’t offer a lot of context or definitive proof. She does feature a few Black influencers and talks to them to uncover their struggles to “make it” in a world where no one looked like them. I would have liked to hear more from these women and other women who don’t fit the traditional mold of what an influencer typically looks like.  Freidman also states repeatedly that women often come to exercise for physical transformation, but stick with it because it transforms their mental.

– Review by Jenny, Middletown

Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky by David Connerly Nahm

Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky
by David Connerly Nahm
Two Dollar Radio (2014)
201 pages
Link to Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky in LFPL’s collection
Link to titles by David Connerly Nahm in LFPL’s collection

“Leah fell asleep outside the night after her brother disappeared, outside to get away from the sounds inside, and she saw two little girls in brilliant calico dresses walk from the garage and climb up the maple tree. They didn’t come down, not that she saw. The night was silent. The stars were silent. The grass was silent. The world was empty.” Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky

Once in a while you come across a wild, profound, terrifying, beautiful book that reminds you of the ways in which literature is such a beautiful art form. Then, sometimes, you look up the author and find that once upon a time they dropped a book like this and it’s also their only work to date, which makes the mind reel. Did creating this story with its intricate narrative consume all the literary energy they had to give? Was it the work of years, and maybe they’re crafting another such book right now? Or did they just wake up one day with an idea for a completely devastating novel, release it into the world, and decide they were done? David Connerly Nahm wrote his only full-length novel Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky in 2014, and he has a minimal online presence excepting an interview or podcast guest spot, a rarity in the social media age. This was a disappointment to me only in the sense that it didn’t take long into my reading to realize this novel was a work of art, and once I’d finished the rollercoaster of dramatic intrigue stretching through the course of Ancient Oceans, I immediately wanted another ride.

Nahm employs suspense incredibly well to keep readers hooked throughout a very poetic novel that, lacking sufficient levels of ghostly intrigue, may have gone over a lot of peoples’ heads. (Honestly, if you prefer a straight-to-the-point storytelling style with no additional commentary or complex themes, this still might not be the book for you.) But Nahm knits together a stream of consciousness style and third person perspective in his book that creates an eerie, almost out-of-body narrative voice to tell the story of Leah, a woman whose entire life as it exists in the present of the book was defined by a traumatic event in her childhood, the disappearance of her little brother Jacob. It is through Leah’s perspective that we’re shown the rural Kentucky town of Crow Station (heavily influenced by Danville, Kentucky) and the people who live there, many of whom Leah has known her entire life. This cast of personalities fills out Crow Station’s tableau of those who, in the course of the book’s two acts, live, alternately carve out joy or succumb to cruelty, struggle for survival financially and philosophically and leave their mark on the ever-shrinking pocket of Kentucky in which they are fated to live and die and leave behind their stories to haunt generations to come, and even the land itself.

A deep understanding of folkloric themes is obvious in Nahm’s narrative as he employs both the suspense of gradually uncovering the truth of Jacob’s loss and elements of ghost stories throughout the book to engage readers and to suggest the possibility of the supernatural as a running theme. From Leah’s childhood remembrances of local ghost stories to the way the actions of one generation can define not just their life but linger in the experiences of their children, heritage and memory are explored by Nahm as he gradually strips away layers of forgotten or misremembered events in the rural, underfunded and fading town to bring some of the threads of the plot to light, while raising even more questions about others.

Ancients Oceans parallels ghost stories – and specifically, regionally, the concept of haints – with themes of being haunted by the past, the choices and events that constitute a life. As the novel progresses, early references to random snapshots of events that initially felt poetic in purpose are revealed as moments in the lives of the orbiting side characters. And throughout, courtesy of the guilty memories of a very unreliable narrator, readers find themselves trying to solve the unsolved mystery of what really happened to seven-year-old Jacob Shepherd, but also, in what form and for what purpose has he perhaps returned?

Nahm drew from his own life experiences for his portrayal of rural Kentucky, as well as different scenes and snippets of dialogue throughout the book. In an interview leading up to its release he said “While I remember myself as a kind older brother—though maybe a touch dictatorial—to this day I am sometimes filled with an ill-feeling when I abruptly remember some long past misdeed: A time I wrestled my brother and hurt him on purpose because I was mad or when I failed to stand up for my sisters when they were teased in a playground. It is this inability to let these things go that informed Leah and Jacob’s relationship—or, more accurately, her memory of their relationship.” These added layers make the novel deeply personal and honestly, more than a little vulnerable in a way that I as a reader physically sensed. As an older sister who, being a child herself, occasionally picked at her younger sibling and resented being followed around, Leah’s guilty memories of her childhood relationship with her brother – including her occasional bullying – definitely stung. Readers are often presented with unflattering anecdotes of ways she was unkind to him prior to his disappearance, what some would call typical sibling behavior that became magnified in her memory once he was gone. In a climactic scene, Leah, the quintessential unreliable narrator, discloses a new and crucial piece of information to readers who have spent the last couple of hundred pages learning every detail about her life and may have assumed that, having been inside her mind, there was nothing left for her to hide. 

The unavoidable point of tension and confrontation in that scene and an ending that can be interpreted any number of ways almost require the reader to sit in judgment on Leah and decide whether or not to absolve her of her childhood sins. I personally found myself poring over different aspects of Leah’s story and I still have no concrete answers, but while I’m sure Nahm knows the truth of what was factual or imagined in his narrative, the potential for conversation and dissection of the events of the story make this the perfect book club book, in my opinion. I could discuss it for ages, and unfortunately for the people in my life who don’t enjoy speculative fiction, I will most likely be doing so for the foreseeable future.

I would recommend Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky to fans of Kentucky authors, Southern Gothic themes, family-centric dramas, and books you’re still thinking about in the car on the way to work the next day.

– Review by SarahMain Library

Upcoming meetings of the Fall City Book Club

The Fall City Book Club is an adult LFPL Book Discussion Group that meets at 7:00 PM on the 2nd Tuesday of every month. It is held offsite at the Falls City Taproom at 901 E. Liberty St.

Check out the selections for April, May, and June below:

April 12, 2022Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

May 10, 2022The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

June 7, 2022Chinaberry by james Still


LFPL has many interesting Book Discussion Groups for all ages and tastes, held all over the Louisville area. If you are interested in finding out if there is a group for you, click here.

Some graphics to read after Women’s History Month

There are so many great comics with women as creators and as protagonists. I have chosen twelve titles (listed in alphabetical order below) that I think are worth checking out no matter what time of the year. Along the way, I have tried to pick a diverse set of tales for you to enjoy. If you’d like, you can read one every month (especially as most of these are series, you’ll have plenty of time to complete the list by next March).

Faith Herbert – a psionically gifted “psiot” discovered by the Harbinger Foundation – has always aspired to greatness. But now this once ordinary teenager is taking control of her destiny and becoming the hard-hitting hero she’s always known she can be – complete with a mild-mannered secret identity, unsuspecting colleagues, and a day job as a reporter that routinely throws her into harms way!
What if the second coming of Alexander the Great wasn’t a privileged diplomat or a battle-hardened soldier, but a teenage girl from South Central L.A. named Destiny? Orphaned at birth and a perpetual victim of police brutality, this incomparable strategic genius finds herself uniting the city’s organized criminals, gangs, thieves, and thugs, turning them against a corrupt system.
Welcome to the House of Dahomey, the houseboat of Erzulie Fréda, where the souls of Voodoo followers go when they sleep. But even the fearsome Erzulie is powerless when her dream river turns sour, tossing her house from one realm and into another … the Dreaming! 
In 1960s America, Kusama is a symbol of free love and peace. She fights a constant battle with her mental health but finds salvation in art. From her childhood in rural Japan through her radical happenings in New York to her groundbreaking international installations, this vivid graphic novel documents the incredible journey of a remarkable icon.
Laura Dean, the most popular girl in high school, was Frederica Riley’s dream girl, but Freddy is learning she is not the best girlfriend, so she seeks help from a mysterious medium and advice columnists to help her through being a teenager in love.
 Lunella Lafayette is a preteen genius who wants to change the world but lives in fear of the Inhuman genes inside her! Now, Lunella’s life is turned upside down when a red-scaled beast is teleported from the prehistoric past to a far-flung future we call…today! But will they be BFFs forever, or just until DD’s dinner time?
Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steampunk, this is 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.
Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City – until she is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the all-new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? As Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them as well.
Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. 
Nubia has always been a little bit…different. As a baby she showed Amazonian-like strength by pushing over a tree to rescue her neighbor’s cat. But despite her having similar abilities, the world has no problem telling her that she’s no Wonder Woman. When Nubia’s best friend, Quisha, is threatened by a boy who thinks he owns the town, Nubia will risk it all–her safety, her home, and her crush on that cute kid in English class–to become the hero society tells her she isn’t.
The horrors, the anxiety, and the awkwardness of modern adult life! Like the work of fellow Millennial authors Allie Brosh, Grace Helbig, and Gemma Correll, Andersen’s total frankness on extremely personal issues such as body image, self-consciousness, introversion, relationships, and bra-washing makes her comics highly relatable and consistently hilarious.
When a birth defect wipes out the planet’s entire population of men, Woman World rises out of society’s ashes.

– Article by Tony, Main Library 

Afternoon Book Discussions at Crescent Hill for March and April 2022

Wednesday, March 30, 2022 – 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM

Code Name Lise : The True Story of The Woman Who Became World War II’s Most Highly Decorated Spy, by Larry Loftis

The extraordinary true story of Odette Sansom, the British spy who operated in occupied France and fell in love with her commanding officer during World War II–perfect for fans of Unbroken, The Boys in the Boat, and Code Girls

Wednesday, April 27, 2022 – 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM

The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich

It is 1953. Thomas Wazhushk is the night watchman at the first factory to open near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a prominent Chippewa Council member, trying to understand a new bill that is soon to be put before Congress. The US Government calls it an ’emancipation’ bill; but it isn’t about freedom – it threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land, their very identity. How can he fight this betrayal? Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Pixie – ‘Patrice’ – Paranteau has no desire to wear herself down on a husband and kids. She works at the factory, earning barely enough to support her mother and brother, let alone her alcoholic father who sometimes returns home to bully her for money. But Patrice needs every penny to get if she’s ever going to get to Minnesota to find her missing sister Vera. In The Night Watchman multi-award winning author Louise Erdrich weaves together a story of past and future generations, of preservation and progress. She grapples with the worst and best impulses of human nature, illuminating the loves and lives, desires and ambitions of her characters with compassion, wit and intelligence.

Location: Crescent Hill Branch

Address: 2762 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, KY 

Phone: 502-574-1793

Katherine’s Bookshelf – Tomorrow’s Homemaker

The bright red cover of Tomorrow's Homemaker, 1968. You're not ready.
The Homemaker… of TOMORROW. That’s you, by the way.

Welcome to Katherine’s bookshelf, and another deep dive into home economics. Steel yourself. Stuffed vegetables, casual sexism, and some very surprising surprises lurk within. It’s exactly what it looks like from the cover: a home economics textbook from 1960.

I’ve got more pictures from the inside of this one, because the production values are quite high, quite 1960s, and quite informative, actually. Let’s start at the beginning, the table of contents:

Table of contents for Tomorrow's Homemaker.
Absolutely not a joke. This is a real book, and was taught by a real school to real children.

This book gets bonus postmodern-ironic appreciation points for using the word “attractive” three times in the table of contents alone. The entirety of Unit I can be summarized as “any problems you have in life are because you haven’t tried to fit in with other people hard enough, and you better be able to deal with babies, because that’s your job, now and forever” – which is a sentiment that I find to be really messed up. Unit II continues the concentration on diet and health found in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book and ads some instruction for not giving everybody food poisoning, as well as some updated (1960) advice on a balanced diet: eat a vegetable or fruit once in a while. They’re good for you. Don’t be deceived by the title of Unit III, Part 4 – they mean your budget allotted to you for groceries, basically, although the home decorating advice is hilarious, and there are some neat tips about house cleaning. Then there’s Unit IV: Making Yourself Attractive, which certainly sounds – and is – awful and condescending. Yet… this is the most useful and relevant part of the book. I’m not even kidding. Parts 3 – 6 are actually indispensable for clothes shopping. As it happens, if you take care of and repair your things, you have to buy replacements less often, which means you can afford better quality things, and replace them even less often, resulting in a virtuous cycle of saving money in the long run. That’s why I definitely do darn my socks.

In this vein of pragmatism, and the ultimate point of home economics education, here’s a nifty Google Ngram that tracks the frequency of the phrase “home economics” against the names of a few vitamin deficiency diseases. (I didn’t include scurvy, because it was well-known and discussed in the age of sail, as well as a cure found – fruit – even if they didn’t know why it worked. If I’d kept scurvy in, it would have flooded the results, but there is a bump in the early 1900s, right as vitamins are discovered.) I did, however, include rickets, pellagra, and beriberi, and there is, indeed, a nice boost in frequency right at the same time. In large part, the purpose of home economics was to provide a formal education with the sophistication and authority of logic and science in how to be a housewife, in the hopes that this information – especially about nutrition – would improve public health.

A whole assortment of stuffed veggies in the truest mid-century fashion.
Every single vegetable. Stuffed. In 1960, advanced and “difficult” vegetable cookery = crammed full of cream cheese. Good to know.

Double stuffed squashes.

Recipes for what this book calls foreign cookery. Hilarity ensues.
Watch out! Any more chili powder than a whole half teaspoon might knock people’s socks right off!

One thing I really have taken away from my old cookbooks is that American palates have gotten MUCH more used to spicy foods, even in just the last forty years. Very interesting.

— Article by Katherine, Shawnee