Category Archives: Reviews

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

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

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

Polyvinyl Records and LFPL

Polyvinyl Headquarters in Champaign, Illinois

Polyvinyl Records started circa 1995 and was explicitly connected to the blossoming “Midwest Emo” scene of the time. The founders were based out of Champaign, Illinois, which is exactly where the Kinsella family and others were creating this sound. Mike, Tim, and Nate Kinsella were all a part of music in the mid 90’s and would soon become the godfathers of Midwest Emo in bands like Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, and American Football.

The Kinsellas weren’t the only ones contributing to this sound. Bands like The Promise Ring, Braid, and Rainer Maria come to mind as well. This was Emo music being made with similar DIY intent to what was happening in Washington D.C a few years prior (with bands like Rites Of Spring and Embrace), but with less fury and more melody; less drama and more nostalgia. This movement was also a bit before the mainstream Emo bubble of the early 2000’s (with bands like My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and Paramore). Those efforts often had fancier production value and more boisterous attitudes than the 90’s Midwest Emo, but many of them cite the 90’s efforts as influences on their own sound.

A lot of labels helped kick start this side of the Emo scene, but Polyvinyl is where so many of these bands have called their home at one time or another, and thus Polyvinyl lives as a hub for this type of information. Today, Polyvinyl is as strong as ever supporting numerous bands and not all of them identify as Emo or even Emo-adjacent. They’ve supported Experimental and Indie Rock as well as Electronic and Folk, so to minimize their identity to specifically Emo would do them a disservice. So much of their roster are incredibly talented and, combined with their marketing skills and PR presence, they are one of my favorite record labels to explore.

Below, I’ll talk a bit about music that we offer that is published through Polyvinyl.

To put it lightly, Deerhoof are one of the greatest Rock bands of all time. I dare people to find valid arguments against this. The Magic released in 2016 and is their 14th out of 18 studio albums since 1996. With so many albums, our system doesn’t offer all of them, but this is my favorite from the selection. This band is unstoppable. They exude creative energy at all costs and make it look incredibly easy. Very quirky, very fun, very energetic, and superbly inventive songwriting. They intersect so many influences, but this is a Rock band at heart while sounding like no one else. I’m not kidding, they are one of the greatest Rock bands of all time. Go see them live sometime and you’ll know.

Shugo is a multi-instrumentalist with an affinity for whimsical song writing. I’d consider Shugo a folk musician, but the sounds he brings to his records are diverse. He routinely builds robotic instruments to play percussion or piano and employs numerous musicians to play things like accordions, kazoos, Theremins, or horns. On TOSS, Greg Saunier of Deerhoof is playing drums, connecting the Polyvinyl family members. Shugo is influenced by classics like The Beatles and The Beach Boys and makes those sounds very modern with heartwarming and fun soundscapes. There is even a track here that sounds like it came straight from a Tom & Jerry episode.

Owen is the solo project of Mike Kinsella. A lot of people that write off the Owen catalog as too simplistic, but I wonder if its my favorite material from Mike. Mike helped coin the Midwest Emo style in the 90’s and that is still present here, but its stripped back just enough to make something that is remarkably cleaner than a lot of Midwest Emo records. We offer a lot of Owen material, but I revisit At Home With Owen the most. I will admit, it is overly simplistic, but its emotional clarity has an easy time finding my soft spots. The album art is a tight fit as well: it’s peaceful, mysterious, and a little lonely. Wading through those emotions brings catharsis for me.

The further I research for this article, the more I realize just how much Polyvinyl music I listen to and consider important. If I go on much longer, this will take up too much space, so I’ll wrap up with a few more recommendations gauntlet style.

  • American Football by American Football – The quintessential Polyvinyl and Midwest Emo release. This album is the root structure from which most Emo Revival music branches from. If you listen to only a single Midwest Emo song, make sure it is Never Meant.
  • Time ‘N’ Place by Kero Kero Bonito – Kero Kero Bonito is half British and half Japanese and somehow sounds exactly like the combination of those scenes. This Pop music fits into the British PC Music crowd like Hannah Diamond and GFOTY, but also the J-Pop classics like Perfume and CAPSULE.
  • [USA] by Anamanaguchi – This is their most recent album where they have evolved to their most mature form. This band combines chiptune and Nintendocore with traditional rock instrumentation for 8-bit fueled Rock epics. Extremely colorful, bright, and dramatic. Not a lot of bands out there keeping the chiptune vibe alive and these guys treat it with finesse and expertise.

Everything you see here (except a few) are accessible through our catalog! Just click on the links in each blurb and you’ll find them through Hoopla (or YouTube)! Here is a link to both a comprehensive list of Polyvinyl releases and their official website. Check out these lists for more great tunes.

— Reviewed by Noah, Bon Air

Colonial Settlers, Tribal Nations, and the Kidnapping That Shaped America

The Taking of Jemima Boone: Colonial Settlers, Tribal Nations, and the Kidnapping That Shaped America
by Matthew Pearl
Harper Collins (October 2021)
272 pages
Link to The Taking of Jemima Boone in LFPL’s collection
Link to titles by Matthew Pearl in LFPL’s collection

Most Kentuckians are familiar with Daniel Boone and many have even been to Boonesborough, the fort Daniel and other settlers built on the outskirts of what is now Harrodsburg. The stories and legends about Daniel Boone are numerous, especially in regards to his dealings with the indigenous settlers who already called Kentucky home. One story that gets less attention, but is no less important is the kidnapping of Boone’s daughter Jemima. 

On July 14th, 1776 Jemima Boone and her friends, sisters Elizabeth and Frances Callaway were enjoying a rare break from chores and canoeing along the Kentucky River. They were attacked and abducted by a party of Shawnee and Cherokee Indians (a quick note: Pearl uses the term Indians over Native Americans on guidance from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian). Attacks and abductions like this were not uncommon. European settlers encroached on valuable hunting ground that sustained several tribes and indigenous settlements, and attempts at treaties and peaceful coexistence were unsuccessful, so in an effort to deter permanent settlement Cherokee and Shawnee tribes began policies of attacks and kidnapping. To a certain extent this was working, and by 1776 there were fewer than 200 settlers in Kentucky, comprised of white Europeans, slaves, and free Blacks.

After their abduction girls were quickly marched north through various Shawnee towns in an effort to throw off rescue parties. Not content to be passive captives the girls began using subtle non-compliance to leave clues for rescuers. Jemima began tearing her dress and leaving scraps behind. They dug in their heels and left footprints whenever possible. The plan worked and a rescue party made up of Daniel Boone and other men from Boonesborough caught up to the girls and their captors. What followed was a fast skirmish that left two Native men dead, including the son of prominent leader Blackfish.

The fallout was swift, a few months later Boone and others were captured by the Shawnee. Boone was adopted into the tribe and given the name Big Turtle. For months he lived and worked among the Shawnee, assumed dead by those back in Boonesborough. His family left the state. Boone eventually escaped and made his way back to Boonesborough, pursued by the Shawnee (and also the British, who had a somewhat tepid alliance with the Shawnee and the Cherokee). A standoff ensued with the folks at Boonesborough narrowly persevering. Conflict was far from over, but this was a turning point for the settlers, confirming their grasp on this stretch of “wilderness”.

This was Matthew Pearl’s first foray into non-fiction, but it’s written much like a thriller. It’s an engaging read about a part of history little remembered. Jemima Boone’s kidnapping was well known in the 18th and 19th century, it inspired James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, as well as famous works of art, but her name is now more of a footnote than a plot point in our understanding of early America. The same can be said of Native leaders like Dragging Canoe and Hanging Maw, names we don’t often hear in history class, but whose decisions and interactions with European settlers shaped the frontier. Pearl does a great job at helping the reader understand the struggle between indigenous tribes like the Cherokee and the Shawnee and European settlers who moved in and threatened their livelihood. This is a great read for anyone who is interested in learning more about the early days of Kentucky.

– Review by Jenny, Middletown Branch

Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor

Beautiful Little Fools
by Jillian Cantor
Harper Collins (February 2022)
343 pages
Link to Beautiful Little Fools in LFPL’s collection
Link to titles by Jillian Cantor in LFPL’s collection

The Great Gatsby has been one of my favorite books since I first read it as a high school junior sitting in a classroom in the same town Daisy and Jordan grow up in. Heck, I even had my senior prom at the hotel where Daisy gets married in the book. After reading Gatsby I wanted more about Daisy I wanted her backstory. And ever since The Great Gatsby ended up in the public domain last year I’ve been looking forward to Gatsby retellings that didn’t fall flat, like the first two that I read. However, Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor was everything I wanted in a Gatsby retelling including the title being taken from my favorite line in the book. She gave me not only Daisy’s backstory but Jordan’s as well and in the process turned it into a mystery. Through the pages of Beautiful Little Fools, you see not only 1920s New York but WWI-era Louisville.

Beautiful Little Fools gives the reader the story before Gatsby, Gatsby as seen from the women of the novel and what happens after Gatsby. Cantor made Beautiful Little Fools a mystery giving you the point of view detective working the case. Cantor writes Detective Frank Charles as the way I imagined a 1920s police detective to be. The author gives readers this wonderful retelling and doesn’t take away from the source material nor try to make any changes to Fitzgerald‘s characters. If one isn’t familiar with the original story the reader can still enjoy Beautiful Little Fools as its novel, however, you will be spoiled for the ending of The Great Gatsby don’t say I didn’t warn you.

– Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

Depart, Depart! by Sim Kern

Depart, Depart!
by Sim Kern
Stelliform Press (Sept 2020)
88 pages
Link to Depart, Depart! in LFPL’s collection
Link to titles by Sim Kern in LFPL’s collection

For the past couple years, more and more books have been getting published that feature climate change as a core aspect of the plot, so much so that “climate fiction” or “cli-fi” is recognized as a genre. When I first started reading cli-fi, it definitely felt more real than my usual space opera fare, but still something in the distance, not an immediate possibility. I’m not sure if something changed, but Sim Kern’s Depart, Depart! felt so real I found myself wanting to Google news coverage of the hurricane in Texas that left the main character, Noah, a climate refugee.

Noah barely escapes the flood and finds himself in a shelter in the Dallas Maverick’s basketball arena, crammed in with countless others having the worst days of their lives. Noah is able to build a community there, but he has to make hard decisions about what might have to be sacrificed in order to survive. He remembers hearing stories of his Grandfather, who escaped the Holocaust only by making similar sacrifices, and wonders how much he should let his ancestor guide him. Depart, Depart! explores intersections of climate change and class, race, and gender, and finding community after feeling like everything you know has been washed away.

A quick and timely read, LFPL only has this novella available as an ebook, linked directly here.

View Sim Kern’s full list of published works on their website, here.

– Review by Valerie, Newburg Branch

Louisville Own Prodigal Son

Title: Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson
Author: Juan F. Thompson
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
274 pages

As a teenager, I was afraid of him. Then in my 20’s/college years, I was leery of the fandom surrounding the whole Gonzo ego bit. Then, when I was in my early 40’s, he blew his brains out. I could now trust him. I read most of his books and the bios too. Eventually, I could do Gonzo as good as Johnny Depp.

And then in my mid-40s, other people burned me out on him. No one around me could understand the greatness or complexity of this man. They only told me about his flaws. There were many. So when this book came out five years ago, I passed on it. I wasn’t ready. Recently, I saw a clip of Hunter criticizing Jann Wenner that was so honest and brutal, yet caring, and I knew no one living could talk like that. So I am ready.

I am the same age as Hunter’s son, Juan. I had a very close, but at times difficult, relationship with my dad. He was a tough guy who worked manual labor and fought in two wars. But, he was nothing like Hunter. I suspected Hunter would be someone to avoid at all costs, because he was mean, angry and always boozed up or high on cocaine and other drugs. And my instincts were right. In my 20’s, I read his second (and most famous) book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and didn’t get it. On the first page I missed his use (maybe?) of hyperbole when he listed his drugs for the trip. I thought no one could use all that weird mix of drugs, and why would they want to? Obviously, I didn’t KNOW Hunter.

So after he died, I read his first book, Hell’s Angels, and loved it. In the beginning he quotes heavily from Nelson Algren’s Walk on the Wild Side, a favorite of mine. Toward the end he gets into his Gonzo style serendipitously in order to meet a deadline. So I reread Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, got its Mark Twain humor, and realized that Hunter had written a perfect, unique book. When I have insomnia and know that I won’t sleep, instead of fighting it, I read Vegas in its entirety. It is so funny.

This book? Wow, there is so much. Hunter was an absent dad, off chasing fame, drugs, adventure, and other women. So that led to a broken marriage, then divorce, fights, then more madness. A megalomaniac with drug abuse and a large collection of fire arms is not a good combination. But he could write like no one else from the mid 60’s until his habits caught up with him by the Reagan era. He still wrote until the end, and there were flashes of brilliance at times, but he wasted himself and his talent by the 80’s.

Juan states from the start that this book is a memoir and it is. Thus, we learn about his life and the way Hunter interacted in it. There were angry hurtful times but by the end there was forgiveness and growth, and even love. Much like my own father and I, Juan and Hunter were poles apart. But there were things that they both loved, such as guns. But even with that common interest they were very different, Hunter being the irresponsible one. He even accidently shot one of his many female assistants.

And eventually, Hunter’s vices caught up with his body too. I didn’t know specifics of this and his suicide on February 20, 2005 at age 67, but I had always wondered. Juan has an entire chapter titled “The Last Day.” Hunter had planned this suicide and wanted all of his immediate family there. He had been through two brutal operations which he had to face the problem of being an alcoholic in a hospital. So like one of his top heroes, Ernest Hemingway, Hunter shot himself at home. His body and mind had given out and he lacked the will to fight it any longer.

There is also a long section about Hunter’s return to Louisville for a celebration of him put on by Ron Whitehead in 1996 that included Johnny Depp, Warren Zevon, and Douglas Brinkley. It was a wild ruckus, and I don’t regret making the choice to not attend.

Sure, Hunter was a wild, out of control, drug addled freak. But I don’t need my literary heroes to be saints. His first three books are as good as any writer’s top three books. And they are all different from each other. So forgot the image, and read this book to see how complex a man he was. Then go read his stuff from 1967-1979.

– Reviewed by Tom, Main Library