The Sun and her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

The Sun and her Flowers, a 2017 Top Fiction and Literature book of poetry as well as a New York Times Bestseller, is the second brilliant poetry book by Rupi Kaur.

Kaur’s Poignant second book is another incredible work helping all of us relate to our human condition and the common thread binding us between each other…..this thread of humanity, raw emotion, depression, tears, joy, love and life in all of it’s glorious and dark forms.  Excerpt from the book:

“this is the recipe of life

said my mother

as she held me in her arms as i wept

think of those flowers you plant

in the garden each year

they will teach you

that people too

must wilt

fall

root

rise

in order to bloom”

Life is hard. We all do our best. Be kind, do your best. Go to your local library and check out this book.

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

guest post by Laura

An expert storyteller, Kimmerer recounts her journey of learning to embrace the science of biology from the viewpoint of two different cultures, Potawatomi and mainstream American culture in Braiding Sweetgrass. From the Potawatomi creation story to the cautionary tale of the greed of the monster, Windigo, she weaves her way through the wisdom of various indigenous cultures juxtaposed with current stories of endangered species and environmental destruction.

Kimmerer makes a case for listening to the wisdom of peoples who had learned over millennia how to live in a reciprocal manner, taking in restrained amounts and giving back to the Earth. One example of this is the three sisters. What looked like a messy garden to the new settlers to the Americas was a strategic planting method of corn as support, beans as nitrogen fixers, and shade/weed prevention from the squash.

This beautiful tome is difficult to read at times when she talks about the mistreatment of the peoples of the First Nations as well as the destruction of once-thriving ecosystems. Kimmerer is no pessimist despite the many sad tales she recounts. She gives anecdotal and even research evidence from one of her graduate students that humans and nature not only can co-exist harmoniously, in some cases nature thrives only when humans tend to it.

The main audience for this book may be environmentalists but this is also the story of the author raising two daughters as a single mom. Those who enjoy indigenous history and folklore will also enjoy the tales. She finds neighbors who become friends, gardens, and fights a humorous losing battle in reclaiming a backyard pond from nature.

Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig

I absolutely cannot wait to get back into my car and drive from Davenport, IA to East Moline, IL across the frozen tundra that is the Quad Cities. You might think I’ve lost my mind, and perhaps I have a little bit; but let me tell you that the Ali audiobook, narrated by Kevin R Free, and based on author Jonathan Eig’s “definitive biography” is absolutely stunning. Although my experience with audiobooks is relatively limited, I have to say this one makes me want to read all 623 pages of the biography. Free, who also considers himself a storyteller,  narrates the larger-than-life biography of Muhammed Ali (Cassius Clay) with conviction and eloquence, the perfect example of a well-executed audiobook and also a testament to author Eig’s finely-crafted prose.

Normally, it’s easy for me to snooze on audiobooks and lose focus in the middle of a chapter (or worse, a sentence). In fact, listening to audiobooks has proven to be an act of meditation: I’m consciously directing my attention to the narrator and, sometimes painfully attempting to stay focused on the developing story. Too often, like a child who loses interest in a new toy just moments after receiving it, I lose interest in the storyline unless the narrator is particularly emotive, funny, or engaging. But every chapter Free narrates makes me feel like I’m watching an award-winning film. The imagery, writing, and narration are that good. I’ve read a few reviews, and one commenter noted that he felt like he was “ringside” during the fight descriptions because the writing truly is that good.

Cassius Clay, who died in 2016 at the age of 74, endured 200,000 punches throughout his career. I cannot possibly conceive of what that would feel like. He was wildly inspired by Sugar Ray Robinson, a famous boxer well known for being particularly outlandish, flashy, and bold. Ali was single-mindedly focused on becoming the greatest boxer who ever lived; yet he was insanely complex as well as he came into his own in the context of segregation, The Blood of Emmett Till, and the Little Rock Nine. One might simply state that Ali was a fighter in every sense of the word: you can be sure he fought fiercely against racism and injustice that plagued the post-war United States.

I’m nowhere near finished with this book, but I can only imagine it gets better. Check out this article with Author Eig who concludes, after 500 hours of interviews with Ali that “no biography is complete. There’s always more to explore.” Here is what NPR , the Washington Post, and The New York Times had to say. Of course not all the reviews are shining. This particular article claims that Eig did not shed light on the last 30 or so years of Ali’s life and that the book provides “a somewhat perfunctory account of how his story fits into the larger arc of race in America.” As someone who is only about ten chapters in, I appreciated the historical backdrop that Eig establishes early on in the book; although it’s not like a few measly chapters could possibly address the terrible blight of racism on our collective history, so I will wait to see if maybe Eig delves more deeply into issues of race in America. One hopes that a “definitely” biography has earned its heavyweight title, just like the greatest boxer of all time.

Online Reading Challenge Mid-Month Check-In

Hello Fellow Readers!

How is your first month of the 2018 Online Reading Challenge going? Have you found any great new titles? Let us know in the comments!

I’ve already finished my choice for this month – My Lady Jane a collabrative effort by three young adult authors – Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows and it was so very excellent. If you’re a stickler for historical accuracy then you need to take a pass, but if you delight in witty, clever dialogue and description, are willing to let go of cold, hard, boring facts and able to accept a bit of magical realism well then, you’re in for a treat.

According to the cold, hard, boring facts, Lady Jane Grey was the great granddaughter of Henry VII. When her cousin, King Edward VI became ill, he wrote his will naming Jane as his successor instead of his half-sister Mary. Edward choose Jane because she was Protestant and would continue the reformations he and his father had instituted while Mary was Catholic and wanted to return the country to Catholicism by any means (thus the “Bloody Mary” nickname). And indeed, at Edward’s death, Jane (reluctantly) became Queen. She only lasted nine days though as Mary was able to raise an army and the Privy Council abandoned Jane. At first Jane’s life was spared but later Mary had her executed, fearing continuing support for her. And thus ends a brief reign (and life, she was only 15 or 16 when she died).

Never fear Gentle Readers! The authors of My Lady Jane have a far different ending in store for you! There are many twists and turns, but, surprisingly, the story follows the basic outline of Jane’s life – her early childhood, her relationship with Edward, her forced marriage, Edward’s terminal illness and writing of a new will to make Jane queen, her studious nature and reluctance to become queen, the Privy Council’s betrayal, Mary’s brutal claim to the throne. It’s all there, but now with lots of humor, interesting back stories and motivations, cultural and historical barriers and some sly references to the Bard himself, who may or may not have been William Shakespeare. I don’t remember having read a book that I was smiling or laughing or making unladylike snorting noises the entire time I was reading it and yet there is real tension about the outcome. This is a tough book to put down both for sheer enjoyment and for the urgency to find out what’s going to happen!

The sad part is that the book ends, the happy news is that these same three authors have collaborated again and are coming out with another title, My Plain Jane, in June of this year, which will be about Jane Eyre herself. Perhaps they’re creating a series reimagining the lives of famous Janes? Could Jane Austen be next? One can only hope.

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

guest post by Laura

Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series readers have patience. He released the Pillars of the Earth in 1989, World Without End in 2010, and A Column of Fire in 2017. They’re not sequels in the traditional manner. They take place in the same location hundreds of years apart and have some loosely, genealogically connected characters.

I was excited to see A Column of Fire came out in the fall of 2017. There’s quite a long waiting list to read it, so you may have time to catch up on the previous two if you’re a fan of historical fiction after you’ve gotten on the list. Just as in the previous two novels, this is a sweeping tale of romance with plenty of intrigue and this one even includes a few pirates. In contrast to the other books, A Column of Fire expands into international politics and crosses borders, reflecting the importance of interstate commerce and increased modes and routes of global travel.

It was fun to discover who the real historical figures and who the fictional characters were at the end, although one could guess. If you’re well-versed in European history during the 1500s, you will be spoiled. I had only a general knowledge so I was in suspense much of the time. Like his other novels, he includes the major historical occurrences of the time, focusing on the religious turmoil between Catholics and Protestants.

I grew somewhat tired of the predictability of the fates of some of his fictional characters. There is definitely a pattern in his writing. Real life isn’t so just and predictable and I felt cheated that he thought I wouldn’t be satisfied with a divergence from his typical ending. I’m guessing most of his loyal fans may not agree with me on that, however. Overall, I enjoyed the book and am happy I was able to read all three over the span of a couple of decades.

A Library of Things

 If you’re anything like me, and you favor a minimalist lifestyle that prioritizes access over ownership, the prospect of a Library of Things may interest you. A Library of Things (LOT) is a most magical and sensible space where libraries, innovation, and sharing economies intersect. When you visit a LOT, you can borrow items you don’t want to commit to purchasing before you can prove the purchase is truly warranted. Not sure if you’re a fan of camping? Don’t sweat it: check out a tent before dropping the cash on new gear. Wondering if you’re likely to develop a serious interest in cake decorating but hesitant to shell out your hard-earned dollars? Check out some cake pans and decorating accessories. Ready to serenade your cat with ukulele music for any occasion? Stop by the LOT and check out a ukulele.

Since libraries are already perfectly structured to lend non-traditional items such as power tools, cake pans, outdoor/adventure gear and equipment, musical instruments and accessories, ties, seeds, and lawn kitchen appliances, it makes perfect sense that innovative libraries have already added many “things” to their circulating collections. At the Hillsboro Public Library in Oregon, for example, patrons can check out a chocolate fountain, popcorn machine, and karaoke machine among many other practical and unique things. At the Shirley M Wright Memorial Library in Wisconsin, patrons can check out bird-watching kits. The Stark County district library partnered with Stark Parks to launch a bicycle sharing program!  As you can see, the possibilities are endless. In California at Sacramento Public Library, patrons can check out yard equipment like hedge-trimmers and a lawnmower, among many other things.  In this article, Director of the Sacramento Public Library, Rivkah Sass describes libraries as “the original sharing economy” and that when developing a LOT they “were looking at the generation coming up that doesn’t necessarily want to own things. They don’t need a pressure cooker to store on a shelf and gather dust.” Can I get an Amen, people?  You don’t have to be a Millennial to appreciate the benefits of a clean, open space that isn’t crowded by a surplus of material possessions you’re likely to use a handful of times before banishing to a lifetime in your kitchen cabinets. Not only does a LOT save you money, but it also saves space, enables access, and encourages discovery and innovation.

Come visit Davenport Public Library to see the “Tech-Know Library” and view a full list of the technologies available for checkout including but not limited to:  graphing calculators, a light therapy lamp, eReaders, a Go Pro, blue-tooth blood pressure monitor, and Snapchat spectacles!

What kinds of items do you think the public library should make available for checkout?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Young but wise beyond her years, Rupi Kaur’s words in Milk and Honey will move you perhaps to tears. Amazing how only a few words can have so much meaning and can translate across time, space, and language.

This poetry book is a must read whether or not you are a poetry lover or hater. Do yourself a favor and read it. Moving, raw and riveting, Kaur takes you on a journey of love, loss, and rebirth. Experiencing the human condition through her thoughts and words there will be something for each one of us humans to relate to and perhaps find some meaning and understanding through our own trials of love, loss, and living in general.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

guest post by Laura

I will never look at trees in the same way again.

Most among us look out at a forest and see greenery. Some people may be able identify a tree species or two but most of us don’t give much thought to the beings that far outnumber humans on Earth. The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben explores the intricacies of trees in a humorous and lively narrative.

It is only a surprise that trees have social structures and can care for other trees because of the way we are taught to think (or not think) about them. It makes sense. They’re living organisms like other living creatures that have evolved to survive over millennia. Why wouldn’t they be complex organisms with the capacity to interact with one another in both communal sharing and competition?

He explores how mycorrhizal fungi play important roles in soil biology and chemistry. Plants and fungi created a symbiotic relationship long ago and the details of their nutrient exchanges are cool enough alone. He also talks about the fungal strands acting like fiber optic cables to form a network not quite like James Cameron’s Avatar but amazing nonetheless.

Thanks to Wohlleben, when I see single trees of a species alone in a park or surrounded by concrete, I think “street kids” and when I look at the giant oaks in my neighborhood, I think, “It’s a family! I wonder which one’s the mother?” and “How old are they really?” I noticed the leaves of a neighborhood tree turned color in the fall on the side not exposed to a streetlight but not the other. This had escaped my notice before.

Wohlleben goes too far in anthropomorphizing trees at times. He didn’t need to do this since his subject matter and the way he relates is are compelling enough. Yes, he turned the seemingly dry subject of woody plants into a lush account of the complex inner lives of trees and along the way, we learn why this subject is important to all of us and our future.

In the Midst of Winter : a novel / Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende’s newest novel In the Midst of Winter is a page turner filled with suspense. Part love story, part history, part current immigration issues where baby boomers learn to love again while covering up a crime scene and dealing with their own histories of violence, love lost, and innocence begot.

A story about three separate individuals, Evelyn, Lucia, and Richard whose previous lives become intertwined in a series of flashbacks and unfortunate events including military overthrow, drug escapades in Rio, and gangs in Guatemala. Richard a college professor living and working in New York, Lucia, Richard’s colleague who he has helped obtain a year professorship in New York who also happens to be Richard’s tenant living in the freezing basement of his Brooklyn brownstone, and Evelyn a DACA refugee turned illegal alien come together in Allende’s imaginative fictional concoction of romance, murder, suspense, and drama. The three characters are brought together by a harrowing snow storm in New York when Richard hits Evelyn’s car, embarking all three of them on a journey none would have ever expected.

The reader will enjoy reading this fictional tale where boomers despite their trials of hurt and loss learn that there is still life left in them to live and love left within them to give.

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