Nothing General About It: How Love (and Lithium) Saved Me On and Off General Hospital by Maurice Benard

Maurice Benard, the American actor of Salvadorian and Nicaraguan descent who has played the character Sonny Corinthos on the ABC soap opera General Hospital for twenty-seven years, has written a biography this year called Nothing general about it; how love (and lithium) saved me on and off General Hospital. The Emmy award-winning actor may not be known for his writing, but he gets real in this book and that is worth more than any award. He lays bare the ugly things he did while in the throes of bipolar disorder, a disease he has suffered from nearly his entire life. He is honest about his vulnerabilities and gives credit to the people in his life who have loved him through it all, especially his wife of 30 years, Paula, who had to endure some frightening moments with him. His story is a testament to how difficult and pervasive mental health problems can be, no matter how you look, where you’re from, how much money you make or what you do for a living.

In 2006, the writers of General Hospital revealed that the character Sonny Corinthos suffered from bipolar disorder. Since then, Benard has publicly advocated for mental health awareness on talk shows and with organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). He is a spokesperson for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).

Fans of General Hospital or Benard will appreciate the full-color photographic insert, containing his and Paula Smith’s wedding photos, images of his four beautiful children, and members of the General Hospital cast. Readers who are dealing with their own or a loved one’s mental illness will likely find it relatable and insightful. You can check out his book in the Biography section at the Library at Eastern, or place a hold and have it sent to a location of your choosing.

PlantFinder

I want to tell you about an app that could be useful to you as you spend more time outdoors. This free app is called PlantFinder and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. I have it downloaded on my Android phone from the Google Play store but according to a search I did today on the Apple app store, it is also available for Apple products. Since it is free it does have ads, but you can pay a small subscription fee to avoid the ads if you prefer. The ads pop up after you take a photo of a plant and before it loads the results that display the plant’s name and identifying information. I try to remember to turn my phone’s volume down, otherwise it can be quite intrusive during a quiet nature walk.

I have used PlantFinder to successfully identify plants I see while walking trails. Sadly, many of them were invasive species. Examples from a recent outing include honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata), and creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea). The results aren’t always as specific as I would like. For instance, I was hoping to refresh my memory on what variety of apple tree is growing in my back yard, but PlantFinder could only tell me that it is an “Apple tree,” rather than confirm if it was Honeycrisp or Zestar. I suppose that is only fair, as the fruit hasn’t even appeared yet. I have a Japanese dappled willow (Salix integra) in my front yard and when I snapped a photo of it to test it out on the app, it came back with the result, “Grey willow,” (Salix atrocinerea). Those are not exactly the same things, but it at least got the genus right. Sometimes, though rarely, PlantFinder can get it wrong. For instance, it thought my rose bush was a buckthorn. Perhaps when it blooms I’ll take another photo and get better results. Overall, however, I have been very pleased. It keeps a record of the photos, dates, plant names and details of what you have previously looked up. Access it by tapping “My Plants.” It also offers a “Plant Care” section that will help you keep track of watering & fertilizing frequency for the plants you cultivate at home.

In my opinion, the real test of usefulness is if it it can successfully identify poison ivy, which it did when I sought out and (fortunately? unfortunately?) found a rarer variety called Western Poison Ivy. I wondered if it would show a bright word of caution on the results page for plants like poison ivy that can cause rashes or allergic reactions, but it did not. So although it can successfully identify poison ivy, you still have to be reasonably savvy when you’re out there and take care not to touch any of the wild plants as you are taking photographs.

I would love to hear your comments if you decide to try this app after reading this, or if you are already familiar with it share your experiences. Have fun out there and stay safe!

The Wild Robot

An uncharacteristic thing has happened to this librarian lately: I haven’t felt much like reading. Of all the strange happenings in our world right now during this COVID-19 pandemic, this was yet another unexpected experience. I have no shortage of reading material. I have a reliable device I can use to download a variety of digital books. This seems like the perfect time to work my way through that looming stack of print books on my table waiting to be read.

And yet, my heart is just not in it. I sit down for about five minutes and then I am distracted and put it down and go do something else.

There has been one exception, however. I happened to be in the middle of reading The Wild Robot by Peter Brown with one of my children before bedtime each night before all this began. The chapters are short, and at one chapter a night, it was taking us a while to work our way through this 279-page book about a robot stranded on an island. But each night I read it aloud, the Wild Robot and its island populated by many animals and no humans endeared itself to me more and more.

You might think that reading a book with no humans in it during a pandemic is a lonely choice in an already lonely situation. Or perhaps on the contrary, you think it is a logical and fitting choice to read about being stranded on an island when it often feels exactly like that as we are isolated in our homes. I think there was something reflective about this mechanical protagonist who gradually (though paradoxically) becomes more humane through time and experience that captured my interest and my heart. Human interaction right now -when it does happen- is less warm and personal, more technological. Somehow the mirror image of a technological being becoming more warm and personal through challenging life experiences was a sort of balm to my woes.

Brown’s writing made reading effortless for me once again. His animal characters have unique personalities. The events that happen on his remote island, both tragic and joyful, are magically relatable. I have always been a fan of anthropomorphism. I am even more so now.

I wish I could point you to a digital version of this title that you can download immediately for free through the library, but our library currently only owns this in print. If you would like to request it for purchase in digital format, you can log into your library account using either the Libby or Overdrive apps and request this title. Be aware that it ends on a cliffhanger and you will probably want to read its sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes.

In the meantime, here are some similar books with anthropomorphic characters available digitally when you log into Overdrive with your Davenport Public Library account that you may enjoy:

Start French by Michel Thomas

If you find languages interesting, have I got a treat for you!  There is an excellent language learning series by Michel Thomas that is great listening!

I began with Start French. I always wanted to learn a little French, but it was offered during music class at my high school, so I could only choose one. I chose music and took an afternoon Spanish class for my foreign language. I’ve always found French to be a challenging accent to get, and reading the words on a page just didn’t work for me.

Enter Michel Thomas and his method.

When I popped his CD into my car, suddenly my commutes and errands turned into listening in on fun little conversations. He introduces basic words and phrases in a way that builds successively on one another, feels natural, and is a little easier to remember than trying to memorize nouns and conjugate verbs. He also relates the French word to the root of the English word, helping form connections in your brain to both words and their shared meaning.

After some time, I began talking with the recorded Thomas and enjoying being able to speak un peu de francais. I couldn’t help but share my discovery with family members and friends. My Dad wanted to try Start German. He has been listening to it before bed each night and greets the day with a guten Morgen!

This series is also currently available to check out in Irish, Italian, and Spanish. Also coming soon…Norwegian!

Play the Forest School Way by Jane Worroll and Peter Houghton

As I write this, many of us are at home doing our part to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Schools are not meeting in person for a few weeks, and many are going stir-crazy, wondering what to do with the extra “together” time at home.

I have an apt book to recommend: Play the Forest School Way: Woodland Games, Crafts and Skills for Adventurous Kids by Jane Worroll and Peter Houghton. (I love that the author of this book about being in the forest is named Jane. It’s so Tarzan.) Playing in the outdoors is something we can do with our families to get out an enjoy ourselves while still avoiding the spread of sickness among friends and neighbors.

This book is aimed at parents of primary school-age children but many of the activities can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Those of you who enjoy crafting will find ideas for making nature jewelry and whittling, among many other suggestions.

The idea of a “Journey Stick” is shared, where you collect items on your nature hike, affixing them to a stick (I imagine a hobo stick with a kerchief tied to the end). Use the found objects to re-tell the story of your outing or create a brand new one from your imagination!

For now, these ideas should be enjoyed in solitude or with the immediate members of your household, but you can remember and use them later while camping or with outdoor groups when it is safer to socialize again. With a little creativity, we can not only survive this quarantine but thrive if we learn to appreciate our immediate surroundings in ways we haven’t taken the time to do before.

If you like this book, you may want to check out A Year of Forest School: Outdoor Play and Skill-Building Fun for Every Season by the same authors.

 

 

Stolen Justice: The Struggle for African American Voting Rights by Lawrence Goldstone

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”              -Thomas Jefferson

An election year is an exciting time to be in Iowa. It is also a good time to take the opportunity to raise your awareness of the history of voting in our country.

Does it seem like a tall order to go out on a cold, dark night and spend several hours at a caucus when there is work to be done or family to look after at home?  Does it feel like a chore to remember to diverge from the usual daily route to go cast a vote on election day? I am reluctant to admit to you that it has, at times, been so for me.

We would do well to remember that so many before us have suffered mightily to secure such rights and bring us to where we are today. Let us pause this February -Black History Month- during this election year to reflect on the historical significance of African American voting rights in particular.

In his book Stolen Justice: The Struggle for African American Voting Rights, Lawrence Goldstone chronicles the struggles encountered and overcome by black Americans whose voting rights have been suppressed. Goldstone shows us many of the ways voter suppression and oppression has happened through violence, misinformation and even through the manipulation of laws.

Have you heard about the widely respected mid-19th century Harvard University professor by the name of Louis Agassiz who promoted a science called polygenism?  Polygenism purported that blacks and whites developed from different ancestors and that blacks were not even human. Agassiz and others like him imposed this idea as so-called proof that blacks were inferior and unsuited for anything but menial labor.  Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was published in 1859 and changed that theory.  According to Goldstone, “Agassiz furiously condemned natural selection as ‘a crude and insolent challenge to the eternal verities, objectionable as science and abominable for is religious blasphemies.'” Though polygenism eventually died, racial inequity did not.

Learn more by checking this book out from the Learning Collection at The Library at Main.

Cannabis : The Illegalization of Weed in America by Box Brown

I recently saw a local news story in which Illinois state senator Toi Hutchinson said that the legalization of cannabis in her state came as a result of the differing sides “hashing it out” to come to agreement. I don’t know whether or not the pun was intended, but as a librarian interested in languages, I appreciated it.

Soon after, I spotted the graphic novel Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America on display at the library and figured it would be a good way to better educate myself on the topic right at our doorstep. I was not disappointed. This graphic novel has four pages of sources cited at the end! It is equal parts interesting and informative.

It starts with what is known about early humans’ use of cannabis sativa from biology and mythology. It outlines how the plant has been cultivated for its various uses across the world (think: textiles & oils too). It traces the etymology of the many different words we use for it: hash, Mary Jane, reefer, weed, to name just a few. I learned that the word marijuana is believed to be derived from slang usage in Mexico near Catholic missionaries, where the priests condemned its use. Locals would tell the priest they were just spending time with Maria Juana!

The graphic novel delves into the “Reefer Madness” era during which commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger worked to criminalize its use by making false, racist claims about its use and users. It discusses how cannabis has been regulated through legislation and how its reputation has been manipulated. The graphic novel concludes with present-day uses and a bibliography listing sixty sources readers can seek out for further learning on the subject.

I highly recommend this book and I look forward to reading Box Brown’s other titles, including Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman and Tetris: The Games People Play.

You can also learn more on this topic from Illinois Policy, an independent organization that seeks to educate and engage Illinois citizens.

 

Davenport’s Favorite Book

The votes are in!

According to the PBS Great American Read, America’s all-time favorite novel is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee!  If you read my first blog post about the Great American Read, you know that To Kill a Mockingbird is also my personal favorite. I was thrilled when I learned the results in the Grand Finale episode. Host Meredith Vieira shared that it started out in the number one spot since the day voting began, and it never wavered.

You may now be wondering what is Davenport’s favorite book?  Ever since PBS kicked off the first episode of The Great American Read on May 22, 2018, we’ve had a display featuring these books at each of our three Davenport Public Libraries. We put out a ballot box, asking for your favorites. I also took votes in the form of responses to my blog posts about the Great American Read.  In all, 124 votes were submitted. The favorite book among Davenport Public Library users is (drumroll, please)…

Harry Potter! Earning just shy of 13% of all votes, the bestselling series by J.K. Rowling was the top pick of voters at Main, Eastern and on the blog. (Fairmount showed no clear favorite, but submitted 26 votes for 23 different books.) Second favorite overall was Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, with almost 9% of the votes. In third place was Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, with a solid 6% of votes. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen took fourth place with almost 5% of votes. We had a four-way tie for 5th place – Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte’s Web, Memoirs of a Geisha and To Kill a Mockingbird.

If you’re wondering about any titles from the Great American Read list that was not mentioned here, I have tagged to this blog each book title that received at least one vote from our wonderful Davenport Public Library patrons.

Thanks for voting and keep reading through the list!

 

Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis is the second Sci-Fi novel written by Andy Weir. I loved Weir’s first book, The Martian, and also the movie based on it, even though I am not typically a Sci-Fi reader. I thought it was smart and funny, with just the right amount of suspense. That is just how I like my books. Therefore, I was eager to read Artemis. I checked out the audiobook version, read by Rosario Dawson (she’s great!).

The main thing Artemis had in common with The Martian is that the characters are living somewhere other than Earth. Beyond that, they are very different. Artemis is still smartly written, but I didn’t find it quite as funny. Artemis is grittier.

In The Martian, an astronaut named Mark struggles to survive alone on the red planet after a mishap leaves him accidentally abandoned by his research team. I know, it doesn’t sound funny at all. But Mark is a character with a very good sense of humor, despite his dire situation. I rooted for him the entire time. By contrast, Artemis is a futuristic moon colony populated by many humans (some live there, others are just visiting). Artemis’ protagonist, Jasmine, is a young, jaded crook. She starts out as a petty smuggler, but things escalate, intensely and quickly.  Maybe other readers would feel differently, but I kept hoping that she would get busted for her antics. Still, every misstep she takes is entertaining.

A self-described “space nerd,” Weir describes the scientific principles of living in outer space in a way that is pretty easy for a novice to grasp. I’m no expert, but it sure seems like he knows what he’s writing about. I recently read the Moon Base Alpha series by Stuart Gibbs with my 10 year old son, and many things are echoed in those books. For example, EVA (Extravehicular Activity) suits are described almost exactly the same in both books, by the two different authors.

I have since started reading Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan. It is rather amusing to see how Sci-Fi writing has changed over the years. Who knows? This may compel me to read more Sci-Fi / Fantasy as time goes on .

Great American Read: Villains and Monsters

 

On Tuesday, Oct 2, 2018 PBS will air their 5th episode of the Great American Read series. It will highlight books featuring villains, monsters, and evil forces. If you missed the previous episode on heroes, not to worry. You can still watch episode 4 online.

The titles containing villains, monsters and evil forces include:

A Game of Thrones, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, And Then There Were None, Beloved, Frankenstein, Gone Girl, The Handmaid’s Tale, Harry Potter, Moby-Dick, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Rebecca, The Stand, and Watchers.

Episodes are now airing weekly on Tuesday nights at 7pm through Oct 23.