Category Archives: Books & Reading

Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry Chosen as 2018 One Book One Nebraska

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
October 23, 2017

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Mary Jo Ryan
402-471-3434
800-307-2665

Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry Chosen as 2018 One Book One Nebraska   

People across Nebraska are encouraged to read the work of Nebraska poets in 2018—and then talk about the poems with their friends and neighbors. Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry (The Backwaters Press, 2007) edited by Greg Kosmicki and Mary K. Stillwell was selected as the 2018 One Book One Nebraska at the Nebraska Center for the Book’s Celebration of Nebraska Books on October 21.

Poems by more than eighty contemporary Nebraska poets are featured in the collection. This includes Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate of the United States Ted Kooser, Nebraska State Poet Twyla Hansen, former State Poet William Kloefkorn, several poets who have had their poems read on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac (Greg Kuzma, Marjorie Saiser, Grace Bauer, and Greg Kosmicki), and widely noted poets Hilda Raz, Roy Scheele, Steve Langan, and many others.

Libraries across Nebraska will join other literary and cultural organizations in planning book discussions, activities, and events that will encourage Nebraskans to read and discuss this book. Support materials to assist with local reading/discussion activities will be available after January 1, 2018 at http://onebook.nebraska.gov. Updates and activity listings will be posted on the One Book One Nebraska Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/onebookonenebraska.

2018 will mark the fourteenth year of the One Book One Nebraska reading program, sponsored by the Nebraska Center for the Book. It encourages Nebraskans across the state to read and discuss one book, chosen from books written by Nebraska authors or that have a Nebraska theme or setting.

One Book One Nebraska is sponsored by Nebraska Center for the Book, Humanities Nebraska, and Nebraska Library Commission. The Nebraska Center for the Book brings together the state’s readers, writers, booksellers, librarians, publishers, printers, educators, and scholars to build the community of the book, supporting programs to celebrate and stimulate public interest in books, reading, and the written word. The Nebraska Center for the Book is housed at and supported by the Nebraska Library Commission.

As the state library agency, the Nebraska Library Commission is an advocate for the library and information needs of all Nebraskans. The mission of the Library Commission is statewide promotion, development, and coordination of library and information services, “bringing together people and information.”

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The most up-to-date news releases from the Nebraska Library Commission are always available on the Library Commission Website, http://nlc.nebraska.gov/publications/newsreleases.

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Young Nebraskans Win Scholarships through their Library Summer Reading Program

Nebraska’s young readers had a great time at the 2017 Summer Reading Programs in libraries across the state and some of them won a $529. Nebraska State Treasurer Don Stenberg, First National Bank of Omaha, and the Nebraska Library Commission presented 15 Nebraska children and teenagers each with a $529 contribution to a NEST 529 College Savings account in the fourth annual Read to Win Drawing at the Nebraska State Capitol Rotunda. Each winner’s respective library branch was awarded $250. For more information see http://nlc.nebraska.gov/publications/newsreleases/1710winners.nest529.aspx.

PHOTO CAPTION: Nebraska Treasurer Don Stenberg  with Joanna Swanson of First National Bank of Omaha and Rod Wagner, director of the Nebraska Library Commission, and some of the winners of the Read to Win summer reading program. From left, back row, Caine Genereux of Bartlett, Braden Anderson of Hallam and Brayden Reinboth of Lincoln. Center row, Emery Palser of Ravenna, Boaz Roan of Grand Island and Ruth Mansour of Omaha. Front row, from left, Lincoln Lappe and Jacob Miller of Lincoln

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Friday Reads: Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix

There are two kinds of people in the world: people who would never read a book calledPaperbacks from Hell - cover Satan’s Pets and my kind of people.  For the latter, Paperbacks from Hell is a delight, a treasure trove of unseemly old horror novels from the days when skeletons were popular cover models and literally any animal could be cast as a monster.

Grady Hendrix is building quite a name for himself as a genre fiction standout.  He wrote Horrorstör, history’s greatest novel about a haunted furniture store.  And then he wrote My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which he describes as “Beaches meets The Exorcist, only it’s set in the Eighties.”  So we’re all pretty lucky that he found the time to compile this book and document the explosion of paperbacks that followed Ira Levin and William Peter Blatty’s surprise success.

It’s a long trek from Rosemary’s Baby & The Exorcist to Viking mummies & psychotic cows, and Hendrix navigates masterfully.  If the only noteworthy thing about a book is a shark/grizzly bear fight, that’s all that’s mentioned.  More worthwhile works get lengthier treatments and Hendrix maintains his sense of humor throughout.  I suspect that it’s probably more enjoyable to read his witty synopses than most of the novels they describe.  For example:

“[T]hough we all feel sympathy for the yeti who hates snow in Snowman, how many ski instructors will we allow him to decapitate before we hire a bunch of hunters and Vietnam vets to go after him with crossbows armed with tiny nuclear arrowheads?”

Yes!  The proceedings are organized topically, so we spend time with killer clowns, critters, toys, Santas, and skeletons, the last being my favorites due to their assorted jobs.  Even in this tiny niche of publishing history, there’s a lot of diversity and the only thing that really unifies these books is that they are all better than Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.

I’d recommend reading this in print, as it’s the best way to experience the garish covers that are reprinted here, and I’d also advise keeping a notebook handy—this book almost doubled my “to-read” list.  A wildly fun read that’s perfect for pumpkin season.

Hendrix, G., & Errickson, W. (2017). Paperbacks from Hell: the twisted history of 70s and 80s horror fiction. Philadelphia: Quirk Books.

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Friday Reads: A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara

Image result for a little lifeI read A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara all day and all night for a full weekend. After I returned it to the library I lay awake thinking about the characters in the story and what it all meant. While reading, I had to physically put the book down and take a break from the progressively horrible life that was inflicted on the main character.

This book is written from the rotating point of view of Jude and several of his close friends. Jude doesn’t talk much about his past to his friends, but the reader is made aware of the damage inflicted upon him by the monsters in his past. You, dear reader, will barely be willing to believe the words on the page.

So why do I like this monstrosity of a book? The answer lies in the pure, face slapping truth in the book. Many books are about a character living through hell and learning to heal on the other side. This book is a reminder that not everybody makes it through to the other side. Bad things happen and sometimes there is nothing that can be done. Life is not all sunshine and happiness.

In A Little Life, Jude is nearly suicidal throughout most of the book. His friends care deeply but have no idea what to do. It is dark, gritty and unbearable at times. It is ‘set the book down and go to your happy place’ unbearable. Now think about this: the reader can set down the book and escape to safety. But there are people in the world who have no safety zone. Their world is so dark it would make no difference if they never opened their eyes.

Most people have never lived through hell. That is good. But for those who did, this book is a reminder that there are two options in life: you can close your eyes and stop breathing, or you can stand up and fight. Jude is partially on the way to healing at times, but there are entirely too many demons from the past waiting to drag him back into the shadows.

Jude’s story is not only for the downtrodden. A Little Life is also for the people who care about the downtrodden. If you have ever watched someone try to crawl out of the sewage rot that was their childhood, this book is for you. Read about where Jude’s friends went wrong. Read about how silence kills. Read about how it is not your fault if they slip back and drown in their own sewage infested mind. Healing is a choice that not everybody makes. Some people get out, but some will not.

This book is dark and only gets darker as you turn the pages. Many of you will hate and loathe this book. Most probably will not make it from cover to cover. That’s okay. This book is not for everybody.

But I need to tell somebody about this book. I hope this book reaches into a dark pit of misery and let’s somebody know they are not alone. I hope this book makes at least one person stand up and say ‘no more’. The demon does not get to win. Take control. Pack your bags and get out. With time and distance, the past loses power. Every time you stand up and speak, the past loses power.

It takes a few minutes to curl up and die. Survival takes a lifetime.

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NCompass Live: ALA Book Club Central with Author Stephanie Powell Watts!

Join us for the next NCompass Live, ‘ALA Book Club Central with Author Stephanie Powell Watts!’, on Wednesday, October 18, 10:00am – 11:00am CT.

We are very excited to announce that Stephanie Powell Watts, author of the inaugural Sarah Jessica Parker Book Club Central selection, No One Is Coming to Save Us, will be joining us to chat about her debut novel.

In addition, United for Libraries President Elect Skip Dye, VP, library marketing and digital sales at Penguin Random House, will discuss Sarah Jessica Parker’s most recent Book Club Central pick, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, and resources for book clubs. Jennifer Hart, SVP, Associate Publisher and Group Marketing Director of William Morrow, will also be joining us to discuss Book Club Girl and the resources available through that program.

The American Library Association (ALA) launched Book Club Central at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago this summer with the website and Honorary Chair Sarah Jessica Parker’s first selection.

Book Club Central is a place for author interviews, book recommendations and reviews, as well as discussion questions and information on how to start and moderate a book club.

Upcoming NCompass Live events:

  • Oct. 11 – NO NCOMPASS LIVE THIS WEEK – Enjoy the 2017 NLA/NSLA Annual Conference!
  • Oct. 25 – Google Forms for Your Library
  • Nov. 8 – Using YA Literature to Inspire Teen Girls’ Interests in STEM
  • Nov. 29 – Libraries Rock! : Summer Reading Program 2018

For more information, to register for NCompass Live, or to listen to recordings of past events, go to the NCompass Live webpage.

NCompass Live is broadcast live every Wednesday from 10am – 11am Central Time. Convert to your time zone on the Official U.S. Time website. The show is presented online using the GoToWebinar online meeting service. Before you attend a session, please see the NLC Online Sessions webpage for detailed information about GoToWebinar, including system requirements, firewall permissions, and equipment requirements for computer speakers and microphones.

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Friday Reads: Figures in Silk, by Vanora Bennett

Figures in Silk, by Vanora Bennett, once again falls into my favorite genre to read: historical fiction.  It is a glimpse into early Tudor history: not into life at court itself, but rather into the way that the political machinations affected and disrupted the lives of London’s ordinary citizens and particularly its powerful merchants.

The year is 1471.   Edward IV, who won the throne with the help of his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, is restoring law and order after the long years of war during the War of the Roses. Under Edward IV, life in England begins to improve. Business is booming once more and the printing and silk industries prosper in London.

 

When silk merchant John Lambert marries off his two beautiful daughters, their fortunes are forever changed. Elder daughter Jane Shore begins a notorious liaison with the king while industrious and clever Isabel finds herself married into the house of Claver, a wealthy silk dynasty. Fate delivers Isabel a challenge when her new husband is killed and she is forced into apprenticeship to her mother-in-law, Alice Claver.

Isabel is already an accomplished embroiderer of silk in her own right, but it is from Alice Claver that Isabel learns all there is to know about the silk trade and its’ purchase from Italy, Persia, Spain, Tunisia, and beyond. Isabel learns to make her way in this new world of silk and forges a contract with her sister’s lover, King Edward IV.  This new contract allows Isabel to bring silk production to London for the first time, and to hopefully break the monopoly that Venetian silk makers have over the silk trade.

As Isabel grows in power, and her plan for a silk industry run by Englishwomen is set into motion, the political landscape shifts in dangerous ways.  One sister will fall as the other rises and choices must be made that will change their lives forever.

If you enjoyed Vanora Bennett’s first novel Portrait of an Unknown Woman, you will definitely enjoy Figures in Silk!

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What’s Up Doc? New State Agency Publications at the Nebraska Library Commission

New state agency publications have been received at the Nebraska Library Commission for September 2017.  Included are reports from the Nebraska Auditor of Public Accounts, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the Nebraska Secretary of State, and new books from the University of Nebraska Press, to name a few.

All items, except the books from the University of Nebraska Press, are available for immediate viewing and printing by clicking on the highlighted .pdf link above, or directly in the .pdf below.

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Friday Reads: My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith is on a short list of my favorite authors. I adore his #1 Ladies Detective Agency, 44 Scotland Street, and Corduroy Mansions series, and when I visited Edinburgh a few years ago I made sure to visit 43 Scotland Street (there is no 44) and the Cumberland Bar just around the corner. I was delighted to be in the world of Bertie and all the adults he endures.  Smith writes some standalone books too, and for me those have been hit and miss. My Italian Bulldozer is not part of a series and would be a wonderful way to introduce yourself to this author if you haven’t already made his acquaintance.

The title alone promises humor in a picturesque setting. Paul Stuart is a food and wine writer and his girlfriend of four years has just left him for her personal trainer. Paul’s editor, Gloria, sends him to Italy for personal respite and time to work on his next book featuring Tuscan cuisine. As a result of a rental car snafu, and a short bout in jail, he ends up borrowing a bulldozer. This slows him down considerably but it soon becomes apparent how handy a bulldozer can be in certain situations! The cast of characters he encounters are the true talent of Smith’s writing: the woman whose car is upended; the man who needs assistance digging a ditch; and anonymous townspeople who “borrow” the bulldozer from its public parking space. This small community is one that keeps track of everything and everyone and Paul quickly becomes a part of the comings and goings.

After rescuing the young American college professor in the upended car, there is chemistry between the two writers. Enter the ex-girlfriend, who shows up to apologize in person, with Gloria, the editor, arriving close behind. The events that follow may be predictable but I was more than pleased with the ending. I began thinking that I need to plan to a trip to Italy and wonder if these idyllic adventures really can happen in rural parts of the country as they have in so many of my favorite movies and books. This is a quick read and one that would be perfect to take on vacation, not terribly taxing and satisfying for all the senses.

Smith, Alexander McCall. My Italian Bulldozer. Pantheon; First American edition. edition, 2017

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Finalists for 2018 One Book One Nebraska Announced

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
September 27, 2017

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Mary Jo Ryan
402-471-3434
800-307-2665

Finalists for 2018 One Book One Nebraska Announced

What book will all Nebraskans be encouraged to read in 2018? We will all find out on October 21. Two poetry collections, one memoir, and two novels—all stories with ties to Nebraska and the Great Plains—are the finalists for the 2018 One Book One Nebraska statewide reading program. The finalists are:

  • The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee, William Morrow (2016)
  • Nebraska Poetry: A Sesquicentennial Anthology 1867-2017 edited by Daniel Simon, Stephen F. Austin University Press (2017)
  • Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry edited by Greg Kosmicki and Mary K. Stillwell, The Backwaters Press (2007)
  • Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut by Clayton Anderson, University of Nebraska Press (2015)
  • Swan Gondola: A Novel by Timothy Schaffert, Riverhead Books (2015)

The One Book One Nebraska reading program, now in its thirteenth year, is sponsored by the Nebraska Center for the Book, Humanities Nebraska, and Nebraska Library Commission. It encourages Nebraskans across the state to read and discuss the same book, chosen from books written by Nebraska authors or that have a Nebraska theme or setting. A Nebraska Center for the Book committee selected the five finalists from a list of twenty-six titles nominated by Nebraskans. In the coming weeks, Nebraska Center for the Book board members will vote on the 2018 selection.

Nebraskans are invited to attend the Celebration of Nebraska Books on October 21, where the choice for the 2018 One Book One Nebraska will be announced at 5:30 p.m. at the Nebraska State Historical Society’s Nebraska History Museum, 131 Centennial Mall North, in downtown Lincoln. This year’s One Book One Nebraska selection, Black Elk Speaks (University of Nebraska Press, 2014) by John G. Neihardt will be featured in a keynote presentation by Timothy G. Anderson, author of the biography Lonesome Dreamer: The Life of John G. Neihardt (University of Nebraska Press, 2016) at 2:45 p.m. See http://onebook.nebraska.gov or https://www.facebook.com/OneBookOneNebraska for more information about ongoing 2017 One Book One Nebraska activities.

The October 21 Celebration of Nebraska Books is scheduled for 2:30 – 6:30 p.m., with the Nebraska Center for the Book Annual Meeting to be held at 1:30 p.m. Awards will be presented to the winners of the 2017 Nebraska Book Awards, and some of the winning authors will read from their work. A list of Nebraska Book Award winners is posted at http://centerforthebook.nebraska.gov/awards.html. The Celebration of Nebraska Books is sponsored by the Nebraska Center for the Book and Nebraska Library Commission with support from the Nebraska State Historical Society’s Nebraska History Museum. Humanities Nebraska provides support for the One Book One Nebraska keynote presentation. For more information, contact Mary Jo Ryan, maryjo.ryan@nebraska.gov, 402-471-3434 or 800-307-2665. Confirmed presenters will be announced at www.centerforthebook.nebraska.gov and http://www.facebook.com/NebraskaCenterfortheBook in advance of the Celebration.

The Nebraska Center for the Book is housed at the Nebraska Library Commission and brings together the state’s readers, writers, booksellers, librarians, publishers, printers, educators, and scholars to build the community of the book, supporting programs to celebrate and stimulate public interest in books, reading, and the written word. The Nebraska Center for the Book is supported by the national Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and the Nebraska Library Commission.

As the state library agency, the Nebraska Library Commission is an advocate for the library and information needs of all Nebraskans. The mission of the Library Commission is statewide promotion, development, and coordination of library and information services, “bringing together people and information.”

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The most up-to-date news releases from the Nebraska Library Commission are always available on the Library Commission Website, http://nlc.nebraska.gov/publications/newsreleases.

 

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Friday Reads: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Until recently, I rated Mansfield Park as my second least favorite Jane Austen novel. For the record, Northanger Abbey is my least favorite of Austen’s completed works. I did not care for Mansfield Park because of Austen’s depiction of Fanny Price. Fanny is a poor relation taken in by her wealthy uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram. When Fanny first arrives at Mansfield Park, she is a scared and lonely ten year old. In many ways, she remains a frightened child, prone to low spirits and headaches. I disliked Fanny because she rarely offers an opinion or speaks her mind, is often judgmental and bursts into tears much too often for my liking.

Throughout the novel, we watch Fanny’s family ignore her needs while assuming they know what’s best for her. Unlike many of her other characters, Austen allows Fanny to seethe with frustration, resentment and disappointment as they place their well-being before hers. While outwardly agreeable and meek, Fanny reveals she can be neither when refusing to marry the well-off Henry Crawford. Later the rightness of her decision is revealed when Crawford seduces and runs off with Fanny’s married cousin, Maria.

The last time I read Mansfield Park, I discovered there was more to Fanny Price than tears and moral rectitude. I still found her annoying, but I realized that Fanny enjoys the small pleasures that many of us take for granted. Walking with her cousin Edmund or listening to her brother’s stories fill Fanny with joy – she genuinely enjoys these moments. Her brother William’s impending visit, an outing to a neighboring estate and attending a ball thrown in her honor; all reduce her to tears. Yes, she is overwrought. I can’t imagine being so caught up in the moment that I weep with happiness. Yet, there is something appealing about Fanny’s willingness to embrace each and every moment life gives her. Perhaps this is Jane Austen’s greatest lesson.

Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.

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Celebrate Nebraska’s 2017 Book Award Winners at October 21 Celebration

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
September 19, 2017

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Mary Jo Ryan
402-471-3434
800-307-2665

Celebrate Nebraska’s 2017 Book Award Winners at October 21 Celebration

Celebrate Nebraska’s 2017 Book Award winners with author readings and an awards presentation ceremony at the Nebraska Center for the Book’s Celebration of Nebraska Books on October 21 at the Nebraska State Historical Society’s Nebraska History Museum, 131 Centennial Mall North, in downtown Lincoln. Winners of the 2017 Nebraska Book Awards will be honored and the celebration will include readings by some of the winning authors, designers, and illustrators of books with a Nebraska connection published in 2017. And the winners are:

Anthology: Not Quite So Stories by David S. Atkinson. Publisher: Literary Wanderlust

Children’s Picture Book: Choose Your Days by Paula S. Wallace. Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press 

Young Adult: Keeping Captain by N. L. Sharp. Publisher: Prairieland Press

 Young Adult Honor: The Ghost Juggler by Nona Brooks Morrison. Publisher: Prairieland Press

Cover/Design/Illustration: Okoboji: Over 160 Years of History and Images by Cristy Clarke Hedgpeth. Editing and content design by Sandra Wendel and Ellie Pelto. Graphic Design by Rachel Moore. Production by Lisa Pelto, Concierge Marketing. Publisher: Hedgpeth Publishing

Illustration Honor: Leaves of Absence: An Illustrated Guide to Common Garden Affection by Laura Madeline Wiseman. Art by Sally Deskins. Publisher: Red Dashboard   

Fiction: The Bones of Paradise: A Novel by Jonis Agee. Publisher: William Morrow

Fiction Short Story Honor: Where We Land: Stories by Daryl Farmer. Publisher: Brighthorse Books

Nonfiction Biography: A Warrior of the People: How Susan La Flesche Overcame Racial and Gender Inequality to Become America’s First Indian Doctor by Joe Starita. Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Nonfiction Folklore: Why I’m an Only Child and Other Slightly Naughty Plains Folktales by Roger Welsch. Publisher: University of Nebraska Press

Nonfiction Memoir: Bread: A Memoir of Hunger by Lisa Knopp. Publisher: University of Missouri Press

Nonfiction Photography: Last Days of Red Cloud Agency, Peter T. Buckley’s Photograph Collection (1876-1877), by Thomas R. Buecker. Publisher: Nebraska State Historical Society Books

Nonfiction Reference: Great Plains Indians by David J. Wishart. Publisher: University of Nebraska Press

Nonfiction Travel: Trespassing Across America: One Man’s Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland by Ken Ilgunas. Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Poetry: Homing: The Collected Poems of Don Welch (1975-2015) by Don Welch. Edited by Dwaine Spieker. Publisher: Rogue Faculty Press 

Poetry Honor: I Have Nothing to Say about Fire by Marjorie Saiser. Publisher: Backwaters Press 

Poetry Honor: Singing and Dying by Glenna Luschei. Publisher: Penciled In 

The Celebration of Nebraska, free and open to the public, will also honor winners of the 2017 Jane Geske and Mildred Bennett awards. The Mildred Bennett Award recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to fostering the literary tradition in Nebraska, reminding us of the literary and intellectual heritage that enriches our lives and molds our world. The Jane Geske Award is presented to a Nebraska organization for exceptional contribution to literacy, books, reading, libraries, or literature in Nebraska. It commemorates Geske’s passion for books, and was established in recognition of her contributions to the well-being of the libraries of Nebraska.

The 2017 One Book One Nebraska selection, Black Elk Speaks (University of Nebraska Press) by John G. Neihardt will be featured in a keynote presentation by Timothy G. Anderson, author of the biography Lonesome Dreamer: The Life of John G. Neihardt (University of Nebraska Press) at 2:45 p.m.

The Nebraska Center for the Book Annual Meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m.—just prior to the 2:30-6:30 p.m. Celebration. An awards reception honoring the winning authors, book signings, and announcement of the 2018 One Book One Nebraska book choice will conclude the festivities.

The Celebration of Nebraska Books is sponsored by Nebraska Center for the Book and Nebraska Library Commission, with support from the Nebraska State Historical Society’s Nebraska History Museum. Humanities Nebraska provides support for One Book One Nebraska. The Nebraska Center for the Book is housed at the Nebraska Library Commission and brings together the state’s readers, writers, booksellers, librarians, publishers, printers, educators, and scholars to build the community of the book, supporting programs to celebrate and stimulate public interest in books, reading, and the written word. The Nebraska Center for the Book is supported by the national Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and the Nebraska Library Commission.

As the state library agency, the Nebraska Library Commission is an advocate for the library and information needs of all Nebraskans. The mission of the Library Commission is statewide promotion, development, and coordination of library and information services, “bringing together people and information.”

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The most up-to-date news releases from the Nebraska Library Commission are always available on the Library Commission Website, http://nlc.nebraska.gov/publications/newsreleases.

 

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Friday Reads: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, by Sherman Alexie

I am currently listening to the audio edition of You Don’t Have to Say you Love Me, a memoir by Sherman Alexie, written after his mother Lillian’s death in 2015. In it he wrestles not only with grief, but also with the regret, guilt, and bitterness that characterized his relationship with her.

Born in 1966, Alexie grew up in Wellpinit, Washington, on the Spokane Indian Reservation. His family was poor, his dad often drunk and absent, his mother sober but sometimes cruel, and “On the reservation, violence [was] a clock, / Ordinary and relentless.” This is the formative experience that shapes all Alexie’s writing, but his power as a storyteller is his ability to craft a narrative both culturally specific and universal.

Speaking of the narrative, it is definitely not straightforward, and possibly not for everyone. The audiobook is read by Alexie, himself, which is a positive. He is known for his dramatic readings and has won slam poetry championships, so it’s doubtful any other narrator could own the material as he does. It has the feel of performance art, shifting seamlessly from prose with the texture of dramatic monologue, to poetry, to “rez accent” dialogue (Alexie recounts a conversation he once had with a white girlfriend, who said his mother had a “fancy accent.” When he tells her “[r]ez accents are the opposite of fancy,” she counters: “But rez accents make everything sound like music.”)

The stories Alexie tells aren’t presented chronologically, and even their authenticity is sometimes in doubt. In the first chapter alone there are multiple instances of family members questioning each other’s memories of how and if things happened. “You’re always making up stuff from the past,” his sister tells him. Even a writer friend teasingly accuses Alexie of being “the unreliable narrator of your own life,” for allegedly inventing a conversation between the two (about, of all things, storytelling and truth) and including it in the first chapter of his memoir. This is actually a perfect setup for Alexie’s subsequent examination of his relationship with his mother, a woman who told “many clever and clumsy lies,” as well as some that resonated with spiritual truth.

And that’s the thing about this memoir. Even if the anecdotes Alexie shares didn’t happen exactly as he remembers them, and even if one’s own life experiences and circumstances differ significantly from Alexie’s, the conflicted parental relationship he struggles with is recognizable and relatable, albeit uniquely described. That’s why I have appreciated this memoir so far and look forward to finishing it, though I don’t anticipate a particularly happy ending or any real resolution.

Alexie, Sherman. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Ashland, OR: Blackstone Audio, 2017.

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Young Readers Invited to Write to Favorite Authors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
September 13, 2017

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Mary Jo Ryan
402-471-3434
800-307-2665

Young readers in grades 4-12 are invited to write a personal letter to an author for the Letters about Literature (LAL) contest, a national reading and writing promotion program. The letter can be to any author (living or dead) from any genre—fiction or nonfiction, contemporary or classic—explaining how that author’s work changed the student’s view of the world. The 25th annual reflective writing competition is sponsored by the Library of Congress Center for the Book and presented in association with affiliate State Centers for the Book with funding provided by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. Letters About Literature is coordinated an sponsored in Nebraska by the Nebraska Center for the Book and the Nebraska Library Commission, with support from Houchen Bindery, Ltd., Humanities Nebraska, and Chapters Bookstore in Seward.

Prizes will be awarded on both the state and national levels. The Nebraska Center for the Book’s panel of judges will select the top letter writers in the state, to be honored in a proclamation-signing ceremony at the state capitol during National Library Week in April 2018. Their winning letters will be placed in the Jane Pope Geske Heritage Room of Nebraska Authors at Bennett Martin Public Library in Lincoln. Nebraska winners will receive state prizes, and then advance to the national judging.

A panel of national judges for the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress will select one National Winner per competition level (Level I for grades 4-6, Level II for grades 7-8, and Level III for grades 9-12) to receive a $1,000 cash award, to be announced in May 2018. The judges will also select one National Honor winner on each competition level to receive a $200 cash award.

Teachers, librarians, and parents can download free teaching materials on reader response and reflective writing, along with contest details and entry forms, at www.read.gov/letters. Nebraska-specific information (including lists of Nebraska winners of past competitions) is available at http://centerforthebook.nebraska.gov/programs/LAL.html. Get inspired by listening to Nebraska winners, Ashley Xiques and Sydney Kohl, read and talk about and their winning letters to authors that meant something to them in their own lives, see NET Radio’s All About Books (http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/radio/all-about-books). Submissions must be postmarked by December 9, 2017. For more information contact Mary Jo Ryan, MaryJo.Ryan@nebraska.gov, 402-471-3434 or 800-307-2665.

The Nebraska Center for the Book is housed at the Nebraska Library Commission and brings together the state’s readers, writers, booksellers, librarians, publishers, printers, educators, and scholars to build the community of the book, supporting programs to celebrate and stimulate public interest in books, reading, and the written word. The Nebraska Center for the Book is supported by the Nebraska Library Commission.

As the state library agency, the Nebraska Library Commission is an advocate for the library and information needs of all Nebraskans. The mission of the Library Commission is statewide promotion, development, and coordination of library and information services, bringing

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The most up-to-date news releases from the Nebraska Library Commission are always available on the Library Commission Website, http://nlc.nebraska.gov/publications/newsreleases.

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NCompass Live: One Book For Nebraska Kids & Teens 2017

Join us for the next NCompass Live, ‘One Book For Nebraska Kids & Teens 2017’, on Wednesday, September 13, 10:00am – 11:00am CT.

Wouldn’t it be great if kids all over Nebraska were talking about books? The Nebraska Library Commission & the Regional Library Systems have a program where kids can all read and discuss the same book. Join Sally Snyder, the NLC’s Coordinator of Children and Young Adult Library Services, to learn all about the 2017 program: One Book For Nebraska Kids – Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson, and One Book For Nebraska Teens – The Legend of Bass Reeves by Gary Paulsen.

Upcoming NCompass Live events:

  • Sept. 20 – Empowering Immigrant Community Members Through Education & Information
  • Sept. 27 – Weeding Your Library Collection
  • Oct. 11 – NO NCOMPASS LIVE THIS WEEK – Enjoy the 2017 NLA/NSLA Annual Conference! Check out the full program and register.
  • Oct. 18 – ALA Book Club Central
  • Oct. 24 – Google Forms for Your Library

For more information, to register for NCompass Live, or to listen to recordings of past events, go to the NCompass Live webpage.

NCompass Live is broadcast live every Wednesday from 10am – 11am Central Time. Convert to your time zone on the Official U.S. Time website. The show is presented online using the GoToWebinar online meeting service. Before you attend a session, please see the NLC Online Sessions webpage for detailed information about GoToWebinar, including system requirements, firewall permissions, and equipment requirements for computer speakers and microphones.

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Friday Reads: The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

Timothy Schaffert’s The Swan Gondola has been on my reading list for the past few years. I’m now glad that I finally got around to reading it. It’s a delight. From what I knew about the book – not much – I expected it to be quirky, and it is, and in a good way.

The setting is the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair (The Trans-Mississippi & International Exposition). The book is a love story populated with some of the most unusual and colorful characters imaginable. At the center is Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, and a hopeful romantic. The object of his affection is the enigmatic and beautiful Cecily, an actress in a traveling troupe who plays Marie Antoinette in a fair horror show. And there is William Wakefield, a wealthy Omaha tycoon and fair investor who disrupts the Ferret and Cecily relationship.

Schaffert has an incredible imagination. His characters are finely developed, described as an endearing band of thieves and drunkards. Schaffert’s research for all things surrounding Omaha’s exposition in 1898 is thorough and admirable. He clearly did his homework and wrote his book with highly detailed descriptions of the society, culture, styles, and life near the end of the nineteenth century.

Schaffert’s fascination with the Wizard of Oz is notable and noted, mentioning such in the book credits.

Authors always earn my appreciation when they describe libraries and librarians in a positive light. And Schaffert does. He also gives recognition to a good number of Omaha librarians in the book credits, along with many others who contributed in one way or another to his research, writing, and eventual publication.

The Swan Gondola is Schaffert’s fifth novel. His earlier novels include the critically acclaimed Devils in the Sugar Shop and The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God. In addition to national recognition and awards, Timothy received the 2003 Nebraska Book Award (fiction) for his The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters.

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What’s Up Doc? New State Agency Publications at the Nebraska Library Commission

New state agency publications have been received at the Nebraska Library Commission for July 2017.  Included are reports from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, the Nebraska State Board of Health, the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles, and new books from the University of Nebraska Press, to name a few.

All items, except the books from the University of Nebraska Press, and the Local Emergency Operations Plans, are available for immediate viewing and printing by clicking on the highlighted .pdf link.

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Friday Reads: Raven Rock

I had high expectations for Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die. I became interested in the book after listening to an engaging interview with the author, Garrett Graff, on NPR’s Fresh Air. Unfortunately, the book didn’t live up to my expectations. Don’t get me wrong, there is some good stuff here. But generally I found the middle part of the book to be a repetitive bore. Raven Rock picks up during World War II, when the U.S. was heading full throttle into the atomic age, with Harry S. Truman President of the United States. While there are many facets to Raven Rock, Graff primarily describes the aftermath of the atomic bomb deployment prior to the cold war, subsequent U.S. government preparations for doomsday, and other disaster planning. The book provides a chronology by each president after Truman. I found the first few chapters to be of interest (Truman and Eisenhower), then the beginning of aforementioned lackluster, drawn out, and sleepy sections, then heating up again around September 11, 2001 (Bush 43).

I think one of the challenges for Graff was getting his hands on information that wasn’t classified. This might explain why the reader has chapter after chapter devoted to the 50’s and 60’s time period, yet less than 2 pages devoted to President Clinton. Raven Rock, named after the massive Raven Rock Mountain Complex (also known as Site R), is an underground military nuclear bunker carved into the area’s greenstone granite, and located about 6 miles north of Camp David. It is basically an underground city, complete with offices, communications centers, bomb blast doors, dining facilities, an infirmary, bathrooms, etc. Speaking of Camp David, Graff provides an interesting narrative about the history of it (formerly known as Shangri-La). One of the appealing aspects of Raven Rock is these sorts of anecdotes, and I wish Graff devoted more attention to them. A few highlights include Graff’s descriptions of code names used for government officials and their family members, and the challenge to deciphering them on radio transmissions. Example: “Volunteer will reside at VALLEY for an indefinite time. I repeat: VOLUNTEER will reside at VALLEY for an indefinite time. VICTORIA requests that VENUS will go to VALLEY with agent” actually meant that Lyndon Johnson (VOLUNTEER) will reside at his private residence at The Elms (VALLEY), and Lady Bird (VICTORIA) requests that Luci (LBJ’s daughter, VENUS) will go to The Elms (VALLEY) with an agent. Also, the fact that up until at least 1910, tourists could sit at the president’s desk in the White House, and as Vice President, Lyndon Johnson’s phone number was listed in the phone book. Another anecdote describes a curious exchange between Chief Justice Earl Warren and officials who distributed a Mt. Weather entrance ID card to him but not Mrs. Warren. In our self-centered world of today, you have to appreciate the Chief’s returning the card, sarcastically saying:

“Then I suppose I should call my wife and say, ‘Honey, there is an atomic bomb attack to be made on Washington, and I am flying to safety in Appalachia. Sorry I don’t have time to come home and say good-bye, but it was nice to have met you.'”

Raven Rock is one of a number of emergency operations centers for the government, along with Mount Weather in Virginia, and Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. But Graff’s Raven Rock is about much more than the construction and maintenance of these facilities; it’s about government disaster, succession, and “COG” or continuity of government planning — the principle that government continues to operate in the case of a catastrophic event. Granted most of this centers around the cold war, but on September 11, 2001, it took a much different turn. As Graff points out, September 11 exposed a clustered mess of communications problems and other assorted government disarray. Graff also devotes quite a bit of attention to the nuclear “football”. While the football doesn’t explicitly contain launch codes, “one military aide compared it to a Denny’s menu. You can go through and point at different pictures and that’s the type of nuclear war you would order. …”

All in all, Graff provides an interesting narrative of how the government’s plans have evolved over time to adequately handle these sorts of real and potential doomsday type disasters. Graff points out some of these failures along the way, but also interesting facts that most readers likely are unaware of. Just skip the middle third of the book.

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Friday Reads: “New Prairie Kitchen” by Summer Miller. Photographs by Dana Damewood.

It seems like the best cookbooks are the ones that tell a story—in addition to sharing great recipes and scrumptious photos. Recently I’ve been reading the stories, trying the recipes, and gazing at the photos in New Prairie Kitchen by Summer Miller. The author, a young mom and freelance writer from the Omaha area, explored restaurants and farms within a 200-mile radius of Omaha and brings us stories of real people who grow, prepare, and serve real food for their families and friends. The author says that the book “…pays homage to the outstanding and innovative chefs, farmers, and artisans of Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. They have shared some of their favorite recipes here, organized by season and focused on regionally sourced meat, poultry, game, and produce. Profiles of these exceptional people are nestled throughout the book.” I love the stories and photos, and I’m loving the food, as well.

After perusing the New Prairie Kitchen recipes, I went to the Farmer’s Market and bought a 4 pound pork shoulder roast from a local producer that was perfect for trying the Spice-Rubbed Slow-Cooker Pork (Kevin Shinn of Bread and Cup in Lincoln, NE). What could be simpler than a spice rub and a slow cooker? I did have to add some liquid to mine since my slow-cooker must be a little on the hot side, but after 6 hours the roast was juicy and fragrant—and I shredded it apart with two forks just like the experts on the cooking channel on TV. I should have made a YouTube video. Next, my backyard bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes inspired me to make Tomato Chutney (Sean Wilson of Proof in Des Moines, IA) and Tomato Marmalade (Clayton Chapman of The Grey Plume in Omaha, NE). Both are delicious on bread and cheese—and as a bonus, I got to use some of the garlic and jalapeño chilies from my garden too. And I’m not done yet. I’ll be making the Black Walnut and Clove Muffins (Maggie Pleskac of Maggie’s Vegetarian Café in Lincoln, NE) for the next Nebraska Library Commission potluck—and more.

The book might also provide a little tourism boost. The food sounds so good, it makes me want to hop in the car and go out in search of the places where other people will make this yummy food for me. Maybe a trip to the Back Alley Bakery in Hastings, NE is in my future?

To find out more about this Nebraska Book Award-winning cookbook and the “foodways” of the Great Plains, see Summer Miller’s blog at http://www.scaldedmilk.com/.

Review by Mary Jo Ryan.

#fridayreads

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Friday Reads: Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan

While my summer reading list was often full of nonfiction, despairing memoirs, and dystopian nightmare scenarios, sometimes I just need to escape into a quick summer beach read. In this case, my interlude came in the form of “mommy lit” – stories about mothers of young kids; sleep-deprived mothers who are running on coffee and dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets; moms who love their little ones dearly, but occasionally fantasize about long-ago child-free spa weekends – you know, someone I can relate to.

If you aren’t familiar with Bumni Laditan, she’s the creator of The Honest Toddler, a blog-turned-book written in that voice we all secretly think belongs to our own children. Confessions of a Domestic Failure is Laditan’s first novel, and it centers around Ashley Keller, a newly minted stay-at-home-mom (by way of corporate layoff).

Ashley is smart and resourceful – she was an ace at her marketing job before the layoff, and she can fashion an emergency diaper out of items in the backseat of her car – but she is also failing spectacularly at creating the blissful family life she thinks is expected of her. Her house is a mess, she hasn’t lost the baby weight, her daughter rarely makes it out of pajamas (so much for all those cute baby clothes!), and she is struggling to be supportive of her husband’s decision to quit his own corporate job to start a new company.

Ashley is determined to be a Pinterest-perfect mother with an Instagram-worthy home and a huge circle of supportive mommy gal pals… if she can ever peel off her Cheerio-crusted yoga pants and find the energy to shower. Laditan perfectly and hilariously captures the isolation and exhaustion of new motherhood and the pressures social media creates to project perfection.

Ashley is offered a chance to compete in a “Motherhood Better” competition held by superstar mommy-blogger Emily Walker. She stumbles through each challenge, and madcap antics ensue – from accidentally mooning the other competitors during a live video conference, to lying her way into a breastfeeding support group (though her daughter takes formula) while trying to make mom-friends, to nearly setting her house ablaze while “crafting”. But somehow she makes it to the finals and gets to meet her idol Emily. Will she win the contest and push her jogging stroller into the sunset… or will the pressure of domestic perfection cause her to crash and burn?

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Friday Reads: Restart by Gordon Korman

Chase (8th grade) wakes up in the hospital and remembers nothing of who he is, or his family—the group of people standing around his bed looking at him. He remembers how to walk, talk, eat, read, all the daily things we all do, but nothing personal about himself. His school is unfamiliar, but as he walks down the hall he notices students cringing away from him. Slowly he begins to discover that he has been the reigning bully, and not only that, he has encouraged his former two best friends to do it too. As the 8th grade team quarterback, he ruled the school. But now he is repulsed by who he was. How did he get that way when now his impulses are to be friendly and helpful? And what should he do now?

This is a fascinating look at human behavior, our inner selves vs. our outer selves, and how we may end up so far from where we were meant to go.  The author is known for his humorous books, but this one takes a more serious, and intriguing path.

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