Jesmyn Ward Wins National Book Award Again

Author Jesmyn Ward won the National Book Award for her newest novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing. It’s the story of a family in rural Mississippi that has drawn comparisons to The Odyssey and examines the brutal history of the South.   Ward gave a fantastic interview on the book to NPR’S Terry Gross on Fresh Air, which can be listened to or read here.

Although Ward is only 40, this is the second time she’s won the prize.   In 2011 she won for the outstanding Salvage the Bones. It also examines issues of race, poverty and family in Missisippi, but this time the action centers on Hurricane Katrina.  Ward herself grew up in Mississippi in a town that her family has lived in for generations called DeLisle (in her fiction it’s called Bois Sauvage).  The author examines the role the places plays in her fiction in this fascinating article called Writing Mississippi.



The Vietnam War

Every year on November 11, Americans honor the men and women who have served in the U.S. military.  It’s a crucial day to reflect on their commitment to serve and the ideals of duty and freedom.

To fully understand the sacrifices and hardship faced by veterans, consider checking out the recent documentary The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.   If you already watched the ten part, 18-hour documentary on PBS, you may want to check out the companion book: The Vietnam War: An Intimate History.

Did you know that here in Chicago we have two museums that help showcase what it means to be a veteran?

The National Veterans Art Museum hopes to foster dialogue between veterans and civilians about the impact of war.  Learn more about the museum’s history and mission here. The exhibit Vietnam – The Defining Moment is opening Friday, Nov 10.  It features artwork by over 30 Vietnam veterans and was curated by 2 Vietnam veterans.

The Pritzker Military Museum & Library, is located right across from Millennium Park.   Faces of War is a current exhibit of images by photographers that served on the front lines during the Vietnam War.   The collection also includes artifacts and items including the notebook of a soldier who fought during the Revolutionary War, Medals of Honor, and a 45-star flag from 1898.

Time to Embrace the Scary

Even if you don’t normally read horror, this is the one week of the year that you might be interested in creeping yourself out.   Lucky for you, we have a copy of Stephen King’s newest, a book he wrote with his son Owen-  Sleeping Beauties.  It’s the story of a near future where all women – except one- fall asleep and become “feral and spectacularly violent” if they are disturbed.

If you are a fan of King family creepiness, you need to check out Stephen King’s other writer son,  Joe Hill. 

If you want to devote less time to being frightened, how about a good old movie marathon?  We also have Pet Sematary, The Shining, It (from 1990, not the new movie), and Salem’s Lot.







Savor the Season: Head to the Farmers’ Market

I’m one of those annoying people who always finds something to complain about when it comes to weather: in the winter, it’s too cold and dark and dreary and depressing but as soon as summer comes, it’s too hot and sticky and gross.   To try to beat that bad attitude, I do my best to focus on the great things summer brings!   One of my favorites?   The Farmers’ Market!

I’ll make weekly visits until the fall but I’m not a very natural chef, so I need plenty of inspiration and direction to tell me what to do with all the scrumptious seasonal goodness.  I’ve checked out some great cookbooks, maybe you want to as well!

Don’t feel like lugging a book home? Check out these e-books!

Don’t feel like spending any more time staring at a screen? Check out these books!


Have You Celebrated Poetry Month Yet?

April is Poetry Month!  We have some great titles in the first floor lounge that showcase the different ways poetry can speak to your heart.

Derek Walcott, Winner of the Nobel Prize and Saint Lucia’s favorite son, died last month.  We have a wonderful introduction to his decades of work Selected Poems Derek Walcott, Edited by Edward Baugh

The Persian poet and Sufi mystic Rumi is beloved by lovers of poetry all over the world.   If you know his poetry, you may want to check out a book about his life: Rumi’s Secret: The Life of the Sufi Poet of Love by Brad Gooch

Somos Como Las Nubes/We Are Like the Clouds is a moving and beautifully illustrated account of the tragic migrations of thousands of children in Central America to seek refuge in the US.  The poet, Jorge Argueta, was himself a refugee from El Salvador in the 1980s.

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead won the 2016 National Book Award for The Underground Railroad.  As you may expect from the title, the novel is about a woman, Cora escaping slavery via The Underground Railroad.  But in this world it’s an actual railroad, with tracks, tunnels and conductors.  The Judges’ Citation, which can be found here along with an interview and highlights from The National Book Award Ceremony itself, sums up the power of the book best:

The Underground Railroad confirms Colson Whitehead’s reputation as one of our most daring and inventive writers. A suspenseful tale of escape and pursuit, it combines elements of fantasy and the counter-factual with an unflinching, painfully truthful depiction of American slavery. Whitehead revisits the grotesque barbarities of our nation’s history in the interest of our common stake in freedom and dignity. He has given us an electrifying narrative of the past, profoundly resonant with the present.

We have The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead in multiple formats.

Do You Believe in Rest or Do You Love to Stay Busy?

After this week, most of us have some nice time off between semesters. What are you going to do with all that time? Are you planning on deep rest and a whole lot of lazy dark winter days?   Or does not having anything to do drive you crazy and are you looking to stay super busy over break?

Busy people looking for a project, browse through some of our truly excellent DIY project books (DIY temporary tattoos! DIY duct tape projects! DIY solar panel projects!)

For those looking for total relaxation, give yourself some credit and realize what a wonderful thing you are doing for yourself by learning about the benefits and pleasures of taking a snooze with Sleep and You: Sleep Better, Live Better or Sound Asleep: The Expert Guide to Sleeping Well. 

Whatever you are going to do, enjoy it!


My Depression – A Picture Book and a Film

Helpful, but definitely not a self-help book. Based on the author’s experience, but not a traditional memoir.  A picture book full of scribbles.   Elizabeth Swados’s My Depression: A Picture Book is hard to classify but even harder to forget.  The author makes a subject that many people find impossible to talk about accessible and maybe even… funny?   Just as entertaining and dynamic is a HBO documentary film based on the book My Depression: The Up and Down and Up of It. And just like the book, it’s a short time commitment: only a half hour!

Both titles are available for check out if you need something to help you feel a little less alone this month.

Too Cool for the Nobel Prize?

Music’s mysterious cool guy: it’s a role that Bob Dylan has been filling for decades but he’s really taken it to the next level in the past couple of weeks.   There is a committee trying to reach him with news that almost every other artist would be delighted by… he won the Nobel Prize!!! Insert party here, right?  Well, not for him!  Read this article about how he won’t return the committee’s calls or get in touch with them.

Perhaps only Mr Dylan and his friends know why he’s playing coy, but let’s focus on what we do know: he won the Nobel Prize in Literature and he’s most famous for his songwriting. What do you think – is songwriting literature?  Even if he is one of the English-speaking world’s most poetic and truthful songwriters, should he be getting an award that usually goes to authors?   There is no right answer.. make up your own mind, it’s what Bob would want you to do! Learn about his body of work with the help of our collection:


Let the Work Speak for Itself

The Life & Legacy of Muhammad Ali

Often known as simply “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali passed away on Friday.  If the things that you’ve been reading and hearing about him have you curious to learn more, check out some of the illuminating titles in our collection.  You won’t regret it!

2015’s Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcom X is a deep look at the complex relationship between the two men.

Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami is a DVD that follow the boxer’s career and looks at the forces that made him a very important cultural figure.

Can you imagine what it was like to stand in the ring, about to fight the man who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee?  Hear from some of the men who did just that in Facing Ali: The Opposition Weighs In.

You know that a collection of essays titled The Best American Sports Writing of the Century is going to have coverage of the best American Sportsman of the century, right? The essays about Ali in this collection are must-reads.

Ali is a movie that covers 10 years of the champ’s life, from 1964 to 1974.