Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit by River Jordan

“But one thing is for certain – our need for love, our need for each other does not change. And that’s the painful truth, the raw beauty of being human. We hurt, we love, we endure, we continue – and on any given moment of any given day – we rejoice. Praying for Strangers has allowed me those moments of rejoicing in being human.”  So says the author River Jordan one year after the debut of her second book, Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit.

I appreciated this book for the motivation instilled in me to think more of my fellow people each day.  I may not take the challenge of praying everyday for a stranger as River did, but I have been more cognizant of my interactions with those around me.  River chose to begin this resolution one New Year’s when she had much on her own plate that needed prayer.  She selfishly could have focused on her own needs such as her two sons being deployed, one to Afghanistan and one to Iraq.  Instead River began praying every day for someone she crossed paths with and then telling them she would be doing this.  Many times she approached them with, “Would you mind telling me your name?  I have this daily resolution to pray for a stranger and you are my person today”  The reactions and responses she received were nearly always of gratitude and love.  The short converstaions that followed were such a boost to her spirit that River was encouraged to continue all year.  Many shared particular prayer needs and their short interactions became sweet memories and wishes to see them again.  We go through life depersonalizing those around us by never acknowedging their existence.  The clerk at Wal-mart checking us out could be a robot for all the human interaction we have with them. River Jordan’s book helped me to realize the worth of each person and the hope we can give those around us just by sharing a smile, a few words and a prayer.  Praying for Stangers is one book that won’t be read and forgotten.

Dystopian Fiction: Something’s Not Right with the World


by John Pecoraro, Assistant Director

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” With these seemingly innocuous words George Orwell began his view of the near future in 1984. Orwell’s vision, published in 1949, was one of pervasive government surveillance by Big Brother, perpetual war, and continuous public mind control.

While Orwell’s novel is a classic in the genre of dystopian fiction, John Stuart Mill actually coined the word dystopia in 1868 by adding the Greek prefix for bad, abnormal, or difficult (dys), to utopia. Sir Thomas More had originated the word “utopia” in 1516, from the imaginary island he described in his book by the same name. More’s Utopia was an ideal place, a place of political and social perfection (utopia comes from the Greek for “not a place”). Dystopia describes the opposite.

The worlds described in dystopian fiction are deeply flawed. While the societies they picture may seem utopian on the face of things, the perfection of the utopian dream is often repressed by government or societal control over behaviors, thoughts, and even dreams.

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells is a classic example of late nineteenth-century dystopian fiction. Its time-traveling hero journeys to the far future where humankind has evolved into two species. In this ultimate example of the haves and the have-nots, the Eloi live on the surface of Earth, living an idyllic life of leisure without fear of hunger. The Morlocks, condemned to life underground, are monsters who feed on the Eloi whom they raise as cattle.

While dystopian fiction usually takes place in the future, the authors’ visions are often fueled by present events. In We, author Yevgeny Zamyatin described the One State with its ranks of “ciphers” all marching in step, living in rooms made of glass, with every moment planned by “The Table.” Zamyatin, writing his novel during the early 1920s in the fledgling Soviet Union, characterized the rising totalitarianism of his time.

Nobel laureate Sinclair Lewis did much the same thing in It Can’t Happen Here. In this story of a populist politician who becomes a dictator after his election, Lewis mirrored events in 1930s Nazi Germany.

Aldous Huxley, in his novel Brave New World portrayed the ultimate in planned society. In Huxley’s world new members are incubated in factories, where their intelligence, ability, and occupation are predetermined. There are no individual parents; society is the parent of all, and everyone has a specific place in the scheme of things.

Kurt Vonnegut painted a picture of a future run by engineers and scientists in Player Piano. In this author’s future, machines do much of the work once performed by men and women, making most of the population superfluous. Vonnegut offered a dystopian version of the great wealth and prosperity promised in the aftermath of the Second World War.

What is harmless and even helpful in the present day is taken to its furthest, most absurd extreme in dystopian fiction. In Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, for example, firemen burn books as a means to protect society from the harmful influences of ideas. Bradbury also predicted both the ubiquity of television and reality shows in his portrayal of a future where multiple large screen televisions are the rage, and the audience participates in the programs.

The popularity of dystopian fiction continues today. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and its sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, tell the tale of Panem (post-apocalyptic North America), and its capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. As punishment for an earlier rebellion, each year the districts are forced to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.

An extensive list of titles in the dystopian genre written between1835-2011 is available at wikipedia. Many titles in this genre from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are available as free e-books from sites such as Project Gutenberg, and Many Books. Many of the titles discussed in this article are available at Manhattan Public Library in print or electronic format. You can learn about the possibilities of your e-reader or tablet computer and the library’s e-book collection at free workshops on May 12. For more information, go to

Good Girls Do by Cathie Linz

Librarian Julia Wright has separated herself from her eccentric family in an attempt to have a quiet, responsible, and normal life.  But once Luke Maguire rides up, dressed in black and riding a Harley, Julia’s serenity starts swirling down the drain.  Luke is forced to come back to Serenity Falls due to a clause in his father’s will and resents every minute there, but is starting to wonder if the cute librarian might make his stay a bit more tolerable.   Julia is further troubled by the sudden appearance of the very family she was trying to avoid; a hippie mother and a free-spirited sister who’s most recent business venture leave them stuck asking the responsible Julia to let them move in.

All set in a quirky small town with great secondary characters, Good Girls Do is a delightful story that will keep you laughing and racing to the very end.

Traveling the Silk Road

 Traveling the Silk Road :Ancient Pathway to the Modern World conjures images of romance and mystery, but in fact the Silk Road was a vast network of trade routes stretching over 5,000 miles from China through Central Asia and the Arabian Penninsula and into Europe. This was the first “information highway”–goods were exchanged along with news, ideas, foods, religions and cultures. Buddhism, Islam and Christianity all found their way to new cultures along the Silk Road, from 600CE to the 14th century. The use of the  first paper and paper money spread east from China as glass and glassware  were traded from Istanbul towards the east. Goods such as silk, spices, wine, tea, cotton and metal items all spread from Asia to the rest of the world along the Silk Road. From Xi’an, China to Istanbul (Constantinople) and beyond, cultures were influenced by the trade items passing through. Xi’an was a thriving city with many religions and languages, Istanbul was at the crossroads of two continents –  a thriving trade port and Baghdad was a scholarly city with a university and 36 public libraries in the 12oo’s–a center of learning, writing and art. Recent archaeological finds have shown the extent of trade along the various routes, and this book is beautifully illustrated with photos of artifacts as well as of art work and maps of the routes. The book follows the route of the Silk Road in stages and includes fascinating photographs, of places such as the karez (wells) in the Turfan area of China that were built in the sixth century and are still in use today. This beautiful publication by the American Museum of Natural History offers a glimpse back to a time when ideas and cultures were being shared and explored.  Check out this book and visit some of the  the exotic stops along the Silk Road.

The Greatest Story Ever Sold

If you enjoyed the documentary Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock, then you’ll like his latest DVD, POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Since fewer people are watching commercials these days, advertisers have had to get more creative in advertising their products. One of common techniques used is product placement in movies and television.  In this entertaining DVD Spurlock attempts to make a movie about product placement funded solely by companies using product placement in his movie!. It is a humorous, yet informative look at how advertising affects movies and TV without us even being aware of it much of the time. Spurlock takes the viewer through the entire process of making his movie:  the initial steps of trying to get companies as sponsors, consulting lawyers, meeting with corporate executives, creating promotional materials for his movie, etc. Along the way, he interviews a number of different people in the business to get their opinions on how/if movie makers are selling themselves out to advertisers. I found myself chuckling at many different blatant and often ridiculous product placements in the movie .Plus, Spurlock gives a great picture of the contractual obligations movie makers enter into when they sign on for product placement. For instance, Spurlock must now agree to stay in a certain hotel chain, drink only his sponsor’s drink on camera, do an interview on a specific airline, wear sponsors’ clothing, and even take a bath with a pony. Although the viewer gets the feeling Spurlock does not agree with this type of advertising, he remains fairly objective throughout and respectful to those he interviews and with whom he meets.


Copper Beach by Jayne Ann Krentz

Abby Radwell uses her psi-powers to ward off a crazed intruder who is after an encrypted chemical book that she has the rare power to unlock. A deranged killer threatens her to find the book for him, or else!   Abby deals in antiquarian books, some with paranormally encrypted texts, but she keeps her powers undercover except for a few selected clients.  She seeks help from Sam, an expert in rare minerals and paranormally-charged crystals. Sam is willing to help because he believes the blackmailer wants the very same lab notebook his family has been trying to keep off the market for decades.  Abby and Sam’s relationship quickly becomes something much more personal.  Wicked wit, psi-enhanced passion and a twisted plot come together as Krentz delivers another funny, sexy and suspenseful chase–the first book in her new Dark Legacy series, Copper Beach.

Springtime in Paris

by Susan Withee
Adult Services Manager

Paris is a city of legendary charm and for centuries has been an international center of political power and social change, culture and the arts, science and learning, Epicureanism, sensuality, and fashion.  The past few years have seen a publishing explosion of books about Paris – from novels to cookbooks to travel guides, memoirs, and histories.

If you’re lucky enough to be planning a trip to Paris, Manhattan Public Library has travel guides galore to hotels and cafes, historic landmarks, flea markets, museums, famous neighborhoods, and hidden destinations.  And if, for the moment, you can only dream about making the trip, come to the library for the next best thing, books that will transport you there in spirit to discover the fascinating people, beautiful architecture, storied locales, and passionate joie de vivre of the City of Light.  Put an Edith Piaf CD on the player, pour a glass of Chablis, and treat yourself to a vicarious adventure in Paris.

To start your journey, check out Paris: Biography of a City by Colin Jones, a chronological history that is comprehensive in detail and scope. Or for a more creative approach try Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb which explores the geography and history of the city using surprising biographical vignettes of the famous and the obscure.  In The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, bestselling author and historian David McCullough tells of famous Americans, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Mary Cassatt to Samuel Morse, who lived in and learned from Paris.

Andrew Hussey’s Paris: The Secret History, highlights the lives and hangouts of some of the city’s shadier and more subversive historical individuals and groups, and in The Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps, author Eric Hazan takes us through the streets of radical Paris to reveal the riots and revolutions of the 19th and 20th century.

For a unique tour of the city’s architecture, check out Paris Then and Now by Peter Caine, a past-and-present photographic history of the city’s most famous buildings, or Paris: An Architectural History by Anthony Sutcliffe.

For a more personal vision of life in Paris, indulge in the memoirs of people who, for reasons of love, work, adventure, or desperation, have gone to Paris and learned for themselves what it’s like to live la vie en rose.  Paris in Mind: Three Centuries of Americans writing about Paris is an anthology of memoirs as well as essays and excerpts that is enjoyably eclectic and fun to read.  La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life by Elaine Sciolino, longtime Paris bureau chief of The New York Times, is a delightful memoir and treatise on how the French use the art of seductive charm not only in love and relationships, but in every other part of life as well, from politics to daily commerce.

Fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love will enjoy Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull or Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard. In his offbeat and funny book, The Sweet Life in Paris, renowned chef David Lebovitz tells of his adventures in moving to Paris to start a new life, and includes recipes for over fifty delicious dishes and desserts.  More memoirs to savor:  Paris in Love by Eloisa James; Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik; C’est la Vie: An American Conquers the City of Light by Suzy Gershman; and Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin.

Add texture and zest to your Paris experience by wandering off the beaten track with the following:  Forever Paris: 25 Walks in the Footsteps of Chanel, Hemingway, Picasso, and More by Christina Henry de Tessan; The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris by Edmund White; Walks Through Lost Paris: A Journey into the Heart of Historic Paris by Leonard Pitt; Quiet Corners of Paris by Jean-Christophe Napias; and Paris Discovered: Explorations in the City of Light by Mary McAuliffe.

For travelers based in Paris and looking for day trips beyond, try Paris to the Past: Traveling Through French History by Train by Ina Caro.  From the outstanding Vintage Departures series, Paris: The Collected Traveler is a must-read, a meaty traveler’s companion that includes excursions outside the city, expert advice and extensive recommendations for unique experiences, and an enticing list for further reading including novels, histories, memoirs, cookbooks, and guidebooks.  Bon voyage.

Carnet De Voyage by Craig Thompson

I will state that I am not a graphic novel enthusiast.  I am a dyed in the wool, old fashioned reader of books that only reads a few comic strips in the daily newspaper.   Life is too short and there are far too many great books to waste my time on drivel.  Now that I have alienated most of the youngish crowd that are the main readers of blogs such as this, let me share a graphic novels that I have recently appreciated, thereby attempting to redeem myself.
Carnet De Voyage by Craig Thompson, one of the top American graphic novelists, is an autobiographical travel diary he wrote while traveling three months through Africa and Europe.  He documents his views of traveling sometimes as a tourist and sometimes as a famous cartoonist on tour.  Thompson spends time in Paris being wined and dined with his French publisher during book signings.  Then he goes to Morocco and is unhappy there as a lonesome tourist in a very alien society.  He is insightful and introspective regarding traveling which makes this book something most every one can identify with.  Craig shares funny stories, such as the time he gets everyone kicked off a train because he leaves his luggage in a rack outside their train compartment and the authorities fear a terrorism attack.
We meet all kinds of fellow travelers and natives that befriend him or annoy him.  The drawings do a great job of telling his story, just as effectively as beautiful dialogue.
Carnet de Voyage is a very personal experience where we gain insight into Craig Thompson’s thoughts, desires and despair through traveling.

Best Albums of All Time


I love “Best Of” lists.  They seem so definitive.  So you can imagine my joy when I stumbled across Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  It’s a bit dated, but still a valuable resource for exploring the world of great music.  Here are the top 10 albums from the list that we have at the library.  I would love to hear what you think they missed, or what you would add that’s come out since the list was created.

1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
2. Revolver by the Beatles
3. Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan
4. What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye
5. Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones
6. The Beatles by the Beatles
7. Kind of Blue by Miles Davis
8. Are You Experienced? by Jimi Hendrix
9. Nevermind by Nirvana
10. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Think of a Number by John Verdon

>Dave Gurney, retired NYPD Homicide Detective, is lured from retirement by an old college acquaintance, Mark Mellery. Mellery has received threatening notes in the mail, the most recent of which asked him to Think of a Number. When a letter with his number appears, Mellery is convinced that the threats  are authored by someone who can read his mind. Gurney is a master at unraveling puzzles and becomes deeply involved in the case, much to the dismay of his wife– they are supposed to be enjoying retirement. Mellery is found murdered and the criminal leaves behind very specific clues–but are they leading police on a false trail and taunting them for their ineptness? Gurney realizes that the murder is part of a series committed by a serial killer and the hunt is on. Verdon has created interesting characters with depth and complexity. The suspense unfolds as Gurney  follows the clues of the crimes with a  thoughtful and methodical process that leads to a final confrontation with the killer. This is a thriller that will keep you guessing until the end. The next title in the Dave Gurney series is
Shut Your Eyes Tight.

I Geek my day at 2012 KLA

>by Janene Hill
Young Adult Librarian

“I Geek Kansas Libraries”
That was the theme of the 2012 Kansas Library Association Conference in Wichita, which took place last Wednesday through Friday. The annual convention is touted as the state’s premier opportunity for librarians to gather, learn, and network, then “return to your library recharged and energized.”

I hope you will endulge me while I take today’s column to walk you through a few of the highlights from Day 1 for me at this year’s convention.

7:12 Car loaded, breakfast eaten, car gassed up and audiobook cued up. Guess I’m ready to go.

I’m listening to The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. A Young Adult book that I still haven’t quite figured out but is a little paranormal, a little science fiction and some fantasy. A long trip will be great for seeing how this thing turns out.

9:25 Conference registration complete. Unfortunately, I chose to enter at the completely opposite of the end of the convention center. I’m sure I’ve already gotten a mile of walking in for the day. The trek did, however, allow me to see several friends and colleagues along the way.

9:33 Putting the convention badge around my neck is an action that always instantly gets me excited for the upcoming days.

This year’s theme “I Geek Kansas Libraries” is derived from the national awareness campaign sponsored by OCLC, a nonprofit library cooperative, and by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The campaign is dedicated to spreading the word about the vital role of public libraries and raising awareness about the funding issues many public libraries face. The State Library of Kansas has co-sponsored the initiative since December 2010.

9:36  Stopped by the Gift Basket Raffle table on my way and drop a few bucks to support Kansas Library Association Educational Foundation, and take a stab at possibly winning some good loot (I really would enjoy that relaxation-themed basket!).

10:08 First session of the day has begun. Listening to the very in-depth introduction of Cory Doctorow. This guy is smart, accomplished, and busy!

Doctorow is the author of the best-selling YA book Little Brother. His biography says he considers himself a science fiction author, activist, journalist, and blogger (he is the co-editor of He is known for speaking out about copyright, technology issues, and other hot-button topics relating to information sharing.

10:22 Cory says when writing, finishing in the middle of a sentence gives you a starting point for the next day. All authors have their own methodology and it is always interesting to hear how a writer works.

10:42 Realized Cory is wearing some pretty quirky black and white striped slacks. A little whim that makes me appreciate him just a little more.

11:35 A panel of authors (including Doctorow) tout the importance of libraries in the art of “hand-selling” a book. It is reassuring to hear author appreciation for librarians’ efforts to get books into the hands of those who may not otherwise access them.

12:52 Finished eating at Ty’s Diner just west of downtown with some co-workers. Great burger and fresh-cut fries. I recommend it if you like a little bit of a dive, hometown, old-school burger joint.

1:27 Networking with other Young Adult/Teen Services Librarians from across the state at the Young Adult Roundtable Meeting. It is always reassuring to know there are others out there trying to accomplish the same things as you.

2:14 Hearing how Pittsburg Public Library reorganized their non-fiction into categories based on subject. It’s such an interesting concept. Not without it’s ups and downs though. Listening to the presenter, PPL’s Director, is fun. She’s really energetic and inspiring.

3:18 I’m getting all sorts of great ideas of new and fun ways to approach reader’s advisory for teens. Look out Manhattan Middle School kids – this year’s pre-summer visits are going to be different and fun!

3:35 “Life is too short to read books you don’t like.” One of my favorite rules of thumb regarding books.

4:41 In the past half an hour I’ve been mistaken for a Hotel manager and been called ‘young miss’. I’m not sure which one I was more flattered by – looking like I could be in charge or being thought of as young by someone around my same age. A nice change from all of the teens who think I’m “old”.

5:02 Trying not to spill my popcorn all over the table as I munch and type. Whoever decided popcorn and lemonade would make a good pre-supper snack is brilliant! Now, if we could just pull that huge container with the cheesy popcorn over to our table without anybody noticing…

7:15 Pull into the hotel room for the night. Kick off shoes, dump bags, and hook up the laptop to check email and Facebook. Then get down to work – have to make sure I’m ready for both of my presentation sessions tomorrow.

10:28 Done with a last run-through for tomorrow’s presentations. It’s not the actual presenting I worry about, it is wanting to make sure the audience is engaged and entertained and that the presentation is the right length. It’s the little things that make or break presentations like this. If all else fails – the candy I’m providing should smooth over the rough parts.

11:18 Put the finishing touches on this column. Now it is time for bed. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings and find lots of good ideas to bring back to do my part in making Manhattan Public Library an even better place.

Thanks for joining me in my day at KLA.

Single-Handed 2

>Set in the stark and breathtakingly beautiful Connemara area of Ireland, this DVD set continues the story of Jack Driscoll, Sergeant in the local Garda. As one of two policemen in the remote and rural area, Jack is enmeshed in the events of the local community and his work and private lives are intertwined. He is following in his fathers footsteps as the local garda, but is constantly trying to distance himself from the corruption and influence that his father wielded in the community. Jack has grown up in this community and knows the local residents and their families well, making it more difficult for him to investigate crimes.  Intelligently written and with compelling stories and complex characters, this police drama differs from many others as it lacks car chases and shootings, instead emphasizing relationships and the dark undercurrents in the community. This set contains 3 2-part stories, all with plot twists and turns, and with excellent acting by the cast. Single-Handed 2 is an engrossing drama about a man trying to maintain his honor when surrounded by corruption–an excellent drama from Irish television. MPL also has the first episodes of Single-Handed available.

The Little Russian by Susan Sherman

>Gritty and atmospheric, The Little Russian, grabbed me and held me in the early twentieth century drama that Jewish Russians experienced.  Vacillating between the horror of pogroms where Jews were massacred, to the lfestyle of a very wealthy grain merchant, we follow the story of Berta Alshonsky.
  As a child, Berta tastes the pleasures of money while staying with wealthy relatives in Moscow. She is sent back to life in the Ukraine, Little Russia, as a grocer’s daughter in a small hamlet when she is no longer needed as a companion to her cousin.   A wealthy grain buyer falls for Berta and life is easy once more until her husband’s secret life as an arms smuggler is revealed.  Berta makes the fateful decision to stay in the Ukraine with her children when her husband flees to America.  The tumultous war time and lost love reminds me of the epic Dr. Zhivago.  Berta’s courage and determination to find her husband are tested in her fight for survival and protection of her children. This first novel for Susan Sherman is an impressive beginning.

Vertical Vegetables & Fruit by Rhonda Massingham Hart


For people with small gardens, planting food crops that climb can greatly increase yield. This book is a great resource for recommending which types of structures are best for each type of climbing plant. Part I of the book includes information about the why’s and how’s of vertical gardening. Hart includes illustrations of different types of garden structures and helpful tips for how to best assemble these structures.

Vertical Vegetables & Fruit also contains information about container gardening for those who don’t have a yard at all. The library has many books specifically about container gardening that cover that topic in more depth, though.

Part II and Part III of this book cover which varieties of fruits and vegetables are best suited to vertical gardening. She includes specific varieties, their properties and disease resistance, and information about which USDA Hardiness Zones each variety is best suited to.

I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella


Poppy Wyatt has lost it.  In the midst of a hotel fire drill she manages to lose both her family-heirloom engagement ring and her cell phone, causing a near panic until she catches a glimpse of a phone in the trash can.  Finders keepers, right?  Sam Roxton, obnoxious businessman and the owner of the phone disagrees.  Now Poppy is fielding messages and calls from Sam’s business associates and her cranky wedding planner, but still not from all the people who are supposed to be finding her engagement ring.  Add to this juggling act Poppy’s attempt to impress her future in-laws while hiding her loss of ring from them and chaos is the result.  Sam ends up being her conscience and support and forces her to question what’s missing from her relationship with the “perfect” Magnus besides an emerald ring. 

In Kinsella’s classic style of a well-intentioned heroine who just keeps messing up, I’ve Got Your Number will keeping you cringing, laughing, and cheering on Poppy to the very end.