by Anne Mangano on May 7th, 2015
Erik Larson knows how to tell a story. In The Devil in the White City, he masterfully intertwines the story of the 1893 World’s Fair with that of H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who thrived in the growing city of Chicago. In the Garden of Beasts follows the diplomatically unexperienced William Dodd, a professor assigned to the post of American Ambassador to Germany as the National Socialist Party rose to power. Larson’s latest book, Dead Wake: the last crossing of the Lusitania is another fascinating story told well.
There are many ways to tell this one. There’s the conspiracy angle. Did Britain let the Lusitania come along a German submarine because it believed this type of sinking would push the United States to enter World War I? There’s the negligence angle. Did Captain Turner ignore crucial information about active submarines off the Irish coast and not respond appropriately to the threat? Larson’s angle is that this story is about people. He makes individuals’ experience come alive on the page, whether it is the Lusitania’s passengers, U-20’s Captain Schweiger, or President Wilson in his courtship with Edith Bolling Galt. All of these stories are expertly woven to create a compelling and tense narrative that was hard to put down but just as hard to read. The Lusitania’s sinking was a terrible event. It sank it eighteen minutes. Almost two thousand people perished. As I began to know more and more about these individuals, the weight of their fate became heavier and heavier.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the Lusitania’s sinking.
by Anne Mangano on February 26th, 2015
Interested in finding historical population statistics for Iowa? Although the US Census Bureau’s website has a lot of great information, it isn’t the easiest to navigate and its historical data is few and far between, particularly in specifics. If you need a quick fact, you might wish to contact the State Data Center, which is part of the State Library of Iowa. The State Data Center collects information from the US Census, other federal agencies, and Iowa’s state agencies to provide population, housing, business, and government statistics. They have a number of reports on their website, including data profiles for the current year. Can’t find what you are looking for? Contacting them is significantly faster than looking through the Census’s website.
You can contact the State Data Center Monday through Friday 8-4:30:
By phone: 800-248-4483
Or chat through their website here.
by Anne Mangano on February 19th, 2015
Rachel Cusks’ most recent work, Outline, follows an English author’s time in Athens teaching a creative writing class. The novel is broken up into ten chapters, each centering on a different conversation the main character has with her friends, her students, and the people she meets during her time there. The main character herself is somewhat anonymous to the reader, rarely discusses herself directly, but things about herself and her life are revealed in these exchanges. You don’t get the normal narration of what the character thinks and feels except in relation to who she meets. You get an “outline.”
If you like deep character studies and self-reflective narration, or even a complicated and evolving plot, then this isn’t your book. This is very much not your book. However, I found Outline palette-cleansing. The conversations are thoughtful and well-conceived and there are some interesting stories related to our narrator that will keep you on your toes. In one chapter, her writing class goes around the room and tells a story that involves an animal and one such story is riveting (I’m not going into detail here because it was one of the most surprising and heartbreaking segments of the book).
If you are looking for a quick, yet literary and provocative read, then I recommend you check out Outline.
by Anne Mangano on February 6th, 2015
There are many books on infant development that contain pages and pages of text. Authors use word after word after word after word to explain the science behind this and the philosophy behind that. These books are great. They are fascinating and I want to read them someday. But if you are a new parent, your attention span is limited. You are tired, overscheduled (or unscheduled), and if you have extra time, it’s probably not devoted to reading anything extensive. However, there is a natural curiosity to know what is happening and what is coming up next. It is an exciting time of rapid development with changes occurring weekly. That is why I really like DK’s Watch My Baby Grow. This book provides week by week (for the first month) and month by month information on developmental milestones during the first year. But, like any DK book, it also has a lot of visuals, charts, and photographs. It provides a perfect mix for a tired, but curious mind.
The book follows the growth of one baby, Melisa, through her first year. The editors took a picture of Melisa at regular intervals to depict her development. The photographs are beautiful and well-laid out with Melisa in a white infant bodysuit amongst a white background. For scale, a white rabbit stuffed toy was placed next to her for each shot. The photographers had specific photos they wanted to capture in their depiction of infant development. Not all of them worked and there are little blurbs about what they wanted to photograph and why they were unable to do so. You will also find dedicated sections on newborn life, the development of the senses, physical and intellectual growth, communication, and personality.
Watch My Baby Grow is a fun and rewarding book. If you want to dive deeper, there are many great infant development books in our parenting section.
by Anne Mangano on October 9th, 2014
Looking forward to the Homecoming Parade? Or perhaps, you need to plan an escape route out of downtown. Either way, there are a few informational sites to help you get the best seat or find an alternate way around Washington and Gilbert Streets. The parade starts Friday, October 10th at 5:45 pm.
The Press-Citizen has an overview of what to expect from a description of the parade route to street closures. You can find it here: http://www.press-citizen.com/story/news/local/2014/10/08/iowa-city-announces-closures-changes-ui-homecoming/16948975/
For detailed street closures, no-parking areas, changes to bus routes, and parade parking, check out the City of Iowa City’s announcement from last week: http://www.icgov.org/?artID=10008&navID=1515&type=M
For a map of the parade route, visit the Homecoming Iowa website: http://homecoming.uiowa.edu/parade/
Expect the parade to end around 8 pm.
If you do go, make sure to cheer for the Iowa City Public Library ‘s Book Cart Drill Team, as well as our parade mascot, Book Man.
by Anne Mangano on September 24th, 2014
In a job interview at a travel magazine, Samuel Fromartz was asked to describe his dream assignment. As an amateur bread baker and someone struggling to make a good loaf at home, he stated that he wanted to travel to Paris, work in a boulangerie, and learn how to make the perfect baguette. The result of that answer is this piece in Afar magazine, the title of “Best Baquette of D.C.” (Fromartz won this contest over many professional bakers in the city), and the first chapter of In Search of the Perfect Loaf.
Fromartz learned a great deal in the boulangieries of Paris, but it also prompted several questions. He wanted to know more about the history of bread, how leaven (sourdough culture) was developed, how flour was milled, how whole grain fell out of (and now back into) favor, and how wheat and other grains are grown. He explores all of these questions, traveling to France, Germany, California, Kansas, and small farms in the Northeast to gain information. In In Search of the Perfect Loaf, Fromartz turns these questions into an interesting exploration of the components that comprise bread. But this is only half of the story. Fromartz is on a quest to make great bread and he uses what he learns to adapt his baking techniques. The book is filled with several recipes of breads highlighting different types of wheat and whole grains. It is a fun book and might just help you bake the perfect loaf.
by Anne Mangano on August 16th, 2014
Agnes Magnusdottir and Fridrik Sigurdsson were the last people executed in Iceland. It was January 12, 1830. They were both convicted of murdering Natan Ketilsson, a noted herbalist, healer, and farmer, stabbing him to death and setting his house on fire. Agnes worked as a servant to Natan, while Fredrik was the son of a neighboring farmer. The story of this murder, and its resulting execution, continues to capture the imagination of Icelanders. Natan’s workshop and the site of the execution are landmarks. It is the subject of many books and films, all offering different interpretations of both the events and persons involved. The narratives span from Natan being an overbearing master to Agnes as a woman scorned. But, the first I ever heard of these individuals is through Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites.
In Burial Rites, Kent offers her interpretation of Agnes’ final months. Agnes awaits her execution housed with the family of District Officer Jon Jonsson, which understandably causes friction in the household. Jonsson, his wife, and daughters are unhappy about living with a murderess. Agnes, coming to terms with her fate, must navigate all the pitfalls of living in a strange household with people who don’t want you there. In addition, Agnes is visited regularly by Assistant Reverend Toti, who is charged with providing religious counsel and spiritual consolation. And she isn’t exactly receptive. But then Agnes begins to tell the story of her life to Toti, the Jonsson family listening due to the close quarters of the badstofa, and things begin to change.
What I appreciate about the novel is that the murder isn’t the center of the narrative. Rather, Kent writes well about the building of a relationship and the development of trust and understanding between people who already have their minds made up about each other. This growth is stunted by the impending execution, which hangs over the situation like a sword of Damocles. Indeed, an axe is being fashioned. I also enjoyed how Kent used government documents and letters from officials on how to deal with the prisoners and the execution into the narrative. It’s a bleak novel—but it really can’t be anything else.
by Anne Mangano on July 14th, 2014
Europe during World War II is the setting of many novels and it’s really no surprise. Such horror, fear, and devastation create an environment ripe for personal conflicts, long odysseys, and overcoming trials on an unimaginable scale. And, as with anything, there are novels that use this setting to their advantage and others that fall flat. Anthony Doerr’s latest work, All the Light We Cannot See, works with the period very well and you would do well to check it out.
For the most part, the novel intertwines the stories of two young individuals from different sides of the conflict. There is Marie-Louise, the visually-impaired daughter of the locksmith and keeper of keys for the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Her father’s position aides in her curiosity about the natural sciences and she loves to read Jules Verne. Before the occupation of Paris, she is forced to flee with her father to Saint-Malo and there is the possibility that they are carrying one of the Museum’s most prized possessions. Or is it a decoy? Marie-Louise’s story is paired with Werner’s, a German orphan with an innate understanding of radios and radio frequency. His ability opens the door for him to attend an elite military school to work on special radio projects and prepare for working with radio units in the field. Of course, this leads him to Saint-Malo on a mission to find French resistance fighters using radio transmissions, right before the allies began a bombing campaign on the port city.
There are many surprising links between Marie-Louise and Werner before this Saint-Malo connection and Doerr reveals them skillfully. I also appreciated how Doerr played with time in the narrative, starting with the bombing of Saint-Malo and weaving in the back story steadily. Many novels work this way, but his was well-paced and structured.
I recommend placing a hold on All the Light We Cannot See, but if you need something to read right now, check out some other solid World War II fiction: Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone, Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge or David Benioff’s City of Thieves.
by Anne Mangano on June 3rd, 2014
Set in Washington State during the turn of the century, Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist gently unfolds the consequences of trying to make up for the past. Two teenage girls, both pregnant, appear on William Talmadge’s apricot and apple orchard looking for food. The girls remind Talmadge, a middle-aged, lonely, withdrawn man, of his sister, who disappeared as a teenager while foraging in the forest. The loss and love of his sister pushes him to provide for the girls, Della and Jane, and they take the help as long as it is provided from a distance. As Della, Jane, and Talmadge slowly become more at ease with each other and find themselves somewhat dependent on one another, armed men from the girls’ shared past show up at the orchard looking to collect the girls. Their appearance sets in motion another tragedy for William Talmadge. The majority of The Orchardist is how Talmadge, and those around him, cope with the consequences of what happens on that day.
It is a beautiful book, well-written with interesting characters. And the narration and the setting allow you to get really lost in the story–a perfect book for the start of the summer. However, if you want to start reading The Orchardist now (and you should!), I recommend reading inside. The gnats are horrible this time of year and they bite!
by Anne Mangano on May 19th, 2014
Have you ever thought your house was older than the date listed on your property report? Find it odd that many property reports list 1900 as the year built? Perhaps everyone in Iowa City had house-building fever at the beginning of the 20th century, but the more likely reason is that this date was the generic date used for anything built around 1900 when the files were moved to an electronic version. (There are other theories on these dates and if you have one, please let us know.) If you need a better estimate than “old,” there are a few resources you can turn to at the Iowa City Public Library and online.
Melody discussed one of them, city directories, in a recent blog post. You can look up by address and trace your house that way. They offer interesting information about who lived there as well as employment.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
Following the Civil War, the Sanborn Company started drawing detailed maps of buildings in urban areas to indicate fire hazards. The bonus, unintended consequence is that we have a great resource in observing cities develop, as well as changes to a specific property. They are available for over 12,000 locations throughout the United States, including Iowa City. On microfilm, ICPL has Iowa City maps for the years 1883, 1888, 1892, 1899, 1906, 1912, 1920, 1926, and 1933. Iowa City is about halfway through each reel. The image to the right is from the 1892 map of the corner of Market and Gilbert (the current block of John’s Grocery). The old high school is in the bottom right corner, where a parking garage for Mercy is currently located. (Our new microfilm reader allows you to crop and edit images, as well as print, email, or save your information.)
Johnson County GIS Property Information Viewer
If your house was built between 1930 and the present, you can view aerial maps of your property on the Johnson County GIS Property Information Viewer website. Some images are clearer than others (the image below is from the 1960′s and is clear enough), but it is interesting to see how your house, as well as the property around it has changed. It also allows you to layer attributes to the map, including elevations, flood hazards, and zoning.