From the Shelves

2017 National Book Award winners announced

by Jason Paulios on November 16th, 2017

Last night the 2017 National Book Award ceremony was held and winners were announced in the four categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature.  You can check out the winning titles and the authors’ other works from the Iowa City Public Library via the following links:


Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
From the Publisher: Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.


The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen
From the Publisher: Hailed for her “fearless indictment of the most powerful man in Russia” (The Wall Street Journal), award-winning journalist Masha Gessen is unparalleled in her understanding of the events and forces that have wracked her native country in recent times. In The Future Is History, she follows the lives of four people born at what promised to be the dawn of democracy. Each of them came of age with unprecedented expectations, some as the children and grandchildren of the very architects of the new Russia, each with newfound aspirations of their own—as entrepreneurs, activists, thinkers, and writers, sexual and social beings.


Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart
From the Publisher: Gathered together, the poems of Frank Bidart perform one of the most remarkable transmutations of the body into language in contemporary literature. His pages represent the human voice in all its extreme registers, whether it’s that of the child murderer Herbert White, the obsessive anorexic Ellen West, the tormented genius Vaslav Nijinsky, or the poet’s own. And in that embodiment is a transgressive empathy, one that recognizes our wild appetites, the monsters, the misfits, the misunderstood among us, and inside of us. Few writers have so willingly ventured to the dark places of the human psyche, and allowed themselves to be stripped bare on the page with such candor and vulnerability. Over the past half century, Bidart has done nothing less than invent a poetics commensurate with the chaos and hunger of our experience.

Young People’s Literature

Far From The Tree by Robin Benway
From the Publisher: Being the middle child has its ups and downs. But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson

by Jason Paulios on November 14th, 2017
We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson Cover Image

This was my first experience reading something by Shirley Jackson though I was familiar with her reputation as a modern Gothic horror fiction writer. I haven’t read much in this genre style and was prepared for pure spooky but instead found the story just made me tense. After finishing, I read a Readers Advisory article about the genre from Novelist Plus  (use your ICPL card and password for at-home access) and discovered many of the standard characterizations of the genre were present in this novel :

  • “A naïve heroine trapped in a claustrophobic setting” – check
  • “foreboding progressing into full-blown fear” – yep
  • “melancholia, insanity, mayhem, cruelty, and death” – check, check, check, check, and check!
  • “Narrators can be chronically unreliable and occasionally unhinged” – ha!
  • “Settings are dark and ancient – a decaying manor house…” – right there in the title

This was a very quick read at just over 160 pages. The story takes place in a small town in the aftermath of an arsenic murder that has killed off most of one of the old money families, the Blackwoods. Years later those that remain in the estate are 18-year-old Mary Katherine (Merrycat, a child at the time), her older sibling Constance (found not guilty of the crime), and poor old Uncle Julian. Julian has barely survived the poisoning, he is physically disabled and via his senile ramblings we learn more and more about particulars from the day of the terrible incident. The mostly working class town resents the family and a new generation is growning up with a sort of urban legend regarding the murder, this uneasy history will lead to the novel’s climax. The daily life of the three Blackwoods is oddly tranquil and very routine. Constance has taken up the matriarch mantle and keeps house though never leaves it except to pick from the garden. Julian is forever revising his notes regarding the fateful day’s events leading up to that dessert of blackberries with sugar. Odd Merrycat exists in a feral childlike state, roaming the estate, occasionally sleeping out in a bed of leaves, and casting warding spells against the town’s residents either verbally or through destruction or burial of family objects. Jackson then drops in a visit from a distant Cousin hoping to finagle a fortune and that strange calm over Blackwood estate is ruined.

Video Staff Picks: Biographies & Memoir

by Bond Drager on November 13th, 2017

Items mentioned include:
Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented The Wild West by Candace Fleming

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Mama Tried: Dispatches From the Seamy Underbelly of Modern Parenting by Emily Flake

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

Baby It’s COLD Outside!

by Kara Logsden on November 13th, 2017

We don’t need Dean Martin crooning the classic holiday song to remind us it is cold outside. My daughter is living in an old home that is always cold. Recently we went shopping for weatherizing materials to keep the heat in and cold out. This reminded me of the old Amana Society house we restored during graduate school. We had an annual ritual of putting plastic up on all the windows and stuffing rubber weather-stripping caulk into drafty spaces. Now that we live in a newer home, I still find myself weatherizing. It has made a difference in home energy costs. If you are looking for ideas to winterize your home, check out the many resources available at the Library.

The book Spend-A-Little Save–A-Lot Home Improvements: Money-Saving Projects Anyone Can Do by Brad Staggs is a great place to start. Chapter 3 is dedicated to saving energy and includes information about insulating and weather-sealing. The chapter begins with a practical discussion about where and why air leeks occur.

Although not dedicated to winterizing ideas, Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audits by David Findley shares many good ideas divided between free, low-cost, and large renovation projects. Suggestions are practical and well-explained. Findley advocates for sealing all openings to and from your home, including cracks, seals, door frames, cable installations, and other opening into your home.

Family Handyman magazine has articles about energy efficiency and winterizing projects. The magazine is available for checkout from the Library’s Magazine area on the first floor and as an eMagazine digital checkout via RB Digital. The October 2016 edition has a list of 10 projects to complete before winter. The November/December 2016 edition of This Old House magazine has a an article called “Stop Winter Drafts.” It is also available as a digital magazine via RB Digital.

The Library also has locally produced online videos about energy conservation that you may watch at home. These include two Eco Iowa City programs with helpful suggestions for preparing your home for winter. In Energy Efficiency in your Home, John O’Roake, Energy Efficiency Manager at MidAmerican, offers energy savings tips and ways to heat and cool your home efficiently. Bob Yapp shares information about winterizing windows in Preserving Old Windows.

Make your house cozy and warm this winter with help from the collections at Iowa City Public Library.

All Iowa Reads Program is now for All Ages

by Beth Fisher on November 5th, 2017


Begun in 2003 by the Iowa Center For The Book, the All Iowa Reads program was created to build a sense of community through reading.  Once a year adults across the state were encouraged to read and talk about the same book. The All Iowa Reads titles are selected by a committee of ten rotating members representing public libraries, academic libraries, a publisher or bookstore, a state government agency, and the State Library Commission.  They read a variety of books to come up with each years selection.  A list of the runners up can also be found at the All Iowa Reads website.

In October at the annual Iowa Library Association state conference the AIR selection for the next year is announced.   This year there was an even bigger announcement: the all All Iowa Reads Program is no longer just aimed at adults.  There are now three All Iowa Reads selection each year: one for Kids (ages 8-12),  for Young Adults (ages 13-18), and for Adults (18+).


Read the rest of this entry »

Real Friends

by Angela Pilkington on November 3rd, 2017

Last week Publisher’s Weekly announced their best books of 2017 list. While looking over the children’s list I came across a couple titles that I had somehow missed, so I have set out to read them before the end of the year.

The first one I grabbed was Real Friends by Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale, with artwork by LeUyen Pham. This graphic novel is a semi autobiographical account of Shannon growing up from Kindergarten to fifth grade and finding her real friends.

If I told you this book did not bring up memories of my own childhood and finding friends or that I am now going through this with my own 10 year old daughter, I would be lying. I can vividly remember my mother soothing my tears and giving me her best advice on how to deal with the cruel words or actions of the girls. I now have her advice and this book to talk to my daughter with when situations, like being a part of the club arise’s.  Like Shannon in the book, there were days when I was part of the club and other days when I suddenly found myself on the outs.

That said, I still really enjoyed this book and Shannon’s story. LeUyen did a wonderful job with her artwork to bring out the emotions from Hale’s characters with facial expressions. You will truly feel Shannon’s insecurities, her happiness, her sadness, and her confusion. More importantly, though, you will feel. You’ll be feeling the entire time, but you’ll root for Shannon, and a lot of that comes from Phan’s artwork.

This story was perfect for my 10-year-old and really for any child. Real Friends looks at the complex relationships among elementary school girls and by reading it together we were able to discuss important feelings and our reactions. The book echoes to readers that good friends don’t treat you badly and that in the end, all the hard work and the journey that comes with it are worth it.

Get ready … get set … WRITE!

by Meredith Hines-Dochterman on October 25th, 2017

In one week, writers of all ages will take on the ultimate challenge: to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.typewriter-801921_640

National Novel Writing Month is an internet-based creative writing project that encourages anyone who has ever thought of writing a book to use the 30 days of November to accomplish that goal. Participation is easy. Just sign up on their website before November 1 and you’ll receive notifications of local writing meet-ups, pep talks from well-known authors, tips for beating writer’s block, etc. throughout the challenge.

The Library is a great NaNoWriMo resource. We have plenty of space for you to write, nonfiction titles about writing, databases and other research materials for the fine details pertinent to your story, and published books that started as NaNoWriMo novels to inspire you. These include:

Each one of these writers started with a dream. NaNoWriMo gave them the incentive they needed to get the first draft of their dream on paper/a computer screen. There’s no reason why the next author on this list can’t be you! As Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Happy writing!

Stephen King books for young adults

by Melody Dworak on October 19th, 2017
Stephen King books for young adults Cover Image

Today I helped a family look for classic Stephen King books that tweens and teens might like. You wouldn’t expect a list like that to be very long, given that he’s a horror writer. Still, I found lots of books that young adults could pick up and read and still sleep at night (maybe).

The library has a book recommendation tool called NoveList. It’s one of our online resources that you can log into from home with a resident library card and password. NoveList has a genre called “Adult books for young adults,” which helps younger readers branch out from the Young Adult Fiction section and find good books on the first floor as well. Lo and behold, 27 of Stephen King’s books fit this criteria for NoveList.  Read the rest of this entry »

Get your craft on to support ICPL.

by Beth Fisher on October 19th, 2017

2017-craft-bazaarAttention all crafters!   Donations are now being accepted for the Annual ICPL Friends Foundation Fundraising Arts & Crafts Bazaar.  This year the bazaar will be on Saturday, December 2nd, so you still have time to get let your craftiness fly to support ICPL.   Information about the Bazaar is available online and you can download a donation form or pick one up here at the Library.  Donations can be dropped off at the Help Desk up until November 30th.

If you’re looking for ideas to get your crafting juices flowing, here are a few new craft books in our collection:




Homemade Holiday: Craft your way through more than 40 festive projects  by Sophie Pester and Catharina Bruns.  Jam packed with fun ideas, from ornaments, wreaths, and small gifts to fun holiday apparel, there is sure to be something for everyone no matter your skill level. Read the rest of this entry »

Video Staff Picks with Terri: October 2017

by Bond Drager on October 18th, 2017

Terri’s back with more great picks from Iowa City Public Library’s nonfiction collection.

Items mentioned include

directed by Keith Maitland

directed by Kim A. Snyder

Gimme Danger
directed by Jim Jarmusch

Eat that Question: Frank
Zappa in his Own Words
directed by Thorsten Schütte

The New Bloody Mary
by Vincenzo Marianella and James O. Fraioli

In Julia’s Kitchen
by Pamela Heyne and Jim Scherer

Jackie’s Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family
by Kathy McKeon

Twenty-Six Seconds: a Personal History of the Zapruder Film
by Alexandra Zapruder

JFK: a Vision for America in Words and Pictures
edited by Stephen Kennedy Smith and
Douglas Brinkley

Last Man Standing: Mort Sahl and the Birth
of Modern Comedy
by James Curtis