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History: Primary Sources

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Lectures & Panel Discussions

Paperbacks from Hell with Grady Hendrix

Thursday March 29, 2018: 7:00pm to 9:00pm
Adults 21+

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Blog Post

The Making of Jane Austen

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 9:05am


At the time of Jane Austen’s death in 1817, no one but close family and friends knew that she was a published author. Fast forward to 1995: a wet-shirted Colin Firth, starring in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice miniseries, seemingly launches Austen into pop culture superstardom and initiates an Austen craze that has continued ever since.

We are now used to Jane Austen cosplay conventions, spin-off novels, and countless Austen-themed tchotchkes. But it’s worth asking the question: How did Austen go from complete anonymity to a cultural institution?

The answer to that question, Devoney Looser argues, starts long before Colin Firth. And, she continues, it often has less to do with Jane Austen herself than with how Austen has been interpreted—and invented—by readers, illustrators, playwrights, screenwriters, actors, activists, and teachers.

In her new book, The Making of Jane Austen, Looser sets out uncover the little-known parts of Austen’s legacy in British and American culture. She focuses on five areas: how Austen has been illustrated, adapted for the stage, adapted for the screen, politicized, and taught in schools.

Looser turns away from literary histories of Austen and instead focuses on equally important but long-neglected appearances of Austen in popular culture. What makes her book so enjoyable is that she strolls down the byways of history, tracking down obscure figures like the young women (yes, women) who played Mr. Darcy in early stage adaptations of Pride and Prejudice or the author of the first Jane Austen dissertation, who was supposedly channeled by a spirit medium after his untimely death. (You can’t make this stuff up, folks!)

If The Making of Jane Austen piques your interest, be sure to mark your calendar for Anne-Charlotte Mecklenburg’s talk, “Lights, Camera, Austen: the screen adaptations of Jane Austen” at Westgate Branch from 7-8:30pm on Wednesday, December 13th. And stay tuned for info about all our upcoming Jane Austen events this winter in partnership with the University of Michigan—Austen Trivia! Embroidery! English Country Dancing! Everything to satisfy the Austenian heart.

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Blog Post

We were eight years in power : an American tragedy

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 4:13pm

Released earlier this week is a new book by Ta-Nehisi Coates entitled

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an American author, journalist, comic book writer, and educator. Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic where he writes about cultural, social and political issues, particularly as they regard African-Americans. Since his first published book in 2008, Mr. Coates is now considered one of the most influential black intellectuals of his generation. Many will be familiar with his bestseller, Between the World and Me, which won the National Book Awards' top prize for nonfiction in 2015.

His most recent book is a memoir based within a collection of eight essays written during the time of the Obama administration. Mr. Coates weaves a personal history touching on the influence of hip-hop, books he read, and the blog he maintained. Interspersed within the collection of articles are autobiographical essays reflecting on his approach at the time of writing and the optimism felt when Obama began his presidency. New introductions lend insight to his process of writing and further reviewing those ideas once shared with the rest of the world.

The selections include "The Case for Reparations" and "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” an article which further established Coates as a leading writer on the topic of race in America. While the essays draw from a certain period of time, Coates has broadened these ideas with added reflection and insight. Hindsight lends an introspection to where his ideas were coming from and have since grown.

Audio versions of his work are available. Between the World and Me is especially enjoyable as read by the author. His new book is read by Bennett Beresford, narrator of many audiobooks of varied genres, actor of the stage and screen, and is also an award-winning screenwriter.

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Blog Post

Happy Birthday Mark Rothko!

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 7:00am


Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was an Abstract Expressionist painter, famously known for his color field paintings: six or seven foot canvases painted with large rectangle swaths of color. The subjects of his paintings appear simple, and often people view them with the thought “well, I could do that.” However, Rothko’s paintings are not necessarily about the technical skill involved, they are about the way the painting makes the viewer feel, the emotions that the work elicits in the observer, and about creating the illusion of spatial infinity. Abstract Expressionism as a movement came about in New York in the 1940s, and focused on the "sublime," defined as working to capture and portray the unspeakable, be it emotion, the divine, or the cosmic. For some abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock, the art of their work is in the emotion expressed during the act of painting. For Rothko, the art is in the relationship between his painting and the viewer, in being overwhelmed by the sensation of the colors, and becoming emerged in the painting. The artist is known for saying the viewer should ideally experience his work from 18 inches away, as to become one with the painting. While our art prints are not to scale, they still do an excellent job of eliciting emotion and are available for check out [|here]. (For the full viewing experience, be sure to check out [|Orange, Brown] which is on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts!) To read more about the artist, check out [|this book] written by his son, or this [|biography]. You can also find books about Abstract Expressionism [|here].

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Blog Post

Revolutionary Dames

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 12:53pm


[t:Independent Dames] by [a:Anderson, Laurie Halse.|Laurie Halse Anderson] incorporates the stories over 80 women who contributed to the success of the American Revolutionary war. A great read this time of year while the country gathers to celebrate our hard won independence! With a timeline running along the bottom of the pages, young readers can learn of some important events beginning in 1765 up through 1791 with the ratification of the Bill of Rights.

At the age of 16, [|Sybil Ludington] rode 40 miles to spread the word of an eminent British attack which prepared over 400 militia men. [|Phillis Wheatley] came to be known as one of the most famous poets of the Revolution [|Abigail Adams] is a very notable woman as wife to President Adams. Click on the highlighted names which link to the catalog for materials to explore these women's stories.

Women were often left to guard the villages and farms and defend themselves against British troops demanding food and supplies. Some women wanted to fight and joined up with the militia but had to be in disguise as a man, it was illegal for women to join the army. Deborah Sampson was arrested upon her first attempt to enlist, so she fled her town and joined up with the militia later. She fought in many battles and was wounded twice! Her story is written about in the novel [t:Revolutionary] by [a:Myers, Alex.|Alex Myers].

There are many historical fiction books based in the time of the revolution. Another gem by Laurie Halse Anderson is [t:Chains : seeds of America], set in New York City at the beginning of the American Revolution. Thirteen year old Isabel tells the story of her life as a slave, her hopes of finding a way to freedom and how she becomes a spy for the rebels. In [t:Patriot hearts : a novel of the founding mothers], [a:Hambly, Barbara.|Barbara Hambly] presents the lives of four founding mothers: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Sally Hemings, and Dolley Madison over the years of 1787 to 1814.

A couple other books for young readers to check out are [t:Great women of the American Revolution] and [t:True stories of the Revolutionary War]

Finally, a non-fiction book for older readers to enjoy is [t:Revolutionary mothers : women in the struggle for America's independence] by [a:Berkin, Carol.|Carol Berkin] which moves beyond the better known women of that time and serves as an overview of the remarkable contributions made by a cultural cross section of women during the course of the American Revolution.

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Lectures & Panel Discussions

Lights, Camera, Austen: the screen adaptations of Jane Austen

Wednesday December 13, 2017: 7:00pm to 8:30pm
Westgate Branch: West Side Room

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Blog Post

Pulitzer Prize Winners 2017

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 12:14pm


The esteemed [|Pulitzer Prizes] have been awarded for 2017 and they should all be required reading. Here is the list:

Fiction: [t:Underground Railroad] by [a:Colson Whitehead]: picking up numerous awards besides the Pulitzer, including the National Book Award & the Carnegie Medal. At the top of many best book of the year lists for 2016. Whitehead chronicles two runaway slave's trials as they attempt to allude their captors with allegories that resound into the present day.

General Nonfiction: [t:Evicted : poverty and profit in the American city] by Matthew Desmond: additional honors include the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Carnegie Medal, & PEN award. Desmond followed 8 families in Milwaukee struggling with poverty.

History: [t:Blood in the Water : the Attica prison uprising of 1971 and its legacy] by [a:Heather Ann Thompson]: another that picked up numerous accolades and awards for telling the incredible story of the uprisings as well as the aftermath

Bio/Autobiography: [t:The return : fathers, sons, and the land in between] by [a:Hisham Matar]: a deeply moving portrait of the author's continued hope of finding his father alive after his mysterious disappearance in Libya

Poetry: [t:Olio] by [a:Tyehimba Jess]: Multiple award winning poet and Detroit native, Jess, deserves an even bigger following with this fascinating collection of poetry and narrative

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Blog Post


Thu, 05/11/2017 - 11:23am


[|Asparagus] season is in full swing in Michigan this time of year! Michigan asparagus season begins in late April-early May in the southwest corner of the state; it wraps up in late June in the north. A recent frost has slowed the initial harvest this season but since the majority of the asparagus crop is still protected underground, it will continue to pop up through the month of June. Asparagus is a member of the lily family, so it has very extensive root systems. It grows mostly along waterways and the roots can go as deep as twelve to twenty feet.

20 Michigan family farms harvest approximately 20 million pounds of asparagus on 9,500 acres of land. It takes four years for an asparagus field to fully mature; fields last for approximately 20 years.
A single asparagus plant can produce 25 or more spears over the 7-week harvest season. During the growing season, asparagus is harvested every day as the spears can grow two to three inches a day. Harvesting stimulates production, when a spear is cut, the plant sends up another shoot. Once the harvest is complete, the remaining spears are allowed to grow up and leaf out. These plants will grow up to six feet tall and, once leafed, will look like giant ferns. This fern is nurtured all summer and feeds the root system for the following year's harvest.

Learn more about this vegetable through many items found in our collection!

Oceana County, Michigan is known as the "Asparagus Capital of the World" for its high production of asparagus.The rich history is shared in the documentary [t:Asparagus! : stalking the American life].

Asparagus is one of the most nutritionally well-balanced vegetables in existence. The leading supplier among vegetables of folic acid and it offers a wide array of nutrients in significant amounts for a healthy diet. Find recipes in [t:Vegetable literacy : cooking and gardening with twelve families from the edible plant kingdom, with over 300 deliciously simple recipes] or [t:Vegan brunch : homestyle recipes worth waking up for-- from asparagus omelets to pumpkin pancakes].

Asparagus can be crafty, [t:The gourmet paper maker : handmade paper from fruits and vegetables].

A little bit wacky and fun to read picture book story for kids is [t:The mighty asparagus].

Learn to hunt this rich vegetable with [a:Gibbons, Euell|Euell Gibbons] classic [t:Stalking the wild asparagus].

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Lectures & Panel Discussions

Kit Homes of Ann Arbor: a Historical Tour

Thursday June 8, 2017: 6:30pm to 8:30pm
Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room