Spring has sprung! Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping and everything around me feels like it is starting anew. I have my favorite authors and genres that I read all the time but I’m ready to try something new. Do you have any suggestions?

It’s always exciting to find a new author or genre that you are able to connect with, understand and most importantly thoroughly enjoy. When you visit the Downtown Branch you are bound to find something you will want to read!

If you like humor and romance then New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Evanovich (I do mean Stephanie and not the equally great Janet), is a good choice. Her newest title Total Package is a novel about love, redemption, and second chances with a football twist.

Interested in telekinesis, clairvoyance and things that are beyond the scope of the normal world, then paranormal is the genre for you. Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series is about a world thrown into chaos that grows more treacherous at every turn. Sadly her newest title, FeverSong, is bringing the series to an end.  Want to know how the series began? Start with DarkFever and if you like the Fever books, you should try her Highlander Series.

Looking for something a little more suspenseful with twists and turns you would have never imagined? Then definitely look no further than Australian author Jane Harper’s The Dry. This debut novel is not only a suspenseful mystery but also a story of community pressures, what happens when the bonds of loyalty are stretched too far, and how difficult it is for anyone to ever really shed their past.

When you visit the Central Library, come to the first floor and check out our “New Books” area, and our themed displays. You’ll likely find something new that just might become your next favorite!

Posted in book reviews, fiction, reference question | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Remember the Ladies” And Their Novels…

In honor of Women’s History Month, here’s a look at three classic woman-authored novels featuring female lead characters.

The Street—–Ann Petry (1946)

Ann Petry (1908-1997) was the first African-American woman to write a novel selling over a million copies. The Street was by far her best-known work. 

Lutie Johnson is a single mother in 1940s Harlem, determined to make a decent life for her eight-year-old son Bub. But “the street”—symbolizing many things in this book, including poverty, prejudice, and hopelessness—conspires against her. She seeks out jobs that prove elusive, deals with unscrupulous men who really only want her sexually, and constantly counts every nickel and penny. As events spiral around both Lutie and Bub, that “street” proves to be their undoing.

Along with Petry’s keen descriptions of both her heroine’s thoughts and surroundings, what I think gives this novel its amazing texture and substance is that the author also devotes entire chapters to the people surrounding Lutie, all of them victims of their environment to varying extents.

We meet her leering building superintendent and his common-law wife; the “madam” who spies on people from the tenement’s window; the unscrupulous band leader who supposedly “hires” Lutie to sing for him; and even young Bub, who wants to help his mother and be a good son, but is easily swayed to the dark side. Petry powerfully brings all these characters to life, creating an entire universe within the sad confines of just a few city blocks.

While Ann Petry would write children’s books and short story collections in her later years, The Street remains her primary literary legacy.

O Pioneers!—-Willa Cather (1913)

Cather (1873-1947) brought a unique woman’s voice to American literature. Her O Pioneers!, the first title in her “Great Plains” series, was followed by The Song of the Lark (1915) and My Antonia (1918). 

In the trilogy’s opening volume, young Alexandra Bergson—a woman Cather characterizes as possessing “Amazonian fierceness”—assumes management of her family’s farm in early-20th-century Hanover, Nebraska upon the death of her father. While other folks in the area are pulling up stakes due to harsh conditions, she is determined to make the Bergson land profitable, with the help of her three brothers. She succeeds in doing so through the ensuing decades, while enduring financial uncertainty, challenging weather, and personal tragedy. At the novel’s conclusion, middle-aged Alexandra agrees to marry a childhood friend and longtime would-be suitor, in defiance of her brothers.

Cather’s lyrical descriptions of the stark yet strangely beautiful prairie landscape give a poetic framework to the novel’s action. She depicts profound life events with simplicity and understatement. While her heroine ultimately chooses marriage in addition to her role as head of the family and successful landowner, Cather portrays Alexandra as possessing strength, compassion, and sturdiness—-a singular woman for her times.

Rebecca—-Daphne du Maurier (1938)

Du Maurier (1907-1989) was a prolific British author of short stories and novels, several of which were adapted into successful films, but Rebecca is likely her most celebrated work. 

Our narrator—whose first name we never learn, remarkably enough—is a young, unsophisticated English girl working as a paid companion. During one of her employer’s overseas trips, she crosses paths with the darkly handsome and brooding Maxim de Winter, whose wife Rebecca has recently died. Eventually, they marry, and the new Mr. and Mrs. de Winter return to the family estate, known as Manderley.

Our heroine soon learns that the late Rebecca, who supposedly died in a boating accident, was beautiful and seemingly perfect in every way: the intimidating housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, “adored” her deceased mistress (though, in his 1940 film version, director Alfred Hitchcock famously imbued the older woman’s attachment to Rebecca with markedly erotic overtones). The new Mrs. de Winter feels overwhelmed with inferiority until a secret is revealed during a Manderley party, after which the previously shy and withdrawn girl taps into hidden reserves of strength and determination in order to protect her husband and new way of life.

This novel has been characterized as “gothic/romantic suspense” over the years, and its plot’s twists and turns lend credence to that description, but it’s also a keen character study, as we watch our always-anonymous narrator morph into strong womanhood before our reading eyes. I loved this book when I first read it decades ago, and was re-impressed with its power this time around as well.

So, hats off to women novelists, whenever and wherever they may reign…

Posted in book reviews, women authors | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I recently saw a news article that featured a World War II political cartoon, which made me wonder what the story is behind all the political cartoons I see from that era?

Sometime in the distant past, people realized that combining the concepts of art and humor led to a much broader appreciation of both. Someone then further honed the concept and realized that funny drawings could be used to make a statement about politics. They then called it a day and stopped honing the concept, because political cartoons haven’t changed much throughout history.  Which is not necessarily a bad thing.  They’re short, funny, and put forth a statement about something.  If it’s a good cartoon, then everyone can understand and appreciate it at a glance.

The Second World War was a time of great strife and confusion for the entire planet, and the best way to calm a mass of people is to expose them to something with which they are familiar. So, if you are a government or a publication that is looking to disseminate some facts among a scared populace, wouldn’t you appeal to some of the oldest and most ingrained fascinations there is? The use of political cartoons in this way is not a new concept, but World War II happened during a boom of mass communication, and there were more newspapers at that time than ever before in history. There are so many wartime political cartoons from the era because of the sheer amount produced whether for propaganda, a bold statement, or just to get laughs. The following are some great examples of books about political cartoons from the World War II era that you can find at the Dallas Public Library.

Cartoons for Victory, by Warren Bernard, is a great overview of the kinds of cartoons put out by cartoonists from all over in support of the war effort. This book has got everything: Wonder Woman emphasizing the importance of recycling waste paper, Dagwood lecturing children on the importance of keeping confidential military information to themselves, Donald Duck dealing with gasoline rations, and much more.  The book’s chapters are split up based on shared concepts, with several pages of comics broken up by text giving citations and explanatory paragraphs about what the situation was like at the time for a wide variety of people. While one chapter is all about comical misunderstandings regarding food shortages, another is a sobering look at the way America realized that it needed African Americans to win the war but had countless laws and regulations prohibiting them from helping in any way. It is a moving read for any audience, and the oversized book is packed with full-page images.

Imagine, if you will, an illustrator named Theodor Geisel growing increasingly frustrated with the way the war in Europe is going, and the way a large portion of Americans dismiss it as something that can’t affect them.  He writes countless cartoons illustrating why such an attitude is harmful. Then once Pearl Harbor happens he goes into overdrive, amassing a gigantic body of work supporting the war effort.  Dr. Seuss Goes To War, by Richard H. Minear, describes just such a narrative. The book details how the beloved children’s author got his start as a political cartoonist, voicing a progressive stance by denouncing isolationism, appeasement, and the aforementioned discrimination against African Americans. The book also points out some of his contradictory beliefs as we see the staunch civil rights advocate, who castigated American isolationists for standing by while Europeans were being trampled and imprisoned by the Axis, wholeheartedly endorsed the internment of Japanese Americans in his very country. It is an in-depth look at the library of cartoons created by a very prolific artist, and an opportunity to read about his view of the world outside of the children’s books for which he is known.

Up Front is a collection of cartoons drawn by Bill Mauldin while he was actively serving overseas during World War II. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945 at the age of 23 for simply turning his experiences into cartoons for the benefit of his brothers in arms. Most of his cartoons follow two infantry soldiers, Willie and Joe, who are the everyman-type that any frontline soldier could relate to. While initially something published in his division’s news bulletin, more and more Army brass took notice until his work was printed in the official Army newspaper Stars and Stripes. From there his work was reprinted in newspapers back home, giving Americans a glimpse at the point of view of soldiers, which citizens rarely got a chance to see in normal news outlets. Mauldin’s accompanying text gives details about where he was when drawing the cartoons, and what the stories behind certain scenarios were. His writing is very simple and explanatory since he doesn’t expect civilians to know about war first-hand, and incredibly engaging when he dives into the mental state of those who man the front lines knowing they or their friends very likely will not come back. While his work during WWII was done primarily for his fellow soldiers to lighten their day by letting them know someone understood their trouble, the book works today as a window for the rest of us to try to grasp an experience many of us never will.

Whether it’s a collection of lighthearted cartoons, poignant day-to-day musings of a soldier with a pad of paper and ink, or propaganda trying to get a specific message across, wartime political cartoons all provide a snippet of the time period’s culture. Whether you just want to look at the pictures or read the thoughts of those who drew them, come on down! The Dallas Public Library has you covered.

 

Posted in history, reference question | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Monstress by Marjorie Liu

In commemoration of Women’s History Month, I chose to review a graphic novel made by women, of women, and for all.  In a rare team-up, the author (Marjorie Liu), illustrator (Sana Takeda), and editor (Jennifer M. Smith) are all women, and they created the spectacular series, Monstress.  Fellow graphic novel readers who love the likes of Saga by Brian K. Vaughn, or Lazarus by Greg Rucka, should definitely add Monstress to your reading lists.

Liu, Takeda, and Smith draw readers into a Steampunk fantasy world that is torn asunder by war between the sentient magical creatures called Arcanics, and the humans who believe themselves to be the superior beings of existence.  Lording over all of this is a society of sorceresses called the Cumaea who use the Arcanics as slaves and consume them to enhance their magical powers.  (Hey, if you can’t get magical powers on your own, eat some.  You are what you eat, after all.)

In this setting is the story of Maika Halfwolf, an Arcanic slave to the Cumaeans.  In Spartacus fashion, she breaks out of her bondage and frees other Arcanics with her.   However, Maika is not an abolitionist at heart.  Instead, her focus is on discovering what in her past and that of her murdered mother ties them to the Cumaeans.  This tie has bonded her to a “monster” that feeds on the living, human or Arcanic, and haunts her soul with tormenting questions and mysteries.  Because of this monster and its implications (and the fact that she’s a slave on the run), Maika, a cute Arcanic fox-girl, and a wise cat set out to escape and learn the mysteries that make her and her mother so important/despised to Arcanic, humans, and Cumaeans alike.

Although this is a female-dominated graphic novel set in a female-dominated world, it’s not a whimsical story of faeries and princesses, nor is it a man-hating, über-feminist graphic novel.  It is simply a story written by women with a strong cast that happens to be predominantly women.  With thought-provoking writing and gorgeous graphics, these characters are heroic, evil, weak, strong, and flawed.  In Game of Thrones fashion, these characters plot revenge, form alliances, protect, murder, torture, and rescue each other for their own advancement or for the sake of their race with witty and sometimes even goofy humor smuggled in between the excitement.  Readers be advised: This graphic novel contains unflinching violence, adult language, nudity, and adult situations.  It’s not recommended for younger eyes or the faint of heart.

At times I found the novel confusing because the story line is not linear.  Although it jumps around, once I got started, it was pretty easy to catch on.  The characters and the story are so engaging that I pretty much forgot about gender. I was more intrigued with the characters and the many mysteries this series has yet to solve, like, what happened to Maika’s left arm?  Where is her friend Tuya in all of this?  And why is that cat so invested in following and advising Maika?  Thankfully volume 2 comes out this June.  I am most definitely on the request list and eagerly anticipate more intrigue, mayhem, and ponderings that these ladies have to offer.

Posted in book reviews, graphic novels | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

I haven’t been to the library since the first of the year. Are there any new exhibits on the 7th floor of the Central Library, and if so, what are they?

Beginning with Black History Month in February and continuing with Women’s History Month in March, the Dallas History & Archives Division has curated new exhibits, which will be on display throughout the month of March on the 7th floor of the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, with more to come.

Dallas Women – Then & Now

Then: Southern Methodist University Student Protest; January 10, 1961. SMU students picket University Pharmacy over racial discrimination.

Now: The Dallas Women’s March; January 21, 2017. A birds-eye view of the crowd gathering in front of Dallas City Hall. Photograph by Priscilla Escobedo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Women’s History Month, there are multiple exhibits on the 7th floor highlighting Dallas and Texas women in history.  Located by the elevators is an exhibition titled, “Then & Now: Women in Action for Social Justice,” which shows photographs of women’s social activism from the past and present including photographs from the Women’s March on January 21, 2017, that were donated by attendees of this historic event. (We are still accepting photographs, signs, hats, and any other ephemera related to the march.  If you’d like to contribute, please email texas@dallaslibrary.org with digital image files or to request further information.)

Marty Bundschuh Models Cashier Uniform, Centennial Exposition, State Fair of Texas, 1936 – DeGolyer Library, SMU

 In the exhibit cases outside of O’Hara Exhibit Hall is a Women’s History Month exhibition titled, “Celebrating Women’s Clubs in Dallas,” which focuses on the achievements of some of Dallas’ well-known clubs and the women who worked together to reach those achievements.  Items on display include photographs, scrapbooks, and more.

At the end of the hallway is the special Digital Interactive Gallery (DIG) with six interactive touch screens. In honor of Women’s History Month, the Dallas History & Archives Division collaborated with the DeGolyer Library, SMU to create a digital exhibit in the “Photographs” section of the DIG titled, “Women’s History: Texas Photographs from the DeGolyer Library, SMU.”  All images in this exhibit depict historical images of women in Texas and are from the photograph collections of the DeGolyer Library.

Celebrating Black Dallas

Currently on display in exhibit cases near and inside the reading room entrance as well as outside the Kenneth B. Jonsson Gallery are items from the “Celebrating Black Dallas” exhibition, which is in collaboration with collections of the Genealogy and History Division of the Dallas Public Library.

Each case in the “Celebrating Black Dallas” exhibition has a unique focus.   For example, one of the larger cases focuses on Alto & Georgia McGowan.  Mr. McGowan owned and operated multiple businesses in Dallas, including a record shop, café, a bond business, drug and liquor store, and the iconic McGowan Funeral Home.  His wife, Georgia McGowan became one of the first black women to graduate from the Dallas School of Mortuary Science and was the manager and funeral director for the McGowan Funeral Home. The Genealogy and History Division holds the McGowan Funeral Home records in their collection.

Another case focuses on African American civic leaders in Dallas, featuring political campaign materials of Juanita Craft (1902-1985), member of the Dallas City Council from 1975 to 1979 and Civil Rights pioneer; Eddie Bernice Johnson (b. 1935), a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, serving District 30; and Elsie Faye Heggins (1934-2000) who was a Dallas councilwoman and a Civil Rights activist.

C.A. Walton Jr. and Ruth Walton, C.A. Walton Collection (MA02-4)

Outside the reading room is an exhibit case containing photographs and ephemera pertaining to Cedar Anthony (C.A.) Walton Jr. (1934-2013) who was born and raised in Dallas by his parents, C.A. Walton Sr. and Ruth Walton. C.A. Walton Jr. is still celebrated in the jazz community and known for being an influential hard bop jazz pianist.  Exhibit items also contain a vinyl LP record, articles, and more.

Other cases focus on Booker T. Washington High School, and Dr. John Chisum (1895-1979), a practicing optometrist and his wife, Ethelyn, who was a teacher and counselor at the high school.

Visitors can view an update to our continuing exhibition outside our reading room, featuring a new selection of Dallas Police Memorial items currently housed at the Central Library.  The memorial items originally began in front of Dallas Police Headquarters on July 8th in honor of the five officers were killed in the line of duty in downtown Dallas, Texas on July 7, 2016.  Thousands of citizens and law enforcement from all over the world visited to leave messages of support, and when rain threatened to destroy the mementos and messages the Dallas Public Library mobilized to collect and preserve them.

As always, our Declaration of Independence, Shakespeare’s First Folio, and Frank Reaugh’s Scene on the Brazos remain prominent permanent exhibits on the 7th floor.

History is a dynamic thing that begins with current events.  We accept donations of photographs and materials of not only the past but also contemporary items depicting Dallas and Texas.  After all, what is new today is history tomorrow.  Stop by today, and explore your local history!

Posted in Dallas, exhibit, Explore the Library, history, reference question, special collections | Leave a comment