November 12, 2019
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Joy Harjo: 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States

Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

On June 19, 2019, Joy Harjo, member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, was announced as the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States. She is the first Native American to be honored with this title. Harjo is a celebrated author, poet, teacher, activist and musician. She has been awarded multiple high-profile honors and awards in addition to Poet Laureate, including (but not limited to) the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas, the Josephine Miles Poetry Award, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award.

She has received fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rasmuson Foundation, the Witter Bynner Foundation, and the Ruth Lilly Prize in Poetry. Her memoir, Crazy Brave, was awarded both the PEN USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction and the American Book Award.

Harjo has written nine books of poetry, a memoir, two award-winning children’s books, several screenplays, three plays, and a number of prose interviews. Harjo often centers native storytelling, histories, myths, symbols, and values. She also focuses on autobiographical, feminist, and social justice themes throughout her writing.

“I feel strongly that I have a responsibility to all the sources that I am: to all past and future ancestors, to my home country, to all places that I touch down on and that are myself, to all voices, all women, all of my tribe, all people, all earth, and beyond that to all beginnings and endings. In a strange kind of sense [writing] frees me to believe in myself, to be able to speak, to have voice, because I have to; it is my survival.” (The Poetry Foundation)

Service is important to Harjo in practice as well as in her art. She is the director of For Girls Becoming, an organization focused on arts mentorship for young Muscogee women. She is also is a founding board member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.

Harjo does not restrict her creativity and art to writing. She is also an accomplished saxophonist, flutist, and vocalist and has released a handful of award-winning albums. Like her writing, her music draws from her native roots and collaborates with other native musicians. She tours regularly with her band, Arrow Dynamics.

Read more about Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo on the Poetry Foundation’s website and on her own website. You can check out a number of her works through the JKM Library. We recommend beginning with her acclaimed collection She Had Some Horses. Browse here!

September 10, 2019
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Book Recommendation: How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

In Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, she makes a strong case for moving away from the capitalist idea that we need to be constantly optimizing, producing, and innovating. Instead, we should turn our attention back to our actual place in the world and try to reconnect with people, animals, and our bioregion in a way that repairs the harmful results of behavior capitalism has encouraged and even required of us.

With the rise of internet culture, student and credit card debt, the gig-economy, environmental and social crises, and late stage capitalism, we find ourselves increasingly burnt out and restricted. As a group, humans are disconnected and fractured. We spend so much time working or distracted by the internet and media that we regularly forget to look up.

According to Odell, removing ourselves from the attention economy and invasive addictive technology for a time allows us to refocus our attention. Her book does an amazing job at illustrating how powerful our attention is, both for destruction and for building. She uses successful acts of activism from the past as examples of the positive power of our combined sustained focus. Unfortunately, our attention is currently being drained from us at a rate impossible for us to maintain, hence the constant overwhelmed state. Due to that, we no longer know how to focus together as a group on shared goals.

Odell champions the idea that not every space, be it physical, digital, or mental, needs to have what capitalism would consider a net gain. Not every idea or thought needs to be profitable. Sometimes the important work is not that of optimizing, but of sustaining. To undo the harm of constant “innovation”, humans can learn instead how to be stewards of the spaces around them, offering only the amount of support needed for it to maintain a stable existence.

Odell brings in ideas from environmentalism, art, technology, psychology, philosophy, sociology, and more to illustrate her points. Part of the beauty of How To Do Nothing is watching Odell seamlessly blend together these multiple concepts into a cohesive message. Odell, a visual artists and professor at Stanford, is both highly academic and engaging in her discussion. How To Do Nothing is incredibly well researched without being dry.

Odell’s arguments feel plausible and urgent. This is important for a book discussing what might be considered by some as a breakdown of society. Those who read How To Do Nothing will see their world in a new light and, if Odell has been successful, be inspired to make changes to how they exist in it.

You can checkout Odell’s How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy from the JKM Library today!

June 17, 2019
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Book Recommendation: The Stranger

Image from Goodreads

Imagine it’s 1942. You’re French. Einstein has already refuted the absolutist notions of time and space, Darwin’s findings have nearly dismantled creationism, and Freud has speculated that there’s a subconscious realm where much of the mind’s processes are at work. Nietzsche fathomed nihilism, addressing the question: what would happen to a post-religious society? Worse yet, the Nazis have risen; you’ve been warring with Germany for three years.

Albert Camus published his debut novel, The Stranger, in this context. The soccer-loving philosopher writes an apathetic, emotionless protagonist who searches for meaning in a meaningless world. Camus prescribes a set of absurdist strategies for dealing with love, grief, and violence. In short, he suggests one ought to refrain from investing in such matters.

Though Camus personally rejected the term ‘existentialist,’ he is often grouped with his existentialist contemporaries. Like them, Camus rejected the notion of a universal purpose. No overarching truth or religion suits existentialists, nor do they accept the notion of a comprehensive moral code befitting to all. Fundamentally, they believe human flourishing is a myth; life is nothing more than a waiting room, and the room is full of hardship, loss, and setbacks. Ironically, from this rejection of Meaning arises a new purpose. The existentialists’ simple commandment is to treat life as something to conquer. Do not get bogged down with other people or expectations or feelings or morality. Existentialists urge: do what you want to do, precisely when you want to do it.

All of these philosophies are instantiated in Meursault—a man who traipses around avoiding his feelings to a nearly sociopathic degree. He makes sense of his world by suspending his passions. In the opening pages, for example, when the reader discovers that Meursault’s mother has died, the protagonist treats the event as a mild annoyance. One might expect that this degree of flippancy could only arise from someone who despises his parentage. Yet Meursault does not seem angry. Rather, he appears dispassionate, reacting as if his own mother were not the one dead.

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October 31, 2018
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Book Recommendation: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Image taken from Amazon.

Looking for something spooky to read under the covers with some tea tonight? Look no further than Shirley Jackson, the master of creeping dread and spooky suspense. You may know Jackson’s famous short story The Lottery from high school, or perhaps you have watched the recent Netflix reimagining of her classic The Haunting of Hill House. Her works are often described as horror, but the subtlety of her writing gives it something more universal. Her themes often focus on the dark side of domestic life and isolation, and they often feature agoraphobia and critiques of the expectations of traditional society.

Jackson also wrote nonfiction about what it was like to be a mother and manage a home, something she considered to hold its own degree of horror. Jackson also felt that she and her family were considered outcasts in her small New England town, and they experienced anti-Semitism in the insidious manner one sees in “civilized society”.  Toward the end of her life, she became so painfully agoraphobic she wouldn’t leave her bedroom. Much of what makes her fiction work horrific is because it is Jackson’s true-life experiences expressed through a fantastical lens, and as such there is something recognizable in it to all of us. We see how easy it could be for us to slip into some kind of madness, or for the precarious society around us to suddenly turn vicious. It is not gore or jump scares that make Jackson’s work terrifying, it is how she exposes the truth and ugliness in us all.

For this fall, I wanted to recommend a lesser talked about Jackson classic: We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This short (under 200 pages) novel is dark, twisted, unconventional, and incredibly beautiful. We enter into the lives of Mary Katherine (Merricat) and Constance Blackwood, two young women who live isolated in their large house with their wheelchair-bound uncle, Julian. The fractured family fell into disrepair after arsenic in the sugar bowl killed the rest of the Blackwoods half a decade ago. The only two who were not poisoned in the incident were Merricat and Constance, while Uncle Julian did not ingest enough of the poison to kill him. Constance, having been put on trial and then acquitted of the crime, now suffers from such extreme agoraphobia that she cannot leave the house. Uncle Julian is so much diminished from the poisoning that he struggles to keep one foot in reality. He depends on his nieces to care for him, which they do lovingly. The town is happy to keep them isolated, making disparaging comments and singing a haunting little nursery rhyme about the murders whenever Merricat comes near. And it is only ever Merricat that leaves their extensive grounds to go grocery shopping and run quick errands.

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August 13, 2018
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Book Recommendation: Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe

 

Image taken from Amazon

Lori Jakiela opens her memoir with a line as humble as the title, describing her memoir “primarily a work of nonfiction.” What follows is a dramatic account of Jakiela’s search to make contact with her biological family after the death of her adoptive parents. Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe is an evocative story of one woman’s yearning for closure, love, and family.

The presentation of these ideals are developed through Jakiela’s description of loss. She articulates her pain in ways that are acute, poignant, familiar. Her pages are decorated with mediations on a particular grief—the kind of unique sorrow that stems from her identity as an adoptee. Through her attempts to contact her native family, for example, she continues, with insistence, to refer to her adoptive family as her “real” family.

Some craft elements will engage readers from the start. Jakiela, a native Pittsburgher, describes a setting that Chatham students will find pleasantly relatable. More uniquely, Jakiela subtly challenges storytelling conventions through experimental use of dialogue. She presents uninterrupted, staccato quotes and repetitive dialogue tags, both of which reveal a one-of-a-kind style—clever and intentional in its pacing.

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April 23, 2018
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National Poetry Month 2018: Suggested Reads!

April is National Poetry Month, and we at the JKM Library have a soft spot in our literary hearts for poetry. This month, student workers Alie Davis and Carina Stopenski worked together to design and curate our Main Book Display. Items selected ranged from classics like Sylvia Plath to Chatham students’ chapbooks and everything in between.

While all the poetry collections on display are worth checking out and exploring, Alie Davis has selected three that stand out to her. Read her bite-sized reviews below for poetry collections you can check out today!

Andrea Gibson’s first book, Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns, inspires action in all of its readers. This collection is brimming with brutal tenderness. Gibson covers topics that are relevant to the current political climate. This collection is full of poems about gender, love, violence, and an overwhelming optimism for surviving no matter what.

 

Lori Jakiela, a local Pittsburgh poet, released her chapbook, Big Fish in 2016. This collection sings with humor, playfulness, and light, but does not shy away from the hard things. Jakiela writes about landscape, motherhood, and giant fish sandwiches. Big Fish is a rich collection to dive into and swim through.

 

Lighthead by Terrance Hayes is his fourth collection to be published. Always blurring the line between story and song, and reality and dream, Hayes engages with how we ground ourselves in the everyday and how we construct experience. Musical and dream-like, Lighthead offers meditations on desires and history. Masterful precision of language and sound moves this collection to a Must-Read for all.

June 9, 2015
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Summer Reading Preview

The summer reading list for first-year Chatham students has been posted! The contents of the list were chosen by your friendly neighborhood librarians, and include entries from different subject areas. There’s something on this list for everyone (and several things that I’ll be adding to my own summer reading list). Here’s a preview of some of the titles; make sure to access the complete list to see some other choices.

 

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth GapCover: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
Matt Taibbi

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the Occupy movement, The Divide focuses on the myriad ways that wealth—or lack thereof—affects the rights afforded to US citizens (as well as the way this system impacts the immigration debate). Mass incarceration, stop-and-frisk, and the contemporary landscape of the US justice system provide evidence for Taibbi’s portrayal of a system that privileges wealth above all else.

 

Cover: Eating Together: Food, Friendship, and InequalityEating Together: Food, Friendship, and Inequality
Alice P. Julier

What is the social impact of shared meals? Julier (director of the Master’s program in Food Studies here at Chatham) writes about the intersection of social eating experiences and social inequality, examining the literal and figurative aspects of who has a seat at the table.

 

 

The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 YearsCover: The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years
Sonia Shah

The Fever addresses malaria as a subject with various historical, scientific, and socio-political resonances. Alongside anecdotal evidence of the way the disease is approached and conceived of in malaria-afflicted areas, Shah takes on the ineffectual attempts of various global organizations to curb its effects. The Fever offers a deeper understanding of the way malaria has shaped and continues to affect human history.

 

Citizen: An American LyricCover: Citizen: An American Lyric
Claudia Rankine

From microaggressions to overt racial violence, Citizen addresses life in “post-race” America. Rankine meditates on the ways that this constant narrative of otherness impacts daily life and, in some cases, even personal safety. Composed of prose poems, verse, essays, and images, Rankine’s work is a form-agnostic witness account of contemporary race and racism in America.

 

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don’tCover: The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don’t
Nate Silver

Silver takes on the art and science of forecasting, analyzing the various reasons—from a mastery of statistics to a healthy understanding of uncertainty—why some predictions are successful while others are not. The Signal and the Noise investigates forecasting from multiple vantage points, using examples of correct and incorrect predictions from sports, politics, economics, and more.

 

Source: Music of the Avant-garde, 1966-1973
Edited by Larry Austin and Douglas Kahn

Cover: Source: Music of the Avant-garde, 1966-1973This volume reproduces issues of the avant-garde periodical Source, which published a variety of experimental music bits and pieces. Introductory material provides some historical context, followed by the downright weirdness of the content itself, with pieces from John Cage, Morton Feldman, Steve Reich, Nam June Paik, Harry Partch, and others.

 

 

The Paris of Appalachia: Pittsburgh in the Twenty-First CenturyCover: The Paris of Appalachia: Pittsburgh in the Twenty-First Century
Brian O’Neill

An affectionate tribute to Pittsburgh that also deals some tough love in response to some of the city’s ongoing problems. O’Neill includes the stories of Pittsburgh natives in his analysis, attempting to capture the character of a city situated somewhere between the East Coast and the Midwest both in terms of physical location and regional character.

May 3, 2013
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Summer Reading List

the-brief-wondrous-life-of-oscar-waoThe books that have been selected for Summer Reading are now on display on the first floor of the Library. No matter what your interests are – art, science, psychology– or if your just looking for a really good story, we’ve got the book for you. Hand-selected by the Librarians, these books are guaranteed to enrich and enliven your summer- we would never steer you wrong! So grab a cool drink from Café Rachel and choose from the titles found here. Some of the highlights include:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

“Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multimillion dollar industry. More than twenty years later, her children found out. Their lives would never be the same.”

Middlesex: A Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides

“To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.”

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum

In The Poisoner’s Handbook, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Deborah Blum draws from highly original research to track the fascinating, perilous days when a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime. Drama unfolds case by case as the heroes of The Poisoner’s Handbook investigate a family mysteriously stricken bald, Barnum and Bailey’s Famous Blue Man, factory workers with crumbling bones, a diner serving poisoned pies, and many others. A beguiling concoction that is equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner’s Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten New York.

Beethoven’s hair by Russell Martin

In Beethoven’s Hair, Russell Martin has created a rich historical treasure hunt, an Indiana Jones-like tale of false leads, amazing breakthroughs, and incredible revelations. This unique and fascinating book is a moving testament to the power of music, the lure of relics, the heroism of the Resistance movement, and the brilliance of molecular science.

April 3, 2013
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Sandman #1 “Preludes and Nocturnes”

sandmanIn 1916 a cult attempts to capture death but they are thwarted when they inadvertently imprison the Sandman.  Held hostage for 72 years by the cult, Dreams (also called Morpheus) is unable to return to the realm of dreams.  As a result, an epidemic of “sleeping sickness” crosses the globe, causing thousands to slip into an unshakable slumber.

Finally freed from his captors in 1988, Dreams must reclaim his kingdom from chaos, but he is badly weakened from his captivity.  To regain his full powers, Dreams sets out on a journey to track down a serial killer with mind control powers and a demon in Hell that is set on shaming the Sandman.

Written by award winning novelist Neil Gaiman (Stardust, The Graveyard Book, Good Omens, Smoke and Mirrors), Sandman #1 is a dark and gritty storyline that entices and captivates the reader.  Although Sandman is a comic book, this is not a story for young readers.  Readers will enjoy Dreams’ somber and philosophical nature as his journey entangles him with citizens of this world and many others.

Reviewed by Melissa Frye, JKM Library Student Worker

March 19, 2013
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Who Watches the Watchmen?

watchmenAlan Moore sets his Hugo Award-winning graphic novel in the political dystopia of the 1980s.  Published in comic book form between September 1986 and October 1987, Moore manages to encapsulate the nuclear tensions of the United States and the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.

Moore focuses his narrative on an unlikely group of costumed vigilantes called “The Crimebusters.”  The Crimebusters are the second generation of “heroes” that patrol the streets of New York City but they are very different from their idyllic 1950’s predecessors.  As a faceless enemy begins to kill off the Crimebusters, the fractured group revisits their pasts in an attempt to decipher a mystery that threatens the world.

The multiple threads of characters, history, politics, and encroaching world destruction are masterfully woven together by Moore to create an intense and gripping drama.  In the end, the story leaves the reader questioning her own grasp of morality vs. humanity.

A great read not only for comic book fans but avid readers as well.

Reviewed by Melissa Frye, JKM Library Student Worker

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