Monday, July 26, 2010

Brown vs. Board of Education: One of the Little Rock Nine to Speak at Boulder Book Store!

In 1957, Carlotta LaNier was one of the 9 brave students to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, under U.S. military guard and enduring endless taunting from their white peers. Just three years after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of the nation's schools via Brown vs. Board of Education, these students were the first African-Americans to graduate from a overwhelmingly white-majority school during a time when racial tensions were running high across the country.

LaNier had not written about the events that unfolded during her high school years until Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School, her memoir due out in paperback July 27, 2010. Her recollection of attending Central High gives the reader a personal insight into the immense challenges presented by LaNier's pursuit of a better education.

LaNier moved with her family to Colorado in 1962, where she graduated from what would become the University of Northern Colorado (UNC). She has spent the last 30 years working as a successful real estate broker, a career that included the founding of her own company in 1977. For their courageous action during a period of turmoil within the American school system, LaNier and the rest of the Little Rock Nine were presented with the country's highest possible civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, in 1999.

Currently, LaNier serves as president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, as well as on the board of trustees for the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Northern Colorado. She has two grown children and currently lives with her husband in Englewood, Colorado.

Carlotta LaNier will speak and sign Mighty Long Way (One World, $16.00) on Monday, August 2, 2010 at 7:30 pm at Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl Street, Boulder, CO.

Check out what our staff is reading!

The Butterfly Mosque, by Willow Wilson

A fascinating and intensely personal account of a local young woman's journey from Boulder to Cairo and atheism to Islam. When Wilson marries an Egyptian man, she is incorporated into his family and Egyptian society. She beautifully articulates the joys, frustrations and contradictions of adopting her new roles as a wife, a Muslim and a de facto Egyptian woman.

Reviewed by: Jen R.


West Wind, by Mary Oliver

West Wind shows a unique side of Mary Oliver—one still steeped in the nature she takes in on her daily walks, but more contemplative of death and the darker aspects of nature. Her well-known style is fully intact in this darkly ruminative collection. One thing is for sure: Mary Oliver retains her post as what Maxine Kumin deemed "an indefatigable guide to the natural world."

Reviewed by: Stephanie W.


Light Boxes, by Shane Jones

An eloquent fable that lies at the intersection of Calvino, Gorey and Borges. The author doesn't waste a word in telling the story of a village beset by an interminable February. Readers won't find half as much delight, disturbance, imagination or mystery in a book three times the length. I flipped from the final page back to the first, in hopes of recapturing the thrill of reading.

Reviewed by: Scott


The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare, by Arliss Ryan

This tale of William Shakespeare’s wife is a romance unlike any other. Anne Shakespeare’s husband and lovers pale in comparison to her true love - writing. I’ve never read another work that captures the passion that springs between creator and creation. Ryan’s devotion to both her character and the craft of literature bring to life the exquisite thrill of being an artist.

Reviewed by: Kira

Monday, July 19, 2010

Check out what our staff is reading!

The Big Short
by Michael Lewis

Dubious of financial reform? You'll be true believers after reading this book. Lewis chronicles four flamboyant renegade traders—a one-eyed recluse, an offensive crusader and two chump-change investors from California—who bet heavily against the subprime mortgage market. A blistering indictment of the Wall Street mindset that brought us to the financial brink.

Reviewed by: Harry


Paradise Road
by Jay Atkinson
Paradise Road is a modern depiction of Jack Kerouac's meandering American journey chronicled in On the Road. Atkinson discovers that the interstate highway system has led to the destruction and closure of many of the backroads that Kerouac trod; yet Atkinson also discovers that the small towns visited by Kerouac still thrive on local commerce and community-based ties.

Reviewed by: Odysseus


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
by Steig Larsson

Here it is in the U.S. at last: the conclusion to Larsson's much-loved Millennium Trilogy. No more waiting to find out: Will Lisbeth Salander win against the corrupt government institutions that have continually victimized her? Can she trust others enough to accept their help in proving her innocence? The ending is satisfying, but I am sad the author died without completing the series.

Reviewed by: Alyssa


The Fiddler in the Subway
by Gene Weingarten

Weingarten is the best nonfiction writer you've never heard of. His accolades include discovering Dave Barry and winning two Pulitzers, plus he's an expert hypochondriac. The namesake essay—his Pulitzer-winning piece on violinist Josh Bell, who once busked in a busy Metro station during rush hour—is an illuminating read worth the price of admission.

Reviewed by: Michael D.


Dead Until Dark
by Charlaine Harris

The inspiration for the True Blood Series on HBO reads like Twilight on V (the hip designer drug of choice for humans derived from, you guessed it, vampire blood). Sookie Stackhouse is our plucky protagonist, ordinary southern girl with one extraordinary disadvantage: She is telepathic. With plenty of lust and violence to spare, this makes a great summer read!

Reviewed by: Ashanti

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How Graphic Texts Help Kids (Boys, Especially) Become Better Readers

by Karla Oceanak

I’m a reader, a writer, and a mother of three boys. My house is atumble in books in general (not to mention dirty socks, Legos, hockey gear, etc.), but I bet you’d notice straightaway the preponderance of comic books and graphic novels littering every surface.

My boys like graphic texts. Yes, they read “plain” novels and nonfiction, too, but in our house the books with the most tattered covers and cracked spines have titles like Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side and The Wimpy Kid.

Now you’ve gotta understand that I’m an English-major type. Perhaps like you, I’ve been trained to believe that “literature” (in a British accent) is by definition dense and difficult. Frothy, simple books might be fun reads, but they don’t count, really.

Or do they? When I started writing Artsy-Fartsy and working with illustrator Kendra Spanjer on our particular take on the graphic novel concept, I was pretty confident kids would like the book. But would it be “good” for them?

Part of the Aldo Zelnick shtick involves fun but challenging vocabulary. So yes, that vitamin-fortified component would meet with both Mom- and English-major approval. (It’s like sneaking wheat germ into their cupcakes.) But the silly story and the drawings? The sprinkles of illustrated potty humor?

These questions nagged me. So I did some research. Here’s what I learned.

Kids need to read to become good readers.
In a 2007 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, researchers found that the highest reading scores on standardized tests correlated with the frequency of reading for fun. For fun! Another classic study of 5th graders showed that total daily time spent reading—regardless of what was being read—predicted reading scores. Kids who read 90 minutes a day tested in the 98th percentile on reading tests; kids who read just 5 minutes a day tested in the 20th percentile.

Apparently, when it comes to reading, volume matters more than that esoteric, subjective criterion we call “quality.” If our goal is to get and keep kids reading every day, we need to let them choose books they enjoy. This includes graphic texts.

Visuals increase comprehension and recall.
In her book Teaching Visual Literacy in a Multimedia Age, Glenda Rakes points out that combining visuals with text increases comprehension. Using PET scans, researchers have seen that the left brain lights up when exposed to verbal information and that the right brain lights up when shown visual information. Combine visuals with text and you get connectivity. Graphic texts feed both halves of the brain. And because visuals are stored more readily in long-term memory, we remember better when text is accompanied by visuals.

Boys, especially, may need visuals.
In Connecting Boys with Books 2, Michael Sullivan says that the corpus callosum—the bridge of nerve tissue that connects the brain’s two hemispheres—is, on average, 10 percent larger in girls than in boys. What’s more, functional MRIs show that when boys read, the left hemisphere of the brain lights up, but when girls read, both hemispheres light up. Girls visualize earlier and better than boys do, which means that boys, especially, benefit from text illustrated by graphics.

I could go on and on, because I wolfed down lots of research on the reading brain, the reluctant reader, vocabulary acquisition, etc., and I find it all fascinating. (Get Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf if you want a geek-peek into how the brain reads.)

But suffice it to say that I felt vindicated. Graphic texts “count!” Even though Artsy-Fartsy and the Aldo Zelnick comic novel series is “a fun read,” it’s good for kids because it keeps them reading. Children who are taught that only some reading “counts” are being set up to think of themselves as reading failures. Besides, it’s not true. And it’s an attitude that, over time, may well quash their reading altogether.

Mark Twain said that the person who doesn’t read is no better off than the person who can’t read. Lifelong literacy means continuing to read, for self-education as well as for pleasure. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but let’s keep our kids reading for fun, so they’ll grow into grown-ups who revel in the pleasures of a good book, and who one day live in their own houses with kids and books atumble.

Karla Oceanak is the author of Artsy-Fartsy and Bogus, the first and second books in the alphabetical Aldo Zelnick comic novel series for kids.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Our Staff is Reading...

The Tassajara Bread Book
by Edward Espe Brown

Edward Brown, master baker and zen priest, strikes a balance between both of his callings in this remarkable cookbook. Simple, clear instructions take the mystery out of baking bread and dozens of recipes, from wholesome to decadent, and strive to nourish both the body and the soul. An addition to your bookshelf that is sure to be used again and again.

Reviewed by: Jen R.


Home Ground
edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney

An elegant encyclopedia that celebrates the poetry of the American landscape: Wrack line, kiss tank, coyote well, rip rap. Far from a dry recitation of facts, each entry reinvests our geography with elements of story. Barry Lopez, Linda Hogan, Barbara Kingsolver, Jon Krakauer and dozens more lend their eloquent voices to this eminently readable collection.

Reviewed by: Scott


Beatrice and Virgil
by Yann Martel

In Yann Martel's award winning Life of Pi, he explored issues of God and human nature by writing about a boy, a tiger, and a raft. Now Martel tackles the Holocaust and the face of evil by giving us a taxidermy shop and unfinished play about a monkey and a donkey. Strange, compelling, and with a chilling ending, Beatrice and Virgil is a literary masterpiece.

Reviewed by: Mandy

by Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram positively radiates. Gregory Roberts provides an intimate portrait of Bombay that is difficult to leave. His novel, which closely imitates his own life story, transports the reader to a world as colorful as it is heartbreaking. Full of rich and unforgettable characters, the city itself becomes the tragic heroine in Roberts’ search for meaning.

Reviewed by: Darcy


The Spartacus War
by Barry Strauss

Down through the centuries, the "Spartacus War" and its charismatic leader have inspired revolutionaries, Marxists, and Kirk Douglas. But given the dearth of firsthand sources and their often contradictory claims, Strauss' authoritative account of this conflict is a remarkable piece of historical reconstruction. His writing is fluid, and his scholarship impressive and insightful.

Reviewed by: Warren

Monday, July 5, 2010

What Our Staff is Reading This Week

The Wisdom of the Last Farmer
by David Mas Masumoto

After his father's stroke, the author is left struggling to make up for his absence on the family farm. An exploration of the fragility of mortality and man's connection to the natural world, Matsumoto's writing is poetic. Each chapter reads like a highly descriptive personal essay. Combined, the stories of life on the farm are a successful vehicle for examining life in general.

Reviewed by: Christine

The Surrendered
by Chang Rae Lee

This harrowing novel follows the lives of both Korean and American survivors of the Korean War. June and Hector are reunited despite their secret of history of violence and lost love. Lee slowly reveals their parallel tales building the novel's tension and showing us a world permanently marked by wars and atrocity.

Reviewed by: Arsen


The Privileges
by Jonathan Dee

The Morey family has it all—looks, charms, wits and money, lots of it. What they lack is scruples, ethics and some basic humanity. Dee tells the story from all four of the family members' perspectives. The Morey's pathological inability to think about their past and the corrupting influence of money leads to family even less savory than their eel namesake.

Reviewed by: Arsen

All Other Nights
by Dara Horn

Civil War intrigue, Jewish history and beautiful spies are the foundation for Horn's enthralling novel. Jacob Rappaport, a 19-year old private, is dispatched to New Orleans to kill his plotting uncle on Passover. That's the easiest of his assignments. Marriage to a Virginia spy is the most difficult but delectable mission. Rappaport's cunning and morals are sorely tested in this novel.

Reviewed by: Arsen


Making Toast: A Family Story
by Roger Rosenblatt

When his daughter Amy passes away unexpectedly, writer Roger Rosenblatt and his wife are recruited to help raise their grandchildren. Like Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Rosenblatt's book explores the country of those "left behind" by addressing how even the mundane things are altered. To quote Richard Ford, "These are brilliant lessons, fiercely learned."

Reviewed by: Scott

Friday, July 2, 2010


The Phantom of the Opera has been a beloved, twisted tale since its publication a century ago, but why should the lives of Erik the Phantom, and Christine halt on the final page? Readers have wondered how the story would be different had Christine stayed with the Phantom instead of departing with the Viscount de Chagny, and now they can find out as local author Kae D. Jacobs writes an alternative fate for the celebrated characters. While the renowned Opera Ghost is presumed dead at the end of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, Jacobs has found a way to revive the character by avoiding the finality of death. Picking up where Leroux left off, Beyond the Masque begins with the famous Phantom planning to end his life over the loss of Christine DaeƩ. Before his suicide can be achieved, Christine experiences a change of heart and returns to Erik soon after, leaving Raoul the Viscount. However, happily ever after doesn't come without trial and patience, and as Erik drifts down from Phantom to human, Christine battles with forgiveness and grace; Jacobs takes pride in the reality of her romance novel, saying that the goal for continuing Erik and Christine's tale was to make it "real life and believable", which she most certainly achieves. "I wanted this book to be believable on a level that people who are going through relationships can attach to it, not that it's so far above them," Jacobs elaborates. Women of all ages will be able to relate to Beyond the Masque as Jacobs confronts issues such as relationship conflicts, problems arising in marriage, self-acceptance, doubt versus trust, grace, and much more.

Taking advantage of the small door left open by Leroux, Jacobs bravely pushes through, re-entering the story of obsession, music, and love while adding unsuspecting twists to story, all written with the flavor of 19th century-style prose. Fans of Leroux's story and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation will fall in love with the Phantom all over again, becoming reacquainted with the disturbed genius in a new way.

This is Kae D. Jacobs' first novel, originally self-published and then later signed over to Granite Publishing & Distribution. Beyond the Masque is but a prelude to a trilogy, labeled Bonds of Children.

To check out fun facts about Kae D. Jacobs and discover how Beyond the Masque came into being, visit the author's website at:

Kae D. Jacobs will be speaking and signing copies of Beyond the Masque (Granite Publishing & Distribution, $24.95) at the Local Authors Event, Wednesday, July 7 at 7:00pm, in the upstairs Ballroom of Boulder Book Store. Other participating authors include E Smith & Bettsee Gotwald (Evolutionary Guidebook), Irv Sternberg (writing as Mark Irving, The Persian Project), and B. Michael Fett (Beautiful Hardship: My Story).

See you soon at Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl Street, Boulder, CO.