Friday, August 28, 2015

Drift in Church Hill

If William Byrd II was reminded of Richmond upon Thames when he faced the James River, thus lending Richmond, Virginia it’s name, what if he had turned around to face Church Hill and tried—through sheer whim and curiosity—to see England there as well? A couple weeks ago, in ninety degree heat and feeling somewhat restless, I attempted to do just that. I looked out at the James as Byrd had done, and then…turned around.

The inspiration for this—and for the little journey I took through Church Hill afterwards—came from the French writer Guy Debord. Debord helped develop a practice called the “dérive,” or drift. The idea is to make your way quickly through an urban area connecting places that aren't usually connected. Often the paths we make through cities are dictated by things other than us. We follow the tourist areas, the shops, the signs with arrows. Debord called for “total insubordination to habitual influences,” either by drifting along the atmospherics you pick up or by playing certain games. I wanted to play a game.

“A friend recently told me that he had wandered through the Harz region of Germany while blindly following the directions of a map of London,” wrote Debord, offering an example of a beginner’s dérive. With new and arbitrary directions Debord's friend could shake his mind up, could see and feel things people didn't normally see or feel. Taking the cue from Debord’s friend I turned around from that beautiful view of the James with my own set of directions through London, knowing where they would have taken me if I were in fact in London, but having no idea where they would take me in Richmond.

Google “London” and the people in Mountain View, California will take you to Charing Cross, a roundabout joining Strand, Whitehall, and Cockspur streets. Considering that Charing Cross is the “center” of London and I too was standing at a roundabout (where 29th Street meets Libby Terrace), I decided to start my London directions there at the statue of Charles I. This meant that standing at Libby Hill and looking northeast, I wasn’t looking at any brick 19th century homes at all, but at the center of London.

The next thing I needed was a place to go in London, preferably somewhere not too far from Charing Cross since I didn’t want to walk a ways in the heat. I also needed a route to take me there, preferably one with lots of twists and turns, assuring that my walk through Church Hill would not be one I had ever taken before. I decided in advance my destination would be Geo. F. Trumper, a men’s barber shop in Mayfair, having seen it once in a documentary and happening to need a haircut, if only imaginary. I dragged the little blue line up and down my Google Map and gave myself a curly route.

Route planned, I could set the map aside. What I most needed were the directions: take a left, walk 43 feet; take a right, walk 0.2 miles. I listed all these in my phone and pulled up an app that would track my distance and location. Admittedly, carrying along a smartphone does not suggest insubordination to habitual influences, but this is drifting for beginners, and the 21st century.

The directions took me up 28th Street, across an alley to 29th. I passed the house where Edgar Allan Poe said goodbye to Sarah Royster. I went down a staircase to Farm Fresh and the Bottom. I had walked along some of these streets before, but always with an objective that took my mind out of the walk at hand—go to the store, to the coffee shop, walk in the shade. But since all I had to do now was blindly follow directions, and get a haircut near Hyde Park, I could relax, walk slower. The place I was in was important, not the place I needed to be. I didn’t even know where that was.

In the end I found Trumper the barbershop in a parking lot off Dock Street. I made fast work of the walk home, just generally staying out of the sun. And once home, seated at my desk, another and equally important walk could take place, this time not with streets but with documents. Looking over the locations I had recorded on my phone, I could draw out my Richmond route and compare it to the London map. It became a way of challenging my concept of London. Maps tend to make places seem bigger than they actually are, and by looking over where I had been, I could ask the map to tell me the truth: that a walk from Charing Cross to Trumper’s is no more than a lazy jaunt down the Hill.

Also at home, I could compare the places I had been to the places in London that had inspired my even being there. I took a turn at 28th Street solely because of a turn at Piccadilly Circus, and because of that, for a moment, the two spaces were transposed. They became one space. A hydrant was a newsstand, a garage a double decker bus.

Another dérive could take place now, also with documents, but this one cultural. I had already passed by, playfully and almost blindly, Guy Debord, Charles I, and Edgar Allan Poe. But now there were other things suddenly linked that had to be explored: the history of London barber shops, the development of the Richmond canal. Naturally this drift took me to the library.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Forecast: weird and wild, women of fantasy and sci-fi

I just want to give you a little heads up about a few upcoming books you'll want to know about:

Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

A new story collection from Nalo Hopkinson who brings us funny, smart, fresh fantasy and sci-fi influenced by her Afro-Caribbean, Canadian, and American roots. If you like Nnendi Okorafor, Octavia Butler or Ursula K. LeGuin, you need to check out Nalo Hopkinson. I recommend Sister Mine to get started with her.

A Portable Shelter by Kirsty Logan

I know you just returned The Gracekeepers so you're thinking "Another Kirsty Logan so soon?" Yes.

A Portable Shelter is an illustrated collection of short stories in the same Scottish folklore inspired, sea drenched vein as The Gracekeepers, sure to be just as enchanting.

Alice by Christina Henry

Due to hit shelves in early August, this re-imagining of Lewis Carroll's beloved Alice in Wonderland sounds creepy and dark, surreal of course, and quite promising.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

You guys!


*Jumping up and down*

A new Margaret Atwood novel you guys!

If you loved her dystopian novels A Handmaid's Tale, and the Maddaddam Trilogy, get ready to be as excited as I am right now.

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

New from science fiction imprint Tor, and not due to be released until April 2016, Company Town is the story of Hwa, the last "organic" person left in her community. Also, there's a serial killer on the loose. I love a good sci-fi/thriller, don't you?

Radiance by Catherynne Valente

A "decopunk" title, also from Tor. Decopunk?! I assume this means there is a logical progression in science fiction from the Victorian-infused steampunk, to early 20th century art deco inspired technology to form the sub-genre decopunk. I'm picturing Fritz Lang's 1929 film, Woman in the Moon and I'm totally OK with that.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

A comic, apocalyptic, time-travelling, magical love story by Io9's editor in chief?

Yes please!

Keep an eye out for this one in January, 2016.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Who rocks? Girls Rock! RVA: Empowering girls, one note at a time

The campers at this year's Girls Rock! RVA will display their talents at the Camper Showcase at Richmond Public Library TOMORROW! THIS SATURDAY! August 15th!

Be there at 12 and be prepared to rock.

Alana concentrating on the keys. Photo credit: Rose Rea
Thanks to the local acts who visit us during the camp week. Added bonus: feeling like rock stars when they want your autograph and we give you a free lunch! Photo credit: Caitlin O'Connor
Dazeases performs during the camper's lunch time. Photo credit: Caitlin O'Connor
Girls Rock impromptu dance party. Photo credit: Caitlin O'Connor
Mayzie preparing to slay the drums. Photo credit:Caitlin O'Connor
Mia singing with passion already on day one! #proskillz
Photo credit: Caitlin O'Connor

The mission:

"Girls Rock! RVA is a newly formed organization in Richmond, Virginia. Our mission is to facilitate a space in Richmond that empowers girls to collaborate creatively in an environment of mutual respect and positive self-expression. To this effect, we are working to start an all-girls pop/rock/hip-hop/punk/etc. summer music camp here in Richmond.

GR!RVA is fully operated by a dedicated group of volunteers. Like many of the other Girls Rock! Camps across the United States, Canada, and Europe, we use music education as a foundation for personal growth, self-expression, confidence building, and much, much more.

We’ve come a long way since our initial formation in early 2010. What started out as an understandably amazing proposal quickly became a realistic opportunity, as the group and its mission were greatly welcomed within the Richmond area and surrounding communities. We held our first benefit show in December 2010 and by March met with the Girls Rock Camp Alliance.

By working to attain non-profit status and running our own programs, we would like to become an official affiliate in the coming years."

Source: Girls Rock! RVA Facebook page

And here's a list of books to pick up at the library after the program:
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer for Freedom by Pussy Riot

Friday, August 07, 2015

New Titles for Kids of All Ages!

Summer Learning Challenge 2015:       Every Hero Has a Story!

  • Sign ups are happening online and at your local library.  
  • You have until August 22, 2015 to register, complete your log, and enter to win a bicycle!
  • Children, teens and adults are eligible.
New titles @ Your Library...Check One Out!

Books are full of heroes and our new titles include heroes who are there for us daily and some who are heroes to people they never meet.  

The Red Bicycle:  the Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella.

Do you have a bike that is too small for you?  Have you ever wondered what happens to old bicycles that no one wants?  Follow the story of Leo and his bike and meet the people who benefit along the way.  Leo earns money to buy the big, red bike of his dreams.  When he outgrows the bike he donates it to a program that sends bicycles to countries where they are needed for daily transportation, deliveries, and even health.  A fascinating example of a small action with great impact.

Community helpers are there when we need them and are true, local heroes.  A new series on community helpers illustrates the many assignments facing these heroes each day.

Shane Evans is a talented author and illustrator who "attributes much of his influence to his travels to Africa, South America, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and much of the United States."  His latest book, We March, is a sparse yet powerful account of the civil rights march on Washington, DC on August 28, 1963.  Through simple words and lively illustrations he reminds us of the heroes of that movement, still relevant today.

Non-fiction lists facts about the world around us and great illustrators bring those facts to life on the pages of a book.  These two new titles are perfect examples:

Daylight Starlight Wildlife by Wendell Minor.  This talented artist has illustrated many beautiful books for children. Each page shows daytime animals and their nighttime counterparts with Fun Facts on each at the end.
A Rock is Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long.
Rock lovers rejoice!  Lively, galactic, old, inventive...these are just some of the unusual ways to describe rocks.  Discover these and others in this beautiful, new title.

And just for fun...

What Pet Should I Get by Dr. Seuss.

Can it be?  A Dr. Seuss book that was never published?  Yes, it can!

"Pick a pet fast!
Pick a pet soon!
Mother and Dad said to be home by noon!"

"Make up your mind."

Characters you know and some you can only imagine.  Just what you would expect from Dr. Seuss.  And you have to choose just one.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.

For all the perfectionists out there:  a little girl, determined to create a magnificent thing that works.  With her trusty assistant she gathers supplies and makes her prototype, only to find it's not so magnificent.  Does she give up?  
Read and find out.

Who could resist Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson. Otto lives in the pages of a book and has a secret:  he exits the book when no one is looking.  When a family move leaves Otto's book behind he begins a journey that will take him to a new and wonderful home.  Can you guess where?

One last title for brothers, sisters, dads, and anyone who ever had a plan that didn't turn out quite how you imagined.
Gone Fishing:  a novel in verse by Tamera Will Wissinger, illustrated by Matthew Cordell.
Sam can't wait for the day just he and his dad will go fishing, "just us two."  He dreams of the fish they will catch and fun of being alone with his dad.  The day arrives and his little sister Lucy gets to come along and Sam is disappointed and impatient.  Follow this great story, each page a different type of verse, with illustrations full of humor. Discover how even a ruined plan may end happily.

Wherever your journey takes you, don't forget a book!  (or two)

Friday, July 31, 2015

New YA that goes all the way: review by Kathryn

An Ember In The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Reviewed by our resident teen blogger, Kathryn Barnes-Mealy

An Ember in The Ashes was a welcome change from the traditional formula authors use in other YA novels. Often YA novels can have a considerable amount of dark aspects in their story, but few go all the way. An Ember in The Ashes was very dark and captivating, and it certainly kept my attention throughout the duration of the book. The fact that it is told in dual perspectives is genius, as it allows the reader to alternate from Laia and Elias’s point of view. The world building was fantastic, allowing the reader to get a glimpse of the world that the characters live in, but not too much as that information is most likely left for the books to come.

The characters in this novel weren’t exactly lovable, but they were believable and honest to the extent that you have to admire the author for taking the time to really focus and develop them. An Ember In The Ashes has it all; action, drama, romance, and even a bit of added mystery to keep the reader guessing.  I would wholeheartedly recommend this to any reader who is looking for something different, or any reader who enjoys reading young adult fiction.