Sarah Bagby, owner of Watermark Books & Café, joins Sara to talk about the love of reading, owning an independent bookstore, the ReadICT reading challenge, and more.
SARA MCNEIL, VOICEOVER: Hello and welcome to episode 8 of Read. Return. Repeat : A ReadICT Podcast. I'm your host, Sara McNeil of the Wichita Public Library. In today's episode, titled TBR and Ready, we will explore three categories: travel, author under 30, and ugly cover with Watermark Books & Café owner Sarah Bagby. Sarah has promoted literacy in Wichita for decades by serving on the Wichita Public Library Board of Directors and also reviewing books for Wichita's NPR station affiliate, KMUW. Sarah has cultivated a vibrant reading culture with her independent bookstore and often hosts in-person and virtual events in addition to the many genre specific book clubs. Sarah, thank you for joining us today and welcome to the show.
SARAH BAGBY: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to talk to you about books.
SARA: Oh yeah! You know, we... this is our eighth episode and I can already count two episodes where people have mentioned you specifically so you're the perfect person to talk about books with.
Well, let's just get started. Who or what helped you develop your love of reading?
SARAH: Well, my parents were both big readers and so you know I grew up with books in my life as a part of my daily life and then also my dad took me, it was -- his day off was Thursday and we went to the downtown library from my house on the west side down, you know, McLean Boulevard to the public library every Thursday.
SARA: Oh, that's wonderful. That's really sweet.
SARAH: We'd come back with a stack of books -- he'd come back with a stack of probably mysteries and I'd be up there in the kids section just, you know, Beverly Cleary or you know, as I grew older, different things but not specifically Beverly Cleary but you know.
SARA: Yeah. I recently went back to the to the old central branch. I had to go look for some stuff in storage and it brought it just flooded me with so many memories. And I didn't go there as a child, I just took my own child there when it was open but it was just like heavy nostalgia and just climbing those stairs up to the children's room was like, oh wow, I can see why so many people have such strong feelings about that space and that library really built a lot of...
SARAH: And honestly I think when we first moved here, we went to the one across the street, the Carnegie library --
SARA: Oh, wow.
SARAH: Before the central opened so I'm... I'm, you know, aging myself here but I do remember going up and so the library's always been a... an important part of my life. My daughter volunteered at Evergreen for a couple of years and so, you know, I love the library.
SARA: Yeah, that's great. One memory I have from going to the library as a child and it has nothing to do with books, but they used to have these old-timey rockers like you would see it Cracker Barrel and we would play these oversized checkers like they had a checkerboard. And you would not believe how many kids coveted that like rocking chair. They needed to get over there and play that checker game. Now kids have computers and the AWE computers here and that that's where they rush to but I just... the novelty of an oversized set of checkers and a whole rocking chair was like...
SARAH: It's those things though that make you... I mean, the library probably was really an instigator in helping me read because I cherished that time with my dad. I would go there in high school to study on the mezzanine.
SARAH: And I had my favorite table and I would have to, you know, do research and go to the card catalog and go to the, you know, the magazine index thing... what's it, what was it called? The...
SARA: Oh, those file readers. Yeah, I... that was kind of before my time.
SARAH: Those were... it was so fun. I mean, I loved doing that and I just loved going to the library and I went up there a lot. I went with my mom, we went to see films, we went to do all the things. My mom would check out paintings.
SARA: Oh yeah, that was a thing!
SARAH: And so I have to say that I was always involved as a kid. Now that I am in a bookstore most of my life, I don't go to the library as much but I certainly appreciate everything and want to support it as much as I can. Before COVID we had some events there. In fact, our very last event before the shutdown was Lisa See.
SARAH: We hosted her and it was so funny because that author event had... every picture we took had a ginormous bottle of hand sanitizer.
SARA: We were prepared. Was that in February or was that March?
SARAH: It was in March. It was like the 13th maybe.
SARA: Right, before.
SARAH: It was the 12th. Somebody just told me. She knew exactly when it was. And it was Lisa See and that was her last event publicly. So, you know, I'll always remember that as our last event so see the library creeps back into our lives.
SARA: I know. Well, that's... that's really awesome that you mentioned the decorative paintings. So we've kind of started this thing this year where we're circulating a collection called Library of Things which is similar to that: telescopes, radon detectors, hotspots, and stuff like that. I know in Andover they circulate cake pans which is like how random is that? But it's awesome like if you need a cake pan, get on... get on the phone and call Andover so you can get a cake pan sent to you.
SARAH: No, I would have never imagined that. I think I would have said that I wanted to be the kind of reader that impressed my dad because he was such a snob about it. I mean, he would meet somebody and he'd say, oh, they don't read. I mean, it's like there's two kinds of people in the world. And I remember one time... and he... he was an Episcopal priest but he liked the intellectual part as much as the spiritual part. And I remember he came to visit me once when I first started working at Watermark downtown and he said, "Do you like it?" And I was all excited. And he said, "You don't have enough theology books."
So I felt like... oh... oh. Well anyway, so I was determined at that point to have my own course as a reader.
SARAH: So... so I would say my adolescent self was really wanting approval for my dad as a reader.
SARA: I think we all kind of secretly want that from some family member who is a strong reader. We want that recognition, that validation that "yeah, look at me, I'm just as competent, I'm just as invested or interested" and sometimes we don't always get that from the person that's right next to us. But it shows him taking you to the library over and over again that you did have that connection with him.
SARAH: Right, exactly. And I do remember a few books I read at that time that I will never... that are still some of my favorite books. And one was Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Reese. Brought it.
SARAH: Which is the book about... it's a retelling of Jane Eyre with... from the wife's point of view, the wife in the attic. It's a beautiful book. It's one of those... you know, I think you could read it on two levels: one just as a novel with a narrative arc and that's good but then the other one as a... as an academic study of how does this compare, what does it mean for her identity, all those kinds of things. And another one was Sula by Toni Morrison. I remember where I was when I read that book and... you know, it's just one of those books that just caught me lit up inside at that time. I mean, a lot of books do that now. And the other one was Joan Didion's Slouching towards Bethlehem which is a book... she's just such a great nonfiction writer and she wrote this book in 1968 and it's still timely but I thought I was really pretty cool when I read this. And you know, there's this one that, you know, she goes to Death Valley and then she talks about San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury and the whole rise of this hippie movement and it's so interesting still today. I went back and read it, I was in an Airbnb one time and I didn't have a book and this was the only book there. So I re-read it and it just took me back so...
SARA: Oh, cool!
SARAH: So those are some of my favorite books at that time. I don't think they molded me as much as just lit that... you know, they satisfy that kind of... you know, what it... I mean, it's just an excitement that you have when you read ideas and... it's expansive and transportive.
SARA: Yeah, definitely. And you know, sometimes just reading it once is all that you need. But like you said, revisiting it later and catching so much more or, you know, reacquainting yourself with those emotions and feelings you had the first time and saying oh yeah, this is why I enjoyed it so much or maybe this has helped catapult me on this path. Yeah, that's great.
SARAH: Right. Well, when you're an adolescent, who do you want to escape from the most but yourself? Although you're so self-absorbed and so when I read it, I was in, you know... an adolescent, I read this book and I thought it made me cool but when I read it later I could definitely just appreciate her talent and skill. So you know, it's two different sort of experiences and places in life.
SARA: That's wonderful, that's wonderful. Well, so can you share with our listeners your journey to owning and managing one of Wichita's premier independent bookstores? You mentioned getting a job there as a young person. How did that transpire to actually owning the shop?
SARAH: Well, I just... I worked part-time and it was a place I felt comfortable because I'm surrounded by books, I've been... you know, it was such a part of my identity to be have books in my life. And I worked part-time. The people who founded the store, one wanted to go back to North Carolina where she was from and the other one wanted... needed to go back to Milwaukee to run a family business and so they were like, Sarah, will you just take this and manage it? And I did and then I just... kind of determined and I'm kind of driven if... the challenges have been incredible throughout my time.
I mean, in the '90s there was the invasion of box stores and then also Amazon and so that created a whole different set of challenges after just, you know, kind of thriving and being... you know, B. Dalton was in the mall and Waldenbooks and... but we had a different kind of setting and so that was wonderful and then also there is... there was... when we moved into our location at Lincoln Heights, we had to add a cafe -- or we didn't have to, we chose to because that was the... that was the trend at the time, to have something else and, you know, I didn't know what I was doing. I still don't know what I'm doing. But we... you know, we made it work and it became a place where people love to gather and that was satisfying and it was...
You know, and then COVID, you know and we're just... you know, I have the best staff anybody could ask for and we... we made it through COVID and we're still just, you know, doing everything we can to connect people with books that they love and... and sell products that will entertain and connect people to each other. So that's the path. And I had a child during that time -- only one, I'm a hobbyist -- but I think that I took over most of the... 90 percent of the ownership in the mid-'90s so yeah, it's been good.
SARA: That's great. Yeah, the last time I went into your store I bought one book and then I just bought other things like a kitchen towel and like just the most kitschy stuff but I was like, I don't know where I'm gonna find this and this is amazing so I appreciate you expanding it past books. I also really love like your cafe, you have all these really fun title... or names for your sandwiches that correlate with literature which is pretty clever so that really feeds that book nerd in me for sure.
SARAH: Yeah. And we're now... and we're open. You know, we've been open for a long time. We have protocol though that we feel safe with and then I feel... I feel like my staff is protected, you know, for the most part. And we... our café's open for to-go and it's... people really miss the café.
SARAH: I just don't feel ready to have a lot of people gather.
SARA: Yeah, it's been seamless though. I mean, you've hosted virtual events, you just pivoted from doing in person to virtual when practically no one was doing that last year. And then also, you know, you special order a lot of books for people who want books and you've made them available for pickup. There's a lot of library staff that order books through you and pick them up and love it so I mean... I think that attributes to your success, especially in the wake of COVID and everything, you've just made yourself available, you've kept your services available and so that's... yeah, that speaks to that.
SARAH: Well, the libraries, you've pivoted well too. I mean, it was tough. It was tough.
SARA: Right. We've... we've all just had to be flexible and we're in an industry where we have to do that, everything's changing all the time so we just have to be ready for change. But yeah, it... it's been inspirational watching your business, like I said, pivot to virtual. I think that's also kind of eased some tensions or made the burden less stringent on folks when they're used to doing things in person. It's like well, across the board this is how we can offer services to people and just yeah... we all have to learn.
SARAH: And the online ordering people like and so that business, that aspect of our business grew a lot.
SARAH: Yeah, I know yours has online. I mean, checking out and all that kind of stuff. And it's been interesting. I mean, it's not all bad, you know. It's not... the virtual thing is not all bad.
SARA: Definitely not. Yeah, e-books. You know, for a long time people thought e-books weren't gonna... they were gonna take over print books and it's like, well, no, people are still buying print. But yeah, in the last year and a half people have definitely started using e-books and e-audiobooks a lot more. I know that you... your shop does e-audiobooks through is it Libros, is that right?
SARAH: Yeah, Libro.fm. That aspect of the business has grown exponentially. In fact, I think the last thing I read about it was that it was the biggest growth area in publishing over the last year, maybe two years.
SARA: I believe it, yeah. We've all had kind of a hard time focusing on just reading in print and I've noticed myself included have just been listening to a lot more audiobooks when I have time to do it just because it just... yeah, it works better in my scheduling.
SARAH: You can do your ironing.
SARAH: You can do your --
SARA: You can walk your dog, wash your dishes. Water my garden and I listen books all the time.
SARAH: So that's fun.
SARA: Well hey, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll be talking about recommendations from Sarah Bagby, owner of Watermark Books and Café, so stick around.
VOICE: Libby is the Library's app for easily downloading e-books and audiobooks right to your mobile device. With your library card, you have access to thousands of titles for free. Download it from wherever you get your apps, sign in with your Wichita Public Library card, and start reading today. Don't have a library card yet? Come see us at any of our seven locations around Wichita.
SARA: Okay, well, welcome back to the show. We're here with Sarah Bagby and we've been talking about fostering a literary movement from the ground up in Wichita. So here comes the fun part. Let's talk categories. This episode we're going to talk about three and you're the best person to talk to because you own a bookstore and you have books around you all the time.
So can you give some recommendations for category four, that's a book about travel, for our fiction and our nonfiction listeners so that way we can just get a good scope of books that mention travel or have travel as a theme?
SARAH: Okay, I... let's see, travel as a theme for fiction.
I'm coming up with a blank but I have two nonfiction books, one that reads like fiction which is by Bill Bryson.
SARA: Oh, I love that book! I love that!
SARAH: Won't this fit? I mean, it's a journey on the Appalachian trail.
SARA: Yes, yes!
SARAH: And I mean, look at the cover, look at that bear.
SARA: So my husband loves to backpack and I am not a camper. I did not grow up as a camper and so I gave him this book to read because I was like, here, you should read this book and like gain some perspective on like what I feel like when you want to pitch, "Let's go camping in the backwoods." Because it is, it's like you go to REI and you need like $700 worth of gear and that, you know, and the more you spend the smaller the equipment is but that's really good because it's less weight but you know just like coming to grips with that, you know?
SARAH: Yeah. And there's a whole vocabulary with through campers or just, you know, you're just doing a little bit of the trail. I was in a place that was for through campers and people who just wanted one little destination and I didn't know yet about trail names.
SARAH: And so I was sitting down with someone who was a through camper and they have a certain smell about them, I have to say, because they've been camping on this journey and I said so what's your... you know, my name's Sarah, what's your name?
And he goes, well, my trail name's Ahab.
SARAH: Wait, what?!
SARA: Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods. I think they... didn't they make a movie out of it with Robert Redford?
SARAH: >> I think they might have and it... but he reads like fiction. I mean, his narrative capacity is so... he's such a good storyteller, he's funny. Anybody who likes fiction would like that.
And the other one I have is Anthony Bourdain. This is called World Travel. And this is a lot of his own writing but it's also the woman who put it together worked for him for over a decade and it is a combination of travel journal and what to do when you get there, how to get there. And it's got Bourdain's voice, it's got this wonderful illustrations and for example with Laos -- I turned the page to Laos and he just has this... this very, you know, informative... you know how he is, his voice, you can hear it. And then there is, you know, getting there, where to stay, what about... and where to visit. And so it's like a travel journal but it's also a travel guide. And it's World Travel. You can see him on there and it's a fun book you can dip in and out of. You can make your... you don't have to go but you can get... you know, you're educated on geography and in his voice. So those are my two favorites for that category.
SARA: That's so cool, yeah. And it's nice to get like... kind of like a low-down like here's the scoop on if you're going to this country, here's some cultural norms or here's some taboo things not to do that you might not get from the Lonely Planet guidebooks or, you know, all those.
SARAH: Exactly and you get... yeah and you can get off the beaten path in a way that's safe and informative and, you know, of course food.
SARA: Right, yeah. Does he have any recipes in that book or is it just kind of like where to go?
SARAH: No, it's mostly just... it's really just a travel guide journal slash... yeah.
SARA: That's awesome, that's great. Well, what about for recommendations for category seven? That's an author under 30. Some classics or maybe even some contemporary titles too.
SARAH: Right. You know, I went and looked, did a search for... you know and I bet people in Wichita have been doing that search, authors under 20 who've written -- or books written by women or men under 20. And you know, I came up with The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers which is a great one or... and I didn't know this but Alice Hoffman's first book, whom I love Alice Hoffman and is... she wrote her first book called Property Of when she was 20 -- in her 20s. Yep, very young. And that's a really wonderful book. The other ones I thought of, one of the ones I read when it came out and she's under 20 is White Teeth by Zadie Smith. This is an amazing, amazing. I was gobsmacked by this book. And then when I found out she was under 20 and she's, you know...
SARA: Oh my gosh.
SARAH: She's got it going, okay? And so this is a... this is a wonderful book about a friendship between two men in London and, you know, you just can't... it's still just brilliant as all her books are but it's a debut. Most people... most authors who've written in their 20s, it might be their debut. And debuts are pretty fun because you just kind of see them and especially if you remain a fan of theirs throughout. But another one is The Other Black Girl. It's out right now. It's by... I don't have it in my hand which is... I've got it over there. But it's by Zakiya Dalila Harris and it's about a young woman, she is a... she worked at Knopf Publishing in the editorial department and for a couple of years and then she quit to write this novel and she wrote this novel because she wanted to write a book for Black women that were in a professional situation but she also brings in this element of horror which is sort of... you know, goes back to slavery and the trauma that this is kind of in there. And so it's got this element of Get Out, you know, it's got this kind of secret thing that's going on under the surface but you can read it as just this narrative of a young woman in a professional situation that is sort of impossible. And it's about this young woman who gets this job in a publishing company, she's working... you know, it's all the politics. And she's fine as long as she's the only black girl but then another black girl comes and gets a job there and the dynamics change completely so on so many levels that title, I mean, you get "the other" which the other and then you get the other Black girl and it's just a really... it's a book you want to talk about when you finish it.
SARA: Right. That's fascinating. Right now I'm reading The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. That... she was... she wrote that in grad school so I think she was still in her 20s, I think it got published right when she turned 30. But same thing. It's like the way that she writes, it's so simplistic but yet so astute the way she describes what's going on around her or melds stories together. And I really appreciate that about young authors. You know, Amanda Gorman who recited the presidential poet -- or poetry at the inauguration, you know, I think so many people were just really not... they weren't ready for that, you know? And it wasn't that it was a bad thing, it like really opened up people's eyes to see this young person write such powerful words and then stand by those words and with conviction. I remember after that trying to see like where... is this book being published, is this turned into a book? And like yeah, it was almost impossible to find because so many people were hungry for that. And like you said, these debut novels or these debut stories seem so raw but in a good way like we need to experience that in order to see that authentic voice.
SARAH: You wonder if they're just trying to get something out like get that thing out that is so... that has to come out for them to go deeper.
SARAH: Because that is so on the surface and Amanda Gorman, wow.
SARA: Yeah. And you know, it's like up until that... up until that publishing date or that first release, that's their whole life experience so be it 20 years, be it 30 years of just attention, you know, that... that needs to be expressed. So maybe that's why they're so profound. Even Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. You know, I remember reading that as a teenager and being like oh, I'm so cool, I'm reading Sylvia Plath. But then I was reading it, I was like, wow, this is really complicated. You know, she's talking about some really dark themes that I'm not necessarily ready to explore yet, you know?
SARAH: Yeah and she was so brilliant anyway. There's a book out about the Barbizon hotel that was in New York City that she stayed in and it's called The Barbizon. It's kind of a social history of women's ambition and it's based, a lot of that book, The Bell Jar, on her experience staying in that all-women's hotel in New York where a parent felt comfortable sending their teenage girl to stay for an extended length of time in the city so that was kind of interesting. I didn't know that that was based on her experience there.
SARA: Yeah, in episode four, Jami Frazier Tracy from the Wichita-Sedgwick Historical museum had mentioned that book too, her son had given it to her and so yeah, I looked into it I was like this is... this is so fascinating. Even the book The Chaperone, you know, Louise Brooks, she... her parents were like no, you need a chaperone to go to the city. I don't think I'd let my almost teenage daughter go to the city by herself.
SARAH: And would you have wanted to be Louise Brooks's chaperone? I mean, what a thankless job that was. And sort of was. I mean, it's a good thing she had her own. Yeah, I love that novel. I love that novel so much.
SARA: Well okay, last category: recommendations for category 10. Now, this is a book with an ugly cover where covers either don't do justice to the work or for those that are ugly for a good reason so like you see... what you see is what you get. Do you have any recommendations for us for those?
SARAH: It's so subjective.
SARA: I know! [LAUGHS]
SARAH: I mean, I think there are bad covers, you know, like you know, what were they thinking when they put this on this cover of this book? And so but I did find an ugly one and it's the Nancy Mitford and she has a kind of a famous British upper class family and this is The Pursuit of Love. It's been out for years. I don't know, I just think this is ugly.
SARAH: I just... it doesn't do justice -- ooh, I don't know what happened there -- it does not do justice to this wonderful book. So that's my choice, Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford. And you would not be disappointed to read this and you would not think that you're reading this as... it's different than what... it's sort of like the cover of My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante where what you're getting is... is maybe different than what you see on the cover. It looks like this wedding romantic book. When you look closer, you can see these hints of what's going to happen in... in the book which is really... it is about a wedding but it's also a feminist take on a female friendship in Italy and the journey of these two friends and what happens but... but yeah, this one.
SARA: That's cool.
SARAH: I also just wanted to show that I think for the most part when there's a TV tie-in or a movie tie-in, the cover, you know, becomes about the talent and I think those are kind of ugly. I mean... I mean, the talent may be beautiful but, you know, look what happens.
SARA: Yeah, it's kind of a cheat. It's like okay, now... now the actor, actress is selling the book and not the author, yeah.
SARAH: So yeah. I don't like, you know... I'm raising my hand for some reason right now.
SARA: I had to kind of think about like what were some books that I read either as a child or as an adult that I was like, man, those covers either left me terrified or just... just an impression on my mind? Peg Kehret, did you ever read her as a child or ever... did your children ever read her books?
SARAH: Mm-mm, no.
SARA: '90s author, she was from the northwest I think in the Seattle area, always wrote about child abduction and all of her book covers were like some creep like looking over some girl's shoulder, terror at the zoo, you know like stranger... you know, all these weird things and I remember the context of the stories were so valuable, like oh, if you're stuck in an avalanche, you know, spit so you can figure out which way to climb out of the snow or whatever. But... but the pictures on the... on the jackets were like wow, they were just so bizarre just so it almost felt like Unsolved Mysteries or something.
SARAH: But I love that category because I love looking at covers and thinking about what goes into them because a lot goes into the thoughts and often a lot we'll have a hardcover and the paperback will come out, we'll just go, what?
SARA: Yeah, exactly.
SARAH: You know, there's there's one particularly I'm thinking of right now and it's called... it's a...
I can't think of the name of it, nevermind. But you know, the.... the hardcover was beautiful and the paperback comes out and it's very strange what they've done to that cover.
SARA: I've seen The Great Gatsby. You know, I always think of the iconic cover with the eyes because that's just like a big motif in the whole story but then I'll come across a different edition and it's just like some flapper lady, you know, Daisy or whatever and it's just like, oh, that... that's not the same. Even though that those eyes were so disturbing, it just made that cover for me. I don't know. So some, yeah, a lot of thought does go into that. When I see pretty books, I want to pick them up. When I see not so pretty books, I kind of want to discard them or at least not give them a chance and that's maybe not the best approach when it comes to browsing.
SARAH: Right, you can't judge a book by its cover.
SARA: You can't, you can't. But you know...
SARAH: But we all do.
SARA: We do.
SARAH: We all are drawn to the aesthetic of the covers and so one of my favorite books from the last two years is called Deacon King Kong by James McBride. It's got this weird cover. The title is like, how do you get your head around that? I mean, it's the title and the cover, between the two you would not pick this book up. But it has become one of the best-selling books of the past two years.
SARA: Yeah, so many people... well, wonderful.
SARAH: That one's hard for me.
SARA: Yeah, it is hard. I know all the ones I remember were trauma.
Well, we're going to take another quick break. When we come back, we'll be talking about Sarah's favorite ReadICT categories and other bookish events in and around Wichita so stick around.
VOICE: The Wichita Public Library's Library of Things offers a variety of equipment customers can borrow for at-home use. We have STEAM to Go! kits for children 4th grade and older, radon detectors, telescopes, and wireless hotspots. Visit wichitalibrary.org to learn more.
SARA: Welcome back to the show. We're here with Sarah Bagby and we've been talking about her recommendations for ReadICT 2021 categories 4, 7, and 10 respectively. You know, ReadICT has been going around for about five years now. Do you have a favorite category past or present that you... you want to share with our listeners?
SARAH: >> I was really happy when there was a graphic novel on there or a graphic book because I think they're so... well, people think they're comic books and there are some really important graphic novels that I have read that have been some of my favorite books of all time. One was called fun home by Alison Bechdel and she has a new one that is really amazing too called the Secret to Superhuman Strength and it's about athletics and the possibility of it but how it's also healing but then it's also damaging because you get injured and... and our just drive to be perfect and and there's so many in there.
And then there's a new one called Seek You. It's by Kristen Radtke and it's a journey through loneliness and it just came out so it's very timely. She started writing about three years ago but she... it's a book about... it's a social history sort of of loneliness, it's about how we connect, it's about the periods of time when people do get lonely, it's about how we set ourselves up for loneliness sometimes when we don't know it. It's... and it's beautifully illustrated and... and she worked for a long time. I know no other book that's like that and to try to define loneliness is... and it's different. You can live with a million people and be lonely, you can live by yourself and not be lonely. You know, what does it mean? And especially after this year when we've all been challenged in connecting with people not only that we love but just in general when we first... when the bookshop first opened up and I'm sure when you could accept guests into the library, people just wanted to be in. I mean, it was profound so that's a book that I love, love, love.
And then also Roz Chast wrote a book called Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? And it's about her taking care of her parents at the end of their lives and that is the most validating book on what it's like to be in a position where your parents are dying and you're looking at their whole lives and you're trying to do the right thing yet they're driving you crazy and then you're leave and you feel guilty. And then at the end, you know... and it's her whole and I want to say cartoon but it's graphic. She does those... cartoons in the... in the New Yorker. I mean, it's just like that. And she has several books but but at the end she has these incredible drawings filled with pathos of her... of her parents after just that moment after and it is one of the most validating books on what it feels like to have a parent at the end of their life, at that last stages in their lives and trying to be the best kid you can be, be the best caregiver, be the best... you know, just to try to have that connection when you know it's... it's imminent that it's not going to be there anymore. So though, I really appreciated that and I don't know what people picked up but I love that category.
SARA: I do too. I haven't always read graphic novels. I guess I have had comics, you know, growing up but when I was about 20... in my mid-20s is when I started reading more graphic novels and last year... no, no, 2019 I had done a display at the library on graphic memoirs because I was finding there were a lot of books like that and yeah, those books that you mentioned were on that list because, you know, sometimes we get... we get stuck in this idea that it just has to be a comic book or it just has to be superheroes or it has to be like zombie apocalypse and it's like no, people can share their real stories and... and share ideas and themes that are often hard to describe in words and yet they're taking words and illustrations and melding the two. Yeah, it's just really profound so I did like that category as well.
SARAH: I liked it a lot, I liked it a lot. And I always like the ones that have a local tie-in because a lot of times we forget that... I mean, we need to read our own stories, stories of ourselves and of our place and there aren't very many that we have so yeah, so I always appreciate those.
SARA: Yeah, last episode I had Grant Snider on here and we were talking about, you know, his picture books and his graphic novels and stuff like that and yeah you're right because it's like... well, even to... even doing retellings through a graphic format is nice but if it's an actual history book like the March series, you know, by John Lewis, that can reach an audience that may not even be familiar with that or just have, you know, a very generic idea of what happened and making that accessible to a broader audience is... is really profound. I definitely look for those historical books that are in graphic format as well.
SARAH: And how cool is it that he did that? I just think it's so cool.
SARA: So cool. And then he was recognized so much you know while he was living and could receive those accolades for that. Yeah, that was really nice.
SARAH: He was just open to possibility. That's, you know, rather than limits.
SARA: Exactly, right, exactly. And so that story just carried on. I know Prisca Barnes recently had a book come out about the Dockum sit-in and a local artist, she illustrated the book. And that was also just like really refreshing to see that local story told but in a format for children so we just keep that story going and then connect those children with their roots and their...
SARAH: Right and Gretchen Eick's book about that same, you know, the sit-in and you know, those are two very important books for us. It seems like not that long ago and then it seems forever ago.
SARA: Right, yeah.
SARAH: It's important.
SARA: Well, one last question for you. So what sort of programs, book clubs, or other bookish events would you like to promote to our listeners so that way they can connect with you and your store and your community and also keep the movement going?
SARAH: Yes. Well, I will say that we have a lot of virtual events scheduled in September and October. We have two in-person events scheduled so I... okay, about the virtual events, just go to our website and look what we're doing. There are a lot of things going on. And then as far as the in-person events which are tricky and I suppose they're still happening, we have Amor Towles who wrote The Rules of Civility and also the Gentleman in Moscow, he has a new book coming out called The Lincoln Highway. It's all based on journeys that and it actually opens with a boy who's getting released from a military-type school in Salina, Kansas and he goes to his home in Omaha and then Lincoln Highway is highway 80 and so everything takes place there.
And then we have Jenna Blum who is a former Wichita author who has a book coming out about her dog, it's a memoir. It's called Woodrow on the Bench. And those two are live and... and you know, that... the Amor Towles is a month away, it's going to be at the Crown Uptown. We're very excited.
SARA: Yeah, that's awesome. So it's going to be live but is the author going to be there they're going to be virtual and then the audience members are going to be...?
SARAH: He'll be there.
SARA: Oh, okay.
SARA: All right!
SARAH: And he'll pre-sign books and as far as I know, you can then go get it personalized. I mean, we're going to ask people to wear masks obviously. The Crown is set up with some distancing and you know so that's going to be different. It's been over a year and a half.
And our last two events, one was at the Crown with Erik Larsen and then the next night was Lisa See at the library so this is just like the full circle.
SARA: Yeah. Well, that's a great venue to host your first back-to-person book event and hopefully you know as things calm down -- I mean, we're all kind of keeping an eye on the numbers and everything -- but we can have more in-person events in the future.
SARAH: And collaboratively with the Library.
SARA: Yes, most definitely.
SARAH: Look forward to that.
SARA: Yeah. I mean, those are usually our most... or well-attended events are the ones we have the book -- the authors here and the book signings. So yeah, we want you to come back.
SARAH: And we're happy to. Love it.
SARA: I was looking on your website and I saw that you all do book clubs for different genres like you've got a YA book club, a mystery book club, horror, that kind of stuff. Now, are they meeting in person, are they doing virtual meetups or how is that working?
SARAH: Most of them are on hiatus. There are a couple that are meeting virtually. The French book club is. Our classic book club is meeting virtually. And honestly I think they might continue because they have people attending from all over the country and they want to continue to do so. And then the longitude book club I think is meeting virtually.
SARA: Yeah, a lot of our book clubs, they're not meeting right now either unless they're coordinating outside of the Library and meeting in someone's yard or doing that kind of stuff.
SARAH: Right, some of them are doing that too and I don't know that I feel right about just saying go to this person's yard. We'll see what happens. I don't know when we'll be able to do this because I think people... I mean right, there are so many factors to consider.
SARA: Exactly. Well, you mentioned, you know, making it virtual, you get people from all over the country. We've seen that with our programs as well: people tuning in to Zoom or our learning circles who are... and elsewhere who wouldn't be able to attend otherwise so there's definitely some advantages to having a virtual setting for those groups to meet.
SARAH: Yeah and I think one of the things about the author events, I know I love, you know, the in-person back and forth but one of the things that we've noticed is authors are very relaxed when they're sitting in their own living room or their own office or whatever and they tend to be a little more circumspect and funny and... and just looser and that's... that's fun.
SARA: That is nice. Take those jitters away and it's like --
SARAH: Right. "This isn't coffee in my mug" or whatever.
SARA: No judgment.
SARAH:And it's a big mug!
So that's fun. That's one of the advantages.
SARA: That's great. Well, it's been such a pleasure to talk with you today, Sarah. Thank you again for making time and sharing your love of reading, your love of books, your love of community gatherings and getting folks out to read. We do appreciate all the hard work that you put into making reading accessible here in Wichita and we look forward to collaborating with you in the future.
SARAH: Yeah. Thank you so much, Sara, and we'll keep in touch.
SARA: Most definitely. Hey, have a great day.
SARAH: You too. Thank you.
SARA, VOICEOVER: Today we are joined by three librarians who will share their recommendations for noteworthy books that fit categories for travel, author under 30, and ugly cover respectively.
JULIE SHERWOOD: Hi, my name is Julie Sherwood and I'm the Education and Engagement Manager for the Wichita Public Library. The book that I am recommending for the category of travel is In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson. The book is a delightful travelogue of Bryson's travel throughout Australia with both history and humor mixed in. Bill Bryson is laugh out loud funny as you may know from his earlier book, A Walk in the Woods. He regales readers with the details of his very personal encounters with the people he meets and peculiar things about Australia that you may never have heard of. Did you know that there are more ways to die in Australia than nearly anywhere in the world? Sharks, undertow, snakes, poisonous spiders, cassowaries, crocodiles, and many other dangers. According to Bryson, nearly every Australian has a story of a near-death experience but the great diversity of conditions throughout the country have led to a unique landscape that contains plants and animals not found anywhere else in the world. I loved the playful digs at all things Australian from the highs of an Australian breakfast complete with the best bacon in the English-speaking world and the treetop walk which the author states should be world famous to the lows: a particularly abysmal stay at the all seasons frontier hotel in the city of Darwin. You'll learn interesting tidbits of history such as how the rural and not very well-named town of Elston changed its name to Surfers Paradise and became a destination city in a region now nicknamed the gold coast. Without putting any unnecessary gloss on his stories, Bill Bryson succeeds in painting a charming portrait of a country that many of us have never visited. In a Sunburned Country is the best kind of armchair travel and makes us wish we could have been along for the ride.
CINDY BAILEY: My name is Cindy Bailey. I'm a librarian and the Tech Training Manager at the Wichita Public Library at the Advanced Learning Library. I chose The Huntress by Kate Quinn for the category ugly cover. This cover is bleak and dark and a little bit scary but I found this book to be engaging, riveting, and entertaining. I suppose it could be classified as World War II fiction but it is so much more than that. I personally enjoy reading historical fiction partially because I like to learn things as I am being entertained. There are three main characters who come together to form a story that features strong female characters, world history, and a little bit of romance. A central character, Nina Morkova, is a Russian bomber pilot and a part of a squadron also known as the night witches. This was a real-life squadron of female bomber pilots from Russia who fought the Germans in the air in a way that no females were allowed to do during normal times. Time jumps to the 1950s in Boston where Jordan McBride is a young woman who wants nothing more than to work as a photographer. Her father remarries a German woman whom she has an uneasy feeling about. Jordan then encounters Ian Graham, a hunter of Nazi war crimes. All of the characters meet up to a climactic ending which I will not reveal. Kate Quinn has a gift for character building, and to borrow a cliché, she makes history come alive. One of my benchmarks is how late I can stay up reading. For me, this book was definitely a late nighter. I would also mention that I just finished The Rose Code by her and loved it also. You may also be familiar with her previous book, The Alice Network. So remember, never judge a book by its cover. I loved this book and Kate Quinn remains one of my favorite historical fiction authors.
MISTI HOHEISEL: Hi, I'm Misti Hohisel, a technology trainer at the Advanced Learning Library. For a book from an author under 30, I'm recommending The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. For what it's worth, this book can also be used as a book with an ugly cover. Douglas Adams started The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as a 12-part radio series when he was 26 and it soon moved into what would be a five book series full of satire of modern society. The book follows the out of this world adventures of average and boring British man Arthur Dent. After learning his best friend, Ford Prefect, was not of this world, he also learns the Earth is about to be destroyed to make room for a new galactic highway. After Ford and Arthur hitch a ride onto a Vogon destructor spaceship, its absurd adventure that includes a depressed robot named Marvin, talking mice that want to purchase Arthur's brain to find the answers to Life, the Universe and Everything, and a spaceship that has an infinite improbability drive and a side effect that may turn you into something random. If you like absurd, humorous, and fantastical characters and places, this is the book for you.
SARA MCNEIL, VOICEOVER: Thank you for those awesome recommendations and thank you to the listeners of today's episode. Listeners can request books by visiting our website, wichitalibrary.org, or calling the Library at (316) 261-8500. To participate in the ReadICT reading challenge, please visit wichitalibrary.org/readict. To find a full list of books mentioned in this episode, please visit wichitalibrary.org/podcast. And as always, stay connected with other ReadICT participants on the ReadICT Challenge Facebook page. Find out what's trending near you, post book reviews, look for local and virtual events, and share book humor with like-minded folks.
You can follow this podcast through the Anchor app or stream episodes wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you heard today, be sure to leave us a 5 star review. This has been a production of the Wichita Public Library and a big thanks goes out to those staff members who helped produce this episode. I'm your host, Sara McNeil. Join us next time for our last episode of the season when we will be discussing category 11: a book recommended by someone you admire. We explore how one educator has created self-awareness for students in her classroom that facilitates transformative conversations.