From the Stacks: Unsolicited reading recommendations for Lawrence candidates

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Note: Staff members at the Lawrence Public Library write blog posts about books, bookish things and other media. The Times is reposting some of those blogs in this feature, From the Stacks. Find many other blog posts, titles referenced in these posts and much more on the library’s website,

Did you know it’s local election season? Are you keeping up with the many forums, profiles, and surveys generated by this time of pitch-fever electoral spirit? If not, I can’t blame you — each of us has our own mountain of concerns to summit (like remembering to turn in library materials). Fortunately, I know JUST what you’re looking for: a skimmable, easy-to-decipher list of each candidates’ priorities, plans, and reasons for running! Unfortunately, that is NOT what you’re reading. You can find something like that extremely digestible list here or here

What you’re reading is actually a series of unsolicited recommendations, a concept utterly unheard of in the realm of local politics. The Lawrence Times very presciently asked about our candidates’ favorite books in their recent “Meet the Candidates” voter guides (Meet the Lawrence school board candidates and Meet the Lawrence City Commission candidates). Thanks, Lawrence Times! What a treat for a budding librarian. 

Readers’ advisory — suggesting books for others, generally based on established reading preferences — is certainly less challenging than serving as a city commissioner or a school board member (wow! so much easier!), but it IS a special art that must be practiced with care and dexterity. That is why, as a non-Book Squad staff member, I always bring you (dear) patrons over to the Book Squad desk when you ask me a reader’s advisory question. But! For the sake of this blog post, I have tried my hand at the dark art of book suggestion … by recommending a book to each candidate based on their alleged favorite book, or the book they said they were reading, or the entire genre or two they named as their favorite (!!!). 

Candidates, you only gave me one book to go off of (well, most of you). That makes my job harder. It’s true that no one knew I would embark on this challenge, so pigeonholing yourself readers’ advisory-wise probably wasn’t a concern. Oh, well! Let’s get to it!

Lawrence City Commission candidates

Stuart Boley

Stuart chose a real Lawrence classic, Embattled Lawrence! For a different take on our town, I submit to you Haunted Lawrence. How much overlap might exist between the two … only Stuart Boley will be able to tell you. (We could all read these books, I guess. Or is it up to our city commissioners to stay abreast of Lawrence-inspired publications? That sounds like a job for a librarian – eek!)

Ma’Ko’Quah Jones 

Ma’Ko’Quah chose The Pilgrim’s Progress, a 1678 allegorical novel by John Bunyan, as her favorite book. I present to you The Seven Storey Mountain, another widespread story of spiritual growth by one of the most influential monks of the last century.

Lisa Larsen

Lisa chose the classic, solemn bildungsroman She’s Come Undone. The library’s very good tool, Novelist, suggested Emma Cline’s The Girls as a read-alike, and I quite agree; they both seem like introspective (fictionalized) accounts of traumatic girlhood entering into difficult adulthood. The Girls has a more distinct narrative focus: the girls in the thrall of Charles Manson in the Los Angeles of the 1960s.   

Bart Littlejohn

Bart only gave me the genres of science, history, and science fiction to work with — three massive genres! At first, I reeled with this lack of direction. Then it struck me — not a comet — that the only subject that could rival my disorientation in the face of this giant readers’ advisory quandary was SPACE! Bart, here is a well-received book about the cosmos, published last month. “Where did the universe come from?” strikes me as a profoundly historical question. Right? Enjoy: Where Did the Universe Come From? and Other Cosmic Questions

Milton Scott

Milton selected the Bible as his favorite book of all time; fortunately, we have an enormous collection of popular theology in the library! Here’s one I chose for its relation to the work of city government … It probably won’t read like the Bible, but maybe it can shed some light in other ways: Uncommon Ground

Amber Sellers

Amber told the Times she was currently reading Begin Again, Eddie Glaude Jr.’s searing reflection on James Baldwin’s work and contemporary race politics in the U.S. (heartily recommended by library director Brad Allen!). For another take on the historical and present struggle for true equity in the U.S., Amber might try Mychal Denzel Smith’s Stakes is High: Life After the American Dream.

Lawrence school board candidates

Kay Emerson

Kay named Stacey Abrams’ Our Time is Now as her favorite book for its emphasis on free and fair voting, as well as its practical “here’s how we move forward” nature. If she’d like to read about even more historical examples of voter suppression in the U.S., Electoral Dysfunction might be the book for her.

GR Gordon-Ross 

GR named Tom Clancy and RA Salvatore as two of his favorite authors, perhaps as representatives of his two favorite genres: fantasy and military fiction. It’s quite possible GR has already delved into the work of Frederick Forsyth, classic spy guy that he is, but if not … you might be in for a treat, GR! The Day of the Jackal

Kelly Jones 

Kelly said, very interestingly, that her favorite book tends to be the one she’s currently reading. At the time of the Times survey, that was Zadie Smith’s essay collection Intimations, written at the beginning of the pandemic amid lockdowns and early alarm. I suppose the book I selected for her doesn’t have much in common with Intimations besides the form of its writing — essays! — but something about Kant’s Little Prussian Head says Kelly Jones to me. Go figure.

Nate Morsches

Nate chose the dystopian sci-fi blockbuster Red Rising as his favorite book, which gives me the perfect opportunity to suggest N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, another excellent, frightening, character-driven story set in a lushly described world nearly like ours. Like much of dystopian sci-fi, it’s a story to escape into without leaving the perils and complications of our own world entirely behind.

Andrew Nussbaum

Andrew didn’t give me any titles to work with, just “deep earth tones,” a dog named Upendo, and a Toni Braxton song. Searching the library’s catalog for deep earth tones and Upendo didn’t get me anywhere, but look!! Toni Braxton wrote a memoir in 2014 called — yes! — Unbreak My Heart!

Elizabeth Stephens 

And lastly, Elizabeth chose a memoir by Ishmael Beah, who was forced to flee his home in Sierra Leone and serve as a child soldier before entering a UNICEF rehabilitation center and ultimately moving to the United States. Gaël Faye’s Small Country, translated from the French, is another story of pervasive and extreme violence written from a child’s (semi-autobiographical) perspective.

Hazlett Henderson is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library. 

More 2021 election coverage:

Tricia Masenthin/The Lawrence Times

Newcomers Kay Emerson, Andrew Nussbaum and incumbent Kelly Jones win Lawrence school board seats

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With her two sons in tow Tuesday night, Kay Emerson talked with fellow candidates and campaign workers at the Douglas County clerk’s office, discussing next steps. One thing’s for certain: She’ll wear white — a symbol of women’s suffrage — when she’s sworn in.

From the Stacks: Unsolicited reading recommendations for Lawrence candidates

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Here’s a series of unsolicited reading recommendations for Lawrence City Commission and Lawrence school board candidates, based on favorite books they shared with the Times.

Lucie Krisman / The Lawrence Times

Lawrence City Commission candidates talk economic development at Chamber’s forum

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In between questions about economic issues in Lawrence, such as childcare, local purchasing policy, and the Downtown Master Plan, City Commission candidates explained what role they thought the commission should have in the business community in Wednesday’s forum, hosted by The Chamber of Lawrence. 


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