Shelfish: The Blog of Answers

Reading Challenges for 2016

Characters from the Gilmore GirlsA new year is an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to reading. There are tons of reading challenges and games around the internet to make it more fun. has posted their annual Ultimate Reading Challenge, a printable checklist that will help you explore books in a variety of genres. suggests going on a Reading Road Trip by reading a book set in each of the fifty states. takes that idea a little further with an Around the World Challenge. Book Riot hosts social media groups and offers title suggestions to help you make it through their Read Harder Challenge. Fans of the classic television dramedy The Gilmore Girls can try to catch up with Rory Gilmore by reading all the books she was seen reading on screen over the course of seven seasons with the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge.

Whatever you choose to read, we're here to help you find some great books.

Literary Maps

Your average atlas won't contain any of the cartographic curiousities collected by Frank Jacobs on his blog Strange Maps.

Spanning centuries, continents, and the imagination, Jacobs combines rare and off-beat maps with quirky statistics and smart social commentary. Did you know some seventeenth century mapmakers believed California was an island. Thomas Jefferson proposed dividing the Northwest Territory into ten states with names like Polypotamia and Assenisipia? Or that alternative historians imagined how Europe might have looked if Germany had won World War I.

Of course, my favorites are the maps of literary places and events. If you ever wondered about the layout of Maycomb, the fictional Alabama city that was the setting ofTo Kill a Mockingbird, there's a map of it. Would you like to know the exact route Captain Ahab steered the Pequod in search of Moby Dick? There's a map of that. Maybe you'd like to compare Jack Keruac's cross country journey in On the Road with John Steinbeck's similar trip in Travels with Charley. There's a map for that, too.

A few years ago, Jacobs collected some of his blog's most interesting maps into a book of the same name. Place a hold on Strange Maps now.

The Decline of Western Civilization Collection

Previously only seen at special screenings or on bootlegs tapes, Penelope Spheeris’ three-part documentary series chronicling the punk scene of the ‘70s, the heavy metal scene of the ‘80s, and the anti-establishment, homeless teens of the ‘90s, has been restored and collected in a four DVD set. A fascinating look into three decades of counter­culture lifestyles in Los Angeles, Decline is a glorifying, damning, and sometimes heartbreaking look at alternative American lifestyles.

Find The Decline of Western Civilization in the library.

Best Albums of the Year

I don't have a whole lot of time to read music reviews so when NPR starts to put out their "best of" lists at the end of every year I usually just put them all on hold through the library. The list has a lot of different genres and artists that I probably wouldn't hear on the radio. This is their list of their Top 50 Albums of 2015. There's a lot of really great stuff out there. If you don't want to put them all on hold yourself, let us know and we can help.

Mad Max: Fury Road

This summer, after thirty years away from the silver screen, audiences were treated to a new Mad Max adventure. George Miller, creator of the original trilogy, has rebooted his post-apocalyptic universe with Mad Max: Fury Road. Set in his familiar Australian wasteland, Miller once again introduces us to Max, (this time, played by Tom Hardy) a drifter who accompanies the rebel Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron) as she tries to escape from a warlord with several of his female prisoners. Free from the financial and technical limitations that restricted his vision for the original film, Miller has given us a modern take on good old-fashion action films. A sequel, entitled Mad Max: The Wasteland, has already been announced. Highly recommended.

Find Mad Max: Fury Road in the library or drop by for one of our Modern TImes Film Series screenings, Tuesday, December 15th at 6:00 pm or Tuesday, December 29th at 2:00 pm.

Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams

Coldplay: A Head Full of DreamsAfter 15 years in the public eye and more than 80 million records sold, Coldplay is back with what is being rumored to be their last album. Despite the inevitable, and perhaps earned, criticisms (predictable, middlebrow, populist, the poor man's U2), A Head Full of Dreams manages to be pretty appealing. It's a feel good record. Every song is optimistic and a theme of transcendence pervades.

Fans of Coldplay will not be disappointed. Fans of Beyoncé and Noel Gallagher might like the record too. They are on the list of guest performers that also includes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tove Lo, Khatia Buniatishvili, Merry Clayton, and, believe it or not, President Barack Obama.

Find A Head Full of Dreams on Compact Disc or download/stream it with Hoopla Digital.

Winter Eating to Keep Warm

Wow. The first snow of the year hit tonight. Tomorrow's going to be a great day to make a pot of piping hot chili. I usually just mix up whatever's in the fridge, but if you're a recipe-kind-of-person, a great place to start is Elizabeth Young's Chilli Cookbook, featuring 150 hot-and-spicy recipes and bunch of beautiful photos. Next, you might take a look at 240 Best-Ever Chilli Recipes featuring (you guessed it) 240 recipes for warm delicousness. If you still need more options, try Jane Stern's Chili Nation, a spicy roadtrip featuring recipes from all 50 states. If you can't get the kids to help in the kitchen, keep their attention occupied with The World's Greatest Underachiever and the Killer Chilli, the sixth installment of Henry Winkler's best selling Hank Zipzer children's book series. Yes, that Henry Winkler. You know ... The Fonz.

Once your chili's ready, you might want to bump up the heat with a little hot sauce. The Spilled Milk Podcast has a great taste-test episode with hosts Molly Wizenberg and Matthew Amster-Burton risking their tastebuds to tell you which hot sauces are the best. Molly also discusses making a Rick Bayless hot sauce recipe from scratch on her (James Beard Award-winning) food blog, Orangette.

While we're on the subject... Molly Wizenberg will be visiting Eisenhower this February to chat about her NY Times Best Selling books, Delancey and A Homemade Life. You can register for the discussion, and other winter programs, starting on Monday, December 7th.

-Chris, Marketing

National Book Award Winners

The National Book Award Winner's were announced yesterday. This year's top fiction award went to Adam Johnson for his short story collection Fortune Smiles. This is yet another prestigious win for Johnson after nabbing the Pulitizer for his last novel, The Orphan Master's Son. It's also the second year in a row that a short story collection has won one of America's most prestigious literary awards. Phil Klay won last year for Redeployment. The non-fiction award went to MacArthur Genius recipient Ta'Nehisi Coates for his book Between the World and Mea very moving open letter to Coates's son which Toni Morrison called "required reading."

Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American heritage month; check out some of the offerings in the Chicago area to learn more about Native American history.

National Archives, Chicago: Several hundred cubic feet of records are housed in the Chicago facility that documents the day-to-day life of numerous Native American tribes who resided on reservations in our region. Most of the records are textual, but there are some photographs available as well—you can check here first if you’re looking for something specific. The National Archives also recently revised their homepage related to American Indians here. There are guidelines to visiting the National Archives, so check here first.

Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, Evanston: According to the museum, “The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian is one of only a handful of museums across the country that focuses exclusively on the art, history, and culture of Native American and First Nation peoples from throughout the United States and Canada.  It promotes public understanding of cultural diversity through first voice perspectives.” Their current exhibit is entitled “The War of 1812: A Local American Indian History.” Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children, students, teachers and seniors. The museum has plenty of activities, exhibits, collections and programs throughout the year. You can find more information here.

American Indian Center, Chicago: Throughout its 50-year history, the American Indian Center has been a valuable resource to American Indians in the region. The Center hosts an annual powwow, potlucks, bingo, birthdays and other special occasions in the Indian community. They also help the community with healthcare, academics and other social programs. While the annual Powwow isn’t until September 2016, there are many other events throughout the year here

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is Carrie Brownstein’s latest project—a vivid memoir of her early life in the Pacific Northwest, and the creation (and eventual demise) of her band Sleater-Kinney.

She goes into detail on her early life with family – a mother who struggled with anorexia, leaving her and her sister to the care of their father who struggled with his identity. When she went to college, she knew she didn’t belong and sought a sense of home and identity throughout, eventually moving to Olympia, Washington, where she would meet Corin Tucker and form Sleater-Kinney. In Olympia, she says, she finds a sense of community and self-invention. Brownstein talks about her friends from the time including author/filmmaker Miranda July and other notable Riot Grrrl artists.

Formed in 1994, Sleater-Kinney was not the first band in the Riot Grrrl movement, an underground feminist punk-rock movement, but arguably they became the biggest. It wasn’t until 1996 that Janet Weiss became the final drummer, with four others preceding her. Once Weiss was on board, the band took off, redefining notions of gender in rock music.

Brownstein routinely talks about journalists asking what it’s like to be in an all-girl band, and how a man has never been asked what it’s like to be in an all-male band. There’s not a singular difference, she says, they struggle the same in the beginning, and face similar problems throughout their careers with band mates and record labels, etc…

Fans of Portlandia shouldn’t come looking in this book, it’s strictly about Brownstein’s early life and the rise and fall of Sleater-Kinney.  I highly recommend it if you’re a Sleater-Kinney/Riot Grrrl fan. It’s written beautifully and honestly. Find it in the library.

-Rebecca, Answers