Día de Muertos!

Come learn more about this Mexican national holiday!

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Let’s all (pretend to) go to Paris!

Do you ever find yourself sitting around on a slow Saturday afternoon wondering what it would have been like to visit Paris a century ago? 

Of course you do. Who hasn’t? And normally it’s so hard to find a way to satisfy your curiosity, but not Saturday, October 13 at the Moline Public Library! 

Saturday Afternoon in Paris

How We Got Here: 9 Books on the Science of Culture

Photo by claire jones on Unsplash

If you’re trying to understand why our culture is the way it is, or how we got to be this way, look no further. The nine books below will allow you to take a deep dive into our past, our present, and our potential future to learn more about how our culture developed and evolved, and where we’re headed from here.

The cover of the book The Efficiency ParadoxThe Efficiency Paradox
Edward Tenner
Our culture today can’t get enough of efficiency – it’s everywhere we turn. From algorithms to multitasking, the sharing economy, and life hacks, we are always looking for ways to maximize our productivity in less time, in both our professional and personal lives. But is this the right path for our future? The Efficiency Paradox questions our ingrained assumptions about efficiency and offers us new ways to learn from the random and unexpected.

 

The cover of the book The Wizard and the ProphetThe Wizard and the Prophet
Charles C. Mann
From the bestselling, award-winning author of 1491 and 1493, The Wizard and the Prophet is a clever portrait of two lesser-known twentieth-century scientists, Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, whose opposing views shaped our understanding of the world. In forty years, Earth’s population will reach ten billion. Borlaug and Vogt had different solutions to this problem – Charles C. Mann describes them here, and provides an insightful analysis on how we can continue to thrive on an increasingly crowded Earth.

 

The cover of the book The Evolution of BeautyThe Evolution of Beauty
Richard O. Prum
Named a best book of the year by The New York Times Book Review, the Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal, The Evolution of Beauty is a stunning re-imagining of Darwin’s theory of Evolution. Yale University ornithologist Richard Prum makes the argument that adaptation by natural selection is not the only factor that plays a role in what we see in nature. Richard makes the case for the theory of sexual selection, stating that it is a driving force behind evolutionary change and the reason we are the way we are today.

 

The cover of the book The Strange Order of ThingsThe Strange Order of Things
Antonio Damasio
In The Strange Order of Things, Antonio Damasio takes a look at homeostasis – the condition of equilibrium that regulates human physiology – to prove that we descend biologically, psychologically, and even socially from a long lineage that begins with single living cells and other primitive life-forms. The Strange Order of Things gives us a new way of comprehending the world and our place in it.

 

The cover of the book Enlightenment NowEnlightenment Now
Steven Pinker
This instant New York Times bestseller is a fascinating read that assesses the human condition today. Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, takes a step back from the popular notion that the world is doomed to show that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are actually on the rise. Pinker argues that by using the Enlightenment ideals of reason and science, we can further enhance our culture, and humanity as a whole.

 

The cover of the book The Culture CodeThe Culture Code
Daniel Coyle
How do you build a great culture? What sustains it? In The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle attempts to answer these questions by examining some of the world’s most successful organizations, including the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six, IDEO, and the San Antonio Spurs. Daniel curates a culture-building process by identifying the three key skills that are necessary for cohesion and cooperation. This book is essential for anyone looking to learn the principles of cultural chemistry to create teams of people that can accomplish amazing things together.

 

The cover of the book 12 Rules for Life12 Rules for Life
Jordan B. Peterson
In this book, renowned psychologist Jordan B. Peterson combines the tested truths of ancient tradition with cutting-edge scientific research to answer the question: What does everyone in the modern world need to know? Jordan discusses discipline, freedom, adventure and responsibility with humor and wit, breaking down the wisdom of the world into 12 practical and profound rules. Readers will experience a transformation of mind and spirit with each turn of the page.

 

The cover of the book Win BiglyWin Bigly
Scott Adams
Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, takes a look at the persuasion strategies Donald Trump used during the recent election, and reveals how to use these methods in your own life to win against all odds. Win Bigly isn’t about Trump being good or evil, or right or wrong- it’s about the power of persuasion in any setting, especially when the audience responds to emotion, not reason.

 

The cover of the book Searching for Stars on an Island in MaineSearching for Stars on an Island in Maine
Alan Lightman
Alan Lightman, acclaimed author of Einstein’s Dreams and theoretical physicist, has always seen the world scientifically. He found comfort in the logic and materiality of a universe governed by a small number of disembodied forces and laws. But one summer night, he felt connected to something larger than himself – something that couldn’t be explained. This sparked Alan’s desire to look further into the human desire for truth and meaning, and the role that religion and science play in that quest.

To Quit Or Not Quit a Book? Our Readers Weigh In…

Reading is a bit like dating. Sometimes a book ignites a spark, and other times it fizzles. So we asked our followers on Twitter and Facebook: Do you stick with it or do you move on? Check out some of the most popular comments below and let us know which camp you fall into.

1.“99% of the time I will finish the book. I feel I owe it to the author,” says Todd.

2. “I usually stick it out. There’s been many times that I’ve ended up loving something that wasn’t initially drawing me in,” says Andrew.

3.“Move on. Reading should be a pleasure. If it’s not the book for you, it’s not the book for you,” says Barbara.

4.“I give it the 100 page limit. If I am still not into the book by that page, I put it down and get another book to read. Life is too short to suffer through a book you are not enjoying,” says Luci.

5. “I used to stick with it, but I have decided that I only have so many years in my life and it is not worth it! There are so many good books out there to discover,” says Tamara.

6. “I always finish them off. I sometimes put them down and pick another book but always come back,” says Carola.

7. “It depends on the level of not pulling me in. If I’m not loving it, but still want to know how it ends, I’ll stick with it. But if reading it feels like a chore, I’ll stop reading it,” says Chelsey.

8. “If it’s a book I really want to read, I try the audio before giving up completely,” says Dana.

9. “Put it away and try much later on. Tastes and style change over the years,” says Brad.

10.“Depends on why I’m reading it. For review? For my private students? For research? For pleasure? For the first 3, I stick to it. For the last, I move on,” says Elizabeth.

11. “If it’s unrecommended I’ll give it 2-3 chapters. If it’s an author I like or has come with a respected recommendation I’ll give it more time,” says Danielle.

12. “I always try to stick with it. I feel like there is something to learn in the struggle of getting through a book. I’ve only put down a couple of books, but that was because I developed a strong dislike for the material,” says Kira.

13. “I usually move on. For every page I force myself to read that I’m not enjoying, that’s time I could be reading pages that I love,” says Nicole.

14. “Some books take more time than others to learn the flow of the prose, but more often than not it pays to keep reading until you get there,” says Carole.

15. “I leave it alone for a couple days and if the desire to read it doesn’t come back then I just don’t bother,” says Teresa.

16.“So much of my reading is for book clubs that I pretty much always stick with it—at least I’ll have people to complain to!” says Megan.

By Marie, February 23, 2018, first appearing on Goodreads Blog

5 READS FOR HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH

Penned in Don Quixote is the proverb “El que lee mucho y anda mucho, ve mucho y sabe mucho,” which translates to “He who reads a lot and walks a lot, knows a lot and sees a lot.” How beautiful and poetic is that? I would have to agree with the proverb, and I would also say that Don Quixote is a masterpiece of literature. Often; however, great works by Hispanic authors are overlooked.

I have seen countless book lists that almost always list great literature as written only by authors who are white, as if authors of color have never existed. Rarely do I ever see book lists of incredible reads by Hispanic authors. Historically, Hispanics have been marginalized, and quite frankly I am exhausted from trying to convince others that Hispanic authors have put together some of the greatest books. Call it bias if you will, but I call it passion. I have compiled a small list of great books that I recommend you read. Why not start during Hispanic Heritage Month? In no particular order, here they are:

With His Pistol in His Hand Book CoverWITH HIS PISTOL IN HIS HAND: A BORDER BALLAD AND ITS HERO

BY AMERICO PAREDES

If you have no idea who Americo Paredes is, then I suggest you learn right away. Paredes is recognized as one of the seminal Mexican American scholars of the twentieth century. He spent most of his academic career at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1967 he helped found the Center for Intercultural Studies of Folklore and Ethnomusicology there. During the 1960s he also fought determinedly for creation of a Mexican American studies program in spite of discouraging anti-Mexican attitudes within the university. With His Pistol in His Hand is the story of Gregorio Cortez, the Tejano hero of a border corrido (ballad). Cortez was virtually unknown in Texas until, in 1901, he and a Texas sheriff engaged in a good old fashioned shootout after a misunderstanding. The sheriff was killed and Gregorio fled immediately, realizing that in practice there was one law for Anglo-Texans, another for Texas-Mexicans. The chase and capture of Cortez became legendary across Texas—so legendary that until this day the heroic tales of Gregorio Cortez can still be heard  in the cantinas (bars) along both sides of the Rio Grande. This is my all-time favorite book, one that deserves much praise. I highly recommend it.
Like Water for Chocolate Book CoverLIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE 

BY LAURA ESQUIVEL

The cultural significance of this book is unparalleled. What else can I really say about how amazing this books is that has not already been said? The movie was not so bad, but it really does the book no justice. Tita, the youngest daughter of the all-female De La Garza family, is confined to caring for her mother until she dies and is forbidden to marry, as per Mexican tradition. But of course Tita falls in love with a man named Pedro. Pedro is easily seduced by the amazing food Tita cooks and is infatuated with her more and more as each day passes. Out of pure desperation, Pedro instead marries Tita’s sister Rosaura because that would mean he could be so much closer to Tita. Their love for each other never dies, and only after multiple tragedies and a spell of good/bad luck are they finally reunited. This book is one-of-a-kind and one that deserves to be on every single “must read” book list. If you love magical realism, then this book is for you.

 

Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky Book CoverFEATHERED SERPENT, DARK HEART OF SKY: MYTHS OF MEXICO 

BY DAVID BOWLES

You may be familiar with Greek, Norse or Egyptian mythology, but have you ever considered the mythology of Mexico? Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky traces the history of the world from its beginnings in the dreams of the dual god, Ometeotl, to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico and the fall of the great city Tenochtitlan. Bowles does an amazing job of retelling Mexican mythology in a way that readers will be drawn to.  Bowles states that it was not until college that he first read a single Aztec or Mayan myth. I had the same experience, even though I grew up in a border town and attended a university that was predominantly Hispanic. The importance of this book needs to be discussed. From Kirkus: “Bowles’ dense yet lyrical prose raises the narrative to a level suited to high mythological tradition and illuminates the foundations on which contemporary Mexican culture is laid. Students of folklore will find a rich trove to mine here.” This is a great read that everybody will enjoy. Do it now!

 

The Line Becomes a River Book CoverTHE LINE BECOMES A RIVER: DISPATCHES FROM THE BORDER 

BY FRANCISCO CANTU

The cultural significance of this book is undeniable. Given how border issues are a contemporary topic, The Line Becomes a River is relevant because it highlights not only the difficulties of policing the border, but the difficulties of witnessing immigrants traverse literal death traps  as they make their way into the United States. Francisco Cantu is a former U.S. Border Patrol agent who worked the U.S.-Mexico Border in Arizona and Texas. His dispatches from the border are eye-opening and leave you feeling a multitude of ways. Being Hispanic, Cantu assumed that policing the border would be the answer to all of the border questions he was so perplexed about. The border, however, proved to be an enigma that he was not prepared for. From arresting immigrants and drug smugglers to witnessing countless dead bodies, Cantu’s experiences are mesmerizing. This is a book you will not be able to put down. From Esquire: “A must-read for anyone who thinks ‘build a wall’ is the answer to anything.” Pick this one up today and enjoy.

 

Bang Book CoverBANG: A NOVEL 

BY DANIEL PENA

Although Daniel and I had a constructive disagreement on Twitter once (good times, Daniel), this did not take away from how much I enjoyed his book. Bang is an excellent novel set in the town of Harlingen, a town that is situated only a few miles from the mighty Rio Grande in Deep South Texas. Although this book is fictional, the fate of the family in Pena’s book is a reminiscent fate of the many families who have suffered at the hands of violent Mexican drug cartels. They are forced to do dangerous, unimaginable things. Uli and his brother Cuauhtemoc are involved in a plane crash along the U.S.-Mexico Border one late night. Cuauhtemoc awakes and realizes he is bound and gagged. Is he in Mexico or the U.S.? He is unsure. Uli wakes up in a hospital and is also unsure of which country he is in. Given that Uli is an undocumented immigrant, he prays that he is in a U.S. hospital, but it doesn’t take long for him to realize he is in Mexico. Their mother Araceli hears of the crash and risks her own status by crossing into Mexico to search for her two sons and her husband who has been missing for some time. In Mexico, each is forced to navigate the complexities of their past and an unknown world of deprivation and violence. From Kirkus: “A piercing tale of lives broken by border violence.” This book is a great read that details the struggles many actual undocumented immigrants face. I highly recommend this one.
There are thousands of great books written by Hispanic men and women whose talents are often passed over. Despite overwhelming positive reviews, most people never categorize their works as great. It is important to recognize authors of all color, background, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation for their body of work and for the amazing books they publish. If this list doesn’t do it for you, then compile your own list, but give Hispanic authors a chance. You will not be disappointed.

, September 

NOW WITH DANCING!

The Vibrant Neighborhoods Floreciente Interviews screening will now be followed by a cultural dance troupe from Guanajuato, Mexico!

Guanajuato Dancers

floreciente

Why We Talk to the Dead: Ghosts in History, Culture, and Literature

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

A recent survey revealed that nearly half of all Americans—45 percent—believe in the existence of ghosts. One out of five Americans claims to have had a personal encounter with a spirit of a dead person. Despite the fact that we live in the most technologically and scientifically advanced period of American history, advanced scientific knowledge exists side-by-side with beliefs that after our physical bodies have ceased to be, some part of our consciousness continues to function and is even capable of contact with the living.

The 19th century saw a spate of men and women who claimed to have the ability to communicate with these spirits. Mediums practiced a variety of techniques for summoning the dead. Some performed seances, in which a group of individuals would gather around a table or together in a room and a medium would claim to contact the dead for the purposes of sending messages to audience members. Other mediums worked in one-on-one situations where they would meet with a grief-stricken individual and would facilitate contact with the person or persons they were mourning. Other mediums would perform in front of an auditorium, collecting random messages and then finding the audience member for whom the messages were intended. A number of factors—including the mass dead of the Civil War—along with the access to power that this provided the previously powerless, have been offered as explanations for the popularity of mediums, spiritualism,  and theosophy, a belief system that merged theology with philosophy in search of “divine knowledge.”

In at least two instances, entire towns were established as villages where residents communicated with the dead. In Florida, the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp comprises dozens of spiritual practitioners who offer their services to the tourists who visit the town every day. On Sunday, Spiritualist church services provide a gathering place for residents and believers. Lily Dale, New York is also a spiritualist community where many of the residents are practicing mediums, and services are provided to visiting tourists. Both towns attract thousands of visitors each year, many of whom avail themselves of the services offered.

In the ghost stories that populate literature, or which storytellers perform, ghosts frighten those who encounter them. Plenty of the scariest of these stories invoke images of harmful spirits who do physical harm to living human beings or who are destructive of property. The ghost’s malevolence, it often turned out, was due to the unhappy life or the violent death suffered.  It’s rare for ghosts to haunt houses where they had lived happy lives. The existence of the ghost is a reaction to unfinished business left on earth in the stories that are told about them. The violence they may inflict on humans is the manifestation of the ghosts’ unhappiness.

But in Spiritualism, every person who dies lives on as spirit. Thus, the medium is able to make contact with anyone who has passed on. In the structure of the relationship between medium and client, it is the client who initiates contact with the medium and validates the contact once made. The relationship is driven by the grieving person left behind when a loved one dies. The medium often provides reassurance that the person who has died is now “in a better place,” that they have found happiness and contentment in the world beyond.

Because the relationship is driven by the need of the grief-stricken to find comfort, non-believers argue that mediums are con artists ripping off the grieving. Mediums who are able to provide information about the dead are able to demand hefty payment for these services, and it is quite clear how this relationship can turn into one that exploits money from the emotionally vulnerable.

In Ben Dolnick’s The Ghost Notebooks, Nick and Hannah are a young couple living in New York City who are struggling to make a living there. Hannah is offered a job in a small town, Hibernia, as the director of the Wright Historic House. Edmund Wright was a 19th-century philosopher who lived with his wife and four children. When one of his children is killed, Wright is overcome with grief, and blames himself. But when his dead son starts visiting him as a spirit, Wright turns these ghostly visits into research and writes about them. But like many of his peers, he also derives tremendous comfort from knowing that he still has a relationship with his boy.  A society of believers guard the legacy of Wright and, in the present day, maintain the house as a museum. When Nick and Hannah move into the house to act as caretakers, and their relationship gets a boost from the change in environment and financial security. After they’ve lived there for a while, Hannah encounters the house’s spirits with a disastrous outcome, the repercussions of which carry through Dolnick’s thickening plot. The psychiatric elements of ghost belief offer even more complexity in his novel.

New York State was crowded with proponents of Spiritualism during the movement’s heyday. Colin Dickey provides readers with places to explore in New York and other states in Ghostland. Like Dolnick, he reveals the hidden history of Spiritualism and ghost-hunting that was popular in the 19th century. And, rather than seeing these beliefs as alien, Dickey asks questions that demonstrate that people continue to project their beliefs and fears about dying onto the dead. What happens to us when we are in a space that we have been told is “haunted?” And how do our fears of death lead some to believe that ghosts exist?

Of course, no discussion of ghost stories would be complete without mentioning Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Jackson’s story is often hailed as the “most terrifying” of modern ghost stories. She also investigates the relationship between modern belief systems and the belief in ghosts. In the 1959 novel, four researchers agree to spend the night investigating the entities that are haunting Hill House. They bring with them their skepticism and their confidence that they will crack the mystery, but before their stay is through, they themselves will be cracked by fear.

Believing that spirits walk among us is not a requirement in order to love a good ghost story. Reading ghost stories reveals that what we think about the dead tells us more about our own characters than anything else. Ben Dolnick makes a worthy addition to the ghostly canon.