Book review: The American People

By , July 1, 2015

The American People by Larry KramerThe American People Volume 1, Search For My Heart
by Larry Kramer

Kramer has teased readers with this work for thirty years. Four years ago, I mentioned I was anxious for it come out. All 775 pages of Volume 1(!) have finally arrived. Need blurbs? 1) It’s the gay history of the United States. 2) Kramer’s theories are so controversial his publisher would only release American People as fiction though it started as straight (forgive the pun) nonfiction. What controversial ideas? 1) HIV has been around since the beginning of Homo sapiens. 2) A bunch of presidents were gay. Hearing this lights some people’s hair on fire. Dismissing these ideas outright is exactly the kind of hysterical reductionism Kramer rallies against, though many accuse Kramer himself of being a hysterical reductionist. He is an example of that rarest of birds – an intellectually militant gay radical. Many are fatuously accused of harboring a radical gay agenda. Proudly, Kramer actually possesses one, and The American People is his reinterpretation of the our national myth.

It is told by Fred Lemish, a metafictional version of Kramer, who is writing a history of America, and by the historians, epidemiologists, biologists, ethicists, et al that Lemish interviews for his project – all fictionalized caricatures of real life scholars. The HIV virus itself is anthropomorphized and is a competing voice with the rest of the parodied monologists. Lemish’s history of America starts with a biological history of HIV as told literally by the voice of HIV. It’s ballsy, ambitious, and extremely disorienting. A lot of it is stuff you recognize from your grammar school history book only to fugue into hardcore horrors. Plague/death is synonymous with life/sex. Allegorical sex/death fantasias abound. Luckily for me, I’ve been saying William S. Burroughs is my favorite author for so long that nothing is true and everything is permitted, but Kramer is a far better writer. The monologues are poetic, fiery, funny, shocking, tragic. The book’s length and structure are a bit much even for me, but listening on audio gives the text a much needed infusion. There is a full cast and each narrative voice gets their own actor. This is a novel written by a playwright.

If you are thinking, “Bryan, I am never reading this,” you might already be familiar with Kramer’s life and work. The Oscar nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague about the fierce early days of AIDS activism features Kramer prominently. The HBO miniseries The Normal Heart is based on Kramer’s largely autobiographical play of the same name.


Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941

By , June 28, 2015

Superhero movies have dominated Hollywood for nearly a decade, but superheroes’ popularity is nothing new. Characters like Batman, Captain America, and Wonder Woman have been popular for over seventy years, but many of their caped brethren have fallen through the cracks of history.


Editor Greg Sadowski gathered many of these forgotten heroes into 2009’s Supermen! The First Wave of Comic-Book Heroes 1936-1941, a great anthology about comics’ Golden Age. The idea of the superhero began as an amalgamation of the circus strongman and pulp characters like the Shadow and Doc Savage. Once Superman hit the scene in Action Comics #1 in 1938, publishing companies scrambled to get into the comic book business and create their very money-making superhero.


Trying to come up with the next big thing is almost as difficult as trying to come up with the big thing in the first place, a fact made clear by the creation and immediate disappearance of heroes like Skyman, the Silver Streak, and Yarko, Master of Magic. Still, there’s life in these stories, the kind creative abandon found only when writers and artists make up the rules as they go along.
These creators of these stories didn’t have to bow to the needs of continuity, perform fan service, or concern themselves with maintaining a franchise. They were trying to make a buck, and create stories people would want to read. If nothing else, they were successful on that tip.


Standouts include Basil Wolverton’s Spacehawk, Superhuman Enemy of Crime, and the brutally strange work of Fletcher Hanks. Hanks’ characters Stardust the Super Wizard and Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle are the epitome old, weird superhero comics. Be sure to check out Hanks’ I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! for  more early superhero antics. It’s an excellent companion to Supermen!, and is also available from the library.

Bessie Smith, Empress of the Blues

By , June 26, 2015

Bessie Smith photo by Van Vechten, Carl - Library of CongressLegendary blues singer Bessie Smith was born in 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She performed on the vaudeville circuit and was one of the first African American vocalists to be recorded (along with Nashville’s Fisk Jubilee Singers). She signed with Columbia Records in 1923 and soon became known as the “greatest and highest salaried race star in the world,” selling over 4 million records between 1924 and 1929.

Bessie’s song, “Backwater Blues,” recorded in February of 1927, is believed to be about the Nashville Flood of 1926. She was scheduled to start performances at Nashville’s Bijou Theatre on December 30 and would have arrived in town in the aftermath of the Christmas Day flood. Music scholar David Evans revealed this discovery during a blues class at Vanderbilt in 2004.

NR Postcard Collection - 036e - Bijou Th., Nash, TN

Last month HBO premiered a biopic of the singer, directed by Nashville native Dee Rees. When asked why it was so important for her to tell Bessie’s story, Rees told Madame Noire,

“My grandmother played her records, my mom played her. There’s this album that they had called One Mo Time, that was recorded from a 1979 a Black Vaudeville kind of sendup. And so that was something I remembered as a kid. So I was always curious about her life. She was a woman from Tennessee, a Black woman, a queer woman from Tennessee, who wasn’t afraid to be who she was.”

Interested in learning more about Bessie Smith? Make it part of your Summer Challenge!

Read about Bessie:

Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga: Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South by Michelle R. Scott
Blues Legacies & Black Feminism by Angela Y. Davis
Bessie by Chris Albertson (OverDrive)

Listen to Bessie:

“Backwater Blues” on The Essential Bessie Smith (CD)
“My Man Blues” on the One Mo’Time Original Cast Album (LP)

Visit a museum honoring Bessie:

The Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Popmatic Podcast for June 24th, 2015: Regency, or Sense and Snarfibility

By , June 24, 2015

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover (Rules of Scoundrels Volume 4) by Sarah MacLeanThe Regency period looms disproportionately large in any public library collection. We’ll clue you in as to why. Amanda challenges listeners to give her a reason to read Jane Austen. And we ask you, should the library start making book lists again? Plus what is tickling our fancy this week.


Richard Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell

Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles by Bernard Cornwell

Rules of Scoundrels series by Sarah MacLean

Pop Culture Happy Hour‘s “Romance Novel Special

Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Frankenstein Thomas Edison’s 1910 version

Young Frankenstein

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke

Jacksonland by Steve Inskeep



VEEP is free in the library

The Connection

Kung Fury

Ask Me About My New God! by Maria Bamford


Transcripts of the show are available upon request.

American Sniper & American Wife

By , June 23, 2015

American Sniper

I’m not usually one for war movies. But every once in a while one will get me. Jarhead did it in 2005. And now American Sniper.

I first got pulled into this world when I saw Chris Kyle on Conan’s show, I think this was back when he was still on NBC Late Night. Kyle was interesting and he told a good story. This was back when Seal Team 6 books were big, and I knew I didn’t want to read one of those, but I thought maybe I could read American Sniper. Heck, Jethro Gibbs was a sniper and he was super cool.

American Sniper covers Kyle’s life as a Seal sniper, serving four tours in Iraq. It got pretty heavy in places, but it pulls you in and won’t let you go until the good guys bring it home. I enjoyed Kyle’s writing style. He might have portrayed himself as a dumb redneck, but the guy had some brains. So when his second book, American Gun came out I knew I had to read it. Here Kyle discusses 10 favorite guns and the roles they played in shaping our country. I even mentioned this one on the Popmatic Podcast (if you’re not listening, you should be).

Unfortunately, Kyle was killed while trying to help a fellow veteran with PTSD. But even before his passing a movie version was in the works staring Bradley Cooper. Cooper had a chance to meet Kyle and get to know him before any filming was ever done. Kyle’s wife Taya says that the movie version, while not entirely factual in portraying historical events, completely captures Chris’s spirit.

Taya shares her side of the story in her book, American Wife, which was recently released. I didn’t really plan on it, but I actually read most of her book and then watched the movie on the same day. Whew. Got kinda heavy there for a minute, but I don’t know if it would have been as powerful if I hadn’t experienced both in the same 24 hour period. I got to read Taya’s version of events and then go back and watch Chris’s side of the story. I’m not a big movie crier, but there were definitely tears, both when I read about the day Chris died as well as when I watched the movie version of his memorial. The book,  American Sniper, obviously ends before Chris dies, but both Bradley Cooper and director Clint Eastwood wanted to honor this fallen soldier in film, so they showed photos of his actual funeral and depicted his funeral procession.

Again, this is not a topic I usually seek out to read, but this trilogy of books was enjoyable and moving. If you are looking for something extra patriotic as we move towards our nation’s birth date, may I highly recommend any one of these works.

Thank you to all the men and women who serve and protect our homes and families. We wouldn’t be here without your sacrifices.

Happy Independence Day!

:) Amanda


Have Books, Will Travel

By , June 22, 2015

“Come with me,”  Mom says. “To the library. Books and summertime go together.”

-Lisa Schroeder, I Heart You, You Haunt Me


The books "Marco Polo" and "The Travels of Baron Munchausen" on display with a globe from the Young Adult department, in the Wilson Room.

The books “Marco Polo” and “The Travels of Baron Munchausen” on display with a globe from the Young Adult department, in the Wilson Room.

June brings the official start of summer (June 21st, to be exact), and summer (for some) is the perfect time to travel, if not around the world, maybe just around your city. In this day and age, it’s easy to get up and go. I can’t quite say the same for some of the characters chosen in this month’s post — some exist before cars had even been invented! Either way, if you’re travelling or enjoying a staycation indoors, this month’s books will take you on a journey.

The Odyssey and The Iliad
Author: Homer
Published by LEC: 1931

The Odyssey is the second oldest existing work in Western literature, with The Iliad being the first. The Iliad discusses the fall of Troy; covering only a few weeks in the final year of the Trojan War. The Odyssey’s story then follows Odysseus (or Ulysses, depending on your version) and his journey home to Ithaca. Throughout the course of the epic poem, Odysseus encounters various obstacles that elongate his journey home, and leave his wife and son to fend for themselves.

The Wilson Collection’s copies of the Odyssey and the Iliad are both numbered 118, and come bound in cloth with gold script along the spine. Additionally, both are translated from their traditional ancient Greek into English by Alexander Pope.

Introduction to the Iliad

Introduction to the Iliad

Title Page for The Odyssey

Treasure Island
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Published by LEC: 1941

Originally published in 1883, Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale of pirates and buried gold was originally serialized in Young Folks Magazine, with Stevenson adopting the pseudonym Captain George North. The story is broken into six parts, following a young Jim Hawkins as he eagerly assists, navigating the sea for buried treasures. The book itself has many spin-offs and over 50 different movie and TV adaptations.

Our copy of Treasure Island contains watercolors by Edward A. Wilson, including a frontpiece lithograph of Captain Long John Silvers. The art is dynamic and fluid, matching the story closely in sense of expression. The comedy that a story about adventure at sea was done with watercolors is not lost on me.

Lithograph of Captain Long John Silvers

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Author: Mark Twain
Published by LEC: 1942


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was originally published in 1884, and banned (for the first time) only one month after its publication due to its “coarse” language and its depictions of racism. Readers follow the story of Huckleberry Finn, son of the town drunk and best friend to Tom Sawyer as he goes about town.

While the Wilson collection houses two editions of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, my favorite of the two is the one Thomas Hart Benton illustrated  with line and wash drawings, giving Huck a particularly mischevious look as he navigates Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and Kentucky. The line and wash style gives the characters a sort of looseness that goes well with the story; the tones in the illustrations muted and casual.


The Seven Voyages of Sinbad
Author: Unknown
Published by LEC: 1949


A story my mother read to me as a child, and one that I continue to love well into my twenties. The story follows Sinbad the sailor as he travels the globe, fighting glorious creatures and meeting varying villains. My favorite encounter of his would have to be with the multiple supernatural creatures, one of which being a Cyclops. His battle with the Cyclops in both written and film adaptations is lively and riveting, sure to captivate any audience in question.

The Seven Voyages of Sinbad has several film and TV adaptations, including last year’s brief TV run on Syfy. Sinbad originally appeared in the Thousand and One Nights story collection as a late edition–in fact, the first known point at which they appear in the Thousand Nights is a Turkish collection dated 1637.

What makes Sinbad as a character so limitless are his acts of bravery, ambition and skill, as well as his ability to think his way out of any situation.

With the illustrations featured by Edward A. Wilson (same illustrator for Treasure Island), the book is allowed to come to life with mystic drawings, rich with color and variety, featuring many of the magical beasts described in the story.

~ Sabrina Nicole, Wilson Collection Intern

As always, if you are interested in viewing these books or any others individually, you can make an appointment by calling either (615) 880-2356 or (615) 880-2363, or simply respond to this blog post.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for an even more special Off-the-Shelf post next month!


Summer Challenge Book Lists: Anti Heroes

By , June 20, 2015

All the Truth That’s in Me  by Julie Berry Judith cannot speak and has subsequently been brutally rejected within her isolated community. But she sees what others miss.  Thus it is up to Judith to save her village when attackers come from across the sea.



The Green Arrow by Andy Diggle After a hedonistic playboy is betrayed by his long-time assistant and left for dead, he remakes himself in the image of Robin Hood, complete with longbow and thirst for justice.






Half Bad  by Sally Green Nathan’s mother was a beloved white witch, or so legend goes. His father is the most vile and evil of witched, responsible for the death of Nathan’s mother. Nathan, then, has a mixture of powers and impulses, some good, and some deemed bad. He tries to do right despite the war that rages within him and around him.





Seraphina by Rachel Hartman Seraphina is a socially awkward but gifted musician. She is certainly the last person to find in the middle of a murder investigation. But in order to protect her deepest secret, Seraphina is forced to track a killer.




Hero   by Perry Moore Thom Creed’s father is a disgraced ex-superhero, and Thom himself possesses some healing powers. But after a chance comment referring to Thom’s sexuality leads to Thom running away from home, he encounters real villains and gets the chance to become a real hero.





Side Effects May Vary   by Julie Murphy After Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, she decides to use the time remaining to even the score with those who have caused her grief in the past. Despite the subjectivity inherent in this plan, Alice is ruthless in her revenge schemes. She engages nice guy Harvey, who loves her, to help her inflict damage. Then Alice goes into remission. Can she undo the damage she’s done?





 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith Finn is the model for a character in his father’s sci-fi novel, bringing him unwanted attention. After rescuing a boy, his dog, and his grandfather, Finn is thrust even further into the “hero” mode. His task: Locate the real Finn, before he gets buried under too many labels.       Diane

Super hero? My heart belongs to the anti-hero

By , June 19, 2015

Super Hero? Not interested. My heart belongs to the Anti-Hero….always.

While Heroes are full of hubris and ring hollow after a time, the Anti-Hero brings spice, flavor, and dimension that an ordinary hero-villain cannot even fathom.

Literature and cinema are full of bad-boy Anti-Heroes. Some of the most consistently compelling portrayals of contemporary anti-heroes have been found in the performances of James Gandolfini.

His choice of roles –  from the ever so human and fatally flawed mobster Tony Soprano, to the hitman with a heart of, well maybe not gold but certainly hand tooled silver, in The Mexican  - gave viewers a glimpse into the world of flawed murderous anti-heroes.

One of  Gandolfini’s most human roles has to be that of the monster Carol in the Spike Jonze directed film adaptation of Where the Wild Things are. This performance mesmerized both the preschooler and the college freshman in my family of theatre goers in 2009. One ended up in tears by movie’s end.

So take that, suave and dashing leading men! My heart belongs to the spirited, grand gesture with a giggle anti-heroes of the world who get tangled up in their capes occasionally.

For the next week you can get an up close view of original artwork by Maurice Sendak. The Maurice Sendak Memorial Exhibition is a retrospective of original works by Maurice Sendak, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Where the Wild Things Are. This exhibit runs through June 28th in the  Courtyard Gallery – Main Library Second Floor

Good writing will bring you to places you don’t even expect sometimes. – James Gandolfini


Popmatic Podcast for June 17, 2015: It’s Fathers’ Day! Where’s My Cake?!

By , June 17, 2015

The Godfather DVDThis episode got real dark, real fast. Every dad we talk about is deceased, a criminal, or both. Regardless, Happy Father’s Day!



This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

This Is Where I Leave You film

The Godfather

The Godfather Part 2

The Godfather Part 3

The Godfather by Maria Puzo

Lone Wolf Cub by Kazuo Kioke & Goseki Kojima

Tim Buckley CD | Hoopla

Jeff Buckley CD | Freegal


Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly


Fallout 4

shirt folder [what?]

Mad Ron’s Prevues from Hell


Transcripts of the show are available upon request.

Immigrant Heritage Month

By , June 16, 2015

Two women smileJune is Immigrant Heritage Month, a time to look at the diversity and similarities in our community and revel in the ways that we all come together. Sometimes finding our immigrant ancestors involves hours of genealogical research to go back generations. My immigrant ancestors, for instance, were farmers that could not pay their taxes in England so they were shipped to Georgia on debtor boats when we were still British colonies.

Other times, immigrant ancestors are much closer to us – mothers, fathers, grandmas or grandpas. You may even be an immigrant! Nashville has a rapidly growing number of residents that are immigrants or the children of immigrants. These individuals bring new traditions, music, food, and languages to our community and help to make Nashville such a desirable place to live.

Recently, Nashville Public Library worked with StoryCorps @ your library to record oral history interviews with these community members. We talked to more than 60 people from 30 different countries and got a glimpse into the lives of immigrants in our community.

Listen to the clips below to learn more about some immigrants turned Nashvillians.

Take Oscar for instance. He came to Nashville from Mexico as a small child and talks about his experience attending college at Lipscomb University and working toward a better future.

Or Kahin, a Kurdish-American that struggles with “mentally identifying with both nations” while physically only being in one.

Or Paul, who met his wife in Ireland while she was studying abroad and decided to move back to the United States with her. When he attended his citizenship ceremony, he was sworn in with around 800 other Tennessee residents.

These are just a few of the many stories that are part of this collection. Participants talked about love, family, education, identity, and lose – all universal human experiences. You can hear more stories on the Mayor’s Office of New Americans webpage. Or check out the New Faces of Nashville Collection in the Special Collections Division at the Main Library.

For more information about Immigrant Heritage Month, visit

Everyone has an immigration story. Share yours in the comments or post with #IHM2015 @nowatnpl

- Amber

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