Tuesday, January 27, 2009

milwaukee challenges: trip to the east library

The month is almost out, but I finally got a start to one of my self-issued challenges for the year.

You may recall Milwaukee Challenge #1: Read my way through Milwaukee's Public Libraries, in which I pledged to obtain my 12 books--for an online "Support Your Local Library" challenge--each from a different branch of the city's libraries.

Even though the official challenge doesn't have a "one-per-month" limit, that's how I've elected to pace myself. I knew I had to get cracking. So after work today, I swung by the East Library to begin.

Remember the library at your elementary school? That fairly accurately describes the layout and decor of the East Library. It's one big cozy room with a community reading area running down the middle between the shelves. The walls are red brick and I think there's purple or some other retro-color carpet, that likely has been there since the place was built in the late '60s. There are some very swingin' looking chairs and I regretted that I did not have time to hang. The place WAS packed though, not surprising given the increase in library use due to the recession.

A more accurate description of the layout from the branch page:
East Library, located at 1910 E. North Ave., opened in 1968 and features a special art collection, Works of Wisconsin Artists, donated by William and Virginia Vogel. A striking feature of the building is the ceiling-height, multi-colored glass panels, designed by Conrad Schmitt Studios.
I wish I'd looked up!

There's definitely a sense of community in this library that doesn't exist at the grandiose Central branch. When you enter the building it's via a long hallway scattered with bulletin boards and fliers, some for events I never heard of outside of that realm.

I picked up two newsletters while I was there as well to learn a bit more about my surroundings. I grabbed a copy of the Milwaukee Public Library Reader, as well as the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association newsletter, Murray Hill News.

Still have to peruse the latter, but the former has some tips on what's going on in February at the libraries. It looks like I will be hitting up the Martin Luther King branch as that seems to be the hot spot for Black History Month.

Obviously the destination is only part of the challenge, I still have to pick out a book. The layout of the place was a little confusing, so I was first drawn to the "New Releases" shelf. I selected a fiction book called A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar about a girl immigrating to Texas from the Middle East. One of the last fiction books I read in 2008 was about an American girl of Middle Eastern descent living in Texas, and I am curious to compare the two. That book, Towelhead by Alicia Erian was extremely gritty, but a solid read. A Map of Home also had an intriguing book jacket blurb:
"Funny, charming, and heartbreaking, A Map of Home is the kind of book Tristram Shandy or Huck Finn would have narrated had they been born Egyptian-Palestinian and female in the 1970s"
I then slid over to the New Non-Fiction and spotted a book that's been highly promoted on Pitchfork -- It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways and the Search for the Next American Music by Amanda Petrusich. The Amazon review is a little disheartening, but I'll give the book a whirl.

Since it's extremely difficult for me to walk out of a library without my hands full, I noticed a small "librarian's choice" table as I headed to the desk. I was ridiculously impressed that they'd pulled together a selection of John Updike works, complete with a framed obituary, since the man died TODAY. I'm actually not sure if I've ever read any Updike (maybe a short story along the way of my storied career in English Lit?) so I picked up Rabbit, Run to be my first official book of the challenge. I suspected the copy may have been procured when the East Library was built, but upon further inspection it looks like it was printed in 1991. Also, not to be crass, but it seems perversely appropriate that a copy of a book by a man who died of lung cancer would reek so badly of cigarette smoke.

If you're the mood for multimedia, or you speak Russian, apparently the East Library would have a lot to offer you:
In addition to providing an especially strong fiction and videocassette collection reflecting the diverse and eclectic interests of the East Side community, the library also maintains a small collection of materials in the Russian language. Patrons also have access to bestsellers, classics, picture books, magazines, newspapers, books on tape and a compact disc collection which includes many jazz and classical titles.
I'm glad I stopped by and took a little more time to learn about this asset nestled on the Upper East Side.

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