A Librarian’s Guide to “Longform” Reading

Long-form journalism is a branch of journalism dedicated to longer articles with larger amounts of content. Typically this will be between 1,000 and 20,000 words. Long-form articles often take the form of creative nonfiction or narrative journalism

Publications such as Reader’s Digest, The Atlantic, and Harper’s Bazaar popularized this format of writing, which led to the founding of several new long form coverage companies such as The Atavist and Longreads. These articles tend to be categorized as “non-fiction” with a majority of the titles falling into human interest or think piece articles on a specific topic. These topics cover a broad range of subjects, including but not limited to: crime, art’s and culture, books, business and tech, current events, essays and criticism, food, profiles and interviews, science and nature, and sports.  Much like a non-fiction book, these articles are long enough to really develop a story, and inform you on topics you may not know much about. Personally, this is my favorite part about reading longform. These articles help you learn more about a topic, without overwhelming you with becoming an expert. They also give you a view into a strangers lifestyle, ideas or hobbies, which is one of the many reasons why non-fiction keeps me coming back for more.

There are thousands of articles that are as long as books, or as short as short stories, on thousands of different topics and subject matters. If you’re overwhelmed with where to start, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite “longform” websites, as well as several popular non-fiction titles available at the Cheshire Public Library.

            1. First up is Narratively, which is my favorite of all. Narratively’s tagline is “celebrating humanity through authentic storytelling”. The website works with a network of over 3,000 talented journalists and storytellers that explore the hidden stories of the world, focusing on the “underdogs” and the “overlooked tales that enlighten us”. The website has several subsections, including: hidden history, memoir, renegades, secret lives, and super subcultures. Examples of articles include “Secret Life of a Children’s Party Princess“, which explores the not so glamorous life of a part time princess, full time college student, as well as “That Time I Conducted an Autopsy Without Any Medical Training” or the mistaken identity of a med school poser. These articles, and many others, are charming, heartbreaking, and insightful. Narratively is a gem of a website, and worth coming back to again and again.

              2. Longreads and Longform are two fantastic websites that recommend longer works of fiction across the web. Each  feature in-depth investigative reporting, interviews and profiles, podcasts, essays and criticism. Both websites curate content from a variety of different publications including, The Atlantic, Harper’s Bazaar, The Guardian, and Cosmopolitan. Articles include a variety of subject matters from serious to silly, including “Taken: How police departments make millions by seizing property” (Anna Lee, Nathaniel Cary, and Mike Ellis, The Greenville News) and “I Walked 600 Miles Across Japan for Pizza Toast” by Craig Mod. Each website is updated frequently, and each hosts a fantastic array of human interest stories as well as investigative reporting.

All of these websites have a handy feature which lets you subscribe to their stories, which sends you articles by email on a weekly basis. This lets you cater your taste in articles, and lets you catch up on news when you have a moment. It’s a fantastic way to exercise your brain, and learn more about the world around you.

If you’d prefer a physical title, the Cheshire Public Library has a large collection of non-fiction titles, as well as newspapers for current events and other human interest pieces. My personal favorite is our biography section, as well as our true crime selection. A few new titles that I’ve been enjoying lately are “Three Women” by Lisa Taddeo, and “I’ll be Gone in the Dark” by Michelle MacNamara, . There are plenty of titles on a variety of subjects, and if you see gaps or something we don’t have, you can always feel free to mention it to a staff member (we’re pretty great about supplying titles our patrons suggest!)

 

Looking for more? Here are some titles from our new non-fiction section:

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Baseball’s Back (sort of)! Books and Movies about America’s Pastime

It may have been delayed by a pandemic, but you can’t keep baseball down forever. The season officially kicked off at the end of July this year, with a few crucial changes. Most significantly, there will be no fans in the stands, and the season will be shortened to a mere 60 games. But in a time when any sense of normalcy is something to cling to, baseball is back!

While attending a game in person is not an option this season, you can recreate the feeling a bit with a number of books and movies that take you out to the ball game.  Glove, ball, and giant foam finger –  optional.

FICTION

NON-FICTION

MOVIES

What’s Happening (virtually) at Cheshire Library in August

Baby, it’s hot outside, but we’ve got some cool online programs lined up for August. Crank up at A/C and join us!

Finding the Women in Your Family Tree

Tuesday, August 4, 2020, 2:00 – 3:00pm

Prior to the 20th century, many women didn’t have an identity of their own. They were tangled with their father or husband and in some places, were not allowed to own real estate in their own names or to sign legal documents. This presents a real challenge when researching your female ancestors. Professional Genealogist Donna Moughty will looks at strategies to search for and identify our female ancestors. Please register in advance, registered participants will receive a Zoom meeting link the day of the program.

Lunchtime Sing-along

  • Tuesday, August 4, 12:00 – 12:30pm
  • Thursday, August 13, 12:00 – 12:30pm

Start your afternoon on a good note with a family-friendly lunchtime sing-along! Listen in and sing along to storytime favorites with Miss Andrea, Miss Lauren, and Miss Ali! There are two options to view: either join us on Zoom (link in our Event Calendar) or watch us on Facebook Live https://www.facebook.com/cheshirelibrary/

Lawn Maintenance During Drought

Wednesday, August 5, 2020, 3:00 – 4:00pm

Presentation by Greg Bugbee, associate scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. He directs the soil testing laboratory and is responsible for answering public inquiries regarding soil fertility and turf management. Please register in advance, registered participants will receive a Zoom meeting link the day of the program.

Mad Science

  • Decomposers (Grades 3-6): Wednesday, August 5, 2:00 – 3:00pm
  • Flyers (Grades K-2):Tuesday, August 11, 2:00 – 3:00pm

 

Switch it up at CPL! Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

  • Wednesday, August 5, 3:00pm – 4:00pm
  • Wednesday, August 12, 3:00pm – 4:00pm

Social distancing got you down? Got a Nintendo Switch? Join us at CPL’s Smash Ultimate arena! Play against your friends and folks from all across Cheshire! For TEENS in grades 6-12. All skill levels welcome, no registration required. View the program description in our Event Calendar for details on how to join.

Digital Photo Organizing

Thursday, August 6, 2020, 3:00pm – 4:30pm

Are your digital images and videos scattered over various devices and in different locations? Do you struggle to find your most important images? Are you anxious about losing your photos because you don’t have a backup plan in place? This class provide tips on how to consolidate your images & videos into one manageable library so you can easily access, share and backup your most important memories. Please register in advance, registered participants will receive a Zoom meeting link the day of the program.

Christine’s Critters

Thursday, August 6, 2020, 3:00pm – 4:00pm

Learn about birds of prey and reptiles with a virtual visit from live animal ambassadors! All ages are welcome to attend. Please register in advance for this virtual program and you will receive a Zoom link to the meeting one hour prior to the program start time.

Virtual Cheshire Anime Club

  • Friday, August 7, 3:00 – 5:00pm
  • Friday, August 14, 3:00 – 5:00pm

Konnichiwa, minna-san! Can’t get enough Anime and Manga? Be an “Otaku” and join the Cheshire Anime Club! We’ll meet on Zoom and watch Anime movies together! For grades 7-12. The link to this Zoom Virtual Program will be posted on Cheshire Anime Club’s Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/13673851607/) OR you can register on our Event Calendar, and we will email you before start time with a link to join this Zoom Virtual program.

Food Explorers

Join Registered Dietitian, Katie, from Food Explorers will show young chefs how to make black bean brownies, and homemade granola bars! Best suited for kids in grades 2-8.  Please register through our Event Calendar to see what ingredients you will need for each program. Registered participants will receive a Zoom meeting link one hour prior to the start of the program.

Let’s Write a Sketch

Tuesday, August 11, 2020, 2:00 – 3:00pm

Many genealogists are paralyzed by the number of ancestors they have researched, they don’t know how to start writing any of their stories because it looks like too big a job. This talk is geared specifically to genealogy, and describes a format that is used in genealogy journals. Please register in advance, registered participants will receive a Zoom meeting link the day of the program.

Write Your Family Story

Thursday, August 13, 2020, 3:00 – 4:30pm

Ever wonder what it takes to produce a long-form family history book?  LLI genealogy instructor Janeen Bjork completed a 178-page heirloom-quality book for a 94-year old client, and will share the lessons she learned in the year spent reviewing, organizing and editing the family’s letters, diaries, documents and scrapbooks. Please register in advance, registered participants will receive a Zoom meeting link the day of the program.

Suffragettes in Corselettes: 19th Amendment Anniversary

Tuesday, August 25, 2020, 2:00 – 3:00pm

The 1910s saw an end to the hourglass figure with a tiny waist, and women were finally able to breathe and move more freely. Did the demise of tight-lacing help women gain the right to vote in 1920? Underwear matters. This program, presented by a mother/daughter duo is funny and frank as they honor our foremothers’ journeys. Please register in advance, registered participants will receive a Zoom meeting link the day of the program.

Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Thursday, August 27, 2020, 3:30 – 4:30pm

From antioxidants, to iron, to fiber and more dark chocolate can do wonders to your health. To find out all about the health benefits of this wonderful food join Marisa, your Shoprite of Southington and Wallingford dietitian for this online presentation! Please register in advance, registered participants will receive a Zoom meeting link the day of the program.

Virtual Volunteering – 10 ways you can make a difference even while social distancing!

Let’s give the world as much kindness as we can right now. Virtual volunteering makes it possible for teens (and adults!) to make a difference in the world, even during the pandemic.

Our teen volunteers have the opportunity to meet up on Monday afternoons via Zoom to socialize while we’re volunteering, but it’s not required (visit our Event Calendar and look for the next “Virtual Monday Teen Volunteers” to sign up to receive the Zoom link).

So how can you make a difference in your community while in the midst of social distancing restrictions? Here are some suggestions for virtual volunteering (but you can certainly come up with your own ideas as well):

Virtual Volunteer Idea #1: Sew masks for those in need

Right now, there’s a need for reusable cloth medical masks for those in the at-risk population and for people in higher-risk jobs. You can easily make the masks by following along with tutorials and can organize donating these to the people who need them most.

Virtual Volunteer Idea #2: Become a virtual tutor

With more kids across the country shifting to online learning, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in helping anyone struggling with school. The simplest way for you to become a virtual volunteer tutor is by letting your teacher know you are available, or check out sites like TeensGive.org. If you’re really good at a subject, offer to tutor kids through Zoom or FaceTime.

Virtual Volunteer Idea #3: Play games with seniors over video

There are many vulnerable populations feeling isolated, and this is especially true for seniors who aren’t able to have visitors. Set up a virtual game night or hangout with the seniors in your life, or those living at a local nursing home. This helps foster a greater sense of belonging and helps mental health all around. You can read more on SeniorsLiving.org.

Virtual Volunteer Idea #4: Start a fundraiser

There are plenty of organizations that need funds right now. Start with something local. One example is to host a fundraiser to purchase gift cards for gasoline to the staff of your local hospital. Here are some great fundraising ideas for you to try out.

Virtual Volunteer Idea #5: Write, write write!

There are so many ways to connect with people even when we have to remain physically distant. Bringing back the lost art of writing is a good way to volunteer. Check out this list of virtual pen pal resources to find out how to connect with other kids around the world. Alternatively, say thank you to front line workers or send letters to soldiers far from home or to patients in the hospital. Nothing warms the heart like a handwritten note.

Write your local officials. We have Representatives, Senators, and a Governor whose jobs are to represent their constituents–that’s us. So, write your elected officials about what they can do to help during this time. Some ideas are getting appropriate N95 masks for healthcare professionals, securing more ventilators for hospitals, giving financial aid to people that have lost their jobs and businesses, or putting rent and mortgage payments on hold.You can send your letter to them online here.

Write a letter to the president of the United States. Why not just take it to the top? Your voice could be the key to getting legislation passed that will serve others and even our country as a whole. You can send him an email or a letter.

Virtual Volunteer Idea #6: Start a petition

You can take up a cause for your local town and drive a petition through Change.org. Think locally by focusing on your school or community. (https://www.change.org/start-a-petition)

Virtual Volunteer Idea #7: Share social media posts for important actions, fight cyberbullying. 

For those of you with social media profiles, sharing important information from health officials or other community organizations is a great way for you to help virtually. Sharing posts from American Red Cross about giving blood, phone numbers for helplines for kids, or accurate information on the coronavirus are all simple, but important ways to help. More kids than ever are depending on social media for social interaction, which makes cyberbullying even more likely. Help keep kids safe online by joining organizations like Tweenangels or Teenangels. Or just do your part to stop bullying rather than perpetuating it.

Virtual Volunteer Idea #8: Sign up to help transcribe historical documents or update Wikipedia pages

If you are into history, there are some interesting volunteer opportunities with the Smithsonian who can help transcribe historical documents and update relevant Wikipedia pages. You can use your love for learning and make an impact in these important organizations.

Virtual Volunteer Idea #9: Sew blankets or cage comforters 

There are so many kids and animals in need, and comfort items like blankets can make a big difference. Volunteering with an organization like BinkyPatrol or Project Linus is a great way to give back. Right now, they’re also looking for donations for cloth masks as well.

Virtual Volunteer Idea #10: Lend your eyesight for the blind or those of low vision

Pair up with an organization like BeMyEyes.  BeMyEyes is a completely virtual service,  done over a blind person’s smart phone using the camera, and allows sighted volunteers aged 17 or older to directly help a blind or low-vision person with daily tasks. You can sign up to get paired with a person in need. That person might need help with tasks like checking expiration dates, distinguishing colors, reading instructions, or navigating new surroundings.

Here are some more general ideas:

  • Clean out your closets. Use this free time to declutter your space. Pull out all clothes, toys, games, books, etc. that you no longer use. If they’re in good shape, gather them together and donate them to organizations like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Habitat for Humanity.
  • Share your talents. Do you sing? Play the guitar? Dance? Take amazing photos? Burp the alphabet? Jump online and offer some free lessons to other bored kids stuck at home. You can also put on a virtual concert to entertain your family, friends, and other people stuck in isolation and needing a break from Netflix.
  • Donate your skills. Are you artistic? Can you build a website? Edit videos? Write? There are many organizations and charities that could use your help to get their message out. Reach out to them and let them know what you can offer or post on Facebook community groups.

And here are some additional resources:

Are you a Cheshire teen who needs community service credits for school?  Send us descriptions, screenshots, or pics of whatever virtual volunteering you’ve done, and the amount of time you spent doing it, and we’ll award you community service hours for your service. Send it to kgile@cheshirelibrary.org – and thanks for making a difference!

Problematic Classics and Contemporary Solutions

 You ever go back to a book or a movie that you loved as a kid, and just as you’re getting into it again, suddenly you’re sideswiped by something that makes you cringe? I’m not talking about convoluted plots or lackluster acting. I’m talking about the moment you realize that this thing you loved so much is racist. Or contains any number of outdated and harmful perspectives towards people of different faith, ability, skin gender, sex, orientation, or level of income.
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Many of us have warm fuzzy feelings associated with classics that are deeply problematic. And listen: that is fine. Every reader has the right to read and enjoy the books of their choosing. And I’m certainly not advocating that we should ditch these items from our home collections or our public shelves. That would be censorship, and librarians aren’t cool with that.  However, once we as readers become aware that something is potentially harmful, we then have the responsibility to remove or mitigate that harm. That’s why we have big bold warnings on cigarette packaging, and why our normal lives ground to a halt a few months ago in the face of a deadly pandemic. So, how do we handle problematic books? To read, or not to read? There are strong arguments for both sides, and there’s no one right way.  It’s a challenge to provide an age-appropriate context to our kids when we adults are still trying to educate ourselves about our country’s history.
And  if we do want to include some of these books with outdated perspectives in our reading,  it might be helpful to choose additional books to read as a “counterbalance”, to better reflect the world in which our young readers currently live. To help with these decisions, here are some problematic classics and contemporary solutions.
One more note before we delve in: the idea of a Classic Book or any canon of literature, is a construct. We made it up. Classics were decided by people with loud voices: people with access to good education, good jobs, stable finances, and influential social circles. (And yes, this usually means white men, as well as folks who received the endorsement of white men.) Now, in 2020, we have the unprecedented ability to not only hear those voices that have been historically quiet, but also to amplify them to a level that they deserve. We get to determine for ourselves what books, movies, and other artifacts of culture are truly important enough to wear the label of “classic” and pass on to our children.
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The Classic: Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Problem: Wilder’s unsympathetic portrayal of Native Americans. A character says at one point, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” I’m not sure if that’s before or after Pa participates in a minstrel show, but oh yeah, that’s in there, too.
The Solution: The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
The first book in the five-book series following Omakayas through her daily life as an Ojibwa girl near present-day Lake Superior in the 1840s. Voracious readers who love strong female leads, history, and slice-of-life stories will devour these books with enthusiasm.
Another Solution: Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Park loved the Little House books as a child, and this story of a half-Chinese girl who settles with her family in the Dakota territory reflects the spirit of those pioneer tales while addressing their shortcomings.
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The Classic: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Problem: While the story of Atticus Finch fighting against injustice and racism is a much-loved classic for adults and kids alike, it filters the story of a black man through a white lens. Black characters, who are often portrayed with negative stereotypes, don’t get to tell their own story.
The Solution: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
A contemporary story of racism, violence, and injustice from the perspective of those who live it. Starr, a teenage girl with a strong family guiding her way, discovers her own power and her own voice. (Sound familiar?) With a story of police brutality and protests, it’s also a setting that will resonate with teens who are seeing it in their news feeds on a daily basis.
Another Solution: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
This Newbery Medal winner also centers on a young black female protagonist and explores racism and injustice, but like Mockingbird, it’s set in mid-1930s Jim Crow deep south.
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The Classic: If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss

The Problem: Stereotyped portrayals of African and Asian ethnicities, plus it includes the idea that a non-white person could be on display in a zoo. There are plenty of other subtle and not-so-subtle instances of racist caricatures in the Seuss lineup.
The Solution: Ada Twist, Scientist written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Ada Twist is a curious little girl bound to become a scientist, and this book takes readers slyly through the scientific process, leading them along with a strong rhyming structure and a distinctive illustration style. It’s fun and funny, and when you’re done with Ada, there’s Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect.
Another Solution: Last Stop on Market Street written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
This picture book revolves around a boy, a grandmother, and a bus ride. It’s simply told and simply illustrated, but this winner of the Newbery Award, Caldecott Honor, and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor has already become a new classic. And don’t make this your last stop: also check out de la Peña’s tear-jerker Love, and Robinson’s wordless reality-bender Another.
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The Classic: The Berenstain Bears series by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The Problem: The Berenstain Bears mirror a stereotypical homogeneous nuclear family: one boy, one girl, one stay-at-home mom who rules the house with an iron claw and dispenses moral proclamations while wearing a housedress, and a bumbling dad who needs more parenting than the kids. All the same species/color, I might add. Maybe some families looked like this, once upon a time in a land far away, but this is not what they look like now. Women have jobs, men contribute more to housework and parenting, and families are more diverse than ever with blended families, single parents, same-sex parents, and mixed-race  families. Speaking of race, children’s publishing has a huge problem with diversity, and a sobering report from 2018 showed that bears, rabbits, and other anthropomorphized critters were depicted in children’s books more than all non-white races combined. The beloved bears aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re not really relevant, either.
The Solution: Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari is a little boy whose dad takes care of him and his sister, and Dad offers light but steady support as his son learns how to face his fears on his own. And keep your eye our for Jabari’s return in a second book slated for release this fall!
Another Solution: Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems
Okay, okay, so you want your beginning reader to sink their teeth into a massive series of books, and they’re a sucker for animals. Best friends Elephant and Piggie explore the nuances of patience, sharing, including friends of differing abilities, and generally being a good friend, but they’re more fun and way less heavy-handed than the bear family.