Tag Archives: The Bookworm

It’s Not All About You, St. Pat!

March 15, 2018 by

Subscribe to this free weekly newsletter here.

Pick of the Week—Friday, March 16: A free performance of African Body, Soul, & MVMNT: A Window Into the Past is happening this Friday night at the Hi-Fi House. This project by Edem K. Garro of Edem Soul Music was chosen by the Omaha Creative Institute as the recipient of their Omaha Gives Back Grant. The performance traces “the journey of generations of African Americans from dehumanization and oppression to hope for a more equitable and inclusive present and future.” Don’t miss the chance to see it performed in an intimate space. While the event is free, you are encouraged to register for tickets here. Learn more about the performance and Edem Soul Music here.

Also, check out our upcoming story on Edem in the next issue of Encounter.

Thursday, March 15: If you haven’t heard the word yet, be sure to catch it tonight. The WORD – Herstory: Focus on HER is happening at The Opollo Music Hall in Benson. This round of The WORD Open Mic celebrates feminine energy. It’s a fusion of live, eclectic jazz and spoken word poetry, presented by artist Withlove, Felicia. The new Opollo will be its permanent home, every third Thursday of the month, from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Hear the word and check out this great new music venue. For more information on this show, click here. To find more Withlove, Felicia events, flow on over here.

Saturday, March 17: Sure, there are plenty of parties going on at the bars this weekend, so we’ll let you choose your poison there. But don’t start your drinking on an empty stomach. Get to the St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon at Lauritzen Gardens and enjoy some real greenery before hitting the patios and downing all those green beers. They’ll be serving up cabbage, corned beef, potatoes—the whole shebang. So get some stick-to-your-ribs Irish fare in you before heading out to get langered. Be sure to make reservations, though. Find out how here.

Saturday, March 17: Come see what Omaha’s all-female roller derby league can do this weekend. Don’t forget to wear green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and show your appreciation for those in uniform during the Omaha Rollergirls Green Out/Military Appreciation Night. Did we mention adult tickets are buy one, get one free for Military, Fire, Rescue, and Police? This jam starts at 6 p.m. at Ralston Arena. Get those tickets here now.

Sunday, March 18: Members of the Nebraska Writers Guild are coming together to read excerpts from an anthology they contributed to at The Bookworm Hosts Voices from the Plains Authors. Over 60 contemporary authors with various backgrounds from across Nebraska contributed to the book. The event starts at 1 p.m. and goes until 3 p.m. Pick up your copy of Voices from the Plains at The Bookworm (Omaha), Francie & Finch or Indigo Bridge (both in Lincoln), and several others. Get more information on the event here.

Wicked Omaha

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Musty newspapers, photos, archives, public records, presentations, and endless hours of research. Sure, the life of a modern folk historian sounds glamorous, but it’s not all like Raiders of the Lost Ark. In many ways, history is an occupation reserved only for those obsessive truth-seekers disconnected from their place on the space-time continuum.

Local historian, author, teacher, and Glenwood native Ryan Roenfeld has been making history entertaining for nigh on two decades. The 44-year-old nontraditional UNO student describes himself as a “hick-from-the-sticks.” A quasi-Luddite with a passion for the past, he doesn’t have a cell phone but he uses Facebook.

“I don’t know how I got so interested in history,” Roenfeld says. “Most folks see history as dry and dull, but it’s not. It really is—good, bad, or indifferent—the story of why things are the way they are.”

While decrying the modern age, Roenfeld helped popularize one of Omaha’s most frequented social media sites: Chuck Martens’ “Forgotten Omaha” Facebook page.

As one of three administrators, Roenfeld has seen “Forgotten Omaha” grow to more than 45,000 likes over the last year.

“I was surprised at the interest. Omahans didn’t know as much of their history as I thought,” says Roenfeld, who also teaches classes on Omaha history for Metropolitan Community College at Do Space. “History really is the story of us all, and I like telling people their stories.”

A folksy populist with an encyclopedic knowledge of colorful locals and criminals, Roenfeld tells the lesser-known tales of underrepresented populations, colorful characters, and swept-under scandals. He has self-published a dozen books and contributed to many articles on topics ranging from old postcards, railroads, steamboating, and local 19th-century brewers. To date, his most popular book has been Tinhorn Gamblers and Dirty Prostitutes, a colorful history of vice in Council Bluffs, which offers a glimpse at the city’s exploitation of prostitutes in the late 19th century.

“The highlights are always the lowlifes,” Roenfeld says. “People like hearing stories of cowboy shoot-outs in the street. People think the Old West happened in Arizona, but this area was really the archetype for every Wild West trope.”

The popularity of Western depravity was also obvious to Roenfeld’s publisher, The History Press. Roenfeld’s latest book, Wicked Omaha (not to be confused with David Bristow’s book, Dirty, Wicked Town [Omaha], published by Caxton Press in 2000), looks closely at “Hell’s Half-Acre,” Omaha’s red-light district in the 1880s.

Hell’s Half-Acre stretched from the Missouri River to 16th Street and from Douglas to Cuming streets. The city portrayed in Roenfeld’s Wicked Omaha makes all the stereotypes of Deadwood seem trite.

“People don’t realize that anything went in Hell’s Half-Acre,” Roenfeld says. “It was a different Omaha, when the saloons ran all night and strangers were victimized by every scheme going, all right downtown, nothing secret about it. Brothels were illegal, but ran in the open. There was drug addiction, suicide, and systematic exploitation. Prostitutes paid ‘fines’ monthly to keep operating. If they couldn’t pay, the city gave them a few weeks before they were hauled in front of a judge to either pay up or get shut up.”

Wicked Omaha made its debut Thursday, March 9, at the UNO Criss Library’s Read Local Author Showcase. Roenfeld plans to present his book at Omaha’s W. Dale Clark library May 6. The book is sold at The Bookworm, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and elsewhere.

Visit arcadiapublishing.com for more information.

This article appeared in the May/June edition of Omaha Magazine.

Together A Greater Good

December 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A mobile-friendly app created by two Omaha marketing pros has made giving to local charities easy for shoppers around town.

When folks download and use the Together A Greater Good app, they can scan their purchases from local participating businesses—including Big Mama’s Kitchen, The Bookworm, and Greenstreet Cycles—and donate a portion of the receipt amount to charities like American Cancer Society, the Open Door Mission, or a local school.

TAGG, founded in 2012, is the brainchild of Holly Baker and Leslie Fischer. Baker and Fischer studied marketing and business (Baker at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Fischer at the University of Nebraska-Omaha). The two met in 2007 while working at another startup, GiftCertificates.com. Although the two worked together for less than a year, the hectic, frenzied work environment helped forge a future partnership.

“You kind of bond through chaos,” Fischer says.

After leaving GiftCertificates.com, Fischer worked for the construction company EAD. While at EAD, Fischer juggled administrative, human resources, and marketing duties.

Coincidentally, both Baker and Fischer were pregnant around the same time while employed in their respective former jobs (Fischer at EAD, Baker at Qualia Clinical Services). Their gestations corresponded to the genesis of TAGG. When Baker was pregnant with her first child, she heard that Qualia was shuttering its Omaha operations. Around that time, Fischer asked Baker to help with some projects at EAD. And while Fischer was on maternity leave, she began brainstorming business ideas. One idea came from constantly being barraged by “cute kids wanting to sell stuff” for fundraising.

“I remember standing in my office, holding my resignation letter, thinking, ‘This is real. We’re doing this…”

– Leslie Fischer

Fischer says she remembers Baker saying, “Doesn’t there have to be a better way than this poor kid schlepping through all the neighborhoods?”

For Fischer and Baker, the Groupon business model kept coming up. The popular web coupon site Groupon offers different deals for products, services, and events. Specifically, Fischer and Baker were interested in taking Groupon’s voucher system for deals and applying it to fundraising. From early 2011 until May 2012, Baker and Fischer kept bouncing ideas around.

In May 2012, Baker and Fischer quit their jobs to devote all of their resources into launching TAGG.

“I remember standing in my office, holding my resignation letter, thinking, ‘This is real. We’re doing this,’” Fischer says.

Baker was pregnant at the time.

“I thought I was going to have a miscarriage from stress,” Baker says.


tagg1For most businesses, the first year of operation comes with a few horror stories. For Baker and Fischer, theirs revolved around the key component of TAGG—its website. After quitting in May 2012, Baker and Fischer planned to launch TAGG around the Fourth of July of that year. Unfortunately, the website developer, who was working in Colorado, hadn’t completed the back-end work for the website.

“I ended up spending the Fourth of July on the phone with our lawyer to get our code from this guy,” Fischer says.

Fischer and Baker agreed it was best to scrap the design and start fresh. They relaunched that fall.

Since launching, TAGG has gained 175 businesses committed to donating 5 percent of customers’ scanned receipts to local charities. Twenty thousand people have downloaded the TAGG app. And TAGG now operates out of a West Omaha office, a far cry from kitchen table conversations that created TAGG.

“It feels like forever ago, and yesterday at the same time,” Fischer says.

Visit togetheragreatergood.com for more information.

On the Move

April 10, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally Published in March/April/May 2015 B2B.

This isn’t the first time the owners of The Bookworm have done this whole move thing. Beth and Phil Black have owned the independent bookstore for nearly 30 years and last fall they moved into their third location, anchoring the new Loveland Centre at 90th Street and West Center Road.

It’s a move the couple felt necessary for the future of the store.

Since the recession, the climate for brick and mortar booksellers, like many other industries, has been less than kind. Yet The Bookworm, which opened at Regency Court in 1986 and then moved to Countryside Village in 1999, continues to serve a faithful reading public.

“We’ve got loyal customers,” says Beth Black. “Omaha supports local. Omaha is incredible in how it gets behind local businesses. And we’ve got wonderful workers here who really love books. Who want to put the right book into people’s hands.”

“We are noticing more young families coming in and it’s a better layout—everything on one level,” Black says. “The expansion is good. There are a lot more people saying it’s easier to get here and we are seeing more people from Council Bluffs, Papillion, and Ralston. It’s been a good move.”

The layout is different, and the wide-open look has led some people to think the store is a new business. A lot of the “coziness” of the old Countryside Village location was out of necessity due to cramped spaces. For some customers, the change has taken some getting used to, Black says.

“We went through the same things when we moved from Regency,” she says. “It’s just different—it’s a change. Our customers take ownership in the store. It’s their store. The physical store has changed, but nothing else. We’ll hear moms come in and say, ‘See they still have cookies’ and, ‘Look. Carl the dog is still here.’”

Several recent trips to The Bookworm, both during the week and on weekend days, saw a good number of browsers, very similar to typical traffic at the old Countryside Village location. Black says another thing the store has going in its favor is the support of the city. Omaha, she says, doesn’t just shop local; it’s also a very intelligent city.

“People read here,” she says. “Even people with all their electronic devices they still like a book. And whenever there is an event in Omaha people call us to sell books.”

Black says The Bookworm will be selling books at the Holland Lecture Series for the upcoming appearance of activist and author Angela Davis on March 4. The Bookworm is involved every year in the Berkshire Hathaway weekend.

“Everyone wants to know what Warren and Charlie are reading,” she says. “They both are big readers and promote reading.”

Black says she’s sure this is the final move for The Bookworm. She says that the staff looks forward to being a part of Omaha for a long time to come.

20150116_bs_6229

Jazz Age to Tech Age

January 13, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The grande dame of Omaha book clubs began as a sewing club 90 years ago. Women in white gloves and cloche hats met in homes for elegant Monday lunches.

They read such books as E.M. Forster’s Passage to India and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tales of the Jazz Age. Founding members were indeed living in the Jazz Age—also called the Roaring Twenties. Women who began the club in 1924 most likely bought their books from Matthews Book Store at 1620 Harney St. In those days, a new book cost about 50 cents.

High school-age “book boys” were paid to pick up books from members’ homes and take them to other members’ homes so they could be shared. Interesting side note: There are only two “book girls” on record.

Member Lois Reynolds inherited a piece of the club’s history when she received 24 luncheon trays and other items from when her mother-in-law, Laura Reynolds, hosted the Monday Book Club.

Reynolds remembers in the 1960s when her future husband’s mother would talk about the elegant luncheons.

“It was a big deal to get ready for the ladies coming for lunch,” says Reynolds. “They got out their silver and good serving pieces.” Hostesses brought out their best china and linens.

But times changed and so did the club. Members started meeting at city clubs, restaurants, and even a bowling alley.

They met at the Hilltop House. It closed. They met at the legendary Blackstone Hotel. It closed. They met at the Omaha Club, Younkers, the Ranch Bowl, the Fireside Restaurant, and the Sky Room at the Center. All were Omaha landmarks that have 
since closed.

“When I joined we were at the Plaza Club Cloud Room, which has since closed,” says Karen Kennedy, president of the Monday Book Club, which she says is Omaha’s oldest active book club.

“We now meet at the Omaha Country Club, but on Fridays, since we learned that country clubs are closed on Mondays.”

Yes, that’s right. The Monday Book Club meets on Fridays.

“We used to have hostesses for centerpieces and menus. But when we went to the Omaha Country Club, it became easier if we paid an annual membership fee,” says Kennedy, a member for 14 years.

“Dues are now $135, which includes lunch, operating expenses, an annual donation to a charity, and occasional speakers.”

Members now bring their books for sharing with others to the monthly luncheon meetings (the “book boys” lost their jobs), which are held October through May.

Speakers are sometimes invited to talk about such topics as making a will, writing a book, poetry, and safe driving. A slide show about the coronation of Queen Elizabeth was a 1955 luncheon program. In 1957, the speaker was an anthropologist.

Most of the club’s 40 members buy books at the locally owned The Bookworm, where they receive a discount.

“We then take the book to the first meeting, check it out for a month, and bring it back to the next luncheon meeting,” says Kennedy. “This way we get a variety of books. We hope they read something they otherwise may not. We share the love of good books and good company.”

When Beth Black moved The Bookworm to Countryside Plaza in 1999, she inherited many book clubs from the Village Bookstore that had been located there, including the Monday Book Club.

“We have more than 60 active registered book clubs,” says Black, co-owner of the bookstore. “Only about a dozen are like the Monday Book Club, old-fashioned book clubs that pass books on to members but don’t discuss them.”

“It is old-fashioned,” agrees Kennedy. “That’s a fine word. It’s about fun 
and friendship.”

Members ask Black and her staff at The Bookworm for recommendations. The store keeps a list of the books that members buy, so they do not duplicate each other’s purchases.

The book club’s members decided to stop exchanging holiday gifts at the Christmas luncheons and instead give money each year “to an organization that we believe in,” 
says Kennedy.

Donations have been made to such nonprofits as Child Saving Institute, CASA, The Salvation Army, and the Stephen Center. Most significant for a book club are donations to literacy and the library foundations and the Omaha Public Library.

Few of the book club’s records go back before the 1950s, says Kennedy, but the group’s history is perhaps best told 
in bloodlines.

The Reynolds are a prime example of how families have passed participation in the Monday Book Club down through generations. Lois has been a member for six years; her mother-in-law was a member for 40 years; her husband’s aunt, Louise Reynolds, also was a long-time member.

Members’ names over the years have included those of well-known individuals in the community. Presently all members of the venerable club are women.

What if a man wanted to join the all-female group? “I don’t think we would turn them away,” says Kennedy.

Lydia Kang is in Control.

December 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lydia Kang has delicate, tiny hands. A long ponytail. She wears simple jewelry: a couple bracelets and some earrings.

That’s nearly as much detail as you’ll get about the characters she writes. Kang’s debut novel, Control, will be released the day after Christmas. “I would say I write for the impatient reader,” she says with a laugh. “I won’t spend three pages discussing why a certain scene is meaningful. I’ll try to get to the core of what is important and emotional and move onto that.”

A young-adult novel with a sci-fi twist, Control follows a young woman named Zelia as she overcomes her father’s death, her sister’s kidnapping, and her own introduction to a society of misfit teens that the government wants the world to forget.

While Zelia is kind of a blank slate, Kang does allow a couple extra descriptors for some of Control’s more unique characters. “Hex is Asian,” she says, describing a young man with four arms, “and Vera is Latina, although you can’t really tell because she’s green.” Oh, and Wilbert has two heads. He switches his sentience between them so he never has to sleep.

This is the kind of medical-thriller world readers get when it’s provided by a sci-fi fan who also happens to be a doctor. Kang, a New York City transplant, has worked at University of Nebraska Medical Center for the past seven years as a general internal medicine physician. She minored in English and has been published in a few medical journals, but, she says, “I have to credit Omaha—this is where I really started writing.” 

Shortly after moving to Omaha with husband Yungpo Bernard Su and giving birth to her youngest of three children, Kang took a stab at writing some poetry. “And it was really horrible poetry, really bad stuff,” she says, “but I thought, you know, this is kind of fun.”

After a few writing seminars and a couple of what she calls “practice novels,” Kang was ready in 2010 to put her latest idea to the test—a story centered around a young woman living with Ondine’s curse, an ailment that can cause respiratory arrest during sleep. “I was studying for my boards recertification,” she recalls, “and I couldn’t remember hearing about it in medical school. And I thought it was really fascinating and horrific and sad. And wouldn’t it be interesting to have a character with that?” She wrote her first draft in three months, she signed on with an agent in 2011, and a couple weeks later Control was picked up by Penguin.

To make herself more attractive to the publishing world, Kang also began blogging in 2010. But what to blog about other than the challenges of writing? “There are a million blogs out there like that,” she recalls thinking. “Do I have anything else to offer? And I sat there wondering, what makes me different, what do I have to offer, do I have any skills that I can share with people? And then—oh. I’m a doctor.” She laughs now at how completely she had separated her life in medicine from her writing life.

Kang spread the word online that if a writer were struggling with a fictional medical scenario, she’d assist them with authoritative advice. For example, an author might need a character to wake up after, say, a half hour; Kang could suggest a drug that might work in such a situation. She’s advised on medical situations that have been published in other books, and one author even gave her a cameo appearance in a book as Dr. Kang.

For the foreseeable future, she’ll remain Dr. Kang in both literary and real life. Though she plans to release Control’s sequel, Catalyst, in early 2015 and is currently revising a fantasy novel for her agent’s consideration, Kang says it would take a lot to make her give up practicing medicine to write full-time. “I really love my patients. It’s a bit hectic at times,” she admits, laughing, “but I’m managing.”

 A book release party for Control will be held Jan. 18 from 2-4 p.m. at The Bookworm in Countryside Village, 8701 Pacific St.