We were supposed to choose our top ten, but some I read were in a series, so I grouped them together – cheating? nah, just a way to promote more books! Changes from previous years – I read a lot more nonfiction that I usually do – and not as much literary fiction, though there were a lot of enticing releases. Here’s the list, in no particular order.
I’ve always loved to read so I can travel somewhere else, but thank goodness for reading and books in these last couple of years. They were a means to escape the stresses of the daily pandemic, to think about something different for a bit. This doesn’t mean the books I enjoyed were not challenging for the most part, but they let my brain shift to another time, another character, another place. And at the same time, they encouraged my engagement with essential issues: gender, autocracy, art, racism, antisemitism, history, language, belonging, love.
Some of these were published this year, some fiction, a couple of non-fiction, some I found on my own, others recommended by readers that I know. There are many more to get to and the pile next to my bed is still unwieldy, but I was held steady and engaged with the following titles:
The Twilight Zone by Nona Fernandez, Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel andSongs for the Flames: Storiesby Juan Gabriel Vasquez are all novels set in South America. I’ve always been interested in South American countries, their histories and political trends, and these titles all tell of that violent history, blurring the lines between fiction and nonfiction, to try to capture the otherworldly feelings of war and terrorism and how everyday people tried to understand and respond.
In. by Will McPhail, And Now I Spill the Family Secretsby Margaret Kimball, andThe Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel are graphic novels that cover a range of topics, from loneliness and the need for connection. to family dysfunction, to the emergence of fitness culture in the U.S. Funny, informative, moving, weird – mixed with great art – what else do you need?
A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ni Ghriofa, Not a Novelby Jenny Erpenbeck and Letters to Camondo by Edmund de Waal are memoirs/biographies, stories of self with a lot of history mixed in. I loved A Ghost it the Throat, written so beautifully by an Irish poet, a book that dives into the lives of women, current and past, through an exploration into a famous Irish poem. Not a Novel is a series of essays by novelist Erpenbeck about her life growing up in East Germany and the lasting effects on her life. Letters to Camondo is told through a series of letters about a Jewish-French art collector who tried to assimilate into French culture but whose prodigy were destroyed by war and French collaboration. De Waal’s Hare with the Amber Eyesis great, too.
The rest of my favorites are novels that have struck me in some way: through writing, story, humor, insight. These include Matrix by Lauren Groff, about a 12th century nun who creates her own feminist idyll and Our Country Friendsby Gary Shteyngart, who writes of a group of friends forced together during the pandemic, modelled on Anton Chekhov’s plays. Then there was The Wrong End of the Telescope, by Rabih Alameddine, with moods ranging from funny to devastating, about a transgender doctor who left Lebanon to live her life, and has now returned to the Meditteranean to help refugees. Oh, William! is Strout‘s latest about Lucy Barton and is told as if Lucy is spilling it all to the reader. It’s sparse, but playful, informed by Lucy’s traumatic past. Carter Sickels‘ The Prettiest Star, won the 2021 Ohioana Book Award in Fiction; it’s the story of a young man who left Ohio to be able to live his true life, who returns home to his family, dying of AIDS. Exploring hatred, prejudice, ignorance and love, it’s a gem. Snowflake by debut Irish author Louise Nealon, is compared to Sally Rooney’s books, but I found it to be less angsty and more interesting. Nealon’s protagonist is from poor stock, but is smart and so is accepted into university. As she meets people more affluent than her, she learns that they might not be as happy as she imagined.
I’ll finish with two last books. One, I’ve started, but haven’t finished: Kinby Miljenko Jergović, a Croation author. At 800 or so pages, it’s going to take me through this Winter, but so far it’s the kind of book I love. Set in Eastern Europe, it’s an epic about generations of family living through history that changed everything around them. And the last is the most recent in a science fiction series, The Wayfarers by Becky Adams. To me, her books are a perfect blend of envisioning the future, with a firm grip on humanity and a dose of humor thrown in.
I hope you find something to carry you through this time in the books that I’ve loved this year. If you have any favorites to recommend, feel free to comment and share!
We are so very excited to have Sara Dykman come to speak with us on Monday, August 2. By now, you’ve read all about Sara’s book Bicycling with Butterflies, and her trip on Butterbike, where she travelled with the monarchs on their journeys North and South, visiting schools and nature centers on her quest to educate children and adults about the plights of these orange and black beauties.
But did you know that this is Sara’s fourth adventure journey? Sara belongs to a group called Beyond A Book, a group that describe themselves, as “…an adventure-linked education project that connects real-time adventures to classrooms creating opportunities for real-life learning inspires students to push their limits and explore the planet.”
I’m looking forward to asking Sara about how she got started on these adventures, what inspired her as a child to seek out opportunities to not only push herself physically, but help the planet at the same time? I’d also like to know more about her art (see the watercolor above). What a talented person!
I’ll leave you with this recommendation for the book from naturalist Jane Goodall. She describes the book as, “An extraordinary story in which Dykman seamlessly weaves together science, a real love of nature and the adventure and hazards of biking with butterflies from Mexico to Canada and back.”
I saw my first Monarch yesterday, floating over my flower beds, landing on my milkweed, maybe (fingers crossed) laying an egg that will start the cycle of the Monarch all over again, from egg, to chrysalis, to butterfly, to Mexico!
In Bicycling with Butterflies, the author Sara Dykman begins her journey in Mexico where the Monarchs overwinter, and follows the Monarchs as they start their 3,000 mile journey north to reproduce and start new generations. The Monarchs have been at their overwintering sites in Mexico since early November, roosting in high altitude, tropical fir forests. Mexico has created monarch sanctuaries to protect these overwintering grounds, the Cerro Pelon and Piedra Herrada sanctuaries in the State of Mexico, and El Rosario and Sierra Chincua on the eastern edge of Michoacán state.
If you want to visit these sanctuaries from November to March, you’d fly into Mexico City and travel to Zitácuaro, Michoacán, the closest major city. Be forewarned, however: monarch roosts are at high altitude, and you need to hike or ride a horse to see the sites closely.
Monarch butterflies and their sanctuaries are threatened by climate change, loss of habitat, the eradication of milkweed, and toxic pesticides. There has also been concern that violence and illegal logging in the area will affect those who work and support the sanctuaries.
I for one, would love to escape our Cleveland Winter in December for trip to see the Monarchs. There are so many ways to visit and support them from your doorstep as well – plant milkweed, plant a pollinator garden, advocate for habitat restoration, and, of course, keep informed! And register for our talk with author Sara Dykman, who, I’m sure, will have many more suggestions for ensuring that future generations experience the magic of Monarchs!
Last week I suggested a few sources for native plants. This week, I’m going to share some resources so you can learn more about native plants, which are the best for this area, and how to plant them – do they need sun? shade? clay soil or wet soil? What about planting across the seasons – having something that blooms in the Spring for early pollinators, and into late Fall for the butterflies still making their way? Here are books and websites that will help you cultivate a pollinator pathway!
Our 2021 One Book, One City reads are all about Monarch butterflies, tracing their travels, and learning about the importance of their journey. Monarchs are amazingly beautiful, but are just one of many pollinators that are threatened by decreasing habitat and climate change. If you remember one thing, remember that pollinators support our food crops – and finding ways to decrease habitat destruction or build new habitat will provide sustenance to future generations.
Native plants and their varying cultivars have evolved together with pollinators, and so have ideal flower sizes and shapes to support the many pollinators we need. And because they’re from Ohio, they’re easy to grow – no picky plants in the bunch! Here at Rocky River Public Library, with the help of the Beach Cliff Garden Club and library volunteers, we put in a pollinator garden that is officially certified by Monarch Watch. We’ve called our garden “Monarch Trails & Tales” and it includes milkweed for Monarchs, their only food, as well as numerous native perennials. Take a look at it the next time to visit and see what kinds of pollinators you spot – there’s butterflies and bees of course, but also small flies that are essential to pollination!
Lots of local nurseries sell native plants, and the Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District sell native plants in groups of 50 for a reasonable cost. If we all sacrifice a little lawn or even plant containers of native plants, we can grow and nurture our pollinator population, creating pollinator pathways and beautiful gardens at the same time.
It’s been a couple of months since the Cleveland International Film Festival held their 2021 event. Again this year, all films were available through streaming; they should be back to live and in person beginning on March 30, 2022!
Beth, Mary and I were lucky enough to be able to attend the Film Festival, watching a total of 11 films all together, from around the world, including the film sponsored by Rocky River Public Library, For Madmen Only, directed by Heather Ross.
We chatted about all the movies we watched – you can check it out on our YouTube channel. We really enjoyed all the movies we picked, which is not always the case :).
Semanur’s off this week, so I get the fun task of letting you know what books are coming out today!
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn: Joining the elite Bletchley Park codebreaking team during World War II, three women from very different walks of life uncover a spy’s dangerous agenda against a backdrop of the royal wedding of Elizabeth and Philip.
Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson: A portrait of the Nobel Prize-winning scientist explores the impact of James Watson’s The Double Helix on her career and how her team’s invention of CRISPR technology enabled revolutionary DNA-editing approaches to fighting disease.
Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison: Disregarding messages from an anonymous texter who claims her fiancé is not the man he pretends to be, Claire travels to Italy for her destination wedding before harrowing discoveries and accidents expose ominous family secrets.
Everything After by Jill Santopolo: Helping troubled students navigate personal losses, a university psychologist is forced to reckon with her own painful past when a tragic event compels her to reevaluate her goals, passions and sense of identity.
The Little French Bridal Shop by Jennifer Dupee: Renovating an inherited colonial property in her Massachusetts hometown to manage painful losses, Larissa buys a wedding gown as a private joke only to have word of her impending nuptials spread throughout the community. A first novel.
The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan: The scattered members of a Middle-Eastern clan unite at an ancestral home in Beirut to change a new patriarch’s decision to sell the property, igniting revelations about their family’s past in Lebanon, Syria and the United States.
My Heart by Semezdin Mehmedinovic: An intimate work of autobiographical fiction by the author of Sarajevo Blues traces the experiences of a writer who in the wake of a life-risking heart attack reevaluates his past as a member of a Bosnian war refugee family.
My Old Home: A Novel of Exile by Orville Schell: A former Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism dean and Emmy Award-winning PBS producer presents the story of a rare Chinese student at 1950 San Francisco’s Conservatory of Music who upon returning home is confronted by an erratic new government.
Sarahland by Sam Cohen: A debut story collection imagines new origins and futures for its cast of unforgettable protagonists—almost all of whom are named Sarah.