Winter Reading BINGO: Spotlight on Books Set in Another Country

book-mapDo you need a suggestion for reading a book set in another country or written by an author from another country? Well you are in luck – there are a wide range of books, both fiction and nonfiction, short and long. Here are just a few:

First I’ll list a few authors with a variety of titles:

Albanian writer Ismail Kadare
Chilean author Isabel Allende
Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa
Canadian author Margaret Atwood

And here are a few individual titles:

First They Killed My Father: a Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea (Cuba)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Sweden)
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Ethiopia)
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (France)
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (India)
The Diary of Anne Frank (Netherlands)
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (North Korea)
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Iceland)
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (South Africa)
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (Hungary)

and three classics:
Beowulf (Denmark)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (England)
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (Russia)

You could also read and Irish author; there’s The Dubliners by James Joyce or Tara Road by Maeve Binchy. How about a poetry book such as The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (Lebanon) or Shanghai Girls by Lisa See? So many possibilities! If you don’t see something you’re interested in, feel free to stop by the Reference Desk for a suggestion – we’d be glad to help.

~ Dori

 

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Top Books of 2018

I’ve had a bit of a slow reading year, but I still managed to find many treasures in the stacks. Some I read, others I listened to – through them I journeyed all over the world and went on a few adventures. Here’s a list of my favorites in no particular order:

greatThe Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai: The AIDS crisis in Chicago during the 80s, a difficult mother-daughter relationship, a job at a Northwestern art gallery – all of these elements spoke to me – I loved this book.


polishThe Polish Boxer
by Eduardo Halfon: After seeing his newest book, Mourning, on a few critic’s list, I decided to read this earlier one. Lyrical,  contemplative, autobiographical fiction about displacement and identity.

severanceSeverance by Ling Ma: A satire set in a dystopian world where a virus turns people into zombies who continue to perform routine actions – it’s told through the eyes of millennial worker bee Candace Chen, who is strangely nonplussed by this epic plague.

terribleA Terrible Country by Keith Gessen: Andrei is not doing too well in New York City so when his brother Dima enlists him to return to Russia to help care for his ailing grandmother, he jumps at the chance. A fascinating look at Russia and funny to boot!

americanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I can’t believe it took me so long to read this – what a great book about Nigeria, immigration, race, love and expectations.

pachinkoPachinko by Min Jin Lee: Hands down, the best book I read this year. It’s the story of four generations of a Korean family in Japan. Beautifully written, insightful, detailed, matter of fact but loving, just great.

greenhouseThe Greenhouse by Audur Ava Olafsdottir and The Atom Station by Haldor Laxness: I travelled to Iceland in September, so I read The Greenhouse Before I left. Though it wasn’t really set in Iceland, it was a lovely book about a young man’s coming of age. In Iceland, I visited the house of Nobel prize winning author Haldor Laxness (do visit if you go there – so cool) and bought The Atom Station atomthere. Laxness has an interesting style and I learned a lot about Iceland in the early 20th century, the government, the the social classes, and of course about drinking The Black Death (Brennevin – quite delicious)!

friendThe Friend by Sigrid Nunez: Winner of the National Book Award, this is a meditation on writing, suicide, grief, and the pleasure of dogs, amongst others.

belongingBelonging: a German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug: a wonderful autobiographical graphic novel about a German woman who digs into her past to discover more about her family’s role during the Nazi era and the silences afterwards. It’s packed with letters, photos and remembrances from her childhood.

BONUS BOOKS: November Road by Lou Berney and Sunburn by Laura Lippman are both really well-written crime/thrillers with great characters. There There by Tommy Orange is an eye-opening look at multiple Native Americans who converge at a powwow in Oakland. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner takes you inside a woman’s prison and the circumstances that can bring you there. Oh and I forgot An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – such an amazing book about a marriage and an innocent man accused of a crime.

Wow – I came up with more than I originally thought – I guess it’s always a good year for  reading!

~ Dori

 

Mary’s Top Ten of 2018

Mary’s Top 10 for 2018

My Top 5 Books:

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

There is so much to like about this book. The two main characters are flawed, however, you will yearn for them to rise up & come to terms with their lives.  I learned about Chicago (my home away from home), Paris, both present day and in the 1910’s, inspirational artists who were sowing their seeds in Paris in the early 1900’s, and last, but certainly not least, the AIDS epidemic at its height in  1980’s Chicago and its tragic aftermath.

 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This is a fantastic piece of historical fiction.  Sunja, the main character, is an unconventional matriarch, whom we follow throughout the entire story.  It begins in the early 1900’s with her birth, and culminates in 1989.  This story is about 4 generations of a Korean family coming terms with what it is like to be Korean in a Japanese society.  There is  much to learn here about the  perils and struggles of the Korean community.

 

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

This is another superb historical fiction book.  I learned a lot about tea… so much tea.  Again, the main character, Li-Yan, is unconventional, yet so strong in her own quiet ways.  The reader learns about farming tea, life in a small Chinese village, adapting to an ever-changing world, adoption and the impact, not only on the child, but the entire community.

 

Educated A Memoir by Tara Westover

I love good narrative nonfiction, and this certainly fit the bill.  It never ceases to amaze me when I read about the resilience of children growing up in a very chaotic environment, raised by a parent lacking in nearly all conventional parenting skills … and yet these children survive, and in this case, achieve great academic success despite the odds.  These type of books are great for book clubs because, trust me, you will want to talk about it.

 

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

This title was also the Library Community read.  Unlike, the book above, not everyone is a survivor in this one.  This book is about residents in low income neighborhoods in the city of Milwaukee, desperately trying to make ends meet, despite the unjust housing system in which they live in.  This is a very engaging, readable piece of nonfiction.

 

 

My Top 5 Movies:

Juliet Naked

I didn’t know that I liked Ethan Hawke so much. I have not watched a movie this year that he has starred in that I didn’t love ( Maudie and Maggie’s Plan both wonderful too).  This is a moving, yet feel-good kind of movie. It’s all about choices, second chances and moving forward.

 

Tully

I will admit that I nearly turned this movie off about 45 minutes in, and then everything changed, so hang in there.  Tully is such a simple yet complex woman struggling with “the baby blues”.  If you are like me, you will have compassion for Tully, you will understand Tully, in the end, you will love Tully.

I Am Not Your Negro

This film is a heartfelt & sweeping documentary of Alec Baldwin’s experiences in the tumultuous 60’s. You will be thinking about this one long after you hit the eject button. There is so much to learn about the great African American leaders, and the american experience of the African American community. We have so much to learn from our history, we simply need to take the time to listen.

Faces Places

I tried to stay away from Academy Award nominees & winners because they must be good, right?  Not always the case for me, but with this film, they hit the nail on the head.  Another feel-good film that follows a couple of artists pursuing…well, their art.  Their relationship is so charming, their travels are interesting, and their art is wonderful. What more do you need?

Amelie

Okay, I will admit I watched this one because I want to look like Amelie.  Who doesn’t want to look like an adorable French woman?  After watching this film, I want to be Amelie.  I want to be a free spirited, unique, adventurous, kind & beautiful young french woman…oh, and live in France.  For now I will live vicariously through this charming movie. By the way, it is in French, and watching foreign films makes me feel smart… another bonus!

Little Men

I eyed this film on the shelf FOREVER, and it did not disappoint. This is a wonderful coming of age story about a 13 year old boy, but so much more.  The film is about relationships, gentrification in Brooklyn, self discovery for the young and the old.  Don’t judge these characters to hastily, they may surprise you.

 

I hope you can make time for, at the least, one of my choices in 2019. I would LOVE to hear about your choices too.  Stop by at the Adult Reference desk & we’ll chat. Meanwhile, my best for a happy new year!

Byron’s Top Ten of 2018

Eight out of my top ten this year I listened to on CDs during my commutes. Half are written by women and half by men. Half of these also have a strong connection to Hollywood or the entertainment industry, which is one of my favorite subjects in both fiction and non-fiction. Try out some of these recommended titles for yourself and Happy Holidays!

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

narrated by Edoardo Ballerini

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

narrated by Wil Wheaton

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

narrated by Neil Gaiman

Circe by Madeline Miller

narrated by Perdita Weeks

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

narrated by Elizabeth McGovern

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

narrated by Kimberly Farr

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal

narrated by Sean Runnette

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

narrated by Kathe Mazur

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1960 by Jeanine Basinger

 

Bonus: Two 5 star films in my opinion. One deservedly received recognition in last year’s awards season. The other is in limited theatrical release right now, so you would have to wait for the movie to be available at our library.

Lady Bird (2017) directed by Greta Gerwig

Mirai (2018) directed by Mamoru Hosoda

What we’re reading in November

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes 

Cover image for Things are starting to look up for Dix Steele.  Looking for a new start in post-WWII Los Angeles he has found a swanky new apartment and reconnected with his old war buddy, now a homicide detective, Brub.  All he needs now is to find love, and he has his eye on his alluring neighbor, an up-and-coming starlet, Laurel Gray.  If he can have Laurel all to himself, he may not even strangle women walking alone at night anymore.  Well that, and if Brub’s nosy wife Sylvia would stop being suspicious of Dix and find him charming and agreeable like everyone else.  An excellent post-war noir that subverts some of the traditional misogynist motifs of the genre.  Megan Abbott, an accomplished noir author in her own right, has written more knowledgeably on how In A Lonely Place accomplishes this in the Paris ReviewTrent

 

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Cover image for This is the source material for the Disney animated movie The Sword in the Stone as well as the Broadway and movie musicals Camelot. It includes four books in one: The Sword in the Stone, The Witch in the Wood, The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind. I am still in the first book, so not very far into the story of King Arthur. The fantasy adventure has a comic tone that I was not expecting. I thought the Disney movie was responsible for the funny talking animals and Merlin’s absent-mindedness. However, those aspects are present in the novel. Merlin and the author as narrator make anachronistic references to appeal to readers of the 1950s and 1960s close to the time when the novel was published. In fact there are a couple satiric jabs at current society since it is suggested that Merlin has been to the future and is living backward through time. It is a massive medieval adventure, but so far the chapters move along quickly. At least while Arthur is known as a boy named The Wart in the first book it seems like it is aimed more at younger readers, but I wonder if the tone changes later when Arthur reaches adulthood. I’ll keep reading and find out.  Byron

 

November Road by Lou Berney

Cover image for November road :Frank Guidry, a charming, well-dressed gangster who works for a New Orleans mob boss, has just returned from Dallas after following orders to deliver a blue Eldorado, when he learns that JFK has been assassinated. When Frank receives orders to return to Texas to dump the car in the ocean, he knows that his involvement means he’s next to die and decides to run for his life, a ruthless hitman in hot pursuit.  Meanwhile, Charlotte, mother of two young girls, decides to leave her alcoholic husband in Oklahoma and travel to Los Angeles to find a better life. When these two meet on Route 66, sparks fly and Frank convinces Charlotte to travel with him – the perfect cover – but he soon realizes that he could grow to like this new role.  Evocative and suspenseful, it’s got 60s sensibility, romance, a road trip, seedy motels, neon-lit Las Vegas, diners and Dylan. I listened to the fantastic audiobook version through Hoopla! Dori

 

 Prophecy and Politics: Socialism, Nationalism, and the Russian Jews, 1862-1917  by Jonathan Frankel

Cover image for Prophecy and politics :This is one of the more challenging books I’ve read this year, since there is a lot of information and, unfortunately, the font is small.  I also have traditionally struggled with reading books on history, but I’m giving it another go.  The book, at its best, is fascinating, and it can read like a novel – it is full of letters and speeches and ideas and characters and excerpts from socialist and nationalist literature.  Much of the book is devoted to the Bund, the group of Jewish socialists, founded in Russia in the 19th century, that spread to Lithuania and Poland.  Members of the Bund struggled with their cultural and political identities – how much were they Jews, and should be devoted to Jewish causes, and how much were they Russians, and should be devoted to Russian causes?  The history of the Bund is in many ways a history of the Russian Revolutions in 1905 and 1917, seen from a Jewish perspective, and it’s been fascinating to see figures like Vladimir Lenin interact with prominent members of the Bund.  It is also a history of Israel before Israel became a nation (the competing ideologies for Russian Jewry in the 19th century became nationalism, with roots in Palestine, and socialism, which had roots in Russia and America).  A challenging but worthwhile read. Andrew

 

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor D. LaValle

Cover image for The ballad of Black TomWith only being 151 pages long this book packs quite a punch. The Ballad of Black Tom is a retelling of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook but from the perspective of Tommy Tester. LaValle’s narrative highlights not just the horrors of the supernatural but of the racism and xenophobia as events unfold. The author creates  characters who are grounded in reality who then deal with the swell of the uncanny. You will be caught up in the fast paced narrative and even fans of the lovecraftian source material will have whiplash from the conclusion and epilogue. Greg 

 

 

The Fallen by David Baldacci

Cover image for The fallenEvery once in a while you need an action book with a good guy who you know will win.  That is Amos Decker in this new Memory Man book, The Fallen.  Amos and his journalist friend Alex take a vacation to visit Alex’s sister in a small, depressed Pennsylvania town.  Even when he is not looking for trouble, trouble finds him, and Amos discovers two dead bodies in the neighbor’s house.  It is soon apparent that something big is going on in this little town, and there’s no telling who is a part of it.  After suffering a concussion, Amos’s infallible memory begins to get a little fuzzy and less reliable.  Will he still be able to solve the case or was his memory the only thing that made him an amazing detective?  A quick and easy read that is a bit predictable but enjoyable none the less.  Sara

 

 Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart

Cover image for Miss Kopp just won't quitThis novel is based on on actual events and centers around two of them.  Anna Kayser’s husband has her committed to an insane asylum for the fourth time under false pretenses, and deputy Constance Kopp knows she doesn’t belong there.  In 1916, Sheriff Robert Heath is running for congress and a new county sheriff will be elected. The new sheriff has no desire in keeping a woman deputy sheriff on board. He quickly dismisses Deputy Kopp. Robert Heath loses the election and Constance Kopp is unemployed. The fourth entry in the Kopp sisters series leaves lots of loose ends to be worked out, but it’s a quick fun read for fans of historical fiction. Emma

 

 

Warcross by Marie Lu

Cover image for WarcrossEmika Chen is a broke, orphaned eighteen-year-old with a criminal record – one she got from hacking computers. And, like the rest of the world, she’s obsessed with a virtual reality game called Warcross (think Quidditch meets Ready Player One). On the opening day of the International Warcross Championships, Emika is hurting for rent money. When she hacks into the game and attempts to steal an expensive item, she glitches herself into the action and reveals her identity. Emika thinks she’s going to be arrested, but instead, she’s pursued by the game’s creator, heartthrob Hideo Tanaka, to become a spy in next year’s tournament. But the sinister plot Emika uncovers could unravel the entire Warcross empire.   I picked up this book because I wanted to be able to recommend more sci-fi to teens. I am really enjoying the pacing of the book (Marie Lu knows how to write a thriller!) and the diverse cast – Emika, like the author, is Chinese American, Hideo is Japanese, and Emika’s Warcross team captain, Asher, uses a wheelchair. Recommend this NYT Bestseller and its sequel, Wildcard, to fans of The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games, and Divergent.  Lyndsey

 

 

 

 

Here’s What We’re Reading in July…

Hide By Matthew Griffin

Cover image for Dealing with the failing health of a partner/spouse is an incredibly difficult and personal experience for anyone, one that can be only compounded by having to keep the true nature of your relationship secret to the world. This is the reality for Wendell and Frank who met right after WWII, fell in love, and made a private life for themselves over the next 60 odd years. This life is threatened when Wendell finds Frank collapsed in the yard. What follows is a novel that goes back and forth from the start of their relationship to the difficulties of the modern day as Frank recovers and Wendell fights to keep it all together. Taxidermy imagery is used throughout which may disturb some readers but it is used as a literary device for identity, superficiality, and the creation of the appearance of artificial life. Greg

 

Two Steps Forward by Graeme C. Simsion

Cover image for This is the story of Zoe Witt who travels to France after the apparent suicide of her husband to visit an old friend. Once there she decides to hike the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile spiritual walk route that winds through France and Spain. Martin Eden, a recently divorced British engineer, is hiking the Camino de Santiago testing out his one-wheeled cart design. The two cross paths multiple times along the way and become more than friends. This is a heartwarming tale of grief, forgiveness, healing, and determination. Emma

 

How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now by James Kugel

Cover image for I’ve been reading a great book about the Bible.  Kugel is an academic, but the book is written for the layperson, and so far it’s been a tour de force.  His approach is to look at stories and passages from the Bible from the perspective of both its ancient interpreters and from modern Biblical scholarship.  This means as a reader sometimes experiencing an intense cognitive dissonance, because the two perspectives seem so deeply divergent (i.e. the thesis that the Bible is divinely inspired, versus the thesis that it was written by four people, the documentary hypothesis).  Kugel himself is an Orthodox Jew, so I’m curious to learn more about how he balances his knowledge of modern scholarship with his faith.  Kugel is an excellent teacher and communicator, and the book is an amazing synthesis of theology, archaeology, history, sociology, psychology, and religious studies.  Andrew

 

Queenpin – Megan Abbott

Cover image for The unnamed narrator, a young woman with limited prospects, takes a job keeping books at a small nightclub.  Soon after she begins practicing some shady accounting, she comes under the scrutiny and then wing of the infamous and ruthless Gloria Denton.  Casinos, racetracks, heists – all the big money in the city runs through Gloria before it makes it’s way to the big bosses out of town.  Gloria will be her access to all the action and the lavish lifestyle to go with it if only she can keep from falling for the wrong guy.  Megan Abbott takes the bones of the same old, time-tested gangster story and gives it new life.  By the end symbols of traditional masculinity are kicked apart and lay shattered and bloody on the floor. Trent

 

The Very Worst Missionary by Jamie Wright

Cover image for In the evangelical church, there is a myth about missionaries: those who do “God’s work” can do no harm. After living in Costa Rica as a missionary for five years, Jamie Wright pulls back the curtain on missionary life, writing about her experiences and observations. She points the finger at the careless and nonsensical ways of “helping” that sending organizations permitted to happen, veiled by the vague language of “loving on people,” “just showing up,” and “hearing from God.” Her stories about mutually exploitative practices, wasted resources, and underequipped ministers were helpful in understanding the gravity of the harm Christian missionaries can do, if not prepared to serve in careful, sensible, and sustainable ways. Even though the content of the book is serious, Jamie’s voice is fun and entertaining, but also scathing – maybe a little like watching a Trevor Noah routine. While I appreciated the foundation that the beginning chapters laid about Jamie’s early years, the final two sections were ultimately the worthwhile ones. Lyndsey

 

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

Cover image for I loved Ruth Ware’s In a Dark Dark Wood, a gripping psychological thriller that left me hanging every step of the way.  Then I read The Woman in Cabin 10 and was mostly just confused by too many characters.  The Lying Game is the best book from Ruth Ware so far.  Four  girls spent a year together at Salten, a second-rate boarding school  in the English countryside until they are forced to leave to avoid a scandal.  Truth be told, no one is sorry to see them go, as their favorite activity was The Lying Game, a game with complicated rules and scoring systems that involved lying to faculty and boarders alike. The number one rule however was, “Never lie to each other”.  Fifteen years after the girls go their separate ways, three of them receive a text from the fourth saying only, “I need you.”  As if time hasn’t passed, the girls run back to Salten and into a situation that is dark, dangerous and brings to light the fact that someone broke Rule #1.   Fabulous descriptions of the eerie  and dark marshlands  in the waterlogged area near the English Channel perfectly set the tone for the story which is an addicting page turner.  Sara

 

There There by Tommy Orange

Cover image for Tommy Orange’s debut novel There There is a window into the lives of urban Native Americans of Oakland, California. We hear from twelve different characters, young and old, embedded in their heritage and barely aware, as they wind their way through stories steeped in tragedy and despair, hope and family, culminating on the night of an Oakland powwow. Read the prologue if you do nothing else – it’s devastating. Dori

 

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

Cover image for A debut psychological thriller and the perfect beach read. Erin, a documentary film maker and her investment banker husband Mark are honeymooning in Bora Bora. This tropical paradise turns into a nightmare when a scuba diving excursion uncovers something sinister in the water. Do Erin and Mark report their finding? Each decision they make after their discovery has dangerous consequences for the young couple. This taut and unsettling  novel is perfect for fans of Ruth Ware and Paula Hawkins. Megan

 

The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara

Cover image for This past month has consisted of doing extra research in order to teach film history to kids/teens in a filmmaking summer camp. As I continue to make an effort to include more diverse voices in my reading choices, I’m now reading The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara through Overdrive. It is a relatively short read, which is what I wanted. In quick chapters Che describes the adventures and misadventures that he and a friend from medical school have while travelling through South America. Next I’ll have to watch the movie adaptation with Gael Garcia Bernal. Byron

 

Us Against You (Beartown #2) by Fredrik Backman

Cover image for This is my first read by the popular author Fredrick Backman, and oddly enough, I did NOT read Beartown.  However, the review of the book caught my interest, and I much enjoyed it.  The reader does not have to read Beartown to understand this book.  The beginning does a very good job of concisely wrapping up Beartown, and swiftly picking up where it has left off.  Beartown is populated with a diverse group inhabitants. Some old , some young, some cranky, some hardworking, some who hardly work, and some dreamers.  Something bad has happened in Beartown, and now its residents are divided.  Much talk about the beloved local hockey team and its future is where this book begins. Changes ensue for the hockey team and the town.  However, this book isn’t just about hockey. This book is about life. It has sadness, tension, fierce competition, politics, kindness (sometimes in the most unlikely of places), love & compassion. You don’t have to love hockey to love this book, you just need to love life. Mary