Hi, my name is Lyndsey, and I plan events for adults at RRPL. Because of my love for young adult literature, juvenile literature, and poetry, at college I studied to be a high school English teacher and minored in theology, if that gives you any indication where my interests lie. Here are the movies, music, and books I most enjoyed this year.
When We Were On Fire by Addie Zierman
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This is a beautifully crafted, sharply felt memoir about a girl raised in an aggressive, strange, and at times manipulative Christian 90s youth culture. As her life went on, the author continued to amass church-inflicted wounds at her conservative college, living and working for a Christian organization in China, and trying to settle into a string of bizarre churches. Eventually she became an alcoholic. When she hit rock bottom, she resolved to work through her anger and depression with a trauma counselor and with the support of her husband. Addie’s prose — her symbolism, her way of recreating a scene and dropping you into it — struck chords in me.
Slow Motion by Dani Shapiro
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Another memoir. At 23, Dani Shapiro had dropped out of college, began having an affair with a wealthy married man (who happened to be her best friend’s father), and fell into drug addiction. Then came the phone call that changed—and possibly saved—her life: her parents had been in a near-fatal car accident. As Shapiro moves home to take care of her parents and work through her addiction, she meditates on how her isolated, overprotected Orthodox Jewish childhood brought her to this point. Shapiro is a master storyteller, and the scenes she creates last beyond the book’s final page. The self-excavation is so well done.
Still by Lauren Winner
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Again, it’s a memoir. Again, it’s about trauma and religion. And again, it’s written by a woman. (Apparently, this year I was all about these types of stories.) After Lauren Winner’s mom dies, her marriage collapses—and so too does her faith. In this honest, smartly written collection of reflections on her “dark night of the soul,” Dr. Winner, who teaches at Duke Divinity school and since the book’s publication became an Episcopal priest, doesn’t let herself settle for easy answers. I just loved her voice: smart, relatable, funny, ballsy, and sometimes, soft.
From Nothing and I Watched You Disappear by Anya Krugovoy Silver
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Anya Silver is–hands down–my favorite poet. She is terminally ill and writes about sickness—hers and her friends’—so, so beautifully. Her poems are accessible but deep. When I read her poetry, I don’t feel like I have to put in a ton of work to unlock it. But, the more attention I gave to her language use, the more meaningful the poems are. I got to meet her earlier this year when she gave a reading in Ohio, and she was as lovely as her poems are.
The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
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It’s 1970. 10 years ago, in 1959, Alaska was made a state, and it forever altered the lives of four children and their parents. Now, those children have become teenagers, and their lives become entangled. When one of the four falls into grave danger, it’s up to the others to step in. Gayle Forman’s blurb said, “Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s Alaska is beautiful and wholly unfamiliar”—and it’s true. Aside from her compellingly drawn characters, The Smell of Other People’s Houses presents us with a side of United States history we haven’t seen before. Alaska comes alive and becomes a character all of its own.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
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Not sure why I didn’t read this book as a kid. It was obvious to me, upon listening to the audiobook, that there is a reason Bud, Not Buddy won pretty much every award known to kid lit: The Newbery Medal, The Coretta Scott King Award, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, IRA Children’s Book Award winner, and on. And on. Christopher Paul Curtis’ narrator, Bud Caldwell, is equal parts perceptiveness and hilarity, and James Avery, who played Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and reads the audiobook, makes Bud’s personality even more vibrant. As an adult, there was a lot to love about this story of a brave orphan searching for family during The Great Depression.
With the men off to war, it’s up to Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) to write the “slop”—otherwise known as female dialogue—for a WWII propaganda film. As Catrin works on the script, she begins to fall for her co-worker Buckley (Sam Claflin), who is the first man to encourage her as a professional and validate her voice. This wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that she’s married. Arterton and Claflin are charming and earnest. Bill Nighy turns in a hilarious performance as a vain, aging Hollywood star who is oblivious to his own self-centeredness.
I Am Not Your Negro
I am so glad to have seen this important film. It is not just an autobiographical film about the author and activist James Baldwin, and it’s not just a film about racial tension in the 1960s. It is a haunting and prophetic in the way that it exposes how anti-black sentiment is still operating in our society, embedded not only into our social and political lives, but into our “cultural imagination.” Juxtaposed with footage of modern-day black deaths (Trayvon Martin et al), Baldwin’s words about the deaths of MLK, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evars were chilling.
This is a fun and light recommendation for watching with family or friends. Mary (Mckenna Grace) is a six-year-old math genius being raised by her Uncle Frank (Chris Evans), a boat mechanic, in a Florida trailer park. Frank decides to enroll Mary in school, because (as he says), her only friends are the landlord (Octavia Spencer) and Fred, their one-eyed cat. One day, Frank’s mother Evelyn shows up and insists that a genius like Mary’s can’t be neglected. She wants to take Mary and give her a “proper,” private education with the best tutors. The film is at its best when Uncle Frank and Mary share the screen. Bring tissues.
A Seat at the Table by Solange
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I heard a lot of great music this year, but if I had to pick one album to recommend, it would be Solange’s A Seat at the Table. Solange’s soprano a treat. The album’s content (songs about how it feels to be black in America) and the album’s style (ranging from funk to soul to R&B) feel classy and timeless. The album is a work of art. As a white woman, I felt privileged to listen in and take, for a moment, a seat at her table.