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Winter Reading Bingo: Spotlight on Local Authors January 7, 2019

Posted by andrewfieldlibrarian in Uncategorized.
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So, as readers of Read it or Weep have come to learn, we are playing Winter Reading Bingo here at Rocky River Public Library.  Earn a bingo square by completing the (fun and edifying) task.  One of the bingo squares, which I”ll focus on in the blog post, is to read a local author.  But which local author, you say?

With so many wonderful Ohio authors to choose from, here are a few to get you started.

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Three novels by Toni Morrison (click on the book to take you to the catalog):

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Collected Poems by James Wright, newly acquired by RRPL:

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Two collections of novels by Dawn Powell (you could read just one novel in the book – each book has a few novels by her):

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Some links to Ohio authors:








BookTalk for Adults January 7, 2019

Posted by Mary in Book Discussion, Debut Author, Uncategorized, Young Adult.
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Friday, January 25th, 10:00 – 11:00, Community Room

This month we will be talking about Young Adult novels.  Young adult literature typically centers on teenagers.  The publishing industry markets these books primarily to young adults, however, that’s not always who reads them.  Did you know that approximately 55% of today’s young adult readers are adults?  At BookTalk this month we will be discussing YA fiction in fantasy and fiction genres.  We will also be talking about best selling YA author John Green, and current best seller novel, Children of Blood and Bone by Tome Adeyemi.  Come join us for coffee and good discussion.

Winter Reading Bingo is Here! January 3, 2019

Posted by Beth in Uncategorized.
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This winter we are so excited to help you meet your 2019 winter reading resolutions that we want to reward you for reading!   From now through February 28th you can participate in our Winter Reading Bingo program here at Rocky River Public Library.   For every bingo you complete, you can earn a raffle ticket to win gift cards, or  two tickets to any Playhouse Square production from March-May 2019.   We will be offering recommendations right here to help you complete squares on our Winter Reading Bingo board.


The first recommendation I’d like to make is to read a collection of short stories.  Here are a few of my favorite short story collections:

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Sara’s Top Ten of 2018 December 14, 2018

Posted by SaraC in Book Discussion, Book List, Book Review, Fantasy, Fiction, First Novel, Genre Book Discussion, New Books, Thrillers, Top Ten, Uncategorized.
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The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

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Four girls attending boarding school participate in a sinister game which involves lying to everyone except each other.  However, years later when a body is found, it becomes obvious that someone broke the only rule of the game.



The Day She Disappeared by Christobel Kent

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When Beth disappears, everyone says she’s run off with another man.  But her best friend Natalie, doesn’t believe that at all, and proving it just might get her killed. A perfectly paced psychological thriller that keeps you wondering until the end.


Where I Lost Her by T. Greenwood

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After heartbreaking infertility and failed adoption attempts, Tess sees a young, half-dressed little girl in the road who disappears into the woods.  But with no other sightings, missing child reports or  witnesses, Tess begins to be doubted by the townspeople and herself.


The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

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Young Eddie and his friends develop a game using chalk figure codes which leads them to a dismembered body and to the end of their game.  Years later chalk figures are showing up again, and one old friend turns up dead.  Eddie must figure out what happened years ago in order to save himself and the others.


Self-Portrait With Boy by Rachel Lyon

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A young female artist accidentally photographs a boy falling to his death—a breathtaking image that could jumpstart her career, but would also devastate her most intimate friendship.




The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

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Essie is the youngest child on Six for Hicks, a hit reality TV show about her family’s life and fire-and-brimstone religious beliefs.  When Essie winds up pregnant, will she be forced into an arranged-blockbuster-marriage episode? Or will she escape her strange, always-on-display life?



The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

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Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy, small-town life is torn apart by a horrifying attack which leaves their mother dead, and their family forever shattered.  Twenty-eight years later, another violent act forces them back together, and brings up long lost secrets and questions.



The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

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Five-year-old Madison disappeared while chopping down her family’s Christmas tree.  Three years later, her parents are still desperate to find her and hire a private investigator known as “the Child Finder,” who is their last hope.



The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

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Tarot card reader, Hal, discovers she has been left an inheritance.  She is certain it is a mistake, but is desperate for cash and decides to play along. But once at the family estate with the brooding, mysterious heirs, she wonders if she has made a terrible mistake.



The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell

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Adrian Wolfe has been divorced twice and recently lost his newest wife to suicide or so it seems.  As Adrian searches for answers, he discovers his perfect modern life with two amicable divorces and 5 step children who love each other seamlessly may not be as perfect as it appears.

Lyndsey’s Top 10 in 2018 December 13, 2018

Posted by lgvora in Uncategorized.
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Hi, I’m Lyndsey. Thanks for taking a moment to scroll through my favorite reads from this year. As with last year, most of my favorites were memoir, nonfiction, and poetry, but some fiction (albeit children’s and teen) made the list too! Enjoy! And please, make sure to tell me if you read a book I recommended. It would make my day!

Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life by Kelsey Miller

This book influenced in the way I think about and relate to food and my body. In this memoir, the author commits to unlearning disordered eating and distorted body image. With the help of an Intuitive Eating coach, she figures out how to eat based on her body’s instincts and how to exercise rationally and sustainably. All throughout this process, she examines how her relationship with food and her body was impacted by family, friends, and significant others. I listened to the audiobook, and Kelsey is hilarious, sharp-as-a-whip, and wholly relatable. I highly recommend this book for any person who has been made to feel shame for their body shape or food choices. It is a liberating and empowering read (or listen).

The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever by Jamie Wright

As a former missionary, I saw a lot of harm done by people claiming to do “God’s work.” This book is an urgent prophetic call to stop that harmful behavior. 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 helped clarify 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.

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

This masterfully-told story tells how four characters – a sweet, shy Filipino American boy, a strong-willed, says-what-she-thinks deaf girl, a mystical Japanese-American girl, and the school bully – cross paths one afternoon in the woods, and how their lives change because of the encounter. This book is everything that a Newberry Medal winner should be: funny, smart, engrossing, poignant, and heartwarming. Hand this to a kid (or adult) who feels afraid or unseen.


Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

From the glowing reviews this book received, I expected that this book would be engrossing, that I would cry, and that the stories Westover told about her childhood would be haunting, striking, masterfully sequenced, and infused with symbolism. What I didn’t expect was that I would resonate so deeply with her experiences of living with abusive family members who need to get help for their mental health. I applaud Tara for her beautiful, brave book that helped me reflect on my own childhood.

Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley

Spoiler alert: This book will make you very, very mad. Read it anyway. Especially if you’re married or thinking about getting married. It’s about the gendering of household labor and management (what has been termed “emotional labor” by scholars). I am only a few chapters in, but already I see how society’s expectations of women can be an unbearable weight that harms relationships overtime. I appreciate the interviewing and research that went into constructing this book, and I am looking forward to what actions Hartley prescribes for spouses seeking a more equal partnership.

The Poet X: A Novel by Elizabeth Acevedo

This book was so (clap) well (clap) done (clap). Poet Elizabeth Acevedo is a former National Slam Champion, and her poetry is as beautiful and innovative as it is powerful. In this novel in verse, twins Xiomara and Xavier Batista are not just children of Dominican immigrants – they are miracle babies. Their ultra-religious mother prayed for children and conceived them in her old age. Mami has always insisted that Xiomara show her gratefulness to God by living a chaste, humble, devoted life, but Xiomara wants freedom to live outside of the church’s expectations. Mami signed her up for confirmation classes at the church, but she wants to skip and attend poetry club and go on dates. But Xiomara can only hide who she truly is for so long. Pro tip: Listen to the audiobook to hear Acevedo’s striking performances of these poems.

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff

It took me a looooong time (six years) to get around to reading this book, but I’m so glad that I did. David Sheff explores the way he and his family coped with his son Nick’s drug addiction, recovery, and relapses. The story is delivered through a journalist’s eyes, so the narrative is peppered with research about addiction and interviews with doctors and addiction counselors. Sheff’s writing is spare in style, straightforward and raw. We ride the rollercoaster of being an addict’s parent along with David, feeling his desperation, anger, defeat, and finally, acceptance. This book should be required reading for anyone who knows an addict – but it is also a really good story about a complicated father/son relationship.

Citizen Illegal by Jose Olivarez

I am trying to convince you to read every book on my list. And you should. But really, the next book you read should be a book of poetry, and it should be this one. These poems have their fingers on the pulse of the Latinx experience. Olivarez’s poems show us what it’s like to be a Mexican immigrant, or the child of Mexican immigrants, in America. The writing is so smart, and it’s in-your-face, and it’s wonderful. But really, I don’t have to tell you that. Just read for yourself.

Second Bloom by Anya Silver

This is the final book of poems from Guggenheim Fellow Anya Silver who passed away this August after living with cancer. As with all of Anya’s books, the poems are brilliant, beautiful, quietly powerful observations of ordinary life: washing the dishes, finding a bird in the house, biting into a pepper, holding her infant son, and comforting a dying friend during the holidays. Truly, a worthwhile and rewarding collection.

Relish by Lucy Knisley

I have been trying my very best to get into graphic novels, and I was lucky to have picked this one up. There was so much to love here. This is a fascinating and fun autobiographical journey through Lucy Knisley’s childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood through the lens of her food. Each chapter centers around a certain dish (for instance, the author’s trip to Mexico during her teenage years exposed her to Mexican cuisine), and at the end of the chapter, Lucy shows us the step-by-step illustrated instructions of how to make that dish. Of course, the book is not just about food – it’s about having divorced parents, traveling the world, and becoming (and being) a woman.

Trent’s Top Ten of 2018 December 13, 2018

Posted by trentross in Book List, Fiction, Top Ten, Uncategorized.
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The top titles I read this year turned out to be mostly crime fiction.  A few other genres sneak in, but I have them mostly relegated to honorable mentions and to a special section for on-going graphic novel series.  Even if most of the titles are contained with the crime genre, I have tried to read from a diverse array of authors.

36301046Bearskin (2018) – James A McLaughlin

Rice Moore to find safety seclusion from his past has taken a job as a caretaker of a remote Appalachian nature preserve.  However, when he comes across a poached black bear in the woods things start falling apart as soon as he starts making inquiries with the locals who are generally wary of outsiders.  Rice spends a lot of time in the untouched Appalachian wilderness which McLaughlin lovingly writes at length in vivid prose.  This is a thriller that will be enjoyed most by those that also enjoy a walk in the woods.

36590432French Exit (2018) – Patrick deWitt

I adore reading deWitt.  I honestly do not much care what is happening in his stories.  Rather, it is his unique perspective and witty presentation of absurd situations that cannot get enough of. This is not my favorite deWitt book – like I said above, I enjoy a western, and The Sisters Brothers is a masterpiece – but it is a great deal of fun all the same.  In French Exit, deWitt lampoons New York high society.

34219838Bluebird, Bluebird (2017) – Attica Locke

Lark is a rural East Texas town that has had two suspicious deaths in quick succession; one a black out-of-state visitor, the other a white local girl.  Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger, decides to head on up to Lark and take the lay of the land.  However, Mathews is still suspended from the Rangers, and the local white sheriff is more interested in sweeping things under the rug than stirring up trouble.  And a strong undercurrent of racial tension running through Lark means there is a lot of trouble to be had.  Full of flawed and interesting characters, rich East Texas atmosphere, and compelling story this was my favorite of the year.

77588The System of the World (2014) – Neal Stephenson

The conclusion of Stephenson’s nearly 3000-page trilogy, Baroque Cycle, is just as ambitious as the first two volumes.  A dense, complicated series that sprawls through history as Europe begins to enter the Age of Enlightenment.  The Baroque Cycle defies to be pigeonholed to a genre; it is part swashbuckling pirate adventure, part history of calculus, part political thriller, and so much more.  Though this series was sometimes a slog it is also the series I continue to contemplate and itch for more.  Perhaps, Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon will be the balm.

11866295Doc (2011) – Mary Doria Russell

I enjoy a western.  There is something about the legends we have constructed around the historical figures and locations of the time that captivate me.  In Doc, Russell does just that by blending fact in fiction as young Dr. John Henry Holliday, also known as Doc Holliday, begins practicing dentistry on the Texas frontier.  Holliday finds it difficult to pay bills on dentistry alone and soon takes up professional gambling and befriends the Earp brothers.  The rest is history… mostly.

9547675A Drop of the Hard Stuff (2011) – Lawrence Block

A Drop of the Hard Stuff is the seventeenth, and likely final, book in the Matthew Scudder series.  While this is a good installment in the series, its selection in this list is so that I can recognize the phenomenal series.  The series begins with a disillusioned Matthew Scudder in 1970s New York that has quit his job with the NYPD and taken up unlicensed PI work and drinking.  Scudder ages in real time and as the series progress Scudder grows and changes with the world around him.  He stops drinking, starts attending AA, and makes and loses friends and relationships.   By the end of the series, Scudder is both the same man and a very different one.  The series spans four decades and it is intensely rewarding to journey along with Scudder as he and New York evolve with time.

52408Queenpin (2007) – Megan Abbot

This was the most fun I had with a book this year. The unnamed narrator, a young woman with limited prospects, takes a job keeping books at a small nightclub.  Soon she begins practicing some shady accounting and is taken under the wing of the infamous and ruthless Gloria Denton.  Casinos, racetracks, heists – all the money in the city runs through Gloria before it makes its way to the big bosses out of town.  Gloria will provide access to the action and the lavish lifestyle if only the narrator 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 toxic masculinity are kicked apart and lay shattered and bloody on the floor.

7896558The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1970) – George V. Higgins

Eddie recently got jammed up by the cops while driving around Vermont with a truck full of stolen booze.  Now that he’s back in Boston with a little time before his sentencing, he’s hoping Foley, a local cop, can put a good word in for him if he feeds Foley a little information.  Eddie, who’s still running guns for the local mob, wants to rat on his source of guns, not the mob boss that Foley is aiming for.  Eddie might not want to go to jail but he’d in an uncomfortable position if people knew he is ratting.  Everyone has an angle and friends are friends only until they aren’t.  Elmore Leonard style dialogue drives this novel that Leonard also called the best crime novel ever written.

592676.jpgThe Grifters (1963) – Jim Thompson

Jim Thompson is not exactly known for invoking the warm and fuzzies with his novels.  If you are searching for something to brighten your day or your view of humanity, look elsewhere.  The Grifters starts with Roy Dillion, a successful short con man, having a bad day.  An easy con goes awry, and he gets an unlucky slug in the stomach that causes unexpected and lasting damage.  While laid up healing Roy’s structured life continues to slip away as he tries to balance the three competing women in his life.

33275967In a Lonely Place (1947) – Dorothy B. Hughes

For the last several years crime novels are the genre that has made up the majority of my reading.  So, when I stumble across an article from an author that I respect, Megan Abbott in this case, and she is calling out In a Lonely Place as a groundbreaking, and subversive novel canon to the genre, my ears perk up, and my to-read list grows and so should yours.  Read my recent Read it or Weep summary here.

Best Continuing Series:

35606630Giant Days, Vol. 7 (2018) – John Allison (Author) and Liz Fleming (Illustrations)

This British bildungsroman centers on three university students as they transition into the complex world of adulthood and living on their own.  Even though the young adults are frequently melodramatic and angsty – as one would expect – it is a series that is immensely humorous, fun, and finds the joy in life even feels hopeless and chaotic.

34228009Lumberjanes, Vol 7: A Bird’s-Eye View (2017) – Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Ayme Sotuyo

Though I no longer even make an attempt to maintain an up-to-date awareness of teen and juvenile publishing, I make sure to know when the next Lumberjanes is to be released.  I was on the verge of dropping the series as a few of the volumes had been a little lackluster, but A Bird’s-Eye View was so pleasantly absurd that I am fulling back on the Lumberjanes bandwagon.  The Lumberjanes inhabit a diverse and adventure-filled world where obstacles are overcome through teamwork and acceptance.

Honorable Mentions:

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Varina (2018) – Charles Frazier

Monstress Vol. 3 (2018) – Majorie Liu (Writer) and Sana Takeda (Artist)

The Bear and Nightingale (2017) – Katherine Arden

The Fifth Season (2015) – N.K. Jemisin

Out (1997) – Natsuo Kirino and Stephen Synder (Translator)


Mary’s Top Ten of 2018 December 12, 2018

Posted by Mary in Book Discussion, Debut Author, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Library Program, Literary Fiction, Movies, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized.
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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.



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?


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!

Greg’s Top Reads of 2018 December 12, 2018

Posted by gregoryhatch in Adventure, Book Discussion, Book List, Book Review, eBooks, Fantasy, Graphic Novel, Horror, Non-Fiction, Reviews, Science Fiction, Top Ten, Uncategorized.
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The Elements of Spellcrafting : 21 Keys to Successful Sorcery
by Jason Miller

A great read for any practitioner or follower of any path. Gives some very practical tips for spellwork and working with spirits.

The Chaos Protocols:Magical Techniques for Navigating the New Economic Reality
by Gordon White

A practical guide that is based in chaos magic but has some great tips for all. Looking about how one can use your individual spiritual/occult practice to deal with the practical concerns of life.

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The Invisibles
by Grant Morrison

Though this comic has been out for decades, it was only this year that I got to it. An absorbing graphic novel that explores themes of oppression, control, and the various prices of bucking the status quo.

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The Ballad of Black Tom
by Victor D. LaValle

A great example of not only building on top of but expanding the source material. This book starts with the framework of Lovecraft and addresses historical and contemporary issues.

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Sheila Hicks : Lifelines
edited by Michel Gauthier

A wonderful visual retrospective of the artist’s work, this volume explores every stage of the artist’s career. Hick’s is a master of color and form and her work is carefully reproduced here.

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by Alan Moore

Again another graphic novel that had been on my radar but I hadn’t gotten to. Promethea is a story that not only explores mythology and the the last 100 years of occultism but seem to reflect many of the author’s own beliefs.

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The Power
by Naomi Alderman

Alderman’s work explores the dynamics of power and gender and how old patterns can reemerge when the world is made new again.

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The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror
by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

A collection of stories about stories, archetypes, and culturally created gender. These tales are filled with horror or uncanniness as Ortberg picks apart the very idea of a fairy tale and our own “norms”.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Book one, The Crucible
by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Read the graphic novel that the Netflix show is based on. There are many differences from the show and this source material and it guaranteed to help tide fans over as they wait for season two.

Clive Barker’s next testament. Volume On
by Clive Barker

A truly terrifying look at what it would be like if our creator came back. An engrossing story, but Barker definitely maintains his horror aesthetic throughout.

Andrew’s Top 10 Books (and Top Five Movies) for 2018 December 11, 2018

Posted by andrewfieldlibrarian in Uncategorized.
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If there was any theme to my own reading this year, it was learning more about the pleasures of taking on challenging (and long!) books.  As the cliche often points out, we really do live in an age of distraction.  Social media is always clamoring for attention, as is the constant news cycle, streaming t.v…….etc.  For that reason, it was such a pleasure to return again and again to one of our oldest technologies (the book), and, without distraction, really focus on and immerse myself in a long narrative, a long work of social science, a long work of history.  It was a lesson in pleasurable perseverance, and an attempt to act somehow in accordance with the values of lifelong learning, which is one of the values I believe our public libraries contribute to.  Reading is one of the primary ways that we remain lifelong learners.  This year, I worked hard to live up to my own readerly expectations, and stay a lifelong learner for as long as I can.

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

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Probably my favorite book ever, by one of my favorite writers ever.  Tolstoy has an uncanny power of representing reality, and it’s unlike any writer I”ve ever come across.  There seem to be no false steps (even if you count his rants about history, which I found mostly fascinating).  Everything for the most part feels as natural and organic as the real texture of lived life.  Tolstoy also, for lack of a better word, seems wise and compassionate to me, at least in some of his fiction, and his knowledge of his characters’ inner lives is nonpareil.  This is the most immersive reading experience I’ve ever had or known (with the possible exception of reading as a child).  Worth as much time as it takes.

2.  The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

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Someone once compared Malamud’s writing to Chopin’s nocturnes.  I”ve always liked the comparison.  Both create subtle, moving, lyrical compositions with emotional depth.  It’s also interesting to compare him to (who else) Tolstoy, since Tolstoy in War and Peace writes on a grand and minute scale, from the immensity of battlefields to the tiny alterations of the heart, while Malamud in The Assistant writes on a much smaller scale, focusing here on the claustrophobic setting of an elderly Jewish man’s grocery stores in Brooklyn in the 1950’s, and the relationship between the grocer’s daughter and an assistant in the shop.  (If you want a more expansive Malamud, especially on the wonders of nature, check out A New Life.)  But the fact that Malamud writes on a smaller scale doesn’t really matter.  The Assistant is a rich and complex and wonderful novel, with characters who feel real, who you come to care about.  Malamud writes with subtlety, creativity and intelligence.  Actually, this year I decided to read everything Malamud wrote, because I loved The Assistant so much, and have always loved his short stories.  Although I didn’t quite succeed in my goal, I still read four of his novels and many of his exquisite short stories.  And I came away from the project the same way I came away from The Assistant – grateful that we have a Malamud we can return to, who brings to vivid life the lives of postwar American Jewry.

3.  Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Here is my short blog post about the book, which I wrote for RRPL’s blog, “Read it or Weep.”

4.   The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

It’s hard (unethical?) to avoid politics.  This was my this-year’s reader’s foray into more political content, as opposed to getting all my political content from social media or magazines.  (I think we should all read more books about politics, and thereby receive more sustained treatments of topics that normally are given bite-size clickbait attention.)  Haidt is the co-author of the recent The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure; he’s also a professor at New York University and founder of Heterodox Academy, an organization that encourages political diversity and constructive disagreement on college campuses.  I found The Righteous Mind utterly fascinating.  Haidt does a great job of talking about how moral decisions (like who to vote for) are first-off intuitive, and then we develop our reasoning to support those decisions. This is a pretty interesting claim.  I also found his Moral Foundations Theory interesting – he claims, based on a lot of studies, that there are six foundations of morality, which are care/harm, liberty/oppression, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. He then argues, again based on a lot of studies, that liberals are primarily concerned with the first three (with the majority of liberals caring most about caring for others and avoiding harming others), libertarians are concerned with primarily with liberty/oppression (liberty from oppressive governance), and that conservatives are concerned with all six foundations to varying degrees (sanctity, for example, explaning the many religious people on the right).  The important point is that each political persuasion, according to Haidt, has a different moral psychology.  I found this to be a helpful conclusion for explaining some political differences.  There was also really interesting stuff about how religion can build strong moral communities, which Haidt uses to argue against the more vocal atheists in the intellectual community.

5. Anna Karenina in Our Time: Seeing More Wisely by Gary Saul Morson

"Anna Karenina" in Our Time: Seeing More Wisely

This was a lucid and penetrating study of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and it changed my thinking about many things, above all how we are supposed to think about Anna and her fate. In Morson’s view, Anna is not the incarnation of love and too alive for this world, but is instead constantly misperceiving things and full of self-deceit. It is the result of these misperceptions – what Morson frames as Tolstoy’s interest in “tiny, tiny alterations of consciousness” – that ultimately lead to her tragic end. There is also a great chapter on Levin, my favorite character in Anna Karenina, and the book ends with some very interesting “Tolstoyan propositions” that Morson culls from Tolstoy’s body of work. A really smart and helpful work of literary criticism.

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

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

Okay, hear me out.  Why would I (absurdly?) recommend a 700-page tome in small font about Jewish life and culture and politics in Russia, Palestine, and America? As someone who struggles with reading history, I can only answer that this book has been, for me, a kind of antidote to distraction, something that I had to work with and through, but always with pleasure and learning.  I’m about two-thirds of the way through, and I’ve learned a lot about the pleasures of reading a more challenging or difficult historical text.  I’ve also, of course, learned a great deal about the politics that informed and provided a framework for the founding of Israel, and that also led to the great migrations of East European Jews to America in the 1880’s, as well as the smaller migrations to Palestine.  If these are topics that interest you, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  It is a comprehensive look, through all the lectures and pamphlets and debates and congresses of the time, at Russian Jewry during the highly tumultuous period that included two Russian revolutions, terrifying pogroms, intense idealism, and intense despair.  We meet many fascinating characters along the way, and we also get a strong taste of the time-periods under scrutiny.  This is an amazingly researched and written book.

7. Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America by Eric J. Sundquist

Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America

A magisterial and seemingly comprehensive cultural history of Black-Jewish relations in 20th century America, this book looks at law, literature, sociology, political science, and history, in order to understand the very complicated and intertwined histories of these two historically marginalized groups.  It is a somewhat disheartening read as well, as the Civil Right era in the 1960’s –  when Jews and African Americans built a strong coalition, as symbolized by Martin Luther King Jr. marching with Rabbi Abraham Heschel – leads into later decades that included intense antagonism and mutual misunderstandings.  Still, it is a fascinating look at race, ethnicity, religion and culture, and Sundquist is such an incredible reader.  A more academic book that deserves slow reading, but worth the time, the book provides helpful insights into how the Holocaust and slavery have been represented in the broader culture, as well as giving us a fascinating and brilliant chapter on the myriad legal and cultural contexts that inform To Kill a Mockingbird.

8.  Growing Up Ethnic: Nationalism and the Bildungsroman in African-American and Jewish-American Fiction by Martin Japtok

Growing Up Ethnic: Nationalism and the Bildungsroman in African American and Jewish American Fiction

“Bildungsroman” is a fancy German word for a coming-of-age tale.  This book looks at three pairs of Bildungsroman by Jewish-American and African-American novelists in the early 20th century.  There is a great introduction, which wrestles with the concept of ethnicity, and a really fascinating conclusion, that looks at the role novels plays in nation-building.  There’s also great stuff between the intro and conclusion, about works by six authors, five of whom I had never heard of.  It was so interesting to learn about these early 20th century novels, and the way in which they represent ethnicity as cultural and biological.  There are very compelling discussions of how the novels in question view Jewishness and Blackness as containing certain qualities, while also arguing that Jewishness and Blackness are constructed.  A more academic, but still wonderful book that introduced me to new writers.

9.  The Great Shift: Encountering God in Biblical Times by James L. Kugel

The Great Shift: Encountering God in Biblical Times

This book asks the radical and fascinating question, how did people actually experience/perceive/encounter God in Biblical times, and how has this notion of God changed over time?  Kugel is a very gifted communicator of complicated ideas, and I found this dive into religion, theology and Biblical history to be remarkably original and interesting.

10.  The New Negro: the Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C. Stewart

This might be too premature, because I am less than a third through this book, but what I’ve read so far has been great.  Stewart, Locke’s biographer, won the National Book Award for Nonfiction this year for this biography of Alaine Locke, one of the primary founders and shapers of the Harlem Renaissance.  Locke was a Black gay man at a time in the early 20th century when it was dangerous to be Black or gay, not to mention both.  He was also brilliant, and helped shape African-American, not to mention American, culture.  This book reads like a fantastic novel, and I can’t put it down.

Top Five Films

  1. The Florida Project,” directed by Sean Baker

The Florida Project Poster

2. “The Virgin Spring,” directed by Ingmar Bergman

The Virgin Spring Poster

Breaking the Waves,” directed by Lars Von Trier

Breaking the Waves Poster

Fish Tank,” directed by Andrea Arnold

Fish Tank Poster

Far From Heaven,” directed by Todd Haynes

Far from Heaven Poster

Carol’s Top Ten of 2018 December 10, 2018

Posted by carol in Book List, Fiction, Thoughtful Ramblings, Top Ten, Uncategorized.
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Among the books I read this year, these truly stand out as my favorites of


Transcription by Kate Atkinson

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Varina by Charles Frazier

Less by Andrew Seth Greer

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The Last Hours by Minette Walters

Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams

Enjoy the holidays, spend time with family and friends, and have a fabulous 2019–filled  with all good things (and great books)!   ~Carol