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The Important Experience of Rereading Books January 27, 2018

Posted by andrewfieldlibrarian in Uncategorized.
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Crime and Punishment (Pevear / Volokhonsky Translation)

While it’s probably a truism that books don’t change, we do, I’ve been experiencing that in a weird and interesting way as I read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.  I read the book when I was an undergraduate, and to this day my memory of reading the book is bound up with the place where I read it, a coffeehouse in Ann Arbor, where I sat in the back at a large table and became immersed in the book.  I remember the coffee smell of the place and the hard wooden table, I remember the cover of the book, and I remember being fascinated by the character of Raskolnikov, but that’s about it.  Our memories are so idiosyncratic and sometimes unreliable, though it seems so strange that I would forget pretty much the entire book, whole plot elements and groups of characters.

But recently, in preparation for a book club I’m hoping to start this summer on the classics, I bought a copy of Crime and Punishment (since I work at a library I rarely buy books now, though I wanted to mark up my copy), and I’m starting to wonder, in a weird way, how I read the book, meaning did I just hurry through it?  Did I savor the characterizations, the manic and frenzied energy, the strange oscillation between horror and laughter?  Why don’t I remember more of it?  What did I read?  I’m also taken aback by this fact because there is so much to think about and remember about the book, and I wonder how or why I wasn’t as sensitive to this.  I wonder that if I were to have been more sensitive to Raskolnikov’s guilt, more empathetic to Marmeladov’s suffering, but also more horrified by Raskolnivkov’s murders and plight, I would have remembered more.

I had an interesting experience as an undergraduate in a creative writing class that I think could shed some light on this conundrum.  I had a great teacher, who was very incisive and penetrating in his comments on our stories, and I remember I wrote a story that had to do with the fraternity where I was living then, and the debauched life that came then with living in the fraternity (the drinking, the uncleanliness, etc.).  I wrote a story that looked upon this material as comic, and I remember the class seemed to like it and let me know during the workshop that they thought it was funny.  But when I met with my creative writing teacher, he said something that made me pause and rethink the whole piece, and in doing so, pretty much rethink my life.  And what he said was something along the lines of, “What about the more tragic elements of this lifestyle in the story?  Aspects that are not funny but are more sad, even depressing?  Have you thought about that?”  And I hadn’t!  And I came away with a shock from the meeting – I felt suddenly more self-aware, and a bit nauseated by the callow lifestyle I had been leading.  It was an about-face, a turn-around, and it left me with a different, better, more humane and human perspective.

When I read Crime and Punishment for the first time I was still living the debauched fraternity life, and it never occurred to me that my life could affect how I perceived the book.  But I wonder if I read it somewhat superficially (and again, I wonder – how can you read Dostoevsky superficially?  He almost compels your attention, it’s that good), and that I didn’t take in certain elements because that wasn’t where my mind and heart were.

Flash forward more than a decade, and the book is a revelation.  It’s terrifying and sad and tragic and funny, all sometimes on one page, and I’m so happy to be reading it.  But the truism does hold true – the book hasn’t changed.  It’s the same translation, the same words, the same plot, the same characters.  But I’ve changed.  I’ve grown older, and hopefully less superficial, and I’m taking more of the novel in and appreciating it.  Sometimes rereading a book can have that effect on you – it calls attention to where you were at during your first reading, and reflects back to you how far you’ve come.  It’s a kind of mirror, where you can look at your old readings and, in a healthy and productive way, question your beliefs and values – it facilitates the process of self-examination.  And since, as Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” rereading books is a necessity.

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Why Criticism Matters January 21, 2018

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I love reading book and movie reviews.  Sometimes I see a movie, or read a book, and I’m completely bowled over by it.  I am moved to my very foundation, my core, I am shaken…but I don’t know exactly why sometimes, and sometimes I lack the ability to put into words just why exactly I’ve been so touched (or so disappointed, for that matter).  That’s why I love reading book and movie reviews of films and books I’ve just experienced – they put into words, in an often artful, intelligent, and helpful way, just what I’ve been struggling to say or express.  Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of our great American writers and thinkers, wrote, “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”  I’ve always loved that quote – what a great way of describing the way in which artists and writers and thinkers help us to say what we want to say – but I think the quote also applies to book and movie reviewers, (even if they’re not exactly a work of genius!).  We see a movie, we like it, we don’t know why, we read a movie review, and suddenly our own feelings and thoughts come back to us “with a certain alienated majesty.”  It’s a great, wonderful feeling.

I’m writing about book and movie reviews, but what I really wanted to talk about in this blog post is literary criticism, and let me explain why.  In the same way in which a book review deepens our appreciation of something, (or for that matter deepens our understanding of why we didn’t like something), literary criticism can do the same thing, and often does.  In a sense, we can think of a work of literary criticism as an extended treatment of something we care about, by someone who also cares an inordinate amount about this thing, and also most likely knows and has thought a great deal about this thing.  When you read a book and really enjoy it, but don’t understand as much as you’d like about why you enjoyed it, finding a work of literary criticism that talks about that book can be edifying.  But more than that – it can really deepen your understanding of the work, it can augment what you were intuiting but not exactly saying, and it can therefore extend your appreciation of the work to deeper levels.  (It can also, it should be said, question your own beliefs about the object, and make you think anew about the work in question.)

As I talked about in my last blog post about Tolstoy, I finished one of Tolstoy’s novels, Anna Karenina, and loved every page.  But I left with some unanswered questions.  How was I to think about Anna, her fate, her character, her life?  Or for that matter, what was I to make of Stiva Oblonsky, or Levin, or Kitty?  These characters made a deep impression on me – I felt like I really got to know them, in a way that real life makes it hard to do – but in a way what I felt after finishing the novel was that I wanted to know more.  The book had finished, but I wasn’t finished with the book.  I wondered about how Tolstoy himself intended for us to think and feel about his characters.  I wanted my understanding to be enriched and made more complex.  So for that reason, I found a book through CLEVNET called Anna Karenina in Our Time: Seeing More Wisely by Gary Saul Morson, a professor of Arts and Humanities and Slavic Languages at Northwestern University.

And I haven’t been disappointed.  I’m about sixty pages into the book, and can already say that Morson has made me rethink my original take on Anna Karenina.  He makes a very compelling and convincing argument, for example, that one character in particular embodies evil for Tolstoy – an argument that has changed the way I thought about the character, who is mostly a good-natured socialite who everyone in the novel seems to like.  Now I’m reading a chapter about Anna – the character I was most curious about learning more – and am coming to terms with a lot of traditional interpretations of her character, as well as Morson’s more heterodox interpretation.  It has been such a thrilling experience!  It feels like this perennially interesting book club or conversation, where I am able to converse and commune with an expert on something we both share and care about and even love.

That’s what good criticism can do (and not just for books, of course, but movies, art, television, theater, dance, music, etc.).  It enables there to be a deep conversation about a shared object that elicits strong feelings for those involved.  It shows us new angles, new directions in our thought, new perceptions that we hadn’t considered and wouldn’t have considered had we not found the work of criticism.  And although much criticism, at least for my taste, can be way too abstruse and theoretical, that is not true for all criticism, not in the least.  So let me end by encouraging you, reader, to find a piece of criticism that helps you to understand a work on a deeper level.  A good place to start is the New Yorker, which has three good film critics (David Denby, Anthony Lane, and Richard Brody), as well as a stellar book critic named James Wood and a wonderful theater critic named Hilton Als.  (They also have great music and art critics.)  The New York Times also has excellent film critics, as does the Los Angeles Times.  Each critic has their own taste, and they go out of their way to make an argument, to start a conversation, to convince you that their interpretation is right.  You might agree or disagree with them, but you should come away with an enriched understanding of the work in question, and maybe even a deeper appreciation of life itself.


Why Read the Classics (Or, Why the Classics Are Not Boring!) January 19, 2018

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In this blog post, I want to argue that the classics are not just immense tomes that accrue dust on the shelf of the library or a bookshelf, but are instead living, breathing documents that reflect back to us our humanity.  I’m starting with this lofty statement, because recently I have become obsessed with the 19th century Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, who was born in 1828 and died in 1910.  Tolstoy was an outsized personality, and he was not only a great novelist but also, following a moral crisis in his forties, a Christian anarchist and pacifist.

But although I find Tolstoy’s detours into anarchism, Christianity and pacifism interesting (his advocacy of non-violent resistance was a great influence on Gandhi), I have to say that it is his novels that really excite me.  Anna Karenina, for example, which I finished about a month ago, was this really amazing exploration of one woman in Russian society who bucked the norms (she was a married woman who fell in love with another man) and then had to face the tragic consequences.  There were scenes in that novel that felt so true to life – it was such a remarkable and uncanny reading experience.  (Isaac Babel, another famous Russian writer, once wrote that “If the world could write itself, it would write like Tolstoy.”)

One of the best things about the book was the way the characters changed and aged.  I think characters changing is one of the hardest things to pull off in a novel, because the novelist really needs to give a fine-grained and textured evocation of the interior lives of the characters in order for us to fully believe in the changes they undergo.  They also must know their characters so fully and deeply to really convey how they change.  In other words, he or she must be able to see into the minds and hearts of other fictional people – to be a very deep psychologist.  I thought Tolstoy was so good at doing just that, and for that reason his characters felt so utterly real, and I really cared about them.  In the fate of Anna, we could see our own foibles and passions reflected.

There is a scene near the end of the novel, where Anna is riding on a train.  I don’t want to give too much away, but it is a very tumultuous moment and time in her life, and Tolstoy gives us Anna’s inner monologue – the kind of scattered, fragmented thoughts that populate her mind as she looks out the train window and melds her inner world with the world she sees.  It is so well done – we feel like we are actually privy to another person’s thoughts, and the thoughts feel so real, so like our own thinking, that it is impossible not to empathize with Anna’s state of mind.  The novel reflects back to us our own humanity – it allows us to see our own selves more capaciously – and at the same allows us to empathize deeply with Anna.  It is truly a heart-wrenching moment.

And that’s the thing – Anna Karenina is a classic.  But this does not mean a big book that no one reads anymore, or shouldn’t read anymore!   Instead, it is this very profound, wonderful, fresh and moving story about families and individuals, set against a vast panorama of Russian society in the 19th century.  That’s one of the things I’ve learned from reading Anna Karenina, and now War and Peace, which I’ve read about half of – the classics are classics because they are fabulous!!!  They are timeless snapshots of fictive life, and they demand to be read.  They can be challenging and fun at the same time, but they are not just boring books that no one reads anymore.  Instead, they are deep explorations of what it means to be human, to be thinking and feeling beings, with crises, problems, and dreams.

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New Year, New You? January 16, 2018

Posted by Dori in New Books, Non-Fiction.
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So many advertisers and self-help gurus turn the New Year into an opportunity to make us all feel guilty about our lives and I am the first to admit that I am not immune to these siren calls. Would I like to improve a few things? Sure! And using the New Year as a starting point, a clean slate, is a very useful tool. But all that pressure can make us feel even worse and even backslide. Let’s not let that happen people! Let’s make this a journey, not a race.

One trip to the library and you can find a wealth of information to guide you on any journey you’d like to begin. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Waking Up in Winter : In Search of What Really Matters at Midlife by Cheryl Richardson

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris

The Mindful Way to a Good Night’s Sleep by Tzivia Gover

Big Potential: How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness, and Well-Being by Shawn Achor

Every Body Yoga : Let Go of Fear, Get on the Mat, Love Your Body by Jessamyn Stanley

Tribe of Mentors : Short Life Advice from the Best in the World by Timothy Ferriss
~ Dori


What we’re reading now… January 13, 2018

Posted by SaraC in Book Discussion, Book List, Book Review, Fantasy, Fiction, Genre Book Discussion, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, New Books, Non-Fiction, Suspense, Uncategorized, Young Adult.
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The Hearth Witch’s Compendium: Magical and Natural Living for Every Day by Anna Franklin

The Hearth Witch's Compendium: Magical and…Not a book designed to be read straight through, The Hearth Witch’s Compendium is much more a resource guide for individuals who wish to include their magical practice into their everyday routine and life. Resource guide might actually be an understatement. This 512 page volume contains dozens and dozens of recipes and remedies addressing jam preserves to making your own self care products to dyeing your own fabric. The instructions are approachable, easy to read (Franklin is a British writer but graciously provides a conversion table in the back for measurements) and clear. There isn’t much magical instruction within all these amazing recipes which was a bit of a let down, but there is a ton of information towards the back to what ruling planets, deities, and celestial phases all the ingredients correspond with. Highly recommended for readers looking for a resource they can return to again and again for ideas on how to handle the pragmatic with a magical flair. Greg

System of the World (The Baroque Cycle #3) by Neal Stephenson

The System of the World by Neal StephensonThis final volume of Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle ties up the myriad storylines that have emerged throughout the series. There is something for everyone in this.  For much of the series, we follow Natural Philosopher Daniel Waterhouse through pre-Enlightenment England as Isaac Newton and the Royal Society pivot from alchemy to science.  If the invention of calculus is not your cup of tea, there is no want of political intrigue among Protestants and Catholics following the restoration of the British Monarchs.  If not that, there is the swashbuckling adventures of Jack Shaftoe, King of Vagabonds or Eliza as she rises through the European elite via machinations involving new inventions in finance.  The breadth of this series is far beyond the size of anything that should work – yet it does.  Trent

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace by Leo TolstoyI’ve been reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  It’s an amazing book.  Tolstoy is so incisive about his characters, he knows them so well, and so over time we feel like we really get to know and even love Pierre, Andrei and Natasha (although there are a lot more characters, those are probably the main three).  Tolstoy studied in a very intense way the military campaigns between Russia and France, and then he is able to infuse what he learned with his astonishing imagination.  It seems like he gets every detail right, from the description of what the men and women are wearing in a ballroom, to descriptions of gun smoke in a field during a battle.  He’s able to really zoom in and zoom out in this wonderful way.  Andrew 

Carnegie’s Maid: A Novel  by Marie Benedict

Carnegie's Maid: A Novel by Marie…This is the story of Clara Kelley, a recent immigrant from Ireland, who assumes the identity of a fellow passenger who died during the voyage. She secures a position as lady’s maid to Margaret Carnegie, Andrew Carnegie’s mother. Clara’s goal is to send money back to her struggling family in Ireland. Andrew is attracted to Clara, and they secretly spend time together. Andrew shares some of his business expertise with Clara and welcomes her suggestions until Clara disappears when Mrs. Carnegie learns of her deceptions. For lovers of historical fiction and fiction. Emma

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air) by…This book marks the author’s return to the land of faeries. Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and her sisters were stolen away to the High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Faerie is all she knows and all she wants is to truly belong. One of her biggest obstacles is Prince Cardin, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King. Cardin despises mortals and goes out of his way to make Jude’s life miserable. To earn a place in Court, Jude must go head to head against Prince Cardin. When she does, she finds herself caught in the middle of a political scandal that threatens everyone in Faerie. Can a mere mortal outwit the traitors and save fae? Megan

The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward AbbeyI’m almost finished with this book from the 70s about environmental saboteurs against the industrial complex out west taking the land’s natural resources. To be real the characters, plot, and writing are becoming annoying and I’m just trying to finish it quickly. Next I’m waiting on a hold through Overdrive on my Kindle for Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen and a book on CD from Rocky River of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal. Byron

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Refugees by Viet Thanh NguyenA captivating and complicated set of short stories that examine identity, family, and romantic love through the eyes of Vietnamese refugees. Realistic elements are mixed with some fantastical ones (for instance, in the first story in the collection, a girl is visited by her brother, a ghost)—a literary technique perhaps intended to shed light on how disorienting and bizarre immigrant life can be.  In the audio book format, Nguyen reads his own stories, and his gentle and lightly accented voice creates an authentic soundscape for the reader. It is no wonder that Nguyen was showered with accolades for his first book, The Sympathizer. His masterful, self-aware prose won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the ALA Carnegie Medal for Fiction, and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, among others. Lyndsey

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane GayThis was not quite what I expected but a very good read nonetheless. I found the beginning to be a bit scattered and slow at times which made it difficult for me to make a connection with the book.  However, after reading and digesting all her essays I feel that I would like to strive to be a similar feminist to Roxane Gay – someone who is thoughtful, objective, outspoken when necessary and truly unique.  Mary


The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola YoonThis story takes place mostly in one very transformative day in the life of two teens, Daniel and Natasha. They meet by chance as they are both on their way to two very different, but equally important meetings that could potentially change the course of their lives forever.  The story is hopeful and sweetly romantic. Beth



City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty,

The City of Brass: A Novel (The Daevabad…A perfect winter escape, this debut fantasy novel, book #1 in The Daevabad Trilogy, transports readers to mystical Arabia. Nahri, an orphaned young woman living in Cairo by her wits, her cons, and a little bit of magic, has her life upended when she unknowingly calls forth a djinn warrior who recognizes that she’s not entirely human. Chased by demons, they journey to the supposed safety of Daevabad, the city of brass, where political and ethnic strife is swirling beneath the surface and where Nahri discovers the mystery of her origin.  Dori

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

The Chalk Man: A Novel by C. J. TudorSwitching between 1986 and 2016, this book takes you through the summer holidays of Eddie and his friends who are growing up and looking for some excitement in their tiny British village.  They sure find it when a game they’ve developed using chalk figure codes leads them to a dismembered body.  Jump to 2016 and the chalk figures are showing up again. It seems like just a prank until one of the old friends turns up dead.  Eddie must figure out what happened years ago in order to save himself and the others. Sara







Top of the List 2017 December 15, 2017

Posted by Dori in Audio, Book Awards, Book List, Book Review, Debut Author, eAudio, Fantasy, Fiction, First Novel, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, New Books, Non-Fiction, Science Fiction, Top Ten, Top Ten of 2017.
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I must admit that I did not read as many books as is my norm this year. I will not offer up a bunch of excuses (except 2017 was a whopper of a year, wasn’t it?), but will share the best of those I did read, with many gems in the bunch:

lincolnLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I listened to this remarkable Booker Prizewinning book in audiobook form – with its cast of notable actors casting a spell that had me hooked. It was so unique:  moving, funny, weird, and insightful. I think it’s one of those audiobooks that I need to now read in book form. Don’t miss this one.


exit - CopyExit West by Mohsin Hamed
Two young people who fall in love in an unnamed country when a civil war erupts escape through metaphysical ‘doorways’. Finding themselves as refugees, they have to come to terms with their pasts and futures. Brutal and ravishing.


anythingAnything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
A short story that follows the lives of people briefly encountered in her previous book My Name is Lucy Barton that is just beautifully written and offers glimpses of the wonder of humanity. These are the kinds of books I’m drawn to – seemingly simple but powerful.


mountainThe Mountain: Stories by Paul Yoon
Another seemingly simple book. In restrained but exquisite prose, Yoon’s short stories are about people across the world who’ve been molded by tragedy and loss but still put one foot in front of the other and carry on.


manhattanManhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Egan delves into straight up historical fiction, creating characters that resonate and enveloping readers in the fascinating world of New York City during the Depression. Not my favorite Egan, but a great example of ambitious historical fiction.


allgrownAll Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
This book made me laugh and that was important this year!  Her main character is a single 39-year-old woman who’s living life defying, while worrying about, the expectations of others and society at-large. She might exasperate you, but she sure is someone a lot of us can relate to.


leaversThe Leavers by Lisa Ko
This debut about a young Chinese-American boy who’s adopted into a white family after his immigrant mother disappears is a moving look at what happens to those who leave and those who are left behind. Plus it’s an eye-opening look at the effects of U.S. immigration policy.


saintsSaints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan
Raise your hand if you love a quality dysfunctional family book!  If so, this is one you have to get a hold of asap. Irish immigrants to Boston, family deception that resonates through the next generations – it’s got it all.


longwayclosedThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit and by Becky Chambers
My co-worker recommended these to me and I thank her for it! These are the first two in Chamber’s Wayfarers series and they are adventurous, funny and meaningful outer space dramas. Even better as audiobooks!

index (1)On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
This is a short but incredibly important book to read right now! A historian of the Holocaust, Snyder takes lessons from the past to guide us for the future.


And a bonus:

fifthThe Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison:
I must admit that I haven’t finished this one – I began listening recently and I’m hooked. It’s the first book in a trilogy – The Broken Earth series – and is set in a post-apocalyptic society. The world building is incredible and the characters, fascinating. I’ll be spending much of my winter with this series.


Happy Holidays and best to you and yours!

~ Dori






Lyndsey’s Top 10 of 2017 December 15, 2017

Posted by lgvora in Book List, Book Review, eAudio, Non-Fiction, Top Ten, Young Adult.
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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.


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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.

uncle phil



Their Finest Poster

Their Finest
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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

I Am Not Your Negro
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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.


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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.

Kate’s Top Ten of 2017 December 15, 2017

Posted by kate in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Top Ten, Top Ten of 2017, Uncategorized, Women's Fiction.
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Schoolwork has been taking up most of my time this year but as soon as finals are over I plan to catch up on some reading. Here are the one’s I plan on starting the year with:

life The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman

turtles all the way down Turtles All the Way Down  by John Green

index Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

beartowb Beartown by Fredrik Backman

one of us is lying One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

since we fell Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

camino island Camino Island by John Grisham

heartbreak hotel Heartbreak Hotel by Jonathan Kellerman

swimming lessons Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

breakdown The Breakdown by B. A. Paris




Megan’s Favorites of 2017 December 15, 2017

Posted by Megan in Book List, Book Review, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Non-Fiction, Science Fiction, Top Ten, Young Adult.
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Ah, the annual struggle of a reader…picking the favorites.

Favorite Teen Reads:

  1. Scythe by Neal Shusterman-In a world where disease and old age have been conquered, the only way to die is to be killed by professional reapers. Two teens are in a contest to become a scythe, despite the fact that neither wants the job.scythe
  2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas-When Starr Davis becomes the sole witness to the police shooting of her childhood friend, her life changes. The incident makes headlines and everyone from her poor neighborhood and the upscale prep school she attends has an opinion on the matter. hate
  3. Strange the Dreamer by Liani Taylor-Lazlo Strange has long dreamed of the lost city of Weep. Actually, this gorgeous, epic fantasy is too complicated to describe in a sentence or two. I can’t do it.strange
  4. Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin-In an alternate history the Axis powers won WWII and Hitler is alive. Yael, a survivor of human experimentation at the hands of Nazi doctors has one goal: win the annual motorcycle race, secure a meeting with Hitler, and kill him.wolf
  5. Goodbye Days by Jeff Zenter-Carter Briggs loses his three best friends after a text message caused a fatal car accident. Carter struggles with his guilt and grief with the help of Blake’s grandmother and her idea of a “goodbye day.”goodbye

Favorite Adult Reads: Apparently I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in 2017! Any why not? It’s pure escapism.

  1. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss-The first book in the Kingkiller Chronicles tells the story of Kvothe, a magician, thief, and assassin. This book is currently in development by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Showtime!name of the wind
  2. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden-A mesmerizing fairy tale set in the cold Russian north. bear
  3. A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers-This is a light-hearted space opera in the vein of Firefly. long way
  4. Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey-The first book in the Expanse series and the source material for the Syfy show of the same title, this is a face-paced thriller of a space opera. I do love a space opera!leviathan
  5. Bonfire by Krysten Ritter-Abby returns to her small hometown to investigate a corporation that seems to have connections to an old scandal. Erin Brockovich meets Mean Girls.bonfire

Favorite Nonfiction Reads: 

  1. Ranger Games by Ben Blum-The bizarre true story of a group of young army rangers who rob a bank. ranger
  2. Hunger: a Memoir of (my) Body by Roxane Gay- This deeply personal series of essays explores body image and self esteem and the author’s relationship with food and weight. index
  3. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder-The author, a historian on fascism, offers a guide to understanding and resisting totalitarianism. index (1)
  4. Tears We Cannot Stop: a Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson-This provocative call for change details how white America can work towards real and lasting racial progress. A painful and necessary read. tears
  5. Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. The majority of my nonfiction reading this year was true crime (totally obsessed and if you are too I recommend the podcast My Favorite Murder) or political books. Killers of the Flower Moon is a fascinating addition to the true crime genre. (It’s also the topic of our Men’s Book Discussion in January)killers


Beth’s Top 10 for 2017 December 14, 2017

Posted by Beth in Fiction, New Books, Non-Fiction, Top Ten, Top Ten of 2017, Women's Fiction.
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today will be different

Lovable characters




my not so perfect life
Very entertaining




ignore it.jpg

My go-to parenting manual for the terrible twos.



kind worth killing

Enjoyable page turner


whale in my pool

My kid’s favorite book.