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January: Staff Picks for a New Year

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Readers Writers

It’s January again! Through snow, through sleet, through freezing rain…whether you’re hibernating, feeling invigorated, or dreaming of change, the start of a new year is always a good time to take stock of what’s new. Our staff explores some of the titles that are newly arrived, on order, or that will come out later in 2018.  

From our library catalog, try searching on-order titles before they even arrive at the library, and place your holds early.

 Youth Services

Carrie’s Pick 

I am excited for a sweet little picture book about a visit to the library where the characters come alive!  

In The Library Book, Tom Chapin has put the text to a melody entitled The Library Song: “I’m going down to the library, picking out a book, check it in, check it out,” and the song’s words and music are printed in the endpapers. The shushing librarian even gets into the rhythm in this rousing celebration of The Library. 

Cindy’s Pick 

I really liked the book I hosted in January for the Smart Girls Read Book Club.  It’s a graphic novel for middle-grade level:  All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson. We all liked (in our book club conversation) how the main character ended up realizing that popularity at the expense of being kind to others wasn’t worth it. And overall, we liked that it was a book about realizing who your real friends are and who you want to be as a person.  

Kelley’s (Teen Librarian) Picks  

The bad news (for me) is that the YA books I am most anticipating in 2018 are sequels. The good news (for you) is that you can start at the beginning.  

Thunderhead (Scythe #2) by Neal Shusterman |Jan 2018

Scythe was one of my absolute favorite books of 2016/2017, so I can’t wait to find out what happens to our newly licensed grim reapers in this utopian/dystopian world created by a master of YA science fiction. 

Spill Zone 2: The Broken Vow by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland |July 2018

Teen Library staff universally loved this post-disaster thriller about things in Poughkeepsie going mysteriously and totally wrong. Check volume one out now, which was one of our favorite graphic novels of 2017. 

Monstress, Vol. 3 by Margorie Liu and Sana Takeda | August 2018

We all have our “inner demons” but Maika literally has a monster living inside her. The anti-hero of this graphic series has all sorts of problems, but at least she has the company of a sweet half-fox girl and a three tailed magus cat on her adventures. Those who can handle ultra-violence and unending backstabbing are in for some beautiful and dark storytelling in volumes one and two. If you are squeamish about horror or Game of Thrones level fantasy violence, this might not be for you.  

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee |Oct 2018

A literal sister book to one of 2017’s most popular teen titles, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. This Goodreads description says it all: “A sequel to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, narrated by Felicity and featuring travel, pirates, and a science girl gang.” Fingers crossed for more snark and steam from Mackenzie Lee, who is also working on a YA book about Loki! 

Adult Fiction

Nate’s Pick 

I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of Peter Kimani’s Dance of the Jakaranda.  This intergenerational tale of love and rebellion is set against two significant points of time in Kenya’s recent history.  Bound together by a shared locale, the story alternates between two eras: the time of the construction of the “Iron Snake” rail line (which connected Lake Victoria with the coastal city of Mombasa in the late 1800’s), and the early 1960’s era leading up to Kenyan independence from Britain.  Of late I have been increasingly interested in tales focusing on the rise and fall of the British Empire. This fascination has brought me to shows such as the BBC’s The Last Post, which is about the Yemeni port of Aden, and to books like Orwell’s Burmese Days.  Most stories about the Empire written or acted in English are told from the point of view of British characters. Dance of the Jakarandatold from the point of view of two Kenyans of Indian descent—brings an exciting, vital depth and perspective to an understanding of the British Empire and all those impacted by it. 

Sarah’s Pick 

 I am really looking forward to reading Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee. Library Journal writes, “spun from an award-winning short story that originally appeared in the Missouri Review, this debut features Chinese-American sisters Miranda and Lucia. Lucia, who starts hearing voices when their mother dies, marries an older man, then leaves him and has a baby with a young Latino immigrant even as Miranda tries to help her from afar.” It’s a story of sadness, love, and the bond between sisters by a promising new literary voice. The book will be out in January, and the author will be at PPL on March 28 to discuss her book—plenty of time to read it twice! 

Harper’s Pick 

This winter I have found myself in the mood for fast, exciting reads and dramatic adventures. If you’re feeling the same and also happen to like sci-fi, space politics, and humans learning to navigate alien cultures, look no further than Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti trilogy. With Binti already under my belt, Binti: Home in my backpack, and Binti: The Night Masquerade coming out later this month, I’m prepared for my past, present, and future to be filled with interstellar travel, alien jellyfish that communicate through their tentacles, and a girl from earth who is the first of her people to attend the galaxy’s most prestigious university.

 Elizabeth’s Picks 

Books book books! Here are just a few of the new and on-order (fiction and nonfiction) titles I’m curious about.  

All The Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva| An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon| Winter by Ali Smith| Red Clocks by Leni Zumas| The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu| An American Marriage by Tayari Jones| Eternal Life by Dara Horn| Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmine Darznik| Tender: Stories by Sofia Samatar | Tears of Salt: A Doctor’s Story by Pietro Bartolo| Fisherman’s Blues: A West African Community At Sea by Anna Badkhen| No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria by Rania Abouzied| The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú| This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins| Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality by Sarah McBride | So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Uluo 

 Nonfiction and Music

Meg’s Pick 

 I just ordered the Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide. I hadn’t originally seen it when it came out in 2017, but we recently got two requests in a single day, so it’s in my cart! I think it will be a tremendous asset in our automotive repair section. 

Raminta’s Picks 

 There is some great new music coming to PPL in the coming weeks. New albums by First Aid Kit, Emenem, Brandi Carlile, Justin Timberlake, They Might Be Giants, Vance Joy, Tune-Yards, Jimi Hendrix, and more! Also keep your eyes pealed for the Grammy nominated Hello Dolly! Cast Recording, starring Bette Midler, and the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman. 

Will’s Pick 

 Shawn Achor’s Big Potential reveals why our potential is not limited by what we on our own can achieve; rather, our success is amplified by the successes of those around us. It offers five strategies for exponentially raising our achievement and performance by helping others—colleagues, teams, and employees—be better. For decades, most people have thought about potential as being a constellation of individual traits: your creativity, your abilities, your intelligence. Achor explores new research showing that this version of potential (what Achor calls Small Potential) is deeply flawed, and it places a ceiling on the level of success we can achieve. If individual traits are in fact interconnected with others, we can see that by pursuing success individually, we have been leaving much of our greater potential untapped. Big Potential works not in isolation, but rather as part of an ecosystem. Achor suggests that when we help those around us succeed, we not only raise the performance of the group, but we also create a positive cycle by which we in turn become more successful ourselves. It’s of no surprise that the Reference staff of PPL works as a team!

Aprill’s Picks 

I’m really excited to get my hands on Alterknit Stitch Dictionary: 200 Modern Knitting Motifs. Andrea Rangel’s new collection of knitting motifs looks so fresh, fun, and innovative.  Since participating in the PPL’s Calico Library yarn bombing installation, I have been inspired to add more colorwork to my knitting.  This stitch dictionary has my imagination fired up: I see socks with tiny skulls, hats with sweet little mushrooms, and scarves with bold geometric leaf patterns in my future!

I am also echoing excitement for So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. I’ve followed Oluo’s writing on various platforms for some time now and can’t wait to access her brave, brilliant voice on the pages of her book. 


As always, thanks for reading! Hope you found some inspiration here: to fill your wintry days, or to go sleuthing for your own new reads…and if you’re still looking for ideas, you might try our 2018 Reading Challenge.

A Brief Foray Into African Literature: Egypt

posted: , by Sarah Skawinski
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Art & Culture | Readers Writers

Nate, a Reference Staff member, continues his exploration of contemporary African Literature on the blog with a look at Egypt and reviews of The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz and The City Always Wins by Omar Robert Hamilton.

Basma Abdel Aziz, author of The Queue, also works as a psychiatrist and visual artist in her home country of Egypt.  A successful student and lifelong artist, Abdel Aziz was pushed towards the field of medicine by her family and chose to pursue psychiatry as she felt it important to see and understand the entirety of human beings, not simply individual pieces as a surgeon might.  Basma has been an outspoken critic of human rights abuses and torture and was censured at various times during her tenure as a student.  She has published a number of pieces of nonfiction examining the issues and in 2016 was named a Global Thinker by Foreign Policy.  Her novel The Queue was inspired by events and experiences during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.

Set in an unrevealed country at an undisclosed time, the experiences which have informed and inspired Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue, though never explicitly mentioned, will reveal themselves quickly to anyone who followed news relating to the Arab Spring.

The work examines the lives of a handful of characters following what is referred to as ‘the Disgraceful Events,’ and the rise of the governmental entity known only as ‘The Gate.’  Each character is forced to interact or grapple with a policy or procedure implemented by ‘The Gate’ which sets them off on seemingly unachievable tasks.  The titular Queue is the line in which individuals must wait in order to receive a meeting and potential acquiescence from ‘The Gate’ to move forward with whatever it is they are trying to accomplish.  We learn of individuals seeking approval for surgery to remove a bullet acquired during the aforementioned ‘Disgraceful Events,’ the approval of surgery, however, would indicate ‘The Gate’s’ involvement and use of deadly force in the events, an admission they are unwilling to make.  We follow a young man, seeking acknowledgement that his friend died fighting for ‘The Gate,’ yet this also would implicate the government in ‘The Disgraceful Events.’  We meet a woman who sets out for the queue hoping to receive permission for her daughter to undergo heart surgery for a condition another of her daughters has already died from.  The Queue serves as the common thread, binding all of the novel’s characters together. It develops an economy and community of its own.

As the queue swelled and extended into far-off, practically uninhabited districts, the Gate issued a decree for a wall to be built around everyone waiting.  For their own protection, of course.

The bureaucracy represented by the queue and newly introduced policies prove a formidable adversary for The Queue’s major characters, pitting them against insurmountable odds and causing a fair amount of mental anguish.  This grappling with the absurd calls to mind works by Kafka such as The Trial and seems to rely on the feelings experienced by real life protesters such as those involved in the occupation of Tahrir Square in Egypt in 2011 and the events which followed.

When he arrived, Ehab told him that the road to the queue and even all the sidewalks were closed to cars in both directions, and that the Gate had issued a decree on the matter, recently broadcast in one of its frequent and confusing messages.  In a low voice the others couldn’t hear, Ehab added that the decision would soon apply to pedestrians, too – you’d only be allowed to walk toward the Gate, not away from it.

The postcolonial history of Egypt deserves more space than I can afford it here.  The events of the Arab Spring in Egypt, beginning in the winter of 2011, included protests across the country and protestors from all walks of life.  The demands included increased venues for political expression and for improvements in living standards.  The focal point of these protests became Cairo’s Tahrir Square.  Following two weeks of occupation and multiple violent clashes with governmental forces resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths, Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, acquiesced to the protestors and announced his intentions to step down and schedule elections.  For the first time in many decades the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood was allowed to contest the elections and a year and a half after the start of the protest their candidate, Mohamed Morsi, was elected president.  Following a series of controversial decrees and more protests, Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by the military and Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the head of the Egyptian Armed Forces, was put temporarily in charge.  Another presidential election was scheduled for 2014, for which El-Sisi resigned from his military role, contested for, and won, though less than half of eligible voters participated in this election.  For more on this period of Egyptian history see Thanassis Cambanis’s Once Upon a Revolution, Bassem Youssef’s Revolution for Dummies, and the documentary We Are Egypt.

The apparent implausibility of the Egyptian Revolution, culminating in the democratic election of a military leader, finds its expression in Abdel Aziz’s depiction of a society and government that appear designed to not function.  The characters’ fates are mostly tragic, representations of a revolutionary hope broken by the current reality.  ‘How could this be? How did it end up like this?’ seems to be the question the author is grappling with in The Queue.  Both poignant in its ability to convey the emotional response to the outcome of the Egyptian Revolution felt by members of the protest and captivating in its use of suspense to carry the story forwards, The Queue is a book to be enjoyed by all.

The gravity of Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue is dependent upon her skillful use of metaphor, as this often-opaque tale of the rise of authoritarianism leaves much to the imagination, where the mood is characterized by a feeling of disorientation.  Consequently, the fear emanating from the story’s central characters is a result of the mind’s ability to wander in the face of a lack of outright consequences, of befuddlement surrounding the size, shape, or capacity of ‘The Gate’.

In contrast, Omar Robert Hamilton’s ‘The City Always Wins’ confronts the failures and misgivings of the Egyptian revolution in a much more outright, visceral way.  In this story feelings of anger are created and framed through vivid descriptions of violence perpetrated by state actors over the course of multiple years of protest.  Whereas The Queue quite literally shuffles towards a conclusion, slowing picking up steam as more and more disparate pieces of information are stitched together, The City Always Wins barrels ahead, jumping between characters and chapters at a breakneck speed, often substituting Twitter feeds for dialogue and description.

The hospital is all burning and weeping.  Bodies being carried bleeding and moaning, the index finger of a right hand up, blood trailing thick and shining behind them, the high voice screeching out of the speakers on the stage again and again.

Antagonists are named outright, the main characters Mariam, Khalil, Hafez, and Malik, are working to first overthrow Hosni Mubarak, and then Mohamed Morsi, and then Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and this much is made abundantly clear.  The story flows between first person narratives from the different major characters, rarely taking the time to distinguish who is speaking, which often leaves the reader in a dream-like state.

There are days, minutes, moments I will circle around forever.  The late-afternoon sun dipping over a shimmering lake of people and banners and babies on shoulders and I’m up on the balcony at the One’s.  The one, whose apartment was always overflowing with people.  People on computers, charging cameras, smoking cigarettes, lining up for the toilet, making plans, preparing sandwiches, changing clothes, breaking down, doing interviews, taking naps, calling home.  Everything still so new in those first eighteen days.  In the dining room a group of people are gathered around a table, voices indecipherable from one another.

This seems a deliberate attempt to impart a generality among the activist protagonists.  Their fight, their desires, their ideas all much the same; a free Egypt.  As the story moves through the toppling of the Hosni Mubarak regime, the subsequent rise and precipitous fall of Mohamed Morsi, and finally the rise of Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the highs and lows of Hafez, Miriam, and Khalil are palpable.  The resignation of Mubarak imparts on them a sense of invincibility, of inevitability.  Only for this to be crushed by the election of the Muslim-Brotherhood-backed Mohamed Morsi.  This event forces them into a conundrum; how can their choices be between a religious, authoritarian-leaning, newly-elected government and a coup d’etat by the army? Two completely unpalatable outcomes.  The story winds down in a state of muted despair as more and more of the population moves to back El-Sisi, largely in response to the instability the country has withstood over the preceding years.

Hamilton’s strengths lie in the emotionality of his writing.  His direct connection to the events playing out on the pages of ‘The City Always Wins’ is unmissable.

A stone river of blood drags through the asphalt of Tahrir.  On its banks the mourners.  The stain of a life slipping away.  He walks silently along it.  The square is empty now, dark and cold.  This new battle has been long.  Khalil follows the bloodline, follows the careful stones lining this new holiness.

And indeed, in the Author blurb it is revealed that Hamilton and members of his family took part in a large number of demonstrations in Egypt throughout 2011-2014.  Some ended up detained and remain so currently.  Although at times The City Always Wins feels somewhat overly dramatic or glorifying of the protestors, leaving little to the imagination, the author’s proximity to the events at least suggest his attachment to the cause and the people taking part is candidly anchored in experience.  In the end, this book offers a compelling narrative set into strikingly important and historically accurate events which will provide the reader with a basic understanding of how the Arab Spring played out in Egypt.

January 15th: Let Us Remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

posted: , by Patti DeLois
tags: Library Collections | Adults | Seniors | Art & Culture

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., center, leads a group of civil rights workers and Selma black people in prayer on Feb. 1, 1965 in Selma, Alabama after they were arrested on charges of parading without a permit. More than 250 persons were arrested as they marched to the Dallas County courthouse as part of a voter registration drive. (AP Photo/BH)

This month, we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with the Civil Rights Film Series, Thursday nights at 6:30 pm.

Also, check out this list of films about civil rights.


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