In November, our staff members celebrate a cornucopia of library resources. What books, movies, and more are you thankful for?
We’re thankful for them, and for the entire library community, too! Thanks for coming to story time at your local branch, for signing up for tech tutoring, for listening to a concert here or checking out an art exhibit or knitting at our knitting group or talking about what you’re reading with our staff or requesting exciting books we’ve never heard of that we can add to our own reading lists…phew! So many things. Thanks. We’re glad to see you.
Children’s Resources: Fiction
Just Like Beverly is the perfect picture book companion to A Girl From Yamhill and My Own Two Feet, bringing together the most important parts of Beverly Cleary’s life for the youngest readers. The main idea and my most favorite lesson from all of Beverly Cleary’s books is:
“Try! Anyone can talk about writing, but only those who sit down and do it will succeed.”
Tristan Strong Punches A Hole In The Sky is a story packed full of adventure, and thrilling to read or listen to on audio via ILL. Kwame Mbalia’s new middle grade book highlights vibrant African American and West African mythologies while also making kids laugh out loud with goofy jokes and hilarious characters. (Just listen and you’ll see what I mean — Gum Baby is a force). The story is centered around Tristan Strong, who is grieving over the loss of his best friend and disappointing his family by failing to live up to their expectations of him as a boxer. A trip to the family farm in Alabama turns into fantastical journey when Tristan accidentally rips a hole into another realm, accidentally taking an evil haint along with him. Tristan finds himself in a battle alongside the gods and beings from his favorite stories his grandmother told, including Brer Rabbit, Nyame, and John Henry. On audiobook Amir Abdullah’s versatile voice makes the whole cast come to life. This is the perfect story for kids looking for a book or long audiobook to get lost in, but fair warning for much younger readers or listeners — Tristan and the gods face down evils that are drawn from the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and what they encounter is decidedly scary.
Teen Resources: Nonfiction
I’m reading a book we got as an ARC at the SLJ Day of Dialogue Conference at the Cambridge Public Library a few weeks ago. It’s called Trans+: Love, Sex, Romance & Being You. By Kathryn Gonzalez and Karen Rayne, it is an “all-inclusive, uncensored guide for teens who are transgender, non-binary, gender-nonconforming, or gender-fluid.” They’ve interviewed all kinds of transgender teens and have their fascinating stories interspersed throughout the very helpful information in the book. It’s written in a very approachable way and is a highly compulsive read.
As the parent of a transgender child, I am finding it to be a wonderful resource in understanding what my child is going through and how best to support them and help them to have a wonderful, vibrant life.
A quote from the book about gender: “Gender is hard because it is made up; it’s a way that humans have developed over millennia to simplify how we see and interact with the world and the people in it. In reality, though, gender is complex and messy. The concept of gender has actually changed a lot over time, and not everyone agrees on the ways gender works or how others should embrace or embody their sense of gender.”
Adult Resources: Fiction, Nonfiction, and Film
“Moves shape her. Make her. Learned habits she would remember, her body sometimes when she can’t. Ingrained. Her feet to the earth. Her feet to the earth.”
Natasha Smoke Santiago’s vibrant cover art compelled me to pick up Melissa Michal’s debut collection of stories, Living on the Borderlines, but soon the memorable images were of the writer’s making. In thirteen short stories, many of which are interwoven, Michal seeks to convey contemporary experiences of individuals in Indigenous communities of New York, Haida Gwaii, and elsewhere. A girl confronts her identity when she learns that her biological mother was Haudenosaunee. A carver contends with the gaze of tourists as he strives to keep his origins alive in his work. A community reacts to a young Native girl becoming orphaned in their midst. What makes this book exceptional for me is Michal’s skill in creating characters with such vivid details and placing them in moments of such rich sensory awareness that it becomes possible to feel deeply connected to their stories, and yet to be aware that the individual and cultural experiences of the Seneca and others do not belong to those of us who are not Indigenous peoples. Books like Michal’s are gifts—windows into contending with and fleshing out perceptions.
In Joe Hill’s new book Full Throttle there is a short story called “Late Returns” about a bookmobile that becomes a conduit for long dead patrons to make visits. Very clever plotline, and of course for any bookmobile librarian, a must read!
Today I picked up a copy of High School, the memoir by Tegan and Sara Quin. The photos of the sisters dressed up in their ‘90s grunge-inspired outfits are terrific. I relate to some of their early stories, as I also have a sister I am very close with and we had similar arguments over who could claim the title of “best friend” with our shared playmates. I can’t wait to read more.
Another book I checked out recently was the nonfiction She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. It’s not a light read, but I’m finding it worth the effort to find out more about the #MeToo movement and the Weinstein investigation. I keep taking breaks to think about the material...
A good way to take a break from sad or dark reading material is, at least for me, to watch a good light-hearted movie. I checked out Tea with the Dames, a documentary in which four famous Dames (Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, and Joan Plowright) talk about career highlights and drink tea. There are some mildly sad and insightful moments in which they talk about aging, but most of it is spirited and sweet. I especially loved the clips of them back in the 1960s when they were being rebellious and performing mostly in stage productions. It is well worth checking out.
For those of you who are keeping track, I am still on the waiting list for Trick Mirror (although I’m now number 18!). As I continue to wait, I was able to snag another highly anticipated new release: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow. In this meticulously researched story, Farrow details the winding road to bringing the stories of Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behavior to print. This road includes NBC producers who suppressed the story, spies, professional intimidators, and a feminist champion with secret loyalties. Catch and Kill is a tremendous work of nonfiction that reads like a spy thriller, all while paying homage to the various actors who took a leap of faith to expose corruption and abuse. There’s still time left in 2019 to read other great books published this year, but I suspect this will remain my top choice through the new year.
A new book I have been exited for is figure skater Adam Rippon’s memoir Beautiful on the Outside. I have been waiting for this memoir for months and can’t wait to read about his life on and off the ice!
If you’re looking for a Veteran’s Day read this month, I recommend the book Project Omaha Beach: The Life and Military Service of A Penobscot Indian Elder by Charles Norman Shay .
“I like you as you are
Exactly and precisely
I think you turned out nicely
And I like you as you are.”
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was gently radical and radically gentle in its acceptance of children’s feelings and experiences. Fred Rogers taught us about kindness and peace — concepts that should be simple, yet seem increasingly complicated here in 2019. Rogers has recently been the subject of several books and films, and while they are all worthwhile and special, I will specifically recommend Exactly As You Are: The Life and Faith of Mr. Rogers. Shea Tuttle shares his story thoughtfully, with a philosophical bent and an honest scope; it is an immersive and inspiring read. (You can also find the excellent Fred Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? in our DVD collection.)
My second pick– the story of Vancouver’s response to the opioid epidemic– might seem completely unrelated, but it turns out that unconditional positive regard and acceptance are key tenets in healing this public health emergency. Fighting for Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City’s Struggle with Addiction is gripping and critically relevant. Travis Lupick details the fearless grassroots advocacy that led to the creation of Insite, the first legal supervised drug injection site in North America. This lifesaving, science-based initiative made Vancouver a safer place for everyone. If that sounds counter-intuitive, I hear you; please consider reading this book.
Fred Rogers was drawn to those on the margins, those who needed the most support. As our own communities grapple with the opioid crisis, and as we head into the darkest time of the year, I remind myself to sit with compassion, even when it doesn’t come easily, when it is uncomfortable. It is good to challenge ourselves to accept everyone in our neighborhood, exactly as they are.
“A good story is always a healing ceremony.”
Joshua Whitehead’s Jonny Appleseed (Finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction) stands out in new fiction. It’s an intimate novel about life and relationships: narrator Jonny’s voice is urgent and open as he reflects on complex histories, sex, tenderness, hurt, family, friendship, and what is “medicine.” As Whitehead notes in the afterword: “2S folx and Indigenous women are centred here…Jonny has taught me a lot of things but there are two that I want to share with you: one, a good story is always a healing ceremony, we recuperate, re-member, and rejuvenate those we storytell into the world; and two, if we animate our pain, it becomes something we can make love to.”
Genre shift: this was the Book of the Week this week, but I would love to share it here too for those not following the library on Facebook or Instagram. Tamsyn Muir’s funny, smart, and gruesome Gideon the Ninth is one of the most entertaining reads in science-fantasy this year. Brilliant swordswoman Gideon Nav teams up with her lifelong nemesis, the book-loving necromancer Harrowhark, in a decaying gothic horror palace full of deadly tests, locked doors, and weapon-wielding competitors—they need to solve all the puzzles, figure out whether rivals are friends or foes, and stay alive while bodies pile up and skeletons serve them soup. It’s full of bloody twists and surprises, great reading for dark nights. And it’s the first in a series. (Kelley, our Teen Librarian, would like to note for the record that she also loved Gideon).
Spurred by the wonderful N.C. Wyeth exhibit that recently opened at the Portland Museum of Art, and by the shameful realization that I had never read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, I am currently having my timbers shivered by an edition of Stevenson’s classic tale of adventure illustrated by Wyeth, whose pictures are truly worth a thousand words.
I am midway through the book, curling up on the couch to read awhile on these gray drizzly evenings. The story is exciting. The characters epitomize pluck and mettle. The fact that I don’t speak pirate or have a background in nautical lingo puts me at a disadvantage, but I don’t really need to know a scupper from a foc’s’le to know that Long John Silver is not a nice man. I suspect that good will out, but not before the body count rises yet more.
I’ll be honest: I am less driven by the filled-to-bursting story of mutineers and treasure maps, cutlasses, muskets and all the rest, than I am by the prospect of another of N.C.’s evocative illustrations coming up in another few pages. Moody and textured, they tell the story alongside the writing and have kept me yo-ho-ho-ing when I might otherwise have given up for the night. It has been such a lovely way to move through a book, from picture to picture, enjoying the story even more than I expected.
All in all, a pretty good way to end the early darkening days.
If you venture to the PMA, you will be treated to a few of the original oil paintings that comprise the book’s illustrations. Some original Wyeth works reproduced in other classic novels are included in the show as well. N.C. Wyeth isn’t only about his illustrations, though, so this is an opportunity to see (and love) his fine art work as well. Absolutely worth the trip.
Read some books. See some art. Spend time in your own imagination. Now that’s an adventure.
As always, thanks for reading! If you are looking for more reading ideas, try filling out a Your Next (Great!) Read form to get a personalized list of reading suggestions from our Reader’s Advisory Staff, or check out our Staff Picks page for booklists.