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Staff Picks: Books

Year-End Review

As 2018 winds down, its a customary tradition for staff to compile a list of those books, movies and albums that have inspired us, made us laugh, made us cry, stoked our imagination, and provoked us to think deeply about the relationship between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy and art and life. Here are a few of my favorites.

 

Winter, Karl Ove Knausgaard
Becoming, Michelle Obama
WKW: the Cinema of Wong Kar Wai, John Powers
Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir, John Banville
Meaty, Samantha Irby
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh
These Truths: A History of the United States, Jill Lepore
The Largesse of the Sea Maidens, Denis Johnson

 


End of Year Scramble

It never fails.

Every year at this time, I find myself scrambling to read, before the end of the year, at least one or two more books; titles that are appearing and re-appearing on many “best of [insert year]” lists. Of course, it’s a self-imposed deadline; I can certainly read these books whenever I please. But in just a matter of weeks, we’ll be on our way to starting a new “best of” list, so I use this opportunity to add a couple more contenders to my personal “best books of the year” list.

That Kind of Mother follows the life of Rebecca Stone—white, poet, dreamer, wife, and mother—through her first twelve or so years of motherhood. A sequence of events involving the woman of color Rebecca hired to be her older child’s nanny at a time when, as a new mother, Rebecca was unsure and afraid, leads her and her husband to adopt a black son too. The result: an in-depth examination of what it means to be a mother and to be a family, and of how Rebecca makes sense of that experience at different times in her life. 

If you like character-driven plots, with complicated, strained, and tender relationships all rolled into one story, I urge you to pick this one up. And yes, I consider it one of my favorites of the year.


ONE HUNGRY BUNNY WITH EARS SO FUNNY

Hungry Bunny is a fun, interactive preschool picture book about, ( yes, you guessed it), a hungry bunny. This bunny's tummy rumbles and grumbles, so he sets off to pick some juicy apples that just might be the perfect snack to appease his appetite.

The young reader can help bunny perform his apple gathering task by shaking the tree so that the apples fall down, blow away the leaves, etc. This book also has a handy "red scarf", ( really a bookmark ribbon), to help our little buck-toothed protagonist climb the tree and even make a makeshift bridge. In the end, bunny and his family enjoy some freshly baked apple pie and share it with the reader! Imagine that!

By New York Times bestselling author and illustrator Claudia Rueda. This is an all-around wonderful book to please the fancy of the younger set!


My Beijing by Nie Jun

My Beijing: Four Stories of Everday Wonder by Nie Jun is a children's graphic novel that collects four brief but fantastic stories. The tales bring Yu'er and her grandpa's neighborhood to life, all with interesting characters and a twist of magical realism. Nie Jun's art is whimsical and bright. I read this graphic novel quickly, but it stayed with me, so I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for more from this author. Although you'll find it shelved with children's books, My Beijing is for all ages of comic fans.


What Makes a Garden Grow?

A really wonderful, sad and yet hopeful story, The Rough Patch written and superbly illustrated by New York Times bestselling author Brian Lies is about a fox named Evan and his devoted dog.

Truly the best of friends, Evan and his pooch do everything together. Of all the activities that they engage in, they most relish working in Evan's magnificent garden! It is almost a magical place for plants, and everything they planted there thrived.

But one day , completely out of the blue, Evan sees his beloved canine friend lying dead in his doggie bed and everything in their wonderful existence changes.Evan first shuts himself out from the outside world by staying inside his house. He then decides to vent some of his dark feelings by cutting and slashing his beloved garden to the ground and disposing of the resultant plant trash by throwing it into a large pile. In place of his once beautiful garden filled with fragrant flowers and vibrant vegetables, newly sprouted, unattractive, prickly, dark weeds grew and so this garden became a sad, desolate place which matched his now never-changing mood.

However, one day he finds a pumpkin vine had snuck under a fence from the neighboring yard. His first inclination is to destroy it, but he rationalizes that since it was fuzzy, prickly, and spidery, that he would let it be. Evan ends up watering it and caring for it and decides to enter the pumpkin in the local fall fair. His pumpkin wins third place and as a prize he gets to choose either ten dollars or a pup found inside a cardboard box. Evan's first inclination is to take the money but he then hears a scratching sound coming from inside the box and thinks it wouldn't hurt to peek inside. He ends up adopting one of the pups and drives it home in his old red truck. And the rest( as they say) is history.

 A well written book on the topics of friendship, loss and redemption. Accompanied by beautifully detailed illustrations done with heart. This winner of a book is sure to please kids and many adults as well!

 

 


NYRB Classic Series

For all of the various ways we as readers can discover new authors and titles (amazing librarian recommended titles being a fantastic one), there are still those moments, even as a librarian, that the girth of new and exciting books to choose from overwhelms me, leading to a kind of mental paralysis. To get around this, I've recently decided that what I need is to focus my reading efforts. I am going to try my hand at reading only books published as part of the New York Review Books series (NYRB) for the next couple of months. I'm starting off this project with Arthur Schnitzler's Late Fame. From their web site:

The NYRB Classics series is dedicated to publishing an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction from different eras and times and of various sorts. The series includes nineteenth century novels and experimental novels, reportage and belles lettres, tell-all memoirs and learned studies, established classics and cult favorites, literature high, low, unsuspected, and unheard of. NYRB Classics are, to a large degree, discoveries, the kind of books that people typically run into outside of the classroom and then remember for life.


The House of Broken Angels

I've mentioned before that I like audiobooks which are narrated by the author, so when I found a new book written and read by the author of Into the Beautiful North, one of my favorite of KPL's Reading Together selections, I was doubly excited. The House of Broken Angels more than lived up to my expectations. I would recommend it in any format, but the book is so full of vivid characters and a mixture of English, Spanish, and Spanglish, that Luis Alberto Urrea's narration is the perfect way to give voice to its rich language.

The House of Broken Angels recounts a few days in the life of a large Mexican-American family, as the central character, Big Angel, is preparing to die. As morbid as that may sound, the story is tender, funny, and lively. The perspective shifts from one character to another, revealing their inner thoughts at least as much as their words and actions. The novel paints a colorful and true-to-life portrait of family life in its glory and despair, and everything in between. 


A Donkey Named Winslow

Sharon Creech is a multiple award winning author of Moo, one of my all time favorite J fiction books. So, when i saw that she had published another, titled Saving Winslow, just this past September 2018, i grabbed it and read it in one sitting. The book is a short 165 pages making it a very engaging, quick  read.

This time , the story revolves around middle schooler Louis and a donkey named Winslow. Louis is surprised when his father gives him a day-old , gray, mini-donkey from Uncle Pete's small farm. The newborn donkey's mother is too sick to care for him, so both adults hope the animal will fare better under Louis's attention, this despite his track record for nurturing young animals in the past  have never been successful. Louis however, is undaunted by his past pet failures , and accepts the mission to care for this pitiful donkey, even though is parents and others tell him not to get too attached to the young animal because it will probably end up dying in a day or so. Undeterred, Louis is determined to succeed this time.

The ending is a somewhat surprising revelation about the special bond between boy and donkey, and the special love that letting things go requires. A well written book that will tug at the heartstrings of any school aged child who loves animals. Sharon Creech has done it again!


9-11 Literature

Author Bryan Charles grew up in Galesburg, Michigan and attended Gull Lake High School in the early 1990’s. His sophomore effort is a memoir detailing the ups and down’s of trying to be an aspiring writer in the Big Apple, after having relocated from Kalamazoo to New York City in the late 1990’s. He quickly discovers the cruel realities associated with big city living, with much of the early part of the book chronicling his frustration with having to work at a soul-crushing job instead of being recognized as the next Don DeLillo. The best-written part of the book (first having appeared in a literary journal as The Numbers), and certainly the book’s emotional core, contains a harrowing passage that describes his escape from one of the World Trade towers on September 11, 2001. Other novels and collections of short stories that attempted to meditate on the post and pre-9-11 world include:

Falling Man: A Novel, Don DeLillo

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud 

The Submission by Amy Waldman 

The Zero by Jess Walter 

Oblivion: Stories by David Foster Wallace

Netherworld by Joseph O'Neill

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer 


The River Why

I recently borrowed this 1983 novel by David James Duncan from my parents, and as soon as I began it, I wondered why I’d never picked it up before. The River Why is a hilarious, quirky, and heartfelt coming-of-age story with a conservation message narrated by the highly earnest Gus Orviston. The son of two passionate but very different fisherpeople, Gus moves to an isolated fishing cabin on an Oregon river as soon as he graduates from high school—in part to escape the maddening relationship between the people who taught him his deep love of fishing. Gus also wants to live by what he calls an "ideal schedule," allotting as much time as possible each day to fishing, spending the bare minimum on necessities such as eating and sleeping.

Gus gradually discovers that as much as he loves fishing, his life is lacking something. Several friends and acquaintances—particularly his eccentric little brother Bill Bob, the only member of the Orivston family who doesn't like fishing—guide Gus in discovering the deeper meaning of life.

I liked this book so much, I wanted to share it with others by writing a review, but at the time, KPL did not own a copy. So I used the suggest an item feature on kpl.gov to request that the library purchase a copy, and they did. Check it out!