Memoirs

  • kenya

    Do you have an upcoming trip? Whether it’s for business or pleasure, there’s a sure fire way to increase the awesomeness of your travel experience: Check out a book. 

    But not just any book. Check out a book that was written about the place you’re going. Whether you’re headed to Rome, Hong Kong, or St. George, we have a book that will help you connect with that place, its culture and its history. 

    A couple years ago I spent a few months at a girls school in Kenya. I had a wonderfully immersive experience made only better by the fact that while I was there I was pretty dedicated to reading literature written by people who actually lived, or had lived, in Kenya. Doing this helped broaden my perspective of this young, postcolonial country that I was trying to understand. Here are 5 of my favorite Kenyan books: 

    7.21 Out of AfricaOUT OF AFRICA
    By Isak Dinesen
    (1937)

    This is one of the most familiar Kenyan literature titles thanks to the movie featuring Meryl Streep. Karen Blixen (pen name, Isak Dinesen) writes her biographical memoir of life on a Kenyan coffee farm when Kenya was still a British colony. She was one of many Danes who migrated to Kenya, where the Danish presence remains strong to this day. Her home has been converted into a historical memorial and museum, and while the area that was once her plantation has become part of Nairobi, the locals still refer to the entire area as “Karen.” Blixen’s views are decidedly white-washed, but she still gives a lovely and honest account of what it was like for an educated, single (married but separated) white woman to take up living in a completely foreign environment. 

    7.21 West with the NightWEST WITH THE NIGHT
    By Beryl Markham
    (1942) 

    This is another Kenyan colonial memoir. I picked this up because I was told by a fellow literature BA that it had some of the most beautiful prose she’d ever read. She wasn’t wrong. Both Markham and Dinesen paint a beautiful picture of the fantastic Kenyan landscape that is so foreign to many of us living in the US. This is also another great feminist tale as Markham shares her experiences as a single, woman pilot in the African bush. One of her most intense scenes involves an elephant hunt with a murderous bull elephant. While reading this, the locals had already made sure I was scared to death of these big, beautiful creatures, but this scene solidified that fear. Interestingly enough, if you read Out of Africa and wonder where Blixen’s husband is, you can find him hanging out with Markham in this tale, proving how close knit the white settlers were at this time. 

    7.21 UnbowedUNBOWED
    By Wangari Maathai
    (2006) 

    There’s no way my reading list would be complete without this amazing autobiography by Wangari Maathai, a Nobel Prize winner for her work with the Green Belt Movement. She was the personal hero of many of the girls on campus, and her views gave me important insight into both the environmental and political crises facing the country. Unbowed is the perfect title for this book about a woman who never stepped back from a fight if she knew the cause would help her country.  

    Unfortunately, the Provo library doesn’t own the following two books, but they are still worth looking up. 

     

    7.21 A Grain of WheatA GRAIN OF WHEAT
    By Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʼo
    (1967) 

    Even though the Provo library doesn’t currently own any of the fictional works of renowned Kenyan writer, Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʼo, we do have his autobiography, BIRTH OF A DREAM WEAVER: A WRITER'S AWAKENING. A Grain of Wheat is worth a read if you’re at all interested in the Kenyan independence movement of the 50s. It’s an emotion-driven tale of the controversy that overshadowed the personal lives of everyone leading up to Uhuru. For me, this was an important glimpse into the feelings of someone who actually lived through these turbulent times and the resulting aftermath. 

     

    7.21 The River and the SourceTHE RIVER AND THE SOURCE
    By Margaret A. Ogola
    (1995)

    I read this book in tandem with the girls at the school where I was living. This amazing tale follows a family through 4 generations, spanning from tribal life in the bush, through university degrees and life in the city. This tale covers love, loss, disease, and political instability as the family tries to survive and stay true to their roots. Akoko, the first protagonist, is heralded throughout as the matriarch of the family, the source of the river.

     

     

  • period dramas

    Although I am working to expand the type of books I read, my favorite place to be is always in a Historical Fiction or Historical Memoir book. It gives me the ability to time travel a little and appreciate the qualities of another time without having to deal with an outbreak of disease or not having indoor plumbing.

    Naturally, my favorite shows to watch are Historical Period Dramas. As a result of watching these I have read the books they are based on and have found some that I love. Here are the best 4 adaptations I have seen and read:

    3.23 Lark Rise to CandlefordLARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD: A TRILOGY
    By Flora Thompson
    (2009)

    Adaptation: LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD
    Directed by Susan Tully
    (2008- 2011)

    This show is based on the semiautobiographical series from Flora Thompson. She grew up in a small hamlet, but she begins the memoirs as she moves to a nearby village for her first job in a post office around 1899. Both the show and the books are focused on the changes that occur during this pivotal time, and the difficulties that can draw village and country together.

     

    3.23 Call the MidwifeCALL THE MIDWIFE: A MEMOIR OF BIRTH, JOY, and HARD TIMES
    By Jennifer Worth
    (2012)

    Adaptation: CALL THE MIDWIFE
    Directed by Emma Sullivan
    (2012 - )

    Many have probably heard of CALL THE MIDWIFE. A fair warning, if you read the books you will shed even more tears after all the ones that have poured out from this show. Along with the birth stories, I appreciate Jenny’s focus on the aftermath of the workhouse in her memoir and series.   

     

    3.23 North and South DVDNORTH AND SOUTH
    By Elizabeth Gaskell
    (2003)    

    Adaptation: NORTH AND SOUTH
    Directed by Brian Percival
    (2004)

    NORTH AND SOUTH was written a few years after the Great Exhibition of 1851, so the setting is very accurate even though Milton is a fictional place. The focus is on social classes, and although this took place long ago it is good to remember these social injustices still exist. We also own a book club set of this, so read it with your friends!

     

    3.23 PoldarkROSS POLDARK
    By Winston Graham
    (2015)

    Adaptation: POLDARK
    Directed by Edward Bazalgette and Will McGregor
    (2015 - )

    There is a whole series from Winston Graham that Poldark is based on, but I have only read the first. Ross is returning home from the American Revolutionary War, and things are very different back home. He has to now cope with his father dying while he was away, and the woman he loves is married to his cousin. His political views along with his reflections from the war are wonderful to read.

     
  • reading lately

    I’ve been luxuriating in memoir lately. It’s so powerful to read about people’s experiences in their own words. It’s like sitting down with them in a cozy corner and having a really good chat.

    Memoir is deeply personal writing about a specific time in a person’s life and touches on the person’s memories, feelings, and emotions.

    Memoir can be inspiring, horrifying, intoxicating, and hysterical. If you are interested in trying out memoir for the first time, or are looking for your next good read, check out this list of what I’ve been reading lately.

    5.21 EducatedEDUCATED
    By Tara Westover
    (2018)

    Tara Westover grew up living off the grid in Idaho. Her erratic father and her midwife mother were strict fundamentalist, so Tara and her siblings never went to school. Tara was 17 the first time she entered a classroom. This is an astounding memoir about how Westover taught herself so she could enter BYU as a college freshman.

    This was a heart wrenching read. The ignorance, squalor, and violence that she experienced in her family of origin is hard to stomach. How could a story like this happen in a modern, civilized world? Yet, the way Westover describes her experience is unflinching and ultimately inspirational. This one will really make you think.       

     

    5.21 BecomingBECOMING
    By Michelle Obama
    (2018)

    This is an intimate portrait of a powerful woman who has experienced heartbreaks and successes that have shaped an amazing life. I really appreciated the section where she recounts her experience with fertility treatments and trying to get pregnant.

    These tender details make this more than just a “famous person” memoir. It is articulate and impeccably written. Reading this book was like having Michelle Obama as a delightful house guest for a couple of days.

     

    5.21 In PiecesIN PIECES
    by Sally Field
    (2018)

    Field gives an unflinching and heartbreaking view of Old Hollywood and her experiences as she evolved from teen sweetheart to Oscar-winning leading lady.

    Field’s authenticity and vulnerability is compelling and her life is inspiring. Though some of the subject matter is dark, her glowing hope shines through. This is a beautifully written, tender and raw memoir about an inner child who just wants to be enough.

     

    5.21 Whiskey in a TeacupWHISKEY IN A TEACUP: WHAT GROWING UP IN THE SOUTH TAUGHT ME ABOUT LIFE, LOVE, AND BAKING BISCUITS
    By Reese Witherspoon
    (2018

    )In this chatty memoir/recipe book, Reese Witherspoon shares what it was like growing up in The South, particularly the influence of her grandmother Dorothea. At the end of each chapter, she shares family recipes and lists of books and music that can bring the charm and tradition of Tennessee to your home.

    I loved this book. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but Reese Witherspoon writes with charm and candor about her upbringing and the power of family. It was really interesting to see into her life outside of her movies.

     

    5.21 Talking as Fast as I CanTALKING AS FAST AS I CAN: FROM GILMORE GIRLS TO GILMORE GIRLS, (AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN)
    By Lauren Graham
    (2016)

    This memoir was like talking to my best friends about life, love, and our favorite episodes of GILMORE GIRLS. Graham explains her childhood, her life-changing role as Dolly Levi in HELLO, DOLLY!  and all the things that lead her to GILMORE GIRLS and PARENTHOOD. She also shares from her diary that she kept during the filming of GILMORE GIRLS: A YEAR IN THE LIFE and her reunion with Alexis Bledel and Kelly Bishop and what it was like to be without Edward Herriman’s quintessential Richard Gilmore. But mostly it is about how she always felt that she had something inside of her that she wanted to share, that she needed to impart, and she did, talking as fast as she could.

     
  •  Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness month? I would guess that, if we haven’t already, all of us will at some point experience our own mental health struggles or have someone very close to us who does. Just like the rest of our bodies, our minds can go through periods of wellness and periods of poor health, and they deserve care and treatment.

    A generation or two ago, these struggles might have been kept quiet. Fortunately, our culture is becoming more accepting of and open about mental health. For instance, you might have heard about the Heads Together campaign, spearheaded by younger members of the British royal family, or about the Campaign to Change Direction. Programs like these aim to reduce stigma against mental illness, to educate, and to provide mental health resources.

    In recent years, memoirs dealing with mental health, including some REALLY funny memoirs, have become common. Their humorous but honest approach can remind us that we aren't alone and keep us laughing. Here are a few of my favorites.

    Hyperbole and a HalfHYPERBOLE AND A HALF
    By Allie Brosh
    (2013)

    Even if you’ve never heard of Brosh or her blog, you’ve probably seen her CLEAN ALL THE THINGS! meme. Brosh blogs about everyday life using a mix of text and crudely drawn webcomics. In addition to sharing hilarious stories about grammar, her childhood, and her dogs, she has also written about ADHD and, famously, depression.

    Whether in book or blog form, HYPERBOLE AND A HALF might just be the funniest thing I’ve ever read.

    I’ve been eagerly awaiting her second book for a couple of years now, but its expected release date has been pushed back from 2017 to 2050. I’ll be impatiently waiting into old age, it appears.  

    Furiously HappyFURIOUSLY HAPPY: A FUNNY BOOK ABOUT HORRIBLE THINGS
    By Jenny Lawson
    (2015)

    Jenny Lawson (a.k.a. the bloggess) is another author who started out in the blogosphere. She writes irreverently about living in a small Texas town with her patient husband, their daughter, and an ever-growing collection of quirky taxidermy. She frequently writes about her experiences with depression, anxiety, and avoidant personality disorder. FURIOUSLY HAPPY is my favorite of her books, but I also love her first memoir LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED and YOU ARE HERE, a coloring book of the illustrations she creates in moments of anxiety.

     

    Adulthood is a MythADULTHOOD IS A MYTH
    By Sarah Andersen
    (2016)

    This is a book you could easily read in an hour or two. Sarah Andersen, who also gained a following online (I’m sensing a theme here), creates comics about life as a Millennial adult. In simple drawings, she depicts social anxiety, body image struggles, insecurity, and how pets make it all a bit better.

     

    Heart and BrainHEART AND BRAIN: AN AWKWARD YETI COLLECTION
    By Nick Seluk
    (2015)

    Nick Seluck is another webcomic creator who eventually became a published author. He is best known for comics depicting inner turmoil between logical Brain and fanciful Heart, as well as various other organs (I have a soft spot for the adorable Gallbladder). I’ve especially enjoyed his comics about anxiety and insomnia.

     

    Youre Never Weird on the InternetYOU’RE NEVER WEIRD ON THE INTERNET (ALMOST)
    By Felicia Day
    (2015)

    Felicia Day’s life has been an unusual one. Homeschooled as a child, she went to college at sixteen, finished her math degree with flying colors, and then became an actress and web-series developer. She writes about anxiety, depression, and the intense gaming addiction she developed in her twenties.

    YOU’RE NEVER WEIRD ON THE INTERNET is easily the funniest celebrity memoir I’ve ever read (and I’ve read an embarrassing number of celebrity memoirs). Day’s narration of the audiobook is especially hysterical.

     

  •  Pills

    I’ve been surprised as an adult by how much I enjoy reading memoirs. Plenty of these have been fluffy or funny celebrity memoirs, but in the last year or so, I’ve been drawn to powerful and sometimes troubling personal stories of people who have survived childhood trauma. Though it would be an exaggeration to call my own childhood traumatic, I’ve found wisdom, inspiration, humanity, and a surprising amount of connection in these stories.

    Famous memoirist Jeannette Walls once said in a New York Times interview, “The best self-help books, in my opinion, are memoirs. If people are honest about what happened to them, those stories are astonishing gifts to those of us grappling with – or just trying to understand – similar situations. I give away my memoirs like aspirins to friends who are going through tough times. Sometimes, it’s easier to have perspective on someone else’s life than your own.”

    So, readers, here are a few of my favorite literary aspirins, memoirs of resilience, all told with compassion and honesty.

    3.22 The Glass CastleTHE GLASS CASTLE
    By Jeannette Walls
    (2013)

    Walls grew up in a family that moved from place to place, descending further into poverty and dysfunction as the years past in spite of their love for each other. Her father’s alcoholism and the mental illness of both parents caused extreme financial hardship and often left the Walls children in danger, but Jeannette and her siblings banded together to work their way out into the world. THE GLASS CASTLE is beautiful, horrifying, and unflinchingly honest, as Walls grapples to overcome her shame and stop hiding her past.

     

    3.22 EducatedEDUCATED
    By Tara Westover
    (2018)

    I've been floored by just how good this recent release is. Tara Westover was raised in rural Idaho by survivalist parents who practice an extreme and bizarre take on Mormonism.  Westover’s paranoid father, convinced the government was his enemy, had the children born at home so they wouldn’t have birth certificates, wouldn’t allow them to attend school, and insisted on home care by their herbalist mother for even the most life-threatening illnesses. A blind eye is turned to any abuse in the home. Westover eventually works her way to BYU, Cambridge, and eventually Harvard where she discovers the full emancipation of an education.

     

    3.22 You Dont Have to Say You Love Me aYOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME
    By Sherman Alexie
    (2017)

    Celebrated author Sherman Alexie has written fiction and poetry for all ages, but this is his first time publishing a memoir.  He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and was raised by an alcoholic father and a recovering alcoholic mother. He recounts the regular abuse, violence, and racism he both witnessed and experienced as a child in a moving mix of essays, letters, and poetry. He also describes the complicated relationship between himself and his mother as they both struggled with mental illness.

     

    3.22 Hillbilly ElegyHILLBILLY ELEGY
    By J.D. Vance
    (2016)

    Vance was raised Middletown Ohio by a family originally from Kentucky. His parents had moved for good factory jobs that temporarily provided them a middle class life, but never quite escaped the culture of poverty. Drug addiction, alcoholism, violence, and verbal abuse continue to plague their lives. Vance, now a Yale-educated lawyer, shares not just his own experiences, but an insightful sociological critique of hillbilly culture.

     

    3.22 Born A CrimeBORN A CRIME
    By Trevor Noah
    (2016)

    This is not your typical celebrity memoir. Comedian Trevor Noah, best known as the current host of the Daily Show, grew up in Apartheid South Africa as the son of a black mother and a white man. His parents’ union was illegal, and Trevor’s visibly mixed heritage meant that he couldn’t be seen with either parent in public without risking their arrest. BORN A CRIME is largely a love letter to Noah’s mother, a powerful, devout woman who fiercely protected her son.

     
  • Julia Child

    I have a confession. Sometimes I get really fangirly about something or someone and I read everything that I can find on that thing or person. I watch every movie; I read every book or magazine. I watch every YouTube video. Being a fan is a way of life for me. And this year I got all fangirly about Julia Child. She has become a hero of mine. She is now someone I look up to, someone I understand, someone with whom I relate. If you are curious about Julia Child, here are some of the best offerings Provo Library has on this big, loud, lovely woman. 

    12.28 My Life in FranceMY LIFE IN FRANCE
    By Julia Child
    (2006) 

    This memoir was begun just months before Julia’s death and describes her and Paul’s years in Paris, Marseille, and Provence. But it is also about her journey from a young woman from Pasadena who cannot cook or speak any French to the publication of her legendary Mastering cookbooks and her winning the hearts of America as "The French Chef."  

    This is an upbeat, funny, and richly detailed memoir about Julia’s blossoming at age 40. Working for the government and meeting Paul Child changed her life forever. Their love story and their love affair with France is heartwarming and swoonworthy, as is all the food.  

     

    12.28 The French Chef in AmericaTHE FRENCH CHEF IN AMERICA: JULIA CHILD’S SECOND ACT
    By Alex Prud’homme
    (2016) 

    This is basically part two of My Life in France. Nephew Alex Prud'homme recounts Julia Child's life during the late sixties to the early eighties when, after the success of her book MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING brought her fame, she struggled to re-find herself and create her legacy in America. This book focuses specifically on Julia’s work in America. It discusses her groundbreaking television program, the many cookbooks she wrote, and her documentaries.  

    By this point in Julia's life, Paul had become confused and surly. He never really recovered from a surgery he had. Though Paul was prickly with other people, he was Julia’s partner in everything. It’s amazing to see how Julia juggled her career and her marriage. The biography reads like a narrative and was so hard to put down. 

     

    12.28 DearieDEARIE: THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF JULIA CHILD
    By Bob Spitz
    (2012) 

    This is a delightful biography of a delightful woman. It gives comprehensive coverage of Julia’s entire life, not just her time in France. It particularly focuses the complex and passionate relationship between Julia and Paul. This relationship was the catalyst for Julia’s blossoming into a confident, competent, and creative chef and TV personality. It also discusses how Julia found her own voice and beliefs after being sequestered in the heart of California amongst her family and friends. The book was such a great read. The new information and excerpts from letters really made Julia and Paul real.  

     

    12.28 As Always JuliaAS ALWAYS JULIA: THE LETTERS OF JULIA CHILD AND AVIS DEVOTO
    Edited by Joan Reardon
    (2010)

    Julia Child is famous for her cooking, her size, and her voice. But one lesser known thing about Julia Child is that she was a prolific letter writer. One of her favorite correspondents was her dear friend Avis DeVoto. Some may have heard about Avis from her brief mention in the movie JULIE AND JULIA, but as is often the case, the movie doesn't do her justice at all. Avis DeVoto was a writer and a chef in her own right. She was an inspirational and a driving force behind both volumes of Julia's MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING. The letters between these two friends over the space of a lifetime are revealing of their humor, their intelligence, and their spunk. 

     

    I loved reading about Julia this year. She has always been like a giant good fairy in my life. She blossomed at age 40, finding the love of her life and her true calling. She learned what she really believed, even though it wasn't what her family raised her to believe. She loved her country passionately, but also loved the world outside of it. These books are full of life, and love, and FOOD.

     

  • What the Heck is Hygge

    At this point in 2017, you’ve probably heard the word hygge at least once, especially if you follow the publishing industry at all. In the past twelve months, roughly a dozen books have come out on the topic, along with many articles and blog posts. Hygge was even runner up for the Collins English Dictionary word of the year. So what is it?

    Though hygge is also a word in Norwegian, it is primarily a Danish word that suggests a feeling of comfort, coziness, and contentment (pronunciation guides usually suggest it’s said hoo-ga, but the audiobooks I’ve listed to make it sound more like hoo-geh). A basic goal of Danish life, particularly during the long, cold winter months, is to make things and hyggeligt as possible. This involves good food, nights in with close friends, warm blankets and candles – lots and lots of candles. The Danes must be doing something right with all that hygge, because they consistently rank as the happiest people in the world and have an incredibly high quality of life.

    I’m prone to obsession once something catches my interest, and thanks to the explosion of Scandinavia-related publishing boom over the last year of so, I’m now engrossed by the Nordic way of life. An introverted culture, 35ish-hour workweek, and a tendency toward unity and trust? I’ll take it.

    Given that I know literally one Scandinavian person and roughly five words of Norwegian, a move across the Atlantic seems unwise for now. In the meantime, though, I can easily feed my fascination with all things Nordic through books. Here are a few of my recommendations: 

    7.27 The Nordic Theory of EverythingTHE NORDIC THEORY OF EVERYTHING: IN SEARCH OF A BETTER LIFE
    Anu Partanen
    (2016)

    This is the book that kicked off my obsession with Nordic culture. Author Anu Partanen grew up in Finland and moved to the U.S. after falling in love with an American. As a fluent English speaker who had been to the States many times, she figured she’d be fine. Instead she found herself struggling with things that had been incredibly simple at home – setting up a cell phone, paying for medical expenses, paying taxes. The Nordic Theory of Everything isn’t an attack on the U.S. – Partanen admires many things about life here. Instead, it’s a comparison of American and Nordic societies with an emphasis on the “Nordic Theory of Love” which suggests that relationships must be built on equality. Partanen also does an excellent job of debunking misconceptions about the Nordic “nanny state” and points out the ways our own system creates unrecognized dependencies.

    7.27 The Year of Living DanishlyTHE YEAR OF LIVING DANISHLY
    Helen Russell
    (2016)

    Right after finishing Partanen’s book, I picked up this one, a delightful memoir from a British journalist who moved to Denmark so that her husband could live out his dream of working for LEGO. This is the book that first introduced me to hygge, and given that it was published last January, I wonder if it’s the one that set off the hygge trend. Russell is honest and snarky about her move –delighting in Danish pastry, puzzling over recycling regulations, and bemoaning the dark, frigid winters. She sets out to understand why Danes are so happy, researching Danish recreation, childcare, education, healthcare, and more. Her book is hilarious and insightful, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys memoirs.

    7.27 The Little Book of HyggeTHE LITTLE BOOK OF HYGGE: DANISH SECRETS TO HAPPY LIVING
    Meik Wiking
    (2017)

    Meik Wiking certainly knows what he’s talking about when it comes to hygge – he’s CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen (yes, that's a thing). In this quick read, he points out simple things that create hygge – good lighting, food and drink, filling your home with high quality materials you love, and togetherness – and he backs it up with psychological research.

     

     

    7.27 How to HyggeHOW TO HYGGE: THE NORDIC SECRETS TO A HAPPY LIFE
    Signe Johansen
    (2017)

    I’ve just started this one, but I can tell that it has a slightly different approach from Wiking’s book. She covers some of the same topics – what hygge is, how to design your home with coziness in mind, spending time with loved ones – but this is primarily a cookbook. Johansen is a Norwegian chef, so if you’d like to try your hand at delicious Scandinavian recipes, this is the hygge book for you. Bonus points: it has lovely pictures to go along with many of the recipes.

     

    7.27 Modern Living Scandinavian StyleMODERN LIVING: SCANDINAVIAN STYLE
    Claire Bingham
    (2016)

    If you love the clean, natural look of Scandinavian interiors, look no further. Modern Living: Scandinavian Style goes room by room, offering tips on achieving a lived-in look. The book focuses on practical, light-filled design based around high quality materials and features interviews with numerous well-known interior designers.

     

    7.27 The Danish Way of ParentingTHE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING
    By Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl
    (2016)

    This one is still on my to-read list, since the library doesn't own it yet, but it's intriguing. Along the lines of Bringing Up Bebe, it offers an alternative to American parenting styles, with an emphasis on play, emphathy, togetherness, happiness, and avoiding power struggles.

     

     

    Clearly, Scandinavia is having something of a publishing moment, and I’m having something of a Scandinavian book year. If you get really swept up by the Nordic wave, the library has even more hygge-related books in its physical and digital collections, so happy (and hyggeligt) reading!  

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  • Chains

    One of the hallmarks of African-American literature in the “slave narrative.” These are true biographical accounts of slaves who lived in the American South. Mostly they are written by the slaves themselves (such as NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS or INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL) giving a personal touch to each story. This, along with their experiences, make the storytelling distinctive and recognizable. Following the abolition of slavery, many African Americans have continued to write in this genre, calling it the “neo-slave narrative.” Mostly these new stories are fictional novels, but they take inspiration from real slave accounts, exploring the racial tensions and anxieties of this time period. Here are a few of the best in the genre: 

    3.25 KindredKINDRED 
    By Octavia Butler
    (1979)

    A black woman spontaneously travels back in forth in time: from her apartment in 1970’s Los Angeles to a slave-holding plantation in the early 1800’s. Things do not go well. Despite its fantastic premise, Butler did extensive research to prepare for this novel. From reading personal accounts, to actually visiting the plantations, her writing is based as much as possible on the historical experience of slaves. 

     

    3.25 BelovedBELOVED 
    By Toni Morrison
    (1987)

    This story was initially inspired by an article printed in a 1865, titled "A Visit to the Slave Mother who Killed Her Child.” Half-poem, half ghost-story, Morrison’s novel includes the hardest-hitting parts of slavery. This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988 and was even made into a film starring Oprah Winfrey. 

     

    3.25 Underground RailroadTHE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD 
    By Colson Whitehead
    (2016)

    One of the oddest takes on “historical fiction” that I’ve ever read. In this story, the “Underground Railroad” is just that, literally an underground train riding through the Antebellum South. Another Pulitzer Prize winner, this novel purposefully drifts away from reality, mixing facts with fantastical reimagings. Despite the intentional inaccuracies, the work still rings true, highlighting the terrible atrocities that did occur.

     
  •  Passport

    My husband and I try to take a vacation at least every other year, but we haven’t had much money to do so and usually end up going somewhere close by for a few days. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still nice but sometimes I wish we could afford to go somewhere a little more exotic.

    Because of this, I often find myself reading as a way to travel instead. Luckily, the library has a great selection of travelogues! While travelogues aren’t the same as actually travelling the world, they’re definitely a lot cheaper (especially if you check them out from the library). Here are a few of the library’s most recent travelogue purchases:

    10.4 The RhineTHE RHINE 
    By Ben Coates
    (2018)

    For five years, author Ben Coates lived alongside the Rhine River. In this book, he details his journey by bicycle along the river. He explores the impact that the Rhine has had on European culture and history, particularly those who live alongside it.

     

    10.4 My 25 Years in ProvenceMY TWENTY-FIVE YEARS IN PROVENCE
    By Peter Mayle
    (2018)

    Twenty-five years ago, Peter Mayle and his wife went on a vacation. When their original vacation destination fell through, the ended up in Aix-en-Provence. While there, they fell in love with town and decided to uproot their lives in England to move there.

     

    10.4 South Toward HomeSOUTH TOWARD HOME 
    By Julia Reed
    (2018)

    For some travel a little closer to home, this book is about Julia Reed traveling through the American South where she grew up. With humor and affection, she explores the highs of Southern life while also shining a light on some of the region’s more embarrassing tendencies.

     
  • Shoes

    One of the things I love about reading is the ability to gain new perspectives and empathize with others, even when they’re fictional. I especially love books that let me safely experience things outside of my comfort zone. As a public librarian my path crosses with a wide variety of people, and while it can be easy to make assumptions, I read a few books this year that I felt gave me a new understanding of the people around me.

    NONFICTION 

    3.27 EducatedEDUCATED
    By Tara Westover
    (2018)

    People come to the Library for a variety of reasons and with a variety of backgrounds. This book reminds me that, what at first glance can appear to be rudeness, laziness, or a lack of cleanliness, can be due to a variety of legitimate reasons I know nothing about. Tara Westover was born in the mountains of Idaho to survivalist parents and didn’t set foot in a classroom until she was 17-years-old. Attending college was different from any experience she’d ever had, and her unique past and limited understanding of the world, history, and social norms made her experiences and accomplishments all the more extraordinary. Sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction, and this powerful memoir is just that.

     

    3.27 The 57 BusTHE 57 BUS 
    By Dashka Slater
    (2017)

    I’ve had the opportunity to take books to teens in juvenile detention, meeting several who dreamed of a life better than the one they were living. I’ve also met people with a variety of gender identities, struggling to figure out who they are. This book follows the lives of two teens in with similar struggles, something I’ve never dealt with, and found very eye opening. One day on the 57 bus, for no particular reason aside from thinking it could be funny, Richard set Sasha’s skirt on fire. He thought it would smolder a bit and surprise Sasha, like a practical joke, but instead it erupted in a ball of flames, severely burning Sasha’s body. It was treated as a hate crime since Sasha is agender, and Richard was facing life imprisonment. Using her background in journalism, Slater covers the lives and decisions of both teens leading up to the incident, and how both lives were heartbreakingly altered.

     

    FICTION 

    3.27 An Absolutely Remarkable ThingAN ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE THING
    By Hank Green
    (2018)

    I met one of my favorite YouTubers this year and was amazed at how normal she was without a camera in hand. In an age of social media influencers it can be easy to idolize people and feel like you know them without actually meeting them. In this contemporary sci-fi novel, mysterious giant statues appear overnight around the world, and April May goes viral for being in a YouTube video about the first one. What does becoming an overnight celebrity do to a person? How does social media change our perception of reality? This book explores those questions in a way that feels genuine and personal, probably because the author is a social media influencer himself. If you follow someone who makes their living on social media, this book can be eye opening. 

     

    3.27 Sea WitchSEA WITCH 
    By Sarah Henning
    (2018)

    If you’ve seen the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, odds are you have a pretty negative opinion of the Sea Witch. Henning spins the original Hans Christian Andersen tale a little differently, focusing on the origin of the Sea Witch, and only introducing the Little Mermaid at the very end where the original tale begins. It’s hard to not feel compassion for the Sea Witch when you understand her background and why she made the decision to take the Little Mermaids voice in exchange for legs. While Disney’s Sea Witch is an archetypal villain, Henning humanizes her and turns her into a sympathetic and multifaceted character that feels more realistic. If you want your perception of a fictional character to take a 180° turn, this is the book to do it. 

     

    3.27 Warm BodiesWARM BODIES 
    By Isaac Marion
    (2011)

    Okay, I can’t say I’ve ever met a zombie, but if a zombie apocalypse were to ever happen, I want the zombies to be like the ones in WARM BODIES. The vast majority of the book is spent inside R’s head, listening to his internal dialogue and seeing the changed world through his eyes. It’s quite philosophical for a zombie book, which is why it’s on my list. R has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams. He doesn’t enjoy killing people; he enjoys riding escalators and listing to Frank Sinatra. When he decides to let one girl live and keep her safe from the undead, his life death will change forever. This is a funny, scary, and moving take on the classic Romeo and Juliet story.

     

    So, if you want to expand your horizons this year, exercise your empathy, and perhaps get out of your comfort zone through the safety of a book, I would highly recommend any of these titles.

     
  • Graphic Novels

    It’s okay to have a favorite genre. It’s okay to be afraid to branch out. Though a rare event, I know how bitterly disappointing it is to try a new book and hate it. Such travesty I would not wish upon my worst enemy! (Kidding, I would, #slytherin). That said, I wouldn’t be doing due diligence as a librarian if I didn’t give you a helpful nudge out of your reading rut.  

    May I suggest reading graphic novels?

    “Graphic novels aren’t real books.”

    “Those are just for kids, people should grow out of that.”

    “What’s to read? They’re just pictures with blurbs”

    “I’m not into superheroes or that Japanese stuff.”

    If you had any of these thoughts, please allow me to meme at you for a moment.

    2gzi50

    Don’t be afraid. I’m here to guide you.

    Graphic novels are certainly real books, with character development, rich plotlines, exploratory themes, symbols, morals – you name it, they’ve got it. They aren’t just for kids, though there are titles written for all audiences. And there’s plenty of graphic novels written in all styles and genres, not just superhero comics or “that Japanese stuff” - or as it’s actually called, manga. And sure, you’re allowed to read what you already know you love (that’s one of the joys of reading!), but you’re missing out if you wave off this versatile, engaging medium.

    That’s right, graphic novels are a medium of storytelling, not a genre. Understanding this concept breaks many of the misconceptions I mentioned above. The visual component of graphic novels is part of the storytelling. And I don’t mean just the illustrations, but all its facets:  style, color, division of space on the page, panel shapes, panel borders, speech bubbles, captions, and more! Like other novelists write books in verse, prose, letters, journal entries, and more, graphic novel artists use visual elements to best present the story. It’s fascinating to see how different artists employ visual techniques in their story telling!

    Just like traditional novels, graphic novels cross all genres. It’s one of the beauties of the medium! With that said, that can make it hard to know where to start. Here are some suggestions for you:

    Genre: Memoir

    I could really go on and on about graphic memoirs, but I’ll let you explore this past blog post. My first non-manga, non-superhero graphic novel was MAUS, a popular, compelling read that introduces many people to the world of graphic novels. If you want something with a lighter tone, anything by Lucy Knisley (author of RELISH: MY LIFE IN THE KITCHEN) is an excellent choice. Her friendly, relatable tone and use of light, pastel color palette make her books, especially this one, a great choice for the shy newcomer.

    11.2 MausMAUS I
    by Art Spiegelman
    (1980)

     

    11.2 RelishRELISH: MY LIFE IN THE KITCHEN
    by Lucy Knisley
    (2013)

     

    Genre: Classics

    11.2 MetamorphosisMETAMORPHOSIS
    by Kafka 
    (2003)

    Kafka’s tales lend themselves so very well to visual interpretation. Acclaimed graphic artist Peter Kuper presents a kinetic illustrated adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Kuper's electric drawings--where American cartooning meets German expressionism--bring Kafka's prose to vivid life, reviving the original story's humor and poignancy in a way that will surprise and delight readers of Kafka and graphic novels alike.

     

    Genre: Magical Realism

    11.2 I Kill GiantsI KILL GIANTS
    by Joe Kelly
    (2008)

     

    Genre: Mystery

    11.2 Girl Over ParisGIRL OVER PARIS
    by Kate Leth
    (2016)

     

    Hopefully I’ve shown you how graphic novels would be a great addition to your to-read list! If you’re interested in reading more, check out this blog post that provides some fun fact and additional reading about graphic novels. And if you want a personalized recommendation, please come see us at the Reference Desk!

     
  •  writing memoir

    Since I have been reading a lot of memoir, I have been thinking about how you write a memoir.  I have been an obsessive journaler since I was thirteen.  In my early twenties I wanted to do something more than just journal.  A writing mentor introduced me to Natalie Goldberg’s WRITING DOWN THE BONES and I was hooked. I didn’t know there were books about writing books! 

    The most important thing I learned from this book was to get in the habit of writing every day in my writer’s notebook. This is the first tool in your toolkit. So, I set the goal that I was going to write in my notebook for ten minutes every day. Soon, I discovered that I was writing for thirty minutes every day. My notebook turned into notebooks! These notebooks gave me the building blocks that I needed to translate messy journal passages into thoughtful, personal essays (more on that, later). If you are interested in starting a writing practice or enriching your journaling process, check out these books from our catalogue. 

    10.09 Writing Down the BonesWRITING DOWN THE BONES
    By Natalie Goldberg
    (2010)

    This is the book that started it all. Goldberg is full of energy and excitement. Go get a notebook! Sit down! Breathe! Write! But she doesn’t leave you hanging. Every chapter is about an aspect of writing. Say you want more help with wordiness; she has a chapter for that. Maybe you have writer’s block; there’s a chapter for that. You can either read straight through, or focus on different aspects of your writing. 

     

    10.09 The Right to WriteTHE RIGHT TO WRITE
    By Julia Cameron
    (1999)

    Julia Cameron’s first book THE ARTIST’S WAY introduces the idea of morning pages. That you roll out of bed and walk over to your desk and write for thirty minutes to an hour. In this book , every chapter introduces a myth that we have been taught about writing and ways to give away those myths and keep writing. Then she gives an invitation to write. These prompts are really fun and insightful. I really enjoyed them.

     

    10.09 Writers Idea BookTHE WRITER’S IDEA BOOK
    By Jack Heffron
    (2000)

    If you want practical advice and prompts for what to write about, this is your book. Building off the ideas that you will see in Cameron and Goldberg, Heffron gives you pages and pages of writing prompts that range from the tender to the hysterical (you wake up and find a clown in your room, what do you do?)

     

    10.09 Bird by BirdBIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE
    By Anne Lamott
    (1995)

    Lamott weaves stories of her childhood throughout solid, step by step writing advice. She is inspiring in her advice to get the first draft out in your notebook and then build from there. She also encourages you to keep your heart and your eyes open because writing is everywhere and anywhere and always within us.

     

    10.09 On WritingON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT
    By Stephen King
    (2000)

    Don’t be scared. This book is amazing. For those who love King’s stories, he does talk about how he wrote his books;  for those who are a leery, he focuses on the tools of the craft more than the scary details of his demented tales.  King’s biggest piece of advice is to read. Read, read, read. “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t the time or the tools to write.”