Staff Book Suggestions Summer 2018
One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together by Amy Bass
(Library of Congress NEW GV944 .U6 B37 2018)
This is a wonderful book for those who have been inspired by the recent events of the World Cup or who simply have a love of the game. Lewiston, Maine, the home of Bates College and a former mill town once mainly comprised of the descendants of French-Canadian immigrants, has become home to a large community of refugees fleeing Somalia. While many residents opened their arms to the refugee community, the influx has not been without controversy. Amy Bass describes the changes in the Lewiston community and the challenges faced by the new and old residents alike. Focusing on the Lewiston High School boys’ soccer team, Bass discusses how the team helped to unite a divided community. I found this to be a very topical read and I highly recommend it to soccer fans and those looking for a positive dialogue about the American refugee experience.
Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin
(Library of Congress PZ4.B18 Goi)
I thought I’d re-read Sonny’s Blues. Why not the other stories too? Hot days in Harlem. Young people facing all sorts of challenges—from within, in the streets, or at home. The challenges are portrayed vividly and seem like very real, tangible, awful monsters. The stakes are serious. Some are swallowed up by violence, drugs, inner turmoil; some find reprieve, at least for a time. I think Baldwin’s really good at locating pain and describing anguish, usually so hidden and hard to put into words.
Eleanor of Aquitane by Amy Kelly
(Library of Congress DA209.E6 K45 1950)
This meticulously-researched historical narrative is interesting. Together, with Eleanor as our lens, we learn about the philosophical “scene” of 12th Century Paris; the Second Crusade with her husband Louis, the King of (Ile de) France; the power struggle for England, after her divorce and re-marriage to Henry Plantagenet; many other regional power struggles; court intrigues and courtly romance; and personal rivalries. We travel through Paris, Constantinople, Antioch, Poitiers, Limoges, Tours, Angers, Canterbury, Westminster, and more. Trying to understand those parts of world in the 12th century are the best parts of this book, and the author sets exciting scenes that are as historically accurate as can be. Some downsides: the prose gets very purple at times, and the narrative can lose Eleanor, focusing on the politicking of characters in her family, i.e., Henry Plantagenet and their sons.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
(Library of Congress PZ3.J27 Su 2008)
The twenty-two vignettes are the perfect size to read while waiting for the train. This novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl and her grandmother as they spend the summer on an island in the Gulf of Finland. They discuss things that matter to young and old alike: life, death, God and love while discovering and rediscovering the island and all its inhabitants and visitors.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
(Library of Congress GV791 .B844 2013)
Brown recounts the fascinating, at times nail-biting, true story of the University of Washington’s 1936 crew team and its rise to fame in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Brown weaves the personal lives of individual team members together with the complex politics of a world teetering on the edge of the Second World War. Whether you are a fan of sports, history, or narratives of personal triumph, this is a book worth picking up.
Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson
(Children’s PZ7.A54385 Sp 2018)
Speak: The Graphic Novel will bring you on a visual storytelling journey about some of the most painful and stigmatized topics today, including sexual violence. Emily Carroll’s illustrations are captivatingly dark and breathe new life into Anderson’s story. If you’ve been interested in reading a graphic novel, I suggest you start with this one!
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
(Library of Congress PZ3.H9457 Th 1990)
Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston; edited by Deborah G. Plant; foreword by Alice Walker
(Library of Congress NEW E444.L49 H87 2018)
Both of these books evoked, for me, a sense of the intensely hot Southern summer.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of the great classics of African American literature. It is a beautifully written story of a young African American girl in the South growing up and coming into her own as the arbiter of her own destiny, and it is also one of the first novels (if not the first) to tell an African American love story, written by an African American woman. I was interested to learn that later in her life Hurston’s popularity as a luminary of the Harlem Renaissance waned, and she and her works were all but forgotten until the 1970s (more than a decade after her death), when the author Alice Walker wrote an article crediting Hurston as a foremother of African American women’s writing. The BA’s copy also contains an excellent critical essay by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Their Eyes Were Watching God has been on my list for years, and I am sorry now that I waited so long to experience it!
Barracoon was completed in 1931, but never published until this year. It is an oral history transcribed by Zora Neale Hurston but told by Cudjo Lewis, born Oluale Kossola, the last surviving victim of the Atlantic slave trade. As a young man in a West African village, Kossola was kidnapped and sold into slavery. He and other men and women from the same area were held in cages called “barracoons” while they waited to cross the Atlantic. They were smuggled into Alabama in 1860 (it had been illegal since 1807). After emancipation, they remained together and established their own community near Mobile, keeping with them the memory of Africa. Hurston interviewed Kossola over a period of several years, visiting him and encouraging him to tell his story during hot summer afternoons. She describes his joy that someone wanted to hear about his life in Africa, and his sadness as he recounted the hardships of his life. Alice Walker’s foreword, and editor Deborah G. Plant’s essay and supplementary materials situate this extraordinary work in its context: as one of only a handful of first-person narratives of survivors of the Middle Passage. Kossola never learned to read or write, but Hurston has told us his story in his voice. Though most often remembered as a novelist, she was a passionate and empathetic anthropologist and folklorist who believed that African American cultural heritage was the greatest source of cultural wealth in this country.
(Library of Congress PZ4.B8793 Re 2014)
Not exactly relating to summer—but set on mars, Red Rising makes for a great summer read. This breakout novel is the first of a continuing series, which you will want to keep reading. Red Rising is an introduction into the intricate world that Pierce Brown develops, building on current technology and sociopolitical events to imagine a colonized solar system and the future of civilization. The reader’s understanding of the world builds at the same pace as the main character, Darrow, discovers it himself; delving into the future-history, technology, and social systems that set the stage for Darrow’s story to unfold. This series does not disappoint, and Red Rising is only the jumping off point. Enjoy!
The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers by Adam Nicolson
(Library of Congress NEW QL678.52 .N53 2017)
Nicolson’s title was inspired by a Seamus Heaney poem:
What came first, the seabird’s cry or the soul
imagined in the dawn cold when it cried?
Nicolson has written an intelligent description, combining summaries scientific and literary often birds, accompanied by personal observation, photos, and paintings. Each chapter opens with a painting of each of the birds by Kate Boxer. The Athenæum holds the British edition whose cover features the painting of the puffin with his orange webbed feet and cheeks, calling to my mind Penguin books for children, but Nicolson explained (67) the puffin’s “life stands outside the cuteness in which we want to envelope it.” Just the reminder I needed.
Nicolson opens with an anecdote that draws in the reader, all our assumptions, and welcomes us to listen. He relays how he was asked his favorite seabird and received this reaction, “Ah yes, they’re delicious roast, aren’t they?” Nicolson sees the bird’s beauty but also recognizes their brutality, and there are some brutal stories that seem straight out of mythology rather than scientific observation. Infanticide, siblicide, cannabalism.
“The aim of this book, using tradition and science as a kind of twin pronged tuning fork, is to bring together some of those modern revelations with the older understanding that seabirds are somehow symbolic of the state of ocean and world” (15).
His last chapter outlines the sad facts of what seems a drastic decline in seabird populations. What number did he share? Over 140,000 bird species have gone extinct? But his last chapter ends hopefully, and not just with his comment that “no doubt, in our present catastrophe,” there will be survivors. On the Shiants, his own remote island getaway off the coast of Scotland that his father bought and where he seems to have developed and honed his interest in seabirds, there is resiliency in seabird life and if humans take action to counter the damage humans have done, then perhaps there is hope.
An American Marriage: A Novel by Tayari Jone
(Library of Congress NEW PZ4.J7948 Am 2018)
Tayari Jones explores the strength and limits of human relationships in a carefully constructed novel told from the perspective of three protagonists: Roy, a young entrepreneur who is wrongfully convicted of rape and sentenced to 12 years in prison in Louisiana; Celestial, a young Atlanta-based artist who is married to Roy; and Andre, Celestial’s childhood friend on whom she leans during Roy’s incarceration. Jones deftly sheds light on the impact of mass incarceration of black men in the United States through a touching story of three well-crafted, complex characters.