Staff Book Suggestions Summer 2019
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval N. Harari
(Library of Congress CB113.H4 H3713 2015)
As the title suggests, this book chronicles the history of Homo Sapiens from the beginnings of the Agricultural Revolution through the technology boom. Harari touches on a large array of subjects, including religion, economics, colonialism, and scientific advancements. Although it is a large book, it really is ‘brief’ in how quickly it jumps from one subject to another. An enjoyable, easy read for anyone interested in a historic and philosophical look at what makes us human.
The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead
(Library of Congress PZ4.W58863 Und 2016)
Last month, on Juneteenth, Ta-Nehisi Coates gave a testimony to the House in support of H.R. 40, a bill that would create the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans. It’s pretty easy to find his opening remarks if you want to read the full text, but here’s a quotation from Coates’s statement that stood out to me—”Yesterday, when asked about reparations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered a familiar reply: America should not be held liable for something that happened 150 years ago, since none of us currently alive are responsible.” If you, like Sen. McConnell, don’t agree with the need for reparations or are unsure about where you stand, I would recommend reading Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and then thinking about this topic again. The book is both incredible and terrible. You follow the journey of Cora, a young, enslaved woman from a plantation in Georgia and her trips on the Underground Railroad. It’s an enthralling and accessible read, full of twists and turns that leave you on the edge of your seat. Throughout, Whitehead forces the reader to get uncomfortable and confront the horrors and sheer inhumanity of slavery in a way my history classes never made me do. It’s a powerful examination into the foundation of our country that needs to be required reading.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
(Library of Congress PZ4.J4884 Fi 2016)
I’ll own the shame and admit I’ve fallen off the reading train. I used to be a big reader as a kid, but as I enter my eighth year of higher education, reading is less and less fun for me. I vowed this year that I would venture back into reading fiction for fun and N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season reminded me how amazing it is to read. Fantasy fiction has always felt slightly out of reach for me, but Jemisin’s casual tone and knack for world-building makes it easy to understand the alternate reality you are in. You follow the story lines of Essun, Syenite, and Damaya, three women who live in the Stillness—an ironic name for a world plagued by earthquakes—and possess the gift/curse of orogeny, the power to stop the shaking. I think this book is a great starting point for those looking to get into fantasy/sci fi fiction and especially for those looking for character diversity that the genre seems to lack.
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes
(Library of Congress PS3558.A8378 A6 2018)
Powerful, smart, honest, and stunning poems that reflect contemporary American life.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy; translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
(Library of Congress PZ3.T588 Wa 2007)
People probably don’t think of this book when thinking of a beach read, but I will always associate it with the 1962 James Stewart movie, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation. Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Hobbs brings War and Peace to read on the beach and in the process prompts another person on the beach to start reading it (a very dated scene). But if you’re up for the read (on the beach or off), I highly recommend this translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky, a husband and wife team. She’s Russian and he’s a writer of poems and essays. The writing is beautiful, energetic and vivid, bringing to life Tolstoy’s masterpiece.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
(Library of Congress PZ4.G2164 On 2003)
Every summer, I reread One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. The Athenæum’s copy, like the first copy I owned, is covered in lush and verdant landscape art, and for me evokes Macondo, the jungle-town dreamworld in which the epic unfolds. While the plot follows generations of a family who create themselves, their world, and their downfall in the jungles of South America, the real magic of this novel is how it transports you to a place where love is inexorable, thriving beyond death, where every moment is saturated in the perfect alchemy of Márquez’s language, and ghosts live along with us and remind us who we are. And if I still need to convince you, here’s my favorite quotation from the novel: “Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mother gives birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.
Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney
(Library of Congress PZ4.R77533 Co 2017)
I’m not sure the hype surrounding Sally Rooney’s debut novel does the author, the reader, or the actual text any favors, but then again when does hype ever serve us? Even Rooney herself is uneasy with the sudden surge of attention and praise, balking at claims that she is the definitive voice of the millenial generation. Take the book on its own merits. The territory might seem well-worn—young lady in college has affair with older married man—but in Rooney’s hands we get living, breathing characters with distinct differences and opinions on things other than the plot and interpersonal dynamics that are so realistic as to be unsettling, like she’s been in listening in on your own conversations with friends. By the end you may be surprised by the extent of the emotional impact. Is she the voice of a generation? Is it even possible for one voice to encapsulate something as vast and as nebulous as the idea of a “generation”? Who cares? This is a confident and satisfying debut from a serious talent. Keep her on your radar.
(Library of Congress PZ4 .S998 Tu 2018)
What could be more summery than a book about travelers by plane? I saw this book at some point this past winter and ordered it for the library. I thought maybe of buying it for myself while in London, in the British edition, and tempted, I handled it, in the London Review Bookshop, but I had to be disciplined about not overfilling my suitcase. I checked it out after seeing it on the new book shelves when—unusually caught without reading material—I was looking for something to distract me on the red line. I saw that the author had been praised as a “promising new artist” and that a previous work had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and I hesitated. Those two accolades don’t guarantee I will like an author, but I enjoyed his premise very much. Szalay’s insights into the various characters, circling the globe, rang true. Only in the penultimate chapter did I see where the end would be. I will look for his other titles.
Summer puts me in touch with my younger self. If that holds true for you, then you may want to join me in reading children’s books, perhaps the two I mention below:
Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri
(Children’s Library Children Picture Book TETRI)
I think Tetri the author identifies with Tiger the character whose picture appears on the inside back flap with the author info. Tiger has a friend, the monster under her bed, who helps stave off nightmares, until one night, a nightmare defeats poor monster. That battle, all told on a two-page spread of imagery without words, touched my heart, and the illustration of poor monster hiding under the bed on the next broke my heart. Tetri invested so much expression with so few strokes. Poor Tiger asleep at her desk at school, asleep at dinner at home. That touching “poke” by her mom. An instruction manual in friendship and how to be fierce.
Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem by Patricia Newman
(Children’s Library QL737.C25 N49 2017)
I learned a lot about otters from this book. I had known they are fierce and respected them, but I also find them adorable, living their lives mostly floating on their backs. I not only learned about otter behavior but also about the relationship between the otters, their food source crabs, and the crabs’ food source. Makes me wish I had become a scientist. Perhaps a child—or you—reading will follow through on that. Beautiful photography and drawings illustrate the volume that is both a Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book and a Green Earth Book Award Winner.