Dani Crickman

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

(Library of Congress NEW E184.V53 B85 2017

Thi Bui’s graphic memoir offers an intimate perspective on how war and immigration shaped one Vietnamese American family. With the birth of her own child, Bui grapples with questions about family history and the legacies that are passed down from one generation to the next. She looks to the past for answers, drawing on the oral histories she has gathered from her parents. Their stories, informed by colonialism and conflict, illuminate the events that caused them to flee Vietnam with their young children for the US. Bui is a capable visual storyteller, and her use of heavy ink lines and sepia tones works just right. The Best We Could Do is a pertinent read that delves into the deeply personal cost of war and its intergenerational impact.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi; illustrated by Thi Bui
(Children Picture Book + PHI​)

As a children’s and young adult librarian, I really can’t recommend a book from the general collection without suggesting a related book for young people. Fortunately, it’s easy in this case: Thi Bui also illustrated the recent picturebook A Different Pond, written by Vietnamese American poet Bao Phi. One morning in 1982, a father takes his young son fishing. This seemingly simple interaction brims with the complexity of its context: the pair goes out very early before the father has to leave for his second job; they fish not for fun but to save on food expenses; as they talk by the water, their conversation treads lightly on the subject of the war that forced them from their former home seven years prior. Told through the perspective of a child character, A Different Pond echoes aspects of Vietnamese immigrant experience portrayed in The Best We Could Do in a way that’s accessible for a young audience. And most important for a picturebook: Bui’s detailed illustrations are captivating, conveying a distinct sense of time and place and capturing the quiet poignancy of Phi’s prose.

Nicole Critchley

Polaroid: The Magic Material​ by Florian Kaps

(Library of Congress TR269 .K37 2016)

This is a timely read as Polaroid (the company) is back to making instant film! Written by one of the founders of The Impossible Project, which kept instant film alive after Polaroid stopped making it in 2008. The book talks about how instant film and the Polaroid influenced visual culture and what led to the start of the The Impossible Project.

Andria Lauria

The Southern Reach Trilogy (AnnihilationAuthorityAcceptance) by Jeff VanderMeer

(Library of Congress PZ4.V237)

According to VanderMeer’s Amazon page, he is “called ‘the weird Thoreau.’” Intrigued? Stephen King calls the trilogy “…creepy and fascinating.” Interested yet? The first book, Annihilation, has been made into a movie, set to be released early next year. What are you waiting for—go check these out already! As a fan of both sci-fi and horror novels, I could not escape this trilogy. I was at once perplexed, intrigued, thrilled, and uncomfortable. The pacing and descriptions of the landscape, with all of its horrors, had me clenching my jaw with both dread and excitement. What the hell is going on?! I had vivid dreams filled with nightmarish plants and fantastical animals while reading the trilogy and for weeks afterwards. A horrific adventure!

Carolle Morini

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

(Library of Congress PZ3.C2858 Op​)

Review from Goodreads: Published in 1913. Sharp physical realities and the mythic sweep of the transformation of the American frontier—and the transformation of the people who settled it. Cather’s heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Hanover, Nebraska as a girl and grows up to make it a prosperous farm. But this archetypal success story is darkened by loss, and Alexandra’s devotion to the land may come at the cost of love itself.

Kaelin Rasmussen

Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880–​1918 / edited, translated, and with an introduction by Laird M. Easton.

(Library of Congress CT1098.K47 A3 2011)

A faithful diarist since childhood, Count Harry Kessler (1868–​1937) provides a fascinating perspective on the intellectual life of Europe, before and after World War I. Kessler was wealthy and aristocratic, with the highest of connections (Wilhelm I was a family friend), and he knew absolutely everyone in European court and artistic life. This edition covers his education and youth, and takes him through the years of the war. It’s a fascinating read. He was also founder and driving creative force of the Cranach Presse in Weimar, which printed exquisite books in limited editions—​and several of these can be found in the Athenaeum’s collections.

It by Stephen King
(Library of Congress PZ4.K5227 It)

An excellent choice for horror fans as it approaches Halloween, I revisited this childhood favorite in preparation for the new movie adaptation. The story is about a group of kids who don’t fit in, the “Losers Club,” who come together one summer to take on a monster that takes the shape of a clown and preys on the children of their hometown, the fictitious Derry, Maine. I think one of the most interesting things about this admittedly escapist book is King’s portrayal of the impact of human evil, cruelty, and apathy, alongside the more flamboyant supernatural menace (the creepy evil clown). Perhaps most frightening for me are some very graphic descriptions of New England winter weather!

Mary Warnement

Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia by Max Egremont

(Library of Congress DK4600.P775 E47 2011)

Or the land about to be forgotten. Egremont interviewed a selection of survivors of the post-WWII diaspora and their descendants as well as a few Russians, Poles, and Lithuanians who now live in former East Prussia, and he wrote about their experiences with a sensitivity to the perspectives of each group. These memoirs combined with his own research and travels make for an intelligent read. Those interviewed seem chosen somewhat at random. Obviously, survival, a willingness to talk, or the fact that one published one’s memoirs were factors. I am not certain Kathe Kollwitz’s experiences really tell the story, because I connect her with Berlin: she was born there but she left in her teens to study art in Berlin and Munich and lived most of her life in Berlin. However, I enjoyed reading his sections about her. East Prussia, and Koenigsberg especially, were always on the edge of Germany, and now—its lands divided and distributed to Russia, Poland, and Lithuania—it lies on the edge of memory. Egremont ends with the words of Klaus Lunau, who may be the last human living who knew the old Prussia. Klaus enjoys, even in his 80s, swimming in the Baltic and advises: “You need to learn,” he says, “when to let yourself be carried along rather than struggle against the relentless grey water: also when precisely to kick free, when to strike out or to make for home.” Or be swept over by the wave of History.

Salt to the Sea by Ruth Sepetys
(Young Adult (Children’s Room) PZ7.S47957 Sa 2016)

Do not let the nearly 400-page length of this book put you off. Four voices narrate this young adult novel set during the flight of refugees—Lithuanians, Poles, and aristocratic Junkers and ordinary Germans living there—from East Prussia in 1945. Rather than distract, the multiple voices let the story build. Also, the book’s design appeals to me because it includes a two-page spread at front and back: maps of the region in 1945 and in present day. I like to pair fiction and non-fiction reading on topics that interest me, and like Egremont, Sepetys conducted similar interviews and research, which she outlines in supplemental afterwords: “author’s note,” “research and sources,” and “acknowledgments.” I liked her appeal to her readers: “What determines how we remember history and which elements are preserved and penetrate the collective consciousness? If historical novels stir your interest, pursue the facts, history, memoirs, and personal testimonies available. These are the shoulders that historical fiction sits upon. When the survivors are gone, we must not let the truth disappear with them.”

Hannah Weisman

Memoirs of a Polar Bear​ by Yoko Tawada

(Library of Congress NEW PZ4.T235 Me 2016)

Yoko Tawada’s novel, translated into English from German, explores migration, exile, and identity through three generations of polar bears in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Tawada blurs the lines of reality in her story as the bears display human emotions and undertake human tasks, but also have bear traits. Vignettes throughout the book hang together to shed light on the impact of migration and exile across generations.

The book is wacky, and someone else needs to read it so I can have a discussion about it.