Before I list all 76, I'd like to give a shout out to libraries and librarians everywhere who have historically advocated for the marginalized by providing resources for reading, writing, and activism and for educating the masses. In the first year of his presidency, Trump has tried to ban groups of people, tried to build a wall, and has succeeded in empowering the racists, misogynists, and xeno/Islam/homophobics to think it's okay to spew and act upon their hate-filled vitriol. Every time I get riled up and want to crawl into bed in hopes of waking up from this living nightmare, I see a library display (thank you, World Wide Web) that restores my faith in humanity.
When Trump tried to instill a "Muslim ban," libraries created displays celebrating Islam and Muslim writers. When Trump tried to ban Transgender people from the military and reverse federal protection for Transgender students, libraries made "No hate here" signs in rainbow-colored letters and put out books like Two Boys Kissing, Q, and George. There have been Black Lives Matter displays, women's rights displays, immigration displays, and national parks displays. Most recently, when Trump used the phrase "shithole countries" in reference to African nations, libraries immediately put together displays of "books written by authors from shithole countries." Amazing.
Seriously. Libraries rule. They give me hope.
Although I am not allowed to be as explicit with my displays as a school librarian (e.g. that time I worked at a Catholic school and a male teacher screamed at me--in front of a library full of teens, mind you--for including a picture of then President Obama in my Black History Month display because I was "SUPPORTING ABORTION!"), there are still ways to be supportive thanks to annual ALA-sponsored events like Banned Books Week. This year's display took on a double meaning (see previous paragraph).
Speaking of Banned Books Week, here's a video of Stephanie and me reading poems from Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic in the Stand for the Banned recording booth at the ALA conference over the summer.
Incidentally, the same day I met and shook hands with Civil Rights legend, John Lewis.
(Shout out to Gary Anderson, who saved a spot at the front of the line and gifted me March Book 3 so I could have Mr. Lewis sign it!)
Okay, so back to the book list, which was the original purpose of this post... Titles in bold have my Goodreads reviews included, most of which would probably also fall on my "best of 2017 reads list." What's interesting in returning to these reviews is the number of times I began by writing, "I ordinarily would have never picked this up..." I love that. I love that I've challenged myself without out it actually feeling like challenge.
If you're not interested in the reviews (which have made this post 3x longer than planned), here is what I would consider my top 13 must-reads in no particular order:
Top 13 of 2017
1) March Book 3 by John Lewis (graphic memoir)
2) The Nix by Nathan Hill (fiction, audiobook)
3) All We Have Left by Wendy Mills (YA fiction)
4) The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (YA fiction)
5) The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery (non-fiction)
6) The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (YA fiction)
7) Scythe by Neil Shusterman (YA fiction)
8) She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton (picture book)
9) George by Alex Gino (YA fiction)
10) A People’s History of Chicago by Kevin Coval (poetry)
11) Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez (YA fiction)
12) Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (memoir)
13) The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (fiction)
- Trashed by Derf Backderf (graphic novel) - 4 stars
Sticking with my now 3-year tradition of kicking off the new year with a graphic novel. This one really made me consider garbage and what happens to it after it "disappears" from the curb (or the alley). Many of the scenarios garbage collectors have to deal with with are included in this book by Backderf, who wrote that a lot of them were inspired by his real-life experience as a garbageman back in the 70s, and a lot of those made me squirm (cans full of maggots--GAG, people throwing out their dead pets--what?!, etc., etc., etc.). The research he includes about garbage and landfills will also make you squirm and wish we [Americans] could take a hint from Scandinavia where they "invented high-tech incinerators that burn so hot garbage is almost completely 'gasified,' with no harmful emissions at all. The gas is then used to power-clean energy plants." Why is that not a thing everywhere??
- I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached (graphic novel) - 4 stars
- Saved by the Boats by Julie Gassman (picture book?) - 3 stars
- Boy Erased by Garrard Conley (memoir) - (unrated)
- Moonglow by Michael Chabon (fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
- Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling (non-fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars
- March Book 2 by John Lewis (graphic novel) - 5 stars
When I first opened this book, I was en route to Washington, D.C. The date was January 20, 2017 and Trump was about to become the 45th president of the U.S. The first page was dated at the top: January 20, 2009 with an image of two hands shaking. I recognized this as Obama's inauguration of which I was present for, one of the most historically significant days of my life, and my whole body shivered as I realized the significance and universe alignment. Eight years later I was on my way to our nation's capitol, not to partake in the inauguration, but to march with half a million people the following day to protest this impending fascist regime and fight for women's rights.
Like Book One, Book Two is just as (if not more) powerful as we see further demonstrations and also painful as we see increased violence and foreshadowing the assassinations of JFk and MLK. Additionally, what continued to give me chills throughout this volume were the pages interspersed with Obama speaking at his Inauguration in the same place where MLK famously gave his "I have a dream" speech. The comparisons left me breathless every time. As did the last page of the book. (Which, if you've seen Selma, is the opening scene of that movie)
Still, to this day, it is difficult for me to read about the Civil Rights Movement and not dwell on the fact that this occurred within my parents' lifetime, that I was taught growing up that this was history, and now we are fighting these same human/civil rights battles. I hope that the graphic novel format of John Lewis's 3-part memoir makes this embarrassing time in our history accessible to a wider audience because of its illustrated format.
- March Book 3 by John Lewis (graphic novel) - 5 stars
- Pig Meets Pug by Aaron Blabey (children’s book) - 4 stars
Obviously I love this because I've had pugs in my life since I was born and have always wanted a pig. If I could have both at the same time, my heart might explode.
- Penguins Love Colors by Sarah Aspinall (children’s book) - 3 stars
- Forever Young by Bob Dylan (children’s book) - 5 stars
- An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (YA fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars
- The Three Astronauts by Umberto Eco (children’s book) - 5 stars
- These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly (YA fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
- Black and White by David Macaulay (picture book) - 4 stars
- Baaa by David Macaulay (picture book) - 4 stars
- Dim Sum For Everyone! by Grace Lin (picture book) - unrated
- Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin (picture book) - unrated
- Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez (YA fiction, audiobook) - 5 stars
- The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (YA fiction audiobook) - 4 stars
- Booked by Kwame Alexander (YA novel in verse) - 5 stars
- The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (fiction, audiobook) - 5 stars
- Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston (YA fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
- Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy (YA fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
- Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowery (YA ficition) - 4 stars
What a part of history to experience as a young girl, but old enough to remember all the gory details! I started this book while spending a night in Alabama over spring break, which seemed fitting given the content. I think this is a great introduction to the memoir genre for middle grade readers. The illustrations and archival photos are perfect additions to drawing in the reader.
- Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars
- Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley (YA fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars
- The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (YA fiction, audiobook) - 2 stars
- Take it as a Compliment by (graphic “memoir”) - unrated
- Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older (YA fiction, audiobook) - 2 stars
- Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
- The Nix by Nathan Hill (fiction, audiobook) - 5 stars
- The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf (graphic novel) - 3 stars
- The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh (YA fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars
- Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (audiobook) - 2 stars
- I Can Be Anything! Don’t Tell Me I Can’t! by Diane Dillon (picture book) - 5 stars
- All We Have Left by Wendy Mills (YA fiction) - 5 stars
- Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon (YA fiction) - 4 stars
- The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui (graphic memoir) - 4 stars
- The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (YA fiction) - 5 stars
- The Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars
- Just Kids by Patti Smith (memoir, audiobook) - 5 starsThrow in descriptions of living in NYC in the 60s and 70s, a mutual admiration of Dylan, and vivid descriptions of life in the Chelsea Hotel, and this born-into-the-wrong-generation heart was pining with nostalgia.
I loved listening to Patti narrate her own memoir and learning more about both her and Robert Maplethorpe. It was inspiring to hear how two people met each other by chance and developed a life-long friendship. There might even be another word for what they had, unique to their relationship and artistic kinship. It made me want to get back into the mode of creating (hopefully with Jerry) and out of the routines I've been stifled by the past 3 or 4 years.
Two of my favorite lines:
"I knew I had been transformed, moved by the revelation that human beings create art, that to be an artist was to see what others could not."
"...surrounded by unfinished songs and abandoned poems, I would go as far as I could and hit a wall. My own imagined limitations. Then I met a fella [Tom Rundgren] who gave me his secret, and it was pretty simple: When you hit a wall, just kick it in."
- The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo (fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars
When my best friend texted me: "This book is your life!" I had to get my hands (well, ears) on it. The two characters meet and fall in love in NYC on 9/11 as college freshmen. I was eagerly anticipating what I expected to be a love letter while living in NYC on 9/11 as a college freshman. The weird thing is that there are very random details within the story, which when I told my friend, she was unaware of and couldn't believe, nor could I to the point where I briefly thought that maybe the author was a pseudonym for an ancillary person in my life who used just enough clues to not at all define what I went through but hint at some kind of cosmic interaction. I feel like I need to write my own story now.
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars
- The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (YA fiction, novel in verse) - 4 stars
- Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy (fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
- Great House by Nicole Krauss (fiction, audiobook) - unrated
- Milk and Honey by Rupi Kuar (poetry) - 4 stars
- Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin (YA fiction) - 4 stars
- Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro Kazuo (fiction, audiobook) - 2 stars
- Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee (YA fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (Memoir, audiobook) - 4 stars
- Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (Memoir, audiobook) - 5 stars
"It's fiction, theater, a creation. It isn't reality. And at the end of the day, life trumps art. Always. Robert Deniro once said he loved acting because you got to live other lives without the consequences. I lived a new life every night. Each evening you're a new man in a new town with all of life and all of life's possibilities spread out before you...Perhaps it's the curse of the imaginative mind. Or perhaps it's just the running in you. You simply can't stop imagining other worlds, other loves, other places than the one you are comfortably settled in at any given moment. The one holding all your treasures. Those treasures can seem so easily made gray by the vast, open, and barren spaces of the creative mind. Of course, there is but one life. Nobody likes that, but there's just one. And we're lucky to have it. God bless us and have mercy on us that we may have the ability and understanding to live it. And know that possibility of everything is just nothing dressed up in a monkey suit. And I had the best monkey suit in town."
One of my students gave me a gift certificate for a free audiobook on Audible at the end of the school year in May (joke’s on me because turns out all first audiobooks are free on Audible, and then they start charging you a monthly subscription fee without you noticing), so to make the most of it, Jerry and I mutually agreed on Bruce’s memoir because it seemed like the biggest bang for the buck (528 pages, 18 hours 16 min audio) and a perfect companion for a great American road trip. Though, to be honest, I didn’t really know much about him or his music beyond maybe the dozen radio hits, so in that sense I was kind of surprised that I agreed to listen to his lengthy (in a good way) story.
It was clearly evident after our first stop in Memphis that we couldn’t have picked a more relevant book. He talked about Elvis’s influence, about early rock’n’roll, and about the Civil Rights Movement after we had spent 3 days visiting historic music studios and touring the Civil Rights Museum, paying homage to the late Martin Luther King.
We made it through about half of the book on that trip, and I finished the rest a few months later when my daily commutes resumed. Bruce has lead an epic life, and his memoir is an epic attestation full of honesty, insight, and dry humor. After listening to the whole thing, I’m so glad I did and I wish we were friends. His tales from life on the road, falling in love with someone he’d been stage partners with for 17 years, the feeling of witnessing his son discover Dylan, and his description of watching September 11 unfold--“I didn’t sit around wondering about whether I should or should not write about this day, I just did”--were wonderful and thoughtful and inspiring start to finish.
I feel like I became a fan of his because of learning about him and his life through his storytelling vs. the longtime devotees who will read this because they’re already huge fans of his music. If you’re going to indulge, I highly recommend the audio format because Bruce narrates it, which makes his words all the more enjoyable. This is not a spoiler alert, so I’m going to share the last lines of the book because I love how he ended it:
“I fought my whole life, studied, played, worked because I wanted to hear and know the whole story. My story, our story, and understand as much of it as I could. I want to understand in order to free myself of its most damaging influences, its malevolent forces, to celebrate and honor its beauty, its power...This I pursued as my service; this I presented as my long and noisy prayer, my magic trick, hoping it would rock your very soul and then pass on, its spirit rendered to be read, heard, sung, and altered by you and your blood. That it might strengthen and help make sense of your story. Go tell it.”
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (non-fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars
- Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (graphic memoir) - 5 stars
- Astrophysics For People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson (non-fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars
- Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (memoir, audiobook) - 3 stars
- Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (YA fiction) - 3 stars
- Paper Girls Vol. 1 by Brian Vaughan (graphic novel) - 4 stars
- Paper Girls Vol. 2 by Brian Vaughan (graphic novel) - 5 stars
- Paper Girls Vol. 3 by Brian Vaughan (graphic novel) - 5 stars
- The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery (non-fiction, audiobook) - 5 starsDid you know octopuses hatch from eggs the size of a single grain of rice? Or that their arm muscles are capable of resisting the pull of 100x its own weight? That they can render themselves invisible? Or that females can store inactivated sperm and then activate it when they're ready to lay eggs?? They are also smart. Most animals are, but I've frustratingly found that people are often dismissive of non-human intelligence and don't recognize similarities in behavior patterns.
When I was in fifth grade (1993), I wrote a report on octopuses (the first thing I learned in this book is that people have universally been incorrectly pluralizing this word to be octopi). I remember being fascinated by these creatures of the sea and hoping maybe I'd see one up close and personal someday. I came home from dance class to find a packet of COLOR photocopies waiting for me on the kitchen table. My mom spent what must have been a fortune at Kinkos in those early days of reproducing color, but boy did those colors jazz up my report! I was able to show classmates that octopuses exist in all colors, shapes, and patterns! Hard to imagine how exciting that was and hard to believe we haven't always had Google Images at our fingertips, but the experience left a lasting impression. Clearly. Because here I am still eager to learn about these mysterious 8-legged masters of the sea.
Two examples of this in her research include:
1) "I loved picturing one of Octavia's arms stretching out to meet one her mother's arms and one of her mother's arms and her mother's mother's mother's. Suckered, elastic arms reaching back through time. An octopus chorus line stretching not just hundreds but many thousands of miles long." (3:35)
"Is Octavia in an 'egg zone' like young [human] mothers. So many of my friends, once outgoing and social, are transformed once their babies are born. Women who couldn't sit through a two-hour concert are held transfixed by their infants even though the babies do little more than suck, sleep, and cry." (4:17)
2) "The ocean for me is what LSD was to Timothy Leery. He claimed the haluginogen is to reality like a microscope is to biology, affording a perception of reality that was not before accessible. Shamans and seekers eat mushrooms, drink potions, lick toads, inhale smoke, and snort snuff to transport their minds to realms they cannot normally experience. Humans are not alone in this endeavor. Species from elephants to monkeys purposely eat fermented fruit to get drunk; dolphins were recently discovered sharing a certain toxic pufferfish, gently passing it from one snout to another as people would pass a joint after which the dolphins seemed to enter a trance-like state...Expanding the mind beyond the self allows us to relieve our loneliness, to connect to what Jung called 'Universal Consciousness' the original inherited shaped shared with all minds. It unites us with what Plato called 'Animus Mundi' the all-extensive world soul, shared by all of life. From meditation, drugs, or physical ordeal, certain cultures encourage seeking altered states to commune with the spirits of animals whose wisdom may seem hidden from us in ordinary life...In my SCUBA-induced altered state, I;m not in the grip of a drug, I'm lucid in my immersion, voluntarily becoming part of what feels like the ocean's own dream. Who's to say that dreams aren't real?"
In this book, the writer also talked about one of the volunteers who befriended an anaconda for goodness sake! This "provided dramatic evidence": "Just about every animal--not just mammals and birds--can learn, recognize individuals, and respond to empathy. Once you find the right way to work with an animal--be it an octopus or an anaconda--together you can accomplish what even St.Francis might have considered a miracle." (2:41)
This book reignited my childhood desires to be a marine biologist, whale researcher, and dolphin trainer. I am admittedly terrified of the ocean and panic when I think about even learning how to SCUBA, so I am eternally grateful for researchers/observers like Sy Montgomery who can brave the waters and report so beautifully and engagingly about these creatures, both ones she discovered by SCUBA diving as well as ones she literally befriended at an aquarium in Boston (all with their own lovely personalities!). I already added other books by her--about a sickly piglet she nursed back to health and the pink dolphin migration--to my to-read-soon list.
One of the last lines of the book (not a spoiler alert) summed up all of this:
"I will love them always. For they have given me a great gift: a deeper understanding of what it means to think, to feel, and to know." (9:09)
- When We Collided by Emery Lord (YA fiction) - 3 stars
- The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur (poetry) - 5 stars
Like Milk and Honey, I read this in almost one sitting, half on a Saturday morning, half on a Sunday morning. In general, may I recommend, if you have the freedom to do so, you begin weekend mornings by reading poetry while still in bed. It allows for the brain to approach the world with a refreshing outlook. Like when you've spent half of 2017 living in relentless paranoia that moths are going to endlessly ruin your apartment-life existence, and then you flip the page and see a bunch of moth drawings and want to retract but stay on it long enough to read this poem that you know is supposed to be a metaphor, but it feels so literally (and metaphorically) perfect for this time/experience:
otherwise the butterfly
surrounded by a group of moths
unable to see itself
will keep trying to become the moth"
"there are mountains growing
beneath our feet
that cannot be contained
all we've endured
has prepared us for this
bring your hammers and fists
we have a glass ceiling to shatter
-let's leave this place roofless"
Women of the world, let's help build each other up.
Thank you, Rupi. Please come to Writers Week. Your invitation is in the (e)mail.
- Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (essays, audiobook)- 5 stars
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (memoir, audiobook) - 5 stars
- We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio (picture book) - 5 stars
- She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton (picture book) - 5 stars
- George by Alex Gino (YA fiction, audiobook) - 5 stars
- Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson (YA fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
- Missoula by Jon Krakauer (non-fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (YA fiction, audiobook) - 5 stars
Wow. One of, if not the, best books I read this year. I arrived at work in tears *every* day I listened to this book. And I am not much of a crier when it comes to books. Everyone needs to read this, most especially people who don't understand or disparage the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here are some of favorite quotes:
"Funny. Slave masters thought they were making a difference in black people's lives too, saving them from their wild African ways. Same shit, different century. I wish people like them would stop thinking that people like me need saving." AMEN, SISTER!
"That's the problem. We let people say stuff. And they say it so much that it becomes okay to them. And normal for us. What's the point of having a voice if you're going to be silent in those moments you shouldn't be?" AMEN, SISTER!
When receiving a text from someone close to her, Starr recognizes that her friend doesn't actually understand that she's apologizing for the wrong thing and probably will never get it, and that it's okay to let go of toxic relationships. This felt particularly relevant in my own life during the same time I was listening to this book:
"The sympathy for the case is nice, but she's sorry I'm upset? That's not the same as apologizing for her actions or the garbage she said. She's sorry I reacted the way I did. Oddly enough, I needed to know that. You see, it's like my mom said--if the good outweighs the bad, I should keep Hailey as a friend. There's a shit ton of bad now, an overload of bad. I hate to admit that a teeny-tiny part of me hoped Hailey would see how wrong she was, but she hasn't. She may never see that. And you know what? That's fine. Okay, maybe not fine, because it makes her a shitty-ass person, but I don't have to wait around for her to change. I can let go." (433)
- Scythe by Neil Shusterman (YA fiction) - 5 stars
- Sex Object by Jessica Valenti (memoir, audiobook) - 3 stars
- I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez (YA fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
|Remember how March: Book Two felt extra significant because I was en route to D.C. for the women's march directly following he-who-shall-not-be-named's inauguration? For the final book in the March trilogy, I began reading it upon arriving in Huntsville, Alabama (the state where much of this volume takes place) on a solo road trip I went on in (the month of) March. On Earth Day I did the March for Science in Chicago. And just last week I toured the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, where I recognized so many of the activists' names I had read about in these books. They get better and better, and I would highly recommend all 3 to anyone and everyone. Keep going. Keep resisting. Keep fighting the good fight. We need to do and be better, America. March on.|
|This was such a wonderfully illustrated version of the song, I seriously almost cried tears of nostalgia while paging through it. Several scenes in my favorite park--Washington Square, an NYU pennant hanging on a wall, peace marches. So so good, I wanted to add it to my own collection.|
|I saw this book on my coworker's desk and was drawn to the collage-style illustrations and font on the cover. Aside from the fact that this was published in 1989 and uses descriptors like "the Chinese" in reference to one astronaut, the message pervading this quick read (and an actual line taken from its pages) is so relevant to what is happening in this country right now, it brought a tear to my eye:|
"Just because two creatures are different they don't have to be enemies."
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|Despite guessing the "who done it" at the beginning of the story, this was still an engaging mystery. Set in NYC during the late 1800s, I--and I think other female teenage readers--will appreciate Jo's spirit, passion, and perseverance to achieve more than what was expected of women back then (e.g. marriage and reproduction).|
|I have a hard time believing that this picture book is for children.|
Although it was published in 1985, page 40 may sound eerily familiar to today's "leader(s)":
"The leaders presented charts and graphs that proved there was no hunger."
Did Macaulay predict America would be heading towards a fascist regime in 2017? Spooky!
|Wow. This is probably the first audiobook I've listened to where I don't remember getting from point A to point B because the last hour or so left me breathless and fearful to the point where I had to hide in my cubicle when I got to work to finish it.|
Based off the New London school explosion in 1937 in East Texas, Perez creates a fictional, gripping, and sometimes sensual narrative revolving around segregation and racism (white vs. black vs. Mexican) and what defines family and love. Beautifully written and captivating, loved the glimpses into Mexican culture and the use of Spanish phrases throughout.
This book is probably better suited for older teens (and adults) because of the often-shifting character narration, some "mature" content, and the use of the "n" word.
|Another one that I probably wouldn't have picked up because A) the cover is a soccer player and I'm not that sporty and B) I (maybe surprisingly) don't love novels in verse. But I loved this one! I loved the use of language (Nick's dad makes him read the dictionary, so there are frequent footnotes hilariously defining big words), the real-life situations he encounters (friendships, crushes, parents considering divorce, etc.), and there is a school librarian who frequently shows up in hilarious moments. I found myself hoping that my students see me the same way Nick and his friends/classmates see Mr. Mac ;-)|
|The Riveras move the U.S. from Mexico so their daughter can take part in a special education program and within their year living in Delaware encounter all the trials and tribulations that come with being an immigrant in this country. The Riveras become close friends with the neighboring family, the Toros, who are from Panama, and their stories become intertwined in several I'm not going to spoiler alert it ways. Throughout the book there are also monologues by people with different Latin American backgrounds who talk about how and why they migrated to the U.S. This is a beautifully written novel and a must-read for anyone who wants to get a humanistic glimpse into the immigration issues that currently abound in our country.|
The audiobook is fantastic if only to hear the myriad of accents.
|Hermione Winters is the co-captain of her high school cheerleading team and a rape victim. What I loved about this book is that it's probably not something I ordinarily would have picked up to read, but I did anyway because it was recently selected to be on the 2018 Lincoln Award list, and I ended up wanting to put this in the hands of every teenager by the end. Hermione is such a strong character, her parents and best friend are awesome, and you will find yourself cheering on the cheerleader. The story is realistic and doesn't feel contrived. Finished the audiobook in only 2 days!|
|This ordinarily wouldn't have been a title that interested me except for the fact that its plot hits a little too close to what I imagine the U.S. is going to turn into if we continue regressing in this abhorrent political climate. Because of this, I am excited now to recommend this book to teens as a daunting "what if" scenario. I liked it enough to consider listening to the sequel and third books, which is saying a lot these days, though I probably won't jump into them right away. The audio version is fantastic because all of the news/NPR interludes sound like actual broadcasts with a variety of narrators.|
|I am torn about how this book made me feel... I think because Tess (who, I'm not sure, but I think we don't learn her name until halfway through the novel) moves to NYC as a 22-year-old in 2006, which is the year after I left NYC at the same age and certain relationships she experiences are what I thought my life in NYC would be, that I felt this weird balance of jealousy and embarrassment.|
There were some beautifully written snippets that made my heart ache in a way that made me wish I was better at describing the world around me:
"A tide of people moving up the avenues on foot. Blackness. Sometimes it still feels too soon. It's our shared map of the city...Then, sirens for days. We never forget really. A map we make by the absences. No one left the city. If you were here, you were temporarily cured of fear."
"When you can't see in front of you, life is nothing but surprises. Looking back, there were truly so few of them."
"God, how I loved him. Not him exactly, let me try again. I loved his ghost."
|Without giving anything away, I can only describe this book as a sort of an adult version of a choose-your-own-adventure (which I loved as a kid) meets butterfly effect novel. There are a few instances in my life where I often think, "Had I chosen that other option, where would I be today?" and this book really made me fixate on those moments again (for better or for worse). I was totally engrossed in the story right off the bat- made it to work listening to the first disc and not realizing I was commuting. Also, I did not know this story took place in Chicago, specifically in neighborhoods I've lived in or near for the past decade: Logan Square and Bucktown, so that was a fun surprise.|
|I loved this book. In the epic way I loved listening to The Goldfinch at the beginning of the school year. Here are random notes transcribed from the backs of Dunkin Donut receipts I scribbled upon while driving to and from work:|
1) "...has no power over the computers, can not turn them off. Every classroom is equipped with computers at every single seat, something the school brags about in the marketing materials..."
2) "Wired Campus: Preparing Students for the 21st Century...but it seems to Samuel that all the school is preparing them for is to sit quietly and fake that they're working."
This made me laugh because I'm on the Library Curriculum committee, and every time I read "preparing students for the 21st century" in our documents I want to scream, "We're 17 years into the century already!"
3) "You know you can't fail me. You can't fail me because it's the law."
(related to an inside joke with my colleagues)
4) "I swear to god anyone with half an education who stays in America to teach is suffering some kind of psychosis...In America you're underpaid and overworked and insulted by politicians and unappreciated by students; there [Jakarta] you'll be a goddamn hero."
Still vying to be an international librarian...
5) "There is no place less communal in America, no place less cooperative and brotherly, no place with fewer feelings of shared sacrifice than a rush hour freeway in Chicago. And there is no better test of this than watching what happens when there is a 100-car line in the far right lane..."
6) "He was one of those men whose body exactly matched his disposition. His voice was big, his body was big, he sat bigly."
He used the word "bigly"?!
7) "You have music in your brain; mostly what I have is worry."
8) "She was a collection of parts floating in ink."
9) This takes place in Streamwood, IL?! I was driving through Streamwood when they said that and then chuckled when they remarked, "No streams, no woods."
10) "He's like the most dangerous species of American there is: heterosexual white male who didn't get what he wanted"
11) I learned the color of reindeer eyes change per season?? Interesting!
12) Earlier in the disc I had that feeling again when I heard, "It was early 2001..." of becoming involuntarily breathless in daunting anticipation. During the brief part of the story that takes place in NYC during 2004: "Which way to 9/11?" (tourist looking for Ground Zero...stirred up memories)
13) "It's not every day a penpal comes to visit."
"Before I can say, 'What do you mean penpal...'..."
14) "What you love the most will one day hurt you the most."
15) "Televisions showing airport news that was different from regular news in unknown ways. Samuel felt disappointed that a foreigner's first impression of America would be made here [ORD]."
"This is who we are: men's bathrooms that require you touch nothing but yourself, automated dispensers that pooed little globs of generic pink soap."
16) "And if you make the easy choice every day, then it becomes a pattern, and your patterns become your life."
17) "Sometimes we're so wrapped up in our own story that we don't see how we're supporting characters in someone else's."
|Every time I come across a "9/11 story," it gives me pause because I feel like, "How is this already being fictionalized?" Then I remind myself it's been over 15 years, and I feel compelled to read every single one. Oftentimes fiction helps us better understand what's going on in real life (sometimes even more so than reading the news) and builds empathy for people who may be different from ourselves. This book does exactly that, and I would highly recommend it to everyone, but especially anyone you know who may be suffering from Islamophobia and may think that being Muslim is equivalent to being a terrorist.|
This book jumps between 2 narratives--Alia, a teenage girl in 2001 who is Muslim and ends up in the World Trader Center on 9/11 and Jesse, a teenage girl in 2016 whose older brother died on 9/11 and whose dad hates "those people." The storylines eventually intertwine, and it is so much more than what I tried to sum up here.
This is another book that in the "I would recommend to:" section, I will once again be writing "Donald Trump."
|I LOVED THIS BOOK! I would not say I *love* most YA novels I read (even though I'm a teen librarian), but I wholeheartedly loved this one. The timing of reading this in August, a few weeks before Trump's ridiculous and racist DACA recission announcement made this book all the more meaningful and important, and I would highly recommend all young/adults check this one out. When the new school year began, I book talked it to every class I could as soon as we were back in session. This book takes place in a single day, which happens to be Natasha's last day in NYC and also when she serendipitously meets Daniel. The story alternates between their two perspectives, Natasha being science-minded and practical and Daniel being a day-dreamy poet whose parents are trying to force him into med school. Race relations, immigration, deportation, young love, family relations, this book has it all.|
Two favorite quotes:
"This is where I would've taken Daniel. I would've told him to write poetry about space rocks and impact craters. The sheer number of actions and reactions it's taken to form our solar system, our galaxy, our universe, is astonishing. The number of things that had to go exactly right is overwhelming. Compared to that, what is falling in love? A series of small coincidences that we say means everything because we want to believe that our tiny lives matter on a galactic scale. But falling in love doesn't begin to compare to the formation of the universe. It's not even close."
"It's one of the things I like most about New York City. It deflects any attempts you make to lie to yourself." (p. 184)
|I read this cover to cover on a Saturday in September where I luxuriously laid in bed until noon reading poetry and snuggling with my dog. At first I wasn't that into this volume and wondered why this got so much attention over other contemporary poetry. But then I got to second half or final third, and I suddenly felt so connected to her words--mostly the parts about people leaving your life and then choosing to show back up with no warning or at inopportune times--that I thought, "These are the things I've wanted to say but never make it to paper.|
|I didn't find there to be anything revolutionary in this book (aside from the title which I still think is funny), though I did bookmark several audio clips along the way to revisit and upon revisiting them gave me a deeper appreciation for being inspired to self-reevaluate.|
My two favorite lines:
1) "You don't know anything. Even when you think you do, you don't know what the fuck you're doing. So, really, what is there to lose? Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway."
2) "Travel is a fantastic self-development tool because it extricates you from the values of your culture. It shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function and not hate themselves. This exposure to different cultural values and metrics then forces you to reexamine what seems obvious in your own life and perhaps consider it's not necessarily the best way to live."
Some other notable bookmarked thoughts:
"It's strange that in an age where we are more connected than ever, entitlements seem to be at an all-time high. Something about technology seems to allow our insecurities to run amok like never before. The more freedom we are given to express ourselves, the more we want to be free of having to deal with anyone who may disagree with us or upset us. The more we are exposed to opposing viewpoints, the more we seem to get upset that those viewpoints exist."
"When we have poor values, that is--poor standards for ourselves and others--we are essentially giving fucks about the things that don't matter, things that in fact make our life worse. But when we choose better values, we are able to divert our fucks towards something better, towards things that matter, things that improve the state of our well-being and that generate happiness, pleasure, and success as side effects. This, in a nutshell, is what self-improvement is really about: prioritizing better values, choosing better things to give a fuck about. Because when you give better fucks, you get better problems. And when you get better problems, you get a better life."
"Buddhism argues that your idea of who you are is an arbitrary mental construction and that you should let go of the idea that you exist at all. That the arbitrary metrics by which you define yourself actually trap you, and thus you're better off letting go of everything. In a sense you could say that Buddhism encourages you to not give a fuck...when we let go of the stories we tell about ourselves and to ourselves, we free ourselves up to actually act and fail and grow."
"People with strong boundaries understand that they may hurt someone's feelings sometimes, but ultimately they can't determine how other people feel. People with strong boundaries understand that healthy relationship is not about controlling the other's emotions but rather about each partner supporting the other in their individual growth and in solving their own problems. It's not about giving a fuck about everything your partner gives a fuck about; it's about giving a fuck about your partner regardless of the fucks he or she gives. That's unconditional love, baby."
|Liked, didn't love, this one. With that said, I recognize its importance, mainly for young people experiencing anxiety, who may feel akin with Aza's inner monologue, etc. Heck, I don't consider myself an anxious person, and I recognized a habit in myself while reading this--specifically while attending a memorial service--where I alternated sliding the thumbnail on one hand along the indent of the thumbnail on my other hand, and then switching so the feeling would feel symmetrical.|
And there were a handful of observational humor moments, like when Aza says, "She actually said the letters B-T-W, which I wanted to point our required more syllables than just saying 'by the way'..." and "You are like pizza, which is the highest compliment I can pay a person." (238) that made me chuckle aloud.
And then there were those quotes/moments (see below), which I loved enough to record:
"I would've told her that Davis and I never talked much, or even looked at each other, but it didn't matter, because we were looking at the same sky together, which is maybe more intimate than eye contact anyway. Anybody can look at you. It's quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see." (9)
"I like being outside at night. It gives me this weird feeling, like I'm homesick but not for home. It's kind of a good feeling, though." (79)
"And the thing is, when you lose someone, you realize you'll eventually lose everyone." (81)
"You don't get to be *in* anything else--in friendship or in anger or in hope. All you can be in is love. And I wanted to tell him that even though I'd never been in love, I knew what it was like to be *in* a feeling, to be no just surrounded by it but also permeated by it..." (150)
"I like short poems with weird rhyme schemes, because that's what life is like...It rhymes, but not in the way you expect." (possibly 151)
"Seeing your past--or a person from your past--can for me at least be physically painful. I'm overwhelmed by a melancholic ache--and I want the past back, no matter the cost. It doesn't matter that it won't come back, that it never even actually existed as I remember it--I want it back. I want things to be like they were, or like I remember them having been."
"I am in love with the world." --Maurice Sendak
"We always say that we are beneath the stars. We aren't, of course--there is no up or down, and anyway the stars surround us. But we say we are beneath them, which is nice. So often English glorifies the human--we are whos, other animals are thats--but English puts us beneath the stars, at least."
"...part of me wanted to tell him I loved him, but I wasn't sure if I really did. Our hearts were broken in the same places. That's something like love, but maybe not quite the thing itself." (206)
"To be alive is to be missing."
|If you're into Stranger Things, you'll probably love this graphic novel/comic series! Read Volume 2 almost in one sitting during my off period(s) today. Liked this one even more than the first because the girls time travel from 1988 (in Vol. 1) to 2016 (in Vol. 2), and their interactions with pop culture and the advances in technology cracked me up. There is one box that made me groan aloud, especially when I then saw this was published in November 2016, where they see a Hillary For President yard sign and excitedly exclaim: "We get a girl president!"|
|The following scenario occurred within the duration of me listening to this audiobook...|
On November 20, incidentally a day before I was due to finish Bad Feminist, I attempted e-mailing two students regarding overdue books, and both e-mails immediately bounced back to me with the following warning message: "Objectionable word match policy." I called my district's Help Desk to inquire about this, explaining I need the ability to communicate with students and that I didn't write anything "objectionable." He said he'd never heard of this before, to send him the e-mails in question, and he'd try to investigate the cause. An hour later, he called me back. Here is a transcript of our conversation:
Help Desk: Uh, I think we figured out why you were flagged...
Me: I can't wait to hear this one.
HD: In your e-mail signature it says your 'Current Audiobook' is Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. We think it may have been 'gay' that triggered--
Me: You've got to be kidding me.
HD: --but it could have been 'feminist'
Me (yelling in the library): What! Come on! So not only are you censoring the librarian, my students can't learn about FEMINISM?!
The kind Help Desk guy empathized with me in a "don't shoot the messenger" voice, saying something along the lines of, "I don't know why we can't have these conversations with kids..."
I hung up the phone and conducted an experiment. I re-sent one student an e-mail where I removed "Feminist" and one where I removed "Gay" from my signature. The "Gay" one bounced back. I e-mailed plenty of colleagues during this time with no problem, but apparently "gay" is a trigger word when communicating with students.
This is ridiculous on so many levels, but also this is the author's name!!! I wonder what they're going to flag when they see my next audiobook is entitled White Trash.
Ms. Gay, consider this an official invitation to come speak at my school during our annual Writers Week event in February!
|"What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?"|
Watching my mom, who--like Paul--was also never a smoker, undergo multiple treatments and surgeries to beat lung cancer *three* times over the past 15 years, made this memoir especially compelling. Incidentally, I also began listening to this memoir while driving on a dreary Sunday to attend the memorial service of a friend, who--like Paul--passed away in his 30s from cancer, which made everything feel that much more weighty.
Beautifully written, interesting perspective, and a quick read (or listen).
"If the unexamined life is not worth living, was the unlived life worth examining?"
|2017 has been a helluva year. Especially for women. It began with a misogynist being sworn in as president, immediately followed by marches around the world to show our strength in numbers, followed a few weeks later by Senator McConnell trying to silence Senator Warren, who was speaking out against Jeff Sessions and his horrendous history as a racist government official, by saying, "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted." This subsequently became a rallying cry for women (ha ha, Mitch!) and the title of this fantastic picture book (written by Chelsea, the daughter of the woman who, in my humble opinion, should have won the 2106 election), which just made me tear up at my desk. I hope this gets into hands of little girls (and boys) everywhere. "They persisted. So should you."|
|This heartwarming and important book made the ALA Top 10 List of banned and challenged books this year, which doesn't surprise--but deeply saddens--me, given the school district I work for and the one I graduated from both were in the hot seat last year for basically bullying and shaming transgender students who wanted to use the bathroom or locker room for the gender of which they identify. This is not to say that these particular school districts are banning literature, but if these are the people in power making decisions that affect all students in suburban Chicago, I can't even imagine what students are up against in more seclusive parts of this country. If anyone lives somewhere where this book is not being put on library shelves, let me know, and I'll send you a copy.|
I hope Gary Anderson doesn't mind me quoting his review, as it's exactly what I wanted to say: "GEORGE belongs on the very short list of books like Sharon Draper's OUT OF MY MIND and R. J. Palacio's WONDER that are ostensibly for middle-grade readers but are likely to forever change the perceptions of readers at any age. GEORGE is especially welcome for those seeking to understand transgender children, including transgender children themselves, but it's really for anyone who feels different. I especially admire how author Alex Gino shows us the important roles played by friends and family in the life of a child coming to terms with gender identity issues."
|One of the most infuriating stories in the news (which is saying a lot these days) over the past few years was the slap on the wrist Brock Turner received for sexually assaulting an unconscious female student at Stanford University (not to mention the "white boy can't be so bad" image plastered all over the media amidst innocent black men being labeled "thugs" who were murdered by cops all over the country).|
This book does not take place at Stanford, but covers numerous rape allegations in Missoula, MT, specifically involving multiple players on the college football team. It was not easy to listen to this book. Krakauer does not spare the cringe-worthy details of what these women experienced at the hands of male classmates. Nor should he. This book will make you angry (and it should) at the system our country has set up in a way that makes it virtually impossible for a man to be formally accused of rape.
In the last chapter of the book we learn that a conservative organization (ACTA) founded by Lynne Cheney spoke out against a plan that Obama, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, tried to enact--"Not Alone"--that would provide schools with protocols for improving their response to sexual assaults.
As Krakauer argues, "All colleges and universities require students to follow the rules of the institution they attend. If a student violates school policy by failing classes, or cheating on exams, or dealing drugs, or sexually assaulting another student, school officials not only have the right to sanction the offending student, they have an obligation to do so." (377)
And now we have a president who is an accused sexual predator, so where does that leave us? Hopefully, the number of men being called out--in politics and Hollywood--over the past few months will bring about the beginnings of positive change.
|"For only the pain of empathy will keep us human. There's no version of God that can help us if we ever lose that." -From the gleaning journal of H.S. Faraday (p 388)|
One of my colleagues finished this book a few months ago and told me, "This is one of the best books I've read in the past five years. And I don't even like YA!" Holy cow was he right! This is so good. And so smart. I wish I read this with a book club because I'd love to discuss the intricacies of the names each Scythe goes by (e.g. Curie, Faraday, Mandela...). I laughed out loud near the end when Scythe Twain says something about "faking his own funeral," which made me realize I may have missed other references/characteristics that connected the Scythe with their adopted persona. There are so many themes running through this story, a world in which immortality is the new way of life, that seem so pertinent to the world we're living in now: firearms control, the cloud, stagnant-minded people. This is one that I would re-read because there's just so much there, and I don't really ever re-read anything. This is also one that I will definitely be reading the sequel, which comes out in a few weeks, even though as a librarian I pretty much gave up on series. With that said, I also think it's an awesome stand-alone book, which is what I thought about Shusterman's "Unwind" as well, and never continued with that series (though from what I heard that wasn't originally intended to be a series, so it makes sense that it was a solid stand-alone).
I have a feeling this will probably be turned into a movie, if that isn't already in the works. It read very cinematically and is filled with action, adventure, mystery, and drama.
Highly recommend this read to everyone--even if you're not a fan of dystopian fiction (or like me think it gets "overplayed")-- give this a shot. If for no other reason than we can go grab a beverage and discuss!
"The stagnation that I so fervently glean on a daily basis seems an epidemic that only grows. There are times I feel I am fighting a losing battle against an old-fashioned apocalypse of the living dead." -From the gleaning journal of H.S. Curie (p 373)
**One thing that left me somewhat dumbfounded was the number of errors I encountered throughout the book, almost as if it wasn't edited. Incorrect use of quotation marks mostly, but even the wrong form of "too" used towards the end. I don't by any means claim to be a grammar/punctuation expert, but I only mention this in surprise that there would be that many glaring errors and out of curiosity of whether anyone else notices stuff like this.
|"But worse than the violations themselves was creeping understanding of what it means to be female; that it's not a matter of if something happens but when and how bad." (9:35)|
"Yet despite all these things we know to be true, despite the preponderance of evidence showing the mental and emotional distress people demonstrate in violent and harassing environments, we still have no name for what happens to women living in a culture that hates them...what diagnosis do you give to the shaking hands you get after a stranger whispers 'pussy' in your ear on the way to work? What medicine can you take to stop being afraid that the cab driver's not actually taking you home. And what about those of us who walk through all of this without feeling any of it? What does it say about the hoops our brain had to jump through to get to ambivalence?" (13:07)
"...without a happy ending, we're just complainers, downers who don't realize how good we actually have it. Men's pain and existential angst are the stuff of myths and legends and narratives that shape everything we do. But women's pain is a backdrop, a plot development to push the story along for the real protagonists. Disrupting that story means we're needy or selfish or worst of all, 'man haters.' As if after all men have done to women over the ages, the mere act of not liking them for it is the most offensive." (15:40)
"That I thought it was a gift rather than a given was probably the problem. Being treated nicely felt wrong somehow, as if we were acting out what a relationship should be rather than being in it...When confronted with the love you deserve, it is easier to mock it than accept it." (2:09)
|Closing out the year with poetry. A few times over the past three years I've had the opportunity to help chaperone my school's poetry slam team and indie poets as they take the stage during LTAB season. "You *live* here?? In the city??" they ask, wide-eyed, when I meet them at the train stations and various venues. "Why do you teach in Bartlett if you live *here*?!" "Because Rahm fired most of the Chicago Public School librarians," I reply. "But also because I love you guys."|
Bought this book--for myself and the library--at the 2017 LTAB Quarter-Finals at Malcolm X College before its official release date (and a few days before the last poem's dedication date I realized tonight). It sits proudly atop the shelves in our school library, which recently caught the eye of my principal, who stopped in his tracks and said, "Wow! We have this here??" Proud librarian moment.
Kevin Coval is a household name with my students; they even have their own call and response, and when we were fortunate enough to host him during our annual Writers Week, you would have thought Michael Jordan had entered the auditorium (thus is the beauty of Writers Week, when writers are as revered as sports legends). I love what he's done with YCA and LTAB, both organizations I wish existed when I was a teen, though I was beyond lucky enough to be a student where the original Writers Week was first invited at Fremd High School.
It was there I met the one and only Gwendolyn Brooks 20 years ago this coming spring. The number of times she's mentioned on these pages made me smile and remember how life-changing it was to meet her when I was also a wide-eyed suburban teen. During that time I also had the privilege of being exposed to Marc Smith, Patricia Smith, and Studs Terkel, all prominent names in this volume as well.
What I loved about this collection is that it was reminiscent of Terkel's devotion in that it left me with even more questions and renewed curiosity about this city I've called home for most of my 35 years of life and a desire to continue investigating and processing through writing.
Thank you Kevin for all you do and for educating people about important Chicago histories which have been and continue to be covered up in more ways than one.
Thanks for following along.