My favorite writers are those whose writings tend to defy rigid categories. I’m interested in voices whose passionate minds are rich with curiosity and whose texts feel less like someone rooted to certainties and more like an interrogation of social reality as a shifting terrain of beliefs butting up against power dynamics, history and politics. Over the past few years I’ve been drawn to books of essays and memoirs whose authors are fascinated by a wide range of subjects and themes. Teju Cole is my kind of writer and the kind thinker that our times require in order to make sense (or at the very least question) of complex issues. And in this book of 50 essays, he pulls it off with a beautiful prose that is inviting and accessible. His newest book Known and Strange Things: Essays is a wildly perceptive book that packs a punch even though it resists feeling ‘ideological’ or like someone shouting truths at you. From his interest in photography to James Baldwin’s experiences in Switzerland, to his love of literature to his various travels around the world, Cole’s erudite voice is that of someone whose sparkling mind finds immense joy in the world’s fertile landscape of ideas and culture.
Let’s talk about Here, a fascinating book by Richard
McGuire. Classified as a graphic novel, it’s less of a comic book, and more of
a subject study as the entire book never leaves the living room of McGuire’s
childhood home. The book travels backward and forward in time, exposing
ordinary events that happened in that very spot, almost like players wandering
on and off the stage.
Things get interesting however, when little windows start to
appear on the page. A woman in 1957 stops to try and remember why she walked
into the room while a cat from the year 1999 saunters through. A baseball that
crashes through the window in 1983 has no impact on the man trying to tie his
shoe in 1991. The room begins to get crowded as people from the distant past,
present, and future all begin to appear in these trans-temporal windows. As if something about the ordinary-seeming space has unraveled the space time continuum.
It’s a fun, and thought provoking book. After reading it, you can’t help but think about the people who stood where you are years before, and who will be here years after you’re gone.
What is “criticism”, who are “critics” and what sort of social role should they play in determining taste and value judgments are just a couple of the questions that New York Times journalist A.O. Scott attempts to explore in his charming, new book Better Living Through Criticism: how to think about art, pleasure, beauty and truth. Scott’s interest in the topic is certainly personal given his livelihood is based upon the notion that open societies benefit from a profession that functions to analyze, probe, and lay bare deeper truths about our various forms of expression, communication and creativity. Scott's tone is warm and self-reflexive. He understands and in some cases, sympathizes with the anti-intellectual strain of discourse that mocks his profession as elitist or unnecessary nor does he shy away from discussing criticism's inherent flaws and blind spots but he also makes a strong case for its noble role as an exercise in thinking about important matters connected to a democratic and increasingly culturally, complex society.
In 1981, my family flew to Hermosa Beach, California to visit my Aunt Sally and enjoy the California sun. I was a 13 year old Middle School student, had never been outside of the Midwest, and my idea of California was all about Hollywood movies and a 1950’s idea of beach/surfing culture. Walking around the sleepy beach town that first day opened my eyes to the dark menace that was the early 80’s punk rock scene in and around LA, including sleepy Hermosa Beach. That brief glimpse, and the cassettes that I purchased during that trip, changed the trajectory of the remainder of my youth and ultimately influenced my view of the world. Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk provides the real story behind what I glimpsed when I was 13. Told through chapter-length tales from some of the scenesters that survived that dangerous and nihilistic time, Under the Big Black Sun is a vibrant front-row seat into a legendary scene the likes of which we aren’t likely to see again.
Julie Paschkis, the author/illustrator of “Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems”, is a painter who has won awards for her artwork accompanying other picture books. Here, her illustrations depict folk art patterns that are both colorful and vivid; the perfect complement to the simple yet reflective poems. The poems appear in English on one page, and in Spanish on the opposite page. Despite her considerable abilities in constructing beautiful verse, she states that she is not a poet per se, nor a native Spanish speaker for that matter.Nonetheless, this slim volume depicts wonderfully all sorts of animals in motion- fluttering, slithering,leaping,stretching and the like.
A beautifully illustrated poetry book that is both fun and playful. Be prepared for young readers wanting to reread this many times over!
Somethingtofoodabout is a testament to what you can do when you reach the upper echelons of pop cultural cool. By all accounts, Questlove (drummer, producer, musical director, NYT bestselling author and culinary bon vivant) has reached the highest heights of hipness and now is basically tenured in the university of cool and can seemingly do whatever he pleases. Thankfully, Questlove’s celebrity was earned the old-fashioned way, through hard work and talent, as opposed to the "Kardashian" way, and he continuously makes interesting creative choices, including this new book. Instead of creating a celebrity cookbook or turning himself into yet another made-for-tv food impresario, Questlove gives us a book about the creative aspect of high-level cooking, filled with interesting photographs and rich conversations with chefs at the white-hot center of the food world. The book is artistic, unexpected, and casually but totally unapologetically cool. Check it out.
Summer is the perfect time for
light reading, so I have another graphic novel to tell you all about! Lucy
Knisley, an artist with a knack for turning her personal experiences into
entertaining graphic memoirs, is back with Something New! Literally—that’s the
name of the book.
Knisley has written about the
important role of food in her life, and some of her exciting travel adventures,
but this time she’s covering her experiences grappling with the beautiful and
incredibly stressful task of getting married. This lovely memoir includes many
fun components, such as, a section on to buy, or DIY, how she and her husband
met, and wedding traditions from around the world. I’d recommend this to book
to anyone, whether they’re married, engaged, or single, because honestly, it’s
just fun going on this wedding
journey with Lucy Knisley.
Looking for more books by Lucy
Knisley? Be sure to check out some of her other titles here.
Mira loves to "doodle, draw, color, and paint" so her room is filled with vibrant pictures that she created herself. Her neighborhood, on the other hand, is dull and gray. Until the day a muralist moved in. Together the two of them set off to paint the town.
Based on a true story, this picture book is about the East Village neighborhood in San Diego. It tells the story of a community that Rafael and Candace Lopez brings together and the creation of the Urban Art Trail. Lopez (who is also the illustrator of the book) along with community leaders, teachers, artists, and residents worked together to turn their neighborhood into a walkable piece of art. This picture book is an inspiring story with wonderful illustrations that young children will love.
Lane Smith’s picture book titled: There Is a Tribe of Kids is both curious and educational, plus, it’s a reference book. Patrons have traditionally asked librarians questions such as: what do you call a group of this or that, whether it be animals (animal aggregations), or some other group. Familiar animal aggregations are: a school of fish, a flock of geese, pack of dogs, you get the idea. In Smith’s book, a lone child takes us on a journey from animal group to animal group and eventually to a group of children. Lane Smith’s illustrations are truly amazing and full of antics and delightful detail. Lane Smith has written and illustrated many children’s books, and Lane received a Caldecott Honor Award for Grandpa Green. He was named an Eric Carle Artist for “lifelong innovation in the field of children’s picture books” in 2012!
Do you need more dinosaurs, time travelers, and girl power
in your life? If so, I have two fantastic graphic novels for you. First up, is Paper Girls, Volume 1 by Brian
K. Vaughn, the writer named by Wired Magazine as " the greatest comic book visionary of the last five years." This suspenseful mystery starts
with a slow burn as four paper delivery girls head out to cover their route the
morning after Halloween in 1988. After
the girls accidentally set off a strange machine, the story kicks off at
break-neck speed, and soon the girls are facing off against dinosaurs,
laser-blasting knights, and sub-human creatures that might just be from the future. It’s intense, fast-paced, wicked
fun, and the series is only just beginning.
Also, make sure to check out the Lumberjanes series by Grace
Ellis and Noelle Stevenson. Lumberjanes follows five “hardcore lady types”
spending the summer at a crazy camp surrounded by bizarre supernatural
mysteries. The girls fight werewolves, solve riddles, and avoid the ever-watchful
eye of their group counselor in this manic, off-beat, fantastic read. This
series has been out for a while, but you can catch up on Hoopla digital.
Both of these series are a great mash-up of sci-fi, fantasy,
action, and mystery with fabulous artwork. So what are you waiting for?