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Staff Picks: Books

Chicago

Chicago is Brian Doyle’s most recent novel. It almost doesn't seem like a novel at all, but a series of poetic vignettes and character sketches. It very much reminds me of his essays, in which his joyful and generous spirit is clear through humorous, vivid, and sometimes fantastical observations about his family, sports, nature, and life in general. The narrator of Chicago is a recent college graduate who has just moved to the city for work, and the book mostly describes his encounters with the people who live in his apartment building and his own explorations of the city. Knowing Doyle’s writing, it’s pretty clear the narrator is based on the author, and his love for the city is obvious and believable.

I may not be entirely impartial because I grew up outside Chicago during the time of the novel (it takes place over a little more than a year in the late 70’s), so it was a nostalgic read. However, you don’t need to know the place to be charmed by the many colorful characters, especially Edward the dog.

Sadly, Doyle was diagnosed with a brain tumor last fall, and I fear he might not be writing anything new, but I encourage you to look up his body of work, which includes several novels and many collections of stories, essays, and poetry.


Passing

 It’s Black History Month! A time to celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans, but also a great time to examine some of the social issues and complexities of race in America.  For all of the insistence upon inherent difference between races, it is actually just a social construct based on appearance with a few cultural differences thrown in for good measure. Or as Maya Angelou put it in her poem Human Family, “we are more alike, my friends/ than we are unalike.” 

In the 1920’s when Black Americans were treated poorly and granted way less opportunities for success, many fair-skinned Black Americans decided to cut ties with their family and friends to  try and live out the American Dream the best way they knew how—by pretending to be White. Americans were all too aware of this, and as a result, there were many films and novels focused on the subject of passing.

My absolute favorite novel from this time period is Passing by Nella Larsen. Published in 1929, during the Harlem Renaissance, the story follows two women, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, childhood friends who meet later as adults. Irene is married, and living in Harlem right in the hub of the Black social circle, while Clare, a wealthy socialite who married a racist White man, is passing for White.

Passing explores themes of deception, jealousy, loyalty and betrayal. It’s a tale of fashionable frenemies, scandalous parties, and a crazy twist ending I’d love to talk to you about if you get a chance to read it. I love it to pieces and hope you will too. 

 


If You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach, Don't!

Occasionally while reading in the various book review publications I will stop at the children's section just to see what's new. An ad for this one caught my attention so I thought I would check to see if KPL owned it, and, sure enough, we did. As one of three books we have by Elise Parsley, a children's author who lives 21 miles from a beach in South Dakota, this is a funny story. It begins, 'If your mom says to get ready to play at the beach, she means with a boat, or a frisbee, or a shovel. She is NOT talking about the piano.' The illustrations are well done. I love the ending too. Next on my list might be Ms. Parsley's If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, DON'T!


A Room with a View

The Bloomsbury Group was a group of friends—writers, artists, and intellectuals that included the likes of Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, and Art Bell—who gathered regularly in London’s Bloomsbury neighborhood during the first half of the 20th century. They were highly influential modern literati who rebelled against the conservative constraints of the earlier Victorian period, while simultaneously having the comforts and privileges of the upper class. Nowhere is the tension between modern, bohemian ideas and the constrictions of high society more evident than in E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View.

I read A Room with a View as part of my exploration of the works of Bloomsbury members and enjoyed it immensely. I see it as a coming of age novel, with the main character, Lucy Honeychurch, struggling to understand what she wants versus what society expects of her as she becomes an adult. Lucy’s trip to Italy and a chance meeting with a young socialist at her hotel set off a chain of events that alters the course of her life. It’s quick, uplifting read.


1984 Is Back In Style

British writer George Orwell’s dystopian horror story 1984 (first published in 1949) has recently found its way back onto the best-seller lists again. Orwell’s signature novel remains a germane cautionary tale about authoritarian societies, organized around propaganda, fear, control, surveillance, and “groupthink”. Orwell drew inspiration from both the pre-WW2 fascism of Germany and Italy and the widespread crackdown on dissent during Stalin’s reign as dictator of the Soviet Union. The British actor John Hurt, who played the main character Winston Smith in the movie adaptation passed away from cancer last week.


Beast

This take on Beauty and the Beast really is original. Dylan, an over-sized and hirsute 15 year old, is our unreliable narrator. Awash in a sea of self-pity and zero self-esteem Dylan spends most of the book thinking everyone sees him the way he sees himself (honestly, he spends so much time pitying himself it's exhausting) and waiting for a sign from his deceased father. Jamie, an amazing, funny, and creative girl challenges Dylan’s superficiality when he realizes that not only is he totally into her, but that she is transgender. So, confession: this book ticked me off a lot. I spent a lot of the day yelling at Dylan for being a jerk. Almost all the characters are crappy people and I felt incredibly cynical about them. BUT! I could not put it down. As frustrating as I found this book, the writing is compelling and the character growth is authentic. Also, unreliable narrators make for a fun read, even when they are super irritating.


Snowman Goes From Being Lonely to Being Perfect With a Little Love and New Friends

The Most Perfect Snowman, written and delightfully illustrated by Chris Britt, is about a simple,lonely snowman named Drift, who has arms made out of sticks and a nose and mouth made of coal.

He dreams of wearing some splendid items of clothing like a hat, scarf, mittens and of possessing a pointed carrot nose. like so many other more stylish snowmen, who would often ridicule his plain looks. 

One day three children come upon Drift and much to his delight share with him a scarf, hat, mittens as well as a pointy carrot nose. Upon donning his new togs, the kids proclaim him to be a perfect snowman and all spend the rest of the afternoon in fun play.

Once darkness begins to set in, the kids say goodbye and head home.During the night ,a blustery blizzard blows most of Drift's clothes away. All is not lost because he befriends a scared, cold and hungry tiny bunny who asks for his help to survive. Sure enough, Drift gives the bunny his scarf for warmth  and his carrot nose to relieve his hunger. With these acts of kindness and generosity, he proves that he truly is the most perfect snowman!

 


Gotta Read 'em All

I’ve been a Pokéfan for almost 20 years now.  It started in middle school with Pokémon Blue on and now I’m currently working my way through Moon and draining my phone battery with Pokémon Go (hey, don’t judge Go, it’s getting me outside for fresh air and exercise).  It’s been years since I’ve watched the anime and movies, but it’s probably time to check it them out again.  Apparently, there’s some wisdom hidden between the battles and Poké-antics.I know how silly that sounds, but roll with me on this.  


The Essential Pokémon Book of Joy is a cute, short book of quotes from your favorite characters that offer lessons in life, love, friendship and, of course, Pokémon battles.  Ok, they may not all be profound, but some of them are surprisingly deep.  Even the baddies from Team Rocket occasionally offers some good advice such as never abandon a teammate in trouble, and do not fear failure/never give up.  Meowth is particularly clever and has my favorite quote from the entire series: “We do have a lot in common.  The same air, the same earth, the same sky.  Maybe if we started looking at what’s the same instead of always looking at what’s different...well, who knows?”  Pokéfan or not, that’s something we should all keep in mind.


If you’re feeling a little low and need a little pick-me-up, there is plenty of joy to be found in this book (including Nurse Joy)!  Even if the quotes don’t make you think, they’ll at least make you smile.  Whether you’re a Rising Star, Ace Trainer, or Veteran, be sure to flip through this book and, as Meowth says, remember to “..mind your P's and Q's and Pikachus.”

Faithful

I’m an Alice Hoffman fan. I’ve read just about everything she has written, some I like more than others. Faithful is one of my favorites of hers.

This is a story of tragedy and sorrow. Shelby and Helene are best friends in high school until an accident changes both of their lives.

Grief, guilt, recovery, friendship – it is all here but I didn’t find it as depressing as it sounds from this description. I agree with the reviewer who wrote…. “there is unique magic that Hoffman casts in all of her novels; seriously, this is a novel for anyone who has faith.”

This is a beautiful novel about surviving, forgiving ourselves, and connecting with others.


Paper Girls 2 For Me and You!

Paper Girls 2 is here! If you're new to the series, just know that it is the perfect comic to read while waiting for season 2 of Stranger Things. Complete with a great group of kids, crazy monsters, and 1980s hairstyles in all their feather-fringed glory. If you are already a fan, you’ll remember, at the end of Paper Girls Volume 1, KJ was still missing, and the gang was mysteriously transported out of the 80s. If you’ve somehow been patient enough to wait for the next volume instead of going out to buy the single comics, you’ll be excited to know this one starts right where the last one left off—with the girls being dropped right in the middle of 2016, and Erin coming face to face with her adult self!

Will Erin be disappointed in her future self? Will they ever find KJ? Will the paper girls be able to survive the horrors of 2016???

There's only one way to find out-- check it out right now!