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Staff Picks: Books

Year-End Review

As 2018 winds down, its a customary tradition for staff to compile a list of those books, movies and albums that have inspired us, made us laugh, made us cry, stoked our imagination, and provoked us to think deeply about the relationship between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy and art and life. Here are a few of my favorites.

 

Winter, Karl Ove Knausgaard
Becoming, Michelle Obama
WKW: the Cinema of Wong Kar Wai, John Powers
Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir, John Banville
Meaty, Samantha Irby
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh
These Truths: A History of the United States, Jill Lepore
The Largesse of the Sea Maidens, Denis Johnson

 


Binti

I love science fiction. I love the sleek spaceships and visiting other worlds. I love imagining how current trends may impact future society. But the stories being told in this genre are so limited. Think of the last science fiction movie you saw, or saw advertised. Who was the main character? Was it a man? Did he have blue eyes? Was his name Chris? Yeah, I thought so. Why is it that when we get the chance to travel off planet, we’re always stuck with the same guy who can only classify aliens into two categories: the ones who look like supermodels in tight spandex, and the ones who don’t?

There are so many aspects of space travel that have yet to be explored, and stories that can only be explored by people who aren’t Chris. That is why Binti by Nnedi Okorafor is so refreshing. Binti is the story of a girl from the Himba tribe in northern Namibia. She sneaks off in the night to catch a ride on the spaceship heading off to Oomza University, where she’s been accepted to complete her studies. Her plans are violently interrupted when aliens board and attack the ship.

Coming in at a succinct 97 pages, this story is gripping and fast paced. It is the mark of a master to guide the reader from point A to point B with no excess frills, or empty exposition. To pull that off in science fiction, a genre known for elaborate world building and description is incredible. Winner of the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and finalists for many others, this is one space adventure you do not want to miss.

 


The Fire This Time

As a white person, watching the events unfold at Charlottesville this past weekend has been a bit surreal—and, of course, deeply disturbing. It’s hard to believe that in 2017 white nationalism is so prominent, but I think it’s hard for me to understand because I don’t experience oppression based on my skin color the way people of color do. As a white person, I’m often wondering what I can do to help change things and make it so white supremacy has no place in our country. As a librarian, I know that knowledge is power and that we have plenty of knowledge behind our doors. I can suggest a few books for anyone interested in expanding their knowledge of racism in the U.S.: The Fire Next Time and The Fire this Time: a new generation speaks about race. The Fire Next Time is a beautiful, poetically written essay by James Baldwin, published in 1963 as the civil rights movement was gaining traction in the U.S. I read it when I was 20, in a Black American Literature class at WMU, and was deeply moved by Baldwin’s experiences as a black man and his passionate call for racial justice 100 years after the end of slavery.

Fire this Time: a new generation speaks about race is a collection of essays and poetry by black writers published in 2016 and edited by Jesmyn Ward, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for her novel Savage the Bones. It’s response to Baldwin’s essay and a continued rallying call for racial justice over 50 years after his essay was originally published. Comparing and contrasting these two books is a great way for white people to deepen their understanding of racism and its hold in the U.S.

If you are interested in learning more about racism or other topics related to social justice, I suggest searching “KPL Social Justice collection” in our catalog. The library has begun gathering works on a variety of topics, such as racism, feminism, ableism, and more in an effort to support social justice in the Kalamazoo community. You can learn more about our social justice commitment here.

 


Echo

When more than one patron and all the youth librarians you know, say you should listen to a particular audiobook, you must listen.  Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan is an incredible book but it might be the best audiobook I've ever listened to. It's so good that I want to keep driving around instead of parking my car and getting to work. It's a story within a story about a young boy named Frederik, living in the heart of the Black Forest, during the early Hitler years. His father, an accomplished cellist, is deemed a Jewish sympathizer and is arrested and taken from Frederik. He's left to figure out how to navigate this most dangerous new world without him. But did I mention, Frederik does carry with him a magical harmonica. And that's just Part 1. Part 2 opens in Pennsylvania! This incredible story is suspenseful and superbly performed, with multiple voices and musical pieces throughout. It's historical fiction and fantasy combined into one amazing story. Available from KPL in print, Ebook, and audiobook as Compact Disc or through our downloadable service, Hoopla.


Potted

If you’re looking for a little inspiration for your patio or trying to perk up your houseplants, Potted: Make Your Own Stylish Garden Plants is a great place to start. Potted offers a variety of fun d.i.y projects to build cool and creative pots for all sorts of plants, whether in outdoors spaces or inside on a windowsill. The instructions are detailed and include a number of pictures, making these d.i.y’s a no-brainer.


We Are Never Meeting in Real Life

I’m deeply in love with the book We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby. She writes with a candor that can be uncomfortable at times, but with a purpose: self-reflection that compels the reader to see their own humanity. This book is about what it is to be a person, because being a person is horrible a lot of the time, occasionally all right, and usually ridiculously funny. Irby is so incredibly funny that I spit out my coffee multiple times while reading this book because I couldn’t control my laughter. Read this book.


You'll Have a Yabba Dabba Doo Time

I just read a graphic novel from Hoopla that contained some of the best social commentary in the past few years. Surprisingly it was from the recent DC Comics re-imagination of the cartoon classic, The Flintstones.

Mark Russell has crafted an irreverent story that not only updates the Hanna-Barbera cartoon (how do you update a story set in the past?), but also tackles some pretty serious social issues like war, politics, consumerism, the institute of marriage, and religion. Fred is less Ralph Kramden and more sensitive, modern Stone Age father. Wilma is trying to find her place in this newly formed civilization by painting Modern art. Pebbles is a moody, yet wise teenager fighting against the system. Barney, Wilma and Bamm-Bamm are still around helping the Flintstones navigate civilization and provide the loving friendship we remember from the TV show.

Steve Pugh’s art is an excellent hybrid of the cartoon style we are used to seeing and the 21st Century stylings in current comic books. You can spend hours trying to find all the hidden jokes in each panel. I was never a huge fan of The Flintstones, but I still very much enjoyed Russell and Pugh’s witty and intelligent take on everyone’s favorite prehistoric family unit.


Meaty

I’m late in discovering the hilarious and uncomfortably honest writer Samantha Irby. I happened to hear her speak with fellow funny feminist writer, Lindy West, at Bookbug recently, and immediately picked up her 2013 debut Meaty. I loved it and only regret that I hadn’t read it sooner. Meaty is a collection of essays about Irby’s life, touching on topics such as sex, fatness, blackness, poverty, and of course, tacos. I devoured this funny and sometimes-crass book quickly and wanted more. Luckily, Irby has a new book, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, coming out at the end of May.