Our staff’s favorite books of 2017

What was the best book you read in 2017? This is the question I posed to my fellow staff members at CPL. Interestingly, I got no duplicate answers! We have a wide variety of reading preferences among our staff, which means there’s something for everyone in this list. Maybe your next great read is below:

Our Library Director Ramona  picked the audiobook edition of  News of the World by Paulette Jiles, read by Grover Gardner. In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction.

Teen Librarian Kelley really liked Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire. In this urban fantasy, Jenna, who died  too soon, works to regain the years that were lost to her. But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Bill is our Head of Adult Services, and he picked the Bruce Springsteen autobiography Born to Run as his favorite read of 2017. In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Super Bowl’s half-time show. The experience was so exhilarating that Bruce decided to write about it, which is how this extraordinary autobiography began. Springsteen traces his life from his childhood in a Catholic New Jersey family and the musical experiences that prompted his career to the rise of the E Street Band and the stories behind some of his most famous songs.

Children’s Librarian Lauren went with The Sun is Also a Star, a young adult novel by Nicola Yoon.  In this story Natasha, whose family is hours away from being deported, and Daniel, a first generation Korean American on his way to a prestigious college admissions interview, cross paths in New York. They unexpectedly fall in love during an intense day in the city.

 

More books our staff loved last year:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas,  Winter of the Gods by Jordanna Max Brodsky, Evicted by Matthew Desmond, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Illusion Town by Jayne Castle,  The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, Border Child by Michael Stone, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas, The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman, Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride

Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley is a funny and interesting biographical graphic novel about Lucy’s relationship with her boyfriend, John, and their wedding. This book takes you through how they met in college, moved in together, broke up, dated other people for three years, then abruptly became engaged.

Then, it takes you through a year of a DIY wedding. DIY: decorations (ALL the decorations), music playlist, ties for the men in the wedding party, photo booth, personalized gifts for every single guest, personalized gifts for everyone in the wedding party, and the list goes on. What they could not do themselves they worked out as cheaply as possible: a wedding dress that was on sale (it had pockets!), a backyard barn built for the occasion, and a friend of the family to cater everything.

There is also plenty of wedding stress. Lucy’s mother had her own list of guests to invite that mostly consisted of people who were strangers to Lucy and John, and it was longer than Lucy and John’s list of guests. The mother-of-the-bride also kept insisting on other things such as hiring a wedding planner without consulting the bride and groom, changing the size of the intended barn which forced the couple to remove guests from their invitation list, a band instead of their DIY playlist, and her badly-behaved dog walking down the aisle at the wedding. As Lucy and John worked through all of this stress, Lucy also reflected on what weddings used to be, what they have become, what marrying a man means for her bisexuality, and what she wants most in a marriage.

Genre: Non-fiction graphic novel

Setting: Most of the story takes place in modern-day Chicago and New York state.

Number of pages: 291

Is this good for a book club? Yes, if the club is willing to read a graphic novel. This book contains a lot of good discussion material about an important cultural milestone. It is also very quick to read, despite the number of pages.

Themes: The history of weddings, the modern wedding industry’s influence on what people think weddings are supposed to be (and what they are supposed to cost), how weddings can negatively impact people who are not heterosexual, what it means to have a good marriage, different types of relationships, and how wedding stress can bring out the worst in people.

Objectionable content: Suggestive themes, sexuality, and alcohol.

Can children read this? Teenagers would enjoy this.

Who would like this? Anyone who is preparing for their own wedding, preparing for someone else’s wedding, has gone through a wedding, thinks weddings are overrated, thinks weddings are wonderful, or enjoys examining the wedding industry.

Rating: Five stars

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Sorting White Trash

indexIt was a hard call, but I’d say White Trash by Nancy Isenberg was my Number 2 Must Read of 2016 (after Chasing the Scream), but oh, have I put off writing about it because it played so much into last year’s politics it seemed as if it were written for it – but it couldn’t, because it was written before last year’s one-of-a-kind election year.

“White Trash” is a term that began just before the Civil War and became entrenched afterward, a term for the poorest white people who were absolutely uneducated, dirty, poorer than slaves – and had no desire to change their ways. They considered themselves perfectly fine and above anyone else. Rich people were to be sneered at, since they considered themselves better. Educated people were sneered at, because they considered themselves better. Yet as a class they were so despised for their lack of morals and work ethic, even slaves considered themselves above Poor White Trash.

Isenberg feels the concept goes back further than that. Who did England send over to1400306193764-cached America to pad out their colonies? Who would not be missed from the overcrowded prisons and cities? Not the landed gentry, but those persons who for whatever reason did not fit into society and were unsuccessful at supporting themselves. The Virginia Colony had to go so far as to set a death sentence for people who did not work and did not attend church on Sundays. Starvation was so bad that people resorted to cannibalism. The people sent over refused to work, preferring to run off to unsettled land (which was “owned” by others) and fend for themselves. Getting people to do the hard labor of setting up a colony was quite difficult.

Further, Isenberg says that as the country expanded, the first to move west were… the folk who refused to work for others, could not function in a society, and would rather starve than work. Each time, the ones who pushed west first were the dregs, seeking escape from prisons, debt collectors, tax men, and others who “infringed” upon them. The wild west was wild because the people who colonized it couldn’t get along with anyone.

“White Trash” has many names, depending on geography – Crackers, Okies, Rednecks, Hillbillies, Trailer Trash, Mud Eaters – all people who shun government, distrust education, live in abject poverty, and have a very flexible moral code. I don’t mean “flexible” as a pejorative but as a term to describe a juxtaposition of ideals: your baby out of wedlock is a sin, but it’s okay for me. Never take charity, but taking free stuff from this agency over here isn’t charity, it’s just free stuff. They have quite the knack for making things acceptable for them but a sin for anyone else.

Isenberg digs into both politics and popularism, citing Andrew Jack110932-004-3f4811e2son (the first person running for President who lost despite getting the most popular votes the first time he ran) as an uneducated, crass boor who appealed to the lowest masses and yet was elected President, and how he loved to flaunt that boorishness, to the distress of the American Gentry. She cites the 1970’s as a time when White Trash became hip – from Smokey and the Bandit, to the Dukes of Hazzard, to Tammy Faye Bakker and the  whole Televangelist craze. Today’s exploitainment shows like Duck Dynasty, Honey Boo Boo, and 16 and Pregnant continue to flaunt poverty, lawlessness, and lack of education as something chic and desirable.

Of course race and politics play into it. Much of the divide still stems from the Civil War, with Southern States blaming Northern States for the outcomes, and the Northern States holding the South in utter contempt. Isenberg shows how that all translates into votes, and political forums, and how those in turn affect our elections – including the recent one.

indexIsenberg is not alone in her observations. Numerous authors have also written similar observations, making her research more plausible. One is Deer Hunting With Jesus, by Joe Bageant, in which he talks about going home to rural Virginia, and why such places are becoming  a permanent underclass.  Lee Smith touches on a little of it in her dreamy autobiography Dimestore, about growing up in rural Appalachia.  Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance does a fantastic job presenting the issues from the first-hand experience of growing up in 1980’s Kentucky.

No matter what your political leanings, White Trash815bv15ciol will open your eyes to why current politics are playing out the way they are and how people are being exploited in the process, why you can’t seem to educate people out of poverty, and how that poverty persists generation after generation – and no, it’s not due to Welfare. How do we change it? How do we shape it? Or should we allow an uneducated underclass to dictate policies it knows nothing about – and chooses not to learn?  There’s no easy answer to be had, but this book is a must read and will open your eyes to a lot of things you never learned in school.

Understanding Urban Issues

Here is a group of books – some of them very good – that are sure to fuel political fire, no matter which fence you sit on regarding the issues of the blighted inner cities.

indexGhetto is a brand-new book by Mitchell Duneier on the term “ghetto,” which dates back to the 1400’s when Jews were forced to live in isolation from Christians. They were free to come and go, except at night, and anyone could do business with them. This led to a flourishing if separate culture for hundreds of years. Enter the Nazis, who isolated Jews into Ghettos with barbed wire. No one was allowed in or out. Here, people had no jobs, severe overcrowding, no public services, and as the ghettos decayed and residents grew desperate, people accepted the fact that Jews lived like animals, and it helped fuel antisemitism. Why would people live like that if they didn’t deserve it, forgetting that to cross the wire was not just banishment, but death. By the 1940’s the term expanded to the narrow neighborhoods that African-American people were allowed to live in. There was no barbed wire, but an invisible barrier that they weren’t allowed to cross except for work. As their neighborhoods became overcrowded because no one could move out, they fell victim to the same issues faced in Germany. Duneier presents facts throughout the last century – the 40’s, the 60’s, the 80’s, and today, on the current use of the term vs. the historical one, and how the stagnation and forced living creates the discord we see today. The book is far too long and detailed – it could be half and still be excellent – but even if you have to skim it, it is serious food for thought.

Easier to read, if not more infuriating, is Family Properties:  Race, Real Estate, and the5190mOD8p3L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_ Exploitation of Urban Black America by Beryl Satter. Satter details the blatant racist policies of 1940’s Chicago, where Real Estate agents were threatened if they sold houses to African Americans past the “White” line, and people who did buy in would find the houses disassembled by the neighbors to prevent it. It took many years and many lawsuits to get things to change. This book will make you angry.

514dyV2l3KL._SY479_BO1,204,203,200_A head scratcher is All Souls: a Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick McDonald. Mrs. McDonald is Irish, unmarried, and pumps out children like party favors (11 in all), living in the infamous projects of South Boston – an area run by no less than Whitey Bulger himself. Michael tries to sort out his childhood as his siblings fall victim to gangs and drugs and forced busing. Entertaining and tragic, even if you can’t relate to their lifestyle.

Death at an Early Age, Savage Inequalities, and Fire in the Ashes, all by Jonathan Kozol, are heart-rending books about the disparities in Urban and Suburban education. They are excellent reading that will break your heart. The realities of urban living will block most of these kids from ever achieving, and it is not their fault.

Jacket.aspxI cannot recommend the book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood by David Simon and Edward Burns enough. I could not put it down. It covers the grim streets of Baltimore, a place so bad it’s where trauma surgery originated. It is compelling and reads like a novel. And they made a TV Miniseries out of it. One of my top-50 favorite books.

51BHwvQwVbL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_If you’re really, really, really into sociology, then go back to the original: How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis. This is one of the first sociological studies on the slums of 1886 New York City, and the issues seen there – discrimination, overcrowding, street children,  gangs, alcoholism, domestic violence, prostitution – paint a familiar story as European immigrants try to find a way to survive in a hostile new world. It’s dry reading at times, but interesting in the patterns that appear.

Lyndon Johnson took decisive moves to improve our urban areas; 50 years later, not much has changed. The issues brought up in these books are just as relevant today as then, and we have more than enough information to make positive changes. These books will open your eyes.

Autobiographies for Children

The biography’s in the children’s room are all shelved together, in order alphabetically by the last name of the person they are about. Well, all but the Who Is/Was series which has a special display and place of honor. So finding a biography (a book written by an author about someone else) is not hard, as long as you know who you want to read about. What is difficult is finding an autobiography (a book that a person writes about their own life). Often there is no way of knowing which books are regular biographies and which are autobiographies until you pick the book up off the shelf and read the author’s name. Finding a well done and interesting autobiography, or one by someone you want to read about, can be even more challenging.

AUTOB1So, I decided to get busy and find a list of autobiographies for children to make the search a little easier for young readers, their parents, and my fellow seekers. Here are some of the best autobiographies for children that are part of our library’s collection. I have them divided into three groups. The groups are authors and illustrators, important figures in history and civil rights, and athletes.

Authors and Illustrators:AUTOB2
Knots in My Yo-Yo String: the Autobiography of a Kid by Jerry Spinelli
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Bill Peet: an Autobiography
26 Fairmount Avenue by Tomie dePaola
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
It Came from Ohio!: My Life as a Writer by R.L. Stine as told to Joe ArthurAUTO9
Guts: the True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books by Gary Paulsen
No Pretty Pictures: a Child of War by Anita Lobel
A Girl from Yamhill: a Memoir by Beverly Cleary
Down a Sunny Dirt Road by Stan & Jan Berenstain
Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl
Looking Back: a Book of Memories by Lois Lowry

AUTOB3Important Figures in History and Civil rights
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
Escape from Slavery: the Boyhood of Frederick Douglass in his Own Words edited and illustrated by Michael McCurdy
Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins
I am Rosa Parks by Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
AUTOBehind the Secret Window: a Memoir of a Hidden Childhood During World War Two by Nelly S. Toll
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible..on Schindler’s List by Leon Leyson; with Marilyn J. Harran and Elisabeth B. Leyson

AUTOBAthletes
Tony Hawk: Professional Skateboarder by Tony Hawk with Sean Mortimer
Soul Surfer: a True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamilton with Sheryl Berk and Rick Bundschuh
Oksana: My Own Story by Oksana Baiul; as told to Heather Alexander
AUTO3Michelle Kwan, Heart of a Champion: an Autobiography by Michelle Kwan as told to Laura James
Cal Ripken, Jr.: My Story by Cal Ripken, Jr. and Mike Bryan; adapted by Dan Gutman
Chamique Holdsclaw: My Story by Chamique Holdsclaw with Jennifer Frey
Dominique Moceanu, an American Champion: an Autobiography as told to Steve Woodward
Fire on Ice: autobiography of a Champion Figure Skater by Sasha Cohen with Amanda Maciel

aatoThere are several more great autobiographies that I just could not fit in these lists,or that are accessible to willing children and teens, but shelved with the adult biographies. In no particular order, these include: The Story of My Life by Helen Keller, More About Boy: Roald Dahl’s Tales from Childhood by Roald Dahl, Tara Lipinski: Triumph on Ice: an Autobiography as told to Emily Costello, I am Malala: the Girl who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai, Caught by the Sea: My Life on Boats by Gary Paulsen, Bad Boy: a Memoir by Walter Dean Myers, The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland,  A Pioneer Woman’s Memoir: Based on the Journal of Arabella Clemens Fulton by Judith E. Greenberg and Helen Carey McKeever, Positive: Surviving My Bullies, Finding Hope, and Living to Change the World: a Memoir by Paige Rawl with Ali Benjamin, and The Year We Disappeared: a Father-Daughter Memoir by Cylin Busby & John Busby.