What We’re Reading: August 2012

On the first Friday of each month, we share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

I finished Misfit, the new historical novel by Adam Braver, this week. It imagines the life of Marilyn Monroe through snippets at various times. The novel’s publication is timely, as next week marks the fiftieth anniversary of her death. I’m a huge fan of novels featuring real people, and Braver provides some fascinating possibilities into the inner workings of a personality that still haunts pop culture. The Booker Prize longlist was announced last week, and I’ve just started to make my way through the twelve titles (The six-title shortlist will be announced on September 11 and the winner will be crowned on October 16.) Only three titles are currently available in the United States, so while I’m waiting on the other nine to come across the ocean to me, I’m enjoying Jeet Thayil’s debut novel, Narcopolis. Thayil is a poet, and his prose is simply luminous. The story takes place in a 1970’s Bombay opium den and brothel. The novel itself opens with a seven-page period-free narration. It’s intense, but so far I’m absolutely fascinated. —Carrie

My reading this month has been eclectic! I was caught up in the excitement and court intrigue of Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue, a novel that revisits the world of Graceling and follows the reign of young queen Bitterblue as she tried to heal her kingdom after the monstrous tyranny of her father. Drama by Raina Telgemeier was a delightfully funny graphic novel, chronicling the trials and tribulations of a middle-school drama club. May B. by Caroline Starr Rose was a haunting novel-in-verse about a young pioneer girl stranded alone in a sod house in the middle of nowhere during a horrible Kanas snowstorm and her fight for survival.  Lastly, the supernatural thrills of Legacy by Molly Cochran held me spellbound as it wove a tale of modern day witchcraft in a small Massachusetts town.— Heather

I’m trying to read Kevin Wilson’s novel, The Family Fang, because I was quite fond of the characters he created in his story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. The novel tells the tale of two talented performance artists and their poorly-adjusted adult children, a mature family thrown together under one roof because of the recession. Wilson writes each sentence with an energy and style that make me wish that I cared about these quirky people and their situation, but I don’t. It’s like being made to watch The Royal Tenenbaums, again, though it annoyed you the first three times. Okay, maybe it’s not as bad as that. –Amy

I’ve been busy with moving to Philadelphia and starting a new job, but lately I’ve been enjoying Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus while waiting in line at the DMV and commuting on the train. Marcus’ book is a really fun look at the Riot Grrl movement and music scenes across the US during the late 80s-early 90s. Although the book is cheesy at times, I appreciate that Marcus balances telling interesting stories about the bands with asking bigger questions about feminism and politics. –Sarah

I finished Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves last night. Page one begins with a jarring murder scene. The rest of the book is the slow and meditative story of the intertwined lives of the people in a town on the edge of a Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota where the murders took place. The book’s multiple narrators are all connected by and haunted by the murders, decades later. It’s a story of deep injustices, and for my favorite narrator, Evelina, a coming of age story. –Emily

Now tell us: what are you reading this week?

What We’re Reading: July 2012

On the first Friday of each month, we share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

I just finished Ami McKay’s mesmerizing second novel The Virgin Cure, which tells the fascinating story of Moth, a 12-year-old girl in New York City in 1871. Moth and her mother live on the lowest rungs of poverty, and Moth’s mother sells her into servitude. What follows is a heartbreaking story of a life of poverty, and it’s historical fiction at its best. It’s a story I wish weren’t part of our shared history, but it’s a reminder of why I love historical fiction: when done right, it opens us up to worlds we should not forget. Up next: Close Case, the third novel in Alafair Burke’s Samantha Kincaid series. Kincaid is a district attorney in Portland, Oregon, as Burke herself was. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the first two legal thrillers in the series and am looking forward to being swept away by this one too. — Carrie

I was delighted this month to return to the thought-provoking world of Lois Lowry’s The Giver with her  newest book Son, due out on October 2nd. Son is the fourth and final book in The Giver quartet (The Giver, Gathering Blue, and The Messenger) and offers new insight and perspectives into the world that Lowry created. Once more, the readers finds themselves in the oppressive and strange world that Jonas lived in in The Giver, this time from the perspective of Claire, a young woman designated as a Birthmother during her Ceremony of Twelve. As a Birthmother, Claire delivers only one “product” in a procedure that goes horribly wrong. In the aftermath she is told, despite the complications, that her “product” was a boy, Number 36. Armed with this knowledge, Claire begins a desperate search to find her son, taken from her as is the society’s way. This search takes her far beyond the closed confines of her society–it takes her from the wilds of the sea, to a small village, and, lastly, to the very town that Jonas and Gab from The Giver and Keira from Gathering Blue live in. It is a story of awakening, strength, and love.  Once more, with Son, Lowry sweeps readers away into a powerful story, one that remains with you long after you turn the final page. Truly, The Giver quartet is one series that is not to be missed, with Son being a heart-felt and evocative conclusion to the story. — Heather

This week I’m reading Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. The acclaimed novel is more than ten years old at this point, but, despite its inability to capture my interest at the moment of its publication (it failed Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50), I decided to give it another shot, after loving State of Wonder. Thank you, silly early-twentysomething self, for casting the novel aside because I get to enjoy it now, as a grown-up. Patchett’s writing talent is like her fictional soprano’s musical talent: it has the power to transport its audience completely, from one surrounding to another. Her stories are captivating. — Amy

I started reading Dean Spade’s Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law while on the plane to Anaheim. Spade critiques the legal rights-based approach of mainstream LGBT organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, arguing instead for an organized grassroots effort focusing on a far-reaching goal of justice rather than simply inclusion. He points out that while the HRC-style approach has been successful in many cases (legalizing gay marriage in some states, ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell), these victories have benefited only a fraction of people who fall under the GLBT umbrella. He also talks about how mainstream GLBT campaigns have ignored issues like gender status on state-issued identification (drivers licenses, passports, etc.) that have a significant impact on trans people’s lives. I’ve found the book fairly accessible given its focus on legal issues. Instead of just discussing his theories, Spade includes examples from his work at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, which he founded in 2002.  Not only do these specific stories enliven the sometimes dense prose, they also help the reader to envision the kind of goals Spade has for the trans political movement. — Sarah

When I saw Leanne Shapton’s latest book, Swimming Studies, in the Penguin Booth at ALA I nearly fell over. The book is a memoir of Shapton’s life as a competitive and recreational swimmer, and includes paintings and a catalog of her lovely swimsuit collection. As someone who adores swimming, I found a kindred spirit in Shapton. She reflects on what it takes to become really good at something, and what it means when that something still appeals to you but no longer holds the value it once did. This is nostalgic reading for swimmers and anyone who has ever been a teen on a team. — Emily

Now tell us: what are you reading this week?

What We’re Reading: June 2012

On the first Friday of each month, we share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

Earlier this year I read Silver Sparrow, the most recent novel by Tayari Jones, and I utterly adored it. I’m still recommending it to people. I’ve been eager to read her two earlier novels, and I just started her first novel, Leaving Atlanta, which is about the Atlanta child murders of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Like Tayari, I grew up in Atlanta and have long been fascinated by these murders. Tayari, who is ten years older than I am, was a child herself at the time of these murders, so I’m particularly enjoying her perspective on these tragic events. — Carrie

This month, I was swept away by an amazing fantasy novel: The Name of the Wind: The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day One by Patrick Rothfuss. The world Rothfuss creates is rich in detail and wonder, and the characters seem to leap off the page. The Name of the Wind is the story of Kvothe, known in the world of Four Corners by names such as the Bloodless, the Arcane, and Kingkiller. His story is that of a man turned legend, the truth inside the myth. It is an engaging and suspenseful story, one that grabs you from the very first and keeps you breathless until the end.  Truly, this is fantasy writing at its finest. The follow up novel, A Wise Man’s Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day Two, is equally engaging and finely written, a brilliant follow-up to a truly incredible first novel. — Heather

I’m reading Elisabeth Badinter’s controversial polemic, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. Badinter, a celebrated French feminist, makes a case against “natural” or attachment parenting (e.g. breast-feeding, constant skin-to-skin contact, co-sleeping, and cloth diapers), arguing that these all-consuming activities limit women’s professional mobility, independence, and personal fulfillment. Though I have little interest in reading this year’s popular mothering books, such as Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Bringing Up Bebe, I was drawn to Badinter’s book for its use of historical and anthropological perspectives. I don’t even have children, but I feel less shameful and guilty for having read it. — Amy

I’ve been mostly reading shorter pieces lately.  Some recent favorites include a great article on women’s health from the Dissent website and the latest issue of Doris, a zine I’ve been reading for years.  I read a few thought-provoking posts on the blog Working Class Perspectives, which is run by the Center for Working Class Studies at Youngstown State University in Ohio.  And I’ve also been enjoying articles from Religion and Politics, which is an online news journal “dedicated to the two topics thought unfit for polite company.”  — Sarah

I’m a third of the way through Jane Eyre. What is going to happen between Jane and Mr. Rochester? Their banter is quite something. Since I bought my Kindle a year ago, I’ve been reading more books that are in the public domain. I guess the allure of a free book is irresistible even to those who spend most of their day in a library! — Emily

What We’re Reading: May 2012

On the first Friday of each month, we’ll share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

This week I finished Toni Morrison’s remarkable new novella Home, which will be published on Tuesday, May 8. It’s the story of a black Korean War veteran and his reacclimation into a racist, divided society.  I read it in a single sitting, and its structure was so perfect, I started it over as soon as I finished it and gained better appreciation for the literary journey she takes her readers on. Her talent is extraordinary. I’m still reading my way  through the twenty titles on this year’s Orange Prize longlist. I’m nearly done with Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues, the story of a black jazz band in Paris in 1940, and it’s exquisite. This novel has already one the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was shortlisted for last year’s Man Booker Prize. My only regret is waiting for it to make the Orange Prize shortlist to read it. I have six titles left to read. The winner will be announced May 30th in London. – Carrie

This month, I have been enjoying Christopher Moore’s Sacre Blue: A Comedy D’art. It is a wonderfully rich, imaginative and funny exploration of the late French Impressionist movement, infused with magic and mystery. It focuses on the death of Vincent van Gogh, the investigation into that death by his friends baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard and painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and the strange and exotic world of color- paint color- especially the ever enigmatic blue.  Moore’s novel is rich with historical information and exquisite descriptions, and his characters, both real and imagined, are achingly human.  Moore did extensive research in creating this novel and has provided, both  online and as an app ,a reading guide, filled with all the fascinating information and details regarding the history of the French art movement- including pictures and paintings- that he couldn’t fit within the confines of his book. A truly remarkable read. -Heather

I’m raiding the oversize stacks this week. Katy Grannan captures portraits of strangers, bathed in the unforgiving light of California at high noon, in Boulevard. Find Grannan’s book, or take a peek at the online exhibit. Japanese photographer, Rinko Kawauchi, published her twelfth book, Illuminance, in a binding so beautiful that it will remind you why you love real books. James Casebere: Works 1975-2010 presents a mid-career survey of this playful and important artist-photographer. -Amy

I just started reading From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend. This book gives an illustrated overview of the history of labor in the US. I’m only a few pages in but am already intrigued by Priscilla Murolo and A.B. Chitty’s framing of the changing relationship between organized labor organizations, individual workers, and the US government. And it seems like an appropriate reading choice for Mayday!  My Instapaper queue is full of articles on the French election and a Lifehacker article promising a method to learn languages remarkably quickly.  -Sarah

I recently finished reading Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. The book was nearly impossible to put down. The novel is three interconnected stories; a high school history teacher runs away with one of his students, a man searches for his missing twin, and a college dropout discovers that his criminal uncle is really his father and goes to work for him. As the novel progresses, the stories start to collide in strange and unexpected ways. It’s fabulous.- Emily

Now tell us: what are you reading this month?

What We’re Reading: April 2012

Welcome to the first monthly installment of What We’re Reading. On the first Friday of each month, we’ll share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

I am somewhat obsessed with the Orange Prize, a British literary award given to the best novel written by a woman in English each year. I’m currently making my way through the twenty titles on the 2012 longlist, which was announced in March to coincide with International Women’s Day. So far, I’ve read eleven of the twenty and am currently enjoying Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg, a debut novel set on the St. Kilda islands in 1830. The six-title shortlist will be announced Tuesday, April 17th.

Currently, I have been burning my way through Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. The 5th book is being released on May 8th, and anticipation is running high among my teen readers.  An intense series featuring demons, angels, vampires (not the sparkly kind), werewolves, and more, it is easy to see the appeal. Clare has a deft writing style, and each story is packed with action and drama, filled in with likable and realistic characters. I’ve also been brushing up on the Vampire Knight manga series by Matsuri Hino. Lush illustrations and an intriguing vampire mythology make this a series not to be missed! Of course, since its storytime season, my reading roster is filled with picture books, too.  Most recently, The Cow Loves Cookies by Karma Wilson and Farmyard Beat by Lindsey Craig have charmed me- both are great reads with wonderful rhythmic story lines and delightful illustrations.

I’m reading Wendy Wasserstein’s Shiksa Goddess: Or, How I Spent My Forties (2001). In this collection of essays, the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright earns her reputation as “a vicious dumpling,” thrusting the private lives of friends and family into the spotlight, to reveal the humor, sadness, and injustice of the human experience. Wasserstein’s personal essays confirm the thesis of Julie Salamon’s poignant biography, Wendy and the Lost Boys (2011): Though Wasserstein was quick to share the secrets of others, she worked hard to disguise herself, both literally (she hid her pregnancy) and figuratively, from the many people with whom she shared her bizarre, compartmentalized life.

I read mostly non-fiction (albeit with a weakness for good YA novels).  Right now, I’m nearly finished with The Information Diet by Clay Johnson.  Johnson makes an interesting comparison between nutrition and information consumption, arguing that poorly-chosen media consumption has negative effects on the mind and body (similar to eating a diet based on junk food).  He makes a case for what librarians would call information literacy skills without mentioning the concept by name (so far).

I just started reading the novel Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner. It’s been on my to-read list since Nancy Pearl put it on her “7 Books with Personality” list on NPR’s Morning Edition in December.  I’ve also been geeking out over Pew Internet’s “The rise of e-reading” report.

Now tell us: what are you reading this month?