Every year, the American Library Association observes Banned Books Week, a week of advocacy and education that united the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.
Banned Books Week began in the 1980’s following the 1982 Island Trees School District v. Pico Supreme Court case, which ruled that school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content. That same year at the American Booksellers Association (ABA) BookExpo America trade show in Anaheim, California, a display of banned books were showcased at the entrance to the convention center. Enormous padlocked metal cages held in some 500 challenged books, and a large sign overhead proclaimed the books to be dangerous. Since then, the ALA and ABA have set aside one week in September to recognize the books that are frequently challenged or banned, in the hopes of raising awareness about the power of words, stories, representation, and discussion that can often seem challenging, subversive, and scary.
We here at the Library are big fans of Banned Books Week, and constant supporters of your right to read whatever you so desire. As such, you can look forward to enjoying some themed blog posts this week, starting with the ALA’s list of most challenged books of 2017, and the reasons for these challenges. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 354 challenges to library, school and university materials in 2017. Of the 416 books challenged or banned in 2017, these titles were the most challenged:
Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
Originally published in 2007, this New York Times bestseller has resurfaced as a controversial book after Netflix aired a TV series by the same name. This YA novel was challenged and banned in multiple school districts because it discusses suicide.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Consistently challenged since its publication in 2007 for acknowledging issues such as poverty, alcoholism, and sexuality, this National Book Award winner was challenged in school curriculums because of profanity and situations that were deemed sexually explicit.
Dramawritten and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
This Stonewall Honor Award-winning, 2012 graphic novel from an acclaimed cartoonist was challenged and banned in school libraries because it includes LGBT characters and was considered “confusing.”
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
This critically acclaimed, multigenerational novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.”
George, by Alex Gino
Written for elementary-age children, this Lambda Literary Award winner was challenged and banned because it includes a transgender child.
Sex is a Funny Word written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth
This 2015 informational children’s book written by a certified sex educator was challenged because it addresses sex educationand is believed to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex.”
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
Despite winning multiple awards and being the most searched-for book on Goodreads during its debut year, this YA novel was challenged and banned in school libraries and curriculums because it was considered “pervasively vulgar” and because of drug use, profanity, and offensive language.
And Tango Makes Three written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole
Returning after a brief hiatus from the Top Ten Most Challenged list, this ALA Notable Children’s Book, published in 2005, was challenged and labeled because it features a same-sex relationship.
I Am Jazzwritten by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
This autobiographical picture book co-written by the 13-year-old protagonist was challenged because it addresses gender identity.
As we reiterate around this time every year, at our Library, you–and everyone else who visits us–have the right to read whatever you like. We are honored to help you access the stories, information, and resources that you need, without judgement. And we are also huge fans of Banned Book Week. So stay tuned this week for more celebrations of our right to read!
In addition to checking out some of the sensational books that have pirouetted onto our shelves this week, beloved patrons, we also wanted to bring you some information about hurricane relief efforts. Our neighbors and friends in North Carolina, South Carolina, and the mid-Atlantic region in general are still suffering the effects of Hurricane Florence, and they need our help. While the extent of the damage–and, hence, the extent of the need–is not yet fully known, there are several ways in which you can provide immediate help.
First and foremost, the American Red Cross has set up a website devoted specifically to donations for hurricane relief. You can also make donations over the phone by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting “FLORENCE” to 90999. When calling or donating online, make sure to designate your donation to Florence relief efforts.
In addition, the Red Cross is also asking for blood donations, which can be made locally. Check the Red Cross website to find the closest donation location to you.
In North Carolina, the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund is currently accepting contributions for Hurricane Florence damage. Contributions will help with immediate unmet needs of Hurricane Florence victims. Contributions can be made online by secure link, or you can text “Florence” to 20222. Alternatively, checks can be mailed to:
North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund
20312 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699
As always, if you are not able to donate at this time, please do not worry. There will always be ways to help, and any contributions you can make at any time will be appreciated. And thank you in advance for your good will and kindness!
And now…on to the books!
Arthur Ashe: A Life:Born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1943, by the age of eleven, Arthur Ashe was one of the state’s most talented black tennis players. Jim Crow restrictions barred Ashe from competing with whites. Still, in 1960 he won the National Junior Indoor singles title, which led to a tennis scholarship at UCLA. He became the first African American to play for the US Davis Cup team in 1963, and two years later he won the NCAA singles championship. In 1968, he won both the US Amateur title and the first US Open title, rising to a number one national ranking. Turning professional in 1969, he soon became one of the world’s most successful tennis stars, winning the Australian Open in 1970 and Wimbledon in 1975. After retiring in 1980, he served four years as the US Davis Cup captain and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985. In this fascinating biography, Raymond Arsenault chronicles Ashe’s rise to stardom on the court, as well as his off-court career as a writing, historian of tennis, and human rights activist in the United States, as well as an advocate for the destruction of Apartheid policies in South Africa. Additionally, Arsenault takes us through Ashe’s heart condition, which led to multiple surgeries and blood transfusions, one of which left him HIV-positive. In 1988, after completing a three-volume history of African-American athletes, he was diagnosed with AIDS, a condition he revealed only four years later. After devoting the last ten months of his life to AIDS activism, he died in February 1993 at the age of forty-nine, leaving an inspiring legacy of dignity, integrity, and active citizenship. This is an important, overdue, and highly enjoyable biography that is being praised by readers, critics, and tennis players, as well! The New York Times Review of Books gave it a resoundingly positive review, saying “For those who have long admired Ashe, this close look at his life offers even more evidence that he was more than a great player, he was an extraordinary person. . . . among the best books about tennis I’ve ever read — it’s a deep, detailed, thoughtful chronicle of one of the country’s best and most important players.”
The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots & the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War: Neal Bascombe’s popular histories of the First World War are well-researched, thoughtful, and deeply engaging stories that make history feel real and vital. This book is no exception, delving into the world of POW camps during the First World War. For Allied soldiers, one of the worst camps was Holzminden, a land-locked prison that housed the most troublesome, escape-prone prisoners. Its commandant was a boorish, hate-filled tyrant named Karl Niemeyer who swore that none should ever leave. Desperate to break out of “Hellminden” and return to the fight, a group of Allied prisoners led by ace pilot (and former Army sapper) David Gray hatch an elaborate escape plan. Their plot demands a risky feat of engineering as well as a bevy of disguises, forged documents, fake walls, and steely resolve. Once beyond the watch towers and round-the-clock patrols, Gray and almost a dozen of his half-starved fellow prisoners must then make a heroic 150 mile dash through enemy-occupied territory towards free Holland. Bascombe’s work is based on letters, diaries, and other first-hand accounts of this sensational escape that is earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews who called it “Fast-paced account of a forgotten episode of World War I history . . . Stirring . . . Bascomb’s portraits of the principals are affecting . . . Expertly narrated, with just the right level of detail and drama.”
The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War: Those of you looking for some more sensational war stories will love this latest from Ben Macintyre, whose work on espionage history has resulted in some highly entertaining real-life spy stories. This book tells the story of Oleg Gordievsky, who took his first posting for Russian intelligence in 1968 and eventually became the Soviet Union’s top man in London. However, Gordievsky was also a double agent, and from 1973, was secretly working for Britain’s MI6. For nearly a decade, as the Cold War reached its twilight, Gordievsky helped the West turn the tables on the KGB, exposing Russian spies and helping to foil countless intelligence plots, as the Soviet leadership grew increasingly paranoid. Desperate to keep the circle of trust close, MI6 never revealed Gordievsky’s name to its counterparts in the CIA, which in turn grew obsessed with figuring out the identity of Britain’s obviously top-level source. Their obsession ultimately doomed Gordievsky: the CIA officer assigned to identify him was none other than Aldrich Ames, the man who would become infamous for secretly spying for the Soviets. Culminating in the gripping cinematic beat-by-beat of Gordievsky’s nail-biting escape from Moscow in 1985, this is a history book that fans of many genres will savor. The Guardian wrote a glowing review of the book, noting “Macintrye had no access to MI6’s archives, which remain secret. But he has interviewed all of the former officers involved in the case, who tell their stories for the first time. He spoke extensively to Gordievsky, who is now 79 and living in the home counties – a remarkable figure, “proud, shrewd and irascible”. The result is a dazzling non-fiction thriller and an intimate portrait of high-stakes espionage.”
Washington Black: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize yesterday, Esi Edugyan’s novel tells the story of George Washington Black, or “Wash,” an eleven-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation. Although initially terrified to be chosen by his master’s brother as his manservant, Wash is surprised to learn the eccentric Christopher Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning–and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, Christopher and Wash must abandon everything, escaping along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic. What brings Christopher and Wash together will tear them apart, propelling Wash even further across the globe in search of his true self. This is a novel about freedom and friendship that is as thought-provoking as it is wonderfully imaginative. Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred (and boxed!) review, raving that “Edugyan’s magnificent third novel again demonstrates her range and gifts . . . Framing the story with rich evocations of the era’s science and the world it studies, Edugyan mines the tensions between individual goodwill and systemic oppression, belonging and exclusion, wonder and terror, and human and natural order . . . Crafted in supple, nuanced prose, Edugyan’s novel is both searing and beautiful.”
Ordinary People:Diana Evans is known for confronting difficult topics in her books with indefatigable humanity, and this novel is no exception, capturing the struggles of two married couples. In a crooked house in South London, Melissa feels increasingly that she’s defined solely by motherhood, while Michael mourns the former thrill of their romance. In the suburbs, Stephanie’s aspirations for bliss on the commuter belt, coupled with her white middle-class upbringing, compound Damian’s itch for a bigger life catalyzed by the death of his activist father. Longtime friends from the years when passion seemed permanent, the couples have stayed in touch, gathering for births and anniversaries, bonding over discussions of politics, race, and art. But as bonds fray, the lines once clearly marked by wedding bands aren’t so simply defined. Evans is the kind of writing who can make everyday details feel extraordinary, and that talent makes this story about the fragile bonds that bind us together so moving. Library Journal had a world of good things to say about this class, noting “This new novel from Evans…tells the story of a group of young, mostly black Londoners searching for equanimity in their personal and professional lives, with the music of John Legend, Jill Scott, and Amy Winehouse providing the soundtrack as they navigate the rocky roads from dating to mating and parenting…. With astute observations on marriage and parenthood… and an accompanying playlist to boot, this novel is anything but ordinary. It’s a sparkling gem.”
This year’s shortlist recognizes three writers from the UK, two from the US, and one from Canada. There are four women and two men nominated. Moreover, Daisy Johnson, at 27-years-old, is officially the youngest novelist nominated for the award.
At a press conference this morning, the 2018 Chair of judges, Kwame Anthony Appiah, remarked that each of these novels is “a miracle of stylistic invention.” He continued:
In each of them the language takes centre stage. And yet in every other respect they are remarkably diverse, exploring a multitude of subjects ranging across space and time. From Ireland to California, in Barbados and the Arctic, they inhabit worlds that not everyone will have been to, but which we can all be enriched by getting to know. Each one explores the anatomy of pain — among the incarcerated and on a slave plantation, in a society fractured by sectarian violence, and even in the natural world. But there are also in each of them moments of hope. These books speak very much to our moment, but we believe that they will endure.
The winner on the Man Booker Prize will be announced on 16 October at a dinner in London’s Guildhall. Until then, we hope you enjoy perusing this shortlist! Sadly, three of the titles are not yet available to us in the US, but we’ll be bringing you updates when they do!
As we’ve mentioned here before, beloved patrons, we all have stories that save us. Those books that come into our lives precisely when we need them or stay around for years and years like an old friend. Today, I wanted to talk with you about another one of those books in my life. It’s a book I turn to every year around this time, for reasons that might very well become clear as we chat…
King’s second novel, ‘Salem’s Lotwas first published in 1975. According to his introduction to the 2014 audiobook recording, King was teaching Dracula to a high school class, and was inspired to consider what might happen if the titular count were to return again. Though he might not survive in, say New York City, King’s wife Tabitha mused what might happen if he appeared in a more rural setting. Like Maine. And that was that. The book was nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 1976, and the Locus Award for the All-Time Best Fantasy Novel in 1987, and King has stated several times that it is among his favorite of his works. In 1987 he told Phil Konstantin in The Highway Patrolman magazine: “In a way it is my favorite story, mostly because of what it says about small towns. They are kind of a dying organism right now. The story seems sort of down home to me. I have a special cold spot in my heart for it!”
Very broadly speaking, the novel follows a 32-year-old writer named Benjamin Mears, who returns to Jerusalem’s Lot township in southern Maine (where he lived for four years as a child), following the death of his wife, Miranda. Ben is intending to write a novel inspired by, and based on, an old, decaying, creepy house in ‘Salem’s Lot known to locals as The Marsten House. It is a house in which Ben had a traumatically frightening experience as a child that he hopes to heal fully through his writing. Ben is not, however, the only newcomer to ‘Salem’s Lot. Another person has rented The Marsten House. And their intentions are far from neighborly, to say the least.
I first encountered ‘Salem’s Lotwhile I was living in the UK and working on my Master’s Degree. I had written a seminar paper on Dracula(another book that I love just a bit too much), and was devouring all the subsequent vampire novels I could get my hands on. My dad, who I think I’ve mentioned before, is an enormous Stephen King fan (I thought he was a family friend because we had so many of his books around his house), and reminded me that King himself had written a book inspired by Dracula, so I made it my present to myself. The day I handed in my Masters’ Thesis (September 10, if I remember correctly), I bought a copy of ‘Salem’s Lot.
I loved it from the moment I started reading. Being far away from home, I adored the sections that talk about fall in New England, about the feeling of the cold seeping into the air, into your bones, into your consciousness. I loved being reminded of the way telephone lines used to buzz gently in the days before digital. I loved the discussions of darkness, and about what darkness did to the people who lived with it.
I also really liked that King used his study of a small town to talk about the ways in which secrets moved and circulated, and about the impact of evil. Not just the big evils (although Big Evils abound in this book), but the petty kinds of evil: laziness, greed, selfishness, chauvinism. If this book reinforces a real-world message, it is that those kind of small evils permit more small evils, and those build and build into something truly fearful. Larry Crockett, for example, is a shady, lazy, sexist real estate agent who rents out the Marsten House (see an imagined image on the left), even though he knows in his gut that the man renting it is seriously bad news. But he is also earning a very fat commission on the transaction, so he looks the other way–and allows the vampires to enter ‘Salem’s Lot. We learn, eventually, about how the town turned away from the things that scared or disturbed them about the Marsten House…and how that permitted the evil inside it to fester. I appreciated the ways that King discussed the grief and pain that these evils caused, from the loss of a child to the anguish of marital rape (and I also give him a world a credit for calling it ‘marital rape’ in 1975).
Oh, right, and I also loved the vampires. That should go without saying. But if you can’t tell, while this book scared me, I loved it too much to be scared of it. Instead, I read it every year as fall begins. And every year, I find something else to love. Right after reading it the first time, I traveled to Belfast for a research trip. Belfast wasn’t the best of areas to be around that time, as the trauma of the Troubles was still very real. While I was there, I listened to the audiobook of ‘Salem’s Lot, and appreciated anew how well King plays on our very human fears of being alone and isolated. It was a sensational that was as real in Belfast at the turn of the century as it was in the ghost town of Momson, Vermont, which “dried up and blew away” in 1923 (according to the novel).
Years later, I was working in Copley Square, and had to go to work two days after the Boston Marathon Bombing. As I, and my fellow workers, emerged from the Green Line to a mob of reporters, camera operators, and police, a found myself recalling a scene where Susan Norton goes to pay a call on the Marsten House–and realizes what real fear is. Not the jump-scare fear of movies, but the deep-down, paralyzing fear that can warp a person into something very ugly. But Susan, like others in the book, reject that fear, and confront the darkness in the world with determination and hope. “The act of moving forward at all became heroism,” King wrote. That line remains one of my favorite in the book.
These past few years in reading‘Salem’s Lot, I am struck by the discussion of faith in the book. Not necessarily religious faith–though that it discussed in the book–but something perhaps more fundamental. A trust in an inherent structure and a goodness in the world that goes beyond hierarchies and symbols. Several times in the course of the story, at times of greatest emotional peril, characters in the book refer to their love for each other, and it is that love that saves them. I find myself reaching for that kind of faith in my readings this time around, and it makes the world outside the book just a little less scary.
…What are the books that save you, dear readers? Feel free to share them with us here, or come in and find some new ones today!
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Last Thursday, a number of people in our community suffered when a surge in gas pressure caused fires to break out in homes and buildings across North Andover, Andover, and Lawrence. Some of our friends, family, and fellow Massachusetts residents lost their homes, their possessions, and many, many more were displaced out of fear that further fires would break out. It was a truly frightening event that will have repercussions for a very long time.
But you can help. A number of resources have been established to help the people of North Andover, Lawrence, and Andover who have been affected by these fires. Here are some of them to which you are welcome to contribute if at all possible:
The Red Cross said anyone interested in helping people could make donations by visiting their Massachusetts website, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services Team is at work, as well. Anyone interested in donating to help with the relief can CLICK HERE or send a check to: The Salvation Army
Attn: Massachusetts EDS
25 Shawmut Rd
Canton, Mass. 02021 All donations made to this fund will stay in Massachusetts.
TD Bank and The United Way have established the Greater Lawrence Relief Fund to help families meet their basic needs and recover from the displacement from their homes and businesses caused by gas explosions. Click here to to donate to the Greater Lawrence Relief Fund.
The Lawrence Emergency Fund, established by the Essex County Community Foundation provides assistance during emergency events such as fires, natural disasters or hazardous events. Funding is provided to appropriate agencies or churches that directly support the individuals and families impacted by these emergencies. Click here to donate to the Lawrence Emergency Fund.
The MSPCA Nevins Farm in Methuen, where many pets are being taken care of, is also asking for drop-off donations, including: paper towels, dry and canned cat food, canned dog food and cat litter. Donations can be brought to: MSPCA at Nevins Farm at 400 Broadway in Methuen.
At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people are suffering the effects of Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in the states of North Carolina and South Carolina over the weekend. The extent of the destruction of this storm is not yet known, but it is safe to say that the clean-up, restoration, and healing process is going to be a long, drawn out process that will require the help and support of millions of us. We will be bringing you updates on how you can help the victims of Hurricane Florence later this week, once a fully-coordinated relief program has been established.
As always, if you are not in a position to donate at this time, don’t worry. There are always ways to help those in need, and we will be sure to keep you updated about how you can help.
And, as promised, we all bring you the 2018 National Book Award Longlist for Fiction! The announcement was made about an hour ago, and we are pleased as punch to bring the results to you! As with yesterday’s list, clicking on the author’s name will bring you to their National Book Award author’s page. Clicking on the title will bring you to the library page where you can check on the book’s availability and request it.
The Duke With a Dragon Tattoo:Yes, it’s another Duke-As-Hero historic romance, but Kerrigan Byrne’s stories never follow precedent or trope, so we’re convinced that this story is going to be both delightful and unique! He is known only as The Rook. A man with no name, no past, no memories. He awakens in a mass grave, a magnificent dragon tattoo on his muscled forearm the sole clue to his mysterious origins. His only hope for survival—and salvation—lies in the deep, fiery eyes of the beautiful stranger who finds him. Who nurses him back to health. And who calms the restless demons in his soul. Lorelai will never forget the night she rescued the broken dark angel in the woods, a devilishly handsome man who haunts her dreams to this day. Crippled as a child, she devoted herself to healing the poor tortured man. And when he left, he took a piece of her heart with him. Now, after all these years, The Rook has returned. Like a phantom, he sweeps back into her life and avenges those who wronged her. But can she trust a man who’s been branded a rebel, a thief, and a killer? And can she trust herself to resist him when he takes her in his arms? Byrne’s books are always a topic of conversation around here, and Library Journal loved this new addition, describing it as “A hero so lost he fears he’ll never be found and a heroine who won’t give up on him reclaim their love in a bold, lyrical tale that brings the darker side of the Victorian Age into sharp relief; another winner in a stellar series.”
The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves:Eric R. Kandel was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his foundational research into memory storage in the brain, and his book thus draws on a lifetime of pathbreaking research and the work of many other leading neuroscientists to take us on an unusual tour of the brain. e confronts one of the most difficult questions we face: How does our mind, our individual sense of self, emerge from the physical matter of the brain? The brain’s 86 billion neurons communicate with one another through very precise connections. But sometimes those connections are disrupted. The brain processes that give rise to our mind can become disordered, resulting in diseases such as autism, depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder. While these disruptions bring great suffering, they can also reveal the mysteries of how the brain produces our most fundamental experiences and capabilities—the very nature of what it means to be human. Studies of autism illuminate the neurological foundations of our social instincts; research into depression offers important insights on emotions and the integrity of the self; and paradigm-shifting work on addiction has led to a new understanding of the relationship between pleasure and willpower. While this book is about the brain as an organ, it’s also about the brain’s role in making us who and what we are, considering the power and role of memory, emotions, and creativity. It’s a work that is both wonderfully readable and deeply intelligent. Publisher’s Weekly agrees, calling it “Highly accessible . . . Kandel’s deep compassion for people is also evident, as when he discusses how understanding the biological basis for mental disorders might take them out of the realm of legal culpability. The result of his work is an easily comprehended, meticulous synthesis of current research into the biological grounding of the human mind.”
Field of Bones:Fan-favorite J.A. Jance has returned with another installment of her stellar series featuring Sheriff Joanna Brady. As we open, Sheriff Brady. This time Sheriff Joanna Brady may expect to see her maternity leave through to completion, but the world has other plans when a serial homicide case surfaces in her beloved Cochise County. Rather than staying home with her newborn and losing herself in the cold cases to be found in her father’s long unread diaries, Joanna instead finds herself overseeing a complex investigation involving multiple jurisdictions. Filled with the kind of characterization and small-town details that make this series such a winner, this eighteenth installment of Jance’s series is being praised by series fans, with Publisher’s Weekly noting “Jance ratchets up the tension …This long-running series shows no signs of losing steam.”
She Would Be King: Wayétu Moore’s powerful debut novel reimagines the dramatic story of Liberia’s early years through the eyes and lives of three fascinating characters, whose bonds and whose magic will transform the world around them. Gbessa, exiled from the West African village of Lai, is starved, bitten by a viper, and left for dead, but still she survives. June Dey, raised on a plantation in Virginia, hides his unusual strength until a confrontation with the overseer forces him to flee. Norman Aragon, the child of a white British colonizer and a Maroon slave from Jamaica, can fade from sight when the earth calls him. When the three meet in the settlement of Monrovia, their gifts help them salvage the tense relationship between the African American settlers and the indigenous tribes, and build a nation around themselves. This is a powerfully emotive work that gives a voice and meaning to an area of the world seldom explored in fiction. It’s being lauded by crtics and readers alike, as well, with Kirkus Reviews hailing it as “An ambitious, genre-hopping, continent-spanning novel. . . . Moore is a brisk and skilled storyteller who weaves her protagonists’ disparate stories together with aplomb yet is also able to render her sprawling cast of characters in ways that feel psychologically compelling. In addition, the novel’s various settings―Virginia, Jamaica, and West Africa―are depicted so lushly that readers will find themselves enchanted.”
A River of Stars: Another sensational debut novel here, this one from journalist Vanessa Hua. Holed up with other mothers-to-be in a secret maternity home in Los Angeles, Scarlett Chen is far from her native China, where she worked in a factory and fell in love with the owner, Boss Yeung. Now she’s carrying his baby. Already married with three daughters, Boss Yeung is overjoyed because the doctors have confirmed that he will finally have the son he has always wanted. To ensure that his child has every advantage, Boss Yeung has shipped Scarlett off to give birth on American soil. U.S. citizenship will open doors for their little prince. As Scarlett awaits the baby’s arrival, she chokes down bitter medicinal stews and spars with her imperious housemates. The only one who fits in even less is Daisy, a spirited teenager and fellow unwed mother who is being kept apart from her American boyfriend. Then a new sonogram of Scarlett’s baby reveals the unexpected. Panicked, she escapes by hijacking a van—only to discover that she has a stowaway: Daisy, who intends to track down the father of her child. The two flee to San Francisco’s bustling Chinatown, where Scarlett will join countless immigrants desperately trying to seize their piece of the American dream. What Scarlett doesn’t know is that her baby’s father is not far behind her. An unpredictable adventure, a tale of friendship, empathy, and wit, this is also a closely-observed story about Chinese immigrant’s experiences in the US that is as eye-opening as it is entertaining. The USA Today agrees, describing the book in their review: “Vanessa Hua’s story spins with wild fervor, with charming protagonists fiercely motivated by maternal and survival instincts. A River of Stars is a migrant narrative tenderly constructed around Scarlett’s quest to carve a life for her daughter and herself at the risk of deportation.”
Ever the fans of the dramatic, the National Book Awards are drip-feeding us their nominations for the best books of the year. The nominations for Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature have all been announced, and we’re looking forward to bringing you the announcement of the Fiction long list tomorrow, after the announcement is made around 10:00am EST.
The nominations this year reflect the surge of new talent and diverse voices that we have been fortunate enough to enjoy in our reading this year. Among the poetry long list, only one author has previously won (Terrance Hayes; Pulitzer-Prize winner Rae Armantrout was nominated in 2009).
This year also marks the first award for translated literature, a sign that the award itself is hearing the multitude of voices telling stories around us. Not only are the authors themselves telling stories from a range of different locations and in a number of different languages, but seven of the titles were also put out by independent presses, highlighting how publishing itself is changing around us, as well. It’s a heady time to be a reader, beloved patrons, and we are 100% on board for all the fun!
So here, without further ado, are the current National Book Award long lists. We look forward to adding to this list in the coming days, and seeing how the awards program progresses to the final announcement of the National Book Awards on November 14!
A note: If you click the link in the authors’ names, you will be taken to the National Book Award website for that writer. If you are looking to locate the books in our library catalog, please click on the book’s title where a link is available.