Five Book Friday!



I realize that the parking lot of the Warren Street Post Office is hardly the most picturesque spot in Peabody, but yesterday evening, as I came to the Library through the surprise downpour, what did I spy, but a double rainbow for St. Patrick’s Day.

And where did that rainbow end?  Why, right at the door of the Library, of course.  Naturally.

So, if you’re looking for some treasure this weekend, look no further than our shelves, and some of the newest books that have arrived there.

3654339 (1)Beauty Is A Wound:  Eka Kurniawan’s English language debut (stunningly translated by Annie Tucker) is a bizarre, beautiful, and unsettling exploration of Indonesia’s troubled history, from the pain and insatiable greed of colonialism and the utter, irredeemable disruptions that it caused in society, culminating in the class-based genocide of suspected communists in 1965.  The novel follows the lovely prostitute, Dewi Ayu, who rises from her grave twenty-one years after her death to watch over her four daughters and the country in which they live.  Kurniawan’s narrative is shot through with folklore and shadows, maintaining both a deeply personal narrative and the epic history of a whole nation, making for a book that is totally, utterly, and unforgettably original.  The Saturday Paper wrote a particularly interesting review of this book, saying that “The final wonder of Beauty Is a Wound is how much pure liveliness and joy there is mixed up with the pain, as if the verdancy of the author’s imagination was racing to cover a million corpses with fresh green tendrils.”

3710286Stork Mountain: Miroslav Penkov’s debut novel is a similar exploration of a nation’s history and a family’s private story–this time, set in the high mountains of Bulgaria, as a young man returns to the place of his birth in a search for his grandfather, who cut all ties with the family three years previously.  What he finds there is a land of fables and mysteries, and black storks nesting in the tress, where there is very little truth and a world of dark secrets that will change everything this family has ever believed.  The Chicago Review of Books loved this novel, saying, “Stork Mountain is a beautiful and haunting novel, one that delves into a painful past and begs the questions: To what extent are we doomed to relive the past and carry it with us? At what point must we relent and set it free?”

3705915The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins: Antonia Hodgson, who wrote the wonderfully atmospheric, engaging The Devil in the Marshalsea has returned with another of the (mis)adventures of Thomas Hawkins, the most endearing ne’er-do-wells of the Georgian period.  When this story opens, Tom is on his way to the gallows, accused of murder–an unprecedented fate for a gentleman.  In recounting his adventures, Tom has to admit that he probably shouldn’t have told England’s foremost criminal mastermind that he was bored and looking for adventure.  And he definitely shouldn’t have agreed to help the King’s mistress escape from her brutal husband…and he never, ever should have trusted the cunning Queen Caroline…but he’s willing to live with those regrets…if he can devise a way to go on living…Hodgson has a great talent for combining gritty, grimy historic settings with brilliantly vivid characters, making all her books a genuine escapist treat to read.  Library Journal agrees, giving this novel a starred review, and hailing “Hodgson has provided another pell-mell romp through the top and bottom of English society, as seen through the eyes of a gentleman who is both a rogue and a naïf. Those who relish their historical action fast and vivid will enjoy the second installment of Hawkins’s misadventures.”

3711536The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century and the Birth of the Modern Mind: A.C. Grayling has breathed new life into a fairly old historical argument–that the sixteenth century witnessed the birth of the modern age–by standing in the middle of his historic world and surveying everything from art to astronomy to legal codes to religion.  His work touches on the fascinating dichotomies of the era–Newton was the founder of modern physics, yet spent most of his life hunting for the secrets of alchemy, Descarte’s attempts to reconcile humanist philosophy and religion, and the battles between Galileo and the Church over the movement of the planets.  In so doing, he makes a strong case for this century of monumental changes, not only within society, but within the human mind.  The Sunday Times remarked, “Grayling is particularly good at illuminating the knottiness of moral discourse”, making for a book that will surprise as much as it will educate.

3736574 (1)The Devil You Know: K.J. Parker is the pen name of two time World Fantasy Award winning author, Tom Holt, and while this book is full of devilish magic and wild imagination, it’s quite different in scope and tone.  In this super little bite-size novel, Saloninus, the greatest philosopher of his time (well, at least according to him), has agreed to sell his soul to the Devil in return for twenty years to finish his life’s work.  It would seem like a straightforward bargain, but Saloninus is also the greatest trickster and liar the world has ever known, and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that there is a con afoot.  But where?  Publisher’s Weekly gave this book a starred review, cheering “Parker cheerfully stays one step ahead of the reader until the last moment”, and watching this game unfold is absolutely going to provide you an adventure worth remembering.

And until next week, Happy Reading, beloved patrons!

Bibliophile Confessions: It’s Not You, It’s Me…

So, having waxed lyrical about the television show Lucifer and the graphic novels that inspired the show, I decided it was high time that I put my proverbial money where my proverbial mouth is…and read a graphic novel.


I chose, not surprisingly, Lucifer: Book One.*  Though the character of Lucifer was created by Neil Gaiman in his Sandman comics, the Lucifer comics were written by Mike Carey, who turned Lucifer from a supporting character to the hero of his very own series.  This book is a 400-odd page collection of Lucifer’s adventures, beginning with his comfy retirement in Los Angeles, running the trendy piano bar Lux, with his companion Mazikeen by his side.

Lucifer_Vol_1_1When a vicious new power arises, wantonly fulfilling wishes and granting human desires, however, Heaven begins to fear that the balance of power may be disrupted.  Unwilling to get directly involved, Heaven instead dispatches a high-ranking angel named Amenadiel to request Lucifer’s assistance.  If he complies, and defeats this new foe, he will be granted anything he might desire.  When Lucifer inevitably makes quick work out of this new foe, he is granted his wish–a letter of passage, allowing him to travel to any world he might chose.  And thus, the stage is set for a whole series of mayhem and adventure.

The Lucifer series was–and remains–enormously successful, regardless of the television show.  These are startling imaginative, beautifully illustrated adventures that pull you into the story within a few short panels…that is, once I got used to reading them.

I don’t know if this is the case for all new graphic novel readers, but I found my eyes moving more in reading this book than in most traditional novels I had read.  In part, this is because graphic novels are read left to right and top to bottom.  This panel might make it a little easier to understand:

Courtesy of Anina Bennett:

Inside those panels, dialog is read from top to bottom.

It can actually get pretty tiring on the eyes, especially for those of us not quite used to the format.  Moreover, there are so many pictures to look at, so many colors on the page, and so much detail, that reading a page can take a pretty long time–especially for those of us prone to going “ooooh” and “aaahhh” at colors easily.

Even this page, perhaps one of the most straightforward within Lucifer, has so much more detail than a traditional novel that I was mesmerized:


Seriously–this graphic novel dashes around like Lucifer himself–delighting in breaking the rules and defying all your expectations with each new tale.

But, for all that, as much as I appreciated the creativity and the artistry that went into each panel, as much as I found the story lines compelling…I am not a graphic novel reader.

I think part of it is that I have grown so used to imagining my own characters and settings that I found the graphics to be more of a roadblock than a part of the action.  The panels made the reading experience a hectic one for me.  However, for visual-based learners, I can see where these elements would be a huge draw, and an enormously entertaining reason to keep reading.

I also realized, in the course of reading, that I really like narratives.  I love the descriptive passages in traditional novels, and the discussions of what a character is thinking and feeling, outside of what is being said between characters.  And graphic novels don’t provide those kind of details as explicitly as traditional novels.  They require you to read facial expressions, analyze the lettering in the panels, and deduce the  subtext in ways that most novels don’t.  And, to be honest, I am not terribly good at subtext in real life, so I’m fairly hopeless at it when reading.

So all in all, it’s not you, Lucifer.  It’s me.  I truly enjoyed my foray into graphic novels, and I can utterly see the appeal.  For readers who respond to imagery over words, for more intuitive thinkers, graphic novels are wonders, and I couldn’t recommend them more highly.  But, while I’d be happy to try more graphic novels in the future, for my verbal, logical(ish) brain, I think I might be sticking to more traditional novels…for now, anyways.

*The link to this book will bring you to the website for the Boston Public Library.  All Massachusetts residents are eligible to get a library card and order books from the BPL’s amazing selection.  Ask at our Reference Desk for details!

News! A Nomination Worth Celebrating

In case you haven’t heard, the President has made a nomination…for the 14th Librarian of Congress.  The nominee in question is none other than Dr. Carla D. Hayden, currently the CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.  If nominated, Dr. Hayden will become the first female and the first African-American Librarian of Congress, but she’s already made her mark for all the patrons with and for whom she has worked.

Courtesy of AP

Dr. Hayden is widely described as one of the most experienced librarians in the country, and has spent her years at the Enoch Pratt Free Library connecting patrons with books and electronic resources, making vital connections with local schools, and creating a safe, engaging space for all patrons in a city that can often seem deeply divided.

Above all things, Dr. Hayden is a good librarian, which is something the Library of Congress desperately needs.  Though James Billington, the soon-to-be previous Librarian, was devoted to the job, his training is that of an historian.  There is nothing wrong with historians, mind–they are very good at taking care of things.  But the Library of Congress needs to be dragged into the 21st century, and made accessible to readers and researchers around the world–and that kind of job requires a good librarian.  Think about all the neat stuff you can do at our Library…all the programs and classes and technology available to patrons…you can thank Librarians for all of those.  So just think what Dr. Hayden will be able to do with the Library of Congress!

She is also an outspoken proponent of user privacy and rights, and the vital importance of libraries to functioning democracies.  In a 2003 interview with Ms. Magazine, she gave the following stellar quote:

Libraries are a cornerstone of democracy—where information is free and equally available to everyone. People tend to take that for granted, and they don’t realize what is at stake when that is put at risk.

I’ll let you meet the good Dr. Hayden for yourself in the video below, with hopes you enjoy!

Saturdays @ the South: On indelible female characters

Susie Derkins, dreamed up, illustrated and make amazing by Bill Watterson

Today I’d like to talk about Susie Derkins. Remember her? She was the sometime playmate, sometime arch-nemesis of Calvin from the beloved and brilliant comic strip Calvin and Hobbes created by Bill Watterson. I’ve already expressed some of my deep-seated adoration for Calvin and Hobbes, and there are a lot of reasons why Watterson’s comic resonated so much with me. It was one of my first vividly remembered reading experiences and it was also the first reading experience I had that I could truly share with someone else.

My grandfather, who was quite possibly one of the most voracious readers I’ve ever known, had the BEST sense of humor and would read the Sunday funny pages (along with every single page of the Boston Globe) before he passed them along to me. After I read them, we would talk about our favorite moments in the comic strips and the punchlines we thought were the funniest. Calvin and Hobbes was our mutual favorite and I think those discussions represent the first time I understood that people could have the same reading tastes and actually talk about what they read as something they shared and enjoyed in common. As a result, pretty much every gift-giving holiday I would get my grandfather the latest Calvin and Hobbes book collection which he would promptly read and then pass along to me. It was reading these books that I remember encountering Susie Derkins.

NEVER underestimate a resourceful, aggravated girl; just one of the lessons Susie taught me.
NEVER underestimate a resourceful, aggravated girl; just one of the lessons Susie taught me.

Susie was the first female character I remember being strong, amazing and completely relatable as Susie and I had a lot of the same ambitions (and some of the same flaws). She was smart and not afraid to show it (hence why Calvin usually tried to cheat off of her )susie+derkins and she had plans. I remember specifically the moment I realized that kids could not just dream about education beyond college, but to actually plan for it and work towards it. Calvin had gotten Susie in trouble and they were outside of the principal’s office awaiting their fate. Susie was panicking that this incident was going to go on her permanent record and affect her future when she turns to Calvin and says:


I’m not exaggerating when I tell you this was a defining moment in my young reading life. Susie was bossy and demanding, but she was so because she didn’t want anyone getting in the way of her plans for being a high-powered Wall Street executive. ch4I was a little girl watching a resourceful, take-no-crap little girl stand up to bullies, get bullied and go through all of those normal childhood ups and downs, but doing so with the understanding that she was going to make something of herself and be more than what those experiences (particularly the downs) added up to. In essence, Watterson created the first strong, complex female character that I related to. For me, Susie Derkins came before and remains above Ramona Quimby, Alice, Nancy Drew or many other female heroines I encountered in childhood.

So in honor of Susie, I’d like to share some other strong female characters that I’ve encountered as an (alleged) grown-up. These women are not always likable (let’s face it, Susie had her moments, too…), but they do represent a (hopefully) burgeoning trend of women being portrayed as complex and working towards taking charge of their lives.

23291596Eustacia Vye Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy 

Eustacia Vye is not the most likable character in the literary canon. She can be called conniving, manipulative and even whiny. She is, however, a Victorian woman (in a novel written in Victorian times) who is doing what she can to be in charge of her own destiny. In a time when women didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter of their own lives, Eustacia does what she can to secure a future for herself on her own terms. Because she tries to accomplish this under any means necessary, it makes her somewhat less sympathetic but infinitely more complex.

3711443Westie Butler Revenge and the Wild by Michelle Modesto

This book is a wild ride with a fascinating female character taking the lead. Westie is flawed both emotionally and physically. She has a mechanical arm fashioned by her adopted father after it was cut off by cannibals while her birth family was in a wagon train heading West to California. (Did I mention this is a steampunk western? Just trust me on this one… This is definitely one of those “Fantastical American West” novels.) Since that traumatic incident, Westie has channeled her trauma into productive (though fairly un-ladylike) pastimes. She’s an expert hunter, is talented with weaponry (her father also fashioned her a parasol whose tip is a rifle barrel and whose stem is a sheathed sword), is an accomplished rider and is fueled by revenge. She is also, however, intelligent, crafty and resourceful, able to adopt the mannerisms of a “proper lady” when necessary and is fueled not only by revenge, but by love and loyalty for her adopted family. This book hit all of my buttons and I found, even when Westie was making some impulsively rash mistakes, I still rooted for throughout the entire book.

17912498Lilliet Berne Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

This book was twelve years in the making, but I think it might have been worth the wait. Lilliet Berne is a Paris opera sensation in the 1800s having a talent that few are born with and even fewer can cultivate and sustain. She is a falcon soprano. She also has a checkered past that is marked by resourcefulness unlike I’ve seen in any character, man or woman, in literature in a very long time. An orphan who loses everything at a young age, survives solely on her wits to travel across the US and through much of Western Europe, Berne has an intuition into human nature and a sense of self preservation that takes her through decades, identities and situations most people would never have survived. While the theme of fate is woven throughout the novel, Chee doesn’t really portray Berne as “lucky.” She has survived because she is a survivor and wants to see what else the world can hold for her and this, I find, makes not only Lilliet Berne, but also Queen of the Night, remarkable.

Since our wonderful blogger-in-residence Arabella loves recommendations, has eloquently railed against the categorization of “women writers” earlier this week, and reliably follows and reports on the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, I thought it fitting to inquire after some of her recommendations for strong, complex women characters. She didn’t disappoint. Here are her selections:

3209695Libby Day Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

I really respect the fact that Gillian Flynn creates “unlikeable” female characters, by which I actually mean women who acknowledge their own shortcomings/vices/issues and don’t try to be hide those for anyone, but I really really came to respect Libby.  She hasn’t really moved on from the horrific night when her family was murdered (mentally or physically…she’s, like, 4’10” or something).  But she has no money and no options until a local “murder club” offer to pay her to investigate that night.  Libby is spiteful and nasty and angry and a drinker and a kleptomaniac, but she’s also deeply empathetic, smart, honest, and, eventually, comes to realize all of that.  I was stunned by how much I enjoyed this book, and the fact that I kind of miss Libby now.

2664707Hero Jarvis – Where Serpents Sleep by C.S. Harris

I really love this historical mystery series because it’s so firmly rooted in history, and still so compelling–and because C.S. Harris totally blindsided me with Hero.  I started off thinking that she was a stereotypical, blue-stocking [and] cranky…, but in this book, we begin to see how angry she is at the world and all those who refuse to take her seriously, and how far she’ll go when those people she cares about are put in jeopardy.  I truly never, ever expected her to become the heroine of this series, but I am so glad she did.  She makes the hero an infinitely better guy, and I loved that she continues to prove me wrong all the time.

Thanks so much to Arabella for her input! I’d like to note that these great, complex, interesting women were written by both men and women writers, proving that anyone who cares to can write engaging, believable characters. Till next week, dear readers, I hope you are able to cozy up with or recall a character that you relate to or find fascinating. If you have a favorite female character that you think falls into this category, feel free to mention in it the comments. It will combine two things we love here on the blog: learning about great, new characters and hearing from our patrons!

Five Book Friday!

And a very, very happy birthday to Douglas Adams!


Adams was born on this day in 1952, in Cambridge, England–and stood out from a very early age.  It wasn’t just the fact that he was six feet tall by the time he was twelve years old (his final height was 6’5″), but it was also his very early talent for storytelling.  He was the only student in his primary school to be award full marks for creative writing–a fact that remained a source of pride his whole life.  It was on the strength of his writing that he was able to matriculate to St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he formed his own review show, and was elected to the Footlights, a comedy troupe that also included Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

towel-dayFollowing graduation, he wrote for, and appeared in sketches for Monty Python, but it was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxywhich he originally wrote as a radio performance in 1977, that changed everything.  According to Adams, he was lying drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria, and looking at the stars one night (with a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe in his hand), when the idea for the story came to him.  Whether this is strictly true is a little unclear, but Innsbruck still celebrates “Towel Day” in honor of Adams’ story.  The novel version of Hitchhikers was released in 1979, and became the first in a five-volume series.  He was also the author of the Dirk Gently series, which are just as delightful and remarkable insightful.

One of Adams’ final public appearances was at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he delivered a speech titled “Parrots, the Universe and Everything“, in which he talked about books, his adventures, and his deep, abiding environmentalism, in his own magical way.  The video is available here for your enjoyment:

Personally, I first read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in high school (and loved it), but it wasn’t until I was living in London, and had no money whatsoever, that I truly read that book, along the whole subsequent series, thanks to the Stoke Newington Library, and the world’s most benevolent used bookshop owner, who let me sit on the floor for hours and absorb the books via osmosis.  So this birthday wish comes with sincere thanks, not only to Douglas Adams, but to the wonderful people who helped me discover him.

And, speaking of books–here are some more that have made it on to our shelves this week!


3679654A Midsummer’s EquationThis is the sixth mystery novel featuring Manabu Yukawa, the physicist known as “Detective Galileo”.  In this adventure, Yukawa arrives at a run-down summer resort to speak at a conference on the highly controversial underwater mining operation slated to begin soon.  But when a local police officer is found murdered, Yukawa will soon be putting his detecting skills to work, along with his professional acumen.  Keigo Higashino has sold millions of copies of his work in Japan, and his fame has finally begun to spread in the US, as well.  Of this latest installment, The New York Times Book Review says, “To dispute a common complaint: They are indeed writing confounding puzzle mysteries the way they used to. They just happen to be writing them in Japanese. And by “they,” I mean Keigo Higashino, whose elegant whodunits… are feats of classic ratiocination.”

3724805BorderlineMishell Baker’s debut is a genre-bending urban fantasy that has all the critics buzzing.  Her heroine, Millie, has lost her legs–and her filmmaking career–in a failed suicide attempt.  But her second chance comes in the form of the Arcadia Project, and organization that protects the borders between our world and the parallel reality that is home to fairies and monsters alike.  In her first assignment, Milie is charged with locating a missing movie star (who is also a fairy nobleman)–but her investigation soon turns up a conspiracy centuries in the making that could end both worlds in a cataclysmic war.  Library Journal gave this book a starred review, saying “Baker’s debut takes gritty urban fantasy in a new direction with flawed characters, painful life lessons, and not a small amount of humor.”

3699705Spill Simmer Falter Wither: Here we have another acclaimed debut, this time from Ireland’s Sara Baume.  Her tale features two outcasts: an unnamed man, whose whole life has been utterly overlooked by those in his village, and the one-eyed dog that he takes in, and to whom he tells his stories.  This is a story of outcasts, transformed into something magical through Baume’s incredible insight and magnificent use of language.  She already been awarded a number of Irish literary awards, and the Irish Times has raved: “This is a novel bursting with brio, braggadocio and bite. Again and again it wows you with its ambition…At its heart is a touching and inspiriting sense of empathy, that rarest but most human of traits. Boundaries melt, other hearts become knowable…This book is a stunning and wonderful achievement by a writer touched by greatness.”…and it seems high time that we get a chance to enjoy it, too!

3696024The Family Tree : A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth: In 1912, Harris County, Georgia, a white man, the son of the local sheriff, was shot and killed on the porch of a black woman.  Several days later, the sheriff sanctioned the lunching of four innocent black residence in revenge for the death of his nephew.   Karen Branan is the great-granddaughter of that sheriff, and this book is the result of some two decades of research, not only into the lynchings, but into the history and society in which permitted such behavior to occur.  This is not only a history, but also a consideration of one women’s privilege, guilt, and courage to confront the darkest moments of the past in order to move forward.  This book is being acclaimed by critics and activists alike, with W. Fitzhugh Brundage, the Chair of the History Department at UNC saying, “Branan has written a book of exceptional courage.  She gives us a rare glimpse into the lives and minds of white southerners who lynched their black neighbors, engaged in moonshining, lived desperate lives, and yet were held in high esteem in their communities.  As much as any book I know, The Family Tree gives a human face to the tragic human relations of the Jim Crow South.”

3719703Bowl : Vegetarian Recipes for Ramen, Pho, Bibimbap, Dumplings, and Other One-Dish Meals: I dare you to take one look at the pictures in this book and not want to try each and every dish found within its pages.  I am so hungry right now, it’s difficult to actually put into words.



Until next week, dear readers, and in the words of Douglas Adams, “Don’t Panic”.  And happy reading!


Please Pass the Baileys (Women’s Prize for Fiction)


After having my spirit crushed by Amazon’s classification system earlier this week (and having my love of the Dewey Decimal System immeasurably reinforced in consequence), the wonderful people behind the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announced the long-list of books for their 2016 prize.

I’ve talked about the Baileys Prize before, with great excitement, not in the least because it highlights books that are wildly new, surprising, and generally overlooked by mainstream review outlets.  The other huge reason is because the good, wise people behind the Baileys Prize realizes that despite the fact that women authors outnumber men (the ratio is roughly 60/40), most literary prizes regularly overlooked women, and women of color specifically.  Not only that, but books about women were also overlooked in favor of tales about men, as these pie charts below demonstrate:


Thankfully, the committee of authors and artists who award the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction are devoted celebrating “women’s creative achievements and international writing, whilst also stimulating debate about gender and writing, gender and reading, and how the publishing and reviewing business works.”  Rather than relegating the books by women into a single category (ahem, like some places do…..ahem), this prize recognizes the diversity, accessibility, and wonderful diverse books that have been produced by women in any given year.  It utterly ignores the idea of “chick-lit” or “women’s fiction”, and instead hails books that can be read, and enjoyed, by anyone.

You can read a great deal more about the award at their website–and be sure to check out their blog, as well.  There are Baileys recipes…..

So, without further ado, there is the long-list for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.  Some have been nominated for other awards this year, and some are wholly new to the awards scene.  Over half the list is made up of debut authors, and authors from seven different countries are recommended.  What’s also really exciting is the range of genres within this list–there is sci-fi, magical realism, mystery, and historical fiction, from a woman who can communicate with squirrels to a traveling freak show, there is plenty of different types of stories to keep your imagination firing.  Because this is a British prize, several of these books have not been released in the US, as yet.  But you can be assured that as soon as they are, we’ll be letting you know!


Kate Atkinson: A God in Ruins

Shirley Barrett: Rush Oh!

Cynthia Bond: Ruby

Geraldine Brooks: The Secret Chord

Becky Chambers: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Will be released in the US on July 5, 2016)

Jackie Copleton: A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding

Rachel Elliott: Whispers Through a Megaphone (Available via The Pushkin Press)

Anne Enright: The Green Road

Petina Gappah: The Book of Memory

Vesna Goldsworthy: Gorsky

Clio Gray: The Anatomist’s Dream (No US release date announced yet)

Melissa Harrison: At Hawthorn Time

Attica Locke: Pleasantville

Lisa McInerney: The Glorious Heresies (Will be published in the US on August 9, 2016

Elizabeth McKenzie: The Portable Veblen

Sara Nović: Girl at War

Julia Rochester: The House at the Edge of the World (Will be published in the US on April 7, 2016)

Hannah Rothschild: The Improbability of Love

Elizabeth Strout: My Name is Lucy Barton

Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life

Some Words About Women Authors…

This is me, getting on my soapbox….

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This story begins with a recommendation from the great Lady Pole, who has an uncanny talent for finding the Good Books You Haven’t Read Yet.  The book is question is a horror novel, dealing with a haunted photo album, a scarred woman, and a discussion about flawed beauty standards…and, because it is brand new, it has yet to appear in the NOBLE Catalog.  Thus, I used Google to search for the title of the book.  This was what I saw as a result:


Take a look, not at the title (though you can feel free to look at the title), but at the information directly beneath it.  This line tells you in what category Amazon has placed the book in question.  Not in horror, not in thriller, not in paranormal or ghost story, but under Women Authors.

I’m sorry, what?

Thinking, perhaps, that Amazon classified all books by the gender of their authors, I randomly searched for a book that is currently on the New York Times Bestseller List.  This is what I saw:

Not “male authors”, no.  Mystery and Thriller.  Because, apparently, in this case, the genre of the book matters more than the fact that the author is a man?

And then it hit me.  Amazon assumes that authors are, by definition, male.  And therefore, when the author is not a male, it has to add a new level of classification, to designate a non-typical human author.

And this was pretty much my reaction.
And this was pretty much my reaction.

This isn’t a new problem, and it isn’t one that belongs to Amazon, alone.  We’ve certainly dealt with the “women authors” question before here.  But, it’s International Women’s Day, and so we’re going to confront again.

By and large, books are organized by their genre or subject matter.  Examples of this can be found by walking into the Library and looking at the shelves.  But, sadly, we are somewhat unique in these matters.  Institutions that try to make money off the books on their shelves (heathens, wink, wink) generally abide by this rule, as well.  Nevertheless, there is an inevitable and unique distinction made in regards to books (primarily, fiction books), written by “women authors”.  They get special displays, they get separate shelf space, and they get advertised differently, inherently isolating “women authors”–and those who read books by them–from the rest of fiction.


This is based, at least partly, on the belief that only women can talk about relationships, about families, about interpersonal relationships, or about women, and that they are somehow of lesser importance, or value, or smaller in scope for it.  This is not a new trend.  Mary Ann Evans insisted on using the male pen name George Eliot when writing her classics like Middlemarch (released in 1871) in order to ensure that her work would be taken seriously.  It was only after her Frankenstein became a commercial success that Mary Shelley’s name appeared on her great work.  Nora Roberts began publishing under the name J.D. Robb partly in order to prove that women could write books that men would want to read.

3594938It’s just plain ridiculous to isolate “women authors” from all other authors, as if there is something irreconcilable about their identity, but, significantly, it also utterly obscures the point that men can write about  families, about love, about relationships, and about women, too.  And it forces some male authors to change their names, as well.  S.K. Tremayne’s celebrated book, The Ice Twins, about a woman who gives birth to twins, and has to cope with the death of one, and the identity of the other, is written by Sean Thomas, a British journalist.  Additionally, S.J. Watson, author of the best-selling Before I Go To Sleep is really Steve Watson.  In an quote to The Guardian, he explained,  “If at least some people weren’t sure whether I was a man or a woman then it was working, and I was immensely gratified when certain publishers were convinced the book had been written by a woman.”

I understand that Watson was expressing pleasure that he had accurately captured his characters’ voice, and was primarily interested in selling books, the truth of the matter is that if we accepted authors as empathetic, insightful humans, we wouldn’t have to worry about that author’s name sounding too much like a male or female name at all.

To say that only one group of humans are capable about writing books about issues that are fundamental to all humans seems wholly counter-intuitive, but it keeps happening.  This is as true for family dramas as it is for the type of horror novel I was searching for in the example I provided above.  By consistently isolating men’s and women’s books and experiences, we are ruining our chance of developing empathy, and are surely missing out on some phenomenal books.

Human beings are storytellers–we have cave paintings that date some 35,000 years ago to prove it.  We owe it to ourselves, and to the books we read, to ensure that we treat all humans’ stories equally, regardless of their content, or their creator, and thus ensure that we get the very best stories we can get.

Courtesy of the Clark County Public Library.
Courtesy of the Clark County Public Library.

…Ultimately, while we are waiting for the rest of the world to catch on, consider this another point in favor of The Library, I suppose.

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass