Tag Archives: Resolve to Read

Resolve to Read 2018: A Book of Social Science

As we mentioned here previously, we here at the Library are Resolving to Read (more…different….) in 2018, and tackling both Book Riot’s and Scholastic’s 2018 Reading Challenges.  In the hopes of encouraging you to broader your literary horizons along with us, here are some suggestions for books that fall within the categories of the various challenges.

Today’s Challenge: Book Riot Read Harder 2018 Challenge
Category: Read A Book of Social Science

Via Shutterstock

So, first and foremost, what the heck is “social science,” you might ask.  And that would be an entirely valid question.  Very broadly speaking, the social science tell us about the world beyond our immediate experience–they explain how humans interact, the communities and network they form, the governments and laws they establish (and what happens to people who break those laws), and the cultures that evolve from those societies.  Social sciences can also tell us about how people express their ideas and emotions, the significance of the games they play, and their familial interactions.   Specifically, the social sciences involve the fields of history, language, sociology, criminology, anthropology, education, economics, politics, international affairs, social work…and more!

So, in terms of picking a “social science” book, you’re going to be a bit spoiled for choice.  But in this post, we hope to introduce you to some books that combine fields, use the tools of social scientists to shed unique light on some aspects of the world around us, or that are so delightfully quirky in their research or approach that they will leave you gasping and eager for more!

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers: Mary Roach is a master of cross-disciplinary research work.  Her focus is so often on the stuff that grosses us out–but also fascinates us in a uniquely human way (check out her book on the human alimentary canal if you don’t believe me!) .  For two thousand years, cadavers―some willingly, some unwittingly―have been involved in science’s boldest strides and weirdest undertakings.  This book is the history of the use of the human body; as tools of learning for medical students, as test subjects in car crash analyses, and as test subjects in studies about decay.  As gruesome at it might sound, Roach’s history/science/economic/industrial mash-up is told with a wonderful sense of humor and a light touch that makes this book as compelling as it is educational.

Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How the Soviets Lost the Most Extraordinary Chess Match of All Time: David Edmonds and John Eidinow are a sensational writing duo who revel in the stories you thought you knew well.  In this book, they use the historic competition between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky to analyze the fraught nature of the Cold War, the role of espionage in those tensions, the history of chess itself, and the complex, occasionally downright bizarre behavior of both Fischer and Spassky, before, during, and after the match.  The final section is a review of Fischer’s FBI file, which reveals some even more intriguing information about the players in this incredible drama.  This is a book that will appeal to history buffs, fans of international relations and politics, and chess aficionados–as well as those who just love realize that the truth really is stranger than fiction.

The  Other Wes Moore:  One Name, Two Fates: Two kids with the same name were born blocks apart in Baltimore within a few years of each other. One Wes Moore grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, army officer, White House Fellow, and business leader.  But when he learned about the other Wes Moore, who was serving a life sentence in prison, he began an investigation into what really differentiated the two of them.  This book is part memoir, part journalistic investigation, and an in-depth study of the class, familial, personal, and institutional issues that separated the two Wes Moores.  This isn’t an easy-to-read book, but it’s a vitally important one that questions much about the economic, legal, and social strictures at play in our world today.

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer: Siddhartha Mukherjee’s study of cancer is a stunning, powerful, and utterly humane look at cancer—from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the twentieth century to cure, control, and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence.  A cellular biologist by training, Mukherjee is able to explain the scientific ins-and-outs of cancer–but he never loses his human understanding of what cancer does to people, to families, and to those who are tasked with treating it.  In addition to dealing with the history of cancer treatment, from ancient history to the first recipient of radiation in the 19th century, and also offers a glimpse to the treatment of cancer in the future, providing plenty of food for thought for humanists and scientists alike.

Resolve to Read 2018: Read A Book That Will Teach Me A New Skill

As we mentioned here previously, we here at the Library are Resolving to Read (more…different….) in 2018, and tackling both Book Riot’s and Scholastic’s 2018 Reading Challenges.  In the hopes of encouraging you to broader your literary horizons along with us, here are some suggestions for books that fall within the categories of the various challenges.

Today’s Challenge: Scholastic 2018 Reading Challenges
Category: Read A Book That Will Teach Me A New Skill 

Oh my goodness, if you are in the mood to learn something new, there is literally no better place to get started than at the Library.  That is quite seriously part of our reason for being in communities is to help people find things they are interested in and to learn more about those things!

The first step, of course, is thinking about what kind of skill it is you’d like to learn.  Have you always wanted to learn how to grow your own fruits or vegetables?  Or to knit?  Perhaps you were thinking about making children’s toy as gifts or for profit?  Or maybe learning a new language?  We can help you out with all those goals–and many more, besides.  If you’re having trouble coming up with an idea you like best, or if your wrestling with a number of different competing ideas, come by and talk to a member of our staff.  We’re here to help!

Here are just a few books that are waiting on our shelves for you, eager to help you acquire new knowledge, to flex your muscles and your memory, and to create things that can bring beauty to your life and the lives of others.  And please know this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg!

Simple Knitting : a complete how-to-knit workshop with 20 projects: There are lots and lots of books in the Library on how to knit, but, for my money, there aren’t many better than Erika Knight.  Her attention to detail and her easy-to-follow instructions make the daunting prospect of learning how to knit into something that is both accessible and rewarding (and take it from a left-handed knitter, here, if she can teach me, she can teach almost anyone).  This book also comes with a number of projects to make with your growing knitterly skills–projects that are both easy to make and easy to wear.  These are the kind of gifts that make a whole holiday season worthwhile.  And now is a perfect time to start working on those gifts!

And for the experienced knitter looking to take on a new challenge, why not give brioche a try?  There isn’t a better teacher out there than Nancy Marchant, and her book Knitting fresh brioche : creating two-color twists & turns offers a terrific tutorial (that the right- and left-handed amongst us can follow) as well as some fun projects to work on at the same time.  There are directions in this book for basic brioche, as well as multi-colored and motif knitting, so you are sure to emerge from this book with oodles of new skills and projects!

Natural Wooden Toys : 75 easy-to-make and kid-safe designs to inspire imaginations & creative play: Erin Freutchel-Dearing is a stay-at-home mom who taught herself how to make toys without any prior woodworking experience.  In this book, she shows you how to acquire the same skills, with step-by-step instructions that lead to  cute and creative wooden toys for children.  There are no complicated tools needed for these projects: just a scroll saw, a palm sander, and a drill.  Not only do these projects result in pitch-perfect gifts, but studies have shown that working with your hands reduces stress, focuses concentration, and leads to even greater leaps of creativity.  Just think what you can achieve after mastering wooden toys!

Apartment Gardening : plants, projects, and recipes for growing food in your urban home: Hey, we’d all like to live in a world where we can wander among the lush fields and have lots and lots of space to grow the food we need.  But that’s not the case for many (most) of us.  But Amy Pennington’s book offers a number of creative solutions for those looking to grow more of their own food, even if space is at a premium.  Whether you’re a veteran gardener or a novice getting your hands dirty for the first time, this book provides hands-on advice to start using urban space in a sustainable, efficient, and inexpensive manner.  From the right containers to use to choosing your soil, this book guides you through the growing process, and even offers advice for how to prepare your newly-grown goodness.  In fact, the recipes and illustrations in this book are inspiration enough to want to give Apartment Gardening a try!

On Writing : A Memoir of the Craft : Part memoir and part guide to good writing, Stephen King’s incredible book discusses all the things that make an author’s work compelling and emotional and evocative.  It is also a stunning book for reminding us why reading is such a fulfilling, meaningful, and deeply human practice. Those who love King’s fiction will savor this peek behind the curtain into his process, and may very well gain some tips in their own work.  But this is a book that even those who aren’t King’s fans have loved, because it is such a clear and frank look at writing.  For those looking to write or read more in the coming year, this is a reminder of why those things are so critical to us all.  It’s also one of those books that feels like a long chat with an old friend, and for that reason alone, this is a book worth savoring.

 

What skills are you eager to learn in 2018?  Come into the Library, and let us help you find the right tools to get you started!

Resolve to Read 2018: A Book of True Crime

As we mentioned here previously, we here at the Library are Resolving to Read (more…different….) in 2018, and tackling both Book Riot’s and Scholastic’s 2018 Reading Challenges.  In the hopes of encouraging you to broader your literary horizons along with us, here are some suggestions for books that fall within the categories of the various challenges.

Today’s Challenge: Book Riot 2018 Read Harder Challenge
Category: A Book of True Crime

“True Crime” is a rich and diverse genre, that taps into some of our most basic human tendencies: creating narratives to explain how things happened, providing closure to questions and events, and helping us understand what makes other people tick, and why they do what they do.  The lurid details that many of them provide only add to the appeal of these books that often combine superlative research and analysis with visceral violence.

The neat thing about true crime is how wide a scope it covers in terms of its material.  Fans of Law and Order or CSI might feel instantly at home in this genre, but there is room for a surprisingly wide array of interesting.  History, science, government, economics…all can form the basis of a sensational true crime book.  So even if you’re not a dedicated scholar of jurisprudence or police work, there is still a wealth of books for you to savor within this genre!

Via TED Talks

True crime is also a genre that is maturing and evolving constantly, and, as Book Riot points out in their list, is a field that is getting better as a result of more diversity among the authors and subject matter they cover.  So here are some of our picks for some sensational reads for your 2018 Resolution.  We made a point to select books that both represented the diversity in the genre, as well as the many different angles that true crime can take!

Truevine : two brothers, a kidnapping, and a mother’s quest : a true story of the Jim Crow SouthAt the heart of Beth Macy’s enormously wide-ranging book is the kidnapping of two young boys from the tobacco farm on which they lived and worked in 1899.  George and Willie Muse, both albino Blacks, ended up being sold to the circus, performing in sideshows around the United States, as well as in Buckingham Palace and Madison Square Garden.  Their popularity was a result of their skin color and the outlandish performances that were staged for them, presenting them as everything from cannibals from remote jungles to martians.  But even as Macy shares George and Willie’s remarkable story, she also tells the story of their mother’s quest to find them again.  This is a book that was decades in the researching and making, and is jam-packed full of details, not only about the Muse family and their incredible life stories, but also the history of the circus in the United States, the realities of Jim Crow policies and laws in the American South, and the travel narrative of Macy’s research, all of which combines to create haunting and memorable story.

The Fact of a Body : A Murder and a Memoir:  Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s genre-bending book was highlighted by many as one of the best of 2017…and for good person.  Intensely personal, unflinching in its dedication, and absolutely gripping, this is both the story of a child murderer named Rickey Langley and the Marzano-Lesnevich’s personal history.  On her first day at work for a New Orleans defense firm, Marzano-Lesnevich was shown a video of Langley.  Though staunchly opposed to the death penalty, watching that tape, she explains, she wanted to see this man dead.  As a victim of child abuse herself, the reaction in an understandable one.  But as Marzano-Lesnevich wades deeper into her own story, trying to navigate her sense of betrayal, not only at the family member who perpetrated the abuse, but the family members who did nothing concrete to stop it.  This book succeeds best when Marzano-Lesnevich deals with personal issues.  Her exploration of Langley isn’t quite as searing, but this is still a book that will hold the interest of devoted true crime readers and those readers who love memoirs and family dramas, as well.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer: For more than ten years, an unknown predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he committed ten murders. The person then disappeared, and has eluded capture even since.  Three decades later, true crime journalist Michelle McNamara, resolved to discover the identity of the person she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.  Her research is staggering in its depth and insight, and the energy that she invested in this case brings her story to life.  Michelle, sadly, passed away while writing this book, and it was completed in her memory by her lead researcher.  Though there isn’t the closure of a perpetrator at the end of this story, it’s almost more memorable for being open-ended.  This is a book that forces the reader to reckon with the aftermath of violent crimes, and to peer into the lives of people who are forever defined–and forever damaged–by their involvement with this case.  This is a book that is already being hailed as a classic in the true crime genre, and offers plenty of goodies for readers who revel in clues and conspiracies.  The introduction by Gillian Flynn only adds to the appeal.

Midnight in Peking: Paul French’s riveting book focuses on the unsolved murder of a British schoolgirl in January 1937.  The mutilated body of Pamela Werner was found at the base of the Fox Tower–a place that, in local superstition, is home to the maliciously seductive fox spirits As British detective Dennis and Chinese detective Han investigate the mystery only deepens and in a city on the verge of invasion rumor and superstition run rampant.  This is not only the story of a single investigation, but of on an extraordinary time: In 1937, a clash between Chinese and Japanese troops outside Beiping triggered the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and would lead to Peking being renamed Beijing.  This is a story of the last chaotic days before the outbreak of that war, and the way that international journalists covered not only the murder of Pamela Werner, but also the land in which she was killed.  French is and analyst and commentator on China and North Korea, and that expertise shines through in this book that is as much a political history as it is a true crime tale.

The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in ParisOn the morning of November 7, 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a desperate seventeen-year-old Jewish refugee, walked into the German embassy in Paris and shot Ernst vom Rath, a Nazi diplomat. Two days later vom Rath lay dead, and the Third Reich exploited the murder to unleash Kristallnacht in a bizarre concatenation of events that would rapidly involve Ribbentrop, Goebbels, and Hitler himself. But was Grynszpan a crazed lone gunman or agent provocateur of the Gestapo? Was he motivated by a desire to avenge Jewish people, or did his act of violence speak to an intimate connection between the assassin and his target, as Grynszpan later claimed? Jonathan Kirsch’s book is part true-crime legal drama, and part historical detective work that digs to the roots of a nearly-forgotten story that has huge implications for our understanding of the Holocaust and Nazi occupation of Europe.  His concluding meditations on the nature of resistance (which may or may not be relevant to this story–you’ll have to decide for yourself) are really thought-provoking, and add another dimension to an already compelling book.

 

Until next time, beloved patrons–good luck with those resolutions!

Resolve to Read 2018: Books With Imaginary Languages

2018 is a year for expanding our reading horizons, and we here at the Free for All are thrilled to be bringing you suggestions and discussions based on two different reading challenges.  This week, we’re looking at Scholastic’s Reading Resolution Challenge.  It’s a challenge geared towards younger readers, but since when should that stop anyone?  Today, in fact, we’ll mix up the challenge a bit, and focus on “adult” books that fit this challenge category:

Today’s Challenge: Scholastic Reading Resolution
Category: Read a book that contains an imaginary language

Generally speaking, most books with their own invented language tend to be listed as science fiction and/or fantasy…which is not terribly surprising, all things considered.  Fans of Tolkien and George R.R. Martin will already be familiar with the languages found in Middle Earth, or Winterfell.  But whether you’re fluent in Elvish, or just looking to challenge yourself, there should be something for you on this list.  This is a selection for science fiction and fantasy fans, as well as those who don’t consider themselves genre fans.  We hope you find something here to challenge you, and are always here to help you find more!

The WakePaul Kingsnorth used crowdfunding to get his book published, and assumed it was going to be a flop.  As he told NPR“I’m writing a book about a period in history no one knows about, in a language no one can understand, with a central character who’s horrible. There’s absolutely no way anyone’s going to touch this with a bargepole, but I don’t care!”  (And well done, Mr. Kingsnorth, for loving your dream that much; we should all be so lucky).  Fortunately, however, he was proven wrong, and this book was not only a hit, but was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.  This is the story of Buccmaster, a man whose sons are killed at the Battle of Hastings and his family and farm are destroyed by the Norman invaders, and who leads a dangerous mission of revenge on the invaders across the scorched English landscape.  The story is told in what Kingsnorth refers to as  a “shadow tongue,” a mashup of Middle English and modern-day English that reflects, fairly accurately, the language that Buccmaster might have used (had he actually lived outside the pages of this novel).  It makes the book rather slow-going at first (I suggest you try reading it out loud for a bit), but once you become accustomed to the cadence and flow of the story, it’s mesmerizing.

Cat’s Cradle: Kurt Vonnegut had long been a hero of mine for his stance on banning books, and the work that his memorial library continues to do when his books are challenged and/or banned.  But it wasn’t until long after I learned to respect Vonnegut the person that I developed a real respect for Vonnegut as a writer, but Cat’s Cradle was the book that did that for me.  This satirical comedy about the atomic age focuses on an everyman hero named John (or Jonah), who sets out to write a book about what important Americans did on the day Hiroshima was bombed. While researching this topic, John becomes involved with the children of Felix Hoenikker, a Nobel laureate physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb. John travels to Ilium, New York (fictional locale), to interview the Hoenikker children and others for his book.  Eventually, John and the Hoenikker children end up on a Caribbean island (you’ll have to read the book for the journey to make any sense, trust me), where the natives speak a remarkable and invented dialect that sounds in some ways like creole dialects spoken in the American south (for example “twinkle, twinkle, little star” is rendered “Tsvent-kiul, tsvent-kiul, lett-pool store”).  Though this language isn’t as central to the plot as Kingsnorth’s, the sense of strangeness its lends to the story, and the power it has to isolate the characters, is powerful stuff indeed.  Vonnegut is one of the few writers who could make such a black and fatalistic story genuinely funny and, somehow, strangely hopeful, too.

In the Land of Invented Languages: For those fans of non-fiction, fear not!  There are plenty of imaginary languages for you to encounter, as well, as Arika Okrent proves in this fascinating and fun book about humankind’s constant quest to build a better language. Peopled with charming eccentrics and exasperating megalomaniacs, this story covers all the quirky attempts at better and universal languages, beginning with Esperato.  But Okrent doesn’t judge by usefulness or universality.  Babm, Blissymbolics, Loglan (not to be confused with Lojban), and other invented languages that people have attempted to develop and use are discussed here.  This is a book that will remind you why language is such a miraculous, powerful thing…and may give you a few moments of laughter, as well.

 

Come into the Library to meet some more books with imaginary languages today!

Resolve to Read: Romance Novels By Or About a Person of Color

As we mentioned here previously, we here at the Library are Resolving to Read (more…different….) in 2018, and tackling both Book Riot’s and Scholastic’s 2018 Reading Challenges.  In the hopes of encouraging you to broader your literary horizons along with us, here are some suggestions for books that fall within the categories of the various challenges.

Today’s Challenge: Book Riot 2018 Read Harder Challenge
Category: Romance Novels By Or About a Person of Color

We’ve talked a lot in the past about how we love romance novels here at the Free-For-All, and also about how we’re really ready to see more diversity in the genre at large.   So this week’s challenge is one very near and dear to our hearts.  There have been a number of sensation romances published in the past few years that feature People of Color–but that shouldn’t distract us from the classic romance novels that have stood the test of time and readers’ devotion.  What makes these books so great is that they are not only willing to confront issues of racial identity, but also to question issues of body image, sexual identity, class, and gender norms, making these romances as ground-breaking and thought-provoking as they are heart-racing.

So let’s take a look at some of the terrific titles that you can select to fulfill your resolution–and perhaps even discover a few new authors whose work you can savor for months and years to come!

An Extraordinary UnionNo list of romances featuring People of Color would be in any way complete or comprehensive without Alyssa Cole’s sensational novel of Civil War espionage and passion–and the first of what is sure to be an unmissable series.  Elle Burns is a former slave with a passion for justice and an eidetic memory. Trading in her life of freedom in Massachusetts, she returns to the indignity of slavery in the South–to spy for the Union Army. Malcolm McCall is a detective for Pinkerton’s Secret Service. Subterfuge is his calling, but he’s facing his deadliest mission yet–risking his life to infiltrate a Rebel enclave in Virginia. Two undercover agents who share a common cause–and an undeniable attraction–Malcolm and Elle join forces when they discover a plot that could turn the tide of the war in the Confederacy’s favor.  This is a book that confronts the horrors of slavery in America, but still holds fast to the belief that love will not only conquer all, but can redeem us, as well.

BreathlessBeverly Jenkins is among the royalty of the romance genre, and all of her books, frankly, are wonderful.  She creates wonderful, vivid, and beautifully empathetic characters, and places them in (generally speaking) historically accurate situations that allow her to reflect on issues of identity, power, and freedom in really creative ways.  In this book, Portia Carmichael is the manager of one of the finest hotels in Arizona Territory.  She has respect and stability—qualities sorely missing from her harsh childhood. She refuses to jeopardize all that by keeping company with the wrong man–but the arrival of an old family friend may have her thinking she’s found someone right.  Kent Randolph has learned his share of hard lessons. After drifting through the West, he’s learned the value of a place to settle down, and in Portia’s arms he’s found that and more. But convincing her to trust him with her heart, not just her passion, will be the greatest challenge he’s known—and one he intends to win…You quite seriously cannot go wrong with Beverly Jenkins work, so make sure to check out her many others books as you make your way through this resolution!

A Bollywood AffairSonali Dev’s romances have it all–interesting characters, real issues, beautiful settings–but they also deal with issues facing women in India, from conforming to stereotypes and ‘proper behavior’ to the difficulty of balancing tradition with progress.  But there is also the deep bonds with family, the sensational food, and the meaningful tradition, all of which combine to make Dev’s books so enchanting.  In this story, Mili Rathod hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years–not since she was promised to him at the age of four. Yet marriage has allowed Mili a freedom rarely given to girls in her village. She was even allowed her to leave India and study in America for eight months, all to make her the perfect modern wife. Which is exactly what Mili longs to be–if her husband would just come and claim her. Bollywood’s favorite director, Samir Rathod, has come to Michigan to secure a divorce for his older brother. Persuading a naïve village girl to sign the papers should be easy for someone with Samir’s tabloid-famous charm. But Mili is neither a fool nor a gold-digger. Open-hearted yet complex, she’s trying to reconcile her independence with cherished traditions. And before he can stop himself, Samir is immersed in Mili’s life–cooking her dal and rotis, escorting her to her roommate’s elaborate Indian wedding, and wondering where his loyalties and happiness lie.  This book is Dev’s first, but each of the four she has published to date are winners, so keep your eye out for this author!

Such a Pretty Face: The blurb for Gabrielle Goldsby’s lesbian romance may sound like it’s a tale of revenge-bods and vengeance, but, in truth, it really couldn’t be any further away.  It’s a story about learning to love yourself, and to find people who can see the best in you no matter what–and that is a message we all need to hear from time to time.  Mia Sanchez is a Mexican American financial adviser who has recently bought a new house with her partner of four years. She is stunned when her Brenda tells her she has accepted a 5-month job in Fiji, and that she’ll be using the time to  “think about their future together.” Mia hadn’t thought words could be more painful until Brenda followed up hers with, “You’ve really let yourself go over the last few years.”   Hurt and along, Mia finds a little comfort is staring at Ryan, the stunning blonde construction worker at Mia’s work.  Ryan has her own issues with physical beauty, in the form of a scar on her face, but neither the scar nor Mia’s weight seem to be a problem when they finally start talking.  This is a funny, insightful, and wonderfully honest book about the power of real love to see past the superficial, and to transform that holds up even on the second or third reading!

 

We’ll be back next week with another Resolve to Read post, but until then, feel free to stop by the Library and let us help you discover your new favorite book of 2018!

Resolve to Read: The Pura Belpré Award

2018 is a year for expanding our reading horizons, and we here at the Free for All are thrilled to be bringing you suggestions and discussions based on two different reading challenges.  This week, we’re looking at Scholastic’s Reading Resolution Challenge.  It’s a challenge geared towards younger readers, but since when should that stop anyone?  The suggestions on this list hold appeal for readers of all ages (I read to my cat on a regular basis, for example).

This post features the challenge to read a Pura Belpré Award-winning book.  The Pura Belpré Award was established in 1996, and is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library (hooray for Librarians!).  It is presented annually, as the award’s website explains, to a Latino/Latina writer andLatino/Latina illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. It is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate.

As huge fans of #WeNeedDiverse Books, and as a Library community that revels in sharing all the cultural and personal differences that make our community such a rich one, exploring the books in this award was a real treat.  There are some stunning illustrations and moving stories to be found among the winners of the Pura Belpré Award, and we are thrilled to feature some of them here!

2017 Author Award Winner: 

Juana & Lucas, written and illustrated by Juana Medina: A spunky young girl from Colombia loves playing with her canine best friend and resists boring school activities, especially learning English, until her family tells her that a special trip is planned to an English-speaking place.  According to the award presenters, Medina “presents with breezy humor the day-to-day reflections and experiences universal to childhood—school, family and friendships—through the eyes of the invincible Juana, growing up in Bogotá with her beloved dog, Lucas. This charmingly designed book for young readers portrays the advantages—and challenges—of learning a second language.

2017 Illsutrator Award Winner: 

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, illustrated by Raúl Gonzalez, written by Cathy Camper: Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria are living the dream–they are the proud owners of their very own garage. But when their beloved cat, Genie, goes missing, they must embark on a wild road trip through a mysterious corn maze, into the center of the earth, and down to the realm of Mictlantecuhtli. Mic’s the Aztec god of the Underworld, but even worse: he’s a catnapper! Now it’s three clever compadres against one angry, all-powerful god. How will the Lowriders ever save their cat–or themselves?  According to the award committee, “The ballpoint pen art creates a fantastical borderlands odyssey, packed with subversively playful cultural references that affirm a vibrant Chicanx cultura.”

2016 Author Award Winner: 

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir, by Margarita Engle: In her memoir for young people, Margarita Engle, who was the first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor, tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War. Her heart was in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country–but most of the time she lived in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers fly through the enchanted air to her beloved island. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupted at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Engle’s worlds collided in the worst way possible. Would she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?  The awards committee noted that “Engle’s memoir of living in two cultures and the inability to cross the sky to visit family will resonate with youth facing similar circumstances.”

2017 Illustrator Award Winner: 

Drum dream girl : how one girl’s courage changed music: Illustrations by Rafael López; Poem by Margarita Engle: This lyrical tale follows a young Cuban girl in the 1930s as she strives to become a drummer, despite being continually reminded that only boys play the drums, and that there’s never been a female drummer in Cuba. Includes note about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl in 1930s Cuba, who became a world-renowned drummer, and Anacaona, the all-girl dance band she formed with her sisters.  The awards committee said that “Rafael López’s masterful art brings to life the drumbeats in Margarita Engle’s story. His dreamy illustrations transport us to Millo’s tropical island,”

For a full list of Pura Belpré Award winning books, check out the full list at the American Library Association’s website!

Resolve to Read: Colonial or Postcolonial Literature

As we mentioned here previously, we here at the Library are Resolving to Read (more…different….) in 2018, and tackling both Book Riot’s and Scholastic’s 2018 Reading Challenges.  In the hopes of encouraging you to broader your literary horizons along with us, here are some suggestions for books that fall within the categories of the various challenges.

Today’s Challenge: Book Riot 2018 Read Harder Challenge
Category: A Work of Colonial or Postcolonial Literature

A British cartoon showing imperial officers sitting atop a throne of biscuit boxes, forcing native African to bow before them–an image that largely sums up the history of imperialism in Africa

First off, what precisely does “colonial literature” or “postcolonial literature” mean?  Book Riot tackled this question in their post on the subject, but I think we could get a little more nuanced in our discussion.  Typically, “colonial literature” refers to a work written during a period of time when one country was actively participating in the colonization or imperialistic exploitation of another geographic area.  For the record, colonization means that the imperial power sent its people to live in a different place (such as the British sending British people to live in South Africa or parts of what is now the United States), but there are many sites that experienced colonialism even if they were not formal colonies.  These include places like Puerto Rico, which is governed by the United States but not granted statehood, or Nigeria, which was largely ruled without British inhabitants, but was instead a site of palm oil extraction and cash-cropping.  Colonial literature is traditionally written by the colonizers–that is, the Europeans or Americans who held the power and engaged in the practice of colonizing or exploiting another geographic area.

To use an example: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a stunning, disturbing piece of Colonial Literature, because  it A) Takes place within a site of empire (Africa) B) Discusses the practices of imperialism (in this case, both the economic and the social aspects) and C) Does not discuss a world without empire.  Conrad isn’t making an argument that everyone would be better off without empire.  He is critiquing the process and commenting on its results, but his world is one where empires exist, without question.

It is in their definition of “Postcolonial Literature” that I really want to complicate things.  Typically, Postcolonial Literature is literature written after the period of direct colonization or imperialism ends, typically by a member of the colonized people.  That is, after a country has been declared independent by their imperial rulers–for example, Uganda was declared independent of Britain in 1962, while Algeria was declared independent of France in the same year.   But that doesn’t mean that any book written in Uganda or Algeria after 1962 (or any other site of empire) is a work of post-colonial literature.  Because, in fact, “postcolonial” refers not only to a moment in history, but to a way of thinking.  Postcolonial thinking is able to understand the abusive power relationship between the colonizer and the colonized and harm it does to both peoples within a historic context.

There are two big problems with the phrase “post-colonial”.  The first is that it implies to many that the “colonial” period ended.  While this may be true in practice, many sites around the world are still grappling with the trauma, the structural inequalities, the cultural ruptures, and social stigmas that colonialism and imperialism imposed on them.  The second problem with “post-colonial” is that is that it insists on a “colonial period.”  This phrase, first, subtly reinforcing that harmful power relationship by invoking it constantly.  A number of books written by authors from countries that were once colonies or sites of empire get labeled as “post-colonial” when they have nothing to do with the imperial relationship.  They get that label based on their country’s and people’s history.  For example, R. K. Narayan‘s novels set in South India deal very little at all with issues of empire or imperialism, yet are often put forward as “postcolonial works.”  And that is a unjust as the imperial project itself.  Second, a number of books that are considered “postcolonial” in their arguments and insight, were written during the actual period of empire, like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.  So we need to be careful with our use of the term “post-colonial” and make sure it applies to works that specifically address the problems and effects of imperialism.  These problems can be structural, political, personal, economic, cultural, or social.  But just because a book was written in India doesn’t make it a work of post-colonial literature.

As all these words might imply, fulfilling this part of the Book Riot challenge might not be easy, but it’s an incredibly impactful and eye-opening one.  The complex  issues of imperialism a very much still a part of our world and our lives, and literature allows us to access these issues in a deeply personal and meaningful way.  And, on top of that, there are some darned good books in these categories to be read!  So let’s get started…here are just a few recommendations to get you started on your exploration of colonial and post-colonial literature!

 Half a Yellow Sun : Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s multiple-award-winning book is set in Nigeria years after independence, and deals with the conflict and violence that resulted from years of British interference in Nigeria, the struggle that many of the colonized people in Nigeria endured trying to relate to each other, and the way education systems in colonized sites isolate, differentiate, and, yet, offer the potential for colonized people to escape the hardship of their lives.  It’s a difficult, beautiful, intelligent, and eye-opening book that makes really big, political issues both understandably and movingly human.

Nervous Conditions:  Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel about two cousins growing up in Zimbabwe highlights the bizarre disparity between people depending on their relationship to imperial power, as well as the implicit misogyny inherent in imperial spaces.  In post-colonial Rhodesia (the name of the nation now known as Zimbabwe), Tambu, whose family is reeling from the death of her brother, is invited to her uncle house to attend school with her cousin, Nyasha.  The opportunity is a life-changing one, but, as Tambu will discover, is a dangerous one–especially for Nyasha, whose experience within the colonial school system is one of the most heartbreaking depictions of imperialism I can remember reading.

Passage to India: E.M. Forster’s novel is one that was, for years, considered a very early work of postcolonial fiction because it discusses the Indian independence movement, but recently, a number of readers and scholars have argued that Forester’s inability to escape his own European viewpoint makes it much more a colonial novel (which shows just how tricky this category can be!).  The story focuses on around four characters: Dr. Aziz, his British friend Mr. Cyril Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Miss Adela Quested, and the alleged assault of Miss Quested by Dr. Aziz.  Dr. Aziz’s trial brings the racial tensions in India to a boil, and leaves all the characters forever changed.  This is a challenging book that, as mentioned, is still a hot topic of literary discussion today, making it all the more worth the read.

The Man Who Would Be King: Rudyard Kipling was an imperial supporter throughout his life, even if his support was a bit ambiguous and laced with criticism in some places.  Though Kim is probably his best known work of colonial fiction, this story really drives the hubris and absurdities of imperialism home in a story that is still exciting and unsettling to this day.  Told by an unnamed narrator (Kipling himself for all intents and purposes), the story focuses on two British adventurers,  Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan, who decide that India isn’t big enough for them, and set off to cheat and wheedle their way into becoming Kings of a remote area of Afghanistan (at that point a British protectorate).  Two years later, the narrator encounters Carnehan again, alone, and burdened not only with an incredible story, but with the crown that Dravot once wore on his head.  There is nothing very heroic at all about the two protagonists of this story, so don’t expect a heroic narrative here.  But it is emblematic, first of the kind of violence and arrogance that imperialism could inspire, and second of the kind of audacious, grand-narrative style fiction that was popular back home in England, that both made people frightened of natives while dreaming of conquering their land.