Meet Your Unfamiliar Self | Read Diversely

It’s been a while since I wrote anything in this space, so let me catch you up real quick.  I work in a library – a small public library in Missouri – and from December through February I’m in charge of our displays.  This month, I set up a display themed around reading diversely.

 

Meet Your Unfamiliar Self

February is Black History Month, and where I work the entire staff is white women.  Most of what comes across the circulation desk is written by straight, white, cisgender men, and I’d like to see some more diversity.  Which is not, of course, to say that straight white cisgender men don’t write great books, plenty do.  But plenty of other people do too.  

Even though this is Black History Month, I chose to do a general diversity theme because I am almost certain that when my quarter of the year on displays ends there won’t be another similar display.  I’m only on displays from December-February.

So I scoured our catalog (twice actually – lost the first list) and cross-referenced it with a bunch of lists of popular authors from different racial and ethnic backgrounds until I had eight shelves worth of fiction, poetry, and children’s books to display.  Eight shelves worth is a ton of books, but there were a few sticking points.

 

Meet Your Unfamiliar Self

 

While I was able to find a bunch of authors, I also found that we most often only owned one of an author’s books.  At least, that held true for authors of color.  I couldn’t count on both hands the number of Clive Cussler or Gilbert Morris books we have on the shelves.  On top of that I had a really hard time identifying Native Hawaiian, Indigenous Australian, or Polynesian authors.  If you know of any, please, leave a comment.  Though we had quite a few children’s books by Native American authors, adult books by Native authors mostly eluded me.  

Ultimately, the diversity display, and the call for diversity in literature in general, isn’t about me.  It’s about the little girl who opens up Corduroy and sees a girl who looks like her, or the teenage boy who’s finally drawn to reading when he sees a name like his own on the front cover.  It’s about showcasing the stories of people who don’t experience the world in the same way that I do.  As a white person with white privilege, it is my duty to use that privilege to elevate the voices of people who do not.  
I used GoodReads lists to find popular authors of different backgrounds.  Native American | African American | Latinx | Asian American | Polynesian

If you know of any Native Hawaiian, Polynesian, or Indigenous Australian authors, please, leave me a comment so I can add their books.

Five Young Adult Novels For Winter Break

It’s the last day of Book Rec Week!  (I bet you didn’t even know I called it that.  I know how to forget what I called a week of posts!)  I’m so excited to bring you my last recommendations, five young adult novels.  And don’t give me any of that “I’m an adult, I can’t read a teen book” nonsense, because you totally can.

Winter Break Book Recommendations

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children | Ransom Riggs

This is one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. But it’s so great, and it’s the first of a trilogy. The second book, Hollow City, came out in 2012, and the third is set to come out in 2015. It follows Jacob, a teenager from Florida, who discovers his grandfather dying in the woods, and suffers an apparent nervous breakdown. Then, he and his father go on a trip to Wales for a few weeks, and everything changes. Jacob discovers the children’s home where grandfather lived as a teen during World War II, and that just maybe the other children he grew up with are still there, hidden from the rest of the world.

 

We Were Liars | E Lockhart

Oh my god, this book. I read it in less than 24 hours, and it’s incredible. I made a video about it here, and you can watch that for my reaction closer to the time I read it. We Were Liars tells the story of a teenage girl, Cadence, who goes to spend the summer with her grandfather, her aunts, and her cousins on the family’s New England private island. But all is not as it seems and there are mysteries lurking beneath the pristine surface of the family’s life, and Cadence needs to know them. When you read it, don’t read the last 50 pages in public. And if anyone asks you what it’s about, just lie.

 

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks | E. Lockhart

I read this after I read We Were Liars simply because it was by E. Lockhart and it looked good. I was not disappointed. Frankie is a brilliant girl going to an elite boarding school. She has it all, good grades, good friends, hot boyfriend, and inspiring classes. Then, she discovers her boyfriend is a part of an all-male secret society, and that infuriates her. You see, Frankie is a young feminist, just discovering how divided the world can be. So she sets out to prove that she’s smarter than all of them, and she just might be. There are some truly epic pranks, a lot of mystery, and an incredibly cool protagonist. Frankie is one of my favorite protagonists of all time.

Books

The Lovely Bones | Alice Sebold

This book is amazing. I actually haven’t seen the movie, because the book is so amazing. (Sidenote: have you seen the movie? Does it do the book justice? Tell me in the comments). I read it at about 12 or 13, and I still think about it all the time. The story follows Susie Salmon from the moments before she’s murdered into the afterlife, where she watches her family for decades. Her family doesn’t know who killed her, and we see them struggle with her loss, searching for her killer. We watch her younger sister grow into a woman Susie is intensely proud of; we see her parents face the loss of their daughter, and struggle to keep their family together. It’s a very intense book, and I recommend it highly.

 

The Perks of Being A Wallflower | Stephen Chbosky

This is one of my favorite books. I might go so far as to call it my favorite book. It’s an epistolary novel, told in the form of letters he’s writing to this anonymous friend of a friend explaining all that’s happened during his freshman year of high school. And believe me, Charlie’s year was interesting. He starts out with no friends, but by the end of the first few weeks, he’s found himself absorbed into this group of seniors. Charlie is also totally in love with one of them: Sam. But Sam is dating an older boy, and Charlie dates another friend, and that ends badly for everyone. There is also a secret trauma in Charlie’s past that comes to light after a while. This is a wonderful, amazing book. Everyone needs to read it.

 

Those are my final winter break book recommendations for you. For more, check out the rest of the week here.  Have a wonderful break, a great holiday whichever holiday you celebrate, and in the comments tell me your book recommendations.

Five Lightheared Mysteries for Winter Break

I refer to these as lighthearted not because there isn’t any violence or death, but because of the tone of the prose. Most lighthearted mysteries are also narrated by amateur detectives. Not all of them, as you’ll see, but many are. I love a good lighthearted mystery for winter break, because they’re so easy to get through. They’re not as terrifying as serious mysteries, nor do they have the thriller elements that many serious mysteries do.

Winter Break Book Recommendations

The Sweetness At The Bottom of the Pie | Alan Bradley

I read this book on my last trip to DC, after I got it at a library book sale. It follows 11-year-old Flavia deLuce, an amateur chemist/detective in an aristocratic English family during the 1950s. The real mystery starts when she discovers an old stamp, a connection to her father’s school days, and a murder plot. Flavia’s narrative voice sounds older than she is, but in context it really works.

Stephanie Plum series | Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich has been writing Stephanie Plum novels for about 19 years. My mom and I picked one up for a road trip as an audiobook, and we’ve been hooked since the first. The series starts when 30-something lingerie buyer Stephanie Plum finds herself divorced, laid off, and in need of some quick cash. Her mother suggested a filing gig with her cousin Vinny, but when she goes to ask it’s already filled. Of course, since Vinny’s a bail bondsman, there are always bail jumpers to catch, and Stephanie does need the money. She’s also perpetually caught between two equally difficult men: cop Morelli and fellow bounty hunter Ranger. Stephanie’s narrative voice is light, and the novels are always infused with comedy, be it Stephanie’s new friend Lula or her elderly (and slightly demented) grandmother. You can start anywhere, but I’m on the twentieth.

Dug To Death | Adrian Praetzellis

This was actually assigned for my archeology class sophomore year. Why? Because it’s a teaching novel. Praetzellis uses the novel’s mystery to teach readers about archeology procedures. The setting? Obviously an archeological dig. The characters? Archeologists, geologists, and the like. At the back of the book you’ll even find a glossary of archeological terms. You don’t have to be into archeology to enjoy it, but it certainly helps. Because the plot isn’t the only focus of the book, it makes for a fairly lighthearted read.

Lighthearted Mysteries

Nero Wolfe | Rex Stout

This series is one that’s not narrated by an amateur detective. They’re narrated by Archie Goodwin, a private detective and assistant to the great Nero Wolfe. Beginning with Fer-De-Lance, New York’s greatest detective has been written about since the 1930s. Of course, after the original author Rex Stout died others have taken up his mantle. I’ve loved Nero Wolfe mysteries since the early 2000s tv show, which I own on DVD but I’m sure you could find online if you want to watch it.

Hannah Swensen Mysteries | Joanne Fluke

I’ve only read one of these (Candy Cane Murder) but my mom has read at least half a dozen. She loves them and has been reading them for about 12 years. They’re set in Minnesota in a small town where there is an alarmingly high murder rate. Hannah, the main character, owns a bakery called the Cookie Jar, and gets into a lot of hijinks. Plus, every book contains at least one recipe!

Five Non-Fiction Books For Winter Break

If non-fiction is more your cup of tea than fiction is, then I’ve got recommendations for you!  Or for someone you love who needs some non-fiction this winter.  Keep in mind, most of the non-fiction I read is related to history, anthropology, or archeology. There is also the occasional book about religion or languages, so you won’t find anything for your favorite physics nerd here.

Winter Break Book Recommendations

Vikings, Saxons, and Celts | Bryan Sykes

This book is the sweet spot where history and science meet. It gives both historical documents and genetic history a foothold in the historiography of the British Isles. Sykes defines the British Isles as the modern countries of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Brian Sykes is a geneticist, not a historian, but as a historian, his work holds up to my scrutiny. I’ve actually had this book since Christmas 2010, and I’ve never gotten around to reading it until now. If you’re into history and science, this is the read for you.

In Small Things Forgotten | James Deetz

James Deetz is sort of a god in American Archeology. If you can trace your academic lineage to him, you feel pretty great about yourself. I know, because my archeology professor was a student of a student of Deetz. I read this for my archaeology class, and I still keep it on my bookshelf and flip through it now and then. If you’re into archaeology, you should definitely read this. Plus, I kind of want to make a blog series called In Small Things Remembered and write about archaeology.

Violence in Medieval Europe | Warren Brown

Another former class book, I read this as research for my thesis. If you’re into medieval history, this is a great book for you. It goes into incredible detail, and it doesn’t paint the middle ages as a brutish, ugly period. It wasn’t a brutish, ugly period in human history. There was plenty of beautiful art, incredible writing, and cultural exchange. Of course, there was also a lot of violence. For a full picture of that violence, read this book.

Non Fiction Books For Winter Break

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue | John McWhorter

I must admit, I haven’t read all of this. I bought it in August but then school started up so I haven’t had the chance to read it all yet. It traces the history of English, and the linguistics that have gone into it, and what I did read was fantastic. I’m a major nerd when it comes to language and history (I tried to read Beowulf in Old English several times, didn’t work) so this book fascinates me. If you’re into language at all, and you speak English, then this book is for you. It’s not terribly long either, and what I read wasn’t dry at all.

Religions of the Silk Road | Richard Foltz

The last book is another one I read for class. As an undergrad I took two religion classes, and totally loved them. This book gives the history and a brief introduction to various religions that have lived (and sometimes died) on the Silk Road trading route. Of course, there is a lot of overlap because the Silk Road created immense cultural exchange. If you’re into comparative religious studies, this book will keep you enthralled all winter break.

 

That’s all I’ve got for you today, but check back tomorrow for more book recommendations!  As always, any of these recommendations can really work for anyone, whether you’re a student or not.

All Hallow’s Read

I really wanted to make this a video, but I don’t have time right now.  

All Hallow’s Read was created by Neil Gaiman, to create a tradition of holiday book-giving.  This is not in place of Trick or Treat, but rather, in addition.  Give the kids in your neighborhood regular trick or treat candy, and give someone (or several someones) in your life a scary book for Halloween.  Especially if that someone is a child.

 All Hallow's Read

Coraline – Neil Gaiman

What All Hallows Read list would be complete without at least one book by the founder?  Coraline follows the titular character when her family moves into a new house, and she meets the strange other residents.  Beyond a door hidden behind the wallpaper is a secret entrance to another world, a strange world with doubles of her family and neighbors.  This is appropriate for anyone over 7 or so.

 

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

This is meant to be for children, I’d say 8-13 or so, but I read it this year and loved it.  It’s about a young boy, Nobody Owens, who escapes a tragedy and is raised by spirits in the local graveyard.  He never leaves the graveyard until he’s about 10, and then the tragedy starts to shadow him again.  It’s an incredible book, with really beautiful illustrations.  Because it was written for children, it’s really appropriate for anyone over 7 or so, just like Coraline.

 

The Halloween Tree – Ray Bradbury

I’ll admit, I haven’t actually read this one yet.  But the movie version (also written by Bradbury) is my favorite halloween movie.  The book follows a group of kids after they find their friend in an ambulance on Halloween – his favorite holiday.  Then, they see him running away, but he looks kind of…odd.  They follow him to a mansion on a hill, where they begin a journey through the history of halloween.  This is appropriate for all ages as it was written for children.

 All Hallow's Read

The Devil & Daniel Webster – Steven Vincent Benét

This is a short story I’ve loved since I read it in ninth grade.  It’s about a lawyer defending a New England farmer against the devil, to whom he had sold his soul.  Much like Washington Irving’s The Devil and Tom Walker, this is a retelling of the classic Faust tale.  Daniel Webster, by the way, was a real person.  He was an incredible orator and a well-known lawyer.  The Daniel Webster in the story is a slightly fictionalized version of him.  I’d say this is appropriate for teens on up.

 

Carmilla – J. Sheridan LeFanu

This is another one I haven’t read.  It’s a novella, and it’s more than a quarter of a century older than Dracula.  Due to its age, it’s available free on Amazon Kindle.  Carmilla actually began the concept of seductive vampires, rather than just monsters.  The story follows Laura, who has been raised in near complete isolation.  When a carriage breaks down, and a sick girl her own age stays at Laura’s family home, she and this girl, Carmilla, become fast friends.  But there’s something off about Carmilla.  Since I haven’t read it, I have to make my best guess from what I know about it.  I would say this is appropriate for late high school on up.  (It’s recently been adapted into a web series which places Laura and Carmilla in college, and I LOVE the webseries).

 

This halloween, choose a spooky read to share with someone important in your life.  For more ideas, check out The Book Depository’s Halloween section.  As for me?  I’ll be reading The Halloween Tree.

(Disclosure statement: the Book Depository links are affiliate links.  However, I do not get paid to include them, only if you buy something from the link.)

5 Young Adult Novels About Female Friendship | Teen Read Week

With shows like Girls and Parks & Rec, positive female friendships are once again at the forefront of our discussions about media. An unfortunately large amount of media shows female friendships as catty, manipulative, or frenemies. Think Regina in Mean Girls or Alison on Pretty Little Liars. So instead, let’s share those books that feature positive female friendships, the kinds of relationships that benefit both parties.

Teen Read Week 2014

 

Violet & Claire – Francesca Lia Block

You might be noticing a theme here. What’s a TRW post from me without Francesca Lia Block? Published in 1999, Violet & Claire is one of Block’s underrated works. It follows Violet, a high school film nerd and aspiring director, who sees the world as if it’s a movie, and Claire, who lives in an optimistic sunshine world. When Claire becomes the new girl at Violet’s school, they become friends, and that friendship saves them both. Unlike many girl friendship novels, this friendship is never competitive or catty, it just is.

Hex Hall – Rachel Hawkins

While the friendship between Sophie and Jenna isn’t the focus of this book like it is in Violet & Claire, it’s definitely critical. Sophie would not be the same character without her friendship with Jenna, and she continually chooses Jenna, which is great. The novel is sassy, and well-written, and the narrator Sophie is super relatable. Magical boarding school for delinquent Prodigium (paranormal creatures), in Georgia, and it focuses on a teenage girl and her best friend. What more do I need to tell you? (It’s the first of a trilogy, if that sweetens the pot for you, and they’re all excellent).

The Blue Girl – Charles de Lint

This book. This BOOK. THIS BOOK. Often I can’t remember when I read a book, but this one I know was in seventh grade, and I absolutely loved it. Imogene is a teenage punk who joins de Lint’s Newford universe, befriends the school’s goody two shoes Maxine, discovers ghosts and faeries in the gymnasium and the library, meets (again) her childhood imaginary friend Pelly, and basically saves the entire world.

Young Adult Novels: Female Friendships

Saving Francesca – Melina Marchetta

At the outset, the group of girlfriends who are thick as thieves by the end aren’t really friends. They just know each other. But this book actually shows the organic growth of friendships, and it shows how important friends are in the face of adversity. Francesca’s mother is struck, very suddenly, with depression so intense she barely gets out of bed anymore. Francesca, in trying to keep her family afloat, is drowning. But her friends come along and help keep her up. The book isn’t devoted to the female friendships the way that Violet & Claire is, but Francesca’s friendship with Siobhan, Justine, and Tara sustains her even when she thinks nothing will. Every character in this novel feels so real that you just want to hug them.

A Great & Terrible Beauty – Libba Bray

I think every girl my age has read A Great & Terrible Beauty. But in case you haven’t, let me explain. Gemma Doyle is a British teen in the Victorian era living in India, until her mother dies and she has to attend boarding school back in Britain. I have very sharp memories of reading the descriptions of the loss of her mother and absolutely bawling my eyes out. Even though she has trouble fitting in at first, Gemma finds three good friends, and their relationship fills the void left behind by the loss of her mother. The trilogy (A Great & Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing) follows Gemma and her friends through a magical version of Victorian England. There’s a reason it captivated so many girls in my age group.

In celebration of Teen Read Week, I have been posting every day about young adult books. Young Adult lit is a vastly underrated genre by a lot of adults, but for many of us it’s still a great place to find your next read.

Today’s YA Recommendation: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. (Check out my video about it here!)

5 Young Adult Science Fiction Novels That Will Blow You Away| Teen Read Week

I’ve always been a big fan of science fiction.  Realistic fiction is just so much less fun than something that literally transports you to an alternate world.

Teen Read Week 2014

The Giver – Lois Lowry

I’m pretty sure everyone’s read at least one book in this series, but in my opinion the first is the best.  In a dystopian world, emotions are removed by daily injections, families are created entirely by adoption, and every child is given an assignment in the community at age 12.  Jonas, the main character, is assigned to become the new Receiver of Memories, and he becomes the only one to know about the emotional truths his society has suppressed.  Now that he knows the truth, can Jonas continue living in this world of “sameness” and suppression?

 

Across The Universe – Beth Revis

I received this book, and its sequel A Million Suns, as a prize from a giveaway.  When I got them, I read both in less than 24 hours.  They’re so engrossing, so incredible, and they read so fast.  Neither one is particularly short, but you’ll never want to put them down.  There is a third book in the trilogy, Shades of Earth, but I haven’t read it yet.  Amy, a 16-year-old girl, enters cryogenic stasis on Earth to be woken up 300 years later on a new planet.  Skip ahead 250 years, and she’s been woken up early.  Why?  By whom?  And what’s going on with the ship?  Across The Universe reminds me of Doctor Who, Star Trek, and Buffy, through the characters, their world, and their reactions to their world.

YA Science Fiction

Feed – M.T. Anderson

This is one of those books that makes me want to hide under a rock.  In a futuristic world, 73% of people have the internet fed directly into their brains.  The plot opens on the moon, when a group of kids are on Spring Break, and someone hacks their feeds.  When they return to Earth, they discover that one friend’s feed is so severely damaged that it’s threatening her life.  Throughout the novel, the characters are confronted with the world they live in, and how they should relate to it.  Do they continue their lives, knowing how strongly they are controlled by the feeds, or do they begin a revolution?

 

Bumped – Megan McCafferty

I accidentally started with the sequel, Thumped, but it was pretty easy to follow.  The first book is just as good.  In the world of this book, everyone over 18 is infertile.  This is actually a surprisingly popular topic, but Bumped handles it really well.  In the novel identical twins Melody and Harmony have just found each other, after having been separated at birth.  One twin was raised on a religious commune, one in a rich home in the secular world.  When the religious twin comes to see her sister, and falls for the uber-popular Jondoe, they come into conflict.  The novel really examines the cultural consequences of glorification of teenage pregnancy, and the ramifications of religion and early pregnancy.

 

House of the Scorpion – Nancy Farmer

This is the book that introduced me to cloning, so of course I’m generally against it.  It’s a semi-dystopian, futuristic sci fi novel.  Matteo, the main character, is a clone of El Patron, the leader of a country called Opium, named after its only export, that lies between the United States and Mexico.  El Patron is also, of course, a drug lord, given that his country’s only export is opium.  In this world of cloning and high technology, it’s very easy to control people, and to live essentially forever.  The opium is farmed by humans who’ve had computer chips placed in their brains which stifle all independent thought, and El Patron has lived 140 years.  How?  Oh, by taking organs from his clones.  Matteo knows he’s next, and this time, it will be a heart.  What’s a boy to do?  Stay and be harvested, or escape and have a chance at life?  This novel is one of those that really makes you think.  I read this at least ten years ago, and I still think about it all the time.  It’s particularly interesting for fans of Orphan Black.

 

In celebration of Teen Read Week, I’ll be posting about books all week long!  Young Adult lit is a vastly underrated genre by a lot of adults, but for many of us it’s still a great place to find your next read.

5 Types of Books You Read In High School/YA Mysteries/Ethereal YA/YA Series/Audiobooks/YA SciFi/YA Female Friendships

Today’s YA Recommendation is How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff.