Dissecting a Dirty Word in Libraries: Science Fiction

Let’s do a little Reader’s Advisory, shall we?

When Emily St. John Mandel’s book Station Eleven came out, it quickly became my hot pick when a patron came in and asked if I had a recommendation for a “good book.”  I had them hooked from the get go, “it’s really a book about memory: family, relationships, love and how we move forward and connect in times of tragedy.  It’s a beautifully written story, and I love how just when you think Mandel is going to follow a predictable plot line, she flips the script, and it includes a travelling band of Shakespearian actors!”  Then, I’d start to lose them when I said, “it takes place after a plague… “ (patron’s eyes begin to widen and glaze over) “and it’s about how we regroup and reflect on our lives..” (me, beginning to talk really fast to keep their attention) “wait, it’s a gorgeous book and it’s not sad!”  Patron says, “is this sci-fi?!”  Me: “yes, but it’s sci-fi light! I promise! It’s really not that much sci-fi!” Annnnnd, I’ve lost you.

Science fiction gets such a bad rap in libraries to a general audience.  It has a reputation for going right to the “hard stuff” that we may collectively imagine, such as machines and far-out technology, space and interplanetary travel, cyborgs and the like.  Yes, while that is a portion of the genre, it encompasses so much more that deserves your attention and yes, maybe even your love. 

A more exacting definition of science fiction is that it takes place in a world/space/time different than ours now.  It can indeed be on other planets or places, or it can be earth, and is typically a little further into the future, or maybe even in the past.  There usually has been a mass societal change and could have been brought about by some shift in the environment or technology.  Literaryterms.net uses a phrasing that I like, that it’s imaginative and based on science, but whoa doggie, science is huge!  It encompasses so much!  (Side note: You may have also heard of other similar genres such as speculative fiction, which can include magic or the supernatural, think of it as a subset of sci-fi.)

Science fiction runs the gamut of hardcore to the most softest of core, and I’d like to recommend some of the latter so that you may just turn into that person who attends that post-shelter-at-home party and can wow your friends with how awesome and smart you are because “oh yeah, I’ve read some sci-fi in my day, no big deal” as you cooly sip your cocktail or mocktail. 

Here are some great, softer-core science fiction titles to get you going: 

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson 
American War by Omar El Akkad
Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Recursion by Blake Crouch
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Wanderers by Meg Howrey
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel 
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
The Farm by Joanne Ramos
You Have Never Been Here: New and Selected Stories by Mary Rickert
Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

*Please note that many of these titles can fall into the subgenres of the sci-fi umbrella, which can include fantasy, speculative fiction, and dystopian fiction to name a few.

Happy Earth Day Film Recommendation!

 

I’ve written about this documentary before and it bears repeating because it. is. that. good. The True Cost is a documentary for our time- it will change the way you see yourself as an active participant in our global economy. The film shows you what your purchases can do to our planet and those who make those items, and how your purchasing power can change so much.

The Last Five Books

American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment  by Shane Bauer (2018)

Reporter Shane Bauer goes undercover in the South as a guard for a for-profit prison and shares his experiences, most of which are documented via hidden surveillance and notes taken during his time “inside.” What Bauer recounts conjures the plethora of human emotion; his experiences with the administration, inmates and system itself are gripping, shocking, bittersweet, appalling, and beautiful. Reminiscent of In Cold Blood in its narrative style, Bauer leaps ahead of the genre by using source material as opposed to imaginative retelling because oftentimes reality is more heart-wrenching than any mind could create. The chapters alternate between the daily ruminations and experiences of both author and inmates, and a history of slavery and its direct link to the current-day for-profit system, throwing into stark reminder that the institution of slavery in America has never really ceased, only donned new mask.

Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger (2019)

In this haunting book about friendship and memory, author Nell Freudenberger creates a beautifully complex portrait of the intricacies, intimacy and miscommunication that accompanies all relationships, but especially friendships between women.  The entirety of the book details the friendship between Helen (astrophysicist) and Charlie (Charlotte, writer in Hollywood), on and off best friends since college.  We are placed in current day, and then taken back through time and forward again with a bird’s eye view of the ebb and blow of their lives in micro and macro ways, with a subtle emphasis on how powerfully one person can shape us, while continually remaining a mystery.   Freudenberger weaves memory with the wonder of space;  the validity, and lack thereof of what cannot be seen but proven, and the ambiguity of what lies within that space.

The Pandora Room by Christopher Golden (2019)

It was a surprise and delight to see Christopher Golden reprise a number of characters from his previous novel Ararat, about the discovery of Noah’s Ark with an evil presence lurking within.  The Pandora Room is what you could call a “sequel-light,” where it’s not necessary to read the first but if you do, it’s a fun little insider nugget to meet up with some old friends.  The Pandora Room leads us down a literal cave into the depths of  Northern Iraq as archaeologist Sophie Durand unearths (so many puns) a jar that much like Noah’s dubious ark in Ararat, may be an actual Pandora’s Box, containing within it the pleasures of all the world, or the alternative, all of its evil.  This is a perfect “outside of the box” summer read, containing romance, action, history, mythology, memory and longing, family, and most of what you’d want to transport you to another world while reading on your lunch break or sitting at the beach.

What to do When I’m Gone: a Mother’s Wisdom to her Daughter by Suzy Hopkins and Hallie Bateman (2018)

By far one of the best graphic/illustrated works I’ve read to date.  A mother/daughter duo write and illustrate this sometimes day by day, month to month and year by year guide from a mother to her daughter on what she can do/how she can cope following her death.  The illustrations and advice work seamlessly together, giving the reader a clearer picture of how they can take small steps after the death of a parent with visuals that seem to make it somewhat possible.  The advice begins concretely, such as “clean your house,” but is often followed up by tender life lessons, “You are numb. It’s time to put your home in order.  Give everything a place. Make it make sense.  Make your room the exact opposite of the randomness of existence, the mercilessness of mortality.”  This was day five, after her mother’s eventual death, written by her mother.  The book follows the daughter into old age, so that the mother may still impart lessons of moral standing and self-care that she won’t be able to relay in person.  The distillation of the book results in one whose reach extends beyond parent/child grief.  This book is for anyone who needs a guiding hand from a parental figure, and mother/author Suzy Hopkins fills in that space with encouragement and permission to switch jobs, take a mental health day, protest, travel, and pursue anything and everything that speaks to your individual soul.

Eat a Little Better : Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World by Sam Kass (2018)

This is a cookbook and thankfully it stole an entire weekend of my life that I’ll never want back–the recipes were that good.  That makes sense.  The recipes were awesome.  It’s very vegan and vegetarian friendly, and though about half of the book is meat/fish related, as a vegetarian it would still be a valuable part of any collection for the vegetable and grain recipes alone.  The basic tenet is eat healthy food that tastes good, without depriving yourself.  All I can say is that faro risotto with spinach pesto is my new GOD.  Plus, nearly all of the recipes are comprised of simple ingredients, minimal work and Chef Kass uses everyday ingredients to pack a lot of flavor, such as salty cheeses and lemon juice.  In my world, I don’t feel full unless there are carbs, cheese or a particular heartiness to the meal, and these recipes check the essential boxes, and I always felt satiated, for you, “it’s not a meal without meat” people.  For those people, the author advises utilizing meat and fish with a low footprint that’s both healthy for you, the planet and the animal.

Librarian’s Pick of the Week: The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (sometimes seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Why:  Even with the string of fabulous reviews from journals, newspapers, radio shows and even coworkers, I hesitated reading this book.  As a librarian, why would I care?  I LIVE THIS  LIFE EVERY DAY.  Fast forward a bit to being on a nonfiction judging panel and guess what shows up in the mail? THE LIBRARY BOOK.  Cruel fate.

Though the print version is filled with wonderful photos that correspond to the text, I downloaded the audio, read by Orlean.  First off, why isn’t this woman a professional voice-over actress?  Her voice is soothing, strong, and emphatic–all the most exquisite ingredients that strengthen the truly captivating contents.  Orlean’s research into this book alights with the Los Angeles Public Library and a fire that just short of decimated the building and its contents.  From there, we are taken on a journey through time and space, pulling fantastic tidbits from library history that intersect with the history of the LA Public Library.  True crime, women’s history, women’s library history, sexism (UGH, the sexism in library!  The sexism!),  library history, world library history, homelessness, arrogance, death, legacy, love, eccentric patrons, eccentric librarians, fire history, book conservation, and that’s like, the first half.  Orlean’s way with words is never tortured or cliche, but awes you with its simple complexity.  One of my favorite lines describes the library fire to a monster eating chips.

If you’ve ever stepped into a library, even just to use the loo, place your hold now with your local library.  And oh, be nice to your librarians.

Readalikes: The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu : and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer (NF)
The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne (NF)
The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai (F)
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (F)
Party Girl dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer (film, starring Parker Posey)

 

Librarian’s Pick of the Week: Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (or seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo by Rory Lucey (2018)

Why: When you look up “adorable” in the dictionary, this graphic novel is the tippey tops.  The author/illustrator Rory Lucey retells the film classic Alien from the point of view of Jones the cat, affectionately referred to as Jonesy by his human friends, and what he actually may be doing during the siege.

What follows is an imaginative foray into the life of your typical not-shit-giving feline as he nonchalantly licks his behind while those around him get skewered.  Author Lucey does a fantastic job of capturing the common thread that connects all cats: their sense of wonder, fun, cuddly warmth, and head butts that can quickly transform from ear-shattering motor purrs to a sudden nip on the nose.  The illustrations are a sheer delight as you focus in (glasses, people) on the finer details of each picture and compare them to the scenes in the film, except here you see the little tips of orange ears curiously sniffing at an alien.  What also makes this retelling so captivating is that unlike the film, wonderful and horrific in its own right, the graphic novel inserts a sense of whimsy and joy, enabling you to re-imagine each scene through the eyes of a curious kitty.

This would also be a perfect holiday or birthday gift for anyone who both loves cats and horror films, and is obviously an especially amazing human.

Hunter Mountain Haikus

While in upstate New York, I could think of no better way to encapsulate the most bourgeois celebration of my birthday in the Catskills than a series of haikus, some written while on caffeine, some under the influence of lots of red wine.  I hope you enjoy.

The Hunter Haikus

She looks to the side
short bangs, heart face, lit by fire
no joy in heaven

Big, strong, nashing teeth
doggie slobber on my leg
not so mean after all

White yogi raps chants
Michael said like Eminem
he only wishes

Rain beats on the glass
as we breath out Lion’s Breath
and I think of death

Do not poke the bear
walking around the corner
filled with excitement

Heart face walks away
she stares down at her cell phone
maybe she won’t trip?

Cotton is comfy
like a pillow to the skin
we wear all weekend

He reads Leonard Co-
hen-side by the firelight.
See what I did there?

Green tea jolts the nerves,
connects us to our family
run to the bathroom

Tea ceremony
touch the carpet with my palm
wet shoes were left on

Shades of green, blue, grey
we pay money to feel whole
as if we aren’t now

Tea ceremony
no Asian people present
white girl writing haiku

 

Looking at “heart face,” writing Haiku. New York on November, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If You Aren’t Voting on November 6, Especially for my White Friends and Family

Talking about privilege is a topic so many avoid, we as white people often feel a punch in the chest when someone accuses us of having privileges that other people don’t have.  We say, “we worked our butts off!” and no one is saying you didn’t.  In fact, you did, through the blood, sweat, fears and tears of your ancestors who were brutalized, jailed and harassed, fighting for the right to vote, unless you hail from the dubious past of the anti-suffrage movement of yore, akin to today’s female Donald Trump supporters.  But, if you have decided not to vote this November 6 and you are white, you are displaying your privilege to the highest degree possible.

“Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

When you refuse to vote, you believe that you face no discrimination in your life, and that is privilege.  If you don’t vote, you are saying that the lives of those around you don’t matter, because even if you don’t face any sort of prejudice for living some facet of your life, by not voting, you are saying that the struggles of your fellow humans don’t matter enough for you to go vote on their behalf.  When you refuse to vote, you are also throwing your privilege in the face of those who don’t have access, and you’re shitting on the women fought so hard for that right.  White women (who the 19th amendment mostly benefited) couldn’t vote until 1920.  It hasn’t even been 100 years since we fought to vote.  Many African American women couldn’t even vote prior to 1960 in many Southern states.  Vote for them.  Be part of the democracy that is being threatened, vote with love for yourself and vote for the love of your neighbor.

If you’re not voting, my guess is that you’re probably heterosexual, never had an abortion, don’t think black lives matter, (and let’s add non-Christian religions to that as well), you don’t think everyone is entitled to food, proper healthcare, school supplies, and don’t think the earth is dying and worth saving.  Not true?  Prove me wrong.  Consider yourself so lucky that you have the privilege to have a voice in our world.

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Photo: Helena Hill Weed serving a 3 day sentence prison for carrying a banner with the above quote.  Source for photo above: https://www.loc.gov/resource/mnwp.275034/