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)

 

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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.

Banned Books Week-Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

What is Banned Books Week anyway? “Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information.” *

To this day, “don’t ever laugh as a hearse goes by for you may be the next to die…” still dances in my brain at random moments.  Having grown up in a funeral home, I knew this held no validity but still felt that thrill of the forbidden, the unknown.  Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark was a staple in my and my family’s collective experience during childhood, and may also be the reason we’re all extremely morbid adults.  Who knows?

The American Library Association conducted a study from 1990-1999** of the most commonly challenged books–guess who was #1 for a decade?

Why the most frequent challenges?  My guess is that Schwartz’s lighthearted treatment towards death and all that nitty-gritty, such as rot (specifically humans), worms, corpses, et al, commonly introduced to younger audiences is a lot for the general public to welcome, especially given our pervasive avoidance of the topic of death.  More specifically, according to the Intellectual Freedom Blog via The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association*** by way of the Banned Books Resource Guide, the reasons are commonly cited as:

  • “too scary and violent”
  • “too morbid for children”
  • “shows the dark side of religion through the occult, the devil, and satanism”
  • “cannibalism”
  • “unrealistic view of death”
  • “cause children to fear the dark”
  • “cause children to have nightmares”

You know what?  All of the above is true!  The stories are morbid, they do discuss death, and who didn’t fear the dark as a child?  Luckily, parents have the choice as to whether or not to allow their small children to read them, but do not have the right to make that decision for everyone else who patronizes their local library.

*https://bannedbooksweek.org/about/
**http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/100-most-frequently-challenged-books-1990%E2%80%931999
***https://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=7631

Last Five Books

The last five books that I’ve read-typically independent and off the beaten path.

Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone (2018)

(3rd and final of the Hatching Trilogy.  ancient & hungry spiders are unearthed and eat their way across the globe in terrifying & amusing ways. well-written, fun, smart, well-developed characters.  highly recommend the audio version.)

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford (2017)

(a highly enjoyable shorter novel detailing three friends post-high school tangling with the darker forces of nature, the past, skeletons, and haunted people and places.  humorous, compulsively readable and original.  great novel to throw in your bag before a flight.)

No Excuses Detox: 100 Recipes to Help You Eat Healthy Every Day by Megan Gilmore (2017)

(accessible clean-eating.  appetizing, whole food recipes with everyday ingredients.  the spaghetti squash pad thai is heaven.  muffins made with cashew butter & no flour of any kind-it can only be sneaky sorcery that makes them so GD delicious.)

Self-Care for the Real World by Nadia Narain & Katia Narain Phillips (2018)

(down-to-earth life lessons & suggestions on how to discover what self-care means to the individual reader.  a book you buy and leave next to your bed.)

The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir  (2017)

(icelandic thriller weaving two stories from decades apart.  unconventional story, unexpected twists, & engrossing characters.  shocking, unpredictable ending.  the audio narration is wonderful.)

 

 

Librarian’s Pick of the Week: The Unrepentant Cinephile by Jason Coffman

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

The Unrepentant Cinephile: Collected Reviews of Cult,                                                   Exploitation, Horror and Independent Films by Jason Coffman

Why:  When this substantial book arrived in the mail, I was surprised by its impressive size due to the healthy amount of reviews contained therein, especially given the modest price of $15.99 on Amazon.com.  With a decade of film criticism under his belt, local (to my neck of the woods) Chicago critic and filmmaker Jason Coffman has complied a truly impressive tome of reviews from the 1960s (or even earlier, there are a lot of reviews) to present day.  Coffman’s reviews will speak to even the lay audience to the titled cinephile as he discusses such films as the most recent Ghostbusters, Jack Frost, Let the Right One In, Scott Pilgram v. the World to more independent films such as Mercury in Retrograde, Nude Nuns with Big Guns (definitely on my list), to my favorite indie horror flick, Basket Case.  The charm of the book lies within both the variety of reviews coupled with the author’s laid-back and warm affection for all his subjects, even if they are “complete trash,” prefaced by an endearing, “Goodness me” (The Nail Gun Massacre).  Coffman also includes a hilariously entertaining chapter entitled “Bad Movie Night” of the best of the worst films which scream to be viewed.  I’d recommend this book (it would also be a wonderful gift) to anyone who loves film, whether it be a penchant for Steel Magnolias to Un Chien Andalou.  Fingers crossed for Frankenhooker in the second printing.

Feminist Short Stories: Horror & Sci-Fi (Part 3)

Spotlight on Five Feminist-Minded Short Stories with Elements of Horror & Sci-Fi

Joyce Carol Oates once so perfectly wrote, “One criterion for horror fiction is that we are compelled to read it swiftly, with a rising sense of dread, and so total a suspension of ordinary skepticism, we inhabit the material without question and virtually as its protagonist: we can see no way out except to go forward.”  This quote perfectly encapsulates why so many love the horror genre; it transports its reader to another world where one can observe, and be an entirely new entity, whether person, monster, witch, or troll.  When you combine horror with the feminist short story, you enter a whole new realm that’s even more terrifying than any Pinhead from Hellraiser or Damien from the Omen.  The horror delves into reality, where much can be hidden beneath the facade of such vanities as a life of wealth, the perfect marriage, or an idyllic community.

The tales below are a sampling of five feminist short stories that do indeed leave us with a “rising sense of dread” because sometimes, the horror is too personal.

Eau-De-Eric
Manuela Saragosa

In this thoroughly creative and universal short story, author and journalist from the BBC World Service (photo above) explores the strong connection between scent and memory, how a simple whiff can conjure and propel us back into the most painful of past memories.

We are privy to a snapshot into the life of Kathy and her young daughter Ellie  one year post Kathy’s husband, Eric’s untimely death.  When she brings home a resale shop teddy bear to her daughter, Ellie names the doll after her father citing a similar scent to which Kathy agrees, much to her dismay.  As the story unfolds, the bear becomes a compulsively constant companion to the girl, complicit in her whispers behind closed doors.  He seems to perpetually stare at the mother and her new boyfriend, communicating a feeling of ultimate betrayal, an emotional neglect as Kathy forges her new life.  This new man, his presence betraying the memory of Ellie’s father.

In this shorter short story, Saragosa flawlessly commands and transforms the mood of the plot with only a few sentences, morphing the daughter from saint to sinner, the mother from dubious parent to survivor.  The scent of the father, though comforting to Ellie, becomes reminder of the terror endured by the mother during their marriage.  The smell becomes the personification of the dead man, inviting him back into the house as not only a bear, but possibly inhabiting the form of their daughter, an inescapable entity of memory now passed through the possession of DNA.

It’s the perfect short horror story–it’s a seemingly simple story that takes you on a subtle though impactful emotional ride that encompasses memory, single parenthood, death of a parent, and the complexities of grief.

from Six Scary Stories, selected and introduced by Stephen King

The Summer People
Kelly Link

Two years after reading The Summer People over a snowy Chicago winter weekend, the mystery and magic of the tale, written by short story maven Kelly Link still fills me with wonder every time it springs into my psyche.  The basis is magically fantastic in every sense of the word.  Similar to American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Link creates a world where many of us wish to live, where the ordinary is peppered with the extraordinary, living as one, though the extraordinary is often hidden to most.

The story focuses on its main protagonist, teenage Fran, caretaker of everything and one in her life–her father, her home, the people who vacation in their southern part of the US and the homes in which they stay.  Fran is a tough cookie; she’s weathered so much burden throughout her life, including an absentee mother, an unreliable and alcoholic father, and the knowledge of necessity.  Fran knows that if she doesn’t keep up the adult responsibilities for her father, no one will, including the care of their otherworldly summer inhabitants who keep Fran’s mother, father, and now Fran captive by location.  They are both blessed with the presence of magical beings who care for the family, and damned by them as their perpetual caretakers.

Link entwines the complicated plight of a lower income, broken family expressed through the steadfastness of a young woman and the whimsical quirks of the Summer People.  Though Fran has grown weary of their antics with slight sprinkles of amusement, the readers learn of their supernatural abilities as they gradually unfold to Fran’s friend Ophelia.  Almost by happenstance, Ophelia innocuously inserts herself into Fran’s life and naturally that of the Summer People, unknowingly entering into a world which may cost her more than her curiosity.

from Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link

In the Water Works (Birmingham, Alabama 1888)
Caitlín R. Kiernan

Ireland native Caitlín R. Kiernan is so damn fascinating that it can’t help but steep into her writing.  Aside from her fiction career she has been a professor, having studied zoology, geology and paleontology in addition to publication in various scientific journals.  In the Water Works (Birmingham, Alabama 1888) reflects that respect for all that is old and of the earth by its setting, late 1800s and the unspoiled, soon to be colonized land of Alabama during that time period.

The story begins with an introduction to Henry S. Matthews, professor of geography and math who’s painted as a solitary, quiet man with a calm mind only stirred by fossils and the primitive.  He picks through the strewn aside “antediluvian seashore in hardened bits and pieces” that the workers unintentionally unearth, armed with axes that bore through the Red Mountain to bring industry and water to Birmingham.  The miners, referred to as “hard men” view Matthews as some curious creature that he himself surveys from the ground as he tags along during their work to reap the underground gifts.  The mostly silent relationship eventually turns into one of ominous kinship as something is unearthed deep in the Red Mountain. Matthews is called to witness this unknown thing, lurking in what may should not have been disturbed.

Throughout the story Kiernan’s descriptions of mud, mountains, rocks and earth mirror that of a living being; nature itself is a body of organs, blood and bones.  Kiernan expertly uses such personifying phrases to set her mood: “iron-ore bones…Appalachia’s long and scabby spine…fresh wound, these walls, this abscess hollowed into the world’s thin skin…”  The tenor throughout the story is completely intoxicating; it’s dark, it’s wet, it’s cold, it’s eerie, it’s grey and unknown; “the autumn sky growls…”  It’s everything you want in a short story, leaving an unforeseen punch that becomes part of your psyche.  Bookmark it in your collection, or if from the library, make a copy and keep it near.  You will never again look at the reaping of the earth the same again.

from American Supernatural Tales, edited by Guillermo del Toro (among others) and can also be accessed via Google Books here.

The Lady of the House of Mirrors
Rafaela F. Ferraz

Portugese author and natural history buff Rafaela F. Ferraz reimagines Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where our traditional Victor is Rosie, the recent inheritor of the store Dolls for Dreamers, where unique and sometimes supernatural dolls are crafted for the wealthy.  Aided by her Igor (Theo), they set out to create a companion for an eccentric shut-in, the woman known as the Lady of the House of Mirrors.  While they typically sculpt with clay and brass, this time they seek a human body to equip with the workings of a robot, a dead though living doll who is able to manage not only servitude, but also conversation.

We don’t know a lot about time frame, location of the story or much about Rosie’s past, but the crumbs gathered give way to glimpses of a world of awe.  The upper class has seemingly cut themselves off from a seedy underbelly where Rosie’s workplace resides; there are bodies being sold for wings, young dead men in corsets, missing limbs and glass eyeballs.  The world created by Ferraz is one of evocative imagery, all of which serve to create a highly sensual locale. Besides the allure of this new world, the real meat of the story lies in Rosie– the creation of a complicated, sometimes flawed and confused human being.  A renown business on her shoulders, trying to fill the shoes of a genius inventor whose prestige may be unattainable.

The ending is ambiguous, leaving you with more questions than answers and much like the world of the house of mirrors itself, at its conclusion you are left in a state of wonder, which is consistent with the vibe of the story.  Prior to viewing the tv show, Twin Peaks: the Return I may have yearned for that Hollywood ending, but Ferraz creates a Lynchian twist where the reader can inhabit a space where they both ponder the possibilities while accepting the mystery of that which may not be explained.

from Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists! edited by Steve Berman

The Sleep of Plants 
Anne Richter

The Sleep of Plants, written by Belgian author Anne Richter details the life of “she,” our protagonist who willfully transitions into a plant, seeking silence through a world of observation.  Similar to In the Water Works, we see repeated allusions to nature, the inextricable connection between humans and the natural world and how one cannot removed from the other.      

Our protagonist, “she” lives quietly with her mother and spends the majority of the story reflecting on how she seeks a life of solitude.  The vehicle for this solitude manifests itself as the desire to transform into a houseplant and begins her metamorphosis by “planting” herself into a pot of soil.  Her mother, upon finding her daughter upstairs in a flower pot, seems to decide to ignore the dirty secret and avoids her altogether.  “She’s” fiance finds her and brings her water and food in the form of insects.  Eventually, she transforms into a being that exists on water and sun, living as one that contently observes and never speaks.

Published in 1967 shortly following the advent of second wave feminism, The Sleep of Plants is reminiscent of Chantal Akerman’s film, Jeanne Dielman, addressing themes of solitude, boredom of the middle-class woman woman during the 1960s, and depression stemming from the pressure of expectation; to be a social being and marry against one’s will, in this instance.  The story is compelling in its ingenuity, curious and somewhat confusing, all making it a great slice of life to ponder what the hell is going on.  For an introvert, the idea of morphing into a plant sounds more like heaven than horror, but who’d want to eat all of those bugs?

from Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer

Part 1 can be viewed here.

Part 2 can be viewed here.

On the Radar: 10 Exciting New Titles of Fall/Spring ’17-18

Ten books we should all be antsy in our pantsies to read.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

In the second publication since her first title, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, about her time working in a crematory, death advocate Doughty explores death rituals from around the world.

Hot Mess Kitchen: Recipes for Your Delicious and Disastrous Life by Gabi Moskowitz and Miranda Berman

This is a cookbook you buy and can bring home to mama, unlike that last tragedy of a significant other.  It’s a completely delightful and at many times hilarious cookbook with such whimsical entries as Deliver Us From Delivery, I Want to Punch You in the Face Pasta and My Ex is Engaged Enchiladas.

Logical Family: a Memoir by Armistead Maupin

Author of the before its time series, Tales of the City, continually writes with ingenuity and heart and his memoir is sure to reflect that beautiful spirit that shines through each book.

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America ed. by Samantha Mukhopadhyay, Kate Harding and various authors

This anthology of essays addresses various issues in America after Trump (ugh) including Trump’s “misogyny army,” talking to your children about fascism, Ivanka and faux feminism, et al. Each essay is eloquently written by such powerhouses Samantha Irby and Rebecca Solnit, among many other outstanding women including Chicago’s own Women and Children First co-owner Sarah Michael Hollenbeck!

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford

The author of one of my most favorite scary short story collections, A Natural History of Hell has written a novel consistent with his last, exercising (exorcising?) his unbelievably innate talent for that which is both fantastic and horrific.  Ford’s book also has probably one of the best cover reviews to date, “Richard Linklater meets Stephen King…”

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King

In this first collaboration between Stephen King and son Owen, the two weave together an incredibly descriptive, solid and addicting piece of fiction about a sleeping sickness that takes over all of the world’s women, covering them with silky, web-like coating.  I highly recommend the audio; the narrator’s southern accents are terrific.

Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites by Deb Perelman

The first Smitten Kitchen is a gem of a cookbook, including recipes that are a little off the beaten path, including a cookie recipe with popped popcorn and stuffed lemony ricotta shells.  The prospect of an “everyday” cookbook is exciting, one can assume it will include recipes with commonly found ingredients because when a girl needs a diy cookie, she needs it stat.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Ijeoma Oluo!  If you haven’t heard of her, look her up.  If you’re on Facebook, follow her.  Her compassion and wit make her irresistible and as readers and learners we should all be excited to get a deeper glimpse into her thoughts on race, class, gender and our world at large today.

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels by Joe Hill

Joe Hill, author of Horns, Heart Shaped Box (my personal favorite), and numerous short stories (which I believe to be his strong point) has written a novel consisting of four shorter, creepy and inventive stories.  If you didn’t know, Hill is one of Stephen King’s sons and has earned his place in the horror fiction hall of fame of his own accord.

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Oh Hillz, if only it could have been you, we wouldn’t be on the doorstep of war with North Korea and somehow Puerto Rico now?  The word is that she gets deep into the details, much like that of a Real Housewives memoir, recalling the tiny bits that we all want to know, including what she did the day after the election and what she had for dinner.  Only unlike Teresa Giudice of The Real Housewives of New Jersey’s prison memoir, she didn’t hear women having sex in the bunk next to her.  Or maybe she did, I’m only on chapter one.

 

Update: Standing Strong by Teresa Giudice, previously included, was subtracted from the list after an entire chapter on her love and admiration of Donald Trump.  Bitch, please.