Oh yes, the books!

Do you ever feel so busy juggling your <insert a thousand library related duties here> along with ‘big projects’, faculty meetings, team meetings, committee meetings, collaborative meetings, research lessons, EMAIL, Libguide design, and oh yes, working with students, teaching classes, and other various non-library related school responsibilities that sometimes you look longingly at the cart of new books that you’ve  purchased, knowing you won’t get to many of them until summertime?

This comes to mind:

I drew a line in the sand for myself a month ago. It might have been around the time that reeeeeaaallly cold temperatures arrived and I went into hibernation, I’m not sure, but I basically said “no more putting the kids to bed and escaping into mindless Netflix, no more half-hearted attempts at professional journals when I’ve been neck deep in the issues all day long. Nope, I’m escaping into the books.”

I’ve read three books in three weeks, people. I’m in heaven. I thought I would share them with you here and then maybe you’ll reciprocate with some good reads of your own?

I started with two National Book Award finalists:Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The most beautifully written dystopian book I believe I’ve ever read. The premise is this: set in the present day United States, an absolutely deadly, fast moving flu has wiped out over 99% of the world population. The entire infrastructure has collapsed: there is no gasoline, no electricity, no medicine, no security. A troop of traveling Shakespearean actors and musicians makes a loop through a region, risking much, honoring the Star Trek quote that dons the side of their makeshift caravan, Because Survival is Insufficient. This is a survival story and so would be most appropriate for mature middle schoolers or high schoolers, but it’s a good one that I highly recommend.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. If you or your students are fans of historic fiction, this is your book! Written in alternating perspectives, it’s the story of Marie-Laure, the French daughter of the locksmith of the Museum of Natural History, who has gone blind at a young age and whose natural curiosity is in itself a thing of wonder. You then get to know a German orphan named Werner whose gift at assembling radios and deciphering radio frequencies gains the attention of German officials as Hitler begins his quest for world domination. The story weaves together like a beautiful, albeit tragic wartime tapestry.

It’s quite clear why both of these books were nominated for the NBA. They are excellent. Now onto my third book, which I’m honestly still reeling from. It’s not for the faint of heart, so consider yourself warned.

It’s An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. Ms. Gay is coming to visit our school this spring so I purchased both of her highly acclaimed books (Bad Feminist, a collection of witty, culturally and politically charged essays is her other).  Our faculty book club selected the novel as our February read so I went ahead and read it over the weekend. I knew from the blurb that it would be tough: an affluent woman of Haitian descent, living in Miami, living a pretty idyllic life with her loving husband and adorable baby boy, goes to visit her parents back in Haiti. As they leave the family compound to go spend a day on the beach, three SUVs pull up with masked armed men, the wife is kidnapped, and a mighty ransom is demanded. Her father refuses to pay and the ultimate stand-off begins, one in which some pretty graphic torture scenes take place and Mireille does her best to survive with her sanity intact.

If you have a strong fortitude, I say read it. It’s brilliantly written, the character development is superb, there are some really interesting relationships, and the tension is palpable when you experience the desperation that abject poverty brings. My blinders were removed regarding how routine kidnapping is in other parts of the world and this story, the good and the bad, is going to stick with me for a very long time, I can already tell. All marks of a good book in my opinion.

So now I ask you, what books have you read lately that you would suggest? Ready, set, comment below!

14 thoughts on “Oh yes, the books!

  1. Thanks, Katie! I just bought the first two you mention above for our high school library (will look into the 3rd) . SO excited about the first, because it’s right up my personal alley, and the 2nd has been highly acclaimed by a number of friends and colleagues.

  2. I second your recommendation for All The Light… a captivating story well-told. I’m reading Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. She always has insightful things to say. I’m also happily re-reading some Jane Austin but that is work related…but not complaining. The simple and often satisfying default into Netflix is an easy habit to get into (anyone else hooked on The Fall or Peaky Blinders?) but we owe it to ourselves to keep reading and telling others about it. Thanks for your suggestions, Katie!

  3. I LOVED Station Eleven; it was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I’m currently reading The Girl on the Train (massively hyped but it is absolutely compelling) and The Night Guest by Fiona MacFarlane, a quirky little Australian novel about a woman who is convinced a tiger is living in her house. Of course, the truth is far stranger…

  4. Hi Katie!! I just finished All the Light… and agree that it’s marvelous. Such wonderful use of language that it caused me to read it a little slower than my usual speed. Now I’m into Nora Webster by Colm Toibin, the lovely story of a widow in rural Ireland. A wonderful character study that I’m really enjoying.

  5. Thanks so much for the recommendations! I know it’s not brand new but I just finished The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, and am starting in on In the Light of what we Know by Zia Haider Rahman. I can tell after two chapters that it’s going to be one of those good ones!

  6. All the Light is on my “to read” list. I am almost finished with And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini…the story has different characters and different time periods woven into one another. I devoured most of it over the weekend and I can’t wait to finish it tonight! It is utterly breathtaking.

  7. Thanks, Katie! I loved Me Before You by JoJo Moyes, which at first glance seems to be a love story (not really my cup of tea) but turns into a page turner that probes one’s deepest values. What Alice Forgot by Australian writer Liane Moriarity was a really fun read that is in development for a film release. I’m currently reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fickry by Gabrielle Zevin. I see now why it’s on so many best of 2014 lists!

  8. Katie–I recently read all three of those books and highly recommend them all. (You’re right about An Untamed State; not for the faint of heart.)

    Another set of books I MUST recommend are written by Elena Ferrante and translated from the Italian. Called The Neapolitan Novels, the first is My Brilliant Friend, followed by The Story of a New Name, then Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. The are set in Naples, beginning in the 1950s, and follow the friendship of two girls/women who live in an impoverished neighborhood. I challenge anyone to be able to put them down, especially after getting into the 2nd one. (Also, I recommend reading the print edition, as the character descriptions in the beginning are great to refer to regularly.) Another volume will be published in the fall, and for me it’s like waiting for the next Harry Potter–I can’t wait!

    Soooo much to read–thanks for the reminder to us all!

  9. I can’t wait to read All the Light and Station Eleven. I’ve put Untamed State on my list and taken it off several times.

    I’m reading Amitav Ghosh’ The Hungry Tide, set in the Sundarbar islands of India. Absolutely mesmerizing. The third volume of the trilogy that started with Sea of Poppies is due out in the UK in May…I am counting the days.

  10. Like Betty, I truly enjoyed The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Gabrielle Zevin), and can’t stop recommending it to people. I’m currently re-reading Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (perennial Canadian favourite by Stephen Leacock) – it’s comfort food in times of freezing temperatures. And I’m only slightly embarassed to admit that a colleague has lent me John Taylor’s memoir – any other Duran Duran fans out there?

  11. I hadn’t heard anything about Station Eleven since I immersed myself in kidlit this year, but it sounds like something I would love. Several co-workers have read and raved about All the Light We Cannot See, and I am hoping to read it over the next long break. The last book I read for me and not work was Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, a literary fantasy in a world where peace has been supposedly reached between humans and dragons. It’s a couple years old, but the sequel is coming out this March. Thanks for sharing your recent reads!

  12. I just finished reading The Good Lord Bird by James McBride and loved it–it won the National Book Award in 2013 and reads like a Mark Twain novel. My son gave it to me a couple of years ago, but I finally read it for a book club. (A lot of my reading comes from our two student book clubs, our faculty book club, and my church book club, and I also pick out some for myself along the way. I listen to the audio version of many of my book club books, usually while I’m driving. On my webpage, there’s a link to the Goodreads account where we list all our book club choices; I love to get ideas from my friends via my personal Goodreads account.) Thanks for sharing the ideas!

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