Real Friends

Some things in life come easy to me. I’m excellent at pattern recognition, reading way past my bedtime, functioning on very little sleep (could these two things be related?) falling up the stairs instead of down (always fall up), and having reflexes that work way faster than my brain. I didn’t have to work too hard at honing these skills and I’ve probably always taken it for granted that I don’t have to think about the process when I’m using them. There’s no concentration involved and things just seem to magically fall into place.

That’s never been the case with making friends. That’s always been something I’ve struggled with. If you met me today you probably wouldn’t guess that I was an extremely shy child. I didn’t approach strangers, would sometimes not even approach extended family members, and preferred to hide in my older brother’s shadow while he made things happen for me. However, he was never able to make friends for me; that was definitely a solo-Carol job, so when I did stumble into a friendship I held fast even if, in hindsight, it was unhealthy.

Reading Real Friends by Shannon Hale slammed me right back to that playground where I made my first friend who also later turned out to be the most unhealthy thing for me.

Real Friends is the story of a young Shannon, who recounts the series of friendships she had growing up and the impacts each made on her life. I was surprised to open the book and discover it’s not a graphic novel but actually a graphic memoir. As Shannon recounts her early school years through a series of friends she had, I was thrown back in time to the mid-late 80s when I was going through the same things Shannon did in the late 70s/early 80s. Some things are just universal. While this book is aimed at middle-grade readers I think anyone can find relatable moments.

I found myself in different friend roles growing up. Sometimes I was an Adrienne. My family would move or I would change schools and I would lose touch with my friends and have to start over again. Sometimes I was a Jen, although I never made people line up and be ranked in the order of who I liked the best (what a cruel thing to do!). Once or twice I’m sure I was a Wendy. I was the only girl in my family and sometimes I just couldn’t take the nonsense and would totally snap and lash out at my brothers. Then there was exactly one time I was a Jenny. To this day I regret acting the way I did, but nothing can change what’s in the past. We can only move forward and learn to choose kind.

But for the majority of my childhood I was a Shannon: shy, quiet, not sure how to make friends but knowing that I really, truly wanted someone to talk to and experience life with. I also made up games and was sometimes bossy or just oblivious when others were bored or left out completely when I became self-absorbed in the creative process.

I realize the name-dropping I’m doing here isn’t very helpful if you haven’t yet read the book, but it does illustrate the vastly different characters, aka real friends from Shannon’s past, that leap off the pages of this book. It’s amazing to me that within just a few panels the reader can get a deep sense of what kind of friend each girl was and the reader has a chance to see a bit of herself (or not) in each, too.

You’re gonna get the feels and if you’re lucky enough to still have a bestie from childhood you’re gonna want to call them as soon as you’ve finished reading.

School is Coming

I’m hoping somebody can tell me where the summer went. Between visits from family, the Summer Reading crush, Eclipse excitement and (SURPRISE!) two weeks of Jury Duty, the summer has been a whirlwind and a half. With kids out of school looking for entertainment and excited to do some pleasure reading this is my favorite season in the Library. It is also by far the most exhausting.

So while it is bittersweet to see all of our young patrons head back to school this week, I will confess that I am looking forward to the structured schedule of the school year. It also happens that a lot of books I love are steeped in the petty grievances and serious identity crises that come with starting at a new school. Here are a few of my favorites:

25701463Whitney Gardner’s You’re Welcome, Universe centers on a young woman named Julia. Julia is deaf, and has always been surrounded by the deaf community: her best friend is deaf, as are both of her parents, and she attends a high school for the deaf. When Julia is betrayed by a friend, however, she is expelled from her school and faces the daunting task of attending a public school where the vast majority of students and teachers struggle to communicate with her, where she has to use a (really annoying) translator, and where no one knows her or seems terribly interested in getting to know her.

But Julia has even bigger problems. A budding graffiti artist, Julia is chagrined to find that another painter is changing her works, adding to them but also improving upon them. Julia feels humiliated and violated by this challenge to her art and sets out to best this mysterious new tagger all while navigating her new school, making new friends, and confronting old ones. Gardner does something very clever to help the reader understand Julia’s communication frustrations. When people try to talk to her and she struggles to read their lips, dialog will have some words missing, replaced with “——-.” This decision ingeniously drops the reader into Julia’s shoes, forced to decipher meaning based on surrounding context.

y648Like Julia, Riley Cavanaugh, the narrator of Jeff Garvin’s Symptoms of Being Human, has a lot going on. Starting at a new high school is bad enough for Riley who is already prone to anxiety attacks. But on top of that are the expectations of Riley’s father who is running for reelection in a hotly contested congressional race. Between the pressure to make friends, blend in, “act normal” and not screw up, it’s no wonder Riley is feeling stressed. But Riley is also dealing with something else – a secret that only Riley’s therapist knows. Riley identifies as gender fluid. A far-too-simple explanation would be that sometimes Riley wakes up feeling male, and sometimes Riley wakes up feeling female. But as Riley says “…it’s not that simple. The world isn’t binary. Everything isn’t black or white, yes or no. Sometimes it’s not a switch, it’s a dial. And it’s not even a dial you can get your hands on; it turns without your permission or approval.

To try to cope, Riley starts a blog and is shocked when posts start going viral. Riley begins to settle in, make a few friends, discover a potential romantic interest, and find some respite from all of life’s external pressure. But good things never last. A blog commenter seems to have uncovered Riley’s identity and is threatening to out Riley. Now Riley must decide whether to shutter the blog and betray those who have come to depend on Riley’s posts or to stand proud and risk the judgment of friends and family as well as possibly ruining Riley’s father’s political career.

30256109In American Street, by Ibi Zoboi, Fabiola Toussaint is a young Haitian immigrant who lands in Detroit ready to embrace the American dream. From the start, however, things do not go as planned. Her mother, who was supposed to accompany her, is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in New Jersey and Fabiola arrives alone, meeting her aunt and cousins for the first time. American culture and expectations to assimilate immediately overwhelm Fabiola, but her resilience and determination ensure that this is not a derivative fish-out-of-water story.

Fabiola’s fierce cousins, known as the three Bees (brains, brawn and beauty), are respected and feared affording her a measure of protection in the neighborhood while also helping her find her place in school. Fab quickly begins to settle in, but is torn between her desire to conform and her devotion to her Haitian identity. She also begins to realize that her aunt and cousins might be involved in some unsavory dealings and that in order to help her mother, she may need to betray the family that welcomed her in Detroit. Though her mother is far away Fab is never alone. All around Detroit Fab sees lwas, Vodou spirits, who help guide her and warn her of impending danger. These visions give American Street a surreal mysticism that edges towards magic realism while also lending authenticity and depth to Fabiola’s immigrant experience.

One of the reasons I love YA fiction is the way its talented writers impart empathy in their work. I’m fortunate to have decent hearing, I’m not an immigrant, and until I read the Symptoms of Being Human my understanding of gender fluidity was rudimentary at best. All three of these works do a masterful job of weaving diverse perspectives into their work, helping the reader to understand the lives of others without overpowering their works’ compelling narratives.

deadlyAnd now for something completely different! In the ongoing series, Deadly Class, Marcus is a homeless teenager simply trying to survive. Sure he has some demons in his past and the police would like to speak with him, but otherwise he seems like a decent guy.  A new world is opened to him when he is invited to attend King’s Dominion High School for the Deadly Arts, a school dedicated to training young assassins. Suddenly Marcus finds himself thrust into a world of precocious young killers, the children of gang leaders, mob bosses, drug kingpins, and genocidal dictators. Marcus must learn to carefully navigate the halls of this school unsure of who to trust because he is certain that if he can survive he can take revenge on the people who destroyed his own family.  This beautifully illustrated comic is profane, thrilling, hilarious, and incredibly difficult to put down.  

Intergalactic Fantastic

If I heard music beamed to earth by an alien civilization, my first thought would be to whip out my phone and try to look it up on iTunes. Actually, my first thought would be ‘I really need a change of underwear.’ Also, I think if there is intelligent life in the universe and they’re driving along enjoying the cosmos, when they see Earth they’d hit the door lock mechanism and beat feet on out of there.

In Ryan Gebhart’s Of Jenny and the Aliens, the people of Earth have sent messages into outer space to see if anything would answer back. Ten years later, something does. (Seems about right. Takes a dude about ten years to text me back.) Derek is a high school senior living with his single mother. On the night the alien message, in the form of music, is heard on Earth, Derek goes to a body painting party to celebrate because hey, what else are you going to do when you hear music from another world? You go to a party, get blasted on booze and whatever weed is floating around and hope someone there is drunk or stoned enough to take you home.

At the party, there’s talk going around that the aliens might invade and everyone’s imagining alien enslavement. Except for Derek. He doesn’t give a toss because Jenny, a girl he’s had a crush on for years, is at the party. And walking around topless. I’m not talking strutting about in a bra. She’s in full skin mode and poor Derek, being a 17-year-old boy, has no idea how to not openly gawk at her. She’s talking to him, paying attention to him when he thought she didn’t even know who he was.

Short story long, they walk to her house where she puts on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Derek loses his virginity to her. Derek’s immediately in love and starts imagining their life together. After she falls asleep, he walks home deciding to stop by a local river. Derek lies down on the riverbank and looks into the sky but something else catches his attention. There’s someone on a tiny island hiding behind a tree. He sees a hand with horrifically long fingers splayed out against the tree trunk. And then he sees a baby deer and he thinks he’s still just a little drunk and makes his way home.

When he gets home it’s five in the morning and his mom is still awake. She’s glued to the TV where there’s a breaking news alert that NASA discovered a link in the alien music. It’s a video. It shows a planet that is remarkably like Earth but a little bigger. The camera pans to show strange animals as big as elephants grazing in a cornfield. They’re a cross between dinosaurs and something with feathers. The video shows a run down ranch house. The camera spots someone (something?) on the porch. It’s a small being with grey skin with mottled patches of color everywhere. It has large eyes and two slits in its face where a nose would be. It appears to struggle to speak. It says it enjoyed the music we sent out and hoped Earth liked the music he sent back. But God oh God, it has rows and rows of sharp shark-like teeth. Why so many nightmare teeth?

After seeing the alien, the world goes into chaotic survival mode. Everyone heads to the grocery store to stock up on supplies, thinking that at any moment flying saucers are going to drop from the sky and start in on the anal probing Olympics. I think my first instinct would be a healthy spike of fear but hey, at least the music they shared with us wasn’t Kanye West. I think that right there would be cause for an invasion.

Derek isn’t worried about the possible alien invasion because he just lost his virginity and is in love. He’s thinking Jenny might be in love with him too. But there’s something a little broken about her. Last summer her brother, a Navy SEAL, was killed on a mission in Raya. She and Derek become almost inseparable for two weeks. He takes her to the river after telling her about the strange noises and long fingers he’d seen by the trees. He tells her to get her camera out and start taking pictures. He swims across the river and is cracked on the head by the alien he saw a few nights ago.

When he comes to, Jenny is long gone and he’s sitting next to an alien smoking a joint. The alien has on jeans, a sports jacket and an orange turtleneck. He’s short, maybe 4 feet tall. They begin a halting conversation about sports and life back on his planet. The alien’s name is Karo. Lights and sirens are beginning to appear and Karo leaves. Jenny went to the police saying Derek had been assaulted. She captured a good picture of the alien. Derek says he’s fine, just tried to do something stupid like swim across in frigid waters to the small island.

In addition to the alien situation, all is not well in Love Land. Jenny is moody and isn’t as into the monogamous lifestyle that Derek prefers. In fact, she’s messing about with one of his best friends. Heartbroken, Derek wants a way to win her back. There’s a credible rumor that America is about to send 200,000 troops into Raya and it will likely be an all out war. Jenny makes an impossible promise to him. If he can stop the war in Raya, she’ll be his girlfriend. So what does Derek decide to do? He decides to try to get the aliens to help him stop the war so Jenny will be his. I’ve done some truly stupid things to get someone to like me (remember making a crush a mix-tape of your favorite songs?) but Derek is about to go over the top.

Of Jenny and the Aliens is told in a heartbreaking voice of first love. Yeah there are aliens in it, but at its core the novel is about love and the seemingly ridiculous lengths humans go to keep it. If you don’t have PTSD about your first teenage love (I still have fond nightmares about mine), grab this book and listen to the wisdom sung by the universe. Or whatever.

Heartwood 7:4 – Out of the Line of Fire by Mark Henshaw

Out of the Line of Fire is a book about a brilliant young philosophy scholar named Wolfgang Shönborn and his father, mother, and sister Elena. The book is structured as a sort of sandwich – the opening and closing sections are told by the unnamed narrator who meets Wolfi when they are both students in Heidelberg. The long middle section is compiled from a package of miscellaneous documents and photographs that Wolfi mailed to the narrator from Berlin, over a year after Wolfi disappeared from Heidelberg. This parting of the friends was an anxious one as the narrator did not get a chance to say goodbye before his own return home to Australia.

This is a novel that has everything: interesting characters along with their individual development and entanglements; a compelling plot with occasional jaw-dropping revelations; and a style that combines lyrical descriptive writing, crisp believable dialogue, and experimental episodes (such as an attempt to philosophically analyze a porn clip, and the consideration of the text that appears on a piece of newspaper Wolfi had used to wrap a photograph he’d sent in the package).

Henshaw had me in the early pages when the topic of Wolfi’s Ph.D. is revealed to be “the metonymic perception of reality.” There are quite a few philosophical tidbits in the book, including lucid passages regarding Kant as he grappled with phenomena, our sensory understanding of the world, and his notion of the noumena. And we hear how Husserl and his followers turned the phenomenology of Kant and Hume on its head. Wolfi mentions that when his father was young, Wittgenstein would come to the house to visit with Wolfi’s grandfather, and one senses that he was an important influence on his overbearing father (a father who pushes Wolfi at a young age to question how he knows anything about what he thinks he knows, and spurs in his son such a manic, sustained bout of studying that it results in a nervous breakdown). Beyond this, the direct mentions of philosophy are fairly rare. Surely the most unexpected is when Wolfi gives a very attentive and beautiful account of his first sexual experience (with a prostitute – an arrangement initiated by his grandmother) and, remarkably, describes how it seemed to him to physically embody Hegel’s dialectic.

The references aren’t only philosophical. The narrator is studying literature, and there are allusions to writers such as Kafka, Handke, Hölderlin, Pirandello, Simenon, and Camus. Indeed, the book, opens – audaciously enough – with the same words Calvino uses at the start of his book, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. The scenes beginning with the one in which Wolfi becomes aware of his sister’s blossoming nubility and her existence as an individual being, brought strongly to my mind the intimate scenes involving Ulrich and his sister in Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, a book mentioned in passing earlier in the narrative. (Incidentally, looking downstream from the original 1988 publication date of Henshaw’s book, the episodic emphasis on cinema, Citizen Kane, and the inclusion of an interview in the text made me think a little of Dana Spiotta’s novels – particularly her latest, Innocents and Others).

Even as Henshaw weaves in these references to other thinkers and writers, he never forgets that his main purpose is to tell a story, and he does so marvelously. He’s clearly interested in how fiction and philosophy both struggle to present a world free of misunderstanding and ambiguity. And it may be for both philosophy and fiction, or at least for the book under consideration here, that so much of the reader’s pleasure comes from dawning realizations, where earlier conceptions are redefined and attain clarity – even if only to be upended again by subsequent revelations.

It’s difficult to say much more about what happens in the book without giving too much away. It features a strong plot, mostly interesting subplots, quite a bit of mystery and some surprising twists, but the striking developments within the Shönborn family are at its center. If you like stories that are amazingly well-told, that have flawed, intelligent characters, and that veer toward the mythologically tragic, Out of the Line of Fire will not let you down.

Before and After

I remember going to Planned Parenthood in my early 20s because I didn’t have health insurance and needed birth control pills. Not because I was having any fun with anyone but because my uterus and ovaries were complete jerks and the pills were the only thing that helped. I would sit in the waiting room and play the ‘Which One of These Girls Sitting Here is About to Have an Abortion?’ game. Not in a judgmental way but more like: you do what you have to do while I sit over here with this pamphlet explaining vaginal health with a wonky drawing that looks a lot like the mouth of the monster in the movie Predator.

There was not a lot of eye contact going on in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood but most of the patients were young girls, some nervously tapping their feet while their mothers sat next to them, ironically flipping through a Parenting magazine. Or best friends whispering to each other as they waited. Once, I saw a young man waiting with a girl. He held her hand while looking like he wasn’t old enough to drive. But him holding her hand was a declaration: I’ll be here when it’s over.

In Bonnie Pipkin’s Aftercare Instructions, 17-year-old Genesis Johnson has just had an abortion and goes back into the waiting room to find that her boyfriend, Peter, has disappeared. I don’t mean he was abducted by aliens. While Gen was having their baby taken from her while mellow jazz played on a speaker, Peter took off. Not only is he her boyfriend and supposed to be there for her, he was also her ride. Her cousin Delilah goes to college nearby so Gen heads over there and crashes, waking up to no phone calls from Peter, no texts.

Gen’s mother doesn’t know where she’s at but then again, she rarely cares anymore. Her mom has become a zombie after her husband’s death and Gen’s younger sister, Ally, has been taken away to live with her grandparent’s because their mother can’t cope with life. Gen’s home life is beyond suck city so when she met Peter, she found the love and affection she didn’t realize she was missing out on. He was there when Gen’s mother had a breakdown and had to be hospitalized.

Peter’s mother doesn’t approve of Genesis and thinks she’s from the wrong side of the tracks, especially because of the way Gen’s father died. Gen’s former friend Vanessa (who’s been after Peter for a long time) blabbed to everyone about how Gen’s father died. Now it seems as if Peter and Vanessa might be a thing. Gen’s life begins to spiral. Now she’s post-abortion, still bleeding, still reeling and not making great choices (then again, what 17-year-old makes consistently great choices?).

Gen goes to a party at her cousin’s college and gets blacked out drunk and meets Seth and they do what humans usually do when drunk: a lot of quality making out and then waking up sick the next morning not remembering how far things went. Don’t worry. This isn’t the usual ‘The best way to get over a man is to get under a new one’ trope. Seth’s a pretty solid dude and a total gentleman. Nothing happened between the two of them but he takes a shine to Gen while she’s not sure what’s going on: if she and Peter are still a thing, if her mom is going to have more breakdowns or if she’s finding her way out of the fog.

Written with a rawness not found in many YA books, Aftercare Instructions plunges into ideas about who we think we are, who we become and who truly loves us.

And the Librarian Said, “Read This!”

How’s your summer reading challenge coming along? One of this year’s challenges is to read a book recommended by a librarian. Since I know you don’t always have time to chat when you stop in, I asked my colleagues to offer up some suggestions for you.

Dazzling insights, well researched and footnoted, lots to learn, with sparkling prose style, this is one of the best book I’ve read on the subject. Love for Sale: Pop Music in America by David Hajdu covers pop music from the era of song sheets in the late nineteenth century to contemporary digital delivery. Compulsively readable, it works for every level of reader, from a scholar interested in how pop has evolved in content, style, and delivery over the years to those who want to relate to Hajdu’s observation of cultural and personal connections. Highly recommended.
From Alan, Evergreen Branch Manager

If you have a taste for historical fiction, speculative fiction, and are open to reading Young Adult novels, I’ve got a couple books that may be right up your alley. Front Lines is the first book in a new series by Michael Grant about what World War II would have been like if women had been included in the draft. I really enjoyed the character development, and found the plot to be exciting and unique.
I’m waiting eagerly for book 2 to come out, but in the meantime I started another series called Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin. Wolf by Wolf revolves around the idea that the Nazis and Imperial Japan emerged from World War II victorious, and that the United States never became involved. Yael escaped a Nazi medical experiment with an unusual new ability and has joined the resistance. Yael’s assignment is to infiltrate the annual Axis Tour – a motorcycle race that spans Nazi and Imperial Japanese territory – win, and kill Hitler. This book reads like a spy novel and an extended car chase all wrapped up in one.
From Lisa, Northwest History Librarian

Do you love historical fiction? Do you love dragons? How about a series that combines them?? Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series begins with His Majesty’s Dragon, in which Captain Will Laurence is serving in the Royal Navy right in the thick of the Napoleonic Wars. His ship captures a French frigate bearing precious cargo…an unhatched dragon egg. You see, dragons have been domesticated (to the extent that’s even possible) to serve with the Aerial Corps, allowing Aviators to attack from above, dropping bombs and other projectiles onto the ships battling on the high seas. The Pilots – chosen by the dragons and not the other way around – develop tight bonds and steadfast partnerships with the powerful and capricious beasts. When this particular dragon hatches, it chooses Will. This is a problem. A big problem. Will has been in the Navy since boyhood and therefore has no training to be an Aviator, plus he is on the point of becoming engaged, and his new calling renders marriage virtually impossible. His first adventures with Temeraire take them to China and back against the backdrop of a volatile international conflict, and there are nine books to enjoy filled with more exploits and intrigue! I love Jane Austen and fantasy, so this is basically the perfect series for me.
From Sarah, Youth Services Librarian

I first read The Ha-Ha by Dave King in 2005 and recently came across it while browsing the main library’s top-drawer fiction collection. This is a graceful, measured debut both sad and funny. The plot circles round middle-aged Howard, who is unable to speak, read or write due to head injuries suffered in the Vietnam War. He lives in the house he grew up in with an assortment of entertaining boarders and spends his days tending the gardens of a convent. When Sylvia, Howard’s ex-high school girlfriend, heads for rehab, she saddles him with Ryan, her taciturn nine-year-old son. With many heartwarming passages that don’t turn sappy thanks to King’s prosaic writing style, it’s a heckuva ride for both of these quiet souls.
From Joyce, Adult Services Librarian

I couldn’t limit myself to just one, so here are two titles for your listening and reading pleasure this summer. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey does have the dreaded Z word in it, zombies that is, but there are no maniacal governors or hordes of decaying extras here. Instead you get an intense five person character study set in a ‘post incident’ Britain that keeps you guessing and makes you actually care about who survives and who doesn’t. The ending is also top notch and quite unexpected. I listened to the audio version and the narration was excellent as well. Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain by Charlotte Higgins is also about an imagined Britain but this one in the past. The author travels the country on foot and in an unreliable VW Camper van visiting what remains of Roman Britain. Admittedly, compared to the European continent the ruins are a tad sparse, but that only adds to the mystery. The result is an intriguing travelogue that is as much about how we create the past as it is about the physical structures themselves.
From Richard, Adult Services Librarian

Do you love fantasy and enjoy resilient female characters, strong family bonds, and fast paced adventures? You should read Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren! Online, this book is described as equal parts Prison Break and Frozen. I see the resemblance! Valor’s twin sister, Sasha, has been sentenced to life in prison at Tyur’ma for stealing a diplomatically-important item from the royal family. Valor knowingly gets herself sent to this harsh and freezing prison so she can attempt to free them both; never mind that nobody has ever escaped in the 300 year history of this prison!
While it’s true this book is aimed at middle grade readers I’d definitely recommend this for fans of any age who are into The Hunger Games or Princess Academy.
From Andrea, Youth Services Librarian

When taking lunch-time walks in north Everett, I have occasionally seen people’s belongings strewn across front yards, looking abandoned and pathetic. Although I do know that Everett residents are poorer than people living elsewhere in Snohomish County and I have read about the high cost of renting and the scarcity of available affordable units, I knew next to nothing about the eviction process and how it affects the lives of tenants and landlords.
Matthew Desmond’s book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, caught my attention when I was thinking about possible authors for our Everett Reads: Beyond the Streets series. Desmond, a Harvard sociology professor, was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2015 for his work on the impact eviction has on the lives of the urban poor. His research sounded both interesting and relevant.
We couldn’t afford Professor Desmond’s speaker’s fee, but I read the book, and I would encourage you to read it, too. This is no dry sociological study. Rather Desmond uses the stories of real people to introduce the reader to the economics and politics behind eviction—and the consequences suffered by the adults and children who find themselves at the mercy of a process that disrupts lives. Evicted is essential reading for anyone trying to understand the lives of the urban poor and the importance of stable housing.
From Eileen, Library Director

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan
I’d recommend this fascinating biography to anyone interested in American history, photography, or Native American cultures. Edward Curtis, a brilliant Seattle photographer, spent decades crisscrossing the country to capture and preserve images and language from the “dying race” of Native Americans in the early 20th century. The book reads like a fast-paced adventure story, and readers travel along to locations as diverse at the Puget Sound, the Great Plains, the Grand Canyon, and even Teddy Roosevelt’s White House. This book did what all great narrative non-fiction does: it kept me enthralled with a strong story and piqued my curiosity about new topics and ideas. It would be a great choice for fans of authors Erik Larson and Gary Krist.
From Mindy, Northwest History Librarian

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain
Bar none, one of the best books about music ever put together. I say “put together” because these are the real words from Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone, Jim Carroll, Malcom McLaren, Danny Fields, and many other artists and impresarios collected and used to define punk by the creator of the legendary Punk Magazine from that era. Comprehensive, you’ll thrill to Punk’s prehistory in the early 70’s (Stooges, Velvet underground) to its late 70’s heyday (Sex Pistols, Clash, Ramones) through to its last gasps in corporate eighties rock. Highest possible recommendation. Bonus: the 20th anniversary edition includes new photos and an afterword by the authors.
From Alan, Evergreen Branch Manager

To recommend a book to you, I would need to know your particular interests, taste, and what you’re in the mood for at the moment. But if you’re stretching yourself by doing our reading challenge anyway, I might as well suggest a challenging book. And I get to take the easy way out by recycling a review I’d written for Alki, the state’s library journal, many years ago.
Nathaniel Mackey is a renowned poet who has also written a sequence of novels called From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. The review below is for the third book of the series, and you can just as easily start here as at the beginning. These books won’t appeal to every reader, and the library’s copies have gone largely unread, so I challenge you to get off the beaten path and to dive into the extraordinary language of Mackey’s jazz-band world.
Atet A.D. by Nathaniel Mackey
This epistolary novel covers the goings-on in a jazz band immediately following the death of Thelonious Monk in 1982. The language is superbly jazz-like as Mackey riffs and improvises on words and phrases – playfully filling his sentences with homonyms and syntactic variations, and parsing words to find others underneath or contracting them to build new ones. N., the narrator, is a musician and composer in the band, and through his letters we learn of his creative processes and critical insights as he attempts to push boundaries and build upon the works of the jazz greats that have preceded him – especially those from the post-bop and free jazz eras. The band’s musical drive and determination take them, at times, beyond the confines of the everyday world into one that countenances telepathic and metaphysical communication. While some of this certainly strains credulity, Mackey’s linguistic flights compensate as he transforms language into an instrument of amazing semantic agility and linguistic power (a chapter in which the band plays in Seattle has Mackey in peak form). This is not your standard plot-advancing or character-driven novel, but if you like both your jazz and fiction improvisatory, challenging, and playful, this might be right up your alley.
From Scott, Adult Services Librarian

Ever since the New Yorker published an article in 2015 about the long overdue major earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, I’ve spoken to a lot of patrons at the library who were hoping to learn more. Full Rip 9.0 by Sandi Doughton is the perfect book to learn more about the science behind these dire predictions, as well as how much (or how little) you need to be concerned about this event depending on where you live. More importantly this book helps outline very simple things that you and your family can do to help you ride out the aftermath of a major event, whether it’s Cascadia Subduction Zone related or otherwise.
A very useful book that makes a good companion to Full Rip 9.0 is The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley. Ripley looks into several different kinds of disaster scenarios, from natural disasters to man-made ones, and dissects the steps taken by survivors, and those who perished. While on the outside this might sound like a macabre book, it’s actually pretty reassuring, because it reinforces the importance of planning ahead for the unthinkable so that your instincts are ready to guide you to safety should the need ever arise. Ripley also delves into the psychology of survivors, debunking some common misconceptions about how people react in disaster scenarios, and who may be more likely to fare well.
If these two books whet your appetite to learn more about how to be prepared, I also highly recommend looking into the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training offered periodically for free for Everett residents and workers. Even if you don’t ultimately register to be an emergency response worker, attendees walk away with some very useful information that can be used to prepare their households and neighborhoods.
From Lisa, Northwest History Librarian

So there you have it. Another challenge is in the books! [See what I did there?] Stay tuned over the next several weeks as I bring you more books to help you conquer your summer reading challenges!

Comics that Aren’t Quite Safe for Work (Unless You’re a Librarian)

I love virtually all comics and graphic novels. From Pokémon manga, to Congressman John Lewis’s masterful graphic memoir, March, I can’t get enough. As a youth services librarian, I’ll be the first to shout that there are plenty of great reads for adults in our children’s and teen areas. But the books below? They are filled with adult language, adult themes, and very adult illustrations that may not be suitable for all readers. Did I mention adult language? They have some adult language. They are also some of my favorite stories from the past few years. Enjoy!

The Fix by Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber

TheFix_vol1-1Cops! Robbers! Movie Stars! And one heroic Beagle! The Fix stars Roy and Mac, two LAPD detectives who are equal parts charismatic, corrupt, and utterly hapless and have massive egos to boot. Roy is the leader of the pair, a shameless self promoter bent on wringing every last kickback out of his carefully curated hero-cop image and more than happy to destroy a few lives if that’s what it takes. Given their loose morals and access to power, life might be pretty good for Roy and Mac except for one major problem – they owe money and lots of it. And the guy they owe? Let’s just say he’s not a forgiving individual. Luckily, it seems that everyone is on the take in Roy and Mac’s Los Angeles and there is plenty of money to be made if they look in the right places. It seems that Roy and Mac might be able to dig their way out of the mess they’ve made. Only one thing stands in their way – the one cop they can’t corrupt or blackmail, a hero and legend of the LAPD, Pretzels the dog….

The Fix is a hilarious, pulpy read packed with jokes. Outside of Pretzels, there isn’t a “good guy” in this one but all of the characters are immensely likable in spite of their mountains of flaws. Even Josh, the sociopathic monster of a crime boss is a perverse delight; a kombucha pushing, yoga practicing, organic produce buying “modern man,” torturing with one hand while doting on his infant child with the other. With only two volumes published, this is an easy series to catch up on and a profane joyride that holds up after multiple re-reads.

Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

71dyjDZWEML

Suzie and Jon both have a secret. They have a super power of sorts. After having sex, they are able to stop time. They’ve both been keeping this secret for as long as they can remember so they are incredibly relieved when they discover that they share this power. That they also happen to be attracted to each other is just icing on the cake. Very….convenient icing when it comes to using their powers.  And use their powers they do! Suzie is a librarian whose library is facing a budget crisis. To save her beloved workplace, Jon and Suzie set out to use their powers in a well-intentioned but misguided way – robbing a bank to raise the money the library needs. What could go wrong, right?

Like The Fix, Sex Criminals is a hilarious romp filled with smart people who are very dumb criminals. The creative duo behind this book are masters of self-aware (and sometimes fourth-wall breaking) comedic storytelling. While this is a raunchy series, it never feels too gratuitous, and as the story expands, it keeps finding new ways to surprise, delight, and reward the reader.

Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro

BitchPlanet_vol1-1Let’s take our crime to the hopefully-not-too-near future! Bitch Planet presents a world where toxic patriarchy and corporatism have been allowed to pervasively and thoroughly corrupt society. Women who fail to follow the rules established by male leaders, who fail to behave as expected, to look the way they are supposed to, or maybe women who simply dare to age in ways their husbands do not care for are labeled NC or non-compliant. NC’s are deemed simply too dangerous for the world and are sent to a giant artificial space prison, known to most as Bitch Planet. But the men in charge are about to find out that when you take a ton of bad-ass women and put them together with very little to lose and a common enemy to fight, you’re just asking for trouble. Think Orange is the New Black but in space. 

wpid-wp-1446286045655

This series tells an incredibly compelling story. It is unapologetically political and if my description made you itchy, it might not be for you. Bitch Planet is also among the most beautiful comics that I have read with a style that both embraces and subverts the exploitation genre popularized in the 1960s and 70s. Of all the comics I read, this is one of the hardest to put down.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

81+Sf+bNqULSaga begins with the birth of its narrator, a girl named Hazel who is born into either the best or the worst possible circumstances depending on your perspective. Hazel’s parents, Alana and Marko, are on the run, fugitives from the law who have committed acts seen as both treasonous and monstrous. They are from home worlds that have been warring for generations. Both are ex-soldiers who have discovered that love can exist between former enemies and that their species can even have children together.  

Of all the dangers that Alana and Marko represent to those in power, it is their love and their child that are seen as the most threatening and offensive. This war has ravaged the universe for many years, and the stakeholders know that they have much to lose if word of Hazel’s birth spreads and the public begins to believe that peace may be an option. So Alana, Marko and Hazel must run pursued by genocidal armies, murderous robot royalty, and dangerous bounty hunters known as freelancers.

I saved Saga for last because it is my favorite comic. At times I could make a case that it is my favorite piece of writing or even my favorite story in any medium. This is also a work that must be approached with Game of Thrones rules – do not get too attached to any character. Anyone might die at any time and these are usually savage, gutting deaths to rich, multifaceted, and beloved characters. But who am I to say this? This comic breaks my heart every few issues and I keep coming back for more.