The Truth is Out There (But Probably Not in Textbooks)

Dedicated to all American history teachers
who teach against their textbooks
(and their ranks keep growing)

And so begins the updated edition of Lies my Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen. “Every teacher, every student of history, every citizen should read this book,” said Howard Zinn. The San Francisco Chronicle called it, “an extremely convincing plea for truth in education.” My husband exasperatingly declared, “I can’t believe you still haven’t read this book, Carol!”

Since this month’s reading challenge is to read a book about American history, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to see what all the buzz is about–and finally let my husband rest his weary voice.

First, let’s be clear: the author is not bashing teachers! He knows that teachers need to teach from the textbooks provided. And the books are only as good as their authors. Some authors are better than others, but overall the state of textbooks–American history textbooks specifically–need to be reformed. As the author points out in the introduction when discussing how most textbooks are 1,200 pages or more:

Indeed, state and local textbook committees should not select *any* 1,200 page hardcover book. As the introduction to the second edition points out, there is no pedagogical justification for such large tomes. Their only reason for being is economic. These textbooks now retail for more than $100 and cost more than $70 even when ordered in quantity by states and school districts. It’s easy to understand why publishers keep on making them. It’s harder to understand why school districts keep buying them.

Topics range from the Vietnam War, the truth about Columbus, and how we have a bad habit of creating heroes out of people who were, at best, regular folks and at worst, total monsters. The book focuses on educational texts, sure, but the point it’s really trying to get across is that we need to educate children and teens to think critically and apply skepticism, not cynicism, to everything they consume: books, internet sites, news reports, and social media posts. This starts in the classroom and it starts with teaching critical thinking skills.

Let me reassure you that there are photographs. Sure, they’re in black and white, but I’m always reassured that a history book won’t be too dry and boring if I can find illustrations, maps, photographs, or other visual helpers to keep my brain engaged if it wants to wander. Many of the images in this book come directly from the textbooks the author reviewed.

Sometimes the representative textbook photos are good, like showing two images representing early Native American societies, one showing an organized society and the other showing people on horseback seemingly wandering. The caption asks students to discern which happened before white settlers arrived and which was after. This builds critical thinking skills and encourages students to find information to support their conclusions. It also busts the lie we’ve been told about how indigenous communities were uncivilized people who welcomed white saviors.

Other times, the representative textbook photos are reeeeeally not good. For instance, a racist cartoon that is still printed in high school textbooks with either no context or a skewed viewpoint. Stating your opinion–especially when it’s racist and contrary to reality–as fact does not make it a fact. But this is what students are taught and tested on. When we teach our children racist views as a requirement of their education, is it any wonder our society has problems with systemic racism and the inability to tell fact from fake news?

This all means that often the illustrations included in textbooks do a great disservice to the students forced to use them in class. It’s just one layer upon many that make up the cracks in our educational foundation. A foundation that is in serious need of repair.

I just checked this book out today. I’ll be reading it this month to complete the reading challenge and I just know I will be completely insufferable as I plague friends and strangers alike with the misinformation, misrepresentations, censorship, and outright lies we’ve all been fed. But this is good, and it’s exactly what the author was going for. He wants people to think and learn and grow and challenge the way we’ve been taught American history. We must stand up for facts, and push back against the BS.

Have you read this classic? I’d love to hear the most shocking or surprising fact you learned from the book. From what I can tell so far skimming, there are an embarrassing amount to choose from.

Everett Reads! Sy Montgomery Events to be Rescheduled

Due to weather conditions, the February 9 and February 10 Everett Reads! events with Sy Montgomery have been cancelled and will be rescheduled for a later date. A new date will be posted on our website as soon as we have one.

While disappointing news, this weekend should be an ideal time to curl up with Sy Montgomery’s How to Be a Good Creature or Soul of an Octopus so you can get the most out of the rescheduled events. Also these other animal books will keep you warm and cozy: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baum, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee.

And if you can’t make it to the library this weekend, always remember that all of our eResources (including eBooks, streaming movies & music, podcasts and much more) are available 24/7.

Everett Reads Sy Montgomery

Are you ready to take a walk on the wild side at the library? I’m super-excited to share that we’re bringing acclaimed naturalist and author Sy Montgomery to town in February. Yes, really! I am totally chair-dancing while I type this. Sy will be our featured speaker for Everett Reads!, the library’s annual community reading program. This year the program is dedicated to an exploration of all things animal and I am so here for it.

Sy Montgomery has been chased by a silverback gorilla, embraced by a Giant Pacific Octopus, and undressed by an orangutan. Can you even? Learn about Montgomery’s amazing animal adventures and explore the connection between humans and animals throughout the month of February.

Sy Montgomery will offer two free events for the public. The first event, on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m., will take place at the Everett Performing Arts Center at 2710 Wetmore Ave. in Everett. Books will be for sale and available for signing following the lecture during a free reception hosted by the Friends of Everett Public Library.

Side note. Our Friends are really rad and deserve their own shout-out. They make a lot of magic happen for us all year round but they really shine whenever Everett Reads! rolls around. Thanks, Friends, for all you do! If you want to get involved with the Friends of the Library you can find more information here.

Okay, back to our programming lineup. Children and their families are invited to a special presentation with Sy on Sunday, Feb. 10, at 11 a.m. at the Cope-Gillette Theater at 2730 Wetmore Ave. in Everett. Children’s books will be available for sale and signing following the talk.

But wait, there’s more! In addition to these programs on February 9 & 10, we will be presenting a range of animal-themed programs all month. On the library’s website you can check out the entire programming lineup–which includes book discussions, an art class for adults, and kids’ programs that’ll feature over 2,000 insect specimens. There’s really something here for everyone.

And speaking of something for everyone, we’ve stocked up on books by Sy Montgomery so you can take your pick–or read them all! Sy’s books are a great way to explore the connections between humans and animals and how we can live together better. Click a book cover to read more on each title and place a hold.

    

  

So what are you waiting for? Grab a book or five and make plans to share your reading adventure with friends and neighbors at some of February’s Everett Reads! events. And don’t forget to make plans to meet Sy in person. I’ll see you there!

Read Like Library Staff Part 2

The last time we sat here together I gave you a big list of books my coworkers absolutely adore. But wait, there’s more! Because you can never have enough good books to read, here are some more EPL staff recommended reads to help you accomplish the May reading challenge.

The Tricksters Series by Tamora Pierce
I love many of Tamora Pierce’s novels, but I have to say that her Tricksters series might be my favorite. Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen follow Aly – the daughter of legendary lady knight Alanna – on her quest to become a spy in the realm of Tortall. When she sets out on her adventures, however, she has no idea that her fate will be influenced by the Trickster god, who has his own plans for her.

These books are such a fun read filled with strong, intelligent, and highly loveable characters, as well as battles, magic, and political intrigue. If you haven’t read any of the other books in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall Universe, these will definitely make you want to!
–From Elizabeth W., Evergreen Branch Circulation

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder.
If you are in the mood for a non-fiction read, pick up Nomadland. Bruder explores the mostly hidden world of America’s citizens, many of whom are of retirement age, currently living in a vast fleet of improvised mobile homes. From cleverly retrofitted cars to full-size RVs, people who are unable to afford the cost of living in conventional housing have increasingly turned to the road to find home and work. Bruder spent years following this story, first interviewing some of these mobile-dwellers, and then eventually embedding herself in some of their seasonal communities to gain a more intimate perspective. This book is well researched and well written; though it almost has the depth of an anthropological field study, the personal narratives that are interwoven give the whole piece a lot of emotional appeal.
–From Lisa, Northwest Room

Love and Other Alien Experiences by Kerry Winfrey.
Adorkable YA romance alert! I describe Love and Other Alien Experiences as a cross between Everything, Everything and Geekerella.

Since her dad abandoned her family, a teen girl’s extreme anxiety keeps her inside her home (she physically reacts to leaving the house) until one day she finds herself outside and begins working towards freeing herself from a prison of her brain’s own making. As someone who’s always struggled with anxiety I probably got more out of the main character’s struggles than others. Still, I think anyone into quirky romantic comedies with a hefty dose of problematic situations should pick this up.
–From Carol, Main Library Cataloging

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
The incredibly inspiring true story of a striving, young Yemeni-American man who learns of his ancestral homeland’s critical connection to the world’s favorite addictive beverage. This inspires him to work from abject poverty on the mean streets of San Francisco through a civil war in Yemen. This thrillingly contemporary book will make you love the character as much as you shake your head in disbelief over what he has to overcome even from the TSA at the airport.
–From Alan, Evergreen Branch Manager

The Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh
I’m reading a good book right now called The Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh. Here’s the summary from the catalog:
“Set in Kenya against the fading backdrop of the British Empire, a story of self-discovery, betrayal, and an impossible love. After six years in England, Rachel has returned to Kenya and the farm where she spent her childhood, but the beloved home she’d longed for is much changed. Her father’s new companion–a strange, intolerant woman–has taken over the household. The political climate in the country grows more unsettled by the day and is approaching the boiling point. And looming over them all is the threat of the Mau Mau, a secret society intent on uniting the native Kenyans and overthrowing the whites. As Rachel struggles to find her place in her home and her country, she initiates a covert relationship, one that will demand from her a gross act of betrayal.”
–From Leslie, Main Library Youth Services

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
Are you looking for a new series? Moon Called by Patricia Briggs, shelved in Science Fiction, is the first book in the Mercy Thompson series. It’s one of my all-time favorite book series, and the only series I can read and get completely sucked in each and every time!
–From Feylin, Main Library Circulation

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
Andreas Egger’s mother died when he was a young boy, and he was shipped off to live with his aunt’s husband in a German alpine town in the early 1900s. As the title indicates, this is the story of a life, and it spans about 80 years in which we see Andreas getting whipped with a hazel switch, standing up to his abusive guardian, taking on work building lifts for the burgeoning ski industry, finding love, going to war on the Russian front, surviving painful losses, and watching the modern world transform all around him.
Seethaler is a fluid, at times lyrical, storyteller, who shifts parts of the tale around chronologically to effectively share the life of this humble, resourceful, but also lonely man. The story draws you in immediately as Andreas relates how he found an old goatherd dying in his hut in 1933 and attempts to carry him through a snowstorm down the mountains to the village. This anecdote ends in a surprising way and comes back in haunting fashion much later in this moving and finely rendered tale.
–From Scott, Main Library Adult Services

Read Like Library Staff Part 1

Hey hey, how’s your May reading coming along? Are you ready for another challenge? After all the reading challenges we’ve thrown your way, this month’s is my favorite because we’re essentially telling you what to read. [Insert evil emoji here] In May we’re asking you to read a book recommended by a library employee. This week I’m bringing you not one but two posts so full of book recommendations that they will make your TBR scrape the ceiling.

The Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles
This is Will’s first book, and I think he did a superb job! I very much enjoyed this book. We have two old college roommates, similar to The Odd Couple. Now, years later, one is doing a favor for the other and house sitting. What happens to the perfect wooden floors and the comedy of errors that follow will keep you laughing! Will has an enjoyable style of writing, and his descriptions alone make it worth taking a look!
–From Linda, Evergreen Branch Circulation

Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze
This is a gem of a noir novel, first published in 1953, about an escaped convict who wants to pull off a big-time heist. When he meets and partners with a suspiciously well-spoken vamp, who trusts him as little as he does her, the heist plan begins to really take shape. The action moves from bayou country to the mountains outside of Denver, and Chaze writes as well about the mountain west as everything else in this engaging and desperate tale. If you like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James Cain or Jim Thompson you’ll want to read this.
–From Scott, Main Library Reference

The Hike by Drew Magary
Basically this guy is on a business trip and checks in to a lodge type hotel. He decides before dinner he’ll go for a short hike, call his wife, and relax a little. He walks past a barrier on the property and eventually realizes that not only are impossible creatures trying to kill him but he’s now in a different dimension from his hotel, his wife, and everything he knows. As the days, weeks, and months go by his fight for survival also becomes a struggle to find his way home.

This book was creepy as hell and definitely not my typical read. It’s horror for people who don’t like horror. I recommend it for anyone looking for something both weird and wonderful.
–From Carol, Main Library Cataloging

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
I highly recommend An Unkindness of Ghosts. Solomon has done an amazing job with her world building, creating a range of complex characters whose personalities and inner conflicts feel very real. It’s a story of racial tension and class struggle set aboard the HSS Matilda – an interstellar life raft containing the last traces of the human race, fleeing from a dying world. I don’t want to give away much more about this addictive read; I hope that there is more to come from the creative mind of Rivers Solomon. Side note: I enjoyed this book as an eaudiobook via the library’s CloudLibrary platform and thought that the skillful narration performed by Cherise Boothe added a lot of depth to the experience.
–From Lisa, Northwest Room

How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper
Every one of Tropper’s too-few books is witty, deeply insightful, yet breezily readable & fun. The finest of literary fiction. In this one, we accompany Doug, the titular character, as he comes to terms with his grief and the transformation is as entertaining as it is authentic.
–From Alan, Evergreen Branch Manager

Compass by Mathias Énard
Compass won France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt in 2015, and it’s an extraordinary book that might best be summarized as a love letter to readers and scholars of cosmopolitan literature, music, culture, and history. The story unfolds as a single sleepless night in the life of a Viennese man, Franz Ritter, and his nightlong reflections on his work as an ethnomusicologist, his mostly unrequited love for a fellow European scholar named Sarah, and his travels abroad – with her and without her – to such places as Istanbul, Damascus, Palymra, Aleppo, and Tehran.

A major theme is the influence of Eastern culture on the music and literature of the West, and Énard weaves the names of many well-known Western authors and composers into the narrative. Sarah and Franz, as “Orientalists,” share with the reader their deep understanding of this cultural cross-pollination while seeking “a new vision that includes the other in the self.”

Franz is a sensitive, insightful and voluble narrator, and after taking the reader on a whirlwind tour of the Middle East and his life, the book ends on a sweetly hopeful note.
–From Scott, Main Library Reference

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell by W. Kamau Bell
While I initially wanted to read this because I wanted to learn more about Kamau, I quickly realized that this was way more than just another comedian’s memoir. Race, racism, and politics are heavily threaded throughout. Kamau is candid about his experiences in stand-up and in the entertainment industry, which really opened my eyes to not just how completely screwed up the showrunning/writing relationship can be, but also how representation is in the entertainment industry is just as important as it is in every other working environment.
–From Carol, Main Library Cataloging

A Poetry Double Dare

In case you missed it, last week Serena challenged us all to read poetry and I was more than eager to pick up the gauntlet. In fact, I had already started building quite a stack of poetry books because I was aware that April is National Poetry Month. I’ve gone on record as stating I hate poetry and in the years since then I have changed my tune, reading any remotely interesting book of poems that crosses my path. Here are a few that are currently on my nightstand. Since poetry is so subjective, I’ve included an excerpt from one poem for each book to give you a sense of what’s waiting for you inside each book.

Peluda by Melissa Lozada-Oliva

in our family we believe everything is inherited.
if hair is from our father then fear must be from our mother,
who is not hairy, actually, not that brown, either,
but her accent still coats her skin & sticks like wax.
-excerpt from I Shave My Sister’s Back Before Prom

Known for being an incredible performance poet, Melissa Lozada-Oliva has written a book and I am here for it! Peluda, or hairy/hairy beast, explores Latina identity, body image, and hair removal among other things. I find the words flow the best when I imagine Melissa saying them. The rhythm is infectious but instead of simply moving on, I find myself going back over the same poem multiple times and savoring it. It’s that kind of book.

Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing

But you can be your own gin
and your own best sip too.
You can make with him a nation and still be sovereign,
your own gold coin and your own honest trade.
You can touch his hand
and still be your own snapping fingers
when the snare has gone quiet.
-excerpt from appletree [on black womanhood, from and to Erykah Badu]

Last year I read an essay Dr. Ewing wrote. I can’t recall now which essay or publication, but I can definitively say her words sparked something inside me. That same spark is present throughout Electric Arches her book of poetry, prose, and art. Themes center around Black girlhood and womanhood with dashes of Afro-futurism sprinkled throughout. Dr. Ewing has been called the Zora Neale Hurston of her generation. Pick up Electric Arches and see why.

Sea of Strangers by Lang Leav

Men don’t compare us
with other women.
They compare us
to an ideal.
-An Impossible Ideal

Lang Leav has previously published several books, but this is my first foray into her work. While 215 pages seems a bit lengthy for a book of poetry, I am here to reassure you that the poetry and prose are minimalistic: relatively short but nevertheless accessible to the reader. Themes here include self-discovery, loss, and falling in love. I’d recommend Sea of Strangers to fans of Amanda Lovelace and Rupi Kaur.

All three of these poets are active and awesome on social media. They are also poets of color and women (metaphorically) cutting themselves open to lyrically share their stories–good and bad–with us, the readers.

I once hated poetry because I thought it was all awkwardly positioned lines with the sole intent to confuse me in the name of a rhyming scheme. With poetry trending towards relatability and understanding the reader’s soul, I now embrace poetry and hope you will too–I double dare you!

If you read one of these or any book of poetry you can enter to win a prize in our monthly reading challenge. But I’m hoping you’re so taken with these poems you’ll be happy with the everlasting prize of discovering a poet that speaks to you.

Welcome to the poetry party. Serena and I are happy to have you here with us!

Read a Poem…I Dare You

April is National Poetry month and the library’s reading challenge this month is to read a book of poetry. I have heard some people say how they are not looking forward to this challenge and that they probably won’t be reading a book of poetry. I understand this resistance because a lot of people (myself included) have bad memories of being required to read poets who weren’t accessible to them during high school or college. They were required to memorize the first twenty lines of Chaucer’s General Prologue or read Paradise Lost.

Nothing is necessarily wrong with Chaucer or Milton, but today I am highlighting contemporary poets who may not be familiar to everyone. My hope in writing this post is that someone who avoids poetry will consider trying to read a poem…or maybe even a book of them. I have a deep appreciation for poetry and it has come to me through writing it, but also through reading poets that I resonate with on a personal and intellectual level. A wide spectrum of poets influenced me, but two in particular were Anne Sexton and Sharon Olds. I remember just falling into their work, feeling like I had found someone who understood me.

Some of the poets listed below recently had their start on social media while others have been writing poetry in the more conventional sense for quite some time. Poetry can be intimidating when you start reading it, but just remember there is not one right way to interpret a poem. Your experiences and who you are will determine your interpretation. If you need some tips about how to get started reading a poem, check out this insightful document from the Great Books Foundation.

Sun and flowers

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

The long awaited second book of poetry by Rupi Kaur is comprised of five parts and includes her illustrations as well. The parts are called wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. These poems chronicle heartbreak but also the strength and growth that occurs after the pain has been traversed.

sailing

Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins

Billy Collins is a renowned American poet who is a Guggenheim fellow and served as the United States Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003. His poems are about easily accessible subjects such as getting out of bed in the morning or quitting smoking. Sometimes they are funny and sometimes they take on a more serious, reflective tone. He uncovers complex topics through remarkably mundane things and observations.

wrote

I Wrote This for You by Pleasefindthis (Iain S. Thomas)

Pleasefindthis is the pseudonym that Iain S. Thomas uses as a poet. He began sharing his poetry and photographs on his blog before they were published as books. I Wrote This for You is a collection of his work that spans from 2007 to 2017. The first page of his book reads:

“I wrote this for you and only you.

The universe is desperately trying to move you into the only spot that truly belongs to you, in the whole entire thing, a space that only you can stand in. I believe it is up to you to decide every single day whether you are moving towards or away from that spot. I am trying to draw a map.”

His work will pull you in and let you know you are less alone in the world.

Alone

How to be Alone by Tanya Davis

Maybe you want to be alone, but just need a few instructions. If you are extremely hesitant about reading poetry, then this may be the book for you. How to Be Alone is comprised of one illustrated poem written by Tanya Davis and illustrated by Andrea Dorfman. Davis is a poet, musician and performer and if you enjoy reading this poem, check out her video on YouTube. Davis reminds me of how poetry can be presented in so many different ways–it doesn’t just have to be a verse on a page.

mars

Life on Mars: Poems by Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith is the current United States Poet Laureate and Life on Mars won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The poems in this collection are longer and will require you to spend more time reading and pondering them than some of the other poetry mentioned in this post. Some of the poems are infused with themes from science fiction and they truly take on a vastness that might be compared to traveling through space.

wildly

Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind by Tyler Knott Gregson

Gregson’s most recent book is comprised of both his poetry and photography. Many of the poems in this book are photographs of his poems that have been typed on a typewriter and this definitely influenced the way I read these poems. Gregson captured the tone of his work well in the introduction to his collection:

“Perhaps for me, art, and the creation of it, has been reduced over the years to the pursuit of accurately and honestly reflecting both sides of that reality: the shine of noon and the pitch of midnight.”

princess

The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace

If you are a fan of Rupi Kaur’s work, then Amanda Lovelace will pique your interest as well. As a child, she loved reading fairy tales, so the title of this collection makes sense. The first three parts of the book are autobiographical and are called the princess, the damsel and the queen. The fourth part is called “you” and it addresses the reader in the hope that they will write their own ending. Lovelace explores themes of love and loss and ultimately resilience.