Introducing Books for You

The Everett Public Library is happy to be launching a new service during Phase 2 of the ongoing pandemic. For the past month we have been offering curbside service in which we bring to your vehicle the materials you have requested once they are ready for pick-up.

Now, with our Books for You project we’ll surprise you with 3-5 books that are similar to popular authors or titles you may have liked or that are focused on a variety of popular genres and subjects of interest.

Do you like true crime, or alternate histories, or mysteries featuring amateur sleuths?  We’ve got you covered. Maybe you loved Delia Owens’ bestseller Where the Crawdads Sing – we’ll bring you 3-5 similar books that you might also enjoy. Or say you’re waiting to read Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist or Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility – we’ll bring you some titles that also address racial equity and systemic racism in America.

Take a look through the Books for You categories below and give us a call at 425-257-8000 so we can surprise you with some handpicked read-alikes.

Books for You categories

While you wait for:
How to Be an Antiracist or White Fragility

If you liked:
A Gentleman in Moscow
The Handmaid’s Tale
Little Fires Everywhere
Where the Crawdads Sing

If you like:
Clive Cussler
David Baldacci

If you’re interested in:
Alternate Histories
Amateur Sleuths
Best Sellers from Around the World
The Black American Experience in Fiction
Books set in the Pacific Northwest
Culinary Mysteries
Debut Fiction
Diverse Sci-Fi and Fantasy
Everett History 101
Heartwarming Reads
Inspirational Fiction
The Latinx Experience
Pandemic Apocalypse Fiction
Science Books for Curious Minds
Short (but not so sweet) Stories
Small Press Fiction Sampler
True Crime
What They Didn’t Teach in History Class

Simply give us a call at 425-257-8000 or reach us at Ask a Librarian regarding the Books for You category you are interested in and we’ll contact you when they are ready for curbside pick-up.

Visit epls.org/bfy to see the current list of Books for You categories.

Of course, you’re not limited to the categories above – we’re here to help you discover good reading, whatever your areas of interest, so give us a call.

And for kids materials, click here to browse reading suggestions or to have our Youth Services librarians gather some Personal Picks for you.

We look forward to surprising you with some great reads!

O Canada

Yes, it is Canada Day! A perfect time to learn more about our neighbors to the north and their many great accomplishments.

A good place to start in your Canadian appreciation journey is by learning a little bit about their history. We have lots of books on the history of the nation, individual provinces and territories, first nations, and the many peoples that make up Canada today.

On the cultural front, Canada is no bit player. From artists, to authors, to the many productions of ‘Hollywood north,’ Canadian contributions are many and varied. And, of course, don’t forget the hockey and, yes, cuisine.

While, understandably but sadly, the border between the US and Canada is closed for travelers at this time, that just gives you more time to research your next trip. We have many travel books on all regions of Canada for you to explore.

For many of us in Washington, Canada means beautiful British Columbia. Appropriately, Everett Public Library has many books on that great province.

So, take a little time today to celebrate Canada and get to know our fellow North Americans a little better.

A Tribute to Mothers in the Archives

A female parent. A woman in authority. An old or elderly woman. Maternal tenderness or affection. The source or origin. To give birth to, or give rise to. To care or protect like a mother.

If you look in Merriam-Webster’s, there are many definitions of the word ‘mother;’ all but one are complementary. ‘Mother’ refers to nurturing, support, and creation. ‘Mother’ is an idea and an action as much as she is a specific person.

A woman in white holds a baby, three men stand with their backs turned to the camera. The group is overlooking a body of water, possibly a river.

An unidentified woman and child with a group. Pettersen Family collection, Everett Public Library.

I spent some time looking at our digital collections to see how our archives represent mothers. Some images seem obvious: nuclear families with women holding babies. Even though these images came to us without any labels, we make the assumption that we see a mother holding her child. In life, mothering is more intricate than biology.

A woman, man, and baby sit in a yard. The man holds the baby up to face the camera. The day appears sunny and warm.

Unnamed family in yard, Pettersen Family collection, Everett Public Library.

When collections of photographs are donated, they come to us in a variety of states. Some are fully described – every archivist’s dream – while others have no information. Sometimes people leave items for us when we are not around, a bag on a chair with no contact information. These situations leave us making our best guesses at what we are seeing, and I am certain that we sometimes miss the mark.

A child with a bowtie kneels in a garden patch behind small potted plants. Above him, in a window behind him, is a woman looking out at the photographer.

Child and woman, unknown source, Everett Public Library.

The past is full of complicated family situations. Mothers died in childbirth and their widowers remarried, sometimes even to single sister-in-laws. Maybe what appears to be a biological mother could be an aunt or someone unrelated. A parent secretly raised a child born to one of their unwed daughters. Children were adopted into unrelated families, but remained unaware of their origins even into old age. Families kept birth secrets to the grave. Children without supportive parents in their lives turned to older siblings and other adults for the love and care they needed to thrive. Does this change the name we call the people who nurtured these children through their years? Perhaps some people chose to not take on the title ‘Mother’ when raising a child that wasn’t biologically their own, preferring guardian, foster parent, stepmom, grandmother, auntie, mentor, or some other term, but they still earned the verb form of the word. The labor of love they undertook was mothering.

A woman in a large hat and long dress stands to the right holding a baby in white. Behind her to the left are a girl around 10 in a furry hood, and a toddler in what looks like a cape. They are holding hands. Behind them a train smokes, waiting to depart, or just arrived.

Family at train station, courtesy of Erik Wahleen, Everett Public Library.

Being an archivist means describing the materials in our care as accurately as we can. You’ll notice that the titles of the images in this post are vague. We shy away from making assumptions as much as possible. The first image I posted referred to the people pictured as a group, another as a woman and child. It seems like the term ‘family’ was reserved for images where people were physically close; their connections undeniable. We try to keep our descriptions clinical and unbiased, though the images we see evoke memories and associations of our own.

A group of children and women sit in a semi-circle inside a wooden building. Two in the group appear to be adults, the rest range from infant to perhaps preteen.

Tulalip women and Children, J.A. Juleen collection, Everett Public Library

Sometimes members of the community work together to return names and relationships to those pictured. The above image is from a collection of photographs taken at the Tulalip Treaty Day gathering of 1914. In the intervening years since the images entered our care, Tulalip citizens have worked with them to identify numerous attendees. Unfortunately none of the individuals in this image are among the identified, but there is always hope that their stories may be told again some day. Part of working with local history is trying to fill in these gaps. What seems clear from studying this image is that the children here are surrounded by people who are looking after their welfare; they are loved and supported. Mothered.

Sepia image of a group of women seated on the steps of an elaborate porch.

Everett Woman’s Book Club on the steps of the Monte Cristo Hotel, Everett Public Library

As alluded to in the Merriam-Webster’s definitions above, sometimes mothers give birth to entities other than children. This image shows the Everett Woman’s Book Club. At the time it was taken all members needed to be married. Undoubtedly many of them, if not most, had raised or were raising children when they posed on the steps of the old Monte Cristo Hotel. At the same time, this group of women founded Everett’s first public library, and many were involved in founding and maintaining its first hospital. Founding Mother is a title that honors the work of women.

A woman with her hair piled into a bun, wearing a high-collared white dress with a sleeves.

Emma Yule, Everett Public Library

While the married women of the Everett Woman’s Book Club were founding Everett’s institutions, unmarried women like Emma Yule were educating Everett’s children. The social rules that kept unmarried women out of the Everett Woman’s Book Club demanded that those who taught the children of those club women remain unwed. Ms. Yule was Everett Public School’s first teacher; she went on to be Principal and even Superintendent of the rapidly-growing school system. She never married and never had children of her own, though she helped guide the upbringing and education of hundreds of Everett’s children during her tenure. Her impact was so great during her time in Everett, that decades later when she passed away in California, she was brought back for burial in Evergreen Cemetery and her former students carried her to her rest.

A portrait of a woman in a light-colored jacket, wearing a ribboned hat of similar color.

Jennie Samuels, courtesy of University of Washington Special Collections

Some women, like Jennie Samuels, sent children off to war and cared for them when they came home with invisible wounds. Mrs. Samuels not only kept her house running smoothly, her home was the social center for the Black community in Everett in the early-to-mid 1900s. Her Wetmore home was listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book as a safe place for Black travelers to stay when in the area. She was a high-ranking member of the Washington State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs for years, while running her own Nannie Burroughs Study Club in Everett. Both organizations worked toward the advancement of Black causes, and cared for underprivileged members of their communities. Black club women from around the state gathered in her home when she brought their conventions to town, and she was celebrated by her community. Jennie Samuels mothered a community in a way that impacted her whole state.

Children play in the shallows at a beach. In the background people sit on logs watching them. Behind them are some houses and a lot building.

Mukilteo Beach, J.A. Juleen collection, Everett Public Library

Whether they are the people who protectively watch over us from the logs as we play our way through childhood, or are a team of people who scramble together a festive party for us when things aren’t quite right, most of us are fortunate to be mothered by many loving souls after the day our mother gives us life.

Two tables seat a group of children who appear to be dressed up. A line of women, and some men, are standing at the back of the room, looking over them. There is a large American flag covering one whole wall.

Christmas Party for Deaconess Children’s Home, given by the Loyal Order of the Moose. J.A. Juleen collection, Everett Public Library.

This weekend we celebrate all mothers who fall under all definitions of the word. Thank you for all that you do for us, no matter how we are related. Thank you for the love, care, and guidance you’ve shown countless children, and our communities. We would be nowhere without mothers.

Community History

Doris Bell at Alpine
Doris Bell at Alpine, Courtesy of Neil Anderson

One of my favorite parts of my job as a History Specialist at the Everett Public Library is doing programming that teaches people about local history. Some of these programs are lectures on historical topics, while others are hands-on workshops that discuss how to work with family collections of photographs and other records. One thing that I try to stress over everything else is that we are always living through history, and are always part of history. In the most average of times, it’s very hard for many people to receive this message. How could my Facebook wall, emails, or my Instagram posts possibly be historic? They don’t seem to have the same gravitas as those sepia toned pictures of great grandma, do they? So what happens when we find ourselves living through a series of events that one can’t help but recognize as being historic?

I’m sure those of us who were living during September 11th, 2001 could tell us a little something about where they were that morning. Do our voicemails or emails still survive from that day? Perhaps some of us have a forgotten Livejournal post or two floating around the internet recording our thoughts and fears from that period of time, but it’s unlikely that many of us documented what was going through our minds and kept those fleeting, likely digital records.

We currently find ourselves living through a period of time that will undeniably be viewed decades from now as historic. While COVID-19 is a different disease with its own trajectory from the Influenza pandemic of 1918-19, there is much that can be learned from how people documented their lives during that time, and how historians put those pieces back together over 100 years later. In this excellent article that was just published in The Lewiston Tribune, you can see a similar pattern of spotty information, varying local responses, public disbelief, and waves of infection. The author used a variety of sources to put this account together: published books on the pandemic, interviews with a woman who lived through the pandemic, local poetry and children’s rhymes, contemporary news accounts, archival images, and so much more. All of these documents survived to be used by a mixture of chance, and people taking deliberate action to make sure that their records would be saved.

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Family album page showing a 1919 Everett parade celebrating the return of troops from Europe. Similar parades around the country were often followed by increased influenza cases.  (Everett Public Library digital collections)

There are a couple of local resources that I have been fortunate to work with that talk about how Everett families coped in 1918-19. In a journal loaned to me by Everett historian Neil Anderson, I read about Doris Bell’s life during the influenza pandemic. At the time Doris worked as a teacher in the remote town of Alpine, Washington (between Skykomish and Scenic). Her journal entries document the life of a young career woman who seemed peripherally aware of how influenza was impacting the larger population centers, though the remoteness of her teaching position protected her from being exposed to the worst of the pandemic. Her life in Alpine was most affected when her school was closed temporarily in October of 1918, though it appears that there was not a serious outbreak in her area.

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Entry from Doris Bell Journal, 1918 – courtesy of Neil Anderson

During the school closure Doris returned to Everett to visit her family. From what can be gleaned from her journal, life went on fairly normally, with no cessation of casual social activities. This would not have been unusual at this time, as there were not any formal prohibitions on visiting other people. On October 8th the Everett Health Board had banned all public gatherings such as school, dances, and church, but day-to-day life went on. According to notes in the Northwest Room archive on Everett Tribune coverage from 1918, it appears that people were cautioned to stay home, but that downtown Everett showed little sign of change other than the darkened theaters. In the cigar stores it was business as usual, with people gathering to socialize and smoke.

Nurses at Providence slowly became overwhelmed throughout October, and many became ill. The Tribune reported that volunteers were coming in shifts in to sterilize and pack bandages; no nurses could be called up from Seattle because there were none to spare. The old wooden Bethania College building on Broadway, near what is now Compass Health on Broadway, was returned to hospital service and the Red Cross put a call out to the public for bed pans and any other medical supplies that could be spared. 

Doris’s routine daily entries were occasionally punctuated with mentions of people in her social circle succumbing to influenza, and in one jarring instance, a fellow passenger dying on a train she was aboard. Because Doris was limited to a mere four lines per day, her mixing of death and mundane daily tasks can feel a bit jarring, but that was a result of the format she had available rather than a reflection of callousness. There are occasional references to masks (the State Health Board started requiring the wearing of gauze masks in public on November 4th), but her entries are dominated by her more-or-less normal life: going for walks, seeing friends, and thoughts about her work. Reading Doris’s journal doesn’t feel much different from reading friends’ Facebook walls, where incredibly serious news is mixed with the kinds of content we’re used to sharing. People are aware of the bigger picture, but most are still living their lives albeit in a very modified way.

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Entry from Doris Bell journal, 1918 – courtesy of Neil Anderson

Another window into local life during the influenza pandemic comes from the minutes book of the Everett Woman’s Book Club. According to this record, October and November meetings were cancelled due to the influenza, and the December meeting account was peppered with mentions. A gold star was added to the service flag for a local soldier who passed away in France of influenza, and member Ida Coleman asked her colleagues to help with the eradication of the disease. Both Doris Bell’s journal and the Woman’s Book Club minutes mention working in the gauze room; it’s unclear if they were helping sterilize and pack bandages for the local hospitals in need, or if these efforts were intended to help troops abroad.

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December 1918 Woman’s Book Club minutes courtesy of the Woman’s Book Club.

So what are the journals and club minutes of today? How do we preserve our altered daily lives so that someone looking back in 100 years will understand the decisions we made and the actions we took? It is important to recognize that the future of our daily records like Facebook, or Instagram, or any other social media are less than secure. Changing trends in social media may see many of these platforms fall out of favor and disappear over time (see Friendster or Myspace).

The best way to help ensure that our historical record doesn’t have gaps during this time period is to intentionally document your experiences and look for the organizations that are trying to preserve these kinds of records. Preserving digital materials is a problem that still hasn’t been solved, but archives and museums are doing their best to have plans in place to prolong their lives.

At the Everett Public Library, we have launched the Community History project, which aims to collect people’s images and thoughts during this time of social distancing. To participate, you need only to email your content to CommunityHistory@everettwa.gov – we will be monitoring this account for submissions to be considered for inclusion in our archives. If you are keeping a written journal, keep the library in mind for a future donation either of the original or a copy if you would rather keep it in the family. The Northwest Room has already been building an archive of news clippings, city records, and documents related to how local businesses and organizations are reacting to COVID-19, but we are very interested in preserving what life was like for our community members on an individual level. I encourage you to consider sending your thoughts, pictures, poetry, or art as emails to the future.

 

Shallow Choices

There are a lot of great reasons to choose a book. An interesting topic, a good review, a friend’s recommendation or even an intriguing title are all tried and true methods of selecting a book here at the library. But let me recommend one other way that might seem frivolous at first: beauty. While definitely a poor method for choosing human (and pet for that matter) companionship, selecting a book based solely on looks can yield great results. It can even introduce you to titles you might not dream of looking at otherwise.

Still skeptical? Take a gander at these four titles that I plucked off the shelves for their beauty alone; and ended up thoroughly enjoying.

The Old West, Then & Now by Vaughan Grylls

The concept for this book is deceptively simple: display a historical photograph of an important location in the development of the idea of the American west and juxtapose it with a recent one. Seeing the differences, or not, brought to a place by the simple passage of time is actually quite thought provoking and complex. It doesn’t hurt that the photographs, both old and recent, are stunning and the locations well chosen, either.

Star Wars Propaganda by Pablo Hidalgo

Whether you are a potential recruit for the Empire or the Rebellion, you will find a lot of gorgeous art posters to confirm or deny your leanings in this unique book. This work takes its Star Wars lore very seriously, with a detailed chronology that places each poster in a specific time and place within the Star Wars universe.  But even if you don’t know Darth Vader from Darth Maul, you will enjoy the sleek artwork and the sometimes-disturbing references to current cultural events and tropes that are displayed.

The World of Dinosaurs by Mark Norell

A post about beautiful books wouldn’t be complete without one on the topic of dinosaurs now would it? These long extinct creatures have been the subject of artists reconstructions since the first fossilized bones were dug out of the ground. This masterwork, chock full of speculative illustrations and photographs of the fossils themselves, is a feast for the eyes. Being authored by the chairman of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History guarantees that all the speculation is scientific and based on the latest research as well.

The Drink that Made Wisconsin Famous by Doug Hoverson

While beauty might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Wisconsin and beer, this book is definitely gorgeous. Chock full of photographs of vintage advertising, bottles in various shapes and hues, and historical as well and modern production machinery, this book is truly a looker. In addition to the beauty, this impressive tome is chock full of well researched and detailed histories regarding brewing and breweries in the Badger state. Plus, beer!

So, go ahead, and be a little bit shallow. Check out a book or two based solely on looks.

Not Your Father’s Ancient History

Do you like your historical biographies bold and unapologetic? Do you want to learn something new from a set of seemingly old and exhausted primary sources? Want to hear the tale of a person constrained by crushing societal forces, but striking out in an unconventional and incredibly effective way? Finally, are you o.k. with expletives and current cultural references while learning about the ancient world? If so, let me recommend to you the thrilling, fascinating, well researched and bitingly funny Agrippina: The Most Extraordinary Woman of the Roman World by Emma Southon. Read on to find out more.

If you haven’t heard of Agrippina before (technically Agrippina the Younger but, as Southon points out, the Romans were super unoriginal when it came to giving a child a name) you have probably run across some of her notorious relations. She was the granddaughter of the first emperor Augustus, the sister of the emperor Caligula (yes, that one!), the wife of the emperor Claudius, her own uncle (Ewww), and the mother of Nero (oh, my!).

So with an interesting pedigree like that, why haven’t you heard more about her? Well the elephant in the room when it comes to telling the story of a woman in the ancient world, and much of history alas, is who does the telling. The two primary surviving historical accounts of her time are written by two senators, Tacitus and Suetonius, roughly a hundred years later. Both had a major axe to grind when it came to the idea of a woman stepping out of her ‘proper’ role and, heaven forbid, wielding a little power for herself.

Southern does an excellent job of demonstrating how Agrippina only shows up in the historical record at all as a foil or reaction to a male protagonist. Because of this, there are huge gaps when it comes to trying to form a cohesive narrative of her life. Most historians look at the gaps and just give up on trying to tell her story at all. Not Sothern. Instead she embraces the ambiguity and speculation with gusto and produces a convincing and entertaining account.

It is really hard to do her style justice by just describing it, so I’ll just quote a great passage here concerning Agrippina’s mother, yet another Agrippina, and her return to Rome after her husband’s death:

Agrippina the Elder returned to Rome in 19CE with two symbolic middle fingers raised in Tiberius’s direction, while Tiberius sulked in his palace. The atmosphere went slowly downhill from here. But they were family, and – like Michael Bluth – the Julio-Claudians put family first. They couldn’t just avoid one another and get on with their lives, and Agrippina the Elder didn’t want that anyway. Agrippina the Elder wanted revenge.

So clearly this is not your father’s ancient history. But if you give this excellent history a chance, you will be thanking the gods that it isn’t when you finish.

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.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson

Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks, when she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.

THAT was the extent of my knowledge of this case prior to reading the excellent book The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson. Part trial transcript, and part documentary, this is a fascinating book!

The only part of the song that is true, is that the (step) mother was killed first.

The crime occurred in August of 1892. Within hours of the crime being committed,  there were dozens of people tromping through the crime scene. Forensics were obviously not what they are today! Because of this lack of reliable physical evidence, testimonies were often contradictory and most of the evidence was circumstantial.

Lizzie was considered the only one that could have done it, but the maid was in the house as well at the time. The murders were a little over an hour apart, and the force of the blows required would have caused a lot of blood spatter, but no-one saw any blood on Lizzie’s dress…… but, coincidentally, Lizzie burned a blue dress similar to the one she supposedly wore a couple of days after the murders. Three axes were found, but none were ever proven to be the murder weapon.

The book takes you through the trial day by day, and made me feel as though I was in the courtroom. It was the first trial that became a media circus, with reporters from around the country attending.

At the end of the trial, Lizzie was found not guilty but each of us is allowed draw our own conclusions. I myself believe she did it, but there wasn’t any proof beyond a reasonable doubt. At the end of the book, the reader is asked to “submit your verdict and join the conversation.” I hope you enjoy the drama as much as I did!

The Benefits of a Classical Education

History is all in the telling. I’ve always enjoyed a good work of history, especially ancient history, but can understand if others are a bit hesitant. If a history book is an unending list of dates, a dry rendition of ‘what happened,’ or just an academic author trying to prove a point it can be annoying and, worse yet, deadly dull even if you enjoy the topic. The best way to guard against selecting historical duds, I’ve found, is to discover an exciting and intriguing history writer.

Mary Beard is one such author. A bit of an institution in the UK, Mary Beard brings a fresh perspective on classical history with everything she writes. She does this by bringing forward the stories of those groups often forgotten in history, classical or otherwise, and by showing history to be an ever-changing debate amongst those doing the telling. Being skeptical and critical of consensus when it comes to the stories we are told is her default position it seems.

So clearly, I like her stuff. But will you? Long works of history can be intimidating so why not try something shorter to start. Mary Beard has an excellent blog if you want to start electronically sampling her work. If a book is more your style might I suggest the very short, almost a pamphlet really, Women & Power: A Manifesto. Based on a series of lectures, this book is crammed full of intriguing concepts about the way classical ideas about women in power continue to affect our current culture, including the last presidential election. Try this excellent book and you will never look at Medusa (not a good thing to do to start with) the same way again.

Now that you have gotten your feet wet, it’s time to delve into a longer work. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome is one of Beard’s best. Don’t be put off by the long time frame, almost 1000 years of history, since this is not a chronicle of what happened when. Instead, Beard illuminates the ideas and controversies that the Romans argued over and debated as they went from small city-state to far-flung empire. Many of these ideas have great resonance with issues we face today. The icing on the cake is how she clues you into the way historians actually put together the facts and lets you make your own decisions about what might have really happened and its significance.

There are many great books to highlight in Mary Beard’s collection, but let me just suggest two more that are exceptional:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations is an outstanding collection of essays on a diverse and intriguing number of topics related to the ancient world. She brings her signature wit and depth of knowledge to each essay and is always entertaining. Plus how can you resist essay titles such as ‘Alexander: How Great?’, ‘Who Wanted Remus Dead?’, ‘Bit-Part Emperors’, and ‘Married to the Empire’?

The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found is an attempt, with no claims of certain knowledge despite what some other historians and archaeologists might state, to figure out how the residents of Pompeii lived before Vesuvius buried the town in ash. It was a city full of bright colors, noxious smells and sculpted phalluses, placed for luck that clearly ran out, everywhere.  Who better than Mary Beard to guide you through this fascinating, yet disturbing, place?

So there you have a few suggestions to get you started. Choose one that appeals and be confident in the knowledge that you will be in the hands of a master storyteller.

The Best Books I Read in 2018

2018 brought a lot of heartache and stress.

I probably shouldn’t start this post out that way, but looking back it’s been an exhausting year for me. I sold my house, bought a new one, dealt with the movers using a broken toilet and overflowing the house we no longer owned (yes, really), packed and unpacked an insane amount of boxes stacked Tetris-style in a storage unit, spent months figuring out what plants I had in my new yard and how to not kill them, hosted visits from Midwestern family loves, and had to say goodbye to the sweetest cat ever.

It’s been barely controlled chaos. And that’s not even looking outward at our divided country and other political and social nightmares popping up on a daily basis.

However.

2018 also brought a deluge of amazing books. While society is one large dumpster fire and I still have a ton of stuff to check off my never-ending to-do list, giving up sleep in favor of reading means that I got to read more this year than I expected. So without further ado here are just a few of the best books I read this year.

Pride : a Pride and Prejudice Remix by Ibi Zoboi
This is the modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice I had been waiting for! I read this in one sitting and want to go back and read it again–which is so rare for me I can’t even. Our setting is modern-day Bushwick, Brooklyn. Our Bennet family is actually the Benitez family, Afro-Latino and close-knit. Our Darcys are still the Darcys, but these Darcys buy the entire building across the street from the Benitez’s building and renovate it into one luxurious home for just the four of them. To Zuri Benitez the Darcys–and especially their arrogant son Darius–embody the gentrification that is rapidly changing her neighborhood and pricing out families who have lived there for generations. But Zuri’s older sister Janae is crushing hard on Darius’s older brother Ainsley, and thus Zuri is reluctantly drawn into Darius’s universe, even as her place in both Bushwick and the world (hello, college applications!) shifts. Pride is filled with emotion and possibility, and the characters speak like real teens, not like the stuffy ideal aristocracy in the original P&P. I am one of the few who didn’t like the original, so Pride really spoke to me and has become an instant classic.

We Are Not Yet Equal : Understanding the Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson’s groundbreaking White Rage has been adapted for teens, and I’m here to tell you this book is for literally everyone. Anderson reframes the conversation about race with a straightforward and accessible voice. Her chronology begins at the end of the Civil War and follows through to the turmoil we face today. Anderson focuses on the systemic and sadly legal ways American society has suppressed progress for African-Americans. Racism is a horrible problem we still face today, but by learning from the past–and present–there can be hope for change in the future. There are historic photos and added resources for further reading and reflection. Hand this book to your relative who thinks everyone was made equal with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and doesn’t understand why we definitely still need activists and movements like Black Lives Matter.

(Don’t) Call Me Crazy : 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health edited by Kelly Jensen
I’ve been steadily diversifying my TBR, adding in authors of color and LGBTQIA authors, generally absorbing life experiences that are different from my own as a way to expand empathy and understanding of more people. I haven’t been so great about seeking out books explaining mental health and how mental health challenges can look different to each individual. Kelly Jensen–former librarian, current Book Riot editor, and all-around book champion–has assembled a diverse and absorbing introduction to this extremely important and under-represented demographic. Each essay is from a different perspective but straightforward and descriptive, helping the reader see through each author’s eyes. What’s it like to be called crazy? And how can we start having real and true conversations about mental health when such stigma is attached? This book answers those questions and so much more.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
At a secluded house party, Evelyn Hardcastle will die. She’ll die every night at 11pm until Aiden Bishop can determine who her killer is and break the cycle. However, each day he wakes up in the body of a different party guest, with no way to predict which body he’ll inhabit next. As he lives each day and learns more about Evelyn, Aiden becomes determined to not only unmask the killer, but he intends to prevent her death entirely. This is the perfect mystery for readers who think they’re pretty good at predicting twists and figuring out whodunnit. Seriously, it’s just…not what you’re expecting, even if you (accurately) expect a murder mystery that answers the question: What would happen if Agatha Christie wrote a mash-up of Groundhog Day and Quantum Leap? Don’t let the number of pages fool you. You’ll stay up late and cancel plans to finish reading this book.


Darius the Great is Not Okay
by Adib Khorram, There There by Tommy Orange, and Vox by Christina Dalcher
These books were fantastic and at the tippy-top of the favorites pile for me. I won’t go into detail here because Jesse and I have already written in-depth reviews about each. Go check them out and thank us later.

Darius the Great is Not Okay, aka Star Trek, Soccer, and Ancient Persian Kings
There There, aka The Best Book I’ll Read This Year
Vox, aka 900 Words About Vox

Well, that’s all for me. As we wave goodbye to another year of fantastic reading, I can’t help but wonder what 2019 will bring us. Drop a comment below with titles you’re looking forward to reading and when they’ll be published. Because if this year taught me anything it’s this: my TBR cannot be too big, and reading when I’m stressed is the best thing for my soul.