A Diamond in the Rough?

There’s a reason that the nightly news ends with a ‘good news story,’ we need hope. Hope gives us energy. Hearing and watching stories of how others have triumphed over the odds inspires and helps us to think better of others and ourselves.

We had our own good news story live last evening when we looked out our living room window and spotted a young couple setting up a Covid 19 style birthday party in our neighborhood. We stood in awe as decorations went up in the pouring rain and the little family waited a good 40 minutes until a trail of young families, including the 32 year old birthday girl, arrived dressed to party. We joined in from our deck as everyone sang happy birthday. 9AE6593F-91F3-4616-AFBD-EBE8A02EDC1F

Last evening was remarkable, but other days it’s been a bit like searching for diamonds in the rough. I’ve found Cloud Library the easier of the two online ebook apps to use when doing a subject search. I began my search on self-care and health but, landed on inspirational books and stories of courage. I encourage you to do your own search. Cloud Library has an extensive topic search although some titles overlap.

Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me by Anna Mehler Papemy

I don’t want to die, however in my more broken and vulnerable moments I feel like I need to be fixed. Author Anna Mehler-Paperny tracks her quest for knowledge and her desire to get well. Impeccably reported, Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me is a profoundly compelling story about the human spirit and the myriad ways we treat (and fail to treat) depression, a condition that accounts for more years swallowed up by disability than any other in the world.

Last May I blogged on depression. No one was more surprised than me on the response I received, which attests to the importance of mental health. More recently co-worker Linda blogged on the subject as part of her Did You Know series.

Almost Everything by Anne Lamott

I’ve enjoyed and shared my enthusiasm for Lamott’s candor in a previous post. I can’t think of a better time to revisit her in Almost Everything. In this profound and funny book, Lamott calls for each of us to rediscover the nuggets of hope and wisdom that are buried within us so we can make life sweeter than we ever imagined. Her work is divided into short chapters that explore life’s essential truths. Candid and caring, insightful and sometimes hilarious, Almost Everything is the book we need and that only Anne Lamott can write.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

Whimsical comes to mind when reading this short summary: From the revered British illustrator, a modern fable for all ages that explores life’s universal lessons, featuring 100 color and black-and-white drawings. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” asked the mole.“ Kind,” said the boy.

Walking with Peety: the Dog Who Saved my Life by Eric O’Grey

Eric was 150 pounds, overweight, depressed, and sick. After a lifetime of failed diet attempts… sound familiar?…Walking with Peety is for anyone who is ready to make a change in his or her life, and for everyone who knows the joy, love, and hope that dogs can bring. This is more than a tale of mutual rescue. This is an epic story of friendship and strength

Broken Places & Outer Spaces by Nnedi Okorafor

A powerful journey from star athlete to sudden paralysis to creative awakening, award-winning science fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor shows that what we think are our limitations have the potential to become our greatest strengths.

We’ve heard it, and we’ve said it a thousand times over these past weeks “We’re in this together.” Author Philip Yancey once wrote “We don’t get to choose the family we’re born into.” So much of life is about not having control, yet seeing a spontaneous birthday party outside in the rain and finding books with amazing stories and insights helps us along our way. A bit like finding a diamond in the rough.

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.

 

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.

Depression isn’t forever

Writing of a personal nature— sharing a part of my life, I take the risk of allowing myself to be exposed.

I grew up in a big family and as a kid I felt loved and secure, but once I got into my teens my world turned upside down. During those years music and books impacted me. The spellbinding music of the 60’s and 70’s coupled with books like Go Ask Alice, published anonymously in 1971, and I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, published in 1964, fueled my young easily-influenced brain, tightening the tentacles of darkness. I experienced a deep depression and was ripe for self-destruction. I considered thoughts of taking my life.

Sadly, there are many people (young, old and in between) who out of desperation view suicide as the only solution to their pain. Depression is a tough subject to discuss, yet it’s a conversation that cannot be ignored. Consider the character of Eleanor in Gail Honeyman’s debut novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. The reader quickly discovers that Eleanor is not fine. She fastidiously maintains her Monday through Friday job keeping to herself, then on Friday night with equal purpose she stops off to pick-up a frozen pizza and 2 bottles of Vodka which she proceeds to drink over the weekend.

It is easier to discuss a complex character in a book than it is to admit you may be struggling with depression or suicide. It’s awkward, no one knows what to say, so often nothing is said at all — It is my sincere intent to open up the dialogue in hopes that lives may be saved. Indeed it is a hard subject to discuss because those who suffer feel stuck and weighed down by the stigma of shame.

Today more and more resources are becoming available, which is encouraging, because the truth is that mental illness comes in a multitude of manifestations, depression being one of them. I recently came across two books in the Library’s collection that offer insight and hope.

Just Peachy: Comics About Depression, Anxiety, Love, and Finding the Humor In Being Sad by Holly Chisholm is a great little book, a quick read and an outstanding example of the power of art as a tool for recovery.

If You Feel too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped for is a collection of personal essays by Jamie Tworkowski. The book evolved after he wrote an earlier story about helping a friend in her struggle with depression, drugs and self-injury. The piece was called “To Write Love on Her Arms.The piece went viral and the outcome led to the organization TWLOHA an internationally recognized leader in suicide prevention worldwide.

Grace June’s “Phil”

Last October my daughter-in-law, who bravely admits her own struggle with depression, received grant funding to develop a forum bringing light on the subject of suicide. She used the medium of photography to convey a message of hope and healing dubbing the project Survivor Series. The photo essay was compiled into a book of individuals who had either lost a loved one to suicide or had contemplated taking their own life.

For the culmination of her yearlong project, she hosted an event inviting the community and those photographed for the project. Photos were on display with a brief synopsis of each story. A portion of the evening was an open mic in a second building where a poetry group kicked things off, followed by anyone who wanted to standing up and share their story.

The evening was successful and affirming for those in the infancy of their grief as well as for others who, like my husband who lost his brother 20 years ago, have been grieving for a much longer time. It also was a catalyst for change in the Spokane community. The exhibit is currently on display at the Spokane Public Library.

Next month my husband and daughter will team up with hundreds of people to walk through the night on the streets of San Francisco in the Out of Darkness Overnight. The walk serves to raise money and bring attention and support to our nation’s increasing number of suicide deaths.

Thank you for reading this blog. It takes courage and honesty to admit the need for help. We’re not meant to walk this life alone. If you want more information on suicide prevention, there are people who are trained to help at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Anxiety, Hell’s Angels and Haiku

It’s all there in Criminals: My Family’s Life on Both Sides of the Law by Robert Siegel.

What’s the key thing writers need the most? Raw material of course. Author Robert Anthony Siegel has a goldmine of raw material living in a New York City duplex with his parents, Stanley and Frances, and trying to make sense of his childhood.

Dad is a charismatic criminal defense attorney, bringing all kinds of questionable characters home. Young Robert accompanies his dad to Hell’s Angel’s clubhouse parties and dines with drug dealers and possible murderers.

Mom takes Robert to MoMA and the Whitney to show him paintings by Motherwell and Rothko, to counterbalance Dad’s lowbrow Brooklyn background and make sure there is art and culture in his life.

Complex doesn’t begin to describe Dad. The reason his clients love him is that he is an old-school lawyer, with a gift for story telling in front of the jury and throwing in Shakespeare quotes to boot. He rescues his clients time and time again. Dad’s depression is eased by lots of antidepressants, consuming huge quantities of food and spending money as fast as he gets it – even a duffel bag full of cash (a gift from a grateful client). His depression is especially intense after the DEA bring charges against him and he goes away to prison for a year.

Told in a personal essay style, this memoir is one you can’t put down. At first you feel like you’re careening around roads on the edge of a cliff, but the author’s skillful writing keeps you grounded, entertained and delighted right up to the book’s end. This is a reading experience like no other.

And where does the Haiku come in? Toward the end of the book Robert, who has spent years learning to speak Japanese and to learn about Japanese culture as a way of coping with his life, explains it best in the very touching chapter “Haiku For My Father.” As his father stumbles toward the end of his life, Siegel is reminded of the last haiku of Basho Matsuo, helping him make sense of not only his father’s life, but his own as well. Maybe it even explains the reader’s life also.

On the Road with David Sedaris

David Sedaris brings you into his life and adventures with his 9th and probably best book yet, Calypso.  The 21 stories and personal essays will amuse, shock and lead to an understanding of the family and brilliance of Sedaris.

He’ll take you to Tokyo where he and sister Amy buy absurd clothing (clown pants with suspenders, a trio of hats meant to be worn together) that ‘refuse to flatter.’

He’ll show you what he goes through in his attempt to make a wild fox his friend.

He’ll take you to the post-dinner dining room table of his youth where he and his 4 siblings would vie for their chance to either light their mom’s cigarette or tell her their daily story. Mom Sedaris would give helpful notes to each (“lose the part about the teacher….” or “cut to the chase here…”)

You’ll go with him on his Fitbit-induced walks from his countryside home in Sussex. By the time he works up to 60,000 steps a day, he’s sporting a grabber in one hand and a big garbage bag in the other. He imagines stories to go along with each piece of interesting garbage. Neighbors report to his long-suffering boyfriend, Hugh, such things as “We saw David in Arundel pick up a dead squirrel with his grabbers” or “We saw him outside Steyning rolling a tire down the side of the road.”

Hugh, seemingly in permanent eye-roll mode, has a lot to contend with when the rest of the Sedaris clan are around. And they’re around a lot after Sedaris buys a beach house off the coast of North Carolina. The vacation home, purposefully without any TV, gives Sedaris and his 90+ year old father Lou, brother (plus sister-in-law and niece) and four sisters a place to be together on holidays. The four sisters become three in the aftermath of the youngest one’s suicide. This fact is dealt with off and on throughout the book in the inimitable fashion of Sedaris.

Sedaris finds his always critical father has been replaced by a nicer more agreeable one. And while Sedaris admits it makes a better story to hang onto the cantankerous Dad he remembers from his youth, he still makes a good case for holding a grudge. David is the only one taken out of Dad’s will after a particularly spectacular argument.

Sedaris writes beautifully about the moment the two found common ground. “Just Listen,” his dad commands the 15 year-old, as he goes about playing John Coltrane’s ‘I wish I knew” and Betty Carter’s “Beware My Heart.”  I won’t spoil it for you by quoting the ending here. You’ll just have to read the book for yourself. And, when you get to page 141 and 142, you might want to que the music and JUST READ!

What to Read While You Wait for Becoming

As of this writing I’m number 28 in a holds queue of 38 for the most-requested book right now at EPL. Don’t worry–I’m not here to complain! I do believe that good things come to those who wait. But I also believe that waiting shouldn’t be boring. I want to share with you some other rad books out there that those of us waiting for Michelle Obama’s Becoming can read while we wait patiently somewhat patiently kinda impatiently–okay, totally impatiently but at least we’ll have fab reading material in line! There’s quite a mix of books and audio here, certain to help keep you busy and keep you satisfied while you wait just a teeny tiny bit longer for your copy to come in.

Audio that lets us listen to Michelle
First of all, if you would rather have Michelle read her book Becoming to you, you should get yourself in the holds queue for that. But while you wait you can still hear Michelle and other First Ladies give important speeches by listening to Great Speeches by First Ladies of the United States. In addition to Michelle you’ll also hear Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy, Laura Bush, and many more. There’s also Ibeyi’s Ash, in particular the track No Man is Big Enough for My Arms, which features clips from Michelle Obama’s speeches.

Two amazing books packed with photos of Michelle
Michelle Obama is one of my style icons. Not only does she always appear stylish and put together, but she often wears affordable, off-the-rack items that regular Janes like me can pick up. Chasing Light and the children’s adaptation Reach Higher are compilations of photos of Michelle taken by former official White House photographer Amanda Lucidon. You’ll catch Michelle tobogganing in China with a Secret Service agent, taking a selfie with a member of the armed forces, greeting heads of state (sometimes with her dogs Bo and Sunny), and harvesting vegetables from the White House Kitchen Garden. Yes, I’m inspired by her style, but I also love seeing how active and engaged she is with folks of all ages and from all walks of life.
   

Books that tell us more about Michelle
Biographies are popular, and as such we’ve got plenty stocked on the shelves to satisfy your need to know more about Michelle. Try one of these books that delve deep into her background, family history, and home life. You’ll also find books where other people talk about why they admire Michelle, and those are worth a read, too.

 

 

 

 

Books that show us how to be a leader
Want to be more like Michelle? One of my favorite types of books to read are books on leadership, especially ones that focus up on how leadership challenges can be very different for women and non-binary folks. These books each take a different track but all of them show you a way to grow your leadership skills and be the boss. There are also stories of women who succeeded despite the odds, and they inspire me every bit as much as Michelle Obama does.
      

One very special bonus book
When I’m missing someone my heart hurts. Like, really badly hurts. One remedy for heartache (even the good kind) is to curl up with a book that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. For me there’s no better pairing than the characters Heart and Brain, and Heart and Brain: Gut Instincts by Nick Seluk of The Awkward Yeti is one of the best compilations. Brain is the pragmatic character, the one who remembers deadlines and obligations. Heart, by contrast, is all about living in the moment and enjoying life. Together they bring together the qualities of common sense and empathy that I respect Michelle Obama for having in great quantity.

So what do you think? Can you get by a little while longer in the holds queue? I know I’ve got a full TBR and while I still very much want to read Becoming, I feel better knowing I have other satisfying reads to occupy my time in line.

Reading in the Spirit of Amelia Bloomer

Working in a library is more than just knowing how to check out books, finding accurate information on any given topic, and embracing a strong love of books and reading (the better to help you find your next great read, my dear!). For some of us, library work is life work. We’re committed to libraries so much that we join local and national library associations, serve on committees, run for and hold office, and read peer-reviewed journals to keep up with industry best practices and the latest research from the field.

We also create book awards and reading lists to honor the spirit and values of trailblazers and progressive thinkers.

One library group I’ve joined is the Social Responsibilities Round Table which is a part of the American Library Association. While I’ve been an ALA member for 13 years, I didn’t join SRRT until recently. As libraries have grown to fill more roles in the community outside of providing reading and research material, organizations like SRRT provide guidance as we respond to social issues at the library. While it’s true my work here at the library is done from behind the scenes, I am always looking for ways to increase my awareness of issues important to our community so I can do a better job connecting readers with resources.

This is a long way of telling you the Feminist Task Force, part of SRRT, is made up of a ton of rad library professionals doing life work. FTF accepts nominations every year for the Amelia Bloomer List. As Jennifer Croll describes in Bad Girls of Fashion, Amelia Bloomer was the editor of the first newspaper for women [The Lily (1849-1853)], was a strong advocate for women’s rights, and saw pants as a feminist statement. Ever heard of bloomers? Yup, named after Amelia since she promoted them in The Lily.

But I’m not here to talk about pants. I’m here to talk about books. To be considered for the Amelia Bloomer List the book has to have significant feminist content, be developmentally appropriate for/appealing to young readers, and be well-written/ illustrated.

Welcome to my wheelhouse!

The Amelia Bloomer Project has started sharing the nominations for the 2019 list and I want to highlight some of my favorites. If you click the book jacket it’ll take you to the online catalog where you can access more information about each book and place a hold.

  

  

  

So there you have it: a robust book list you’d never heard of before that just made your TBR cast a shadow. Let me know in the comments which books you’ve read or want to read and let’s keep the conversation going. For feminism!

The Work of Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is one of my heroes. I first discovered her short fiction on a trip to Portland while I was browsing in Powell’s Books. Difficult Women was the first book I read and I was both entranced and awed by her writing. She did not become my hero until I saw her interviewed by Trevor Noah about the publication of her book Hunger. 

Today, I want to honor all of the books written by Roxane Gay. The title of this post definitely refers to the body of writing Roxane Gay has created, but it also refers to the emotional work that is required when reading either her fiction or nonfiction. I have also included a quote from Gay before each book description to give you an idea of her voice and her politics.

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Difficult Women

I think women are oftentimes termed ‘difficult’ when we want too much, when we ask for too much, when we think too highly of ourselves, or have any kind of standards…I wanted to play with this idea that women are difficult, when in reality it’s generally the people around them who are the difficult ones.

Gay’s quote about Difficult Women captures the essence of this short story collection. The stories explore a range of different women’s experiences. There is loss, unthinkable abuse, and complicated relationships and marriages. Not only are the stories about a range of experiences, but the characters in each story stand out individually. There are two inseparable twin sisters, a grief stricken mother, a stripper, a wealthy suburban housewife, and an engineer. This beautifully written collection makes you look, even when you don’t want to, at the realities and experiences of a wide cross section of women.

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Ayiti

The waters did not run deep. It was just a border between two geographies of grief.

This compact collection was Gay’s writing debut and is comprised of what I would think of as short shorts. The stories explore a range of experiences about Haitians in their native Haiti and the diaspora experience. The subjects of the stories are varied and even though the collection is compact, it is powerful in its succinctness.

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Black Panther: World of Wakanda

I didn’t realize I would be the first Black woman writer at Marvel. It is overwhelming and also pretty frustrating because this is 2016 and there are many Black women and other Women of Color who are working in comics. I cannot think about the hype. I just cannot. It’s too much pressure. I’m focusing on what I’ve been asked to do, which is to tell the story of the Dora Milaje.

Gay co-wrote the first book in this series with Ta-Nehisi Coates and it takes place in the kingdom of Wakanda. It is a love story about two Midnight Angels, Ayo and Aneka. The two women have both been recruited to be a part of the Dora Milaje, a prestigious cadre of soldiers trained to defend the crown of Wakanda. The kingdom desperately needs their help and Ayo and Aneka must figure out how to balance the kingdom’s needs and the love they have for each other.

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An Untamed State

There are three Haitis—the country Americans know and the country Haitians know and the country I thought I knew.

An Untamed State is Roxane Gay’s debut novel and it tells the story of Mireille Duval Jameson, a successful attorney in Miami and the daughter of one of Haiti’s wealthiest men. Her life appears to be perfect until the day she is kidnapped by a violent group of men while vacationing in Port au Prince. Mireille assumes her father will quickly pay ransom, but instead he is resistant to this idea. Mireille endures unthinkable violence while being held captive. Her perfect life from the past is juxtaposed with her brutal existence in the present day and she struggles to get back to the person she once was.

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Bad Feminist

No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism.

This New York Times bestseller is a collection of essays spanning a wide range of topics that include politics and feminism. Gay writes about these subjects in relation to herself with humor and clarity.

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Hunger: A Memoir of my Body

This is what most girls are taught — that we should be slender and small. We should not take up space. We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to men, acceptable to society. And most women know this, that we are supposed to disappear, but it’s something that needs to be said, loudly, over and over again, so that we can resist surrendering to what is expected of us.

In Hunger, Gay shares the horrific sexual trauma she experienced at age twelve and how it changed the trajectory of her life and her relationship to her body. The courage it took to write this book is unimaginable. She gave and continues to give many female survivors of sexual abuse a gift, reminding them that they are not alone on their journey to recovery.

dispatches

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture

We have spent countless hours focused on manners, education, the perils of drugs. We teach them about stranger-danger and making good choices. But recently I’ve become aware that we must speak to our children about boundaries between the sexes. And what it means to not be a danger to someone else. To that end, we are making an effort to teach our sons about affirmative consent. We explain that the onus is on them to explicitly ask if their partner consents. And we tell them that a shrug or a smile or a sigh won’t suffice. They have to hear yes.

This timely collection of first person essays was selected and compiled by Gay and includes an introduction that she wrote. The essays address many topics and personal experiences related to what it is like to live in a rape culture. The contributors to this collection include established writers, never before published writers, men and women, and queer and transgender individuals.

Celebrate Pride and Read a Book

June is all about LGBTQ pride. I am proud to be a part of this community and for me, it is a time to celebrate who I am and remember all of those who have fought for LGBTQ rights. It is not just a time of celebration, but also a time of reflection. Pride celebrations are often held in June to mark the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Snohomo Pride had their pride celebration on Sunday June 3 at Willis Tucker Park. Pride events will happen throughout the entire month of June in Seattle.

Going to events and parades is one way to celebrate pride. I am celebrating pride this year by reading newly published LGBTQ books throughout the month of June. The list below includes a variety of titles for adults, teens, and children.

Adult:

tina allen

Hiding Out: A Memoir of Drugs, Deception, and Double Lives by Tina Allen

Tina Allen grew up the youngest of thirteen children in a strict Catholic family with her father “Sir John” at the helm. It was the 1980s and they lived in suburban Maryland where her father ran a travel agency that focused on tours to the Holy Land and the Vatican. Tina knew she liked girls from a young age and hid the secret until her father found out when she was eighteen. She expected her father to disown her, but instead he revealed that he was gay as well. This revelation brought them much closer and together they hid their secret from the rest of the family. The story becomes even more twisted when Tina discovers another facet of her father’s life.

The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst

Hollinghurst has written a novel that spans multiple generations starting in 1940 to the present day. It focuses on the pivotal relationship between David Sparsholt and Evert Dax who meet when they are students at Oxford during World War Two. The story captures shifts in social mores through specific events: a Sparsholt holiday in Cornwall, eccentric gatherings at the Dax family home, and the adventures of David’s son Johnny. This beautifully written work will capture readers with its emotional depth, complex relationships, and detailed history.

memoir

Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms by Michelle Tea

This book is unlike any other that Michelle Tea has written before. She is well known for her memoirs, but this book explores the lives of other people such as Valerie Solanas and a troubled lesbian biker gang. Parts of Tea’s life are actually revealed through the documentation and exploration of other queer people.

lucky

So Lucky by Nicola Griffith

Mara Tagarelli is a force to be reckoned with: she is the head of a national AIDS foundation and an accomplished martial artist. Everything drastically changes in the course of one week when she is left by her wife and she is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Griffith explores the inhumane way in which disabled and chronically ill people are treated in America. She also explores survival and creates a sense of hope for what can happen when you start listening to yourself.

Children and Teens:

leah

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

You must read Leah on the Offbeat if you read Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda because this is the sequel. Leah is Simon’s best friend and she is in the throes of her senior year dealing with friendships and romance.

Leah knows she is bisexual and so does her mom, but she hasn’t shared this with any of her friends including Simon who is out. The stress of her senior year is palpable with the upcoming prom, college and the surprising feelings she has developed for one of her friends.

prince

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Prince Sebastian’s parents are worried because they have not found a potential bride for him. This is the last thing on the prince’s mind because he is hiding a secret that he holds dear. He loves dresses and at night he puts them on and goes out into the streets and clubs of Paris. He soon becomes the “it” girl of Paris and is referred to as Lady Crystallia. The person who makes all of this possible for him is Frances, a dressmaker. She has always dreamed of being a famous designer, but she must hide in the wings as one of the prince’s secrets. This graphic novel for tweens and teens explores identity, romantic love and family relationships.

true way

One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

The year is 1977 and Allie’s parents are going through a divorce. She has just moved to a new town with her mother and is starting middle school. She meets Sam on the first day of school and they instantly become friends. Sam is gregarious, athletic, and liked by everyone at school. Allie and Sam soon realize that they have feelings for each other. This book explores how they navigate their relationship with their families and the community. Sam comes from a very religious family and her sexuality is ignored. Allie’s mom is reticent at first, but through conversation and sharing she becomes more comfortable with the idea of her daughter having a crush on a girl. Allie and Sam also find support in the community from the local minister and a lesbian couple who both happen to be teachers at her school.

knight

Prince and Knight by Daniel Haack

This picture book in rhyme is great for kids who love fairy tales. The prince is not interested in any of the young ladies he has been introduced to by the King and Queen. He leaves the kingdom to do some soul searching and in the process he meets a knight. Together, they slay a dragon who is threatening the royal family. They fall in love, marry, and the prince’s family is thrilled.

pride

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders

This informational picture book celebrates the 40th anniversary of the pride flag. It traces the origins of the flag from when it was first thought of in 1978 by activist Harvey Milk and a designer named Gilbert Baker. It is a great book to share with kids when introducing them to the history of pride.