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.

difficult

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.

ayiti

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.

wakanda

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.

untamed

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.

bad feminist

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.

hunger

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.

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

Tell Me All About You

Organized Chaos
Modern Cat Lady
The Only Carol I Know: Life with a Throwback Name
I’d Rather Be Reading <insert heart eyes emoji>

In case it wasn’t obvious, those are some of the potential titles for my future memoir. It’ll most likely be about a life buried in unread books, struggling to sit up underneath a pile of cats, all while drinking all the coffee and becoming a world-class snacker.

In case you haven’t heard, this year we’ve organized a reading challenge with new prompts every month. All the details can be found on the library’s website. The March challenge is to read a biography or memoir. As it so happens, there are many memoirs and biographies being published all the time and we’ve chosen a bunch to add to the stacks. Get your library card ready to place a hold, because I’m bringing you some of the newest books making their way through cataloging right this very moment!

Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan by Ted Scheinman
Ted spent his childhood immersed in Jane Austenland. His mom was an Austen scholar, so it seemed normal to sing in an Anglican choir and live completely immersed in the fandom. Then he went off to college and at that time of life when most kids start to try new things, Ted decided to organize the first-ever UNC-Chapel Hill Jane Austen Summer Camp. Oh my crumpets, that sounds pretty amazing to me! Part memoir, part Jane Austen criticism, this short book is perfect for the Jane Austen fan who doesn’t have a lot of time to spare.

Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down: Chasing Myself in the Race Against Time by Ida Keeling with Anita Diggs
What’s one thing you should know about Ida Keeling? She’s over 100 years old. What else should you know? She’s a world-record-holding runner who’s still lacing up her shoes and running. Miss Ida–as she’s known in her Bronx community–has lived through the Depression and the Civil Rights movement, was a single mom to four children, outlived two of her sons who were brutally murdered, and continued on–determined–through it all. For anyone looking for a story of perseverance and faith, you should give this one a read.

Too Afraid to Cry: Memoir of a Stolen Childhood by Ali Cobby Eckermann
Award-winning poet Ali Cobby Eckermann started out life stolen from her family. Born in Australia at the time of certain racist policies, Ali was one of many Aboriginal children forcibly taken from her birth family and “adopted.” Here is her very personal story of abuse and trauma, suffering as an outsider, and her efforts to reconcile with her Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha birth family and their Indigenous community. The book also holds up a lens to America and Canada’s own histories of coerced adoption of Native American children and violence inflicted on Indigenous communities. Ali’s story is peppered with poems that will also be suitable to check off April’s challenge of reading poetry–you’re welcome!

Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: a Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss by Stephanie Wittels Wachs
Harris Wittels was a comedian, actor, writer, producer, musician, and is credited with coining the term “humblebrag,” that thing you do when it sounds like you’re being humble when actually you’re bragging. He was also struggling most of his life with drug addiction and in 2015 he died of a heroin overdose. In this book, his sister Stephanie will break your heart and make you cry just as much as she lifts you up and makes you laugh. This hopeful memoir of addiction, grief, and family is a good follow-up for those of you who read Beautiful Boy and Clean by David Sheff along with us last year.

She Caused a Riot: 100 Unknown Women Who Built Cities, Sparked Revolutions & Massively Crushed It by Hanna Jewell
If you’d rather not dive down into a full-length biography or memoir, let me steer you towards this celebration of kick-ass women you’ve either never heard of or didn’t know that much about. Not your standard collected biography of historically significant women, this one goes beyond the Susan B. Anthonys and Gloria Steinems to introduce readers to the lesser-known badass women of history. Told in an accessible, modern, and often snarky style, the text pairs brilliantly with the illustrations and stylized text that one might find in a modern magazine.

There are soooo many biographies and memoirs to choose from; these are just the brand-spanking newest of the new. Tell me in the comments which book you’re reading for this challenge and what you would title your memoir. And if you post a photo of yourself with your March challenge read and tag it #everettreads to enter our monthly drawing, let me know so I can go like your photo!

Celebrating Black History Month: Mrs. Jennie Samuels

Black and white portrait photograph of an African American woman with a hat decorated with ribbons. She appears to be wearing a suit jacket and a string of pearls over a light-colored blouse.

Portrait of Mrs. J.B. “Jennie” Samuels taken from a cookbook published by the Colored Women’s Federation of Washington. Nettie J. Asberry papers. University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries women in the United States began to organize around what later became known as the Women’s Club Movement. In cities, towns, and even rural areas women’s clubs formed to tackle the improvement of their communities in a number of different ways. Within Washington State there were so many clubs that by 1896 they had incorporated a statewide federation of women’s clubs in order to better coordinate efforts. While these clubs focused on unifying the efforts of women around common causes, the majority of them remained racially and ethnically segregated in those early years of organization.

Women who were excluded from the Washington State Federation of Women’s Clubs on the basis of race or ethnicity formed their own clubs and federations. One of the largest of these was the Washington State Federation of Colored Women’s Organizations which was founded in 1917 and affiliated with the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. The Federation went through a handful of name changes during the course of its operation, but for this post I will be sticking with the abbreviation WSFCWO. The WSFCWO’s members were subdivided into different committees that focused on the following topics: constitution, peace, fine arts, business, history, arts and crafts, interracial issues, education, legislation, scholarship, race history, health and temperance, mother home and child, women in industry, music, credentials, press and publicity, and programs.

Black and white portrait photograph of an African American woman in a white lacy high-necked shirt. Her hair is piled on the top of her head, to which are attached silk flowers.

Nannie Helen Burroughs, by Rotograph Co., New York City, 1909. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b46093.

One of the most prominent early members at the WSFCWO’s executive level was an Everett resident named Mrs. Jennie Samuels or Mrs. J.B. Samuels as she appeared in club records (she occasionally also appeared as Jane). Samuels was the founder of the Nannie Burroughs Study Club in Everett which was named for Nannie Helen Burroughs, an African American educator, orator, feminist, and civil rights activist. Burroughs had gained national attention by calling on Baptist women to combine their charitable works into one federated movement, providing an inspiration for African-American women’s clubs all over the country.

Jennie Samuels was clearly highly motivated to keep her Everett colleagues closely involved with the activities of the state’s Federated club women. At the 1920 WSFCWO conference, held at Everett High School and hosted by the Nannie Burroughs Study Club, attendees were welcomed with an address by Roland Hartley who at that time had already served as Everett’s Mayor and a member of the Washington State House of Representatives and would go on to be the Governor of Washington. After the welcoming ceremonies the attendees discussed the importance of civic works, different projects underway within the WSFCWO, the life of Frederick Douglass, and matters concerning child welfare. In meeting minutes the group remarked on how accommodating the high school was giving them use of the school’s kitchens in which they could prepare meals for attendees and access to all rooms and buildings on campus for meetings and lodging.

The following year, Jennie Samuels was elected the second president of the Washington State Federation of Colored Women’s Organizations. Her first order as president was to pursue the establishment of scholarships for children of color who wished to pursue higher education. Though she only held the post of President for four years, and the WSFCWO’s membership was largely based in Tacoma and Seattle, most of the biannual officer’s meetings during her involvement with the Federation were held in the Samuels’s home on the 2200 block of Wetmore Avenue. Club records paint a picture of the Samuels’s residence being a hub of activity not only for meetings, but also social gatherings among club women and their families from Everett and points all around the Puget Sound region. The proceedings of one of the WSFCWO’s annual conferences even included a celebration of John and Jennie’s 34th wedding anniversary as a conference after party at their Wetmore home.

When not busy with the activities of the WSFCWO, Mrs. Samuels continued to work at the local level with the Nannie Burroughs Study Club doing benevolent works within Everett. Much time was spent giving aid to those who were home-bound due to illness or old age, and looking after the needs of children living in lower income households. In addition to their charitable works, the Study Club focused heavily on the study of issues affecting African Americans in the United States – bringing in speakers, and discussing papers and other publications. By the 10th annual meeting it was noted that the Study Club was the only organization in Everett affiliated with the of the Washington State Federation of Colored Women’s Organizations, yet its members still frequently ranked at the top of Federation fundraising lists and a handful of its members were active in leadership roles.

In a cookbook published by the WSFCWO during her tenure as President, Mrs. Samuels was quoted as saying:

“Thank our God that we have something to do, whether we like it or not. Doing our duty brings out the best that is in us and will breed in us self-control, strength of will, cheerfulness and content, and a score of virtues which idleness fails to give.”

 

Three lines of text written in cursive containing the names and statistics about the Samuels household. John Samuels, head of house - male, black, 46, married 23 years. born in kentucky, as were his parents. Jennie, wife, female, black 41, married for 23 years. Born in North Carolina, as were her parents. John Wesley - son, male, black, 18, single. Born in Minnesota.

Information from the 1910 United State Federal Census Records for the Samuels family. This record was accessed through Ancestry Library Edition 2.14.18 at 12:51 pm.

Though most of what we know about the life of Jennie Samuels comes from club records archived in the University of Washington Special Collections, some information about her family life can be gleaned from other sources such as newspapers, census records, military records, high school yearbooks, and Polk City Directories.

Mrs. Samuels was born on October 1, 1868 in Salem, North Carolina. Not much is known about her early life, but she remained in school until the end of her second year of high school. In 1890 she married John B. Samuels a laborer from Louisville, Kentucky who was literate but had left school in the 4th grade. The Samuels family briefly lived in Saint Paul, Minnesota where their only child John Wesley was born in September of 1891. The Samuels family moved to Everett around 1897 and by 1900 owned one of the first homes built on the 2200 block of Wetmore. John B. Samuels worked as a cook for one of the railroads when he first arrived, but soon switched to custodial work which would remain his profession until retirement. Jennie Samuels was a homemaker in addition to her numerous club activities.

Black and white portrait photograph of a young African American male in a dark suit and a high white collar.

Senior portrait of John Wesley Samuels from the 1912 Everett High School Nesika. – Everett Public Library Northwest Room Collections

John Wesley Samuels, known as Wesley or J. Wesley, graduated from Everett High School in 1912 where he had been active in the drama club and athletic club. He served overseas in World War I; before his honorable discharge he had reached the rank of Battalion Sergeant Major in the Army. In club records it was noted that he suffered from lingering health issues related to his military service. He returned to Everett, where he worked for many years as the secretary of the American Boiler and Iron Works at 700 Hewitt. He appears to have never married, and spent the remainder of his life sharing the Wetmore home with his parents.

After a long illness, Jennie Samuels passed away peacefully at her home on August 13, 1948. She had remained active in several clubs and her Methodist church until the very end of her life. Sadly J. Wesley Samuels died only six years later in a Veteran’s hospital in Vancouver, Washington; his father passed away seven months later at a hospital in Everett. The entire family is buried in a family plot in Evergreen Cemetery, not far from their beloved home and the now-bustling city center that Jennie Samuels devoted so much of her life to improving.

To learn more about the lives of people living in and around the Everett area, visit the Northwest Room at the Everett Public Library and take advantage of the phenomenal records available in the University of Washington Special Collections. The University’s Digital collections are available online at any time, but many may not know that their non-digitized records are also mostly available to the public by appointment.

Keep an eye on A Reading Life for a second post in this series celebrating Black History Month from Northwest Room Historian Mindy Van Wingen.

Put Yourself in Someone Else’s Narrative

My calendar tells me it’s 2018 but as I look around I see society backpedaling and losing ground on important concepts I used to think were simple, like personhood and what it means to be a human being. Equality, empathy, acceptance, and even just tolerance are becoming lamentably scarce these days. When the world seems like it’s lost its way, I turn to books. Here are some new and forthcoming books on my TBR that offer different perspectives and keen insight into lives that are very different from my own.

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women
I don’t know if you got the memo, but the real Pocahontas was nothing like Disney wanted us to believe. Different but united voices rise together in this collection of poetry, prose, and art created by Native women. Leave your preconceived notions–and stereotypes–at the door.

Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi
Based on the author’s real diary entries, Americanized tells the story of a girl who discovered–at age 13–that she and her family were undocumented citizens. Her parents had fled Iran when Sara was two, and she didn’t uncover her family’s undocumented status until her sister wanted to apply for an after-school job but didn’t have a Social Security number. This book sounds like a good mix of seeing life in a new–and terrifying–way, all while struggling through the more typical adolescent changes and experiences.

Because I Was a Girl: True Stories for Girls of All Ages
Laid out in chronological order, this collection of stories by over thirty women is set up as a book to inspire young girls and teens to persevere in their own struggles. In these stories, the authors talk about barriers they’ve faced and how they overcame them to become successful. I’d also look at this collection as a book for people who don’t identify as female, or who may have forgotten what it’s like to be a teen, to read and gain some understanding as to what’s going on inside a teenage girl’s mind.

Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction by Erica Garza
Society leads us to believe that sex addiction isn’t a real thing, and if it is, well it’s something that only affects men, right? Not true! And here to tell us about it in raw detail is Erica Garza. Early reviews mention it can be difficult to get through due to the subject matter and the raw emotions facing the author as she painfully recounts her journey from addiction to recovery. But for anyone wanting to understand a struggle that may be far outside their own world of experiences, this is the book to read.

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State by Nadia Murad
“I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.”
The Last Girl is a survivor’s memoir. Nadia tells her story and recounts how six of her brothers and her mother were killed and how she and thousands of other Yazidi girls were forced into the ISIS slave trade. A refugee, rape survivor, and incredibly strong woman, Nadia brings attention to the ongoing genocide in Iraq and forces us to come to the realization that individuals and families are torn apart by war every day; forced to become refugees in search of community who can never return home.

Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
I was fortunate enough to read an early copy of this book and I plan to write a full review in a future blog post. To whet your appetite: This is a completely compelling debut novel that exposes the prejudices in America and how difficult it can be to be a teenager struggling with growing up in a conservative, traditional household. Maya is living a small town life but has big city dreams. She struggles with pleasing her parents and pursuing her own goals and ideals for her future. And then a terrorist strikes, a terrorist with the same last name as Maya. Whether it’s choosing between two guys or dealing with a hate crime, the author does an outstanding job getting to the heart of the matter and exposing the raw emotions associated with each.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
These essays are being touted as an accessible take on the racial landscape in America. Topics include privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, microagressions, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Ijeoma’s writing is being compared to Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates, two of my most favorite writers. The holds list is really growing quickly on this book, so be sure to get in the queue now.

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins
Morgan Jerkins is topping my list of most-anticipated authors I want to read this year. She’s also being compared to Roxane Gay, who wrote a glowing review of this book. Morgan writes about being young and Black in America. She tackles the important but tough topics of intersectional feminism and racism and I am so here for it.

To My Trans Sisters edited by Charlie Craggs
Exploring the diversity of the trans experience, this collection of letters by successful trans women from all walks of life and from all over the world offers advice to those transitioning or wanting to learn more about the different struggles trans women face. I’ve never had to endure life as someone other than I know I’m meant to be, so reading this will help me better understand the beauty and nuance of the personal struggles and successes of trans women.

When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & asha bandele; foreword by Angela Davis
Learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement and get to know it from the inside. Patrisse is a co-founder of BLM and is an ardent speaker, artist, organizer, and freedom fighter. For those like me who want to learn more, and especially for anyone doubting the reason for even needing something like BLM, we all definitely need to hear and internalize what Patrisse passionately has to say.

I want and need to read books not aimed directly at me as the target audience, a straight white cis woman. These books definitely fit the bill. There’s also no way I can be as inclusive as I’d like with the limited space here, so please let me know in the comments of other books we can read to better understand each other. Let’s spend 2018 building empathy and compassion together.

Deadly Titles

Reader’s advisory questions, basically finding a book for a person to read that matches their interests, can be one of the more difficult questions we try to answer here at the library. Everyone has different tastes so matching a person to a specific book can definitely be tricky, especially when you don’t know them well. One of the go-to methods I’ve found that gets results is asking a person what they have enjoyed reading recently. This came to mind as I looked back at the last three books I have read and realized they all had a variant of death or dying in the title. Yes gentle reader, I would make for one morbid Reader’s Advisory patron. But the thing is, all three books are excellent and well worth your attention despite the deadly titles. Read on to decide for yourself.

To Die in Spring: A Novel by Ralf Rothmann

Admittedly the set up for this book does not sound cheery: A son’s creative retelling of his father’s experiences after being drafted by the German army as a teenager in the final months of World War II. While the circumstances are indeed bleak, the author takes great pains to emphasize both the humanity of many of the people his father encounters and the cycles of the natural world that are all-around despite the devastation. The end result is a feeling of the primacy of nature and its ability to endure over horrific ideologies and the desire for extinction. The author’s sparse but incredibly moving prose conveys this feeling throughout without a word wasted. This is an excellent and strangely hopeful novel.

Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor

The title of this book should clue you in to the author’s attitude when it comes to discussing the dreaded topic of death: straight and to the point. This slim volume records Taylor’s thoughts and feelings in the last months of her life before dying of brain cancer in 2016. She remains clear eyed throughout whether discussing how to face the inevitability of death, pain and the possibility of suicide, or her understandable feelings of grief and anger. The last two thirds of the book are meditations on her childhood, family, career, and the odd role that chance plays in how you develop, make choices and ultimately expire. This work is a refreshingly straightforward and honest approach to an often avoided topic.

Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy

If you aren’t familiar with this classic, well classic to those who have spent some time in the Dairy State, it is high time to take a look. The concept for this work of local history seems innocent enough: A combination of historical photographs and newspaper articles depicting rural Wisconsin, Black River Falls for the most part, from the 1880s to the 1910s. But, oh my, the results are eerie, disturbing, and impossible to look away from. Strange tales of madness, murder and supernatural sightings are told in brief, matter of fact newspaper articles. When combined with the large detailed photographs of individuals and landscapes, the effect is both mesmerizing and very unsettling. Think of it as Twin Peaks without the huge trees.

So if you can overcome your fear of death, well in a book title at least, and choose one of these titles you will be pleasantly surprised. Don’t fear the reaper, man.