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.

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.

Find Your Voice and Vote!

Hey, congratulations on turning 18! You made it through the worst of adolescence and you’re trying out life as an adult. It can be fun and scary, sometimes both at the same time. Discovering what issues are important to you is a big first step into adulthood. And once you figure out what’s important, it’s time to vote.

Yup. I’m that guy bugging you to vote. In Washington State if you’re 18 or will turn 18 by November 6th you can still register to vote in person but you have to act fast–today is the last day! In Snohomish County that means you have until 5pm tonight to get to the County Auditor’s office. I promise that getting the ability to vote in this election will be well worth your trouble.

You might be new to this whole adulting thing, but perhaps you’re already a little jaded about politics. I can’t blame you. The last few years have been the most politically chaotic I’ve experienced in my lifetime. But I promise that finding out what’s important to you and where you stand on political issues will help you make informed decisions when it’s time to fill out that ballot.

The Washington State voters’ pamphlet–pick one up at the library if you need one–is your key to the issues and candidates on the ballot. Beyond that, you might have some soul-searching to do. That’s where this reading list comes into play. These books are aimed at young voices looking for something to say and will help you select the best candidates on the ballot that uphold the same priorities and values that you do.

First, let’s dive into the issues. Steal This Country: A Handbook for Resistance, Persistence, and Fixing Almost Everything by Alexandra Styron brings together essays, profiles, and interviews to help you understand the issues and help you determine how you feel about them. From LGBTQIA rights and racial justice to climate change and immigration, this comprehensive book can be your companion as you discover what’s important to you. Be sure to check out the bibliography in the back. It’s divided by topic and lists books, documentaries, articles, and organizations you can seek out to go even more in-depth.

Next, let’s read about what political passion and social activism look like to different people. How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation edited by Maureen Johnson brings together a diverse and dynamic group of voices that come from all angles: the literary world, entertainment, and political activists. There are essays, interviews, a comic strip, and even sheet music! Together they’ll give you hope and inspiration as you explore the many different ways to raise your voice and be heard.

Girls Resist: A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution by KaeLyn Rich may be written expressly for girls, but I’m here to tell you the information inside can be useful to everyone regardless of gender. This book takes the ideas, causes, and issues that are important to you and gives you the framework to take action. Do you want to start a volunteer group? What about a political campaign? Could social media be a way to reach other like-minded folks? And how do you explain all of this to your parents? KaeLyn Rich is an activist who is the Assistant Advocacy Director of the ACLU of New York. She knows just how to break it down.

You are Mighty: A Guide to Changing the World by Caroline Paul and illustrated by Lauren Tamaki is the book you can hand to your younger brother or sister who see you getting energized. Maybe they want to help you with your cause or have a different one of their own. They’re too young to vote but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing they can do to effect change. Some of the tactics discussed, including raising money and boycotting, are tactics you can use too. What better way to feel closer to your siblings than to protest together?

So. Do you feel ready? The truth is even as adults we’re constantly learning new things and over time we can sometimes change our mind. The issues we cared about when we were younger might cease to be important to us or a change in our life may cause us to see the topic from a completely different angle. These books will give you the critical thinking and organizational skills you need to keep up with whatever life throws at you. All that’s left to do is cast your vote.

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!

Northland

Of the many great things about visiting the library, one of my favorites is being able to browse the collection. You can throw caution to the wind and select a title based on whimsical things like the look of a cover, an interesting title or even the number of pages. Blame it on the whole ‘being a librarian thing’ but I usually like to do a bit of research on a title before borrowing it. Every so often, however, I succumb and just can’t resist a title I see while out in the stacks. Happily, a recent impulse borrow introduced me to a really great book.

Northland: A 4,000 Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border by Porter Fox initially drew me in with its interesting cover. The fact that I’m also a sucker for borders, weird I know, and partial to the northern climes, sealed the deal.

The basis of the book is Fox’s three year journey traveling along the U.S. and Canadian border from Maine to Washington. But this work isn’t a simple travelogue (even though the characters and incidents he encounters would be worth reading about on their own). Instead, the author intersperses his travel experiences with the surprisingly contentious history of the border as well as contemporary issues unique to each northern region that he visits. In this way, Fox brings out a lot of intriguing and vital facts about this often forgotten border that you may not know:

12 % of Americans live 100 miles from the border, 90% of Canadians do.

A 2010 Congressional Research services report stated that U.S. Customs and Border Protection maintains “operational control” over just 69 miles of the 3,987 mile border.

The border cuts the Akwesasne Mohawk Indian reservation, Niagara Falls and the Haskell Free Library and Opera House in two.

In the end, however, the human element is what makes this book so worthwhile. Whether visiting with lodge owners in Maine, bulk carrier captains on the Great Lakes, fishing guides and adventurers in Northern Minnesota, members of the Sioux nation protesting the XL TransCanada pipeline in North Dakota, or the leader of a ‘constitutional militia’ in Idaho, Fox captures the unique feel of sharing a border and the experiences of those living in the Northlands.

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.

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