A Poetry Double Dare

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

Peluda by Melissa Lozada-Oliva

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

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

Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing

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

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

Sea of Strangers by Lang Leav

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read a Poem…I Dare You

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

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

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

Sun and flowers

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

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

sailing

Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins

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

wrote

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

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

“I wrote this for you and only you.

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

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

Alone

How to be Alone by Tanya Davis

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

mars

Life on Mars: Poems by Tracy K. Smith

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

wildly

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

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

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

princess

The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace

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

Xiomara and Nate

I’ve never minded our wet winters too terribly. I’m a grizzled native of upstate New York. I sneer at nor’easters and laugh off blizzards. I shoveled my driveway all winter every winter from the age of eighteen days to eighteen years. I walked to school uphill both ways in freezing rain while wearing flip flops. So now, a little northwest rain? That’s what real winter warriors like me call “cute.” Grossly exaggerated braggadocio aside, I still get excited for Spring. Peeks of sunshine, baseball games, blooming flowers, and best of all, a deluge of phenomenal new fiction. As usual I’ve been glutting on YA novels and while several have been standouts, two in particular have worked their way into my head staying with me long after I turned the final page.

Xiomara, the narrator of Elizabeth Acevedo’s Poet X, is an incredibly compelling and complex young woman who immediately won me over. She is fierce, independent, and loyal to her twin brother, but also struggling with questions about her identity and the conflicts between her own desires and the expectations of her Dominican parents. The relationship with her parents is particularly tenuous – while her brother is treated as a golden child, she has always felt like more of a problem than a blessing:

As issues with her parents come to a head and romance with a classmate grows complicated, Xiomara is desperate for a release which she finds through her poetry and a developing interest in slam performance. Xiomara has finally found a place where she belongs, but unless she can make her parents better understand her world, she may lose this precious chance to blossom through her craft.

CoverReveal_PoetXBeyond the beautifully crafted characters, this verse novel shines because of Acevedo’s fantastic writing. This should be no surprise as Acevedo is an extremely talented poet, but I was still struck by the sheer beauty of her storytelling. As an added bonus, this month’s Reading Challenge is to read poetry. All you need to do for a chance to win is to take a photo with the book you read and post it on social media with the hashtag #EverettReads. Poet X is a profound and compelling work that I am excited to suggest to the young readers I work with each day and it’s eligibility for the April challenge is the cherry on top!

While Poet X has stuck with me because of its wonderfully dynamic characters, S.F. Henson’s Devils Within has haunted me with its resonant, tense and chilling depiction of domestic terrorism. The story opens with a young man named Nate moving to a new town to live with his uncle. Nate wants nothing more than to keep his head down and remain unnoticed, but he has a past that will be difficult to escape. Nate is the son of a powerful white supremacist leader and was raised to carry forward his father’s hateful legacy. Despite a childhood filled with violent acts, indoctrination, and racist misinformation, Nate always felt that his father and his followers were wrong and yearned to be free of their poisonous influence. He eventually does escape, but it comes with a cost. During a frantic struggle Nate kills his father and spends time in both prison and a treatment center before being turned over to an uncle who believes his nephew is the same brand of bigot that Nate’s father was (and a killer to boot).

91NuLbodoFLNate is determined to keep his past hidden. He is deeply ashamed of the life he led and is terrified of being tracked down by his father’s vengeful and zealous compatriots. Nate begins school but struggles to adjust to his new social and academic surroundings. Over time Nate is offered a glimmer of hope. Brandon, a popular classmate, seems genuinely interested in befriending Nate and determined to help him find a place in his new town. Nate is amazed as Brandon is not only the first kind person he has met in the town, but also his first friend who is a person of color. As the ghosts of his past begin to fade Nate yearns to open up to Brandon, confessing the horrible things he has seen and done. But before Nate can take this risk his past begins to catch up with him, bringing with it the toxic hate and terrible violence he thought he had left behind threatening to destroy his new life and, even worse, putting his new friend in jeopardy.

Henson is unflinching in her portrayal of the racism and bigotry that is still pervasive in our society. While at times this book is a thrilling adventure, it is also a fever dream that I know is far too real for many Americans. As the novel approached an impending and climactic confrontation I wanted desperately to stop reading and yet could not put the book down. In my mind that is as high praise as I can give.

At first glance, there are not many similarities between the story of a Dominican girl in Harlem and a former white nationalist in Alabama. But as I dwell on both Xiamora’s and Nate’s stories I see many through lines in their lives. They’re both in conflict (albeit on very different levels) with the expectations and identities of their parents, desperate to find their own place in the larger world around them, and yet determined to live their lives by their own rules not by those forced upon them. I am so grateful to both Elizabeth Acevedo and S.F. Henson for creating these memorable young people and allowing me to see the world through their eyes.

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.

Modern Cat Lady 2017 Edition

Well hello there, kittens! With the holidays behind us and that calendar somehow saying “December” it’s the purrfect time to do a wrap-up of the best cat books of 2017! Stick with me like fur to black pants as I jump into the list like a cat into an empty cardboard box.

For all you modern cat ladies out there who can’t have a real live cat of your very own, I have some fantastic news! You can make your own lifelike kitty companion if you follow the steps outlined in Needle Felted Kittens by the amazingly talented Hinali. Okay, so this can be more than a little creepy and the techniques are way beyond my less-than-novice needle felting status. However, I can’t help but be fascinated with the eerily lifelike felines in this book. There are step-by-step instructions for everything from making the right shaped head to adding specific color patterns–the tortoise shell cat is especially adorable–and even advanced posing (a movable head and neck! Oh my). I mean, I would even love just a cat head on its own. Seriously! There are some instructions to teach you the basics of felting, like needle techniques and how to blend different colors of wool. My girl Kathy says this is definitely advanced, but beginners might like to see it as something to aspire to. Also, the author taught herself all this, so there’s hope for us all!

Want to make a cat but lack felting skills? If you can knit you’ll definitely want to check out Knitted Cats & Dogs by Sue Stratford. Yes, yes, there are dogs included. But all modern cat ladies should be secure enough in their cat lady-ness that they won’t balk at a couple of canines peppered throughout the book they’re reading. From fuzzy kittens to gorgeous Siamese and even a super cat–complete with superhero outfit, eye mask, and cape–you’re sure to find your next fun knitting project in these pages.

 

For a more sophisticated look at our feline friends, there’s no better place to start than Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art. This book is organized by time period, starting with prehistoric depictions of cats on cave walls in France and continuing through Warren Kimble and beyond. All but two of the 137 illustrations are in full color, which really brings the cats to life. Don’t miss the hidden gem at the back of the book: a three page bibliography full of sources of more kitty information.

 

If quirky is more your speed, you’ll want to pick up Crafting for Cat Ladies by Kat Roberts (OMG even the author’s name is on point!). Inside you’ll find thirty-five different projects using a variety of mediums and techniques. From party bunting to a clay jewelry tray, storage bins (with whiskers, so adorable!) to paw print stamps and bracelets–there really is something for everyone in here. The skill level seems to be low to medium, so for the crafty cat ladies with more enthusiasm than experience, this is the book for us.

Next I’ll briefly list some of the more traditional cat books that published this year. Jackson Galaxy has a new book out with Mikel Delgado, PhD (another cat-named author! How cool!) called Total Cat Mojo: the Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat. It covers the basics of cat ownership, as well as techniques for dealing with common kitty-human conflicts like biting and scratching. The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee also digs into the thoughts and psyche of our cat BFFs. The History of Cats in 101 Objects shows the direct influence cats have had over us (and vice versa) in some truly unexpected ways.

Poetry has been having a modern renaissance lately and I was delighted to find a book of poems focused solely on our relationships with our pets. Reading Darling, I Love You: Poems from the Hearts of our Glorious Mutts and All Our Animal Friends by Daniel Ladinsky and written by Patrick McDonnell is guaranteed to give you the warm fuzzies and maybe even shed a tear or two. This one gets me misty-eyed every time:

 

Gratias:
Food in my bowl
caring sounds
gentle hands

no longer alone
on the street weeping
at times

if you see me
kneeling in
prayer,

repeating
for
days

gratias
gratias, gratias
gratias

never
wonder
why

I’m not crying; you’re crying!

Okay, let’s pep ourselves back up with some fun books about real-life cats who have lived extraordinary lives in one way or another. Bolt and Keel by Kayleen VanderRee & Danielle Gumbley is based on the Instagram account of the same name. Follow these rescue cats as they go on outdoor adventures with their owner in the Pacific Northwest. Bookstore Cats by Brandon Schultz has the absolute best opening line in the introduction: “Confession: I’m a crazy cat person.” Do you really need to know anything other than that?! If cats living in bookstores aren’t quite enough awesomeness for you, check out Distillery Cats by Brad Thomas Parsons. In addition to all the cool cats between these pages, Parsons includes some cocktail recipes, too. Disclaimer: I’m fairly certain all cats survive to the ends of these books, but please read with caution. Nothing makes me sadder than reading about an amazing animal only to have to grieve for them at the end.

And last by not least is my favorite combination of practical nonfiction with an extremely humorous slant. If you’ve ever been accused of equating cat ladyship with being in a cult or religion, I can definitely relate. Some things are just different for us, you know? Thankfully the genius Jeff Lazarus has written Catakism: Bow to the Meow. It’s a funny take on how obsessed we humans can be with cats. While the photographs are downright hilarious and the text can be tongue-in-cheek, don’t miss the actual good advice inside. Covering cat pregnancy and kitten weaning as well as advice for human relationships when one person is pro-cat and the other is…not? Is that A Thing? I suppose I’m lucky I married a modern cat sir, but it’s good to know there’s help out there for those who want to make it work with someone who really isn’t as into cats as you are.

Those were my favorites, but of course there are so many more gems waiting for you to discover them in the stacks. Start at 636.8 (cats as pets) and go from there. And who knows? Maybe someday soon you’ll look like this:

Fall Publishing Season is My Christmas

Oh TBR, oh TBR! Your books just scrape my ceiling.

Some people love Halloween. For others they just can’t wait for Christmas. I’m definitely a fall publishing fanatic and that’s not just because my job is in cataloging. I’m a voracious reader and much like the kid whose eyes are bigger than her stomach (also me) I am constantly checking out, or shelving on Goodreads, more books than I can possibly read. I like to read based on my mood so I can never stick to a prescribed list for long–even if I’m the fool who made the list in the first place! Therefore I give to you (and let’s be honest, this is going to be a blog post so I can bookmark it for myself for later) the books that came out this fall that I haven’t read yet but I really, really want to.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
A collection of short stories about the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies. So many of my reading buddies have been raving over this one. I’ve never gotten into short stories before but I think it’s time I started!

It Devours: a Welcome to Night Vale Novel by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
The weirdest podcast I listen to (and I also listen to a podcast that is literally a family playing Dungeons & Dragons) is Welcome to Night Vale. I read the first novel, aptly named Welcome to Night Vale–or rather I had the podcast’s narrator, Cecil Baldwin, read it to me via audibook. Guess what? The library also has both the print and audio versions of It Devours so I can pick my poison.

Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer
You say there aren’t any female serial killers? I say they are, and Lady Killers says there are at least 14. I should probably have tried harder to read this before Halloween but honestly all I have to do is turn out the lights and get out my clip-on book light and no matter what I’m reading will definitely end up with me being creeped out by the darkness alone. Add in some gruesome murder details and I may never sleep again.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
This novel centers around a rape, a group of girls determined to avenge it (even though they didn’t know the person who was raped), and the movement that transforms the lives of everyone around them. This is another book my reading buddies are raving about. Do they hold a secret cool-girl book club without me? If they did I wouldn’t blame them. The way I’m flighty about what to read next, they’d be waiting on me forever. However, after reading Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (review to come!) this seems like an excellent companion novel even though it’s by a completely different author.

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz
Are you a P&P fangirl or fanboy? What if I told you there’s a novel where the roles of Darcy and Bennet are gender swapped, it takes place during Christmastime, and is written by an incredibly talented author? If you’re checking all the boxes, you to need this book in your life. I’ve had my own copy of this on my nightstand for a while but I’m purposefully putting off starting it until closer to Christmas. Because Christmas reads are the best at Christmas.

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
Rupi Kaur’s first book of poetry, Milk and Honey, completely gutted me and put me back together. I’m not sure what to expect from this next book of poetry but it’s one I preordered because I knew I would love it to pieces. I’ll chime in later after I actually read it and let you know how successful I was in determining my pre-adoration!

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
JOHN GREEN PUBLISHED A NEW BOOK FOR THE FIRST TIME IN FIVE YEARS. If you had’t gotten the memo yet, you now have the knowledge so make use of it! I confess I’ve never actually read a John Green novel yet (stop it! I know!) but I absolutely adore all the awesomeness he’s thrown out into the world via the internet and this book in particular, about the search for a millionaire and a girl stuck in a spiral of her own thoughts, speaks to me.

We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True by Gabrielle Union
Oh my goodness, I really love Gabrielle Union! Her book is a collection of essays that cover all kinds of topics that are totally my jam: gender, sexuality, race, feminism, and more. One of my friends compared it to Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, and if that’s even half true I am so totally in.

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence
What better way to wrap up this towering TBR than with a book about books? Annie Spence is a librarian and she’s written an entire book of letters to the books in her life–it’s really meta. I’ve heard it’s absolutely hilarious and I’m morally obligated to read books written by librarians.

There are literally dozens more books in my TBR that’s taller than me, but I’m out of time. What are you reading or looking forward to reading in the (hopefully) near future? Your suggestions will definitely grow my TBR tower but don’t worry; it’s always going to grow and I’d much rather it grow with legitimately good recommendations than just my wandering eye.

Award-Winning Reads

How is it already August?! In case you’re just joining us, there’s still about a month left to complete 7 of the 8 adult summer reading challenges. If you turn in your entry by August 31st you have a chance of winning a prize. Not enough incentive? How about getting to read 7-8 rad books you may never have read if left to your own devices? Yeah, now we’re talking!

So let’s dip into another reading challenge, shall we? This time I’m focusing on National Book Award winners. The National Book Award is an American literary prize given by the National Book Foundation. The 2017 winners won’t be announced until November, so let’s focus on last year’s winners. The overarching themes in the 2016 winners–racism, civil rights, political violence, and immigration–are timely reminders of how far we’ve come as a society and how very, very far we still have to go.

2016 Fiction Winner:
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Summary: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. Their first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey — hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day.

2016 Nonfiction Winner:
Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
Summary: Americans like to insist that we are living in a postracial, color-blind society. In fact, racist thought is alive and well; it has simply become more sophisticated and more insidious. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues, racist ideas in this country have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit. In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the lives of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W. E. B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America. As Kendi provocatively illustrates, racist thinking did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Racist ideas were created and popularized in an effort to defend deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and to rationalize the nation’s racial inequities in everything from wealth to health. While racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited. In shedding much-needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers us the tools we need to expose them–and in the process gives us reason to hope.

2016 Poetry Winner:
The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky
Summary: Daniel Borzutzky’s new collection of poetry draws hemispheric connections between the US and Latin America, specifically touching upon issues relating to border and immigration policies, economic disparity, political violence, and the disturbing rhetoric of capitalism and bureaucracies. To become human is to navigate these borders including those of institutions, the realities of over- and under-development, and the economies of privatization in which humans endure state-sanctioned and systemic abuses.

2016 Young People’s Literature Winner:
March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Summary: Welcome to the stunning conclusion of the award-winning and best-selling March trilogy. Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, joins co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world.

Already read these, or looking for more options? Check out the complete list of past winners at the Award’s website.

Hopefully this series of blog posts is helping you achieve your summer reading goals. For me, it’s definitely making my TBR grow dangerously tall–but who ever said that was a bad thing?