Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I listened to this book on my last road trip and after I returned to work, I discovered that it was one of PBS’s Great American Reads! (Check out the Library for a display of these books or look online for a printable list of all 100 books. You can also vote for your favorite at any Davenport Library location.) I was already trying to read my way through as many of those books as I could,  so I was happy that I had stumbled upon Americanah  and that I could check this book off my list!

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the story of race, identity, and struggling to find yourself both away from home and at home. Ifemelu and Obinze fell in love when they were very young, living in military-ruled Nigeria. Both Ifemelu and Obinze were attending a Nigerian university when a series of university strikes began. Without a solid education and no other real plans in motion, Ifemelu and Obinze decided to leave the country.

Ifemelu decides to leave Nigeria and head to America. She and Obinze work out a plan. Once he finishes school, he will leave Nigeria and come to her. In America, Ifemelu has academic success, but struggles to fit into black America. This novel wonderfully describes the African experience and how it differs between the USA, England, and Nigeria. Ifemelu may have found her way at an American university with academic success, but she struggles with understanding the differences between what is accepted in America vs what was/is accepted in Nigeria. To help her cope, Ifemelu decides to start a blog that talks about race issues in America. Obinze’s life is complicated in a different way. Not being able to head to America, he instead moves to England and ends up becoming an illegal immigrant. His journey is complicated like Ifemelu’s and he struggles to find himself amongst a country that wants to send him back home.

Flash forward years and Ifemelu and Obinze find themselves in the same country again, trying to deal with past resentments, hurt feelings, and denials. Their current lives are under scrutiny as they each try to juggle their foreign selves with accepted culture and identity standards in place in Nigeria. Reuniting in newly democratic Nigeria after years abroad, both Ifemelu and Obinze have issues to work through as they deal with their new selves, the new Nigeria, and the unique relationship/reunited passion between each other and their native homeland. Some issues are spoken, while others lie under the surface only called out when they directly influence others in the open. These cultural subtleties make up a vast swath of this book and the author is adept at bringing them to light. This is fiction with a message, yet the message is conveyed in an appealing and socially conscious way.

This book takes a deep look at race and immigration, specifically the intricacies of race and how that experience is different between the USA and Nigeria. In frequent conversations throughout this novel, readers are given a glimpse into what it means to be black in Africa and what it means to be black in the USA. The author takes readers on a tour of various countries as seen through the eyes of Ifemelu and Obinze. Their life stories play out over many years and many countries as they both struggle to find themselves amongst countries who value the same culture in different ways.

I recommend listening to this book. While it may take you a little bit to understand the accents like it took me, I ultimately felt like it was worthwhile. The accents allowed me to fully engage with the book and realize that I was gaining a glimpse into a culture entirely different from mine. When I finished listening to this book, I realized that if I had read a print copy, I would have lost the accents completely, would have probably given the characters an incorrect accent, or would have imagined the characters with only slight accents. There really is something positive to be said about listening to books with narrators who really know how to correctly portray the characters.


This book is also available as:

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check In

Hello All!

Are you enjoying the June Reading Challenge? Have you found something fun to read? Or are you still looking for the right title?

I’ve started reading my book (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle). I’m still trying to keep all the “mrs’s” straight, but I’m quickly getting caught up in the story. What I’ve found interesting is how other people react when I ask if they’ve read this book. I heard a lot of enthusiastic yeses; everyone seemed to love it. Best response, though, was from a co-worker who told me that A Wrinkle in Time was the book made her a library patron. When the teacher at school that was reading it to her class wasn’t reading fast enough for Shelley, she asked her Mom to take her to the library so that she could check out a copy. Thus began a lifelong love affair with reading (and, I hope, libraries!)

Another great story came from a Challenge reader that commented she is going to read a book written in 1898 that had been a childhood favorite of her mother. I love this idea! It shows how books are a bridge – to the past, to the future, to knowledge, to entertainment and that they can also be a connection to the people in our lives. Books (stories) are magic.

Let us know what you’re reading and, maybe, why you chose what you did!

 

 

Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

  Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser is a mysterious read about a group of neighborhood women who are all connected to each other. Yellow Springs is a small Ohio town that is rocked by the sudden and shocking disappearance of young mother Kristin and her twins.

The women of Yellow Springs are excited to realize that their baby monitors all reach one of the women’s backyard. They gather around a firepit one Saturday night to relax and take a night off from husbands, kids, and life in general. They drink too much and share more than usual. After all, everyone has secrets.

On Monday morning, whispers begin to circulate around town that one of the women is missing. Kristin, the adorable twin mom, who seems to have everything together and under control with her handsome doctor husband, has disappeared into the night without a trace with her two children. As police begin investigating, they dig up secrets surrounding each woman. Instead of finding answers about what happened to Kristin, whether she’s dead or alive, police discover that Kristin doesn’t seem too worried about her impending divorce, even with her husband moved out. Kristin’s husband, Paul, finds himself at the center of the investigation as he moves back into the family home and starts packing up their belongings to move on with his life.

Kristin’s closest neighbor, Clara, is having difficulties with Kristin and her children’s disappearance. Clara’s past is troubled. With the police searching the neighborhood and interviewing the neighbors, this incident is triggering memories of her past that Clara would really like to forget. Soon Clara unwittingly finds herself dragged right into the center of the investigation. When she’s thrust into the spotlight, Clara’s suspicions begin to rise.

Each neighbor is forced to closely examine their own lives behind closed doors as secrets begin to leak out and suspicions about what really happened thrown around. Kristin and the twins’ disappearance becomes a cold case, leaving the neighborhood feeling confused, betrayed, and worried that something sinister could be lurking around their idyllic town of Yellow Springs.

This book was an interesting read as it sheds light on what really is happening behind the scenes and how real life usually always varies from what is presented in the media. While I had issues with some characters, I liked how the author went beyond the surface details and let us see the divide between what we present to the public and what is actually happening behind closed doors.


This book is also available in the following format:

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

Growing up, I always wished that I had an identical twin sister. I blame The Parent Trap movie for that wish. Having someone who looked exactly like me who would be there to trick our friends and family into thinking they were the other person sounded like so much fun. I met a set of identical twins in middle school, realized just how confusing that would actually be, abandoned that desire, and stuck with my normal, not identical, siblings. A lot easier that way. I had forgotten about my twin sister desire until I picked up The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand and got a glimpse into what it is like to have an identical twin as an adult.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand tells the complicated stories of Tabitha and Harper Frost. One twin lives on Nantucket, while the other lives on Martha’s Vineyard: a distance of only two and a half hours away by ferry. Yet that two and a half hour separation is widened by years of disagreements, arguments, and resentment that continuously builds because the two never talk to each other. While the two may look exactly like each other, that doesn’t mean they are alike AT ALL. Their personalities, life decisions, and clothing choices only prove to illustrate this point.

Harper and Tabitha have spent their entire lives trying to separate themselves from the other twin and from their other parent. You see, when Tabitha and Harper were young, their parents divorced and each parent took one of the twins to live with them year round with vacations thrown in so the other twin got to see the parent that they didn’t live with. This awkward situation left the twins with some major resentment towards each other and weird interactions with the other parent.

A major family crisis forces the two women together after many years apart. This forced reconciliation sounds like a recipe for disaster, but add in the twin’s mother and Tabitha’s teenage daughter and things are bound to get interesting. Each twin’s personal life keeps forcibly making itself known to the other twin which results in confusion amongst others as they try to figure out which is which. Tabitha and Harper may not want to have to band together through this family crisis, but they sure know how to appear like they like each other. These false appearances can only last so long though and the twins are soon forced to turn to each other for real.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Ink In Water: An Illustrated Memoir (Or, How I Kicked Anorexia’s Ass and Embraced Body Positivity)

Anyone who has struggled with addiction or compulsion will likely  appreciate Ink In Water and find it inspiring. Davis, described as a “young punk artist” by Library Journal, tells an autobiographical story about incredibly painful life experiences revolving around disordered eating, recovery, loss, and finally–helping others overcome similar disorders. Now a personal trainer, coach, author, and “body image advocate”, Davis’s memoir reveals how she first developed an eating disorder and got ensnared in the negative feedback loop that accompanies the psychology of self-harm.

The illustrations depicting Davis at the height (or really, rock-bottom) of her disorder show an emaciated, isolated individual who was starving herself to death. But by the end of the memoir, illustrations show a woman who has learned to cut herself some slack. In contrast, the woman in the final pages of the memoir is strong, determined, and no longer fears taking up space. To the contrary, Davis is interested in building herself up, through the practice of weight-lifting and strength training. Rather than shrinking and trying to make herself smaller, she embarks on a lifelong journey of recovery by focusing her mental and physical energy on becoming stronger.

While this graphic novel is largely about learning to love yourself, it also did a wonderful job of showing what a loving, supportive relationship can look like. I got a little teary when reading about how Davis’s partner essentially doubled-down on being loving and supportive through the hard times (rather than turning away from her when she was at her worst). When Davis experiences a particularly devastating loss of one of her best friends, mentors, and sponsors, her partner plans a trip to New York City to help her get out of her head.  Their relationship beautifully demonstrates how loving partnerships allow for being openly vulnerable and loved and supported in spite of individual faults or shortcomings.

Check it out. I didn’t really even start regularly reading graphic novels until I picked up a work of graphic medicine. As someone who genuinely enjoys non-fiction (I know — crazy!), graphic memoirs have been a really nice change of pace. This book reminds me of how resilient we are, and that we can get better and come back even stronger after being in the grips of something that threatens to destroy us.

The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer

Military suspense thrillers have been popular for years, yet I have seldom read any. I decided to change this by stepping lightly into this genre. The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer may not be considered a strict military suspense thriller, but there is a definite military feel since the majority of this book takes place on or near Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Add in a compelling story line, missing people, and high levels of secrecy and I was hooked.

The Escape Artist tells the story of Jim ‘Zig’ Zigarowski and his quest to find out what really happened to Nola Brown. Nola Brown was on a flight from Alaska when the plane mysteriously fell from the sky. All on the plane perished and Nola’s body was found not far from the crash site. Mysteries surround this crash as one of the President’s very close friends was on board: the Librarian of Congress. Tasked with finding out what happened, Zig soon finds all of the bodies from the crash delivered to him at the morgue at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. With identities already confirmed by their supervisors, Zig and his colleagues are expected to perform the autopsies as quick as possible and get the bodies back to the families.

When looking at Nola’s body, Zig discovers that there is no way that the body in front of him could be that of Nola Brown. Nola was a childhood friend of Zig’s daughter. A long time ago, Nola saved Zig’s daughter’s life. As a result of that, Nola has a tell-tale scar that Zig knows to look for on Nola. Discovering that it isn’t there and knowing that there wouldn’t be a cosmetic way to make that disappear, Zig realizes that Nola is still alive. The question of why someone would go through such steps to say that this body is Nola’s nags at Zig. He decides that he has to find Nola, if for no other reason than to pay her back for the time that she saved his daughter’s life.

Nola is supposed to be dead. With some investigating, Zig digs into Nola’s past and tries to learn what in her life caused people to want to kill her. He discovers that Nola is a mystery, her previous supervisors believe that she is a curse and trouble follows her everywhere. Looking into these incidents, it becomes clear why the Army chooses to sequester Nola as their artist-in-residence. This keeps her out of the line of fire and hopefully decreases her tendency to bring trouble to any situation.

Nola’s current job allows her to travel the world to any location and any catastrophe in order to make art and observe. Each artist-in-residence has a theme to their artwork throughout their residency. As Zig looks around, he discovers that Nola’s missions may have triggered the notice of an enemy who will do whatever it takes to silence her. Zig and Nola find themselves thrown together on a journey to discover the truth behind a centuries-old conspiracy that reaches all the way up to the highest levels of government and involves an unlikely partner: Harry Houdini.

Here’s to hoping that Brad Metzler turns this book into a series! I’d love to find out what happens with Zig and Nola next.


This book is also available in the following formats:

You Do You: How To Be Who You Are and Use What You’ve Got To Get What You Want by Sarah Knight

I recall George Carlin’s sardonic humor and his insight that the concept of self-help books are oxymoronic because you didn’t write them yourself. That simple yet profound insight has stuck with me for years. And I guess that’s why You Do You: How To Be Who You Are and Use What You’ve Got To Get What You Want (A No F*cks Given Guide) is one of the best self-help books I’ve read (and I’ve read more than I’ll ever admit, people).

This book is good for many reasons, but most importantly the book revolves around the concept that you should “write your own” self-help book, which is to say that you should honor yourself enough to fashion your life around your individual wants and needs – not put them on the backburner in order to comply with some pre-imposed idea of how you’re supposed to be. Novel concept, eh? And OF COURSE there is a caveat. It’s almost sad that Knight would need to write the disclaimer that “you doing you” does not translate into “sure, go ahead and be a self-serving sociopath.”  In fact, there are even a couple of places where you can physically write in this book, so the late, great Mr. Carlin might be pleased. Might.

But seriously though. So many self-help books offer prescriptions for acquiring success, wealth, and general life satisfaction; but this book places YOU at the center and starts there by helping you to reframe your “weaknesses” to view them as strengths. (In a way, the book then also reinforces the idea that there are no shortcuts and that YOU yourself are the key to unlocking your own door, so to speak). One of my favorite parts of the book is how Knight interrogates numerous social norms that leave us feeling like L7 weenies should we deviate (oh, and that pressure to confirm, comply, and fall in line is powerful, friends).  If anyone got my L7 Weenie reference, I’m super-impressed, by the way, and we’d probably be best friends or would at least be able to swap movie recommendations.  Knight explains that we should not blindly accept widely-held beliefs just because they’ve become tradition (i.e. family comes first, don’t be so selfish, etc) and that, instead, we should draw on and celebrate ourselves in order to live more fulfilling, authentic lives. I can’t say I disagree, people. But that’s apparently much easier said then done. And while that insight is not particularly new or profound, it actually KIND OF IS because she’s willing to stand up as an anti-guru on an anti-pulpit and put herself in the line of fire so you might grow a pair (of ovaries, duh) and feel inspired.

Of course if you read reviews, people will say everything from “it’s so funny and brilliant and helpful” to “it’s vapid and there were too many plugs for her other books.” Well, loddy freakin’ dah, folks. You can’t please ’em all, can you? The other criticism was that she is too liberal with her usage of expletives and irreverence which I view as one of the absolutely best and most relatable components of the book. Also, since this is book is the third in a series, I guess it’s the “weakest link” according to some (which only means I’m even more excited to read her other two books “The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A F*ck and Get Your Sh*t Together.)

This book was basically the equivalent of having my own personal, hilarious cheerleader on the sidelines of my own personal lifetime movie,  trying to help me live my life authentically, unapologetically. As I read on a plane en route to Atlanta, I  chuckled and even cackled aloud, and I didn’t even care if I looked stupid in the process. As someone who has had my own struggles with self-consciousness and self-doubt, this book was incredibly inspiring and validating.

And sometimes you just need someone in your corner, even if it’s a potty-mouthed book lady-after-your-own-heart, reminding you that YOU’RE SCREWING YOU IF YOU’RE NOT DOING YOU, and you’re doing so is a disservice to humanity.

 

 

The Great American Read

What is your favorite book of all time? If a cross-section of Americans voted on their favorite book and made a list of the top 100, would your favorite make the list? Time to find out!

PBS has launched a program called The Great American Read which producers say is “designed to spark a national conversation about reading and the books that have inspired, moved, and shaped us.”  The first of eight episodes aired on May 22, 2018.  It featured some famous people like George R.R. Martin, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Venus Williams, Wil Wheaton, Chelsea Clinton, and Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Bush sharing what they love about their personal favorites – The Lord of the Rings, Gulliver’s Travels, The Chronicles of Narnia, Dune, Where the Red Fern Grows and The Book Thief,respectively. If you missed it – don’t worry. You can watch it here.

The final episode is scheduled to air some time in October 2018, according to the show’s official website. Until that time, Americans are encouraged to go online and vote for their favorite book. One vote per day is allowed.

If you are curious about how many books from the list you’ve read, download the checklist and start counting! (I’m at 23 so far.) My personal favorite is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I first read it in 9th grade English class and have loved it ever since. If you, like me, are eager to check more titles off that list, be sure to look for the displays we have at each of our three locations where you can easily find and check one out.

As the show’s host Meredith Viera says, “The Great American Read is happening all across the country, all summer long. So invite your friends to share in the celebration!” I urge you to post a comment to tell us which book is your favorite of all time. We at the library are curious to see how QCA voters will compare to the nation as a whole when the book with the most votes is revealed later this fall!

Online Reading Challenge – May Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Fans of Reading!

How was your May reading? Did you find something incredible that was set in Ancient times? Or was this month a pass for you?

May was almost a pass for me – I rarely read anything set in this time period. I wasn’t coming across anything that grabbed my attention until I picked up the new book by Madeline Miller and just like that, May turned into another winner for me! (so far I’m five out of five this year!)

Circe is about the Greek goddess of sorcery. She is often depicted as cruel and evil, turning people who displease her into animals or monsters. But Circe is told from her point-of-view and, while she isn’t exactly a kind and gentle spirit, there is a lot more to her story than pure evil.

Born to the sun god Helios, Circe grows up in her father’s vast palace and wants for nothing. However, she is different than the nymphs and naiads of her family and is treated with derision. When she defies the gods once too often (turning a nymph she is jealous of into a monster) her father exiles her to a remote island. Here she must live alone and it is here that she hones her skills as a witch.

Although she is in exile, the world comes to her again and again. We see her encounters with Prometheus, with Daedelus and Icarus, with Odysseus and Penelope and her confrontation with Scylla (the monster she created). Circe grows and changes with her exile, regrets past mistakes and tries to atone for them. She is complicated and multi-layered, neither entirely good or bad, much like us mere mortals.

This book is incredibly well written. There is lots of beautiful imagery, but this does not drag down or slow the flow of the story. The stories of the gods themselves, as it has been for centuries, are compelling. Miller’s twist, to see it from Circe’s point-of-view, creates lots of new insights into these beings – they are selfish, egotistical, dysfunctional, vain and cruel (many of the mortal heroes are no better, especially Odysseus). That Circe has her eyes opened to these faults and tries to rise above them makes her unique and interesting. Highly recommended.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in May?

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

 

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham is a great read. Sharp, twisted, vengeful, and delightfully macabre with the sense that justice no matter how dark it might be, is nice when served with a slice a fashion.

The story enfolds in a 1950’s small Australian town called Dungatar where all the characters come together in their dark histories and lucid small town cantor. This is where the story begins and ends with Tilly Dunnage who has just returned from Paris haute couture fashion houses where she’s become an esteemed and accomplished dressmaker, to visit her ailing mother Molly Dunnage.  The town and Tilly have a cloud of bad energy encircling the twisted past of Molly’s daughter who was separated from her mother and sent away suddenly when she was a child.

The dark twists and turns of this novel will keep you reading, and the revenge Tilly erroneously or knowingly (reader’s interpretation) bestows upon the town and it’s misfits is quite laughable in a dark and entertaining sense. However, there are moments of sadness sprinkled throughout but overall a good and enjoyable read.