The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig

I recently ordered this book for the library’s 400s – which is Dewey Decimal-speak for books about languages – and I’m so excited about it. This is a book which “poetically defines emotions that we all feel but don’t have the words to express”, resulting in a riot of whimsy and thought-provoking word creation.

Started as a website in 2009, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows has captured the hearts of many, including John Green who said it “creates beautiful new words that we need but do not yet have.” It includes such words’ definitions as ‘sonder’, the feeling of wondering about strangers, realizing that their lives are as vivid and complex as yours is, ‘anemoia’, the nostalgia for a time you’ve never actually experienced, and ‘zenosyne’, the sense that time is constantly getting faster. Drawn from creativity and inspired by languages around the world, the Dictionary is a great read to shift your perspective and tap into your most subtle nuanced feelings. Even better, it’s illustrated!

If you like unusual words, beautiful books, and deep feelings, do try this book – if only for that beautiful cover!

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Alex Michaelides’ debut novel The Silent Patient pulled me in from the start with the story of a woman’s shocking act of violence against her husband and her subsequent silence. It’s a topic that had not been covered in any previous novel I had read, so I was curious to see how Michaelides would weave the story together, especially with a silent main character.

Alicia Berenson has the perfect life. As a famous painter married to popular fashion photographer Gabriel, she spends her days doing exactly what she wants: painting. Alicia and Gabriel live in a large gorgeous house with big windows that let in a lot of light. Living in one of London’s most desirable areas means that they pay for the view, but said view is stunning and overlooks one of London’s parks.

They have all they could ever want until one night when Alicia does the unthinkable. Gabriel returns home late one evening from a fashion shoot. Alicia shoots him five times in the face. She never speaks again.

The media and the police are equally confused. Alicia’s refusal to speak or give any type of explanation leaves ample room for speculation, none of which is in Alicia’s favor. This case becomes the number one thing talked and speculated about in the public and amongst investigators. Alicia is also catapulted into notoriety. The prices of her previous artworks skyrocket. Once Alicia’s case is settled, she is taken away to the Grove, a secure forensic unit hidden away in North London. Away from prying eyes, the therapists at the Grove have high hopes that Alicia will open up and share her motives for why she killed her husband. Those hopes are quickly dashed as Alicia proves unresponsive to any kind of therapy.

Enter criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber. New to the Grove, Theo believes that he holds the key to unlocking Alicia’s speech. He has been waiting a very long time to work with Alicia. He is determined to get the bottom of the mystery of why Alicia shot her husband. Theo’s motivations become muddled the more he works with Alicia and begin to consume him. All the while, Alicia sits silently.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his previous book, All the Light We Cannot See (one of my all-time favorite books), has written a new book and while it is vastly different from the previous one, it has many of the same threads running through it – parallel lives converging, stories passed down through time and lessons to learn from history. It also shares beautiful writing and compelling characters

Cloud Cuckoo Land follows the lives of five people – Konstance, a young girl who is the only survivor on a spaceship bound for a distant planet; Seymour, a troubled teen in Idaho who is devastated by the ecological destruction he sees; Zeno, who lost his father to World War II, endured time as a POW in the Korean War then spent a quiet life working for the county; Anna, a young girl apprenticed to nunnery in a Constantinople about to fall to invading forces in 1453; and Omeir, born with a cleft palate and considered a demon, but saved by his grandfather.  All of these lives have a connection to an ancient Greek text, a comic story that was told to a child. How this story reaches each person, how it influences and changes their lives, how their lives intersect even across centuries makes an engaging story. In Doerr’s hands it becomes a masterpiece.

I will warn you though – there are a lot of moving pieces in this book. I’ve always enjoyed books that jump around in time and show different perspectives, but not everyone does. I found the start a little confusing, simply because I didn’t have a handle on the time jumps. However, it quickly became a can’t-put-down, what-happens-next kind of book for me. The writing style is beautiful with descriptions that transport you to each location and to each character’s point-of-view simply and quickly – you can almost feel the growing fear in Constantinople as the city is laid to siege, the cold and snow of an Idaho winter, the impersonal and metallic isolation of Konstance’s room.

This is a beautiful tribute to the enduring power of stories and books and the people that create them. Highly recommended.

 

Upcoming Albums from LGBTQ Artists

Don’t miss these albums from iconic artists of the LGBTQ community, coming soon!

The Lockdown Sessions by Elton John is a collection of collaborations that the British singer recorded remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, featuring Miley Cyrus, Lil Nas X, Stevie Nicks, and many more. The tracks cover a variety of genres and moods for a truly eclectic mix. Personally, I can vouch for this album because I’ve already heard a few of the tracks, including Chosen Family (absolutely gorgeous track with a great message) and Nothing Else Matters (gives me chills every time). If you, like me, spent time in quarantine singing along to everything and making playlists, you might relate to this album!

Broken Hearts and Beauty Sleep by Mykki Blanco is the new album from non-binary boundary pusher Mykki Blanco, melding hip hop and rap with club and trap sounds as well as experimental elements. I’m excited for this one because I love more publicity for non-binary artists, AND I just recently discovered this artist through their essay in The Queer Bible (an excellent book!).

 

To discover other LGBTQ artists, try:

Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power – their most recent album which was accompanied by a film released on HBO Max, and which wrestles with the suffocating side of love, pregnancy, creation, destruction and how we claim and use power.

 

 

Brandi Carlile’s In These Silent Days : the 2021 offering from a country and folk rock staple. Encompassing both intimate contemplation and defiantly rollicking tunes, it’s an album exploring the full breadth of Carlile’s skill and power, with echoes of Elton John and Joni Mitchell, according to critics.

October’s Celebrity Book Club Picks

It’s a new month which means that Oprah Winfrey, Jenna Bush Hager, and Reese Witherspoon have picked new books for their book clubs! Reminder that if you join our Best Sellers Club, these titles will automatically be put on hold for you.

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Oprah Winfrey has selected Bewilderment by Richard Powers.

Curious what Bewilderment is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher:

The astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while single-handedly raising his unusual nine-year-old, Robin, following the death of his wife. Robin is a warm, kind boy who spends hours painting elaborate pictures of endangered animals. He’s also about to be expelled from third grade for smashing his friend in the face. As his son grows more troubled, Theo hopes to keep him off psychoactive drugs. He learns of an experimental neurofeedback treatment to bolster Robin’s emotional control, one that involves training the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother’s brain….

With its soaring descriptions of the natural world, its tantalizing vision of life beyond, and its account of a father and son’s ferocious love, Bewilderment marks Richard Powers’s most intimate and moving novel. At its heart lies the question: How can we tell our children the truth about this beautiful, imperiled planet?

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Jenna Bush Hager has selected The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles.

Curious what The Lincoln Highway is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

The bestselling author of A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility and master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction returns with a stylish and propulsive novel set in 1950s America

In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the work farm where he has just served a year for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett’s intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother and head west where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Together, they have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett’s future.

Spanning just ten days and told from multiple points of view, Towles’s third novel will satisfy fans of his multi-layered literary styling while providing them an array of new and richly imagined settings, characters, and themes.

This book is also available in the following formats:

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Reese Witherspoon has selected Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo.

Curious what Sankofa is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

Masterful in its examination of freedom, prejudice, and personal and public inheritance, Sankofa is a story for anyone who has ever gone looking for a clear identity or home, and found something more complex in its place.

Anna is at a stage of her life when she’s beginning to wonder who she really is. She has separated from her husband, her daughter is all grown up, and her mother—the only parent who raised her—is dead.

Searching through her mother’s belongings one day, Anna finds clues about the African father she never knew. His student diaries chronicle his involvement in radical politics in 1970s London. Anna discovers that he eventually became the president—some would say dictator—of a small nation in West Africa. And he is still alive…

When Anna decides to track her father down, a journey begins that is disarmingly moving, funny, and fascinating. Like the metaphorical bird that gives the novel its name, Sankofa expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present to address universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for a family’s hidden roots.

Join our Best Sellers Club to have Oprah, Jenna, and Reese’s adult selections automatically put on hold for you!

Careful What You Wish For by Hallie Ephron

Hallie Ephron is known for writing mystery and suspense novels. Her newest novel Careful What You Wish For is her latest offering.

Emily Harlow is a professional organizer. She loves to help people declutter their lives which is a bit ironic because Emily’s own life is a complete mess. Her husband is a hoarder. He has filled their basement, attic, and garage with all of the treasures that he has found at different yard and estate sales. Emily and her husband have an understanding though that she will not touch his finds. This marriage compromise is slowly making Emily’s life more stressful as his belongings spread throughout more of the house.

Desperate to get back to some sort of normalcy, Emily is relieved when she has two new clients sign up. One is an elderly widow finally ready to clear out her house of any reminder of her husband. Said husband also left behind a storage unit that the wife had no idea existed. Emily’s other new client is a young wife who wants to get rid of all of her belongings that have been sitting in the garage ever since she moved in with her husband. You see, her husband didn’t allow any of her belongings into the house. At all.

After the initial meetings, Emily discovers that both of her new clients are hiding something. The mess Emily finds herself in has the power to destroy her life. She must get creative in order to find her way out or she may lose her marriage, her job, or even her life.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Childfree by Choice by Dr. Amy Blackstone

A deeply evidence-based look at the real experiences of those who choose not to have children, 2019’s Childfree by Choice is an honest and empowering look at the many ways of creating lives of meaning and fulfillment.

A childfree woman herself, Dr. Blackstone has always been interested in the way childfree people live in a world that doesn’t really support them. In this book, she pulls together years of research – her own and that of others – to dive deep into what it really means to be childfree. She addresses the numerous myths and threats childfree people face (“You’ll regret it!” “You’re selfish!” “You hate kids!”, etc.) and debunks them all with her own experience alongside verifiable facts drawn from numerous research studies.

What I really liked about this book – aside from her hardcore commitment to evidence and citations supporting her every claim – was the way she carefully explained the difference between what our culture might say, where those assumptions come from, and what is actually true. It’s easy to accept common wisdom at face value, but it’s far more interesting to understand the issue in a nuanced way. Perhaps more importantly, Blackstone maintains an honest, calm and reasonable tone throughout and never comes across condescending or defensive. She never claims that either choice is better or worse, but only states the facts: some people have kids, some people don’t, and either way is a good way to live, as long as it works for you.

If you want to learn about an invisible population, feel empowered to create your own future, or have your eyes opened to the many wonderful ways to make a family, you might be interested in Childfree by Choice.

Black Genius, in its Own Words

Today I’m highlighting several things I’ve recently ordered for the library that I think will add beauty and insight to our collection – focused on the experience of African-Americans, including full measures of joy, grief, hope, shame, love, and vulnerability. Have your own reading or listening suggestions? Tell us in the comments!

 Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers features baritone vocals and piano accompaniment over eight tracks by black composers, many with lyrics by eminent poet Langston Hughes.

 

 

You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience is an anthology curated by Tarana Burke and Brene Brown, meant to act as a counterpart to Brown’s famous works on vulnerability.

 

 

 

Life, I Swear: Intimate Stories from Black Women on Identity, Healing, and Self-Trust by Chloe Dulce Louvouezo is an illustrated collection of essays inspired by a podcast and telling the stories of prominent Black women’s journeys to self-love and healing.

 

 

 

For more recently-published celebrations of the Black experience, try:

Love in Color by Bolu Babalola, a striking retelling of myths, especially from West Africa, but drawing from folklore traditions around the world.

Black Magic by Chad Sanders, on the resilience and confidence the author gained from navigating America as a Black man, and how it contributed to his career success.

We Are Each Others’ Harvest by Natalie Baszile, detailing and celebrating the past and present of African-American farming, including how American culture has been shaped by these connections to the land.

The Disordered Cosmos by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a combination love letter to science and vision for a more inclusive scientific community, criticizing harmful systems which are in place.

Read Until You Understand by Farrah Jasmine Griffin, which dives into historical records of Black genius, from Malcolm X to Stevie Wonder to Toni Morrison, to show the wisdom of Black culture.

The Woods Are Always Watching by Stephanie Perkins

Perkins’ second horror offering strikes a much more menacing tone with grimly realistic depictions of predators – both human and animal – in a wilderness that has no mercy for the inexperience of new adulthood.

In The Woods are Always Watching, we meet Neena and Josie, high school best friends who are about to be separated when Neena goes away to college. As a last hurrah, Neena has insisted they go backpacking for three days in the Blue Ridge Mountains, just the two of them. But after they enter the forest and are cut off from all creature comforts and technology, their relationship quickly starts to unravel as they realize how ill-equipped they are for camping – and maybe, life in general – on their own. But as their mistakes, annoyances, and discomforts pile up, one slip-up plunges them into a gruesome cat-and-mouse game that they’ll be lucky to survive at all.

Full disclosure: I did not enjoy this book as much as its predecessor, There’s Someone Inside Your House, which had a more exciting, teen slasher movie vibe. This, on the other hand, reads like a 21st century Grimm’s fairy tale – a pastiche of Little Red Riding Hood, full of hard lessons and gore and the end of innocence. Where There’s Someone Inside Your House showed relationships growing and strengthening in the face of terror, The Woods Are Always Watching shows a friendship cracking under pressure, to never truly be the same again. Frankly, I came away a little depressed, reminded of the 2019 film Black Christmas which has a similarly bleak outlook for college-age women.

But while it may be less fun to read, the book rings with a frightening truth: that life and adulthood are hard, unpleasant slogs with real danger lurking around corners, and no matter how well prepared you think you are, you’re probably not ready for it — and you’re definitely too dependent on your phone. Which is not to say that Neena and Josie lack any intelligence or power over their fates; although terrified they learn, improvise, fight back, and face the truths they’ve been trying to avoid.

A survival story, a coming-of-adulthood story, an examination of friendship in transition, and a feminist parable, The Woods Are Always Watching is recommended for strong-stomached readers looking for an unflinching look at the realities of growing into a woman in today’s world.  Those who enjoy Perkins’ romances will want to look elsewhere, for there’s no sweetness here.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Have you ever wanted to be a librarian? What about a rebel librarian? Sarah Gailey’s Upright Women Wanted is a twisted dystopic pulp western where librarians are the only way to get approved information, but things are never as they seem.

Before we get to the librarians, we need to start with Esther. Esther is a stowaway. After seeing her best friend executed at the hands of her father for being in possession of resistance propaganda, Esther has run away and hidden herself in the book wagon the librarians are taking across country. In this future American Southwest full of bandits and fascists, librarians trek to small towns to deliver materials approved by the government. Desperate to escape the marriage that her dad has arranged(to a man who was previously engaged to her now dead best friend), the librarians are Esther’s quickest way to escape and to be her truest self. Maybe she will start to heal her broken heart. Her best friend wasn’t just her best friend. Esther was in love with her.

Discovered by the librarians, Esther is introduced to a life she never thought possible. The more she learns about the librarians, the more she realizes that they are not as straight-laced as they appear. Instead they are queer librarian spies working with a secret network to spread resistance materials and supplies to those in need. The librarians are trying to do the right thing, but putting up a front of normalcy is the only way that they can survive.

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