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Archive for the ‘Must Read Memoirs’ Category

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Once again, we celebrated books, reading, and the power of youth last week at Vermont’s Thetford Academy (TA). The students’ and teachers’ picks for this latest BOOK BUZZ (the student version of the Book Jam’s Pages in the Pub) were eclectic and superb. We hope you enjoy reading from their list as much as we enjoyed hearing them passionately convince the audience why their book selections just had to be read.

We thank the presenters for their time, their enthusiasm and the list of books they generated. Their support made BOOK BUZZ a success. Bonus – thanks to the generosity of the Norwich Bookstore, the event raised money for the Thetford Academy Library.

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With great pleasure, we now list all twenty books discussed during the evening, each with its special six word review written by the presenter. You’ll notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing easier. We hope you have fun looking, and that you enjoy reading about their picks from the comfort of your computer/iPad/phone using direct links to each selection. And now, our superb presenters’ picks for summer reading, with their bios at the end.

Miss Rumphius: Story and Pictures Cover Image

BOOKS YOU WOULD GIVE TO YOUNGER YOU

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (1982). Selected by Hannah – For those who wish to dream.

Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball Cover ImageThe Haters Cover Image

BOOKS ABOUT ROAD TRIPS TO TAKE ON ROAD TRIPS

Where Nobody Knows Your Name by John Feinstein (2014). Selected by Mr. Deffner – Everybody wants to make the Majors.

The Haters by Jesse Andrews (2016). Selected by Ms. OwenEscape band camp, find trouble, self. 

The House of a Million Pets Cover Image

FAVORITE BOOKS STARRING ANIMALS

House of a Million Pets by Ann Hodgman (2007). Selected by Hannah – Humorous tale for passing rainy day.

Scythe Cover ImageAmerica Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't [With 3-D Glasses] Cover Image

BOOKS TO READ ALOUD WITH A FLASHLIGHT/IN A TENT/AROUND A CAMPFIRE

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe Book 1) by Neal Schusterman (2016). Selected by Ms. Owen – No one dies unless you kill them.

America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t by Stephen Colbert (2012). Selected by Malcolm – Clever, relevant, and hilariously scary. (Previously reviewed by The Book Jam.)

The Pearl Thief Cover ImageTrue Letters from a Fictional Life Cover ImageJane Eyre Cover Image

PROTAGANISTS WE LOVE

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein (2017). Selected by Lisa – How people become heroes, WWII History. (Lisa also recommended Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2012) and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (2013). The Pearl Thief is the prequel to these two other books by Wein.)

True Letters From A Fictional Life by Kenneth Logan (2016). Selected by MalcolmWryly humorous coming-out story set in Upper Valley.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847). Selected by Hannah – For young souls finding/justifying their strength.
A Collection of Essays Cover ImageNature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World Cover Image

NON-FICTION THAT YOU CAN’T PUT DOWN OR BOOKS FOR THOSE WHO PREFER TRUE STORIES

A Collection of Essays by George Orwell. Selected by Malcolm – Intriguing and darkly insightful retrospective.

Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World by Julia Rothman (2015). Selected by Ms. Owen – Heartfelt renderings gives hours of leafing.

City of Thieves Cover ImageSalt to the Sea Cover Image

BOOKS THAT DO A GREAT JOB TEACHING HISTORY

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2008). Selected by Mr. Deffner – A dozen eggs or your life. (Previously reviewed by The Book Jam.)

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (2016). Selected by Ms. Owen – Refugees flee WWII carrying secrets. (Previously reviewed by the Book Jam.)

The Hate U Give Cover ImageNineteen Minutes Cover Image

BOOKS YOU WOULD ASSIGN TO GROWNUPS AS REQUIRED

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017). Selected by Mr. Deffner – Police shooting’s effect on a family. (Previously reviewed by The Book Jam.)

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (2007). Selected by Hannah – Entraps you with thought-encoding thriller.

We Should All Be Feminists Cover Image

BOOKS TO GIVE FRIENDS FOR THEIR BIRTHDAYS

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014). Selected by Lisa – Concise, enlightening case for feminism’s importance. (Previously reviewed by The Book Jam.)

Montana 1948 Cover ImageWhy Not Me? Cover Image

BOOKS FOR FRIENDS WHO DON’T LIKE TO READ

Montana 1948 by Larry Watson (1993). Selected by Mr. Deffner – Moral dilemma with two you love.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (2015). Selected by Malcolm – Inspiring, perspective-changing, and hilarious memoir.

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OUR FABULOUS PRESENTERS

  • Hannah loves reading, (especially Jane Austen) has a fondness for bees, and aspires to be a nurse. She is a junior at Thetford Academy.
  • Malcolm’s favorite things to do are run, read, write, and both watch and create films. He loves distance running and proudly self-identifies as a film nerd. He is seventeen years old and attends Thetford Academy.
  • Ms. Owen runs the TA library and most importantly helps many, many students find the perfect book to read next – even if they aren’t sure they want to read anything.
  • Mr. Deffner coaches cross-country and teaches English at TA when he is not taking his sons on road trips or basketball games.
  • Lisa Christie is the co-founder and co-blogger of the Book Jam. When not coordinating BOOK BUZZ or Pages in the Pub, she is usually reading.

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April is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. And, since prevention begins with awareness, we use this opportunity to highlight books that might help you think about sexual violence and its effects. We promise each of these books is a great book in its own right; we just unite them here because they each in some way help us think about how to prevent violence in both words and deeds. They also provide an excuse to once again highlight the important work of WISE — our local organization dedicated to ending gender-based violence through survivor-centered advocacy, prevention, education, and mobilization for social change.

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DDear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions Cover Imageear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2017) – We could call this a follow-up to her best selling We Should All Be Feminists . The first mused; this is more direct.  Enjoy.

We Should All Be Feminists Cover ImageWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014) – A brief treatise of why men and women should be proud to be feminists by an amazing writer. (Makes a great graduation or birthday gift for your favorite older teen.) We include both of Ms. Adichie’s books in this post because we believe that if we could all be feminists, many factors leading to sexual assault would be alleviated, ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

51GxCWpjiuL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014)  – Buckle up your backpacks and get ready for playground politics and modern parenting. The lives of three mothers converge on the first day of kindergarten at an upscale elementary school in coastal Australia. Observant, humorous, and also surprising, this “un-putdownable” book explores the lies that we all tell ourselves and each other. Part mystery (someone ends up dead, but who?), part social commentary (in that it bravely explores the very serious issue of domestic abuse), part page-turner, this book is sure not to disappoint. Please note that a  portion of this review was initially published on the Book Jam on December 29, 2014).~ Lisa Cadow

The Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition Cover ImageThe Distance Between Us: YA version by Reyna Grande (2016) – This book seems especially important with all the recent talk about walls along the US border and hatred towards illegal immigrants.  Ms. Grande has adapted her memoir into this book for young adults. In it, she tells of her life as a toddler in an impoverished town in Mexico, her three attempts to cross into the USA with a coyote as a young child, her life in LA as an illegal immigrant, how her family gained legal status and how she managed college. This is not for the faint hearted due to themes of physical abuse and complicated relationships with parents who are always leaving. But it is important to be informed, and this book will put faces on any political discussions about immigration that the teens in your life might encounter. ~ Lisa Christie

Behind Closed Doors Cover ImageBehind Closed Doors by BA Paris (2017) – This thriller about a completely creepy psychopath and the wife he has trapped inside his life will probably be a better movie than book, but it still had me wondering “WTF?” as I read it in one fell swoop. Read it if you want to explore how not all abuse is physical. ~ Lisa Christie
Quicksand Cover ImageQuicksand by Malin Persson Giolito (2017) – This was truly an amazing thriller. (And, it was named best Swedish crime novel of the year, and well reviewed by the NYTimes.) For fans for court room dramas, we are not sure you can do better than this tale of a teen accused of planning and executing, with her boyfriend, a mass murder of her classmates. The boyfriend died during the mass shooting so she alone remains on trial. As her story unfolds, you can reflect on parenting, teenage life, immigration and contemporary Sweden. Why do we include it in this post? Because part of teen life means dealing with sexuality and pressure and sometimes date rape. Or you can just enjoy a well-told (or at least well-translated) story. ~ Lisa Christie

Milk and Honey Cover ImageMilk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (2015) – Kaur’s book of poetry has been a best-seller since it was released by Andews McMeel Publishing in 2015. Kaur’s powerful words resonate with women of all ages. Her first book includes short, deeply affecting poems and observations written entirely in lower case and with no punctuation except an occasional period.  Kaur divides this, her first book that includes her own line drawings, into four sections: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, and the healing.  The following complete poem, from “the hurting” section of “Milk and Honey” illustrates how much she can accomplish with very few words: “you were so afraid, of my voice, i decided to be, afraid of it too.” We are including this title in today’s post because her work unapologetically addresses difficult women’s issues such as abandonment, self-doubt, exploitation, abuse, and physical shame. But she also blooms when she writes of love, acceptance, and triumph.  Kaur is a 24-year-old artist, poet, and performer who was born in India but who now lives with her family in Canada. Don’t miss her work, she has a lot to say – and don’t forget to pass it on when you’re done. ~Lisa Cadow

The Hate U Give Cover ImageThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – As Book Jam readers know, we love this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen Ms. Thomas created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. How does it relate to this post? One of the main characters must navigate an aggressively abusive relationship. ~ Lisa Christie

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to help independent booksellers, The Book Jam has paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. (We have a rotating list of six possible questions to ask just to keep things interesting.) Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work, will encourage readers to attend these special author events, and ultimately, will inspire some great reading.

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image from the March 7, 2017 Boston Globe

This week we feature Andrew Forsthoefel  author of Walking to Listen. Based upon his travels as a new graduate of Middlebury College, when he walked America with a backpack, an audio recorder, copies of Whitman and Rilke, and a sign that read “Walking to Listen”, this book offers us all a chance to hear those Mr. Forsthoefel met along his route.

Walking from his home in Pennsylvania, toward the Pacific, he met people of all ages, races, and inclinations. Currently based in Northampton, Massachusetts, Andrew Forsthoefel is a writer, radio producer, and public speaker.  He facilitates workshops on walking and listening as practices of personal transformation, interconnection, and conflict resolution.

Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time Cover ImageAndrew Forsthoefel will visit the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont at 7 pm on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 to discuss Walking to ListenThe event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited.  Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save your seat.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Cover ImageThe Snow Leopard: (Penguin Orange Collection) Cover ImageA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Cover Image

1.What three books have helped shape you into the writer you are today, and why?

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard, welcomed me into the wonders of contemplative writing—she plumbs the depths of her inner world while exploring her natural surroundings, and the balance becomes a revelatory relationship between her heart and the earth, her mind and and the woods. The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen, is a masterpiece of subtlety and humility, blending spiritual wondering with boots-on-the-ground, embodied experience. And Dave EggersA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was an inspiring model of how to write a memoir from a place of acute self-inquiry, sincerity, and radical transparency. I also gotta pay homage to Walt Whitman and Rainer Maria Rilke—poets, healers, warriors of the heart, makers of beauty and peace.

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2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

I’d have coffee with the Sufi poet Rumi in the desert somewhere, just to be around someone who was so profoundly in love with the world, so willing to feel the full catastrophe of being human without retreating into cynicism or despair. He made medicine of his experiences by translating them into poetry, and his life became an offering by the way he was willing to commit himself to the labor of love, his faith that the human experience is not an irreparable disaster, that it is undergirded by the redemptive potential for connection with oneself, one another, and the planet. Almost a thousand years later, he continues to serve humanity with his words. What a life! We might not even say a single word in our conversation, might just look at each other and smile. After coffee, we’d have to go for a walk.

The Law of Dreams Cover ImageJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Cover ImageThe New Jim Crow Cover Image

The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety Cover ImageThe End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment Cover ImageBraiding Sweetgrass Cover Image

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

I just finished The Law of Dreams by Peter Behrens, a heartbreaking novel about one young man’s emigration from Ireland in the 1800s. Couldn’t put it down. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, were recent (and necessary) reads for me, illuminating the racism and oppression laced into and created by our criminal justice system. The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts, and The End of Your World by Adyashanti, arrived in my hands right on time a few months ago, and I’m keeping them on my bedside table to remind me not to fall asleep. Up next: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

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Over two Saturday evenings in April during an event called Tables of Content, generous friends of the Norwich Public Library – our local library, will host dinners in their homes to raise money for our superb librarians and the historic Vermont building they inhabit. Each dinner is based on a book the hosts selected as the theme for their dinner. Adding a bit of mystery to the event, dinner guests choose their dinner assignment by the book selections — the location and hosts are revealed only after books and guests have been matched.

How does this relate to books for you to read?  Well, the event offers a diverse group of hosts, and an eclectic selection of books to read. There is great fiction, some nonfiction about doctors and the Israeli-Palestine conflict, as well as a memoir or two. The books they selected will provide hours of inspired reading no matter what your reading preferences. So, today we share their selections, accompanied by the hosts’ brief review of why they picked the book that they did. We also, as always, link all the books to our fabulous local bookstore – The Norwich Bookstore; each link provides access to more information and published reviews about each of the Tables of Content books. If you live near Norwich, we hope you can participate in this amazing event. And, no matter your location, happy reading!

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The Dinners on Saturday April 1, 2017

Born to Run Cover ImageBorn to Run by Bruce Springsteen (2016) – A memoir by Bruce Springsteen – winner of twenty Grammy awards, Kennedy Center Honors recipient, and an Academy Award – provides the starting point for this dinner’s conversations. We will begin with a discussion of music, and end, well, who knows where. If you wish to critique Bruce as inadequate when compared with Baroque composers or the Beatles, you are welcome. If your heart belongs to Patti Smith, that other rock star turned best-selling author, we’d love to hear from you. Whatever your interest in music, you are welcome to join us for a night in which “The Boss” will be the entry point for discussions about music and life. Food? Well, as of press time, we are uncertain about the menu, but it will definitely be “Born in the USA.” Who knows? We might even go a little crazy and hire a band to entertain us.

Homegoing Cover ImageHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016) – Homegoing is an amazing story about two half-sisters born on the Gold Coast of Africa during the height of the slavery trade; one was sold into slavery, the other was married off to a British slaver. In her debut novel, Yaa Gyasi interweaves the very different paths that the sisters and their descendants follow. Join us for a fun evening of African cuisine and stimulating conversations.

Lunatic Heroes Cover ImageLunatic Heroes by C. Anthony Martignetti (2012) – Join us for a homemade Italian feast as we discuss Lunatic Heroes, a collection of short stories detailing the New England boyhood of the late Italian-American author C. Anthony Martignetti. You’ve likely never heard of this book, but your hosts (and Neil Gaiman) assure you that reading it is time well spent. Martignetti casts an unflinching and insightful eye on his dysfunctional family and details the trials of growing up Italian-American in 1950s New England. Although Martignetti looks back with disgust on what his family tried to serve him for dinner (examples include pigs feet, congealed blood pie, and baby cow stomachs), your hosts will stick to more palatable and better known examples of Italian food. Martignetti, who became a psychotherapist, would no doubt encourage you to bring stories of your own crazy extended family to share over some Barolo.

Steve Jobs Cover ImageSteve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (2011) – It is common knowledge that Steve Jobs was not a nice person. It is also well known that he was one of the most important entrepreneurs and visionaries of our lifetime. Walter Isaacson follows Steve Job’s life from birth to death in the captivating biography, Steve Jobs. Isaacson spent years interviewing and gathering information from over 100 of the closest to most obscure people in Jobs’ life, capturing his best, worst and every moment in between. It is no small feat that over 50% of households in the United States have one or more Apple devices. That being said, does Steve Jobs’ success forgive his behavior? Where would we be without him today and what would I do without my iPhone?! So take a break from your Apple devices and come join us and “Think Different” for a dinner discussion on the genius behind Apple.

Dinners on Saturday April 8, 2017
A Gentleman in Moscow Cover ImageA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016) – Set in the early 1920’s Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in a grand hotel for writing a seditious poem. Deprived of his extravagant lifestyle, this gracious gentleman chooses to live a meaningful and full life despite his confinement. We’ll leave behind the current political quagmire as we enjoy a Russian-inspired meal fit for an aristocrat.

God's Kingdom Cover ImageGod’s Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher (2015) – Howard Frank Mosher was one of Vermont’s most prolific writers. HIs recent death is a loss to all who love to read. Throughout his life, Mr. Mosher chronicled the Northeast Kingdom, and its special way of life, in his multiple novels. In his last book before his death, God’s Kingdom, he explores the Kennison family and its many complexities. Although fiction, the “Kingdom” remains a place apart from the rest of Vermont. Mr. Mosher gives us intimate insights into this special place. A French inspired, Spring Vermont dinner will be served!

The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East Cover ImageThe Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan (2007) – The Lemon Tree provides readers with a personalized account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In recounting the decades long friendship of a Jewish settler and a Palestinian refugee, the book explores the passionate issues on both sides. Come enjoy a delicious dinner with your neighbors in what is sure to be an evening full of lively discussion.

Second Suns: Two Trailblazing Doctors and Their Quest to Cure Blindness, One Pair of Eyes at a Time Cover ImageSecond Suns by David Relin (2016 ) – In Second Suns, David Relin tells the amazing story about two doctors (one Nepalese; one American) and how their lives merged with a common goal to rid the world of preventable blindness. Their relatively simple surgical procedure has changed the lives of many in the Himalaya region and in parts of Africa. These doctors are also the co-founders of the Himalayan Cataract Project, which is currently a semi-finalist for a $100M grant from the MacArthur Foundation. Please join us for some tasty Nepalese food, drinks and some engaging conversation about these two incredible humans and the good they are doing in our world.

The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) Cover ImageThe Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015) – We have selected The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, a first novel for this writer and the Pulitzer Prizer winner for 2016. It’s a book to be read slowly and relished. The artistry of the prose lingers intriguingly even while the plot and themes discomfort. Food is a minor theme of the book and we will be serving Vietnamese and 1970’s American classics to fully savor this passage: “We did our best to conjure up the culinary staples of our culture, but since we were dependent on Chinese markets our food had an unacceptably Chinese tinge, another blow in the gauntlet of our humiliation that left us with the sweet-and-sour taste of unreliable memories, just correct enough to the evoke the past, just wrong enough to remind us that the past was forever gone, missing along with the proper variety, subtlety, and complexity of our universal solvent, fish sauce.”

When Breath Becomes Air Cover ImageWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016) – When Breath Becomes Air is an incredibly eloquent and beautifully written memoir based on the life, and death, of Paul Kalanithi. This brilliant thirty-six year old neurosurgeon was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer just as he was about to complete a decade of training to become a neurosurgeon, and as he approached becoming a father. What makes life worth living in the face of death? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? Take a break from the political discussions and come prepared to enjoy a delicious and life-affirming dinner of food and wine among friends and neighbors over vibrant conversation in celebration of our moments here on earth.

THANK YOU and Bon Appetit!

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17075-an-african-american-woman-looking-out-a-window-pv.jpgWe audit because we truly believe we are what we read, and also because we truly believe that the best way to expand your horizons (when you can’t actually travel) is to read books written by or about people who are different from you. It is our hope these audits expose the voices we are missing and create focus for filling those gaps in the coming year.

So, our latest audit results:

During the previous twelve months (from our February 2016 audit), we reviewed 124 authors. For purposes of this audit, we did not include guest columns or the “3 Questions” series, because we don’t control their selections, and we could not include books written by groups such as Lonely Planet or series written by a variety of authors.

Women authors were 62% of the authors we featured.  Men comprised the remaining 38% of the featured authors; we do not have access to the number of authors we reviewed who are transgender or other sexual identifies. In addition, although we know some of the authors we highlighted are gay or lesbian or bisexual, we do not know the sexual orientations for all the authors we review, and thus do not audit by sexual orientation. We also do not have access to class statistics. Thus, our diversity audit focuses on gender and race.

Fifty-six white women, from a variety of nations, were reviewed, comprising 45% of all authors we featured. We reviewed one South American woman and six Latinas from the USA meaning 6% of our featured authors were women with a Latina background. We featured three Asian women, and 9% of our authors were African or African American women.

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Slightly fewer than a third (29%) of the authors we featured were white men from a variety of continents: 6% were African American men; 2% were Asian/Indian men; and, we reviewed one Latino-American male author.

Adding men and women together, 74% of the authors we reviewed were white.  We can make ourselves feel slightly better about this bias by pointing out that fewer than half (44%) of the white authors featured were from the USA, meaning there was diversity among the nations represented (i.e., Canada, Australia, Sweden, France). The largest group of nonwhite authors were African or African American for 15% of our featured authors.

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We also note we are improving the diversity of the authors reviewed — 77% of authors in last year’s audit were white, which was slightly lower than 2015’s audit when 81% of our featured authors were white.

However, the fact remains that only 26% of the authors we featured during the past 12 months were authors of color. And even though a librarian friend pointed out we should look at the low percentages of books being published by authors of color to truly have a picture of the possibilities for our reviews (e.g., 22% of Childrens book authors published in 2016 were people of color; we could not find a similar study of books for adults), the fact that almost three quarters of the authors we reviewed are white gives us pause.

So, once again we vow to keep our eyes searching the shelves for a diversity of reads and our minds aware of the challenges facing authors of color. And, we finish February – Black History Month in the USA – by highlighting some great, never before reviewed by us, books by African or African American authors.

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Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood Cover ImageBorn A Crime by Trevor Noah (2016) – Mr. Noah, of Daily Show fame, is funny. He is insightful. And, he has a unique backstory for his life thusfar. All this combines to create a superb, insightful, humorous, and important memoir about life as a biracial child in South Africa during and after Apartheid. Read it, laugh, learn, and pass it along to others who can benefit from a well told life story. (Please note: Mr. Noah reads the audiobook version and we have been told it is tremendous.)

The Hate U Give Cover ImageThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to give life to current events. And sometimes it takes a book for children or young adults to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done us all a service by producing this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen she created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and  that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. As a description of this book stated, The Hate U Give “addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty”.  Just as importantly, it is a great story, told by a gifted author, with complex characters who will haunt you.  Please read this one!

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration Cover ImageThe Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (2010) – Ms. Wilkerson puts human faces on one of the most important social movements in American history – the Great Migration. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, this book will fascinate and teach you. Ms. Wilkerson captures the treacherous and exhausting trips by car and train of more than six million African Americans from the South to the North. She portrays how their new homes grew into ghettos, as well as how these migrants changed their new cities with their southern culture, highlighting their food and faith.

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Well, it has been quite the week or two regarding immigration, immigration reform, and real life consequences of immigration policies and executive orders. It has ushered in a time where many Americans don’t recognize their country — the one of “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”(from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus). But, it is also a time in which many other Americans, afraid of terrorism and terrorists, are acting and reacting from a place where immigration restrictions feel protective and correct. Since none of us have all the answers, nor all the righteousness, nor all the facts, we thought we would turn to the voices of immigrants – to those who have lived and are living lives directly affected by what to many of us are only policies. To find these voices, we turned to books. We hope the list we collected helps you put faces on the headlines and perhaps inspires action; but most importantly, we wish these books will create empathy and compassion towards all of us living in this great world of ours.
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The Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition Cover ImageThe Distance Between Us: YA version by Reyna Grande (2016) – With this book, Ms. Grande has adapted her adult memoir for middle grade readers and young adults. In it, she tells of her life as a toddler in an impoverished town in Mexico, her three attempts to cross into the USA with a coyote as a young child, her life in LA as an illegal immigrant, how her family gained legal status, and how she managed college. This is not for the faint hearted due to themes of physical abuse and complicated relationships with parents who are always leaving. But it is important to be informed; and, this book will insert faces into any political discussions about immigration that the pre-teens and teens in your life might encounter. ~ Lisa Christie

Brooklyn Cover ImageBrooklyn by Colm Toibin (2009) – Brooklyn is a coming of age story about a girl, Eilis, who leaves Ireland post World War II to travel to New York for better prospects. She arrives alone, leaving behind her beloved sister, Rose, her mother and brothers. Brave, smart Eilis carves out a life for herself and even finds a beau in sweet Tony before tragedy calls her unexpectedly back to Ireland. Brooklyn is a complicated love story, one that also paints one of the most poignant pictures of homesickness and a rough transatlantic journey that we have ever read. It is definitely a book that will stay with the reader and generate plenty of discussion for lucky book groups that have yet to select it. Also, this is one of the rare instances where the movie is as good as the book (see Book Jam review February 29, 2016). ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Into the Beautiful North Cover ImageInto the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea (2009) – Inspired by “The Magnificent Seven“, 19-year-old Nayeli goes north from her small town in Mexico to recruit seven men to save her village from ruin at the hands of drug dealers, and to find her father who disappeared north years before. Beautifully written and funny — think of this novel as the book Jon Stewart would have written if he ever wrote about crossing the Mexican border into the USA. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided Cover ImageIn The Country We Love by Diane Guerrero (2016) – One of the stars of “Orange is the New Black” penned this memoir (with some help from a co-author) about her life as the USA-born daughter of undocumented immigrants from Colombia. Her story hinges on the day her parents were deported while she was at school, after which she was left to fend on her own, relying on her friends for places to live so she could finish High School in the USA. She is now using her fame to help shed light on the lives of the undocumented in the USA. While the prose may not sing quite as well as some of the other books on this list from award winning authors, I, for one, was appalled at some of the more surreal aspects of her story (e.g., she was completely forgotten by the US government which never checked on her, or helped her in any shape or form). And, I am very grateful she broke years of silence to put her face on many nameless Americans, and on a problem we all need to help solve. ~ Lisa Christie

Interpreter of Maladies Cover ImageInterpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999) – If you somehow missed this collection of nine short stories about Indian-American immigrants, fix that now and read these Pulitzer Prize winning tales. Ms. Lahiri’s prose is gorgeously crafted, and her characters and their trials and tribulations – both the mundane and the incredible – will stay with you long after you finish the last sentences. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dreaming in Cuban Cover ImageDreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia (1992) – Reaching far back in our bookshelf, our memories, and into the Caribbean Sea, our hands land on Garcia’s 1992 novel of the Cuban immigration experience. Told from the perspective of three generations of strong women, this lush narrative will be appreciated by lovers of magical realism. Strong female characters tell the story of the experiences of being political expats in New York City, and also of the ones left behind in Cuba. Moving between the United States and Cuba, and the present and the past, this book creates a sensation of dreaming but also of the very real situation of a country and its people experiencing turmoil and change. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) Cover ImageThe Sympathizer  by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015) – The Pulitzer landed on an important book in 2016. The narrator, a Vietnamese immigrant to the USA, was rescued by the Americans during the fall of Saigon due to his work with the US military and diplomatic corps. His life further unravels from this relocation to LA. His tale provides a superb entry into conversations about the Vietnam War, as well as the lives of all the Vietnamese immigrants to the USA who followed the soldiers and sailors across the Pacific to life in America. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Home of the Brave Cover ImageHome of the Brave by Katherine Applegate (2007) – My 11-year-old read this for school earlier this year, and I am so glad he did. I borrowed it and devoured it in one sitting. A great book about the complicated lives of immigrants to the USA. It weaves the tale of a boy, from an unnamed country in Africa, adjusting to cold days and nights in Minnesota and wondering what happened to his mother, the only other person from his family to have survived the genocide there. ~ Lisa Christie

Before We Were Free Cover ImageBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) – We finish with a Vermont author who has penned so many great tales (e.g., How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of Butterflies), and highlight Before We Were Free her award winning novel for older children. In this tale, by the 12th birthday of the main character Anita, most of her Dominican relatives have emigrated to the United States, a few have disappeared without a trace, and the police continually terrorize her family remaining in the DR all of whom are suspected of opposing el Trujillo’s dictatorship. A heartrending tale of growing up based upon the author’s extended family’s own experiences. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

OK, two more….

Americanah Cover ImageAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – Before she wrote We Should All Be Feminists, Ms. Adichi earned our reading loyalty with this incredible novel of love and culture clash. As Maureen Corrigan of NPR stated, “Adichie has written a big knockout of a novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color . . . Americanah is a sweeping story that derives its power as much from Adichie’s witty and fluid writing style as it does from keen social commentary. . . . ”

Ghana Must Go Cover ImageGhana Must Go by Taiye Selasi (2013) – When a renowned surgeon dies suddenly outside his home in Accra, his family, which is scattered across the globe, suddenly learns much more about him and what his choices meant for them. Beautifully rendered, this novel takes you from Accra to Lagos to London and to New York. It also shows us the power of love, family, and choices as we figure out who we are and where we come from.

 

 

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Well, last week was quite the week for politics in the USA. Our first Black President vacated the White House after eight years of service. Our new President was inaugurated. And, millions marched on Saturday in rallies in DC, many state capitals, and cities throughout the world to remind our new administration that inclusiveness remains important — and that over half the US population is women.

So today, we shine the pink spotlight on books that will help to remind us all what is at stake. We have selected several titles that include short manifestos (Adichie), speculative fiction (Atwood), a turn-of-the-20th century heroine (Chopin), and a comedienne’s memoir (Moran) that reminds us that (still) “there’s never been a better time to be a woman.”images.jpg

A Room of One's Own Cover ImageA Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929) -It is our intent to read every book that is reviewed on this site. In this case, we make a slight exception because only one of us has read it and this reading occurred years ago, possibly most importantly years before she could understand the importance of a “room of one’s own” as every room she inhabited was hers — she was so very, very single. In this collection of essays, Wolfe essentially argues that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” She asserts that females cannot be a part of the literary conversation if they do not have the freedom and autonomy to write. Woolf also highlights the importance of education for women and their tenuous place in society without it. Though only one of us has had the opportunity to delve into this very, very important work, after this weekend the other Lisa has placed it at the top of her pile. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Handmaid's Tale Cover ImageThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985) – This work of speculative fiction has never once been out of print since it was first published over thirty years ago. The topics it tackles are so important and the construct so fascinating that directors have made in to a movie, an opera, and even a television series. It is set in a dystopian future New England where women have been stripped of their rights after a new government assumes power. Told through the eyes of Offred, a handmaid (the class of women assigned in this new society for reproductive purposes), Atwood explores the nature of power, fanaticism, resistance, and hanging on to hope in the face of great obstacles. ~ Lisa Cadow

We Should All Be Feminists Cover ImageWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014) – This gem of a book emerged from a speech by Ms. Adichie in which she outlines a twenty-first century view of feminism, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. In doing so, she succinctly and beautifully makes the case why we should all be feminists – feminism benefits all of us no matter our gender.  Read it; give it; live it. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Awakening and Selected Stories Cover ImageThe Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899) – In this slim, ground breaking work of fiction published at the end of the 1800’s, Chopin introduces us to Edna Pontellier, a white mother and wife from the South who is deeply unsatisfied with her life. When Edna falls in love outside of her marriage, she begins to ask new questions and push new boundaries alarming those around her.  It is hard to remember that this book was published before Woolfe, Wharton, and Welty started writing because its style is so modern, the subjects it tackles so ahead of its time. ~ Lisa Cadow

The Color Purple Cover Image The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982) – A book so important and complicated it won both the Pulitzer and National Book Award, and inspired a Broadway Musical. This compassionate novel, focusing on the lives of African American women in the 1930s, shows how two sisters one in the American South and one in Africa sustain their love across time, distance, and hardships. It garnered glowing reviews such as one from The New York Times Book Review,”intense emotional impact . . . Indelibly affecting . . . Alice Walker is a lavishly gifted writer,” and has frequently been the target of censors. ~ Lisa Christie

How to Be a Woman Cover ImageHow To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran (2011) – We end this list with humor because laughter and empathy help all conversations. Every sentence in this raucous, side-splitting book offers exquisite insight into subjects such as women’s shoes, Germaine Greer, strident feminism, motherhood, handbags, hair styles, pornography, surviving puberty, and making it through dating with your self-worth intact — in sum, how to be a woman. Moran has much to offer women as they reflect on their own journeys, and those of their daughters. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (excerpted from review from Book Jam Holiday Gift Guide 2012).
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