Staff Book Picks: December 2020

Bynum, Sarah Shun-lien, author.

Ms. Beatrice Hempel, teacher of seventh grade, is new--new to teaching, new to the school, newly engaged, and newly bereft of her idiosyncratic father. Grappling awkwardly with her newness, she struggles to figure out what is expected of her in life and at work. Is it acceptable to introduce swear words into the English curriculum, enlist students to write their own report cards, or bring up personal experiences while teaching a sex-education class?

Cantú, Francisco (Essayist), author.

"For Francisco Cantú the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Haunted by the landscape of his youth, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners are posted to remote regions crisscrossed by drug routes and smuggling corridors, where they learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive. Cantú tries not to think where the stories go from there. Plagued by nightmares, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the whole story."-- Provided by publisher.

Carey, M. R., 1959- author.

"Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable landscape. A place where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don't get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will. Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He believes the first rule of survival is that you don't venture too far beyond the walls. He's wrong"--Back cover.

Clegg, Bill, author.

"A retired widow in rural Connecticut wakes to an unexpected visit from her childhood best friend whom she hasn't seen in forty-nine years. An older man who has traveled from Manhattan to meet his newborn granddaughter collapses in a hotel lobby in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. A sixty-seven-year-old taxi driver in Kauai receives a phone call from the mainland that jars her back to a traumatic past. Seemingly disconnected lives come together as half-century old secrets begin to surface in Bill Clegg's second novel"-- Provided by publisher.

Féret-Fleury, Christine, author.

"In the vein of Amélie and The Little Paris Bookshop, a modern fairytale about a French woman whose life is turned upside down when she meets a reclusive bookseller and his young daughter. Juliette leads a perfectly ordinary life in Paris, working a slow office job, dating a string of not-quite-right men, and fighting off melancholy. The only bright spots in her day are her métro rides across the city and the stories she dreams up about the strangers reading books across from her: the old lady, the math student, the amateur ornithologist, the woman in love, the girl who always tears up at page 247. One morning, avoiding the office for as long as she can, Juliette finds herself on a new block, in front of a rusty gate wedged open with a book. Unable to resist, Juliette walks through, into the bizarre and enchanting lives of Soliman and his young daughter, Zaide. Before she realizes entirely what is happening, Juliette agrees to become a passeur, Soliman's name for the booksellers he hires to take stacks of used books out of his store and into the world, using their imagination and intuition to match books with readers. Suddenly, Juliette's daydreaming becomes her reality, and when Soliman asks her to move in to their store to take care of Zaide while he goes away, she has to decide if she is ready to throw herself headfirst into this new life. Big-hearted, funny, and gloriously zany, The Girl Who Reads on the Métro is a delayed coming-of-age story about a young woman who dares to change her life, and a celebration of the power of books to unite us all"-- Provided by publisher.

Guiet, Daniel (Daniel C.), author.

During World War II the American military was on the lookout for native French speakers to be seconded to a secret British special operations commando operation. The agents would be dropped behind German lines in France to coordinate aid to the French Resistance and wreak havoc on Germany's military efforts. Though the human cost was terrible, the mission succeeded beyond the Allies' wildest dreams. Guiet and Smith tell the story of Jean Claude Guiet and the other three agents in his 'circuit,' codenamed Salesman. Parachuted into France the day after D-Day, they organized, armed, and commanded an underground army of 10,000 French Resistance fighters. It was only at the very end of his life that Jean Claude spoke of the mission during World War II that marked the beginning of his career in clandestine service. -- adapted from jacket

Hong, Cathy Park, author.

"Asian Americans inhabit a purgatorial status: neither white enough nor black enough, unmentioned in most conversations about racial identity. In the popular imagination, Asian Americans are all high-achieving professionals. But in reality, this is the most economically divided group in the country, a tenuous alliance of people with roots from South Asia to East Asia to the Pacific Islands, from tech millionaires to service industry laborers. How do we speak honestly about the Asian American condition--if such a thing exists? Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong fearlessly and provocatively confronts this thorny subject, blending memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose the truth of racialized consciousness in America. Binding these essays together is Hong's theory of "minor feelings." As the daughter of Korean immigrants, Cathy Park Hong grew up steeped in shame, suspicion, and melancholy. She would later understand that these "minor feelings" occur when American optimism contradicts your own reality--when you believe the lies you're told about your own racial identity. With sly humor and a poet's searching mind, Hong uses her own story as a portal into a deeper examination of racial consciousness in America today. This intimate and devastating book traces her relationship to the English language, to shame and depression, to poetry and artmaking, and to family and female friendship. A radically honest work of art, Minor Feelings forms a portrait of one Asian American psyche--and of a writer's search to both uncover and speak the truth"-- Provided by publisher.

Kinzler, Katherine D., author.

"We gravitate toward people like us; it's human nature. Race, class, and gender affect this social identity, but one overlooked factor can be even more powerful: the way we speak. As ... psychologist Katherine Kinzler reveals in [this book], that's because our speech largely reflects the voices we heard as children. We can change how we speak to some extent, whether by 'code-switching' between dialects or learning a new language. But for the most part we are forever marked by our native tongue--and are hardwired to prejudge others by theirs, often with serious consequences"-- Provided by publisher.

Lynn, Loretta, author.

"Me & Patsy Kickin' Up Dust shares the 'important and inspiring' (Miranda Lambert) never-before-told complete story of the remarkable relationship between country music icons Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. Loretta Lynn and the late Patsy Cline are legends--country icons and sisters of the heart. For the first time ever Loretta tells their story: a celebration of their music and their relationship up until Patsy's tragic and untimely death. Full of laughter and tears, this eye-opening, heartwarming memoir paints a picture of two stubborn, spirited country gals who'd be damned if they'd let men or convention tell them how to be. Set in the heady streets of the 1960s South, this nostalgia ride shows how Nashville blossomed into the city of music it is today. Tender and fierce, Me & Patsy Kickin' Up Dust is an up-close-and-personal portrait of a friendship that defined a generation and changed country music indelibly--and a meditation on love, loss and legacy"--Amazon.com.

Martine, Arkady, author.

"During a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court, Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn't an accident--or that Mahit might be next to die. Now Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan's unceasing expansion--all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret--one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life--or rescue it from annihilation"--From publisher.

Moezzi, Melody, 1979- author.

"A powerful personal journey to find meaning and life lessons in the words of a wildly popular 13th century poet. Rumi's inspiring and deceptively simple poems have been called ecstatic, mystical, and devotional. To writer and activist Melody Moezzi, they became a lifeline. In The Rumi Prescription, we follow her path of discovery as she translates Rumi's works for herself - to gain wisdom and insight in the face of a creative and spiritual roadblock. With the help of her father, who is a lifelong fan of Rumi's poetry, she immerses herself in this rich body of work, and discovers a 13th-century prescription for modern life"-- Provided by publisher.

Niequist, Shauna.

A testament to the spiritual nature of dining and its capacity to strengthen relationships presents the author's reflections on the role mealtimes have played in her growth and in her struggles with getting pregnant and juggling her family and career.

O'Farrell, Maggie, 1972- author.

We are never closer to life than when we brush up against the possibility of death. I Am, I Am, I Am is Maggie O'Farrell's astonishing memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated and defined her life. The childhood illness that left her bedridden for a year, which she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. An encounter with a disturbed man on a remote path. And, most terrifying of all, an ongoing, daily struggle to protect her daughter -- for whom this book was written -- from a condition that leaves her unimaginably vulnerable to life's myriad dangers. Seventeen discrete encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. In taut prose that vibrates with electricity and restrained emotion, O'Farrell captures the perils running just beneath the surface, and illuminates the preciousness, beauty, and mysteries of life itself.

Rice, Waubgeshig, 1979- author.

"A daring post-apocalyptic novel from a powerful rising literary voice. With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community goes dark. Cut off, people become passive and confused. Panic builds as the food supply dwindles. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives, escaping the crumbling society to the south. Soon after, others follow. The community leadearship loses its grip on power as the visitors manipulate the tired and hungry to take control of the reserve. Tensions rise and, as the months pass, so does the death toll due to sickness and despair. Frustrated by the building chaos, a group of young friends and their families turn to the land and Anishinaabe tradition in hopes of helping their community thrive again. Guided through the chaos by an unlikely leader named Evan Whitesky, they endeavor to restore order while grappling with a grave decision. Blending action and allegory, Moon of the Crusted Snow upends our expectations. Out of catastrophe comes resilience. And as one society collapses, another is reborn."--Provided by publisher.

Rum, Etaf, author.

Three generations of Palestinian-American women in contemporary Brooklyn are torn by individual desire, educational ambitions, a devastating tragedy, and the strict mores of traditional Arab culture.

Ryan, Kay, author.

"Synthesizing Gravity gathers for the first time a thirty-year selection of Kay Ryan's probings into aesthetics, poetics, and the mind in pursuit of art. A bracing collection of critical prose, book reviews, and her private, previously unpublished soundings of poems and poets-including Robert Frost, Stevie Smith, Marianne Moore, William Bronk, and Emily Dickinson-Synthesizing Gravity bristles with Ryan's crisp wit, her keen off-kilter insights, and her appetite and appreciation for the genuine. Among essays like "Radiantly Indefensible," "Notes on the Danger of Notebooks," and "The Abrasion of Loneliness," are piquant pieces on the virtues of emptiness, forgetfulness, and other under-loved concepts. This generous collection of Ryan's distinctive thinking gives us a surprising look into the mind of an American master"-- Provided by publisher.

Sandler, Lauren, author.

"More than forty-five million Americans attempt to survive under the poverty line, day by day. Nearly 60,000 people sleep in New York City-run shelters every night--forty percent of them children. This Is All I Got makes this issue deeply personal, vividly depicting one woman's hope and despair and her steadfast determination to improve her situation, despite the myriad setbacks she encounters. Camila is a twenty-two-year-old new mother. She has no family to rely on, no partner, and no home. Despite her intelligence and determination, the odds are firmly stacked against her. Award-winning journalist Lauren Sandler tells the story of a year in Camila's life--from the birth of her son to his first birthday--as she navigates the labyrinth of poverty and homelessness in America. As Camila attempts to secure a college education and a safe place to raise her son, she copes with dashed dreams, failed relationships, and miles of red tape with grit, grace, and resilience. This Is All I Got is a dramatic story of survival and powerful indictment of a broken system, but it is also a revealing and candid depiction of the relationship between an embedded reporter and her subject and the tricky boundaries to navigate when it's impossible to remain a dispassionate observer"-- Provided by publisher.

Slate, Jenny, 1982- author.

"To see the world through Jenny Slate's eyes is to see it as though for the first time, shimmering with strangeness and possibility. As she will remind you, we live on an ancient ball that rotates around a bigger ball made up of lights and gasses that are science gasses, not farts (don't be immature). Heartbreak, confusion, and misogyny stalk this blue-green sphere, yes, but it is also a place of wild delight and unconstrained vitality, a place where we can start living as soon as we are born, and we can be born at any time. In her dazzling, impossible-to-categorize debut, Slate channels the pain and beauty of life in writing so fresh, so new, and so burstingly alive that we catch her vision like a fever and bring it back out into the bright day with us, and everything has changed"--Dust jacket.

Som, Bishakh, 1968- author, illustrator.

"The meticulous artwork of transgender artist Bishakh Som gives us the rare opportunity to see the world through another lens. The exquisite graphic novel memoir by a transgender artist, explores the concept of identity by inviting the reader to view the author moving through life as she would have us see her, that is, as she sees herself. Framed with a candid autobiographical narrative, this book gives us the opportunity to enter into the author's daily life and explore her thoughts on themes of gender and sexuality, memory and urbanism, love and loss."--Amazon.

Wallace-Wells, David, author.

"It is worse, much worse, than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible. In California, wildfires now rage year-round, destroying thousands of homes. Across the US, "500-year" storms pummel communities month after month, and floods displace tens of millions annually. This is only a preview of the changes to come. And they are coming fast. Without a revolution in how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth could become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century. In his travelogue of our near future, David Wallace-Wells brings into stark relief the climate troubles that await--food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe. But the world will be remade by warming in more profound ways as well, transforming our politics, our culture, our relationship to technology, and our sense of history. It will be all-encompassing, shaping and distorting nearly every aspect of human life as it is lived today. Like An Inconvenient Truth and Silent Spring before it, The Uninhabitable Earth is both a meditation on the devastation we have brought upon ourselves and an impassioned call to action. For just as the world was brought to the brink of catastrophe within the span of a lifetime, the responsibility to avoid it now belongs to a single generation"-- Provided by publisher.

Ward, Jesmyn, author.

"For Tulane University's 2018 commencement, Jesmyn Ward delivered a stirring speech about the value of hard work and the importance of respect for oneself and others. Speaking about the challenges she and her family overcame, Ward inspired everyone in the audience with her meditation on tenacity in the face of hardship. Ward's moving words will inspire listeners as they prepare for the next chapter in their lives, whether, like Ward, they are the first in their families to graduate from college or are preceded by generations, or whether they are embarking on a different kind of journey later in life."--Amazon.com.

Washburn, Kawai Strong, 1980- author.

In 1995 Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on a rare family vacation, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard a cruise ship into the Pacific Ocean. When a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears for the worst. But instead, Noa is gingerly delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, marking his story as the stuff of legends. Nainoa's family, struggling amidst the collapse of the sugarcane industry, hails his rescue as a sign of favor from ancient Hawaiian gods - a belief that appears validated after he exhibits puzzling new abilities. But as time passes, this supposed divine favor begins to drive the family apart: Nainoa, working now as a paramedic on the streets of Portland, struggles to fathom the full measure of his expanding abilities; further north in Washington, his older brother Dean hurtles into the world of elite college athletics, obsessed with wealth and fame; while in California, risk-obsessed younger sister Kaui navigates an unforgiving academic workload in an attempt to forge her independence from the family's legacy. When supernatural events revisit the Flores family in Hawai'i - this time with tragic consequences - they are all forced to reckon with the bonds of family, the meaning of heritage, and the cost of survival.

Yu, Ovidia, 1961- author.

"Mirza, a secretive neighbour of the Chens in Japanese Occupied Singapore, is a known collaborator and blackmailer. So when he is murdered in his garden, clutching a branch of mimosa, the suspects include local acquaintances, Japanese officials - and his own daughters. Su Lin's Uncle Chen is among those rounded up by the Japanese as reprisal. Hideki Tagawa, a former spy expelled by police officer Le Froy and a power in the new regime, offers Su Lin her uncle's life in exchange for using her fluency in languages and knowledge of locals to find the real killer. Su Lin soon discovers Hideki has an ulterior motive. Friends, enemies and even the victim are not what they seem. There is more at stake here than one man's life. Su Lin must find out who killed Mirza and why, before Le Froy and other former colleagues detained or working with the resistance suffer the consequences of Mirza's last secret."--Publisher description.