Your monthly roundup of suggestions from DPL staff.
Registers of Illuminated Villages by Tarfia Faizullah (2018)
The newest collection of poetry from Tarfia Faizullah follows her 2014 Seam, a poetry collection that examines the brutality experienced by the Bengali people from the Pakistani army during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Registers of Illuminated Villages maintains Faizullah’s ability to connect past to the present; the grief and pain experienced by her people and her experiences embodying this trauma growing up in Midland, Texas, but also of survival, courage, and celebration.
The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber (2005)
We put on a program titled Eats & Reads on Colfax: Phoenician Kabob, and discussed this book while eating Arabic food. Abu-Jaber is an American-Jordanian woman who wrote this memoir about the displacement of being stuck between two cultures, and her writing is truly lyrical and beautiful. Interspersed throughout the chapters are family recipes that tie into different portions of her life, like “Bud’s Special Rice for Special Company,” and “Stolen Boyfriend Baba Ghanouj.”
Rosemary and Rue (October Daye #1) by Seanan McGuire (2009).
October 'Toby' Daye disappeared for fourteen years; when she comes back she realizes that her life has moved on, so she drops out. Refusing to speak to family and friends, she makes a small and quiet life for herself. But then one night while bagging groceries on the graveyard shift things begin to catch up to her and she realizes that she has to reconnect or she might not survive the tangled mess that gets cast upon her. This series really matures as it goes along, the characters and stories get better and better!
Deathless by Catherynne Valente (2011).
Wow can this woman write! Koschei, or Koschey, the Deathless is a traditional Slavic villain but he gets reimagined in this astonishing novel. Valente brings this folktale into the modern world and paints it in full color. Marya Morevna is a daughter of the revolution for whom things have always been a bit strange; the birds predicted her future, and animals have always spoken to her. But she puts aside her magical playfellows for uniforms and rifles… She is taken eventually to be the bride of Koschei and lives a life of relative luxury while others starve as the cost of war takes it toll. So much happens in this novel, it is truly an epic magical realism adventure.
The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse by Alexander McCall Smith (2018)
Wonderful and intimate historical evocation of people’s lives in WWII told with humor and empathy. When Val helps rescue a dog from a farmer who is abusive, she realizes the dog owner may come for him with bad intention and the dog will be much safer on the nearby army base. The story follows Val’s life starting with her falling in love with the pilot who takes the dog in, even taking the dog on flying missions with him, and follows her through their life and after her husband’s death. Great tale of love, enemies turned friends, and the horrible price of war for everyone. I liked this MUCH better than any of his other books, including No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, and I do like those…
Triangular Road: A Memoir by Paule Marshall (2010)
I loved reading this book and found it unflinchingly honest. It is a memoir of self-discovery of a fledgling young (female) African American writer in the 1960s. In the course of her journeys to Europe, Barbados and Africa, she understood the historical enormity of the African diaspora. Her life and associations with the likes of Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin and Nina Simone - when she was so young - makes this just an unforgettable read!
Extra Medium’s Picks:
Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River by David Owen (2018)
I ended up starting this book on a flight from Denver to Seattle. As we flew over the Front Range and north over Wyoming, it gave a scope for the book that feels, in some parts, like my story of growing up in rural Colorado and watching all of the changes to the landscape. This is a fascinating read about how the West feeds it’s progress with water, how Colorado’s water rights system (and the West’s in general) is so convoluted and arcane. Owen tells the stories of the (white) people who first claimed the water for farming, how some of the lakes and dams got their names, and why conservation is such a tricky business. It’s full of surprising facts about water use, and the practices that people generally think are ‘helping’ can actually be hindrances to water ecology.
Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang (2017)
Have you ever read a book and felt like it was written for you? I had no idea how badly I wanted a diverse, genderqueer silkpunk novella about a country divided against itself. A failed prophet, Sanao is still reeling from the betrayal from her mother and loss of her child. Having left everything behind, Sanao spends her days hunting Naga - deadly beasts of magic and flight. When she encounters a fellow hunter, she learns that some things you can’t escape, and some wrongs can be corrected. Part of the Tensorate Series which also includes Black Tides of Heaven and The Descent of Monsters.
Kristen A.’s Picks:
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander (2015)
A truly lovely book written by poet Elizabeth Alexander after the sudden death of her husband, a painter and chef who was 49. Written in prose, but with a poet’s sensitivity to language, Alexander shares a wonderful love story here, not just an account of grief. The joys of their finding each other - she born here in the U.S. & her husband in Eritrea - and of their moments and years together shine through all the loss. I put off reading this for a couple years, having heard great things but not feeling up for something I thought would be too sad; I need not have waited.
The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu (2011)
Vimbai is widely known as and proud of being the best hairdresser in Harare, but her title is instantly challenged when a new man shows up at the salon one day and begins drawing all her customers. A slim novel with short chapters, this is a quick read and at first seems deceptively simple. The story evolves to deal with some serious issues for people living in modern Zimbabwe, however, as well as giving a sense of daily life in Harare, which I really appreciated.