Tag Archives: fiction

Shuffling Through with Paul Beatty

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

bookcoverSo, I finally finished The White Boy Shuffle and I honestly don’t know how to feel about it. Half the time while reading this book I was wondering, “What’s the point?” I could tell from descriptions of the book and while reading the book that it was a satire. I admit that I did laugh a few times, but I was still confused. It took me until I was two thirds done with the book that I realized the purpose of this book.

The main character, Gunnar Kaufman, was dealing with accepting and embracing his blackness. In the beginning of the book, Gunnar lived in Santa Monica, which was a predominately white neighborhood and in classrooms he was always the only black kid. Then, he, his mother and his two sisters ended up moving to West Los Angeles, which was mostly made up of black & Latino people.  He was considered an outcast and often got bullied because he talked “proper,” listened to rock music & dressed differently than the other kids.

It wasn’t until Gunnar met Nick Scoby in a class that he got friends in his new neighborhood. Then Gunnar’s popularity skyrocketed when it was discovered that he was good at basketball. He was also very smart & a great poet. All of these things made Gunnar very popular, but Gunnar had a complex with his newfound fame throughout the book. At times, he embraced it & other times he rejected it.

The book is chock full of stereotypes about the different races and how others feel about them. Sometimes, I felt like I was reading a more sophisticated version of Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. As the book went on, readers got to see Gunnar embrace his blackness and call out people who he felt didn’t genuinely like him for who he was, but for his talents on the basketball court & with poetry.

At times, I was caught off guard with what the characters were saying & at times I didn’t understand it. In the end, I still found two quotes that stood out to me. One was when Gunnar said:

The only time it’s permissible to cry is when you miss the lottery by one number or someone close to you passes away. Then you can cry once, but only once. There is no brooding, n***ers got to get up and go to work tomorrow.

This quote stood to me because I found it to be true. It’s like black people are constantly being policed, even on our emotions. We can’t express outrage or even be upset about something not going our way without being labeled as thugs for our behavior.

The second quote was when Gunnar stated:

The people of Hillside treat society the way society treats them. Strangers and friends are suspect and guilty until proven innocent.

This quote stood out to me because I’ve been in the situation that the people of Hillside were in, which is that people are passing judgement on them without getting to know them just because of where they’re from. I’ve gotten awkward pauses or looks or sympathy when I’ve told people where I live because it’s been deemed a “dangerous neighborhood.” Just because some bad things have occurred here doesn’t mean that every resident of that neighborhood is a bad person.

In the end, Paul Beatty wrote an interesting book about how to embrace your blackness and how you can be perceived by society just by being black in America. The White Boy Shuffle is cousins with the novel Oreo (read an Eleventh Stack review here) so you can check that out or one of Beatty’s other novels if you’re interested. Happy reading!

~Kayla

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Read Harder: Vol. 2

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

This year, I plan on chronicling my adventures with Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge.

In Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer, Delphine and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are heading to Oakland, California to spend a month with the mother they barely know. Cecile left them seven years ago for a new life as an artist and poet on the West Coast.

Oakland in 1968 is nothing like their California dreams of Disneyland, movie stars and days at the beach. Cecile has no interest in showing them the sights — her work with the printing press in the kitchen is far more important. Instead, every day Cecile sends the girls to a summer camp held at the community center run by the Black Panther Party. Delphine’s ordered world view is altered by the time spent learning about the fight for justice and her mother’s role in the Party.

This quick read sent me on a quest for more information about the Black Panther Party, and I can recommend Stanley Nelson‘s documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.

For those following along with the Read Harder challenge, One Crazy Summer will help you cover the “Read a middle grade novel” and “Read the first book in a series by a person of color.” You can follow more of Delphine’s adventures with P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama.

– Jess

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Post-Katrina Fiction

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

More than 10 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and surrounding areas, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing the physical destruction,  human suffering and resulting complicated emotions reflected back to us through fictional lenses. Here’s a look at a few of the many post-Katrina titles worth your time.

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A panel from Dark Rain by Mat Johnson


Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story – Mat Johnson

In this graphic novel, Dark Rain is not only an allusion to physical presence of the hurricane, but it’s also the name of a shady private security firm policing the citizens of New Orleans while simultaneously trying to capitalize on the mayhem. In a story where all the characters are trying to get a piece of the action, one character in particular has to decide what he’s willing to risk and what he’s trying to gain.

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Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild 

Ok, so this movie isn’t technically about hurricane Katrina, but it’s pretty hard to deny that Katrina helped to shape and influence the film.  With elements of magical realism, the plot centers on a young girl, her father and their surrounding bayou community dealing with a major flood and its aftermath. One of the lead actors, Dwight Henry, has said that living through Hurricane Katrina directly impacted his performance: “I was in Hurricane Katrina in neck-high water. I have an inside understanding for what this movie is about. I brought a passion to the part that an outside actor who had never seen a storm or been in a flood or faced losing everything could have.” With absolutely stellar performances by the two stars, (both novice actors), gorgeous cinematography and evocative storytelling, this one isn’t to be missed.

Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward 

Fourteen year old Esch is pregnant, one of her brothers is attempting to keep pit bull pups alive, her dad is a hard-living alcoholic trying and failing to take care of it all, and, oh yeah, a massive hurricane is on it’s way.  You can feel the looming hurricane in the air as the book builds to its crescendo, yet we never forget that the hurricane isn’t the only, or even the biggest, obstacle these characters face. Life will go on, somehow. Ward brings this family and their struggle to life with poetry and humanity that you won’t soon forget.

-Ginny

 

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Celebrating Alice

On the 27th of this month, we celebrate the 184th birthday of one of the most influential writers to grace children’s literature … the Rev. Charles Lutwitdge Dodgson. But most of us know him better under his super secret superhero/pen name: Lewis Carroll.

annotated aliceBorn in 1832 into a conservative and religious family, Carroll’s father, a parish priest, married his first cousin and had 11 children. Carroll was the eldest boy, the family entertainer, and even though he had a stammer, he was a practiced storyteller for his brothers and sisters and a brilliant student.

Carroll had an affinity for children and collected “Child Friends” throughout his lifetime that raised some eyebrows, even in Victorian times, when the age of consent was 14. This otherwise dry, methodical, punctilious and orderly man preferred them to his adult peers, thinking of them as a refuge from adults and his duties as a Don of Mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford.  He came alive before children, inspired by their innocence and mere presence. And most especially by the presence of one little girl in particular: Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Before you  think about comparing him to another famous entertainer and child-afficiando, his biographers have described him as a man who held himself to high moral standards. Although Carroll never attained full priesthood, he did take his holy orders, and in Victorian times, a clergyman having children over for tea wasn’t considered especially scandalous. He simply loved the innocence of childhood.

alicegraphicnovelOn a scorching hot July 4th in 1862 on the river Thames, he was, as usual, hanging out with Alice Liddell and her sisters. As they begged for a story, he unwillingly told them the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He hadn’t written a single word down, and it was only after Liddell’s incessant nagging that Carroll did finally put pen to paper (because kids are amazing at reminding grownups what they should be doing). So can I get all of you take a second out of your day to thank Ms. Liddell? It’s only because of her that generations of artists, photographers and writers were able to be influenced by this wonderful work of imagination. Let’s hear an amen to that!

The Library has loads of books based off of Mr. Carroll’s works. Let’s take a look at just a few of the awesome titles:

Share your favorite Alice spin-offs or tributes in the comments!

-Whitney

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Stay Out of Trouble? Never!

When someone tells me to stay out of trouble, I invariably respond with, “Never.”

Well-behaved women seldom make history, after all.

getintroubleAnd that is one of the many reasons why I love Kelly Link’s newest short story collection, Get in Trouble.

These nine stories are fantastically dark and brooding, but not so dark as to leave you utterly depressed at their end. They touch on death, suicide, betrayal, secrets kept and secrets revealed, creepy trends, the afterlife, and more.

My favorite story from the collections is the first one, “The Summer People” (which you can read online at The Wallstreet Journal for free!). It begins as one thing and transforms into another, and I love the way Link leads the reader from grounded reality to an otherworldly fantastical place.

Some short story collections feel scattered or uneven, but this one never misses a step. Once you’re thrown off balance by the unreality and harshness of that first story, Link keeps you unsettled through the rest of the collection, hardly giving you room to breathe. Her prose is fantastical but solid–you know there’s more bubbling under the surface, even if you can only glimpse it.

The characters are all complex, flawed, and relatable. They don’t always behave well (you can guess that from the title), but you can’t help but relate to them anyway (And who behaves well all the time, anyway?).

One of the subtler themes in this book is that of longing and belonging. Many of the characters want something that they cannot have, or can only have at someone else’s expense. Some of them appear to belong to a group, but feel isolated and alone. Watching them all work through their problems, sometimes to a tragic conclusion, is riveting and heartbreaking.

For the audiobook, each story has a different narrator; a common practice for audiobooks of short story collections. Generally, there’s at least one narrator I can’t stand (it was hard for me to get through Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes because one of the narrators irritated me so much, and of course that one read multiple stories), but there wasn’t a bad one in this bunch.

Like the stories, the narrators feel as if they go together. There’s no discord or disharmony in their reading–each one fits the story he or she reads, and they sound good next to each other.

If you like authors like Karen Russell, Haruki Murakami, Jorge Luis Borges, and/or Aimee Bender, give Kelly Link a try.

Request Get in Trouble in print, as an eBook, as an audiobook, or as an eAudiobook.

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On Reading 100 Books, Part II

Another year over, and once again I failed miserably at reading 100 books.

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But I did succeed in garnering the silent judgement of cats everywhere.
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All right, maybe “failed” is a strong word. I ended up reading 70 books and that’s nothing to scoff at, right? Scornful sideways glances from feral felines aside, I decided to highlight five of my favorite books and three of my least favorite books of 2015. If it tickles your fancy, you can look at the whole list on the next page.

The Five I Liked the Most:

loveLove is a Dog from Hell: Poems, 1974-1977 by Charles Bukowski
I learned about this book of poetry by way of The Limousines’ song of the same name. This was my first foray into the writings of Bukowski and it didn’t disappoint. With lines like “I have gotten so used to melancholia / that / I greet it like an old / friend.” and “I am going / to die alone / just the way I live,” this certainly isn’t Lord Byron or John Keats.  This is the kind of stuff you read after a breakup, right before rushing out to do it all over again. These are a few of my favorite lines from the poem Chopin Bukowski:

people need me. I fill
them. if they can’t see me
for a while they get desperate, they get
sick.

but if I see them too often
I get sick. it’s hard to feed
without getting fed.

youYou by Caroline Kepnes
Stephen King—of whom I officially became a fan in 2015 thanks to It and Four Past Midnight—called this book “hypnotic and scary.” What more of an endorsement do you need? You illustrates how easy it is to stalk a person in the digital age. It’s an eerie, well-written page-turner that’s left me eagerly awaiting the sequel, Hidden Bodies, due out in February.

mosquitoMosquitoland by David Arnold
It’s very seldom that a book bring me to tears (in a good way), but this YA debut did just that. The premise—a teenager has to return to her home town via Greyhound when she learns her mother is unwell—was what interested me in this book. Whether in real life or in fiction, I love a good road trip. Just like the tumultuous teenage years, Mosquitoland is equal parts happy and sad. It’s now one of my favorite YA novels of all time.

treesSea of Trees by Robert James Russell
I came across Aokigahara—a dense forest at the bottom of Mt Fuji and a popular place where people go to commit suicide—while reading one of my favorite websites. Doing a simple Google search for more information on the location led me to this novella. It’s a quick, creepy mystery about a couple searching Aokigahara for the woman’s lost sister. What’s even creepier is that two movies have been made about this forest, one starring Matthew McConaughey released in 2015 and one starring Natalie Dormer that came out just last week. The creepiest bit, though, is that this is a real place. Check out this great documentary short put out by Vice for more on the Suicide Forest.

linesPoorly Drawn Lines: Good Ideas and Amazing Stories by Reza Farazmand
This book actually came in for someone else, but I saw it and ordered it for myself. It’s hilarious, nonsensical and was a welcome break from the previous book I’d read, The Price of Salt, which was neither hilarious nor nonsensical. Visit the website of the same name for more giggles.

The Three I Liked the Least:

watchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
I went into this book with almost zero expectations. I’ve experienced first-hand how disappointing a decades-later followup can be (I’m looking at you, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Part of the charm of To Kill a Mockingbird was the way that Lee wrote Scout. Everything that happens is seen through a rose-colored, knee-high lens of childhood. That’s not the case with Watchman. Scout is twenty-six and has returned to Maycomb to visit Atticus. Events transpire that make her question the truths she clung to during childhood. The readers question these truths right along with her and I normally love a good existential rumination, but it’s handled in such a bland and forgettable way here. And that’s not even mentioning how certain characters are almost unrecognizable (ethically speaking) from their Mockingbird counterparts or how the death of a beloved character from Lee’s first novel is only eluded to rather than shown. How this ended up on Goodreads’ Best of 2015 list is baffling, especially when almost every patron I talked with about it also didn’t like it. I don’t want to waste anymore digital ink complaining about it, so I’ll just echo Philip Hensher‘s comments:  it’s “a pretty bad novel.”

starwarsStar Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
Unlike Go Set a Watchman, I had at least one expectation for this book–that it would prepare me for the galactic landscape after the fall of the Empire. Sadly, this book did little to elucidate the mystery of what happens between the end of Return of the Jedi and the beginning of The Force Awakens. The plot takes its time getting started and by the time it does, I wasn’t nearly as invested in the characters as I should have been. These weren’t familiar characters like Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, so I didn’t particularly care what happened to them. Not to mention the new characters all came across as annoyingly self-assured. Because of this, I felt like there were no real stakes in book at all. But maybe that’s on me; it’s been a long time since I’ve read supplemental Star Wars material. There is one scene of Han Solo and Chewbacca aboard the Millennium Falcon, but as a whole, the book skews toward poorly-written fanfiction. In the plus column, I’ve got to give credit to Wendig for introducing the first gay hero in the form of ex-Imperial soldier Sinjir Rath Velus as well as a lesbian couple. In a universe where there are literally hundreds of different alien species, Star Wars has never been that concerned about diversity … but that’s a blog post for another day.

americanAmerican Pastoral by Philip Roth
This is up there (or down there) with The Train from Pittsburgh as one of my least favorite, most hated, severely unenjoyable reads of 2015. The actual plot of this book–an all-American family is torn apart after their daughter blows up a convenience store at the height of the Vietnam War, with musings of the rise and fall of the American Dream sprinkled in–could be boiled down to probably fifty pages. The other 350 pages of Roth’s novel are made up of tangential ramblings including, but not limited to, the history of Newark, the minutiae of Miss America contests and more information on glove-making than any human ever needs to know. It was frustrating for me to read through these prolonged chapters filled with walls of text and just when I thought that there was no point to be made–that maybe I’d picked up a New Jersey history book by mistake–and I was about to give up, Roth would wrap up his tangent and continue with the narrative. In It, Stephen King was similarly long-winded while detailing of the history of the fictional town of Derry, but King held my interest far more than Roth did in describing a place that’s only a six -hour drive away. Again, I have no one to blame but myself–I only read this because first-time director Ewan McGregor filmed the adaptation here, but getting through this book was such an ordeal that I’m now in no hurry to see the movie, despite my well-documented love for Pittsburgh on film.

Did you set or reach any reading goals in 2015? Do you have any reading goals for 2016 or any tips on how I can finally get to 100? Sound off in the comments below!

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Best of 2015

Overwhelmed by the copious numbers of “Best of 2015” lists every publication is putting out? Forget the other guys. We’ve got you covered with our favorite books, movies and music of 2015.


 

daringgreatlyPlaying favorites is hard for me, and my first instinct is to do some cop-out, like: this was my favorite goofy comic that made me laugh on a bad day and this was my favorite classic I never read before, and this was my favorite memoir and on and on and on, until I mention every awesome book that I read all year and fill up an entire post. So, even though it is causing me more than a little mental anguish to do so, I’m going to stick with one nonfiction pick and one fiction pick. For nonfiction, I’m going with Daring Greatly, a book all about the importance of vulnerability and human connection; it’s not an exaggeration to say that reading this book changed parts of my life.  It was definitely a “right book, right time” situation. As for fiction, I’m giving my top honors to Code Name: Veritya thrilling, page-turning, plot-twisty YA adventure set during WWII. (Neither of these books were published in 2015, but that’s when I read ’em, so by my rules, they totally count).

-Ginny


 

This was a pretty great year for films, some of which I’ve reviewed on this very blog and some of which I wanted to review but never got around to. About Alex was a nice update of films like The Big Chill and Return Of The Seacaucus Seven. Comet was a great love story that seemed to be the product of a three-way between (500) Days of Summer, Mr. Nobody and The Fountain. At this point it would be repetitive and redundant to gush about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl once again, so I present two other faves of 2015–Before We Go and The End of the Tour.

Before We Go feels like the little brother of Before Sunrise and Roman Holiday. Whimsical and hopeful, first-time director Captain America Chris Evans has given us a quiet, character-driven drama. I was immensely impressed at what Evans did here and look forward to more of his directorial endeavors.  And he might actually be a good actor as well, trading in punches and shield-shucking for pathos and a turn resembling the male equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Plus he and Alice Eve are both beautiful people, so even if the film had sucked—which it didn’t—I would have been fine looking at them for ninety-five minutes.

Another favorite was the equally quiet The End of The Tour. Based on David Lipsky’s book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself:  A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, the plot, in its most basic sense, is just two guys talking. That kind of film has the potential to be a boring mess, but not in this case. Credit must be given to director James Ponsoldt for getting such a great performance out of Jason Segel as the prolific author of Infinite JestDavid Foster Wallace. He’s entrancing as he imbues the part with a reserved kind of sadness hidden just below the surface. I always thought Segel was a good actor; he was arguably the heart of the otherwise mundanely mediocre How I Met Your Mother and shined in Jeff, Who Lives at Home. This film confirms my thoughts.

As a tangential point, The End of Tour and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl both close out with Brian Eno‘s “The Big Ship.” The track on its own fills me with a kind of melancholic joy. I get a similar feeling when I watch movies like Before We Go and The End of the Tour, and I invite you to watch them too.  When the weather is cold  and the sun is hidden behind clouds pregnant with rain, watching these kinds of movies is like a warm hug to me. Savor the quiet filmsThey have the potential to be explosions in your heart.

-Ross


 

betweentheworldandmeIt’s usually always hard for me to pick favorites when it comes to books, movies, and music, but I managed to narrow down to one for each part of this post.

For favorite book, I chose Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is a very powerful book from start to finish. Even though it’s only 152 pages, it packs a punch that’s worthy of the length of a Harry Potter novel. The book is told in the perspective of the author talking to his son about his experiences growing up as a black man in America. It’s considered a biography, but I would also consider it a call to action (if such a genre existed). A must-read for, well, everyone.

I’ve seen some great movies this year, but my favorite was Straight Outta Compton, the biopic about the hip-hop group N.W.A. This movie was a slight obsession for me after I saw it. I’ve been impatiently waiting for the movie to come out on Blu-Ray. It comes out on January 19th (late birthday present!). I fell in love with the cast and thought that the movie was excellent. All of the actors made me believe that they were the real people they were portraying. I was impressed. Until the movie is released on DVD, you can check out the group’s album with the same title as the film.

Speaking of albums, boy was this hard for me. I already put a spotlight on Adele’s fabulous new album, 25, so I decided to put the spotlight on another album that I enjoyed this year, which was Jazmine Sullivan’s Reality Show. This album was Sullivan’s first in 5 years. I was very excited about her comeback and this album was well worth the wait. Sullivan brought back the raw delivery and powerful vocals that is somewhat missing in today’s R&B. Reality Show was nominated for some Grammies (much deserved). Take a listen, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

-Kayla


 

wolves

I saw one new movie in 2015 and I’m not admitting to which one it was. I’m not a huge music person. I did read! It is hard to choose—should I chose that depressing book, that really depressing book or that other depressing book? For someone with a generally sunny outlook, I read a lot of sad books. I narrowed it down to four (semi) depressing books.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Swiss writer Joel Decker, is a boisterous, fast-paced thriller with a love story, a murder and surprising plot twists. I read it in one day at the pool. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt is a coming of age story set during the beginning of the AIDS crisis. I also relate to the main character, as I wrote about here last month. Cue all the crying.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by investigative journalist Jon Krakauer follows the Justice Department’s investigation into the rape crisis at the University of Montana. He follows two acquaintance rape trials with vastly different outcomes, both devastating in their own ways. Although it is non-fiction, the writing is gripping, nuanced and evocative. Krakauer has never shied from complex subjects (Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven) and his approach is no different in Missoula.

Finally, my most recommended book: Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by British journalist Johann Hari. Rarely does a book completely change my mind on a subject and this book did. Starting with the story of Billie Holiday’s untimely death (murder?) and the creation of the DEA (which is so shady) it is a comprehensive investigation into the failed “War on Drugs” and what other counties and cities are doing to end it. The Rat Park drug experiment transformed the way I think about drugs and drug use.

Maybe in 2016 I’ll read something happy.

-suzy


fatesandfuries

How well do you ever really know your spouse? Are you absolutely sure that events have happened the way you think they did and for the reasons you believe?

There are two sides to every story and Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is the story of the marriage between Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder. On the surface, they seem to have it all. They’re an attractive young couple, very much in love at the beginning of their lives together. But under it all, they both have pasts filled with events and secrets that continue to haunt them. The couple’s actions, decisions and future are ultimately shaped by their past. But while Lotto is an open book, Mathilde keeps everything to herself. You don’t know this for the first half of the book, Lotto’s story. You’ll get to know the real Mathilde when you read her half. But you’ll end up loving them, and their marriage, just the same.

Just FYI, President Obama named Fates and Furies his favorite book of 2015.

-Melissa M.


 

punysorrowsMy top picks for 2015 are Eighty Days of Sunlight by Robert Yune and All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. Both, in different ways, deal with suicide. Yune’s novel delves more into the lives of those left behind by a suicide, while Toews explores the torture of knowing that someone you love wants to die and the ethical implications of assisted suicide. Both novels are beautiful, poignant character studies, and both, at points, made me want to cry, or fling the book across the room, or stay up all night until I knew what happened.

I also enjoyed reading a few brilliant comic series: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Weibe and Roc Upchurch and Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. The first, I’ve written about previously (volume five came out fairly recently). The second is a Dungeons & Dragons-style romp with diverse and awesome female characters, and the last is a funny, heartwarming and beautiful love story that touches on sex, mental illness and of course, crime.

-Kelly


It never fails. I read a lot of excellent books all year long, but then one swoops in at the eleventh hour and knocks me sideways. This year that honor goes to Strangers Drowning: Grappling With Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help, by Larissa MacFarquhar. The question on the table is, how much responsibility do we have for strangers? Some people feel called to go above and beyond normal acts of charity and goodwill and perform larger acts of service, such as adopting 22 children, donating 50% of their salary to charity, or offering a kidney to someone on the transplant list they don’t even know. Known as “extreme strangers drowning  altruism,” this practice has been explored through history via philosophy, psychology, and literature, mostly in terms of discovering whether or not being that good is a good idea (spoiler: sometimes it backfires horribly). Profiles of various “do-gooders,” as MacFarquhar calls them, alternate with debates on the ethics of altruism; the title refers to a classic ethical dilemma in which a person has a choice between saving one person they love, OR two strangers, from drowning: which is the correct choice?  Drink a lot of coffee and be prepared to stay up all night debating with your friends: Strangers raises more questions than it answers, and is guaranteed to make you put the book down and say “Oh my God,” at least once.

crownOn the fiction front, I fell in love with Alex Marshall’s  A Crown for Cold Silver because of its unusual heroine. Zosia,  a warrior queen, gets tired of court politics, fakes her death and abdicates her throne in favor of a peaceful country life. Fast forward a decade or so to when new queen finds out Zosia isn’t really dead and tries to assassinate her, forcing the reluctant warrior to pick up her sword again and round up her companions. Given that everyone’s older now, and somewhat the worse for wear, this isn’t going to be a picnic. However, Zosia and her generals still have a lot of fight left in them, and don’t give up so easily. A middle-aged woman who just wants to be left in peace but is constantly dragged back into drama? Sold to the lady in black. Also a good pick for anyone who likes Game of Thrones in theory, but prefers shorter sentences and more action sequences in practice. If you enjoy it, keep an eye out for the sequel, A Blade of Black Steel, coming in May 2016.

–Leigh Anne


 

Thirteen Ways of LookingI’m a complete and total fangirl for Colum McCann, so it should come as no surprise that his new collection of fiction has landed on my favorites list. Thirteen Ways of Looking represents some of McCann’s best work to date and is an extraordinary example of how shorter works have the capability to conjure up a range of emotions. McCann leaves his reader reeling, almost breathless at the end of the title novella. Forget 2015—yes, please, and don’t let the door hit ya—this one has earned a place among my favorite books ever.

– Melissa F.


 

What were your favorite books, movies and music of 2015? Let us know in the comments!

-Team Eleventh Stack

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