Tag Archives: fiction

Let’s Read a Banned Book!

BBW14_300x250_2

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

 

One of the books that has appeared on the Top 10 list of banned books, compiled by the American Library Association, for each of the last 5 years is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. This is a young adult novel (as so many of the books on these lists are) about a teenage Native American boy who chooses to attend school outside his home on the reservation. This decision leaves Junior, or Arnold as he’s called off the reservation, shunned by his people, as well as trying to fit in and on the outskirts of his new community. It is an honest portrayal of his life in high school – girls, bullies, fights, sports, and parents. Junior must learn to cope with a lot of loss in his family and embrace what’s good in his life.

Alexie’s book is most often challenged in libraries and schools due to its themes of sexuality, racism, use of drugs and alcohol, and offensive language. Many of these objectors feel that its content is unsuitable for the age group for which it is written. Considering that I have two teenagers at home who are dealing with and making personal decisions about all of the issues listed above, I find it hard to believe that some people don’t seem to understand what really happens in high school. But I shouldn’t judge, I’m sure they have their reasons. I’m more grateful that there are books like this available to my teenagers, so they know that what they’re going through is typical. They are not abnormal or weird. Being able to relate to a book’s characters and to recognize yourself in their struggles is one of the most important things a book can impart to an adolescent in the throes of indecision and hormones and peer pressure. But that’s just one person’s opinion. Happily for me and mine, those librarians and educators who fight against the banning of books must feel the same way.

book

Our librarians who lead the Let’s READ English book discussion group at the Main Library have decided that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is also a good vehicle for those who are learning to read and speak English as a second language. As well, it can serve as a catalyst for discussion about life in America amongst this group of foreign language speakers. The Let’s READ English discussion group will be talking about this book at their program on October 10th at 2pm. If you know someone who is looking to improve their English language skills, please have them stop by the library and check out a copy of the book prior to the discussion day.

Today is our last post for Banned Books Week 2014. However, through programming and book recommendations, libraries continue the fight against censorship every week of every year.

Now go out and continue to read banned books all year long!
-Melissa M.

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Yinzer Gone South

I will probably harass this alligator. Photo by: Me

I will probably harass this alligator. Photo by: Me

In a few weeks I’ll be heading south to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I plan on harassing some alligators, riding my bike, drinking large drinks with tiny umbrellas, eating a metric ton of fried chicken and barbeque, visiting the Piggly-Wiggly and of course, laying on the beach with a big stack of books.

Like any self-respecting librarian, I have a total horror of not bringing enough to read.

What happens if we get stuck in terrible traffic on I-77 again? I’m willing to run into the woods to pee, I’m willing to go hungry and thirsty, but OMG SWEET LORD, WHAT IF I FINISH MY LAST BOOK?!?!

I do not have a problem.

Five books (+ two back-ups because I don’t mess around).

CloseYourEyesClose Your Eyes, Hold Hands, Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is all over the map as a writer and I love it. He’s written historical fiction about World War II, he’s written about interracial adoption, midwives, and murder-suicide. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is about a teen orphaned by a nuclear plant meltdown, which may or may not have been caused by her father. Homeless and on the run, she takes a new identity based on Emily Dickinson. Read an excerpt here. Good stuff.

AdulteryAdultery, Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho has a remarkably ability to write from any point of view (Andalusian shepherd boy, an Irish girl.) This time, the point of view is Linda, a married mother of two with a great job, a successful, loving husband, and all of the other trappings of modern life that are supposed to make you happy. And she is not happy. According to reviews, you will love and you will hate Linda, but you’ll understand her completely. Whoa.

TGoodGirlhe Good Girl, Mary Kubica

A one night stand goes horribly, horribly wrong. There’s no walk of shame here; there’s abduction and a cabin in rural Minnesota. Watch out for enigmatic strangers with modest wit. The Good Girl has been compared to last year’s suspense bestseller, Gone Girl.

BittersweetBittersweet, Colleen McCullough

McCullough’s first romantic saga since The Thorn Birds? Two sets of twins in New South Wales at the beginning of the twentieth century? Sold.

 

WearenotourselvesWe Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas

This is the book making everyone cry this summer. It’s a “sweeping” multi-generational novel about an Irish-American family starting the 1940s. Redemption, betrayal, love, blah, blah, blah.

 

Back-ups

The WhWheel of Fortuneeel of Fortune, Susan Howatch

I read this a long, long time ago and I love it. I always wanted to be glamorous and bold like Ginerva. I got the bold part down at least. It also inspired my inexplicable love of Wales.

 

NightmaresNightmares and Dreamscapes, Stephen King

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says that a towel is “about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.” I would argue that a Stephen King book of short stories is second.

 

I’m also taking recommendations. Always!

happy beach reading-

suzy

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Great SF eAudiobooks for Your Commute

If I could read in moving vehicles without experiencing that delightful form of nausea known as car sickness, I would be able to read so many comics in the time I spend on the bus commuting to and from work every day.

Thankfully, humans invented the audiobook, and eCLP lets me download these miraculous spoken books directly to the tiny computer I carry around in my pocket (you might know it better as a smartphone).

The Library adds newly released titles all the time, but one of my favorite facets of the collection is the classic science fiction available for the listening. Over the past few years, I’ve been reading some new-to-me Big Names of SF as well as old favorites.

Here are some of the titles I’ve enjoyed the most, alphabetical by author’s last name:

Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot
irobotBefore reading this collection of linked short stories, I’d only read a random sampling of Asimov’s short fiction, including the short story “Nightfall” that inspired the novel of the same name (and a movie adaptation). This book inspired a movie too, but from what I know of the movie, it’s nothing like the book. For one, the book’s main character is a female robot psychologist, and the robots are never allowed on earth. They malfunction, have emotions, read minds, kill people, and serve as metaphors for many things, but it all happens in space or on other planets. Asimov does touch lightly on sexism, as the main character butts heads with some of the male scientists in some of the stories, and she usually comes out on top, while the men look foolish.

Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles
martianchroniclesA haunting collection of loosely connected tales, Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles essentially re-tells the story of Europe invading the New World, but with a twist at the end that I won’t reveal here. The coming of men to Mars spells doom for the Martians, who are wiped out by diseases the humans carry. Men build new cities that look like their cities back on Earth, but things do not go the way they might hope. The spirit and soul of Mars is not so easily corrupted or overcome. The only thing that gave me pause about this book was the fact that all the women are relegated to domestic roles, when they’re included at all. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect much more from a book published in 1950, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling
fledglingThe last novel written before her death in 2006, Fledgling explores themes of memory, race, sexuality and belonging. It’s a vampire novel, but not a traditional vampire novel. The vampires in this book, known as Ina, bond with humans and only feed from the humans they’ve bonded with. They do not murder people, and live in tightly knit family groups that include their bonded humans. If an Ina dies, his or her bonded humans will die as well because of how strong their bond is. The plot revolves around Shori, who has lost her memory and her family, and wakes up not knowing that she’s a vampire. This is, unfortunately, the only Octavia Butler novel available as an eAudio book. I’ll have to stick to paper for the rest of her award-winning work.

Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
moonThis wasn’t my first audiobook foray into Heinlein, but it’s my favorite of his novels that I’ve read so far (the others being Starship Troopers and Citizen of the Galaxy). This book tested the skills of the narrator, as he had to speak in a Russian accent for much of the time, and he managed to do so without being annoying or sounding fake. The plot follows an intelligent supercomputer and his repairman as the lunar colony attempts to break away from the tyrannical rule of earth. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is more fun than the other two Heinlein novels I’ve read. It features more humor, and the characters are more likeable, so it’s a more enjoyable read.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed
dispossessedLe Guin is my all-time absolute favorite author in the universe, and I wish the Library had more of her work in eAudio. The Dispossessed, however, is worth listening to over and over. It follows the story of Shevek, a brilliant physicist who has made an important discovery and is invited to live on a neighboring planet for a time. Shevek’s world and the neighboring world follow different economic and political systems, and through Shevek’s eyes, the novel looks at the differences between the two and asks which is better, or if there’s a better way yet to be explored. Don’t let the high-minded themes of the book deter you, though. Shevek and his family ground the book in characters with real emotions, desires and needs—the things that make for a good novel.

-Kelly

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Pairings

On a recent visit to the Squirrel Hill Library’s Children’s Department, my kids and I discovered the silkworms. Tucked into a nook by the children’s nonfiction books are a few containers filled with leaves and lots of white silkworms! Given that this is the summer that both my children have decided that they want to adopt every single worm, caterpillar, and beetle that they discover outside, we were all thrilled to discover yet another thing to love about the library. The librarian in me also appreciated the fact that next to the worms was a book suggestion. I started thinking of a creepy but great story I recently read, in which women were turned into human/silkworm hybrids and I thought how much I would love to see more displays of books that have similar themes or subjects but for different age groups. In that spirit, here are a few of my own suggestions of book pairings for children, teens, and adults.

On silkworms: The Empress and the Silkworm/Vampires in the Lemon Grove (the story Reeling For the Empire)

Books with strong heroines: Pippi Longstocking/The Hunger Games/Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution

Gender: Jacob’s New Dress/Freak Show/Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation

Crafting: The Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life With Creativity/Go Crazy With Duct Tape/Craft-A-Day: 365 Simple  Handmade Projects

School: I Am Not Going to School Today/Prep/Never Let Me Go

-Irene

 

 

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What I Read on My Summer Vacation

poolRight after school lets out (which, due to a strike and ALL THOSE SNOW DAYS this year, was much later than usual), we like to have a long weekend getaway. Due to circumstances, this will probably be our only summer vacation this year, so we made the most of it. Four days at a lovely resort, including a poolside cabana, and LOTS of reading was what I wanted and what I got. I managed to read five books, more or less, during that time.

Here’s what I read (in reading order):

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue — I started this one before vacation began, but finished it during. So it counts, right? This is a historical mystery is by the author of Room (which I haven’t read yet despite all of the great things I’ve heard about it). Set in San Francisco in the late 1870s, this is a story of an unlikely friendship between two very different women and the life of immigrants in America’s burgeoning western economy, as well a murder mystery. The “frog” in the title has two connotations, for the amphibians one of the main characters catches and sells to local restaurants and also the derogatory term used for the French.

Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger by Elizabeth Harbison — I’ll admit it. I chose this book because of the title. And the cover. It just looked like a vacation book. Turns out I was right, it read like one too. Quick, light, amusing chick lit. I finished it in a day. Nothing too serious and I’m not sure I ever really cared about the characters, but I did appreciate some of the quirkier ones. Quinn almost marries Burke, but his brother (and best man!), Frank, stops her minutes before the ceremony by telling her that Burke’s been cheating on her. So she runs away with Frank to Las Vegas to clear her head. Only thing is, that makes the whole situation even more muddled. Flash forward ten years and Quinn still hasn’t dealt with her feelings for either brother. When they both come back to town for their grandmother’s wedding and to sell the family horse farm, all heck breaks loose in Quinn’s life. This book is filed under the subject heading Triangles (Interpersonal Relations) — Fiction. Um, duh.

My Venice by Donna Leon — After reading this, I’m not sure that Ms. Leon likes anything. In this collection of essays, she pretty much complains about everything — the United States and its inhabitants, her neighbors in Venice and in the Italian countryside, most countries in the Middle East, the mob, hunting and hunters, men in general, books, operas other than those by Handel, ALL music by people other than Handel, etc. The list goes on and on. I was talking with a library user about this book before I read it myself. She had read it already and was picking it up for her husband. She mentioned that she thoroughly enjoyed Leon’s mysteries, but wished that she hadn’t read this book because now she didn’t like Ms. Leon very much. Now, I understand what this lady meant.

Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge — I share a birthdate with Margaret Sanger — September 14th. She’s been on the periphery of my knowledge for a while — advocate for birth control and free love, socialist and all-around rabble-rouser. My kind of gal! When I saw this graphic novel biography, I figured this would be a fairly quick way to find out more about her, and it was. Let me tell you, Margaret Sanger was a hoot! She seemed to always have a snappy comeback for her critics, one that usually ended up making them look foolish. She really knew her way around propaganda, too. But she was also a difficult personality sometimes, especially for her family, and she usually didn’t get along with other women leaders. This book has led me to want to know more about Sanger. Thankfully, the author lists a bibliography of sources, and his opinion of each, at the end. Note: The font size for the forward and afterward of this graphic novel is very small. A magnifying glass may be required.

The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski by Samantha Geimer — You probably wouldn’t know her just by hearing her name. Add on the name of Roman Polanski and, for those of us of a certain age, you now know EXACTLY who she is. Samantha was just 13 years old when Roman Polanski came into her life for only a few days, but with impact that would last a lifetime. In 2009, when Polanski was arrested for fleeing the United States prior to the sentencing for his crime of unlawful sex with a minor, Samantha knew it was time for her to tell her story.  Especially since others had been telling it for her, incorrectly, for over 30 years.

Happy Summer Reading!
-Melissa M.

 

 

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What’s New in Austenland 2014

Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.

Emma (1815)

Greetings! It’s time once again for my annual update–this is the fourth!–about the new publications in scholarship and biography on my favorite author, Jane Austen. Despite studying her for over twenty years, the sheer volume of new books and articles that are published on her works and life continues to astound (and delight) me. Here are some of the newest acquisitions at the library:

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The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen by Joan Strasbaugh

A treasure trove of every list you can possibly imagine (and more!) about Jane Austen, her life, and her works: of suitors, first lines, places she lived and traveled, literary references in her novels, books she owned, characters in her novels, hearts she broke, and balls and dances she attended to name but a few. This is a handy little guide for scholars and students as well as a great introduction to the esteemed authoress.

northanger

The Annotated Northanger Abbey, edited by David Shapard

English professor Shapard has a clear and concise way of making Jane Austen’s works approachable and enjoyable for both students new to Austen as well as for scholars and fans; this is his fifth publication of Austen’s novels. There are period maps of England and Bath, fashion plates, vocabulary and context of the time period, remarks on questionable content pertaining to grammar or sentence structure from the original edition, and much more.  One of its best features–yes, the librarian is speaking–is the exhaustive list of works referenced on every topic imaginable: from the history of the post office, the study of the picturesque, to the architecture of abbeys in England.

england

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Many critics have lambasted Austen over the years for excluding mention of historical events of her time in her works choosing instead to describe minutely the daily lives of everyday people in a country village. This book describes life daily life during Austen’s lifetime, from the dangers of childbirth and illness to the necessities of hygiene and the practicalities (or not) of fashion.

matters

Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity by Janine Barchas

Did you know that the generally accepted scholarship on Jane Austen has been that she didn’t base her stories and/or characters on real events or people she knew? But all writers are influenced in some way and Barchas’ intriguing thesis explores this in detailed and fascinating depth. The names of Wentworth (Persuasion), Woodhouse (Emma), Vernon (Lady Susan), Allen, and Tilney (Northanger Abbey) were all well-known surnames of great and landed families in eighteenth century England, suggesting that Austen did indeed borrow from celebrity and events from her day. For the devoted Jane Austen fan and scholar, this book is a treat of fun discoveries.

na

Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition, edited by Susan J. Wolfson

Like the title below, this book is a big and beautiful gift book edition of one of Jane Austen’s lesser-known novels, a spoof of the gothic novel, made popular by Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolfo. The works cited list at the end of the book highlights further information and readings.

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Sense and Sensiblity: An Annotated Edition, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks

This is the fourth gorgeous coffee-table edition of Jane Austen’s six novels to be published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University. The perfect gift for the Jane Austen fan in your life, there are beautiful illustrations and images of fashions, furniture, paintings, and maps from the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century relating to the novels. And for a student, the enlightening introduction as well as the copious annotations about vocabulary and language, word use and definitions in the context of their time, commentary on scholarly opinions of critical analysis, and references to different editions make this a veritable cornucopia of helpful information.

Until next year!

-Maria A., who finally wore out her old Modern Library copy of the Complete Novels and recently purchased the lovely Everyman’s Library editions to replace it.

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GLBT Is Now LGBTQ and We Have Something for You!

pride week_slider

Changes have been afoot in the GLBT collection at the Main Library this year. We’ve added a DVD section in our Film & Audio Department on the second floor and launched a name change that reaches all of the locations that have this genre section. The collection is now labeled “LGBTQ” to be more inclusive and representative of the people that we serve.  Plus, we have new “loud and proud” stickers labeling the various materials.

LGBTQ Sign        LGBTQ Stickers

I’ve been working on updating some of our LGBTQ themed booklists to create bookmarks for Pittsburgh PrideFest on Sunday. (The library will have a table with activities and great people, so be sure to stop by!) While reviewing the collection, I was stuck by the assortment of genres, subjects, and topics available. We have the typical romance and erotica titles, as well as a good selection of general fiction. But we also have fantasy, horror, science fiction, short stories, mysteries, thrillers, African American titles, historical fiction and a wide variety of nonfiction, including biographies and memoirs, travelogues, travel guides, wedding planners, parenting guides, spiritual works, self-help and history.

LGBTQ Section

I’m not sure anyone would expect the variety this collection offers. But we are always looking to add more. If you have suggestions for authors and titles you’d like to see added to our LGBTQ collection, please contact me on the First Floor at the Main Library.

Happy Pride Week!
-Melissa M.

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