Staff Picks 2020 February

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American DirtAmerican Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Imagine you are hosting a birthday party for your fifteen-year-old niece in your pleasant middle class neighborhood. Gunmen walk into the yard and shoot everybody. But, by blind luck, you survive because you are hidden in the house with your eight-year-old son. If you linger one hour you know with complete certainty you and your son will be murdered. Your only chance to survive is to flee two thousand miles to the neighboring country to the north. This is the fiction that is the truth that Jeanine Cummins has created. For the love of humanity, read it. ~ Stan Hynds
The Resisters: A novelThe Resisters: A novel by Gish Jen. Girls get to pitch overhand in AutoAmerica, where players in a familiar yet indeterminate future compete on programmed diamonds in an Olympiad against ChinRussian foes. Writing a kind of Runyonesque Brave New World, Gish personifies games programmed into the players and the one young girl who would rather grow up with her family than glory in virtual internet victory. ~ Ray Marsocci
Dear Edward: A NovelDear Edward: A Novel by Ann Napolitano. This is a truly beautiful coming-of-age story about a boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash in which he loses his entire family. How he is able to move on is due to the compassion and insight shown by the people who enter his life and give him the strength to rebuild himself. The book goes back and forth from the day of the crash to the present, leading up to that fateful and shattering moment. Although the premise is tragic, the story is uplifting and Edward’s recovery is miraculous. ~ Jen Grisby
The Convert: A NovelThe Convert: A Novel by Stefan Hertmans. This is an exquisite, wondrously crafted book. Much more than a novel, The Convert blends fiction and the history of actual 11th Century biographical documents of a Norman noblewoman, who defied society, faith, and family to marry the son of a Rabbi for love. These documents were lost until their rediscovery in 1969 in a deep well called “God’s Oubliette” where certain documents no longer in circulation are consigned. ~ Maeve Noonan
A Bitter Feast: A NovelA Bitter Feast: A Novel by Olga Tokarczuk. A woman, living blissfully alone in a mountainous, remote part of Poland, purports that a string of sudden deaths in the area is the deliberate work of animals getting even with mankind for the abuses they have suffered. She bolsters her conclusion by pointing out to anyone who will listen that the planets were aligned to predict the demise of the victims. Local skepticism is palpable. The lady with the unique perspective on crime is one of the most endearing characters in contemporary literature. I loved every snow-swept moment. ~ Alden Graves
Things in Jars: A NovelThings in Jars: A Novel by Jess Kidd. Somewhat Dickensian in flavor, this is the story of a female detective, Bridie Devine, and her search for a missing child who may or may not have unusual powers. Through the author’s incredibly lyrical and vivid prose, the reader will travel through Victorian London’s dark underbelly, searching for the child. She is aided, among others, by a tattooed and lovelorn ghost named Ruby Doyle, whom I fell in love with myself. This novel is a joy to read and one you will long think of after you have finished. ~ Tambra Johnson Reap
Girl, Woman, Other: A NovelGirl, Woman, Other: A Novel by Bernardine Evaristo. Evaristo finds the light in a dismal time that seems blighted by prejudice and uncertainty. A night at the theatre brings together 12 characters—or are they single aspects of the same self?—representing the diversity of the woman warrior. They also reflect in their myriad manner the way that we live now. The poetic prose crackles with inventiveness and the sheer excitement of creating these indelible portraits, connected in ways both overt and subterranean. It’s a joy to read—treat yourself to one of the year’s great literary experiences. ~ Charles Bottomley
A Rip in HeavenA Rip in Heaven by Jeanine Cummins. This true crime memoir by American Dirt author Jeanine Cummins is truly horrifying. Told in the third person, Cummins tells the story of the 1991 brutal assault and murder of her two cousins and subsequent investigation into her brother, who survived the attack. Cummins delves into the crime from all angles, from the background of the assailants, the exploitation and betrayal of the media and legal system, to the terrifying experience that left her brother and family traumatized forever. ~ Jen Grigsby
Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to SurviveMaid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land. The author is a quiet hero. As a brand new young mother, she left her abusive partner to become a homeless single parent. This is her story of dedication to herself and her baby, how she cared for her daughter, put herself through undergraduate school, and broke away from the shelter system. If you want to truly understand what millions of Americans face every day, and how easily this can happen to many more, this book can help you. ~ Nancy Scheemaker
It Gets Me Home, This Curving TrackIt Gets Me Home, This Curving Track by Ian Penman. Is there anything left to be said about Prince, Elvis Presley, Steely Dan, or Charlie Parker? As it turns out, plenty. These collected essays are thoughtful and heartfelt takes on a musical Mount Rushmore that tries to understand musicians as only a deep fan can. Penman’s metaphors are as sharp as his wit, and he has a detective’s eye for the telling detail. From Parker conducting his life from the backseat of a cab to Prince regarding himself in a bathroom mirror, Penman mines facets that will send anybody who loves music back to their stack of vinyl. Hear with new ears. ~ Charles Bottomley
The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in AppalachiaThe Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia by Emma Copley Eisenberg. A mind-blowing decades-old murder investigation is enhanced by a highly intelligent and original memoir that takes a hard look at human nature, violence, and masculinity in America. Reviewing it through the lense of Eisenberg was like being in the passenger seat with a driver who knows exactly how to maneuver West Virginia’s switchback mountain roads in the dark because she’s lived there as an outsider trying to fit in. The implications of her sociocultural findings reach far beyond the borders of Pocahontas County and are sure to place her work on every must-read list for years to come. ~ Nancy Scheemaker
Civilized to Death: The Price of ProgressCivilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan. This is an excellent exploration of what true quality of life really is. It dispels many myths about hunter/gatherer societies and the modern myth of perpetual progress. It is time to question some assumptions about the society we have created, often on the back of false narratives of the past. Civilized to Death helps clarify the realities of the past and the stories we tell ourselves about the present in lively and readable ways, provoking new questions and potential answers. Highly recommended. ~ Chris Morrow
Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect PredatorsCatch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow. It is no exaggeration to say that few journalists have had a larger impact on our society than Ronan Farrow has in recent times. There may have been others reporting on the multiple harassment rumors swirling around Harvey Weinstein and many others over the past countless years, but it was Farrow’s dogged determination and journalistic integrity that finally tipped the scales—and the world is still realigning itself in the aftermath. ~ Jon Fine
Long Live Latin: The Pleasures of a Useless LanguageLong Live Latin: The Pleasures of a Useless Language by Nicola Gardini. Nicola Gardini’s lively celebration of Latin is just the book for any lapsed or aspiring classicist in your life! With chapters devoted to individual Latin writers from Caesar and Catullus to Propertius and Petronius, Gardini rekindled my old love for Latin (though it’s hopelessly rusty). Full of informative and delightful digressions on an array of topics, Gardini makes a loving defense for the continued study of the “useless” language which he shows quite clearly isn’t useless at all. ~ Dafydd Wood
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern IrelandSay Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. Jean McConville was “disappeared” from her modest apartment in Belfast in December of 1972. Recently widowed, she left ten children to fend for themselves at a time when what was euphemistically called the “Troubles” turned Northern Ireland into a virtual war zone. Keefe has written a meticulously researched history of the bloody conflict between England and ferociously dedicated members of the IRA. This is a brilliant book about a very dark interlude in human history when, literally, the only way to survive was to say nothing. ~ Alden Graves
You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George WashingtonYou Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe. George Washington emerges in this insightful and brash biography not as a marble-cast saint, but a well-intentioned, flawed leader. Washington’s spotty military career, combined with his life-long reluctance to free his slaves, inveterate grumbling about money, thinly masked lack of patience with subordinates, and a fondness for pomp, make him more human and sympathetic than first thought. ~ Mike Hare
The HeroThe Hero by Lee Child. The creator of the Jack Reacher mystery series discusses in short length the origins of the word and concept of "the hero" and its impact on culture throughout the centuries. This is a great quick read for creative writers and book-lovers to learn more about what makes a hero in literature. Notable protagonists such as Achilles, Robin Hood, and James Bond are mentioned. Only criticism—where are the ladies?! ~ Kirstin Swartz
In the Dream House: A MemoirIn the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado. The author details her experience with domestic abuse as a queer woman, specifically as a lesbian. It is a powerful story in which she loses herself, questions everything, and eventually finds her “plot twist.” This was one of the most captivating books I’ve ever experienced. Machado’s writing is so unique and beautiful even as it tells such a terrifying tale. I highly recommend it. ~ Cassidy Washburn
Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAINRadical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN by Tara Brach. Tara Brach tackles the many stresses that society can face daily. Her meditation practice, RAIN (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture) is explained thoroughly with examples and personal experiences. This is a great “New Year, New Me” book for anyone who wishes to work through any overwhelming emotions they’ve been feeling. This is a great book to listen to on audio as well! ~ Kirstin Swartz
The Eight Master Lessons of Nature: What Nature Teaches Us About Living Well in the WorldThe Eight Master Lessons of Nature: What Nature Teaches Us About Living Well in the World by Gary Ferguson. This was a very different read for me that opened my eyes to the connections we can make in nature despite the technological world we live in today. The author is a compelling storyteller, weaving his wisdom and thorough research with elements of history, philosophy, feminism and more. This is a must-read book for anyone who wishes to rediscover the magic, power, and beauty of nature today. ~ Kirstin Swartz
Healthyish: A Cookbook with Seriously Satisfying, Truly Simple, Good-For-You (but not too Good-For-You) Recipes for Real LifeHealthyish: A Cookbook with Seriously Satisfying, Truly Simple, Good-For-You (but not too Good-For-You) Recipes for Real Life by Lindsay Maitland Hunt. I picked up a copy of this for my first apartment and it’s amazing! This is a great cookbook for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time in the day, but wants to eat healthier and make their own meals that they can be proud of. My favorite section of the book had to be the breakfast recipes! ~ Kirstin Swartz