My Best Books of 2019

IMG_20190901_131504Hi friends! Another year of reading is now behind us, wow. This one went fast. This year I beat my reading record by just a couple books: 84 read. I would love one day to get to 100, but I don’t want to let arbitrary goals get in my way of enjoying my reading.

I read a lot of amazing books this year, and a lot of meh books. I also read some straight up trash, including a highly regarded piece of non-fiction that was one of the most racists pieces of shit I’ve ever witnessed (I’m looking at you, Empire of the Summer Moon). I DNFed that garbage.

This was the first year I used the Bookriot tracking spreadsheet, created in Google Sheets. It was really fun to record specific details about my reading and get a good overview of my year in books. Horror was my most read genre (26.1%) with SFF in second place (23.9%). Mystery/crime/thriller was a distant third at 12.5%. Most of what I read was in audiobook format (51.7%), and most of the books I read were from the library (68.5%). Thanks to this spreadsheet, I have a better idea of my reading habits and some new goals for my 2020 reading, which I will post separately soon.

I read less books that completely blew me away than I did in 2018, but the ones that did blow me away knocked me into another galaxy. I’ll be thinking about these books for a long time!

Here we go! My favorites of 2019:

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Book Review: Why We Can’t Sleep by Ada Calhoun

OUT JANUARY 7th! Thank you to Grove Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

While I am very solidly in the Millennial generational bracket, I really enjoyed reading Why We Can’t Sleep, Ada Calhoun’s nonfiction examination of Gen X women’s experiences with aging and managing their middle-aged years. I appreciated the discussion as a way to prepare myself for midlife, which will be coming for me in about a decade. Calhoun hoped as much, that younger women would learn from the generation above them, but she also does a lot of work explaining why Gen X has been uniquely set up to experience the issues that they currently are doing battle with.

In Why We Can’t Sleep, Calhoun talks about how a lot of Gen X women have found themselves to be miserable in their 40s and 50s. Maybe their careers (or lack thereof) are nothing like they expected. Maybe they hate their children or their partner or their body. Maybe they desperately want children and are running out of time to have them. The list is long, as I’m sure we can all understand. No one is 100% satisfied all the time.

Calhoun looks at the reasons why Gen X women seem to be more miserable than the women of other generations. She looks at how they were raised, with elevated expectations after Title IX and with elevated levels of parental neglect. She looks at the geo-political climate over the course of the entire lives and what made the biggest impacts on Gen Xers. And she examines the roll advances in medicine, science, and technology have had on a Gen Xers lives and their choices, as well as the shifts in social/cultural/gender dynamics from their parents’ generation. With all of this, she concludes that Gen X just seems to be the generation in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were hit hardest by the Great Recession and continue to, as a generation, hold the most consumer debt. They have a deep distrust of authority, the biggest deficit between reality and expectations, and they have acted as a kind of oldest child to Millennials and Gen Zers…facing technologically induced problems first.

Why We Can’t Sleep is an incredibly addictive read. I found myself unable to put it down, perhaps because I craved a fuller (and more honest) understanding of real women’s experiences. Calhoun’s writing was engaging and entertaining, and she covers a good range of topics. That being said, I have a couple issues with Why We Can’t Sleep. The first is that at times it can come off as one giant complaining session and whoa is me-ing. There are legitimate reasons why Gen X has had a rough go, but some things in the book make me want to roll my eyes.

Part of that is wrapped up in the second issue…she refers to Millennials as kids multiple times. The youngest of us are out of undergrad and the oldest of us are nearly 40. We are adults with adult issues. We don’t have our heads buried in video games. We are fully engaged with what’s happening in the world, and (I hate to break this to everyone) some of us actually do remember a time without Internet in our homes OR AT ALL. We are battling with our own set of grown bullshit that is decidedly not childish in nature. She also uses some generalizations about Millennials and Boomers as ways to prove why Gen Xers have it the worst, and that just doesn’t fly with me. Stereotypes don’t prove points.

My third and probably biggest issue with Calhoun’s book is her seeming lack of diversity in voices. While there is at least one queer person’s story, we’re not really told the ethnicity or socioeconomic situation or childhood environment for a lot of the women in the book. I know Calhoun isn’t trying to conduct an exhaustive survey on the issue, but I think that the reason I felt like rolling my eyes at a lot of the stories in this book was because they felt like #FirstWorldProblems.

Loosing jobs is awful, being in debt is awful, facing fertility issues when you want children is incredibly painful, but what happens when you face these things as a Gen X woman who came from a very impoverished family or who can’t pay for groceries every week or who has been homeless or has suffered racial discrimination. I don’t think trans women were mentioned at all (and that would have been incredibly valuable). We don’t get much insight on those women’s experiences, or a look at how a Black Gen X woman or a trans Gen X woman experience the difficulties of middle age differently than a White Gen X woman. I am certain that there are notable differences that are worth discussion.

But those issues aside, this was a very readable book that does offer valuable insight into our middle aged years in the new world we live in. I found it helpful (as a white, middle class, cishet woman), and if you are a Gen X woman you will probably feel some great comfort in reading your peers’ experiences. I applaud Calhoun for sharing these details about female life. Middle aged women tend to get pushed aside and their problems not taken seriously, so this was a nice step to correcting that.

I’m at a point in my life where big decisions have to be made. These things affect the rest of our lives, and choices we make will sometimes come back to haunt us. I greatly appreciated hearing the stories and lessons of women 10-20 years my senior. Sharing that knowledge is very important, especially for women. And while I did feel comforted in some ways, I also learned that there is no right way to do anything in life. Women interviewed by Calhoun were miserable for the same reasons other women were happy. And some women were miserable because they couldn’t have the things other women had (like a family or high-powered career or both), but some of those same women who do have those things hate them and wished they’d never attained them.

So honestly, it feels to me like the best we can do is try to know and love ourselves as well as possible, make educated guesses as to how to proceed with life, try to live in the moment and appreciate what we have when we have it, temper our expectations in order to have an achievable goal of happiness, and not be afraid to change something that makes us unhappy if it is possible to change! Calhoun’s book does have plenty of positive stories to offset the sad ones, and she does leave us on a hopeful note. Many of the women she talks to who are going through a hard time end up in a better place when she follows up with them later on. Humans are adaptable and resilient, and while life is getting harder and things have changed drastically from the Baby Boomers’ experience, there is hope for happy and fulfilling lives as we age!

 

 

Book Review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

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Image from my library’s Instagram @jkmlibrary

As part of the ReVisioning American History series, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is critically eye-opening to everyone living in North and Central (and maybe even South) America, most especially if you do not identify as native or indigenous. I’m sure some native folks would learn something from this book as well due to the state of education in this country.

I grew up with a lot of native visibility around me in Upstate New York, and yet there is an enormous amount about the history of European invasion that I was never taught. We got the hits of course…Manifest Destiny, the French and Indian War, the Trail of Tears, Little Bighorn, etc. But we got them with a slant steep enough to Olympic ski jump off of. We definitely were taught about these things with a tone of “this was in the past, the Indians were in the past” despite living not even a full hour away from the reservation of one of the most important tribes of the Haudenosaunee (the Onondaga). Even our class trips to the Iroquois Indian Museum placed our point of learning in the past, looking at artifacts and practices that felt ancient and not at all contemporary (although many of them are). This is not a jab at the museum, it’s just my experience and interpretation as a child (it’s honestly a lovely museum, go). Erasure was happening in our education, and I’m sure it was happening in yours too.

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Book Review: The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

OUT DECEMBER 10th! Thank you to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

Every year I usually end up picking up a book I know little about and then get my socks blown off by how exciting and entertaining it is. Last year it was A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay. This year, it’s The Dead Girls Club by┬áDamien Angelica Walters. Wow, this book was a complete blast! A wild ride from beginning to end!

Heather is a successful therapists who works with troubled children. This might seem ironic, considering her own childhood holds an extremely troubling and traumatic event that begins to come back to bite her. Her best friend Becca died the summer they were twelve. More accurately, Heather killed her. But it wasn’t just Heather…The Red Lady was there too.

I loved this book. I loved the “kids going on an adventure during summer break” vibe it had. I loved the constant ramping up of action, and I loved the paranormal elements. Coming of age stories will always suck me in, and as a child who grew up in a small town where I was constantly running off with my group of friends to play a town-wide game of manhunt, build forts in the woods, and tell ghost stories in the graveyard, books like The Dead Girls Club and IT really click with me. That depiction of youthful nostalgia will get me every time, and Walters does a great job of it here.

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Book Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Thank you to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

The Night Circus was a bit of a slow burn phenomenon for the bookish world. Over the 7/8 years since it was published, people have found it and fallen deeply in love with it at their own pace. I didn’t go crazy over The Night Circus when I first read it, but all these years later I find myself thinking about it a lot. The atmosphere, the setting, the magic, the character relationships. It really stuck in my brain, so I was very excited to hear that Morgenstern was finally coming out with a new book this year!

I was shocked when I saw The Starless Sea available for request on NetGalley. I had just assumed it would remain elusive and exclusive to only the most renowned of book reviewers. I was even more surprised when I was approved for the digital ARC.

A real quick synopsis: Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a grad student studying immersive media (video games) design and storytelling. One day he stumbles on a mysterious book in the library that appears to be a collection of short fairy tales and folklore. The thing is…a true story from his childhood is in this book. No one else knows this story but Zachary, and on top of that, the book looks to have been written way before Zachary was born. He starts to do some digging and in the process gets stuck down in a weird underground magical library where clothes are perfectly tailored for him and the food is exactly what you need and cats wander everywhere. But there is like, no one else in this library. The space itself is confusing and labyrinthine, and time and place don’t hold much power.

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Interactive Displays in the Library

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One of my interactive displays @ CLP’s JCEC

It’s been a while since I wrote about my work in libraries. I honestly haven’t had too many fun things to mention, just business as usual for the most part. But recently, a colleague sent me this blog post from the Pennsylvania Library Association’s College & Research Division about using interactive displays in your library. I’ve actually been doing these kinds of displays for a long time, so I thought maybe I would talk about them and how I’ve been expanding them into the digital humanities realm.

Interactive displays and polls are a concept borrowed from museums as a way to engage patrons. If used strategically, you can also gather anonymous data about your users that can then be used to inform your services and programs. When I was at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Job and Career Education Center a few years back, I started putting together what were basically interactive graphs. They were basically just large sheets of paper with a graph and it’s axes written on it and patrons would follow the directions to insert their own data point on the graph. We made graphs that asked why people moved to or away from Pittsburgh (the color of the sticker you picked to put on the graph would indicate the reason), what industry folks worked in, how confident they were in their job search, stuff like that. The information we gathered was important to how we ran the department.

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How I Discover Books

IMG_20190731_082053If you follow me on Instagram (or just know me as a human), you know that I love giving book talks and recommendations. I also love to talk about different book-related resources and discovery tools. A while ago, a friend of mine requested a blog post that put all these resources in one place for all you bookish babes. I am, of course, here to please.

First of all, I’m obviously going to say, “GO TO THE LIBRARY!” Librarians are on hand to offer you on-the-spot book recommendations, and they (read “I”) love to do it. It’s like a fun puzzle that needs to be solved. You can also ask me for book recommendations directly. I adore giving recommendations and would do it all day long if I could. And if you haven’t tapped into the Instagram #Bookstagram community yet, make sure you get on that! Book recs all day long!

Below is a list of websites, tools, apps, book boxes/subscriptions, and podcasts that I’m addicted to that help me discover books, talk about books, and manage my book ownership and reading life! All of these things I have tried and enjoy. Warning, quite a few things are specific to genre, so if you’re not a fan of that genre maybe it isn’t for you.

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Book Review: A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

OUT SEPTEMBER 17TH! Thank you to Pantheon for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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From Goodreads

There are monsters in the world, unspeakable evils that rob us of that which is most precious to us. Life can break your heart and rip you apart, but Noah Turner has more to contend with than the familiar horrors of human existence. Noah can see monsters, like real monsters. Big harry creatures. And they can see him too.

Shaun Hamill’s A Cosmology of Monsters is an incredibly touching story about the Turner family. What starts off as a cute love story quickly turns to sorrow as Harry and Margaret Turner and their three children face tragedy after tragedy over the years. But in the midst of their struggles (struggles that many of us would recognize and be acquainted with), a fantastical element rears it’s furry, sharp-toothed head. A true monster has had its sights on the Turner family for decades, and Noah, the youngest, decides to let it into his home, his family, and his heart. What Noah doesn’t know is that his father also saw monsters, and his mother knew something was wrong.

I knew from the cover art that this was a book I needed to pick up. Once I read the synopsis I was hooked, and I couldn’t put it down. This stunning literary horror debut hit me in all the right places. I was up way past lights out flipping the pages, fully invested in the Turner family’s story and the monster(s) that haven’t stopped haunting them for generations. I couldn’t get enough of the throwback 80s/90s vibes mixed with Lovecraftian horror! Despite it being a horror/fantasy novel, I found it oddly relatable.

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Book Review: Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

OUT NOW! Thank you to Random House Publishing Group for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Trick Mirror cover art. Image from Goodreads.com.

My girlfriends and I are in our early 30s. We have grown up in a strange time and continue to struggle to navigate an increasingly complicated society. Social and environmental consciousness, extreme debt, global connectivity, and political turmoil occupy our attention. Couple all this with internal conflicts specific to us at this time in our lives (the questions of marriage and motherhood, careers, our identities as grown women, the concept of permanence in a community), and it’s no surprise we felt drawn to Jia Tolentino‘s work at The New Yorker. We couldn’t stop talking about her piece “What It Takes to Put Your Phone Away”, where Tolentino attempts to live as analog as possible for a time.

It led us to additional questions…how had our childhoods informed our adulthoods? How much of our past has already been erased or made obsolete? How much will never be erased? Can we take a step back from the fast-paced world we live in, from technology? Can we protect our autonomy, our privacy, our free will? DO we know ourselves?

In her debut essay collection Trick Mirror, Tolentino asks these questions, compiles context, recognizes our struggles, and sympathizes with us. It is a masterful examination of the Millennial experience. Through smart examinations of social media, the Great Recession, the student loan crisis, Amazon and Facebook, reality TV, mainstream capitalistic feminism, and other hallmarks of a Millennial upbringing, she shows us a potential answers to the “why” questions many of us ask ourselves late at night with friends after a couple drinks.

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Library Work: Helping Teens with Resumes

13903379490_e08650368b_bI’ve been slacking on my library posts. Last fall I submitted my last blog post to the Youth Services Division of PaLA. It discussed my particular approach to helping teens write resumes. I really loved doing that work when I was in my public library. Now that I’m in an academic library, they don’t really have much need for a librarian to do that. In fact, we have a totally separate career center in the basement of the library that is completely devoted to that work! Anyway, below is my blog post for those of you who work with teens and find yourself in a position to help them write their very first resume. This might be good for anyone to review who knows a teen planning to go job hunting this summer.

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