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Research & Scholarship

What Are Your Librarians Reading?

December 20th, 2016 by Stephanie McReynolds

From a previous post, we hope you got a better sense of what librarians do all day. To those of you who missed that post: Spoiler alert— we do not sit in the library and read books. However, many of us do find the time for leisure reading when we are not “on duty.” Below is a glimpse into what a few of us have been reading and/or would recommend that others read as well, followed by our book list recommendations.

Bonnie Ryan, Librarian for Social Sciences:

photo of Bonnie

 Books I’ve read in 2016:

Between the world and me (2015) New York: Spiegel & Grau by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Description: Coates letter to his son about being a black man in today’s United States. Read and loved it!

Between the World bookcover

Americanah: a novel (2013) New York: Alfred A. Knopf by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Description: Novel about Nigerian immigrants to America and back again to Nigeria.

Americanah bookcover

The next books were escapism reading from the current political and social climate:

The little Paris bookshop: a novel (2015) New York : Crown Publishers by Nina George.Little Paris bookcover

Description: Little novel about a Paris owner of a bookshop located on a boat (the Lulu) moored on the Seine, and the owner’s adventures finding his lost love. His bookshop is called the “Literary Apothecary” is a kind of pharmacy of books that can help to cure any physical or emotional ailment: For example to one lovelorn customer: “… You need your own room. Not too bright, with a kitten for company, and this book (Elegance of the Hedgehog, btw-bcr), which you will please read slowly, so you can take the occasional break. You’ll do a lot of thinking and probably a bit of crying. For yourself. For the years. But you’ll feel better afterward…” Read it twice, and will read it again when I need spiritual rejuvenation, with a kitten for company, in a quiet room…

The elegance of the hedgehog (2008) New York: Europa Editions by Muriel Barbery.

Elegance of Hedgehog bookcover

Elena Ferrante books on two girl friends from Naples:

  • My brilliant friend
  • Those who leave and those who stay
  • Story of the lost child
  • Story of a new name

    My Brilliant Friend bookcover

Books by Fredrik Backman:

  • A man called Ove
  • My grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry
  • Britt Marie was here

    Man Called Ove bookcover

Books I plan to read:

The underground railroad: a novel (2016) New York : Doubleday by Colson Whitehead.

Undeground Railroad bookcover

Valiant gentlemen (2016) New York: Grove Press by Sabina Murray.

Valiant Gentleman bookcover

Jennifer Jeffery, Graduate Assistant:

photo of Jennifer

Trace: memory, history, race, and the American landscape (2015) Berkeley, California: Counterpoint Press by Lauret Edith Savoy.

Trace bookcover

Description (from author’s page): “Sand and stone are Earth’s fragmented memory. Each of us, too, is a landscape inscribed by memory and loss. One life-defining lesson Lauret Savoy learned as a young girl was this: the American land did not hate. As an educator and Earth historian, she has tracked the continent’s past from the relics of deep time; but the paths of ancestors toward her—paths of free and enslaved Africans, colonists from Europe, and peoples indigenous to this land—lie largely eroded and lost.

In this provocative mosaic of personal journeys and historical inquiry across a continent and time, Lauret Savoy explores how the country’s still unfolding history, and ideas of “race,” have marked her and the land. From twisted terrain within the San Andreas Fault zone to a South Carolina plantation, from national parks to burial grounds, from “Indian Territory” and the U.S.-Mexico Border to the U.S. capital, Trace grapples with a searing national history to reveal the often unvoiced presence of the past.”

This book was assigned for my geography class Visual Storytelling, but I would recommend it for leisure reading as well. I am going to read it again and give it as gifts. It is a profound book and it makes connections to our past and how to go forward into the future. She connects language, geology, personal history and our country’s racial history and classic humanities texts across time. What is cool about it is these connections are her voice, so they are not forced or obvious. Also won/nominated for these awards:

Population, 485: meeting your neighbors one siren at a time (2002) New York : HarperPerennial by Michael Perry.

Population 485 bookcover

Description (from Amazon book review): “Welcome to New Auburn, Wisconsin, where the local vigilante is a farmer’s wife armed with a pistol and a Bible, the most senior member of the volunteer fire department is a cross-eyed butcher with one kidney and two ex-wives (both of whom work at the only gas station in town), and the back roads are haunted by the ghosts of children and farmers. Against a backdrop of fires and tangled wrecks, bar fights and smelt feeds, Population: 485 is a comic and sometimes heartbreaking true tale leavened with quieter meditations on an overlooked America.”

This book was well written and hilarious, especially if you grew up or live in a rural area. I like it because it reminds me of my home town and he is a gifted creative non-fiction writer. He mixes history of the firefighting in with the local characters of his home town.

Born a crime: stories from a South African childhood (2016) New York: Spiegel & Grau by Trevor Noah.

Born a Crime bookcover

Description (from WorldCat): “Noah’s path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother, at the time such a union was punishable by five years in prison. As he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist, his mother is determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life. With an incisive wit and unflinching honesty, Noah weaves together a moving yet funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time.”

I watch the Daily Show and I like Trevor Noah’s perspective because he is in our country but also an observer because he grew up in a different country. The title alone, Born a Crime, was what hooked me initially.

Lydia W. Wasylenko, Librarian for Citizenship and Humanities:

Lydia Photo cropped

Bridge of Sighs (2007) New York: Alfred A. Knopf  by Richard Russo.Bridge of Sighs bookcover

Description: This novel covers the entire life of 60-something protagonist Lou C. Lynch, who is deeply attached to his hometown of Thomaston, fictional but no doubt modeled after other towns in the “rust belt” of upstate New York. The author weaves together decades-spanning, complex stories of a multitude of characters, the majority of them quirky to highly eccentric, developing a vivid portrait of the extended Thomaston community. There is much adversity and a good bit of sadness, but Lou C. Lynch is an optimist, so hope always seems to prevail.

Why did you read this book? Came across this novel by chance in a Cambridge, MA bookstore and was intrigued by the New York State regional connection. Had heard about Richard Russo (who grew up in Gloversville, NY and who won a Pulitzer Prize for another novel, Empire Falls, in 2002), so decided that it was time to read one of his works.

A favorite passage: “Perhaps what’s most remarkable about my life is that I’ve lived all of it in the same small town in upstate New York, a thing unheard of in this day and age. My wife’s parents moved here when she was a little girl, so she has few memories before Thomaston, and her situation isn’t much different from my own. Some people, upon learning how we’ve lived our lives, are unable to conceal their chagrin on our behalf, that our lives should be so limited, as if experience so geographically circumscribed could be neither rich nor satisfying. When I assure them that it has been both, their smiles suggest we’ve been blessed with self-deception by way of compensation for all we’ve missed. I remind such people that until fairly recently the vast majority of humans have been circumscribed in precisely this manner and that lives can also be constrained by a great many other things: want, illness, ignorance, loneliness and lack of faith, to name just a few.”

Michael Pasqualoni, Librarian for Communications and Public Affairs:

photo of Michael

America at War With Itself (2016) San Francisco, CA: City Lights Publishers by Henry A. Giroux.America at War bookcover

(On order for SU Libraries collection. See links to this title in WorldCat & City Lights Booksellers Publisher Website.)

Description: As publisher City Lights describes America at War With Itself, “From poisoned water and police violence in our cities, to gun massacres and hate-mongering on the presidential campaign trail, evidence that America is at war with itself is everywhere around us. The question is not whether or not it’s happening, but how to understand the forces at work in order to prevent conditions from getting worse. Henry A. Giroux offers a powerful, far-reaching critique of the economic interests, cultural dimensions, and political dynamics involved in the nation’s shift toward increasingly abusive forms of power.”

As political science librarian, I find Giroux a thoughtful critic, concerned about what he often refers to as dangers inherent in the “punishing state.” I have also been drawn to his ideas because of his emphasis on critical pedagogy, including his probing into risks inherent in overlaps between prison culture and environments of teaching and learning within our schools. That connection relates too with the 2011 book by journalist, Annette Fuentes I have previously highlighted as a librarian pick, Lockdown High:  When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse.

Pervert’s Guide to Ideology British Film Institute and Film4 (2014) New York: Zeitgeist Films {DVD, 136 min}

Guide to Ideology DVD coverSee the movie trailer on YouTube and background information via the  publisher website at Zeitgeist Films.

Description (from Zeitgeist Films): “Cultural theorist superstar Slavoj Zizek re-teams with director Sophie Fiennes (The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema) for another wildly entertaining romp through the crossroads of cinema and philosophy. With infectious zeal and a voracious appetite for popular culture, Zizek literally goes inside some truly epochal movies, all the better to explore and expose how they reinforce prevailing ideologies. As the ideology that undergirds our cinematic fantasies is revealed, striking associations emerge: What hidden Catholic teachings lurk at the heart of The Sound of Music? What are the fascist political dimensions of Jaws? Taxi Driver, Zabriskie Point, The Searchers, The Dark Knight, John Carpenter’s They Live (“one of the forgotten masterpieces of the Hollywood Left”), Titanic. Kinder Eggs, verité news footage, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and propaganda epics from Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia all inform Zizek’s stimulating, provocative and often hilarious psychoanalytic-cinematic rant.”

As a librarian whose subject responsibilities cross between media studies and politics, this title is up my alley. And besides, as much as Zizek can be provocative, at times politically incorrect, he’s a philosopher in touch with pop culture’s mainlines and faultlines, one not disinclined from puncturing sacred cows on every end of the political spectra.

Patrick Williams, Librarian for Literature, Rhetoric, and Digital Humanities:

photo of Patrick

Censorship now!! (2015) Brooklyn, NY: Akashic Books by Ian F. Svenonius; compiled with the assistance of the Committee for Ending Freedom.

Description: A collection of essays by famed underground musician and dancer Ian Svenonius.

A favorite line: Note: the backward messages contained in this volume do not necessarily reflect the views of the book or its author.

Censorship Now bookcover

Salt is for curing: poems (2015) Sante Fe, NM: Sator Press, by Sonya Vatomsky.

Description: Vatomsky’s first collection of poems, structured like a meal.

A favorite line: To bring yourself back from the dead you need flour, to start.

Salt is for Curing bookcover

Stephanie JH McReynolds, Librarian for Business, Management, and Entrepreneurship:

photo of Stephanie

I’ve joined a local book club this year, which has been great for getting books I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise into my hands. I highly recommend joining a book club for this very reason.

Trigger warning: short fictions and disturbances (2015) New York: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers by Neil Gaiman.Trigger Warning bookcover

Description (from the author, included in the book’s introduction): “And what we learn about ourselves in those moments, where the trigger has been squeezed, is this: the past is not dead. There are things that wait for us, patiently, in the dark corridors of our lives. We think we have moved on, put them out of mind, left them to desiccate and shrivel and blow away; but we are wrong. They have been waiting there in the darkness, working out, practicing their most vicious blows, their sharp hard thoughtless punches into the gut, killing time until we came back that way.”

I wouldn’t say that I particularly enjoyed this book. It isn’t a book to be enjoyed in the way that you enjoy a good meal or the company of a close friend, as you might have guessed from the description above. But, the stories take you away (sometimes to somewhere you’d rather not be) and stick with you.

A favorite line: “Thank you for coming. Enjoy the things that never happened. Secure your own mask again after you read these stories, but do not forget to help others.”

A delicate truth (2013) New York: Viking by John le Carré.

Delicate Truth bookcoverDescription: I listened to the audiobook version of this, which is narrated by the author, and really enjoyed the humor and dialogue, which may have been brought more to the forefront by the author’s own voice. You can read more about the book and listen to an excerpt from the audiobook on the author’s website.

A favorite line: “[Character’s name] was your normal, rootless, amoral, plausible, half-educated, nicely spoken frozen adolescent in a bespoke suit, with an unappeasable craving for money, power and respect, regardless of where he got them from. So far, so good. He had met embryonic [name of character] in every walk of life and every country where he had served.” (Name of character omitted so as not to spoil any surprises, if you choose to read the book.)

 

Uprooted (2015) New York: Del Rey by Naomi Novik.

Uprooted bookcover

Description: This is a tale of healing and deep roots.

A favorite line: “I had a feeling the Summoning wasn’t really meant to be cast alone: as if truth didn’t mean anything without someone to share it with; you could shout truth into the air forever, and spend your life doing it, if someone didn’t come and listen.”

 

 

 

The Martian: a novel (2014) New York: Broadway Books by Andy Weir.Martian bookcover

Description: This is my current audiobook. It is particularly soothing during this turbulent post-election reality to focus on the struggles of one person who has one simple goal: survival. So far, I am enjoying the not-at-all-subtle humor throughout the story. Here’s hoping it continues to be my own personal escape route.

 

 

The myth of the strong leader: political leadership in the modern age (2014) New York, NY: Basic Books by Archie Brown.Myth Strong Leader bookcover

Description (from “My Favorite Books of 2016” by Bill Gates): “This year’s fierce election battle prompted me to pick up this 2014 book, by an Oxford University scholar who has studied political leadership—good, bad, and ugly—for more than 50 years. Brown shows that the leaders who make the biggest contributions to history and humanity generally are not the ones we perceive to be ‘strong leaders.’ Instead, they tend to be the ones who collaborate, delegate, and negotiate—and recognize that no one person can or should have all the answers. Brown could not have predicted how resonant his book would become in 2016.”

I always have good intentions of reading more business books. This study of leadership, which Gates also calls “a taxonomy” of “the traits and tendencies leaders exhibit, and the categories they fall into, as a way of understanding the egos, motivations, and behaviors responsible for so much progress, and so much suffering, in the world” seems like an appropriate book to begin the new year.

Reading Lists Recommendations:

Along with reading book reviews and noting titles and authors mentioned and interviewed in the media (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, etc.), discovering books serendipitously by browsing in bookstores and libraries, many of us seek out “best of,” bestseller lists, “notable books of the year” and other book lists. Below are a few lists (including some Syracuse University Libraries’ lists and book review resources) that may be helpful to peruse as you contemplate what to read over the winter break and in the new year.

#BustleReads Challenge 2016 Encourages You To Read Women And Writers Of Color

“Rules are loose, but it is asking people to challenge themselves to read things that are not part of the mainstream, dominant culture. This is 2016’s list, they published it on December 23, 2015. Hopefully they will put out a new one, but this one is a good one too.” —Jennifer Jeffery

Book Awards and Media Awards Lists from ALA’s Booklist

New York Times Bestsellers

NPR’s Book Concierge: Our Guide To 2016’s Great Reads

Small Press Distribution’s Recommended & Bestsellers Lists

Syracuse University Libraries’ Databases of Reviews of Books & Media

Syracuse University Libraries Learning Commons Book Lists on Pinterest

Syracuse University Press

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