Happy New Year!!! Here are the Robbins Library librarians’ top books of 2018!
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
As someone who works in libraries every day I was a little apprehensive about reading this book–would it upset my carefully calibrated work/life balance to read a book about libraries in my personal time? To Susan Orlean’s credit, I had nothing to fear. While the subject of The Library Book is the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library, you end up exploring so many other fascinating channels: the pyrotechnics of burning paper, library collections as organic cultural memory houses, the psychology of the man who allegedly struck the match, and the way a community rallies to save and protect public spaces. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys micro-histories and true crime.
- The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (adult fiction)
- The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (young adult fiction/fantasy)
- The Witch Elm by Tana French (psychological mystery/suspense)
- We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (picture book)
- Transcription by Kate Atkinson (adult fiction/historical/suspense)
- The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis (middle grade fiction/fantasy)
- I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell (memoir)
- Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love (picture book)
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll (young adult graphic novel)
- Call Them By Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit (nonfiction essays)
And honorary mention to middle grade fiction/fantasy Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver, narrated by Jim Dale; published in 2011 but still wholly magical.
I’m a huge fan of the podcast Earhustle about life for incarcerated men at San Quentin Prison. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner felt like an episode from the show, giving humanity and a voice to those caught up in America’s prisons.
I would read Gary Shteyngart’s grocery list, but a new novel is even better, and Lake Success did not disappoint.
The Line Becomes a River by Franciso Cantu is beautifully written, and must-read as we all look at immigration and America’s borders.
End of year lists often miss something, and I was really surprised that Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams did not get more attention. I loved it!
The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara:
I was drawn to this book because someone (Rob) mentioned how the author used Spanglish to portray Puerto Rican/Nuyorican culture. As someone who grew up speaking a mixture of both English and Spanish, I kept hearing characters as if they were standing right next to me. It was an amazing and rare experience as a bilingual reader. I don’t want to downplay the very important socioeconomic and gender identity topics brought up by Joseph Cassara (both reasons everyone should read this), but I was impressed to find an adult fiction novel that clearly depicts such an important aspect of life in the mainland as an islander: language.
Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay:
I love Paul Tremblay’s work, and when I found out he had a new novel, I went straight for it. I’m always drawn to books that keep me questioning what’s real and what’s fabricated until the very end. Are the fantastic elements made up or is there a strange and other-wordly presence creeping in and shaking things up?
The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke
This was a short and fun book to read. The phrase “fed-up mum” was particularly fun to discuss with toddlers. It also resonated with me on a personal level. The very first bike I ever had was built piecemeal by my Mom, a neighbor, and me with found materials from the local dump.
Favorite Midgrade Book:
Backstagers and the Ghost Light by Andy Mientus
In form with the Lumberjanes novelizations, the Backstagers novels are just as much fun. These novelizations are great for strong readers reluctant to give up their graphic novels that “need” to make the jump into longer chapter books.
Favorite Graphic Novel:
Trade – Ice Cream Man volume 1 by W. Maxwell Prince
Single Issue – Die issue #01 by Kieron Gillen
Ice Cream Man is everything I love to find in my non-superhero graphic novels. Creepy, tied together anthology, anti-hero or ambivalent diety?, comeuppance or cosmic board game?, give me all of it.
Honorable mention to Kieron Gillen’s newest Die. Described as “Jumanji as Horror”. Which, if you remember the original Jumanji with the late Robin Williams, the classic was already bordering on Horror for the time and audience. The drums never failed to give me goosebumps.
Favorite YA / New Adult Book:
Sadie by Courtney Summers
Once again, a personal choice. I have come very close to becoming Sadie on more than one occasion with both of my younger sisters at various times in our lives. It is heartbreaking and all too real. I also recommend listening to the Podcast in lieu of (or after) the Podcast narrative chapters.
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
I just loved this novel. It checked a lot of boxes for me and will always have a space on my shelf. It was the platonic love version of Deepa Mehta’s 1996 film Fire. It was the triumph of sisterhood between friends. It was honest and cruel and beautiful; the best parts of storytelling.
Rage Becomes Her: the Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya L. Chemaly
I’ve read a number of articles this year (a few can be found via A Mighty Girl’s Facebook page) about how society portrays, copes with and oppresses anger in young women. It was a must read for me.
Favorite Short Story:
“You Know How the Story Goes” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (can be found on TOR.com)
Confession: I read this short story during an endlessly slow night at the Reference Desk. It was so well written and fantastically creepy that I immediately regretted reading it at night before a late bus and later walk home. Most people have heard or read about the Shadow Man (or Hat Man) haunting phenomena. This is his sister meshed with the Haunted Hitchhiker trope. I’m getting the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it…
Picture Book for Children: The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illlustrated by Ekua Holmes – This is by far the most gorgeous book I’ve seen all year. Ekua Holmes is an award-winning Boston-based artist, and for this book, she began the process by making her own marbled paper. Holmes’ artwork pairs perfectly with Bauer’s beautiful poetry about creation and space.
Graphic Novel for Tweens & Teens: Be Prepared by Vera Brogsol – A hilarious and heartfelt ode to the awkwardness of youth, and the growth that happens when a kid goes away to summer camp. But in Vera’s case, she attends Russian Orthodox summer camp. Here she has to deal with mean girls, outhouses, and long hikes with the added bonus of being forced to speak Russian and attend long Orthodox church services outdoors in the rain. A great book for anyone who has ever felt homesick or left out, or knows the joy of finding a true friend.
Nonfiction for Adults: The Library Book by Susan Orlean – If you’re reading this blog, you probably like libraries and books, so chances are you will like this new title by award-winning journalist Orlean. The book is a love-letter to public libraries as well as a mystery story about the LA library fire of 1986. You’ll learn about the history of libraries, meet some truly fascinating characters, and be swept away by Orlean’s beautiful prose.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones explores what happens when a newlywed is sentenced to twelve years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, leaving his wife to carry on without him. The characters were realistic and flawed and seeing the strain on their relationship was painful. The straightforward, conversational writing style makes it easy to become immersed in the characters and their story.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin has a compelling premise: a group of four siblings make a visit to a mysterious woman who tells them when they each will die, and for the rest of the book we see how their lives play out. Their stories are engrossing in and of themselves, but there’s also great fodder for conversations about fate and destiny and how much control we really have over our lives.
So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo is basically what it sounds like: a guide for talking about race. Each chapter answers a question, like “What if I talk about race wrong?” “What are microaggressions?” or “I just got called racist, what do I do now?” It’s packed with information about race in America and advice on how to have meaningful, productive conversations about it. Oluo is brilliant, thoughtful, clear-headed, and concise. This should be required reading for anyone who wants to take part in the current conversation about race.
I did a lot of re-reading this year, visiting many old favorites. But some of my favorite new reads were actually new books, so here you go.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – I loved this one even more than “Uprooted”.
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld – Sweet picture book about the power of quiet support.
Saga vol 9 by Brian K Vaughan – This series just keeps getting better and better.
Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love – A wonderful picture book about acceptance and celebrating differences.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang – A beautiful graphic novel with a sweet story.
Birding Is My Favorite Video Game by Rosemary Moscoe – Wonderful illustrations and humor mixed in with actual information.
Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs – The latest in the Alpha and Omega series, continuing the adventures of my favorite werewolf couple.
Herding Cats by Sarah Andersen
A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni
Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
Things We Haven’t Said edited by Erin E. Moulton
Not My Idea by Angela Higginbotham
The Day You Begin by Jaqueline Woodson
Soof by Sarah Weeks
She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore
- Circe by Madeline Miller – A gorgeously written account of the life of the legendary witch Circe. I loved seeing how Circe moved between various myths and legends throughout her long, immortal life, and seeing all the mythological figures that she interacted with, from Daedalus to Odysseus, and more. The book doesn’t shy away from the terrible things done to Circe, and mortals, by the gods.
- Moonstruck, Vol. 1: Magic to Brew by Grace Ellis, Illus. Shae Beagle – An adorable story set in a world that looks a lot like ours, except populated by werewolves, centaurs, witches and more. We follow two friends, a werewolf named Julie and a centaur named Chet, as they go about their daily lives as baristas in this simultaneously magical and mundane world.
- I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya – A thoughtful, short meditation on men, gender, and imagining what masculinity could be.
- Vengeful by V.E. Schwab – I like, but didn’t love the first book in this series, so I hadn’t planned to continue on with the rest of it. It wasn’t until I saw the author at New York Comic Con where she spoke about the book and how great it was writing one of the villains as a woman who revels in her anger at a system that kept her from having real power, that I decided to give it a chance. (I love villains who’s motives and personality are understandable and relatable.) I’m really glad I gave it a shot. In this book the returning characters felt much more fleshed out, and the new characters were even better than the original cast. If, like me, you didn’t love Vicious, I’d still recommend giving Vengeful a shot!
- A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson – As the title says, a quick and easy primer on how & why to use they/them singular pronouns, which are mostly used by gender nonconforming, nonbinary, & genderqueer, etc. people. Told in graphic novel format, this fun & breezy guide is easy to pick up & makes a great reference to go back to time & time again.
- Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi – Loosely autobiographical, this novel tells the story of Ada, who shares her body with spirits that alternately seek to protect and destroy her. A fascinating look at the life of a fragmented person struggling to keep everything together.
- The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara – This novel fictionalizes the lives of several of the subjects of the documentary Paris Is Burning, which thrust queer ball culture into the mainstream. The novel is beautiful and heartbreaking, following a cast of characters who struggle to make their way through life. They’re poor, they’re gay and transgender, they’re Latinx, and because of this, there is a lot against them. What they do have going for them is that they’ve found each other and made a family together.
- Butch Heroes by Ria Brodell – Brodell is an amazing artist who creates illustrations of masculine of center women throughout history, and accompanies them with stories of their lives & exploits. Beautiful to look at, and a great step towards rediscovering queer and gender-nonconforming people that have been erased by history.
- The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
- Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
- Only Human by by Sylvain Neuvel
- Ruin of Stars by Linsey Miller
- Descender, Vol. 5 & 6 by Jeff Lemire, Illus. Dustin Nguyen
- Zodiac Starforce Vol. 2 by Kevin Panetta, Illus. Paulina Ganucheau
- Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake
- Monstress, Vol. 3 by Marjorie M Liu, Illus. Sana Takeda
- Motor Crush, Vol. 2 by Brenden Fletcher, Illus. Babs Tarr
- The Backstagers, Vol. 2 by James Tynion IV, Illus. Rian Sygh
- The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
–Descender vol. 6: The Machine War was an extremely fitting conclusion to the descender series that seemed to flip every Humanity vs. Machine trope on it’s head. I am extremely excited for the Ascender series which will take place 100 years (I believe) after the Descender series.
–Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata was an excellent read
-I am currently about halfway through Severance by Ling Ma. So far this book is proving to be an extremely unique and profoundly affecting post-apocalyptic novel.
What were your favorite books of the year? Let us know in the comments below!