Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Best Books of 2020

This was a year like no other, and I think my reading reflects that. I spent a lot of time listening to Simon Vance and Hugh Fraser reading, and Victorian true crime pulled me out of the pandemic doldrums temporarily.

Pre-covid Realism

So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter (2020) 
No one quite gets the difficulties of contemporary womanhood like O'Porter. This one has some wonderful commentary on beauty standards and relative happiness.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary (2020) 
I bought Everett's debut The Flatshare in February for one of those Buy 2, Get 1s at the Heathrow W.H. Smith (oh, back when we could travel!), but it was this up-ending of millennial and geriatric life where she really hit her stride.

Oh So Mysterious

The Move by Felicity Everett (2020) 
Your husband buys and decorates a lovely remote cottage for you as a form of apology for his indiscretions. But is their rekindled romance and rural idyll as perfect as it seems?

The Guest List by Lucy Foley (2020) 
Foley follows up The Hunting Party with another multi-viewpoint mystery circumscribed by geographical isolation. The remote venue for a wedding party is populated with more enemies than friends.

Shiner by Amy Jo Burns (2020) 
The sophisticated structure of this novel, set among fundamentalists in remote Appalachia, delves itno the life-long friendship and secrets of two women.

A Burnable Book by Bruce Holisinger (2014)
The poet John Gower, bereaved and blind, investigates the murder of a young woman thought to be a spy in Chaucer's London. Wonderful period details, just enough arcane language, and political machinations in a world that overlaps our own more than we might have thought, followed up with The Invention of Fire

The Trouble Makers by Celia Fremlin (1975) 
Fremlin's slice-of-post-war-life about neighborhood gossip is just one of her fabulous novels with a soup├žon of suspense and dash of class-consciousness. 

Fear Stalks the Village by Ethel Lina White (1942) 
White wrote The Lady Vanishes, but this novella is wonderfully social and claustrophobic. She is especially good at ambiguity. 

Stranger than Fiction

The Ripper story is one you think you know, but Rubenhold asserts that the "canonical victims" might not be prostitutes. This delves into each of these women's backstories, showcasing the range of female experience, dependence upon men for support and the range of social services available for the unhoused and destitute. 

An Alabama woman marries an Englishman, and her beauty secrets could be blamed for the arsenical poisoning of her older, hypochondriac husband. Lots about crime and punishment in Victorian England, and the dialogue between cotton production state-side and the weaving trades of the Midlands. 

I had long been a fan of Dr. Whitcher, but this is great exploration of the social shifts which led to more modern divorce laws in the U.K. and female desire. I really cannot wait for The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story.

Scholarship is pushing me towards an interest in the long eighteenth century, and this is a fascinating social history, literacy in particular, with all sorts of nuances I never knew.

Early on, I read this historical account, offering near-perfect contextualization for our current crisis. Includes so many parallels with the current viral spread, with its conclusion offering a glimmer or two of something like hope.

Mr. X and Mr. Y by Donald Brown (2016)
True crime, self-published by newspaperman who covered this East Alabama case as a cub reporter in 1959. It is a fascinating story of a young farm woman pushed to the brink.

We don't hear enough about life in sheltered housing, and this fascinating account of like in a Dutch old-people's home is terrifically funny. There is a sequel, On the Bright Side: The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 85 Years Old

SO MUCH nonfiction. SO MANY mysteries. SO MUCH time to read. I am counting my blessings!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Best Books of 2019

Another year, another handful of fabulous reads...I will be posting some of my favorite children's books SOON... 


Those people by Louise Candlish (2019)

I love a thriller, and this one about some undesirable neighbors with unreliable narrators and multiple points of view has me hooked. I’ve read a LOT of Candlish since this one.

Three things about Elsie by Joanna Cannon (2018)

Not enough stories deal with the difficulties of aging, and this one has some fabulous wrinkles.

The mother-in-law by Sally Hepworth (2019)

Another thriller, this one a very interesting exploration from two very distinct points of view.

The other Mrs. Miller by Allison Dickson (2019)

There is something eerie about a look-alike assuming another identity, and this one, set among the idle not-rich, strikes a very contemporary cord.

The knowledge by Martha Grimes (2018)

The mythology of London’s black cabs underpins this solid Anglophile mystery.

My sister the serial killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2019)

It is so refreshing to read something from another part of the world, and this Nigerian thriller is funny and complex.

Realistic fiction

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (2019)

An amazing, nuanced look at youth and mental illness in modern, multicultural London.

Fleishman is in trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (2019)

Plumbs midlife malaise has many deft touches that elevate it, a la Philip Roth.

There was an old woman by Hallie Ephron (2014)

Both contemporary and historical, this look at gentrification, addiction, and adulthood stuck with me.

Brit lit

Nothing to report (1940) and Somewhere in England (1943) by Carola Oman

I often think I would love to search for backlist titles for ebook editions: isn’t that the promise of the long tail? Dean Street Press has done a terrific job with recovering this pair of provincial English wartime accounts.


Thick and other essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom (2019)

Another excellent piece of biographically informed nonfiction, which I have turned back to and recommended again and again.

Because Internet: understanding how language is changing By Gretchen McCulloch (2019)

Linguistic ticks to re-framing communications, the network has changes how and why we communicate.

How to do nothing: resisting the attention economy by Jenny Odell (2019)

Artist Odell calls for a return to time unplugged for an authentic life and urges connection with the natural world.

From Goodwill to grunge: a history of secondhand styles and alternative economies by Jennifer Le Zotte (2017)

When I heard about this at SHARP, I downloaded it immediately and devoured it. For anyone obsessed with vintage things, this is a must-read.

How to own the room: women and the art of brilliant speaking by Viv Groskop (2018)

Call it a public speaking guide, but it is also a manifesto about power and the public.

Strangely, this list is ALL WOMEN. Hmmm.


Best Books of 2018

Best Books of 2017

Best Books of 2016

Best Books of 2015

Best Books of 2014

Best Books of 2013

Best Books of 2012

Best Books of 2011

Best Books of 2010

Best Books of 2009

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Fleishman, the Performative Middlebrow and Legible Clothing

I saw this tweet just after I'd started the book

and then I saw the Susan Hill comment after

so I'm not the only one that can't stop thinking about this book.

One of my favorites bits in the novel are the legible tank tops that Rachel and her cohort wear.
Brodesser-Akner has her finger on the pulse with these:
  • Spiritual gangster
  • But first, coffee
  • Brunch so hard
  • Ride or die
  • Lipstick and lunges
  • Any yoga I do is hot yoga
  • Nevertheless, she perspired
  • Run the world
  • Nah 'ma stay in bed
I have been fascinated by slogan-ed clothes for a while. They are an aggressive form of signaling. Virtue-signaling, too, because they are on tank tops teamed with yoga tights. The choice to wear such little clothing in public, yet having it speak so assertively intrigues me. These are texts, right?

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Turning the TItanic

Earlier this year, I was feeling a little over ALA. I was becoming convinced that it was too enormous and unwieldy to be useful to me as a nascent academic. I questioned the utility of a conference experience where it seemed like social media created an in-group and out-group. I even did some research into professional involvement life cycles to confirm I wasn't some sort of negative Nellie outlier.

Image result for world landscape blowing up

Then things began shifting. There was the "future of Midwinter" conversation. In our spring meeting, AASL board talked about some changes, including publishing the electronic Board Books so members can read them before the conferences, combining association awards like Best Apps and Best Websites (since there is considerable overlap and probably considerable streamlining in these areas), and eliminating the committee liaison role of the Board to have them report directly to the EC. There is the very real prospect that Council (which has some issues, though participation there was one of the best experiences I have had with ALA) might vote itself out of existence.

Then, in my final act as regional director on the AASL board yesterday, I seconded a motion and we voted unanimously to investigate restructuring that body -- a fleshed-out proposal would be sent to the membership for a vote, but it was a big signal to me (along with the whole Steering Committee on Organizational Effectiveness and LITA/ALCTS/LLAMA confluence) that the organization and AASL as a piece of it was more responsive and forward-thinking that I had feared. And I got to use a little Latin in a meeting.

Social cooling aside, this felt worthy of reviving this little channel. I now feel I am a different place with ALA. Maybe this January, I will actually get to a program or two. So I am optimistic. Happier. A librarian can hope.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Best Books of 2018

Everyone's got an opinion. I'm sort of over everyone critiquing everything as if they were Pauline Kael. And this year has been full of way too many serials -- a year of Laura Lippman, Alafair Burke, Mo Hayder. But I wanted to add to my body of favorites...for the historical record as it is. Here goes!

For Younger Readers

Monday's Not Coming (Katherine Tegen, 2018) by Tiffany D. Jackson

Totally transporting and a little mind-bending, this slide of D.C. life deserves a lot more love.

I've got my fingers crossed for midwinter.

Ghost Boys (Little Brown, 2018) by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Real racial justice talk for middle grade readers, bonus Emmett Till.

Nate Expectations (Simon & Schuster, 2018) by Tim Federle

After E.T.: The Musical folds, Nate returns to Jenksburg and goes in for production in a big way.

The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the best burger in Los Angeles) (Sky Pony, 2018) by Amy Spalding

The fashionista details, the L.A. locale, the sweet sweet romance are all top-notch.

Mystery and Suspense

Sabrina (Granta, 2018) by Nick Drnaso

The aesthetic and palette are kitschy, but the mystery is well handled, anxiety palpable and the product is ambitious.

Give Me Your Hand (Little Brown, 2018) by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott makes her regular appearance.

This science-y one more than passes the Bechdel test.

Sunburn (Harper Collins, 2018) by Laura Lippman

Top-notch noir in an out-of-season Maryland beach town. I have read it three times already. The nods to James M. Cain are triumphant. It led me into the world of Tess Monaghan, and now I spend as much time thinking about Baltimore as Alabama.

Bluebird, Bluebird (Little Brown, 2017) by Attica Locke

Faulkner-worthy Southern communities with twisty, intergenerational and interracial relationships? Yes, please. I was late to this party, but Locke is stellar. This one is my favorite of hers.

#FashionVictim (Crooked Lane, 2018)  by Amina Akhtar

This book could have been frothy social media satire, but there was just enough Patrick Bateman-y rage and truth in the shifting sands of Anya's relationships to make it stand out.

The Woman at 72 Derry Lane (Harper Collins, 2017) by Carmel Harrington

I read a lot of frothy, soapy women's fiction, but this one has just enough intrigue, with its backdrop of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand and intergenerational support, to stick with me. 

Health, Mental and Physical

My Year of Rest and Relaxation: A Novel (Penguin, 2018) by Ottessa Mohfegh

It's literary fiction, but a primer for everyone who's ever wanted to check out, as our protagonist crawls towards 9/11.

Hey, Kiddo (Scholastic Graphix, 2018) by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

This tale of connection and loss and addiction will leave you teary, and it is all too relatable for too many people.

Heavy: An American Memoir (Bloomsbury, 2018) by Kiese Laymon

One of the modern south's most interesting voices does a sustained memoir. I've heard the audiobook's a treat, too.

Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer (Grand Central, 2018) by Barbara Ehrenreich

I love a good Ehrenreich, and this one's a top-form take-down of the medicalization of older age. National treasure. 

Here's to another year of reading!

Best Books of 2017

Best Books of 2016

Best Books of 2015

Best Books of 2014

Best Books of 2013

Best Books of 2012

Best Books of 2011

Best Books of 2010
Best Books of 2009