advice for readers

Oakland Public Library's 2016 Holiday Gift Guide

If we do it two years in a row, can we call it a holiday tradition? Either way, we're glad to help you once again with your seasonal gifting duties. Our second ever Holiday Gift Guide features some of our favorite books from the past year, with a list of local indie bookstores where you can buy these gems. (Call ahead to confirm availability!)

This page has recommendations for adults and teens, plus check out our gift guide for children's books here. You can also view the teen recommendations on Pinterest.

Books for Adults

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Following her father’s funeral, August reflects on her youth and the friendships that sustained her. Interconnected stories depict the joys and friendships that were intertwined with the stress of poverty, a broken family, and the everyday challenges of growing up.
Buy it for readers who love to mull over memories and relationships.

Desert Boys by Chris McCormick
In a small desert town in California’s Antelope Valley, young Daley Kushner comes of age, comes out of the closet, and moves on to San Francisco to become a writer. 
Buy it for anyone who loves stories about growing up or coming out.

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Blending science, social history and personal experiences, Mukherjee takes a wide-ranging look at genes: how they function, what we don’t yet know, the history of genetics research, and the philosophical and ethical ramifications of our knowledge. Another riveting, illuminating and accessible book from an oncologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer.
Buy it for armchair scientists and ethicists.

Guapa by Saleem Haddad
Rasa is a young gay translator with an American education living in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. He finds refuge at Guapa, the underground bar where he can be himself.
Buy it for anyone who can relate to being marginalized in the midst of political turmoil.

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn
In Montego Bay, Jamaica, thirty-year-old Margot saves all of her money for her younger sister’s education, working for a hotel and participating in the island’s sex tourism trade on the side. Meanwhile Margo pines for another woman while the threat of anti-gay violence looms.
Buy it for anyone who likes great characters and shrewd social commentary.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Effia and Esi are half-sisters raised in different villages in Africa’s Gold Coast in the 18th century. One sister is married off to an English colonizer; the other is sold into slavery. The beautiful and gut wrenching stories of their descendants illuminate three centuries of history on both sides of the Atlantic.
Buy it for readers who love meaningful and gorgeously written historical fiction.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich
In a terrible hunting accident, Landreaux Iron kills young Dusty, the son of his best friend and his wife’s half-sister. In an act of retribution rooted in Native American culture, Landreaux and his wife offer the grieving couple their own son, LaRose.
Buy it for anyone who would love a powerful and moving masterpiece from one of this era’s most admired and beloved authors.

Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra
Chilean author Zambra plays with form in this experimental story collection, in which test questions provide an unexpected framework for his short fiction. The result is clever, compelling, funny and sad.
Buy it for adventurous readers and other geniuses.

Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers by Stephen Shames & Bobby Seale
In October of 1966, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Less than a year later, Seale met Stephen Shames, a Vietnam War protester who wanted to photograph the Panthers. On the 50th anniversary of the BPP, they are still friends and have collaborated to produce this book documenting the history and legacy of the Panthers in words and photographs.
Buy it for history buffs, photography nuts, Oakland lovers and activists.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty
The narrator of this scathing satire is a young African American man called before the Supreme Court after reinstating slavery and segregation in his hometown of Dickens, on the outskirts of Los Angeles. In addition to winning the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Sellout recently became the first book by a U.S. writer to win Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize.
Buy it for anyone who likes an off-the-wall, profound, and foul-mouthed story with a proper stamp of British approval.

The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band by Michelle Cruz Gonzales
A punk rock herstory featuring Gonzales, drummer and lyricist who played in three San Francisco bands during the 1980s and 1990s, facing misogyny, racism and bullying.
Buy it for feminists, punks and other fearless people.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a young slave who flees the violence and terror of her Georgia plantation via a system of literal, not metaphorical, subterranean steam trains. It’s a page turner that takes an unflinching look at the horrors of American slavery, freshly bestowed with the National Book Award for fiction.
Buy it for readers who like their historical fiction suspenseful, inventive, and brutal.

The Wangs Vs. the World by Jade Chang
Charles Wang left China for the United States, where he built a cosmetics empire. When his company tanks during the economic crash of 2008, he loses his Bel Air house, pulls his younger kids out of college and private school and the family hits the road with the intent to move in with the eldest daughter, a conceptual artist who lives in the Catskills.
Buy it for readers who love charming and quirky comedy.

We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang
An incredibly timely and important book that contextualizes the racial and class tensions we recently witnessed and experienced in the presidential campaign this year. Chang discusses how white Americans' feelings of displacement in our multiracial American society has fueled so many of our public policies around housing, policing, education, public speech, and equity.
Buy it for people interested in how things got the way they are.

 

Graphic Novels for Adults 

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew
This graphic novel documents the life and work of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (born 1938), who dreamed of becoming “Singapore’s greatest comics artist” but never made it big. The book intertwines his biography, his art, and the history of 20th century Singapore using a dazzling combination of visual and narrative styles. Amazingly, Charlie Chan Hock Chye is a fictional character, but this book will make readers struggle to accept he’s not real.
Buy it for devoted creatives and folks who never give up.

Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt
Hanawalt combines vivid illustrations with a wacky sense of humor as she relates personal narratives and everyday observations, often skewering foodie culture.
Buy it for hungry readers who like to laugh out loud.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman, Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
Enn is a fifteen-year-old boy who has no luck with girls, but his friend Vic is super smooth. What happens when they go to a party where the girls are literally from another planet?
Buy it for anyone who has experienced the horrors of dating.

March: Book 3 by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Brings historical lessons to readers: the final book of this relevant trilogy. 
Buy it for history buffs and graphic novel fans.

Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu
Beautiful artwork accompanies the story set in a post war world where teens are hunted and hunt. 
Buy it for fans of steampunk and comic book lovers.

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
It’s the morning after Halloween, 1988 and four twelve-year-old girls ride bikes through their suburban neighborhood on their paper route. What starts out as a mild morning in suburbia gets complicated when they encounter aliens, monsters and wormholes. 
Buy it for fans of 80’s nostalgia, supernatural phenomena, and tough girls.

Patience by Daniel Clowes
Patience and Jack are expecting a baby when Patience is shockingly murdered. Still gripped with grief years later, Jack finds a time machine and tries to use it to prevent her killing. 
Buy it for anyone who might like “A cosmic timewarp deathtrip to the primordial infinite of everlasting love.”

Prince of Cats by Ron Wimberly
Heard of Romeo and Juliet? This graphic novel puts an unexpected twist on the story, focusing on Tybalt, Julet’s cousin and Romeo’s foe. His tale unfolds in 1980’s Brooklyn complete with dynamic artwork, hip hop and punk sensibilities, and iambic pentameter.
Buy it for underground comics fans who love inventive mash-ups.

The World of Edena by Moebius
Stel and Atan are on an interplanetary investigation when they encounter the mythical paradise of planet Edena, where they rediscover a world of lo-tech pleasures.
Buy it for back-to-the-land types who yearn for utopia.

Books for Teens

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds
A poignant story of two boys having to face racism and prejudice.
Buy it for teens who are questioning and struggling with the current climate of law enforcement. 

Bad Girls of Fashion by Jennifer Croll
Ten powerful and famous women who use fashion to make a statement and change perspectives.  
Buy it for your history loving fashionista. 

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Simon, the chosen one, and Baz, the vampire, initially hate being roommates at school until a spark ignites between them.  
Buy it for Harry Potter fans looking for something a little bit different.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Sometimes all it takes is one look outside your window to fall in love with someone; at least it did for homebound Maddy.  
Buy it for young fans of romantic fiction.

Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella
Learn about the feminists who have gotten us this far and about the beginning of feminist action in this timely book.  
Buy it for anyone struggling with what feminism means today. 

Into White by Randi Pink
An African American girl’s prayer gets answered in this funny, yet sometimes shocking novel when she wakes up one morning with pale skin, blue eyes and blonde hair.  
Buy it for teens looking for a provocative read about race.

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
Join Emma, a half-angel Shadowhunter, on an obstacle course to find the murderer who’s been killing Faeries and humans in the streets of LA.  
Buy if for Mortal Instruments fans.

Rani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel
Rani’s life is crashing down around her. Meanwhile, she meets Mark who introduces her to an underground hip-hop crew where she is able to show her skills.  
Buy it for fans of unique and dramatic novels. 

Self-Esteem Team's Guide to Sex, Drugs and WTFs?!!  by Grace Barrett
The team gives tips on how to get through a difficult, fun, and confusing age.
Buy it for teens who appreciate honest advice.

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
Sierra Santiago was looking forward to her summer until a strange Zombie crashed the first party of the season.  
Buy it for Cassandra Clare and fantasy fans.

Show and Prove by Sofia Quintero
1980’s coming of age story of friends struggling with adversity and racial profiling.  
Buy it for fans of young adult urban fiction.

Graphic Novels for Teens

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet. Vol. 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This is a new era for the Black Panther series set in an African nation suffering under political unrest.
Buy it for fans of Between the World and Me.

Giant Days, Volume 1 & 2 by John Allison
A group of girls meet at their university and become instant friends, which is good since things are about to get weird.
Buy it for fans of funny coming of age comics.

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash
Fifteen-year-old Maggie finds love at summer camp in this graphic memoir.
Buy it for fans of romance and biographies.

March: Book 3 by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Brings historical lessons to readers: the final book of this relevant trilogy.
Buy it for history buffs and graphic novel fans.

Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu
Beautiful artwork accompanies the story set in a post war world where teens are hunted and hunt.
Buy it for fans of steampunk and comic book lovers.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Volume 1-6 by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder
In the final comic of this series Lunella must decide to save her friend or save humanity!
Buy it for outspoken teens who love fantasy.

Prez, Vol. 1: Corndog in Chief by Mark Russell
Beth Ross is the first teen president of the United States and the country better get ready for her!
Buy if for fans looking for an unusual hero.

Oakland Indie Bookstores

These are great places to buy books, and they'll no doubt have more recommendations for you. Remember to call before you visit if you're looking for particular titles. 

Laurel Book Store, 1423 Broadway. 452-9232
Pegasus - Oakland, 5560 College Ave. 652-6259
Marcus Bookstore, 3900 MLK Way. 652-2344
A Great Good Place for Books, 6120 LaSalle Ave. 339-8210
E. M. Wolfman, 410 13th St. 415-250-5527
Diesel Bookstore, 5433 College Ave. 653-9965
Walden Pond Books, 3319 Grand Ave. 832-4438
Dr. Comics and Mr. Games, 4014 Piedmont Ave. 601-7800

More Gift Guides

You'll find our recommendations for children's books here

List compiled by Christy Thomas and Xochitl Gavidia with input from OPL staff.

Seeking summer mysteries? Try Judith Flanders.

I picked up this series because I liked the titles and I like the covers, they look like fun times. I listened to the audiobooks while doing some summer gardening which, honestly, is laborious, I know some people say that it's relaxing, but I'm just not buying it. The series was a great distraction.  The author, Judith Flanders, besides writing contemporary mysteries also has a fascination with Victorians and murder
Samantha (Sam) Clair is a book editor in London, her focus is women's fiction, which is unsexy in the book world, but lucrative for her firm. In both novels, Sam stumbles into a murder plot and into the arms of a handsome detective. In A Murder of Magpies, Sam's favorite author turns in a manuscript which reveals that the recent death of a worldly and scandal-plagued fashion icon may not have been accidental. After the courier who was tasked with delivering the manuscript turns up dead, Sam learns that someone will stop at nothing to keep that book from being published. 
In A Bed of Scorpions, the body of Sam's art-dealer friend is found, gun-in-hand, in his gallery. Only Sam's eye for detail and encyclopedic knowledge of books can crack this case. 
Sam is quick-witted, cynical and is constantly being upstaged by her popular and glamorous mother. The books are funny and fast-paced and have complex (but not annoying) plots. Flanders' upcoming book A Cast of Vultures won't be released until February 2017, I can't wait. 
I started reading the series after I completed Robert Galbraith a.k.a. JK Rowling's Cormoran Strike series. Both series are set in England, have similar pacing and plot twists. Speaking of Ms. Rowling, did you know that the latest Harry Potter installments: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (parts one and two) are in the form of a play? The script is being released this Sunday, July 31st? By the by, if you happen to come across tickets the play London please send them my way, I've been trying to get some for months.
What are some of your favorite summer mysteries?

Fiction That Changed Our Lives

One of the fun things about being a librarian is getting juicy readers advisory questions, so when Rockridge librarian Emily Weak was asked by a young woman, "What fiction have you read that changed your life?” she instantly sprang into action, sending the query around the library system.  We nerded out about it for a while, giving it all the weight deserved by a question regarding the transformation of one’s very life. Emily compiled a list of nearly 100 titles. That ought to prepare our young friend for the rest of her life, no? Here is a mere sampling, with a focus on less current titles:

 

Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund

 A rich epic, drawn from the classic Moby Dick, chronicles the life of Una Spenser, wife of the immortal Captain Ahab, from her Kentucky childhood, through her adventures disguised as a whaling ship cabin boy, to her various marriages.           

 

 

The amazing adventures of Kavelier and Clay by Michael Chabon

 In 1939 New York City, Joe Kavalier, a refugee from Hitler's Prague, joins forces with his Brooklyn-born cousin, Sammy Clay, to create comic-book superheroes inspired by their own fantasies, fears, and dreams.

 

 

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Tired of being labeled white trash, Ruth Anne Boatwright--a South Carolina bastard who is attached to the indomitable women in her mother's family--longs to escape from her hometown, and especially from Daddy Glen and his meanspirited jealousy.

 

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Somewhere in South America terrorists seize hostages at an embassy party, and an unlikely assortment of people is thrown together, including American opera star Roxanne Coss, and Mr. Hosokawa, a Japanese CEO and her biggest fan.

 

Blindness by Jose Saramago

In a provocative parable of loss, disorientation, and weakness, a city is hit by an epidemic of "white blindness" whose victims are confined to a vacant mental hospital, while a single eyewitness to the nightmare guides seven oddly assorted strangers through the barren urban landscape.

                                                                                                                                               

The good earth by Pearl S. Buck

A graphic view of China during the reign of the last emperor as it tells the story of an honest Chinese peasant and his wife as they struggle with the sweeping changes of the twentieth century.

 

 

The house on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

For Esperanza, a young girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago, life is an endless landscape of concrete and run-down tenements, and she tries to rise above the hopelessness. Told in a series of vignettes.

 

 

I know this much is true by Wally Lamb

Dominick Birdsey, a forty-year-old housepainter living in Three Rivers, Connecticut, finds his subdued life greatly disturbed when his identical twin brother Thomas, a paranoid schizophrenic, commits a shocking act of self-mutilation.

 

 

If Beale Street could talk by James Baldwin

A love story in the face of injustice set in Harlem in the early 1970s. Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. 

 

 

Interpreter of maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

A collection of short fiction that blends elements of Indian traditions with the complexities of American culture in such tales as "A Temporary Matter," in which a young Indian-American couple confronts their grief over the loss of a child, while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout.

                                                                                                                                       

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

In nineteenth-century England, all is going well for rich, reclusive Mr Norell, who has regained some of the power of England's magicians from the past, until a rival magician, Jonathan Strange, appears and becomes Mr Norrell's pupil.

                                                                                                                                               

                                                                                                                                            The name of the rose by Umberto Eco

In 1327, finding his sensitive mission at an Italian abbey further complicated by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William of Baskerville turns detective.

 

 

                                                                                                                                          The once and future king by T.H. White

Describes King Arthur's life from his childhood to the coronation, creation of the Round Table, and search for the Holy Grail.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                       Prodigal summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Wildlife biologist Deanna is caught off guard by an intrusive young hunter, while bookish city wife Lusa finds herself facing a difficult identity choice, and elderly neighbors find attraction at the height of a long-standing feud.

 

 

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Macon Dead, Jr., called "Milkman," the son of the wealthiest African American in town, moves from childhood into early manhood, searching, among the disparate, mysterious members of his family, for his life and reality.

 

 

Wild sheep chase by Haruki Murakami 

Blending elements of myth and mystery, this literary thriller features a cast of bizarre characters, including a sheep with a mysterious star on its back, caught up in a Nietzschean quest for power. 

                                                                                                                                             

Now your turn: Share some fiction that changed your life.                                                                                               

My Undead Valentine

Spend this Valentine’s Day with some star-crossed lovers, bridging the divide between this world and the next. These six classic paranormal romances will give you chills and set your heart racing.

 

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)This terrifying, suave monster stalks his prey from a crumbling castle in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania to an insane asylum in England to the bedrooms of his swooning female victims in a drama is infused with a more and more exquisite measure of sensuality and suspense. 

The Mummy or Ramses the Damned by Anne Rice (1989)Doomed to forever wander the earth, desperate to quell his insatiable hungers, Ramses the Damned turns up in Edwardian London as Dr. Ramsey and begins a romance with heiress Julie Stratford, but his cursed past again propels him toward disaster.

The Hand I Fan With by Tina McElroy Ansa (1996)A love story set in a small Georgia town filled with eccentric residents follows the romance between a generous woman and a ghost from one hundred years ago. You'll fall in love with the large-hearted Lena and friendly Herman.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley (2003)Left to die in an abandoned mansion as the prey of a vampire, Sunshine is stunned to find herself unharmed and must come up with a way to save her undead host from the perils of the daylight world, in a seductive tale of supernatural desire. 

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (2011)The Bigtree alligator-wrestling dynasty is in decline. Ava's mother, the park'€™s indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their family business from going under; and her father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL.

Eat, Brains, Love by Jeff Hart (2013)- New Jersey teens Jake Stephenson and Amanda Blake are turning into zombies and, having devoured half of their senior class, they are on the run, pursued by teen psychic Cass, a member of a government unit charged with killing zombies and keeping their existence secret.

 

So, this Valentine's Day let's open our hearts and remember that, just because they are (un)dead, doesn't mean they don't need love, too.

Most Popular Books of 2015

 

 Following are the ten books published in 2015 also most often checked out at the Oakland Public Library in 2015:

  1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in January 2015)- On the train, alcoholic and depressed Rachel passes daily by the house that she used to share with her ex-husband, spying on him with his new wife and their child, and on their neighbors: a couple that she idealizes, fantasizing about their happy life together. When the woman in this couple shows up in the tabloids as missing, Rachel delves into the investigation.
  2. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in July 2015 and Watchman, Related Reading)- This long buried and controversial sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird features many of the characters some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her.
  3. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in May 2015)- Atkinson skillfully jumps back and forth in time, portraying Teddy as a World War II pilot, husband, father, teacher and grandfather.
  4. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in February 2015)- Red and Abby Whitshank are the septuagenarian heads of a Baltimore clan which includes four squabbling adult offspring who must come to grips with the physical and mental challenges their parents face as they age. 
  5. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Featured in Oakland Public Library's 2015 Holiday Gift Guide)- The acclaimed essayist examines the meaning of race in our country and looks back on his personal history in a letter addressed to his teenage son. Winner of the 2015 National Book Award for nonfiction.
  6. Dead wake: the last crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson- A chronicle of the sinking of the Lusitania discusses the factors that led to the tragedy and the contributions of such figures as Woodrow Wilson, bookseller Charles Lauriat, and architect Theodate Pope Riddle.
  7. Funny Girl by Nick Hornby (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in February 2015)- Bombshell Barbara Parker has no interest in being Miss Blackpool 1964—she wants to be a TV comedienne like her idol, Lucille Ball. She heads to London, changes her name to Sophie Straw and lands her own comedy TV show, gaining a circle of colleagues and friends in the process.
  8. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in February 2015)- Reunited when the elder's husband is sent to fight in World War II, French sisters Vianne and Isabelle find their bond as well as their respective beliefs tested by a world that changes in horrific ways.
  9. Falling in love: a Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery by Donna Leon- Attending a performance by an opera star he saved in Death at La Fenice, Brunetti learns that the singer is being stalked by an obsessed fan who subsequently attacks a fellow performer.
  10. A dangerous place: a Maisie Dobbs novel by Jacqueline Winspear- Arriving in turbulent 1937 Gibraltar in the aftermath of a tragedy, Maisie Dobbs raises the British Secret Service's suspicions through her involvement in the murder of a Sephardic Jewish photographer.

Next are the ten eBooks published in 2015 also most often checked out on Overdrive at the Oakland Public Library in 2015:

  1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins*
  2. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson*
  3. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in March 2015)- Among ogres and dragons in medieval rural England, an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, live in a village where everyone seems to have trouble remembering anything. In this fog of forgetting, Axl and Beatrice wonder about a son they think they had—when did he leave? And why? They set off on a quest to find answers.
  4. Make Me: Jack Reacher Series by Lee Child- Hoping to make a brief stop in the small but suspicious town of Mother's Rest, Jack Reacher learns about 200 shocking deaths and meets a woman waiting for a private investigator who has gone missing.
  5. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in June 2015)- Beloved author Blume bases her newest novel on three real-life plane crashes that occurred near Newark Airport during the winter of 1951-52. The three crashes have a profound impact on 15-year-old Miri, her family and friends.
  6. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee*
  7. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler*
  8. Funny Girl by Nick Hornby*
  9. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in May 2015)- The moon suddenly and mysteriously explodes, triggering an exodus from the earth in which seven women must repopulate the human race. In his latest science fiction epic, Stephenson traces the fate of humanity over the next 5000 years.
  10. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah*

*See annotation above

The Girl on the Train topped both lists by a mile. I myself listened to it on eAudio and was unable to unplug for days. Also on both lists were A God in Ruins, Go Set a Watchman, A Spool of Blue Thread, Funny Girl, and The Nightingale. Did you read any of OPL's most popular books in 2015? If so, we'd love to read your thoughts about them in the comments. 

Books We Love: Under the Udala Trees

By Kiyoko Shiosaki, OPL Collection Development Intern

 

As NoViolet Bulawayo says in her interview with Chinelo Okparanta, “When you encounter a good storyteller you want to find all of [their] work and inhale it.”

This is exactly how I felt when I checked out Okparanta’s novel Under the Udala Trees  (see 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in September 2015), a coming-of-age and coming-out story of a Christian girl falling in love with a Muslim girl during the Nigerian Civil War, and her healing process as she grows older and searches for peace with her past and identity. Udala fruit or star apples (chrysophyllum albidum) represent female fertility and generosity, as Okparanta tells Arun Rath on NPR that this story is “the journey of girl who is told to be a certain way…and still winds up making a more informed decision for herself.”

Okparanta manages the immensity of war and gives us the human interactions that continue to make up daily life- frustration, play, heartbreak, beauty, and loneliness. She describes smells in a way that takes you to that exact place and time, she writes of food that makes your mouth water and your heart long for home. Her writing remembers things- those details that bring a memory back into feeling, and weaves these memories into a story that feels so complete, it’s hard to imagine how it didn’t exist before.

As soon as I inhaled this book, I went looking for her short stories in Happiness, Like Water. I love this title, and felt a sad satisfaction in the final tale called “Grace” where the phrase makes its appearance. Her stories humbly ask, Why? Why couldn’t Eve have a second chance at Eden after eating the apple? Why do women with dark skin feel the pressure to bleach it? Why do mothers who love their daughters make the choice to protect their husbands first? Why can’t a student get a visa to study in the very country that came and exploited her own resources in the first place? 

Now that her novel is out, you can find many reviews and interviews in the New York Times, NPR, The New Yorker, and The Guardian; but my favorite articles were written before Under the Udala Trees was published by Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn at Mosaic, NoViolet Bulawayo in the Munyori Literary Journal, and Yuka Igarashi at Granta. When Igarashi asks Okparanta what she is currently working on in 2012, and what her writing process is like, she replies:

I am working on a novel. I’m not very good at writing novels yet, so I spend most of my time just thinking about this novel. I spend most of my time just thinking in general. Anyway, one day I will write down all my thoughts for this novel. Not all in a day, of course. And when I do, I hope it comes out well.

 This day has come, and that novel is Under the Udala Trees, a courageous and powerful work from an author Tayari Jones calls a “truth teller and soothsayer… with a lens both panoramic and kaleidoscopic.”

                                        

Oakland Public Library's 2015 Holiday Gift Guide

What would a librarian recommend as a great holiday gift? A book of course! And we're proud to help with our first ever Holiday Gift Guide, featuring some of our favorite books this season. And as if that weren't great enough, we're capping it off with a list of local indie bookstores where you can buy these gems. (Call ahead to confirm availability!)

This page has recommendations for adults and teens, plus check out our gift guide for children's books here. You can also view the teen recommendations on Pinterest here.

Books For Adults

Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean & Southern Flavors Remixed by Bryant Terry
Drawing on African American traditions, Afro-Vegan is the latest cookbook from Terry, a local hero, award-winning chef, author, educator and activist.
Buy it for: hungry Oaklanders of any culinary persuasion; comes with an extra serving of food justice.
 
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The acclaimed essayist examines the meaning of race in our country and looks back on his personal history in a letter addressed to his teenage son. Winner of the 2015 National Book Award for nonfiction.
Buy it for: your son, anyone, and everyone.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
James recently became the first Jamaican winner of the Booker Prize for this novel that revolves around the 1976 attempted assassination of Bob Marley (referred to only as “The Singer”) and a web of rival politicians, gang members and hit men, CIA agents, an ex-girlfriend and a journalist from Rolling Stone.
Buy it for: anyone who likes their entertainment bloody, gritty and darkly comic, with a guarantee from one of the most prestigious literary awards on the planet.

M Train by Patti Smith
Rock legend Smith follows her award-winning memoir Just Kids with another look back on her life, reflecting on the people and places that have inspired her, looking back on happy years with her late husband, and mulling over matters of creativity, connection and loss. The New York Times calls it “achingly beautiful,” saying Smith “is remarkably attuned to the sound and sorcery of words, and her prose here is both lyrical and radiantly pictorial.”  
Buy it for: rockers, poets, artists and lovers.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Two talented girls share an intense friendship/rivalry as they grow up in a poor, crime ridden neighborhood in Naples during the 50s. The first of a quartet of novels by an internationally acclaimed and mysteriously pseudonymous Italian author; the final book was recently released in English so binge readers can plow through all four without stopping.
Buy it for: your brilliant friend.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
With his unique combo of sharp observation, wit, and compassion, Ronson takes a look at modern day witch hunts on the internet, in which whole lives can be ruined by one transgression.
Buy it for: Twitterers, Facebookers and other internet addicts.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
This novel’s hero, Gustavo "Highway" Sánchez, will tell you himself: he’s the world’s best auctioneer. He is also the proud owner of Marilyn Monroe’s teeth, which he installed in his mouth after purchasing them at an "auction of contraband memorabilia in a karaoke bar in Little Havana."
Buy it for: loopy, artsy, oddball geniuses.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
In this thought-provoking and darkly funny debut novel, a half-Vietnamese, half-French young man looks back at the fall of Saigon, his flight to the United States as a refugee and his new life in Southern California. He’s a double agent: a Communist sympathizer working for the South Vietnamese Army, torn between two loyalties, two cultures and two lands.
Buy it for: anyone who’s interested in new perspectives on well-trodden territory.

Through the African American Lens from The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
A petite but gorgeous book that features photographs from the museum’s permanent collection, offering glimpses of personal and public life of Americans of African descent.
Buy it for: history buffs & photography nuts.

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
11-year-old Ijeoma, life shattered by the Nigerian Civil War, falls in love with Amina, another refugee. When the girls’ relationship is discovered, they are separated, and as Ijeoma becomes a woman, she must face her feelings and sexuality in a repressive and homophobic society.
Buy it for: anyone who loves a good cry.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Sometimes irreverent and self-deprecating, sometimes introspective and insightful, and always hilarious essays from actor and comedy writer Kaling on topics ranging from celebs, stylists and self-confidence to a speech she gave at Harvard Law School.
Buy it for: Jokers and pop culture junkies.

 

Graphic Novels for Adults

Domestic Times by Tessa Brunton
What's it REALLY like to live with a partner? How does anyone do it and stay sane? This hilarious comic is guaranteed to smooth over any domestic squabbles.
Buy it for: your friends who just moved in together.

Drinking at the Movies, 2015 edition by Julia Wertz
Not that we want you to move to New York, but-- you will probably love this comic about moving from San Francisco to New York. Julia Wertz (of Farty Party fame) could not be funnier.
Buy it for: that hard-to-impress stand-up comedian.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Although this graphic memoir came out almost a decade ago, the Broadway adaptation won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2015—a great excuse to revisit this groundbreaking work! Fun home is a deeply personal tragicomedy about the author, her coming out story and her relationship with her family, especially her closeted father.
Buy it for: Anyone who might enjoy reading someone else’s diary.

 

Get Jiro! by Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose and Langdon Foss
In near-future Los Angeles, a violent war is brewing between organic locavore purists and exotic internationalists, and famous sushi chef Jiro is slashing through the middle of the combat.
Buy it for: food snobs with a taste for blood.

Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine
Six tales from a storyteller known for his cool illustrations, sharp observations and wry yet compassionate sense of humor.
Buy it for: witty and moody indie readers.

March, Books 1 & 2 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Congressperson and Civil Rights leader John Lewis recounts his story in these first two volumes of a projected trilogy.  The graphic format vividly depicts defining moments in the nonviolent struggle against segregation and inequality while Lewis’s point of view adds a personal edge.
Buy it for: Activists, historians and anyone who could use some inspiration.

Saga, vol. 1-5 by Brian K. Vaughan
Saga is kind of impossible to describe. It's fierce, it's feminist, it's funny, and it's loaded with a$$-kicking aliens and ghosts.
Buy it for: someone who wants to fall in love with a story--there's no end to this series in sight yet.

Sandman Overture by Neil Gaiman
This brand-new edition collects all six "Overture" stories, the prequel (more or less) to Gaiman's amazing Sandman series.
Buy it for: Sandman fans.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley
The thoughtful and funny follow-up to O'Malley's blockbuster Scott Pilgrim series.
Buy it for: anyone, and maybe buy them Scott Pilgrim while you're at it.

Step Aside, Pops! by Kate Beaton
Kate Beaton's webcomic Hark! a Vagrant is basically the best thing about the 21st century so far.
Buy it for: anyone who loved her eponymous first collection.

Syllabus by Lynda Barry
Lynda Barry is a phenomenon of a human (I'm not even sure she's human) and a pretty terrific teacher. This collection of her lecture notes and assignments for graphic novelists will inspire.
Buy it for: that friend of yours who's always talking about maybe drawing a comic someday.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua
Victoriana! history! math! computer science!
Buy it for: steampunk fans or your friend who just finished coding school.

Whirlwind Wonderland by Rina Ayuyang
A collection of little moments and stories by an Oakland artist. Ayuyang shows why traffic is your buddy, how to dance with Brad Pitt, and other lessons in charming ink drawings.
Buy it for: someone who wants to slow down and notice things.

 

Books for Teens

 

The Cemetery Boys by Heather Brewer
A sinister tale of a teen boy moving to his grandmother’s house in a small and backwards town after a family misfortune. 
Buy it for: young adult novel fans who would enjoy a new spin on a classic style horror story.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
This story, told in verse, follows twins Josh and Jordan through life obstacles like basketball, girls, music, and unfortunately jealousy. 
Buy it for: teens that have a hard time finding novels they like and/or if they are interested in music and sports.

Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices by Lisa Charleyboy
A powerful anthology by North American Native artists that includes poetry, fiction, memoir, and other artistic expression. 
Buy it for: young adults who would appreciate a unique and visually beautiful nonfiction book. 

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
High school senior Gabi fills her diary with all her secrets while searching for her identity. 
Buy it for: anyone who enjoys a realistic coming of age novel with a twist.

On a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers
16 year old computer wiz Dahlia joins forces with a group of teens to fight a giant corporation in the year 2035. 
Buy it for: teen science fiction fans who want to change the world.

Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl
A moving and stunningly beautiful book about the women who have shaped our nation. 
Buy it for: kids, teens, and adults who enjoy colorful, informative, and inspiring books.  

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray
Follow Marguerite as she travels through different dimensions to find her father’s killer. 
Buy it for: fans of romantic and action-packed science fiction.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery Gorgeously illustrated memoir about Lowery being the youngest protester in the march from Selma to Montgomery.  Subsequently this heroic teen was jailed eleven times before her 15th birthday. 
Buy it for: inspired teens who want to know how it feels to change history.

We are the Youth by Laurel Golio and Diana Scholl
Personal stories and striking portraits of LGBTQ youth from around the United States. 
Buy it for: young adult fans of memoirs and photojournalism.

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Like most teens, Ali has a lot going on, school, friends, boxing, and family.  When his friend Noodles get in trouble it causes a dangerous situation for Ali. 
Buy it for: young adult urban fiction fans.

 

Graphic Novels for Teens

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
Anda, a hero in the game Coarsegold, befriends a boy across the world named Raymond.  Instead of just playing the game for fun, Raymond’s life depends on his avatar’s success. 
Buy it for: comic fans and gamers. 

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
Muslim- American Kamala loves the Avengers and wants to fit in with the popular kids.  Despite her desire to be “normal,” she possesses shape shifting abilities.
Buy it for: comic fans who are looking for something a little different.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen
Charlie and Nate have an unlikely friendship that nearly ends when they have a war with the school cheerleaders. 
Buy it for: comedy fans who love the classic “nerds versus popular kids” type stories.

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
An updated version of the classic The Green Turtle series, the first Asian American super hero. 
Buy it for: fans of super hero style comics and the hugely popular comic author Lang.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
This beautifully illustrated graphic novel includes five chilling stories. 
Buy it for: horror fans.

Tomboy by Liz Prince
Find out how Liz navigates this world when Liz doesn’t feel like a boy or a girl. 
Buy it for: the graphic novel and memoir enthusiast.

 

Oakland Indie Bookstores

These are great places to buy books, and they'll no doubt have more recommendations for you. Remember to call before you visit if you're looking for particular titles. 

Laurel Book Store, 1423 Broadway. 452-9232
Pegasus - Oakland, 5560 College Ave. 652-6259
Marcus Bookstore, 3900 MLK Way. 652-2344
A Great Good Place for Books, 6120 LaSalle Ave. 339-8210
E. M. Wolfman, 410 13th St. 415-250-5527
Diesel Bookstore, 5433 College Ave. 653-9965
Walden Pond Books, 3319 Grand Ave. 832-4438
Dr. Comics and Mr. Games, 4014 Piedmont Ave. 601-7800

 

More Gift Guides

You'll find our recommendations for children's books here. We also compiled a superlist of graphic novels for children, teens and adults here. If you love Pinterest, you can also view the teen recommendations here.

They're All Dead.

My plan was to tell you all about this great book: How to be a Friend to a Friend who's Sick, but then my sick friend died so I never finished the book. Instead, for these Days of the Dead, our days to remember and honor our beloved deceased; I thought I'd remind you of all the awesome authors who've passed away this year. Biographies, written while the authors were still alive, provided by the publishers.

Dr. Oliver Sacks, 1933-2015
Oliver Sacks is the author of twelve previous books, including The Mind’s Eye, Musicophilia, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Awakenings (which inspired both the Oscar-nominated film and a play by Harold Pinter). The New York Times has referred to Dr. Sacks as “the poet laureate of medicine,” and he is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. He lives in New York City, where he is a professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine.

Jackie Collins, 1937-2015
There have been many imitators, but only Jackie Collins can tell you what really goes on in the fastest lane of all. From Beverly Hills bedrooms to a raunchy prowl along the streets of Hollywood; from glittering rock parties and concerts to stretch limos and the mansions of the power brokers — Jackie Collins chronicles the real truth from the inside looking out. Jackie Collins has been called a “raunchy moralist” by the late director Louis Malle and “Hollywood’s own Marcel Proust” by Vanity Fair magazine. With over 500 million copies of her books sold in more than 40 countries, and with some thirty New York Times bestsellers to her credit, Jackie Collins is one of the world’s top-selling novelists. She is known for giving her readers an unrivaled insiders knowledge of Hollywood and the glamorous lives and loves of the rich, famous, and infamous! “I write about real people in disguise,” she says. “If anything, my characters are toned down — the truth is much more bizarre.”

Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015
Terry Pratchett is the acclaimed creator of the globally bestselling Discworld series, the first of which, The Color of Magic, was published in 1983. Raising Steam is his fortieth Discworld novel. His books have been widely adapted for stage and screen; he is the winner of multiple prizes, including the Carnegie Medal, and was awarded a knighthood for services to literature. After falling out with his keyboard, he now talks to his computer. Occasionally, these days, it answers back.

E.L. Doctorow, 1931-2015
E. L. DOCTOROW’S works of fiction include Homer & Langley, The March, Billy Bathgate, Ragtime, the Book of Daniel, City of God, Welcome to Hard Times, Loon Lake, World’s Fair, The Waterworks, and All the Time in the World. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle Awards, two PEN Faulkner Awards, The Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction and the presidentially-conferred National Humanities Medal. In 2009 he was short listed for the Man Booker International Prize honoring a writer’s lifetime achievement in fiction, and in 2012 he won the PEN Saul Bellow Award given to an author whose “scale of achievement over a sustained career places him in the highest rank of American Literature.”
In 2013 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the Gold Medal for Fiction. 

Philip Levine, 1928-2015
Philip Levine is the author of seventeen collections of poetry. He has received many awards for his poetry, including the National Book Award in 1980 for Ashes and again in 1991 for What Work Is, and the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for The Simple Truth

David Carr, 1956-2015
David Carr is the Media Equation columnist and culture reporter for The New York Times.

Colleen McCullough, 1937-2015

Guenter Grass, 1927-2015

Ann Rule, 1931-2015 

Who is your favorite writer who has come and gone? Leave a comment.



 

Hey, That Harry Potter Lady Can Write

   

I imagine that JK Rowling began her new Cormoran Strike mystery series under the pen name of Robert Galbraith so that readers wouldn’t make assumptions or judge it alongside her ubiquitous children’s fantasy series. I can only speculate that her publisher then leaked the author’s true identity to boost the modest initial sales of the first title in the series, The cuckoo’s calling, which begins with an investigation into the suspicious suicide of a supermodel. I never would have picked it up without the name recognition and curiosity about whether Rowling could pass muster in a different genre for an adult audience. Make no mistake; this is no children’s series. It is sometimes off color and gruesomely detailed, though still cozy, meant for fans of traditional mysteries with tightly woven plotlines that are methodically unraveled by the sharpest of minds. Still, here it is, my crude comparison between the two series (can’t help it; have to).

Rowling is gifted at baiting readers along with plot twists and cliffhangers. As each of the first two Cormoran Strike books progressed, I became obsessed with them. By the time I was reading The silkworm, which goes into the seedier side of the writing and publishing world, something Rowling no doubt knows plenty about, I was juggling an eAudio copy, an eBook copy, and a physical copy so that I could get back to the heart-pounding roller coaster ride at every possible moment. I remember feeling this compelled while reading the Harry Potter series years ago, long before I had any kids of my own. I believe that the reason the phenomenally popular children's series did almost as well with adults as it did with kids and teens is that the Harry Potter series is essentially an expertly-crafted mystery, albeit one with an overarching puzzle that runs through all seven books. I found it to be thrilling and often surprising, in spite of the formulaic good vs. evil devices seemingly obligatory in children’s fantasy literature. I should note for those new to the Cormoran Strike series that it has no supernatural elements whatsoever. Strike follows physical clues, relying on hard science and deft observations to solve crimes. However, like Potter, he is an oft misunderstood, damaged hero: one-legged, hulking, cranky, and crass, yet deeply ethical and ultimately lovable.

A disappointing similarity between the two series is that Strike's female partner, Robin, like Hermione before her, is relegated to a peripheral role. I don’t know if Rowling has chosen to place her brilliant female characters, as well as her own feminine identity (She elected to go with J.K. rather than her first name, Joanne, for the Harry Potter series and then chose a masculine pen name for the Cormoran Strike series.) on the sidelines in order to widen her audience. Rowling is the most commercially successful writer of all time, so she does seem to know what she’s doing in that department. She has already revealed her intention to write many more Cormoran Strike books. As the series progresses, I hope to watch Strike’s promising, wide-eyed student, with whom he shares a deep mutual admiration, develop into a hard-boiled PI in her own right and even get top billing one of these days. Maybe we’ll see more of Robin in Career of evil, which begins with a severed leg being delivered to her, and sends the duo into Strike's own past looking for suspects. It comes out in October. Get on the Hold queue (behind me!) to find out.

Watchman, Related Reading

Unless you've been trying real hard to ignore the literary world these past few weeks, you'll know that Harper Lee has released Go Set a Watchman. Watchman, which The London Evening Standard calls "a very late sequel to  To Kill a Mockingbird," published in 1960, is also described as "a nasty surprise" both for writing and plot (but you can be be judge of that). Pulitzer prize-winning, Mockingbird, if you haven't read it, is set in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, and is told from the point of view of a child who watches her lawyer-father defend a black man against unjust charges. If you can't get enough of Maycomb, want to learn more, or are waiting patiently on the holds list, have a look a this article in Smithsonian Magazine. Paul Theoux, a celebrated travel writer, explores Monreoville, AL, the real Maycomb, and beyond in his article "What's Changed, and What Hasn't, in the Town That Inspired 'To Kill a Mockingbird'." Monroeville, where Lee grew up and lives today, like many Southern towns, has a rich and troubled history. Known as the "Literary Capital of Alabama," Monroeville claims two of America's most heralded authors: Harper Lee and Truman Capote, who were childhood friends and whose likenesses both show up in Mockingbird

Theroux interviews Monroeville locals, who recount true stories of racial injustice in that very town. One, an incident of a black school principal who was fired after refusing a demotion; one of a black man convicted of murdering a white store clerk as told in Bryan Stevenson's 2014 book, Just Mercy; and one of Walter Lett, who was falsely accused or raping a white woman and was sentenced to death. This is the case that is said to have inspired Mockingbird. But many stories are not so sensational, "the wheels of justice," Theroux writes, "grind slowly, with paper shuffling and appeals. Little drama, much persistence. In the town with a memorial to Atticus Finch..."

 
A local resident said of the play, put on every year by the local Mockingbird Players who dramatize the book at the old courthouse, “You won’t find more than four or five black people in the audience... They’ve lived it. They’ve been there. They don’t want to be taken there again. They want to deal with the real thing that’s going on now.” To some, Monreoville is a scene to a powerful, novel, a place to take a literal and literary tour of the 1930's American South. To some it's home to old memories, some bitter, some sweet.
You access Theroux's Smithsonian article from your smartphone, tablet or the OPL website via Zinio.