advice for readers
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
Now your turn: Share some fiction that changed your life.
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.
Following are the ten books published in 2015 also most often checked out at the Oakland Public Library in 2015:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins*
- A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson*
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee*
- A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler*
- Funny Girl by Nick Hornby*
- 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.
- 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.
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.”
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..."
Have you signed up for the OPL “Read to the Rhythm” Adult Summer Reading Program, yet? All you have to do is:
- Pick up a raffle card from any library location.
- Either read a book and write a short description/review OR complete three different activities listed on the card.
- Turn in your completed card at the library.
- Do it again!
Sure, reading is its own reward, but our Summer Reading prizes this year include a variety of gift cards and a Kindle Fire HD, so get those raffle cards in by the program end date of August 8th!
Among the listed activities, in keeping with the musical theme, is to read a book about a musician. To further that goal, here is an annotated list of 10 of the best musician biographies and Music Memoirs we have on our shelves:
Beneath the underdog: his world as composed by Mingus by Charles Mingus; edited by Nel King (1991)
The legendary jazzman recounts his life and career, from his childhood in Watts and his apprenticeship with jazz musicians, to his recordings with Duke Ellington and others, and more.
A broken hallelujah : rock and roll, redemption, and the life of Leonard Cohen by Liel Leibovitz (2014)
A meditation on the life of the Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet, and novelist discusses his performing career, which began despite his crippling stage fright, to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Girl in a band: a memoir by Kim Gordon (2015)
A founding member of Sonic Youth, fashion icon, and role model for a generation of women, now tells her story--a memoir of life as an artist, of music, marriage, motherhood, independence, and as one of the first women of rock and roll.
George Frideric Handel: a life with friends by Ellen T. Harris (2014)
An intimate portrait of Handel's life and inner circle... a tale that reveals an ambitious, generous, brilliant, and flawed man who hid behind his public persona.
Just kids by Patti Smith (2010)
An artist and musician recounts her romance, lifetime friendship, and shared love of art with Robert Mapplethorpe, in an illustrated memoir that includes a colorful cast of characters, including Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, and William Burroughs.
Life by Keith Richards, with James Fox (2010)
The lead guitarist for The Rolling Stones recounts his life, from a youth obsessed with Chuck Berry to the formation of the Stones and their subsequent stardom, and discusses his problems with drugs, the death of Brian Jones, and his relationship with Mick Jagger.
Mo' meta blues: the world according to Questlove by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Ben Greenman (2013)
A punch-drunk memoir in which Everyone's Favorite Questlove (The Roots, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) tells his own story while tackling some of the lates, the greats, the fakes, the philosophers, the heavyweights, and the true originals of the music world. He digs deep into the album cuts of his life and unearths some pivotal moments in black art, hip hop, and pop culture.
Possibilities by Herbie Hancock, with Lisa Dickey (2014)
The legendary jazz musician and composer reflects on his seven decades in music, tracing his early years as a musical prodigy and work in Miles Davis' second quintet to his multigenre explorations and collaborations with fellow artists.
Spirit rising: my life, my music by Angélique Kidjo, with Rachel Wenrick (2014)
Dubbed Africa's Premier Diva by Time Magazine, the singer/songwriter/activist shares her compelling story of escape from Africa where her voice was censored by the Communist regime to become a Grammy Award-winning, Billboard-topping musician and UNICEF Ambassador.
Words without music by Philip Glass (2015)
The world-renowned composer traces the story of his life and career and his professional collaborations with such peers as Allen Ginsberg and Martin Scorsese while sharing evocative insights into his creative process.
This is but a small sampling of the wealth of musician biographies and music memoirs spanning numerous genres. To get a personalized list of books based on your music and literature interests, try Book Me!, our new online Readers' Advisory Service. Go on and "Read to the Ryhthm".