The Blog of Toledo Lucas County Public Library
In an effort to jazz up the typical readers’ advisory list that us bloggers usually find ourselves writing, we decided sit down and have a conversation as stereotypical librarians who don't-know-how-to-shut-up-about-books-already. Our hope is that you might find value in the fact that our noses rarely venture more than twelve inches from the page or that maybe our ramblings might aid your book search process, even if just a little.
Please enjoy our first installment of …
Two Librarians, Too Many Books
Allison Fiscus: Hey there, I’m Allison and I’m a librarian and manager of the Maumee Branch and I absolutely hate reading. Kidding. I practically live in a house made of books.
Katie Midgley: Hey! I’m Katie and I’m a former children’s librarian and the current assistant manager of the Sanger Branch and I promise I have more to recommend than true crime.
A: Katie, it’s not nice to lie to our readers when they barely know us.
K: So sorry. It won’t happen again.
A: I make no such promises.
It’s Women’s History Month, y’all! I, for one, can’t think of a worthier topic to chat endlessly about. So in celebration, Katie and I decided to get together to talk about the female authors who have captivated us through the written word and inspired us in our own lives. The following conversation is a lightly-edited-for-clarity transcription of our chat. You ready?
K: Where should we start?
A: I’ve always thought that the work of female children’s book authors can be some of the most poignant. When I think of the books that left a lasting effect on me, I usually think of the prolific female authors of my childhood. Judy Blume, Sharon Creech and Beverly Cleary always come to mind, mostly because they really knew how to write a story that found a way to express the particular frustrations of being a kid without venturing into a space that condescends. I’ll never forget finishing "Walk Two Moons" for the first of many times and racing to my mom and INSISTING that she read it.
K: Raina Telgemeier is a modern-day example of that. I love all her stuff, but "Smile" does a great job of capturing what it’s like to be a self-conscious kid trying to find your identity amidst a crisis.
A: Same with Rebecca Stead and in particular the book "When You Reach Me." I’m convinced that talking about how this is the perfect book for any kid is what landed me my first Children’s Librarian job.
K: Yeah right, it was totally your hair.
A: 90% book, 10% hair. For real though, "When You Reach Me" is a magic book. Short, but full of depth, magical in some respects but also serious. Plus, its emphasis on another of my favorite stories - "A Wrinkle in Time" - practically guarantees that any kid who reads it will want to read that too. Not to mention the story is pure genius. I read it as an adult and it genuinely kept me guessing until the end, so I just know that any kid who reads it will experience one of those magical reading moments that takes your breath away and leaves you in awe.
K: Speaking of authors who write stories that leave you in awe, Katherine Applegate! I love her. I thought she couldn’t get any better after, "The One and Only Ivan," but then she went and wrote "Wishtree." It’s told from the perspective of a tree watching over the home of a refugee family new to the neighborhood. She really conquers tough topics in her children’s fiction.
A: I also have to mention the OG author of my childhood, Louisa May Alcott. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read "Little Women" and how mad I get every time a certain decision is made by a certain main character (you know who/what I mean...).
K: Do I? I’ve only seen the movie...I might be the worst librarian ever.
A: That’s my sick day movie! Total classic. I love the way the March sisters always had each other’s backs. I think it’s a story women of all ages can relate to and learn from to this day.
Memoirs and Essays
K: Memoirs are the best. I love being able to crawl into someone’s head for a few hours. Makes me feel like I’ve lived a thousand lives.
A: I love that they make me feel like I’m getting to know someone who I’ve admired from afar.
K: I have to start with "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed. Strayed chronicles her time as a 26 year old woman using her grief and problems with addiction as motivation to hike the Pacific Crest Trail on a quest for healing. THE BOOK IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE MOVIE, FYI. No offense to Reese Witherspoon.
A: "Wild" felt to me like a story that was going to be tough to read but that I needed to get through. Required reading for the soul. It was gripping, and moving, and somehow awful and beautiful all at once. I’ve since read Strayed’s "Tiny, Beautiful Things" which is a collection of advice she gave during her time writing the “Dear Sugar” advice column. She’s incredibly wise.
I also need to shout out to the funniest woman of the last century, Tina Fey. This might sound crazy but her memoir "Bossypants" has some of the best career advice I’ve ever read. I’ve used it many times over the years and it never fails.
K: That doesn’t sound crazy, inspiration comes from the most random places. A recent read for me is "Muslim Girl" by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh. I wish her book becomes required reading for high school students everywhere. She describes what it’s like to be Muslim in post 9-11 America and somehow manages to do so with both humor and grace. Total icon!
A: "We Should All Be Feminists" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is number one on my required reading list for teenage girls. Adichie has a way of presenting ideas that are for some reason controversial in a way that seems like simple common sense. I love that she can make light of what she clearly feels passionately about which in turn makes others more understanding of what she’s saying.
K: I’m a big fan of another of her books, “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.” It’s my go-to gift for every baby shower because it’s a practical outline for how to raise a feminist.
A: I love when she talks about how she went around calling herself a "Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men" because every time someone would tell her she shouldn’t or couldn’t do or like something it was because they believed it to be antithetical to feminism. I still laugh every time I read that because it’s so on point with what it’s like to be a female in our world today.
A: I’m going to try extremely hard to keep this list limited to my absolute favorites. All 238 of them.
K: Don’t hate me but I probably only read a handful of adult fiction books a year...
K: My recent fav is "The First Bad Man" by Miranda July. What if your boss had a moody millennial daughter and you were pressured into letting that daughter move in with you? Crazy right?
A: You can’t move in with me.
K: Weird, you and I are both bosses AND millennial daughters…
A: True, plus I’d let you move in with me in a heartbeat. I could steal all your clothes.
K: You can’t have my boots.
K: Miranda July is a creative genius and she weaves this bizarre premise into one of my favorite love stories of all time, just be prepared to embrace the weirdness.
A: I have a strang one, too! "Euphoria" by Lily King. It’s actually a Kirkus Prize winner that somehow has flown under the radar. You would love it because it’s (very, very) loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead - with quite a few sensationalized details added in of course.
K: You’re going to be so proud of me…I read my first ever science fiction book. "The Power" by Naomi Alderman.
A: I am proud. Though I’ll be more proud when your reaction to a picture of Princess Leia isn’t "Who’s that again?"
K: Hey, I know about the gold bikini!
A: *Looks to the sky* I'm sorry Carrie Fisher. I've failed you.
K: So imagine a world where girls are able to produce electricity from their fingertips at the age of 14 and can transfer this ability with just a touch to any other woman on the planet. Chaos ensues, and a matriarchy emerges. It’s amazing.
A: I’m in.
K: I knew you would be.
A: My sci-fi/fantasy pro-matriarchy book of choice is "Queen of the Tearling" by Erika Johansen. I like to describe it as the politics of "Game of Thrones" mixed up with female empowerment of "The Hunger Games" minus the dominant romance story lines that similar books can’t seem to get away from. Plus, the series features a serious plot-twist that I definitely didn’t see coming.
K: Sounds interesting. I love anything that strays away from typical romance.
A: Don’t worry, I’ll force you to read it soon enough.
K: I swear I need a separate GoodReads list just for your suggestions, dude.
A: Best get on that, Midgley. I have so many amazing books that I want to talk about in this category. I think I should probably just do it lightning-round style.
A: "The Red Garden" by Alice Hoffman for anyone who loves magical realism and historical fiction.
"The Tiger’s Wife" by Téa Obreht for an example of a truly original and enthralling story that will keep you guessing through to the end.
"The Fifth Season" by N.K. Jemisin for one of the best recent sci-fi reads I have had in a very long time.
"Career of Evil" by Robert Galbraith (cough* J.K. Rowling *cough) for all you mystery/detective story lovers who appreciate a great whodunit.
"The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova for a truly well-written vampire story.
K: You good now?
A: I think so. What’s next?
K: I’m going to call myself out here. I’d never read a poetry book until Rupi Kaur.
A: The last poetry book I read was by Shel Silverstein and I’m pretty sure that was in the third grade. I don’t think you have any reason to feel shame.
K: Now I’m judging you.
A: Totally fair.
K: A friend recommended Kaur’s first book, "Milk and Honey," to me and I read all 204 pages on a flight to Texas. When I landed two hours later, I had puffy eyes and I have to assume the entire plane was wondering what in God’s name was wrong with me.
A: People think that of me after a plane ride without the puffy eyes or poetry. I may or may not be a nervous flyer.
K: FLYING IS SAFER THAN DRIVING! Here’s one of my favorites, perfectly appropriate for Women’s History Month:
A: That’s a beautiful piece of poetry.
K: Do yourself a favor and sit down with both of her books and absorb them all in one sitting. You’ll feel things.
A: I don’t know - it’s hard to beat the poem that follows "Sister for Sale"... I kid. Shel Silverstein is a treasure.
K: I have one more shout out to give here. Jacqueline Woodson is my literary hero. Force the book "Brown Girl Dreaming" into the hands of any child in your life, please. Poetry isn’t her usual medium but she’ll have you thinking otherwise with this book. She writes about the civil rights movement from her childhood perspective, and it’ll break your heart.
A: Now let me tell you about my home girl Sarah Vowell.
K: Your home girl?
A: Oh yes. I met her once and told her I loved her and had read everything she’s ever written. We’re best friends now.
K: You’ve met everyone. Remember Gloria Steinem? Still haven't forgiven you for that.
A: Best day of my life, dude. So Sarah Vowell writes mainly American history books from the perspective of a sarcastic, irreverent, mildly-macabre and above all amusing stance.
K: My mom listens to all her stuff on audio. You’ve heard her voice, right? It’s so original.
A: She’s the voice of Violet Incredible. Her dulcet tones are a staple in my house. She’s openly obsessed with death, too, so you’d love her. Her book "Assassination Vacation" is a road trip of all the prominent locations involved in presidential assassinations. It’s very uplifting.
K: Books about death? You know I can never get enough. One of the best is "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" by Caitlin Doughty. I really want to be friends with this author. She took a job at a crematory in LA in her twenties and this book details her day to day life working with the dead.
A: Wait! I think I know her from her column “Ask a Mortician.”
K: YES. She actually ended up starting her own business which offers an eco-friendly burial option (gotta love California). She also created a YouTube channel where she answers people’s questions about death, which is both informative and hilarious.
Now I need to tell you about "Radium Girls."
A: You’ve tried this before. I don’t know if I can take it, but give me your best pitch.
K: So, in the early 1920s, one of the chicest jobs a woman could get was painting radium dials. The girls would dip the paintbrush into their mouth after each brushstroke to create a fine tip, so they were ingesting a ton of radium… they’d even paint their teeth with radium before a date so they could have a glowing smile. Anyway, you and I both know this ends disastrously. The book outlines, in HEART WRENCHING DETAIL, the swift decline in health of these women, and the lawsuit that follows. Honestly this story is not for the squeamish. Let me just say you’ll really value your own teeth after reading this.
A: *Touches teeth and cringes* - I think I can say with complete certainty that I’m gonna pass on that one. Have you read "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?"
K: Didn’t they make an HBO special out of this book, with Oprah!?
A: YES. And I will never forgive the various award-givers for not honoring her amazing performance. The story is completely moving and heartbreaking and important. It really puts into perspective the things we take for granted when it comes to medicine and healthcare. And both Henrietta's story and the way the Lacks family continues to be mistreated by the medical community is really eye-opening.
A: So, I don’t particularly love teen fiction as a genre but when I find something I like, I usually really like it.
K: I’ve been challenging myself to read one teen book a week this month. It’s helped me discover some real gems.
A: That’s seriously impressive. I’m averaging about two a year.
K: Well, tell me about one of those…two.
A: "Code Name Verity" by Elizabeth Wein. This-book-has-everything! It's suspenseful and extremely clever and I guarantee you won't be able to put it down. It’s primarily about the power of female friendship and it takes place in England during WWII. Wein was really thorough about her historical accuracy, too, which was one of the most fascinating aspects for me.
K: I feel like I’m the only person in the world who can’t get into historical fiction.
A: It’s hit or miss for me, but Verity is an extremely good read. I can’t tell you anymore without ruining the story, so you’ll just have to take me at my word. It’s great for book clubs of all ages, too.
K: I recently discovered "Distance From Me to You," about a girl who defers her college acceptance to hike the Appalachian Trail alone, despite having no experience in the wilderness (FYI: TERRIBLE IDEA.). She meets an endearing guy along the way, and due to some quite stupid decisions on his part, they end up off trail. Teen girls need to read this and realize they don’t need men to accomplish their goals, and that sometimes romance actually weighs you down.
K: I also just read and loved "The Hate U Give." Angie Thomas CLEANED UP at the Youth Media Awards with this book, and rightfully so. The book explores racism and police violence and is a necessary read for any teen exploring the Black Lives Matter movement. They’re also turning this into a movie and the cast is perfection (ISSA RAE!)
K: Okay, I’m obsessed with graphic novels. They appeal to art lovers as well as story lovers, plus art has the ability to convey emotions that words simply can’t.
A: I couldn’t agree more.
K: I think that a lot of the time when we read we rely on our imaginations for our visual representation of the story, and graphic novels take some of that work away while adding another means of connecting with the author’s perspective. One of my recent favorites is "Honor Girl" by Maggie Thrash, about a girl finding love at summer camp. I recommend this book to every millennial woman looking for a quick summer read. If you’re a child of the 90s, the nostalgia you’ll experience from these pages might have you champing at the bit to be a camp counselor somewhere this summer.
A: I can’t discuss graphic novels without talking about the amazing Marjane Satrapi. Her graphic memoir "Persepolis" taught me more about the culture and conflicts of Iranians than any textbook ever has. Satrapi’s family was deeply involved in the changes that occurred in Iran during her childhood and through her eyes and artistic talent, you really gain insight into what it's like to grow up in a time of conflict.
K: She also wrote "Embroideries" which has a completely different feel than "Persepolis." I love it because it is at its heart an exploration of life as a woman in Iran, but the way it’s presented - through a gossip session with the author’s grandma, mom, and aunts - is totally relatable to any woman who has sat down with a group of females and a bottle of wine on a Friday night. It really made me wish I had a bigger family.
A: Alright Midgley, we’ve gone through all the major genres and rambled on for probably far too long. Do you think anyone is still here?
K: Probably just my mom.
A: Hi Katie’s Mom! Thanks for reading! If you (or any other devoted blog readers) want more recommendations like these, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can also get personalized recommendations from a TLCPL librarian from our Give 3, Get 3 service.
K: We’ll also be back soon with our next installment of Two Librarians, Too Many Books where we’ll talk about our favorite summer reads. Be sure to subscribe to the blog emails before you run off to read all the books we’ve listed if you don’t want to miss it.
A: Thanks, everyone! Happy Women’s History Month!