In an effort to jazz up the typical readers’ advisory list that us bloggers usually find ourselves writing, we decided to 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 latest installment of …
Two Librarians, Too Many Books
Allison Fiscus: Hello again! Your two most favorite bossy librarians are back to force more books onto your to-read pile.
Katie Midgley: This time around we’re here to talk about our idea of the perfect summer reads.
A: You know what I found hilarious about my list?
A: I did not pick a single book that takes place anywhere near a beach.
K: Wait… I did! David Sedaris’ new book of essays is centered around events that take place at his beach house (which he named Sea Section)… I win!!
A: Oh wait– one of mine does have the word “ocean” in the title. But in the story it’s actually a pond. Maybe we should rename this list “The Best Summer Reads from Snobby Librarians.”
K: Or maybe “Best Summer Reads from Librarians Who Pay No Attention to Seasons?”
A: That does have a nice ring to it.
K: Regardless, here we go…
A: Alright, my go-to summer read, that I have revisited nearly every summer since I first read it, is The Magicians by Lev Grossman. It’s about a magical college called Brakebills and the kids who find out they’re actually magicians when they are nearly adults. When people ask me to describe this book, I usually tell them that it’s what would happen if you actually gave teens and twenty-somethings magical powers. In other words, pure chaos.
K: Oooh, I love that. My magical power would be the ability to exist in two places at once. So that while one version of me is at work, the other is doing something amazing like hiking Half Dome in Yosemite. Just kidding. I love my job. Why would I want to be anywhere else? *Looks longingly into the distance…*
A: I don’t know what it is about this book, but I absolutely love the way all the characters are kind-of the worst. And Grossman has a way of writing lines that feel like gut punches. He can really surprise you in a way that not many authors have mastered. There’s a particular line in the first quarter of the book that was so shocking that I can still remember what stretch of road I was driving on as I listened to it for the first time. I remember I audibly gasped.
K: Ugh, speaking of gut punches…Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. I underlined and highlighted so many parts of this book.
A: NOT IN YOUR LIBRARY COPY I PRESUME.
K: NO. NEVER. The language is just so beautiful. One of my favorite lines is about a breakup and it’s so relatable:
“While they wished to look out for each other, and to keep tabs on each other, staying in touch took a toll on them, serving as an unsettling reminder of a life not lived, and also they grew less worried each for the other, less worried that the other would need them to be happy, and eventually a month went by without any contact, and then a year, and then a lifetime.”
A: STOP. Why do you do this to me?
K: SO MANY TEARS WERE SHED WHILE READING THIS BOOK. Any of your books make you cry like that?
A: I’m not a huge fan of horror stories, but Christopher Buehlman is one of the most underrated authors of our time and I will willingly scare the pants off myself to read one of his books. Those Across the River is his first novel and my personal favorite. It’s your classic creepy-southern-town-with-mysterious-evil-lurking-in-the-woods story. His characters have depth and his writing is impeccable. If you like Stephen King, you’ll love Buehlman. Also, any folks who are familiar with Christoph the Insultor at the Michigan Renaissance Festival should know that he and Christopher Buehlman are one in the same.
K: We’ve seen him! He really insulted the h*ck out of you…
K: The horror book I’m going to shove into people’s hands all summer long is Final Girls by Riley Sager because it is INSANE. Right when you think you have everything figured out, the author pulls the rug out from under you (and then she continues to do this about 100 more times). Let me set the scene real quick: ten years ago a group of six friends go into the woods for a vacation and only one comes out alive. The book follows the sole-survivor of this massacre as her past starts to haunt her. Sager has another book that was just released this month called The Last Time I Lied and it looks equally promising.
A: What is it about creepy woods stories that works so well every time?
K: Don’t question it. Just go with it.
A: Fair enough. I’m gonna talk more fiction now because that’s my thing and as usual I have too much to share.
K: Go for it.
A: I have a deep and abiding love for magical realism and Sarah Addison Allen is one of the modern-day masters of the genre. Her stuff is just so easy to fall into. The writing always grabs you from the beginning and the stories are light enough to take on vacation but deep enough to really leave a lasting impression.
K: What’s your favorite by her?
A: This is so hard because she has yet to write anything I’ve not loved, but I think The Girl Who Chased the Moon is my favorite of the summer reads category. It’s about a teen who goes to live with her grandfather who she has never met, in her mother’s hometown where she has never been. Her mother has recently passed away and her grandfather is the only family left to take care of her, but her mom never talked about him or where she grew up because of some horrible event that took place when she was a teen. From the moment she arrives though, she can tell people are hiding something from her, and so she sets out to find out what really happened to her mom all those years ago. This is only one of the main story lines, too. The other is just as compelling. Bonus for any audiobook listeners out there, the audio is especially wonderful with the narrator dropping a perfect southern drawl that will seem to melt out of your speaker.
K: I know you’re not very into YA reads, but one book that I’m going to force on you (and everyone else) regardless is Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles. It’s about a young black man who is shot and killed by a police officer, and the struggles his twin brother faces as he seeks justice for Tyler. This is one book that it’s totally okay to judge by its cover – the art looks just like a Kehinde Wiley painting!
A: Ok, so no. BUT – these particular titles are not what you often hear about when these authors come up. Gaiman is known for his – albeit BRILLIANT – books American Gods and Coraline, and Murakami for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84. And don’t get me wrong, those books are amazing, but my two favorites by these authors seem to get overlooked, so I’m gonna plug them right now.
K: I have a confession. I tried to watch Coraline – which is a CHILDREN’S MOVIE, right? – and it creeped me out so bad that I had to turn it off after 30 minutes. I live alone, ok?! Are all of his titles creepy, or is this one you think I can handle?
A: Uh….Sure. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the perfect car ride book. First, because it’s a novella-length book so you can actually finish it in one ride and second, because car rides usually happen during the day which means you will not be reading this in the dark because good grief don’t do that unless you want nightmares.
K: Noted. Avoiding that one too, then.
A: So let me set the scene…A man goes to his hometown for a funeral and begins to reminisce with his sister about a girl named Lettie Hempstock who used to live at the end of their street. Lettie always used to claim that the pond in her backyard was an ocean. The man, his memory triggered, takes a stroll to Lettie’s house where he encounters one of her family members, and suddenly all his memories begin to come back to him. It’s crazy, fantastical stuff that seems like the memories of a kid whose imagination has run amok. Only, this was not his imagination. I can promise you that this book is unlike any other you’ve read. There is no formula in this story. Stuff is strange and otherworldly and it will make this story stick with you for a very long time. Read it, Midgley. Read it.
K: You have already forced approximately 8,000 books onto my to-read list.
A: Make this number one.
A: My last fiction rec is Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage which is a rare (ironically, considering my reading preferences) non-magical Murakami story about a man named Tsukuru Tazaki who, as a young college student, was abandoned by his four closest friends for reasons that have never been shared with him.
K: I had something similar happen to me! Fifth grade girls are MEAN. But I digress. Go on.
A: The story is of his “pilgrimage” to reconnect with each of his friends to discover why they cut themselves off from him. He’s carried guilt and confusion over the situation for so long that it has prevented him from truly embracing his adult life.
K: Sounds heartbreaking and so relatable.
A: In some respects it is, but I love it because losing a friend for strange and seemingly unknown reasons is something that everyone goes through at some point in their life, and the fact that Tsukuru Tazaki is determined to find out why it happened is cathartic, because who really does that nowadays?
K: Right. That being said, please don’t ditch me. Because if you do, I’ll be knocking on your door and finding out why, Tazaki style!
K: So when do I get to brag about meeting Trevor Noah?
A: Right now. Though be warned, I’ll be sending jealous juju your way as you speak.
K: It’s worth the risk. I read his book Born a Crime in its entirety on a two hour flight from Detroit to New York, and the next day I got to meet him backstage at The Daily Show!
A: YOU GET TO MEET EVERYONE. I’m just going to start following you around wherever you go so I do too.
K: You literally just talked about meeting one of your favorite authors.
K: Noah’s book is a compilation of essays about growing up in post-apartheid South Africa and it’s both hilarious and poignant. After reading this, I would give anything to hang out with his mom for a day.
A: It’s incredible to read the stories of people who have come out on the other end of awful situations able to use their experiences to inform and help in a greater way.
K: This is a great time to read this book, too! There is a sequel due out this November and you want to know the best part (aside from me meeting him, obviously)? It’s being turned into a movie and Lupita Nyong O is playing his mom!
A: Lupita is a goddess. I want to be her best friend.
K: Don’t we all. While we’re at it, another must-read collection of short essays is Calypso by David Sedaris. All I’m going to say about this book is that at one point Sedaris has a tumor surgically removed by one of his fans and he takes it home to feed to his favorite snapping turtle.
A: That sounds like him. It also makes me vaguely nauseous.
K: It’s disgusting, but the rest of the material is gold, as usual. He never disappoints. I highly recommend listening to his work on audio because his voice always adds to the story.
A: He read ‘Now We Are Five’ from Calypso on This American Life a few years back. It’s about his sister’s death and the family gathering at the beach during Christmas to mourn and reminisce. It was perfection. Only David Sedaris can take something as devastating as losing a sibling and find closure through humor. I absolutely love him.
K: Alright, so this list would be incomplete without me raving about at least one graphic novel. Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide is a title I stumbled upon one day when I was in the mood for something short. I’d never heard of the artist, but the cover caught my eye because she uses a camera similar to mine. The book weaves together drawings, text, and actual photographs to tell the story of a Latin American woman who spent a lifetime documenting people and landscapes all over the world.
K: That’s her. I have one more recommendation, The Sun Does Shine. It’s an extremely depressing topic, but I feel like this might be the most important book of the year.
A: Obviously Oprah does too because she just named it her Book Club Summer 2018 selection.
K: Do I get bonus points for reading it before it was announced?
A: Totally. +10 librarian points for you. Only 20 more and you’ll have enough for a new cardigan!
K: Every librarian’s dream come true. So the book is a memoir by a man named Anthony Ray Hinton who was imprisoned on death row for 30 years for a crime he didn’t commit. The state of Alabama had no evidence against him, and he had a solid alibi (he was AT WORK while the crimes were committed!) Ultimately, Alabama didn’t want to admit its mistake so the state fought tooth and nail to ensure he wasn’t set free. And then Bryan Stevenson comes along. Speaking of which, if you haven’t read Stevenson’s book Just Mercy, put that one on your list as well. He’s a hero.
A: I went to Stevenson’s Authors! Authors! event a few years ago. He really is inspiring.
K: Somehow I missed that, but I heard he was brilliant. Regret consumes me.
A: My next pick is by Sarah Vowell, who just so happened to be an Authors! Authors! guest, too.
K: Didn’t she do a joint event with John Hodgman?
A: Yes! And if you watch the video of that event, the squeaky-voiced woman who asks about raising twins is me.
K: Which one of us meets everyone again?
A: Yeah, yeah, yeah… So her book The Partly-Cloudy Patriot is an absolutely wonderful series of essays about American history and her thoughts on being American. It’s so interesting because it was published during George W. Bush’s presidency and her feelings towards him mirror many of the feelings people have expressed about our current president. It was strange to revisit the book recently and make those comparisons. Everything really is cyclical.
K: I have…no comment. Let’s push on through.
A: I have one more recommendation, and then we can end this extremely long post. Have I ever told you about my love for Neil deGrasse Tyson?
K: I love him too. I saw him speak in Ann Arbor a few years ago and the first thing he did was kick his shoes off and play some Dr. Dre YouTube videos.
A: I’ve known about him for a long time but tragically never paid enough attention until he hosted the new Cosmos series, which immediately became my go-to thing to watch when I need to relax and go to sleep. Something about his voice just makes you feel like nothing can go wrong, even as he is talking about mass-extinctions and how the earth as we know it will come to an end.
K: How comforting. The idea of the world ending helps you relax and fall asleep!? What a peaceful lullaby, weirdo.
A: Funny you should mention that, because the book I want to talk about is called Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries in which he explains (in a way that actually make sense) many of the aspects of our universe that usually only geniuses like himself can grasp. The title refers to a particularly terrifying/hilarious portion where he explains how a black hole would rip you apart atom by atom.
K: Decapitation by black hole, I’m sold. Adding this to my list.