Director’s Bookshelf – 4/23/18

Director's Bookshelf 4.23It’s time for another peek over my shoulder at what I have been reading this past month. One of my goals for March was to catch up on the many young adult novels I’ve meant to get to in the past year or so. For April, I didn’t really set any reading goals, and let myself read whatever it was that caught my eye when I was ready to start a new book.

books and islandsBooks and Islands in Ojibwe Country: Traveling Through the Land of Ancestors by Louise Erdrich – After hearing Louise Erdrich mentioned and recommended on several of the Book Riot podcasts that I listen to, I finally got around to reading this memoir of her trip with her 18-month-old daughter through the islands in the Lake of the Woods area of northern Minnesota and southern Ontario. She writes about the connection between the Ojibwe (also referred to as Anishinaabe) people and books, from storytelling via rock paintings to the massive collection of books on the island estate of Ernest Oberholtzer, a friend of the Ojibwe. At less than 200 pages, this book was a quick and personal read about a subject I knew very little of. It was also a great introduction to Erdrich’s works, of which I plan to read more soon.

the merry spinsterThe Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Daniel Mallory Ortberg – Ortberg is the co-founder of the website The Toast, where he wrote a series of stories called “Children’s Stories Made Horrific.” These stories have been adapted from that series into this short story collection. The tales are eerie, grim, and frequently enigmatic. I kept searching for a moral lesson in them (as often appears in traditional fairy tales), but then I decided that wasn’t the point of these stories. They’re about mood, darkness, and the mystery of what happens next.

travel as a politicalTravel as a Political Act by Rick Steves – I will admit, Rick Steves isn’t a person I’ve ever given much thought, but when I did I pictured a mild-mannered, middle-aged white guy taking large groups of tourists on shallow tours of fancy European art museums, via air conditioned buses that kept them completely sheltered from the everyday lives of the actual inhabitants of those countries. It turns out, I may have misjudged him. In the third edition of this book, Steves illustrates his philosophy that traveling outside of the United States (and outside of comfort zones) teaches us we have so much in common with the rest of the world’s inhabitants, whose lives we don’t necessarily get a correct picture of via modern media, and that in many cases we could learn so much from the practices of other countries. He shares stories from travels to the former Yugoslavia, Denmark, El Salvador, Turkey, Iran, Israel and more to drive home the idea that traveling makes us better citizens of the world. I highly recommend this book.

the astonishing colorThe Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan – “Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.” Determined to follow that bird and believing it has something important to share with her, Leigh convinces her father to take her to Taiwan to meet the maternal grandparents she’s never known. Through a series of magical interventions, Leigh learns about her mother and grandmother’s pasts, how they became estranged, and the depth of her mother’s depression. I expected this book to be a tearjerker (and I cry very easily over books, movies, and commercials featuring sad puppies), but it was very uplifting. I don’t think I cried once. Leigh is an artist, and uses color to express her emotions in a beautiful way.

shadowshaperShadowshaper by Daniel José Older – I let this book linger on my to-read list for years before finally getting to it, and it was definitely worth the wait. Set in modern Brooklyn, teenage Sierra Santiago discovers that her family is part of a secret order that uses street art to work with spirits and protect the community. When things start going supernaturally wrong, Sierra has a steep learning curve to find her place in the traditionally masculine world of the Shadowshapers, determine who she can trust, and find a way to save the day. Daniel José Older creates a vibrant version of Brooklyn, and a system of magic tied deeply to art and culture. Hopefully it won’t take me as long to get to the second book in the series.

a room of one'sA Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf – I’m not much of a classics reader in general, aside from a couple of Jane Austen novels and assigned school reading. However, I’m trying to broaden my reading horizons, so I’m giving the audiobook version of A Room of One’s Own a try. It’s been slow going (largely because I have plenty of other books and podcasts competing for my attention), but I think I’m getting quite a bit out of the experience. Based on a lecture Woolf gave at Girton College, Cambridge, this (long) essay is about how women need both economic freedom and the titular room of one’s own in order to contribute creatively in the way that men have for centuries. I’m averaging about a chapter a week, and I find that taking things so slowly has me thinking deeply about what she has to say.

What’s up next?

Untitled designI try not to take too many books out on my library card at a time, but being at the library five days a week means that something is pretty much always catching my eye. Right now, I have about 10 library books waiting for me at home, although some of those are for new hobbies I’d like to start, and travel guides for upcoming trips I planned to take. Still, here’s a small sampling of the books I have coming up on my docket.

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (a middle grade fantasy novel from the new Rick Riordan Presents imprint)

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borgia (a classic of the magical realism genre that contributes to my goal of reading more works in translation)

Love of Country: A Journey Through the Hebrides by Madeleine Bunting (I’m heading to Scotland in May, although not to the Hebrides specifically, and I wanted to read something to give me a taste of the location)

Odd Girl Out: My Extraordinary Autistic Life by Laura James (I read and loved Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate: A User Guide to an Asperger Life by Cynthia Kim, and I’m hoping this will scratch a similar itch)