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Booklists Recommendations

12 Books to Look Forward to in 2021

by Adult Services Library Associates Beth & Christian

Christian’s Pick

In the Land of the Cyclops by Karl Ove KnausgaardJanuary 5

Coming off of a prolific hot streak of the My Struggle series and the Seasonal Encyclopedia quartet, Karl Ove Knausgaard delivers a collection of essays that reflect on life and art–touching on Ingmar Bergman, Cindy Sherman, Sally Mann, and Madame Bovary. This is not his first book where he has analyzed art in this way, as he published a book on the artist Edvard Munch, titled So Much Longing in So Little Space, two years ago, but this is the first time Knaugaard has released a collection of essays in English. With his deeply personal and spellbinding writing, this is a collection of essays I look forward to reading.

Beth’s Pick

The Survivors by Jane Harper February 2

Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on the day a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that still haunts him resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal community he once called home. Kieran’s parents are struggling in a town where fortunes are forged by the sea. Between them all is his absent brother, Finn. When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away.

Beth’s Pick

We Can Only Save Ourselves by Alison WisdomFebruary 2

With echoes of The Virgin Suicides and The Fates Will Find Their Way, Alison Wisdom’s debut novel is the story of one teenage girl’s unlikely indoctrination and the reverberations in the tight-knit community she leaves behind. Alice Lange’s neighbors are proud to know her—a high-achieving student, cheerleader, and all-around good citizen, she’s a perfect emblem of their sunny neighborhood. The night before she’s expected to be crowned Homecoming Queen, though, she commits an act of vandalism, then disappears, following a magnetic stranger named Wesley to a bungalow in another part of the state. There, he promises, Alice can be her true self, shedding the shackles of conformity.

Beth’s Pick

Made In China: Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods by Amelia PangFebruary 2

In 2012, an Oregon mother named Julie Keith opened up a package of Halloween decorations. The cheap foam headstones had been $5 at Kmart, too good a deal to pass up. But when she opened the box, something fell out that she wasn’t expecting: an SOS letter, handwritten in broken English by the prisoner who’d made and packaged the items. The book follows the life of Sun Yi, the Chinese engineer who wrote the note after finding himself a political prisoner, locked in a labor camp where he worked alongside petty criminals, civil rights activists, and anyone else the Chinese government decided to “reeducate,” carving foam gravestones and stitching clothing for more than fifteen hours a day.

Beth’s Pick

Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics by Marc Lamont Hill and Mitchell PlitnickFebruary 16

Hill and Plitnick provide a timely and essential intervention by examining multiple dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conversation, including Israel’s growing disdain for democracy, the effects of occupation on Palestine, the siege of Gaza, diminishing American funding for Palestinian relief, and the campaign to stigmatize any critique of Israeli occupation. Except for Palestine is a searing polemic and passionate appeal for elected officials, activists, and everyday citizens alike to align their beliefs and politics with their values.

Christian’s Pick

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro March 2

Famed author Kazuo Ishiguro returns with his first novel since being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017. Klara and the Sun looks to explore the concepts of artificiality and love–looking at the deepest parts of what it means to be human and blurring it; a principle found in some of his works prior, such as The Buried Giant and Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro has a knack for writing novels that are never seemingly what they appear to be. With his immaculate prose and luring storytelling, Klara and the Sun is a novel I am expecting to push the boundaries of fiction.

Christian’s Pick

A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib March 30

Hanif Abdurraqib is a Columbus-based poet, essayist, and cultural critic. The first thing I read by Abdurraqib was a collection of poetry published in 2016, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much. Something about Aburraqib’s writing caught my attention–his personal experiences and cultural knowledge merging with the genre of poetry was striking and original. A year later, Aburraqib went on to publish They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Similarly to his poetry, Abdurraqib intertwins his love of music, personal anecdotes, and cultural references into a well orchestrated and sometimes unconventional series of essays. And soon after the publication of this book, he visited the Bexley Public Library (you can find an interview we did with Abdurraqib here) to read some of his essays. This year Hanif Aburraqbid returns–after having published both a New York Times bestseller, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest and another collection of poetry, A Fortune for Your Disaster–with a book that explores the role of black performances in different times and spaces. With Abdurraqib’s enchanting writing style, this is a book that I am definitely excited for.

Christian’s Pick

Crying in H Mart by Michelle ZaunerApril 20

Michelle Zauner, better known for her musical work under the name Japanese Breakfast, putting out critically and commercially acclaimed indie/shoegaze rock records such as Soft Sounds from Another Plant, is releasing a memoir about growing up as an Asian American. Based on her essay of the same name, this book expands on her life and the struggles that come with being half-Korean in a small American town, working in a restaurant while performing gigs, and the cancer diagnosis of her mother. If it is anything like her New Yorker essay, this book will be a sentimentally-doused and beautifully written memoir.

Beth’s Pick

Whereabouts by Jhumpa LahiriApril 21

The new novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author is a haunting portrait of a woman, her decisions, her conversations, her solitariness, in a beautiful and lonely Italian city. Whereabouts – first written in Italian and then translated by the author herself – is a meditative and aching snapshot of a life in suspension.

Christian’s Pick

Red Milk by SjónMay 27

Sjón is a critically acclaimed Icelandic poet, novelist, lyricist, and frequent Björk collaborator. While he has been writing since the late 1970s, his work has only recently begun being translated and published in English. Known for his writing baring Icelandic mysticism, this novel diverges a bit from his previously translated works, as it deals with a character by the name of Gunnar Kampen, a young man that grows up in a household that detests Hitler; however, Gunnar revolts against his family’s views and becomes a Neo-Nazi in post-WWII Iceland. I can only assume that this novel reflects a truth of our contemporary political landscape and dissects what brings an individual to fall in line with harmful rhetoric.

Christian’s Pick

Harlem Shuffle by Colson WhiteheadSeptember 14

Acclaimed novelist Colson Whitehead returns with a new novel, hastily following 2019’s The Nickel Boys. With his past few works, Whitehead has proven to be a powerful voice in literary fiction–with his 2016 novel, The Underground Railroad, being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. And in 2017 he visited the Bexley Public Library as part of our Community Author Series. Harlem Shuffle, as the name suggests, takes place in 1960s Harlem, where Whitehead orchestrates a family saga bundled within a story of crime and deceit–thematically focusing on class, race, and power. Undoubtedly, this will be a novel to watch out for.

Beth’s Pick

Feeling and Knowing: Making Minds Conscious – Antonio DamasioOctober 26

In recent decades, many philosophers and cognitive scientists have declared the question of consciousness unsolvable, but Antonio Damasio is convinced that recent findings in biology, neuroscience, psychology, and artificial intelligence have given us the necessary tools to solve its mystery. In forty-eight brief chapters, Damasio helps us understand the relationship between consciousness and the mind, why being conscious is not the same as either being awake or sensing, the central role of feeling, and why the brain is essential for the development of consciousness. He synthesizes the recent findings of various sciences with the philosophy of consciousness and, most significantly, presents his original research, which has transformed our understanding of the brain and human behavior.

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Staff Book Reviews

The Accident by Ismail Kadare

by Adult Services Library Associate Christian

The legendary Albanian author Ismail Kadare is a prolific writer, having written a great amount of novels, poetry, and essays throughout his tenure in the literary world. His 2008 (translated in 2010 by John Hodgson) novel The Accident is no different to the themes conjured throughout his career—having to do with the fracturing of the Balkans, from the end of the People’s Socialist Republic of Alabania to the balkanizing of Yugoslavia; however, this novel is special in the way that it presents this split in South-Eastern Europe, as the novel is centered around a car crash involving a taxi and the mystery behind the couple in the back seat of this taxi that were in a moment of love or hate.

This novel is an intentional mess of structure, moving from point of views, how the novel is styled, and the time period the events are taken place. This uncompromising novel reflects the fractured Balkans through the 20th century (and early new millennium)—a confusing, traumatic century for the people living in this region. This is represented through the symbolic couple of Besfort Y. and Rovena—a relationship based in lies, cheating, and eventually, separation and death. The history of their relationship is just as confusing as the history of the Balkans.

The story is one that aptly represents a time where the state of the Balkans was up the air, and The Hague, a city in the Netherlands known for its International Court of Justice, became a location all too familiar within the news of political officials of the Balkans (and a location present within the latter half of The Accident).

While the novel does not land entirely on its feet in its pace—its story and structure is something that represents a time of horror and uncertainty through a creative flow. Kadare showcases his original voice in an often-forgotten, but still ever-present moment in history.

You can reserve The Accident on our catalog.

Similar Reads:

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić

My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovic

Belladonna by Daa Drndi

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Staff Book Reviews

Abbott by Saladin Ahmed, Sami Kivelä, and Jason Wordie

by Adult Services Library Associate Christian

“The trouble with paradise…is that the serpent finds its way in.”

In 1972, the city of Detroit is in a state of pandemonium—in the midst of long-running economic decline, police brutality, and now demonic forces, it is up to the titular journalist, Elena Abbott, to bring a light into this dark world. Abbott, a young, Black woman working for a small newspaper company, reports of a case of police brutality, which puts her reputation as a reporter into question—and as this happens, strange things start developing. The beheading of a horse, dead bodies, the missing son of the owner of a diner she frequents, and a mysterious figure with an ancient mask that corners her in an alley—all things that connect to a conclusion where Abbott must face her past and bring a resolve to the city of Detroit.

What Abbott does in its short, five-issue run is create a sprawling world with so much life and character. It feels like seeing a glimpse of an alternative past, but one that would never be recognized in its time. Although this graphic novel began its run two years ago, it feels more relevant than ever. In her story, Abbott states that the city of Detroit is “an environment that has left many of the city’s residents wondering if any part of Detroit can truly be considered safe.” This is a thought that looms within every conversation Abbott has outside her immediate circle of friends and past lovers and one that rings familiar in the current state of the world.

Abbott was written by Saladin Ahmed, a prominent, new voice in comic books. He has been a writer for a lot of popular characters such as Miles Morales, Black Bolt, and Ms. Marvel. His writing style feels like it captures a world that already exists and continues to exist within this short frame of 100-something pages—and it makes sense as Ahmed has written a novel and poetry. His versatility as a writer shines in this graphic novel by showcasing a level of depth in the world and characters he builds.

This graphic novel was brought to my attention while putting together a list for a recent program that we hosted virtually, “Black Power in Comics”. And I am glad I took the chance to read this short-run comic, as it a story that stuck with me and one I wish had not ended as soon as it has. Abbott feels like it could be an ongoing series, but is serves a purpose in the way that it ends. It is a story that represents something that could not be forged in the decade it is based in and a story that is needed now more than ever.

For more graphic novels like this one, I recommend checking out the rest of the “Black Power in Comics” carousel, found on our Black Lives Matter page.

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Staff Book Reviews

Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne

by Adult Services Library Associate Christian

“Find a city. Find myself a city to live in.”

Is what David Byrne yelps in the song “Cities” off of Talking Heads’s classic 1979 record, Fear Of Music. And similarly to the tune of his band’s hit song, he lives through the cities of the world in his 2009 book Bicycle Diaries. Inspired by the works of W.G. Sebald and tour life, Bicycle Diaries, is a reflection of viewing different parts of the world through the most quick and reflective mode of transportation, a bicycle. The diaries contain Byrne’s views on urban infrastructure, bicycling, Robert Moses, the history and culture of the respective cities, and so much more.

Byrne’s exploration and diary of the different parts of the world he witnesses comes from a place of expertise, coming from a background of touring with an internationally successful band–as well as a band that has incorporated world sounds. The world is condensed into a personal scope as Byrne talks about the decay of American industry in cities like Detroit and Baltimore or the fall of the Berlin wall, as he writes in an unfiltered way. There is no lineage of consistency, but that should be expected as the book follows its titular mark of being a diary–and the earnestness which comes from that is what keeps me hooked.

You can reserve Bicycle Diaries digitally and physically.

Similar Reads:
The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald
Riding Toward Everywhere by William T. Vollmann
Figures in a Landscape by Paul Theroux

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Staff Book Reviews

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

A book review by BPL team member, Christian.

The city of Kars, Turkey is like a winter snow globe constantly being shook by the hands of geopolitical affairs and religious tension. As the snow falls, covering the city with suicides of teenage girls, Ka, a poet, returns to Kars to write on the suicides of the alienated youth. Orhan Pamuk’s Snow is a novel that resembles his literary contemporary, Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks–in the way that Snow takes place in clone of a city where real crimes have occurred (Kars being the placeholder for the suicides of girls in Batman, Turkey in Snow and Santa Teresa being the placeholder for the murders of women in Cuidad Juarez in 2666) and the mysticism of a location (such as the dream-like qualities that resemble the cities of Kars, Turkey and Twin Peaks, Washington).

Kars is the epicenter of the novel, a city that attracts cultural heterology–a group of Islamic militants and Western-influenced secularists fighting over the subject of whether women should bare head scares. Ka is in the middle of this war between religion, politics, and culture, playing the role of a double agent through his amiable personality. As a Turkish expatriate in Germany, Ka faces the drifting qualities of diaspora as he can never truly identify himself–whether in the political, religious, or cultural spheres. He becomes a mediator, never truly deciding the ethical choices he is given–a consistent quality in the novel’s ever-expanding plot. And despite the tense events that Ka gets himself in, the creative spark that the city of Kars grants him (as he writes nineteen poems that he pieces together in a collection baring the same title as the novel) and his hasteful infatuation for Ipek (a childhood acquaintance) are what makes himself bare through the suffering, cold city of Kars.

Snow is a dense book, spanning more than 460 pages, and as the novel goes through two theater shootings, the assassination of a university director, and a blizzard, the time Ka spent in Kars is reflective of decades of fragmentation that concerns the geopolitical country of Turkey–the suicide of the girls is reflective of a trauma that has endowed through these decades; it is not a concern of what is happening now, but rather, something that has been happening for such a long time. The novel leaves a vague idea of the future of Turkey because it is a country that is locked between Western and Middle Eastern influence, uncertain of its own collective identity. Kars is a city in a snow globe–and inside it’s glass exterior, the outside world can look distorted and unclear.

Similar Reads:
Blindness by Jose Saramago
2666 by Roberto Bolaño
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid