Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans.
By the late 1960s, thanks in part to the civil rights movement and a growing awareness of Black identity, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses.
President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.
February 18 is Toni Morrison Day, a statewide holiday in Ohio due to legislation passed late last year. It also would have been her 90th birthday.
Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford, Morrison grew up in Lorain, and later set two of her earliest books, The Bluest Eye and Sula, in Ohio. Morrison was the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for Beloved.
She also worked as an editor: she was the first black woman senior editor in the fiction department at Random House, and helped lift up black writers like Angela Davis, Toni Cade Bambara, and Wole Soyinka.
There are many ways to celebrate Toni Morrison Day! Read or listen to her novels, watch a documentary about her life, and read other authors she promoted, admired, or inspired. Check out her books, as well as these titles, available with your Bexley Public Library card:
Romance books are hitting the mainstream like never before. Have you ever heard of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton book series? No more do we shame people for reading delightful little paperbacks with scantily clad pirates or kilt-wearing-Scottsmen! (Or rather, we shouldn’t.) “Romance” is for everyone. Don’t believe me? Ask bestselling, blockbusting series like The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, or Outlander. Try to name a popular TV show, movie, or book that doesn’t include some sort of romance intrigue or love triangle. Even highfalutin literature is mostly about love or love lost or unrequited love. Let’s face it people, Where the Crawdads Sing is a romance novel and that’s okay.
In literature there is a bias against Romance. There is a pervasive belief among readers that a novel, where the driving plot device is a romantic relationship, cannot be considered Literature and is therefore unworthy of their time or critique. Readers often call books with romantic elements their “guilty pleasure.” I’m here to assure you, however, that it’s actually extremely fine to really like romance books. Liking romantic stories and reading romance novels actually does not correlate with intelligence levels among readers. Nor does it discount a book from being well written, plotted, and researched.
Likewise, while there are loads of paperbacks with heaving bosoms queens or 12-pack-ab cowboys taking up a lot of space in the romance zeitgeist, not every romance novel is based on Twilight fanfiction. Romance as a genre is just as varied as any other and we’re here to celebrate it!
Whether you’re just dipping your toe into the warm sultry waters of romance fiction or you’ve been camped out on the banks of Lake Romance for years, here are some of my top romance novel recommendations:
Red White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston For readers who are romance-curious and looking for political escapism.
If I were choosing a best-in-show for romance, this would be it. This book is all the gay romance you’ve ever wanted wrapped up in a compelling, lovely, spicy package. The set up is a classic rom-com scenario: extremely handsome and quintessentially charming First Son of the United States is in a public feud with the devastatingly gorgeous and properly polite Prince of England. A phony friendship-for-publicity’s-sake ensues and leads to, well, you guessed it, romance.
Red, White, and Royal Blue is for readers who love a bit of drama and lots (and lots) of kissing but also want the story to be well plotted, the characters to be developed, and the writing captivating. Quality does not have to suffer just because a story might be a little outlandish or, in the case of Royal Blue, a fantasy paradise of inclusivity.
Meet Me in Bombay by Jenny Ashcroft For readers of historical fiction, star-crossed lovers, and people who like to cry during movies.
Jenny Ashcroft creates gauzy worlds based on real historical times and places. Meet Me In Bombay is the second-latest in her oeuvre of heart wrenching historical love stories where the characters’ interior lives are disrupted by the devastating consequences of circumstances beyond their control. In Meet Me in Bombay, on the eve of 1914 in British occupied India, a young couple falls in love. He’s a soldier and as war unfolds across Europe, he’s shipped off to fight. The woman’s wealthy family encourages our young heroine to move on and forget her soldier. Will the lovers be able to reconnect? When the soldier is injured in battle and loses his memory, that question becomes even more complicated and the answer even more harrowing.
When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole For readers of thrillers and those who enjoy when the main characters fall in love during their adventure.
We know that gentrification is scary, but is it also…sexy? True, this book is actually a thriller, but Alyssa Cole was previously best known for her work as an author of paperback romances! In When No One Is Watching a Brooklyn neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying and Sydney, who was born and raised there, finds the prospect disorienting and almost frightening. When Theo, a handsome stranger she’s not even a little bit interested in, butts his way into her research for a historical walking tour, Sydney realizes that not everything is as it seems in the old neighborhood.
When No One Is Watching has all the elements of a modern psychological thriller paired with adroit social commentary and, you guessed it, plenty of steamy romance. This book is in the same tradition as Get Out, in the vehicle of Rear Window, with a classic odd-couple romantic intrigue.
Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory For seasoned romance readers and new-to-the-genre readers who want something that’s light but still grounded in reality.
Can romantic comedies centering a straight relationship feature strong, capable, career-driven women who have a realistic and supportive network of friends and families? Can they have a main character who views romance, not with either cynical skepticism or dogged devotion, but as an enhancement to life? Can romantic comedies be light-hearted and heart-warming but also offer nuanced representation of multiracial relationships and modern love? Let me introduce you to author Jasmine Guillory. You might know her for her 2018 work, The Wedding Date and she’s been churning out lovely, readable, steamy, upbeat romantic comedies ever since.
Party of Two features an independent young black woman who moves to LA to start her own law firm. She meets a cutie at a bar and, oops, it turns out he’s a well-known senator. Party of Two follows the lovebirds as their initially secret romance hits the front pages and their bond is tested by intense media scrutiny, and the pressures of celebrity and politics.
The Awakening: The Dragon Heart Legacy, Book 1 by Nora Roberts For readers who want a bit of fantasy with their romance or a bit of romance with their fantasy.
Nora. Roberts. Does. Dragons. Now. Yes, that Nora Roberts! You can’t do a romance list and not include Nora Roberts and lucky for us in the same way that steamy romance is becoming less declassé for the masses, so too has fantasy risen from the murky depths of nerdom to claim its rightful place at the front of the Popular Media race. It doesn’t really even matter what the story is about exactly, because as previously stated: Nora Roberts + dragons.
Here’s what you need to know: The Awakening involves two worlds—one with magic and one in Philadelphia, there is a young woman in her twenties who discovers some real wild secrets about herself and her family. Then, we go to Ireland, a place we all know is lousy with magic portals and fairies, etc. Oh, and she’s been dreaming about a silver-haired elusive man who she’s never met who calls her by a different name and tells her to “come home.” That sounds like an excellent set-up for a steamy paranormal romance to me!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Questand 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.
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.
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.
Red Milk by Sjón — May 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.
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.
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.
The inauguration of the forty-sixth President of the United States, marked by a deadly pandemic, severe racial divide, and a contested election, is reminiscent of that of the sixteenth President. One hundred and sixty years ago, faced with southern succession, division over slavery, and inevitable deadly civil war, Abraham Lincoln called on “the better angels of our nature” in his first inaugural address.
En route to Washington by special train from Springfield Illinois, then President-elect Lincoln rode by open carriage, in a “triumphal march,” from the depot to the Ohio Statehouse. Thousands gathered along High Street, waving handkerchiefs and miniature American flags, to greet the future President, while in Washington D.C., the counting of electoral votes, sent to Congress by the states to elect the next President, confirmed Lincoln’s election.
Thirty Presidents later, the process of confirming the election, was on January 6, 2021 interrupted by mob insurrection at the urging of the sitting President. Though a similar effort in 1861 was blocked by soldiers before it could breach the Capitol, Lincoln faced another attempt to prevent the democratically elected candidate from taking the oath of office.
Ten days after his visit to Columbus, Lincoln reached the nation’s capital, early and in secret, without the fanfare of the public receptions received all along his route from Illinois. Having changed trains, disguised himself, and travelled by night, an attempted assassination plot, a conspiracy hatched by southerners aimed at preventing the antislavery leader from taking office, was thwarted in Baltimore.
Four years later, elected to a second term, the rebellion quelled and union restored, Lincoln returned to Columbus once more, aboard his funeral train. Again thousands gathered along High Street, witnesses to the slain President’s body, in a “dead march” from the depot to the Statehouse. There he lay in state beneath the words, from his second inaugural address, “with malice to none; with charity for all.”
To learn more about the peaceful transfer of power, the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as the sixteenth President of the United States and his visits to Columbus, Ohio, explore these titles recommended by Local History Librarian David Distelhorst:
Dr. Huston’s passion is rooted in providing education and opening doors so that children and their families can achieve their maximum potential and feel like they have agency in their lives. He believes that improving children’s mental health is important to set them up for success as adolescents and adults. Focusing on good mental health practices during childhood can create healthy habits throughout the life span. You can learn more about this Zoom event here.
Whether you’re looking for books to read to your children about their emotions and mental health or are wanting to get more in tune with your own, now is a better time than ever and BPL has plenty titles to choose from!
As part of our ongoing commitment to promoting and facilitating community dialogue and engagement, Bexley Public Library is joining with other central Ohio libraries in a Let’s Talk About Race: One Book – One Community program, which has at its center the book STAMPED: Racism, Antiracism, and You. The program kicked off on November 9 and will conclude with a virtual author talk by Jason Reynolds on January 24, 2021. To complement this ongoing program, the BPL Virtual Book Club is reading Kiley Reid’s debut novel Such a Fun Age; a sharp, witty and provocative exploration of race, class and privilege. Be sure to register for the event and join us for a lively and timely discussion on January 13, 2021!
I first heard of Such a Fun Age while working one January evening at BPL. The book was featured on a list of 2020’s most anticipated debut novels (it made the list despite technically being published in 2019, albeit on the very last day of that year.) After learning a bit more about the novel, I knew I had to read it, and as soon as possible. Luckily enough, CML’s Driving Park branch had a copy available, and so I rushed there immediately after work to grab it – along with a few other titles because, like most of you, I’m incapable of leaving a library with just one book. I started the book the very next morning and once again found myself lucky. I had that whole day off with no other obligations to take me away from reading, and so I read it cover-to-cover in one day. I just couldn’t put it down. Reid offers a thoroughly engaging depiction of the complexities of relationships that cross class and racial lines. The characters are fully-formed, authentic and complex. The lessons imparted are important. And after nearly a year, it’s still a book I think about from time to time.
It’s no surprise then that the book was Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize – though I am surprised it didn’t at least make the Shortlist, if not win the prize outright. The book also won Best Debut Novel in the Goodreads Choice Awards. Though I personally voted for Reid’s book to win the latter, 2020 was a great year for debut novels; making it a difficult choice. And so, if you find yourself having finished Such a Fun Age, and are looking for that next great read, I’ve also included here a list of my other favorite 2020 debut novels. (You can also find a more in-depth reviews for Russell’s My Dark Vanessa in an older post on this blog, as well as a Book Chat video for Anappara’s Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line on our YouTube channel.)
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara | digital / print
The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss | print / digital
I don’t know about everyone else, but I always watch the sameChristmas movies every year; Home Alone, The Santa Clause, Krampus (we all have our favorites!). But this year, with so much time spent at home, I’m finding new holiday favorites to throw into my yearly rotation. Even better, the following titles are available on Hoopla so you don’t even have to leave your couch to find some Christmas cheer!
Research for this article contributed by Scott King-Owen, Ph.D, Teacher, Bexley City Schools.
One month before the First World War ended a second wave of the deadly Spanish Influenza pandemic, initially spread in military encampments by troop movement, found its way into the civilian population of central Ohio. Like Covid-19, a century later, the absence of medicine for treatment or a vaccine for prevention necessitated avoiding crowds, through isolation or quarantine, to control spread of the respiratory virus.
By order of state health officials on October 11, 1918, all schools, colleges, churches, theatres, and places of public gathering in towns with populations of 3,000 or more were closed. Despite Bexley, only a decade old, having a population less than half of that requiring action, local officials followed suit with its more populous neighbor, Columbus.
Christ Lutheran Church suspended services for three weeks until the state allowed local officials to determine when to lift restrictions. Gathering for worship again required adequate ventilation, avoiding overcrowding, and those sick or with ill family members to stay home.
Drug stores including Stuckey Drug Store at the northeast corner of East Main Street and South Drexel Avenue, later renamed Wentz Drug Store, were permitted to remain open after 8:30 P. M. as long as they only sold drugs. All other retail businesses and restaurants were ordered to close early.
Closed just over a month, schools were permitted to open in mid November. However as cases increased and more students were absent most closed again by early December. The Bexley School Board elected to keep students out of the classroom until the new year.
At Capital University, young men uniformed and following military discipline had been housed at Loy Gymnasium, converted into barracks for the newly formed Student Army Training Corps. When the deadly influenza spread among their ranks the Bexley chapter of the local Red Cross stepped in to furnish and supply a hospital room on campus staffed by two trained nurses.
For one Bexley family the impact of the pandemic was particularly devastating, as Anna Schneider and her five children were all admitted to St. Anthony’s hospital ill with influenza. Only her husband Peter was spared and within one week the couple lost two daughters, Margaret, age 4, and Anna, 15 months old. Their deaths occurred in mid March of 1919 as the third and final wave of the pandemic dissipated.
From government orders, closures of schools, business, and churches and the need to avoid public gatherings and crowds the pandemic of 1918 was experienced in ways similar to that in 2020. Masks, the most effective way of preventing the spread of Spanish Influenza and Covid-19, came to symbolize both pandemics and just as gauze for face coverings was hard to find in 1918, personal protective equipment is in short supply today.
To learn more about the 1918 Spanish Influenza and today’s Covid-19 pandemic explore these titles recommended by Local History Librarian David Distelhorst:
The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry | print / digital
America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918 by Alfred W. Crosby | print
Pale Rider: the Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World by Laura Spinney | print / digital
COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One by Debora Mackenzie | print
How We Live Now: Scenes From the Pandemic by Bill Hayes | print