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Booklists Programs Recommendations Virtual Book Club

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

by Adult Services Library Associate Beth

Did you know that May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? During the month of May, we recognize the contributions and achievements of Asian American and Pacific Islander Americans in history, culture, science and beyond. Celebrate with us this May (and every month) by reading, watching, and listening to the multitude of AAPI authors and artists available to you through the Bexley Public Library and the CLC consortium! See the small collection of films, musical albums and books below to get started. 

And be sure to register for this month’s BPL Virtual Book Club, where we’ll be discussing Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise, winner of the 2019 National Book Award. Provoking conversations about fiction and truth, friendships and loyalties, Trust Exercise is sure to inspire a lively discussion. The discussion will take place on Wednesday May 5 at 7pm on Zoom. Hope to see you there!

Films

  • The Farewell; Written and directed by LuLu Wang | DVD
  • Lucky Grandma; Directed by Sasie Sealy, Written by Angela Cheng and Sasie Sealy | DVD / digital
  • Minding the Gap; Directed by Bing Liu | DVD

Music

  • Omoiyari by Kishi Bashi | CD
  • Nectar by Joji | CD / digital
  • Be the Cowboy by Mitski | CD

Books

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Booklists Recommendations Virtual Book Club

Such a Fun Age

by Adult Services Library Associate Beth

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.)

Happy reading, happy holidays, and see you all in the New Year!

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Booklists Recommendations Virtual Book Club

BPL Virtual Book Club | Autumn 2020

by Adult Services Library Associate Beth

With just less than a month to go, the second meeting of the BPL Virtual Book Club is just around the corner! The upcoming meeting will be held on Wednesday, November 4 at 7PM, and we’ll discuss the book Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. It’s an award-winning book, well received by critics and readers alike, and is sure to generate an engaging discussion. Register to join us! I’m still in the midst of reading the book, but I’m enjoying it so far. It seems like a book I could usually finish in just a day or two, but I’ve been trying to take my time with it. Not only to better prepare for the discussion, but I also have a feeling it is a book I’ll be sad to see end. 


If you’re like me and don’t want to race through the book just yet, you might be looking for another book to absorb yourself with in the meantime. These books share a variety of themes with Shamsie’s: identity, belonging (especially as experienced by an “outsider”), and the nuances of strained/difficult relationships. They follow well-developed, complex and sympathetic (though often flawed) characters. They’re books that evoke a strong sense of place and that attempt to humanize and explore sometimes difficult political stories; i.e., my favorite kinds of books. Indeed, several of these make my list of all time favorite reads!

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Booklists Staff Book Reviews Virtual Book Club

Now That You’ve Read The Yellow House…

by Adult Services Library Associate Beth

So you’ve just finished reading The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom, and wonder, “What’s next?” Well, first things first: register for one of the BPL Virtual Book Club discussions, scheduled for August 12th at 7pm and August 15th at 11:30am! Also, be sure to check out the BPL-hosted lecture and discussion with Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries of OSU about the intersections of race, class, and Hurricane Katrina. Find this recorded discussion on our Facebook page, YouTube, or the audio version on Podbean.

And after that, if you’re interested in further exploring some of the themes and topics discussed in the book, check out this short list of recommended things to read, watch and listen to. Note that this list includes only things from my own media bubble that I have read, etc., so it is in no way comprehensive. Further, there are many, many other themes this does not cover (issues such as environmental racism/classism and gentrification, just to name a few), so it barely even scratches the surface. But, as always, you can ask BPL librarians for more recommendations on these and related topics! 

Housing

“The case of the Willow Street house did not come up again, but I continue to think of it as strange irony for Mom who, of all the things she ever desired, wanted to make a new world with Ivory Mae rules. That is what it meant for her to own a house.”

Sarah M. Broom, The Yellow House

“It was clear that the French Quarter and its surrounds was the epicenter. In a city that care supposedly forgot, it was one of the spots where care had been taken, where the money was spent. Those tourists passing through were the people and the stories deemed to matter.”

Sarah M. Broom, The Yellow House
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
    • Evicted follows eight families in Milwaukee in their struggle to maintain housing. Desmond explores how a single eviction keeps individuals and families caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, exploitation and insecure housing.
  • The Florida Project
    • The way Broom writes about the New Orleans French Quarter, a section of the city known for revelry and overabundance, reminded me so much of Sean Baker’s film, as it examines poverty and homelessness in the shadow of Disney World. 
  • “The Lost Homes of Detroit” (Reveal Podcast)
    • Told in the intersection of race and class, this podcast episode discusses the foreclosure crisis in the aftermath of the 2008 recession in Detroit, Michigan. Investigators discover that hundreds of millions of dollars of property taxes that were charged to homeowners (for which, the failure to pay resulted in these foreclosures), shouldn’t have been charged in the first place. The podcast forces us to confront what mass foreclosure does not only to the individuals who lose their homes, but also how a community can survive in its wake.

The Storm and the Aftermath

“The government-funded Road Home, intended as a path back into lost homes for the displaced, was frozen in bureaucracy amid heated debates and politicizing about which areas of the city were worth rebuilding.”

Sarah M. Broom, The Yellow House
  • The Storm; The Old Man and the Storm; Law & Disorder
    • This collection of Frontline documentaries cover, respectively, the governmental response leading up to and in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, one elderly man’s determination in rebuilding his home after it was destroyed in the storm, and police misconduct in the midst of the chaos.
  • Business of Disaster
    • Frontline’s (if you couldn’t already tell, I love Frontline) investigation into FEMA’s flood protection insurance system explores the profits involved in the insurance system and the failures of the NYC post- Hurricane Sandy ‘Build It Back’ program – a program similar to the Road Home program to rebuild homes destroyed in Katrina.

Levees and Flooding

“This story, that the levees were blown, the poorest used as sacrificial lambs, would survive and be revived through the generations.”

Sarah M. Broom, The Yellow House

The following explore the politics, failures, and inequities of levee systems across cities in Missouri and Illinois. The last article also explores how climate change, by contributing to rising sea levels and the loss of wetlands in Louisiana, will mean increasing the frequency and destructive capacity of flooding.

What would you recommend to fellow readers of The Yellow House? Leave a comment on the social media post to share with the library community!

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Discussion Guide Virtual Book Club

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom Discussion Guide

As we prepare for our August 12th & 15th Virtual Book Club events, team member Debbie has put together a discussion guide that includes questions about and quotes from the BPL Virtual Book Club pick The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom.

To register for one of the two Virtual Book Club events, follow this link to the BPL event calendar (https://bexleylibrary.org/events). If you haven’t started reading The Yellow House yet, be sure to check it out digitally on Hoopla where it is currently always available. We’re excited to be partnering with Gramercy Books in Bexley as our bookselling partner, check them out at https://www.gramercybooksbexley.com/ if you’re interested in purchasing a physical copy of the book.

1.  How do we not define ourselves entirely by where we are from? (Central Question of the book per the author)*
*In The Yellow House you write: “I did not yet understand the psychic cost of defining oneself by the place where you are from.” What advice do you have for others on avoiding this psychic cost?

That’s the central question of the book: How do we not define ourselves entirely by where we are from? I don’t just mean the city—the circumstances, conditions of our birth, all the feelings that come with feeling displaced or misplaced. For New Orleans, it was important for me to examine the mythology of the place. Because for much of my childhood I defined myself by the condition of the house, one of the key things I realized was that I was not the house. That’s an enormous power, to give any place or object the ability to define who you are. I got around this through research—finding the stories, going there and asking hard questions, thinking honestly about what it meant to grow up in this place. For me, it was doing the hard work of not romanticizing the place, my own story, or the story of my family. There are moments where I just present the story as what it is. That was important for me that my mother and siblings are seen in this complex light, which is how life is—layered and nuanced.  https://www.writersdigest.com/getting-published/the-yellow-house-sarah-m-broom  

https://groveatlantic.com/book/yellow-house-the/ 

2 On perspective: At the opening of the story, Sarah Broom describes the lot where the Yellow House once stood from fifteen thousand feet above, saying that from those great heights, her brother Carl, who tends the space, would not be seen.Have you ever brought up a Google Earth image of your house from above and zoomed out? What impact did seeing your home, your street, your state, your country shrink in comparison to the world have on your perspective?

3. On birth order:When the author calls her eldest brother, Simon, in North Carolina “to explain all the things I want to know and why, he expresses worry that by writing this all down here, I will disrupt, unravel, and tear down everything the Broom family has ever built.” He tells her he’d like to live in the future and forget about the past. (p. 8)The twelfth of twelve children, Broom works hard to reconstruct the life that came before her and to cleave it to the life she knew in the Yellow House and after, to make sense of a whole and to connect it to place. What role do you think birth order plays in her desire to preserve vs. Simon’s need to forget? Who is the keeper of the history in your family and who places more value on the present?

4. On place vs. story:Sarah Broom’s brother Carl, the seventh of twelve, occupies the space—keeps the space—where the Yellow House sat long after it’s gone. She describes this occupation (p. 3): “Sometimes you can find Carl alone on our lot, poised on an ice chest, searching the view, as if for a sign, as if for a wonder.” She says he is “babysitting ruins. But that is not his language or sentiment; he would never betray the Yellow House like that.”Do some people in your family tend to place—to “babysit ruins”—and others to story? Have you ever tried to keep a place alive by occupying it after the circumstances that led you to being there in the first place ended? What do you think it means to Carl to stay?

5.On names:The author refers to Hurricane Katrina throughout as “the Water.”Why do you think she made this choice? How does the twenty-four-hour news cycle and the repetition of language affect you as a reader/viewer? Describe what “the Water” communicates to you, and how it changed over the course of the book. Do you think it will be the same for every reader?

6. On Chef Menteur Highway:Chef Menteur Highway plays an integral, “sinister” role in The Yellow House. On p. 6 the author states: “The name, translated from French, means ‘chief liar.’ ”What are the truths we think we know about New Orleans compared to the story Broom tells? What other cities present the same kinds of half truths? Have you ever stumbled into a neighborhood in a city you thought you knew that told a different story?

7.On John McDonogh Day:The author tells us, “John McDonogh was a wealthy slave owner who in 1850 bequeathed half of his estate to New Orleans public schools, insisting that his money be used for ‘the establishment and support of free schools wherein the poor and the poor only and of both sexes and classes and castes of color shall have admittance.’” We are then told how the black students must wait in the heat on the day that celebrates McDonogh, while white students pay tribute to him first.Are there widely accepted/institutionalized holidays or rituals you can think of that exclude or erase certain people, or situations in which symbolism has been deemed more important than the wellness of the participants? Thinking about the role of symbolism and ritual in cultural bonding, whose culture is McDonogh Day intended to bond, and at what cost?

8. On parenting then and now:On p. 37, the author writes about children’s place in an adult world and the role adults played in teaching them the facts of life: “In those days, children did not speak openly to their parents. ‘Get out from grown folks’ business,’ you were told. Whatever we found out, we found out on our own.”Who were your youthful “teachers”? Tell one story about a friend/sister/ brother who schooled you on something parents didn’t talk to their kids about when you were young. How solid was the advice? Parents pride themselves on being open with their kids these days, but has something been lost?

9. On family firsts:On p. 57, Broom writes: “Mom paid for her house with money from Webb’s life insurance policy. She was nineteen years old, the first in her immediate family to own a house, a dream toward which her own mother, Lolo, still bent all of her strivings.”Who accomplished these kinds of firsts in your family? Were they long-ago accomplishments or more recent? What kinds of sacrifices or good-willed pitching in were made and by whom to help make them possible?

10. On hard memories vs. good ones:Broom writes almost in the same breath of harsh memories like having racial epithets hurled at them by their transient white neighbors in the trailer park, Oak Haven, across the street, and of the weekly parties Ivory Mae and Simon threw and movies projected on the not-yet-Yellow House (p. 68), “the side of the house becoming, for a night, the greatest movie screen.”What kinds of institutionalized or other hardships are you able to square with happier memories from your childhood? What bright memories stick out as balancing more difficult times? What seem the most difficult circumstances to square for the Broom family before the Water?

11. On unspoken boundaries:The author states that the adults on the street for the most part stayed out of each other’s houses (p. 87), “unless there was good cause,” like when “Ms. Octavia’s . . . husband, Alvin, died.”Do you have friendly longtime neighbors whose houses you’ve never been in until there was some kind of emergency? What makes people draw the line at the front door with people they’ve chatted on the lawn with for years? Likewise, during the eldest daughter, Deborah’s, wedding reception, the author says (p. 98) it “mostly held to the outdoors, but people still wandered inside, to the bathroom, and then others went in just to see what we had, Mom was convinced.” Ivory Mae felt that “the objects contained within a house spoke loudest about the person to whom the things belonged. More than that, she believed that the individual belonged to the things inside the house, to the house itself.” For Ivory Mae, this intrusion began what the author calls “the shifty settling in of shame.”Sometimes objects simply reveal surprising details about a person. Are there objects that expose a part of you that you hold sacred and prefer to protect? Are there common objects in plain sight that reveal everything to close friends but nothing to strangers? What are the objects in the Yellow House that reveal the most about the characters?

12. On land development:Talking about the land deals that never come to fruition in New Orleans East, the author writes that (p. 88): “there were more paved roads than walkways— certain parts of the East were best driven through. Landscapes communicate feeling. Walking, you can grab on to the texture of a place, get up close to the human beings who make it, but driving makes distance, grows fear.”Are there parts of your town that have been developed in such a way that they suppress a sense of community rather than inspire it? Alternately, have you seen development that made an abandoned or wrecked part of your city or town suddenly come alive? Was there anything that could have been done differently on the swath of land in New Orleans East that would have changed the outcome?

13. On Simon’s death:After Simon dies, the house, with so many children and so much responsibility, falls into chaos. Routines fall apart. The boys get in trouble. Ivory Mae has to depend on public transportation or rides to get anywhere. She says (p. 114), “I was a little pathetic at first. I needed to make myself know things.” When she finally learns to drive after a couple of failed strategies, she says, “It was my Independence Day.”Has there ever been a time in your life that has forced you to recalibrate, to remake yourself into someone who’s brave in a novel way in order to meet challenges in unfamiliar territory or in territory that has suddenly been rendered unfamiliar by an event? What does this reveal about Ivory Mae?

14. On the growing-up world:In the chapter “Map of My World,” the author describes five points on the map that make (p. 117) “my growing-up world.”What are some of the places that you can still inhabit vividly in your mind’s eye? Why do you think those stuck and not others? Why do you think the points in the author’s growing-up world stuck with her so strongly?

15. On the ground:The author speaks frequently of the “squishy earth” (p. 123) being “eaten by it.” Something as ordinary and foundational as the earth beneath her feet is routinely described as being untrustworthy. She writes: “In our child-wise minds, the seal between deep ground and our present reality above that ground is string thin.”What real threats/facts of life did you and the kids around you know when you were growing up that turned out to be spot-on and not just boogie men or childhood exaggeration?

16.On selective vision:The author is nearly legally blind and describes living in a “blurry” world until she is ten years old. When her mother discovers her vision problem, Ivory Mae buys glasses for Sarah, who up until that point has been perhaps mercifully shielded from some of the details in her life. Then, walking home from school one day, with twenty-twenty eyesight for the first time, “one detail overwhelms them all.” She writes (p. 135): “Our side of Wilson Avenue, the short end, seems a no-matter place where police cars routinely park, women’s heads bobbing up and down in the driver’s seat.” After that, she tries “not to see what is right in front of my face. Sometimes, when I want the world to go blurry again, I remove my glasses when passing by these scenes. In this way, I learn to see and to go blind at will.”What kinds of things have you tried not to see in your own city or neighborhood? What do you think the author was genuinely aware of before the glasses?

17. On middle school:The author writes about smiling “with abandon, goofy-like” (p. 136) when she is in sixth grade and proudly posing with her Edward Livingston Middle School honors sash. In the next breath, middle school goes Lord of the Flies. The “school hallways hold contests of a lurid sort.” And (p. 140) “some days we have substitute teachers who seem called in from off the street. Many times, the substitute puts a movie into the VCR that has nothing to do with the subject matter or with learning. Everything in the world feels stupid then.” Later, “We had become a horde, to be gathered and made to ‘act right,’ indistinguishable from one another.” Overnight honors students become fighters, cynicism creeps in replacing goofy pride, and order dissolves into chaos.What moments in middle school stick out to you as being turning points? What messages do you think these students are responding to? How does Broom describe her evolution when she changes from Livingston Middle School to Word of Faith? Is Word of Faith a “good school”? Reflect, as well, on times you have moved from one social situation to another and how you could, or could not, decide how to present yourself.

18. On duality:Throughout The Yellow House the author repeats Ivory Mae’s words: “You know this house not all that comfortable for other people.” But further she says: “My mother was raised by my grandmother Lolo to make a beautiful home; I love to make beauty out of ordinary spaces. I had not known this back when I was living inside the Yellow House, but I knew it in my adult years when I created rooms that people gravitated to, the kind generally described as warm. Once, a friend came to one of these made places, an apartment in Harlem, and sat in the parlor looking around. The room had made him feel alive, even happy to be alive, he said. And then, ‘You have things to make a home with.’ People are always telling me this.” At the same time she writes about the shame of bringing people to the house she grew up in because of its deteriorating condition, of the friends she and her sister never make because of the inherent threat of having to invite them over. But (p. 148): “America required these dualities anyway and we were good at presenting our double selves. The house, unlike the clothes our mother had tailored to us, was an ungainly fit.”What kinds of duality do you live with? Are some kinds easier to live with than others?

19. On “the Water”:The events of the Water are described as they are occurring in real time, often through Broom’s interviews with her siblings and mother. We see Carl awaken to the storm flooding his house and flee to the attic from which, by daybreak, he has to cut his way out through the roof. Or the author narrates her brother Michael in the midst of the chaos (p. 207): “The men foraged for food and other items from broken-in stores, eventually finding an air mattress and two boats. Whatever you needed and the last thing on earth you needed could be found, it seemed, in the dirty, fetid water.” Meanwhile in Harlem, Broom is desperately scanning the news channels in search of (p. 202): “Carl’s white cotton socks pulled up high, size 13 feet.” Searching for the faces of “my beloveds.”How does the switch in narrative tone impact you as a reader? When Michael and his group are rescued (p. 207) does it seem to you that they can truly feel safe? Can you see yourself braving “fetid water” to find food and essential supplies for your family, or imagine being unable to contact your “beloveds” in catastrophic circumstances? With this in mind, think about Broom’s trip to join her family in California at last, and hiding in her brother Byron’s bathroom (p. 210) “writing scenes into a notebook instead of feeling.” Does this differ from her description of writing prior to this? What information does Broom give us about the fate of New Orleans’s population after the storm that was new to you?

20. On the long-term impact of catastrophe:During the Water, Broom writes, “All told, we scatter in three cardinal directions, nine runny spots on the map.” Even after it recedes, most remain dispersed. How do climate events like the hurricane impact families, employment, housing prices? What effect do you think this kind of scattering after climate crises has on regional culture?