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Staff Book Reviews

History of Franklin County by William T. Martin, 1858

by BPL Team Member David

Written in 1858, William T. Martin’s History of Franklin County shares stories of the early settlement of Franklinton, by Lucas Sullivant, and how Columbus was formed as the site of Ohio’s capital. Written before the Civil War it is a rare account of the early history of places, such as the State Penitentiary and Columbus Canal, long since demolished and events, including the execution of Leatherlips, long forgotten. Illustrated with several early views Martin’s history is both educational and enjoyable.

Though original editions are rare and a 1969 reprint somewhat difficult to find this book is an easy find online. It as well as countless other volumes that have entered the public domain can be accessed via HathiTrust, a digital library founded in 2008. A collaborative effort of academic and research libraries, HathiTrust provides digital access to over 17 million digitized items. Go to HathiTrust.org and search for “History of Franklin County Ohio William Martin,” or any topic you desire.

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Staff Book Reviews

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

by BPL Team Member Sue

Educated is the award-winning autobiographical story of Tara Westover and her journey away from her survivalist Mormon family living on a secluded Idaho mountain called Buck’s Peak.

Tara grew up with a father suffering from a bipolar disorder who distrusted the government and the medical establishment. He made his living by doing odd construction jobs and scavenging metal in his family junkyard. Tara’s mother worked as a midwife and an herbalist, with Tara sometimes assisting her. The children helped in the junkyard on a daily basis and sustained serious injuries that were treated with only their mother’s herbal remedies. Tara and her siblings were home schooled, but the only real focus was on reading so they could study the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon. One older brother terrorized his younger siblings with physical abuse, particularly Tara and her older sister, but their parents did not intervene or appear to believe what was really happening.

Tara finally began her process of acquiring a formal education at the age of 17. With much self-study, she was able to pass the ACT test with a high enough score to get into Brigham Young University, and then continued her studies at Cambridge and Harvard, eventually obtaining a PhD. During these years, conflict with her family and their ways continued, while Tara searched for an identity separate from her past.

While listening to this coming-of-age story as an audiobook, I was disturbed by the many graphic details of the physical abuse and accidents suffered by Tara and her family. I also felt frustration when her father and his ideals were blindly followed. When Tara or a sibling tried to stand up and push for a change, their family loyalty was called into question. I reveled in Tara’s and a couple of her brothers’ strength as they pursued their educational dreams and new lives despite the familial power trying to trap them on Buck’s Peak forever.

I would recommend this memoir for fans of such bestsellers as Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

Other read-alikes can be found on BPL’s database NoveList Plus: http://oh0024.oplin.org:2131/novp/detail?sid=0c6d4f79-7863-41d5-b0bd-eecd3c3db024%40sessionmgr4007&UI=UI+10619899&vid=3

Book Club Discussion Questions are located at the LitLovers site: https://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/non-fiction/11226-educated-westover

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Staff Book Reviews

The Books Getting Me Through Quarantine 

by BPL Team Member Eliza.

As you might guess—given my role as an Adult Services Library Associate at BPL—I love to read. On my last day at the library before our temporary shutdown, I resisted the urge to check out a dozen books because I already had plenty at home: library books, books I own that I haven’t yet read, books that deserve second or third reads. I was set. 

But it turns out that my reading brain during COVID-19 is completely different than my non-pandemic reading brain. I have trouble sustaining attention. Some days, I want to escape into a total fantasy; others, I only want to read about real human experiences. My reading needs vary day by day, and I try to adjust as such. (A brief survey of the books strewn about my apartment shows that I’m a number of pages into eight different books.) 

Rather than recommend one book today, then, I’m sharing the books that are getting me through quarantine, one reading mood at a time. Many are available as eBooks and audiobooks, which you can access through Libby; others, only available in print, will be waiting for you at BPL upon our reopen, just like us.  

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

A super-smart thriller set at an elite high school, Special Topics in Calamity Physics centers around Blue van Meer as she’s pulled into the orbit of the school’s “it” group and their enigmatic film teacher, Hannah Schneider. Blue—the preternaturally intelligent daughter of a widowed political-science professor who’s perhaps too charismatic for his own good—begins to uncover a conspiracy that will change her life forever. 

Similar reads: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, Oligarchy by Scarlett Thomas 

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hoang 

Through history, criticism, and her own life as the Korean American daughter of immigrant parents, poet Cathy Park Hoang delivers an incredible essay collection about her experiences navigating the world—among family, friends, art, and politics—as an Asian American woman. Something truly magical happens when poets turn to prose (see How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong); I read Hoang’s collection in a day. 

Similar reads: Go Home! edited by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang, All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung 

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey 

Aerospace leader Prime Space plans to put the first humans on Mars. But first, they need to test humans’ capacity for long-term isolation and separation from their loved ones (hmmm, sound familiar?). They select a perfect crew: Helen Kane, Sergei Kuznetsov, and Yoshihiro Tanaka, all stars in their respective countries’ space programs, and set them up in an incredibly realistic simulation in the Utah wilderness, which they won’t leave for 17 months. Space-opera fans, beware: this novel is much more focused on human relationships—as Prime Space observes the three astronauts, they also observe the astronauts’ family members, each of whom has their own unique struggles.   

Similar reads/listens: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker, Severance by Ling Ma, and  The Habitat, a nonfiction podcast from Gimlet Media 

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi 

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is one of those modern classics that’s been on my TBR list for years, and during my most difficult reading moments these past few weeks, I’ve found that graphic memoirs and novels are the answer. As millions of readers could have already told me, Satrapi’s coming-of-age story in war-torn Iran (and as a lonely teenage expat in Vienna) is a masterpiece, and even more layered than I could have anticipated. I just learned of her other graphic memoir Embroideries and can’t wait to read it. 

Similar reads: Our Women on the Ground edited by Zahra Hankir, In Pursuit of Disobedient Women by Dionne Searcey, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi 

Temporary by Hilary Leichter 

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I picked up Hilary Leichter’s Temporary, but there’s really no way to prepare yourself. In a parallel world to our own, a young woman who’s made her career as a temp finds increasingly bizarre and absurd assignments—subbing in as a pirate, a barnacle, an assassin’s assistant. It’s delightfully absurd, compulsively readable, and, at its core, a moving commentary on capitalism and the struggle to build a life, as our heroine continues her search for the mythical “steadiness.” 

In lieu of similar reads (because there’s really nothing like Temporary), other must-read books from indie presses: Godshot by Chelsea Bieker, Later by Paul Lisicky, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib 


Digital resources cheat sheet: 

Special Topics in Calamity Physics (eBook and audiobook)

The Secret History (audiobook)

Prep (eBook)

All You Can Ever Know (eBook and audiobook)

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (eBook and audiobook)

How We Fight for Our Lives (eBook and audiobook) 

The Wanderers (eBook and audiobook) 

The Dreamers eBook and audiobook) 

Severance (eBook and audiobook) 

Reading Lolita in Tehran (eBook)

Godshot (eBook)

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us (eBook)  

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Staff Book Reviews

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

A book review by BPL team member, Leann.

For a long time, I didn’t *get* Anthony Bourdain. I thought he was just one of those machismo-fueled, egomaniacal celebrity chefs, who chose to be mean instead of having a personality. I finally picked up Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly and decided that I wasn’t wrong. But, I wasn’t right either. After reading Kitchen Confidential, which is part memoir, part restaurant-world-exposé, I still think Anthony Bourdain was a lot of those things. He was also, however, an incredible writer, a loyal friend, a champion of the underdog, hard-working, cutting, clever, and harshly self-effacing. He wasn’t mean to anyone who didn’t deserve it—at least by his piratical professional kitchen standards—and he definitely had a personality.

As is often the case with memoirs and non-fiction, it’s not so much the topic that is important, but the way in which it’s delivered. It seems unfair that someone should be so gifted: a world-class chef who was able to write both pointedly and poignantly about his halcyon childhood, smoking cigarettes on the beaches in France, while relaying deplorable details about the seedier side of the restaurant business. In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain ties his stories together successfully into a narrative package that isn’t so much poetic as it is earnest, insistent, and fun. Between sizzling commentary on dining dummies who order fish specials on Monday and damning indictments of kitchen tools like the garlic press, Bourdain’s passion for food, but also for people, shines through.

It’s Bourdain’s personality, in the end, that will keep you reading. The book was written in 2000, so some of the “culinary underbelly” is now common knowledge, but Bourdain’s trajectory to the top and his frank recounting of his journey there is fascinating even to those with only a mild interest in food or restaurant life. The knowledge of Bourdain’s death by suicide in 2018 throws a lot of Kitchen Confidential, and especially Bourdain’s opinions about himself, into sharp, tragic relief.

It was a special treat to listen to Bourdain narrate Kitchen Confidential on Libby. You can almost hear his spit fly at the mic in disdain when he describes hoity-toity restauranteurs who disrespected his Honduran kitchen staff or the calamity of an incompetent vegetable guy. I recommend Kitchen Confidential to anyone who loves food, restaurants, travel, and for those readers who liked Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler or gritty, darkly funny memoirs. If you like Ruth Reichl, and especially her memoir Save Me the Plums, I would cautiously recommend Kitchen Confidential to you, especially if you’ve been meaning to read Anthony Bourdain. I read the books back-to-back and I’d say they are two sides of the same, extremely well-written, well-fed, coin.

Below are some discussion questions about Kitchen Confidential. Spoilers ahead!

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Staff Book Reviews

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

A book review by BPL team member, Christian.

While going through some literary articles recently, I stumbled upon one by The Japan Times that discusses the idea of the new Japanese literary golden age. This article debates the merits of whether Japan is experiencing a new literary golden age and how Anglo-saxon translations funnel that to a Western audience. While the outcome of a contemporary literary Golden Age for Japan is left open-ended, it is certain that the voices of women authorship has significantly grown. However, an aspect of it, as mentioned previously, is determined by translation. For instance, one of the books shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2020, The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, was initially published in Japan in 1994. A lot of writers that are defining the contemporary Japanese literary landscape have yet to make their impact in the Western world, but with the recent translations of authors such as Hiromi Kawakami, Hiroko Oyamada, Yukiko Motoya, and many more, that is slowly changing.

While virtually unknown to a Western audience, Sayaka Murata has become a well-respected author in her home country, winning multiple literary prizes, including most recently becoming a recipient of the Akutagawa Prize in 2016, as well as selling 600,000 copies for Convenience Store Woman alone. Serving as her first English-translated novel, Convenience Store Woman tells the story of a 36-year old convenience store worker, Keiko Furukura. Having spent 18 years working in a convenience store with no ambitions of pursuing another career or finding any romantic partners, Keiko is viewed as an outsider among her circle of friends, family, and coworkers.

Keiko is an enigmatic person, almost alien-like, as she displays a mimicry of others around her (speaking, dressing, and acting based off her coworkers), living outside the boundaries of social norms, but pretending to others as if she isn’t. In actuality, her view of the world treats the convenience store as the epicenter–all her thoughts, energy, and dreams gravitating to her workplace. She expresses ecstasy from the moment she greets customers in the morning, exclaiming, “I love this moment. It feels like ‘morning’ itself is being loaded into me. The tinkle of the door chime as a customer comes in sounds like church bells to my ears. When I open the door, the brightly lit box awaits me–a dependable, normal world that keeps turning. I have faith in the world inside the light-filled box.” The way she describes and articulates herself comes off as an extraterrestrial expressing thought and desire–something Keiko is almost aware of when she thinks about how she feels in the world outside the convenience store: “The normal world has no room for exceptions and always quietly eliminates foreign objects. Anyone who is lacking is disposed of.” Keiko’s alienation showcases the inconveniences of social expectations and constructs. Keiko’s only desires are to stick to the routine of the convenience store, as she’s already familiar with it–questioning why anyone thinks it’s strange why she doesn’t move on from that job. Even when she goes through a fraudulent relationship with an ex-coworker, which results in herself being recognized as a normal member of her social circles, she ends up coming to terms with that fact that her place in this world is to serve in a convenience store.The novel is a beautiful exploration of defying normality.

Similar Reads:The Memory Police by Yoko OgawaEvil and the Mask by Fuminori Nakamura
Me by Tomoyuki Hoshino

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Staff Book Reviews

The Power by Naomi Alderman

A book review by Bexley Public Library team member, Debbie.

Some of the most thought-provoking and compelling science fiction asks the question ‘What would happen if?’  In Naomi Alderman’s The Power across the world young women (and only women) start manifesting a mysterious ability to give electrical shocks – anywhere from light shocks to killing bolts.  The Power is a smart, fascinating look about how the world would change if the power balance literally changed overnight. The novel follows four characters as they discover their power and then navigate the changing world.  Roxy, a tough London girl, shocks and kills a man attacking her mother, Allie, a young woman living in an abusive foster home, shocks and kills her abusive foster father. A politician, Margot Cleary, has her power woken up by her daughter, Jocelyn and Tunde Edo is a young man who is the first to document the ‘Power’ phenomenon.  But as women come into their power those who have been running the world feel more threatened.

The Power is not only a book that will make you re-examine the world you know but it is also a thrilling, fast-paced novel with great characters.  I found the book to be both a gripping science fiction novel and a profound look at the nature of power and society that I’m still thinking about.

A warning to readers – The Power is well worth reading BUT is not a utopian book and has some very disturbing depictions of war and atrocities.

For bookclubs:

Debbie found Book Club questions from the great folks at Litlovers: https://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/fiction/11206-power-alderman?start=3

The Power is also in the works to be a show on Amazon Originals!

Categories
Staff Book Reviews

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russel

A book review & accompanying Book Club Discussion Guide by BPL team member, Beth.

(Content Warning: The review discusses abuse of a teenager by an adult.)

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell is a literary fiction novel about a teenage girl and her relationship with her forty-two-year-old high school English teacher. Vanessa Wye is the protagonist and the narrator, and the novel jumps between her memories of high school, her college years, and the present. In the present, another survivor of the same teacher’s abuse writes of her own experience in a social media post that goes viral. A journalist is writing an article about this woman’s story and how the school enabled the predatory behavior. Vanessa is being pursued by both to come forward and share her own story. While Vanessa wants to take no part in the article for the sake of her own privacy, she also is adamant that she was not abused: she was a consenting party in the relationship, and her so-called abuser, Jacob Strane, actually loved and cared for her.

This is perhaps the novel’s greatest strength: its ability to expose the psychological tension Vanessa faces as she relives and reevaluates her relationship with Strane. The novel expertly depicts Vanessa as a teenage girl, as she struggles to deal with her conflicting emotions towards Strane and their relationship. As readers and third-parties to the relationship, we can clearly see the abusive and predatory behavior. But by witnessing the situation from Vanessa’s perspective, we also learn how Strane groomed Vanessa to see the relationship as one grounded in love and concern. Even as an adult looking back, Vanessa struggles to see the abuse for what it was.

So while the novel’s exploration into Vanessa’s psyche is its greatest strength, it is also its most important cultural contribution. In extensive and disturbing detail, the novel reveals how an abuser picks and manipulates a victim. Vanessa knows that children get abused by adults, but we see the process Strane uses to convince her that he didn’t choose her, how he convinces her that she was the one who initiated the relationship and manipulates her to believe that she is the one who has all of the power. Using her loneliness and vulnerability against her, he is able to convince her that she is the exception to the rule of adult-child relationships: it is not abuse, it is love. And in this exploration, the novel reveals to its readers why so many victims of abuse do not come forward: they’ve been manipulated to believe they’re not being abused at all.

While the novel does have some weaknesses (it could have been edited down to a shorter length, most of the other characters aside from Vanessa and Strane aren’t developed to the degree that they could or should be), overall I would recommend the book. The book is difficult and disturbing to read, but it has a lot of cultural import. It is controversial, and some may find the depictions of the sexual elements of the abuse gratuitous. However, because the book is thought-provoking, it would make a great choice for a book club discussion (with sufficient content warnings to discussion members ahead of time). It stimulates a lot of discussion and debate; albeit around a difficult and sensitive topic. Though, as is often the case, these sorts of debates and discussions tend to be the ones we most need to have.

Book Club Discussion Guide (SPOILERS)

Click the button below to continue reading and see the book club discussion guide: