Check It Out Category: Book Culture

Black History Month Spotlight: Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is not only a Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author, she is also a local talent who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Floosmoor, Illinois. She earned her PhD in English at the University of Illinois, Chicago. This groundbreaking science fiction and fantasy writer is the focus of our fourth Black History Month spotlight (see our first, second, and third authors also featured this month.)

Okorafor’s novels span juvenile, young adult, and adult collections, and are flavored with her Nigerian and American heritage. Her works explore the ramifications of racial and gender inequality, violence, war and environmental abuse. She has now started writing Marvel’s much-heralded Black Panther comic series, taking over from author Ta-Nahesi Coates.

“Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an ‘accelerated woman’–only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7. Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape. But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.” (Penguin Random House)

What Books Do Authors Recommend?

It’s been said that readers make the best writers, so it’s no surprise that many authors are themselves voracious readers. We have gathered some solid recommendations from a variety of writers, sourced from articles on the following sites The Guardian, The New York Times, Bookbub and Bookish.

Hanif Kureishi recommends To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite. Kureishi says, “(It’s) the moving story of an educated, ex-air force Guyanese man unable to find work because of racism. He ends up teaching in a new-style “free” school in the East End. There he is racially insulted continually, and we soon understand how abuse works to keep a man in his place for fear he will become a human being who might demand the same pleasures and rights as his white masters. We see the everyday violence that conservatism requires to preserve itself, as well as his struggle to remain sane and decent in horrific conditions.”

 

 

 

John Green says he is “loving Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Maybe my favorite novel I’ve read this year.” The story “intertwines stories of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the mother and daughter who upend their lives. In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson. Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.”

 

 

Matt Bellassai recommends Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello. Publisher Simon and Shuster calls this a “memoir reminiscent of Rob Sheffield’s Love Is a Mixtape and George Hodgman’s Bettyville, Michael Ausiello—a respected TV columnist and founder and editor-in-chief of TVLine.com—remembers his late husband, and the lessons, love, and laughter that they shared throughout their fourteen years together.” Matt Bellassai says he, “just finished crying through all of @MichaelAusiello’s book and if I have to suffer then so should you.”

 

 

 

Kamila Shamsie recommends Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. She says (it) is a great novel: great in its structure, its language, its characters, its intelligence, its engagement with history, its evocation of place, its sensuality, its humanity. How much of this is connected to the Asianness of its Sri Lankan-Canadian writer? Well, you could answer that question by pointing to the character of Kirpal “Kip” Singh, the Indian sapper who has defused bombs for the allied forces through the war only to feel betrayed, broken-hearted, by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – this is the crescendo of the novel, its moral core.”

 

 

Ann Patchett recommends Tom Hanks‘ collection of short stories Uncommon Type. She says “Reading Tom Hanks’s Uncommon Type is like finding out that Alice Munro is also the greatest actress of our time.” Publisher Penguin Random House describes it as, “A gentle Eastern European immigrant arrives in New York City after his family and his life have been torn apart by his country’s civil war. A man who loves to bowl rolls a perfect game–and then another and then another and then many more in a row until he winds up ESPN’s newest celebrity, and he must decide if the combination of perfection and celebrity has ruined the thing he loves. An eccentric billionaire and his faithful executive assistant venture into America looking for acquisitions and discover a down and out motel, romance, and a bit of real life. These are just some of the tales…”

 

 

Paula Hawkins recommends Hannah Kent’s The Good People, saying it is, “a literary novel with the pace and tension of a thriller that takes us on a frightening journey towards an unspeakable tragedy.” Taking place in Ireland, the story follows Nóra, bereft after the death of her husband, finds herself alone and caring for her grandson Micheál, who can neither speak nor walk. A handmaid, Mary, arrives to help Nóra just as rumors begin to spread that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley. Nóra and Mary enlist the help of Nance, an elderly wanderer who understands the magic of the old ways.

Podcasts for Book Lovers

As a book lover, where do you find ideas on what to read next? Certainly there are a number of great options, from recommendations given by friends, to interactions with your favorite public library (in person and online), to magazines, newspapers and trips to book shops. Today, we will look at some rich and varied podcasts that can offer yet another great way to find books and connect more deeply with them and their authors. There are many podcasts for book lovers – here are just a few.

Book Riot is a one-stop-shop for every book lover. There is the eponymous podcast, hosted by two book aficionados from the east coast.  However, there are also seven other shows that cover a number of various themes and genres, including personalized book recommendations on Get Booked, SFF Yeah which covers science fiction and fantasy, and Recommended which features many great authors giving their reading picks.

 

The Book Review podcast from the New York Times takes you a step further in depth into recommended books. Generally they will have two detailed interviews with authors of books that have received strong reviews in The Times, and then a panel of editors give a brief critical summary of the books that they are currently reading (though the books can be old or new).

 

Based out of the UK, The Readers is a more casual podcast that features a few British and American friends (and self-proclaimed bibliophiles) discussing books they’ve read. Every week they feature books, both new and old, and discuss what they liked or didn’t like about each book. They will also try to convince each other to read books one likes but the others haven’t come across yet. From Maya Angelou to Margaret Atwood to Ian McEwan, from horror to the classics, this show covers them all and adds a personal charm.

Public Radio’s KCRW produces Bookworm, another author-interview based podcast. It is hosted by broadcaster Michael Silverblatt, and has a conversational format that allows a different author each week to engage in a discussion of not only his or her book, but also his or her experiences and views in other areas of their life. This unscripted conversation can go in varying directions and often includes dramatic readings. The authors interviewed run the gamut of debut authors to seasoned veterans, and include poets and playwrights as well.

As mentioned, these are just a few ideas. There is a rich and robust bevy of book podcasts, and finding those that fill the right niche for you can open your world of reading to a more colorful and multidimensional place.