Check It Out Category: Literary

List: Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence 2017 Longlist

September brought the 2017 longlist for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction & Nonfiction. The Andrew Carnegie Medals are especially notable because winners are chosen by library professionals, similar to the Newbery award for children’s literature. This results in the ultimate to-read list for the year in adult fiction and non-fiction! Take a look at some of the books that stood out below:

perfume-river book coverPerfume River
by Robert Olen Butler
the-sport-of-kings book coverThe Sport of Kings
by C.E. Morgan
christodora book coverChristodora
by Zadie Smith


the-firebrand-and-the-first-lady book coverThe Firebrand and the First Lady
by Patricia Bell-Scott
behold-the-dreamers book coverBehold the Dreamers
by Imbolo Mbue
the-angel-of-history book coverThe Angel of History
by Rabih Alameddine


city-of-thorns book coverCity of Thorns
by Ben Rawlence
mister monkey book coverMister Monkey
by Francine Prose
mad-enchantment book coverMad Enchantment
by Ross King


Make sure to take a look at the full list of books chosen. The six finalists (three for fiction and three for nonfiction) will be announced October 26, 2016!


Staff Pick: Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie

Picture of LarryBlasphemy includes some of Sherman Alexie’s classic short stories along with newer tales. The stories challenge the reader’s comfort zones with plots exploring race and ethnicity, culture, stereotypes, alcoholism, diabetes, and personal identity. The settings are in the Pacific Northwest with Native American protagonists. The expertly crafted stories are personal, revealing the characters for who they are and what influenced their lives, making them seem real and reflecting life as it truly is for many.

Staff Pick: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Marisa from Collection Management suggests The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

the master and margarita book cover

Take everything you thought you knew about 20th century Russian literature, throw it out the window, and read The Master and Margarita. It’s a riotous magical-realist tale about the devil and his minions, who go down to Moscow in the 1930s to cause mischief. What ensues is a wild and witty novel involving witches, poets, star-crossed lovers, talking cats, and several buildings catching fire. It’s the kind of book that is not only impossible to put down, but will leave you pacing around your house with the book still in your hand. If all that isn’t enough, it’s also Daniel Radcliffe’s favorite novel. In other words, The Master and Margarita has everything worth loving in a book. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

If you are interested in Master and Margarita, try…

Rapture of the Nerds book cover

Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross is a wild sci-fi novel. In a world where the downloaded minds of humans enjoy playing pranks on those of us who still retain our physical form, Huw is called up for “tech jury duty”: judging whether the inventions sent to Earth from our posthuman neighbors are safe enough to use. He has no idea of the crazy things that will happen or of the hero he will become.

Into the Beautiful North book cover

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea is the tale of the small Mexican town of Tres Camarones. All of the men have long since deserted the town to find work in the United States, and a group of bandits have taken advantage of their absence. Inspired by classic Western movies, a teenage girl named Nayeli and her friends decide to venture across the border, find the men of Tres Camarones, and free their town.

Memories of the Future book cover

Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky is a collection of short stories set in 1920s Moscow. In a uniquely surreal style, Krzhizhanovsky tells the story of a man who makes his room grow with disastrous consequences, a traveler who gets on a train to the land of dreams, and many other equally weird occurrences.

Against the Day book cover

Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon is a magical-realist epic that spans many years during the turn of the 20th century, with its variety of characters passing sideways to real events to make a story all their own. It’s a novel that seems like a collection of unreal, disjointed events, but in a way is more real than reality itself.

List: Most Frequently Challenged Authors of Color

We celebrate our own freedom to read during Banned Books Week, but it is also right to champion those who bravely compose those very stories. Non-white authors receive more than half of book challenges each year — even though they are allowed much less of the publishing market! The reasons vary, and we can become distracted by the complaints, but what shouldn’t be lost are the vibrant creations of writers who deepen our understanding of the world.

The Bluest Eye book coverThe Bluest Eye
by Toni Morrison
Eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove, an African-American girl, prays for her eyes to turn blue, so that she will be beautiful, people will notice her, and her world will be different.
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian book coverThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
Budding cartoonist Junior leaves his troubled school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white farm town school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.
Color Purple book coverThe Color Purple
by Alice Walker
Two African American sisters, one a missionary in Africa and the other a child-wife living in the South, support each other through their correspondence, beginning in the 1920s.


Kite Runner book coverThe Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
Traces the unlikely friendship of a wealthy Afghan youth and a servant’s son in a tale that spans the final days of Afghanistan’s monarchy through the atrocities of the present day.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings book coverI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou
A black woman recalls the anguish of her childhood in Arkansas and her adolescence in northern slums in the 1930s and 1940s.
Bless Me Ultima book coverBless Me, Ultima
by Rudolfo Anaya
A coming-of-age story set in post-World War II New Mexico, in which an old woman with healing powers comes to live with a boy’s family the summer before he turns seven.


Graphic Novel: Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

Daytripper book cover“It’s a story about death.”
“It’s really about life…but death has a big part in it.”

Brás de Oliva Domingos makes his living writing obituaries. From the facts of death and the moments of life, he recreates stories. Sifting through the existences of others makes a man contemplate his own. What moments had greatest impact? Were they beginnings? Endings? Which choices led to one or the other? Rarely are those answers simple, and Daytripper is an ethereal, meditative exploration of possibilities.

Authors Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá gracefully lead readers back and forth within Brás’ life, illustrating key experiences and variations on his death. Though moments are heart-wrenching, the sum total is strangely uplifting, and what remains even after multiple scenarios is a sense of wonder at the meaning one life may hold.

Book Discussion Questions: Remembering Babylon by David Malouf

Remembering Babylon book coverTitle:  Remembering Babylon
Author:  David Malouf
Page Count: 200 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary, Aboriginal Fiction
Tone:  Lyrical, Thought-Provoking, Strong Sense of Place

In the mid-1840s, a thirteen year old boy is cast ashore in the far north of Australia and taken in by aborigines. Sixteen years later, when settlers reach the area, he moves back into the world of Europeans.

These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1.  What would you say this book is about?

2.  In what way does the introduction of an outsider/newcomer expose the true character of the community? of the individuals?

3.  What were the two initial reactions of the village? Were these responses understandable? What qualities do the two groups have in common?

4.  Describe what you know of Gemmy. How old did you imagine him to be? Who is he at heart? Is he intelligent? Did you sympathize with him? Did anything change your opinion of him?

5.  Was Gemmy an innocent? Why did he come in the first place? Do your answers affect your experience of the story in any way?

6.  From the opening scene, it seems as if Gemmy is the central character, but he later simply disappears. Does this mean he isn’t the focus of the story?

7.  How does the setting contribute to the story? Is this simply a historical account of Australia, or is there a universal element to the book? What is the implied relation between Gemmy’s fate and the progress of Australian history?

8.  In many ways, Janet is closest to Gemmy – the one who understands him, the one he most accepts. Janet is also the focus of several pivotal scenes. Why? What is the author attempting to say, for instance, in

a. her “growing-up” moment
b. the swarm of bees
c. the final scenes as a nun (with Lachlan)

9.  What story is being told with the other characters:

a. Jock McIvor?
b. Mr. Frazer?
c. George Abbot?
d. Mrs. Hutchence?

10.  How did Lachlan Beattie’s character contribute to the story? How did he change? Why do you think he was made a Minister of the government? Did his experiences with Gemmy contribute at all to this path?

11.  Gemmy is repeatedly called a “black-white man” or even “a parody of a white man”. How does the question of race and identity impact the situation? the story as a whole?

12.  What was it that the people feared?

13.  Though Malouf employs multiple points of view, he leaves the aboriginal characters as enigmas. Why might he have chosen to do this? If the aboriginies had never visited, would Gemmy’s treatment have eventually been the same anyway?

14.  How does Gemmy’s treatment by the aborigines both parallel and differ from his treatment by Englishmen?

15.  In your opinion, what became of Gemmy?

16.  Which scenes stand out as particularly impactful?

17.  What did you think of Janet’s statement near the end, “He was just Gemmy, whom we loved….”?

18.  Were you satisfied with the ending?

19.  Did Gemmy change the town or its people? How?

20.  What importance does the title add?

21.  What role does language (or the absence of it) play? Compare with Gemmy’s sense that the words in which Abbot transcribes his story contain “the whole of what he was”.

22.  What did you think of Malouf’s style? He is first a poet; was that evident? Was his non-linear narrative effective or distracting? What does he accomplish by telling his story from shifting points of view and by withholding critical revelations?

23.  Did you have difficulty with the use of dialect? Did this add to or detract from the plot / theme / book as a whole?

24.  Is there a message about colonization? What of the allusions to “dispersals”? What of the longing for connection in a vast, empty land?

25.  Is there a political commentary in Remembering Babylon? a moral one?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!


Author Colm Tóibín interviews David Malouf
The New York Times review of Remembering Babylon
Spotlight as winner of Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize
Video interview from Sydney Writers’ Festival
Discussion questions from Reading Group Guides
Australia’s Top 100 Favourite Homegrown Reads


That Deadman Dance book coverThat Deadman Dance
by Kim Scott

Rabbit-Proof Fence book coverRabbit-Proof Fence
by Doris Pilkington

Living book coverThe Living
by Annie Dillard

Staff Pick: In the Country by Mia Alvar

Picture of NancySummer is a wonderful time to pick up a collection of short stories.  I recommend Mia Alvar’s knockout debut, In the Country, which has been described by readers as dazzling, phenomenal, and stunning.  With a variety of characters as well as settings, these richly detailed stories capture the Filipino immigrant experience in an unforgettable way.

Winner of Both the Pulitzer Prize and the Edgar Award: The Sympathizer

Sympathizer book cover“So it was that we soaped ourselves in sadness and we rinsed ourselves with hope, and for all that we believed almost every rumor we heard, almost all of us refused to believe that our nation was dead.”

In other media, award winners are often easily predicted.  Not so in literature. More often than not, even insiders are surprised by those given top honors in any given year, and rarely does it reflect sales or popularity. That changes upon announcement, as the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, debut novel The Sympathizerleapt in Amazon overall sales rankings from 27,587 to 88 overnight, even enjoying temporary status as #1 in Spies and Political Thrillers.

Viet Thanh Nguyen has penned a fascinating book of intrigue that examines the Vietnam War and its aftermath from the perspective of a double agent, and the author himself has said “my book has something to offend everyone.” It is a meaty, uncompromising story with moments of tenderness and even hilarity, and its new status as a Pulitzer winner may help earn the attention and audience it deserves.

Edited to add:  This week The Sympathizer was announced as winner of Best First Novel from the Edgar Awards, one of the top mystery and suspense honors. Few books can boast this crossover!

Audiobook: In Their Own Voices – A Century of Recorded Poetry

Century of Recorded Poetry audiobookEver wonder what Walt Whitman’s voice sounded like? Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, Jack Kerouac, Sylvia Plath, or e.e. cummings? In Their Own Voices: A Century of Recorded Poetry invites us to be ear-witnesses to history and art in its purest form. This collection of distinguished poets reading well-known works bares inflection, meaning, and musicality of crafted phrase.

These days we might prefer professionally-trained narrators and seamless productions, but there is illumination to be found in hearing even familiar lines read in the voices of those who dreamed them into existence. Celebrate the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month by listening to the natural cadences of William Butler Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Maya Angelou, and a host of other extraordinary voices.