Check It Out Category: Literary

Cathleen’s Pick: Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn

Cathleen staff picks photoIt’s a hard fall from corporate mogul to sanitorium resident, but Henry Dunbar brought this on himself. In a play for adoration, he gave up control of his company, and now those he rewarded have left him with nothing. Both clever re-imagining of King Lear and contemporary morality tale, Edward St. Aubyn’s Dunbar exposes the heart of a once-heartless man.

Black History Month Spotlight: Yaa Gyasi

February is here, and with it comes our celebration of Black History Month. This year we will be casting a spotlight on various African American authors you might not yet be familiar with, though their literary contributions are important to recognize.

Yaa Gyasi author photo

Our first author spotlight is on Yaa Gyasi, who won the 2017 PEN/Hemingway award for her book Homegoing. Born in Ghana and raised in the United States (where she lived for a time in Illinois before moving to Alabama), Ms. Gyasi holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Stanford University and a Master of Fine Arts from the Univeristy of Iowa’s Iowa Writer’s Workshop. According to her publisher, Penguin Random House, the five books that inspired Ms. Gyasi are Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin, Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones, Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.

Homegoing book coverGhana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.

Homegoing  follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation. (Penguin Random House)

Staff Pick: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

Rachel from South Branch suggests The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

The Book of Unknown Americans book coverThe Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez, is written as a series of interconnected stories, each of which could stand on its own. The book tells the story of several immigrant families from countries in Central and South America who end up in Delaware. We learn their backstory, what brought them to the US, and a little about how they got here, as well as getting a vivid picture of what life here is like for them living as immigrants in a country with a culture and language so distinct from their own and one in which immigrants are not always openly welcomed.

The families all live in the same apartment complex, owned by another immigrant, and their lives are at once interconnected and isolated, each family with its own challenges and obstacles to overcome. The core of the stories involve a family who comes to the US to provide educational opportunities to their daughter, who was brain damaged in an accident, and her relationship with the son of another tenant. At the same time, Henríquez interweaves this story with that of the other tenants, who face language barriers, economic hardship, and discrimination, among other challenges.

Henríquez’s writing draws you into the lives of her characters and you feel their disappointments and frustration and their small moments of joy as well. When you finish the book, you will be left hoping there will be a second book so you can continue following their stories.

Like this? Try These!

Girl in Translation
by Jean Kwok
Emigrating with her mother from Hong Kong to Brooklyn, Kimberly Chang begins a secret double life as an exceptional schoolgirl during the day and sweatshop worker at night, an existence also marked by her first crush and the pressure to save her family from poverty.
A Manual for Cleaning Women
by Lucia Berlin
Taking place in the American Southwest, an anthology of short stories, celebrating the author’s trademark blend of humor and melancholy, finds miracles in everyday life and uncovers moments of grace in cafeterias, laundromats, homes of the upper class and hotel dining rooms..

 

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents book coverHow the García Girls Lost Their Accents
by Julia Alvarez
Forced to flee their native Caribbean island after an attempted coup, the Garcias–Carlos, Laura, and their four daughters–must learn a new way of life in the Bronx, while trying to cling to the old ways that they loved.
We Never Asked for Wings book coverWe Never Asked for Wings
by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
After fourteen years of working multiple jobs to make ends meet, Letty Espinosa must learn to be a mother when her parents, who have been raising Letty’s teenage son and six-year-old daughter, decide to return to Mexico.
The Leavers book coverThe Leavers
by Lisa Ko
One morning, eleven-year-old Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job and never comes home. Deming is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town. This is a poignant story of a boy who struggles to find his footing in a new world. It’s also an unflinching look at the difficult decisions a mother faces.

Readalikes for “Cat Person”

Kristen Roupenian’s New Yorker short story that went viral, “Cat Person,” has sparked long arguments on social media, think pieces, declarations that Roupenian is genius for shedding light on something hard to characterize and critiques that her story is too commonplace and not worth the attention. A major draw to the story for many readers is Roupenian’s ability to sink into the mind of a twenty-year-old woman and tell the story of a potential budding relationship with a thirty-four year old man from her perspective. If that close narration was something you enjoyed about “Cat Person,” one of these female-focused story collections is bound to strike your fancy.

Her Body and Other Parties book coverHer Body and Other Parties
by Carmen Maria Machado
An eclectic range of stories exploring womanhood, power, and more.
Single-Carefree-Mellow book coverSingle, Carefree, Mellow
Katherine Heiny
Most of the women in these stories are not single, carefree, or mellow, resulting in a fascinating look at how complex the mind can be.
no one belongs here more than you book coverNo One Belongs Here More Than You
Miranda July
July draws close to the inner workings of her characters in this quirky collection.
Barbara the Slut book coversBarbara the Slut and Other People
Lauren Holmes
Taking slices out of life, Holmes mixes humor with the unexpected for a spread of wildly different personalities and situations.

Fiction: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Picture of Summer Reading House headerThere are 25 more days until the end of Summer Reading! Every day during our countdown we will be featuring slices of library life, books, and topics designed to help you out as you work through 2017 Summer Reading at Mount Prospect. Read more about how you can join in on this celebration of reading and enter to win prizes!

Following four lives in a small Italian villa at the end of World War II, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje solemnly paints the emotional aftermath of war. The story has accumulated several awards between the book winning the Booker Prize and the film sweeping the 1997 Academy Awards with nine awards, including best picture.

This book is eligible for Summer Reading.

For the DIY Designers…
This book may count as a book that was made into a movie.

For the Master Class Designers…
This may count as a sad book, a book made into an Academy Award winning movie, or one highlighted on the MPPL website.

Fiction: The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol

50 Days of Summer Reading BannerThere are 30 more days until the end of Summer Reading! Every day during our countdown we will be featuring slices of library life, books, and topics designed to help you out as you work through 2017 Summer Reading at Mount Prospect. Read more about how you can join in on this celebration of reading and enter to win prizes!

More than a century before Death of a Salesman or Glengarry Glen Ross there was Nikolai Gogol’s The Overcoat. Though just 64 pages, this seminal piece of Russian fiction has inspired countless authors. Fyodor Dostoyevsky himself is quoted as saying “We all come out from Gogol’s Overcoat.” Perhaps you’ll even remember the protagonist from Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake was named after Gogol. For a deeply powerful examination of human fragility and the essence of humanity, there is none more powerful than this book.

Set in St. Petersburg, it is the story of Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin, who conscientiously goes about his government work while slowly becoming aware of the inadequacy of his threadbare overcoat. Unable to have it repaired, Akaky devotes himself singularly to saving the amount needed to have a new overcoat made. Yet with his goal finally attained, tragedy ensues.

Read this for Summer Reading!

For the DIY Designers…
This could count as a book with a big city setting or a book under 150 pages.

For our Master Class Builders…
This could count as a book with a big city setting or a book translated from another language.

 

Staff Pick: Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

50 Days of Summer Reading Banner

There are 36 more days until the end of Summer Reading! Every day during our countdown we will be featuring slices of library life, books, and topics designed to help you out as you work through 2017 Summer Reading at Mount Prospect. Read more about how you can join in on this celebration of reading and enter to win prizes!

Picture of JennyHarmless Like You  is an all-consuming story in the best possible way. Rowan Hisayo Buchanan artfully unpacks mental illness, girlhood, creativity, and growing up when you are treated like an other as she jumps from the perspective of Jay, who in the present day is trying to figure out why his mother abandoned him as a baby, and thirty-three years ago to share his mother’s journey to the present state of their lives.

Read this for Summer Reading!

For the DIY Designers…
This could count as a book with a big city setting (New York), and a book with a person of color as author.

For the Master Class Designers…
This could count as a book with a big city setting (New York), a book highlighted on our MPPL website, and a book with a person of color as author.

Book Discussion Questions: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Our Souls at Night book coverTitle:  Our Souls at Night
Author:  Kent Haruf
Page Count: 179 pages
Genre:  Literary Fiction, Love Stories
Tone:  Reflective, Bittersweet, Moving

Summary:
In Holt, Colorado, widower Louis Waters is initially thrown when the widowed Addie Moore suggests that they spend time together, in bed, to stave off loneliness, but soon they are exchanging confidences and memories.

SPOILER WARNING: 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:  2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Imagine yourself a resident of Holt. If you discovered (or suspected) the evening visits, would you have an opinion? What if you were a member of the family?

2. The first sentences read, “And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters. It was an evening in May just before full dark.” In your opinion, how effective is this as a first line? What does it convey?

  1. 3. Is it significant that the proposal was at Addie’s instigation rather than Louis’s? How so? What would have been different in the story otherwise?

4. Does this proposal seem outrageous to you? Understandable? Was it brave?

5. Ruth says of Louis, “But he’s no saint. He’s caused his share of pain.” Did that surprise you at the time? Is it better for the story than Louis isn’t a saint?

6. The arrangement is a chance for these two individuals to revisit with each other what has happened in their pasts. What is the appeal of this? Which of those memories made the biggest impact on their relationship? On you as a reader?

7. How interesting is it for a reader to just listen in on characters’ conversations? Is it a talent of the author to make this interesting? Did you want something more to happen?

8. Do the characters think of this relationship as casual? At what point do you think the relationship became more for Addie? For Louis?

9. Was it inevitable that their relationship became sexual? Did you want it to? Were you surprised how deep into the story we were before it did?

10. We see strong instances of their children reproaching the parents about this arrangement. What did you think of that?

11. Gene could arguably be a villain in this story. What did you think of him? Was he at all justified in his concerns or actions?

12. How did the introduction of Jamie change their relationship? Of Bonny?

13. Contrast their interactions with Jamie to what we know of their relationships with their own children.

14. In one passage, Louis confesses:

I think I regret hurting Tamara more than I do hurting my wife. I failed my spirit or something. I missed some kind of call to be something more than a mediocre high school English teacher in a little dirt-blown town.

What does this tell us about Louis? Does it affect your view of him?

15. In what places of the story did you find humor?

16. Gene gives an ultimatum. Did Addie make the right choice? Is there a ‘right’ choice?

17. Later, Addie calls (again, her initiative) and wants to connect again. At first Louis balks, asking, “isn’t this the sneaking around we didn’t want to do?” What would you have done?

18. Did you want more from the ending? Why did Haruf make this choice?

19. A New York Times review asserts that Haruf’s “great subject was the struggle of decency against small-mindedness, and his rare gift was to make sheer decency a moving subject.” Do you see evidence of this struggle in Our Souls at Night? Again, putting yourself in the place of an observer/family, would you take any issue with the word ‘decency’?

20. This book was written as Haruf knew his time was limited. What did he want most to say? Should this be in our minds as we read? If you knew, did this affect your reading of the story?

21. When undertaking the project, Haruf told his wife Cathy, “I’m going to write a book about us.” What elements do you suspect were autobiographical?

22. Did you find the lack of quotation marks distracting? Why might the author make this choice?

23. Haruf’s style is almost always described as “spare” and his characters “plainspoken”. Are these qualities appealing to you?

24. Do you think his style and chosen setting may have held him back from wider recognition?

25. One writer commented that Our Souls at Night “engages sentiment without becoming sentimental”. What do you think about that statement?

26. Is this a sad or heavy book? How would you describe the feeling to someone else?

27. An upcoming film adaptation stars Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. How does that fit the characters in your mind? Are you interested in viewing the film?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Kent Haruf’s Last Novel is a Beautiful Gift” via The Oregonian
Final interview with Kent Haruf courtesy of Denver Center of Performing Arts
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel review and analysis of Our Souls at Night
LitLovers discussion guide
Our Souls at Night competes in the Tournament of Books
Cathy Haruf on Her Husband’s Final Novel” via Knopf Doubleday

READALIKES:

To Be Sung Underwater book coverTo Be Sung Underwater
by Tom McNeal

Lila
by Marilynne Robinson

O Pioneers book coverO Pioneers!
by Willa Cather

Asked at the Desk: Classic American Novels

Picture of Fiction/AV/Teen desk

When we receive the same question twice in one week, we take note! Here’s what two of your neighbors recently asked:

I haven’t read more than one or two of the classic American novels. Now I’m ready, but I don’t know which are most important. Also, do you have them as audiobooks?

We understand this can be overwhelming. Not only are there differing opinions about the most essential, there are different definitions of classic! Here we’ll suggest American classics in three categories to help you find your gateway.

Shorter American Classics

If delving into classic literature is new for you, try one that is not only short in length but also accessible in story and writing:

Great Gatsby book coverThe Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fahrenheit 451 book coverFahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury
John Steinbeck

 

American Classics by Authors of Color

Too many lists of classics limit the rosters to those authored by white men. Make the choice to invest in other perspectives.

Invisible Man book coverInvisible Man
Ralph Ellison
Their Eyes Were Watching God book coverTheir Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston
W.E.B. Du Bois

 

Most Cited American Classics

If your goal is to be familiar with books likely to be referenced in conversation or in other writing, here are three to know:

J.D. Salinger

 

Audiobooks are a great way to experience the classics! Let a talented voice actor bring great writing to life for you. Click for a sampling of American classics on audio. Lists of British classics and World classics are also available.

Interested in more suggestions? Stop by Fiction/AV/Teen Services on the second floor to ask at the desk yourself, or ask online to visit our virtual desk.

Staff Pick: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Cathleen from Fiction/AV/Teen Services suggests Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed book coverIf you know anything at all about William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, you likely know that it takes place on a remote island buffeted by supernatural storm. So, the idea of translating this story to a literacy program in a present-day county prison may not be an obvious one.

In Margaret Atwood’s brilliantly envisioned Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold, a very specific play is staged both as class project and as personal vendetta for a director once ousted from a prestigious festival. Watching the action unfold in a clever remix of showmanship, we the audience are treated to parallel dramas that are equally riveting in their creativity, humor, and compassion. To paraphrase a line from the original play, “O brave new world, that has such stories in it!”
 
 
For more contemporary tales infused with Shakespearean theatricality…

Calibans Hour book coverCaliban’s Hour
by Tad Williams

In a fantasy sequel to The Tempest, one that also echoes Beauty and the Beast, the hag-seed Caliban takes Prospero’s daughter Miranda captive and insists she listen to his story.

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel

Because they believe that “survival is insufficient,” a traveling Shakespearean troupe brings art to those who remain after a global pandemic destroys civilization as it was once known.

 

Gap of Time book coverThe Gap of Time
by Jeanette Winterson

In the first of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, A Winter’s Tale is contemporized as the aftermath of the 2008 recession, following flawed but driven characters from London to the American New Bohemia.
Dead Fathers Club book coverThe Dead Fathers Club
by Matt Haig

An eleven-year old boy is charged with avenging his father’s death, possibly by his own uncle, in a clever and poignant re-imagining of Hamlet.

Sings and Arrows DVD coverSlings & Arrows
(DVD)

Each season of this brilliant Canadian television series showcases the staging of a Shakespeare play that finds its themes oddly paralleled in the current cast’s shenanigans.