I’m often in awe of those folks over in Reader’s Services with their lengthy lists of great reads and end-of-year reading lists that leave me a little envious. Last year my mom sheepishly told me she had read over a hundred books in 2017. She’s in five or six book clubs (many right here at the Library), and she’s the bibliophile equivalent of Hermione Granger to my inept and nervous Neville Longbottom. She’s also retired, so there’s that.
In spite of my puny reading record, here are the books I’m currently enjoying, and a couple on my to-be-read pile.
Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death
When we first announced that Nnedi Okorafor would be our 2018 Beach Author, I pretty much put everything we had of hers on hold. I thoroughly enjoyed Akata Witch (and though I do adore Harry Potter, I think referring to it as the African Harry Potter does Okorafor's standout YA novel a disservice—that’s for another blog post), but that was the only work of hers I had read, so I felt I needed to get up to speed on her other work ASAP!
I’m currently in the middle of her 2010 adult novel Who Fears Death, and its protagonist, Onyesonwu (meaning “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient tongue), is a young girl, raised in her early years by a mother who has lost her voice. It takes place in a vast desert that gives them time to heal from sectarian violence in this post-apocalyptic Africa. Onye is different in that she is marked as an Ewu, a product of rape by the oppressive Nuru people, but we soon learn that this is not her only distinction. Latent magical abilities reveal themselves to her, and she struggles to take her education in this area into her own hands, only to contend with the gender mores of the town and society she must call home. I’m eager to see what her persistence and passion bring her as she runs from an all seeing eye she knows wants to kill her. At times it’s been a brutal read, but it’s already so satisfying to see Onye come into her own power; I would count Who Fears Death as an incredible, binge-worthy read.
Heartland by Sarah Smarsh
I managed to get my hands on an advanced reader copy of Smarsh’s first book. I’ve been a fan of hers since when she, Whitney Terrell, and John Freeman were on a panel exploring inequality in the US right after the 2016 presidential election. Heartland begins with a story told to a fictional unborn baby that could have given Smarsh an entirely different life had she followed the pattern of her maternal line. She talks of watching her father count change in a jar, noticing when even a nickel was missing, and of early morning runs to the grocery store to take advantage of a missing zero in a coupon that promised a pound of potatoes for 5 cents.
Hard work and smarts is not in short supply for these Kansans who build their own houses and work their farms to support themselves and their families. What is in short supply are financial safety nets and corporate regulations that could have prevented her father’s chemical poisoning and the years it took him to recover. Thus far, it’s an eye-opening testament to the great class divide we have in our country, between the white and blue collars, where it’s so easy to victim blame those in poverty for their own downfall. FYI, she’ll be in Lawrence on September 25th. Check out the event here.
To Be Read
Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich by Alison Owings
Laura Moriarty mentioned this book when she talked about her novel American Heart this last January. In Frauen, Owings interviews 29 women who were raising children and just trying to get the laundry done while the Third Reich began the machinations that led to the Holocaust. Moriarty’s recommendation led me to this book because I’ve always been curious how people lived everyday lives while the ashes of their neighbors and fellow countrymen rained down on them. Were they buried in their own joys and sorrows they didn’t realize a violent dictatorship was in power before it was too late? Were there signs in the early days that a darker path would follow? I can’t say I’m eager to read this, but I hope it provides insight into our current geopolitical climate.
Transcendent: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction edited by K.M. Szpara
Bogi Takács, a local writer and the editor of Transcendent 3, winner of the 2018 Lambda Award for Transgender Fiction, clued me in on this series. I love science fiction and fantasy for the same reason most do. You can explore and play with any topic in a “clean lab” of the author’s own design. As much as I love both genres, their universes often ignore diverse voices. The Transcendent series gives voice to transgender and non-binary characters and experiences. Having glanced through a few, I’m excited to explore my much-loved genre with more depth and diversity!
This is my reading forecast for the next month or so. Let me know what you’re up to on the reading front!
-Kristin Soper is the Events Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.