The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was a wonderful book. At several points in the book I found myself wondering what the next twist would be. The Da Vinci Code is about a symbologist named Robert Langdon. One night, while staying in Paris, he is called to the Louvre to help out on a murder investigation. The victim is in a peculiar pose with instructions to find Langdon scrawled on the floor. Little to his knowledge, Langdon is being investigated as one of the criminals. Now to clear his name, Langdon must solve the mystery himself using his knowledge of symbols.
I enjoyed how the author tied symbology into his novel. I learned things that I was not expecting to in a way that did not feel like I was in a class. I also feel that the action-packed novel kept me engaged with the characters. I often found myself sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the next piece of the puzzle to be revealed. I highly recommend The Da Vinci Code to any who love mysteries or even to those looking for an adventure.
You can put a hold on The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown today through the JKM Library catalog and pick the book up at the library! Click here to get started.
Nerice Breen Lusen is an English Major here at Chatham University with a minor in Creative Writing. They have been working at the Jenny King Mellon Library as a student worker since their freshmen year, starting in 2018. Following their time at Chatham they plan to gain their master’s degree in Library and Information Science and become a librarian themself.
2020 has truly been a year of turmoil and adversity, but that doesn’t mean it stopped the literature industry from producing new gems. Our shifting cultural climate has been met with a new wave of prose and poetry that addresses issues of injustice on a deeper level, and now more than ever, books are providing us with an outlet for the powerlessness we’re feeling due to the effects of this year’s chaos. In order to be culturally responsible literary citizens, we need to expand our horizons and develop as wide of a cultural canon as we can. I’ve compiled a list of 2020’s best inclusive titles and while the JKM Library is currently closed for the winter season before the next semester, upon our reopening, patrons can utilize E-ZBorrow and Interlibrary Loan to request newer titles that we may not have on our own shelves.
The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich
Erdrich is known for her impressive blend of historical and literary fiction, highlighting the struggles of Native Americans suffering the effects of colonialism. The Night Watchman is loosely based on Erdrich’s grandfather’s experience working as a night watchmen during the Native dispossession era. One of the novel’s protagonists, Patrice, desires a life outside of the reservation and rejects the matriarchal roles that are set out for her, longing to move to Minneapolis to follow the lead of her older sister. The second hero, Thomas, is a night watchman and Chippewa council member on their North Dakota reservation, fighting against Congress’ new “termination” bill to eradicate Native communities. Erdrich does not romanticize life on the rez–rather, she paints a colorful cast of characters that encapsulates the essence of the Native struggle, one that is poignant, witty, and tender.
The Death of Vivek Oji, by Akwaeke Emezi
Powerhouse newcomer Akwaeke Emezi third novel addresses the intersection of African identity with queer identity, highlighting otherness, isolation, and the feeling of finding home. A deep, complex mystery that finds itself in the middle of political reform in the 1990s Nigeria, The Death of Vivek Oji forces the reader into complicated literary disorientation. The titular protagonist Vivek struggles with dissociation and a sense of belonging, befriending the mixed-race children of immigrant mothers to Africa and struggling with what he considers a “sinful” relationship. Emezi’s swirling prose coupled with the layered cultural narrative present in the novel creates a tension that is so hard to achieve in literary fiction, but when attained, is incredibly significant.
Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel, by Julian K. Jarboe
This is my personal favorite title of 2020, and for good reason. Jarboe’s debut fiction collection covers everything from cyberpunk dystopia, body horror, mythical lore, subtle romance, and stories of abusive religious institutions. All of these vastly different narratives share a common thread, though: the constant threat of being stripped of our individuality, whether it be our culture, our community, our physical vessel. Jarboe’s literary voice is spectacular from segment to segment and the pacing never falls flat. I particularly enjoyed the stories “I Am a Beautiful Bug!,” which is part love letter to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and part transgender allegory, and “Self Care,” an antiestablishment stream-of-consciousness narrative that highlights the end of times at the hands of ostentatious religiosity and greed.
Homeland Elegies, by Ayad Akhtar
Loosely inspired by Akhtar’s own experiences as an Arab-American following 9/11, Homeland Elegies tells the story of a family struggling with feelings of national dispossession. While the story is fictional, the content is autobiographical in nature, drawing directly on the oppression that Akhbar felt in the field of the humanities. He makes you long for an America that never truly existed, one that could have hyperbolized peace and unity. Rather, we’re exposed to a more complex, pessimistic America whose racial bias and detestment of immigrants bleeds through to our everyday life whether we’re cognizant of it or not.
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot, by Mikki Kendall
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that racial injustice has always been a reality, it has only become more apparent in the media because we have more access to the struggles of others. Kendall discusses the overwhelming power of white feminism, and how so often gender overpowers other facets of identity. The crux at which true allyship happens includes race, class, ability, and sexuality, and Kendall’s thesis statement enforces that all issues of denial to access are issues of feminism. The critique of mainstream feminist scholars is biting and well-written, tackling issues like food insecurity, education, medical care, and more in its analysis. Kendall truly reminds us that it’s not feminism unless it’s inclusive and intersectional.
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, by Cathy Park Hong
Part immigration memoir, part critical cultural studies, Hong’s essays directly confront modern-day racial consciousness here in America with a twist. What she calls “minor feelings” are stand-ins for the grief, shame, and internalized notions about race that we face in a society that is so inherently whitewashed. Hong works to unpack this implicit bias of self and others in a way that is both intellectual and entertaining, peppering in stories from her youth to punctuate the more theoretical elements of the text. Park discusses the stereotypes typically inscribed upon Asian Americans; she manages to blend the educational with the conversational in a way that even the newest of allies can process.
Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad
What started as an Instagram challenge to encourage white people to address their implicit biases became one of the year’s best tools for white allies to use to confront their implicit biases surrounding race and ethnicity. Saad creates a resource that elevates BIPOC people and teaches white people about their levels of privilege and unconscious engagement in the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy without forcing people of color to exert their emotional labor. So often, communities exploit the emotional and mental work of its scholars of color and assume they will be educators for white people without providing compensation. This book can provide that insight for white allies to understand that they must use their power to support people of color, and that with privilege comes a special position to support others.
The Undocumented Americans, by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
DACA recipient Villavicencio decided to start writing this collection in response to the 2016 election results, and in it paints a beautiful depiction of undocumented immigrants in the United States. She meets with immigrants all over the country and learns their stories in order to come up with some semblance of her own. It is a touching, unrestrained take on refuge and sanctuary, how with citizenship comes privilege, and the denial to access that goes hand-in-hand with undocumented status. Rather than living in the shadows of her own identity, Villavicencio advocates on behalf of other undocumented people in an unflinching critique on how our society treats those simply seeking solace in the world.
Just Us: An American Conversation, by Claudia Rankine
A spiritual successor to her collection Citizen, Rankine tackles the big issues of white supremacy in a jarring collection of poems, short prose, and art. Just Us highlights the microcosms of Americana, a nation divided, and how indifference has made even liminal spaces hostile for nonwhite individuals. Rankine dives into the politics of politeness, calling attention to the way that privilege often encourages the majority to turn a blind eye to oppression and marginalization. Her poetic voice is blatant and urgent while still providing a strong aesthetic flow, a varied poetic voice that has cemented itself as one of the most striking of the 21st century.
Wicked Enchantment: Selected Poems, by Wanda Coleman.
Poetry spanning a forty-year body of work, Wicked Enchantment is a consciously anti-racist collection that confronts marginalization with humor, ennui, and sometimes anger. Coleman’s legacy on the poetry community is insurmountable, and with an introduction and edits from the great Terrence Hayes, she so rawly and honestly depicts the progression of racism in America. The poems in this collection are not about being pretty or being pleasing. They are about feeling and filling a void where society has failed us. In addition to the overarching theme of racial injustice, Coleman also tackles concepts like mental illness, wealth inequality, and the failings of the healthcare system particularly against Black women. This is a dense read, but a very worthwhile one.
Music for the Dead and Resurrected: Poems, by Valzhyna Mort
Belarusian poet Mort discusses the traumatic intergenerational legacy of war and propaganda in this heart-wrenching collection of love letters to the dead. She weaves historical elements like World War II, Soviet labor camps, and tyrannical dictatorships throughout the text, tracing the timeline of her native country’s development to her and her family’s experiences in these toxic, violent environments. Tethering her own coming-of-age with the mythology of a fragmented nation, Mort creates a lyricism of ghosts, an existence that will always be permeated by the atrocities committed against or by our ancestors. Music for the Dead and Resurrected confronts the American historical myths and forces the reader to take an uncomfortable but nonetheless poetic look at how they got to where they are.
Inheritance, by Taylor Johnson
A recent release, Taylor Johnson asserts the precariousness of poor Black identity in a nation that constantly surveils our most at-risk populations in this collection. They elaborate in their poems about the intrinsic link of capitalism to the exploitation of bodies of color, and with broad lyricism, Johnson opens a dialogue as to what a world without the boundaries of class and financial standing would look like. Cynicism of cultural monoliths permeate the text as Johnson conveys their theories through the lens of radical love and sex. There is a stark juxtaposition of lightheartedness with the prison industrial complex, pleasure against poverty. This jarring dichotomy conveys the meaning of the collection: suffering will always plague us so long as we allow ourselves to adhere to oppressive cultural rules.
Best Children’s and Young Adult
You Should See Me in a Crown, by Leah Johnson
Johnson’s debut novel is one that is sweet and fun, typical of YA, but tackles the very real issues of growing up a minority in small-town America. Protagonist Liz Lighty views herself as being “too Black, too poor, too awkward” to be taken seriously in her rural, conservative community, and she desires nothing more than to break out of this restrictive town and attend a prestigious university. Johnson highlights the very real threat of financial insecurity that plagues teens and young adults, and Liz’s reluctant journey to attain prom royalty to assure financial aid is an interesting subversion of the traditional high school narrative. It’s so important to see young, empowered Black girls in stories where they have agency and dreams, and where their hardships are not fetishized–Johnson creates a new kind of Black hero in Liz, one in which many young viewers can see bits of themselves.
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor, by Hank Green
The follow-up to Hank Green’s bestseller An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is just as stunning as its predecessor, a science-fiction tale that tackles concepts like colonization, decimation of lands, and class consciousness. Green’s social commentary is presented in a youth-friendly way, fast-paced and action-packed. The elements of mystery and eclectic cast of characters is what will draw you in, but the interesting theories surrounding technology, reality, and virtuality will keep you coming back for more. Considering Green’s science background, there’s validity to the scientific elements of the text, but it’s not so academic that it’ll go over the head of the readers.
Clap When You Land, by Elizabeth Acevedo
In a similar style to her bestseller The Poet X, Acevedo crafts a novel-in-verse that ties together the notions of togetherness and grief in an incredibly touching testament to the power of familial love. Camino, who lives in the Dominican Republic, and Yahaira, who lives in New York City, are sisters who are totally unaware of one another’s existence until a horrible tragedy brings them together. Their intrinsic connection forces them to think about the boundaries between their cultures and what sorts of secrets lurked within their families. The blend of poetry and prose makes for an easy reading experience and the content helps to show the subtle differences between groups of Latinx identity.
The Degenerates, by J. Albert Mann
Disability is a subject of intersectionality that we don’t see too often in modern fiction, or at least when it’s not portrayed in the unfortunate genre of “inspiration porn.” The Degenerates does not glamorize the disabled experience in the case of mental, physical, and learning disabilities. Taking place in an institution for the mentally ill or disabled, these girls are not portrayed as weak, simple, or naive. Instead, they are empowered and fierce young women, dedicated to escaping the system that oppresses them. The Degenerates also doesn’t shy away from the severity of institutionalization–the interactions are coarse, belittling, and show the reality of living with a disability in a world that does not provide access or accommodations.
Carina Stopenski is the Access Services Associate at Chatham University’s Jennie King Mellon Library. They started out as a student worker while getting their creative writing degree at Chatham, and received their Master’s of Library Science at Clarion University in summer 2020. They enjoy games of both the board and video persuasion, vegan baking, and reading graphic novels. They also teach cultural studies and “cartoon theory” classes on the platform Outschool.
The book Carmilla is an 1872 English novella by J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Carmilla can be downloaded as a PDF from the library’s website or it can also be requested in tangible form through E-ZBorrow (when E-ZBorrow is accessible). The novella features the first appearances of a female vampire in English gothic literature. Carmilla served as an inspiration for Brim Stoker’s Dracula, which was published about twenty-five years later in May of 1897.
The novella begins with a prologue from a doctor’s assistant explaining that the tale that follows is a recounting of events that befell one of the doctor’s patients. It is told from a young woman named Laura’s point of view. She begins by telling the reader of her first encounter with Carmilla when she was just six years old, saying that it is her oldest memory. She is left scared and scarred from this encounter.
The story picks up years later as Laura explains the castle she and her father have come to live in. Together with Laura’s governess and “finishing governess” – as Laura calls her – Laura and her father live in Syria but are originally from England. One day Laura and her father receive a letter from one General Spielsdorf. He has unfortunately cancelled his visit to them because his niece and ward had died, claiming that she was killed by a monster. On a walk shortly after, a carriage crashes in front of Laura and her father. The riders of the carriage consist of an elderly woman and a younger woman the elder claims as her daughter. The young woman is hurt in the crash but seeing as her mother is on an important journey, she leaves her daughter in the care of Laura’s father. The girl is introduced as Carmilla, and Laura is excited to have a friend to spend the foreseeable days with.
I thought the novella was well written, though the dialect – being that of the 1800’s can be a bit confusing for the modern reader. While I was reading there were passages that I read twice to make sure I understood them, but I don’t think this detracted from the story that was being told. Carmilla, the character, was not forth coming with details about herself. This gripped me as a reader and made me want to read onwards.
Vampires are often characterized in stories with alluring and mysterious airs. Carmilla is no exception. There are often times in the story where either Carmilla speaks to Laura, vice versa, or even when Laura describes Carmilla to the reader that shows an attraction between the girls – romantically and even physically. It is not explicit in the novel that Carmilla and Laura are together in any sense, but it creates a dynamic between the two characters that made me want to read more. It made me what to learn more about the mysterious Carmilla just as Laura wished to.
The story is not one of grand fights or intense dramas like novels or novellas of today, but I felt that Carmilla was a great book. It is a quick read and holds themes and motifs that are ahead of its time.
Nerice Breen Lusen is an English Major here at Chatham University with a minor in Creative Writing. They have been working at the Jenny King Mellon Library as a student worker since their freshmen year, starting in 2018. Following their time at Chatham they plan to gain their master’s degree in Library and Information Science and become a librarian themself.
Many organizations and institutions have been offering incredible antiracist reading lists, packed with critically acclaimed fiction and nonfiction that add to our individual education on systemic and institutional racism in the United States and around the world. You should consult these lists and make your own TBR (to be read) pile of antiracist titles. It is a personal, moral, and civic duty that we commit to learning about the history, hardships, and experiences of our fellow Americans. It is also our duty to confront white supremacy on personal, local, and systemic levels. These reading lists can be an excellent start to that work. Armed with new knowledge and understanding, we can be better equipped to help push for lasting change in this country and around the world. Knowledge truly is power.
Below is a list of eBook titles that can be accessed freely by Chatham University students, faculty, and staff. Some are antiracist staples, some are more specifically focused on education, and some can help you take the next step in turning your knowledge into productive action for the collective good. Images are from Goodreads. Descriptions are from the publishers and/or Goodreads. Follow the linked titles to check out the eBook today.
“This collection of essays by scholar-activist W. E. B. Du Bois is a masterpiece in the African American canon. Du Bois, arguably the most influential African American leader of the early twentieth century, offers insightful commentary on Black history, racism, and the struggles of Black Americans following emancipation. In his groundbreaking work, the author presciently writes that ‘the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,’ and offers powerful arguments for the absolute necessity of moral, social, political, and economic equality. These essays on the Black experience in America range from sociological studies of the African American community to illuminating discourses on religion and ‘Negro music,’ and remain essential reading. A new introduction by Jonathan Holloway explores Du Bois’s signature accomplishments while helping readers to better understand his writings in the context of his time as well as ours.”
“Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as ‘brave and bold,’ this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that ‘we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.’ By targeting Black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a ‘call to action.’ Called ‘stunning’ by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Levering Lewis, ‘invaluable’ by the Daily Kos, ‘explosive’ by Kirkus, and ‘profoundly necessary’ by the Miami Herald, this updated and revised paperback edition of The New Jim Crow, now with a foreword by Cornel West, is a must-read for all people of conscience.”
“In spite of the double burden of racial and gender discrimination, African-American women have developed a rich intellectual tradition that is not widely known. In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins explores the words and ideas of Black feminist intellectuals as well as those African-American women outside academe. She provides an interpretive framework for the work of such prominent Black feminist thinkers as Angela Davis, bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Audre Lorde. The result is a superbly crafted book that provides the first synthetic overview of Black feminist thought.”
“Though the end of the Civil War brought legal emancipation to Blacks, it is a fact of history that their social oppression continued long after. The most virulent form of this ongoing persecution was the practice of lynching carried out by mob rule, often as local law enforcement officials looked the other way. During the 1880s and 1890s, more than 100 African Americans per year were lynched, and in 1892 alone the toll of murdered men and women reached a peak of 161.
In that awful year, the 23-year-old Ida B. Wells, the editor of a small newspaper for Blacks in Memphis, Tennessee, raised one lone voice of protest. In her paper, she charged that white businessmen had instigated three local lynchings against their black competitors. In retaliation for her outspoken courage, a goon-squad of angry whites destroyed her editorial office and print shop, and she was forced to flee the South and move to New York City. So began a crusade against lynching which became the focus of her long, active, and very courageous life. In New York, she began lecturing against the abhorrent vigilante practice and published her first pamphlet on the subject called ‘Southern Horrors.’ After moving to Chicago and marrying lawyer Ferdinand Barnett, she continued her campaign, publishing ‘A Red Record’ in 1895 and ‘Mob Rule in New Orleans,’ about the race riots in that city, in 1900. All three of these documents are collected in On Lynchings, a shocking testament to cruelty and the dark American legacy of racial prejudice.”
“A new edition of one of the most influential literary documents in American and African American history. Ideal for coursework in American and African American history, this revised edition of Frederick Douglass’s memoir of his life as a slave in pre-Civil War Maryland incorporates a wide range of supplemental materials to enhance students’ understanding of slavery, abolitionism, and the role of race in American society. Offering readers a new appreciation of Douglass’s world, it includes documents relating to the slave narrative genre and to the later career of an essential figure in the nineteenth-century abolition movement.”
“By the late 1960s and early 1970s, reeling from a wave of urban uprisings, politicians finally worked to end the practice of redlining. Reasoning that the turbulence could be calmed by turning Black city-dwellers into homeowners, they passed the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968, and set about establishing policies to induce mortgage lenders and the real estate industry to treat Black homebuyers equally. The disaster that ensued revealed that racist exclusion had not been eradicated, but rather transmuted into a new phenomenon of predatory inclusion. Race for Profit uncovers how exploitative real estate practices continued well after housing discrimination was banned. The same racist structures and individuals remained intact after redlining’s end, and close relationships between regulators and the industry created incentives to ignore improprieties. Meanwhile, new policies meant to encourage low-income homeownership created new methods to exploit Black homeowners. The federal government guaranteed urban mortgages in an attempt to overcome resistance to lending to Black buyers – as if unprofitability, rather than racism, was the cause of housing segregation. Bankers, investors, and real estate agents took advantage of the perverse incentives, targeting the Black women most likely to fail to keep up their home payments and slip into foreclosure, multiplying their profits. As a result, by the end of the 1970s, the nation’s first programs to encourage Black homeownership ended with tens of thousands of foreclosures in Black communities across the country. The push to uplift Black homeownership had descended into a goldmine for realtors and mortgage lenders, and a ready-made cudgel for the champions of deregulation to wield against government intervention of any kind. Narrating the story of a sea-change in housing policy and its dire impact on African Americans, Race for Profit reveals how the urban core was transformed into a new frontier of cynical extraction.”
“Black and Blue is the first systematic description of how American doctors think about racial differences and how this kind of thinking affects the treatment of their black patients. The standard studies of medical racism examine past medical abuses of Black people and do not address the racially motivated thinking and behaviors of physicians practicing medicine today. Black and Blue penetrates the physician’s private sphere where racial fantasies and misinformation distort diagnoses and treatments. Doctors have always absorbed the racial stereotypes and folkloric beliefs about racial differences that permeate the general population. Within the world of medicine this racial folklore has infiltrated all of the medical sub-disciplines, from cardiology to gynecology to psychiatry. Doctors have thus imposed White or Black racial identities upon every organ system of the human body, along with racial interpretations of Black children, the Black elderly, the Black athlete, Black musicality, Black pain thresholds, and other aspects of Black minds and bodies. The American medical establishment does not readily absorb either historical or current information about medical racism. For this reason, racial enlightenment will not reach medical schools until the current race-aversive curricula include new historical and sociological perspectives.”
“A compendium of writings that detail the grassroots actions of social and political activists from the civil rights era of the early 1960s to the present day, this book reviews the major points of intersection between white supremacy and the war machine through historic and contemporary articles from a diverse range of scholars and activists. Among the historic texts included are rarely seen writings by antiracist icons such as Anne Braden, Barbara Deming, and Audre Lorde as well as a dialogue between Dr. King, revolutionary nationalist Robert F. Williams, Dave Dellinger, and Dorothy Day. Never-before-published pieces appear from civil rights and gay rights organizer Bayard Rustin and from celebrated U.S. pacifist supporter of Puerto Rican sovereignty Ruth Reynolds. Additional articles, essays, interviews, and poems from numerous contributors examine the strategic and tactical possibilities of radical transformation for lasting social change through revolutionary nonviolence.”
“Since the passing of Brown versus Board of Education to the election of the first Black president of the United States, there has been much discussion on how far we have come as a nation on issues of race. Some continue to assert that Barack Obama’s election ushered in a new era—making the US a post-racial society. But this argument is either a political contrivance, borne of ignorance or a bold-faced lie. There is no recent data on school inequities, or inequity in society for that matter, that suggests we have arrived at Dr. King’s dream that his ‘four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ Children today are instead still judged by the color of their skin, and this inequitable practice is manifest in today’s schools for students of color in the form of disproportionate student discipline referrals, achievement and opportunity gaps, pushout rates, overrepresentation in special education and underrepresentation in advanced coursework, among other indicators (Brooks, 2012). Though issues of race in the public education system may take an overt or covert form; racial injustice in public schools is still pervasive, complex, and cumulative. The authors in this book explore various ways that racism is manifest in the American school system. Through a plurality of perspectives, they deconstruct, challenge, and reconstruct an educational leadership committed to equity and excellence for marginalized students and educators.”
“Organized into four sections, this collection of essays is geared toward activists engaging with the dynamic questions of how to create and support effective movements for visionary systemic change. These essays and interviews present powerful lessons for transformative organizing. It offers a firsthand look at the challenges and the opportunities of antiracist work in white communities, feminist work with men, and bringing women of color feminism into the heart of social movements. Drawing on two decades of personal activist experience and case studies within these areas, Crass’s essays insightfully explore ways of transforming divisions of race, class, and gender into catalysts for powerful vision, strategy, and building movements in the United States today. This collection will inspire and empower anyone who is interested in implementing change through organizing.”
“The pioneering Asian American labor organizer and writer’s vision for intersectional and anti-racist activism. In this powerful, deeply humanistic book, Grace Lee Boggs, a legendary figure in the struggle for justice in America, shrewdly assesses the current crisis—political, economical, and environmental—and shows how to create the radical social change we need to confront new realities. A vibrant, inspirational force, Boggs has participated in all of the twentieth century’s major social movements—for civil rights, women’s rights, workers’rights, and more. She draws from seven decades of activist experience, and a rigorous commitment to critical thinking, to redefine “revolution” for our times. From her home in Detroit, she reveals how hope and creativity are overcoming despair and decay within the most devastated urban communities. Her book is a manifesto for creating alternative modes of work, politics, and human interaction that will collectively constitute the next American Revolution—which is unraveling before our eyes.”
We hope you find this eBook reading list helpful as you begin or continue your antiracist work. You can follow the JKM Library’s Instagram account (@jkmlibrary) for more book recommendations on various topics. And you can recommend a specific book to be added to the JKM Library’s collection by emailing Reference@Chatham.edu or reaching out to a specific librarian.
During this difficult period of shelter-in-place, one can sometimes feel trapped by the ennui of their everyday life. As we all acclimate to our new “normal,” things may feel stale or boring, and it can be hard to keep positive. Have no fear–fiction can provide a welcome escape from the real world turmoil we face! Take a gander at this list to find some titles either available freely online or via our eBook collection that can help you find a bit of respite during this trying time!
This collection of short stories takes some of the most well-known fairy tales and turns them on their heads, exploring new, modern structures and complex, unexpected takes. Yolen even gives notes at the end of the book on how she decided to construct each tale, giving the worlds an even richer history. These stories provide a perfect escape from the real world, and despite being an adult-oriented book, evokes a sense of childlike wonder due to its roots in familiar stories. I highly recommend “The Undine,” a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” and “The Foxwife,” which delves into the folklore of the Japanese kitsune. While some stories in this book may be a bit dark, the nostalgic ties that readers have to fairy tales may just provide a bit of escapism from the comfort of your own couch!
This coming-of-age adventure centers around friends Cady and Cooper as they try to burn through their high-school “bucket list” two days before their high school graduation. The story is sweet, adventurous, and full of teenage shenanigans, and provides a great way to get away from the stress of everyday adult life. Kerick captures the adolescent experience well, and the light, fast-paced story is coupled with a really wonderful message about the significance of good relationships. Even though the reader may be stuck at home unable to see friends right now, watching Cooper and Cady engage in these wacky adventures may just fill that space that’s been a little empty.
I personally believe that everyone should read Walden’s graphic novels, not only because of their rich stories but their incredible illustrations. This story takes place in outer space, where protagonist Mia works on a team restoring decrepit intergalactic monuments. It’s a poignant, beautiful story, full of love, family, and self-discovery, but what is most striking is its gorgeous artwork. Through detailed spacecrafts, swirling galaxies, and flashback scenes of a prestigious academy, Walden transports the reader through to a brand new universe that is so unlike our own but still full of humanity. Plus, the whole book is available in an online serialized format for easy access!
This historical fiction piece is jam-packed with action and is bound to transport you to 10th-century medieval Iberia! The titular main character encounters everything from monasteries to war to escaping enslavement–talk about a wild ride! While some turn their nose up at historical fiction, the adventure that this story brings to the table is definitely enough to bring you out of your doldrums and allow the reader to explore an incredibly complicated world that may they may never have had experience with before! While the author expresses that the characters are purely fictional, the writing truly makes these characters feel real!
From the creator of the popular Lumberjanes series, this young adult graphic novel focused around the eponymous Nimona, a teen shapeshifter who works with a supervillain in order to showcase a “good guy” as a fraud. Part witty comedy, part fantasy adventure, and part emotional journey about how everything is not as it seems, Nimona has a bit of something for everybody! Stevenson builds a diverse world that diverts the typical fantasy tropes by creating sympathetic characters in typically “evil” stereotypes. Published online in a webcomic format, it makes for easy reading, and Stevenson’s distinctive art style adds fun and flair to an already-interesting storyline!
These are just a few interesting titles worth exploring. Remember that the library has a list of COVID-19 digital resources that features thousands of eBooks worth exploring! Also consider checking out the Internet Archive–by making an account, you can get free access to thousands more titles through digital checkout. Hope everyone gets some good reading in during this troubling time, sometimes a little literary escapism can go a long way!
Carina Stopenski is the Access Services Associate at Chatham University’s Jennie King Mellon Library. They started out as a student worker while getting their creative writing degree at Chatham, and have since started working on their Master’s of Library Science at Clarion University. They enjoy games of both the board and video persuasion, vegan baking, and reading graphic novels.
On June 19, 2019, Joy Harjo, member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, was announced as the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States. She is the first Native American to be honored with this title. Harjo is a celebrated author, poet, teacher, activist and musician. She has been awarded multiple high-profile honors and awards in addition to Poet Laureate, including (but not limited to) the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas, the Josephine Miles Poetry Award, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award.
She has received fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rasmuson Foundation, the Witter Bynner Foundation, and the Ruth Lilly Prize in Poetry. Her memoir, Crazy Brave, was awarded both the PEN USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction and the American Book Award.
Harjo has written nine books of poetry, a memoir, two award-winning children’s books, several screenplays, three plays, and a number of prose interviews. Harjo often centers native storytelling, histories, myths, symbols, and values. She also focuses on autobiographical, feminist, and social justice themes throughout her writing.
“I feel strongly that I have a responsibility to all the sources that I am: to all past and future ancestors, to my home country, to all places that I touch down on and that are myself, to all voices, all women, all of my tribe, all people, all earth, and beyond that to all beginnings and endings. In a strange kind of sense [writing] frees me to believe in myself, to be able to speak, to have voice, because I have to; it is my survival.” (The Poetry Foundation)
Service is important to Harjo in practice as well as in her art. She is the director of For Girls Becoming, an organization focused on arts mentorship for young Muscogee women. She is also is a founding board member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.
Harjo does not restrict her creativity and art to writing. She is also an accomplished saxophonist, flutist, and vocalist and has released a handful of award-winning albums. Like her writing, her music draws from her native roots and collaborates with other native musicians. She tours regularly with her band, Arrow Dynamics.
Read more about Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo on the Poetry Foundation’s website and on her own website. You can check out a number of her works through the JKM Library. We recommend beginning with her acclaimed collection She Had Some Horses. Browse here!
In Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, she makes a strong case for moving away from the capitalist idea that we need to be constantly optimizing, producing, and innovating. Instead, we should turn our attention back to our actual place in the world and try to reconnect with people, animals, and our bioregion in a way that repairs the harmful results of behavior capitalism has encouraged and even required of us.
With the rise of internet culture, student and credit card debt, the gig-economy, environmental and social crises, and late stage capitalism, we find ourselves increasingly burnt out and restricted. As a group, humans are disconnected and fractured. We spend so much time working or distracted by the internet and media that we regularly forget to look up.
According to Odell, removing ourselves from the attention economy and invasive addictive technology for a time allows us to refocus our attention. Her book does an amazing job at illustrating how powerful our attention is, both for destruction and for building. She uses successful acts of activism from the past as examples of the positive power of our combined sustained focus. Unfortunately, our attention is currently being drained from us at a rate impossible for us to maintain, hence the constant overwhelmed state. Due to that, we no longer know how to focus together as a group on shared goals.
Odell champions the idea that not every space, be it physical, digital, or mental, needs to have what capitalism would consider a net gain. Not every idea or thought needs to be profitable. Sometimes the important work is not that of optimizing, but of sustaining. To undo the harm of constant “innovation”, humans can learn instead how to be stewards of the spaces around them, offering only the amount of support needed for it to maintain a stable existence.
Odell brings in ideas from environmentalism, art, technology, psychology, philosophy, sociology, and more to illustrate her points. Part of the beauty of How To Do Nothing is watching Odell seamlessly blend together these multiple concepts into a cohesive message. Odell, a visual artists and professor at Stanford, is both highly academic and engaging in her discussion. How To Do Nothing is incredibly well researched without being dry.
Odell’s arguments feel plausible and urgent. This is important for a book discussing what might be considered by some as a breakdown of society. Those who read How To Do Nothing will see their world in a new light and, if Odell has been successful, be inspired to make changes to how they exist in it.
Imagine it’s 1942. You’re French. Einstein has already refuted the absolutist notions of time and space, Darwin’s findings have nearly dismantled creationism, and Freud has speculated that there’s a subconscious realm where much of the mind’s processes are at work. Nietzsche fathomed nihilism, addressing the question: what would happen to a post-religious society? Worse yet, the Nazis have risen; you’ve been warring with Germany for three years.
Albert Camus published his debut novel, The Stranger, in this context. The soccer-loving philosopher writes an apathetic, emotionless protagonist who searches for meaning in a meaningless world. Camus prescribes a set of absurdist strategies for dealing with love, grief, and violence. In short, he suggests one ought to refrain from investing in such matters.
Though Camus personally rejected the term ‘existentialist,’ he is often grouped with his existentialist contemporaries. Like them, Camus rejected the notion of a universal purpose. No overarching truth or religion suits existentialists, nor do they accept the notion of a comprehensive moral code befitting to all. Fundamentally, they believe human flourishing is a myth; life is nothing more than a waiting room, and the room is full of hardship, loss, and setbacks. Ironically, from this rejection of Meaning arises a new purpose. The existentialists’ simple commandment is to treat life as something to conquer. Do not get bogged down with other people or expectations or feelings or morality. Existentialists urge: do what you want to do, precisely when you want to do it.
All of these philosophies are instantiated in Meursault—a man who traipses around avoiding his feelings to a nearly sociopathic degree. He makes sense of his world by suspending his passions. In the opening pages, for example, when the reader discovers that Meursault’s mother has died, the protagonist treats the event as a mild annoyance. One might expect that this degree of flippancy could only arise from someone who despises his parentage. Yet Meursault does not seem angry. Rather, he appears dispassionate, reacting as if his own mother were not the one dead.
Looking for something spooky to read under the covers with some tea tonight? Look no further than Shirley Jackson, the master of creeping dread and spooky suspense. You may know Jackson’s famous short story The Lottery from high school, or perhaps you have watched the recent Netflix reimagining of her classic The Haunting of Hill House. Her works are often described as horror, but the subtlety of her writing gives it something more universal. Her themes often focus on the dark side of domestic life and isolation, and they often feature agoraphobia and critiques of the expectations of traditional society.
Jackson also wrote nonfiction about what it was like to be a mother and manage a home, something she considered to hold its own degree of horror. Jackson also felt that she and her family were considered outcasts in her small New England town, and they experienced anti-Semitism in the insidious manner one sees in “civilized society”. Toward the end of her life, she became so painfully agoraphobic she wouldn’t leave her bedroom. Much of what makes her fiction work horrific is because it is Jackson’s true-life experiences expressed through a fantastical lens, and as such there is something recognizable in it to all of us. We see how easy it could be for us to slip into some kind of madness, or for the precarious society around us to suddenly turn vicious. It is not gore or jump scares that make Jackson’s work terrifying, it is how she exposes the truth and ugliness in us all.
For this fall, I wanted to recommend a lesser talked about Jackson classic: We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This short (under 200 pages) novel is dark, twisted, unconventional, and incredibly beautiful. We enter into the lives of Mary Katherine (Merricat) and Constance Blackwood, two young women who live isolated in their large house with their wheelchair-bound uncle, Julian. The fractured family fell into disrepair after arsenic in the sugar bowl killed the rest of the Blackwoods half a decade ago. The only two who were not poisoned in the incident were Merricat and Constance, while Uncle Julian did not ingest enough of the poison to kill him. Constance, having been put on trial and then acquitted of the crime, now suffers from such extreme agoraphobia that she cannot leave the house. Uncle Julian is so much diminished from the poisoning that he struggles to keep one foot in reality. He depends on his nieces to care for him, which they do lovingly. The town is happy to keep them isolated, making disparaging comments and singing a haunting little nursery rhyme about the murders whenever Merricat comes near. And it is only ever Merricat that leaves their extensive grounds to go grocery shopping and run quick errands.
Lori Jakiela opens her memoir with a line as humble as the title, describing her memoir “primarily a work of nonfiction.” What follows is a dramatic account of Jakiela’s search to make contact with her biological family after the death of her adoptive parents. Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe is an evocative story of one woman’s yearning for closure, love, and family.
The presentation of these ideals are developed through Jakiela’s description of loss. She articulates her pain in ways that are acute, poignant, familiar. Her pages are decorated with mediations on a particular grief—the kind of unique sorrow that stems from her identity as an adoptee. Through her attempts to contact her native family, for example, she continues, with insistence, to refer to her adoptive family as her “real” family.
Some craft elements will engage readers from the start. Jakiela, a native Pittsburgher, describes a setting that Chatham students will find pleasantly relatable. More uniquely, Jakiela subtly challenges storytelling conventions through experimental use of dialogue. She presents uninterrupted, staccato quotes and repetitive dialogue tags, both of which reveal a one-of-a-kind style—clever and intentional in its pacing.