December 22, 2020
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You Need to Read This: The Best Inclusive Titles of 2020

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.

Best Fiction

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.

Best Nonfiction

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.

Best Poetry

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.

May 27, 2020
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An Introduction to Academic Video Online (AVON): Feel-Good Videos to Stream During Quarantine

The JKM Library has a new database worth checking out! Academic Video Online (AVON) is a premier database that holds over 68,000 videos spanning a variety of disciplines and subjects. Whether you’re in the mood for a documentary, news, feature films, or interviews, AVON has access across the board. Explore videos of different genres, lengths, and age, and expand your horizons; search for the exact title you’re looking for, or just peruse the homepage! The database’s wide variety provides a well-rounded collection of both educational and entertaining resources, and Chatham users can see it all! Here’s a few titles that both highlight the diversity of AVON and can lift your spirits!

Image of the cast of Candide1.) Candide, libretto by Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein’s operatic adaptation of Voltaire novella comes to life in the 2004 production with the New York Philharmonic, featuring the musical stylings of theatre giants like Kristin Chenoweth and Patti LuPone. The show tells the story of the eponymous protagonist as he traverses through adulthood meeting bizarre new people and learning important life lessons. Candide boasts an impressive score full of bright, exuberant numbers and an overall feeling of comedy and joy throughout. Viewers can expect to laugh their way all the way through this musical adventure. A true testament to the quality of AVON’s performing arts selection, Candide is fun for everyone.

Film poster for Land Ho!2.) Land Ho!, directed by Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens

Here’s one raucous comedy evokes the feeling of the ’80s road trip movies, but turns the trope on its head with its elderly protagonist. This feature film follows former brothers-in-law Mitch and Colin as they attempt to relive their youth while taking a trip through Iceland. This indie darling is simple and character-driven, and while it has the occasional heavy moment, the majority of Land Ho! is chock full of quirk and witty humor. Coupled with the beautiful scenery of Reykjavik, this movie is a short and sweet romp that prioritizes mischief, friendship, and the idea that we all need someone to be there for us every now and then.

Film poster for Awake3.) Awake: The Life of Yogananda, directed by Pablo Di Florio and Lisa Leeman

In this documentary, the life of acclaimed yogi Paramahansa Yogananda serves as the subject. His story of enlightenment and self-discovery is juxtaposed against his personal struggles growing up, and paints an incredible picture of his journey. Often credited as bringing yoga to the west via his memoir Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda’s grounded view of life and practice of self-realization helped to propel yoga into the mainstream. This documentary would be a great fit both for those who want to further inform their practice of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness as well as those brand new to the topic and wanting to learn more.

Film poster for Fermented4.) Fermented, directed by Jonathan Cianfrani

Part science, part history, all educational, this documentary explores the roots of one of oldest forms of food preservation, perfect for the sustainability-savvy viewer. Learn all about the different ways that fermentation can occur, from pickling to making alcohol, and their importance to the world of food! Host Edward Lee is incredibly passionate about exploring this food practice, and his enthusiasm could very well extend to the viewer. Considering the growing popularity of food studies and sustainable food practice, this film would serve as a great supplement to learning about current food trends–canning and pickling may make a quarantine comeback!

Film poster for Mister Rogers It's You I Like5.) Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like, directed by John Paulson

Nothing says “feel-good” quite like Mister Rogers. 2019 gave us two great movies, Won’t You Be My Neighbor and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, but this earlier documentary pays homage directly to Mister Rogers’ television legacy. Highlighting some of the show’s most memorable clips and performances, and featuring interviews with celebrities on how Mister Rogers shaped their lives, It’s You I Like gives an inside glimpse of the importance of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in its 900 episode run. You’re guaranteed to finish this documentary with a smile on your face, and an even greater understanding of the importance of this hometown hero on children’s television.

These are just a few of the thousands of titles available through AVON. Whether you’re interested in a three-minute mindfulness video, a fashion show, or a virtual trip to the orchestra, AVON has something for everyone. Watch with your significant other, your kids, or with friends, maybe host a Zoom watch party–regardless of what you choose, the possibilities seem endless! Access the database here, and remember to also check out our other available library resources during our closure. Happy watching!

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.

May 12, 2020
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Keeping Your Cool in Quarantine: Free (eBook) Titles to Help You Escape During Self-Isolation

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!

How to Fracture a Fairy TaleHow to Fracture a Fairy Tale, Jane Yolen (available in the JKM Library eBook collection)

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!

The Weekend BucketlistThe Weekend Bucket List, Mia Kerick (available in the JKM Library eBook collection)

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.

On a SunbeamOn a Sunbeam, Tillie Walden (available on the author’s website)

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!

Rodrigo Salazar A Warrior's TaleRodrigo Salazar: A Warrior’s Tale, David A. Ballentine (available in the JKM Library eBook collection)

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!

NimonaNimona, Noelle Stevenson (available on the Internet Archive)

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.

April 23, 2018
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National Poetry Month 2018: Suggested Reads!

April is National Poetry Month, and we at the JKM Library have a soft spot in our literary hearts for poetry. This month, student workers Alie Davis and Carina Stopenski worked together to design and curate our Main Book Display. Items selected ranged from classics like Sylvia Plath to Chatham students’ chapbooks and everything in between.

While all the poetry collections on display are worth checking out and exploring, Alie Davis has selected three that stand out to her. Read her bite-sized reviews below for poetry collections you can check out today!

Andrea Gibson’s first book, Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns, inspires action in all of its readers. This collection is brimming with brutal tenderness. Gibson covers topics that are relevant to the current political climate. This collection is full of poems about gender, love, violence, and an overwhelming optimism for surviving no matter what.

 

Lori Jakiela, a local Pittsburgh poet, released her chapbook, Big Fish in 2016. This collection sings with humor, playfulness, and light, but does not shy away from the hard things. Jakiela writes about landscape, motherhood, and giant fish sandwiches. Big Fish is a rich collection to dive into and swim through.

 

Lighthead by Terrance Hayes is his fourth collection to be published. Always blurring the line between story and song, and reality and dream, Hayes engages with how we ground ourselves in the everyday and how we construct experience. Musical and dream-like, Lighthead offers meditations on desires and history. Masterful precision of language and sound moves this collection to a Must-Read for all.

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