Librarian's Pick

Here's what our librarians are reading lately.

Librarian’s Pick: The Daughters Of Kobani – Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Medium “The story of how young Kurdish women brought down terrorists from the Islamic State group has been waiting to be told. If Kobani, Syria, is a city that has gone unnoticed in the saga of Middle Eastern wars, then The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice will change that. It’s the story of a new generation of combatants, long denied choices about education, marriage or their very futures, who vanquished hosts of kidnappers, rapists and enslavers. Yet when author and journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon was asked to tell their story, she hesitated. “It just doesn’t make sense that the Middle East would be home to AK-47-wielding women driven with fervor and without apology or hesitation to make women’s equality a reality—and that the Americans would be the ones backing them.” She decided to go see for herself.

By 2016, civil war was tearing Syria apart, leaving room for ISIS, with help from allies such as Russia and Iran, to swagger in. President Barack Obama pledged that there would be no American troops on the ground; American support would have to come from the air, with airstrikes and weapons drops, while consultants and diplomats strategized from afar. On the front lines in Kobani were women like Azeema, trained as an expert sniper, and her childhood friend Rojda, whose mother still called her every day.

Based on hours of on-the-ground reporting and countless interviews with Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) fighters, Lemmon delivers a vivid, street-by-bombed-out-street account of the final days of the battle for Kobani. Strewn throughout are reports of what the soldiers were up against: appalling ISIS acts like beheadings, torture and worse. The YPJ was outnumbered and underequipped, but they were fearless.

The battles for Kobani, and later Raqqa, were key moments in a history that is still being made. With international interest waning and ISIS sleeper cells and foreign fighter recruitments quietly continuing, ready to reignite the landscape, those Kurdish and Arab victories in 2017 and onward hold no guarantees. As Lemmon observes, it is “easier to kill a terrorist than to slay an ideology.” Still, no matter the final outcome, the women who fought this war have shown the world what courage and justice look like. And if the next generation must keep fighting, these warriors have shown them how.”

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Librarian’s Pick: The Doctors Blackwell – Janice P. Nimura

Medium “Florence Nightingale and Dorothea Dix loom large as women who reformed health care in the 19th century—in the fields of nursing and mental health, respectively—but Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell have remained largely unrecognized for their roles in medical history. No longer, though, for Janice P. Nimura’s compelling biography The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine reclaims the sisters’ enduring contributions to medicine and to women’s history.

In breathtaking prose and exhaustive detail, Nimura chronicles the lives of the Blackwell sisters—their childhood in England, their immigration to America, the challenges they faced as they made their way in the medical profession and their eventual establishment of institutions that would provide both access to quality medical care for women and a place where women could study medicine in order to practice it.

Attracted to healing as a teenager, Elizabeth saw medicine as a noble vocation, but as she sought to embrace her calling she encountered resistance at almost every turn. Eventually she was able to graduate from Geneva Medical College in New York, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to earn a medical degree, after which she set up a practice in New York City. Emily followed in her older sister’s footsteps, attending Rush Medical College in Chicago and the Medical College of Cleveland, where she became the third woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree. In 1857, the two sisters founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, and in 1868 they opened the Women’s Medical College in New York City, where Elizabeth taught courses on sanitation and hygiene and Emily taught obstetrics and gynecology. By 1900, the college had trained more than 364 women, and the sisters’ work led to thousands of women becoming educated in the medical field.

Nimura’s compelling biography not only recovers the lives and work of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell but also provides a colorful social history of medicine in America and Europe during the mid- to late-19th century.”

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Librarian’s Pick: The Three Mothers – Anna Malaika Tubbs

Medium ” In The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation, Anna Malaika Tubbs tells three stories that are often overlooked but deeply important to civil rights history. Tubbs explores the lives of “the women before the men,” as she calls them: Alberta King, Louise Little and Berdis Baldwin. Though each woman came from a different part of the U.S. and the Caribbean, faced diverse social and economic challenges and had divergent interests and ambitions, Tubbs knew that, because the women were so close in age (by some accounts their birthdays are only six years apart), she would find common ground among these women’s lives that superseded their connections to famous men.

Tubbs intentionally chose the mothers of leaders whose lives have been well documented so she could focus on the women’s lives instead. In this way, The Three Mothers offers space for Tubbs, a debut author, to weave biography and social commentary with the complex history of Black women living in the 20th century. Tubbs also makes room for moments of discovery that help us better understand how each of these civil rights icons’ social activism and artistic endeavors were shaped by their mothers’ shining examples. For instance, Alberta King’s radical maternal tenderness set the groundwork for how her son would view himself as a “mother” birthing a dream of racial equality. We also learn how Louise Little’s childhood love of dictionaries would lead her incarcerated son, Malcolm, on a quest for knowledge that would reroute his early delinquency, and how Berdis Baldwin would pass on her gift of both the written and spoken word to her oldest son, James.

As Tubbs explained in an interview for BookPage, there is a troubling binary between motherhood and intellectual labor, and her writing about three women whose sons’ lives were shaped by their mothers (and not vice versa) is an attempt to turn that binary on its head. The Three Mothers does just that, expanding conversations about King, Malcolm X and Baldwin beyond what these men gave the world to include what the world gave them through the lives of three intelligent, ambitious, trailblazing women.”

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Librarian’s Pick: The African Lookbook – Catherine E. McKinley

Medium ““There is no perfect exegesis,” writes Catherine E. McKinley about the photographs in The African Lookbook: A Visual History of 100 Years of African Women, which presents just over 150 pictures of African women between the years 1870 and 1970Any composed explanation of the photographs would be fictional since so much about them is unknowable. Many subjects are anonymous and many images undated. Rather than an exegesis, then, what McKinley offers in this compelling, quixotic book is something closer to a testament—a bold declaration of the enduring strength, beauty and power of African women, many of whom gaze at the camera with evident self-possession.

The book is a pleasure to absorb, whether you already know about the history of photography on the African continent or are new to the conversation. All the images are from McKinley’s personal collection, gathered over many years, and they seem to announce themselves with joy. From colonial-era photographs to studio portraits to postcolonial expressions of cosmopolitan poise, the collection offers a vibrant, inchoate and compelling snapshot of African women over time.

McKinley accompanies the photographs with prose, occasionally explaining an item in the picture—for example, “She wears the silver chains of the Ga people.” In response to other images, McKinley shares her wonder: “Whose room is this? Who chose the flower for my lady’s hair?” In other moments, McKinley interprets the subjects’ expressions, as when she describes the faces of three young women: “The girls have a look of expectation: an awareness that the world is large and made up of things they have the gumption for.” In all cases, McKinley helps the reader to see more, and thus think more carefully, about the image at hand. She gets close to the pictures without forcing a narrative that oversteps what can be known from the evidence.

Throughout The African Lookbook, McKinley puts African women at the center of their own stories, exploring their pictures with admiration and respect and inviting readers to look alongside her.”

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Librarian’s Pick: The Liar’s Dictionary – Eley Williams

The Liar's Dictionary by Eley Williams“Two lexicographers employed by the same company and separated by a century are at the heart of The Liar’s Dictionary, an imaginative, funny, intriguing novel by Eley Williams, author of the critically lauded 2017 short story collection Attrib. and Other Stories.

At the end of the 19th century in London, Swansby House is a place of high hopes and bustling industriousness. There, Peter Winceworth writes the letter “S” entries for Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. He’s also in a pickle of his own making: From childhood, he has affected a lisp as a means to get special treatment, and the stress of maintaining the ruse ensures an undercurrent of discomfiture in his every interaction. Combine that with his irritatingly extroverted co-workers and an unrequited crush on a colleague’s fiancée, and he needs a release—which comes in the form of false entries (or mountweazels) that he secretly inserts in the dictionary as an act of quiet, clever rebellion.

In the present day, intern Mallory is the sole employee of Swansby family descendant David, who is determined to complete the dictionary after a century of lying fallow. Production was halted by the onset of World War I, during which the staff perished and the printing presses were melted down for munitions. David wants to give the dictionary new life by digitizing it, but first Mallory must suss out and remove the mountweazels that pepper its pages. She’s also assigned to phone-answering duty, which isn’t as mundane as it sounds: Every day, a stranger threatens violence because the definition of marriage is changing. These calls are particularly distressing because Mallory is struggling with coming out.

Williams ushers readers back and forth in time as Peter and Mallory wrangle with capricious office politics, unresolved romantic feelings and the assorted indignities of being human, often to hilarious effect. The author has a gift for writing set pieces and inner monologues that at first seem quotidian and then gradually spiral—or soar—into delightful absurdity.

In The Liar’s Dictionary, Williams has created a supremely entertaining and edifying meditation on how language records and reflects how we see the world, and what we wish it could be.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Klara And The Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo IshiguroKlara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.

Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?”

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Librarian’s Pick: Lightseekers – Femi Kayode

Lightseekers “When Dr. Philip Taiwo is called on by a powerful Nigerian politician to investigate the public torture and murder of three university students in remote Port Harcourt, he has no idea that he’s about to be enveloped by a perilous case that is far from cold.

Philip is not a detective. He’s an investigative psychologist, an academic more interested in figuring out the why of a crime than actually solving it. But when he steps off the plane and into the dizzying frenzy of the provincial airport, he soon realizes that the murder of the Okriki Three isn’t as straightforward as he thought. With the help of his loyal and streetwise personal driver, Chika, Philip must work against those actively conspiring against him to parse together the truth of what happened to these students.

A thrilling and atmospheric mystery, and an unforgettable portrait of the contemporary Nigerian sociopolitical landscape, Lightseekers is a wrenching novel tackling the porousness between the first and third worlds, the enduring strength of tribalism and homeland identity, and the human need for connection in the face of isolation.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Life After Death – Sister Souljah

Life After DeathThe long-anticipated sequel to Sister Souljah’s million copy bestseller The Coldest Winter Ever.

Winter Santiaga hit time served. Still stunning, still pretty, still bold, still loves her father more than any man in the world, still got her hustle and high fashion flow. She’s eager to pay back her enemies, rebuild her father’s empire, reset his crown, and ultimately to snatch Midnight back into her life no matter which bitch had him while she was locked up. But Winter is not the only one with revenge on her mind. Simone, Winter’s young business partner and friend, is locked and loaded and Winter is her target. Will she blow Winter’s head off? Can Winter dodge the bullets? Or will at least one bullet blast Winter into another world? Either way Winter is fearless. Hell is the same as any hood and certainly the Brooklyn hood she grew up in. That’s what Winter thinks.

A heart warming, heart burning, passionate, sexual, comical, and completely original adventure is about to happen in real time—raw, shocking, soulful, and shameless. True fans won’t let Winter travel alone on this amazing journey.”

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Librarian’s Pick: The Listening Path – Julia Cameron

The Listening Path by Julia Cameron “Back in the early 1990s, a book called The Artist’s Way changed the creativity how-to scene forever and paved the way for countless guides to come. Author Julia Cameron preached the practice of “morning pages,” a daily stream-of-consciousness writing ritual. Since then, countless readers have found this practice to be a useful tool for self-understanding. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—and so we find morning pages and the six-week program framework from Cameron’s earlier book at the heart of her new one, The Listening Path. Designed for a world in which attention is our collective deficiency, The Listening Path focuses on tuning out cluttering noise and redirecting attention constructively to release creative blocks. Quotations from respected writers, thinkers and spiritual guides travel like softly shining stars alongside Cameron’s storytelling and prompts to nurture conscious listening. If this all sounds too woo-woo for you . . . then you probably need it.”

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Librarian’s Pick: A Shot In The Moonlight – Ben Montgomery

“Imagine being woken up in the middle of the night by a mob outside your house, calling your name, accusing you of crimes that you didn’t commit. Then imagine that they start throwing explosives and firing guns at your house, at your family. You defend yourself and your home as best you can, and one of the assailants dies from the intervening fight. Suddenly you find yourself, a Black man, a formerly enslaved person, fleeing through 1890s Kentucky, trying to stay out of the hands of lynch mobs. With the Ku Klux Klan and newspapers calling for your execution, you’re forced to put your life in the hands of a lawyer who fought to uphold slavery.

This complicated tale is masterfully told in Ben Montgomery’s A Shot in the Moonlight: How a Freed Slave and a Confederate Soldier Fought for Justice in the Jim Crow South. Montgomery, the Tampa Bay Times journalist who covered the Dozier School for Boys (which would later inspire Colson Whitehead’s novel The Nickel Boys), guides us through the events that took place on the night of January 21, 1897, at the home of George Dining.

A Shot in the Moonlight reads like a riveting thriller, with multiple moving pieces and conflicting perspectives, but historical artifacts such as newspaper excerpts and first-person accounts also give it journalistic depth. Set during an era when being Black and accused of a crime was almost a guaranteed death sentence, this gripping history offers hope through the actions of an unlikely cast of characters who sought to save a man from a cruel and vindictive fate.”

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