A few weeks ago, the Reader Services department had a lively discussion about why some not-so-great books become hugely popular but other amazing books get little or no attention. Of course, this gave each of us the opportunity to stroll down memory lane and revisit some of our favorite titles. But it seemed selfish not to share these underappreciated gems with everyone, so we created an Incredible but Unknown initiative that is currently on display at the Library. These books were hand-selected by every department in the Library and there is a little bit of something for everyone in these recommendations. We look forward to seeing you on Main Street to check out this wonderful collection of incredible titles!
We want to wish everyone a happy early Thanksgiving and hope that everyone has a festive and safe holiday.
Now let’s see what our librarians are reading this month…
Colson Whitehead’s latest novel, Harlem Shuffle, set in Harlem during the early 1960s, is narrated by Ray Carney who runs his furniture store on 125th Street. In spite of the fact that Ray’s in-laws aren’t shy about their feelings toward their son-in-law (they believe that their daughter could have done so much better!), Ray holds his own throughout with humor, hustle, and savviness.
While not all the items in Ray’s store may have arrived directly from the manufacturer (sometimes they just happen to have fallen off the back of a truck), Ray characterizes himself as a respectable businessman in his community. That is until his cousin, albeit small-time crook, Freddie, persuades Ray to be the fence following a bold heist at the well-known Hotel Theresa, otherwise known as the “Waldorf Hotel of Harlem.”
This lively story plays out with great entertainment. Each character is brought to life within the descriptive and vivid Harlem neighborhood that Whitehead artistically crafts through his skillful writing. Harlem Shuffle, a suspenseful crime thriller, is another win for Whitehead, and one not to be missed!
Emily Itami’s debut novel Fault Lines relates the story of Mizuki, a bored Tokyo housewife who leads a seemingly idyllic life. She has a hard-working husband, two beautiful children, and a beautiful apartment.
It’s not enough. She feels unfulfilled, invisible, unseen, and unappreciated for who she is. A chance meeting with Kiyoshi, a charming restauranteur, leads to an extramarital affair.
This might have turned into a trite bored housewife story, but Itami’s poetic lyrical writing tells the story with such poignancy and beautiful imagery that it lifts it out of the ordinary. I found this a totally satisfying read and highly recommend it.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune follows Linus Baker, an investigator from the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. Linus has never seen the ocean and lives a bleak, gray life where his days are consumed with work and his only friend is his cat. That all changes when he is assigned to investigate the Marsyas Island Orphanage. The orphanage is home to six extraordinary children and their caretaker, the dashing, if mysterious, Arthur Parnassas. Suddenly Linus’ world is filled with bursts of color and wonder. Each day is filled with new magical discoveries and he is forced to choose between what he’s always been taught is right and what his heart tells him is right.
I loved this book because it has a wonderful message of challenging your preconceived notions about not just people, but also what the world can be and what your role in it is. Klune writes with such vivid imagery that I found myself dreaming of this magical island in the Cerulean Sea. This book may be marketed toward teenagers, but it is enjoyable for all ages. I could not put it down!
In Red Roulette by Desmond Shum, the author has pulled back the curtain on the current communist party of China economic policy -- and exposed a system rife with corruption, greed, and nepotism.
Told as a cautionary tale, Shum briefly describes his impoverished beginnings as a Chinese mainlander, born to parents who struggled to maintain a roof over their heads. Upon moving to Hong Kong with his family in his early teens, he discovered the world of capitalism, and never looked back. After completing university in America, Shum’s return to China in the 90s coincided with the CCP’s (Chinese Communist Party) new economic reform era. The heart of the story lies in Shum’s relationship with Whitney Duan, an ambitious young woman, (soon to become his wife) who recognized that financial success and political power went hand in hand.
In the later 90s and early 2000s, based almost solely on their close friendship with the wife of then-Premier Wen Jiabao, Auntie Zhang, Shum and Duan were offered the choicest economic opportunities -- and made the most of them. Soon becoming part of China’s billionaire class, their excessive lifestyle became a parody of Crazy, Rich Asians with thousand dollar lunches, half-million dollar watches, private jets, and million dollar homes -- until Xi came to power in 2012. Launching a huge anti-corruption campaign, their solid footing in the political and financial firmament of China began to teeter almost immediately.
This story ends tragically -- and leaves the reader with no illusions about the current state of the communist party in China under Xi. This is a riveting read -- one you can’t put down.
Bear with me, dear reader, as I tell you why I recommend Gory Details: Adventures from the Dark Side of Science by Erika Engelhaupt. As the title suggests, Engelhaupt specializes in the parts of science that could be considered weird, gross, or even taboo, and she does so with crisp writing and witty humor. The book runs a gamut of important but underrepresented topics, such as the daily work of a coroner, why eating insects is good for you, and the scientific reason we find clowns so gosh darn creepy. Each subject is contained in its own essay, so readers are empowered to skip over the ones that are uninteresting or a bit too much (I personally drew the line at maggot farming). Engelhaupt has cultivated a safe and inviting place for readers to indulge their morbid curiosity and learn why doing so is valuable.
For those with the fortitude, Gory Details is a pop science gem that will lead readers to better understand -- and maybe even appreciate -- the strange and nebulous parts of our world.
November marks Native American Heritage Month as the time to celebrate the culture, accomplishments, and contributions of people who were the first inhabitants of the United States.