Tag Archives: book review

#BookThatChangedYourWorld: Jennifer Schlau

Boyd, Candy Dawson. Forever Friends. Puffin, 1986.

I probably read this book 10-15 times (maybe even more, I truly lost count) as an older child/young adolescent, and somewhere I still have my copy.

Hands down, this is one of my favorite children’s books. It’s beautiful when the memories of enjoying a great book in many locations and in all seasons feels as warm as enjoying the story itself.

One reason I think I took most to this story as a child was the African-American protagonist and her family. I grew up in a school system very predominantly made up of Caucasian students so reading a story about an African-American girl my age that I could identify with and relate to was very powerful experience for me.

Toni (Antoinette) is preparing for a big exam into a private academy when her best friend Susan is killed in a car accident. We walk with Toni as she processes her friend’s death. We walk with her moving toward physical and emotional maturity.

Boyd makes you feel like you are right next to Toni – for instance, vivid descriptions of waking up in the morning to the sound of the heater running and being warm and snuggly in bed. There’s a little metaphor that I remember, but Boyd puts you right there (reading my review makes me want to curl up and read this again as soon as possible!). This work was originally published as Breadsticks and Blessing Places. It is out of print, but with a quick search on World Cat to see where it is nearby, I noticed that Chicago Public Library has it (under the Breadsticks and Blessing Places title) as well as Loyola University (under Forever Friends), so if you decide to read it, Interlibrary Loan might be for you.

–Submitted by Jennifer Schlau, Reference/Instruction Librarian

The Stone Diaries Book Review

Image via Amazon

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
FIC S555s 

We occupy static roles in one another’s lives (her grandparent, his sibling, her spouse). Rarely do we step back and consider that person’s movement and evolution through those roles in totality. Do we really think hard about how our grandfather was a young boy? Can we capture in our mind our great-grandmother’s once teenage insecurity? Shields traces us through these evolutionary roles by taking us through Daisy Goodwill Flett’s entire life cycle. Shields narrates Daisy from the totally dependent newborn to the family matriarch approaching death. While the novel commenced with a tedious mood with lots of detail that felt superfluous, it turns into a comprehensive, exceptional look at an entire life, and the novel plays with perspective and outlook. We are offered remarkable glimpses of a protagonist’s story that combine to a grand scale rarely seen. The shifting character perspectives and text made the novel very rich and special. Not only do we read the narrator, but we also read in neatly placed primary sources (letters, obituaries, lists) of Daisy’s life. A impressively creative novel that was well worth my time to pick up and speaks for itself as to why it earned the 1995 Pulizter Prize for Fiction.

–Reviewed by Jennifer Schlau, Adjunct Faculty Reference & Instruction Librarian

Summer Reading Recommendations from your ECC Library!

Summer reading goals are different for everyone. Some like to have a good fantasy book, or a beach read. Others like true crime. Sometimes you even want to read something challenging. Our summer reading suggestions run the gamut and you can likely find something to interest and enrich you.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness**, appeared on the display table on the second floor of the ECC library during National Library Week.  It took a minute to realize why – but the book begins when historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library.  What separates this novel from a romantic pot-boiler is the author’s background as a professor of history for the University of Southern California, who prior to falling into fiction, published such works as John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature, and The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution.  This makes her markedly able to spin a yarn about a historian interested in alchemy who has turned her back on her family legacy of witches.  The other reason the title might seem familiar is the television series of the same name showing on BBC America and AMC this spring.  The book is better and makes more sense than the series – although the television vampire geneticist does give an idea of the appearance of Diana’s romantic interest.  The ECC copy is large type, so it appears longer than it really is, but its length does qualify as a good beach read.–Mary Spevacek, Reference/Instruction Librarian

There There (ours is in processing)*  by Tommy Orange. Orange is an excellent descriptive writer. Just lots of beautiful, jaw-dropping passages in this book that I would re-read several times. Without giving too much away: the story weaves indigenous trauma with more general trauma that plagues our society. My only criticisms echo others’ [on Good Reads]: it is hard to keep who is who straight, and how people are connected. It would be tough to keep the characters straight in a single setting let alone 99.9% of us who use bookmarks. Secondly, the ending was abrupt as in it fell off of a cliff and THE END. Those criticisms aside, this is a beautiful work of literature about Native Americans by a Native American.”–Jennifer Schlau, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Ann Rule’s A Stranger Beside Me was an intense look at serial crime from the view of both an investigator and as a friend of the perpetrator, who also happened to be serial killer Ted Bundy. Rule has written many books on true crime and was a creative writing major, so the stories come alive with detail and yet sensitivity to the victims. The ECC Library has these items* available, and many are also available at your local public libraries. For old timey true crime, the Poisoner’s Handbook* by Deborah Blum is a fascinating look at the beginnings of forensic science. See our book review from last year here. –Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian

The physick book of Deliverance Dane is available at ECC as a book on CD, and it bears a similar appeal as A Discovery of Witches.  Another historical scholar, who has just finished her dissertation, is drawn to her grandmother’s house near Salem, where she finds clues to a “Physick Book”: a manual of medicine used by knowledgeable women in the colonial era, but also a book of spells.  The novel’s author, Katherine Howe, can claim credibility to write this tale, as two of her ancestors were accused of witchcraft.  The parallel narratives between contemporary perspectives and those of the Salem Witch Trials add to the suspense of the novel.  The physic book debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list in 2009 and was named one of USA Today’s top ten books of the year.  Another great spooky, summer read.–Mary Spevecek, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Educated by Tara Westover
Westover is the product of a family of fringe Mormon survivalists who have a mistrust of any kind of interaction with government agencies, including schools and doctors. The result of this was that Westover grew up without any formal schooling. The family’s business of running a junkyard put them in danger every day, and serious injuries were sustained by many family members and treated at home without seeing a doctor. Reading about Westover’s childhood will be shocking and upsetting, but for her, this was her normal. Following her journey as she broadened her world by studying on her own to pass the ACT, then studying at Cambridge and Harvard is truly remarkable. This is a book you won’t soon forget. -Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

The following three books are very different from each other and each is by a woman writer of color. By Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian.

They Were Her Property:White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie Jones-Rogers provides “court cases and newspaper advertisements to show that Southern American women were not just victims of the patriarchy but that they were integral in making the slavery system work. The author uses strong evidence to convince readers to revisit what they think they know about white women and black slavery.” White women had more economic control than has been previously noted, adding to a part of feminist history that is maybe not something white women can be proud of, but that is true. Reviewed here** in the March 2019 edition of Library Journal.

Algorithms of Oppression* by Safiya Umoja Noble looks at how the power of algorithms is oppressive to communities of color, even as algorithms are considered by many as “objective”. A main theme is how algorithms portray results in search engines, and in library catalogs, and that these results can cause damaging, discriminatory consequences for the computer searcher. Noble was able to bring these issues to the forefront and get some changes in algorithms made at Google, but the persistence of whiteness in the development of these algorithmic systems means that we have to be vigilant and aware that it is happening in the first place to fix the problem. 

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body* by Roxane Gay is a brutal and honest look at body image, how we see bodies (and don’t) in society, sexual assault, and how Gay has dealt with her personal journey through this wrenching memoir. Discussing events that have led to where she is today, her works always display a keen honesty and I always come away with learning something new. Reading her works* makes me a more sensitive citizen and causes me to recognize areas in which I can improve how I see the world and treat others with different experiences than my own

The Library Book by Susan Orleans
This book traces the history of the Los Angeles Public Library, and while doing so, give an overview of the importance of libraries in general and the ever-changing challenges libraries have faced and continue to face today. Those who are not familiar with the inner workings of the library world will be surprised to learn about all the things that libraries do and what it takes to keep the machinery running! -Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Library at the Edge of the World* by Felicity Hayes-McCoy

If you’re looking for a soft, gentle read like a summer breeze, this book may be for you. Librarian Hanna Casey, has sacrificed her career as an art history librarian in London to support her husband’s legal career and raise their daughter. The marriage comes to an abrupt halt when Hanna discovers her husband in bed with her best friend.  Hanna gathers her daughter along with a few belongings and heads back home to small town Lissbeg, on the western coast of Ireland, and to her overbearing mother, a life she thought she had left behind. Too proud to take alimony, Hanna ends up living with her mother and working as the town librarian. She becomes a person of interest on the town gossip scene which in turn causes Hanna to become more withdrawn and testy.  With her daughter, Jazz, grown and off working as a “trolley dolly” or airline hostess, Hanna is desperate to get out from under her mother’s influence and roof.  She embarks on the restoration of an old stone cottage that her Aunt Maggie left to her which necessitates reconnecting into the community. To complicate matters, Hanna discovers that a plan to bring tourism to a larger town on the Peninsula endangers the library, her job and the very existence of the town of Lissbeg. She becomes the unwitting leader of a web campaign, Edge of the World, to bring more recognition to the town, its amenities and its inhabitants.

The inhabitants of Lissbeg lend a lot of charm and interest to the story as does the history of the area, much of which is drawn from factual information, although the name of the town and peninsula have been changed. As the people of Lissbeg come together to support the campaign, a new sense of community develops and along with that an energy and entrepreneurial spirit that could help to sustain the town. Hayes-McCoy builds a story that is based in present day issues and conflicts yet has an almost magical element much like Mauve Binchy’s writing. Pure enjoyment!–Barb Evans, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Black Boy* is Richard Wright’s (Native Son*) short memoir of growing up in the South in the Jim Crow era.  Wright’s style is clean, matter-of-fact, piercing.  His memories convey what it felt like to be distrusted without cause, to be thought of less-than for the superficial fact of dark skin, to be humiliated when white people messed with him for cheap thrills as though he weren’t a person at all, but inhuman, a thing to provide entertainment. Being killed or beaten for not addressing a white person the way they thought was appropriate was a constant and arbitrary threat. Every white person needs to read black literature; it is our duty to understand how our privilege has irredeemably hurt others and continues to hurt others today.  Reading Wright can give context to our history of racism; the ways in which it has seemingly improved and the sad fact that it pervades and thrives in 2019.  –-Beth Hultman, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Becoming* by Michelle Obama
This book is fun to read. You learn a lot about what it is like to be part of the first family in Washington, but the book is about far more than that. Michelle Obama grew up in Chicago, and the first half of the book is about her upbringing, high school, college days, and her life as a young professional, and then young working mother trying to juggle kids, work, and a very ambitious politician as a husband. The Chicago connection makes the book even more interesting to read. -Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

An American Summer by Alex Kotlowitz
An unflinching look into the gun violence crisis in Chicago. Each chapter is another story of a victim, family member, or perpetrator of violence. The book as a whole leaves an indelible impression of a very complex, hard to solve problem in Chicago. -Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Where else can you explore recommendations? Try these ECC resources!

To look at our summer reading posts from previous years, you can click here.

*Items starred are available in the ECC collection. All images courtesy of Amazon.com

Thank you to Julie Keating, Mary Spevecek, Barb Evans, Jennifer Schlau, Beth Hultman, and Maria Bagshaw for contributing!


**“Deborah Harkness.” Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2015. Biography In Context, https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/H1000186787/BIC?u=ecc_main&sid=BIC&xid=cb2b558f. Accessed 14 May 2019.

Bagshaw, M. (2019). They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South. Library Journal, 144(2), 133. Retrieved from https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=134860535&site=ehost-live

#BookThatChangedYourWorld: Maria Bagshaw

I have been a reader as long as I can remember. It started with my mom reading us the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (it was the 1970s after all!), and progressed to Nancy Drew (I bought the new books for $1 every chance I could to add to my library.) I also loved the Childhood of Famous Americans series (orange hardcover books on people like Amelia Earhart or Benjamin Franklin.) We had a whole section of these biographies at my library, and I faithfully read every one in order on the shelf.

However, the book that changed my life occurred later–Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie. This book was originally published in 1967 (the year before I was born), but I received a later edition in 1986 for Christmas. I liked history, but I didn’t know much about the Russian Revolution or what had happened to the Tsar and his family. Up to that point, I also hadn’t read a book that was nearly 650 pages long, and it looked immense and overwhelming to me. When I started reading it however, I was engrossed. I think I read it over my holiday break in about 3 days. This book changed my life because it cemented my love of history and took me on my path to my history undergraduate major. This book also showed me how history and events are so intertwined and how actions of a few can affect millions of lives. I remember feeling like an “adult” because it was so long and I read the whole thing.

The book that I would pick as my “runner up” would be Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi (incidentally published 20 years before the Massie book, in 1947). I read this in college as part of a class and it opened my eyes to the horror of genocide and how easy it can be for people to slip into inhumanity. But I doubt I would have read that book if it hadn’t been for the hefty Christmas gift when I was sixteen.

Written by Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Life, on the Line: Book Review

Cover via Amazon

Life on the Line: a chef’s story of chasing greatness, facing death,
and redefining the way we eat
By Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas

You do not have to be a fan of upscale dining to love this book by Chicago chef and founder of Alinea, Grant Achatz, about his rise to the top of his profession and his battle with cancer. Anyone who is interested in achieving excellence will find inspiration in the story of Achatz’ education as a chef and his ambition to open his own restaurant and push the boundaries of what is possible with both food preparation and the dining experience. I could not put this book down, and the Chicago connection made it even more engrossing. This was my top book of 2011!

Written by Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

#BookThatChangedYourWorld: Julie Keating

Image via Amazon.com

The art of happiness : a handbook for living / the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler
294.3444 B916a

I read this book when I was going through a difficult time in my life, and suffering from severe anxiety. I found this book to be very helpful. You may think that this book would be very dense and difficult to read, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is written in a very accessible style as a series of conversations. The Dalai Lama believes that you can train your mind to exist in a happier state. He believes that “you can overcome your negative mental states  through the application of the “antidote”, or the corresponding positive mental state.” It was very instructive to me at the time that it was possible to have power over my negative emotions.  He touches on dealing with issues stemming from anger, anxiety, suffering, grief, and self esteem. You do not have to be a Buddhist to appreciate this book. Issues are discussed in a very practical, common sense manner with helpful ideas for everyone to consider.

One of the passages in the book that stood out to me was about grief:

“For those people who do not believe in rebirth, then I think there are still some simple ways to help deal with the loss. First, they could reflect that if they worried too much, allowing themselves to be too overwhelmed by the sense of loss and sorrow, and if they carried on with that feeling of being overwhelmed, not only would it be very destructive and harming to themselves, ruining their health, but also it would not have any benefit to the person who has passed away.

“For example, in my own case, I have lost my most respected tutor, my mother, and also one of my brothers. When they passed away, of course, I felt very, very sad. Then I constantly kept thinking that it’s no use to worry too much, and if I really loved these people, then I must try to fulfill their wishes with a calm mind. So I try my best to do that. So I think if you’ve lost someone who is very dear to you, that’s the proper way to approach it. You see, the best way to keep a memory of that person, the best remembrance, is to see if you can carry on the wishes of that person.

“Initially, of course, feelings of grief and anxiety are a natural human response to a loss. But if you allow these feelings of loss and worry to persist, there’s a danger; if these feelings are left unchecked, they can lead to a kind of self-absorption. A situation where the focus becomes your own self. And when that happens you become overwhelmed by the sense of loss, and you get a feeling that it’s only you who is going through this. Depression sets in. But in reality, there are others who will be going through the same kind of experience. So, if you find yourself worrying too much, it may help to think of the other people who have similar or even worse tragedies. Once you realize that, then you no longer feel isolated, as if you have been singlepointedly picked out. That can offer you some kind of condolence.”

      —The Dalai Lama (1935-), in The Art of Happiness (pub. 1998) 

I know that being a student is very stressful, and anxiety plagues many of us. For those interested, I would recommend two other books here in the ECC library to help deal with the stresses of modern life:

Wherever you go, there you are : mindfulness meditation in
everyday life / Jon Kabat-Zinn 155.9042 K11w

 The relaxation response / by Herbert Benson 616.132 B474R

–Submitted by Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

African American History Month and Science Fiction

Quick: can you name an African-American science fiction author?  Author Octavia E. Butler has re-emerged after being overlooked.  Chicago Tribune writer John Warner notes that her prominence took a back seat “likely because she was a woman and African-American.” 

Butler described a future that is coming true today.  In Parable of the Sower, from 1993, her dystopian setting is characterized by “climate change, economic inequality, and unchecked corporate power” (Warner 10).  These predictions so inspired an instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, that students are now designing “survival packs” for an exhibition honoring Butler’s creation of a character who keeps going, no matter what (Rockett 8).

The next book in the series, Parable of the Talents(owned by ECC), takes the character Lauren into her adult life and that of her daughter, to face a government that persecutes religious and ethnic minorities in the name of “making America great again.”  Winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel.

Prefer your dystopias less realistic?  Check out ECC’s copy of Butler’s Wild Seed:  Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny unimaginable to mortals.

Or how about vampires?  In Fledgling(on display at ECC), Shori states, “When your rage is choking you, it is best to say nothing.” Shori, the only dark-skinned member of a vampiric race, appears to be a black, ten-year-old human girl, but in fact she’s a 50-something Ina woman. (Cox, 10 Octavia Butler Quotes).

The title that is being taught in high schools is Butler’s Kindred, from 1976.  In this time-shifting narrative, a modern woman is wrenched back in time to save the slave-owner who will father her own great-grandmother.

References: Cox, Carolyn. “10 Octavia Butler Quotes to Live By.” The Portalist, 22 Jun 2017, https://theportalist.com/octavia-butler-quotes-to-live-by.

Rockett, Darcel. “A showcase of ‘visionary muscles’: Octavia Butler book inspires exhibit from SAIC students.” Chicago Tribune, 23 Dec 2018. Life + Style, pp. 8-9.

Warner, John. “Worried about climate change?: 2 Octavia Butler books written in the 1990s seem prescient today.” Chicago Tribune, 21 Oct 2018. Life + Style, p. 10.

*All covers courtesy of Amazon.com

–Written by Mary Spevacek, Reference/Instruction Librarian