advice for readers

Books We Love: Under the Udala Trees

By Kiyoko Shiosaki, OPL Collection Development Intern


As NoViolet Bulawayo says in her interview with Chinelo Okparanta, “When you encounter a good storyteller you want to find all of [their] work and inhale it.”

This is exactly how I felt when I checked out Okparanta’s novel Under the Udala Trees  (see 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in September 2015), a coming-of-age and coming-out story of a Christian girl falling in love with a Muslim girl during the Nigerian Civil War, and her healing process as she grows older and searches for peace with her past and identity. Udala fruit or star apples (chrysophyllum albidum) represent female fertility and generosity, as Okparanta tells Arun Rath on NPR that this story is “the journey of girl who is told to be a certain way…and still winds up making a more informed decision for herself.”

Okparanta manages the immensity of war and gives us the human interactions that continue to make up daily life- frustration, play, heartbreak, beauty, and loneliness. She describes smells in a way that takes you to that exact place and time, she writes of food that makes your mouth water and your heart long for home. Her writing remembers things- those details that bring a memory back into feeling, and weaves these memories into a story that feels so complete, it’s hard to imagine how it didn’t exist before.

As soon as I inhaled this book, I went looking for her short stories in Happiness, Like Water. I love this title, and felt a sad satisfaction in the final tale called “Grace” where the phrase makes its appearance. Her stories humbly ask, Why? Why couldn’t Eve have a second chance at Eden after eating the apple? Why do women with dark skin feel the pressure to bleach it? Why do mothers who love their daughters make the choice to protect their husbands first? Why can’t a student get a visa to study in the very country that came and exploited her own resources in the first place? 

Now that her novel is out, you can find many reviews and interviews in the New York Times, NPR, The New Yorker, and The Guardian; but my favorite articles were written before Under the Udala Trees was published by Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn at Mosaic, NoViolet Bulawayo in the Munyori Literary Journal, and Yuka Igarashi at Granta. When Igarashi asks Okparanta what she is currently working on in 2012, and what her writing process is like, she replies:

I am working on a novel. I’m not very good at writing novels yet, so I spend most of my time just thinking about this novel. I spend most of my time just thinking in general. Anyway, one day I will write down all my thoughts for this novel. Not all in a day, of course. And when I do, I hope it comes out well.

 This day has come, and that novel is Under the Udala Trees, a courageous and powerful work from an author Tayari Jones calls a “truth teller and soothsayer… with a lens both panoramic and kaleidoscopic.”


Oakland Public Library's 2015 Holiday Gift Guide

What would a librarian recommend as a great holiday gift? A book of course! And we're proud to help with our first ever Holiday Gift Guide, featuring some of our favorite books this season. And as if that weren't great enough, we're capping it off with a list of local indie bookstores where you can buy these gems. (Call ahead to confirm availability!)

This page has recommendations for adults and teens, plus check out our gift guide for children's books here. You can also view the teen recommendations on Pinterest here.

Books For Adults

Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean & Southern Flavors Remixed by Bryant Terry
Drawing on African American traditions, Afro-Vegan is the latest cookbook from Terry, a local hero, award-winning chef, author, educator and activist.
Buy it for: hungry Oaklanders of any culinary persuasion; comes with an extra serving of food justice.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The acclaimed essayist examines the meaning of race in our country and looks back on his personal history in a letter addressed to his teenage son. Winner of the 2015 National Book Award for nonfiction.
Buy it for: your son, anyone, and everyone.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
James recently became the first Jamaican winner of the Booker Prize for this novel that revolves around the 1976 attempted assassination of Bob Marley (referred to only as “The Singer”) and a web of rival politicians, gang members and hit men, CIA agents, an ex-girlfriend and a journalist from Rolling Stone.
Buy it for: anyone who likes their entertainment bloody, gritty and darkly comic, with a guarantee from one of the most prestigious literary awards on the planet.

M Train by Patti Smith
Rock legend Smith follows her award-winning memoir Just Kids with another look back on her life, reflecting on the people and places that have inspired her, looking back on happy years with her late husband, and mulling over matters of creativity, connection and loss. The New York Times calls it “achingly beautiful,” saying Smith “is remarkably attuned to the sound and sorcery of words, and her prose here is both lyrical and radiantly pictorial.”  
Buy it for: rockers, poets, artists and lovers.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Two talented girls share an intense friendship/rivalry as they grow up in a poor, crime ridden neighborhood in Naples during the 50s. The first of a quartet of novels by an internationally acclaimed and mysteriously pseudonymous Italian author; the final book was recently released in English so binge readers can plow through all four without stopping.
Buy it for: your brilliant friend.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
With his unique combo of sharp observation, wit, and compassion, Ronson takes a look at modern day witch hunts on the internet, in which whole lives can be ruined by one transgression.
Buy it for: Twitterers, Facebookers and other internet addicts.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
This novel’s hero, Gustavo "Highway" Sánchez, will tell you himself: he’s the world’s best auctioneer. He is also the proud owner of Marilyn Monroe’s teeth, which he installed in his mouth after purchasing them at an "auction of contraband memorabilia in a karaoke bar in Little Havana."
Buy it for: loopy, artsy, oddball geniuses.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
In this thought-provoking and darkly funny debut novel, a half-Vietnamese, half-French young man looks back at the fall of Saigon, his flight to the United States as a refugee and his new life in Southern California. He’s a double agent: a Communist sympathizer working for the South Vietnamese Army, torn between two loyalties, two cultures and two lands.
Buy it for: anyone who’s interested in new perspectives on well-trodden territory.

Through the African American Lens from The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
A petite but gorgeous book that features photographs from the museum’s permanent collection, offering glimpses of personal and public life of Americans of African descent.
Buy it for: history buffs & photography nuts.

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
11-year-old Ijeoma, life shattered by the Nigerian Civil War, falls in love with Amina, another refugee. When the girls’ relationship is discovered, they are separated, and as Ijeoma becomes a woman, she must face her feelings and sexuality in a repressive and homophobic society.
Buy it for: anyone who loves a good cry.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Sometimes irreverent and self-deprecating, sometimes introspective and insightful, and always hilarious essays from actor and comedy writer Kaling on topics ranging from celebs, stylists and self-confidence to a speech she gave at Harvard Law School.
Buy it for: Jokers and pop culture junkies.


Graphic Novels for Adults

Domestic Times by Tessa Brunton
What's it REALLY like to live with a partner? How does anyone do it and stay sane? This hilarious comic is guaranteed to smooth over any domestic squabbles.
Buy it for: your friends who just moved in together.

Drinking at the Movies, 2015 edition by Julia Wertz
Not that we want you to move to New York, but-- you will probably love this comic about moving from San Francisco to New York. Julia Wertz (of Farty Party fame) could not be funnier.
Buy it for: that hard-to-impress stand-up comedian.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Although this graphic memoir came out almost a decade ago, the Broadway adaptation won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2015—a great excuse to revisit this groundbreaking work! Fun home is a deeply personal tragicomedy about the author, her coming out story and her relationship with her family, especially her closeted father.
Buy it for: Anyone who might enjoy reading someone else’s diary.


Get Jiro! by Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose and Langdon Foss
In near-future Los Angeles, a violent war is brewing between organic locavore purists and exotic internationalists, and famous sushi chef Jiro is slashing through the middle of the combat.
Buy it for: food snobs with a taste for blood.

Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine
Six tales from a storyteller known for his cool illustrations, sharp observations and wry yet compassionate sense of humor.
Buy it for: witty and moody indie readers.

March, Books 1 & 2 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Congressperson and Civil Rights leader John Lewis recounts his story in these first two volumes of a projected trilogy.  The graphic format vividly depicts defining moments in the nonviolent struggle against segregation and inequality while Lewis’s point of view adds a personal edge.
Buy it for: Activists, historians and anyone who could use some inspiration.

Saga, vol. 1-5 by Brian K. Vaughan
Saga is kind of impossible to describe. It's fierce, it's feminist, it's funny, and it's loaded with a$$-kicking aliens and ghosts.
Buy it for: someone who wants to fall in love with a story--there's no end to this series in sight yet.

Sandman Overture by Neil Gaiman
This brand-new edition collects all six "Overture" stories, the prequel (more or less) to Gaiman's amazing Sandman series.
Buy it for: Sandman fans.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley
The thoughtful and funny follow-up to O'Malley's blockbuster Scott Pilgrim series.
Buy it for: anyone, and maybe buy them Scott Pilgrim while you're at it.

Step Aside, Pops! by Kate Beaton
Kate Beaton's webcomic Hark! a Vagrant is basically the best thing about the 21st century so far.
Buy it for: anyone who loved her eponymous first collection.

Syllabus by Lynda Barry
Lynda Barry is a phenomenon of a human (I'm not even sure she's human) and a pretty terrific teacher. This collection of her lecture notes and assignments for graphic novelists will inspire.
Buy it for: that friend of yours who's always talking about maybe drawing a comic someday.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua
Victoriana! history! math! computer science!
Buy it for: steampunk fans or your friend who just finished coding school.

Whirlwind Wonderland by Rina Ayuyang
A collection of little moments and stories by an Oakland artist. Ayuyang shows why traffic is your buddy, how to dance with Brad Pitt, and other lessons in charming ink drawings.
Buy it for: someone who wants to slow down and notice things.


Books for Teens


The Cemetery Boys by Heather Brewer
A sinister tale of a teen boy moving to his grandmother’s house in a small and backwards town after a family misfortune. 
Buy it for: young adult novel fans who would enjoy a new spin on a classic style horror story.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
This story, told in verse, follows twins Josh and Jordan through life obstacles like basketball, girls, music, and unfortunately jealousy. 
Buy it for: teens that have a hard time finding novels they like and/or if they are interested in music and sports.

Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices by Lisa Charleyboy
A powerful anthology by North American Native artists that includes poetry, fiction, memoir, and other artistic expression. 
Buy it for: young adults who would appreciate a unique and visually beautiful nonfiction book. 

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
High school senior Gabi fills her diary with all her secrets while searching for her identity. 
Buy it for: anyone who enjoys a realistic coming of age novel with a twist.

On a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers
16 year old computer wiz Dahlia joins forces with a group of teens to fight a giant corporation in the year 2035. 
Buy it for: teen science fiction fans who want to change the world.

Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl
A moving and stunningly beautiful book about the women who have shaped our nation. 
Buy it for: kids, teens, and adults who enjoy colorful, informative, and inspiring books.  

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray
Follow Marguerite as she travels through different dimensions to find her father’s killer. 
Buy it for: fans of romantic and action-packed science fiction.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery Gorgeously illustrated memoir about Lowery being the youngest protester in the march from Selma to Montgomery.  Subsequently this heroic teen was jailed eleven times before her 15th birthday. 
Buy it for: inspired teens who want to know how it feels to change history.

We are the Youth by Laurel Golio and Diana Scholl
Personal stories and striking portraits of LGBTQ youth from around the United States. 
Buy it for: young adult fans of memoirs and photojournalism.

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Like most teens, Ali has a lot going on, school, friends, boxing, and family.  When his friend Noodles get in trouble it causes a dangerous situation for Ali. 
Buy it for: young adult urban fiction fans.


Graphic Novels for Teens

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
Anda, a hero in the game Coarsegold, befriends a boy across the world named Raymond.  Instead of just playing the game for fun, Raymond’s life depends on his avatar’s success. 
Buy it for: comic fans and gamers. 

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
Muslim- American Kamala loves the Avengers and wants to fit in with the popular kids.  Despite her desire to be “normal,” she possesses shape shifting abilities.
Buy it for: comic fans who are looking for something a little different.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen
Charlie and Nate have an unlikely friendship that nearly ends when they have a war with the school cheerleaders. 
Buy it for: comedy fans who love the classic “nerds versus popular kids” type stories.

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
An updated version of the classic The Green Turtle series, the first Asian American super hero. 
Buy it for: fans of super hero style comics and the hugely popular comic author Lang.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
This beautifully illustrated graphic novel includes five chilling stories. 
Buy it for: horror fans.

Tomboy by Liz Prince
Find out how Liz navigates this world when Liz doesn’t feel like a boy or a girl. 
Buy it for: the graphic novel and memoir enthusiast.


Oakland Indie Bookstores

These are great places to buy books, and they'll no doubt have more recommendations for you. Remember to call before you visit if you're looking for particular titles. 

Laurel Book Store, 1423 Broadway. 452-9232
Pegasus - Oakland, 5560 College Ave. 652-6259
Marcus Bookstore, 3900 MLK Way. 652-2344
A Great Good Place for Books, 6120 LaSalle Ave. 339-8210
E. M. Wolfman, 410 13th St. 415-250-5527
Diesel Bookstore, 5433 College Ave. 653-9965
Walden Pond Books, 3319 Grand Ave. 832-4438
Dr. Comics and Mr. Games, 4014 Piedmont Ave. 601-7800


More Gift Guides

You'll find our recommendations for children's books here. We also compiled a superlist of graphic novels for children, teens and adults here. If you love Pinterest, you can also view the teen recommendations here.

They're All Dead.

My plan was to tell you all about this great book: How to be a Friend to a Friend who's Sick, but then my sick friend died so I never finished the book. Instead, for these Days of the Dead, our days to remember and honor our beloved deceased; I thought I'd remind you of all the awesome authors who've passed away this year. Biographies, written while the authors were still alive, provided by the publishers.

Dr. Oliver Sacks, 1933-2015
Oliver Sacks is the author of twelve previous books, including The Mind’s Eye, Musicophilia, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Awakenings (which inspired both the Oscar-nominated film and a play by Harold Pinter). The New York Times has referred to Dr. Sacks as “the poet laureate of medicine,” and he is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. He lives in New York City, where he is a professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine.

Jackie Collins, 1937-2015
There have been many imitators, but only Jackie Collins can tell you what really goes on in the fastest lane of all. From Beverly Hills bedrooms to a raunchy prowl along the streets of Hollywood; from glittering rock parties and concerts to stretch limos and the mansions of the power brokers — Jackie Collins chronicles the real truth from the inside looking out. Jackie Collins has been called a “raunchy moralist” by the late director Louis Malle and “Hollywood’s own Marcel Proust” by Vanity Fair magazine. With over 500 million copies of her books sold in more than 40 countries, and with some thirty New York Times bestsellers to her credit, Jackie Collins is one of the world’s top-selling novelists. She is known for giving her readers an unrivaled insiders knowledge of Hollywood and the glamorous lives and loves of the rich, famous, and infamous! “I write about real people in disguise,” she says. “If anything, my characters are toned down — the truth is much more bizarre.”

Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015
Terry Pratchett is the acclaimed creator of the globally bestselling Discworld series, the first of which, The Color of Magic, was published in 1983. Raising Steam is his fortieth Discworld novel. His books have been widely adapted for stage and screen; he is the winner of multiple prizes, including the Carnegie Medal, and was awarded a knighthood for services to literature. After falling out with his keyboard, he now talks to his computer. Occasionally, these days, it answers back.

E.L. Doctorow, 1931-2015
E. L. DOCTOROW’S works of fiction include Homer & Langley, The March, Billy Bathgate, Ragtime, the Book of Daniel, City of God, Welcome to Hard Times, Loon Lake, World’s Fair, The Waterworks, and All the Time in the World. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle Awards, two PEN Faulkner Awards, The Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction and the presidentially-conferred National Humanities Medal. In 2009 he was short listed for the Man Booker International Prize honoring a writer’s lifetime achievement in fiction, and in 2012 he won the PEN Saul Bellow Award given to an author whose “scale of achievement over a sustained career places him in the highest rank of American Literature.”
In 2013 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the Gold Medal for Fiction. 

Philip Levine, 1928-2015
Philip Levine is the author of seventeen collections of poetry. He has received many awards for his poetry, including the National Book Award in 1980 for Ashes and again in 1991 for What Work Is, and the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for The Simple Truth

David Carr, 1956-2015
David Carr is the Media Equation columnist and culture reporter for The New York Times.

Colleen McCullough, 1937-2015

Guenter Grass, 1927-2015

Ann Rule, 1931-2015 

Who is your favorite writer who has come and gone? Leave a comment.


Hey, That Harry Potter Lady Can Write


I imagine that JK Rowling began her new Cormoran Strike mystery series under the pen name of Robert Galbraith so that readers wouldn’t make assumptions or judge it alongside her ubiquitous children’s fantasy series. I can only speculate that her publisher then leaked the author’s true identity to boost the modest initial sales of the first title in the series, The cuckoo’s calling, which begins with an investigation into the suspicious suicide of a supermodel. I never would have picked it up without the name recognition and curiosity about whether Rowling could pass muster in a different genre for an adult audience. Make no mistake; this is no children’s series. It is sometimes off color and gruesomely detailed, though still cozy, meant for fans of traditional mysteries with tightly woven plotlines that are methodically unraveled by the sharpest of minds. Still, here it is, my crude comparison between the two series (can’t help it; have to).

Rowling is gifted at baiting readers along with plot twists and cliffhangers. As each of the first two Cormoran Strike books progressed, I became obsessed with them. By the time I was reading The silkworm, which goes into the seedier side of the writing and publishing world, something Rowling no doubt knows plenty about, I was juggling an eAudio copy, an eBook copy, and a physical copy so that I could get back to the heart-pounding roller coaster ride at every possible moment. I remember feeling this compelled while reading the Harry Potter series years ago, long before I had any kids of my own. I believe that the reason the phenomenally popular children's series did almost as well with adults as it did with kids and teens is that the Harry Potter series is essentially an expertly-crafted mystery, albeit one with an overarching puzzle that runs through all seven books. I found it to be thrilling and often surprising, in spite of the formulaic good vs. evil devices seemingly obligatory in children’s fantasy literature. I should note for those new to the Cormoran Strike series that it has no supernatural elements whatsoever. Strike follows physical clues, relying on hard science and deft observations to solve crimes. However, like Potter, he is an oft misunderstood, damaged hero: one-legged, hulking, cranky, and crass, yet deeply ethical and ultimately lovable.

A disappointing similarity between the two series is that Strike's female partner, Robin, like Hermione before her, is relegated to a peripheral role. I don’t know if Rowling has chosen to place her brilliant female characters, as well as her own feminine identity (She elected to go with J.K. rather than her first name, Joanne, for the Harry Potter series and then chose a masculine pen name for the Cormoran Strike series.) on the sidelines in order to widen her audience. Rowling is the most commercially successful writer of all time, so she does seem to know what she’s doing in that department. She has already revealed her intention to write many more Cormoran Strike books. As the series progresses, I hope to watch Strike’s promising, wide-eyed student, with whom he shares a deep mutual admiration, develop into a hard-boiled PI in her own right and even get top billing one of these days. Maybe we’ll see more of Robin in Career of evil, which begins with a severed leg being delivered to her, and sends the duo into Strike's own past looking for suspects. It comes out in October. Get on the Hold queue (behind me!) to find out.

Watchman, Related Reading

Unless you've been trying real hard to ignore the literary world these past few weeks, you'll know that Harper Lee has released Go Set a Watchman. Watchman, which The London Evening Standard calls "a very late sequel to  To Kill a Mockingbird," published in 1960, is also described as "a nasty surprise" both for writing and plot (but you can be be judge of that). Pulitzer prize-winning, Mockingbird, if you haven't read it, is set in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, and is told from the point of view of a child who watches her lawyer-father defend a black man against unjust charges. If you can't get enough of Maycomb, want to learn more, or are waiting patiently on the holds list, have a look a this article in Smithsonian Magazine. Paul Theoux, a celebrated travel writer, explores Monreoville, AL, the real Maycomb, and beyond in his article "What's Changed, and What Hasn't, in the Town That Inspired 'To Kill a Mockingbird'." Monroeville, where Lee grew up and lives today, like many Southern towns, has a rich and troubled history. Known as the "Literary Capital of Alabama," Monroeville claims two of America's most heralded authors: Harper Lee and Truman Capote, who were childhood friends and whose likenesses both show up in Mockingbird

Theroux interviews Monroeville locals, who recount true stories of racial injustice in that very town. One, an incident of a black school principal who was fired after refusing a demotion; one of a black man convicted of murdering a white store clerk as told in Bryan Stevenson's 2014 book, Just Mercy; and one of Walter Lett, who was falsely accused or raping a white woman and was sentenced to death. This is the case that is said to have inspired Mockingbird. But many stories are not so sensational, "the wheels of justice," Theroux writes, "grind slowly, with paper shuffling and appeals. Little drama, much persistence. In the town with a memorial to Atticus Finch..."

A local resident said of the play, put on every year by the local Mockingbird Players who dramatize the book at the old courthouse, “You won’t find more than four or five black people in the audience... They’ve lived it. They’ve been there. They don’t want to be taken there again. They want to deal with the real thing that’s going on now.” To some, Monreoville is a scene to a powerful, novel, a place to take a literal and literary tour of the 1930's American South. To some it's home to old memories, some bitter, some sweet.
You access Theroux's Smithsonian article from your smartphone, tablet or the OPL website via Zinio.

Musician Biographies for Every Taste

Have you signed up for the OPL “Read to the Rhythm” Adult Summer Reading Program, yet? All you have to do is:

  1. Pick up a raffle card from any library location.
  2. Either read a book and write a short description/review OR complete three different activities listed on the card.
  3. Turn in your completed card at the library.
  4. Do it again!

Sure, reading is its own reward, but our Summer Reading prizes this year include a variety of gift cards and a Kindle Fire HD, so get those raffle cards in by the program end date of August 8th!

Among the listed activities, in keeping with the musical theme, is to read a book about a musician. To further that goal, here is an annotated list of 10 of the best musician biographies and Music Memoirs we have on our shelves:

Beneath the underdog: his world as composed by Mingus by Charles Mingus; edited by Nel King (1991)

The legendary jazzman recounts his life and career, from his childhood in Watts and his apprenticeship with jazz musicians, to his recordings with Duke Ellington and others, and more.


A broken hallelujah : rock and roll, redemption, and the life of Leonard Cohen by Liel Leibovitz (2014)

A meditation on the life of the Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet, and novelist discusses his performing career, which began despite his crippling stage fright, to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame


 Girl in a band: a memoir by Kim Gordon (2015)

A founding member of Sonic Youth, fashion icon, and role model for a generation of women, now tells her story--a memoir of life as an artist, of music, marriage, motherhood, independence, and as one of the first women of rock and roll.


George Frideric Handel: a life with friends by Ellen T. Harris (2014)

An intimate portrait of Handel'€™s life and inner circle... a tale that reveals an ambitious, generous, brilliant, and flawed man who hid behind his public persona.


Just kids by Patti Smith (2010)

An artist and musician recounts her romance, lifetime friendship, and shared love of art with Robert Mapplethorpe, in an illustrated memoir that includes a colorful cast of characters, including Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, and William Burroughs.


Life by Keith Richards, with James Fox (2010)

The lead guitarist for The Rolling Stones recounts his life, from a youth obsessed with Chuck Berry to the formation of the Stones and their subsequent stardom, and discusses his problems with drugs, the death of Brian Jones, and his relationship with Mick Jagger.


Mo' meta blues: the world according to Questlove by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Ben Greenman (2013)

A punch-drunk memoir in which Everyone's Favorite Questlove (The Roots, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) tells his own story while tackling some of the lates, the greats, the fakes, the philosophers, the heavyweights, and the true originals of the music world. He digs deep into the album cuts of his life and unearths some pivotal moments in black art, hip hop, and pop culture. 


Possibilities by Herbie Hancock, with Lisa Dickey (2014)

The legendary jazz musician and composer reflects on his seven decades in music, tracing his early years as a musical prodigy and work in Miles Davis' second quintet to his multigenre explorations and collaborations with fellow artists. 


Spirit rising: my life, my music by Angélique Kidjo, with Rachel Wenrick (2014)

Dubbed Africa's Premier Diva by Time Magazine, the singer/songwriter/activist shares her compelling story of escape from Africa where her voice was censored by the Communist regime to become a Grammy Award-winning, Billboard-topping musician and UNICEF Ambassador.


Words without music by Philip Glass (2015)

The world-renowned composer traces the story of his life and career and his professional collaborations with such peers as Allen Ginsberg and Martin Scorsese while sharing evocative insights into his creative process.


This is but a small sampling of the wealth of musician biographies and music memoirs spanning numerous genres. To get a personalized list of books based on your music and literature interests, try Book Me!, our new online Readers' Advisory Service. Go on and "Read to the Ryhthm".


Happily Ever After?

fables jacket Fairest jacket  Wolf Among Us jacket  1001 nights of snowfall jacket Cinderella. From Fabletown with love jacket
Like most things in life I started this series the wrong way around and 13 years behind schedule. My interest in Fables peaked after playing the video game Wolf Among Us a few weeks back, produced by my favorite game folks at TellTale Games. I'm a big fan of TellTale, the only one I haven't tried is The Walking Dead (I don't do zombies). So then I started reading the comic the Wolf Among Us which is a prequel to Fables, but I got impatient waiting for the next single-issue. I picked up Fairest, another spin-off, on the way somewhere, but then I realize that I really needed to start the series from the beginning. This sort of worked out for me because, as my friends know, I like to start a series when it's at or near completion (I just started Downton Abbey last week). That way I can gather all the materials and go at it in one glorious weekend. 
And so our story begins*: Bill Willingham's Fables chronicles the lives of your favorite fairy tale characters including Snow White, Old King Cole, Little Boy Blue, the three little pigs, Belle, the Beast, The Big Bad Wolf, and all the rest. They are now all citizens of Fabletown, a secret neighborhood in New York City, which they founded after fleeing their homelands from the evil force known as The Adversary (kind of reminds me of the Nothing from NeverEnding Story). Snow White runs the town, the Big Bad Wolf known as Bigby, is the sheriff, Prince charming is the neighborhood sleazeball, and one of Oz's the flying monkeys is the drunk librarian. Drama ensues. Also, it's not for kids. 
Fables v. 21: Happily Ever After came out in May in the final trade edition in the series, v. 22 Farewell will be issued in late July. After you've read that, there are more than 10 spin-offs, the aforementioned game and, reportedly, a movie in the works. The fun never ends!
Are you into Fables? Let me know below, but no spoilers, please, I'm only on #5. 

Salute Your Shorts

Do you ever find yourself wanting to dig in to a nice long juicy book, like The Goldfinch or maybe some hardcore economics like Capital in the Twenty-first Century, but find that your life keeps getting in the way? Might I introduce you to a genre known as the Short Story (remember those)? They're not just for 8th grade English. This time, I'll just tell you about the existential, thought-provoking, and slightly horrifying stories, I wanted to include Dorothy Parker, that lady is sassy, but I think she deserves her own post. 
Book jacket of The lottery and other storiesFirst up, The lottery and other stories by Shirley Jackson
Oh, it's so creepy! In the Lottery, it's a lovely day in June in a nice village filled with a few hundred nice families who all come out to the town square in the morning for the annual lottery. Yay! People chit-chat, they talk about how some towns have done away with their lottery, which is unfathomable to some. The lottery commences and a winner is announced. But the winner violently protests, why? Well, this is the worstest lottery and I won't tell you what happens, but everyone has a pocket full of rocks. This story has been told and retold in fiction and a bunch of scifi movies and tv shows. It brings up thoughts of population control, resource rights and political power and control. If you've seen or read Hunger Games, that's The Lottery. The townspeople seem to think "every year we do this brutal thing, and then we go about our lives until the same time next year, it's normal." This is terrifying because we've all seen this behavior in the news and we know that if we're not careful, the same thing could happen to us.
In Book jacket of The Thing Around Your Neck,  Adichie's mostly Nigerian characters confront discrimination, death, heartache and that sinking, disorienting, almost choking feeling you have when you know you're not home. If you've been putting off reading this amazing, award-winning author, give her short stories a try, you'll be hooked.
 a collection of stories about people who know how they will dieOn a lighter note... but still about death, the one I'm reading now is, Machine of Death : a collection of stories about people who know how they will die. And that's what it is. The Machine doesn't kill you, it just spits out a card with a word or phrase printed on it: CHOKING, CANCER, A COLLISION, ALMOND, AFTER MANY YEARS STOPS BREATHING WHILE ASLEEP WITH SMILE ON FACE, NOTHING. I was really into those last two stories, they were very sweet, most of them are funny, bordering absurd. The machine doesn't tell you when, or really any of the circumstances. After reading these stories, I can't say that, given the chance, I'd want to know, but to each her own. If you're having an existential crisis, these stories might cheer you up.
And if you're into that sort of thing, try Sum : forty tales from the afterlives by David Eagleman. Eagleman is actually some smarty-pants neuroscientist, but he writes some fun and creepy stories.
Is that the end of the blog post? 

Even Monsters Deserve a Nice Name

It's Halloween, let's talk monsters!

For Book Club this month, we read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Before I get into my book rant, I'll fill you in on a few details of the author's life. Her biography is arguably more scandalous than the book's plot.

Mary Wollstencraft Shelley was the daughter of a famous feminist and a well known author who were too hip to get married. Her mom died shortly after her birth, so Mary grew up with her dad, her mean stepmom, her mom's daughter from a previous relationship (an affair with a soldier), her stepmother's kids from her previous relationship, and dad and stepmom's new kid. Mary was the poor brown-headed stepchild. As a teen, she met and started a relationship with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Percy was already married to another woman, but why let that stop the magic. Mary and Percy ran away to Paris and when they returned to England, both Mary and Percy's wife were pregnant. Mrs. Shelley (the first one) was unhappy, she sued for alimony and custody of their kids, but eventually drowned herself, allowing Mary and Percy to be married. The new Mr. and Mrs. Shelley suffered the loss of their first daughter, only one child survived to adulthood. Also, Mary's sister dies. Oh, and shortly after that, Percy fell into an Italian lake and drowned at age 29.  

Onto the book.

It's a story within a story and different characters get to play narrator at different points. The novels is both gothic and romantic, with some seemingly never-ending descriptions of nature and light and feeling.  The meat of the novel concerns the young Swede, Victor Frankenstein. He looses his mother, becomes consumed with thoughts of death and the essence of life, goes off to college and emerges a scientist. He decides to make a man, just because, he makes the man/monster. Man comes alive, Frankenstein freaks out and runs away abandoning his creation. His creature learns to walk and talk and read, he is badly mistreated, he goes on a murderous rampage, Frankenstein vows vengeance on his creation. Excitement ensues. Here's a better annotation

There are 235 entries just in the Oakland library catalog for the term Frankenstein. Many of the books and movies that refer to Frankenstein is the name of the monster, not it's creator. Which brings me to the topic of names. Remember in Roots, when Kunta Kinte's master tries to make him own the name "Toby" and Kunta refuses (it was bad)? Or when the Empress of Fantasia begins to fade and die until Bastian saves her and the whole empire by giving her a name. (And, yes, I did just make a Roots and Neverending Story reference in a post about Frankenstein.) Your name helps you form your identity, it lets others identify you. It's almost as if you're not real without a name. Frankenstein not only abandoned his creation, but, in not naming him, he refused to acknowledge Creature's existence. Dirty and wrong, Victor.

Creature is feared for his ugliness, he's badly beaten and spit upon, and, while he does go on a small killing spree, he has a low opinion of himself, he just wants to be loved, he needed a name. The book doesn't have too many sympathetic characters. In my opinion, Victor Frankenstein was a mad scientist, and a bit of a spoiled brat, driven even more mad by his experiment-gone-awry. His creature was literally a nameless man-child who probably should have known better, but has still captured my sympathies. 

Are you Team Victor or Team Creature?

Submitted 31 October 2014, by Jenera Burton, Piedmont Ave branch

The ‘Reading Minute’ presents: Funny Ladies


I’m only slightly ashamed to say that I am a librarian with little time to read these days. I read some wonderful books with my young children, and there are the informative journal articles I read for work, but my “spare” time is used for sleep, if I’m lucky enough to get some. It could be a good while before I revisit those long lazy days curled up with the perfect novel, I’m afraid. Worse, I don’t even think I have the capacity for sustained concentration anymore, having not had an uninterrupted moment for several years. I suspect my predicament is relatable by many. And so I bring you the 'Reading Minute'.

When I do pick up something to read for leisure I tend to look for the following qualities: Light and easy to digest, but still smart; discreet sections I am able to finish in one sitting without totally losing the thread when inevitably interrupted; finally, if it’s not too much to ask, just make me laugh and feel like I am connecting with a witty, insightful friend.

Lately I have been finding what I am looking for in these sort of autobiographical short essay-type books written by brilliant female comedians and comic writers. Most recently, I listened to the e-audiobook Seriously... I'm kidding by Ellen DeGeneres, which came out in 2011. I enjoyed listening to Ellen read her own book, with plenty of asides especially for audiobook listeners. Her quirky inflections made this series of silly stream-of consciousness musings (Some chapters are between 1-5 lines long, others are 20 pages.) delightful to take in while walking around Lake Merritt, laughing out loud and distractedly wandering into joggers. What I like about Ellen is that, besides being a naturally funny person and a writer with years of experience as a stand-up comic, she also has a profoundly kind take on everything and everyone. She wants us to feel great about ourselves, and to get along with each other, and to take care of the earth. And to laugh all the while, which I did.

Before that I read Bossypants by Tina Fey, also out in 2011. I have heard that this audiobook is worth a listen, too, as she is the reader, and you can’t beat a comic actress performing her own material. Tina, who was a longtime writer on the set of Saturday Night Live, knows how to punch you in the gut with funny. I came dangerously close to wetting my pants reading some of her thorny responses to ugly criticism of her found on the Internet. Bossypants is mostly about her time as the producer/writer/star of the popular sitcom 30 Rock, with hilarious yet affecting flashbacks to SNL, The Second City improv group and her awkward younger years. She goes deep, getting into what it is like being a woman in comedy and not following the lifelong conditioning of trying to please everybody. I think that, in large part, her success comes from giving an authentic voice to the way many talented women today still feel insecure and undervalued. Then she makes fun of the whole thing.

Here are a couple of books on the horizon on which I have already placed my holds with high hopes:

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham (just out this month), the twentysomething fresh-voiced dynamo behind the hit HBO series Girls, is called "really out-there honest" by The Library Journal. Says Lena of her book:  "No, I am not a sexpert, a psychologist or a dietician. I am not a mother of three or the owner of a successful hosiery franchise. But I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle."


 Yes Please by Amy Poehler (out in late October), Tina Fey's BFF and castmate on SNL, as well as The Second City, is described by the publisher as a "big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice". Amy is a veteran comic known most recently for her work on Parks & Recreation and, earlier in her career, for several seasons on the Upright Citizens Brigade.

Gotta run, now!