Best of the Year

Our Favorite Books of 2020

Some of us have found books to be a balm during these strange and difficult times. Some of us have struggled to read as much as we'd like to this year (I know I did!). I asked my colleagues to reflect on their favorite books from the last twelve months. Here are the books from 2020 they would love to share with you.

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green    
This is the second book in the series by Hank Green.  And while this is a light sci-fi book it is also SO much more!  The author really does a great job of discussing interesting topics like becoming famous in a way that has me thinking about it for long after I've read the books.  If you want a fun fiction story with great characters that will also make you think I'd highly recommend this series of books.     
Recommended for: Teens, Adults         
Recommended by: Dice, Children's Librarian, Melrose 

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song edited by Kevin Young 
For #333 of its venerable series, the editors were gifted with a collection compiled by Kevin Young, poetry editor at the New Yorker,  that clearly ranks among the most valuable and majestic volumes in the Library of America. The publisher's own marketing collateral matter-of-factly declares it "a literary landmark: the biggest, most ambitious anthology of Black poetry ever published." Too often, such hyperbole from the marketing department is simply that: hyperbole, but in this case, the blurb is spot on. Hailing African-American poetry - and rightfully so - "one of the great American art forms," the anthology embraces its entire repertoire, includes the entire diaspora of the literary classification it compiles from rappers to literate slaves and with work that spans the entire history of the nation, beginning with the unforgettable works of Phyllis Wheatley. The brilliant editor, who also happens to serve as director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, demonstrates his open-mindedness, taking care to give equal space to revolutionaires and achieves the most important addition to American literary publishing in decades. 
Recommended for: Teens, Adults        
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Oakland Main Library 

All Because You Matter by Tami 
Black Lives Matter. Black books matter. Bryan Collier's collage beautiful compliments the lyrical text celebrating Black boyhood.      
Recommended for: Children 
Recommended by: Kidbrarian PT, Children's Librarian    

Bedtime Bonnet by Nancy Redd 
This read-alike for Hair Love and Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut features a nighttime routine for Black hair care. It's lovely to see these family traditions on the page as I've often received questions about my hair. Read it and see it.      
Recommended for: Children, Families 
Recommended by: Kidbrarian PT, Children's Librarian     

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson 
This novel in verse format gives the point of view of ZJ, a 12-year-old whose still-young father has brain trauma from his pro-football career. Although his family can plainly see the effects, the football association will not admit he has Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy related to being tackled. The brevity makes it accessible to kids ages 10 to 17, and gives readers plenty to think about, without wasting time. The intergenerational family portrait is poignant and emotional, with no tidy wrap-up at the end; no Happily Ever After. ZJ's first-person running narrative feels authentic to the experience when a parent experiences acute trauma; Readers feel what it's like to be in the thick of it, trying to figure out how to help the family, who to turn to for support, and how to balance sweet memories with disappointment, fear, and hope for the future. His friends, like his dad's friends, show up for his family, and it feels like they are showing up for the reader, too.  
Recommended for: Children, Teens 
Recommended by: Erica Siskind, Children's Librarian, Rockridge 

Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and its Urgent Lessons for our Own by Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. 
With his latest book, Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, Princeton professor Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., examines the ongoing struggle to compel Americans to address our racist past and policies in order to move closer to true equality. This book is as much literary criticism as psychological analysis of a profoundly astute artist who battled with the myth of America and its unmet promise his whole life. In these times of mass incarceration, generational poverty, and voter suppression, Glaude draws direct links from Baldwin’s time to the present moment, what he calls “the after times,” a period of racist entrenchment after a promising move toward social justice. While Glaude chronicles harsh and perilous times, from Selma to Charlottesville, he makes clear, as Baldwin did, that hope, love, and community empowerment are still desirable, necessary goals for us all. Glaude’s finely researched, compassionate book affirms Baldwin’s legacy as one of the country’s most important and prescient writers, and offers those of us working for racial equality a blueprint to change this country’s narrative and trajectory. 
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Dorothy Lazard, Librarian, Main Library 

Billy Ball: Billy Martin and the Resurrection of the Oakland A's by Dale Tafoya 
We baseball fans are so lucky to have the A's to root for and simply kick back and enjoy. We've had, for example, the one-of-a-kind experience having the local boy, "Berkeley" Billy Martin, return to his boyhood haunts, rowdy as ever, to manage a  team that after basking in dynastic glory winning three straight World Series championships at the start of the decade ended the 1970s losing 108 games with total attendance for the season amounting to a measly 306,763. Martin brought both his brash and fearless brand of baseball, along with the fisticuffs that came with his alcoholic short temper. Tafoya, 30 years an A's fan, presents an honest, loving and fascinating survey of the flabbergasting success that Martin enjoyed upon his prodigal return, saving the finances of a struggling baseball franchise and bringing the team to the post-season in only three short years. We read, too, about the troubles that beguiled him. Tafoya provides this engaging reminder of just how luck we are to have the A's to root for.     
Recommended for: Teens, Adults 
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library 

Black Power Afterlives: The Enduring Significance of the Black Panther Party edited by Diane Fujino and Matef Harmachis     
Like the classic 1970 anthology Black Panther Speaks, a collection of the fundamental texts by the militant intellectuals of the Black Panther Party of the 1960s compiled for publication by Philip Foner, Fujino and Harmachis have gathered the most vital texts of the movement as it persists in the many years since. The book presents engaging accounts of the principles and practices of the party in action through the decades since its founders first drafted the Ten-Point Program for The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense at meetings in North Oakland in 1966. It will certainly stand as a brilliant sequel to the 1970 classic it resembles.     
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library 

Bruce Lee: Sifu, Friend and Big Brother by Douglas Palmer 
In this most recent entry in the seemingly never-ending stream of writing about the iconic Bruce Lee, comes from a former student of the celebrity martial artist who spent a summer with him and his family in Hong Kong. The author, who developed a close friendship with his sifu (translated as "teacher" in English) writes through the lens of a trusted and intimate friend, which he became while studying with Lee in Seattle. The outcome is a tender, richly detailed portrait of the "Little Dragon" as Lee was known as a child star in Hong Kong before crossing the Pacific to end up in Hollywood. Palmer devotes an entire chapter to Lee's time in Oakland, giving the biography a little local color, including a detailed account of a legendary showdown in the early 1960s between Lee, representing the new blood in martial arts, and a master of the "old school," San Francisco's Wong Jack Man. Lee's good friend from Seattle has produced a valuable and highly engaging portrait of an Asian-American pioneer with ties to Oakland. 
Recommended for: Teens, Adults 
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library 

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas 
Yadriel needs to prove to his father that he has just as much magic as the cisgendered male witches in the family -- but the boy whose ghostly spirit he raises is more trouble (and a lot cuter) than he had bargained for. This queer, trans, Latinx, #ownvoices love story pulls you right in with its wry humor and idiosyncratic characters. 
Recommended for: Teens 
Recommended by: Margaret, Children's Librarian, Asian Branch 

Changing Academia Forever: Black Student Leaders Analyze the Movement they Led by Kitty Kelly Epstein and Bernard Stringer     
On November 1, 1968, George Murray, a popular African-American English professor at San Francisco State University was suspended from the faculty as punishment for the content of a speech he had given the previous summer on a trip to Cuba. Five days later, members of the university's Black Students Union, the first of its kind in the nation, called a strike. Affiliating with other Asian-and Latino-American groups on and off campus to form the Third World Liberation Front, Murray's supporters would lead the longest student strike in U. S. history, disrupting academics at SFSU well into March of 1969. Oakland's Kitty Kelly Epstein, a participant, and strike leader Bernard Stringer rely largely on interviews of strike leaders and of first-hand accounts of the event in this concise but substantive portrayal of the dramatic showdown at the Park Merced campus. The stand-off pitted the most outspoken leaders of the Black Power and burgeoning Asian-American identity movements in strident opposition to California's strident radical right-wing governor Ronald Reagan and his cronies. Besides the reinstatement of Professor Murray, the students demanded a degree-granting Black Studies Department as part of a broader College of Ethnic Studies at the institution. For that, the strike succeeded and propelled the movement forward across the country where ethnic studies was gradually embraced by colleges and universities across the country.     
Recommended for: Teens, Adults 
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library 

Come Home, Indio by Jim Terry 
Come Home, Indio is a moving memoir written in graphic novel form. Terry grew up in the suburbs of the northern Mid-West and felt disconnected from his maternal Native American heritage. He struggled in dysfunctional relationships with his alcoholic parents and their subsequent early deaths. He, himself, struggled with alcoholism that started in his teen years. He has a life altering experience at Standing Rock and begins to heal.      
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Susy, Branch Manager of West Oakland Library     

Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time by Philip Clark 
Timed for the 100th anniversary of the subject's birth in nearby Concord (on December 6, 2020), British music journalist Philip Clark presents a vivid, richly detailed and simply stunning portrayal of the life of jazz legend Dave Brubeck. Clark  follows the musical trajectory of the jazz-obsessed son of a Mother Lode-region rancher as he learned to read music, embrace avant-garde European music and form a combo with an Army buddy, the San Francisco-born alto-saxophonist Paul Breitenfeld (who would adopt Desmond as his stage name). The duo formed the core of the house band, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, at the Burma Lounge at 3255 Lake Shore Ave. in Oakland. From regular gigs at that dark and long-gone Oakland bar, the combo perfected a new musical sound - "cool" jazz - that culminated in the 1959 Desmond composition, "Take Five," whose sales would reach unprecedented sales figures, becoming the biggest selling jazz instrumental recording of all time. The success of that record would propel Brubeck into the citadels of jazz legend, where he persists, as Clark so respectfully attests in this expansive study of a musical and celebrity career that established him as the model of "hip" during his youthful heyday, the patriarch of a Dave Brubeck Quintet that included four of his sons, and would not be interrupted except by death at the age of 91 in 2012.    
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library 

Deacon King Kong: A Novel by James McBride 
The setting is a Brooklyn housing project in 1969 and James McBride introduces us to the large cast of characters who live there.  At the center of it all is Sportcoat, a church Deacon.  Fond of the hooch brewed by his pal, he kicks off the tale by committing a totally out of character violent act. This book has layers of stories and the stories have stories - it sprawls!  At times, there's elements of farce, wit and humor but some sadness that goes with life in public housing.   My favorite parts were the skillful interweaving of the quirky characters and the dialog between Sportcoat and his best friend Hot Sausage. 
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Loraine, Library Assistant, Montclair Branch Library 

Die with Zero by Bill Perkins 
The book illustrates how to maximize fulfillment while minimizing waste with personal wealth. It aligns well with my value of efficiency. Particularly, the book points out that life experiences, not materials, truly matters. And free time, health and wealth are essential to have those wonderful life experiences! 
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Lily Chang, Library Assistant, Children's Room 

Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera
Homesick for her former life and friends in Bogotá, Colombia, fifteen-year-old Francisca is disgusted by Miami and the crappy apartment she shares with her Mom, sister and grandmother, and appalled by the evangelical church she is forced to attend. But church gets a lot more interesting the more she gets to know Carmen, the alluring pastors’ daughter. A coming of age/coming out story that is feverishly hilarious, affecting and liberally punctuated with Spanish.
Recommended for: Adults, Teens 
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré     
This was one of the most memorable books I've read this year.  Adunni is a 14 year old Nigerian girl who, like many Nigerian girls, is forced into marriage with an older man who already has other wives.  Her mother has died and her life is hard - what a downer, you might think. But Adunni's story is also filled with courage, resilience and hope as she dreams of the education her mother encouraged her to pursue and of finding her 'louding voice'.   I really loved the audiobook for the sense of Adunni speaking to me in her own true voice. 
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Loraine, Library Assistant, Montclair Branch Library 

Heart Full of Hallways by Greer Nakadegawa-Lee 
The work of this year's Youth Poet Laureate is an absolute joy and thanks to the resourcefulness of Oakland's innovative Nomadic Press, she could receive that honor with a collection of her work already in print. The teenaged student of Oakland Technical High School writes with the confidence, clarity and lyricism of a writer of far more experience. And with her gifts, she reveals and explores the passions, puzzlements, quandaries, bliss and tribulations of the transit to self-awareness.     
Recommended for: Teens, Adults 
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library 

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America by Sarah Kendzior 
So much has been written about this out-going president and the horrors of his personality and his politics that it can easily seem overwhelming when considering a dive into the body of work on the subject. The list, from Bob Woodward to the president's own niece, is a long one. The many studies each cast a different angle of light on the social and cultural conditions in this country that produced the Trump administration in the first place. Reporter Sarah Kendzior brilliantly and with great empathy for the victims, lays out the path to his ascension, fearlessly casting blame right where it lies. Her view from her home in St. Louis, combined with her exceptional intelligence and blunt manner, will leave the reader much the wiser, and hopefully will help to spark push-back against the willful ignorance that has led to Donald Trump's tenancy in the now COVID-19 infected White House.     
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library 

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang
In the Gold Rush era American West, newly orphaned sisters Lucy age 12, and Sam age 11 set out on a quest to pursue safety, freedom and a proper burial for their father according to Chinese tradition. Sam reimagines life as a boy and an outlaw, while Lucy longs for school, comfort and security. All the while they are haunted by the ghosts of family, buffalo and tigers while fortunes and misfortunes are built on gold, thievery and whiteness. A modern western, family epic and immigrant story rolled into one, with an immersive and engrossing story, vivid language and unforgettable characters. 
Recommended for: Adults, Teens 
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Invisible Men: Life in Baseball's Negro Leagues by Donn Rogosin 
One of the most important and fascinating modern works in the vast canon of baseball writing is returned to print with a new introduction by the author that hints at the impacts of this landmark work, written when he was a young professor of American Studies at the prestigious University of Texas who becomes obsessed with the Negro Leagues after reading Robert Peterson's Only the Ball Was White, the groundbreaking study published in 1970.  The new edition of Rogosin's equally important study from the University of Nebraska Press assures that one more round of readers will relish the astonishing research abilities of the author who now lends his talents to public television. 
Recommended for: Teens, Adults 
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Libarian, Main Library 

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar 
Nine-year-old Betita comes from a family of storytellers. Her story crosses the border from Aztlan to Los Angeles. It's a heartbreaking story of childhood detention and  family separation. Local author Aida Salazar does not hold back, nor should she. These are the sad realities. 
Recommended for: Children 
Recommended by: Kidbrarian PT, Children's Librarian     

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam 
If you are looking for a cozy book to relax to, Leave the World Behind isn't the right choice. It is an absorbing story filled with a slow and creeping dread that gets under your skin. One half of the discomfort comes from the dynamic between the characters and the issues of race, class, and family relations that affect their assumptions and interactions. The other half of the discomfort in this story comes from an unknown, impending doom happening outside an idyllic, isolated vacation house (a blackout, strange animal behavior, and more creepy occurrences). The reason I chose this book as my top recommendation for 2020 is because the story really stayed with me. I thought about the characters and then I thought about myself... What would I do if the world was suddenly, mysteriously ending? Who would I trust when myself and my loved ones are isolated in the company of strangers? 
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Ryan Lindsay, Library Assistant, Rockridge 

Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen 
Ever has grown up in Ohio, but her parents are about to send her to a study program in Taiwan where she is supposed to learn more about her culture, and of course Rick Woo will be there, the boy her parents have idealized so much that she lives in his shadow. Little do her parents know that this program has a reputation of the kids sneaking out at night to dance and party, giving the program the nickname 'Loveboat'. Ever finds herself free for the first time, and makes it her priority to break every one of the rules her parents made her follow. While there is a love story in this book, the story itself is more about Ever, and her journey in finding herself. She goes from a world where every movement has been controlled to a situation where she is actually making up her own decisions for the first time. 
Recommended for: Teens 
Recommended by: Veronica Sutter, Teen Librarian, Main Teen Zone 

Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration by Nicole R. Fleetwood 
A critical and deeply moving book about the prison industrial complex and the fraction of the two million incarcerated people in the U.S. who are driven to assert their humanity and find hope through art. The impact of their work can be felt far beyond prison walls and speaks volumes about the importance of confronting a system that has failed many. The book is based on interviews with currently and formerly incarcerated artists, prison visits, and Fleetwood's own family experiences with the penal system.  
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Patricia L. Villon, Library Aide, PPT, Main Curbside Pickup Pod C 

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
A true gothic horror novel and a setting of 1950s Mexico City and the countryside where nothing is at it seems. This book will stay with you, it will force you to think and look at things in new shadows and wavering lights. 
Recommended for: Teens, Adults 
Recommended by: Lina H, TPT Library Aide, Brookfield 

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia 
How deep do the roots of your family go?  In this book the roots of this one family go very deep and into a very dark place.  The devotion to the family patriarch is chilling and dreams often speak the truth. 
Recommended for: Teens, Adults  
Recommended by: Alma Garcia, Sr. LA Main-Circulation 

Modern Flexitarian by Lucy Gwendoline Taylor  
It is a cookbook that gives you a lot of tips and inspiration to start including more vegetables and variety in your meals at home. I liked it because it has beautiful pictures, everything looks very yummy and easy to make so you end up trying those recipes out. Their concept is to make gentle changes and it includes many plant-based recipes that you can add to your meals if you're a meat-eater. It also has meal planning ideas, lists of cool and nutritious items to have in your pantry, and simple explanations about why certain nutrients are good for your body and where to find them. 
Recommended for: Teens, Adults, Families 
Recommended by: Rocio, Library Aide, 81st Ave Library 

Natch by Sophia Dahlin 
Oakland poet Sophia Dahlin has established her reputation as one of the hardest working young writers in the Bay Area, with a crowded calendar hosting reading, leading writing workshops with California Poets in the Schools and her own generative workshop, and as co-editor, with the equally brilliant Jacob Kahn, of the Eyelet series of chapbooks. All this may be what has caused Natch, her first full-length collection of her shimmering, frank and sweetly lyric verse, to be so long overdue. It has quickly established her as one of the most important young poets of the West Coast literary scene.   
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library 

The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad by Mike Birbiglia 
Comedian Mike Birbiglia created a Broadway show about his jealousy and struggle as he and his wife, Jen, conceived and raised a little girl, Oona.  The show became a larger metaphor about people who resist change and he added more content and stories to become this book.  Birbiglia is funny and his wife is deep.  It's a great combination.      
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Jamie Turbak, Director  

One of Those Days by Yehuda and Maya Devir     
One of Those Days is a webcomic about the journey through life with moving into their first apartment to being married. When reading this you can relate to the story. It brings happiness and a cheerfulness into life.     
Recommended for: Teens, Adults 
Recommended by: Nancy T, Library Aide, Catalog/Processing Unit 

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore 
Oona Out of Order is a delight. It takes the time traveling protagonist genre and flips it in a new way. Think The Time Travelers Wife in reverse. I found it both comforting and thought-provoking.     
Recommended for: Teens, Adults 
Recommended by: Josephine Sayers, Library Assistant, Main 

Open Book by Jessica Simpson 
In to each person's life a decent amount of pop culture should fall and be consumed is one of my strong beliefs. This book by Jessica Simpson did just that for me. I just can't help myself - good fun. There’s something to her life story that I think we can all relate to and I enjoyed hearing it. Hopefully you or someone you know might too. 
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Susy, Branch Manager, West Oakland Library  

Sigh, Gone: A Misfit's Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In by Phuc Tran 
This book came in to my hands at just the right time this year. It's a great laugh out funny coming of age memoir. Tran immigrated to America with his family from Saigon in 1975. He struggles hard to fit in to schools where he continues to be the only Vietnamese American if not the only Asian American. He finds solace in teenage rebellion - punk rock being a big part of it. He's now a tattoo artist and teaches Latin! I love him from afar. 
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Susy, Branch Manager, West Oakland Library  

Stay Gold by Tobly McSmith 
This is a love story between a boy and a girl, but it is so much more. The boy is new and has a secret that he does not want anyone to know (he is transgender). He switches schools his senior year for a fresh start where no one knows him or anything about his past. He ends up flirting with and crushing on one of the head cheerleaders . As the feelings grow, they deal with growing up, how you represent yourself in the world, and the people that they want to be while exploring their relationship.     
Recommended for: Teens 
Recommended by: Veronica Sutter, Teen Librarian, Main Library Teen Zone 

These Ghosts Are Family: A Novel by Maisy Card 
Reminiscent of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, this debut novel presents an epic family tale. These family secrets are thrilling. 
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Pat, Librarian      

Three Keys by Kelly Yang 
A follow up to Yang's award winning title "Front Desk", we revisit Mia Ting as she navigates tween life living and working in a motel and developing her writing skills. Kelly Yang is a graduate of UC Berkeley.  
Recommended for: Children 
Recommended by: Kidbrarian PT, Children's Librarian 

Twins by Varian Johnson 
Are twins best friends forever? As Maureen and Fran(cine) enter sixth grade their interests set them apart. This graphic novel is first in a new series illustrated by Shannon Wright.      
Recommended for: Children 
Recommended by: Kidbrarian PT, Children's Librarian     

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio 
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio explores the lives and experiences of undocumented immigrants in the Unites States (including her own family's experience). She humanizes the people she interviews in ways that we rarely see in media depictions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. She also calls attention to the traumas and indignities (including the separation of families, the lack of healthcare, unsafe and unjust working environments, etc.) that so many undocumented immigrants contend with in this country. This book is a hybrid of sorts, of memoir and non-fiction, and I found it to be extremely compelling.     
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Molly, Library Assistant, Elmhurst  

Untamed by Glennon Doyle 
Glennon Doyle's latest memoir shares her transformation as a bestselling Oprah-endorsed author, renowned activist and humanitarian, wife and mother of three who falls in love with a woman and delves into deep exploration about being female in today's society.  Passionate and thought-provoking.  
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Jamie Turbak, Director 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett 
This is powerful and inspiring story of twins forced apart by personal choices and a pernicious racism that permeated their community, the whole country and still does....It brings up burning questions that perhaps apply to many of us. Can a secret be buried so long it becomes a part of you? And when it's unearthed, does it threaten to liberate you or destroy you? What will you choose? The dilemma keeps you reading, and the sorrows and successes of the main characters' daughters (who take over telling the story at some point) rivet you to the page.  I think a younger person who has not lived through the decades of the 60s through the 80s may learn a lot about the liberation struggles of all of these decades. The author has contributed to an essay collection about "intersectionality" and the novel is a splendid example of why that is a key concept for our time.      
Recommended for: Teens, Adults 
Recommended by: Emily Odza, Librarian I, Eastmont, Piedmont 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett 
I am a reader driven by plot and this book filled my need. I couldn't wait to see how the lives of the characters were again going to intersect. The book also gave me fabulous writing and detail. I can't wait to read Bennett's first book now and look forward to more!     
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Susy, Branch Manager, West Oakland Library 

Via Negativa by July Westhale 
Copy coming soon to OPL 
The poet's childhood experiences growing up the granddaughter of a Baptist preacher in much less than posh circumstances in rural settings of Blythe, in the Mojave Desert, and Winters in the Great Central Valley of California, richly informs her poems, and leaves an unmistakable undertone in her language. In her most recent collection of poems, Westhale presents a provocative, scintillatingly sensual and deeply personal glimpse into the psyche of a truly gifted consciousness.     
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library 

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom; illustrated by Michaela Goade
Highly recommended for the amazing illustrations by Michaela Goade. This Indigenous tale of resistance against a "black snake" harkens back to #NoDAPL. We must protect valuable natural resources.     
Recommended for: Children 
Recommended by: Kidbrarian PT, Children's Librarian     

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom; illustrated by Michaela Goade  
This picture book is a beautiful and sensitive tribute to the #NoDAPL movement at Standing Rock, and similar actions by indigenous water protectors. The text by Carole Lindstrom (Anishinabe/Metis, enrolled with the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe) honors kinship, holding water sacred and essential to life, and the power of joining one's voice to a larger movement. Watercolor illustrations by Michaela Goade (of the Raven moiety and Kiks.ádi Clan, enrolled with the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska) show water flowing in waves through rivers, oceans, and human bodies. The Dakota Access pipeline is described for young children as a black snake that people fought together to overcome, and represented by a stylized snake head and angular lines joined with rings like a pipeline. Notes in the back from the author and illustrator give more context, including a glossary for terms like Mni wiconi (Lakota for "Water Is Life"). Strongly recommended for sharing with young children and for preschool story times with themes on water, activism, the environment, family, Earth Day, and Native American heritage.   
Recommended for: Children 
Recommended by: Lisa Hubbell, Librarian I, TPT     

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry 
Pick this one up if only for the hilarity and originality of the story. The 11-member Danvers [Mass.] High School Falcons women's field hockey team embrace dark magic to end an indeterminable losing streak. Why not utilize the powers of witchcraft? They were, after all, typical teenagers living in the shadow of the Salem Witch Trials, part of local history three centuries before. With this rather corny plot, the author proceeds to keep her readers in stitches through the crowds of characters and vivid exercise of her significant stylistic skills satirizing the formulaic comedies of teenage romance of her cinematic youth.  
Recommended for: Teens, Adults 
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library 

What It's Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing--What Birds Are Doing, and Why by David Allen Sibley 
As the foremost expert on birds in North America, Sibley has created a beautiful and captivating guide to share some of the most fascinating facts about them. Each entry begins with a beautifully hand painted and roughly life sized illustration of the bird and is followed by several smaller illustrations explaining some facet of their behavior. His writing is succinct and informative, capturing the essence of each bird and explaining how and why it does the things it does. Entries touch upon how herons use bait to draw out fish, the extraordinary and shifting colors of hummingbirds, and why mockingbirds keep you up at night with their calls. Each of the entries are easily accessible, explaining things in everyday language and favor common birds that are familiar sights around town. What It’s Like to Be a Bird is a perfect introduction for someone just getting into birding or for anyone who just wants to know a little more about the birds they see out their windows.      
Recommended for: Children, Teens, Adults, Families         
Recommended by: Stephen Shaw, Library Aide, Dimond 

Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller 
Nineteenth-century scientist David Starr Jordan was a taxonomist who is credited with "discovering" nearly twenty percent of the world's fish.  NPR science reporter, Lulu Miller, weaves the story of Jordan's passion and drive with her own existential arc and struggle for life's meaning.  The stories unfold with tragedy, suspense and delight; a magician's trick to make fish disappear.     
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Jamie Turbak, Director

Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed 
Jamie is volunteering to help his cousin campaign for a candidate. This puts him in the position to meet and work with Maya, a young Muslim girl that he used to know as a child. The story itself looks at the campaign as it becomes more personal.  They learn the opposing candidate it trying to make bill that will outlaw the wearing of hijabs. This will personally effect Maya and her family because she has many family members who wear one, and they realize this is just an attack on Muslim people. As they canvass and campaign for their candidate, they learn about their own inner strength and resilience, while also falling for each other.     
Recommended for: Teens 
Recommended by: Veronica Sutter, Teen Librarian, Main Library Teen Zone 

You Had Me at Hola: A Novel by Alexis Daria 
It's super obvious that ambitious Jasmine and cloaked Ashton hook up... but when and how.... steamy!  Recommended for romance readers; and fans of 'Jane the Virgin" and telenovelas.      
Recommended for: Adults 
Recommended by: Pat, Librarian     

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
As the days have gotten darker earlier and we've been sent back in to shelter in place, this book was light to me. The main character lives in a prom obsessed Midwestern town. When she loses her pass out of her doldrums town (a scholarship to a music school) she decides to run for prom queen. She falls for the new girl at school and has to decide what’s most important in her life. Is it the guaranteed path out of town or taking a chance on love?      
Recommended for: Teens 
Recommended by: Susy, Branch Manager, West Oakland Library 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Favorite Books of 2019

It's an annual tradition: Oakland Public Library staff share their favorite books from the last twelve months. We'd love to hear your picks too--please share in the comments! 

American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment
by Shane Bauer
The author surely brings a unique perspective to his experience, related in this book, as a guard in a private prison in Louisiana. Three years earlier, he was himself, along with two companions, arrested and imprisoned in Iran for more than two years after accidentally crossing the Iranian border while hiking in Iraq.  His job as prison guard is a cover for an article he is writing for Mother Jones magazine.  His $9 an hour position lasts for four months; in that time he absorbs the feel of what it is to wield the power over others of a prison guard, while recalling the experience of being captive and powerless as a prisoner.  He delves into the history of for-profit prisons and how the poor and minorities are disproportionately subjected to imprisonment, including deficient medical care, stints, sometimes quite long, in solitary confinement and the daily degradations of prison life.  An eye-opening read, for anyone interested in the issue of prison reform in America. 
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Helen Anderson, Librarian, On Call Librarian

American Science Fiction: Four Classic Novels 1968-1969
by R. A. Lafferty, Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delany, Jack Vance. Gary K.Wolfe, ed.
Yet another literary giant from Oakland's rich legacy of creative achievement, Jack Vance, is a standout of 2019's installment in the Library of America's American Science Fiction series. The series, which begins with science fiction from as early as 1953, is providing a comprehensive literary education to readers. This year's selection includes work from 1966-1968, a tumultuous period in all aspects of American life embracing the rise of the Black Panther Party, the New Left and the mass mobilization against the Vietnam War, when Vance's visionary Emphyrio first appeared. In this volume, Vance is joined with three other classic writers of science fiction of the 1960s: R. A. Lafferty, Joanna Russ and Samuel R. Delany, the latter representing the first African-American to gain fame in the genre. The selection presents four of the most important works of American literature of that period, when science fiction was flourishing along with the popularity of psychedelic drugs.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library

Bom Boy
by Yewande Omotoso
In Livermore, Calif. of all places, J. L. Powers, a historian and author from the Rio Grande Valley, has established the non-profit Catalyst Press to focus on bringing current South African literature to a North American audience. Long an important bastion of great writing (consider Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country, Nobel Prize-winner Nadine Gordimer, J. M. Coetzee, Athol Fugard, et al.), South Africa has most recently gone under-represented in the international book trade. Catalyst Press is doing its share to change that unfortunate situation by publishing Bom Boy, the tale of an adopted child struggling to find a cure for loneliness in the urban hubbub of Cape Town. Omotoso, who is also an architect, has emerged as one of South Africa's leading literary figures and Catalyst Press has emerged to make sure we have a chance to read her compelling fiction here in the United States.     
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library

The Book of Delights: Essays
by Ross Gay
Upon turning 42, Ross Gay decided he would write an essay about delight every day for a year. Though he doesn't make it to 365, he offers up 102 short, funny, sad, profound, joyous, poetic, and thoughtful essays that are a perfect pick-up-anytime reminder that the world is full of obvious and not-so-obvious delights.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Sadie, Librarian, Main

Cement
by Sarah Menefee
From her long-standing and strident advocacy on behalf of poor and unsheltered people she encounters on the streets of San Francisco, Menefee has collected excerpts of the imagery and language she encounters in her noble work in this scintillating work of minimalist verse. She brings the wise observations, dark memories, hallucinatory visions, vivid scenes of the hard lives she encounters and the gasps of joy and tragedy that she can hear around her as she carries on her life's work on behalf of our most vulnerable neighbors and fellow citizens. Menefee's terse and forthright language and the vivid imagery of the 64 poems collected in the 91 pages of Cement make for a powerful testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. 
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library

The Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman
by Bob Kaufman
At last, all in one volume, we have the artifacts of one of the great poetic talents and vivid contemporary imaginations in contemporary American literature with this collection of the work of the late North Beach poet Bob Kaufman. His poems stand among the most essential documents of the Beat Generation, reflecting the profound influence of both jazz improvisation and French surrealism on modern American poetry, existing as a vital bellwether of the African-American literary uprising that followed.  The poems are subversive in their resonant beauty and revolutionary spirit.               
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library

Dragon Pearl
by Yoon Ha Lee
Dragon Pearl combines the mystery of interstellar travel with the magic of myth to begin the story of Min, 13-year-old space traveler and shape shifter. Yoon Ha Lee's book both tells an engaging story and promises readers more to come.
Recommended for: Children, Teens
Recommended by: Janine deManda, TPT Library Assistant, Floating

The Dutch House
by Ann Patchett
Did you ever dream about a window seat where you could draw the curtains and hide away with a good novel? The Dutch House is that perfect immersive experience and there's even a window seat in the Dutch House that plays such a big role in the novel! It's a fairy tale wrapped up in a mystery wrapped up in a coming of age novel (like David Copperfield) crossed with an epic portrait of a Robert Moses or Frank Lloyd Wright type figure. Mostly, though, it's a tale of siblings left on their own. Are they creating their own lives or are they following a revenge script or a destiny written in a fairy tale?
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Emily Odza, Librarian, Eastmont

Flash Count Diary: Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life
by Darcey Steinke
Millions of people are living in perimenopause every day. Somewhere between the power of the Grandmother hypothesis and the superpower of [aging into] invisibility is the reality Darcy Steinke explores in Flash Count Diary. If you are or know a perimenopausal person, this book has something for you.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Janine deManda, TPT Library Assistant, Floating

45 Thought Crimes
by Lynn Breedlove          
Lynn Breedlove has once again penned a volume brimming with intensity, truth, love, and pain. 45 Thought Crimes draws on the power of resisters past and present to offer readers company and solace as we traverse these difficult times.   
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Janine deManda, TPT Library Assistant, Floating      

Fragments of the Brooklyn Talmud
by Andrew Ramer
In the current moment when the future isn't promised or even expected by many, Andrew Ramer offers a window into possibility. Taking in stride the mess humanity has made, he nonetheless manages to offer a vision of the future that includes some brightness. In the context of a continuity of human persistence that stretches back millennia into the past, Fragments of the Brooklyn Talmud opens a window onto days to come.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Janine deManda, TPT Library Assistant, Floating

The Godfather: The Corleone Family Cookbook
by Liliana Battle
This is a great cookbook to add to your collection! It's full of illustrations and easy to follow Sicilian recipes beloved by the Corleone family. I feasted on lemon roasted chicken while watching The Godfather Part 1.
Recommended for: Adults, Families
Recommended by: Pilar Gigler, Library Aide, Elmhurst Branch

Good Talk
by Mira Jacob
Centered around tough conversations with her son, Jacob's graphic memoir looks at parenting, race and racism, immigrant experiences and being human in the age of Obama and Trump. This charming, thought-provoking book made me laugh and cry.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Home Remedies
by Xuan Juliana Wang
Elegant stories featuring contemporary Chinese and Chinese American youths, expanding beyond these identities and the broad categories of family, love, time and space by which the 12 pieces are organized. Wang's prose glides lithely between fantasy and familiarity, displaying great emotional depth through fresh characters: a qigong grandmaster who has landed in California as a touring spectacle; an Olympics-bound synchronized diver who is falling for his long-time diving partner as both boys bloom into adolescence; an expat living in Paris who happens to inherit a dead girl's closet of luxury fashion; fathers, daughters, families who wish to connect across cultural and geographic divides in unique ways. Wang's fiction shimmers with a sense of imagination and wonder.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Menghsin, Librarian

I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way through the TV Revolution
by Emily Nussbaum
I Like to Watch is a collection of culture critic Emily Nussbaum's columns for The New Yorker. Anyone who's been watching television more than they maybe think they should've over the last couple of decades will likely find some favorites to enjoy in a new way in this book.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Janine deManda, TPT Library Assistant, Floating

If these Walls Could Talk: Oakland A's, stories from the Oakland A's Dugout, Locker Room, and Press Box
by Ken Korach & Susan Slusser
No one else could possibly have more inside knowledge of Oakland's Major League Baseball team and its players, staff and fans than these two authors. Ken Korach has announced A's games on the radio since 1996 and Susan Slusser, beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, has followed the Oakland A's since a little girl of six years old. For any baseball fan, their stories alone would make this book necessary, but we also get extended interviews of the A's great manager Bob Melvin, staff members and groundskeeper Clay Wood, with recollections of some of the great games of the current century. Essential for all A's fans, if only for the photograph of Slusser riding the mule Charlie O, the A's mascot.                
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library

Indian-ish: recipes and antics from a modern American family
by Priya Krishna
The recipes in this book are packed with cumin, turmeric, garam masala, and all the spices that make Indian food so delicious but come together quickly enough for a weeknight family dinner and don't fill your sink with dirty pots and pans. My kids gobbled up the aloo gobi and loved helping me make roti (and watching them puff up on the stove). I've been looking for a weeknight dinner friendly Indian cookbook for years but now I can call off the search. This book fits the bill and then some!
Recommended for: Adults, Families
Recommended by: Elia Shelton, Cataloging, Main Library

The Institute
by Stephen King
In addition to being a horror novel, The Institute is a timely take on the incalculable cost of refusing to recognize error and accept responsibility. No specific spoilers, but Stephen King's latest is also The Kind of Story We Need Right Now [shout out to Late Night with Seth Meyers].
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Janine deManda, TPT Library Assistant, Floating

It Would Be Night in Caracas
by Karina Sainz Borgo
A fast-paced novel, set in modern day Caracas, Venezuela.  Adelaida Falcón struggles to survive during a civil uprising after recently burying her mother. This book is very engaging--never a dull moment!
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Pilar Gigle, Library Aide, Elmhurst Branch

The I Wonder Bookstore
by Shinsuke Yoshitake
This slim comic volume brings bibliophilia to the next level! The minimalist illustrations are totally charming and the ideas are humorous and imaginative, like a chart of how to wrap books in unexpected ways, a mock history of "paperback dogs" trained to deliver books to people in distress, an itinerary for a very non-traditional "bookstore wedding," and tons of other surprises.  This left me believing even more in the magical capacity of books.             
Recommended for: Teens, Adults, Families
Recommended by: Menghsin, Librarian

K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches
by Tyler Kepner
The national baseball writer for The New York Times jumps into the crowded fray of history of the "national pastime" with this clever contribution: combining his personal narratives of his relationship with the game with chapter-long histories of each of baseball's most important pitches. Taken all together, the writing provides a fascinating and masterfully researched history of how baseball has come to be played today.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library

Kalifornia Kool - Photographs 1976-1982
by Ruby Ray
The work of Ruby Ray, the principle documentary photographer of the early punk rock scene in San Francisco is gathered at long last into a single volume for our viewing pleasure. Along with a relatively accurate introductory essay entitled "How Punk Started in San Francisco," by V. Vale, formerly of the legendary proto-heavy metal band Blue Cheer and founder of the punk art magazine Search & Destroy, Kalifornia Kool, published in distant Stockholm, Sweden will serve for posterity as primary document preserving an important period of cultural history in the San Francisco Bay Area and internationally, too.
Recommended for: Teens; Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library

Know my Name               
by Chanel Miller
This powerful memoir, and the back story that surrounds it, makes for essential reading. The courage with which the author speaks and the poignancy and honesty with which she describes the emotional consequences of the violence she experienced against her makes for mesmerizing reading. The book has propelled the author into the international feminist arena to which she brings her powerfully personal and inspiringly honest voice to the movement.           
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library

Lost Children Archive
by Valeria Luiselli
A family of four takes a slow-moving road trip from New York City to Arizona, so that the parents can pursue their individual documentary projects. The book features multiple story lines that are both engrossing and tragic. It also incorporates photos, poetry, songs, and audio books in a way that made me feel like I was right there in the car with them!  It's a beautiful, well-written novel.            
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Sara DuBois, Coordinator, Grants & Volunteers           

Lost Transmissions: The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy
by Desirina Boskovich
Speculative storytelling has over its long history struggled to be recognized as work to be taken seriously by critics and literate society as a whole. Much of it is easy to dismiss as little more than hack writing designed to make a writer a quick buck and to take the reader onto an escapist flight of fancy. Lost Transmissions deftly, and with visual splendor, illustrates how speculative storytelling is much more than that, and demonstrates how it has embedded itself into all forms of expression, from the late Renaissance-period Latin prose of Johannes Kepler to the worlds of high fashion, the Afro-futurist pop music of Janelle Monáe and the singular experiences of virtual reality technology. Adding to the intrigue of the book are scatterings of contributions by third parties, such as Neil Gaiman's "On Virconium," Annalee Newitz on "X-Ray Spex, Poly Styrene and Punk Rock Science Fiction," etc.              
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library

Mostly Dead Things
by Kristen Arnett
As one reviewer put it, "Kristen Arnett's 'Mostly Dead Things' is the lesbian Florida taxidermy family novel you never knew you needed." Arnett's debut work made the NY Times bestseller list, among other honors, drawing readers in with its dark humor and complex characters. Set in the author's home state of Florida, this book is a raw, strange, and compelling read.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Anna Graves, Librarian, Main

Mostly White
by Alison Hart
The writing draws you into this family herstory and captures your imagination. The story isn't easy to read at times, but the perseverance and strength of the women gives one hope.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: J B, Library Assistant, Martin Luther King

Olive, Again
by Elizabeth Strout         
This is a follow-up to Strout's award-winning "Olive Kitteridge," and so you'll want to read these two books in order. Both books are a series of short stories with recurring and connected characters. Olive and the other inhabitants of Crosby, Maine will melt your heart and horrify you -- all at the same time. No matter how you feel about Olive, you will certainly never forget her!  
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Sara DuBois, Coordinator, Grants & Volunteers           

On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous
by Ocean Vuong
This beautifully written memoir from Vietnamese-American writer, Ocean Vuong, is meant to be savored slowly so readers can enjoy the poetic but fierce experiences he describes to us.   Ocean, who is affectionately called "Little Dog", recounts his sometimes difficult childhood growing up in Connecticut such as the bullying he endured as a child. His mother is a complicated one, suffering from PTSD which sometimes results in child abuse but at least he also has his grandmother (who suffers from Schizophrenia). Ocean, as he grows into a teen, realizes he is gay and begins a heartfelt romance with one of his fellow workers on a farm. This book has humor as well and Ocean deftly takes the reader on a magical journey, flashing back and forth from his life in Hartford to his childhood in Vietnam.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Pete Villasenor, Branch Manager, Cesar Chavez Library

Red at the Bone
by Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson's deft prose brings several generations of a Black American family to life in her most recent novel. Red at the Bone encompasses nearly a century of living and embraces the perspectives of several members of a family as they share love, tragedy, joy, grief, time, and space.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Janine deManda, TPT Library Assistant, Floating

Red, White, and Royal Blue
by Casey McQuiston
What if the son of the U.S. president fell head over heels for the prince of England? With a sideslip through alternate history, this witty queer romance charms readers with realistic dialogue and email banter worthy of The West Wing. Though it's not my usual chick-lit jam, I laughed and cried and wished hard for a world where this fairytale could come true. I'm looking forward to more from this author! Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Remy, Children's Librarian, Elmhurst

Shortest Way Home
by Pete Buttigieg
This book is fascinating and different from many books I have read. It talks about the 2020 presidential candidate's personal life as a Harvard student, military officer and the mayor of South Bend, a city not many have heard of including me. I love that he has an impressive background as a Harvard graduate, Navy veteran and mayor. I enjoyed the way he started talking about making his way up until becoming mayor—even after losing for state treasurer, he did not give up on his dream in politics. I really admire this guy and would be disappointed if he doesn't win the 2020 Elections.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Qaher Samrin, Library Aide   

Slavery's Descendants: Shared Legacies of Race and Reconciliation
by edited by Dionne Ford and Jill Strauss              
2019 was the year I dug into my family's history and discovered slaveholding ancestors, from Southern states and Northern colonies: a lot to reckon with. I am grateful for the essays in Slavery's Descendants, by white and black members of Coming to the Table, a national organization "for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery." CTTT encourages starting with family research: most of the white essayists found evidence (as I did) of slaveholding in ancestors' wills, or in the nameless slave censuses of 1850 or 1860; the black essayists often knew more family stories ran into walls finding other documentation. All described grappling with the legacy of slavery; some even built ongoing relationships with "linked descendants", who share ancestry across slaveholders and the people they enslaved. The organization, and the possibilities for growth toward reconciliation, are inspiring. (P.S. If you want to dig into your own family history, try OPL's genealogy resources and the hints in the back of this book.)  
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Lisa Hubbell, Librarian I, TPT 

The Snakes
by Sadie Jones
Sadie Jones' latest novel traces the misfortunes of a young married couple from London, Bea and Dan, during a summer trip to France. While visiting Bea's troubled brother in Burgundy, Bea and Dan are thrown into a family crisis. Meeting up with her estranged parents, whose values are abhorrent to her, Bea is forced to reassess her own marriage and attitude to her family's vast wealth accumulated through her father's property development. Themes of economic disparity, gentrification, sexual abuse and race infuse a suspenseful story. Part thriller, part family drama and murder mystery, this is a gripping and disturbing novel.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Stella Goodwin, Librarian, Main

So Much: Selected Poems Volume II 1990-2010 Notebook-Keyboard
by Pat Nolan

Following up on the first volume of his selected poems, published in 2018 from his typewritten manuscripts, ex-Oaklander Pat Nolan moves us closer to the present with the second volume, rendered into print from computer-generated manuscripts. This generous selection of his more recent work further solidifies his status as one of the West Coast's masters of the contemporary lyric poem. Heavily influenced by the Chinese poetry of the Tang Dynasty, the classical Japanese forms of tanga, the poets of the mid-twentieth century New York School (of Frank O'Hara, Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley, et al.) and the French avant-garde, Nolan represents a unique voice among his Northern California contemporaries. His verse reflects the relative remoteness of his physical environment, along the lower reaches of the Russian River in Sonoma County, and his relative obscurity as a literary figure, contributing to the refined and refreshing originality of his poetry.  
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library

The Song of the Jade Lily
by Kirsty Manning
The Song of the Jade Lily begins in Europe on Kristallnacht and moves through time and space, crossing continents, seas, and decades. Kirsty Manning weaves together the stories of several characters each shaped differently by war, the making of family, and the challenges of peace.           
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Janine deManda, TPT Library Assistant, Floating

Sulwe
by Lupita Nyong'o           
This is a sweet story of encouragement and empowerment of a young girl.
Recommended for: Children, Families
Recommended by: J B, Library Assistant, Melrose                                                                                                             

They Called Us Enemy
by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott and Harmony Becker
This autobiography in graphic novel format begins when George Takei is 5 years old, and tells what happened in the 4 years when he and his Japanese family were unconstitutionally incarcerated in California during World War II. The descriptions stay true to the perspective of a child of about 8 or 9 years old, but include descriptions of his teenage years and adulthood; once he and his family are released, he continues to talk to his father about the traumatic time, and struggles to understand what happened. The descriptions of prejudice, racism, and abuse by the government and by white citizens will make the story very relevant to members of any other groups who are currently being unjustly incarcerated or who are witnessing it. Although it is probably aimed at older readers, 5- to 6-year-olds whose families have had a similar experience today might be able to relate to this very strongly. And any other individuals who aren't experiencing it and aren't even witnessing it shouldn't miss reading this. Parents can read it aloud to their children and explain how they are (or are not) taking the kinds of moral, generous, and loving actions that George's father seems to have taken over and over all his life. The wonderful black and white artwork is clear and lively; the characters have substantiality and uniqueness despite the simplicity of the images, covering this important topic beautifully with emotional resonance to fill a gap in school history books.
Recommended for: Children, Teens, Adults         
Recommended by: Erica Siskind, Children's Librarian, Rockridge Branch

Toil & Trouble: A Memoir
by Augusten Burroughs
In his latest memoir, Augusten Burroughs tells stories from his life and childhood by coming out as a witch and describing his experience of magick.  Burroughs' books are rich in visual imagery, honesty and emotion.  The stories are funny even as the characters experience isolation or sorrow.   I felt like a good friend came to visit and brought new secrets to share.    
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Jamie Turbak, Library Director, Main Library

The Travelers
by Regina Porter
A nonlinear, sprawling story told in intricately intersecting vignettes is built around the lives of two families, one Black, one white, over the years between the 1950s and the Obama era. Absolutely devastating at times, always beautifully written, this lively book vividly portrays the lives of its characters while also illuminating issues of history, race, sexuality and place. My favorite character, Eloise, is a queer woman who, inspired by the fierce bravery of Bessie Coleman, becomes a pilot and travels the globe, finding personal satisfaction but always haunted by her first love. But this is just one of the many of the gripping stories that are woven into this novel in stories.           
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Trick Mirror
by Jia Tolentino
These essays by New Yorker Magazine writer, Jia Tolentino, are smart and thought-provoking. I was especially impressed with her commentary on living under capitalism as a young person in the United States.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Molly, Library Assistant, Elmhurst Branch

Trust Exercise
by Susan Choi
Trust Exercise isn't your typical coming-of-age novel--Susan Choi's latest work (recent winner of the National Book Award) has multiple narratives that challenge and captivate readers. Whose memory is most reliable, and what really happened to the characters as teenagers so many years ago? Choi's masterful storytelling will keep you thinking about her writing long after you put down the book.   
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Anna Graves, Librarian, Main

Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet              
by Will Hunt
Have you ever explored vacant subways, abandoned mines, or the dark culverts that connect our rivers? Urban Explorer Will Hunt has written the book Underground, which examines life beneath our very feet, including art installations found in the Catacombs of Paris, the ancient bacteria that thrives deep below our earth's surface, or the strange phenomena referred to as "mole men" who have an insatiable and almost primal need to burrow into the underground. Underground is a fascinating and adventurous read loaded with eccentric characters and interesting facts about a world beneath our world.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Ryan Lindsay, Library Assistant, Rockridge

The Undying
by Anne Boyer
Author Anne Boyer, a poet and associate professor at the Kansas City Art Institute, was 41 when she was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. Boyer chronicles a journey in the footsteps of fellow writers such as Audre Lorde, Kathy Acker, Susan Sontag, and others who have also shared their experiences with cancer. The book expands on illness under capitalism, as metaphor, in time, and its effects on physical and mental being—touching on topics contemporary discourse on survival hasn't reached before. As reviews have claimed, it's an "undoing of the corporate pink ribbon" that reconstructs what affliction in the public imagination is and can be.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Patricia L. Villon, Library Aide, PPT, Golden Gate

A Voice of the Warm: The Life of Rod McKuen
by Barry Alfonso
The author encapsulates Rod McKuen's legacy in a single sentence late in the book: "Rod McKuen was often accused of sugarcoating the world for mass consumption." That he did and he did it very lucratively. Many reading this may be completely baffled, failing to recognize McKuen's name and be puzzled why a book would be written about someone so unknown. But at the height of his career, McKuen, of Oakland, was the most famous & most popular poet in the world. From our vantage here in Oakland, this biography provides a fascinating glimpse into life in this city when McKuen was launching his career on the airwaves as "The Lonesome Boy of KROW," the station formerly broadcasting at 960 on the AM radio dial from transmitters on the Oakland end of the Bay Bridge and at studios in downtown Oakland. When not on the air, he was exploring his homosexuality, his musical talents and his athletic aspirations in the Beat-era clubs and his rodeo arenas of northern California. This is a fascinating glimpse of a by-gone era.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Senior Librarian, Main Library

Waste Tide
by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu    
Compelling eco-dystopian science fiction, full of both action and gorgeous sentences. Silicon Isle is a dump for electronic waste, which underpaid workers sort on behalf of the wealthy clans that control the island. An American and his Chinese-American translator go there to broker a deal for an American recycling company, and the translator Kaizong becomes close to waste worker Mimi. The story oozes with sensory details of food, pollution, and physical ailments. While human thoughts and feelings remain in the forefront, some of the toxic waste is also nearly sentient. I had a hard time putting this one down, and fully expected it to be near the top of the holds list.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Lisa Hubbell, Librarian I TPT  

We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir
by Samra Habib
I really enjoyed reading this book. Samra Habib, the author, narrates her life with her family, growing up in Pakistan as an Ahmadi Muslim. Her family flees to Canada to escape religious persecution where she experiences poverty, bullying, and an arranged marriage.        
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Pilar Gigler, Library Aide, Elmhurst

When Aidan Became a Brother
by Kyle Lukoff
Kyle Lukoff's words combine with Kaylani Juanita's pictures to make When Aidan Became a Brother an engaging picture book. Integrating an older sibling's feelings around a new baby on the way with the story of a family's evolving understanding of gender, this is a welcome book on both topics.
Recommended for: Children, Families
Recommended by: Janine deManda, TPT Library Assistant, Floating

The Yellow House
by Sarah M. Broom
For anyone who loves New Orleans, Sarah M. Broom's memoir is a must-read. Digging deep into her family's history, Broom describes how she and her eleven siblings grew up in New Orleans East, an overlooked neighborhood far removed from the French Quarter. The book's title refers to a shotgun house her mother purchased in 1961 that served as the family's home until it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Winner of the 2019 National Book Award for nonfiction, The Yellow House addresses issues of race and class, and dispels mainstream mythologies about New Orleans. More than just a memoir, this book is a moving narrative about family and inequality in America.             
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Anna Graves, Librarian, Main

What were your favorite books of 2019?

Our Favorite Books of 2018

I asked my colleagues to share their some of their favorite books from the last twelve months and here they are! We'd love to hear from you too--please share your favorite books of 2018 in the comments.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
It involves a young person who wants to be an internet sensation by filming herself (to put up on YouTube) hanging out with a robot sculpture in New York City. What ensues is a social commentary on fame and responsibility woven in a story that has twists and turns.              
Recommended for: Teens, Adults            
Recommended by: Erica Ann, Librarian I               

Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home by Sisonke Msimang
Sisonke Msimang grew up in many countries. Her father was in exile from South Africa, as a member of Nelson Mandela’s ANC party. Her mother, from Swaziland, made homes for the family in Zambia, Kenya, and Canada before returning to South Africa. Sisonke and her sisters then attended colleges in the United States, lived and worked in other countries, and were outsiders in South Africa as an intermittent home base. Msimang recounts close family relationships, friendships and betrayals, episodes of prejudice as an immigrant, and awareness of her own privilege in comparison to South Africans who had not gone into exile. Her writing is inviting and relatable, and gently lifts up multiple perspectives in interpersonal conflicts.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Lisa Hubbell, Librarian I, TPT, Brookfield and Rockridge

America is not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
Hero flees the Philippines to join her uncle and his family in Milpitas, helping with her seven-year-old cousin while seeking her own fulfilling personal life. Hero’s story unfolds to reveal her past as a doctor and revolutionary in the Philippines and the torture she experienced as a consequence of her political actions. Meanwhile in Milpitas she slowly warms up to a new community, rages at loud smoky garage parties, and falls for her friend Rosalyn. This book is packed with so much! It overflows with emotion and tenderness and humor, a sexy queer love story, a juicy look into a Bay Area community, a chilling history of violence and colonial oppression, questions of identity and the meaning of home.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

The Annotated Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, annotated by Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson and Anthony Dean Rizzuto               
The editor/annotators of this noir classic by the great master of California detective fiction set out to make annotation an new genre of literary activity. They have succeeded beyond all expectations. Besides being an unforgettable novel, the annotations provide essential details about the history of popular culture on this coast.          
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

The Black and the Blue by Matthew Horace
It is a rare event when a "man in blue" is willing to address the reality of the police violence against African Americans in this country. Matthew Horace has the courage to do just that in this powerful and revealing study of the bias that undermines justice and public safety in this country.       
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
In Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi combines beautifully reimagined elements of high fantasy quest novels with complex, timely issues of oppression, identity, allegiance, justice, and change. The first book in a planned trilogy, Adeyemi's debut is a compelling read in its own right likely to leave readers eager for the next volume in the series.               
Recommended for: Teens, Adults            
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary-Part-Time Library Assistant, floating

The Cursed Ground by T. R. Simon
The second book in Simon's Zora and Me series, The Cursed Ground far exceeds its predecessor and can be read as a stand-alone novel. The friendship among young Carrie, Teddy, and Zora (Neale Hurston of later literary renown) is at the heart of this book. Set in Eatonville, Florida, the first all-black incorporated township in the U.S., The Cursed Ground weaves the past with the novel's present (which is the reader's past) in powerful, thought-provoking, complex, and timely ways.             
Recommended for: Children, Teens, Adults, Families
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary-Part-Time Library Assistant, floating

A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano
Anna Meriano's A Dash of Trouble is told from the perspective of Leonora Logroño, precocious daughter and loyal friend. Trying to make a case for being allowed to help out in the family bakery at a younger age than her sisters were, she's surprised to learn she is the most recent in a long line of brujas (witches of Mexican ancestry), and that's just the beginning of her adventures. A Dash of Trouble is the first book in a series, and middle grade readers are likely to look forward to further installments.
Recommended for: Children      
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary-Part-Time Library Assistant, floating

Educated by Tara Westover
Educated is an extreme truth-telling memoir about surviving a childhood dominated by a charismatic, mentally ill, self-styled Mormon "prophet" who took his family off grid and controlled every aspect of his family members' lives. That included a mistrust of schools and medical care.  Not only does Tara survive, but she realizes that an education (as well as this memoir)  is her ticket out of an untenable situation. You will not be able to put this story down, while marveling at her ability to gather witnesses for what really happened (rather than relying on her memory alone). She manages to present the fullest portrait she could of all the characters in her story. It is chilling and inspiring at the same time.         
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Emily Odza, Librarian, Eastmont and other locations

Eternal Life by Dara Horn
"Immortality!" is often on what-would-you-wish-for-if-you-could-have-anything lists, but the wish is rarely accompanied by a thorough consideration of what immortality would actually entail. In Eternal Life, Dara Horn considers exactly that with humor, poignancy, and narrative grace.          
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary-Part-Time Library Assistant, floating

Experts are Puzzled by Laura Riding
This republication of a collection written while the author, an American, was based in London and first published there in 1930 shows one of the most strident and fascinating innovators of the first half of the 20th century at the height of her talents. The brief but varied prose pieces each present a challenge to mainstream perceptions of contemporary society and to the denigration of academic snobbery. One thing is certain about this artifact of early modernism:  it shows just how far ahead of her time Laura (Riding) Jackson was a writer.
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
This is a well-written and super-important book for these times.  It deals with the transition period from the Obama to the Trump presidency.  Government agencies were prepared, on the day after the Trump inauguration, to brief all new agency heads on the background information and responsibilities of the agencies they would lead.  No one came to the briefings that day; when someone did come, they were unprepared or unwilling to absorb this information and were more interested in politicizing what should be nonpartisan work.  Lewis details the work of government agencies, such as Energy, Commerce and others, and, in the same way that he analyzed baseball in Moneyball and finance in The Big Short, makes it fascinating.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Helen Anderson, Librarian, On call

Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Mia Tang and her immigrant parents live in the inexpensive Calivista Motel (not far from Disneyland) where they work as managers and surreptitiously let ten-year-old Mia manage the front desk and tend to guests. She also helps them occasionally hide down-on-their-luck immigrants and she quietly, subtly pushes back against the hotel-owner Mr. Yao's assumption that her family's immigrant status will force them to accept terms of employment that are exploitative and unfair. I liked that Mia was kind-hearted, open-minded, courageous, determined, and willing to both work hard and ask for help - as well as offer help. I think the wish-fulfillment surprise ending will feel satisfying to the most likely readers - kids ages 8 to 12.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Erica Siskind, Children's Librarian, Rockridge

Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart
A dog’s love for his boy transcends time and space when the dog dies in an accident and his spirit has only a brief amount of time to return to the living, to make sure his boy is safe, and to say goodbye.  The boy Aiden and his dog Brodie share a special bond and their story offers a unique look at losing someone you love, not knowing where they have gone, and figuring out how to say goodbye.  The story becomes a fast-paced adventure as Brodie travels with a wise cat and a friendly dog, getting into scrapes as they help each other on the journey. Funny and poignant, with unforgettable characters, this story is especially valuable for those who have lost a loved one.  Ages 10 - 14.
Recommended for: Children, Teens        
Recommended by: Mardi, Children's Librarian, Montclair and Brookfield Branches

The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, The MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities by Wayne Kramer
It's time to kick out the jams! The Hard Stuff is one of the most moving and inspirational Rock 'n' Roll autobiographies I've ever read. Wayne Kramer is a guitarist and founding member of the revolutionary proto-punk band, The MC5. Formed in the fiery furnace of late 1960s Detroit, the MC5 became allied with the Black Panther party and advocated for racial and economic justice through their incendiary live shows and political activities. Kramer and the MC5 only made 3 albums before drugs and other crimes put him behind bars, where he was set on the path that was to change his life, but not before a knock-down drag-out fight with alcoholism and drug addiction. The Hard Stuff is a brutally honest and entertainingly written book that will have you cranking up your hi-fi and marveling at humanity's capacity for redemption.
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Stephen Bartenhagen, Librarian I, Main Library - Adult Reference

Hits and Misses: Stories by Simon Rich
More great humor from Simon Rich including a story about Paul Revere's famous midnight ride from the Horse's perspective. Also you will learn about the Foosball Championship of the Entire Universe played in a basement in Boca Rotan Florida. Enjoy the recounting of the failed career of England's last Court Jester.      
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Paul Schiesser, Senior Librarian/Branch Manager, Rockridge

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender
Kheryn Callender's Hurricane Child is told from the perspective of Caroline Murphy, the titular hurricane child. Having been born during a hurricane, Caroline understands herself to have been marked unlucky from birth. Struggling with a hostile school environment and an absent mother as she approaches adolescence, twelve-year-old Caroline is certainly feeling unlucky. She meets the new girl at school, Kalinda, and her first close friendship as well as her first crush soon follow. Callender's debut middle grade novel grapples deftly with the difficulties and promise of beginning to understand oneself, of building friendships, of navigating parent-child relationships, and of being twelve.         
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary-Part-Time Library Assistant, floating

If wants to be the same as is by David Bromige 
The long-awaited "essential poems" of one of the bravest, most talented and most influential Anglo-Canadian-California poets of the post-World War II period, is essential reading for any student or fan of contemporary poetry in the English language. Bromige's work embraces the diverse influences of his long, slow movement westward, from the blitzed London of World War II where he was born, to Saskatchewan & Vancouver in Canada, to Berkeley during the heyday of the San Francisco Renaissance and finally to Sonoma County, California. His poetry has informed an entire generation of younger poets who he taught as the first professor of poetry at Sonoma State University. The book is a testament to the man's brilliance and serves as a scintillating artifact as one of the great poets of the second half of the 20th century.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim      
Crystal Hana Kim's novel, "If You Leave Me" resonated Korean culture to me in a truthful, graceful way.  I appreciate well-written stories that are written by authors that reflect the ethnic background of the characters in the story, (authentic voice of the minority experience) is essential to me. Simply researching history about a culture doesn't make a writer an expert on the topic, but this seems to be the widely accepted practice of some publishers. I see it as a form of cultural appropriation.  Without authenticity or deep understanding, stereotypes and misinformation is the end result. I think we need more diverse books written by marginalized writers.
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Judy Kim, Library Assistant, Main

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
I'll be Gone in the Dark is a masterpiece in true crime writing. McNamara's obsession with the man she dubbed the Golden State Killer led her on a journey of investigative discovery and she has gifted her audience with a book that brings us along with her.  For lovers of In Cold Blood or The Devil in the White City, this is a must-read.
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Sharon McKellar, Supervising Librarian for Teen Services        

Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont by Saul Austerlitz
Previous authors (and film-makers) have told the dark tale of one of the largest crowds ever assembled on the West Coast to see and hear the Rolling Stones headlining a bill featuring the leading hippy-era California rockers. Unlike his predecessors tackling this subject, Saul Austerlitz homes in on the casualty, Meredith Hunter, Jr., the gun-toting 18-year-old African American from Berkeley who was brutally stabbed to death just feet from the stage, a young man who in other works on the subject represents a mere footnote. Hunter's story, as Austerlitz tells it, testifies to the racial divide that characterizes the social fabric of the Bay Area, then and now.   
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch Library

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
There's a poster that went somewhat viral several years ago called "Murakami BINGO." It's a large BINGO card with each square depicting tropes and themes that come up often in Murakami's novels. There are squares for "faceless villian," "jazz records," and "precocious teenager" among others. As I started his latest novel, it felt as if Murakami was writing with this poster in mind, checking off squares as he went along. If you know Murakami's work, this novel will feel familiar for this reason and others. There is also a freshness to it. Murakami practices a special kind of magical-realism that draws you in and has you believing the unbelievable to be true.
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Brian Guenther, Senior Librarian, 81st Avenue

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
Great illustrations with a simple, endearing story made this a hit for me and my two young children!  Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Josh, Children's Librarian, MLK Jr.

A Massacre in Mexico: The True Story Behind the Missing 43 Students by Anabel Hernández, translated by John Washington
One of humanity's most fearless champions of human rights and the struggle against corruption in Mexico, the courageous investigative reporter Anabel Hernández, has covered fearlessly one of that nation's most celebrated tragedies: the disappearance in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico on Sept. 26, 2014 of 43 students of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College en route to demonstration in Mexico City. Her courage and grit makes her book on the tragedy one of journalism's most important documents, in this or any other century.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults            
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Mommy’s Khimar is an ode to the joy that all children find in dressing up in their parents' clothing. The digitally rendered illustrations are bold, eye-catching, and exude joy. The text includes short, lyrical sentences about a African American Muslim girl's imaginative adventures with her mother’s collection of multicolored mother’s scarves. Ultimately, Mommy’s Khimar celebrates the unbridled happiness of one Muslim child, her family, and members of her community. Recommended for all.          
Recommended for: Children, Families
Recommended by: Mahasin Abuwi Aleem, Children's Librarian, Children's Room - Main Library

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
A dreamy space odyssey about first love, friendships, rocketships, and adventure. If you like epic stories about queer girls and nonbinary characters with beautiful art and a sci-fi setting, check it out!               
Recommended for: Teens, Adults            
Recommended by: Naomi Permutt, Children's Librarian, Golden Gate

Period Power by Nadya Okamoto
I wish this book existed when I was a teenager. This book presents honest and unforgiving information about menstruation. This includes the history of menstruation products, how the period is/has been represented in the media, and how one should not be ashamed because you menstruate. There is also a personal narrative that weaves through the book by the author that makes you excited to have your period.       
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Erica Ann Watson, Librarian I

The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and his Spies are Undermining America and Dismantling the West by Malcolm Nance
One of the most honest and well-informed observers on the intelligence front tells it like it is about the corruption and authoritarian ideology that the Republican Party has come to foster. The author presents a factual and straightforward exposé of the role of the supporters and associates of Donald Trump in the foreign intrigues that are exploiting the ranks of the Republicans and its far-right fringes to promote the Russia's international oligarchy led by Putin.
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
The Poet X is a novel in verse told from the perspective of Xiomara Batista, daughter of Dominican immigrants making her way toward adulthood in Harlem. Some may be daunted and others welcomed by a novel made of poems. Either way, once this book is cracked, readers won't be able to help being drawn into Xiomara's story as she finds her feet and her voice through the power of language.   
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary-Part-Time Library Assistant, floating

Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences: The Official Autobiography by Richard Pryor            
Comedian and actor Richard Pryor was a genius whose work has left an indelible impact on popular culture and contemporary comedy. That his autobiography, first published in 1995 to great fanfare and controversy, had gone out of print was as tragic as the multiple sclerosis that led to his confinement to a motorized scooter later in life. Rare Bird Books in Los Angeles has rectified that tragedy, reissuing this "powerhouse of a memoir" (as described on the blurb on the back cover) with a cogent and essential essay by fellow comic Tig Notaro.      
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow
I couldn't put this book down. Rising Out of Hatred is a completely accessible and compelling look at the current rising tide of white nationalism in the United States and one young man's journey away from that movement. There are true and real heroes here and an important discussion on the best ways to confront and possibly change the hate we see in the world around us.     
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Elia Shelton, Librarian, Main Library

Singles and Smiles: How Artie Wilson Broke Baseball's Color Barrier by Gaylon H. White
The value of this book is the subject it so endearingly and comprehensively describes. From his youth growing up in Birmingham, Alabama and playing in the segregated amateur baseball leagues of the Depression-era south to his later years as a successful seller of Lincoln and Mercury automobiles on the lot of Gary-Worth dealership outside of Portland, Ore., Artie Wilson's humility and warmth never faltered. Although he accumulated only 22 at-bats in the Major Leagues before he was replaced on the roster of the New York Giants in 1951 by fellow Alabaman Willie Mays, arguably the greatest baseball player of all time, Wilson left an enduring mark on baseball on the West Coast. This new biography documents Wilson's great seasons as the first self-identified African-American player for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League (1949-1951) and the adulation he received here before ending his career in Seattle and Portland. The author has produced a legacy monograph to a great icon of East Bay sports.    
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

There There by Tommy Orange
Oakland is the setting for this unflinchingly brutal, compassionate, and sometimes humorous debut novel which takes a panoramic look at the lives of urban Native Americans. The stories of twelve individuals weave together with rage, pain and beauty as their paths converge at the Big Oakland Powwow. It’s not an easy read because it is so rife with anguish, both personal and historical, but it is absolutely gripping.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman
This is a story about the love between two brothers and the incredibly hard road one must travel to become an artist.  Meticulously researched and based upon the 658 letters Vincent wrote to Theo during his lifetime. The true story is well written and moves along quickly sweeping the reader into the nineteenth century world of Vincent and Theo in the Netherlands and France, as Vincent acquires his painting skills and his confidence as an artist.  We experience Vincent’s moods, descriptions of how he experimented with color and different painting styles, the tragedies of the Van Gogh family, and the steady influence and love from Theo as he sacrificed to pursue their shared goal for Vincent to develop into a famous painter. Winner of the 2018 Michael L. Printz Honor and the 2018 Young Adult Library Services Association Nonfiction Award.  For ages 12 and up.        
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Mardi, Children's Librarian, Montclair and Brookfield Branches

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
My pick for best book of 2018 is Esi Edugyan's Washington Black. But you don't have to take my word for it. This breathtaking historical novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and is on the New York Times's 10 Best Books list. George Washington Black, Wash for short, narrates his own story. Born into slavery on a sugar plantation on Barbados, Wash is plucked from the cane fields at the age of eleven to be a sort of waiter and assistant to his master's inventor brother, called Titch. Titch discovers Wash's talent for drawing and becomes a mentor to him. A tragic and violent event at the plantation forces Titch and Wash to flee in Titch's "Cloud-cutter." Wash's subsequent adventures, with and without Titch, take him to the Arctic, to Nova Scotia, to London, and to Morocco. Along the way, Wash becomes an accomplished marine biologist and illustrator. Besides the adventure and the science, Washington Black is also a novel about attachment, abandonment, and identity. A very satisfying read.           
Recommended for: Adults          
Recommended by: Kathleen, Senior Librarian, Main Library

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
A long-distance romance blooms when Alexa and Drew meet in a broken elevator at the Fairmont Hotel and share an instant attraction. Impulsively Drew asks Alexa to be his date for his ex’s wedding that weekend—and to pretend to be his girlfriend to save face at the event. A very fun and sexy multicultural romance from an Oakland author. A sequel, The Proposal, also came out this fall and a third is in the works.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal
Woman World just might be the funniest dystopian story ever told. One might even argue that it presents a utopia. Told as a series of short vignettes, we learn that men are gone from the Earth, but women's problems are far from over. The naked mayor of the community named "Beyonce's Thighs" (for the strength, empathy, and endurance they symbolize) keeps everything running smoothly amidst myriad crushes, jokes, and Paul Blart references. Real commentary about gender, sexuality, and feminism are not-so-subtly sprinkled throughout this hilarious and vibrant read.     
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Josephine Sayers, Library Assistant, Main

 

Our Favorite Books of 2017

When the new year prompts you to look back on the previous twelve months, at least you can always count on good books. Here are a few of our favorites published in 2017.

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor
The long-awaited sequel to Akata Witch delivers on all its promises! Exciting, complex, coming-of-age fantasy with interesting characters, set in Nigeria. Sunny Nwazue, a young teen with magic she is just learning to use, must join with her friends to defeat a powerful spirit.
Recommended for: Children, Teens
Recommended by: Margaret, Children's librarian, Piedmont Ave

American War by Omar El Akkad
2074 United States is rocked by rising sea levels, plague, drought, severe storms, military occupation, foreign political interference and civil war. Sarat is a six- year-old refugee from mostly-underwater Louisiana who grows up to become a radicalized warrior. Author El Akkad is a war reporter who has covered the war in Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and the Arab Spring, and his experience covering conflict no doubt contributed to the harsh realism of this story. American War is horribly grim, and seems all too plausible.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Blitzed: Drugs and the Third Reich by Norman Ohler
I was shocked, but not surprised, by the extensive use of methamphetamine by the Nazis. They produced it as a vitamin and gave it to their soldiers. Blitzed is a fascincating history told through the lense of drug-use during WWII. The strengths of Ohler’s account lie not only in the rich array of rare documents he mines and the archival images he reproduces to accompany the text, but also in his character studies.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Andrew Demcak, Senior Collection Development Librarian, Main Library

Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan
Wenxuan's story, set in rural China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, is accessible, lively, dynamic, captivating, and full of details to give a sense of the place and living conditions, as well as the community and values from Wenxuan's childhood. The writing style and pace match the content - dramatic environmental events like droughts & fire, swarms of locusts, freezing storms, etc. are interspersed with many days of ordinary rural life, but they are relentless; one trouble follows closely on the heels of a narrowly-survived previous trouble, and they march along as impervious to basic human emotional needs as the seasons, with few moans or complaints from any of the characters. The two young, idealized characters -- Sunflower and Bronze -- seem to embody the best of a cultural/family value system of the time & place, which is probably familiar to Chinese readers and perhaps Chinese American readers as well. Wenxuan might have planned the parallels between Sunflower's father and Vincent Van Gogh, equally consumed by a passion for painting, and remembered for his famous paintings of sunflowers. As specific as it is, this feels like a universal story. Meilo So's occasional illustrations are wonderful, as usual.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Erica S, Children's Librarian, Rockridge

Caca Dolce: Essays from a Lowbrow Life by Chelsea Martin
Reading the 18 personal essays here, by one of the leading figures in the world of "low-fi" publishing, supplies a vivid education into the sociology of the "Echo Boomers" growing up on the outskirts of the urban San Francisco Bay Area. The book explores such topics as the nuances of life as a "Goth" in a heavy metal world, the suffering caused by being "unfriended" on social media and of alternating between a low- and a high-income, non-cohabitant, parent. Of local interest is her efforts to shed parts of her earlier life by relocating to a shared quarters in industrial Oakland. So much to identify with!
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
Occasionally a book comes along that dramatically shifts your understanding of something you think you know pretty well. Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law: The Forgotten Story of How Our Government Segregated America examines the various ways local, state and federal agencies established policies that created racial and economic divisions across the country. It also explains how these policies have led to generational poverty, rampant urban homelessness, corrupt banking practices, and homogenized suburbs. This well-researched yet accessible book blends public policy with social and architectural history. Rothstein, a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and a Haas Institute fellow, has produced a book that will be read and reread for many years to come.
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Dorothy Lazard, Librarian, Oakland History Room

Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz
It's a complicated story with a bit of a mystery at the core of it. If you are curious about post-war culture in Korea, the impact of American soldiers on that society, and the effects of a repressive dictator on young people's lives, but also want to feel involved in the lives of the main characters in a very emotional and moving way, this is the book for you.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Emily Odza, Librarian, All over Oakland!

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
In an unnamed country in the Middle East, Saeed and Nadia fall in love amidst the chaos of a burgeoning civil war. As the repression, terror and hardship mounts, they seek their escape. This brief novel is beautifully written and offers a painfully sharp view into the lives of refugees.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
Local headlines of a teen setting the skirt of another teen on fire on the local 57 busline made headlines in Oakland and around the country several years ago.  Looking at issues of gender identity, criminal justice system failures, race and the vibrant city of Oakland, Slater fleshes out the actors and the tragic story in memorable ways.
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Helen, Children's Librarian, Main Library

The First Rule of Punk by Celia Perez
Celia Perez brings her amazing DIY Zine Making skills to her first novel.  The first rule of punk, according to Malú’s dad, is to be yourself – as if yourself is a single, easy-to-define, tangible something.   But when you’re in middle school, figuring out who you are is a lot more complicated than that.   Malú is a delighful character, working on figuring out how she can be her mom's Mexican daughter AND her dad's punk rock daughter.
Recommended for: Children, Teens, Families
Recommended by: Sharon McKellar, Community Relations Librarian

Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong
San Franciscan Ruth Young is still hurting from a bad breakup when she decides to move home to be with her father Howard, a history professor falling under the grip of Alzheimer’s disease. Told in episodic vignettes, I love how the story unfolded. A brisk read that is both funny and poignant. 
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
The lives of four middle schoolers converge on the first day of summer, leading to a very mean prank, new friendships, and self-discovery. While each character has eccentricities, their unique outlooks are treated with compassion and a dash of humor.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Lolade, Librarian

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World by Kelly Jensen, ed.
Editor Kelly Jensen has gathered contributions - some written, some drawn, some playlists - from an array of sources on an array of interconnected topics. Actors, authors, activists, and more offer accessible information and insights on engaging feminisms in the 21st century.
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary Part-Time Library Assistant, Main, Eastmont

I Love It Though by Alli Warren
The most recent collection of the Oakland poet's work shows her ascending yet another rung toward her climb into the pantheon of contemporary American poetry. These latest poems show her voice becoming stronger and her vision even broader as she mesmerizes readers with the subtle complexity and beauty of her verse.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story by Sonia Patel
Jaya and Rasa takes some tips from the Shakespearean play that shares its initials (Romeo & Juliet). Sonia Patel deftly blends those shared elements of reckless, urgent adolescent romance with the complex realities of life in 21st century Hawaii.
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary Part-Time Library Assistant, Main, Eastmont

The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt
The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors is an adorably hilarious children's picture book by Drew Daywalt, (who also wrote The Day the Crayons Quit). I love the intelligent humor that both children and parents can enjoy and the dynamic illustrations.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Judy Kim, Library Aide, Cesar Chavez, Temescal and the Main

The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle: An Auto-Biography by Walt Whitman
The University of Iowa may seem an unlikely place to be publishing the definitive work and criticism of New York's (and the nation's) singularly most important poet & the English Department at the University of Houston might seem equally unlikely as a center of Whitman scholarship. Nevertheless, Houston is where Jack Turpin was a student when he discovered this fascinating "lost" work of Whitman in the newspaper collection of the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C. Turpin learned of its possible existence somewhere during his careful study of the great poet's notebooks, where Whitman had sketched out details of the story. An early edition of the New York Times contained an ad for something to look for inside a rival newspaper, the Sunday Dispatch, that drew Turpin's attention. This led Turpin to the Library of Congress, where some of the only extant copies of the Sunday Dispatch are held, in which this highly-entertaining and brilliantly innovative (for the time) a fun and fascinating pseudo-autobiography of young wry orphan rambling the social whirl of New York City in the middle of the 19th century.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Suzette, aka Little (as in sister), and her brother Lionel, aka Lion, are both teenagers in Los Angeles spending the summer together after a school year apart. Brandy Colbert brings them, their struggles and joys, and their family and friends to life in a novel that gives life's complexities more room to be.
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary Part-Time Library Assistant, Main, Eastmont

Looking for Lenin by Niels Ackermann & Sébastian Gobert
The toppling of propagandizing statues of Vladimir Lenin characterized the sweeping popular unrest that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the Ukraine, this phenomenon, known as "Leninfall," was particularly widespread, until by the end of 2013, all representations of the great Russian revolutionary leader were purged from public view. Two Western European photojournalists ventured to document the fate of these statues with their cameras. This collection of the photographs serves as a droll but stunning visual testament to this dramatic piece of modern history and its consequences, as well as an interesting look inside the war-torn nation.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Lost Ballparks by Dennis Evanosky & Eric J. Kos
The ever-productive partnership behind the Alameda Sun add to their growing list of historical works with this heavily illustrated coffee-table book that recalls storied facilities across the country and in Canada and Japan where professional baseball has been played. Of course, they a section to Oaks Park in Emeryville, home field of the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. Well-chosen and well-reproduced archival photographs, with text based on the coauthors' trademark authoritative research, make for a splendid experience for any true fan.
Recommended for: Adults, Teens
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Two mothers struggle over the custody of a “lucky” child. Soli is an undocumented immigrant who loses her child when authorities discover her status. Her story is a tragic one that exposes the treacherous risks people take to cross into the USA and the injustices of our broken immigration system and our corrupt prisons. Kavya’s story is also affecting—she should be much less sympathetic due to her selfish actions as a privileged foster mom who wants to adopt at any cost but I felt myself just as lashed to her longings. The local Berkley setting is a bonus. Engrossing, heartbreaking, compassionate.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Mad about Trump by The Usual Gang of Idiots (i.e., members of the Mad magazine staff)
One thing's for sure, 2017 has brought a bombardment of Trumpism to our electronic media and our public sphere. Its dire consequences are no laughing matter, which can make the tweeting and the saber-rattling even harder to cope with. Somehow, the screwball masters at Mad magazine have managed to supply some of the good medicine of laughter to help restore at least some perspective on today's challenges. A few frames of "The Trump Family Circus," or Kenny Keil's "No, Donald!," a revision of David Shannon's children's classic "No, David!," or any of the other extracts from Mad magazine dating from 2004 that constitute this compilation, might prove to be just the right dose of that time-tested medicine to get a good night's sleep after watching the news at 11.
Recommended for: Adults, Teens
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Midnight without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson
Midnight without a Moon is a coming-of-age novel set in the 1950s in Mississippi. Thirteen year-old Rose Lee, her family, and community grapple with family dynamics, violent racism, religion, and conflicting understandings of success in a page-turner of a first novel from Linda Williams Jackson.
Recommended for: Children, Teens
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary Part-Time Library Assistant, Main, Eastmont

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris
The art and writing transcends the graphic novel genre as Emil Ferris explores and blends many themes and styles.  It's part mystery, pulp fiction, horror, and also an emotional coming-of-age story that explores race, history, and many other themes.  In addition to the amazing narrative the art is stunning and expressive. 
Recommended for: Adults, Teens
Recommended by: Rachel Sher, Senior L.A./TLL Library Manager, Tool Lending

The Nutcracker in Harlem by T.E. McMorrow
T.E. McMorrow's retelling of a familiar Christmas classic reaches back to the tale the ballet was based on and moves it forward to the Harlem Renaissance. Lush, lively illustrations bring to life this story of a young girl finding her voice through a bit of holiday magic.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary Part-Time Library Assistant, Main, Eastmont

OG Told Me by Pendarvis Harshaw
The author shares his intimate reminiscences of growing up in Oakland, utilizing the urban parlance of the period, incorporating the wisdom he gained from the elders he encountered along the way. The ingenuity of his approach to a simple coming-of-age memoir is excitingly creative. The wisdom the book imparts is valuable, besides, and the African-American tradition of paying homage to the elders is sustained into the 21st century in a highly enjoyable and fascinating way, whether the reader is from the culture or looking in from the outside. It includes colorful and artistic graphics that help to communicate the integrity of the elder neighbors who populate this little gem of a book.
Recommended for: Adults, Teens
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein
Fifteen-year-old Julie returns home for the summer and finds herself tangled up in a deadly mystery. Set in Scotland between the two World Wars, this historical fiction gives brilliant insights into class divisions and gendered expectations. A prequel to the stunning Code Name Verity, but stands alone.
Recommended for: Adults, Teens
Recommended by: Margaret, Children's librarian, Piedmont Ave

Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions by Russell Brand
Comedian and movie star Russell Brand shares a range of interesting stories based on his fourteen years of recovery. His personal addictions serve as examples for the full spectrum--from drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar addictions to addictions to work, stress, sex, bad relationships, digital media, and fame. His writing is creative, thought-provoking, compassionate, funny and even profound.  By helping to better understand what drives our addictions, this book will help tackle any New Year's resolutions from the small to the most difficult behavioral changes.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Jamie Turbak, Associate Director, Main Library

Royals by Cedar Sigo
Sigo's poems show glimmers of the Zen and jazz-inspired musicality of the mid-20th century Bay Area poetry scene combined with expressions from his own literary DNA as part of the Suquamish people of the Pacific Northwest to shimmer on the page. To all that, he adds the cries of social exasperation and exhausting resistance that the present day demands.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Thirteen-year-old Jojo and his sister Kayla have been brought up by their loving maternal grandparents. Their mother Leonie is a drug abuser who lacks any maternal instincts, their father Michael is incarcerated, and they’ve never even met their white paternal grandparents. When they learn that Michael is being released, Leonie piles the kids and best friend in the car to pick him up from prison, anticipating a joyous family reunion instead of the traumatic journey that unfolds. This brutal story of poverty and racism in the American South is cut with moments of hope, tenderness, resilience and mystical power. Jojo’s tale is especially vivid, and I found myself absolutely immersed in his story.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Unforgivable Love by Sophfronia Scott
The fiction of the Libertines of France's Baroque period of the 18th century has had my attention, with its subversive intent, since I first discovered it as a pubescent student of the French language. The masterpiece of that genre, whose title translates Dangerous Liaisons, has inspired at least three ballets, seven feature films, television miniseries in France and Brazil and now Scott's novel set among well-to-do African Americans in Harlem, New York City, in the halcyon days following World War II. In Scott's retelling, presented in the brisk style of most popular fiction, the surreptitious exploits and manipulations of the leading characters renders a very similar fate in Harlem as similar conduct did in the timeless original to members of the pre-revolutionary French aristocracy. The lesson of this tale really helps to sustain the faith during puzzling times.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
A beautiful novel with layers of story about a girl who has experienced loss in multiple ways over her life, and in especially impactful ways very recently.  Marin learns that no matter how hard she tries, she can’t run away from loss or from love, even when the love is no longer requited and the loss is so profound you think you will never heal.  San Francisco is the background to Marin’s previous life, when her best friend became her girlfriend and her grandpa was still alive, but the cold winter better suits her current mood.  When her best friend shows up, she is forced to remember what she is trying to forget. 
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Sharon McKellar, Community Relations Librarian

Windows by Julia Denos
Windows is a quietly lovely picture book perfect for bedtime reading. Sleepy youngsters can follow the child in the book on a walk around the neighborhood with the family dog, then drift off to the final image of the child curled up on the couch with Mom and dog.
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Janine deManda, Temporary Part-Time Library Assistant, Main, Eastmont

What were your favorite books of 2017? We'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Oakland Public Library Staff’s Favorite Books of 2016

As it draws to a close, some have declared 2016 the worst year ever. Whether or not we all agree with that sentiment, we can look back fondly on at least one thing: the books! Here are some of our favorite books from the past twelve months.

Please share your favorite books of 2016 in the comments.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
An evocative tale of growing up and the role best friends play during that time.  The Brooklyn of the 1970s is a perfectly rendered additional character. 
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Helen, Librarian, Main

Desert Boys by Chris McCormick
A collection of linked stories revolve around Daley “Kush” Kushner, a young man growing up in a small desert town in California’s Antelope Valley. Daley struggles with being secretly (or not so secretly) gay, being tender hearted in a world of tough guys, and wanting to move away and create a new life while he remains frustratingly tethered to his birthplace. This book is packed with amazingly sharp observations, beautiful human connections, humor and heartbreak. 
Recommended for: Adults, Teens
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Dessert First by Dean Gloster      
In most families, there's one person who's best at keeping things together in times of trouble. If you're a teenager, and you feel like that person is you, it's hard - especially when the trouble is way out of your league to fix. Dessert First has a few similarities to The Fault in Our Stars, but I found Dessert First more believable and a better book on many levels.     
Recommended for: Teens           
Recommended by: Ann Daniels, Families for Literacy Coordinator, Second Start - Main  

Dreaming On the Edge: Poets and Book Artists in California by Alastair M. Johnston
In an exquisitely illustrated survey, Johnston's vivid and erudite discussion of the poets and book artists of California provides a grand tour of art on the Pacific Coast in the modern era. This book is fascinating and beautifully illustrated.
Recommended for: Adults            
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
Page by page, a plant grows as sharply-dressed insects speculate -- in their own language -- about what it might be. Each spread shows the same space as it incrementally changes over the seasons, and the bugs investigate, build a treehouse, and face danger from a swooping bird. Careful readers will notice lesser dramas, too: a caterpillar does his thing, a stick bug is barely noticeable until a many-eyed spider steps on its head, a mushroom grows. Kids (and adults) will love decoding the bugs' strange, silly language. The style is distinctly Ellis’: the gouache and ink illustrations will be familiar to fans of her work as artist-in-residence for the Decemberists. Kindergartners and everyone on up will get the most out of the book, especially repeat readings.         
Recommended for: Children, Families
Recommended by: Mary, Children's Librarian, Elmhurst Branch 

Every Man A Menace by Patrick Hoffman
Fast paced crime novel about the international drug trade, much of which takes place in the Bay Area.  The pace doesn't detract from the reader seeing the humanity of the many characters.  Tense and thrilling.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Brian Boies, Librarian II, TeenZone   

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
This book is showing up on many “Best Of 2016” lists and for good reason. The author, a Harvard professor and MacArthur Genius grant recipient, spent time living in the rough parts of Milwaukee, getting to know landlords and the tenants who cycle through their often dilapidated properties. Occupants struggle to keep their housing when any unexpected expense means the rent doesn’t get paid. Eviction court does not provide or require legal representation, and once marked by an eviction history, options for decent housing become scarce.  Personal stories make this book read more like a novel, but the truth in Evicted will change how you think about “home” forever.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults           
Recommended by: Christine, Librarian, Main     

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
I didn't know what to think of this book when I opened it.... and it surprised me over and over again. Hermione is a cheerleader -- not your stereotypical social butterfly shaking pom-poms, but a serious elite athlete -- and as she and her squad are training for the final competition, someone spikes her drink, brutally attacks her, and leaves her on the shore of the lake at cheer camp. Suddenly she's the topic of everyone's gossip. How does she come back from this and start to plan her future again? With the help of her parents, her best friend, her teammates, universal healthcare, and a really good (though unconventional) therapist. This is a survival story, a phoenix story, not just a teen issue book. Highly recommended even if you don't get the Shakespeare reference in the title.      
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Remy, Teen Librarian, Eastmont       

The Explosion of Deferred Dreams: Musical Renaissance and Social Revolution in San Francisco, 1965-1975
by Mat Callahan
Much has been published lately about the uprisings of the 1960s. Callahan's book stands alone. He experienced the period he writes about first hand as a rock musician (The Looters, Wild Bouquet, etc.), singer-songwriter, music theorist, member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe and leftist social activist. This has helped to inform his brilliant analysis of the moment in history when San Francisco Bay Area was the world's primary center of innovation in popular music and locus of a worldwide cultural revolution.
Recommended for: Adults            
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Faithful by Alice Hoffman
Beautiful story of loss and mourning that left me feeling hopeful. For regular Hoffman readers, there isn't any supernatural elements in this book (but I found I didn't need them for this story).
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Rebekah Randle, Library Aide, Lakeview

The Golden Age by Joan London
In 1950’s Perth, Australia, Frank is a 13-year-old Jewish refugee from Hungary who is wise beyond his years. He’s a poet, and he’s also a polio survivor struggling with his new disability. His life is changed when he finds a home at a convalescent hospital for juvenile polio survivors called the Golden Age, where he experiences his first love. Tender and bittersweet and filled with vivid characters, this book intertwines sorrow and longing with hope.
Recommended for: Adults, Teens
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
I immediately wanted to re-read this book! Solid contemporary romance about enemies that are forced to work together and come to realize that hating someone is disturbingly similar to loving someone.
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Rebekah Randle, Library Aide, Lakeview

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
In alternating chapters, Homegoing follows the descendants of two branches of a Ghanaian family from the 18th century to today. This is a story of vast sweep, through continents and centuries, touching the slave trade, colonization, tribal warfare, captivity, marriage within and without one's own kind, American racism and black pride, homophobia, and much more. But it's not a big book, and it isn't written as an epic - it's just a story of people, one chapter per person, one chapter at a time, until you are surrounded and overwhelmed and buoyed up as though by the ocean the characters cross and fear and love.            
Recommended for: Teens, Adults           
Recommended by: Ann Daniels, Families for Literacy Coordinator, Second Start - Main  

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Not a novel for the faint-hearted. Imagine Me Gone tells, through five distinct voices, the story of a family devastated by two generations of crippling depression and anxiety. Raw and urgent.
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Kathleen DiGiovanni, Senior Librarian, Main Library 

The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz
Combining adventure, medieval history, religion and scatological humor, this amazing quest tale features three children crossing 13th century France. Multiple voices give rise to well-written characters and a complex narrative but that complexity never overwhelms. A fabulous read!
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Helen, Children's Librarian, Main Children's Room    

LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Landreaux, hunting a deer, accidentally kills his neighbor’s son.  How the two families survive and are changed by this horrific event makes magnificent storytelling in Erdrich’s hand.  Landreaux’s own son, LaRose, is the centerpiece of the story, which is told from many perspectives, current and past.  Erdrich’s narrative wanders unevenly through different character’s history but always with vividness, surprise, and humor,  in a story of revenge and forgiveness, and of the interplay of an individual’s and a family’s transformation.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Nina Lindsay, Supervising Librarian for Children’s Services

Listen, Liberal, or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank
Explains how the Democratic party become the party of the Meritocracy movement or the professional classes and in turn lost its old FDR New Deal base or what is now called the "White Working Class". This book more or less predicted the election of a demagogue like Donald Trump who tapped into the anger, frustration and resentment the "White Working Class" has against the professional elite class.
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Paul Schiesser, Branch Manager, Rockridge 

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
In this challenging and rewarding book, the author considers the role loneliness and isolation, whether imposed from without or self-assumed, in the creation of art. Laing discusses the lives and works of Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Klaus Nomi, and David Wojnarowicz, among others.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Kathleen DiGiovanni, Senior Librarian, Main Library 

The Mexican Flyboy by Alfredo Vea Jr.  
With locations from San Quentin to the Central Valley to the Mexican/Texas borderlands, this book combines magical realism and a story about how sometimes in order to save someone, you have to save yourself. It's a quick read and the figures encountered along the way are all easily identifiable, even without needing a Google search.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Lina, Delivery                            

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
A group of World War II refugees thrown together by chance are making their way to the ships that will offer them freedom from the aftermath of the war. First, however, they must get through East Prussia without getting killed or imprisoned by the Red Army or Nazis. A not-often-heard side of World War II of the civilians left behind after the war’s end, Salt to the Sea is based on the true tragedy of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the greatest maritime disaster in history. Intricately plotted and told in alternating viewpoints by complex characters hiding secrets from each other and from themselves, this is a story both heartbreaking and heartwarming.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Sally Engelfried, Children's Librarian, Montclair Branch        

Scratch a Thief & House of Evil, two thrillers by John Trinian (aka Zekial Marko)
The author was an integral part of a circle of Bohemians who in the mid-1960s frequented Juanita's, a saloon operated by its colorful namesake on the converted ferry, Charles Van Damme, docked on the Sausalito waterfront. He would later land in Hollywood, as Zekial Marko, to produce some of the period's most compelling television scripts as episodes of "The Rockford Files," "Mission: Impossible," and "Kolchak: The Night Stalker." In these two reprinted thrillers, first published in 1961 & 1962 respectively, Trinian (a pen name) uses the backdrop of San Francisco in those years to display the unique imagination that helped him succeed in Hollywood.
Recommended for: Adults            
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
In an era when a reckless attachment to not ruffling any feathers has turned the country's leadership over to corrupt oligarchs tied to actively xenophobic, racist, sexist, ableist, antisemitic, queerphobic, Islamophobic, transphobic, nationalist individuals and organizations, Ms. West's willingness to raise her voice and speak truth to power, feathers be d*mned, is both refreshing and necessary. This book focuses for the most part on issues related to Ms. West's experiences with sexism, misogyny, and fatphobia, and it opens the door to the rest of her body of thoughtful, politically engaged work as a writer and activist. 
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Janine deManda, TPT Library Assistant, Main - Children's & GovDocs    

          

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet 
Melissa Sweet's collage artwork on nearly every page form a perfect complement to her clearly-written biography, which gives enticing back-story information to E.B. White's most popular children's books, and inspiring scenes of the life of a writer.  Adults who read his books aloud to their children will enjoy reading this one aloud as well. Ample quotes from his stories, letters, and articles are set in old-typewriter font and dated for clarity. Photos, ephemera, and watercolor illustrations are combined for a dynamic and appealing presentation.
Recommended for: Children, Adults, Families
Recommended by: Erica S., Children's Librarian, Rockridge Branch           

Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America by Charles Russo  
Not only a brief look into the life of Bruce Lee, but also insight into the historical background on how martial arts was spread in the United States.  The author, Charles Russo, a local San Francisco writer, delves deep into the history of martial arts in San Francisco and Oakland, and how one of its most famous cultural icons, helped spread its influence around the world.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Liza Ly, PT Librarian I               

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
LOVED IT. Smart, interesting take on Sherlock that tackles the reality of being a woman in that era.
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Rebekah Randle, Library Aide, Lakeview

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
A cat walks through the world with its whiskers, ears and paws. Different animals all see the cat: a child sees a friendly face, a bee sees a pixillated creature, a flea sees a forest of hair, a mouse sees enormous claws and teeth, a bird sees a back way below - and what does the cat see? Gorgeous illustrations, a funny idea that little kids will love, and deeper underlying food for thought: what makes different viewers see the same thing in completely different ways?         
Recommended for: Children     
Recommended by: Ann Daniels, Families for Literacy Coordinator, Second Start - Main  

Today Will Be Different  by Maria Semple             
Semple excels at taking "a day in the life" of her character, Eleanor Flood, and unraveling a whole lifetime (as well as her sanity) in the course of that day. How does a writer so skillfully encapsulate a marriage, career in television, mother-son relationship, and the bond of sisters, through the interior thoughts of the narrator? Through risk-taking, soul-baring, side-aching writing. I like how deeply buried secrets belonging to the narrator are secrets to us readers as well, until they are not secrets anymore. I enjoy the surprises throughout the novel, and you just have to trust Semple is taking you somewhere interesting. It is perhaps not as consistently laugh out loud funny as the previous novel, (Where'd You Go Bernadette)— because there is ultimately much sadness in the story she creates in collage-like fashion. However, it is also dependably quirky, supremely honest, and a great satire of modern life. I enjoyed the additional surprise element of the graphic illustrations -- it wouldn't be the same book without these 'found objects.' Have you kept something from your past life that you wish you could work into a collage, a song, or a novel? Writers will also laugh out loud that she procrastinated for eight years on her next creation, apparently oblivious that her agent and editor had been sloughed off due to the great publishing conglomeration debacle of this century. One by one, all day long, all things fall away, all illusions fall away, not just her book deal. The book could be called, Where'd you go, life?
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Emily Odza, Librarian, Your friendly neighborhood branch (various locations)              

To the Brink: True Story of the First Human-Powered Circumnavigation of the Earth by Jason Lewis
In this, the long-awaited conclusion to the author's epic documentation of his journey to become the first person ever to have circled the planet using only the power of his own body, Lewis lands his pedal boat, Moksha, in Cairns, Australia after crossing the Pacific Ocean. From there he crosses the Australian continent, heading back to England via the Himalayas, the troubled lands on the African shore of the Red Sea, the Holy Land then across Europe. The book concludes the three volume chronicle of his journey (following Dark Waters of 2012 and The Seed Buried Deep of 2014) that began at the Greenwich meridian and concludes there after his daring and treacherous westward circumnavigation of the earth, walking, rowing, pedaling and even swimming. Lewis captures all the wonder, terror and loneliness that faced him in a gripping and captivating style.   
Recommended for: Teens, Adults           
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch   

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a young slave who flees the violence and terror of her Georgia plantation via a system of literal, not metaphorical, subterranean steam trains. It’s a suspenseful and inventive page turner that takes an unflinching look at the horrors of American slavery and other brutal injustices that formed the foundation of our nation. Whitehead is one of our country’s great literary talents and it came as no surprise that this book won this year's National Book Award for Fiction.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung
People have always treated seventh-grader Chloe Cho like she’s from outer space, just because she’s the only Asian American in her school.  When a new teacher, Ms. Lee, becomes the second Korean American, assigns a project to explore family history, and starts asking pressing questions, Chloe begins to realize there is much more to her parents’ immigration story than she ever imagined.  Mike Jung, an Oakland author, delivers a hilarious and provocative story about identity and friendship.
Recommended for: Children, Teens
Recommended by: Nina Lindsay, Supervising Librarian for Children’s Services

We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang
An incredibly timely and important book that contextualizes the racial and class tensions we recently witnessed and experienced in the presidential campaign this year. Chang discusses how white Americans' feelings of displacement in our multiracial American society has fueled so many of our public policies around housing, policing, education, public speech, and equity. He asserts that we've avoided the necessary discourses we need to have to attain true equality. For people (particularly local folks) interested in how things got the way they are, this book is a must-read.
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Dorothy Lazard, Librarian, Oakland History Room

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Paul Kalanithi was a brilliant young doctor and researcher in the Bay Area when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. This slim volume is his story in his own words, finished by his widow after his death. This book is especially recommended for anyone dealing with the illness or death of someone in their family or anyone they love.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults           
Recommended by: Ann Daniels, Families for Literacy Coordinator, Second Start-Main     

Oakland Public Library Staff’s Favorite Books of 2015

It's that time of year when everyone publishes their best of the year lists. I look forward to seeing what the New York Times has to say on this matter, but I think my colleagues at Oakland Public Library always come up with the best reading suggestions! Here are some of our favorites from 2015. 

We'd love to hear from you, too--please share your favorites of 2015 in the comments. 

All American Boys
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Miriam Medow, Children's Librarian, Dimond Branch
In alternating chapters, two authors -- one Black and one White -- give voice to the very real struggles of two all-American boys -- one Black and one White. Racialized police brutality, the implications of white silence in the face of such violence, and the meaning of justice are brought to light in this powerful, important new young adult novel.

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Nina Lindsay, Supervising Librarian for Children's Services, Main Library
Short, dense, and transformative; Coates' singular work, one of the NY Times best 10 books of the year and a National Book Award winner, is a very personal narrative exploring America's foundational history of racism. I imagine that readers will experience this book in radically different ways, but I'd wager that no one will finish it unchanged.

The Big Bitch
by John Patrick Lang
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch Library
First-time Oakland novelist John Patrick Lang takes the tried-and-true noir formula, applies it to the economic circumstances that resulted after the mortgage meltdown of 2008, and invents a rookie East Bay private investigator, "Doc" Holiday whose luck, gall, desperation and fear helps him wing his first assignment with the aplomb of a 21st-century Jacques Clouseau.

Court of Fives
by Kate Elliott
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Remy, Teen Librarian, Eastmont       
A Romeo and Juliet story set in the arena of Gladiators. Jessamy lives in a world where her very existence is taboo: her mother is a Commoner and her father a Patron, their love forbidden by strict hierarchy and social custom. She and her sisters will not be able to marry into wealth, and they are prohibited from working, so Jessamy's future is uncertain. Her only joy is running the Fives, a game of strength and strategy that provides entertainment for the public -- but even a whiff of recognition would be disastrous for her father's political advancement. When a handsome Patron youth notices her talent at Fives, will he reveal her identity and doom her family? Exploring struggles of class, race, and gender, this fast-paced fantasy adventure will thrill teen readers.

Eileen
by Ottessa Moshfegh
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch Library
Ottessa Moshfegh, who has based herself in Oakland while she's completing a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, uses her exceptional talents as a writer to bring to life a truly damaged and unlikable character, pulling the reader slowly along the course of reality faced by a personality consumed by anxiety, self-loathing and dread. To tackle the starkness and distress this novel addresses is a monumental literary challenge, and Moshfegh has the unique gift to assemble it into an unforgettable reading experience.

Fates and Furies              
by Lauren Groff               
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Alice McCain, Library Assistant, Piedmont Ave Branch            
The author gets to the meat and gristle of the two married characters and explores how they at once support--and somewhat destroy--one another. Fascinating.  

Furiously Happy
by Jenny Lawson
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Dayni, Librarian, Asian Library            
Furiously Happy is the funniest book I've read in a long, long time.  Find out what happens when a woman with depression, OCD and crippling anxiety decides to be furiously happy.  Hijinks include visiting Australia and attempting to hold a koala . . . while dressed in a koala costume, hanging out with Rory, a stuffed raccoon and so much more.

Gold Fame Citrus
by Claire Vaye Watkins
AND The Water Knife
by Paolo Bacigalupi
Recommended for: Teens, Adults           
Recommended by: Christine, Librarian, Main
I could not pick between my two favorite books published in 2015: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins and The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi.  Each drought-themed post-apocalyptic novel offers similar yet distinctly compelling visions of an ever-more arid Southwest.   In The Water Knife, climate-change refugees overwhelm Phoenix as corporate- controlled states battle over rights to disappearing rivers. Gold Fame Citrus follows a couple fleeing the insane violence of LA, only to be swallowed up by a cult in the shadow of the enormous sand dune replacing the Mojave Desert.  Both books use exquisite language and detail to show that in the absence of water, violence surfaces and floods communities large and small, springing from that great underground aquifer- fear. Lest we be lulled into forgetfulness as we batten down for “El Nino-zilla” this winter, these accomplished authors remind us that the future is dry.

I Can Give You Anything But Love
by Gary Indiana
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Sean Dickerson, Library Assistant, Main Library/Elmhurst Branch
Intercut with scenes of its own editing in present day Havana, Gary Indiana’s account of his early years is spiked with portraits taken from the saturnalia of a fading Haight-Ashbury, Gay Marxist Liberation groups of 1970's Los Angeles, and literary friendships with the likes of Susan Sontag. The perennial bridesmaid (as he'd prefer it), Indiana's "first and last" memoir is a reminder why many consider him among America's greatest underground writers. His finale is refreshingly anti-nostalgia: “Like everything irreversible and embarrassing, I’d like to remember it differently.”

Listen, Slowly
by Thanhha Lai 
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Helen, Children's Librarian, Main Library
Twelve-year old Vietnamese-American Mai believes that her summer at the beach has been ruined when she has to accompany her grandmother back to their family village in an attempt to discover what happened to her grandfather during the war. This child of immigrants fish-out-of-water story deepens and transforms as Mai develops relationships with her family, adapts to village life and ultimately learns her grandfather's fate.  Mai's voice is perfect and the story is filled with realistic, three-dimensional characters.

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories
by Lucia Berlin
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch Library
These moving and captivating stories, which have languished inside several small-press editions attracting far too little attention while Lucia Berlin was producing them in her various Oakland and Berkeley residences, have finally found the wide audience they deserve. Although this collection leaves out a story or two that I particularly enjoy, its editor, Stephen Emerson, a loyal library patron, did an extraordinary job with the selection, the introduction and the hard work of extricating Berlin from her undue oblivion.

Modern Romance
by Aziz Ansari
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Jamie Turbak, Associate Director, Main Library
Actor and stand-up comedian, Aziz Ansari, is on a roll.  Not content to rest on his laurels following the end of the TV sit-com "Parks and Recreation", Aziz teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project in order to craft a book that combines humor and serious social science. "Modern Romance" analyzes courtship and romantic behavior over the past 100 years and makes a cross-cultural comparison about what love looks like and means now.  As soon as you finish this great book, check out Ansari's brilliant Netflix series "Master of None" to see if you can watch just one episode at a time!

The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind
by Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, and Max King Cap, editors
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Nina Lindsay, Supervising Librarian for Children's Services, Main Library
In 2011, Claudia Rankine composed an open letter about race and the creative imagination on her website and invited others to respond.  The Racial Imaginary project developed in collaboration with Beth Loffreda and Max King Cap, involving visual art as well as writing.  They have assembled a selection of the project in this book.  "The essays gathered here unveil race's operations in the act of creativity," writes Loffreda in her introduction. Each one is personal, specific, and provocative, and I treasure being able to dip into the collection and any place, read one short essay, and walk away with a new perspective on writing, reading, and being a citizen of Oakland and the world.

Ray Davies: A Complicated Life
by Johnny Rogan
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch Library
For London-based biographer Johnny Rogan, his pop music idols serve as the subjects for epic chronicles of both the person his book is about and the circumstances surrounding the life he records. (The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited, his second book on the watershed California band, is widely recognized as the finest music biography ever written.) For his most recent epic, he leaps into the life one of the most enigmatic survivors of the musical phenomenon known as the British Invasion. The result is a compelling, often poignant, portrayal of the origins and the aftermath of one of the 20th century's most significant periods.

Red: A Crayon's Story    
by Michael Hall
Recommended for: Children, Families
Recommended by: Mary Dubbs, Children's Librarian, Elmhurst Branch Library
A crayon with a red label can't seem to get anything right: not fire engines, not strawberries, not hearts... At this point, kids hearing this book read aloud are clamoring to point out what the crayons in the story don't yet see: that "red" crayon is obviously blue! Clever details, such as the grandparent crayons being shorter than the young crayons, encourage careful re-readings. Managing to avoid didacticism, the story nevertheless invites discussion about the labels placed on us and their consequences. This is one of my favorite picture books of the year to read to preschoolers up through fifth grade.

TWO librarians loved this book! Here’s what Kate Conn, Librarian at Main had to add:
Although his label may have said "red" it wasn't until one day a new friend asks him to draw a blue ocean, that Red crayon realizes he's Blue! Finally he can let his true color shine; no longer dictated by labels or other crayons' opinions he goes on to do incredible drawings of blueberries, bluebells, blue jeans, blue skies, etc. Not only is this terrifically fun to read aloud, it has a great classic message for kids: Be true to yourself!  

Shadowshaper
by Daniel Jose Older
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Remy, Teen Librarian, Eastmont       
Set in a vibrant Brooklyn community, this story blends the mystical with the mundane. Sierra Santiago is an artist bringing beauty to abandoned buildings with her murals, but her grandfather's secrets hint at another side to her art -- one that will send her on an urgent mission to stop a supernatural killer stalking the neighborhood. With her friends guarding her back, Sierra sets out to discover the truth about her family and herself.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed
by Jon Ronson  
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Xochitl Gavidia, Librarian, Chavez
This extremely moving and entertaining book about public shaming is one of the best books I’ve read all year.  Ronson examines why some people are shamed by the public and some aren’t.  He also investigates the power of social media and the way’s the public can use it to ruin some people’s lives.  This book made me laugh, feel anger, feel empathy, and total amazement about the world we live in.

Torpor
by Chris Kraus
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Sean Dickerson, Library Assistant, Main Library/Elmhurst Branch
Of the spate of great reissues in 2015 (Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles, Resentment by Gary Indiana) perhaps most welcome was the republication of Chris Kraus' Torpor, now with critical afterword by McKenzie Wark. Written during the "post-MTV, pre-AOL" 1990's (a time when "'collateral damage,' a military term coined to describe the accidental wasting of civilian populations, is just beginning to cross over into self-help therapeutic terminology"), Kraus' narrative of a search for relationships uncomplicated by politics and subsequent paralysis still feels pressingly timely.

The Turner House
by Angela Flournoy
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library
The story of a family, a house and a city. The Turner family consists of a widowed matriarch with 13 grown children and their families. Their bonds are tested by sibling differences, marital strife, illness, addiction and even a haint who haunts the eldest son. They’re in danger of losing their beloved home on Yarrow Street, now surrounded by abandoned lots and saddled with an underwater mortgage, and over the last 75 years, they’ve seen Detroit change drastically under the pressure of political discord and financial depression. A 2015 National Book Award finalist, this book is a great choice for readers who love family sagas, African American fiction, potent settings, and stories that are both funny and poignant.

The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip
by George Saunders, illustrated by Lane Smith
Recommended for: Children, Teens, Adults       
Recommended by: Jenera! Librarian, Piedmont Ave Branch
This is a parable about good and bad neighbors and goats. I liked it because it's super-short (82 pages, illustrated) and reminds you not to be a jerk.

Wolfie the Bunny
by Ame Dyckman; illustrated by Zachariah OHora
Recommended for: Children, Families
Recommended by: Miriam Medow, Children's Librarian, Dimond Branch
When Wolfie (a baby wolf) is found on the doorstep of the Bunny family's Brooklyn-styled home, Dot (a young bunny) doesn't like him one bit. Wearing a red hoodie and a fierce scowl, Dot tries to convince her parents that, "He's going to eat us all up!" -- but they love the adorable wolf and his goofy overbite, and raise him as their own. Giggle-inducing details, like Wolfie's huge pink bunny onesie, and a delightfully surprising climax belie more serious themes of trust and loyalty in this wholly original sibling story.

Oakland Public Library Staff’s Favorite Books of 2014

You’ve seen them everywhere—end of the year Best Books lists in The New York Times, Time Magazine, Amazon, to name just a few—now it’s time for us to weigh in. Here are a few of our favorite books published in 2014.

We’d love to hear from you, too! Please tell us about your favorite books of 2014 in the comments.

All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr 
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Emily Odza, Librarian
I love the kind of story where two persons' fates slowly converge, lending a feverish suspense to the story, despite its experimental approach to time. The backdrop is France and Germany and it tells the parallel stories of two young people swept up in WWII. Doerr has an incredible ability to depict a setting, and I still smell the salt air of Saint Malo, the crash of the ocean, and the atmosphere of a town under occupation, as experienced by a blind French girl. Meanwhile, a young German boy is drafted by Hitler Youth and then into the Army, witness to and participant in terrible atrocities in the hunt for partisans. It is possible to follow along as he comes to realize that he does not want to be part of Hitler's machine anymore and as the final days of the war degenerate into chaos, he is able to do the one good act that redeems his life.

Annihilation
by Jeff VanderMeer
Recommended for: Teens, Adults           
Recommended by: Alice, Library Assistant, Piedmont Branch
It has colorful and textural descriptions of a dense natural environment that may actually be a character in the story. Its like a fine tuned naturalist wrote a mystery that you can't put down. Bonus: It is book one of a trilogy!!

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
by Hilary Mantel
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Kathleen DiGiovanni, Senior Librarian, Main Library
Read this collection of ten short stories by the masterful English writer Hilary Mantel while you wait for the third installment of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy to be published. The stories are darkly humorous, many of them touched by the macabre. Mantel's language is rich, crisply specific, and evocative.

The Bohemians
by Ben Tarnoff
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Kathleen DiGiovanni, Senior Librarian, Main Library
The Bohemians is a fascinating read for its depictions of San Francisco's literary elite during the Civil War. Why did Mark Twain's star rise? Why did Bret Harte's fall as he squandered his early success? Tarnoff analyzes both of these questions. He also brings into the story two of early San Francisco's other leading writers, the long-forgotten gay writer Charles Warren Stoddard and Oakland's own Ina Coolbrith, California's first Poet Laureate, both associates of Harte and part of Twain's circle.

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
by Roz Chast
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Kathleen DiGiovanni, Senior Librarian, Main Library
If you've ever struggled to have a difficult conversation with your children or your aging parents, read Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast's graphic memoir of her parents' final years. Sad but never sentimental; laugh-out-loud funny and insightful, Chast nails the experience of middle-aged children coping with their beloved but complicated parents in decline.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
by Haruki Murakami
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Brian Guenther,  Branch Manager,  Martin Luther King, Jr. Branch
With encouragement from his lover, Murakami's title character seeks to find out why his tight-knit group of friends suddenly cut ties with him after he left home for college. Through reconnecting with his old friends Tazaki uncovers shocking news, reveals a dark mystery, and discovers truths about himself. An usually realistic novel for Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru is a beautifully solemn book about authenticity and how we often don't know ourselves as much as we think we do.

Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Mana Tominaga, Librarian, Main Library
Ng’s debut novel is an elegantly written thriller with some familiar elements – a missing girl, a lake nearby, and a love interest apparently gone awry, with some surprising twists involving parental expectations, sibling rivalries, and the added complexities of a mixed race family growing roots in 1977, in an all-American town in Ohio. The book was gripping, and I plowed through, trying to figure out why each family member just couldn’t bring themselves to talk about the real reasons behind Lydia’s disappearance. It’s a heartfelt portrait of a family struggling with its place in history as well as with each other.  

The Flight of the Silvers
by Daniel Price
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Susy, Teen Librarian, Cesar E. Chavez Branch
Two sisters are saved from the end of the world by two alien beings sliding silver bracelets on their wrists. They find themselves on a parallel Earth where they meet 4 other survivors from "their" Earth. The 6 find themselves fighting an incredibly fierce and knowing enemy and searching for an answer and a savior in their new world as well. After 600 pages I can't wait for the next one in this series.

The Girl in the Road
by Monica Byrne
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Christine I.,  Librarian, Main Library
The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne has remained with me like a vivid fever dream. Only the insane or desperate attempt to cross the Indian Ocean on a floating “bridge” of linked energy platforms. At first unsteady as a baby learning to walk, Meena is battered by the waves, then enters a watery world of eccentrics and miracles. Her story parallels a clandestine escape across Africa by another obsessed woman years before. How their lives are related and how they survive their harrowing circumstances make this near-future debut novel a fascinating alternative to the glut of formulaic dystopian tales crowding the shelves.

Glitter and Glue: A Memoir
by Kelly Corrigan
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Tamar Kirschner, Collection Development Librarian
Ms. Corrigan is a local memoirist with a gift for prose that is deceptively light and entertaining, while dealing with the really tough stuff in life. In Glitter and Glue we meet an Australian family left broken and stuck soon after the mother has died of Cancer. Enter a young traveling Kelly Corrigan looking to make a few bucks on her way through town as their live-in au pair. The course of the relationships she develops with the children and other members of the family over the next few months is as humorous and uplifting as it is painful to follow.      

How It Went Down
by Kekla Magoon
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Nina Lindsay,  Supervising Librarian for Children's Services, Main Library
Sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson is shot and killed in the street, but that is all that is certain. Alternating voices of teens relate the aftermath as the mystery around the tragedy unfolds.

I Pity the Poor Immigrant
by Zachary Lazar
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Barbara Bibel, Reference Librarian, Main Library
It is a fascinating fictional account of the early days of Las Vegas seen through the eyes fo Bugsy Siegel and his Holocaust survivor mistress.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors
by Nayomi Munaweera
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library
An eye opening fictional account of the devastating civil war between the Sinhalese and Tamil people of Sri Lanka. A Sinhalese girl immigrates to the U.S. with her family, only to return years later, her fate intertwined with a Tamil girl who is haunted by violence. A devastating book to read for its depiction of violence, but open the book to any page and you will read gorgeous prose.  Island of a Thousand Mirrors is a debut novel by an Oakland author and winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize for the Asian Region.

It's Night in San Francisco But It's Sunny in Oakland
by Various Authors
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Sean,  Library Aide, Main Library
So many amazing East Bay poets released work this year that it would be impossible to narrow down a few favorites. This anthology by Oakland-based small press Timeless Infinite Light gathers 60 local writers for "a post/Occupy house reading that never ends." In a year when small press went big (hitting the cover of the East Bay Express) this collection is a snapshot, a celebration, and a poetical call to arms.

Over Easy
by Mimi Pond
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Susy, Teen Librarian, Cesar E. Chavez Branch
Even though it has an alias you know this is Mama's Royal Café on Broadway in our own Oakland. The storyline is fantastic and the characters are great. A good story about finding your way through art school actually any post high school and early adulthood in general. Should also especially appeal to those who have worked in the service industry - i.e. cafes and restaurants.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights
by Steve Sheinkin
Recommended for: Children, Teens, Adults, Families
Recommended by: Nina Lindsay, Supervising Librarian for Children's Services, Main Library
An explosion at the Bay Area Port Chicago Naval Base in 1944 led to a groundbreaking civil rights protest by African-American sailors unjustly charged with mutiny. Sheinkin's book is one of the first following historian Robert Allen's uncovering of this story. It is gripping, provocative, and highly readable for tweens to adults.

Sinner
by Maggie Stiefvater
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Susy, Teen Librarian, Cesar E. Chavez Branch
This is a companion book to the Shiver Trilogy so it can easily stand on its own. It follows a character from the trilogy - Cole St. Clair. He's a rock and roll star who became an addict, had his inevitable downfall, and disappeared. He's also a werewolf in love with a human. He has found a way back, especially to her, by being in a reality show filing in Los Angeles. I thought I'd hate Cole but I really felt for him.

The Truth About Alice
by Jennifer Mathieu
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Susy, Teen Librarian, Cesar E. Chavez Library
Alice is a slut - everyone knows. She was sexting the quarterback when he crashed his car and died. Different voices tell the story of how the rumors about Alice got so bad. Alice, herself, speaks up too. This book shows how quickly whispered rumors can so quickly turn to vicious, severely damaging bullying and how a young woman can be irrevocably slut shamed. 

The White Van
by Patrick Hoffman
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Brian Boies, Librarian, TeenZone
Bleak and spare crime novel of current day San Francisco, will keep you tense and turning pages.