Readers' Advisory

My Undead Valentine

Spend this Valentine’s Day with some star-crossed lovers, bridging the divide between this world and the next. These six classic paranormal romances will give you chills and set your heart racing.


Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)This terrifying, suave monster stalks his prey from a crumbling castle in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania to an insane asylum in England to the bedrooms of his swooning female victims in a drama is infused with a more and more exquisite measure of sensuality and suspense. 

The Mummy or Ramses the Damned by Anne Rice (1989)Doomed to forever wander the earth, desperate to quell his insatiable hungers, Ramses the Damned turns up in Edwardian London as Dr. Ramsey and begins a romance with heiress Julie Stratford, but his cursed past again propels him toward disaster.

The Hand I Fan With by Tina McElroy Ansa (1996)A love story set in a small Georgia town filled with eccentric residents follows the romance between a generous woman and a ghost from one hundred years ago. You'll fall in love with the large-hearted Lena and friendly Herman.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley (2003)Left to die in an abandoned mansion as the prey of a vampire, Sunshine is stunned to find herself unharmed and must come up with a way to save her undead host from the perils of the daylight world, in a seductive tale of supernatural desire. 

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (2011)The Bigtree alligator-wrestling dynasty is in decline. Ava's mother, the park'€™s indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their family business from going under; and her father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL.

Eat, Brains, Love by Jeff Hart (2013)- New Jersey teens Jake Stephenson and Amanda Blake are turning into zombies and, having devoured half of their senior class, they are on the run, pursued by teen psychic Cass, a member of a government unit charged with killing zombies and keeping their existence secret.


So, this Valentine's Day let's open our hearts and remember that, just because they are (un)dead, doesn't mean they don't need love, too.

Most Popular Books of 2015


 Following are the ten books published in 2015 also most often checked out at the Oakland Public Library in 2015:

  1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in January 2015)- On the train, alcoholic and depressed Rachel passes daily by the house that she used to share with her ex-husband, spying on him with his new wife and their child, and on their neighbors: a couple that she idealizes, fantasizing about their happy life together. When the woman in this couple shows up in the tabloids as missing, Rachel delves into the investigation.
  2. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in July 2015 and Watchman, Related Reading)- This long buried and controversial sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird features many of the characters some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her.
  3. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in May 2015)- Atkinson skillfully jumps back and forth in time, portraying Teddy as a World War II pilot, husband, father, teacher and grandfather.
  4. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in February 2015)- Red and Abby Whitshank are the septuagenarian heads of a Baltimore clan which includes four squabbling adult offspring who must come to grips with the physical and mental challenges their parents face as they age. 
  5. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Featured in Oakland Public Library's 2015 Holiday Gift Guide)- The acclaimed essayist examines the meaning of race in our country and looks back on his personal history in a letter addressed to his teenage son. Winner of the 2015 National Book Award for nonfiction.
  6. Dead wake: the last crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson- A chronicle of the sinking of the Lusitania discusses the factors that led to the tragedy and the contributions of such figures as Woodrow Wilson, bookseller Charles Lauriat, and architect Theodate Pope Riddle.
  7. Funny Girl by Nick Hornby (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in February 2015)- Bombshell Barbara Parker has no interest in being Miss Blackpool 1964—she wants to be a TV comedienne like her idol, Lucille Ball. She heads to London, changes her name to Sophie Straw and lands her own comedy TV show, gaining a circle of colleagues and friends in the process.
  8. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in February 2015)- Reunited when the elder's husband is sent to fight in World War II, French sisters Vianne and Isabelle find their bond as well as their respective beliefs tested by a world that changes in horrific ways.
  9. Falling in love: a Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery by Donna Leon- Attending a performance by an opera star he saved in Death at La Fenice, Brunetti learns that the singer is being stalked by an obsessed fan who subsequently attacks a fellow performer.
  10. A dangerous place: a Maisie Dobbs novel by Jacqueline Winspear- Arriving in turbulent 1937 Gibraltar in the aftermath of a tragedy, Maisie Dobbs raises the British Secret Service's suspicions through her involvement in the murder of a Sephardic Jewish photographer.

Next are the ten eBooks published in 2015 also most often checked out on Overdrive at the Oakland Public Library in 2015:

  1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins*
  2. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson*
  3. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in March 2015)- Among ogres and dragons in medieval rural England, an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, live in a village where everyone seems to have trouble remembering anything. In this fog of forgetting, Axl and Beatrice wonder about a son they think they had—when did he leave? And why? They set off on a quest to find answers.
  4. Make Me: Jack Reacher Series by Lee Child- Hoping to make a brief stop in the small but suspicious town of Mother's Rest, Jack Reacher learns about 200 shocking deaths and meets a woman waiting for a private investigator who has gone missing.
  5. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in June 2015)- Beloved author Blume bases her newest novel on three real-life plane crashes that occurred near Newark Airport during the winter of 1951-52. The three crashes have a profound impact on 15-year-old Miri, her family and friends.
  6. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee*
  7. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler*
  8. Funny Girl by Nick Hornby*
  9. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (Featured in 10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in May 2015)- The moon suddenly and mysteriously explodes, triggering an exodus from the earth in which seven women must repopulate the human race. In his latest science fiction epic, Stephenson traces the fate of humanity over the next 5000 years.
  10. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah*

*See annotation above

The Girl on the Train topped both lists by a mile. I myself listened to it on eAudio and was unable to unplug for days. Also on both lists were A God in Ruins, Go Set a Watchman, A Spool of Blue Thread, Funny Girl, and The Nightingale. Did you read any of OPL's most popular books in 2015? If so, we'd love to read your thoughts about them in the comments. 

Books We Love: Under the Udala Trees

By Kiyoko Shiosaki, OPL Collection Development Intern


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hey, That Harry Potter Lady Can Write


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

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

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

Musician Biographies for Every Taste

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


Just kids by Patti Smith (2010)

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


Life by Keith Richards, with James Fox (2010)

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


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

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


Possibilities by Herbie Hancock, with Lisa Dickey (2014)

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


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

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


Words without music by Philip Glass (2015)

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


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


The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, A Lakeview Branch Book Club Review

This may have been the best meeting ever! 19 of us were there. There were several new people who came just because of this wonderful book. Not all had finished it, but all planned to do so. A couple had not yet started, but planned to read it. We all LOVED this book and recommend it highly to everyone.
Our group was very diverse and the stories in this extremely well researched history and the personal stories of three different people who left the South and moved to what was hoped to be a better life, affected us all in their universality.
Isabel Wilkerson, is the first Black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African American to win for individual reporting. She has won many, many other awards for her writing and many for The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. This book took fifteen years of research and over 1,000 interviews. Ms. Wilkerson is from Atlanta and involved her parents in her research, even having them accompany her in following the root of Dr. Robert Pershing Foster from the South to California. Dr. Foster's trip is one of the many stories in this book that brought some of us to tears.
Many of us thought we were knowledgeable of Black History, but found that even though many of us were young when major Civil Rights events happened, and, even though many of us had read extensively about Black History, we DIdn't Know Much About The Great Migration!
Two of our group are African American and the children or grandchildren of those who left the South. They learned much they didn't know. The stories of leaving the South and coming to difficult lives in the North or West, are so very personal and many who lived it don't talk about it. It is just too painful to remember. One of these ladies commented that she wished she knew the stories, but some who could tell her have passed on. She plans to ask some remaining members what they knew of those years.
Two women from India, one who has lived in England, Canada and The United States, discussed the prejudice they have endured and/or witnessed everywhere they have lived. One mentioned how college educated professionals have had to go to soup kitchens in Canada, because they could not find jobs. The other woman from India, a medical doctor who worked in rural, white, Appalachia and in the Deep South, spoke of the prejudice all round. It was gratifying to find that she was finally accepted by suspicious white and reluctant Blacks. It was noted also, that in some of the very rural communities, entire enclaves of Blacks disappeared, almost overnight, due to threats to their lives from white neighboring communities. This happened, not that many years ago!
Our leader, for the evening, did a wonderful job telling us about Isabel Wilkerson and getting us started by asking with which of the three migrants, Robert Pershing Foster, Ida Mae Gladney or George Swanson Starling, we most identified or with whom we felt the strongest connection. We went around the table and answered that question and added our general strong impressions of this book. The results of choosing our favorites of the three, were just about even!
People who chose Dr. Robert Foster, the person who seemed to be the most completely drawn by Wilkerson, liked him, because he seemed the most damaged by the rejection by Southern Institutionalized Racism. The Racism continued with even more rejection in the U. S. Army in Germany, where he was not allowed to care for white women, and by the society of California, white AND BLACK, BOTH!! Yet, he NEVER GAVE UP! His was such a human story, filled with horrible emotional pain in the midst of hard won, and socially and financially, upscale life.
People who chose Ida Mae Gladney loved her ability to weather all the adversity with love for everyone and without ever changing who she was. She stayed true to her Southern culture, keeping her accent, her wonderful cooking, raising her children, working long hours, bettering her family, enduring racism around her and the disintegration of her Chicago neighborhood into a dangerous drug dealing area. She is an inspiration to everyone.
The people who chose George Swanson Starling, noted that he would have been killed if he had not escaped from the South! The reason was that he stood up for fair wages for Black field workers. He never stopped working for the rights and safety of others. He was never able to get the education he always wanted, but worked hard his entire life for his family as a Pullman Porter. He helped many from the South, safely escape on the trains where he worked! While he had some flaws, is inner core was strove always for justice. Our knowing of his choices in adversity, encourages us to also step up when others need an advocate.
Every member of our group shared personal experiences. Many included the exact experience when they first understood that something "was not right" with our society. It was as if the scales of innocence fell from our eyes when we found out that an entire population of the United States was not allowed to function as the others.
The white leader of our group, who is from Oakland, shared that she met her African American husband in kindergarten. Her in-laws move to an affluent part of Oakland many years ago from Louisiana. The white community planned protests, but other members of the community joined together to stop the protest. Her in-laws still live in the same home.
Our leader also said that Berkeley schools were integrated when she was 7-years-old. Her family accepted integration and she has always been an activist in equal rights. She thought The Warmth of Other Suns is a masterpiece of history and storytelling. She felt uplifted when she read it. We all did!
People who grew up in Oakland seemed to be more aware of the Great Migration simply, because they met many people who came from many different parts of the South to work at Kaiser or other war factories during WWII and then stayed. The large contingent of Cajun Black people here was mentioned, because of Zydeco music. We noted the Blues and Jazz in Oakland, which are famous and a direct result of the migration to Oakland.
One member mentioned that she met Isabel Wilkerson at the 2010 World Affairs Conference and was most impressed with her. It was also pointed out that Dr. Robert Foster's daughter is a radiologist in Emeryville!
One other member told me after our meeting that our discussion "was one of the most satisfying and personally fulfilling discussions of a work of literature (and, like all great histories, it is definitely that)" he had ever experienced. He said that, "this book, and our discussion, will remain with me the rest of my life." He learned from people, "who speak from the heart about what each reading experience means to them." He said that Wilkerson is such a great story teller that she brought out stories from us.
An example of a few stories are, one member described what it was like as a Jewish family to move to a small town in Maine and feel the culture shock for herself, her family and the town. Another shared that in his "integrated" high school in the early '60s, the Black students were in the basement learning trades, while the white students were upstairs learning college preparatory subjects. Another talked about how the mid-60s were still not integrated in Baltimore. While working for the Social Security Administration, a staff diner deliberately excluded the few Black workers. The angry white friends had a hard time finding a place they could go with the excluded Black friends. One of our African American members mentioned that after her family moved to Oakland, it was many, many years before a Black family could move East of Broadway!
One member pointed out that "Evil is Insidious!" The example was the story where Dr. Foster, during his migration to the West was unable to find a motel which would let him stay. This happened after untold hours on the road without food, bathroom or sleep. In Arizona there was a wife of a motel owner who wanted to let him stay, but the husband pointed out that they would put their own lives/livelihood in danger if anyone from their community ever found out. Truly "no room in the Inn" and not even a barn with hay in which to stay.
We noted that the large migrations ended up at the terminus of a railroad line, one to Chicago, one to Washington, D. C. and others to California, as examples. We marveled that entire families had to actually escape as if they were still slaves! They had to secretly sell and give away their belongings, split up the families and take circuitous routes to a distant town's train station! That was more than 100 years after slavery ended! We noted also that many early Black leaders of social justice ended up murdered. Some such stories were new to us.
We pointed out that some of the very first non-Native American people to this country were Black and we were never taught this! One member who was the last to have a turn, read the final summary of Ms. Wilkerson to us, about the meaning of the three stories she chose to feature in this history. You could hear a pin drop. Many times during our discussion people were fighting back tears. This new history changed our knowledge and perspective for all time.
A Lakeview patron was so unhappy she missed this meeting, she asked if we recorded it, so she could listen to it. We might have to think about that in the future!
We look forward to another ground breaking history from Isabel Wilkerson and we are so thankful we could use this history as a springboard to share and learn from each other!
Happy Reading!
Mary Farrell
Branch Manager
Lakeview Branch Library

Typical American by Gish Jen: A Lakeview Branch Book Club Review

Typical American by Gish Jen, is a first novel published in 1991. Our leader for the evening brought some biographical information about Ms. Jen. The name "Gish" was a nickname from her high school years, named for actress Lillian Gish.  Gish is Chinese American. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1940's. She grew up on in and near New York City.
She writes of characters in her world and the inevitable clash of cultures lived with difficulty by our new Americans. This is a comic novel, sometimes dabbling in the darkness of poor choices and misspent love. The characters were not all sympathetic. In fact, the anti-hero, Ralph, was not well liked by many of our group. He was weak, undisciplined, easily led by shady characters, autocratic and pig-headed......yet, very human. Some of our group thought he was a sad character.
The strong family dynamic was the major entity of the book. Although the characters betrayed each other, there was strong underlying love and sense of unity that truly pulled them all through, even when near death.
It was pointed out that the type of places they lived and worked in became metaphors for their current status as Americans, from seedy apartments with marginal neighbors, to the poorly-made suburban tract home which quickly slipped into disrepair, from the chicken-killing kitchen on the down-low and the claustrophobic closet tower classroom to the fried chicken shop which literally was falling down around them, we see constant adapting and constant adversity.
Throughout the evolution of this family odyssey the phrase "typical American" was used as a slur against each other and against Americans they held in distain, the loud, greedy, avaricious and just plain rude Americans.
Yet, as they pointed out the typical American foibles, they were gradually acquiring those traits themselves. Even so, they grew stronger; they endured; they developed and ultimately became people we really cared about.
Some of Gish Jen's stories have been featured in the New Yorker and other literary magazines. Our leader told us of one he read where the same major character, Ralph, is badgered into wearing a new, hot and uncomfortable seersucker suit coat to a country club party. He leaves the price tag on so that he can return the jacket later. All the Americans at the party are dressed casually and the host offers him a polo shirt to wear instead. In anger, Ralph takes off his new jacket and throws it into the swimming pool, says some rude comments and stomps off to return home, only to find out in the parking lot, that his car keys are in the pocket of the jacket at the bottom of the pool. Yep! That's Ralph!
We thought that Gish Jen is a wonderful storyteller using beautiful prose to build great suspense. We were all compelled to read this book quickly. Some of us liked it so much that we found her other novels and started them. Those members reported that her later books, Mona and the Promised Land and The Love Wife were even better than Typical American.
The characters were so very naïve, careening from one misadventure to another on the advise of questionable people. They had bought into the myth of American exceptionalism. The few non-Chinese characters in this book were, for the most part, not people you'd want to invite to your kitchen for brownies and coffee and the Chinese Americans who were assimilated weren't much better.
Ralph was given his name by Cammy, the American civil-servant who helped him with his visa and student status. He became mesmerized by her flip style, wise-cracking ways and curly red hair. Although Ralph finally got his mechanical engineering degree and was a professor, the lure of riches and of being a self-made man, led him to his businessman years with the fried chicken shack. This fried chicken shack was used for money laundering by his assimilated Chinese American friend, Grover. Oily and slimy Grover seemed to be able to lead Ralph everywhere. After all, Grover had a mansion and a maid, so he had to be someone of note! The "kidnapping" joy ride-trashing-a-restaurant by Grover with abductee, Ralph, was a very memorable episode in this novel. We all sort of would like to see this in a movie.
The female characters were ultimately very strong. They evolved, became educated, found their talents, took lovers, cheated on husbands and developed professional careers or businesses. The transition was fascinating! 
We noted that Ralph, when compared to his sister, Theresa, was actually weaker, that is, their sexes should have been reversed, as Gish Jen notes. Poor Ralph had to keep reminding his family of women (wife, sister and two daughters) that he was THE MAN OF THE FAMILY! Men were to rule the roost, but it all got away from Ralph.
Ralph was passive aggressive. He taught the family dog to hate and attack anything with a cat smell and finally the dog attacked his sister Theresa! Ralph was jealous of Theresa. She had true love with “Old Chow” the older married family friend who helped Ralph in his engineering career. The image Ralph kept in his mind of Old Chow and Theresa luxuriating in a wading pool holding hands, lying peacefully together is one which made him ache with longing for such a relationship.
Ralph’s wife, Helen, had a sexual relationship with the evil Grover, we think. We actually weren’t sure it was completely sexual or just working up to being sexual, or, if it was sexual, it must have been the stain on the love seat that made her discard that prized piece of furniture.
We commented on the writing style. Gish Jen used many Chinese aphorisms and used italics when she was using translated Chinese. We thought the book was compelling and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.
We digressed and spoke of friends we knew who are recent immigrants from Asian countries. One member of the group later mentioned that she thought a major difficulty for this family was the language barrier. Some new people to this country who already speak English do not have the same intense learning curve with language and culture.
Ultimately, we thought this book was a tragedy, albeit, redeemed by the family love and support. They gave up everything for a dream that was never truly actualized. “Every river has its own course.” They just kept going. There is always hope!
We highly recommend this title and any other by Gish Jen.
Happy Reading!
Mary Farrell
Lakeview Branch Manager

A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit: A Lakeview Branch Book Club Review

In spite of the seasonal craziness, daily pressures and weeks of heavy rain, five of us came to discuss A Paradise Build in Hell by Rebecca Solnit!
We just launched in and barely took a breath talking about parts that really impressed us. By the time we looked up we had gone over our time! We all agreed that we REALLY liked this book. The only criticism is that it had so much detail and analysis that it slowed the reading down so that the reader had to really think about the concepts. Another member thought that the detail and the analysis was the best part. Not everyone finished this title, but they might finish it. Several of the group tabbed passages that were excellently written and inspiring, with many, many post-it papers!
As a little background, Rebecca Solnit, born in 1961 and lives in San Francisco. She has written on many subjects, including the environment, politics, place and art. She is an editor of Harper's Magazine. A native of Novato, and a victim of family violence.  She did not finish high school. She received a G.E.D., went to junior college, studied in Paris and received her journalism degree form U.C. in Berkeley in 1984. She has been an independent writer since 1988.
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, began as an essay in Harper's Magazine that was published the day that Katrina hit the coast and was inspired by the Loma Prieta earthquake, "when everyday life ground to a halt and people looked around and hunkered down."
One member brought in a book about Katrina she was reading, called 1 Dead in the Attic by Chris Rose and recommended it for further reading that supports Sonit's concepts. 
Some of the topics we discussed in random order were:
The media doesn't report the truth. It is sensationalist and ultimately destructive. One member said that years ago she stopped watching regular tv news and reading newspapers, because they are so slanted with an agenda and so sensational in their approach that it was upsetting. She gets her news from "alternative" news, foreign news programs, which seem more balanced. Conventional media seems to try to stir up the emotions rather than reporting what happened. One example was the tv showing over and over a young black man robbing a store. Once is enough. Over and over is inciting prejudice.
We thought that what is happening now regarding the peaceful marches to call attention to the number of young blacks being killed by police, showed the outpouring of concern from people in all walks of life and from all backgrounds. The social change that Solnit described coming from spontaneous movements that arise over catastrophes is actually happening now!
We talked of the enforcement of "order" from the top down is where the problems really arose. People over the centuries all over the world have spontaneously stopped whatever they were doing to help people in need during a crisis. When government tried to take over to support "elite panic," (the fear of those with power and possessions), that is when the problems happened. Her description of the mayhem during the 1906 earthquake, where troops shot and killed citizens trying to dig people out from under collapsed buildings, where troops killed people retrieving their own belongings from their own homes, where troops looted and robbed stores themselves, and finally set more fires trying to make fire breaks, caused more chaos than the quietly spontaneous efforts of citizens to help each other.
She gave examples from disasters in history that were truly inspiring, from the revolutions in France and Spain brought on by drought, financial debt in France and for Spain an earthquake. Parts that stood out for us were when people helped each other escape from the 911 towers in the pitch black stairwells by putting their hands on the shoulder of the person in front of them and calmly leading each other down. In the Halifax explosion a telegrapher stayed and continued to broadcast about the disaster knowing that he would soon be consumed by the fire, people after the Mexican earthquake who organized for the basic fairness of being able to stay in their homes and how a small restaurant owner and wrestler in costume, became the persona of justice, eventually sparking a people's revolution that changed the government of Mexico. We discussed the government corruption after the Nicaraguan earthquake that led to their revolution and the beginnings of real democracy.
We talked of the recent Napa earthquake in which a woman of 79, who had always been independent, lost everything and how people have spontaneously come together to help her be independent once again.
We discussed how our society isolates people. We thought people really want to be part of a community. Some members of our group donate time and know of others who donate time to food kitchens. One story told of recent immigrants to Toronto, who were professionals in their country of origin, have been temporarily reduced to going to a soup kitchen or to a food bank for help, because there are no jobs for them. Emphasis was not judging people in need. In other circumstances it can be we who need help. We noted that hobbies can bring a sense of community where people give of their time and expertise without requiring anything in return.
We were inspired by the work of Dorothy Day, who's work was directly inspired by the community activism and spontaneous organization for help after the 1906 earthquake.
World War I came up as insanity enforced from the top down. We briefly mentioned All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub. Both books showed how disaster comes from the top down and in the Silent Night history, the reader learns of the spontaneous efforts at peace and love that came in the form of singing, giving gifts and even playing soccer between the enemy sides. People want to connect. They want to belong to each other.
We talked about how people are taught to objectify others, therefore, making them non-human, and thereby, giving the excuse that they are expendable! We cited the high school experiment  by Jane Elliott, the Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise which showed how very fast people can be trained to turn on each other.
We thought that even though competition for place or resources can turn deadly and is visceral, we can see that altruism also is visceral. In the book Dark Nature: A natural history of evil  by zoologist, Lyall Watson, examples were given showing natural altruism in animals as well as people. People are good!
Another amazing example of people rising up to help was the flotilla of ships that showed up at the edge of Battery Pak in lower Manhattan to take people to New Jersey after the towers fell. The number of boats and people was greater than the famous rescue of stranded soldiers at Dunkirk in World War II. Amazing!
We thought people need to learn compassion. People in hard times don't deserve to be there! ...and not just people! Animals were stranded after Katrina! Sometimes there was more compassion for the animals than the people. We noted the example of prisoners locked in, some drowning. They were abandoned without food or water for six days!
We were heartened by the need to have a sense of place. Some families had lived in New Orleans for many generations and have moved back. We thought that FEMA failed in New Orleans and that the time between the hurricane and any help for the city was partly a function of racism as much as poor planning. One of our members spoke of a friend who survived and moved back into a FEMA home and had to deal with the formaldehyde leaking from the walls of the trailer.
One of our group mentioned that a good program to watch is Spike Lee's When the Levee's Broke. You can find it on YouTube and there are many, many copies in OPL.
Over and over, in this book , we saw that individuals and groups rose to help in a truly meaningful way in disasters of all kinds, whereas governments stood in the way or actively added to the problems caused by the disaster. The impromptu solutions to the disasters' effects, often have led to social movements which have brought long term progressive changes!  We thought that this book gave us an entirely new perspective on the future. With the real concerns of global warming and mutant viruses coming in the near future (or present), we very well may likely find ourselves in a disaster. We can be assured that our neighbors, even if we don't know them now, will join us in helping others or even help us. We will plan to be prepared, but will also have confidence that good things will come from the bad! Some of us thought this was a life changing concept! 
We were all glad we read this book! OPL has many of Rebecca Solnit's other books. You might want to look into those!

The ‘Reading Minute’ presents: Funny Ladies


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Gotta run, now!

The Awakening by Kate Chopin, A Lakeview Book Club Report

Kate Chopin was from St. Louis and married a wealthy man from New Orleans. She lived in New Orleans and was soon a widow with six children. She supported her family by writing and lost her popularity, because of the scandalous nature of The Awakening. She died in 1905.

We discussed that Guy de Maupassant was an influence on her and she was an influence on many of the upcoming great authors of the 20th century. Her style is called "naturalism," which one member explained meant that the stories contain the hard parts of life, the seamy or gritty parts.

Eight of us brought many opinions about this short novel. There seemed to be a consensus in the group that those who had never read this before were really surprised by the ending. We didn't ask if people liked it, but everyone seemed to have really been caught up in it and had strong feelings about the story. I think everyone really liked it on many levels, if not all the way through.

We thought that the story was universal, that is, a story of awakening sexuality, of first real love, of disillusionment with the possibilities of the expectations put on the future and choices of women, of a broken heart, of the need to escape to try a different course and the despair over what seems to be a hopeless lot in life.

We commented that Edna had choices. She had some money independently from her husband. She could have chosen a life alone and perhaps would have had a fulfilling life that way, as her single older woman friend had. Is the choice for an independent, strong woman only a life alone?

The concept of Awakening, we agreed, encompassed physical, spiritual, moral and emotional awareness. Her movement away from her constricted life was gradual and as unstoppable as plate tectonics.

We disagreed as to whether or not Edna actually had sex with either of the two different men to whom she was attracted. Some of us thought she had not. Others thought she had.

We thought that Chopin did not let us know enough about the internal motives of the men in her book, but by leaving that information out, we could experience her frustration as if it were our own.

We discussed Edna's choices in the current concepts of mental health. Was she clinically depressed? Was she bipolar?  Did she have postpartum depression? One member of our group said she recently read that postpartum depression can happen much after the child is born or even during pregnancy. We thought she was depressed and dissatisfied with many areas of her life. While some of these concepts may have applied in the real world to someone who made Edna's choices, we also agreed that she had fewer choices of a fulfilling life, even though her husband was wealthy, than most any American woman has today. We are happy to live in this time.

She seemed to be "property" to her husband, who was much older than she. We also thought she was so very young and immature, that she was just figuring out what her status in life really was.

Her statement that she loved her children, but would not die for them was in great contrast to the other mothers in her circle and even surprising to us, yet understandable.

We liked her foreshadowing the end with the beautiful description of learning to swim in the ocean. We thought the writing was lyrical.

We compared Edna to other heroines in other book club selections, such as from House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy and our main character in The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing...also from our upcoming book, Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.

Two or more of our group also read other short stories by Kate Chopin and also really liked the characters and the surprise endings. One person commented that short stories usually do have surprise endings.

We wondered if relationships with a lover are ultimately about power.

The Awakening remains an American Classic and will endure as a beautiful example of very early feminist literature.