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Library Matters

Library Matters is a podcast by Montgomery County Public Libraries exploring the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning.
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Library Matters is a podcast of Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) in Montgomery County, MD. Each episode we explore the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning. Library Matters is hosted by Julie Dina, Outreach Associate, Lauren Martino, Children's Librarian at our Silver Spring branch, and David Payne, Branch Manager of our Davis branch and Acting Branch Manager of our Potomac branch.  

Jan 3, 2018

Listen to the audio

David Payne: Welcome to Library Matters with your host David Payne.

 

Lauren Martino: And I'm Lauren Martino.

 

David Payne: And as we kick off the New Year 2018 and we haven't quite forgotten 2017 and here to discuss the 2017 book here with us, two MCPL staff members, JoEllen Sarff, who is with our collection management department and Dianne Whitaker, who is branch manager at Wheaton Interim Library. We're going to be talking a lot about books obviously and a lot of titles will be mentioned and a reminder that you can find the list of everything that's mentioned in today's podcast by going to the Library Matters website and checking our show notes. So looking back over 2017, what kind of year has it been for literature? How would you both sum up the year?

 

JoEllen Sarff: I think children's and teen books it's been a very good year. We've seen many more diverse characters represented in the books that have been published. There are more biographies of people of color and international people, lesser known people that are important to our world. In the adult fiction and adult non-fictions areas, this year, I saw that the refuge experience in the United States and in Europe was a theme as well as the stranger in a strange land kind of experience. It definitely seemed to be a theme in the fiction. There were more people from multicultural backgrounds, diverse backgrounds who were writing and getting published this year. In addition, in the non-fiction area, racism and totalitarianism were big themes, and for instance, the national book award of non-fiction winner was The Future Is History.

 

David Payne: So in terms of quality then, you would say, sum up 2017, a good year overall.

 

JoEllen Sarff: Yes, definitely.

 

David Payne: Well, looking back over the year, which of 2017’s hottest titles took you both by surprise?

 

Dianne Whitaker: What took me by surprise was the emergence of classic old literature that became top of the best seller list. For instance, it can happen here by Sinclair Lewis, the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and the subsequent television show on who and which one and Emmy award for best drama and the 1984 by George Orwell were all top of the best seller list.

 

JoEllen Sarff: And I found interesting that a very old story that was just written in pieces by Mark Twain, he has become very popular, The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine and it was actually Mark Twain wrote it, wrote down pieces of it as he told his daughters a bedtime story and it was found in Berkeley where his papers are kept. An author took that and wrote the rest of the story, filled in the gaps. So it's kind of interesting to see over 100 years ago, here we have Mark Twain coming back with a new story that no one's ever heard before. The other one is a book called After the Fall by Dan Santat and it's about what happens to Humpty Dumpty. And, the rhyme says that Humpty Dumpty couldn't be put back together again, but in this book, he is put back together. And it's a very interesting story about how he's afraid of heights and he doesn't want to go back on the wall, so it gives children a support when it's okay to be fearful and that he overcomes his fear and does go back on the wall to watch his beloved birds.

 

David Payne: Very interesting. Who knew that Humpty Dumpty would be the star of 2017?

 

JoEllen Sarff: Exactly.

 

David Payne: What's in store for 2018 I wonder? So breaking down by genre, what in particular stood out for you both in fiction, anything that really comes to mind and was it a good year in fiction?

 

JoEllen Sarff: I think it was a very good year in fiction. There were lots of different stories told with lots of multicultural characters, people from other countries. Two that kind of stand out for me is the Wishtree, which was written by Katherine Applegate and it's a story told by a tree, the tree is red, he's been around for 216 years and he's seen many things happen. And one day, someone carves the word leave, leave into the tree and there's a new immigrant family that's Muslim that lives in the neighborhood. And so, the owner of the property is thinking, well, should I cut the tree down, should I leave it, it's a permanent mark on the tree. And so what happens when the tree tries to help carry things along and has a very satisfying ending. And the other book is Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds and the whole story takes place in 60 seconds. And it's about a boy whose brother was killed and he has a code where you don't cry, you don't snitch and there's always revenge. So he gets on the elevator on the seventh floor of his house, he's grabbed a gun, put it in the back of his waistband, and as he gets eight floor, he stops and someone gets on the elevator, someone who's passed away, but has a message for him and what happens when he gets down to the ground level, what's he going to do, very powerful, yes.

 

David Payne: like to see that Dianne?

 

Dianne Whitaker: Several books stood out for me this year. In historical fiction and it was also I think kind of a literary fiction book was Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. It was really a unique book because it started off, was telling the story of the death of Willie Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln son and his first - when he was first in the White House and - but that's just the beginning, that's just the stage for the book. The book is really about the - almost I guess the battle for Willie's soul as he is in the Bardo, the netherworld between death and the afterlife. And Lincoln - Abraham Lincoln comes to Willie to grieve and show his love that he misses him so much and so Willie has a hard time going on, but what's really unique about the book is it's told in multiple voices of the ghosts, the spirits that inhabit the cemetery and inhabit the Bardo. And they are amazed at the love that Abraham Lincoln has for Willie. And what's really I think really unique is, you're going back and forth in different spaces of time and place over a course of several months. It's not truly a narrative fiction. So it is very unique and it won the Man Booker award for this year.

 

Another title that I really liked this year was the final book in the Broken Earth trilogy N.K. Jemisin, The Stone Sky. It really was probably one of the best fantasy books that I've read in many years. The whole Broken Earth trilogy, the first book, the Fifth Season won the 2016 Hugo, the second book, the Obelisk Gate won the 2017 Hugo and I suspect The Stone Sky will be running for the 2018 Hugo, but basically, it's the story of a person in an alternate Earth where they have these cataclysmic geologic disasters known as fifth seasons and it turns out that it could be very far in the future in an alternative Earth, but it's the theme and it is actually racism underneath and how you overcome slavery and those are told, so that it has an actual - very intense moral message for our time and it's also the story of love, both romantic love and love between a mother and a daughter. I would highly recommend that. And as far as non-fiction, adult non-fiction, I really like the Hidden Life of Trees, which gave me a really interesting perspective on how trees are in forest for a reason, they communicate through the roots and they live together in community and it's a narrative non-fiction told by a German forester and I would highly recommend people reading and if they really want to understand why nature needs to be protected.

 

Lauren Martino: So we've talked about some of the adult titles that have been popular this year. Can you tell us a little bit about the outstanding children's and young adult titles?

 

JoEllen Sarff: Yes. There are many. To choose from, it's hard to just do a few. I would like people to know about Lauren Wolk's book, Beyond the Bright Sea. It's an interesting story about a baby who set adrift and lands on an island and an older gentleman finds her and cares for her. And she knows nothing about her past, nobody does and when she becomes older, they notice that there are some fires off in the distance and the fires are coming closer, so they're a bit concerned what this all means. And as the story unfolds, you find out more about her past and what the fires mean.

 

Lauren Martino: So this isn't some sort of like maybe future scenario where we're not quite sure?

 

JoEllen Sarff: I want to yes. One of those where you kind of go, oh, okay, it's - we're not quite sure what happened.

 

Lauren Martino: So a little bit ambiguous, now trying to figure out the entire time exactly what's going on. It is interesting.

 

JoEllen Sarff: Exactly. And another book that people might be interested in is Step Up to the Plate. Maria Singh wrote this book. It's a historical fiction, 1945, California, the city towns, people want to start a girl's softball team and the main character in this story wants to be on the team and so it's her getting ready to prepare for the team and that her family heritage is interesting. She has a Spanish mother and her father is Eastern Indian. You learn a lot about her family as you read the book and how she tries to get on the team. And I talked about Wishtree a little bit earlier and that's one of my favorite books for this year about the old oak tree and how they try to save the oak tree from being cut down and wishtree comes from hanging wishes on the tree on May 1st and the owner of the tree had forgotten about her family history and how that came about and how they resolved the tree issue.

 

David Payne: Interesting that trees have [CROSSTALK] [00:11:31].

 

JoEllen Sarff: And you find out the trees are named just very plainly. It's red, because it's a red oak tree. And his friend Bongo who is a crow, the two of them talking.

 

Lauren Martino: So it's from the tree's perspective?

 

JoEllen Sarff: Yes. It is. The tree and the tree - you have the tree's thoughts and at one point, he actually says something to a human being, which is something you never do. Trees don't talk. But they did. So that was very interesting. And a couple of children's books, the Wolf in the Snow and if you've seen that one as -

 

Lauren Martino: I don't think so. Is it a picture book or?

 

JoEllen Sarff: It's a picture book it has a little boy in a red snowsuit on the front and a little baby wolf and they both are out in the snow and they get lost in a snowstorm. So they're walking, trying to find their homes and they find each other. So the little boy is almost wordless, but the boy kind of helps the wolf because he can't walk in the snow. It's getting too deep and he carries him and then they hear wolves howling and the little boy is frightened and suddenly, you have a little boy holding the wolf, baby wolf and momma wolf and you wonder what's going to happen. Well, momma wolf takes baby wolf and then the wolves kind of follow him and then he finds his way. And the other one is Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Deedy.

 

Lauren Martino: Yeah. It's gotten a lot of buzz. Hasn't it?

 

JoEllen Sarff: I guess, you heard her tell stories twice. She's an incredible storyteller and now she's starting to write some of her own stories and putting them in picture books.

 

Lauren Martino: Like Martina the Beautiful Cockroach.

 

JoEllen Sarff: Yes. She has another one. I hope she does. I heard her tell a story. It's about the sun and the moon and how this sun and the moon don't pass and the moon always wants to see the children, but she can't because it's night out and so how they work that out and I hope she makes that into a picture book in the future. Let's talk about it.

 

Lauren Martino: Do you have any Dianne?

 

Dianne Whitaker: One I would add to the list is Amina's Voice. I really liked that book. It's a story of a young girl who is 11, going to middle School for the sixth grade and she's got a best friend, Soojin. Soojin is Korean American and Amina is Pakistani American. And Amina becomes very upset because Soojin starts to be friending another girl named Emily who Amina is not quite sure she likes her and she, in a way becomes a little bit jealous of Soojin and Emily's relationship. As it happens, it's very typical middle school.

 

Lauren Martino: Yes. It's like half of all middle school books, but it's true life.

 

Dianne Whitaker: But the truth of it is Amina is also coming to terms with her identity as a young Muslim and there's things about being Muslim, she doesn't like because she has a very overbearing uncle who comes to visit and he tells her that she's got - she loves music, she loves to sing, she likes playing the piano and he tells her music is not something that she should be doing, tells her father that. And so, she's not real thrilled with that. And she's very concerned because she wants to stay being a good girl, but she loves her music. But she also is - she's looking forward to a Quran competition where they do a recitation of the Quran and then their community center, I guess, the mosque is vandalized. And it's how things turn around or change because of the vandalism, that's the crux of the story. And it just seemed very appropriate in their time, because I thought it that there might be a lot of middle school and upper elementary children in their community who might find it very, very good read, so. Yes. It was very good, very good.

 

Lauren Martino: And now a brief message about MCPL services and resources.

 

Febe Huezo: Hey, did you know that a library card is a must have in your wallet? With a library card, you can download books, learn a new language in my favorite download music. Visit a nearby branch and get your library card today. So the next time someone asks you what's in your wallet, you can show them your MCPL card.

 

Lauren Martino: Now, back to our program.

 

David Payne: Well, out of all that you read this year, if you have to choose a gift for somebody, give a book as a gift, what would you choose and why?

 

JoEllen Sarff: Well, it depends on the person. I couldn't choose just one title. I would - there's like two or three titles that I would choose. The Broken Earth trilogy, I would give to the science fiction fantasy fans in my family, it is just so good that I felt that they would definitely enjoy because of the emphasis on love and just the unique setting of a geologic upheaval that these people are going through and just all the overcoming of the enslavement and just how they become better people and then find their identity through who they are. And it's definitely adult book. It's - has strong sexual themes in it, but it is really, really got a good message.

 

Lauren Martino: So it's science fiction that really focuses on the human aspect?

 

JoEllen Sarff: Yes, definitely, particularly estrangement between mother and daughter and then the love between mother and daughter and that's one of the key themes in it.

 

David Payne: Sounds like a good read.

 

JoEllen Sarff: It is - the other one that I would - for the non science fiction fans, I would recommend, it is actually a book from last year, but I got hold of it and read it this year was Hillbilly Elegy. It was a really good biography about overcoming hardships and particularly what it's like to grow up in rural Appalachian Rust Belt, southern Ohio and actually become a very successful person. And I think knowing different people that - those would be by choices. Also Neil Gaiman's mythology, Norse mythology would be another choice that I would give, because actually my son in law asked for that.

 

David Payne: Yeah, and your game is always a winner.

 

JoEllen Sarff: Necessarily yes, and the audio books too. Well, he tells the stories in current English that is easy to understand, but he brings them to life in a way that’s uniquely Neil Gaiman.

 

Lauren Martino: And just some of the dry, like, I'm going to kill you and this is the way he says it. It's hilarious. But not every author can narrate their own audiobooks and Neil Gaiman is the strong exception. Sorry, I'll stop with the audiobooks.

 

JoEllen Sarff: I have three giftbooks that I'd like to suggest. The first one is Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares. It's a story about two cardinals that live in this huge pinetree. More trees? Yes. And one day Red is off gathering some food to bring back to Lulu and when he comes back, the tree has been cut down and it's on a hotbed truck pulling away from the house that they've lived up in front of her salon. And he's just frantic. So he starts flying as fast as he can trying to keep up with the truck and he can hear Lulu talking. She's crying to him and he's reassuring her, I'm going to be there, but they are going to New York City. And there's this incredible picture where Lulu, friend Red is over here and you see the George Washington Bridge and you see the truck with a tree way in the distance. And so, he frantically flies all over New York, looking for the tree. And he remembers a song that people sang, the old Christmas tree and he hears that song. And he finds Lulu. It's just a really sweet story. Another work book is called Dance by Matthew Van Fleet. And it's about a little chick that was born, hatched out of an egg yesterday and he goes to the local dance hall, because he says, "I don't know how to dance." That's his first priority. I am born, need to dance. And so he meets various people in the dance hall and the hippos teaching the [hula] [00:20:58], the rabbits teach him how to hop and the crazy pigs teach him how to tap. So at the end of the book, you see him doing all the various dances. It's a word book with flaps, little hinges that actually turn. So, it would just be a great one for preschool. And I could just see them learning the dances and then dancing and [CROSSTALK] [00:21:25]. And then for the older non-fiction, there's a Harry Potter journey through magic book, which is really beautiful. It's got lots of color pictures and talks about the history of magic and brings Harry Potter movies in a - books and movies into it.

 

Lauren Martino: Is there anything you're still waiting on or anything you didn't quite get finished this year that you're excited about?

 

JoEllen Sarff: Many

 

Dianne Whitaker: Me too. I have a fairly long list of titles that I would like to read for and I actually have several holds. I'm looking at Pachinko set in Japan and Korea and it's - it was shortlisted for National Book Award, but as I said, it's a historical fiction set in the early 20th Century and other than that, it looked interesting. So I think I'll put that on - that's on my list. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Roy - Arundhati Roy. That looks really interesting. It's on my bookshelf, but I haven't quite started reading it yet. Column of Fire by Ken Follett is another one on my list. The Radium Girls is another one on my list.

 

Lauren Martino: Just never ends. Does it?

 

Dianne Whitaker: It never ends. And Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. I love biographies as well as historical fictions. So that one is definitely on my list too.

 

David Payne: Ken Follett's huge book will keep you busy for a while I suspect.

 

Dianne Whitaker: And I've read Pillars of Fire and World Without End. So I've read the other two. So it's just - I like the Century trilogy that came out in 2010, 11 and 13, 14 that that was good, but I like this one too.

 

JoEllen Sarff: One of the books that I've been interested in reading is called Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi. He wrote Ship Breaker several years ago and I really enjoyed that book and he's since come out with Dream Cities and this is another one I am not really calling it as sequel, it is just part of a series. So I'm not sure exactly how they are connected together, but in this one, their tool is actually a robot Android that works for the government. And -

 

Lauren Martino: A bureaucrat robot.

 

JoEllen Sarff: Yes. A bureaucrat robot and he becomes self-aware and decides he doesn't like what the government is doing. So, kind of - I mean, I'm interested in seeing what happens because I really did enjoy the first book. And the First Rule of Punk by Celia Perez. It's about a girl who moves to Chicago with her mom and she's always been a little bit of an outsider. She marches to her own drama. In the first day of school, she violates the dress code and then she meets up with the popular girl in school and she decides she doesn't want to be friends with her. She wants to stay with other people and she starts a band. So, this is definitely marching to her own drum. And then Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Garcia Williams - Williams-Garcia. It sounds like a great story about -

 

Lauren Martino: At one crazy summer.

 

JoEllen Sarff: Yeah. Right. And that Clayton's grandfather who was a musician passes away and his mother says that we can't play music in the house anymore. And so he just hurts - he wants to remember his grandfather, he went with him all the time and he plays harmonica, so he ends up running away and joining up with some of the men who his grandfather used to play with and they go out on the road.

 

Lauren Martino: This could be the year of the musical kids [CROSSTALK] [00:25:50] and Clayton Byrd. Yes. Diverse musical kids. Do you have any - so, this isn't a question on - we didn't prep you for this question, but do you have any new barrier, Caldecott predictions. I don't know if this will come out by the time they've announced them, but -

 

JoEllen Sarff: It should. I love Wishtree. I just think it's just one of those perfect books where there's so definitely for a new very - I'm hoping it's seriously considered. And Rooster Who Wouldn't be Quiet, Wolf in the Snow and Red and Lulu. I think they are all great contenders for the Caldecott. We'll find out.

 

Lauren Martino: We'll find out soon.

 

David Payne: Well, can you tell us some of the - give us any tips as to how we might find out about the latest books? What's coming out? What are the tools and resources that MCPL has that we can use?

 

JoEllen Sarff: The books and author's database is one tool to be using. I've been using it for about a year I guess and it's very interesting, because you can create an account, similar in a way to - you would use good reads where you can rate things and then you could - it comes up with reader likes or books that they would recommend as well. And you can see what's forthcoming, which I think is a good feature. There's also a Novelist, which also gives reader likes as well. And has a Novelist K-8, yes, and then there's our own forthcoming books on our website too.

 

Lauren Martino: our Digital Times too those splash up like with the top couple of titles that have been checked out for children and for adults. Those are kind of fun too.

 

JoEllen Sarff: I'd also like to suggest Beanstack as a good resource for parents where you can actually sign up your children and they will send you emails with suggested books. And there's also an adult component to that.

 

Dianne Whitaker: So I would just like to talk about some of the trends that I'm seeing in science fiction. One of the themes I saw this year was climate change becoming a theme. And dystopia in general has been a continuing theme as well. There was a September article in The New York Times about climate change fiction and several titles were from 2017 were recommended, including New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson. I finished reading last month and American War by Omar El Akkad and he's an up and coming new writer, Canadian actually. That was really interesting too because it wasn't just about climate change, it was about the future as though we had a civil war over climate change and the survivors. And it is set in the early 22nd century, in the Southern United States, so I’ll give you an hint on that, they also recommended born by Jeff Vandermeer who's a well known science fiction writer and that was kind of unique because it wasn't really climate change, it was more the after effects of pollution on the grand scale and genetic engineering go on a wry and it's a love story actually I think and how one person finds humanity by adopting a critter that is truly unique and how the interplay between bioengineered critters become paramount in their world of that time and how the two main characters come to terms with their past and they find their love surviving.

 

Lauren Martino: So we ask all of our guests here on Library Matters, what's in your bed stand that you're just dying to gush about and tell it. Share with the world.

 

JoEllen Sarff: Right now, I have two books on my nightstand and they're both fairly thick. The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson is my science fiction of the month and then I also have the Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy.

 

Lauren Martino: So you're going to get to it very soon.

 

JoEllen Sarff: Next week.

 

Dianne Whitaker: I have an adult book on my nightstand, The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille. I belong to a book club and we're going to be reading it for next month and the other one is Wonder. I have not read it and I want to read it before I go see the movie.

 

Lauren Martino: [CROSSTALK] [00:30:49] we've had like five people ask this one after the other.

 

Dianne Whitaker: I hope to get to it this weekend and return it so someone else can enjoy it.

 

Lauren Martino: Have you started it yet?

 

Dianne Whitaker: No.

 

Lauren Martino: Oh my Gosh. That first chapter, it's like laugh cry, laugh cry, it's credible. Well, thank you so much Dianne and JoEllen for coming and talking to us today about what's been great this year in the world of literature. Please keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on the new Apple podcast app, stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, please review and rate us on Apple podcast and we love to know what you think. Thanks for listening to our conversation today and we'll see you next time.

 

[Audio Ends]

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