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July Book

Announcing our July book pick!

David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.

In July we like to throw it back to a good nonfiction read to teach us a little bit more about who we are (for better or worse). And ever since this one came out we’ve been hearing nothing but good things.

Released just over a year ago, this true-life murder mystery investigates a series of murders that took place in Osage County, Oklahoma in the early 1920’s. During that time the Osage Nation were among the wealthiest people in the world after large oil deposits are found under their land. But slowly family members ended up shot or poisoned. Numerous Osage were dying under mysterious circumstances. Even those who investigated the crimes were murdered. As the numbers rose the case was investigated by the newly developed FBI, director J. Edgar Hoover, and Texas Ranger Tom White. Along with the help of members of the Osage themselves, one of the greatest conspiracies in American History began to unravel. All told at least 20 Native Americans were killed as a result of this conspiracy of wealth and greed, but Grann estimates there could be hundreds more murders associated with these oil discoveries.


“Grann has proved himself a master of spinning delicious, many-layered mysteries that also happen to be true. As a reporter he is dogged and exacting, with a singular ability to uncover and incorporate obscure journals, depositions and ledgers without ever letting the plot sag. As a writer he is generous of spirit, willing to give even the most scurrilous of characters the benefit of the doubt.”

Dave Eggers for The New York Times


David Grann also wrote the well known and well received nonfiction story Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, recently turned into a major motion picture. And it’s no surprise that Killers of the Flower Moon is also being turned into a movie. Grann’s work is extremely well researched and well written with a talent for bringing hidden stories to life. We’re excited to read this story and hear what you all think! We hope you’ll read along with us and comment here, or share on social using #booklymark.

Scythe’s Unanswered Questions

After reading a series of intense fiction and nonfiction books, I was really looking forward to something I could escape into. I’m a fan of the dystopian series I’ve read in the past (The Hunger Games, Divergent, An Ember in the Ashes, etc), and I’m always looking forward to finding another great series. I had moderately high hopes that Scythe might be my next favorite series. I was moderately disappointed.

The premise, in my mind, was stellar. A future dystopia masked so well as a utopia that even as the reader I was convinced for most of the 430+ pages that this world could be what it seemed (if it weren’t for the fact that it’s a YA series so of course I know better); a world without natural death, disease or crime. It’s a world where climate change has been reversed and people can “turn a corner” at anytime to reverse their aging and return to youth. In this world all things are supervised by an evolution of the “cloud” known as Thunderhead whose moral leanings have yet to be determined. Yet the supervision stops dead with the “Scythedom;” a group of ordained men and women who kill. The world’s only worry, with all the perfection within it, is over population. Without death, families can live among their grandparents, great grandparents, and have numerous children (grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc, etc). So the Scythe’s live and work outside of the boundaries of society, beyond the rules of Thunderhead, and take the lives of those they choose. All for the greater good, of course.

Some take lives mercifully, some wrongfully relish in the killing. Here’s where a lot of the book’s conflict comes from. The moral conflict of those who devote their lives to this order and how they resolve what they do with their humanity. But I couldn’t really get there. What do I mean? Well, as stellar as I felt the premise was, and as excited as I was to see where it went, I felt like the author failed to fully bring me into the world.

In any dystopian novel you enter into the story with a few obvious questions as the reader. How did the world get here? Why do the people in it accept this as reality? What are the major conflicts and why haven’t they been able to resolve them yet? Answering these questions lets you invest so much more in the world, the story, and the characters that have been created. But Scythe left me with a lot of unanswered questions…

  • Why doesn’t society simply wait until people have taken a certain amount of “turns” and then painlessly end life?
  • Why are the Scythe’s allowed to operate completely outside of the Thunderhead when there’s so much variability in how they perform their “gleanings”?
  • Shouldn’t it be mandatory that Scythe’s perform their gleanings with empathy and painlessly?
  • What happened to the old forms of technology and communication? Yes, the internet/cloud turned into Thunderhead and self-driving cars are a thing, but what about social media??
  • If there’s such overpopulation where there are manmade islands to control the feeling of overcrowding why is there a giant expanse of the Amazonia that’s empty?
  • And WHY is there no law against gleaning those under 21 (the youngest age that someone can “turn” back to), or against gleaning someone who hasn’t yet turned a corner?
  • And how is it that after only a few weeks of knowing each other, and what seemed to amount to only three sentences of communication, are these two teenagers so devotedly in love?

I don’t feel like these questions are so complicated that the author couldn’t have written them away with some calculated explanation. But he didn’t, or at least not that I noticed. So by the end  of the book I wasn’t really in the world. I wasn’t fully invested in the characters. But I still enjoyed reading the story. It was a fast read, and (again) the premise was interesting. I think it’s definitely worth a read if you’re curious about it. The concept alone clearly brings up a lot of questions about humanity. But for me, it just didn’t hook me.

Ok, that’s enough for now. See you back here in July 🙂

Phone on table

A Dog is a Bicycle with Emotions

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”

First things first, I loved this book. After hearing people rave about the audiobook version, I decided to give it a shot. (I mean, who doesn’t want to list to Trevor Noah on their way to work and while making dinner?) I’m fairly new to audiobooks, but this one might be my favorite so far. Noah was able to convey his story as only he can, with perfect inflection, comedic timing, and emotion in his voice. The story kept me engaged the entire time, and my mind tends to wander easily.

Noah’s story is an incredible one, and he did a phenomenal job of injecting just the right amount of humor to lighten up even the most intense situations. In fact, (if you’ve read it, you’ll know just the scene I’m talking about) one particular story toward the beginning of the book had me laughing out loud in the car (I’m sure the other people on I-95 thought I was nuts).

But this book isn’t just humorous and entertaining, Noah’s life story is an important one. One of race and class and the impact those have on both individuals and the community itself. Basically, read it if you haven’t. And if audiobooks are your thing, definitely give it a listen.

A Heavy Kind of Funny

When I read and review a book that I love, one of the most common compliments I give is “I read this in one sitting” or something similar. Born a Crime was quite the opposite. It’s a book that I love that took me forrrevvvverrrrr (in my world) to read. My husband actually commented about how few pages I was able to read in one sitting each night.

So why did it take me so long? I think that, for a humorous book, it was heavy and it felt too dense to read quickly. I wanted to take it one chapter at a time and really sit with what I’d read. Obviously, apartheid and racism are not new to me, but South African history is certainly not my area of expertise and a lot of the details were new. I just needed time.

{Spoiler alert: this paragraph has them!} Noah’s story is simply incredible. That one person lived all of those stories is almost mind-boggling. And even more so when you think about the fact that there are definitely stories and parts of his life that are missing from the book. And when you get to that last chapter – wow. Early on in the book, he casually mentions that Abel would at some point shoot his mom in the back of the head. I remember catching my breath and thinking how sad that his mom was murdered by his stepfather… but she wasn’t (thank God) and that makes the story even crazier! I won’t spoil it more than that, but the entire situation with Abel just made me angry and disgusted.

And now I am going to say the most cliché thing I can (and something I am fairly certain I said in my review of The Hate U Give as well). If you’re looking to read a book that is inspiring, funny, thought-provoking, and (here it is) relevant – Born a Crime has you covered.

Humor and Heart

Our April book Born a Crime was just what I was in the mood for! After lots of dark and cloudy months and some intense books (i.e. Birdbox, The Hate U Give, The Healing of America), Trevor Noah’s ability to make anything into a joke was just what I needed. He covers some really dark subjects to say the least (attempted murders, carjacking, domestic abuse, apartheid, racism, etc), but manages to tell his stories with humor and heart.


“One day as a young man I was walking down the street, and a group of Zulu guys was walking behind me, closing in on me, and I could hear them talking to one another about how they were going to mug me. ‘Let’s get this white guy. You go to his left, and I’ll come up behind him.’ I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t run, so I just spun around real quick and said, ‘Yo, guys, why don’t we just mug someone together? I’m ready. Let’s do it.’ They looked shocked for a moment, and then they started laughing.”


My only criticisms would be that at times his stories were a little repetitive, and I wish he’d gone into more detail about how his childhood led to where he is now. I kept waiting for his stories to jump time and tell us about how he started in comedy and TV hosting, but he never went there. Understandable I guess, considering the title of the book it’s more focused on the story of how he grew up.

Born a Crime was well written and Trevor Noah’s stories were moving, hilarious, heartbreaking, and wonderful all at the same time. He also introduced South Africa as its own character, speaking to many of his country’s complexities built out of a violent history of colonialism and apartheid. My understanding of South Africa and apartheid was minimal before reading this book, and it’s arguably still minimal. But Noah’s stories made me want to learn more.

I highly recommend this one! A humorous memoir that will teach you a thing or two.

 

May & June Book

Spring is here! It reminds us of when we used to look forward to the last day of school… yearbooks, textbook buyback, cleaning out your locker, and putting away the required reading for a good book you could actually choose yourself. And such is our May & June pick, a dystopian young adult novel that’s the first of a new series, and definitely a book we would have chosen as soon as school let out.

Scythe tells the story of two teenagers, Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch, who undergo training as they are recruited into the Scythe organization to be society-sanctioned killers. The Scythes: a group of men and women who decide who lives, and who dies. Set in the very distant future, death by natural causes has been virtually eliminated due to the tremendous advances in technology and an advanced computer system that controls society. But overpopulation is still an issue, and that’s where the Scythe organization comes in to choose who to eliminate. With no hunger, no war, no disease, the world seems like a utopia. But Citra and Rowan discover things are not what they seem. Are they ever?


“These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.”  Goodreads


Author Neal Shusterman has been awarded the Michael L. Printz Award for teenage novels (2017)  for Scythe and reached New York Times bestseller status. And this is just the first in the series. In fact, the second in the series, Thunderhead, just came out in January. We’ve also heard that they’ll be turning the series into a movie (that’s always a good sign that’s a good YA read, right?). Anyway, we’re looking forward to reading this one and escaping for a little while. We hope you’ll read along with us! Don’t forget to share using #booklymark!

P.S. Technically we try not to read anything over 400 pages, but since this one runs over two months we’re making and exception to our rules 😉

A Shining Starr

I hate to stay a timely piece. I feel that because a book like this has never NOT been timely. Perhaps its impact is potentially more grand because of the current cultural narrative.  Regardless, I felt this book was everything it was meant to be.

One of my favorite scenes in the book is one Kathryn H. referred to – when Starr, Seven, DeVante, and Chris are leaving the riots in the car. The conversation on names and race was one that I felt so delicately touched on the idea of the spectrum of racism. Chris is carefully constructed as a slightly awkward white guy with a level of caring for Starr that I just found so sweet. So when he asks about why black people don’t have “normal” names, was it awkward?  Sure largely because he asked it as gracefully as a dump truck on ice. But was it racist? Kind of, yea…but Starr, Seven, and DeVante go on tell him why that question is grounded in his perceptions of race and answer his question. It was this little nugget of truth that was handled so well.

Starr was developed as this wonderful combination of strength and fear and morals and flaws and somehow done so with maintaining that she was above all a teenager. I felt that the YA genre was a perfect place for this book. Not only because it could serve as a message to the youth reading the book, but because it allowed a very interesting vantage point for so many who are white or grew up in very different circumstances – regardless of the age of the reader. Starr ends up in so many harrowing situations throughout her young life, but her struggles with her friends, budding love, and her annoying little brother are always strong sideline stories. In doing so, the book really drives home this notion that we are all the same – our families are our cornerstones, our friends can be DRAAAMMA, and Cheetos and Mac n’ Cheese are the shit. While those storylines seem like page fillers, I think they are one of the most important points. We are all the same. It is how we treat one another that is different.

 

 

 

 

April Book

It’s been dark and gray for awhile now. I’d say we’re ready for more light, literally and figuratively. Which is why in April we read something with a sense of humor to help lighten the mood. And this April we’re reading Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime! And we’re SO excited for this one.

If you know the name Trevor Noah, it’s either because you’re a fellow booklover and have heard GREAT things about this book, and/or you’ve seen Noah on The Daily Show as Jon Stewart’s replacement as of September, 2015. He’s a comedian (writer, producer, political commentator, television host, etc.), so we definitely expect a few laughs out of this book. However, from the little we know so far, he also has a very interesting, pretty intense, story to tell.

Noah was born in Johannesburg, South Africa during apartheid. The son of a black mother and a white father, his parents’ relationship was illegal. His childhood was layered with all the complexities of race, religion, family, homeland, and everything in between. Beginning his career at age eighteen Noah started performing in a South African soap opera, then moved on to hosting various programs, then stand-up comedy, and eventually Senior International Correspondent at The Daily Show in 2014. And in the Spring of 2015 it was announced he’d replace Jon Stewart at the show’s host after his legendary 16 year run. Quite the shoes to fill.

When he first started on the show a lot of people (us included) didn’t know who he was before The Daily Show. But between this book, his stand-up, and his success on The Daily Show, we’re starting to realize how much there is to learn about the new host. And we can’t wait to read all about him! Also, we’ve heard from a lot of people (our Kathryn D included) that the audiobook is awesome. So we hope you’ll read (or listen) along with us this month, and if you do make sure to share on social media using #booklymark.

Happy reading!

A Promise

Talk about timely. This is maybe the most relevant piece of fiction I have read. And it raised so many questions and thoughts and ideas for me. But the two words that kept coming to the surface were: Required Reading.

I like to consider myself an ally. I’m not black, I can’t really begin to understand what it’s like to be black in this country at this time. But I can try and I can be supportive and I can listen and I can walk alongside and I can protest and call for change and do my best to make change happen. All of that and… this book still made me say, “whoa.” It brought up so much that I hadn’t thought of, so many little things that happen every day that I don’t have to think about because of the color of my skin.

“It seems like they always talk about what he may have said, what he may have done, what he may not have done. I didn’t know a dead person could be charged in his own murder, you know?”

I could give 1,000 examples. But I’ll give one – an easy one because I don’t think anyone wants to read my 20 page diatribe on race relations. When Starr, Seven, DeVante, and Chris are in the car fleeing the riots and Chris asks why black people don’t have “normal” names… I cringed. I KNOW that’s not only inappropriate, but racist, for all the reasons they then proceed to discuss in the book. Now, here’s the thing… how many times have you found yourself in the discussion of “weird” names you’ve come across. I know I find myself in it a lot (as an aside, it’s mostly because of my love of “Name of the Year”). And almost every single time someone inevitably tells the tale of a friend of a friend who is a teacher or a nurse or a whatever who once encountered a girl named “Le-a.” I assume everyone knows where I’m going with this, but just in case, it’s pronounced “Ledasha.” Cue the eye roll. Not because it’s a “weird” name, but because it’s not true and it’s racist. No one knows anyone named Ledasha spelled with a hyphen instead of “dash,” and the implications and assumptions that go along with this are just… wrong (for more info: Le-a). Anyway. Why am I talking about this? Well. Let me circle back to the fact that I said I’ve had this conversation multiple times and this comes up every time. And guess how many times I have vocalized that this is an urban legend and a racist one at that? Zero. Yikes. That’s bad – in that case, I’m not an ally. I’m a bystander. The Hate U Give made me think about this little example and then made me realize how many times I should speak up but don’t because I don’t want to “make waves.” Well, what the hell good is that doing?! Basically, there’s so much more I could be doing. So much more we could ALL be doing.

So, Starr. Angie Thomas. Here’s what I have to say now: “I’ll never give up. I’ll never be quiet. I promise.”

 

Worlds Apart

I’d been hearing so many great things about The Hate U Give before we chose it as our March book that I was afraid it might not live up to the hype. But happily, it did. This debut novel by Angie Thomas is about a young black girl struggling through the emotional, cultural, and legal repercussions of witnessing the unarmed shooting of a childhood friend.

Starr Carter lives in Garden Heights but goes to school at a fancy prep school far away from home. Worlds apart, in fact. But seeing her story from within these two worlds gave infinite range to the issues Thomas tackles. I think that was my favorite part about the book; the two very environments. It elevated the story beyond a tragedy, or a high school coming-of-age story. It was the story of race, family, justice, injustice, love, the forces that drive us, and how all of those interact… in many different situations.

Seeing Starr’s life through the lens of her home and school lives made her story more powerful and complex. For me, at least. It gave her a relatability that packed an extra punch, and it humanized her experience in a way that I think so many need to experience. I came away from this story feeling like I’d been permitted a glimpse into another world. One where I have rights as only an observer to listen and witness Starr’s story.

My only criticism, if you could call it that, would be that I wish a book like this was written as a novel, instead of young adult novel. The YA genre didn’t make this book less-than, I’d just relate more if it were for an older audience. If you have any recommendations of books like that let me know!