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The 5 Books I Plan to Read for Summer 2017

16 Jun

Nothing makes a librarian happier than recommending books to others, so I was delighted when my niece FaceTimed last week to ask for summer reading suggestions. She starts high school in the fall and is required to read a nonfiction book and a fiction book during the summer, which she will do while she is away at camp. This also inspired me to think about my own summer reading, so I will tell you about the books I suggested for my niece, and what I plan to read.

(Don’t forget that the Hoboken Public Library is here for all your summer reading needs, with print books, eBooks, audiobooks, and more. Our Summer Reading Programs for all ages kick off Thursday June 22, where what you read this summer puts you in the running for prizes! And of course, we will celebrate our reading successes once summer ends.)

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My niece: isn’t she a cutie? ❤

Recommendations for My Niece

My suggestion for nonfiction was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. (Click here to find this title in hardcover, paperback, audiobook, large print, and eBook.) This book about Henrietta Lacks, the woman whose still-growing HeLa cell line has been used in more than 60 years of scientific and medical progress, has been a sensation since it was first published. It is a hybrid of biography about Henrietta, her family, and where she grew up in rural Virginia; history of racist practices against poor blacks in medical settings (Henrietta’s cells were taken during a medical exam and used in research without her or her family’s knowledge and consent); and science writing that is accessible and makes the reader think. This book is absolutely brilliant, and ranks among the best nonfiction I have ever read.

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This book assigned in high school classes, and a friend that teaches high school science gave this book a thumbs-up for teens. I think it will be a challenging and educational read for my niece. However, she is forbidden from watching the recent HBO movie adaptation that stars Oprah instead of reading the text. (This Librarian always prefers the book to the movie.)

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For fiction she wanted straight YA. I first suggested The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which I am currently reading. Starr is a young African American woman straddling two worlds–her gritty urban neighborhood and her pedigreed suburban private school–whose childhood friend Kahlil is shot and killed while unarmed during a traffic stop by a police officer.

The heavy subject matter yielded a nose wrinkle from my niece, and I understand her feeling. Most people want to read light, fun books in the summer. (As you read further into this post, you will see that I am not one of these people!) This book is intense, and has moved me to tears a few times while reading, but The Hate U Give is an impressive debut by Angie Thomas.

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My next YA fiction suggestion was When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (available in print and as an eBook). I haven’t read this book, about two Indian-American teens whose parents are planning an eventual arranged marriage for them who meet in a summer program before college. Rebecca and Liberty from Book Riot’s All the Books podcast say that this book is adorable, and I plan to read it myself. My niece may like the romantic elements and the teen characters. 

I will be writing letters to my niece at camp to check in on her reading progress, and to talk about what she ultimately chose to read.

Next up are books I want to read this summer.

Inspired by the American Crime Story Anthology Series

I watched American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson last year and was riveted. Perhaps the series resonated because I remember the Bronco chase broadcast live on TV in 1994 (and was miffed that the chase interrupted ABC’s TGIF lineup) and the extensive trial coverage. 

In 2018 there where will be two more installments of the American Crime Story series, and I may change my cable cord-cutter status to watch them. The first is about the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace in August 1997 that was part of a killing spree by Andrew Cunanan. (Filming for this series is underway, and photos of Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan are online.) The source book is Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Manhunt in FBI History by Maureen Orth, which reports on Cunanan’s crimes leading up to his encounter with Versace. I love a good true crime story (click here to read my review of The Lost Girls by Robert Kolker) and want to read about this case before the show airs.

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The next American Crime Story will cover Hurricane Katrina. I have written about media inspired by this devastating storm, so I am very interested in this story. The source text is The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Douglas Brinkley. This is a well-researched, dense volume that will likely take me all summer to get through. I am reading the first chapter now, which discusses the establishment of New Orleans as a port city, its flooding history, and how the vulnerable Louisiana coastline has eroded over the past 200 years.

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In case you are wondering, the source for American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson was The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin.

A Wildcard Pick

My father will happily tell you that he has been exposing me to 1960s music since my early childhood. In the car, the radio was always tuned to 101.1 FM, which was New Yorks’ Oldies station. Now that he’s upgraded to satellite radio, he always listens to the 60s on 6 channel, and sometimes First Wave (the 1980s alternative channel, which is my influence on him).

This exposure has definitely fostered my appreciation of 1960s music. In particular, I am a fan of Otis Redding. This past spring Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life by Jonathan Gould was published. I want to read this well-reviewed biography to learn more about one of my favorite artists, who died in a plane crash before his signature song “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was released in 1968 and became a hit.

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So, this is my summer reading list. I am also duty-bound to read the books for the Library’s Mile Square City Readers Book Club, the Lady Memoir Book Club at Little City Books, and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge I’m following. So I have no shortage of books to read!

Tell me reader, what are you reading this summer?

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

Gone Girl and Lost Girls: Two Tales of Six Girls

1 Sep

I recently realized that two books I read this summer were from different genres but similar as they were both about missing women: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (fiction) and Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker (nonfiction).

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You may have already heard of Gone Girl. This popular thriller by Gillian Flynn topped many best-of lists last year. I happened upon a copy while shelving and grabbed it since it’s been so popular. Reese Witherspoon’s production company is adapting the story into a movie starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.

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The Girl that’s Gone is Amy Elliott Dunne, who mysteriously disappears from her home the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary. This book has two alternating narrators–her husband Nick and Amy, via journal entries, which I think is an interesting device. Which narrator should the reader trust? Who is telling the truth?

After Nick and Amy lost their jobs during the recession, they moved from Brooklyn to Nick’s hometown of North Carthage, Missouri. Their relationship becomes strained as Amy, a native New Yorker, is a fish out of water in the Midwest while Nick easily assimilates.

Nick is the main suspect after Amy goes missing, which rocks the small town and immediately becomes a national news. Nick maintains his innocence despite everyone’s suspicions–his only ally is his twin sister Margo–and works to find other suspects in Amy’s disappearance. Will Nick clear his name? What happened to Amy?

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Lost Girls is an impeccably reported true crime story about the disappearances of five women that worked as escorts. I read an interview with Kolker on Gawker, and was intrigued by this book.

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The book begins with Shannan Gilbert’s disappearance from a home in Oak Beach, a secluded community on the south shore of Long Island. The local police force’s reluctant search for her eventually led to the discovery of four other women believed to be victims of a still-at-large serial killer targeting sex workers that advertise online through Craigslist and Backpage.

Lost Girls has two parts. Book 1 devotes two chapters to each woman’s background and her time as an escort up to her disappearance. Book 2 discusses theories about the identity of the women’s killer, and how the victims’ families have banded together, which Kolker first wrote about for New York magazine.

This book’s interior design felt interactive. Maps marking each woman’s home town and when she arrived in the New York City area precede each chapter. A timeline, a list of characters, and additional maps in the back of the book help readers keep up with all the details.

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There are definitely some suspenseful moments in Gone Girl that grabbed my attention, but ultimately the book came up short for me. Flynn does an excellent job of spinning a twisted tale and describing the bleak, recession-ravaged Missouri town where Nick and Amy live. I don’t recommend Gone Girl but won’t discourage anyone from reading it, so they can draw their own conclusions*.

I don’t recall much about the original cases on which Lost Girls are based, but found the presentation of the stories and details so compelling. Kolker spent a lot of time with the women’s families and friends and wrote thoughtfully about the five women. Most notably, he neither passed judgement on their decisions to work as escorts nor blamed them for their deaths.

To me, Lost Girls is a better book. I’ve recommended it to friends and family since finishing it. By no means is it a happy story (these women had tough lives), but I found it engaging. I empathized with the families and their losses. At parts I was furious about the complacency shown by the police departments investigating the disappearances.

Gone Girl made me angry for different reasons. One was the ending, which I found unsatisfying. Also, I found most of the characters unlikable. Amy and Nick are written as such terrible people and they deserve each other.

If you read (or have read) either Gone Girl or Lost Girls (or both!) let me know what you think in the comments, or at hobkref@bccls.org.

What books have you read this summer that you liked? Did you read anything you didn’t like?

-Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian.

*According to Book Riot, I am not the only reader that didn’t enjoy Gone Girl.

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