Libraries in a Post-Truth World: The Conversation Continues

Back in January, there was a one-day conference called “Libraries in a Post-Truth World,” where panelists, presenters, and participants discussed the problem of “fake news,” the spread of misinformation/disinformation, the nature of truth, and what role librarians can play to help boost information literacy and media literacy. (And more. It was a pretty packed conference. See blog posts one | two | three.)

Another conference this month grew out of that one; the Massachusetts Library Association (MLA) Intellectual Freedom / Social Responsibilities Committee planned it, and it was held at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA, which is by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever attended a conference.

View of Wachusett from Tower Hill Botanic Garden

View from Tower Hill Botanic Garden

The first speaker was Gail Slater, General Counsel for the Internet Association, based in Washington, DC. She had also spoken at ALA’s Midwinter conference in Boston, where she said she realized that “Librarians are the first responders and guardians of the Constitution” (a nice way to win over your librarian audience right away).

Slater’s topic was “The Right to Be Forgotten: Rulings in the EU, Their Impact on Global Internet Companies and Pending Legislation in the United States.” She spoke about “a wave of public policy challenges” to do with the internet now; one of the key questions is about internet companies’ (“online intermediaries”) responsibilities in terms of content posted by users. At the moment, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects them from liability, but this “safe harbor” law may change.

Slater then moved on to speak about the Right to Be Forgotten. In a key case from Spain in May 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that search engines are responsible for the content they point to. People in the EU have the right to be forgotten; they can petition Google to de-index links to content about themselves, as Mario Costeja Gonzalez did in the Spanish case. The information itself still exists, but a search engine won’t bring it up.

Plants in hanging basket

A hanging plant, Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Google handles these requests, weighing the public’s right to know against the individual’s right to privacy. Slater explained that in the EU, they place a higher value on the right to privacy, while in the US, we place a higher value on the right to know and free speech. This is “one of the bigger issues” on the geopolitical scale.

During the Q&A, someone asked a very good question: If a person can claim the Right to Be Forgotten or right of erasure, can a corporation claim it? Slater thought there were two reasons this was unlikely, even in the EU: first, the definition of a “data subject” is an individual citizen, not a corporation; and second, the request itself would become a news event, reminding everyone of the original story that the corporation is trying to erase.

Someone else asked what librarians can do about some of these issues. Slater said librarians can speak out about the importance of speech and the right to know. In the EU, privacy is considered a human right, but free speech is important too. She spoke of these as “competing equities” that require a careful balance.

Reflecting pool with turtle fountains

Turtle fountains in the Winter Garden, Tower Hill Botanic Garden

The second speaker was Shawn McIntosh, Assistant Professor of English and Digital Journalism & Communications at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His topic was “Journalism Today: Learning to Trust the First Rough Draft of History.” Unlike Slater, he read a prepared speech, in the manner of a formal lecture. Rather ironically, he quoted Jay Rosen: “Journalism is a conversation, not a lecture.”

McIntosh spoke about what has and hasn’t changed in journalism. “Fake news” isn’t new, of course – there has always been propaganda, biased and partisan writing, and satire. However, “Willingness to accept the lies or spin them as ‘alternative facts’ or not caring is new.”

McIntosh said that his background in strategic communications (a.k.a. PR, a.k.a. “the dark side”) had been helpful: knowing how and why persuasion works, and how attitudes can be impervious to change even/especially when confronted with facts gives perspective to the news climate today. “Beliefs,” he said, “eat facts for lunch.” Research shows that presenting facts to counter someone’s beliefs does not work to change their minds (a disappointing thing for a roomful of librarians to hear).

Over the past few decades, McIntosh said, there has been a broad shift that is “dangerous to our civic and cultural life,” an erosion of public trust in experts and institutions. Journalists are seen as biased and untrustworthy sources. (Librarians, on the other hand, enjoy a high degree of social trust.)

Tree with fall foliage

A tree with fall foliage, Tower Hill Botanic Garden

What are the obstacles? Journalists are overworked and underpaid, and employees and coverage are being cut back, so there is more use of wire service content and less reporting on local issues. Less advertising leads to more cutbacks in a downward spiral. And the 24-hour news cycle certainly doesn’t help.

What can be done? “Journalism has to get back to its roots and break free from its modern traditions.” Rather than attempting or pretending to be objective, journalists must provide context for their stories. “Narrative and stories are how we make sense of the world….News is socially constructed. Acknowledge that.” Furthermore, because of mass communication and social media, the lecture style of journalism no longer works; it must be a conversation.  Within this conversation, though, “people will seek trusted voices,” and curation (the librarian ears perk up) “will play more of a role than it has so far.”

In this environment, McIntosh said, “Developing higher-order critical thinking skills is crucial….News literacy and information literacy skills are vital.” Librarians, of course, are on board with information literacy and media literacy, but McIntosh also said, “It can’t be all consumption, it must be production too.” People need to look under the hood to get an idea of how things work. Here, he said, is a “natural place for libraries, educations, journalists to meet.” People meeting face to face in libraries and classrooms can lead to “exchanges and dialogues between people of different views, [which] can start to break down polarization.”

Stone bench and plants

After a lunch break and a walk around the beautiful grounds, we reconvened in the conference room for a panel on “Combating Disinformation in Your Library.” I spoke, along with Andrea Fiorillo of the Reading Public Library and Bernadette Rivard of the Bellingham Public Library, about what we have done in our libraries to increase information literacy and media literacy.

Photo of panel from a conference attendee's Twitter account

Bernadette Rivard, Jenny Arch, Andrea Fiorillo

Last December, Bernadette wrote a blog post encouraging library users to “think before you share,” and giving tips on how to evaluate news sources. Andrea ran a “civil civics” series, bringing in speakers such as Melissa Zimdars (who was on the panel at the January conference; she also got online access to newspapers for the library’s patrons. (Most libraries still subscribe to newspapers in print, but because most people read the news online, digital subscriptions are another way the library can help connect people with quality information.) I spoke about my “What Is Fake News?” pamphlet, display, and library blog posts, and went over some tips that I’ll be sharing in a future library blog post.

View of the pergolas from the Secret Garden

View of the pergolas from the Secret Garden

After the panel, we returned to our tables for small group discussion on the following four questions:

  1. What does the term “fake news” mean for librarians and the communities we serve?
  2. What are some creative and traditional approaches for librarians to support First Amendment awareness and education?
  3. What are your library’s barriers and supports to promoting media literacy?
  4. What has your library done and what would you like to do to support media literacy?

Conference organizers will be compiling the replies and sending them out to participants, so I may share those here later. At our table alone, we had a mix of public librarians (children’s and adult) and school librarians; I imagine academic librarians would have had a different set of answers. The hashtag for the conference, #mlafreedom, purposely didn’t include a date, so it may be used for related events in the future.

What does your library do to promote information literacy and media literacy? What role(s) do you think librarians can play in our current information environment? Do you have blog posts or handouts to share?

 

 

 

 

 

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On Display: Highlighting what the library has to offer

Arts and crafts didn’t end after elementary school like I expected they might. I put some basic arts and crafts (and graphic design) skills to work almost every month at the library (File under: “things they didn’t teach you in library school”). We have three main display tables, plus a set of shelves used seasonally (teen summer reading prizes in the summer, holiday CDs in November and December), and we change the displays every month. Rob’s awesome displays challenge the rest of us to up our game!

What’s the purpose of library displays? They convey information; they offer entertainment or humor; they ask passers-by to stop and engage (many of our displays have interactive elements); they highlight parts of the library collection; and they give people something to look at while they wait in line.

Your faveorite book here

This is the simplest possible display: empty book stands with a sign that reads “[YOUR FAVORITE BOOK HERE]” and directions for how to add a book to the display. This display encourages engagement and participation by asking library users to recommend books (or movies or music) to each other.

True Crime

Sometimes displays feature a specific area of the collection; in this case, I highlighted our true crime books. It was very easy to pull books for this display, as they’re helpfully grouped in 364 (for Dewey nerds). I was pleased that I was able to pull off my vision of getting the words “TRUE CRIME” to look as though they were behind bars while still being legible. (The stone statue behind the table is not part of the display.)

NaNoWriMo

Some displays are annual; this one is part of last year’s National Novel Writing Month display. We hosted “Write-Ins” throughout the month. The display table included the schedule of write-ins and a word count calendar, along with some library books about writing, and the official NaNoWriMo poster for that year.

Not everyone knows what NaNoWriMo is, so I wanted to find a way to include both the whole name and the nickname; I achieved the effect by changing the background color behind the text. (I made this in Publisher, which gives the user more control and precision than Canva, plus it has the eyedropper tool that allows you to pick colors from a graphic or image and use that exact color for text or background; I used colors from the one of the NaNoWriMo graphics. Canva has other strengths, though!)

Banned Books Week

I always put up a display for Banned Books Week at the end of September; this one features a poster, a quote from the ALA Code of Ethics, an infographic from the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom, some “I read banned books” buttons that I made, a small fake bonfire, and – my favorite interactive element – the “books change lives” jar, with comment cards and a cup of pens. The week after Banned Books Week, I pull the responses from the jar and write a blog post for the library.

Choose Privacy Week 2017

Choose Privacy Week is another annual display, in the first week of May. For this display, I designed two poster boards using simple, bold graphics and bright colors. The poster on the right in the photo that asks “Why is privacy important?” answers its own question in part by including the titles of library books that people might not want others to know they had checked out, from Managing Your Depression to What to Expect When You’re Expecting to It Gets Better.

I also included a fact sheet from ALA and books and DVDs about privacy from the library collection. People are always welcome to take library materials from the display to check out.

For Choose Privacy Week in 2015, I used a series of “True or False?” questions about privacy with answers under a flap of paper, so patrons were encouraged to interact with the display to get the answers.

What Is Fake News

I started off the year with a “What is fake news?” display. Instead of using a tablecloth or butcher paper to cover the table, I used old newspaper. I put together three informational poster boards (a bit more text-heavy than usual), and included copies of a pamphlet with information about “fake news”: what is it, how it spreads, how to avoid spreading it yourself. (Basically, how to be a responsible information consumer. A PDF of the pamphlet is available here.)

I updated one of the boards (“What is the filter bubble?”), as I will be bringing them to a conference and a class later this month.

Fake News updated boards

None of these are particularly flashy – Rob might say I don’t use enough glitter, for one thing, and I could use more 3D objects and props – but I hope they get the point across. Do you make displays for your library? What are some of the ones you’re proud of? What materials and techniques do you like to use?

 

 

Top Ten Books I read ten years ago

Once again, I’m borrowing a co-worker’s Top Ten Tuesday list to inspire my own. Hers was “Top Ten Books I read the first year I had my blog“; because my blog is not specifically a book blog, I looked to my Goodreads and LibraryThing accounts instead. I started my Goodreads account in 2007, though I didn’t start reviewing each book consistently until later.

What was I reading, then? Out of college (no more assigned reading) and into the publishing world (okay, sometimes assigned reading), bombarded with more novels than I could ever read, my reading choices fell into a few categories:

  • Contemporary fiction about which there was “buzz,” e.g. Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, which I loved, and Ian McEwan (I tried and hated Saturday and Atonement; I liked On Chesil Beach better but decided that everyone else could just go ahead and continue loving him, but I was done).
  • Classics I didn’t read in school: No matter how good your education was, there’s no way you could read ALL the classics, but I had missed some key ones. I actually think this was for the better; I loved Pride and Prejudice much more in my early twenties than I think I would have as a teenager.
  • Nonfiction: Left to my own devices, I read barely any nonfiction for almost a year; then I realized I need to read some, so I made it a goal to read one a month. I started with a lot of memoir and biography (Audrey Hepburn, Jeannette Walls, Augusten Burroughs, Alice Sebold, Ann Patchett) and pop psychology (Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Gilbert), but I sought out some feminist books as well, though I didn’t use that term at the time – I discovered Katha Pollitt (Learning to Drive) and read This Common Secret and The Girls Who Went Away. I caught up on classic nonfiction too, from Capote’s In Cold Blood to Joan Didion’s essays.
  • Poetry: I discovered Nick Laird’s poem “On Beauty” in Zadie Smith’s novel by the same title, and Laird’s To A Fault is still one of my favorite poetry collections.

But of course it was mostly fiction. I was just starting to separate out the authors I thought I should read from the ones I actually liked; there was some overlap, of course, but there was also Ian McEwan and Special Topics in Calamity Physics. So here’s the list part – what did I read then (mid-2007-early 2009) that I still love now?

  1. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
  2. To A Fault by Nick Laird (poetry)
  3. In the Woods and The Likeness by Tana French
  4. Ursula, Under by Ingrid Hill (I feel this one was overlooked, and I often put it on my Staff Picks shelf at the library, hoping others will discover it)
  5. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
  6. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (the right book at the right time)
  7. The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
  8. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
  9. Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
  10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  11. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  12. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (nonfiction)
  13. Overture by Yael Goldstein (found this on a remainder table at the Strand; overlooked in the same way as Ursula, Under)
  14. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
  15. Touchy Subjects by Emma Donoghue

It’s more than ten. Of course it is. And this is not to be confused with my all-time Top Ten list (either the one from 2007 or the one from 2017).

What books have stayed with you over the years? Which authors do you follow faithfully, which ones have you parted ways with?

 

Ten Years of Reading

In the summer of 2007, I attended the Columbia Publishing Course. One of the tasks we had to complete before we started was to make a list of our ten favorite books. “My desert island, all-time, top-five” as Rob from High Fidelity would say, which means no separate lists for fiction and nonfiction, or children’s and YA and adult, just ten favorite, full stop. Naturally we all agonized over these and spent the first week discussing each other’s lists; it was a great icebreaker.

What does “favorite” mean? We each had different definitions. For me, it means I’ve read it (or listened to it) more than once. It means if I see it in a bookstore, I will reach out and touch its spine, even if I already have a copy (or more than one) at home. It means I’ve recommended it to others, probably many times.

It’s been a decade since that first list, and I wondered how different my list would look if I made it today. Which books on the original list would still be there if I made a new list? I’ve read a lot of books over these past ten years – 1,200 books is probably a low estimate – have any of them become favorites? And could I find the original list, to compare?

Turns out the answer to that last question was yes, because I may be a pack rat with a Depression-era mindset who saves kitchen string, but I am a highly organized pack rat; I found the list in less than fifteen minutes. Actually, what I found was a much longer list, divided into sections (children’s/YA and adult) with stars next to ten titles.

Favorite Books
May 26, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
The Face on the Milk Carton/Whatever Happened to Janie?/The Voice on the Radio by Caroline B. Cooney
The Boggart by Susan Cooper
The Bean Trees/Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
The Golden Compass/The Subtle Knife/The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
The Brothers K by David James Duncan
Griffin & Sabine by Nick Bantock

The careful reader will notice that there are more than ten books on the list, because I used series to sneak extra ones in. I’m a little surprised at some of the books that aren’t there – A Wrinkle in Time, The Perks of Being a Wallflower – but a list of ten means tough choices.

[Note: This has been in my drafts folder for nearly a month, because I kept trying and failing to winnow my new list down to ten. But no one has set this assignment for me, and I have as much space as I like, so…fifteen it is!]

Favorite Books
Summer 2017

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
*The Golden Compass/The Subtle Knife/The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
*The Bean Trees/Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
*Griffin & Sabine by Nick Bantock
*The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
*The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
To A Fault by Nick Laird (poetry)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Likeness by Tana French
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Honorable mention to Maggie O’Farrell, possibly my favorite fiction author I’ve discovered in the past few years without a book on this list.

What are your all-time favorite books? Are you made of sterner stuff than I, and able to keep your list to ten?

We Need Diverse Books

The most recent issue of Kirkus is a “diversity issue,” with about 40 pages of articles and essays that give different perspectives on diversity in literature. I’m still making my way through it, but I loved this quote from author Padma Venkatraman:

“Books are more than mere mirrors or windows; they are keys to compassion. And novels don’t just expose readers to differences, they allow readers to experience diversity. They allow us to live within another’s skin, think another’s thoughts, feel the depths of another’s soul. Novels transport, transform, and, most importantly, allow us to transcend prejudice. When we immerse ourselves in characters whose religions are different than our own, our empathy is enhanced. We move closer to embracing people of all religions.”

It reminded me a bit of the way Neil Gaiman talks about fiction (“Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been”), and what Caitlin Moran wrote in her essay “Alma Mater” about growing up in the library:

“The shelves were supposed to be loaded with books – but they were, of course, really doors….A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination….They are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead.”

When Venkatraman writes about mirrors and windows, she is referencing Rudine Sims Bishop’s 1990 article “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Books that are mirrors reflect the reader’s self and own world back at them; books that are windows show the reader another person or people and world; books that are sliding glass doors allow the reader to “enter” another world.

The San Antonio Public Library page “Diversity in the Classroom: Building Your (Early Childhood) Library with Mirrors and Windows” has a video clip of Bishop from January 2015. In it, Bishop says, “Children need to see themselves reflected, but books can also be windows, so you can look through and see other worlds, and see how they match up or don’t match up to [your] own. But the sliding glass door allows you to enter that world as well, so that’s the reason diversity needs to go both ways.” She says that just as children of color need to see themselves in books, white children – who see plenty of themselves in books – need to see characters of other cultures, races, and religions as well, to provide a more accurate picture of the world as it is (“colorful”).

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement FAQ page cites an infographic produced by multicultural publisher Lee & Low Books (“About everyone. For everyone”), which used statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and census data. Although 37% of the U.S. population are people of color, only 10% of published children’s books contain multicultural content. Note that that includes books where the main character might not be a person of color, and it also doesn’t mean that the author was a person of color.

We Need Diverse Books virtual buttonWhere do we go from here? We need more diversity at all levels of publishing, in libraries, in schools, in the bookselling business. We need to write, publish, read, and promote diverse books; “multicultural books don’t sell” is no longer a valid argument, if it ever was. We need more stories about more different people and places. We’re getting there, but too slowly.

8/17/17 Edited to add:

As I made my way through the rest of the issue, I found two more quotes I wanted to share. The first is from Megan Dowd Lambert, an author, senior lecturer in children’s literature at Simmons, and Kirkus reviewer; she in turn is quoting Mary Robinette Kowel:

“It’s not about adding diversity for the sake of diversity, it’s about subtracting homogeneity for the sake of realism.”

Though our society is far more segregated than it ought to be, and some kids may rarely see people outside of their own race, culture, or class, the world is “colorful” and literature ought to reflect that. In fact, books are where many people encounter new ideas and perspectives and learn about the world. “Armchair traveling” isn’t just for seeing the lives of ancient royalty, dangerous mountain-climbing expeditions, or sea voyages; it may be a way to see into the next neighborhood.

“…Disability comes from scarcity and environment and other people’s prejudices as much as the body. Silencing the word can silence real injustices, emotions, and experiences. Diverse books are tools for empathy, but we can’t address what we won’t say.”

This is from Amy Robinson, children’s librarian and Kirkus reviewer. She makes an important point about environment contributing to disability. Are our built environments inclusive, or do they present barriers? (Do elevators work? Are aisles wide enough? Are there ramps or only stairs? Is signage large and clear? Are there curb cuts on sidewalks? Are sidewalks even or broken, covered in snow or cleared?) In many cases, a disability may only present extra difficulty because of obstacles in the world – in the built environment or as part of prevailing cultural and societal ideas. Let’s figure out what those obstacles are (it’s often very hard to imagine, so ask people who confront them) and start removing them.

Dewey Decimal visualization of reading

LibraryThing has introduced a new feature that enables its users to see their libraries broken down by Dewey Decimal categories.

Screenshot of DDC overview of my LT library

Here’s the “top-level” view of my library. No surprise that nearly 75% of it is Literature (fiction and essays).

The purple bars on the chart are from my own LT library – which includes books that are on my “to-read” list as well as ones I’ve read – so these charts are not strictly a representation of my reading history, but a reflection of my reading interests overall. The pale gray bars represent the other members collectively; it’s clear that most LT users are overwhelmingly reading fiction as well.

I’m a little surprised that people aren’t reading more in nonfiction categories, particularly biography and history (and the 900s also include travel). I would guess that the LT user base includes more women than men, because – as a loose general tendency, not a hard-and-fast rule – when reading for pleasure, women tend to read more fiction, and men tend to read nonfiction. (Women also read more books than men.)

After the top-level breakdown, you can see the details within each range. For instance, here are the 300s:

Screen shot of 300s - Social Sciences - bar chart

The 300s are the Social Sciences, including political science, education, communication, etiquette, and folklore.

This new feature is mildly interesting to users, particularly those of us in the library field, but I wonder how it will inform future LibraryThing developments. Will knowing that most users are reading mostly fiction change anything about the site or service? The blog post announcing it doesn’t say.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite books I’ve read so far in 2017

I have yet to post one of these on a Tuesday, except by chance. Once again Linda inspired me with her list. Here are mine, listed from January (#1) to June (#10-11). Not only are there eleven instead of ten, I actually snuck (or sneaked, if you prefer) a couple extra onto the list using the “same author” justification.

  1. Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving: This was one of the Arlington Reads Together candidates for last year, and I’m glad I finally read it – less because of the quality of writing (it was fine but not exceptional) or the format (workbook-type questions at the end of each chapter) than because of the messages about privilege, oppression, and how to work effectively for social justice. “Discrimination and privilege are flip sides of the same coin.
  2. The Wyrd Sisters and Dodger by Terry Pratchett: After years of other people indicating to me that I might really like Terry Pratchett, I read some…and I really like Terry Pratchett! The Wyrd Sisters was like Macbeth meets Oscar Wilde, and Dodger was pure fun (if you enjoy the details of the sewer system in Victorian London); I listened to the audiobook, and it was a splendid production.
  3. Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham: Having just watched the four Gilmore Girls reunion episodes, I was excited to read this, and it did not disappoint. I listened to the audiobook, which Graham reads herself of course, and it was just delightful; I was sad when it ended and wanted something just like it. (I ended up with Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick, which was also good.)
  4. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: A big, multi-generational novel that starts in 1910 and stretches into the late 1980s. I learned so much about Korean history, and particularly the difficult status of Koreans living in Japan (“For people like us, home doesn’t exist”).The Left-Handed Fate cover
  5. The Left-Handed Fate and Bluecrowne by Kate Milford: I love Greenglass House so much and was thrilled to read a story even faintly connected. The Left-Handed Fate was a perfect historical adventure story with a touch of fantasy, and Bluecrowne provided a solid link between Fate and Greenglass. So satisfying.
  6. Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt: If you’re anti-abortion, you’re unlikely to pick up this book, but if you do, it might change your mind or at least soften your position somewhat. If you’re already pro-choice, it will give you new angles to consider and strong ways to articulate your reasoning for your beliefs.
  7. The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue: I’ve read nearly all of Donoghue’s novels for adult readers, so I happily followed her into middle grade territory. The story of nine-year-old Sumac and her nontraditional (but normal to her) family celebrates diversity not by making a big deal out of it, but by making it seem like not a big deal. It’s realistic and funny and poignant.
  8. Gracious by Kelly Williams Brown: I should probably re-read this every six months or so. “There is one kind of thought that’s always useful and always gracious. That kind of thought is, “What can I do for someone else?” …This kind of thought makes the world, and you, a better place.”The Paper Menagerie cover
  9. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu: Someone in my book club suggested this, and I’m so glad she did. It’s long, and I had only intended to read the title story and a few others, but I read the whole thing. It’s an absolutely unique collection: stories are set in the past and future, alternative histories, on Earth and in outer space, and more. Liu has a tremendous imagination and a great gift for storytelling and character.
  10. Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan: This was as good as Maine, my favorite of Sullivan’s novels: a story of two sisters who come to Boston from Ireland in the 1950s, their diverging paths and stories, and how they come together again after a tragic event. Family secrets galore, and multiple perspectives, including those in the next generation.
  11. The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein: I devoured this novel about pre-Code Name Verity Julie in two days. It stands alone, but having already read Code Name Verity, it was especially wonderful to see Julie brought back to life, as it were, and at home in her native Scotland. She narrates in first person, which is a different perspective than the journal entries from Verity.

Have I interested you in any of the books above? What are your favorite books that you’ve read so far this year? What books are you looking forward to?