Month: February 2022

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Women Authors for Women’s History Month

Women Authors for Women’s History Month

by Rhonna Hargett, Associate Director of Learning and Information Services

Women have been sharing their stories for centuries. They have often been disrespected or pushed into the background, but from Sappho to Phyllis Wheatley, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Zora Neale Hurston, Sandra Cisneros, and Amy Tan, women have written down their perspectives of the world. Manhattan Public Library is celebrating women authors for Women’s History Month in March. The female authors of the past have paved the way for the current rich selection of fantastic books by women.

Sleeping Beauty is one of the more troubling of the classic fairy tales when viewed through the lens of modern values, but in “A Spindle Splintered,” author Alix E. Harrow manages to reform it into a story of women’s strength. Due to a rare illness, Zinnia Gray has known her entire life that it is unlikely she will reach the age of 22. Her illness drew her to the story of Sleeping Beauty from a young age, so her best friend Charm creates a themed party based on the tale for Zinnia’s 21st (and likely last) birthday, even set in a tower, with a spindle at the ready. But the magic of the party becomes all too real when Zinnia pricks her finger on the spindle, finds herself spinning through time and space, and encounters other “Sleeping Beauties” living their own stories. “A Spindle Splintered” is an engaging tale full of adventure, reflection, renewed hope, and strong women.

Some women’s stories have been written in thread. In the nonfiction narrative “All That She Carried,” author Tiya Miles shares the story of a sack that was found at a flea market. It was embroidered with the story of an enslaved mother named Rose, packing up this sack with a few necessities for her beloved daughter Ashley, who was soon to be sold to another household. In 1921, it was embroidered by Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth, “It held a tattered dress 3 handfulls of pecans a braid of Roses hair. Told her ‘It be filled with my Love always.’” Miles, a Harvard history professor, carefully weaves together the researched history of the item with the representational power that it carries. She tells how strongly the sack affects visitors in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where it now resides. People have been brought to tears by this evidence of the cruelty of American slavery that also clearly demonstrates a mother’s hope for her daughter. Although the book is full of researched details, Miles’ engaging writing style draws one in and brings life to two women who lived over a century ago. “All That She Carried,” like Ashley’s sack, tells a brutal story combined with hope for a better future.

Isabel Allende captured the attention of readers throughout the world in 1982 with her book of magical realism, “The House of the Spirits.” She has since published 26 books, a mix of fiction and nonfiction, making her one of the most read Spanish-language authors in the world. Her books cover many different subjects, but her stories often give us a view of the lives of women and how they affect and are affected by the world around them.  Her book “A Long Petal of the Sea” is about the Dalmaus, a Spanish family living in the midst of civil war. We follow Victor, an Army doctor, and Roser, his brother’s pregnant young widow as they flee over the mountainous French border and finally to Chile. They arrive to a country and a family that neither one of them wanted, but they are survivors and eventually find a new version of home. In “A Long Petal of the Sea,” Allende once again demonstrates her trademark ability to show the small moments of beauty that exist in even the most difficult of circumstances.

Manhattan Public Library’s celebration of female authors is part of our ReadMHK program. Go to www.mhklibrary.org to find lists of recommended books and our podcast, and join us for a book discussion focused on women authors on the evening of Thursday, March 17th.

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Moving into Spring Cleaning

Moving into Spring Cleaning
By Stephanie Wallace

With New Year’s still fresh in my mind, the unseasonably warm weather these days, and the fact that I’ll be moving to a new place in May, I’ve been thinking a lot about resetting my current living situation.

If you’re like me, you’ve accumulated a lot of junk over the past two years. So many bright and shiny new things made their way into my apartment to make my space feel less like a sad box. But now it’s a cramped box, and I’m ready to see what Manhattan Public Library has to help me and everyone else who’s ready to get an early start on spring cleaning.

My first stop on my decluttering challenge was to pick back up my Marie Kondo books. The titles most people are familiar with, “Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up” and “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” introduced the KonMari method to the world. I just needed a refresher, however, so I grabbed “The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story.” It is a graphic novel about Marie Kondo helping one woman clean up her tiny apartment. The story’s cute, it’s a quick read, and its advice is still just as helpful as her main titles.

Energized to accomplish more than simply paring down my belongings, next I went to “The Art of Happy Moving: How to Declutter, Pack, and Start Over While Maintaining Your Sanity and Finding Happiness” by Ali Wenzke. While I found this book is mostly targeted towards families moving from one house to another, it has a lot of great tips about how to find the right place and location for your needs. I found these tips helpful to consider for future planning, not to mention, the author has a reassuring sense of humor to keep the prospect of moving less daunting.

Since I still needed help now, I turned to “Unf*ck Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess” by Rachel Hoffman. This book is such a palate cleanser. I greatly appreciated Hoffman’s candid insight on the realities of cleaning and maintaining a place to live if you have a full-time job, unhelpful roommates, burnout, mental illness, a disability, or any number of reasons why traditional advice often fails to make a change. Throughout the book is honest encouragement without any sugar coating. The mini challenges in each chapter were quick and made an immediate difference in many areas of my apartment, and I’m definitely going to revisit it often.

When I need more detailed information about how to clean all the odds and ends in my apartment, “Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Home: No-Nonsense Advice That Will Inspire You to Clean Like the Dickens” by Thelma Meyer comes in handy. It explains how to keep all parts of my home looking like new.

With better habits in place, I’ve been hunting for decorating inspiration by enjoying flipping through our magazines in the Reading Room and on Flipster, which is available through the library’s Online Resources page. It has newly-added titles such as “Old House Journal” and “Do It Yourself,” both perfect for my eclectic style. I also keep up to date on classics like “Real Simple” and “Better Homes & Gardens.” They have a plethora of helpful tips to make my space the best it can be.

Creativebug, another online resource, will help me a lot soon. Besides having dozens of fun crafting tutorials, it has a series dedicated to furniture restoration. My old chairs will match the rest of my furniture once more and save me the need to replace them entirely.

For the things I can’t simply repair, I check out Consumer Reports through the library’s website. It’s easy to search through the categories for tech and appliances to see which brand of air fryer will best fit my needs, for example. After all the cleaning and reorganizing I’ve done so far, it’s a small way to reward my efforts.

Though I still have a long way to go before I move into my new place, the resources I’ve found at the library have been incredibly helpful. With any luck, they will be just the thing to help you improve your home, too.

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Quick Reads

Quick Reads

By Jared Richards, Learning and Information Services Supervisor

In the last few months, I haven’t had as much time or the attention span to focus on reading books. Because of this, I have found myself gravitating towards quick reads. I have always been a fan of this format, particularly short stories, but I appreciate it now more than ever. It allows me to jump into new worlds, experience new things, and be home in time for lunch.

I was initially drawn to “The Souvenir Museum” by Elizabeth McCracken because of the cover. It is bright yellow with a teal balloon animal in the center, and I can say with certainty that I have yet to read a bad book that has a balloon animal on the cover. To be honest, this is the first one I’ve come across that meets that description, but one-for-one is still one-hundred percent, and now the bar is set pretty high because I enjoyed this collection.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is that it has several stories featuring the same main characters at different points in their lives. We meet them in the first story as a fairly new couple visiting Ireland to attend the boyfriend’s sister’s wedding. And after popping into their lives several more times, the book ends with them, twenty years later, finally getting married themselves.

Most of the books I read tend to happen in a very short period of time, relatively speaking. A few days or years in a person’s life, or even the history of an empire in the context of all human civilization. Blips on their relative radars. But I do enjoy when I stumble across a story where I can follow characters and get to know them at various points throughout their lives, and it’s even better in McCracken’s collection because it’s just a quick peek, and then you’re off to something else.

In a similar, bite-sized vein, there are essay collections, different from short stories because they typically feature commentary on a specific topic, rather than following a traditional story format. “You Don’t Know Us Negroes and Other Essays” by Zora Neale Hurston, was published earlier this year, and contains not only familiar Hurston essays, but also ones that have never before been published.

Hurston was a prolific writer, publishing work on various topics for more than thirty years. Following her death in 1960, Hurston’s work fell out of the public consciousness but has since come back, more popular and powerful than ever.

The titular essay, which was originally supposed to be published in 1934 but never was, feels timelier than ever, and it is hard to believe it was written so long ago. Hurston points out that how Black people are portrayed, often by white authors, fails to capture who Black people actually are, generally relying on exaggerated stereotypes. She uses the analogy of margarine and butter, saying “In short, it has everything butterish about it except butter.” Hurston goes on to say that not including the nuances that all people have, and just collecting the highlights, doesn’t allow you to capture the whole person. She also paraphrases American humorist Josh Billings in saying, “It’s better not to know so much, than to know so much that ain’t so,” calling out the people who think they have it figured out but inevitably miss the mark. It is a very enlightened take on the importance of people writing their own stories, written over eighty years ago.

Lastly, to quickly diverge from the more traditional quick-reads realm of short stories and essays, we have cookbooks. There may be people out there who read cookbooks cover-to-cover, and to be fair, some are written that way, but that is not for me. I jump in, grab a recipe, and walk away with some good food to eat while reading short stories and essays.

Ruffage” by Abra Berens features vegetables as the main characters. Berens tells you how to buy and store each vegetable before going into multiple recipes for each, in different forms like raw, roasted, and pureed, and includes variations for each recipe to help you change things up and keep it interesting.

Her latest book, “Grist,” is similar but features grains, beans, seeds, and legumes. Whereas vegetables tend to be seasonal items that can spoil quickly, the main characters of this book are pantry staples that have a long shelf life and will be there when you need them. No matter the season, you will find recipes worth trying in these books.

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Young Adult Thrillers by Black Authors

Young Adult Thrillers by Black Authors

By: Savannah Winkler, Library Assistant 2

Cover of "Ace of Spades" by Faridah Abike IyimideThere is nothing I love more than a good thriller. Whether it be about ghostly hauntings or mysterious crimes, I can’t get enough of stories that make me double check my doors at night. Growing up, though, I wasn’t familiar with many thrillers for young adults. When I thought of thrillers back then, I thought of books like R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series, and I pictured the ominous illustrations and terrified faces of white teens on almost every cover. While I still enjoy and appreciate classic thrillers like Fear Street, the genre has thankfully become more diverse, and Black authors in particular have finally started to be represented. While there is still much progress to be made, I’d like to highlight a few of these YA thrillers by Black authors that may send a chill up your spine.

Are you a fan of “Gossip Girl?” Or perhaps Jordan Peele’s award-winning horror film, “Get Out?” If so, “Ace of Spades” by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé might be the book for you. Devon Richards is a quiet but talented musician, and headgirl Chiamaka Adebayo has ambitious plans for her future. When they are both are chosen to be Niveus Private Academy’s class prefects, it seems like nothing could ruin their senior year. Then the anonymous text messages start. The texter, who goes by Aces, is determined to ruin Devon and Chiamaka’s lives one text at a time. Soon the whole school knows their most private secrets, and their once-bright futures are suddenly threatened. When the harassing texts start to turn into something deadlier, Devon and Chiamaka must team up to stop Aces once and for all.

High school is hard and being able to see the dead doesn’t make it any easier. In “The Taking of Jake Livingston” by Ryan Douglass, sixteen-year-old Jake has enough complications in his life. He’s one of the few Black students at St. Clair Prep, and the school hallways aren’t exactly inviting. Not just because of the bullies, but the ghosts, too. Jake has been able to see spirits of the dead for most of his life, and normally they’re harmless. That is, until Sawyer, the ghost of a school shooter who took the lives of six students, begins to haunt him. Jake becomes a tool in Sawyer’s plan for revenge, and more atrocities devastate the town. Jake soon realizes he is the only one who can stop Sawyer’s unrelenting vengeance—if he can survive.

In “White Smoke” by Tiffany D. Jackson, Mari Anderson is also haunted by ghosts. Mari struggles with anxiety and substance abuse. Following a stay in rehab, she and her blended family move into a historic house in the Midwestern city known as Cedarville. Mari immediately knows there is something wrong with their new home. Doors open and close on their own, household items disappear, and a horrible smell that only Mari notices moves through the house. Then her stepsister, Piper, suddenly has an imaginary friend that isn’t interested in keeping Mari around. As she begins to learn more about her new city, Mari realizes that her house isn’t the only thing wrong with Cedarville—the local legends about the abandoned houses along their street may be more fact than fiction. But as her anxieties begin to worsen, Mari must do everything she can to hold it together and find out what’s truly haunting their home.

February is Black History Month, and you can find more book recommendations on the library catalog at  www.mhklibrary.org/catalog. Also keep an eye out for the library’s monthly ReadMHK podcast for more recommendations and discussion on this month’s topic, Black authors.

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