Gwen

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A Ghost in the Throat Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781771964111
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Biblioasis - June 1st, 2021

“This is a female text.” These words recur throughout this book...an incantation calling us to an awareness of its significance. After all, the most common thing in the world is for a woman’s voice to be forgotten...buried.

This book is as defiant of attempts to pin it down as the woman who inspired it. It is the story of one Irish poet’s obsession with another, long dead but echoing through time thanks to a searing lament for her murdered husband. As Ni Ghriofa spends a decade immersed in motherhood, she becomes determined to find out more about Eibhlin Dubh as a woman, not just a black space in the lives of the men she loved. 

As one who has also feared disappearing, Ni Ghriofa’s quest to salvage what shards she could of the woman who came before her felt life-saving. Eibhlin Dubh’s life became the trail of breadcrumbs Ni Ghriofa laid down so she could find her way out later. I’m glad she brought us along.

-Gwen


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Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9780525575238
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Crown - January 26th, 2021

Full Disclosure: I read "Chatter" because Ethan is a friend. (He's a professor at U of M. But I'm telling you to read it because I loved it! Not only is it entertaining, it's useful. It's readable, funny, and relatable, filled with anecdotes to illustrate the concepts. It's also rich with practical actions and ways that you can put these findings to use. 

It's a relief to admit it...we all talk to ourselves. In this book, we learn ways to use that talk to make our lives better. Turning research from interesting info into usable ways to change your mind, and your life, is a rare skill. Dr. Kross has it!

-Gwen


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All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, a Black Family Keepsake Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9781984854995
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Published: Random House - June 8th, 2021

Think fast...your nine year old daughter is soon to be cruelly taken from you. You'll most likely never see her again. What do you give her to remember you by?

Let that break your heart...then consider the tens of thousands of mothers who faced that dilemma while enslaved here in the U.S. alone? Tiya Miles tells the story here of one such mother and her daughter, Ashley. 

This is the sort of book that makes your heart beat faster as you read the first few pages, because you know you've found something special. Miles has made something beautiful. The book is lyrical, wonderfully creative, an act of fearless empathy, and scholarship with a beating heart. 

Tiya Miles is at the top of her game here. Solid work did not surprise me after reading her earlier book, Dawn of Detroit. But this is next level. 

-Gwen


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Braiding Sweetgrass Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9781571313560
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Milkweed Editions - September 1st, 2014

In this beautiful book, the author takes us along as she practices, working at integrating the ways of knowing in which she has been trained: scientific botany and the Indigenous knowing of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

This is a song of praise, filled with reverence and gratitude for the world that surrounds and sustains us. This book is a gift. 

-Gwen


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A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781984801197
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Published: Random House - March 30th, 2021

This is a book about music in that music is about life. Abdurraqib has made his name as a music writer, and he is excellent at what he does. I ended up with a list of performances to seek out, to listen to...closer this time. But these essays are also about being Black in America, about joy, about grief both personal and collective. The author has said that when he finds beauty, he wants to hold it out in an open hand, never hoard it. That's what he's done here. On the podcast "On Being," Abdurraqib told Padraig O'Tuoma that he started writing poetry when editors said his writing was "too poetic," choosing to embrace what was meant as critique. Like the poet he is, he chooses the exact right detial, and writes sentences you NEED to read aloud. Savor this one.

-Gwen


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The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9780525509561
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: One World - February 16th, 2021

The last several years in the U.S. have exposed a divide between those who belive that when some of us prosper, we all benefit...and those who see success as a game that requires a winner and a loser. Author Heather McGhee calls this the "Zero Sum Paradigm," and argues persuasively for uprooting it wherever we find it in American life. McGhee goes back to the birth of the nation, tracing the origins of this mindset. She explores its impact on policymaking in areas such as housing, welfare, education, and healthcare. Like Ibram X. Kendi, she focuses on the ideas that have shaped us over the individuals who espouse them. She is hopeful in her suggestions for how we might get to a future in which we ALL understand that our good is tied to each other's.

My copy of this book is so full of highlighting that it looks like I'm preparing for an exam. Maybe I am. The test: for all of us. How to be a good citizen. This book is now required reading.

-Gwen


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The Startup Wife: A Novel Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781982156183
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Published: Scribner - July 13th, 2021

The premise of this book, a tech startup that promises to give users their own personal rituals, was fascinating. The book delivered so much more than that, though.

The exploration of modern marriage, feminism, startups and tech culture, the ethics of AI...I loved Asha and was rooting for her. After finishing the book late at night, I couldn't stop thinking about it long enough to fall asleep.

-Gwen


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What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9780393541410
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 6th, 2021

Mark Doty does just what a poet is best at here: slowing down and looking closely, to defamiliarize a topic so familiar that we think we know it. His prose is so beautiful I read lines over just for the pleasure of it.

Thanks to Mark Doty, I've fallen a little bit in love with Walt Whitman.

-Gwen


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A Place for Us: A Novel Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781524763565
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Published: SJP for Hogarth - March 5th, 2019

For me, this book is about unintended consequences...how sometimes our best intentions are not enough to keep us from making errors with grave consequences.

This book is the story of an Indian-American Muslim family living in California, gathering together to celebrate the love marriage of their oldest daughter, Hadia. From that central point, Mirza spins out a story ranging decades, with chapters told by each member of the family.

Each time I thought I understood "what really happened," another chapter would reveal a new facet and I would have to shift my perspective again. Reading the end of this book was hard for two reasons: 1) I didn't want it to end. And 2) I was crying too hard to see. Beautifully poignant.

-Gwen


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The Once and Future Witches Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9780316422048
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Redhook - October 13th, 2020

Sisters, feminism, witches...I was in. And I do not regret it.

In an alternative 1893, women are agitating for the right to vote, and witches are no more. The burnings took care of that. But when the three Eastwood sisters, long separated after a painful childhood, meet at a suffragist rally, it sets in motion a chain of events that could bring back the power that women have been denied. Voting is great, but add to it witching? Now that is worth risking it all.

Lyrical language, a diverse cast of compelling characters, and a disturbingly relevant conflict over who is threatened when women claim their power all add up to a highly recommended read. 

-Gwen


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Square Haunting: Five Writers in London Between the Wars Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780451497802
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Published: Crown - April 6th, 2021

"Square Haunting takes up [Virginia] Woolf's call for a different sort of history: it is a biography of five great women, about feelings and drawing rooms, but also about work, politics, literature and community. And, indeed, about war, which affected each of these lives deeply."

This group portrait of "five great women" who lived in Mecklenburg Square, London between the wars is history told by a fantastic storyteller. These women, and their time, come alive in vivid detail. The famous men who often get the limelight appear here as decidedly supporting cast. I alternated between outrage at the ridiculous obstacles put in these women's way by a thoroughly sexist culture and pride that women do manage, despite all that, to be great. I can't wait to see what Wade writes next.

-Gwen


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Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781328508034
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Published: Mariner Books - March 16th, 2021

At one point in this book the author acknowledges that his is one of a genre of "American Jews who travel to the Old Country"...and then asks us to pause and consider what that means. A whole genre!

Although this is not the only book of its kind I've read...it is the most irreverently funny one! Kaiser surprised me, often, and he tells a good, strange tale. Worth adding to the genre.

-Gwen


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Firekeeper's Daughter Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9781250766564
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) - March 16th, 2021

-Gwen


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The Summer Book Cover Image
By Tove Jansson, Kathryn Davis (Introduction by), Thomas Teal (Translated by)
$14.95
ISBN: 9781590172681
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: NYRB Classics - May 20th, 2008

What a perfect little book! Like small watercolor sketch...a few lines, so deceptively simple. But if you keep looking you realize what mastery it takes, to have such restraint.

A story of summer (or summers?...no matter) made up of vignettes about a grandmother and granddaughter on a small island in the Gulf of Finland. With spare, lovely sentences and zero sentimentality, Jansson evokes summer and captures very real characters, perfectly. One to reread!

-Gwen


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Prepped Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9781534477506
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Published: Margaret K. McElderry Books - February 23rd, 2021

I had never seen anything quite like this premise: teens raised in a community of doomsday preppers, pushed together by their parents into an engagement, trying to plot a way out.

Becca is a great character, a real girl who finds herself in an impossible situation, caught between wanting to get herself free...and not wanting to leave her little sister behind as the community's beliefs seem to spiral towards disaster. I found myself rooting for her, and aching along with her as she tried to figure out how to something no teenager should have to do. Original, moving, and surprisingly funny!

-Gwen


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Horizontal Vertigo: A City Called Mexico Cover Image
By Juan Villoro, Alfred MacAdam (Translated by)
$30.00
ISBN: 9781524748883
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Pantheon - March 23rd, 2021

The title refers to the sensation one gets when traveling through the sprawling, infinitely varied Ciudad de Mexico. It also perfectly desribes what it's like to read this book.

A sprawling set of essay-like chapters, written by a native of the city, this is a fascinating insider's tour of a strange, wonderful city. City characters, layers of history, inside jokes...it's all here. 

Dip into this when you feel the need to go somewhere new.

-Gwen


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Pastoral Song: A Farmer's Journey Cover Image
$28.99
ISBN: 9780063073272
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Custom House - August 3rd, 2021

Having read The Shephard's Life (and liked it), I was curious what James Rebanks would tell us next. This is the story of inheriting the farm in the English lake district that has been in his family for three generations. On inheriting it, he knew the farm was in crisis, and he set about trying to restore it, and find a balance between profitability and ecological responsibility.

Rebanks does a lovely job of using this personal story of his family's land to speak to the larger concerns of farming in general. Finding ways to feed people while being ever-better stewards of the land is a problem that we are all implicated in. This book suggests that there are solutions, if we care enough to implement them.

-Gwen


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Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings Cover Image
$35.00
ISBN: 9780465096985
Availability: In Stock at Publisher - Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: Basic Books - August 25th, 2020

Although this is, indeed, a history of the Viking era, it is more than that. It is an attempt to get at what it was like to BE a Viking, starting with the fact that they didn't call themselves Vikings. The understood...no, KNEW, themselves to be 'children of Ash and Elm." 

Sections of the book on gender, religion, warfare, childhood...all had very thorough explanations of what's known. I found it surprising how much of what we have learned about the Viking era is recent, within the last few decades. This was a fascinating read about a world very different from our own.

-Gwen


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Matrix: A Novel Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9781594634499
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Riverhead Books - September 7th, 2021

           " She rides out of the forest alone. Seventeen years old, in the cold March drizzle, Marie who comes from France."    

The spell these first lines cast over me never let go.

The book is the story of a 12th century nun, based on a historical figure, as she creates an intensely female world of power, wealth, and learning. I came to love these characters: their creativity, their loves and ambitions, their flaws and secrets.

Not only that, but the language...it was so beautiful it seemed to shimmer. Closing the book, I was in awe of Groff. How did she do that?

-Gwen


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A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9781984856029
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House - January 12th, 2021

If you've enjoyed George Saunders' fiction, this is a chance to get inside his head and see how he does it. But even if you've never read a thing by him, before, this book deserves a read.

Yes, it's a book about how to be a better writer. I have no doubt it can help with that. But it is also about being a reader, and knowing  that we are reading. It's about paying attention to what's happening, both on the page and inside us, when we read.

Few of us will ever be lucky enough to sit in a classroom with George Saunders, but this book is the next best thing.

-Gwen


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Bewilderment: A Novel Cover Image
$27.95
ISBN: 9780393881141
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - September 21st, 2021

This follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize winner, The Overstory, is a story of love and anguish; personal grief set against a backdrop of ecological devastation.

Powers really excels at sympathy, a sense of caring deeply about the sorrows and dilemmas of modern humans. I believe that the author's heart breaks for these people who live on his pages, and mine aches alongside his.

Bewilderment gives us a grieving father trying to do right by his vulnerable son. He is in an impossible position, and it's one we recognize. How do we live well, now? What does it mean to raise a child with hope in a world on fire?

Love and grief are two sides of the same coin, and Powers writes on the thin edge between. 

-Gwen