Libby Lends to Listeners! More eAudiobooks available via RBdigital

Deep red background sets off text in white for an ad for Libby app by OverDrive, which features a tablet and a phone displaying various book covers.

by Kim M.

Do you listen to eAudiobooks via RBdigital? Do you know Libby? If not, it’s definitely time to download the app to your phone and/or eReader! It’s the easy access point for eBooks and eAudiobooks, and it just got better.

All of the RBdigital eAudiobooks are available via the Libby app (as of 9/24/20) and the OverDrive website since OverDrive, North America’s largest provider of public library eBooks, has acquired RBdigital. The RBdigital mobile app will eventually be retired, but the good news is that you will continue to be able to browse, borrow, and enjoy all the same great eAudiobook titles.

For now, this change only affects RBdigital eAudiobooks and classic literature in eBook format. Digital magazines remain available via RBdigital. As OverDrive works on integrating RBdigital eMagazines, you can continue to access eMagazines in the RBdigital app. 

If you are a current RBdigital user, these frequently asked questions may help explain the move:

Why are RBdigital audiobooks moving to OverDrive?
OverDrive has acquired RBdigital, and is working to integrate the two services. You will be able to access all titles through the OverDrive website, the classic OverDrive app, and the Libby app. When this transfer is complete, audiobooks will no longer be available on the RBdigital platform and app.

What happens if I have a title(s) currently checked out on RBdigital?
Current checkouts will be available through the remainder of their lending period in the RBdigital app. Your current checkouts will not be moved to OverDrive. This will allow you to finish your title without disruption or risk of losing your place in the audiobook. 

What happens to my checkout history and wish lists from RBdigital?
Checkout history and wish lists will not be moved to OverDrive. You can export your Transaction History from the RBdigital website on a desktop computer:  

  • After logging into the RBdigital website, open the menu in the top left of the screen and select “My Account.”  
  • Then click “Profiles” and underneath your personal information, you will see the option to “Export My Transaction History.” 
  • Clicking this button will automatically download a CSV file to your computer with your information.

New to eBooks and eAudiobooks?
Howard County Library System is proud to offer a wide selection of digital titles for you to access through Libby, the one-tap reading app powered by OverDrive. For those who have not yet tried the Libby app, all you need to get started is your library card number. Download the free Libby app from the Apple App Store or Google Play. The Libby app is easy to use and will guide you through the setup process and get you connected to our library in just a few minutes. You can find in-app support, or watch this brief video tutorial to get started.

Happy reading!

Kim M. works in the Materials Management Department at the Administrative Branch. When not keeping up-to-date on library technology, she is volunteering to get out the vote.

Voting Matters

by Emily T.

Election Day is fast approaching! 

Are you one of the 46,120 Howard County voters who have already requested their mail-in ballot?1 Because of the pandemic, all Marylanders have more options for how to vote to make the process safer and easier, but election deadlines are hard and fast. So, choose your path early and make sure you have time for the plan that’s best for you.

To help you plan, we’re introducing our new online HCLS Voter Smarts Guide 2020. It’s a comprehensive, nonpartisan collection of resources tailored to our Howard County community.

Use our guide to take the first critical step – make sure you are registered to vote by October 13.

Next comes the Choose Your Own Adventure part. To vote, you have several options:  

1) Mail in a mail-in ballot.

2) Drop off a mail-in ballot at a county drop box,

3) Vote early in person at any Early Voting Center in your county.

4) Vote in person on Election Day at any Voting Center in your county.

Due to the pandemic, all Maryland voters are encouraged to use mail-in ballots, but they WILL NOT be sent out automatically. Go to our guide (linked above) to request your mail-in ballot by the October 20 deadline. Then, return your signed ballot ASAP, no need to wait for election day. 

If, on the other (sanitized) hand, you choose to vote at an in-person Voting Center, check out our COVID-19 section for the CDC Recommendations for voters. We also have Voting Tips & Accessibility information with FAQ for before, during, and after you vote.  

Beyond logistics, maybe you’re looking for reliable information about all the issues at stake this election. Fortunately, the HCLS Voter Smarts Guide 2020 also connects you to trustworthy fact-checking websites and Informed Voter Resources & Guides with nonpartisan, well researched databases that lay out candidates’ positions and the pros/cons of any issue. 

Some things have to be different for the 2020 election. But one thing is downright fundamental as always – your vote matters. So, get out there – or stay in – and vote! 

Emily is a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. She’ll be making “I Voted” s’mores with her kids to celebrate dropping off her mail-in ballot. 

Tackling National History Day

NHD initials above two red bars, interspaced with National History Day text

By Deborah B.

It’s not cheating! 

September is around the bend, bringing refrigerators adorned with leaf collages, stink bugs, and virtual football parties with snacks of imaginary calories. It also catapults middle and high school students into the vast expanse that is the National History Day Project, a year-long exploration of an historical topic where students analyze the topic’s immediate and long term impact and its connection to the annual theme, then create a structured presentation model showcasing their extensive research and conclusions in a national competition for grades, glory, and potential monetary awards. Piece of cake.

Parents, do not hit the liquor cabinet! We are here to help! Seriously, it is not cheating for students to get research and analysis assistance. Teachers and parents are frequently tapped, but there is a local, free, natural habitat for history and research nerds eager to help search for buried sources… Howard County Library System.

This year’s theme is Communication in History: The Key to Understanding. How do people exchange information and interact with each other? Think of the act of communicating, the motivation for the communication, the who or what the communication affects. Think of how we struggle with conveying meaning today, even without Zoom calls.

Our virtual classes such as Topic Development and Maximize Your History Day Research offer insights into these questions and others relating to the theme. In October, the NHD Thesis Workshop is a safe mosh pit for students to deconstruct, reconstruct, and beat the heck out of their arguments until they are honed enough to substitute as historical reenactment weapons. Well, maybe not that sharp. Our classes, databases, and collection resources are also not cheats. National History Day encourages students to create a reliquary of history-hunting tools.

Also, these classes are not exclusive to NHD students! We welcome parents and teachers and all teens interested in upgrading their critical thinking skills. In addition, we will host a complement of news literacy performance training. Beware aged opinions. Ideas and thinking can stagnate, even ideas originally based on empirical evidence. Have there been new discoveries? Is there new data? Healthy, critical thinking requires stimuli and exercise, and we coach students through bias obstacles and teach strategies to combat fallacies and fear of opposing viewpoints.

In the next few weeks, somewhere in the county, a child will be assigned a NHD project. There is hope! Our mission, aside from mixing as many metaphors as possible in this blog post, is to help students achieve their academic potential. A small donation of the student’s time rewards them with research guidance and alleviates a librarian suffering from an overabundance of historical minutia. So, go online or call to register for one of our fall NHD classes as soon as they open.

Remember, it’s not cheating.

Deborah B. is a triple threat nerd of books, history, and actual triplets. 

The Longest (Virtual) Table with Daryl Davis

There’s a place for you at the Longest (virtual) Table on Saturday, October 17 from 5:30 – 8 pm for some great conversation with folks in the community. We really look forward to our annual dinner date and didn’t want to cancel altogether, so for all the 2020 reasons, the event is going virtual. And, it’s FREE!

This year, we are excited to introduce a guest speaker: Daryl Davis, acclaimed jazz musician and race relations expert. Through interactions with a fan, Davis gained access – as a Black man – to meeting with Ku Klux Klan members. He eventually became the recipient of robes and hoods from Klan members who came to rescind their beliefs after getting to know him. Davis has received acclaim for his book, Klan-Destine Relationships, and his work in race relations from many respected sources, including: CNN, CNBC, Good Morning America, The Learning Channel, National Public Radio, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and The Baltimore Sun. He is the recipient of the The American Ethical Union’s Elliott-Black Award, The Washington Ethical Society’s Bridge Builder, and the Search for Common Ground Award, among others.

After Davis talks to us about his encounters, we connect with new friends to discuss issues facing our community in small breakout rooms with no more than 10 people (probably fewer). Other elements enliven what promises to be an exciting evening. You can enter the online event at 5:30 pm to watch HCLS’ art instructor Jereme Scott’s video demonstrating drawing techniques.

Order and pick up dinner from one of our restaurant partners (place your own order directly with the restaurant) or make your own meal and join us at the table! “Secret menu suggestions” for our event:

  • Anegada Delights Caribbean Cuisine – Jerk Chicken (Spicy) w/ two sides – $12.99; side choices: rice and peas, mac and cheese, cabbage, plantains, zucchini, (jerk mac and cheese $1.99 extra)
  • Cured | 18th & 21st – Cedar Plank Salmon with bacon braised collard greens, sweet potato hash, maple glaze, crispy leeks – $27.21; large sides $8 each: paprika fries, house side salad, sweet potato fries
  • Roving Radish meal kit – Kit includes ingredients for two meals for four people – $38 ($18 subsidized); Week 26 menu options will include an Apple Cider Chicken meal and vegetarian meal. All orders must be placed before Sunday, October 4 at midnight and picked up by Wednesday, October 14. Please allow time for at-home meal preparation prior to the start of event.

Longest Table T-shirts are also on sale for $25; proceeds benefit HCLS’ commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Reserve your place at the table today!

Books for Back to School

by Sarah C.

Ahhhh, back to school, it’s that time of the year, folks – yes, it will be a different kind of school compared to last fall, but we can still read some great books as school starts. I’ve got a selection here of my latest faves for your enjoyment and education:

The cover depicts a young woman dressed for work, in gray pants and shirt and a red headscarf, holding up a fist.

Amazons, Abolitionists and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight For Their Rights by Mikki Kendall                                                    
An excellent and diverse addition to your history section, this nonfiction graphic novel reads like a fast-paced movie. It’s full color and far-reaching, and it will keep readers interested (full disclosure: this is my second time reading it, because it’s just that good!). Teen and adult readers alike are guaranteed to meet many new faces from the past and learn their interesting and important stories.

The cover depicts two boys back-to-back, one wearing a yellow jacket and green hood and one in a red and black plaid shirt.

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes (also available as an ebook)
How does it feel to go to school where you are one of the only Black boys, and you have a light-skinned brother there who, for some reason, doesn’t seem to face the same problems that you do? This novel tackles the hard questions as Donte learns about colorism, privilege, and racism in schools, as well as how to fight for justice, how powerful family support can be, and a new sport he was skeptical of at first and bullied into bypassing, but now loves — fencing!

The Cover depicts a split-screen image of two young women, one in front of a green background and one in front of a building with fire stairs.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (also available in ebook and eaudiobook)
Two sisters, one in the Dominican Republic and one in New York, unknowingly share the same father and live vastly different lives until those lives are shattered by a tragic accident. Now Yahaira and Camino have to untangle their father’s secrets in an achingly raw and emotional novel written in verse that tackles grief, anger, forgiveness, and family.

Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories edited by C. Spike Trotman, Kate Ashwin, and Kel McDonald

Filled with mythology, monsters, and magic, this collection of 21 cautionary tales and fables from various Asian countries entertains and intrigues. Recommended for manga and anime fans as well.

Related, I just handed my teen The Dragon King Chronicles by Ellen Oh, and he devoured them — if anyone is looking for fast-paced and epic fantasy adventures, battles fought for honor, brave warrior outcasts, and a ton of Korean mythology and monsters, look no further! (The first book in the trilogy is called Prophecy and is also available as an ebook).                                                                                                                                            
Cats of the Louvre by Taiyo Matsumoto (manga)

A bizarre but fascinating story, this book is written manga style, so read back to front (which I might have forgotten for the first six pages). This hefty novel is full of incredibly detailed and well-developed, yet still mysterious, characters (half of them being magical cat people), and is set against the backdrop of one of the world’s most famous art museums.

Broken Places & Outer Spaces: Finding Creativity in the Unexpected by Nnedi Okorafor (also available in ebook and eaudiobook)

An inspirational mini-memoir by the author of Akata Witch and Binti (check those out, too) about how she was temporarily paralyzed as a young adult. A botched spinal surgery and subsequent painful journey of recovery and self-discovery led to the birth of her creative writing style and development of her amazing sci-fi/fantasy talent. Also of note: she discusses a handful of great artists and writers through history who also grappled with severe hardships and how it challenged them and brought them to new heights. The slim volume offers solid lessons for turning limitations/struggles into strengths/power.

Eight Will Fall by Sarah Harian

SCARY but I couldn’t put it down, this dystopian quest takes a group of young people with “illegal” powers deep down underground in a desperate bid to find a fabled king banished hundreds of years ago for his dangerous and incredible power. Along the way, they encounter many horrific cave beasts and various violent deaths, but also solve the mystery of why they were selected by the queen to make this doomed journey, and the origins of their powers. Above ground, their world is falling apart; can they survive the deep and deadly mission and rescue it in time?

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

This graphic adaptation blew me away, and if you have not read anything by this author (possibly one of the greatest sci-fi writers EVER) then do so immediately. Her many books usually contain themes of harsh survival in dystopian worlds and feature strong, fierce African-American female main characters. Read the print versions or the graphic novels, either way, just read her work!

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (also available in ebook and eaudiobook)

A truly adorable “meet-cute” and more, this realistic fiction novel follows Arthur and Ben as they collide in NYC and fall head over heels into love at first sight…but what happens after that magic moment? Opposites might attract at first, but what happens when real life interferes? And how many times will they lose each other and find each other, including awkward repeat date do-overs?  

Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga  (also available as an ebook)

Jude is a seventh-grade Muslim girl who flees Syria with her mother, leaving behind her father and older brother. They move in with an uncle in Cincinnati and try to begin a new life, and Jude navigates new customs, culture, and language while missing her family and friends. She is smart, hopeful, and brave but also sometimes fearful and confused, a very relatable character. The story is well-written and in verse, also age-appropriate (honest but gentle) when it touches on war, stereotypes, and prejudices – with inclusive perspectives and world views.

Disclaimer: As one of your teen librarians, I’m talking to ages 13-18 and their parents with my recommendations, but as always, everyone is free to read whatever they like.

Sarah C. is the teen instructor at HCLS Savage Branch and she always has time to talk and listen: about books, comics, school or whatever you need to talk about.

The Baking Bug

Cover of cookbook features a plum tart with luscious glossy fruit arranged in a swirl on a pastry shell, with a cherry in the middle.

by Kristen B.

My husband has a saying: When the going get tough, the tough bake. It certainly holds true that I have a tendency to stress bake. The precision of measuring and mixing, followed by having a tasty, tangible end product soothes me … as does eating whatever treat now sits on my kitchen counter (alas for the scale). Although I prefer sweet to savory, the occasional loaf of bread or cheesy rolls happens when I have the need to knead. Although I’m a frequent visitor to King Arthur Baking Company for recipes, their tried and true whole grain recipes are also collected in this book.

I like to try new recipes and often browse the cookbook shelves at the library. It’s how I came upon Great Pies & Tarts by Carole Walter, which has yet to disappoint (confession: I bought it). The blueberry pie always wins rave reviews, even if I trash my kitchen making it. This book also has one of the best step-by-step descriptions of how to make a standard American flaky pie crust, complete with photographs. With all the wonderful fresh fruit in season now (visit a Howard County farmers market), it’s the perfect time to make tasty desserts.

American pie crust you ask? As opposed to all the different kinds of pie crusts I’ve learned about on The Great British Baking Show. This show provides the perfect anecdote to anyone’s stress: it’s kind and funny and filled with every kind of baking, from scratch-made puff pastry to savory hot water game pies. If you’ve not visited The Tent, or if you need a little British humor to get you through the week, HCLS has several seasons available on DVD and via hoopla (also available via Netflix). It’s wonderful fun and perhaps a tad inspirational.

If you are already a fan (as clearly I am), and want to spend a little more time with GBBS, you can get the inside scoop from Mary Berry herself. HCLS has several of her cookbooks, and many are available on Overdrive. If you are interested, Chetna, one of the Season 5 contestants, published The Cardamom Trail with her favorite flavors from her home country of India. I found it tricky to follow from an American point of view, but it’s a gorgeous book to drool over (literally).

I wish you Happy Baking … though not tough times to prod you into the kitchen. Check out a cookbook and discover a new favorite treat, and maybe submit photos of your kitchen victories at createdwhileisolated.org, HCLS’ journal of our community’s wonderful creativity.

Kristen B. has worked for HCLS for more than 15 years, and currently hosts the Books on Tap discussion group at Hysteria Brewing Company. She loves reading, Orioles baseball, and baking.

Virtual Author Visit with Fredrik Backman

The author, dressed in a dark grey button down shirt, stands with his hands in his jeans pockets. He has short brown hair, and a slight beard.

Frederik Backman discusses his newest book, Anxious People, on Thursday, September 10 at 5 pm. Signed copies of Anxious People are available for online pre-order through the Curious Iguana bookstore. This poignant comedy tells the story of a crime that never took place, a bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Rich with Backman’s, “pitch-perfect dialogue and an unparalleled understanding of human nature,” according to Shelf Awareness, Anxious People’s whimsical plot serves up unforgettable insights into the human condition and a gentle reminder to be compassionate to all the anxious people we encounter every day. 

Backman is the New York Times bestelling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, and Britt-Marie was Here, among other titles. He lives in Stockholm with his wife and two children.

A Man Called Ove is the classic story of a curmudgeon, but with a twist: he didn’t develop this attitude in old age, he’s been “a grumpy old man since he started elementary school.” As we learn more about Ove through glimpses of his past, we realize that the rule-following, the caustic comments, the meticulous planning, all ensue from a beautiful love story and Ove’s resulting losses. With dismayingly unconventional new neighbors, can he find a path forward and live up to the example of his wife, Sonja, a wonderful woman whose thoughtfulness and kind nature would welcome them with open arms? Or will he continue to be his cantankerous, resistant self? Read this delightful story to find out, if you are not already one of the millions who have loved this book full of hilarity and heart.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry describes a touching relationship between 7-year-old Elsa and her 77-year-old Grandmother. The two of them have a secret world, where they escape to tell stories and play make-believe (or so you think). The regular world holds many scary realities for a precocious little girl, including big dogs, bullies, impending new siblings, and cancer. Sometimes grandmothers, even the eccentric ones, know exactly what their grand-daughters need. This story rewards the reader’s patience, as all the seemingly disparate pieces slowly form a highly satisfactory, emotional resolution.

Whether you jump in with the newest book or treat yourself to some of Backman’s older titles, you will be entertained and enlightened. Register now for the online author event!

The event is cosponsored by Maryland Humanities, Frederick County Public Library, Curious Iguana, and the Weinberg Center for the Performing Arts.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The background is deep blue with geometric drawing, against which a group of women are silhouetted in black.

Review by Kristen B.

I know we all feel like we’re living in a disaster movie or dystopian novel (ok, maybe it’s just me), but sometimes misery loves company. Particularly, when it comes with a good dash of ingenuity and a lot of hope in humanity’s ability to solve big problems.

At the beginning of The Calculating Stars, a meteorite strikes Earth at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay (basically right here), leaving ruin in its wake. Given this extinction-level event, Earth will become unlivable for humans within a century. The book takes place in the 1950s, as the space race has just begun. Now, it takes on a whole new level of importance as colonizing the moon, and maybe even Mars, appears to be our only hope for survival. The book is full of all the fascinating trials and testing required to put men on the moon.

Not just men. Emma York, Ph.D. mathematician and ace pilot (and baker of pies), is our point of view character. She and her fellow female pilots become part of the cutting-edge cadre of astronauts, because, as she argues, it makes no sense to send ONLY men for the future survival of the race…even Noah understood the principle behind two-by-two. For all of her smarts and derring-do, Emma suffers from fairly severe anxiety driven by perfectionism. The novel addresses both the need and the stigma of treating mental/emotional issues. Emma’s anxiety serves to complicate her fraught relationship with the program’s lead astronaut, a devoted chauvinist.

Kowal doesn’t shy away from the other pressing issues of the times – particularly racism. Black pilots face even more discrimination than female ones, and Black women receive the worst treatment (of no real surprise). Each chapter opens with a news clipping, many of which show the bigger societal picture, and it’s not entirely pretty. The debate rages about who goes to the lunar colony, including mention of fringe factions with all their many conspiracy theories.

As I noted above, there’s also hope and ingenuity and that feeling of “Yes, We Can.” For every setback, there’s a jump forward. For every human foible, there’s a shining example of people at their absolute best. We tackle the hard problems … because we must! I loved this book for its honesty and its hopefulness, and mostly for how Kowal wove them together. If you loved Hidden Figures, you will probably enjoy this.

The story continues with the mission to Mars in The Fated Sky, and a brand-new book, The Relentless Moon, takes a closer look at the trials facing the new colony. The Calculating Stars is also available as an ebook from Overdrive/Libby.

Kristen B. has worked for HCLS for more than 15 years, and currently hosts the Books on Tap discussion group at Hysteria Brewing Company. She loves reading, Orioles baseball, and baking.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

A Navajo woman dressed in jeans, leather jacket, and tradition Navajo footwear and wrappings stands on the roof of an old red pickup truck, holding a shotgun and a long knife. Lightnight arcs across the image, with dust yellow storm clouds behind.

Review by Kristen B.

Meet Maggie Hoskie: monster hunter, Navajo (Diné) clan warrior, and first person narrator of Rebecca Roanhorse’s debut novel. In Trail of Lightning, the world as we know it has been mostly destroyed by earthquakes and subsequent floods. A strange thing happened during that time: Navajo history, gods, and legends came back to life and walls appeared around what was the reservation, protecting Dinétah from the worst of the predations happening in the outside world. It was something of a mixed blessing, for while traditional Diné clan life continued stronger than ever, it also brought back the scary parts of legend along with the good. As the book opens, Maggie doubts if she’s one of the good guys or just another one of the monsters she hunts. (Just to note: given the nature of the story, this book is chock-full of fairly graphic violence.)

This quick-paced, smart-mouthed action-adventure story takes place entirely within the Navajo world. The book opens with Maggie chasing a monster across the high desert hills, one who had kidnapped a young girl. We learn that Maggie’s clan powers include swiftness and battle rage, which serve her well in her vocation. In the aftermath, we meet her honorary grandfather Tah and Tah’s actual grandson Kai, who may or may not be a magician but is definitely something of a fashion plate. Tah practices the traditional scheme of grandparents everywhere by throwing his two favorite young folks together, in hopes of friendship and maybe even romance.

Maggie’s life is further complicated when her old friend Mai’i (Coyote) turns up at her trailer asking for a favor. Coyote plays his usual trickster part, but honestly, he’s only trying to make things better. The story becomes a race to find and eliminate a growing threat to Dinétah, which eventually involves a wide range of locals and legends. Maggie ends up having to deal directly with her one-time mentor and lover, Neizhgani, the (sort of) god of lightning. Maggie achieves some clarity and closure in the end, but it is a hard won truth that leaves everyone a little heartsore.

I had visited the Navajo reservation shortly before reading this book, and I could picture the locations clearly with the rock formations and scrubby landscape. Roanhorse is Black and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, and her husband and daughter are Navajo. She uses Diné terms for the clans and their powers, for the legends and gods, and it’s as strange in its own way as any other fantasy setting. This is the language of the WWII Code Talkers, which no one else in the world could decipher. It’s a powerful way to display Native American culture, asking the reader to figure out terminology from context without a glossary or other appendix. Roanhorse uses the place and language to good effect, creating a sense of other-ness that’s actually grounded in reality.

If you love this book as much as I do, I also recommend the sequel, Storm of Locusts. Maggie ventures out into the wider world … in a story no less filled with monsters and companions for the journey.

Kristen B. has worked for HCLS for more than 15 years, and currently hosts the Books on Tap discussion group at Hysteria Brewing Company. She loves reading, Orioles baseball, and baking.

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty

The author sits on a rustic bench against a green shingled wall holding a plate of food in one hand and resting the other on a small wooden bushel basket. He is dressed in a linen shirt, a beige vest, and grey pans. A cast iron skillet hangs over the upper left corner with the subtitle in it.

Review by Kristen B.

The James Beard Award-winning book, The Cooking Gene, defies categorization: part memoir, part highly researched historical account of Southern foodways, and part genealogical research into the author’s ancestry. It also includes recipes. By no means an easy book to read in its themes or storytelling, Twitty takes us on journeys throughout the American colonies with the contributions of enslaved Africans front and center. The book generally follows the history of the American South, but other bits work their way in, too. Personal experiences and family stories intersperse with long lists of ingredients found at plantation feasts. It’s like having an extremely learned docent talking about all his favorite subjects, which is a fair assessment of the situation.

Michael Twitty is a gay, black, Jewish man who interprets historical Southern cooking, particularly from the pre-Civil War era. His book recounts some of those experiences, intermingled with a wealth of knowledge about how “soul food,” that indelible American cultural touchstone, came to be. As human beings made the Middle Passage from Africa to America, food and culture naturally travelled with them. The Cooking Gene presents a fascinating dissection of slave-holding states and their regional variations, from the Chesapeake area along the Low Country of the Carolinas and Gullah-Geechee to the deep South of Louisiana and Alabama. Each area offered something new and different into the country’s cooking lexicon, and most of those old kitchens were run by slaves … some of whom were even trained in Paris to further increase the standings of the families they served.

Twitty focuses on food as a way to explain the people: yams, corn, rice, greens, tobacco, and more. As part of the food history, he also details the different eras of human commerce and wrote a sentence that stopped me cold in my tracks and that I’ve thought about ever since:

The black body was the single most valuable commodity in the American marketplace between the years 1790 and 1860 (p. 321).

The other major thread winding through this astounding book is what Twitty calls his Southern Discomfort Tour. He, with the help of genetic testing and professional genealogists, has traced more than eight generations of his family’s history in America. He located records of his ancestors’ lives along the North Carolina/Virginia border, as well as deeper into the South. He found receipts of their sales and how they were listed among assets of landowners. From his genetic testing results, he could identify which regions and tribes his family belonged to in West and Central Africa. His racial heritage also includes more than a quarter European descent, which led him to travel to London and Dublin to claim those parts of his heritage, too. I realized that Twitty’s family has been in America longer than just about anyone’s I know. Twitty pulls very few punches recounting the terrors and sordid realities of life for slaves. The genius of this book is that the author puts so much of himself into the telling that the reader must do him the respect of listening.

I learned so much, including the sheer diversity of the African population that made the Middle Passage and how – truly, in every way – African-Americans built our country. They were the field hands, builders and master craftsmen, knowledgable farmers and hunters, and yes … the cooks who fed everyone. I learned about the history of our country’s foods and about a diversity that we lack in our modern era of packaged foods and monocultures. In my family, as in so many others, food is love. The Cooking Gene is nothing short of Michael Twitty’s love letter to his culture, his family, and the foodways of the American South.

This title is available in the collection as a book, eBook, and eAudiobook, both via Overdrive and RB Digital, which has the “always available” audio as part of its Anti-Racism reading list.

If you are interested in learning more about the African-American experience and anti-racism, join us for an online conversation on Monday, July 20 with Ibram X. Kendi on “How to Be an Anti-Racist.” Registration required.

Kristen B. has worked for HCLS for more than 15 years, and currently hosts the Books on Tap discussion group at Hysteria Brewing Company. She loves reading, Orioles baseball, and baking.