Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

The book cover depicts a pale orange curtain falling waves, with dappled stripes of bright yellow sunlight across it. The title and author's name, with "winner of the Pulitzer Prize," are superimposed in white script.

By Piyali C.

In the simple, succinct, and gorgeous prose that is her trademark, Jhumpa Lahiri, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Namesake, Interpreter of Maladies: Stories, and other works, writes about the observations of a single, unnamed woman living alone in an unnamed city in Italy in Whereabouts. Each chapter in this book reads like a page from a beautifully crafted journal. They are chronicles of our protagonist’s day to day life – be it walking over a bridge where she occasionally comes across her ex-boyfriend, or her sojourn to her favorite sandwich store where she buys the same lunch every day, or her trip to the swimming pool where she meets women who share their stories with each other verbally, or even the stories they share through each hard-earned wrinkle on their faces or their swollen feet or the extra flesh in their midsection. The woman of our story quietly listens. Through her ruminations about her past we come to know about her parents, their eccentricities, her relationship with them, her mother’s financial dependence on her father, and her subsequent financial education to her daughter which influences the woman’s monetary decisions all her life (and not necessarily in a helpful way).

The narrator is lonely sometimes, and sometimes she cherishes her solitude. She is frustrated with the sameness of her life sometimes, and sometimes she is content simply sitting at the piazza in front of her apartment observing frenetic activities in her neighborhood. She falls asleep at night reassured by the noise of traffic and wakes up deep in the night, disconcerted at the silence around her when the sounds of automobiles have ceased. She could be any of us – a juxtaposition of contrasts – and perhaps this ‘everywoman’ trait of the protagonist makes the book and her so relatable.  Her keen sense of observation is what many of us lack these days. It was such a joy to see the world – her world and for a short time our world, too – through her eyes. Even after the book ended, I seemed to linger by the side of the piazza eyeing the sandwich store and looking at the men and women living their lives in that unnamed city in Italy. This is a deeply contemplative novel made up of vignettes from a middle aged woman’s everyday life. There is no catastrophic event in this story, no climax or anti climax. It simply tells the tale of life and in doing so it becomes strangely captivating. At the end of the day, I agree with the description that the publisher provides for this short novel – “Whereabouts is an exquisitely nuanced portrait of urban solitude…”

I would like to share a snippet just to whet your appetite for this truly beautiful literary novel so you can borrow it from Howard County Library System for your next read. There is a passage where the woman comes face to face with the man she once loved in the middle of a bridge. Lahiri writes

“We stop in the middle and look at the wall that flanks the river, and the shadows of pedestrians cast on its surface. They look like skittish ghosts advancing in a row, obedient souls passing from one realm to another. The bridge is flat and yet it’s as if the figures – vaporous shapes against the solid wall – are walking uphill, always climbing. They’re like inmates who proceed, silently, toward a dreadful end” (6-7).

This is simply one example of many where I felt Lahiri painted pictures for me with her words.

Whereabouts is also available in large print and in eBook and eAudiobook format via Overdrive/Libby. Whereabouts is Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel written in Italian, as well as the first time she has self-translated a full-length work.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

This beautiful blue cover features the portrait of a young woman, done in paper art She has long dark wavy hair, a tiara and is surrounded by flower. The book has a sticker that says "Reese's YA Book Club" and a mentions "The New York Times Bestseller".

by Piyali C.

High schooler Izumi’s life is relatively uneventful with her single mom, her bad tempered terrier mix Tamagotchi, and her Asian Girl Gang (AGG), comprised of three other girls from diverse ethnicity in their primarily white Mount Shasta High School. Sure, it is not always easy being Japanese American in a mostly white Mount Shasta, California but Izumi has made it work so far. She even changed her to name to Izzy from Izumi for a while to make it easy for others until her friend Noora convinced her otherwise. Izumi’s mother, a Harvard educated botanist, has tried her best to raise Izumi alone with love and support and, for the most part, Izumi is content. She would, however, like to know who her father is. Izumi’s mom refuses to divulge any information about her father. All Izumi knows is that her parents met at Harvard when both were students there, and Izumi is the product of their brief liaison. Izumi’s father does not even know she exists.

One day, while snooping around in her mom’s room ransacking her expensive make-up stash, Izumi’s friend Noora comes across a book Rare Orchids of North America. Noora flips open the book to find a poem in ‘slanted handwriting’ dedicated to Izumi’s mom, Hanako, by someone named Mak. A little research by Noora reveals that the aforesaid Mak is none other than Makotonomiya Toshihito, the Crown Prince of Japan and also Izumi’s father. In other words, Izumi is a princess.

Within days, Izumi’s life is turned upside down when a simple email sent by her to her parents’ common friend inquiring about the Crown Prince results in her father finding out that she exists. She travels to Japan at her father’s invitation, a country she always dreamed of visiting, as a princess, complete with Royal Imperial Guard and cavalcade. But being a princess comes at a cost. Izumi has to navigate palace protocols, conniving cousins, royal etiquette, learning a new language, paparazzi, and her own romantic feelings for the head of her Royal Imperial Guard. On top of all this, she has to build a relationship with her father, the Crown Prince. Both the father and daughter grow and evolve in their relationship as they learn to be a parent and child. But life is not a fairy tale even in this modern day fairy tale. A betrayal of trust almost destroys Izumi’s budding relationship with her extended imperial family, her love as well as her newly found father.

While writing a heart warming, happy story of love and discovery, Emiko Jean very effectively interweaves the universal dilemma of Asian Americans (or any minority for that matter) about whether they belong or where they belong. Izumi is never ‘fully’ American in Mount Shasta, California and she is never ‘fully’ Japanese when she travels to Japan. That uncertainty is true in the lives of most immigrants and the author makes a very convincing case in her delightful novel Tokyo Ever After.

Pick up this book when your brain craves some respite from all that it is dealing with. Let this book take you to a world where you know the end will be happy even if the means to the end is full of twists and turns, ups and downs. Let the story convince you of ‘happily ever afters.’

David Yoon, author of Frankly in Love, sums the book up perfectly – “Emiko’s flair for sumptuous detail —- Food! Castles! Swoony confessions! Court Drama! Cherry blossoms by the million! —locked me up helplessly into a world of splendor I never wanted to leave.” This young adult story elicited a satisfied yet wistful sigh from me as I turned the last page and it also ignited a burning desire to visit the city of Kyoto. One day…..

Tokyo Ever After is available in print and eBook format through Overdrive/Libby.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

The book cover, in faded pinks and yellows, shows a young Korean woman with hair parted in the middle, sculpted eyebrows, and full makeup and lipstick, wearing a yellow top and looking slightly off to the side. She is surrounded by yellow flowers as if in a garden bower.

By Piyali C.

If I Had Your Face drew me in at the beginning, lost me a little bit in the middle, and captivated me again towards the end. Through the eyes of four narrators, Ara, Kyuri, Miho, and Wonna, Frances Cha brings us not only the personal stories of these women but also the social tapestry of modern South Korea in terms of beauty standards, feminism, women in the work force, a challenging economy, sexuality, matrimony, and societal expectations.

Kyuri works as a room salon girl – an opportunity afforded to only the “prettiest 10 percent.” She accompanies and caters to the sexual needs of rich men, who in turn ply her with designer bags and expensive makeup. Kyuri has surgically altered her entire face to attain the flawless beauty that is vital to her job and, ultimately, her prosperity. (Interestingly, according to businessinsider.com, “with the highest rate of cosmetic surgeries in the world and nearly 1 million procedures a year, South Korea is often called the world’s plastic surgery capital.”) Although her life seems enviable, Kyuri is in heavy debt and emotionally wrecked. On top of everything, she makes one bad decision that threatens her entire livelihood.

Ara has lost her voice due to some violence in the past. The author piques our interest, hinting about the violence throughout Ara’s narrative and disclosing the incident towards the end. She is a hair stylist and a huge K-Pop enthusiast. Ara’s K-Pop fantasy is her escape to a dreamworld that is very different from the harsh reality of her life.

Miho is an orphan who won a scholarship to study art in New York City, who obsessively creates art influenced by her friendship with a girl named Ruby. Ruby dazzled Miho with her personality, wealth, influence, and charisma. She also introduced Miho to the upper echelon of South Korean society. Miho, however, can simply look into the lives of the rich from the periphery. She is not allowed in.

Wonna, who lives in the same building as the young women, is trapped in an uninspiring marriage. She is pregnant and terrified of losing her baby. She has to hide her pregnancy for as long as she can so she does not lose her job. Moreover, she does not know how she and her husband will raise the baby in South Korea’s brutal economy with their combined meager salaries.

Then there is Sujin who works at a nail salon and yearns for Kyuri’s surgically altered, perfect jawline because her goal is to emulate Kyuri and become a room salon girl herself. She is willing to go through painful jaw surgery and subsequent complications from it if she can attain the beauty that society dictates women ought to strive for. She is Ara’s roommate, and we know about her mostly from the narratives of her friends, Ara and Kyuri.

All our protagonists come from impoverished backgrounds. They are desperate to leave their past behind and move up in life despite the barriers that society constructs for them. But when their friendship is put to test in their quest for upward mobility, what do they do? Does societal pressure shatter their tentative friendship, or will their friendship ultimately save them?

The book tells the unique story of these women and their relationship with one another. While each individual story is interesting, the picture of South Korean society that emerges from the collective stories and through the perspectives of these unique individuals is what makes If I Had Your Face a captivating read. Frances Cha, a former travel and culture editor for CNN in Seoul, writes her vivid and realistic debut novel which Publishers Weekly hails as, “an insightful, powerful story from a promising new voice… Cha navigates the obstacles of her characters’ lives with ease and heartbreaking realism.”

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha is available at Howard County Library System both in print and as an eBook via Overdrive/Libby.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

Classical Indian Dances – Kathak and Bharatnatyam

An Indian woman wearing an elaborate red and multi-colored embroidered dress raises her arms, with her hands flexed above he head. Background is purple and blue.
Jaya Mathur dancing.

by Piyali C.

Dance is an ancient and celebrated cultural tradition in India and its origins go back into the ancient times. There are eight schools of classical Indian dance, each of which can be traced to different parts of the country. Register to join us on Wednesday, June 16 at 7 pm to learn more about these dance forms from Jaya Mathur.

During an enlightening and entertaining evening of virtual Indian Classical Dance class, Jaya Mathur, of ‘Rock on with Bollywood’ fame, will share an overview of the history of two famous dance forms from India – Kathak and Bharatnatyam, as well as her personal journey of continuing these traditional dance forms as a first-generation American. She will demonstrate some mudras: the portrayal of mood through facial expression and hand gestures, and the audience will have the opportunity to experience dance performances through videos. 

According to kathadance.org, the Kathak form of Indian classical dance originated in Hindu temples in the northern part of India to aid in worshipful storytelling, portraying the epic tales of Ramayana and Mahabharata (the two grand Indian epics). However, this particular dance form was not confined within the walls of temples for long. Nomadic Kathak dancers and storytellers took this dance and traveled throughout the nation with added emotions and theatricality, and it soon transitioned to a means of storytelling and entertainment. Over time, Kathak became an integral part of court culture under the patronage of Mughal kings and, as a result, this dance form imbued within itself influences of both Hindu and Islamic traditions.

Bharatnatyam, according to nrutyashala.com, was performed in the temples of southern India by devadasis, or dancers dedicated to God. The devadasis were women who were trained in this dance form since childhood, and they dedicated their lives to performing in front of idols in temples. They were educated in Sanskrit and were trained to perform as well as choreograph Bharatnatyam, accompanied by singers and musicians. Over the years, Bharatnatyam also underwent changes as devadasis lost their status in society and rajnartakis (or court dancers), under the patronage of Hindu kings in southern kingdoms in India, continued this form of dance in courts to entertain kings and royalty.

Bharatnatyam and Kathak remain two very popular forms of Indian classical dancing to this day in India and are practiced by Indians all over the world. Jaya has performed at many different venues, including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. Locally, she has choreographed with the Kinetics Dance Theater.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

The book cover has the title and author's name in white lettering against a background of stripes of varying widths in shades of blue, purple, and green.

By Piyali C.

Books have their unique ways of clearing the lenses through which we view life. They tell us stories of people whose struggles may not have found a prominent place in history books. Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman revolves around one such nugget of history.

The central theme of the book is the fight against Native dispossession from North Dakota by the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe, which was led by Louise Erdrich’s grandfather, Patrick Gourneau. The protagonist of the book, Thomas Wazhashk, is created in the image of Gourneau, who fought against a 1953 bill introduced by Senator Arthur V. Watkins to terminate the rights of the Chippewa tribe over their land in the reservation; Gorneau led a delegation of tribal Council Members in protest. Like Gourneau, Thomas is a night watchman in a jewel-bearing plant, the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. Thomas spends every night guarding the factory, and during the day he meets with tribal elders as they plan to take their protest against Watkins’ bill to Washington, DC. Their efforts, however, require money the tribe does not have.

Thomas’s wife, Rose, not only supports him in this endeavor, but also is a pillar of the Chippewa community whose identity Thomas and other tribal leaders seek to preserve. Many women from the tribe find employment in the factory, putting beads on jewelry. One of these women is Patrice Paranteau, who happens to be Thomas’s niece. Patrice is a fierce, strong, independent young woman who single-handedly takes care of her mother and brother and continues to look for her sister, Vera, who went to the Cities and never came back. Unlike the other women in the tribe, Patrice is not looking for a husband and children, although there are a few men who desire her affection. She wants self-sufficiency and financial independence so she can stop her alcoholic and abusive father from hurting her mother and brother. Patrice saves every penny to fund her search for her big sister, Vera. Rumor has it that Vera has been seen in the city with a baby. Patrice never gives up hope that Vera will return, even after she finds despairing signs of Vera’s death when she goes to Minneapolis to look for her. During her search for Vera, Patrice encounters extreme violence and ugliness that endangers her own life, yet she remains undaunted. Louise Erdrich does not shy away from showing her readers the violence and exploitation that Native American women are subjected to in real life.

Although the novel revolves around the Chippewa tribe’s determination to stop the Termination Bill, Erdrich weaves a beautiful and sensitive story of love, loss, and hope, with characters who will remain in the heart of readers long after they finish the book. Each character created with utmost love and minutiae is a beautiful composite of the whole Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe, who band together to fight for their existence and identity under Thomas’s leadership. For me, the character of Patrice Paranteau embodies the indomitable spirit, the fierceness, the mysticism, and the harmony of Native American tribes.

This was a spectacular book, incorporating the struggles of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe as well as their resilience and sensitivity. I am still wandering in the pages of the book where the line between reality and paranormal sometimes became blurry, but it made perfect sense in the world that Erdrich creates for her predecessors. My library-sponsored book club, Global Reads, discussed this book a few weeks ago. We all agreed this was a beautiful story, an important story, a story that needs to be read to learn how people with little power rose up to the all-powerful government to demand what was rightfully theirs.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich is available in print as well as in ebook and eaudiobook format from Libby/OverDrive. Louise Erdrich is the author of seventeen novels and the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore in Minneapolis.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

A clean, clear illustration of a red-headed woman in an aqua blue shirt looking down to read a book. The double-O of "Bookish" forms her classes, in the same color as her shirt. All against a yellow background.

by Piyali C.

Smart, sarcastic, socially awkward, 29-year-old Nina Hill lives by Khalil Gibran’s saying in The Prophet, “You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.” Nina is the daughter of a free-spirited single mother, a famous photographer who concealed Nina’s father’s identity because she did not consider his presence essential in Nina’s life. Nina grew up under the loving supervision of her amazing nanny Louise who was ‘bookish, loving and gentle’ while Nina’s mother traveled the world for her job, appearing occasionally and briefly in Nina’s life. Nina’s childhood was surrounded by books and solitude. For someone who finds sanctuary in book stores and libraries, what could be more fulfilling than working at an independent book store for a living? Nina works as a book seller in a book store called Knights, owned by lovable and eccentric Liz who is always behind on her rent for the store and has to hide from the landlord. The book store is only part of Nina’s commitments though. She runs several book clubs, is part of a champion Trivia team Book ‘Em, Danno, and has perfectly sane conversations with her cat Phil. Plus, there are so many books to read. Nina’s calendar, as well as life, are full and busy. If she ever feels something is missing, she simply picks up another book.

One fine day, a man comes calling for Nina in the book store with such surprising news that it throws a wrench into Nina’s well organized, tightly scheduled, semi-secluded life. The man is a lawyer who informs Nina that her biological father, William Reynolds, has died leaving behind not only something for Nina in his will but also innumerable step brothers, step sisters, nieces, and nephews. And they all live close by! William Reynolds was married thrice and was fruitful. Not only does she have relatives, they all are eager to meet her, at least some of them. Whether she wants it, she has to attend the reading of the will of William Reynolds. Nina’s well-organized world is turned completely upside down.

To add to this complication, Nina’s trivia nemesis, the lead guy from team You Are a Quizzard, Harry is cute and funny. Nina is starting to develop feelings for him. But Tom does not read!! Will Nina be able to contain her crippling anxiety that she has suffered from all her life as she deals with these double calamities in her life? Romance AND relations?

There is a pandemic raging outside. The real world looks grim and uninviting. Why not escape into the quirky, funny, filled with fun literary quotes, bookish life of Nina Hill? Abbi Waxman’s humorous novel The Bookish Life of Nina Hill not only tells a lovely story that warms the cockles of our heart but also presents us with a book loving heroine who we can not help but fall in love with. Nina’s love for books is sure to resonate with all of us bibliophiles and introverts out there. This title is available as an ebook as well as eaudiobook.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

The book depicts the next of a swan as a winding river, with flowers scattered alongside and the title, "Once Upon a River," superimposed.

By Piyali C.

There are many ancient inns on the bank of the river Thames, providing their patrons with more than just ale and cider. Patrons looking for music go to The Red Lion at Kelmscott; for deep contemplation, they go to the Green Dragon at Inglesham; the Stag at Eaton Hastings is the place for gambling. But if they are looking for stories, they go to The Swan at Radcot, the most ancient inn of them all and only a day’s walk from the source of the Thames. On a dark winter’s night, sometime in the mid-nineteenth century, a seriously injured man enters The Swan with the body of a four-year-old girl in his arms whom he found floating in the river. Before he can give any explanations, he collapses in the arms of the storytellers at the inn. The innkeeper’s son Jonathan catches the body of the girl before the man falls. The child, presumed dead, is kept in a separate room while everyone gets busy looking after the man, who is still breathing, but just barely. Rita Sunday, the resident nurse of the village, is summoned immediately. She first tends to the injuries of the man, who we learn later is a photographer named Daunt, and then goes to look at the little girl’s dead body. Rita checks her pulse and her breathing and, finding none, she holds the hands of the girl and sits with her awhile, lamenting the death of one so young in such mysterious circumstances. In her hand, however, Rita suddenly feels a flutter of life! The girl, who had no pulse, comes alive.

The thread of the story unspools at this point just like the surge of the Thames roaring outside the inn. Like tributaries that feed the powerful river, each of the characters in this tale veers off to run his or her own course, only to come together to enrich the main body of the story. The narrator takes us on the journey of life with each of her characters and explains how their actions and decisions converge to solve the mystery of the little girl. The river, with its myriad turns and crossings and innumerable tributaries, becomes a powerful character in itself within the plot, always present in the background propelling the story forward with its mighty surge. There are so many intriguing questions that the reader wants answered. Who is the mystery girl who came back from the dead? Is she the kidnapped daughter of the wealthy Vaughan family? Is she the granddaughter of the black farmer Robert Armstrong, whose wayward son Robin married a woman and then left her alone with their little daughter, Alice? Or is the four-year-old girl the sister of 44-year-old Mrs. Lily White, as she adamantly claims? How is that possible? Who does she belong to and why won’t she speak?

The storyteller of this tale, which is fortified with folklore, magic, science, and myth, is one of the best, sweeping readers in the turbulent current of her fast-paced, hypnotic plot and then delivering them safely back to their own worlds to attend to their own rivers. “And now, dear reader, the story is over. It is time for you to cross the bridge once more and return to the world you came from. This river, which is and is not the Thames, must continue flowing without you. You have haunted here long enough, and besides, you surely have rivers of your own to attend to?” (460) Before leaving us, though, she makes sure each tangle of the plot is smoothly and expertly untangled, each question satisfactorily answered. Once Upon a River is yet another testament to the power of stories and storytelling that has captivated and transformed lives through centuries. This title is also available as an ebook and eaudiobook from Howard County Library System. In my opinion, this novel is best enjoyed in your cozy reading spot on a cold winter’s night, snuggled in your favorite blanket with a cup of hot chocolate by your side.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Annapara

by Piyali C.

In a sprawling basti (slum) in an Indian city where smog seems to smother the inhabitants along with trash, diseases, and terrible living conditions, children start disappearing. Nine-year-old Jai lives in the basti with his mother, who works for a lady in a ‘hi fi’ building, his sister, Runu didi, who is the fastest runner in her school, and his father, who works hard to provide for the family. Jai loves watching cop shows and wishes to become a detective like Byomkesh Bakshi or Feluda (both fictional detectives in Bengali literature) or Sherlock Holmes when he grows up.

The mystery of disappearing children gives him the perfect opportunity to hone his crime solving skills. Every detective needs assistants, and he employs the services of his best friends and classmates, Pari and Faiz, to be his sidekicks as he embarks into “detectiving.” The trouble is, Pari has excellent brains and always asks the right questions before Jai can even think of them.

As children in Jai’s basti continue to disappear, finger pointing begins targeting the Muslim community of the basti. Although frantic parents of missing children inform the police about these disappearances, drawing the ire of their neighbors, the police take no notice of these kidnappings. They come to take bribes from the poor, bereft parents instead. The other residents are infuriated at the involvement of the authorities as they worry the government can raze their basti with bulldozers since they live there illegally. Fanatic religious groups swoop in to assert their dominance and sow seeds of hatred and divisiveness between Hindu and Muslim communities.

While the story and the characters are fictional, the events are, unfortunately, real. According to the author, “as many as 180 children are said to go missing in India everyday.” The police investigation into these disappearances is negligible. The marginalized population remains invisible to the opulent class and their losses remain ignored. Deepa Anappara, during her career as a journalist, interviewed many impoverished children living on streets and in such slums.

The author chose nine-year-old protagonists to tell this story of loss because, during her interviews, she discovered that the street children have a great sense of humor despite horrific living conditions. Given their cheekiness and astute observation skills tinged with innocence, Jai, Pari and Faiz try to make sense of the sadness and chaos that envelop them. The narrative of the children makes the setting and environment even more poignant for the readers. The sense of place that the author creates transports the readers to Jai’s basti, and Anappara engages all our senses to experience the story. Lastly, the dialogue in the book is very typical of how many Indians speak English as they do literal translation of their mother tongue to the other language. I found the dialogues to be exact and authentic. Having Jai, Pari, Faiz, and others speak impeccable English would have marred the essence of the setting and authenticity. I am curious if the dialogue would be a deterrent for Western readers. The backdrop of the story reminded me of the incredible book about India’s biggest slum in Mumbai, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara is available at HCLS both in print and as an ebook in OverDrive.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

What next? Books for Discussion @ Book Corner

Rows of book carts fully piled with books.
Central Branch BTS

By PIyali. C.

As our doors at Howard County Library closed at the beginning of the pandemic, we understood the need of the community to stay connected virtually despite the fact that we had to stay apart physically. Many of our library sponsored book discussion groups, along with other library classes, pivoted to meet online right away. Several of our community book clubs also started meeting and discussing books online. At the start of the pandemic when the library was closed, our community book club members made use of our eBooks or eAudiobooks through Overdrive, Cloudlibrary and Hoopla for their discussions. Now, they are able to pick up books in print through the contactless pickup service.

We are lucky to be part of a community who loves to read. However, there always comes a time when members of book clubs start looking for suggestions for their next titles to discuss.

Join us on October 16 at 11 am by registering for Book Corner: Books for Discussion 2021 where some of our Adult Instructors introduce the sure-to-be-in-demand HCLS Books for Discussion 2021 list, which suggests recent adult fiction and nonfiction titles that we all want to talk about. HCLS Instructors will promote some of their favorite new “discussables.” Participants will have the opportunity to share theirs as well in our most anticipated class for book clubs or even for your own personal reads.

See you in our Corner!

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

Read While Isolated

The cover depicts an open pocket watch against a black cloth background with small, glowing astrological symbols.

by Piyali C.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I found it difficult to focus on books. It seemed like Emily St. John Mandel’s dystopian novel, Station Eleven was playing out right in front of me. However, when physical distancing became a part of our daily routine, I took to reading so I could escape to other worlds created by authors. The books below are some of the ones that I truly enjoyed as I read them during isolation, borrowed from Howard County Library System.

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (available in print, ebook, eaudiobook): A fascinating story of nurse Julia Powers, who works in the maternity ward of a hospital in war- and flu-ravaged Dublin in 1918. She takes care of expectant mothers fallen ill with the raging Spanish flu. With the help of a rebel woman doctor and a young orphaned woman, Nurse Powers tends to the needs of the quarantined pregnant women in her care to the best of her ability under the circumstances.

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate: (available in print, ebook, eaudiobook) Told in the alternating voices of Hannie, a recently freed slave in 1875, and Benedetta Silva, a young new teacher in a tiny town in Louisiana in 1987, this story takes us through the Reconstruction era in America with Hannie, as she travels to Texas with two unwilling companions, Miss Lavinia and Juneau June, in the hope of finding her family members who were sold as slaves in different cities and towns. Benny Silva, while trying to engage her unwilling students in their own history, comes across the story of Hannie’s journey in the library of a run-down plantation house. The discovery of this quest brings forth a fascinating story of freed slaves trying desperately to reconnect with family members lost to slavery in 1870’s America.

The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai (available in print, eaudiobook): Drawn from the author’s own experiences of growing up in postwar Vietnam and from interviewing countless people who lived through the horrors of the Vietnam war, Ngyuen Phan Que Mai writes this amazing story of a family torn apart, not only by the war, but also by the subsequent division between north and south Vietnam. While the story talks about the unbelievable horror that wars inflict on human life, it also sings an ode to indomitable human resilience and a desperate mother’s inexplicable courage and determination to keep her children safe.

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler (available in print, ebook, eaudiobook): Valerie is a 48-year-old Black woman, a single mom to Xavier, and an ecology professor who nurtures a deep love for plants and trees. Brad Whitman is an entrepreneur who has risen up in wealth and power from humble beginnings. Brad builds a gorgeous house next to Valerie’s and moves in with his wife Julia, step daughter Juniper and daughter Lily. As a relationship starts to build between Valerie and Julia, an incident regarding Valerie’s favorite tree causes a rift between the two families, resulting in a law suit. But Xavier, Valerie’s 18-year-old son, and Juniper, Julia’s 17-year-old daughter, are also building a beautiful relationship. How much acceptance will an interracial relationship receive, not only from society but also from Brad Whitman? Told from the perspective of the neighbors of both Valerie and Brad, this story explores complicated race relations between Black and White, loss of innocence, coming of age, struggles of women, and much more. 

What did you read during isolation? Tell us in the comments.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.