I love a book with a map, so News of the World captured me even before page one. Throughout my reading, I pored over the sepia endpaper map of Texas circa 1870, with its bright red line tracing a path from Wichita Falls along the northern border with Indian territory, all the way down to San Antonio and the Rio Grande. As you might guess, given the map, this is a book about a journey – across both rough territory and psychological barriers. As the characters made their way along the bright red line, Giles’ beautiful prose transported me into this time and place and into the lives of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, age 71, and Johanna Leonberger, age 10.
It’s the Reconstruction era in Texas, a time of political turmoil and uncertainty, random violence and unexpected kindness, across an incredibly varied landscape. Captain Kidd, a survivor of three wars, has dedicated his life to connecting people through information. He is alone, having lost his wife and his printing business in the Civil War. Kidd now makes his living by traveling through small towns, performing live readings of newspapers from around the country and the world to isolated residents hungry for stories of faraway places and remarkable events. Suddenly, his nomadic routine is disrupted by an unsought responsibility – he must deliver Johanna, a traumatized orphan who has lived as a captive of the Kiowa tribe for six years and knows no other family, back to her relatives near San Antonio. Traversing that 400 mile path, the characters must overcome challenges small and large and, in the process, build mutual trust and companionship.
I would not call myself a fan of Westerns, in either novels or movies, but Paulette Jiles’ exquisite descriptions of the plants, weather, and settlements of this landscape drew me in. Her writing made me want to ride a horse through the hills, canyons, and prairies of Texas (minus the deadly threats along the way). Maybe I’ll do that someday, but in the meantime, luckily, we can get the visual experience by watching the 2020 movie based on the book! Starring Tom Hanks as Captain Kidd, the movie garnered four Oscar nominations, and you borrow the DVD from HCLS.
While both the book and the movie open a window into a beautiful yet treacherous moment in Texan history, News of the World goes much deeper than a travelogue. Across the miles, the tragic characters discover the power of empathy to leap differences in age, language, experience and loss. Although the book is barely 200 pages, it paints a picture of great historical and personal complexity. If you’re looking for some armchair traveling this summer, News of the World is a journey worth taking – and it comes with a map!
If you’re familiar with Korean cooking and YouTube, chances are you’ve heard of Maangchi. Originally born and raised in Korea, she now lives in New York City and has been uploading Korean cooking videos to YouTube since 2007. Always cheerful and armed with her trusty knives, she’s taught her 5.5 million subscribers the ins and outs of Korean cooking and the recipes she grew up on. And she is just fun to watch. Even if I’m not cooking, I will watch her videos just because she is a breath of sunshine; by the end, I always want her as my Korean auntie.
I work at the Miller Branch of HCLS which is in Ellicott City and home to Route 40, or Korean Way as it is designated by the state. Here, there is no shortage of great establishments that serve the most delicious cuisine that Korea has to offer, but if you’ve ever wanted to cook Korean food at home, I wholeheartedly recommend watching Maangchi’s recipe videos or checking out her books: Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking or Maangchi’s Big Book of Korean Cooking. Through these books I have learned just how EASY it is to cook many of the staples I’ve had in Korean restaurants over the years. Bulgogi, kimchi, numerous jjigaes or stews, bibimbap, you name it; she has taught me all. Her recipes are so simple and so easy to make that you’ll be hosting your next get-together with her recipes and wowing everyone with your cooking prowess. I can personally attest to that. I recently hosted a small Korean BBQ party (where everyone had been fully vaccinated) and everyone was so impressed and so full by the end.
Both of her books are available to check out or reserve through the Howard County Library System. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.
See you next time! Bye!
Maangchi at the end of every video
Peter is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch and just loves to eat.
There has been quite a lot of buzz concerning the new Dune film, especially since with the new trailers being released. Frankly I’m a bit excited, too, although the theatre release has been delayed repeatedly (now scheduled for Oct 22, 2021). However, I can’t say that I’m a Dune fan from way back, since I had never read any of the 18 books in the series until recently.
I host the HCLS book discussion group Read. Think. Talk. on the first Monday of the month. More often than not, we read and discuss classic, social, and philosophical sci-fi. Several members of the group wanted to read Dune (the original). Although I had a desire to read it, and with the new movie and an HBO series on the way, it seemed like a great time to familiarize myself with the source material. However, I was a bit reluctant, as it’s not a great idea to suggest a 600-plus page book, with three appendices and a glossary of terms, for a book discussion group. Moreover, I’ll concede I’m still a bit intimidated by long books!
The plot centers around young Paul Atreides whose world is upturned when his family/house must relocate to the desert planet Arrakis, colloquially called Dune. A rival house, Harkonnen, was governing Dune and wants to wrest back control because of the planet’s valuable natural resource melange (also called spice). House Atreides is the more admirable of the two rival houses for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the Harkonnen leader is a despicable person.
Melange enables interplanetary travel both via the pilot and as a fuel. It possesses a psychedelic effect, and people also ingest it as a mind-altering substance. Melange is only found in the sands of Dune, and harvesting it is a very dangerous endeavor because of the giant sandworms (the worms were really all I knew about Dune). The indigenous Fremen are the only folks who are able to survive in the desert with its extreme climate and dearth of water.
Paul has an interest in the Fremen from the outset, even before a series of events place him in contact with them. I don’t want give away too many details concerning the drama and intrigue that lead to House Atreides losing control of the planet, but they make for a good read. The Fremen believe Paul to be their chosen leader and they have a common interest in defeating the Harkonnens.
This sort of story should all seem familiar, with revenge, an oppressive greedy regime, and the oft-repeated white male savior trope. However, Dune has some interesting differences. Paul is accompanied on his journey by his mother, Jessica, the unmarried concubine of his father and a member of the “Bene Gesserit.” One of the shadowy organization’s key tenets is controlling one’s thoughts to control how the body reacts. The members are taught to hone their intellect and possess the ability to persuade people using their words. They are not popular in the largely patriarchal society and are often and pejoratively referred to as “witches.” Jessica, against the rules of the Bene Gesserit, taught young Paul their ways. This skill set is the reason that some of the Fremen think he may fulfill their prophecy.
There are interesting power dynamics between Jessica and Paul, their feelings about each other, and how individual goals change throughout the story. Other strong female characters exist as well, including Paul’s love interest. Author Frank Herbert was apparently also interested in Zen and peyote, and the book is very much a product of the late 1960s. It is undeniably long but moves quickly. The action scenes are not drawn out, in fact I found their brevity interesting. I liked that the political buildup was described more, which seems closer to reality to me.
Dune has drama, intriguing characters, some philosophical issues, and an interesting environmental message. I half-read the appendices but found them rather dry without getting a feel for the characters first. That’s just me; perhaps you may like to have a complete understanding of the “world” before getting into the story.
On the continuum of science fiction and fantasy (if there is one), I lean to the former. I’d argue this is more fantasy, although it’s debatable. At any rate, the book contains new words, lots of new names, worlds, and families, all of which are difficult to pronounce. This is a book that’s worth your time and great source material for a film. The new film will tell the story in two parts, unlike the 1984 David Lynch film, which is an interesting story in and of itself (I’d recommend it).
In sum, one can get lost in another world and time in this book, and perhaps it’s nice to take a respite from current affairs for a bit.
While you have to reserve the book right now because others are enjoying all of our copies, it is worth the wait to read. Also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook from Libby/Overdrive.
Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.
JOIN US! Author presentation: Thursday, Aug 5 from 7 – 8 pm, online Register via this link or at hclibrary.org > classes & events. Once you register, a Zoom link will be emailed to you.
By Julie F.
The beloved bestselling author and recipient of the Academy of American Poets Award and the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award, Gail Tsukiyama returns with The Color of Air. A novelist whose dual Chinese and Japanese background features prominently in her writing, Tsukiyama presents a novel whose prose flows like the lava threatening her characters, with the grace of stringing leis with fragrant jasmine, kukui nuts, and ti leaves. The literal and figurative emblems of Hawai’i leap off the page and into the vision, sounds, taste, and touch of readers as they live alongside the Hilo locals, and hear the voices of the ghosts they cannot let go.
The residents’ stories move through alternating sections from 1935 to the even deeper past — a rich, vibrant, bittersweet chorus which tells the interweaving stories and a lifelong bond to each other and to others in their immigrant community. Even as the eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano threatens their lives and livelihoods, it also unearths long-held secrets that have been simmering just below the surface.
What I love about the book is that there is a subplot for everyone. If you’ve had a relative challenged by dementia or Alzheimer’s, you see how Mama Natua’s family tries to cope with the help of Daniel, the Hilo native and urban Chicago doctor who has returned to the island to work among his people. Daniel himself wrestles with paternal abandonment, maternal loss, and the guilty sting of feeling that he failed a patient on the mainland. His high school sweetheart, Maile, has an abusive relationship in her past and is tentative about finding happiness again. Razor, the best friend of Daniel’s uncle Koji, tries to unionize the immigrant workers who are taken advantage of by the sugar and pineapple plantation owners and overseers. Each person has their secrets and struggles, yet all come together to find solutions. That’s one of the best things about Tsukiyama’s novels: the sense of love, community, and found family that permeates each page, with characters who learn to face and overcome their fears in order to adapt and grow.
Another strength is the remarkable visual and sensual imagery of the island, which is like a living being itself: “just as volatile and unpredictable as anything a big city could offer” (48). The native Hawaiian words interspersed throughout give the reader a sense of the geology, the fruit, the pikake blossoms, the music of the Filipino bands in the town, and the diversity of languages spoken on the island (at one point, she notes that signs on the street were printed in Tagalog, Portuguese, and Japanese). Hawai’i is truly a distinct cultural melding of sounds, sights, and scents, and Tsukiyama’s descriptive language conveys its unique beauty.
In her years aside from writing, Tsukiyama co-founded the nonprofit WaterBridge Outreach: Books + Water. Alongside bestselling authors Ann Patchett, Gillian Flynn, Karen Joy Fowler, Mary Roach, and Lisa See, the foundation’s mission is to give children in developing communities hope for the future through nourishing their minds and bodies with books and water.
Gail Tsukiyama was born in San Francisco, California to a Chinese mother from Hong Kong and a Japanese father from Hawai’i. She is the bestselling author of Women of the Silk (available from HCLS in eAudiobook format from Libby/OverDrive) and The Samurai’s Garden, as well as the more recent A Hundred Flowers (also available as a book on CD and as an eAudiobook from CloudLibrary).
Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch. She loves gardening, birds, books, all kinds of music, and the great outdoors.
One of the great things about manga is the wide range of topics authors can focus on. Sure, there are still those popular power fantasy series, with heroes rising from lowly origins to take on a supreme evil. Dragon Ball Z or Kimetsu no Yaiba: Demon Slayer play a similar tune to Superman and Batman. Still, over the last few decades, comics in the West have stretched outside superheroes into new genres, like autobiography, travelogues, and other strange and unique styles of story. There’s no shortage of variety for a graphic novels reader in 2021.
But there’s one genre that the west hasn’t really explored, while manga has done so quite thoroughly: food. Yes, manga about baking, frying, cooking, and eating – they exist, and they’re quite popular, too!
More interestingly, as a genre, food manga isn’t strict about its features. In “shonen” manga, like Bleach or Naruto, there’s a specific path the hero follows, training to becoming better and overcoming new challenges to fulfill their dream. In romance manga, like Skip-Beat or Nana, our protagonist stumbles into young love, leaving us to wonder if those two crazy kids will or won’t finally kiss (until they finally do (at the very end)).
But in food manga, you can really mix any other genre – like documentary or fantasy or combat or history – with the presentation and description of some aspect of food and cooking. The results can be intensely different!
Oishinbo is a more direct sort of food manga. In each of its six volumes, its author, Tetsu Kariya, focuses on a different aspect of Japanese cuisine and food culture (helpfully described in each title). In one volume, we can learn about ramen and gyoza (fried dumplings), those two staples of Japanese street food, and in another, a deep dive into sushi and sashimi, two varieties of raw fish with rice. Of course, there are gorgeous drawings of the dishes, feeding the reader’s eyes in the same way Studio Ghibli films do. But along the way, we’re told more about the history and culture surrounding the food, in addition to the step-by-step process of making each.
But this isn’t a printed Instagram feed of cool food art – no, there is a plot! Or, at least, there are characters. Shiro Yamaoka is a journalist who has a troubled family history with cooking, but he still tries to develop the “Ultimate Menu” as a project, visiting restaurants and chefs across Japan. He is joined by Yuko Karita, his assistant, as they sample foods and consider the history of the dishes alongside their own experiences. Keep in mind: Oishinbo ran for over 30 years and 111 volumes, and these few volumes we have are an “A La Carte” compilation. As such, the overarching story has been compressed and mostly removed, resulting in these translated volumes feeling like episodes of documentary travelogue. And that’s alright by me!
Reflecting the time in which the manga started, the characters have a very 1980s aesthetic to their designs. For long-time readers of comics, the style can be nostalgic, but even for new readers, I think the clearer and less-cute style helps the manga’s focus come through much clearer. And that focus? Food is good. It’s a perfect mini-series for amateur chefs, readers new to manga, or for anyone who wants to know more about Japanese cuisine.
On the far end from the realism of Oishinbo is Delicious in Dungeon, by Ryoko Kui. Yes, that’s a silly title, but this is a very silly series – about fantasy food! One of the recent trends in anime/manga are stories featuring western-style fantasy, a la Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying, and console roleplaying video games. Delicious in Dungeon is about a party of adventurers in such a fantasy world. You have Laios, the dimwitted human knight, Marcille, the squeamish elf mage, and Chilchuck, the halfling lockpick. They’re trying to get to the bottom of the dungeon to save Laios’ sister, but man, it’s a long way down…
During one of their hungrier moments, they meet Senshi, a dwarf, who shows them the craft of cooking beasts they find (and fight) in the dungeon. Which is, as you might imagine, a strange prospect for our adventurers, who aren’t sure if they want to eat boiled mandrakes or a wyvern egg scramble. But Senshi shows them the benefits and necessity of “eating off the land,” as they can delve deeper by cooking along the way.
So we have action and fighting, as the party battles various mythical monsters. But then we get Senshi cooking their conquest over a fire, using his shield as a wok. Kui draws the process of cooking and the final dish with the same care as Kariya did in Oishinbo, but instead of buckwheat noodles, it’s tentacles. Recipes are included with each fantastical dish, making the whole thing seem both real and absolutely ridiculous. Yet, you know, that roast dragon flank does look pretty good…
These are just two examples of food manga we have at HCLS! We have other series too:If you’re looking for another fantasy cooking series, Drifting Dragons has a visual style and tone similar to Delicious in Dungeon, but a large world and character designs reminiscent of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
If you’d rather have a more cozy experience, Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu is a slice of life story of fantasy characters (I told you it was a popular topic) magically transporting into an izakaya, a sort of pub in Japan.
If you’d rather have a more cozy experience, Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu is a slice of life story of fantasy characters (I told you it was a popular topic) magically transporting into an izakaya, a sort of pub in Japan.
And if you’d rather have some competition with your food, Food Wars! is a fun shonen series, wherein chefs compete in cooking duels to see who’s the best.
Whether you’re new to comics or if you’re just hungry for something new (ha), food manga is a genre worth sampling.
Rumaan Alam explores this and more in his astute and fascinating third novel, Leave The World Behind. It begins simply enough: A white Brooklyn family leave their hipster digs for an Airbnb week in the Hamptons. Like many Americans, Amanda, Clay, and their two teens view a beach vacation as an entitlement. It must be perfect – down to the SPF that won’t hinder your tanning goal.
En route, Amanda orders Clay to stop at a small grocery store where she buys staples for the week: sustainable napkins, sourced maple syrup, even, Alam slyly adds, that “politically virtuous ice-cream, Ben and Jerry’s.” They pull up to the modest beach cottage and are delighted with the view of the water, a hot tub – even a pool. They barbecue, break out a $12 bottle of wine, swim – Amanda and Clay even have vacation sex that night. Everyone falls into a blissful sleep as you, the reader, curl up with what feels like another mindlessly generic beach read.
Then: there’s the proverbial knock at the door. It wasn’t a good thing for Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel, and it surely can’t be for Amanda and Clay. They know that the only good door knock anyone ever gets is from an Amazon delivery driver. Eventually, Clay peeks through the chained door and is greeted by an elderly African-American couple: G.H. and Ruth.
Calmly and politely, they explain that they are the owners of the Hampton vacation house that Amanda and Clay are enjoying. Amanda clutches her phone, Alam writes, like it’s a soft toy. She’s convinced they are scammers. Worse, this is a home invasion – especially when G.H. and Ruth cook up some lie that all of Manhattan (where they were staying) has succumbed to a total blackout.
Suddenly, that beach read you thought you were enjoying has become something entirely different – its focus now a witty and revealing spin on the social dynamics between black and white. And it is. Sort of.
Eventually, G.H. and Ruth (over G.H.’s private stash of very old whiskey) convince Amanda and Clay that some kind of crisis must be taking place. No internet, a consistently blue TV screen, as well as dead cell phone reception are worrisome though not alarming – until Amanda and G.H. spot a flock of pink flamingos in the pool and an unearthly sound, capable of chaos, brings them all to their knees.
Eloquent and urgent, especially as we come out of this last and devastating year, Leave the World Behind is the one book everyone must read.
Aimee Z. is part of the adult research staff at HCLS East Columbia Branch. She lives on a lake with her two labs, Dixie and Belle, who enthusiastically approved the content of this review in exchange for a peanut butter and jelly biscuit.
With racial equity at the forefront for the library and the county, a much-needed read on Hispanic life crossed my path recently. For those who may not know, I’m Cuban American. I’m in that nice little hybrid world of always exploring my Cuban-ness amidst my American-ness. I’m often torn between both worlds and questioned if I was Cuban enough for not speaking enough Spanish and not having a plethora of Hispanic friends. Yet my childhood and its lasting effects on my family orientation, personality, and work ethic set me apart from some of my “American” counterparts.
Long story long – another lovely Hispanic trait – I’m recommending Definitely Hispanic: Growing Up Latino and Celebrating What Unites Usby comedian and YouTuber LeJuan James (in homage to Lebron James, with his real name: Juan Atiles) for your primer on Hispanic and Latino life. James started as a Vine creator and moved on to YouTube with his hilarious parodies of his parents. The short, family-friendly videos highlight the realities of Hispanic culture in a good-natured format with himself acting out all of his characters (including his mom while keeping his signature beard, no less).
This engaging and honest book of essays brings to light all of the memorable things I appreciated while growing up Hispanic, including celebrating holidays dressed in all of our finery with an open door of family and friends; enduring the family gossipers and “roasting” (such as comments on weight gain or a less-than-becoming outfit) by relatives; escaping spankings via “la chancla” in a thrilling game I’d refer to as dodge-belt; watching telenovelas; and the comical list goes on and comically on.
James’ musings focus on the funny as well as tender-hearted moments surrounding his nomadic upbringing between the Dominican Republic, Florida, and Puerto Rico. In addition, he beautifully shares the strong influences of his mother and grandmother and their impacts on his work as a YouTuber. The book serves as an education on Hispanic culture, without falling into caricature or stereotypical territory. The essays are detailed and full of heart. They served as a reminder to this Cuban American that the joys of being and growing up Hispanic involve more than language.
Carmen J. is a teen instructor at HCLS East Columbia. Among her favorite things are great books, all things 80s, shamelessly watching The Bachelor, gardening, and drinking anything that tastes like coffee.
The past year (plus) has been hard for everyone. As we start to move toward something approaching our previous normal, many families are looking for special ways to enjoy the summer. The Elkridge staff has selected a wide range of titles for all ages to inspire and entertain, no matter your plans for the summer. Read fun stories together, learn about activities that you might try out, or plan a trip to take. If you’re not ready to travel for real, armchair traveling along with authors and photographers is the next best thing. Let the library help you make memories all summer long with these fun reads and many more! Join Summer Reading and check out our calendar to find classes and events for even more summer fun.
For Little Kids
Cannonball by Sacha Cotter and illustrated by Josh Morgan
How would you perform the most perfect cannonball into the pool? Would you wiggle your arms and do a little twirl? That is just what the main character of our story is trying to figure out. Join your little one this summer and learn about overcoming fears, being true to yourself, and nailing your perfect cannonball!
What can you do outside when it feels too hot to do anything? Can you shade yourself from the sun or chase your shadow? Explore all the fun things in this book you can do on a hot summer day or even during a sudden summer thunderstorm!
This rhyming, bilingual story invites readers to join a small town’s summer celebration, which even a rain storm can’t diminish. The illustrations give a glimpse into the full range of festivities, including foods, parade floats, animals, and even a firework celebration to end the night. A glossary at the end helps readers learn new words found in the text.
When Lana and her father return to their seaside hometown to help clean up after a terrible storm, she begins to remember how much she missed the sea, as well as her aunt. As Lana explores the beach, she discovers something wonderful: a colony of aquicorns. She rescues an injured aquicorn and cares for it with the help of her aunt, who seems to know far more about these incredible creatures than she’s letting on.
If you loved the questing and mysteries of Harry Potter, the puzzles of The Mysterious Benedict Society, or the thrilling history of I Survived books, The Nebula Secret by Trudi Trueit will keep you on the edge of your seat. This book is the first in a fantastic adventure series by National Geographic that’s full of action, cutting-edge tech, and plenty of surprises. Join a diverse and relatable cast of tweens as they train to become elite explorers. Cool maps and real photos take this captivating story to the next level.
Hiking is a fun summer activity for children to explore! This great book introduces hiking and hiking safety to children, including topics such as trail etiquette, staying safe, and what to wear. Check it out to prepare for family fun on trails in and around Howard County.
Twenty-five campers who were invited to Camp So-and-So back in February arrive in the summer to discover that this is a wholly different kind of camp. Rather than arts and crafts, activities on the lake, or friendly games, the girls at Camp So-and-So have been divided into five cabins that each have to navigate unexpected and sometimes quite frightening challenges. Trapped in this remote camp with no adult supervision to be found, the campers are forced to find their own way in this creative, unusual story.
In the land of Myre, Eva is princess born with a dark and terrible magick inside her, one that has not been seen for generations. Eva must learn to harness this power to defeat her sister, Isa, in a battle to the death to ascend to the throne.
Readers will find plentiful inspiration in this volume with a wide range of activities for young people, keeping them entertained all summer long. Some old favorites are sprinkled among creative new adventures for kids and teens, with detailed instructions and safety guidelines as needed. Vibrant illustrations and extras such as timelines, trivia, and interviews, bring this book to a level beyond your traditional how-to.
If you are planning an epic journey for this summer, next year, or sometime in the next ten years, you will want to check out this book on awesome places to visit. In fact, even if you are not planning to leave your zip code at all, the dramatic and colorful pictures captured in Destinations of a Lifetime will brighten your thoughts and your coffee table. The travel section at your local library is the perfect place to go to plan vacations, staycations, and to feed your imaginations.
Motor Crush by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr
In the stylish, futuristic city of Nova Honda, Domino Swift is a champion motorcycle racer. By day, she competes in the World Grand Prix, earning fame and fortune, and by night, she races on the streets, pulling off dangerous maneuvers and making risky bets to score Crush, the illegal engine stimulant her body needs to survive. Filled with hot locales and cool characters, this graphic novel has all the fast-paced action and fun of a favorite summer blockbuster.
Pick up this charming summer read to join Laurel as she takes her recently deceased grandmother’s words to heart and jets off to Greece to follow her dreams. As she lives out her own version of her favorite movie, Mamma Mia!, Laurel finds herself feeling more at home than she expected on her vacation. With romance blooming, will Laurel decide that Skopelos is where she’s truly meant to be?
WIN A BOOK! One hundred lucky Zoom (randomly selected) attendees will win a hardback copy of The Cellist by Daniel Silva. Book giveaway sponsored by Friends & Foundation of HCLS.
What do you consider ideal summer reading? Do you dive into doorstop-sized classics or do you look for a bit of fun fluff to read in the sunshine? I think summer is a great time to fall into a series and get to know one set of characters. Sometimes, it’s the perfect time to re-acquaint myself with a long-running series that I’ve let languish.
Such is the case with Daniel Silva’s spy thriller series featuring Gabriel Allon, which began in 2000 with The Kill Artist. Gabriel Allon may be the perfect action-adventure hero. Honestly, I’m surprised there isn’t a film franchise yet. He’s darkly handsome, desperately in love with his young beautiful wife, has a tragic, haunting background, and works as an art restorer of Renaissance paintings. He resides in a cliffside cottage in Cornwall and goes for long brooding walks between missions. What’s not to love?!
About those missions: Gabriel Allon is also an operative for the Israeli version of the CIA (referred to in the books as The Office), and he travels the world with his trusted team protecting the safety and integrity of his homeland against all sorts of criminals, politicians, terrorists, and other nefarious folks. This series never disappoints with books set in Germany, France, Switzerland, the Vatican and Italy, Israel, Afghanistan, Russia, and the US. Often, many of those countries are involved in one story’s whirlwind, time-racing plot. As with many books in this genre, these are not for the faint of heart, as they contain graphic violence and hard people making hard decisions, most of whom will do anything to advance their own agendas and desires.
As I mentioned above, I plan to spend this summer jumping back into this series since I’m a couple of books behind. The last one I read, The Black Widow, published in 2016, is probably the best spy thriller I’ve ever read. It encompasses modern geopolitics, ancient grudges, double agents, and enough heart-pounding action that I’m pretty sure I lost sleep to finish it. The books are also excellent audiobooks, if you prefer to listen (beware the inevitable point of not being able to stop the story, though).
So, I invite you to join me at an upcoming Author Works event with author Daniel Silva! His newest novel (being published July 13), The Cellist, follows up the acclaimed #1 New York Times bestsellers The Order, The New Girl, and The Other Woman with a riveting, action-packed tale of espionage and suspense. The fatal poisoning of a Russian billionaire sends Gabriel Allon on a dangerous journey across Europe and into the orbit of a musical virtuoso who may hold the key to the truth about his friend’s death. The plot Allon uncovers leads to secret channels of money and influence that go to the very heart of Western democracy and threaten the stability of the global order. The Cellist is a breathtaking entry in Daniel Silva’s “outstanding series” (People magazine) and reveals once more his superb artistry and genius for invention—and demonstrates why he belongs, “firmly alongside le Carré and Forsyth as one of the greatest spy novelists of all time” (The Real Book Spy).
Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, and take walks in the park.
“Beneath them Rufus walked, one of the fallen – for the weight of this city was murderous”
Another Countryis a novel that’s more like a play or a poem. Short descriptions set scenes like flashes of light, and dialogue propels us through the story. James Baldwin is brilliant and empathetic; his depiction of humanity is beautiful. Passages that make you weep are followed immediately by passages that make you laugh. Dark episodes in the cold rain follow erotic passages in warm apartments. Baldwin’s relentless prose attack zigs and zags at the reader, and he never lets up. He pulls the threads of the tangled ball of relationships at the center of the novel tighter and tighter. Another Country is addictive and almost unbearably tense.
Baldwin explores race, gender, sexuality, religion, art, and life in America in the 1950s through the interactions of a group of memorable characters. First, we meet Rufus Scott, a black jazz drummer, stumbling out of a movie theater in New York, disheveled and desperate. His experience as a black man in America is really the central pillar of the story. His wretched love/hate relationship with Leona, a white woman from the south, ruins both of their lives and sets a grim tone for a serious book. Vivaldo, a white man, is arguably the main character. Vivaldo is a struggling writer and Rufus’ best friend. Vivaldo is everywhere. He felt to me like a stand-in for James Baldwin himself.
France offers the reader a brief respite from the grimness of New York. We first meet Eric and his boyfriend Yves on a French beach. The passages set abroad are lovely and warm, while the scenes in New York are often brutal and freezing or unforgiving and sizzling. Baldwin’s depiction of France juxtaposed with that of America neatly illustrates the way Baldwin, a gay black man, felt in France versus the way he felt in the United States.
The many protagonists provide a narrative richness I really loved. Besides Rufus and Vivaldo, Cass (maybe my favorite character), Ida (Rufus’s sister and an incredible character), and Eric (in his own way the heartbeat of the book) are the other main players in this story of relationships and race. The New York Times compared Another Country to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and I think it’s a great comparison. Baldwin also brings the furious pace of a sax solo to his poetic novel. If you want to know what it’s like to read Another Country, listen to “Countdown” off of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps.
Another Country really does have a momentous heft to it. Baldwin, like an alchemical wordsmith, achieved something magical with everyday material. On the surface, it’s just the story of a few overlapping relationships during the 50s. But by the time you turn the last page, it feels like you’re holding something vital in your hands. I really do believe that books like this can change the way people view and treat one another.
If you’ve already read Another Country, visit HCLS and see if we have a Baldwin that you haven’t yet read (or if we can recommend something similar). If you haven’t read Another Country, you have money in the bank. You can’t go wrong with Mr. Baldwin.
Ben Hamilton works at Project Literacy, Howard County Library’s adult basic education initiative, based at HCLS Central Branch. He loves reading, writing, walking, and talking (all the basics).