Mean Baby by Selma Blair

The picture shows the book on a marble-topped table. The cover is a picture of author Selma Blair, her hands on the top of her head, looking skyward.

by Carmen J.

You may know the actress Selma Blair from her notorious same-sex kiss in Cruel Intentions or her frenemy role in Legally Blonde. Most recently, she has been a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) advocate, following her diagnosis in 2018. She is also the creator of an ability-inclusive beauty brand, Guide Beauty. And even if you knew none of this or all of this, her 2022 memoir Mean Baby shows us another side of Selma Blair: gifted writer.

Mean Baby takes us on a sometimes-meandering journey of Blair’s childhood marked by trauma, her adventures in the career pursuit of acting, motherhood challenges, addiction battles, family and romantic relationships, and her MS diagnosis and advocacy. Between the pages, you’ll uncover an impressive writer with an eye for exposing the good, the bad, and the ugly of a life well-lived. Although not a light-hearted read nor a page-turner, you will find Blair’s detailed accounts are those to savor and reflect upon. Mean Baby showcases the life of a survivor, thriver, and fighter with the vivid writing of a robust storyteller.  

Mean Baby is available from HCLS in print and large print, and as an e-book and an e-audiobook from Libby/Overdrive.

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.

Join a Book Discussion Group

A stack of books next to a keyboard, being checked out of the library.

Books: They are one of the fundamental reasons for a public library – purchasing, lending, recommending, and discussing. After all, as much fun as reading is all by itself, sometimes there are books you NEED to talk about. HCLS staff facilitate a wide variety of groups that read and discuss all sorts of books – from nonfiction to romance to graphic novels. Some meet online, some in person, and some change depending on guidelines.

Maybe you’re looking for something new to do this fall? Maybe you (like me) have missed social interaction and think an hour or so, in a small group, once a month, sounds about right?

Consider joining one of these regular meetings, led by library staff. Each month’s title is held at the branch for you for the month previous to the meeting, unless otherwise noted.

CENTRAL BRANCH

Eclectic Evenings: Second Tuesdays at 7 pm
Read an eclectic array of various genres, both contemporary and classic. 
Sep 13: The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben

Noontime Books: Third Thursdays at 12 pm
Consider a variety of fiction and nonfiction books, diverse in themes, characters, settings, time periods, and authorship. 
Sep 15: The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

Reads of Acceptance: Second Thursdays at 7 pm
Discuss books pertaining to LGBTQ+ experiences! All identities are welcome. 
Sep 8: The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

EAST COLUMBIA BRANCH

Black Fiction: First Saturdays at 1 pm
Discuss critically-acclaimed recently published fiction titles by black authors of African descent.
Sep 3: The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

Good Reads: Second Mondays at 7 pm
Consider fiction and nonfiction titles that embrace universal themes.
Sep 12: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

In Other Worlds: Fourth Wednesdays at 7 pm
Welcome sci-fi enthusiasts and other intrepid readers! 
Sep 28: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Nonfiction Addiction: Third Thursdays at 7 pm
Expand your mind reading and discussing a variety of nonfiction books, from memoirs to history, and from philosophy to popular science. 
Sep 22: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Romantic Reads: Fourth Wednesdays at 7 pm
Discuss your favorite romance author and book or series with other fellow romance readers.
Sep 28: any title by Suzanne Brockmann

Warning: Graphic Content: Third Tuesdays at 7 pm
Discover the full spectrum of what is available as a graphic novel – from Archie to horror and Caped Crusaders to crime drama. 
Sep 20: Something is Killing the Children, vols. 1 & 2 by James Tynion IV

ELKRIDGE BRANCH

ELKS Excellent Reads: Second Tuesdays at 12:30 pm
Read mostly fiction, both contemporary and historical, as well as narrative nonfiction. 
Sep 13: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Murder, Mischief and Mayhem: Fourth Thursdays at 7 pm
Discuss titles including detective, spy, intrigue, and mystery. Mostly fiction, occasionally true crime.
Sep 22: Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Read. Think. Talk.: First Mondays at 7 pm (Second Monday this month due to Labor Day holiday)
Discuss great novels about the American experience before they’re critically acclaimed television shows and films. 
Sep 12: The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Thursday Next Book Club: Third Thursdays at 7 pm
Read mostly fiction, both contemporary and historical, as well as narrative nonfiction. 
Sep 15: What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster (One Maryland One Book selection)

GLENWOOD BRANCH

The Reading Cafe: Last Tuesdays at 7 pm
Dip into a different genre each month. 
Sep 27: What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster (One Maryland One Book selection)

MILLER BRANCH

Asian American Literature: Second or Third Mondays at 7 pm
Enjoy a wide range of fiction, nonfiction, biography/autobiography that explores the Asian American identity and experiences. 
Sep 19: On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

Bas Bleu: Third Wednesdays at 7 pm
Bas Bleu, French for “bluestocking,” refers to an intellectual or literary woman. We read a variety of literary fiction, and all are welcome – not just bluestockings!  
Sep 21: What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster (One Maryland One Book selection)

Global Reads: First Mondays at 7 pm
Read a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books on different cultures around the world as well as immigrant fiction. 
No meeting in September because of Labor Day holiday.

An Inconvenient Book Club: Meets quarterly on First Thursdays at 7 pm
Discuss speculative fiction, cli-fi (climate fiction), short stories, and verse — exploring themes of climate disruption, dystopia, recovery, and redemption. Next meeting in November.
Nov 3: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Spies, Lies & Alibis: First Tuesdays at 7 pm
Focus on spies, espionage, and world intrigue, alternating both classic and contemporary fiction and nonfiction, from the twentieth century and beyond. 
Sep 6: Two Spies in Caracas by Moisés Naím

Strictly Historical Fiction: Third Mondays at 2 pm
Step into the past and connect with characters living in times different than our own. 
Sep 19: The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

SAVAGE BRANCH

Mystery: Second Wednesdays at 7 pm
Discuss a wide range of mysteries, including procedurals, detective novels, and capers.
Sep 14: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Nonfiction: Third Wednesdays at 7 pm
Share your thoughts on a varied array of nonfiction selections. 
Sep 21: Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth Century China by Jung Chang

Savage Hearts: Third Tuesdays at 2 pm
Enjoy romantic reads with others who love the genre.
Sep 20: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

IN THE COMMUNITY

Books on Tap: First Wednesdays at 6 pm – meets at The Periodic Table
Read a wide variety of titles and genres looking to experience an equally wide set of perspectives and experiences. Please arrange to borrow books as you would any other.
Sep 7: The Searcher by Tana French

Reading Human Rights: Varying Thursdays at 6:30 pm at East Columbia Branch
In partnership with the Office of Human Rights, read books that promote cultural awareness, diversity, equity. 
Sep 29: The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

You may notice multiple discussions of What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster. This is the One Maryland One Book selection for 2022, and several groups will be reading it throughout the fall. Register here to join us for an event with author Naima Coster at Miller Branch on Tuesday, October 4 at 7 pm.

How to Be Perfect by Michael Schur

A clear blue sky of a cover has all the text on the right hand side, with the left containg a fluffy white cloud and a dangling, lonely letter t.

by Eliana H.

Have you ever wanted to be a better person? Well, I have great news for you. Here at the library, we have a title called How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question (available in print, audiobook on CD, e-book, and e-audiobook). Spoiler alert: It does not exactly have the correct answer to EVERY moral question you might encounter. Sorry to burst your bubble.

What How to Be Perfect does have is a lot of information to help guide us through a wide range of moral dilemmas. In fact, author Michael Schur decided to write this book after the extensive research he did to create the television show The Good Place. If you haven’t watched it, do yourself a favor and check it out from the library or stream it on Netflix. You may then have a greater appreciation for the book, but you can still glean a lot even without the context of the show. 

I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice to say the show’s characters explore moral philosophy and ethics in their attempts to be better people and help others to be better, too. Certainly, for this to be even remotely feasible, the creator needed to have a decent grasp of these subjects. So, he worked with experts and did a lot of research, then he was kind enough to share that research in the form of How to Be Perfect. I am not a philosopher or ethicist, and I don’t even tend to enjoy reading nonfiction, but this title offers an accessible, enjoyable overview of the extensive history of moral philosophy and its main schools of thought.

Sounds kind of boring, though, right? Well, it’s not. Michael Schur writes for TV, remember? In addition to The Good Place, he co-created Parks & Recreation. He knows how to keep you engaged and make you laugh, and he uses that knowledge well. While explaining key points of major ethical traditions, Schur also helps us consider some of their shortcomings and the obstacles we may face in applying these concepts.

Overall, he encourages individuals to explore what feels like the right fit for us and to take pieces from each. He also reminds us that we will fail. Constantly. Our obligation, though, is to always keep trying. If you are striving to be a better person, definitely take the time to read this title (or better yet, listen to the audiobook, narrated by the author and numerous cast members from the show). Take comfort in knowing that no one is actually perfect and never will be. We just have to do our best. 

Eliana is a Children’s Research Specialist and Instructor at HCLS Elkridge Branch. She loves reading, even if she’s slow at it, and especially enjoys helping people find books that make them light up. She also loves being outside and spending time with friends and family (when it’s safe).

Author Works with Robin Wall Kimmerer

The book cover shows a single braid of yellow sweetgrass stretching horizontally below the title.

Wed, Sep 14, 7 – 8:30 pm
online
Register at bit.ly/braidingsweetgrasshcls

Acclaimed author and scholar Robin Wall Kimmerer explores the dominant themes of her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, which include cultivation of a reciprocal relationship with the living world. Consider what we might learn if we understood plants as our teachers, from both a scientific and an indigenous perspective.

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her first book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing, and her other work has appeared in Orion, Whole Terrain, and numerous scientific journals. She tours widely and has been featured on NPR’s On Being with Krista Tippett and in 2015 addressed the general assembly of the United Nations on the topic of “Healing Our Relationship with Nature.” Kimmerer is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, whose mission is to create programs which draw on the wisdom of both indigenous and scientific knowledge for our shared goals of sustainability.

The author, with long grey hair pulled away from her face, leans against a white birch tree. She is wearing a richly colored and patterned poncho and dangling beaded earrings.

As a writer and a scientist, her interests in restoration include not only restoration of ecological communities, but restoration of our relationships to land. She holds a B.S. in Botany from SUNY ESF, an M.S. and Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Wisconsin and is the author of numerous scientific papers on plant ecology, bryophyte ecology, traditional knowledge and restoration ecology. She lives on an old farm in upstate New York, tending gardens both cultivated and wild.

Braiding Sweetgrass is available to borrow in print, e-book, and e-audiobook, or you can purchase online from The Last Word Bookstore.

The event is part of the “Guide to Indigenous Maryland” project. This program is supported in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Maryland State Library, as well as by the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System. Maryland Libraries Together is a collaboration of Maryland libraries to engage communities in enriching educational experiences that advance an understanding of the issues of our time. Learn more at bit.ly/indigenousmd

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

The book cover shows a pair of dirty yellow work gloves, lying one on top of the other.

By Kimberly J.

In this autobiography, journalist Stephanie Land details the hardships and trials she endured during her daughter’s first years. Driven into homelessness due in part to an abusive partner, an abusive father, and an absent mother, Land is truly on her own. Her family and friends have nothing to give, leaving her alone to survive. People from all walks of life will relate to her fighting spirit and resiliency.

This story is so compelling because it is so personal. This eye-opening tale gives us a glimpse into the everyday struggle of one woman fighting for a life for herself and her daughter. Reading from her point of view gave me insight into the scorn and derision felt by the working poor. The tension and anxiety Land experienced were palpable as she struggled to balance 15 types of assistance in order to simply survive.

It is a hard and heavy subject – Land works as a maid cleaning houses in order to make ends meet. The contrast of being surrounded by the trappings of the upper middle class while she is struggling to feed herself is heart-rending. This position of servitude leaves her feeling dehumanized and “othered” more often than not. When she encounters the rare client that treats her like a person, she is hungry for even the smallest acts of compassion – a note, a conversation, a smile.

This book raises important questions – How do we treat people who are performing manual labor? How do people experiencing homelessness and/or poverty fit into our society? What makes a home? How can you keep going even when hope feels impossible?

Maid is a New York Times bestseller and has been converted into a Netflix series. It is available in print, ebook, and eaudiobook from HCLS.

Kimberly J is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Glenwood Branch. She enjoys reading, photography, creating, crafting, and baking.

Author Works with Michael Twitty

Portrait of Michael W. Twitty, wearing a zip-up hoodie and touching his beard.

Thursday, Aug 11 from 7 – 8 pm at Miller Branch.

Please register to attend. Limited seats.
Register at bit.ly/twittyhcls

In partnership with the Howard County Jewish Federation and Baltimore Jewish Council

In his new book KosherSoul, Michael Twitty, author of the acclaimed The Cooking Gene (read a review), explores the cultural crossroads of Jewish and African diaspora cuisine and issues of memory, identity, and food.

Twitty examines the creation of African/Jewish global food as a conversation of migrations, a dialogue of diasporas, and the rich background for people who participate in it. At the same time, he shares recipes for Southern culinary touchstones like apple barbecue sauce, watermelon and feta salad, and collard green lasagna, while blending the traditions of his mixed identity into new creations such as Louisiana style latkes and kush. KosherSoul is more than a cookbook, it’s an exploration of selfhood when born at a crossroads of race.

The question is not just who makes the food and who it belongs to, but how food makes the people, reflects the journey, and validates the existence of these marginalized identities. Twitty aims to move beyond the idea of Jews of Color as outliers, but as significant and meaningful cultural creators in both Black and Jewish civilizations.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A highly sought-after speaker and consultant, Twitty has appeared on programs with Andrew Zimmern, Henry Louis Gates, Padma Lakshmi, and most recently on Michelle Obama’s Waffles and Mochi.

He is a TED Fellow and was just named as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. His first MasterClass course, “Tracing Your Roots Through Food,” is now available. Over the past year he has partnered with Atlas Obscura to teach multiple online seminars and was the first guest on a new web series for their food division. Michael will also be a Consulting Producer on a new food competition program coming soon from OWN. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Equity Resource Collection and New Brave Stories Exhibit

by Ash B. and Christie L.

Enrich your summer at the Equity Resource Center! Visit for the books, movies, music – and exhibits. The space upstairs at Central Branch purposefully has plenty of room for exhibits that focus on equity issues. If you missed our previous one, Undesign the Redline, you can still view a video tour on YouTube. Make time to see the new show and attend the related classes:

BRAVE STORIES EXHIBIT 

View of Brave Voices display at Central Branch, header read Story informs, heals, and ins

Stories shape narratives. Narratives shape perceptions. Perceptions shape actions. 

Whether they are told around a campfire, around a kitchen table, or online, stories have the power to move people to tears of sadness or tears of joy and to action. At Howard County Library System, we are a home for brave stories and a place to be heard. We provide a platform for people to tell their stories. This helps to better inform perceptions, develop new narratives, and re-position equity as the ideal state of being from which everyone benefits.  

HCLS is a safe space for racial equity work, but real progress begins with you. You have the power to lead, share, and connect. As we move forward as a community in Howard County, we have the chance to extend equitable treatment to those around us. How are you helping to improve life in Howard County?  

Start by making room for new stories. Visit the new Brave Stories exhibit in the Equity Resource Center at the Central Branch. Read about your neighbors’ experiences. Take the time to listen to their Brave Stories—and share your own. 

We invite you to respond to the exhibit in a series of art workshops, each using a different material, with facilitators from Notre Dame of Maryland University’s Art Therapy Department. Attend one or both workshops: Tuesday, Jul 26 and Thursday, Aug 4.

We also invite you to share your own stories in a facilitated circle. Bring your experiences and insights, listening ears, and an open mind and heart to one or more sessions: Wednesday, Aug 3; Saturday, Aug 13, and Saturday, Aug 20.

EQUITY RESOURCE COLLECTION

If you haven’t already read it, you might want to check out my previous post about the Equity Resource Collection.

Adult Fiction 

A collage of adult novels found in the Equity Resource Collection.

The second floor at Central Branch houses the adult fiction of the Equity Resource Collection, along with its adult nonfiction, DVDs, and CDs. More than 900+ adult fiction titles span all genres, including classics, bestsellers, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, romance, mystery, fantasy, and science fiction. 

Like other areas of the Equity Resource Collection, some of these titles specifically center equity issues such as racism, whereas others feature diverse characters and authors. Whatever genre or style of novel you enjoy, there is a great read for you here. One of my favorites is Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson, which I actually reviewed in-depth in a previous blog post. If you like poetic and tender novels, this is a must-read. 

Adult Nonfiction 

Three race and gender titles found in the Equity Resource Collection: Anti-Racist Ally, Demystifying Disability, and Gender: Your Guide

As excited as I am about fiction, I’m even more interested in the nonfiction section – partially because of how many of these titles are exclusive to the Equity Resource Collection. While these items can be requested for pickup at any HCLS branch, browsing in person offers the opportunity to find an amazing book more by chance. 

When you head into the Equity Resource Center, the nonfiction collection rests to the right. You can find introductory guides to equity issues, history books, academic texts, memoirs and biographies, art books, cookbooks, and more.  

For folks who are beginning to explore these topics, I recommend: 

For readers who are ready to delve deeper, some terrific title: 

Audio-Visual 

A collage of movies found in the Equity Resource Collection.

Are you more of a film lover than a reader? Well, no worries. The ERC has you covered, too.

From indie films to big-budget productions, you have a variety of choices from multicultural movies and movies that center Black history. While most titles are for adults and teens, there are kid-friendly favorites such as Moana and Coco as well. 

If you’re interested in TV series or nonfiction DVDs, look for the shelving close to adult nonfiction. With titles from distributors such as HBO and PBS, including Stonewall Uprising and The Central Park Five, this section is worth checking out if you appreciate a good documentary. 

For the music lover, the ERC includes CDs, shelved next to the nonfiction DVDs, from artists past and present, across genres. For the pop fan, check out Sawayama by Rina Sawayama, a contemporary singer-songwriter who is Japanese-British and bisexual.

If you like rock, blues, soul, or gospel, a must-listen is Shout Sister Shout by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “The Godmother of Rock’N’Roll,” who pioneered music in the 30s, 40s and 50s by combining electric guitar with spiritual lyrics – providing the foundations for subsequent artists like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. 

Whether you’re a fan of Latin music or someone in your family still can’t get enough of the Encanto soundtrack, check out Cumbiana by Carlos Vives, the beloved Colombian singer-songwriter whose song “Colombia, Mi Encanto” plays at the end of the 2021 Disney hit movie. 

Think our collection is missing an important title? Go to hclibrary.org/contact-us/ and “Make a purchase suggestion” – after you submit the online form, it will be reviewed by one of our materials selectors as a potential addition.  

Ash is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch and is a co-facilitator for Reads of Acceptance, HCLS’ first LGBTQ-focused book club. Their favorite place to read is spread out on a blanket under the shade of the tree. 

Christie is the Director of Communication and Partnerships for Howard County Library System. She loves walking through the network of pathways in Columbia, sitting on the beach, and cheering for the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Aggies football team.

Author Works: Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman

Head shot of author, a Black woman with her long hair straight, wearing black, smiling.

Wednesday, Jul 27; 7 – 8 pm
Equity Resource Center, second floor of HCLS Central Branch

Register at bit.ly/boldsolutionshcls

The Black Agenda: Bold Solutions For a Broken System features Black voices across economics, education, health, climate, and technology, speaking to the question “What’s next?” as it pertains to centering Black people in policy matters in our country.

Black background with title in slightly distressed large block letter, "agenda" in red.

Essays by Dr. Sandy Darity, Dr. Hedwig Lee, Mary Heglar, Janelle Jones, and others present groundbreaking ideas ranging from Black maternal health to reparations to AI bias to inclusive economic policy, with the potential to uplift and heal not only Black America, but the entire country.

Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman is an award-winning Ghanaian-American researcher, entrepreneur, and writer. Her new book, The Black Agenda: Bold Solutions for a Broken System, is the first collection to exclusively feature Black scholars and experts across economics, education, health, climate, criminal justice, and technology. She graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 2019 with a Bachelors of Arts in Mathematics and a minor in Economics. Currently, she is a graduate student at Harvard Kennedy School studying public policy and economics. Her advocacy, research, and commentary are featured widely by media outlets such as Bloomberg, NPR, Teen Vogue, Slate, and The New York Times.

She will be in conversation with Dr. Sheri Parks, the vice president for strategic initiatives for Maryland Institute College of Art. A noted public intellectual, Parks has appeared frequently in national and international media and is a regular cultural critic for WYPR-NPR and the Baltimore Sun podcast, Roughly Speaking. Her research specializes in public aesthetics, particularly the ways in which people find and create meaning and beauty in their everyday lives, with specific emphasis on race, gender, social class, sexuality, popular culture, and media. Her most recent publication is Fierce Angels: Living with a Legacy from the Sacred Dark Feminine to the Strong Black Woman. In all of her work, Parks strives to explain the deeper cultural histories that inform the expectations, attitudes, and relations that individuals in our country have with each other so that richer understandings will lead to more sophisticated and mutually rewarding interactions.

Cartoons and Memoirs with Alison Bechdel

by Holly L.

If you don’t think you know Alison Bechdel, cartoonist extraordinaire whose 2006 graphic novel Fun Home was adapted as a Broadway musical, you may have heard of the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test, a tool for evaluating the depiction of women in film (though the test can be applied to literature as well), has its origins in The Rule, a 1985 strip of her long-running comic Dykes to Watch Out For. In response to being asked to go see a movie, a character explains her “rule” about movies having to meet three requirements: 1) it has to have at least two women in it who 2) talk to each other about 3) something besides a man. Bechdel has expressed surprise at the cultural influence of something that came about when she was out of ideas for her strip and heard her friend Liz Wallace mention her own version of the “rule.”

“The only movie my friend could go see was Alien, because the two women talk to each other about the monster. But somehow young feminist film students found this old cartoon and resurrected it in the Internet era and now it’s this weird thing. People actually use it to analyze films to see whether or not they pass that test. Still … surprisingly few films actually pass it.”

Bechdel got her start as a professional comic artist in June 1983 when WomaNews, a New York-based feminist newspaper, published her first strip. Her single panel art evolved into multi-panel strips and she was later picked up by several national alternative and gay weekly papers. Dykes to Watch Out For (DTWOF) chronicled the everyday lives and misadventures of lesbians in a mid-size American city. Bechdel referred to it as “half op-ed column and half endless serialized Victorian novel.”

Bechdel, who identifies as a lesbian since coming out at age 19, may be best known for her graphic novel memoirs that explore sexuality, identity, and familial relationships. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic was published two years before DTWOF ended its run in 2008. This richly-detailed, poignant, and humorous autobiography delves into Bechdel’s past as the daughter of Bruce Bechdel, a closeted gay funeral home director.

A green tinted illustration show a table with a black and white family portrait. Title appears in yellow lettering

The details of the author’s youth are as carefully rendered as the family’s gothic revival house was painstakingly restored by her father, an aesthete who, “treated his furniture like children, and his children like furniture.” Bechdel compares her late father to F. Scott Fitzgerald, an author he revered, and the entire novel is peppered with literary allusions, which is fitting considering both her mother and father were teachers and voracious readers.

As Bechdel reflects on her relationship with her late father, I was moved by her ability to render him with sympathy despite his many flaws as a parent. I’ve heard some refer to Fun Home as a “gateway” graphic novel, as its themes of family and identity and its tender, comic narrative have a universal appeal, making it accessible to readers who may be new to the form.

Are You My Mother?: a Comic Drama was published in 2012 and was the first full length work of Bechdel’s that I read. Pregnant with my first child at the time, I was especially drawn to this fascinating portrait of Bechdel’s complicated relationship with her mother. A formidable figure, Bechdel’s mother kept her daughter at a distance, and stopped touching or kissing her good-night at the age of seven.

The red tinted cover includes a vanity handheld mirror, a lipstick tube, bed, and a black and white photograph. The title appears

A frustrated artist stuck in a deeply unhappy marriage, Helen Bechdel might be what English pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott called a “good enough mother”- a mother who, in her imperfection, gives her child space to grow and develop independently of her. Bechdel spends quite a bit of ink on Winnicott and his object-relations theory, and on psychoanalytic therapy, where Bechdel has spent many hours over the years. In addition to examining her intense relationship with her mother, she also chronicles her romantic relationships with women over the years as a self-confessed “serial monogamist.”

I think that many readers will sympathize, as I did, with Bechdel’s simultaneous desire to please her mother while also trying to establish her own creative identity. A scene that I found especially touching involved Bechdel’s mother taking dictation from a young Bechdel, as she narrated the events of her day: a mother-daughter diary collaboration as well as a foreshadowing of the years of therapy to come in Bechdel’s future.

Bechdel’s most recent graphic memoir, The Secret to Superhuman Strength, came out in 2021 and focuses on the author’s lifelong obsession with working out.

Illustration of a person doing silly stretches with a bike pump and skis behind them.

Starting with a childhood preoccupation with the Charles Atlas bodybuilding ads she saw in her comic books, Bechdel became fixated on exercise as a means of quieting her anxious brain and controlling, and even transcending, her physical form. Although I was a bit skeptical when I first heard the subject of the book, any misgivings were laid to rest as I quickly became absorbed by the narrative, following Bechdel on a diverse tour that visits Jack Kerouac and the Beats, the Romantic poets, and Transcendentalist thinkers, along with figures from Bechdel’s life.

On this journey, Bechdel uses exercise to explore bigger subjects, digging at the question of why we exercise, which can be extended to why we do anything. Organized by decade, this is a book of substance and plenty of style, with Bechdel’s trademark precise drawings enlivened by her partner artist Holly Rae Taylor’s brushstrokes of vivid color. As much as I loved her previous two memoirs, they dealt with pretty heavy subjects, and The Secret to Superhuman Strength, while just as thoughtfully crafted as any of her other works, is a bit lighter, making it a perfect candidate for a great summer read.

Holly is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting, preferably with a strong cup of tea and Downton Abbey in the queue.

I always thought the ‘90’s were cool 

The cover shows a handheld landline phone with a beige stretchy spiral cord; since the casing is clear plastic, all the inner mechanical parts are visible, in shades of turquoise, pink, orange, and yellow.

By Eric L.

Although, I’ve become more confident recently.  

The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman is written in an extremely entertaining, journalistic style, a look back at the decade that has become so “in,” it’s “out.” Although, like Klosterman, I am almost a “caricature” of a “Gen X” caricature, so this book is a bit of an easy sell to someone like me. This is one of those time periods when something culturally progressive was happening, and to some extent, I’m a product of that. The art I experienced played a part, but perhaps I had a predilection for this sort of thing.  

However, this book is not just for aging hipsters like me. Klosterman successfully argues that what we remember from the decade, the stereotypes, may be quite different from the reality. He alludes to the fact that we always misremember things, or rely on the stereotypes of decades to classify them easily in our minds.  

Klosterman does an excellent job of highlighting all the things that I personally remember as positive for society, but the anecdotes and examples made me realize we have similar taste and beliefs. The films and the music were a considerable influence on my taste and my social awareness. He also mentions that art about the lives of Black people was consumed by white audiences like never before. The independent films and music were different than most things I had experienced before. Klosterman makes the remarkably interesting argument that the local video rental store, and later the chains, gave birth to the working-class auteur. In short, they could browse and watch films (e.g. Citizen Kane, Chinatown) multiple times which may have been only previously shown at an art house theatre. 

That said, Klosterman points out that Titanic was the biggest movie of the decade, and this hardly qualifies as progressive art. Moreover, Tupac sold more records than Nirvana, and Garth Brooks sold more than both put together (and really birthed new country). So why is it that balding guys with cowboy hats and tight jeans are not proffered as 1990’s stereotypes? 

The extremely high approval rating for a “liberal” President who was a serial philanderer and predator does not jibe with the ethos of 2020. Klosterman even asks the question many now ask: if the Democratic Party is worse off because of the Clintons. I was particularly interested in the discussion of the most successful third-party candidate in a century. The fact that Ross Perot received 19 percent of the vote almost seems unfathomable now. How the United States kind of “meddled” in the 1996 Russian democratic election is also an interesting sidebar. 

There are too many interesting sidebars to mention, but many are things we may have forgotten. For example, Michael Jordan, the most successful basketball player ever, decided to play minor league baseball, primarily because he was bored and tired. It came as a shock to America that baseball players and cyclists were using performance enhancing drugs to put on superhuman performances. 

These things may seem like minutiae to some, but I feel as though these events help us understand current America just a little bit better. 

One of the most important chapters is “CTRL + ALT + DELETE” – extremely interesting in that it describes the way people, mostly tech people or insiders, viewed the internet in the 1990s. It reads like people selling a dream that became a nightmare, sadly. Academic careers are, and will be, built on how computers and the internet altered society, as we have only begun to appreciate the changes in our behavior. One of the most salient points Klosterman makes in the book is to consider the differences in America from 1960 to 1990, and then consider the differences in America from 1990 until 2020. Imagine disembarking from a time machine in 2020 from the year 1990. He discusses how some of us recall how the world worked before widespread computer and internet use and I’m obviously among these folks. To be sure, I appreciate all the things that have improved in my life, but I do long for the good ol’ days, too! 

As a ‘90’s hipster, I do feel that the idea of physical place is something that is particularly important to a stable democratic society. And I want to let you know we offer this at the library. A young lady borrowing numerous films said “hey” to me as if she knew me, and I’d forgotten that we had a brief discussion about films. She is likely Gen Z, but had a very ‘90’s look. She was borrowing a stack again, including some Wes Anderson, and I said, “Have you ever seen his first film, Bottle Rocket?” She had not. I said, “I think it’s his best, or my favorite, we have it over there.” Borrow it. I had never seen another film like it in 1995. 

Lastly, The Nineties: A Book is on our adult summer reading list (and also available in eBook and eAudiobook format via OverDrive/Libby). Another great reason to come by the branch and see us for our complete adult summer reading suggestions!

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.