On this episode of The Desk Set, we're talking about KCLS's Best Books of 2018. We share some favorites from the lists, talk about themes and trends, recommend our picks for gifting, and more!
A transcript of this episode is available at the end of our show notes.
Our best books lists include adult fiction, adult nonfiction, teen, and children's books. We also mention a few titles that didn't make the list:
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The Desk Set is brought to you by the King County Library System. Most of the audio heard on the podcast was recorded at the ideaX Makerspace at the Bellevue Library. The show is hosted by librarians Britta Barrett and Emily Calkins, and produced by Britta Barrett. Our theme song is "I Know What I Want" by Math and Physics Club. Other music provided by Chad Crouch, from the Free Music Archive.
Emily Calkins: You're listening to The Desk Set.
Britta Barrett: A bookish podcast for reading broadly.
Emily Calkins: We're your hosts, Emily Calkins.
Britta Barrett: And Britta Barrett.
Emily Calkins: This is a special mini episode about KCLS Best Books of 2018.
Emily Calkins: We have a whole process that we go through every year. We gather nominations from librarians, and public service assistants who work in the branches, from the folks who buy all of our books. We put them into a big survey, we let all of our staff vote, and then we go through and look at the top vote-getters, we look for balance in terms of genre, and topic, and author's background, and point of view, and then we come up with 25 in four categories.
Emily Calkins: We have adult fiction, adult non-fiction, children's, and teens.
Britta Barrett: Awesome, and who's in the adult fiction category?
Emily Calkins: Oh, gosh. This is my favorite category, of course, and also one that is just full of great books that I love, so it's hard for me to even know where to start. Several books that we talked about on the podcast already this year, very exciting to have Kristen Hannah. The Great Alone is on our list. That Kind of Mother, which we talked about with Kim Fu, which is a book that I loved from this year is on the list. Two of my personal favorites, very different. The first one is The Witch Elm.
Britta Barrett: Did that just come out?
Emily Calkins: It came out, yes, it came out last month, yeah, in October.
Britta Barrett: Already making the charts.
Emily Calkins: Already making the charts, yeah. New York Times Bestseller when it came out, and I think Tana French is beloved by librarians, so I read an advance copy of this, and I am quite sure that I am not the only one. She writes the Dublin Murder Squad mysteries, which you may have read. There are six in that series. This one, The Witch Elm, is a standalone. The main character is this sort of golden boy. It's set in Dublin, he's lived this very charmed life where ... He opens the book by telling us how lucky he's been.
Britta Barrett: Oh, that's a bad sign.
Emily Calkins: Yes, right. Not a great sign from someone you know as a murder mystery writer, so that is immediately followed by a scene in which his apartment is broken into, and he's basically almost beaten to death. He doesn't die, an instance of luck. The doctors are like "We thought you weren't gonna make it, but you did." He's left with physical and mental trauma from this horrible incident, so he doesn't think as fast as he used to, he's confused, he has a lot of memory issues, and then he finds out that his great uncle who lives in the sort of family ancestral home, this big beautiful house is dying, and they need someone to go and live with him for the end of his life.
Emily Calkins: So, Toby and his girlfriend move in with Uncle Hugo. Then, the family is all gathered together, the kids are playing out in the yard, and they find a skull in this tree that's growing in the backyard. It opens up this whole mystery of-
Britta Barrett: Dun, dun, dun.
Emily Calkins: Yeah, exactly. Where did the skill come from? The tree they think is a couple of hundred years old, so at first there's this question of is it a historical skull, or is it a recent skull? And it opens up all of these questions about Toby's childhood, and his cousin's childhood, and who this person in the tree could be, and how that person ended up there. I love her writing, because it is so rich with atmosphere, and this is a huge book. It's like 500 plus pages, and in terms of the actual mystery, it's not super fast paced. It unravels pretty slowly. They don't even find that body until more than 100 pages in, and yet, she's so good at creating this sense of dread and uncertainty in this case, because Toby has all of these memory issues, that you're kind of on pins and needles the whole time, and you just, in terms of a book to sink into, all of her books are this way, but I think The Witch Elm is particularly juicy in terms of atmosphere.
Emily Calkins: The other thing that I love about her writing is the way that she ties these really engaging plots with these really rich themes. This is a book about privilege, and memory, and how we think about ourselves, and how our own perceptions of events are very different from what other people remember. I just loved it. It's The Witch Elm.
Emily Calkins: You wanna go?
Britta Barrett: And I've got something completely different for us.
Emily Calkins: Completely different, yeah, my other pick, again, I love so many of these books, but my other pick is The Kiss Quotient, which is a debut romance. It's an own voices book, so the author, in the process of writing this book, actually sort of self diagnosed herself with autism spectrum, and she has followed up on that, and gotten the official diagnosis and everything. It's about this woman named Stella, she's an econometrician, so that means that she researches people's purchasing behavior and tries to figure out how to get them to buy more stuff, essentially. She's really, really great at her job. She's super smart. She derives a lot of pleasure from doing her job, and being good at her job, but she is terrible at the human interaction stuff.
Emily Calkins: She has had really bad experiences with dating and sex, and she's sort of ... if she had her druthers, she would just leave that, but her parents really want her to get married, and they want her to have kids, and she feels like she owes something to them, so she decides that she's going to approach this problem the way that she approaches any problem, which is to do research. She hires an escort, his name is Michael. He is half Swedish, and half Vietnamese, and just extremely dreamy. They're gonna do this no-nonsense business relationship where he's gonna teach her about sex and dating.
Emily Calkins: Of course, because this is a romance novel, they cannot maintain the no feelings business relationship, and they sort of fall for each other, and it's just great. It's really funny, it's got a huge cast of characters who are really wonderful. It's pretty steamy. I like a romance novel that knows what it is, and is of aware of the conventions, and plays with them, but doesn't reject them. I feel like this book is that exactly. The author embraces all of the conventions of what a romance novel is, and you just get this wonderful love story, with a happy ending, and like I said, it's pretty steamy. I think if you are a person who hasn't read romance before, it's a great place to start. It's definitely a romance novel, but it's such a good one with such great characters, and great dialogue, and there you go.
Britta Barrett: So what else is on the list just to give a little shout out to some other titles?
Emily Calkins: Oh my gosh, okay. We've talked about mystery and romance, we've got a couple of local authors. In addition to Kristen Hannah, we have Jonathan Evison, who's a Seattlite, his novel Lawn Boy is on the list. We've got some short story collections, including another one of my favorites of the year "You think it, I'll say it." We've got science fiction, fantasy. Lots of great titles. Really, I love all of these books. You can see the full list at KCLS.org/bestbooks, and that's true for all of the lists, and we'll have both the print format and we'll also have an ebook version of the list so you can check those out.
Emily Calkins: That same diversity that's on the adult fiction list we also have on the nonfiction list. We have a ton of different kinds of titles. Do you want to tell us about some of your favorites?
Britta Barrett: Yeah, you know I love nonfiction, and, boy, looking at this list, there's some themes that emerge.
Emily Calkins: Oh, yeah.
Britta Barrett: It seems very clear to me that our staff are thinking about all of the same issues that are really at the top of national conversations that we're having, and the first one that really stands out to me is race. We've got books like Eloquent Rage by Dr. Brittany Cooper, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, Things That Make White People Uncomfortable from Michael Bennett, and So You Want to Talk About Race from Iljeoma Oluo. They're all books that are tackling the subject from different perspectives. Are you familiar with some of these authors?
Emily Calkins: Yeah, in fact, one of the things that I think is kind of cool about that particular chunk of titles is not only are they looking at race from a variety of perspective, but quite a few of them are local. So, Iljeoma, of course, is a local. Robin DiAngelo is local, and Michael Bennett, of course, is a former Seahawk.
Britta Barrett: Yeah, Iljeoma has written for Jezebel, The Guardian, she's the editor at The Establishment. She writes on subjects of intersectional feminism, social justice, and race, but she's probably best known for her viral interview with Rachel Dolezal. What I love about this book is I really feel like there's something for everyone in there. The title is a little provocative, like, does anyone really want to talk about race? I don't even think the author does when she's been interviewed. I got to see her recently perform as part of Call Your Girlfriend live, another podcast I love. She was a special guest speaker, and Ann Friedman was asking her "How do you wake up every day and continue this very difficult conversation?"
Britta Barrett: Where do you derive that energy from? Is it exhausting? Iljeoma very graciously said something to the effect of "I wish I'd never had to speak on the subject again, but I have the patience and ability to have it, and maybe if I put it all in one book then we won't have to keep answering these same questions over, and over, and over again. She felt like it was her responsibility, but she wished other people felt that burden, too, to impact things and to ask these questions, and that this book can be an answer to that.
Britta Barrett: Another author on this list, Dr. Brittany Cooper, is a feminist scholar, author, and professor. Her book is actually the current pick for Emma Watson's book club, Our Shared Shelf.
Emily Calkins: Oh, cool, I didn't know that.
Britta Barrett: Yeah. Her book Eloquent Rage is taking on the notion of the angry black woman, and looking at that not as a bad thing, but maybe as a superpower and how anger has worked in the lives of people like Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Beyonce, and really made their work better and more vibrant because of the anger behind it.
Emily Calkins: Sounds fascinating, I have not read that one yet either.
Britta Barrett: Then Robin DiAngelo is an academic, lecturer, and author working in whiteness studies. She defined the concept of white fragility as a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering, a range of defensive moods.
Emily Calkins: I think that kind of goes back to what we were just saying, to not engage with the idea of race is a privileged position that we as white folks have, and it's not uncommon for the reaction to "Hey, we should talk about race" to be like "No, I don't want to. I'd rather now. Race is not something I'm comfortable talking about or thinking about" and having the ability to step back from that.
Britta Barrett: Something she points out is that a lot of our discussions of racism center around specific behavior being intentional, individual, and mean hearted. So, if we view race through that way, if you point out racism as opposed to it being systemic, an unconscious bias, someone hears that and thinks "I'm a bad person" and immediately wants to disprove that as opposed to sort of looking at the way we all fit into these broader systems. I think there's a lot of interesting stuff to unpack there.
Emily Calkins: Yeah.
Britta Barrett: Rounding out that chunk of the list, we've got Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by Michael Bennett. He is a former Seahawk, an activist, an organizer, and a feminist, and his book really looks at police brutality, the NFL, the role of protest in history, the responsibility of athletes in calling out injustice and follows in the footsteps of activists like Muhammad Ali, and Colin Kaepernick. I love his reading list that he posts online. I noticed recently he's picked up The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, some Angela Davis books, Rebecca Solnit
Emily Calkins: Speaking of Rebecca Solnit, she is also on the nonfiction best books list with Call Them by Their True Names, which is her newest book.
Britta Barrett: I love all of her other books like Men Explain Things to Me, Hope in the Dark.
Emily Calkins: Yeah, she's fantastic. There are lots of other themes on this list. One of the things that stood out to me is true crime is really having a moment this year. One of my favorite nonfiction books of the year is I'll Be Gone in the Dark, the Michelle McNamara book about the Golden State Killer. It's an incredible book. I'm not really a true crime person, or I don't think of myself as a true crime person, mostly because I just don't read that much nonfiction, but it's beautifully written, and she does such an interesting job of weaving, looking at her own interests and why is she so obsessed with this, and then also doing all of this really in depth, gritty work in terms of trying to identify who this criminal possibly could have been. And then of course, the impact of the book is compounded by the fact that she died suddenly before she could finish it, so the end of the book is written by some researchers that she was working on, but they're very clear that it's an unfinished work. Then, on top of that, they caught him, which was so incredible.
Emily Calkins: After the book came out, it was really on my mind, then this incredible story that they had used people's sequence DNA that they share freely online to track him down. Just an incredible story. But, really, a fascinating book in a lot of ways. There are two other true crime books on the list. There's A False Report, a true story of rape in America which is actually set partially in the Seattle area. The false report that's referred to as a young woman who was raped in her apartment in Kirkland, reported it to the police, and ended up recanting it, but then it turned out later that she was the victim of a serial rapist who had struck all over in Colorado as well as elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
Britta Barrett: There's another one on this list that I don't think of as a true crime book, but at its heart, it's kind of what it talks about. That's Not That Bad which is an anthology that's edited by Roxane Gay which looks at rape culture from so many different perspectives. I feel like this conversation has really evolved, and to hear so many different voices comment on the impact that it has, it's a hard book to read, but I think it's an excellent one.
Emily Calkins: Yeah, Roxane Gay is wonderful. She was on last year's list twice with both her memoir, Hunger, and a collection of short stories, Difficult Women. Clearly a favorite at KCLS.
Britta Barrett: Absolutely. Then there are a few health topics on here. I don't know if that's the exact right word for it, but How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan is sort of a psychotropic journey.
Emily Calkins: Sure, I think that's a fair description. I like that Michael Pollan was like "food, food, food, okay, I'm gonna pivot, what am I gonna pivot to? Hallucinatory drugs."
Britta Barrett: I mean, mushrooms can be enjoyed in many ways. And I feel like microdosing as a topic is one that's come up in the popular culture and the imagination more recently.
Emily Calkins: Yeah, and the whole popularity of CPD which of course is not intended to be a hallucinatory drug, but is ... I was just reading a New York Times article about how it's like really unregulated, and maybe still contains some active THC which is the active ingredient in marijuana. So I think that is all sort of in there as well. What other health topics are ...
Britta Barrett: So there's Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich.
Emily Calkins: Yes, Barbara Ehrenreich. She wrote Nickel and Dimed, among other things. She's sort of beloved for a combination of journalism and memoir. And I think this one is the same.
Britta Barrett: And I haven't read it yet, but I'm excited to. I'm on hold for it. It looks like it's posing the kind of provocative idea that maybe we should try less hard to not die.
Emily Calkins: Yeah, basically. A less hard to be well. Like this idea of wellness and sort of maintaining our wellness as long as we can is maybe harmful in other ways.
Britta Barrett: That longevity shouldn't be our ultimate goal.
Emily Calkins: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. Something about quality of life and all of that.
Britta Barrett: And any author who suggests I shouldn't spend every single day at the gym is one I'd like to read.
Emily Calkins: There's a genetics book as well. She Has Her Mother's Laugh by Carl Zimmer. So this is one that looks at genes and inheritance and what we really get from our parents, and how much we understand about that and how much we don't understand about it.
Britta Barrett: As an adopted person, I would love to read that.
Emily Calkins: Yeah, yeah. It's great.
Britta Barrett: So let's move on to maybe the teen list?
Emily Calkins: Sure.
Britta Barrett: Now I have to admit. I am not much of a YA reader.
Emily Calkins: So I was looking at this one and thinking about our conversation about band books, teen titles, and graphic novels, and how much I see that on here. I think of the 25 titles, five of them are graphic novels. So we've got an adaptation of Speak, which is a classic YA novel.
Britta Barrett: Loved it.
Emily Calkins: It's wonderful. And the illustrations ... So the book is by Laurie Halse Anderson. The illustrations are by Emily Carroll, who you might now. She's wonderful. I have not actually read this yet, but I'm really looking forward to it. So Speak, the graphic novel. Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World is a graphic novel. Illegal is a graphic novel. HEY, KIDDO is a graphic memoir. All Summer Long is a graphic novel by Hope Larson. Oh, and Check, Please! is also a graphic novel about a college hockey player. So six, oh seven. And The Prince and the Dressmaker is a graphic novel. So seven of our 25 titles are graphic novels.
Emily Calkins: And really we get the whole range of content there. We've got contemporary stories. We've got Illegal is about immigration, so we've got tie-ins to sort of the news. We've got nonfiction memoir. And then we have fantasy, The Prince and the Dressmaker is sort of this fairytale story. Check, Please! is a contemporary about a college student, so on the older end. All Summer Long is on the younger end for fans of like Raina Telgemeier. It's about a girl going to camp, and sort of that coming-of-age, becoming a teenager, figuring out friendships, all of that complicated stuff. That's on the younger end. So we've got the whole range there in the graphic novels which is really fun. Those are so popular. In BookMatch, one of the most frequent requests we get is, "More like Raina Telgemeier." So I'm always excited when we have new titles.
Emily Calkins: We have one local author. Deb Caletti has a new one that came out in September, A Heart in a Body in the World.
Britta Barrett: I love that title.
Emily Calkins: Yeah, isn't that a great title? She is wonderful. She's both a wonderful author and just a very wonderful person. She's a great library supporter. I think this one is also very timely. It's about a young woman who decides to run from Seattle to Washington, D.C., as a way of kind of escaping and then eventually dealing with trauma in her own life.
Britta Barrett: Literally running?
Emily Calkins: Yeah, literally with her grandfather and her brother in an RV as like her support team. She just is going to run across the country, and so she develops kind of a following. And there's some bigger conversations around her, but also sort of like what led her on the path. So that one is great.
Britta Barrett: Is Children of Blood and Bone a fantasy novel?
Emily Calkins: It is a fantasy. So there's lots of fantasy on this list too, which is not surprising. Children of Blood and Bone was the top vote-getter in this category from our staff who loved this one. It's definitely sort of Hunger Games meets African-inspired fantasy. So it's set in a world where the people with magic have kind of been oppressed, and their magic skills have been taken away. And it's about a young woman who ends up kind of leading this resistance. That was definitely a big title this year in terms of popularity, and I think just well-loved by our staff as well for being both really fun, feeling kind of timely without being contemporary.
Emily Calkins: But like I said, lots of other fantasy on here as well. So The Hazel Wood is sort of a dark fairy tale.
Britta Barrett: Which are so popular.
Emily Calkins: Yes, absolutely. The Cruel Prince is by Holly Black who's a big name in YA, and is also sort of a fairytale-esque. Children of Blood and Bone and The Cruel Prince are also both series starters which is a big trend in YA.
Britta Barrett: And I see Leah on the Offbeat, and that's not a sequel, per se, but that is a follow-up book to Love, Simon or Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens-
Emily Calkins: Yes, it's a follow-up book to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Yeah. So it's set in the same world, and some of the characters from Simon reappear. She's great. Did you read Simon?
Britta Barrett: I didn't.
Emily Calkins: It is so charming. She's kind of in the vein of John Green. Just really captures with great specificity a certain kind of teenager that's sort of like smart, quirky, kind of outcasty kids going through that moment of figuring out who they want to be in the world. And they're just really funny and charming.
Britta Barrett: And I think all I know about Leah is that she's maybe like a curvy gal, like a bisexual, pretty sassy.
Emily Calkins: Yeah, yeah. Have you seen the cover of this one? It's got a beautiful cover. I think one of the things that's kind of cool that you'll see when you look at this list online is that it's a really diverse list, and really this was just like, "What's getting the most votes from our staff?" And the covers reflect that.
Emily Calkins: So that's been a big battle in the publishing world is to, when you have a book with a diverse cast, to have that accurately reflected. Often books with characters of color get a building or something kind of abstract that kind of erases that visibility. But so many of these titles ... Another one is Dread Nation which is sort of a fantasy, alternate history, civil war, zombies ... Young people of color are being trained up as zombie fighters and the heroine is a young woman who's a former slave, and she's right there on the cover. It's a great cover. That was another super popular one in the voting.
Britta Barrett: And what's American Panda about?
Emily Calkins: Yeah. So American Panda is sort of in the vein of Leah on the Offbeat. It's a coming-of-age story about a young woman who's 17. She's graduated early. She's Taiwanese-American. She's at MIT, and her parents have a really clear expectations about what she's going to study, who she's going to be, who she's going to marry, who she's allowed to date. And she gets to school finds a lot that sort of upended. So she meets a Japanese boy and sort of falls for him. And it's just really fun and charming. Topical, but in light way.
Britta Barrett: Maybe for fans of When Dimple Met Rishi?
Emily Calkins: Definitely for fans of When Dimple Met Rishi which was on our list last year. So, love those lighthearted teen romances that are still smart and funny.
Britta Barrett: So what about for kids? I'm a sucker for beautiful illustrations. Is there a new one I need to know about on this list?
Emily Calkins: Oh man. There's so many on this list. We could have had a list just of picture books with beautiful illustrations, but like I said, we're always going for balance, so the list is about half picture books and sort of half chapter booky kinds of things.
Emily Calkins: For beautiful illustrations, probably my favorite on the list is Drawn Together by Minh Lê and Dan Santat. So this is a book about a young boy who goes to visit his grandfather. The grandfather only speaks Thai, and the boy only speaks English, and so they can't really connect. And they find a way to connect with each other through art. So the boy has brought his art supplies. He's drawing himself as a superhero, and it's really like ... He's got these bright, beautiful illustrations. And the grandfather realizes that he also has art supplies, and he brings out sort of a traditional pen and ink and draws himself in this more traditional black-and-white sort of Thai style.
Emily Calkins: And then you get all of these wordless pages of them sort of blending their art styles, and then the grandfather's character and the little boy's character going on an adventure together and finding a dragon together. And it's gorgeous. Just beautiful book, and does what I think the best picture books do, which is uses the illustrations. The illustrations are integral to the story, so the story is in the illustrations. So I definitely recommend that one.
Emily Calkins: Oh, Dreamers by Yuyi Morales. Yuyi's a multiple award winner, and this is a nonfiction book actually about her immigration journey. She came from Mexico with her son when he was brand new. And her art combines collage with painting. She uses 3D objects as well as drawing, and all kinds of different mixed media. This is a wonderful story where she sort of depicts how difficult it is, and sort of the colorless world that is overwhelming when you're new and you don't speak the language. And then they discover the public library, so of course as a librarian I love it.
Emily Calkins: But there's a full-page spread where they walk into the library, and suddenly the world is full of color. And one of the things that's really fun is it's got real book titles throughout the book when they're exploring the library. And they had to go and actually get permission from the publishing houses to use all of these, but she's meticulously recreated all of these recognizable spines, so you'll see lots of your other favorites in that one. So that's another really beautiful one.
Britta Barrett: I have to ask. What is I Just Ate My Friend about?
Emily Calkins: Oh my God. This. I don't know, there's so many great books on this list, but this might be my favorite picture book. It's exactly what it sounds like. It's about a little monster. On the first page the monster says, "I just ate my friend." And then he's very sad. He wants to find another friend. So the monster's going around and talking to other monsters. "Would you like to be my friend?" "You're too big." "You're too loud." "You're too fast." So it's a fun book to read out loud with really little kiddos because there's a lot of those sort of basic concepts that are really valuable in a picture book. But it's also very funny. It has a wonderful sort of surprise ending. If you like I Want My Hat Back, that series.
Britta Barrett: Which I do.
Emily Calkins: It's very in keeping with that series. It's great. There's so many great-
Britta Barrett: Spoil it for me. Did the monster eat their friend?
Emily Calkins: So the monster finds a new friend. And then the last page is the friend saying, "I just ate my friend." It's so great. It's fantastic. I love it.
Emily Calkins: What else is on here that's really wonderful? A one that I've been reading over and over again to my little one at home is A Big Moon Cake for Little Star by Grace Lin. So this is one that has a very sort of traditional folktale feeling, although Lin actually made the story up. It's about a little girl named Little Star, and she and her mother bake a big moon cake and they put it in the sky. And she's not supposed to eat the moon cake. But every night, she sneaks out of bed and she takes a little bite, and so by the end of the month, the moon has slowly gone completely away, and they have to start over. So you get sort of that folktale-like explanation of the natural world. It's also very beautiful. It's got the backgrounds are all black, and so it's sort of these sparse black backgrounds with this big glowing moon cake in the sky that gets smaller and smaller. It's very sweet and charming.
Emily Calkins: And there's graphic novels on this list as well. No surprise there. So Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell is a combo graphic novel where he works with a bunch of different authors and artists to follow the kids in a neighborhood doing fun stuff with cardboard. That's a great one. Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol. Have you read her before?
Britta Barrett: What would I know her by?
Emily Calkins: Anya's Ghost.
Britta Barrett: Yes.
Emily Calkins: So she's the artist and author who did Anya's Ghost. And this one is about a kid going to camp. Again in that sort of Raina Telgemeier vein of being in your tweens and trying to find out who your friends are and how the world works and very funny.
Emily Calkins: Baby Monkey, Private Eye is exactly what it sounds like. It's about a baby monkey who's a private eye. If you have kids on your holiday list who are just beginning to read independently, this is an awesome choice because the font is really big, and there's just a few words on every page. But it's thick like a chapter book so it feels like an accomplishment to read it, and it's very funny. Brian Selznick is a beloved children's illustrator. The Invention of Hugo Cabret and others. But this is really a story about a little monkey who's a private eye, and there's lots of great and funny details about the cases that he's working on. And it's very, very charming. So I definitely recommend that one. I think it would be a great gift for kids who are just getting ready to read independently or just working on reading independently.
Britta Barrett: And thinking about all of these lists, are there any that stand out to you as excellent gifts to give this holiday season?
Emily Calkins: In addition to Baby Monkey, Private Eye, for younger readers I would recommend Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi. So if you have readers who like Percy Jackson, this is definitely in that vein. It's about a 12-year-old girl who's struggling a little bit at school. She's got a reputation for kind of elaborating on the truth, and when some of her classmates challenge something that she's said, she ends up touching a lamp at the museum and sort of unleashing some magic that needs to be put back right away. So super fun, action-packed. It's got like a diverse cast of characters. So if you have kids who love Percy Jackson or that kind of action and adventure, but still pretty lighthearted, that's Aru Shah and the End of Time.
Emily Calkins: For teen readers, I think any of the graphic novels would make great gifts.
Emily Calkins: On the adult nonfiction list-
Britta Barrett: I think Calypso makes a great gift. That's David Sedaris who's written some of my favorite holiday stories.
Emily Calkins: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Britta Barrett: Just so unbelievably funny.
Emily Calkins: So funny. And this one in particular is sort of about family and aging and I think things that are close to a lot of people's hearts in their own experiences. I also think How To Taste by Becky Selengut is a great gift.
Britta Barrett: Totally.
Emily Calkins: So happy that that one made the list. We had Becky on the show earlier this year, and she's so-
Emily Calkins: That would mean the less we had Becky on the show earlier this year and she's so interesting and smart and funny. Anybody who spends time in the kitchen, how to taste, is useful and I think will feel sort of surprising and interesting.
Britta Barrett: What's the library book about?
Emily Calkins: Okay, the library book is in fact about libraries, so, Susan Arlene, did you read The Orchid Thief or did you see the movie with Nic Cage?
Britta Barrett: I saw the movie.
Emily Calkins: My friend, Nic Cage.
Emily Calkins: Okay, that movie is one of the weirdest most wonderful movies of all time I think. We didn't talk about The Orchid Thief on the movies and TV's adaptation but it's a great movie adaptation of a book.
Emily Calkins: Anyway, Susan Arlene wrote The Orchid Thief, this is her newest book, she is a nonfiction virtuoso and it's about libraries and in particular about the Los Angeles Public Library. In 1986, the Los Angeles Public Libraries central library basically, burnt to the ground. The blaze raged for hours, it destroyed 400,000 books, it damaged another 700,000.
Britta Barrett: Wow.
Emily Calkins: Yeah. It's interesting, a little fact that I learned about this is the reason that people don't really know about this is that it happened on the same day as Chernobyl and so what would have been big news, became not big news but she uses that, that fire, as sort of a starting point for investigating the history and present of libraries in general and the Los Angeles Public Library in particular.
Emily Calkins: Then she also looks at what are libraries do today and so as librarian of course-
Britta Barrett: You should get this for us.
Emily Calkins: -yeah, we'll take this one as a gift and any book lovers in your life I think it's a great, it's an ode to an institution that we obviously love.
Britta Barrett: -under fiction?
Emily Calkins: On the fiction list, the trick with giving fiction in my opinion, is to get something that is popular but not too popular. You don't want to get somebody something they've already read.
Britta Barrett: Maybe if you've got a fan of Margaret Atwood in your life, Red Clocks could be a great choice.
Emily Calkins: Absolutely.
Britta Barrett: The Handmaid's Tale.
Emily Calkins: Yeah. One that I am looking for the perfect person to gift it to is An Ocean of Minutes. I think that's also maybe for the Atwood fans in your life or anybody who loves Station Eleven or American War, which are two of my favorites.
Emily Calkins: It's a literary science fiction, time travel story. There's a pandemic that's swept the country and the only way to really save people is by entering into indentured servitude with this company. You time travel forward post-pandemic, the company pays for the treatment for your loved one.
Emily Calkins: It's about a young woman who does that to save her boyfriend. They make a plan to meet up in the future, things don't go as expected, it's gorgeous. Just beautifully written, really moving. I like science fiction, I like genre fiction that uses the conventions of the genre to explore the human experience for lack of a better word. This one just does that so well, just really moving.
Britta Barrett: Maybe The Wedding Date does that for romance?
Emily Calkins: Sure, yeah! I think The Wedding Date like The Kiss Quotient is sort of, if you're a romance person, you've already read The Wedding Date so don't buy The Wedding Date for the romance people on your list but, buy it for the people who like stories with smart women who are good at their jobs and doing fun things and have great friends and also get to have a happy ending.
Emily Calkins: The main character in The Wedding Date works for the Mayors office in San Francisco and she has this whole life going on outside of this relationship that starts with an elevator meet cute so-
Britta Barrett: -I love a meet cute.
Emily Calkins: -in the year of the rom-com The Wedding Date is a great gift for commuters who are looking to get a little more rom-com in their life.
Britta Barrett: Then, Spinning Silver and the Merry Spinster are both fairy tale for adults?
Emily Calkins: Yeah, definitely.
Emily Calkins: The Merry Spinster is by Danielle Mallory Ortberg from really of the toast. This is for readers who like the weird. This is one of the strangest collections of short stories that I've ever read. Deeply unsettling but in a good way.
Britta Barrett: I love that.
Emily Calkins: Yeah, yeah. It's, so Ortberg takes familiar stories, there's one that's a play on The Little Mermaid, there's one that's a retelling of Cinderella and twists them almost beyond recognition. She's particularly interested in ideas about gender and family and love in a very dark and twisted way. This is not for your people who want The Wedding Date although certainly there are readers who will enjoy them both but readers who like the weird, definitely The Merry Spinster is really really great, unsettling and usual.
Britta Barrett: Going back to some of this year's reading challenges, one of our books, one of our challenges was to read a book by a Native American author. There are two on the fiction and nonfiction list that I know that you loved.
Britta Barrett: Heart Berries: A memoir and There, There by Tommy Orange.
Emily Calkins: Yeah, so, full disclosure I voted for both of those and I'm very happy to see them on the list.
Emily Calkins: Heart Berries is a memoir, it's about a woman, it's so hard to talk about this book. You read it too. It's hard to talk about both because the subject matter's really difficult and also because it doesn't follow a lot of the standard conventions of what a memoir is. It's kind of like a series of essays. It's about her childhood, it's about her relationship with her writing professor. She dealt with a mental breakdown and was diagnosed with PTSD and bipolar disorder so it grapples with all of those things but it's not what you think of or what I think of when I think of memoir which is "this thing happened and then the next thing was this thing that happened to me" it definitely circles around a lot of that trauma. The writing is beautiful. There's a line in it where she talks about sailor storytelling and how important the lyrical quality and sort of the sparseness of the storytelling is and that really rang true to me about the book too. It's a small book but it really packs a punch and it's just beautifully written. She's so angry and she is also unapologetic about that which I really liked. Just really unusual and wonderful.
Britta Barrett: There There also has a non linear connective spread quality to how it constructs the story, right?
Emily Calkins: There There is about the native urban community in Oakland and it follows a bunch of different characters who are living all kinds of lives. One of the things I loved about this book is Tommy Orange, the author, is so interested in exploring what it means to be a contemporary Native American. That's not a story that we get to hear very often and he does such an interesting job of pulling together all kinds of different people and showing the urban native experience is not a monolith. It's not just one thing. It looks at a bunch of different characters and their lives intersect around this one tragic event and it's a book that I wished there was more of.
Emily Calkins: There were so many characters that I was really interested in and I just wanted to spend more time with them. I learned a lot from reading it and his prose are so vivid. They are, you can feel the energy in the writing, you can feel the electric pulse in it and I almost feel like I could feel him chomping at the bit to say everything that he wanted to say. Super memorable. Just great. I think we'll see that one on a lot of end of the year best lists.
Britta Barrett: Is there anything that didn't make this list that you were upset about? Like a personal fave?
Emily Calkins: Oh my god. It's so hard 'cause there's so many good books.
Emily Calkins: I have the luck of being the person who gets to in the end, compile the list so I get to make sure that things that I really love are on there but of course there's more that I love. I can't include everything.
Britta Barrett: There are two that just came out that I'm literally reading right now concurrently. That's why they're not on the list.
Emily Calkins: Yeah.
Britta Barrett: They've just emerged.
Emily Calkins: That's a problem we have every year "THEY JUST CAME OUT IT'S NOVEMBER! WE HAVE TO MAKE THE LIST!"
Britta Barrett: Those two are Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister and I Might Regret This by Abbi Jacobson. Loving them both for very different reasons.
Britta Barrett: Good and Mad looks at the historical, much like eloquent rage value of women's anger and how it's motivated political change through protest, demonstrations and really from our countries founding right up to the present moment and what we can, how we can use anger to be a motivational tool and also who's allowed to express it and why.
Britta Barrett: The Abbi Jacobson book, you probably know her from Broad City, we get to see a side of her that's so intimate and special and you can tell what parts of her character in Broad City are really true to who she is as a person. It's so nice to be let in to maybe this quieter more anxious side of her that's not as over the top caricature. She's going on this road trip across the country after a break up. Her first major relationship with a woman and the fact that she dates women is new to many of us but it's such a sweet story of self-discovery and reflection and memory and just hilarious the whole way through.
Emily Calkins: Nice.
Emily Calkins: I love that, funny memoirs are, there's so many of them now. If that's all you wanted to read, funny intersectional memoirs you could.
Emily Calkins: Okay, so I thought of a couple. The fiction title that's not on the list that I am sad that we didn't have space to include is The Ensemble by Asia Gable. It's a great book. It's about a string quartet. It starts with them finishing their graduate school and entering this competition and then it follows their career for 20 years as they fall in and out of love with each other and with other people and have children and their careers sort of, you know the groups career has peaks and follies and it's just really wonderful. If you love stories about long relationships, it feels like a quintessential American novel to me. If you like Meg Wolitzer or Celeste Ng, it has that feeling of being both literary and also about people and about relationships and yeah, it's great I really loved it, The Ensemble.
Emily Calkins: On the nonfiction list I just read so many good memoirs this year and we could not include all of them, so, double bonus of parenting books, parenting memoirs, And Now We Have Everything by Meaghan O'Connell is about her sort of accidental pregnancy. She and her partner are going to get married, they want to have kids it's just happening a little sooner. It's just appallingly honest and as a relatively new Mom myself, there were so many moments that I was like "Yes! This is how it is! No one tells you!".
Emily Calkins: Then, Small Animals, which is also sort of a memoir, that was kicked off by the author leaving her young child in the car for a few minutes while she ran into the store, she came back, he was fine but someone had videotaped this and-
Britta Barrett: Oh no.
Emily Calkins: -yeah! She ended up going to court and having to do community service and it led her to look at what are the actual dangers to children in our lives and how do we understand what's dangerous and how do we decide what's dangerous and how do we decide what's not dangerous and does that align with what data actually shows us is dangerous, looking at anxiety and fear in parenting.
Britta Barrett: Being a completely anxious hovering parent might not be the best for a child.
Emily Calkins: Yeah, so it's fascinating. It looks at the cultural trends behind that and in the '80s and '90s there was a big fear about kidnapping and she, the statistic that really stuck with me is that you would have to leave your child alone in the car on average for 750,000 years for them to be kidnapped by a stranger. Which, I'm not saying you should leave your child alone in the car right, there are a lot of other safety considerations and things to think about but she's just very, very interested in looking at why do we fear what we fear and do we actually have to fear that and what are the impacts of not letting children walk to the store alone or walk to school alone. It's fascinating part memoir, part cultural study. That's what's been on my mind this year.
Emily Calkins: Those are my two nonfiction titles. I understand why we couldn't just put memoirs about parenting on the best books list-
Britta Barrett: You could make an entire list.
Emily Calkins: -but I could make an entire list of just great memoirs mostly about parenting that I read this year.
Britta Barrett: P.S if any one of these subjects you want to do a deeper dive into what are all the best of this one category, you should totally try Book Match.
Emily Calkins: Absolutely. Go to KCLS.org/Bookmatch, let us know what you're interested in, what you like to read and we'll send you a personalized list made just for you by a KCLS Librarian.
Britta Barrett: Yep, you can get your very own best books [inaudible 00:46:00] just for you list.
Emily Calkins: You can. Or, if you're shopping for gifts for somebody on your list and you're having a hard time knowing what they might want to read, we love to help make gift lists so you can do that as well, KCLS.org/bookmatch.
Emily Calkins: If you haven't already subscribed, subscribe now. Our next episode will be announcing the 10 to Try 2019 category so we're super excited about that.
Britta Barrett: If you're so inclined, leave us a rating and review to help other listeners find our podcast.
Britta Barrett: Thanks for listening.
Emily Calkins: Thanks for listening.
Britta Barrett: Happy 2018.