To Kill a Habsburg: An Explanation of Historiography

by James Rucker

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered why people continue to write new history books about very old topics, and why libraries need to buy them? Once something happens, it doesn’t change, right? So why can’t we just read old books about it and be done with it? In today’s post, James explains how historiography–or the study of historical writing–has changed over time, and how various approaches to history differ. –Brittney Reed-Saltz

Like any trained professionals, historians have a history, and there are two watershed moments where we could start telling it. The first is in ancient Greece, with Herodotus. Renouncing the authority of myth and legend, he embarked on a self-critical pursuit of knowledge. When interviewing witnesses to the events, he did what any good attorney does to a witness in a court of law: He cross-examined them. He called his book Inquiries. (The ancient Greek word was ‘istoriai, the root of our modern word “history.” Modern translations just call the book Histories.) For our purposes, it doesn’t matter whether Inquiries is entirely free of errors or assumptions; it quite obviously isn’t. What matters is it represents an undeniable and fundamental shift in the concept of historical truth: It is not something to be related, it is something to be discovered. This attitude has generally characterized historians ever since.

The history of history-writing (historiography) since the Inquiries has taken many forms.

Read More »

Fall into Gothic Literature

by Brittney Reed

Crimson Peak, one of my favorite movies, is widely regarded as a failure. I think that this is largely due to mismanaged expectations on the part of audiences. They bought tickets expecting a $50 million horror movie, but what Guillermo del Toro had made was something far different: a Gothic romance.

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Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing is the ultimate Gothic heroine.

Gothic and horror are related, but they’re not the same thing. I think of it as a matter of adrenaline. You’re not going to feel that kidney-spike survival instinct kick in when you’re reading or watching a Gothic. Rather, you’re in for creeping dread and  lingering wistfulness.

Both are things that Crimson Peak has to spare, along with all of the tropes that make a Gothic so darkly delicious: a determined heroine, a dark and brooding hero (who inhabits that role with ambiguity), a crumbling old mansion, plots leading to doom, disturbing family secrets, and, of course, ghosts (and, for my money, the most stylishly-designed ghosts in the history of cinema, but I adore del Toro and might be a smidge biased).

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“Beware… of Crimson… Peeeaaak!”

I bring up Crimson Peak because I think it’s a perfect example of Gothic fiction in film, and because we’re heading into the perfect time to read Gothic literature. As the days shorten and the weather takes a turn for the dreary, some people seek escape in lighter reads or the warm bustle of Christmas books. I much prefer to lean into the current season and embrace the somber atmosphere of November.

Here are some Gothic novels, from classic fare to more recent explorations of the genre, available through RCLS.

Foundational Texts:
If you want to get down to the origins of Gothic literature, you’ll need to go all the way back to 1764, to Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto. It is considered to be the first Gothic novel.

From there, you can also explore The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe and The Monk by Matthew Lewis.

Two out of three Brontë sisters published Gothic classics during the Nineteenth Century: Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre, and Emily, Wuthering Heights. (Anne Brontë wrote less… intense love interests in her novels.)

If you want to read a send-up of the Gothic and the way it inflames readers’ imaginations, you’ll want to check out Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

Romantic Suspense:
Crimson Peak gets its inspiration from classic Gothic literature, but also from Gothic romances, which are distinct from other Gothic novels in their focus on a romantic plot. Often a plucky heroine finds herself in a spooky house with a creepy kid and a brooding guy who might or might not have committed a crime. She might be depicted on the paperback cover wandering through a corridor with a candlabrum, or else fleeing from the house wearing a gauzy nightgown, looking back over her shoulder in abject terror. (Neil Gaiman’s 2006 poem “The Hidden Chamber” incorporates this trope.)

Gothic romance following this formula, also called “romantic suspense,” had its heyday in the 1960s and ’70s, and it’s still what a lot of people think about when you talk about Gothic novels. When you look at books from this era, three authors come up again and again: Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt.

Mary Stewart also wrote Arthurian fantasy novels, but she is perhaps best known for her romantic suspense, including Nine Coaches Waiting  and The Ivy Tree.

Phyllis A. Whitney published dozens of Gothics, among them The Winter People and Thunder Heights.

Victoria Holt is known for The Mistress of MellynBride of Pendorric, and On the Night of the Seventh Moon, among others.

Gothic in the 20th Century:
Romance isn’t the only game in Gothic fiction, and the 20th Century also featured less pulpy examples of the genre.

Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is an essential Gothic novel, exploring the classic “I wonder how my new husband’s ex-wife really died?” plot. She also wrote Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel, which was adapted for film in 2017.

Shirley Jackson’s work is getting increased attention for the Netflix adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, but the original is far, far different… and regarded by many, including Stephen King, as the best horror novel of all time. You should also read We Have Always Lived in the Castle or, to explore her short fiction, the collection Dark Tales.

Susan Hill’s 1983 slim novel The Woman in Black reads like a much older book, and is a good example of slow-burn terror. If it sounds familiar and you don’t know why, it might be from the 2012 adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe.

If you would like to get lost in a lush trilogy, try the Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake, starting with 1949’s Titus Groan.

Of course, a supremely fun and easy way to get a dose of Gothic goodness or to acquaint yourself with the hallmarks of the genre is Edward Gorey. His signature pen-and-ink illustrations accompany odd and macabre tales that are immersed in Gothic aesthetics. Beyond his own writing, he also had a prolific career as an illustrator of other people’s books. He had a penchant for lending his pen to creepy stories, so you can often take his byline as illustrator as an endorsement. (An example being the Louis Barnavelt series, starting with The House with a Clock in Its Walls.)

Contemporary Gothic:
Luckily, since the turn of the 21st Century, the Gothic lives on as contemporary authors find new ways to work within this old genre.

Sarah Waters writes historical fiction featuring lesbian characters and richly detailed settings. To read her work is to be immersed in the time period in a sort of Dickensian fashion. Fingersmith is set in Waters’s signature Victorian London, while The Little Stranger takes place postwar in a Georgian mansion.

Sarah Perry knows the Gothic genre well; she a PhD in Creative Writing and the Gothic from the University of London. She brings this knowledge to bear in Melmoth, in which a strange letter found in a library leads to encounters between a translator and a shadowy figure who moves throughout history.

If you’re only familiar with Audrey Niffenegger through The Time Traveler’s Wife, you should know that her other writing tends to be just as good but much darker and weirder. Her Fearful Symmetry, a ghost story set near London’s famous Highgate Cemetery, is a perfect example.

Though the popularity of Gothic romantic suspense has waned, the genre still attracts authors who no longer feel the need to adhere quite as strictly to the original plot conventions. One such author is Simone St. James, whose novels (among them The Haunting of Maddy Clare, An Inquiry Into Love and Death, and Silence for the Dead), feature historical settings, creepy hospitals, psychics, and ghost hunting.

Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours plays with the time-honored trope of a mysterious letter summoning the heroine to an old castle, where eccentric sisters share history related to her mother. The Forgotten Garden, meanwhile, is set in Cornwall and Australia and preoccupies itself with family secrets and the search for one’s true identity.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books trilogy (The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and The Prisoner of Heaven) begins with one reader’s quest to discover why books by an author he loves are being systematically destroyed. Perhaps the blurb describes it best: “an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love.”

Although contemporary Gothics often aren’t labeled explicitly as such, once you know the conventions, you find that they’re lurking on almost every bookshelf. As you can see, there’s plenty to choose from, and even more when you open up the criteria to include Gothics that blend more strongly with other genres, such as fantasy, or if you decide to explore Southern Gothic. But that’s a subject for another day…

In the meantime, steep a cup of your favorite tea and settle in for a dreary autumn of suitably atmospheric reading.

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Until next time…

 

 

Roots, Heritage, and the Antiquarian Way

by James Rucker 

Just a few minutes before I began writing,  I reshelved a total of sixty-eight books in a locked room on the second floor at Linebaugh. Genealogy enthusiasts among you might already know the room in question, though it goes by multiple names. Some call it the Tennessee Room. Others call it the Historical Research room (or HR Room for short). Our more functionalist patrons call it the “Genealogy Room.” I’ve even heard some older patrons refer to it as “the Vault,” which was its nickname, according to one of them, at our former location at 110 W College Street. Way back when, Murfreesboro’s post office had a room with a locked, metal gateway where they stored valuables. When Linebaugh Library moved into the building, they repurposed this “Vault” into an archive of various official records and historical publications. We eventually moved to our current location and now the former post office houses the Murfreesboro Center for the Arts.

When our current building was under construction, the head librarian at the time, Briley Adcock, gave a tour to some reporters from the Daily News Journal. The interview ran on May 3rd, 1992.

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Adcock was particularly enthusiastic about the new accommodations to local historians, both professional and casual. As the reporter wrote, “Also on the second floor is Adcock’s favorite room, a new improved version of the Tennessee Room./ ‘It’s about three times larger than what we have now,’ she said. / Stored in the Tennessee Room will be all the library’s geneological [sic] resources, she said, as well a copy machine, microfilm readers and a vault for storing rare volumes. / ‘The people who use this part of the building regularly will be really pleased,’ she said.”

Archival documents say both too much and too little at the same time. It can be overwhelming to think of the volume of material to comb through. Of course, the modern world is riddled with unchecked bureaucracies and their meticulous record-keeping, but we mustn’t mistake the chatter in the archives for a clear voice. In a way, these many words say nothing at all. Documents aren’t self-conscious and can’t interpret themselves. Therefore, the archive cannot speak for itself; the historian must speak for it. If I may repurpose an ironic quip from a 19th-century, German journalist, “They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented.”

For those who don’t know where to begin, I will recommend a book: The Allure of the Archives by Arlette Farge. Don’t judge the book by its call number (it is miscategorized); it may be shelved with books on the French Revolution (944.04), but it is actually about historical research methods and what to expect when you visit an archive. I found her prose not only instructive but also a pleasure to read. As Natalie Zemon Davis wrote in her introduction, “Arlette Farge takes us into archives and pulls us into the experience of research” (xi-xii). It isn’t a dry instructional manual, but a visceral and tactile read that aquaints you with the textures, discomforts, and pleasures one should expect.

However, more than anything, Farge wants us to prepare to be surprised. For example, when looking into the history of my mother’s family, I consulted census data from Dickson county in the 1800s. Strangely enough, during one decade’s census, the number of people in my family’s household spiked. There were unfamiliar people several different surnames between them. Clearly my family had taken in several, seemingly random, people, only for them to disappear a decade later. Perhaps they were refugees? Or maybe my family had hired some people to help out on the family farm? Had I investigated further, I might have found out more, but  for the time being it is a mystery. To quote Davis again, “Arlette Farge is our guide — for the unexpected, the surprise. We rejoice when we make a find, even though the story or event itself may be sad, troubling, ghastly, baffling; even though it may oblige us to rethink our earlier understanding of our topic and restructure it” (xii).

We must be careful, however. Archives are, of course, products of institutions or governments which have objectives and desires. Therefore, archives, like all institutions, have biases. A census, like the one I consulted above, views its subjects as quantifiable entities, to be counted and categorized so officials can draw districts and collect taxes. The state collects this data in order to govern more easily and effectively. This state-bias is perhaps most clear in Farge’s own case, since she works with the records of arrests and interrogations kept by French police. As she puts it, “most of the dossiers ultimately put forward only one version of the events, that of public order and police authority. The questions that were asked have a policeman’s directness. Above all, the police were looking to identify the culprits” (87). The perspective of the judicial archives has an accusing eye, one that sees the population as a problem to be solved; “in a sense, they catch the city red-handed: craftily maneuvering around the rules, refusing outright to accept the policemen’s vision of order, choosing to acclaim or snub its kings, and rising up whenever it feels threatened. When reading the police records, you can see to what extent resistance, defiance, and even open revolt are social facts to which the city is accustomed. […] Deviance and marginality are powerfully indicative of political authority and of norms, and each type of crime reflects an aspect of the society in which it occurred” (25 & 27). Farge stresses how important it is to overcome this bias of an archive and capture the voices of those common people under their regime. “As historians, we must take into account the reflexes, habits, and weaknesses of the police” (88). As I mentioned above, a census doesn’t see people as concrete individuals but as abstract quantities without any qualities it considers irrelevant. To the eyes of the census, people only exist to be counted. And in the antebellum South, the census counted certain “properties” as only three-fifths of a whole person. I am, of course, referring to slaves.

In many cases, these biases are  most visible where the archive falls silent. The census has nothing to say when it comes to the parts of life we care about most. For those moments, most people have birth and death certificates or records of marriage and divorce, but not everyone has those resources. African American genealogy illustrates this problem quite clearly. Precise records of the births, deaths, marriages, and divorces of slaves were rarely kept in much of the antebellum South. Alex Haley’s Roots and the miniseries of the same name might be the most famous genealogical work to date, but it was a remarkable achievement precisely because of the hurdles my people sometimes have to go through when finding out about our heritage. My father once told me about how hard it was to find information when trying to map out his paternal bloodline.

Daniel, my great-great-grandfather, was the last man in that part of my family to be born a slave; therefore, he had no birth certificate. The earliest record of him was when he was mentioned in a court case. When a plantation owner with our last name died, there was a lawsuit to determine who would inherit the estate. In court, they had to list every piece of property, slaves included. Among them, there was a single child of the correct age named Daniel who we assume must be our ancestor. But there is no way to be sure. This court case is as far back as our paternal bloodline goes. My paternal grandmother’s line, by contrast, can be traced all the way back to the auction block, where my ancestor and her mother were sold separately, cutting that tie forever. But it isn’t state documents that let us trace our family that far, but an oral tradition that was passed down every generation to us (similar to the one in Alex Haley’s family).  Examples like those above show how creative a researcher has to be with archival evidence, since it is not always obvious where to find the needed information. They also show the importance of oral tradition for filling in gaps in the documentary record.

For those interested in researching their own families, now is the perfect time. October is Family History Month in the United States, and upstairs at Linebaugh is a book display by our own Lisa Ramsay, showing some of our available materials on genealogical research.

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After that you can take a look at the HR room to your left, or walk down the non-fiction stacks to “929” where you can check out a book on genealogy to take home. If Linebaugh doesn’t have what you need, we also have an HR room at our Smyrna branch, and the Rutherford County Archives are at 423 Rice Street, northwest of the Murfreesboro town square. Perhaps you’ll find some answers, or even better, some questions. And next month, at the Thanksgiving table, you might be able to ask them of your grandparents (or whoever your oldest living relatives are). If all else fails, you can ask them to tell you about their own grandparents.

And when you get the chance, check out Allure of the Archives for yourself. I’ll close with another quote from Davis’s introduction: “Newcomers to historical studies will welcome Arlette Farge’s introduction to archival research. Amateur history enthusiasts will be fascinated by her insider’s account of how historians practice their craft. But old-timer’s like me will have their memories enriched and their understanding deepened by this book” (xiii).

What’s On Your Bucket List?

by Marlene Kupsch 

A few years ago The Fault in Our Stars made a big hit when it came out in theaters. However,  I am the type of person who prefers to read the book first and then the movie is a disappointment. BUT the novel and the film were both well done! I think John Green did a terrific job telling you the story of Hazel, a young girl with a terminal illness, who finds Gus in a cancer support group and together they go on a journey to meet the reclusive author of a beloved book. I would love to meet and have a conversation with my favorite author!!

Something Like Happy by Eva Woods is a five star for me. The name of the novel has changed  to How to Be Happy, when it was reprinted in paperback. (I like the original name and cover, but no one asked my permission, haha!) I picked this book up off the new book shelf not long into when the cooler weather started at the end of last year. I remember thinking, a few cozy nights on the couch, with the dog and this book were definitely in my future. Boy, was I wrong! The very first night, I read half the book! I would have read well into the night if it wasn’t for the thought of waking up for work the next morning really tired. So I finished it the next night. I was completely enamored with Polly! I wanted her to come and help me change  the things in my life that I did not have the guts to change. Polly and Annie embark on a 100-day journey together so Annie can move on with her life from the slump she is in, and Polly can make her lasting days on earth mean something. I laughed, I cried and I loved it from cover to cover!

Jenifer Estess was in her prime when ALS came to get her! She just started checking things off her Bucket List when it hit. She had another big one to get though: She wanted a husband and kids. Tales From the Bed: On Living, Dying, and Having It All: A Memoir, she tells you how she co founded an organization called Project ALS that raised more than 17 million dollars, and with the help of her family and friends lived the rest of her life trying to attain all her goals.

To lighten the mood now… Who doesn’t love Morgan Freeman? In the film Bucket List, Morgan and Jack Nicholson, who are dying of cancer, escape their hospital rooms to conquer all the things that they have ever wanted to do. Jack is a billionaire, so money is no problem, and together they run a humorous journey around the world doing all the things they can before they “kick the bucket”.

Not everyone makes a bucket list after they are told they are dying. Some of us are dreamers and make one early on in life. I have a few things on mine. None of them are A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail or anything that requires me to walk for days and weeks through the woods, but Bill Bryson thought it was a novel idea! This book was adapted into a film starring Robert Redford. He tries to get everyone he knows to come with him, and only one person, Nick Nolte’s character, agrees to accompany him, who by the way is the complete opposite of Redford. They both learn different things about themselves and each other. Along the way there are a few arguments, a few laughs, and new people to meet on this trail.  Well worth the read or watch!

When I first moved to Tennessee,  I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and marveled over other people’s accomplishments and imagined how hard they would have had to work to achieve the fame they have. I do not want to be in the limelight and have entire exhibits dedicated to me, but I do want to know that I have made a difference somewhere, for someone. I planned to make a list of all things big and small that I could do. In the gift shop, I found a vinyl record covered little journal that had one of my favorite country songs on it. (“I Beg Your Pardon, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” by Lynn Anderson.) My grandmother used to sing this song every chance she got, and being she was the sounding board of all my hopes and dreams when I was young, this was the perfect place to write all my new ones down in. I have since checked off 2 things on my bucket list and have acquired a few more!

Make a Bucket List Today! Write down one thing right now, get it done tomorrow! Live like today might be your last day, and check those dreams off!

Diverse Worlds: Authors of Color in Sci-Fi & Fantasy

by Jude Romines
In the first installment of Diverse Worlds, a series highlighting genre fiction that centers marginalized peoples and perspectives, Brittney made several fabulous recommendations for books with protagonists of color. Of the authors mentioned, she wrote “these writers are keeping the genre relevant and vibrant by ensuring that more and more people can see themselves in the pages of the novels that they read.” This sentiment is vital, and it’s one I’d like to address today—albeit from a different angle.
Just as readers benefit from seeing themselves represented in books, I would suggest writers benefit from seeing themselves represented within a diverse publishing industry. So today, I’ll be going over several inspiring authors of color whose contributions to science fiction and fantasy have helped carve a space for marginalized creators in genre fiction! Below each mini-bio will be some recommendations from our shelves for you to check out!
J.Y. Yang
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J.Y. Yang is a non-binary Chinese-Singaporean writer of science fiction and fantasy. Their pronouns are they/them, and they have a background in molecular biology and journalism. A self-described “postcolonial intersectional feminist,” Yang takes a multidisciplinary, cross-cultural approach to writing fiction. The Black Tides of Heaven, part of their Tensorate series, was nominated for Best Novella in the 2017 Nebula Awards.
Recommended from our shelves:
The Black Tides of Heaven
The Black Tides of Heaven follows two siblings, Mokoya and Akeha, as they grow up in a “silkpunk” society (silkpunk is a sister to steampunk; it’s a genre which incorporates retro-futuristic machines and inventions with East Asian cultures from antiquity). With a mesh of ancestral magic and future-facing biotechnology, The Black Tides of Heaven offers a world of fascinating contrast and possibility.
Bonus representation points for characters with transgender and non-binary identities! (For more LGBT book recommendations, see our last post!)

Nnedi Okorafor

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A self-described “Naijamerican” writer of science fiction and fantasy, Nnedi Okorafor is an expert on living “in-between” cultures. An American-born child of Nigerian immigrants, she shuns the hyphenated title of Nigerian-American, remarking that, in contrast, “‘Naijamerican’ is one word, implying a hybridized new individual whose parts cannot be separated.” And her writing, which frequently centralizes bicultural protagonists and themes, no doubt reflects this holistic mentality! For more on Okorafor, take a gander at her fascinating Ted Talk on the power of sci-fi stories that imagine a future Africa.

Recommended from our shelves:
Binti (mentioned in our first installment of Diverse Worlds!)

Akata Witch
I once pitched Akata Witch to one of my friends as a “Nigerian Harry Potter,” and while this might be a convenient comparison, I have to admit Akata Witch is wholly original and wholly saturated with its own inimitable culture. The story is about twelve-year-old Sunny, an American-born Nigerian with albino skin, who feels utterly displaced among her native, darker-skinned classmates. Homesick for America and unable to connect with her peers, Sunny is dejected until she discovers within herself a link to the world around her—magical powers reminiscent of the Leopard People of West African folklore! What follows is an exploration of heritage, belonging, and juju.

Lagoon (Tennessee R.E.A.D.S. exclusive)Picture it: aliens invading Lagos, Nigera. What more can I say? Okorafor masterfully blends traditional African cosmologies with modern technology while shifting the locus of conventionally Eurocentric science fiction to Nigeria. The story is quick, action-packed, and incredibly compelling.

 

Zen Cho

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Zen Cho is a Malaysian author of fantasy with a background in politics and law. Based in London, she is the recipient of the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer as well as the Crawford Fantasy Award.

Recommended from our shelves:
Sorcerer to the Crown
Sorcerer to the Crown is the first installment of the Sorcerer Royal series, which features freed slave and newly elected Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias Wythe, as he navigates the bewildering politics of the Unnatural Philosophers of Britain, a guild of England’s most distinguished magic users. A devoted reformist, Zacharias is bent on using his newfound position to solve Britain’s most pressing crisis—a shortage in the magic that supports daily living throughout the country. Along the way, he hopes to advance initiatives for equitable access to magic and magical education among Regency London’s most marginalized populations. Full of political intrigue and even a locked-room murder-mystery, Sorcerer to the Crown is an unassumingly clever, endearingly whimsical read.

Jewelle L. Gómez

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Jewelle Gómez is an author, essayist, poet, playwright, and activist whose work centralizes the experiences of LGBT women of color. Driven by an African-American and indigenous Ioway heritage, her work has appeared in many anthologies featuring postcolonial and black feminist criticism. A founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and a two-time winner of the Lambda Award for Best Novel, Gómez is a truly intersectional, truly trailblazing advocate for diverse representation.

Recommended from our shelves:
The Gilda Stories
A two-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Speculative Fiction, The Gilda Stories takes place in 1850s Louisiana and follows an escaped slave as she is inducted into a society of vampires. Later assuming the name Gilda, Gómez’s black bisexual protagonist attempts to make a family for herself within the coven. In her search for belonging, GIlda embarks on a complex existential voyage, exploring and complicating even the most established conventions of vampire literature.

Bonus representation points for characters with lesbian and bisexual identities!

C.B. Lee

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C.B. Lee is a Chinese-Vietnamese American writer of science fiction and fantasy. Her novel Not Your Sidekick was a finalist in the 2017 Lambda Literary Awards as well as the 2017 Bisexual Book Awards. Lee herself is bisexual and has been a fervent advocate for LGBT and PoC representation in YA books. She has been featured on panels such as Lambda Litfest’s Celebrating the Asian American LGBTQ+ Experience and DragonCon’s “BiScifi: Queer Heroes in Science Fiction and More.”

Recommended from our shelves:
Not Your Sidekick (Tennessee R.E.A.D.S. exclusive)
Jessica Tran is a high schooler living in a world where superpowers are actually super common. The chance of getting them is even more probable when both your parents are celebrated superheroes—which just makes Jessica’s inexplicable lack of powers even more of a letdown. Resigned to a life of normalcy, she figures she’ll have to succeed the old fashioned way—by beefing up her college resume. So, when Jessica gets a call back for a paid internship, she’s over the moon! Until she realizes she’ll be working as a lab assistant for a super villain. Add to the mix Jessica’s bewildering attraction to a fellow intern, and you’ve got one conflicted protagonist. And one fascinating new angle on the superhero genre!

Bonus representation points for characters with bisexual and transgender identities!

True Crime Books that Aren’t About Murder

By Brittney Reed-Saltz 

Recently I jumped onto the true crime train, which everyone else has been riding for quite some time. Although interest in true crime is nothing new, recent podcasts like Serial and My Favorite Murder, as well as books like I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by the indomitable Michelle McNamara, have brought plenty of new fans to the genre.

But what if you want to explore true crime without reading about grisly murders, kidnappings, and other violent crimes? If you want to avoid this kind of content, are you just out of luck?

As it turns out, no! There are plenty of true crime books about heists, espionage, gambling, deception, and even arson that provide the adventure of complex investigations, real-life mysteries, and heightened danger, with less troubling content than the plethora of serial killer books that flood the market.

American Fire by Monica Hessetrue crime 4
A true crime love story, mixed with arson? The premise automatically sets this book apart from others in its genre. Hesse explores a series of arsons that took place in Accomack County in rural Virginia. Each abandoned building burned bred more suspicion among the county’s residents, tension growing as vigilante groups sprang up, the police force searched for the culprit, and residents worries when the arsonist would strike next. But when the culprit is apprehended, his reason for setting the fires will prove more bizarre than his crimes.

The Snowden Files by Luke Harding
In 2013, former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden became a household name–and a hotly debated one–when he came forward with information about the previously unknown scope of the NSA’s intelligence-gathering practices. Written “like a spy novel,” this is the book for you if you’re looking for an insider look at a case that changed how we think about our data.

The Woman Who Wasn’t There by Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo
After 9/11, Tania Head came forward with the remarkable story of how she survived the World Trade Center attacks. She became a champion for other survivors, taking an active role in the World Trade Center Survivors Network, leading tours of Ground Zero, and providing leadership and advocacy. There was just one problem with her story: It wasn’t true. Take a look at the story behind this act of fraud.

true crime 1The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee
And now for a story of intelligence and espionage that predates Snowden, and was overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks: the case of Brian Regan. A U.S. government contractor, Regan smuggled sensitive information out of his office, burying it underground in the hopes of selling their locations to foreign governments. Read this book to learn about his crimes, his brilliant cryptography, and how his dyslexia ultimately led to his capture.

Molly’s Game by Molly Bloom
Go inside the world of underground gambling with Molly Bloom, who at the age of 26 became the leader of the most exclusive high-stakes poker game in the world. Celebrities, financial giants, and politicians all played at Molly’s table, winning and losing millions of dollars and making her privy to exclusive gossip. But Molly’s empire came crashing down around her… Find out why in her memoir.

Hot Art by Joshua Knelman
As years pass and the value of art increases, so, too, does the lure of stealing it. Knelman spent five years immersed the world of art thieves, exploring their backgrounds and activities, as well as learning about the rare special investigators who specialize in foiling them. This book is the result of his research. true crime 3

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
Before I found this book, I had no idea that there even was such a thing as “America’s strange flower-selling subculture.” Orlean follows eccentric John Laroche on his obsessive quest to clone an incredibly rare orchid. Where does the crime come  in, you might ask? (I did.) Answer: from Laroche’s illegal attempts to poach orchids out of the Florida swamps, which led to his arrest. This story inspired the movie Adaptation. 

The Bling Ring by Nancy Jo Sales
Another case of unusual theft: When you think of a burglary ring, privileged teenagers might not come to mind. But during the Aughts, a group of Los Angeles teens used social media and TMZ to track the whereabouts of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan–and steal more than $3 million in valuables from them. Their crimes provided the inspiration for the movie of the same name, starring Emma Watson.

 

Summer and the Folly of Overplanning

By Brittney Reed-Saltz

I’m the kind of reader who likes to feel as though I’m accomplishing something with my reading. I like goals. I like crossing items off of to-do lists. I like adding entries to my personal reading log. I like completing challenges. And planning? Oh boy, do I love planning.

There is no season that makes me want to plan my reading quite like Summer. As soon as the temperatures rise and we start signing people up for the Summer Reading Program–pssst, have you signed up yet??–I start setting goals.

Sometimes these goals of mine are very general. Maybe I decide to explore a particular genre in greater depth, or to read more of a certain author. Often, I’ll use the longer days as motivation to tackle a really long book that I’ve been putting off for forever because I prefer my books to clock in around 300 pages. Or I’ll decide to revisit an author whose work I love and reread my favorites.

My problem is that once I start setting goals, it’s hard for me to stop. One goal feels good? Well, imagine the thrill when I achieve three of them! Or five! Or more! And if a small goal is good, then a huge goal must be great! Before I know it, I’m not just planning to reread a few of my favorite author’s choice titles. Oh no, I’m signing on to reread their entire oeuvre before the Summer ends.

I’m sure you can see the problem, Astute Reader. Before I know it, summer is over, I’ve barely scratched the surface of the ambitious TBR list I concocted for myself, and although I’ve read plenty of books, I’m left with a lingering malaise of guilt over not meeting my goals.

But recently I had a breakthrough. I realized that I don’t have to try to read everything I might possibly want to between May and August. Those books will still be there long after I’ve dug out my scarves and boots and started planning for Halloween. Moreover, they’ll be just as good, regardless of when I get around to them. After all, I’m an adult now. I’ve been out of school for five years. When Fall rolls around, it doesn’t mean that I have to give up my recreational reading time. It means I still get to read whatever I want, just while enjoying more bearable temperatures and pumpkin-spice-flavored everything.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot that Summer reading is supposed to be fun. So this year, my primary goal is not to set too many. I’m giving myself permission to be fickle and flighty, to choose books based on whatever whim overtakes me in the moment, and to cast books aside without a second thought if I’m not enjoying them. Of course there are books that I’m excited to read soon, but if I don’t get to them because something else was more immediately appealing, it’s no big deal. They can wait their turn.

What about you? Are you setting lofty summer reading goals? Do you find it as hard to relax and just read as I do? Which books are on your summer TBR? Let’s talk about it in the comments!