Tag Archives: Friday Reads

Friday Reads: Beyond the Wand by Tom Felton

Malfoy. The name alone sparks hatred among the Harry Potter community. Unless you’re a Slytherin. Then I guess it strikes hero worship. Maybe envy? In the Harry Potter movies, Tom Felton embodied this boy-bully wizard character with his whole shriveled up heart and blackened soul. The smallest, well-timed facial expressions almost made me feel sorry for a darkened boy wizard, shaped by a domineering father. Tom Felton never appeared on screen. Only Malfoy.

Then Tom Felton wrote a memoir. I almost didn’t read Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard because I love to hate Malfoy so much. I didn’t want to watch the movies and know the mix of pain and triumph behind the scenes. I didn’t want to be yanked out of my carefully crafted fantasy land by looking at the man behind the wizard. But I decided to stir that cauldron anyway.

Now I wonder if Felton would have made the same life choices if he had known he would likely hear wizard puns until he was old and gray. Probably. There are worse ways to go down in history. He has plenty of wizard puns himself. I had seen him on the Graham Norton Show and other chat shows with the stars, but his memoir made him more real than any TV show. In my mind he was still a teenager, but he’s actually 36, a year older than me. I know actors age beyond their movies, but I never realized he was so close to my own age all these years.

The collision of fantasy and reality felt unnatural. There’s a reason I never want to meet the actor. They’re never like the characters you know and love. Or hate. It took about four or five chapters for me to see Tom instead of Malfoy. I know I’m not the only one with this problem because Tom still gets death glares from Gryffindors on a regular basis. Even when he tried to go back to his regular school life in between filming movies. The Muggle is real. Ahem. Struggle.

When he’s just Tom, it’s fascinating to learn how he sees the wonderful world of Harry Potter as a tool to bring people together. He believes in unity and shared purpose, just like his co-star Emma Watson. Off screen, he is a whole person who struggles with depression and figuring out who he is and what’s next in life. Regardless of common human struggles, Tom’s overall outlook on life and the world is something everyone should aspire towards.

Long story short, I’m glad I lifted the curtain and saw the man behind the wizard. Incredible things can happen when you decide to stir the cauldron.

Felton, Tom. Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing up a Wizard. Grand Central Publishing, 2022.

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Friday Reads & BookFace Friday: “Making It So” by Patrick Stewart

I remember watching and enjoying Star Trek: The Next Generation, starring Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard, but I wouldn’t call myself a diehard Trekkie. That was no barrier to finding Making It So, Stewart’s recently released memoir, enchanting and delightful. Especially the Audie award-winning audio edition, narrated by Stewart, himself.

As you can imagine, he declaims every word of every sentence with gusto!

Stewart (b. 1940) starts at the beginning, describing what it was like growing up working class in Yorkshire in the 1940s and early 1950s. This includes a brief etymology lesson on the Yorkshire dialect he grew up speaking, which, according to Stewart, would have been “nearly incomprehensible to Londoners, let alone Americans.” For instance, he explains that “ata,” which meant “are you,” descended from “art though”; “nowt” meant “nothing”; “Geroff!” meant “leave me alone”; and a chamber pot was a “gazunder,” because it “goes under” the bed. This is relevant since in order to become an actor he had to learn “received pronunciation,” or “RP.” (RP was the standard pronunciation used by BBC broadcasters back in the day.)

Stewart also does a good job conveying the degree to which theater permeated English society at the time. It ranged from amateur dramatics (“am-drams”) at the local level, to a network of regional repertory theaters, all the way up to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon and the National Theatre in London. And thanks to financial support by the government in the form of grants and scholarships, it was accessible to alleven a working-class boy like Stewart, who got his start locally and then worked his way to the top.

If you are particularly interested in the Star Trek: Next Generation portion of this memoir, you’ll have to be patient, or skip to chapter 16. From there on out (there are a total of 25 chapters in the book), you will be rewarded with lots of insider, behind-the-scenes information about Stewart’s time as Picard. There are also plenty of details about his stint as Charles Xavier in the X-Men movie franchise, and voice work for Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy and American Dad, as well as other television, film, theater, and social media projects he’s participated in, including reciting all Shakespeare’s sonnets on Instagram during the pandemic lockdown.

While this memoir will appeal to Trekkies, theater nerds, and Anglofiles, there are also elements that will resonate with anyone who has lived a long life filled with both gratitude and regret. In later chapters, Stewart expresses remorse over the demise of his 23-year marriage to his first wife, and the damage that did to his relationship with their children, Daniel and Sophie: “[T]he hurt caused by my split with their mother has never fully gone away,” he writes. After a second brief marriage falls apart, he laments: “And so, another divorce. I felt stupid and responsible.” But he also joyfully expounds on life with his third wife, Sunny Ozell, to whom he’s been married since 2013, as well as his well-publicized friendship with Ian McKellen. Overall, Stewart comes across as a vibrant, engaged octogenarian who, despite living a full, rich life, is still ready for more!

Stewart, Patrick. Making It So: A Memoir. Gallery Books, 2023.

You can find “Making It So: A Memoir” by Patrick Stewart as an eBook in Nebraska OverDrive Libraries! Libraries participating in the Nebraska OverDrive Libraries Group currently have access to a shared and growing collection of digital downloadable audiobooks and eBooks. 194 libraries across the state share the Nebraska OverDrive collection of 26,174 audiobooks, 36,611 ebooks, and 5,210 magazines. As an added bonus it includes 130 podcasts that are always available with simultaneous use (SU), as well as SU ebooks and audiobook titles that publishers have made available for a limited time. If you’re a part of it, let your users know about this great title, and if you’re not a member yet, find more information about participating in Nebraska Overdrive Libraries!

Love this #BookFace & Friday Reads? We suggest checking out all the titles available in our Book Club collection, permanent collection, and Nebraska OverDrive Libraries. Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!

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Friday Reads: Atlantis, by David Gibbins

I am a huge fan of adventure novels and movies, so over the years I have really enjoyed the various books of Clive Cussler, Steve Berry, Dan Brown, David Baldacci, and Lee Child. An action/adventure author that I hadn’t read, David Gibbins, popped up on my radar recently, so I decided to try his first novel in the Jack Howard series, Atlantis, and it did not disappoint! Atlantis was written in 2005, and there are now 11 books in the series , so I’m really looking forward to reading the next one!

Archaeologist Jack Howard is a brave but cautious man. When he embarked on a new search for buried treasure in the Mediterranean, he knew it was a long shot. When he uncovered a golden disc that spoke of a lost civilization more advanced than any in the ancient world, he started to get excited. But when Jack Howard and his intrepid crew finally got close to uncovering the secrets the sea had held for thousands of years, nothing could have prepared them for what they would find in the murky depths – not only a shocking truth about a lost world but an explosive secret that could have devastating consequences today. Jack is determined to stop the legacy of Atlantis from falling into the wrong hands, whatever the cost. But first he must do battle to prevent a global catastrophe! **Synopsis courtesy of Fantastic Fiction**

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Friday Reads: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

“After a certain age, you can pretty much do whatever takes your fancy. No one tells you off, except for your doctors and your children.”

Cooper’s Chase is a lovely upscale retirement village in Kent. Elizabeth (spy), Joyce (nurse), Ibrahim (psychiatrist), and Ron (union boss) meet every Thursday to discuss cold/unsolved murders – taken from their friend Penny’s old case files.

Told through Joyce’s journal entries, the club finds renewed purpose as two “new” murders basically fall on their doorstep. These septuagenarian detectives must use their past experiences and connection to (unofficially) help PC Donna discover the truth – this is her first murder investigation after all. Who is the killer and how are these murders connected to Cooper’s Chase?

A cozy mystery – the story focuses on our quirky cast of characters, their relationships and life lessons without being too gory or violent with the murders. The writing is warm-hearted and humorous with plenty of suspense, twists, and gossip.


  • The Thursday Murder Club #1
  • The Man Who Died Twice #2
  • The Bullet That Missed #3
  • The Last Devil to Die #4

Osman, R. The Thursday Murder Club. Penguin. 2020.

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Friday Reads: The Last Man, by Mary Shelley, with a new foreword by Rebecca Solnit

When I read that Rebecca Solnit wrote a new foreword for a Mary Shelley book, and it was one I hadn’t read yet, The Last Man, I jumped to acquire the new Penguin edition. Solnit writes so eloquently on many topics close to my heart, and Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of my favorite books—I reviewed it for this blog some time ago, here.

We knew Mary Shelley invented the Frankenstein genre, of course, and is often credited (correctly, I would say) with writing the first science fiction novel when she did. It turns out that a few years later, she also wrote the first Western novel about human extinction, as well as the first book in the genre now known as “climate fiction.” When Shelley wrote this book, The Last Man, the skies over Europe were dark because of a volcanic eruption, a cholera epidemic was cutting swaths out of the human population, and England’s political parties were battling over the future identity of the country. The author was also dealing with terrible personal loss, including the recent death of her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their special friend, the poet Lord Byron.

This dystopian novel, set in the late twenty-first century, was not well-received by critics or the general public when it was published in 1824, but modern readers find much to explore and enjoy here. (Perhaps the book was “ahead of its time” in more ways than one.) Shelley invented lore about “finding” secret writings in a cave in Naples that she fashioned into this text, with a story that runs from 2073-2100. The foreword to the 2024 edition, by Rebecca Solnit, expertly connects Shelley’s concerns with ours, two hundred years later.

If you’d like to read or listen to an earlier edition of this novel right this minute, you’re in luck, because it’s 200 years old so it’s definitely in the public domain! The Internet Archive has many options to read the work (here is one option for volume 1 of 3) and Librivox has free audio (here is one option). I appreciate how many wonderful texts and works are available through the Internet Archive—if you haven’t explored there, this is a great time to start.

And if you’re in Nebraska, we have a couple of editions (from 1993 and 2006), from University of Nebraska Press, in our circulating collection to check out. You can search our OPAC here to request a copy.

Shelley, M. W., Solnit, R., & Havard, J. O. (2024). The last man. Penguin Classics.

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Friday Reads: The Perfect Passion Company by Alexander McCall Smith

This book may be the first in another new series and released in time for Valentine’s Day since it features a matchmaking business.  Katie Donald agrees to leave her job at a London gallery to run the Perfect Passion Company in Edinburgh while the proprietor, Katie’s Aunt Ness, takes an adult gap year in Ontario, Canada. Katie has no formal training in this business and receives only brief but basic instructions.  Ness introduces Katie to William, the handsome Australian knitwear designer who lives in a flat adjacent to the agency office. William, along with the accountant, will be all the support Katie receives as she begins interviewing and introducing hopeful, love-seeking clients who would rather not use dating apps.

Her first client is a retired airline pilot turned farmer, who is looking for someone to cook for him. Her second client has struggled with relationships due to an overbearing mother. A third client is a verbose woman whose list of requirements for a man is lengthy and unattainable. Katie sends the first client to cooking school, the second client receives an introduction to a very strong-willed and assertive woman, and the third client is introduced to a man who wears adjustable hearing aids. Mostly successful and humorous results all around.

What makes Smith such a reliable author for me are his charming characters in delightful settings with clever dialog. This book is set in Edinburgh in the New Town area, the same neighborhood used for the 44 Scotland Street Series. In this book Katie is a level-headed, self-confident woman who is an excellent problem solver. Often, Katie is able to hold back words in a conversation she would like to say, but realizes in the moment, perhaps another comment would be more acceptable. Her interior thoughts are funny and relatable, unfortunately, her own success in love is lacking. William possess common sense, artistic talent, and tact although he has a few blind spots when it comes to his own love life. Smith rounds out the cast with hyperbolic and amusing characters. Having been to Edinburgh, I am familiar with the setting and am always happy to visit again.

Finding nonfiction to read is never difficult, but more recently, fiction has been a challenge.  Alexander McCall Smith will always be a go to author for me.

Smith, Alexander McCall. The Perfect Passion Company. Vintage. 2024

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Friday Reads: Will Trent Novels

I don’t know about you, but I am a sucker for a good book series. I blame my favorite childhood series, because once I find a character I like I just want their story to continue. Lately I’ve been deep into mystery and detective novels, including Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series, Triptych, Fractured, Undone, and Broken. I’m currently on the fourth book in this twelve book series, and have enjoyed the world and characters that Karin Slaughter has created with character crossovers from her other book series including The Grant County Series.

Set mainly in Atlanta, Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series begins with Triptych, where you meet Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) Special Agent Will Trent and a slew of other characters that will continue throughout the series. Including his hard as nails GBI boss, Amanda Wagner, various childhood acquaintances, and other law enforcement officers. Orphaned as an infant, Will Trent spent his entire childhood as a ward of the state, growing up in group homes and foster care. And for his entire adult life, Trent has been concealing that he is barely able literate. Due to his unconventional childhood, he’s been living with undiagnosed dyslexia, finding creative ways to work around this problem, and keep it a secret. In spite of all this, or perhaps because of it, he’s an observant, thoughtful, and dedicated detective, solving crimes and seeing what others do not.

Now a series on the Hulu streaming service, Will Trent and his dog Betty are out there for everyone, even those non-readers, and it is a great TV show.

Slaughter, Karin. Triptych. Delacorte Press. 2006

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Friday Reads: 2020: One City, Seven People, and the Year Everything Changed by Eric Klinenberg

If there were a year that many would like to forget, it would likely be 2020. The worldwide pandemic that brought the spread of a novel virus, originating in rural China, sparked global disruption and changes that will continue into the future. In his new book, 2020, sociologist Eric Klinenberg chronicles the experiences, stories, and research associated with the pandemic, public health measures, economic peril, political distress, and societal changes.

The COVID pandemic, George Floyd’s death and the social justice movement, and the presidential election were prominent in this historic year. Klinenberg observes, “This story is not over. We are living through the long 2020.” 2020 includes an extensive presentation of data and is global in scope. However, as broad and sweeping as it is with comparisons and contrasts, a unique feature is the personal stories that reflect on individuals and their experiences living through this extraordinary time. Experiences depend on individual circumstances. Location, lifestyle, and access to resources all played a significant role. A takeaway is how these disruptive events affected each individual in their own personal way.

Disturbing was the growing divide over policies and actions to address the pandemic. Policies and actions varied from neighborhood, community, state, national, and global. The United States lacked consistency in providing direction. States differed in the extent of public health safety policies – some highly restrictive and others much less so. Communities varied based on local leadership and circumstances. Overall, the pandemic strained public trust in both government and science, leading to deep divisions over measures like mask mandates, social distancing, lockdowns, and vaccinations.

Klinenberg profiles seven New Yorkers including a new bar owner, an elementary school principal living in a multigenerational home, a transit worker, a local political aide, a retired district attorney turned neighborhood organizer, and others. Notable is the Staten Island bar owner who declared his bar an autonomous zone and refused to follow New York City’s health safety requirements. Questionable as his actions were, we can sympathize with his dilemma – opening a new business and having it shut down soon after. Others interviewed spoke of depression, food insecurity, and employment uncertainty. For others – the vulnerable – those living in high-density neighborhoods, nursing homes, those lacking homes with the resources school age children needed to participate in online education.  

Despite the negative, there are remarkable examples of compassion and courage, as well as the day-to-day efforts of many to provide care for family, friends, neighbors – donations, pantries, deliveries, childcare, and more. To be appreciated are the health care workers, teachers, and all in “essential” occupations with close exposure to illness.

Klinenberg’s book is difficult to read because it is a reminder of the tragedy of pervasive illness, death, disruption, and economic uncertainty. Consequences have lingered and polarization continues. A troubling question remains whether we are now better prepared and less vulnerable for the next pandemic.

Eric Klinenberg is Professor in the Social Sciences and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. Among his other books is Palaces for the People, published in 2018. In regard to Palaces for the People, Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, commented that “Klinenberg is echoing what librarians and library patrons have been saying for years: that libraries are equalizers and absolutely universal.”

Klinenberg, Eric. 2020: One City, Seven People, and the Year Everything Changed. Knopf. 2024.

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Friday Reads: Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash

My favorite book discoveries are often found nestled amongst travel guides. While guidebooks often shrink small towns into succinct paragraphs, and weigh their significance based on subjective criteria suited for outsiders, I love a book that digs deeper into a place. Dark, Salt, Clear: The Life of a Fishing Town is one of these finds.

Lamorna Ash is a twenty-something Londoner, who ventures to the Cornish coastline to learn about fishing. Although she is an outsider, she has roots in Cornwall. Her mother was raised there and named her daughter for a Cornish village. Lamorna settles in Newlyn, a town centered on the fishing industry, steeped in tradition, but also rapidly changing. The locals quickly welcome her into their lives and workplaces, allowing her access to the various enterprises, including participating in the catch, processing fish, and observing the wholesale auction in an ever changing global market.

Dark, Salt, Clear is not just a story about fishing. It’s about the people, the place, and the complex beauty of it all. Ash peppers her story with poetry and prose from others who experienced the sea and its coastlines. The book’s title comes from the poem “At the Fishhouses” (1947) by Elizabeth Bishop:

“It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.”   

Ash is also adept at interweaving her own poetic observations about life and the natural world, and often reflects on the things she learns from the people she meets including captains, deckhands, birdwatchers, fishmongers, processors, barkeeps, and geologists. 

“A geologist’s task is to see beyond the ways in which time tries to smooth out difference, examining layers in order to isolate each sift to our world, to feel every fault line.  We discuss how hard this is to do this with people, to imagine our lives not as one continuous line, but comprised of hundreds of versions, stacked up behind us, and hundreds more ahead of us too, like those pairs of facing mirrors that make your reflection curl up infinitely on either side of you.”

The book not only explores what it means to work in the fishing industry, but also what it means to live in a place that is so connected to the sea. As a person who grew up in a small coastal town in the Pacific Northwest, I was intrigued to learn about another coastal town across the globe. Books, like travel, can broaden our horizons, but also connect us. People in Cornwall look for the illusive “Green Flash” just like the residents of my hometown. The fishing industry everywhere is effected by globalization and climate change. Small seaside towns struggle with similar issues like tensions between tourism and industry. Fishing families across the globe are impacted by metal health issues, tragedy, and grief.  

If you are curious about the natural world and the human experience in a small town across the Atlantic, check out Dark, Salt, Clear. While I picked up a physical copy of this book from my local library, you can also read it as an ebook through the Nebraska OverDrive Libraries.

Ash, Lamorna. Dark, Salt, Clear: the Life of a Fishing Town. Bloomsbury, 2020.

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Friday Reads: Elvis in Vegas: How the King Reinvented the Las Vegas Show

I miss the Las Vegas of old. The endless submersion in Kitch (perhaps only bested by the highly recommended House on the Rock), cheap eats and drinks, low stakes table games, cigarillo smoke, and copious amounts of prime opportunities for people watching. Much of this existed historically, or at least to a greater extent by comparison, Downtown. I remember the draw to Downtown, before the gaudy “Fremont Street Experience” was installed in 1995. Less walking for sure, not to mention a much better value. A place where you could traverse across 4 or 5 casinos in a matter of just a few minutes. Where you could play 25 cent craps at the Golden Gate or $1 tables at the Four Queens, California, Las Vegas Club, Union Plaza, or the Horseshoe. If you were highbrow, you went to the $5 tables at the Golden Nugget. The dice go cold? Pick up your cocktail and head next door. You had options. For hungry gamblers, a trip over to the El Cortez or Lady Luck always offered excellent value, just off the main drag, but it was always advisable on the walk back (especially at night), to never, under no circumstances ever, stop. Always keep moving. These days, unfortunately, on the main drag downtown, you have hustlers in outlandish costumes (or virtually no costume at all) hassling you every ten seconds under that Fremont Street canopy that reeks of Commercialism.

Out on the strip, you used to have classics such as the Aladdin, Dunes, Riviera, Sands, Sahara, and while the Tropicana is still there (technically), the Moai are unfortunately long gone. The Moai most likely were too large to move at 35 feet tall, made outta solid concrete, and weighing 300,000 pounds each (they should’ve just left them there). While the Aku Aku restaurant in Las Vegas closed before my time, I did visit the Stardust on numerous occasions before it was imploded in 2007. Nothing would beat a cocktail stop at Slots-A-Fun when strolling the strip on hot summer days. Always ice cold and always just 75 cents, purchased from the guy standing across from the open door, insulated by the blaring casino air conditioning. Now we have the godawful Margarita by the Yard, at the low low price of (roughly) $35. The quantity may be there, but the value and quality sure ain’t. The authorities did keep one Aku Aku Moai, from the restaurant at the Stardust, (smaller than the ones at the Tropicana) moving it to Sunset Park, so there is that I suppose. Some of the local old timers may remember the Aku Aku lounge in Lincoln, inside the Villager Motel on O Street. Swank at a level only matched by its obvious equal, The Brothers Johnson. Unfortunately, like almost every other good thing around, the establishment tore down the Villager. The Tropicana will soon be demolished to make way for a baseball stadium, as many other icons have likewise succumbed to destruction. Anti-depressants were undoubtedly popped by any rational person after the announcement that the Mirage was sold and its iconic volcano will (eventually) be torn out to make way for a guitar shaped hotel (the property is now operated by Hard Rock International). What is the matter with these people? We should be discussing restoration of these gems to what they once were, instead of demolishing them in favor of something “new” that lacks any ounce of character. While I’m on the subject, I’d add that in almost all cases, demo and rebuild is more expensive than renovate and restore. However, the architects, designers, and consultants (and the politicians being greased by them) don’t make as much money taking that train, which is why the conductors ain’t selling it.

This book is more than merely the story of the revival of Elvis Presley’s career by virtue of his 636 sold-out shows at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. It tells a much broader story of the other performers and the history of those performances in the city. The set-up leading to the resurgence of Elvis is a worthwhile read. Yes, there is much focus on the Rat Pack and other Vegas essentials such as Tom Jones, Wayne Newton, Liberace, and Don Rickles (just to name a few), as well as the numerous all night long lounge acts. Takeaways: Most were great performers, but Frank Sinatra was a tyrant of legendary magnitude, directing his outbursts to almost all, but especially Sammy. The writing in this book is filled with all sorts of nuggets. As evidence, describing the comeback of Elvis, and the success of his first show, Zoglin summarizes:

“The show lasted an hour and fifteen minutes, and Elvis worked himself to a frazzle: pacing the stage like a panther, crouching, lunging, leaping, doing karate kicks and punches. He was audibly huffing and puffing after just a few minutes. He gulped water and Gatorade and mopped his sweat with towels handed to him by Charlie Hodge, or handkerchiefs and napkins tossed onstage by women in the audience.”

And, the downfall:

“His performances first began to be affected, by most accounts, during his August 1971 engagement. Elvis looked puffy and seemed listless onstage. His sets were rarely longer than forty-five minutes, and filled with so many fits and starts and distracting karate displays that some audience members actually walked out.”

Overall, Zoglin’s book is a formidable history of entertainment in the city of Las Vegas. Don’t be fooled by the title, it only partially describes the comeback (and downfall) of Elvis. In reality, it’s a much broader history of showbiz in Las Vegas, and the longing for those good ol’ days.

Zoglin, Richard. Elvis in Vegas. Simon & Shuster, 2019.

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Friday Reads & #BookFaceFriday – “Fourteen Days: A Collaborative Novel” by The Authors Guild

We’ve reached the point in our “post-pandemic world” (or as close as we have come to being post-anything) where it seems every book set in the current time period mentions COVID-19. For example, my two most recent juvenile fiction reads were set in mid-2020, when masks were common and the death toll still sky high (“Wrecker” by Carl Hiaasen, and “Invisible Son” by Kim Johnson). “Fourteen Days” by The Authors Guild (edited by Margaret Atwood and Douglas Preston) takes place in New York City, in April 2020, just as it seems all hell has broken loose.

The new superintendent of the rundown Fernsby Arms apartment building finds herself responsible for maintaining a property with no way to procure supplies and no landlord to call for help; anyone with means has fled the city to hide from the novel coronavirus. With no cell reception in her basement apartment, she ventures onto the roof, where she encounters other residents looking for fresh air. A regular gathering of tenants begins, first to bang pots and pans at sundown to cheer the city’s essential workers, and then just for the socialization they are sorely lacking due to the lockdown. One by one, over the course of two weeks, the residents begin to share stories to entertain themselves. Virtually strangers before now, they find themselves bound together by both the current circumstances and by the (often tragic or bizarre) tales of how they came to reside in this dilapidated building.

I will admit that I was initially drawn to this book because they slapped Margaret Atwood’s name on the cover, but as you can see, she is only one of the well-known voices that contributed to this work. From the book description:

Includes writing from: Charlie Jane Anders, Margaret Atwood, Joseph Cassara, Jennine Capó Crucet, Angie Cruz, Pat Cummings, Sylvia Day, Emma Donoghue, Dave Eggers, Diana Gabaldon, Tess Gerritsen, John Grisham, Maria Hinojosa, Mira Jacob, Erica Jong, CJ Lyons, Celeste Ng, Tommy Orange, Mary Pope Osborne, Douglas Preston, Alice Randall, Ishmael Reed, Roxana Robinson, Nelly Rosario, James Shapiro, Hampton Sides, R.L. Stine, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Monique Truong, Scott Turow, Luis Alberto Urrea, Rachel Vail, Weike Wang, Caroline Randall Williams, De’Shawn Charles Winslow, and Meg Wolitzer!”

The Authors Guild. (2024). Fourteen Days. Harper.

You can find “Fourteen Days: A Collaborative Novel” by The Authors Guild as both an eBook and Audiobook in Nebraska OverDrive Libraries! Libraries participating in the Nebraska OverDrive Libraries Group currently have access to a shared and growing collection of digital downloadable audiobooks and eBooks. 194 libraries across the state share the Nebraska OverDrive collection of 26,174 audiobooks, 36,611 ebooks, and 5,210 magazines. As an added bonus it includes 130 podcasts that are always available with simultaneous use (SU), as well as SU ebooks and audiobook titles that publishers have made available for a limited time. If you’re a part of it, let your users know about this great title, and if you’re not a member yet, find more information about participating in Nebraska Overdrive Libraries!

Love this #BookFace & reading? We suggest checking out all the titles available in our Book Club collection, permanent collection, and Nebraska OverDrive Libraries. Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!

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Friday Reads: Tasting History by Max Miller

In February 2020, Max Miller posted his first Tasting History video to YouTube. A week later COVID-19 hit, and he was furloughed from his job. As the world entered the beginning of the pandemic lockdown, people went online, looking for entertainment, distraction, and connections. Tasting History was there. And the rest is, well, history.

Now, his viral video series has become a cookbook, Tasting History, Explore the Past through 4,000 Years of Recipes. Full disclosure: I haven’t cooked anything from this cookbook yet, I’ve just been enjoying reading through it so far.

We have been watching the Tasting History videos almost from the beginning, so when Max announced there would be a cookbook coming out, I knew we had to have it. And I was not disappointed.

The videos are a combination of recipe demo and history lesson, and that format has been carried over into the cookbook.

The book is arranged by geographic area: The Ancient World, The British Isles, Continental Europe, The Near & Far East, and The New World. Within each section the recipes are from oldest to newest. The oldest being Stew of Lamb, from Babylon, c. 1740 BC. The most recent recipes are both from 1914: Simnel Cake from England and Pecan Pie from Texas. Each recipe includes a few paragraphs about the history of the dish and the area of the world it originates from.

Since many old recipes do not provide precise measurements, or ingredients that we may recognize or have access to today, Max has re-created them as best as he can, based on his own cooking and historical knowledge. If you watch his videos, he does taste each dish, and he doesn’t always like them. But, that’s part of the fun and experimentation.

I think Tasting History, both the cookbook and the video series, is perfect for foodies, history buffs, or foodie history buffs. Max is still making videos, and I look forward to watching the new ones every week. A fun tip: he is a big Pokemon fan, and there is always a figure or plush in the background of each video that relates to the dish he is making. See if you can find them all!

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Friday Reads: The  Misfits: A Royal Conundrum by Lisa Yee 

Olive Zang (almost 12) doesn’t really fit in – at school, with friends (what friends?) or even with her mom and dad. They are always gone on a trip for work, and seem to not really notice her.  This time, before they leave again, they put her in a boarding school located on an island in San Francisco Bay.     

Once she arrives at RASCH (Reforming Arts School) she undergoes an unusual set of tasks as an aptitude test for placement in the school.  Once placed with Pod 101 she is surprised at how quickly the group of five bonds.  They are hastily put into training to prepare them to be a contributing group for a secret crime fighting organization.  Soon the very existence of the school (the first one where Olive feels connected and appreciated) is on the line, can The Misfits (her group) help capture a jewel thief?  Will they help or hinder the effort?     

As Kirkus says, “A fantastical blend of quirky characters and goofy adventures.” (11/1/23) Includes occasional black and white drawings by Dan Santat. This is the first book of a new series aimed at grades 3-6 or so.

Yee, Lisa. The  Misfits: A Royal Conundrum. Random House, 2024.  

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Friday Reads & #BookFaceFriday: The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia Postrel 

The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.

Mark Weiser

Virginia Postrel’s The Fabric of Civilization begins with the dawn of human history, with the first fibers twisted into string, and ends with modern innovators creating new fibers and types of fabrics. The book is sectioned into seven chapters, each covering a certain step in the fiber-to-textile life cycle: Fiber, Thread, Cloth, Dye, Traders, Consumers, and Innovators. Postrel’s core thesis: fabric was among our first technologies, and it was also our most crucial and defining technology — and it still is. “We hairless apes co-evolved with our cloth,” Postrel writes. “From the moment we’re wrapped in a blanket at birth, we are surrounded by textiles.”     

This book was absolutely fascinating. As a knitter, crocheter, and now a beginning spinner, part of my awe for the fiber crafts comes from their long-stretching history: from me, to my grandmother, to endless generations past. The way I spin yarn from wool, sitting on my couch in front of the TV in 2024, uses the same motions that would be familiar to someone in ancient history. Fibers spun into thread were necessary for the cloth needed for sails, clothing, blankets, political functions, military uniforms, and religious/cultural rituals. My burgeoning love of spinning is likely why Chapter 2: Thread was my favorite. Postrel’s breakdown of how long it would take spinners and their spindles from different eras to produce the thread that was so crucial for exploration, competition, commerce, and general livelihood was incredibly thorough. Take a moment to think about all the fabric around you right now. That fabric is composed of woven threads or knitted yarns. Today’s modern factories use heavy machinery to spin fibers into miles and miles of that thread for jeans, cotton shirts, and wool coats. For much of history, however, that process needed to be done entirely by hand. Much of the rest of the world’s economy could not work until the spinners did, and the quest to expedite the process drove inventions and innovations that had far-reaching effects on industries beyond that of textiles.     

At times, Postrel’s overview and analysis bottlenecks into myopia, and the occasional – but thankfully brief – insertions of her own personal experiences with the textile process were jarring. Postrel occasionally falls into a columnist’s cadence, sacrificing the distance of academic de rigueur for a more conversational tone. Another reader might appreciate the first-person connections and exposé-esque sections – a la How It’s Madeand I can certainly understand the reasoning behind her choice, but I did not find that these added much to the book.  

Her myopia, however, is less forgivable. Postrel would have crafted a more solid body of work had she matched the title with the true scope of her endeavor, and called the book The Fabric of Western Civilization. Industrial Revolution-era Europe and New England are centered far more prominently than I would have preferred. Postrel touches briefly on the interaction between the South’s cotton industry and England’s mills — even after the latter abolished slavery — but doesn’t spend as long on that connection, even though I feel it would have bolstered her argument about global commerce and economy. This was an especially disappointing flaw, especially given Postrel’s own definitions of “civilization,” including the fact that it is a cumulative process not bound to one region or culture; in fact, as Postrel does mention, exchange (willing and unwilling) is what drove the evolution of textiles and humanity both.   

Postrel also falls into the trap of rebuttal for the sake of novel arguments, which end up bordering on dismissal of broader historical truths: particularly and most egregiously in her argument about cotton in the Pre-Civil War South, singling out Edward E. Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (2013) and his statement that increased cotton production was caused by ever-intensifying brutality inflicted on enslaved people. Postrel counters that the production increase can be simply explained, instead, by advancements in both cotton stock and processing technologies. However, there is no reason why both cannot be true. The same root issue is also at play when she disregards the low-wages of the pre-industrial (and typically female) spinners as solely a business decision, devoid of the influence of gender and class politics. History is not a field with single-causes and single-effects.  

Part of the appeal of non-fiction to me, however, is actively engaging with the arguments that the author presents. A sense of wonder is important, but I also want to think about the topic and build my own perspective. And so, overall, I enjoyed the book. I listened to the audiobook read by Caroline Cole, but I do plan to check out the print copy from my local library, in order to explore Postrel’s footnotes and bibliography for further reading and learning opportunities.  

You can find “The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World” by Virginia Postrel is available for download on BARD, the Braille and Audio Reading Download service. BARD is a service offered by the Nebraska Library Commission Talking Book and Braille Service and the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled at the Library of Congress.

Love this #BookFace & reading? We suggest checking out all the titles available in our Book Club collection, permanent collection, and Nebraska OverDrive Libraries. Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!

Postrel, Virginia. The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World. Basic Books/OrangeSky Audio, 2021.  

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Friday Reads, Mickey 7, by Edward Ashton

Mickey 7 by Edward Ashton is hard science fiction set in the far future. Mickey Barnes was born on a colony world where the hardest part of settling the colony is over. The planet is terraformed, and it’s safe to live there. Life is nearly ideal, except Mickey has no scientific or technical talents; he’s a historian on a world where everything can be looked up online. He does get a subsistence pay, but he’s gotten into deep debt, and needs to get off the planet, and there’s only one way off—the colony ship that’s been put together at great expense to the colony. Everything is weighed to the last milligram, and even the colonists pared down belongings aren’t allowed on, at the last minute. And his only way on is to become an “expendable.” The one member of the new colony that can die and be printed from a vat, with his mind transferred. You see, on the trip, and in the settlement, the robots they have can’t be replaced, but the expendable can. Plus, they have found, that the human body takes longer to shut down in adverse situations, like intense heat or radiation, than the electronic bots.

Mickey 7 by Edward Ashton

The story starts in real time stream, starting with Mickey 7, on the new colony world, an ice planet, falling down a crevice, and getting slightly (for him) injured. His air cover won’t come to help him, for fear of the creepers, the local life forms. He’s too deep to be rescued, but is rescued by a huge creeper, and set outside tunnels running under the planet’s surface. This is the source of the latest problem, when the air cover flyer got back to the settlement, he reported Mickey dead, so number 8 was printed. And Mickey 7 returned. The colony can’t support one more person, but neither want to die. There is a taboo about having more than one duplicate existing at a time. The explanation of the taboo, Mikey’s multiple deaths, and research into how other colonies have begun are the rest of the story. The author handles several heavy themes quickly, with humor. Where do you go for privacy, in a colony with just public spaces, with only under 200 people, when you can’t be in your room? Not being seen by the same people in overlapping times is much more difficult than one would suppose, and Mickey 8 is far less concerned about dying, that Mickey 7.

And then there are the creepers. When the planet was surveyed, it was done from their home planet. Since no industry was detected, and it seemed to have enough oxygen, and was just in the “Goldilocks zone” for life, it was thought habitable. When they got there, it was covered in ice, with unbreathable air. The creepers showed up, and seemed to be mere animals. However, Mickey discovers that their tunnels are evenly spaced at one hub. He has had a sneaking feeling for a while that they may be sentient. Which is just another of Mickey 7’s problems—to report, or not report. Especially since he believes, the leader of the expedition will not only end his life, but the indigenous life forms, too. So, of course, it gets much more complicated from there.

An interesting, and surprisingly funny stand alone, with some deep thinking hidden inside.

Mickey 7, by Edward Ashton, hardback, St. Martin’s Press, ISBN 978-1-250-27503-6, 27.99.

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Friday Reads: Unbroken: My Fight for Survival, Hope and Justice for Indigenous Women and Girls by Angela Sterritt

Several years ago, I heard my dad scream in the middle of the night. It was such a foreign sound I thought it was leftover from the dream that had woken me up in the first place. I froze on high alert, listening. Nothing. I had nothing in my memory to compare the sound against, so it was easy to quietly dismiss the scream as a dream.

Months later, my dad and I were watching a movie about missing and murdered indigenous women and I found out my aunt had been murdered long before my life was even a possibility. He said the only time he ever screamed was that night when he woke up and saw her face next to his bed. The scream was real, and I did nothing. I didn’t know what to do with that information. I wanted to know more, but nobody ever speaks her name. The pain is still too great. There are probably others I don’t know about who were lost.

So I read Unbroken: My Fight for Survival, Hope, and Justice for Indigenous Women and Girls by Angela Sterritt, a Native journalist who grew up on the streets of Vancouver, Canada. I’ve read a lot on this topic. The book is part memoir and part investigative journalism as Sterritt blends together her own story of survival with the stories of those who were lost along the Highway of Tears in British Columbia. This is a stretch of highway where more than 40 Indigenous went missing or were found murdered. I thought it would be hard to read, but it wasn’t. Each story is filled with an equal amount of love and heartache. As I read, I wondered about my aunt’s story.

Sterritt tells these stories because “She could have been me”. I share the book because this problem is bigger than Canada. My aunt was found in Seattle. In the state of Washington alone, in a single year, over 5,000 Indigenous women and girls went missing. In smaller numbers, similar stories can be found in Alaska and other parts of the nation. As Sterritt shared her experience of walking the same streets as these lost women, I realized that I probably walked on the same street where my aunt lost her life. I’ve been to that area in Seattle several times, often at night. The statistics were mind-boggling. The stories struck me to the core.

As I read deeper, I remembered my mom telling me that I shouldn’t wear my beaded earrings, even though I love making them. They make me feel good. She wouldn’t say why, but she was disturbingly adamant that I shouldn’t wear them. At the time, I interpreted this as disrespecting a heritage that wasn’t her own. I wore them secretly in rebellious Native pride. Now I realize I was missing vital information. My aunt was murdered by a serial killer targeting Native women in Seattle. On the wrong streets, those earrings make me a target. I still make and wear my beaded earrings proudly, but when the shadows come out at night, I hide my heritage in a jewelry box in my purse. 5,000 women in a year. She could have been me.

I used to lay awake at night wondering if I would wake up in the dead of night and see her face. Would I recognize her? Did she spill over from a nightmare my dad was having? Would I share the same dream? I wondered if the desecration of murder was so powerful it could scream through the generations. 

All I know is that this book was a journey for Sterritt. It was a journey for me. The stories of these women deserve to be told. Sterritt lived a hard life, but she emerged Unbroken. She seeks justice for the women who were lost along the Highway of Tears. She uncovers unbelievable acts of racism and unfounded hatred for Indigenous people. She shows how law enforcement ignored the problem and more went missing. She refuses to allow the media or the public to turn a blind eye to difficult topics. She lived on the wrong end of justice for long enough to show she speaks the truth.

Most of all, she shows how Indigenous women can survive and thrive in life. This book may be hard for some to read, but knowledge is power. Now I know what my earrings really mean. It’s not fair or just, but I have the power to make myself a little bit safer. It did help in a gas station parking lot late one night. That night, I was white. The world should know that statistically, the world is more dangerous to Native women. Read and learn the root causes of these terrifying numbers, especially if you have a Native population. Help keep that population alive.

STERRITT, ANGELA. Unbroken: My Fight for Survival, Hope, and Justice for Indigenous Women and Girls. GREYSTONE BOOKS, 2024.

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Friday Reads & #BookFaceFriday: Houses with a Story, by Seiji Yoshida

Sometimes art imitates #BookFaceFriday

After the holiday frenzy I needed to read something that would serve as a mental palate cleanser–the literary equivalent of a deep, cleansing breath. Houses with a Story, by Seiji Yoshida, fit the bill.

Yoshida, a Tokyo-based artist who works as a professional background illustrator in the game/anime industry, first published Houses with a Story in Japan in 2020. The English translation came out in November 2023. Language isn’t the most important component of this book, however. Instead, detailed illustrations of over 30 imaginative dwellings, along with brief text hinting at a backstory for each, predominate.

Each of Yoshida’s 30+ houses get at least a two-page spread featuring both a street view and a cut-away drawing that lets you see inside the structure’s various rooms. This allows you to view nooks and crannies, furnishings, and basic possessions. Sketched floor plans are also sometimes included.

One of my favorite dwelling/character combos is the Methodical Witch’s House. Her small abode is divided into two rooms by a partial wall, which includes a two-sided hearth designed to heat both. The witch grows herbs and vegetables in an outdoor garden (also depicted), which she then harvests and uses in cooking and medicine. According to a “Concepts and Commentary” section at the back of the book, Yoshida imagines this house existing in mid-nineteenth century Scotland.

As a librarian, I also love Yoshida’s Library of Lost Books. This temple-like compound of unknown origin exists in an imaginary, isolated, Tibet-inspired landscape. According to the accompanying annotation, it supposedly contains “all the books that have been entirely lost to this world.” The lone librarian’s main duty is to comb the shelves for newly lost books that appear daily in order to catalog and organize them—a seemingly unending task.

The publisher of Houses with a Story recommends it for fans of Studio Ghibli, which makes sense given their similar aesthetic. I also think that adults who enjoy looking at architecture, floor plans, and photo spreads of enchanting and unusual living spaces will be enthralled. Finally, if you were a kid who loved poring over Richard Scarry, I Spy, and Where’s Waldo books, this might be a good selection for adult you!

You can find “Houses with a Story: A Dragon’s Den, a Ghostly Mansion, a Library of Lost Books, and 30 More Amazing Places to Explore” by Seiji Yoshida and many more in Nebraska OverDrive Libraries! Libraries participating in the Nebraska OverDrive Libraries Group currently have access to a shared and growing collection of digital downloadable audiobooks and eBooks. 194 libraries across the state share the Nebraska OverDrive collection of 26,174 audiobooks, 36,611 ebooks, and 5,210 magazines. As an added bonus it includes 130 podcasts that are always available with simultaneous use (SU), as well as SU ebooks and audiobook titles that publishers have made available for a limited time. If you’re a part of it, let your users know about this great title, and if you’re not a member yet, find more information about participating in Nebraska Overdrive Libraries!

This week’s BookFace “model” is a painting by the late Lincoln artist Larry Griffing, which hangs in librarian Lisa Kelly’s home. Thank you Lisa for capturing this photo for us!

Love this #BookFace & reading? We suggest checking out all the titles available in our Book Club collection, permanent collection, and Nebraska OverDrive Libraries. Check out our past #BookFaceFriday photos on the Nebraska Library Commission’s Facebook page!

Yoshida, Seiji. Houses with a Story. Abrams, 2023.

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Friday Reads: The Indigo Girl

The Indigo Girl, by Natasha Boyd, is an exceptional example of historical fiction, one of my favorite genres. In this incredible story of ambition, betrayal, and sacrifice, an extraordinary sixteen-year-old girl in Colonial South Carolina defies all expectations to achieve her dream.

“The year is 1739. Eliza Lucas is sixteen years old when her father leaves her in charge of their family’s three plantations in rural South Carolina and then proceeds to bleed the estates dry in pursuit of his military ambitions. Tensions with the British, and with the Spanish in Florida, just a short way down the coast, are rising, and slaves are starting to become restless. Her mother wants nothing more than for their South Carolina endeavor to fail so they can go back to England. Soon her family is in danger of losing everything.

Upon hearing how much the French pay for indigo dye, Eliza believes it’s the key to their salvation. But everyone tells her it’s impossible, and no one will share the secret to making it. Thwarted at nearly every turn, even by her own family, Eliza finds that her only allies are an aging horticulturalist, an older and married gentleman lawyer, and a slave with whom she strikes a dangerous deal: teach her the intricate thousand-year-old secret process of making indigo dye and in return—against the laws of the day—she will teach the slaves to read.

So begins an incredible story of love, dangerous and hidden friendships, ambition, betrayal, and sacrifice.

Based on historical documents, including Eliza’s letters, this is a historical fiction account of how a teenage girl produced indigo dye, which became one of the largest exports out of South Carolina, an export that laid the foundation for the incredible wealth of several Southern families who still live on today. Although largely overlooked by historians, the accomplishments of Eliza Lucas influenced the course of US history. When she passed away in 1793, President George Washington served as a pallbearer at her funeral.” [Audible]

This book is set between 1739 and 1744, and Natasha Boyd has done extensive research and masterful writing to form the story of a remarkable young woman whose actions were before her time. I listened to the Audible version, narrated by Saskia Maarleveld, and highly recommend this story about a little known piece of American history: the story of The Indigo Girl.

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Friday Reads: The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

A whimsical and sweet story about found family, belonging, and magic. Mika Moon has been alone all of her life, raised by a series of nannies and forced to live by strict rules to protect and hide her magic (as all witches must do). She begins posting short witchy videos online, assuming no one will actually believe the simple magic tricks are real – until she gets a message offering her a tutoring job for three young witches.

When she arrives to “Nowhere House,” she meets the two caretakers, along with a retired actor, a grumpy/broody librarian, and the three girls who are very much in need of some magical guidance. She also finds that the mysterious archeologist, Lillian, who owns the house, has been out of contact for months and people are starting to ask questions which all threatens the girls’ safety. Mika knows if the kids are discovered (by other witches), they’ll be taken and split up so their magic doesn’t draw attention. No one at the house wants to find out what will happen if they’re discovered by non-witches.

But will the girls learn to reign in their powers? Will James, the librarian, trust Mika enough to let her help? Does he really hate her or is there something more developing between them? Where is Lillian? How is this connected to Mika’s own past? Could this odd group be the home and family that Mika has always wanted?

Mandanna, Sangu. The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches. Berkley. 2022.

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Friday Reads: Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult by Maria Bamford

Ever since a friend recommended her breakout television series, Lady Dynamite, I’ve been a fan of Maria Bamford and her singular comedy style. In her new memoir, Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult, she discusses her desire to belong to something, anything, that makes sense of her life and what’s happening in her brain—and how well that challenge goes, or doesn’t. You will be rooting for her as she describes her journey, and as she illustrates the characters she meets along the way—people and organizations that are more than willing to offer her the security she craves, in exchange for her continued insecurity in some other area of her life. She addresses heavy (sometimes very heavy! You’ve been warned! She will warn you too!) topics with both irreverence and gentleness, somehow. No other comedian is quite like Maria Bamford. 

Bamford will talk about her mental health in fresh and honest and uncomfortable ways that will have you laughing out loud—so, you know, watch out for that if you’re listening to the audiobook on earbuds while you’re out in public. Her comedic timing is perfect, and she narrates accordingly, so it’s a great audiobook choice. There are some fun sound effects in the audiobook, to correspond with certain notes that appear in the printed book—it’s all thoughtfully explained at the beginning of the recording. I appreciated that the author and publisher took the time to make the audiobook succeed as a separate work on its own, and not suffer in the adaptation. I checked out the print book as well, though, to see the photos and illustrations. And to take a photo for Friday Reads, of course.  

If you’re familiar with Bamford, you already know you want to read this book. It’s almost all new material, and she even warns you when she’s about to use jokes recycled from earlier routines. (Even those recycled bits are often presented with more context, so you won’t mind.) If you’re not familiar with her, you might be surprised to find that you’ve seen her (or heard her) in a number of series and other works (check out her IMDb credits here).

Bamford M. Sure I’ll Join Your Cult : A Memoir of Mental Illness and the Quest to Belong Anywhere. First Gallery Books hardcover ed. New York: Gallery Books; 2023.

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