Mail Order Bride by Mark Kalesniko

Mail Order BrideThis is a many-layered graphic novel that gave me all sorts of feels. At first glance, it’s a simple story of an arranged marriage situation slowly becoming more and more unbearable for both parties. We’ve all heard or imagined that story. But Kalesniko provides deep insight into both parties’ ambitions and personalities, as well as some fairly incisive social commentary. You’ll find love, hate, despair, and joy in this book. You’ll also find racial and sexual objectification, resistance, and heartbreaking character flaws. And best of all, you’ll be blown away by the beautiful art and smart, realistic dialog.

Reviewed by Charlie

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

Beyond MagentaIn this thoughtful book, Kuklin shares the personal stories of six transgender youth. Each teen has a chapter in narrative format, mostly in their own voice, through extended interviews. You get the sense that Kuklin really spent time with these folks, really getting to know them on their own turf and without any judgment or preconceived notions. The narratives are very compelling–mainstream America has mostly accepted the idea of binary transition, but many of the stories in this book are about genderqueer youth, or youth who are binary but perhaps not in the “standard” way that people expect. As Cameron states on page 98, “gender is more fluid and more complex than society assumes.” I highly recommend this book to anybody who is interested in human diversity, and especially to trans* and gender-nonconforming youth just beginning to explore their identities. Plus, the photographs are gorgeous.

Reviewed by Charlie

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg

Running the BooksAs a job-seeking librarian who’s occasionally played with the idea of applying for prison librarian positions, I jumped on this book. Steinberg fell into prison librarianship and learned on the job both how to manage a prison library and how to interact with inmates. He made some mistakes (with both inmates and staff) and learned some hard lessons about human nature, growth, and compassion. This book is pretty compelling; funny in some places (maybe a bit too flip at times), poignant in others. You get to know some of the inmates through Steinberg’s eyes–or at least, as much as they allowed him to.

I do have to say I was astonished that he got the gig without ever having taken a basic librarianship course. He doesn’t mention anything about the learning curve he must have experienced with cataloging, collection development, etc. Just FYI to anyone who reads this book who is not a librarian: professional librarians go through a fairly rigorous master’s program. It’s not just about liking books.

Reviewed by Charlie

The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz

The Art of FermentationFermentation is back in style and this immense tome is the go-to guide for understanding the process and exploring different methods. Although there are detailed chapters on alcohol, cheese and other dairy foods, grains, and plenty more, I was really only interested in pickles. Chapter 5: Fermenting Vegetables (and Some Fruits Too) offered an in-depth discussion of lactic acid, various fermentation methods, and examples. Although there are no exact recipes, Katz provides a wealth of examples and also encouragement to experiment. As an instruction-follower, I would have liked more structure in terms of precise measurements of vegetables and combinations of spices, but chapters are organized such that it’s quite easy to go right to the relevant section to browse examples and tips. I especially appreciated the scientific discussion and color photographs. I’m very new to this, and somewhat nervous about messing up and getting food poisoning, and the matter-of-fact writing and evidence-based discussion really dispelled my anxiety. I’ve now made four batches of pickled vegetables, and each has come out better than the last as I played with spices. And I didn’t get sick or make any jars explode!

Reviewed by Charlie

The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Other WindThe Other Wind is the final book of Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle, and came out years later than the first four of the series. Each book stands up as a full and satisfying read on its own, but taken together, they form a rich series, with each book focusing a bit more heavily on one character or another. For that reason, I preferred The Tombs of Atuan and Tehanu (books #2 and 4), as they focused on strong female protagonists, with themes of survival and empowerment. The Other Wind wraps up the series in a gentle way, touching on each character’s arc and reminding the reader of their histories as individuals and in collaboration. There is a strong plot – magic, dragons, and a breach between the worlds of the living and the dead – but I felt that this book was different, less urgent perhaps than the others. This might be because it’s wrapping up all the threads and providing closure, or maybe because the characters have all aged, or maybe even because so much time passed between books and my own perspective has changed. I did enjoy this book immensely, though. Ursula K. Le Guin is a living legend and her writing is incredibly moving and lyrical.

Reviewed by Charlie

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the RyeThough Salinger wrote this book in 1945, the personalities and ideas expressed within are relevant to today, and I see why this book is a classic. The Catcher in the Rye is the narrative of a disaffected adolescent, completely in his own voice, as told to a psychiatric professional. The idioms and slang are definitely place- and time-based, but the desperate search for meaning, ego-gratification, and adult affectations will be familiar to anybody who cares to remember what it was like to be a teenager in America. The protagonist is extraordinarily privileged, and the ease with which he throws money around is pretty obnoxious, but I really empathized with him as he processed grief and adolescent malaise through storytelling.

Reviewed by Charlie