Tag Archives: Book Recs

Summer Reading Survey Results 2016

So Long Sweet Summer

Courtesy of Meg Bisson, Katie Slater Photography

Hello and welcome to another exciting year at Hopkins! Here in Calarco we’ve got new textbooks waiting to be pulverized, fresh notecards itching to become memorization rectangles, and librarians gazing wistfully at beautiful summer photos instead of shelving books.

Three years running,  we librarians asked you to tell us about the best part of your summer – that’s right, summer reading. A whopping 198 of you responded, recommending 139 different books. There was a lot of turnover this year – two of the top three books from 2015 (Paper Towns and To Kill A Mockingbird) weren’t mentioned at all. In fact, no John Green books were recommended for the first time since we began this survey.

 

2016-summer-reading-inforgraphic

What is it about The Da Vinci Code? Is it the ciphers, the fast-paced thrills, Tom Hanks’ rumpled (no, not rugged) good looks? Whatever the “it” factor, The Da Vinci Code is Hopkins’ most recommended book of Summer 2016! Seven respondents wrote that it was “exciting,”  “incredibly suspenseful,” and that it “keep[s] you at the edge of your seat.”

Almost as popular were The Great Train Robbery and The Apothecary, both of which benefited from being assigned books. Other favorite books (or movies) were Emma Donoghue’s Room and Mario Puzo’s The Godfather – perhaps because of their film counterparts. David Levithan’s Every Day and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood were the other two unassigned books to make appearances on the “most read” list.

This was the first year we asked for your thoughts about your favorite book(s). In doing this, we discovered that even faculty and staff enjoy ALL CAPS. Please see some of our favorite commentary below.

The Godfather

It was AMAZING. I went in thinking it would have a pace similar to other books of its time, with lots of description and thoughtshots. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it moved like an action film, and it kept me going despite the length.

The Girl on the Train

Unreliable narration is key. What made this book so excellent was how you couldn’t trust anyone — even the protagonist with her flawed memories.

House of Leaves

House of Leaves was the weirdest book I have ever read and it invokes mild paranoia.

Americanah

This was an amazing book about African immigration. As a child of to Nigerians I found many similarities with their struggles. When many people think of Nigeria or Africa in general, they may think of thick jungles, aboriginal tribes, and no electricity. It is seen more as a charity case. This books lets you in on the lives of the people. The struggle to make it to America and become something. The stress of stereotypes and myths continually reminding them that they do not belong. The fear of coming back to their homeland and catching “Americanah.” And international love. How years and miles cannot erase true bonds. Wow. I wrote more than you probably wanted. Sorry about that.

[editorial note: no such thing as saying too much about a book you love]

The Apothecary

I thought that this was a great book and I could not put it down. I also would have never chosen this book if it was not required.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

It was great because it was kind of like a lot of kids dreams written out on paper. (Running away from home with your friends.)

An Officer and a Spy

It’s a great account of the Dreyfus Affair and is riveting from start to finish. My Dad forced me to read it, and when I finally gave in and started reading it, I was hooked.

[editorial note, again: good job, anonymous Dad]

Below you will find a list of every book recommended this year. Thanks to all of our respondents, and happy reading!

 

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Go see The Martian (Movie Review)

It was a given that Ms. Barrows and I were going to go see The Martian, Ridley Scott’s multi-million dollar blockbuster film that was released this past weekend.

See, Mr. Gette and myself have been captivated by Andy Weir’s novel since we read it over a year ago during the 2014 March break (as made evident by our texts during that short but exciting period in our reading lives). We proselytized for this book for months. We put it on display. We recommended it to everyone who so much as looked at the library. We did not shut up about it at the lunch table. We were insufferable.

When Bookriot announced The Martian was opted and being made into a film, we were ecstatic. When we saw the teaser trailer and found out Matt Damon would be playing the titular character, we ran victory laps on the lower level of the library, high-fived everyone in the vicinity, and threw books in the air while Queen’s We Are The Champions played in the background. It was, to say the least, a celebratory moment in our reading lives.

But we balked – we were hesitant. We should have been the ones who were first in line for the midnight showing. But we weren’t. We were…afraid. Book-to-movie adaptations are almost never successful. And when they are successful, book fans must respect the film enough to accept it as a different entity. But then the reviews started coming in (93% on Rotten Tomatoes!). By Saturday, we were both in the theater. And thus, here is our review.

IT’S SO GOOD SO GOOD SO GOOD.

Ahem. But really, SO GOOD.

so-good

JG: They got the tone just right. One of the best parts of the book is how funny it is, and i was worried that would be lost in the pursuit of super-serious-suspenseful-space…movie. And it does have its serious moments, but the jokes are still there. I haven’t laughed this hard in a theater in a long time. And oh man, is it a beautiful movie. I give it five Martian Potatoes.

JB: To rip off the Wired review, the movie is the book with better editing. Those who read Weir’s book will remember the paragraphs upon paragraphs of science-y, engineer-y text. With the help of visuals and, well, better editing, those descriptions are pared down. When Matt Damon looks into the vlog and does describe science, it is always funny and fascinating. I didn’t expect the film to have moving and/or serious and/or touching moments. But it did. And they were, to be repetitive, SO GOOD. If you can, take the time/money to see The Martian in a 3D IMAX theater. It felt like you were on Mars with Mark Watney, harvesting martian potatoes and kicking science butt. I give it 5 stars (harhar, space joke).

If you need any more encouraging, watch this:

it's over

-Signing off, Steely-eyed rocket man (James Gette and Jenny Barrows)

March Bookmobile Highlights

Ms. Barrows’ Highlights

tlccontent (1)

The 5th Wave -Rick Yancey

Yancey masterfully weaves together classic elements of sci-fi, dystopia, and adventure fiction in The 5th Wave. The world of Yancey’s creation undergoes five “waves” of destruction orchestrated by an alien species, and each installment leaves his world and its main characters more destroyed and fragmented than before. The characters – Cassie, Sam, Ben and Evan – lead adult-less lives (an often employed tactic of YA literature)  and are therefore forced to struggle and survive amidst the devastating and seemingly irreversible five “waves” of annihilation. There’s nothing technically “new” in Yancey’s story, but the masterful layering of elements creates a rich, fulfilling read. Bonus points to Yancey for making the leading female character 12 and therefore that much more likeable.

cameron

The Miseducation of Cameron Post -Emily M. Danforth

The day before her parents die in a car accident, Cameron Post is kissing her best friend Irene. In the fallout, Cameron finds herself cultivating a shoplifting habit and barely surviving the guardianship of her ultra-conservative religious Aunt Ruth. As Cameron struggles to hide something she has barely discovered, she cannot help but seek information and experience. When Cameron befriends Coley, the heterosexual picture-perfect cowgirl, it becomes a matter of time before Cameron’s sexuality is discovered. A tribute to Montana and the early 1990s, The Miseducation of Cameron Post transcends coming-out tropes and YA stereotypes.

vigilante

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy -Kate Hattemer

A sleeper hit of 2014, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy follows Ethan and his three best friends as they react to the takeover of Selwyn by a reality TV show designed to exploit the talent of the art academy’s students. As the title suggests, the protest takes the form of poetry – specifically, guerrilla poetry inspired by Ezra Pound’s Cantos. However, Ethan and his friends soon understand the depth and detail masterminded by the creators of the reality TV show.

Mr. Gette’s Highlights

graceling

Graceling –Kristin Cashore

People who are Graced have a special talent; dancing, painting, or – in Katsa’s case – killing. Forced to be  a thug for a tyrannical king, Katsa figures out a way to make her life – and her world – better, by setting up a secret resistance. The sequel, Bitterblue, delves into espionage. Both are a lot of fun.

me and earl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl -Jesse Andrews

I’m going to be straight with you: this is a book about cancer. It is also very, very funny. If those two facts seem irreconcilable to you, trust me – Andrews manages to pull it off. When Greg’s mother insists that he rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel (who has leukemia), the socially-awkward  Greg’s best idea is to show her the terrible movies he makes with his friend Earl. Don’t dismiss this as a John Green rip-off –  this is a very different book that stands on its own. The film is coming out in July, and got great reviews at Sundance. Read the book first!

seraphina

Seraphina –Rachel Hartman

In the kingdom of Goredd, an uneasy peace exists between humans and dragons. It’s the 40th anniversary of the peace treaty, the dragon ambassadors are coming to the human capital, and a member of the royal family has just been murdered in a very dragon-like way. In the middle is Seraphina, assistant court musician – and secret half dragon. She teams up with the brave, smart, and (unfortunately) engaged Prince Lucian to figure out whodunnit. The much-awaited sequel comes out tomorrow (March 10)!

Book Review: Escape from Camp 14

Shin’s camp, number 14, is a complete control district. By reputation it is the toughest of them all because of its particularly brutal working conditions, the vigilance of its guards, and the state’s unforgiving view of the seriousness of the crimes committed by its inmates, many of whom are purged officials from the ruling party, the government, and the military, along with their families. Established in 1959 in central North Korea – Kaechon, South Pyongan Province – Camp 14 holds an estimated fifteen thousand prisoners. (Harden, 4)

This is not so much a book review as much as it is a plea for all Hopkins students, faculty and staff to read Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden. This post will not be funny. There is nothing funny about North Korea or the contents of the book in question. Everything about it is devastating, difficult, and atrocious. Below are some basic facts about North Korea and the protagonist of Camp 14, Shin Dong-hyuk.

  1. Shin Dong-hyuk (formerly Shin In Geun) is the only person who was born and raised in a “complete control district” North Korean political prison camp to escape. Ever.
  2. Thanks to Google Earth, anyone with an internet connection can clearly see the exact locations of the sprawling, miles-long, fenced compounds (Harden, 4).
  3. There are two types of prisoners:
    1. Individuals who were imprisoned but have the possibility of release (through reeducation and with the bonus condition of being tailed by North Korean security for the rest of their lives)
    2. “Irredeemables” – those born in the camps to be worked to death.
  4. The camps are so isolated from the outside world that prisoners were not aware of the mass-starvation and famine of the 1990’s.
  5. Irredeemables do not know what the United States is, nor South Korea. They are intentionally raised to be ignorant of everything outside of the camps’ electrically charged fences and guard posts.
  6. Irredeemables never even learn the names of political leaders – absent are the photos and propaganda of Kim Jong Eun, Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung.
  7. Prisoners are forced to memorize and taught to recite The Ten Laws of Camp 14 on command. Laws include warnings of immediate execution for those who attempt escape, plan escape, or fail to report those who are discussing escape.
  8. The work performed by prisoners is hard and dangerous, often without the aid of modern tools. In one chapter, Shin recounts the construction of a hydroelectric dam within Camp 14. Shin only saw one excavator and most digging was performed with shovels and bare hands. A flash flood killed hundreds of prisoners, and survivors competed to bury corpses in exchange for extra food rations (Harden, 81-82).

Prisoners born and raised in complete control zone camps are never fed meat, and many die from starvation or diseases caused by malnutrition. To survive, prisoners have to snitch, steal and collude with guards to obtain favors. Women trade sex for better food rations and children willingly inform on and punish classmates caught stealing food. When overhearing his mother and brother planning an escape, Shin snitched to the guards and later witnessed their execution.

In the introduction, Harden muses on the canon of concentration camp survival stories:

In perhaps the most celebrated of these stories, Night, by Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, the thirteen-year-old narrator explains his torment with an account of the normal life that existed before he and his family were packed aboard trains bound for Nazi death camps…But after the boy’s entire family perished in the camps, Wiesel was left ‘alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy.’ Shin’s story of survival is different. His mother beat him, and he viewed her as a competitor for food…Children in the camp were untrustworthy and abusive. Before he learned anything else, Shin learned to survive by snitching on all of them. Love and mercy and family were words without meaning. God did not disappear or die. Shin never heard of him…Unlike those who have survived a concentration camp, Shin had not been torn away from a civilized existence and forced to descend into hell. He was born and raised there. He accepted its values. He called it home. (Harden, 3-4)

Shin’s escape is remarkable, but not because he relied on his humanity or morality to sustain himself through hardship. Shin was lucky, shrewd, resourceful, and most importantly, hungry. Shin escaped in 2005 and has since struggled to live in the outside world – in his own words, he is still evolving from an animal into a human being.

If you want to learn more about Escape from Camp 14 and North Korea’s prison camp system, please watch the excellent review by John Green (below). The Calarco Library’s copy is available (but probably not for long) on the lower level’s New Books display.

-Signing off, Jenny Barrows (who has little to say)

Town Forum – Whiteboard Question #1

On Friday, Ms. Barrows and I found an unattended whiteboard in the library. So we decided to put it to use.

Hup two three four

The whiteboard levitates up the stairs.

Less magic, more muscle

Oh wait, it’s just Ms. Barrows.

Since we’re librarians, we have to ask about books. It’s in our contracts. We decided that a nice, easy, non-contentious question to start with would be “Suggest a good book!” And with help from a friendly freshman whose adviser must be wise and talented (Thanks, Nik!), we got set up.

Pretty soon, the whiteboard looked like this:

That was fast!

That was fast!

Seuss. S-E-U-S-S. Seuss.

And then it looked like this:

I've never heard of some of these.

Getting kind of crowded….

And then this:

My eyes! My eyes!

My eyes! My eyes!

Don’t think we didn’t notice that little change, folks. Please respect other people’s recommendations.

Also, The Popcorn Rat? I’m not sure I believe that’s a real book. And Google backs me up on that one.

And finally, at the end of the day:

Hooray!

Hooray!

To keep reading (no, really, keep reading) click here!