December 24, 2020 - Grand Conjunction
Happy Christmas Eve! It seems as if we've been waiting forever to get to these end-of-the-year holidays, and suddenly they are upon us. Early this week the Winter Solstice arrived at 4:02 a.m. on Monday, the 21st. The "Great" or "Grand" Conjunction also occurred and continues probably through today and possibly a little longer. This conjunction is when Jupiter and Saturn appear so close together in the night sky that the unaided eye sees them as a bright, shining "star" in the southwest sky just after sunset. Those two planets haven't been this "close" to each other in 400 years. Some astronomers think this may have been the "Star of Bethlehem" that was seen and followed a couple of millennia ago. Despite all the excitement of the holidays that are upon us and the two year-end holidays that are just around the corner as well as the astronomical wonder in the longest nights of the year, despite all that, there is no excitement for the new books arriving at the library. This past week the influx of new titles has dropped from a nice steady stream to nary a drop. The library staff has been putting together a list of our choices for "Best Books of 2020". I thought I would share some of mine below. I wish you the happiest of holidays as well as health and hope.
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. This is an intimate chronicle of Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz. The author shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat. A very readable insight into the character of Churchill during Britain's darkest hours.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson. In this book, the author of "The Warmth of Other Suns", examines an unseen phenomenon of caste in America. She explores, through this deeply researched narrative and through stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system. The author points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity. This is a difficult read but worth the effort for the insights it provides.
All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny. This 16th novel by #1 bestselling author Louise Penny finds Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec investigating a sinister plot in the City of Light that involves his beloved godfather's past. Gamache and his wife while visiting in Paris watch as his godfather is run down in what was obviously not an accident. Discovering the murderer and the cause that lies in the distant past takes Gamache, Reine-Marie, and Guy all over Paris as they search for answers. While this book doesn't have the cozy feel of the Three Pines community until the very end, the humanity and humaneness of the main characters shines through.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. The author has created a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing and colorism. Looking well beyond issues of race, this books explores the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person's decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins. It's a good read that humanizes the emotional costs of race and passing.
Young Adult Fiction:
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes ( A Hunger Games Novel) by Suzanne Collins. This is a prequel to the "Hunger Games' trilogy and takes place during the 10th Annual Hunger Games. It provides some insights into the character and motivations of Coriolanus Snow who will become such a powerful, evil, figure in the trilogy. Well written and fast paced, it adds back story and context for Snow's actions in future stories.
Frankly in Love by David Yoon. Frank Li has two names. Frank Li, is his American name. Then there's Sung-Min Li, his Korean name. Frank barely speaks any Korean. He was born and raised in Southern California, but even so, his parents expect him to end up with a nice Korean girl--which is a problem, since Frank is finally dating the girl of his dreams: Brit Means. Brit, who is funny and nerdy just like him. Brit, who makes him laugh like no one else. Brit . . . who is white. This exploration of first love in conflict with parental cultural expectations is funny and heartwarming.
For Younger Readers:
The One and Only Bob (The One and Only Ivan) by Katherine Applegate. Bob -- the dog from the hit book and movie "the One and Only Ivan" sets out on a dangerous journey in search of his long-lost sister with the help of his two best friends, Ivan and Ruby. As a hurricane approaches and time is running out, Bob finds courage he never knew he had and learns the true meaning of friendship and family. This is a sweet story with animals thinking and acting with intelligence and heart and humor.
Roy Digs Dirt by David Shannon. Roy is a white dog that loves to dig in dirt, roll in dirt, and play in dirt. He is very seldom a white dog in the goofy illustrations of this picture book. Roy's enthusiasm for dirt makes this a great read-aloud.