Over on Book Riot this week..
- A round-up of YA memoirs worth reading.
- The 1939 vocabulary textbooks I had in one of my high school English classes and how that little beast changed my life.
As a public librarian, I’ve come to appreciate the picture book biography for many reasons. The format is ideally suited to telling a true story in an efficient, beautiful, and interesting way. In a picture book biography, much like a fiction picture book, the illustrations are as important as the text: the two should pair with each other to create a unified work of art.
But perhaps most importantly, the picture book biography is a great way to bring to light the contributions of lesser-known individuals from history both distant and recent, including women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and disabled people, and all their intersections. They show kids that people like them have always done remarkable things, pique kids’ interest in something new and fascinating, and spur them to do more investigation on their own afterward.
2017 is looking to be a great year for picture book biographies. This post is a round-up of several notable titles with an emphasis on biographies of marginalized people.
Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Laura Freeman
As soon as Ann Cole Lowe could walk, her momma and grandma taught her to sew. When her mom died, Ann continued sewing dresses. It wasn’t easy, especially when she went to design school and had to learn alone, segregated from the rest of the class. But the work she did set her spirit soaring, as evidenced in the clothes she made. Rarely credited, Ann Cole Lowe became “society’s best kept secret.” This beautiful picture book shines the spotlight on a figure who proved that with hard work and passion, any obstacles can be overcome. (Goodreads)
Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Musician, botanist, baseball player, pilot—the Latinos featured in this collection come from many different countries and from many different backgrounds. Celebrate their accomplishments and their contributions to a collective history and a community that continues to evolve and thrive today! Biographical poems include: Aida de Acosta, Arnold Rojas, Baruj Benacerraf, César Chávez, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, Félix Varela, George Meléndez, José Martí, Juan de Miralles, Juana Briones, Julia de Burgos, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Paulina Pedroso, Pura Belpré, Roberto Clemente, Tito Puente, Ynes Mexia, and Tomás Rivera. (Goodreads)
Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing by Kay Haring, illustrated by Robert Neubecker
Traces the life of artist Keith Haring, from his childhood love of drawing to his meteoric rise to fame, with a focus on his concern for children, humanity, and disregard for the established art world. (WorldCat)
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
As a child, Maya Lin loved to study the spaces around her. She explored the forest in her backyard, observing woodland creatures, and used her house as a model to build tiny towns out of paper and scraps. The daughter of a clay artist and a poet, Maya grew up with art and learned to think with her hands as well as her mind. From her first experiments with light and lines to the height of her success nationwide, this is the story of an inspiring American artist: the visionary artist-architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (Goodreads)
Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens
At 9 years old, Eugenie Clark developed an unexpected passion for sharks after a visit to the Battery Park Aquarium in New York City. At the time, sharks were seen as mindless killing machines, but Eugenie knew better and set out to prove it. Despite many obstacles in her path, Eugenie was able to study the creatures she loved so much. From her many discoveries to the shark-related myths she dispelled, Eugenie’s wide scientific contributions led to the well-earned nickname “Shark Lady.” (Goodreads)
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton
Meet the youngest known child to be arrested for a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963, in this moving picture book that proves you’re never too little to make a difference. Nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks intended to go places and do things like anybody else. So when she heard grown-ups talk about wiping out Birmingham’s segregation laws, she spoke up. As she listened to the preacher’s words, smooth as glass, she sat up tall. And when she heard the plan—picket those white stores! March to protest those unfair laws! Fill the jails!—she stepped right up and said, I’ll do it! She was going to j-a-a-il! Audrey Faye Hendricks was confident and bold and brave as can be, and hers is the remarkable and inspiring story of one child’s role in the Civil Rights Movement. (Goodreads)
Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Keith Mallett
James VanDerZee was just a young boy when he saved enough money to buy his first camera. He took photos of his family, classmates, and anyone who would sit still for a portrait. By the fifth grade, James was the school photographer and unofficial town photographer. Eventually he outgrew his small town and moved to the exciting, fast-paced world of New York City. After being told by his boss that no one would want his or her photo taken by a black man, James opened his own portrait studio in Harlem. He took photographs of legendary figures of the Harlem Renaissance and ordinary folks in the neighborhood too. Everyone wanted fancy portraits by James VanDerZee. Winner of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! tells the story of a groundbreaking artist who chronicled an important era in Harlem and showed the beauty and pride of its people. (Goodreads)
Trudy’s Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederly Swam the English Channel and Took the World By Storm by Sue Macy, illustrated by Matt Collins
On the morning of August 6, 1926, Gertrude Ederle stood in her bathing suit on the beach at Cape Gris-Nez, France, and faced the churning waves of the English Channel. Twenty-one miles across the perilous waterway, the English coastline beckoned. Lyrical text, stunning illustrations and fascinating back matter put the reader right alongside Ederle in her bid to be the first woman to swim the Channel and contextualizes her record-smashing victory as a defining moment in sports history. (Goodreads)
Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One
Describes the popular street cook’s life, including working in his family’s restaurant as a child, figuring out what he wanted to do with his life, and his success with his food truck and restaurant. (WorldCat)
Marti’s Song for Freedom by Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
A bilingual biography of José Martí, who dedicated his life to the promotion of liberty, abolishment of slavery, political independence for Cuba, and intellectual independence from colonialism for all Latinos. Written in verse with excerpts from Mart’s seminal work, Versos sencillos. (Goodreads)
When You Look Out the Window: How Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Built a Community by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Christopher Lyles
Tells the story of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, one of San Francisco’s most well-known and politically active lesbian couples. Describing the view from Phyllis and Del’s window, this book shows how one couple’s activism transformed their community – and had ripple effects throughout the world. (WorldCat)
The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon by Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee, illustrated by Susanna Chapman
In 1966, the world believed it was impossible for a woman to run the Boston Marathon. Bobbi Gibb was determined to prove them wrong. She said she would do it, she wasn’t a liar; she’d show them by running like the wind in the fire. (WorldCat)
Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Lucy Knisley
Margaret Hamilton loved numbers as a young girl. She knew how many miles it was to the moon (and how many back). She loved studying algebra and geometry and calculus and using math to solve problems in the outside world. Soon math led her to MIT and then to helping NASA put a man on the moon! She handwrote code that would allow the spacecraft’s computer to solve any problems it might encounter. Apollo 8. Apollo 9. Apollo 10. Apollo 11. Without her code, none of those missions could have been completed. Dean Robbins and Lucy Knisley deliver a lovely portrayal of a pioneer in her field who never stopped reaching for the stars. (Goodreads)
Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares
In eighteenth-century France, “balloonomania” has fiercely gripped the nation . . . but all of the pioneering aeronauts are men. The job of shattering that myth falls to a most unlikely figure: a shy girl from a seaside village, entirely devoted to her dream of flight. Sophie is not the first woman to ascend in a balloon, nor the first woman to accompany an aeronaut on a trip, but she will become the first woman to climb to the clouds and steer her own course. (Goodreads)
Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu
Who was Grace Hopper? A software tester, workplace jester, cherished mentor, ace inventor, avid reader, naval leader—AND rule breaker, chance taker, and troublemaker. Grace Hopper coined the term “computer bug” and taught computers to “speak English,” and throughout her life succeeded in doing what no one had ever done before. Delighting in difficult ideas and in defying expectations, the insatiably curious Hopper truly is “Amazing Grace” . . . and a role model for science- and math-minded girls and boys. (Goodreads)
The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Lena Horne was born into the freedom struggle, to a family of teachers and activists. Her mother dreamed of being an actress, so Lena followed in her footsteps as she chased small parts in vaudeville, living out of a suitcase until MGM offered Lena something more—the first ever studio contract for a black actress. But the roles she was considered for were maids and mammies, stereotypes that Lena refused to play. Still, she never gave up. “Stormy Weather” became her theme song, and when she sang “This Little Light of Mine” at a civil rights rally, she found not only her voice, but her calling. (Goodreads)
Long-Armed Ludy and the First Women’s Olympics by Jean L.S. Patrick, illustrated by Adam Gustavson | August 8
Lucile “Ludy” Godbold was six feet tall and skinnier than a Carolina pine and an exceptional athlete. In her final year on the track team at Winthrop College in South Carolina, Ludy tried the shot put and she made that iron ball sail with her long, skinny arms. But when Ludy qualified for the first Women’s Olympics in 1922, Ludy had no money to go. Thanks to the help of her college and classmates, Ludy traveled to Paris and won the gold medal with more than a foot to spare. (publisher marketing)
Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity! by Sarah Suzuki, illustrated by Ellen Weinstein | August 22
Growing up in the mountains of Japan, Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929) dreamed of becoming an artist. One day, she had a vision in which the world and everything in it—the plants, the people, the sky—were covered in polka dots. She began to cover her paintings, drawings, sculptures, and even her body with dots. As she grew up, she traveled all around the world, from Tokyo to Seattle, New York to Venice, and brought her dots with her. Different people saw these dots in different ways—some thought they were tiny, like cells, and others imagined them enormous, like planets. Every year, Kusama sees more of the world, covering it with dots and offering people a way to experience it the way she does. Written by Sarah Suzuki, a curator at The Museum of Modern Art, and featuring reproductions of Kusama’s instantly recognizable artworks, this colorful book tells the story of an artist whose work will not be complete until her dots cover the world, from here to infinity. (Goodreads)
Danza! Amalia Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico by Duncan Tonatiuh | August 22
Award-winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh tells the story of Amalia Hernández, dancer and founder of El Ballet Folklórico de México. Danza! is a celebration of Hernández’s life and of the rich history of dance in Mexico. As a child, Amalia always thought she would grow up to be a teacher, until she saw a performance of dancers in her town square. She was fascinated by the way the dancers twirled and swayed, and she knew that someday she would be a dancer, too. She began to study many different types of dance, including ballet and modern, under some of the best teachers in the world. Hernández traveled throughout Mexico studying and learning regional dances. Soon she founded her own dance company, El Ballet Folklórico de México, where she integrated her knowledge of ballet and modern dance with folkloric dances. The group began to perform all over the country and soon all over the world, becoming an international sensation that still tours today. (Goodreads)
The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter | August 22
Zaha Hadid grew up in Baghdad, Iraq, and dreamed of designing her own cities. After studying architecture in London, she opened her own studio and started designing buildings. But as a Muslim woman, Hadid faced many obstacles. Determined to succeed, she worked hard for many years, and achieved her goals—and now you can see the buildings Hadid has designed all over the world. (Goodreads)
Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra | September 5
The fascinating Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is remembered for her dramatic self-portrait paintings featuring bold and vibrant colors. Her artwork brought attention to Mexican and indigenous culture with images renowned in celebrating the female form. Brown’s story recounts Frida’s beloved pets—two monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a black cat, and a fawn—and playfully considers how Frida embodied the many wonderful characteristics of each animal. (Goodreads)
Dumpling Dreams: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling From Beijing to Cambridge by Carrie Clickard, illustrated by Katy Wu | September 5
Carrie Clickard’s delectable rhymes tell the story of how Joyce Chen, a girl born in Communist China, immigrated to the United States and popularized Chinese cooking. Illustrator Katy Wu brings this inspiring story beautifully and deliciously to life. (Goodreads)
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin, illustrated by Evan Turk | September 5
Muddy Waters was never good at doing what he was told. When Grandma Della said the blues wouldn’t put food on the table, Muddy didn’t listen. And when record producers told him no one wanted to listen to a country boy playing country blues, Muddy ignored them as well. This tenacious streak carried Muddy from the hardscrabble fields of Mississippi to the smoky juke joints of Chicago and finally to a recording studio where a landmark record was made. Soon the world fell in love with the tough spirit of Muddy Waters. In blues-infused prose and soulful illustrations, Michael Mahin and award-winning artist Evan Turk tell Muddy’s fascinating and inspiring story of struggle, determination, and hope. (Goodreads)
Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez | September 12
Amid the scholars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance stood an Afro-Puerto Rican named Arturo Schomburg. This law clerk’s life’s passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and bring to light the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. When Schomburg’s collection became so big it began to overflow his house (and his wife threatened to mutiny), he turned to the New York Public Library, where he created and curated a collection that was the cornerstone of a new Negro Division. A century later, his groundbreaking collection, known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, has become a beacon to scholars all over the world. (Goodreads)
The Doctor With an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath by Julia Finley Mosca, illustrated by Daniel Rieley | September 26
As a girl coming of age during the Civil Rights Movement, Patricia Bath made it her mission to become a doctor. When obstacles like racism, poverty, and sexism threatened this goal, she persevered ― brightening the world with a game-changing treatment for blindness! (publisher marketing)
Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope With Her Song by Kathryn Erskine, illustrated by Charly Palmer | October 10, no cover yet
Miriam Makeba, a Grammy Award–winning South African singer, rose to fame in the hearts of her people at the pinnacle of apartheid―a brutal system of segregation similar to American Jim Crow laws. Mama Africa, as they called her, raised her voice to help combat these injustices at jazz clubs in Johannesburg; in exile, at a rally beside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and before the United Nations. (Goodreads)
Daniel Kraus over at Booklist is running a 10-week read along of Stephen King’s It to lead up to the release of the new movie in September. Having read a lot of King when I was younger — including It or part of it — it seemed like the right opportunity to pick up the book and play along. I remember none of it, aside from Pennywise being the name of the clown.
What I do remember about my reading experience with King is that it all happened within a summer and a year or so following it, when I literally spent hours every week visiting different libraries. It might have even been the summer where one of the libraries was remodeling, and check out times were extended to eight weeks to make it easier for them to remodel. I blew through a number of King titles and remember really loving Rose Madder and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Neither of them are particularly memorable to be now, nor are they among the books that end up on the best-of King lists. Most of his bigger stuff I didn’t pick up because I’ve always been one of those kinds of readers. It’s not disliking popularity so much as preferring the quieter stuff.
I can’t make the promise I’ll update with my thoughts after each reading assignment, but I’m going to try to do it Monday afternoons or Tuesdays. They’ll be pretty short and sweet and definitely about reader reaction more than anything else. If you’re reading along or you’ve read It in the past, you’re welcome to hop into the comments and drop your thoughts, too.
Week One: Chapters 1 through 3
So far, we have a young boy who died a few decades in the past. He fell down a sewer drain while chasing a paper boat and met his demise with a clown.
There’s also the gay man who was beaten by some locals as he left the gay bar with his partner, and those local men who did the murdering all claim to have seen the clown along the banks of the waterway in town. Of course, police and prosecutors don’t believe this, and it ends up not becoming part of the testimony for the crime.
Then we fast forward to a comfortably middle class man who has mysteriously died.
When we hit chapter three, we meet far more characters. There’s been a number of phone calls, and the characters are all leaving their lives and heading back to Derry, Maine. Something Has Happened and they all need to flee. It’s a lot of middle age white male crisis going on (and yes, I know there’s also a girl involved, but I’m not quite there yet in my reading, as I’ve got a few more pages in this chapter to go). Thinking about Something Happening and Men Returning Home to face a childhood fear is not an unfamiliar trope, though the pacing, the character development, and tension here work really well.
The most compelling character at this point for me is Ben Hanscom. He flies and travels, but he loves to stop and enjoy food and drinks at a tiny dive in rural Nebraska. This part of chapter three was rendered in such perfect midwesternness, and everything about the setting and the local characters there — not Hanscom himself — made me want more. There might not be much more there, though, if the ending is any indication. And, perhaps, the characters there, as small a role as they play and will play, are okay with that, too.
I can say Eddie Kaspbark might be the most terrible character. He super hates fat women. It’s clearly coming from somewhere, though: his mother seems to have been at the center of many of his repressed childhood memories that bubble up, and his mother was fat. His wife is, too, and has, as he likes to elaborate on, ballooned into something huge. Eddie himself was a weakling child, one who couldn’t participate in PE, one who has a medicine cabinet full of prescription and over-the-counter pills and vitamins. There’s something here, too, about fear of aging, of returning to a place of comfort, to also have a lot of paranoia about what’s outside of ones self and experiences.
Since it has been so long since I’ve read King, I forgot how compelling and fast moving his prose and storytelling are. There’s a lot of repetition in It in terms of images and sounds, so it flows really quickly and seamlessly from one scene to another.
There’s definitely been some trauma in this first part of the read, but nothing that will compare to what’s coming. And I’m ready to get there because the scarier, the better.
Also, a moment to appreciate how Stephen King literally predicted DELIA*s (which used to be a mall retailer and was founded in 1993…six years after It was published).
Because sometimes, you see a book cover with a banana on it and become a 12-year-old with the giggle fits. Here’s a roundup of a bunch of banana book covers, with book descriptions beside them. I’m not going to lie: I’m surprised there aren’t more covers for romances with bananas on them. Too obvious?
Descriptions from Goodreads. I’m kind of surprised just how many microhistories about the fruit there are.
Banana Cultures by John Soluri
Bananas, the most frequently consumed fresh fruit in the United States, have been linked to Miss Chiquita and Carmen Miranda, “banana republics,” and Banana Republic clothing stores—everything from exotic kitsch, to Third World dictatorships, to middle-class fashion. But how did the rise in banana consumption in the United States affect the banana-growing regions of Central America? In this lively, interdisciplinary study, John Soluri integrates agroecology, anthropology, political economy, and history to trace the symbiotic growth of the export banana industry in Honduras and the consumer mass market in the United States.
Beginning in the 1870s when bananas first appeared in the U.S. marketplace, Soluri examines the tensions between the small-scale growers, who dominated the trade in the early years, and the shippers. He then shows how rising demand led to changes in production that resulted in the formation of major agribusinesses, spawned international migrations, and transformed great swaths of the Honduran environment into monocultures susceptible to plant disease epidemics that in turn changed Central American livelihoods. Soluri also looks at labor practices and workers’ lives, changing gender roles on the banana plantations, the effects of pesticides on the Honduran environment and people, and the mass marketing of bananas to consumers in the United States. His multifaceted account of a century of banana production and consumption adds an important chapter to the history of Honduras, as well as to the larger history of globalization and its effects on rural peoples, local economies, and biodiversity.
Banana by Dan Koeppel
To most people, a banana is a banana: a simple yellow fruit. Americans eat more bananas than apples and oranges combined. In others parts of the world, bananas are what keep millions of people alive. But for all its ubiquity, the banana is surprisingly mysterious; nobody knows how bananas evolved or exactly where they originated. Rich cultural lore surrounds the fruit: In ancient translations of the Bible, the ‘apple’ consumed by Eve is actually a banana (it makes sense, doesn’t it?). Entire Central American nations have been said to rise and fall over the banana.
But the biggest mystery about the banana today is whether it will survive. A seedless fruit with a unique reproductive system, every banana is a genetic duplicate of the next, and therefore susceptible to the same blights. Today’s yellow banana, the Cavendish, is increasingly threatened by such a blight — and there’s no cure in sight.
Banana combines a pop-science journey around the globe, a fascinating tale of an iconic American business enterprise, and a look into the alternately tragic and hilarious banana subculture (one does exist) — ultimately taking us to the high-tech labs where new bananas are literally being built in test tubes, in a race to save the world’s most beloved fruit.
Bananas: An American History by Virginia Scott Jenkins
Before 1880 most Americans had never seen a banana. By 1910 bananas were so common that streets were littered with their peels. Today Americans eat on average nearly seventy-five per year. More than a staple of the American diet, bananas have gained a secure place in the nation’s culture and folklore. They have been recommended as the secret to longevity, the perfect food for infants, and the cure for warts, headaches, and stage fright. Essential to the cereal bowl and the pratfall, they remain a mainstay of jokes, songs, and wordplay even after a century of rapid change.
Covering every aspect of the banana in American culture, from its beginnings as luxury food to its reputation in the 1910s as the “poor man’s” fruit to its role today as a healthy, easy-to-carry snack, Bananas provides an insightful look at a fruit with appeal.
Blind Item by Kevin Dickson and Jack Ketsoyan
No one knows her name, but now everyone wants to.
As an assistant publicist in Hollywood, Nicola spends her days (and nights) sweeping up the scandals of singers, movie stars, and TV actors. Fresh from Ohio, she’s rapidly discovering the real Hollywood is rotten under its glittering skin. Everyone is a hustler with a hard bottom line and a soap opera sob story.
When she breaks her own rules and starts dating a movie star, the Los Angeles scene starts to spill into her own life. As the paparazzi begin the hunt for sexy star Seamus O’Riordan’s new mystery girl, Nicola’s best friend Billy has her back while he prowls parties for the latest scoop to sell to the tabloids. Her roommate Kara keeps tabs on things too—in between befriending a former child star and transforming herself from stylist to reality TV sensation.
As the scandals pile up behind them, their pasts will be exposed… And every secret can be sold.
Written by two Hollywood insiders, the jaw-dropping scandals are real, but the names are not. And they’ll never tell.
Eliot’s Banana by Heather Swain
Things should be peachy.
Junie isn’t entirely sure what her problem is. She’s just moved into a Brooklyn apartment with her cool longtime boyfriend Leon, a drummer who adores her. She flits through a string of temp jobs in funky thrift store clothes. But beneath her veneer of quirky humor there’s a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction about her life.
She’s about to go bananas.
When Junie meets Eliot, who is twice her age, and his cat, Alfie, at the vet’s office, she’s convinced she’s found the zest missing in her life. A burnt-out sci-fi writer in search of a muse, Eliot is apples to Leon’s oranges. It’s not long before Junie’s standing in his kitchen being offered a banana…and then some.
Losing herself in the mayhem of a fling, Junie slowly realizes that kinky diversions are a poor distraction from what’s really eating her. Only when she stops obsessing about Eliot and starts peeling away the layers of her family’s past will she see that what she really wants has been waiting for her all along…and that her future’s ripe with possibilities.
Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millet
Lions, rabbits, monkeys, pheasants—all have shared the spotlight and tabloid headlines with famous men and women. Sharon Stone’s husband’s run-in with a Komodo dragon, Thomas Edison’s filming of an elephant’s electrocution and David Hasselhoff’s dogwalker all find a home in Love in Infant Monkeys. At the rare intersections of wilderness and celebrity, Lydia Millet hilariously tweaks these unholy communions to run a stake through the heart of our fascination with pop icons and the culture of human self-worship.
Never Out of Season by Rob Dunn
The bananas we eat today aren’t your parents’ bananas: We eat a recognizable, consistent breakfast fruit that was standardized in the 1960s from dozens into one basic banana. But because of that, the banana we love is dangerously susceptible to a pathogen that might wipe them out.
That’s the story of our food today: Modern science has brought us produce in perpetual abundance-once-rare fruits are seemingly never out of season, and we breed and clone the hardiest, best-tasting varieties of the crops we rely on most. As a result, a smaller proportion of people on earth go hungry today than at any other moment in the last thousand years, and the streamlining of our food supply guarantees that the food we buy, from bananas to coffee to wheat, tastes the same every single time.
Our corporate food system has nearly perfected the process of turning sunlight, water and nutrients into food. But our crops themselves remain susceptible to the nature’s fury. And nature always wins.
Authoritative, urgent, and filled with fascinating heroes and villains from around the world, Never Out of Season is the story of the crops we depend on most and the scientists racing to preserve the diversity of life, in order to save our food supply, and us.
Noah Can’t Even by Simon James Green
Poor Noah Grimes! His father disappeared years ago, his mother’s Beyonce tribute act is an unacceptable embarrassment, and his beloved gran is no longer herself. He only has one friend, Harry, and school is…Well, it’s pure HELL. Why can’t Noah be normal, like everyone else at school? Maybe if he struck up a romantic relationship with someone – maybe Sophie, who is perfect and lovely – he’d be seen in a different light? But Noah’s plans are derailed when Harry kisses him at a party. That’s when things go from bad to utter chaos.
Notes on a Banana by David Leite
Born into a devoutly Catholic, food-crazed family of Azorean immigrants in 1960s Fall River, Massachusetts, David had a childhood that was the stuff of sitcoms. But what no one knew was that this smart-ass, determined dreamer with a vivid imagination also struggled with the frightening mood swings of bipolar disorder. To cope, “Banana,” as his mother endearingly called him, found relief and comfort in food, watching reruns of Julia Child, and, later as an adult, cooking for others. It was only in his mid-thirties, after years of desperate searching, did he finally uncover the truth about himself, receive proper medical treatment, and begin healing.
Throughout the narrative, David takes the reader along on the exhilarating highs and shattering lows of his life, with his trademark wit and humor: We watch as he slams the door on his Portuguese heritage in favor of blond-haired, blue-eyed WASPdom; pursues stardom with a near-pathological relentlessness; realizes he’s gay and attempts to “turn straight” through Aesthetic Realism, a cult in downtown Manhattan; battles against dark and bitter moods; delights in his twenty-plus year relationship with Alan (known to millions of David’s readers as “The One”); and shares the people, dishes, and events that shaped him.
The Art of Failing by Anthony McGowan
HAUNTED! By endless tiny humiliations.
STRUGGLING! To resurrect the corpse of his literary career.
ENSNARED! In a loving yet perplexing marriage.
Anthony McGowan is a man at odds with the universe. Stumbling from one improbable fiasco to the next, patrolling the mean streets of West Hampstead like some unholy cross between Columbo, J. Alfred Prufrock and a common tramp, he ponders the very stuff of life itself. For McGowan that’s holed socks, unsatisfactory packed lunches, athlete’s foot powder, Kierkegaard, the eccentricities of the British Library, liver salts, Morrissey and disapproving ladies on trains… Relentlessly honest, exquisitely funny, The Art of Failing is a paean to the glory and desperation of everyday existence.
The Fish That Ate The Whale by Rich Cohen
When Samuel Zemurray arrived in America in 1891, he was tall, gangly, and penniless. When he died in the grandest house in New Orleans sixty-nine years later, he was among the richest, most powerful men in the world. In between, he worked as a fruit peddler, a banana hauler, a dockside hustler, and a plantation owner. He battled and conquered the United Fruit Company, becoming a symbol of the best and worst of the United States: proof that America is the land of opportunity, but also a classic example of the corporate pirate who treats foreign nations as the backdrop for his adventures. In Latin America, when people shouted “Yankee, go home!” it was men like Zemurray they had in mind.
The Oddities Of Life by Martin Bryers
This isn’t a real book but a sample book cover from Canva I happened upon and couldn’t not include.
Know of any other covers that are bananas? Leave ’em in the comments!
Over on Book Riot this week…
Here’s a reminder that there’s a bookstore gift card up for grabs for dropping a short review of Here We Are on Amazon. You can read all of the details for this painless (seriously!) giveaway here.