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Susan Thornton Hobby
Friends of HoCoPoLitSo shared their favorite and memorable reads from 2017.
If you haven’t read them yet, put them on your 2018 reading list!
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Published late 2016, but read it in 2017. Maybe this doesn’t count as a 2017 book. Loved the audiobook! – Michelle
Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre. A history of the British special forces (SAS) in WWII. It reads like a novel and is full of vivid descriptions of war and the morality play of the battle against the Nazis and evil. My favorite line in the book. “Tragedy and comedy are brothers.” I couldn’t put it down. – Peter La Count
This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel, is about a family whose little boy feels best as a girl, and the choices the family makes while facing this crisis of identity. The novel is heartfelt, funny, and informative, as well as being a Good Read. – Kathy Larson
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders For it’s language, innovation, multi-genre span and heart, Lincoln in the Bardo has stayed with me all year. The story recreated my image of Lincoln, a historical figure who looms large in the minds of all those educated in the US. The “matter-light-blooming phenomenon” is an idea that crosses the boundaries of fantasy, philosophy and religion and is one of the reasons the book is not just a novel, but also a poem and an inspiration. – Cherise
The Hate You Give – Allison
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. A true story of Pino Lella, an Italian teenager, who finds himself working in the upper ranks of the Nazi party and is recruited as a spy for the Allies. – Erin
HAPPY READING IN 2018!
The week of September 25th, we celebrate our RIGHT TO READ! In celebration of Banned Books Week 2017, we asked several educators and librarians about their favorite banned books. Here’s what they said.
To Kill a Mockingbird has influenced me as a reader and a teacher. As a young reader it brought me into a world I knew nothing about. As a teacher it has opened the same door for hundreds of students. It is only controversial because it depicts an ugly truth- which is also its value. – (a Howard County high school English teacher)
“It depicts an ugly truth – which is also its value.” Agreed. For my own part, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has had a similar impact for me, both as a teacher and as a reader. Our literature is our history. Regardless of genre, our literature reflects who we were, are, and could be. I have always found myself drawn to those authors who have been willing to paint in honest brushstrokes, an image of humanity that requires taking stock in the complexities and contradictions, pressing us to face the mirror. Often lost in the controversy surrounding “Huck” is the wink of hopefulness gained from the novel’s final passage. – (a Howard County middle school English teacher)
My daughter read Al Capone Does My Shirts last year as a 5th grader and it was her first experience of being “hooked” by a book and rushing to read the next book and the next in the series. It totally changed her from being a reluctant reader to being someone who devours books! Having taught it in the past I do not see why it would be controversial. Many books have characters with huge flaws. But having characters that possess both positive and negative qualities is what makes them multi-dimensional, interesting, and realistic. – (Howard County secondary literacy coach)
As a middle school teacher, I would have to choose The Giver and The Outsiders, two books that really touched kids and elicited deep and honest discussions. I loved teaching those books. – Beth S. (Howard County middle school English teacher)
Favorites to teach and/or read: Hunger Games, To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, In Cold Blood, Leaves of Grass. Favorites to read to my kids: And Tango Makes Three, The Paper Bag Princess, The Lorax, Where the Wild Things Are. – Amy P. (High School English teacher in Hudson, MA)
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Both novels are stories of the horror and dehumanizing effects of war (WWI, to be precise), and the relentless pursuit of an ill-defined victory at all costs. Reading these books in high school caused me to question a lot of the assumptions I had about politics, war, religion, and conflict more broadly defined than I had before. Or since, for that matter. They literally changed my outlook on life in a span of a few weeks, and I continue to wrestle with these ideas to this day. – Jeffrey M. (English Professor at Howard Community College)
And Tango Makes Three. My two children enjoyed this book when they were just 3-4 years old. It’s a book about penguins! But here’s the thing – now that my older son is 8 year old I am wondering how he might experience and “hear” the book today. That’s the thing about books (good books), right? They challenge us to these questions – and this book forces me to be thoughtful about how I would teach my children about family diversity and help them become accepting, welcoming people in the world. In the Night Kitchen was a gift from our friend and neighbor (Tim!) – of course the children just love that Mickey is naked – butt and penis and all – in the illustration and they giggle and laugh. But they also enjoy Mickey’s adventure. It’s fun. For my kids – who like to tell fart jokes all day long – this book delights them. And I’m really, really good with that. – Laura Y. (English Professor at Howard Community College)
Strega Nona is one of my favorite books of all times. This book has been challenged and banned due to the magical or witch-like abilities of a magic pasta pot. Strega Nona’s objective is not to be a book about witchcraft, rather a book that is full of whimsy, allowing children to engage their imagination. Challenging or banning books can stifle creativity and imagination. When a book is challenged or banned because one person feels that it is against their morals, it can lead to an entire community of readers having restricted or no access to a book. – Christina P. (Librarian at Howard Community College)
The Things They Carried: it challenges ideas of morality, truth, courage, and patriotism. I come from a military family (going back generations), so this really resonates with me. The narratives never stop feeling relevant. O’Brien creates a web of fiction, memoir, history, and memory that always ensnares us us readers, leaving us in the best possible state: uncertainty. That is where all good inquiry comes from. – Ryna M. (English Professor at Howard Community College)
It was much more banned in the past, but definitely The Handmaid’s Tale! Even when I read it in the 8th grade (?), I remember being shocked at the story–not because of content, but because of so many similarities and so much truth. I thought how not so unrealistic this society was, and I still think that now. – Sylvia L. (English Professor at Howard Community College)
For my kids… Hop on Pop!! This is such a great book to start children reading on their own. The simple rhyming text is perfect.
For me one of my favorite books growing up was Are you There God, It’s me Margaret. It’s one of the first books I could relate too. – Melissa P. (Preschool teacher at the Children’s Learning Center)
By Laura Yoo
April is National Poetry Month, and Saturday, April 22nd is Earth Day. And I have a book recommendation that can help celebrate both: Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature edited by Camille T. Dungy.
Black Nature offers a different perspective through which we might read, understand, and talk about the 93 black poets and their 180 poems included in this anthology. Dungy writes a compelling introduction in which she describes the noticeable absence of black writers from anthologies and discussions in ecocriticism and ecopoetics. She reminds us of the complex and unique connection that African Americans have to “land, animal, and vegetation in American culture”.
Despite all these connections to America’s soil, we don’t see much African American poetry in nature-related anthologies because, regardless of their presence, blacks have not been recognized in their poetic attempts to affix themselves to the landscape. They haven’t been seen, or when they have it is not as people who are rightful stewards of the land. They are accidentally or invisibly or dangerously or temporarily or inappropriately on/in the landscape. The majority of the works in this collection incorporate treatments of the natural world that are historicized or politicized and are expressed through the African American perspective, which inclines readers to consider these texts as political poems, historical poems, protest poems, socioeconomic commentary, anything but nature poems.
I want to test this new perspective, and with this in mind I turn to the poetry of Tyehimba Jess, the newly minted 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry winner, who is coming to headline HoCoPoLitSo and Howard Community College’s annual Blackbird Poetry Festival on Thursday, April 27th. He will be reading and speaking with E. Ethelbert Miller during the Sunbird Reading. Notably, Miller’s “I am Black and the Trees are Green” is included in Dungy’s anthology.
Much of Jess’s acclaimed body of work illuminates on the African American experience. About Olio, Wave Books says, “Part fact, part fiction, Jess’s much anticipated second book weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I.”
In an interview with LitHub about Olio, Jess spoke about the power and the politics of song: “To be able to sing under that kind of oppression I think, in a lot of ways, is the very essence of survival, of a people, of the ability to have to the hope to make something beautiful amongst so much wretchedness. That’s critical to the concept of human survival. And in this particular context, of African Americans working through slavery… that’s what we had.”
But in the context of Dungy’s Black Nature, I turn to Jess’s leadbelly with a different ear.
In “john wesley ledbetter,” Jess writes,
singing a crusade of axe and machete i take virgin texas territory by force, clear it of timber and trouble. each eastern twilight, i till top soil ’til sun plants itself back into that western horizon. i keep struggling against a brooding moon’s skyline until dark sleep is my friend again, a place where i can dream drought into rain, pray storm could out of spotless sky.
The poem goes on with, “there’s only one way out of slave time dues: hump this land down till it shrieks up a crop of cancelled debt into your wagon.” In this poem, we see an illustration of what Dungy describes as African Americans’ “complex relationship to land, animals, and vegetation.” She says, “African Americans are tied up in the toil and soil involved in working the land into the country we know today,” and she reminds us how they were “viewed once as chattel, part of a farm’s livestock or asset in a bank’s ledger.”
In “leadbelly: runagate,” Jess writes,
where water and land meet is shore, and on shore is iron in fists of jailers in sun of texas swamp. i wade into bubble and blue ink of red river, my head is shaven, bobbing, brown island of shine. […]
i want to let the water take me, i want to surrender to this river’s rock and swirl, come up clean and white as death itself, but the black in me breaks into blues, and i feel the coffle of their claws. i am stepping toward dry land, the dance of ankle chains, where i scream history into song that works itself into blood, sweat, memory.
The water in this poem reminds me of Dungy’s description of the “river” in Rita Dove’s “Three Days of forest, a River, Free”: it is “more than a moving body of water. It is a biblical allusion, a historical reality, a geographical boundary, a legal boundary, a decoy, the center of emotional and personal change, an aspiration, a metaphor: all these things at once.”
As I re-see the poems in leadbelly with a different framework, I am reminded how the way we group, categorize, thematically arrange, and shelf literature can limit or expand our experiences of literature. We put the poems under one category or another, and it’s hard to imagine what else it can be.
Dungy’s Black Nature is important, because it acknowledges the African American perspective these 93 poets highlight while introducing what else their work is – and how that “what else” amplifies our understanding of their works. As Dungy says, Black Nature “encourage[s] readers to divert their gaze into new directions, demanding they notice new aspects of the world and accept alternative modes of description.”
To put it another way, a book like Black Nature is like a hearing aid. It can give us that extra power to hear poetry in an even more powerful way. It can help us turn up the volume on that work – perhaps turn up the bass or the treble and experience the poem in a myriad of ways.
Posted by Laura Yoo
This Christmas season, give the gift of reading! Here’s my shopping list for the grownups and the little people on my list.
The links will take you to Amazon. Don’t forget to shop Amazon Smile and choose Howard County Poetry and Literary Society for your charity!
For the Little People
The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak $10.99 – This one is my kids’ absolute favorite. They think it’s so hilarious and love making the parents read it – but they also enjoy reading it themselves to say the funny words, especially “butt”.
Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz $12.80 – This one is actually one of my favorites. I love retelling of fairy tales and I love this little ninja girl version of Red Riding Hood.
Encyclopedia Brown set of 4 books – $12.19 – I loved reading these books when I was a kid – time to get the next generation hooked!
Curious George Around Town – $8.29 – Curious George is probably my favorite series in little, little people books.
For the Grownups
The Vegetarian by Han Kang $8.92
“Celebrated by critics around the world, The Vegetarian is a darkly allegorical, Kafka-esque tale of power, obsession, and one woman’s struggle to break free from the violence both without and within her.” – Amazon
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead $16.17
“The National Book Award Winner and #1 New York Times bestseller from Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South” – Amazon
Vaseline Buddha by Jung Young Moon (translated by Jung Yewon) $10.13 –
“A tragicomic odyssey told through free association scrubs the depths of the human psyche to achieve a higher level of consciousness equal to Zen meditation. The story opens when our sleepless narrator thwarts a would-be thief outside his moonlit window, then delves into his subconscious imagination to explore a variety of geographical and mental locations—real, unreal, surreal—to explore the very nature of reality.”- Amazon
“A true essay is ‘something hazarded, not definitive, not authoritative; something ventured on the basis of the author’s personal experience and subjectivity,’ writes guest editor Jonathan Franzen in his introduction. However, his main criterion for selecting The Best American Essays 2016 was, in a word, risk.”- Amazon
“This graphic adaptation by Jackson’s grandson Miles Hyman allows readers to experience “The Lottery” as never before, or to discover it anew. He has crafted an eerie vision of the hamlet where the tale unfolds and the unforgettable ritual its inhabitants set into motion. Hyman’s full-color, meticulously detailed panels create a noirish atmosphere that adds a new dimension of dread to the original story.” – Amazon
Happy gifting! And don’t forget to select Howard County Poetry and Literary Society on Amazon Smile!
Discounted tickets are available now for a one-night-only presentation of Dominique Morisseau’s Sunset Baby, at 8 p.m. Friday, May 15, 2015, in Smith Theatre, Horowitz Center, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md 21044. Two-for-one tickets are available at http://www.repstage.org/Productions/sunsetbaby/ using code: HOCO; general admission is $40. This program, presented in partnership with the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo), Rep Stage and Center Stage, is made possible by an Outreach Grant from the Howard County Arts Council through Howard County government and seeks to engage and connect Howard County and Baltimore audiences.
The Guardian calls the play, “Smart, entertaining and moving as it grapples with the tensions between past and present while asking penetrating questions about the nature of liberation. Morisseau’s script sings with intelligence.” A drama of family and revolution, the play explores what happens when a former black revolutionary and political prisoner decides to reunite with his daughter. The Huffington Post names Morisseau as a “direct heir to the magical wordsmiths named Lorraine Hansberry, Tennessee Williams, and August Wilson” for her vibrant exploration of the point where the personal and political collide. Morisseau, who received the Kennedy Prize for Drama in 2014, is a playwright and actress. Her literary work has been featured in the New York Times best-selling short-story collection, Chicken Soup for the African American Soul.
This Baltimore/D.C. area premiere of Sunset Baby, directed Joseph Ritsch, will be performed by Rep Stage and streamed live to Baltimore’s Center Stage, then followed by a post-performance panel discussion facilitated by production dramaturg Khalid Long, an instructor and researcher at the University of Maryland, College Park. Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah will host the Center Stage live streaming event.
For more information visit www.repstage.org, call 443.518.1500 or email email@example.com.
Seniors in Columbia can request transportation by calling the Senior Events Shuttle at
(410) 715-3087. HCC is an accessible campus. Accommodation requests should be made to HoCoPoLitSo by May 7, 2015.
For more information about HoCoPoLitSo and its sponsored programs and activities, visit http://hocopolitso.org.
HoCoPoLitSo is a nonprofit organization designed to enlarge the audience for contemporary poetry and literature and celebrate culturally diverse literary heritages. Founded in 1974, HoCoPoLitSo sponsors readings with critically acclaimed writers; literary workshops; programs for students; and The Writing Life, a writer-to-writer interview show. HoCoPoLitSo receives funding from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the state of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts; Howard County Arts Council through a grant from Howard County government; The Columbia Film Society; Community Foundation of Howard County; the Jim and Patty Rouse Charitable Foundation; and individual contributors.
Join the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra for the Season Finale Lexus Classic Concert, Schumann, Sibelius, and Neruda Songs, featuring Mezzo-Soprano Kelley O’Connor on May 8 & 9 at 8pm at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. (For more information on the works being performed and a preview of some of the works, visit this online program guide.)
Tickets start at $35 and Students are $10. HoCoPoLitSo friends will receive a 25% discount on tickets in any section. Use online code HOCO2015 or call the Box Office and mention the code. There is a free pre-concert lecture at 6:45pm and parking is free. Box Office: 410-263-0907, www.annapolissymphony.org
One of American composer Peter Lieberson‘s final works was Neruda Songs. Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner and is considered one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. Lieberson chose five of Neruda’s passionate love sonnets, saying: “…although these poems were written to another, when I set them I was speaking directly to my own beloved Lorraine.” Each line of poetry receives new music, reflecting the meaning of the words. From the program guide:
“Each of the five poems that I set to music seemed to me to reflect a different face in love’s mirror. The first poem, ‘If your eyes were not the color of the moon,’ is pure appreciation of the beloved. The second, ‘Love, love, the clouds went up the tower of the sky like triumphant washerwomen,’ is joyful and also mysterious in its evocation of nature’s elements: fire, water, wind, and luminous space. The third poem, ‘Don’t go far off, not even for a day,’ reflects the anguish of love, the fear and pain of separation. The fourth poem, ‘And now you’re mine. Rest with your dream in my dream,’ is complex in its emotional tone. First there is the exultance of passion. Then, gentle, soothing words lead the beloved into the world of rest, sleep, and dream. Finally, the fifth poem, ‘My love, if I die and you don’t,’ is very sad and peaceful at the same time. There is the recognition that no matter how blessed one is with love, there will still be a time when we must part from those whom we cherish so much.”
While we are busy preparing for next week’s Irish Evening with Emma Donoghue — do you have your tickets? — we want to take a moment and recommend an event that is quite a favorite, the Super Bowl Sunday reading in Frederick, Maryland. This year, the wonderful Kay Ryan is to read at the free event.
As the Frederick News-Post reports:
Ryan will be in Frederick on Sunday [February 1st] as part of the C. Burr Artz Poetry/Lecture Series, kicking off the 2015 Frederick Reads season, the theme of which is Season of Wonder: Escape the Ordinary. Past poets in the annual event, traditionally held at the Weinberg Center on Super Bowl Sunday, have included Billy Collins, Nikki Giovanni and Natasha Tretheway, among others. A reading of her work will be followed by a Q&A session with the audience.
We will admit there are a number of best parts to this event. One is, obviously, the magnificent Kay Ryan. Two, for us, is that it is an event we are not producing, thus can sit back and selfishly enjoy the occasion, all ears and not a care in the world. The third is that, for those of us that fancy football, it gets not in the way at all of Super Bowl Festivities, though we admit that E. Ethelbert Miller was a little startled that we would do anything but put on jerseys and pregame with chips, guacamole and salsa and banter prior to Sunday evening’s sporting occasion. Don’t worry, the folks at Frederick Reads will have you back in time for all of that. The reading is perfectly placed into the day at 2 p.m.
We hope to see you there and we hope to see you the following Friday for our wonderful evening of Irish writing, music, and dance.
According to HoCoPoLitSo Board of Directors members and staff, here are the best things we read in 2014.
- The Shack by William Young
- Fludd by Hilary Mantel
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
- Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
- Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros
- The Beautiful Things Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
- Inside Newark by Robert Curvin
- Breakfast with Lucian by Gordie Greig
One of my favorites was Dear Committee Members, a short entertaining novel by Julie Schumacher. The novel pokes fun at academia and academics in general, and it was fun to laugh at myself while laughing at the characters. A lighthearted book that I read over the course of two evenings snuggled up in my reading chair.
That is not the experience I had (and am still having) with Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea. Before you read the rest of this, I want to make clear that I love this book.
I’m having a year-long relationship with this book – I’ve been reading it all year mainly because I can manage to read only a few pages at a time (although this may not be a reflection on the novel but just my inability to concentrate at 11 o’clock at night when I finally settle down with a book). It took some time and some mental-doing to really get into this dystopian novel by one of my favorite writers. The novel takes place in B-Mor in the future. We follow the story of a young woman who ventures out of B-Mor to the “counties.” The prose is poetic. At times the story seems to move along a bit too slowly and the prose very dense. The narrative structure and voice strike me as experimental. It’s not exactly a page-turner, but perhaps we might call it a thought-turner. It’s challenging, thoughtful, and beautiful. It’s quite an experience.
– Laura Yoo
member of HoCoPoLitSo Board of Directors
Last Saturday, the members of HoCoPoLitSo’s Board of Directors and staff met for our last meeting of the year. And we, too, shared our list of “Best Thing I Read in 2013.” So here it is!
- TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
- Bluets by Maggie Nelson
- Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence
- City of Veils by Zoe Ferrais
- Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie
- The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova
- The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
And the grand winner of this list is Someone by Alice McDermott – named by three Board members and staff as their “Best Thing I Read in 2013.” You know who else liked Someone? NPR’s Maureen Corrigan – and you can see her picks for 2013 best books here.
Want to see more lists for best books?
– Laura Yoo