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Jez

Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)

Despite being published late in the year, Michelle Obama's Becoming was the bestselling book of 2018 and once you start reading, it's not hard to see why. Obama's first book is everything you could want from a memoir by the former First Lady. Starting well before her time in the White House, Obama describes her life living on the Southside of Chicago and having to work hard from a very young age in order to get ahead in her education, including testing into an elite school. Going through her early adulthood, readers learn about Obama's humanitarian efforts in various positions to help underprivileged students get a better education and fair chance in life, a value she carries into her life in Washington.

Perhaps the reason most readers will pick up this book is to read about the 2008, 2012, and 2016 presidential elections and President Obama's terms in office. Michelle Obama does an excellent job of showing both the political and personal sides of life in the White House and having to navigate the nebulous position of a First Lady. Beautifully written and deeply personal, Becoming is the memoir to read this year. I highly recommend picking up the audiobook, read by the author, who could easily have a second career in audiobook narration if she chose.



Jez

How to Be Successful without Hurting Men’s Feelings by Sarah Cooper (2018)

Comedian and comedy writer Sarah Cooper is at it again, this time with a book of "non-threatening leadership strategies for women." This faux guide is comprised of infographic-style comics, lists, matching games, and emergency mustaches. Filled with tongue-in-cheek humor and sarcasm, How to Be Successful without Hurting Men's Feelings can teach you how to carefully maneuver the office, allow men to get credit for your ideas, and be seen as a boss, but not bossy; confident, but not arrogant. This book is a must-read for feminists and women in business and is the perfect way to end a bad day at work.




Denise

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton (2018)

An unforgettable, haunting, and especially inspirational memoir by Anthony "Ray" Hinton, an innocent man who spent almost 30 years in solitary confinement on death row. What makes The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row so powerful is his enduring faith, hope, and compassion while living in the depths of "hell."

His friendships, family, and capacity to forgive are on display in this compelling work. His best friend, Lester, visited him every week for 30 years! Ray adopted the other death row inmates as his new family. He brought inspiration, laughter, and faith to them, and started a book club, which encouraged many of them to read.

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, eventually became Ray's lawyer and was instrumental in getting his release. I especially appreciate Stevenson's quote: "I believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done." Listen to his TED Talk to get an inspiring and personal glimpse into his motivation for his life work. 

There are many disturbing and heartbreaking elements to this story as well – deep-seated racism and discrimination, inhumane treatment of prisoners, and our damaged, and often corrupt, judicial system, to name a few. However, Hinton's positive inspiration definitely outweighs the negative details. I highly recommend this book, which was also one of Oprah's Book Club Picks.




Heather

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016)

Trevor Noah has a gift for storytelling (which makes it no surprise that he is now a comedian). I would have liked this book more if it were told in chronological order, but ultimately, I assume the order in which it is presented goes back to the fact that he's a comedian and likely thinks anecdotally vs. chronologically. That said, Noah tells such fascinating stories of his childhood, teen years, and young adult life, all while intertwining the cultural setting of South Africa while he was growing up. I highly recommend the audio to fully appreciate both the variety of languages Noah references and the emotion and humor in his storytelling.

Check out Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood and other titles on this year's 2019 Lincoln Award (PDF): Illinois Teen Readers' Choice nominee list.

Jez

The Finnish Way by Katja Pantzar (2018)

In 2017, Meik Wiking introduced us to Hygge (and later Lykke) and helped us bring more happiness and comfort to our lives and launching a trend of books on Scandinavian wisdom. Sweden's answer to the Danish hygge was Lagom by Niki Brantmark, focused on simplicity, and now we complete the trifecta with the Finnish.

Like its neighbors, Finland experiences winters with little sunlight (some areas like Lapland seeing as many as 47 days where the sun never makes it above the horizon), creating a serious concern for Seasonal Affect Disorder and depression among its residents. Yet in 2018, Finland ranked #1 on the world happiness index. What's their secret? According to Katja Pantzar, it's the concept of "sisu," which can be roughly translated as "everyday courage."

In her book The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness through the Power of Sisu, Pantzar describes many aspects of life in Finland, including biking everywhere (even in winter), getting out into nature, seeing movement as a kind of medicine, arctic swimming, and, naturally, using the sauna regularly. Together these traits form the type of sturdiness and courage the Finns need to face endless night and any challenge that comes their way.

Jez

Astrology: Using the Wisdom of the Stars in Your Everyday Life (2018)

astroPerhaps due to so much stress and uncertainty in the world today, astrology is seeing a huge burst in popularity, especially among Millennials and Gen Z. DK Publishing’s new book, Astrology: Using the Wisdom of the Stars in Your Everyday Life, is a great introduction for those who want to move beyond their star sign. With beautiful infographics on each page, this guide walks readers through sun, moon, and rising signs; planetary placements; and the historical significance of astrology.

The part I found most helpful was the straightforward way this book explains how to create and read a natal chart and what the significance of each house is—and how all of these aspects work together to create a tool to help readers understand themselves better and potentially better inform decisions for the future.

Interested in astrology or just want to learn enough to understand the memes? Hang out with us next Friday, March 1 at 7 p.m. for our #LibSocial program for ages 18-39: Astrology 101: What Planet Can I Blame for This?
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Natalie

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans (2018)

inspired“Let it be known that Natalie loves this book. Read it. Pass it on. May it find its way back to her again.” This is the note that I wrote in this book. I had already borrowed the book from the library, then checked out and listened to the audiobook twice, before deciding that I needed to buy a copy to share with my family. This book, part tales and part essay, weaves together ancient storytelling and traditions with modern theology and current politics.

Rachel Held Evans thoughtfully addresses some of the most difficult contradictions (such as how can a good God allow such terrible things?) and problematic issues (such as slavery, genocide, and gender inequality) in the Bible. She creates common ground and challenges all readers regardless of religion affiliation or political allegiances. Inspired is an incredibly entertaining and engaging book.
Jennifer

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonny Sun (2018)

gmorninggnightThis delightful gem is the perfect way to kick off a new year. Gmorning, Gnight is comprised of brief motivational reminders that Lin-Manuel Miranda shared on Twitter at the beginning and end of the day. Paired with illustrations by Jonny Sun, this short book can be read cover to cover, or flipped through at leisure. Find the uplifting words that you need to improve your outlook that day.

The longest part of the book is the introduction, which you can read courtesy of Vulture. Below, I’ve shared one of the most memorable affirmations:
Gmorning.
YOU ARE SO LOVED AND WE LIKE HAVING YOU AROUND.
*ties one end of this sentence to your heart, the other end to everyone who loves you, even the ones you haven’t heard from for a while*
*checks knots*
THERE. STAY PUT, YOU. 
Gnight.
YOU ARE SO LOVED AND WE LIKE HAVING YOU AROUND.
*ties one end of this sentence to your heart, the other end to everyone who loves you in this life, even if clouds obscure your view*
*checks knots*
THERE. STAY PUT, YOU.
TUG IF YOU NEED ANYTHING.
Jez

The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King (2018)

good-neighborIf you grew up any time between 1968 and 2001, there’s a good chance that Fred Rogers was your childhood. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a slow, peaceful show about friendship and learning, with a kindly gentleman and his friends and a world of make believe. There’s a certain amount of make believe surrounding Rogers himself, with rumors spreading quickly across the internet, especially one about him being a navy seal. The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King—the first authorized biography of Rogers—aims to set the record straight: Fred Rogers was precisely the man you imagined him to be, based off his television persona. But he was also so much kinder and maybe a little stranger than we thought.

King’s biography covers the entirety of Rogers’ life, drawing on television appearances; interviews with Rogers, his family, and his coworkers; and his own personal friendship with the man. In these pages, you’ll learn how Rogers contributed and changed the face of early childhood education, his past as an opera author, what he was like as a parent, and some great behind-the-scenes stories from the many shows he did over the years.

For an extra dose of nostalgia, pick up the audiobook, read by LeVar Burton. When you’re done with the book, check out the movie based on the book, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Jennifer

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home by Denise Kiernan (2017)

jacketI adored Denise Kiernan’s first book (The Girls of Atomic City) on a little known piece of history. Now, she turns her attention to the creation of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

In The Last Castle, Kiernan details the lives of Edith and George Vanderbilt (grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt) along with the construction of the massive house and the development (and protection) of the surrounding forests and land. The author effortlessly weaves the threads of the stories of people, places, and events in American history from the Gilded Age to WWII. An engaging and fascinating slice of history.

 
 
 
 
Kathy

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018)

educatedTara Westover’s Educated is the fascinating true story of a young woman raised in a survivalist family in the southern mountains of Idaho. Throughout her childhood, Tara’s father uses end-of-days fear, isolation, and the threat of eternal damnation to maintain control over his family. Every decision the family makes is informed by their father’s religious doctrine, so formal education is out of the question. Tara’s interest in the outside world combined with a desire to escape a life of working in the family’s scrapyard leads her to challenge her father’s ideas and, eventually, the lifestyle her family leads.

This compelling book is at times both heartbreaking and horrifying, but Westover’s matter-of-fact style of storytelling makes the reader feel right at home in this extreme, unfamiliar world.

 
 
 
 
Heather

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis (2018)

girlHave you ever told yourself a lie and believed it? Maybe that you're not good enough, don't know how to be a mom, or should be further along by now in reaching your goals? In her most recent book, Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis opens each chapter with a lie she once believed about herself, telling personal stories and sharing what helped her overcome those lies. Covering a wide variety of topics from relationships to parenting to careers and more, Hollis' life experiences will touch women in all different walks of life.

Hollis reads the audio version (available on CD or downloadable on hoopla and eMediaLibrary), which I highly recommend!
Heather

Ugly by Robert Hoge (2016)

uglyhogeIn this real-life Wonder story, Robert Hoge describes his early life being born with not only a large tumor on his face affecting the placement of his facial features, but also legs which were underdeveloped. While he addresses some of the surgeries he underwent as baby up through high school, this autobiography centers around his family life and his determined spirit, despite challenges with his physical appearance and abilities along the way. I highly suggest the audiobook, read by the author himself.

Check out Ugly and other titles on this year's 2019 Bluestem nominee list targeted for grades 3-5.
Katie

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016)

51v55l2fxflWhen I checked out Born a Crime, I knew vaguely that Trevor Noah was a comedian. I even remembered sharing a post of his on social media since I thought it was funny. Yet somehow, I did not expect to have to pull my car over to the shoulder to finish listening to one of Noah's stories. I was laughing so hard, I was crying.

And if that's not a ringing endorsement of an audiobook, I don't know what is.

I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version of this book because you hear Noah speaking the different South African languages with accuracy. And you get to hear Noah's voice imitation of his mother, among other people in his memoir.

Oh? And the story I had to pull over to finish on the road? I've been telling it to everyone, convincing them to read the book. If you do read Born a Crime, stop by the K&T desk upstairs and see if you can guess which story made me laugh so hard I cried.
Laura

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan (2013)

dadisfatI just listened to Dad is Fat on audio. Read by author Jim Gaffigan, it is a laugh-out-loud collection of essays of what it is like to be the father of five kids and their adventures of living in New York City. The humor is universal and the love for his family comes through in each chapter.